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Hacktreks 2

First Chapters


Men in Tights – highlights from
a cycling trip in Tasmania
Stewart Hughes

'I spot an advert for the Imperial Hotel in an Estate Agent’s window. It’s for sale for $300,000. "A motivated buyer could easily increase sales" says the blurb.'

*See update at end of piece
- This hotel has changed hands is now much better

It’s a beautiful sunny day as we set out on the toughest ride so far on our cycle trip down the east coast of Tassie from Devonport to Hobart. In our salubrious digs in Launceston I wake up to find a man with an Errol Flynn moustache, dressed only in his underpants, doing his ironing in the Residents’ Lounge. Mmm, I knew this was a classy joint. Of course Errol Flynn was a Tasmanian. Perhaps the Residents’ Lounge is a time machine. I blink but he’s still there.

Outside the time machine Alec and I unchain our bikes, load up our gear and start the long uphill climb out of Launceston. The road is a rollercoaster as it gradually climbs away from cleared farmland up into State Forest. There’s a headwind blowing, as there always is when you cycle. We stop for a drink at Numamarra, the first place we’ve come to that isn’t named after somewhere in the West of England. It’s the typical rustic general store with petrol bowsers outside, and, as everywhere seems to be in Tassie, it’s up for sale. We cycle on. Up, down, up, down - long slow sweaty hills, grinding up in granny gear, and I don’t mean black lace and a pince-nez. On quiet roads through spectacular dense forests and terrific scenery. On these long hills the pressure on your backside is relentless. There’s little chance to get off the seat, unless you have the drug-induced stamina of a Tour de France rider, so you quickly get a sore derriere. This is where the chammy leather crotch in the cycle pants comes in to play. At least that’s what you’re told. You may still end the day with a sore bum but at least your testicles are nice and shiny. And it’s terrific for absorbing cold water when it rains.

We cross into the Municipality of Dorset (!) and descend into Scottsdale, not before several more long steep ups and downs. Before you ask, there is no Scottsdale in England’s Dorset, the town is named after a pioneer called Scott who founded the place, which is what pioneers do. We arrive in the long wide and undulating main street gasping and exhausted. Much to my amazement Scottsdale has a nice coffee shop equipped with an expresso machine and I quickly settle at an outside table, sitting gingerly on my sore posterior, and refuse to move until I’ve had at least two latte’s and what turns out to be a delicious salad sandwich on brown bread. I’m getting a sore throat (horrors – not a cold I hope) so I eventually drag myself away to find a chemist for some lozenges. Tour leader Alec has disappeared.

Alec has gone to the Tourist Information Office and has been lulled into a false sense of overconfidence when the Tourism Customer Service Representative, or whatever the woman behind the counter is called, said that the road to Branxholm is mainly flat. Decision making is Alec’s forte and so he quickly decides that, despite being knackered after riding 64kms in four an a half hours up hill and down dale, and being in a nice town full of wonderful looking accommodation and excellent coffee, that we’ll ride the extra 25kms to Branxholm. The woman, bless her, obligingly rings the Imperial Hotel in Branxholm to ask about rooms:
"Well I'm doin’ the spring cloinin’" says the proprietoress. "Well I s’pose I can give them a room. I s’pose they'll want food as well?"
Sounds promising.

Hobbling my way to the chemist I spot an advert for the Imperial Hotel in an Estate Agent’s window. It’s for sale for $300,000. "A motivated buyer could easily increase sales" says the blurb.
Comfortable though the café seats are and good though the coffee is, tour leader Alec’s motto is: ‘we never rest,’ so off we set to cycle the extra 25kms to Branxholm, just for the hell of it. And hell it is. Contrary to what the Tourist Office lady confidently told us it couldn’t be less flat. Down and down we go, then there’s another relentless 15km climb before we descend a final steep 300m (1,000ft) brakes smoking into the picturesque village of Branxholm. Behind the town stands Mount Horror. I’m convinced we just cycled over it at least twice. The huge hotel dominates the town.

We arrive outside the grandiose two-storey Imperial Hotel, freshly painted inside and out, and situated on the deserted wide main street, in the deserted town. We negotiate $40 a head for dinner, bed and breakfast. Bizarrely there are tall trellises of hops growing behind the pub, which is huge, timber and beautiful and spotlessly spring-clean. It’s run by Gerald and the ‘spring-clinin’ Meryl. A mere $300,000 (£113,000) and this huge building full of rooms is yours. Just bear this in mind the next time you see your ever-shrinking superannuation (pension) statement.

We are invited to bring our bikes into the hall for the night and then shown to our small twin room on the first floor. Across the hall there's a newly installed spa bath that we are not invited to use. There are though large 'female' and 'male' bathrooms opposite with baths. I fill the huge six foot cast iron bath with piping hot water, gingerly lower my throbbing cheeks into it and blissfully soak for half an hour. The bath is so long and deep I have to put my water wings on to avoid drowning. Luxury! Red-cheeked I eventually drift downstairs to find Gerald playing patience in the deserted bar with the world’s most dog-eared set of playing cards. The beer is served from a gun-style tap on the end of a plastic tube. Alec and me are the only customers. After a few pots of delicious Boags have gone down and we’ve done today’s crossword, Meryl sidles in and asks: "What d'youse want fer toi? Steak alroight?" We say: "Fine." "Lovely." We’d read a lot of stuff inviting us to 'Come to Gourmet Tasmania' but we’re not overly confident at this juncture.

When the food is ready we are summoned by Meryl with due ceremony into the adjacent enormous dining room containing just one brown formica table and four chairs, some childrens’ toys on the floor and an old piano-roll piano. Two huge plates of food are unceremoniously plonked in front of us together with side plates of four slices of white ‘chewing gum’ bread with margarine. A bottle of Worcester sauce is decorously wrapped in a yellow paper napkin in the centre of the table. Alec says (God knows why): "looks good." Meryl says, "Youse haven't oiten it yet."

Too right. The steak (of indeterminate age and from the freezer) is buried by chips, commercial coleslaw, canned beetroot, canned sweetcorn, real (!) tomatoes and lettuce (well you can't get lettuce in a can, as far as I know,) half a boiled egg, two red grapes and two mushrooms. The steak is completely inedible. This sophisticated feast is followed by canned peaches and ice cream.

We return to the bar for some more Boags to get rid of the taste and to play pool for a modest 60c a go, not the more usual $2. Gerald our host continues to play patience with one eye on the TV. There are still no other customers. When one ball doesn't appear after the insertion of 60 cents Gerald says: "just pull the money drawer open, it's not locked." Well I reckon for once the Estate Agent’s comments about a "motivated buyer" increasing sales would be a dead cert. It would be difficult to reduce the takings any further. If we hadn’t turned up they wouuldn’t have had any takings.
"Reckon the Hydro should've dammed the Franklin. It's useless land - nobody can even get in there." says Gerald, obviously a concerned environmentalist. The Hydro Electric Commission used to run the island and was doing its best to flood the entire place until the Federal Government stopped them in 1982. The Franklin area is now World Heritage listed.
His wife reappearing triumphantly from the kitchen to join in the festivities chips in with her deep monotonous strine drawl: " I'd loike to go t' Broome ...... or Dhubai. Or the Sissilly Isles"
"You mean the Scilly Isles?"
"Yea, I saw 'em on Toi Voi once - just loike the Carriboin."
"Where are youse from?" she continued.
"Never boin to Sid-noi."
For light relief I played their ancient piano-roll piano which had a surprisingly good whine.

The next day I tried without success to find out how Branxholm got its interesting name, but drew a blank, although there is a former feudal castle called Branxholm in Hawick, Scotland.
Breakfast the next morning is, I kid you not, two Weetabix with hot milk. Hot milk! She doesn’t have any jam, or marmalade, or eggs, or bacon, so that is followed by ghastly soggy white toast, margarine and honey. Alec doesn’t drink milk so I feel obliged to eat the two bowls of warm Weetabix. The milk is off but I struggle on manfully. I put it down to my ‘stiff upper lip’ English upbringing. Talking of upbringing – I hope I don’t. Saying our fond farewells we jump onto the bikes, and burping rancid Weetabix flavour tackle a 35km relentless climb up to our highest point so far - Weldborough Pass at 590 metres (2,000ft.)
And we’re doing this trip for pleasure?

© Stewart Hughes April 2003

UPDATE Jan 2004: From a reader in Tasmania
From Leanne Kent
I'm writing in respones to the "Hacktreks In Tasmania" article by Stewart Hughes, in April, 2003. I thought I'd just let you know that the Imperial Hotel has been bought, and not long after his visit. It changed hands at the beginning of July '03, and is now owned by Ian and Lix Kent. They have been able to increase the sales, and it is now quite a busy pub. The meals are a lot better now, and the townsfolk actually come in to say hi. The pool table is still 60cents, and there is now a jukebox there too. All guests are allowed to use the spa at their own free will, and the owners talk to the customers rather than play cards. And they don't talk like that, either. Just thought you'd like to know.

Tamil Nadu 1982

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