Griffin’s Maree Stephenson is six weeks into her remarkable 10 Desert Challenge – but her biggest tests may still be ahead.
The 53-year-old has already cycled through some of the harshest landscapes in Queensland and South Australia reaching Marree, deep in SA, at the weekend.
She is now on the Oodnadatta Track, a 617km unsealed trail, heading towards West Australia across the Tirair and Pedirka Deserts to Marla.
Her aim is to ride 10,000kms and raise $10,000 for Beyond Blue, the mental health and wellbeing support organisation. Many people Maree has met, so far, have been inspired to make donations.
“I think this has just been an introduction to rocky roads, to corrugated roads and bull dust,” says Maree, speaking from Marree, “you feel every bump and the wind has knocked me around.
“But I'm enjoying it. The days are so full and have been from the start (of the ride). The last seven days (from Birdsville to Marree) were such a saturated experience.
“The landscape is insane. Beautiful but harsh. You have to treat it with respect. It constantly tests you, like with the puncture, no water …. I like it like that.”
Maree is travelling on her own, without support, overnighting in “wild” desert camps, but help has been surprisingly close.
“The caring is out here is lovely,” says Maree, who is bidding to become the first woman to cycle on tracks across all 10 deserts in Australia.
“All drivers (on the Birdsville Track) have slowed until they know I'm okay. There’s contact with every car. I have been offered water, given apples and told where the next water point is.”
Maree was particularly grateful to one passing vehicle. She woke one morning to a flat tyre on her bike “Banjo” caused by a thorn from a tough desert bush.
As she had stopped, silicone in the tyre was not drawn to the escaping air to patch the leak as would happen with the rotation of the wheel. Then, Maree couldn’t tighten a core valve.
However, two brothers from Canberra drew up and quickly sorted it out. “I burst into tears,” says Maree, “I thought was going to have to go back to Birdsville.
“But experiencing the challenge is what this is all about. All your senses out here are taken to the next level.
“I love that closeness to the landscape. You’re not looking through a windscreen. It’s real and it is stunning."
Maree set off from Woodford on May 2 and aims to finish in Birdsville on September 17 at the end of a 139-day ride to the west coast of Australia and back to Birdsville.
There's more news here