Monday, January 15, 2018

Starting From Behind The 8 Ball


Some good news last week regarding my riding plans for 2018.  My requested annual leave was approved! 
Great news, right? Well yes and no. The down side to this is that with our company, leave approval is always notified in the first week or so of January each year. Why the downside? Well, I was hoping (half heartedly) to get leave to compete in the Arizona Trail Race 750 (AZTR750) which is in early April this year. That would only barely leave me 3 months to prepare if my leave was approved.


Three months. 
That is not a lot of time. I had six months notice for the Tour Divide in 2015 and that was only just enough time to prepare. Yes, I realise that I could have been preparing during the closing months of last year but it is extremely difficult to push yourself through the torture er, training for potentially no reason. (I wasn't confident I would get leave at Easter, the most sought after time of the year).

Neil Beltchenko photo.

Another reason, if I am being honest is I guess I don't have the emotional investment in the AZTR that I had in the Tour Divide. I had watched the TD for four or five years before I made the leap to race it. While I have looked on at the AZTR for about a similar time it just hasn't struck a chord like the TD. This is partly because it is only 750 miles (it's really 800miles) and it is stupidly HARD. Every racer that has done both the TD and the AZTR says hands down the AZTR is waaay harder than the TD, mile for mile. I am wondering if part of that is people's thinking? I can see that if you have done the TD you might think to yourself "750 miles? How hard can it be?"  

John Schilling photo

Well, I am trying very hard not to fall into that trap! I am also giving myself a little bit of a mental out. While I am certainly no athlete, when I raced the TD I really wanted to push myself and see what the best that I could achieve would be. With the AZTR a competitive time for someone of my limited ability would be about 10 or 11 days. I have 28 days leave.......... and therein lies my race strategy. 

John Schilling photo

I will train as hard as I can in the next 2.5 months, get my gear setup as optimally as I can (TD experience does help here) and research the route much more thoroughly than I did the TD route. This will give me a fair chance of having a good outcome and in the back of my mind I will have the knowledge that if something isn't going according to script that I have time on my side. I can cool my jets if needs be and look after whatever ailment I pick up (oh yes, there will be at least one!) and hopefully continue on at whatever pace I can manage.

I also have a secret weapon in the form of Dave Wicks. Dave is an awesome bloke (for a Kiwi) :) and has done the AZTR 3 times in the past. He is also very generous with his advice and support so I will be leaning on him a little heavier than I would otherwise like but I am sure I can repay his kindness with some frothy beverages along the way! Dave will be doing this year's version so we can hopefully share a ride to the start line on the Mexican border.

Now, back to the three core problems for my race.

I am not fit enough

I don't have a bike

I don't know the route

Fitness

I am doing what I can on the fitness front but I did lose most of last week as I was/am still getting over this flu. I couldn't subject myself to the rigours of regimented training so I opted for some general singletrack riding, putting in bursts of effort where I could (the guys were probably wondering why I was charging up every hill like a demented xc racer). Unfortunately, these bursts just highlighted that I have simply no endurance in the upper rev range. I can diesel along all day at a slow rate but I really need to work on my upper rev range.


Bike

The bike thing. Yeah, kind of critical. I don't have a bike currently that is suited to the demands of the race and I don't need to make the race any harder by taking a knife to a gun fight! I also really like my current steeds and don't want to trash them. This has me on the hunt for a secondhand mount and I am currently searching for either a Norco Revolver FS or a Kona Unit X. Two very different bikes but two that can get the job done.



Research

For my route research I have joined the Arizona Trail Association and have the badge and a 2 for 1 beer voucher to prove it! Funds from membership go toward trail maintenance. Most of you know my feelings about trail care so any small help I can provide to brother/sister trail builders is money well spent.


Via the ATA membership I can extract trail Beta from their great website. As stated above, I will be leaning on Dave and I have also read back through multiple years of race prep threads that are in that treasure trove of information that is bikepacking.net, making many notes along the way.

The training rides are under way and one good thing (if there is a silver lining) to this scorching heat we are experiencing here in Oztraylia is that it is PERFECT training conditions to replicate a race in the Arizona desert!


Wish me luck because I am going to need it!!




Cheers and thanks/sorry to John Schilling and Neil Beltchenko for their awesome photos.










Friday, January 12, 2018

Seeing Out 2017 And Ringing In 2018


Well, 2017 has come and gone. 2018 is a reality.
While 2017 wasn't a particularly memorable one it was still great to be alive! Life could always be far worse and sometimes we need to remind ourselves of that fact.

This, of course, is all a bit late in coming from me as we loaded up the family truckster waaay back, almost before Christmas was a twinkle in a retailers eye and pointed down South for a family camping/riding holiday.

Night 1. On the road.

The interwebs on the road in Oztraylia are preetttty ordinary so that combined with me being chauffeur, chief cook, bottle washer, mechanic and finally, lazy bum contributed to zero blog updates during the whole shebang, so here it is, in all of it's picture heavy glory. 
The One Post, 
The Post to rule them all, The Post to find us, 
The Post to bring them all and due to the lack of interwebs bind them.......

Some pre Christmas rides were taken and I checked out some of the old family heritage spots while stretching the legs. 


Packing the CX bike as well as a MTB gave me some wide terrain coverage, which is always nice.


I was up early to beat the heat and also maximise the golden hour for photography.


Early also equals pretty quiet on the local runway.....not that it is Kingsford Smith or anything.


Some Christmas lights were subject to a ride-by.


Before too long it was time to move to the other side of the family's stomping grounds. We didn't need a time machine to get there but it was reassuring to know there was one on hand.


I resisted the urge to constantly inhale mince fruit pies washed down with Bristol Creme sherry to actually get out and put some hurt on myself. Yes, there were some hills involved here!

Old Berrima Jail

Bowral Lookout

After dropping the boss at the airport for her quick jaunt to Denmark, Sweeden, Norway and Germany we loaded up again and headed....you guessed it, South!

We arrived at our campground in Kosciuzsko National park about 30 minutes after our neighbours from across the road here in Brisbane!! We quickly set up then went for a short pedal 7km UP Charlotte Pass rd. 


It was good to be in the mountains again!! Wishing we had brought lights on this ride, we reluctantly turned for camp.


The following day the kids were keen to hit the chairlift for some gravity action on the ski slopes of Thredbo. Who was I to say no?


As we approached to top of the chairlift the wind drastically increased and the temperature plumetted. There wasn't going to be much hanging around at the top. 





It was all business to get onto the trail and heading downward as soon as we departed the chairlift!

Scaring the tar out of the old man!! Little shit.

We paced ourselves and took a break for lunch. It was noticeable how much less traffic there was in the afternoon despite the nice cool temperature. A lot of people were clearly fried. Lucy took a moment to enjoy having an eyebrow, even if it was just for one afternoon......


All up we managed about 5 rides on the chairlift. I much preferred the All Mountain Trail to the Flow Trail. The Flow Trail was just stupidly fast, braking ruts and full of dickheads. A group pushed Lucy off the trail on our one run down it so we went back to the All Mountain Trail which was more technical and scenic anyway and ridden by what I would call real mountainbikers - considerate folks who appreciate the trail and it's setting. It was also 10km long, far surpassing the Flow Trail distance. More bang for our buck.



While Thredbo has the chairlifts and some good features such as the free bike wash we probably will not be back next summer as it essentially only has two runs that we as a family can ride. With one of those now just being full of dicks on bikes, it narrows the options to one trail. Not enough to entice us back until they build some more trails to disperse the riders. (see later reasons in post)


I came down with a cold after the days antics so we took a few quiet days where we drove around sightseeing and doing the "normal" touristy thing.(no pics of that boring shit though)

New Years Eve was our next major outing and despite still having a cold (I still have it 2 weeks later while I type this!) we were up at 0250am by order of the little redhead! Yep, Lucy had the great idea of riding up to Mt Kosciuzsko to watch the sunrise. As first light was 0520 and sunrise 0550, with 9km to ride, all uphill, then the walk 2km to the summit we needed to get cracking early!


We hit the trail as scheduled, in fact 10 minutes ahead of schedule at 0336am! It took us just over an hour to get to Rawson's Pass where we are meant to leave the bikes. Being concerned about making the summit in time and considering the complete lack of any traffic at this hour we decided to press on with the Eastern sky showing signs of the approaching sun.( We wouldn't normally do this or recommend it but felt it was a safe and environmentally friendly thing at this hour of the day)

So it was that we summitted at 5am, in plenty of time to watch the sun come up as it turned out. We had jagged the weather right as well. The previous day there had been 50 knot winds and scattered cloud up here but this morning I would have guessed at it being about 2 knots and perfectly clear. The temperature was very, very close to 0C so we were lucky with the wind.

As the light slowly increased we could see that there was a solid blanket of cloud spread out below us covering all of the lands to the East and Southeast. We sat, watching the day grow.


To be on top of the highest mountain in Oztraylia and to have just the three of us present was a very special thing. As anyone who has done the climb knows, there is always at least 100 people up here at any one time during the day.

Not today.....


Today, there was just a little girl and her bike......



The spectacle over, we coasted the 9km back down to our cars which were parked at Charlotte Pass. Stopping to get a photo of the ice shelf just below the summit, the sun won out over tired eyes.


 A quick stop at Seaman's Hut to look inside and hopefully we didn't wake the campers scattered around the hut!


It was just 6am and we were starting to pass the first of the day's hikers/climbers/riders as they made their way up to the summit. Too slow, its been done already!!


Glad to get back to the flatter (and therefore slower) trail we (I) massaged our frozen noses.


 It was definitely sub zero when we crossed the Snowy River basin as evidenced by all the frost on the grass, not that we needed the visual cue!


A quick photo stop at the viewing point then we loaded the bikes up, put the heater of full-bore and drove back to the campground. Grand plans of a pancake breakfast were shelved as sleep (and my cold) overtook us so we instead slept until about 11am. 


We saddled up a little later on in the afternoon and rode the Thredbo Valley trail from Thredbo to Lake Crackenback Resort. Having done this ride a few times previously there wasn't much stopping, in fact, we only stopped once for this photo on one of the river crossings!


I left the kids at the resort and pedalled the 16km back up to Thredbo to get the car. With the flu, the sunrise ride and now the uphill-into-a-headwind-at-altitude thing today I was pretty peakered by the time I got to the car. Not to mention that I had left my water with the kids by mistake, only discovering it missing about 1km up the road. I though "I'll be right"! It was going to be a quiet New Year's Eve for me......


A simple dinner and a glass of port was how we (just me on the port, mind...) saw 2017 out.



2018

Despite the fact that I was in bed at about 9:30pm, 2018 rolled into our campsite anyway. There could have been wild celebrations but I wouldn't have known about it. I was SHAGGED!!

Today we packed up and headed West young man (or woman). We had loose plans as did Chris and his sister's family but all of our loose plans saw us lobbing into the Falls Creek area of Victoria. Chris knew of a great campsite just out of Falls to the Southeast so we all decided that was where we were headed. A late breakfast at the surprisingly good Trader Joe's Cafe' at the Alpine Way turnoff near Jindabyne saw us all on the road at about midday.

After about 5 hours behind the wheel on what are some of Oztraylia's best motorcycling roads we made it to the Langford's West campsite. Joy of joys, we found room for three families and quickly exploded our home on wheels


The basic setup didn't take long as we were eager to explore the trail around the campground.


As part of the hydro electric scheme the powers that be carved a great furrow around half the mountain. This furrow is to catch some of the snow melt and direct it into Rocky Valley Storage dam for use in the hydro electric scheme. Naturally, this furrow has very little fall on it so as not to create an erosion issue. This means there are kilometres of almost dead-flat trail following the aquaduct around the mountainside. This aquaduct was a mere 50m below our campsite and we couldn't get onto it fast enough!


Light was fading fast so after a mere 2km we turned back but it looked good for an early ride tomorrow. 

Retina Sear is the colour of Will's helmet. It certainly does.....




Up early the next day, I pointed the CX bike along the aquaduct. 


I had to keep stopping every 500m to take another photo!! Here I was at 5300ft, above the cloud in the valley in perfectly still conditions. Roll on 2018!!



Whats this? Murray's Hut just 500m up the hill? I best wheeze my way up to that for a look! Again, I wasn't disappointed!!


Chris had said the trail went all the way around into Falls Creek. "Sure, sounds great"! says I.  Maybe I should have checked on that..........


After 18km I came to the end of the aquaduct and began following a faint bush track up a ridge line. This topped out and led to this walking/animal track through what was left of the alpine gum forest. I figured it was horses that made this trail but it was more likely walkers and deer on reflection (and looking at the droppings on the trail).


I eventually came out on Kelly's track, about 5km East of Falls Creek. I followed the Big River firetrail down to the main road.



I then rode across the dam wall and back onto the aquaduct that nicely contoured above Falls Creek village.


Finding a cafe to indulge in a warming bacon and egg roll washed down with a coffee didn't take long. As a bonus I had full phone service so was able to catch up on the outside world after a week disconnected!  After the bite I rolled the 15km back out to our campground to see if the kids were out of bed yet.

That afternoon we managed to get all of us out for a ride. Initially we rode the aquaduct toward Falls then we lured the kids with a promise of an icecream if they rode the extra 3-4km into town. They were on for it but being Queenslanders in Victoria we didn't appreciate the late hour of the day due to daylight savings. This meant we arrived just after 5pm and all the icecream outlets were closed!! Nooooo! Luckily for us, despite the supermarket just closing, they were getting rid of their hot meat pies. Five or six free hot meat pies certainly hit the spot for a couple of the group. I had had some visions of a sag wagon being needed to get some of us back to camp!


The ride back to camp turned out to be a bit dramatic with the weather closing in on us. Low cloud quickly enveloped the hillsides and before we knew it we were riding along in fog with visibility down to about 20m at times. luckily we had the trusty aquaduct to follow home.

The cloud rolling in.

We took a rest day and went driving the following day, doing some washing and more pie eating in Omeo. It was a cracking day and there were lots of motorcycles out enjoying the best that the Victorian high country had to offer. 

Danny's lookout.

We stopped a few times for a look around and even tried to chase a 748 Ducati down to show the young bloke the black lines the rider was leaving on the road. I wasn't very successful......

The following day we did a bit of an exploration of Falls Creeks singletrack. Riding along the aquaduct, around the top of the village we found ourselves at the Wishing Well trail. We were soon down this and at the head of the much vaunted Flowtown Trail.


This turned out to be an awesome trail, much better than anything at Thredbo! I suspect that the relative lack of traffic sees the trail in much better condition but the natural setting that it traverses sets it well above most trails I have ridden in Oztraylia........except for perhaps Blue Derby.

The kids were both beaming when we exited the trail and started up the return Packhorse Trail. The Packhorse started out very pretty....


But a tired young girl and a flu ridden old fart don't take kindly to tight, steep rocky uphill trails. Yup, we were sure glad to get the 4.5km to the top of that one and vowed never to do it again! Although, it did have some stunning views near the top....


The next day was a quiet one with just a short ride for me to the top of nearby Mt Cope. Apparently it is one of the higher peaks in the area but an asthmatic grandmother with a shopping trolley could get up there without breaking a sweat. 



I was sweating, then freezing. The view from here though was amazing. The dead eucalypts added an eerie presence to the landscape and I was pleased to get down to the road just on dark.




The following day I took the kids back into Falls to ride the Flowtaown trail again. The deal was that after the first run down, they have to climb up to the start just once, via the road, not that shitty challenging Packhorse trail. I would then drive shuttles for as long as they wanted. I still got some flack about climbing the road but as each time a roady passed her, Lucy would perk up and start trying harder. (The climb from Mt Beauty at the base of the mountain up to Falls Creek is a very popular one with road riders being 32km of almost constant climb). Before she knew it the 4km climb was over and the kids were back on the singletrack while I retrieved the car.



Once the kids had enough of the shuttles it was my turn to leave them hanging at the Bike Hub cafe. I wanted to have a look at some of the other trails that Falls Creek had to offer. I climbed up from the village via Jumpstart. I must say I wasn't very impressed with the climb. Tight, rocky, technical uphill trail that in my weakened state was impossible to ride - well the corners were. They were too tight, too steep and too rocky to carry any momentum around. Take any one of those "toos" out and it would have been rideable. To make matters worse, the signage at the intersections was pretty ordinary as well. See exhibit A below.


Call me picky but when you sell yourself as a riding destination I think you need more than an arrow sprayed on the ground to point the way. Well, to point the way once you found said arrow that is!

That arrow was pointing me in the direction of this.....


Wombats Ramble ski run is lovely in winter but thoroughly uninspiring as a mtb uphill trail. Oh well, lets hope the downhill is worth it.

So, was the downhill worth it? 


In parts yes but for the most part it was uber rocky. Rocky isn't so bad but I found there was no flow through the rocks meaning that you needed to pedal pretty hard going downhill. Add in the fact that when you aren't in the rocks you are riding in a 10cm deep rut that is 20cm wide across the grassy slope and I have to say I didn't enjoy the climb or the descent much. I have to stress though that I was not 100% fit and still in the grip of the dreaded flu so I am sure that clouded my judgement to some degree. Put it this way, I will definitely be going back to Falls next summer. 

Back at the Bike Hub cafe they were sold out of food again today so I slipped into the supermarket for some corn chips and salsa. This I washed down with a local brew that they did have in stock. I must say that the guys running the pop-up bike shop were super friendly and accommodating. They just need to have sufficient stocks to meet the demand.


Our last morning up on the mountain dawned and I had organised with ex Brisbaneite Nick, who now lives in Mt Beauty, to go for a road ride. The ride involved me dropping 32km down the mountain to meet him, then riding together the 32km back up the mountain. Now Nick is always super fit so I was quite concerned that I would hold him up and ruin his ride. He assured me it would be fine and that if I was too slow he would simply turn around and drop back to home when his allotted time was up.



It was another cracking, clear morning at 6am as I dropped off the mountain. I was looking forward to the descent but trepadacious about the climb back. Oh well, I would just do what I could do.

I took the opportunity to get a few photos and some video while rolling down. Excuse the amatuer, one handed attempt but it was the best I could do. :0


I found Nick at the Alpenhorn and he quickly whipped up a coffee for me while he readied his gear. Before too long we were off and climbing back to Falls Creek. Just 32km and 1400m of climbing away.
I needn't have worried as Nick let me set the pace to what I could comfortably handle and we chatted away as we climbed. The climb is actually quite mild at 5% for the most part, kicking up to about 8% for the last 5km into Falls creek. Anyway, I managed it and really enjoyed the climb. Thanks Nick!


After the ride it was time to pack up and hit the road for a couple of days. We had about 1500km to roll under the wheels before we would be home.


The weather had turned and the temperature throughout most of Victoria and New South Wales had skyrocketed into the low 40s celcius with 43C (110F) the day we were passing through my home town! Not pleasant but back to reality which was appropriate as this holiday wound down to it's conclusion.

Holbrook, NSW.

Yes, that is a submarine, in a park, 430km from the nearest ocean.....


If you made it this far into the post, well done. I almost didn't type this far down so you have done well!

I hope you all have a good year and enjoy life's ups and downs for what they are, just bumps on the roadway of life. Remember to grab life with both hands.

 Roll on 2018!!