|Age Groups U30|
Race Director’s Report
This is the thirteenth year that I have been involved with this event and the desert still manages to surprise me. How such an amazingly fragile environment can endure such dramatic natural disasters is a testament to the plants and wildlife that live there.
It’s hard to believe that the Warburton crossing has been closed by flooding for three years. In 2009 the event was subjected to gale force winds and dust storms then in 2010 we couldn’t even get near the desert after record rainfalls caused massive flooding.
Now when everything was finally looking good, thunderstorms sparked scrub fires, closing the desert days before the 2011 event.
What truly inspires me is the commitment of the organisers and participants of this event. It’s when all seems lost, that the best in people really shines through. It take a lot of guts to enter this event and with most of the people already on the road, there was no way organisers were going to give up.
After a flurry of phone calls and emails, a new course was plotted and the race was on again. This year’s event would start at Oodnadatta and travel via Eringa to Charlotte Waters and return via Mt Dare and Dalhousie Springs, finishing with a circuit loop on the 4WD track at Oodnadatta.
High temperatures on day one had little effect on the riders as hard stone tracks made for fast times and some serious competition between the leaders. Paul Schroder (#21) completed the first two stages in 3:13 and 1:58 giving him a 13 minute lead on day one. Camped at the Pedirka Siding, the cool change moved in later in the evening bringing with it colourful lightening displays.
Day two we awoke to scrub fires south of Hamilton Station. Gratefully, today’s stages took us north through open gibber plains to Eringa Waterhole then across a great section of old untouched track to Abminga Siding leaving me longing to get back on the bike. The afternoon stage finished just over the Northern Territory border at Charlotte Waters. Once again, Paul showed his dominance on the hard track completing the stages in 3:20 and 1:51, increasing his lead to 21 minutes.
High fire danger in the Northern Territory, scrub fires to the south at Hamilton Station and in the Simpson Desert had now closed all access to the area. Unable to leave the desert, we continued as planned and turned south past Mt Dare to Blood Creek ruins for lunch and on to Dalhousie Springs for the night camp.
Loose gravel and rocks dominated the morning stage followed by open clay plan nearer to Dalhousie Springs. Paul continued to extend his lead with stage times of 3:00 and 2:10. We’ve always wanted to camp at Dalhousie Springs during the race and this year riders, crews and officials made the most of a well earned swim in the hot pool.
With the road to Finke opening, on day four we were left with no option but to exit the desert drive the 600km trip via Finke, Kulgera, Marla and back down the Oodnadatta track to position ourselves 50km from town for the final days racing. I’m sure the riders were grateful for a days rest to let their backsides recover.
The final days racing took us down the Oodnadatta track, through town and then four times around the 6×4 4WD track on the southern edge of town. The circuit loops totalled 32km of track, 24 sand dunes and 16 clay pans.
The riders stuck together for the final stage into town before the start of the circuit loop. Each loop gave the crews the chance to cheer on their riders. This was the first real test of the Fat Tyre bikes and they proved there worth with their riders tackling the sand head on leaving the other competitors twisting and weaving along the track.
Paul completed the final stage in 4:15 giving him an overall lead of 1hr and 49m. The next three place getters taking out each of the age group categories, Kane Chandler, Ken Glasco and Neil Thies.
The race was topped off with the final celebrations being held at the Pink Roadhouse giving everyone the chance to sit back and reminisce on what was another successful, yet very unpredictable event. It’s that very unpredictable nature of this event, that brings out the true grit and determination in people, riders crews and officials, making this one of the most memorable years for me.
I’m very pleased to announce that combined fundraising efforts for this year have raised over $30,000 for the Royal Flying Doctor Service. Congratulations to all concerned and our deepest thanks to everyone who contributed. A full report will be available in a few weeks time.
Mark Polley – Race Director
Stage by Stage
We had fire and flood (definitely no famine). This year’s race had all the drama of a 6.30 soapie. A partial reroute had already been planned due to floods on the eastern side of the desert. Then bushfires closed the desert at the last minute. A completely new race route was pulled out of the hat and the rough edges knocked off.
1. From the Jaws of Defeat
Our main foe for the last few years has been flooding in the desert. This year it seemed no different and Race Director Mark was out in the desert surveying a re-route of Days 4 & 5 while on his way to the start of the event at Purni Bore. But little did he know that a new threat was thrown into the equation….bushfires!!!
As Mark Polley got the news that the desert was closed due to bushfires, the spectre of defeat reared it’s ugly head. He was caught out in the desert on the wrong side, with minimal communications.
Luckily to the rescue comes race organisers Grim, Kate and Ian who just happen to be on the right side of the desert in Oodnadatta. With little else to do, they started organising a brand new event and within a couple of days were putting the finishing touches to it.
New routes(including challenge loop), new campsites, new 25th Anniversary venue, plus a huge amount of communications to crews, officials, police, national parks etc etc.
Well Oodnadatta isn’t too bad. The iconic Pink Roadhouse has an ambience all it’s own.
Arriving in Oodnadata on race eve, Mark quickly got up to speed with the new route and set about organising riders, crews and officials.
The race wasn’t expected to be like the desert but still encompassed broad swathes of outback country. The route went north into the Northern Territory (keeping it a multi-state event) visiting interesting and historic places such as Pedirka Railway siding(old Ghan route), Eringa Waterhole, Bloods Creek, Dalhousie Springs and finally Oodnadatta itself.
Fat Tyre riders felt a little deflated as they saw there perceived advantage disappear with the route not offering much sand.
The big question was what to name it…you can’t have a race without a name. Something rhyming, something iconic, anything will do really. How about The Oodnadatta Odyssey.
2. Let it Begin
Day 1: Oodnadatta to Pedirka Railway Siding (80k & 47k)
Weather: Initially overcast and cool but warming up later in the day.
Day 1 Morning Stage (Stage 1) Lead convoy headed out on the track at 5.30am setting up the distance markers and direction arrows. Riders did their final preparations and lined up at the start in front of the iconic Pink Roadhouse…..the atmosphere was tense…..6am Grim signalled the start and they were off.
At 7am the sweep convoy followed…the show was on the road.
Fresh legs and a fast track saw a brisk pace being set early on. Riders soon found something to work against with a steady headwind and some rough surfaces. The water stops got their routine working and started getting to know the riders.
Robert Weir on Waterstop 3 reminisced about his rides in 1991 and 1992. Before he entered the race in 1991 he was told by Jack Mullins(race organiser) “It’s not too bad, it’s just a dirt road”
All riders pulled into lunch ahead of the sweep. Some a little blown out from sticking with the fast packs. Paul Schroder came in a clear winner for the first stage and this was a pattern that would be set for the rest of the race. Paul was riding a Fat Tyre bike and managed amazing average speeds of up to 28kph on many of the stages. Pauls ‘accessorised’ helmet also has him as a clear leader in the ‘Most Flambouyant Headwear’ competition.
Ken Glasco(20) and Kane Chandler(4) came in second and third and both set a solid steady pace for the rest of the race. Ken, originally from Texas…was looking for something bigger than Texas, so came to Australia 25 years ago and now lives in Mt Isa.
Day 1 Afternoon Stage (Stage 2) Afternoon Stage saw the riders traversing some seriously rocky, arse chewing tracks. It was a warm/hot Afternoon Stage(approx 35) and the direct radiant heat from the sun felt much hotter. Those from the cooler southern states had some acclimatising to do. Sweep got his first taste of blood picking up John Jenkins at the 30k waterstop.
Neil Theis(15) improved as the race went on eventually taking out the U50 stage and coming in 2nd on several occassions. Neil’s crew came out to have a look at the race with a view to doing it themselves. “Neil’s our crash test dummy, if he survives it, we’ll come out”.
We camped at old Pedirka Railway station(on the old Ghan line). Plenty of gibber making it hard to get pegs in the ground and some amazingly annoying small insects swarming all over us at dusk. Later in the night we had gusts of hot winds and dust. Lightning lit up the sky all around and we weren’t quite sure what we were in for.
Day 2: Pedirka to Charlotte Waters (83k & 50k)
Weather: Overcast, looming clouds, (1020391)
Day 2 Morning Stage (Stage 3) We woke to see smoke and fires on the horizon. The lightning from last night had done it’s work, starting several fires. Mark was on the HF radio and sat phone reporting fires and getting the latest updates from Police and emergency services. It was safe for now to head north but a large fire we could see burning near Hamilton Station was to have implications for us later in the race.
Back on the race with overcast sky and fast track the riders made good time to Eringa Waterhole. A lovely shady lunch stop with shady trees and large waterhole.
A couple of campers were enjoying the isolated bliss at the waterhole. They were soon joined by 30 odd 4wds and a noisy enthusiastic crowd.
The bunting went up, the riders were cheered in, but overall they took it quite well.
We soon moved on, much like a plague of locust.
Day 2 Afternoon Stage (Stage 4) For the Afternoon Stage the riders had to work against some head and cross winds plus the usual rough tracks. The countryside is wide open outback country, today featuring more trees and grass etc as we crossed into the Northern Territory. Winding tracks and undulations created more variety for the riders. Michael Geoghan (a novice rider – he just rides to work…40k each day) sat out the Afternoon Stage but finished all other stages.
I caught up with Troy Tinker (22) who came to ride as a tribute to his dad, past rider Kevin Tinker who recently passed away. Kevin rode in 1999 and was immortalised in the photo of him carrying his bike through the sticky mud that clogged wheels and nearly stopped the whole show.
Troy put in a solid ride coming 5th overall.
Day 3: Charlotte Waters to Dalhousie Springs.
Weather: Cold, clear Morning Stage, warm day
Day 3 Morning Stage (Stage 5) Another fast day with winds sometimes helping riders. Big changes in levels created some magnificent sweeping views of the surrounding countryside. Road generally rough in places and some riders starting to suffer significant pain in the saddle. The medics’ workload was rising. Riders rolled into Bloods Creek for lunch. All the vehicles were parked around a huge windmill dominating the area.
The Afternoon Stage stage was impending and Dave wanted a bird’s eye view of the start. Climbing up the windmill Dave buckled himself to the frame then his camera battery went flat. ‘Wait….hold the start till I change the battery!’….I think he got the shot.
Day 3 Afternoon Stage (Stage 6) The Afternoon Stage warmed up again (as usual) and some were suffering from the heat. Andrew Armstrong-Taylor was suffering a lot of leg pain and baulked at the 3rd waterstop contemplating whether or not to do the last 10k. A little prodding from the waterstop crew had him on his way and he was pleased to have finished the day and avoided the sweeps demented clutches.
Paul Schroder still first in all stages is looking tireless and riding very strongly. Ken Glasco 2nd (43 min) and Neil Theis in 3rd (54 min)
The riders and crews were looking forward to a good soak in Dalhousie Springs. The thermal pool is like a hot bath and is quite large. Great for soaking out the aches and pains and removing ingrained dirt. The infamous Dalhousie Springs mossies were out in force as usual (secret government mosquito mutation project) and anyone without the appropriate protection was targeted.
Lots of smoke on the horizon and Mark was busy on the sat phone to the authorities. Our planned route past Hamilton station is blocked with no options other than a car evacuation back through Northern Territory.
Day 4: Evacuation
5.30 start for our 650k car shuttle. The aim is to reach the planned start point for the Day 5 leg of the race. Roads were good and the convoy moved smoothly up to Finke, Kulgera down the Stuart Hwy to Marla then onto the Oodnadatta Road to within 50k of Oodnadatta. Some riders a bit stiff from being in the confines of the car all day while others happy for the recovery time.
A comfy campsite tonight with crisp clear skies lit up with millions of stars that only the outback can provide.
Day 5: Oodnadatta Track (50k Nth Oodnadatta) to Oodnadatta.
Including 4 laps of the challenge route
Weather: cool Morning Stage warming up through the day.
Day 5 Morning Stage (Final Stage) The Morning Stage saw the riders eager to get going and once underway they formed a large peleton to combat the headwinds and to enjoy some male bonding. After 50k, the whole group rolled into Oodnadatta as one, enjoying the moment and creating a few surprised looks from tourists.
Then it was out onto the 9k ‘challenge’ circuit just south of Oodnadatta to give the boys a taste of desert conditions. They had to complete 4 laps of the circuit and this wasn’t going to be so easy.
The 9k challenge track features some challenging sand dunes and is quite a picturesque setting with trees, shrubs, claypans and winding narrow tracks.
Once they hit the sand dunes it was on for one and all and the pack broke up quickly. Paul Schroder rode out strongly attacking the sand dunes and making impressive good use of his fat tired bike. Zooming up sand dunes with hardly a pause, his body language left no doubt he was on a mission.
Other riders also enjoyed the challenge and variety of the sand tracks. The change of pace and increased effort required riders to refocus on the task at hand, rather than thinking about the party tonight.
Konrad(12) (a novice rider who started training on his wife’s bike) finished all stages but had a bit of a shock when he was caught on the challenge loop with an unfixable puncture. Adam(5) rolled up and offered his spare tube(luckily they were both riding 29ers) and stayed with him helping him to fix the puncture. Both finished ahead of the sweep.
The ‘back end’ riders showed great determination and all finished the challenge route.
For the first time ever, Grim did his final sweep around the course on a Fat Tired bike. We weren’t sure whether he would be actually able to ‘sweep’ anybody as he would have to catch them first… and the site of Grim looming up behind on a bike would add an adrenalin boost that would surely shoot riders out of his grasp.
The 25th Anniversary Bash
The night’s festivities saw riders and crews dressed up in ‘Desert Formal’ gear. An ebullient mob kicked the night off noisily and it got worse from there. A slideshow featured some of the history of the ride and the successful auction bumped our fundraising to over $30,000 this year!
Winners are Grinners
Paul Schroder – 2011 Winner
I caught up with Paul to ask the secret of his indefatigable riding performance.
Paul originally started training for the 2010 event and decided not to come when it was re-routed across the Victorian Desert. He kept training though and so had two years preparation for this year’s event. Hailing from a fairly flat Dubbo, Paul has a favourite hill(the only hill) and does up to 50 repetitions on the hill in a training session.
Paul also likes to go bike touring with his partner Eliza(no1 support crew) and has ridden substantial sections of Australia. He once rode across to the Kimberley to meet up with Eliza and also do a bit of teaching there(they are both teachers).
Plus that helmet….I suspect it has some secret aerodynamic advantage…maybe a winged keel hidden under there.
Are Fatties here to stay?
While the Fat Tyre bikes didn’t have a chance to stretch their wings this year they performed very well over all terrain.
They have become a significant part of the event, first showing up only last year (2010) and now filling half of the field.
None have yet set foot on the Simpson Desert for the ultimate test but their potential looks great for future events.
Grim gives the nod to Fatties!
Grim did his final sweep of the challenge circuit on a Fatty, vigorously pursuing tailenders(to no avail). Grim will be back in 2014 to ride and is eyeing of one of these steads with great interest. He knows there is expected to be a great surge in applications for the Sweep job that year so wants to avoid the indignity of being swept at any cost.
Hell on Fire by Murray Rook
5 Days in Hell by Allan Kleenside