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Blinman in the spring

spencer gulf panorama

Gladstone Square, Port Augusta, is a popular municipal meeting place and is often used as a venue for local events. It is in the middle of town and I am confident that it gets pretty lively from time to time. It has most likely witnessed some interesting sights over the years. I’m not sure, however, that it has ever hosted 200 brightly coloured, eager cyclists before…

The 2010 Bicycle SA Annual Tour began, and finished, its meandering route in Port Augusta. It was a 500-kilometre trip that transported riders through the heart of the Flinders Ranges, providing an opportunity for all to appreciate the splendour of this natural beauty spot. My mate Rod and I had driven up from Adelaide, hoping for 10 days of fun and adventure.

Settling into the groove

The ride commenced at 1.00 PM on Saturday, September 11, with cyclists leaving Port Augusta assisted by an escort from the local constabulary. I hadn’t done much riding in the lead up to the tour and I wondered if my (lack of) fitness might be an issue on some of the longer days. I’d be sure to find out.

The short first day’s ride to the historic railway town of Quorn was a good way to blow out the cobwebs. It included a few undulations but it was pretty uncomplicated, and the day finished with a long downhill run into town. We were fortunate enough to see the Pichi Richi steam train as we made our way along the road.

From the outset, riders seemed very impressed with the lush, green scenery, stopping for photographs at every opportunity. I wondered how they would manage to contain their enthusiasm once we got into the Flinders proper.

pretty green
pretty green

The ride to Hawker on day two was another relatively easy pedal, with a gentle breeze blowing us across the long, straight and flat Willochra Plain. We passed the signs for Simmonston, Proby’s Grave and the Kanyaka ruins along the way. We declined the opportunity to detour – I’d seen them before.

As we spent our Sunday afternoon relaxing in Hawker, the rain came. And kept coming. It was still raining when I climbed into my tent at bed time. I hoped for a dry night and clear skies in the morning. I didn’t get either.

miserable weather
miserable weather

Chills in Parachilna

The morning came too soon. As I lurched back into some semblance of consciousness, it was apparent that this wasn’t going to be a bright, sunshiny day. The gentle percussion of the rain tap-tap-tapped on the tent, and I was vaguely aware that it had been raining for some time, probably all night. As I forced my eyes open and popped out my earplugs, I prepared to meet the day head on.

Head on was right. We left Hawker and started the long journey to Parachilna, some 93 kilometres of boring, straight road. It was a cold, dark, rainy and windy day. Some might say horrible. Still, there’s nothing else to do, apart from ride it out. And so we did.

The first leg of the journey was the wettest, but we were fresh, so progress was pretty tidy. The period between morning and afternoon tea however, was where my lack of fitness and my heavy mountain bike took their toll. My speed dropped steadily as the wind stiffened, I was tiring and not quite full of the joys of spring. The western aspect of the ranges might provide a glorious view on a sunny day, but they just presented themselves as an uncompromising grey lump to my right. I couldn’t find a friendly gear, and I just wanted to get there.

The last part of the day was more tolerable. I found some rhythm, and a modicum of energy, and it was with no small amount of relief that we made Parachilna at about 2.30.

We managed to pitch our wet tents in dry conditions before visiting the Prairie Hotel for a few restorative pints. To say that I was happy to be in town is an understatement.

We had dinner at the pub while an impressive storm paid its respects to riders on its way eastwards. By the time we hit the sack the storm had passed.

Fun on the dirt

Tuesday was the perfect tonic for the woes of the previous day. After packing up damp tents again, we were set to take on the off-road leg between Parachilna and Blinman. I’d been too tired to change my tyres from slicks to knobblys on Monday night, so I hired a Bike SA Avanti Atomic instead. Good choice. Not only would my bike benefit from not getting a wet, muddy thrashing, but the Avanti was a bit lighter, and probably a better fit for my lanky frame, and I felt like I was motoring from the moment we blew out of town.

It’s not surprising that I was reminded of my days on the Mawson while we rode eastward. Not just because we were on the dirt. There was that sense of isolation (4WD vehicles notwithstanding), the beautiful scenery, and the bouncy climbs and bumpy descents. This ride did, however, have a dimension to which I was unaccustomed – creek crossings.

Due to recent heavy rains, the trail was punctuated with some significant water crossings. Eight of them, to be precise. The first was probably the biggest. Apart from a couple of shallow crossings on the Mawson, I’d never ridden across water so I was feeling a little nervous. Should I give it a crack? Or should I be sensible and push? I tentatively followed a fellow rider through the first half of the crossing, which was very shallow. Once the water deepened I instinctively put my feet down. I pushed the rest of the way. At the second crossing, I’d made up my mind to push, despite the exhortations of another of my riding colleagues. I pushed while he rode. Feeling a little sheepish as I watched him sail through successfully, I resolved to have a crack at the next one.

At the third crossing, I gritted my teeth and pushed the pedals. To my surprise, and delight, I reached the other side without incident. What fun! I attempted the next five crossings, and was only stopped once. Thanks for the inspiration, Baz!

Getting to the Blinman pub didn’t quite carry the same sense of occasion as arriving at the end of the Outback Odyssey, but it was still a very nice way to cap off what had been a splendid morning on the dirt. We had a couple of ales before completing the day’s ride, arriving at Alpana in the early afternoon.

nice to be back in Blinman...
nice to be back in Blinman...

Resting up at Wilpena

On Day Five, I rose very early and enjoyed a cup of tea as I stood in the crisp semi-darkness and watched the spectacular dawn. It was an unplanned and most welcome highlight.

The day’s ride started with a gently undulating pedal in the fresh morning sun, before we attacked a few decent climbs on the way up to Hucks Lookout. Most riders stopped there for the great views of Wilpena Pound, before enjoying a lengthy, fast descent.

We made sure of a good campsite at Wilpena, as it would be our home for two nights. One of the benefits of getting into camp early was that we had time to survey the landscape and find a nice spot. We had enough space, a bit of shelter, and a panoramic view across to the Mawson Trail’s exit from Wilpena.

The rest day was spent relaxing, catching up on things. I wrote my journal, did some bike maintenance, sorted out my stuff, and fixed the zip on one of my bags. In the evening we were treated to the spectacle of the Annual Tour Talent Night.

Wilpena
Wilpena

Heading back to Hawker

The short trip from Wilpena through to Hawker neatly summed up why I love riding my bike. It was a beautiful sunny morning, albeit a little cool, and I was very well rested after my day off. It was a sympathetic profile, just slightly downhill for the bulk of the trip, and the wind was kind.

For the first leg of the journey we marvelled at the scenery, especially the views of the magnificent Rawnsley Bluff, uncompromising in its early morning glory. At morning tea we were similarly impressed with the Elder Ranges. At one point, an emu ran with us along the side of the road for a couple of hundred metres. I was hoping that it wasn’t in the mood for a fight…

The only thing wrong with the ride was that it was all over by 10.30. Hawker was a significantly more cheery place than when we’d left it the previous Sunday. It was sunny and warm, and it was a nice feeling to be showered and unpacked before lunch. We ate, drank and had a merry afternoon.

Willochra Pain

I was hoping that the ride to Quorn would be another good day in the saddle. The early signs were positive, and the ride to morning tea was fast and fun. The 30-kilometre drag across the Willochra Plain was another matter. It was only the gentlest of inclines, but the wind was right at us, and the increasingly common gusts slowed me to almost walking pace. The best part of the last hour was spent with the head down, urging the kilometres to pass a little more quickly.

Once in town we attended to a few logistical details before completing the Quorn pub crawl.

Our dinner was the usual convivial affair, with the added dimension of it being a ‘black-tie’ affair. All manner of interpretations of the term were presented, resulting in a cornucopia of sartorial effort.

situps in Quorn
situps in Quorn

Rawnsley
Rawnsley

All good things…

Our last day of riding saw us set off early, hoping to break the back of the long drag to Wilmington before the morning got too old. It was cool, overcast, and the wind was making its presence felt. We just got on with it, and turned the cranks, onwards to morning tea. At one stage I heard a pinging noise and assumed that a stone had been kicked up from Rod’s bike and hit my rear wheel. I thought no more about it.

After the tea stop, we didn’t see another rider for over 20 kilometres, not until we arrived at the climb up to Horrock’s Pass. The ascent was nowhere near as problematic as we had been led to believe. The incline wasn’t dramatic, and traffic was sparse. One rider alerted me to the fact that my rear wheel was wobbling significantly as he passed. I looked down and sure enough I saw a big buckle. The pinging noise I’d heard earlier must have been a spoke. Actually it was two. Nothing I could do, so we just kept riding.

The view from the Horrock’s Pass lookout was brilliant. The ride down was even better. The first stretch was along the main road, featuring long sweeping curves and no traffic. I didn’t have to pedal at all. We turned right onto Spear Creek Road, a bumpy but very fast ride, and enjoyed another five kilometres of fun, albeit a little hard on the hands. I was grateful for the mountain bike.

We arrived back in Port Augusta, the place where the tour had started some nine days earlier, just before noon. We packed up all of our stuff, got changed, and then got on with the business of saying farewell to new friends and old. Rod and I jumped into the van, turned on the music, and set sail for home.

The wash up

So, another tour is done and dusted. Old friendships were renewed, and new friends made. I traversed some familiar routes, and added some new ones to my list. We’d never seen the Flinders so green, and it is doubtful that we will again.

Bicycle SA has, once again, staged an enjoyable, well-supported ride. Next year the tour is planned for the Coorong and Lower Lakes. Sounds interesting…

Horrock's Pass
Horrock's Pass


© Copyright David Robinson, 2010

Not to be reproduced without the permission of the author