Friday, 31 December 2010

Granville to Trial Harbour and onwards to the Edge of the World

I’m typing this in my tent at a campsite near Arthur River in The North-West, or Tarkine region, of Tasmania.  I've just watched the sun disappear behind crashing westerly seas at a little lookout called “The Edge of the World” whilst I said my goodbyes to 2010.

For some reason it feels right that I end 2010, perched on the edge of the earth, by myself, watching the sun go down on the year for the last time.

"Suddenly visiting that spot became my reason for going. I needed to go to The Ends of The Earth. I needed to step out to that metaphorical edge and just stand in Awe. With my mouth open perhaps."

Gary Marx

Goodbye 2010, you were the worst year of my life and maybe I'll write more on you later.  But this blog is just about my last day, not the whole year.  

Earlier today, after my brief foray out to Zeehan's Spray Tunnel,  I drove down towards Granville Harbour to ride along the 4WD Granville Harbour Road / Climes track trail from Granville Harbour to Trial Harbour.  This route follows an old 18km long 4WD track that used to connect the two shack towns, but which has now had so many bridges collapse it is only passable to those on foot, bike or those that are very, very determined in a vehicle, and the last is just my conjecture.  The signs definitely say it is closed.

I turned off onto this track just before Granville Harbour and drove along to just past a small beach at the mouth of the Tasman River where there are a few shacks.  This is where the road deteriorates into a track.

It had been described on the Wildside website as cycling heaven, and so I included it in my itinerary of Tasmania’s best MTB trails.  My initial impressions were very favourable as I scooted along mainly hard, dry trails, dodging down rocky granite pahs and charging back up rock strewn trails.  Unfortunately my feelings towards the trail gradually turned more negative as for nearly three hours I toiled up and down a continuous rollercoaster of a track and what had started out as being enjoyable challenges, just turned into pain.

In fact, by the time I reached Trial Harbour Road at the other end, I was pretty much ready to write this track off as a nightmare, and after a bite of lunch, and with a bit of a groan, I turned tail for what I expected would be an equally torturous return.  Instead I found that the track had a completely different personality travelling south to north.  The climbs were (or at least felt) less steep, the runs more obvious, and I found a grin returning to my face, and then I felt it spread.  In fact whilst it had taken me nearly 3 hours to get from A to B, it took only about 2 hours to retrace my path.  Wildside got this right ... It might not be eye popping scenery wise, but this is cross-country cycling nirvana, and I didn't see another person all day.

The occasional wash out.  This one got me on the way back.

Some soft sandy spots for a bit of play

broken bridges and rock strewn wash outs.

Cool streams made great riding.

It might be up, but granite sections were a hoot.

Granite Creek (bridge out).

Granite creek detour.  Magic place.  Waterfall crashing down into
the ocean.  Stopped here for afternoon tea and a swim.

This is a place to pitch the tent and enjoy.  Note bike above falls.

Swimming bliss on a hot day.

Fairly typical scenery on southern section.

Just above Trial Harbour looking down along Ocean Beach.
Strahan Lighthouse is visible in the far distance.

For me what made this ride so special was the discovery of Granite Creek.  This little creek is about seven kilometers from the northern end of the track (10km from the southern end).  The spot was tragic in that three locals had lost their lives there in 2006 trying to cross when the water levels were too high, but beyond this tragedy lay a small tannin stained creek, cascading in a small series of waterfalls directly down onto the rocks below where it was joined by crashing waves under a hot blue sky.  It was a photographers paradise, and a hot cyclists dream, and I for one readily stripped down to my nicks on my return journey to soak in the cool flowing waters as they crashed over the little waterfall onto the rocks below.

I admit that in the scheme of things this little place is no Grand Canyon or Iguassu Falls, but its perfection lay in the hot summer day that I found it, and because I didn’t expect it to be there, and also because it was mine, maybe just for the moment I was there, but more so in that it is still one of those very, very few places on this Earth that few people will now go to due to its remoteness.  It was mine.

I finished 2010 driving up to Corinna and crossing the river on the Fatman barge ($20).  Corinna had improved a lot since I was last there with Baldrick many years ago, and I was attracted to spend the night at the new Tarkine Hotel but unfortunately they had just given out their last rooms and campsites, so instead I set off on the long, windy, dusty, steep drive along the Western Explorer (Road to Nowhere) ending up where I started this blog in Arthur River.

It wasn't a bad way to end a year that I'm pretty happy to put behind me.  Bring on 2011.

Me at the end of 2010 at the edge of the world.

I ran

I didn’t mean to run; I really didn’t want to run; but all the same: I ran.

It was a short run, maybe no more than 30 metres, but my heart was pounding more than I’d like to admit, and not because of the distance, but because of my fear.  I ran because it was dark, and yes, I ran because I was scared.

I stopped as I exited the mouth of the Spray Tunnel and laughed at myself for my irrational moment of fear of standing in a dark tunnel with sunshine on both sides, but inwardly I still felt that bit of fear inside me screaming that I couldn’t see those walls next to me and anything could have been there, it was that same little fear that was reminding me that I had to go back through the tunnel again to get back to my car.

I took a steadying breath, and determined this time to face my fear I stepped forth into the tunnel setting a nice steady pace.  It was at most 80 metres to the other side.  I got about 20 metres in and my eyes, blinded by the sunshine from outside again couldn’t see the walls around me and my fears, my imagination ran riot.  For the second time, I ran.  I ran all the way to the other end of the tunnel and again skidded to a stop as I launched out into the sunshine.

I smiled to myself, a smile of satisfaction, and then my smile seaped deep into my soul.  I suddenly realised that I had run.  For the first time this year, in fact on the very last day of the year, I had run, and not only hadn’t it hurt, it felt good.  It felt really good.

I may have been running from my fears, but still, I ran.

Thursday, 30 December 2010

Montezuma Falls

Montezuma Falls
The first alarm went off at 4am and then, not more than three seconds later, the alarm went off again saying it was 5am.  If that wasn’t weird enough, it was only another few seconds after that that my third and final alarm went off telling me it was 6am.  Who knew my bedroom was in some sort of time vortex? 

Maybe it was some sort of Aztec curse given my destination today … Montezuma Falls.

Fortunately at 6am my panic reflex kicked in and I leapt out of bed, churned out the obligatory double shot latte, threw all my stuff in the car and headed down the road.  It was 6.18am, back on schedule.

 Despite the best attempts of the lady at the Derwent Bridge Café to try and poison me with something she said was a latte, but which tasted like a mix of third use coffee grounds and soap, I managed to reach Queenstown with my tastebuds in tack, at which point another lady at the local café tried to poison me a second time, this time with something she said was a toasted cheese and chicken sandwich but again seemed to have no taste similarities to either cheese or chicken, and I’ll have to check the definition of toasted when I get back online, because black on the outside and cold on the inside may or may not fall within the definition of toasted, I’m just not sure.

Despite my churning stomach, I managed to unload the bike at the back of Zeehan (Yes, Zeehan has a back) and prepared to set off to explore the  Montezuma Falls Rail Trail.

I’d found a little “Rail Trails of Tasmania” guide in the State Library which said there was a “cycleable” railway line from Zeehan up to Melba which connected with the Melba to Montezuma Falls line.  It looked to be an out and back ride of just under 60kms.

The beginning ... it all looked so easy
With several locals looking on, I set off on what looked to be the trail, and was about 500 meters or so along when I realised that those poles off to my right were running above something that looked distinctly like rail lines, in fact they were rail lines, which begged the question if that was the railway line where was I?

As usual, I had no idea, but decided that as I was supposed to be cycling the rail line, then I should probably be on the actual rail line not just beside it, and so after wading through a bit of button grass I set off for a second time, this time on the actual rail line.  Except I wasn’t really cycling, well I was, but I was also doing an awful lot of stopping as I lifted the bike from one side of the railway line to the other, and down and through creeks, and then back into the rail line.  

Then there were a few dips in the road

You see this section of the rail-line still had all its sleepers in place which made for a rather bumby ride in places.  It was also rather overgrown, in fact in some places very overgrown, in fact in one place I spent nearly 15 minutes clearing tree branches so I could proceed forward.  In short this was really a track for the adventurous at heart only.  I sort of loved it for that.

The odd bridge was missing.

... and the track a tad overgrown

but it was also pretty special in places.

I was however fairly relieved when I finally emerged out onto a proper railway line at the back of Melba nearly and hour and a half after starting out, especially as I had been carrying my bike for the last 15 minutes or so.  I won't divulge the exact details of how I got out onto the road as it did look like I was somewhere I shouldn’t be so I quickly got out of there, noting the “no trespassers sign”as I cycled out the gate onto the highway.  I won’t be going back that way.

It was time to hit the Montezuma Falls Trail directly across the road.

From Melba, which by the way is nothing more than a sign on the road,  the trail starts heading up along the old tram way line, I use the word up quite literally, as it is one of those nice gradients you can just settle down into and start pedalling.  The road quickly gets muddy and wet, and those who try and stay dry are as doomed as a child building a sand castle against the incoming tide.  Just settle in, churn through the puddles, get wet and enjoy it.

I have so got you in my sights ...
I had been pedalling along for about 20 minutes or so when I had an experience that will join my short list of oft repeated tales:  In this case I came around a corner and there in front of me was one of those fancy pretend 4WD’s.  I thought at first that it was stopped, but then quickly realised that it wasn’t and that I was actually catching up to it.  Sure enough it only took me another minute or two to catch up and then sit in behind.  I’d caught up to a 4WD!!!!

I was loving it, and wanting to rub it in a bit, I whipped out the camera and took a photo of it whilst still pedaling along behind.  I was almost disappointed when the guy pulled over to let me past as I then realised that I had to stay ahead of this thing, so I threw the bike up a few gears and trying to look as nonchalant as possible, I set off up the track as fast as my little legs would go.  

Even crusier, about 5 more minutes up the track I came across a second 4WD, but this overtaking wasn’t quite so sweet as he was ust waiting for his mate back along the track, and he went past me again not long thereafter, thankfully whilst I was stopped taking a photo.
Fantastic trail 

I followed this second vehicle up as far as the Ring River Track junction where he again stopped to wait for his friend and I carried on alone.  The track had finally turned downhill about half a kilometre before the ring river junction and pretty much remained that way all the way down to the falls, though don’t go thinking that that made it easy riding.  

Little bit wet and muddy in places, but no more than 10
maybe 11kms at most (of 14kms)
The road is a mud pit, puddles everywhere, a couple of pretty steep creek crossing, lots of logs for the unwary and most importantly ... dang it got cold.  The track is beautiful, but practicalities: the water is cold, you’re in the shade most of the time, and you’re cruising downhill not doing much work so you get cold.

This was only about 30 or 40cm deep.
I was starting to think someone had moved the falls and I was never going to get there, just before I turned around a corner to find several 4WD’s motorbikes and quad bikes jammed into a small car park.  I'd made it.

I swapped war stories with the assembled mass of drivers who were sipping beers and couldn’t believe that I had come in behind them.  One guy in particular seemed most put out that I’d cycled in in about the same time he had.  Big grins (but only on the inside).  I pointed out our relative conditions (me cacked head to toe in mud, him clean and polished) hoping that would made him feel better, but decided not to hang around to see, instead setting off over the suspension bridge to admire the falls and have my lunch.

After the 4WD section, the pedestrian (and bikes) only section out to Williamsford is an absolute dream.  The first section still has a lot of sleepers in place so is a bit bumpy, but  downhill in this direction, though the gradient soon once again turns every so slightly, but noticeably, upwards as it heads along some enchanting sections of track up to the car park.
At last dry ground ... the bridge below the falls.

Magical pedestrian side of the track

Old sleepers going around corner

Me trying to be artisitc

Just gorgeous riding

Getting slightly better at this artistic stuff .. just got to get my head in the shot.

I was ALMOST tempted to head back to Zeehan via the road, but figured I wasn’t likely to come this way again soon, so turned around and headed back into the mud.  

Form this direction, the grade of the track is basically downhill for about 2/3rds the way to the falls, then uphill to past the Ring River track where it again turns downhill for an increasingly fast and fun descent back down to Melba Flats, and if I was only doing the track in one direction, this is definitely the way to do it.  I was surprised at how quickly the uphill section went by  as it had looked quite steep and technical on the way down, but it made for great riding on the way back up.

I stopped again at Melba Flats, covered literally from head to toe in mud, even my bike was barely recognisable.

Muddy, muddy me.

Pretty flowers.
To finish off the ride, I headed back along the main highway towards Zeehan for about 500m, then took an unsigned little road off to the right which I hoped was the track running parallel to the railway line.  I figured I may as well give all the options a look.

After passing by a gate, and ignoring a couple of turn offs to the left and right, the road crossed my railpath near the last major bridge wash out (this would be a better way to exit rather than doing what I did which was climb back up onto the railway and carry and push my bike along to the new railway line) then continued on winding its way through a eucalypt plantation before bee lining it back to Zeehan (ignoring one clay coloured road to the left).

The section past the plantation is very overgrown in places, and one section in particular I found myself pushing through gorse for two or three hundred metres, then wading almost knee deep through long puddles, and I was constantly breaking path through fallen stems through the forested section.  However I did manage to carry on going forward, and fairly quickly reached the first major bridge wash out where I once again forded the creek (which had risen about 10 cm in the short time I’d been through).  I took the opportunity to give the bike a bit of a wash down here, before cycling the last, fairly open section back to the start.  This last section, in fact all of this section, isn’t for arachnophobes.  I cycled through what seemed like dozens (but was probably only 10) cobwebs strung across the trail, and didn't really enjoy seeing scary big black spiders in the middle of their web as I crashed face first through them.

Beware, all who carry on will be scratched within an inch of their lives.

Just before the first/last cutting I transferred back onto the railway line to cycle the section I had initially missed, which was not much.  Like some guy who had cycled the route in 2007 (I read his comments at the camp grounds that night), I almost cycled across a barbed wire fence which had been dropped over the line.

I dropped back out onto the track about 300 metres past here just near a pine plantation on my left as the track goes across a second fence.

Pulling up beside the car, my thoughts of carrying on to the Spray Tunnel section quickly vanished.  It 6pm by and I was feeling pretty well done through.

I ended up staying  at Zeehan Caravan Park, which I'd heartily recommend.  I paid $18 for an unpowered site, including free use of unlimited hot showers and a pretty reasonable camp kitchen where I swapped travel stories with three other cyclists who were over here from Hobart cycling the trails.  A perfect end to a near perfect day.

Camp ground dog.  He was a cutie.

Monday, 27 December 2010

Derby: There's Hills in them there hills.

Absolutely exhausted at the Trig point on Rattler Hill
I cycled away from Derby Park fully expecting to be back there in four, at most five, hours.  I returned just shy of six hours, feeling absolutely  gutted.  Today I learnt that’s there’s hills in them there hills.

But back to the beginning, I was so confident of my ability to get around the Blue Dragon Day 1 course in a reasonable time, that I wasn’t even bothered when I realised about 500 metres from my car that I had forgot to refill my water bottle.  I figured there’d be plenty of rivers to fill up with, so I just sauntered through town, over the bridge and took the right turn down Mascot Road.

I was also completely oblivious at this point that I was doing the course the wrong way round, though I did on several occasions think to myself that the circuit would have been more fun in reverse.  I only discovered this two days later.

Anyway, after a bit of an uphill warm up, the road soon turned down hill, and other than a few near misses with cars and the voluminous dust clouds behind them, it was a great little ride along the road to Ringarooma River Bridge.
Mascot Road

Just after a second smaller bridge, about 200m further down the road, a little dirt road beckoned me off to the left and what followed was kilometres of bliss, with the odd scratch of two.  The path was initially surrounded by flowers, but then not far in the road heads up hill to the right past a “Private Property”sign and an obvious and inviting path continues on straight ahead alongside the river.

The next few kilometres were all narrow single track wending through remnant patches of myrtle forest, man ferns, and also eucalypt forest and even some grasslands.  The river to my left was the only constant, other than the almost annoying heavy overgrowth which kept catching my handlebars, face, arms, legs … did I mention it was scratchy?

Yea, slightly overgrown in places.

Not really a struggle to enjoy this ride.

Did I mention the delicious track?

View from my water bottle as it was filled. DON'T DRINK THE WATER.  Trust me.

This trail just had everything.

I confess to slipping back a few gears and just enjoying this section for what it was.  I even stopped and went down and filled up my waterbottle in the river which turned out to be a mistake as the water tasted warm and foul.   

Unfortunately all good things come to an end, and at the farthest point from the road, my little singletrack trail dropped out onto a slightly more substantial trail, which after about another kilometer turned into a substantial road which actually required me to put in some effort to move the bike along as it started to head gently uphill. Fortunately it wasn't long after this that I hit some bitumen, whipped past a Chinese Memorial and found myself at a seven way junction, where of course I went the wrong way, namely straight out onto the highway and hence had to back track, though fortunately only a few hundred metres.

I followed a small road out around the golf course, as I had been told last night that you could actually follow the Blue Dragon route up into the bush, and that it was in fact the best bit of the days ride, but I found myself in someone’s back yard, well actually two people’s backyards, and with no obvious route to follow I turned around and decided to return to Plan A, which was to follow the power lines further along the road.

Looking back now, I’m thinking that maybe if I had just perservered I might have saved myself an awful lot of pain.

Returning to the main highway and heading off towards Weldborough, the power line track was pretty easy to spot, as it started just where the power lines headed off from the road.  Other than the amusement of seeing some form of power cable randomly appearing in the road, my first impressions of this track was that it was nice and wide, but unnecessarily steep.  Fortunately that quickly passed (it was mainly brought on by the sight of the less steep Weldborough road below me) and the track actually turned into a real gem being easy to ride, open, and surrounded by some beautiful forest.  I was having so much fun, I wasn't even put out by the last little steep hill that I had to push up before emerging next to a giant cable coil.

Blissful riding

Beautiful forest

Even some man made interest.

I remember taking a picture and patting myself on the back for such a fine route choice.  If only I’d known.   

Thinking from here that it was just a quick saunter around a plantation to link back into the Blue Dragon Trail, I was a bit shocked as the trail plummeted steeply down, then rose steeply back up, then down, and up … 

The gradients were mind breaking

The trail was so steep that it felt almost vertical and was completely unridable (for me), and each of the ascents rose 50-100 metres vertically, before just as swiftly giving it all up again.  I think there were four or five of these monsters and I must have gained and lost nearly 400 metres in height to move forward less than a few hundred metres.  The very last hill was the worst of all, and it took me nearly 10 minutes to move forward just 200 metres.  It was on this hill that I finally saw a trail heading off to the right, which I followed to get onto my access trail, and I swear this bit of the trail was so steep that the bike seat was resting on my should as I pushed it up the hill.
It was with great relief that after sidling around a plantation I finally dropped back out onto the "official trail".   
I was however pretty tuckered out, and somewhat daunted when I checked my GPS and saw how far I still had to go.  I also did an inveontory and realized I only had 2 muesli bars, my Ringarooma water, a very yucky tasting energy bar and one bottle of powerade to get me there.

However, once back on the trail things started looking up, the first section of road was again surrounded by these purple flowers, I’m sure they‘re introduced, but god they’re pretty.  This road eventually dumped out onto a slightly larger road, where I turned left and after a slight initial uphill climb, I followed this road down to another junction onto what look liked a blue metal road, but wasn’t, on my right.  This was a fast, furious descent.  In fact it was a bit too fast as I whipped passed the innocuous track that I was supposed to follow into the pine plantation, only saving myself from further hurt by luckily checking my GPS and realising I had to turn around and retrace my route back uphill for about 500 metres.

The section through the pines was overgrown, and the track abused by motorbike riders, so it was cool, but not brilliant until dropping down beside a gorgeous creek which I stopped at whilst crossing and finally got some water which tasted good.  Unfortunately I over consumed and as the trail turned fairly sharply upwards I found myself feeling a tad nauseous, and pushing a lot more sections than I would have hopped.  I also realised about here that I was in pretty bad shape energy wise.

Perfect water and rest stop
The track however was in brilliant shape, it wended up past a few old grandfather trees emerging out of the rainforest under-storey, before looping round to the left  and emerging into more open forest and plantations as the track continued ever upwards to the sky.   
Eventually there was a it of a downhill spin, and quite a few junctions (thank god for my GPS) before the trail emerged out onto a huge quarry on Paris Dam Road.  It was a bit depressing to see a sign pointing to Weldborough, just 4kms away.  I’d been riding for 3 hours.

Proceeding straight across Paris Dam Road I headed up what looked like an inviting track, but I realised five minutes later that I had taken a wrong turn and that I should have gone along a less substantial track.

The official track was another nice piece of disused plantation trail, and was fairly flat for the main part until just before emerging out near a little dam (Ma Mon Chin Dam) where, despite my misgivings, I refilled my water bottle before continuing on.

The next section of the road just blurs into pain.  I remember the first bit which was uphill, but rideable, and I was actually feeling pretty good, but then it emerged out onto a more significant road before immediately turning straight up a steep hill alongside a pine plantation.  This was the section that knocked the fight out of me.  At one stage I got so light headed that I almost passed out, and I was reduced to pushing my bike 20 steps at a time then resting.  Even when the trail flattened out a bit my legs just had no energy and I pretty much pushed nearly all the way to the trig point, only really managing to ride the last 100 metres there.  I took the obligatory photos, sent Jacinta a few text messages, and ate my last muesli bar and drank some powerade.  I think it was 4.30pm.  A bit late for lunch.

So pretty, but so stuffed I couldn't really appreciate it.

Some of the 360 degree views from Trig Point.
It was only later when reading the route notes on the Blue Dragon race that it suddenly clicked that this was the way down, not up.
Praying that the track was mainly down hill, and getting pretty cold, I continued off along the trail.  I think I glimpsed Willem and Robby from last night camped off the trail at one point though when I got closer, I couldn't see them, just their tyre marks in the mud.  The first kilometre was as much up as down and I just gave up at each small incline and pushed.  I really was in survival mode.

Cleared road - bonus!
Thankfully the track started to turn downhill soon thereafter. and other than a few accidental detours at some junctions, I actually enjoyed most of the descent as I dodged rocks, washouts, log litter and various other traps for the unwary.

The trail wove down through mainly quiet roads, and some of the riding was just pure joy.  I almost lost it in one washout just before coming to the dam, which was a pleasure to cycle along, and I even enjoyed the last little uphill section from the dam before a mad descent back into Derby.

Ah well, we are on Forestry Roads after all.

I recall thinking here, wouldn't it be better to have come up this way?

Cascade Dam

A last lovely piece of trail near the dam.

Enjoying the last climb, just up from the dam.

All up today was simply some of the best mountain bike trails I’ve ridden in Tasmania, and combined with the Blue Tier Descent yesterday this area is head and shoulders above anywhere else I’ve yet ridden.  

Despite my sore legs, scratched body and aching back I’m simply in love with this place and just want to spend some more time exploring them there hills … What's more now that I know I went around in the wrong direction, well I just gotta come back and do it the right way around.

The only problem is I have no brake pads left after the last two days efforts ...

View Route (Google Earth)