Dreamtime in the Australian Outback | Burned Under

By Joe Gresh, Photography by Joe Gresh

She left me in Perth with nothing but three grand Australian, a hot-rod Visa card sporting a $25,000 redline and a new Suzuki DR650. This kind of two-wheel, wind-in-your-face freedom isn't free. As I'm the one doing the adventuring, a short process of elimination left her to supply the funds. What? Someone has to pay for adventure.

At 3 o'clock in the morning, the Fremantle Doctor roars through the campground. Sections of my tent exceed the speed of sound. The east-west support bow doubles over and the fiberglass rod fractures at the slip joint, sending the ragged edge tearing into the outer rain fly.

Dawn finds the DR650 blown over. The front brake lever is curled into a C and the bar end has punched cleanly through the foam inner liner of my new helmet.

I pack up what remains of my gear and head north to Cervantes. I rent a particle board palace on the beach, unload my gear and ride to The Pinnacles Desert. There, a dirttrack winds through crazy columns of rock standing proud of the sandy desert floor. My meditative putt is interrupted by an irate Aussie driver yelling at me for riding the wrong direction on the one-way trail.

The road north to Carnarvon is my first taste of the Bessemer blast furnace that is the Australian desert in summer. Through waves of superheated air I count 22 dead kangaroos in a one-kilometer stretch of road. The Grim Reaper rattles his rusty, bloodstained scythe over my shoulder. Nine dead kangaroos, then 12. Extra points for a mummified cow? I call this game "I Spy a Rotting Carcass" and play it all day long.

From Exmouth I circle the North West Cape to Yardie Creek, where the asphalt turns to sand. The matronly Suzuki settles down and for the first time since I bought the tall dirtbike my Thumbelina toes can reach the ground. One-hundred kilometers of coastal dirt road to Coral Bay looks like a toddle on the map, but the Suzuki's weight and the soft beach sand have me in a panic. I've come undone in the outback.

Tired of pussyfooting around, I slide up on the tank and get aggressive. If I'm going to crash, I might as well do it further down the trail. Suzy likes it rough-at 100 kph she planes on top of the pink sand like a 17-foot Boston Whaler crossing a rail yard.

The broiling North West Coastal Highway leads me away from Coral Bay to the very gates of hell: the Nanutarra roadhouse. Gassing the bike, I meet a disgruntled former American trucker. He tells me he earns twice as much driving in Australia. I don't point out that since his tractor is pulling four trailers, he is technically earning half his U.S. wage.

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