Our Real Day One started in style. A comfy motel bed, a nice sleep-in and a restaurant breakfast, before being waved off in fanfare by the motel proprietor who seemed very impressed by our big adventure. We felt like cycling heroes before we had even turned a pedal. Kim was intent on starting the Tasmania Trail at its official beginning, so we backtracked along the banks of the Mersey River to the Spirit of Tasmania terminal for the official starting photo. Within moments our efforts at selfies in front of the big ship drew the attention of a passing staff members who stopped to take our photo and chat with us about the ride.
Stage One of the Tasmanian Trail is an easy roll out of Devonport, along the paths and roads beside the Mersey River to Latrobe. It was a mostly flat 8.2km ride along bitumen roads, aided by a strong tailwind. We sailed easily along, our new-found star status further boosted by waving and horn-tooting from motor cyclists along the road. We paused at the giant platypus in Latrobe, where it was heartening to see that Queenslanders aren’t alone in their penchant for building giant sized replicas in public places.
Stage Two continued through Latrobe, turning along the back roads for 32km to Sheffield. Kim stopped for a moment to change maps as we headed out of town. We were immediately accosted by two groups of pedestrians asking if we were OK, and a van slowed down to check if we needed help. One lady was particularly concerned at the direction we were heading if we wanted to get to Sheffield. We reassured her that we were on target, and she was keen to hear out our plans. Just outside of Latrobe, we had our first dirt road, but the riding stayed relatively easy with the wind mostly at our backs.
We reached our first smoko break in Railton feeling pleased with our progress, and ready to continue. A slight mismatch between the map (turn left) and the street signs (pointing right) led to the happy outcome of discovering that Railton is the topiary capital of Tasmania, and we came away with holiday snaps of bulls, bicycles, octopus and even a great white shark, all crafted in greenery.
The stretch between Railton and Sheffield was mostly along the old rail formation, with occasional lapses into more serious gradient just to ensure we didn’t become too complacent. Just outside of Railton is a conservation park donated to the area by Norman Sykes. Norman and his wife were colourful characters, with a passion for conservation, alternative lifestyles and maths. Their parkland houses memorial plaques loaded with equations and formulae that probably are of great significance to mathematicians, but were all Greek to me.
We continued along the trail, passing through numerous gates and even riding diagonally across a farmers paddock. This is poppy growing country, although these normally beautiful flowers took on a more ominous appearance in their dried state, bordered by a fence carrying signs warning of potential death to those that illegally used the product. It was a steady uphill climb to Sheffield, home to many murals and for a time to Queensland perennial premier, Joh. We arrived in the early afternoon, and settled into a park full of murals to cook up lunch and debate our next move.
Kim worked his magic with a cook up and coffee, and we chatted to almost every passer-by about our ride. Some had heard of the Tasmanian Trail, some had ridden a bike, and all were interested in what we were doing. By the end of our lunch break, a decision was made. We had covered around 50km already, but it seemed a shame to stop when the sun was still high in the sky and the weather was perfect for cycling. Although it was after 3.30pm, we still felt energetic, and it was a mere 28km to the campsite at Gog Range. Our instructions assured us that all of Stage Three was on “some form of made up road”, but warned of “some steep sections”. The elevation profile showed a bit of climbing between about 12 and 16kms, then a generally downhill run to the finish.
The road headed downhill out of Sheffield, and after a few twists and turns along the bitumen, we turned onto the dirt of Paradise Road. After a very short time, I recalled that the religious educators of my childhood always turned their eyes skyward and took on a faraway look when they talked of Paradise. Perhaps they had been south of Sheffield on a bicycle. The roads to Gog Range climbed up and down, but mostly up, leaving us trudging up hill after hill on foot. The gravelly downhills brought some reprieve, but were loose enough to ensure they were taken at a cautiously respectful pace. As I sweated through the afternoon and clambered up innumerable hills, I lost all respect for the warnings about the chilly Tasmanian high country and the elevation profiles given in the guidebook.
All was forgiven when we reached the Gog Range campsite at 7pm. We set up camp on a beautiful river bank above the upper waters of the Mersey River. We enjoyed a bracing dip in the river and sat enjoying our tea in the evening twilight. It was an 80km day, with over 1000 metres of climbing, but our destination was stunning. Day One was a raging success. Three stages completed and our adventure is truly underway.
(3 February 2017)