Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Logistics Update


"I watched 'Tracks'.  You'll die out there!"

"Can I have Hester if they don't find your body? How 'bout Atlas?"

"Are you crazy?!"

Photoshop Bullshit? Click Here

Ok.  I get it.  It's Australia.  It's a long way across and the Outback is legendary for its hazards.  Realizing this, I reached out to several people online asking questions and received all sorts of responses.  Some were positive, most were warnings, and a few were over the top silliness such as the Drop Bear warning seen here.  For whatever reason, I think there are people in Australia who would just prefer visitors stay away.  Sorry to disappoint you blokes.  Shrug is coming.

To address the comments:
  1. No; I won't die out there.
  2. No; Whenever I do kick the bucket, Atlas, Hester, and Linus will remain in the Wilson clan.
  3. And finally, I may be crazy, but I'm not stupid.
Allow me to explain.

When I cooked this trip up last year, I knew the logistics would be tough.  In fact, the more I looked, the more seemingly insurmountable they appeared.  I did plenty of research and became aware early on that this was not something I could accomplish completely on my own, which I have to admit was a bit of a rub.  I truly love the camaraderie I experience with the groups I meet after my annual cross country solo rides.  Still, it's no secret that I relish the alone time I get when I'm on my trips.  But be that as it may, I know that other logistics aside, I'll have company to make this venture financially possible.  The necessary support arrangements won't be affordable for me unless they're spread among more riders.  Someone once said "Life's better with company" and I think I believe him, so if company makes this trip feasible, then company I will have.  I'm sure they'll learn to love me.  Who wouldn't?

I did some research and located a Swede who has lived in Australia for decades and who has crisscrossed the Australian continent in every conceivable direction countless times, including over forty Outback crossings.  Magnus Eriksson runs an operation that offers groups of six to eight riders at a time a chance experience parts of Australia that few humans, much less Americans, ever get to see firsthand.  I sent him a note and after some back and forth with he and a couple of riders who have used his services, signed up with him for an 18-day east to west trip that best meets my schedule.  This particular trip also includes two days for riders who want to participate in the Finke International Desert Race.

My Outback Accommodations - "Swag" to the Locals
(Girl Not Included)
Magnus' operation includes a rental bike, camping gear, food, fuel, water, and guidance across the continent

through the most scenic locations and hopefully away from (or at least through) the most hazardous ones.  While I was relieved to have the basic survival requirements out of the way, I was warned by everyone I contacted that intense physical conditioning is required to make it across; not only without injury, but to actually enjoy the ride and not simply endure it while praying for the next camping spot for relief.  Most of the bone-breaking ride-ending accidents (reportedly experienced by as many as one in four riders) are caused by riding beyond one's capability and/or insufficient conditioning to allow themselves to be responsive to the hazards fast enough to avoid them.  I have six months to prepare myself and no one else to blame if I don't.  No pressure.

Magnus' Outback Express
Magnus also has a custom vehicle equipped to traverse the wildly varying Outback terrain, which includes over 1,200 sand dunes in the Simpson Desert.  It is outfitted to haul food, fuel, our personal items, camping gear, spare bike parts, tools, and even carries a spare bike in case of catastrophic failure.  The logistics associated with transporting my gear had bothered me for months. Between two saddle bags and a tour pack with a luggage rack on top, plus an empty back seat, Hester had plenty of storage.  Adventure bikes are typically equipped with storage, but I won't be riding an adventure bike.  I'll detail why later in this article.  Magnus' truck solves the storage issue and will make my daily riding load much lighter.  On the Alaskapade, I had to completely unload the bike and unpack at each night's stop to set up camp and then repack and reload each morning.  On this trip, I am only responsible for getting from point to point without serious injury and/or holding the others up.  At each day's camp stop, I'll offload my gear from Magnus' truck, set up my swag each night, and then pack up to load it in the morning.

I could bring my own bike, but the transport cost from the States is insane and then I would be responsible for its performance when I get there.  I trust that Magnus' bikes are adequately prepared and configured to handle the abuse for which the Outback terrain is so widely known.  Such preparation is in his best financial and logistical interests.  I'm literally banking on that.

The bike I'll be riding is a Suzuki DRZ400, which is similar in design and purpose to my KTM, but with about 25% less engine displacement.  Smaller engine aside, it's bound to be newer than Linus.  In the past, Magnus supplied 850cc BMW adventure bikes, which are legendary for their capabilities and reliability.  Unfortunately, they're also legendary for having a high center of gravity and for being very heavy.  Power to weight ratio is very important when riding in deep sand and mud, so I can deal with less power if there's significantly less weight.  If, or in my case, when you dump a fully loaded adventure bike, you practically have to unload it just to get it upright again unless you have help from other riders.
Suzuki DRZ400                  KTM-520MXC
While this is considered a group ride, rider capabilities and comfort while riding at speed will undoubtedly vary.  We will have maps to group assembly/rest spots and to each days' camping sites and I'll bring a GPS, but logic dictates that I should expect that our group could be strung out over several kilometers at any given time, leaving every man to his own capabilities.  I should therefore be prepared to fend for myself.  On this trip, my coveted alone time will come with a price.  Once again, it all leads back to conditioning.

So there it is.  I will not die of thirst, nor will I wither away from starvation.  Better yet, assuming Wikipedia is correct, I will not be mauled by a drop bear.  Yes, there are snakes than can jump three feet off the ground, spiders the size of Maine Lobsters, and baby-stealing dingoes.  Those are threats I can mitigate with planning and by paying attention when my boots are on the ground.  I already have a plan to neutralize the dingo threat that I'll disclose on the trip.