There are lies, damned lies and advice about road conditions offered by locals. It may be dry season, and the creeks may be low, but I'm about to discover that the first 35km of road from Cape Tribulation to Cooktown (known as the Bloomfield Track) are not for the faint hearted.
The gravel road starts just out of Cape Tribulation village and there are warning signs that the road is for 4WD vehicles only. A few km into the drive I encounter the 1st creek crossing - Emmagen Creek. Crystal clear water and a rocky bottom – looks OK. ¾ of the way across (it's about knee deep), I'm distracted by the view upstream and deviate from the main route and suddenly find myself on loose river boulders rather than compacted stones. Result – the back wheel drops into a hole and the bike is stuck fast. Hung up on some large boulders with the back wheel spinning uselessly!
Fortunately the water is not fast flowing and the bike is securely lodged allowing me to dismount and unload all my gear and carry it to the far bank.
While I'm scratching my head wondering how I'm going to get out of this, a car turns up. Just a plain old sedan (an old front wheel drive SAAB). The driver (Richard) turns out to be an north American, who (although he has lived in the Cairns area for a couple of years) has decided to drive up the Bloomfield track for the 1st time in a borrowed car.
Long story short – while I sit on the bike to stop it from falling over, he removes the boulders that are keeping me stuck and we manage to get the bike out and up the slippery bank on the other side. My feelings are mixed at this stage. Relief that the bike is now safely across, mixed with trepidation about what lies ahead! Richard pushes on ahead while I repack the bike. “If he can make it in a front wheel drive sedan, then I can make it!” I tell myself. Onwards!
The next hour is the hardest riding I've ever done. I oscillate between feeling total terror and absolute exhilaration, my blood awash with adrenaline.
The track varies between wet creek crossings, steep (I mean VERY steep) ups and downs, dry dusty boulder strewn creek crossings and corrugated gravel. The very worst of the steep hills have concrete paving which helps. Total concentration required at all times, with little opportunity to enjoy the passing scenery. Most of the time I'm standing upon the pegs, which makes control of the bike a lot easier.
I finally emerge from the 'track' at a small aboriginal community called Wajul Wajul where there is a brief section of sealed road, before it returns to gravel for the final kilometres back to the main Cooktown road.
Shortly before rejoining the main road, you pass through Rossville where the (apparently) world famous “The Lions Den Hotel” is located. (http://www.lionsdenhotel.com.au/). Stop for lunch and a cold drink. Find Richard – my American friend – having coffee and we exchange horror stories about the track. Then on to Cooktown – Richard says we'd probably run into one another again, as Cooktown only has one street (not true) and bugger all people.
Back on the sealed road, I pass the mysterious Black Mountain (http://www.cooktownandcapeyork.com/do/nature/np/black-mountain-national-park). A totally strange phenomena – a couple of mountains consisting entirely of very large black basalt boulders – the colour apparently caused by algae growing on the surface. Eerie!
In Cooktown I cruise up and down the main street, find a café and order coffee and cake. No sooner have I sat down on the veranda overlooking the street and the river mouth, than along comes Richard. I buy him another coffee as some compensation for his roadside assistance.
I find a camp site at the local caravan park, and as I'm pitching my tent, two motorbikes turn up. There has been a motorcycle rally up on Cape York, and these were a couple of Victorians making their way back to Cairns. They and their bikes are covered in the notorious red bull dust that plagues the roads all over Cape York.
Bruce and Tony tell me that they had their dirt bikes (Suzuki DR 650's) shipped up to Cairns on a trailer, then by barge up to the Torres Straits where they disembarked for the ride down to the Rally at Bramwell Station on the Old Telegraph Line Peninsular Road. Apparently over 200 bikes from all over Australia turned up.
When I tell them I came up the Bloomfield Track they shake their heads indicating they think I'm crazy to attempt it on such a large heavy bike, especially without knobbly tyres.
I head back up the road to the local supermarket for supplies and beer, while they set up their tents and have a shower to remove some of the red dust.
We spend an pleasant evening together. They plan a rest day in Cooktown before doing the Bloomfield Track as a short cut to back to Cairns. Good luck guys!
I'm heading back down to the Atherton Tablelands – hoping to hear from Marco that his bike has been cured of it's electrical problems.