Sunday, 26 December 2010

Blue Tier Heaven

Hobart 268km, 3.5 hours ...
5am alarms are always a joy, they taunt you with the previous night’s enthusiasm to leap out of bed and set off early into the day.  Mine also hit me in a deep phase of my sleep cycle, so I found it hard to string enough coherent thought together to even find my alarm, never mind turn it off and get out of bed.

30 minutes later though, I was packed and in the car heading down onto the Southern Outlet, double shot latte in the coffee mug and last night’s freshly baked bread sitting beside me for breakfast.

I flicked on the radio to be greeted by Guns N Roses singing November Rain and listened to the lonely lament just as the sun lifted above the horizon and sparkled off the Derwent River:

Do you need some time on your own?
Do you need some time all alone?
Everybody needs some time on their own
Don't you know you need some time all alone?


I did, I definitely did, and I found myself singing along at the top of my voice. Yep, it was time to travel north.

Today’s plan was to head up to the Blue Tier in the north east of the State and have a play on the mountain tracks I had heard of up there.    

After a pit stop in Campbell Town for my usual brekky sub, plus an extra one for lunch, I headed out towards Evercreech Forest Reserve to stretch the legs for twenty minutes doing the White Knights walk.

Kind of cooler in the pics than in real life.

I could climb that ...

White Knights.
White Knights. Definitely look more specky in these photos.
 
Whilst the trees (reported to be some of the highest in Tasmania) didn’t actually impress me that much, I did like the EverCreech campsite and couldn’t help but plan an Enduro event in my head as I drove, and then walked, what looked to be some ideal cycling tracks …

From the Reserve, I tentatively continued along Evercreech Road hoping it would take me somewhere other than a dead end, and breathed a sigh of relief when it finally emerged out onto Mt Albert Rd, where I threw a right with plans of dropping out onto Argonaut Road and then hopefully taking a shortcut into either Pyengana or up onto the A3 highway.  I managed the Argonaut Road bit, but then saw no turnoffs so ended up in St Helens despite my little backroad shortcut and probably 45 minutes later than if I had gone along the highway.

To then add insult to delay, I filled up at the BP, only to drive 30 metres down the road and see petrol 10cents a litre cheaper at the liberty petrol station.  No mind, onwards to the Blue Tier.

Looking professional ... but no one to see me.
It was around 11am when I finally topped out at the Pominea Car Park where the Blue Tier ride and walks start from.

I was in a bit of a fugue by this stage, not really sure how deeply I wanted to commit to the day after so much driving, but I decided to head around as far as the top of the Blue Tiers Descent and see how I was going.

20 metres down the track, I was presented by my first quagmire of the day.  At this stage, I was still in the dry, cosy mindset of my ride, so I attempted to ride along the side of said quagmire only to pretty much immediately hit a soft patch resulting in me throwing my right foot down into a large puddle to save the rest of me following.  25 metres into the ride, this wasn't a good start.
That little sign in the middle is a cyclist sign.  The puddle is wet.

Only another 20 metres after that, the track branched with a nice dry, fast looking trail off to the right, and a muddy, boggy, uphill path off to the left.  Very clear signs indicated that walkers were to go right and cyclists, of course, were to go left.

The first half kilometre of the circuit is along an old abandoned trail, and I spent much of it slowly gliding through very long puddles praying that I wasn’t about to get drenched.   


It's puddle time.
The riding was however still fun enough.   

I stopped at an old sawmill interpretation sign, where the track entered the myrtle forest which the trail then wended through all the way around to the Blue Descent junction.   

This section was both brilliant and frustrating.  The forest was just gorgeous, as most myrtle forests are, and some sections of the trail were fun riding, but overall I found myself confounded by the numerous roots and deceptively soggy patches which just ate up my tyres and may as well have been brick walls given how effective they were at stopping me.    

Suffice to say that progress through these few kilometres was slow and erratic, and in my head I had written this trail off as being for the intermediate to advanced only, and in my more honest moments I added "less weighty" to that category, as in big, fat heavy people, such as me, who sink into every mud pit might not enjoy this ride as much as those who are less weighty.

Fortunate warning as track drops half a metre into a creek.

Wellington Creek, not quite room for the beach towel ...

Relics of the tin mining past ... or maybe just previous walkers.

Typical riding around the Wellington Creek Loop. Camera doesn't do it justice.
Mercifully, the trail eventually exited out on a bit better trail at the Blue Tier Descent junction, but I’d had enough at this stage, so instead of going left down the descent, I headed right back towards the car park.   

The 3kms or so back to the car park were fun riding.  The track mainly followed an old, overgrown, gravelled road alternating through myrtle forest, then open plains and back into scrubby regrowth.  There were some nice boardwalk sections across streams and peaty bogs, and let’s face it there’s not too many places in the world where you find yourself dodging wombat scat as you fly across duckboard bridges.  It was whilst dancing my way through this section, probably just as my confidence was returning, that I hit one nasty spot where my front wheel disappeared into an invisible wet patch just as I was coming onto a duck board section resulting in the bike stopping and me catapulting over the handlebars.  Thanks track builders, I really enjoyed that.  Good laugh.


About a kilometre from the end I ran into a nice couple out prospecting which broke up the silence (did I mention how quite it was up there?) and then my ride finished on a high point as I emerged back on the trail head to realise that I’d just come in from the walker section … they hadn’t sent cyclists off on a different route to walkers, they just sent us in opposite directions which makes a lot of sense as it stops us emerging out behind walkers.

The 7.8km (6.8km by my GPS) circuit took me less than an hour, so I had lunch at the picnic area (there’s great tables, chairs, a fireplace and camping areas up here), read the paper, went for a brief stroll around the Goblin Walk, and then decided that I was getting cold so jumped in the car and headed out with my tourists hat put firmly back on.
Anchor Stamper (short 230m walk in from road).
Exited via Anchor road, which would be a beautiful ride, though it’s all uphill, or downhill depending on which way you go, stopping to have a brief look at the Anchor Stamper (old Tin mine crushing equipment) and to do the Loop Walk out to  Halls Falls which was a beautiful little diversion, and would be a great place for a swim on a hot day.  Definitely allow the time to go and visit everything, and if you can’t marvel at the falls, then marvel at the accuracy of their signs.   They don’t talk about 200 metres to such and such, not even 220 metres, nope it’s 216 metres to the weir, 142 metres to the falls.  I kind of wish I had my GPS to check …



Halls Falls

Signs for those who like to know exactly how far they have to go.


Fully playing out the tourist role, I also stopped at the Myrtle Walk coming into Weldborough which I had driven past on numerous other occasions and promised myself I’d visit.   

 
"Grandfather" Myrtle.


This short 10-15 minute walk actually blew me away in the way that I had expected the White Knights to back at Evercreech.  Just staring up at “Granddaddy Myrtle” was ... humbling.

I pulled into Weldborough Hotel about 3pm feeling a little like I had wasted the day, and determined to do more tomorrow.  I went into the bar, and checked if they had a room, “Yep, but given it’s peak season, we won’t be able to do you a discount so it will be about $70”.  I said no worries, but wanted to see the room, which was nice enough (it had a bed), and then on the way back to the bar to take my booking, the guy goes, "OK, look I’ll let you have it for $60".  A bit bemused as I was sure I’d said OK at $70, but not about to argue the toss when it goes my way, I thanked him, agreed to the lower price and started to chat to him about the micro-brews they have at the pub as he made the booking and put my credit card through.  Not really paying much attention to the booking process, he asked me to wander around to the other side of the bar to enter my pin number, at which point he said, “Look, tell you what you can have the room for $50”.  I never knew I was such a good negotiatior, but agreed again to this lower rate as I put my Pin number in. $50 or a double room (Fairly basic, but clean) with a continental breakfast included.  Now that’s hard to beat in peak season.

Somewhat pleased with this turn of events, I got a bit of my energy back and decided to drive up to the base of the descent and maybe even ride a bit of it.   

Turns out you can't drive up very far, maybe a kilometer, before the road turns into a trail, but on my high (I do love saving money) I pulled the bike out and at 3.47pm set off determined to just see how far I could get by 5pm, which would give me an hour to get back to the pub in time for dinner at 6pm.  The guy had been very clear that dinner would be served from 6pm to 7.30pm.

It’s amazing how little things change your day, I would have kicked myself if I hadn’t down this ride.   

Starting up the Blue Tier Descent

It just got better and better ...

All this, and just for me!

The ride starts going uphill almost straight away, and keeps heading that way for quite a while.  The track is hard, but wet in places, and rocky and rutty the whole way.  The grade is just enough to keep you working, but ridable for most fit intermediate riders or better, and it is just awesome.  It pushes up through wet forest with ferns everywhere and old myrtles and man-ferns all around you.  I tried to take some pictures but just couldn’t capture the colours, but really didn't care because when you're enjoying yourself riding up a track, and you know you get to come back down again, well, the riding doesn't get much better than that.

After about 20-30 minutes of climbing, the trail heads down again for a bit of fast relief, which I found a little hard to enjoy as I was watching my watch concerned about missing dinner.  It soon flattened out though, went past a plantation on the left and then came to a T Junction where I turned right up towards Poimena and what I considered the Descent proper.

After a bit more flat, fun riding the trail crosses the first decent river, which was about 30-40cm deep when I crossed, but rideable, and then after a bit more flatish riding, the trail starts climbing again.



Other than one steep, granite flow stone section which started with a very, very intimidating boulder, and a few other short steep pinches where I lost my wheel, I managed to pretty much ride up most of this section to the Wyniford Weir sign. 

Yea, this bit was definitely beyond me.


Challenging on the way up, but a blast on the way back down.

Creek number 2

It was hard work, no doubting that, but the technical challenge was fun, and I loved every second of it.  The technical section ends just before you dive down and cross the river for the second time, and from there it’s a fairly easy (but not easy) ride up to the Weir, where you turn right to continue up the descent trail.  I was getting awful nervous at this stage as my watch had clicked over to my turnaround time of 17:04, but my GPS showed me it was only another 600 metres or so to a track junction.  After a moment of indecision, I decided I had enough time to continue on ...

Thankfully, by this point I was getting towards the top of the plateau, and although there are some steep pinches, both up and down, the riding got faster.  The only set back was when I got to the next “junction” shown on my GPS route, I found it didn’t exist.  It was 17:16 by this stage, so I was really torn as I was now so close to the top.  It didn't take long for sense to prevail, and with a smile on my face, I just decided to miss dinner and keep going.   

There were two more deep river crossing before I rejoined the loop track, both of which I had to carry through after the water stole my momentum and almost threw me off (I was over knee deep in both creeks) then after one final short push (I was beat by this stage) up from the last creek, I found myself triumphantly standing at the loop junction.  It was exactly 17.30, so it had taken me 1hr 40 minutes to get up.

I gave myself all of 10 seconds to celebrate, then turned tail and began the descent…

I’ll be honest and say that whilst pushing up quite a few of those sections, and after my problems hitting rocks and stuff earlier today , I had settled in my mind that this was only a track for the intermediate to advanced to descend, and I was feeling pretty humbled and inadequate, but as I started to descend, the bike just felt good underneath me and I found myself hurtling down sections I thought would be unridable, and even charging back up pinches that I was sure would be beyond me going in the other direction.  I was back at the weir junction in half the time it took me to get up, and thundered down all but two smalls sections of the main trail (one my front wheel slipped, and I just wasn’t prepared to try that last boulder drop).  I also discovered a new passion for flowstone granite riding, it was just awesome fun.

Before I knew it, I was back down at signed junction at the bottom of the descent and starting my way up the climb in the other direction.  I have to admit my legs were pretty tired at this point and my energy levels low, but I still managed to cycle up all but the last 50 metres of the climb, and it only took 10 minutes or so, before settling in for another furious and fun descent back to my car.  It was awesome.

I was well on track to get back to my car about 18:15 (45-50 minute descent) when I came around a corner pretty much at the bottom of the hill to see a kid pushing a fully laden mountain bike towards me, as I pulled to a stop, his two parents, and two other adults, all with heavily laden mountain bikes came around the corner.  They were all pushing, and all looked stuffed.   

How not to do the Blue Tier Descent.

We had a bit of a chat where they told me they were heading to Pominea to camp, I explained and pleaded with them to turn around, I explained that they hadn't even begun to do the difficult sections yet, that the trail just wasn't made for laden cyclists, and that they should just head up the highway, dump their gear at Pominea and cycle the trails from there, but although four of them wanted to turn back, there was one older German guy who just wouldn’t listen and he forced them all on.   

Seeing the argument was lost, I told them a few options for camping, shook my head, cycled out the last few hundred, very easy, metres to my car and threw everything into the back and raced to the hotel.

As it turns out I still had time for a shower, and got into the bar by 18:45, where I saw two cyclists who I thought I had passed earlier in the day coming up form Pyenagana.  I later learned that they weren’t, but they were still a pretty cool couple and we ended up having dinner together and swapping travel and adventure stories.  Robbie, the female, even owned the same bikes (Trek 4900 and Trek Evo EX8) as me which was kind of scary, and Willem had bilt a couple of kilometres of cycle track on his land.

The Pub made a great meal, and the micro brews and ciders were awesome.  I had a Hazards Ale which is my new favourite beer, plus  a couple of Bulmer Ciders which they had on tap.  I retired to bed about 9pm after having a flick through the mountain biking magazine they have in the corner which had the best rides in Australia.   

Tassie’s best rides were listed as Mt Wellington, Blue Tier, Dismal Swamp, Montezuma’s Falls and some private cross country track near Devonport.

The Mag finished my day on a high when it said the trails were for intermediate to advanced and noted that body armour was recommended for the descent… maybe I’m not such a wuss after all, or maybe I was just lucky.

Either way as I drifted off to sleep, I knew one thing .. I was in Blue Tier, Fat Tire Heaven.

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