January 2015
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Month January 2015

Melbourne 1

A story.

But first, we’re here for a couple of weeks. Waiting for parts. This is a small problem because we’re going to have to race the last 4500 km’s from here, through the hottest month (with the most rain, up in the tropical north) along the coast then up the center of Australia to Darwin before our visa runs out. Somehow that feels like a good situation to be in, it’s been awhile since we’ve had a gun to our head and that’s how adventures happen.

Lucinda in the middle of her first-ever complete tear-down. Things ahead aren’t very bike friendly so everything is being looked at and if need be replaced. For the second time in a month her rear sub-frame is off, so she’s been through a lot recently.

Here’s the scene
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Her bench, color matched to her, as is the bike lift
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This much detail. Her gearbox apart
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We have some time to do some old-person planning and check out Melbourne in detail. It’s been rated the world’s most livable city once, which pushes my offence/defence buttons pretty hard, coming as we do from Vancouver, the world’s first and only post-modern city, home of all things nearly perfect.

So the story. Back in Buenos Aires, Argentina, the 2nd best city in the world after Vancouver, we went for a shave here
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You know for a fact that any shave here, in the capital city of effortless and unadorned style, is going to be very good
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And it was awesome.

So if Melbourne is so great we think we’ll go for a shave here too. We go here
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The Melbourne Barber Shop. Just our luck, it has a moto theme and has bike pics all over the walls and a bike in the corner
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It was flawless
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So where are we going with this.

There are a few stages of a straight-razor shave that are close to heaven. The lathering up with the badger-hair brush. The feel of the blade. The hot towels. But best is the Proraso
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After the hot towels the pores are open and on goes this blend of menthol from India and eucalyptus from Australia, shipped to Italy then distributed world-wide to fine barbers, in this case a round trip
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Tasmania 4

First, some interesting speculation. Son of Lucinda
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Two days and a night. First, Bilcheno to St Helens
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A funny diversion off-course you noticed on the above track. We were told the Elephant’s Pass route was good but missed the first exit. We found out our mistake at a gas station 30 miles later, and reversed. I remember when my friend Julio used to check this blog looking for route errors and he’d email me about them, lol. I think the last big error was missing the exit to El Chalten in Argentina, so it’s been awhile. Another younger friend, Ben, wrote to say that the kind of reasonably attentive planning I do is what old people do. So I lose either way. Such is rider dialog.

The ride along the coast was typically beautiful
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We stopped at a couple of beaches. Beach makes up such a high % of the eastern coastline you can stop just about anywhere
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We arrived in St Helens (pop 2000) and they were having a community day. There were four main events today: a loggers contest, pedalling bikes, running and a small car show. There were surprises.

This was the scene around the logging event. Being from BC I was extremely curious
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Two main events. The first
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The choppers, as they call them here, were handicapped. So they started with what seemed a second or two gaps between them. Not the best shot
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After the first couple of swings they really laid into it. They were through the logs in maybe half a dozen swings a side, but I didn’t count
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And here was the surprise. The owner of the cleanup tractor (I always look for someone to tell me what’s going on) says that ‘the best chopper that ever lived’, a local Tasmanian, is here, but now retired. A pretty tall claim. I go and speak to him. This is David Foster
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He’s a huge guy, maybe 300 pounds or something. He knows Canada well and has been to main events and world championships all over N.A. I check his Wiki later. Sure enough, he’s been a world champ 21 times in one event alone.

Then off to the pedalling bikes. This was the scene
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The track
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The grown ups
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And maybe more appropriately, the kids
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This little girl was last by miles but soldiered through the 4 laps
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Then off to the car show. Muscle cars, as usual. No rice-rockets in sight. Perfect
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Back to the track to see a kid we heard about at the pedalling event.

The scene, the 100 meter event, high school kids
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It’s handicapped again. Look how far that kid in red is back from the others. His name is Jack Hale and a few months ago he broke the best ever Australian Olympic athlete 100 meter time. And that time was the fastest in the world (link) for a 16-year-old although his run was wind assisted. He was so fast here today he was past the other runners by 3/4’s of the way down and had a huge lead at the finish. It must have been a serious bummer for the other kids.

No time to set up for a good shot, so this is what we got. Not having seen any live world-class runners before, it was an eye-opener and slightly unreal watching him flash down the course
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After which we had a Tasmanian hamburger which looks like this. Not just here, but anywhere. A patty between two pieces of untoasted bread, some onion
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Later, into town
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Tasmanian black swans in the bay
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St Helens to Devonport
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We climbed out of St Helens into the forest
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After a few miles the growth took on that tropical density and the gaps between trees were full of large ferns
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Like NZ but thicker growth and not as elevated
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On a large outcropping was a modern aboriginal painting. We feel a bit lazy in not having done any reading on interpreting the symbols when we had the chance back in Brisbane. Whatever the meaning of the symbols and colours, it looks perfect here
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Huge magnificent Eucalyptus trees. Nearly all 700 species of Eucalyptus come from Australia. A few are native to New Guinea and Indonesia to the north a bit. Then nowhere else. How they got to the shores of Lake Titicaca, who knows
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Through a small and pretty village
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Past another tannin-rich lake
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And through the large town of Launceston where we stopped for lunch at yet another car show
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From the Hotrod magazine of our youth
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And finally to the boat back to the mainland.

This time a 9:30 p.m. sailing
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Not in a nice little row like it was the other way. But once again the crew tie down the bikes. It bothers us but the local riders are happy with it
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Waiting to depart
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And up at sunrise the next morning
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Melbourne
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Some Tasmanian riders we hung out with on the boat on their way to Perth. The guy on the right has a brother there. He told me how many brothers and sisters he had. The Australians like to tell a story and exaggerate like crazy, who doesn’t, but the number of siblings he said he had was so huge I didn’t believe it. Maybe another world-record from Tasmania. He said it was because his parents didn’t have a TV. All the riders on the boat were super-friendly as usual but the moto-brotherhood is very different in Australia. I have a theory. More on this another time
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Tasmania was fantastic. For us, this and the north and west of the mainland. More on all this when we leave Australia.

Tasmania 3

I was tidying up my tank bag, throwing old newspaper clippings (my source of stuff ahead, often), food wrapping, etc out. Tank bags are like handbags: they go where you go, and have all the essential stuff in them. For the curious rider, here’s mine:
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Top row, left to right: Map of the day’s ride, folded to fit precisely in the tankbag window (an anal skill you learn quickly and normally would be out-of-character, but you know, the ride). Stack of current documents: insurance, inspection, and general to-do notes. A small stack of instructions for new stuff or stuff I can’t remember, like the Aussie dongle, the epirb, etc.

Middle row: TP, Lumix DMC TS5, Sony RX100 (this picture was taken with my iPad), wicked new usb-chargable LED lensor (should have taken it out for the shot), epirb, disposable local phone, iPhone. (Sat phone and Delorme in panniers for ‘safe’ Australia).

Bottom row: Chapstick, Visine, Opinel knife, lucky charm from one of my daughters, huge pile of pens (have to stop stealing them now I have enough), two tire pressure gauges plus spare valve cap, disc lock, mystery spare keys, lighter.

Missing are ball cap, back-up sunglasses and snacks. And the GPS lives here when I walk away from the bike.

Back to the ride. First day, Hobart to Port Arthur
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Second, Port Arthur to Bicheno
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It looks like rain again as we head southwest
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Staying close to the ocean
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Part of a hundred-year-old officers shed near one of Australia’s countless historic prisons
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It was kept original inside
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Past the town of Doo Town
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Where it’s tradition that each house has a name that includes ‘doo’. You can imagine
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To cliffs at the edge of Tasmania, facing Antarctica. But many miles north of the same view in Ushuaia. Looking a bit west
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And east
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Heather in bloom on the cliff tops
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A ocean tunnel that creates a famous blowhole
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But without much result
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A huge arch
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Then back on the road to our destination for the day
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A big prison. Well, there are many big prisons all over the place here, as everyone knows
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Port Arthur was mostly for reoffenders
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Lovely
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Those impressions on the ground show cell locations and size, about 5 feet by 8. Outside windows were in the corridor, not the cells
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Borders of Acanthus mollis
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A great view from the prison to the bay
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It wasn’t a patch on huge Freemantle Prison which was fabulous, but the situation was the thing.

That evening, at about 7, the skies opened.

How hard did it rain, right here south of Hobart? The hardest in 100 years, and it rains a lot and hard here. Once again, right time, right place
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Beyond description. Overnight it rained right here 4.9 inches, 125mm’s. A few miles away, on a hill above the town it rained 5.7 inches, 145mm’s. Like an idiot I didn’t take many pictures, but it looked like this. Heavy water, visibility about 500 feet
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The next morning this poor wallaby looked even more freaked out than they usually do
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Two days later we set off north again
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In the field at the above view-point, this little bird
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Possibly a better shot
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His wife
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Further north, this extraordinary sight, if you look carefully
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Tessellated pavement. The short form is that a huge basin of sedimentary rock formed 160 million years ago under special circumstances. Now here’s the interesting part: the basin fractured under normal surface tension into this geometry
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It’s good
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Closer to the hill behind the beach it breaks evenly
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Nice diagonals through the parallels
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Back on the road
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The narrower valleys looks almost filled up with the runoff from the storm
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We were riding up the coast again. The landscape changed dramatically. It looked arid
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A typical hill to the west of the road
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Nothing to indicate why
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Then finally, over a ridge to this
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And down to the village of Bicheno, against the hills in the below pic
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Windswept islets
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That night we went to a spot where the fairy penguins come out of the sea, at night, to their nests about 200′ above the shoreline in the undergrowth below the trees.

They’re the smallest of the 17 species of penguin. They look timid and vulnerable and it’s hard not to worry about their nightly trip through the threats of dogs, cats and foxes. They take a few steps and freeze, look around, look at each other, and then one of the group makes a slow dash to the next cover.

They left the nest (there are 1 or 2 babies on the nest right now) before dawn and went as far as 20km out to sea to fish, diving as deep as 80′ to hunt. Then they return after dark to feed the chicks for a few hours before starting again. It’s serious hard work being a fairy penguin and watching them struggle from beach to nest was moving.

This is the best shot I got because it was on max telephoto and about a week exposure time, in near dark. The Sony RX100 does very well but sorry
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This is the spot they cross
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Gin-clear water. The Tasmanian coastline is as beautiful as we’ve ever seen
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Very small mussels, no more than 1 cm
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Tasmania 2

First of all, look what I found in my duffel. A toad must have crawled in one night. Dry now. Well, still a bit bendy but almost dry. Business card for scale. It’s going home to someone I’ve been collecting things for recently
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The day’s track from Strahan to Hobart
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I’d heard the ride through the forest out of Strahan was good. It started like this and stayed like this for maybe the first 30 miles
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With a couple of views over the forest
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Then back to more twisties
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Up higher the road was faster

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And wove through hills above Queenstown
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Great road
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Later, a stunning lake. We’re in a world heritage site. There’s no development at all. Central western Tasmania is immaculate
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Despite the overall blue, up close the water was almost toxic with tannins, reducing visibility to maybe 6 or 8 feet depth
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Later we saw purple in the ditch and stopped
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The most astonishing semi-aquatic plant
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A tiny flower stem maybe 8 inches tall with bloom on top, hundreds of them. No sign of the foliage which we’re guessing was preceding, given it’s summer. They looked like an army of tiny sentinels and almost alien
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Up close. I looked it up and it’s Utricularia dichotoma, a carnivorous bladderwort. Fantastic little thing
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We stopped for the short 10 minute walk to Nelson Falls. The ferns below are about 10 feet high. The rain forest
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The falls
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And that was the end of the best paved riding we’ve done on this side of the Pacific. It was nothing short of brilliant. Rarely tight, 2, 3, 4, 2 without a break, mostly good sight lines, good camber, a very aggressive road surface, we let our guard down and rode at 90% of our abilities, instead of the promised 70% maximum. In the top couple of dozen paved rides of the whole trip, possibly top 10. Ride this road.

Put her in 6th and relaxed through here, though fast. Australian indicated speeds are generous. What’s posted as 100kph here would be 80kph at home
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This is a purpose-built structure around a long mural/shallow relief sculpture. 15 years of carving full-time by one man and very good. No photographs allowed. I’ll post them when I’ve left Australia if I remember. Here’s a link, worth a click, an impressive solo project
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The environment is drier the further we move east. So back to Eucalyptus forest
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How fast is this little road? Very fast. A great surface, you’re stuck like glue
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One of the many ponds we pass
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Back into civilization, farmlands
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Outside Hobart we stop when we see this
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Park and walk down to a roped off area
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It’s little mini powerboats. They’re being sent off by a flagman in small timed groups
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Zoom!
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We chat with a local couple and their dog. They tell me this is kid’s racing. Dads ( and a Mom or two) raced earlier. It’s a family thing. The event I’m watching now is children under 12 years old, boys and girls. The boats are all custom, none are off-the-shelf
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Proud Dads stand in the water and watch little Timmy or Elspeth fly by at 30 mph. The youngest boys and girls racing today are 9
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The top mark
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You can see the guy with the checkered flag bottom left. Some little tyke has an awesome lead. He/she will be a hero at school tomorrow
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I’ve mentioned before, Aussies are motorheads so I’m not surprised my this. Heavily worked American muscle cars in particular are the thing. But anything with an engine really.

Soon, we’re into Hobart, and as is tradition we ride down to the water first
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More kids. This time in the rigging up a mini tall-ship
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Hobart is pretty. Old historic stone buildings everywhere
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Cafes under stone
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The main drag. There’s something peaceful about Hobart
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Tasmania 1

Google Earth
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A 20 hour track, from Melbourne across the Bass Straight to Devonport, then to Strahan
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We’re taking the Spirit of Tasmania across the Bass straight to Tasmania. We’re excited! You’ve probably gathered, if you read between the lines, that the east coast of Australia really didn’t do it for us. The same problem as New Zealand. For riders reading this, with a shorter rtw timeline, my route choice through Oz would be Perth to Darwin. Or Perth to Cairnes. But we haven’t done the middle yet, we’ll see what that’s like.

But anyway Tasmania sounds excellent so we’re down at the boat, reservation in hand 2 hours before the 2 hours recommended before sailing. Keen. So we go down to the beach. That’s our ship
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Head over to boarding with 3 hours to go. The boat leaves at 19:30 and arrives in Tasmania at 05:30 in the morning. It’s the red eye
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After a while a couple of Aprilia Tuono’s show up. They’re going to Tassie for a riding holiday, but haven’t been before, so can’t recommend stuff
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Ride on. Lucinda and I think riding onto a boat is the best thing in the world
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There’s a beautiful Harley from the Golden Years, back when they were chopped to perfection. I want this bike. Plus the MV F3 800, the new Africa Twin, plus the new Hypermotard. Lucinda says OK OK, when we’re back, cool your jets
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Tie down. The boat guy has to do it. Oh well. I don’t like the straps to the bar-ends but don’t argue and back off the tension when he’s done
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We’re off to Tasmania!
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Go check out our cabin. There are 4 choices: sleep in a chair, shared cabin, standard cabin (w. two beds), or deluxe cabin. This is the standard cabin. In Latin America I would have gone with a shared. It’s sparkling clean and feels new. We’ve left our camping roll back in Melbourne so we’re down to a duffel, about 30 litres full, and the tank bag. Awesome
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It’s a great crossing. we start with a big electrical storm. Then all the bikers get together and drink. The boat is basically a floating bar. The whole top floor, the 10th, is a bar seating hundreds, and 1/2 of the 8th floor is a loungier bar for families. There’s also a shop. But no non-alcoholic seating areas.

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Bird
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We get a few hours sleep and are up at 4:30 for disembark, grab a coffee at a gas station and we’re off. Just out of Devonport it looks like this. Fantastic. A coastal highway to start for a short way
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Then south. It starts to rain
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The trees are very very different. It feels prehistoric
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Past small lakes
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The strange trees
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A shrub in flower, beautiful
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More lakes, with some peaks in the mist
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About 150 miles later we approach the coast and the trees vanish
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Wilderness
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To the postcard village of Strahan. This was taken the following morning in sun
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The ride down through the forest was different to any ride so far. It’s very wild, very dense and jungle-like most of the time, and a bit crazy somehow.

Much more on this after we’ve thought about it more, in a following post.

the Snowies

The three day track from Canberra to Melbourne, over the Snowy Mountains
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And here the 2nd day’s elevation chart over the pass at 4294 feet, 1308 meters. We were riding along, watching the altitude on the GPS go to the 4294, rounded a corner and started going downhill! What the hell? Now that’s a pretty silly number for ‘the highest mountain pass through the Snowies’, it’s like it lost a digit, but we’ll be polite guests and not be rude or make jokes. Although Lucinda made cracks going up like ‘I can’t breath! the air’s too thin! I’m fouling my cylinders! or I’m getting dizzy! I’m going to crash!

This is a road distance/elevation chart, not a elevation profile. Photos to follow
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The second day we rode twisties up Alpine Way (!) to the big ski resort, Trembo
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Flowers on the way
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A typical view
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And arrived at Trembo ski resort
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And there’s the hill. All of it. It was a bit shocking. It’s like a backyard project. They have a restaurant at the ‘top’ with an epic view, lol. There are chair lifts for this, running just a bit above level for a few hundred yards. 700,000 people came here last year to ski. Hopefully they used inner tubes and didn’t buy gear. Maybe send the dog down on a garbage bag. No need for snow grooming machines here, you can send someone out to buff it up with a rake.

The jokes could go on forever but we said we wouldn’t go there, so we won’t
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They had a lodge called ‘schuss’. I thought we had all decided it was a sucky euro word and killed it 40 years ago
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Then we rode up a little further to the ‘pass’
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A couple were taking jumping selfies, throwing their yellow ball caps, and were good at it
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The road down had these mysterious red posts for a few miles
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Every few minutes we would catch a blur of vivid red in the trees. Bright red parrots. We stopped a few times but they spooked at the sound of Lucinda and flew off before we could get a good shot. But we took so many photos on the fly we eventually got one
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Here it is, a crop 15% from the right, 40% from the bottom, in the above
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Not the best bird shot, we admit. So here’s a stolen shot from Wiki. It’s a King parrot
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Another great view
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Then on to the flats
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The next day we rode what we’d heard was the best longish dirt ride in the area, between Carryong and Bairnsdale
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Despite having some steep, loose and tights sections at the top, we met this Aussie, Claude on his classic 60-year-old Velocette. A lifetime of riding his beloved bike to every corner of Australia. I wish we’d had more than the 3 minutes he spared for my questions, but he was pretty focused, a huge conversational miss with someone who’s must have seen it all many times over. Oh well
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Around a small lake
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Up higher, a view down to a river plain
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Then down to the flats
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Through a perfect small town
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And onto Great Alpine Way, the best paved road we ridden in Australia. Very fast, cambered, 3rd and 4th gear long sweeping corners for 100 miles. Stellar
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Then on the third day, back to civilization and the haul into Melbourne
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Which the next day, in the sun, looked like this
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