farOut Blog Mawson Trail Part 3

MAW Mawson Please!!

By Josiah Skeats World Cyclist

I pedalled into Clare and immediately knew the discomfort of the outback was behind me. It was the beginning of the end of my Australia Crossing by bike. The Clare Valley is a famous wine region, and the injection of money and culture that wine had injected into the region was blatant. There were luxury campgrounds and hotels, boutique bakeries and independent cafes where I could splurge 3 days budget on a coffee and sausage roll. I spotted a different breed of tourists here. Gone were the hardy travellers of the outback, here were the civilised tourists enjoying the finer things in life.

I left Clare on a cycle path which had once been a rail line. It was narrow, away from the roads, and rolled over vineyard-covered hills on gentle gradients which made for easy cycling. Pleasant weather had enticed everyone outside; families pedalled along, people walked dogs, teenagers cruised along on their own bike adventures, and no-one seemed to notice me. I was cycling with ‘Budh’, a local cyclist, when a long brown stick suddenly lurched up from under my wheel and slid off into the grass. Not a stick. A snake.

“Could that kill you?”.

“Oh bloody oath, yeah” Budh scoffed. “Easily!”

It had been a King Brown Snake sunning itself on the path. Venomous and deadly, I was glad I hadn’t run it over or got it trapped in my wheel.

Leaving the crowds of the rail trail behind, the Mawson Trail weaved through a forest of gum trees, manoeuvring around the trees as if none had been cut down to make the road. The ground was brown and earthy, and reminded me of England. It was a pleasant change from the rusty reds of the Outback. A fence paralleled the road, which made it difficult to find a hidden camp spot, but I didn’t expect any cars to pass, so I set my tent on the verge just a few metres from the road. One car passed as I was having dinner, and then I heard nothing but the silence of the forest after that.

The next morning I had a steep climb up a rutted track, which forced me into lowest gear. I reached the top, breathing heavily and sweating in the mid-morning heat. At the top the view stole my breath away. I had last seen the sea 4,000km ago. And here it was again. The Southern Ocean. My grin broke into uncontrollable laughter, and a wave of euphoria surged down my back. “That’s the sea, and that’s where we’re going!” Had anyone seen me, they would have thought me mad. And maybe I was; after all, I had nearly crossed Australia on a pushbike!

I was so close to the end, which allowed me to suddenly realise how exhausted I was. Months of big distances, poor nutrition, nights in the tent. I had nothing left to give. My mind was already in Adelaide recovering. I had to walk the bike on anything that wasn’t downhill. Even flat paths, I pushed the bike, as to cycle seemed to require too much energy. At dusk, I collapsed from my bike, and I lay there for half an hour before managing to summon the energy to set up camp. I was too tired to eat, too tired to read any of the letters my family had posted to me. But at least, it was all downhill to Adelaide, the next day.

 It wasn’t all downhill the next day. The land fell away on either side of me, but the trail continued to climb impossibly high along a ridgeline. ‘Why wasn’t the path going down?’ I asked dejectedly. And then, there was nowhere else to climb and even my trail fell away too. It was a nice fire road through pine forest, and I flew downhill past kangaroos still snoozing. There was no sign saying ‘Finish’, no ‘Congratulations – You made it’, but the Mawson Trail Markers which had dotted every 1km, for the last 900km, simply disappeared.

I arrived in Adelaide, where I would stay with a friend. I didn’t plan on leaving my bed for the next 3 days, but before then, I made my way to the sea. I waded into the cool water, and stood still, savouring every wave which crashed into my weary legs. I had hoped someone would ask me where I had cycled from, so I could tell them I had cycled from Darwin. No-one asked, or paid me any attention. But I realised now that that didn’t matter. Standing there was reward enough.