There aren't many Mondays when I sit at my desk with a big smile on my face, but today is the exception after a sensational weekend of dirt road touring. For a few years a group of us has been talking about tackling a ride from Judbury across the Wellington Ranges to Maydena. We've spied out routes on Google Earth, swapped GPX files between us and talked about it a fair bit, but never got around to actually tackling the journey. This weekend just gone we finally had a crack.
There were four takers for what looked like about a 65km ride. After a flat start, the next ten or so kilometres is a steep grind out of the Huon Valley. I set off half an hour early because I'm a slow climber and I didn't want to slow the others down. After a long, slow ascent (which included a couple of stints on foot) I finally reached the top and rolled over a couple of smaller hills to take a break close to the top of the range at about the 16km mark. Tim,. Chris and Keith arrived about ten minutes after I sat down.
From here on, our progress fell into a predictable rhythm: a rough, rocky descent followed by a steep rocky climb. Chris and Keith were on mountain bikes, well suited to this sort of riding. Tim and I were on road bikes with fatter tyres, which made for some interesting challenges. At one point on the first descent Tim zoomed past me with his back wheel bouncing comically off rocks along as we both hung on for grim death in the rough conditions.
Once we'd reached the first major turn it was a more of the undulations before the lovely long descent to the Styx River where we had lunch in the gorge near the bridge. A finer lunch spot would be hard to imagine. After lunch and topping up our waterbottles from the river, there was short sharp uphill and then about 10km of fast flat riding with glimpses of the Derwent Valley farmland through the trees. But all good things must come to an end and soon enough we were heading upwards again, on Cassions Road heading over the ridge to National Park. After the heat of the climb, the descent from the top was one of the highlights of the trip, a little-used road with lovely views which had the added benefit of taking us out within a couple of kilometres of our destination around 3.30pm- the National Park pub. Beers and steaks were consumed with gusto before an unsurprisingly early night. We'd covered 71km in five and a half hours of riding time and climbed around 1900 metres (6200 feet in 44 miles for the not-so metrically inclined.)
After a punishing Saturday, I wasn't overly confident about having the legs for the trip back and was contemplating riding into Hobart and catching a bus home. But Keith came up with a "shortcut " via Bushy Park which gave the appearance of cutting out out one of the big climbs. (Keith's shortcuts are somewhat legendary for generally being longer and harder than the original route. Despite this, people continue to be sucked in.) We were soon off on the fast tarmac descent to the roadhouse there for morning tea. The climb that followed was another of the trip's highlights - a pleasant six or so percent almost all the way to the top, a 500m rise over 10km. There followed a thrilling descent and the inevitable steep climb. By now though I was in a rhythm and though it was a slow one, I was confident nothing much was going to stop me. The others were kindly waiting at the top of every climb.
The final 25km retraced part of our route from the day before. We knew there was a substantial climb in there, so after refilling our waterbottles from the Plenty River were set off to spin up to the top. Around this time there was a bit of mist in evidence around the top of Rimons Hill - the landmark that signalled the final descent. Soon enough we were there and I coasted down with my brakes on most of the way to check my speed as the others disappeared into the distance. Once on the flat we cranked out the final four or so kilometres into Judbury. Sunday turned out to be longer in terms of distance at 76km but with "only" 1833m of climbing and slightly faster in terms of average speed.
All in all it was a challenging although most enjoyable weekend. After learning more about the limitations of my current setup, I think I'll whack some fatter tyres on the Crosscheck and consider maybe upgrading my brakes. I'm slowly getting fitter and I ramp up my riding this year, upgrading the engine is always cheaper and smarter than upgrading the bike. I'm looking forward to many more expeditions like this one.