Saturday, 24 March 2018

Crossing the Plateau 3: Touching the Walls

During the night the rain taps and whispers on the tent fly, but I’m not keen to let it in. I’m snug in my revised sleeping “system”, which comprises a new down quilt and a new, thicker sleeping mat. The mat may rustle a little more than my previous one, but that just matches the wind in the pines. The whole percussive ensemble soon has me asleep.

The next morning is very cool, and the wind is still fresh, though the rain has cleared. We pack up and leave promptly, keen to make up time after our unscheduled delay. We’re aiming first for Long Tarns. It’s an apt name for a series of interconnected linear tarns that run almost 3km from north-west to south-east. They create an effective barrier to anyone walking from our direction.

[The group departs Long Tarns (click to enlarge)] 
I’ve been to Long Tarns before, but my memory of that trip – back in the early 1980s – is not only faded, it’s geographically irrelevant. It was winter, and I’d come only to the northern edge of Long Tarns after an ascent of Mersey Bluff. An old photo has me standing at the edge of the tarn, as if pondering the possibility of skating on its thin ice. Looking back it’s dizzying to think of something like 36 years of personal familiarity with this country. It feels akin to a songline for me.

[A young Peter at Long Tarns, ca. 1982. photo by KM] 
On this occasion we’ve gone around the southern edge of Long Tarns, though only after seeing whether the summer “low tide” would allow us to cross a little further north. It wouldn’t. But we do find a couple of large rock cairns, which we guess are associated with the long-disused drove route known as Ritters Track. “Track” is now a misnomer, as there’s no clear sign of it on the ground, and we find it much easier to simply go cross-country.

After a short break at the southernmost of the tarns, we strike our first bit of scrubby country. And now we have to lift our legs higher, land them a little less certainly, and take longer in finding a way through or around the scrub. Walking poles briefly become a nuisance as they get caught in the bauera, cutting grass and teatree that sometimes block our route. The going soon becomes easier, but when we find an open meadow near a shallow lake, we’re more than ready for a lunch break. Rocks allow us to recline, the sun obliges by starting to shine, and we have a decent rest. 

[Libby enjoying the lunch break (photo by Mick Adams)] 
But just after we get walking again, trouble strikes. There’s a muffled shout from the rear of the group, and I turn to find Mick on the ground. He’s wincing and oohing, and appears to have twisted his ankle quite badly. But after a short recline, Mick convinces us it’s okay. He gets to his feet, and starts testing whether his ankle will hold his weight. It does, but some of us have experienced Mick’s “man-of-steel” stubbornness before. We strap the ankle, slow our pace, and watch him carefully for the next few hours.

[One of the slow sections approaching the Walls] 
By mid afternoon we’re drawing close to Mt Jerusalem, the first mountain on our side of the Walls of Jerusalem. There are also lakes and pools aplenty – as there have been the entire walk – but we’re on the lookout for one in particular. We’ve decided Lake Tyre, being just inside the “official” Walls, is our first potential camping spot. Again my memory of it from a 1980s trip is useless, as I didn’t camp there, and have no recollection of its potential as an overnight stop.

[Yes, we also used paper maps] 
Soon enough, as we approach the lake’s eastern edge, we have an answer of sorts. There’s a large open area near the shore, although it’s not well sheltered, and is somewhat lumpy. Everyone is tired, but a few of us decide to leave our packs and scout around on the other side of the lake. We can see pencil pine stands on both the western and northern shores, and think they might offer better shelter. It turns out that west is best, and we hoist packs and spend another 20 minutes scrambling around to the far shore. Our decision is met with some grumpiness from one (nameless) member of our party. He’s already found the perfect nook for his tent on the eastern side, and is not happy with being uprooted.

[Late afternoon at Lake Tyre] 
After a certain amount of chiding – in the gentle spirit that has pervaded our walk thus far – our grumpy friend settles into his new (inferior!) site, and eventually joins us in enjoying what turns out to be a spectacularly beautiful evening. The sun stays with us, the wind eases, and under clear blue skies the lake’s surface turns a glassy deep blue.

I had always thought this lake was named after the biblical city of Tyre – an ancient Mediterranean port – given that so many other place names in the Walls follow biblical themes. If I was puzzled that nearby Lake Thor bore a name from Norse mythology, I figured that might have been some kind of early ecumenical gesture. I have since heard that pioneer Walls of Jerusalem bushwalker, Reg Hall, had cheekily named these two lakes after two women he often walked with in the mid part of the 1900s. So it seems that Lake Tyre is named for Peggy McInTYRE, and Lake Thor for Joan THORold.

[TimO at sunset, Lake Tyre] 
The next day is relatively short. We’re keen to avoid the crowds that we know will be in the central Walls area, so we’re heading for Tiger Lake by dropping down beside Zion Gate and into Officers Creek. Along the way we sadly farewell Tim and Merran, who have to walk all the way out today.

Our destination reminds a few of us that there’s a kind of anniversary to mark at the lake. It’s five years since we first met Libby in this very park. Then new to Tasmania, she was walking solo, but happily tagged along with us when she heard we were going in search of Solitary Hut on the side of Tiger Lake. She’s been walking with us ever since, an arrangement that suits us all very well.

[Reflections: Tiger Lake] 
Five years ago, we had to watch our path to the lake very carefully, as it was far from distinct. Disappointingly it’s now impossible to miss, as someone has sprayed fluoro orange paint all along the route, on rocks, trees and even on the ground. In a wilderness zone this is a very ugly and thoughtless intrusion, and something that causes more grumpiness in our group than yesterday’s campsite shift.

Just before Solitary Hut, and a little above Tiger Lake, we find an open area in a eucalypt woodland in which to set our tents. But for Jim any hut is irresistible, and he decides to set up inside the hut. We visit him, though only briefly, and one at a time. The hut is both spartan and tiny, and turns out to have a healthy population of mosquitoes.

[Jim looking proprietorial at Solitary Hut] 
The man who built the hut back in the 1980s was an amateur weight-lifter, and incorporated a chin-up bar into the hut. He also arranged some rocks in what is now our campsite to serve as a bench press. There’s more of his story here

[Looking from Solitary Hut towards Tiger Lake] 
One unexpected feature of the hut is that it houses a spade. Unless you’ve spent 6 days in the bush, digging toilet holes with small trowels, you may have difficulty understanding what a magnificent luxury this is. As we depart the lake early the next morning, there seems to be a special spring in our steps. While the spade may be partly responsible, it’s also that this is to be our last day. The walk to our cars is both short and downhill, and we have the even greater luxury of a hot lunch at the Mole Creek pub to look forward to.

But while a hot meal is a standout in the short term, this walk has given us much more than that to digest. Without climbing one single mountain, we’ve seemed on top of the world – or at least of Tasmania – for much of our walk. We’ve met challenges ranging from off-track navigation and large group decision making; to injury and occasionally harsh weather. For me, although it jostles alongside 36 years of other walks in this region, it will remain one of the most memorable walks I’ve ever done. 

Tuesday, 20 March 2018

Crossing the Plateau 2: Downtime

There are some activities that you would immediately associate with off-track walking in the Tasmanian wilderness. Lolling about, playing cards, daytime snoozing and planking might not be among them. When day 3 dawned on our walk across the Central Plateau, those things weren’t uppermost in our thoughts either. Rather, once we’d conferred about when to leave and how far to go, we expected to walk further into the unknown.

[Conference time: Pencil Pine Tarn] 
The forecast was for wind and rain, but mostly later in the day. So getting going early, and finding a sheltered campsite before the change, seemed the obvious choice. But after breakfast, with an ominous build up of cloud and a rising wind, our group conference took an interesting turn. We outlined the options, then asked each person to express their preference. Nearly everyone was for packing up and leaving, albeit without huge enthusiasm. But at the end of the discussion one walker mentioned some hip discomfort after yesterday’s walk. When we combined that with our general ambivalence and inertia, we unanimously reversed our decision. We would stay another night in the shelter of this lovely Pencil Pine Tarn campsite. Ain’t democracy grand?

Having decided we weren’t going anywhere, we promptly went for a long walk around our home lake. We figured rain and wind might soon make that impossible, or at least unpleasant. Apart from anything else, I was curious to see if there were any other campsites near this tarn. (The short answer was yes, but our’s was definitely the Paris end of town.) Nonetheless we found some other fine stands of pine, and a few delightful pools. We also disturbed some swans and their cygnets, and the odd wallaby.

[Mick explores a nearby tarn] 
At one stage I found three of our party down on hands and knees, intently looking at something. I joined them, and found a very large, oddly-coloured katydid. 

[What have we here?] 
It was a mountain katydid (Acripeza reticulata), new to us but apparently common in eastern Australia’s high altitude grasslands. When they’re threatened they lift their wing-covers to reveal bright crimson and blue stripes, and the males emit a warning call. We mustn’t have threatened them overly, as they allowed us quite a close inspection before continuing about their long-legged business.

[A female mountain katydid - photo: Mick Adams] 
Despite our decision to stay another night at our tarn, a few of the group couldn’t resist reconnoitring the potential onward route. Tim D deployed his phone’s map app – a better option than a paper map in the strong wind that was now blowing – and tried to match what we could see with the terrain shown on the map. From where I stood, I was pretty sure I still heard “southish” and “westish” mentioned.

[Discussing our navigation options] 
With tomorrow’s navigation nailed (!) we circled back to the campsite, and settled down to a brew and banter session. At such times our talk normally centres around food (briefly) and bushwalking gear (at great length). But this time our gear chat unaccountably faltered, and we somehow found ourselves talking about walking fitness, including core strength.

Now up until a few years ago, I didn’t know humans had cores. I thought that was purely an apple thing. But I’d recently discovered not only that I had one, but that it could be strengthened. Even more, I’d found that as I get older and my muscle tone isn’t quite what it once was, having a strengthened core is a “good thing”.

So I breezily mentioned my discovery of core-strengthening exercises, and notably planking. What ensued was an hour of (mostly) harmless fun, as we started a plank challenge. While no-one in our group would confess to being competitive, they lie! An hour later, after much pain and huffing, we declared Ken the winner of the Pencil Pine Tarn Plank Challenge. He had somehow managed to hold a plank for 4 and a half minutes. Merran and Libby were the other medalists, not that anyone was being competitive, of course.

[TimO perfects the "tired and prone" position] 
The rest of us took some consolation in our ability to lie prone for even longer. TimO seemed particularly happy to adopt and hold the prone position, even if some claimed he had simply collapsed in an exhausted heap. Either way, he set such a good example that I decided to try the same in my tent. Unfortunately it didn’t work that well, as the next (non-competitive) activity – four-handed 500 beneath the close-by tarp – soon got very raucous.

Late in the afternoon the promised wind and rain gatecrashed the party, and the 500 players retreated beneath the larger tarp. The rest of us stayed tent-bound. And now we could all appreciate the wisdom of staying here an extra night. While the rain pelted down, and the wind roared around us, our tents stayed well protected. We even managed to cook in between showers, and socialise for a time over dinner.

Fresh showers finally drove us – not entirely reluctantly – back to our tents. And before the light had fully drained from the sky, I’d drifted back to sleep. Downtime can be tiring, you know.

Wednesday, 28 February 2018

Crossing the Plateau 1: Starting with the Known

So I am on the plateau again, having gone round it like a dog in circles to see if it is a good place. I think it is, and I am to stay up here for a while. – Nan Shepherd
How blithely we speak about mountaintop experiences, as though there’s nothing but serenity to be had on summits. Certainly I’ve experienced joy, and elation, and a good degree of satisfaction on getting to the top. But like most walkers and climbers I know, I have a dirty little summit secret. Even as I sit there my serenity is tempered by restlessness. I simply can’t resist planning where to go next.

[The Mountaintop where it began, looking to the Walls] 
That’s exactly what happened last December, when four of us sat on top of an unnamed mountain near Tasmania’s Blue Peaks. As our eyes scanned the wide horizon, they were magnetically drawn towards that other favourite walking area: the Walls of Jerusalem. How about we walk across the Central Plateau from Lake MacKenzie via the Blue Peaks and on to the Walls?

If that was the germ, the infection soon spread. Those who hadn’t been on that December walk all wanted in. Via email we discussed potential dates and other logistics. That’s usually where the drop-outs start happening, but not this time. While some of us had previously walked into the Walls from Lake Ada or similar, this exact route was new to us all. And no-one wanted to miss out.

The logistics of making this a one-way walk already required some mental gymnastics. Added to that two of our walkers needed to come in late on the first day, and leave a bit earlier at the end. So the plan was to pick up one of their cars and take it, along with one of ours, to leave it at the Walls carpark. That meant starting off in three walking groups, the car shuffle walkers, the non-shuffle walkers, and the late walkers. Confused? So were we, but it all worked out.

[Sunset-lit clouds, Blue Peaks] 

One of these times we’ll get to “our” Blue Peaks campsite and find someone already ensconced. (Note to self: stop extolling the virtues of this place!) Thankfully, given we were a large group, this wasn’t such a time. In dribs and drabs we finally got to the site, and settled ourselves for the adventure ahead.

If our minds had been ruffled by travel and logistics, the sunset from our campsite smoothed and soothed them. The stunning light show went on for nearly an hour, after which Tim D and I got down to discussing walking route options. 

[Sunset from Blue Peaks campsite] 
All involved the unknown, as well as the unnamed: that is the unnamed peak that was the site of the walk’s genesis. We traced a vague route on the map that would take us between Turrana Heights and the unnamed peak, then down towards Lake Lexie. After that things got fuzzier, with words like “southish” and “westish” featuring. But we did know that we were heading towards Mount Jerusalem, and that we’d have to dodge plenty of lakes and any thicker bits of forest or scrub. Tim’s other general thought was to stick to higher country, to avoid both bog and scrub. Given low water levels in the lake near our campsite, we figured boggy ground wouldn’t be much of an issue.

It was strange to be packing up to leave Blue Peaks the next morning, given it was usually our base for a number of days. Strange too not to know where we’d be camping that night. Internet searches hadn’t revealed a lot about our route, but then that was part of the adventure. We knew about a very old cattle drove route known as Ritter’s Track. But as well as it being south of our intended route, we also knew it was sketchy. And while there were sporadic cairns along the route, the ground trail itself wasn’t likely to offer better going than off-track walking. So off-track it was, firstly around our nearby lake, then off via Middle Lake and Little Throne Lake towards the unnamed peak.

Although slowed a little by carrying full packs where we normally took day packs, the going was easy, especially as the lakes were so low that we could cut across them at times. A couple of hours in, and just before the climb that would have taken us up our unnamed mountain, we veered “westish” and dropped down to a small, pine-encircled tarn. We were now officially walking where none of us had ever been before.

[Low tide on Lake Lexie] 
The weather was clear, the sky blue, and out of the stiffish breeze the day was growing warm. After a short scroggin and drink break, we hoisted packs and walked on towards the more sizeable Lake Lexie. We dodged around its long and sometimes convoluted shores, the shallowest of which looked like mud flats at low tide. Some parts had dried and cracked so much that they gave a convincing impression of a desert.

[Yes, the Plateau was dry!]  
Towards the end of Lake Lexie we found a lunch spot that offered some shelter from the growing wind. As we ate we discussed how far we should walk before settling for the night. Opinion here was divided. Some were keen to start looking for sites sooner rather than later; others wanted to head as far towards Long Tarns as we could, knowing that late tomorrow the forecast was for rain and wind. The Walls themselves offered more shelter, if we could get there before that expected weather change.

Sometimes, however, a gift horse appears. And that was the case when we came to Pencil Pine Tarn. To my mind, it being only 2:30pm, this was a bit early to stop for the day. But once we’d wandered up slope to the pencil pine forest that had given the tarn its name, we all decided we’d be mad to miss the chance to camp here.

[The sheltered campsite near Pencil Pine Tarn] 
The beautiful, ancient-looking pencil pine grove offered superb shelter from  nearly every quarter. The site had obviously been used before, with logs and rocks arranged as camp furniture, and (sadly) signs of a past campfire. Apart from fires being illegal across this whole “fuel stove only” area, I shudder when I see signs of fire anywhere near these irreplaceable pencil pines. But I calmed down once I’d spent a few minutes among the pines, breathing in their rich, resinous scent. It seemed we had landed on our feet with this campsite.

[Relaxing at Pencil Pine Tarn camp] 
Once we’d set up tents and tarps, Tim O and I declared we were going down to the lake for a swim. There were two surprises with that. Firstly everyone else said they’d do the same, and secondly the water proved to be only a foot deep, with the tarn bottom’s mud about the same depth. So our “swim” ended up being a hilarious exercise in getting both wet and muddy. At best we managed to float on our backs, propelling ourselves along like inept, over-sized otters. Still a wash is a wash, and even Jim – not a keen swimmer – stayed in the whole time. We all came out glad he’d made the effort, and more than happy to settle back in to our brilliant campsite.

Monday, 26 February 2018

Celebrating 50

At the crowded end of the year; the party end of the year; the too-much-to-do-and-not-enough-time-to-do-it end of the year, my mate Mick came up with an unusual idea. Wanting to celebrate 50 years on earth in a way that didn’t feel like all the other celebrations that jostle for attention in December, he chose to go bush with some mates.

The venue was to be the Blue Peaks, and in his casual come-if-you-can style invitation to his walking friends, Mick said “I cannot think of a better place to spend a few days contemplating life, the universe and everything … Or a better bunch of brigands to spend it with.

[A campsite for contemplation and celebration, Blue Peaks] 
Three of his thicker-skinned friends managed to put aside any offence, and carve out time from pre-Christmas schedules to join him. (In truth Mick probably has more friends than nearly anyone I know, but most were caught up in just the kind of rush he was keen to avoid.) So … ‘quality not quantity’ it was!

The four of us left Hobart a little after 7am, an almost indecently early departure by our standards. But it did give us the advantage of getting up to the Lake MacKenzie track head before lunch. We’d been walking just long enough to feel some of the sore bits, when I noticed an odd smell. At first it was very faint, but as I tweaked my pack and trudged on, I recognised it: the scent of stale smoke, of burned bush, wafting down valley from a fire that ripped through here in early 2016. Blackened bush soon confirmed that.

I would normally associate the smell with regeneration, fire usually being a means of bringing new growth to Australian bush. And smoke water – with just the scent we’re picking up now – is widely used in Australian native gardening to germinate stubborn seeds. But here, high in the Central Plateau, fire brings death.

It was sobering to experience the lack of new growth; the desolate feel; and the paucity of bird life. Yes, a few plants were making a slow comeback, but not the pencil pines. Their blackened trunks and empty canopies will stand for decades, slowly greying, as a reminder of that fire.

[Pencil pines killed by the 2016 fire] 

We were glad to get out of the fire zone, and into the untouched Blue Peaks area, by early afternoon. Once there, with our tents and tarps set up in the beautiful, familiar pencil pine grove, the bustle and busyness – and some of the sadness – started to fall away. And Mick began to beam, pretty sure that his idea was as genius as it was unusual. On a gently warm, sunny afternoon it wasn’t difficult for the rest of us to agree.

This being a first time visit for the other two, Mick and I pointed out a few of the area’s features to Larry and Ken. While we did so it struck me afresh that the most obvious characteristic of the place is actually its subtlety. Even the “peaks” of its names are understated hills more than peaks. But get your eye in here, and the light, the lakes, the clouds, the wildflowers, the birds, the distant mountains and the depth of the views, will do their work on you.

As it was only a week shy of the longest day, our evening meal was under way hours before sunset. I’d brought along a special birthday wine for Mick, and Larry had brought some brandy, so the celebrations began. Later, feeling suitably mellow, Larry and I decided to explore some of the nearby pools and pencil pines with our cameras. Mick, defying his increasing years, chose to take Ken to the top of one of the “peaks” for sunset.

[Sunset over lakes and pools, Blue Peaks] 
Next day the sun slept in. Given the low cloud and scudding showers, we followed suit. When we finally emerged, a kitchen tarp set up allowed us to breakfast and socialise in the dry for most of the morning. While mosquitoes threatened to keep us busy, they turned out keener to buzz than to bite.

After lunch we overcame our lethargy, put on some wet weather gear, and went for a wander in the light drizzle. We walked westward at a slow amble, the pace determined by the small wonders that kept gripping our attention. Scoparia (Richea scoparia) was blooming everywhere, its delightful flowers the antithesis of its dense and fiercely prickly foliage.

[Scoparia's multi-coloured blooms] 
At our slow pace we began to notice a few unusual things. Here and there we spied skinks scrambling over the prickly foliage to lick and nibble on the sweet blossoms, apparently pollinating them in the process. Wallabies too seemed to have a close relationship with the scoparia. I’ve certainly seem them supping on the sweet blooms. But we also began to notice that many of the bushes had been physically modified – presumably nibbled and trampled by the wallabies – to make highly protected nests.

Traces of wallaby fur and nearby scat mounds were further corroboration of that assumption. And nearly every “nest” – and we saw dozens of them – was sheltered from the prevailing westerly winds. That, combined with the numerous pads and pathways created by wallabies and wombats, led us to consider afresh the definition of the word farming. Such adaptations of the landscape certainly bore some of the marks of basic farming.

[Mick ponders a wallaby "nest" in scoparia] 
Wanting to earn our evening meal, we wandered further off, doing a loop around some lakes and low hills for another couple of hours. It was hardly exhausting work, but it allowed us to feel justified in further feasting once back at camp. Expensive wine, soft cheeses, biscotti, smoked mussels and oysters are hardly your usual bushwalking fare, but we’d all come prepared to celebrate!

The evening turned mellow in more ways than one, as the surrounding hills shrugged off the clouds, and wide, benign skies opened up around us again. Even the mosquitoes seemed to join in the celebration. At one point hundreds – perhaps thousands – lifted into the sky above our campsite, spiralling and swirling like a murmuration of starlings. We watched amazed, unsure what it signified, except that while they were up there they weren’t down here bothering us!

If we needed any confirmation of clearing skies, we had it when the night turned cold, and yet again I had reason to regret taking a summer weight sleeping bag into Tasmania’s high country. A freezing night might have been one reason we got going early. But there was also the sense that Mick and I needed to show the “newbies” a bit more of what the area had to offer. What better, we reasoned, than taking them via a few named lakes (Middle and Little Throne), past a named mountain (Turrana Heights), and to an (unjustifiably) unnamed peak.

[Near the unnamed peak] 
The day was a gem, in more ways than one. The deep blue sky stayed clear all day, apart from a decorative schmear of cirrus cloud. With only day packs, and in no hurry, we strolled easily from lake to lake, hill to hill, chatting, stopping for photos, or scroggin, or just because we wanted to. Still, it was well before midday that we found ourselves scrambling to the top of our destination peak. It was as sensational as we remembered, with literally hundreds of lakes dotting the plateau beneath us, each reflecting the blue sky back to us.

Over lunch our eyes roamed south-west towards the Walls of Jerusalem. On such a day those mountains seemed achievably, tantalisingly close. We looked at our maps, traced a potential route or two, then went back to our lunch. That’s how easily a trip plan is hatched … but that’s another story.

[On top of the unnamed peak, with the Walls behind] 
With so much of the day left, we thought we’d go back “the hard way”, or at least a different way, via a hill we’d never been to, and then on to Little Throne. After a while we fanned out widely, each taking his own off-track route vaguely towards Little Throne. In the process I almost literally stumbled across the most enormous cushionplant I have ever seen. The other guys were maybe a hundred metres away from me, but I just had to call them down to see this spectacular marvel.

[Part of the vast cushionplant] 
Covering an area of at least 30m by 25m, the cushionplant – more accurately a colony of cushionplants – spread gently downslope in one continuous ruckled carpet of vibrant green. The colony had dammed a small stream, creating a shallow pool upstream, with trickling flow beneath, through and around it, creating ideal growth conditions for the moisture-loving species. It’s possible it had grown here for around 800 years, a notion that staggered us, especially given their vulnerability to trampling, drought and fire. We felt humbled to be in the presence of this giant dwarf among plants, and left with the sense that its exact location should be left unspoken. Some secrets are best kept.

[Cushionplant, pool and mountains] 
Before long Little Throne came into view. Mick and I, familiar with the usual route up the slopes of this twin-peaked, mini-mountain, thought we might try a different approach. Given that we weren’t coming at it from the usual angle, that made sense. Or at least it did until we started to ascend. Then the scrub proved thick and unfriendly, and we were hot, scratched and sweating by the time we hauled out on top.

So when we finally got back to camp, we were feeling well justified in helping Mick polish off the last of the birthday food and wine. It was a fine thing to be still in that wonderful place, winding up the 50th celebrations in style. Yet for everything we’d brought to the party, we’d been given far more by this wonderfully generous place. Good choice Mick!

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.