Adventure: Simpson Desert Dash

4 weeks ago | Words: Peter Whitaker | Photos: Kate Dandridge

Because it’s there. So stated George Mallory when asked why he climbed Everest. The same could be said when Peter Gunner, Ralph Tice, Viv Johnson and John Fidler were the first bikes to attempt the 1100 sand dunes across the Simpson Desert; carrying such essentials as a tomahawk, a cast iron frypan and a dozen steel cans of spam. After four days of push, ride, push, crash and push, they hit the bar at the Birdsville Hotel; adding ‘Crossing The Simpson’ to dirtshifters’ bucket lists.

Since then, hundreds, if not thousands – including yours truly on a Honda CRF250 – have ridden the 446km between Mount Dare and Birdsville; before enjoying a beer at one (or both) venues. Then, a few years back, the adventure morphed into a speed trial when riding the French Line became an obligatory leg of the trans-Australia crossing from Steep Point to Cape Byron. A single crossing in daylight hours was the first claim to fame – on a Suzuki DRZ400, if I recall correctly. Then the target became a return crossing in less than 24 hours; serious stuff requiring night riding.

Veteran outback record setter, Scott Britnell, and his mate Trevor Wilson made the attempt in 2017, but Scotty came undone and damaged himself severely on the return ride. Nursing his wounds, Scotty urged Trevor to complete the task. Which he did, in 23 hours 30 minutes, despite the time lost making Scotty as comfortable as possible.

Which brings us to Dane Arthur, who set out to break that record … and nothing else! Using a Baja Design headlight, additional lighting on the bars, plus a helmet-mounted LED which he claims “was more than enough to ride comfortably”. With his mate, John Dandridge, already on the WAA Line with fuel, Dane left Birdsville on his fully fuelled 2017 KTM 500EXC-F at 10 after midnight Wednesday, August 15, arriving at Poeppel for the planned splash and dash, before forging on. Dane’s GPS had packed it in, so it was comforting to sight some campers at Dalhousie, before arriving at Mount Dare a little after 10:30 hours, taking on 22 litres then turning back towards Birdsville.

Dane found the return ride even tougher. “There were big fresh holes on the western scarps made by a big Iveco 4WD,” he said. “The square-edged holes and relentless deep whooped-out sections made it difficult to carry any kind of speed. Nothing looked familiar as I’d come through in the opposite direction in the dark.” Of course, fatigue was undoubtedly a factor and it’s always possible it was a case of what you don’t see won’t throw you, but Dane was slower on the return run, riding into Birdsville at 19:40 hours to reset the record at 19 hours and 30 minutes. Only to face a 2000km journey home to Albury. Mission accomplished.

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