We’d been living in the city for a couple of years. Our last long cycle tour was in our new home state of Victoria (Australia) and it was fantastic, but we had a yearning for aridness and wide-open spaces – skies that were big enough to let our minds truly wander, like the skies we’d missed since leaving the Northern Territory. I’d read about the Mawson Trail – a 900km off-road route through the Adelaide Hills, Flinders Ranges and Barossa Valley – years earlier and it had seemed too rugged and rough, but since our first tour (Japan 2008), we’d been on some decent tours that had us on plenty of dirt and we handled it fine; it was great actually. Far less traffic and a heightened feeling of being ‘out there’. Maybe we could do it?
I already had a fancy expedition bike, based on a 26” steel mountain bike, and built another less fancy but equally robust one fit for the Trail. We then booked some leave and set about planning… What did we want from this trip? We wanted to feel like we had no cares in the world: freedom. We didn’t want to fly, and we didn’t want to have to worry about charging anything. On the Victorian tour, I took a film camera and a notebook to document things rather than a digital camera and laptop or a smartphone, and it was a revelation. Not being able to review the pictures made me much more selective of when I got the camera out, and it went away again as soon as the picture was taken. Handwriting in the journal forced me to structure sentences carefully, and I wasn’t looking at a screen before bed, nor worrying about its fading battery. And the results were great…
The only difference I made for this trip was taking a different camera. I’d managed to get my hands on a cheap but slightly broken Widelux F7 and was able to repair it. It’s a strange camera. It takes panoramic pictures using a rotating turret lens (but uses regular 35mm film), it doesn’t need batteries, and it’s not excessively large – perfect for capturing the landscapes we were heading to.
With a combination of trains, a car trip and a few days here and there, we were able to ride to and from our doorstep. Apart from bicycles, trains are clearly the best way to travel, eh. We planned it so that we would follow our maps North to South, rather than the other way around; it meant that it’d be easier to bail out if we couldn’t hack it or we wanted to stick around somewhere and not rush. It also meant we finished up in Adelaide, rather than Blinman with no reliable way of getting to Adelaide without days more riding.
"I took a Widelux F7 film camera...and it was a revelation. Not being able to review the pictures made me much more selective of when I got the camera out, and it went away again as soon as the picture was taken."
So what makes the ultimate bicycle tour? Adventure is important, but so is freedom and time for your brain to zen out. Even ritual is important I reckon – like setting up camp, cooking oats in the morning and brewing a coffee. The Mawson Trail gave us all of this. We never felt like we had to be anywhere, we just got up and went. We followed the official route, never having to plan a direction, and stopped when we were ready (apart from when we wanted to get to a remote gorge that is home to the endangered yellow-footed rock wallaby, which only comes out at dusk and dawn)…
The landscapes were phenomenal. Sometimes it was hard to take in in their grandeur, and sometimes they were so subtle and ancient that it’d be easy to dismiss them as boring; you probably would if you passed through them quicker than cycling pace, isolated from the elements, the smells and the sun. The Mawson Trail tour was everything we’d hoped for and hard to top.
Best trip ever!