farOut App Blog Mawson Trail Part 2

MAW Mawson Please!!

By Josiah Skeats World Cyclist

I had spent two months staring at endlessly straight roads in the unchanging Outback, but on the Mawson Trail things change fast.  In 4 days, the Mawson Trail had guided me from the desert to the mountains and then into farming country. The reds and golds of the desert were replaced by yellow fields of wheat. As I neared the coast, the land became fertile. There were regular towns now, which made food and water easier to find than it had been in months.

This section was a mental struggle as the indirect Mawson Trail swung east to Mount Bryan, a detour which added two days, and forced me to battle unrelenting headwinds. Both days I spent 8 hours pedalling against the wind, and ended up further from my destination than I had been that morning. I cursed the Mawson Trail; if only I left the trail, I could turn around and be carried by a sweet tailwind all the way to Adelaide. But still, I couldn’t bring myself to quit what I had started.

In Melrose I was getting my bike wheel serviced in the first bike shop I had seen in several thousands kilometres when a retired couple called Josie and Tony began talking to me. They lived in the town of Laura, 50km further, and immediately offered me to stay with them, promising me ‘a good feed’. I trusted them, so put my bags in their car, and enjoyed flying through the landscape unladen. I arrived to a cold beer, a soak in the hot tub, and a feast which Josie must have begun preparing as soon as she returned home. Tony was a retired train driver on the Oodnadatta Track, and he couldn’t believe I had just cycled out there. We stayed up late playing pool. I had said we couldn’t go to bed until I won a match, but at 7-0 my tiredness defeated me, and I gave up that dream.


Without the winds this would have been easy and uneventful cycling along flat and compact gravel roads. Occasionally a car would fly past kicking up a long tail of dust behind it, but mostly I was alone. Being alone was driving me crazy. Over the past months of cycling I had thought about everything it was possible to think about. I needed new stimulus. I needed to meet people. I needed to reach Adelaide.

 The next day, I slept on the outskirts of Hallett in the old town railway station which had been opened as free accommodation for passing hikers and bikers. The room was musty with the smell of history, the wooden bunkbeds were dusty, but I was sheltered from the flies and wind and rain, and after a day on the bike it felt like perfect luxury. I watched a film on my laptop, and sat at the old train conductor’s desk eating dinner and writing my diary by candlelight. The rain hammered against the corrugated roof, but I ignored it and slept well, for that was tomorrow’s problem.

Overnight, heavy rains had made the dirt roads impassable. My bike gathered sticky clay until it became completely clogged. Mud was stuck in the chain, derailleur and brakes. The mudguard was contorted out of shape, and the wheels couldn’t spin. My panniers were muddy, I was muddy, my bike was unusable, and I had no way of cleaning any of it. I used my finger to scrape as much mud away as possible. I dragged my bike, taking tiny shuffle steps, afraid of slipping over.

Rain continued to lash down, which made the road worse, and my situation felt ever more hopeless. My clothes were saturated and my face was dripping. I asked a farmer the way to the main road. I had thought it was just a few kilometres but my heart sank as he revealed 25 kilometres of dirt remained. It took all morning unhappily cycling and dragging my bike through dirt to reach the road, and the next town. I slumped on a picnic bench, looking like I’d cycled through a chocolate fountain and feeling sorry for myself.

A scruffy man approached, chuckled at how muddy I was and invited me to his house for a coffee and a shower. My saviour’s name was Tim. I thanked him profusely. When we arrived, his house was a scene of chaos. A notice on his door stated the bills hadn’t been paid and the power was disconnected. Two baby chicks clucked around in a saucepan and a dead cat lay in an esky (cool box). Apparently it had been hit by a car, but he was awaiting toxicology reports because he suspected his landlady had poisoned it. In the bathroom, things got stranger, straw lined the floor and bath tub, and two chickens were clucking around.

Looking back, it surprises even me that I didn’t run away. I’d like to say it was because, although I had concluded he was crazy, I thought he was probably harmless. But it was more the fact that I simply didn’t have the energy to go back into the rain, cycle further and find somewhere to camp. I could have gone to a hotel or campsite, but at the time, these options never even appeared to me. So, I went to the spare bedroom, propped a heavy wardrobe against the door, and slept cuddling all my valuable.

The next morning, I emerged to see Tim walking in with a chicken under each arm. ‘I’m chicken rustling again’ he beamed. He had been stealing chickens from his landlady for several days now as part of his ongoing feud. I could see from his face he hadn’t slept all night and was entering a new stage of mania. We sat down for a boiled egg and he said ‘y’know, it’s obvious that aliens exist… the Egyptians couldn’t have built the pyramids themselves’. It was too much for my still-awaking brain to contend with. He continued by suggesting that he was probably supernatural. Well, that I was inclined to agree with!

He invited me to stay another night, but I declined. He asked if he could cycle with me tomorrow. He would have come today but he had a court appearance. I took his mobile number and promised I would call him. I thanked him for his bizarre hospitality, and escaped as quickly as I could, feeling refreshed after a night in a bed. I never did get that shower though. 

The sun was out, and the dirt roads were hardening already. The landscape took me through beautiful rolling hills, and kangaroos scattered as I approached. I laughed to myself, and wondered if the day before had really happened, or if it was just a strange dream.