OUTBACK ODYSSEY BY SHEILA McDOWALL
ADELAIDE – LOBETHAL 40 KMS
40 down 860 to go!!
So today was the start of the Outback Odyssey, 900 km from Adelaide, through the Barossa and wine country, and finishing up in the Flinders Rangers 2 weeks later. We will have 2 rest days along the way.
170 of us headed off at 9.00 am under police escort, with the traffic lights all turned to green. Today was the lowest kilometre day of the trip as we had to climb, climb, climb up into the Adelaide Hills. Easy when you’re in a car I’m sure, but 10 kms of solid, steep climbing certainly sorts the fitness level of the group out. Happy to report that while most people pushed their bikes up many sections I only had to dismount for 30 metres of the whole ride. Let’s see if I’m feeling so cocky after slogging it out day in day out with much longer daily kilometres to ride. I suspect not!!! I don’t think I have ridden more than 65kms in any one day in my life and we have many days of 80 kms and a couple of 100+. Anyway, one day at a time.
I would like to have stopped at a gorgeous little vineyard perched on the hill with lovely views and an outside fire with chairs cut out of wine barrels….but we decided it was a tad too early. I will certainly be partaking in some wine tasting over the next couple of days though.
The weather was cloudy but good for that sort of climb. It’s pretty cool now as I’m bundled up in my nice warm tent. We are expecting night time lows of 4 and mostly sunny days of 18 for the next week. Excellent.
It’s all so well organised. Bike South Australia has thought of everything. Mobile showers, sinks and drinking fountains. The local communities provide all the breakfasts, lunches and dinners which is great as it brings income to these very small country towns. There is a bar set up at our daily evening destination …but I’m waiting for sunset!!, and refreshment stops for morning and afternoon replenishments. I’m starving already and it’s only 4.30pm.
Tonight we are camped on a football field at Lobethal
LOBETHAL – TANUNDA 74 KMS
Grapes, grass & green
Where does the day go??!!!
Yesterday afternoon we explored the town, it took all of 10 minutes to work out that the boutique brewery was the place to partake in a sundowner. Very quaint place and the boys vouched for the beer while I had a local rose.
It’s a massive job catering for 200 hungry riders all at once but the local football club did a pretty good job. Nothing gourmet but it hit the spot.
The birds had me up at 6.30 even though I didn’t want to get out of my toasty sleeping bag. We hit the road at 8.00am and it was brisk to say the least. 78 kms on we had cycled through some lovely countryside of grapes, paddocks that had recently had the hay taken off them, and rolling hills of green grass. It’s very lush and easy on the eye, although not so easy on the legs. Hanging in there ok but my aerobic fitness is better for hills than my strength plowing along kilometres of more undulating terrain.
The local Barossa Catering company did a fabulous job on lunch. We pulled up to have an open smorgasbord of things to put in sandwiches with every sort of bread and roll, homemade soups and cakes, and a selection of fresh and dried fruit. There is also a travelling coffee bar!! Tonight we are staying in a town close to Penfolds but we didn’t feel like cycling any more than we had so we didn’t do any of the local vineyards. We did partake in a wine tasting in town though. We are staying at a gorgeous vineyard with a massive Chateau on it. Tonight it’s black tie and dinner in the formal dining room with music playing. I’m wearing a new purchase from French Connection as a contribution to black tie.
I best hop to as I don’t want to miss out on the fine wines. I shall report in tomorrow on how it went.
TANUNDA – RIVERTON 78 KMS
Sun & Stone
4.00pm and I’m enjoying the last rays of heat as the sun finds its way over the hill and the white cockatoos go mad in the trees around us. Greg has pulled out a water bottle, which is actually gin, and we have relaxed with a rather warm G & T…no ice to be found and I did reprimand him for no lime.
So leaving off from yesterday, the dinner last night in the great wine hall was very nicely done and good wine to go with it…we were in the Barossa after all. Quite a few people had gone to a lot of trouble with costumes or putting on their bling for “formal night”.
It was a gorgeous sunny day, cold to start with but every day is going to be 4-5 in the morning. The terrain was quite a bit more forgiving on the legs but it was 80 km and that takes just short of 5 hours of riding time, not including breaks, on a mountain bike. As we left town this morning we went past Penfolds – they might produce some of the best reds in the world but it was a very uninviting cellar door. Today we have cycled through some forest but we are now mostly in big open, rolling hills of wheat and sheep territory having left the vineyards behind this morning. The town we are staying in tonight is Riverton and the local year 11 & 12 catering students are putting on dinner for us tonight. I am led to believe it is quite a special event so I’m looking forward to a MKR performance. Anyway, I haven’t had to cook, or shop, so I’m sure it will be delicious.
Tomorrow we go through the Riesling area but it will be in the morning. We are hoping that some of the vineyards open at 10.00 so we can get a couple of tastings in. Not too many as it’s 87 kms tomorrow.
I forgot to mention the old stone buildings which are gorgeous. The ones in the towns are beautifully restored but the farm houses have mostly been abandoned during the big drought at the turn of the century.
RIVERTON – BURRA 87 KMS
Riesling for morning tea anyone?
Running behind the eight ball today.
Last night I was heading off to dinner produced by the year 12s. They also make wine at the school and it was pretty good so I supported the local community and bought a dozen. Dinner was very nicely presented but I don’t think they would have quite made the final of MKR. Lovely to see how enthusiastic they all were.
Riding today was in perfect sunshine and it started off through the wine region of Clare. Pretty easy terrain even though it was a steady climb over 2 hours. It was all rail trail and nice to look out over the vineyards. We were riding the “Riesling Trail” and just as we hit 10.00am we were right out the front of O’Leary Walker which is a vineyard I know, so off we go. First customer for them for the day!!! Riesling for morning tea anyone?? Took me a couple of tastes to warm up to it at that hour of the day but we left 35mins late,r and 1 dozen being shipped back to Sydney. The rest of the 200 riders were more interested in the coffee cart 5 kms up the track.
After about 3 hours the landscape had completely changed …vineyards gone and wide-open plains with rolling hills. At this time of year it looks like a patchwork quilt. Yellow from cut hay, green as the crops are showing through, black from burning the stubble and red from the soil they are ploughing. After lunch it was up and down slowly grinding hills for 2 1/2 hours, and we are now in Burra.
It’s a rest day tomorrow…I think we are all looking forward to it. Rather than camping Greg and I have checked into the local motel for 2 nights of comfort. As we have a travelling masseuse I have a massage booked for 4.00pm. So what feels tired ??? believe it or not, not the legs. My neck could use a good rub, my wrists feel a little sore from being bent for such long periods and for some reason my triceps feel as if they have had a solid work out.
Burra has quite a lot of history so we will be getting a key from the local information centre and it opens doors to various historic buildings. There is also a quilting exhibition so I will definitely have a look at that.
Bed time for me now.
BURRA – HALLETT 85 KMS
Music & history
Good to have a relaxing day in Burra yesterday. We just walked around and saw the history of the town. It has now been listed by the National Trust as a heritage town due to its mining history. Lots of lovely stone buildings, a few nice cafes, and a gorgeous quilt show.
Today we headed off into what they call “marginal land” as the lack of rain can be pretty brutal on the farmers. We only had a short time in pastoral land but we did get to cycle past the old stone building that featured in the Midnight Oil album- Diesel & Dust…..Mum – for your benefit that’s Peter Garratt , singer & now x labour politician. Apparently, it’s in the top 100 of most photographed Australian buildings.
Pushing our pedals onwards it wasn’t too long before the landscape completely changed and we were into low grassland terrain with enough green grass coming through to soften the countryside, and the blue hue of distant ranges on the horizon. There was plenty of up and down on red dirt roads that luckily enough are hard. Apparently the last 2 times they have held this event in 2013 & 2015 the weather has been terribly wet with red mud everywhere, making some sections even impossible to ride.
The history lesson came with seeing the birthplace of Australia’s greatest unknown explorer – George Herbert Wilkins….Boy has he done some amazing things both in flying and submarines in the Arctic & Antarctic plus a whole stack of other things. I can understand why he decided to get away when you see where this old stone house is, stuck in the middle of nowhere. Dick Smith has put money into restoring it.
So a lovely day of scenery, I feel we are slowing getting into the outback even though we have come back to pastoral country now and staying in Hallett which is supposed to produce some of Australia’s best merino wool.
Hallett is a one pub town and we are just about to go and enjoy a sundowner after 85 kms and 5 hr 10 mins in the saddle.
HALLETT – SPALDING 45 KMS
It’s all about the weather
2 1/2 hours of riding is so easy!! It will make tomorrow seem hard as we have 5+ hours but I think Bike SA have to work the distance around the towns….and there’s not many of them out here. I can tell you when 200 riders move into a town that has less that 100 with 1 pub we certainly make our presence known. It’s like moving a small city everyday catering for this many people.
So today started with 2c and sunshine. It was not the best night as my air mattress has the tiniest of leaks from these nasty little thorns, and the dirt is bloody cold when there is frost outside.
We are back into the wide-open spaces with rolling hills…. the true outback is probably in a few days. The landscape is the brown, green and yellow tones sprinkled with gum trees. The contrast in even just 3 basic colours is really enjoyable to ride through. The weather has obviously be fairly kind to the farmers so far this season as the crops are looking green. There’s quite a lot of evidence of how harsh this area can be with old stone homes from the mid 1800 left standing but abandoned around 1900 after a severe drought. Old windmills still stand and right alongside them there are now new wind farms. The contrast is quite striking. So, the weather remains absolutely magical for biking. Sunny and no wind.
We missed the pub last night for the sundowners as the sunset was so magnificent we just watched it for half an hour. We did however go to the pub after dinner for a port and he served it to us in his 95-year-old mother’s crystal glasses. He obviously was putting the best on for the tourists as he says the locals drink it out of schooner glasses.
Well that’s it for me. Just enjoying the wonderful weather and countryside.
SPALDING – LAURA 80 KMS
Variety is the spice of life, girls
8.45pm and it feels like midnight, that’s what happens when you bike for 5 hours, eat at 6.00pm and drink 2012 wine from the Southern Flinders Rangers….who would have thought they made wine here. Very good too.!!
Last night we stayed at a town called Spaulding. It conjures up notions of tennis but all it has is a very good football oval, hot showers (very important) and a pub with crap wine but a very interesting hallway of barbed wire from everywhere in the world through many decades. Someone has gone to a lot of effort to document it.
We headed off this morning at 8.15 and first up is biking along single tracks next to aqua canals which they built around 1850 I think. Very enjoyable. These became obsolete when they put in a dam so next we had trails next to water pipes. This was bindi territory and we had been warned they make mincemeat of our tyres (and my air mattress I think) so before I left Sydney I had done all the right things and changed to tubeless tyres with slime ..way too technical for me as well!! All I know about a bike is to turn the pedals and the last thing I want to have is a puncture. Well sure enough I pull a few of these thorns out of my tyres and didn’t I feel good when the goo fills the hole and hey presto, no flat tyre!
The countryside was beautifully green, mostly with crops or grassland. After morning tea we had some decent hills to climb before getting into plantation forest, natural bushland and pastures. I think all day we only saw 3 houses before we hit the metropolis of Laura where we are staying. It’s known for its ice cream making. God knows why, I haven’t seen a cow all day, but we most certainly sampled the local produce.
So lots of variety of vista and terrain today. The weather is still wonderful but might not hold for next week. I shall focus 1 day at a time. Left knee has a small niggle in it but nothing drastic so I hope it holds. It’s a shorter day tomorrow, maybe 4 hours and then we get a rest day.
Now it definitely feels like midnight so over and out.
LAURA – MELROSE 57 KMS
I can die & go to heaven now
4 hours of peddling and we are now in a little town called Melrose which came into being for mining but like most of these places in Australia, they died out. Now Melrose is a mountain biking Mecca for South Australia, although I will probably be too tired to ride the trails on our rest day tomorrow….I will need to conserve my energy for the final 5 days.
The weather was once again perfect. It’s always cold to start with but it doesn’t take long to warm up. We biked through a lot of bush tracks today which was really pretty with pastoral land on either side of us. The red clay trails were hard except in the odd place where it was very obvious how bogged even a 4WD can get. Thank Christ we haven’t had rain!! We decided to stage photos and I quickly learnt the hard way not to go anywhere near the mud. In 2 seconds flat I had come to a complete standstill with my tyres unable to turn through my bike frame with a good 3 inches of thick red clay on them. After the bush tracks it was through the pine plantations with various sections taken out by bush fires a few years ago and then we came out into the open with fabulous views of Mt Remarkable in the distance…all green hills as far as the eye can see, and the blue ranges in the distance.
Bike South Australia divide the day up into sections and the local community provide morning tea and lunch. Today in the middle of the wide-open expanse we had a BBQ with Turkish wraps, and then you should have seen the selection of cakes!!! I’m sure I was at the Royal Easter show at the cake display. I think I can now officially die and go to heaven after eating the best ever chocolate sponge with about 1 1/2 inches of cream in the middle. The sponge was so light it was like fairy floss. I could have eaten the whole cake but I limited myself to just 2 big pieces. The locally grown apple was pretty delicious too! Don’t worry I’m sure I wore it off as there were plenty of hills today. We even created extra as there was one winery in the area which we decided to visit. It was a bit of a climb to get to it but it had great views of the Remarkable’s and pretty delicious wine & port. We were the only bikers of the whole 200 that are on this ride who went to the vineyard. They will be providing the wine tonight for purchase so I might have to buy some of the 2009 Cab Sauv. Not so usual for a vineyard to release older wines.
I think I have now earned a G & T in the local pub.
Happy Mother’s Day to 3 of you.
MELROSE – QUORN 71 KMS
Platoon on the plains
Yesterday was a rest day in Melrose so I just potted around town, had a nice lunch, did a 1 hour MTB ride (1 hour seems like nothing now) and treated myself to a massage.
It was 4 hours in the saddle today and given the forecast was for high winds everyone was on their bike at 7.30am. We slogged it out over the plains …straight road then turn left, more straight road then turn right and so it went. The consolation was it was flat for 45kms before the green hills appeared and the landscape became much more interesting with the Flinders Rangers off in the distance, all blue, blending in with the threatening rain clouds. I didn’t stop for lunch as we got there too early and the wind was increasing. By the time we hit the downhill it was blowing me sideways at times and then we had 10kms of flat straight grind into a 30km wind…. soldier on Sheila… with red dust blowing into my face.
We are now in a slightly larger town called Quorn (it has 4 old pubs) probably for 400 people and a great cafe they have done up where I’m currently enjoying sitting in a very large leather lounge, which is a treat after a bike saddle, with a hot chocolate so I can enjoy the ambience.
So our group of 200 riders is like moving a platoon every day. Lots of work for the 40 volunteers. They have to erect about 30 tents for the deluxe campers, set up table and chairs for meals, large heaters for the evening, mobile toilets and showers, bike wash, dish washing up stations with mobile gas hot water, drinking water filtration taps, bike mechanic, massage tables and that’s before you deal with all the logistics of meals. Bike Victoria put on week events with 4,000 riders and the US army has sent out personnel to work out how they do it with just volunteers.
So tomorrow is our longest day of 112 km. Winds are forecast to be straight into us so I hope they are wrong. I’m preparing myself for 6-7 hours of riding.
Best get washed up now for dinner.
QUORN – HAWKER 112 KMS (except via the B83 which is 66 kms)
112/2+10 = B83
Well the day did not go as planned.
The rain clouds that were threatening all yesterday started delivering their wares at dinner. Steady rain all night. The plan was for everyone to be up by 6.00am to get on the trails by 7.30 am for the long day ahead. So we climb out of wet tents and off to breakfast in the dark at 7.00 am. Everyone is contemplating the rain and bog, and at 7.15 Bike South Australia said it would not be possible to ride the off-road route. The damage to bikes would mean the mechanic would be trying to repair all 200 MTB’s and then we would probably be carrying our bikes for 112 kms not riding them. So decision was made to wait until 9.00am and hit the B83 highway for 66 kms from Quorn to Hawker.
At 9.00am it’s still raining steadily and everyone is on their phones checking weather radar. Start is delayed until 11.00am as it’s solid rain, strong winds and cold. Thank god for technology…10.45 we hit the highway. Straight North, as far as you can see is a snake of riders, in their Fluro rain jackets, the tail lights of the grey nomad caravans overtaking them and the silhouette of the Flinders Ranges is in the far distance, with the hope of clearing skies and better weather. The clearer weather didn’t eventuate. We sat in the saddle in spitting rain for 3 1/2 hours of riding, well short of what we should have been riding. For mountain bike riders, it is a real slow boring slog on a highway. 3 1/2 hours feels like 5. I’m checking the distance every 500m thinking when will it end. Anyway, we are now in Hawker which is the start of the Flinders Rangers. We decided to check into the local pub and dry out gear.
The weather looks far more promising tomorrow as they didn’t get as much rain up here so the intention is to get back on to the dirt trails and hopefully they won’t be too boggy. We still have a big day of 94 kms but the scenery is supposed to be fabulous. I suspect I will be tired tomorrow but it will be worth it.
HAWKER – RAWNSLEY PARK 94 KMS
Finally, the Flinders & fabulously fine!
Thank goodness, the rain cleared and we woke to a sunny morning with not enough rain to have any effect on the trail, and it was a perfect riding temperature.
It was straight into what you expect the real outback to look like. We followed red dirt tracks with the ranges running alongside us…great colour and texture with the morning sun on them. A sort of cross between Central Australia, Table Mountain in South Africa and the Rockies. We went through some cattle grazing stations which seemed very fitting for the terrain. There were lots of river beds with the most gorgeous, enormous gum trees that must be hundreds of year old. Clearly it floods, which is hard to imagine. As we crossed over the range I was really surprised to see the ranges covered in Conifer Pines (I think), they seem to find the harsh terrain perfectly adequate to grow in.
The 95 kms seemed to go so much faster than the 66km yesterday on the B83. It was 5 1/2 hours of pushing the peddles but I enjoyed it so much more.
We are now staying in a place called Rawnsley Park at the base of the range. It’s an old station that has transformed itself into an Eco tourist resort stuck in the middle of nowhere. From here on it all gets a whole lot easier. We have 2 days left to bike. Tomorrow is deliberately short, only 26 kms, as we get to a place called Wilpena Pound which is an iconic massive rock Amphitheatre. We will probably try and do a trek for a few hours to explore ….if I have the energy. Holding up well after today’s ride.
I’m not sure I will be able to send this as we are right in the outback now and only 1 Telstra bar showing.
The end is in sight…
RAWNSLEY PARK – WILPENA POUND 26 KMS
Workout on Wilpena
We woke to sunshine with some low fog below the range, quite pretty. It was a gorgeous ride this morning and we were all taking pictures of the ranges which are green half the way up and then red rock on the tops. They looked great in the morning sun with the blue sky. The trails were great to ride and we only had a measly 1 1/2 hours in the saddle so we were at the next camp which is Wilpena Pound by morning tea. The plan was to make camp, have lunch and then set off walking and climbing so we could have a look at the range that is a massive circle from up above. It was a decent workout clambering up the rocks, let alone getting down them. 2 1/2 hours return in fact and the legs and knees felt more tired than riding the bike. Anyway, it was worth it as we had spectacular 360 degree views. It was a little cloudy unfortunately so not picture perfect but well worth the effort. The best way to see this iconic landmark is by small plane, but it’s not cheap and all booked up anyway.
I had my last massage for the trip shortly after the walk, and that was just what I deserved!!! Tomorrow night will be the final one and I won’t be sorry not to have to sleep on a flat air mattress or use 2 chux to dry myself with after my shower.
Must hop for dinner now.
Hope to have some pictures to you in the next couple of days. This biking is busy work!!!
WILPENA POUND – BLINMAN 67 KMS
Fabulous Finale on the Outback Odyssey
So the sun is now setting on the outback ranges which is a fitting end to 2 weeks of riding to get to Blinman in the Southern Flinders Ranges.
Although it was only 71kms it was the most challenging of the riding we have done and much more suited to proper mountain bike riders… right up my alley!!! I would say that maybe 3/4 of the bikers are more smooth trail or road riders. (I believe the trail claimed a victim or 2 today on the rocky downhills with one person taken to hospital) Now that I’m sitting down with a plastic glass of wine, my legs feel the 5 1/2 hours of peddling we did today which is as long as it took us on the 95 kms a few days ago.
It was wonderful scenery and tracks, even though rocky at times, so worth a day of fairly taxing roller coaster riding, up and down. The gears sure got a work out. We started with blue skies, cold temperatures, and 2 ranges on either side of us, biking through conifer pine tree forests that were just low enough to see the top of the range, which somehow continue to look stunning doesn’t matter how much you see them. We rode through countless dry river beds with the massive Red River Gums and then had a punishing climb up the top of the range that delivered spectacular views back up the valley. Once we crossed over a range the vegetation changed to much lower shrubs and cattle grazing terrain with some great rock formations, including something they call The Great Wall of China. We had to hit the sealed road for the last 20 kms into Blinman which completes the 900km Mawson Trail in an old mining town.
A celebratory apple cider was my reward for hours of hard toil, but a wonderful journey from the city into the Australian outback.
So Mum, you have a rain check, as the oldest person on this trip was 80 but no excuse for the rest of you. I estimate if you took out the 20 youngest and 10 oldest the average would still be mid 60’s, a bloody impressive performance from them.
Now I think I have earned a comfortable bed and some very nice fairways to hit that little white ball on!!
Thanks for tuning into my blog. I couldn’t send this on the final night as we are too far away from reality.
Over and out from the outback
Note from Bike SA:
Many thanks to Sheila for sharing this blog piece. You can view the Outback Odyssey album, which features photographs from a number of participants here: https://flic.kr/s/aHsm1cGY5f
*Photographs used in this blog piece belong to Sheila McDowall, please do not reuse images without seeking permission.