Saturday, June 30, 2012

Footloose And Child Free

The kids are currently spending some quality time with their grandparents so we needed to find something to do this weekend.

We remembered that the beer and food were good in Wellington so we jumped on a jet and here we are!

With all of the Kiwi craft beers to taste, I had the good fortune to check out this masterpiece in design and function.......

We have all day tomorrow here as well who knows what else I will discover!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Solo Bike Packing Trip

I am not sure how many posts I have started with the words "Well, it has been a while since my last post" so I will avoid it by saying "Crikey, I've been busy!"

I have had my head down, busy with work and study for sim. With sim successfully behind me for another 6 months, I resurfaced to notice a ride posted by Neil over at Musings. Neil is a regular organiser of "solid" rides here around Brisbane and having a free weekend, I was keen to attend.

Unfortunately, I had bitten off more than I could chew (as usual) by trying to fit Neil's ride around work and also incorporate it into my cunning plans. Something had to give. I made the tough decision to bail on Neil's ride, get some more sleep then head out on a solo bikepacking trip to test my gear and theories. I made the right decision as Neil's ride turned out to be very "solid".

I set out around midday for Gap Creek with a loose plan to climb South Boundary Rd to Mt Nebo, then ride on into D'Aguilar National Park to eventually camp somewhere by dark. 

While I had packed as light as I felt safe to do so, my "normally" 11kg (24lb) bike now weighed in at 20kg (44lb) and I was tipping the scales at 90kg (198lb) with my backpack and camera gear! As there are some big hills in them thar hills, I was very afraid! But South Boundary Rd is like an old friend, almost comforting in it's 25km (16mi) and 800m (2600ft) climb to Mt Nebo.

A pretty solid pedal with only a brief photo stop at the shelter saw me at the cafe' for a warming cup of tea and some carrot cake. Did I mention it was overcast and reasonably cold for Brisbane?

While sipping tea I perused my maps for an answer to my half asked question, "where do I go?" The tea leaves told me to head up Hammermeister Rd (just because I love that name!) then down Dundas Rd, Goodes Rd, The "Side" track onto England Creek Rd and England Creek Camp. 

An unknown factor was how much distance I could cover before dark. While I had lights, I wasn't overly keen on riding unknown trails and setting up camp in the dark. This was to be a proving run of sorts, after all.

One thing I found was that reading from a map, and a "stylised" map at that, progress was slow. Following a gps trace is obviously much easier and quicker but I had forgotten how much so. Having to constantly stop at every small side track to make sure it wasn't one that I needed to take was soaking up time. But then again, I had to keep reminding myself, I had all weekend and so what if it got dark? I could just camp where ever I stopped.

Then I came to a track named "Side" track. I am not sure of the grade but it must have been in the order of 30% as I lost 300m elevation in 1.1km of trail. I was struggling to walk down it. There was no question of riding down.

The camera is level in this photo as I have a small bubble level on the tripod clip, so that is the actual slope. Talk about being pushed downhill by the bike!

At the bottom was a small creek that obviously swells to a massive size during large downpours. It was pleasantly gurgling over some rocks as I passed through.

Down in this hollow it was getting a bit dark, so it was time to put my head down and try to make my "loose" objective of England Creek Camp. A bit of climbing and then some more leg pleasing descent made the distance fly by quickly. I managed to arrive at the camping spot just before dark and enjoyed the ease of setup of my Hennessey Hammock. It was up in just a couple of minutes and keeps me out of the weeds and more importantly, the snakes. I particularly like the fact that you do not need flat ground. You just need a couple of trees or poles about 4-5 metres (13-16ft) apart.

Then it was time to try out my camp stove and dehydrated meal. I must admit, when I last hiked I was a 13 year old boy scout with a cracking voice and no idea about much at all. Dehydrated camp meals didn't exist and excellent little camp stoves like the JetBoil were a distant dream of some visionary. Maybe humping all of the heavy crap that we had in the early eighties helped turn me off the hiking experience? Certainly, all of this uber light, well thought out modern kit has helped hook me back into that world.

It is simply amazing how fast this little stove will boil a cup of water. By the time I turned around, it seemed to be boiling! The Morroccan Lamb meal turned out to be very tasty with some added sultanas. And I wasn't even particularly hungry due to the modest 42km (26mi) ride so far.

 Coming on a solo ride like this might seem a bit irresponsible when my wife was interstate and I didn't have a firm route, but I was able to check in via my Spot Tracker. While I hoped that the green lights meant that my position was being uploaded to someone that cared, the reality was that I make a point of taking measured risks and currently all was ok. The Spot is primarily if things go pear shaped and I need a bit of a rescue......

The night proved to be pretty cold for the sub tropics and in my little hollow it was down into single digits. One of the criticisms of the hammock is it's lack of insulation and sure enough, my back felt like it was hanging out of bed all night despite the rest of me being on the verge of sweating. Not very conducive to good sleep! The light rain that fell all night wasn't a bother with my cocoon remaining dry. The comfort factor was pretty high apart from my back though and I didn't have to fight off any snakes, so I will persevere and look into some insulation for the hammock.

It was bloody cold in my little hollow the next morning and some hot porridge and coffee certainly got me going. Once again the Jetboil had the water piping in less than no time and I was able to warm my hands on a strong black coffee.

Packing up I stuffed the hammock into my seat bag to cut down on the weight on my handlebars. I had found yesterday that my hammock and sleeping bag were too much weight on my bars and made the steering seem ponderous and a bit frightening at speed.

Rugged up for the cold, I quickly warmed up as the ride out of England Creek was all uphill. Very soon I was stripping off layers and my legs were protesting from the effort.

Climbing 350m in the first 5km was a great way to warm up on a cold morning like this and after the first descent of the morning, with it's associated chill, I developed a new appreciation for slogging uphill at 5km/h (3mph).

My plan for today was to head north up England Creek Rd then turn east along Lawton Rd. Lawton Rd had been reported closed last year after the torrential rains of January caused land slips which cut the road. I figured that some repairs would have been effected by now and anyway, you don't need much trail to get a mountain bike through....

Climbing up toward Northbrooke Mountain the road skirted some ridge sides with magnificent views to the west over Wivenhoe Dam.

Coming to the intersection with Lawton Rd I was met with a very weathered "Road Closed" sign and a trail covered in much leaf litter. It certainly didn't look like anyone was using the road. Hmmm. It was a very long way to go back so I thought I would at least have a look. Of course the first few kilometres were steeply downhill and I was very concious of the climb back out if the road was impassable.

I soon came to some slips that had cut the road to half it's usual width but I also noticed that there was a slim trail where walkers, MTBers and dirt bikers had been using the road. A great sign!

Then I came to a huge slip that had taken the entire road away and was about 50ft deep and 30ft across! Bugger! I really didn't want to have to go back otherwise I would be out here all day and half the night. So I dropped the bike and had a bit of a scout around the edge of the slip and found a sketchy, narrow little path across. Testing it out, I left my backpack there and went back to get the bike. Most of the crossing was made across a tangled mass of fallen timber but there was a 6ft section where the tread was about 4 inches wide with nothing to hold onto and a huge drop into the slip on my left. Slightly heart in mouth I managed to manhandle the bike across, all the time hoping that there were not more of these further along the road.

As it turned out, this was the final hurdle and I happily climbed Lawton Rd toward Mt Glorious Rd, where I could hear the buzz of motorcycles echoing around the hillsides.

As I stood here at the gate to Lawton Rd several dozen motorcycles whizzed past. Mt Glorious Rd is one of THE roads to ride your road bike in the Brisbane area. With it's litterally hundreds of bends through the forest and several coffee shops along it's length it is a magnet for motorcyclists....and it was Sunday morning.

For me, the tough part of my ride was over. I rolled along the sealed road quickly. I stopped for a coffee and some eggs on toast which filled the hole I had created by climbing out of the forest. I was surprised to feel how cold it was when I emerged from the coffee shop and rugged up again with my bright yellow rain jacket. This would prove to be an important safety move.

Shortly after getting back on the road I was almost T-boned by a stupid woman in a people mover who was far too intent on getting into a parking place on my side of the road than looking to see if there was any oncoming traffic. "Sorry, didn't see you"!! I couldn't have been more visible in my "rescue yellow" rain jacket and suggested this to her. All I got was two fingers up from her though. So much for her being sorry she nearly ran me over and made my children fatherless. I almost pointed this out when I noticed a baby in the back seat of her car. How do you make these morons responsible for their action behind the wheel.

Anyway, I was buzzing with addrenaline and completely forgot to stop and take some photos of the 100 or so motorcycles that were lining the road outside the coffee shop at Mt Glorious!! I will have to come back on the R1 another sunday morning and soak up the atmosphere.

Turning on to South Boundary Rd I had the feeling that I was "almost home". Funny how this road is now becoming so familiar and comforting despite the 25km and 400m of climbing that still lay in front of me!

Rolling through Gap Creek I had the trails to myself, with no other riders around. On arrival back at the car I had covered 93km (58mi) with 3000m (10 000ft) of climbing for the weekend. My legs were feeling pretty well toasted as I had smashed it down Sth Boundary Rd.

Once I arrived home and checked in on Neil's ride on saturday I was glad I had not added Harding's Paddock and Flinder's Plum to my ride as they covered 50km (31mi) and also did about 1600m climbing. However, with some good rest pre-ride, maybe I could cobble together a route which takes in both of these areas......

As a test of my bikepacking gear the ride had been a success. I had packed about the right amount of food and clothing. The bike handled well enough being loaded up as well. I do need to come up with a better option for water when out in the bush. Carrying sufficient supplies is hard work. A Steri Pen to sterilise water from the various creeks I happened across looks like a "must have" and trying to build some sort of gps trail that I can load into my gps to help speed up navigation also needs looking into.

All in all, I was very pleased with how the weekend panned out and I can't wait to get out there again!


Thursday, June 14, 2012

How It Is Panning Out

Well the Tour Divide race is almost one week old now. The leaders have covered 1019mi/1630km in the last six days and god knows how much climbing (as I type this at 20:30 Brisbane time). Very impressive stuff considering that they are only averaging about 4 hours sleep per night to cover those sort of miles.

I arrived home this morning from a "red eye" flight and thought I would carry out a small experiment to get a feel for what they might be going through.

To this end I saddled up at 6am, after being awake all night and rolled out for a road ride. Initial impressions were that the legs felt strong. This was to be expected as I hadn't ridden since last friday morning, so the rest week did the legs good.

The slightly unexpected thing was how uncoordinated and unbalanced I felt. Things that normally need zero thought to execute were difficult. My pedalling technique, while never a thing of beauty, was non existant. My legs flailed around, resembling a wonky eggbeater, as I tried to dodge potholes in the road, and saw me pretty much maxed out in a cognitive sense.

This had me thinking (when the road was flat and straight) how tough it must be for the racers who have been doing this for six days, on mountain roads, slogging through snow, rain and cold. To average 200mi/360km per day, every day so far is way beyond my comprehension. And they have another 2 weeks to go!

The current leaders are Ollie Whalley from Christchurch, New Zealand and Craig Stappler from Alberta, Canada. Here they are crossing Richmond peak in Montana earlier in the week. One slip in their bike shoes on that snow and it is a looong slide down the mountain side!

Photo by Casey Greene,

Photo by Casey Greene,
Photo by Casey Greene,
Photo by Russ Kipp,

                                                             Yes. They are all still smiling.

Despite the adversity of the past week they are still enjoying themselves. That is what the Tour Divide is about. Pushing yourself to find out what you are capable of, yet enjoying the experience as it unfolds
Photo by Russ Kipp,

After my little sleep deprivation experiment, I can safely say that these riders are as hard as nails to keep that sort of pace up, while at the same time feeding themselves and wrenching on their rides to keep them mobile.

Here is the link to the LeaderBoard and where they are now.

On another note, but sticking with the "How is it Panning Out?" theme, I got to take the R1 for a spin to work last week.

After bagging my brother for his battery issues as seen on this ride of his, sure enough Murphy's law kicked in and saw me with a flat battery! Not totally unexpected when I only ride the bike every few months and the previous owner rode it even less. A mate came to the rescue with his new "all singing, all dancing" CTEK battery charger. Hooking this smart charger up for the week saw it recondition the battery as well as keep it topped up once the charge was complete. One of these is definitely on the shopping list as I will certainly have more battery issues in the future.

Anyway, this meant that I could ride to work for the classroom duty that I was assigned. I took a quick snap and a video with the smart phone to prove that it did get out for some sun. Not the best audio on that video, but what can you do?

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Furry Friends

I thought I might post up some photos of one of the many furry friends that are regular visitors here at A.V.F.A. HQ.

We have become so accustomed to seeing them that we pay them little attention but yesterday afternoon this little Red Necked Wallaby seemed a bit less skittish than the other regulars, so I grabbed the camera. She seemed almost happy to stand around in front of the man cave and pose for me. A typical female?!

Talking to a visiting Magpie?

 While not much of a green thumb, I love the Bougainvillia plants for their massive show of colour almost year round. I don't like their massive thorns quite as much. Especially when I am mowing the lawn. She had stopped here for a good scratch. Unfortunately due to the low light I couldn't get a clear shot of it, but suffice to say it was funny to watch her scratch her pouch.

Then it was time to head off and see if the neighbour's lawn was as sweet and tasty as ours.

We also get Koalas in the trees. We can hear them grunting quite loudly during the quiet of night, but we are yet to actually see one in the backyard. The neighbours have seen them transiting the yard though.

While many Aussie cliches' abound (ha!), not everyone down here has kangaroos hopping through their yards. Actually, very few at all in an urban setting. We are lucky in that we back onto the bush (forest) and the majority of residents in our street do not have fences around their yards. This allows the free movement of wildlife and adds to the serenity that we enjoy....and that I perhaps take for granted at times.

Friday, June 8, 2012

The Tour Divide

Tomorrow morning (Banff time) will see the 2012 Tour Divide Grande Depart from Banff Springs Resort.

"In the parking lot behind the Banff Spring Hotel, begin riding south on the Spray River Trail". This simple instruction begins the 2745mi/4418km route that will take even the fastest riders about 17 days to complete. Mere mortals are looking at about 30 days. The unprepared or unlucky will not make it at all. Tough doesn't even begin to describe this race!

For more detail see this post of mine about last years Grande Depart. The essentials have not changed, just a new bunch of riders taking on the challenge.

Speaking of challenge, as if the distance and climbing weren't enough, last years male and female winners are racing this year on a tandem mountain bike! Yes, they are the moment. Kurt Refsnider's blog is called Kurt's Going Nuts but I think he could now change that to Kurt's Gone Nuts!? I wish them the best of luck though.

You can follow the rider progress through the Leaderboard on the Tour Divide website as most racers carry Spot Trackers for safety.

The yellow pins are riders on an Individual Time Trial (ITT) and they departed whenever suited them best. The Blue and the Pink pins are the male and female racers who are starting in the Grande Depart tomorrow morning. You can see the pins converging from all over the US on Banff. Though, some racers are starting at Antelope Wells on the Mexican border in New Mexico. Their hope is that the snow will have melted more in the north by the time they arrive in 3 weeks.....but they will have to skirt massive wildfires raging in northern New Mexico first......fuuuun stuff!

I will be watching, transfixed, for the next 3 weeks I guess. There is something about this challenge. The thought of riding through bear and cougar country is frightening when you come from a country where nothing much can eat you alive (on land anyway-lets not mention the Noahs Arks). I am sure I can get my head around this before next June though. I hope.....

Bring on the racing!!

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Foundation Day Fun

It wasn't too hard to drag myself off to work on Sunday morning. It had been raining heavily here in Brisbane since early Friday and I was over it. Heading for sunny Darwin the first day, then Perth the next, I eagerly packed the boardies and bike shorts!

Darwin was a pleasant 30C/86F so after hitting an exercise bike for a while, I sauntered down to the pool to enjoy a cold beverage in the company of several lovely young ladies who otherwise wouldn't be seen dead hanging out with a wrinkled old fart. Oh, and I was getting paid to do it.....

An early start the next morning saw us with a three hour fifty minute flight down to the next city along the coast, Perth.

I was particularly interested in this leg of the trip as it traverses the Kimberley region of Australia. I spent four years here in my early twenties flying small aircraft around the desert to build my flying experience. It included, but wasn't limited to, flying tourists over the ancient landforms, flying local Aboriginals between communities, frozen foods to these communities, deceased persons to the Coroner for autopsies, SES workers on desert rescue missions and the odd bit of showing off to nurses ;-). We literally "lived" our jobs and earned below the minimum wage, but we all focused on the goal of building flight time so that we could move back to civilisation.

Looking at the countryside bathed in the contrasts of the early morning light from 38 000ft gave a different perspective. While individual Spinifex plants were not visible, the surreal patterns of this ancient sea bed were laid out below us like a giant mosaic.

Just north east of Fitzroy Crossing were these massive folds of rock. The western end of the Gibb River Road crosses the picture right to left at the top of the photo, although it isn't visible here.

Not a bad view as we sipped on some tea.

As we moved over the Pilbera the topography flattened out into massive lines of sand dunes that run as far as the eye can see. The bare, red sand is evidence of bushfires that have raged across the dunes since last wet season. After the next wet there will be slashes of vibrant green to replace the red.

And mines. This is the region that is driving Australia's economy at the moment and there are mines literally everywhere. We went past this little one just north east of Meekatharra. Remember we are about 37 000 ft/11 200m above this mine. Using the 1500m/5000ft runway for scale, that is still one deep pit and a massive tailings heap.

We were soon in Perth and discovered it was a public holiday. Something about Foundation Day. Must be the day you get off work to check the footings on your house or sumfin'. Either way, the roads were quiet and the parks busy.

Quickly changing into riding clobber I jumped on the free Red Cat bus and people-watched my way down to About Bike Hire to pick up a well wrenched hybrid.

I am not on the payroll there...yet...honest...but they do have bikes in great condition and are always smiling. Give them a try if you are in town.

The usual anti-clockwise loop around the Swan River was the plan for today as I like to try to ride the sea breeze on the way home. The public holiday made itself felt with a lot of traffic on the bike path. Obviously a lot of roadies were taking the opportunity to get a solid ride in.

My first stop was at a park in Dalkeith to have a look at a WWII vintage 25 pounder field gun. I always blast right past this park, but today, with all afternoon to kill I was going to stop and smell the roses...or cordite.

From here I stayed on the bike until arriving in Fremantle. So much for stopping to smell the roses but in my defence, all of the nice little bays along the river were exposed to the wind and were not the pleasant places to loiter that they usually are. Plus, I was hungry so Freo Subway in minimum time was the goal.

A 6" sub in my bag and then it was time for a roll around the little back streets of Fremantle. This place was typical of many of Australia's dockside suburbs in the 1980s. Rough, run down and not much going for it. That was until some blokes won a yacht race over in the US of A. In fact, it was the first time in 132 years that anyone had wrested the Cup off this group of rule changing cheats. And better still, it was a bunch of country bumpkins from Down Under that did it. I was just a teenager at the time but remember the massive pride that the nation felt in this achievement. In hindsight our national inferiority complex was on display for all to see. Even the Prime Minister of the day got into the spirit with his famous quote, "Any boss who sacks anyone for not turning up today is a bum".

As the winner of the cup, the Royal Perth Yacht Club was to play host to the next challenge for the cup, due in 1987. With Fremantle resembling a ghetto, much money was poured into it's restoration lest the rest of the first world confirm that we were a bunch of bumpkins.

Well, we lost the cup on that first defence, but we won a revitalised Fremantle that is an absolute pleasure must to visit.

Not forgetting, it is still the port of Perth and as such sees plenty of shipping. I don't know much about boats, but there are some bigass ones docked here.

Unloading all sorts of stuff, like bigass concrete pumpers...The Putzmeister...?

Cruising along looking for a likely spot to sit and eat my Sub I spotted this trailer boat that obviously hasn't seen any use in a while.

Looking closer, he almost has a coral reef on there! Yes, there is a propeller under that growth, somewhere.

While inhaling my Sub in a local park I watched a dad teaching his little girl how to ride. She wobbled and he caught her several times. I was thinking how nice it was to watch. But something just wasn't right.....then I saw the problem. It was one of those cheap, Chinese built, $50 K-Mart bikes that buyers assemble themselves. This budding bike mechanic had the forks around backwards so that the front brake was behind the steerer tube, under the frame and the poor little girl was battling a super-steep steering angle! No wonder she was wobbling. That ride would have been super twitchy. Unfortunately, no photos as I didn't want to look like a creepy vagrant layabout (which I did resemble).

Backyard art, Perth style.

The easterly breeze that made the bays unpleasant to sit by on the way down to Fremantle was now making the ride decidedly hard work on the way home. With a sit up and beg ride position and flat pedals it was hard work.

That was until a couple of lycra clad roadies came past. I tacked on the back and let them drag me all the way back to the Narrows Bridge.

Continuing upstream past the usual river crossing I cruised past Burswood Casino where hundreds of people were enjoying a BBQ on the foreshore.

Around to East Perth via the Graham Farmer Bridge and  past the old Power Station, which is being slowly turned into apartments, I was soon among a pleasant little cluster of houses set around a small river inlet.

Coffee was calling here, but I resisted the call and put it on hold until another day. I definitely want to come back through here again.

Soft pedalling back to the hire shed from here for a gentle cool down was a very pleasant end to my ride.
All up it was an easy 62km/39mi and you can add to or subtract from this if you have the time, all the while with the Swan as the back drop.
 It certainly makes the Brisbane River cycling options look pretty poor in comparison.