Canning Stock Route : Part 2 – Statistics, Logistics

Continuing where we left off, Part 2 will be a bit of the nitty-gritty about the Canning Stock Route as a whole, and the logistics that went into making our traverse possible.  A lot of the info here may well be repeated by Tom on his own blog, but I suppose it is always worth having multiple perspectives on these sorts of things…

It is certainly worth noting that, before Tom mentioned the CSR to me almost 2 years ago now, I’d never heard of the route.  So this was all his idea, and as I reminded him on a few occasions during the expedition, his fault.  In all fairness to him, as soon as I did even the smallest amount of research about what had been proposed to me, I was in.  Stoked.  And the planning began…

 

Numbers don’t do this justice.

– STATISTICS –

I won’t pretend to be any sort of Canning Stock Route expert, or historian, so I’ll simply highlight a few resources that I found particularly helpful, while planning for our attempt at the route.

♦ Wikipedia actually does a fairly good job of describing the route, with all sorts of interesting tidbits on history, useage, and the aboriginal importance along the CSR.   The only aspect worth disputing here is that the northern terminus of the CSR is technically at the community of Billiluna, not Hall’s Creek which lies about 175km farther north, along the Tanami Highway.  4WDers, who are the predominant users of the track, often refer to Hall’s Creek as either the beginning or the end, depending on their chosen direction of travel, as it is a ‘proper’ town with most services.  Billiluna is a very small aboriginal community, with only very limited services.  The community of Wiluna is at the southern terminus, and is a larger aboriginal community, with a bit more established range of services available to the common traveller.

The Canning Stock Route is known to be one of the most remote, and inaccessible tracks on the planet, and while being a fairly popular 4WD adventure, sort of an Outback Safari if you will, human-powered transport is a fairly rare occurrence.  As I am a cyclist first and foremost, and our objective was to traverse the route un-supported by bicycle, the following are a few of the people and projects that I find particularly interesting.  These were also instrumental in our planning and inspiration.

♦ In 2004, Kate Leeming was indeed the first person to complete a traverse of the CSR on a bicycle.  This effort, although supported by 4WD, is wildly impressive, not only from the ‘first ascent’ side of things, but for the fact alone that it was completed on a conventional mountain bike, rather than a fatbike.  Well done.

♦ In 2005, Jakub Postrzygacz became the first person to complete the route un-supported.  Jakub employed a very early Surly Pugsley, and a modified Extrawheel trailer.  His expedition was 33 days in length, from Hall’s Creek to Wiluna (N to S).

♦ In 2009, Russell Worthington completed the CSR un-supported on a titanium Fatback bike, with a homemade single-wheel trailer of his own design and execution.  This traverse was part of a much larger tour of 10 Australian deserts.  Russell reportedly covered the CSR from Billiluna to Wiluna (N to S), in 23 days.  Dang.

♦ In 2011, Martijn Boonman also completed the route un-supported with a Surly Pugsley / modified Extrawheel trailer.  Martijn’s expedition was 31 days in length, and again from Hall’s Creek to Wiluna (N to S).

♦ While I have not done adequate research on other modes in which people have attempted or completed the CSR, it would be daft of me not to mention Gaynor Schoeman here.  Tom and I met Gaynor just north of Well 11, during her solo walk down the Canning Stock Route this year.  Though she had buried over 80 food and water drops along the route, Gaynor has become the first person to walk the CSR alone, and without direct support of a vehicle (and thus it’s inherent support-providing driver).  Tom and I discussed at length how much courage and strength it must take to exist in such a wildly sparse landscape, alone for nearly 3 months.  I’m not sure many of us are capable of such a feat.  It was an honour and privilege to meet you, to admire your footprints for the next hundreds of kilometres, and to share the track with you, if only for a few brief minutes.  Very, very impressive.

The following are some numerical statistics from our expedition.

♦ Distances, Time & Such

• 26 days, including 3 rest days, was the total traverse time.

• 71 km was our average daily distance, with 83 km being the longest day, and 25 km being the shortest.

• 10 kph was our average speed along the track.  Considering the conditions, this is faster than I expected.

• On average, we moved for about 6 – 7 hours a day.  We woke at dawn, had an hour in the middle of the day for a lunch break, and rode until about 4:30 PM each day.  The days are short in the Australian desert, so it is imperative to make the most of them.

♦ Mechanical

• Punctures were really the only ‘mechanical’ problems we faced.  I had 9 total punctures, and Tom had more than 20 (I think he stopped counting).  We used Surly and Specialized tubes in the tires, and there was no real discernible difference in their puncture-resistance.  If I were to attempt the CSR again (quite unlikely), I would do my best to source some large DH tubes with removable valve cores, so that some sort of latex sealant could be used in the tubes.  Most of the punctures that we repaired were very small, and would likely be sealed easily by a latex sealant.

• Neither Tom nor myself broke a chain on the route.  Besides requiring frequent lubing, the drivetrain on my rig was very reliable.

• 0 broken spokes, 0 bearing failures, 0 gear-related failures.  It is almost embarrassing how successful our gear choices were.  An expedition like this surely deserves a McGyver hero story, no?  Maybe next time…

♦ Nutritional

• 35 days worth of food was packed onto each of our rigs for the traverse.  We did not exactly know what to expect from ourselves, in terms of the time the route would require.  When we realized that our pace was much quicker than expected, we began eating about 1.5 x our daily rations, in order to keep up with calorie-demand which became greater as the days piled up.

We ate mostly dehydrated and freeze-dried foods, as these foods are the most efficient in terms of bulk vs. energy provided.  The following is what each of us carried as food rations.

> 70 packets of instant oatmeal

> 18 packets of Mountain Bread, along with 1.5kg of Nutella, and 1.5kg of cheap peanut butter

> 25 Backcountry Cuisine freeze-dried meals in 2-portion packs

> 10 homemade and dehydrated curry meals, prepared by Tom’s wife Sarah

> 110 Muesli bars of various flavour and brand

> 15 various bags of candy, or trail mix to act as small treats or snacks during the day

> About 15 oranges, 5 apples, and 1 pear were gifted to us by passing 4WDs during the expedition.

> 0 kg coffee

• About 20kg was the total food weight for each of us.

• We each lost about 5 kg on the expedition.  I think our nutritional choices were a success from this perspective.  I never felt overly-hungry, to a point where I worried about running out of food.  I only remember feeling close to the ‘bonk point’ once, and even then, the problem was solved with an extra muesli bar, a handful of sour gummy bears, and a swig of water.

• Water consumption varied from about 6 L in total (drinking + cooking) per day, to over 8 L total per day in the northern, hotter end of the CSR.

• 40 L was our carrying capacity for water, each.

> We never had to carry more than 30 L of water.  From Well 26 to Well 33 was our longest stretch without a water source, some 225km.

> On average, we mostly had 10-20 L of water on board at any given time along the route.

 

Already missing this. Badly.

– LOGISTICS –

From a logistical standpoint, this expedition was extremely straightforward.  Given the remote location of the track, the availability of services on the route (essentially none), and the limited water sources, there isn’t a huge amount of planning and strategizing required, once on the CSR proper.  The following are a few bits of planning and logistical consideration that went into making our traverse a success.

♦ After careful consideration of previous successful attempts at cycling the CSR, Tom and I decided to begin our traverse in Wiluna, at the southern terminus.  We had received reports that some of the salt lakes at the northern end of the route were very muddy in mid-July, due to unseasonal rains earlier in the month.  Unfortunately another cycling attempt, that began in Billiluna (northern terminus) in late June, failed to cross these lakes, and was forced to turn back.  We had been excited by the notion of attempting the route in a direction that had never been completed before, and the prospect that the mud would have much more time to dry up by the time we saw it, sealed the deal.  We are the first to have ridden the CSR un-supported, from the south to the north.

♦ We were fortunate, in that Tom and Sarah live in Fremantle, a suburb of Perth.  So, this made transport to Wiluna much easier, and stress-free.  As far as I know, there is no public transport into the community of Wiluna.  Sarah agreed to drop us off, and then subsequently meet us in Billiluna at the other end of the CSR, some 4.5 weeks later.  She herself had quite the brave adventure, in that instead of returning to Fremantle with their 3-month-old son, Sarah decided to have a dirt road adventure, exploring many of the lesser-explored backroads in the Western Australian deserts and tropics.  Little Bryn, only now into his 4th month, has already seen more of Western Australia than most Australians!

♦ There are 51 marked wells along the CSR.  All of these wells were sunk by Canning’s survey party in 1908, and only about 10 of them remain in use (all others have fallen into ruins).  These 10 wells have been restored, to some degree, by various 4WD clubs in order to provide refill points for motorized vehicular travellers.  We made use of all of the ‘restored’ wells along the route.

♦ While route-finding is not a major concern on the CSR, both Tom and I carried GPS devices.  It is very handy and reassuring to know you are on the correct track, especially when departing wells.  Often times, several tracks intersect and carry on into the foreseeable distance.  Being able to choose the correct track is useful in saving valuable time and effort from backtracking.  We also used our GPS devices for logging distances, speed, and time.

♦ There is no form of electronic communication on the CSR, obviously.  Previous expeditions have carried satellite phones, but we opted simply for a SPOT Gen. II device, from which we sent locations twice daily, but could not receive any sort of communication.  I think this was a wise choice, as it kept the expedition with a feeling of remoteness, which is often difficult to achieve in our digital age.

Otherwise, that’s it.  Nothing else to do but pedal…

 

…and pedal.

 

See you in a bit…

Scott

4 Comments

  1. Doug says:

    Cool. Sounds like y’all were overprepared in a good way.

  2. rob says:

    awwww, dammit Scott! why tell such a great tale?? why?!?! i have a silly urge to look at maps of Australia now!

  3. John says:

    Great write-up Scott from both you and Tom. The Canning has been on my to-do list for quite some time, but in the comfort of a 4WD. This has got me re-thinking it. Your detailed analysis in breaking down the journey almost makes the Canning sound doable to the average punter, which I know it to be anything but!
    When you say ‘We never had to carry more than 30 L of water’, was that each or between you?
    Thanks so much again for sharing this with us.

    • theporcelainrocket says:

      Hey John,

      The Canning is no joke, no matter what mode of transport you choose. I can’t imagine traversing that piece of the planet in a massive vehicle that I can’t push! :-)

      The 30L was for each of us. I’ll tell you one thing, a bike with 30L of water on board is an adventure in itself.

      Get after it!

      Scott

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