My Birdsville Track Cycle Adventure – B4B

My Birdsville Track Cycle Adventure – B4B 750 1000 Alanna Schultz

Training:

You might ask, how much training do you need to ride the Birdsville Track?

Of course, that is an individual matter. You need to ask yourself, ‘what are you about to attempt’. Are you racing or trekking? Will you be cycling 30kms or 130kms a day? Are you cycling on bitumen, gravel, sand, or corrugations? Maybe all those surfaces. This will determine your volume and intensity of training combined with the fitness you need.

For me this year (2021), it was a marathon run at Uluru in the red sand at the end of July.  Followed by a 514km cycle up the Birdsville Track on my MTB and trailer. All dirt, corrugations, gravel, and sand starting at the beginning of August. So I decided that my training needed to concentrate on mostly volume, with a small amount of intensity. I was not out to win, I wanted to enjoy each event comfortably.  I have trained every day since 18th Dec 2020, averaging 25 to 35 kms running and cycling about 200 to 300 kms per week.

How I planned to tackle the Birdsville Track trek?

My daily routine from experience in cycling the outback is simple, up pre-sunrise, breakfast, pack up my gear, cycle up to 50kms before lunch, stop for a lunch break then ride to my designated planned campsite, stopping before 4’ish. I usually do up to 80 kilometres a day, some days less some days more depending on the conditions of each day.

That said getting fit and eating well is very important and this helps with the amount of volume and intensity training you can do.  I find that even during cycling my trek that my fitness increases day by day.

 

PLANNING

Whether it’s a long trek or a short one you still have to plan it from start to finish. This is very important when cycling in the Australian Outback. There are long distances between towns/roadhouses and sometimes no water in between these places. Remember, you can go without food for some time but water is extremely important.

I organised a support vehicle with a very trusting, capable driver, and a great companion in Toni Hutchings (Dusty). This adventure was also my way of supporting Bravehearts by raising funds and raising awareness for survivors of sexual abuse and other traumas.

I planned on carrying my bedding, sleeping gear, cycle spares, tubes, puncture kit, spare tyre, some food, enough water for the day, and other odds and ends. Toni would carry the tents, water, and food for 7 days.

Day 1 – Marree to Clayton Wetlands

After nearly two years in the planning for this charity cycle (Covid-19 stopped me in 2020) Sunday morning 8th August 2021 in Marree, SA. I woke at 4 am only to find it was quite cold and there was a brutal Northerly – not what I wanted at all. The endless months of dreaming had given way to excitement, I thought “I’m going to do this cycle, even if the border is closed at Queensland, that’ll be 508kms out of the 515kms “.

I didn’t sleep that well, I was worried that my body would fail me, and most of all, I was scared that I would end up letting myself and my team down – Memories of the last trek.  These feelings soon faded away knowing I had trained very hard, and I had a support vehicle with Toni Hutchings (Dusty).

With the temperature at a cool 7°C, I rugged up for the first 20kms. It was only a 53km cycle to the camp spot for the night at Clayton Wetlands. It should be an easy cycle, as I’m in no hurry today, I headed to the best of all the road campsites on the entire Birdsville Track, Claytons Wetlands Campsite.  Awaiting me was a hot shower, flushing toilet, and a hot artesian bath for only $10 (Honesty Box).

After getting a coffee from the Roadhouse and saying farewell. I cycled up the very start of the Birdsville Track, Dusty took some photos and I headed off around 8:30 am. Dusty went back and packed up, had breakfast, and booked out of the Marree Pub.

The cycle wasn’t easy – corrugations, rocks, and sand. I knew what I was up for and I was indeed lucky to have that mental power to soldier on. As my daughter, Angela has always told me, “Just keep doing circles, pedal power”. The Northerly headwind persisted all day, and it made the ride that much harder.  I knew how good Clayton Wetlands campsite was (having stayed here in 2019) and I was looking forward to the soak in the hot artesian bath. It was way better than I thought after half a day’s ride.

Garmin Stats—–   Dist.  53.4 kms       Time.  3:48:14       Avg Speed.  14.0km/hr

Day 2 Clayton Wetlands to Cooper Creek

It was an extra 30 kms on yesterday’s cycle. I woke up to a colder morning, around 5°C but slept okay in my new Kings sleeping bag and a very new self-inflating mattress, a ‘360 degrees’. I had my 800 calorie Radix breakfast, black coffee, and a cup of water with some added lemon juice. During breakfast Dusty and I discussed the plan for the day, lunch stops (about 50km), food, and the next campsite.

I rolled up all my bedding and packed my bike, the ‘Northern Express’, and I left the tent for Dusty to pack away. Yep, sounds like I had it easy doing this cycle – thanks Dusty.

There was only one section of that day’s cycle that I would call nice.   The other 70 kms was horribly unforgiving – corrugations, rocks, and some bulldust with a headwind all day. I would stop every now and then for a drink. It’s too dangerous to drink and steer the bike and trailer with one hand because of the roads, rocks, and all. This is not the place to come off and break your bike or yourself. There’s no rush and you can take photos, I took heaps.

“There is always a bright side to life no matter what”, is something I often say and it happened today on my cycle. Just before the 50km lunch break, I could see in my side mirror a four-wheel drive and caravan coming behind me, dust everywhere. I kept looking in my little mirror and noticed the dust was getting less and less. Then this guy pull up beside me and stopped. I stopped as well and waved hello, it’s always nice to chat to travelers in the outback.

“You know”, he said. “I have been up and down the Birdsville Track nearly a hundred times, seen many a snake trail from cyclist but you are the first actual cyclist I have ever come across.”

“What (WTF) are you doing out here?”

I gave him the spiel about Bravehearts and that today’s cycle was ‘Suicide Awareness’, pointed to my flag on the trailer and he started shaking. He then confessed that he was on his last trip up the Track to say goodbye to some very dear friends and had intended to take his own life after that. We both stood in the middle of nowhere on a rocky, dusty old road in silence.

I told Alan that Dusty was about 8kms down the road, it was my lunch break. I told him how I met Dusty on my Darwin to Broome cycle and that she travels around Australia living in her Honda Jazz.

He said he would stop and say hello and then was going to the Mungerannie Hotel for a while. I told him I would be there on Tuesday (2 more days cycle). We could meet up then.

I arrived a little over the 50km lunch break, Dusty found some shady trees in an old river course, not many trees out here. She was amazed at the visitor the had just popped in.  Yes, I had some tears, how could you plan to be on “Suicide Awareness’ Day of my cycle, and someone was so deeply affected on the same day and in the middle of bloody nowhere. All the pain I had in my legs and hands, dissipated with joy. I might have helped someone. B4B has made a difference…….bloody fabulous.

The cramps hit me during the last 20 kms. Power peddling all day on the rough track takes its toll. Power peddling is where you have to exert power down on the peddle when you hit a rock with the front wheel then the back wheel then the trailer wheel, all with a brutal headwind.

Garmin Stats—–   Dist.  82.1 kms       Time.  6:26:45       Avg Speed.  12.7km/hr

Day 3  Cooper Creek to Mungerannie Hotel

I remember the morning well, I looked at the day’s flag on my bike trailer (Bob- Ibex), “Day 3 – Survivors”. At first, I felt a little confused, it was the flag for my days ride.

The temperature was 3°C and the wind was a 29 km/hr Northerly, I knew it was going to be a tough day. I thought to myself “Will I survive this day.”

My hot black coffee warmed me up watching the sunrise through some trees. With the thought of reaching the Mungerannie Hotel late that afternoon, it would be an exciting goal to reach. I would get to chat to Alan. I packed my gear onto the bike and trailer and left Dusty with the camping gear to pack. She would put aside both our lunches ready for my 50 km stop. I would make myself eat a tuna pack and an apple. It was important for me to keep the calories up.

At the 50 km lunch break, Dusty and I discussed the ride so far this morning, my condition (exhausted already), and she said that I was looking like I was still losing weight. I asked Dusty to go ahead to Mungerannie and see if she could book the two rooms for an extra night, a rest day was needed. My original plan was a rest day there, but it was cancelled because there was to be a car rally going through and the pub was booked out with 150 cars and 300 people. Let’s just say – Covid-19 put an end to that car rally.

Let me describe Day 3 cycle, it was absolutely brutal, the road was mostly rocky, not stony, it felt like boulders to me, with the exception of the last 5 kms but that was hilly (sand dune country). It was also the windiest day I have had, especially towards the afternoon when the wind picked up and blew with 40-60km per hour gusts. For the last 15 kilometres, I was stopping nearly every kilometre with cramps in my legs and fingers.

I made it mid-afternoon and was greeted by Dusty and Alan (my Day 2 man) with the fabulous news that we could stay an extra night and have a rest day, I was very relieved.

Garmin Stats—–   Dist.  69.5 kms       Time.  5:52:01       Avg Speed.  11.8km/hr

Rest Day at Mungerannie Hotel on the Birdsville Track

I remember on the very first morning before leaving Marree that I had checked the weather map, mainly looking at what the wind was doing.  I was hoping for a southerly tailwind, but I was not in luck on that day instead I was faced with a northerly for at least three days and a possibility that might change on Wednesday.

Wednesday morning came and I was hoping for a change. There is no Telstra out there so I could not check the forecast. With the headwind in mind, I got up early and checked the wind again. On the roof of the hotel, there is a huge Australian flag, where I could keep an eye on what the wind was doing.  There was still no change, it was still a ghastly Northerly, and let me say,  I was so glad to have a rest day.  Perfect time to re-sort, repack and do some washing.

There were no washing machines at the hotel, but they had a few bathroom basins.  I did the old trick of washing the clothes in one, rinsing in the other, and then rinsing again.  I made a makeshift clothesline and as I was hanging out the clothes, it was then that I noticed there was a considerable wind shift coming from the west.   I felt excited!  This could be the change we were expecting.

Dusty, Alan, and I ordered the famous Mungerannie Works burger for lunch. While we waited Alan read the notes I wrote about Day2 Suicide Awareness. He was sincerely moved by the words, “ I asked for help, no one was believing me, I tried running away and I decided to commit suicide. It was a peaceful decision for me”.  The ‘peaceful decision’ resonated in his thoughts. He walks with his head high and a beaming smile.

After lunch, we started repacking the Ute and my gear for Day 4 cycle. By late afternoon the wind had completely changed and was blowing in from the South at a great rate of knots. I was so excited and ready for the next part of the Track, four days and some 310kms. I went over the bike and trailer making sure there were no problems. Cleaned and oiled the chain. Checked all the cables. Checked the tyre pressures. I put about 35 in the front and 40 in the back, which makes a huge difference in the handling on the rocky, sandy, and dirt road. Some say I could go faster on higher pressures, let me just say we are cycling on the roads of the outback, corrugations, and rocks, no speed out here.

The wind was still a southerly at dinner time. Excitement to the max for me.

Day 4 Mungerannie Hotel to Tippipilla Creek

I woke up during the night and checked the flag, it was still a Southerly.  Four o’clock, up early on day 4, it was 5°C and the Southerly was still blowing.  I wanted to head off at daybreak, around 6.30 am.  I ate my usual breakie (lemon water, 800 calorie cereal, and black coffee).  Dusty was up and taking a few photos as I left,.  We agreed that we would meet at the 50km mark as usual.

I looked at the Aussie flag on the Hotel and it made me feel so good. In my head, I was thinking I will check my Garmin every twenty kilometers and see how I’m going.  After a few toilet stops and snacks (peanut butter) I pulled up at the 50km meeting point and I wrote in huge letters on the road…..”DUSTY gone ahead to 60km”…… It felt I was flying with the tailwind.

I reached the 60km mark at 9:15 am and it was way too early for lunch. Dusty was waiting on the side of the road and had a hot cup of coffee ready for me with some toast and jam that Alan (back at the Hotel) had made for me…..yum. In my mind, I knew at that moment I could make it all the way to Tippipilla.

Some stats:

1- 20kms              1 hr 14 min

2- 20kms              1 hr 06 min

3- 20kms              52 min

We discussed my progress so far and I decided to stop for lunch at the 80km mark as I didn’t want to waste this amazing tailwind.  The road conditions were still the same, horrible, but the tailwind made it that much more comfortable to cycle. I was still watching my 20kms laps on my Garmin. I had to make sure I didn’t go too hard and wreck my days ride.

Dusty was there waiting for me at the 80km mark, and I decided that I would conquer another 20kms before lunch and we would make a decision then on where we should camp for the night.   Now here at the 80km mark, I knew in my head I could make it all the way to Tippipilla Creek even though this section was to be two days cycle in my original plans.

I rode through some water over the road around 95kms then got my first (and only) puncture. It wasn’t a thorn or nail, a rock hit the valve and broke it off, psshh went all the air out of the front wheel. Easy fix with a new tube and off to lunch.

Stats:

4- 20kms              1 hr 01 min

5- 20kms              1 hr

Wow, 100 kms and I still felt quite good although tired. I stopped for lunch around 11.45 am and enjoyed my mandatory tuna, apple, and a drink.  I knew I could make it to Tippipilla Creek today and Dusty went ahead. I told her I should easily be there before dark.  I put one of my AyUp lights and battery in my bike kit just in case.

Dusty did have one of those “are you sure” looks on her face,  but in true Kenny Mac style I just smiled and took off.

Stats:

6- 20kms              1 hr 05 min

And the last 12kms          50 min

I reached Dusty and our made up campsite at 2.45 pm.  I was totally exhausted but it was so satisfying to get these kilometres under my belt while I had that tailwind, it was a great day.   I enjoyed the day without 2 of the 3 brutal elements of cycling, I had no headwind and I had no muscle cramps. This was the longest distance I have ever done on an Outback dirt road.

Garmin Stats—–   Dist.  132.0 kms       Time.  7 hr 12 min 57 sec       Avg Speed.  18.4km/hr

Day 5 Tippipilla Creek to Clifton Hills Sand Dune

I was expecting day 5 cycle to be rather hard on the legs. This section of the Birdsville Track is the only bit not heading directly north, basically a right-hand turn heading east. It looked like about 65 kms on the map. I wasn’t worried about the crosswind knowing I only had to cycle that 65kms. I decided I would record my distance every hour for a change.

During breakfast, we discussed our possible lunch break distance. We both decided that when Dusty caught up to me on the road we would have a better idea. So lucky we did that, it took me 3hours just to get to the 34 km mark. The road was absolutely horrible, rocks and more rocks, and when that ceased there was sand and corrugations, it was brutal (as I always say). We stopped for lunch at the forty km spot.

Stats:     1st hr – 11.6kms

2nd hr – 9.2kms

3rd hr – 13.3kms

4th hr – 13.8kms

5th hr – 14.2kms    the 20mins 4.5kms

During the second hour, the wind changed to an easterly (headwind) but then eased. The fourth and fifth-hour riding was a lot easier, the road was much better.  But I was smashed and gently cruised into our camp for the night.

Dusty had set up camp behind a large sand dune out of the wind. This is a real side of the roadside camp, wipes to wash and clean up with. Toilet, dig a hole out in the bush. The great Australian Outback, just love it.

The talk over dinner was, “113 to Birdsville and 104 to the Qld border” We didn’t know what was at the border. We had no phone service and only comments from the very few drivers who stopped and chatted. One comment was that the Mount Isa police had come down to guard the Qld border because of Covid, another was that there were no police, they have left but if you go across you can’t come back into SA.

I had it in my head, “two if’s”. If the road was okay and if there was still a tailwind I would try to get at least to the border. I slept on those thoughts.

Garmin Stats—–   Dist.  66.7 kms       Time.  5 hr 19 min 44 sec       Avg Speed.  12.5km/hr

Day 6 Clifton Hills Sand Dune to Birdsville Border

After hydrating heaps, I woke in the very early hours of the morning and ventured outside for a nature stop. I noticed the Southerly was still blowing.  I decided then I would get up early and head off at sunrise and if the road was good, I could get to the border at least, a day early. Only 104 kms I thought.

Those first twenty or so peddle pushes starting off are always hard but today I had a mighty tailwind. Once you get into a rhythm of the circles it seems so much easier. I stopped for some of my peanut butter tabs for morning tea at the 36.6km mark (1:57:19).

The road for the next 32kms was fabulous compared to the last 450kms. I stopped for my lunch break just after the end of that nice section of the road. I cycled that last 32kms (1:32:03), I was flying along. Maybe it was because I was close to the end of my Birdsville Track trek and I felt energetic cruising along or maybe that’s just me. I told Dusty that we would hit the border today.

After about 24kms the road became hilly, I knew I was getting close to Birdsville these are the sand dunes at the start of the Simpson Desert. I was getting excited watching my Garmin and I knew I had about 21kms to the border, the road was still quite good and the southerly eased only a little.

I looked in my handlebar wing mirror and could see a four-wheel-drive coming over the last hill that I just climbed. The dust from the vehicle was diminishing, which told me that they were slowing down. Most of the drivers out here slow down for me so I don’t get covered in dust and rocks. Then the vehicle stopped beside me, omg, it was Alan.

He jumped out, came around to me and we both said at the same time. “WTF are you doing here”. Alan told me he was sitting at the Mungerannie Hotel and decided to drive to Birdsville, stay the night with his mate and be on the border to greet me the next day. “Hell, you’re a day ahead”. With that said and big smiles, he took off to wait at the border.

For the last 485 kms the road was mostly flat and you could see for miles, but not this last 21kms. It was hilly I couldn’t see the border or the vehicles until I went over the last hill. I could see two of what looked like long shiny vehicles. I thought it was the Border Police stopping everyone. It wasn’t it was Alan’s Landcruiser, Woody’s Ute and camper trailer and Dusty in my Isuzu.

There was an amazing welcoming group standing on the border grid. Alan, Dusty, and Woody (another guy I met back at the Hotel). They all had their hands up stopping me from crossing into Qld ( I thought they were joking) but there was some border rule that said if I go across into Qld I couldn’t go back into SA. So I ended the B4B Trek there.

We all cheered and celebrated, then drove the 303kms back to the Mungerannie Hotel to celebrate Dusty’s birthday and my successful Birdsville 4 Bravehearts trek.

Garmin Stats—–   Dist.  104.0 kms       Time.  5 hr 28 min 20 sec       Avg Speed.  19.1km/hr

Birdsville Track..   Dist.  507.7 kms       Time.  34 hr 8 min 2 sec       Avg Speed.  14.9km/hr

We drove into Birdsville on Monday…Family Day

Thank you to all the wonderful people and sponsors who donated and supported my adventure.  We have been able to raise $7,555.

Cheers Kenny Mac