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One more time for luck

break of day
break of day

On an overcast autumn morning at the tail-end of April this year, I jumped on my mountain bike and rode into the city. Here I was, once again, heading off on Bike SA’s Outback Odyssey. I wasn’t sure why I’d signed up, quite late in the piece, for a fourth crack at the epic Mawson ride. Back in 2005 I had no idea what I was getting into, and I had to battle most of the way. In 2007 I’d set myself a challenge to make it in good nick, and had managed to do so. Two years ago I just wanted to make sure that ‘07 wasn’t a fluke. This time around? Well, perhaps I just like it. Or maybe I’m a little bit crazy.

There is also the small matter of the Outback Odyssey being a magnificent ride.

Bike SA headquarters was teeming with riders, many of whom I knew from previous tours. It was good to renew acquaintances, to catch up on things, and to chat about the upcoming two-week trek. After the weeks of planning, training and packing all you really want to do, however, is get going. The start time of 9.00 couldn’t come around quickly enough.

The first four days

The first section of the 2011 Mawson Trail adventure followed the usual pattern. Day one through to Lobethal via the drizzly Castambul climb got a few people worried. The ride up Stone Hut Road borders on cruel & unusual punishment, and asks a few questions of riders, but thankfully it’s the toughest climb of the whole ride. The speedy singletrack that follows can also be a bit of an eye-opener.

It takes a little time for the new routine of lunches, setting and packing up camp, ablutions etc to become second-nature. The first few days are generally spent getting used to life in this new community. People get to know each other over dinner, where tales of previous Mawson rides are shared. Sometimes these stories are actually true.

hitting the dirt
hitting the dirt

Over the four days riders get used to things and, in small increments, the body, mind and bike get into some sort of rhythm. This is essential if one is to enjoy the subsequent sections of the Outback Odyssey.

The last two odysseys have been run 2-3 weeks later than in 2005 and 2007. Whether the space of a few weeks can really make much of a difference to average temperatures, I don’t know. This year’s odyssey was certainly held in cooler conditions than the baking hot days of 2005. The nights and early mornings were fresh, to say the least, but I think the milder daytime temperatures were probably appreciated by most riders. We were lucky with the rain, and most days provided patches of blue.

Each day brings new adventures. On the way out of Nuriootpa on Day Three there’s some fantastic, fast, trails to enjoy. They can be rutted, so it pays to keep one’s eyes open. A little later in the morning there’s some great fun to be had just out of Kapunda on some quite challenging ups and downs. People who take the bitumen detour are missing out, big time.

One of my favourite segments of the first stanza of the odyssey is the ride into Riverton on the afternoon of Day Three. After the lunch break, The Mawson Trail heads left from Swamp Road and riders traverse an (appropriately) un-named, indistinct section, which becomes less discernable and more challenging with every revolution. The climax is a short but quite tough uphill stretch, bouncing over rocks and logs while trying to avoid the pot holes and ditches. This climb has gotten the better of me every time I’ve attempted it. Despite being determined to get to the top, it stopped me again this year. Just the once. I got my line wrong and hit a rock and stopped dead, which was disappointing. Apart from that incident though, it was the best I’ve ever managed so I was pretty happy at the top.

Immediately after that particular section of off-off-road hi-jinks, there are two fast, long downhills to be savoured. The first, along Gants Hill Road, is a curving, rapid descent that requires a little diligence, but goes on for ages. After a short ride along a linking road, the second downhill at Farrows Road is smooth, fast and gun-barrel straight. I’m not advocating that riders do so, but you could probably ride with your eyes closed. It’s a great way to finish the Riverton stage.

The fact that the odyssey is leaving Adelaide and its environs really becomes obvious, to me anyway, once we pass through Clare and turn right onto Angus Court Road on Day Four. Over the Camel’s Hump Range and onwards to Burra!

Middle of the road

The middle section of the odyssey is not quite as spectacular as the last chapter of the trip, however it still offers plenty of treats. The Burra to Tooralie Homestead leg takes riders to the magnificent Dare’s Hill lookout, where the views go forever, and also provides some fun undulations on the red dirt later in the day. Interested riders can also stop and take a look around the birthplace of Sir Hubert Wilkins, which is situated just a few kilometers before Tooralie. This year we had to take an early detour due to the Mawson Trail being washed out in parts, but it was still a good day, and it was somewhat interesting to traverse a slightly different route.

There was a little bit of ill-health passing through the riding group this time around. Unusually, coughing was as prevalent as the ubiquitous snoring in the overnight campsite, and some folks seemed to be struggling with flu. I am generally untroubled by colds and the like, so I wasn’t too bothered. More fool me.

tooralie
Tooralie

In Tooralie I woke up in the middle of the night, with a sore throat. I put it down to the cold conditions and/or sleeping with my mouth open and thought no more about it. When I next awoke, just before dawn, it felt like I’d swallowed razor blades. Over the next day or two it evolved into a mighty cold/flu type of thing, which was to plague me for the rest of the trip.

The riding around Spalding and Laura is very pleasant, with riders passing through the midst of the giant wind-powered turbines, and dodging caltrops along the Bundaleer channels. As usual, Ray and I braved the channels both in and out of Spalding and we both enjoyed puncture-free journeys. The nights in these towns, as they are in most, were great fun. The local communities seem very happy to have us and most riders don’t mind doing their bit to boost the local economies along the way. I had the best tasting beer of the whole trip in the front bar of the North Laura Hotel on the Saturday afternoon.

The ride to Melrose from Laura has some fun singletrack along Lynches Road, before settling down into a very pleasant ride. There’s some light climbing to be done just before the arrival at the little town at the foot of Mt Remarkable that has become a mountain bikers’ paradise. The rest day in Melrose provides great opportunities for riders to ignore the word “rest” and attack the fabulous and testing trails that have been built in and around the mountain.

Onwards and upwards

The ride to Quorn is lots of fun. It’s a pretty short day, the ninth on the bike, and the challenging climb over Richman Gap is more than compensated for by the excellent downhill run into town.

Quorn to Hawker is the longest day of the trip, but it’s a great run, and this year it was especially fast. Even the climb over Yarrah Vale Gorge didn’t seem overly tough. It was overcast, and the wind was with us most of the way. It’s a bit of a day for the tourists, in that there are plenty of diversions and photo opportunities. Proby’s Grave, Simmonston, and the Kanyaka ruins are all worth stopping for a look.

ruination
ruination

I’ve always found the trip to Rawnsley one of the more taxing days, and this year was no exception. At least the Moralana Scenic Drive wasn’t as painful as in previous years, though I still wouldn’t ride it for fun. The morning section is great. Riders pass through a desolate landscape around Mernmerna Hill, where kangaroos abound, before tackling the crazy descent that follows. There’s a bitumen stretch immediately following the tourist drive, which would usually be pretty boring, but after the bumps and bounces of the previous 25 kilometres, it’s quite a relief. The ride into Rawnsley is pretty average, so future odyssey participants are advised to keep a little in the tank for the last 5 kilometres.

The last day of the ride is superb. Get up early, get packed, and get going. The singletrack out of Rawnsley, and out of Wilpena a little later, are two of the best stretches of the entire trip. Then comes the climbing…

This year I managed to make it up the entire Razorback climb, after walking the first part of the incline in 2009. This was a target I’d set myself, so I wasn’t going to stop easily. Puffing and panting, we enjoyed a brief but satisfying break at the top for a drink. A little further on, climbing another hill, the driver of a 4WD coming towards us leaned out of his window and said “Jeez you guys have got some balls…” Ray looked at me and said “Balls maybe, but obviously we have no brains.” We allowed ourselves a little chuckle before getting back to the serious business of remembering to breathe.

The after-lunch section of the last day is pretty gruelling, and consists of crashing up and down through a seemingly endless series of dry, rocky creek beds. There’s also a fairly decent climb along the way, followed by a nice ridge ride that offers great views back to where you’ve come from. Afternoon tea is a welcome sight. After that there’s just the small matter of 20 kilometres of road to the finish.

End of the road

The Outback Odyssey is a journey filled with great moments. Despite the fact that there’s been a fortnight of thrills and spills, getting to Blinman is still hard to beat in terms of joy. It marks the end of a great day’s ride, and a fantastic two weeks. Ray and I enjoyed a fabulous day this time around, almost without incident, and we arrived at the pub quite early in the afternoon. We shook hands with Chris, John and Mark, who were already there, and enjoyed a celebratory beer or two while we cheered other riders into Blinman.

I slept very well at Alpana Station that night.

finished
finished

I kept a blog while on tour (http://bleakumbrella.blogspot.com/), which added an extra dimension to my adventure. It proved an ideal way to keep friends and family informed on an (almost) daily basis, saving the need for numerous phone calls, postcards and emails. It was definitely worth the effort and something I’d consider again.

Despite being under the weather, which certainly cost me a bit in terms of expended energy and post-ride recovery, this was another great trip. Everyone involved in the Outback Odyssey, from an organiser and rider perspective, should be congratulated. What a hoot!

And, as for 2013, who knows?


© Copyright David Robinson, 2011

Not to be reproduced without the permission of the author