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He did what? The Sandman | Columns | Gassit Garage

If you can dream it, it can be done… right?

There’s only one reason to visit Poeppel Corner. And that’s to say you’ve been there. There’s no grand old pub with a wide shady verandah, no historic public edifice to admire. Not even a single-pump servo. As soon as you arrive it’s time to leave; but not before the obligatory photo on the corner of South Australia, Northern Territory and Queensland.

Augustus Poeppel was the first, even though his calculations were skew-whiff because his measuring chain was a few inches short. All that sand and a few scrabbly desert oaks looked much the same, so no one really noticed until geologist Reg Sprigg’s Nissan G60 made it all the way from Oodnadatta to Birdsville.

Then came the ubiquitous Leyland brothers, Hans Tholstrup, Rex Ellis and a full 4 Corners TV crew, the entire Wynn’s Sydney to Darwin Safari field, even a mad bloke in a Mini Moke.

And more than 40 years have passed since John Fidler, Peter Gunner and Ralph Tice made the crossing on big-bore two-strokes.

Since then, the journey has been completed on everything from a Honda C90 – probably not much less effort than the pushbike it was pacing – to a BMW R 1200 GS. And a few years back I followed a brace of KTM 950/990 V-twins along the QAA Line – imagine following a herd of rogue Brahmins on acid – but we made it out and back to Birdsville for a few calming schooeys well before sunset.

So what did 50-year-old Darren Gouder hope to prove when he rode his rigid-framed chopper 2000km across Queensland to Birdsville, fuelled up with an extra 30 litres of premium, 10 litres of water, adjusted his swag, and headed west – to Big Red.

Over the previous year, along with his ‘adventure’ bike, Darren had built an enthusiastic social media following by inspiring the down-at-heart, while simultaneously giving the finger to the knockers.

Darren’s own inspiration arrived in Australia as a Honda CBR900RRS ‘Fireblade’; a powerful in-line four-cylinder superbike. But Darren had spent his childhood playing Dakar in his backyard sandpit, and then, as a child of the Easy Rider generation, a chopper was the epitome of cool. This conflation of dreams resulted in a brightly coloured rigid-framed beastie that proves imagination has no bounds.

A rigid-framed bike, wearing a giant cross-section rear tyre, is at its best on a long, straight and very, very smooth highway – and even then it appears more comfortable than it feels.

But, as any dirtshifter will confirm, the first thing to improve on a serious off-road bike is the rear suspension. Darren fixed that by spending absolutely zilch, threw his fishing tackle aboard and rode down to the beach.

That’s when the sniggers started. “So you can ride to the water’s edge,” sneered the critics. “What about some
real sand?”

Darren threw his swag over the Rigid Rider and rode to Fraser Island, where he was spotted by inveterate outback adventurer John Rooth.

Now, after a million miles or so travelling Australia, not much surprises Roothy, but after sighting Darren blasting along the beach on Fraser Island, he wrote: “I feel as if somebody has kicked open my door of what’s possible and let all the random thoughts out.”

While many enthusiasts admired The Rigid Rider, most doubted it had much purpose beyond an inspiration. And the critics were still on about the sand. Which is why Darren was in Birdsville last August. Less than five hours later, he’d ridden almost 200km over 360 sand dunes – including Big Red – arrived at Poeppel Corner, and taken the obligatory photos for his legion of admirers. Then ridden back.

“Without the extra fuel, water, spares and swag I could’ve gone considerably quicker,” Darren says.

Take my advice. When Darren turns up on the startline at the 2018 Finke Desert Race, laugh all you wish – it only motivates. And, while the likes of David Walsh and Toby Price needn’t worry, the odds are that Darren will still be there at the finish.

 WORDS Peter Whitaker