The outback called, Air Force women answered

A glimpse at a map would have you think the outback is an expanse of desert with a hostile and unforgiving landscape, but 18 Air Force women with bikes and a sense of adventure found a track full of surprises.

CAPTION: The Women’s Integrated Networking Group ‘WINGs in the Eyre 22’ cyclists ride with the Flinders Rangers backdrop during the inaugural adventure-networking expedition. Story by Corporal Melina Young.

From May 28 to June 5, an all-female crew participated in ‘WINGs in the Eyre 22’. It was the inaugural adventure-networking expedition for the Women’s Integrated Networking Groups (WINGs) mentoring and networking program for Air Force women.

The endurance cycling challenge launched from Edinburgh, north bound for the Oondnadatta Track in the Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre National Park, SA.

Nine days and a collective 2577km of pedal power later, it was mission accomplished.

The expedition reached numerous iconic locations including Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre National Park, the Oodnadatta Track, Flinders Ranges, the Mawson Trail, the Vulkathunha–Gammon Ranges National Park, and Clare Valley, while taking in the remote communities of Iga Warta, Woomera, Farina, Marree and Andamooka Station.

The challenge, conducted during National Reconciliation Week, raised more than $3000 for Stars Foundation, which supports education of Indigenous girls and young women.

The mission was planned meticulously, but what couldn’t be predicted was the weather, as a large rain cloud hitched a ride with the cyclists.

Howling winds, rain, mud, closed tracks, washed out campsites, cold days and colder nights did not discourage the women.

A Women's Integrated Networking Group cyclist pushes a bike through a muddy trail during the inaugural 'WINGs in the Eyre 22’ adventure-networking expedition in South Australia

CAPTION: A Women’s Integrated Networking Group cyclist pushes a bike through a muddy trail during the inaugural ‘WINGs in the Eyre 22’ adventure-networking expedition in South Australia.

The term ‘hike-a-bike’ was unearthed one afternoon when the terrain turned to soul-sucking sticky mud.

Days were a test of how much discomfort they could handle.

At one point the women were met with 50kmh winds in the small town of Quorn, cancelling the day’s ride.

The eager cyclists checked into the Great Northern Lodge that afternoon, where owner Sally Brown was quick to assist the team when she heard of the expedition, posting a request for stationary bikes to the local Facebook page.

Quorn residents responded with delight, delivering bikes to the lodge where the cyclists continued to clock up their daily kms safely inside.

“We made a positive out of a negative, and I was more than happy to help them out for their cause,” said Ms Brown.

When the weather turned kind, the women appreciated the landscapes changes, the terrain, sands and varying outback colours.

The women realised why the outback brought them there – the empty desert, the silence, peace, and endless stars.

Never alone on the adventure, the women were greeted by curious locals, quizzed by “grey nomads”, and shared tales with fellow cyclists around campfires.

Against all odds, the women arrived on the Oodnadtta Track, the moment they waited for since the trips’ inception.

Riding brought the women closer; a bicycle ministry was formed – their own “dirt church” – lingo like “car up”, “on my wheel”, and “doesn’t count if it’s not on strava” often spoken.

Friendships were formed, weekend rides organised and plans to upgrade bikes were in motion with their newfound love of riding.

“We came as individuals and left as a team,” Squadron Leader Dani Phelps said.

On wrap up, the women unloaded at Edinburgh, smiling at their red dirt tainted bikes like a badge of honour, acknowledging what was accomplished as a team, already planning their next adventure.

Flyying Officer Sophee Southall, activity officer in command, said she created the event to help promote “Girl Air Power” – to demonstrate the diverse and immense capability of Air Force women.

“WINGs isn’t just a network for ‘ladies who lunch and seminar’, we also undertake adventure-based, extreme networking activities like this, which require true grit,” Flying Officer Southall said.

“It is our hope that WINGs in the Eyre 22 inspires future adventures for Air Force and ADF women.”

The Star Foundation fundraising event will remain open until Monday, June 18.

CAPTION: The Women’s Integrated Networking Group of cyclists during the inaugural ‘WINGs in the Eyre 22’ adventure-networking expedition in South Australia. Photo by Leading Aircraftman Emma Schwenke.





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