Adventure tales: Fatbiking through the Empty Quarter

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.

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