Just in case you’re curious and want to know what it’s like to skateboard/longboard over a 1000km around Tasmania, here’s an honest review of my recent charity expedition in this beautiful (but brutal) part of the world…
Key “Miles for Smiles Longboarding Challenge” Stats
Total journey distance: 1389km (1012km longboarding, 38km hiking, 3km kayaking, 336km driving or bus)
Journey duration: 5 weeks
Pregnancy timing: week 16 to week 20 (i.e. month 4 to 5)
Longest non-stop leg: 42km (Freycinet National Park to Bicheno)
Average kit weight: 30kg
Number of wet weather days: 3
Number of injuries: 6 (two sprained ankles, back sprain, damaged foot arch, spider bite, ingrown toenail and a few minor cuts/bruises)
Expedition cost: less than $1500 (including flights, equipment, clothing, food and accommodation etc.)
Pre-expedition training: none. I hadn’t spent more than 30 minutes on a longboard/skateboard before arriving in Hobart.
What was the best stretch of road for longboarding?
The road connecting Devonport to Stanley along the northwest coast offered the best overall experience. Hugging an endless string of picturesque beaches, quaint seaside villages and floral fantasias, it served up a visual feast. The roads were relatively flat, smooth and quiet – I even spotted a decent bike lane. Reaching Stanley, a charming old-world town with striking hills and magnificent ocean views, was icing on the cake.
And, the worst?
In terms of roads which can actually be tackled on a longboard, the ‘Vicious V’, better known as the Elephant Pass and Esk Highway which converge at St Marys, was as close to impossible as they come. This stretch of road was seriously intense – a white-knuckle nightmare plagued by steep inclines, sharp descents, blind corners, relentless traffic and nonexistent road shoulders which melted away into cliffs. On my way down this treacherous mountain pass, I had to walk bottom first – keeping my eyes on oncoming traffic – and catch my luggage as it raced towards me. I made it about three quarters of the way down before a cop car kindly picked me up and delivered me to a safe stretch of road.
What was your best food experience?
I didn’t have a proper restaurant meal the entire time I was in Tassie. Can you believe it?! But, I did enjoy a few blissful takeaway moments. The fish and chips at Wynyard Seafoods on the Wharf were the best I’ve ever had. Flavoursome fish in a light jacket of batter, crispy chips that were light and fluffy in the middle, and a generous serving of chunky homemade tartare sauce – I was in heaven. The gourmet haloumi and grilled vegetable burgers at Fractangular (a hippie bush doof) were also to die for. This was the kind of food I’d dreamt about eating in Tassie – glorious produce served with passion and a creative edge. Finally, I have to give a shout out to the fruit scones at Oliver’s Bakery in Ulverstone, which I happily devoured like a pregnant lady with a half-British bun in the oven (my hubby is from Coventry).
How’d you manage the whole food situation while on the road?
It was tricky. Not only because I couldn’t carry more than a couple of days worth of supplies with me, but also because I was pregnant and wanted to feed my bump quality, nutritious food. Having to travel without any form of refrigeration and hop between gas stations and small town IGAs made this a difficult task.
My daily food routine turned into something like this…
Breakfast: a bowl of muesli with a piece of fruit served with UHT or powdered milk
Lunch: 3-5 Cruskits with peanut butter, tomato and tinned tuna
Dinner: a big tin of mixed vegetable or minestrone soup
Snacks: 2-3 per day – a piece of fruit, handful of trail mix, muesli bar, small tin of baked beans or something cheeky (e.g. a scone)
I got bored of this uninspired routine very quickly! Whenever I stopped for more than a day in a proper Big4 Holiday Park, I put their kitchen facilities to good use and prepared proper meals (poached eggs, avocado and rocket on toast – yum!). I didn’t really get around to eating much meat on the trip – it was just too difficult. Walking past other campers, with their Webber BBQs, fancy steaks and bottles of Tasmanian wine, was torture. Grey Nomads sure know how to camp in style.
What were some of the funniest moments during your trip?
The first LOL moment took place while I was skateboarding along the Esk Highway. A lady pulled over and asked me if I needed help because she thought I was a teenage runaway – a teenage boy in fact. I didn’t realise I was looking quite so rough! Needless to say, the lady was pretty shocked once she discovered I was a thirty-year-old pregnant woman.
My second fit of giggles occurred in the depths of Cradle Mountain / Lake St Clair National Park. As far as paid campsites go, Cradle Mountain Discovery Holiday Park is well and truly ensconced in nature – it feels like you’re in the belly of a wild beast! One morning, when the sky was still as dark as ink, I heard something big brush up against my tent. The creature was wheezing loudly like it’d just run a marathon. I thought, what the eff is that…a wild pig? I heard it shuffle away into the distance, until… “AAAAHHHHHHH!” A blood-curdling screech cut the calm night air. I raced outside with my torch and discovered a man in a fit of laughter. A giant wombat had waddled straight into his tent looking for a warm bed.
What were the best signature Tasmanian experiences you encountered?
When I look back over my journey, three distinct moments stand out. Firstly, my time in Freycinet National Park, which included a hike up to Wineglass Bay Lookout followed by a sunset kayak along the peninsular’s pink granite rocks and white sandy beaches. It was completely magical. I can see why this precious part of the world is quickly becoming an ‘it’ bucket list destination…it’s as if the Great Ocean Road and Whitsunday beaches gave birth to a perfect lovechild. Just north of Freycinet, the Bay of Fires offered a similar spell-binding experience.
My downtime in Launceston was another highlight. This beautiful town felt like a mini-Melbourne packed with culture, character and creativity. It’s home to countless heritage buildings and sits in the most incredible location, where the Cataract Gorge collides with the Tamar, South Esk and North Esk Rivers. From Launceston, I also loved my quick side trip out to the Bridestowe Lavender Estate, where I happily demolished a lavender ice-cream whilst wandering through the perfectly manicured fields.
Hiking through Cradle Mountain to Marion’s Lookout, bump in hand, was a beautiful experience. This adventure playground is like the land of the gods – so grand and impossibly beautiful. The 3-4 hour return trek took me through vast grasslands peppered with waddling wombats, humble waterfalls blanketed by lush forest and spectacular lakes nestled amongst dramatic mountains. I’ll be back without a doubt.
What were the best surprise moments during your journey?
While I was longboarding along the Tasman Highway, a few drivers pulled over and asked me if I was heading to Fractangular. I kept thinking, “What the frac is Fractangular?”, until a lady finally explained it was a three-day music festival (i.e. hippie bush doof) just outside of Buckland. By the end of the day, I was volunteering at the entrance gate and dancing the night away to strobe-synced electronic beats. It was epic!
What were the worst moments during your trip?
I had a ‘minor’ meltdown at the end of my first week on the road. Every stressful experience leading up to that point finally made something snap inside me and I just needed to cry. It was dark and I was wild camping on the side of a highway halfway up a mountain. Surrounded by roadside litter and hyperactive nocturnal animals (someone had kindly informed me it was snake breeding season and they were particularly frisky this time of year), I felt completely vulnerable. The lack of phone signal didn’t help and I was convinced a movie called Wolf Creek Tasmania was going to be made about me in the future. On top of all that, my mind and body were exhausted and finally registering the shock I’d put them through. I’m happy to say, after a good night’s sleep, I was ready to hit the road and crack on.
For the most part, I didn’t mind when things went wrong with my equipment. I enjoyed putting my engineering skills to the test and having to think creatively on my feet. Having said that, when things went haywire after a long hard day on the road, my response wasn’t so – er – mature. I might’ve kicked my luggage tub and unleashed a string of curse words on a few occasions. It always made me feel better.
Finally, having to do u-turns or accept lifts due to poor road conditions was always a big downer. It made me feel like I was losing momentum and turning into a failure. In those moments, I had to step back, take a deep breath and focus on the positives – on what I’d already achieved – and come up with solutions to make up any lost time or distance.
What was the hardest thing about longboarding around Tasmania?
The roads. More often than not, they were mountainous, uber gritty, generous on the blind corners and stingy on the road shoulders. I’m not going to lie. Longboarding around Tasmania felt dangerous and it was hard work. But, I didn’t let that stop me! I tried to manage the risks as best as I could to ensure I completed the task at hand safely.
Someone offered a great analogy during my trip: “Tasmania is like a scrunched up piece of paper. At first glance, it looks small and knobbly. But, if you were to iron it out flat, you’d discover just how vast it is.” I’d have to agree.
What was the scariest moment during your trip?
They all came back to safety – feeling like my safety and my child’s safety were being threatened. These moments brought up a cocktail of horrible emotions – anger, fear, hopelessness – which sat uncomfortably in my throat and at the pit of my stomach.
I had a couple of encounters with dodgy characters on the road. As a solo female traveller, it’s a sad fact that you become a magnet for that kind of unwelcome attention. All I could do was rely on logic and intuition in these instances. On one particular occasion, when a man became my relentless shadow (even while I was in the public showers), I knew I had to act. I found the nearest camper van and made friends with a couple of grey nomads. I asked if I could pitch my tent next to them and spend time chatting to put off the unwelcome stranger. By the end of the evening, they’d put the word out and I was surrounded by an army of Winnebagos forming a ring of defence around me. It was very sweet and it did the trick!
What were the most important items you packed?
I would have been in a right pickle without any of the following:
>> Reflective safety gear including my Nutcase Helmet, vest and flag
>> Bungee cords (they held my whole world together on the road)
>> My phone (i.e. my life) and Maps.Me App
>> A collapsable camping bowl and spork
>> Headphones (I’m a light sleeper and the sound of snoring drives me nuts!)
>> A Nikon 1 J5 camera (it’s lightweight, takes quality images and allows me to transfer photos straight to my phone for editing and sharing)
>> A quality pair of Vans skate shoes plus some cheap thongs
>> A quality jacket by Mountain Designs (which protected me against the rain, wind and cold)
>> SPF 50+ sunscreen
>> A Lorna Jane Cross Over Tank (which kept me cool and comfy) plus Everyday Full-length Tights (which held me together in all of the right places!)
What were the most useless items you packed?
I could’ve gone without:
>> My second pair of cheap skate shoes (the soles melted away within a week)
>> Makeup (what was I thinking?)
>> A handle and rope for towing my luggage up mountains (thanks to the laws of physics, towing was impossible and I had to push things along instead)
>> Insect repellent (what mosquitoes?)
Was there anything you wish you’d packed?
What kind of Aussie doesn’t pack a hat for a summer adventure? This one. Apparently I thought I’d be hiking mountains and exploring villages in my helmet! A durable grocery bag would’ve come in handy, too. My food went rogue and hit the road a few times.
Did you have any lucky charms or special rituals?
My husband, Ben, and I both carry a little homemade doll whenever we go on solo adventures. It’s called “Waby” because Ben accidentally mashed together the words wife and baby when his mouth couldn’t keep up with his brain. Depending on Waby’s hair, it can look like him or me. It was comforting to have my ‘mini Ben’ with me, while I was longboarding around Tasmania.
At the end of each night, I mounted a twine clothesline inside my tent and hung photos of my hubby and pug, Chaos, with little wooden pegs. I loved falling asleep and waking up to their funny faces.
Phone signal permitting, I always made a thing of calling Ben each night. We spent the time discussing our day and it made us feel like we were still in each others’ worlds.
What did you learn in light of your journey?
Skill wise, I learnt how to longboard, pitch and pack a tent like a pro, and read a map…I mean really read a map. From a habit perspective, I learnt how to find happiness in the little things, be patient and organised, and stress less (all of which I struggle to do back home). It’s amazing how exciting the thought of chatting with a supermarket teller becomes once you’ve been alone in the middle of woop woop for a couple of days!
In terms of bigger life lessons, I discovered:
No matter how isolated and vulnerable you feel, there’s always someone who cares about you and wants to help you. Most strangers really are just friends you haven’t met yet. At the end of the day, no human is an island – we all need help and human connection at times (even independent lone rangers like me).
It’s liberating when you finally choose to embrace your eccentricities – to love them and put them to good use. What seems crazy, selfish and stubborn to one person looks inventive, courageous and ambitious to another. Life is so much better when you focus on the bright side and surround yourself with people who lift you up. Pessimists serve one purpose: motivation (#provethemwrong).
Fear needs to be kept in check – it’s a conservative beast which can put you off experiencing a lot of joy, personal growth and fulfilment if you give it too much control. If something both excites and scares you, it’s probably worth doing…as long as you’re well-prepared for the big risks.
It’s faster and easier to walk around Tasmania than tackle this formidable landscape on a longboard.
Nothing is impossible and the norm exists to be challenged. By the end of my journey, I discovered pregnant women are capable of more than just ‘taking it easy’ and nesting. Our instincts and bodies are pretty darn amazing.
Is there anything you regret or wish you’d done differently?
More gourmet Tassie food fresh from the farms; more time losing myself to dance at Fractangular; and, less time spent doubting myself.
Did one of your legs get bigger than the other?
No – I don’t have one Arnold Schwarzenegger leg and one lanky limb. My natural board position is regular but I was able to master goofy and share the love between both legs.
Any tips for others planning a solo and unsupported endurance adventure?
>> Factor in time to stop, smell the roses and recover both mentally and physically. Don’t be too ambitious with your daily distance expectations and slot in a good amount of down time.
>> Don’t let your need to capture the adventure ruin the moment. Having the opportunity to complete a solo endurance journey is a special experience – a luxury – and it should be fully appreciated without distraction as often as possible. Consider using a support crew to film/photograph/share the experience if you really have to.
>> When your mind starts playing tricks on you, stealing your motivation and tempting you to call it quits (it’s only natural to feel this way at some point!), remember why you started the journey in the first place. Keep yourself fired up and focused. Push the doubt aside and give it the bird.
>> Leave room for spontaneity. Be prepared when it comes to the important things but don’t overthink the small stuff. It’ll all work out in the end.
>> Don’t let other people’s doubt, fear-mongering and negativity get the better of you. Take their opinions with a grain of salt, do your research and trust your gut. Rules are meant to be broken and dreams exist to be realised.
>> Be frugal and smart with your packing. Less is more. Multi-use is magical.
What’s your next big adventure?
I’m off to North Korea (DPKR) for a half marathon event in early April and can’t wait to better understand this country and its culture. It will be an interesting experience to say the least. After that, I’ll be heading to Romania with my hubby to explore the Transylvanian Alps and help tourism operators in Alba Lulia with their digital marketing.
THE big adventure – our first child – will enter our lives sometime at the end of July. We’re equal parts terrified and excited. Being a mum is much further out of my comfort zone than longboarding around Tasmania, but hopefully the expedition has helped prepare me for the chaos in some way (stay tuned).
A final word of thanks…
I’ve described my longboarding expedition as a solo and unsupported adventure, but that’s not entirely true. While I wasn’t accompanied by a support crew 24/7, I certainly relied on the help and kindness of others throughout my journey.
Firstly, thank you to my sponsors who backed not only me and my big dream, but also what the journey stood for (positive mental health, female empowerment and a love of the great outdoors). Your products were a lifeline, keeping me sane and safe on the road.
Also, a massive shout out to everyone who donated to beyondblue, including my loved ones but especially those who don’t know me from a bar of soap. It takes a special and generous person to support a complete stranger.
Which brings me to my next thank you…to all of the lovely people I encountered in Tasmania: cheers for the hugs, homemade cookies, handy tips and kind hospitality. Thanks for sharing your stories with me, inviting me into your world and sharing the challenges of mine. Even though I was flying solo, I was never really alone because of you.
Finally, a big shout out to my husband, Ben Southall, who managed the fort while I was away. You took on the role of my biggest fan without question and found ways to keep me and our bump safe from afar (you sexy beast!). Truth be told, you are my greatest inspiration and if I hadn’t met you that day on Daydream Island, I probably wouldn’t be writing this blog right now. So, thanks for being the fan behind the flame and encouraging my ADD (adventure deficit disorder). Next time, let’s do it together.