Friday, January 28, 2011

R.I.P. Lantana

No, no, no.....not Santana......LANTANA. Not the guitar plucking muso.That bloody pesky, noxious weed that infests much of the Queensland bush. Two of my bush saws have gone to a better place. I decided today NO MORE! No more Mr Nice Guy, I mean business.

Yes, that is a 29 inch wheel.
Note to self: watch the appendages. Note to others: don't come within a bull's roar of me with this puppy.

He He He....

Have a good weekend all   :)

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Australia Day Punishment

With the day off for a change I accepted an invitation for a cruise down to the Gold Coast with Chickendrinker and Graeme.
According to CD, Greame was cheating by riding a MTB fitted with slicks. My road bike with 100 psi in the tyres was not only cheating, it was backing over them after I had knocked them down!
Anyway, it was an extremely pleasant ride down in the cool morning air. Once we arrived at The Spit and the other guys had met their families I turned around and headed back again. Well, there had to be a decent reason to ride the road bike.
It was starting to warm up sustantially so a quick coffee break was taken at Hope Island and then it was back on the bike. There was a lot of hurt starting to happen from this point on and I really should have taken some photos earlier in the ride as I had definitely lost my sense of humour by now!

Just some stats though and a few days off the bike to let the blisters on my hands recover.

Hope you had a great day in "New Holland". Thanks Captain Cook.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Sturt's place of Hurt

In 1830 Charles Sturt explored the Murray River, finding the land between Lake Alexandrina and the St Vincent Gulf "to be of great potential". In 1833 he declared "that a place had been found on the south coast of New Holland that settlers might venture, with every chance of success".
Today, temporary settlers venture to this place where Sturt saw such potential, to don lycra shorts, small foam helmets and pedal plastic bicycles up and down dale, in much heat, in hope of much success.
Yes, A.V.F.A. , in the course of my employment, was headed to the fair city of Adelaide and as a wannabe mountain biker who pretends to be a roady occasionally it seemed like a great chance to get on my bike and get an insight into what this road riding stuff is about. I will declare up front that I am a total fraud when it comes to kitting up on a road bike. It is true, anyone can look the part, but ask me a question about road racing and I am lost! I know what Lance Armstrong and Cadel Evans look like but would struggle to recognise any of the others if I fell over them. So there was nothing else for it. I collapsed my carbon road bike into a soft bag and headed off, somewhat nervously, to the airport.

An early start to work was good as it would see me in Adelaide before lunch, but the downside was the fatigue factor. Coupled with the predicted thirty seven degree celcius day I would need to stay well hydrated on the hills to make it around my projected route.

On descent into Adelaide and it was an absolutely magic day. The skies have been scrubbed clean of contaminants by all the rain that we have had in the last few weeks. The view of the mighty Murray River, where it exits Lake Alexandrina to the ocean, stood out vividly today.

Getting into the hotel room as quickly as possible to reassemble the Avanti didn't go as smoothly as planned, with all number of minor inconveniences that never normally happen slowing our progress. However, it was finally just the two of us and lacking anyone to read the door knob sign instructions, I got to business.

In what felt like an eternity, but was only about twenty minutes, I had the bike ready, bidons filled, myself kitted up and some grease scrubbed out of the carpet (whoops, must degrease the chain!). Hitting the streets of Adelaide it took the GPS several blocks to get a lock on to enough satellites to navigate. In fact I had to stop in Victoria Square, race HQ, for a few minutes for the lock to occur. Yet another minor, yet unusual, impediment to impending pedalling.

That hill looms.

 I made my way up toward the Adelaide Hills town of Stirling, where stage three of the Tour was finishing today. This requires a bit of a climb on the appropriately named "Eagle on the Hill" section of the old Prince's highway (now Mt Barker Rd) to Melbourne. It is a good solid climb. Not overly steep, but constant, rising 490 metres over twelve kilometres from the old toll gate at the bottom of Mt Osmond. I had the good fortune to meet two guys at the lights who were riding up to Stirling as well. They were country lads from near my home town, so we chatted all the way up the climb which made it a lot easier for me to forget about the heat and how my right calf was starting to cramp. They were here for the week and about to top 600 kilometres for the week, as they rode from Glenelg out to each stage finish every day. I was coming to realise that the number of punters along to watch the racing and do some riding themselves was huge. As we climbed we passed many bikes and were in turn passed by many more. I was lost in this strange new world of road riding, happily chatting away and I pretty much forgot to take in the view or to get my camera out to capture any of the climb!

From Crafers at the top of the climb it is a short ride across the highway to Stirling town centre. When I arrived at about 2pm, the streets were packed with riders waiting for the race to come past. There was much anticipation as several police escorts cleared the track, then some official looking cars tore past. Then came the riders..........and fast!

They flew around this uphill corner at about 40km/h! This was the first time around as thay completed a loop of the Stirling area as the final sprint of the stage.
I then moseyed down the road toward the finish line, which was as packed as the mosh pit in a Metallica concert. There was no going there for the same reasons that I would give the mosh pit a  miss, so I waited about one hundred metres behind the finish line in the cool down area.
A couple of fit looking geezers on bikes rolled past, sweat absolutely dripping off them.

Simon Gerrans, 4th place

Baden Cooke,19th place

Another bloke in the ochre jersey idled slowly past, but I missed getting a snap. I believe it was Robbie McEwen, but then again, I could be totally wrong.
It was time to head back into Adelaide and I had a plan to track via Sturt Valley Rd through Belair and Mitcham back to the city. This was partly to avoid the masses of riders now heading back down Mt Barker rd and partly to reminisce on some of the roads I used to motorcycle on when I lived down here.

Stirling grandeur

The tunnel effect. These roads feel so "cosy" to ride. While narrow they are interesting in two ways. The scenery and the climbs/ descents make for a very enjoyable ride.

There are a lot of stooonnnes (best Stewie Griffin voice) in South Australia and you quickly find that many of the older buildings everywhere are constructed utilising this at-hand resource.

Sturt Valley Rd turned into Old Belair rd and tilted down. Speeds began to nudge the 60km/h mark on winding road and I gained a new appreciation for how sensitive the steering is on a road bike at these speeds!

Finally, pedalling down the gentle grade of the hill's lower slopes through the suburb of Mitcham I was caught and passed by a group of about 50-60 cyclists. The first six or so were wearing Trek kit with race numbers on their backs. I rode with them for about five hundred metres, listening in on one asking another, "are you going to do Roubaix this year?" Was this the Trek team? Do they ride from the end of the race back into town? Not sure, I did what any cool punter would do and rode one handed while I fished around in my frame bag for my camera! By the time I got it lined up with the safety off they were obscured by some of the many other punters that had tagged along behind. D'oh!

This route back to the hotel took me through Victoria Square and there were bikes everywhere. Lots of very attractive members of the opposite sex were just kind of "hanging out" with their bikes. Is there a kind of groupie thing that happens at Pro Cycling events? More educational investigation needs to be carried out on this and other matters!
So,three hours thirty minutes, fourty six kilometres, four bidons and a juicy peach later I was back at the hotel in the pneumonia inducing airconditioning (did I mention it was HOT today!).
I had cemented an even deeper respect for the men and woman that race at this top level. They are supremely fit with a pain threshold so high that you couldn't jump over. To ride the 130 odd kilometres that they did, in that heat, with those climbs is absolutely astounding.

I am off to contemplate their feats while inhaling a steak and enjoying the dining company of four flight attendants........what a day! Ciao.

Monday, January 17, 2011

The Pineys

Finally, we are on the way home and a regular destination to break the drive is Armidale, NSW. There is something that I love about this part of Australia that is to do with the elevation. It is about 3200 ft above sea level, which is about as high as it gets for any town in Australia. This attracted settlers from northern England, in particular the Scots and they have left their distinct mark on the New England Tablelands. They planted trees native to England and now 150-200 years later there are some majestic old trees gracing Armidale and lending to it's character.

A plus on this layover is that in the latest issue of Australian Mountain Bike was a write up of the trails in The Piney. Armidale State Forest, it seems, is home to both walking and MTB trails that are worth a look. Well, any excuse to get out in the countryside is good enough for this little black duck. So it was a 5:30am stealth mission so as to not wake the family. All was going well until I found I did not have the point and shoot camera on me. It was safely in the motel room with three sleeping family members! D'oh! The camera on the trusty Samsung Galaxy phone would have to suffice.

With lots of current information at hand I set off for The Piney. It is a mere five kilometres out of town on Rockvale Rd and is the child of the New England Mountain Bike Club. The first fly in the ointment was that the second forest entrance at 4.9km on Rockvale Rd did not look like the map and the trail markers were orange on white, not black on white as advertised. This very quickly sorted itself out, as black arrows on white signs appeared. Maybe I had missed an entrance to the forrest in the fog during the ride out.
This was it! I was in! Despite the fog!
I went left, up the hill, from this photo and quickly found myself at the top of Angry Eyes.

The big difference that I noticed right off between here and Kinross pine forest in Orange was that this was an older forest with more widely spaced trees. This allowed the grass to grow between the trees and made for a beautiful riding experience, with ankle deep green grass everywhere. Quite a novelty in January in Australia! The trail was also very well marked. On some of the longer stretches, just as you would think to yourself "am I going the right way?" a trail marker would appear to ease your concerns. Very nice!

Some very nice trail features adorn the track. The "A" lines would probably be "B" lines here in Brisbane, but it makes you feel good to ride all the A lines for a change!
From here it was around to Lucy's Leap

Then over to the newer section of forest. Big Dog's Den was fast fun zipping across the hillside through the pines.

From here you make your way back into the older forest and climb Snakes and Ladders to Crows Nest and back to Angry Eyes.

There is about nine kilometres of trail in here and it doesn't take too long to get around, so the obvious thing to do is to complete a few laps. The 3000ft elevation helps take the sting out of your legs. I found that I was gasping for air yet my heart rate was fifteen to twenty beats lower than when I gasp like this at sea level.

I really enjoyed the trails here in Armidale. As I rode back to town I struggled to put my finger on the reason why I had enjoyed it so much. The trails were well marked....tick, the trails were very picturesque....tick, the trails were fun to ride....tick, I could ride A lines for once....tick!, it was a beautiful, cool, clear morning....tick, it was the last ride as my annual leave petered out....tick. So many reasons and I guess they all had a part to play in helping me cement a very pleasant memory of Armidale Pine Forest. I know where I will be breaking the drive in future, so there had better be room for the MTB.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Kinross State Forest Ride

On the way back from our most southerly port on this holiday and while visiting my parents in Central West New South Wales it seemed like a good idea to visit Kinross State Forest at nearby Orange, an easy hour drive away. Even better, while I rode, the bride could go on a trip down memory lane as she had spent several years living in Orange during her teen years. Win-win! Luckily for my credit card the shopping in Orange is fairly limited despite being a large country town.

Kinross State Forest was written up in an issue of Australian Mountain Bike magazine sometime in 2010. I can't seem to find the issue, but it was in the back of my mind as a ride destination after my plans to ride Mt Stromlo were scuttled by family matters.

Kinross Forest is managed by the Central West Off Road Bicycle Club. As a lad who grew up in the central west I am can only imagine the grief these guys and girls go through trying to be recognised as a legitimate sport/pastime. This (or any really) part of inland Australia is dominated by the macho, drink your bodyweight in bourbon/get into a fight/shag your missus,dog,sheep while driving your ute, type yokel and riding mountain bikes would be akin to coming out for these types.

With this in mind and knowing that Kinross was open to the public, ie, dirt bikes/bogans I was very kindly dropped at the Bulgas Rd carpark. We noted these locals on the way in. Was this a sign?

 I decided to start out with the "North Shore" trail on the north side of Bulgas Rd (click on the tag on the trails for trail names, on the Kinross S.F. map link above). It proved to be a bit of an uphill slog with some wet patches. Hey, we have had buckets of rain everywhere lately so that was expected despite the sunny skies and thirty degree C temperatures(lucky me!). At the end of this trail I was a bit lost despite the map that I had picked up from a local bike shop. There were some bits of pink ribbon here and there and some roads that were not on the map. So, I hunted around and found some more single track, which I followed to here...

Yes, that is half of a dead pig

Not the most pleasant of locations. I naturally decided to flee this cesspit as quickly as possible. This was not as easy as I would have hoped. The trails here on the north side of Bulgas Rd were not marked at all and even more frustratingly, they just seemed to go up a gut busting hill only to do a U-turn at the top and plummet straight down the fall line with no attempt to "surf" the forest. Have these trail builders even heard of IMBA ?

That is the trail coming straight down the fall line of the hill. This after climbing straight up the hill just further to the right! There was evidence of recent dirt bike activity on all of these trails, so I was hoping that these trails were all of a motorcycle origin. Surely a MTB trail builder would put more twists and turns in? I was feeling very disappointed with these trails as I found myself dumped out at the carpark again. I was considering riding into town to meet up with my wife but thought I would check out the "proposed" trails on my map, which are on the south side of Bulgas Rd. The first trail is "Brown Hornet" and after about 100 metres I could see this trail was made by mountain bikers. It had all of the IMBA trail building principles built into it already. It was with much anticipation that I turned right into "Southern Comfort"

From this point on it was GAME ON! The trail twisted and turned down stupidly steep slopes, the twisted back up them! I was waiting for my chain to snap as I grunted into tight uphill switchbacks, all my might pushing through the pedals. This was more like it!!!!  How old is that chain???!!!

In the eerie washed out light I ate up Turner Track, Issac As An Off, Joe's Track, Damn It Janet, Frozen Dead Guy and El Gastro.

The old growth gums that were bulldozed for the plantation made for some great trail features and there is huge potential for more.

This particular trail feature was spooky. The red line is to highlight the trail as it is hard to see in this light. Note the goat head in the tree!? At this point I was a long way from the trail head and all on my lonesome. I was starting to think about "Deliverance" type scenes and was not terribly comfortable with that thought, so I moved on quickly!

After EL Gastro I was feeling pretty flat. Due to poor planning I had not a lot of food and I was yet to ride into Orange to meet my wife. Compounding that fact was the free map I had picked up at the bike shop. The assistant's words were ringing in my ears at this point. "It only has half the trails on it" sounded fine in the shop, but out here it was disappointing as the first hour or so was wasted on the northern trails near the car park and half the best trails were missing! These northern trails are so poor in comparison that I don't think they are worth listing, let alone riding.

The 3100ft elevation as well as all the climbing (just on 700m, remember those goats?) had taken it's toll on my post christmas body and it was time to bail out. The aim was to go for the Orange swimming pool to cool down and have a shower before driving home, but I just had to call into McDeath and pick up some faux chicken nuggets lest I keel over! After downing these it was on to the pool and shower, then the 120 kilometre drive home to the folks place. All in all an nice little day out and well worth a ride on the southern trails. Perhaps a local guide would be the best option with some planning? Next time, for sure.

Best wishes to the Brisbane flood victims.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Fancy a Walk ?

While we are holidaying here in the Snowy Mountains I thought it might be time to try to get the whole family to the top of Australia. The walk to the top of Mt Kosciuzsko is a fairly easy one at 6.5 kilometres each way. This is preceeded by a pleasnat chairlift ride to the Eagles Nest  or Thredbo Top Station. The "wife" and I had last completed the walk almost exactly 15 years ago. The difficulty is in the weather and the two smallish children that would be making the walk. The elder one had ridden and walked the mountain last year but for the younger (six y.o.) it would be like doing Dreamworld twice without the rides and fun, so fairly challenging.

Initially it was looking like our outing to the Grand Canyon last year. Not much to see due to low cloud and check out the ankle breezers on our Redhead! Some complaints initially, but once underway she never mentioned the cold legs again.

The adults were dragging the chain for most of the walk, with the kids disappearing into the mist, then reappering to urge us forward!
When the whingeing started I found it could be silenced quickly with a small snack.

Ice in January! This particular feature was difficult to drag them away from.

Finally at the top and the wind was blowing at about 40 knots making walking, talking and pretty much anything else quite difficult. Two Vegemite sandwiches were dispatched in short order and yet another sweet treat fortified the little legs for the stroll back down the hill. ( Its not really a mountain at 7200ft after all)

The view out to the west from just below the summit is breathtaking. I would love to explore around up here some more. One day perhaps.

During the ride down the chairlift I was thinking that I had forgotton something.

A great day was had by all of us and I was very proud of the effort that my family put in and in particular my six year old. He gets an extra gold star for walking about two kilometres more than necessary as he went backward and forward between the Redhead on "point" and us bringing up the rear!

To all those at home suffering through the torrents of rain that keep hammering down, our thoughts are with you. The horrific scenes from Toowoomba had us riveted to the spot, unable to tear our eyes from the graphic news reports this morning. I hope you are all safe and well.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Wingello will do

Mt Stromlo and its snaking trails will have to wait until another day. Logistics have got in the way for the time being and plan B has had to be put into action.

Wingello State Forest has a small trail network that is slowly being expanded by the enthusiastic trail builders of the Southern Highlands. The trails form part of the enourmously popular Highland Fling. They are not very technical at all, with the trickiest sections being blue/intermediate at best. That is fine as the scenery makes up for the lack of technical challenge.

 Today was the first day that the sun has made an appearance all week and I thought I had better get out and make the most of it. As I drove into the forest though a large thunderstorm was making it's way toward me.I just hoped that I would have time to check out the Red Loop trail before it hit.

 One thing I noticed was the complete lack of rubbish on the trail.Over 25 kilometres not one gel wrapper or other piece of litter was spotted.Very nice work guys.

Please bear with me while I figure out how to edit videos. It is a work in progress (for about 8 months now!)and I think I will have to purchase some software so that I can splice various files into one video.

Until next time.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The Rainmaker ?

For several months now south east Queensland has been drowning under a steady deluge that has been strangely absent over the last seven or eight years. In fact the preceding drought prompted the state government to construct a desalination plant, at great expense, to "drought proof" the south east corner. Not surprisingly the plant has been shut down, surplus to requirements!
The current flood situation is hard to quantify. Various similes have been bandied around. An area as big as New South Wales or Texas or France and Germany et cetera, et cetera. Suffice to say it is huge and luckily Australia is a sparsely populated country otherwise the misery would be immense as well. So a shout out and best wishes to all those armpit deep in murky water and brown snakes.

After the christmas rush we had planned to head down south for a few weeks to catch up with family and show the kids some more of our countryside. Watching the weather reports we were looking forward to hot (40 degree) days and no rain. Apart from the thunderstorms while we passed through Sydney all was tracking well. I awoke today in Braemar to the soft patter of rain on the roof! Bloody.......The rain amped up to thunderstorms this afternoon. Checking the synoptic chart shows why. A trough of low pressure lying across eastern New South Wales creating instability.............and precipitation.

Where is this going I hear you ask? Well, I only managed one ride of 14 kilometres on a MTB in December. With all the excess over the festive season I am severely lacking in motivation lately and more rain was not helping my resolve. When I have got out my knees hurt, my legs burn and my stomach makes me feel like a fighter jet with a big old fat drop tank attached to it. Not pleasant nor conducive to jumping on the cycle.

So, my last excuse gone, I saddled up for some summer riding, Southern Highlands style. Spray jacket? Check. Clear glasses? Check. Wheezy old geezer? Check!
The first few kilometers were as expected. Pain was my companion. It is interesting how when you are riding and training constantly you don't notice these pains. I guess you actually welcome them as it is part of the process of hardening up. Anyway, enough whingeing from me. I am on holidays and am riding a MTB so how bad can it be?
I thought I would check out the trails at nearby Welby, an area I hadn't ridden for just over two years. Much erosion was evident on the small trail network. Looks like they have had a lot of rain down here too. It made for some technical riding and highlighted my dulled tech skills after bugger all MTBing for two months.

Still, no "offs" today but plenty of stops to take photos of the amazing rock formations along the trail. The area consists of predominantly sandstone rock formations which also makes for grippy trails in the wet. Some of the slabs of rock are absolutely massive, with the trail snaking along the rock for fifty metres or so at a time.

The colours of the rock are amazing as well. The following photo is not colour enhanced. It is as it came off the point and shoot camera. The other photos here do not do the area justice, but you get the idea.

Despite the rain, mud and grinding noises my bike was making (love that sandy soil) I had a huge grin planted on my dial by the time I arrived home. It was only a 25 kilometre ride but I had my eye "in" again and am looking forward to my next ride. Canberra is only about an hour and a half away and the minister for finance/war has given her approval to pop down for a few days while she catches up with her mother. Crikey! Why am I still sitting here typing this?

Hoo Roo!!!