Are You Up For The Challenge?

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How does one describe the best adventure and challenge they've experienced in the past decade?

Written by james Righetti

The Simpson Desert Challenge
How does one describe the best adventure and challenge that I have experienced in the past decade? The thought of crossing the Simpson Desert on a motorbike was to become a dream come true. I was leaving for Central Australia the next morning and sleep didn't come easy. I was about to ride a Suzuki DR650 with nine other riders, all riding a Suzuki DR650, from Alice Springs to Birdsville.
Alice Springs
On arrival, at the airport, in Alice Springs we were met by Warwick Schuburg (Stay Upright Adventure Tours) and taken to Alice Springs via Heauitree Gap past the Todd River to the Plaza Alice Springs (hotel). Here we were introduced to the other members of the group and shown to our bikes. I observed that within our group there was variety of backgrounds and ages, farmers to corporate types aged between thirty to mid fifties. There was also a big gap in the rider skill sets starting with me, Mr Novice.

Over lunch Warwick introduced us to our other Stay Upright guide Dave and his wife, Robyn. He gave a quick overview of what was ahead of us and answered any questions we may have had, like which was the stop and go buttons on the bike. We all ate and chatted with each other, trying out a few bad jokes we had recently heard. This was going to be a fun group.davrobyn.jpg (14929 bytes)

After checking out our bikes and filling our new CamelBaks with water we were off to Alice Springs Desert Park. This place is fairly new and I was, at first, not in the mood to do the touristy thing but I found the park to be a definite come see. The park's layout and staff are excellent. From viewing native plants and interesting wildlife, like the Black Chested Buzzard, to sitting in the amphitheatre for an excellent 20 minute movie on the evolution of the desert landscape to seeing demonstrations on what the aborigine people used for weapons and hunting.

This time of year (winter) the heat was bearable and simply felt like a good eastern coast Aussie summer. After the Desert Park we went for a little ride and refuelled the bikes for the next day, the start of our journey. I was totally unaware of what was to come. The terrain and conditions that we would all be introduced to and the pace we would be riding at.sponsor.jpg (39430 bytes)

The next morning we were all up and rearing to go. Our support vehicle was all juiced up carrying plenty of fuel and water for us. We were to catch up with our second sWe were heading down the Finke Track via Maryvale to Chambers pillar. We were all pacingupport vehicle, carrying our swags (sleeping gear) and food later that day. We set off south back through Heauitree Gap to a turnoff leading from bitumen (asphalt) to dirt. This was starting to get more interesting.

Maryvale - Chambers Pillar - Finke
 Chambers.jpg (40648 bytes)Our lead rider, Warwick, and the speed gradually increased. The run to Chambers Pillar was along a quick winding track and introducing us to our first section of soft sand. To get your weight off the front wheel and keep the power on was necessary to control the bike. At Chambers Pillar I saw my first bit of history as this high lump of rock was first discovered in the mid 1800s by John McDouall Stuart whilst establishing the original telegraph line.

Later, back onto the red Finke Track, where the legendary and fastest off-road race is held each year, we were introduced to another stretch of terrain of corrugation which went on forever. The pace was once again picking up and I was on the pegs for each of the whoops (whoever named these things must have thought long and hard). The bike was doing its stuff under me while I simply kept the power on and kept time with each dip. I lost count of the amount of times I had close calls with the dirt. If your attention swayed for a second you will be eating the red stuff. The heat was moderate but we ensured we were keeping well hydrated sucking through the hoses of those excellent CamelBaks. Everyone should have one.

As the sun slowly disappeared we came across our first camping spot along the Finke Track where our second support vehicle carrying all the food and our swags was already setting up. We would have ridden right past if it wasn't for the smell of the campfire. Here we met a man with excellent local knowledge, Gerry, of Sandrifter Safaris. Gerry explained the camp ettique and answered any of our questions. The thing which astounded me was the quality of the food. A three course meal and a couple of beers later we were all yawning and slowly disappearing to our swags (swag - sleeping bag/roll) for a good nights rest.

At the first sign of light we were all rising with a few grunts, groans and farts. At breakfast we were all excited to get into the riding and we discussed how amazing the Finke Desert racers were at maintaining 120km p/hr (75 mph) on average, and reaching 180km p/hr (112 mph) in some spots. We all want to see that. We fuelled and serviced our bikes and prepared to head south/west passing the Old Ghan sidings which were used as water points for the old steam engines.

Warwick ran into one of his old mates in a 4WD and a lady from Perth who told us the fate of a guy attempting to cross the desert alone on his KTM. He was carrying his own fuel and supplies which somehow caught on fire. We were told he managed to get off in time to save his ass and wallet only. The bike was totally torched. He was fortunately picked up the next morning by another 4WD driver a little cold and hungry.

Further south was Finke where we all refuelled again and visited, after a few stacks, the local medical centre for some quick body repairs. Warwick got a few smiles for bringing in more business every time a group passes. Last year they were a little more serious with the injuries requiring a ride with the Flying Doctor Service. Our group was still hanging in there. My riding is improving with the varying terrains we are covering. The best part, we still have more to come.

Mt Dare
As we crossed into South Oz we passed through Witjira National Park until we came to Mt. Dare for another fuel stop. This is a great place to cool down, chat with the locals, read the graffiti on the stores ceiling and get a beer and meat pie into you. The only problem with that was not getting busted from Gerry, the cook, eating other peoples food, so as soon as he came in everyone was sliding plates over to some innocent bysitters. Sure enough Gerry asked who was eating the pies.

From Mt. Dare we had about 90 km (56 miles) to Dalhousie Springs across gibber country, gibber being boulders and large stones and then sandy creeks. I was surprised at the speed we were going and the fact we didn't get any punctures. Talk about turning into a human milkshake. Once on the dirt again the pace increased and I remember ploughing through a section of bull dust and unable to determine who was in front of me or down, for that matter, through the white clouds of dust. Mmm, thats why they kept telling us to spread out.

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Dalhousie Springs was fantastic, this little oasis in the middle of nowhere. We were all keen for a swim in this natural outflow of warm artesian waters but we did not have the luxury of dropping our kit and going for a swim as we still had a scheduled stop at the Delhousie Ruins. The ride out there was only about 15 km (9 miles) but was a good run. The ruins showed where the Afghan Camel drivers left behind buildings and date palms scattered about the spring. We found an old pipe running from a bore hidden by a cooling group of palms on top of the hill down to the remnants of the buildings of a bygone era. We were told the run back to the springs was at your own leisure and we put the thumping DR's through their paces. There was heaps of power to burn as we got into some gentle power slides. So far the bikes had been excellent for the various terrain we encountered. There was always heaps of power available and the suspension and stability was excellent. The temptation of the water (and cold beer) was too much. Any excuse for a good blatt (meaning race).

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On our return we just dropped everything and stepped into the warm water to soothe weary muscles. The support vehicles were in place setting up camp while we floated in the spring with our liquid refreshments. It wasn't long before the sun started going down and the sounds of the kamakazi mosquitoes commenced their first attack run. Gerry was quick to prepare the mozzie nets. This is bloody luxury.

dingo2.jpg (20172 bytes)The camp fire smoke was an excellent deterrent to these flying blood suckers and the campfire jokes got a little more bizarre. They were initiated by our sole female rider in the group, Sue. Most of the guys were holding back the real disgusting jokes initially because of her presence , but after she made some of the guys blush themselves, the 'good' jokes came out thick and thin. Sue is definitely a character. Employed as a crash test dummy (stunt woman) she has managed to acquire something like 12 broken bones. She was quick in renaming us with nicknames like 'Gerry-atric' and 'Tuggy'. She even affectionately calls out for 'Weasel' across the camp who is her husband, Brett!


The next morning it wasn't long before we were in the water again, our last dip before Birdsville. Once again Gerry, Karin and Carla had brekkie going producing a great feed. I thought I was gaining weight even though my body ached all over. Oh well, have another bowl of muesli.

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The Simpson Desert

Today was the day we hit the desert. We mounted up after quick repairs and turned left outside of the campground. We headed east toward Freeth Junction passing an airfield on the way. The track was fast and furious before one of the guys got a punctured front tyre. Here, Warwick and Dave stepped in and carried out the off-road repair while the rest of us sought shade from the hot sun. Soon we were mobile again and heading toward Purni Bore. Purni Bore was just before the Sth. Oz end of the Simpson Desert. The centre of this bore had hot water bubbling to the surface and there was heaps of wildlife about. Here it was starting to get hot and the CamelBaks got a good workout.

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The French Line is suppose to be the shortest, yet the roughest, of the desert roads being initially made by a French petroleum firm back in the 1960's. Here the sandridges were to be more difficult than the longer, but easier, Rig Road route. We all stopped at the intersection of the French Line and the Rig Road. We were gazing upon our first sandridge while waiting for the support vehicles as our fuel and, more importantly, our water was getting low. We decided to have a practise run at these dunes and Warwick led the way. After three or four dunes (and crashes) we were getting the hang of it and headed back to our RV point to await our resupply.

While hiding from the hot sun in the shade of the small shrubs, we showed genuine interest in Dave's pinpoint longitude and latitude from his nifty GPS, not that it meant anything to us. It was good to know that someone knew exactly where we were. Finally the support vehicles arrived and the ritual of filling CamelBaks with water and refuelling our bikes and bodies began. It wasn't long before we were off again. YaHoo!

I couldn't believe the soft sand. The first few attempts most of the group got through without error. Not me. I was standing on the pegs, leaning back, locking the legs in to stabilise, using the backend to steer and do you think I could stay upright? No bloody way! I even tried mental preparation 'You are one with the sand', 'The sand is your friend' and all of a sudden, SPLAT! I became one with the sand! After a while I was getting the knack of it with less of a ratio of crashes to sandridges.

There was definitely quite a few sore muscles and it wasn't long before camp was setup. By the time all the old wood was gathered for the fire, the support vehicles turned up to GIVE US FOOD! The campfire scenes were getting much more comical as everyone was more relaxed with each other (and tanked). We all wanted an early morning start so we behaved and were all asleep before midnight.

The next day was hell on earth. This section of the French Line was extra hard going where the track, if you can call it that, was unrelenting. There was no sections to take a break or even to sit on the saddle. We were on the pegs the whole way bouncing from one dune to another. The amazing thing about these sandridges is when you peak them the track usually veers left or right. If you are airborne on these crests the chances of a safe landing is cut by 90%. Then those things called whoops come into it. Too much or too little juice your backwheel is in the air and you are usually kissing the front mudguard.

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We had just past a very dry Lake Tamblyn and traversed one more sandridge where we managed to make camp around dusk but the support vehicles were two hours behind so we wearily did the wood collecting chores and waited. When Gerry and the girls arrived they cooked an excellent Thai Chicken dish, GOD we had it rough. All of us were stuffed. Sleep came easily and some of us awoke to the full moon going into an eclipse. I thought I was having a relapse from the chicken!


Poeppels Corner

The next morning we found ourselves at Poeppels Corner. This is the NT/SA/QLD border. Naturally this was a kodak moment and a chance to put an entry in the log book located there and read other entries. From here we changed direction north into NT and then east on the QAA line into Queensland. It was here where our next kodak opportunity arose. The now infamous burnt out KTM. What a mess. Someone kindly stuck a wooden cross in the centre of the track next to the bike obviously as a sign of respect. It displays the necessity for organised crosses of the Simpson using support vehicles. At least you would enjoy the ride more.Dead_rtm.jpg (55111 bytes)

The sand dunes were getting further apart but a little more bumpier, as we headed towards Eyre Creek, so we finally got to rest by sitting on our butts between dunes a little more frequently. The country side changed from arid, barren land to some splashes of green. We found a spot and waited for our next resupply of food, water and motion lotion. After lunch we go all the way into our main objective, Birdsville. Today is the day. But we still have some more fun ahead. sue_solo.jpg (30399 bytes)

Eyre Creek

As we neared Eyre Creek we were confronted with a Detour sign pointing north which meant adding another 45km to our trip. We all had voted at taking the creek by heading south and finding a safe crossing point. This turned out to be fun as we manoeuvred the bikes down a near vertical three metre drop into the creek bed and then gunning it up the other bank.

We then went north a few hundred metres to be confronted by a six metre wide stretch of water, half a metre deep with a very muddy bottom. The problem was the hidden log on the bottom which brought some of us undone. Never mind, the cool refreshing dip was well deserved.

Big Red

We could all taste that beer at the Birdsville Pub and only one thing now stood in our path. We were on a mission and Big Red, the tallest dune of the desert, was in our way. When we got to it we all had sick little smirks as we each had a run at it. The DR 650s powered over this beast with some of the guys showing off by going a little airborne at the top. Heh heh! Brett 'Weasel' decided to take in the view from the highest ridge but failed to stop on the top not realising their was nothing on the otherside except sheer air. Needless to say he came back up the other side in one piece. Where did you get to Brett?Big_red.jpg (36870 bytes)


Now we were on the otherside of Big Red heading toward Birdsville. A boring gravel road and a couple of cattle grids to go before we slam back a cold XXXX. As we approached the town I couldn't help feel the elation from all of us, with no casualties, to ride in together completing the adventure. After the bikes pulled up we made our way into the colourful front bar to get into a few beers.

Birdsville is full of character. The town was first settled over 100 years ago and definitely has some history. But after drinking so much that night and singing some songs with some aborigine cattlemen I am buggered if I can remember! Nevermind, I always have next year. By the way, who's this Charlie Pride bloke?

Find out more about the runs the way I did on the internet at Stay Upright's Adventure Safaris

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