Saturday, 24 May 2014

Ben Lomond

I rolled to a stop after crossing a small creek and looked at the (tiny) climb in front of me ... it should have been such an easy little climb, heck technically I was riding down Ben Lomond, but at the same time that that thought went through my mind another explosive fit of chest deep coughing racked my body and I stepped off my bike ready to push ... it was that or fall off.

As I lent deep across my handlebars trying to suck in air and calm my coughing, I can assure you that any euphoria I had from this ride had well and truly dissipated and I struggled to remember who had come up with the dumb idea of riding up Ben Lomond today ...

Then I remembered .... it was me.

In fact not only had I decided that it was a good idea to come up here, I'd climbed out of a nice warm bed, kissed a beautiful girlfriend goodbye (not sure if she noticed this as she was so busy reading Facebook stuff on pine-apple) and then set off by myself for a weekend of XC riding in the north of the State.

That had sounded like such a great idea during the week as I'd stolen the odd moment to look at weather forecasts and plot possible routes.

The initial plan was to head up and ride some easy trails around Launceston and Gravelly Beach, find somewhere to crash for the night, and then join the LMBC on a ride on some private trails out near Ben Lomond on the Sunday ... but then just north of Campbell Town I noticed that it was a beautiful clear day over Ben Lomond and then I thought about how rare that had been (at least on my visits)  in the last few months ...

Now, to understand what happened next, you need to understand that I've been meaning to get to Ben Lomond even since Peter Bird sent me a map of a XC course in the foothills of Ben Lomond back in January, and for the last couple of years I've looked at the LMBC Ben Lomond King of the Mountain race and thought how nice it would be to say I've ridden up Jacob's Ladder ... so the seeds were there, all it needed was a turn of the steering wheel and a willingness to abandon the days plans to make it happen.

Suffice to say, about an hour after leaving Campbell Town I'd found my way to the XC course on Ben Lomond and was ready to ride ...

Which was a bit of a shame because I reckon I pushed a good portion of the first kilometre of the ride as my lungs and legs sent me the first signs that they might not actually agree with me that riding up a mountain was a good idea today.

But that's why I carry a camera and I took lots of photo stops over the next hour as I slowly rode my way up the tracks and trails following the KOM course until it dropped me out on the main Ben Lomond Road about 7kms from where I started and about 13kms from the ski village.

I emerged from the bush trails feeling good, but very wet and muddy from the many little creeks that were running down the track.  But a bit of wet didn't worry me as it was a fine and sunny day and I just settled into the climb on the virtually empty road (I think I saw six cars the entire ride) and proceeded upwards ...

About 2 or 3 kms from where I joined the road I came upon a little picnic area where I pulled off for  a break (thinking wrongly that I was almost at the top but in reality was only half way there with something like 10kms to go).  After a short break, I then continued on up the climb enjoying the open bushland, rock screes, expanding views and rocky cliffs.

Finally, about 14kms from my car, I came around the corner and there in front of me was jacob's ladder ...

I shall not even attempt to deceive you into thinking that Jacob's ladder is anything other than steep and challenging.   I think it took me almost as long to ride up here as it took Ben Mather to ride the entire KOM race (which is both inspiring and depressing at the same time) but despite its steepness, it's not actually that far and on a clear day it is an absolutely must do, gorgeous ride.

There's even a little lookout platform, which you can see the whole way up, that you can ride out onto to take your victory photos at the top (you'll note no victory photo form me - I didn't have the energy as I was racked with coughing fits by this stage).

From the top of Jacob's ladder it's still about 2kms of fairly easy riding to the village, which I'm guessing everyone (like me) will do just to say they've done it, but truth be told there's not much to see or do here in summer unless you've brought gear to go for a walk.

Despite a glimmer of hope that I might be able to get a hot meal when I pulled up in the car park and saw a sign that the inn was open, the truth was everything was very much closed ...

... except the day shelter with toilets and a sitting area which was open and it was when I walked in here that I suddenly realised just how incredibly cold I was ... my hands and feet were frozen icicles.

This is when I also recalled how, when I was throwing my cycling gear on a few hours earlier, I'd left my full fingered gloves, my leg and arm warmers and my wonderful, wonderful Ground Effect merino socks back in the car because it was such a wonderful sunny day and I figured I wouldn't need them.

Did I pay for that over what should have been 13kms of wonderful descending back down to the bush tracks.

My day turned from euphoric (I'd really enjoyed the ride up, despite all my coughing) to miserable as I struggled to get warmth and feeling (other than pain) back into my hands and feet on the way down.

I'd also discovered on the way up that my rear brake pads were near their end (yep, I had two sets of pads sitting back in my car as well) so not only did I descend Jacob's ladder without any feeling below my elbows, I did it using only my front brakes most of the way.

That was fun.

By the time I got back onto the bush tracks I was just ready to get back to my car and even the smallest incline sent me into a bout of coughing - I was cold and I was obviously sicker than I thought, but despite that the descent was just too fun not to enjoy, at least a little bit, so I just pushed my bike up the few little inclines (there weren't many) and enjoyed the run back down the hill to my car.

I still had the energy to head off and explore the top half of the XC track on the way to the car and boy am I glad I did as it's a really nice track with lots of nice switchbacks and some great runs which helped me forget about how bad I was feeling (well, except for every little incline).

Nearly four and a half hours after leaving I finally rolled back to my car (it was only a 40km ride) and it was an easy decision to forego the joys of the lower half of the XC track until another day as I climbed into some warm clothes, jacked up the car heater to maximum, and decided that tomorrow wasn't going to be a day for riding and it was time to go home.

An hour or so later, I was back in Campbell Town with some hot food and caffeine inside me and the world was looking much happier.

Although the weekend may not have gone anywhere like planned (situation normal for me), by this time I was already thinking that maybe I could convince Kim to head back up here in a few weeks for the LMBC's dazzler range ride and we could pick off some of the other trails I meant to ride this weekend at the same time ...

As the saying goes ... not all those who wander are lost, and may I just add to that "just because it hurts, doesn't mean it isn't fun."

Thursday, 22 May 2014

The loss of unknown trails ...

A few years ago I lost one of my favourite local trails.

It was just one of those short-cut trails, largely known only by local riders, which allowed you to cut across from Mt Nelson to Mt Wellington around the side of Tolmans Hill without having to go the long, hard way right over the top.

The old connector up through the quarry and around the hill.
Most of this will one day be a road and all that was needed was for a gap
to be left between two properties to allow access into the bushland behind.
But the trail was on private property, albeit that it was all bushland, and so when the owner decided to sub divide it, up went the no entry signs and there ended my rides in that direction.

That decision made me really angry at the time, not because I don't respect the owners right to their own land, but because when I saw the subdivision plans for the land it was obvious that if someone, somewhere, had known and cared about public access it would have been so easy to modify the subdivision slightly so that an access corridor, like they have done so well with the Tanagara Trail, could have been included in the subdivision which would have allowed easy passage for walkers and cyclists through the property with no impact on the future owners.

But nobody knew, or nobody cared, or nobody who did could do anything about it so that short cut is now gone ... forever, and I'm just left staring at maps hoping that one day maybe a new connector will be built opening that area back up to me ...

Two days ago, I found out I was about to lose another piece of my favourite local trails.

New property highlighted in yellow, currently all bushland, with the trails roughly shown in red
... And I'll lose them to nearly the same circumstances ... another piece of bushland that adjoins crown land is about to have a new house and helipad (Yes, Mt Nelson is about to get its first helicopter commuter) built on it which, while great for the owner, will mean that all of us who have lived up this way for years and who have become used to walking our dogs, or using this shortcut to the trails behind our houses ... well we're about to lose that access.

It's sad, but at the same time it is what it is and whilst we can jump up and down about it - we can;t change it at this stage.

We've been getting so many new trails built around Tasmania lately (I just heard last night that the Pilchers Hill trail I rode up on the weekend has now been finished) that it seems a bit selfish complaining about the loss of the odd trail here and there, especially as most people don't even know about these trails, but what concerns me is that trails need connectivity and they need to be in the right place...

You just have to see the Buckingham Drive bike lane detour over near Rokeby road to know how a bicycle lane built in the wrong place doesn't get much use.

So I'll look at the excellent examples of how to build multi-use peri-urban infrastructure overseas (and over the river in the Clarence City Council area), I'll advocate for the "right to roam", and even if it sounds like a whinge, I'm still going to lament the loss of my local trails ... even if I am the only one who will miss them.

Good bye little trails.

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Pilchers Hill

Go on, fess up ... I bet you read the title to this post and thought "Where the frick is Pilchers Hill?!?".

If you haven't heard of Pilchers Hill, then don't feel bad because even the Google Gods only have a few references to it in their inter-webby library which means it can't have been a very important place to know about (please notice the past tense in that sentence, because I have used it for a reason).

Pilchers Hill, to put you out of your misery, is actually on the Eastern Shore of Hobart, up behind the Lindisfarne / Geilston Bay area and although I've ridden through here a few times for rogaining events or just on my way out from the Meehan Range, it's never been somewhere I've gone to ride ... until today.

This is Pilchers Hill from a previous ride - a big watertower
So, I woke up this morning at 5am with vague plans that, if the weather was looking OK, I was going to either head on over to the west coast and try and ride the Lake Spicer track or maybe (if I heard from Kim that she could come and stay Sunday) just head down and have another hit out with the Yo Yo Track (Yes Peter, I was planning this even before our exchange last night).

But as I woke up and heard the wind and rain buffeting the house I knew the weather was not OK, in fact the weather was sounding  far from OK, and so instead of jumping in the car and zooming off, I spent the morning in front of my computer finding out just how badly I've abused my poor credit card over the past month and trying to put together some track notes for the Dial Range.

But then as the morning wound on and the weather started to settle down, my mind moved to trails and riding and the fact that my only exercise for a week has been walking back and forth between offices ...

I needed to go riding ...

Now, if you haven't stumbled across it yet, there is a new and awesome tool in the track finding tooklit for those of us who like to find new trails ... it's the Strava Global Heatmap ...

This map basically shows where people are uploading their strava routes and it's a really cool way to find new (but be cautious because they're not necessarily legal) routes that people are using (as an aside I was using this yesterday to plot a route around Victoria for a visit up there in September because it is a really good way of finding mountain bike parks which highlight up in squiggly lines and really stand out).

Anyway, my thinking was to head off and check out the new switchback upgrades at the Clarence Mountain Bike Park but on a whim I had a look at the strava global heatmap and noticed this ...

Not the bright red highlighted route on the right hand side of the screen which is the Meehan Range tracks , but what caught my attention was the other patch of intertwined light blue lines on the left hand side of the screen ... if you haven't figured it out yet, the trail less traveled is as seductive to me as groomed trails are to most other riders so I knew where I was heading to today ...

... wherever those blue lines were.

Turns out ... they were at Pilchers Hill Bushland Reserve ...

After a quick lunch with Kim (who was in the area doing soccer monster duty) I set off from Geilston Bay and made my way up the Geilston Rivulet track towards the reserve with the vague idea of riding up through the reserve and trying to find my way over to Risdon Vale and then back to the car via Government Hills.

As soon as I was in the reserve though I noticed that there were all these new signs for rides in the park ...

Then as I was making my way up the gully and was about to cross the creek (on a trail I've been up before), I noticed what looked like a new piece of single track heading off to the left ... cue my discarding all other vague plans and my pursuit of new trail ...

As it turned out (a) this was a lovely little trail that gently climbs up the side of the hill and (b) ...

... it's so new it isn't finished yet.

It was only a short walk around the hill to get back onto a 4WD trail (which was where I found the video camera from my previous post) and from here I just headed up the hill (to Seagers Saddle) and basically just followed what looked like the most obvious or interesting track in front of me to see where it would take me ..

That turned out (though I didn't know it at the time) to be the top of Caves Hill / Tom Thumb which is a gorgeous spot ... but was pretty darn windy when I was there.

After a bit of a play around the trails up on the top of the hill, I headed back to a four way junction on a saddle just at the base of caves hill and decided to head down the other side towards Flagstaff Gully which led me down a fun descent and back to the top of Faggs Creek Gully (which is where I started).

After returning to the circuit, I then got distracted by signage pointing towards the top of Pilchers Hill and thought .. "Ah, what the heck" so I headed up there next despite it now being in completely the opposite direction that I was planning on going originally  ...

I've done this short (steep) section before, but it seemed easier today for some reason (29er?) and before I knew it I was back up on top of Pilchers, and decided "Ah, what the heck" for the second time and continued along the top of the hill to Robins Court.

Did I mention how impressed I was with all the signage in the area now?

Anyway, as I was retracing my steps back to Faggs Creek Gully, instead of heading up over the top of Pilchers Hill (near the watertank) I took the main (signed) side route and just as I was about to rejoin the track I'd ridden up ... I saw another new piece of singletrack heading off to my left.

Yet another U-turn, planned route in my head again thrown out the window, and I turned my wheel downhere to see what I could see ...

I saw singletrack ...

As yet unsigned (the poles are up, just not the signs) this is a gorgeous piece of trail heading back down to the entrance of the reserve off Geilston Creek Road where I came in.

And that was pretty much my ride.  I explored a couple of other little sections, dropped into the BMX track at Geilston Bay and then went home to see what was on that video camera ...

... and you've already read that story (previous post).

As to these trails, well yes they will go up on because they're brilliant, but I think I'll wait for the track building to be finished before I start encouraging riders onto the trails.

In the meantime there were still lots of interesting trails over towards Risdon Vale which I didn't get onto today ...