Cycle Tour of Tasmania – February 2015
I've just got back home after another great three-week tour. I had hoped to produce a blog as I went along in Tasmania, but running lightweight and with only an iPhone, it was just too much trouble to update the blog en route - so I decided to publish the details after I got back home rather than spend all my evening time poking fingers at a tiny screen. Much better to enjoy the odd James Boag's Draught in the evenings!
So here we go. Apologies if I start by repeating anything general from the Yellowstone tour last September - but I'll soon get on to the details of Tasmania itself. But first...
I guess the first thing to report on is the flight. And before that it may be worth mentioning the packing. The main thing being the bike. If you're just going for a week's cycling holiday from a single base, it's worth hiring a nice road bike from your holiday destination. But if you're going for three weeks, and if you're moving on with panniers every day, then for several reasons it's better to take your own.
But this results in a whole new range of problems. At least this time the bike and luggage came within the 30kg limit allowed by Emirates. The USA's United Airlines (who we flew with to Yellowstone last year) have a stingy 20kg allowance, and charge an extra $200 for 'sporting goods' - including bikes.
Nevertheless, some careful preparation is required. Wheels off and stored separately in the bike bag with mudguards cable-tied on; saddle down as far as it will go, pedals off, handlebars loosened and turned at 90 deg; thick cardboard protection for the chainring; dérailleur unbolted and fastened inside the frame; and then the whole lot wrapped in bubble-wrap. Along with a few tools and other items, the whole thing weighed in at 22.0 kg, just under the 23.0 kg max for a single item.
Then two panniers with all my clothes and other stuff, this time kept as light as possible with only one spare of everything. In fact some items don't need spares. After over a week I hadn't used my spare cycle shorts, top, warmer longs or top, and only used one of my evening shirts - because I'd brought it! I'd also taken the drastic step of not using cycle shoes or clipless pedals. On a recent trip I'd forgotten my shoes (!) and had to change to ordinary pedals and trainers. This time I'd decided to try ordinary pedals again, with really light Hi-Tec Zuuk 'trainers' which weighed much less than cycle shoes. The cons - being able to pull up on the pedals mainly - were in my view more than compensated for by the pros - lighter footwear, lighter luggage, and no problem walking around the different places of interest en route. In fact, the combined weight of two pairs of Zuuks was over a kilogram less than a pair of cycle shoes and a pair of trainers.
I'd also thrown out the heavy bar bag with all kinds of heavy stuff in it, and replaced it with a modified rear saddlepack which took only my camera, money and spare toilet roll. Overall I think my luggage weighed at least 8 kg less than it did in Yellowstone. Note to self: cut back even more next time.
One pannier went in the hold with the bike. The other stayed with me as cabin luggage. Because I have a stoma, this bag includes medical provisions, which, if they were to be lost in transit, would be a disaster, so I kept this pannier close to me all the time.
Having done the preparation, check-in was a doddle, apart from the sheer awkwardness of manhandling the bike bag. Arriving at the airport with tour leader Richard Dugdale, we met up with old friends Helen, Tony and Deborah, and new friends Ken, Steve and Irene, then went to wait for our departure time.
The Airbus A380 is huge. There's no way it should be able to fly. Even on Economy Class it's luxurious, with 10 seats per row after row after row. I never even got to see the huge upper floor with first- and business class - it wouldn't surprise me if there were an Olympic-size swimming pool up there!
The flight to Dubai took seven hours. Next came the flight to Melbourne on a Boeing 777, a smaller plane perhaps, but still big, with ten seats across the width of the fuselage. A fourteen-hour flight, broken halfway by a refuelling /change of passenger stop at Singapore's Changi Airport. I was on my own now, having booked my flights separately from the main group. Because I was flying in an easterly direction, I had to keep turning my watch forward, so that by the time I arrived at Melbourne I'd been flying over 21 hours and added another 11 hours on the watch - so Wednesday just disappeared. It was now Thursday morning, time for the last plane, a Dash, with propellers - what a contrast!
At Melbourne I had to go through immigration and then collect my hold luggage - i.e. the bike - before going through to the domestic terminal. Long queues at immigration with officials who weren't all the most welcoming. The automatic passport reader failed to recognise me so I had to join another queue. With bike on trolley, I headed for the uphill travelator only to find it not working - and worked up quite a sweat pushing the loaded trolley uphill with the brakes insisting on coming on at every other step! Finally I rejoined the rest of the group at our last departure gate, and met John, Sue, and John Hartigan for the first time.
Bass Strait isn't like the English Channel - it's 150 miles wide and takes over an hour to cross in a plane. We were travelling not to Hobart but to Devonport on the north coast, and it made a nice change to be in a smaller plane with only just enough time for a light lunch on board before we reached our final destination. Devonport may be a small airport but they still have sniffer dogs.
Local bus driver Greg was there to take us and the bikes to the Sunrise Comfort Motel on the outskirts of town, just a few yards from the beach. The rooming arrangements were a bit odd! - Family rooms with, in our case, one married couple in the main part, and two others in another room to the rear. We were sharing the bathroom and had to walk through the main bedroom to get in and out or go to the bathroom. And we'd only just met - hardly been properly introduced!
The rest of the afternoon was spent putting the bikes back together (no problems there), followed by a walk to the beach and Mersey Bluff, where there's a lighthouse. I got an introduction to the birds of Tasmania including Galahs (a noisy grey and pink parrot), Wattle-birds, Sooty Oystercatchers, Pied Cormorants and the incredibly common Masked Lapwings.
Finally we went for an evening meal in town at the RSL (Returned Servicemen's League) - a bit unusual but our bus driver Greg was keen for us to go there. At least I was quickly introduced to the local brew - James Boag's Draught from Launceston. On the way back we commented on the upside-down moon and stars, and then I was baffled at the fact that Orion was the right way up. How could that be? Well, the answer is, it's the same shape either way up, but of course Betelgeuse and Rigel swap places, and Sirius is in the direction of 2 o'clock from the belt, not 8 o'clock!
Off to bed. Don't expect any cycling in tomorrow's tale - we'll be having the usual settling-in rest day - but there'll be plenty to report about Devonport, its people and its wildlife.