After our amazing progress on Day One, and a beautiful overnight camp at Gog Range, I was full of optimism to tackle the next stages of the trail. I felt sure we could whip through several stages each day, and had visions of cycling along the Derwent into Hobart in a few days.
Even though it had been a few months since our last trip, our usual morning routine fell easily into place, and then proceeded at its usual snail’s pace. I eventually managed to find all my bits and pieces that had spread themselves along the riverbank, and jammed them into the panniers in some semblance of order.
Stage Four begins with a crossing of the Mersey River, which sounded adventurous, but would have been much more convenient if there was a bridge. We congratulated ourselves on having packed our water shoes, and Kim plunged in for the first of his five traverses across the river. I am not noted for being sure-footed, particularly while rock-hopping in cold water and carrying a load, so Kim generously did laps across the river carrying our bikes and bags, while I staggered slowly across with my lightest pannier.
About 45 minutes after leaving our campsite, we were safe and dry on the far bank of the Mersey, bikes loaded and strapped down, and ready to roll. The trails notes warned of a steep climb after the crossing, which we encountered a few hundred metres further along. We resorted to our two person scrambling system, with Kim pushing from behind and me pretending to push from the handlebars, but often just clinging onto them to stop myself sliding back down the near-vertical slope. With both bikes at the top of the hill, it was time for smoko and a rest break. We had been underway for just over an hour, and had covered 800 metres.
We moved on, confident that we could improve on our current average speed, and followed forestry roads that generally pointed uphill. Not to be deterred, we put our heads down and plugged along, trying not to be too disappointed to be again foot-slogging further and further uphill. After a few kilometres, the road narrowed, became less well defined, littered with tree branches and generally overgrown. We confessed to each other that it had been a while since we had seen a trail marker, and there was little doubt we had overshot a turnoff. Unfortunately, the last marker that either of us could recall was a long way downhill.
We backtracked down the very sketchy track, riding carefully on the loose gravel until we found the turn-off with its trail marker perched prominently in a tree. We were now 2.2 kilometres from our campsite. The real trail followed a more reasonable grade, and we started to make some progress. Then we hit Lobster Creek, which is a small but very wet non-bridged waterway. Another stop for changing into our water shoes, before Kim did a reconnaissance crossing and we lugged the bikes across. It was coming close to lunchtime and we had travelled 3.6km from camp. The next six kilometres were predominantly steep gravelly uphills, much of which I walked pushing a heavily laden Pokey and taking frequent breaks to catch my breath. We were both sweating profusely when the locked gate finally appeared at the top of the climb, and I was happy to gaze mindlessly at it for several minutes while Kim negotiated the chain and locking system to let us through. It was then a mostly downhill run on bitumen to Red Hills where we stopped in for lunch, exhausted and only 12km into the stage.
We dawdled over our late lunch break, finally admitting that our ambitions of completing two stages today were totally unattainable, and the prospect of completing even one stage seemed bleak. After lunch and our coffee reviver we were less pessimistic, so we packed up our gear and headed on. The remainder of Stage Four was more merciful, and we enjoyed a relatively flat and scenic ride along dirt roads beside the Meander River. The last 10km were on undulating bitumen that we shared with more traffic than we had seen for the rest of our journey. By this stage we would have been content to ride through the centre of Hobart in peak hour if it meant reaching our overnight stop.
Quamby Corner caravan park proved to be an oasis of luxury for us, and we revelled in the hot showers, washing machine and lounge chairs in the well furnished camp kitchen. This short 34km stage turned into a 39km monster with 632 metres of climbing and an average speed of 10.5km/h. I think we need to revise our timetable.
(4 February 2017)