Sunday, May 31, 2015

Honing And Last Minute Stressing

As I sit and type this I have 8 days until I fly out for the US, then Banff for the 2015 Tour Divide race. 12 days until the race itself starts.

My last post detailed how I had dropped my bike into River City Cycles for a pre race drive train change, brake pad replacement and general once-over. 

This gave me some separation from the bike to nail down my cue sheets. With a template courtesy of Simon Cross, I spent about 20 hours checking distances, adding services, points of interest like Continental Divide crossings and the like to arrive at my final cues. After doing this I feel like I know the route much better and feel more confident about my potential decision making capabilities while on the route.

Meanwhile, back at the once-over, Troy found that my SP dynamo hub had developed quite pronounced side to side movement. These hubs are not serviceable and have to be returned to the factory in Taiwan for service........not good. No, SERIOUSLY not good!

Kerry from K Lite was quick to react though. He didn't have any hubs in stock but organised to have one express shipped from the factory in Taiwan. I stewed for about 5 days as there was no news then I received the email I was waiting for on Wednesday. The hub had arrived! PHEW!!

Troy quickly rebuilt my front wheel with the new hub and I was able to get out for a 6 hour ride early on Saturday morning. This was to test my cold weather gear but 15C was the lowest I could find here in the sub tropics. Even the fog didn't make it feel cold.

The hub passed this test ride with flying colours, as did the new drive train and brakes. I had the bike loaded with all of my TD gear except for my Spot, my dishwashing gloves and my tent pole. The whole shebang weighs in at 20kg(44lb). This is without water or food which may potentially take gross weight up to 25kg(55lb) on the longer, drier stretches. I was hoping for a bit lighter than this but my fear of being cold sees me hauling a warm/substantial sleep setup and some warm clothing but nothing that would be deemed a "luxury". Nope, I am going on a 4 week trip to the other side of the world and I am not even packing one pair of undies! Dedicated? 

Yeah, lets call it dedicated...........


Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Tour Divide - 23 Days Out

Well, as the title suggests, I am only 23 days away from the start and a mere 15 days away from flying out to the US !

The training has been going as well as can be expected. Some weeks feel good and others have been a bit well.....blah but I guess I do need some recovery time. 

I should have been training with more routine from this time last year. It would have helped the fitness, however I think I may have become somewhat jaded with 12 months of this relentless schedule. I definitely would have been kicked out of home though. ;) 

The bike is going well and it is currently at River City Cycles where Troy is giving it a fresh drivetrain and brakes. He will also be casting his keen eye over the rest of the bike to spot any other likely issues but to be honest, it was so well built in the first place that it has been a trouble free 2000km(1250mi) so far and I don't expect he will find anything.

I managed to get out for breakfast followed by an all day ride last Saturday with Mark Meyers. This was the 20% ride as we are 20% of the Aussie contingent doing the TD. Mark is another Brisbane rider doing the TD and has the added cache' of having done the TD last year. Mark very graciously poured his TD knowledge out while I tried madly to soak it in.

So, where am I three weeks out?

  • I have my bike sorted. 
  • I have my gear sorted, well mostly. 
  • I have my flights, transfers and accomodation sorted.
  • I have my route cues.....not really sorted at all. Not good that. 
I was planning on spending the next few weeks studying the route and planning my daily strategy but work have now heaped a load of training onto me that NEEDS to be paid attention to. My job IS on the line, as it always is every 6 months. This is a bugger as what little time I have left before I start my leave now has to be spent studying work related matter, not where to find a warm burrito at 11pm in Helena, Montana.

Stress? Yes, I know what that is......

Monday, May 11, 2015

Snowy Mountains TD Training Ride - Day 4


I awoke to an overcast sky and a gloomy morning. On the positive side was the delightful little camping spot I had stumbled upon in the dark.

I had this packing thing sorted into a time efficient exercise. While my water boiled for my breakfast, I rolled the tent and stuffed the sleeping bag into it's stuff sack. The front of the bike was packed, the seat bag just waiting for me to finish with the Jetboil so it could be stowed as well.

I hadn't slept that well with all the wind and rustling leaves but I felt fine. Apart from my Achilles tendons, which were quite stiff and sore. This was the first time they had ever given me any bother and I had been concentrating on strengthening them in my gym routine. Obviously, I will focus more attention on them in the next month.

Once packed up, I rode over to the other campers, who I could see one of sipping coffee by the fire. I said my hellos and apologised for being anti social last night, pointing out that I had ridden from Batlow yesterday and needed to sleep. They understood and we bid each other a g'day and I rode off to find the mythical Wee Jasper.

The road undulated and I watched as dozens of kangaroos easily bounded 4-6ft into the air to clear a fence in the process of getting away from me.

I wasn't sure how far it was into Wee Jasper but it turned out to be about 12km(8mi). I passed several dead wombats on either side of the road and in one spot, two dead ones opposite one another on either side of the road. Why don't people just slow down a bit?

Wee Jasper was at the bottom of the valley, near the creek. It was a very small hamlet with a population, including surrounding farms, of just 275 or so people. It is more or less a crossing point on the Goodrabigbee River and a very pretty river valley that is too.

The general store was closed up and I saw no sign of life in any building. Not even the pub!

I rolled down, across the wooden bridge snapping a few shots as I went.

Then, the road went up. It continue to go up for quite a while. But it was sealed and smooth so I dug into the pedals and made my legs work. No easy spinning this morning.As I climbed the view over the valley got better and better.

There was even some roadside arts which were pretty well done, actually.

I didn't linger as I wanted to get today done. I didn't know exactly how far I had to go(no surprise there!) but it didn't matter, I just had to get it done before the bottom started to fall out of the clouds. 

90 minutes later I came to the turn toward Canberra, Doctor's Flat Road. It looked to be good quality gravel but it did have an upward bearing to it.

It proved to be well surfaced granite for the first hour or so and apart from the climbing I felt I was making good time.

Passing some houses and sheds I met a guy who was closing the door on one of the sheds located right by the road. I stopped for a chat, just to make sure I wasn't on private property. He said that I wasn't and I quizzed him on how long to Uriarra and what the road was like. He said it was about 40 minutes in a car and that I wouldn't be much slower as the road was a bit rough to drive fast. Clearly, he hadn't seen me ride! I would turn that 40 minutes into 2 1/2 hours of pedalling and pushing.

Here and there I could make out 2 sets of mtb tyre prints from when the road had been wet. I wonder if these were of the last 2 guys to finish the Cloudride a few weeks back? Soon these tracks were obliterated as I came to a section where the trail had been graded in the last week or so. Here, it was soft and loose and it made the climbing even tougher on my tired legs.

Doctor's Flat Road? Flat - my arse. There was nothing flat about this road at all! It was all up or down, nothing in between.

I eventually emerged from the forest to some private land. The road was more open and faster here.

I could even see the hillside around Canberra- in the distance. Sunlit hillside marks the spot!

The track got better and better until I was finally on the main dirt road at Uriarra. I was almost back to where I had crossed the Murrumbidgee River on Day 1.

I was tempted to stop at the river crossing again for an "after" photo but figured I looked the same as in the "before" so kept pedalling. I did learn that it was 45km from Wee Jasper though!

As I pedalled up the last few hills toward Mt Stromlo my Achilles were creaking a bit. They only really hurt after a section of coasting, when I began to pedal again. The secret was obviously not to stop and to keep those muscles/tendons warm.

I stopped by this sign in Stromlo Forest Park to send off my Check in/Ok message via my Spot tracker. 

The funny thing is, it told everyone I was in Russia. Ha, not the way I pedal!

I rolled through the streets of Canberra toward my car, but via lunch. It felt weird to be back in "civilisation" again. 

I grabbed a sub and an o.j., then sat in a nearby park to take stock of the ride. Day 4 was a relative breeze.

The Stats

  • Total Time - 76hrs 45min. The longest day was 11h 40 min
  • Distance and Climbing - 488km(305mi), 11 000m(36 000ft) of climbing. 

  • Approximately 22 500 calories expended.

  • Mechanicals -  Nil. Not even a flat tyre.
  • Lessons learnt - Need warm/waterproof socks, carry less water when it is not needed, work harder on calf exercises, have good route notes with accurate distance and resupply information, don't faff around packing up camp and pedal harder damnit!

I would like to thank Steve Watson for creating and sharing with me his Monaro Cloudride route. The riders that race this route are far hardier than I. I only did the northern(easier) section of the route and it "smacked me 'round the ears". I can only imagine the pain of the full loop.

Thanks also to my "Spot" watchers here at home for keeping an eye on me while I was out there. It is a bit unsettling doing a ride like this, alone, but having some reliable, knowledgeable mates watching my progress and ready to alert the proper authorities if my ride went pear-shaped was much appreciated. I wouldn't do something like this without that support. Cheers guys.

Thanks also to my lovely wife for giving me the freedom to do something crazy like this. Many wouldn't, so thank you Rebecca.

Cheers and thanks for reading.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Snowy Mountains TD Training Ride - Day 3


Waking up to the dulcet tones of my phone alarm I bounced out of bed and ate breakfast while packing all of my bits and pieces onto the bike. I went with the International roast coffee kindly provided by the motel, proving that I am no coffee snob. It also saved me 30 minutes by not having to wait for the local bakery to open.

It was only about 40km(24mi) from Batlow to Tumut but I was wary of what that 40km might entail. The lady at reception had told me last night that it was all downhill to Tumut, however she would have been thinking about the main road, not the adventurous route that I would no doubt take.

I pedalled out of this pretty little mountain town playing tourist as I gently warmed my legs up.

The route took me out of town via the Batlow showgrounds and the golf course.

Everything about the first few kilometres was very picturesque. There were wombat holes in all of the roadside embankments with little muddy paw prints all over the road, leading back into the entrance of the hole.

I was winding my way along a quiet country lane that before long came to a gate. It was the entrance to an apple orchard and someone's farm. I didn't realise there was private property on this route so I pedalled slowly with the intent of saying hi to whoever I saw and explaining what I was doing. Of course asking permission to proceed was my intent. I passed the shed and saw nobody. No dogs barked but I could hear a tractor out in the orchard. Everyone was at work,

 The road dropped down to a gate and back onto Crown Land so I pressed on. No harm done.

Through the gate the trail dropped down and down. There can only be one result when a trail drops steeply. Yep, a creek crossing. 

This one was almost knee deep and at 7:30am, bloody freezing. I had a quick look for a shallow crossing point but there was none so it was off with the shoes and socks to walk the bike through. My toes were numb within 20 seconds.

The trail then began to climb and climb. It was rideable but slow going and I was soon very warm from the effort.

Just as I was beginning to think that this 40km was going to be a real slog I popped out at the top of the hill at a plantation forest. The road turned left along the forest road and I was speeding along again. 

What I had done was climb to the top of a ridge line, then begin to follow it along. I got my first hike-a-bike in for the day and took a Coke break to appreciate the view. I could see the forest just outside Batlow in the far distance. It is always nice to see progress being made.

The road was fast and flowy along here, not unlike South Boundary Rd in Brisbane Forest Park. By powering down the drops and keeping my momentum up I could crest the rises. This kept my average speed up for a while.

The ridge top opened out to views over Blowering resevoir. Stunning views  abounded and from a different angle for me. I have seen the dam from the eastern side plenty of times but there can't be too many people who see it from the western side. Ken Warby set the world water speed record of 511km/h(318mph) here in 1978.

The trail was getting rougher and steeper with a few episodes of pushing uphill. There were some sketchy downhills that required some judicious braking and hopping of ruts while in the drops. Fun stuff but fraught with danger if I stuffed it up.

Then I came to a descent that there was zero chance of riding on a loaded tourer. So, in a first for the trip, I walked down the hill. Photos never show the slope but it must have been over 35% down.

I was then dropped out onto the dam access road, an old 60s era looking seal. There was a blocked off section of road, so guess where the line on the gps went?

The hum of a sealed surface was music to my ears as I soon saw a sign that indicated Tumut and hence morning tea, was a mere 7km(4mi) away. Once I jumped a few fences and poached some sweet, secluded Snowy Mountain Scheme blacktop that was.

 Looking back toward the hill I had just descended, I could make out the fire road that I walked down(small scar, on the left about mid way up).

Once in Tumut I hit the local bakery for some food. No, not some food, a lot of food! I love this bikepacking. It is a licence to EAT! The first pie didn't even touch the sides.

I lubed my chain in front of the local court house for the first time since leaving Canberra, two days earlier. 313km on Ride Mechanic's new blend of chain lube was pretty impressive as I had dragged the chain through a creek this morning too.  I don't think you can buy it yet as it is still in the testing phase but it looks very promising for Long Rangers.

Tumut in Autumn is beautiful and it was hard to drag myself away from my sunny position out front of the bakery but time was ticking. Quiet shire roads was the description of the next 30km(18mi) or so.

I passed the trail head for the Hume and Hovel trail, an early European explorer's track from the 1800s.

This gate marked the end of the sealed road and a return to dirt. It must be a flash resort as I saw empty wine bottles littering the roadside, not the usual beer stubbies.

The road eventually came to a bridge across the creek and a gate. Through the gate and to the left and I was heading for some one's farm house. Private property again.

The trail went over those hills in the background

Well, it was a gazetted road, the Stokes Hut Trail but it went through some one's property. As I approached the sheds a couple of young guys walked over toward me. I stopped and said 'G'day". They asked me where I was going and I said "Wee Jasper". They said "Where? Wee Jasper is that way" pointing off to the northeast. I went on to explain what I was doing and we had a great chat. Their mother wandered over to chat and it turns out she was from Toowoomba originally, so we were virtual neighbours. They said it was fine to continue through the property and gave me an appraisal of the trail conditions ahead. "Watch out for wild dogs" one of the boys warned me, "they chased us out of there last time we went for an explore". Great, now I would be watching over my shoulder for wild dogs all afternoon. After a good 30 minutes chatting it was time to say goodbye and pedal on. I wished I had got their names.

Through a couple of gates, then a lift over a locked gate and I was back in Kosciuzko National Park. I didn't realise it extended this far north.

The trail along here was very pleasant being reasonably smooth and quite grassy in places.

 It followed the Goobarragandra River along for quite some time, crossing the odd rivulet that ran into the river.

Until I came to the main crossing point. This was wide, fast moving and cold. Off with the shoes and socks and straight across. No time to dally.

I stopped on the other side to munch the salad roll that I had been carrying since Tumut. All the while keeping an eye out for dogs. I really wish he hadn't mentioned the wild dogs as it made this whole afternoon's ride slightly edgy. Sometimes ignorance is bliss.

You may be able to see my sunglasses in the photo above. They are on the front bag between the orange aero bars and the green of the stuff sack. See them? Yeah, well I didn't! That is where I left them when I pedalled off.........The track went steeply uphill, which I pushed up. As I crested the ridge 5 minutes later I realised that my sunnies were gone. Bloody......! I grabbed my Spot tracker off the bike(remember the dogs?) and trotted back down the hill to find the sunnies. Of course they were right at the bottom so I got to climb the hill again but at least it was easier without the bike!

The trail slowly climbed. Then it went straight up the mountainside! I could see from the contours on the gps that it went up and up. I was immediately reduced to pushing my bike at a crawl. This was fine as I have been doing the training for this. I was eventually reduced to pushing my arms out and hence the bike forward one arms length, grabbing a handful of  brakes, then stepping up the hill one step to repeat the process again. It was that steep!

Looking at my gps trace, it took me 50 minutes to climb that 405m(1330ft) hill. I felt fine at the top and had not taken any rest stops on the way up but I think I may have sown the seeds for sore Achilles tendons tomorrow. I sure was glad to see this bush gate at the top.

The track become forest road which alternated between smooth clay and cobblestone rock. the clay was awesome because it was dry but the rock was reminiscent of the horrible road into Batlow last night. Clearly, it was there for when the clay was wet..and to slow me down. I didn't take many photos through here as I was trying to make good time. 

The gps trace kept turning up little used tracks that were stick and bark littlered like Black Jack trail had been on day 2. This slowed me down a lot and sapped my sense of humour. This was one of the better trails.

I eventually came to a turn on the gps that didn't exist. Meaning that the actual trail on the ground turned left. Naturally I followed the trail before noticing a few hundred metres later that the gps said I had to go straight back there. I backtracked to that point but there was no sign of "Brindabella Road", only bush. I zoomed out the map scale and noted that if I followed the trail I was on, it joined another trail that I could used to backtrack to Brindabella Rd. It was now getting dark so I put Plan B into effect and it paid off. I dropped out of my "track" onto a major forest road, then backtracked to where I was supposed to be. A glitch in the gps track I guess but it had me scratching my head for a few minutes.

Being on a major forest road improved my pace, as did turning on all of my lights. I passed by the edge of a huge clear cut section of forest right on last light. It was spectacular!

I had no idea how far it was to Wee Jasper from here so I just put my head down and pedalled. It was dark, there were kangaroos hopping around then I began to drop off the hills. 

My speed shot up to around 40km/h and I was flying! I crossed a cattle grid that denoted the Tumut/Yass Shires and the road improved markedly. I then saw some bright eyes in the beam of my lights. Bright and twinkly like a star. What sort of animal was that? Foxes are orange, spiders are pink, kangaroos are red, sheep are green but what was white? Then my lights illuminated the little bulldozer. It was a wombat! Cool, as I had never seen one in the wild before. I then began to pass dozens of them. They weren't concerned by my presence at all and made little effort to get out of the way. I tried to get a photo of them scurrying across the road but I was in serious danger of pranging into one so thought it best to keep both hands on the bars.

Leaving nature's little bulldozers behind and dropping down a series of tight gravel switchbacks I again had the brake levers pulled in to the bars. After 10 minutes of this white knuckle ride I popped out onto a flat grassy area to the sound of running water. The sign announced Micalong reserve campground. There were a couple of RV/caravans there with a roaring fire so I thought "stuff it, I'll stay here". While short of my goal, Wee Jasper couldn't be too far along the road anyway.

I quickly set up camp and ate dinner, some sort of lamb with olive concoction but I wasn't that hungry. My RV neighbours invited me to sit by the fire. I thanked them but decided it was best I get some sleep.

My stats for the day were 131km(82mi) in 9h 05m moving and 2980m(9780ft) of climbing. I felt ok with just a slight twinge in my calves. 

It proceeded to get very windy that night and sleep was hard to come by as I fretted about whether the weather was changing for the worse. 

Tomorrow would tell.................