"Once you go out into the Australian outback and truly experience the beauty it has to offer then you’ll find yourself day dreaming about it all the time, totally absorbed by the idea of venturing deeper into the vast emptiness. This is exactly what happened to me… My recent trip in June to Innamincka and the Strezelecki Desert reignited such joy that when I returned home, life just wasn’t the same. My mind constantly wandered "where next" once the Queensland and NT borders re-opened, well then a plan I’ve had for months suddenly became possible, it was time to hit the desert" Jimmy Ashby recounts his desert loop.
A 3 part loop (or more like a triangle) beginning in Roxby Downs, SA. Up the 520km Birdsville track, continuing further North to Boulia, QLD then from Boulia heading West across the remote Plenty HWY into Alice Springs and eventually back South along to Oodnadatta track to Roxby Downs, covering over 3000km of remote desert road goodness!
I managed to connect with a friend of mine and park my car at her place for the month I’d be away. It was quite a funny departure because I really had no idea of when I’d be back or if I’d come back… I left saying “I’ll see you in a month, maybe more or maybe less… I don’t really know, I’ll see you when I see you, I guess.” And with that I was off!
The first 200km on the Borefield Track to Marree I had ridden before on another one of my desert trips so it was a nice way to ease into it. However, that first 200km was all the warm up I got because after Marree the wild riding began! I spent that First night camped behind the Marree pub and got up early to take on the Birdsville track, with a headwind… I like to adopt the mindset of pack light, travel far on these remote stretches and with only one water resupply point on route to Birdsville in Mungerannie it was going to be rather desolate. I tackled this road in 2 ½ days riding the 205km to Mungerannie on Day 1, 170km the next and finally 145km to arrive in Birdsville for a late lunch. The Birdsville track is unique in its own way and was constantly changing. It has large gibber rock sections, hard packed clay and then a whole series of sand dunes as you navigate the edge of the Simpson Desert.
Due to the Birdsville Track being the only open road between QLD & SA there was also a surprising range of cars travelling through, from the usual 4WD rev heads to road trains and then even a Suzuki Swift and Holden Commodore, did they make it? I really don’t know, all I know is I’d rather be on a bike out there than in one of those city cars!
It seems as every year goes on that more and more of these desert roads are getting sealed and that was exactly the case for the next 400km to Boulia, besides the first 100km out of Birdsville I was on a flat, slick highway the whole way north and with a change in wind direction I flew! I took my time on this stretch to prepare myself for what was coming next – The Plenty Highway.
Part 1: Roxby Downs – Boulia via The Birdsville Track (920km)
If you followed the Race to the Rock in 2019 then you would be familiar with the Plenty Highway and know that it's far from a smooth ride. It’s 820km of corrugations and sand. It’s also wildly remote with only two small stations to resupply water on route and due to Covid closing the indigenous communities the places to get water become fewer and further between. Although I did strike lucky on two occasions when a station hand stopped to give me a couple cans of VB for the road.
I crossed the Plenty Highway in 4 days, averaging just over 200km/day and over 12hours in the saddle. It was big! The final 100km into Alice was by far the highlight, rolling through The Harts Ranges as the sun went down was a perfect way to cap off the crossing and simply getting off of the long flat stretches into climbs that required different muscles was a welcomed change. I arrived in Alice with the plan to spend a few days there, then a few days quickly became over a week. I fell in love with Alice Springs and the surrounds and when the temp was in the high 20’s I just didn’t want to leave. The MTB trails are all they were hyped up to be, if you get the chance to ride bikes up there, don’t say no!
However, just being able to get a beer that wasn’t Great Northern or VB was one of the standout moments in the week.
Part 2: Boulia – Alice Springs via the Plenty Highway (820km)
This was the final edge to my desert triangle and although I was heading back into my home state it would be far from smooth riding. I travelled south from Alice to Kulgera along the Stuart Highway and then cut East to Mount Dare via Finke (which was closed to outsiders due to Covid). I then battled the sand through Hamilton Station to arrive into Oodnadatta. Now I only ever planned to have lunch here, but ended up staying for over 4 days. That afternoon the heavens opened up and 45mm of rain fell in that 24 hours causing the desert roads to become a wet, muddy sludge and be officially closed.
That meant Oodnadatta became my new home, more precisely the Pink Road House did. I set up under a shelter out back and managed to stay mostly dry underneath a leaky tin roof. It was kind of funny being stuck there because in 1990-91 my very own Mum was the remote area nurse here when she was only 25 years old! How cool is she?!
Coincidentally, I befriended the local Nurses and Flying Doctors who set me up with a supply of coffee and lentil soup. All right next door to where mum lived and worked 30 years ago. The roadhouse even made me a special curry after I emptied their veggie burger supply. I had such a great time being stranded in the small town of Oodnadatta, the rain was a blessing in disguise. After 4 days of drizzle and some small pockets of sunshine the roads dried out enough for me to head off.
With all the rain and water around the final 500km from Oodnadatta to Roxby Downs was something special. Some rivers were so deep that I had to cross them with my bike above my head and the water up to my belly button. It was wild!
My phone even decided to take a swim and not turn on again. The driest road, going to Australia’s driest town in the driest state and my phone falls in a river... you almost wouldn’t believe it!
It was a crazy and unexpected way to finish this desert loop and for me each time I saddle up and leave to live on my bike it’s like life is back to normal. All the other stuff I do is the ‘holiday’. Cycling and exploring by bike is my Ikigai. Don’t know what Ikigai means? Look it up, even research it a bit.
Part 3: Alice Springs – Roxby Downs via the Oodnadatta Track.
Like I said at the start once to you truly experience the beauty of the Australian outback then you’ll constantly think of it while back home, that’s exactly what I’m doing now. I’m starting to scheme plans for the next desert outing and believe me, it’s going to be even more remote and wild then this one.
Bike & Gear:
|CURVE GMX +
SQ Lab Saddle
Syntace Stem & Seatpost
|Treadlite Frame Bag
Apidura Saddle Bag
Revelate front Harness
Blackburn mount cages
Nalgene 1L bottles
|Nemo 2P Tent
Sea To Summit Spark 2 Sleeping Bag
Sea To Summit Sleeping Mat
First Aid Kit
Garmin Etrex 32
12l Of Water In Bottles & Bladders
Fork & Bowl
Power Packs & Cables
2 X Front & Back Lights
|Ground Effect Rivet & Helter Skelter Rain Gear
Ground Effect Phantom Windproof Jacket
Patagonia Synthetic Down Jacket
Beanie & Buff
Ground Effect Shorts, Shirt, Gloves & Leg/Arm Warmers
2 X Ground Effect Top Thermals