Saturday, October 03, 2009


Day Five of the Simpson Desert Challenge

A quiet afternoon, a few beers and a decent feed. The perfect preparation to the final stage of the race.

After scrounging around the camp last night I managed to dig up half a cup of flour, some sundried tomatoes, and onion and a couple of potatoes to make quite a reasonable bangers and mash with onion gravy. Washing it down with a couple of beers and the last of the choccy biscuits I was off to bed full and happy, yet still quite tired from the week so far.

The landscape has change drastically as we moved to the northern edge of the desert. There is alot more vegetation here and the dunes, although much further apart, are significantly taller. To this end the race director Mark Polley has told us we will have extra time in the first half of the stage as he expects that most riders will have to walk the dunes. After the first water stop we will revert to normal Sweep time as we will be on the gravel road into Birdsville.

The early dunes are just as he has promised. Big, really big. And soft right across the top. Many riders walk both up and down the dunes, athough on some it is possible to find a small hard patch on the top to get back on and get going so you can ride down the far side. The gaps between the dunes are long and flat, up to 1.5km allowing all the riders to make reasonable time. The front bunch doesn't really take off today, there seems little point. The race for all intents and purposes has been won, so today is about getting as many riders as possible home.

The final dune looms larger than life in front of me. Big Red. The dune is monterous, even the 'short cut' which travels a further kilometre to the south and passes over a saddle in the dune called Little Red is huge. This is my last walk. Once I cross this dune it is hard packed corrugated road all the way into town, some 35 kilometres away. It sounds like a relief, but the currugations bring up once again the small issue of saddle sores.... sliding further back on teh saddle to get the pressure off my bum I lean forwad on the bars and wind it up. 35km should not take me more than an hour and a half. Today is done.

Crossing the line in Birdsville feels like one of the greatest acheivements I could make, however it is not until that moment that I realised that I took the brakes off my bike a week ago. passing straight through the finish line and another block and a half, eventually the bike slows down on the unfamiliar tar and I turn around and head back to the pub. Finished.

The worst thing I have ever done on a bike, and one of the best times I have had in my life.

Friday, October 02, 2009

I love it when a plan comes together...

Day Four of the Simpson Desert Challenge

With the Warburton Crossing closed Mark, the race Director, has informed us of a change of program for today. This morning will be a 46km stage across hopefully hardpacked terrain followed by a 100km transit stage. The dunes in the Northern Simpson are too big to ride and the track is entirely sand, meaning that the transit is imperative if we are to make it to Birdsville by Saturday Lunch. Strangely no-one is really keen about driving, but such is life. We will get a final go at sand riding tomorrow with 30km of very large dunes culminating in the ascent of Big Red before we ride the last 35km into Birdsville.

46km followed by an afternoon off? no matter what I am going to finish today. The sandstorm has left the first 20km of apparently hardpacked track covered in nearly a foot of soft loose sand. the only option is to go off track. riding on the hard crust to the side of the track I wander along at times up to 500m from the track, just a scar on the landscape off to my left. that's fine because I am making good time today. The first waterstop appears unexpectedly to my left behind some trees. I have to backtrack across to the road to ride back to the stop. Collecting food and water I jump back on my bike for the last 5km before the claypan.

The claypan is hard and heavily corrugated. Despite the discomfort I push it into the "Big Dog' and accelerate down the track. I am not worried about cooking myself today. I have the afternoon off, anyway I am already on the hardpack and there is only 1.5km of dunes at the end of the stage. Clearing the second waterstop I follow the track further north around the lake, then the track turns due east across the middle of the lake. The last dunes are in sight. Pedalling flat out I hit 42kph across the lake, racing straight up the first dune. 50 minutes ahead of Sweep, I have today in the bag, in fact I could walk it from here and still finish in time. But that is not the point. Dropping tyre pressure and gears I ride the last kilometre or so into camp with a grin from ear to ear. Today is a good day.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

A big day out.

Day Three of the Simpson Desert Bike Challenge.

The morning is a bit easier to cope with today. Sorting out my gear, I quickly prepare myself for the day. There are two stages again today, however the finish is still undecided. With flood waters still keeping the Warburton Crossing closed, we may have to divert the race north, this will mean a half day tomorrow with a transit, and a couple of nasty sand rides. If the river level has dropped then we will continue South-east towards the Birdsville Track as planned. As far as the riders are concerned, we will not know until the third water stop today, turn north and the race is shortened, turn south and it continues as planned.

Studying the race guide I have a pretty good chance at today. The start is again straight into dune country, the first 20km is soft sand dunes and some windblown sand lies across the track, Travelling with a couple of other riders we make good time and reach the first waterstop just outside of sweep time. After a quick bite to eat we make a dash south for a run along a clay pan. 25km of fast hardpacked clay allows me to make up about 40minutes as I turn into the final dunes section. This should be enough of a lead to get me through the next section of soft sand, and then the final run south is on more hardpack between the dunes. Today I am going to finish. I keep telling myself there are no more obstacles in my way, Sweep won't get me today. At the final water stop I am still 5 minutes ahead of the Sweep. On the other side of this dune the Warburton Road turns south and the finish is an easy 20km away.

Crossing the dune my heart sinks to a new low, the crossing is closed, the track turns north. To the north the track is covered in loose sand from yesterdays sandstorm, and I am now riding across it into a headwind. Somewhere ahead there is a another claypan, better riding but more exposed and a guarantee of more wind. At 65km I encounter the edge of the claypan, and crouch lower on the bike as the wind howls, scoffing down the last of my food, I have 10 or 15km left to go, I cant remember now.

All that matters is that I am still ahead of Sweep and still on the track. The wind howls and my muscles scream as I push myself through the wind blown sand over the track towards the finish, 70km, 75km... There are riders stopped in the middle of the track talking to the Medic, I know can't be more than 4km from the finish. The wind gets stronger and now it is a real effort to keep the bike going forward, soft sand is building up in patches on the track, and with my tyre pressure set high for the claypan my tyres sink into the sand slowing me down. I look at my speedo, 7.8kph. My legs are cooked, there is nothing left to lift me back up, gritting my teeth I dig in and keep going. It's got to be less than 3km now. Pushing harder on the pedals I struggle to regain speed, the Sweep arrives....

Shattered, and listless my support crew lift me off the ground and half carry me to the car. Unable to speak and barely able to hold a water bottle, I am cooked. Dave congratulates me on a big effort and lets me know I was 2km from the finish line. Then he tells me that he is going to tell the Race Director that I wont race that afternoon. I say nothing.

The whistle for weigh in for the afternoon stage blows. On auto-pilot - I climb out of the car and shuffle over to the doctors car. Climbing on the scales I am 2.5 kg down on my weight this morning. Given that I have just eaten about half a kilo of food and drunk about 3 litres of water and soft drink in the last two hours, that means that after drinking 10 litres this morning I still managed to lose 6kg in under 7 hours. the doctor looks at me. "are you riding this afternoon" Mal asks. "sure" I respond. Warily he nods at his assistant, " well just take it easy and make sure you drink alot". I nod and wander over to the start line. Dave brings me my bike, "are you sure?"
I need to start. The heat has a lot of riders cooked this afternoon. Struggling I pedal past nearly half the field before being swept again at the first water stop. I collapse in the car again after running with my bike on my shoulder, having gotten a flat 400m from the waterstop.

That night the desert throws everything at the camp. a sandstorm with 70kph winds and rain pound the camp and threaten a number of tents. Sleep, however, is not a problem.