Tasmania

Day 4: Tullah to Strahan, via Reece Dam


Since Tammy had the bright idea to do 60 extra klicks, we had to get rolling pretty early, and tragically, the chalet’s toaster wasn’t working properly. I had some more muesli, with just a little bit of milk (the way I normally have my cereal), and this time, really got into it, going back for two heaping bowls.

Claire continued to waffle throughout breakfast [Ha ha!] on whether she would do the extra mileage, and even after we were on the road she hadn’t totally made up her mind. But when it came time to make the decision, she turned the same direction as the rest of the gang.

We were going to be isolated from humanity for almost 100 klicks, until we rolled into lunch at Zeehan. I filled up the CamelBak as well as a water bottle, and Peter, Tammy and I stopped at the general store in Tullah to pick up victuals for the trip, while Wally and Claire went on ahead. Still no PowerBars, but I picked up some biscuits [U.S.: cookies] which would get me through to lunch.

On the ride out, we discovered that Claire goes off ahead “because she doesn’t want to slow you down,” much in the same way that Lance Armstrong didn’t want to slow down Jan Ullrich on L’Alpe D’Huez in 2001. We rode without a break, and Claire had a head start of a only couple of minutes, but we didn’t catch sight of her until we were 30km down the road. As a practical joke, we considered turning back to let Claire ride the whole thing alone, but I don’t think we would have survived to Day 5.

The road out to Reece Dam was built for the hydro project, and has found no other use since the dam was completed in 1987. It was 56k to the dam, and Tammy counted a total of 6 cars on the way out there–it was very quiet. The road went across the watershed for the river system, crossing a number of river and creek valleys along the way. We didn’t have a real elevation profile, but looking at the shadings on our map of Tasmania, I estimated that we had 7 ridges to go over. As it turned out, we lost count somewhere in the mid-teens.

While we were crossing the ridges, the terrain was mostly wooded, but after we caught Claire, we came to a significant climb that took us out of the woods and gave us great views of the unspoiled valley beyond. We could even see the Southern Ocean as a smudge on the horizon. A fun descent took us down to the lake, where Tammy and Peter bravely rode down a steep road to refill their water bottles in the reservoir. The four of us stopped at the dam, while Claire once again “got a head start,” so as “not to slow us down.”

On the other side of the lake, the road was much more open, and at first we had a beautiful tailwind. I was going over 50kph on a slight uphill, and still could feel the tailwind behind me. It was a blast! However, the second law of thermodynamics caught up with us as we rounded a bend, and that beautiful tailwind became a brutal headwind, with side gusts knocking us all over the road. I had got out ahead of the group of three on the tailwindy section, and I thought about waiting for them, but this wind was beyond anything that a paceline could help with. A punishing headwind takes a lot out of you physically, but it’s even harder psychologically, as you feel a lot weaker than you really are. Particularly when you have to drop to the granny ring on the flats.

We were still on an open plain, and a few times I could see Claire as a white dot way ahead of me, or Wally, Peter and Tammy about the same distance behind. I felt like I was better off alone; despair can be contagious.

I must have been battling that wind for an hour when the road finally curved around the mountain and back into the forest. You can really feel how the forest makes its own weather; as soon as I hit the forest, the wind died down and the temperature went up 5 degrees. I also found that I still had energy in my legs, despite feeling powerless for the previous hour. I powered over a rise or two and decided I was going to try to catch Claire. Without the wind, I was able to build up some momentum, and before long had closed the gap. Claire was typically unperturbed and, as always, smiling when I caught up with her. We rode together into lunch at Zeehan, where Bob granted that we’d been riding in “strong winds.” The others rolled in about 10 minutes later. There was some talk of sagging, but now that we were out of the wind we all felt pretty strong, and the ride into Strahan was reportedly mostly downhill and with the wind, so we all decided to continue on.

We did have a couple small climbs coming out of Zeehan, but they were paired with better descents, and the advertised tailwind did indeed materialize. I hit 85.5 kph on a descent despite having to brake to get around Claire and Tammy. We could see the ocean in the distance on the rises, and once we got down into the pencil pines again, could smell the sea salt. The road reminded me of rides along the California coast, which is really my kind of cycling territory. I took some pictures from the back of the group, then got up front and got on the big ring. I was totally in the zone, cranking at over 40kph and not looking back. (I am a firm believer in Satchel Paige’s adage, “Never look behind you–someone might be gaining on you”). I gradually became aware that the rest of the group was dropping off, and when I snuck a glance back was mildly surprised that Tammy was the only one who’d managed to stay on. It was definitely a day for the ladies. We blasted all the way into Strahan, made a couple navigational educated guesses, and found the hotel alongside the harbor in town.

I had mentioned earlier that I wanted to swim in the Southern Ocean, and this was as close as we were going to get. Tammy helped get me and the Boococks motivated, and after a couple glitches with my room key, we took one of the vans out to Ocean Beach, a gorgeous 15-km stretch of sand along Tassie’s west coast. The slope of the beach was very shallow, so we were able to wade well out into the water before we hit the surf break. The water was chilly but not uncomfortably so, and it was a beautiful clear blue. It’s strange to think, if you just started swimming west from that beach, that the first land you’d hit would be on the southern coast of Argentina.

After a brief dip, we popped back in the van and drove back to town. Dinner was at a nice restaurant with a view of the harbor, and it was all-you-can-eat–what else could we ask for? How about telephones in the rooms! I got online and checked up on email (nothing critical), and got to sleep early in preparation for another big day tomorrow.

After this day, and especially after going out for an ocean swim after the cycling, I was sure that I would be physically capable of whatever this trip might require. I also realized that the trip was generating power for me, which indeed was the whole point; I’d been in the doldrums for the previous months, and the idea of this trip was to break me out of it. I was elated to feel this catharsis and a new, joyous energy propelling me.

Day 4 totals
Average speed: 22.1 kph
Distance: 146.7 km
Climb: 1756 meters
Cumulative Totals
Average speed: 22.4 kph
Distance: 366.9 km
Climb 4744 meters

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