By now, no one should be a stranger to Jimmy Ashby and the amazing accomplishments this young South Australian rider has achieved on the bike in so few years. At only 18 years of age, Jimmy set off to ride around the world covering a staggering 39,100 kilometres through 32 countries. This further led to him being awarded Australian Geographic Young Adventurer of the Year, in 2019.
Jimmy, like many of us at Curve, also loves Australia. He loves the remote desert roads and the physical and mental strength it takes to cross them by bike. Some well-known tracks include Birdsville, Oodnadatta, and Plenty Highway. Jimmy has also spent time running and hiking the most remote sections of Tasmania.
Jimmy’s latest adventure may be his toughest yet, and this time he brought his mate Chad Freak along for the ride.
Words below by Jimmy Ashby.
On paper, it doesn’t really make sense to ride your bike in the Australian Outback. It’s hot, often windy, the roads are corrugated, sandy, and unmaintained, and then to cap it all off you’re looking at days between resupply points or in our case over a week. So why go right? While these sound like reasons not to ride there, to me it’s why I keep returning year after year. The solitude, challenge, and vast emptiness create such beauty for those willing to open their eyes to it. This year was different though, where I was going with my close friend Chad Freak was something we didn’t actually know if we could achieve, it took us to our limits. The Anne Beadell Highway.
The Anne Beadell Highway is a road that very few people know about. But if you know, then you know how big this undertaking was. It’s not the main route across Australia, not even for 4 wheel drivers. To travel it by motor vehicle is uncommon yet Chad and I found ourselves to be uncommon amongst the uncommon to be there on bicycles. The AB HWY has only been cycled by a handful of cyclists in its 60-year life.
The AB HWY goes from Laverton, WA to Coober Pedy, SA covering 1350 kilometres across Australia and crossing the Great Victorian Desert. Originally surveyed by the great Len Beadell in 1962 this road is a work of art, so proud of it he took pride in naming it after his wife Anne who joined him for a large part of the surveying expedition.
However, this is regarded as one of Australia’s most remote roads and there isn’t much out there besides camels and dingos. The first 700 km to the SA border we had a water tank roughly every 250 km and then at 550 km, we passed Australia’s most remote roadhouse. From the SA border, there was nothing, 620 km of sand dunes, corrugations, and the Great Victorian desert. Our mentality going into the AB HWY was to look at it almost like a race, put in big days in the saddle, and simply keep moving. Ride into the night and cover big distances to get across with minimal gear. If we don’t do big days then suddenly how much food and water we need gets unmanageable. These stretches were BIG and we had to go bigger to cover them.
Chad and I’s expedition didn’t start in Laverton; we had to warm up first, of course! The full-ride actually began a week earlier in Perth. Laverton is in the middle of nowhere so we had an 1100 km commute to even make it to the start of the AB HWY. The commute out of Perth took us along the northern section of the Munda Biddi Track and then straight East across the wheat belt and to another 4WD Track – The Holland Track.
But in true adventure fashion the Holland Track kicked our ass! Neither of us had ever seen this much mud before, so much MUD! We began by riding past wave rock just out of Hyden and from there it was a few hour’s ride till the start of the Holland Track. As we took the turn at the start of the track, the rain started to fall, and although it wasn’t heavy enough to drench you it was enough to make it unpleasant and turn the topsoil into boggy mud. It rained steadily until the sun went away and what came next was hours of slipping, sliding, and sinking through peanut butter mud until we hit a bigger mining road. You can bet we were beyond stoked to have our full Ground Effect rain gear on. With our bikes covered in a thick coating, we slept the night on the roadside before riding away from that track as fast as we could with our tails between our legs. From the Holland Track, we connected up with the Kalgoorlie - Perth pipeline, which was just incredible, the change we needed! It’s definitely a hidden gem in WA’s dirt road network. We followed the pipeline’s service road for the final few hundred kilometers to Kalgoorlie and then it was another couple of days riding through station country to where the real adventure began.
Thinking back to when we finished the Anne Beadell I was a bit lost for words on how to share this one, to say it straight, shit got real out there.
I’ve put myself in a lot of crazy places on a bike over the years but this here was the most remote and out there that I’ve ever been immersed in. It asked a huge amount of Chad and me and then asked some more. We’re proud, bloody proud to have just achieved this crossing, I put it up there with one of the most badass things I’ve done on a bike.
This 1350 km crossing was essentially broken into two halves, the WA side and the SA side. Both are unique in their own way. The WA side was all spinifex country and was serviced approx 3 years ago. The SA side, not so much, it was sand dune country, overgrown and never once graded or serviced in its 60-year life, were the roads bad? You bet!
The scenery we encountered throughout the 8 days was so uniquely beautiful, nothing like the typical SA outback we’ve both seen before but special in its own way. From corridors of Mulga trees to sand dunes scattered with camels the landscape captured our awe and love. Seriously these dudes are just rad, Chad and I completely fell in love with these goofy-looking creatures and they were everywhere, there must be thousands of them out roaming the dunes. A camel highlight for me was riding in the night under a slow turning dynamo light, working hard to pick a line, and completely distracted by the road. I look up and have the life scared out of me as a huge camel is stood across the road only meters away eyeballing me. The camels would also just run along the road in front of us, plodding along the track at 15-20 kph for kilometres at a time.
It took us 3 days to ride across the majority of the WA side and arrive at the Ilkurlka Roadhouse, Australia’s most remote roadhouse. That first 550 km were rather straightforward and while the roads were far from smooth they were manageable. Fortunate to have a tailwind we punched out 200 km+ for the first couple of days and thought “Huh, how hard can this be?” Oh, boy were we wrong.
From Ilkurlka the roads began to become worse and worse and just near the SA border with 620 km to still ride we reached our final water point. Our bikes became heavy, around 50 kg in total with 4 days of food & water on board. This is where the game changed, deep into our mental caves we dove.
If the devil was stood at the SA border laughing I wouldn’t have been surprised because the roads that followed felt hellish at times. Deep sand dunes went on for days and when respite came from the dunes we encountered wheel-swallowing corrugations, seriously I cannot imagine a road that’s more rough or tough going. It makes other desert roads I’ve ridden look like a bike path. Our average speeds dropped drastically, and putting in 14-16 hour days we were left feeling as if we were crawling along, slowly crawling but still moving forwards.
Early mornings in sub 0 degrees and nights that were lit up by the shining moon created a whole range of emotions each day. But as we edged closer and closer our supplies became emptier and emptier. Chad has the most incredible parents. We organised to have them around Coober Pedy ready in a 4WD for if things went wrong out there, fortunately, they didn’t however we did get mighty hungry. On the final night a day’s ride from Coober Pedy, Cheryl & Tim joined us with fresh fruit, warm tea, a big hug, and the perfect way to end this immense experience before rolling into town the next day.
To say we abused our bikes would be an understatement. We worked these things hard! Chad rode his Fargo and I was on my beloved GMX+.
But oh boy did my GMX+ embrace the challenge; it went into battle and came out a champion! It took every bump, dune & pedal stroke to the max, proving to be gutsy and unbreakable. Seriously, we HAMMERED these bikes. Chad’s pedal exploded at one point, every one of our cages bounced off and after a particularly nasty stretch of corrugations, I looked down to see my front axle had vibrated loose. This road took a toll on our bikes and us and by the time we rolled into Coober Pedy we were two broken, but proud men.
We chatted quite a bit while out there about where do we go from here? Or how do you top a ride like this? How can you keep upping the adventure each year? Or where’s the point where you become content with not going higher and better? Chad and my minds & body are pretty worn out right now, I think we’ll answer those questions another time. Cheers to another adventure!