Monday, 8 December 2008

Grazed Anatomy

The events that unfolded on Saturday morning could not really have been scripted. I was slated to climb on Sunday, so Saturday was my chance to touch base with Gerard and BTi, with whom I hadn’t ridden for a while. On the menu was "3 valleys" with a 7:30 am M2 rendezvous. GK arrived at 7:05, cheery eyed and super keen – in contrast to my still-weary state as I readied myself to go. We were out the door on time, but only made it about 250m down the street before I heard an awful crunch behind me. GK had attempted to tweak the speedo sensor on his front fork, which was clipping the flea, whilst rolling. Somehow his right hand got sucked into the front wheel and jambed against the forks, locking its rotation and flipping himself and the rig such that he landed heavily on his head and shoulder. I feared the worst as he lay immobile, clinging to his RH side. After he settled from the shock it transpired that nothing appeared to be broken – besides one of the spokes in his front wheel and (brand new) helmet, although he had collected a heavy graze on his shoulder, as well as some pretty bloodied knuckles, not to mention bruised pride. Could have been a lot worse....goes to show how important helmets are. BT rolled down to help pick up the pieces. We strolled back to the house for a sit down and a cup of tea, and eventually couldn’t help but have a bit of a laugh about the stupidity of it all. With GK departing by car, BT and I decided we would still go for a spin...after all we were there, clothed and ready. However, with BT suffering from a bit of flu we decided we would simply head off for a burnt coffee (Bobbin Head Road) in lieu of the 3 valleys.

Upon approaching the café BT suggested we should at least do one valley – descend Bobbin Head and climb back up to the café. If only it had been that simple. Somehow on the way down, BT managed to overcook “cervelo corner” and had a “truly awful” crash, as described by the motorist in the 4WD who was coming in the opposite direction and who phoned the ambulance and helped direct traffic. BT was not in a good state, although he never managed to lose consciousness. Blood was streaming out of his helmet to the extent that I was initially reluctant to take it off. As well as collecting sizable grazes on his right side and shoulder, he had a nasty gash above and behind his right eye that would likely require stitches – probably the result of his bandly mangled shades being pressed into his skull! There was also some question as to whether he had broken his right collarbone as we loaded him into the ambulance. After the ambulance whisked him away, and I thanked the motorists who had given assistance, I stashed BT’s bike in the bushes (yes, the bike is OK!), rode home, showered, drove back to pick up the bike, then to Royal North Shore hospital where I found him relatively cheery and awaiting a second X-ray and 7 stitches. I imagine he will be sore for a few days to come, but the good news is that the shoulder is not broken, and he should be spinning the wheels again soon. The helmet really saved his bacon!

Fortunately for us the diver of the 4WD had been in a similar situation (as a driver) some years earlier, in which several cyclists missing a corner ended up over his bonnet! So this time, we he saw BT approach to said he knew what to do and applied the brakes well before BT had come off (BT lay a few meters short of the bumper bar). He also described the rear wheel swinging out to the side before BT high-tailed it (Beloki-style), which might provide some explanation as to what happened. Indeed, shortly after the crash the inner tube of the rear wheel exploded like a gun-shot. About a foot of outer tube was off the rim, preventing rear-wheel rotation. It is possible that displacement of the outer tube on the apex of the corner locked the rear wheel, causing the drift noticed by the motorist (Kristy once rolled an outer off a rim on a corner in a race. In BT's case the outer was all too easily stretched back on without tools). I was too far behind to really see what happened but I initially thought it odd that the rear wheel would have drifted out. When I crashed on the same corner a few years ago (on a Cervelo) it was the front that slipped from under me, although the road that day was wet. Then again, the tire might have rolled in response to the impact and not before?? Regardless, it’s a nasty corner which tightens, and has claimed many a cyclist in the past, including myself and Lawrence, and will no doubt claim more in the future.

Fortunately, that is the end of the grim news from this end. Hope no such incidents have befallen you northern hemisphere chaps!

I know that chicks dig scars, but don't do it again, BT.

Friday, 28 November 2008

Flight of the Concorde

First, a correction. The Grossglockner is not on the Italian-Austrian border. It is sort of in the middle of the country, about 100 km south of Saltzburg. That being so, it is still a long way from Kolin in the Czech Republic – approx 600 km, and the best part of a days drive, weather dependant. The forecast was not looking too rosy, although it looked best over the alps for a possible summit on Tues 25th. That said, we could still expect summit temperature to be -20 to -25 C (without wind chill) for the 3798m peak. Seriously cold, which is why the peak is normally attempted during summer months. Affording a day of travel, and a day to walk into the desired hut, this meant that we would drive down on Sunday 23rd, and that Saturday was a day of rest. One option for Saturday evening was to drive to a mountaineers gathering 2 hrs north on the German border, which Karel assured me would be a no-holds barred beers till 4 am affair….which would make the drive south on Sunday a bit more of an effort. So we stayed in Kolin on Saturday night, went to a pub for dinner, one thing led to another, and we didn’t get to bed till 4 am anyway. At least the drive would be easier, although not trivial given the amount of snow which had been falling constantly during Saturday and overnight.

Our mode of transport would be Karel’s motoring throwback to last century, his 1998 Chrysler Concorde – a 3.2 litre beast of a car which runs on both natural gas and petrol, is heavy enough to get through all sorts of snow, and big enough to carry all the various bits and pieces required for mountaineering trips. “Let’s go!” Traveling south through the Czech Republic to the Austrian border was indeed slow – narrow snow-covered roads. We had dinner in Cesky-Budejovice, of Budweiser brewery fame, where we hired the skis we forgot to pack?!, then continued on through the night, eventually approaching the Grossglockner from the south, and hitting the hay (literally) at about 1 am. Our abode was a road-side barn, about 12 km from the trail head (alt ~ 1200 m). Temperature = -5 C. Brrrrr, but quite cozy in the sleeping bag Jana lent me for the trip.

We coffee’d in Kals am Grossglockner before parking further up the hill at Lucknerhaus (1920 m) where we donned packs, clipped into skis, and started the slow approach into the mist through thick powder (11:30 am). This is the first time I’d cross-country ski’d in many years, and it was certainly more enjoyable in good snow, although energy sapping with backpack and naught but uphill ahead. En route we passed a couple of elderly Austrians in traditional garb (feather in felt hat etc), with rifles, on the hunt for deer – we passed one of these further up the trail as well – they seemed to be everywhere, as evidenced by numerous tracks in the snow. We climbed from 1920m, past the “Lucknerhutte” (2240m), and on to “Sudehutte” (2800 m) which, given the time of arrival, would be our base. Karel had originally intended aiming for the higher “Erzh. Johan Hutte” at 3450m, but the powder and continuous snow fall had made travel so slow and exhausting that we were lucky to make Sudehutte before we needed to get the head torches out. Temperature -10 C. Bloody hell! We soon got the wood fired stove going and managed to get the hut up to a balmy 13 C, allowing the drying of numerous bits of sodden clothing draped from racks above the stove. The log book revealed that the hut was last occupied over a month ago!

I was quite chuffed at feeling in such good condition but it wasn’t to last, as the headaches that normally accompany me (Karel too) at such altitude hit me early during the night, making extended periods of sleep near impossible. We decided not to do the traditional alpine start in order to avoid as much of the bitter cold as possible. In winter, as opposed to summer, the sun is your friend, what little there is of it. We still got up in the dark, went through the laborious task of dressing for the cold, and were out the door just as the morning light was showing at about 7:30 am. Onwards with the skis – my first real taste of ski-mountaineering – so much easier and faster than trudging NZ style. It was fantastic seeing the early morning light playing on all the adjacent ridges and peaks.

Although it was about -10 C, I was soon sweating up a storm, especially when the sun got a little higher. Temperature regulation is a major issue in this sort of activity. You can be overheating like crazy one minute, and only seconds later, if the breeze changes, feel the bite of frost nip on your nose or ears, or have your axe stick to your ungloved hand. A few times I removed my sodden gloves briefly to do something, and the breeze whipping past would freeze the gloves solid in seconds, making it difficult to get my toasty hands back into them. The temperature was also playing havoc with my camera, which would only take a few shots at any one time before quitting, requiring me to keep it near my chest, which made taking pictures difficult. I’ve been mountaineering a few times in NZ, but not experienced anything quite as extreme as this. At least the weather was holding. Actually, it was doing better than holding – despite early high cloud that concerned Karel, it was turning into a cracker of a day.

The route we were attempting, the “normal” route required us to cross the Kodnitzkees glacier, gain the south-east ridge, pass the E.J. Hutte, and follow the same ridge to the summit. We roped up to traverse the glacier and set a more or less direct course free of any obvious crevasses, and decided we wouldn’t worry roping up on the way down. Once we gained the ridge we dumped the skis and it was on with the crampons. Negotiating the mixture of snow, ice, and rock on the ridge up to the E.J. Hutte was made very safe by the provision of fixed cables in certain sections. This is one of the more popular peaks in Europe (the highest in Austria), and has been “fixed” in certain sections to make travel safe for the numerous guided parties that make the ascent. The view from the ridge and the E.J. Hutte was truly spectacular. We were now only a few hours (hopefully) from the top, although at 3450m, for our unacclimatized bodies, it was now a case a take 10 steps, take a breather, repeated over and over again.

The heat was really on now, with the sun as high as it would get for the day, and no escape from the radiation reflected from the snow and ice. We shed clothing down to a layer of thermals and a shell, dumped the packs, drank some Tang, and went for the top. About 45 min later we had gone as high as we could on the snow and pulled ourselves onto the narrow summit ridge. This is where things went a bit pear-shaped for me, I think a combination of vertigo – suddenly being confronted with massive drops on both sides, the narrowness of the ridge – literally a slip one way or the other could be irrecoverable, and dehydration – we started with only had 2 insulated bottles which couldn’t hold the volume of fluid we really needed, and you dehydrate fast at altitude. Additionally, the mixed nature of the ridge (combination of rock, snow and ice) made finding good footholds difficult, with lots of scraping of crampon points and axes on slippery rock. But Karel was cool as a cucumber, as always, and thankfully opted to take the sharp end of the rope.

The summit ridge is actually in 2 halves, with a sharp “notch” or col separating them, which was cabled on one side due to its steepness. Protection for the rest of the ridge consisted of metre-high steel poles drilled into the rock every ~ 5-10 metres. The method of leading, which I hadn’t seen before, involves the two climbers being tied together with approx 15 metres of rope. Both move at the same time, with the leader simply looping (one full loop) the rope around each pole as he gets to it, and the rope slithering around the pole as the leader continues. The second simply flips the loop off the pole as he passes it. So, there are usually 1-2 poles connecting leader and second at any one time. This method makes travel potentially fast, but I was a little freaked by the whole experience and had to take it slower. It took us about 1 hr, to travel the ~ 200m from the start of the ridge to the false summit, down to the notch, then back up to the final summit, which Karel suggested I lead.

I must admit that the emotions I’d weathered on the final ridge did result in my yielding a tear as I gained the summit at ~1:30 pm. Fabulous views all round, basking in sun, not a puff of wind, although bitterly cold. We munched on a chocolate bar that was so brittle I wasn’t sure if was the chocolate or my teeth breaking. Took as many shots as my camera allowed…. Time to move!

Aside; there was someone else on the mountain that day. As we were nearing the summit ridge, down below (about 0.5 km vertically below!) we noticed a lone skier, flying across the glacier on the tracks we had laid earlier in the day. About ½ way up the summit ridge we noticed that he had carried his skis through the lower ridge/rockband, and was now motoring up the final couloir to the ridge we were on. Unbelievable! From the summit, we watched him scrambling solo, without ice tools (gloved only), across the ridge to the false summit. He ended up crossing our path as we were approaching the notch on the way down. Seeing how fluidly he moved, and how he used he hands rather than an axe to find handholds was inspiring – so that’s how it was done! Watching this guy did wonders for my confidence, and I put the axe away and used my hands to discover all the holds – lying under the powder, that I’d missed the first time. With me showing more confidence our descent from the summit ridge went far more smoothly than our ascent. The local guide still passed us again before we hit the couloir, but we were functioning efficiently again. Half way down the couloir on skis he stopped, gave us a wave to confirm we were clear of the technicalities, then bang, he was gone. He cut an alternative line to bypass the E.J. Hutte and ridge, and in no time was carving across the glacier all the way back to Lucknerhaus where he had started that morning! (ie, where we had left the car the day before – talk about being humbled). Incredible fitness – knows the thing like the back of his hand, and well acclimatized, Karel assured me.

Our day was still far from over. We stomped down the same slope we has just seen ski’d, followed the guides tracks bypassing the second rock ridge to the bowl above the glacier, and traversed back to our skis and put the crampons away for the day. My skiing skills at this stage of the game were so dreadful that after a few stacks I ended up just hanging on to them and tobogganing the steep section on my backside, before re-attaching them for the lower slopes. Karel, of course had all the moves and added some nice tracks to those of the guide – before I bum-ploughed through the middle of them. As well as not being a particularly good skier, the skins on my skis had long ago become unstuck, and were separated from the plank by an inch of snow, held in place only by the tips and by tape Karel had applied in several locations on the first day. This, combined with major lethargy, dehydration and exposure, made the last couple of km extremely difficult, to the point where I finally entered the hut in a state of complete exhaustion and mild hypothermia, just as the sun bid us farewell for the day too. 6 hrs up, 3 hrs down. It certainly rates as one of the hardest days I have ever done.

After a few brews and a quick nap, we both got back to the business of celebrating our little achievement. We polished of the Gambrinus – which predictably failed to stop the constant ringing in our heads – and cranked the stove to maximum, getting the temperature of the hut to ~ 23 C!, which made taking a whiz outside a bit of a shock (-10 C). The following morning, with the weather closing in we packed it up, removed the skins from the skis, and descended through thick powder all the way back to the car. I think I crashed about 30 times and resorted to the stance of the snow plough for much of it. Skiing powder with a full pack is hard! Needless to say everything we had left in the car was frozen – coke, apples, beer, cheese, sausage etc. Back in civilian clothes we graced the same Café in Kals, where the man behind the bar, who recognized us from a few days earlier greeted us with a nod and “Grossglockner?”, which we acknowledged, followed by a knowing smile and, “kalt!?”.

The Concorde

The biggest mattress i've ever used

Our humble abode, night 1

The route

Heavy going, day 1

The Sudehutte (little one on the left of the Hilton), as photographed on our descent....

...and inside

The approach

having crossed the glacier we move up and around a buttress

time to dump the skis and pack the rope

lower ridge with fixed lines to gain the E.J Hutte

Still a way to go!

Karel, high on the final couloir

The precarious (false) summit ridge, just before the notch

Karel getting ready to descend to the notch. The true summit is top right.

The summit!

Karel approaches. The ridge we traversed, and false summit, are in mid-picture (extending diagonally upwards from RHS to LHS).

Time to flee

descending across the glacier

making good time at the end of the day

The next moring - one of my many stacks on our exit

The Grossglockner is in the background

Saturday, 22 November 2008

Postcard from Kolin

(disclaimer, this post drags on a bit)

It feels like ages since I last posted – ages in the sense that I feel like I’ve been put through the emotional and physical wringer about a dozen times. I had a brief period of calm at the reactor – combination of jet-lag and denial I think – before the sleepless pace I’ve been keeping for the prior couple of weeks resumed. With radiation training out of the way on the Wednesday, and appropriate accreditation and monitors hanging round my neck, on Thursday Andrew, who arrived late the night before, and I began the task of prepping all the samples for the neutron experiment. Jill would join us later that night. No pictures of the reactor or beamline this time BTW – security has been beefed up even more and I had to sign a counter-espionage form stating I would desist, for fear of being shipped of to some awful place should I be sprung with camera in hand. We had two experiments to perform, and decided to shoot what we perceived to be the “safe” experiment first. There was the usual yo-yo of emotions getting the samples ready. It’s fairly trivial stuff really, but when you are in an unfamiliar laboratory environment where nearly everything is different and calibrated for other purposes, and when you can barely keep your eyes open for most of the day, keeping track of the precious protein that you’ve slaved over starts to play on your nerves. We finally got the samples to good concentration and into dialysis and ourselves back to the hotel by about midnight. Might as well have been 4 am, however, because I only got about 3 hrs sleep that night, as for the previous night. My recollection of the rest of the experimental time is already a bit vague, but it went something like this;

Friday 14th. Beamtime starts 10 am. It takes an awful lot of work to prepare for these experiments, so it is somewhat pleasing when the first frame comes of the image plate and confirms that you have indeed made a cracker of a sample. Eureka moments like this in science are quite infrequent, so you’ve got to enjoy it when it happens, even if only for 5 minutes. Very exciting in a high-5 geeky sort of way – picture a bunch of nerds celebrating on The Simpson’s. With the data rolling off nicely it was time to get preparation of the second, and potentially more exciting, sample on the move. Finally got sample 2 up to concentration and into dialysis, and ourselves in bed by 1 am. Once again, despite being on autopilot for most of the day with horrendously bloodshot eyes, only snaffled another 2-3 hours night sleep. Did manage to read a fair chunk of Bill Oddie’s autobiography though. This body clock thing I was on is powerful stuff.

Saturday 15th. Got the reactor and confirmed that data collection had gone without a hitch through the night. Processed what we had. Looked good. Started shooting sample 2 late in the day but by about 10 pm we realized that we had major deuterium-related aggregation problems [I’ll say no more]. We set the instrument to record through the night and got to bed by midnight – snaffled about 4 hours sleep this night (an improvement!). Starting to think I’ve got this jet-lag thing licked.

Sunday 16th. Checked the sample 2 data and confirmed that this experiment wasn’t going to yield anything great, so decided to make higher concentrations of sample 1, (recycling what we had already shot), so we could get better statistics for certain data points. Very disappointing re sample 2 as I had worked bloody hard to prepare it over the week preceding the trip, although at least we collected A-grade X-ray data before getting on the plane. It was also on this day that I started putting some serious effort into a job application I had been avoiding like the plaque since stepping on the plane.

The job in question is one of the new fellowships on offer from the Rudd government as part of their Education Revolution. They will be difficult to procure, but the effort would certainly be worth the increase in salary if successful. After months of shameless shilly-shallying the administering body (Australian Research Council) finally announced the relevant dates for these so called “Future Fellowships”. Due in Canberra Wed 26th Nov, and due in the Sydney Uni research office (the forwarding administration) by days end Fri 21st Nov. Potential applicants were only alerted of these dates 4 weeks before applications closed, and 2 weeks before I was due to depart for the US. That’s what I call timing! I should add that normally grants of this size and complexity from the ARC take about a month alone to prepare.

During the wee hours of the lead up to the trip I managed to bash a basic skeleton of the proposal together. What it needed, though, was some serious fleshing out (aka spin and bullshitting). Well, with the assistance of a few very talented people in my corner (Thanks Jill and especially Joel) this fellow whom I barely recognize looks to now have a reasonable chance, I’d like to think. But it hasn’t been easy. Got an early one Sunday night (7:30!), but was wide awake at midnight, tapping away on the laptop – yes, another bit of technology I’ve begrudgingly embraced – till dawn.

Monday 17th. Today I left the bench work to Andrew (many thanks) and focused entirely on The Application. This is when Joel, out of the blue, offered to help from Oz and made some great suggestions. Jill departed that afternoon for Utah. Worked till 4 am, and finally grabbed 4 hrs sleep near the crack.

Tuesday 18th. Beamtime finished at 10 am, but we were already finished the night before, so it was just a matter of packing up everything and getting Health Physics to assay and give us radiation clearance on the samples which had been in the beam that we wanted to take home. After another brunch at Einstein’s Bagels (we had been operating on a 2 meals a day schedule for most of the trip), we had a hire car with useless Garmin (there you go Kev) to return, and a plane to catch in the afternoon. Was too trashed mentally to focus any further on The Application, so devoured most of the rest of Bill Oddie before eventually crashing to the soothing sound of a child screaming in my ear for most of the flight.

Wednesday 19th. Those few hours of ear-splitting Zzzzs between DC and Frankfurt were invaluable though, as they recharged me to the point of being able to thoroughly go over The Application during the 5 hours of stopover before my afternoon flight to Prague, and earmark where polish was most urgently required. Arrived at about 3 pm in a very windy Prague, where it was grand to be met by a beaming Karel. His English had been getting progressively more rusty in our email correspondence, but it all seemed to come back to him in bursts of laughter as we carried on about this, that and the other on our drive east to Kolin, Karel’s home town. It was great to see him. He says a big Hi, BTW to Ham, Greggles and BTi. We celebrated in the evening with a trip to the pub and a healthy dose of Gambrinus, Boskov (of course!) and finished with some Mataxa (orrible greek stuff that I hadn’t sampled before and don’t think I will again). I think it was the Mataxa nightcaps that did me in, as I was a bit hung over the next morning, but I did sleep solid for a about 6 hours – longest run to date!

Thursday 20th. With Karel and Jana out the door for work at 6:10 (!), I got going on The Application by 7:30, and only stopped to meet Karel at 1:30pm for lunch. However, after lunch, upon returning to the apartment I realized I had inadvertently locked myself out – not a smart thing to do as I didn’t know exactly where Karel’s business was, I was in sandals, and it was hellishly windy (gusts of 110 km/hr in neighboring Slovakia) and 5 C. Bugger – my teeth started chattering as the implication of what had just happed hit home. If only I’d bothered, after all, to lug along BTi’s bloody mobile phone!#@%! Fortunately my sense of direction didn’t abandon me and after about 20 min of very brisk walking, managed to find Karel and his work (well, the other way round; huge relief), who dropped me back and let me into the apartment. Got a few hours shut eye before once again getting back to The Application. Stopped for a yummy home cooked dinner at 9:30 (thanks Jana) before finally finishing the thing off, collating pages of The Application, and finally, after all this inhumane blood, sweat, tears and insomnia, getting ready to submit it in time for the close of business Friday 21 Australian time – which it would amply make if submitted there and then (midnight). However – you know it would have been too easy to have it just sail through… However, the wireless feature of the laptop Karel had brought home from work, which had been fine at 11 pm, spat the dummy when I tried use it again. It just wouldn’t connect to the server – something to do with the high winds, or maybe me inadvertently pressing the wrong buttons with letters in all the wrong places (also likely). Oh the pain! In any case, hourly during the night I checked to see if the server was up again. You can guess how much sleep I might have got last night!

Friday 21st. Which brings me to now. At 6 am Karel awoke, also couldn’t get sense out of the laptop, so bundled me into the car and off to his place of work, where I finally managed to get back on line and submit The Application, all 33 pages of the damn thing, at about 4:50 pm Australian time! Timing! Well, to be exact, although it is not quite as dramatic, I successfully emailed it to Joel back in Sydney, who acknowledged its receipt over the phone, and will take it from there (many thanks, once again Joel). So, hopefully, unless he discovers any clangors, that’s the last I’ll see of it, and the end of what has been a bloody stressful experience. It’s now 10 am as I finish typing this. I’ve just had a few beers to calm my nerves, and am about to have a shower and go to sleep for about a week.

But I won’t, of course, because on Sunday the meteorologists have predicted a patch of improved weather in the Alps over what we are experiencing now, and Karel and I have a mountain on the Austrian-Italian border to climb – The Grossglockner! Although now that I look at pictures of it I’m not so sure this is a good idea. I suppose we are at the mercy of the weather. Till later!

Wednesday, 12 November 2008


Have just arrived in the USA, and realised that I am without a list of email addresses (hand written, of course) that I would ordinarily carry.  And seeing as I'm now doing things remotely (via gmail account in this case) i don't have access to my old address (hidden on my PC in Eudora).  So, if you are perhaps expecting a message from me, or would like to say hi, please email me via either my standard uni address (, or my gmail address ( and I'll get back to you!

As for the flight - brutal as always.  Got home the night before at 3 am - an improvement on the last time i departed for an experiment (all nighter).  That said, the last 3 weeks has been the most intense build-up i've ever put myself through for an experiment.  But i'm cautiously optimistic that it will be worth it.  The samples looked excellent in Sydney, so i'll be disappointed if we aren't able to collect good data.  Anyway, spent the morning packing - running a little late as usual in such circumstances, ready to go, went downstairs to get the car only to be greeted by an empty garage.  My brain was so scrambled when i left work the night before that I simply directed the Cabbie to Bezerko Rd, rather than Denistone station, where I usually leave it.  So, took another cab to my car, drove back to home for my bags, then to my folks place, said goodbye to dad and finches, train to Uni, did the final pack of the experiment box, and immediately into another cab for the airport.  The plane then sat on the tarmac for an hour awaiting a connecting flight from Melbourne, which resulted in me missing my connection in LA (no thanks to the usual mega cue at US customs (45 min!)), then onwards to Washington DC, car hire - dodgy Garmin directions (better to use langles instinct next time), a 7/11 for dinner (chips and salsa) and bed by midnight (just).  As you might have gathered I didn't sleep much (hence this report), but i must soon away for a day of training at the reactor.....ZZzzzzzzz.

Monday, 10 November 2008

Sunday, 9 November 2008

Last Harrah for the Hamster

By the time Ham reads this, he’ll be in the US of A, where they have been kind enough to change the government for his imminent arrival. But I like to think I had something to do with it as well. Andy K suggested that my acquisition of a mobile phone might have constituted the anomalous flap of the butterfly’s wings that kicked off recent happenings – Howard’s end, the current economic meltdown, Sarah Palin running for office, Obama getting elected. Maybe when I lose or break the thing (dis)order will be restored.

It was a great evening Lisa and Ham. You’ll be missed! Ham, hope your flight was OK and you’re settling in, and Lisa, I hope the beaurocratic delay is not prolonged. Ham, we are expecting “Hamsterelli version 2” to keep us informed as to how “evrythang” is in that strange part of the world.

For me it’s been a mad couple of weeks, trying to prepare samples for an overseas experiment – and somehow just nailing them at the death (I think). Add to this the scramble to lodge a fellowship application - that's another story. I’ll be in Washington DC for a week, before skipping over to the Czech Republic to touch base with Karel and drown myself in Gambrinus and Boskov. If I manage it I’ll try to post a report en route.


Andy, Lisa, Ham and Liz

I love that shirt

Local entries in the Movember moustache madness. Apparently i've run foul of the rules by keeping the chinny chin chin bit.

Very fetching effort by Greggles, who credits Magnum PI as inspiration.

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

In todays SMH, Letters section

"Give pedal power more room

The results are in for efforts in support of the Gong bike ride ("MS chain gang chills after a day of thrills, hills and spills", November 3): CityRail - highly commended; NSW Police - highly commended; Roads and Traffic Authority - very disappointing. The staff were great but they were let down by the idiots who decided more than 11,000 cyclists could be safely confined to one lane of the Princes Highway, the breakdown lane on the Sutherland bypass and one side of a two-metre-wide cycleway in Wollongong.

A two-hour road closure would have allowed plenty of room for cyclists to sort themselves out safely and would have saved the ambulances a lot of work. The RTA seems able to close roads for the marathon and half marathon - why not for the biggest cycling event on the NSW calendar?"

[I suppose that is what I was trying to say - DBL]

Monday, 3 November 2008

To Gong and back

It was 2 years ago that I last did the Gong ride – and having just done it again I can understand why I only do it infrequently. Duffman was once again the instigator, and it is a good challenge for him as he only throws his leg over the top tube a couple of times a year now. And it’s for a good cause. I also consider it, to some extent, to be a protest ride – a litmus for the level of bicycle interest in the community, a show of strength that the pollies and town planners might occasionally take note of, especially if any get coaxed into actually taking part. And it must be considered a huge success this year with a record 14000 making the journey (according to today’s SMH). The weather was kind this year too, with a lovely taily blowing us along the last 30 km into the Gong. That’s the good.

The bad is that I spent much of it in cycling hell – just too many people, too many beginners on narrow restricted lanes, too much marshaled stopping and starting, and run by an organization who are not really up to hosting the size of event it has become, or don’t have the swagger with the police to properly shut some of the roads, or steal more than just a narrow lane for much of the course. Other major cities seem to be able to do such rides with 2 or 3 times the number. About 6 hours after starting off we completed the 85 km and rolled into the finishing park.

We eventually ended up at the North Wollongong hotel where a couple of very welcome ales were downed before steeling ourselves for the train-trip home. Whilst to their credit the SRA got the frequency of trains about right (we didn’t have to wait too long), they still demonstrated a breathtaking inability to exercise common sense. For some inexplicable reason our train pulled into St Peters but overshot the platform by 2 carriages. The train remained there with doors closed, tantalizing the occupants, many with crossed legs and swollen bladders, for about 10 minutes. The guard explained over the PA that permission was required for the train to reverse the ~100 metres in order to be properly positioned. This was subsequently denied, so the decision was finally made to open the doors of the remaining 6 carriages, and the occupants of the first 2 carriages who wished to alight were instructed to make their way through the carriages to the 3rd carriage where they could get off. A diabolical request, given how packed to the rafters each carriage was with bikes and bodies. Hence the state of beaurocratic madness the railways seem to have been reduced to. Those of you who opted for an earlier start and a car at the destination have obviously got this thing sussed! Still, I can laugh about it all now, and given how dodgy my memory has become I’m sure I’ll end up repeating the whole performance 2 years from now – or maybe even next year!

Another hold up, this time on the approach to Waterfall

Finally more peaceful riding as we cruise through the park

Anthony relaxing at Bald Hill. He used to Hang-glide off this spot in a former life

The edge of the world

On the fantastic new bridge


More bike Chaos.....

Monday, 27 October 2008

The Brown Jersey

With Ham soon departing for the US a “last Hamster Sydney ride for some time” was held on the 3 valleys course, ending as always with a burnt coffee at Bobo’s on Bobbo. It was the biggest showing we’ve had for some time, with 6 riders in all – Ham, BT Greggles, Mikey, Gerard and Moi. We should get Ham to leave (temporarily) more often. It was a nice surprise to have breakky capped with a drizzle of French bubbly courtesy of Lisa and Michelle who joined us later at the Café.

We’ll miss you Ham:(

Ham, resplendant in Brown, next to a resurgent Gerard

Fellowship of the Veuve Clicquot

Monday, 20 October 2008

Oaks Speedway

I finally succumbed to much pestering from Anita to take her on the Oaks mtb trail from Woodord to Glenbrook. I had resisted previously as the Oaks used to be quite a technical track with a knack for either dislodging people on steep bouldery descents –known to break more than just fingers – or at the very least wear holes in posteriors. But the powers that be have, in recent times, taken it upon themselves to bludgeon all the technical character out of the Oaks trail. Apparently they want to make it capable of accommodating fire trucks, or some such nonsense. So, over the last few traverses it has become progressively bulldozed, to the point that it is now virtually unrecognizable. Makes a mockery of the NPWS’s insistence that riders stick to the track and respect the bush. Only one last nasty section remained – well even that is now kaput. Disappointing from the perspective of challenge and aesthetics, but now a veritable speedway and excellent for beginners. Our loop up the highway and back down the trail was not, however, without incident. About ½-way along the dirt Anita alerted me to the fact that her machine was not shifting so well. Closer inspection revealed that the chain on her bike was effectively broken, but somehow one outside link at the damaged section was holding it together. Years of always carrying a chainbreaker with me on trails was just about to pay off. With the damaged link removed we were soon on our way again – it would have been a bloody long walk! One hour 10 to the trail head, and 3 hr 20 min car to car.

Sunday was spent at the bluies, climbing at Barden’s lookout. Despite the heatwave forecast it turned out to be a perfect spring day. We ticked the usual range of 19s and 20s on the main wall before popping round the corner for some of the steeper routes in the shade. Even managed to get myself up a 22, although with the misconception that it was actually 21 (well led Owen!). It would be interesting to know if I would have snagged it knowing it was 22. So much of climbing is mind games, you see.

The damaged link

Owen muscles through the low crux on a 20

Anita at the crux section of another 20

Dave Hemmings catching the rays as the sun swings over

Monday, 13 October 2008

Another 24 hrs

With Japan out of the way, next on the outdoors agenda was preparation for the annual 24 hr enduro event at Mt Stromlo in Canberra. Having enjoyed the last one so thoroughly, I was keen to do it again in 2008. But rather than enter as a team of 4 I decided to be a little bolder and enter as a team of three, ensuring about 8 hrs ride time a piece. This, of course, required my finding another two individuals I could persuade to partake in the stupidity exercise. And the easiest way to do that, of course, was to entice people who had never done the thing before – enter Lawrence and Ben. And so it was that the Wheeled Wombat trio was born. The bulk of our preparation was done individually – which for me consisted predominantly of getting in as many commuting miles in as possible – although I managed a couple of longer mtb rides with Ben, and I got out for one road ride with Lawrence (who summarily kicked my a*se all the way back from our 6-valley adventure to Mt White).

Our campsite this year was almost exactly in the same location as the RESMED camp was last year, although this time we were on the edge of the plateau with uninterrupted views down to the tent city and transition area, and the return leg of the blue lap. Once again, the course consisted of 2 halves, red and blue. The red lap, at 13.2 km, was basically the same as last year’s version although 1 km longer, and consisted of a long climb up to the summit of Mt Stromlo, followed by a fantastic descent which at first traverses across the mountain before the bone-rattling plummet back to the transition area. The blue lap was also a little longer than last year (15 vs 13 km), and had the same awkward technical rock-garden sections I struggled with last year, although the last 1/3rd was a considerable improvement – slightly bigger twists than last year and my favorite part of the course.

The “Le Mans” style race start was a bit of a balls-up in the sense that once the first riders of the various teams were sectioned off, a certain number of bike handlers (and bikes), were repositioned from one end of the line-up to the other. So, when things kicked off I followed the mayhem to where I was expecting Anita and my bike to be, only to discover that neither were anywhere to be seen. By the time I worked out where they were, I was literally stone motherless last (whatever that really means?) Hence ensued the dust-munching quest of working my way through the tail of the field, which on some of the steeper hairpins required me to get off and walk, the line was so slow and congested. It wasn’t until I got going on the blue lap that traffic really thinned out nicely, which is the way it basically stays for the rest of the event.

We budgeted that each lap, be it red or blue, would on-aggregate take us about an hour to complete. So, the plan was to each start by doing a red followed by a blue (a “double”), before handing the baton over to the next rider. This would ensure we each got to see the course during the light. During the night we would each do two doubles in a row, before doing a double each the next morning if time permitted. The day laps went smoothly enough, but backing up one double with another during the night proved to be a little more difficult than anticipated – mental note for next time (Oh yes, next time!). Hard as the night was (all our lap times suffered) we all got through the event in good spirits, with no major stacks (Ben survived one endo and Lawrence collected a couple of trees!), and no mechanicals. In complete contrast to last years team we were all riding tubeless this year, and pressures of 40 psi, as compared to the ~45-50 I was running last year. I’m guessing this is part of the reason for my A-lap splits being a little quicker than last year, although I like to think that my mtb skills are gradually improving too.

We ended up completing 23 laps in our 24 hours, fractionally better than last years team-of-four effort (22), on a slightly harder set of circuits if the fastest lap times and distance are compared between editions. Overall a very pleasing result and I’m already thinking about next year, the possibility of a hard-tail, and the return to a 4-man team with a new improved strategy (1, 2, 1, 2, 3, 4, 3, 4). Any takers?

Our view over the tent city

Me having completed a very dusty first double

Lawrence is ready...

and in action near our campground

Ben enjoying the morning sun on the second day

Cousin Ingrid, and her husband Craig, who competed for a 4-man team

Totally unrelated - Ellie (with Joss and Marcie), kissing her 20's goodbye.

With Ian, also in retro clobber. It was a great night!