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!] 

Tuesday 5 December 2017

Cycling the Island 2: A Great Eastern Ride

[Great riding along Tasmania's East Coast] 
It’s a shame that the moniker “The Great Ocean Road” was already taken when a Tasmanian committee sat down to choose a name for the route we’ll ride today. The thirty kilometre section of road between Little Swanport and Swansea is literally both great and by the ocean. Arguably it’s one of the most picturesque coastal routes anywhere in the world, and an undoubted highlight of the 176km east coast drive between Orford and St Helens. Sadly our naming committee delivered a camel: the route is now labelled “The Great Eastern Drive”.

[Tim drinks in the views over Great Oyster Bay] 
But that’s the end of today’s sadness, especially when we wake to sunny skies. Most of our gear has dried and we’re refreshed and keen to be riding again. Although we’ll spend most of today’s 55km ride on the busy Tasman Highway, we’ve begun to trust our support vehicle system. Two vehicles, both with bright yellow signs warning “Cyclists Ahead”, are driving behind us. Our other support vehicle, an emission-free Nissan Leaf, is driving ahead of us with a bright yellow sign warning “Cycle Event: Slow Down”.

Today Dion has agreed to drive the campervan so Tim can ride the whole section. It’s a generous gesture, and sets a pattern for later days. We take our time getting ready, as our day is short and the first recharge/lunch stop is only a little over 20km away. Once we’re riding, we spread out along the relatively flat section north of Triabunna, cycling with only mild effort past paddocks filled with spring lambs. Riding single file on the busy road keeps conversation minimal. But I’m feeling very upbeat, and have the perfect head tune in Runrig’s “May Morning”.

“I’m alive again on a May morning” it starts. And though I know it isn’t May, it is the southern hemisphere’s equivalent that we’re riding through.

All the yearning buds are here again
With the the promise of a new life to come
Spring is here again.

Each rider has something different in his or her head. I chuckle as I hear Michael bleating a greeting to the occasional sheep. Others are keeping an eye on the following traffic, or seeing if they can keep the whole group in sight. (They seldom can.)

[Lunchtime at Gumleaves] 
We’re early for lunch at Gumleaves, a nicely old-fashioned accommodation-come-adventure centre a few kilometres off the highway. We’ve booked a kitchen/dining hall, and some of our support team (kudos here to Clive and Sue) have bought food to cook and share. A leisurely lunch suits the recharging of batteries, even if some of us haven’t yet used much. Neville, our oldest rider at 87, has some visitors here. As well as being sprightly in the saddle, he’s an amazingly handy inventor, having made his own e-bike, complete with two bespoke batteries. He takes time over lunch to explain the details, although some eyes glaze over when words like amp hours, watts and watt hours start to be thrown about.

[Neville rides out of Gumleaves] 
By the time we’re riding again the day is sunny and warm, the wide blue sky wisped with high cirrus. Around Lisdillon we start to gain broad views across Great Oyster Bay and out towards the Freycinet Peninsula. It’s hard not to be mesmerised by the scene. 

[Photo stop after Mayfield Beach] 
At one point I call out to the riders nearest me, and arrange to stop for photographs. We end up doing this several times as beach gives way to beach: Lisdillon, Mayfield, Kelvedon, Spiky. All the while the water, the mountains, the sky form a backdrop that’s a rhapsody in blue.

[Dawdling towards Swansea] 
We Tasmanians are blessed with a variable climate. Or to put it another way, this place will not always produce these stunning views. We exult in it while we can, breathing in the blue as we dawdle towards Swansea.