farOut App Blog Mawson Trail Part 1

MAW Mawson Please!!

By Josiah Skeats World Cyclist

I learnt long ago that ‘easy’ is not the same as ‘best’. Around the world, it is on the most challenging, poorly-paved and lesser-travelled roads, normally in the mountains, that I have had the best experiences and met the most interesting people. So, as ready as I was to reach Adelaide, thus completing my crossing of the Outback, I couldn’t say ‘No’ to the Mawson Trail. It was woefully indirect at 900 kilometres-long and it wouldn’t be easy, but I’d seen a few photos of what lay ahead, and I just couldn’t resist.

In the small village of Blinman where the trail starts, I found myself kidnapped by four women and bustled into their holiday cottage. They had driven past me at the base of the climb earlier and taken bets on how long it would take me to reach the top. I was faster than they expected, which was perfect timing as they were just sitting down for lunch. I was invited in, and they listened rapt to my stories, keeping me fed all afternoon before insisting I stay the night in their holiday cottage. My start to the Mawson Trail had been delayed by a day but my theory that you meet more people on the smaller roads had already been supported.

The Mawson Trail is almost entirely off-road, and the first section is pretty unsuitable for a heavily-loaded bike like mine. The technical singletrack trail designed for mountain bikes was so narrow that the gaps between trees were sometimes too tight for my bike to squeeze through with its panniers still on. The trail dipped steeply in and out of dry, stony creek beds. I tried to carry my speed through and up the other side, but more often than not, it got too steep and loose, and I had to get off and push the bike. A few times it resulted in punctures as I slammed into sharp rocks.

After Blinman I was swallowed by mountains, which made a stark contrast to the outback. Previously the cycling had been like running on a treadmill; you could see the road and landmarks (if any) several hours before reaching it, and the horizon always evaded my grasp. Twists and turns in the road were a new phenomenon and I was captivated by the mystery of the road. Nothing motivates me to keep cycling like not knowing what I will discover around the next bend.

The Flinders Mountains, which the Mawson Trail navigates, are only 500 metres high, and can hardly be called ‘mountains’, but, they feel far wilder and extreme than their meagre stature would suggest. Most of the time I felt like a true explorer, miles from civilisation and with little evidence of other humans having been here. Whenever I encountered anyone else or came across a road I was startled to realise I was not the first person here. The humble Flinders Mountains gave me the same rush as riding among the Himalayan giants in Nepal, where the road seemed to perch at a dizzying height on the very edge of the world. This was the most fun I had had on a bike in a long time, and a smile never left my face.

Looking at a map, the Mawson Trail seems to mimic the indecisive trail an ant might take. This isn’t  out of necessity but to showcase everything the region has to offer. At one point, I was trying to get to the town of Hawker, only 20 kilometres away, but it would take 80 kilometres of zig-zag riding to get there. I skirted south around Wilpena Pound, before turning north to ride through the Elder Ranges, before turning south again. Thankfully it was a very beautiful 80 kilometres!

As quickly as the mountains had swallowed me up three days before, they spat me out onto a long, straight gravel road. I cycled away, constantly glancing back over my shoulder, wishing I was heading towards them. But it’s not up to me. The road leads the way, and I follow his path and see where it takes me. I began to wonder what else the Mawson had in store.

Mawson Trail Get it on your app store