Sunday, December 20, 2009

Another forest mission

The quiet tracks and trails near home beckoned again and Saturday saw three of us setting out on another Southern Forests adventure. With the lessons learned from the last mission fresh in our minds, and some new tricks no doubt to be learned, Tim, Ben and I set off on what was for some reason dubbed the Big hilly dirt river loop. The ride goes from near my home in Judbury, over some hills to follow the Huon River before crossing and heading back roughly along the other bank. Sounds simple enough.

The first ten kilometres of the ride is mostly uphill, a grind up Bermuda Road with a couple of really steep sections before the top. Once it levels out there were only a couple of minor navigational challenges before we found the top of the Bracken Ridge Fire Trail - which turned out to be the highlight of the ride. It was narrow double track, lined with trees and ferns, rutted in parts with some mud and some nice technical sections. I excelled myself by wrenching my left brake lever part-way off by hitting the bottom of a descent a bit too hard. Exhilarated at the bottom of the descent, we set off in search of lunch at the Airwalk, briefly encountering one of only two cars we'd see on the 60-odd kilometre middle section of the ride.

I'd been told by someone who knew the area pretty well that we were mad to venture into such parts without mountain bikes. A mountain bike would have been useful in a couple of spots, but the trip turned out to be a testament to the versatility of the cyclocross bike.

Both Ben and I rode Surly Crosschecks (Tim rode a lovely Rohloff-equipped 26-inch expedition tourer, which admittedly took to the conditions like a duck to water too) and they handled the conditions pretty well. I've probably said before if I only had one bike it would be a Crosscheck - the real beauty of this bike on a ride like this is that it makes a good fist of just about any conditions - and with the right tyres - are pleasant and predictable on sealed or unsealed roads and tracks.

Planning our route on via Bikely and using MotionX GPS to upload the track to my iPhone meant we weren't dogged by any of the navigational problems of our last trip through the area. Another excellent lunch at the Airwalk followed by an unsuccessful attempt to fix my rapidly loosening brake lever. Off once more and through some locked gates and then another for a short climb and a long descent down towards the Weld River bridge, but not before Ben has his traditional mid-ride puncture.

Riding along these well-made roads, it's a marvel that we didn't see anyone else on them all day. The forestry road network is well graded and generally smooth and appears to be almost completely deserted on the weekends. It's such a fine resource, it's a shame it's not better known or mapped or promoted or even signposted. The odd forestry coupe might detract a little from the beauty of the forests for some people, but the overall impression for me is of an opportunity lost.

Onwards we sped, past the Veneer Mill and over the last couple of climbs towards home - the Denison Range being the last challenge before the long coast along the river back to Judbury where we'd left the cars. About five kilometres out my brake lever finally gave up the ghost but as I expected was held in place by the cable, so no big drama there. We ended the day with around 70 kilometres almost entirely on dirt roads and tracks, a most enjoyable and memorable ride.

5,851km so far this year.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Ash Dash

Also known as the Seven Hills Dash, the Ash Dash is a local Audax ride of some reknown. It's a 200km ride over some of the larger hills south of Hobart. It's a ride I've often contemplated but never tried, mainly out of fear that I wasn't up to it. With 3000m of climbing in 210km, it's a pretty big day out.

I've been training for the Alpine Classic 200km ride and with all the mad dashes up the steep and unrelenting grades of Strickland Road on the slopes of Mt Wellington immediately behind Hobart town have taught me something interesting: training really does help. Who would have thunk it? As I've done more and more of the climbs after work I've watched my best time fall and my average speed rise. That has to be a good thing.

Perhaps then it probably shouldn't have been much of a surprise to find out that all of that hard work meant my legs were stronger on the Ash Dash than on just about any ride I've done. I'm slow in the hills and the bunch of about 20 disappeared from view on the first rise up Davey Street. I was in no rush though, the 500m climb up Strickland Road is just an appetiser and there's another pretty serious climb out of Longley not long afterwards.

What follows is a bit of a phony war. There's a long flat section as the kilometres slide by and despite a hard climb over Silver Hill around the 90km mark, the first 100km disappears fairly easily. Then the serious stuff begins. Woodbridge saddle is a horror of a climb, hitting a gradient of 18 per cent before the top. Gladly there were a couple of other people waiting in the shade at the summit so being last wasn't all that lonely. The remainder to the trip around the Channel was pretty uneventful and I rolled into Cygnet not far behind my friend Tim about 3.30pm for a cafe break.

After an interlude enjoying cake and cold drinks we were back on the road, over the bumps out of Cygnet and onward to the imposing Pelverata Saddle. Here too the steep grades forced me of the bike for a short stint afoot. After a break at the top it was eagerly off for the last 20km.

The best thing about the Seven Hills Dash is that the last 10km are downhill. The 7km immediately before them are uphill though and it was slowly that I ground my way past the Longley pub and up through Neika to Ferntree. There's a point near the Ferntree Tavern where the road turns down. I allowed myself a smile there, I knew I'd conquered the Ash Dash.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Out along the Huon

There's a big river that runs not far from my place and a heap of logging roads through the tall forests on either side all the way south to Geeveston and beyond. Since moving here I've only ventured out there once, but I've been keenly aware I've been missing out on something. Ben and I had a crack at the southern forests today with fat knobby tyres on our Surly Cross Check cyclocross bikes.

We set off with the dim plan of following the river down to a tourist attraction known as the Tahune Airwalk, have some lunch and ride back. It's about a 40km round trip and reasonably flat. I had a bit of an clue how to get there, but there are no up-to-date maps and Google Earth is only so much use. We made good time and picked up some unexpected road signs counting down the distance to the Airwalk, counting it down from about 20km out. We crossed the Huon on the bridge near the Ta Ann veneer mill and pedalled on. After a while we didn't see any more signs, but we hadn't passed any obvious turnings and it never occurred to us we might be on the wrong track. Never mind, of such stuff are adventures made.

After about 25km of a planned 20km ride we came to a T-interesection. Airwalk 15km right,
Geeveston 8km left it said. Bugger, we're miles out of our way. Which way to go? We decided to press on regardless, climbing a long and arduous hill I've noticed form the car and vowed never to tackle on a bike. Never mind, some lovely descending followed and we counted down the kilometres to the Airwalk in pretty quick time with 45km on the clock by lunch.

A lovely feed was had and some directions gleaned and we were back on the bikes along the fast and mainly flat dirt roads back towards the car. We spotted the veneer mill through the trees and decided to take a shortcut when the road turned in the wrong direction. Often this is a bad idea which leads to backtracking, but a section of pretty cool singletrack took us to a broad but shallow river crossing which we forded with the bikes before pressing on again.

Back at the mill, it was simple navigation and an easy ride towards the car. Undeterred by a flat tyre about 5km out we rolled back down the dirt to the end of a very enjoyable adventure. I'm a little disappointed I haven't spent more time checking out these largely traffic-free roads in the past, but now I've had a taste there's some pretty cool trip plans forming in my head.

5755km so far this year.