Australia · Christmas

Week 66: Christmas Day and Cycling in Tasmania

Christmas had arrived. Breaking with tradition, the family trip to the little church on the hill had taken place on Christmas Eve instead of Christmas morning. Instead we would be going straight into opening all of the presents that had amassed underneath the tree. The chaos started in earnest when the all of the young cousins arrived from auntie Carol’s place. Surprisingly, the process of ripping open gifts was somewhat orderly, lasting over an hour. By the end, there was a pool of wrapping paper at one end of the room and piles of gifts next to the rest of us. Formalities concluded, we dissipated to our own respective activities for much of the rest of the morning.

By lunchtime, we gathered around the table outside for Christmas lunch, sharing around a Christmas ham and some turkey. The absence of Papa was deeply felt throughout the meal, he had been moved to the Burnie hospital and had undergone surgery that afternoon.

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The rest of the day was mostly quiet, culminating in serving Christmas pudding for dinner. Boxing day was similar, with the start of the Boxing Day test match getting a lot of attention, and people heading backwards and forwards to Burnie to visit Papa.

Wednesday was the first time that the shops in Devonport opened after the Christmas period. Hence, it was the first opportunity that I had to take my bike in to the bike shop following my broken spoke on Poatina Road last Saturday. There was only one bike shop in Devonport, so I took it there, and they told me that at best, my bike would be fixed by Friday, the day we were scheduled to leave on the ferry. I had no other reasonable choice, even though there was plenty of riding I still wanted to do. I left my bike there and returned home for the afternoon.

Later that day, I suggested to Mum to head out to the Latrobe Carnival for the afternoon. Every year around the new year, a number of towns in northern Tasmania host running and cycling events at the local oval, and usually attract a few high profile names to compete. The Latrobe Carnival is one of the oldest. We went along, sitting on the edge of the cycle track near the finishing line. Behind us was the old grandstand, which gave a view over the entire oval, including the grass running track through the middle of the oval.

There were running, cycling and woodchopping events all through the afternoon. The woodchopping was mostly underhand events; where the axe men and women stand on top of a block of wood and swing between their legs. It’s an obscure sport but is always a highlight at country shows and carnivals around Australia. The speed at which they can cut through a log is breathtaking. The highlight was the local commentator and incredibly successful former world champion David Foster, who has a strong personality and is well known throughout Tasmania.

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The cycling events were handicapped, usually sprint races of a couple of laps of the track which circumnavigated the oval. Handicaps were given in metres head start. The star guest was Olympian cyclist Amy Cure, but she suffered in several of the races for having a harsh handicap and not being able to catch up to the rest of the field fast enough. In many of the races, it was exciting to watch the local amateurs try and outpace the fast riders off scratch, with some success. Perhaps the standout performance of the night was in the 110m sprints. This featured local schoolboy sensation Jack Hale, who started at least 5 m behind the rest of the field and still managed to win comfortably. There was also all of the usual charm of country carnival events that are always unique, like the fact that often members of the crowd are called up to hold the track cyclists before the starter fires his gun.

On Thursday morning, I got a phone call from the bike shop saying that my bike had been fixed. This was exciting news, I had been expecting it to be at least another day. When Mum returned home from visiting Papa in hospital, I suggested we could now head out to Ben Lomond, a mountain in eastern Tasmania that I had wanted to climb for some time. It was about an hour and a half drive, out into the somewhat remote region on the other side of Launceston. There were few farms and fewer towns, but soon we found ourselves at the bottom of the climb. It would be a 21 km cycle to the top, all uphill and all on a narrow gravel road. I was on my skinny-tyred road bike. Mum went halfway up in the car before climbing on her mountain bike.

The first few kilometres were devastatingly steep. The gravel meant that it was difficult to maintain traction on the gradient. It did, eventually level out a bit, with a chance to catch a breath and recover from the early onslaught. There was a second steep few kilometres in the middle, near the entrance to the National Park, and another flatter section, where finally the forest started to peel away and reveal the views over the valley below. The hardest section was yet to come. There is a very narrow section, about a kilometre in length, where the road hugs a rocky outcrop and zig-zags its way to the top. This section is known as Jacob’s Ladder, and features jaw-dropping views which somewhat distract from the pain in the legs. By the top, I was yelling at my legs to keep going, before finally reaching the plateau and riding on to meet Mum at the alpine ski resort near the top. We relaxed and had a little water, before tackling the somewhat sketchy decent back down to the bottom.

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Friday was to be our last day in Tasmania, but despite having climbed Ben Lomond the day before, there was one more climb that I wanted to do. This was Cethana Road, further up the Forth Valley, about halfway to Cradle Mountain. It was built to serve the hydroelectric dam in the valley, and hence winds its way down one side and back up the other. I had climbed it before, some 5 years ago, but that didn’t stop it from being an enjoyable challenge, if a little easier than some of the other rides on this trip.

We returned home via Sheffield, picking up some fudge in the surprisingly hipster town from a shop recommended by my uncle. After packing up some things around lunchtime, Mum, Indy and I headed out to Burnie to visit Papa in the hospital, still there owing to his surgery. He had been moved out of the intensive care unit, and was recovering well. We farwelled him, and later the rest of the family as we headed out to the ferry that evening to travel over to Melbourne and hence back to Adelaide.

We arrived in Melbourne early on Saturday morning, disembarked the ferry and headed back towards Adelaide. But we had one more stop on the way. I had arranged to visit the Ballarat Real Tennis Club, the third and final such club in Australia. This had been built by an enthusiast some 40 years ago, and didn’t seem to get nearly as much patronage as in Melbourne and Hobart. I was there for around 2 hours, playing with one opponent. It had some really nice facilities, though it was very strange to hear the bush sounds in the background while playing the ancient European sport. After that, it was time for several hours driving back to Adelaide. We arrived home in time for dinner.

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Finally, Sunday was New Years Eve. I didn’t have anything special planned, spending most of the day relaxing and unwinding from the travel to Tasmania. I didn’t even stay up for the countdown. That brought my 2017 to a close, and I hoped to wake up into an equally exciting and hopefully productive 2018.


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