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.