Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Thank You Bike South Australia

I've admired galahs gathered in a field at dusk - in their grey and pink gorgeousness. I've marvelled at a sun-dried snakeskin left in the grass exactly where the snake grew out of it. I have cycled in the early morning sunshine through an avenue lined with hundreds of glistening spiderwebs, each one a work of art and as unique as a fingerprint. I've borne witness to the heartbreak a physically harsh place like this can bring to farming families who have simply walked out of their homes and businesses. I've seen the kind of beauty in those big skies and open spaces no photo can really capture. I have listened to the most sincere, warm, heart-felt, proud - and yet notable for its word economy - welcome speech ever delivered by a cow cockie to a group of total strangers visiting his small town. (Yeah... welcome... how you goin' Orrright? Good.) I've warmed my hands over a roaring log fire while gazing up at the stars scattered like bright jewels on black velvet. I've met experts who have willingly and generously shared their knowledge of this region. I have experienced the rollercoaster of pain and releif, hot and cold, anxiety and peace of mind. And most of all I have had a lot of laughs.  Now I can look at my map of the Lofty Ranges, the Barossa Valley, the Clare Valley, the Flinders Range - and in my mind's eye run my finger along that ridge. From Adelaide into the bush straight towards the outback. Like running a finger along the rippled crust of a pie, I can now trace my journey on the map, feel it immediately take on three dimensions, and remember so many - too many to describe - special moments. What an adventure...!

Back to New Zealand

My flight arrived 45 minutes ahead of schedule due to a brisk tail wind - the same one responsible for the chill factor that kept us cold the whole time in South Australia - coming from the sou-west. Like a horse that knows its on its way home, the trip back happened all in a rush. This comes as a reality shock. Spent the day working out how to pick up the pieces of my business and social life sans diary after the smash and grab; no checkbooks, files and other important materials such as some recent drawings I had done for a client. That's life I guess. But suddenly I wish I was once again simply concentrating on the task of riding my bike from A to B for the hell of it, while someone else works out how I will be fed, sheltered, and where at the end of each challenging and eventful day.

Monday, 16 May 2011

Recovery In Adelaide

Glad we made the decision to take the shuttle bus back to Adelaide for the necessary rest, warmth, and some luxury. This was our only opprtunity to get transport back. Now or never situation. I tried to update the blog too, but the site has been off-line for a few days, plus access to internet cafes has been intermittent, the update remained overdue. Instead made a visit to the State Library. Read Mawson: A Life by P. Ayres. An excellent biography on the man after whom the trail has been named. In short, the Mawson Trail is named in dedication to one of Australia's most celebrated explorers.  Born in England in 1882, then moved to Australia at the age of two years with his family. Received an excellent education in Sydney where as a teenager one of his head masters, in 1898, made the prophetic remark "What shall I say of our Douglas as an acknowledged leader and organiser? This I will say: that if there be a corner of this planet still unexplored, Douglas Mawson will be the organiser and leader of an expedition to unveil its secrets." He became a qualified scientist specialising in Geography, Geology and Chemistry. A well respected man, and a natural leader. His fame as an explorer comes mainly from his Antarctic expeditions. Esp the expeditions of 1911 - 14 and 1929 - 31 which resulted in Australia claiming 40% of the 6th continent.  The sole survivor of a 300 mile trek, Mawson was a scientist of high stature, natural talent and - it seems - a man with providence on his side. These explorations were for British King and Country and to expand the Commonwealth. He was an Australian through and through -living in Adelaide most of his adult life from uni student days to his life as a married man with two daughters, until his death at the age of 76. He died in 1958 exactly 50 years to the day after setting out on his first explorations of Antarctica. Amazing!

Laura to Melrose.

Rained during the night. But tent dry enough. Sleeping bag still a bit damp from previous nights where it had been touching the sides of the tent and attracting dew. Cold as usual. 57 Ks ahead of us today - should be easy. This morning's ride took us almost immediately off the town's asphalt road into a mire of thick red loam that was EXACTLY the consistency of biscuit dough. My front wheel clogged, then the breaks filled up, then immediately the forks jammed sending my front wheel into a T-bone siezure. Lept off before falling off and walked to the side of the track getting taller by the minute as my shoes collected inches of puggy red dough underneath. Of course I immediately headed back to the asphalt. WHY am i making things so difficult for myself, I wondered. Cleats were useless as they were filled with muck, making them difficult to click into place - or worse - impossible to undo when I needed to take my feet out of them. Rode without using them for the rest of the day despite many attempts at digging the stuff out with sticks and sharp stones. This is where the Lofty Range meets the Flinders, and the marshalls were saying the trickiest bit is yet to come. Wheat fields rolled away in all directions in these valleys. Huge grain silos reminded us of where we were even when baz and I cheated and took a smooth road to the nearest town, Willoughby I think its called, to do a bit of gift shopping (and avoid the rough). Even though it rained, the mess in my brakes caused them to rub and the head wind kept our pace down a bit we felt like we were flying compared to what we had been doing for the past 8 days. We crested the last rise in the road to see the town nestled at the foot of Mount Remarkable - a dark and brooding presence. Mountain Bike trails on this forested mountain make this a mecca for enthusiasts but its the last thing I will be doing on our rest day here tomorrow. My main priority is to get rid of this chest infection, and the infection developing inside my l. elbow. Baz also is struggling with his chest cough. So we discuss our options while we have some. We are told we have to make a decision tonight to secure the last 2 seats in the van. A walk to the local bike shop introduces us to the latest in mountain bikes - light weight, sleek, efficient with soft ride seats, soft shocks on the front forks and the latest in tyre technology to avoid punctures. I do the cyclists version of "I'll show you mine if you show me yours" and receive the comment "you're doing it tough, girl. This bike weighs a ton". Well perhaps that was one more incremental shift towards reason, but discussions with a doctor on the ride convinced us we should take the bus out of here to R and R in Adelaide... Jan and everyone else in our group knows somethings up when we arrive for dinner in the hall, and I announce the decision to take a break from riding. They think we'll be resting for a day off the bikes, then resuming the ride after that. When I deliver the postscript there is a small silence. You could read a million shades of meaning into it. Some had a look of envy in their eyes. Others shock. You're giving up....? Now? When there's only 300 and something kilometers to go? (Precisely.)

Spalding to Laura

So many Aussie towns are named after women, and it seems impossible to find them. The towns, not the women.  As it happens, this ride is well attended both by men and women, but they are of the tougher variety than what I'm made of. I notice that many of them are lean, ultra-fit and sport skin-graft like patches on their thighs and calves where a spill has resulted in a severe case of gravel rash. Of the permanent variety. Not my idea of fun, really. But I'm here, enjoying the amazing scenery, and remind myself that I wouldn't be looking at any of this if we'd come by car. We are on a trail, very isolated from anywhere at times, and ever mindful of how easy it is to get lost. Today's ride was tricky in the sense that it was even easier than usual to get lost. The trail entered the forest and immediately there was confusion as to what bit belonged to the trail, and didn't. GPS once again saved us from possible disaster, and we could look up once in a while from the tricky terrain below our wheels and enjoy the scenery. Sun dappled eucalyptus trees to our left, sun bathed pasteres framed by the slender trunks of younger trees to our right. The wheat fields turned silver in places, with a tinge of blue as the breeze tilted them to one side, enabling them to reflect the perfect blue sky above. All this to the continual sound track of cawing crows and bickering magpies. We are still heading to the Flinders ranges which are darker and more sinsiter looking than the undulations of the lofty ranges we have been following till now. The countryside closes in a little more each time I look around me. For a brief moment the classic road cyclist indide me was indulged as we followed the asphalt for a few Ks. If road riding is a classic waltz then mountain biking is break dancing. And the analogy becomes more apt as I am reminded time and time again of the pain in my elbow from my fall. Lots to see but too nervous about getting lost so i don't stop to take photos. Moments are consigned to memory though. One particularly lively moment when a kangaroo hopped effortlessly over the fence, missed Baz by inches, bounded across the road without breaking stride, cleared the fence on our right and headed away at speed - biong biong... then watched us from a distance. Laura finally appeared from behind the trees. Tonight's dinner was another extravaganza of great food organised by the local community. we have been well treated and well fed every night so far. Ray recited a funny poem written by a local poet. Much laughter and fun - as usual - at the end of a good day's riding.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Tooralie to Spalding

Only 59 Ks today. Beautiful weather today, thank goodness. Woke up about 5 times in the night shivering from the cold, and so keen to soak up some sun, but this takes time with the temps so low every morning. 0 degrees when we got out of the tents, I was told.Chest cough is taking a turn for the worse for both of us. Easy riding though compared to other days. No wind, sun, a few challenging bits to keep it interesting, but mostly good terrain. Stopped to look at an abandoned homestead. So very sad. Someone's dreams lie in stone ruins. A drought, a plague or a flood who knows, but the decision was made to walk away from the farm. A couple of dead sheep dot the foreground as we apparoach the house, just to add further poignency to the picture. Pigeons and a barn own wheel out of the torn roof while we walk in the open front door. Lingered there for a while, and counted my blessings. The landscape became tame once again as we progressed towards our town for the night. Rolled into Spalding in time for lunch as it happened, a walk around the town then dinner in the town hall complete with cutlery, proper plates and serviettes. We could be turning soft!