Wirrabara, finally some trees

Burra, 6 November 2015

Finally the weather cleared, I’ve ‘done’ all the tourism I can find in Burra. Time to organise the ‘Next Bit’ and leave.

Shopping, packing, re-packing, organising and route-planning. Although the rain finally stopped the trails are likely to be moist, damp and water-logged in places. I’ll try the first bit of the Mawson north out of Burra and see how it goes.

Planning for an easy day, aiming for the Mokata Conservation Area barely 25 km north of Burra. Hopefully someplace with a tree, if not trees. Not a common sight amongst all the shorn-crop and pastureland which predominates here.

7 November 2015

25 km is hardly a demanding distance. I wake at 0600, take a shower, clear Room 2 in the Commercial Hotel, gently extract Dreamer and Ziflex from the beer storage room, cross the rather fetid courtyard with it’s dead chicken, five live roosters, what must be 100s if not 1000s of empties chaotically strewn around, through the hotel corridor and onto Commercial Street. One minute later I pull up outside Cook’O’Burra café where I aim for another superb breakfast, most notably consisting of eggs, bacon, toast and tomato, washed down by as close as I’m going to get to a genuine espresso, chased by a cappuccino without the cacao dusting.

They are busy Cook’O’Burra and my meal takes quite a time to arrive. But, hey!, that’s OK, I’ve but 25 km to go.

25 km later it is pretty clear that the Mawson has not fully recovered from its aseasonal drenching. All low areas are muddy pits chewed up by 4WD enthusiasts who’ve decided to test their skills. One section is more lake than track and I had to go around it on the road. Slow going at best, slippery in many places and downright challenging in other areas.

Panorama over Burra
Panorama over Burra
Burra receding into the distance
Burra receding into the distance
Seems there's still a bit of water on the Mawson
Seems there’s still a bit of water on the Mawson

But Hey!, 25 km is hardly a challenge.

The long incline up White Hill Road towards Mokata Conservation Area is fine for riding, if you don’t mind a 5% incline. It’s pretty warm too. Not a tree in sight. Am looking at the area’s highest topographic feature which if my ability to judge distances is not completely shot should be the hilly bit of Mokata Conservation Area. It is as barren as all the rest of the crop and pastureland which surrounds me.

Finally I arrive at the information boards of the Mokata Conservation Area which in proud friendly letters says “Mokata – naturally treeless”. It’s a conservation area for native grass. The stony nature of the ground prevented Farmer Joe from converting it into wheat or whatever.

Mokata treeless conservation area. No camping here
Mokata treeless conservation area. No camping here

Plan B. The town of Hallet.

Now the town of Hallet can be either another 65 km along some pretty hilly steep Mawson Trail. Or 20 km along Cattle Station Road, and others. Given the Mawson’s conditions I opted for the Cattle Station Road.

My view in panorama
My view in panorama
More track. More crops.
More track. More crops.
My route
My route

There’s not a lot too Hallet, and even less on a Sunday when the local shop is closed. There is however a pub called the Wilddog. I need somewhere to camp. As I enjoy a superb home-made iced-coffee followed by a delightfully chilled West End beer I find I can camp at the local cricket ground for 10$ per night.

8 November, Hallet Cricket Ground.

Both Dreamer and Ziflex are in the changing rooms as I seek why the Gears carbon-fibre belt on the bike is making a noise that it hasn’t made before. Santos, the company who put the bike together in the Netherlands reassures me it’s nothing and to use some Teflon spray. BMCR who serviced Dreamer in Adelaide think it may have to do with tension. They recommend I get in touch with Over The Edge Bike Shop in Melrose who have experience with belt drives.

Santos-Ziflex workshop in Hallet's cricket club clubhouse
Santos-Ziflex workshop in Hallet’s cricket club clubhouse

And try to re-secure the mudguard on Ziflex. Very handy to have such a space out of the sun and where should I drop some tiny screw or something, I’m not likely to lose it. All I need to do is share such space with about 4372 four-six centimetre long millipedes.

Other charming residents of Hallet’s cricket grounds are spiders. Notably the wolfman and the huntsman. I find the huntsman quite easily at night as their eyes glint like tiny diamonds in the leaf litter in my Led Lenser headlamp.

As I’m washing my hands in the toilets there’s something clogging up the sink, sticking up through the holes. I try extract it. I am successful. A large huntsman suddenly emerges. It’s getting quite a dunking so I let it climb on my hand to release on the floor where it leaves a wet trail as it wanders around.

There are no less than two in the toilet itself. One a good four centimetres long. I carefully check the toilet seat before I use it.

9 November 2015

Packing up this morning I find I shared Soulo with a small huntsman. Small I have defined as around 2 cm long body. Again I let it climb on my hand to release it.

As I pack my rear pannier, there, trying to look inconspicuous is a large (5 cm body) wolfspider. I manage to flick it out but it’s pretty keen to return and he/she and I do play a bit until it wanders the other way.

Loaded up I’m ready to leave. I put my helmet on. I feel something crawling inside my helmet. Seemed I shared Soulo with two small huntsman and I need to remove the second from my helmet.

My target is a modest 40-odd kilometres to Bundaleer Forest where I presume, from the word forest, that there should be some trees I can shelter and camp under.

There is a but to this. To ease my apprehensions and concerns about my ability to pull 25 litres of water, four days food supply and all the rest whilst riding in considerable heat, like >35C, and having to deal with gravel roads/tracks I am fully loaded to … 25 litres water – 5 litre hard containers, two 6 litre bladders plus the usual water bottles on the bike, four days food supply, it is going to be >35C and I’ve got gravel-a-plenty ahead of me.  I want to see how to pack such water, how the bike handles and how I handle it all.

The first 22 km are along the Jamestown-Hallet Road. Asphalt. Some long 4%. Some short 8%. Doable. Gear down and simply peddle away. Mind you it’s barely 0700 so hardly hot.

It's easy on the asphalt
It’s easy on the asphalt
After 4000 km through some pretty windy country, finally a wind farm
After 4000 km through some pretty windy country, finally a wind farm

The first 700 m gravel on the Tadpowie Road is 12 %. Tough, but doable. Red-lined it like three times, but nowadays I actually stop just before the redline. ‘t’was hot, standing in the full sun on the side of north facing (as in sun-facing) hill trying to collect my breath and bring my heartbeat back under control.

The next ten or more kilometres were downhill. On gravel, but Hey! what could go wrong … ?

Somewhere over there are trees. I hope.
Somewhere over there are trees. I hope.
My view. For days. Weeks. Pasture, paddock, crop ...
My view. For days. Weeks. Pasture, paddock, crop …

Ziflex could go wrong. More precisely Ziflex’s mudguard. Long been a pain and held onto the frame by plastic bottle tops, it finally gave up the ghost and vibrated lose and then, if that wasn’t loud and obnoxious enough, it went under the wheel bringing me to a rapid noisy grinding halt.

I try to re-fix it the best I can. Each time it vibrates loose and gives me a hard time.

Sooo … Ziflex is trying its damndest to screw up my long downhill, the first such long down hill since leaving Adelaide. After all Adelaide is on the coast and I am heading inland which must be mostly uphill.

Giving up I remove the mudguard. Since it’s already loose from the wheel arch I merely have to remove it from the axle. Done, I ride off.

Before I can come to a conclusion as to what the new noise is coming from the back end there’s an Almighty crash and the sound of metal grinding on gravel. And I watch Ziflex’s wheel bounce merrily down the road. I’d forgotten to refasten the quick release.

After I’d recovered the wheel I have no more Ziflex-wheel-mudguard problems. I do have a dust problem. Without the mudguard the wheel kicks up really fine dust which gets caught in the vortex right behind me and settles gently over all my rear panniers. And me. That answers the question of whether I really need the mudguard or not.

The Big Question … where the hell am I going to get a new mudguard, or fix the existing one? Perhaps Cyklorama can or already have sent me a new one? Big Questions I face today.

9 November, Bundaleer Forest Arboretum.

Finally, finally trees. Ok, a few hills too, but Oh Boy! is it nice to see trees again. Sure a few are plantation pines, hardly inspiring. A lot though are eucalypts and the like. Lovely.

Bundaleer Forest. FOREST. As in TREES. No camping mind you.
Bundaleer Forest. FOREST. As in TREES. No camping mind you.

Of course, being Australia, no camping is allowed. Oh No Sirree …

Not sure this is camping. Me trialing my new mozzy net. Worked great
Not sure this is camping. Me trialing my new mozzy net. Worked great

There are two MAJOR differences between the Munda Biddi of Western Australia and the Mawson Trail of South Australia. One is trees. The Biddi is almost exclusively through forest. Whilst riding the Biddi I longed for a view. The Mawson is only view. There are no trees. And the view is fucking boring after a while. The same endless view over rolling paddocks, pasture and crop lands.

The other major difference is that the planners and organisers of the Biddi realised that if you encourage people to spend weeks riding along a trail they will need somewhere to camp. Consequently there are camping places pretty much a day’s ride apart.

The Mawson organisers and planners have a different strategy. You are encouraged amid great fanfare and marketing to “travel through South Australia’s regional and remote rural areas”, according to http://www.southaustraliantrails.com/top_trails.asp?mawson. However it appears they want you do this in one long contiguous bit as there are no officially sanctioned Mawson campsites anywhere. Nowhere to camp! Remarkable. Yes you can, and I do, find campsites and caravan parks in towns along the way. Yes you can, and I do, simply camp and be damned with the ‘no camping’ obsession Australia has. I have to. It is a clear omission on behalf of the trail, the lack of designated campsite.

The Mawson trail so far, and at nearly 600 km that’s 2/3 of it, is boring. It’s just fucking boring. Some nice towns along the way, like Tanunda, Kapunda, Clare, Burra and so on. But the trail itself is boring, aside of the first bit out of Adelaide and now here in Bundaleer Forest.

10 November, enroute Wirrabara Forest via Laura

Where forest ends and crop, paddock, pasture begins.
Where forest ends and crop, paddock, pasture begins.

There I was bouncing down a not particularly bumpy track when all of a sudden there is a distinct ‘thump’. Stopping I realise my right rear pannier is lying in the middle of the track! Inspections reveals no identifiable reason why it decided to not continue with me. All clasps, hooks and fasteners are fine.

I seem to continue to have a series of problems regarding equipment unique only to me.
A message perhaps?

There story is told in the many ruins. Here an old school
The story is told in the many ruins. Here an old school
Where the Higgins first set up house.
Where the Higgins first set up house.
Another one
Another one

Laura turns up. A nice little town. I enjoy coffee, brunch and some shopping. The proprietoress of the café regales me with frightening tales of savage bushfires but 12 months previously. Truly alarming. It reminds me of my thoughts whilst in the arboretum last night, whilst walking over the endless leaf and branch litter. Tinder dry. Made to burn. Little wonder there’s total fire ban from the 1st of December to the 1st of April in most places, sometimes from the 1st of November.

I continue north aiming for the Wirrabara forest which was devastated by the same bush fires. I’m wondering what to expect.

Just out of town there’s a workshop: Denys Coopers Glass and Metalwork. The word ‘welding’ is also there. Why not, thinks I, and turn off the Mawson and make my way in.

Half an hour later I am the proud owner of a superbly repaired Ziflex mudguard. Love these guys, Bush Mechanics, Bush Doctors. As Denys says “You have to be a jack of all trades out here, to survive”.

Two large washers meticulously bent to conform to the mudguard’s shape spot welded on each side, held onto Ziflex’s wheel-arch by two custom made neoprene washes and secured by a spring washer. Brilliant. Excellent workmanship. The mudguard has never been more secure.

Denys The Genius as he spot-welds Ziflex's mudguard
Denys The Genius as he spot-welds Ziflex’s mudguard

If you’re riding the Mawson or otherwise in the neighbourhood and you need some help with all things metal, I strongly recommend giving Denys a call.

Denys and his workshop just outside Laura.
Denys and his workshop just outside Laura.

A good job to because as I make my way towards the Wirrabara Forest I return to the Good Old Bad Old Days of terrible/excellent trail riding. This time fully loaded and in 32 – 36C. It’s actually nice. The inclines are not too steep for too long and I have, in the words of some other rider, the technical riding skills to succeed at such trails.

The Mawson offering some challenges
The Mawson offering some challenges
And getting quite challenging in places
And getting quite challenging in places
Rocky inclines, broken trail ... back to the Good Old Bad Old Day ...
Rocky inclines, broken trail … back to the Good Old Bad Old Day …

Wirrabara Forest is beautiful, lots of great trees. I pay the permit to camp for a night and make my way to Ippinitchie Campsite, one of the few places open following the fires. Seems they were further to the west leaving the campsite alone.

Where cropland meets Wirrabara Forest
Where cropland meets Wirrabara Forest
Kute As! Not seen one yet, but am hopeful
Kute As! Not seen one yet, but am hopeful

It’s a large campsite, clearly designed for a lot of people. I am alone here. Well, not quite. Since the rains of days not too long past the river is still flowing. There are a lot of still pools and isolated puddles. There are a lot of mosquitoes. I have resorted to using chemical repellent.

Tomorrow, Melrose where I hope Over The Edge Bike Shop will help me resolve the noise from the belt on Dreamer.

My latest equipment failure. Topeak's handlebar bag can't take the bouncing
My latest equipment failure. Topeak’s handlebar bag can’t take the bouncing


Ippinitchie Campsite, 11 November 2015

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