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Racing, riding and adventure by bike

Tasmania West Coast Fatbiking: Ride Journal

“Morale”

Apparently screaming this particular phrase at the top of your lungs repeatedly had a great deal of meaning to a group of guys from Perth that we met at the pub that night. Given our intake of beer, it seemed to make a hazy kind of sense to us also and it was top of mind the following morning when i was lying pale, perspiring and broken in a park while we waited for the bus to Strahan. Just a word from the wise – don’t put off grocery shopping for the trip, write yourself off the night before and then expect to make good decisions on what you want to eat for the next 3 days. It doesn’t work. Morale was low at that point.

I had staged a recovery of sorts by that afternoon when the bus finally reached Strahan. I’d moved out of the longing for death phase and was squarely now in the ‘never again’ portion of the recovery process. I was well enough to think about food though, so we strapped all our stuff onto the bikes in a park, I stabbed myself in the finger with a knife and bled like a stuck pig while trimming a zip tie and then we headed off to find some dinner at a pub on the waterfront….. I had lemonade.  After that, we set off into a glorious evening that was as mild and still as it is ever likely to be on the West Coast. The beach sand was a mile wide and rock hard and in short, the greatest beach you could even imagine riding a bike on. We pottered along for a while checking out the sites and taking hundreds of photographs as the sun slowly dipped towards the ocean. Before long, we found a bivvy spot that will definitely rank in my 10 top 3 bivvy spots of all time and settled in to watch the sunset. With a fire, not a hint of a breeze and clear skies, it was just perfect. With no need for shelter, we just flattened some grass and slept under the stars which were of next level intensity in the clear Tassie air.

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Camp site night 1

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The next morning we took a leisurely approach to the day and woke between 6-7am and were riding before 8am. We were touring rather than racing so setting speed records was well and truly off the agenda. Again the morning was perfect – almost completely still and the sand was rock hard and the k’s moved by effortlessly. Morale was high.

 

Early morning perfection

Early morning perfection

It wasn’t long before we came to the Henty river which at our time of crossing would be hard pressed to be called a river as it met the sea. Talking to other people, it can be anything from a raging torrent to a small trickle. I initially waded through it and found it to be waist deep. The current was pretty strong but manageable, however we decieded we would head a little further upstream to see if it was shallower anywhere else. We found a likely spot and i took about 4 steps into the river before i found the quicksand phenomenon that the river is well know for by the locals. I beat a hurried retreat and we decided that the spot I had crossed previously would do just nicely.

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We shouldered the bikes through the river using a 2 man lift in order to get the bikes up on the shoulders for full euro HAB status points. Also, it was the only way of keeping the bikes dry without having to go through the pain of blowing up boats.

From there we continued along Ocean beach. Sometimes the beach was rad, sometimes it was awful. Sometimes the best sand was down by the waves, sometimes it was waaaaay up the beach. All in all, i remember the beach fondly but on any other day, it could be the worst in the world to ride on. That’s the luck of the draw. What may be worthy of note to others riding this coast is the biting flies. There is some kind of beach specific fly that looks like a light coloured march fly, it was in plague proportions and without bushmans spray, we would have been a mass of welts from their frenzied bites.

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Hard sand waaaay up the beach

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A Pacific Gull pondering what tyre pressures we may be running because he has never seen a bike like it before…

I spent quite a bit of time pondering what the hell one would do to lift the bike through a river if they were on their own and figured out a form of firemans lift that might be manageable for future rivers. Pretty shortly the Little Henty gave me a chance to put theory into practice and it worked a treat. If Timmy got eaten by a devil in the middle of the night, i was still sweet.

It wasn’t long until we were in Trial Harbour which is a small town comprised of shacks.  The ‘shacks’ while clearly owing their roots to construction methods used in trailer parks the world over, were in much better shape than the shanty town i was expecting. There is no services for riders here at all, so don’t expect to be getting a burger and chips. We took refuge from the sun behind the community centre and put on more sunscreen. Of course, we then proceeded to leave the sunscreen behind which was quite a problem for the rest of the day, and the day to follow, and the day after that……

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Trial harbour

The climb out of Trial Harbour is a bit of a grind on a loaded fattie, but we ticked over the pedals and were soon nearing the top. I was captivated by the views out over the mountains and the crazy rock formations that armoured the hillside like scales on a giant fish. In fact, i was so captivated i managed to crash, tear my hands to pieces and destroy my phone on the flattest, most rideable bit of fire-road i saw for the whole trip while trying to photograph it all. It was an act of unbridled kookery that rendered my phone completely unusable and my hands little better and looking more like a hamburger pattie. Morale was low.

Of course, not more than 100m from where i hit the deck, the trail departed the manicured fire trail and turned into some of the raddest and most lumpy trail i’ve ridden in a long time. Timmy remembered it as the stage where he snapped his crank in half during wildside years ago, so it was proper gnarly stuff. Just what you want when you are struggling to grip the bars.

Anyway, it wasn’t much good complaining about it so we pushed on and thankfully the constant pounding sent my hands numb and i could enjoy riding some techy lumps. Climbing on a 40kg bike was pretty arse, in fact, there were a lot of climbs that were walked/wresteled.  Descending was an exercise in bike preservation – with so much stuff it would be ever so easy to destroy racks, or boats, or fishing rods or god knows what else. It made for some comical line choices as we zigged and zagged trying to keep speed but not beat ourselves to death.

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One of the key memories through this section was that it was stupidly hot. Mid 20’s but absolutely no shade and no wind made for pretty brutal going. We stopped for lunch leaving the bikes on the side of the trail and hiked downstream to find some shade. Shortly after, a 4×4 came down the trail and i managed to scramble back just as old mate had finished shifting my bike out of the way. “You fucking pedal that? Fuuuuuccccckkkk!” was his summation of my bike weight. I can’t say i disagreed with him.

We ground on and bumped into old mate about 2 hours later as he was pulling some 4×4 bogans out of a deep mud hole. We watched on for a while and had a few laughs before kicking on. We made it through to Granville Harbour around 3 or 4pm. Again: Granville harbour is a name on a map with some shacks, there isn’t anything there to aid a hungry cyclist but at least it meant we were making forward progress as you tick it off the list of names on a map. We found a shady tree, drank water and refuelled. We read the signage on the nearby trail map and it showed the Pieman river being about 20k’s further along. While we were already smoked, we figured we had 20k’s further in us and frankly, what else were we going to do with our day?

We kicked on in the wake of a group of 6 4×4’s bogans who looked continually surprised we weren’t falling behind as we followed sandy trail between beaches. It was amazing trail. Pretty soft in places and anything less than a full fatty would have been hard work, but the moonlanders were eating it up and we ended up dropping the 4×4 crew pretty quickly as they seemed to need another rum and coke every time they hit a new beach. 29+ would have worked well enough through here if you had strong legs and a lighter load than us. Anything less would have been sadness.

From there we took the coastal route past some of the most wild, interesting and idylic rock formations you will ever see. It was just sensational – best place i have ever ridden. The 4×4 trails had enough going on that the riding was stimulating and every corner you rounded produced more stunning scenery. It was everything we had travelled to see. Rocks balanced precariously on top of each other, wild surf smashing against the coast line, flat green bivvy spots around every corner. It was actually had some of the best spots for camping i have ever seen. Did I mention bermed corners? Oh, it had the best bermed corners ever too!

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We hit the Pieman around 6pm with the aiming of catching a fish to supplement our meagre dinners. Of course i immediatly broke my fishing rod when it fell between a tree and my bike,  so there was quite a bit of time spent creating a splint out of spare spokes and electrical tape. It worked to a reasonable degree of success however the salmon weren’t playing along on the point like the locals told us – so instead it was tinned salmon and rice for dinner. As we set up camp and chatted to a few people, we met a couple who had paddled river kyaks from Corina that morning, and the off duty ranger who was pretty stoked to see us doing something that didn’t destroy trails or leave Bundy and Coke tins everywhere.

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The Pieman across the bar on a small day

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No shortage of firewood when camping by the Pieman

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Camp site: Night 2

The weather forecast for that night was for a change to come through and it arrived just on dusk. It brought a vicious westerly wind at 50kph which initially started out of the north and then swung throughout the night. It made bivvy site selection interesting and with limited options, it was pretty average nights sleep.

The next morning i spent the better part of 45 minutes picking grass seeds out of everything i owned. A small plant that i have never seen before produces little round balls of misery that attach to any fabric and i’d bivvy’d right in the middle of them. It wasn’t my happiest start to the morning. The wind was howling and the rain was coming in patches and it was only about 10-15 degrees. In short, we weren’t really looking forward to getting even wetter for a river crossing, particularly since last nights tranquil river was now full of chop and looking decidedly unwelcoming.  Morale was low

We correctly assumed the wind would overpower the river current and set about launching from the spit near the river mouth with the aim of hitting what appeared to be a trail on the far side of the river. Of course, being the rookies that we are, we set about boat inflation too close to the waters edge and while neither of us was looking, a rouge wave washed through and attempted to drag all our stray items upstream which sent us running and flapping around like a confused seagull. It was a full aquatic yard sale moment – neither of us was pleased by it.  All went smoothly on the actual crossing though and the wind blew us upstream as predicted. Which was lucky as being sucked out through the river mouth on that morning was certain death. There were 8 foot plus waves washing through the bar and smashing against Misery Island.  I wanted nothing to do with it. Also as predicted, it was a cold and miserable experience although not difficult.

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Getting back on the bike was the best thing ever as i had spent quite a bit of time shivering under the trees trying to hide from the wind. We finally started to get warm again and soon we were immersed in the full West Coast experience. Unbelievably fun riding, crazy vistas and postcard perfect photos. It was simply exceptional. Just exceptional.

This side of the pieman is faaaaar more remote than anything we had ridden before. It is travelled by the odd cray fisherman, however we discovered from talking to the ranger, that it is closed to motorized vehicles all the way from the Pieman to Arthur River so we rode most of the day without seeing anyone else at all. I like that 4×4’s leave behind trail that allows us to get through, I don’t like the rubbish they leave behind everywhere they go, so this suited us perfectly.

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We followed trail for probably 2 hours before we were dropped on the beach. From there it is all a blur of water edge riding, meandering through dunes, route finding, pushing up big hills, gathering water from streams and just the best riding ever. It was next level shit. I do recall trying to find somewhere out of the wind to have lunch as the hunger sads were setting in. On an open exposed beach, we failed pretty spectacularly but while huddled behind a rock outcrop we ate salami and made wraps which we still agreed was better than being at work. Salami by the way is the greatest trail food of all time and should on the top of your packing list for the next trip. It was one of the few sensible food decisions we had made.

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Salami: A clinically proven treatment for trail sadness

Of course, the spot on my leg where i had missed sunscreen the day prior was by this time getting absolutely hammered. I had a radioactive red mark on my leg that was too painful to have shorts rubbing against it, so i had to keep exposing it to more UV which wasn’t going to end well.

About 1-2 pm we rounded a corner that was protected from the wind and found a family in 4×4’s watching the kids swim.  By this time my need for sunscreen was becoming desperate so i headed over, struck up a conversation and then borrowed some sunscreen from them. Of course they were happy to oblige as most Tasmanian locals are extremely generous of spirit which was confirmed when they asked where we were headed to tonight?.  We had no idea where we would get to but apparently he had an awesome place to camp next to his caravans in a town called Temma: “If there is anyone else staying there, just tell them that Rissole sent you”. JACKPOT.

We picked up our first tail wind of the trip here as the sweeping beach behind the cape meant we were now riding almost due East. It was rad. Of course the beach then curves and ends up giving you a headwind just to keep things even, so it wasn’t all beer and skittles. At the far end of the beach, i spotted a likely looking gutter and decided to throw a lure at if for a few casts. Of course i managed to snag the lure on bull kelp in short order but i wasn’t quite ready to give up on lure on only the second day. So between wash through set waves on the rocks, I scrambled/slid my way to the lure and instead of a hasty retreat i had pictured, manged to wind up with a treble hook lodged in my finger and getting hammered by waves as I clung on to ledge. Not my most sensible of decisions. Not by a long way and all for a $5 lure. Thankfully i managed to get myself the hell out of there and make my way back to Timmy who was busy eating everything in his bags and completely oblivious to me nearly being swept out to see. In hindsight it is easy to laugh about it and wonder how long Timmy would have sat there getting more and more hangry before he figured out i was gone, but for anyone else reading this – make better decisions than i did at that juncture.

We kicked on  and were both suffering in the heat and lack of shade. We finally found a tree to sit under and contemplate life decisions around 3pm when i revealed to Tim i was carrying the minispresso. I don’t think i’ve ever seen him so happy. We fired up my stove, made a surprisingly good coffee with some powdered milk he was carrying and found that the enthusiasm we had been lacking was indeed right at the bottom of a good caffeine hit.

From there we managed to diverge from the coastal line i had drawn and we ran a few kilometers inland which was hot and dusty. By 5pm the hunt for bivvy spots was begining to sound like a good idea. They were few and far between on the trail we were riding. Some moto guys suggested a shack near a creek but it was locked and the wind was strong and there was no real spots to tie off a tarp. So we pushed on. We found another which was distinctly trail side and with more human refuse than i was looking for in a campsite so i voted to keep rolling. It could be said that after riding past the best camp sites on earth all morning, i had become a little selective. Come 6 or 7pm we rolled into a little town and what do you know? It’s Temma. As we were rolling through, i asked a resident if she knew where Rissoles van was and she happily showed us where it was. SCORE.

So we jagged the flattest, grassiest, most windproofed bivvy spot ever. It was rad and I had verified with the lady prior that there was a store in Arthur River where we could resupply. We were both pushed for food at this point – i reasoned i could make it to dinner the next day and I think Tim was pushing to make Lunch. With verification of resupply – all rationing was off and we inhaled so much food that night. It was awesome.

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Rissoles van – campsite night 3

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Radioactive Legs at Rissoles caravan park

We had only made about 65 k’s for the day which was a long way short of the 100 we needed to be hitting to be in with a chance of making it all the way back to Hobart. Having said that, some days were going to be a pure roadie slog fest where K’s would come much easier and I don’t think you could blame us for lingering in this part of the world just a little longer.

The next morning we took wandered between little coastal villages like Couta Rocks, Sarah Anne Rocks and Nelson Bay. We received a tube of sunscreen from a lovely caravaning couple in Sarah Anne rocks who couldn’t bare to look at my radioactive leg any longer. While they were digging around in their car, they came out with an unsolicited chocolate handup for an additional bit of trail magic. It was completely amazing given our calorie predicament and we demolished it like a fat kid on a cupcake. Morale was high.

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Beach prior to Arthur River

From there we rode some more beach before heading inland to pick up the bridge over Arthur River. We located Arthur River general store at the top of a punchy little hill and some $175 later, we had pretty much cleaned out most of their food. I’m pretty sure we were the best customers she had seen in months and sure, we were basically heading back into civilization and didn’t really need that much food, but screw it – i didn’t want to run out of food again. The general store also does burgers and we consumed more calories in a single meal than either of us believed possible. Jamming calories in your face hole became a bit of a theme for this point on.

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The store was a little off route and we managed to ride that punchy little hill at least once more as we tried to get back on course. My predrawn map led us astray and while likely would have worked, was far more effort than either of us had left so we were looking for softer options. Eventually we had to ride through an area of questionable access, where we could then rejoin a rad goat track that wound around the coastline from Arthur River. In hind site, the best option would probably have been riding the river bed around the point from the Arthur River bridge. The sand on the river bed looked pretty rideable and the HAB over the rock outcrops on the ocean beach didn’t look to intimidating.

The goat track we found was clearly a very old 4×4 trail and at times we completely lost track of it as it grew over, but it wound through bays, past shacks and through bogs and was pretty much the exact opposite of all the trail we had been riding previously.  Given another 12 months, i’m not even sure if this trail will still be there, but it was exactly what we needed when we needed it. I don’t think i managed to photograph how crude the trail was most of the time, but rest assured, the pre-drawn line on the GPS was really the only way we found the trail on several occasions. It was slow going as you picked your way between spikey bushes in the granny ring, however it would have been a crime to ride fast through the amazing landscapes that unfolded around every turn. In the end, this is one of my favourite bits of the tour. Spikey, slow, uncertain and overwhelming.

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We eventually found our way through to Mawson Bay, flew along some hard beach, 2 man hauled bikes over a recalcitrant head land, went for a swim without being swept off the rocks and then finally left the beach in search of the Marrawah hotel. The hotel was rad and clearly must pump on a Friday and Saturday night. Although having said that, our highlight was to discover they sold mini salami sticks and we bought every single one that had. The salami for sadness remedy could continue after having finished the last of our salami the night prior. We enjoyed a quite beer and I lamented that the best sections of the whole trip were now behind us. For anyone looking to resupply in this town, it didn’t look like there were many options unless you really like salami – so Arthur river is the place to get food.

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After Marrawah, we headed back down to the beach and low and behold, at the campsite by the beach was old mate in the 4×4 camper from 2 days prior. He was 6+ tinnies deep and pretty enthused to see us at that point. He gave us a handup of trail mix and a few “fuck yeah’s!” and then we flew down the beach to a dead end and another ‘creative’ exit strategy. Lets just say there isn’t a viable option off the end of that beach that won’t see you somewhere you shouldn’t be. We know, we checked.

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Little guy was just trying to even out his tan lines

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From there our route file had us heading out to Woolnorth. Two things happened at this point. The first was a combination of a howling tail wind and smooth flat gravel backroad which saw us effortlessly flying along at 30+kph which is no small feat on a fat fattie.  The second was that we were well off track and blew past a possible turnoff without double checking directions. Anyway – we didn’t go to Woolnorth and by the time we figured out where we went wrong, we were faced with a 35k back track into a screaming headwind which would do little for morale. We elected to skip Woolnorth.

When we rejoined the main road, we found a turn off to Robins Island. I’d read a bit of information regarding the salt water cattle muster that happens across the inlet. From google maps i couldn’t quite figure out what i was looking at through this region, so i was keen to go check it out. Given that Robins island is privately owned, i had tried to get permision to go for a ride on it without much luck.

We hit the inlet at about 5 or 6pm at dead low tide. It was about 30kms further through to Stanley and I had an utterly ridiculous idea that we could bust those K’s in short order with a mad tail wind. For anyone else playing along at home.

Don’t. Just don’t.

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Worst. idea. ever

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It got a little soft in spots

Fast forward 2 hours and we are slugging along a tidal mudflat with the light rapidly fading, the tide practically racing in, a river in front of us and hours of suffering behind us and all the bivvy options being comprised of swamp. So of course you decided to wade through the river and push on. Of course you do. Timmy’s garmin topo maps indicated an exit road ahead and when we arrived, it took some finding however we found some hard ground in the middle of the dis-used trail to bivvy on.

Morale was low at this point. Really low.

So i built a fire, to try and get warm again, then headed off to recee what our exit strategy looked like…..   Not good – we were on a farmers property and we were going to have to make the walk of shame in the morning.  What a great thing to look forward to in the morning since despite all appearances to the contrary, i’m not actually found of trespassing or being shot at by farmers.   So we ate a shit tonne of food, drank some rum and left the problem up to future Ross and Tim – they are good with that kind of stuff.

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Bivvy spot night 4

The end of the West Coast

North Coast Journal here

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