Tuesday, March 14, 2017

A Little Ride In The Countryside

I have managed to talk a mate into some crazy all day ride down in country New South Wales. We have been in training, reasonably solidly, so that we don't embarrass ourselves too much.

But when an email like the following comes from the organiser I really do have to think twice about this insanity........

Unashamedly this email is to help you ask whether you are up to Thunderbolt’s Adventure. It’s not going to tell you whether you’re ready for it, that’s up to you. If you’re not 100% sure then you have some questions to ask and preparations to do (or gracefully bow out).

We’ve already had a few decide they won’t ride because the more they researched it the more they realised it wasn’t the right time for them to undertake such a big adventure.

If you’re not sure then sit this one out and we’ll let you know when another adventure comes along that isn’t as big as this one. You may want to still come to Gloucester and ride the Barrington's on your own, we can provide ideas on what route to take. There’s a 90km with 1500vm route available that we’ll publish.
I'm going to sit this one out

Please let us know if you no longer plan on riding

We are all adults, it’s totally up to you to get around the route and make it back to the pub afterwards.

There is no room for error. This isn’t a grand fondo. It’s not even the 3 peaks challenge. It’s further, higher, self supported, remote and you have to navigate mostly on gravel roads that could get washed out.

Long distance
The route is shaping up to be about 230km (we did say at least 220km in the advertising 😃 ). You will have wanted to have ridden over 200ks on the road. This isn’t the ride to push your longest distance. Even the flat sections of this ride can be slow due to the surface. Think you’re going to average 25kph? I doubt it. Most fit normal riders will be lucky to average 20kph with the dirt and the climbing. Remember your bike is going to be heavy. It’s going to have extra water, clothes and lots of food on it.

A lot of climbing
There will be over 5000 meters of climbing. That’s a heck of a lot. If you haven’t done that much yet, there’s a good training day for you. Those who have done lots of big climbing days will tell you that when you’re not up for it you’ll hit a wall. If you start walking all the hills, your time will completely blow out. There’s often no coming back and the flats will get hard too. An all day climbing base speed of 500vm/hour would be a starting point. That’s 10hrs of climbing alone.

You have to navigate
There will be no signs, no cheer squad or markers of any fashion. You won’t even be given a map. Do not reply on those around you to help you know where to go. Over the whole day you’ll likely end up out on your own. You should prepare you own maps and route notes. If you haven’t done this before, don’t learn on this ride. Remember there’s no mobile coverage. Make sure you know how long your devices will work if using electronic navigation. Make sure you’ve tested offline modes in GPS apps etc. A standard Garmin will likely need topping up with power during the ride. Unless you know how to save power on your phone, it too will die. Take a charging battery and backup navigation method.

Self Supported
You can’t pull out early if you didn’t bring enough spares, or get that weird mechanical that requires a special tool and replacement part. One of the joys of travelling through these remote areas is being self sufficient. It’s finding that right balance of having enough of the right gear clothing and supplies and the knowledge of how to use them, but not too much so you can keep travelling. You can’t top up your food with the exception of Moonan Brook Pub (I doubt they sell gels). In the end it comes down to you. Did we say there’s basically no houses or locals who you can rely on?

Most will be racing themselves for the adventure. Challenging themselves to see how they go. We aren’t providing timing or a podium. If you want to race other riders then make sure you run Strava on the ride. Someone will create a segment for the whole ride and you’ll be able to see how you went by looking at the leader board. You’ll also see riders trickle at the pub afterwards as in and gain bragging rights as you share stories of the adventure.

Eat & Drink (you can be merry later)
You will eat a lot. You will drink more than you think (if you’ve brought enough). Don’t turn up with a few pockets full of gels and a couple of bars and think it’s just like that 100ks you do but a bit longer. You’re out all day and some of the night. You’ll likely end up struggling to eat food during the ride (probably on the second big climb) eat anyway. Have a variety of food. I like real food. You’ll hit a wall if you get low on food. You’ll also drink more than you think. 2 bottles won’t cut it, find a way (and test it) to carry more. You can get water top ups at Moonan Brook at about 135ks in. Otherwise there’s no water, unless you want to drink whatever chemicals the farmers have sprayed on the land mixed with cow shit.

You’re By Yourself
Groups will possibly form. They’ll also break up. Don’t think you’ll tag along, it’s not that kind of ride. Choose to ride in a group if you like, but make sure for you own sake that you have everything you need. That you can take care of yourself. It’s not your fellow riders job to carry the beacon, or make sure you’re eating.

Open roads, no signage
We are just a bunch of people who’ve met on the internet going for a ride. The roads are open. There will be cars (along the first half at least). Normal road rules apply. You can’t just roll through intersections or ride more than 2 abreast. Drivers will not know that you are on the roads until they see you. If you’re uncomfortable with this, sit this one out. There won’t be signs warning you of steep descents or loose surfaces or corners without guardrails.

Alpine Weather
There is 1200m elevation difference between the start and the highest point. It could snow. It could also be very hot on the long exposed climbs. Don’t rely on the forecast. Further you won’t be able to grab that gillet from the support car. Take more clothes that you think. There’s nothing worse than needing to stop for a while and sitting in the rain freezing. The Tops has it’s own weather. I’ve seen it sunny and 28C at Gloucester and have been in cloud with sleet on the tops. Bring your jacket...

Farmers, tractors and cows
There’ll be farmers with tractors and possibly even dairy cows crossing the road. Don’t be silly. Be respectful and wait your turn.

Test Everything
Have everything dialled beforehand. Make sure you’ve riding rough gravel roads with your bike fully loaded. Don’t wear new shoes. Every piece of gear and way you use it should be tried and tested. If you haven’t done a long ride in those bibs then do one beforehand. You get the picture.

The Decision to Ride
It’s up to you to decide if you’re up to the adventure. It’s constantly up to you to continue to ride. If you’re uneasy about a section, you can return back another way, or re-trace your route. We’ll see you at the pub. There are surely other potential risks and hazards that haven't been outlined here.

Look after each other
We are all lovers of cycling and doing adventures. Look after each other. Respect each other. Have a laugh. 

Ahhhhh, how bad can it be?

I rode much bigger days than that during the Tour Divide on a much heavier bike. Right?! I have a dynamo hub, lighting and a cache battery to power us into the night. Right?!

The only resupply point on the ride is in Moonan Brook, at the pub. Mmmm...looks inviting.....

Really, how bad can it be......?


Sunday, February 5, 2017

Fitzroy Falls To The Valley

As you may have noticed over the last year or so, I have been a bit slack in keeping this blog up to date. While I have been doing plenty to blog about, well, doing that stuff takes up a lot of time and I have no time left to blog about it. Vicious circle eh?

In that vein, this post is a little late as the ride occurred waaaay back on the 28th of December. 

We were all down in the Southern Highlands of New South Wales for Christmas and having our bikes with us I was keen to do something a little different. Different to riding single track that is. I happened across a map of where to ride in the Southern Highlands and one ride lept out at me. The Fitzroy Falls To The Valley was a point to point forest ride with a net altitude loss of 500 metres (1650ft). 

I thought "that sounds pretty easy, especially as the kids haven't done a lot of riding lately"......

So, a few days after Christmas we catch the "Mum" shuttle to Fitzroy Fall carpark. Well, almost to the carpark. The trail heads back 300m in our direction so we just hopped out at the first turn off the sealed road, Gwen Rd and proceeded to kit up.

The road started as a rough sealed affair but very soon turned to dirt. Almost immediately we were at the Twin Falls lookout. There were a lot of people there, including a dumb German tourist who had to ignore the fence and stand right on the edge of the 1500ft drop in her thongs (flip flops to everyone else). No wonder they take a header off this mortal coil at times......

We quickly moved on so we didn't have to witness any sillyness. Well, apart from our own ride that is.

The trail consisted of the usual sandstone/sand mix that is found everywhere along the Great Dividing Range. The undulations weren't too steep and the kids chatted away, Chatting = good. Silence or whinging = bad.

We popped out onto a quiet back road for a while before plunging back into the bush on a fire road.

After dodging a bunch of four-wheel-drivers we had a little trouble finding a link track. 

Luckily I had downloaded a gps track of the trail but even with that to go on the link was really hard to find. Once we found it though it proved to be a very pleasant little section of single track with the odd downed tree that needed skirting around.

This link simply let us cut across the hypotenuse of the fire road network thus saving a little time. We soon met three other mountain bikers who couldn't find the link and had gone the long way. Win!

More good fire trail ensued. While it rolled up and down, there was no whinging so it must have been ok. It passed close to the edge of the escarpment in a few places which provided us with some glimpses over Morton National Park.

We soon came to the fun bit. Griffins fire trail drops off the escarpment something like 500m vertical. Well, not vertical but in a very business-like manner (5.2km). 


The forest changed almost immediately from the typical dry sclerophyll forest that is the Aussie "bush" to something much more tropical like. We liked it!

This was a brake burning descent and my climbing senses were tingling. This happens whenever I ride down a road that is too easy, too steep. 

I have been caught out with some massive climbs over the years shortly after a road tips steeply downhill. But today was meant to be about descents, right? This ride had a 500m net drop, right?

At the bottom of the descent the trail followed Yarrunga Creek. It was a pleasant rolling ride but the increase in temperature here in the valley was noticeable. It had gone from maybe high twenties to almost mid thirties Celsius. Not ideal and Miss 14 started to whine a little.

Griffins Farm turned out to be a nice flat area alongside the creek that would make a great campsite in cooler weather. We checked it out while Miss 14 rested. 
I must pencil in some bikepacking around here.....

Now, there WAS one climb in this ride that the brochure mentioned but it was only 150m (500ft) and one that I thought the kids would have little problem with. The issue was that someone was getting "hangry" and wouldn't do anything about it. "I'm not hungry" was shot back at me when I suggested (several times) that she eat something. Arriving at the creek crossing, where the climb out began, I enforced a sit down rest break to try to restore some equilibrium to a short person because frankly, it was starting to piss me off! 

When you are deep into a ride, self rescue is the only option which I thought I had taught the kids over the last few years. You can't give up because there will only be embarrassment at one's weaknesses if you can't get yourself out of what you have got into..
No folks, I was not happy!

After a respite it was time to get the ugly bit of the ride over and done with. This first entailed crossing the creek and the kids excitement at this bode well for the climb.

That excitement quickly fizzled though. Why is it always hot as hell when you are climbing. No seriously, why does the wind stop and the sun seem to beat down upon you?

The next 1.5km and 500ft of climb were hot (my Garmin said 38C/100F and our progress slowed to a crawl. Well, actually it stopped altogether quite a few times. I ended up pushing Miss 14's bike quite a bit as she could only barley walk up the hill. When I offered the same for Will he said "No, I am going to do this" and wouldn't accept any help. 
Bless his little cotton mtb socks!

Some more sitting seemed to help......

National Parks Dept rangers passed us in a ute and asked if we were ok, had plenty of water. Yes, we sure did. That might have been the problem as the kids were hauling 3 litres each from the start of the ride. They would still have at least half that now and it would be dragging them back but you can't bring too much water with you in Australia!

Eventually we crested the climb and exited the National Park onto Jack's Road. There was much rejoicing!!

The road became a little more civilised now but I think the kids were cooked. I HAD forgotten about their relative lack of fitness. Three weeks of sitting around in the air conditioning since finishing school had turned them into marshmallow. Even the sight of an Echidna crossing the road did little to excite them.

The 13 kilometres from here took about 50 minutes even though they were for at least half of the ride on sealed road. We arrived into a very hot Kangaroo Valley township and headed straight for the pub for a jug or two (or was it three?) of squash(soda) and something to eat.

Despite the whining, the heat and that one bugger of a climb the kids did actually do really well. The ride was a solid  38km(24mi) with 500m climbing but thankfully also 1500m descending.

It is a ride that I would highly recommend to anyone visiting the area. In cooler weather it would be a doddle. The views and sights along the way make for a pleasant few hours in the saddle. Maps can be found at the Southern Highlands Visitor Centre in Mittagong or below from Strava.


Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Hello 2017 !

I usually manage to get out on a ride for New Years Eve or New Years Day. Sort of a modern tradition that embraces a couple of aspects of life that are important to me these days - that being cycling and being outside in the elements.

This past New Year I fulfilled the latter but the bike stayed firmly planted on the bike rack attached to our camper trailer for these two auspicious days. Not that it mattered much though. I was still outside, camping in the Snowies with the kids and some good mates and that is what counts. Heck, we even forgot that it was New Years eve until fairly late in the evening!

Kids trying to disappear from the panorama! ;)

Quiet camping (in mild luxury mind you) and some hiking around the Blue Waterholes area made for a rather pleasant day.

There were some great views over an unexpected waterfall. The drive in and out was rather pleasant as well.

Roll on 2017.....