Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Day 636 - Geelong

Don’t worry, I will keep it short this time.

I went in search of a new fuel pump, pretty easy really, all the hiking shops are on the same street, the trouble is that wandering around such shops always hurts the wallet more than intended. I had a look around for a new shirt to cycle in. There is nothing wrong with my Anaconda shirt, other than the fact that I prefer to tour in a casual shirt, I don’t like the tight waist and sleeves of the cycling jerseys. The shirts I liked were all really expensive, and what I wanted was very particular, short sleeves, zip, no collar. I entered one shop having seen countless shirts at around $100 and told them my requirements, “Yes, we have those, what colour do you want”. Sure enough they had what I was after “One problem” I said, “I need it to be ridiculously cheap”, “We can do that” he replied and knocked 50% off the already cheap price, so at just $25 I couldn’t say no, so I had bought a shirt for the first time since I left home. I wandered around town before heading out to Burnley for an evening of bell ringing, typically I went over there without the name of the church or the address, still, I found it easily enough. Ringing was interesting, the bells were light and just above you head, so close in fact that the sallies went onto the wheel, very difficult to ring.

More odd jobs were in store for the following day, then come evening I rode over to see Mike , Will arrived soon after. Mike, being another cyclist did us proud, I hadn’t seen so much protein on one plate in a long time. It turned into a great social evening, I returned late at night to the smell of smoke across the city from the recent bush fires, some of which were still burning. The moon was an amazing orange colour due to the same reason.

Saturday I managed a little sightseeing. I checked out the Victoria National Gallery International section and saw probably one of the worst paintings I have seen in a gallery, at least I assume it was an exhibit. Christine was arriving on a flight from Hobart, we arranged to meet at the hostel, but when I came out of the gallery I got a call from her and in a little distressed voice she said “They have left me at Southern Cross railway station and I don’t know how to get to the hostel”. Luckily I was nearby so went to meet her and we cycled back together….feminist huh!! Another social evening was in store, this time I at last caught up with Annie, a friend of Lorna’s. We had a drink in a nearby pub, and then took a walk along the beach with her and Paul her partner. In the next neighbourhood I had no trouble in polishing off a pizza which turned out to be much bigger than expected.

Sunday started with a bit more bell ringing, a trip into the centre to ring at St Patrick’s Cathedral. I have to say that all the bells in Sydney were fantastic, here in Melbourne they were sadly lacking. I once again met up with Christine and visited another gallery, Aussie and Aboriginal art, tremendous stuff. We rode across to Victoria Market and managed to demolish an alarming pile of fruit. An in depth discussion followed, before we realised the place was shut down and we were there alone, another day had slipped by all too quickly. The evening saw me meet up with Brian Thacker. Brian is a couch surfer and travel writer and had agreed to meet of for chat. We arranged to meet at the Barkly Hotel just across from where I was staying. Whilst I waited for his arrival I could hardly believe the people heading into the karaoke, I can’t remember when I last saw so many beautiful women in such a short space of time. Brian arrived and we sat outside at a table next to a big guy with tattoos on his arms and a stud through his bottom lip, a big guy, larger than life, larger than a lot of things really. We started chatting, Brian has had 6 books published, so I was after any tips or advice that was on offer. Studman was obviously listening in and intrigued “I recognise you from somewhere don’t I?” he asked, “No, no, I don’t think so”. We carried on talking, we managed about 30 seconds before studman chipped in again “I know where I know you from, you in a band”, “No, not me, I am from the UK, I don’t think you have seen me before”. 30 seconds later he was back with “I have got it, you look just like the guy in Pink Floyd. Do you like Pink Floyd”, “Yeah, I like Pink Floyd”, but he was becoming a bit annoying now. I gave him too much attention, before long I was getting the story of his family. I am just guessing here, but I don’t think he got on well with his family “My father is an arsehole, a lovely guy, but an arsehole”. He added “I have no money, all I have is the clothes I am wearing, but I would give anybody my last 20 cents”, though I think he gave his last 20 cents to the barman as he came back with another beer. Brian told me how he is an expert at ignoring people, it was time for me to start practicing, but it was more difficult for me as he was facing me, but it worked in the end. But there were other distractions. As I talked Brian’s eye glazed over “J-e-s-u-s C-h-r-i-s-t”, he too was noticing the all the gorgeous women. Everybody that went into the karaoke were beautiful looking people, it was time for us to go in and have a look…..they didn’t let us in! I didn’t think Brian was THAT bad looking!

Monday morning we were back on the road, taking the long way around the bay to avoid the Freeway down to Geelong. Before heading out Christine needed a new gas canister “Don’t worry” I said, “Get one later, you can use my stove tonight if you don’t find one”, she replied with “I can’t do that, I am a feminist”. After Frankston we stopped for a bite, the sea looked picture perfect, so we had a dip in the sea, bliss, a lovely sandy shallow slope into the water, even I could manage that. We continued around the bay where there were beach huts. We sat behind one just for the shade. I had to explain it’s purpose to Christine who then didn’t believe me, she just couldn’t grasp the concept. We struggled to find somewhere to camp, the coast was built up the whole way down, so we headed in land a little and soon found somewhere that would have to do, the only reason Christine was happy is because there were blackberries beside us. Once set up I cooked up the kangaroo steaks we had been wanting to try for so long. Strangely, Christine’s stove and it’s new canister was conspicuous by their absence. She is no feminist, she is a “wannabe feminist”, a feminist when it is convenient.

We carried on around the bay to Sorrento, the got the ferry around to Queenscliffe and rode into Geelong passing the National Wool Museum. “Is there really such a thing“ I asked. “Of course there is“ came the reply “There is bound to be in a country where the men are still men and the sheep are nervous“. We had a hiking friend of Christine’s to visit for the night, it was my job to follow the written directions that she had been supplied with by Ben, they were spot on, we found the place easily. Ben was great entertainment with a lovely view of his own country and his people and painted an even better picture of the Americans. They had met when they passed on the Appalachian Trail, so needless to say it was the main topic on conversation. Christine had made it all sound so difficult, Ben view was very different. Is that the feminist in her I wonder? She had asked me to let her know when she pronounced anything wrong. When she pronounce ‘gaol’ as ‘goal’ I pointed out her error, she wouldn’t believe me and kept on using the wrong pronunciation, though believed Ben straight away. The journey to Adelaide is going to be hard work!

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Day 631 - Back to Melbourne

Hold on to your seats, this looks like being another biggy!

By the time I was up on Tuesday morning in Hobart, Gail had already gone to work. I had been bell ringing the previous night too and all the lights were out by the time I arrived back, so it meant I left without saying thank you in person for the wonderful hospitality I had received. That’s poor etiquette on my part, something I am not happy about and I shall try to ensure it doesn’t happen again. Fabio, another couch surfer from Italy had arrived the previous evening and saw me off as I headed down the very steep hill, a hill he assured me was far less steep than the one that is claimed to be the worlds steepest in Dunedin on New Zealand’s south island. I was heading for the Tasman Bridge but as I approached it I was flagged down by two people on foot who told me how to get to the cycle path. I chatted to them for a while, they were there with plans for the improved cycle path over the bridge, which I pointed out needed better sign posting. I soon found out why it was being improved, it was probably the narrowest cycle path I have ever ridden on, with plenty of obstacles, one of which I stopped at as I wasn’t sure I could get through without hitting the sides. I passed another cyclist heading the other way, we both had to stop to squeeze past. Back on the highway I was climbing a steepish hill. Where on earth had that come from, it had been a flat road at the weekend when we had driven along it in the car! Around Cambridge I saw a number of cyclists, one rode with me to Richmond telling me it was a weekly meet that they had at a vineyard. Richmond is a tourist trap, a single street full of gift shops and cafes, oh, and a nice old bridge and church. It had been a detour but I guess I was glad to have seen it. After Sorell I was heading down a road that only went to the Tasman Peninsula and Port Arthur, so it came as a real shock at just how busy it was. Where was all the traffic going to? It was too busy to be enjoyable, but just after the village of Copping I saw a cyclist heading the other way, so we stopped for a chat, she was Christine from Germany. An hour stood at the edge of the busy main road quickly slipped by and as I was only going a few more kilometres before looking for somewhere to camp I suggested we camped together and then we could continue talking. So we headed back in the direction of Sorell and made our way down the gravel road towards Orford that would bypass that busy road and soon found a spot in the woods to camp the night. It turned out that Christine is a serious hiker and has hiked 3 times from Mexico to Canada, including the well know Appalachian Trail. She had decided to give cycling a go, was finding it tough and had the impression we are an unsociable bunch.

At breakfast I changed my plans, I decided to head up the east coast with Christine and have company for a few days. It’s the route I had planned to take anyway, it just meant that I would miss out on the trip to Port Arthur at the end of the peninsular, but at least would save me backtracking the 60 odd kilometres, something I never like doing anyway. Christine told me she hated gravel roads and walked up the steeper hills, so with that in mind I told her to set off before me as I wasn’t ready, most of the day was to be on a hilly gravel road. I left about 30 minutes later and despite a couple of junctions with poor signposting it was easy to follow her as I just followed her tyres tracks made even easier as they are the same tyres as mine. I caught up as she went very slowly down a hill, a in-built precaution having fallen off in pea-gravel on just the second hour of her first day of cycling, not a good start. We stopped to take walk around a tiny little rainforest amongst the planted forest, but the thing that impressed me most was the massive stacked, interlocking tree trunks that were supporting the wooden bridge. We had just cycled over it, but being covered in gravel it was completely disguised, I hadn‘t even realised that I hade been over a bridge. Once going again we were heading up a steep hill and Christine was off and walking. I was soon to discover that she is a feminist and if I was going to get up all the hills with all my gear on a fully loaded bike, then she was too as she is travelling ultra-light, carrying just 2 rear panniers compared to my total of seven bags. It was the only time I saw her walk up a hill. It was good to have a bit of company whilst cycling for a change, the first company since I left Clement back in Malaysia about 6 months ago, but after waiting for 15 minutes having descended down to tarmac and the village of Orford I was beginning to wonder if it was such a good idea after all. Thankfully it was the last long section of gravel we rode together, though far from the last time I heard the phrase “I hate gravel roads”. We stopped in Triabunna where we met another couple of cyclists. I had seen just one cyclist on the west coast, but here on the east coast they were coming thick and fast. They were two Germans and recognised me by my bike, we had talked to each other at the ferry terminal in Melbourne when I bought my ticket. We sat around a talked for a couple of hours, time enough to eat half of the huge Boston Bun I had just bought. I would have eaten the lot, but felt a bit embarrassed as being such a pig in front of other people. We managed to cover another 30k before finding a nice little spot to camp, then cooked up sausages and ended the evening enjoying the still, clear evening and a wonderful view of the stars. Talking of stars, I struggled for so long to locate the Southern Cross, something I had wanted to see as it is on the Australian flag. To be honest amongst all the other stars it’s pretty insignificant and actually on its side at this time of year, so hardly surprising it took me so long to find, yet now I know where it is, it seems so obvious and seems to stand out amongst all the other stars. It’s funny how a trained eye can work for you.

The following morning we arrived in Swansea and stopped at a bakery where Christine showed her ability to eat more than me and not even feel guilty about it, she is making a good cycling partner. Then we turned right and rode the full length of Nine Mile Beach, but it might as well have been Nine Inch Beach as you don’t get to see any of it. At the far end we had an appointment with a ferry man, a guy who you can ring up and will take cyclists across the 100m entrance of a lagoon. Two days later I was getting very pissed off with hearing “Don’t Pay the Ferryman” being whistled from behind me, my fault for mentioning it in the first place I guess. Christine had a romantic view of being punted across in the little wooden boat, but my vision had been a bit more realistic and much closer to reality as a small metal boat came speeding across pulling up on the beach. We were met with “Quick, socks off, front bags off, wheel the bike in backwards, QUICKLY, lift the front of the bike, LIFT THE FRONT, quick next one, right get in, I have left the trailer on the slipway, HURRY, there is no time to hang round!” all said in a strong Aussie accent at break neck speed so that Christine could hardly understand a word. Once safely beached on the other side he calmed a little and slowed down just enough to tell us the local details such as free camp sites etc. It was another hot day, we sat in the shade and had lunch looking out over Coles Bay (photo) before the walk up to the lookout over Wineglass Bay. There were dozens of people making the pilgrimage to what is in my opinion just another overrated Australian attraction. Don’t get me wrong, it’s really nice, but I saw plenty of beaches and similar views in Indonesia, and they were all for free, this one cost $11, or at least should have done. Still, we backtracked and cycled alongside the lagoon with a nice tailwind, really easy going, though we struggled to find anywhere decent to camp. I rode for a short way with an Italian guy and I then realised that I had also met him whilst buying me ferry ticket to get over here. Once we eventually found somewhere suitable to camp, the day took a rapid turn downhill. First of all it started to rain, it rained just long enough to soak us while we set up the tents, then one of the zips broke on my tent and to cap it all the fuel pump of my stove broke again, exactly the same problem as I had last time. It is safe to say that I wasn’t best pleased, especially as the rest of the evening was spent unsuccessfully trying to do a botched repair of it.

As we approached Bicheno we saw cyclists coming the other way, it’s a bit of a daily ritual now, but I realised the woman at the front was from the UK long before we exchanged any words, who else would be wearing a Marmite cycling jersey? They were from up north, from Durham and Carol told us of the pink cycling jacket she had lost 40k back. We told her we would look for it and leave it at a Backpackers in Launceston if we found it. As we departed Christine asked “Are they from England? I couldn’t understand a word they said”. A few kilometres past Bicheno we called in at Nature world, a sort of Wildlife Park. It came highly recommended, but if this is highly recommended I dread to think what the rest of them are like. To be honest, the animals are well kept, it’s just that there weren’t that many and most are enclosed in ugly green fences, the Cotswold Wildlife Park would beat it hands down, but at least I got to see Tasmanian Devils and a baby kangaroo with its head sticking out of its mother’s pouch. The kangaroos roam free, are very tame, and can be fed by hand. As the first one came bouncing across at break neck speed my only thought was “I hope this thing knows how to stop!” The afternoon was spent slogging into a head wind, not a lot of fun, so we were really thankful to find a campsite beside a lagoon in the very first place we looked. Christine goes through a strange ritual of testing out the camping area by lying on it first, this results in her getting covered in dirt. She then uses some of my stuff, such as the Swiss army knife, because her ultra lightweight stuff is crap, and it then also gets handed back filthy. She has single handedly shattered my illusion that all Germans are way to clean for their own good.

By the following morning the wind had thankfully died down, good timing, now it was just the hilly terrain of the day that would make us knackered. As we approached St Helens I stopped to pick up a pink cycling jacket, it was about 50k further north than we were told, but there can’t be that many pink cycling jackets littering the countryside of Tasmania, surely. We stopped to buy food and a bottle of wine and I was surprised to find that we both like sweet white wines and both being tight fisted we bought the cheapest. We do have some things in common other than sweet white wines, for example we both like stealth, or wild camping rather than using campsites, but it has become increasingly obvious as time goes on that we have very different backgrounds and almost all of our views about almost everything are totally the opposite to each other, but it does make for some interesting conversations. Evenings around a broken camp stove slip by very quickly. After a bit more climbing and a nice drop down to Pyengana we stopped for lunch. I am back on a cold food diet where everything tastes remarkably similar and strangely enough of petrol. A climb up to 600m lay just ahead of us, Christine asked me to wait at the top, something I would have done anyway, I always do. I stopped early in the climb to takes some photos and she passed me, but I knew I would soon catch her up, or at least thought I would. We were up to 500m before I eventually caught her up. I was getting a little suspicious about what was going on and she soon admitted it was once again the feminist that was making her determined to stay ahead of me. We arrived at the top together, but over the next few days hearing her tell everybody how she beat me to the top was becoming almost as tiresome as “Don’t Pay the Ferryman”, but at least I now know how to make her go faster up hill, though making her go faster downhill will be a bit more of a challenge. On a long decent I was soon way ahead of her so I hid down a track, waited for her to pass then shot past her again, I hoped being left twice on one descent might bring out that competitive streak in her but it didn’t, it just makes her say “You have a death wish” more often. We stopped at Weldborough to collect water for the night, it’s almost impossible to find a tap anywhere that doesn’t say “This water is NOT fit for drinking” but beggars can’t be choosers. As we descended further I found a track that looked suitable to head down to find a camping spot. As I waited for my cycling companion to crawl slowly down the hill a van came out of the track containing two weird looking characters covered in tattoos and an ugly and vicious looking dog with spikes around its dog collar, I decided it was best to look elsewhere. We soon found an ideal little spot in woodland at the end of a track. The wine went down very well, it didn’t even taste of petrol!

Another hilly day followed, the first stop being in the quaint little town of Derby. Tasmania has so many place names stolen from Britain, though here they pronounce them as the sound, so Derby is pronounced with an ’e’ rather than the ’a’ sound that we use and Launceston is pronounced…..well….Launceston rather than Launston. I filled a water bottle from a tap outside of the little store, it looked remarkably brown, so I went inside and asked if it was ok, “Yeah, it runs straight down off the hills so it might have a bit of wallaby shit in it, but it’s ok to drink” I was told. The wind was really picking up, lunch was taken on a picnic table where everything had to be weighted down. More hills followed, it was tough going. We met another cyclist coming the other way, Sophie from Adelaide who kindly invited us to stay with her if we make it that far. We camped just over the crest of another climb, down a little used track, not the first one we had tried mind, the other track we tried had failed to produce a descent camping spot, had been on gravel and was very steep, so half of the team wasn’t best pleased, the other half was hardly getting excited about it either, though thankfully it wasn’t my idea to go and look down it. The camping has easily settled into a nice routine, we both know what is required. First of all it has to out of earshot of the road as the half of the team that wasn’t best pleased about the hilly gravel track is also not best pleased if we can hear the faintest sound from a road. It also has to be extremely unlikely that anybody will ’stumble’ upon us. Once the spot is found I take the largest spot as I have the bigger tent, then Christine wanders around lying in dirt until she is covered in muck and has found a spot she likes. This is my chance to get my own back for “Don’t Pay the Ferryman” as I keep yelling out “Oi, you have forgotten to put your tent up!” Once the tents are up the kitchen and dining room are set up in between the tents and the initial comments of “What the hell are you carrying that sheet thing around for” are now replaced by “This sheet is brilliant, I am going to have to get one”, so the groundsheet is now know as the dining room. Then we sit around and discuss our totally different views on life until we can at least both agree that the mosquitoes are way too much of a nuisance to warrant sitting outside any longer, then we go our separate ways with calls from Little Miss Fussy shouting out “If you ever snore you are dead”.

I had a bad nights sleep, in fact I didn’t sleep much at all. I rather got the impression that I had over dosed on wallaby shit. I felt ill, not so ill that I wouldn’t be able to cycle, but I knew I would be in for a tough day, though thankfully it was going to be a shorter days riding anyway. By 06:30 I wasn’t feeling too bad, though I could already hear footsteps around the other tent, a bit odd I thought as I am always up first. “John” came a call from a little distressed voice “Are you ok, it’s just that I have got a terrible dose of the trots”. Hmm, it would seem that we have bother overdosed on the wallaby shit then. We were both ok to make a move but what I really didn’t want is what I got, a start of a long descent in only 10 degrees….brrr! First stop was Lilydale falls. I am sure they are impressive after a little rain, but right now they were not really worth the effort, so we didn’t even bother with the upper falls. After 25k and just outside Launceston we stopped in the sun to warm up. In the end we nattered away from almost 2 hours, by which time I was too hot. Back on the road I was soon cold again, the jacket was on and off repeatedly. I did little in Launceston, I really didn’t feel up to it, but I did check out the old umbrella shop, though it can hardly call itself that anymore and there is far more gifty tourist tat than there are umbrellas. Ironically it was pouring with rain and it was shut! (Actually that is a bit of a lie, but it was shut, and there must be times when it is both raining and shut). We headed out of Launceston on the banks of the river Tamar, we were heading for the home of Scott, Rosemary and their family. I had met them whilst camping at Hamilton near Hobart and they had invited me to stay if I was passing by. I gave them a call the previous day but when I said I wouldn’t staying the night as I was now cycling with a companion, Scott said “That’s no problem, we have plenty of spare beds”. Christine didn’t want to cycle on the busy highway out of Launceston, it was full of rush our traffic. There was a cycle track that took a bit of finding, now it was my turn to moan as cycle tracks are my pet hate as you never really know where you are going to end up. Ok, so we couldn’t really get lost so long as we kept the river to our right and the main road to the left, but given those simple parameters it was still remarkably difficult to follow. Christine was hearing me cursing for the first time “You really don’t like cycle tracks do you?” she said, though a few minutes later as we were heading back in the direction we had come from but on the dual-carriageway looking for somewhere to cross it, she was soon agreeing with me. It was a slog into the wind, I wasn’t feeling strong and I wasn’t enjoying it one little bit, I really just wanted to be there. At last we arrived at Legana and turned off the road, we were now heading down a lane full of very smart looking suburban houses, then at the end of them we turned down a gravel track for a kilometre to a large pair of wrought iron gates and into a very large garden with an equally large house and a view over the river Tamar to die for, wow! We soon found out the full meaning of the comment “…we have plenty of spare beds” as we shown around and given a choice of any of the 6 spare bedrooms we liked. Scott and Rosemary have 4 children and a house with 11 bedrooms, that big enough for their 3 horses, 2 dogs and a cat to have a bedroom each! We had a wonderful evening with a fantastic full moon reflecting in the river down the hill. Scott and Rosemary have also been keen walkers and have walked some of the same tails that Christine has. The only downside of the evening was hearing about the terrible bush fires that have been burning and causing such death and havoc in Victoria and NSW. Politicians were in parliament clearly very distressed as they talked about the fires, many of which have been started by arsonists. Their distress seemed genuine to me and it made me think that we never see such emotions on the faces of our politicians at home. I was rather pleased to be seeing such emotion on what I would have assumed to be hardened faces, it made them seem real, down to earth, caring human beings.

The following morning we both had a lie in, partially due to the beds being so comfortable, but also because we wanted to stay out of the way as it was the children’s first day back to school after the summer holidays and they were all going to new schools. Once they were away we got up and helped ourselves to breakfast, and whilst we ate Rosemary returned from the school run. Once again it was hard to leave, they are such a nice family, Scott and Rosemary so welcoming and so easy to talk to and the children so well behaved and easy going with strangers around. We were both so glad to have spent the night with them all. Christine and I went our separate ways, Christine back to Hobart to collect her hiking kit she has left stored there and me to Devonport to catch the overnight ferry of Melbourne, thankfully I bought a ticket the day before whilst in Launceston, apparently the last one available without having to spend a fortune on a cabin. The split is only temporary as Christine has decided she likes cycling with me and has asked if she can cycle to Adelaide with me before heading off to another hike in Victoria and then on to Japan, so it looks as though I have another 10 days of her moaning whenever she can see a gravel road in the distance! She’s a really nice person though. I took Scott’s advice and travelled along the road to Exeter and enjoyed the beautiful views over the Tamar (photo), then took Rosemary’s advice and went via Latrobe in the hope of seeing a Platypus, though sadly I didn’t, though it was worth a go. I arrived at the port in perfect timing where I met the only other cyclist going on the sailing. He was Will and the owner of the most highly decorated bike I have seen. He is from Newcastle just north of Sydney and the first cyclist that I have met who is cycling the whole way around Australia. He had been going a year to the day so I wished him Happy Birthday. As I admired his bike I asked “What’s that?”, he replied “It’s a telescopic didgeridoo, it really useful for cycling”. Now that’s not a phrase you hear every day! We sat together in the lounge and Will was soon introducing me to people he had met, all of whom had been to the Rainbow Gathering, a sort of hippy event, so they were all colourful characters, all really friendly and all interesting to talk to. One of them Elliot was really interesting, he worked on a farm in Victoria and as a hiking guide in Tasmania and has walked the popular Overland Track 16 times and wants to do it on a unicycle. I was invited to work and stay on his farm for a while, something I would really love to do, but it is the wrong direction for me and my time here in Australia is sadly running out. I was tired and went up to claim my reclining seat for what I expected to be a long night.
I was restless all night but was really surprised to look at my watch and see that it was already 05:30, I must have slept reasonably well. Once we were off the ship the never ending list of hospitality leads was continuing as Will said “There is a cyclist who has invited me to breakfast, I have to give him a ring, and I will ask if you can come along too”. To be honest I really didn’t want to, I was looking forward to a bit of time and space on my own, I have been in company and sociable for almost a week now, I don’t want to over do it. I was disappointed to hear that I would be made welcome and felt somewhat down as we cycled along hoping we wouldn’t be able to find the house, but Mike had walked out to meet us. I got off the bike and walked and talked to Mike and within a couple of minutes I was glad to be there, I instantly took a like to him, once again things on this trip continue to fall so nicely into place. Mike had to leave for work at 9am, but still took the time to make us a breakfast of coffee, toast and an omelette, I have fancied an omelette for so long, it was wonderful. Mike has travelled extensive by bike too, there was so much to talk about, I was in very good company. Mike had to go, but he invited us back to dinner on Friday night, something I look forward to, and before we left he told us that if we needed anything doing to the bikes we could always use his workshop. I made my way to the hostel, the same one as I stayed in on my last visit. Arriving in familiar surroundings is like arriving home. I checked in, unfortunately Sylvia left for Tassie at the weekend, I was hoping to be able to catch up with her.

So what did I make of Tasmania? Well, to be honest I was somewhat disappointed with it, sure I could have spent a lot more time there and seen far more of the sights, but the real problem was that I had such high expectations of the place. So many people had told me how wonderful it is and that it is just like New Zealand, but to me it falls well short. Having said that I still enjoyed being there, the surroundings, the people, and I am glad I have made the effort to come here as now I know for myself exactly what it is like. The west and east of the island are so totally different and that made the cycling varied and interesting. It is somewhere I never expected to visit, so it has been a nice and welcome bonus.

So I have a few more days in Melbourne, I have one or two things to do, some sightseeing and a couple of other people I would like to meet whilst I am here. I am sure I am in for a good time and I probably will leave reluctantly.

Monday, 2 February 2009

Day 621 - Hobart, Tasmania

You got away lightly with the last update, you probably wont with this one. If I were you I think I would go and get a coffee, then come back and make yourself comfortable, I think I might start going into waffle mode.

Sunday morning saw me saying farewell to Sylvia, a fellow cyclist from USA. She had been good fun, good company and we were able to exchange stories from life on the road. My favourite of her sayings came just after she had laughed at something “….ah, that’s just too funny”. Doesn’t that rather imply that there is a limit to how funny something can be? I suppose it may go some of the way to explain why American sit-coms just aren’t funny in the slightest. I was just a short run to the ferry, the Spirit of Tasmania. I was told that if I wasn’t on by 8:15 I would be turned away from the 9am departure. As it happened about 10 bikes were the first on just after 8:15, we left about an hour late for the 10 hours crossing. We crossed the Bass Strait, one of the most turbulent seas in the world, it was flat calm. By the time we were off it was getting late so I opted for a campsite where I checked in just after 2 French cyclists I had just been talking to on the ferry. I was told by reception “It’s $15 for a single person, $10 if you are in a group”, “In that case, can I be with those 2 please?” I asked, “Oh, go on then”. I set up my little tent in the 5 acre field away from everybody else, there were only a dozen or so other tents and vans. Another car arrived, also off the ferry and with all that empty space they set up their tent no more the 1m from mine. Then as I cooked the guy kept marching past me as he talked on his mobile phone. Give me a bit of wild camping any day.

Once I was up at 6am I guessed my close companions wouldn’t be sleeping for much longer. I wasn’t deliberately noisy, but when your stove sounds like a jet engine it’s hard to be quiet. Soon enough I as on the road, heading west right on the coast, where every house I passed had a lovely location and sea view, I could have lived in any one of them. A couple of speedy cyclists caught up with me, not that I take much to catch up. I asked them about the road inland from Burnie to Waratah, they told me “It’s flat for the first 50k, then it starts to climb steeply”. There was no way I was going to believe that, the whole time I had been on the coast the sea was on the right and hills on the left, I couldn’t imagine a flat road through that lot. Having stocked up on food in Burnie, not an easy thing to do on Australia Day, almost everything was shut, I turned inland. I had been right not to believe the cyclists, after just 500m the road rose sharply then rolled along with some steep hills for the rest of the day. I could already tell I was somewhere different to mainland Australia. There was plenty of road kill, but I couldn’t recognise any of it, and if I can’t recognise it I wont eat it! I reached a rest area that had water, filled up then went in search of somewhere to camp for the night. I found a track after about a kilometre, passed around a locked gate and found a lovely mossy area amongst the trees with some wonderful old rotting stumps nearby, a beautiful little spot. During the night I heard wildlife outside, I suspect I was on their feeding area, though I guessed if I unzipped the tent they would leave quickly, so I wouldn’t get to see them anyway. In the two days that I have been here I have passed many familiar names such as Guildford, Tewksbury, Hampshire, Devonport…..oh, and not forgetting Penguin!

The following morning was nippy and overcast, though it didn’t take long to warm up. I was given a gentle start before dropping down to pass some fabulous lakes. A drop down can only mean another climb, especially as there were squiggles on the map. After the climb the road dropped back down into the little mining town of Rosebery, where I got chatting to the woman in the library. When I told her I was heading for Queenstown she was all too willing to give me advice on the road ahead “It’s about 50k, and flat all the way…well there is one steep bit, but other than that it is flat. It’s very twisty though. Heading out of Queenstown it is very steep”. Hmmm, that made me just a tad suspicious, after all, you don’t see that many twisty roads through Fenland do you? She continued “After that steep bit it is pretty easy the whole way to Hobart”. I was right, it was hilly the whole way to Queenstown, no big climbs, but wearing none the less. As I struggled in bottom gear on one particularly tough bit of flat ground I was blasted by a truck from behind, that was followed by an even longer blast. I think he wanted me to get off the road, I really didn’t fancy losing traction by dropping on to the gravel at the side of the road and to get a heavy bike going again in bottom gear on a steep climb is very tough, so I held my line. He wasn’t best pleased as he dropped through the gears and overtook me. As he pulled in far too early I rather assumed that was an attempt to force me off the road. I guess I see things differently to him, I see us both as people on or in our desired mode of transport heading for our destinations, we are both hazards to each other, just one of many hazards we encounter and deal with each day on the road. I would guess that he thinks cyclists should move out of his way, but if we were to do that for every lorry we would never get anywhere. A little further up the road were some traffic lights for some roadworks and I am sure that if they had been red when he had arrived at them he would have stopped without a second thought, though on the other hand may be he would have ploughed through expecting everybody else to get out of his way. The standard of some of the driving continues to surprise me, safety and generally road awareness are not big issues for some people. At the start of every bit of two laned road there is always a sign saying “Keep left unless overtaking”, yet people still can’t tell their left from their right. Here in Tasmania there is even a sign that says “Road slippery when under snow”, so maybe their lack of awareness is what makes them a bunch of Tasmaniacs! I decided to camp just before Queenstown and save the steep bit for fresh legs in the morning. I pulled up a driveway to a house where I could hear a lawnmower. The lad stopped and I asked for some water. He too had done a bit of cycling and offered his advice on the road ahead, “It’s really steep heading out of Queenstown, then it is flat all the way to Derwent Bridge, well, there is just one long flat hill….oh….er”, “Don’t worry” I said “I think I know what you mean. I asked him if he knew of anywhere to camp and he directed me to a horse paddock down a gravel track, that was no longer used. I found it easily, it was perfect and I found a lovely secluded spot with a delightful view across to the mountains. Once set up I gazed out in wondermentality, (ok, I know that isn’t a word, but I don’t do big words and wonder just wasn’t big enough for how I was feeling) hardly believing how once again everything had fallen so nicely into place and in such perfect surroundings. It was hot too, but I had some nice shade for the trees. Actually I do know some big words, I just can’t spell ‘em.

At around 8am I dropped down into Queenstown, the place was still asleep and I had to wait for the supermarket to open, it would be the last chance to buy food for the next couple of days. Once stocked up and nice and heavy it was straight into the steep climb that so many people had warned me about. It wasn’t that bad, but it was pretty spectacular as from the bottom you could see vehicles way up above on the winding road cut into the mountain side (photo), all this was made possible by the fact that Queenstown is another mining town that has created acid rain that has killed off all the trees in the surrounding area. I slowly made my way up, actually it wasn’t that steep after all and found it much easier than expected with some nice views back down to Queenstown as a bonus. I reached the top quicker than expected, it soon dropped straight back down again passing some move lovely lakes. On the next climb I saw the first cycle tourist I have seen in weeks as he whizzed down in the opposite direction. Further on I had another break and opted for another 20k before finding somewhere to camp, but I was immediately confronted by the long flat hill I had been told about, and by heck it was long, I wondered when it would stop, surely it wouldn’t be longer than the steep climb out of Queenstown that everybody had told me about. It was longer, much longer and went much higher too. It was during this climb that I worked out what was going on here in Tasmania. There is very little in the way of flat here, and by flat I mean….flat, sort of level, you know, like a bowling green with perhaps a hint of tarmac. Nobody cycles anywhere, it’s too much like hard work and the distances between places are too long, so two different measures are used when talking about roads, there is flat, and there is steep. There are two ways of telling how to differentiate between these for the Taswegians, one is by how it feels in the car and the other is by what it looks like. Flat is anything that can be driven without changing gear in the car, if you have to change gear that is steep. People can rarely tell you how far it is to somewhere either, so for example if you ask how far it is to Hobart, the reply might be “Oooo, I don’t know how far it is, but it takes 20 minutes in the car. It’s dead flat all the way, I can go the whole way in 3rd gear, I never have to change into 2nd”. Flat and steep sounds really easy doesn’t it, but then you get the visual impact to confuse the matter. So in the climb out of Queenstown you can see it heading way up the mountain, wow, and besides, the road is cut into a steep mountain side, blimey, any idiot can tell that has to be steep. But if it wasn’t for the acid rain that had killed all the trees and you could only see as far as the next bend, then it would be classed as flat. But if you then could make some of the bends a little tighter so that cars had to slow down and change gear, then it would once again be classed at steep….get my drift? So the long flat hill was constantly through the trees and to kill any impression of a hill, once you reached the top it hardly drops back down at all, but opens out to marshland, so it must have been flat. I have devised my own measure for hills: If I am working hard and going very slowly, then I am going uphill. If I am not peddling at all and whizzing along, that is downhill. If I stop peddling and I come to a stop then I am either going to look at something, going to eat something, of stopping for the night, or even a combination of all three. If it is genuinely flat then I am lost and probably somewhere in Victoria! Just for the record, the steep bit that everybody warned me about went from 180m to 443m, and wasn’t particularly steep, and the long flat hill that nobody knows is there apart from a few cyclists went from about 275m to 861m. I guess travelling by car dulls the senses a little. Anyway, where was I? Oh yes, after a long hard day on the flat I had had enough and when I saw a sign to a boat launch I made my way down the track to a very eerie looking river with dead trees and stumps both on the bank and in the water. There was nowhere really to conceal myself well, it was all too rocky, but I found a little spot that was suitable and I needn’t have worried, I didn’t see anybody else. The only thing that bothered me was the flies, not the little ones that bothered me so much in the outback, but big things that buzzed around like wasps, but thankfully didn’t land on me too often. When I opened a tin of tuna though, they went crazy, they went off and got all their mates to come along for a party, there were dozens of them. As soon as I had eaten I took refuge in the tent, there was a constant hum from the swarm outside. As dusk arrived the departed, the hum was replaced by a quieter but more menacing hum, it was the turn of the mosquitoes, the night owls had arrived at the party!

The flies and the mossies were both up before I was, a good enough reason to make a quick exit. After just 2km I passed through Derwent Bridge which consisted of a hotel, a garage and a few holiday lets. The first 40k were much gentler, may be the worst was behind me. I stopped by another cracking little lake where little fish jumped in front of me and lizards scurried across the rocks. If there had been a spot just here with room to put up a tent I could have stayed for the night. A car pulled up behind me, a trout angler, “Hi, how are you doing? I am looking for fish”, “Well there are plenty here, but they are all small” I told him. He looked as me as though I was stupid (yeah, yeah, ok) and asked “How do you know they are small”. “I have seen them, they are about this size” and I held up my hands to show him, but I could tell he didn’t believe me, until he eventually said “Oh yes, you are right, I have just seen one jump out”. He told me about the road ahead “It’s going to be tough, it’s very hilly, pretty steep in places”. What’s going on here, is this somebody I can believe? “Where are you from?” I asked, “Mansfield in Victoria” he replied, so that would explain it, he wasn‘t a Taswegian. Sure enough the road soon plummeted down to a river and a power station, there are power stations everywhere, the immediately climbed straight back up again and from there the road rolled heavily for the next 30km. Just as I was about to start looking for a place to camp the trees disappeared to reveal open farmland with hardly a tree in sight. All the fields had either sheep of cattle, finding somewhere to camp would be a challenge. I enquired at a farm that had a few trees, but I expected little from a place that rented holiday cottages, though they did direct me to a free campsite on the little down of Hamilton “It’s only 3km and it’s all downhill” she told me. Funny how it’s all downhill when they want to get rid of you! There were already 3 tents there when I arrived, the place even had showers though you had to pay a dollar for that, but being a tight git I opted for the free cold shower, embracing….brrr!

Whilst I am in waffle mode, let me say a little about Couch Surfing. For those that don’t know, it’s an internet based hospitality type thingmy bob. To some it might be seen as just a free nights accommodation, but to me it is so much more. I really look forward to it now, as I approach I wonder what the person will be like and what I will learn from them, as I seem to learn a little bit more about life from each of them. When I stopped at a hostel in Mount Isa I talked to a guy who said he tried to learn at least one new thing every day. I struggled with that as by about the fourth day I had already forgotten what I had learnt on the first day. That guy really confused me too. We would talk and he would ask me a few questions, then I would see him again a few minutes later, he had been and changed his clothes and come back and pretty much asked me the same questions. A few minutes later he had changed back into the clothes he had been wearing earlier and walk past and say “Hi John”. Odd guy I thought, then a couple of days later I saw him talking to himself, there were two of him, it had taken me two days to learn that they were identical twins, they even had the same very distinctive voice. So no, I prefer to learn snippets about life, but what also makes Couch Surfing so rewarding is the trust that is shown to me, a perfect stranger. Everybody is so welcoming, they can’t do enough, but the total trust they show, to be left alone in there house even for a day or two, is something very special and heart warming, especially in a world trust seems to be a thing of the past, and in some cases justifiably so. I have seen the same trust from every person I have Couch Surfed with. I think the Couch Surfing host is a rare breed, long may they continue.

Friday dawned another beautiful day. I only had about 75k to go to get to Hobart so I was in no rush. I sat by the river with a bank full of bull rushes and had a leisurely breakfast and coffee, though by 7am I was already thinking it was too hot to be sitting in the direct sun. Southern Australia is experiencing a bit of a heat wave at the moment, each day since I have been in Tasmania it has been over 30 degrees, almost unheard of here, though I am glad to be away from Melbourne as it has been over 40, and around 46 in Adelaide….whoa, too hot! As I sat there I watched the ants in front of me. There was a reed on the ground that they all walked along though the end was a couple of inches off the ground and they all had to turn around and head back dodging the others coming the other way. If ants are so civilised why do they do such things, why don’t they just put up a ’No Through Road’ sign? I got talking to the family in the tent near to me as they had breakfast. Scott and Rosemary had moved to Launceston in the north of Tasmania in June and were have a touring holiday with their four children. As I was about to leave they invited me to stay at their house on my way back up to Devonport and the ferry, and only the previous evening I had thought I ought to stay there the night. Once again, further proof that I feel very looked after on this trip, it all falls into place so nicely. The riding started with the biggest climb of the day, but I had a nice breeze pushing me along, the riding was easy compared with the last few days. A couple of times I had to stop at road works, it really hit home then just how hot it was. I circled around Mount Wellington, then got a real shock as despite heading south as I had been earlier, I was heading into a strong wind making it a slog the rest of the way to the centre of Hobart. I circled around a long route to my couch surfing host in the suburb of Glebe. Typical, it was all up hill, though I was soon glad I had come that way as Gail lived on one heck of a hill, so steep I wasn’t even sure I would be able to stop at the house and I certainly didn’t want to have to cycle back up it. I had a very interesting evening chatting away and listening to Gail’s stories of when she had lived on a farm in the north of the island. She told me “People would always recognise our house from the goats on the roof. The young ones used to come running down the hill and jump onto the low roof, then up onto the lean to roof and then onto the main roof”. “Were they always there then?” I asked, “Well they were until we ate them” she replied. We chatted easily, time slipped by and it turned into a late night.

Time once again slipped by in the morning, it was soon afternoon so I headed down to the Salamanca area where there is a wonderful and large weekly market full of arts and crafts, food and bric-a-brac. Battery Point was a photo around every corner and by the time I was back in the compact little city centre everything was closing down. I arrived back at the house just as Gail was grooming her dog Jed, which meant he came running to the door spreading the clipped hair everywhere…..Ooops! Once the job was done we took Jed for a walk on Seven Mile Beach, 7 miles of beach with just 2 people and a dog, wonderful. Another evening slipped by and it was 2am before I realised it, just where does time go?

Gail joined me for Sunday ringing at St David’s Cathedral in Hobart. From my keen ringing days I remember so many peals and quarter peals being rung at Hobart that it was going to be something special. We arrived a little late to the sound of silence, but I heard voices as we made our way up the steps. I brought the number of ringers up to 4, clearly we weren’t going to be ringing on all 10 today. Numbers swelled to 6, but worth the effort for the delightful bells. We all made our way for a coffee afterwards. Hilary, one of the ringers recognised Gail from somewhere and after about an hour they had worked out the mutual friend. It was a lovely clear day so Gail kindly drove me up to Mt Wellington, towering 1200m above the city. I had wanted to go up there but after some tough days in the hills I really didn’t want to do the climb on a ’rest’ day, but it was oh so worth it, by far the best view I have had since I have been in Oz. Yvonne, Gail’s sister, came over for the evening, so I cooked about the only thing I can without a cook book that doesn’t include tuna. That was followed by the tennis final at Melbourne, another 4hr+ epic, though I did manage to nod off through some of it, I don’t seem to have lost that skill!
So the weekend has just flown by, I have had a great time here and succeeded in doing none of the odd jobs that I need to do before I move on, so Gail has kindly let me stay another night so that I can get things sorted out during the day. Looking out of the window I am glad that I haven’t moved on yet as it’s raining and the temperature has plummeted to 19 degrees and I feel cold. Staying another night also means I can join the bell ringers for practice night, I might get to ring all 10 yet, you never know.

Growth means change and change involves risk, stepping from the known to the unknown - Author Unknown