Saturday, 13 November 2010

Clueless on the Cluan: Another Tasmanian Trail Story

Ever had the experience whilst flying down a long hill inwardly rejoicing as kilometre after kilometre disappears beneath your wheels, of glancing down at your handlebars to only then notice that your GPS isn't there anymore?  No?  Well to be honest, up until today neither had I, in fact to be honest, I hadn't even considered it a risk.

What I can tell you is that it's not the best feeling in the world.  As I came skidding to a halt, mind rapidly trying to process this event, my thoughts immediately returned to a loud noise that had caught my attention a long way back.  It had sounded like a rock kicking under from under the tyres, but it had been really loud.  I'd remembered glancing behind me at the time thinking that maybe something had fallen out of my backpack.  I now realised it was in most likelihood probably the GPS deciding to go it's own way.  Sitting there on my bike, unsure what to do, my next thought was a bit depressing ... that noise had been a loooonnnng time ago.

I sat there for 30 seconds trying to justify continuing on my way and coming back in the car to find it, but the logic for this approach quickly unraveled and reality set in, so I turned the bike around and started the long ride back up the way I'd come to see if I could relocate my GPS.  Yep, it's another day on the Tasmanian Trail, the section through the Cluan Tier to be exact, but for once the backtracking appears to be 100% my own fault.

I'd driven up from Hobart in the morning on a cloudy overcast day with rain forecast all day, getting worse tomorrow.  I had sort of forgotten to bring a road map of the area, but managed to find my way out of Cressy and through the many unsigned junctions to Bracknell (figuring it had to be westish somewhere) and from there onto my planned start for the days ride at the junction of Bracknell Road and Myrtle Creek Road about 4 or 5km west of Bracknell itself.

The plan (though as usual that may be too grandiose a term) was to cycle Stage 5 of the Tasmanian Trail in reverse, then follow stage 4 back as far as the Lake Highway before hooking back around through Golden Valley and Liffey (via Bogan's Road) to my starting point.  It looked to be about 60kmmostly tracks and gravel roads, and a nice enough distance.

Tassie's pretty green right now, and with Spring in full bloom, it's all just plain pretty.  So it was that I set off up Myrtle Creek Road enjoying the pastures, young lambs and calves frolicking around and wended past a little vineyard before the climbing started as I entered bushland.

I didn't see any Tasmania Trail signs for the first couple of kilometres. which was concerning me a little bit, but  just as I was really starting to get worried, one magically appeared on a tree beside the road, so I set to the increasing gradient with a bit more conviction assured that I was at least where the trail had once been.

In doing this I had of course broken a golden rule of the trail: Never get complacent or think things are under control.  Only another kilometre or so up the road, I came to a gate with more warning signs than Area 51, but fortunately amongst all these signs was one small TT sign pointing up the banking on the side of the road, I was guessing this was some sort of detour.  I clambered up the bank and found another TT sign up there pointing back onto the road and from where it was located I deduced I was supposed to head up a very steep fire trail running around a fairly recently logged coupe.  The pushing had begun.

This fire trail started out steep, and then it got steeper.  After about 10 minutes, I came to a bit of a flat bit and looked at the section in front of me and it looked like a cliff.  I had also got a bit worried by this point as I hadn't seen a single TT sign since leaving the road, and this really didn't look like a trail.  However, I couldn't see any other option, so I threw my bike onto my shoulder and continued the climb.  To make things worse I found myself pushing through waist high bracken ferns and clambering over downed trees.  It was a real hoot, and I was very glad to get to the next flat spot as I dumped my bike and went in search of TT signs ... none were still to be seen.  The fire-trail appeared to continue straight ahead and up in front of me (and in retrospect was probably where I was meant to go), but an alternate snigging track headed off to my right apparently along the contour line, and the temptation of a bit of actual riding was too much for me and so off I went.  As it turned out, this track dropped me back on the road about 50 metres behind another gate, which I assumed was the other entrance to the property as it was also covered in five different signs telling people to go away.  The only one that caught my attention though was a big TT sign on a tree over the fence showing the trail went this way.  I quickly pushed my bike up to and around the gate, and took a sigh of relief knowing I was back on the proper trail.  I still don't know where I was actually supposed to go on that detour.  I may have gone the right way, or I may have been supposed to keep going up the firetrail and then cut back onto the trail somewhere above the gate, but for the life of me I saw no other trails entering the trail from the left.

Anyway, from the gate it was a lovely section up through a bit of gully forest with a creek running down below, which then flattened out and the trail followed a fairly convoluted path along bush trails and around a couple of coupes.  All rideable, and worth the effort of getting up there.  At one point, I popped out on what I believe was the top of Cobbles Hill with magnificent views out over Liffey Valley and the Tiers.  I have to admit though that I'd just copped a handlebar smash in my mouth carrying my bike over a downed tree so I probably didn't enjoy it as much as I could have.

From this lookout (which is actually just off the track)  the trail sidles around a coupe, often branching off and remerging for short sections, with my advice being to follow the old trail sections, not the newer trail which runs right beside the coupe (in simple turn when heading east - west go left at any junction).  The TT signs get a bit confused around here.  I came across one sign which seemed to indicate I should ride straight into the plantation (which I eventually ignored) then another sign which did send me off on a right turn to appear out onto the road.  What was strange was that about 500metres along this road I came to another TT sign, pointing riders coming form the other direction down a trail off to my left.  Curious, and not in a rush, I followed this to find myself doing a nice little loop back to the junction again.   Having cycled so much of the trail with no signs, it was hilarious to me to have found two alternative routes, both signed.

Fresh wombat tracks on the trail.
However, time was ticking on and I'd only traveled 11kms since I'd started so I proceeded along the road, which went uphill more than I would have liked, past unsigned junctions where even my GPS was no use to me as the roads I was on weren't even showing up as tracks.    However, I eventually got dumped out at a fairly major junction and was very pleased to see a TT sign pointing the way I'd come.  The road had very firmly started to point downhill at this point, and so anticipating 10-15kms of fast down hill all the way down Cluan Tier to the Stage 5 camp site I set off with speed.  It was just past this point that I heard that strange rock getting kicked out from under my wheel, but not seeing anything as I glanced back I continued on for several more kilometres before I came to the skidding halt staring at my empty handlebars where my GPS should have been.

Once I successfully retrieved my GPS (which had separated into four pieces) I at least got to console myself with a second go at the downhill run, and much to my delight it was mostly a downhill run all the way to the Cluan Campsite (feel sorry for anyone coming the other way).


I wasn't really ready for a break so continued along the trail to the next off road section between Maroneys Road and the Lakes Highway.  My recollection of cycling this section 10 years ago was that it had a steep descent (make that an ascent today) just off Maroneys Road and then the trail was through thick overgrown plantations.

Things have changed.  Well the hill is still there, and it still steep, but this area now looks to be a very popular motorbike area with tracks criss-crossing everywhere.  The upside to this is that the trail was nice and open and easy to ride, even if I did once again miss a turnoff, and came out at the wrong spot on the Lakes Highway (I came back later on and rode in from the other direction, and forgave myself for getting lost as the trail chooses a particularly convulated path, at one stage detouring nearly a kilometre out of the way to cover a distance of about 50 metres in a straight line). This is where I got lost as I think someone has removed the TT sign to cut out this detour.

Anyway, somewhat glad to be back on bitumen, from here I just basically followed my nose back along to Golden Valley, and then up and over Bogan's Road (it is a fairly long climb for tired legs) before a steep drop back down over the pass, and a fast, easy ride back along the Liffey River and my car.

Road heading back towards Liffey.
All up, I was out riding for about 5 or 6 hours, and covered just over 60kms with my bit of backtracking.  I would definitely do the ride in the direction I did it, as the other way I think the climbs would be a bit dispiriting.  Best to get the big climb out of the way first and have fun for the rest of the day I say.


Taking the dog for a walk the Tasmanian Way.  This guy just drove off leaving the dog to chase him home.  It seemed very happy with this arrangement as it ran past me.



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