Sunken Miles: An unexpected end

Raman and I returned to Cairns from the Atherton tablelands to pick up the parts for my shock and finally get it fixed. The Lake st household  have showed us a great time. Taking us to music gigs, parties and generally including us in their day to day life. What fun, thanks Laura, Jerri, Brendan and Jake.

On Monday Laura took us to the Crystal Cascades waters falls for a swim in the afternoon. What a lovely spot tucked away in the hills just outside of Cairns.

Crystal Cascade

Crystal Cascade

That evening I began to feel unwell. I got a fair ol dose of the flu, so until Friday I was in bed with a decent fever. During all this I discovered that neither Wayne Leonard Motorcycles nor the Kawasaki dealer had the tools (a strong enough spring compressor) to get my shock apart. So it looked like I would just have to bounce my way to Townsville and get it done there.

Still not feeling well but feeling it was time to give the poor guys at Lake st a break from mr sick, I got my stuff together and headed out. Raman will head south now but I am not ready to be riding just yet. So, at least for a time, Raman and I will go our separate ways. Mark, a friend of Brendan and Jake’s, offered me to stay at his place.

On Monday I decided to get a doctor’s opinion and get some blood tests if needed to make sure what I had wasn’t Ross River or Dengue Fever. I didn’t think it was and the doctor didn’t think so either. I am feeling very low on energy. A little reminiscent of how I felt after I had Glandular Fever back in 2008. To help get me back on track I headed over to a Chinese herbalist to gets some herbs.

As I left the the car park of the herbalist, Mawson began to run rough and then stalled. “That’s odd.” I tried to start the engine again and there was a nasty kind of kick back. Almost like the engine bounding off the compression and heading backwards for a sec. It doesn’t sound great. This sound has happened before. I have cringed but its never caused an issue. I tried to start the engine again but this time the sound was different. It would turn over but no life. “Here we go” I thought to my self. “Here’s the mechanical exam”. Am I able to fix this my self?

I thought of a line from the book, Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance (that I am yet to read), “Find a good shady tree under which to carry out your repairs”.

Up here it is sage advice indeed. The 3pm sun beat down on my back in the bitumen car park but I soon found a place to push the bike to that was shady.

And so I began my exam.

Out came the carefully built toolkit. So what first. I thought the tank better come off. I’d check my spark plug first up.

Less than 10 minutes later the seat, side covers and tank were all off and I had blow all the grit out of the spark plug well with the compressor. The spark plug was a little black. I changed it for my spare and checked for spark by cranking the engine over with the plug out. Spark is good…but wait, why is the carby pulsing when I turn the engine over!?

At this point I knew I was dealing with something out of order in the valve train. Not good at all!

The next step was not so exciting. Pulled the cam cover off on the side of the street. Opening up the engine should be done in a clean workshop, not on the side of a street. However I have no clean workshop to do it in near or far, short of Donnie Lyon’s place 400km away. So I opened it up. Getting the cam cover off is tight and took a lot of effort indeed.

Cam cover off

Cam cover off

Once inside I could see the cam chain was loose. Not good at all! All the symptoms made sense. The intake valve cam had jumped a lot of teeth and was very much out of sync. I am not sure if a valve has hit the piston.

The cam chain is very very worn and has been rubbing against the case. A significant amount of metal has been worn away. The cam teeth have noticeable wear too. The cam chain tensioner is no longer able to keep the chain tight as the chain is so worn. The chain and cam teeth were in great condition when we did the rebuilt at Donnie’s place. This is the result of some sort of abrasive compound, presumably dust in the oil.

Wear on the case from the cam chain rubbing

Wear on the case from the cam chain rubbing

Cams out on the foot path *cringe*

Cams out on the foot path *cringe*


I retimed the engine but there wasn’t much point running it without tightening the cam chain. It would likely jump again, potentially doing a lot of damage.

I considered using quick steel to build up the chain tensioner to try to get me to Donnie’s.

I put it all back together and by this time is was 8pm and very definitely dark. Couldn’t have done it all without the help of my LED Lenser H14 head torch. Having spent five hours on the side of the footpath, I was tired and ready to call it a day. I pulled everything off the bike and called a taxi.

Back at Mark’s I ate and fell into bed in my tent. I would face the difficult question in the morning.


Waking on Tuesday morning, I had a very difficult decision to make. What should I do with the bike considering what I saw last night?

I don’t know how or what wore the cam chain, but I am pretty sure it will have worn everything the oil is in contact with. Some how dust has got into the oil, it seems.

The reality of all this is that, without pulling the whole thing apart, I just don’t know how much wear has occurred. I have to assume lots. There just isn’t any sense paying a bike shop to change the cam gears and chain knowing what I do. I am at a difficult cross roads. What do I do with the bike?

After talking with my parents a bit and thinking I decided to freight the bike back to Vic where I may swap out the engine in my own time in my workshop.

So, I took the plunge and found a company to freight the bike home.

The last of Mawson before Sending him home

The last of Mawson, all packed up but dead, before sending him home

Wayne’s Motorcycle towing offer a service from Cairns to Melbourne for bikes at $660.

And so, quite unexpectedly, the Sunken Miles journey comes to a close.

I am standing here blinking, in shock how quickly it has all come to an end. Less than 24 hours from the problem to it being gone on a truck. What a crazy set of events.

It has been an amazing journey and I am very grateful of the experiences, challenges and lessons it has thrown up.

Mawson got me to Cape York and back out. I am glad that it has happened this way rather than in some remote place.

I have done my very best to keep the bike functioning despite the harsh conditions. I managed to ride my bike for just on half a year in some very challenging conditions time and time again without injury and for that alone I am very happy. The fact that the bike is in poor shape and I am well is much better than the other way around.

I rode Mawson from Victoria up the Great Dividing Range through some of Australia’s toughest country to the Northernmost tip of Australia and back to Cairns over 16,266 km in 175 days.


An incredible journey of challenge, Sunken Miles.

An incredible journey of challenge, Sunken Miles.

Thank you to all those who have contributed to this incredible journey. Your are always welcome in my home.

I have enjoyed sharing this amazing experience with you all.
Oliver Holmgren

Sunken Man

Sunken Man

Sunken Miles

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12 Responses to Sunken Miles: An unexpected end

  1. David Holmgren October 30, 2013 at 3:14 pm #

    Strange that your bike, named after your ancestor Sir Douglas, Australia’s famous and idolised scientist/ explorer, should die almost to the day that a heated row has broken out over the reputation of the cousin of your paternal great grandmother. See Adelaide Advertiser story about a new biography

    The great story of KLR Mawson remains, as does that of Sir Douglas, but both stained by reality. Maybe KLR Mawson died from mechanical psychic shock as the news broke that Sir Douglas was not as pure as driven snow.

    Sunken Miles; a great adventure and a great story.

  2. Dustin McMurray October 31, 2013 at 5:54 am #

    seems you both fell apart around the same time Oli, wish you a safe return mate however you travel. If you havent done it before I recommend the train from Brisbane to Melbourne, you’ll see some amazing views that you cannot possibly see by foot. Peace

  3. Sandy Harman October 31, 2013 at 8:47 am #

    Oh Oli – so sad to read of the end of this adventure in such a way. However, seems like you’ve had the best of times so far. Congrats on getting to the top of Cape York – no mean feat I know (we need to start a club for people who have ridden a motorcycle all the way from Melbourne to Cape York on one machine – there’s you, Raman, and Daz and I at least!). I also understand that notwithstanding the mechanical nature of a motorcycle, once you have travelled with it so far, there is still some kind of anthropomorphic bond with it and to see it go on the back of a truck is like a piece of you being taken away. Looking forward to seeing you when you get back to Castlemaine. Have fun putting the life back into Mawson! Sandy PS Daz and I are talking of a trip next June/July from Melbourne to Mackay, west to Karratha and back to Melb – perhaps a last big desert trip before we get too old! Think about it.

    • Oliver Holmgren October 31, 2013 at 3:08 pm #

      So true Sandy, the bike becomes a part of your story and almost in a strange way part of us after such a long time relying upon each other. I felt a sense of failure to protect my travelling companion and steed from the perils of the journey as it was loaded onto the truck. I felt like I was abandoning a part of me. Having said this I have learned a great deal about motorcycle mechanics which was one of my goals. I guess one should be careful what one wishes for. I do feel I got everything I wished for.
      I am particularly grateful that it all happened in this way at this time though. I can imagine many less functional and less desirable scenarios.
      Thanks for including me in that exclusive club despite the fact that I didn’t make the return journey with the bike like you did.

  4. Lorelei November 1, 2013 at 4:21 am #

    Wow! It’s been a few days since I checked in on you guys…..I’m in shock! I’ll miss seeing what spectacular scenery each new day brings and hearing about what you guys had to go through to see it! But what an adventure!! I wanna thank you so much for letting me tag along, and I’ll look forward to the next one.
    I hope you’re feeling better.


  5. Sleepy John November 3, 2013 at 8:59 am #

    Not great news but all part of the adventure.

    Please check in on your way back down south. Always have bed space for you.


  6. Sleepy John November 3, 2013 at 10:21 am #

    The invite is definitely extended to Ramon as well if his adventures bring him back our way.


  7. Brian November 5, 2013 at 12:13 am #

    Oliver sad to hear the fate of Mawson 🙁
    Have enjoyed each nd ever Sunken Mies installment.!!!


  8. gregor November 28, 2013 at 8:55 am #

    Oli, you’re welcome to grab my bike if you need while you get yours back to health

    • Oliver Holmgren November 30, 2013 at 9:23 am #

      Thanks Gregor 🙂
      I’m working in Brisbane for a while but Ill come and visit when I get back.

  9. Floyd Constable March 16, 2014 at 7:18 am #

    Hi mate, Floyd from Milkwood here

    sorry to have read about the abrupt ending to your trip
    was nice reading and viewing your travels

    I have started planning an epic trip of my own actually – inspired in a small way by yourself

    I have started a bit of a thread following the ‘build’ of my bike, im sure youll find it interesting
    only about weeks into the build, but have been gathering parts and materials for months now
    basically turning 3 scrap bikes into one great one

    Enjoy mate 🙂

  10. Danilo July 8, 2015 at 12:22 am #

    Terrific job composing Sunken Miles: An unexpected end – Sunken Miles.

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