To say the thought of riding a Dusty Butt was daunting to me is an understatement. I’ve been practicing off road skills for a while now and all too often it’s ended up with me sliding along the road, being stuck under the bike or having mechanical failures ending a ride prematurely. I gave myself a 50-50 chance of getting it done, factoring in the success ratio a 20% chance that I’d fall off at least once but be able to keep going.
A touch of background. I started planning this Dusty Butt ride in December 2016 shortly after the first successful Heaven to Hell ride with Karl that included riding dirt at IBA pace which turned out to be scary but doable. I wanted to tackle it solo figuring that if anyone else rode it with me it would double the chance of rider/bike failure bringing it undone and it would involve eating someone’s dust for at least 800ks. However, knowing that 99.9% of any “Dusty Butt” route in Australia is not covered by phone signal I felt that safety and good sense required someone who knew what they were doing with SPOT watching and able to sensibly organise a recovery in remote areas. If possible having them close enough to provide assistance if required would be a bonus. Bill, who has helped me on mad rides before, was keen to come along and help again so long as he didn’t have to ride on any gravel. The timeframe was set to be the Monday after the IBA Australia Muster in Renmark and a route and logistics were set in stone.
Unfortunately Bill had an encounter with a roo on the way to the Muster and was hospitalised. Fortunately he was not seriously injured but he was out of action. With that the Dusty Butt plan had gone to the crapper unless I was willing to ride without the safety net. Given my history on dirt I pretty much wasn’t. Then Mrs Wom stepped in “I can fly down, Newcastle – Melbourne – Adelaide – Roxby Downs and meet you there. Do you want me to come?” Initially I said “No.” It was too much to expect of her. I was quietly devastated. Mrs Wom kept texting and calling with plans to get there until I said “Yes”. I secretly don’t think she was expecting it. However that change meant I had to throw the original planned route away, including the laminated ride plan, and work out an alternative starting in Roxby Downs so we could meet before the start and discuss logistics and a plan of action in case something went wrong. The ride was back on.
So on Sunday 9 April I left Renmark for the short 670km ride to Roxby Downs via Peterborough where I like to stock up on Lions Club Fruit Cake at the Caltex. After I passed through Port Augusta Mrs Wom called to report that she couldn’t get a flight to Roxby Downs so had flown to Adelaide, hired a Kia Sportage and was part way through a 6 hour drive to meet me. We then had a couple of hours to eat and discuss what to do in case of a “I need help” SPOT Message. No Mrs Wom, don’t jump straight into the Sportage and come and get me. Organise some assistance first, once you are 5 k’s out of town you are on your own too and we’l both be sitting in the middle of nowhere for hours and hours waiting for someone to come along.
The original Dusty Butt plan was to finish in Roxby Downs but did not start there. It took in a large area of the Oodnadatta Trak and surrounds. I looked really hard at options for a new plan that fitted in with proving the route to IBA standards, getting fuel within range of the Africa Twin and because of Mrs Wom’s involvement now starting and finishing in Roxby Downs. The only suitable option I could come up with on my phone was Roxby Downs to Coober Pedy via William Creek and back — twice. The 423km stretch provided sufficient distance to accommodate the removal of tar section distances at the Roxby end and the Coober end still leaving plenty of k’s over the minimum requirement of 1610 (1000 miles) on dirt.
The Dusty Butt Begins
With the alarm set for 3.15am on Monday 10th I was getting a docket and filling out forms with Mrs Wom at 4am. Then a short ride to the start of the gravel on Borefield Road and a photo opportunity. Something’s missing. I’ll get to that.
Borefield Road wasn’t in great condition last time I was here. I didn’t fall off that time but did take some big hits and managed to dent my front rim, it was also daylight. My plan for this ride was to poke along and try to manage a 75kph overall average speed (average speed including stops) and I should be right. Keeping the pace down would limit the wear and tear on the body, the bike and provide more opportunities to miss things that popped up on the road or from the sides. It felt like the right thing to do. I knew I could ride for 24 hours straight so if it took that long so be it.
However, with the combination of loose stones, abundant kangaroos hopping about and the tentativeness and doubts banging around inside my head this first section was hard going. I didn’t feel I was going to get near my Dusty Butt goal OA on the first, and by far the shortest, dark leg. Mrs Wom followed me for a while but soon turned around and I was on my own. I wasn’t feeling very positive quite frankly and was wondering WTF I was doing out there.
After a while the pre-dawn arrived, the Borefield Road opened up a bit and the conditions improved. I was however behind where I hoped to be. As the sun rose I made a new plan – get as much of his freaking ride done before the sun goes down as I can. With that decision made I became all focus and no dawdling. Shortly after 7am I arrived at William Creek for fuel which had just opened as they said they would. At $2.00 per litre for Unleaded they were going to do well out of me today.
I asked the friendly staff what the William Creek Road conditions were like as compared to the part of the Oodnadatta I’d just travelled. “About the same” was the reply. That would be a good thing if it were accurate. It wasn’t quite. There were long sandy, dusty patches here and there and some pretty crappy rocky areas but the confidence on the Africa Twin was building and my mind was reframing the task at hand. The 166km to Coober Pedy heading through some of the mines as I got closer seemed to go by quickly. I was there about 9am, surprisingly sooner than expected. If I could continue with 5 hour legs and nothing went wrong I now knew I might make it.
I usually start a ride well hydrated and ride “fairly dry”. I hadn’t needed a drink prior to this point and made a grab for the Camelbak tube. It wasn’t there and I immediately thought it’d fallen off at some point. I bought some water and looked at the phone. Mrs Wom had texted “Your Camelbak is here, was that an error?” It was, but at least I knew I’d have it later. I stocked up the tank bag with water and off I went. Oops.
I was feeling pretty good but as the pace built slightly it became difficult to stand on the bike as much as I would like. Sadly at 190+ cm when I’m up on the pegs I’m like a big sail and the hands, shoulders and legs were complaining loudly by about 500kms in. So I sat down more and developed a routine that when the bike started wallowing about on the road and looked like it was going to get badly out of shape I’d stand quickly, weight forward and it just came back nicely. Like magic.
Interestingly the airhawk seemed to help with this. The slight disconnect between butt and bike (I run mine a bit higher than most people) meant the bike could move about a little under me while I was sitting on it. I could feel it “giving” side to side under me while the bike moved generally forward. While I might not use it every time off road for this ride it seemed to work really well for this ride.
Back at William Creek I was enquiring about what time they would close. Fuel consumption had risen substantially to 6.7l/100kms and at that level if I couldn’t get fuel on the last leg home I might not have enough in my 7.5l jerry strapped to the bike for emergencies to get me to the finish. “10pm at the latest, but if no-one is here maybe 8.30pm” I did the sums in my head, to get me back here by 8.30pm on the last run I have to……f^&k! I left quickly.
Lake Eyre looked lovely, and I had to stop for a pic this time.
Then one of the four other vehicles I’d seen on the road so far pulled into the carpark and the driver obliged
No time to take the helmet off, I was gone in a flash. Riding back up Borefield was surprisingly tough again. The shoulders and legs were burning as I approached the 800km mark and I was hitting a few things on the road I didn’t feel I should have. I felt like I was losing focus and a bit all over the place. I couldn’t tell if it was me or the rocky road surface. “Mmmmm” I thought.
Mrs Wom was waiting for me at the end of the gravel and followed me the 1km or so to Lavricks servo at Olympic Dam, only about 1k up the tar. Four and a half hours for this leg. The big worry though was that I’d used all but 1 litre of the fuel in the Africa Twin’s tank to get here from William Creek. So it was an 18 litre leg and if I couldn’t fill up on the way home next time I’d have 7.5 litres to put in the bike after it ran out of Coober fuel. That was very concerning and it certainly meant that fuel conservation might be a priority later in the ride.
As I ate and drank from the selection of goodies Mrs Wom had sourced for me that included a ham and salad Subway roll it came to me what had started to go wrong. I hadn’t been eating enough along the way and was paying for it. My usual Iron Butt calorie routine wasn’t sufficient to take into account all the extra effort going into this ride. Fortunately, unlike dehydration, calorie deficits are easy to fix and I made sure I had plenty of Lions Club Fruit Cake, muesli bars and sultanas in the tank bag now that I had the Camelbak ready to lug the hydration. I’ll admit I needed some Ibuprofen and Paracetamol to help take care of some aches and pains that were presenting themselves in spades. But all up it was a happy lunch with Mrs Wom who was busy fussing around me and taking photos.
“Are you going back?” She said. “Yep” was all I had. Game face returned. Mrs Wom followed me back onto the gravel but later said I was gone like a shot as she tried to take a pic.
This time Borefield Road presented no problems. The head and nutrition were right and the sun was up. I was getting more and more used to my standing, sitting and wallowing, standing routine. The speed was also building a bit. I kept my eye out for speed cameras and Highway Patrol but didn’t see any. Not many places to hide I reckon. In the front of my mind though was this was likely the last leg I’d ride in daylight and I wanted to get to Coober before dark.
A big difference between the Dusty Butt and a normal Iron Butt ride is the amount of concentration required at all times. In a Dusty Butt there’s no time to kick back, chill out, scan the horizon and sing Minnie Ripperton in the helmet. In fact my usual in helmet showtunes weren’t even turned on. The roads are constantly throwing obstacles, boulders, holes, sand traps and animals at you and the conditions keep changing. There’s no down time at all. Those of you who know off-road riding well will be thinking – derrrr – suck eggs moment – sorry, I’m a noob and just discovering this stuff. Another thing I concentrate hard on during normal Iron Butt rides is energy conservation and being as relaxed as possible. I did what I could during this ride but opportunities were few and far between. It was simply relentless.
I stopped for a quick pic at the end of Borefield Road taking in the signs to some of the other places I was going to visit today if he original plan had been feasible.
William Creek was very quiet when I arrived there about 4pm. I fuelled up and again asked about closing time. I pleaded and got agreement from the young bloke behind the counter who had revised the closing time to 8.30pm that he’d hang around until 9pm. So I had 4.5 hours to ride 332kms on dirt, half of it in the dark. Best eat the fruit cake quickly and not hang around.
Riding straight into the sun towards Coober was hard work. Often it was difficult in the glare to see where the edges of the road were and even what was coming up on the road. Fortunately I held it together and I hit Coober in time to grab a pic of the truck in the light.
I refuelled at the Shell about 6pm, called Mrs Wom quickly to let her know I was feeling great and made for William Creek Road. At the time my OA for the ride was 91.6kph which was a surprise. The sun was setting behind me and I was incredibly pleased to see the view in front. Clear skies and a great big moon to help light the way back! A pretty good view too just quietly.
Darkness descended along there somewhere and the brown and white cows decided it was time to move back on to the road to play for the night. Luckily the cow shit was easy to see on the gravel by the light of the LED’s. Where there’s poo there’s cows I guessed and I guessed right. I was stopped a few times on that stretch by small surprised herds who scattered in all directions. Along that stretch I also saw the last of a dozen or so vehicles I’d seen all day during the ride in this remote area of the country.
I pushed as hard in the dark as I dared praying that the young bloke at William Creek was good to his word. The fuel docket said 8.29pm. No coffee, the machine had been cleaned. No food, everything’s put away. Just the fuel, a receipt and be on your way. The door’s about to be locked. “Thanks mate” I said very grateful he waited for me. I spent a little while there eating and resetting the head. I had fuel, time and moonlight on my side. No rush, just don’t fall off.
It was lonely out there on the Oodnadatta, just me, the rabbits and the occasional kangaroo. There wasn’t much to look at, the moonlight was nice but there wasn’t much for the Baja Designs Squadron Pro’s to light up other than rocks and corrugations on the road. I took some time to reflect and do some research in order to bed in a comfortable night-time speed. Here’s my findings.
At 75-80kph: Corrugations annoying but the rabbits had time to cross the front of the bike or change their mind and turn around. Bad for me, good for them.
At 80-85kph: Corrugations less pronounced through the bars and easier on the hands but the rabbits didn’t usually change their mind and tried to outrun the front wheel with various results for them. Most often I felt a little bump.
At 85+ kph: The suspension on the AT ate up the corrugations like they weren’t there. The rabbits committed to the crossing but went behind the front wheel. I can’t say if they threaded the needle between the Kenda Big Block on the front and Motoz Tractionator Adventure on the rear or if they got “Tractionatored”. The rear suspension on the AT didn’t pass the information on and I didn’t have an opportunity to look back and check.
I reckon I collected enough evidence to prove this by the way. I should point out that I don’t believe in animal testing so animal activists just hold back a minute. I was actually a bit put out that the rabbits were testing me this way so you should be angry at them. Apparently this is not what popping a bunny is.
Anyhow, that filled the gap until I got back into the high roo area closer to Roxby Downs and got busy. I started to wonder why the first time on this track in the dark felt so hard. I guess after 1600k’s of practice if you don’t get better you probably never will.
Mrs Wom was waiting in the Sportage about 5k’s down the track in the dark, just inside of phone reception range so she could still see the SPOT track. I stopped and told her I’d meet her at the BP which was due to close very shortly. A docket at 11.41pm and the paperwork done there. A touch over 5.5 hours for the last leg and 19.5 hours or so after starting my first Dusty Butt was done. Happy Wom.
I’m grateful to Bill for agreeing to assist and hope his recovery is fast. Mrs Wom is a legend. She dropped the Sportage off at the local airport and flew home the next morning. She had organised a range of food for me to eat after the ride and for breakfast. As an added bonus even she did my washing while I was on the ride so I had clean clothes to wear on the way home. Bill would have had to work very hard to match that! Seriously though, how good is she! Having someone close enough by to take control if things went bad certainly took the edge off the trepidation levels and allowed a more free flowing riding attitude that I believe I needed to the Dusty Butt done.
Pending IBA Certification I understand that this is the first IBA Dusty Butt to have been ridden in Australia. A shaky start with a great finish for me. The Africa Twin was faultless, what an amazing bike. I’ve now fallen off it less than 50% of the times I’ve ridden it.
For the numbers geeks
- My Moving Average for the ride was 94.5kph
- The Overall Average 85.5kph
- Moving Stime 17:50
- Stopped time: 01:53
- Distance by GPS 1686kms
For the setup geeks
- I ran 2 x Baja Designs Squadron Pro LED’s
- The Big Block front and Tractionator Adventure rear were run at 30PSI with Kenda Ultra Heavy Duty Tubes. I didn’t want to risk another bent rim or tube pinch and was happy for it to be a little squirmier as a tradeoff. The tyres got me home, total of 6000kms in 5 days riding. 1900k’s dirt the rest highway. They aren’t quite done.
- I carried 7.5 l of fuel for an emergency that was strapped and velcroed to the B & B racks. Didn’t move at all and fortunately didn’t need it.
- Tools and spare tubes in the Altrider bag on top, other than that I travelled as light as possible.