Adelaide to Burra a 230 km odyssey

Adelaide to Burra, via Tanunda, Kapunda and Clare.

It took three hours for all my preparation carefully laid down in Adelaide to come unstuck. Two of those hours were spent crossing Adelaide. Hour three was the beginning of the Mawson Trail.

The beginning of the Mawson Trail
The beginning of the Mawson Trail

The Torres in flow
The Torres in flow
Where the Mawson decides to get serious. The 'No Thru Road' kinda says it all.
Where the Mawson decides to get serious. The ‘No Thru Road’ kinda says it all.

The Mawson Trail is for South Australia what the Munda Biddi is for Western Australia. 900 km of trail heading north from Adelaide ending in Blinman. Well into the Outback. Good starting place for information is http://www.southaustraliantrails.com/top_trails.asp?mawson

Ziflex simply couldn’t deal with the terrain and suffered significant damage and deformation where the trailer attaches to the bike, the coupling arms.

One of the important things I had done in Adelaide was to have the cantilever arms strengthened where they attach to the downtube which allows the trailer to articulate independent of the bike,  since that’s what failed crossing the Nullarbor.

Consequently the strain went looking for something else to work on and found it in the coupling arms. 10 km in 6 hours as I spent hours trying to fix it, then nursing the outfit along the trails. Considering Ziflex is essential to surviving the north I really need to have faith and trust and confidence in it. At the moment I don’t. And that’s a spooky feeling.

Cyklorama have come up with an all steel front end which they’ll send to Quorn just before the Flinders Ranges where things get serious. As in Outback Australia serious and where I may well need to double the load on Ziflex. Ziflex simply must perform then and not fail.

I really appreciate the effort Cyklorama are putting into keeping me and (their) Ziflex going. At the end of this trip the eponymous BoB Yak is going to have some serious competition.

It was just a bit soul-destroying though, three hours into The Next Bit.

Having spent nearly eight hours to do some 30 km I called it a day, I chose some random forest track, rode down it till I found someplace where the howling gale was not quite so howling set up camp made dinner and collapsed about 1900.

Kute Koala hanging around
Kute Koala hanging around

The shooting started 1930. Just over the hill. I kid you not, The Shooting. Err … Australia is not a gun-culture country and random blasting aways at night don’t really occur. But occur they now. Went on for half an hour or so. After convincing myself I was in no danger I settled back in my sleeping bag.

I thought it was a remote campsite but shootings and drive-bys at night proved me wrong
I thought it was a remote campsite but shootings and drive-bys at night proved me wrong

Half an hour later a roar aroused me, a roar that did not go away and in fact was increasing in intensity. Undeniably it is the sound of a large machine and one that is getting closer. I stick my head outside the tent just in time to see two huge Emergency Rescue Vehicles hurtle past what I thought was a quite lonely randomly chosen campsite.

Great introduction to the start of my next adventure in Oz.

Starkey Paddock, a wonderful chill-out spot
Starkey Paddock, a wonderful chill-out spot
The (hilly) views are great
The (hilly) views are great
Deep in the forest, albeit an alien-pine plantation forest
Deep in the forest, albeit an alien-pine plantation forest

The Mawson Trail so far is nothing as bad as the Munda Biddi, but it is still tough. There I am on a very steep hill, at least 20% if not more and I cannot even push the bike up the hill coz I just can’t get traction. I have to unhitch the trailer, push that up the hill, the return and ride/push the bike. For some reason I took this personal. That I am not good enough, that I can’t do it. Which is quite different from the Biddi where I buried deeper into my resolve and fought back against the impossible incline, the ball-bearing pea-gravel, and the heavily eroded track. In short, I’ve lost my MoJo.

Note Ziflex has already been pushed up the hill. Not possible to push both Dreamer AND Ziflex combined
Note Ziflex has already been pushed up the hill. Not possible to push both Dreamer AND Ziflex combined
Quite dramatic terrain
Quite dramatic terrain

I lost my MoJo on the Biddi too, but somehow it returned. I need to find it again.

Personally I think if I get a good couple of days riding, getting out of the rural-semi-rural area I’m in now and back into the bush will do me a world of good. I need some solitude to offset the constant sense of alienation I feel being surrounded by Good People with their partners, kids, cars & caravans, homes, businesses, lifestyles and so on. In short … society. It’s weird interacting with but ultimately not being part of this society. Avoidance therefore becomes my best means of dealing with it.

Pretty views
Pretty views
Galah checking me out
Galah checking me out
It's a great track, albeit steep and tough in places
It’s a great track, albeit steep and tough in places
Barossa views panorama
Barossa views panorama
Views towards the Barossa
Views towards the Barossa

It is, truly, all in my head. Nothing wrong or bad about this society, only it’s got to me for some reason. I truly hope in a few days it’ll all bleed out and I regain a sense of balance. And find my MoJo, of course.

Vineyards and views
Vineyards and views
Jacobs Creek created viewing platforms for us who brave the trail and make to their Steingarten vineyards
Jacobs Creek created viewing platforms for us who brave the trail and make it to their Steingarten vineyards
Another pretty panorama
Another pretty panorama

I am nervous and a little bit afraid. And I’m not really sure why. I think Australia’s reputation for heat has me spooked and I’m concerned whether I’m really up to this. I don’t really have a clue what to expect. Cycling, being a slow means of transport, allows me to gradually get into to some place. It’s not like getting on a plane in one climate and getting out in another. Not even a train or air conditioned car. A car can easily do 700 km in a day. On average that would take me 10 days. So I’m not really sure what has me spooked, just that I feel spooked. Personally I think it’s all in my head and as I bit by bit make my way into the deserts I’ll just get used to it and work out a way to deal with it.

It's not all vineyards in the Barossa
It’s not all vineyards in the Barossa
Farmland panorama
Farmland panorama

I get up pretty early, generally before 0600 and are aiming for an 0500 wake up and an 0600 start. That gives me a good six or seven hours before the mega-heat arrives. I’ve got equipment to set up a shelter, assuming no shady tree exists, so I can sit out the really high afternoon heat, then continue in the early evening.

Lovely gardens line the main street of Tanunda
Lovely gardens line the main street of Tanunda

Another thing is I’m a bit worn down by the whole social contract aspect of interacting continuously with strangers. Nice strangers are nice, but some are not so nice. Like the tour guide in the Barossa/Tanunda with Barossa House Tours –   http://www.barossahouse.com.au/. Lee seemed to want to manipulate the group to comply with his agenda during lunch, as in hurry us all up. Failing that he accused me of manipulating the group for some diabolical goal. Astounding and utterly ridiculous, yet there I was being accused of something bad. Fortunately the entire rest of the group rallied in my support, which was wonderful and cool, and Lee had to back down and eventually apologise. Where’d that come from, I have no idea. It reminded me of the caravan park manager in Ceduna who chased me around the park accusing me of being rude to her and threatening me with eviction whilst I desperately kept my mouth shut and tried to be as small and as inconspicuous as possible. Strange experiences.

The tour group
The tour group
Chateau Tanunda. Derelict and earmarked for demolition 15 years ago
Chateau Tanunda. Derelict and earmarked for demolition 15 years ago
Chateau Tanunda, rear side
Chateau Tanunda, rear side
Chateau Tanunda fore-side
Chateau Tanunda fore-side

Every day, if there are people in my day, I run through a new social context. Every day.

The exception is when there are no people. Like for the ride from Adelaide to Tanunda. Alone for three days. Was wonderful.

The same questions, the same biases, the same sense that I am an alien. The vast majority of this ‘alienation’ is purely benign and meant in the best possible way. People are genuinely curious about me and what I’m doing. But they simply cannot grasp the whole ‘bike’ thing so I not only get The Questions: where are you from, where are you going, how long have you been, how many kilometres per day, and so on. I get their take on it: “Are you mad?” “You godda be mad!” The best being “Goldfish in a bowl” by which the roadhouse manager meant a ‘twit’ for touring by bike.

Ultimately it wears me down. It is easier to not deal with the questions and their bias.

I know there is an element of unfair about how it affects me. People are being nice and curious. It’s just a bit wearisome answering the same questions and dealing with the same bias again and again and again. As I got in the tour-car in Tanunda and met everyone, within 12 seconds and in fact the very first thing anyone asked me was … “Where are you from?” I resorted to my avoidance strategy … “Many Places” in some faux accent which stymied everyone and cut off the rest of the questions.

0100 one night in Tanunda caravan park I am awoken from my slumber by a strange and feral noise.  I contemplate this noise as I rise towards wakefulness. Yup, I am not dreaming. Outside, somewhere, there really is something making a noise like a man clearing the upper part of his throat through pursed lips. It does not go away. Curious, awake, I go check it out.

In the tree which provides afternoon shade is a possum. Looking at me. Two, maybe three metres away, making a noise one would not immediately associate with an animal barely larger than a cat.

Along the Mawson before reaching Tanunda, as I was riding a large kangaroo suddenly and rather casually boings out from the tree under which it was resting. Huge, it leisurely bounds just in front of me and disappears into the bush.

Early the next morning as I’m riding along a crashing noise turns out to be a koala rushing as only a koala cannot do along the ground before literally hoping up a tree. Had I wanted to I could easily have caught it. Instead she studied me from her tree as I studied her.

Having descended out of the Lofty ranges and approaching Tanunda I’m hot and tired from the steep inclines, the red-lining, the effort. Nearly three weeks of laze has deeply eroded my cycling capabilities. I cross Gomersal Road. Gomersal Road is asphalt and offers an easy short cut to Tanunda. Facing a steep incline in a couple of hundred meters I stop under a shady tree and consider whether I should continue along the Mawson or take the easy route. I look back at Gomersal to see a wall of traffic trundle along: cars, 4WDs, vans, caravans, motorcycles, large trucks, road-trains going in both directions. I look back along the gravel road and see nothing. I chose the gravel and the grunt. Far better. Maybe getting my MoJo back or just being stubborn.

A good bit of the Mawson
A good bit of the Mawson, free of traffic

Tanunda gives way to Kapunda, Australia’s oldest mining town (copper) and base of Sir Sidney Kidman, Australia’s legendary pastoralist. Nice place, far quieter than bustling Tanunda. Desperate to prove to myself I’m still in for this Epic and worried that I’m barely managing 30 to 40 kilometres per day I skip Riverton and ride 75 km to Clare, another premium wine district famous for its Rieslings.

Classic Oz car awaiting some nouveau-TLC
Classic Oz car awaiting some nouveau-TLC
Pretty green
Pretty green
Vineyard pano
Vineyard pano

In Auburn, but 25 km from Clare, I randomly pick a café for some refreshments. Sitting at a table are two people. My mind is trying to fathom what my eyes tell me I am seeing. There is but one conclusion: the fact that the smiley feminine face of one and the bushy face of the other are dead-set doppelgangers of Jenny and Will from the Eyre Peninsular is because they are Jen and Will. Amazing coincidence. T’was brill to catch up with them both and enjoy lunch (me) and a beer.

How a 17 % climb looks from the top
How a 17 % climb looks from the top
Top of a 17% climb
Top of a 17% climb
The Mawson in an excellent mood, following a railway line into Auburn
The Mawson in an excellent mood, following a railway line into Auburn

An Extreme Weather Warning has been issued and I ponder how to approach this as I consider how and where to camp in Clare’s caravan park. I park Soulo under some giant eucalypts and set up the tarpaulin over the top as an additional cover. To do so I borrow a couple of pegs off Josh and Tracy, a young couple camped near me. A guy comes over and shows me the weather radar on his Samsung. He’s concerned that I’m in such a flimsy tent under giant eucalypts which are sometimes referred to as ‘widow-makers’. Oh Boy, what to do? The trees are pretty well trimmed and I decide to risk it.

Soulo & Tarp awaiting the Extreme Weather event. I could comfortably watch it from inside the tent, snug and dry
Soulo & Tarp awaiting the Extreme Weather event. I could comfortably watch it from inside the tent, snug and dry

We can hear the thunder well before the ominous dark clouds obscure the sky. Late in the evening I’m able to enjoy a spectacular lightning show from the comfort of Soulo with the fly open as the tarpaulin shelters me brilliantly. The winds are not as strong as feared but the rain comes on down remorselessly. Very spectacular.

The next day as I’m drying everything out the caravan park manager comes to check on me, which was nice of him. All be it several hours too late if something was amiss.

During a brief shopping stop in Clare as I ride for Burra the heavens open again and in true Aussie fashion the tap is turned off and the sun comes out. There is no way to ride the Mawson after such rains, so as I’m slowly making my up the asphalt inclines over the North Lofty Ranges towards Burra I am sweating like hell in the sun, the heat and the humidity.

Heading towards Burra
Heading towards Burra
Farmland panorama
Farmland panorama

I also have a tail wind and fair race along towards Burra on the plains east of the Ranges.

There, waaay over to the north and the east are them ominous dark clouds. There is near continuous thunder and brief flashes of lightning can be seen. Burra is to the north and the east and I wonder if I’m gonna make it before those clouds get me or not.

Five kilometres from Burra it is clear I am not going to make it. Decision time. There is nowhere to avoid the rain, no shelter, no trees. I could put on my Arc’teryx Beta LT jacket, a hardcore wilderness-extremo jacket. It will undoubtedly save me from getting wet from the rain but I’d be soaked non-the-less. I reflect: it is warm; it is humid; I am pedalling like mad and are well warmed-up; I have less than 5 km to shelter; I am on a lightly trafficked asphalt road.

Fuck it! I am going to take this on … and I do not pause, do not seek shelter, do not put on wet weather gear and it hammers me.

The one alarming moment is when climbing a hill, the rain hammering down, lightning is splitting the sky ceaselessly instantly followed by thunder all around me. I think: Gonna be a bit embarrassing to have my Epic ended by being blasted by lightning …

The heavy rain becomes hail.

I am not only having a thunderously refreshing shower whilst I ride. I am also have a massage. Fortunately the hail is less than 10 mm and so not painful and my helmet with its sun-protection set up protects my head and neck.

A handful of what was giving me a massage as I rode the last 5 km into Burra. Excellent experience
A handful of what was giving me a massage as I rode the last 5 km into Burra. Excellent experience
Soaked Max with hail
Soaked Max with hail

It was exhilarating. Traffic stopped due to aqua-plane risk and poor visibility but I kept going, somewhat more cautiously of course, coz there was no shelter and I’d chill-down instantly.

Burra appeared as a white-marbles-bedecked misty surreal vision. Hail and blossom strewn every where, water rushing in sheets across the road, mist rising from the warm ground, every, as in E V E R Y building had water pouring through their roofs, flooding them. The little curio shop has steady downpours inside through the light fittings. The proprietor laments “There’s nothing I can do” and it is clear there is nothing she can do.

The roads were covered in hail
The roads were covered in hail
As were the cars
As were the cars
Burra was a bit surreal with the hail everywhere and the mist rising
Burra was a bit surreal with the hail everywhere and the mist rising
More hail and mist moods
More hail and mist moods

Gilly of the Commercial Hotel sends me immediately upstairs for a warming shower, bureaucracy and check-in can wait. Dreamer and Ziflex end up in the beer/drinks storage room. The Burra Hotel closed its doors due to water damage, as did the supermarket.

Dreamer & Ziflex in a very good place
Dreamer & Ziflex in a very good place
Indeed, Iced Coffee
Indeed, Iced Coffee
Water collecting in my shoes AFTER I've taken them off and placed them to dry
Water collecting in my shoes AFTER I’ve taken them off and placed them to dry

An incredible experience. Perhaps not quite once in a lifetime but non of the locals can every remember anything like it.

The police close the road just after I arrive. I understand why, the roads are sheets of water.

It still bugs me that cars have priority of pedestrians in urban areas
It still bugs me that cars have priority over pedestrians in urban areas

Burra is an old mining town some 160 years old. The town has done a wonderful job of capitalizing on the old mine workings and ruins with an excellent tour complete with comprehensive guide-book and information. Cute little place and somewhere to shelter from ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ weather.

Burra mine workings
Burra mine workings
Panorama over Burra
Panorama over Burra
Morphetts Engine House and Winding House
Morphetts Engine House and Winding House
The pit is now a training centre for commercial divers
The pit is now a training centre for commercial divers
Panorama from Morphetts Enginehouse
Panorama from Morphetts Enginehouse
The 'new' pit 1971-1981
The ‘new’ pit 1971-1981
A housing shortage saw miners make homes in the river banks. Until, of course, one of them extreme weather events proved the vulnerability of that strategy
A housing shortage saw miners make homes in the river banks. Until, of course, one of them extreme weather events proved the vulnerability of that strategy
Period house
Period house
They don't make grills like this anymore
They don’t make grills like this anymore
Classic fire engines
Classic fire engines
I always wanted to know how to be a blacksmith
I always wanted to know how to be a blacksmith
The old powder magazine
The old powder magazine
The pit is relatively new, from the 1980s
The pit is relatively new, from the 1980s
The old engine and pump house
The old engine and pump house
Burra mine panorama
Burra mine panorama

Tomorrow though the road North beckons …

Max

Burra 6 November 2015

3 thoughts on “Adelaide to Burra a 230 km odyssey

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