Through the heart of the forest

Some people collect stamps. We collect roads. Over the last few years, a few of the Bottles and Chains folk having been slowly exploring the gravel forestry backroads of Southern Tasmania. Generally not well marked on maps and passing through remote and unpopulated country, they see little traffic. By trial and error we have been linking up familiar routes and filling in the gaps between them.
This ride arose out of Ben and I wondering if it was possible to join up some routes in the state’s southern highlands with our homes in the Huon Valley. It looks possible on the map, which doesn’t always mean much. So routes were plotted on RidewithGPS and elevation profiles scrutinised and the whole thing was debated and finally downloaded onto the Garmin. Bus tickets were booked, the weather forecast scrutinised. Sometimes there’s only one way to find out if something is possible or not – and that’s by having a red-hot go.
The 180km route takes us through some pretty remote places: via the Florentine River Valley then into the Styx, famed as the home of giant trees, the largest of their type in the world. Along the way there was massive climbs as our route bobbed up and down repeatedly over the 600m mark, again and again. We broke it into three 60km sections and hoped there would be somewhere to camp at the end of each day.
The bus dropped us off at Bronte Lake. It was cool but the forecast rain was holding off. Ben rode a single speed, bikepacker-style, I took my geared Longhaul Trucker with panniers. We made good time down Fourteen Mile Road, neatly avoiding the tortuous Tarraleah Gorge. Briefly back on the main highway we dropped down to Wayatina in time for lunch. The old town seemed deserted.
The first big test of the ride came when we arrived at the Florentine River Bridge just down the road. A sign announced that the bridge was out, something which sparked a memory of an article I’d read in the newspaper some time back about a bridge being burned down by vandals or something. Soon after, two more signs said the road was closed. Then we were at the river’s edge, looking out on the swiftly-flowing waters where the bridge used to be. It took a moment to sink in.
A few minutes of scouring the river revealed a possible crossing point. Fortunately the river level was low. We manhandled the bikes down the bank and pushed them precariously across the slippery riverbed. It was good to be back on our way, even if the next section of our journey involved a long and steep climb. The late start and the delay caused by the river crossing meant we were late finding a camping spot. We passed on one possibility before a magnificent downhill run took us to a derelict bridge leading to a perfect spot by the river just as daylight began to fade. We set up in quick time and ate dinner around a roaring campfire Ben improbably conjured from wood sourced in the damp surrounds.
According to the weather forecast, day one was supposed to be the cold day, day two the rainy one. We were glad the couple of showers that fell during the night had cleared by morning. Through the heart of the Florentine we saw not a single car. The long straight road stretched out in the distance as we rolled over the small rises through forest and logged coupes. A final push saw us on the downhill towards Maydena where we stopped for lunch at the roadhouse, a chat with the local policeman eliciting incredulity at our plan.
After lunch the big climb over the ridge into the Styx Valley was followed by a long, gradual and most enjoyable descent through the tall forest and a ferny understory that is lush and green and lovely. Before long we were hunting for a campsite. We settled on a postcard-perfect spot by the riverside and ate dinner s small trout jumped about in the water nearby.
Again our luck with the weather continued. Anyone who knows southern Tasmania will tell you that you will need a raincoat this time of year. The intermittent overnight drizzle petered out by the time we were on the road again. Day three featured a climb we had dubbed “The Wall”. We reached the bottom tired after two days of solid cycling and briefly debated our options. In the end the urge to finish what we had started won out and we set off up the beast.
Two hours of riding, pushing and complaining saw us at the top. The views are we took a break for lunch were magnificent as we realised we were getting very close to our goal. Just 20km and one major climb and we would be on the long downhill to home. Here we rode through forestry coupes recently set ablaze, one still freshly smoking after the “regeneration burns” which are such a feature of the Tasmanian autumn. We were lucky: the day after we passed new burns made the route we had followed temporarily impassable.
The final climb loomed ahead and was quickly behind us. The final 15km begin with a long descent into the Huon Valley on the Plenty Link Road. We saw the second of two cars for the day just before we launched over the lip, a forestry worker who’d waved as we’d pushed up the other side of the range. He waved again, wondering no doubt what sort of mad buggers attempt this sort of country on bikes.
Soon enough we were down, hands aching from the constant braking, rolling over the last few tiny rises before home, where a shower and a cold beer and a sense of achievement were never so well earned. And where to next, what two points on our map has no fool yet joined? Figuring that out is the next adventure.

Author: Ben

Bicycle Hobo

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