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It’s the middle of nowhere, hundreds of kilometres from the next supply stop with every part of your body aching from the thousand or so kilometres you’ve already ridden. Kilometres that have been filled with headwinds, swarms of flies, searing heat and a seemingly never-ending straight road stretching out to the horizon. And that’s just the beginning; there are still thousands of kilometres to go.
That’s the type of challenge that 36 year-old Purdie Long will be taking on when she sets off on the 5,500 kilometre journey from Fremantle to Sydney this weekend. Taking leave from her job as an emergency services worker to face up to three weeks, or maybe even four, of riding big distances day after day.
It is not for the glory – there is no television camera or photographer in tow. It is not an escape – Long is a self confessed homebody who revels in those quiet moments tucked away with her partner, Verita, and cat, Frankie. And it’s certainly not for the race – the Indian Pacific Wheel Race, which Long will follow the route of, was cancelled in February. However, the cancellation really changed nothing for the Melbourne rider because for her it was never about the race in the first place.
It was always the individual challenge that mattered most.
A challenge that means embracing the spirit of adventure and self reliance that saw the original Overlanders striking out across Australia on their rudimentary bikes more than a century ago. An adventure that is not only going to see Long riding over new ground, but also pushing herself into new territory physically and mentally as she attempts to traverse a continent under her own power, one pedal stroke at a time.
Long tells us more about the story of her physical and mental preparation for this ride across a nation in the video below:
“A lot of the appeal of riding across Australia is the unknown for me because I haven’t done an event where I’ve gone past three or four days of really tough conditions,” Long explained. “When I get out in the middle of South Australia across the Nullarbor I’ll be in new territory and that’s the exciting part. I don’t know how I will feel physically and mentally. That’s just part of the challenge.”
The former marathon runner has never been shy about pushing herself out of her comfort zone and fronting up for a test of endurance. The aptly-named Long rode her way through 8,848 metres of vertical ascent in the women’s mass Everesting of 2015 and has taken on the notoriously difficult 280 kilometre Melbourne to Warrnambool race the past three years. But even by her standards this is taking the pursuit of challenge to a whole new realm.
The 5,500 kilometre ride covers four states, one territory and a variety of different landscapes and climates. Long will have to grapple with everything from endless lonely roads to the traffic of Australia’s largest cities.
There is no easing into the journey, with one of the toughest obstacles coming early. The route quickly takes to the desert and crosses the remote Nullarbor Plain. This is the longest straight stretch of road in Australia, with no turns to break up the monotony of the sparsely populated desert landscape. The supply stops are often hundreds of kilometres apart, and there is ample potential for searing heat with the unrelenting sun hard to escape in the sparsely vegetated environment.
As the route emerges from the Nullarbor the increasing pockets of population give way to the rolling hills of Adelaide. Then after the first big city since starting out, it is onto more familiar territory, the winding coastal roads of Victoria. Once through her hometown of Melbourne, Long will tackle the steep climbs and often chilly climate found in the high country of Victoria and New South Wales. Then it’s onto the nation’s capital, Canberra, and the final stretch toward a Sydney Opera House finish.
Long will be setting out from the lighthouse in Fremantle on Saturday March 17 at 6.22 am.
Completing the journey safely is, of course, her key priority. She is expecting to ride around 250 to 300 kilometres a day, a distance she feels will challenge her but allow her enough room for rest and to revel in the experience.
“I will be stopping to take a photo and stopping to engage a little bit and just take it all in,” said Long. “It’s probably something that I’ll only do once in my life so even though I am pushing myself, I still want to enjoy the journey as well.”
But she is under no illusion that there will be times when enjoying the journey is just not possible. Facing up to day after day on the bike will inevitably take a toll on her body. That’s when she’ll have to muster the mental strength to remain focussed on the ultimate goal, rather than dwell on a here and now that could be filled with aches, pains and saddle sores.
“I really enjoy being in the moment and living in the moment on the bike but on those days when it’s really tough, maybe I will just have to visualise the finish line a little bit more and how I’ll feel knowing that I’ve achieved what I wanted to,” said Long.
Long needed a set up that could not only comfortably handle the long days on the road, but also a load. Her ride will be completely unsupported so as well as requiring the capacity to carry all her basic bike essentials, Long needs to be able to transport plenty of food and water through remote patches. Plus her load includes sleeping equipment so stops can be timed around what suits her, and not the location of the next accomodation.
The full set-up is as follows:
You can follow Long’s journey on social media via #GOLONG. She’ll also be using a tracking device which will display her progress and that of many other riders who have decided they will follow the Indian Pacific Wheel Race route across Australia.