July 05, 2023
What was the objective of Against the Grain?
Simply put, to fat-bike without support vehicles from the Red Sea to the Gulf of Oman via the Saudi Arabian Empty Quarter. This is a distance of around 2,600km, including 1,300km of remote, sandy desert. The expedition took place at the end of 2022 and took 33 days. Understandably the planning was far from simple. More on that in a bit.
Who was involved?
We were just two cyclists. I come from a “no-brain-no-pain” (aka endurance sports) background, and was part of the GB ultra-running team that gold-medalled in the 24-hour World Championships back in 2015. The logical choice for a team-mate was the Lebanese adventurer and veteran desert fat- biker Maxime Chaya. Max is no stranger to tough challenges, having completed the Seven Summits, in addition to numerous other achievements.
Also key to success were my wife, Elisabeth, and the 3 amazing Saudi guys who helped me to bury 24 food and water caches across the Empty Quarter, 2 weeks prior to the expedition itself.
What were the Key Challenges?
In the tough desert environment, getting hydration and nutrition right was critical. For the former, a fluid planning tool was utilised, which I had originally put together for a 2015 desert fat-biking trip. Apart from water, the caches contained our daily food supplies. Expedition Foods 800kcal packs were the main component of our evening meal, something we always looked forward to after a tough day in the saddle. In this context, physiological and environmental data was gathered throughout the expedition, and will form input to a study being carried out together with a UK- based sports dietitian.
The fat-bikes were built in the USA, and incorporated internal hub-gears, a carbon belt instead of a chain, and 4.8-inch tubeless tires mounted on carbon rims. All in an effort to negotiate the soft sand with a low-maintenance set- up whilst keeping the weight to reasonable levels.
In no small part due to the detailed planning, the expedition went relatively smoothly. There were, however, a few glitches. Aiming for a “Leave-no-Trace” expedition, all the cache contents were consumable or combustible. However, packing the caches in sturdier containers rather than bin-liners may have thwarted the desert fox who dug up and consumed Cache Number 15. He left us with a teabag and some eyedrops, and empty stomachs. Likewise with the termites who cut a swathe through two of the other caches.
There were also a couple of potentially serious crashes. The first was during the cache-laying phase. The second was during the expedition when Max hit a gully at high speed, resulting in a broken saddle but no injuries. Thankfully, this was successfully repaired and lasted for the rest of the journey.
Steve Holyoak and Maxime Chaya
September 18, 2023
September 04, 2023
August 25, 2023