I think I died and went to cycling heaven. Or so it seemed after experiencing an incredible adventure in one of Australia’s newest off-road playgrounds.
I had heard and read so much about the Blue Derby trails, but it wasn’t until I tackled one of its many challenges, that I became hooked on riding a mountain bike. It was my first experience and one I will cherish.
You could be mistaken for assuming very little takes place in this small outpost in the North-East of Tasmania, but after a relaxing 90-minute drive from Launceston over some perfectly sealed roads, the town of Derby provides a quintessential country setting among rolling hills and wooded forests with very little passing traffic to interrupt the scenery.
Instead, the “clicking” of bicycle chains can be heard among the sounds of mother nature from those who make a bee-line to this part of the world.
But Derby has significantly changed since the arrival of Buck Gibson and family, 18 months ago.
After spending several years serving Queensland’s Sunshine Coast’s tourism industry, Buck decided to return home. He grew up around Tasmania’s vast and exotic wilderness and thought it was time to fulfil a dream which had been simmering away within him.
Derby is a former mining town of no more than a couple of hundred full-time residents but that figure swells noticeably every day with the arrival of the “mountain bike brigade.”
It’s hard to understand how an area, which enjoyed a population boom in the early part of the 20th Century, was on the brink of extinction had it not been for people like Buck and his vision.
The glory days of fame that the tin mining fortune brought have long gone, but through this marvellous facility it’s hoped they will return.
It was 15 years ago when I decided to jump on a bicycle for the first time.
Having covered the Tour de France for SBS since 1996, I thought it was high-time I practiced what I had preached as a reporter and host of one of the world’s most watched television spectacles.
My regular routine as a “weekend warrior”, taking to the roads of my home city in Sydney, paled into insignificance after absorbing the tranquillity of the Blue Tiers trail.
The area is dotted with up to 30 magnificently manicured tracks catering for various levels of fitness and distances. The trails are christened by a variety of names ranging from the easy Axehead and Sawtooth to the intermediate levels of Rattler, Howler, Krushka’s or Return to Sender. But if a difficult challenge is more to your liking, then Black Dragon, 23 Stitches or Sharpin may be just for you.
Buck thought the Black Tiers would be the ideal introduction for this intrepid mountain bike novice. He wasn’t wrong.
My tour guide escorted me to an altitude of 800 metres above sea level where my latest adventure began.
For the first time in my cycling life, a jersey made of lycra was replaced by a mountain bike shirt with three-quarter length sleeves.
After some brief instructions, I was off into the “cycling unknown” for the first time. I quickly learned that the secret to riding a mountain bike on rugged terrain (compared to the relatively unwrinkled surface of the road) is to remain balanced, maintain momentum and more importantly, stay focused at all times.
The flowing undulations from top to bottom sets up the initial challenge for first timers. And after needing only a little time to gain confidence on the unfamiliar course, I’ll admit to falling in love with this new experience from the get-go.
My new machine instantly became my new friend. I felt as if it was an extension of me as I wound my way across the ridges before plunging into the lush rainforest of the valleys below.
The Blue Tier track is designed for those with a sense of adventure and appreciation of Tasmania’s wilderness, with the vegetation changing from sub-alpine at the top to lush rainforest below.
Water crossings through creeks and rapids are regular occurrences, while the spotting of wild kangaroos and wallabies is not uncommon during the 19km journey.
Buck was never far away issuing guidance, assurance and wise instruction.
The wilderness conjures up wonderful sensations of peace and tranquility when you're entrenched on a trail in such a picturesque part of the world.
The bubbling sounds of water from the nearby streams relaxes, until it’s again time to return to the frantic pushing of pedals.
Riding a mountain bike was so different to my regular pastime of road riding, with a greater skill-set required and muscles used which I never knew I had.
Although the distance on this occasion was much shorter than the 90km I regularly cover on my road machine in Sydney, it seems the heart rate generated on a mountain bike over such a course is more intense.
What a day, what an experience and what a godsend the arrival of the mountain bike industry is for Derby.
The business world is set to make its indelible mark on the town with the construction of accommodation, and the opening of a variety of restaurants and cafes to meet the expected growing demand of riders.
While Tasmania’s north-east has had a reputation of appealing to mainly retirees, Blue Derby trails is proving to do the opposite.
A sense of youthfulness has returned to an area once screaming for thriving activity, rejuvenation and a future.
I’m proud to say I’m a converted mountain biker, and I have Buck and Blue Derby to thank for changing my cycling habits.