Across the others side of the world, while the
fires were raging
I made my way to the Australian state-island of
It had come to my attention about 5 years ago that across the island was a track that went from the tip of the north down to its southern edge. If you know about my previous trips then this fit's perfectly with what I'm into!
Also it provided a great escape from Canadian winter.
Two days before flying I got a card-board bike box from a local store, organized a free stay with some couch-surfers in Launceston and packed all my gear in anticipation for at least a month of riding.
The planned route is actually a hybrid trail for biking, hiking and horseback called the Tasmanian Trail. It would be the first "real bikepacking" I would attempt in the sense that it was 80%+ off-road. As usual my gear setup was decidedly ultralight and I would be riding my heavy steel bike that I had been collecting dust since I went across Iceland. I planned on doing the 465km(289 miles) in 4 days with an additional 100km(62 miles) of biking to reach the starting point in Devonport. On the morning of January 12th, 2010 I set off to the trailhead.
The way to Devonport was mainly along paved road parallel to highways, past cultivated land and scores of exotic roadkill. Most roads in Tasmania were only two lanes wide with no shoulder. Thankfully there aren't too many Australians on the island and most drivers gave me a decent amount of space while passing.
At Devonport I went to the waterfront to stare off in the direction of mainland and found the start of the trail. A small section of biking lanes through the city lead me south and back onto side roads and then gravel.
In the late afternoon I was put onto some flowy single-track in jungle bush. I came across a dead belly-up snake and some day-hikers. The trail goes through a lot of private property and so I hopped 3 different fences in under an hour. If the idea of lifting a fully loaded bike over your head and then a fence multiple times doesn't appeal to you, you can organize to receive the keys to the gates ahead of time.
I passed many poppy farms on the way to my first stop of Railton. Apparently it is a huge industry on the island for export to globally. In the late afternoon I reach the small town and stop at a local takeaway to eat food. Then I hit up the local pub to try the local beers ( James Boag's and Cascade ) which aren't very good. The pub in Railton offers free camping in a vacant lot behind it so that's were I setup for the night.
Starting early before the sun rises I make excellent progress away from the heat of the sun. My face is completely red from exposure yesterday so I wrap up with my buff. The sunrise hits me as I dart along between two farmsteads surrounded by grazing cows. I come across my first live wallaby and chase it down for about 1km(0.6miles) as the trail is shoulder with electric fence.
The landscape becomes hilly as my day is filled with constant up and down along dusty gravel roads. Under the intense heat of the sun, the downhill rushes of wind are the only rewards I can hope for. Going deeper into the bush I get more wonderful single-track and some blowouts where I have to lift and maneuver my bikes over large trees. I have an easy river crossing around midday that comes up half way to my knee but there is no current. On the other bank there is a steep and eroded hill that I have to push my bike up. Not done yet, I also have to weave up and through a handful of fallen trees, roughly banging my bike about.
Emerging from the bush I enter what seems to be a logging area with sudden sections completely barren. My chain starts clicking as I continue climbing and descending. Suddenly on each ascent the chain drops off and I have to stop to realign it 4 separate times. Upon inspection one of my chain links is busted, being only connected by one side plate. Finally on a non-consequential climb the chain snaps cleanly in two...
This has never happen to me before and I didn't have the appropriate tools to fix the chain. Under the hot afternoon sun I dried my sleeping bag and tent from the dew it collected last night as I thought of what to do next. The nearest bike shop was all the way back in Devonport, over 60km(37 miles) away. I stuffed all my gear into my backpack, chucked the bike under some foliage and started to hike out to the nearest major road. 10km(6 miles) took me to the regional highway. With another 14km(8 miles) back to Railton I stuck along the edge of the paved road and kept walking. The stench of roadkill greeted me every couple of hundred meters along with the swarm of flies that decided that I could be a potential meal versus the carcasses on the road. Despite trying to hitch a ride no one stopped for me. By the end of the day I finally reached the Railton pub once again.
This time around I booked a room in the pub hotel to recover from a hard day. I had done about 40km(25 miles) of riding before the break plus a 24km(15 miles) hike with full pack loaded with food and water. In the morning I would go to Devonport and sort out my chain issue.
Thankfully there is a bus that connects Railton and Devonport and so I take that early in the morning. At a local Giant shop I show them my busted chain that I brought along and ask them how I go about fixing it. With a few master links and a chain breaker tool in my pockets I'm ready to go back and fix the bike back out in the bush.
The bus back to Railton is very infrequent, having only 4 or 5 trips a day. While waiting I go back to the waterfront to lay down in peace. There are clouds of smog drifting southwards as winds blow fire smoke from Victoria to the island. A vagabond and her dog decide to strike up a conversation with me as I wait.
Upon arriving back in Railton I decide to try to hitch back out to the bike. Hiking another 24km(15 miles) along a highway doesn't sound fun to me. Thankfully a delivery man grabs me after about half an hour and drives me to within 4km(2.5 miles) of where I can re-enter the forest. Thankfully my bike is exactly where I left it and, after many minutes of sweating and cursing under the sun, my chain is re-attached, lubed and ready to go.
The rest of the day is uneventful in comparison. I have one really tough climb that forces me off the bike into pushing it up slowly but otherwise I make good progress before settling in for the night.
Waking early around 5:30am I head off into the cool morning. I know that the highest gain in elevation is a head of me today so I race forward. The climb ends up being one of the hardest things I've ever physically done. It was completely unridable mountain track consisting mainly of watermelon sized boulders. Each step had to be deliberate and pushing the bike along this terrain was punishing. I pushed the bike for 4 hours for 4km(2.5 miles) to gain just over 1km(3300 feet) of elevation.
As the sun peaked, every few steps had me panting and stopping. The saving grace was that there were a couple mountain streams that I passed. This allowed me to splurge on water and not collapse under the soaring temperatures. Eventually I did make it out and the trail simply emerged from over grown bush onto a paved highway. Continuing forward the general trend was downhill.
As the afternoon passes the sky darkens and clouds bring tidings of rain. After eating a good portion of my food I start to crank out mileage in a race to find some lodging for the night. The roads takes me around the Great Lake which is a popular getaway for locals and mainlanders. The winds pickup as this flat and exposed highland stretches off into the distance.
Just as it starts to spit rain I check into a lodge, buy a bunch of junk food and veg out in my room. The forecast is not looking good so I am already preparing to chill-out tomorrow and wait for it to pass.
Forced rest day due to inclement weather.
Feeling cooped up from the previous day I head out early around 6am. It is absolutely frigid. There are clouds lingering the air and a light wind whipping about as I pedal on. I begin to lose serious elevation now with continuous downhill. I am forced to stop two times to warm my fingers and face as they become numb from the cold air rushing into me from the descent.
After plenty of downhill on paved road I get back onto gravel and single-track before midday. The sun also comes out to play and everything is properly hot again. I stop briefly while passing through a small town for lunch. I meet an Australian cycle tourist and we eat and chat together before heading our separate ways.
After leaving the town there is even more single-track and isolated forest roads that I get to explore. At the end of the day I have a 500m(1640 feet) climb before reaching a town where I spend the night. I tend to some sun burn blisters that cover the upper half of my legs and enjoy a warm hot shower before heading to bed.
With the final stretch ahead of me I am in a good mood and good motivation. There is 2500m(8202 feet) of elevation to gained and lost before I'm done. The trail is immaculate with great single-track, double-track, extended downhill gravel and really remote and abandoned jeep track to keep me busy all day.
At some points I breakout on to exposed hillsides being able to see far out into the distance. Passing through a handful of sheep grazing fields I have fun biking alongside the animals. After many hills and a couple hopped fences I am suddenly staring down at the coast and the town of Dover. After steady decent I finally reach the end of the Tasmania trail.
Once in Dover there was not much actually to do there. I would bike to Hobart, Tasmania's capital, where I would decide where to go next. Another cycle tourist I meet while in Hobart would inspire me to continue cycling back along the east coast. I ended doing just that, while stopping at Maria and Bruny Islands, a day at Derby for sick mountain biking trails and then looping back to Launceston to stay with my couch-surfing friend once again. After a few days I would head off to New Zealand to continue cycling and attempt the Tour Aotearoa.
The Tasmanian trail was not what I expected but I enjoyed it nonetheless. It was harder due to the terrain and what I trained for. Overcoming each day was its own reward and the need for zero planning to do the route was nice. Food and water are to be found everywhere with cheap accommodations or camping all along the way. Here is the official site for this trail.More Photos
I would love to go back and explore the western mountains of Tasmania in the future and do more cycling. If you love hot weather, tropical flora and exotic mammals with a good deal of gravel and pedaling then Tasmania is the place for you.
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