The best way to know that you’re on a deep and remote adventure is when you’re 200km+ from the closest town and one of the few cars you see that day pulls over just to tell you you’re crazy…
It's June, 2020 and I should be on a 3-month back road mission across Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan however when Corona kicked in everything was flipped upside down. After laying low for a while I found myself looking local, within the borders of South Australia just buzzing to get out and about! With no work or reason to sit in Adelaide I did what I know best, packed up my bike and rode north with no where to be and no need to be home soon it was pure freedom.
I’ve always been drawn to the vast beauty of the Australian Outback and even after exploring the world by bike, the outback is still one of my favourite places to be, so I set fourth to ride to Innamincka, up the Flinders Ranges to Arkaroola and then across the 480km long Strzelecki Track and then back again.
Heading out there with Jimmy Ashby
The Commute to the Desert
To get into the South Australian Outback you have to do what I call the ‘commute’. It’s a 600- 900km cruise up the Flinders Ranges (pretty nice commute hey?), you have the Mawson Trail to follow or you can choose your own adventure... There’s just that much opportunity for dirt roads! I plotted a route that went off and on the Mawson Trail exploring roads that I hadn’t seen before, linking up new towns and going straight past my favourite bakeries!
Now, I’ve always loved and thrived when travelling by bike alone, but for a section of this commute I had one of my best friends join me - Michaela Mooney. She went from next to no riding to 5 days of 60-80km, with no trouble. Michaela brought a whole other aspect to cycle touring. She was someone to share the moments with and it meant I didn’t just have to talk to myself all the time, I could smile and bounce off her emotions too. Oh, and we stopped for every dog we saw to pat it.
With Michaela along for the ride we went through Clare & The Barossa valley, called in to see Rich & Kelly at Over the Edge bike store/café in Melrose before beginning what I think is the juicy bit of the Mawson Trail - Wilmington to Wilpena. It almost doesn’t feel like you’re in SA anymore, riding closer and closer to these rugged peaks in the distance. If you’re an avid bikepacker then riding this section has to be on your bucket list! After being in lockdown for weeks I was all about creating the biggest bang for my buck while out of Adelaide so when Michaela and I rolled into Wilpena Pound we stopped for a few days to join some more friends from Adelaide to spend some time rock climbing at the remote, exposed cliffs of Moonarie, on the edge of the Pound. (This is an optional extra for when you’re passing through!)
Into the Unknown
From Moonarie onwards I’d be back alone and into the unknown, apart from the 70km to Blinman it was all new roads for me. There’s a real sense of unease but excitement with that!
I’d recently finished reading a book called ‘Dune is a 4 letter Word’, all about the Spriggs family who travelled the deserts of Australia in the 1960’s and their incredible tales of desert adventure. They eventually settled down and created what is now known as Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary and that was one of the main reasons to go out towards Innamincka, because it was on the way! Arkaroola to me felt like a place of pure peace and calmness. It’s situated in the Northern Gammon Ranges and showcases terrain like no other. It’s also the home to the Yellow footed Rock Wallaby sanctuary so you’re almost guaranteed to come across one of these rare Wallabies at dawn or dusk.
Arkaroola is the gateway to the big stuff too; from the small village, if you’re going North it’s a long way to anything. I filled up with toasted sandwiches and peanut butter to take on the Strzelecki Desert. It would be 460km to Innamincka with no resupply points in between, so the slower I travelled the more I’d have to carry. I split the crossing into 2 days, 260km Day 1 and 200km on Day 2. This crossing began on the Mount Hopeless road before joining the Strzelecki Track. This road is far from hopeless! It’s actually become one of my favourite roads in SA! It follows the edge of the Northern Gammon Ranges all the way to where they end, meaning I’d essentially followed the entire Flinders Ranges from the Southern tip to the Northern tip. Definitely one of the highlights from my few weeks away. The next 300km along the Strzelecki Track was as desolate as it gets, crossing the Lake Eyre basin it was endless horizons pedaling over varying road conditions
I felt proper ‘Out There!’ Eventually I made my way into Innamincka and Coopers Creek. There isn’t much in Innamincka and I really had no reason to go there because with state borders still being closed I’d just have to turn around and retrace some of my steps. As I rolled into the single street town I stopped, looked around and just thought “Cool!” For me this ride wasn’t about getting to Innamincka or connecting points A & B, it was simply about being there, being present and doing what I love the most, riding my bike. Innamincka just happened to be about as far North as I could get.
Despite a bunch of truckies saying I could easily jump the gate and cross into Queensland I opted not to… I refuelled my water, peanut butter and sandwich supply and turned around to head back home. I was able to do a slightly different crossing of the Strzelecki Desert on my return, riding the 480km to Lyndhurst instead of back to Arkaroola. Again it was desolate, remote and beautiful. I left Innamincka in the afternoon and spent 2 nights in the desert, taking it a bit cruisier this time.
The road condition came and went, sometimes I passed a grader and had 10km of bliss and then sometimes it was deep corrugations for 100km. There’s no point in getting annoyed by the roads though, you’ve still got to ride them so you may as well do it with a smile hey? I left the dirt roads as I got to Lyndhurst and went straight through to Leigh Creek where I’d visit my first supermarket in 2 weeks... fresh produce, cold drinks and proper food... It had it all! After spending the night in Leigh Creek, having a shower and eating way too much food I saddled up again but didn’t realise I was about to ride the 600km non-stop back home…
That morning I had a thumper of a tail wind and if there’s one thing I’ve learnt it’s that you need to capitalise on favourable winds so I hardly put my foot down all day. When the sun set I still had a tail wind so I turned my lights on and thought to myself I’d ride until either I’m tired, bored or it rains. Before I’d realised, it was midnight and then 1am then 2am then 4am and I felt in such a solid mindset that I just didn’t want to stop.
I rode 26hrs straight through and made it home just in time to have a beer with Mum & Dad (they had a coffee) before they went off to work, the perfect way to end a few weeks in the desert.
Look around you
We don’t always need to look overseas to find an adventure, so often there’s hidden gems just waiting to be explored from our doorsteps.
|Groupset||SRAM Rival 2x|
|Wheels||CURVE Dirt Hoops 650B|
|Tyres||Continental Raceking 2.1"|
|Saddle||SQ Lab Saddle|
|Extras||Clip on Aero Bars|
|Frame Bags||Custom Treadlite Frame Bag
Apidura 17l Seat Bag
Skin Grows Back Feed Bags
Treadlite Top Tube Bag
|Clothing||Ground Effect Rivet
& Helter Skelter Rain Gear
Ground Effect Phantom Windproof Jacket
Patagonia Synthetic Down Jacket
Beanie & Buff
Ground Effect Shorts, Shirt, Gloves & Leg/Arm Warmers
2 X Ground Effect Top Thermals
|Sleeping||Outdoor Research Bivy
Sea To Summit Spark 2 Sleeping Bag
Sea To Summit Sleeping Mat
First Aid Kit
Garmin Etrex 32
12l Of Water In Bottles & Bladders
Kindle Fork & Bowl
Power Packs & Cables
2 X Front & Back Lights