We have retired to our tent before sundown for the first time this trip. In Tassie daylight savings terms, that means somewhere before 9pm. It’s been a big day. We were warned, and our experience of the Tassie Trail so far is teaching us to take the warnings of the guidebook seriously. There were two options for the climb from Bracknell onto the Central Plateau. Words like “very difficult”, “steep slope”, “rough surface” and “harsh weather conditions” in the description of the main route jumped out at us with new significance. We quickly decided to take the alternate route recommended for fully loaded bicycles up the climb of the Great Western Tiers staying on the Poatina Highway.
We sailed out of Bracknell on quiet bitumen roads enjoying a solid tailwind and imposing views of the plateau looming against a perfect blue sky day. From a distance it was difficult to spot an obvious route for a roadway up the climb, and we debated whether the near vertical clearings we could see were roads (bad suggestion) or water pipelines (much better idea). The road to the start of the climb was generally flat, with some pleasant downhill runs. Normally downhill would be a cause for celebration. Today it was disconcerting to be doing any amount of descending before the start of the climb, knowing that the top was at 1100 metres.
The Poatina Highway is well-used by boaties heading for the Central Lakes and trucks hauling logs and gravel. Kim waved cheerfully at each passing vehicle, trying hard to look amenable and non-threatening to the vehicle-driving masses. His efforts were rewarded by several cars slowing down to see if we were OK and a boatie stopping to offer us a lift. He looked bemused when we declined his offer to throw our bikes in his ute, asking incredulously “Do you really want to ride all the way up this thing? I did start to question Kim’s waving efforts when the truckies hurtling downhill around corners at us still had time to wave, sometimes without even needing to put down their mobile phone.
The climb was a monster, taking us nearly three sweaty hours, with numerous stops for snacks and a breather. About halfway up, we stopped to talk with another similarly laden cyclist parked on the downhill side of the road letting his disc brakes cool down. He was travelling in the reverse direction to us, and I was delighted to hear that he had spent his entire morning climbing to the top of the descent. The idea of a cruisy downhill run from the top to our campsite was very attractive.
The uphill crawl continued, with the frequently changing gradient allowing reprieves of relatively easy pedaling through to sections that were a torturous grind. The steeper sections towards the top left us ready to take rest breaks after every 100 vertical metres climbed until we finally saw blue sky all around us at 1100 metres. After all that effort, I was expecting some fanfare at the top of the climb. Instead there was an information sign about road markers that indicated crash sites with fatalities and serious injuries. Hardly the welcome I was hoping for.
There was some truth that the road descended from the top. But it also undulated, with each small rise feeling like yet another part of the mountain. Kim had been dreaming of a cold drink from a shop he believed would exist at the now-aptly named Cramps Bay. But there was no shop, or any other sign of habitation in the area, so he settled for yet another round of nuts and choc bits on the side of the road instead. By this stage, the continuous exertion in the heat had over-cooked his fast-twitch sytem and he was having difficulty tolerating food. We crawled along the highway towards Arthurs Lake, all thoughts of completing two stages in the day long since forgotten.
We rode into the campsite at Arthurs Lake, too tired to even make our usual jokes about “the serenity” when we saw the massive powerlines along the lakes edge. Within minutes we were visited by several other campers, keen to hear where we had come from and amazed at our ride up the Poatina. The hot showers were wonderfully welcomed and we gratefully settled into our tiny tent nestled among the line of well-appointed caravans, four wheel drives and boats.
(6 February 2017)