My solo two-week bike tour around Tasmania might be the most rewarding trip I’ve ever done.
Not because of the beautiful Tasmanian landscape, but the challenges I overcame. Lonely days, cycling through pain, and facing the unknown each day.
And above all, faulty brakes.
I decided to do a bike tour on an impulse. A part of my strategy to stop overthinking things and just go for it. I had no knowledge of bicycles, gear, or what exactly I signed up for.
Looking back, doing more research might have saved me some trouble, but if I knew more, would I still say yes to the trip?
I started in Launceston, Tasmania. From there, I cycled East towards St Helens. Then down the East coast through Bicheno, Freycinet National Park, a night camping on Maria Island National Park, and Port Arthur before reaching Hobart, my final destination. Approximately 700km total with an average of 60km a day.
I planned on renting my bike, tent, and camping gear from a bike shop in Launceston. I put a lot of trust in this bike shop. I made it clear I’ve never done this before, and I was unsure of the specific gear I needed.
Unfortunately, the gear was old. I caught the low tire pressure. I caught the non-functional stove.
But I failed to test the brakes properly. With the amount of extra weight on the bike, I expected to come to a full stop slower.
But I spent the first day taking downhill turns at speeds I was uncomfortable with. The breaking point happened as I reached the town located right before my campsite.
Up ahead I saw a four-way intersection on a road with a slight downhill. I began to brake with plenty of time to spare, but I couldn’t stop the bike in time. At the last second, I wildly turned onto the sidewalk narrowly avoiding a pedestrian.
As I arrived at the campsite, I called the shop owner. To his credit, he drove 45 minutes to replace my brake pads.
I wouldn’t have survived the second day. I spent the majority of my nine hours on the bike that day climbing a mountain. 98km and 600m of elevation.
On my way down, I didn’t pedal for at least 30min, but the tight hairpin turns were impossible to make without slowing down
Fortunately, after the second day, the roads flattened out. But the brakes left a lot to be desired.
And the worst was yet to come.
In the middle of a 60km day, my 9th day, I saw this sign.
At first, I struggled going uphill with my tires failing to get traction on the gravel/dirt roads.
But the downhills increasingly terrified me. I didn’t feel comfortable turning at higher speeds due to the unstable road surface.
The 3-4 feet on the left-hand side of the road consisted of loose sand/dirt making the sides especially risky. My tires slid out anytime I rode too close.
The first few hills had a steady decline with minimal turns. But as I climbed higher and higher, a steep decline was inevitable. My knuckles turned white as I squeezed the life out of my handlebars.
As I rode past the crest of one hill, the wind in my face intensified. I wasn’t too concerned at first because I saw the upcoming turn and felt comfortable making it.
However, as soon as I made the turn, my stomach dropped.
50 yards in front of me, I saw what looked like a hairpin turn. Within that split second, I became cognizant of the speed I was flying down the hill.
I slammed on the brakes, but with little effect. I moved over to the left-hand side of the road to prepare for the turn.
My first instinct told me to attempt the turn anyway. But I needed to slow down. If not, my tires would slide out from under me as I made the sharp turn.
I risked serious injury if I landed on one side pinning myself under the loaded bike. As well as sliding for an extended length against the hard dirt due to my excessive speed. The uncertain barrier also played a role in my decision to not attempt the turn
As panic set in, my mind raced to find a way to slow down.
I glanced to my left. A wall of bushes and overgrown weeds suddenly looked inviting.
As I made my way to the left-hand side of the road. The sand-like dirt gave me an idea. I slammed both feet into the ground to try and skid to a stop.
What felt like progress wasn’t enough.
I pressed with my feet and skidded for as long as I could.
I decided to crash my bike into the largest bush I saw. With the thought that the bush could soften the blow. I braced for impact.
I let go of the handlebars to protect my hands and arms from making the first contact with the limbs of the bush. I lowered my head to protect my face. Letting the top of the helmet take the brunt of the impact.
Throughout my bike tour, I thought of worst case scenarios.
A flat tire. I’m embarrassed to admit I went on a bike tour with no idea how to fix one. Maybe that would force me to walk two hours to the closest town. Or hitchhike.
I didn’t book any of my accommodation in advance. I arrived into town each afternoon with no clue where I would sleep that night. What if nothing was available?
What if I misjudged my distance for the day or took a wrong turn, and was forced to ride at night?
But I never considered serious injury on the side of the road.
I’m extremely fortunate to have walked away with only cuts and scrapes. And no damage to my bike.
But it left me shaking.
I became hyper-aware of my potentially precarious situation.
I had no cell phone service.
Not a single person knew what town I started from that day and where I planned to go.
I was riding on back roads with minimal traffic. Another 20min passed until a car passed in either direction.
No first aid.
To me, the whole trip was an adventure, but this was the first moment where I thought, was I being stupid?
I had a hard time getting back on my bike. I took my time to sit and regroup. And come to terms with how close I came to disaster.
I decided to walk for the next 30min. To calm down, and to get a better idea of the road conditions.
I eventually hopped back on the bike, but I walked every downhill for the next 14km on that dirt road.
If the crash was the low point, the next 14km was a test in resolve. If I picked up the slightest speed I hit the brakes or jumped off my bike.
Throughout the trip, I loved reaching the top of hills. I went on cruise control downhill and took a break from pedaling.
But as I got to the top of each hill, I dismounted and walked. No reward for the work going up the hill.
I struggled to stay positive. I knew roughly 14km were left, but the backroads gave no indication of the distance until my destination.
At this point in the trip, I knew a 60km day should take me about four hours to complete. As the minutes ticked by, I found myself checking the time more frequently as I should’ve been there by that point.
As I rolled into town, seven hours after leaving that morning, I felt shattered.
The next morning I woke up to do it all over again.