Just six months following my return from a winter bike trip in New Zealand, I was on the side of the Stuart Highway about 50 miles from the nearest town, and my wheel was broken. I was stuck in the Australian outback, unable to ride, and there was not a soul in sight. All I could do was wait and hope.
CROSS-COUNTRY BIKE TRIPS: FROM HOBBY TO PASSION
Over the years since my inaugural Indonesian adventure, cycling across countries with my best mate has slowly turned from a small hobby to an obsessive passion. A nomadic life of cycling was becoming more enticing with each bike trip, even if it meant occasionally going alone. Longer stretches on the road called for a different style of bike trip; camping every night, remaining fully self-sufficient, considering how I would maintain my water supply and food on-the-go (especially across deserts), keeping a satellite phone for remote spots, and putting up with dirt, dust and too many flies. Still, it’s where my passion lies.
CHOOSING TO BIKE THE RED CENTRE WAY, AUSTRALIA
It was somewhere beneath Franz Joseph Glacier on New Zealand’s South Island, that I decided I would attempt to ride from Adelaide to Ayers Rock through a famous 373 miles off-road section, the Oodnadatta Track.
I landed in Adelaide airport with three weeks off from work, which was, by my calculation, just enough time to cycle 1,056 miles to Ayers Rock, also known as Uluru. I unpacked my bike box in the airport terminal and put my trusty bike, Goldilocks, back together. I pedaled down the airport drive and using my iPhone, mapped the easiest route around the city and set a course for the north. On my first day in South Australia I biked a relatively short distance, which was a great introduction to life back on my bike.
Day two of my Red Centre Adventure saw me battle with the open road and soaring temperatures. A dry heat made water consumption my top priority and seeking shade in a vast, desert landscape was very difficult. I set my alarm early the following morning to clock as many kilometers as possible in the cooler hours of the day. It was dark when I departed and I treated myself to a gas station coffee. As I followed the highway signs for my next destination, Crystal Brook, I almost immediately faced a relentlessly strong headwind. With a fully-loaded touring bicycle and trailer in tow for my water supply along the way, every push of the pedal zapped the energy and enjoyment out of this adventure. The solidarity began to eat away at me and making difficult decisions challenged me as I had no sounding board. It’s a good case for having a partner for your adventures. I pushed on.
ADJUSTING TO LIFE ON THE RED CENTRE…AND A BIT OF TROUBLE
After somewhat of a shock adjusting to life on two wheels over the first few days of my bike trip to Uluru, I began to settle into a rhythm. My meals, breaks, and distances covered in between were almost down to an art form. My daily routine became: get up, eat, cycle, eat, cycle, eat, sleep – repeat.
Cruising along a section of road about 25 miles outside of Port Augusta, I rode over a rock and felt my rear wheel buckle. Glancing down I could see a bend in the wheel and it didn’t run straight. I stopped to inspect it and found a spoke had snapped. Using some quick thinking, I gave the wheel a temporary fix and decided to continue to the next town and seek the assistance of a bicycle mechanic.
Port Augusta’s one and only bike mechanic is a retired science teacher who also sells firearms. Incredibly helpful, he loaded me up with a few spare spokes and some tips on how to deal with any future wheel issues. From this point on, I entered a vast land of emptiness. No town or service station for miles, just a flat road with a few kangaroos. I mentally prepared myself and loaded up on tuna and water. My next destination was 106 miles away – a small roadhouse – somewhere to escape the sun.
PICKING UP WHERE WE LEFT OFF…ON THE SIDE OF THE ROAD
The next morning, I packed up my tent and hit the road before the sun was up. I had a long way to ride and was quite aware of what could go wrong. Giving myself as much time as possible to deal with any situation that might arise was (and is) the best decision I’ll ever make.
So there I was, that same wheel had now snapped two more spokes. I replaced them as best as possible, but my limited tools and mechanical knowledge restricted what I was capable of. The bike could not move, and therefore I could not ride. I was stuck, unable to continue my bike trip along the Red Centre Way, in the Australian outback. There was not a soul in sight.
An hour passed before a vehicle drove by. With my best thumb out, the vehicle continued past me. Two more cars ignored my upturned bicycle before Tom, an electrician, pulled over and gave me a lift back to the retired science teacher. Together we serviced the wheel as best as possible before I retraced my steps. Two days later I passed my breakdown point. The wheel held and I could breathe easy.
I reached the town of Roxby Downs, a mining community in the middle of a sand pit at the end of day two. It welcomed me with a Subway restaurant and public swimming pool – a bizarre concept to grasp after riding through such a remote area for the past few days. The off road section, the Oodnadatta Track, looms only a few miles away. This will be the ultimate test for my bike, and more so, me. I left my campsite and Subway restaurant behind only to hear that all too familiar sound of a spoke breaking. My wheel was compromised and I could not risk a breakdown on a remote outback off-road track. I called home to discuss my options and decided to pull the pin. My Red Centre Adventure was over.
KNOWING WHEN TO TURN BACK TO FACE THE ADVENTURES AHEAD
Recognizing risk and making calculated decisions using limited information has become somewhat of a specialty of mine now, with my Red Centre Adventure failure teaching me skills I might not have ever learned working my 9-to-5 job. Since my failed Red Centre Adventure, I have ridden my bike, Goldilocks (with a new wheel) from Paris to Marrakech. A three-month, 2,485 mile odyssey that saw my wheels reach the Sahara Desert.
Earlier this year, I returned to the Australian outback to complete my conquest of the Red Centre Way and Oodnadatta Track. When I have unfinished business, I’m not one to let it beat me.
You can follow all my past and future exploits including my Gibson and Great Sandy Desert Crossing by Fat Bike at www.theriderstale.com