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Serious Cycling

“Riding the Mawson Trail isn’t a bike ride – it’s an adventure”. So said Ray Merrick, from his vantage point on the front steps of Bicycle SA headquarters, on the morning of April 9th 2007. Ray knows the Mawson about as well as anyone, and I knew he was telling the truth.

I stood there, in the early morning light, and looked around me. There were some very serious-looking bikes about the place. Riders had come from across Australia. They were of all ages, levels of fitness and experience. Some faces were familiar to me, veterans of Annual Tours and other rides; some were strangers – although that wouldn’t last. There were about 35-40 of us making the journey from Adelaide. An entire fortnight on the dirt. Not for the first time that week, I began to question the wisdom of my decision to ride the Mawson again.

I’d done the ride in 2005 and I made it to Blinman, but not as confidently as I would have liked. I’d spent a couple of hours in the sag wagon early in the journey and I’d also ridden on the bitumen on a couple of days; unsure as to whether my body, or my hybrid bike, would stand the rigours of the terrain.

This time I was on my mountain bike, a Giant xtc3, and I was a lot fitter. I also had a lot more off-road miles in my legs. I was determined to make it to the last marker in Blinman, and I was equally single-minded about following the Mawson Trail all the way.

Adelaide – Burra

The first leg of the odyssey took the riders from Adelaide to Burra, over the rolling Adelaide Hills and beyond. Quite a bit of time over the first few days was spent getting into the right frame of mind and body, preparing for the long ride. I was also busy getting to know my fellow riders, both on the trail and over a few beers in the evenings.

The climb up from Castambul on Day One (more a biathlon than a ride) was a challenge and I was relieved to get to the top and enter the Mt Crawford forest. There are some marvellous views of the city and coast; that’s if you remember to turn around occasionally and have a look.

mawson marker

I was very tired at the end of the second day’s ride; as I trundled into Kapunda I wondered if I would get to Blinman in one piece. At Kapunda we shared our evening with the riders from the Easter Cycle. I caught up with quite a few friends who were participating in the event. Sounds like it would have been fun, but I had a different agenda.

The fantastic trails leading out of Kapunda and the superb long straight descent down Gant’s Hill and Farrow Roads were highlights of the third day’s ride.

The trip over the Camel’s Hump range and the fast downhills on the outskirts of Burra were great fun. The terrain had gradually changed as we moved further from Adelaide; the trails that led us to Burra were a beautiful red colour.

Rest Day - Burra

After four days in the saddle it was nice to have a relaxing day in Burra. I spent the day walking – I visited Redruth Gaol, one of the locations used in the film “Breaker Morant”, and I also had a look around the Burra Copper Mine. I found time to visit each of Burra’s five public houses – it’s a pity that the Bon Accord was closed. Something for next time…

We were joined by the Mini Mawson riders at Burra – another 15 (or so) brave souls.

Burra – Melrose

Our first stop after Burra was Tooralie Homestead, near Hallett. Tooralie is a wonderful old place with a great history. The ride was great fun. We’d had to negotiate a water crossing earlier in the day; in truth it was easy enough to ride straight through. We also enjoyed the never-ending views from Dare’s Hill. In the afternoon we passed Sir Hubert Wilkins’ house, currently undergoing restoration. Wilkins was a great Australian adventurer with a penchant for polar exploration.

The following day’s ride was memorable for the amount of caltrop punctures experienced by most riders. Definitely a great advert for Slime products. The night was spent in the Bundaleer Forest and this allowed some riders their first view of the legendary Mawson Man, who occasionally appears on the odyssey rides. 

bundaleer sunrise

The Mawson Man eschews all forms of clothing, excepting bicycle helmets and shoes. He can be a fearsome sight indeed.

The ride from Bundaleer to Melrose was tough, with stiff winds and some very challenging single track climbs forming part of the day’s 100km trek. Just outside Laura a bee flew into my mouth and stung my tongue. It could have been really nasty if I’d swallowed at the wrong time. My backside was screaming “enough!” and my legs wanted to join in. It was the hardest day of the entire ride from my perspective; I was struggling for about an hour either side of lunch and it was a great relief to arrive in Melrose, the mountain biker’s paradise, at about half-past two. Others had fared less well; fatigue, falls and illness had seen a lot of activity in the sag/support vehicles.

Rest Day - Melrose

Most people got on their bikes on the rest day – the trails at  Melrose are almost too good to miss. Because I’d found the previous day so challenging, I decided to take the rest day literally. I did some drivetrain maintenance early, before retiring to the Mt Remarkable pub for a few pale ales and a delicious pizza. I read a magazine, watched the football and generally took it very easy.


Leaving Melrose was tough. I was still tired, even after the benefit of a day off, and I knew that there were some big days to come. Fortunately the ride to Quorn was relatively short and we were there just after noon – it would have been quicker except I had to stop and change my tube - twice. I’d been a little unlucky with punctures, despite having what I thought was adequate protection. The afternoon in Quorn provided the opportunity to have a beer in each of its four pubs. They are virtually next door to each other so the “Quorn Pub Crawl” is easily managed.

The last three days were challenging, tiring, spectacular and ultimately rewarding. Ray’s ongoing promise of us doing some “serious cycling” rang very true as we neared the end of the adventure.

trasnscontinental, quorn
bush mechanics

On Day Eleven we rode past Hugh Proby’s Grave and also passed through Simmonston - “the town that never was”. We had more water to cross at Willochra Creek. Barely enough to get our feet wet. It was a good day’s riding, negotiating some pretty rough trails.

On the penultimate day, we had to overcome some extremely sandy sections of the track, and my camera came off second-best during the steep rocky descent near the morning refreshment stop at Mount Little Station. A little later in the day a few of us had to attend to a rider in need – it took four of us to hold the front tyre inside the rim while the tube was inflated. The bead had stretched and it took us a few attempts before we’d managed to inflate the tube without the tyre popping out. Otherwise, it would have been a long, hot walk!

The Flinders Ranges were a sight to behold; the early morning views of Rawnsley bluff as we were leaving on the last day were breathtaking. Kangaroos and emus turned out to wish us well on our journey and, in some cases, provide us with an escort. The single track out of Wilpena resort remains a highlight of the odyssey.

The last day, especially the second half, is a real slog and I was dreaming of the North Blinman Hotel a little earlier that I ought to have been.

The “Blinman 2 kms” sign is still followed by a “Blinman 3 kms” sign; this year it didn’t seem such a heartbreaker as the last few kilometres from Alpana Homestead to Blinman has been sealed.

I arrived at the pub just after 2.00 and joined a few other very satisfied riders in one or two well-earned beers. As the afternoon progressed we welcomed more and more riders to their final destination amid much cheering and shaking of hands. No-one seemed in a hurry to get to the camp site. When we finally got to Alpana Station, we witnessed a trio of Mawson Men streaking into camp – three times the spectacle! Oh dear…

The two-week Outback Odyssey was, without doubt, the best time I have ever had on my bike. I met the challenge, and had a great time doing it. My fellow riders were a fantastic bunch; the feeling of camaraderie was incredible. A huge thank you must go to everyone at Bike SA for staging this event, the good folk at Active Catering for feeding us so well, and to Justin, Cam and Louise from Bike Beyond for looking after our bikes.

See you on the Mawson!

made it!

© Copyright David Robinson, 2007

Not to be reproduced without the permission of the author