Saturday, May 9, 2015

Simpson Desert Crossing.

July 31 Simpson Desert Crossing Day 1. 248 km
We woke up with the sun just like the past week. Its hard to sleep in when you are on the ground or in a tent. You are bundled from the night before and you will be in a pool of sweat if you deiced to be lazy. I decided to take a shower. I knew it could possibly be the last chance I have to shower until Alice Springs. Alice could be a week or more away. While I was in the bathroom I filled both my 10 liter bladders with water. These bladders were not meant to be reused. They were taken from a box of water and were basically the same as a boxed wine bladder. Just as strong and just as classy. The top could be pried off with a knife or teeth for refill.

A typical camp for me in Oz. 

Craig had his pannier frame welded and I grabbed a few last minute things. By 11:00 we were headed into the Simpson. It was 45 km of crap road but it went by quickly. We stopped just below big red under a tree. I could tell Craig was nervous. I would be lying if I said I wasn't nervous also. I had been teasing Craig about the weight of his bike for the past few days. I always thought he if anyone would be able to ride through it. Get Craig on a 690 or the like and he would ride through anything.

Needed when your Ute or BMW 1200GS is to heavy for the Simpson desert.


Big Red

Craig about to give it a go. 

We rode out into the dry lake bed and looked at big red. Motors off, we discussed what track, speed and gear to attack the monstrous red dune. Rock paper scissor. I threw rock, he threw paper. He started his bike. I filmed from the bottom as he pulled away. I heard 1st, 2nd, 3rd gear... he went up the dune quite quickly with little effort. Then I heard the rev bike rev and saw him loosing control. I saw a puff of sand as he fell over. I started my bike and rode up in 2nd gear standing on the pegs. Not a bad dune to climb. There would be worse. Craig was ok. He had his bike up and wasn't hurt. He had hit a hole made by a Ute that probably didn't let the air out of their tires. These were the same assholes who chopped up the next 350 km of dunes from spinning their tires and bouncing their trucks up and down. If they were skiers or boarders.. we would call them gapers.

We tried to get Craig started again at the top of big red. We could not get him moving with out him tank slapping horribly. After a few tries we rested and talked. He said he was very tired and he felt like he just spent 1/2 his energy... on the first dune. He said "lets try again tomorrow". I replied, "I'm not trying to be an asshole, but what will change? Will you bike loose 40 kilo?"

Reluctantly he agreed it was not a good idea for him to continue. He said said he was pissed at him self for not being able to continue with me. We discussed the ramifications if I continued alone. I didn't have a radio, cell phones had been useless since we were 2 hours out of Sydney, but I did have a spot tracker. I had enough water for 3 or 4 days and enough fuel to cover the distance and then some. I took a few more supplies from his bags. Candy bars, oatmeal, cheese, canned meat and some wraps. When we packed earlier in the day, we divided up our rations to spread out the weight. Now I was taking on more. But it was not to much to carry. We said our good bye and he went back east. I went west. Down big red. Into the Simpson. Solo.

I knew there was a group of 4 ozzies in front of me on 2 KTMs and 2 DR650s. My plan was to ride until I caught up with them then tag along. I figured I would ride until nearly dark then find them when they were setting up camp. I rode over the next 6 dunes in relative ease. I was starting to get my rhythm. At the most it was 15 minutes. I caught up to the 4 Ozzie riders. They had left Birdsville an hour before Craig and I. I was surprised to see them so soon until I started talking with them. They were all spent. They said there was only 1 dune of the past 7 that then made it over as a group without falling. At least 1 of them fell on every single other dune. The tone was defeated. They were all turning back.

Now what do I do. I feel comfortable. I'm riding good. I have supplies. Fuck it. I'm going ahead. At least till tonight. I will camp in the Simpson and turn back in the morning if its a bad idea to go on. So I said good bye to the group and continued on. Over the next dune I dropped the bike. I was so embarrassed that they might have seen me but I was already out of site. The next thought in my head was maybe this wasn't a good idea.

I was going East to West. Most people went West to East. The dunes are gradual on the west side and steep on the west side. Since most people were driving east, the gradual west side was torn up bad. Very bumpy and rutted. I was climbing the smooth steep side, and coming down the rutted, bumpy side. I thought it wasn't a bad choice. I didn't really have a choice in my direction of travel though. My general direction of travel in Oz at the time was east to west.

The dunes were soft. It was getting toward the end of winter. The weather was hot. I had to keep drinking loads of water. It hit me mid afternoon that Craig had the Gatorade powder in one of his bags. I was drinking so much water but I knew I was loosing my electrolytes. I would have to make some very salty food that night.

I fallowed the QAA line from from big red to the Queensland/Northern Territory border. Then the track ran south for about 15 km along a dry lake bed. Then turned west again at Poeppal corner. The plan was to take the french line all the way to Dalhousie Springs. This was the shortest distance but it would be the most chopped up. The dunes basically run north/south in long ribbons of sand. Some times you cross dry lake beds in between. Other times you just have flat sand in between. The lake beds were hard and rutted but I could get a chance to sit down and rest. I would shift into 3rd and let the motor idle along. I didn't want to speed up to much, then my rest time was over before the next dune. Sitting down in the sand would make my bike uncontrollable at any speed it seamed. 1st gear was to slow. 3rd gear was to fast because of the woops. I would beat the crap out of my bike with all the extra weight. 2nd gear was perfect. I would start out in 1st gear and stand up as quick as possible popping it into 2nd. I would let the torque of the thumper take over and propel me along.

Its not snow, It just looks like it.

I met some bikers at Poeppal corner. It looked like they had done the Simpson as a day trip or they had a support truck. They had minimal gear and most of them had light bikes. They were surprised to see me by myself and asked me if I needed anything. They said they didn't have any Gatorade but one of them had a fizzy drink thing called Barocca. Its chocked full of vitamin B and apparently works decent for hangovers. I figured a cup of that in the evening with dinner would be a welcome change over water.

The sun was getting low. It was after 4:00 pm when I was getting past Poeppal corner. I was very tired. I had gone further than I thought I would that day. The dunes on the start of the french line were very torn up and soft. It was better to stop and get rest than risk getting hurt. I set up camp on a dune overlooking a dry lake and ate dinner watching the shadows get long as the sun set over the Simpson. Typically in the desert I only set up my tent if there is going to be rain. In Oz I would put down my ground tarp, then my sleep pad, then bag, and use my tent as an extra blanket. This night was an exception. There were holes in the dunes that were made by some sort of insect and I didn't want to find out what they were. I fell asleep before I could even zip my sleeping bag all the way up. It was no later than 6:30.

August 1. Simpson Desert Crossing Day 2. 261 km

I woke up 1/2 hour before sunrise. I wanted to get an early start when the dunes were cool and holding any moisture they picked up from dew. I knew there wasn't going to be much. My sleeping bag had no signs of moisture on the outside. I watched the sunrise while I ate my oatmeal and drank instant coffee. The sun was still low when I started to ride. Down the dune and across the lake bed that looked like snow. My good feeling fell as I dropped the bike on the first dune. What the hell was I doing? Did I make the right decision to go on? A sobering mood hit me. The struggles of the day before came back to reality. It would be a long day.

The sun is hot but the wind blows new sand to cover old tracks.

I soon got my rhythm back and was having a good time. I would see a few cars going the same direction. I would pass them and say hi. I'd say "pick me up if the bike is tipped over when you pass me". I was traveling at a higher speed so after the next dune, I would never see these cars again.

I think I can.. I think I can.. I think I can.. Crap.

You are here.

In the early afternoon I came over a dune and saw a truck below. When I pulled in the clutch the bike died. No big deal, it was probably just running hot. I hit the thumb switch and heard a sound I didn't like... "clackity clackity clackity"... The bike didn't fire. It didn't start. The starter wasn't engaging the motor as it should. This was bad. Just down the dune there was a hard patch of dried clay that I was able to pop the clutch in 2nd gear and get her fired. It just got real. I have at least 45 km of hard dunes left if I kill the bike in the dunes, I'll have to get very creative to restart it. My only choice was to continue. If I had to stop, it would have to be in a place with hard ground and a slight hill. This was the first time I have owned a KTM 690 that I wished there was a kick start.

The day before, I realized how liberating it was riding alone in the dunes. I would only have to worry about myself. I would never have to turn around to help someone else. I could just concentrate on riding and never look back. Had I been with someone else, We might both still be out there. Now with the bike not able to restart, I knew I was truly on my own. I would have to get myself out of this mess I got myself into. It was stupid. I hated it. And I loved it.

Over the next 45 km I would ride 3 or 4 dunes at a time then get sloppy and have to take a deep breath and regain my composure. I had to concentrate so hard on my line and riding in order to keep my momentum going further. My brain was being an asshole. It would start to wander and thing about what was wrong with the bike. The bike did not need to be fixed right now. It was running. It was driving. It was getting me out of the dunes. I just needed to keep concentrating on riding. 40 km left. 35 km left. 35 km left. I played games in my head where I would keep riding as long as I could before I looked at my GPS again. 25 km left. I tipped over my bike but pulled in the clutch and revved it before the shutoff switch could kill the bike. Adrenalin picked up the bike. It was not me. I was to tired. I would drop the bike 3 more times. With 11 km left of dunes I dropped the bike. I got thrown from it and I knew I could not get to it before the motor shut off. I sat and watched as the bike died. The desert got quite. The only sound was the wind and the ticking of a exhaust cooling. There was no way I would be able to roll start it here. There was no way I could push it out. I shut off the key and put the bike up. I drank some water and ate a snickers. I was tired. Now I could think about what to do. What was wrong with the bike? I'll try to start it one last time. Turn on the key. Pull in the clutch. Pop it into neutral. Check the throttle. Hit the thumb switch.... Clackity clackity POP thump thump thump. FUCK YES! I shouted at the top of my lungs. Something, someone, somewhere was looking out for me. God, Karma, Allah, the Universe, ghosts of relatives past, maybe it was dumb blind luck. I don't know. I don't care. Some how the bike started. And it was time to go. I made it out of the big dunes and onto the more tame part of the french line. There were long stretches of rocky gravel. I could stop the bike anytime now and restart it with ease by pushing it in 1st gear and popping the clutch. I had enough weight on the back that I didn't even need to sit on her to get her to fire.

Out of the big dunes. Time for lunch

Back into a traveled area

This guy was walking across the Simpson. 

I rolled into Dalhousie springs just before sunset. I was so tired I but excited. The campground director told me they were happy I made it. He said "you should go get a soak in the hot springs and we will settle up later".

The hot springs were nice. The little fish that nibble on your dead skin had a feast on me. I watched the sunset and soaked for 2 hours. I had made it through the Simpson desert. I felt more elation now then after the BAM. This had been the riding I was missing. But why do I need to push myself to the absolute edge... past my comfort zone.. past the point of safety.. way past the point of common enjoy it?

And finally. A video I put together.