Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Grand Arrival (and Finale)

Ta da! They are back!  
My loyal support crew is back but it was no easy feat for them.  Naturally you’d want to take pity on the cyclist coming from Hobart, Tasmania with a 23 hour journey, drained from the 2000 km loop she pedaled on the island.  But this time, I have to say my parent have every right to be completely exhausted after what was suppose to be a nine drive from Eugene to San Francisco.

Mom and Dad had been planning their trip down to San Fransisco since they came back from Australia.  We had everything in place.  Their visit was key; to celebrate my Mom’s birthday (Saturday, the 26th), see their son and his family outside of San Fransisco, and accompany me again for the first few days of my route south.  They were also acting as my “pack mules” carting unwanted gear home and bringing a few special clothing items to wear on my rest days like a pair of jeans, some running shoes, and my favorite pair of PJ's (flannel AND with bikes of course).  They were driving, like they often do instead of flying, in our loyal, huge, Chevy Suburban.  Even though it is a beast of a car, and not fuel efficient by any means, at one time this car was filled with 5 kids, two parents and all their luggage for holidays.  Nowadays it gets used quite frequently when one of us decides to move, haul furniture places, cart the fishing boat or trailer, or go on a long road trip. 

They had gotten a later start than expected because my mom got an eye infection in the morning and had to go to the doctor before leaving.  They were on the road at 1pm and had driven about 4 hours when they were going over a huge mountain pass in Southern Oregon, just before the California border.  The Siskiyou mountain pass climbs about 700m (2,300ft.), a difficult challenge for someone on their bike, but a piece of cake for a car.  Going up the hill in the fast lane with the objective of passing a slow truck, my dad had the “pedal to the medal”, the accelerator topped off at 60 mph and he had another truck on his tail, honking impatiently who had good momentum going up.  All of sudden the odometer dropped and racing down to 50, 40, 35, 30,…….20.  Their speed dropped abruptly although the accelerator was still on the floor.  They had to strategically get over to the slow lane, then the shoulder, behind the slow truck and carefully, so as to not get run over by the one on their tail. What was going on?  They both wondered, thinking the oil pump had broke.  They had just about made the entire climb, and now they were stuck on the shoulder of the road in the middle of nowhere.

Our good old Suburban, almost 20 years old!  (photo taken 2 years prior)

From what they could see, the car just wouldn’t go,….be it the oil tank, radiator, or engine, they didn’t know.  The next hour was filled with one phone call after another to various people, AAA, the hotel, car rental services, the insurance company, a tow truck.  In about an hours time a tow truck had arrived to tow them back down to Medford where they could leave it at a shop and hire a car.  The shop, at this time of the night was closed, so the damaged couldn’t be assessed.  However, if they left the Suburban in Medford, it could be fixed and picked up on their way home.  At least this was the plan.  At 9pm, they got on the road again and continued driving south to their intended destination, a city just an hour north of San Fransisco.  They arrived at the hotel that night at 2am, exhausted but not defeated.  They were filled with determination to make it to the airport to pick me up the next morning at 11am.  I shouldn’t leave out the small detail that their car was also filled with a few pieces of large furniture from our neighbors, whose daughter lives just outside of San Fransisco.  This was to be delivered before my arrival.

The temporary replacement, Mom and Dad's rental car

With 4 hours of sleep, and one big nightmare fresh in their head, they managed to deliver furniture to Holly in Berkeley at 9:30 am, who was so thankful to have it.  She could make out that the trip didn’t go smoothly by my Dad’s anxiety, but it wasn’t until later that night at dinner she learned the truth when I filled her in with all the details! 
Charlie, Me, and Holly (standing in front of the delivered furniture)

Meanwhile, I was on the third leg of my flight, from San Fransisco to Los Angeles.  I was a little frustrated by American Airlines,….no snack for me on this leg of the flight, only a limited selection of beverages.  I had just gotten off two previous Qantas flights were I had been pampered like crazy with meals and drinks galore.  I’m the type of person that loves to fly- I enjoy the little perks like unlimited movie entertainment, replacing my old sleeping mask with a new one, and trying the different “special meal” options like Asian, Hindu, and Vegetarian.  For someone who is constantly on the go and always active, a plane forces me to sit still and I absolutely love it!  At home, I never watch TV or go to the movies, so for the first half hour of any international flight, I make my movie “play list” for the flight.  I also have my computer handy to “catch-up on stuff” if I feel like it, and have a ritual for preparing my eye mask, ear plugs, and sleeping pill.  I start watching the first movie, eat my dinner, take a sleeping pill, and by the time the movie is over, I can’t keep my eyes open.  I fall asleep and usually get about 4 to 6 hours of sleep, if not more.  When I wake, I have time for one more movie. 

On this trip, I tried a new strategy, staying up all night before I flew out at 6:30am.  I thought I’d for sure sleep the entire second leg, I had 14 hours from Melbourne to Los Angeles.  I actually did manage to stay up that night, but I only slept about 5 of the 14 hours.  This meant I got to try more meals and snacks, from delicious Easter chocolate and ice cream bars, to wraps and fresh fruit.  The stewardesses kept me well fed on that flight!  So by the time I arrived in Los Angeles, I didn’t need any pity.  I knew that I’d be a bit tired upon my arrival, maybe just slightly more than my parents with their nine hour car ride. 

Little did I know what they had been through….They made it to the airport on time and were right at the arrival gate to meet me.  They looked fresh as always, and it wasn’t until I asked them about their trip down that I heard the full story.  Somewhere between dropping off the furniture and getting to the airport, the car mechanics called with some sad news.  The engine had blown.  With a car that is almost 20 years old, well, you know what that means…..time to get a new car!  My parents amaze me! Nothing get in their way, not even blown engines on a mountain pass, and miles and miles of driving in the dark at ungodly hours.  For those of you who think I’m determined, well, I am, but it doesn’t even compare to my parents!

Running shoes have been successfully delivered!

The important part of this story is, that after a loong journey for us all, I’ve been reunited with my #1 support team - Welcome to the United States!

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Maria Island Magic

Darlington, Maria Island

I don’t have to say much in this blog post, I think the picture do most of the talking.  However, I do need to introduce Maria Island.  For those of you who don’t know, Maria Island is located on the East Coast of Tasmania, closer to the south than the north.  It is a tiny little island, about 40 minutes by ferry from the town of Triabunna.  There are no motorized vehicles allowed on the island.  The only cars there are a few of the park ranger vehicles that drive around to survey the area.  Most people bring bikes, although  they also be hired. A lot of people just bring good old hiking boots as there are plenty of gravel paths and trails to explore.  Time on Tasmania for me is running out so I could only spend a day and night on the island, although I could have easily spent a week or more.  There is so much to see and explore but you definitely get a great taste for the island in a day. 

I expected to see a big ferry boat with a proper ticket sales office and a long cue when I rolled up to the Triabunna waterfront.  I thought I should probably arrive a good hour in advance.  The ferry left at 3:30pm, and at 2:45, there was no one to be seen, not even a boat big enough I’d call a ferry!  I popped my head in the visitor information center and sure enough I was in the right place and in fact, the boat was just 100 meters from me.  The lady there told me I could buy my ticket from the skipper directly, and that he’d show up closer to 3 or 3:15.  I went to the super market in town to pick up some groceries as there is also no store, café, or restaurant on the island.  Everyone has to bring in their own food and carry out all their waste.

By the time I returned to the harbor, things had picked up.  There was a couple, trekkers, and some women and children loading up boxes, suitcases, and backpacks of goods.  It looked like they were headed over for an entire month with the amount of stuff they had.  I bought my ticket from the skipper, John, and he helped my lift my bike onto the boat (no…there wasn’t even a proper ramp, the boat was that small).  There were 11 passengers total, maybe space for 50 passengers.  I was pleasantly surprised that with the Easter holiday there weren’t more people headed over. 

Maria Island bound......
The boast ride was the worst part of my experience.  I don’t do well on small boats; I get motion sickness.  John was so thoughtful and full of information for where to camp and cycle, but I could hardly listen as I was trying not to loose my lunch. Luckily the ride only lasted 40 minutes.  We arrived to what is called Darlington, a small establishment, once the center of convict life, that was well preserved and maybe a total of ten buildings, including what was once a coffee palace, mesh hall, penitentiary, and barn (next to which I camped).  There was also a visitor center and ranger office where I was supposed to sign in, but never saw the sign.  I was too busy strategically planning my early evening plan to make the most of the few hours of sunlight. John had told me where to go see the sunset, so I quickly ditched my bike, changed into less obvious cycling gear, and headed off to walk up to the fossil cliffs. Another thing I should mention, you don’t have to worry about anyone stealing your stuff On Maria Island.  I just left bike and all under the silos and nothing was touched.  Oh, and yes, I do appreciate time off the bike, so when there is a great path that can be hiked or biked, I choose to hike!  You have to change things up a bit, or at least I do!

Fossil Cliffs at sunset

At first I didn't recognize a live wombat, they look so different than the roadkill version

Surely there would be other walkers out, who wanted to see the sunset from the cliffs but to my surprise I found more kangaroos and wallabies than people.  In fact, I didn’t run into one other person!  I also saw my first wombat, which I didn’t recognize alive.  I’ve only seen them dead and they look much different as road kill. Alive, they still look a bit swollen and inflated, but I’d say they seem to be more of a ground koala bear than I imagined.  They are cute little fellows, and everywhere on Maria.

Sunset with mainland tasmania in the distance

My only company on my walk, heaps of wallabies

Sunset from the skipping ridge was incredible!  The cliffs were impressive, like horizontal corrugate cardboard, all different shades of bronze, that went vertically down into the waters below.  It was windy from high above, and someone with vertigo would have had their challenges, but I took it all in, jaw dropped the entire time.  Off in the distance over mainland Tasmania, the sunset and illuminated the sky with all sorts of vivid pinks, greys, and blues and I was all by myself, expect for the groups of kangaroos feasting on the grass down below. 

See that little house off in the distance,.....that is where I camped

On my way back to my bike, I spotted the perfect campsite off in the bush, above Darlington, as to not be bothered by the others, although at this point, I wasn’t convinced there were many “others” even on the island.  I collected my bike and wheeled it up the hill next to the barn, which would block my wind for the evening.  There was still enough sunlight and now moonlight to set up my tent, eat dinner without using my head torch. Again, I was in complete solitude except for the exception of some wombats and kangaroos grazing and the sound of the howling wind. Luckily the wind kept the sky free of clouds so I had the most impressive view of the stars in the southern sky before going to sleep and the temperature was just right for sleeping.

Can you remember the last time you went to sleep at 7:30pm,…and slept until 7:30 the next morning.  Well, I seem to be in this routine as I find myself free camping more and more here in Tasmania.  I seem to be catching up on a lot of missed sleep over the years.  You’d think one night of sleeping 12 hours would impede on the following night,….NOT TRUE, I can sleep and sleep, and sleep, and even have to set an alarm to make sure I’m up before I get “caught”.  Should I also admit that I wake up in a puddle of drool, from my sound sound sleep?!?!
Heading south on my walk, the storm has yet to blow in......
So many little beaches to be found here

From John’s advice, I could cycle most of the northern island in a day and see some of the main natural attractions.  However, my legs were itching for a change and I decided to try walking the same route.  I had enough time to give it a go and explore on foot.  I set off after a quick breakfast and headed towards the southern portion of the north part of the island.  I was a bit chilly when I set off, but in the matter of a half hour, I was so warm, I had stripped all my layers and wishing I had brought a bigger backpack.  I ran into a few hikers, three, to be precise, who were all headed back to Darlington.  I arrived to the southern campground on the island where there was a small house.  I didn’t think of stopping, as I felt great and didn’t need a rest.  Up above in the sky, grey clouds had rolled in.  I didn’t think anything of them, here in a Tasmania, there is a saying about the weather.  If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes and it will change.  I was quite content with the clouds, but sure enough 5 minutes later the heavens opened and down it poured.  Along with the buckets of rain came huge gusts of wind.  I tried to hide behind a tree, but it must have been the skinniest tree in the entire forest and hardly covered me.  This rain seemed to be around for more than 5 minutes so I decided to take my chances and run back to the shelter at the campsite.  By the time I reached the house, I was dripping wet.  The house was luckily open, so I went in.  There was nothing inside except for a guest registration booklet and a fireplace that said fires were prohibited. 

I couldn’t complain, at least I was out of the rain, which didn’t seem like it was going to let up any time soon.  I quickly took off my wet clothes and put on a few drier items.  Then I did something I wasn’t suppose to….I lit a small candle on the fireplace and kept sticking little piece of paper in it to keep it burning and warm my hands.  I wasn’t breaking any rule really, as my fire wasn’t in the fireplace, and I had it completely under control.  The votive candle fire was the perfect flame size to keep my hands toasty.  In the meantime, I kept my positive thoughts flowing that the rain would shortly stop.  This time it was longer than 5 minutes, but eventually the weather did change, the rain stopped, and I was able to set off walking again.  With the storm, temperatures had dropped about 7 or 8 degrees Celsius and I was chilled, to say the least.  I had a good incentive to keep a fast pace….the faster I walked, the warmer I’d be, and the quicker I’d dry.

The smallest of fire made the biggest difference.....

On the way back from my loop walk, I saw the island’s famous painted cliffs.  Again, to my surprise, I was there alone.  There was no one around and these cliffs were just about the prettiest sight I’d seen in all of Australia.  How could it be?  Where was everyone?  This is what I love about Tasmania, it is one of the best kept secrets in the world and the Australians aren’t ones to boast about themselves, their culture, or their country, so by no means are they going to spoil the natural beauty of their surroundings any time soon.  You just don’t have the mass tourism like New Zealand, but the beauty is equally astounding if not more impacting. 

The Painted Cliffs, Wow, wow, and wow!!!!

From the other side

The painted cliffs were like something out of a magazine.  The erosion from the waves makes for a symmetrical pattern of variegated shades of orange, from light to dark and back again.  The tide has to be low to see the cliffs at their prime, and luckily it was on its way out when I visited.  I must have spent a good hour sitting there in awe taking in this magical sight.

Layers of colors

With mainland Tasmania off in the distance and the sun slipping down over the mountains, I headed back to Darlington, collected my bike and belongings, again, untouched, and boarded the boat back to mainland as happy as could be. By the time I hit Darlington I had completely dried out, one more thing to be grateful for.  Maria Island had just done it for me,…….it put Tasmania at the top of my list.  What list is that?......That’s a whole other blog post, just wait and see!

Monday, April 14, 2014

Six,....I mean ONE Degree of Separation

People talk about the phenomenon "six degrees of separation", in this massive world, but here in Tassie, six gets reduced to ONE!  At least this is what I'm finding as I make my way around this "small town" kind of island.  I’ve said it many of times now....Tasmania is a tiny island and within the world of cyclists and those passionate about bikes (and coffee) it feel even smaller.

Rob and I on the Gordon River Cruise
First there was Rob and Lynne, the camper van couple I met my first night camping north of Hobart.  I spent three consecutive campsites with them and my day off in Strahan on the Gordon River cruise.  I had so much fun with Rob and Lynne, I mentioned them in a recent blog post.  They were completely unrelated to the world of cycling, but just wait,… will see how they play into the Tassie’s “one degree of separation” phenomenon. 

Rodger, an avid sewer, fixed my Keen sandals 
Rogers little gold car, aka "The Cho".  He took me on a tour of the NOrthwest corner of Tasmania

Next comes Rodger, a Warmshower host in Somerset, on the northern coast.  Rodger used to live in Hobart.  Talking about the city, I mentioned I had been to a bike store there to switch out some components on my bike.  Turns out Rodger went to the same shop in Hobart and knew John, who runs Cyclingo in the western part of the city.  Not so ironic, I know, they are both cyclists…..but listen to this.  Rodger rode with me from his town to my next destination, Devonport. Later that day, he went to another town to visit a friend, the exact place where Rob and Lynne happened to be staying in their camper van. Rodger recognized their camper van from my previous blog post and went over and introduced himself.   Rob, with his sense of humor, sent me the following text message:  Well stone the flaming cows! We are camped in Burnie tonight and next to us is a little golden Toyota car who recognized our vehicle and his name is Rodger! We have a good old yarn and he tells me about an American pushbiker who stayed with him and ate him out of house and home.  It’s a bloody small world  P.S. I helped him out with a few quid so he could afford a fresh meal-HA!

Rodger was an interesting host.  Not only does he love to sew, but he buys old antique sewing machines, fixes them up, and donates them to a non-profit organization in Africa. The non-profit organization isn’t sending another container in the near future and so he has some extra machines hanging around his house and he was looking for a loving home for them.  One of the machines is the same as my mom’s first machine back how. I love to sew but obviously I can’t bring a michine along with me.  However, Nerida Warburg, Jesse’s wife back in Hobart does as well, so I put the two in touch and now Nerida has a neat antique Singer sewing machine.  Of course there is one little contingency with the machine....if I move to Australia, the machine is mine (enough incentive on it’s own to get me back here).  Now these two random people know each other because of the pushbiker!

Now on to Greg who lives in Devonport, a small coastal town in the north of Tasmania.  He loves to bike and paddle. Greg is a cyclist, a friend of an Australian Thomson Bike Tour client I know on mainland.  She put the two of us in touch. He met me on the road on the way to his house and the first question out of his mouth was, “Were you just at the cafe Playfish having a coffee date?”  “Yes,” I answered suspiciously.  I was at that café having a coffee and cake with a teacher from my school visit, who is actually the cousin of the Udine International School in Italy, one of the first schools I visited on my trip.  It turns out Greg’s wife and daughter were also at Playfish, their favorite coffee shop, and recognized me, still wearing all my bike attire.  Devonport is small, but has plenty of cafes.  It just so happens we chose the same one!

Me and Rachael outside Playfish, doubt the place to go for coffee and sweets in Devonport.....

Here I am with Andy, the captain of the boat, a good friend of Greg's

Talking about my travels up the west coast, it turns out Greg knows the captain of the boat on Gordon River cruise.  I wouldn’t have known his name or even him, but since I was with Rob and Lynne on the cruise, Rob and I went wondering on the boat and met the captain.  Andy was a Strahan local and I asked him all about the roads in the area.  After the cruise he wanted to see my bike, so I showed him. If Greg mentioned me to Andy, surely he’d remember that girl cycling around the world….

Greg and I were also separated by “one degree” with two other people.  On my first morning he took my paddling on the ocean at the crack of dawn.  Two other friends came over at 5:30 and we set off together.  I paddled with Bob, who worked for Tasmania’s forestry department and also biked.  He started explaining all the visitors he gets thanks to friend in Sydney who is a Warmshowers host. He mentioned having several Spaniards and one couple stood out in particular, Javi and Claudia.  I don’t personally know these two Catalan cyclists, however, they did a similar Oceania bike tour a year ago and I’ve stayed with the same hosts in New Zealand and Australia.  I have read a lot of their reviews on and I have stayed with hosts who constantly make reference to them.  In fact on the New South Wales coast, I tried to make a tortilla for a couple who hosted me, but their frying pan was not ideal for the famous Spanish omelet.  Turns out Claudia had attempted the same Spanish meal and was equally embarrassed by the outcome.  I wrote Claudia and Javi later that day to introduce myself and let them know I had been paddling with Bob, who is actually getting ready to go to Barcelona as part of his European tour this summer. 

Ambleside Cafe: That's one serious coffee machine for a passionate coffee drinker
An important detail about Greg is his amazing coffee machine.  After paddling or riding with his friends in the wee hours of the morning, they always end up at his place afterwards for coffee.  His house is called the Kayak club and the coffee, “Ambleside Café”.  In Tassie, I’ve learned that it doesn’t matter what kind of car you drive, but rather the coffee machine you have at home.  Greg’s was impressive and so was my next host’s machine.  Georgie and Steve Brown had a built in Miele espresso maker.  In fact, one of the first comments I made was about their state-of-the art coffee machine and how I’d just been with a host who also had an impressive coffee machine.  As I was describing it, Steve piped up and asked,….Did your host live on the river in Devonport?  Does he cycle early in the morning with a group of guys?  Here we go again!  Turns out Steve and Georgie have a beach house close to Devonport.  One morning Steve went for a bike ride and found Greg and his crew on the roadand joined them.  Afterwards he found himself at the Ambleside Café for a coffee.  Steve was also impressed by the coffee and Greg’s cycling group.  One person stuck out in his mind in particular,….a Bob who worked in the forestry industry, like himself. 

Georgie and Steve Brownie were introduced to me by the Udine International School principal.  It's no wonder he wanted to connect us, Steve and Georgie are part owners of the  The Avanti Plus bike shop in Launceston, and Georgie actually runs it, not Steve.  I love Tassie women!
The Avanti plus bike shop in Launceston. If it weren't for carrying minimal gear, I would have loaded up on stuff here.
Me, Georgie, Izzy, and Henry on the gorge walk in Launceston

It’s a small world, all brought together through cycling and coffee here in Tasmania!  As I go cycling around the island, I’m connecting the dots from person-to-person discovering that there is one degree of separation here amongst the locals.  Not to mention, I still feel like everyone knows me, like a small town celebrity.  On the west coast everyone recognized me as the girl with the yellow bags who they’d passed on the road earlier.  Here, up north, I’m known as the girl in Saturday’s newspaper they read about.  In fact, I pulled up to the supermarket in a town today and a lady there gave me money for lunch even though I insisted she didn’t.  She was inspired by my story and wanted to do something for me. 

I’m headed down the East coast now back to Hobart.  Perhaps I’ll go in cognito there as it has more civilization than Tassie’s west coast.  However, something tells me it’s impossible to go off the radar cycling around Tasmania…..It’s just that "small town" kind of a place!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

In a Tiny Corner of the World.....

Lake Roseberry, Tullah Lake Lodge
Once upon a time, in a tiny corner of the world, there was a cyclist who pedaled 100 kilometers in a day.  Now this was not anything unusual for the strong and mighty young lady, but what was so peculiar were the vastly different regions and beautiful landscapes she passed as she pedaled.  There were tall rugged mountains towering over a still, peaceful lake, brisk cold highlands, barren with low growing shrubbery and temperate rainforests with ferns as tall as humans and moss covering trees like wallpaper.  Last but now least, as is commonly found throughout Australia, there was rolling green farmland spotted with black and white cows, This farmland was different than other farmland in Australia because in the horizon you could see the mighty ocean, which is where this young lady was headed on her bike!

Rugged mountains hovering in the background leaving Tullah
Enough with the story telling, but you get the picture; Tasmania's geography is like something out of a children's storybook!  It's incredibly diverse and the reality is Tasmania is Australia's smallest state.  To give you an idea of Tasmania's size, it is about eight times smaller than Spain and four times smaller than Oregon.  If you were to combine Belgium and The Netherlands, it is roughly the same area as Tasmania. The main road that travels the periphery of Tasmania is about 1,200 kilometers.  Yesterday, in the 100 kilometers that I covered on the west coast, I cycled through 5 distinct landscapes and microclimates, yet I only passed through one town, and shared the road with no more than about two dozen vehicles in all of the 7 hours I was riding.  In the 100 kilometers I pedaled, I went from gorgeous rugged mountains on a calm still lake, rode past barren highlands, down into a lush gorge with a temperate rain forests, then out of the gorge to rolling farmlands, and ended up at the mouth of a river that flows into the ocean.  It was a long and challenging day, mostly because I had a lot of “flase flats” and I was so isolated from the rest of the world with no services to speak of.

Lake Roseberry, Tullah

My campsite....really I should have parked a caravan here

I had spent the night in Tullah, a town that hardly shows up on the map.  I wasn’t sure if there were proper camping facilities, but I had computed my days so that I would arrive on the north coast in time for a few school visits during the week.  Therefore, Tullah was a strategic stopover that didn’t let me down.  Settled on the side of Lake Roseberry, the Tullah Lake Lodge was the only accommodation in town.  I explored the shoreline of the lake before heading up to the reception to see if they’d let me camp in the caravan parking lot.  It was the only accommodation in town and doesn’t cater to tents because they want budget travelers to use their backpacker’s facilities.  Luckily they made an exception for me and I pitched my tent next to a small amenities hut and got a nice warm shower. My neighbors were a young couple who laughed at the fact I had my tent where a camper van would normally park, but they immediately recognized me as “the girl with the yellow bags” they had seen on the road earlier that day and were quite friendly.  I probably should have treated myself to a proper meal at the lodge pub, but I needed to get rid of some of my food weight as I was in for a lot of climbing the following day.  Therefore, a can of Aussie baked beans in tomato sauce, was my dinner followed by dark chocolate with almonds, my chocolate bar flavor of the week.  As gross as it may sound, it hit the spot!

Baked beans, a delicious dinner

The next morning, thanks to day light savings, I was up remarkably early,….so early, in fact, the two cafes in town weren’t open for breakfast. I had some granola bars and fruit and started my ride.  For the first 25 kilometers I climbed up from the lake and over mountains, pedaling upwards consistently through rugged peaks until I was finally rewarded with a downhill to barren highlands.  The temperature was frigid, but nothing colder than I had experienced a few days before when I found myself bundled up in almost all the warm gear I owned.  I’ve hit some cold weather on Tassie’s west coast, a first really since I was in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina back in October.  From the highlands, I came across an intersection the road, where I could pedal down the road 7 kilometers, out of the way, to have a coffee and meal, or I could continue on route to my destination.  I started to pedal down the road, motivated by the sounds of a warm coffee, but then turned around.  Seven kilometers was too much of an effort for coffee, I settled for a few more granola bars and my chocolate coffee milk concoction.  It isn’t as good as an Aussie Cappucino or a flat white, but powdered milk, instant coffee, and a bit of chocolate powder is the perfect combination of caffeine, sweetness, and energy to keep me nourished and pedaling.

Hellyer Gorge, Northwest Tasmania (very similar to Oregon rain forests)

In front of me I was facing the tougher part of my ride, a descent to the Hellyer Gorge, and then the climb back up.  I was told it was hard, but nothing “I couldn’t manage”.  It’s remarkable how other cyclists who give me route information always tell me “You’ll be fine, it’s nothing harder than you’ve already done!”  They assume I have such a high level of fitness that nothing will faze me out on the roads.  I guess they are right, I can do the climbing, but it is still challenging and difficult!  Going down to the Hellyer Gorge was a breeze.  It was like I had been transported to the temperate rain forests of Oregon.  There was something familiar about my surroundings: lush greenery, moss padding all the trees and pathways, and heaps of ferns shooting out all over the ground.  After a quick walk up the river, I hopped back on my bike, motivated by the road signs that told me there was a town called “Yolla,” up the road, about 24 kilometers.  If this town was big enough to be on the road signs, it meant that it would at least have a service station with some sort of cafe, or so I hoped. 

The highlands

Climbing out of the gorge wasn’t as grueling as I had imagined, but the last 5 of the 24 kilometers to Yolla were eternal.  At this point I had hit a total of 95 kilometers on my GPS, which normally doesn’t faze me.  But for some reason that day, I was completely spent.  Basically, I hadn’t had a proper rest stop all day, riding continually for almost 100 kilometers.  I had gone past my hunger and energy limit, using up all my reserves,…and my body desperately needed fuel!  You know what it is like going into a grocery store hungry? Well, imagine going into a grocery store completely famished after riding for almost 6 hours straight.  I didn’t realize how hungry I must have been until later that evening when I was looking through my pictures.  Here I’d taken about 20 pictures of recipes in a cooking magazine that was on the table where I had my soup.  Now looking at them, they aren’t that exciting of recipes, but at the time, I was drooling over the pictures.

From Yolla, I could see that I was close to my destination, but I lacked the motivation, so I looked to others to give me some.  I asked the lady working at the cafe my favorite but also most dreaded question,…. “What’s the road like from here to Somerset?” I don’t know why I always ask this question when I pretty much know that there are going to be hills.  I’m in Tasmania, nothing is flat!  However, this lady became my new best friend because to my surprise she told me I had a wee hill going out of town and then it was a smooth rolling descent to my destination. Even though I knew I had 15 kilometers downhill, my legs protested. They were done for the day! They ached, felt heavy, and just wouldn’t turn the way they usually did.   I found myself walking the first hill out of town, which lasted all of 50 meters, then I coasted most of the way down the hill, trying to keep myself distracted by the scenery so I wouldn’t obsessively count down the kilometers on my GPS. The scenery had now become coastal farmland, an unusual sight for me; green pastures right up to the rocky cliffs with cows grazing overlooking the ocean.

I could live there, a little barn on the top of a hill

I rolled into town singing along to a song at the top of my lungs.  I must have either been really off tune, or maybe it was the fact that I was singing in Spanish, but everyone starred at me.  I forgot that civilization existed after so many days of being in the remote wilderness, I turned down my volume just a tad, but continued to sing as I passed families and kids playing by the riverside, people kayaking, and walking alongside the river on a footpath. In the matter of 2 minutes, dozens of cars and trucks passed me on the main road, which is more traffic than I had come across the entire day or last two days.  There was a proper super market in town and public park, where I plopped down for a bit of a rest.  I was only half a kilometer from my host’s house, I was going to survive "happily ever after" but I needed a moment to take in my new “urban” surroundings, Somerset, a town of about 3,000 people. 

A typical Tasmanian coastline in the northwest

In the grand scheme of things, my day was relatively easy, yet mentally, it was difficult threatened by riding in such a remote area without services.  Had this been anywhere else in the world, it would have taken hundreds of kilometers to pass by so many diverse landscapes yet, in Tasmania, in this minute little corner of the world, I had seen everything from rugged mountains to highlands, farmland and the coastline all in a mere 100 kilometers.

Little did I know the following day I would see another small little corner of Tasmania.  My Warmshower host took me on a magnificent 350-kilometer tour (by car of course) of the western corner of Tasmania where there is such isolated wilderness that many of the roads have not even been paved.  I still can’t believe all the beautiful scenery I’m encountering in Tasmania, and such little tourism.  So far, I vote this place the best kept secret on my entire trip, but definitely worthy of a visit if you go to Australia, especially if you cycle!

Friday, April 4, 2014

Tasmania: A Small Town Kind of Island

Gates of Hell, Strahan River Cruise, Tasmania

The drier side of Tasmania

Small towns are delightful!  In a small town, there is always a friendly air; everyone knows everyone, for good or for bad (for good in my case!).  You walk in to the local store or cafe, they greet you, and talk to you like they’ve known you for years.  By listening to other people’s conversations you can tell that life is calm in a small town.  There is no sense of urgency and the smallest events become big news.  People are resourceful in small towns, making do with the simple pleasures in life and limited material possessions.  It’s like there is a time warp in small towns, which can feel foreign or backwards for big city people.  However, I embrace the small town feel and that is exactly why I’m in heaven in Tasmania. I cherish the change of pace in life over here compared to mainland Australia.

Everyone knows everyone in a small town and the same holds true for Tasmania. It actually feels like everyone here knows me!  Just this morning boarding the boat for the Gordon River cruise, the ticket lady told me, “You made it! I saw you yesterday on my way over from Queenstown on those hills and I didn’t know if you were going to make it!” She is one of many to tell me that.  When I stop for a break at a cafe, restaurant, or store, before I can even say hello, someone comes up to me and says something along the lines of…..“We saw you back in……”  “Wow! You are already here? We passed you back in……” , or in disbelief they say, “I can’t believe you made it here already…….”  Everyone seems to know me here and naturally they’re inclined to converse. 

After my first day of cycling, after setting up camp in a deserted caravan park in a town with one pub and no more than 10 houses, I walked to the local pub to treat myself to an evening beer and basket of chips (sometimes, I indulge in the healthiest of food!).  The bar man greeted me and said, “I thought you would make it here! I saw you back outside of Ouse.”  I, on the other hand, wasn’t so sure I was going to make it.  The hills were grueling, but even worse was the head wind that slowed me down to about 13 kilometers per hour on the flats.  Unfortunately he told me I hadn’t seen anything in terms of hills, and needed to prepare myself for what was coming. 

Great roads for cycling if you don't mind the hills

There isn’t an extensive road network in Tasmania and there is very little traffic.  The main highway here in Tas is no wider than an alleyway in a big city, yet it’s the main thoroughfare that circumnavigates the entire periphery of the island.  I can go kilometers without being passed by a car in either direction.  And when the cars and trucks do pass, I always get a friendly wave.  There isn’t a shoulder for cyclist, but so far the drivers seem to welcome me sharing the road, the total opposite from the way drivers treated me on mainland.  Towns are sparse along the road however, and I have to be careful to plan my days carefully based on water and food stops as well as camp sites.

I was proud of my firemaking skills-got everything dried in no time at all!

Tasmania is rough and wild.  There are hills galore and they are steep.  I have yet to see a proper switchback.  The landscapes are reminiscent of New Zealand more than mainland Australia, however, distances are in miniature in comparison to the south island.  The climate is just as brutal as the roads.  My first day cycling, the temperatures got up to 30 degrees, but two days later, they never went about 10 degrees.  In fact, the first night, the sky was so beautiful and it was pleasantly warm, I decided to sleep without my rain flap.  In the wee hours of the morning I woke up to powerful roaring winds, followed by a huge storm that dropped buckets of rain on me.  My tent is waterproof but I hate packing up wet so I quickly brought all my gear into the camper’s kitchen which was vacant, and started to dry out my things.  I saw a fireplace and thought, that would be the fastest way to get things dry.  Remind you, part of being in a small town is being resourceful.  You don’t have many extra amenities and so you learn go back to using the simplest of things in life.  After all those years of watching my Dad and Walter start a fire at the beach house and home, I was proud of myself for getting a fire started in the wooden stove in the campers kitchen.  I had my clothes and tent all dried out in the matter of a few hours and was able to set out again once the rain stopped. 

Where else was I suppose to hang my fresh washed clothes while I went on the river cruise?!?!?

Other examples of resourcefulness on this small island (shameful or not)….I’ve got a running list.  When hot showers are hard to come by, I’ve found hot water taps in public restrooms at visitor centers to take extensive sponge baths.  I’ve done laundry in public toilets and laid them all across my bike and bags while parking it out back establishments,….and I’m becoming a frequent user of Tassie’s public libraries where you can also find free coffee and tea, internet access and hot showers,….yes, hot showers at a library, a great invention indeed!  Oh, and there is a delicious chain of bakeries that always has free samples.  If you stay long enough, they switch them out so I’m able to try two or three varieties of sweet treats all for free, after purchasing a coffee of course.

Rob and Lynne's camper van set-up.  Pretty snazzy, I pitched my tent under their awning

An eclectic mix of tourists at the hotel for dinner.  None-the-less, delightful company!

The tourists here on Tassie are definitely an older crowd, but I tell you, retired Aussies are an absolute delight and treat me like a very important cyclist.  Take for example Rob and Lynne who I met my first night riding at the caravan park.  Rob had seen my fire in the camper’s kitchen and couldn’t help but come over an join me.  We talked a bit before I headed out, and then later on that same day they found me again, just before I stopped for the day at Lake St. Clair.   I was going to camp there and have a quiet evening to myself, but they spotted me on the road, flagged me down, and invited me to dinner back at the hotel in town.  I could set up camp under their camper van awning, just to avoid any rain, and have some delightful company. You know me, I never turn down an offer for good company, nor food, so I after visited the lake, I headed back into town to meet them.

Not many big city hotels would let you dry your bike knicks in front of the fire and the rest of the clients!

We had a wonderful meal together in the hotel restaurant and instantly bonded.  They were a traveling duo, from up north in Queensland, each with their own children and grand children and enjoy each other’s company traveling.  Lynne is paralyzed from the legs down but has had a camper van designed and tailored to her needs so that she can travel completely independently.  Rob comes along for the ride and the two set off to travel around Tasmania for a month.  Rob has a great sense of humor.  He immediately wanted to teach me all the local slang, not really appropriate to mention in my blog, but I had a lot of fun learning the local phrases.  I was lucky to have such great company, not to mention the hotel let me bring dry out my wash in fromt of their fire and charge all my electronics.  We met another solo traveler Noel, and together the four of us had a delightful evening wining and dining.  At one point in the night, Rob, commented with his great sense of humor, “Let me get this straight, Melissa, you’ve got free accommodation and dinner, your drying your knicks by the fire and your computer and camera are plugged in and charging for free,….you really do well for yourself, don’t you?”  What a laugh,… he called me Freddie the Freeloader.  Little did I know I would run into Lynne and Rob the next three days along the road.  Day two, we stayed at opposite caravan parks, but I managed to find them in town and I came over to use their kitchen to prepare my dinner.  Today, we set out on the Gordon River Cruise together.  Again Rob had a laugh and photographed each of my trips through the buffet on board.  I hit it up for three big plates of food!  With local cheese and fresh smoked salmon, I couldn’t resist!
One of three trips through the boat buffet!  Fine dining indeed!

Might I say Rob and Lynne also had three trips through......
Half the people on the boat today had seen me on the road the previous days, and the chances are high that I will continue to see them as I make my way up north.  I’ll be sad to see Lynne and Rob off tomorrow.  Tonight, to celebrate, we have a dinner date back at their camper van.   I bought rissoles, a fancy name for Aussie hamburgers, and Lynne has defrosted chicken.  I’m sure I’ll end up pitching my tent under their awning again as I have done the last few nights.  As Rob likes to remind me, “What are friends for if you can’t use them!” 

"Freddie the Freeloader" and Rob- I'm going to miss these guys

I love the small town feel of Tassie.  I am very well cared for here. I actually feel more like a local celebrity.  By the time I’m done touring the island, I bet I will have run into about half of the island’s inhabitants out on the roads!  Tassie is paradise for tour cyclists, even more so than New Zealand.  In fact, I think it is one of the best-kept secrets, which is why I hesitate to rave so about it on my blog.  Shhhh! Please don’t tell anyone, I don’t want to spoil it!


Monday, March 31, 2014

A Little White Lie Never Hurts Anyone…….

“So you’re Delta, what level Delta?” The man at the bag drop-off asked me as I put my Buxum bike box on the belt.

I'm getting to be a pro at dismounting the bike and building it up again.

I was totally caught off guard, but I needed to think fast.  Here I had jotted down my American Airlines Frequent Flyer number on my hand thinking Virgin Australia was part of their flying allegiance and I would need my number to get credit for my miles.  But Virgin was Delta and I had already entered my Skymile number when I made the reservation online.

What level was I?  What was Delta’s system anyway,….Gold, silver, and bronze, or was it the premium, elite, medallion sort of titles.  I couldn’t remember.  All I knew is that I’ve never had a high ranking status in any airline mileage program, except for with United, the year I flew back and forth between Spain and the states about 5 times the same year.  But, if I said I was “gold,” status, I would get both bags checked for free, even the bike!  Quickly I answered “gold”, I didn’t say it with much confidence obviously because the attendant behind the counter quickly responded, “Are you sure you’re gold?”  So this time I was much more confident and said “Yes,…I get my bags checked for free, right?”  “Yeah,” he answered, without thinking twice. To look like I really knew what I was talking about I said, “So do you have a lounge here?”  “Yep, right before the security check-in!” he replied once again. With a big smile on my face I walked my bike in it’s nice shiny Buxum bike box case over to the oversize luggage check-in belt and was on my way.

Luggage, which cost me 60 dollars each to check in on the last flight I made with Virgin Australia, went free this time! Unfortunately, I had purchased my ticket on Priceline rather than their homepage directly and I didn’t read the disclaimer that the luggage wasn’t included in that really low fare.  Therefore, I got slapped with a hefty extra luggage fee when I got to the baggage drop-off counter in Wellington, when I flew into Melbourne the first time. Just to remind you, 120 dollars is about a week’s budget on my trip. This time at the airport, I was prepared to suck up the cost.  I had There was no one in line at the domestic counter at the Virgin Australia check-in desk and I had my choice of being attended by a man  or a woman attendant.  I chose the man, following the theory that has proven to be true down under….that these Aussie men are genuine gentlemen and have take extra good care of me!  Mr. Gogos, whose name I quickly tried to pick-up after he checked the bags through as a Delta Gold Skymile customer had just made me one ecstatic frequent flyer.  It never occurred to me to tell a little white lie, but he’d set me up perfectly.  Was it really going to hurt anyone? After all, it is Qantas that is struggling here in Australia, not Virgin!  I knew I was going to have a good trip over to Tasmania after my check-in experience at the airport.  

Mikey, Melissa, Marcos, and Jamie at Lupino in Melbourne
The last time I saw Marcos the chef, he was trying to warm up after a brutally cold climb in the Pyrenees

Actually, my streak of good luck all started before I arrived at the Melbourne airport.   Earlier that day, I found out I had been accepted into the 2014 New York City Marathon on November 2nd. It had been a dream of mine since I qualified a few years back in Paris and it was also the perfect way to finish off my trip and see my friends and family out east in the States.  Just after that news, a Thomson Bike Tour client had taken me to a neat old cafe in North Melbourne and then dropped me off at the airport, making the logistics of traveling with a bike much easier.  And the night before that, I had the opportunity to meet up with some other Thomson Bike Tour clients, who were on the same trip as Stu and Spud who I'd also managed to see in Australia.  Marcos was an Italian Aussie who had told me all about his restaurant Lupino in Melbourne and I finally got to eat there 2 years later with Mikey and Jamie, clients from the same group as well!

Jesse, Nerida, and two of their boys with a Tapas dinner awaiting. I love when my hosts let me take over their kitchen 
By the time I arrived in Hobart that evening, I was already on cloud nine!  And the good times continued to roll as I met a high school friend, Jesse Warburg, who I hadn’t seen for a good 15 years.  Since then, he’d married an Australian, Nerida, settled down in Hobart, and they'd just just had his third child.  His kids are the age of my sister's children, so I felt quite comfortable and familiar around them. His life and mine was radically different from the last time we’d seen each other, but it seemed as though we’d never lost contact.  Again, having a wonderful guide in a city makes a huge difference, and I once again found myself saying, “I could easily live here!”  Jesse and Nerida live with their 3 boys about 2,5 kilometers from the city center.  I hesitate to say city because although Hobart is a capital city, there are only about 200,000 inhabitants. Life in Hobart is peaceful!  There is a great public transportation system and cycle paths all throughout town.  The city is clean and lively, has a farmers market on the weekend, and rush hour traffic is pretty much non-existent.  They ride their bikes everywhere around town, including to school in the morning. In fact, they have an electric bike because they live a few kilometers up Mt. Wellington, the largest peak in the area.  From the front windows of their house you can see heaps of cyclists climbing and descending the mountain, out for a good ride.  If I lived here, I’d be doing that ride a handful of times a week!  From what I've seen so far, I don't think I'll have many flat stretches of road in Tasmania.....who told me this country was flat?!?

The Warburgs are a cycling family
In my two days here we’ve been to the farmer’s market, explored downtown, made an attempt to climb Mt. Wellington, which isn’t easy with a kid bike trailer on the back of a bike, even if it is an electric bike!  I visited Eamon’s primary school, their eldest son’s school, and gotten some useful riding information from Thomson Bike Tour clients who are natives to the area.  You could argue that Karma would eventually catch-up with me for lying, but it already did day 2 in Hobart.  While cycling with Jesse and the boys, one lost control on their bike and I went tumbling over them with my camera in my hand and it broke completely.  Luckily, I had a complete warranty, and the following day I had a new camera, the newer model in fact, in my hand.  Let's hope that was my only payback for the little white lie.

Eamon with his special guest Ms. Melissa at South Hobart Primary School

Down the road from the Warburg's, a famous brewery...can't wait for my post-ride beers
Tomorrow I set off on my tour of Tas, heading west first through the desolate and remote wilderness. I’ve got a week of riding before I make it up north to a more populated area.  I cycle across the north and then down the east coast and back into Hobart towards the end of the month.  Tasmania was the one Australian destination I wanted to cycle.  In fact, at one point in my route planning, it was the only place I was going to stop in this enormous continent.  Obviously those plans changed, and as I’ve stated before, without even stepping foot on Tasmania, I already love this vast and diverse country.  I have high expectations for Tasmania, and I know I won’t be disappointed, although my legs might get tired from all the climbing.  So here I go, let the good times roll!

The view from Mt. Wellington, Hobart and the bay