2009 Russell Worthington - 10 Deserts Ride Report - Fastest Cyclist - Unsupported

Russell Worthington's 10 Desert Cycle Epic

This is how you do the Canning Stock Route - FAST!

Russell Worthington of Australia holds the record for the fastest unsupported cycle of the CSR. The Canning Stock Route was just one of ten deserts he cycled in one go, a total of 7500km! I have included the whole article he wrote for Enduro Magazine as it gives a comparison to some of the other deserts he rode.

Russell Worthington regarding his record traverse in 2009: "I planned 21 days for the CSR, using the "light & fast" philosophy I've always used for mountaineering, so as not to lose too much weight as Jakub (Jakub Postrzygacz) did. I took food for 23 days, allowing 2 days contingency. Obviously, in the end, I used every bit of this for 23 days en-route.''

 

10 Deserts Solo Cycle Epic
2nd May – 28th July 2009

Words by Russell Worthington

Russell Worthington decided pushing pens (or tapping keys) and watching the little hand roll around to ‘5’ wasn’t the sort of challenge he was seeking so he decided to gather up some gear, load up his fat wheeled bike and pedal through ten Aussie deserts completely self-supported. It wasn’t all clear skies and crackling camp fires though, Russ well and truly had his work cut out for him. Here he talks us through some of the memorable days pedalling through inland Australia.

Inspiration for this crazy  adventure stemmed from photos I saw of Jakub Postrzygacz’s first solo and unsupported ride along the Canning Stock Route in 2005. I knew right there and then that this was how I wanted to see outback Australia for the first time.

I’d formulated a ride route which combined the three toughest 4WD desert crossings in Australia: the Canning Stock Route, Anne Beadell Highway, and Simpson Desert. Two of these three crossings had never been ridden in this style before. My 7500km route would traverse ten deserts and a total of two thousand sand dunes. What an epic!

Speedway Cycles came on board with sponsorship in the form of their super-light titanium frame and fork (complete with 4 inch tyre clearance), originally designed for riding in snow. Behind the scenes I’d developed an innovative way of fixing my water to my single wheel trailer so it wouldn’t slosh around. All was looking good.

Fast forward the clock nine months, and I was rolling out of Alice Springs with 20lt of water, seven days’ food, all my essential camping gear, and bucket loads of adventurous spirit.

For brevity for this magazine article (Enduro) I’ve selected to describe just a few pivotal moments from the adventure:

Russell WorthingtonLeg 2. 1960km Canning Stock Route (CSR)

I’d made it comfortably through the Tanami Desert ‘honeymoon phase’ of my ride. Now, less than a week into the CSR, I was in the thick of it. I don’t know how my bike, and trailer and Crosso panniers managed to support let alone transport this gargantuan three weeks’ food, heavy water load, bike tools and spares, communications, navigation, camping, cooking, first aid and photography equipment, and one change of clothes. I didn’t see a single soul in my first three days on the CSR, and then only three 4WD parties in the first week.

I filled up with 40lt water at Well 46. My hand-pump micro filter made the water safe to drink. I’d arrived at the biggest dunes I’d seen to date. With 40lt water onboard, most dunes were impossible to ride so I had to separate the trailer, push the bike to the top and return for the trailer then I’d reattach the trailer for the descent on the other side, although sometimes a single dune would have up to four crests. I was still north of the tropic of Capricorn and temperatures were in the high 30s, it was tough going.

In one day I travelled a meagre 40km with dunes no more than 1km apart, I found that I’d drunk 14lt water in that day alone. It was so beautiful out there but I was acutely aware of the danger at these times. My proximity to water and remaining water volume was always foremost on my mind.

Not a soul to be seen, I was completely exhausted, and needed a breather. I lay down on some leaves atop a dune; it was so quiet and peaceful until I heard a crinkle in the leaves near my right ear. I sat-up immediately to see a small scorpion scurry under the cover of the leaves. I wanted a closer look so used a stick to probe the leaves but it was too late, the curious critter was gone.

I chastised myself for being so careless and just collapsing “anywhere”. My only treatment for a scorpion bite was the strongest non-prescription pain killers I could buy across the counter. Even with these, I was warned it would be two hours of the most intense pain imaginable. Fortunately for now though, all was good. The desert had taught me a valuable lesson!

As coincidence would have it, only minutes later a 4WD party passed from both the north and south to arrive at the crest of this same dune at the same time. They were talking on UHF though so fortunately there was no collision. These guys were fascinated by the adventure and requested a photo, they were very inquisitive about how one could actually ride in this soft sand.

I was averaging 90km/day in this terrain. My bike weighed approx. 50-60kg on average since I filled up on water depending on the distance to the next known working well. Virtually everyone was encouraging and wished me well. Although I do enjoy the solitude, I did value these chance encounters in the middle of nowhere.

Completing the CSR in just twenty three days solo and unsupported by bike was the most rewarding thing I had ever done. It was a beautiful way to see the real Australia: a dream come true.

Russell Worthington on the Canning Stock Route

Leg 4. 1380km Anne Beadell

Seven hundred km in on the Anne Beadell, I was about to commence the most daunting challenge of this leg – a 645km stretch without any water en-route, and on some of the most corrugated 4WD tracks in Australia.

For the last week I’d been eating mega amounts, trying not to lose weight and sticking to a “sustainable” 100km/day. I had a mammoth task ahead and wanted to give my body every chance I could do to complete this challenge. All week I’d been paying particular attention to local weather, temperatures, and terrain. My water consumption had dropped right off in the very cold, short winter days. The flora of the Unnamed Conservation Park was beautiful and this was a welcome distraction. Red mulgas, marble gums, lots of Spinifex, numerous Emu and Camel sightings, I loved this place. There was actually good tree cover from the midday sun too in many places. Rather than take the 80lt I had originally contemplated for this stretch for an estimated week’s riding, I gambled on taking just 50lt. I knew I would still be slow on the first couple of days, but predicted I’d quickly gather momentum thereafter. If necessary, I’d also do extra night riding to reduce my exertion and water consumption.

This tactic worked a treat. Even 50lt was difficult to transport in these soft, sandy corrugated tracks. My long lanky load was difficult to control. Stop pedalling and you stop immediately. As predicted, my initial progress was slow – just 60km on the first day, but this picked up daily. For the first two days I was unsure I could complete this challenge. Beyond this point, I became surer and surer it was possible. The terrain got firmer, and I got faster. I covered 250km in the last two days and finished with 16lt water still on-board. I was ecstatic, but absolutely buggered. I’d only had one day not riding in approximately 4000km of the toughest terrain in Australia. I needed a good rest in Coober Pedy before setting off on leg 5.

Leg 7. Walkers Crossing

All the way along the Strzelecki track, winds had been relentless. Unlike the beautiful Anne Beadell, there was no foliage out here, no protection from the wind. Trees only grew at irregular and inevitably dry creek bed crossings. It could have been the surface of the moon.

I’d contracted a chest infection upon arrival at Innamincka so I decided to take a rest day. Shortly after setting off toward Birdsville via Walkers Crossing, the winds picked up again, but this time ferociously. I was covered from head to toe to protect from the blinding sand. I was laughing at myself and the situation ... and I wasn’t the only one.

I crossed paths with a 4WD during the worst of the storm. The driver and passenger got out it to have a good look at this lonely and obviously crazy solo desert bike rider. They didn’t say a word at first, just smiled from ear to ear, circling me and my bike. After a while they broke out into laughter and so did I. We had a great chat and then they were on their way. I was loving this whole experience, but wished for once the winds were behind my back.

Leg 8. Simpson Desert – cross country

Nine deserts covered, the toughest challenge still lay ahead. I desperately wanted to go off-road and make a bee-line through the geographic centre of the Simpson. This was an insane challenge and nothing like it had ever been attempted.

My bike weighed in at a whopping 120kg when I left Birdsville, with 60lt water onboard. I would top up again at Eyre Creek, just 25km into the ‘real’ desert. It was a given there would be lots of pushing up dunes to begin with, especially since I’d be travelling from east to west, up the steep dune faces. The dunes were up to 25m high, with 1100 in total. I was reliant on getting progressively faster, and using my terrific Ay-Ups for night navigation to be as fast as possible. At the furthest point, I’d be up to 100km from the closest 4WD track, so having a safe buffer of water was paramount in case anything went wrong.

The reality of this undertaking set in at Big Red, the first and biggest dune on the eastern boundary of the desert. I had to split my load into three, pushing or “skull-dragging” to breach the very soft dune crest. These slopes could not be ridden, no way! Unfortunately for me the strong winds of late had broken the dune crusts. Riding with tyre pressures as low as 8 PSI, I was reliant on these crusts for flotation. The sand here was softer than any I had previously ridden.

On the first day off-track I covered a very meagre twenty-five straight-line kilometres. I did a little extra to negotiate the toe of some dunes. Fortunately for me the leather strips between the tyres and tubes worked a treat in combination with Stans No Tubes. I didn’t get a single puncture with literally hundreds of thorns and Spinifex needles in my tyres at any point in time.

I came to the realisation that I would not be able to continue cross country. I knew I would get faster, but I would be running too low a safety buffer of water, and I could not carry any more. I made the hard decision to relent and continue “supported” along the QAA and French line. To the best of my knowledge know-one had ever ridden the French line anyways.

Leg 8. Simpson desert – QAA / French line

Back on track (the QAA line), the going was significantly easier; well at least it was on 4” tyres! 4WD’s had compressed the tracks well so it was only the crest of each dune which became soft and still difficult to ride. I was forced to drop to granny gear up most of the dunes. Even then, I was down to as low as 4km/hr, and struggling to keep the front wheel balanced.  Each dune presented a new challenge. Every now and then, at the top of a ‘higher’ dune, I stopped to take in the view and soak in this amazing environment. The Simpson is so much harsher than any of the other deserts I’ve ridden through. I took pity on the one mangy dingo I saw, and then realised how little wildlife I’d seen in this desert.

Half way along the French line, the dunes were monstrous. High winds at the time made it really tough going for 4WD’ers too. I could hear on Enduro Magazine Article on Russell Worthingtonthe UHF that snatch snaps were getting a regular work-out. Some were bailing south to the rig line and others soldiered on, sometimes taking five run-ups to get up a single dune.

The immensity of this challenge hit home when I saw the dune flag on one 4WD approaching the crest. I quickly jumped out of the way trying not to get run over. As quickly as the flag appeared, it disappeared, the 4WD rolling back down. This repeated a couple more times before the 4WD made it over the top. The look of shear bewilderment on this driver’s face at seeing a solo bike rider out in this neck of the woods made my day. We stopped to talk a bit. My bike stood upright, unsupported in the soft sand. He watched me ride down the other side and off into the distance.

It was definitely the reactions I got from people I saw in the desert that made me appreciate my own efforts on bike. This is the toughest 4WD crossing in Australia, and my final crossing. Finally, I’d done it. Mr. Suunto tells me there was 5600m vertical ascent on this leg. Most of that climbing was in granny gear.

Each desert crossing had its own challenges, and its own rewards. The whole ride was the toughest yet most memorable experience imaginable.  I’m terrifically indebted to all of my sponsors, and hope the money raised for the Royal Flying Doctor Service makes a difference.

Life is too short not to live your adventure!

Summary:

Started in Halls Creek, cycling southbound. He finished in Wiluna 23 days later. A safety/support vehicle driven by Russell's dad, Allan, followed a few days behind. First contact on the Canning was at Kunawarritji. Russell carried all his own supplies. No resupply at Kunawarritji

Bike Frame: Titanium - makes the bike light as well as strong
Bike and Trailer set up - 4" Fatback from Alaska, plus Extra wheel trailer fork, and home made trailer
On several stretches between wells on the CSR, got by with between 20-30lt.
Maximum water load: 50 litres
SPOT tracker

References:

Ref: Correspondence with Russell

Ref: Russell Worthington - 10 Deserts Cycle Epic - Ride Report for Enduro Magazine

Ref: Bicycles.net.au Forum

Ref: 10 Deserts Tour - photos

Ref: ABC 612 Brisbane - Breakfast with Chris Welsh (NOT AVAILABLE - ARCHIVED)

Ref: ABC Alice Springs - With Alex Barwick, radio interview

 

Last Updated on Sunday, 29 April 2018 07:40

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