Homeward bound - but Maree forced to take new desert route

Published 7:00am 23 August 2021

Homeward bound - but Maree forced to take new desert route
Words by Nick Crockford

Maree Stephenson is on the final leg of her 10,000km, 10-desert cycling challenge – but it’s a different route to the original plan.

She was going south to cross the Simpson Desert via Mt Dare and the K1/Rig Road which criss-crosses the Northern Territory, South Australia and Queensland borders. 

But border closures, due to COVID, have forced the Griffin resident to go north from Alice Springs and take the Plenty Highway to Queensland, then ride down to Boulia and Birdsville.

Homeward bound - but Maree forced to take new desert route
One of Maree's camps on the Tanami, behind some rocks.

From there the 53-year-old will do a loop into the Simpson Desert and back again to tick off the 10th and final desert of her 140-day fundraising marathon.

The consolation is, last week Ms Stephenson reached her target of raising $10,000 for Beyond Blue, the mental health and well-being support organisation.

Five figures came up with donations from the journey along the arduous 1000km Tanami Track, from Halls Creek in the Kimberley to Alice Springs.

Homeward bound - but Maree forced to take new desert route
Stocking up with water, left hidden behind a marked tree by a Tanami Track passer-by.

It included $465 from the Exact Contracting team. “I paid the cash in and thought ‘wow’, that’s cool,” Ms Stephenson said on passing $10,000.

“It was so special to see that milestone come up. Bless everyone supporting our challenge.”

The support of mine workers and road teams maintaining the Tanami Track have been a feature with many stopping to check on Ms Stephenson and her fat-wheeled bike Banjo.

Homeward bound - but Maree forced to take new desert route
Hot day in the saddle on the Tanami Track

With water being essential, passers-by have topped up her supplies, one took water ahead to lighten the load and another left extra water bottles behind a tree, marked with a ribbon.

“The Tanami was hard, tiring and exhausting," Ms Stephenson said. "At times I was crying and was over it, bottomed out, but worked through it.

“It really was next level challenge. But the guys (contractors, mine workers) were so full of joy, so wanting to help and be open about mental health.

Homeward bound - but Maree forced to take new desert route
Hidden behind bushes, Maree settles in for the night.

"I'm almost a public face of challenges in Beyond Blue. I think that's why I'm on the receiving end of so much generosity

“They are on that track all the time. It’s a collective comaraderie out there.”

Ms Stephenson left Woodford on May 1 on a journey which has taken her to the coast of Western Australia.

Homeward bound - but Maree forced to take new desert route
Stunning sunrises and sunsets on the Tanami.

She will now finish in Birdsville on September 11 where her family will greet her. "I can't wait to see them again," Ms Stephenson said.

To follow the 10 Desert Challenge and donate to the cause visit the10desertchallenge.com

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