Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Cycling the Island 5: Meandering to the Mersey

We wake to bright sunshine and the waft of frying bacon. Some brekky angels are busy in the kitchen of the Drumreagh barn. As the enticing odour infiltrates the campervan, I ask Tim how he, as a vegetarian, can resist that smell. He knows I'm baiting him, and blithely concentrates on the egg/tomato/toast side of things.


[At Drumreagh Farm near Deloraine]  
Bacon or not, it’s a blissful sunny morning at the farm. We’re in no hurry to start our last day’s riding, and for a time we laze about in the sun. One of the farm’s chickens – a beautifully marked Wyandotte – gets very friendly and tries her best to come inside. We thank her for her contribution, but firmly hoosh her outside.


[The friendly Wyandotte knocks on our door] 
Today’s first stop is a “meet the riders” session just up the road at Cycles Café. It attracts a reporter from the local newspaper as well as a few curious locals. We sneak a quick coffee, then get photographed en-masse as we ride off.


[Setting up the display outside Cycles Cafe] 
Had there been paparazzi following us we might have quickly thrown them off our scent thanks to our convoluted backroads route. We’re heading for lunch at Railton via the “towns” of Dunorlan, Weegena and Kimberley. Although they wouldn’t trouble the census collectors for long, these last three are set in delightful countryside. 


[Easy riding near Dunorlan] 
The hills vary from tight to relaxed, but all is verdant. We pause in one hilly section and flop down on a grassy bank for a morning tea of leftovers. It’s far more delicious than it sounds, and we wash down the remaining soft cheese, fruit, biccies and fruit cake with thermos tea or coffee.


[Morning tea near Dunorlan] 
At Railton we have another public gathering, and meet another mayor: this time Kentish mayor Don Thwaites. He turns out to be quite keen on cycling, and enjoys his turn on one of our e-bikes. After Railton our backroads options are few, and we start to encounter more traffic as we glide down towards Latrobe. But after we cross the Mersey River in its final freshwater section, we turn onto River Road. This proves a perfect way to ease into the city of Devonport. Not only is there little traffic, it’s also far more picturesque than the main roads.


[Group shot by the Mersey] 
As we ride alongside the expansive Mersey estuary, its waters blue and sparkling, there’s a growing sense of accomplishment; of a job almost done. We pause twice, first for some group photos, and then to allow Tim to park his campervan so he can ride the last few kilometres into Devonport with the rest of us. Then it’s together across the main bridge, and south for the last brief road ride to the Waterfront Function Centre, our finish point and the venue for the Australian Electric Vehicles Association conference.


[Riders and support vehicles nearing the finish] 
Clive’s Nissan Leaf leads the convoy into the carpark. With our bicycle bells tinkling, our arms waving and our voices hollering, we’re cheered into Devonport by a small crowd of supporters. We’ve done it! Our faces split by wide smiles, we exchange hugs and high-fives to congratulate each other on getting here! We’ve ridden over 380km without incident, and moreover with a growing sense of camaraderie, and a rejuvenated sense of what a wonderful island we share.


[Celebrations at the finish] 
For me, more a wilderness walker than a cyclist, this has been a chance to get reacquainted with – and fall in love afresh with – the more settled parts of Tasmania. Putting together those two aspects of our state, the wild and the tamed, has made me wonder if there are any places in the world as diverse and beautiful as this island. 
_____________________________________________


I would like to thank all the riders who took part in the ride, whether for part or all of the 5 days. And thanks to those who supported the ride through driving, cooking, route selecting and otherwise organising. The biggest thank you must go to Jack Gilding, who masterminded the whole e-bike ride. It was a very special event!

Monday, 8 January 2018

Cycling the Island 4: Tasmania Felix

Next morning, as I sit behind the wheel of the campervan, I’m wondering whether I’ve drawn the short or the long straw. Today we’re taking backroads from Campbell Town to Deloraine via Cressy and Bracknell. It will be our longest ride, well over 100km, so my legs might appreciate the break. On the other hand I’ll miss out on riding one of my favourite parts of rural Tasmania.


[Across a field of canola to the Western Tiers] 
19th century explorer Thomas Mitchell called the lush pastures of western Victoria Australia Felix, meaning fortunate or happy Australia. What superlatives he’d have chosen for Tasmania’s rich Northern Midlands I can only conjecture, but for me this is Tasmania Felix. As we travel through the rich quilted fields, quartered by blooming hawthorn hedges, grazed by fortunate livestock, the visual feast is all the richer for the backdrop of the Western Tiers. These dolerite eminences rise some 1200 metres straight up from the Midlands to the wild Central Plateau.


[Idyllic riding beneath the Western Tiers] 
In the van I am missing the olfactory glory of this trip, especially the head-spinning tang of hawthorn blossom. As I’m driving very slowly behind the riders, and traffic is rare, I wind down the windows, stick my head out canine fashion, and take long draughts of the delightful air. It helps keep me awake, as do some CDs I discover in Tim’s van stereo. At one point Tim slows down till I draw alongside, and together we sing a few snatches of Dire Straits.


[Hawthorn blooms and Millers Bluff] 
We’re due to stop in Cressy for lunch and a recharge. But we are also talking electric vehicles with students from the school, and giving them a chance to test-ride our e-bikes around the playground. While the keens ones hurtle around the grounds, I chat with a couple of calculatingly uninterested high school girls. They warm up a little after we share a few stories, but I leave with the impression that this isn’t necessarily Tasmania Felix for them. Perhaps once they’ve exchanged this peace and beauty for some urban grunge they might recognise what they once had. I wonder how true that is for a lot of Tasmanians.


[A student tries out an e-bike in Cressy] 
When we were young my sisters and I would often spend a rainy day hunkered over our Cumberland coloured pencil sets. If our colouring-in books were full, we’d draw our own scenes, then colour them in. My landscapes were full of trees, fields, and mountains. But somehow I’d always manage to fit in a waterfall as well. This afternoon’s scene brings some of those drawings to life. As we leave Bracknell, we draw as close to the Western Tiers as we will. Forests tumble down from the rocky heights and meet deep green fields, some cropped, some grazed. And I know that just up there is a waterfall. Liffey Falls, a favoured haunt of mine, is surely one of the prettiest cascades in Australia. But our road goes the other way, so I’ll have to be content that I was up there just a few weeks ago.


[Where the forest meets the fields] 
When I stop for a photo, Barry, one of today’s other support drivers, tells me he spent some of his youth clearing forests to make these fields. It was hard work, and his memories are a little bittersweet. Perhaps he may have over-achieved, given how much forest has gone since those days.


[A lone forest survivor finally succumbs] 
And then we ease into Deloraine. Well I ease: for the riders it’s a hilly section at the end of a long day. Still, by the time we dismount at Drumreagh, our overnight stop on Deloraine’s outskirts, there are plenty of smiles. I get the sense that for most of us this has been a superb day travelling through Tasmania Felix. And for the doubters, there’s always tonight’s well-deserved pub meal and cold refreshments.

Sunday, 31 December 2017

Cycling the Island 3: Onward and Upward

As much as we’ve loved the east coast, compass logic tells us that we’ll have to leave it soon and head west if we’re to get to Devonport. And from Swansea that means one thing: the Lake Leake Highway. It’s a quiet road – barely a highway at all – but we will have to gain over 600m in elevation over a short distance, and on a day that’s already warm and sunny.

But first, as we ride north of Swansea, I ponder the English landscape fantasies of the early settlers. We're passing stone walls, hawthorn hedges, and fields filled with sheep and vines and groves of walnuts. At one point we ride through a tunnel of deciduous trees, their late spring leaves a dazzling green. 


[Riding north of Swansea] 
But as we turn off towards Lake Leake, gum trees and dry paddocks return, and the spell is broken. We’re in Australia again. The fierce sun reinforces that, and on the climb we begin to quickly use up both water supplies and battery power.


[Tim pauses at a view point above Great Oyster Bay] 
A compensation of the climb is the view. We stop in one forest clearing to look back over Oyster Bay towards a distant Freycinet Peninsula, a little surprised by how far we already appear to have come. We’re all keeping an eye on battery levels in relation to distance from our recharge point. By the time we pause at our high point, some of us have used 80% of our charge. 


[At the high point, Lake Leake Highway] 
But we soon turn off onto the gravel road that leads to Lake Leake Inn. The hospitality at the inn is very welcome, and we take the chance to recharge – in every sense – over a long lunch. The lake itself isn’t quite visible from the inn, so after we've eaten some of us walk the few hundred metres to the reservoir. Built in the 1880s as a water storage for Campbell Town, it has long been used by recreational anglers, who have put up an assortment of highly individual shacks along its shores.


[A welcome break at Lake Leake Inn]  
Like the water, we flow downhill from Lake Leake towards Campbell Town. What went up slowly goes down very quickly. While regulations for e-bikes mean that the motor cuts out at around 25kmh, gravity and momentum obey different laws. It’s an exhilarating, air-conditioned ride, with several of us setting personal speed records.


[A sheep paddock as we near Campbell Town] 
Still, by the time we pedal into Campbell Town, we’re puffing and sweating. We’ve ridden 77km, much of it uphill in hot conditions. A cooling ale, and a shower precede some electric vehicle duties. We put up banners in the park, and talk e-bikes and electric cars to those wandering by.

Campbell Town was once an overnight stop for coaches travelling between the north and south of Tasmania. These days it thrives as a midway point for day trippers on the same route. It now occurs to me that our group has reverted to a horse and coach-like speed. Like the top-hatted gents and bonneted ladies of the 19th century, we too will rest our weary bones in a Campbell Town inn tonight.  


[It's time to stop!]