King of the Desert – Benji Brundin

In 2019, adventurer and author Benji Brundin became the fastest man to cross all 10 Australian deserts on a motorcycle, a 4,000-mile journey through one of the most remote and harsh environments on Earth. James Oxley caught up with the man who took on the desert and survived.

ABR: Hi Benji, congratulations on becoming a Guinness World Record holder. How did the attempt come about?

Benji: So, the record now stands as the fastest man to cross all 10 deserts on a motorbike in Australia (29 days, 19 hours, 38 minutes). To me, it’s hilarious because I’m the only person to have done it.

When I approached Guinness World Records about it, I said I wanted to be recognised as the first person to do the 10 deserts, but they said they don’t recognise firsts unless it’s a historic moment. Instead, they wanted the record to be the fastest person across, that way there will be people who will want to break it.

The funny thing was, I’d applied for the record attempt before I started, but it takes so long for the correspondence to go back and forth that it wasn’t until I was halfway through the journey that I got an email saying my record attempt had been accepted, but it also said I had to complete it in 30 days to set a record.

Up until then, I’d spent a day in a town servicing my bike, and I spent another in an outpost, I was really taking my time. I did have to hurry up a little bit, but at the same time, I also had to make sure my motorbike would last the journey. I still needed to spend time servicing it, going over it, looking after my chain. I was able to do about 200km (124 miles) a day. It was an absolute odyssey.

It sounds like an incredible journey, but what turned you onto it in the first place, especially as no one else seems to have done it before?

I lost my job in December 2015, and in March 2016, my wife left me. I spent the next two years being really reckless. Absolutely trying to destroy myself, but then I bought this van. I turned it into a campervan. Then I took a motorbike on the back of my campervan and I spent nine months travelling around Australia. The first motorbike I looked at just happened to be a Yamaha WR250R.

I really had to learn how to ride this bike and hit the ground running. That was in 2018. So, I only really learnt how to ride a motorbike in 2018. I’d never ridden a bike before. I decided to touch all the compass points in Australia on my motorbike. They are some of the wildest parts of the country, hands down. Some of the riding was absolutely mental for a guy who had never ridden a motorbike before.

When I got back home to Melbourne, I was just not ready to go back to normal life. So, I thought, I’d done all these coastal rides, so I’ll do something in the desert.

How do you go about planning a journey in such a harsh environment with so few roads and little infrastructure?

By the time I got back to Melbourne, after doing the compass points, I had done so many expeditions into the wild, and spent so much time out in the bush myself, I knew that I needed a very strict and very disciplined preparation plan and structure throughout.

I wasn’t going at a crazy speed out there. I had so much gear hanging off my bike. If I’d broken a brake lever, or snapped a chain, the consequences were dire so I just had to really take my time.

During planning, I had to basically plot the whole route. I broke it up into eight different stages. At every single stage, I knew exactly where my fuel was and I knew where I could post resupply packs to. I knew the distance between each fuel stop, I knew the closest local police station, although that might be hundreds of kilometres away, and I knew where the nearest airfields were located.

If I came off while I was on the bike, I could hit my beacon and, if someone tried to call me on a sat phone, they would know my GPS coordinates and be able to find me. I had pain pills, I had snake bite kits, everything under the sun that you could imagine you would need. So, I thought what’s the worst-case scenario? What’s the worst thing that could happen, have I prepared for it, and am I prepared to suffer those consequences?

So, all that was very, very meticulously planned out to the point where I thought, in the east deserts, the hardest thing is going to be the sand dunes, and in the western deserts, the hardest thing is going to be the isolation out there.

Was the journey as tough as you’d imagined it would be?

I started off in the eastern deserts where the sand dunes are just relentless, just again, and again, and again. And, that was the beginning of my trip, so I had a lot of gear that I probably didn’t need, and I was unconditioned physically.

The first day on the bike was just… I woke up the next day feeling like I’d been in a fight. And I had to go out and do it again. By the third day in that desert, I was just feeling absolutely exhausted because my bike was overloaded, I had so much weight on it.

So, when I would get bogged down in a sand dune, there was absolutely no point in trying to fight it. I would just get off and run along next to my bike trying to push it up the dune. Otherwise, I knew I would have to unload everything and walk it up, unbog the bike, ride it back down the bottom, then ride all the way up, and load everything back on again. So, I got really good at running next to my bike and pushing up the dunes.

That sounds tough. Did you find yourself riding on sand the whole way?

There actually weren’t any roads. There was this one last town I got to where there were some dirt roads, yes, but 90% of what I went across was just desert track. By the time I got out the other side onto this dirt road, and it was just horrible and rutted out, I just felt this huge sigh of relief because I was back on a road for the first time in ages.

I was really lucky that a lot of the terrain and the places I’d been and ridden to before had enabled me to get really good at riding in sand. In fact, the majority of my riding had been through sandy country.

Recently, I rode to the mountains with a bunch of guys and I’m a terrible mountain rider. I am really horrible in the mountains. I was overshooting corners, dropping my bike in the mud. I just cannot ride a motorbike in the mountains, but I can cross a desert no problem.

When I went out with these guys, they were like, wow, you’re the record holder. I said to them, I can ride in the sand on an overweight bike for a very long time, yes, but I’ve never ridden in a mountain in my life. I’m scared shitless, and sure enough, I broke my ribs on that trip.

It’s clear you had to be self-reliant to succeed, but were there any moments you thought you might have bitten off more than you can chew?

In the central deserts there was a 780km (485 miles) stretch between resupply points. There were no wells so I had to carry 22l of water on top of my 50l of fuel, which allowed for a four-day traverse should something go wrong. That was the desert I lost my water in and I had to make up a day on the bike, so I had to recycle my urine.

I hit a tree, I lost my water, so I had to drink my piss. I added Berrocca and Hydralyte and drank it down. When a sandstorm came in, I rode like a maniac. I’d allowed four days to get across that desert and I did it in three because, on the morning of the third day, I said to myself either you make up that time today, or you’re going to spend a very thirsty day on the bike tomorrow. That’s if nothing goes wrong, so get your shit together and get out of here. You’ve never seen a guy ride so fast.

What are the moments you remember most fondly about your journey?

I never wanted to be the fastest, I only wanted to be the first. I really did want to enjoy it. Being in the eastern deserts, in the Simpson Desert, the sand dunes are enormous. Like something out of Arabian Nights, these massive dunes just rise up at you. Then you get to the top of the dune and you look out at this huge ocean of sand dunes to the horizon. It was amazing.

When I was going north to south, this huge canyon opened up next to me. I just parked my bike and watched the sunset, dangling my legs into this huge canyon. It reminded me of the rift valley in Africa. I hadn’t seen a car in a couple of days so I was completely alone. It was just epic.

Has your record-breaking ride changed the way you approach life?

Definitely, 100%. If you’d told me three years ago, you’d be a world record holder riding motorbikes, I would have laughed at you. I’d never ridden a motorbike in my life, mate. It’s amazing the direction life can take you. And now nothing is impossible. My book talks about that. It talks about what you can do if you put your mind to it and ask yourself the right questions.

What’s in store next for Benji Brundin?

There are people lining up to break my record. I’ve had that many phone calls. There are some very, genuinely impressive guys that are going to have a crack at beating it. They will do it in 15 days, I’m sure. People who have done the Dakar, they’re coming out of the Dakar Rally and they’re going to do this.

It’s been awesome because from now on, I’m that guy who held the record. A lot of motorcycle stores and chains have picked up my book, so I’m doing launches at all those stores across Victoria.

I’ve also had expressions of interest from people about coming on a tour across the 10 deserts, the same route I took but with support trucks, the whole lot. That would be an absolute odyssey in itself.