Monday, 18 May 2009


Warning. This report contains images of dead animals which might offend some viewers.

The riddle of what has been excavating my veggie patch on a nightly basis, yet without consuming the veggies themselves (automatically ruling out possums - which eat everything - even poisonous rhubarb - leaves and all), has been solved. It was suggested to me by someone else in the area that if the excavations were conical (they are), then I might have a marauding bandicoot living nearby. They burrow rich soil for worms and other invertebrates. This suspicion was confirmed in an unfortunate manner on Sunday morning as I rolled out on the bike. There, just down the street in the middle of the road was the form of a creature I've never set eyes upon before. My book on Australian mammals confirmed unequivocally that it was a long-nosed bandicoot. What's more, later that evening, I pursued an oft-heard rustling in the garden into the bush, to be met with alarm calls "KE….KE…" - akin to the squeak made by treading on a rubber toy. These matched exactly those described in the field guide. So, along with positive IDs of possums (ring and brush-tailed....yawn), and sugar gliders (somewhat more exciting), I can report that I share my abode with another oddball marsupial that is uniquely Australian. Hopefully the next one I get a good gander at will not be sleeping roadside.

And while on the topic of roadkill, later whilst climbing out of Galston gorge with Anita and BT, I noticed another Australian I've never before set eyes upon - what I think is an owlet nightjar - sort of like a miniature tawny frogmouth. I'm sure I have these (nightjars) out the back of my place - I just don't know how to recognize the call yet.

That's it for the dead animals! The rest of Sunday was consumed building a flight cage for the budgie I inherited from John and Francis. I bought him/her a friend, but they weren't getting on so well. I decided that a bigger cage was in order. Inspiration was in the form of the cages I have been building to keep the possums out of my pots. There is a bit of a bicycle theme here as well, as the frame for the tubular construction is in the form of brand new Mavic GEL280 rims - strong and light, they do the job perfectly! Ham and I procured about a dozen of these a few years ago from a shop offloading them for $5 a pop, with a view do doing some track racing and building a stack of wheels for the job. But as that never quite got off the ground, I hope Ham wont mind me putting them to an alternative use.

Mysterious diggings - exhibit A

exhibit B

exhibit C

The new Mavic Budgie - during construction, with the old abode in the background

And installed

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Wolgan Valley

The last time I climbed at the Wolgan, Iain and I had a bit on epic on "Excaliber", which rockets up the 100 m upper cliff of Old Baldy. We finished the climb after dark and stumbled back into camp at about 11:30 pm that evening. It took us most of the next day to retrieve gear we had left at various points. This sealed a perfect 3 out of 3 with respect to numbers of days E and I had climbed together at the Wolgan and returned to camp after dark. So it was somewhat surprising that E nominated (and Kate agreed) to returning to the Wolgan for a bit of camping and climbing with young Ollie in tow.

Most of us arrived on the Saturday morning. Camp was eventually established at the campsite across the river - 4WDs only now - but Tony kindly ferried the contents of the Ferrari across. In attendance - Tony, Cathy, Iain, Kate Ollie, Jeremy, Claire, Anita and I. On Saturday arvo Tony, Anita and I made our way up to the Coke Ovens for a spot of climbing. We had a great time on "Dan the Bulldog" (17) before heading back to camp. Remarkably, we even made it back to camp before true dark had set in (although the evening chill was certainly established), breaking the after-dark hoodoo. However, we arrived back at camp to discover that the Bogans From Hell had arrived and set up camp next door. How's the serentity? Drinking since they arrived in the early afternoon, the boozing, tree-felling, swearing at maximum volume, a stint of country music, and more boozing and swearing continued till about 4 am. You can imagine how relieved we were at signs of the camp being dismantled the next morning. Yippee! We finally had the place to ourselves. That afternoon E, Tony, Cathy, Anita and I headed back to the Coke Ovens (where we had stashed our climbing gear). Anita and I tackled "Marchiage" (20), whilst Tony made a valiant effort, including some improvised aiding, on the horrendous looking jamb crack that is "Sizzler" (19+2 = 21). E did well to get a mostly clean second under the belt. I don't think any of us will be lining up to jump on it again soon. We had an assorted play on "Deathbed Confessions" (13) and "dtbulldog" before heading back to camp, again before dark had set in.

Monday morning arrived. Jezz and Claire headed off early. Tony helped Anita and I back across the river, then we said our goodbyes to E and Kate. Tony, Cathy, Anita and I then plodded up and along the very pretty track to the Coal Mines cliffs, which I hadn't seen before. Ticked "Khe San" (20), which had the added surprise of a wasp nest encounter after the crux, followed by the mega classic "Monitor Madness" (18), which winds its way for 50 m up a curving arete. Even found a fossil protruding 1/2 way up. See, unless a devious God actually exists, all this sandstone nonsense used to lie under the ocean a long time ago. Once again, perfect weather for climbing on a winters day. Alas, all good things come to an end, rather abruptly too once the sun drops and the evening chill returns. Back to Sydney and the inanity of work mode.
great Newnes camping
E discussing climbing moves
Ollie eating the tick list
Possums doing the washing up
Tony at war with "Sizzler"
Tony high on the second pitch of "Dan the Bulldog"
E leading 1st pitch of Dan...
Fossil shell protruding high on "Monitor Madness"
Anita giving a silurian growl - as you do - at the end of "Monitor Madness"

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Dirtworks 09

Dirtworks 07 was my first venture into the world of mtb racing. I was somewhat shellshocked by the brutality of the course, but returned in 08 and didn't find it to be quite as bad as I remembered. I've sort of been ramping up to the 09 edition ever since January - and now suddenly, here it was. I'm a couple of kilos lighter than last year, about 800 km ahead with regards accumulated kms for the calendar year, knew what to expect, and despite a slight cold was expecting to give 5hr 30min a nudge.

Lawrence and I rocked up at St Albans at about 3:30 pm on the Saturday afternoon, put the tents up in a nice spot, and fiddled with the bikes in the afternoon sun, as you do, whilst downing chips and beer. That evening a heavy bank of clouds to the east put on a bit of lightening display, which I think made everyone a little nervous. The course was going to be hard enough without the discomfort of being drenched for 6 hours. BBQ chicken sandwiches and fruit salad for din dins, another light beer chaser, then off to bed at 8 pm! Didn't get a great night sleep but awoke not feeling too congested and was ready to ride. Decided to use the creamed rice in a can breakfast, ala Jonesey, although I suspect he doesn't usually follow it with a big gob of vegemite - but I wanted to take some salt on board. The elite boys were off at 6:30 am sharp, with the sun barely up, the temp a balmy ~10 C, and a heavy fog in the air. Lawrence and I started in the last of the 3 general category groups, at 7 sharp. All in all, about 750 riders were away on the 100 km course.

Spent the first 10 km riding hard to try and get through the traffic inherent in a large mass start event (approx 250 riders per group) - which I managed to do, but found it again when I hit the first of 2 big climbs for the day, and I joined the conga-line of bike pushers up the steep incline. Fortunately managed to mount up again and ride the last 1/3 of the climb, which was less steep. Then it was on to the open trails. The good thing about this event is that if you have an engine, you get lots of opportunity to use it, with many sections making passing relatively trivial. There are still the technicalities of the rock gardens, and stepped descents to negotiate, but by and large the course is kind to an ex-roadie who doesn't corner or handle the technical stuff too well.

I was initially intending to make this a 2-stop race (50 km and 75 km), but my front rotor was frequently whistling Dixie, which I found annoying so stopped at the 25 km feed to take on some fluid and reposition the front wheel. Off again to the rock garden sector (km ~35-45) one of the cruxes of the event, where I had a bit of a frustrating time dealing with traffic (mental note - start in the first group next time). It was at about the 45 km point where I noticed my first twinges of cramp. Not a good sign, so I eased off the pace a little, coming into the 50 km feed at exactly the 2'30'' point - 13 min quicker than last year. About a 5 minute stop here - banana, multiple drinks, oiled the chain, then off again. No sign of cramp, so onwards up and into the next technical rock garden sector. However, at about the 65 km mark I was starting to feel fatigue again, so popped my first Gu (as opposed the sugar bars I had thus far consumed (6 to this point)). Hung on, as you do, down the big descent through the alley of babies heads to sea level. Managed not to go head over heels this time. Popped another Gu. No mucking around trying to ride the bridge this time - it was hard enough just trying to walk it! Next on the menu was approx 5 km of tarmac - lovely, except that a few kms in I started to cramp big time, with still ~30 km to go. Bugger! Somehow I hadn't consumed enough fluid, in spite of drinking at both stations, and starting with 2 liters on my back. Can't really argue with cramp - just have to go slower and ride it off. So, piano was the point of order till the next steep climb (and dirt) returned up to the 75 km feed. Drank as much as I could at this point, another banana, some watermelon slices (soooo nice!) then back on the pedals for the next 5 km of interminable grind - which I survived, only for the cramping to keep returning more frequently.

The last 30 km was really all about cramp management - going hard when I felt I could, and easing off the gas when my legs started to seize. When the cramping started I quickly accepted that there was basically no way I would be going under 5'30'' today, so didn't fret it. Yet all of a sudden I reached a corner I recognized - and had been waiting for, where the attendant marshal let me know "top of the course, 15 to go". On the downhill blasts that followed I managed to do a bit of stretching, pop another Gu (with caffeine this time) drain the last of the water on my back, and realized that going under 5:30 was still a very real possibility. Bombed the last big descent down to sea level without losing it, onto the gravel, across the river (only a foot deep this time), then cramped continuously through the last 2 km to the finish, but managed to sneak home in 5'20'' - approx 29 min faster than last year and 85th in a field of 750.

Lawrence wasn't too far behind me, turning in a fantastic time of 5:37 on a course previously unseen, which included more traffic than I had to deal with, and doing it all with just one stop - on a hardtail, which would explain the difficulty he had sitting down afterwards. By the way, the winner (Jason English, world 24 hr champ) broke the course record with a 3'58''. Incredible stuff! Lawrence and I picked up the winning machine on the previous evening - dual suspension BMC - seriously only about 9 kg. Sobering to hang around the finishing chute and see the stragglers come home - one with no crank arm on the LHS. One cramping so badly it took him a few minutes, to the cheering encouragement of the crowd, to traverse the last 50 meters - it was theatrical in a Hawaii Ironman sort of way, if you know what I mean - only substitute cramping agony for near-death crawl. Although he finished without fanfare, singlespeed Rob Parbs did the whole thing on a fixed gear with zero suspension - that's gotta hurt! Had a BBQ to attend (at my place, in fact), so didn't hang around for the more interesting part of the awards ceremony where some of the other tales of struggle and woe are typically revealed. Overall, very happy with my ride (no crashes, mechanicals), although if I can solve my cramping issues, and start in an earlier group, maybe something close to a 5 hr ride is possible for next year.
we like to play with bikes
evening lights show, which fortunately yielded a cloudless day for the race
what would be the winning machine (in red)
elite boys at the start
somehow i got through this one. Beer and pizza fixed the cramping, but it was still jolly hard to stand up or sit down.
At the finish with Lawrence and Bartman, who was basking in his decision to do the 50 km option this year.
Chaos back at the Langles outpost
Ollie and Zoe
The following day E and I did the Oaks (via the highway this time). I gave the Hampster's Garry Fisher a burl - quite a nice machine Ham, going up the highway was a breeze, although my backside certainly felt all of the singletrack at the bottom!

The elite field starts, and the first of 3 waves of weekend warriors moves to the start gate.

Friday, 1 May 2009

Oaks Reverse

Last weekend did the Oaks (again), but this time up the trail itself, as opposed to the usual jaunt up the highway, before the blast downhill. With the trail in good condition I actually managed the 27 km uphill without having to step off (approx 1hr:45 min up). Had tried this previously but turned back defeated at one of the steep crux sections about 2/3 through. Would have liked to have done more, but a persistant headache/hangover put paid to that. On the way up, counted no less than 94 cyclists barrelling the other way - and this doesn't include the 5 km of singletrack at the end of the Oaks which I bypassed - testament to the popularity of the trail, and the whole mtb scene in general.

In reasonable shape for the Dirtworks 100 km event next weekend, despite some pretty ordinary weeks weather-wise. My previous 2 attempts, on the same platform (rear suspension 13.5 kg Stumpjumper) have returned times of 5:59 and 5:48. Would love to go under 5:30, but i suspect i'm not being realistic here. Wir werden sehen!

Sydney as viewed from somewhere along the Oaks trail (click for large view). Chatswood is the metropolis to the left.
More rain on its way
The love bird and the love elephant
You never know who you'll bump into in the halmock