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Keeping it 'Local' Desert Loop

30 June 2020

Words and Images Jimmy Ashby

The best way to know that you’re on a deep and remote adventure is when you’re 200km+ from the closest town and one of the few cars you see that day pulls over just to tell you that you’re crazy…

Right now I was actually meant to be on a 3 month backroad mission across Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, however when Corona kicked in everything was flipped upside down. After laying low for a while I found myself looking local, within the borders of South Australia, just buzzing to get out and about. With no work or reason to sit in Adelaide I did what I know best, packed up my bike and rode north - with no where to be and no need to be home soon. It was pure freedom.

Jimmy and (Curve) Kevin - adventure ready

I’ve always been drawn to the vast beauty of the Australian Outback and even after exploring the world by bike, the outback is still one of my favourite places to be. So I set forth to ride to Innamincka, up the Flinders Ranges to Arkaroola, across the 480km long Strzelecki Track and then back again.

Jimmy working on his selfie game

The commute to the desert

To access the South Australian Outback you have to 'commute' 600-900km up the Flinders Ranges (pretty nice commute hey?). You can follow the Mawson Trail or make up your own adventure - there’s just that much opportunity for dirt roads. I plotted a route that went 'off and on' the Mawson exploring roads that I hadn’t travelled before, linking up new towns and going directly past my favourite bakeries.

Not a bad 'commute'

Now, I’ve always loved and thrived biking alone but for a section of this commute one of my best friends Michaela Mooney joined me. She progressed from next-to-no riding to 5 days of 60-80km, with no trouble. Michaela brought a whole other aspect to cycle touring. She was someone to share the moments with. I wasn't compelled to talk to myself all the time. I could smile and bounce off her emotions too. Oh and we stopped to pat every dog we came across. We rode the Clare & Barossa Valleys, called in to see Rich & Kelly at Over the Edge bike store/café in Melrose and then begun what I think is the juicy bit of the Mawson Trail, Wilmington – Wilpena. It almost doesn’t feel like you’re in SA anymore, riding closer and closer to the distant rugged peaks. If you’re an avid bikepacker this section has to be on your list.

Michaela comes along for some much loved company

After being in lockdown for weeks it was all about creating the most 'bang for buck' while out of Adelaide so when Michaela and I rolled into Wilpena Pound we stopped for a few days and joined some other Adelaide friends to spend time rock climbing at the remote, exposed cliffs of Moonarie at the edge of the Pound.

Mixing up the bike adventure with a couple of days climbing at Wilpena Pound

Into the Unknown

From Moonarie onwards was alone again and heading into the unknown. Apart from the 70km to Blinman it was all new road for me. There’s a real sense of unease blended with excitement.

And it's just the company of Kevin again

I’d recently finished reading ‘Dune is a 4 Letter Word’, about the Spriggs family and their incredible tales of Australian desert adventures the 1960’s. They eventually settled down and created the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary. This was one of the main reasons to head out towards Innamincka. Arkaroola felt like a place of pure peace and calmness. It’s situated in the Northern Gammon Ranges and showcases terrain like no other. It’s also the home to the Yellow Footed Rock Wallaby sanctuary. You’re almost guaranteed to come across one of these rare wallabies at dawn or dusk.

Arkaroola is the gateway to the big stuff too. Travelling north from this small village it’s a long way to anywhere. I filled up with toasted sandwiches and peanut butter to take on the Strzelecki Desert. It would be 460km to Innamincka with no resupply points in between so the slower I travelled the more I’d have to carry. I split the crossing into 2 days. 260km Day 1 and 200km Day 2. The crossing began on the Mount Hopeless Road before joining the Strzelecki Track. It was anything but hopeless though and became one of my favourite routes in SA. It follows the edge of the Northern Gammon Ranges all the way to where they end. I’d followed the Flinders from the Southern tip to the Northern tip, definitely one of the highlights from my few weeks away. The next 300km along the Strzelecki Track was desolate. Endless horizons and with varying road conditions greeted me as I crossed the Lake Eyre basin. I felt proper ‘out there’.

Endless horizons 

Eventually I made it to Innamincka and Coopers Creek. There isn’t much in Innamincka. I had no compelling reason to go there. With state borders closed I’d just had to turn around and retrace some of my steps. As I rolled into the single street town I stopped, looked around and thought “Cool.” For me this ride wasn’t about getting to Innamincka or connecting points A & B, it was simply about being there, being present and doing what I love the most - riding my bike. Innamincka just happened to be about as far North as I could get.

The northern tip of the trip 

Turning Around

Despite a bunch of truckies saying I could easily jump the gate and cross into Queensland I opted not to. I refuelled my water, peanut butter and sandwich supply and turned for home. I managed a variation on my crossing of the Strzelecki Desert, riding the 480km to Lyndhurst instead of back to Arkaroola. Again it was desolate, remote and beautiful. I left Innamincka in the afternoon and spent 2 nights in the desert, taking it a bit cruiser this time. The road condition came and went. Sometimes I passed a grader and had 10km of bliss and sometimes it was deep corrugations for 100km, but there’s no point in getting annoyed by the roads. You've still got to ride them, so you may as well do it with a smile hey?

The cruise home 

I left the dirt roads at Lyndhurst and went straight to Leigh Creek where I visited my first supermarket in 2 weeks... fresh produce, cold drinks and proper food. It had it all!

Gobbling up stretches of tarmac

After spending the night in Leigh Creek, taking a shower and eating way too much food I saddled up again - without realising I was about to ride 600 non-stop km back home. That morning I was blessed with a thumper tailwind. If there’s one thing I’ve learnt it’s that you need to capitalise on favourable winds, so I hardly put my foot down for the full day.

As the sun set I still had the tailwind so I switched on my lights and thought to myself I’d ride until either I’m tired, bored or it rains. Before I’d realised, it was midnight and then 1am then 2am then 4am and I felt in such a solid mindset that I just didn’t want to stop. I rode 26hrs straight through and made it home in time to have a beer with Mum & Dad (actually they had coffee) before they went off to work. The perfect way to end a few weeks in the desert.

We don’t always need to look overseas to find an adventure, so often there’s hidden gems just waiting to be explored from out doorsteps.

Paper maps

Click here to see Jimmy's Desert Adventure route in detail.