Mike Hall was dead. The British giant of ultra-endurance racing killed on a day when the inaugural event was to be decided. Hall was chasing down leader Kristof Allegaert when his life ended on the Monaro Highway en route to Sydney. And yet entries for a second edition of the IPWR and Carlsson’s other creation, the Race to the Rock, were flooding event inboxes. It was stunning.
Months passed, and Carlsson decided that if Race to the Rock were to go ahead, very few people and perhaps even no one would make it to the start line. He went about setting up an entry process that is hard to navigate, forced potential entrants to seriously consider the risks they were taking, and have some tough conversations with their loved ones.
Please do not enter Race to the Rock. So began his plea if potential entrants had got their head around how to apply in the first place. Carlsson gambled that if people wanted to race, they would figure out how to be a part of it. Dazzle me, he dared.
“People thought ‘well, I missed out on the Indy Pac, I’ll just do Race to the Rock,’ Carlsson explains. “So my worry was perhaps they had no business doing the Indy Pac, and if that was the case, then they absolutely had no business doing the Race to the Rock.”
Carlsson laughs, but he’s serious at the same time. Just eight riders, including Carlsson, made it to the start line in Albany on Saturday for Race to the Rock. Eight was “probably too many” he deadpans.
Sarah Hammond, 2016 Race to the Rock winner and also a ringleader in setting up the event, points out another upside to the rigorous application process.
“It’s good because it means that more people might actually finish, too. It would be awesome to see at least five people over the finishing line,” she says.
The system even threatened to backfire on Carlsson at one point when he couldn’t get the permits required to enter the Aboriginal lands the 3000km route traversed.
“I was excited when my initial permits were denied thinking that something was going on out there in these Aboriginal lands that would mean that no one could enter at all and then there would be no stress,” he says. “That would be an incredible story to have a race so difficult that no one was able to enter. Perhaps no one could complete the route for five or ten years, who knows.”
The fact remains that the eight riders are the biggest threat to themselves in an event like Race to the Rock, rather than the extreme elements of outback Australia.
“They’re the ones who make decisions based on the environment that they’re in,” Carlsson points out. “The route is very remote, but it’s not so remote that it should be perilous.”
Carlsson himself is relying on research to get from Albany to Uluru, the route untested. Like the other competitors, he alone is the organiser of his race and won’t be relying on others for support. What equipment to take, where to stop for food and rest. It’s what this type of racing is all about.
“Even if you’re talking to a really experienced bike tourer, as you do sometimes when you’re on the road, you go through all the gear and you find out that you’re carrying a lot more than what they are,” Carlsson says. “The only thing that we wouldn’t be carrying that the usual bike tourer would be is cooking equipment and perhaps extra clothes.
“You talk to these guys, and often they won’t have water purification or something like that whereas I’ll have two methods to purify water. Maybe they’ve only got one front light, I’ve got two. We’ve always got redundancy built in… Humans can survive in all sorts of places if they’ve got the right equipment. It’s just the balance of safety and comfort.”
It’s unlikely that the same route will ever be repeated if there are future editions of Race to the Rock. Familiarity breeds contempt and Carlsson is keen to ensure that adventure remains at the very heart of the race’s concept.
“Planning an expedition like that is fun, and you need to do all that work,” he says. “So I’d hate to remove the joy of that from people by just doing the same thing over and over again.”
The challenge for Carlsson and Hammond is finding balance in their success and ensuring Race to the Rock does not end up being too big of a carrot.
“In these kinds of events five per cent of the entrants really want to be there and the other 95 per cent of them, whether they know it or not, have been talked into doing it through marketing,” he says.