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The Songline Quest: Australian Outback Mountainbiking Expedition 2000

Exploring Adelaide

By Stephanie Gregory

David McLain/Classroom Connect/Aurora
The team gets going through the Flinders Range in Southern Australia, which contains some of the oldest fossils in Australia.
The quest to uncover the mystery behind Aboriginal songlines has temporarily morphed into a much less profound mission: reuniting with lost luggage. Our bikes, panniers, and video equipment vanished into thin air somewhere between Sydney and Los Angeles. Lack of clean underwear and leftover jet-lag from our 24-hour flight notwithstanding, it's-as the local vernacular would have it-"beaut" to be here.

"Here" is Adelaide, the only city in South Australia that didn't get its start as a British penal colony. But the million residents' frontier attitude is still alive and well, as witnessed by their shrugging acceptance of last week's two great white shark attacks in the South Pacific just a few hundred miles to the north. One shark ate a surfer, the other cut short a honeymoon by chomping the groom in half.

More progressively environmentalist than Melbourne and Sydney (462 and 726 miles east, respectively) and surrounded on all four sides by protected green spaces, Adelaide faintly resembles Boulder, Colorado, with Rasta-coiffed locals sucking down locally brewed Cooper's in pubs like the turn-of-the-century Exeter Hotel on Rundle Street. But walk into one of the surrounding parks and the closest mammal resembling a squirrel is a ring-tailed possum and the birds, like the rainbow lorakeets, look a lot more like flying neon highlighter pens than robins.

Using Adelaide as our jumping off point to prepare for our month-long bike journey into the bush, we enlisted Joc Schmiechen, a German immigrant-cum-Outback guide who works for an eco-tourism company called Aboriginal Australia that specializes in Aboriginal tours. He pointed us in the direction of Kangaroo Australia, the local butchery in the central market whose motto, "We're Game if You're Game," not only sums up their meat situation, but pretty much sums up the attitude of the laid-back Aussies we've met so far.

After we stock up in Adelaide and load the Land Cruisers, we're driving 325 miles northeast to Parchilna. This outpost on the western edge of the Flinders mountain range has a population of seven people, all of whom work at the Prairie Hotel, a four-star train station dating back to the late 19th century known Australia-wide for its feral food specialties like rabbit curry and kangaroo gyros. This is the last step before we head way into the Outback where we'll dine on real "bush tucker": honey ants and witchety grubs.

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