Day 5: Strahan to Lake St. Clair

I slept fitfully and woke up early–I probably had too much adrenaline left over from the previous day. I was groggy when I awoke and rather disorganized; I would find myself running behind most of the day.

It was scheduled to be another big day; almost 140 km riding and 800 meters net altitude gain. I decided to load up on breakfast, at the huge buffet in the same restaurant we ate dinner the night before. There were a number of comments about the amount of food on my plateā€”and that was before I went back for the heaping bowl of muesli I couldn’t manage to carry along with my bacon, eggs, fruit, toast, muffin and juice. (But once again…why give me a plate which will hold two pounds of food, and provide only 6-ounce glasses for juice?) Everything was great, and I finished it all except the muffin, with which I absconded. [No, that’s not a “scone” pun.]

Bob had predicted rain for the morning. Unfortunately, weather turned out to be the one area you could count on Boocock projections. There was a light but constant drizzle as we geared up for the ride. I was still disorganized, and deciding on and getting into my rain gear complicated my preparations. I was 5 or 10 minutes behind the hardy souls who had decided to ride the first bit by the time I got on the road.

As a bike commuter, I ride in the rain a fair amount. It’s annoying, but it’s really not that big a deal; you get wet, and you get a lot of crap on your rims, but as long as it’s not too cold, you can ride. Riding in the rain, I immediately switched into commute mode. There was a climb coming out of Strahan, and I quickly came upon the rest of the riders on the road. I didn’t feel like I was going that fast, but everyone else appeared to be of the mind that the raindrops don’t hit you as hard if you’re moving slow, so I passed everyone easily and went off ahead. We didn’t have fenders, so we couldn’t have pacelined anyway.

I was alone on the road for quite a while. The drizzle varied from a heavy mist up to a light rain, never totally relenting. My booties started to soak through. Around that time, Peter whizzed by me on a climb, too fast for me to be interested in chasing. Later he would say that he was just trying to warm up; the temperature was still fairly cool. I was glad to roll into Queenstown and find the van pulled up next to a warm coffee shop. Queenstown gets 2.5 meters [8 feet!] of rain per year; the town is clearly equipped to handle damp travellers.

We huddled in the coffee shop drinking hot chocolate and eying the weather distrustfully while we dried out. We managed to find excuses to stay there for almost an hour, by which time the rain had let up. Still, most everyone chose to sag, including Peter who was still chilled to the bone. Wally, Claire, Tammy and I rode up Queenstown Hill alone.

Queenstown climb

Queenstown is a copper mining town. The copper smelters released tons of sulphur into the air, which then fell as acid rain. The landscape for miles downwind [or “killie”, as Bob says] is denuded of any vegetation. After so many miles of verdant forest, the contrast is startling. Apparently the locals are now fighting any attempt at reforestation; they like the copper-colored hills as a tourist attraction.

The climb out of town got us warmed up quickly, and the downhill and flats afterwards got us mostly dried out, though my shoes would stay damp all day. We left behind the denuded landscape of Queenstown and returned to the native scrub and trees of southwestern Tasmania; as the clouds lifted we were treated to beautiful views of the peaks and lakes. We mostly rode together until the picnic spot at Lake Burbury. Wally suggested that we do a quick lunch, to reduce the risk of getting rained on again. We did grab food quickly, and the rest of the gang got back on the road while I took photos at the lake. While I was taking photos, I met a father-son pair from Tasmania who were cycling the whole island unsupported, camping, in the opposite direction from us. It’s always great to meet other cyclists on the road, especially those who are enjoying an even greater challenge than the one I’m involved with.

Buttongrass marsh, Tasmania
Aussie bike tourists

The other three weren’t cranking too hard up the climb to Victoria Pass, but I’d stayed at the lake for quite a while, so it took a bit of time and a noticeable amount of effort to catch up. There were several distinct climbs on the second half of this day, and we passed through regions with different microclimates, foliage and terrain. In a way it’s a shame there’s no place to stay between Queenstown and Lake St. Clair, because it would have been nice to see this area without being in the middle of a hammerhead day.

We kept the pedals turning and came to the bottom of the climb up Arrowsmith Pass, which would bring us up another 400 meters. Tammy and I got off ahead of Wally and Claire, and rode together all the way up the climb. We were both feeling pretty worn out by the top; the climb wasn’t that steep, but coming, as it did, over 100km into a day that had already had its share of climbing, and following a previous 150km day, it took the energy out of us. But the scenery was great and the weather was improving. The peak had a beautiful panorama, and I stopped for photos while Tammy, Claire and Wally went on.

Arrowsmith Pass panorama

I had no energy left; the last 15 km were something of a slog. I was last on the road and didn’t come close to catching any of the others. Having reached the central plateau, the flora had changed again; I entered Derwent Forest, whose curled and gnarled eucalyptus trees gave the area a Tolkienesque feel–I can understand why the movies were filmed in New Zealand, and I must come back for a New Zealand bike tour.

Bike and tree, Derwent Forest, Tasmania

The funny thing about cycling is that as long as you keep turning the pedals, you eventually get where you’re headed. Without much fanfare, but with some relief, I rolled into the campground alone, and found I was to shack up with Peter and Tammy; we had two-bedroom cabins, if you can truly call a space with no walls or door a “room.” (Peter and Tammy got the room with a door).

Lake St. Clair is the southern end of the popular Overland Track, so the lodge is a little touristy. I bought a pair of “Tasmania” socks to avoid having to do laundry. Dinner was strange; it was like they had never seen a group of 15 people together before. They were extremely confused about who had ordered what, and the main courses were brought out over a period of 20 minutes. The waitress had a charming accent, so I cut her some slack, but it got a little ridiculous by the end.

Out of respect for them both, I will avoid providing photos of the split lip that Bob got when he fell off his bike in the campground, and of Tammy’s Olivia-Newton-John-style leg warmers.

Day 5 totals
Average speed:21.3 kph
Distance:135.9 km
Climb:1884 meters
Cumulative Totals
Average speed:22.1 kph
Distance:502.8 km
Climb6628 meters
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