Day 1: Launceston to Silver Ridge Retreat

We set out after continental breakfast at the Prince Albert Inn in Launceston. Much of the group took the van to someplace outside of the city limits, but the three newcomers (Peter, Tammy and me), joined by three of the folks who had done the eastern tour (Wally, Claire, and Art on his Bike Friday), rode through the city (such as it is) to begin the ride. We took an easy pace as we tried to get accustomed to riding on the wrong side of the road. [Note: I will admit that we use the “wrong” measurement system in the States if you Aussies and Brits admit that you ride on the wrong side of the road.] Once we rounded a few roundabouts, we got on the old highway towards Burney, which straightened out and let us start doing some real riding.

The group heading out

On group rides when I have my camera, I tend to try to get off ahead of the group, look for a place to take pictures, stop and shoot until they pass, and then hop back on and catch up. The two couples (Wally and Claire, and Peter and Tammy) were setting a decent pace for such activity, and I took advantage of the opportunity to get some shots of the fields and trees. The ride reminded me a little of the ride out of Kalispell, Montana, towards Glacier National Park; mostly quiet pastureland, with rugged mountains evident on the horizon.

For some reason, the most common crop in eastern Tasmania is opium. The poppy fields have beautiful waves of color, and amusing signs warning that “Illegal Use Of Crop May Cause DEATH“. (Likely by shotgun). None of us took the chance—as far as I know.

Opium poppy farm in Tasmania

There was not much traffic by Bay Area standards (all 5 of us were from the Bay Area), the weather was perfect, and the terrain was easy. We did a little ersatz pacelineing and made good time into the lunch stop at Deloraine. None of us had managed to find any PowerBar-type food-like products, either in Sydney or in Tassie, so lunch became something of a necessity. (Peter and Tammy, who were just starting off on 6 weeks of riding, had brought their own supply). We had sandwiches, fruit and salad under the trees at Deloraine.

Tammy wanted to ensure that she saw a Tasmanian Devil on this trip, and as they are reclusive and nocturnal animals, it’s unusual to simply run into one along the road. Today we were passing near a wildlife park, and the five of us decided to take an alternate route so as to go by the park and see some of the native fauna. We split off from the rest of the group after lunch and headed towards the Trowunna Wildlife Park near Mole Creek.

The road stayed mostly flat and quiet as we headed out of Deloraine. We made good time to the turnoff at the park, which turned out to be about a kilometer up a dirt road (“unsealed”, in the local parlance). It was rideable on narrow tires (Peter, Tammy and I were all using the same Continental Gatorskin 700×28’s), though a bit dodgy in spots. Claire doesn’t like riding on dirt, so she walked it up. We fortuitously got to the park just as the devil feeding was beginning; we hustled inside to watch the show.

Tasmanian Devils are not at all like the cartoon depiction; they are slow and lumbering, and really quite adorable. Their name and their reputation comes from the fact that they growl in a manner that sounds highly aggressive while they’re eating, and they also have very strong jaws and tend to eat their corpses whole, crunching straight through the bones. (A rather disturbing sound, I must say). The handler picked one up and let the assembled crowd pet him.

Tasmanian Devils

We walked around the park for a while, seeing a number of slumbering koala (not native to Tasmania–their eucalyptus gum trees never made it over from the mainland). [Note: It sounds strange, to an American, to refer to Australia as “the mainland”—we view it as an island. But in terms of land area, it’s larger than the mainland U.S.]. We also saw the rear end of an echidna, which along with the platypus are the last monotremes (egg-laying mammals) left on the planet. I got to scratch the head of a friendly sulphur-crested cockatoo, and we all enjoyed seeing a lazy kangaroo hanging out under a shady tree.

After about an hour, we washboarded our way back to the main road and got back on track. We weren’t going to pick up much distance on this detour, but we saw on the map that the road passed over a few contour lines and distressingly near something called Mount Roland. The climb was hot and steep; Peter went way off the front while Tammy and I sweated it out a bit ahead of Wally and Claire. After Peter hit the peak, he came back and played tag with us, and Tammy followed him. I went on ahead, as I was starting to feel tired and didn’t want any more damn hill climbing than was absolutely required.

The descent was fun, twisty and fast. I stayed off the front through Paradise and waited for the group at the intersection of our detour and the main group’s route for the day, where we had a decision to make. We were less than 10k from the end of the ride, but our route had bypassed Sheffield, a town where there were supposedly interesting murals on all the buildings, and more importantly, a shop with home made ice cream. Going into Sheffield would entail backtracking about 10k, violating one of the primary unwritten rules of bike touring (“Never backtrack”). The lure of ice cream proved strong enough, and we all decided to do the extra bit into Sheffield and back. The ice cream turned out to be great (chocolate and cinnamon for me), and the murals I’m sure were great for people who had enough energy left to look at them.

Clare and Wally

I was pretty beat, but making time on the last 10k of a ride is my specialty. “Smelling the barn,” Wally called it. We had a slight tailwind and a moderate downhill to start off, and I got on the big ring and started making some time. We were all together for a bit, then me and Wally gapped the group—Wally turned out to be almost as much of a big-ring flatland cyclist as me—but eventually he dropped off while I kept my pace up. I got a stitch in the side as I exerted myself over a couple of rises (too much ice cream, I fear), but still kept up the pace as I headed off into the unknown. I was getting quite nervous about 10k out of town, as the lodge was supposed to be 10k from Sheffield and I didn’t see any sign of it. As tired as I was, having to backtrack again would have sucked hard. But then around the next bend I saw the sign for Silver Ridge. The ride wasn’t completely done—it turned out the lodge was more than a klick up another one of those steep, unsealed roads. I managed to grind my way up, and gladly got off the bike and into my cabin, which I was sharing with John, a WWII vet and the elder statesman of the group.

Silver Ridge, Tasmania

I took a luxurious swim in the indoor pool, hopped in the shower, took some photos and prepared to gorge myself at dinner, which I proceeded to do. After dark, the proprietor of the Silver Ridge took a group of us on a short hike up to the edge of the bush, where he’d built a hide to be able to get more acquainted with the local wildlife. He’d befriended a ring-tailed possum named Cheeky who came by most nights with her young son to demand pieces of apple. Cheeky turned out to be a sweetheart, as long as she had some apple to eat. We also got to hear the thumping of dozens of wallabies, the croaking of a few frogs, and the distant hoot of a pair of owls. Tasmanian wildlife is largely nocturnal, so the bush really comes alive after dark. We even got to see the snout and bill of a reluctant platypus a few times before he ducked back under the lily pads.

Mother and child possum

There was a half moon, but even so, compared to the Bay Area, the night sky was filled with an enormous number of stars. We got to see the Southern Cross and some of the other Southern Hemisphere constellations; a truly amazing show to a city boy.

It was past bedtime when we got back to the lodge; all of us dispersed to our cabins and I, at least, collapsed directly into bed. The first day had included everything I could have expected; tomorrow would show whether I was really physically ready for this tour.

Day 1 totals
Average speed:22.3 kph
Distance:118.6 km
Climb:1288 meters
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