Tasmania’s Best Ride: The “St2St”
When we come out of the other side of this Covid-19 pandemic – and we will – and Tasmania’s premier lifts the strict bans on travel into Tasmania, people will be tripping over each other to take part in the 14th running of the Apple Isle’s best dirt bike ride, the “St2St”; a four-day, all-inclusive experience from east to west coasts, from St Helens to Strahan, through some of Australia’s most varied, picturesque and epic dirt bike terrain. With several of the Transmoto office crew recently adding to Tasmania’s rapidly growing mountain bike tourism numbers, it’s rekindled our appetite to get the hell back to Tassie and sample its similarly world-class moto tourism. So, to whet our appetites, and yours, let’s revisit the St2St ride we did back in 2011, which generated this amusing feature article – penned by Ollie Sharp, and first published in the March 2012 issue (#17) of Transmoto Dirt Bike Magazine…
Let’s see if we can find some more locals for ya,” says Ben Diver, standing there like a hired Middle-Eastern taxi driver with an A4- sized whiteboard with my name scrawled in thick black texta across it. I hadn’t the faintest clue who he was, but as I wheeled my multi-coloured Ogio gearbag out of Launceston airport’s baggage carousel, Ben had already picked me from the group of white-collar Sydney golfing twerps who lurked at the arrivals door. Formal introductions take place beside the 14-seater maxi-van, while Ben throws the gearbag and camera equipment into the back. Stomping the van’s throttle flat to the boards, we peel out of Launceston. Thinking we’d left a bunch of dudes behind, I query him: ‘Mate, what about the others, haven’t more guys flown in?’ Ben throws a quick smirk my way, saying, “Nope, they’re basically all locals now, not Hollywoods from the mainland. Besides, they’re already in the main coach, pissed, and heading for St Helens. We’ve gotta catch them.”
Of course, Ben’s surname isn’t actually Diver. That’s a nickname he picked up in St2St 4, when old mate Beno became famous for drowning his bike in three inches of water. For 2011, he’s opted to help St2St’s creator, Andy Gray, tackle the logistics of managing a busload of frothing local trail hacks to ride from St Helens on Tassie’s upper East Coast to Strahan on the gnarly West Coast, in the fifth edition of St2St.
Tasmania has always held a certain allure for me, helped by the fact that its folklore, bush, locals and uninhabitable terrain aren’t dissimilar to my motherland, New Zealand. To me, flying from the cityscape of Sydney to the bush of Tassie was a homecoming of sorts, only made more real by the time we roared into St Helens to rendezvous with the rest of St2St 5’s posse.
As I step out of the relatively plush late-model Toyota HiAce, two-dozen heads swing my way – some almost suffering from whiplash after a violent doubletake. Standing there in my maroon jeans, bottoms jacked up several rolls, blue boat shoes, designer-cut white tee and Ray-Ban Wayfarers hanging off my nose, I might have made for quite a sight, and an awkward silence rips through St Helens’ one and only skate park. I know exactly what they’re thinking (‘Who’s this kook? Shit, mate, you’re a long way from Sydney’s back alleys. Poof!’) and decide the best thing to do is break the ice by sticking out my hand to the closest friendly face.
Fate’s on my side as I bump straight into the guy who’s been organising my attendance in this three-day coast-to-coast adventure all along, Andy Gray. “Ollie, mate, good to meet you, man. How was that scenery on the way down … stunning huh? I see you’ve already met BHP … sorry, I mean Ben … oh, don’t worry about the lads, they’ll warm to ya. They’re a top bunch.” In fact, Andy takes me straight over to the roughest looking of them and introduces me. “Kappa, Dick, Hookie, Mo, Rus, Shep and Slim,” he says. “Play nicely now, lads. It’s Ollie Sharp from Transmoto Magazine.” Andy’s super-enthusiastic, like someone who’s running on high-octane Prozac. But, as it transpires, that was just Andy in his natural state – a really positive, happy-go-lucky type of dude. It was only then that the penny dropped – around these parts, guys don’t go via the official names on their mortgage papers; everyone’s strictly on a nickname-only basis and they’re all striking individuals.
As I receive the guided tour of St2St 5 riders – who are caressing their bikes, verbally and physically – Andy introduces me to my mount. It’s a near-new 2010 Honda CRF450X – generously supplied by Motorcycle City Honda – complete with Barkbusters and covered in duct tape to protect the plastics. I’m stoked. Not only have I arrived on scene via personal escort from BHP, and looking like a wanker, but my bike is fully prepped and looking rather swank in the company of beat-up DR-Zs, XR650s and a history lesson in KTM EXCs and Yamaha WR-Fs. It doesn’t take long for the expressions on the faces of the stubby-wielding locals surrounding ‘my’ CRF450X to be consumed with envy.
“Nice bike, mate,” remarks Shep, with a dose of smirking sarcasm. Learning to deal with these situations is something you get used to as a moto-journo; being flown to exotic destinations to ride pre-prepped machinery is a perk of the job. It’s better to cop a bit of flak, keep smiling and then diffuse the situation with talk of how the bike performs from past testing experience.
“Tested many bikes before, mate?” Jase fires back. ‘Definitely, man, it comes with the territory. These CRF-Xs are solid, dude; nothing fancy, just dependable, reliable and strong workhorses,’ I shoot back. Ben Diver then interrupts and adds, “Jase, what are you on about, mate? You haven’t even run-in that 2012 Berg TE300 of yours yet, you muppet!” From the intense smell of JD and coke on their breath, it’s evident Jase and Shep’s livers are at breaking point. Maybe this was their way of initiating me. After all, Shep was clearly loving something stable to lean against and, for someone I had only just met, he was already testing my personal comfort zone.
Squeal the tape forward 12 hours and the mood’s changed slightly. Racing down the golden sand beaches south of St Helens with a raging storm cloud over the Tasman Sea and breathtaking gorges to our west, we made our way through Heritage Country and up to Beauty Point. After a couple of fifth-gear wheelies along the beach and some Juha Salmimen-styled magic in the singletrail, the lads seem to have warmed to me and accepted me into their wolfpack.
Organised trailrides like this live and die on the cooperation of its riders and management. The pointman system is widely regarded as the international language of barebones navigational trailriding. By travelling in smaller groups, the lead rider of each cluster navigates while leaving the first chump on his wheel at a turn, stop or creek crossing to direct the remainder of their group through. Once the last rider has passed by, the man on point can remount and play catch-up again. It’s supposed to be failsafe. Until I turned up!
After the previous day’s display of riding ability, I’ve been thrown into the lead group of St2St regulars, containing none other than Shep, Dick, Hookie, Slim and Kappa. The pace is hot, and we’re the first to navigate our way through the Cradle Gateway from breakfast in Beaconsfield. After copping some fine Tasmanian bush roost off the rear-wheel of Kappa’s KTM 400EXC, I’ve been posted to a right-hand kink in the firebreak. Having directed the remainder of our small lead party through the turn, I’m left standing there aimlessly, waiting for the others. Two minutes of nothing but silence felt like an eternity in my delirium of hours already spent in the saddle. And not wanting to miss out of the action up front behind Kappa, I thought to myself, ‘To hell with this’, and chased after Shep – the last rider to pass my way.
After valve-bouncing through some of the most picturesque trail, filled with huge uphill firebreak ditch jumps, I came to a grinding halt at the summit with Kappa, Shep and the boys. Surprised to see me, Kappa asks, “What are you doing here so quickly, man? Did you leave someone on point?” A split-second of reality and guilt was all it took to turn the pit of my stomach into cement. The realisation that nearly two-dozen bikes were heading in the wrong direction, 10 minutes back down the trail, had taken its grip and it was all too much for Shep to handle. “Oh, f@&k! That’s f@&ked! We’re all f@&ked! The Kiwi’s thrown a couple of dingos into the paddock of sheep and left the gate open, the sheep are out, all the sheep will all be gone!”
It took most the afternoon for me to digest that cement blockage, but something new had consumed me. As we rolled into Paradise Valley, our lush motel rooms were sitting plumb at the bottom of an ancient volcanic rock mountain magically catching the last glint of pink and yellows of sunset. I had my heart set on seeing a Tassie Devil, and of all the places to see or at least hear one, I thought Gowrie Park was going to be it. We were, after all, on the edge of Cradle Valley. But all I copped was Andy’s Darwinian thoughts on the valley’s colonisation of flightless friends. “Right, if you have a look over there, see that family of bush chooks? Right, well, further over near that road, you’ll see another family … and there’s another just down by that dam. About once a fortnight, they’ll meet up and have a corroboree and root each other senseless. Then they’ll run around like ‘I’m the toughest, I’m the toughest’ and have chicks, and then when they grow up they’ll piss the oldest one off. He’ll either start his own clan, die or get eaten by devils. I kept on thinking if they breed the way they do, this valley should be full of them.”
By lunch on Day 3, most of us were riding sidesaddle, swapping cheek-to-cheek, trying not to further aggravate an already nasty dose of monkey-butt. Roughly 35% of Tasmania is made up of World Heritage-listed parks – Cradle Mountain’s Lake St Clair National Park was just one of them we passed through. We’re stopped on a rocky outcrop 500 metres above sea level among a scattering of fern and feasting on lolly snakes, and Cradle Mountain’s snow-capped peak was the only landmark interrupting our sweeping view of the great Southern Ocean. The closer we got to the West Coast, the more I became intrigued with stories of how wet, wild and rugged it was supposed to be. Yet, within hours of Strahan, there was nothing but magnificent blue-ribbon sunshine. I could only smile, suck in lung-fulls of forest-fresh air and log those moments as some of the most defining in my life.
As the thick bush subsided to spinifex and sand, a short skip down the abnormally subdued shores guided us to our final fuel stop at the sparsely populated town of Granville Harbour. Waiting there in canary yellow was the Bell JetRanger III – or Andy’s “action plan”, as he called it. After hearing so many tales of Tassie’s West Coast, I was desperate to explore every inch of the infamous Granite Track from behind the bars of that CRF-X. But, within seconds, Granville Harbour dropped away from beneath my feet as the Jet Ranger’s turbines went into a frenzy as the pilot applied maximum thrust.
The following 20 minutes were spent swooping metres over riders’ helmets like a parody scene from the hit television show, M.A.S.H. After all, I was hanging from the chopper’s fuselage, secured only by a lap belt, to shoot the glorious vista and action unfolding below. By the time the chopper settled on its skids in Strahan Harbour, we had ridden more than 900km across the upper chunk of Tasmania. It had taken three days, averaging roughly 40km/h and more than eight hours a day in the saddle. Only three bikes had failed to make the distance, there were no injuries, and that final Red Bull arch on the shores of Macquarie Harbour was a surreal sight, set against the backdrop of yet another technicolour sunset.
As the sun dipped below the horizon, Kappa, Shep and I reflected on the incredible variety in terrain we’d ridden through over the past three days. From the sandy shores of St Helens, to the fingers of jagged rock and deep mud that occupied the Midlands, to the descension from giant gum trees in the upper reaches of the West Coast to blaring white sand dunes of Ocean Beach. It’s no wonder this adventure is constantly referred to as ‘The best ride ever’.
Shortly before I shut my eyes to do battle with nightmares of returning to my rat race reality in Sydney the next morning, I flick onto the ABC, and catch the remaining 25 minutes of the All Blacks fending off France to win the 2011 Rugby World Cup. ‘You bewdy’, I think to myself, ‘You bloody bewdy’.
Behind The ST2ST
Trailriderz is one of the most widely followed clubs in Tasmania, and officially began in 2007 when Andy Gray and six of his mates drew up a forum-based website to coordinate ride days and dates. Word of their organisational endeavours spread like wildfire and before long they had 500 online members from within the state, with several hundred more from the mainland. After a few well-executed trailrides, the concept of riding from St Helens to Strahan was born in late ‘07, and is now Tasmania’s best-known and most highly regarded multi-day adventure trailride. After four St2Sts from 2007 to 2010, Trailriderz officially created the commercial arm, Taztrax, for the fifth edition of St2St in 2011. The idea was to turn what was once a ride of passion and absurd losses into a cost-effective and professionally run event. And although Tasmania enjoys a recreational rego scheme – much like Victoria’s – Trailriderz and Taztrax encourage every one of their members to forgo ‘rec rego’ in favour of full motorcycle registration, which provides them with ‘legal freedom’ wherever they ride. What makes the St2St so unique is that most segments of the ride are made up from locals’ knowledge. That means there’s always detailed information on hand about the terrain, access to fuel, accommodation and an exit strategy if the weather suddenly turns sour.
The Great “Shep”
Winning the award for the drunken larrikin for the fourth successive year was a walk in the park for Darrell ‘Shep’ Shepperd – a builder from Oldina, near Burnie in Tassie’s North West. He’s had a colourful upbringing that lends to his equally colourful personality. Rocking up to his first enduro on a late-1980s YZ125 with no rear brake and the pads in the front-mounted the wrong way, Shep shot down the first steep hill and, not being able to stop, carried right on through the bottom switchback and deep into the jungle. His next stead was a beloved Suzuki SP370 that burnt to the ground after he hit a tree and split the tank. Watching that thing turn to cinders sent Shep MIA for several years. Chasing waves in WA, he surfed for the Red Bluff surf team and lived in a cave for months on end. Shep now rides the wheels off his WR450F, still loves getting on the cans and snores like a steam train, but he was always the first to stop and help. He should’ve won the award for being a top bloke as well!