271km Hobart to Westbury
Those words came our way some weeks back as we read John’s journals about cycling from England to Australia. We thought it wise advice for dealing with those inevitable frustrations that affect all of us occasionally. Cycling into a headwind. Feeling tired. Stressed about things you can’t control.
“There’s a silver lining here somewhere,” we’ve often said to each other in difficult moments. After all, as one particularly calm and collected Tasmanian said to us recently: “If I stress and worry about something I don’t get the time back at the end of my life. I’d better just enjoy myself in the first place.”
And so it was that we were trying to ‘find the bliss’ as we headed out of Hobart. We had our plans and then the weather had its plans. It didn’t take long to figure out who was going to win. We struggled on through headwinds and rain, punctuated by occasional sunny moments, but our resolve broke when we stopped for lunch on the second day of miserable weather.
“Uh oh. Better get the tarp up,” we said as dark clouds rolled in.
We set our cooked lunch aside and rushed to put a roof up but it wasn’t to be. Within seconds, rain was pelting down and a strong gust of wind came out of nowhere, from just the right direction to shrink-wrap the picnic table in one green tarp. A small grease spot marked the place where our scrambled eggs, potatoes and onions were going cold while we got steadily wetter.
Disgusted, we threw out the water we’d just boiled for coffee and quickly packed up, throwing things in our bags between mouthfuls of soggy food. It took less than a minute to decide that we were cold, wet, fed up and ready to call it quits for the day.
We turned on our heels and headed for a campsite we’d seen less than a kilometer away. Chilled to the bone, we knocked on the door of a simple bungalow, hoping for a space. “Have you got room for a tent?” we asked the pensioner who answered.
“Sure do!” came the cheery reply. “Oh, you’re cycling! Well, let me get the kettle on. We don’t do that for everyone you know but cyclists are special.”
They were words to warm our hearts. We pitched our tent. Mike boiled the water. And as soon as the sun returned, Mike led us on a tour of his backyard campground. It wasn’t very big but he had a lot to show.
First was the chicken coop, where 10 hens clucked happily away, producing eggs for what Mike assured us were the world’s best omelets. Then it was on to the organic vegetable garden, where our hands were filled with fresh parsley, sage and mint.
Next up was the garage. “Now, I’ve got my car in here. But if it’s too cold for you, I’ll move the car out and you can sleep inside.” We assured Mike we’d be fine. Did we want extra blankets? We turned that offer down but happily said yes when he returned a few moments later with a table and chairs. We couldn’t resist the tray of chocolates that appeared at our tent door either or the raspberries on the bush, within an arm’s grasp.
All this for just a few dollars. It seemed too much. It was too much.
“Some people say I should raise my prices,” Mike mused to us later. “But things are too expensive these days. We just do what we can.”
This was Tasmanian hospitality at its best. How lucky we were that the weather slowed us down enough to take notice of Mike and his campground. When we left the next day, we were in no doubt that we’d found the bliss in the middle of the storm.
The morning dawned clear and we knew we were in for a cycling treat. We rode up and over the hills, past the lofty peaks of Mount Field National Park and through dry farmland, climbing steadily until we reached the Central Highlands – an area noted for its absence of towns, dirt roads and huge lakes.
“Why do you want to go there anyway? There’s nothing up there.” one cyclist asked us in Hobart, when we pointed out our destination on a map.
A whole lot of nothingness sounded perfect to us, compared with the crowded tourist resorts of the east coast.
When we reached the town of Miena, little more than a fishing village on the shores of Great Lake, we pitched our tent behind the local pub, scrubbed up in a bit of hot water warmed on our stove and went in for a beer. A few feather-laced bras decorated the bulletin board on the way in so naturally we stopped to read the notices.
“Population Explosion,” read the headline on a newspaper clipping pinned to the wall. The inhabitants of nearby Liawenee had surged 17 percent overnight. One baby was born – the first in 22 years – taking the population from 6 to 7 people.
We felt like we were crowding out Liawenee when we added 2 more people temporarily to the mix as we cycled through the next day. There was a police station, a ranger’s outpost and not much else.
Soon we were speeding down a glorious descent from the peak of the road at 1,210 meters to the farming fields far below. As we slipped down the mountain, the scrubby bushland gave way to a waft of earthy tones from a far more lush and fertile forest. A few hundred meters later and a warm wall of air hit us as we entered the valley.
We stripped off our jackets and took advantage of a tailwind to zip along to Westbury, where we returned to a favourite discovery of our first days in Tasmania: Andy’s 24-hour bakery and campground. Two waffle cones full of gelato later and a loaf of bread safely stored in our bags, we relaxed over a glass of red wine. All that nasty weather seemed so far away. Maybe it wasn’t so bad…