Saturday, December 20, 2014

Florentine mission.

The Florentine Valley is remote, but a particularly scenic destination for cycling
There's a loop that's been tempting me for a while up in the heart of the Florentine Valley, a bit over an hour north-west of Hobart. It's a shade over 100km on forestry roads and describes a more or less complete circle around the Mt Field National Park. As is usual in Tasmania, there's a fair bit of climbing, but the ride as a whole is certainly an achievable challenge. I scouted sections of this ride a few months back in the car, but to be sure the roads were passable and was impressed.

So we set off last Sunday for a lash.  Given the remoteness of some of the road and the expected lack of traffic we chucked a satellite phone and an EPIRB in my hydration park, just to be on the safe side.

Tyenna River Bridge.


Having carefully planned the route using the excellent RideWithGPS website and given the weather forecast due regard, I'd decided that the best way to tackle the loop was to get most of the climbing done early. To this end we started from the little town of Westerway and climbed steadily on the tarmac through National Park and Maydena, where we had a quick stop.

The gravel started at the 23km mark as we turned off the Gordon River Road. The climbing was steady, not overly so, but certainly long and taxing. The white road surface had me thinking of the famous 'strada bianca' of classic rides of Italy's L'Eroica.

I have a theory that gravel roads are much easier to ride after rain than after prolonged dry spells because the loose material on the surface tends to be compact a little into the road. Instead, we found ourselves cursing out tyres choices and pressures on the loose dry gravel, which saw us frequently sliding sideways unexpectedly on the gentle camber of some of the uphill corners.

Gravel roads can be a challenge after long dry spells.
The views along the way are well worth the effort. The range made up of Florentine Peak, Tyenna Peak and the Knobs dominate the skyline from the road, and the odd clearing where forestry work had felled a coupe allows for some spectacular photo opportunities.

We made reasonable progress in the warm, still conditions, topping the range after about two hours of solid effort. It was here I heard the first rumblings of exhaustion though, a combination of not enough miles in the legs and a lingering debilitation from having had the flu. I told Ben I wasn't sure whether I was going to get all the way around and we agreed to give it a few more kilometres and see if the feeling passed. 

The Niner RLT continues to impress as a comfortable, capable all-day all-surface bike. 
Sadly it didn't. At the 45km mark, with the worst of the day's climbing behind us, I was spent. We decided to turn back as the ride back to the car was a simpler proposition than the 60-odd kilometres ahead. In hindsight it turned out to be the right decision, despite my disappointment at not completing the loop. A bit more training would help, although I already knew 100km+ in a day might be pushing it my luck after a couple of weeks off the bike. It's better to have tried and failed etc.

The ride back was a confirmation that this ride might be best tackled in spring or late autumn. The loose gravel had us sliding all over the place and in parts we were travelling more slowly downhill that we had on the upward journey, picking our lines with great care lest we come unstuck. A short break at Maydena and we were back on our way, 90km for the day still being a decent enough effort. And the Florentine still beckons for an outing on another day.

4164km so far this year.

Monday, December 01, 2014

Audax Airwalk Extraordinaire 2014

It's a funny thing how new roads become familiar over time, how journeys once thought too difficult become mere preludes to explorations afresh. There was a time when the 30km ride to the Tahune Airwalk from Southwood was an exciting proposition for a Sunday, now it's a routine weekend circuit. It's human nature to want to explore and extend our horizons.
The Airwalk Extraordinare is an Audax ride I've run for three years now. Usually it's a combination of gravel and tarmac, making a handy loop which starts and finishes at Ranelagh and includes a section of highway. This year I changed the course to be more or less and an out and back affair, from Huonville deep into the Picton River Valley and back via the Airwalk, pretty much all on gravel roads. It's an ambitions 110km+ journey with some challenging hills and road conditions that can be unpredictable. There are no road signs along the way, we trace the route from memory, from explorations of days gone by. It's a route largely free of cars, although fallen trees and potholes pose intermittent and unpredictable hazards.

Climbing out of the Weld Valley.
This isn't a ride for everyone. This year there was only three takers, Ben and Hugh and I, so we set off at 9am, making good time over the Denison Range, the first challenge for the day. The weather was warm and still and I had my jersey pockets bulging with energy gels, just in case. One of my favourite climbs rolled quickly by, the gentle rise out past the Russell River, then the long downhill then flat section to the Weld. Another climb and another long descent and we were past the Airwalk and into the loop out to the Picton.
Picton River Bridge.
There's a shelter near the old condemned bridge on the Picton River and it's a good spot for a break, but only a short one for us as lunch beckoned. Surprisingly we zoomed back along the road on the south of the river with no trouble at all - these road have been known to eat tyres. We zoomed along, absorbed in the concentration of picking our lines carefully at speed to avoid the worst of the rocks. We were back at the Airwalk at 1pm on the dot for a bite to eat.
No cars behind these locked gates.
After a half-hour break we were off again. The rolling section down to the Huon River Bridge at Southwood pretty reliably takes 45 minutes. With a little of the air out of the tyres the bike rolled like a dream, smoothing out the bumps. The day was warming, although there was also the threat of rain, which we somehow seemed to skirt. I was beginning to tire a little by now, and Ben and Hugh kindly waited at the top of the climbs for me to catch up. Southwood and the top of the climb there soon passed by before it was once more onto the dreaded back of Denison Hill, which saw me on foot for a short section.  I call that 21st gear.
Rolling back over Denison Hill.
The final 20km back to Huonville was into the teeth of a very unnecessary headwind, so Ben and Hugh eased away as I resigned myself to spin onwards. Finishing within the audax road 100km deadline of 6h40 proved a touch ambitious, although we were only around 40m outside that, which was still well inside the 10 hours allowed for a dirt expedition. Amazingly and happily, we had not a single mechanical problem or puncture all day. Every adventure is the prelude to another, and so too was this, another most memorable day on the bike.
4998km so far this year.