Saturday, June 18, 2011


Outbound route: 84.0km, 1694m climbing. Return route: 67.4km, 1024m climbing. 

Me and Kiwi tackling a climb on the Woodhooker Highway Photo: Ben.

In the forests of Southern Tasmania lurk miles and miles of gravel logging roads. During the week they're the playground of massive speeding log trucks but on the weekend they're generally free of traffic bar the occasional lost tourist and the odd woodhooker seeking to scrounge a trailer-load of free firewood from under the noses of the forestry folk and the prefect destination for the adventurous cyclist.

Ben and I had been talking of a trip to Maydena, no mean undertaking at 80km, strung together by my mate Keith from long experience of these wild roads and careful gazing at satellite maps online. Sadly I'd had to cancel at the last minute because of illness and Benny and some of the lads from Bottles and Chains decided to tackle the mythical Dovernighter - a long lope through the forests and ranges that stretch from Judbury to Dover, a journey that takes in just a few hundred metres of sealed road. I mapped the route on RideWithGPS and hoped I might come good in time.

By Saturday I was feeling a lot better and after completing the Dash of Honour without major mishap I decided I'd be ok for Sunday's ride. I loaded the Crosscheck with two small panniers and a handlbar bag and hoped the load wouldn't be too much for the climbing that lay ahead. The lads had breakfast in Huonville and I met them at the Judbury Hall where Kiwi fixed a problem with the back tyre on his stylish hardtail mountain bike. The first ten kilometres rolled under our wheels peacefully and we  spun up the Dennison Range, the first of the days hills and one which I particularly dislike for its length and steepness. 

The hill beyond the Denison Range took up to the Ta Ann verneer mill and the bridge over the mightly Huon River, swollen from recent rains. We took a break and had a bite to eat before setting off on the section Ben calls The Woodhooker Highway, a broad smooth, gently uphill road which the trucks from the mill use to get to the main road at Geveston. It was on the last climb up to the Arve Road we realised that we were in for a long day in the saddle.

A late lunch was had at the side of the road before we remounted to tackle what I had perhaps undersold as a 200m climb to the high point of the ride. It turned out to be a bit closer to 450m. The general truthfulness and accuracy of newspaper reporters was called into question as Mischa and Kiwi disappeared up the grade and Benny taught me how to put new emphasis on old swear words as we wheeled our bikes each corner to reveal even more climbing. It wasn't until 3.30pm that we were at the summit.

From that point on, my memory told me that the ride was basically downhill and I was happy that on this occasion I was correct. Winter days in Southern Tasmania are short and we were running out of daylight, so we donned shell jackets and got on with the riding. We zoomed down the seemingly endless descent, dodging the larger rocks on corners and dared glances at the stunning mountain scenery as we went. In an hour we covered more distance than the previous three. In time we reached a sign proclaiming 14km to Dover - further than we might have hoped   though that leg too was mostly downhill and as  darkness neared we were able to crank out the short distance into town without major difficulty, though we were all pretty pleased to see the pub. Several beers and a big feed followed and we settled in for the night in the near-waterfront house Ben had arranged for our accomodation.

The holiday Monday morning found us not quite as fresh as the day before, but an easier ride beckoned, for we'd decided to take the Esparance Coast Road home. Leaving our digs, we stopped for a hearty breakfast at the Dover takeway store and pedalled through the crisp morning along the water, marvelling at the views. And they only got better. After cresting a couple of large climbs we settled into a pattern of repeating undulations, delivering us breathtaking views over the D'Entrecasteaux Channel and the Huon River and taking us through pretty little settlements of holiday shacks. Only the odd behaviour of one driver who seemed unable to pass a line of cyclists riding single file marred a perfect morning of riding.

We allowed ourselves a coffee break in the weak winter sunshine at Geeveston and again 20km later at Huonville, where Ben said goodbye and the three of us turned to Judbury. The last 15 kilometres are familiar roads for me and after bidding Mischa and Kiwi goodbye it was only the final 200m of vertical to home that tested my legs before a welcome beer and soak in the bath.

It may not be a ride I do that often, but the Dovernighter turned out to be just as good as we'd hoped. Now Maydena beckons.
Mischa cranks out the last mile to Judbury as the sun sinks.
First day ride profile: the third hill is the big one. 

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