Start of day two Fink desert race 2024

14 Jun 24

By Dominic Byrne

Single Parent Getting After It

“If you are involved in an accident, try to move yourself and your bike off the track and wait for medical assistance. There are 51 paramedics, 10 ambulances and three helicopters to support you.”

Hearing these words from the race secretary at the rider’s briefing, my brain simultaneously digests the information with, “That’s comforting to know there is comprehensive medical support, holy shit, why do we need so much medical support.”

The Finke Desert Race is an off-road 460-kilometre, multi-terrain two-day race for motorbikes, cars and buggies through desert country from Alice Springs. The race started in 1976 as a “there and back” challenge for local motorbike lunatics to race from Alice to the pub in remote Aputula (now a dry community), stay overnight, and race back. The track runs along sections of the decommissioned Central Australia Railway (Ghan). A winding, corrugated, chewed up, sandy, rocky, whooped out, treacherous, unforgiving track of beautiful red dirt, spinifex, mulga and desert oaks. Spread across beautiful scenery you don’t get to see, as anything in your peripheral is a blur.

I finished the Finke Desert race!

I had no plans to be King of the desert; my skillset, or lack thereof, wouldn’t get me close. The riders who lead this race average 130 kilometres per hour and top speeds of almost 200. I had the simple goal of getting “there and back” in the cut-off time of nine hours. I planted a sub-goal to ride under six hours and cross the line in the top 50% of bike participants.

The race plan that I drilled into my brain the night before was:

Don’t get caught up in the hype. Ride out at 70%. Treat the start as a fast-paced trail ride, not a race. Breathe. If the other four riders on the grid are grappling for a lead-out position, let them go. Breath. Get up over the bars, relax my hands, and wiggle my fingers in every clear part of track. Conserve my arms for the whoops. Breath.

If I can’t see in the dust, ride the clearest part of the track, look for compass markers and stay calm. Breathe.

I can’t achieve my goals in the first 50K’s, but I can lose them all.

If my arms blow up, I won’t get them back.

First fuel stop at 71K. Look for the 70K bonnet and the team sign on the left. Drink, eat, stretch my hands, and relax. Move calmly. Breathe. Get moving in <two minutes.

The second fuel stop is just after the 150K sign. Look for the team sign on the right. Drink, eat, stretch my hands, and relax. Move calmly. Breathe. Get moving in <two minutes.

If I need to swap goggles, change a contact lense, have a gel, fix something, or do anything else, I do it calmly and treat it as a rest and not an anxious situation; don’t rush.

If I cramp up, pull over safely. Relax. Drink, take cramp spray, forget the time, and finish the race. Breathe.

Get up over the bars and relax my hands, wiggle my fingers in every clear part of track. Conserve my arms for the whoops. Breath.

The race will come to me, and as riders ahead doubt why they are there, I will slowly take positions.

If nothing goes according to plan, I will slow down the pace, breathe, regroup for as long as necessary, and slowly build my comfort zone. Anything can happen. Adapt smart.

Breathe. You got this. Love it.

Dominic Byrne's motorbike finke desert race 2024

This wasn’t just a race but a battle against the elements, a test of endurance and sheer will. I took a deep breath, inhaling the dry, dusty air, and tightened my grip on the handlebars. The Finke Desert Race was about to begin.

The starting signal light flashed orange to green, and we were off. Sand sprayed from the tyres as we tore from the line, a furious stampede of metal and flesh hurtling into the unknown. The desert greeted me with open arms and hidden traps. The track was a relentless beast, with endless deep whoops that bucked my bike, rocky outcrops and jagged rocks littered like marbles on the floor, threatening to unseat me with every turn.

The world became a blur of orange and blue, the sky a brilliant contrast to the earth below. Each five-kilometre sign felt like a small victory, every obstacle a conquered foe.

The first fuel stop at 71K’s could not come quick enough. Just to stand up tall and stretch the arms out, while a team of volunteers works hastily filling your bike and offering hydration and snacks. It’s over in 60 seconds.

Doing the finke feels like a three hour bent over row

Have you ever done a bent-over row at the gym? Imagine assuming that position and then being told to continue repetitions for three hours without a break. All you want to do is sit down. Now imagine the ground as unsteady as an earthquake, so the ricocheting pressure comes up from the floor and through your entire body while you are crouched over the barbell. With fine red dust particles blown in your face at >90 km an hour limiting your visibility.

At about the 100 kilometre mark, approaching a steep sand hill, a couple of big whoops caught me off guard as I carried too much speed, kicking my rear wheel to the left and then right, sending me into the air inverted and away from my bike. I landed on the down hill of a soft sandy whoop to the cheer of the crowd perched on the side of the hill crest, and then to an even louder cheer as I rushed to pick up my bike and fire it up. I look up to see a group of campers up out of their chairs spilling their beers and pumping their hands into the ocean blue sky. I give them the double thumbs up as the cheers get louder.

I should have known it was a precarious part of the track as the bigger crowds gather near where accidents are anticipated. People want action and the Finke certainly does deliver.

A big spill drains your energy and disrupts your rhythm. I spent the next 50K’s getting back in the zone and gelling with the track. Some of my newly formed blister’s were bleeding through my gloves, a distraction that needs compartmentalisation.

After the second fuel stop at 150 km, I fell into a delirious state, thinking the whoops would never end. The landscape blurs the boundary between man and machine, rider and desert, dissolving into a singular force of determination.

finke desert race sand whoops

At about 180 km as I passed medics loading a rider into a helicopter, I was in a haze of adrenaline and concentration, my muscles screamed for respite, and my lower back was fucking shot to pieces, but there was no room for weakness here. Every ounce of my being was focused on the path ahead, the ever-shifting sands and the distant horizon that seemed both tantalisingly close and impossibly far.

Not until only five kilometres to go did I feel a renewed surge of energy. The finish line was within reach, and the thought of completing this gruelling race fuelled my resolve. Whoops, so many bloody whoops. The final stretch was a blur of effort and willpower.

And then, there it was. The end of the race was the culmination of three hours of relentless pursuit. I crossed the finish line, a wave of triumph washing over me. I peeled one hand off the handlebar and raised it in the air; “Fuck yeah!” Exhausted but elated, I dismounted, feeling the solid ground beneath my boots as a luxury I had long forgotten.

Dominic Byrne Finke desert race 20224Alice to Aputula had tested me, pushed me to my limits, and ultimately, it had not broken me. I had conquered its vastness, its unforgiving terrain, and in doing so, I had discovered a strength within myself that could conquer anything. The desert was not only a racecourse but a proving ground, a place where the spirit of adventure met the heart of a warrior.

As the sun dipped below the horizon, casting the desert in a twilight glow, I sat beside the campfire with a smile of victory. I was in Aputula (Finke), not just with my motorcycle, but with every fibre of my being. And in that moment, the desert and I were forever connected by the race’s challenge and triumph. Just a single humbling thought filled my mind with optimism, nervousness, fear and excitement; “Now I have to race the same track home tomorrow.”

I had a goal to complete the Finke in six hours. I did it in 06:03:27, three and a half minutes over. It was a personal victory and a big goal to make it “there and back.” This wasn’t just a race but a battle against the elements, a test of endurance and sheer will. I loved every minute.

Outback Motorcycle Aventures Alice Springs Finke Desert experience and race

Thank you, Outback Motorcycle Adventures for the bike and the factory team like support.

I’ll be back at some stage to race under six hours.

Nine 50by50 goals done and dusted!

1 Comment

  1. What a thrilling experience and achievement!
    Well done Dom to your adventure and challenges.

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