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Stories from Bernie's new trip - heading "down under" to explore Tasmania

June 4 2011 "Tasmania" Program
May 17, 2011

Okay, so the voyage around Tasmania on a $10 bike is over. That doesn’t mean the adventure ends. In fact, it’s the perfect chance for you to come visit a spell and start an adventure of your own.

On June 4, the Caldwell County Public Library hosts the first “Tasmania: a Man, a Devil and a $10 Bike” program. It’s about people and things Tasmanian – from guitar repair master Ian Sommers and the Alpaca Man to draggy compasses and that “upside-down” moon thing.

John Rose: here John is splitting wood aboard his crayfishing boat Chaparral. To listen to John’s take on bringing the sea to the garden, click here.. (Dover, Tasmania)
Ian Summers: Ian is an expert musician and knows a thing or two about leeches. His popular interviews can be heard by clicking on the following links. Have a listen to Ian tell stories about leeches, twelve string guitars and banjo music from Tasmania.
The Alpaca Man: Ludo proves you can fund your travels damn near any way – even with an alpaca. Come to the program to hear more about this and other ways I’ve hear of folks funding their rambles. Here’s the link to an earlier story about Ludo and his alpacas. (Sheffield, Tasmania)

The heart of the program, though, will be about coping. About taking on life with what’s on hand. In my case, that was showing up in Tassie with high hopes for a mule adventure – only to learn that mules didn’t exist in that neck of the world. It’s about the rebound from mule to bike and how that opened doors no equine ever could have.

Kenny’s mules: This is my friend Kenny Tyndall driving his mule team. I would have been happy with any one of these mules. Instead, I ended up on a bike…. (Hoffman, North Carolina)

So how does this apply to you? Well, in addition to learning about Tasmania, you’ll have a chance to ask me about any travel questions you’re sitting on. Yes, the economy is tight. And right now you’re probably thinking the travel dream you’re harboring (you do have a travel dream, right?) isn’t going to pan out.

Don’t write it off yet.

Rather, come out June 4 and learn about Tasmania. About how a trip can be salvaged. And about how, ultimately, you still have a shot at escaping on a journey of your own. It may look nothing like what you’d initially imagined. The important thing is you get out there.

“Tasmania” is presented by the Friends of the Caldwell County Public Library. The program will start at 10:30 in conference Room 6 and there is no charge. Yes, the $10 bike will be on display. And yes, chances are good I’ll let you take it for a spin around the parking lot!

Come ride this bike (Dover, Tasmania)

See you June 4.

Details:
Saturday June 4
Caldwell County Public Library
10:30 am Room 6
120 Hospital Avenue Lenoir, NC 28645
828-757-1270
Caldwell County Library

Map Note: the map below shows the location of the Caldwell County Public Library.

Posted Tuesday May 17, 2011 by Bernie
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Tasmania by the Numbers
May 4, 2011
Tasmania creek crossing. Next time I’m hauling along a kayak (or portable bridge) so I can explore these rivers! (outside Balfour, Tasmania)

It’s official. My voyage around Tasmania on a junk shop bike is complete. I’m back in North Carolina spending some time on the farm. Still, before life in the Tarheel state drags me into another adventure, I wanted to share some last Tassie thoughts and images with you. To that extent, I’ve put together a “Tassie by the Numbers” article to catch those loose ends folks often ask me about.

The farm: on many Tasmanian nights, sweating in my hammock surrounded by leaches, I kept this image in my mind (Kings Creek, North Carolina)

And my crusty war horse of a bike? At the last moment, I packed it into a box and shipped it back to Carolina where it will accompany me on the upcoming “Tasmania: a Man, a Devil and a $10 Bike” program tour. I mean really, what better prop can you think of to show folks they don’t need big bucks to go adventuring?

Tasmanian bull ant: they’re called the “Inch Man” for obvious reasons (Laughing Jack Lagoon, Tasmania)

Okay, here goes.

Tasmania by the Numbers

-Purchase price of bike: Aus$10 at the Margate, Tasmania junk shop
-Total time in the pedals: almost 6 months
-Wheel revolutions to pedal around Tasmania: 776,470,588 (give or take a few ten thousand)
-Total cost of bike repairs: $35 for a new freewheel and a set of bearings
-Touring bicyclists spotted: 10
-Pedals replaced: 2 at a cost of free (gift of a landlord whose tenants had vanished with everything but their bikes – whose pedals I ended up with….

Sketchy pedal repair: miles deep in the rainforest, it was duct tape, dental floss and a shishkebab stick that came to my rescue. This jury rig, shockingly, lasted almost 2 months. (Puzzler Mountain, Tasmania)

-Mules spotted: 0
-“Mules” I was sent to go see that turned out to be donkeys: 2

Note to all Tasmanians: these are mules. The fine team on the left are Alice and Tippy and belong to long time friend, travel mate and world champion mule chariot racer Ronald Hudson. The mule on the right is Polly with which I traveled from Canada to Mexico. (outside High Falls, North Carolina)

-Tasmanian devils spotted: 2
-Hills so steep I had to pull out my pipe and consult the God of Nicotine: 3
-Hills so steep I had to drink a toast to Neptune: even more.

Break time: okay, sometimes I took smoko without a hill in sight. The wallabies seemed to enjoy it – or was it the rice I was feeding them? (The Patriarchs, Flinders Island, Tasmania)

-Wrasse fish caught on my hand line: 7
-Seagulls caught on my hand line: 1
-Flat tires: zero (astounding, considering the country I traversed. I chalk it up to the heavy mountain bike tires – and the three inner tubes I used to line each tire)
-People who said I reminded them of Henry Winkler as “Fonzie”: 1 (shocking, I know. But bless you anyway Sarah of Strahan – now get your eyes checked.)
-Times I was mistaken for a Canadian/guy from Texas: 5/10 (Tassie needs more Lone Star exposure)

-Highest priced bananas: $6/pound (Queenstown, Tasmania)
-Times I vomited: 2 (rotten broccoli in Zeehan and spoiled cheese and Marmite sandwich in Lost Falls)
-Number of dead wallabies in one 10 mile stretch of Flinders Island:20+
-Wallaby sausages/schnitzels consumed: 60/4

Dang they’re cute – and tasty too…. A Bennett’s Wallaby, also called a Red Necked Wallaby, takes a closer look at my dinner. He doesn’t seem concerned the skillet has cooked many of his relies…(The Patriarchs, Flinders Island, Tasmania)

-Leach bites: don’t ask
-Times I cried: 1

Call me a sissy but I shed a tear when Stormy the pony ambled into my camp. He’d escaped late in the night from a paddock across the street. If he’d wandered across me the first week of my trip, his owner would have woken to find a bike in his pasture – and his mount gone…(Moogara, Tasmania)

-Times I heard “you’re sure doing it hard, mate!”: 12
-Times I lost my cool: none of your $#!$#@!! business!
-Cemeteries slept in: 1 (Zeehan)
-Tombstones that referred to drowning: 3

Etched into this headstone is the story: “Sacred to the memory of Margaret Monaghan aged 24 years 5 months and her two children James and Patrick Monaghan who were drowned on 23 December 1840 by the upsetting of a boat conveying them from on board Brig H. M. “Tamar” to the settlement of Flinders Island” (Wybalena, Flinders Island, Tasmania)

-Photos taken: 5056
-Time to next voyage: stay tuned…

So what’s next? Over the summer, I’ll be working on the farm and doing another stint with TownDock.net in Oriental, North Carolina. Also on tap are plenty of travel programs, details of which will be available soon. And yes, I’ll be hitching up my mule Polly and hitting the road with friends for more than one Tarheel mule wagon ramble.

Thanks for joining me on my trip around Tasmania. See you up the road!

The calm after the adventure (Franklin, Tasmania)
Posted Wednesday May 4, 2011 by Bernie
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Cast Away on a Whaleboat
April 27, 2011
Get on the high side! The crew of the heavily reefed Capricornia sit on the weather side to keep the open boat upright. Capricornia is a 30-foot gaff rigged whale boat.

Sheesh! Last time I wrote you I was waxing poetic on Tasmanian country roads. Just to show what wonderful things they lead to, the gravel road I followed lead me to a 30-foot open whaleboat, an overnight stranding that amounted to a modern day cast-away status – and a trophy at Australia’s southernmost regatta. All in the same boat….

I know. It’s a lot to digest. But first some clothes washing is in order. Stay tuned…

Worry Wart Factoid: Fear not, I’m fine. After the whaleboat adventure, I loaded up my trusty bike and resumed my journey toward Hobart. There, on Friday, April 28, I depart for North Carolina.

The calm after the blow: Capricornia lands on the beach in Dover. (Dover, Tasmania)

Map note: the map below shows where the Capricornia made shore in her unexpected Bruny Island landfall.

Posted Wednesday April 27, 2011 by Bernie
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Hittin' the Road a Final Time
April 16, 2011
Set for a final ramble

Sheesh Bucky! The ten dollar bike and I have been traveling around Tasmania for going on half a year now. Which means it’s time to think about heading home to North Carolina.
Yep, on May 28 I depart Hobart, Tasmania for the long wing home.

Still before I hit the road, I decided to take one last ramble over the hills. That means meandering over the mountain range that separates Tasmania’s west and east coasts. As usual, I’ll try to stick to gravel roads and paths where possible. Because that’s where the groovy signs and people live.

The road home: it’s roads like this that I’ll try to follow from the West Coast back to Hobart. Note the sign….
Whoa! I swear I didn’t customize this one….

My departure, too, means that your chance to receive a genuine Postcard From Tasmania is drawing to a close. Yep, still a few days left to sign up for a little hand written correspondence from the island under the Land Down Under. I’m hauling around some pretty cool cards from all around Tasmania, any 3 of which would look great on your fridge or office desk. Here’s more on how to get that going…

And finally, I’ll write more shortly on what’ll happen when I return to North Carolina. Plans include a program called Tasmania: a Man, a Devil and a Ten Dollar Bike. Stay tuned for details….

Have an adventurous day!

Posted Saturday April 16, 2011 by Bernie
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If You Caught 'em Smoke 'em
April 12, 2011
A mess of Tasmanian fish – among them, two wrasse and a leather jacket.

People wonder. How do you live on a bike without refrigeration? It’s as though the Big Chill is some invisible cord that tethers people to civilization.

For most things, it’s not required. Oats, vegetables and eggs don’t cooling if consumed in a timely manner. Milk comes powdered and the taste of a fine whiskey is only enhanced when drunk at outdoor temperature – especially after 8 hours of pedaling.

Which brings up meat. And for that, there’s smoke.

On my bike I carry a hand line. This allows me to catch fish as I travel. Still, sometimes I catch more than I can civilly dispose of in one meal. Which, in the absence of refrigeration, calls for smoking. Not that kind of smoking. The other kind, like with a camp fire.

Here then, in a pictorial essay, is a quick guide to Pedal Power Fish Smoking.

Go catch a mess of fish. Or better yet, see if you can talk someone into giving you some. Doesn’t matter what kind as long as they’re fresh. Not puffer fish, though. They’re deadly poisonous. Cut off the heads and put aside. Fillet the fish, leaving the skin on. Cut into strips the width of two fingers held together.
In case you don’t know what it looks like, this is a washed up puffer fish. Also called a porcupine fish. Cleaned properly, it’s considered an Asian delicacy. Cleaned improperly, the poison, tetrodotoxin, can lead to paralytic poisoning. Stick with the wrasse, friend. (Whitemark, Flinders Island, Tasmania)
Build a fire. Smoky is fine. In fact the smokier the better. This would also be a good time to pour a drink: tea if it’s earlier, something stronger if it’s later. This whole thing takes a few hours so get comfortable with your beverage.
Skewer the pieces of fish on slivers of wood or shish kebab sticks. Then, when you have good smokey fire going, lay a few larger pieces of wood across it. They should be positioned so they won’t burn. Across these, lay your fish. Yes, at first it looks like snake meat. Don’t be squeamish.
You want the meat to be bathed in smoke but no too close to the heat. Remember, you’re smoking it, not cooking it. If it starts charring, move it farther from the heat.
Optional: remove the gills from the fish heads and skewer each head. Be sure to pry the mouth and gills wide so plenty of smoke can enter the head cavity.
Now it’s just a waiting game. This type of smoking, which is called hot smoking, can take from four hours to a a day or two. I’ve found 4 to 6 hours is plenty to smoke thin strips of fish. If you’re really gung ho, go dig some cockles and boil them up like this. Just be sure someone’s watching the fire. Nothing worse than coming back to camp and finding your precious smoked fish reduced to ash. Bummer, that…..
If you’re really bored, write some postcards. In the photo, I’m sending my friends’ 20 year old blind cat a fish-scented post card. Yes, it actually made it’s way through the Tasmanian, Australian and US Postal System.
And finally, when your fish are smoked, go find someone who’ll enjoy eating them with you as much as you enjoyed making them. Here, an enthusiastic camp visitor shows how a wrasse head should be disposed off. Who said you needed a fridge on a bike….?
Posted Tuesday April 12, 2011 by Bernie
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Five Photos for 5 Days
April 8, 2011
Macquarie Heads, Tasmania: Looking due West, you’re looking under Africa at South America – Puerto Madryn, Argentina, Patagonia, to be precise

In less than a month, I return to North Carolina. My half year bike voyage of Tasmania will be over.

To sear some final southern ocean images into my brain, I spent 5 days camped at Macquarie Beach, west of Strahan. Each day I walked the beach looking for something to bring home in my brain. For you, I took a photo. Here, with a minimum of description, were the solitary objects I found.

Day 1: Sand butte and shadow
Day 2: Little Penguin skull found atop a bluff where eagles eat them
Day 3: Shell in a windstorm: look closely and you can see sand grains suspended by the howling wind
Day 4: Round Sand butte
Day 5: Lone Tree Dune

There is not photo for Day 6. I broke camp and headed east toward the Tasmanian interior. I’d found what I was searching for.

Posted Friday April 8, 2011 by Bernie
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Shonky Freewheel Repair
April 4, 2011

Recently, on a steep descent outside Tunnel, Tasmania, the pedals on my bike, which should stop spinning when you stop pedaling, went into overdrive. Like an imp of satan had taken over the pedaling, the pedals took off at a blazing, ankle breaking speed.

Luckily I don’t have toe clips, those cage-like thing that hold your feet to the pedals. So I just lifted my boots off the cheap plastic pedals and let them thrash around until I coasted to a halt

Seems the freewheel, the part on the back wheel that lets you coast without pedaling, had failed.

Months earlier, I’d interviewed a fellow named Ludo Mineur in Hobart. Known as the Alpaca Man, he’d invited me to visit his home in Sheffield. Which happened to be only a few day’s away.

So, careful on the downhill runs, I pedaled to Ludo’s to affect repairs.

It’s something you learn early on when traveling with unreliable equipment. Make lots of friends because you never know when you’ll need to call on them.

There, in Ludo’s driveway, I affected what’s become the sort of bodgy repair that’s kept my ten-dollar bike going. The type that, when they say, as they say a lot in Tasmania, “she’ll be right” you think, “well, maybe….”.

Because Sheffield doesn’t have a bike shop, I decided to repair the freewheel repair myself. When I unscrewed it, I found all the bearings gone.

This was all happening in front of Ludo’s garage door. Which just happened to be open. And in which I spotted a scrap of wire.

The wire seemed the same diameter as the b

Verdict?

The repair worked beautifully to the end of Ludo’s driveway – where the bearings in the rear wheel failed.

Posted Monday April 4, 2011 by Bernie
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Listen to Why They Call it the Pieman River
April 3, 2011
Early morning crossing: the “Fatman” barge crosses the Pieman River.
At the controls is Blackie Stewart (Corinna, Tasmania)

It struck me as curious. How does a Tasmanian river come to be called the Pieman River? Recently, while spending some time with the crew of the “Fatman” ferry, Tasmania’s smallest, remotest punt, I found out why.

In the interview you’re about to hear, I’m hanging out with ferry operator Blackie Stewart in the Fatman’s wheelhouse. After he’s explained the punt’s workings, he moves onto the river’s name.

Ferry driver Blackie Stewart

Ready for the sorta’ creepy story? Then click the audio player below.

The remains of the trade: Corinna, where the Fatman crosses the Pieman, once depended heavily on the river for trade. Lumber and ore were loaded onto vessels for export. The only trace of the trade these days are skeletal pilings.
Posted Sunday April 3, 2011 by Bernie
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Driving the Fatman
March 30, 2011
The Fatman: Tasmania’s smallest, remotest ferry

Traveling around Tasmania on my rapidly disintegrating bike, I recently had the honor of spending a few days with the crew of the “Fatman”, Tasmania’s smallest, remotest ferry. In the course of of my visit, I had a chance to take a turn at the helm.

So what’s it like to drive the “Fatman”?

A lot, it turns out, like driving my ten-dollar bike. In places where you’d expect high dollar, legit parts, you’ll be more likely to find a lawn mower throttle with a wood handle. Or a plywood dash with wires bulging out the back like a 12-volt afro.

In the audio recording you’re about to hear, I turn to Nick Johnson, one of the Fatman’s operators, for some answers. As the clip starts, I’m talking with him in Fatman’s wheelhouse – asking him how he, a guy from “the good old U. S. of A….” got a job driving a Tasmanian ferry.

Nick, the Fatman and the bike

Then the chat takes a twist. He fires up the ferry and lets me take her for a spin across the Pieman river. As I’m standing behind the controls, he points out all the quirky bits to his marvelous charge.

Ready to join Nick and me at the helm? Then hit the audio button and let’s get under way….

Nick and the Fatman’s horn.

A control panel to make Radio Shack proud: the keychain, visible at the bottom left, once operated the solar powered safety barriers – until they broke and were replaced by a yellow board and two sawhorses
The throttle: once it controlled a mower, now it controls a ferry.
The rotating yellow light: it’s supposed to spin while the Fatman is under way. During the interview it jammed to a stop – but was restarted with a firm thumping.
Another load: the Fatman crosses the Pieman River with another vehicle.
Posted Wednesday March 30, 2011 by Bernie
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Listen to the Fatman Basics
March 26, 2011
Tasmania’s west coast: the only thing that connects it from north to south is a small road, in many places, still gravel. (outside Balfour, Tasmania)

It’s a curious thing. Travel down Tasmania’s rugged west coast on a bike, as I did recently, and about half way down, the gravel road comes to an abrupt stop at the Pieman river. Full stop. No bridge. Some days there’s not even a safety barrier to keep cars from driving into the river.

Sort of like someone took the Pacific Coast highway along California’s west coast and removed a key bridge, making through-travel impossible.

How to cross?

Enter the “Fatman”.

The Fatman (Corinna, Tasmania))

The Fatman is a steel barge that carries cars across the Pieman river. Half Mad Max, half fish farm barge, it floats cars across the river so they can continue their journey.

I thought this unusual. Enough so that I spent two nights camped in Corinna, where the barge is located. While there, I got to know the Fatman’s crew. What emerged in those days was a curious tale of hunger, bridges unbuilt – and some heavy duty Aussie bush technology.

In the interview you’re about to hear, you’ll meet Blackie Stewart, chief ferry operator. You’re going to hear more from Blackie in the next few days. But here he covers some Fatman basics. Like how it gets across the Pieman river. How it got its name.

Blackie Stewart: ferry driver. Here Blackie is shown sitting below the ferry deck, just above the water. Normally, he steers from the wheelhouse.

So, ready to hit the water on a marvelous mechanized creature? For a basic overview of how the Fatman works, click on the audio player below.

Wondering how the Fatman got such a politically uncorrect name? Then hit the play button below…

The proverbial end of the road. It’s at this point that wish you’d brought your inflatable bridge. Or you could just pay the Fatman a few bucks to carry you across the Pieman river.
Instead of a propeller, the Fatman relies on a 2-cylinder diesel Lister engine for propulsion (Left). This drives a hydraulic pump which runs a simple pulley system (Right). Look closely and you can spot a thin cable running over a pulley sheave. This cable pulls the Fatman. Look even closer and you can see another, fatter, cable which guides the vessel across the river.
The view from the bow, with skinny and fat cables pulling and guiding the Fatman.
Pay the Fatman: a system of clickers and tickets keeps track of passages sold. In 2011, it cost cars Aus $20 to ride the Fatman. Bicycles could ride for half price.
The helm: instead of a traditional wheel, the Fatman is operated with three hydraulic levers – one for direction, the other two for raising and lowering the ramps
Posted Saturday March 26, 2011 by Bernie
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