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2019 Desert Raid Rally

By Tony Caramia

Like most outback adventure rides you spend the week or two before the ride putting all the stuff you think you may need together on the shed bench and on the bed in the spare bedroom.

Loaded bikes.
Then when itís all there and you try to pack it you realize that you could not possibly carry it all on your bike - so you proceed to get rid of half of it. This ride was no different. One thing I still havenít learned after all these years is that there are shops in other places in Australia. You do not need to carry weeks of supplies from when you leave home.

Gwalia workshop.
The Desert Raid Rally is held every alternate year somewhere in the great outback of Australia. Itís a one night rally where we all congregate at the campspot, spend the night telling exaggerated stories about other rides we have been  on, then the next morning pack up our tents and go home.

Camped near Laverton.
This ride for 2019 was held in WA at Empress Springs which is North of the Great Central Road on the David Carnegie Highway turnoff a few kilometres before the Tjukayirla (pronounced Chook-a-rilla ) Roadhouse. As far as highways are concerned this one only shares the name with real highways. It is actually a non-maintained gravel/sandy outback track.

There were about ten riders from our area here in the Lower West and three in our little group. Richard Charles, Leon Durrant and myself. Due to our limited (one week) timeframe we decided to trailer our bikes to Leonora and start the ride from there. We had two Suzuki DRZ 400's and a KTM 450. So we preferred not to leg it to Leonora from Albany but cruise in the comfort of a Land Cruiser.

We had an uneventful drive to Leonora and booked in at the miners accommodation facility, which has lots of single room dongas, for the first night. The next morning after a ďheartyĒ breakfast (and I mean wow, these guys eat really well) we went to check out the Gwalia ghost town. It really makes you appreciate looking through the abandoned site how tough life was in the goldrush days, especially for families.

Breakaway camp.
From there we spent the next three days getting to Empress Springs throughout back trails and gravely roads. We camped the second night at the bottom of a huge breakaway that was about a kilometer long. Usual campfire and storytelling (sorry canít share any stories, whatís told on the ride stays on the ride...mostly). It was a magical spot with caves to explore and lots of stars at night. Rich red and white clay area.

Old railway bridge.
Lots of great riding and interesting country out that way. Every few kilometers there was something to stop and look at. Abandoned mines littered the area and temporary infrastructure in ruins. Materials were so valuable that when a mine site was finished with, the buildings were dismantled and relocated to a new site.
We camped at Tjukayirla Roadhouse on the fourth night and then explored the area in the morning before backtracking a few kilometers to head up the David Carnegie Road.

Pine Tree Cave.
This is great riding with lots of variations in track conditions from  gravelly sections to soft sand. The soft sand did not suit all riders with some guys even pulling out and going home and in other spots the sand was telling stories of spills and scuffles to get going again.

Warming-up in the morning.
We arrived at Empress Springs that afternoon and set up camp, I think I was the 185th bike to register so it wasn't a bad turnout. That night there was lots of campfires scattered through the area with alcohol running freely and bursts of laughter erupting in all directions. That was one hell of a cold night....See photo of my temperature gauge at 6:45am. Just before that photo was taken it was at -6. When we got up there was ice covering everything, so on came the fires again to warm up.

Ladder into Empress Springs.
We then checked out the spring which was a deep underground cave with a chain ladder to climb down. It was very hot and humid inside and about 10 meters deep. There was very little water at the bottom.

Leftovers from the old diggers.
The trip home was very much the same with lots of exploring and investigating of old mine sites and landscapes, appreciating the hardship the old gold diggers went through to retrieve the dream of that valuable metal.

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