Adventurous or Crazy? No matter which way you look at it, a trip across the Simpson Desert is one of those 4X4 adventures which culminates in a multitude of different opinions and emotions. Whether it’s excitement or trepidation or quite simply the pleasure of being in one of the most remote places in the country, the Simmo has it all. For the adventurous, it’s generally on the bucket list – right up there with Cape York and the Canning Stock Route. But to do it on a ‘fatty’ (aka fat tyre pushbike)… that’s gotta be crazy, right?
That’s exactly what happens each year in September as part of the Simpson Desert Bike Challenge, and we were there this year to witness an extraordinary bunch of athletes and 4X4 support crews as they endured the sun, the sand and the uncertainty of the Simpson Desert in order to raise money for a great cause – the Royal Flying Doctor Service.
The race starts from Purni Bore on the western fringe of the Simpson and it’s early to bed and early to rise at 4.30am, as the riders’ legs get their first taste of the desert dunes at the 6am start. From here on in, it’s five days of racing, with two stages and around 130km of riding each day. This year’s event took a slightly different route to the norm, traversing the French Line, the Rig Road, the Warburton Track and the Birdsville Inside Track, with the race finishing at the iconic Birdsville Hotel for a couple of well deserved, but not so quiet ales.
As rider support crew, our job was to get our riders to the start of the event, support them throughout the race and then safely back home again. This is no mean feat considering a normal Simpson Desert crossing takes most people around three days. We had to consider the extra food, water and supplies needed to support these crazy cats over five days, let alone our own meagre needs in comparison.
At 5.30am, the lead convoy heads out before the riders and has the pleasure of experiencing spectacular sunrises, as well as the task of setting up water and medical stops along the route and both the lunch and dinner campsites. The rear support crew travels at a leisurely 12km/h behind the riders, so there’s certainly plenty of opportunity to get a selfie and take in the desert scenery as the 4X4 convoy meanders its way over hundreds of sand dunes.
The support crew’s job takes in everything from camp chef at breakfast, lunch and dinner, to masseuse, water boy and mental therapist to ensure the riders are able to get up and going for each stage of the event. Not only is this race physically tough and demanding on the riders, it’s also incredibly mentally tough as the Simpson Desert heat, wind and terrain take their toll on the riders, officials, crews and vehicles.
The elements aside, there’s plenty to contend with and this year’s event didn’t go without its fair share of casualties. The riders faced dehydration, heat stroke and ‘crater like’ saddle sores in the nether regions. Only nine riders completed the whole distance and two failed to start. There was also a multitude of mechanical issues and the ever present challenge of staying in front of the sweep vehicle and the rear 4X4 convoy.
For the vehicles, one 4X4 didn’t make the start due to a cracked fuel tank. There were damaged aerials, bull bars, driving lights, tyres, suspension, tents and awnings, but as the race name suggests, it’s all part of the challenge!
If you’re a little uncertain about tackling the Simpson Desert on your own, then this event sure is a great way to see it. As a volunteer crew member or race official, you can take your 4X4 across the desert knowing there’s plenty of support and 4X4 experience on hand to get you through. This year’s event had a young family who volunteered as the official timekeepers as well as others who volunteered as rider support crew or medical staff. There’s even an opportunity to get some of your costs covered as part of it, not to mention the fun and mateship of being part of well oiled team, with spectacular desert scenery along the way.
As with any big trip, just getting there and back is half the fun and with the race finishing in Birdsville, it provides plenty of options on the return leg. For us, it meant a trip back south through Cordillo Downs, Innamincka and the famous Burke and Wills Dig Tree, the Old Strzelecki Track, Cameron Corner and on towards the Darling River before hitting home.
Of course, we can’t finish a race report without a mention of the winner and a big congrats must go to all the riders, but an even bigger one to a guy who can only be described as a machine – Congratulations Bruce Wood!!
For more information on how you can be a part of the Simpson Desert Bike Challenge, head to www.desertchallenge.org
Not only is this race physically tough and demanding on the riders, it’s also incredibly mentally tough as
the Simpson Desert heat,
wind and terrain take their toll on the riders, officials, crews and vehicles.