Thursday, December 31, 2015

One Last Ride To See Out 2015

I had the day off work today so thought I had better put it to good use. No, I didn't mow the lawn. No, I didn't fix one of the two retaining walls that are falling down............Yep, you guessed it, I went for a ride!

I decided that after the year that I have had it needed to be a mini Epic ride and it needed to be on the mighty Muru BNT, the bike that hauled my sorry arse down the length of the US of A with such aplomb.

My go-to ride for something of greater length is to head just a few short kilometres (metric miles) out the back of the city of Brisbane. We are blessed in that the D'Aguilar Forest starts pretty much at Mt Cootha and extends upwards and outwards, covering a huge expanse of land that is riddled with fire roads that make for challenging and fun riding. It was my Tour Divide training ground and served me well, so I decided to start up South Boundary Road out of Gap Creek.

I was running a little behind schedule as I just couldn't get out the door but I managed to get my bum on the seat by 5:42am. I ambled along the bike way toward Gap Creek on the partially loaded Muru. Dozens of roadies whizzed past going the other way. It felt like a Sunday, not a Wednesday.

I was soon in Gap Creek and to the Echidna trail so that I could say that I had done at least one single track. What I noticed while riding Echidna was how much effort the Muru required to get it around the bends and over the step ups. I was already realising that I was really strong earlier this year due to all the Tour Divide training. Now, not so much. I keep despairing at the 12kg (26lb) that I have put on since finishing the Tour Divide in early July. 

I REALLY need a goal to train for next year. Badly...

Anyway, once out of the single track the trail goes up. And up. 1200m(3900ft) over 25km(15mi). This may not look too bad but the climbs are mostly steep pinches which test one's legs at times. 

I always enjoy the last few kilometres to the top as the forest changes from the standard dry Aussie bush to sub tropical rain forest. As I rode into the rainforest today I spied another rider coming the other way. It turned out to be Rients, another Muru BNT owning Brisbanite whom I have been speaking to about all things bike packing for about 18 months now. This was the first time we had actually met and how appropriate that it was on Sth Boundary Rd.

After a short chat Rients rolled on down the hill and I finished up my climb along the Boombana walking trail. Yes, it is a walking trail but I will not ride on the busy, winding main road just above it as I see it as just too dangerous. Every dickhead on a sports bike or sports car are testing their (mostly narrow) limits on the narrow road. No, I will take the verbal abuse about being on the trail from old ladies any day. Plus, it's right purty!

I rolled through Mt Nebo, too early for the shops to be open but it didn't matter. I had all the food and water I would need until I reached Fernvale as the climbing was mostly done now. 

Up and over Hammermeister Rd kept me off the main road for longer and in no time I was at Dundas Rd, the fire road that heads west (and down!) through D'Aguilar Forest.

I saw a couple of dirt bikes near the water tank on Dundas Rd but they were heading down another trail so were no bother. I was soon dropping down "Whoa Boy". This is a very steep section of trail that drops 370m(1213ft) in 3km(1.8mi). Needless to say, the brakes got a great work out down here as the 5000km old front tyre was struggling to do much gripping of the trail!

Rather than drop through the "hippy camp" at the bottom, I wanted to stick to legal trail today and for the first time took the Corbould Pocket trail. It proved to be a mostly pleasant trail...well, apart from the Wall Of Dirt climb. That was a seriously steep push but was over in a few hundred metres.

The ride out to Banks Creek Road was quite steeply downhill and very rutted which necessitated some judicious bouts of hoofing it as well. How embarrassing!

Banks Creek Rd was the usual pleasnat roll. Crossing the Brisbane river I saw many families splashing around in the shallow water. I must say, it did look like an extremely good idea.

I was soon in Fernvale and headed straight into the bakery. No pie for the fat boy today though. A tasty chicken and salad roll washed down with a coffee fit the bill. 

Then it was off down the (unopened) rail trail toward Ipswich. I had ridden this section a few years ago with Deano but it still wasn't officially open and I was worried about what sort of state the surface might be in after 3 years inattention.

A few kilometres down the trail though and I bumped into Peter, the BVRT Ranger! We had a good half hour chat about all things rail-trail and he said I would be fine to ride the closed section. There was one locked section but to just throw my bike over the fence and get on with it.(this section is only closed due to bureaucratic inaction, not any real safety issue) 

So, I did. The trail was very "green" in that there was much grass on it, though, it was slashed and there was quite a bit of loose ballast stone on it. This gave me a bit of a pounding on the rigid Muru but was far better than riding on the roads, even if they were quiet. 

The many gates are mostly locked in the open position which speed things greatly. As I got closer to "the 'swich" the trail "art" became very prolific and sometimes pointed.

I eventually rolled into Ipswich and found the train station but not before crossing a very steep creek snake watering hole.

I was feeling a little worse for wear but I was very happy that all of my contact points were fine after 6 hours in the saddle. 

I have heard stories that many of the Tour Divide racers from this year are still suffering various ailments that limit their riding or enjoyment. I have sort of beat myself  up a bit these past few months, thinking that I could have gone a day or two faster if I had pushed myself a little harder during the race. 
Now, I am not so sure. I have no lasting ill effects (unless you count weight gain) and I am not sure I would be able to say that if I had pushed myself harder....

This ride proved to be a very satisfying way of rounding out what was an amazing year for me. 
2015 started with a huge goal. To train for the Tour Divide and to this end I put my head down and trained hard. It must have been serious as I even abstained from alcohol for the first 7 months of the year and I must admit, I never felt better for it!

Regular readers were no doubt bored with all of the TD related posts but my blog gave me a place to gather my thoughts and lay out a dairy of what I did and when. So thanks for bearing with me on that front. I have been a bit bereft of ideas since then. Well, that isn't strictly correct. Nothing much seems worth blogging about after such a mind blowing year!

My stats for the year were 9,193km (5712mi) ridden with about 133 000m (436 000ft) of climbing. That doesn't count the many hours I sat on a crappy hotel gym bike while away on overnights with work.

So, readers, in the never ending hunt for content (and reigning in my expanding girth) I will be setting a goal for early next year that will give me the structure and thus drive that I seem to have been lacking these last 5 months. Watch this space.....

Happy New Year and see you in 2016!

Cheers and thanks for reading.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Still Alive And Kicking

I have been a bit quiet lately and thought I had better say something lest you all think I have lost interest.

I have been pottering away going on the occasional mountain bike ride, 

helping out with trail building,

 riding with the kids,

even riding the motorcycle,

 but working way too much.

I have to pay a bike and a trip to the US off, don'tcha know!

I've even done some trail running while away on overnights. Rock hopping our way along Cataract Gorge in Tasmania on one recent occasion.

The kids have even tried a bit of trail running for something different.

Yep, keeping busy and moving along. But maybe I need a focus again...?


Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Tour Divide - Day 21 - The Finish

I had gone to sleep at about 9pm but was now awake at 10pm. It was hot in the room which made it hard to sleep but I was also ravenously hungry. I got up to eat most of what I had bought earlier this afternoon and began to worry that I might have done myself some damage in the Gila with my lack of nutrition. My body had to get the calories from somewhere and that somewhere seemed to be my muscles.

After eating everything I tried to go back to sleep but only managed a fitful sleep. It wasn't because of any excitement at finishing the race tomorrow, more because the room was bloody hot. When my alarm went off at 1:30am I felt wrecked, so reset it for 2:30am and went back to sleep. But I still didn't sleep very well and got up at about 2am. If I couldn't sleep I may as well ride.

I packed up my gear and left the hot house hotel. Pedalling back a quarter mile to get on the route where I turned off to get to Gila Hike and Bike I then followed the main 90 which the route leaves town on.....until I came to a "bridge out" sign. What?! I then had to ride right past the front of the hotel I had left 5 minutes earlier and find my way through the back streets of Silver City and back onto the 90, cutting out the closed bridge.

As I left town I still had cell service and my phone pinged away. Who would be messaging me at this hour? Checking it and I could see that at least one person back home had noticed my blue dot moving again. Mr Ride Mechanic, creator and purveyor of awesome lubes and balms was giving me some cheers about making 20 days instead of the 23 I had targeted. But I still had  200km to go. Alice had said yesterday that Dave and I would "fly" on our geared bikes to the finish as it was downhill then flat for most of the way to Antellope Wells. I had noticed on Trackleaders that Dave and Alice hadn't stayed in Silver City last night but had gone on to a little RV park about 25km out of town towards Antellope Wells. The park isn't even marked on the ACA maps and again demonstrated how route knowledge gave a rider the upper hand. I suspected that they would have been up early to beat the heat as well and yesterday would be the last I saw of them.

The road had been a bit up and down so far this morning but being dark you can't see how high the climb is and the downhills seemed to go on forever. I eventually came to the left turn off the sealed road at the little locality of White Signal and started on the penultimate section of dirt for the divide. I had a nice breeze at my back and it was still trending downhill so I was ripping along at around 30km/h for quite a while and hitting 45km/h at times. The road dropped 500m over the next 55km to Separ, on the Interstate and as Alice had said, I made great time.

There was a full moon out and I tried a few times to get a photo but to little avail.

The sun was starting to approach the eastern horizon and apart from myself, the desert seemed deathly still.

Almost there!

I had been able to see the hazard lights blinking on a large radio antenna at Separ for quite a while now and finally I could see the few buildings around this truck stop in the morning light. But, I had some loose sand and sandy washboarding to give me some final grief before I was done with the dirt of the divide.

I just had to cross over a railway line, then under Interstate 10 and I was in Separ.

I had been riding for 4 hours now and had decided that if the diner was open I was treating myself to a cooked breakfast but alas, it was still too early and the shop was closed.

I turned east, along the service road that ran parallel to the Interstate. This was partly sealed and partly dirt, so this WAS the last dirt that I would ride on the Divide. Was I sad? HELL NO! I was so over energy sapping dirt, hills and headwinds that I would have almost hitched a ride if someone had offered!

But thankfully no one did because it would have spoiled my ride. The 12km along the service road was done with the wind at my back. There was a constant stream of cars but mainly trucks along the Interstate and as I pedalled along, one of the trucks hooted me a few times. Another blue dot watcher?

The final run to the border came into view. I stopped for a moment to take a photo of that sign.

65 miles.

 105 kilometres.

 Then I would be done. I had to ride to those hills in the faar distance...then ride about that far again past them.........

The wind was pretty much all crosswind now and I hoped that was as far around as it would go. Hoping for a tailwind would be too much to ask for and I didn't want to anger the Divide gods in my weakened state.

I began pedalling for the final stretch, not in a sprint but finally with the knowledge of what that last 65 miles would take out of me. It doesn't seem much after what I had covered but it was definitely not to be sneezed at.

While it was still cool I was enjoying the ride and taking photos but I knew when the heat kicked in I would have to just zone out and not think about anything at all. As I had done in The Basin, on Bannack Road, on the Sheep Creek Divide, on the road to Del Norte.  Not thinking about the aches and pains, not think about the hills or headwinds, not thinking about the distance to go, to just zone out and pedal, getting the job done without thought or emotion would be the only way I could manage to go on........

Twenty miles along I came to the very last town on route, Hachita. Town is a very kind term for what looked like a derelict and deserted outpost of yesteryear. Everything had that closed down look and had been that way for some time.

I had to make a left, then a few hundred metres further on, a right. The last navigation task on The Divide.

Leaving Hachita a brown Volvo rolled up next to me. It's driver said "hi" and asked who I was. I told him and he told me his name, which I can't remember, and that he was a blue dot watcher and I "was doing awesome". I wasn't feeling very awesome this morning but it made me feel a little better all the same. He wished me well and then turned around and I was on my own. I put my ear buds in and listened to some music for a while. I was sick of my play list so played some of the kids "poppy" albums.

A short time later I heard a loud tearing roar. I ripped an ear bud out to hear the unmistakable roar of a fighter jet and then saw two F16s roar past me, at low level heading east. Awesome. Top cover! They would fly back and forth twice more before I reached the border. I was also noticing the big green and white border patrol cars now. Some were roaring past while other sat menacingly by the side of the road. I didn't take any photos as I know how touchy these security types can be about that sort of thing.

Another car approached from the direction of the border. This one had 2 bikes on the roof and when it stopped next to me Alice hung out of the rear window, a huuge smile on her face and said "hi". Dave was also wedged into the back seat of the small car and I was pleased to see them both. They had finished a few hours ago at just under the 20 day mark. We chatted for a bit and they said they had seen the Kiwis at the border, so Greg and Evan were done as well. They offered me some water but I had heaps so I politely declined. Wishing each other the best, we parted ways.

It was getting hot now, the road had been gently but steadily climbing and each time it turned to a westerly heading I had to endure headwind. This was getting OLD!

I thought Mile 13 some sort of omen.

My family had flown in from Australia a couple of days ago and were my extraction plan as there is absolutely nothing at Antelope Wells except for a border crossing. I wasn't sure where they were as I had virtually no cell service these last few days but they had not passed me and I was beginning to wonder if they would make it before I finished. 13 miles was probably less than an hour to go. Less than an hour? YEAH!

Then a black car roared past me and cut across right in front of me. WTF? To be taken out this close to the finish? Bloody idiots! I kept my line and rode past the car stopped on the side of the road when I noticed that it was the wife and kids....who had almost taken me out! (my wife later told me that she had burst into tears when she saw me and then couldn't see me!)

I just kept pedalling and they drove up next to me. I said I wasn't stopping and to just drive next to me like everyone else had that morning. It was good to see them and I was a little bit emotional and couldn't talk. This thing was almost done and they were here to see it. I choked back a few tears at the realisation I was going to do it, I was going to finish this impossible race....

 I could only wonder what they thought of the sight of me. (I was to learn that there had been a large group of blue dot watching friends back home and while they followed me along each day there was no way to know the hardships and privations I had suffered apart from the very infrequent updates I posted. I only spoke to my wife 2, maybe 3 times in the three weeks I was racing)

I told them to go on to the border and wait for me there.

It wasn't long to go now and at about 8km(5mi) out the road turned southeast and I had that tailwind again. I was hooking along at 30km/h now. What a way to finish!

One mile out and I was flying. Then this song came on, via shuffle, for the run to the line.

The small collection of buildings that is the Antelope Wells border crossing was in sight.

 Will came running out to meet me and gave me a high five. Lucy did the same.

Then, I was done.

After some hugs all round I downed a couple of ice cold chocolate milks then we took some photos.
Lucy held my bike for a minute and complained about how heavy it was while I made sure I had a finishing photo. I was not coming back to get another!

Seeing them in their clean clothes made me realise how rough I looked.

I went for a quick ride (as if I hadn't done enough) to try and find the old border crossing point for a photo there but it didn't look too friendly near the Border Patrol buildings and I retreated back to the main gate. 
Coming back out I remembered to look at the time on my GPS. It said 11:23am. 
I had finished 3 or 4 minutes before that so my time was 20 days, 3 hours and 20 minutes. My Spot tracker checked in at 11:26am, so the Trackleaders website has that as my finish time.
20 days, 3 hours and 26 minutes. 
I'll take that!

The elation of finishing was starting to be overtaken by the fatigue I had been carrying for days or even perhaps weeks now. I needed to sit down but there was nowhere to sit. I had to fit my bike into a car full of luggage before I sat down, in case I couldn't get back up. I took the seat bag and handle bar harness off plus both wheels and just managed to squeeze it all in the rental car.

We drove off, back toward Silver City, where I planned on having my bike shipped home and getting myself started on the road to recovery.

What a journey!

Cheers and thanks for coming along with me.