The Tassie Gift: a scenic trip to hell
It was 6am on a cool November morning in Hobart. Slightly sleep deprived and incredibly nervous, the only thing left with me in my hotel room was my bike, leaning against the door, packed up and ready to go. I was terrified and felt vulnerable and exposed, and yet I was the one who had committed to do this—no one was forcing me to go.
Eventually, 9am came around. I wandered out into town and rolled my bike towards Hobart Brewing Co. This was it. Unsurprisingly, the official start line of this unofficial event was quiet—not many people hang out there on your average weekday morning. The rest of the Gifters had set off five days beforehand but, with an unmissable prior commitment, I was starting later. I pushed the button on my inReach, hit ‘go’ on my GPS, and that was it. I was off. Being unfamiliar with Tasmania, I was naïve as to quite how hard the ride was going to be. Turns out it was tougher than I could’ve imagined—and then some.
The Gift is a 1796km bikepacking route through the Tassie wilderness. It starts off in Hobart with a long climb up kunanyi/Mount Wellington. It then loops west and up through the central and cradle plateaus to the northwest town of Arthur River, before heading down the west coast, through the Tarkine Wilderness and then back through the central plateau. Somewhat mirrored to the east, you meander up to Derby and St. Helens in the northeast corner, before winding back down to the east coast town of Orford. Right at the end, tantalisingly close to Hobart, you’re then sent on a sneaky extra detour of a loop before making it back to where it all started.
Tassie, the gracious host of The Gift, has a reputation for being home to some of the most spectacular and inhospitably wild terrain in the world. It’s a remote, mountainous wonderland, with a climate as arduous as the terrain. The Gift is a mishmash of goat tracks, non-tracks, fire roads, and a lot of non-existent bridges. A third of the route is sealed roads, a further third is unsealed and the rest is, well, ‘something else’. And oh, the hills. So. Many. Hills. In fact, it’s the longest bikepacking race in Australia—potentially the world—that has greater than 2000 vertical metres of climbing per 100 kilometres of riding. Appropriately for the place in which it runs, The Gift has its own reputation for being one of the toughest bikepacking races around. In its years of running, forty-two people are known to have attempted the route. Only sixteen have finished.
On the other hand, my hometown of Perth, Western Australia, is quite the opposite. Sure, there are one or two hills, but the comparative terrain is chalk and cheese. Shockingly, London (where I grew up), isn’t known for its mountain ranges either, so my experience in riding my bike through the mountains was, well, none. Descending into Hobart on a beautifully clear, late-spring afternoon a week earlier, however, one thing became abundantly clear. Tasmanian mountains are no joke—breathtakingly beautiful as far as the eye can see.
To me, the appeal of The Gift was in the sheer absurdity of it. I knew it was going to be an incredible way to explore Tassie for the first time, though actually committing to it was a fairly last-minute decision. It’d been playing in the back of my mind as an ultimate, ‘I’ll do it one day’ trip, but when WA’s border closures continued and yet Tasmania remained open to us sandgropers, it became the perfect opportunity for a ridiculous adventure.
My plan was simple: I’d split the route, almost evenly, out into 14 days of riding. Being unfamiliar with the terrain, I was solely going off the data available on the GPX route for distances and elevation gain, as well as taking in as much information as I could from a discussion group of previous riders, future riders and Gift enthusiasts.
Planning around passing through small country towns was tricky, as often they consisted of just a few houses. Shops for resupply, where they exist, can have unreliable opening hours and even more unreliable stocks, so taking the time to research what facilities are available in each passable town was key. There are long stretches of the route whereby resupply is non-existent and, being an unsupported trip, carrying enough food to keep going for those slogs was the only way to get through.
The ups and downs (not just the hills…)
Once I got on my bike and was actually riding, the anxiety and anticipation faded to the background, and I was in much higher spirits—it was fantastic to be on my bike and exploring a new place.
The first hour or so was great! It always takes a while to settle into a freshly loaded bike, but even the climb up kunanyi was enjoyable initially—the rain that set in was manageable and I had a great playlist to sing loudly along to. Not much later though, the weather turned drastically. Further up the mountain, rain turned to sleet, the wind picked up, visibility dropped and I became worried.
I distinctly remember pushing my bike up an 18 percent incline on loose gravel whilst snow was landing on my hands, freezing my fingers and covering the front of my bike. At that point I was thinking ‘what an earth am I doing?’.
I’d watched the tracking dots of all these incredible, strong riders get through my planned day one without many struggles and here I was, 30km in, struggling hard. Yes, the weather was grim, but that was all part of the adventure. It was the difficulty of the climbing that was already getting me down.
Staying sane and motivated
Crossing Jackeys Marsh in the snow with a loaded bike, no clear path, five-metre visibility, icy-cold bog holes, and sharp scrub should have been a complete nightmare. For me though, it was at that point it all started to feel like a proper adventure.
Those first few days were incredibly mentally challenging. I’ve done a couple of bike trips before, and I know I’ve got no issues spending 14+ hours riding. However, having hit a point so quickly and so early on into this route where I was struggling so much, I couldn’t help but question whether I could even complete this trip at all. The west coast of Tasmania has notoriously rugged, wild terrain and there’s a reason that The Gift has the reputation it has. So why should I be able to get through it when others have not?
A Teeny Tiny Sombrero: the easiest way to make friends with inanimate objects along the route
The route goes through parts of the state that many people would never have the opportunity to explore. The contrast between beautiful, untouched nature and logging devastation was stark. The remoteness meant that they were long stretches where I didn’t see or talk to anyone for days. When you’re pushed right to your limits, have no phone signal and are alone to deal with the physical and mental challenge yourself, it’s hard not to question it all and just walk away.
Fortunately for me, there are several very experienced adventurers in my life who I get to call close friends. When minutes, hours, or days were tough, their advice and unwavering support replayed in my mind and continually kept me going. Plus I knew, no matter what, that none of these people would have any issues in the slightest if I needed to pull out. I might not have been okay with it, but they would completely understand.
Fast forward to the last couple of days—even though, realistically, I was close enough to know I could finish, they were two of the toughest. On that penultimate morning, I had snapped my phone cable and had no way of charging my phone, which meant I had no access to my backup maps. I also had no ability to listen to music or an audiobook, and no way of checking messages from friends (I had my inReach, but that was exclusively for emergencies). With some extreme heat to fully round out the all-season weather, and some of the greatest elevation gain of the trip, I had only my thoughts to keep me company. For me, getting through those last couple of days was something I’ll be proud of for a long time.
The support network
Ultimately, what really helped me get through this trip were the people. Friends at home and at work following my every move, those that I met or caught up with along the way both in-person and virtually, and those riders who had either completed or who were still completing the route while sending messages of support and encouragement. Getting to the end of nineteen days of intense riding, being halfway through either a tough day or just a really long day and having a dot watcher pop-up to have a chat was wonderful. It made all the difference for me, in the middle of nowhere in an unfamiliar state. The Gift has created a very special community of people, and I’m very grateful for them.
With limited space and a desire to keep weight to a minimum, it was important to carefully consider the importance of each bit of gear I carried. Having complete confidence in the gear I chose to take gave me one less thing to think about each day—no matter the conditions, I could forge ahead and know I’d be safe if I got caught out or did need to stop.
Comfort varies for everyone, but outside of the clothes I wore every day, the gear that made the cut for me was:
- Alto TR2 Ultralight Tent
- Flame III Sleeping Bag (Long)
- Women’s Ether Light XT Insulated Air Sleeping Mat (Large)
- Aeros Down Pillow (Regular)
- Jetboil Stash
- humangear GoBites Uno
- 2x Big River Dry Bags (8L)
- eVent Dry Compression Sack (Medium)
- 9x Stretch-Loc Straps
- Watercell X (6L)
- 3x Ultra-Sil Dry Sacks
- Revelate Designs Ripio Frame Bag
- Revelate Designs Mountain Feedbags
- Revelate Designs Spinelock (16L)
- Small tank bag
Navigation, Lighting & Miscellaneous
- Garmin Edge 530
- Exposure Lights Diablo
- Exposure Lights Joystick
- BioLite Headlamp 300
- Anker & BioLite Charge power banks
- Headphones & charging cables
- Toiletries, Wilderness Wipes, sunscreen, lip balm
- Airite Towel (Small)
- Toilet kit
- Camelbak Podium Chill (600ml)
- Zip lock bags for snacks
- Garmin inReach Mini
- Phone with Gaia offline maps
- First aid kit
- Bike tools and spare parts