Australia - Cycle Touring Tasmania
1 Jan Thu Devonport (15k)
Two swollen feet were what I got as a hello to Tassie, courtesy of the "ocean recliner" seat I had on board the Spirit of Tasmania. The trip was otherwise uneventful, not much New Year's Eve celebrating even. Apparently if someone's decided to use a ferry on New Year's Eve, about that much has already been said - get me there!
For my efforts to be timely in getting to Devonport, I quickly found that all of the hostels in town were full. Damnation - back to camping so soon? Being New Year's Day, too, my no-room-at-the-inn reenactment was compounded by the entire town being essentially closed, outside of one café. What to do?
Simple - I biked the coastline of Devonport, followed by a late foray to where I knew some penguins would come ashore. A good idea? Not really. After waiting for an hour or two, at the prescribed landing zone, it got pretty cold and dark. Hmmm. Eventually, and for a second time in a few weeks, I bailed on the fairy penguins. Special, but not THAT special.
Criminy, though: I still had to make my way back in the dark! This made for a spooky ride, mostly through some woods on a road and cycle track. I managed to scare some critters, and sometimes I jumpily surprised myself as I ran over something unknown, too. Now I knew where the bogeyman lived, anyway.
My evening's reward, after all that fun? A COLD sleep - welcome to Tassie! Sigh. At least I had had a nice conversation earlier in the day to show for it, with the docent of the maritime museum. He gave a good book recommendation, too: Sailing Alone Around the World, by Joshua Slocum (an account of the first solo circumnavigation of Earth, which included a stop in Devonport uncoincidentally - recommended). In the meantime I started Ruth Benedict's insightful book, recommended by Will in Melbourne and now in my hands. The Chrysanthemum and the Sword was an insightful look into Japanese culture - also recommended, now by me, too.
2 Jan Fri Devonport to Somerset 60km
I briefly busked "downtown" Devonport (what Aussies often call the CBD area, or Central Business District - a more appropriate term than downtown, I guess). Maybe I only did this to shock the locals in some sense; maybe I was the first ever! Or the first trumpet. It felt like that, anyway. Soon, though, it was time to move on and get the RIDING show started - Devonport was less than exciting.
Wind immediately made me question an initial, westerly plan of attack to cycle tour Tassie. I committed to the task, regardless - the northeast coast looked less interesting. As prescribed and anticipated, then, I headed into strong westerlies right away. I'd try to utilize some local routes to hug the characteristically rocky and beachy coast.
For my first day back in riding mode, I immediately found my rather ad hoc (as always) plans bouncing all over. How should I do this western swing? The main plans oscillated between making my way very west or hanging in nearby Burnie for a layover and heading south the next day. Alternately I could stay in (not-much-further) Somerset beyond Burnie with that same (latter) plan. Rumination station, board on track 3... or not.
Still ambling west for the day, I had a short chat with some cops in the town of Ulverstone. Fortunately they had nothing better to do than kill time with a cycle tourist, offering nice tips. They had loads of info, chiefly about a café up ahead in Penguin where cyclists usually stop. I didn't venture if that was for doughnuts, I only GUESSED it - to myself.
I followed this info stop with another soon enough. This was with a local, reeking of wine, in Cooie - a blip of a town between Burnie and Somerset. I'd give it up for the locals on the street, always: they were unfailingly helpful. Even if you couldn't exactly make out what they were saying.
My new street-friend's booze-reek brought up a salient point, if anything: I hadn't touched the wine I had bought for the New Year's Eve boat ride! Egads! Weight! I quickly committed to getting it off of my bike. Sure it was an appealing-enough bottle of Chilean Cono del Sur (granted, tasty but not exactly high-end in the least), but liquid and glass? GoodBYE!
Soon, camping in Somerset and getting the wine moving, I also thought it a propitious time to start yet another novel, le Carre's book The Secret Pilgrim. I had just finished my latest Theroux epic, so why not keep with the book juggling act? I could get used to this reading two or three books at the same time gig. It suited moods rather well to always have options.
3 Jan Sat Somerset to middle of nowhere (Hellyer Gorge River) 40km
Before leaving town - and any form of supermarketed civilization - I provisioned up for what I expected would be the (second?) most rugged leg of Tassie I planned to do. How wrong I would be, as I short-cutted it eventually, but it was plenty the pain regardless.
Well, rural pastures here I came ready or not: I decided to head into the mountains via backroads. Conveniently, those paths started right from where I was, in Capitol City. I mean Springfield. I mean Somerset! (I can't pass up a Simpsons brain fart, like ever.) Okay, to the south with myself I went.
Indeed, it was soon enough that I found myself in the burg of Yolla. That came only after a hard fought 15km of headwinds, however. In Yolla town, known for... nothing, I made a necessary stop for a water. This was a successful query, but oddly and wordlessly responded to in the doing. Did I feel welcome? No, I did not. Time to be... leaving.
Soon cattle, farms and orchards - the accoutrements of delightful Yolla's region - turned into a clearcut blight. This apropos to my welcome in town, but the change was nevertheless both abrupt and appalling. Such devastation seemed a call to Mad Max, now from hill country instead of the desert. It seemed practically the same thing.
But even hell can't last forever. A massive drop, beginning at the termination of this clearcut nightmare, was where began a bounteous and lovely reserve. Wow. This shoulda/woulda/coulda shown the world how beautiful the area COULD be. If... but. Someday. Again? (Like in 50 years?)
That wouldn't be my battle for now, though, these clearcuts: this had been primarily a day of climbing into substantial headwinds instead. John Denver's greatest hits made for good accompaniment, especially in keeping the headphones over the ears to helpfully mute the whistling of the wind. This was still true even when the iPod went silent.
Meanwhile, after the gorgeous plunge to the bottom of Hellyer Gorge, I decided to stop for the night. This seemed an appropriate, if sudden, change of plans. The place was gorgeous. Plus, there was an ad hoc primitive campground nestled in the spooky gloom of the dark forest's echo chamber. Water and birds made themselves known, too, in trickling and scattered bursts. Not bad!
I soon chatted with a lone kiwi-aussie couple, also bunking for the night in the hollow. Then I made myself a fire with dry fern fronds and wet wood. This worked, especially as I soon was merrily relaxing with a book and blatting out some tunes on the horn. This all helped to take care of my wine "problem" conveniently, too - which was soon no longer a problem. Before calling it a night altogether, too, I went on a coupla tidy little hikes into the woods and along the river. Heaven is where you find it. I had.
4 Jan Sun middle of nowhere (Hellyer Gorge River) to middle of nowhere (Lake Lea) 81km
Come morning, I befriended a bored boy waiting for his Mom to wake up in their tent. He was the only other soul putzing about in the dead calm of early morning. We soon rebuilt my fire, helped by the smoldering ashes of my kiwi neighbor's leftover burnings. Then we tried to take pics of an elusive blue wren that kept teasing us around my campsite - again, why not? Not that we had much success. After all these hijinx of the morning, however, it was still rather cool in the gorge and there frankly wasn't much else to do when my playmate went back to his Mommy when she awoke. I decided to roll on.
Next came the big climb outta the gorge. For this at least I shortly saw an echidna, still #1 in my Aussie fauna book. Then a bounding kangy came along, an example of the one and only kind found in Tassie. The 6-7km of climbing out from Hellyer's depths, otherwise, was cool and devoid of wind as I heated up. The reasonable incline, and slowly increasing sun, helped with that, too.
Then it was an interminable remaining 25km to reach the junction which ended the backroad. My aching back!, I thought, after that - I thought I heard things popping when I stood up straight. For this forlorn section, for no logical reason, I took to dreaming of lunch in Waratah. So, when I shortly hit the next junction, I did the 7km spur in.
Waratah soon provided a picturesque spot, another little gorge laying beneath a gouged-out mountain - a mining town, in other words. No cel reception would bring technology my way (as would be the case in almost all of Tassie for Virgin), no, but at least there was a nice little waterfall adorned with a (workable) waterwheel. Such things count for something, always.
More ominous was my actual entry into town, where I viewed four dead kangaroos. These lay 40m apart, one after the other, right on the main road leading into Waratah. They all had mottled coats and looked mangy - were they culled? Would someone cull in this manner, even? Doubtful.
Finding a fairly decent lunch in one of the town's few cafes open for business, I decided on a short constitutional walk about the place. For that I had a funny conversation shortly with a couple of local, little, and plucky girls on one of the few streets. They were good for some unexpected laughs in this sleepiest of towns. But that was it for the outpost called Waratah.
Restored gutwise, my "Cradle Mountain Express" resumed its task. I headed 7km back out to the junction, then 17km on to the next, then 22km toward the following. The latter included a goodly climb to 930m and a lookout; there I poached water from a Swiss couple, also stopped shortly after me to gander about as well.
Realizing Cradle Mountain was still a ways away, and reportedly expensive, I began the drop back from the hilltop down toward it. I'd try to suss out campspots - it sure seemed hopeful in the vast bush with almost no traffic whatsoever. This took some time and detours, though, inspecting the various wet and inclined grounds. Those - plus a fat tiger snake - influenced my choices considerably. Visibility to the road was another concern - I was all alone in some desolate country after all. Why oh why did my tent's rainflap have that magenta-colored section for its entrance? At least the bulk of it was otherwise gray or black.
Finally I took 3km of dirt track into an empty valley, adorned with a lake at the end of this unpaved road. This decision had been preceded by various hollows carved out under trees and brush as possibilities, but each had downsides in their visibility to the main road. I didn't want to even be visible from the dirt track I had just accessed. This was some I-SO-LATED country.
Hitting the dirt road's end, finally, I walked the bike even further around the lake. This took me over some lumpy, mushy ground to a copse of trees almost completely outta sight of the track. Perfect - I could rest in this complete oblivion. What followed next was the calmest of sunsets over the mountain across from my tent. Next came the expected back and forth of bird calls, then... complete silence.
5 Jan Mon middle of nowhere (Lake Lea) to Cradle Mountain 29km
Silence, then crows and kookaburras, then a dot of sunlight on the mountain across from camp opened the day anew. Soon this became a thin overcasting of cloud. Cold, too. At least some motion would warm me up, I figured. 3km got me back to the road, then it was only some 5km to the Cradle Mtn junction. There I played a little horn to the desolate landscape before resuming the final 3km to Cradle camp.
At Cradle Mountain's café I met an older German cyclist from Stuttgart. He had been cycling Tassie for going on two months, with lotsa bush camping. By now I'd well noticed that the Germans were predominant in number and personal challenges when it came to cycle touring. Perhaps this was just in Oz where they made their presence so prevalent, however - I didn't meet any in Québéc.
Soon enough, and making a day of my efforts, I deposited my gear to lightly ride in the last 18km to road's end. I went in and out to Cradle Mountain's Dove Lake (which lies in front of the mountain itself). Time to see what all the fuss was about.
For one thing, I found that Cradle Mountain Park was a pretty enough reserve in its mix of dead tree moonscape and scrub. There was no denying that. Cradle itself, a nice hunka rock, was more enigmatic in its advertised appeal: I'd seen its ilk many a time before. For such an iconic Tassie place, I had to admit I was a bit non-plussed.
At least I wouldn't pay the hefty A$30-40 for the night in a hostel bed I had expected. I was offered an "alpine hut" instead for considerably less, making the $11 daily fee less painful for a rather unexciting and cold day. Indeed, rain began to seriously settle in just after my return to the "hut". Good timing, again.
I'd apparently get some time to know well my new home. Technically I had only one bunk of the three in the teeny shack, but I had it to myself by good fortune. Essentially I had managed to rent the entire building for the night, all 64 or 81 square feet of it. More importantly I was warm enough for the time being, now steeling myself for a wet ride the next morning on to Tullah or Rosebery. Beyond all this, I had managed to get myself clean after two bush nights in a row. Sometimes that alone is worth the price of admission.
6 Jan Tue Cradle Mountain to Rosebery 70k
The doctor's orders of an "alpine hut" went well: I slept fantastically on the beat-up cushion that made my bed, uncoincidentally the first since Melbourne. Its charm was only topped, perhaps, by the sealed collection of plywood that comprised the room - bearing resemblance to absolutely nothing in the Alps. Nevertheless: snug, bug, rug, as a, in a.
The day's ensuing 53km, to Tullah, would next be up. Fortunately it'd be more down (significantly so) than up, including even the 930m hump west of Cradle (now heading westbound, it was much easier). Steady light winds, jostling with headwinds from time to time, saw me make the first 30km for the day. That got me back to the previous day's junction on the main road south from Burnie.
Next came 23km of mostly downhill riding, with less winds on a busier road (specifically with tin trucks) to Tullah. There I found a teeny little ville, laying nestled like a tropical burg of fern amidst Scottish highlands above. Every lay of the land in Tasmania would be similarly surprising in its look and feel, often not far from a town completely different.
Tullah's stated population was 250, with annual rainfall of 1900mm. So said the welcome sign to Tullah as I entered town. This reminded me of something I had seen on a brochure on the ferry: Southwest Tassie (just below the road-accessible areas I would be traveling) is supposedly the wettest place on Earth. So much for Tullah, though, not much than a small clustering of buildings as far as I could make out from the road passing through it.
Meanwhile I was looking forward to Strahan further to south, and my turning point east. There winds theoretically would change more in my favor, based on traditional wind patterns. That was still a little ways away from Tullah - first I had 17km more to reach Rosebery. That - including the significant 4km climb of Mt. Black - made it 70k for the day. All engines... stop.
Shortly after getting my tent pitched, under the shadow of a large mine across the street, I by chance remet Carrie. Ah yes, she was the woman I had briefly chatted with in Tullah. This was particularly fortuitous - I soon ended up joining her and her friend Harvey at her house. We stayed up until midnight talking, mostly local Tassie stuff. The conversation covered the gamut of the island and time. This made sense, too: they had just gotten back into touch with each other after 30 years. They didn't make me feel the odd interloper at all, though, but welcome instead.
We chatted over several hours about this forgotten island, at least so to the rest of the continent. We first covered Carrie's life as a new age massage therapist/alternative/hippie in Stanley and Rosebery. That didn't fly, particularly, in religiously intolerant Stanley back in the day; Rosebery was proving far better. Somehow we moved onto how lawyers (and TV broadcasters, and and and) were turning the world into a haven of fear. Now there was a theme I could readily expound upon, especially as it related to taking responsibility for one's actions.
Still on the subject of justice, one tidbit unearthed made for a particularly fear-inspiring, yet interesting law to me. Apparently six months of shacking up in NSW meant one was legally married there, subjecting all assets (before and after) to a split 50/50 after breakup. This led to thinking A) Yikes - what nut came up with that one? and B) No NSW love shack for me! Not that I had been making any inroads on that one, but I MIGHT! Or not. Various scandals had already occurred related to this, ones such as renters claiming false relationships with owners and trying to get rich. Of course! Wacky. Scary. Fear. Lunacy. Time to change the subject!
So I did, ending the night by playing some horn requests: Butter n Egg Man for an Armstrong (Louis, not Lance or Neal - uh, good on 'em, too!) shout. Next came one of my faves, Caravan, followed by a requested Summertime. In the end I threw in a pile of Latin-flavored licks. The trumpet always figures well in that genre. All in all a fine evening.
7 Jan Wed Rosebery to Strahan 75k
Getting ready to roll out of town, I met yet another German (from Heidelberg) cyclist. Really? Of course - but this one was doing his SECOND Tassie run. He was headed my way, leaving Rosebery, but shortly we met another German tourer (from Giesen) slightly after leaving town together. They were everywhere, these Germans! Seriously: by this time both had mentioned a horde of 20 supported cyclists that we might run into over the day. THAT spoke to my own fear factor of sorts - mass organized, supported rides! (Not I hadn't tried a few of those myself - I just didn't want to run into them on a cycle tour, a numbers thing. I would fortunately not run into them, anyway, sparing me singular hysteria.)
Heading south, I played my horn to some man ferns on the crest of one hill. This proved a pleasant spot to allow the Heidelberger to catch up to me again (he had headed into Rosebery for brekkie). We next rode together for some 10-20-odd km, up until the the Queenstown-or-Strahan junction. That came 6km before Zeehan (or many more before Strahan, depending on how you looked at it).
It was odd riding with someone; at first I struggled with matching his rhythm of riding. But, after we came to a significant hill, I pulled ahead and soon lost sight of him behind me. I waited for him at the top, then we plunged in 1-2 form to the flats. Although I had assumed he was the stronger rider first, I now knew different - so I pulled hard to push us along at 40-45kph to the junction. There we said goodbye, figuring that we might see each other in Queenstown or Derwent Bridge in several days. [We didn't.]
After that hilly section in lush green, replete with logging and tin trucks, the rest of the way to Strahan would be mostly flat. Relatively (and thankfully) truckless, too. I'd be doing things at my own rhythm again, too, happy as I was to have had some company for a spell.
Zeehan, no more than a pit stop I mentally had, was a forlorn excuse to greed for others in a former time. It wouldn't keep me any longer than necessary to looksee its main street - there wasn't much else. Still, it DID serve as a rain respite (sun had given way to showers): I pulled in my undies and socks from the clothesline. The latter was my combination of bungeecords (ockey straps) that lashed things atop my panniers in the back. There they had been drying while flopping above my lashed tent and sleeping bag. I wasn't alone in such multi-tasking, by any means: this cycle tourist drying rack was a common sight.
The Zeehan-Strahan stretch, up next, was an isolated bit of asphalt tucking itself between scrubby hills on a flattish road. The winds swing-swang-swung both quickly and wildly, from head to tail and back again, as I made my way down this corridor of sorts. When I emerged from the hills, entering the forested flats that would take me to Strahan, I was hailed and rained on briefly as a reward. I wasn't upset, though: there was no wind from then on.
I also now received a host of massive logging trucks to ride with, not the best trade-off. I'll take the wind!, I cried, each time one brushed by me all too close. Soon wanting a break from that mayhem, a pee stop resulted in a timely discovery. A-HA!
Hidden behind the trees, yet so close to the main drag of a road, the huge Henty Dunes towered above my puny bike (and I) - once I found them. Wow - I had no idea! Impressed, I couldn't pass up this opportunity for a walkabout. I clambered up them, then around on top to spot the ocean in the distance. Very, very nice! After some time by myself, I eventually saw a handful of tourists moving about me below in this surprising, Sahara-like landscape. I must be nearing my destination, I guessed.
Another 15km later I was in Strahan. This place had all the makings of a tourist town, from ice cream stores to a community-based, historical play put on for the tourists' chuckles. Whatever - I was none too displeased as I pitched my tent, happily taking in my new home for some days of rest. Lay it on!, I urged, even as sun and rain mixed it up for the rest of this first day
In defiance of the weather gods I walked around town and gathered info. Item #1 was sobering: I quickly discovered that there was no bus that went to Derwent Bridge with allowing for a bike. Crud - now I had no escape clause, should I want one in a some days, from that upcoming hilly and isolated stretch. Damn. Indeed, I was now debating how much fun I had been having with all of this isolated riding. There had been some good, yes, but this was some spaced-out country, civilization-wise. Perhaps my Melbourne break had been too brief, ironically done to accommodate the bailing Peter. Oh well.
8 Jan Thu Strahan
Walking around town, shortly after hand-warshing m'lawndry and letting it out to dry in the morning (ah - home chores!), I began another sun's passing in the sky to a mix of showers and sun. At least I had no particular agenda, a good thing since I was really enjoying (to my surprise) The Secret Pilgrim book (snared off a trade-a-book back in Devonport). I finished it, in fact.
Meanwhile I had kicked into the Kingsley Amis book The Old Devils in Rosebery. Now that would get some increased reading as I figured what else to start. This multiple book reading was still a new phenomenon to me, one that I was debating. I wasn't sure if it was an ideal form of multi-tasking , certainly not if any literature was getting short shrift. I wasn't even sure multi-tasking was good in any way in the first place. What did that say about quality time?
Musing such frivolous points, I walked about the town area in search of views and, more importantly with books in mind, places to lounge about. It would be nice to not ride for a day or two - that's all I really knew. Eventually I rounded the inlet in which Strahan sits, managing to do a small hike along a tannic, orangy river (as all the West Tasmania ones seemed to be) to Hogarth Falls. Not bad 't'all. Later I even got in a little trumpet, too, from someone's beached rowboat. What a view over the sea to stately mountains in the distance!
Sun took over after noon, helping this lazy meandering considerably, but I still had a cool/cold breeze to contend with. Sigh - I had gotten a bit tired of that, actually. In fact, that alone had me seriously debating a short-circuiting of the tour directly into Hobart. Cold and I never seemed to stay on speaking terms long.
Such an abbreviation to the trip would mean no looping a figure eight about the island. It would also entail renting a car, most likely, for the supposedly flattish and hot east. Moreover, I was finding myself not practising as much on the horn - a direct result of increased wind and cold. I probably should've known this about Tassie, but still! All this had been serving to upset my charmed reality of bike touring: too much time was being spent looking for warmth and wind tucks. Harumph, I thought.
9 Jan Fri Strahan
Continuing in my tourist mode of sorts, I went on a morning cruise of Macquarie Harbor. That was the #1 prescribed thing to do in the area, a mix of history and nature that I had no intention of passing up. This consisted of sizable laundry list in itself: going through Hell's Gates (we'd get a bit lucky on this score, with only a 1/6th chance of being able to do so due to water conditions), moving on to Cape Sorell and the "Roaring 40s" (noted because there's only a small bit of land on the southerly 40-degree latitude, allowing the wind to really rip about the globe), seeing Ocean Beach, observing atlantic salmon fish pens (not much to see, but informative without telling all the nastier details), then touring the original Aussie penal colony of Sarah Island. Whew. But wait, there was more: we lastly went up the Gordon River's rainforest, ending with a (tour-boat-congested) elevated nature walk.
The plusses and minuses of a tour were all in evidence from the get-go, both from the points of convenience and congestion. Along the way we were able to take in brilliant peaks in the distance, plus the shape and lay of the entire area. It surprisingly reminded me both of Puget Sound and Patagonia in different ways. The history lesson given on Sarah's Island, concerning the harsh ins and outs of penal colony life on both sides, was interesting, too. The humor employed pluckily both did and didn't work - it's hard to do the same thing like that, day after day, I reasoned.
Come afternoon, back in town, there was just more of the ol' same ol' I could love to learn and learn to love: coffee, horn, and reading. I kept plugging away interestedly in The Sword and the Chrysanthemum, my eyes opening ever more concerning Japan's odd (to western eyes) culture. How odd to read travel-inducing literature while already doing so!
10 Jan Sat Strahan to Queenstown to Lake Burraby (bushish) 63k
The chomp was now on the bit, with Hobart and an end to riding on the mind: onward! Leaving Strahan, I chiefly went up hills for about 25km - before mostly rumbling down a bit onto flats that made for the remainder of the 16km into Queenstown. An old mining town, the forest preceding the (not so) Big Q had long given way to almost desertlike scrub. Old, harsh, surface mining had taken its toll. It would, from the look of things, take a long time for nature to recover the mess.
I paused for a couple of hours in the Old Wild Westness of Queenstown. In that regard it was unquestionably picturesque. More importantly to me, however, I heavily provisioned for the resumption of isolated road ahead: I would find no real supermarket until New Norfolk, not too far before Hobart itself. I debated this as an overnight stop, but not seeing the greater appeal of being in town, and getting antsy about finishing up the tour, I decided to continue on for the day. Have muscle strength left, will travel.
Thus it was back to motion: up and over the cliff road I went to exit Q'town, headed into more scarred country to get toward Lake Burraby. Still climbing out through the stark scenery, I stopped a lone passing vehicle. In atrocious French, as was quickly deemed the necessary lingua franca, I got a woman to take my camera. Would she take pictures while I went ahead in such scenery? Oui, oui - she agreed and handed my camera back when they went by. I'd have to wait some days to see how those pics turned out on a bigger screen - my camera's inchwide offering made most shots a mystery. In sunlight, they were downright impossible to make out.
Finally I got to what would had become the night's destination, Lake Burraby. Finding a barebones site, but one that also was serving as a campground for some others similarly finding themselves in nowheresville, I camped at the far end. By the end of this day, happily lodged in my tent, I was pretty convinced that I'd soon be wrapping up not just my Tasmania cycle touring. This would be an end to ALL of my Aussie cycling. Come Hobart I'd only allow for random, hub-spoke forays into nearby regions within shooting distance of town.
Two months of cycling were proving enough for this trip. Queensland and West Australia sections, pipe dreams and mirages before, anyway, went officially POOF. Closer to my current circumstances, concerning the (supposedly) flattish east of Tasmania, I'd almost certainly rent a car to stickybeak it properly. I couldn't blame this final turning of the screw on the conditions I had found on this day, though - the winds had behaved, tailwinds finally behind me as hoped and expected. I was just ready for a change to my mode of travel, and of having such a pile of belongings to move around.
11 Jan Sun Lake Burraby to Derwent Bridge (bush) 80k
In the morning I had a nice long chat with a couple of Sydney (professors) at camp - they were the only others tenting it in this semi-bush spot. Where HAD all the tents gone, we mutually bemoaned. Surely this was a sign of the apocalypse. Indeed, I was more than a little saddened by the complete takeover of RVs and trailers on the camping scene - just like I had noticed in Québéc.
More happily, we turned to talking about cycling, then the better sides of communism (where the cliché of uni profs was borne out true to form). Then we went back to our favorite subject, grumbling. I mean CONVERSING about whatever happened to CAMPing - not this RV-with-TV stuff! That, and why biking sucked so much in Sydney. Grumble, grumble, we muttered and mumbled on those scores, but we had an otherwise pleasant chat.
Leaving camp, the site's caretaker mentioned that the road toward Hobart ahead would likely be closed due to an overturned (logging?) truck. I wondered - would a bike be allowed to pass? Often we could. First things first, though: time to start rolling.
The upcoming agenda consisted of more on/off climbing - no surprise there. Then came a few stops, at points indicated as promising on my map. I stopped for tiny walks at Nelson Falls (a tiny walk, with cute falls, then a conversation with an NSW Aussie dude), Donaghy's Point (which had spectacular views of Frenchman's Cap, plus other Cradle Mountain-looking escarpments without such fame), then the entry point for the 3-day-in 3-day-out walk to Frenchman's Cap.
At this last stop I walked only as far as the handsome suspension bridge. That was delayed awhile in happening, though, as I got detoured into talking with a couple of couples in a sheltered stop. They were waiting for the bus to pick them up; they were coming out of the wilderness after hiking the area about a week. We yarned about the Frenchman's Cap hike in general, their hike specifically, road litter in Tasmania (they were from S. Australia, which was more progressive in ecological matters), and cycling. Finally I took in the bridge and the pretty stream, often roaring but not on this day.
Detours successfully accounted for, next came rain from then on, starting with the climb up Mount Arrowsmith (980m). It sure seemed higher than than that - maybe it was the fact that everything was sticking to me that made it feel so. The rain, which steadily began to soak through me, only let up at the top, at King William's Saddle. That couldn't come soon enough, and certainly didn't.
By this time I had passed, at the beginning of the Saddle ascent, the horrific wreckage previously mentioned at camp. I took in the mangled semitrailer, now mostly lying overturned where it plowed into the bush. Completely flattened and mauled, various road workers and officials were still picking up the pieces of the mess.
The area reeked, too, with what I took to be the smell of dog food. I soon found out in actuality that his load (which had probably shifted, causing the accident) had consisted of massive plastic sacks of fish food pellets. He died as a result of the flip - the first Tassie road fatality of the year. He probably took the last curve down the mountain a little too fast, the skid marks bearing harsh witness to a fatal, last-ditch effort. They'd be etched onto the road for some time to come.
From the Saddle - Tassie's dividing line between the wet and mountainous west and the drier, flatter (so I thought still) east - I was quite surprised to subsequently stay quite level all the way to Derwent Bridge. Ah, that lonely outpost of civilization in such a wilderness! A massive lodge dominated the tiny settlement, the obvious stop for anyone within a zillion kilometers.
At the Derwent Bridge Wilderness Hotel I found soup, a massive fireplace, and conversations first with a misplaced Texan, then a friendly Brisbane couple awaiting me. The latter shouted me dessert and a coffee, good on em! - we had ever-so-briefly met at my camp in Strahan. A fortunate coincidence for my palate, anyway, they were an odd, elder mother-son pair with mannerisms that struck me from another time - like 1900. They were eager to know how I was getting on without the comforts of a car's roof (make that 1940) or a hotel bed. Surely I was mad! Probably, after a day like this one had been with its rain.
Cold and wet made me more than a little desirous of a warm bed, but my ATM card still wouldn't work as a debit card in Oz to make this convenient. Since Kaua'i, I was still avoiding the use of my credit card - I wasn't keen on the 3% it zapped me with for each out-of-country purchase. So, with my low cash situation, I decided to bush camp again. The American I had mentioned a lake area some locals used, just outta town. Sounded reasonable - in for a pint, in for a keg. (Of rain water. Isn't that how the saying goes?)
Only a short distance out of town (which only seemed to consist of the one building, essentially), I soon saw a few white vehicles. (At times it appeared that most vehicles in Oz were white, particularly outside of city limits.) They had already staked out the improvised camping area with the same idea.
A moonscape of rocky ground, I took comfort in having company - safety in numbers of some sort. I quickly "staked" my tent with big stones; the ground was hard as rock otherwise. This worked well, but still... it had been a trying day of rain and muck: "I am filth, hear me roar, in body too wet to ignore" ... "rain, rain, all day long"... I was a lyric-writing sensation! Obviously it was time to get some new music on the iPod: I was going crazy! But I was dry.
12 Jan Mon Derwent Bridge to Hamilton 102k
A blue-skied morning suggested it would be sun for the day, so I dried my things out. This was done by (hopefully) splaying them over my bike and tent in the crisp morning. It even worked - nothing like the Australian sun, the great dryer in the sky. Such domestic chores only barely preceded ambling down the road to the Hungry Wombat Cafe for a nice coffee (hold the wombat).
Still within the confines of what passed for the "town" of Derwent Bridge, I skipped The (famous) Wall. This was a massive huon wood sculpture, described as par excellence per all, depicting the history of Tassie. Typically such artistry and history would float my boat over the dam, but in this case a book of pictures I'd perused at the lodge had sufficiently satisfied my curiousity.
Instead I pulled off shortly thereafter to warm up my horn, at what appeared to be an ad hoc campground or shooting range - I couldn't tell. Really, physical warming of the horn was an unnecessary thing - the sun back! Indeed, it so-suchly-so back that here I saw an amazing thing: lookit dat!
Previously someone had mentioned being able to see the "ozone hole" around the sun in Tassie. Well, sure, I knew about Oz and ozone depletion holes, but this didn't make much sense to me. Now here in plain evidence skyward was something bizarre, an unexplained circular hue about the sun. I pulled out my collection of idols to Ra, arranged them in a semi-circle about me, and began to chant, make offerings, then ritually cut my skin with a fine razor.
Or, perhaps, I just stared at it. The blue was clearly different in this circle, sized a few multiples of the sun's diameter. There was no evidence of cloud, either. Hmmm. Okay, granted, this was probably just an optical illusion of some sort... but with Tassie supposedly the center of the "hole", who was I not to lend some hype? I put the idols back in my saddlebags and tended to my fresh wounds.
In the meantime I had more riding to do. The next 50km, to Tarraleah, was mostly a slow decline, but not without a couple of honest climbs thrown in. The biggest one followed a drop to the Nive river under Tarraleah (with its accompanying hydro works) back into town. There was a nice park there to take in the surroundings, too, so I did so as I munch on peanut-and-jelly sandwiches - I'd learn the natives yet of this delectable treat! After that, though, it was 4km up to match the 4km down. It appeared I got the better side of it in heading east.
This part of Tasmania was a major hydro area, so it wasn't surprising that I found myself stopping in a distinctly company-looking town. This came right after the climb out of the hole. Pastel-hued homes, all bearing architectural likeness to each other while in small number, could have come right out of Edward Scissorhands. How odd, but no: I was actually in Tarraleah, not Tampa's Carrollwood (where the film was shot, a mile away from my apartment shortly thereafter). I stopped for a coffee in homage thus, not coincidentally receiving an overlook of the waterworks.
Here I also took of advantage of the opportunity to switch to my short cycling pants and sleeves for the first time in Tassie. Could it be I was actually warm? Why yes, indeedy - YAY! Sipping m'joe from the cafe's projected balcony over the abyss, meanwhile, I beheld the works below. This was quite a network of massive pipes, no doubt - impressive machinery. Sip, sip. I wasn't in any hurry, happy to stall under sunny skies and knowing the end was near at hand. Hmmm - did a long bike ride have a Judgement Day waiting at the end?
The next 37km, to Ouse ("ooze"), had a surprising number of climbs for what was to generally be a "descent". These included some pretty big drops to test my brakes, not to mention my watchfulness in avoiding pitfalls and potholes in the growing shadows. When I barreled down these drops, I noticed that no one ever seemed to pass me - even as I took dangerous backward glances to see if anyone was creeping up on me.
This was probably not the smartest time to rage competitive-wise, especially since it would have been nice to have more than only my front brakes remaining. Yeah, I had slowly been noticing that my back brake pads were shot... but I hadn't seen a bike shop since Devonport, nor since setting foot in Tassie. This apparently was called "going for it". Also, desperation. Or stupidity, for not having spare brake shoes on board.
Bouncing down toward Ouse, now on an extended decline, I now was essentially following the power lines to Hobart. At Ouse town, I got a surprise: there was no campground w/shower there after all. Drats!, I had been expecting one. So I had to instead down a beer handed to me by a cute waitress ("Get your booze at Ouse" stated her shirt) to drown my dismay. Compensation was a word I well understand, anyway.
Thus it was on to Hamilton - and I really felt that one solitary beer! What the hey? Yeesh, what'd all of those riding beers from Ten Hours Of Tiger get me? (In that event, us "participants" drank a beer before, between, and after each 15 mile loop.) Thank you, dehydration!
"Well, how 'bout this!", I thought as loopily made my way onward in the midday sun. In any event, stopping in Hamilton would make the final run in to Hobart 15km shorter. For my W-Ouze-y troubles, too, I would get to enjoy a free camp and shower by the river in Hamilton. Whatever - by the time I got to camp I was plain tired.
13 Jan Tue Hamilton to Hobart - and contemplating kicking the bike into the ocean. 76km (652km in Tasmania)
For my last cycling morning I got treated to coffee-n-toast, a nice gesture from some gray nomads outta Queensland. What's a ferkin' Yank doing cycling in this heat, so far from home alone?, they wanted to know. Good question. Burp. Pass the coffee and jam. Nice folks.
More to the focus of things - the riding - this would be a scorcher for a last day. In fact, this would be my only full cycling day in Tassie in summer gear. THAT hadn't been in the plans no how, but here it was. And I really needed to think about water in a big way, too.
The 4km ride outta Hamilton was immediately disappointing, immediately illustrative in how I'd suddenly lost my will on this last day or two. I was done with any more climbing, yet climbing was not quite done with me. Damn. Fortunately, it was generally downward after that disillusionment - I chiefly followed the main river to New Norfolk. There I took in a goodly coffee and, miracle or all miracles, I found my first phone reception since Devonport (word to the wise: get Telstra when traveling in Oz, folks!).
Now, getting so close - this was the last stop - I was getting more than a little twitchy to play my horn and rest in Hobart. I smelled and tasted the barn, ignoring the shit for the oodles of hay - where was it, anyway? Sigh - there was still this last chunk of road to cover, and logging trucks not making it a gravy run, either. They repeatedly would brush me by on this day (as they had been the prior few days, too), in the worst manner of all my Oz cycling. Fortunately, of the baddies who nearly killed me, I only counted several. New mantra: wanna... get... off... road.
Traffic toward Hobart, over the last 35km or so, continually picked up. Now I had to really keep downing water, sweating liberally in the 30 degree (90+F) cloudless heat. At 19km out, I intersected with the bridge crossing toward Lonny (Launceston). This put me back on Tassie's Highway 1, last seen in Burnie/Somerset, to get me into town.
For the first time in a while I had a great shoulder to ride on! Still, for all that wonder, I was happy to be off that traffic-laden road 9km later. By then I had found a cycleway which would take me in for the last 10km to town center. This turned out to be flat as a pancake; I now took it slow on my final approach, adopting an erect posture and already beginning to stretch the kinks out.
Getting into downtown, I immediately stopped at the main tourist office and picked up some info on my surroundings. Thumbing through the materials, sitting on a park bench a few blocks away, I shortly engaged in conversation with a Canadian couple. They were on cycles, too, and had similarly just arrived in town - by cargo ship. Hey! That's cheating!
Perhaps not really, I'd soon find out: they were merely awaiting their contact from WarmShowers.org, the cycling tourist's network. They'd only be in town briefly before beginning their own tour of Tassie. Thoroughly outdoing any claim I could have to fame, too, they were three years and 35000km into their "campaign". Oh. We checked each others' rigs out, too, like mutts sniffing butts immediately succeeding hellos and how-ya-doin's. They were loaded to the sky, front and back: I guessed that that was how they did it in Canada - or outta Nova Scotia, anyway. At least I could I could smugly take pride in SOMEthing.
More important than any other such observations, though, I was happy to have completed about 5000k in my own two rides of the year. First was the two months in Québéc/New Brunswick/Maine; now it had been NSW/Victoria/Tasmania. A nice sampling of both countries, I believed.
Bidding my new acquaintances adieu and good luck, I found my way to my friends' (Will and Gwen) daughter's house in nearby North Hobart. Coincidentally, there I would meet yet another cycling family, the family H of North New South Wales: Andrew, Leonne, Maebh, Erin, and Aidan. They already were staying with Helen, along with her husband Ian and son Oscar. It was time for a changing of the guard, one cyclist for a family of them.
Ah - it felt good to be in a home again! Come evening, I greatly enjoyed a nice evening of cycle and travel chat, too. All the while kids played as we downed tea after tea. Their imaginary games were accompanied by dragons, and Norse lego boats replete with ogre drum-beaters. Us adults perhaps fantasized similarly, of mechanized beasts driven by chain over gears.
Done. Done. Done. The cycle was now out of commission. I looked forward to rest. Indeed, rest is best.
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