Sunday, September 22, 2013

Got My Mojo Back !

I haven't been feeling much love for trail building for the last few months. In fact, you could say I was over it big time.

Today, we had a regular planned repair day on the lower section of Wallum Froglet trail to fix some of the minor "blues" that we made before we had a solid understanding of trail building principles. That is not to say that anything was too sketchy or poorly built. Over time several sections would have deteriorated into ugly rutted puss.

So, we took responsibility for the mistakes that we made, manned up and got it done.

I must say it was actually nice to be on the business end of a mattock, shovel and rakehoe at various times this morning. The business end of a wheelbarrow....not so much!

Creating something out of nothing with a bunch of like minded mountain bikers is soothing for the soul. I really appreciated the fact that the guys who turned out this morning shared my vision for the trail and they did a fantastic job adding features to the trail that will be there long after I have parked my last mountain bike.

Massive thanks go to Geoff, Andrew, Kev and Aaron for your efforts today. May "Trail Karma" pay you back tenfold.

And me? I can hardly wait for the next trail care day now......


Monday, September 16, 2013

Getting Epic'd....2013 Style

Well, another Flight Centre Epic has been done and (very) dusted. Yes, about 2000 "nutters", to quote Robbie McEwen, rode around in the dust and heat out at Spicer's Old Hidden Vale this past weekend.

While there was a stellar line up of elite riders fighting for the win, for most it was a battle with just themselves. I must admit I have not been feeling much love for MTBing lately with too many competing interests like work and family getting in the way of any meaningful training. As a result I wasn't motivated enough to even bring a camera, so I apologise in advance if this post is a bit "wordy".

Having said that, I have done what I can, where I can. This has involved some running while on work overnights and longer rides when I found some time. I am not sure whether the running is a help or a liability though as it seems to pound my knees pretty hard. Better than nothing though when I don't have access to a bike....right?

Our weekend started on Saturday afternoon with the kids races. I had one entered in the 4km Mini Epic and one in the 11km Minor Epic. I figured that the youngest would be fine by himself doing the 4km race and I had probably better shadow "Miss 11" in the Minor as the track is pretty technical, even for some adults. Not helping her cause was the fact she had felt unwell all morning and suffered the indignity of hanging out of the back seat of the car, throwing up in the gutter in Rosewood at 11am!

But she was DETERMINED to race and race well. She even lined up in the blazing sun about 30 minutes before the race start just to get a good starting position! A big deal when you are a fair skinned ranga (red head for my US readers).

From the start she was going hard and I headed to the mid way point for the race as there was no way of getting through the traffic to catch these fast moving kids!

As the racers climbed out of "Gully" track she was the first female I saw. Unfortunately, her stomach was giving her a hard time and I tried to give some sage advice like "slow down, sip some water" and generally cheer her up. She had been going a bit too hard in the heat and seemed to recover a bit with this advice. But, did I mention she was DETERMINED? I have tried to ingrain in the kids that it is about having fun and enjoying the challenge but Lucy wanted to WIN, big time!!

She re-passed two girls on the big climb out of "Western Creek" and we had the eventual 2nd place finisher in sight for the remainder of the race (yes, we saw your dad running alongside you holding up his Camelbak for you to drink from) but were unable to up the pace enough to catch up.

Anyway, Lucy finished in 3rd place and considering how the day had started out, she was pretty happy with the outcome. Needless to say, I am proud of her efforts.

Mr 8, in the Mini Epic, managed to come in 7th position. He was a bit disappointed with his result but there were 40 kids in his race, so 7th is still very respectable.

As I was flying solo this weekend Sunday morning was blur of getting the kids up, dressed, fed and covered in sunscreen before getting myself ready to roll. This was both helped and hindered by the fact that we were camping at Hidden Vale.

Having done about five or six Epics now I wasn't worried about lining up for 30 or more minutes before the start. A few of us joined the "grid" just as the Elites were starting their race which meant we only need stand there for a few minutes before it was time to be off and to be honest, at my pace it doesn't make any difference!
File photo

My race strategy was to find an easy pace and drink lots. It was going to be hot and cramps were the enemy that will stop you in your tracks. Last year I upped the pace while the masses crawled the first real climb up Grinder and passed dozens of riders. This year, with the lack of training, I stayed in the conga line and spun easily. Keeping my heart rate right down would be the key to keeping the cramps at bay later in the day.

File photo.

The next major climb I stuck to the same strategy and granny geared it to the top before whooping down the steep rutted descent toward the little township of Mulgowie.

This section is open country road and the secret is to hop onto a pace line of riders to hide from the wind. If you find yourself all alone here you are going to hurt bad, which doesn't put you in a strong place for the 300m climb up McGarrigal Rd and back into the Hidden Vale property.

 I will admit I wasn't strong enough to take a turn on the front but figure it is all swings and roundabouts. So, I hid behind a string of faster riders.

Grovelling up that climb I chatted with Neil, one of the Daisy Hill regulars. He had a massive blister on his rear tyre and wasn't at all confident he would finish before it blew. He decided to press on up the climb, leaving me to keep thinking positively....on my own.

The next section of double track is always the same each year. It is hot, bumpy and gets very steep as it follows the ridge line of the range of hills. Nasty stuff. My easy pacing strategy was to swallow my pride and walk the really steep sections, thus saving my legs from some hurty spasms later in the day.

File photo from 2012 but the hurt is the same.

Finally we were into the sweet single track that Haydz had cut for last years race to remove some seriously ugly downhill sections. As soon as we were though, a female called track left (where there was no hill !) and pushed past. I had just walked past her up the previous hill and was thinking "where do you think you are going?" as there was another conga line of slow, walking riders (oxymoron?). After a few minutes and a few "rider up!" calls we were through the traffic and descending at speed.

We began talking as we rode, me following as the pace was perfect for my race. I discovered that she was up from Canberra and was racing the course "blind". Here was another swing and roundabout where I could help out a bit with some course information as she was running low on water. The plus for me was twofold. Having an awesome female call "track" and "2 riders" had guys pulling over and letting us through pretty well immediately! The second benefit was having someone to chat with, which made the time fly and before I knew it we were back at Hidden Vale resort.

I didn't catch her name, being old and deaf, but reading James Downing's blog it turns out it was his partner, Kylie Webb. Yes, the Kylie who won the 50km elite female race. Thanks for the fun 15km Kylie !

Rolling through said resort my bottle hand-up team were nowhere to be seen. Not surprising really as their average age was 9.5 years and there was a free swimming pool at hand! So I trundled across to our camp and grabbed a can of Coke from the esky, topped up my water laced with more Nuun tablets and munched some salty macadamia nuts. I had planned to lube my chain but in spite of the choking dust it was still performing flawlessly!  Ride Mechanic Bike Milk really is the schiz, keeping it well lubricated and shifting smoothly.

Mmmm ....Salty.........

Into the final 37km of the race, one might think that they were well past half way. Not so, with the "back 9" of this race being all single track or rocky fire road. Both are demanding of attention and energy. There really is nowhere to hide.

Maybe that is why I grovelled some parts of the course like "Yowie". The various parts of my body were competing for attention in the pain stakes so I adapted Naughty Boy's LaLa lyrics to suit my situation.

I'm covering my ears like a kid
'Cause your pain means nothing, I go la la la
I'm turning up the volume when you speak
'Cause if my heart can't stop it, I find a way to block it, I go
La la, la la la la la na na na na na

It wasn't until I started chatting with a guy about our rubbish  North Wave shoes and how uncomfortable they are while climbing "Grinder" for the second time that I felt like I was definitely going to finish this thing. For the proceeding 45 minutes I really just wanted to throw my bike into the scrub and sit down. Not a feeling I have had before in a race.......

At this last check point they were loading some poor bugger and his bike into a ute. He was cooked. I on the other hand was cooking down "Epic" trail for the third time today. Woo Hoo!

I had only had a twinge of cramp in my left thigh so far. It was time to empty the tank, backmarker-Fred-style! And an empty track went with my empty CamelBak and empty head, so it was almost as fun as following Kylie through on the previous lap!

I managed to roll across the line in *ahem*, 6 hours and 11 minutes.

Not stellar, but only about 15 minutes behind my best ever time, with no training. I was pleased that my first 50km time was sub 3 hour while keeping an easy, low heart rate pace. My nutrition intake remains way lower than it used to be with one banana, one gel, one protein bar, a handfull of salted macadamia nuts and about 5.5 litres of fluids consumed for the whole race.

Stats are as follows.

My motivation before the race was at an all time low. Now, a day later with the 20/20 vision of hindsight, I am quite pleased with how much I achieved based on how little I put into preparation. Apart from catching up with friends, the real highlight of the weekend for me was watching the kids have the best time being outdoors riding, swimming and having fun.

A massive thank you to Hayden and Fleur Brooks and their massive team of volunteers for putting together another flawless even. We will be back again next spite of the heat and dust.....!

Cheers and thanks for reading.

Touring Townsville II

The second day of my work trip dawned bright and clear. Got to love the dry season in the tropics.

I planned to walk along the waterfront, then loop around the western side of Castle Hill to find the Ironbark Trail that my knees have refused to take me down the previous day.

As I said in my previous post, Townsville has some interesting architecture. It was obviously an important town in Australia's early years as evidenced by the old stone buildings along the river and near what would have originally been the port.

The old post office is now a micro brewery that makes some delicious beers. If in town, I recommend you try the Ned's Red on for size.

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There are plenty of old buildings along the river. I imagine this would have been the main port back in the day.

How much do you like spiders? This on is about 15ft long!

Yes, we are on the Great Barrier Reef here.

Townsville was a major US and Australian base during WWII. There is a large section of park along The Strand with various dedications to those that made the ultimate sacrifice.

And Castle Hill watches over EVERYTHING!

For you fish and chips?

There were many artists setting up art works all along the beach and park lands. While I don't know anything about art, I know what I like and I liked quite a few of the pieces.

This old Ag cat is on floats and was in the Phantom movie back in 1996. You can go for joy rides over town these days.

The view across to Magnetic Island. Nice?!

And the reason for the vinegar? Yep, stingers. These little buggers will kill you.(remember Finding Nemo?)

Much safer to swim in the kiddies pool.

The floor boards must be bolted down in this house. Facing out to sea, I could imagine this place getting some "lift" with a category 5 Cyclone(Hurricane/Typhoon) bearing down upon it!

And finally, I was back around Castle Hill for the trail that I missed yesterday, The Ironbark.

I am glad I made the effort as it turned out to be a nice trail. THen it was time to drop down the face again and suit up for work again.

Stats for the morning are below. I am not sure about this hiking/running thing. It appears to be pretty hard on the knees.

But it gets you to some magic places when you don't have a bike!

Cheers and thanks for reading.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Touring Townsville

This week's work trip had me in the North Queensland city of  Townsville (or Brownsville as it is disparagingly called) for a few days. 

I knew I had a great opportunity to look around the heart of the city while on layover, so I thought I would make the most of my time in town by putting my new Garmin Forerunner 110 GPS watch to the test and doing my best, walk all of the trails on the feature that DOMINATES Townsville's skyline. 

Yep, it was to be a fun few days hiking up, down and around Castle Hill !

My initial plan to be up at the top of the hill for sunrise was scuppered by poor planning when I discovered that I had left my headlight at home. This proved a blessing in disguise, as I was bloody tired and enjoyed a sleep in until 7am instead.

Finally heading out I decided to scout around the southern side of the hill rather than taking the ubiquitous "Goat Track" that every man and his dog takes up the face of the hill. No, I would include the Goat Track later in the day. 

Leaving from the centre of town, outside the North QLD Cowboys rugby leauge club seemed somehow appropriate. I bet the players know the Castle Hill trails all too well !

There is some interesting architecture in Townsville and just a WARNING , this will be a photo heavy post.

Within just a minutes walk, Castle Hill dominates the skyline. It really is visible from pretty much anywhere in town. The structure on the right-side peak is a World War II observation point(pillbox).

I am soon off the streets and climbing the lower slopes to walk a track the follows an old pipeline around the contour of the hill.

I have seen snakes basking in the sun along this trail before, so I keep my eyes peeled for any that might be soaking up the early rays. 

Even from these lowly slopes the view across Townsville to the distant hills is pretty special.

I soon come to an intersection where the trail starts to really climb the hill.

I like the fact that the trail isn't too "tame". Around this side of the hill it is very basic natural rock steps and a scramble up the hillside.

And across the hillside.

Keeping with the spirit of my hike I drop down the Dianella Track to it's starting point in suburbia. Interestingly, it starts on the edge of an old cemetery. 

I also see that the mining boom that we have been riding here in Australia for the last 10 years is giving back in a small way to the peeps of

1276 steps it will be then ! At least until I get to the road that leads to the peak of Castle Hill. Then there will be countless more...!

The Dianella Trail is one of my favourites as it consists of rough, natural steps and huge slabs of granite where the only way to find the trail is to follow the arrows that are painted on the rock.

Even here, on a quiet midweek morning you will still pass the odd adventurous soul. Good to see it too.

Reaching the roadway you can look back and savour the view that your effort has delivered.

But, there is still hill above to attack. I decided, in my "attack all tracks" challenge to not head straight to the top but to drop down the Goat Track until the Cudtheringa intersection, then head for it's intersection with the road. Then I would start climbing again.

Back onto the access road I dropped down the first track (Erythrina) to the right. It didn't take long to reach the suburbs again where I turned around and climbed back up to the access road.

The view around the northern side of the hill takes in the airport and another cemetery. This one is located just off the end of the runway !

The hill also sees plenty of scrub fire action as evidenced by the many burnt off sections.

The next trail down the hillside that I came to was the West Ridge Track. I had not heard of this one before so dropped down it with great interest.

Withinn a few hundred metres it became even more interesting !

This 2-2.5metre(6-8ft) python was sunning itself across the track. I was trying to give it some scale and that is the shadow of my hand in the bottom of the photo. The snake was about as thick as my arm! He looked pretty doughy but I still gave him a wide berth !

I dropped down to the bottom of this trail, then climbed up again. Yes, giving the snake another wide berth as he was sitting there like he owned the place!

I passed another trail dropping off the side of the hill. This was the Ironbark Trail. My knees were crying enough by this stage and the trail looked pretty steep, so I decided to head up and over the hill for the hotel and some breakfast.

There was still a bit of climbing to go but the reward is the magnificent view. From the very top you are looking across Magnetic Island and out toward the Great Barrier Reef.

Here is the panorama from one of the main lookouts.

The walk down the Goat Track was done gingerly as my knees were really screaming "enough". It felt soo good to sit down to some eggs on toast and coffee while I cooled down.

Suiting up, I was off to work, but ending up in Townsville again later that night I had a plan for tomorrow. It was to contrast the brown with the blue to the east.

If you have made it this far down the page, well done! Phew! Don't be afraid but this post is "to be continued"......