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The Songline Quest: Australian Outback Mountainbiking Expedition 2000

Fat Tiring to Fresh 'Roo and Old Art

By Stephanie Gregory

David McLain/Aurora
Evading the chef: a kangaroo bounces across a field in Wilpina Pound
"Aww, gee, my ass is sore. I can't even concentrate," moans Terry Coulthard, our soft-talking Aboriginal guide. "I can't wait to bloody stand up straight. It's agony, total agony."

Terry's bum should be hurting. He, like all the other Australians who carve a living from the Outback, doesn't put much stock into mountain biking. Especially when it's across 20 miles of thorn-encrusted scrub, like the stuff our nine-person team has been riding since last Monday after leaving Parachilna, a bar-and-hotel outpost, whose purpose, it seems, is to serve entire teams of underage footy players from Adelaide who drive 325 miles to get pissed on Crown beer.

For five days, Terry has patiently watched and waited. Then waited some more, as the ten of us have rolled across Australia like a traveling "Ren and Stimpy" show, first trashing a bike that bounced off the car rack on the way to Flinders Ranges National Park; then getting four flat tires—all in one day—on the Land Cruiser, while driving over mulga wood and sagebrush looking for an ancient Aboriginal ochre mining site.

After the bike incident, the mood in my half of the caravan went sour, especially since the other half, oblivious to our predicament, sped ahead, losing us at the next fork in the road.

Three hours later we reunited with the other half of the caravan. The day wasn't a total loss. We still had enough light to bike 15 miles or so into a 30 mile-per-hour headwind through the thirsty Flinders Range watching wild camels and emus roam in the distant plains.

Toward the end of the week our bad luck lifted and we settled into bush life at Iga Warta, an Abor'iginal bush camp in the northern Flinders Range, run by Terry and his six siblings. On the second night Terry skinned a freshly shot kangaroo and buried it in an "ilda," an earthen charcoal pit, where it slow-cooked in a bed of coals for three hours.

In the time it took to grill, five of us biked on a bitumen road to a trailhead into a dry creek bed, which led to a 10,000-year-old rock art site a few miles to the west. According to Terry's brother Kingsley, the ochre painting, with target-like circles, stick figures, and straight lines, big as a billboard and well-hidden in a cave overhang, served as an information site to passing Aboriginals, just like one of those blue signs along the side of a freeway, pointing out the next McDonalds.

We sat in silence at the base of the painting for awhile, trying to morph ourselves into the mind and body of the 10,000-year-old artist. It's no wonder they lasted for 60,000 years. They had art, sun, and hallucinogens.

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