Dead-set legend of the Simpson Desert
Woman Moto intro:
I am in awe of all the women of the Simpson Desert crossings since the first one in October 2019, where 12 gutsy ladies took on 1100 desert dunes, stretching 500 km from Birdsville to Mount Dare in one of the driest and harshest regions of the Australian outback. Many of them tackling not only the physical challenges never before experienced but also pushing through their mental confrontations and even though they would feel the ruthless effects of that unrelenting desert after a couple of days, they kept their front wheels forward, moving with focus and purpose.
Any fears or insecurities were banished as they trailblazed, in strength… as a team… through the spinifex grasslands, 40 plus degree heat, over each of those iconic parallel dunes. They crossed from Queensland through The Territory to South Australia, experiencing the odd oasis swimming hole, a ceiling of stars by the campfires, birdlife, wildlife and plants not commonly seen before. There was life-long bonding amongst these women and incredible elation as they all rode into Mount Dare.
One woman, in particular, is Jayne White, a teacher, a mother, a grandma, a race car driver, a born leader and a deadset legend! Not content to ride over simply the once, she wanted to turn around and go straight back to Birdsville… but this time, completely alone.
When I first met Jayne, in November 2020, she’d accomplished a second fully supported team crossing, in September that year, with seven other women riders. As if that wasn’t demanding enough, she spun her DRZ 400 around the next day to tackle an unsupported return trip… solo! That means all alone… in the desert… no one within cooooee!
I was absolutely star-struck as I saw such immeasurable guts and grit in this exceptionally extraordinary lady. Well educated and with oodles of talent in everything she puts her hand to… whether it be designing and building her toy hauler, come camper trailer… racing around Bathurst in the Puma Clubman she built… playing and singing in a rock band… riding solo, unsupported across a humungous desert… passionately mentoring other women riders on her South Australian rural property… or maybe just whooping butt in her first 24-hour trial race, against an all men field… plus many other versatile accomplishments; nothing seems unachievable for her… yet she remains so damn humble.
I had a story in my mind, but just couldn’t write it… there is too much of her I wanted to tell, with no idea where to start… so asked help from my colleague, Sara Harte, to break it down into smaller tales… and together we’ve ended up with this… KD
There is a section in the Simpson Desert called the washing machine. It’s about 100 km down the French Line, west of Poeppel Corner and it’s just relentless with constant turning in the sand for about 60 kms. It’s really slow, hard to get enough speed up to sit on the sand properly; up and down woops… up and down hills.
“I remember riding that and just thinking when is this going to end?” said Jayne over the phone from Onkaparinga Hills, South Australia. “It went on for about 2 hours and I kept looking over every sandhill for the [Poeppel] salt lakes at the end. That was the hardest bit of riding of the whole solo trip. It was physically and mentally demanding. I had to focus so hard on riding and not make mistakes; I couldn’t lose focus and crash because I was out there alone. At every crest of every dune, I was looking ahead for oncoming vehicles and every four to five dunes, calling on the two-way.”
What drives a woman to endure a solo mission across the treacherous outback on a dirt bike, where the temperatures soar above 40 degrees… after you’ve just finished riding the other way, with your friends and support crew… when you’re riding on shifting sands, weighed down by fuel, water and supplies and you’re lucky if you see another soul out there?
“It was kind of a bucket list thing. I was reasonably confident I could do it in 11 or 12 hours and when I’d mentioned this to my brother or any guy, they’d say, “You can’t do that, which just fired me up more, to challenge myself,” said Jayne.
By the time she had gotten off her bike, word had spread with all the punters congratulating her and the chef was re-opening the kitchen, to make her a well-earned dinner!
What she’d just conquered was mind-blowingly phenomenal!
That’s not to say it was an easy journey, which technically began the year prior on a similar attempt where everything that could go wrong, did.
“I attempted it in 2019 but didn’t make it, which goes to prove it can be pretty tough. Disaster struck almost immediately upon arriving at Mt Dare… my bag of food and supplies was missing; when I went to refuel my bike, the fuel pump wouldn’t work. I was not in the greatest frame of mind before I set out, in the dark, at 4:00 am to avoid the 42 degree heat of the day.”
Wow, Jayne had only arrived at Mt Dare the afternoon prior, after tackling the 1100 dunes with 11 other women… and she’s itchin’ to ride back to Birdsville… alone!
“From the moment I left Mt Dare things continued to go wrong. Riding in pitch black, all I could see was a headlight and something didn’t feel right. Thirteen kilometres from Mt Dare, the bike started missing and running rough. When I stopped to check it, I realised the fuel drum had fallen off the rear rack and was laying over the exhaust pipe outlet. It almost burnt a hole in the drum. It was just a silly mistake with the way I’d tied it on.”
Jayne later found her bag of food supplies on her return to the picnic table at Dalhousie Springs but her bad run was not quite over.
“Near Purni Bore the rear of the bike started feeling odd and I discovered I had the weirdest flat tyre I have ever had.
“I thought, not a problem I’ll just repair the tyre; by then it was 6:00 am and the sun was just cracking on the horizon. When I reached inside the tyre to pull out the punctured tube, it wasn’t in there; there was no tube! I reached in further, burning my hand on molten rubber.
“I scraped that out and realised I’d had a flat for so long, with the load, it’d gotten really hot. It’d looked fine on the rim but inside… just goo. The tyre wasn’t likely to survive out there and I’d be in big trouble, if I carried on!”
Severely stressed about such intense dangers this situation put her in, Jayne resolved at that point to abandon the return attempt. It was 6:45 am.
She chose to go south and head to Oodnadatta hoping to meet the other girls and support crew before they passed through, as they were trailering their bikes home from Mt Dare.
Add in the heat and the vulnerability of the moment, Jayne wanted to pull over to gather her thoughts and calm herself. “It’s 42 degrees already, so I pulled under a lone tree for a rest. I got off the bike, looked up… and my eyes locked with a bull’s staring from between four-foot wide horns. He was walking towards me and I said don’t you dare as I quickly climbed back on the bike, but he charged so I had to high tail it out of there.”
The seriousness of what could have been, if that bull had of connected with her or her bike was not lost on the hot and weary Jayne, where each scenario had been amplified with the scorching temperature of the unforgiving desert.
The intensity of that morning had taken it’s toll. “I cried when I made it into Oodnadatta. After riding 480 km with a crudely damaged tyre, in 40 plus degrees and only seeing two cars all day, I was completely exhausted and so relieved to get back to somewhere safe.”
Seeing the others there and calling her daughter, with tears streaming down her face… it all hit home how close she had been to a perilous ending.
Jayne’s daughter had been watching on her spot tracker. “She watched me leave Mt Dare at 4:00 am but when I got the flat tyre she was asleep. When she woke at 7:30 am she saw me going the wrong way and knew something was wrong, but knew I was ok because I was still moving.”
“So, yes I was extra prepared the following year.”
Jayne explains it’s the things she can’t control like a mechanical failure that weighs heavy on her mind, more-so, given the failure of that first attempt.
“I said to myself, you just need to back yourself, so I did. By far the hardest part was riding out of Mt Dare that morning and leaving all the girls. The hardest part of any goal is always starting.”
One day during the crossing over with the other ladies, Stuart Ball, the ride organiser, had sensed Jayne stressing about her return solo ride. They had a converstion, “It’s really bothering you isn’t it, what happened last year?” Jayne replying, “Yeah, it is… because I can’t control certain things and I am stressed about coming back… on my own… about leaving [Mt Dare] again and going through what I did last year, going back across. Stuart replied “It’s a real tough thing to be out here by yourself; I’ve done it… it’s a hard thing… you’re all on your own… you’re completely at the mercy of the desert!”
It was good to have this exchange with a man of much desert experience, a man Jayne highly respects.
The night before, talking with the group, she was asked “Are you going?” and Jayne replied honestly, “I don’t know. It’s going to depend how I feel when I wake up in the morning.”
She needed to be 100% about it… and when she was, at 7:30 am, she rode out from Mt Dare, to what became a record making trek.
On the last day of the team crossing, it had hailed. They’d seen the storm coming as they left Dalhouise Springs, for Mt Dare.
Going back the next day, when Jayne’s 220kg loaded DRZ 400 came into Dalhousie Springs, it was sideways on the wet clay, from the previous days hail. “I thought I was going down!” she said.
There are often those dreaded moments when riding and shit just happens and you’re just at the mercy of the Universe… goin’ down in the middle of whoop-whoop, alone without another vehicle within cooee is not an ideal situation.
Her Guardian Angel must have been super vigilent at that moment and only 10 km further on, it was dry… just like that… the vivid contrasts of the desert.
“I had 10 litres of fuel on the back and was going 80 ks, in a long sandy creek bed, when the bike got in a tank slap... that’s when it starts to slap left to right and usually, it’s quite hard to stop and for a moment, I thought, this time I’m definitely going down.”
What’s going through your head?
“Just… don’t crash, don’t crash! You don’t want to be falling off, you could break something.”
Another miraculous recovery… though Jayne’s motorcycle skills are insane, so she’s managed to stay upright, but that Guardian Angel would have handed in her notice by now I’m thinking… as she hadn’t even got to the washing machine section yet…
So what else is on Jayne’s mind when she’s crossing the Simpson Desert alone?
When she wasn’t drinking the 6.5 litres of water, she needed to stay hydrated, she was doing her sums, listening for bike noises, concentrating…
“I remember focusing on being really gentle and smooth on my bike and my body. I spent a lot of time constantly calculating my average speed and working out where I was and how much time I had spent on the bike.
“Riding is like meditating… I was focusing so hard, it felt like I got into a bit of a zone and just rode.”
The realisation of how far she’d come, categorically hit home for Jayne when she checked her timing after reaching Poeppel Corner.
“As I was riding north on Poeppel Lake, I calculated I’d ridden 350 km and 7 hours had just clicked over… that was a pretty cool feeling as I kept checking the numbers and I realised, shit, I can get to Birdsville in another 2½ hours!!”
Jayne had made a deal with her daughter, if she was tired, she would stop at Poeppel Corner, but Jayne felt good… she’d started the QAA Line…
176 km was all that was in between her and a cold beer.
Psyched! Expecting to have taken 11 to 12 hours, the fruition of a 9 hour 30 minute total ride… no way was she stopping now!
On the downhill run she admitted to lifting the pace a bit. It’s quite an open and straight track and following it east, like she was, it got better and better. “It’s got big, long flat areas… really enjoyable; I was feeling amazing, so I started having some fun. I had the bike off the ground a few times along that section, doing some jumps, when safe to do so… it was so cool fun!”
And how well did that beer wash down at the Birdsville Pub ay!
Arriving at Birdsville from Mt Dare in 9′ 26″ is no mean feat… to be done by a woman… that is serious respect!
Jayne reckons she was just taking it easy… well aware of the consequences if she’d taken a hit to the ground.
Valiant, determined, seeking another pioneering challenge, yet with nothing to prove to anyone, Jayne sets goals for her alone to achieve, undaunted and with zero knowledge of the word can’t.
“I just enjoy riding, for me, it’s a bit like meditation. I enjoy that you can’t think about anything else, especially when you’re riding fast, or in the Simpson riding smooth, safe and carefully. All your other troubles have to be out of your mind and your total focus is to stay on your bike, but it’s all good fun.”
Absolute spectacular accomplishment and no doubt Jayne is already planning her next goal to tick off that bucket list.
By Katarina Dálaigh and Sara Harte
If you missed the links in the story for Jayne’s builds and part of her trek, including the ride up Big Red… here they are again: