West from Penguin, I traveled open.
My plan was to make a plan along the way.
I like looking at maps, and this map of Tasmania was showing a gravel track over 100 kms long called the “Western Explorer.” Say no more!
Along the North coast, it becomes impossible to miss a huge peninsular mountain called “the Nut.” How could I resist when the detour was only 20 kms?
It was worth seeing up close.
But I didn’t hike it. One of the drawbacks to bicycle travel in foreign places is that you’re always hesitant to leave your rig behind. A small sacrifice in freedom, but a sacrifice all the same…. I’d like to invent a pair of cycling panniers that covert into a proper frame backpack!
The tailwind was great heading out to the end of the peninsula, but coming back I slogged. I barely made it to Smithton for supplies and out the other side by dark. As it was I limbered my bags over a fence and trucked deep into a timber paddock just to get away.
In the morning I forgot the turn off I wanted – a gravel back road that leads to the Western Explorer, instead of the main highway – was back in Smithton. Guess I should looks at my maps a little more often! I realized my mistake about half an hour later and stopped to turn back. Fifteen minutes after that I noticed my poncho was missing! Left behind back where I turned back around. So off I went back – if there’s one thing I can’t do without in Tasmania, it’s a rain poncho! Then I turned back around again and headed back, er, forwards, to Smithton once again. A bloke in a ute actually stopped and asked if I were lost, he had seen me going so many different directions. Nope she’s right mate!
For some reason, on that final trip through Smithton it occurred to me to find the bike shop and buy 36 new stainless spokes. My rear wheel had been breakin’ ’em at a rate of about two a day and I was down to three spares. As it turned out it was a blessing I got turned around so many times… I would need those spokes.
The back road did not disappoint: untouched scenery and lovely quaint farmland, and few vehicles.
It rained of course. Just as it had every day so far and would for the first whole week. Perhaps that’s why a man named Glenn stopped his car to offer his respects, along with an offer to sleep in his (dry) camper can, if I could only make it to Arthur’s River.
As the bumpy kilometers went under me and the rain continued to sleet down, and that cold West wind, the purest air on Earth, they say, pushed against me, filling my poncho like a parachute and my lungs like a bellows, I became more and more convinced that I could make it there. Funny how that works. And my phone, with which I’ve been dutifully updating TrackMyTour, died along the way. No question left!
It was okay. My body and my bike were up to the task, and what passes for daylight under the rain clouds held out long enough.
And when I arrive? Oh, it’s better than I imagined! The caravan has a fridge! And a “tea” is on with not one but two steaks and a huge chunk of real Tassie butter for the corn, with pasta and veggies… But no actual tea. Wine and whiskey instead!
I set myself up drying out in the camper and plugged in. Sucking on that power teat; O what have I become?!?
It was a good time, hanging out with the family. They were so welcoming and generous, and continually offered to show me around the area. There’s so much wildlife that they actually live-trapped a quoll (what’s that? A quail?) and released it in the house! It ran outside after a brief recoup behind the toilet. Glenn and Kathy’s teenage daughter even had a real live teenage hissy fit, and they washed her dirty cussing mouth out with – no, not soap – Tobasco sauce!
And they had a kitten named Big Boss. Need I say more?
These people let me into their home, into the intimate parts of their family life. They let me pet their kitten. They’re not rich by any means, quite the opposite. And all they wanted in return was to drive me around for the next week and show me Arthur’s River, their home and by all accounts an amazing unique must-see corner of the world.
This is where other people, even with all their generosity and diversity, even arriving in my life just when I needed them, start to interrupt my Program.
Wait. Do I have a program?
Yes! I want to get to Sydney and Jes and Duncan on the Alliance before they leave for England! Only 1500 kilometers in four weeks….
I spent the morning with them. We went for a walk and looked out over the endless ocean that brings the air all the way from Argentina.
Then I said, “I’ve got to go.”
Kathy said, “it’s going to thunderstorm. Right on about 4, 4:30, it’s gonna rain.”
DON’T get me started on weather prediction, and all the hope-monger doom-sayers out there. No offense to Kathy, but if it rains, it rains. What’s new? Shrug.
It was a hard thing to do. It felt callous, and selfish, and maybe it was that.
But I left, out onto that long luscious gravel road of solitude.