My second Hey You! Yes You post has been a long time coming, but if I may say so, it’s a corker. I’d like you to meet Lynne Oakes, aka my mother.
Although she might not describe herself as such, she is a gutsy and adventurous lady, and last year she and her lovely fella rode their motorbikes over 7,500km across the middle of Australia. She generously agreed to let me wear my reporter hat and ask her all about it.
Explain yourself!! Who or what are you?
I’m a very happy and proud mother and grandmother who loves to ride her motorbike and likes camping!
I come from a bike riding family. My Dad had been on bikes since he was a kid and Mum spent most of her life on the back of his motorbike until they had me, and that was the only time they bought a car. Motorbikes were really part of my upbringing. Dad was into old bikes in particular, and he was very keen for me to ride some of them. I’d been riding on farms since I was a teenager, but I got my license at 21.
When I moved to NZ and got married we bought motorbikes to use for commuting because petrol was very expensive. Then I had a family, and it was a different life. I raised children so I didn’t really ride again until about 5 years ago. That was because I’d met Steve. He has always ridden bikes and he kept encouraging me to get back on a one myself, and eventually I did! I haven’t looked back since. It was quite scary at first because I was very nervous but confidence grows with experience. The more you ride the more you like to ride, But you always have to be careful. It’s a very dangerous occupation, and it’s always necessary to know your limitations.
What kind of motorbike to you have?
It’s a BMW F800GT, an 800cc sports touring motorbike. It’s a brilliant ride with a lot of power. It’s not a huge bike, but it’s big enough for me. It’s fitted out with the luggage you need on a trip, with panniers on the side, and a top-box which sits on the back. You can also load up extra bags or a tent on the back seat so if you’re doing a camping weekend you can strap stuff there. There is quite a bit of room for gear.
It’s my baby!
It’s very comfortable, perfect for doing long distances. I really like riding it, and it’s manageable, not too big, not too small.
How did this epic bike trip come about?
We ride a lot on weekends but we thought it would be really nice to do a bigger trip. Steve’s done lots of distance riding in his youth, and there’s really not many places in Australia that he hasn’t been, so it was partially motivated by him wanting to show me places that he’s visited.
It was also to have a bit of an adventure! The trip was a huge personal challenge for me; the prospect of riding for 10,000-12,000kms in 6 weeks was daunting to say the least. We regularly did weekend rides and covered 1,000km over a weekend but the thought of getting back on the bike days after day for 6 weeks was pretty scary.
To have been successful was incredibly empowering.
What goes into organizing a trip like this?
There is quite a lot of planning involved. First of all you decide upon a route, where exactly are you going to go. So we decided that Darwin was going to be our target, that we would ride across the Nullabor, to South Australia, spend a bit of time in the Flinders Ranges, and then head North through central Australia, going to all the sites: Uluru, The Olgas, Alice Springs, Kakadu and up to Darwin and then come back down the West Australian coast.
The second part is the logistics. The weather is very important. We chose to go in July which is winter here in the south, but the dry season in the north (Ed: the north of Australia doesn’t experience four seasons in the usual sense, rather two: a Wet (and hot) and Dry (and… still pretty hot)). It’s really the only time we could consider going if we were going to be in the Northern Territory because it would be dry but still quite hot. So we had to plan for being in winter for part of the trip and summer for the rest, and on a motorbike that’s quite a huge consideration because you’re outdoors the whole time. You’re living outside, traveling outside. On a motorbike, the elements are incredibly important: If it’s hot, you’re even hotter. If it’s cold, you’re even colder.
So a huge part of the planning was thinking about the weather and what sort of clothes to take, how to manage keeping warm at night, on the road, and keeping cool in the Territory.
Because weren’t going off-road, all our riding was done on roads and highways so we didn’t have to worry too much about carrying fuel and water, but we had to think about about what camping gear to take, what we were going to cook, what we were going to take.
So where does all of this gear go? On your back?
Some of it goes on our motorbikes, but we had a camper trailer that tows behind a motorbike. It’s essentially a box on wheels, just like a normal trailer, but there is a fold out bed on the top which folds out to be a queen sized bed with a tent on top of it. It’s quite comfortable because it’s got a nice mattress and it’s big. There’s enough room to sit up in bed but there’s no standing room.
What does it feel like to sit on a bike for hours on end?
When you’re on a road trip, it’s all about the ride. The destination is not as important as the journey. Part of the enjoyment is just physically being on the bike, and enjoying the freedom. You’re very in touch with your environment. You smell the smells, you feel the temperature. If the temperature changes a degree or two you feel it.
You’re very aware of the road surfaces: for example, if there is a bit of gravel or oil on the road that can be a hazardous. You’re very, very in touch with your surroundings and much more aware of the road than you are in a car.
Probably the biggest challenge is boredom. You’ve got to stay awake, keep your concentration. In a car you can distract yourself, wriggle around, change drivers, put the radio on, eat, get drinks etcetera. But on a bike it’s just you and the bike, and you can’t move very much.
You find ways to wriggle around. I stand up sometimes, though usually not when going 110kmph! Trying to stop yourself from getting stiff and numb is one of the biggest challenges. You can also bluetooth music into your helmet and we have an intercom system so you can talk, although it’s a bit limited when you are moving at that speed because there is usually a lot of noise.
You break the journey an awful lot more on a motorbike than you would in a car. We would stop at least every 2 hours to stretch, have a drink of water, have something to eat, and fuel up. When you are on the Nullarbor or in very remote areas you stop at every service station because you can’t afford to pass one. You don’t want to risk running out of petrol.
What is it like out in the really remote areas?
It’s hard to describe. There are lots of different types of landscapes but Australia is a very empty country, there is lots of nothing. It’s a very old continent so it’s very flat. But having said that, it’s quite interesting how the vegetation does change. Coastal plain turns into scarp, and there are literally places where there aren’t any trees, when you travel across the Nullarbor. You go for hundreds of kilometers with pretty much the same landscape.
It’s meditative in a way. It’s awesome to see how big this country is, and it’s awe-inspiring to realize how much space there is out there. You particularly feel that at night when you are camping in the middle of nowhere and there is nothing around you.
The sky is so clear. The stars are so close and the Milky Way... you are sitting there in your campsite with your campfire and you look up at the sky and it’s just… it makes you feel very small. It’s awe inspiring.
That’s really what it’s about for me… the space, the openness. Some people might come and think that’s really boring, but it’s not boring. That’s part of the attraction.
Litchfield National Park in the Northern Territory was amazing. It’s got spectacular waterfalls and waterholes. There’s an Australian obsession with water because it’s such a dry country, and you go through hundreds of kilometers of dry bushland to get to a waterhole, so we get really excited when we get there!
Uluru was spectacular. The land around it is like an alien landscape. It’s like the surface of the moon, but it the dirt is red. Everything is so flat, and there aren’t many trees. It’s a harsh climate, and there is this thing coming out of nowhere. You can see it from quite a long way away. I’m lost for words. It’s overwhelming how big it is when you actually get up to it. The redness, the colour…
Walk me through the camping
One of the best things we have is an app called Wikicamps. it shows every single possible camp site in Australia. You just pull up the map and see where you could go that night. Usually we didn’t really really know where we were going to spend the night, we just rolled. It was very unstructured.
The campsites are really varied. It might just be by the side of the road or it might be a beautiful spot by a river, or in a national park. Some might have a basic toilet, some are more sophisticated, with a shower and water, a barbecue. A lot of free camping spots have no facilities at all. There might be the other odd camper, but generally you won’t see other people. We like free camping because you can usually have a campfire.
What were the challenges of life on the road?
I don’t really think there is anything hard about camping because I enjoy it. I guess you get a bit grubby! Campgrounds are usually dirty and dusty, so you’ve got to be prepared to be a bit grubby. No white clothes definitely! If you enjoy camping you don’t really think twice about it, you just go a little bit feral!
For me feeling human is being able to brush my teeth every day, wash my face, moisturise, and put some mascara on. Also, being able to wash my hair every few days.
The longest we went without a shower was three days, so by the time you do have a hot shower it feels like the most luxurious thing in the world! It’s very easy to feel spoiled just by having a hot shower, or by being able to do your laundry. Life becomes more basic and you learn to appreciate simple things.
Any funny moments?
The whole thing was very fun. We didn’t come across many motorbikes which was surprising, and we were actually a huge novelty! Not only were we on motorbikes, but we were towing a trailer, which is fairly uncommon. Whenever we would pull into a campsite, people would just come and watch. The trailer is a bit magic. You fold it all out, and you’ve got your bed, you’ve got your tent, you’ve got your table and chairs and stove and gear… people were just amazed. We were a novelty to most people that we saw! “You’re towing that behind a bike??” and “How do you fit all that stuff in there?” That was quite funny.
What was the hardest part of the trip?
The breakdown that we had in Darwin was probably the worst aspect. We were between Kakadu and Darwin, nearly 4 weeks into our 6 week trip when we had mechanical problems with Steve’s bike. We broke down on a road. It was very hot and we had an overheated bike. We had to keep stopping to let the bike cool down then go just a little bit further so although we were only 60km out of Darwin it took us hours to get there.
We couldn’t really continue because we didn’t exactly know what was wrong with the bike, and we were under time constraints because we had to be back at work in two and a half weeks. At that stage we’d completed 7,500km but had about 5,000km still to go. So that really meant the end of the trip which was a shame. It was quite disappointing. But we decided to spend some extra time in Darwin, and then arranged to fly home and transported the bikes and the trailer back to Perth by truck.
But you have to look on the positive side, there were no accidents, no one got hurt, it was just a broken down motorbike, so it really wasn’t that bad!
We’ve got holidays booked again this July, so we’ll start from Perth and we’ll complete the journey by going up the WA coast and head to Darwin, and come back to Perth through the inland route.
Will you do anything differently this time around?
We learned a lot, so this time we’ll take less stuff! We had far too many clothes and carried stuff we didn’t need, so we will be much more minimal. Also we have invested in our own camper trailer which is a bit more sophisticated because it has a separate tent where you can actually stand, and an annex so we have a bit more shelter.
And this time I’ll take my snorkel and mask because we’ll be going to Ningaloo, Coral Bay and Exmouth!
Thanks a lot for sharing your stories and photos Mum, and good luck!
PS Isn't she a badass?
PPS If you enjoyed this, check out my Hey You! Yes You interview with Ellen, who has been up the Eiffel Tower over 700 times!