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


dad said...

I'm now back on the Internet, just in time to catch up with your latest posting. I got dizzy on the uphills and downhills, but I emerged unscathed.

Basher Barlow said...

long flat hill ... Cannot work that one out, does that mean that Norfolk and Holland where they have such long, flat hills that they are almost classified as mountains?

PS: Oxford unbeaten for a month now, I can smile at last.

S said...

Though you might like to hear of a coincidence.You may remember Sandy (used to ring at Bitton,now rings in Chipping Sodbury.) She met Ruth and Cassia in Bath park at Christmas and caught up with all the news. Went home and read Clangour the Wotton-U-Edge branch newsletter which included a letter from Jackie in Sydney.Quote "We had a visitor from Woodstock(Oxford)at Burwood on Christmas day, John Harwood.He had cycled (!!!)from UK,taking 2 years to get here.He spent last Christmas in Delhi.He was going to fly home,but has decided he may fly to NZ,cycle there,cross to Hawaii, then to US,cycle across the States and fly back to UK from the east coast.I'm presuming he isn't married!"-end of quote. Sandy then passed this on to DRP.Small world???

ireneoduffy said...

Hi John, just discovered your inspiring blog and am enjoying it immensely. Just taken up cycling myself.

in Victoria