Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Rumble in Jugungal

So began another year and we found ourselves, once again, escaping the bustle, crowds and humidity of a Sydney summer for the generally cooler and drier climes of the lovely Snowies.  Whilst our main base was Jindabyne, the trip was bookended by sleepovers in Thredbo; firstly with the Duggins, then the Dugans, to wit.

Each year we try to mix the riding up a bit, on top of our main Jindy staples; Kosi via Charlottes Pass, and outings to Thredbo and back, the latter including pastries and coffee, and a traverse of the TVT which, after quite a few passages now, has lost none of its magical charm.  Don't waste your bucks on the chairlift, the TVT is just as good and costs you nothing. 

This year’s dabble in adventure was a two day jaunt from Jindy over the main range to Khancoban, before returning via the sealed Alpine Way the following day.  This of course required more planning than usual, and some luck.  We had to cut our kit down and travel light, and also needed some good weather.  Not too hot, and not the deluge of last year.  The weather gods smiled, offering a blustery but otherwise perfect window. 

Day one had us rumbling out of Jindy and straight onto the new singletrack linking the village and the trout hatchery.  Once again, some terrific new trails and a taste of what is to come when they finally link up with the TVT, which should be completed later this year.  We swung onto the pavement briefly to cross the Thredbo river, before turning off towards the Jindabyne pump station.  

We'd been given a tip from a fellow working in one of the bike shops that Island Bend could be attained by following a 4wd track, owned by Snowy Hydro, all the way up the Snowy River from the lake itself.  In theory this would eliminate the otherwise heinous road slog from the river (900 m) up to Rennix pass (1600 m), only to descend back to Island Bend (1200 m) before continuing to Guthega.  He did mention he had an E-mtb at his disposal when exploring this, and the utility of this became apparent given some of the nasty pinches we had to tractor over.  But the diversion was nonetheless picturesque and worth a gander, if not a little bit naughty.

From Island bend we were back on sealed road briefly, following the Snowy River to Guthega power station, where the real climb over the main range begins.  Whilst the first km was a bit nasty, the rest of the climb up to Schlink Pass and our high point for the day (smack on 1800 m) was actually quite pleasant, although the horse flies that hang out at altitude prevented us enjoying being stationary for too long.  With a few snaps under the belt we were soon cruising at 40 km/hr down to the first of a few alpine huts we'd visit.  Lunch was enjoyed inside the fly-free zone aptly named the Schlink Hilton.  Shortly after, more high speed cruising came to a shuddering halt at the Valentine's Trail turnoff.  Smooth gravel was replaced by a lumpy tussocked grass course that was barely double track, and in many spots barely rideable, especially now that the legs were getting a little rubbery. 

In the end, what was more of a walkers’ trail had to be endured for approx 20 km.  We'd roll what we could, but with every uphill pinch, or even up hills that weren't so pinchy, we'd invariably stall and resort to pushing, encouraged forward by fond attention of the flies, which would be shed once we got on a roll, but there'd always be a new batch to replace them.  We found respite in the lovely Valentine's hut half way along this stretch, but the relief was short lived and it was back to grovelling and fly management.

We eventually descended out of the ghostly limbs onto an expansive grassy bowl, and merged with the Grey Mare and Round Mountain trails, where finally we were able to enjoy more of a pleasant roll, with Mt Jugungal coming into spectacular view on our right hand side.  This was of considerable relief, as if the trails had continued in the style of Valentine's, we might well have had to bunker down in one of the bush huts for the night with nought but fruit cake to sustain us.  You can imagine how thrilled Anita was about that prospect.

With the clock reading approx 5 pm, and 95 km on the dial, we finally gained sealed road again at the Round Mountain car park, turned left, and proceeded in the knowledge that the day was winding down but we still had 40 km to travel with energy and water levels near empty.  In our favour, we were still at 1500 m, with Khancoban at 300m.  This could have meant we had a lovely even descent to look forward to but, in true mountains style, it unfolded as a series of steep plummets through cuttings, separated by pinchy ups which we'd really had enough of by this stage of proceedings.  Nonetheless we slipped down into warm air and rural open paddocks, making a B-line for Shano's milk bar and the promise of a milkshake or three, which we'd been fantasizing about for hours.

Predictably, Shano's had already closed for the day, as had the nearby servo, so we settled for soft drinks and ice blocks at the caravan park instead, before checking into palatial cabin digs, having a quick shower, and hitting the pub for an all you can eat and drink extravaganza as the sun dipped.  It was a nice way to finish a hard but satisfying day, of 135 km, 11 hrs and 2800 m of vert. Birds of the day were the grey currawongs we disturbed early on the Snowy River.

Needless to say we were early to bed and slept like logs, before getting up with the knowledge that another tough day lay ahead.  But the positives were numerous;  breakfast at Shano's, fantastic morning birdsong whilst climbing Scammel's spur, and a road we'd ridden before.  Despite the fact we were on sealed roads, we were on mtbs, so knew the climb to Dead Horse Gap would be tough.  It was, with a combined elevation gain of approx 2500 m for the first 70 km of the day.  But the climb was made more bearable with the knowledge that all manner of pies and milkshakes awaited at Thredbo village. 

Somewhat refreshed, the lure of the TVT was too much, and we had fun surfing shaded lines down to Crackenback Resort, whence commenced the last major obstacle for the day before dropping down to the village to close out a 115 km, 10 hour and 3000 m vertical jaunt.  Given that the hour was late, we made the rare decision to skip the bakery altogether and headed directly to digs at the Jindy Inn, where cold beer, snacks, as well as GK and Gillian awaited. 

More dreamy days of riding, swimming and walking followed, to the extent that I feel I've had about three holidays packed into one, which is just as well as these solid memories will have to, in part, sustain me till next time I manage to escape the inanity of a life mostly governed by labour expectations. 

Holiday Dave, dialling out...


Monday, 12 December 2016

Newcastle Overnight 2016

Conditions were perfect, apart from a prevailing headwind most of the way.  Mild evening, low humidity, and less traffic than previous editions, perhaps all attributable in some respect to the event moving from early Nov to early Dec. 

I’d had a rough morning after a work social the night before, suffering the indignity of being violently ill…in my car, and somehow also waking up with a black eye – these sleep injuries are getting more varied as one ages.  However come mid afternoon I felt ready for the dreamy adventure that awaited. 

The adventure started a little earlier than planned, as when Anita and I arrived at the station we were disappointed to see a sign across the entrance announcing track work, and buses replacing trains between Macquarie Uni and Chatswood.  But at least Anita got to discover the joys, firstly, of the LCNP, and secondly, of Fullers Rd, thus explaining the orientation of my circular mid-week commute.  Having gained Chatswood we were met with more signs announcing the whole of the North Shore line was out of action – hence more trundling to gain Observatory Hill, and the pub, whence we met Ben with still time enough for pizza and beer to be added to a still delicate stomach.

We met up with Andy, and a couple of hundred of others with similar contraptions at the start, and come 9 pm the field slowly inched over the bridge and through the hustle and bustle of North Shore traffic, before this was all left behind at Hornsby for the magic of the old Pacific Highway. 

As with previous additions, the food stops at Mt White and Budgewoi were much appreciated, savouring the delights of watermelon, Tim Tams, mixed lollies, coffee and, particularly, hot tea.  It’s amazing how refreshing a hot cuppa (or three) can be, especially if it’s been a while.

Despite starting at the tail of the field, we tapped out a decent rhythm and were fairly efficient at the stops such that we hit the Fernley track at about 4:30 am – before the birds had really got going, which was a bit of a shame, as birdcall through this forest corridor has in the past been one of the highlights.  The flipside was that we arrived at the baths in time to witness a magic sunrise, enjoy a dip, shower and relaxed breakfast, and make the 7:30 train home, which was considerably less crowded that the sardine-tin experience endured on a later train during the previous edition.

Once again one of my bicycle highlights of the year, enjoying probably the best conditions the underground event has experienced to date.


Monday, 28 November 2016

Operation Balcony

Before Operation Garage could be finished, let alone Operation Kitchen commenced, the more pressing issue of a balcony on its last jittery legs jumped to the top of the list.  It’s sagging mass was already being supported by telescopic poles I installed earlier in the year.  The weekend after returning from the US (August) I literally tore the old structure down, and then went about the job of procuring bits for its replacement.  Design would basically be the same, although with a few modifications; balustrade height in line with modern standards, and open deck edges to reduce kindling collection, which I figure is kind of important for a bushfire-prone location.  The deck panels are a recycled plastic-bamboo blend, as Bunnings couldn’t tell me which part of SE Asia the Merbau alternative actually came from.

The whole assembly process was a bit of a protracted process, with a few cycling-related things getting in the way, but the final touches were finally added on the weekend.

Big thanks to Ham for all his expertise with regards doing stuff with timber, and for his generous donation of tools, not to mention time.  Also thanks to all who pitched in for the critical “barn-raising” component of the project.  And thanks to Anita for her patience, not to mention all the hours of help with timber prep and staining, and keeping me plied in craft beer.  I suppose this means the kitchen has just moved up a notch (or two) on the list!