Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Shippies Arms

Tucked away in the back streets of Battery Point, Hobart is a great little pub with a lot of history.

The Shipwright's Arms has been serving cool refreshments to the local population since about 1846, which is a long time by Australian standards.

Since the inception of the Sydney to Hobart yacht race, the Shippies has cemented it's place as the drinking hole of choice for thirsty sailors. It's interior walls are plastered with photographs, trinkets and "thank yous" from the crew of many ships. These range from sailing types through to warships from many navies around the world.

I was sailing the skies these last few days and while walking around Battery Point to "smell the roses" decided to pop in for a cool refreshment as it was in the low 20s Celsius, which is getting warm for Hobart.

Not wanting to look like some plagiarist stalker, I didn't take any photos of the cool stuff on the walls. You will have to slip in for a bevy and have a look for yourself.

The area around the hotel is one of the earliest colonial establishments in Terra Australis. Basically, after the British discovered Terra Australis and came up with the bright idea to dump her undesirables here, Sydney and Hobart were the first colonies to be populated. The main reason Van Dieman's Land (Tasmania) was populated was because it was so remote and desolate. It was literally at the arse end of the Earth. Next stop, Antarctica! The worst of the worst convicts were sent to nearby Port Arthur.

Thanks to some historical preservation we now have a picturesque area that is like a window into the past. The old houses, shops and pubs of the area draw tourists from all over just to enjoy the long summer evenings over a pint or two.

I laughed that they had to point out that he was "a famous Hollywood actor". Surely, even the clueless, self absorbed youth of today would know who Errol Flynn was....? 

If you have the opportunity to visit Hobart I highly recommend a stroll around Battery Point and the adjoining Salamanca Place. These suburbs are definitely best enjoyed on foot as they cover a relatively small area.

And after all, what better way to work up a thirst?

If you can get your arse down there, just do it!


* I have no association with the Shippies. It is just a great place for a drink or meal.

Monday, November 26, 2012

R is for Riding

And the 1? It might be for the number of times I get to ride it per year! Well, almost.

I actually managed to up the ride percentages for the year today. After a quick mountain bike ride early this morning, I came home to pat the kids on the head before shipping them off to school. I then sat down to a coffee and nutted out a ride route.

I had been thinking about a lap of the dams. That is, out to Fernvale-Esk-Kilkoy-Mt Mee and back but the prospect of doing Fernvale-Esk so soon after last weekend wasn't overly appealing. Neither was filtering my way through Brisbane from the north side.

I have been avoiding the Gold Coast hinterland due to constant whispers that the Police have a heavy handed presence when dealing with motorcyclists. I guess they want to keep them off the Advancetown road. It is a very sweet piece of and I am sure plenty of wanna-be racers have wiped themselves out on it over the years. But, it is a Monday. It is a bit showery looking, so not a very inviting day for riding. Perfect!

View Larger Map

 I must say, after gearing up it was nice to thumb the starter button and have the engine turn over at a rapid rate before bursting into life. The new battery seems to be doing the job.

The other nice thing I noticed was that it finally felt natural to sit on the bike. The controls fell readily to hand, my throttle control was pretty good and it felt normal to tip it into the first few corners. As I have mentioned before, I was slightly afraid that after 7 years off the road bikes I may have fried the brain cell that was responsible for co-ordinated riding but it seems he was just slacking off, possibly watching the cricket while downing a tinny or two.

Getting the boring bit out of the way didn't take long at all. I took it easy along the Advancetown road to get my eye in and to just have a recce of the place. I hadn't been along here for a few years and while the road surface was a bit choppier than I remember it still had the wide surface with the fun, tightening 40km/h (25mph) bends that can catch the unwary out. But I was fine because I am very wary these days.

Moving along through Natural Bridge I noticed that the cafe' was closed, but that could just be because it was a Monday morning. I was soon at the border crossing into New South Wales. The old tick gate is there but these days the surveillance is done by fixed cameras. Human contact has gone. I guess if you break the law they just send you a fine at their convenience.

Across the border the road deteriorated into a bumpy goat track. Pretty much what you expect when you ride in NSW these days. But it was still fun.

At Chillingham I turned right onto the Tyalgum Rd. This was new territory for me. I am pretty sure I have never ridden through Tyalgum before. It gets a good mention on the local motorcycle forums so I thought I had better see what all the hype was about!

The road into town was twisty, narrow and a bit bumpy. It was however, deserted. This made for a fun ride and the 13km to Tyalgum were dispatched quickly. A quick look around town and it was either the pub or a "mumsy" looking little coffee shop for morning tea. 

Can you guess which one I took?

Yep, too early for the pub and I was after a nice coffee.

Consulting Mr Thoeming's and Hemma's conglomeration over some raisin toast and a cuppa was very pleasant indeed, despite the rising humidity this morning.

I was still a bit undecided on the route (despite what I said above) and finally decided to head down to the Kyogle road and duck out to Uki for a look. This bit of road is another gem of northern NSW. Today the traffic was against me and I basically trickled along, stuck behind various trucks and cars for the ride out and back.

I made my way back through Murwillumbah and headed out the Chillingham road to retrace my path across the border. This is a very pleasant little ride, despite being stuck behind traffic most of the way. From Chillingham to the Springbrook turn off the roads were pleasantly deserted.

The short link across to the Springbrook road is very nice. Unfortunately it is signposted at 60km/h making it a very "watchful" section of the ride.

The Springbrook road itself is just how I remember it. No, it is even better! Many of the corners have been repaired and are now superb "hot mix" ashphalt, making them as smooth as a racetrack! 

Even though I was going downhill and I dislike downhill bends, I was having a ball again. Well, until I caught a conga line of cars. This time I just pulled over and waited for them to get away from me. Then as the next car that was coming along behind me appeared around a bend, I headed off again. Not perfect flow, but I was working with what I had and it was nice.

From Mudgeeraba it was onto the motorway for the trudge back home. I must say, I think this is the sort of sport bike riding that I can handle. About 4 or 5 hours of saddle time or 260km(163mi) interspersed with coffee and photo stops seemed to work well and stops my various bits from complaining too much.

So, two rides for the day. One motorised and one humanised(?). Perhaps the perfect balance? That should see me through the next few days at work. 

Now its time to put my personal bike washer to work.


Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Crashing Back To Earth

Hmmmm. After re-reading the end of my last post I thought some explanation of my grumpiness might be in order, if not quite an appology.


You see, dear follower, like the Rotorua shuttle ticket above, my holidays are now used up. Finito. Spent. No more.

Yes, it was back to the salt mines in the sky for me last week and I think it may have affected my cheerfulness somewhat.

After eating like a normal person, sleeping like a normal person and not living with one eye constantly on the minute hand of my watch for the last two months I am having trouble readjusting to the demands placed on the body through sitting all day in a pressurised metal tube, wondering if I can leave my seat for 30 seconds to take a whizz.

Add to this some truely ordinary food (nothing but the best food on aircraft and in airport terminals!) and my body is wondering what it ever did to me to deserve this! Don't get me wrong, I love my job, it is just that in almost twenty years of flying, this was the longest break I have ever had and I guess I wasn't really aware of what this lifestyle was doing to my body. Throw in a 215km mountain biking weekend on top of that and you get one sore and sorry excuse for a blogger!

I had a great weekend, learnt some valuable lessons and am looking forward to when I am used to feeling like crap all the time, just so I can't tell the difference.....

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Cheers and thanks for some of your time...

Monday, November 19, 2012

Brisbane Valley Rail Trail Revisited, Day 2

After a restless nights sleep I was awake just before the alarm went off at 5:20am. We were aiming for a 6am start to maximise our ride time in case of weather or mechanical delays.

While still overcast with the odd drop of rain and the constant rumble of thunder in the distance we were on the road at 6:15am and feeling fine. Feeling fine after staying in a pub? When you are the motor on your bike you need to tone it down, so despite staying in a pub we were all in bed by about 9pm. Yes, a bit sad really!

Rolling out of Esk the trail was damp but firm. The dry ground has simply sucked up all of the rain.

We made good time along here for a while. Until the first puncture. Where we lost about 20 minutes.

The scenery was very nice and the overnight rain had added to the vibrant green that is summer in South East Queensland.

We were into Coominya for an iced coffee and back on the road in no time at all.

Shortly after there was another mechanical. A chain ring bolt had decided to work it's way loose on one of the bikes, so another 20 minutes was spent sorting that out. At least the scenery was spectacular.

Crossing the rail bridge was the only way to go with a bit more water in the creek than yesterday. I really do hope they can save these bridges as they are awesome features.

One of the guys had a lie down in a puddle shortly after. I am bummed I didn't get a photo as it was a bloody funny sight as he went down still fully clipped in to his pedals. Being an ex pro triathlete we then ragged him about when he was going to do the run leg as he had done the swim and the bike....

A quick stop in Lowood to pump up a tyre and hit the autotellers(cashpoint/atm) and we were on the well groomed section to Fernvale and a date with the bakery.

But not before another mechanical of some description. Alan and I pressed on to Fernvale while Dean0 and Fitzy checked on the problem.

45km before breakfast? Yes please! We had a nice hunger built that was squashed by a hit of baked goods washed down with coffee. We were now ready to start the climbing leg of the ride up and over Mt Nebo in D'Aguilar national park.

With a thunderstorm passing across our track just ahead and another passing just behind us shortly after, we were having fantastic luck with the weather. The ride up Banks Creek Rd is always pleasant and today didn't disappoint.

Rolling through the shanty town we didn't see anyone and it wasn't long before we were pushing our bikes up "Whoa Boy" hill. This is a very steep section of trail that rises about 300m in a few kilometres and is definitely a push only section. Adding to our discomfort here was the total calm that was preceeding the storm that was catching up to us and the extremely high humidity. The photo doesn't really do it justice but we were as wet as you can be without actually being in a pool. Unpleasant yes, but it beats working!

At the top of Whoa Boy we took a little break and I watched the tops of the storm pass behind us, with the first blue sky we had seen all weekend breaking through. It was quickly gobbled up though.

From here we raced the rain across the hills to Mt Nebo cafe, making it just in time as "big 'ol rain" drops were beginning to smash down around us. 

Here we enjoyed more food and coffee as Mother Nature put on a massive light and sound show for us. At least it washed the mud off of the bikes.

With the rain finally catching us we donned out wet weather gear, packed the camera away and got all business like with our ride down South Boundary Rd. This is a fun descent as I have related before with the object being to try to hold as much speed through each dip to try to get over the top of the next climb with minimal effort. 

This was going well for me despite the fatigue in my legs. The others seemed to be keeping up, but at the intersection on Sth Boundary and Centre Rd I sensed a problem. As I waited nobody came along. Probably another mechanical. Well, it was getting late and I still had a lot of riding in front of me so I made the reluctant decision to press on alone. I sent Dean0 a text to let him know what I was doing, although my phone was drowned and I wasn't sure if he would get it. I reasoned that between the four of them they would be able to sort out whatever the problem was.

As I rolled out of Gap Creek onto Beilby rd I had a text from Dean saying that they were about 15 minutes behind me, which I was glad to hear.

I put my head down and made for home, still about 30km away. It is always a bit of a surreal feeling riding all day in the bush, then popping out onto a suburban street and having nice ashphalt and bike path to roll along. We are lucky to have bushland so close to our back doors.

After yet another iced coffee I was about 8km from home when the fat 'ol rain returned, forcing me to don the rain jacket again. Probably not a bad idea anyway as it was getting pretty dark and at least it was bright fluro yellow.
I could see from the gps that I was going to do about 142km(89mi) for the day. I was really keen to see 145km so began climbing into Wallum Froglet trail just to add a little extra to that total. Unfortunately the gps had had enough and promptly turned itself off after running for about 11 1/2 hours! So I reluctantly turned for home and had to settle for 142.2km for the day. Probably a good thing.....

This trip was intended to be a gear test, to inspire thoughts about what works and what doesn't and also to just tackle a tough ride.

The main thing I have got out of the weekend are that I can make pretty solid distances and the gear that I am carrying is practical AND RELIABLE. I must admit, I wasn't fully aware of how important this last point was. Bringing paper thin racing tyres inflated with 50psi  means flat tyres by the truck load. Not a sensible option when in the middle of nowhere. Also having a well maintained bike and a useful tool kit to fix it if it isn't, is a must.

So, while everything didn't go exactly to plan, I guess that is what these type of trips are about. Learning what mistakes not to make.

But hell, that was a great weekend on the bike! Bring on the next one.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Brisbane Valley Rail Trail Revisited, Day 1

I had a call last week from Dean inviting me to join him and a few mates on a scouting ride that he had planned out. The route was the BVRT from Ipswich to Esk, then back to Fernvale, up and over D'Aguilar National Park to Mt Nebo, then down to West End in the city. It sounded interestingly challenging.

We had done a similar route back in May but this time would start in Ipswich. There were two main goals for this ride. One was to test our sleeping set up before we venture further afield and the second was as a scouting ride for a larger group ride Dean is planning on posting up to a wider audience in the near future.

The forecast for the weekend was truly appalling. Violent thunderstorms, tornados and heavy rainfall was on the cards from Saturday afternoon onwards.....and the forecast didn't really disappoint!

We left from Ipswich at about 1pm Saturday in pressing humidity. This was about an hour or so after a massive thunderstorm passed through the area. We were wondering how the soil might handle the moisture but were confident after several months of dry weather that it would simply soak up whatever fell. This proved to be a pretty accurate assessment and emboldened our risk assessment confidence for the weekend.

The Ipswich to Fernvale section of the trail was new to all of us, apart from Dean who had been meticulous in his ride prep, with a scouting ride of this section on his own! Nice work Dean0. There were many, many locked gates along here that pretty much ruined the flow as we lifted our fully loaded bike packing rigs head high over and over again. This wasn't surprising as the trail is actually closed. Why, we couldn't tell, as it was in tip top condition. More protecting "ourselves from ourselves" by our over-regulating governments I guess. Anyway, we did our best not to burst into tears when we got a fleck or two of mud on our shins.....

Rolling into Fernvale we did what you do when one gets to Fernvale. We hit the bakery for some rats meat pies and icy cold drinks. As usual we were not disapointed with 100 different pies on offer. The few we sampled were top notch.

So far we had managed to dodge the weather. There had been massive, dark thunderstorms with continuous rolling thunder stalking us all afternoon, but they seemed to be drifting by on either side of us. We hoped this would continue for the countryside was beautiful in the sunlight.

Not far out of Fervale we stopped for our first mechanical, a flat tyre. This would be a regular occurrance on this ride for some reason. Having switched to tubeless tyres a few years ago, random flats are a thing of the past. About all I have to deal with now are the very rare massive sidewall blowout when you slice the tyre with a rock. I had forgotton how annoying (and slowing) flats are.

After several of these unplanned stops it became clear that we wouldn't make Esk before dark. Bummer! I had thought the distance to be a "piece of piss" and as such, left my AY-UPs safely at home. All I had was a pathetic little camping head light. Well, it got pressed into service and was actually fine at about 12-15km/h. The trouble was we were doing 20-25km/h! To say the last 30 minutes of riding into Esk was exciting is an understatement!

We rolled into town accompanied by much thunder and lightning, but remarkably still dry. Dean and I peeled off for the caravan park where we planned to camp, while the other three guys headed for their digs in the pub.

The caravan park owner kindly put us right down the back of the park in a shed that was leaning about 15 degrees to one side due to flood water giving it a bloody good nudge last year. Still, it seemed sturdy enough and would keep the approaching wall of water in the sky off of us. Not exactly the gear test we were planning, but you have to be adaptive with these things. After a quick shower to freshen up, we headed off to the pub for some grub.

At the pub we were talked into the "protein overload", more commonly known as the mixed grill. While we patiently waited for the food the power went off and on to the time of the lightning bolts outside. Each time it happened the publican would say "if it stays off you guys will have to leave". Without food? With nothing else in town open? Like hell!

Anyway, the power stayed attached long enough for us to be delivered a large plate with the whole farmyard on it. We quickly inhaled it before donning our rain gear for the trudge back to the campground.

On arrival at the campground we passed the owner who told us to move to higher ground as he wasn't sure how much water might come down the creek! It was clear from looking at our shed that the water DID in fact come up pretty high and we could well enjoy a "wet dream" during the night. After a bit of risk analysis we thought screw camping in this weather, rang the pub, booked a room, packed up and got out of there! The best laid plans.....

Sprawling out in an old Aussie pub room is usually pretty ordinary, but when the roof was trying to lift off the place at 1am I was pretty happy to be in a proper buiding!

The stats for the day were not massive. The 73km (46mi) and 570m (1900ft) of climbing did not accurately portray the effort that included lifting our bikes over what felt like 300 locked gates and moving along at an average speed of 17km/h.

What will tomorrow bring?

Friday, November 16, 2012

The Mighty Moerangi Track

One of the boys organised a full on shuttle drop so that we could ride the Moerangi Trail in the Whirinaki (pronounced Firinaki) Forest. Good lad, that Paul!

We were picked up at 8am by Lisa, an ex pro downhiller and former member of the New Zealand national BMX team, so we knew we were in great hands. The drive to the trail head took about er, an hour or maybe two. To be honest I wasn't paying much attention as the banter in the bus and Lisa's interjections made the time simply fly by.

Eventually we were in the middle of nowhere at the trail head and ripping our bikes off the snazzy bike trailer.

We were given a quick brief (brief brief?) on the 36km (23mi) trail. We were also given a mobile phone that would work from just a few select locations (read-helicopter pad on top of a big arse hill!) if we needed a rescue or a Nutella sandwich or something. Paul paid close attention to this brief and put the phone safely in his Camelbak.

Soon enough we were off into the wilds, not quite sure what we would experience. I was thinking that a 36km ride was barely justifiable distance-wise and that we should have been doing something a bit more worthy, but then again, I had not had a peruse of the elevation profile.....

We were soon riding along gorgeous single track through ancient forest and all thoughts of distance versus time and effort equations were banished from my mind. This place was effing beautiful!

There were nice flat sections, some sweet downhill sections and some brutal uphill bits. On one of these uphills the boys learnt the hard way not to tailgate too closely. One rider stopped because of the slope, then the next hit his back wheel, unclipped the wrong foot and went arse-over-tit about 8 feet down the hill side! The only saving grace was that the rider (lets call him "Paul") managed to snag a palm tree otherwise he would still be falling now! The following photo doesn't do the hillside justice. "Paul" is over 6 ft tall and you can just see the blue of his shirt on the left of a concerned Brett. 

Note to self, "Don't fall over edges here!"

Meandering along there were so many different sections of trail. Here I stopped to snap a waterfall on the other side of the creek. I was really getting into the "vibe" of the ride now.

This ride was all about taking in the amazing scenery and not just whizzing along some sweet single sweet as it was.....

We soon came to the first of three hiker's huts along the track. There were three guys on a maintenance detail cutting the grass here. that also explained why the trail was nicely groomed so far. Something that we would miss with the riding that lay ahead.

From here onward the trail was quite overgrown. You needed to be careful not to lose an eye to the ferns and random sticks poking out. Once these trail care crews get through the trail though, these hazards will be greatly reduced and the average speed of riders can safely increase. One thing we quickly realised on this trail was that it wasn't a balls-out bike park. We were in the middle of nowhere and if we hurt ourselves help was a long way off, so everyone rode pretty sensibly...considering it was a bunch of blokes on MTBs!

We had been following and crossing a creek the whole way so far. We slowly began to climb away from the creek, but continued to follow it. What I mean is that the trail was about a metre (yard) wide and the drop off into the creek was growing to over a hundred feet in places. Now THAT grabs your attention! It was all rideable and hey, it wasn't as bad as the several thousand foot drops of the Porcupine Rim Trail in Moab, but the end result would be the same if you screwed up and unclipped the wrong side!!

There were a lot of trees down across the track as the NZ Department of Conservation had built the trail, but like many other land managers worldwide, failed to see the need for regular maintenance. As I said before, this was now finally starting to happen and by the time anyone reading this wants to ride(or walk) the trail, it will be sweet.

The forest is just so lush and dense that you could almost imagine that great prehistoric dinosaurs might come crashing through the undergrowth to snack on sweaty, grubby little mountain bikers. As long as I was in the right gear at the time, they would get a run for their money!

We stopped lots. And lots. The guys were a bit fatigued from our Redwoods and W2K shenanigans, plus we just wanted to look at our surroundings. Did I mention they were effing beautiful? Oh yeah, I think I may have!

The lads stopped to fill their bottles from a bustling little stream while I took more photos.

Once we finally reached the top of the biggest climb we took a breather at one of the hill top helicopter landing pads. One of the ones the phone would work from. Instead of ordering in 16 large pizzas and a couple of slabs of beer like sensible blokes, we nibbled on our dwindling stock of museli bars and talked shit, excited that the trail was now about to point DOWN.

Indeed, it did go down. It went down at a very steep angle so that much of the fun descent was turned into brake dust while trying to stay on the trail and avoid a serious eye-gouge from a prehistoric palm. There we also lots of trees down across the track and in one spot, almost no track!

This slip had relegated us to walking the down bits as well! Personally, I was a bit disappointed with the descent as it was so knarly on a 120mm travel XC bike that it wasn't fun. Simon though, on the 150mm travel Specialised (a hire bike, so very fast!) was loving it! I guess once you get to know the trail it would be a quicker descent, but you need to keep the remoteness of this trail in the front of your mind.....

In the last few km the boys were starting to tire a bit. I made it a personal challenge to ride every climb and so rode away a bit. This gave me time to stop at turns for lots of photos with the new point and shoot camera. I bought a Canon S100 to replace my much loved IXUS 970IS that died in San Fran last month. It doesn't have some of the features that made the IXUS so indispensable, but it does have a lot more manual control so should be more flexible once I learn how to use it.

The last few km were a real hoot as the trail became more predictable. Simon had got his second wind on the Specialised rental and I had a ball trying to chase him out of the forest.

We finished the ride in a smidge over 5 hours and were looking to jump straight into the shuttle and head for Rotorua.

Only problem was the shuttle wasn't there. "They won't be long" we told each other. "We are paying for a service here" some grizzled. Which we were. And getting cold.

 When you are in a service related industry like ours, we have very low tolerance for poor service, especially within one's own business. Ask any airline employee who is the harshest critic of the company's service and you will no doubt be told, "The Pilots"(amongst other baseless, scurrulous lies).

The shuttle turned up about 45 minutes later and the guys honestly looked dismayed. They asked how long we had been waiting and the golden question, "Why didn't you call us from the chopper pad?" Yes Paul, why didn't we call them from the chopper pad?! Due to a misunderstanding with our telecommunications officer, we hadn't made the call in for our pick up! D'oh!!

We were loaded up in record time and the silence on the drive back to Rotorua was testament to the toughness of the ride. Everyone was flaked out, but someone had to stay awake and talk to Lisa ;)  The link to the shuttle company is here. We didn't get any discount and we have no association. They are just good people.

The Whirinaki Forest was one of the rides I missed out on doing last time I was in Rotorua, so I was extremely pleased to be able to finally ride this amazing trail. If you get the chance to visit the region make sure it is on your "must ride" list.