Marla & a change of plans

Rob Purse, he of the Inestimable Source of Cycling Wisdom, put me onto it. “My suggestion for what it’s worth. Jump on a bus to Erldundra so giving the Highway a complete miss.” wrote he in a Facebook message. I had to look Erldunda up since the name was not familiar to me. But he’s right. Option 1: ride 253 km from Marla to Erldunda. Or, Option 2: take the bus.

The ride would take approximately three days along the Stuart highway competing for right of use of said highway with large three trailered road-trains.

Erldunda is where I’ll turn-off the Stuart onto the Lasseter Highway and make my way to Uluru, more familiarly known as ‘The Rock’ and was previously named after a Sir Henry Ayres, who happened to run the Burra Mine. Burra, as you’ll recall is where I got a shower and a massage as I rode merrily along in a hail storm. Sir Ayres also turned his hand to ruling South Australia, after he’d perfected his leadership style in the mine.

Ayres Rock vs Uluru. It’s nice to see that at least in this case the official name of The Rock has returned to that which is was originally called rather than be subsumed under yet another Anglo-Saxon term.

Plans have changed, rather dramatically, which leads me to book on a Greyhound bus from Marla to Erldunda.

During the night of the 6th and morning of the 7th of December I slept lightly in my donger room in Oodnadatta’s Caravan Park, attuned to the howling gale outside. Every now and then I’d wake up, walk out on the veranda and watch the trees with their leaves and branches forced to face north-west as if some huge hair-dryer was at work. Various objects bounced and raced along the ground. It did not auger well for a day’s ride.

The Pink Roadhouse in the morning light
The Pink Roadhouse in the morning light
The story told by an Native (Pre-)Australian regarding their Land and their Culture in Oodnadatta
The story told by an Native (Pre-)Australian regarding their Land and their Culture in Oodnadatta

Come 0400 it was still blowing hard. By 0600 it had died significantly. By 0700 I rode off, heading north towards the Hamilton Station, Eringa, New Crown Station, Finke and finally Kulgera some 445 km across some of Australia’s most remote and isolated lands. Where a person on a bicycle really has to have their shit together to successfully navigate. Sufficient water, sufficient food, sufficient know-how and Outback wisdom. All of which I’ve been painstakingly building up over the last 5000-odd kilometres from Perth. All now going to come to fruition as I aim for Hamilton.

All roads are clear towards Hamiltion
All roads are clear towards Hamiltion

It’s going to be hot, so they say: 39 C in the shade. A ‘riding’ temperature of mid to high 40s. Doable.

108 kilometres separates Oodnadatta from Hamilton Station.

The turn-off to Hamilton is 18 km from Oodnadatta. And for 18 km I rode well. A slight tailwind even. The website Windyty –,-28.314,134.769,7 – suggested that the winds will eventually turn into a mild headwind, less than 10 knot or 18 kph or 5 m/s. Mild.

I can live with that.

My turn-off to Hamilton and the North along lonely tracks
My turn-off to Hamilton and the North along lonely tracks
Info boards telling me what to expect
Info boards telling me what to expect
Details of what I'll encounter down the track
Details of what I’ll encounter down the track

103 kilometres later I am exhausted, right down to the very limits of my endurance and strength. I am going on sheer bloody-mindedness. Sheer determination and stubbornness. Mild my ass! It has been a strong relentless headwind since the turn-off.

Rain across the horizon. I wonder what's in store for me
Rain across the horizon. I wonder what’s in store for me
Forboding skies to the north. It may well be an interesting trip
Forboding skies to the north. It may well be an interesting trip

The track is fine, far better than the Peake Creek – Oodnadatta section. Sandy in places for sure. A bit rocky occasionally. But fine.

For all the morning session and the first part of the afternoon session the temperature did not exceed 23 C. It was raining. Lightly, a dusting. It was perfect to keep me cool as I rode along and not enough to turn the track into a muddy quagmire.

Yes, rain drops on my saddle. I wonder what's coming
Yes, rain drops on my saddle. I wonder what’s coming

The killer, that which sapped my energy and strength was the wind.

By now I am completely fixated on reaching Hamilton where a shower and water supplies await me in their campground.

Forgaty’s Claypan was particularly difficult. A vast treeless plain of very fine phyllosilicate dust, soft and yielding to my tires. I crossed the ~10 km expanse between 6 and 8 kph hammered by wind and dragged by dust.

Forgaty's Claypan with rain on the horizon. A real tough ride
Forgaty’s Claypan with rain on the horizon. A real tough ride

The last thirty kilometres to Hamilton are directly across sand dunes. Beautiful dunes. Lovely red. Crest after crest, 8% to 10%. Short, 5 m to perhaps 10 m. One after the other. Red swells in the desert, the edge of the Simpson Desert, undulating towards me one after the other. I know that neither the grade nor the amplitude of the swell are beyond my abilities. But I have no legs left.

The wind robs me of any run-up. By some evil quirk of fluid-dynamics the wind speed picks up just at the base of the dune and I slam into it until all my carefully nurtured speed is taken from me. I crawl up the face of the swell in 1st gear. First! Gear!

At the crest of the dune I pause, resting my head on my handlebars sucking in air, trying to regain control over my breathing and my heart beat. As the sweat trickles down my face I’d face the next swell but a few hundred metres in front and psyche myself up for it counting down the remaining kilometres to Hamilton like a religious mantra an unworthy penitent utters as they crawl on their belly towards the alter desperately seeking repentance.

I could stop and camp. Pretty much anywhere. No shortage of camping places. But I should have done that 30 km back. I know I need a rest day. That wind heralds something. The rain heralds something. Something is going on out here and if I am going to be stuck somewhere because of that ‘something’ I want to be stuck where I have some opportunity of support. And I will only get that at Hamiltion. Thus I force myself onwards.

I’ll rest tomorrow. I commit to planning destinations no more than 70 km per day to avoid this in the future. Unless of course the tailwinds and track conditions allow more kilometres.

Stuart is something of a wildcard. He could well be waiting for me at Hamilton. With his 200 Series Landcruiser he should be able to make it out from the APY lands waaay over to the west and reach here in one day.

I speculate the conversation he will have with Hamilton’s owners:

“He’s coming on a bike you say?”


“From Oodnadatta?”


“Getting late”


“Maybe he’s camped somewhere. It’s a long way from Oodnadatta, and it’s been blowing a northerly pretty much all day. That’ll be in his face”


“You could always take a quick drive down and check”

“Yeah … “

Crest after Crest I wonder if Stuart will bow to the almost irresistible urge to see if he can chase me down. Knowing Stuart, being a bit of a hyper guy, I reckon he will at one point. I would really like him to do that.

Five kilometres from Hamilton as I crawl up yet another crest, feeling better because it is five kilometres when I hear a sound I have not heard for a long, long time … an engine, rapidly approaching. Over a crest.

I have just enough time to get well onto my side of the track when a huge 200 Serious Toyota Landcruiser comes flying over the crest.

In a nanosecond I see the Landcruiser and recognise the driver and know I am saved.

The vehicles locks up in a short four wheel drift as Stuart recognises me. I just keep going for I am not yet at the top of the crest. And there we meet.

Stuart seems as happy to see me as I am to see him.

And he explains … “Hamilton is closed”


“Hamilton is closed. For the season. It’s closed”

I try to fathom this information.

“I was going to call them yesterday from Oodnadatta” I explain “But Neville told me that they were in the meeting at the Roadhouse and wouldn’t have made it back. So I didn’t. Neville didn’t mention anything about it being closed!”

We decide to camp in the trough between this and the next crest. Plenty of shade and besides it’s the end of the day and heat is beginning to bleed out. It did make to 40 C, but briefly.

In response to me telling him just how happy I am to see him, since it’s been one of the most toughest days for me for the whole trip, because of the wind and the track he comes out with:

“You’re gonna love what’s coming”

“You being sarcastic or telling me a truth?”

“I’m being sarcastic!”

Stuart, in his muscular 200 Series Landcruiser has just done the very tracks I plan to do. And he is totally wound up and hyper, with adrenaline surging through him. He did not think he was going to make it through. There are vast pools of water over a wet track for tens of kilometres.

He got through in low-range 4WD by thrashing the Landcruiser to make sure he did not stuck in the middle of a pool of water. His worst-case scenario is, as a South Australian Government civil servant having to be rescued. The shame would trail him forever.

A Landcruiser. A V8 diesel powered Landcruiser. If there’s one vehicle that’ll get you through it’s a V8 diesel powered Landcruiser. And he just got through.

My leg-powered two 50 mm wide Schwalbe-Marathon tired Dreamer pulling a 1.75 16” tired Ziflex? No fucking way.

Time for Plan B.

I don’t have a Plan B but I rapidly make one up.

It was a beautiful evening with Stuart. Great food, beer, company. Beautiful.

We watched spectacular electrical storms stretching in a broad semi-circle from the south-west to well to the north. “That’ll be on the APY lands” figures Stuart.

I wonder how much rain is coming down in the same event. I wonder too whether we’re going to get it here.

I sleep out in the open. The obligatory gale-force winds hit about midnight but die after awhile. We don’t get rained upon.

We load Dreamer and Ziflex into the 200 Series and Stuart goes hundreds of kilometres out of his way to take me to Marla. He could have dropped me in Oodnadatta, leaving me with a three day ride to get here. But he doesn’t. Thank you Stuart, thank you very much.

Stuart brought me food supplies in expectation of weeks of shear isolation. And dropped 10 litre water containers at various places. Someone else will have to use the water. I’m going to be eating well for the next few days/weeks. Along the Stuart Highway leading into Uluru there are no shortages of re-supply points. Civilisation. Plan B.

When I opened Ziflex I got a shock. A potentially dangerous shock. The inside of Zilfex was wet. I’ve suffered another leak from another water bottle. I have dried food in Ziflex. If it too gets wet I don’t have food either. I’d dumped one water container because of a leak in Marree. And now I have another one.

A catastrophic leak in my Sea to Summit 6 lt water bladder. Deadly under the wrong circumstance
A catastrophic leak in my Sea to Summit 6 lt water bladder. Deadly under the wrong circumstance

It’s the Sea to Summit water bladder. The leak is around the nozzle. Not a fast leak, but when full with 6 litres of water, and therefore under pressure and then bounced and jarred around on a rough track, it leaked a lot.

This kind of failure is completely unacceptable. I cannot afford to not rely on the technology I need to help me survive where I am. I am in the Outback, a looong way from anywhere. Equipment, trust in equipment is critical to my survival. And it is failing.

I kid you not. I was really shocked. Fortunately I have a God, my Earth Mother Queen, and She’s again pulled some interesting strings linking inclement weather, desert dust tracks, Stuart, and a leaking water bladder all to prevent me being hundreds of kilometres from any reliable water source with a) 6 litres less water, and b) a compromised food supply.

Sea to Summit responded well to my Facebook comment:

What do think I thought and said when I’m on a bicycle epic (check out in the middle of the outback hundreds of kilometres from any reliable water source utterly dependent on what I can carry and I go into my cycle trailer and find everything wet. Not the MSR bladder, not the bog standard 1.5 ltr water bottles, not the 5 litre hard plastic container. But the new Sea to Summit 6 ltr bladder. The loss of 6 litres, a day’s travel water in this area is potentially deadly.

It sits next to me now, full, and leaking just by being full. Check the photo. I’m a looong way from where I bought it.

What do you recommend I do?

Apparently a new water bladder + “some spares” shall be sent me in Yuluru. Thank you Sea to Summit.

So plans have changed.

My Hero Stuart and the supplies he bought me, in Marla Caravan Park
My Hero Stuart and the supplies he bought me, in Marla Caravan Park
German De Loreans on a global odyssey, at Marla Caravan Park
German De Loreans on a global odyssey, at Marla Caravan Park

A bus-trip followed by several hundred kilometres of asphalt to Yuluru then back and up to Kings Canyon. There I’ll find out if the Mereenie Loop is navigable. By bike. If so it’ll be my last major off-road Outback track ride before Alice Springs. At Alice my trip through Australia comes to a temporary halt. The wet season has landed in the north and the rivers, such as the Fitzroy are already running. No place for a bike.

A taste of what's on the Stuart Highway. Note FOUR trailers. Fortunately it's in resting mode and not challenging we cyclists
A taste of what’s on the Stuart Highway. Note FOUR trailers. Fortunately it’s in resting mode and not challenging we cyclists

Then I’ll need another plan B, mostly likely a sojourn in Indonesia until the Tanami and the Kimberlys are doable again.



Marla, 9 December 2015


2 thoughts on “Marla & a change of plans

  1. Nice work Max …and Stuart !
    It’s crazy how quick the weather changes and therefore conditions too in the desert.
    This would work nicely into a book I think: very readable


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