Monday, September 30, 2013

Central Plateau Gravel Grinder - a quick lap of Tassie's frozen heart.

Setting out into the weather on Sunday morning.
We were creeping up the hill near Hermitage when the ice storm hit. There was a sprinkling at first, then 'hey, some hail' and then suddenly we were being pelted by small chunks of windblown ice mixed among a hefty downfall of freezing rain. I pulled up my rainjacket collar and raised my hand to shield my face from the stinging onslaught and looked back at Ben who was doing the same. There was nowhere to shelter and nothing to do but to press onward. Within moments were were wet and cold and resigned to a having a Very Bad Time. But as quickly as it came, the squall was gone and we were on our way again. So passed the only unpleasant five minutes of the best weekend's cycling I've done in years.

Leaving Waddamana for the big climb of the day.
In the middle of Tasmania lie the central highlands, a barren, mostly treeless swathe of high country dotted with pretty little lakes beloved of fishers and hunters. The Australian Antarctic Division trains its expeditioners in these parts, the coldest part of Australia's coldest state. The seed was planted when someone showed me their plan for a 150km loop near here a couple of years back. Then the idea morphed into a single day dash 'Over The Top', from Bothwell to Deloraine, a distance of about 130km. Finally it became a 200km two-day circuit from the town of Ouse with an overnight stop in Miena. The ride is about 95 per cent unsealed roads. (Our eventual route can be found here.)

The dates were pre-ordained by leave and rostered days off, although the forecast was not promising. Cold temperatures, rain, snow and wind do not make the best riding weather. All the same, Benny, Kiwi and I set off from Ouse at 9am on Saturday ready to take what came our way. All three of us rode steel bikes, lightly loaded. Two of us sported mudguards hastily fitted in the days before.

Ben admires the view not far south of Miena.
Our route took us through pretty farming country from Ouse north-east to Bothwell. Route-finding was made much easier by uploading a pre-plotted course to my Garmin 810 which squawked well in advance of every turn we needed to take. Our first day saw a big gain in height and we were riding uphill from the start, the tough ascents compensated for by the long descents through hidden valleys containing impossibly lovely sheep farms and willow-lined streams. Though it was cool, the rain held off. We had a snack at Bothwell before pushing north for a while on the Highland Lakes Road, one of the few sections of sealed road we would encounter on the trip.

Less than an hour later we turned onto the gravel again, passing through Hermitage and its pack of chained and very vocal hunting dogs and the momentary bad weather then climbed steadily alongside powerlines leading to the hydro electric village of Waddamana. There was a thrilling and scenic descent before we rolled past the well-preserved old village to our lunchstop at the power museum staffed by a delightful volunteer who was knitting following the Australian Football League grand final on the radio. We ate our lunch on the steps and took a quick tour of the museum, the only people to sign the visitor's book in three days.

Kiwi powers through the forest.
The climb out of Waddamana was around 400m over 4.5km and was tough. Ben and Kiwi patiently waited for me to plod up the hills all day and this climb was no exception. The steepest bits had a couple of us on foot. But soon enough it was over and we were thinking of the beers and the meal awaiting us at the pub in Miena. The cold westerly wind picked up as we regained the highway for the final push. Here I began to tire a little, though the final hill was soon passed and the road flattened s it passed the shack community at the southern end of Great Lake. We had covered 110km for the day on seldom-ridden dirt roads, climbing more than 2200m. Strava called it 'epic', I'm inclined to agree.

A hot, fast and filling meal was consumed and some beers downed in short order and we settled in for the night in the bunks of a fisherman's cabin. It was sufficiently cold outside to deter anyone from taking advantage of the shower block and the heater ran all night.

Morning dawned crisp and overcast and after a couple of toasted ham and cheese sandwiches and a breakfast pie from the local shop we were on our way again. Though rain looked possible there was little wind and there were fewer hills on the gravel Malborough 'Highway' so the going was much quicker than the day before. The scenery was starker too, more alpine compared to the forests we'd traversed on Saturday. I kept stopping to take photos which kept me well off the back of our small peloton. We rested at the shop at Bronte Park for a drink and to top up our supplies of chocolate for the last leg of our journey which we were hoping to complete before we needed lunch, as there were no other facilities on the way.
Heading across Stockyard Flats past Dee Lagoon.

The best of the ride came right at the end. We raced along past Dee Lagoon an into some stunning farming country before turning off towards the locality of Strickland. Here the road turned downwards and for a good 20km we were able to sit back and coast, dodging the rock on the descent through the pine plantation. Kiwi suffered a trio of punctures here on the rougher road. Reaching the highway we turned east and picked up a tailwind to propel us down the last six kilometers of highway to the car, thrilled at the stunning finish to the ride.

Gravel rides are becoming more popular worldwide - I suspect in part thanks to a desire by cyclists to seek out quieter and safer roads. We saw perhaps half a dozen cars on the dirt sections on Saturday (the grand final would have kept many inside) and maybe a dozen on Sunday. Even if we caught a lucky weekend with the weather and the traffic, I know I'll be heading back to the central highlands for daytrips and longer rides. It's stunning country and well worth a visit for the intrepid cyclist.
Nearing the highway to Miena near Shannon.

Dodging potholes near Bronte Park.

Dee Lagoon

Onto the highway for the final run into Ouse.
5,311km so far this year.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Tuesday Tour

One of the advantages of living in Tasmania is that even the main roads get relatively little traffic if you pick your times right. Generally if you miss the school rush in the morning and afternoon, things can be pretty quiet in the middle of the day, making for pleasant riding. A good weather day on Tuesday allowed me to do a relaxed midweek tour along lovely loop from Geeveston to Dover and back. I decided to take my Surly Crosscheck because its wide tyres and saddle make for a more leisurely ride and underlined the relaxed nature of the trip.

I'm on holidays for two weeks, but the weather has kept me from venturing too far from home. Grand plans of multiday bushwalks and long rides have given way to time spent at home planning adventures rather than venturing out on them - although I have managed to fit a few rides in. The return section of this trip I've done before on the Dovernighter, and there's no good excuse why I have been this way since. So I parked the car in Geeveston and hit the road.

There's always a difference between how these rides look on maps when you're planning them and how they pan out in real life. On the trip south I had a lovely headwind which helped push me up some of the inclines. There's a gentle hill out of Geeveston then the toughest climb at the ride starts about 10km in at Glendevie, with a 200m rise in a bit under five kilometres, getting steeper towards the top. I haven't done much climbing lately although I'm in reasonable shape from all the cycling I have been doing. Oddly, I quite enjoyed the ascent, dropping back into the little chainring on the triple and spinning up.

From the top of the Glendevie hill there's a  magnificent top ring downhill run all the way to the halfway point at Dover. Although this was a cruise ride rather than a serious effort I didn't bother to stop in town but instead coasted along the waterfront to enjoy the views out over Port Esperance and the sound of the little waves breaking on the beach.

Turning north again on more familiar roads there's more climbing as the road wends up and down and over the headlands, dropping own into sleepy shack communities hamlets set in picturesque coves by white sandy beaches and past the land base for the area's salmon farming operation. The legs start to get tested here, although the scenery well and truly makes up for it. (Of course my iPhone battery let me down here so there's no photos of the really good bits.) Pushing on, it became clear my two hour ride was going to be closer to three. The only drawback to this as the very slight increase in traffic - along the coast road, perhaps two cars passed me, back on the highway perhaps two dozen doing the end of day school run. Most were extremely courteous, giving me a wide berth when they passed - a refreshing change from city riding.

What I'd guessed as perhaps a 40km loop turned out to be closer to 55km and with nigh-on 1,000 metres of climbing. I'd long emptied my single water bottle by the time I'd completed the long downhill run into Geeveston where a welcome cold soft drink awaited. A short trip, but a most enjoyable one and a reminder I need to head down this way more often.

5089km so far this year.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Spring is in the Air

Winter is receding into memory and the fresh breezes and warmer days of spring are once more upon us. With spring comes a flurry of planning, made of much easier by the plethora of mapping websites such as the most excellent With the plans we've made for the coming Audax season and talk of overnight rides from Launceston to Hobart and loops of the high Central Plateau, there should be some good riding ahead.
This weekend is the Mallee Routes ride, and thought I'd like to be up there churning out a 400, I've also just booked a three-week cycling holiday in Vietnam and money, like time, is a finite quantity. After missing the Spring into Seymour because of work commitments, it's been a thin year for rides in Victoria. I'll have to make up for it next year. Plans are afoot.

Winter is a good time to bed down gear choices too. I'm settling in new wheels on the Thorn and swapped the old rims over to the Crosscheck. New cables and a new drivetrain have given the bike a new lease of life, and will probably hold off the impulse to buy one of the new disk-brake equipped Surly Stragglers for a few years yet.

But talking about bikes and thinking about bikes and writing about bikes is all forgotten when a good ride can be had. Last Sunday's trip was to Tim's, not a long run to be sure but enjoyable nonetheless and a good chance to get some lovely photos of Tasmania at its best.

4960km so far this year.