Sunday, 25 July 2010

Tassie Trail 2 : New Norfolk to Judbury


Jeffreys track.  You may have never heard of it, but it's a part of my childhood.   It's a small track that wends 15kms from Lachlan, about 7kms from New Norfolk, to Crabteee in the Huon Valley.  It probably once started out as a shortcut from one valley to the next, but today it is a play ground for motorcyclists, quad bike riders and four wheel drive enthusiasts who can head up there on the weekend for a bit of getting stuck sort of fun.

It's also a key part of the Tasmanian Trail which is why I decided to head out there on Saturday after my less than succesful foray along said trail from Judbury to Geeveston last weekend.  The big difference this time was that I knew this section: I'd cycled it in reverse about 10 or so years ago, and I'd cycled along the Jeffreys track section only a couple of summers ago, so my thinking was that even if the signs weren't there I'd cruise my way through it.  In fact the whole plan was to make it a circuit ride: I'd follow the Tasmanian Trail over Jeffreys track and then down the White Timber Trail to Judbury to where I set off from last weekend.  From there I planned to leave the trail and cycle the back roads to Crabtree and then head back up the other end of Jeffreys track before an awesome down hill to the car.

I set off from Hobart around 8am, and whilst it was nippy, at least the sun was shining in what promised to be a crisp but nice winter day.  Unfortunately by the time I reached New Norfolk, the blue sky was gone and all the surrounding hills were capped in cloud.  I stooped and pondered what to do with this turn of weather over a latte, and after almost convincing myself to just head home to my nice warm house, I hit a compromsie with myself, and instead of parking at Lachlan, I allowed myself to drive about 4kms up Jeffreys track to where the road deteriorated into a track figuring that the woest that coild happen is it's too cold and I have a downhill ride back to the car.  No worries.

With that thought in my mind, I cliped in and headed off. 

I got about 400metres before I was pushing the bike through a quagmire of mud that didn't seem to have an end.  A group of guys on motorbikes ad quads went past and seemed to be loving it.  It got me thinking that maybe I should have invested in an engine rather than full suspension.   After a brief wavering of resolve, I decided to push on, and soon found myself mainly riding, but occasionally pushing up the track towards the boundary of Wellington Park and the base of Clay Hill, and to be honest it was more good than bad.  Whilst the track was very muddy, with big ruts, I just lvoe the buh up that way, and whilst the riding was hard enough to keep me warm, it wasn't exhausting and I soon found myself up on top of Clay Hill and heading towards the highest point on Jeffreys track (720m) which is about half wya between the junctions of the East West Track and White Timber Trail. 

At this point it was decision time, because, if my recollection was correct, from here it was all downhill, which meant committing to the whole circuit.  I looked at my watch and I'd only been going an hour, so decided to push on.  I turned off onto White Timber Trail and was a bit surprised to find myself doing a bit of an uphill, then a bit more, and a bit more, a quick glance at my map confirmed that I did actually have a bit of an uphill climb (but only to 750m) before the downhill began.  Don;t get me wrong, I'm not talking big distances, and I was having great fun riding some nice technical pathways, the worst of the mud appeared to be behind me, and many of the puddles had a solid coating of ice on top which made a nice crunching noise as you hit them.  I did spare many a thought to a poor cyclist going through here with panniers or a trailer.  I suspect they wouldn't be having anywhere near as much fun.  My new peak reached, I set off down a lovely short descent, which bottomed out near a creek covered in chorded wood, I hit the wood and did one of those crunching stops as my front wheel decided it didn't want to go over and I went from 20kms an hour to stopped in 0.01seconds.  Ouch.

From there the track started climbing again and the mud came back with avengence (somewhat assisted by my quad biking friends who were playing a game called "Let's dig our way to the USA").  This wasn't how I remember it, but to be honest, I didn't really care because I think the White Timber trail is one of the most beautiful forests in the State and so long as you're going forward, the downhill will come.  To be honest I kept stopping every few hundred metres to absorb the beauty all around me, I'm sure it's all regrowth, but the whole forest is like a wall of long thin eucalypt stems clawing up towards the sky.  It's beyond description (and soon it will be gone, so get up there if you want to look at it).


I left my quad biking friends behind to play in the mud, and as continued along, I was dumbfounded to see the unmistakable pink tapes of a planned coupe boundary (hence my comments above about it soon being gone).  I quickly convinced myself that they couldn't be logging my beautiful trail, but not 300metres further along the track I met a local landowner out walking his dog who was very quick to disillusion me about my false hopes.  He was a member of some group trying to save what they've called the West Wellington Forests, and after explaining what was happening (I did confess to him that I worked for Forestry Tasmania for 10 years) he also told me that I would soon be coming out onto a new road which the Forestry had put it and I wouldn't be riding down quite forest tracks, but rather I'd be soon be finding my self hurtling down blue mteal roads and that I had better be careful not to crash.  I have to confess at that point in time, although designed to make me shake my head in despair, his descriptin didn't sound like too bad an option to me as this part of the ride was taking a bit longer that I thought it would, and the temperature had been steadily dropping.  My toes had developed that distinctive tingling which means they're not happy.  Fast down hill bitumen roads were OK.

We parted ways, without his dog attacking me despite it's obvious desire to do so, and just as he had predicted I soon found myself at a stupidly signed junction (what kind of idiot physically locates a Tasmanian Trail sign on one branch of the trail, pointing down the other branch of the trail) and then emerging onto the new road.  Except when he said "blue metal" what he meant were golf to tennis ball sized crushed blue metal, not bitumen, and when he said down he meant up.  There's nothing quite as soul crushing as anticipating a foot loose and fancy free descent to then be greeted by a grind up a rocky track in granny gears.  Sometime later, I thought I had finally reached the top (I was now over 850metres) and I was cold, a nice drizzle had settled in and I actually stopped fro a moment and seriously considered turning around and heading back.

However, I could almost feel the hot fire down in Huonville which I intended to sit next too as I had a late lunch (A lunch stop in Huonville had been added to my mental itinery as my body temperature dropped), so with this determination I continued forward down the hill.  Wonders of wonders, soon after this I emerged from my blue metal hell at a well signed junction, on a nice flat road, and so I was able to pick up speed and set of for Judbury, which was just down the hill, then up again, then down again, then up again, then down, then up, then down, then up ... after what seemed like an eternity (remember here my memory was a short flat section along white timber trail, followed by a long downhill all the way to Judbury) my GPS has showed that I had look since passed the old Judds Creek Road, and in fact I had cycled off both the Tasmanian Trail map and I had cycled off any route shown on my GPS as well.  That's when I finally emerged at a large four way junction with absolutely no signage, and no obvious main road to follow.  I tried getting a signal on my phone GPS so I could link in with Google Maps, but no signal there.  I couldn't believe for the second weekend in a row I was lost on the Tasmanian Trail.

After a banana and a bit of a think, it dawned on me that it had been about three and a half hours since I left the car, and that it was going to get dark in about 3 hours.  I knew there was a small chance that one of these roads might actually link onto the roads that head back down to New Norfolk, but I had no idea which ones they might be, and the thought of cycling down a dead end was too much for me, so not having any lights at all with me, and having no phone signal (did I mention no one knew I'd gone for a ride?) I had to make the smart decision and turn back around and retrace my path back up, then down, then up, then down and up ... I got back to the blue metal road and a horrible thought occued that maybe someone had just turned the sign around for a joke, but not having the energy to test my theory, I headed back along the White Timber Trail (it is much easier cycling in this direction) and two hours later, having dodged multiple four wheel drivers (and seen one insanely bogged vehicle) I pulled up back at the car covered in head to toe in mud, and feeling pretty good about the day.

So that's it.  So far it's Tasmanian Trail 2, Tassie Rambler 0.

Look to be honest, I don't think any cyclist lugging panniers or a trailer would enjoy the ride over Jeffreys Track and White Timber Trail to Judbury.  Even on a full suspension mountain bike with the bare basic's, I'd call that track a medium-hard technical ride with lots of mud, ruts, rocks and deep, deep holes.  Some sections are beautiful, but it's a fair uphill hike from Lachlan, and once you get out onto the new road it's just heavily logged forest, and until they regrow, it's ugly.  Then of course there is the fact that I got lost and I know the area.  Feel sorry for the poor sod that goes up there with just the Tasmanian Trail guide ... though maybe there was a sign just a bit further along the road...