Epic desert crossing by female adventurers…

with a little help from

WHEN British adventurers Rosie Stancer and Pom Oliver set out to cross the sprawling and inhospitable Aralkum Desert on foot in September, they knew they would need a sturdy set of wheels to propel carts carrying their supplies for the epic 600km, 17-day trek across the searing sands between Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan.

Stancer, the Queen’s cousin, and her friend Oliver, turned to Wheeleez® to help them conquer their latest epic challenge.

The gutsy pair, who have previously teamed up for successful polar expeditions, became the first people to cross, by foot, the Aralkum Desert, which formed more than 60 years ago on the parched remains of the Aral Sea. (and now recognized as one of the world’s worst man-made disasters).

With temperatures ranging between 50C-plus and 10C during their odyssey across an endless expanse of soft sand, sharp stones and salt plains, Stancer and Oliver wanted big, low-pressure tyres that would robustly traverse the rugged terrain, carrying 100kgs of food, water and supplies on the carts they were hauling.

“Wheeleez® wheels were astounding,” says Stancer, an intrepid 60-something adventurer famed for once amputating two of her toes with a penknife, and without anesthetic, during a solo North Pole trek.

“No conventional wheel that I am aware of could tick all the boxes that Wheeleez® did.

“We needed bald and bold tyres with a strong, simple wheel design … I cannot think of any other wheels that could take on such extreme and diverse conditions for such a prolonged period.

“They took on a diversity of terrains, from the loose sand to the salt pans and from the ascents to the desiccated seabed … and still ran smoothly in the extreme heat. They did not gather debris, as a commercial tyre with tread would. Neither did the wheels accumulate dirt or dust.

“We only needed to alter the pressure once. And it was extremely advantageous for us that they were so incredibly light, both for the purposes of transport to the destination as well as affording us the opportunity to carry spares.” (Another big advantage was ease of repair when it came to a couple of punctures from some of the more extreme and very sharp scrub we had to haul through.)

The expedition started with an ascent of the vast Central Asian steppes and Stancer says the Wheeleez®-propelled carts dealt with the grueling climb with aplomb.

“Pom and I found the loose sand on some dunes, punctuated with thorny scrub, made for a tortuous combination – with the need for sharp turning on an angle and in deep sand,” she said.

“That being said, the turning on the carts was excellent, and they responded very well.”

The two women battled numerous obstacles on their trek. Stancer had to go it alone with a heavy rucksack at one point after Oliver became ill, forcing her to return to Aral with the carts to recover.

They endured temperatures so hot their tongues swelled, making it almost impossible to eat, and were forced to ration water for their ‘unquenchable’ thirst. They had to wear masks and take antibiotics due to lingering strains of anthrax as a result of former Soviet testing in the area. Stancer weighed just 41kgs when they finally reached the end of their journey on September 6.

“My body was completely wasted, and I don’t know how I kept one foot in front of the other,” she said in an interview with explorersweb.com
Stancer says the Aralkum Desert crossing made for rich pickings in terms of learning.

“Travelling by foot with carts offered us the unique opportunity of seeing close-up the impact of the draining of the sea, on the environment, livestock and communities,” she says.

“It also taught us how better to operate in the heat, from water consumption to energy conservation – as well as what equipment and systems worked. We both relished the change from hauling sledges to pulling carts and the designs worked well.

“Ultimately, upon completion, one of the most fulfilling discoveries is that of being surprised by one’s potential when you aim high, dig deep and give it all you have in order to realize your end goal.”

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