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

Heading Back to the Tassie Mainland
February 22, 2011
Cow (Flinders Island, Tasmania)

After 3 weeks on Flinders Island, it’s time to point the handlebars south and, reluctantly, head back to the Tassie mainland. My transport across the almost 10 hours of ocean? Either a cow or log boat. Not sure which one it will be yet.

In the meantime, for those of you who ordered a Postcard from Tasmania one’s heading your way bearing an authentic Flinders Island postmark. So if you’re a dog in Oriental, NC, a guy named Theo in Switzerland or hanging out at Harvard, stay tuned for that far-flung postmark. I hear they’re about as scarce as lycra and pure thoughts around the ten-dollar bike.

And finally, TownDock.net, the outfit in Oriental, North Carolina for which I do freelance work is running a story about the Voyage on a Ten Dollar bike. For a bit more on Tasmanian cursing and the backstory on the fossilized clam I uncermoniously dumped into the southern, click here

Talk to you back on the mainland!

Posted Tuesday February 22, 2011 by Bernie
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Greetings From the Five Dollar Shack
February 18, 2011
The shack

Out here traveling Flinders Island Tasmania on a ten dollar bike you learn to cope with changeable weather as follows. Sunny skies – hang your hammock and swing in peace. Rainy skies – sling your hammock, then hope your rain fly sheet holds up to the Roaring Forties set to drown.

Sometimes, though, you get lucky and find a shack right before rotten weather strikes. Then you run like to hell for cover and, once holed up, figure out how to make your temporary dry spot home.

Which is what happened yesterday. With a low bearing 40-knot winds heading my way, I eased into Killiecrankie, on Flinders’ west coast, and settled into what I’ve come to call the $5 shack. Owned by Mary-Anne Roberts and Jude Cazaly of Killiecrankie, it’s kept me warm and dry today while outside the wind and rain did their best to pry through the weather boards.

It’s what shacks are best at, providing funky, rustic shelter – with the freedom to improvise.

I won’t tackle the whole Tasmania shack culture in this installment but suffice to say it’s way cozier to be trapped by rain in a clapboard hut than a sodden hammock – or for that matter, in a luxury hotel. For a peek into shack culture, like the improvised limpet lamps I built because my flashlight died, check out the photos below.

Hope you’re cozy out there.

Killicrankie foreshore: the soft weather before the hard. The triangular, box-like structure in the foreground is called a coff. It is used to store spiny lobsters until there are enough to ship to market. The circular object to the right of the coff is a traditional Tasmania lobster pot. Historically made of steam-bent tea tree branches, they are still used by many crayfishermen. (Killiecrankie, Flinders Island, Tasmania)
Truth in advertising: Why I call it the $5 shack.
Home repair: how men and women think differently
Longing for the sea: the shell of porcupine fish gazes from whence it came
Wet currawongs: these crow-like birds keep me company even in the rain
Tasmanian limpet lamp: rice oil in a limpet shell provides lighting
Homemade lighting recipe: limpet shell, rice bran oil, a length of string. With dead batteries in my flashlight I have to use what’s on hand to provide some lighting. This will be cozy tonight. Drop by if you’re in Killicrankie.
Yes, even the bike’s allowed to come inside tonight
Posted Friday February 18, 2011 by Bernie
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Still Rambling on Flinders Island
February 16, 2011
Waiting for a tide: a steel cruiser waits for the tide to lift her (Bridport, Tasmania)

Hi there. Seems the island ramblin’ urge has hit pretty hard. Like in the photo of the tide above, I haven’t returned online yet. Yep, I’m still out on Flinders Island having a look-about. Check back in a few days – now go do some rambling of your own!

(Flinders Island is on the map below.)

Posted Wednesday February 16, 2011 by Bernie
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Ian Summers Plays the Twelve String Guitar
February 12, 2011

This week I’m rambling on Flinders Island, off Tasmania’s north-eastern coast. But instead of island life, because so many of you enjoyed a recent post on Tasmanian music, I’m going to feature another tune.

In a recent post, you got a chance to listen to Ian Summers’ play and discuss his banjo. In this update and audio recording, he talks about his twelve string guitar. How it came into his life in a sorry state. How, like my bike, he decide an imperfect fix now was better than a paid repair later in life, in that fabled, elusive, time “when I have the money”.

Ian Summers and his twelve string guitar (St Marys, Tasmania)

In the recording you’re about the hear you’ll hear three voices. Ian and I are sitting in his shop visiting. Neighbor Beth Elliot, whose car is being worked on at the garage across the street, has just dropped by to offer Ian and I some of her home made scones and jam. She ends up hanging out a bit while Ian plays.

Careful tuning required: listen to the interview and Ian will explain why he fear overtuning his repaired guitar

Ian tells the story of his twelve string, the choice he made, how he cut the top off to make repairs…. Then he plays a bit, takes a breather and if, you listen carefully, I ask Beth if she plays an instrument. Then it’s back into the tunes, this time Beth joining Ian for some beautiful harmonizing on “Side by Side”.

Given the relationship between and my bike, you’ve gotta love the last lines of this recording “Just traveling the road, sharing the load, side by side…..”. Ian and Beth’s voices are exquisite in their aliveness. All in all, a beautiful recording of a man who revives a broken musical machine.

Nights, in my hammock, I often listen to this piece as I drift off to sleep – just to reinforce the lesson that in life and bicycles, you’re often best just plunging into repairs instead of waiting for “one day”.

For some fine Tassie tunes, click the audio player button…

(PS: Thanks Ian for the music and Beth for the biscuits, cream and marmalade. Both very tasty!)
Posted Saturday February 12, 2011 by Bernie
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Postcard From Flinders Island, Tasmania
February 8, 2011

It happens. I get to a really remote part of Tasmania and decide it’s time to write the folks on the Postcard from Tasmania list. That’s right, I break out the pen, some local postcards, get writing and bike those cards to the nearest post office. Then, about two weeks later, those postcards show up in letterboxes all over the world. Some, like those that end up on the US east coast, travel around 10,000 miles.

The morning after: the scene in my hammock after yesterday’s late night writing session (Flinders Island, Tasmania)

Last time I sent out a flock of postcards was from Tasmania’s (meaning Australia’s) southernmost road house and postal unit. This week, I’m writing folks from Flinders Island, an eight hour boat voyage off Tasmania’s north east cape.

So what am I writing about? You’ll just have to wait until you get the card. I’ll give you one clue, though. The sperm whale I refer to is the one below. (Okay, most of you got conventional postcards. Don in Oriental, I sent you one made out of a Cascade beer can…). And the rest of the story? The rest of the story is heading your way under a $1.50 Australian postage stamp.

Hold Fast!

Dead sperm whale: an amazing creature capable of diving hundreds of feet in search of giant squid, it’s especially rare to find one stranded on a beach(Flinders Island, Tasmania)

(PS: I plan to ramble on Flinders another week or so perfecting my smoked fish head recipe. Last time mistake were made. For those of you who want a card from this way remote Tasmania island, I plan on sending a few more before I catch the log boat back to the mainland. More details on the Postcard from Tasmania are here.)

Posted Tuesday February 8, 2011 by Bernie
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Ian Summers Plays Tasmanian Bluegrass
February 7, 2011

In my early twenties, I ran out of money, girlfriend and plane ticket in Tuscanny, Italy. For just on a year, all I had to my name was a few lira, a jug of chianti and a battered copy of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s “Will the Circle Be Unbroken”. Over and over I’d listen to that tape. I especially enjoyed the parts where the band is sitting around talking with other musicians. You get snippets of legendary voices – Doc Watson, Emmylou Harris saying “we’ve lost the living room…”.

Flash forward 20 years. I’m in Tasmania, feeling my way around the island state with a jalopy bike, a box of wine and, instead of a box of cassette tapes, an audio recorder. What’s changed is now I record life, not just listen to it.

Recently, I had the chance to record a fine jam session with one of the finest entertainers I’ve met in my travels, Ian Summers of St Marys, Tasmania.

Ian Summers with his banjo. In front of him is a model airplane he’s constructing (St Marys, Tasmania)

I met Ian while doing interviews on leeches. An expanisively conversational man, the talk turned to music, proverbs and fighter bombers . Then Ian pulled a banjo from behind his desk and started playing. Between tunes, customers would drop into his “Cranks and Tinkers” museum. So he would launch into another discourse.

All and all, a delightful way to spend the afternoon. Better yet, I felt like I was included in the conversation I’d heard so many years ago on that beat up Nitty Gritty Dirt Band tape.

One of the things that struck me is how you would hear them pick at bits and pieces of a song, then talk a bit and move on to more musical bites. Sort of like they were having a taste, then moved on – and you got to sit in on it. In some ways, the intensity of those pieces was more satisfying then hearing the final product. Like sometimes a sketch or bit of line art captures the spirit more than the finished piece.

I got the same sense while visiting with Ian Summers. In this recording you’re about to hear, he throws in a bit of bluegrass technique, which leads to a bad bumper sticker joke, which triggers a run at Dueling Banjos and mention of Doc Watson. Ready to listen in on how bluegrass sounds down Tassie way? Then pull up a chair, hit the player below and enjoy…

Map note: the map below shows where this inteview was recorded in St Marys, Tamania

Posted Monday February 7, 2011 by Bernie
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Another Sea Ramble
February 5, 2011
Thinkin’ of goin’ to sea again (Moulting Bay, St Helens, Tasmanania (Joel Buckwell photo))

The rash from my recent leech bites has faded but the travel itch hasn’t. Yep, that means, as I do from time to time, I’m going “bush” again. It’s too soon to tell where I’m ending up. All I know is I’ve a hankering for the sea and am thinking of heading off to Flinders Island off the north east coast of Tasmania.

Oh, and I’ll have some pretty cool music to listen to.

Over the past days, I’ve put together some great audio of the visit I had with Ian Summers of St Marys, Tasmania. In addition to knowing a bit about everything, he’s also a great banjo and twelve string guitar player. I’ve heard from lots of you that you’d like to hear some Tassie music so stay tuned! The tunes roll out soon.

Hold Fast!

(Map Note: the map below shows roughly where Flinders Island is located.)

Posted Saturday February 5, 2011 by Bernie
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Thanks for Keeping me on the Road
February 4, 2011

Fact is, it costs money to ramble around Tasmania interviewing folks about leeches and orchids and crayfish. Unlike the mysteriously financed Indiana Jones, who never broke off a good sword fight to earn a few bucks, my trips are all self-funded. If the money runs out, so does the action.

Travel costs: even on wet days, the money meter keeps turning. (south of Puzzler Mountain, Tasmania)

When I’m not on the road, you might spot me pedaling around Oriental, North Carolina on my bike – a sure sign a freelance article is in the making. Or we might bump into each other at a book signing. I’m mighty lucky I get to earn a living doing what I love.

So while I’m out here on the road, where does the money come from?


That’s right, every time you, the RiverEarth.com reader shops at the General Store or hits the yellow “Donate” button, your purchase goes toward defraying my field expenses – which lets me keep the updates coming. So a hearty “Thank You!” to everyone who’s ordered a bit of RiverEarth.com adventure.

Because with travel come expenses.

Like last week, when the charger on my laptop exploded in sparks, releasing that charry electrical smell that says, “buddy, this is going to cost you…”. It did. Tasmania is expensive. The bus ticket into Hobart, where I could find a replacement charger, cost $90. The charger put me back another $100. Poof! Up in smoke went almost 200 clams.

Then there’s the internet.

Back home in the ‘states, wireless internet for my laptop is free and easy to find. Not in Tasmania. Here, it ranges from $5 to $8 per hour. It sure encourages quick typing. And though I only spend about 10 hours per month online, over the course of 6 months, well, you get the picture. It adds up to hundreds of dollars. Free internet hotspots? Forget it. In the past 3 months, I’ve found one.

Then there’s food. Thanks to a weak US dollar, a pound of cheese costs more than my ten-dollar bike. Suffice to say I live off rice and fish I catch on a hand line.

When a pound of cheddar costs more than your bike, you learn to fish. Here, I’m feeding a fire to smoke some local cockie salmon and mullet Joel Buckwell photo (Dora Point, Tasmania)
Smoking fish on the campfire (Dora Point, Tasmania)
Parching rice: for traveling food, I parch rice instead of relying on expensive fast food. The recipe is coming in a future update. (Dora Point, Tasmania)

So, again, thanks to everyone who’s shopped at the General Store, ordered a Postcard from Tasmania or hit the donate button. If it weren’t for you, I’d have to turn to smuggling coffee and tobacco into Tasmania ($3.50 a cup / $20.00 per ounce – it’s illegal to grow tobacco in Tasmania) to stay solvent. Instead, with your help, I’m able keep the updates flowing through legal means.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a log boat to catch. I missed the cow boat – and Flinders Island is calling.

(to be continued…..)

(Map note: the map below shows the location of Flinders Island. I’ll be writing more on it shortly..).

Posted Friday February 4, 2011 by Bernie
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