Ad­ven­ture tales: Fat­bik­ing through the Empty Quar­ter

Muscat Daily - - NATION - Zain al Tauqi

When Steve Holyoak and Max Chaya de­cided to ex­plore the Empty Quar­ter on their bikes, they knew the chal­lenges ahead, but they were not to back out.

Holyoak dis­cussed his ex­pe­ri­ences, at an En­vi­ron­ment So­ci­ety of Oman pre­sen­ta­tion held at Knowl­edge World on Tues­day. The duo set off for their jour­ney from Abu Dhabi on Novem­ber 24, 2016 and ar­rived in Salalah on De­cem­ber 15, 2016. They av­er­aged 70km a day on their fat­bikes – bikes fit­ted with large 3.8” tyres, to achieve a dis­tance of 1,450km.

Holyoak is an Oman-based geo­sci­en­tist and UK Ath­let­ics 24-hour run­ner with a per­sonal record of 253km in 24 hours.

“We metic­u­lously planned the cross­ing. We learned from an at­tempt made ear­lier by an ex­pe­di­tion whose sup­port ve­hi­cles had prob­lems in the deep sand, and they went from south to north, which is against the pre­vail­ing winds. We de­cided to ride from north to south, and had caches with food and wa­ter to re­sup­ply. We were de­pend­ing on sev­eral nav­i­ga­tion aids, in­clud­ing el­e­va­tion maps, to work our way around the taller dunes,” he said.

He added, “In to­tal, we had 21 caches with buried food and wa­ter. We es­ti­mated a con­sump­tion of eight litres per day, per per­son. All but one of our caches were in­tact as a desert fox dug one up and ate its con­tents. Be­sides de­hy­dra­tion, one of our big­gest con­cerns was bites. We de­cided we would prob­a­bly keep go­ing if we were stung by a scor­pion, but a bite from a sand viper can be fa­tal in a mat­ter of hours.

“It would have re­quired an emer­gency med­i­cal evac­u­a­tion. We were equipped with satel­lite phones, and our sup­port team in Mus­cat knew our ap­prox­i­mate lo­ca­tion at all times.

“The tough­est part of the ride was pos­si­bly the Umm al Samim ‘Mother of Poi­sons’, salt march which was dif­fi­cult to ride on. Also go­ing through the vast fea­ture­less ex­panse was de­mor­al­is­ing as we knew we had tens of kilo­me­tres of the same ter­rain be­fore get­ting back to sand dunes.

“A crew of oil in­dus­try work­ers saw us from a dis­tance and came to meet us, claim­ing they thought they were see­ing a mi­rage when they first spot­ted two bi­cy­cles in the mid­dle of the desert. We also met a group of very hos­pitable Oma­nis to­wards the south. They of­fered us cof­fee, dates and dried camel meat.”

Chaya, who wasn’t there at the pre­sen­ta­tion, has climbed the world’s top seven sum­mits, reached both poles on foot, and has the record for row­ing across the In­dian Ocean.

The duo met when moun­tain­bik­ing in Syria.

(Mus­cat Daily)

Steve Holyoak and his bike

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