Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Cosmic County

A dust storm on Saturday gave the western slopes a grey tinge, although this blew through by mid Sunday. Tony and Cathy kindly put us up at Mt Vic O/N.

Tony and Anita leading in stereo on the Scary Monster block

Tony on "The 80 minute Hour" (18)

Had a good day at the County, ticking close to 100 points (13, 21, 18, 21, 21), with highlights for me being still able to climb the mighty Barbarossa (21, which now finishes at rings ~40 m to the deck) and discovery of the newly re-bolted Colditz (21 - all fixed hangers with rap station at the end ~25 m to the deck). Perhaps further action by the bolting fairies will return the crag to its former glory, although it still requires a 45 min trudge in and out.

Monday, 16 November 2009

North Brother

Spent the weekend at Port Macquarie catching up with Chris and his familiy. Chris, in large part, is responsible for getting me into riding many years ago. Highlight for me was an 80 km "spin" which involved climbing the brutal "North Brother" at the 1/2 way point. Chris mentioned that it was 5 km at 10% - i thought he must be kidding - but that's literally what it turned out to be, from sea level to 480m on a dead track with the pitch barely deviating. I went pretty hard at the start to keep the young whipper-snapper Cain in check, but this resulted in us both blowing and I had to fight really hard just to turn the cranks on some ramps (starting to think compact for europe next year). The consistent grade reminds me of the stiff middle section of Luz Ardiden. This now probably rates as the hardest "big" climb I know of in Oz, with Buffalo (18 km but shallower) coming in second. Topped out in 22:30. The hillclimb record stands at approx 17:30, set earlier this year, where my time would have gained me 5th. Incidently, local mtber and world 24 solo champ Jason English came second in the hillclimb with ~18:00. So that's the difference in engine quality i'll be up against again next year.

Spectacular view from the top, looking north

Chris and his two young chargers - Ryan and Cain

Chasing Cain and Chris on the long drags home

Ryan enjoying the pace.

Monday, 9 November 2009

another 24

…but different. Not bikes but birds this time. Just participated in my first 24 hour "twitchathon". In this race of extreme birdwatching the team recording the largest number of species in 24 hours wins. And although the race "finishes" at 4 pm on the Sunday at any of a number of designated spots, the start at 4 pm Saturday and the intervening time can be spent anywhere.

I've always been interested in birds, but would have only classed myself as a casual observer, as apposed to a serious birder. But perhaps this event changes things a little. Having heard what I was up to, Tim (in disbelief) reckons I'm the most competitive bloke he's ever met. That I seriously doubt (coming from a CEO with some A-grade heavies on the board of directors), although if I'm interested in something I do like a good challenge. Our team (myself, Rob and Andrew from work, and Ed) decided to start out near Coonabarabran. Hence, the marathon really started on Friday night, as we crammed into the langles-mobile and headed up the New England Highway, staying in Scone overnight. [actually, if you include the fact that various members of the team had been out scouting regions on weekends leading up to the Twitch (Anita and I made a trip to Hexham Swamp, near Newcastle), it's more than just a "casual" single weekend event]. The next morning we were in the car by 8, direction Quirindi, where we stopped at a bakery for breakfast, before scouting the first of many locations that we would come back to later that afternoon when the race was under way. Got a good look at many of the dry country birds in the process, many of which I hadn't properly laid eyes upon before ("lifers", in twitching terminology. At Breezer, we even spied a "Little Curlew" which we subsequently discovered had not been recorded in NSW for 5 years. Unfortunately, this fellow, along with a yellow-billed Spoonbill (that we also failed to get later in the event), where absent upon our return that afternoon, so didn't count. The Curlew would have been a shoe-in for the "rarest-bird" prize.

With barely time for lunch the hours whittled down till we had to head to where we intended to start in the Pilliga scrub. However, a fuel miscalculating resulted in a diversion to Coonabarabran to make sure we wouldn't get stranded anywhere. This domino'd into a belated arrival at a pair of locked gates preventing our reaching the desired start point. Without time to look for an alternative site, when 4 pm clicked by, this is where the Twitch commenced. Not the ideal start, but we were under way none-the less, but the additional walking we had to do to reach interesting (and un-scouted) habitat would cost us later on. After about 45 min and with ~30 species in the bag we were back in the car bumping along the dusty road back to the Oxley Highway, screeching to a halt whenever someone spotted something warranting further investigation. This juggling act of frenzied driving with intermittent stopping was modus operandi as we worked our way back towards Breeza, and Quipolly Dam east of Quirindi - we had to be there before dark! We got there….just as the sun disappeared, and although we got most of the waterbirds we were after (some by silhouette), we really could have used another 30-45 min to get many of the forest birds which were essentially shutting up shop as we arrived. This late arrival was nearly a monumental stuff up.

With the sun long gone we spot-lighted the road for another 45 min or so before piling back into the car (with the count at 90) and making the long, and then serpentine dirt road drive to the Allyn river campsite in the guts of Barrington tops National Park. We arrived at around midnight, but then spent the next couple of hours spot-lighting and listening - desperate to pick up a few owls (eventually got a Boobook owl and an Owlet-Nightjar). As we hit the sack next to the car at ~ 3am, the count was 92 species.

The next morning (~2 and 1/2 hours later) rates as the most spectacular dawn chorus I've ever heard. A wild cancophany of tweets, woops, hoots and many mysterious calls. Easy to hear, hard to see. By 7:30, having got a good swag of the rainforest species we weren't going to get any where else, we were back in the car and re-negotiating the winding dirt road en route to more forest, wetlands, and even the ocean, to get the seabirds. Mid-morning the tally was only ~125, and I was starting to doubt that we'd get the 170-180 we were hoping for.

With only hours to go we were still scratching to get many of the birds we take for granted in Sydney. We only got the Rainbow Lorikeet, Spotted Turtle-Dove and Red Wattle-birds in the last hour, and unbelievably, dipped out entirely on species such as the Grey Butcherbird, Little-wattlebird, New Holland Honeyeater, Koel, and Channel-billed Cuckoo -all of which now taunt me on my commute to work each day.

The end came (ie 4pm) and we congregated with the other teams finishing at the Wetlands Centre in Newcastle. Everyone, including us, looking pretty exhausted from the experience. We ended up with a count of 173 (and ~700 km diving), placing us (The Plain Wanderers) in 13th position (as per my last 24). About 50 species were new to me - i'm sure i'll not manage such a jump in my Australian list again. My 3 favourite observations were the Double-barred Finch at Stockton Sandspit, the male Mistletoe bird in the Pilliga, and the White-fronted Chats at Hexham swamp). We were pretty satisfied with 173, given it was our first attempt, although we were humbled by the winners (The Menacing Monarchs), who bettered their 2nd placing of last year to finally win the Twitch with 247 (another record). It was a great, albeit exhausting experience, but we all reckon we've got at least one more in us, and plan to be back next year to see if we can tick a double ton.

Most bizzare tick - though not of the feathered kind. North west of Quirindi, in the middle of wheat plains is a stand of literally 10 scrawny gums - inhabited by two Koalas!


I just recieved a couple of emails officially confirming that I have (unwittingly) qualified for the 24 hr solo championships OF THE WORLD (spoken Jeremy Clarkson style) to be held at Mt Stromlo in Oct 2010. This eventuates if you cover at least 75% the distance of the winner at one of various qualification races, the Scott being first for the 2010 worlds. Crikey! Can hardly decline participating given it's effectively in my own back yard (first time in Oz), even if i'm only making up the numbers. Ben alerted me to another qualification race in Feb about which i have politely declined interest. His reply;

"For the record, you've gone from 'shoot me if I ever decide to do one of these solo' to 'I've only got one of these in me a year'......."

Monday, 19 October 2009


Gained one, but losing two. Safe travels Ham and BT.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Jurassic Arse

Scott24solo - Firstly, I survived!

Second, the "solo" category is highly misleading, as a rider without good handlers is next to useless and would be reduced to a quivering Gollum-like creature - no, far less energetic than that (but just as stooped) - once the fatigue sets in (ie, about 6 hours into the event). Despite the name, this is still very much a team event, and I reckon my handlers must be close to the best in the business.

Anita and I arrived at Mt Stromlo Friday eve to discover that Michael, who had arrived early in the day, had bagged a prime campsite for team "Megasaur-arse" next to the trail in the high plateau "overflow" camping area. This was going to make pit-stopping a breeze. Unknown to us at the time, the course actually passed on both sides of the campsite, meaning that upon initial passage back to transition I could place an order for a banana, bottle, etc, and pick it up upon my return 5 min later. Perfecto!

Having pitched the tents Anita and I headed back to Canberra to stay with my cousin Ingrid, and her husband Craig who, incidentally, has raced the Scott24 solo on two previous occasions, and lent me some valuable advice, not to mention treatment during the nightshift (a physio by profession). So, a good night sleep was captured next to the fire in the lounge room. And yes, I was already having mtb dreams. This race was something I had entertained for some time.

Day soon followed, and in no time it was midday and the event was under way. Although solo riders got a rolling start, within a few km the leaders of the multi-person teams (who had to run for their bikes) were already streaming past us before the single track of the main climb started. I was adopting a different strategy to previous 24 events I had done, and opted not to carry the whole camelback shebang on the back, but keep the toolkit very minimal (2 x CO2 canisters, chainbreaker, chain links, tire levers) under the saddle, pump on the crap-catcher, a bottle on the frame, and only carry a mbl phone and a spare tube on my back.

The course, BTW, consisted of a day lap and a night lap (of 19 and 17 km, respectively). The rules are simple. Person/team to complete the most number of laps wins. Categories included solo, and teams of 2, 3, 4, 6 and 10, times by male, female, mixed, and single speed. In all, 2500 riders, and an estimated 8000 people camped at the event (according to the ACT news the following day). Quite a spectacle. Road racing was never like this!

Once under way, I made a special effort not to overdo it, as I was planning on being out there for the entire 24 hours. Many of the more technical parts of the course presented several options - an A (technical) and a B (less technical) line. The A's were more direct, but the consequences more dire should you crash. The obstacles were also rated - 1, 2, or 3 stars, depending on the severity. On that first lap I found myself negotiating chutes that I would never attempt on my own. But with a wheel 4 m in front, and another 4 m behind, I held my position and unwittingly negotiated all the 3 star A lines without bother (although it certainly got the adrenaline running at times). The only part of the course where I took the B-line was a drop-off back near transition. This feature was part of the Worlds course held a month ago, and was avoided by even some of the world caliber riders. With the A-line rated as only 2 stars, I vowed to knock it off next lap so that I knew there was no part of the course I couldn't handle.

Another lap and this last obstacle approached. However, I was delayed immediately prior by a slower rider, and consequently didn't carry the speed necessary for the drop off, and over the bars I went. As I dusted myself off, someone from the assembled crowd wryly stated, "mate, you're not the first". Bugger. Crashing inside of the second lap was not part of the plan. As well as losing skin off my right side, the bar extender on the LHS was snapped clean off. This would prove to be a costly loss as my ability to ride standing out of the saddle was seriously diminished - reducing my ability to rest my back and arse in such a stance - both were seriously sore by about midnight.

First couple of laps aside I ended up pitting once a lap. Typically this would involve stepping off the bike and shuffling over to the heater to sip on a cup of noodles, tea or lasagna. Meanwhile, my chain was being oiled, my bottle swapped and my back and/or kneck worked on. Small-talk round the "fire" with my primary handlers (Anita, Ben, and Craig) and the others from Team Megasaurase was a great diversion to the job at hand, and something I really looked forward to towards the end of each lap, especially during the night. On a good stop the entire pit was over in 5-10 min. The longest pit (approx 30min) was at about 2 am, where I had a complete change of kit and went for my warm gear. Word is that it got down to 1 C, although it didn't feel quite that cold. By midnight I was on my 10th lap, and initial plans of knocking off 20 looked optimistic, as I was really creeping, especially on the climb. 18 laps looked like a more achievable target.

Gradually the sky lightened, and my splits improved as day arrived, and the lap count slowly increased into the mid-teens. I thought that the last lap would never come, but eventually it did. Support from the riders out on course was fantastic. Solo riders get a "solo" plate to attach to the rear of the bike, so that the team riders on their hot laps know to give these guys a little more latitude (which I expected), but I didn't expect the huge volume of encouragement I was also given (and the occasional push), which made the slow parts of the course that much easier. And so it was that I went through the timing chute for the last time, completing my 18th lap - I must confess with a tear in my eye. It was a great emotional relief, and very satisfying, to know that it was over.

The crash aside, I managed to get through the entire event without a mechanical or puncture, although a must have passed hundreds of people changing tubes (tubeless a must!). Lots of busted rear derailleurs too. I started off with a brand new tire on the rear, and pressures of 30 and 32 psi (front and rear, respectively). The course, btw, although different to the two previous years, was still pretty brutal, and I suspect the constant pounding was knocking some air out of the new rear tire, which might yet to have been sealed perfectly. About 5 laps in I suspected it was getting a bit squishy - confirmed by Ben to be only 25 psi! So we topped it up, and I think Craig might have added some more air later, and I just kept riding. The ipod and its carefully compiled contents were never called upon. Sleepyness was never an issue on a course where constant concentration was the norm.

Team Gigantosaurarse (my alias - and status by about 1/2 way!) is recorded as finishing 15th in the solo men, but i had a transponder issue (it fell off and was later replaced) and they've cheated me out of a lap which will hopefully be verified by the number takers on course. If counted, that would place me 13th in solo male (of ~100), and 24th out of 180 overall if Vets, SS and chicks (yes, two) are also accounted for. Very happy with the result. With approx 320 km covered and ~ 7000m of climbing on a pretty tough course it was certainly the biggest day on the bike I've even done. The winner, BTW, the current World Champion, covered a touch over 400 km with 9000m of climbing.

A few thank yous-all. As mentioned up front - in most respects "solo" is a team category, and I could not have done anywhere near such a good ride without the fantastic support of my handlers. Anita and Ben took shifts having hot food ready for nearly every stop - neither really got any sleep. Ben, with help from Craig ensured that Old Stump was lubed and running well (serviced every 2nd lap). All three periodically worked on my neck, mid- and lower-back. The guys on Team Megasaurarse (Michael, Tony, Dave and Andrew) also lent encouragement and humour, in the pits and out on course - as did Felix and the noodle - much appreciated guys. Ben also gets special mention for encouraging me to give it a go in the first place, and in the same breath offering to handle me - a very gracious thing to do. Having such support meant that pulling the pin was never an option.

My immediate thought once finished was "thank God that’s something I don't ever need do again". It’ll be interesting to see if/how my perspective changes in the goodness of time.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009


Finally some rain, which we desperately needed, but not perfect timing for the long weekend before the 24. My riding has been consistent, which is good, with a month of 300+ km/wk under my belt, but this weekend beckoned as the last chance for some serious miles before a week of fattening-up leads into the 24 next weekend. Two weekends ago Joel and I did the Andersons/Oaks double in 5:40 for the 93 km highway/double-trail loop (my default harden the FU ride before mtb events). The highway bit was tough due to a ferocious headwind. Although mega-fit from running, Joel struggled a little on the bike, which he only rarely throws a leg over, but otherwise put in a sterling effort.

Last weekend I was intending to do the trail again, but with the twist of going up the Oaks first, but heavy rain put an end to that. In the Glenbrook car park I resigned myself to only doing the Oaks loop, but upon arriving at the Oaks turnoff the rain had ceased sufficiently to entice me further up the Hwy. By the time I got to the Lawson Bakery the rain was hammering. Either way from here was going to be cold wet and miserable, so I woofed down a pie and headed up the last bit of highway to the Wentworth Falls turnoff at 850m altitude. Having got there (visibility 10 m, temp < 10 C)) I was a little worried as not only was I soaked to the skin but my hands were now numb to the point where changing gear was near impossible, and even breaking was inducing cramping in my right hand - no good when you need to let the front break off again! I decided to commit to the trail, as at least in the bush I wasn't going to get run over by a truck, or freeze to death waiting for a train. I was banking on warming up once I lost some altitude - which fortunately was the case, and I worked out how to change gears using the palms of my hands. Well down the trail now I started to warm up, regained the use of my fingers, and was finally able to turn on the gas - Andersons is a great trail to ride hard! Negotiated the final descents gingerly, and in no time was nice and warm on the big climb out of Bedford creek. The "trick" of using electrolyte in my bottle was also paying dividends (no cramping to speak of - a no brainer for most people). I had been following a pair of tracks for most of the ride (another pair of desperadoes), and eventually caught these guys at the Oaks trail-head. Blasted the Oaks and was back at the car in 5':03" - easily a record for me, and in spite of the poor conditions.

A mega-clean of Old Stump followed (before getting drenched again on the Monday - but that's another story), including new rear pads and new rear tyre. Incidently, since going tubeless (just before the Scott24 last year) I have been riding the same tires and still not suffered a puncture - amazing given some of the terrain. I counted 9 bleed points in the old rear tyre which have all been sealed by "Stans solution" sloshing around inside. That's 9 punctures I would have otherwise had to fix along the way. So, if you are considering getting into mtbs, tubeless is the only way to go.

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Red sails in the sunrise

23-09-09: Biggest dust storm in Sydney since 1939.
Not the best tonic for this cold i'm struggling to kick.
Some snaps on my way to work;

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Mogo 100km (Angry Dr)

Crikey that was a tough one. This race had a reputation for being a little tougher than similar "100 km" events, such as Dirtworks and the Highland Fling. Perhaps most telling was the fact that the winning time for Dirtworks is typically 4 hrs flat, whilst for the Angry Dr it is 4 hr 40 min! As I went round Dirtworks in 5:20 this year, I expected to do the Dr in the order of 6:20, although naturally I wanted to go as fast as possible, and maybe go under 6 hours. After all, how bad could such an apparently non-technical track be?

I hadn't done any specific training for this one - just relied on my commuting base - but was none-the-less ambitious. So too was Gerard, who was back from Europe for a few weeks and was looking to do a good show after a solid European base. However, whether it was just travel gremlins, or bad food gremlins, Gerard spent the day before being violently ill, so it was always going to be touch and go to even get him to the start line. We drove down the day before (approx 4 hours south of Sydney). The weather was unseasonably warm, as evidenced by the millions of termites that filled the air like big snow-flakes as we drove south. Dined on Italian (well, I did), and were in bed at a local Caravan Park by 9 pm. Race day dawned clear hot and windy! I started with 2.5 l of water on my back, and followed the advice of others by starting at the tail of the elite field so as not to get stalled in the early single-track sectors.

Only 10 km into the event I realized it was going to be a bloody hard day at the office. It was not that the trail was technical - it was actually beautifully groomed - nearly the whole way, but it generally went up or down, up, down etc. And the ups were generally non-nonsense steep straight affairs. In all I counted about 11 major uphill sectors - 2 in the first 10 km! Very few flat sectors existed where one could maintain good pace and rhythm. Even the second climb of the day I found myself walking the steep parts, as I didn't want to fry myself on a day where I didn't seem to be producing any sweat due to the ultra-low humidity, high temp (30 C +) and high winds. In hindsight I again went too hard too early, initially clinging to the wagging tail of the elite field. By the 30 km feed I realized that just finishing would be an achievement. At 40 km the cramps started, and I progressively polished off the water on my back to limp into the 1/2-way feed. Not for the last time, I refilled my bladder, and headed off hoping for a kinder 2nd half. By the 60 km mark I started to witness sights I have never seen at such an event before. With every corner turned another rider would be off the trail, doubled over trying at address cramp. Not much racing being done any more, it was all about survival. I suppose I was moving through the course in the company of about 30 other riders - all cramping intermittently, frogging forwards and backwards. "See you at the next cramp". It was almost comical. At about 65 km I was actually wondering weather I'd be able to finish. I think I stopped to de-cramp over 20 times! Somehow got to the 80 km feed - bladder empty, and refilled it for the 3rd time! The fact that my front rotor had been whistling annoyingly for most of the race (turned out to be a loose bolt housing the caliper to the frame) was merely inconsequential compared to how stuffed I was. I still don't quite know how, but eventually crept to the finish in 6:38. How grand it was to lie down in the shadow of the car, even if my legs were cramping.

Gerard, still by no means well after no meal the night before and hardly any sleep, decided to give the 50 km event a go (the first 1/2 of the 100 km course), but wisely decided to pull out at the first feed. Better luck for the next one GK, and the return flight! Despite the fact that this was the hardest enduro mtb event I've yet done, and despite the liberal sprinkling of steep bergs, this is certainly a course I want to do again, as the bulk of the single tracks are sublime, and like nothing else I've ridden thus far. I'll be back....maybe.

Postscript: On a sad note, and perhaps a reflection of how brutal the day was given the conditions, one of the 1000 competitors collapsed and died of a heart attack, despite having completed 4 Australian Ironman Triathlon Championships previously. Very sobering to realize that it could happen to any one us - and a warning to me that if I'm going to keep entering these events, which I love in a masochistic sort of way, I've got to listen carefully to my body and give the events the respect they deserve.

Monday, 7 September 2009

Nano-step for mankind, but giant leap for langles

In a stunning advance, which will have long-time observers stroking their beards in wonder, I have broken down yet another technological barrier and acquired an ipod - albeit the oldest model still available. With the 24 on the horizon, and judging by some of the reports I've read regarding the psychological battle which will ensue, many have credited success in some part to having one of these babies help them through the night, when conscious thought otherwise does naught but convince you of how stupid and pointless the whole exercise is - one which should immediately be replaced by sleep for a month. And I must say - in only the few weeks I've had it, this thing has changed my life! The drudgery that normally accompanies the evening commute in the dark is no more. Just gotta make sure it is also not the cause of my being flattened by a bus.

On the weekend, went down for the MTB worlds at Mt Stromlo in Canberra. Fantastic spectacle. Got a good dose of trials, half-pipe, downhill and cross country. Inspirational, especially considering that many sections of the XC and DH trails I will be riding over next month. Both mens and womens XC races came down to riders finally cracking their opponent on the last lap! And more 29ers on show as well in both events - probably the platform I'll go with on the next machine I purchase, although when this might eventuate is still not lucent in my financial crystal ball.

"I see it Chewie, but it doesn't come up on any of the charts"

Swiss rider, and eventual winner, Nino Schurter, keeps in close check with favourite Julien Absalon (Fra), at the technical "Hammerhead" descent on the XC course. Several riders crashed in this section.

Riders on the pinch climb of "Cardiac Hill"

One of many bikeasuari littering the village

the appropriate named "Zed's Dead" chopper

An almost unbelievable skinny GK drops in for the valleys.

negotiating the hammerhead

cardiac hill - have to tilt your head for the start of this one

Monday, 31 August 2009

Bellbird Wall (Sun 30th Aug)

Actually went climbing with Neil on Sunday, in spite of it being a real howler of a day. Last time I climbed with Neil outdoors was probably Araps Feb 2008! He was keen to do something after last weekend's blokefest, so we initially eyed up BBB, but the winds made it all too dangerous. Instead, decided to do "Bellbird Wall" at Pulpit rock near Blackheath. Facing east it should have been on the lee side of the wind and sheltered, yet get morning sun on a chilly one - the perfect location for such a day. Unfortunately, whilst generally well protected from wind, the sun was already round the corner when we arrived. To add insult to injury, the rap in was a bit of an epic - although at least it was in the sun :) Should have been 2 strait-forward 50m drops, but we somehow started at the wrong rap station (the one in the sun!) and ended up descending down what turned out to be a grade 27 called "Stone Poem" involving 3 drops, 2 of which were hanging belay anchors which requiring some swinging to even reach! Fortunately, Neil has a very cool head for such things. Ended up doing the climb - pitches of 16, 17, and 15, which on the whole is probably worth the 2 stars apportioned. Ring bolts all the way. 1st and 3rd pitches lovely- 2nd one; awkward loose damp crumbly horrorshow, but with amazing warm moist draft pumping up the upper crackline - a first for me and very welcome for numb fingers! Normally such cracks give you a blast of chilled air. Afterwards went to Mt York to try to catch some rays in the form of Exhibition Wall. Last time i climbed it was probably 1991! Still a great route, which pushed me at all three cruxes but I got it clean...just... again. Stiff for 21 - probably why i've given it a wide berth for so long.

The grade 16 slab on Bellbird Wall - a clean bit of rock amidst a sea of rubble

Neil topping out, with good exposure below

... and hovering on the upper section of Exhibition Wall

pizza wheel

Monday, 24 August 2009

Old farts blue gum whiskey bash

With Ian turning 40, Heidi requested I help lure him out of the house for a "males howling in the wilderness" type of experience, just like times of old. So it was that the two Daves, Ian and Neil ended up walking into Acacia flat next to the mighty blue gum forest for a night of blokey excess. Actually, it was the two Daves who got there first. We were one of just two parties in the forest that night, and Dave and I set up camp at the blue-gum end of the flat so that Neil and Ian, who would be walking in through the dark, would have no trouble locating us amongst the scrubby wattles, growing back vigorously after the fires that ravaged the forest a few years back. We needn't have worried. Before taking the big plunge down from the lookout at Perry's, Neil proclaimed to Ian with lofty outstretched arms, "there is mars, and there is Dave", presumably followed by considerable laughter. Apparently our camp fire was one of several bright objects in the darkness that eve, and could be clearly identified from the top of the valley wall some 400m above.

When they stumbled into camp, the clock really could have been turned back 20 years - same voices, laughter, bad fashion (tracky dacks, flannos), vintage rucksacks etc. Only thing to change is that we were all at or around 40 now - sporting in some cases either less hair, some grey hair, or a combination of both. Anyway, it was a great night involving curry (thanks Heidi) beer, wine and whiskey. The next day we slept in, breakfasted on pancakes (nice one Dave), slowly packed up and set off back up the track at about noon. Once back at Blackheath we sampled more pies and chocolate before the drive back to Sydney. It was great to catch up with everyone in the context of that great place. Looking forward to doing it again, hopefully many more times before we add another 20 years to the ledger.