New challenges for buggy riders

Adventure: Steve Gurney will attempt to cover 2500 kilometres of desert from Morocco to Senegal.
Adventure: Steve Gurney will attempt to cover 2500 kilometres of desert from Morocco to Senegal.

The Madwaysouth kite-buggy team have crossed the border from Mauritania into Senegal, but not without “a bit of drama”.

Christchurch's Steve Gurney, Ashburton's Craig Hansen, and Australians Geoff Wilson and Garth Freeman entered Mauritania, leaving the threat of landmines behind them in the Western Sahara region.

Gurney said while it was a “huge relief to get to Mauritania”, the region would come with its own risks. 

“We were warned about bandits. That made us extremely nervous. One threat was replaced by another,” he said.

Despite the warning they found the locals were “lovely, lovely people”. “The worst trouble we had was being held up at police stops,” Gurney said.

The crew continued the Mauritanian leg of their buggy journey through Banc d’Arguin national park.

 “That was paradise. The wind was fantastic, wide open spaces and all around was flat desert. We got up humungous speed on the hard-packed, rolling sand dunes. We had to slow down, we had speed wobbles.

“For two days we camped with beautiful sunsets. It was nice to get away from the pollution and traffic everywhere into virgin wilderness,” he said.

However, the adventurers’ soon struck swamp land, which forced them to travel back towards the coast and into strong head winds.

“We had to pick our times - by afternoon there was a good sea breeze, but at that time the tides are wrong. We had to go at weird times and most nights right through the night - only getting two hours sleep. We would wrap up in kites and sleep on the beach, waiting for tides to change.”

The men then turned inland to meet their support team in the town of Diamer to restock their supplies. However incorrect map coordinates saw them arrive 80kms south of their prearranged destination.

“We were caught out at night in the middle of the desert. We wrapped up in the kites to avoid mosquitoes. We couldn’t sleep, we were in no-man’s land. We had run out of food and water and there was no-one around at all.

“It has just hit rainy season. The temperature dropped to 4 or 5 degrees from 40. We were bordering on hyperthermia. We had to get moving. It was bucketing down and we could have been flooded in. We thought ‘this is going to end up grim’.”

“Finally we found the road and truck stuck in mud. The driver told us that the border crossing was closed due to flooding. A digger arrived dragged him out. The truck could fit four buggies and we got a ride north again. We got to a shop and gobbled down food and water,” he said.

The team travelled to Rosso, another town on the border of Mauritania and Senegal. There they were delayed by police for a day until they paid a $2,500 bribe.

Another four hours was lost to police checkpoints once the buggy riders crossed over the border into St Louis, Senegal.

Despite the difficulties, Gurney said the team were still motivated to make it to Dakar and finish in five days.

“Its not much fun politically. But we’re a team of very purposeful, motivated athletes. Craig and I are forming a really good friendship, and I’m looking forward to more adventures with him,” he said.

Buggy riders stop competing for safety

Pit stop: The Madwaysouth adventurers pack up after a brief stop in Spain
Pit stop: The Madwaysouth adventurers pack up after a brief stop in Spain

The Madwaysouth kite buggy riders have decided to stop competing against each other as their Sahara Desert traverse becomes more hazardous.

Christchurch's Steve Gurney, Ashburton's Craig Hansen, and Australians Geoff Wilson and Garth Freeman had been racing in two teams - New Zealanders versus Australians - but would now travel as a group for their own safety, Gurney said.

The kite buggy enthusiasts had experienced setbacks during the trip including broken buggies and torn kites, an unexpected detour to avoid land mines and most recently Gurney suffered head injuries after being hurled into a rock.

"We need to conserve the gear we have left and focus on our original goal to get across. We don't know what's ahead," Gurney said.

"We have been doing this with a severe danger of landmines so we've had to stick to the road with the danger of traffic," he said.

Gurney said that although he was feeling "better" his jaw was "still numb" and his ear drums were "still busted".

"Yesterday I tried riding in a trailer behind my team mate but we ended up having a crash, so I thought I should try my own buggy. I modified my style and am feeling so relieved I can ride by myself again.

The team is almost 25kms from the border between the Western Sahara region and Mauritania, where Gurney said the risk of land mines would decrease.

However, once across the border Gurney said the team would be travelling with an increased threat of "being hijacked by bandits".

Despite the dangers, the team is determined to finish the trek, and will adapt by continuing on in a larger group. 

The men have completed 1282 kms of the trip, putting them roughly at the half way point.

"We've officially broken the 100km record. We achieved another milestone yesterday - we did 201 kms in a day, right until midnight. It's quite exciting," Gurney said.

Different course

The Madwaysouth kite-buggying team have set sail on a different course only a week into their adventure across the Sahara desert - to avoid land mines.

The men - Christchurch's Steve Gurney, Ashburton's Craig Hansen, and Australians Geoff Wilson and Garth Freeman - are currently about 300 kilometres north of Daklar but will set their course closer to the coastline after being warned by UN officials that the area poses a high risk for hidden mines.

Gurney said the team would have to stick to some "pretty defined paths" as the coastline can be "tricky" due to steep sand dunes and cliffs.

The group has completed 530 kilometres of a 2500 kilometre trip across the desert from Morocco to Senegal.

Gurney admits the first few days were "a bit touch and go" with the team suffering breakages and damage to equipment every day.

"We've had broken kites and lines and today we broke two buggies. The terrain is quite bouldery and the first five days we were travelling through thorns, scrub and cacti  we felt like we'd bitten off more than we could chew," he said.

"We were tired and run down, jet lagged and got pretty grumpy with each other, but the last two days we got into the groove, the wind became more consistent and we're finally feeling in good spirits."
 
Despite the initial setbacks, the men are now reaching target daily distances of 105 kms per day and were still determined to reach their goals.  Gurney expects the expedition to take another 25 days.

Kite-buggy adventure begins

The Mad Way South kite-buggying team has begun their gruelling, wind-driven trip across the Sahara desert.

The team - Christchurch’s Steve Gurney, Ashburton’s Craig Hansen, and Australians Geoff Wilson and Garth Freeman - set out early Tuesday morning (Wednesday evening New Zealand time).

The adventure began in Guilmem, a small town in southwest Morocco.

“Guilmem is translated as the “door to the Sahara”. We had to delay the start by one day, it took a lot longer to recover form the punishing drive down from London,” Gurney said.

While wind conditions have been favourable for the trip with “about six hours of useful wind each day” the area is experiencing a heatwave with “the hottest temperatures they’ve seen for 20 years”.

Kite-buggies en route to Sahara

Christchurch adventurer Steve Gurney has arrived in Spain, one of the pit stops on his way to Africa, where he hopes to set world records kite-surfing across the Sahara Desert.

Gurney will attempt to cover 2500 kilometres of desert from Morocco to Senegal with fellow kite enthusiast Craig Hansen of Ashburton, and Australians Geoff Wilson and Garth Freeman

During the adventure, the three men will attempt to break the world-record distance for kite-buggy travel of 1000km, and aim for a record for the distance covered by a kite-buggy in 24 hours, currently 400km. Each man will battle to become the first to cross the Sahara under wind power.

They also hope to raise money for the She Rescue Home charity, which helps girls escape the Asian child-sex trade.

Injury fails to deter Gurney's kite adventure

A world-record attempt to cross the Sahara by kite-buggy was nearly scuppered when multisport adventurer Steve Gurney was knocked off his bike in Christchurch.

The nine-time Coast to Coast winner will join Ashburton kite enthusiast Craig Hansen and Australians Geoff Wilson and Garth Freeman in covering 2500 kilometres of desert from Morocco to Senegal.

Gurney had feared it could all be over before it began when a collision with a van in Ferry Rd last Saturday left his $15,000 bike "a write-off".

He has been knocked off his bike "about 10 times".

He said he was fit to carry on despite "a pretty sore bum", which would be tested as he crossed the Sahara in a low- riding kite-buggy.

The four-man team hoped to average 40kmh, but Gurney was not sure how long the trip would take.

"We know this is the windiest time of the year, but it's also the hottest."

The men would wear special goggles and sandsuits to protect them from sandstorms and would carry food and water in trailers.

An eight-man support and film crew would follow in sport utility vehicles, but for part of the journey a lack of roads meant the crew would be out of contact.

The trip aimed to raise money for the She Rescue Home charity, which helps girls get away from the Asian child-sex trade.

 

Follow the team's progress on www.madwaysouth.com.

The Press