Ride Report – Alpine Assault Rally 2017
The Alpine Assault and the Red Bike of Shame
Words and images by Nick Fletcher
When Winston Churchill was asked how history would judge him, he replied “history will be kind to me because I intend to write it”. This is very definitely my approach to Maschine’s Alpine Assault Rally. If you want an honest depiction of my performance on the ride you won’t be reading about it here. In this article we will be dwelling solely on the failings of my fellow riders, of which there were many.
Maschine, the high end adventure tour company, run by Nick and Trudi Selleck had promised the “the hardest adventure rally in Australia”. When it was suggested that I could come along and take pictures my first thought was “who can I get to come with me?”. This was not so much because I needed a hand with the photography gear, but more because I never like to be the most inept person on any ride. It didn’t take me long to persuade Mark Morrison, my untalented Ginger accomplice, to come along in order to mark the accident black spots with his face. The concept of the rally was pure genius. Maschine would provide rally road-book (or GPS trace if you insisted), mechanical and medical support, accommodation and carry all your luggage on the ride. So all we needed to worry about is where we were going to crash. I could just see what was going to happen when you set a group of hardcore adventure riders on a point to point ride across some of the toughest terrain in the high country. I severely doubted the “non-competitive” part of the event was going to get adhered to.
We arrived on Thursday night in time for us to catch the Bureau of Meteorology declaring the coming of the apocalypse. Furthermore, Andrew Daniels was stating that anyone who was thinking of going into the bush was an utter cretin. Unsurprisingly Nick and his team were having to re-think their plans. There was no way they could let a large group of riders take-off during Stormaggeddon without some sort of adult supervision. They decided to run the event as a group ride, with Nick leading, Chris Bostelman sweeping, the Doc (Mike Thumm) to pick up the pieces and me to document the carnage. Dave Ryan and Jim Bassett were responsible for driving the ute, bike recovery and rider heckling. Broadly the route was from Merrijig (near Mt Buller), to Woods Point (not near Mt Buller), to Dargo and back to Merrijig. The route gave us about 250km of riding each day and a chance to get stuck into some really fruity bits of the High Country.
It was a very varied group of riders and bikes that assembled for the event. We had a host of KTM 690 / Husky 701’s, a handful of 350 / 450 /500 enduro machines, two KTM 950 Super Enduro’s, one maniac (Deanne Limner) on a Sherco 300 two stroke and of course the bike everyone wanted, my 50,000km DRZ. That is not to forget Mark on his CRF450X (aka the Red Bike of Shame), which I assumed he chose to accessorise his ginger hair. Of course it was a delight to see the two ridiculous 950’s being (well) ridden by Rob Nowak and David Crampton (Rob of Erzberg fame and David a Romaniacs finisher). When I first saw Rob I assumed he had borrowed his 10 year old son’s bike, it then dawned on me that I was actually looking at a seven foot, 110kg man, astride the largest dirt bike ever made.
There were some real characters on the ride. My personal favorites were the Kerli, Matt and Lachlan; three fifty something (and I suspect I am being generous here) reprobates who were on weekend release from their NSW care facility. Lachy was the Peter Pan of the group, if Peter Pan was really small enough to shop in the children’s section of Target and could start a pub fight at a pacifist’s convention. Matt, was the quiet one who you underestimated right until he got on his bike. Kerli was the adult of the group, and I suspect was paid by Lachy and Matt’s mothers to make sure they behaved. All three were way faster than me on a bike.
We set off from Merrijig with Nick’s warning of fallen trees, waist deep mud and raging rivers ringing in our ears. He soon got us amongst it, on a brilliant track that mixed huge erosion mounds, slippery clay climbs and small river crossings. Mark provided some early amusement by sliding down the clay hill on his face. The 950 hooligans were in their element and even demonstrated their trials skills while we waited for Chris (sweep) to scrape 4 inches of clay off Mark and pop him back on the bike. Over the next section to Jamieson things got nice and comical. Firstly I was following Mark (Husky 701 Mark, not ginger Mark) and he got caught out by a slippery section and had a relatively straightforward crash that badly tweaked an already injured knee. While he rode through to Jamieson, this would see him spend the rest of the weekend in support truck. Further down the track I had ridden ahead so I could get some photos, but even with my clearly superior skills it took me four attempts to get up a steep pinch on one of the climbs. I mulled over staying to photograph the inevitable chaos, but decided (correctly) that the river crossing further on would provide even more opportunity for bike based mayhem. I arrived at the Jamieson River to find a fast flowing 30m wide crossing, of indeterminate depth. However, with the rain hammering down and the shelter of a disabled toilet clearly visible across the river (thanks Park Victoria), I had sufficient incentive to get me across the torrent without much thought. While I huddled in the most palacious dunny in all of the high country, the Alpine Assault team were having some real fun and games. As I suspected the hill had defeated a number or riders and it required a team effort to get everyone up. While I’m not one to publically shame other people, I do suspect it is worthwhile dwelling on Chris Bostelman’s abject failure to surmount the hill (“I had road tyres on, I was carrying a lot of spares, my ginger beard distracted me”). After deploying a long rope, a small team of unwilling volunteers eventually hauled the bike and its orange faced owner over the top. The survivors arrived at the river about an hour after I had crossed and found, to my delight, that it had risen by a good 6 inches in that time. Nick had little difficulty getting across but it certainly wasn’t true of everyone else. While Lachy can definitely ride a bike, the fact that his legs barely reach his foot-pegs meant that he did not have the option of gently paddling across with his river with his feet on the bottom. Instead he had a choice of “commit or drown”. To our immense enjoyment he chose “drown”.
We had a long lunch in Jamieson while the three man-children put 40 litres of fresh oil through Lachy’s waterlogged KTM. We then headed off on the scenic route to Woods Point. As we climbed up the rocky tracks to Mt Terrible it was smashing / bucketing / hammering down. I was having super fun chasing Nick and the 950 twins, with my goggles so fogged I just had to follow the blurred tail lights and trust that they knew what they were doing. At the first stop I took the goggles off to see where I was going and immediately had to slow down because I could see now see the man-crushing rocks I had been missing by inches. After huddling in the well named Mt Terrible hut we headed back out into the maelstrom. At one point we were riding along a downhill track in water 6 inches deep at 40km/h and the water was moving faster than us. The mighty DRZ chose this point to start having fuel issues which required stops ever 15km to fix while Chris, the ever helpful Sweep, made suggestions such as “have you tried percussive maintenance?”. The pub at Woods Point was a welcome sight for a very bedraggled team. As we re-fueled the bikes an even wetter group of very skinny men in shorts arrived. They had chosen the worst weekend in Victorian history to ride their mountain bikes from Canberra to Melbourne. Despite they conditions they were quite perky, happily telling us they only had 120km to go in their 800km epic. It was a high spirited team that tucked into steak and beer that night, entertained by one of the mountain bikers who turned out to be a ninja on the piano.
Day two started easily on the track to Licola. However, even some of the straightforward tracks became weirdly technical in these waterlogged conditions. A number of roads had been recently graded and while the surface was smooth, the track underneath had the consistency of sand, but with a variable crust on-top. Most of us were loving the chance to demonstrate our sand riding skills, but I suspect I was not the only one to endure the mother of all tank slappers. The highlight of day two came just before lunch. Nick found a brilliant 6km excursion that included a loose rocky descent, three river crossings and a wet clay ascent. With no hope of getting any normal 4wd in, it was exactly the worst place in the whole of Australia to kill a bike. Mark, using his ginger six sense, decided this was the place to dismount face first into 3 feet of water. Given, a change in wind direction is normally all it took to stop his CRF, there was no doubt that 5 mins lying on the bottom of a fast flowing mountain stream was going to cause an issue. While the crack team of Al “my other bike is a 990 but I thought I would take a DR because it will be more fun”, and Chris got to work on the Red Steed of Shame, the rest of us watched the creeks start to rise. It wasn’t quite a flash flood but within 30 minutes the rivers went from “that looks doable” to “is there any other way out of here?”. At this point Nick declared “Top Gear Rules” and led the rest of the ride towards Heyfield, leaving Mark, Chris and the ever dependable Al to try and salvage the waterlogged CRF. Even the ride back to Heyfield was not without incident when a corner man went MIA, leaving the Doc and I on an unscripted ride to Bonnie Doon. It’s not for me to say who was responsible for this crime against dirt biking other than to note that Lachy was uncharacteristically generous in the bar that night.
Meanwhile the energy being exerted to recover the CRF far outweighed its value. By the time they had got it going it had effectively had a bare frame restoration conducted by Chris and Al. Nick joined them in time to participate in an extraction that had all the characteristics of Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow. This included Chris’s big tanked 690 floating down river, Mark buggering his knee crashing Nick’s 690, and Al riding up the horrific hill that had defeated Mark two up on his DR. The rest of us were enjoying a cup of tea out of the rain in Heyfield while the recovery team were loading Mark and his Red Bike of Shame onto the support vehicle. This also gave me chance to spend 20 minutes holding my camera under the hand dryer in the gents to desperately try and dry the thing out. We then set off on a principally road ride to Dargo. Deanne was clearly delighted to get the chance to do 90km on tarmac on his 300 two stroke. He started the trip with 13 teeth on his front sprocket, but by the time he got to Dargo he was down to seven. My DRZ had picked up the famous Suzuki countershaft seal “improvement” and was leaking 100mils of oil every 50km. This enhancement meant that I now didn’t have to worrying about oiling my chain or be concerned about the risk of corrosion on my frame, engine or rear tyre. Indeed oil changes were now a thing of past with the entire oil supply being refreshed every 500km. Not happy at a road ride, the 950 twins decided to cut cross country and arrived at the hotel 2 hours after us with tales of an epic retreat from a “gully of doom”.
Staying in the famous Dargo Hotel was a treat, but finding out the Alpine National Park was closed was less exciting. This meant that the last day of the ride would need to head back towards Licola rather the iconic Wonnangatta Valley. Nevertheless, Nick found a spectacular route along the Dargo River, which gave the better riders the chance to drift their bikes around a beautiful series of bends high above the river (and at least one rider to dump it at high speed while failing to drift). Deanne was particularly enjoying this as he had managed to persuade Nick to lend him a KTM 1290 while his 300 made the trip home in the van. I was enjoying it slightly less as I was carrying four gallons of oil and having to top up the DRZ at every stop. With lunch at Licola we then enjoyed the run back to Jamieson over the mountains, with moody mist covered views of the hills all enhanced by the first break in the rain for three days. After a quick tea stop in Jamieson we were soon back in Merrijig loading bikes.
While the Alpine Assault did not go as planned, it is not an event any of the participants will forget in a hurry. We saw some fabulous bits of the High Country, got to spend three days with a really great group of riders and had the additional benefit of wantonly ignoring our Premiere’s advice. Having all of the hassles of accommodation, baggage, tyres and spares taken away makes a massive difference to this sort of riding. In 2018, when Chris and Trudi get to repeat this without the weather restrictions it will be a truly spectacular event. My bet is the 950 twins will be the first to the pub every day. Unless of course Graham Jarvis decides to enter. In the meantime I’m off to buy a new bike. Email me if you are interested in “lightly used” DRZ.