Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Can it get any worse?

Day Two of the Simpson Desert Challenge.

"C'mon Gumby it's 4.30..."

Are they serious? Two days in a row? Crawling from my swag I scratch myself and look around. There are 29 other riders standing in the darkness, most have a far away look in their eyes as they remember their baptism in sand the day before. Weigh in with Dr Mal shows that I have lost a kilo in the last 24 hours - no great worry now, but worth keeping an eye on he says, remember to drink.... The start today goes straight into Big Sand. Increasing sized dunes for the first 30 km before turning north to run between the dunes for 10km then east again into more soft sand. These are the two worst stages in the race traditionally so I don't have high expectations of finishing today, but if I can get away after the first waterstop I have a pretty good chance of making a fist of it for a while.

The trick it seems, for us slower riders at the back of the field, is to avoid the main track. The lead riders have chopped up the dune tops and a lot more headway can be made by riding up beside the road and making a go of it on the hard sand next to the track. Rolling down a dune-back about 8km in to the ride and the tyre rolls off the bead, flapping around the wheel arch. Wasting time fitting it back to the rim and hitting it with a couple of CO2 cartridges to get it seated again is putting a serious hole in my time. 20 min later I have it rock hard and ready to roll. Rolling off, that's way too much pressure for this sand. Letting it down feels alot better in terms of getting a reasonable degree of float over the sand. with my almost flat tyre, I start out again.

Tyre burps again, no more CO2.....Sweep makes the inevitable call on his horn 15 minutes later. As I sit in the car I berate myself for my stupidity and lack of organisation with my bike prep, then I realise that today is probably a good day to be swept early. A dust storm whips across the desert, punishing wind and sand reducing visibility to a few metres in some places. The entire field is slowly swept, leaving one lone rider battling against the clock and the desert. Alan Wins.

Afternoon stage starts after a frantic lunch stop. The troublesome rear tyre gets the flick and is replaced with a Downhill tyre I had for "just in case". The sand storm abates leaving behind clear skies and 42 degree scorching heat. Lunch is shoved in and a bottle of water follows for good measure to keep the Doctors happy.

This afternoon riders are dropping like flies, The desert has taken its toll this morning. At the 8km mark I came across two riders, it seems Freddy has really struggled with the heat and has taken refuge under a tree, struggling to speak and making little sense, it is clear that he needs some one to stay with him. Kane is a higher placed rider and capable of grabbing a podium so I shuffle him out and stay with Freddy. Twenty minutes later he has started to speak and is making some sense. Checking he has water, and knowing the sweep is just over the next hill, I leave Freddies bike in the middle of the track and make a run for it. Its hardpack this afternoon, but Sweep is right on my tail.

Riders are littering the track again this afternoon. Every few hundred metres there is a rider resting or waiting for Sweep to come and get them with that vacant, hollow look in their eyes of a man with nothing left to give. The medics are tending to a team mate of mine as I ride past. Should I stop? He has some good people looking after him. I can grab a few more kilometers, harsh, but so is this place. Clearing the first waterstop I am only minutes in front of Sweep.

I managed just over half the stage this afternoon, Finally a good effort, things are looking up. I roll in to my swag and stare up at the perfect night sky, planets, stars, comets and satellites all dance before my eyes. There is nothing left to go wrong. Tomorrow is going to be a good day.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

So, this is sand.....

Day One of the Simpson Desert Challenge.

Its four thirty in the morning and I am standing, rather cross and quite cold and miserable in the middle of Australia's largest desert. Thank you for your concern, how do I feel? Uncomfortable.

Thirty other guys and their crews are going through the same pile of morning rituals; food, water, bathroom, water, bike, get dressed, water, coffee, water... there is so much to do and the race start is constantly approaching. "What time is it?" I ask, sucking on a water bottle. "Quarterpast 5", replies Uncle Dave absently chewing on a mouthfull of weetbix as he packs away swags and gets the car ready for the day.

After weighing in I wander back to the car and grab my bike and riding gear, there is 10 minutes from the start and the excitement is building in the camp as the riders wander to the startline. At 112.8kg I am the second heaviest rider in this years feild, that is really not going to help me at all in the soft sand. This morning is a 80km stage to start the race, about 25km of increasing dunes followed by a 10km run south between dunes before turning east into bigger dunes until lunch. The afternoon will be much the same.

Rolling off the start line we all feel our way over the first few dunes, a short play in sand riding the previous day was helpful, but after the tenth fall from stalling in the powder soft sand it is clear that there is a very steep learning curve coming up. At about the 6km marker I fall heavily again, no injury but something has gone wrong as the drive train has started to play up badly. Stop and fix it? That could take me 25minutes and then Iwill be in a dangerous position with sweep times, If I battle on it may come good. with fourstable gear combinations I continue on, but thes gear selections are still a significant issue, too high to spin my way over the sand dunes and far to low to sprint between the dunes on the clay topped road. the ending is inevitable. Sweep will get me today....

With one gear choice I continue to ride over as many dunes as I can, walking across the soft crests and coasting between the dunes, with only 5km left to the first water stop I might be able to get something sorted there. Not to be the case however, the Grimsweeper fulfilling his duties as I entered the first waterstsop, that is my first day done, second rider swept, fresh and ready to ride, but with a bike that just refuses to play.

A frantic lunch stop ensues. As most riders escape from the 40 degree heat and rest, I rebuild my rear derailier, and gear housings in the sand, less than ideal working conditions for such a finicky job. with 15min left before the afternoon stage, I have a result, 7 of the 9 gears work consistently, so I'm ready to give it another go. After the upset of the morning I am keen to have a go and try to put some km down.

The first 30km is a relatively hardpacked run south between dunes, and a good opportunity for me to stretch my legs again before turning back into softer terrain. Overtaking many riders on the harder surfaces I run quickly to the south and my spirits have risen quite alot, it feels good to actually get some km up on on the board. 700m short of the final water stop that dread horn blows behind me, Sweep has once again caught me in the soft dunes, with only 10km to go, clearly need to lift my game......

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Bored in the desert....

Waking early again this morning we headed up to the servo in Coober Pedy. Dreggsy and I had both had issues in seating the bead on our new tyres and needed the compressor to sort things out. As we mucked about with bike junk, Dave (Uncle Dave as the entire crew came to know him) sorted out the truck tyre pressure fuel and other minor 4wd related chores. In the same time Lissanthea needed to take a moment to find a grocery store to pick up some bits and pieces for lunch.

Finally ready to roll and armed with two crusty bread rolls and a bag of salad, we headed up the track to Oodnadatta and the Pink Roadhouse. This was the last petrol for 800km until we got in to Birdsville in a week. filling up before theSouth Australian convoy, we headed outinto the desert proper. Along the way we stopped to remove a dangling number plate from the back of my car and to scope out the amazing landscape.

From the Pink Road house we headed east along station tracks to a spot called Dalhousie, old ruins of a previous cattle station, and then on to Dalhousie Springs for a swim for an hour. The springs were over 35 degrees and were soooo nice after three non-stop days in the car. A short arguement then erupted in the convoy over whetherwe should be staying for another swim in the morning in the natural hot spring or moving on to stay at Purnie Bore. Moving on won, and we all bundled back into the car for another 40km of very rutted and sandy tracks.

An hour and a half later and finaly our rag-tag little convoy creeped into Purnie, just as the last of the dying light fell beneath the sand dunes in thewest revealing an absolutely magical evening sky. At that moment I really had forgotten all about riding bikes......

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Wild, Wild West

We decided this morning that we should get underway quite early as we had a significant drive to do, leaving at 5am we headed west towards South Australia and Port Augusta for Lunch and some groceries. a couple of coffees and some race food (aka Pizza) later, and we met up with the Summit Trax lads at the petrol station for the trip north to Coober Pedy.

As the girls hit up Go-Lo for foam Pirate swords, the rest of us sorted out important jobs like food and fuel and scoped out the competition. the drive was LOOOOOOOOOOOONG, and just a little bit samey samey, but only for the first 600km. A couple of stops at Woomera for a photo op at the missile launch site and a couple of the salt lakes allowed a welcome releif from the driving,and eventually we rolled into Coober Pedy.

Wayne (Rocket Man) Chapman managed to completely bungle the bookings for the evening and after the second attempt we managed to find an underground hotel that actually had our names in their booking sheet. settling in underground we relaxed, there is only one more day of driving to the start, and tomorrow we hit the desert!

Friday, September 25, 2009

A Journey of a Thousand miles...

After a hard night driving half way across the state, we holed up in the F1 motel at Dubbo. An early start this morning saw breakfast at thebakery at Nevertire before continuing west. The further west we headed the worse the weather became. At Wilcannia we were told the road ahead was closed at Little Topar due to a sandstorm. Driving in the storm I could see about 4m infront of the bull bar and we crept along the highway at about 25km per hour, slowly edging our way towards Broken Hill.

Finally we arrived after a gruelling 10 and a half hours of driving. dumping our gear we went straight to the pub for dinner and a quiet beer to wash the dust off. There are still two very solid days of driving to do as we have to get to Prot Augusta for lunch tomorrow to meet the guys from Summit Trax 4wd club, and then off to Coober Pedy and the desert. The crew and riders have started to come together and there was plenty of friendly banter across the radios. The trip ahead looks promising and I am really looking forward to the race