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Off the Road

(Blinman or bust!)

It wasn’t yet dawn but I could hear noises outside of the tent. Nothing dramatic; just the sounds of human activity. I fumbled around and found my watch, and saw that it was not long after quarter-past five. I had set my alarm for six but I wouldn’t be needing it now. I was awake. I sat up in my sleeping bag, trying to convince my drowsiness that it would be better for all concerned if it left now and let me get on with the business of the day. The last day of my great ride.

Day thirteen of the Bicycle SA Outback Odyssey would see me travelling through terrain that posed real challenges for the novice off-roader. Would I get through it? Or would I spend another ego-deflating couple of hours in the sag wagon? Would my hybrid handle the tough going? It had got me this far and, apart from breaking a few spokes, it had stood up very well. Not a single puncture.

Emerging from my tent I saw that plenty of others were treating the final day in a similarly serious manner. Gone was the wine-induced confidence; it had been replaced with an air of resolve, of silent determination. Quietly, systematically, tents were dropped and bikes were set up for the day’s ride. As the sun came up, heralding the start of another beautiful warm day, many of us were just about ready to rock and roll. My riding partner and I left camp shortly after seven o’clock and I spent the first few kilometres getting everything back into rhythm.

It was fairly easy getting into the Wilpena Resort. Getting out was an altogether different matter. The signage was curiously ambiguous, and a small group of us spent about twenty minutes ambling along the various paths that criss-crossed the resort. Eventually we found a cryptic sign that indicated that the Mawson might continue thataway, so we bit the bullet and headed out. Fortunately, it was the right decision.

The next hour or so took us through some terrific single-track, the likes of which I’d hitherto never experienced. Up and down through creek-beds, ducking under branches, dodging, (or riding straight over) logs and rocks – all at a pace to which I was unaccustomed. That’s what comes of riding with others, and it was great. I broke a spoke almost immediately but hey; who cares about things like that when you’re having so much fun and it’s the last day of the adventure? It was a shame the track had to end.

After a few kilometres of fire trails, we started to climb between the ABC and Heysen Ranges. Some see climbing as fun; I saw some of the hills as close to impossible. When I’m not on my bike I am a keen walker, so I treated some of the steeper inclines as terrific opportunities to walk. 

The views were immense. I’d never visited the Flinders before, and I was taken aback by the great sights around Bunyeroo Gorge, coupled with the fact that here I was, me, riding right into the heart of this beautiful land.

Once we’d reached the highest point, it was another stretch of challenging trails through deep red dirt. Kangaroos hopped onto and away from the trails; being so close to some of this country’s fantastic wildlife was another great feature of the Mawson adventure.

Somewhere in the Flinders

We’d been relying on fairly rudimentary maps for the last leg, which meant that following the excellent Mawson Trail markers was vital. Lunch was a few kilometres further on than we’d expected, and it seemed sometimes that we might have been heading in the wrong direction, so it was a great relief to finally arrive at the designated spot near Brachina Creek and get a feed from the lunch crew. We had already completed two-thirds of the day’s projected distance and I was feeling pretty happy.

Between lunch and afternoon tea I found that the heat of the day and the miles we’d traversed were having an effect on my riding performance. I was getting a little tired and the small inclines suddenly seemed a lot bigger, and came around more often than they really ought. I kept going, perhaps with an extra rest here and there and, apart from experiencing an embarrassing fall, I arrived at the refreshment stop in good health and spirits.

Thinking that we’d made it, I had underestimated the psychological impact that the last stage of any long journey has. The last 20 kilometres along the Blinman Road were tough. I remember wondering if the corrugations would ever end. The last 5 kilometres felt like thirty. Fortunately my riding partner, Julie, was determined to keep going and I was equally determined to follow her in to town.

Enjoying a pint! Finally, the Blinman Hotel appeared in our distant vision, and we cycled into the midst of one of the happiest, most satisfied-looking groups of human beings you could imagine. I wasn’t even off my bike when someone put an ice-cold pint in my hand (thank you Tim!) from which I gratefully supped. Made it! 

This was my first adventure of this sort and it will certainly not be my last. My thanks go to everyone who helped with the organisation – looking after the administrative chores, providing the briefings, servicing the bikes, transporting the gear, setting up the campsites, feeding us, keeping the beer cold – the amount of work that goes into looking after the riders should never be overlooked. It was also a privilege to ride, talk, eat, drink and share the Odyssey with a great bunch of people. See you on the trails!

© Copyright David Robinson, 2005

Not to be reproduced without the permission of the author