JOHN and Jo Mills are off to cross the Simpson Desert in their four-wheel-drive at the end of September, but they’ll be living it up in relative luxury compared to two hardy souls they’ll be slowly following through the vast expanse of red sand.
The experienced off-roaders are kitting out their vehicle with rooftop sleeping quarters to save space for the bicycle parts, food, water and other equipment they’ll be hauling as the support vehicle for Dale Brown, a contestant in the 2013 Simpson Desert Bike Challenge.
For a bike ride with its halfway point at Poeppel Corner – the meeting point of the NT, SA and Queensland borders – getting there is half the adventure.
“It’s 2300 km just to get to the start of the race,” says John, who has led four-wheel-drive trips and worked for charitable causes many times before as a member of Queanbeyan West Rotary Club.
Jo says it helps that she and John have been out that way before, although the actual event across the desert sands will be new to them.
Held over five days with two stages each day, this merciless 570km mountain bike event is among the most gruelling feats of endurance around. As is usually the case, such effort inspires donations to a good cause, in this case the Royal Flying Doctor Service.
“We have done a lot of four-wheel-driving before, but what we haven’t done before is nearly 700 sand dunes,” says John. “What I hear is in the mornings, [the sand is] firmer because of the dew, and as the day wears on it dries out and gets softer, so it will be a fairly rigorous time for the car, and us, but it’s worse for the riders.”
Dale is not taking on the desert alone. He’ll be joined by Peter Whitely, whose support vehicle is being provided by the ARB four-wheel-driving shop in Fyshwick, which is also doing work on the Mills’ suspension at cost price. The pair have trained with Angus Campbell, another Canberran taking on the Simpson’s sands.
In each of the 10 stages of the Simpson Desert event, a “sweep vehicle” drives along at the back, and all the riders it catches up to have to pull out and start again on the next section.
“Only about 10 per cent of riders finish all 10 stages, so our aim is to finish them all,” says Dale. “We’ve been doing a lot of talking with the winners of last year’s event, and a bit of riding in the Blue Mountains. They’ve given us a lot of hints and we’ve been sort of using them as a brains trust on how to prepare.”
A further complication to their training is the fact they are only partially Canberran. Peter moved to Brisbane in 2000 and Dale to Hervey Bay two years later; both regularly fly in and out to work as IT experts for the Federal public service.
It was a mutual friend from this line of work, with a mutual interest in going to remote places, who first asked John if he and Jo might like a drive in the desert. Always up for a new adventure, they soon committed to join Dale.
Asked if he’s worried at all, Dale can’t go past the words of Canberran rider Angus, who believes they are fully prepared – for the first day, at least. “Everything after that,” says Dale, “is a bit of a question mark.”
More information at desertchallenge.org