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Racing, riding and adventure by bike

North Coast Tasmanian Fatbiking: Ride Journal

following on from here

When we woke the next morning, the tide had done a full revolution and was running back in at us fast. Any thoughts of being able to sneak across the inlet until we could pick up the road where we were seeing car headlights the night before were abandoned. We were clearly going to have man up and face the disgruntled farmer and given that it was Australia Day, there was every chance he was already up to his waist in empty beer cans anyway.  There was only one way to find out whether that would improve his disposition….

We followed an overgrown sort of trail which paralleled his property before terminating at a wide open green field full of dairy cows. The natural amphitheater of the valley meant that we stuck out like a sore thumb from any possible vantage point at his house or milking sheds. There was going to be no stealth – just the honest admission that we had screwed up and could you please show us the quickest way to get the hell off your property.  We passed through a couple of electric fence gates and were on the main road up towards the homestead when we encountered a little problem.

The cows were on the way back from the milking shed. They’d been doing this same thing their entire life and during that time, at no point had they come across stinking, bedraggled fat bikers between them and their field before. We needed to go past them to get out off the farm but the cows weren’t sure they liked that idea much at all. They were on the verge of being stampeded back to the milking shed which isn’t exactly a sure fire way of ensuring positive relations with the farmer. We quickly let ourselves through a side gate and stood 100m off to the side so the cows could continue on their lazy way back to the paddock. Of course, by this time every cow in the line had stopped and when the lead cow finally lost interest in standing and staring at us, every single cow in turn would walk up and spend a minute staring at us before continuing on. Yep, definitely not stealthy.

Eventually all the cows had satisfied their curiosity and we got back on the road which led directly to the property. There was still no sign of the farmer, but we figured he was just sitting there with his shotgun until the dumb city kids got within range. Being unfamiliar with where all the gates and roads led around the homestead, there was a bit of standing around and trying to figure out what was the best way to head. Eventually we found a side gate and we were through and back on a public road without a single shot being fired. We’d managed to spook his cows and his farm dog and yet somehow nobody came to yell at us. Woot!

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Ride of shame

So from there we clawed our way up an agonizingly slow climb (also known as the climb of shame) and ended up on the main asphalt road through to Smithton (about 30k’s away and also Rissoles’ home town). We broke out the pump and put in some road pressures and then took full advantage of the tail wind that was still blowing a consistent westerly and sucked up the roadie K’s feeling grateful that we were neither in a shallow grave on a farm, or slugging it out through that inlet. Which would have been worse is debatable.

Smithton brought access to a bakery where we stopped and gorged ourselves on baked goods before signing on for even more roadie K’s through to Stanley (another 25k’s) which was where the inlet between Robins Island sort of terminates. Smashing road k’s on a fatbike is never ideal, but when you have been riding sand and gnarly rocks for 3 days – it is kind of amazing. 50k’s would have taken us all day where we had just come from, but toady we hit Stanley in time for brunch.

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Hobo

 

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The Nut

We sat at the cafe and looked at the Nut (the name of the rocky headland that is the dominant feature of Stanley). We looked at the chair lift to the top and decided that looked a bit too touristy for our liking. We then looked at the hiking trail that climbed up to the top and decided that looked a little to energetic for our liking, so in the end we just ordered another coffee and admired the nut from the bottom.

We hit up the IGA and this may have been the first moment of a love affair with the humble Kit Kat Chunky that endured for the next 10 odd days as the perfect sugary pick me up when your blood sugar bottoms out. I also bought a new fishing rod and gave away the reel combination to a fisho who was down by the waterfront. I already had one and didn’t need to be carrying a second – that would rob me of vital kit kat storage potential. We continued past the caravan park and onto the Tatlows beach. The water was crystal clear and a mesmerising shade of blue while the sand was golden. It would have been easy to take a photo from the right direction and convince people you were in the Whitsunday islands.

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Racetrack

We had to break out the panoo’s (panoo being the type of vessel we were paddling: A cross between a punt and canoe) at this point as there was an inlet between us and the next stretch of ride-able beach. With the wind being stiffly offshore, we had to ride a considerable way around the inlet to make sure we had the wind at our backs so it would blow us in the right direction. There was a real chance that picking the wrong angle would mean that the wind would blow us straight out to sea. With the wind strength being so strong, i wasn’t sure I could paddle hard enough to fight against it.

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The crossing was a piece of cake and the only real point of note was how damn soft the sand was on the other side of the inlet. Just walking would see you sink well past your ankles and it was a challenge to strap everything back onto the bike while wrestling a fattie in a cross wind in soft sand. Thankfully the beach itself was rock hard and cross wind did nothing to impede our forward progress so we made good time and set about enjoying the scenery.

We made about 5k’s before again being faced with a river mouth. It was far too deep to wade and our level of CBF was high after just putting the boats away, so we elected to try and pick up a bridge and use it as a go-around as it seemed like the path of least resistance compared to another panoo leg. We rode the river bank upstream and actually found a link trail that scrambled up to the bridge and back onto the road, but not before i managed to tear a hole in my dry bag housing all my clothes using the barb wire fence between us and escape.

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The Nut in the background

 

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Scrambling back up to the road.

From there we linked back onto a campsite/beach access track that dropped us off right back on the other side of the river mouth. We rode some more beach before sneaking through a campground on the point and back onto the beach on the other side. We finally had to admit defeat at Brickmakers bay and HAB our way out of trouble and back onto the main road. We then re-joined the beach at Pebbly beach via a trail i had somehow found on google earth that started as perfect single track and ended up as a bush whack across private property to reach the beach. We are nothing if not consistent in our route choices – clueless.

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The pier at Port Latta in the background

From Pebbly beach, we rode around to Rocky Cape and at this point, my pre-drawn line was revealed to be hopelessly optimistic and the stumble across rocks would have taken days to complete. So we jagged a hidden track on Timmy’s garmin and snuck through it to end up in Rocky Cape national park. It was at this point that my single cylinder diesel engine dropped a cylinder. It was getting late and i needed to pull up for the night and we were hopeful we might find something stealthy at Rocky Cape. My GPS file also had a coastal walking track listed as a posisble route but one look at the terrain as we were approaching was enough to reveal that the track was going to be a death march. We quickly shut down that idea as being a good idea on the internet, but not so much in the real world.

Funnily enough, at a place called Rocky Cape, flat and grassy camping sites weren’t anywhere to be found. Add in the fact that there were signs EVERYWHERE telling us not to camp, and it became obvious we were going to have to magic up another option. We climbed our way back out of Rocky Cape and headed back towards the main road with our tail between our legs. There was a roadhouse at the main road junction and I decided there was no way I was going any further without eating something that would harden my arteries. I was suffering. I was done for the day and things were looking decidedly shit.

Rocky Cape

Rocky Cape looking East

While paying for the food, i struck up conversation with the cashier

“There isn’t somewhere flat and grassy nearby where we can camp is there?”

“Well, there is a tavern 200m down the road that has free camping and showers if you pay $4”

HOLY SHIT.

 

I almost lept over the counter and hugged her. It was all my Christmases come at once. Flat. Grassy. Beer. Shower

Always, i repeat Always ask the locals for knowledge. Most of the time they just want to fondle your tyres, but every now and again you find a diamond in the rough because we were going to head the other direction and would have completely missed it.

So after 90 odd k’s for the day,  we bivvied amongst a myriad of caravans and RV’s. We had the obligatory schnitzel for second dinner, drank beer and had a shower. It was soul replenishing stuff.  The fact that we were going to have to bust more roadie K’s in the morning through the hills was forgotten and all was right with the world.

Flat and grassy

Night 4: Flat and grassy – Rocky Cape Tavern

The morning dawned clear and bright and the delivery driver we bumped into at breakfast reassured us that there were indeed a hell of a lot of hills between us and Burnie which was about 50k’s away. Thanks mate, that input really helped my morning.

So I fired up the diesel engine and wondered when the fabled touring legs were going to kick in. At least we had some semblance of a tail wind again so life wasn’t all bad. We meandered along and took a few scenic detours which gave us some commanding views out over Bass Straight. It wasn’t at all what i had pictured. On that sunny morning and with only light winds, it looked positively stunning. Blue water, smooth and inviting. I could see why people had built mansions nestled in the trees overlooking it.

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Before Burnie we lucked upon a lovely little creek-side cycleway at Wynyard which dropped us in the CBD and we soon sniffed out a bakery. I wandered off to Woolworths to buy a new phone since mine was toast and after talking to phone repair stores, there was no way i was getting an iphone 7 repaired anywhere else but an apple store (there aren’t any in Tassie). Thus began the hate/hate relationship with the worst phone that has ever been designed by human or primate alike. It was allegedly unlocked and briefly worked however throughout the course of the rest of the trip, i think it actually had reception twice despite Timmy having full signal strength on the same network standing next to me. Arrrrrgggggghhhhhh <internal monologue>Deep breaths Ross, Deep breaths </internal monologue>

We continued on through Burnie, got ourselves stuck on some shitty little suburban beach and had to HAB up an embankment to get on the road again. It was then that we declared that today would simply have to be a road day. The main road runs right next to the beach in this area so it wasn’t like we were without coastal views. Then there was the fact that all the beaches were deemed sensitive bird nesting habitat, so we decided we would just make use of the tail wind and kick on down the road and see if we could make Devonport for dinner.

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Boom – 4 hours later, it is about 3 or 4 pm and we pull up at a bike shop at Devonport and set about borrowing a shifting spanner. Tim realised he had left the lock nuts on the valve stem of the motorbike tubes he was using and they had already corroded enough that a flat tyre was going to be impossible to change. We hung out to shoot the breeze with the guys at the bike shop for a while before following their directions to a pub and a quite beer after a sizeable day in the saddle. It was more than 100k’s and we were both cooked.

Over a beer we hatched a plan to a) stay in a caravan park because bivvy spots were looking hard to find and b) drink more beer. Neither of us could find fault with it and so we bought a 6 pack and checked into a cabin on the wrong side of the river,  enjoying the luxury of being inside for a night and out of the wind. It also allowed us to actually wash some clothes which by this point were starting to get a little ripe. In hind sight, i don’t think i actually have a photo of the bivvy spot for this night but you get the picture.

The next morning the plan looked like a short ride along the beach, paddle across the river mouth at Port Sorell and then ride/HAB the morning away through the national park. This plan lasted until 3 km before we reached the river mouth at Port Sorell. 3 miserable kilometers.

The beach that was initially pretty good gradually gave way to gravel and rocks until the sand disappeared altogether. It was completely unrideable. The coarse rocks wouldn’t pack together at all and so you’d sink more than in the sand. It was utter shite. Like soul sapping shite. We had to abandon the push to get around the headland, particularly since it was looking a lot like the headland was going to be private property and we were going to get stuck there anyway. It’s odd because there are no signs of the scree in the google earth photos so the route looked legit when planning. No photos were taken of this beach as I am currently seeing a therapist in order to forget its existence.

Anyway, this brought about a huge mother of a go-around as there was no way but to go back to the start of the beach and then link up sealed roads. Those roads were looking rather hilly and it was going to add about 20+ k’s more to our daily total. Then there was the question of whether since we were now going to be closer to the bridge, should we panoo at all? The path of least resistance won out here. We decided to bust some more road k’s rather than set ourselves up with another unknown coastal walk section, as our gut instinct suggested it would be unrideable.

So we setlled into the roadie mindset and ground our way through the hills till we could pick up a fire road through the forrest and get us off the narrow main road. It was a good trail – it was pointing us in the right direction and all was looking swell until a big arse hill loomed in front of us. As per usual, Timmy rode off the front and I gradually turned into a shell of a human being as i crawled my way to the summit. It was hot, steep and fairly featureless riding – not my cup of tea at all. The saving grace was that the 40 minute climb gave us a 5-10 minute descent which was sorely needed. It was sketchy as hell with road pressures, a heavy bike and deep loose gravel – although that could have just been my half bald maxxis tyres as Tim looked pretty comfortable on Buds.

Our route then called for a paddle across the Tamar. I was in 2 minds about this before we even arrived, but we made the decision to ride the 10k’s to the narrowest point of the river and have a look and see what it looked like. The only word for it was sketchy. The wind was favourable but howling and as we were standing there thinking about it, the tide was changing and the current was rapidly surging out to sea. Add to the fact that all of the far shore was residential private property and it made hitting a very small landing point quite a challenge. In the end sanity prevailed and I declared that the go-around was the only option even though Timmy was keen for a kamikaze mission. I think mostly because google maps was showing the bypass was about 50k’s to get back to the other side of the river and he wanted no part in that. Urgh.

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yeah….. nah

So back on the road we settled into the hum of fat tyres on narrow bitumen until we reached Beaconsfield where we couldn’t possibly ride past a lonely looking pub without stopping in. Clearly the pub was still exactly how the miners left it all those years ago where the posters on the wall were 30+years old and we had the whole place to ourselves. So we had a pint and pondered what to do with the rest of the day before moving onto the IGA and buying more food that we didn’t really need. I thought the cheese and salami tasting tray was an inspired choice and Tim found some Haloumi so it was going to be a gourmet dinner.

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We struck up a conversation with a woman who came running over to ask us about the bikes. She had seen us out on the road several times that day and had done some bike touring in the 70’s in Europe. Even 40 years later, she still thought of herself as a cycle tourist. I liked her attitude 🙂

We rolled out and picked up the best bridge ever – Batman, and then decided to short cut our route a little rather than heading straight back to the coast. We bumbled around for a few hours on backroads and dirt short cuts before finally reaching Pipers River for the night. In hind site, i think we might have missed some great coastal riding through that section with what appears to be pretty good access. However after the West Coast, it was hard to be impressed by beach riding and we were gun shy after the mornings disaster with the gravel beach. We also didn’t have cached satelite images of the coastline so it was hard to make an educated decision.

Now there is a tip for riding this part of the world:

  1. don’t smash your phone on the first day
  2. scroll around in satelite view and cache the images of the coastline while you have reception so you can review it later when your signal drops out.

Anyway, it was getting late, we had done about 130k’s for the day and we found a road side pine forrest that looked interesting, so we stopped for the day. We pushed through the ground level branches by the roadside and into our own perfect bivvy spot.

We broke out the jet boil and a couple of spare spokes and proceeded to roast ourselves haloumi and salami for dinner. It was kind of surreal and it’s amazing how you can go from broken to content in the space of minutes after you have rolled out your bivvy sack and started eating again.

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The mozzie net went up shortly after this photo

We were woken in the morning by the sound of a passing car dragging a gigantic piece of steel behind their boat trailer which would have woken the dead. Thankfully, the owner was completely relaxed and insulated from the outside world by their vehicle and didn’t have to endure the trivial nuisance that it would have caused them. They proceeded to drag it for the next 10 kms before we found it in the middle of the road later that morning. Unbelievable.

So we made for Bridport as the next easily accessible place on our Map – did the the usual cafe breakfast thing and then headed off to ride some sand. Of course, there was a river paddle that was necessary to get to the sand, however with the path of least resistance calling us,  we decided to take the bridge just out of town and then double back along the far side of the river. The bridge just out of town then turned into a 40km road slog as there were no alternate ways to get onto the beach and we ended up stuck on the road in the midday sun. Screw you Tasmanian coastline.

So in the end we were in Tomahawk before we could finally get away from the bloody road riding. Of course, there was a general store in Tomahawk and after 40k’s in the midday sun, we pulled up in the shade and just ate garbage and drank things of questionable dietary benefit. BUT – then we finally got to ride some beach again and it was amazing. After days slogging away on the road being buzzed by cars, it was bliss to be able to just cruise along on a low tide beach and see where the coastline took us.

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Tomahawk store

We soon had to bypass a rocky outcrop and my file showed a 4×4 trail inland to follow. For once on the North coast my file  actually panned out, not only did the trail exist,  but it was also quite a lot of fun. Then we were back on the beach jamming away with a tail wind and enjoying the afternoon sunshine. We had a river mouth to cross which turned out to require a paddle, however there were no go-around options to lead us astray.  So we just rode upstream for a bit, blew the rafts up and proceeded to spend 30 minutes gently drifting downstream in a lazy afternoon cruise. It was such a nice way to spend the afternoon that the chore of strapping the boat back on was actually pleasurable.

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While putting the bikes back together, disaster struck for Tim. His front skewer basically dissolved in his hand. What was once 2 pieces was now about 6. A pressfit join in the salsa skewer had somehow worked its way apart and now nothing was holding the cam lock onto the skewer. I’d estimate the nearest 135mm skewer was probably about 150 kms away, so it wasn’t like we could go buy another one. We spent quite a bit of time scratching our head about how to proceed. I had all manner of bits and tools with me but nothing could be used to make a functioning skewer. Then i remembered the pig sticker had a hammer on the handle (a comically large ‘tactical knife’ i brought along to clean fish and apparently beat skewers with).  So we put the skewer back together as best as possible and then i wailed on it for a while until it all came back together. The cam lock no longer wanted to work, so we just left it open and screwed the now non-QR up as tight as we could get it and hoped it all held together till we could sort out a replacement. Eventually we did about 200 kms later.

We tootled along the last 10k’s of the beach and for the first time I was actually off the front. Timmy had fallen into a giant chasm of sadness somewhere along the beach and it was getting late so we knew a bivvy was going to be needed soon. We inspected the collossal piles of seaweed washed up on the beach. They were like a meter deep and covering huge sections of the beach, it was quite impressive really. The only downside were the flies. I’ve never experienced anything like it. It got to the point where Timmy had a sea to summit fly net and was riding with it over his head because you basically couldn’t open your eyes due to the swarm. I was getting pointlessly frustrated with it, but thankfully the trail was fun enough that it was still all worthwhile. It was seriously next level bug infestation.

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That’s quite a bit of seaweed

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Tim navigating the chasm of sadness

 

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We didn’t bother shutting the gate after passing through

We found about a dozen rad bivvy sites, all of which had giant no-camping signs installed right in the middle of them. Google maps had revealed a spot called Petal Point which had a campground so we made our way there and found the most perfect bivvy spot i have stayed at. It was just spectacular and the night had just enough breeze to keep the flies away, yet still feel comfortable and relaxing. Which is pretty lucky given that we were basically right in the middle of a wind farm which isn’t usually the place you go to shelter from the breeze.

We’d ticked off about 100k’s off for the day and there may have been a reason the flies were hanging around us. So we went for a swim to wash all the trail dust off ourselves and then sat around watching the light dim in the sky and enjoying just how lucky we were to be at this point and this time.

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Room with a view

The following morning saw us riding places we shouldn’t. I shan’t say a lot except to say that we had a good view of the windfarm and that we ended up at Cape Portland and paddled across the Little Mussleroe Bay inlet. Then the sadness began.  That beach was just horrid. We had been exceptionally lucky up to this point, but we had just found the most unrideable beach on the North Coast. Well, that was our thinking until we got around the point and found it just got worse. It was now completely unrideable and we were hemmed in by private property, thick vegetation, Bass Straight and a very very long go-around that would see us having to go back through places we shouldn’t have been. It was time to walk.

So we pushed our bikes for a couple of kilometers until we reached a rocky headland. My GPS file just said to push over it, but at ground level that was clearly never going to happen. Massive boulders and 500m or more of scrabbling with heavy bikes was a very big ask given our current exercise tolerance.  Check and mate.

Then i had the idea of inflating the boats and paddling around. It was a sketchy idea since the wind was freaking howling and blowing up quite a bit of chop in the ocean. Then there was the foot of swell that was pushing through into a heaving shore dump. Sometimes the odd 2 footer if you were unlucky. It was a very sketchy proposition. I knew if we got through the shore dump without being capsized, we were sweet, but that was a big IF. Yet faced with even more sketchy options, we decided to have a crack anyway. You know shit is weird when paddling anywhere near Bass Straight in an inflatable boat with a 40kg bike on the front is the sensible option.

Fingers crossed: The shore break looks like nothing here but it felt different trying to punch through it

Fingers crossed: The shore break looks like nothing here but it felt different trying to punch through it

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So we strapped our shit down as tight as possible, crossed our fingers and then dragged/stumbled our way into the shore break and somehow managed to get through it and out of danger. Since Timmy had a spray deck, his ingress was a damn site more difficult than mine and he very nearly flipped when a wave caught him half mounted, but he survived and eventually we regrouped out the back and set off around the rocks.

Twenty minutes later and we were around the rocks and starting to feel comfortable about our new lives at sea. I decided to head in and check out what the sand was like and very nearly went over the bars while in a boat, as the shore break sucked dry and jammed me hard into the sand. It was a close thing but everything survived although i did take on quite a bit of water.

The sand was just as bad at this point. High tide, a 45 degree cross sloped beach and about 12 k’s to the next head land with yet another river crossing. The call was made to just paddle across the bay as it seemed to be the path of least resistance. The breeze was mostly in our favour as our GPS was showing we were making about 3 kph without even paddling, so i punched my way back through the waves so we could regroup.

By this point, the blue panoo more resembled a bath tub than a boat. It was completely full of water, so i spent the next 10 minutes bailing it out with my drink bottle so i could actually paddle the damn thing. The next 2 hours were slow going. We hugged the shoreline about 200m out to sea even though it meant we would have a longer paddle. Taking the direct route would have shaved a lot of distance off the paddle but was a step well beyond our comfort zone.

All was going well until about 2 k’s from the end where the wind swell started to toss us around and occasionally break over the side of the boat. It was pretty nerve wracking as you had to be constantly checking the incoming swell and turning quickly into it to avoid being flipped or swamped. Frankly it was pretty horrible. I was toast by this point, all my snacks were tied up in bags i couldn’t reach and I was flagging as my boat was considerably slower to paddle than Timmy’s and required 2 paddle strokes for every one he made. Eventually we reached the river mouth at Mussleroe bay and could paddle upstream and land at a point without any waves.

I was soaked through, freezing cold and exhausted so i had to spend some time getting changed into warm clothing before i could even think about packing everything away. I ate some food, gave thanks that we made it unscathed and then slowly jammed everything back onto my bike.

Vessels safely back in harbour

Vessels safely back in harbour

Timmy was out of water at this point and I was down to about 1.5 litres so the first point of order was to figure out the water situation. We slowly rolled through ‘town’ and received a wave from a guy who was doing some work in his yard. I rolled over and asked if he minded if we filled up some bottles from a tap. Bob was more than pleased to help out and we spent the next 20 minutes shooting the breeze with him and his wife Terra. Legends.

With the water problem solved, we headed off to see what the next beach had in store for us. Unbelievably, it was the exact opposite of the other side of the point. Crystal white sand which was almost blindingly bright in direct sun and rock hard. BOOM.

End of North Coast.

East coast journal here

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