Canning Stock Route: how to begin? – A flavour

It’s been just over a week since we finished riding the Canning Stock Route, with most of that time filled with driving back to Fremantle and the ‘in between’ that gives.  We’ve just about subsided back to normal appetites and filled some of the hollows that had formed in place of burnt fat-stores.  There’s been time to talk about and digest what we’ve done – though I still don’t feel closer to words that will do it justice.

How to begin?

The beginning? Why? The details of route, bicycle, food and preparation?  How it seems to me now that I’ve ‘been there and done that’?

It’s possibly an indication of the stature of the Canning Stock Route (CSR) that none of this seems obvious.  A sequential blow-by-blow with distances and times doesn’t seem right (though for future cyclists I’ll post this later) – rather an attempt to convey the essence of our ride.  An overview.

So.  Sitting here on my porch in the growing dark, with rain falling on the tin roof and Bryn hungry for his evening feed, I’ll say that it does feel as if we’ve done something significant.  Even if part of me is instinctively moved to diminish it in light of my passage.  It was the most physically and emotionally demanding route I’ve ever done – the Americas Trip had only short stretches that matched the sheer continual concentrated effort involved – for all 23 riding days.   The greatest challenges were the corrugations/washboard which are a feature of around 75% of the route in varying degrees of severity.  After this, the dunes (or sand hills) were often fun, or at least a (near) achievable challenge always with the prospect of a swooping descent and cooling air.

Leaving Sarah and Bryn behind as we cycled away from Wiluna was expectedly hard.  Missing them assailed me in waves.
Leaving Sarah and Bryn behind as we cycled away from Wiluna was expectedly hard. Missing them assailed me in waves.

The enduring pleasures and satisfactions were more than I’d expected.  I knew that the wide open spaces and remote camping would be incredible; but I hadn’t thought that there would be fun riding to the extent that there was.  The early phases, until we got stuck into the dunes ‘proper’ after Durba Springs, contained some surprisingly flowing ‘lines’ that fed our mountain biking instincts.  Even the dune riding rewarded determined concentration mixed with just the right power/line/body position.

A word on the route and landmarks sufficient to understand me before the more detailed route/logistics post:  The 51 wells sunk by Canning at the inception of the route over 100 years ago are numbered south to north.  Durba Springs is a haven of soft grass and shade about 500km from the start just after well 17.  Kunawarritji is an aboriginal community near well 33 (1000km in) and the Canning Stock Route finishes officially at another community called Billiluna 180km south of Hall’s Creek on the Tanami Highway that connects the Kimberley region of northwest Western Australia with Alice Springs in the centre of the country.

Clean, shiny and very heavily laden with 35 days food and (in hindsight) too much water.
Clean, shiny and very heavily laden with 35 days food and (in hindsight) too much water as we passed a couple of water replete wells before we needed pick any up.
40km out from the start in Wiluna, and a similar distance at the end into Billiluna were graded and fast.  Big skies already a constant though, for us, the clouds were unusual
40km out from the start in Wiluna, and a similar distance at the end into Billiluna were graded and fast. Big skies already a constant though, for us, the clouds were unusual
Camping on a patch of free ground when the day was done.  The best time of the day
Camping on a patch of free ground when the day was done. The best time of the day
Evening food - fire heated
Evening food – fire heated
A time to sigh, maybe talk, and let the food start the recovery in time for bed.  Dark determined - usually by 7pm
A time to sigh, maybe talk, and let the food start the recovery in time for bed. Dark determined – usually by 7pm
The recent heavy rains meant that we were treated to an astounding number of flowers - often well protected
The recent heavy rains meant that we were treated to an astounding number of flowers – often well protected
Not all was so friendly - the Spinifex grass was best avoided with a careful margin for fear of carrying the tips in feet and hands
Not all was so friendly – the Spinifex grass was best avoided with a careful margin for fear of carrying the tips in feet and hands
Evidence that things aren't always as dry as we found them
Evidence that things aren’t always as dry as we found them
Sand and a near-setting sun.  Rideable and firm going in the cool.  Another camp beckons at the end of our longest day (83km, mostly we made around 70km)
Sand and a near-setting sun. Rideable and firm going in the cool. Another camp beckoned at the end of our longest day (83km, mostly we made around 70km)
Camels, bicycles, Gaynor and vehicle tracks.
Camels, bicycles, human and vehicle tracks.
Most lakes are dry, and strongly saline when full
Most lakes were dry, and strongly saline when full
Rockier, but more enjoyable with engagement in weaving a line
Rockier, but more enjoyable with engagement in weaving a line
A lot of the pre-dune landscape is pretty flat
A lot of the pre-dune landscape was pretty flat
with ranges all the more imposing in contrast
with ranges all the more imposing in contrast
The 'proper' dunes - still rideable depending on the good driving technique of the last 4WD more than other things
The ‘proper’ dunes – still rideable depending on the good driving technique of the last 4WD more than other things
Our only significant 'mechanicals' were punctures - mostly during the early and late phases of the route.  Big, fat tyres so good for soft sand require much time to inflate with the hand pumps we carry.
Our only significant ‘mechanicals’ were punctures – mostly during the early and late phases of the route. Big, fat tyres so good for soft sand require much time to inflate with the hand pumps we carried.
The need to maintain focus on the trail in front means we see our companions in travel - mostly in time to avoid them
The need to maintain focus on the trail in front meant we saw our companions in travel – mostly in time to avoid them
This is what we found hardest - unavoidable, soft corrugations - here leading uphill into a dune
This is what we found hardest – unavoidable, soft corrugations – here leading uphill into a dune
And even the 4WDers found the 20-30km either side of Kunawarritji an exercise in mental stamina.  With us, there was the strain of repeated impacts between us and our saddles plus the hand and arm strength required
And even the 4WDers found the 20-30km either side of Kunawarritji an exercise in mental stamina. With us, there was the strain of repeated impacts between us and our saddles plus the hand and arm strength required
The wells portioned out the route - only a handful restored or functional.  This one (Well 41) is the crux - without which there's a significantly bigger water load for the hardest stretch of dunes between it and well 45
The wells portioned out the route – only a handful restored or functional. This one (Well 41) is the crux – without it there’s a significantly bigger water load for the hardest stretch of dunes between it and well 45, and the next water at well 46.
The further north we ride, the hotter the days become - and shade becomes rarer.
The farther north we rode, the hotter the days became – and shade rarer.
are rarer
are rarer
Navigation is mostly straightforward, but we have a paper map to mull and brood over, with GPS as backup
Navigation was mostly straightforward, but we had a paper map to mull and brood over, with GPS as backup
As well as the mostly infrequent smattering of burnt-out 4WDs, this motorbike remains a scavenged monument to the self-sufficiency asked of everyone on the CSR
As well as the mostly infrequent smattering of burnt-out 4WDs, this motorbike remained a scavenged monument to the self-sufficiency asked of everyone on the CSR
Daily or several times daily encounters.  We explain ourselves, are accused of varying degrees of insanity and occasionally inspiration, and after a while begin 'charging' fresh fruit for the myriad photographs taken.  Sometimes frustration at the kilometres lost to these pauses clouds our good humour.
Daily or several times daily encounters. We explained ourselves, were accused of varying degrees of insanity and occasionally inspiration, and after a while begin ‘charging’ fresh fruit for the myriad photographs taken. Sometimes frustration at the kilometres lost to these pauses clouded our good humour.
But that is nothing compared to the care and generous friendliness we are gifted.  Sometime there is even a present - a package of sweets and other morsels left hanging in well 46 by the Global Gypsies tag-along group that we met at well 33.
But that was nothing compared to the care and generous friendliness we were gifted. Sometime there was even a present – a package of sweets and other morsels left hanging in well 46 by the Global Gypsies tag-along group that we met at well 33.
After an extra rest day at well 46 to allow me to recover from being unwell timed to coincide with the worst dunes, we speed back up with lightened loads and not far to go.  A wonderfully windy camp under the Breaden Hills
After an extra rest day at well 46 to allow me to recover from being unwell timed to coincide with the worst dunes, we sped back up with lightened loads and not far to go. A wonderfully windy camp under the Breaden Hills
An end.  Riding into Billiluna, 26 days after we left Wiluna
An end. Riding into Billiluna, 26 days after we left Wiluna
With the best welcome possible
With the best welcome possible
That just leaves 6 days to drive back to Fremantle
That just left 6 days to drive back to Fremantle
Including some coastal time to attempt readjustment, or just absorbing the horizon in the fading light
Including some coastal time to attempt readjustment, or just absorb the horizon in the fading light

Subsequent posts will explore the logistic and bicycle related issues amongst many other things – this one was just for ‘flavour’…

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20 comments

  1. Beautiful pics as usual, wow what and adventure you both had. Curious as to whether Scott’s longer wheelbase made a difference on the corrugations?

  2. Wow. That looks like one hell of a feat based on your pics (which are awesome)! I can’t imagine riding that much sand… I guess that’s where fat tires shine. I look forward to the follow-up nerd post as well.

  3. It looks incredible – I can well imagine that it is hard to know where to begin with trying to describe the experience. Looking forward to hearing more, though!

  4. Great stuff Tom & Scott. Welcome to the CSR club;) Aint it beautiful out there (Understatement!). Enjoy the recovery and savour the memories, forever! 4″ was great, 5″ is better! Photos of those corrugations still send the shivers down my back. Only someone that has ridden the CSR will understand;)

    • The ‘space’ – especially at camp time more than made up for the corrugations, but only because the former was so good and not to detract from the soul-sucking frustration of the latter.

      I used a mixture of tyres (what came to hand), with 5″ on the front – which was especially good for flying down dunes and not burying the front wheel too much.

      Great to hear from you

  5. Tip the lid to you guys, that’s an epic ride. I’ve lived at Balgo Hills and Mullin up near Billiluna and I know how hard the country can be. Great respect and kudos.

  6. Hi guys congrats on the trip – if you can do a detailed gear list that would be great – I’d love to a desert tour and your insights would be a great resource for everyone. Congratulations once again on a great achievement :-)

    • Scot
      The next post (or maybe the one afterwards) will include a gear list – somewhat unusually for me. Scott’s made some good comments over at the PorcelainRocket blog in the meantime.

  7. So pleased to see you guys made it! You camped with our group on 9 August around well 42. Well done to you both!! Glenys and Gerry

  8. Well done Tom And Scott, we met you just before Kunawaritji and you camped with us at 33, we all enjoyed your company and stories. We hope you were not held up too much by us LOL you were amazingly generous with your time.
    Good to hear you completed your epic journey, I fir one am proud to have met you both.
    The Turtle Emu.

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