Monday, 29 April 2013

The Mawson Wrap-up... Finally

"So are you Arran?"


"You'd be the bloke we're looking for then."

"I figure so..."

... and so my Mawson Mega Marathon attempt came to an end, on the side of a muddy road between Hallet and Burra.  Standing there surrounded by sodden gear wearing my very fancy undies (a present from Lisa who had returned form overseas the day before I left) and a woollen undershirt shirt (mmm merino).

But this is the end - what about the beginning?

So, when I first put up the facebook event and Blog there was initially a lot of interest but gradually as the time got closer, the list whittled down to 5 brave souls...





and although not a starter (this year)... our super volunteer driver - Stevo!

Oh and of course yours truly (sorry... compulsory selfie shot!)

A small crew but with Liam being the first home at the recent Great Dividing Trail ride and Jesse being rumoured to be even faster... the talk was of a sub 3 day run to Adelaide.  After all, it's pretty much flat... hah!  All were using this as a bit of a test run for Tour Divide with Jesse, Liam and I planning on heading over this year while Beth and Seb are aiming for 2014.  A small field but a quality one.

At this point, its time to mention my nominee for Mountain Biker of the year... Steve Partridge.  Blinman (the race start) is about a 7 hour drive from Adelaide so getting to the start is a bit of a mission... there's only one bus and up until a couple of weeks before the event it was looking like we were organising a charter and with 5 people that was going to be expensive!

Enter Stevo... he got in contact with me thought Facebook and basically offered to pick up the crew at the airport and then drive us to the start.  All we had to do was organise a bus... easy.  At the time he was planning on hitting up the awesome trails in Melrose on the way back but as it turned out he needed to be back for his daughters birthday....

So... he picked up a group of strangers from the airport... drove them to the middle of nowhere and helped us unpack and set up bikes... had a beer and something to eat then drove home again.  Amazing.  The MTB community often surprises me with its generosity but this was well as truly beyond the pale.  Next year Steve you better be on the start line!

After much bike faffing and a fitful nights sleep... (mosquitoes... a room for of MTB-ers who had been carb loading all day and well, Liam coming down with a cold)... it was soon time for the not-so-grand depart... well after the boys have completed their morning yoga routine!

Quick pre-race photo and we were off!

The route starts with a 20km ride along the main (ok... only...) road out of Blinman and at this point all those geared bikes just disappeared into the distance.  Oh well.  At least on the singlespeed you don;t feel the need to play racer boy games!

The first 180km of this ride is amazing - some of the most spectacular country I've ridden through and despite the lack of serious climbs there is certainly enough here to make me glad that I was running around about the 32:20 ratio!  I was sure glad of it during the raging headwinds that made the drag into Hawker (the 180km mark and dinner!) a bit of a test of the legs!

I ran into Beth at the local pub - I'd caught back up to her at Wilpena Pound only to have her ride past as a repaired a slashed sidewall then catch again as she repaired a flat on the way into Hawker!  She was coming in as I was attempting to eat my way through an over generous dinner order but after a little chat I was on my way and headed out into the dark.

I had a rough idea of riding until about 10pm or so which would give me a good 6 hours or so rest before heading out again the next morning.  As night fell the wind dropped down and I just rode on through the night.  The Supernova dynamo setup had proved flawless - my Garmin Edge 810 was fully charged and now it was dark even on the SS I was having no trouble maintaining a pretty steady pace well about the 14km/h required for the full 800 lumens.

The section from Hawker to Melrose... well... I've never actually seen it as both this time and at the Mawson Marathon I rode it in the dark but it feels pretty boring - all gravel road and no real hills to stretch the legs.  Just ticking it over in the dark and making the miles.  Actually I was feeling so good that 10pm crept up on me and it was a bit of an effort to break the rhythm and find somewhere to sleep!

A lack of trees saw me find a little spot amongst the salt bushes beside the road and as it was a clear night I just pulled out the Bivy (all 122g of Borah Bivy) and had a great nights sleep under the stars.  Awesome.

My alarm went off at 4:30 the next morning and I was on and on the road well before 5 - actually I was too early as the plan of getting something to eat in Quorn  turned out to be a bit of a fail as nothing was happening at 7am when I rolled in.  Oh well... I was prepared for that and rolled on to Wilmington where the need for bacon was satisfied!

After brekky I rolled on to Melrose and decided that I'd replace the rear tyre I'd slashed outside of Wilpena Pound.  As I pulled in to Over the Edge Sports I was amazed to be greeted with a hearty cheer - turns out they'd had the tracker running and knew I was about to roll in!  Quick tyre change and a pastry and I was on my way. 

At this point I made a slight error... I knew Laura was about 60km away and there was an IGA there  so rather than resupply at the small Melrose general store I decided to push on.  

Well... I got to Laura at about 3pm... to find the IGA closed at 2.  As did pretty much everything else (the races are on didn'tcha know?).

Oh well, I still had food and figured that I'd be able to get something at the roadhouse in Spalding - oh that is if it hadn't burnt down about 3 months ago :(  Hmm... the food supplies were getting low but I figured that I had plenty to get me through until 11 or so the next morning which when I figured I'd be hitting Burra (and I had the smaller town of Hallet to ride through where there might be something as well).

The ride from Melrose through Laura and on to Spalding is spectacular - you ride through some amazing trails through the Wirraba Forest and Bundaleer Forest reserves.  For a change this was off the  gravel roads and even off fire-trails and on to double track.  By now it was dark and although the dark robbed me of being able to get a good look at my surroundings, the thrill of riding through a deserted forest in the dark more than made up for it!  Although even for a Southern Brevet Gate Opening veteran like myself there was a lot of faffing about as the trail traverses a large number of property boundaries!

The last 10km into Spalding is along an old Water Race - this is a bit of an engineering feet and would be worth stoping to take a look at... well... if you're not in mile munching mode that is!

I rolled through Spalding and rolled on towards Hallet - at this point the wind had sprung up and as I would later discover, this section between Spalding and Burra was the hilliest of the route.

Eventually 10pm rolled on and I found myself bereft of good bivy spots and eventually stashed myself under the first reasonably sized tree I could find!

Not a bad second day, close to 270 covered and I was still feeling pretty good!  Once more the night looked fine and so I just hunkered down in my bivy to sleep.

Well, I got woken up at about 3am by howling winds and rain on my face (through the bivy bug netting).  My bivy is water resistant but I knew it might not hold up well to more of a downpour so grabbed my tent and pulled it over me and tried to get another hour in.

This was a pretty futile gesture as the wind made keeping the tent in place almost impossible.  As I was lying there deciding to what to do, I saw a light cutting through the gloom.  It was Beth catching me while I was sleeping!  Oh well... at this point there was no doubt... the WWSD rule was applied and I got up and packed in the rain.  Ripping my sleeping gear drybag in the process.  Oh and the rain was getting steadily worse.

By the time I got going I was a bit wet and cold - I was wearing all of the warm / wet weather gear that I had (woollen shirt, jersey, arm-warmers, wind vest and a rain jacket) but I felt pretty good and headed off into the rain and howling headwind.

So it turns out that all that red soil turns to glue once it gets more than a sprinkle on it!  More than once I ended up going sideways down a slope as both wheels simultaneously lost traction.  Not only that but I wasn't really moving fast enough to clear the mud from the tyres and was clogging up the rear triangle with the stuff.  Luckily the route switched between red soil tracks and decent road base gravel roads where the tyres would have a chance to clear.

Through this I was steadily following Beth's tracks and was pretty confident that I'd catch her and at least have some company.  Although at this point whilst I was cold, the number of hills meant that I was at least keeping a bit warm.  However I lost her track at some point and figured that she must have stopped at some point (I later found out that she'd found a sneaky verandah bivvy spot at an abandoned farmhouse - Jealous!).

I rolled into Hallet after about 2 hours in the slop... muddy, a bit tired but the legs felt good and although I got a bad case of the shivers when I stopped to get more water, while I was moving I felt ok.

So, at this point I made a dumb decision and headed out on the dirt road to Burra 80km away... ignoring the signs advising that it was a dry weather road.  I'll say it again.  Dumb.

I made it about 30km into this section until I hit a long section of clay which filled up my rear triangle and popped the belt off... this isn't a massive problem in an off itself but I did need to clear the belt.  TO do this I needed to use my water bottles.  However, the rain, howling wind, low ambient temperature (3'C) and lack of any cover combined with wet clothes sucked the heat out of me very quickly and I was shaking so badly I could barely squeeze the water bottle let alone aim it effectively to clean a 11mm wide belt!

There were some trees on the horizon so after using a sheep bone to clear some of the mud so the bike would at least roll (I kid you not!) I pushed up to the small clump of trees and somehow managed to pitch my tent, get my sleeping gear out (which had managed not to get completely sodden despite the destroyed dry bag) and huddle up to try and get warm.

After lying there for an hour or so I made the decision to activate the beacon... I was running low on food (see dumb decision 1) and had used up more than 1/2 of my water trying to clear the belt.  Whilst I was warm(ish) and dry(ish) I wasn't sure how long that would last - especially if the rain continued.

Hence a lovely conversation in my underwear with the local copper from Claire some 4 1/2 hours later!

Once I was back in civilisation I learnt that the front had caught everyone out - even Jesse with less than 100km to go had decided that the time to complete wasn't worth it!  Beth had bivvied in a farm house and pulled the pin at Hallet, Seb had pulled the pin in Burra having caught the beginning of the storm on his way in and Liam had pulled out earlier succumbing to a cold.

So, 5 starters and a 0% success rate.  A failure?

Far from it - if anything it has reinforced the real difficulties of the sport we do.  If it all goes well then you carry a bunch of gear that you never use but as the Mawson showed me... when things go wrong you need that stuff.  Even on a route which we'd all dismissed as a bit of a flat road smashfest!

Personally, the ride was intended to be a bit of a shakedown for Tour divide and it sure has done that!  Physically I was ok with the distances (250km+ is probably slightly more than the daily distances I'm looking for on TDR) but.  I need to work through some gear choices (I pretty much had all of my warm stuff with me - its not like I left a bunch of winter stuff at home!).  I also need to think about making sure I take the opportunity to resupply when its on offer as it really cuts into your margin of error!

So thats the Mawson for 2013.  I've had some thoughts about 2014 although the Munda Bindi track in WA is calling!


  1. Great write up Arran. I am sort of glad I had to work over that weekend and did a bikepacking trip in SEQ instead the week prior.
    Good to shake down to test your gear now and get a solid idea of what you might need on a snowy pass at 10 000ft. I don't think we have the same thickness blood as those North Americans and Europeans!
    Also great to know that the Spot system works as well.
    Best of luck with the TDR.

  2. You do it again Arran! Another very engaging and enticing telling of the experience. Quite tempting actually to us wannabe Wannabe Racers. Talking of tempted .... I'm in for 2014. :) Collarbone coming on a treat. Look forward to joining up with you again for another jaunt. Will-be-back-into-training-shortly-Adrian