January 8, 2021
The very delayed, but continuing story of our trip to Flinders Island…
When it comes to being a cyclist, I think it’s safe to say I’ve done a bit of pedalling. Thousands of kilometres in those amazing far away places, up hill and down, on roads and through paddocks, up goat tracks and down cobbles. A bike and I are pretty well acquainted. With all of this experience, one would think I’d have the whole thing nailed, but instead I still find myself in those moments where I wonder if I’ve ever been on a bike at all. Those moments when I have displayed the skills and balance that could be, as I’ve said before, appropriately compared to those of an upside down turtle on a unicycle. Today was a day when I had to defy the turtle though. It was gnarly. It was new. At times my cycling skills weren’t pretty. But…it was awesome!
The morning dawned clear and bright over the waters of Lady Barron and I set out for an early morning 16km run along the road. The open space on the island is just amazing. Sweeping grassland every which way, looked down upon by the hills and mountains. It was a Forrest Gump moment, with just me and that long, straight, horizon-tickling road ahead, with open landscape all around.
One thing we have discovered on Flinders Island is the local nicety of a custom that is the wave. Everybody waves. Any visitor to Flinders, get ready to wave. Driving along, we would not pass a car without a full or partial hand rising up from the steering wheel, with the driver giving us a wave. Now, as I plodded along the road, with each car that came towards me, I would see the hand rise from the steering wheel to give a wave, which I returned and for those that passed from behind me, I would see a hand emerge from the driver’s window up ahead, to give me a wave out the side of the car. Gotta love that.
Having done some roaming yesterday and a run this morning, we decided it was time for a ride. We motored into town to hire a couple of bikes so we could see some of the island on two wheels. The very friendly lady hiring the bikes suggested we head for the hills to get some views, so we took the local knowledge gladly and set off in the direction of up. Up being the Darling Range. This was my first time on a fair dinkum mountain bike and a bike I wasn’t used to. I pedalled off down the road and within a minute called, “Stopping!” Off I got to try and adjust the seat. I couldn’t reach the ground properly, the tips of my toes just managing to graze terra firma, so the only way of coming to a standstill was to slow down and try to do a controlled tip until I could put foot to ground and then stop the rest of the bike from completing its tip all the way over. Not elegant, but a workable enough strategy. “I just hope I don’t have to put my feet down anywhere,” I said to Steve, “because if it’s rough, I’m going to come a cropper.” Oh ye of blissful ignorance…rough, rough you say…If only I’d known!
We set off along the sealed road out of Whitemark, before soon hitting the gravel and beginning our first climb towards the hills. I soon discovered that mountain bikes are awesome! Those gears made easy work of the incline and we pedalled along with the sun shining and vast vistas of hills and trees before us.
Apparently in the days before we arrived on Flinders there had been rain. Lots and lots of rain. We were amazed that it had rained BEFORE we arrived instead of pouring on top of us, which is our usual super power, but while the rain had passed, it had left its mark on those tracks and trails we were riding into. The gravel on the roads was soon eaten up by those fat tyres on the mountain bikes and what would have had my wheels spinning helplessly on my touring bike, was nothing but a trifle to those big, wide rubber beauties I had beneath me now. The road went up, the gears went down, the sun stayed high and all was splendid. Then…the road disappeared. Well, not so much disappeared as sank. We encountered craters and canyons where the road had been washed away by rain and I was beginning to see that it would be helpful if I could reach the ground properly with a little more stability than the mere ends of my toes, because I got the feeling I could be tipping, in a less controlled way. It was getting pretty gnarly.
A particularly deep crater appeared ahead. This was going to take some balanced riding along the top end of the road, with the crater calling to me from beneath my too-short legs. I turned, I headed around the canyon in the road. “Woooaah, steady, steaeaeadyyyyyy. Eyes front, wheels straight,” I thought to myself. I nearly made it, I very nearly made it and then my edge became very narrow and that fat tyre just went a little too close to the side and….tip! The bike leaned, I leaned, the tip was in motion, I was going down…I stuck my leg out and the ground wasn’t there. I couldn’t reach flat ground very well on an ordinary road at the best of times, so I didn’t have a hope of touching ground that was actually a hole. My foot went into the canyon and the bike kept coming and I braced with all my might, to hold that bike up and stop it coming down on top of me. The turtle may have left the saddle, but the turtle was not going to hit the ground! I braced with one leg down the hole and the rest of me bracing against the bike and amazingly I stayed upright. I couldn’t push the bike back up, hop on and pedal off, because, again, once the bike was upright my feet left the ground. So I just inelegantly dragged myself off the bike, pushed it back to the edge of the road, so I could stand on the uphill and use it like a mounting block to get back on my wheeled steed. Then off I went again, back on that road, ready to see what other curve balls it was going to throw at me! The craters and trenches and cracks and holes in the road continued with some pretty serious rocks thrown in for good measure, but I stayed on that ripper of a bike and for the most part could reach the ground well enough to be able to stop, assess the situation ahead and make a game plan for navigating the gnarly terrain ahead. All top fun!
After the uphill pedalling, we found a rock that looked like a good spot to park and we stopped for elevenses, taking in the view, before hitting the wheels again.
We wheeled up and down and then through a small lake that had formed in the road from all the rain and we wheeled and splashed with grins on our faces, through the slooshing waves from our wheels.
Then we hit another sticky patch. All the rain had created a bog in the wet gravel. I looked for drier looking ground and edged my way through, then turned to Steve coming behind me. The bog was obviously peeved at letting one potential victim escape its clutches and it wasn’t going to let a second one go by so easily.
Squelch…suck…STUCK. Steve rode into that bog of quicksand and the tyre came to a sudden stop, sucked into that gluggy mass of gravel porridge. Steve put his foot down to balance himself and his foot was immediately eaten by the bog and stuck fast. He dragged on his foot, trying to lift it out of the quicksand and with some grunting and puffing, he finally managed to lift the bike and himself out, with the bog giving a final squelching, glooping suck of contempt at having to give up its catch.
We made it to the top, with sweeping views of the island before us, so we found another suitable boulder to stop for lunch while we took in the spectacular scenery.
Then down we went, with Steve again powering down, always loving the thrill of the descent. I adopted my usual tentative brake-brake-coast-brake-coast style. With all that gravel around and me with leg lengths that were letting the side down, I was not about to finish with an almighty skid in gravel, to be dumped on the finish line. I gave that gravel the respect it deserved and happily eased my way down and caught up with the daredevil member of the team at the bottom. I’d defied the turtle and despite some earlier tipping, I’d made it through a super fun but tricky ride without being dumped! Win!
We rode back into Whitemark along the top-to-bottom sealed road, with me expertly balancing with one hand, while the other went to work waving and returning waves to every passing motorist.
“I’m going to have to get a mountain bike,” I said as we handed back our bikes to the lady at the little bike hire hut. We told her about our epic adventure with lakes and canyons and craters.
“I’m so sorry,” she apologised, “I should have thought of that, with the rain, before I suggested you go that way.”
“Not at all,” I assured her, “it was the best fun. Completely awesome!” And it was. A top day. Fabulous weather (have the gremlins finally left us!!??), a brilliant peaceful place to ride with some fun obstacles to navigate along the way. Plus, the bonus views and scenery to reward the effort and the climb. Fabulissimo!
In fact Flinders was proving to be pretty fab all round. Another day of exploring done and Tasmania was once again delivering some top experiences for us. Thanks Tassie, this turtle is loving it!
If you’d like to see some video of our mountain biking adventure, you can see that here.