You’re not really doing that alone are you?
That was the question I fielded most often during Christmas catch-ups pre-departure, and then in coffee shops and camp kitchens as I rode my way down down Tasmania’s east coast.
Two changes of lycra and a bike loaded with camping gear may not be everyone’s idea of a good time, but with a work shutdown looming and no other plans, I made the call in late November to unite my solo backpacking experience with my love of a bike commute.
A good call it was: 12 days, 600km, and a few clumsy cleat-related injuries later, I’ve undoubtedly found my new favourite mode of adventure. More women really should try this stuff...
After a quick rebuild in the hostel, a sleepless (excited) night and an oversize breakfast, it was time to set off from the 'mean' streets of Launceston. Definitely got better at packing those panniers down as the trip wore on.
As everyone knows, when you travel alone, you rarely end up on your own. In the camp at Scottsdale on day one I meet two Sydney boys, also riding solo. We form a group on Day 2, heading up the Weldborough pass through Derby. Its green and scenic, but the hills are hard. My competitive spirit keeps me going, albeit in granny gear. Without pride at stake, there may have been pushing involved. Lunch involves a giant steak sandwich, and subsequent heartburn when we realise there's more climbing to be done on the other side. What goes up must come down though, and at least there's a rush hurtling into the valley at the end of the day.
The Tasmanian self-guided cycling guide suggests we ride 110km on Day two. We run out of steam and decide to pitch tents in the cover of the pretty Pyengana Valley 80km in instead, enjoying award-winning cheddar and a pub-in-the-paddock where drinks go down way too easily. There's a cute little Rotary campground and cows all around. If you're down this way, I highly recommend the place.
Day three: We hit the coast around the gorgeous Bay of Fires. Pedalling becomes interspersed with stopping for freshly shucked oysters from the farm-door. The water is cold, but gees it feels good to put those legs in the sea. There's plenty of free-camping literally on the beach. Some people appear to have brought their whole lounge rooms, but everything we need seems to fit in the panniers just fine. Well played, Tasmania.Dawn is a good time to take photos (and get riding)...
I tactfully drop the boys on day four and head south towards Freycinet. Without even realising it, I've biked 100km in four hours. I'm getting better at this. Of course I bump into the boys again (mildly awkward!) but also meet three badass bike-touring women who've travelled all over the place together on their customised touring bikes. I confess to a crook tummy (sports gel-induced?) and they produce all manner of remedies from their panniers. The things you can carry when you have three bikes to spread the load...
As I'm learning, one of the most fun parts of bike touring is how much you can eat! We enjoy a huge New Year's bbq with plenty of Jansz. Can't say the Coles Bay pub offers much by way of NYE excitement, but this makes it easier to get up early and start 2016 with a hike to the Wineglass Bay lookout (above). By 9am we've already had second breakfast and pass the (hungover) boys packing up. Its a potentially long ride ahead, but we hedge our bets on a shortcut, ask nicely, and find a boat willing to take us and the bikes 50m across a channel. We save 40km of backtracking in highway headwinds, and share the road only with clouds of black cockatoos. A good start to 2016!
I farewell the girls and spend days 9 & 10 on the national park of Maria Island (pronounced as in Carey). No cars, and no food for sale, so its stock up at the ferry terminal in Triabunna with everything I'll need for the next few days. I remember water, but not alcohol. It will be a clean start to the year. At least I still have the Aeropress.
This place is magic, and quickly becomes my favourite spot on the trip. Even better, I can set up camp and explore its dirt roads without the gear on the bike. Luxury! Having two wheels here feels like the ultimate freedom. There are roos and wombats everywhere, and (aside from the vicinity of the camp) very few people. I stop and spend 20 minutes with a meandering echnidna. At night the rangers run a yoga class under the stars: just what this cyclist's hamstrings needed!
Tasmanian devils hanging around the campsite: leave meat unattended at your own risk!
I do the famous Bishop and Clerk hike on the island's northern tip on the second afternoon after 30km of traversing the place's dirt roads on the bike. So much for rest day - I can't help myself. It feels strange to sit still when you're so used to moving. The hike's rocky scramble is fun but tricky; the view at the top worth it, but dizzying. I pass only one family returning on my way up. Its the first time I feel lonely, perhaps because I had to leave the bike at the trail head. It is weird when a bicycle has become the only company you need? Perhaps...
After Maria its onwards and South to Hobart. I bike part-way down the mainland, but hear stories of logging trucks and narrow, shoulder-less roads, so make the decision to put the bike on a bus for a couple of hours. Some guilt, but the ride is meant to be pleasurable after all. As I view the road from the safety bus window and see another couple pushing their bikes up a bad hill, I feel totally comfortable with this decision!
Saw my first snake on Bruny. A tiger, I believe. Thankfully, no longer moving.
Slabs of Bruny island cheese, Tasmanian smoked salmon, and a bottle of Tasmanian pinot (plus a few compulsory greens). After many many nights of pasta/rice/tuna/pesto combinations, it was time to class it up. There was no way I could finish it, just as well a Japanese guy came along who'd been biking from Cairns. He was only too happy to take my leftovers off my hands.
Last but not least, a huge thanks to Steve and Beatrice Varga, good (and incredibly generous) friends with excellent cycling and camping equipment!
By Alexandra Jones
Meredith takes on her first bike-packing race, the Cloudride 1000: a mountain bike endurance race that traverses the ridge tops of the Great Dividing Range through the Monaro region of south east Australia.
"I took the plunge and ordered a Curve Uprock titanium mountain bike with a rigid fork and dynamo hub. So I had the weapon, I had the Easter Leave Pass and was now devoid of excuses."