Tracing the Heat

In the Hobart airport, I exhale deeply as I realize that I can see from one end to the other. It’s been nearly 24 hours since I left New Zealand, in most cases a 6-hour flight away. I am worn down and relieved to see my bike box and the exit door across the hall.

I quickly spot my travel partner Sophie, and David, our host in Hobart. They are there to pick me up, and my bike box fits easily into David’s newer Subaru wagon. They look clean and bright—it rubs off a little. We chat about the city of Hobart, the recent influx of people, and the wildfires. They’ve mostly cleared up by now, but some are still burning near the southern end of the Tasmanian Trail.

As an island, Tasmania holds a heightened independence born from necessity. Conversely, it is deeply interconnected, as islanders must increasingly rely on each other for support. Right now this was clearer than ever. We arrived just after most fires had cooled down, and Tasmania was in a state of recovery with many government workers being pulled from their daily jobs to help communities rebuild however they could.

The sun beats into the black concrete as Sophie, her friend Mara, and I pedal 20 miles northwest of Hobart where we’ll join the Tasmanian Trail. The flat miles go by quick. It’s late afternoon and we point uphill, sweating as the pavement turns to gravel. We dip in and out of patchy Eucalyptus shade, noticing the abundance of road kill for the first time. It’s a blunt reminder of what dominates the road. I sigh, wrinkling my nose, wondering which way the wind will blow.

We top out, going downhill fast through dry grasslands and dark clouds with beams of light sneaking past. It reminds me of Wyoming, though this version has tall Beech Trees, Eucalyptus, Wombats, Cockatoos, and Kangaroos. We slow down in Bushy Park, a one-horse town and Tasmania’s hop-growing capital. I see a camping sign along the road and we turn into a narrow driveway.

A man steps outside, introducing himself as Mike.

“Where are yous’ coming from?”

“We’re from the U.S., but we just came from Hobart...”

“The Eew S.!!!”


I hold my breath, a little embarrassed.

Mike makes fun of more nationalities than we could count on one hand, impersonating a redneck Aussie accent as he shakes and points toward his herb garden, the toilets, the showers. Mike is in his 70s and lays down the rules without hesitation.

His face lights up with joy as he talks about the people that pass through: seasonal workers, Tassie Trail users, etc. We smile at each other, and at the operation. Everything is just enough, and glowing with Mike’s eclectic personality. For $9 a night we have a tent spot, kitchen, electricity, bathrooms, showers.

"As an island, Tasmania holds a heightened independence born from necessity. Conversely, it is deeply interconnected, as islanders must increasingly rely on each other for support. "

Riding north I look closer at the bushes and slam on the brakes. Blackberries! We drop our bikes, dig up a couple containers, and fill them. A couple miles down the road we find apples. I stuff a few in my bag, one in my mouth. That night we camp at Jones River near a large shelter that has been owned by a local family for decades. Inside is a wall of family photos with dates, short descriptions, snapshots from “The Big Hole.” I walk down to the river, and a frayed rope swing dangles above a now-shallow swimming hole. I stand in the pool and scrub the dust from my legs, wondering what it would be like to cannonball from the swing.

The trail takes us through Ouse, (pronounced ‘ooze’) and we climb, slowly onto the Central Plateau. The sky seems to push back against the rising land: the trees shorter, roads straighter, and lakes spread thin.

In the mid-1800s, Great Britain sent convicts from London’s overcrowded prisons to Australian camps. We stop for lunch near one such decaying structure from the 1840s. At the time, it housed convicts to work on dams and do farm work. The project eventually failed, and by the late 1800s, the Brits stopped sending their convicts to Australia all together. The Australians saw the convicts as a source of crime and disruption within the colonies, and unfair competition to honest settlers. Eventually, the Australians got their way. I wonder about all that wasn’t documented, photographed, and written down, about how the stories we’re least proud of can hold the most valuable lessons.

We climb further, the horizon burnt black as far as I can see. A car passes going fast down the gravel road, the wind sweeping its dust across the bleak landscape and I blink.

I’m trying to imagine re-growth, and the cold wind pushes into the corners of my eyes. I turn around to keep going, and feel the invisible lift of a tailwind propel me toward where I want to go.

That night it dips to 33 degrees. Curious drivers at every gas station tell us that it could snow a foot, and be t-shirt weather the next day. We are eager to make it to the northern end of the plateau, dropping off the edge, into the balmy coastal summer just past our fingertips. I try to savor the final minutes on the Central Plateau, giggling to myself as I tuck my knees and elbows, getting as aero as possible on my loaded bike. I coast for as long as possible. Yards behind my friends, I wobble and giggle at five miles per hour before giving in and pedaling. The edge is near, and we drop over 2,600ft. in seven miles to the flat farmland below.

It feels as though we teleported to Iowa: neat, up-kept fields and warm air that sticks as it moves around your neck. The first hints of the ocean. We find pizza, feast, and fall asleep in a small park just outside of town. The next day we power up old logging roads on last nights pizza.

The population gains in density, though we weave in and out of the foothill mountains on a matrix of old and new logging roads. By evening we’re descending a long ridge, milking the last light, hoping to get to the next town of Sheffield for dinner.

It doesn’t happen.

We cross a river so idyllic I almost stumbled backward. The water is warm, our clothes dirty. We take our time washing them, drying them, playing cards in the fading warmth.

"We cross a river so idyllic I almost stumbled backward."

After a snack food dinner we ride through Sheffield, savoring the farmland two-track and shady forests as we near the coast and feel the urgency of drivers changing lanes. All of the sudden we have our own urgencies: errands, bus tickets, find a place to stay. We find a trailer park a few miles west of Devonport. Our host is kind, interested in our travels. They don’t technically have a spot, instead we get placed in a small square of green grass between two semi-permanent trailers. I’m coming down with a cold and mild fever and we’re happy for the grass and bathroom code. It’s hot, and I spend the next day moving from one patch of shade to the next, sleeping off my virus. Several times our neighbors invite us to a Lions Club barbecue in the park.

“You know they’re having a barbecue tonight? Burgers and dogs! You should come.”

“We will!”

I chuckle at how many times it’s been mentioned, as if we’d pass up our chance at a Tassie barbecue.

The grill smokes, old couples talk loudly as trailer-park residents and campers wander up. A woman and her dog, some young travelers from Europe. A man in a felted Lions Club jacket places a burger on my starch white bun, and I examine a bottle of homemade hot sauce. I thank him, and later ask more about the local Lions Club. He’s surprised at my interest. I’m grateful for the community and its quirks, licking the last drops of hot sauce. The flavor is different from anything I’ve tasted.