Well, it was a weekend of extremes! Deb, Trailpig and I set off on Thursday afternoon to head up to the Flinders ranges to do a recce on the Flinders Ranges by Bike loop. This is a 200km trail that has been set up in partnership with landowners and the DEH to allow riders to complete a loop ride though various stunning sections of the Flinders, many of which are not normally open to riders or the public in general. In order for us to plan trips along the route there really was no option but for us to get up there and meet all the landowners, ride the trail and work out logistics. But with the trail closing during summer (December-March) we had to get up there before the end of November. And with an unprecedented heatwave occurring the week before we had already moved our dates back by a week. So, with the forecast looking OK for the weekend, we headed off up to Melrose for an overnight stop and to catch up with the guys at OTE sports.
Unfortunately, when we turned up the town was in the middle of “Catastrophic” fire danger, and it was still in the 40’s at 7pm. So, after putting the tents up, it was off to the Northstar for a bite to eat, a few cleansing Ales, and a chance to catch up with Rich from OTE. It was fair to say the whole town was on tenderhooks regarding the fire danger, and so when the lightening started over Mount Remarkable, striking the hill with it’s tinder-dry vegetation, there were a lot of worried faces. It didn’t get any better when the town siren went off, and a tide of cars disappeared off- luckily it was the CFS heading out, rather than a sign to abandon the town! However, sleeping that night was hard due to the heat, and also waiting for another siren to signal it was time to jump into the van and get out of town!
Luckily though, Melrose survived the night! However the lightening had managed to start 40 or so spot fires along the area from Wirabarra and Melrose, but luckily no fires got out of control, due to the hard work of the CFS that night.
So, after packing up, it was just a short 2 hour drive up to Rawnsley Park, and the start of the Flinders By Bike trail. Unfortunately it was still 36 degrees when we turned up, so Trailpig and I decided to skip the first 15km of dirt road, and start straight on the 4wd private trails leading to Sacred canyon. The riding was fast, and flat, and hot. And just in the first kilometer, we saw 5 kangaroos, 3 Emus, 2 Eagles and a handful of goats, how all seemed rather surprised to see anyone riding through their land!
After a quick 12km in 45 mins, we ended up at Sacred Canyon, and had a quick explore, before carrying on. The next two sections comprised of the only spots were we rode on ‘public’ dirt roads, but the views were still stunning, and the riding was easy. 16Km later we peeled off the Bunyeroo Valley road, and again started riding on park management trails closed to vehicles. The old blinman road gave us a good workout, with a steady climb, that brought us out near the Appealinna Ruins, where Deb was waiting with the van. Having run out of water 40 minutes earlier, I skulled a can of soft drink AND a litre of water straight down. Yes, it was still pretty warm!
Luckily it was just 8km to our stop for the day, Willow Springs. And the best bit was the final 3km were a fast, fun descent down a stunning firetrack to the property. All in all it was a good first day, with 55km covered. We were camping for the night, but did also check out their other accommodation, which would be very comfortable for our trips.
Of course, as luck would have it, the cool change then came in, and with it a little bit of rain. Or, to be precise, it started raining as we cooked dinner, and was still going at 10am the next day as we finished packing the van. But, of course, Piggy and I had no choice but to get on the bikes and ride the next 50km to Gum Creek. This section was the most isolated, and there was really nowhere along the route to meet the Van, so we just started riding.The rain had certainly settled in, and the trails were a lot wetter, and very boggy in places. I doubt we would ride a group through in those conditions, particularity the second section, which was through DEH land that is normally shut to riders. A couple of sections were totally flooded. However, much of the trail was still OK, and we made fast progress considering the conditions, finishing the 50km in just over 4 hours. I am sure this section would have been stunning too, if we could have seen the view though the mist and rain!
It was a welcome sight to see the van parked outside the Gum Creek shearers quarters, and to find Deb had managed to get us some shelter for the night. The shearer’s quarters is a rustic and comfortable spot, with a stunning outdoor area overlooking the creek, which was dry at the time.
So, after a quick shower, we thought we’d head off for a quick beer at the Parachilna pub, and so headed off along the Pranchilna gorge road. It was a bit muddy in places, but the van managed fine, but the weather was looking a bit grim, so we instead decided to return to Blinman via the Glass Gorge road. This trail was much less used, and some sections were very muddy and wet, and really did call for 4wd. It was as we approached a particularity boggy section that we saw a sedan bogged and stuck in the mud, blocking the road, so we couldn’t get through. Unfortunately as they were the other side of the mud we couldn’t offer to tow them out either, and the English couple were already pretty muddy, having spent the last 3 hours trying to get the car out. By this time it was 6pm and not one other car had come past, so they were worried they would be stuck all night. With no other option we had to turn around and retrace our route 30km back to Blinman to get help at the pub. The locals were great, and a couple of the guys headed up to try to drag them out, whilst we had a quick beer. However as the weather was still looking bad, we decided to then drive back to Gum Creek.
Luckily the roads and creek crossings were dry as we drove back, but within 5 minutes of getting back to Gum Creek the heavens opened, and absolutely torrential rain started for the next 40 minutes. Within 10 minutes the creek was flowing, and about 30mins later the water was 2m deep. The roads were totally blocked, and all we could do was sit on the porch, in the dry, sipping a beer, happy we had got home in time.
The next day it was still raining a bit in the morning, and we heard the locals had got to the English couple and managed to get their car out just before it started to rain. However, they then couldn’t get back to Blinman as the creeks all flooded, so spent a long few hours stuck waiting for the waters to retreat. It was a real eye-opener as to how quickly things can change in the outback.
However, with the rain subsiding, Trailpig and I headed off at 11am to check out the next part of the route. Luckily the trail was much drier today, as despite the amount of rain, the trails had drained well, and we made fast progress through more stunning scenery. The amazing thing about the route is that you seem to encounter a different environment and view every half hour. It really is stunning riding, and we had a great time blasting along the 25km to the Brachina gorge road. Deb was waiting with the van here, and as the weather was a bit drier she was keen to get a bit of riding in.
So, Piggy and Deb headed off along the next section of the trail, which by now was following the Mawson trail. After a fast 10km of relatively flat riding, we regrouped, for the 6km descent down Razorback road into Bunyeroo gorge. This is probably the most stunning spot of the whole trip, and we did have to stop for a few photos before they headed off up the trail to Wilpena, and I retraced my steps in the van.
By the time we got to Wilpena, it was 5pm and Piggy had already ridden 63k that day, but we decided it was worth tackling the final 22km back to Rawnsley Park to finish the route. The riding again was quite quick, and included the only section of sealed road, with a fast 7km cruise, before we again peeled off the road and onto the Rawnsley Park land. This last 8km was perhaps the most technical of the entire loop, and was a lot of fun. But we were glad to see camp site at Rawnsley at 6:30pm. By this time Piggy had ridden 85km, and I had managed 55km too.
So, in total we covered 185km in 3 days, just missing a small section of dirt roads. There is no doubt the trail is superb. Whilst the riding is not on ‘single-track’, most of the riding is on private pastoral 4wd trails, and is fast and fun. The views along the way are just amazing, and the accommodation along the route is great too. We came across so much native wildlife too, almost the entire way seeing Kangaroos, Emus and more. It really was quite amazing.
So, we are really excited about the prospect of running these trips along the entire route. The route will re-open in March 2010, and we will be running trips from then. But don’t worry, we will take 4 days to do the 200km loop, at a more leisurely pace!