What a difference 24 hours, some good weather, a full belly and a hot shower can have on your frame of mind. Back on track.
Physically, Day 11 was straightforward; mentally, it was brutal. It was the inevitable lull that had to come. After almost two weeks of riding adrenaline-packed highs hiking through majestic, yet exhausting, terrain, my enthusiasm was drained. Luckily, after a rejuvenating night’s sleep at Quorn’s iconic Austral Inn, my head had cleared and I was eager to kick on with the trail. But, not before revisiting the scene of yesterday’s deflating journey. The Dutchmans Stern Conservation Park is far too beautiful to leave it as I did.
Daily Diary – Day 12
It’s funny. Through the deepest, darkest hours, positive lights tend to emerge in the weirdest spots. While walking along a bland stretch of bitumenised road into Quorn on Day 11, pondering the misery that had just descended on me, a waving hand appeared from a parked 4WD in the distance. This friendly greeting was from a man named Norm, from Pindan Tours and 4WD Training.
Two months earlier, via an email stream seeking assistance along the trail, Norm kindly offered his logistical expertise when I arrived in the Quorn region. The last thing I expected to see was his smiling face popping out of a car window as I trudged toward civilisation (and my first shower) for the first time in five days. He had just arrived home after several days in the wilderness himself but seemed infinitely fresher than my dishevelled state. After describing my miserable mornings’ events, he suggested he could drive me back to the park on Day 12 to enjoy the experience that had previously eluded me. This generous solution saved me several hours of gruelling backtracking. A true Trail Angel!
I spent the morning seeing The Dutchmans Stern Conservation Park with new eyes. This was more like it. The endemic Quorn Wattles were glowing in the bright sun, families of kangaroos were nibbling on their breakfast and the bright blue sky, that had accompanied me for the first 10 days on the trail, was back out on display. Unfortunately, I couldn’t sit and enjoy the scenery all day. I still had 20 kilometres, including a lengthy stretch following South Australia’s famous Pichi Richi Railway, to complete before nightfall.
The railway from Port Augusta through the Pichi Richi Pass to Quorn opened in 1879, and was part of the Great Northern Railway that was intended to link Port Augusta with Darwin.
Other than the customary hiking-induced aches and pains, plus my feet taking off before my brain realised my hiking poles were a kilometre back up the track, the rest of the days’ walk was relatively easy. I was a little startled when the trail jumped a fence stating that there were arousable bull camels on the premises. But, in my bedraggled walking state, I don’t even think even they’d be interested.
I arrived at the picture perfect Pichi Richi Park just as the sun was dipping over the adjacent range. The retreat caretaker greeted me with a smile, a glass of chardonnay and the ingredients for a hearty bolognese, plus an entertaining conversation about the region and hiking tales from around the world. My head hit the pillow that night swimming in positivity and the effects of half a bottle of South Australia’s finest alcoholic exports. I was officially back on track and ready for the mammoth climb up Mt Brown that awaited me on Day 13.
All the details.
Trail distance covered
The region has hot dry summers with cool to cold nights and cool, wet winters. Autumn and spring can be warm and mild with occasional periods of rain or showers.
Without the backtracking to Dutchmans Stern Conservation Park, the paddock-heavy terrain remained fairly flat with fence lines and railway tracks easy to navigate. You will, however, need your wits about you for the rocky ridge that bypasses Pichi Richi Park.