Jodie Willet took part in the “Outback Epic” – an epic MTB race through the Flinders Ranges taking place in October this year. Here’s her story of last year’s event.
Me: I’m doing a 205k mountain bike race through the Flinders Ranges
(insert name here): Oh! How many days will you be racing?
Me: Umm, just one…one really long day.
That’s how most of my conversations went in the lead up to the Event Strategies Flinders MTB Epic in the remote reaches of South Australia. Grant it, it’s the longest one-day MTB race I’ve ever attempted but in my head is was going to be akin to a long Saturday training ride. Travelling with three other riders from SE Queensland added to the social-ride feel. As the race drew closer I began to get nervous though. Firstly, I started the week with dead-legs from a big training and racing block the previous week. It’s just a social race – no need to taper, right? Secondly, I actually started to read the rider information pack. It’s been a while since I did a race with a mandatory first aid kit and there seemed to be an emphasis on the remoteness and requirement to be self-sufficient, which I should have thought more about when ticking the ‘unsupported’ category box. Perhaps I had entered into this too lightly.
Race director, Malcolm Robertson, stated during the comprehensive pre-race briefing that this is not a race that will likely attract 1000-plus racers. This would be a niche event for riders looking for a true challenge. I think the event has the capacity to grow far beyond the 80 riders who attended this year though. As well as the 205k, there is a 100k and 64k which contains some of the best parts of the race. The starts of the latter two, are timed to coincide with the passing of the leading group of 205k riders so there are often people to ride with despite the vast distances. I rode straight into gun-time at the half-way mark and it certainly lifted the spirits. There was a certain air of distinction having a 205k plate and being acknowledged by the fresh starters as a hard-ass.
After extolling the virtues of Canadian single-track and Swiss mountains for the last few months this was something completely different. It finally dawned on me why international visitors come to the Australian outback. Living amongst all those peaks must get suffocating at times and I guess they yearn for what we have – wide open spaces. Flinders Ranges is every quintessential vision of the Aussie interior, right down to the numerous Emus roaming the roadside. Just the sheer vastness of it all was spectacular. Nine hours of riding on forest roads would have been an exercise in boredom, whereas here there was always a view to, what looked like, the edge of the earth. Being out there for most of the day also showed off the distinctive ranges in various light. And the colours are so vibrant, almost electric, with the red dirt, yellow grass, fluorescent green shrubs and cloudless blue sky. It’s confusing how such a harsh dry land can also be so beautiful. I felt like I was seeing my own country for the first time after years of travelling other lands.
While the 205k is definitely a challenge, it is achievable by anyone willing to prepare their nutrition and equipment and steel their resolve to finish. Lights are required at a certain point as riders have until 10.30pm to make the finish line. The elder statesman of our group, 69 years young, finished inside the time cut whilst managing to apparently bathe and sun himself at each water station and take plenty of photos. I was keener to get in and get it done and travelled with a camel back, bottle and all the food required. Deciding I’d rather have something solid in my stomach I tried some new non-gel race foods – I will not be eating chocolate brownies again for a LONG time.
The route is certainly not a technical one, however it is ‘as nature left it’ so there are obstacles such as sand, rocks and deep water ruts that have to be navigated. I would say the wind is perhaps the biggest technical factor as the first 50ks were subject to a howling gale that threaten the blow riders off their bikes. A crosswind had competitors riding their bikes tilted to one side just to stay upright. The highlight for scenery came at 185km cresting the Razorback and looking down the Bunyeroo Vallley. Well worth waiting for although the descent was over far too quickly.
Although the race is literally in the middle of nowhere, resort accommodation is available at the Wilpena Pound Resort. There is also a camping option, but I’m too old and soft for that. The pre-race meal at Rawnsley Station down the road was one of the best restaurant meals I have ever had (I did not know Kangaroo could be that tender!) so there is no reason to rough it while in the area.
Thanks to Event Strategies for a great race. We just need to get you to tell more people about it! Also to my sponsors: Liv Giant (Lust dual suspension was a good choice for 9 hours), For The Riders / NS Dynamics (flawless mechanical service), Shotz nutrition (zero cramping), Ride Mechanic (lube tested for 205k = happy drivetrain), Maxxis Tyres (puncture-free) and Oakley (no squinty eyes, can delay botox for a bit).
You can find more information on how to take part in the Outback Epic in October here.