As I turn off the bitumen about 20km out of Blinman, it comes home that now it really is just me, my bike and what's in the trailer. There is no one else out here, no 4x4 coming down this track. I get my priorities in order and say out loud to myself "ok, Anthony. First priority, by quite some measure - do not crash..."
Way back in January or February this year, which seems like a lifetime ago. I was easily commuting 200km a week on my bike and riding gravel at the weekends. I decided I was going to ride the Mawson Trail - a 900km trail that starts in Blinman in the Flinders Ranges and winds its way back to my home town of Adelaide. I booked two weeks off work in September, almost certainly the best month for touring my part of the world. Then COVID hit, and along with many other things we took for granted my commute disappeared. Still lucky enough to be employed and able to work from home - I was still riding, forcing myself out of bed through winter to ride an hour most days before work. Sometime in mid July I thought I better start riding with the loaded trailer, I needed to get used to that as my 'new normal' (haven't we thrashed that phrase this year?). It was beginning to dawn on me that maybe riding the whole Mawson Trail was going to be too big an ask. Between being nearly all on dirt, the topography and carrying all my gear, means it is a very different challenge to normal riding. So I just decided to go, see how it went - what I was really seeking was something different and a sense of adventure - something I've found increasingly hard to find behind the wheel of a 4x4 lately.
Thumbs up if that sounds like a plan?
Now I nearly never post about gear, I think all outdoor activities industries are way too focussed on it (experience first, gear second, is how I think it should be. Too often it's portrayed as the other way round). However, it is fair to say I became pretty gear obsessed in the lead up to this adventure. When you have to consider temperatures from 0-35 deg C, you're solo and unsupported, with a finite amount of room and a finite amount of muscle to move whatever you take, you really focus on what you need, what you think you might need for X,Y & Z scenario, and most importantly what you are going to leave out.
I purposely didn't look at many other peoples experience on this trail, I wanted this to be my adventure, I didn't want to know what to expect. I've been doing these sorts of activities long enough I was confident I wouldn't die. I watched videos of guys going 'bikepacking' for one or two nights, carrying everything on the bike and eating in cafe's, or on an open fire. Then there were ultra athletes doing massive trans-continental record breaking rides - but not much in between. It should be noted I am no athlete, I'm no sack of ********, but I'm no athlete either.
Here are some shots from my (almost) final pack a couple of weekends before leaving.
All the clothes I would be taking. Some dedicated cycling gear, but also just good outdoor clothing. Plus some light 'running gear' to wear off the bike.
I was taking a backpack, mostly just emergency essentials or stuff I would need to access regularly went in here.
The majority of stuff would go in the bag for the BOB (Beast Of Burden) bike trailer. It might seem like a lot, but if you think I'm sleeping in a body bag and eating freeze dried foods, you probably don't know me very well I subscribe to this theory. (there were some things I took, that I didn't use and wouldn't take again, but I got it more right than wrong - which as this is really my first crack at this type of thing, I'm happy with that)
Unusually I left the bike set up to someone else. I had only been back into riding for a year and basically everything has changed since I could last call myself a rider, at that was all on mountain bikes. I knew what I wanted, I just didn't know what the best solutions for it were. So I just went to a local bike mechanic shop with a good reputation, told them what I wanted, and let them get on with it.
Hat-tip to Biomechanics Adelaide.
So onto my Giant Revolt 1 went, new tyres (Terravail), saddle (SQ Labs), crankset (SRAM Rival) - to be able to run a 33T front chainring, to give the 1x drivetrain suitable lower gearing for the terrain and pulling the trailer. Plus general maintenance and prep for the bike and trailer to try to ensure no major mechanical issues en route - 7P's and all that.
Where is Blinman?
So a couple of good mates, ran me up to Blinman on the Saturday.
A quick breakfast and they headed back home. Even on the bitumen the vastness of the landscape is not lost.
As I said, once you turn off the bitumen, it really focuses you on just how small you are in a very big and unforgiving landscape. Which of course is why you're here, that edgy feeling, right? The Mawson Trail uses a lot of 'Emergency Vehicles Only' tracks. The ones you wish you were allowed down in your 4x4. I quickly realised that being on a bike opens up parts of the country that are previously off limits (it also changes how most people react to you, as opposed to driving...). So I would be on trails I had never seen before, great. The safety net of someone else being along soon didn't exist on these trails, as it does mostly around Australia. Good.
Still no country for old men.
That first section of trail is a cracker. Majestic views, plenty of rocky climbs and fast descents - don't crash... and no one literally for miles around - don't crash...
Riverbed, South Australian style.
Touring set up, below.
So, off to a great start. Then it all started to go wrong.