(January 3 2021 – written by Dave – posted on the 5th)
Nancy says that she only so many ‘Epic’ days left her – well if that’s true, we surely spent one of them today. The mileage was a little longer than we’ve been riding but what really made it hard was 80k of gravel/unsealed roads and the crazy steepness of some gravel sections. We had 7.5 hours of total bike time and because of the gravel, it was full on most of the day. The uphills were hard physically, the downhills were hard mentally, there was little time to relax or we’d end up on our backsides. Neither of us crashed but both had at least one highspeed, front wheel slide outs. It was, in a word, an ‘Epic’ day of cycling.
We didn’t discuss it much the day before but both of knew that today was going to be our biggest test of the trip. We agreed to an early start and I even got away with having an alarm set. We were up early and just finishing brekkie when we heard rain on the roof of our donga. We knew that we’d probably need every hour of daylight but we both still doddled at finishing our coffees. We departed with booties and raincoats just before 7:30 – a half hour later than planned but there was no point in waiting any longer.
The first 15k was a lumpy ride along the northwest coast. We might have seen the water except the clouds and light rain limited visibility. This section of road is known to have a fairly healthy population of Tassie Devils. There were heaps of signs and a first time for us, Tasmanian Devil speed bumps. I don’t think that’s their official name but they are placed on the road specifically to get folks to slow down where devils might live.
At the end of the beach section, we made a 90 degree turn left and headed inland into the wind. It was more or less uphill for the next 17k but it was gentle and once we got off the coast, we got some shelter from the winds. We had headwinds forecast for the day but they never got too bad and most of the day we were riding so slow that it wouldn’t have mattered anyway.
The end of this section was also the end of the sealed road for the day. After 33k of pavement, we got 80k of dirt on the highway known as the Wester Explorer – opened in 2008. We stopped at the start of the dirt to remove booties and raincoats and we did not need them the rest of the day. The first 10k of the dirt was probably the worst in terms of riding as it was newish gravel sand and deep in a few places. We didn’t have to walk any of it but it was slippery. It was on this section that we were passed by the first car of the day – 2.5 hours after we departed Arthur River. In fact, we were passed by fewer than 20 cars the entire day. We were definitely in the wilderness today.
The scenery reminded us a lot of the Scottish Highlands. The vegetation consisted of low trees and scrub. We had some sweeping vistas out to distant mountains but didn’t really get to look at them very much for all the concentration that the road surface required. We stopped for tea at the start of the gravel, lunch 34k later and afternoon tea a further 32k down the road. There are a few scenic pull outs but our timing was always off by just a little and we missed them.
The road was a real serpentine going over and around hills in what seemed at times like circles. Many times we’d top out a climb and see the road going off in a completely different direction, then on the next hill, yet another direction. It was hard to figure out how they would connect. That’s the way “new” roads often workout when laid out first – following the contour lines is much easier than building bridges and road cuts. And yes, it is often easier to go over a hill, rather than around – thus the really steep bits.
The really steep parts have been paved, just at the steep part. At first we thought “great, pavement” but soon we realised that pavement meant that pain was going to follow. In fact, had they not sealed these bits, they would have been completely unrideable. As it was, several required us to switchback on the road – thank goodness for the near zero traffic. For the record, I (Dave) rode every fine inch of the road. Nancy bailed on one crazy stretch where I had to help push her bike to the top.
Most of the day we were chasing bike tracks ahead of us in the road surface. Because of recent rains, we were pretty sure that they were from the last couple of days. We guessed that it was a touring bike and that the tires were slightly narrower than ours. Our guesses proved correct as when we finally reached Corinna Wilderness Lodge – our destination – and we met Randall, a fellow tourist who ridden the 80k section over the course of a few days. I’m sure we’ll see more of him down the road. His tires are slightly skinnier than ours.
Almost as soon as we reached the lodge, it started to rain. We asked about a cabin but of course they were all booked and we were stuck with pitching our tent in the camp spot that we reserved. While waiting for the rain to stop, we met another traveller at the lodge when we arrived – Javier from Spain/Melbourne. We had a lovely visit with him while we waited at the lodge and he even bought us a beer – thanks Javier! The showers are in the lodge and as the rain continued, we ended up showering and eating dinner before dealing with the tent.
Luckily, the rains eased and we got the tent up just before darkness fell. I scratched some notes for this blog but knew that it wouldn’t go out for a few days as there is no cellular signal here. It is a nice lodge but it is really off the grid – think solar power, tank water and no tv/internet connections to the outside world. We like it here.
Tomorrow we are taking the day off and going on a river cruise on the Pieman River. But for now, sleep. It was a really hard, but satisfying day on the bikes. It’s good to know that we can still handle truly Epic riding days, right Nancy?