TAS day 6: Scottsdale to St Helens
January 1, 2016. 110km. 1100m of climbing.
Today was the reverse of a couple days ago – I intended to go only as far as Weldborough but ended up pushing on to St Helens. It was a long day, but a pretty enjoyable one.
I started by heading our of Scottsdale and finding the NE Rail Trail. The first part of the trail paralleled the road, running throuh forests and fields and around industrial fenced buildings.
I got to relax on the trail while these guys got the road to themselves:
Then the trail approached a logging site and things got messy. There were a bunch of similarly surfaced roads intersecting the rail trail for the logging operation, and I twice took a wrong turn. I kept ending up on roads or tracks that weren’t nearly well maintained enough to be the rail trail. The first time I think I just wasn’t paying attention. The second time the signage was definitely confusing and the rail trail jumped up a 10 foot slope. But at least I saw a piece of mining equipment in a lake on my detour (apparently the picture didn’t work, but here’s a lake without mining equipment).
This area used to be a mining area, and the rail trail had all sorts of informative signs about the railroad that used to run there.
I really appreciate all the labor put in by men 100 years ago to make a trail that has a maximum grade of 2.4 degrees through hilly granite.
Biking down the trail was very relaxing – I love rail trails. I stopped a lot to take pictures of the rail cuts, tree ferns, and foxglove (ish looking thing?) growing by the side of the path.
Somewhere near the far end of the trail I ran across an older couple touring on a tandem bike. They were from New Zealand, though it sounded like they have spent a good deal of time touring in various places. The man had done the Pacific Coast to San Francisco, so we bonded over love of the hiker biker camping areas there. We chatted for a good half an hour about this and that, and they told me about the next few towns down the road. Then they stopped for lunch and I headed onward.
The trail soon ended and it was back onto the main road. But there was even a shoulder for a while, and the traffic wasn’t bad at all.
The terrain was intense though. Each little town was in its own little valley, each a bit higher than the last. One town had this farm. I’m not sure what they were growing, but it looked neat:
And whatever it was there was a lot of it.
Around 1pm I got to Derby, which my New Zealand acquaintances had said was a dying mining town turned very active mountain biking center. Sure enough, there were mountain bikers everywhere and a bike-themed cafe with showers and everything. I stopped at the cafe for a burger, which was delicious (and had sliced beets on it, which was tasty though unusual for me – maybe standard around here).
Leaving Derby was another long hill (I passed another touring couple going down the other way), followed by a short descent, followed by an even longer climb. The bits in between the hills were rather pretty and pastoral at least.
Luckily, all the climbing today was at a grade below the painful threshold. I’m not sure exactly what grade it is, but there’s a definite transition between get-into-lowest-gear-and-spin, and ow-my-legs-are-going-to-fall-off. The former is tiring but not painful. Really gives you a chance to look at your surroundings when you spend hours going up hills at 7km per hour. Sometimes I sing to myself, and my brain will often decide to get the most mundane things stuck in my head. I spent a hill’s worth of climbing the other day singing the ABCs – though I switched up zee and zed, so that made it interesting… or something. I couldn’t decide what the last little rhyming tag should be when saying zed. Maybe I’ll look it up sometime. Today I made a conscious effort to go through various musicals instead.
There were a couple more poppy fields today, reminding me of the first stretch from Devonport. These ones looked a bit more dried out – as the lavender tour guide said, it’s a bad year for poppies. But these fields also had big warning signs:
Maybe they have been sneaking bits of the poppies, but the cows in this part of the world were very scrawny. It might be hard to tell in the photo, but I tried to document their unimpressive stature.
Then the real climbing over Weldborough pass started. Weldborough itself is basically a ghost town, but there is a roadside tavern and hotel which also has camping available. My plan had been to stop there, but it was only 3:30, and I was feeling good so I decided to keep going the last 40km or so to St Helens. I think if I were to do it again I would have tried to stay at Derby instead of Scottsdale and then get to St Helens from there. At least the forest was nice.
Anyway, I thought maybe the was a chance that I was almost done with the climbing after Weldborough, but I was wrong.
The consistent uphill kept going for another few km, punctuated by a short rain forest walk. The walk had lots of informative signs targeted toward kids, with plate tectonics (and therefore the distribution of rain forest species) being explained by ‘Grandma Myrtle’.
I finally got to a point that was unmistkeably the top, at least of the major hill. The was an outlook and everything. A local who pulled up in a pickup truck with a crowd of teenagers saw me coming down from the lookout and asked ‘was it worth it?’ Certainly not just for the view, but to get across and get the downhill on the other side, yes.
Sure enough I got about 10km of down hill. Probably a bit much, actually, as my hands started getting sore after a while. But it was definitely fun. And the it was back to the typical Tasmanian rolling hills, though with a net loss of elevation down to St Helens. What I didn’t count on was a pretty strong headwind making the almost-flat feel like up. Harrumph.
I was definitely glad to see St Helens, though not as completely worn out as at Bridport.
I rolled into the caravan park around 7:30, but the office closed at 7 and there didn’t seem to be any number to call for late arrivals. An older man sitting with a group of people at a site near the entrance waved me over. He asked if I was looking for a place to camp, and when I said yes offered the spot between their two caravans. I took him up offer, and proceeded to spend the evening sitting with what turned out to be a relatively local Tasmanian clan.
The patriarch (my original contact) was the grandfather, who was quite chatty (though I had a hard time with his accent). He owns a second hand shop. His son works on a farm, and one of the older grandchildren apparently has an ambition to get a good job and a good boyfriend and see the world in a Winebego. The family thought I was crazy, I think, for biking all day. But they were extremely hospitable and kept offering me food (which I accepted some of) and alcohol (which I didn’t). I also had some of own food to eat, which was good since I think I let myself get a little low on calories on the push into St Helens. I was really shaky after my shower when I stopped moving around. Anyway, the clan and I sat talking and snacking and watching kids play cricket in the road until everyone went to bed around 11.