Grandpa has been going on bike trips with his mates for ages. Now it was time he showed us how to do it and let us experience what it’s like to ruff it a bit. We were all excited and couldn’t wait to get going. I managed to borrow a bike, or rather a little beast! A Yamaha 450YZ with quite some power. A real beaut, but sensitive on the throttle. Grandpa has his old school and trustworthy Yamaha 500 XT, Nicolas his 125 TTR and Robin his Honda CRF 80. Bikes loaded and secured on the trailer, car packed with necessities for 3 days out, we were ready to roll. The road took us east for 250 km, where we left the tar road and headed south into the salt pans.
A vast expanse of open snow like salty flat space. Which fills up with rain in the summer season and dries up in the winter, so we thought. The dry looking crust can be deceiving and many cars have gotten themselves properly stuck by breaking through the thin crust and disappearing into soft clay like mud. So we kept to the edge looking for a nice place to camp. The boys couldn’t wait to get on their bikes so we offloaded them and they got geared up to ride alongside the car.
We drove for about an hour winding our way along the edge of the pans and crossing small grassland islands to find a nice spot.
Still with the luxury of pots and pans and a fridge with cold drinks we made our beds for the night and fried some meat for dinner. After the sun had set the cold came creeping in and the wind picked up adding to the chill factor. The boys got into their sleeping bags after they’d eaten and listened to us tell stories until their eyes fell shut under the open sky.
The next morning we had a good bush breakfast with left over meat, eggs and beans before we got packing. Laying out the essentials, making sure we had energy rich, but light foods, as well as water, fuel, tools and extra spares.
Distributing these into bags and onto grandpa’s bike. Once it was all packed we put on our gear and saddled up. Released the clutch and off we went.
It started off easy, winding our way around grass islands on dry pans. But not long after our departure the crust became very thin and the soapy clay underneath made it difficult keeping the bikes upright. The bikes would slip at the slightest shift of weight, and it took some skill and luck, mostly luck, to not wipe out. Robin got propper stuck on one spot, his rear tyre sinking half into a soft spot.
So we regrouped had a short look at the map and decided to head for the nearest grass island and see if we could find a cattle track or road. This wasn’t any easier, as holes were covered by grass and it was very bumpy terrain. So we slowly navigated our way towards the trees, where we hoped for some sort of road or track we could follow. Before that, Robin took a fall, hitting a hole he didn’t see. Body and bike all in tact we continued shortly after having settled his emotions.
In the picture above you can see smoke on the horizon, we didn’t know at the time, but we were going to drive right through that bush fire later that day… once we had found a track, we managed to drive more comfortably at a higher speed and make some distance. Finding a less used road not long after. I lead the group followed by the boys and grandpa concluding the rear. As we drove, heading south we came into burnt areas, feeling the heat and smelling the smoke of a young burnt-out fire.
No worries yet, but the further we drove, the more we caught up to the fire itself. At places the flames were so close to the road we had to wait for them to become smaller. In other places the smoke was so dense we couldn’t see, but we decided to push on through. Though the boys needed a bit of convincing. We did hope that none of us would fall and spill petrol close to any flames or coals. Luckily we got passed the fire sooner than expected and we could find some shade to have a break. Get the gear off and enjoy some snacks and one of the few cold drinks we had managed to squeeze in.
Before dark we wanted to reach the open pan, so off we went again. Navigating our way towards the southwest, knowing the pan would once again appear at some stage. Once out of the thorn trees and narrow tracks it was a relief cruising on open dry pans. Not before long we found a nice spot and while Robin and myself set up camp, Nicolas and grandpa headed to some trees, not so far off, looking for firewood. they returned and we all went for a little exploration ride without any luggage, making riding the bike a lot easier. Heading west we were hoping to find one of the bigger pans, where one cannot see the other side. To our surprise the exploration ended sooner than expected. As we turned a grass island we could only see water, as far as our eyes allowed us to see…
Back to camp we headed before sunset, we lit up the fire and talked about the day’s excitements and challenges, as well as triumphs. No pots and pans at hand we grilled the sausage we had taken, directly on the coals and devoured it with some slices of bread.
Knackered from the days ride and the icy wind having picked up again, we all crept into the sleeping bags after dinner and fell asleep looking at the stars. The next morning we woke with a layer of moist morning due all over our sleeping bags and gear. Grandpa got the fire going and we made some coffee for us and hot chocolate for the boys.
After a simple breakfast it was time to pack up and head back home. Find our car and trailer first of course.
The bush fire from the day before had burnt out and we managed to find more used roads that took us closer to where our car was. Coming onto the pans further north than we had exited the pans the day before. Meaning that these pans were a lot drier and easier to drive on.
Finally back at the car early afternoon, we got the bikes loaded and headed home. Having had a fantastic adventure with challenges and surprises. All went well, glad that we had no damages done to the bikes or the bodies.