Lebanon’s Maxime Chaya & teammate Steve Holyoak complete possibly the longest unassisted cycle crossing of the largest sand desert in the world
Midis Group, a long-time supporter of the celebrated sportsman and athlete's adventures, was pleased to join the sponsors for this latest ambitious feat
Lebanon’s foremost sportsman and explorer Maxime Chaya has just completed an amazing cycling adventure through the desert heart of the Empty Quarter along with teammate Steve Holyoak. The 2,640km journey was called Against the Grain (ATG) because the two intrepid cyclists rode their specially adapted ‘fat bikes’ eastwards against the predominant winds and sands.
The expedition began on November 18, 2022, in Jeddah on the shores of the Red Sea and Maxime and Steve finally wheeled to a halt and completed the journey on December 21, in Muscat in the Gulf of Oman.
The expedition, mostly planned by expedition leader Steve, was conceived in line with the adventurers love and respect for the environment and Max and Steve carefully incinerated all their trash daily for a genuine leave-no-trace ATG expedition.
Thanks to the help and support of Midis Group, Abbott, Red Bull Mobile, Comin Insurance and Emporiam, the unassisted and unsupported fat biking expedition has become possibly the longest unassisted bicycle crossing of the largest sand desert in the world – a world first, according to Maxime. The team used pre-laid caches of water and food to sustain themselves on the journey.
As in all adventures, there were a few problems and mishaps for the experienced adventurers who were without support vehicles throughout the 33-day crossing. During the desert leg they subsisted on daily rations of 12 liters of water and 5,500 Kcal of freeze-dried food, including nuts, raisins, chocolate and sugars found in caches buried in the sand. Marked with precise GPS coordinates, the 25 caches containing life-saving provisions remained intact except for one: cache number 15 was totally dug up and destroyed – probably by foxes. Further east, two more caches were compromised, only partially this time, by termites.
On day 28, having made it across the treacherous ‘desert of all deserts’ and finally onto the blacktop, there remained one more obstacle, albeit of a different kind: getting across the KSA/Oman border post without a motorized vehicle. No one had ever presented themselves at that recently opened customs crossing (named Rub’ al Khali) on a bicycle. The border guards – like all Saudi and Omani nationals along the journey – were very welcoming and helpful. They eventually found a way to overcome the system and stamped the adventurers’ passports before taking selfies with them and their loaded fat bikes.
After the hot and dry desert, once inside the Sultanate of Oman, the duo still had to climb to the summit pass of Jebel Hatt, 2,000m above sea level, before cycling through Wadi Dabaun to finish their epic adventure on the shores of the Gulf of Oman in Muscat.
Blood tests and in-body measurements were carried out before and after ATG, while fluid intake, hydration levels and other parameters were regularly recorded by Max and Steve for a scientific study being documented by a UK-based expert nutritionist together with Steve.
The learnings from such an intimidating endeavor are many. Most notably, Max points out what an ‘amazingly immaculate machine the human body is.’ Despite cycling in extreme conditions and on heavily loaded bikes for as long as 10 hours a day, none of the two adventurers, both over 50 years old, had any problems.
More importantly Maxime says Against the Grain reminds us of what both Steve and he know well: any undertaking that first appears seemingly impossible to achieve can successfully be accomplished if it is broken down into separate, less complex problems, and leaning into each one to solve it diligently.