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Our two bobs worth….a Fat Tyre detour and the Mawson Trail

AUSTRALIA | Wednesday, 1 November 2006 | Views [5484]

anna...herding sheep near Hawker

anna...herding sheep near Hawker

After our first taste of the Mawson Trail the previous year north of Rawnsley Park to Blinman, we decided to take some time off work and tackle the whole 900km plus trail unsupported carrying all we needed for the whole trip. October seemed like the perfect time with temperatures still not going to be too extreme up north but the clay based roads dry enough through the mid north to make cycling possible in those regions.

 The Mawson Trail is South Australia’s premier world class long distance off-road trail covering over 900km of dirt road, fire tracks, farm tracks, a little bitumen and single-track following channels, stock routes, access routes and sheep tracks. It takes the trail users from the tourist areas of the Adelaide Hills to the wineries of the Barossa and Clare Valley, across agricultural landscapes of the mid-north, before reaching the spectacular beauty of the rugged Flinders Ranges from Melrose in the south to Wilpena Pound in the north.

The sea to summit was our concept for the trip. So with two suspension bob trailers in tow, and gear for the journey we depart Glenelg and the jetty early on a Saturday morning. The last time we would be at the coast and with two weeks of long off-road riding ahead of us.

The following exerts are taken from our trip diary…enjoy the ride.
(Note. bob™ stands for Beast of Burden and relates to our trailers carrying our loads.)

Day Two – Cudlee Creek to Chalks Campground

With a break in the rains we pack up camp and the bobs just in time as the clouds descend over Thomas Hill and dump some more heavy rain on us and the trails. We had nearly lost the tent over night in some strong winds and rain. The Yaccas on the firetrail are in full flower glistening in the rain and we enjoy the run out of Cudlee Creek Trails Network and down to Lobethal as it is our first real downhill on the trail after the hard uphill slog of day one. At the café over cappuccinos we browse the weather in the paper to see what the coming days hold. It appears we have weathered the worst of the rain….showers clearing in the afternoon and I guess we are not surprised to find out there was a severe weather warning for the Mt Lofty Ranges the previous night!!!

Rolling into Birdwood for lunch we notice an array of fine vintage cars heading our way. It’s the Bay to Birdwood classic car rally, what are the chances of that! We enjoy a beer in the sun and make the most of the festivities, checking out the motor museum with some free tickets, some traditional Austrian dance and meet two girls who had ridden from Glenelg on Penny Farthings (made our ride seem easy).

We make it only as far as Chalks Campground in Mt Crawford Forest(a slight detour off the Mawson route) to set up camp. Anna has been a bit ill since before we left so we don’t push things too far at this stage, but still a 50km day on the trails with a long lunch. The Barossa Valley, a big downhill run and some wine tasting lies ahead for us tomorrow.

Day Six – Freshwater Weir to Laura 93km

From Freshwater Weir the trail joins the Bundaleer Linear Park following the channels for ten km or so. It is grassy and overgrown and the sketchiest section of trail for snakes so far. Unfortunately or fortunately snakes are not going to be our biggest problem of the day. As we approach one of a number of closed gates along the channels, an over-protective magpie leaves his lone gum tree and hones in on our helmets. One, two, three fly-bys with beak cracking around our ears is actually a frightening experience as we grapple with gate latches while watching the sky. No sooner have we got out of range of the bird, than a hive of bees awaits us at a gate post. As one finds its way in my ear, attempts to remove it end up with it stinging me under my eye. Panic kicks in and we rush off through the gate to assess the damage. I feel like someone has hit me in the face. No allergic reaction, just a puffy eye.

Once we have climbed the Bundaleer range we are treated to some flowing open double single-track with mountain views and rocky tracks through native bush at Bundaleer Gardens leading down to the forest for lunch. We take a detour to take in one of the many artistic installations in the Bundaleer Forest, a dry stone wall with recycled metal sculptures and archway titled ‘the forest is a temple to the sun’, with views out over the plains to Jamestown.

With 38km to Laura and time getting away we think we may have underestimated our reach for the day, and with it taking an hour to negotiate 8km in the forest with gates, dodging ‘sleepies’ and sheep, it seems there’s no way we’ll get there before dark. Then the trail gods shine on us unexpectedly  and once rounded the Bundaleer range we have a flowing run of five or ten km downhill sections into the next valley, pure riding bliss into the afternoon sun. We soak up the kilometres in record time and reach Laura before sun down. In time for a Giant Twin which just two hours earlier had seemed an impossible thought.

Day Seven – Laura to Melrose

There is a sense of anticipation in the air as we leave Laura knowing that by the afternoon we will be in Melrose for the Bike SA Fat Tyre festival. We had our first views of Mt Remarkable the previous afternoon heading around from Bundaleer and 69km’s doesn’t seem too difficult for the day.

Out of Laura the trail leads us onto a technical rocky climb through some good bushland on two wheel access tracks (what we now know as double single-track) and soon we rejoin the dirt road leading into Wirrabara Forest. We can’t resist a little detour to the King Tree Paddock to see the majestic King Tree, a huge River Red Gum with an 11m circumference at the base, which unfortunately is looking a bit stressed. We laugh at the profoundly positive sign that states ‘the tree appears not to be thriving…’, I think the understatement of the trip so far.

After a lazy morning tea at the Old Wirrabara Nursery we push on up and over the Wirrabara Forest range passing blocks of cleared pines, old pines, native bush and the old bores along the track. We disturb a large Tree Goanna on the road which quickly adjourns to the heights of a Peppermint Box to observe us from above. Mt Remarkable looms on the horizon all afternoon, especially once we hit the survey road and a young Kangaroo joins us leading us the last ten km’s into Melrose unable or unwilling to jump a fence, instead maintaining a short lead on us. As we roll into town we meet a convoy of Bike SA volunteers and staff putting cyclist crossing signs up around town. An iced coffee at Blueys, the old blacksmiths shop (worth a stop), feet up for a chat with the Bike SA faithful, and then down the last couple of km’s to the showgrounds to set up camp and get ready for ‘Bowmaniacs pub crawl’…There is a buzz around the showgrounds as tent pegs are hammered in.

Fat Tyre Festival Melrose

In the morning the Melrose show starts to kick into gear, and in the middle of all that agricultural action the Fat Tyre village is in full swing. Keen punters are gathered for the first few organised rides of the weekend including the Don’s Summit intermediate ride. The large group rides well and enjoys the best of Melrose, riding several loops of the blue trails at the base of Mt Remarkable including Benchin’, Textbook 10%, a Bit Sheepish and Don’s Summit. The tight single-track hugging the hillside following sheep tracks, rocky outcrops to claim pedals and small boulders on the trail provide a challenge to riders of all abilities; even a full rigid Malvern Star. Everyone is still smiling and keen to know more about the history of a place where mountain bikes are welcome and the trails are supported by the locals. The views are great from Don’s Summit offering views back over town before we descend one more time into the valley. Greener pastures proves a challenge for the adventurous and claims a victim or two at the end of the ride but otherwise everyone is stoked with a taste of more to come for the weekend.

Next up is the dirt criterion, another brainchild of the Bowmaniac to be held around the showgrounds. The numbers start to swell for the dirt crit as we move to the starting area and the anticipation builds. Those who were dreaming of a cruisey afternoon strolling the showgrounds to rest their legs (including ourselves) are quickly transformed into racing mode. The girls lead things off with three fast laps on the one km loop. As they come into view on the last bend of the last lap there is a sprint to the line with Anna being pipped at the post by one of our friends from Broken Hill, a deserved winner. In the guys category I am off the front pack before the pace lap is even over, so setting my sights on those around me we battle out the remaining four laps up the fairway, cornering fast and drifting around the showground track. It’s warm and dusty and some loose rocks threaten to bring a number of us unstuck. Dave Hughes blows a tube at the start/finish line of the last lap transition, with another Dave from Broken Hill taking out the event in style. A few closely fought sprints to the line entertain the crowds.

Sunday morning kicks off with a Fat breakfast followed by a group ride out to Bartagunyah for the Adelaide Mountain Bike Club (AMBC) XC race. It’s a good warm-up and a chance to catch up with some crew from the past days.

The AMBC have organised a great event with hundreds of punters up from Adelaide for the race. The pace is quick and the course is long and difficult with rocks everywhere angling up towards oncoming tyres waiting to rip side walls. The relentless climbs take us out the back of Bartagunyah a long way from the village and start/finish. It claims some victims at the back end of the course with a huge number of bikes upturned, new tubes being inflated frantically. Just when it seems the climbing is done there is one final pinch up to the Stegosaurus for a technical traverse across the rocky ridge before the downhill on landslide, some pacey firetrack, the final scree slope and across the finish line.

After the race the Bartagunyah Breakaway takes off led by Nick Bowman. A one off chance to ride single track all the way back to Melrose from Bartagunyah leads us over some private farm tracks, along narrow sheep tracks and eventually through a riverbed chute, providing many obstacles and loose rock before spitting us out at the bottom of the Mt Remarkable trails in town. With cracking thunder and black skies a storm brews, bringing rain to dampen the dust but not spirits. An afternoon then spent at the food and wine festival, sampling some of the fine local produce the region has to offer, and stories of the Bartagunyah race.

As a final salute to the Fat Tyre Festival at the end of the Vicious Full Moon Cruise our ride leader rallies us to do a ride-through at the North Star Hotel (this is not an organised ride and is in no way condoned by Bike SA and the Fat Tyre managers), much to the delight of some happy crooners still keeping the karaoke cranking (im not sure if the pub was empty before hand…but it sure was by this stage), so avoiding microphones and flying arms we drop off the North Star verandah, and ride the familiar run back to the showgrounds. Then its time to crack some local red and keep the fire going long into the night and share tales long and short about the weekend just gone.

Day Thirteen – Kanyaka to Mount Little

We rise before the flies do and get away to an early start as we have heard rumours of high 30’s and the winds still seem to be in the north. We push into a headwind that seems to be getting stronger by the minute. It is dry and barren on this stretch and our feelings are with the skinny sheep making a living out here. As we roll into Hawker we are both exhausted, only 45km on the clock by 10:30am but it’s hot and we need some time out. We keep a low profile during the heat of the day, showers and laundry and cool soft drinks.

By late afternoon we are recharged so we push out of Hawker into the setting sun. We pass by some haunting bush graves from the 1800’s marked with wrought iron fences and large tombstones tucked away in the Acacia shrublands. The sun sets amazingly through the clouds and against the flinders ranges backdrop. Our lights are on as we continue on into the night with silhouetted mountains against the fading sky light a surreal experience. Another flat tyre for me on a steep climb and Anna does some night time repairs. We ride over a mostly flat plateau watched by hundreds of spiders with their reflecting green eyes. The flatness ends abruptly with a steep drop down a trail of small boulders which challenges our skills and desire to ride on. Just at that point a perfect little camp site presents and we set up camp amongst the Spinifex and Desert oak.

Day Fifteen – Bunyeroo to Blinman (900 – 950) 50km

A sunrise scramble up the hillside above Acraman campground in Bunyeroo Valley rewards us with red morning light on the ABC range and Wilpena. A peaceful place for reflection. We are also privileged to get a glimpse of a Yellow-footed Rock Wallaby grazing in the valley before morning light.

A tough climb presents itself up the Bunyeroo Valley Lookout drive with large corrugations forcing our lines up the hill. We are treated with respect by a number of couples we meet at the lookout, amazed at our journey and mode of travel. The reality that this is our final day of fifteen starts to sink in, but we are glad to leave the scenic drive, buses, four wheel drives and tourist trail behind for our preferred two wheel tracks where the only traffic to contend with is the numerous families of emus on the grassy plains. This section of trail is beautiful as it traverses the high plain between Bunyeroo and Brachina Gorge punctuated by steep rocky creek crossings and outbursts of ancient geology. A quick stop in Middlesight Hut for morning smoko to fill the guest book at a place we had stayed a year and a half earlier on our smaller Mawson exploration.

After morning tea Anna succumbs to her first flat on the trail on the final day, not racing down a hill, or a rocky climb or taking a drop(as she might tell you later), but sitting on the bike off the road in grass reading an interpretive sign along Brachina Gorge. She had dreamt of slime the night before, so maybe a premonition of sorts, or she had just tempted fate too long. As with most flats on the trail, we could have had worse spots to replace a tube than under the shade of a huge Red Gum, surrounded by some of the oldest geology recorded, in Trezona campground.

The final stretch of the Mawson leaves the double single-track of the Flinders ranges National Park behind and follows an unsealed road up and into the town of Blinman, the highest settlement in South Australia at around 620 metres. We start to slow down our pedalling, almost reluctant to admit that our journey is at its end. We joke about continuing on our bikes and develop a theory that we aren’t stopping, the trail just runs out…But we are happy to see our trusty support crew of Claudia and Michelle waving us into town, and we have done it with 950km on the clock. Time for a drink and to follow the last marker into the Blinman North pub.

After a couple of ales at the bar we head back out to the bikes on the verandah…there we have it, the final word of the Mawson, a flat bob tyre out front of the pub. That makes the flat tyre count Alister 7(including two bob flats): Anna 1. After being told we look filthy we clean up in the comfort of the Blinman Hotel in the knowledge we have just ridden from Glenelg to Blinman along the amazing Mawson Trail. We have tested our physical and mental resolve over fifteen days, ridden 970km, worn through brake pads and tyres, fixed punctures, pulled thorns from tyres, wild camped, sweated, been blown backwards, ridden at night, been attacked by magpies, seen full moons rise and suns set and shared close encounters with the creatures of the outback, all in the backyard of South Australia.

The Mawson trail is an amazing piece of infrastructure which we found was under utilised over its full distance, but which offers fantastic opportunities for exploring remote parts of the state and South Australian icons on shorter trips or day rides. The maps are easy to follow and give good ideas of distances and elevation, the trail is well signposted for the most part (only getting off the track once or twice) and has good access points to towns for food, water and accommodation. So even if you don’t have two weeks or all the gear or aren’t crazy enough to do the whole stretch, get out there and ride a part of it…, whether it’s a loop from Cudlee Creek trails network into the hills, a wine tasting trip in the Barossa or Clare Valley, exploring the artistic side of Bundaleer Forest or a week of riding bliss in the Flinders Ranges around Wilpena and Rawnsley Park, the Mawson Trail is waiting for your fat tyres.

(Footnote: Read the maps and a number of useful websites prior to planning trips with suggested lists of what to bring and when to go…it did reach 37 in early October in the southern Flinders. A set of Mawson maps is a must). Enjoy...

Tags: mawson trail 2006

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