Just before finishing high school, Sam from Orbost (four hours east of Melbourne) made a deal with himself. If he got offered the scholarship he really wanted, he’d go to university. If he didn’t, he’d ride across Australia on a homemade solar powered bike. Why? Because he wanted to know if he could do it.

Sam Mitchell rides his homemade bike through the desert.

Fast forward to the present day and Sam has now been on two massive trips, the latest along the Canning Stock Route. Often described as challenging for four-wheel drive vehicles, not many people have attempted the track any other way. Sam rode 1800 km on small dirt roads, through unforgiving sand dunes and muddy terrain with a little help from an array of solar panels and a motor, becoming the first person to have completed the full track with a solar powered vehicle.

Sam rode a modified ‘fat’ bike, meaning it had huge thick wheels made to cross the toughest of terrain. Riding thousands of kilometres, Sam put his bike through absolute hell. Along the way his bike endured flat tyres, a broken chain, a ruined axle and a shattered trailer frame.

Luckily, Sam was prepared. He went in assuming that at some point most things would break and he’d have to fix it himself. On the road he put together a crude welder to make just enough repairs to get him to the next town where he’d try to find proper tools to fix his ride. Other ‘bush hacks’ involved filling his wheel with spinifex grass or using cooking oil on his bike chain when he ran out of proper bike oil.

Growing up, Sam always had bikes around the house. He’d cut them up and weld them back together a little differently. He’d make bikes with three wheels, double deckers, even triple deckers! When he didn’t have the parts he needed he’d take a trip to the local Orbost tip and find what he needed cheaply. Most of what he learnt was trial and error. If he built something that didn’t work how he wanted it to, he’d pull it apart and put it together again differently. For everything else, there was always the internet where he’d learn how others had made things and ask them for help.

Sam riding with a massive grin

Last year Sam was awarded Australian Geographic Society’s Young Adventurer of the Year.

What does the future hold for Sam? Right now, he’s not too sure. He’s completing a Renewable Energy Engineering degree to explore solar power further. After all – according to Sam – solar is cheap and clean, there are no moving parts and nothing that could break. All the proof Sam needed was in his adventures.

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