So began a series of what I’ll call “afternoon surprise mountains.”
Sounds kind of fun, doesn’t it? Like a children’s after-school cartoon, or a wacky dessert on offer at the ice cream parlor.
But no. These were just the road, my road, that same road to adventure I’ve always been on. Only, for about five days in a row, it happened to go up at the end. Like the sound of a question mark?
After Queenstown I would visit Lake St. Clair. That day I set a bit of a goal for myself; to reach the 20 kilometer highway marker before I camped, so I would get to the lake early in the day.
It was going to be a close one with the sunset, but I was on track to make it. Except at about kilometer marker 25, with half an hour of daylight left, my road started gettin’ mighty steep… Marker 20 came and went somewhere amidst the run-off creeks and lush vegetation of Mount Arrowsmith’s western slopes. Marker 15 was nearly invisible in the failing light, and I was still climbing.
And there was nowhere even remotely flat to camp.
Eventually, inevitably, I reached the summit. I had a brief stretch for my aching lower back, a shot of sugar, and I put on my windbreaker. There was a sign up there with tourist info. As I squinted at it in the dusk, I had a feeling of a ship passing a port at night unseen, or as if I had stumbled upon someone else’s destination. The King William Saddle it was, arrived by surprise, the gateway between the Eastern and Western sides of Tasmania. Apparently they’re worlds different… hey does that say “drier” on the Eastern side?! Ah well, I’ll find out tomorrow! Down the other side I went, to camp much closer to Lake St. Clair than I had hoped, in an idyllic little glen reserved for… bees. No fences around a bee paddock! And not even any bees — I wouldn’t want to put honey bees at risk at the rate they’re disappearing. And Tassie has great honey!
Next up was the hydroelectric plant on the River Nive, at Tarraleah. Even now it sounds like a monstrous utterance. Tarraleah. Oofda.
As the sun went down behind the hills, I was warned by one of those road signs: slow down for curvy bits next 8 kms. Probably four down and four up, I reckoned. Bleh. And here I had been hopin’ Tarraleah would be a town, with somewhere to get water and gently scout for campsites….
Instead I used my multitool pliers to gain access to a tap on the riverside and gained five kilos just before the climb. Just like yesterday, just like tomorrow. I set my jaw and started up the second four kilometers, telling myself, “Don’t worry — we’ll find what we need.” The air was that too-clean molecularized ozone air of electricity production.
Just after the gradient leveled off near the top, I found what I needed: a logging track with a pedestrian path bypassing the gate. Timber industry controversy aside, I like logging roads for camping. They’re sually not being used at the moment, and after the bulldozer’s been through there to make the track, you can be sure that A) there’s no annoying cattle fences, and B) there’s plenty of ready sticks for firewood!
Next day, I decided to get off the main road. The thing about B roads, though, apart from the attractive scenery and lack of heavy traffic, is that they usually go rather directly into the hills….
This time is was bitterly cold as the sun started to set, and fog clung to the heights. My ligaments started freezing as soon as I stopped. I spied a copse of trees without a fence, but there was a farmhouse across the road, so I decided to be responsible and ask before I camped.
The lady who answered my hallooing was afraid of strange bearded fellows on bicycles at dusk; I think she was pretending to be on her cellphone as she hesitantly poked her head out. I could feel the “no” emanating from her before I even asked, but she said in Ellendale, just a quick descent down the other side, there was a park with a barbecue where people camp.
Perfect. And sorry to scare you. Jeez.
Another dusky descent found me in the very charming rural valley village of Ellendale.
I pitched my trusty old tent next to the shelter and stayed up writing and trying to cook.
In Australia the government has installed public barbecues in many of the parks: a flat sheet of steel grill heated with propane, on a timer so every fifteen minutes you have to press the button again. A great public service, and perfect for, say, sausages. But boiling water for tea? Cooking rice? Even heating a can of soup took forever, but it was a pleasant enough time, and using my fry pan to boil water — to maximize the heated surface — did work. Eventually. So it is possible.
In the morning I flattened my phone battery typing a travelogue with my thumbs, so I visited the Ellendale General Store & cafe. Charlie the owner didn’t mind if I warmed up in the sunny corner while my phone charged, so I got to witness a comings and goings of a rural Tasmanian village, at the only shop & petrol station in town.
I was even given a piece of birthday cake, which was the perfect opening to ask the locals for advice on my next leg. “My map doesn’t have anything, but is there a track that bypasses the Hobart suburbs? I was going to visit some people farther South before I did the big city.”
All eyes turned to one gentleman, apparently one of the village’s most competent operators. His directions were precise, and delivered in a manner that told me I could trust them. None of that hesitation you get from random people at a bus stop, no vibe that he just wanted to tell me what I wanted to hear. Straight up.
“Yeah it’s called Jeffery’s Track, we did some firefighting up there. Lets out at Crabtree, but it’s a 4×4 track…. What kind of bike do you have?”
“It’s a trekking bike, she’s pretty rugged. Gravel’s no problem, hills are no problem.” I was remembering the Western Explorer. Nothing could be worse than that, right?
“Just go to Lachlan and ask around there, they’ll tell you how to find it. And good luck!”
As it turned out, “no problem” might have been a bit optimistic.
For upon Jeffery’s Track, I discovered a sight more adventure than I had bargained for….