Thursday, 23 December 2010

I could get used to this...

...retirement that is. Finally time to;

split the hive

clean the bike

catch insects

catch the ferry


...and get in a few more miles. ;)

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Rhubarb Pie

It's the time of year when getting heavier is inevitable.

Monday, 6 December 2010

Gong Pelagic

Needed to change to a less confronting vista! A rough day at sea, but managed not to throw up, and finally got my eye in for Shearwaters and, in this case, a Grey Faced Petrel with newly acquired leg band.

Friday, 26 November 2010

Just a flesh wound...

We were riding along and...

WARNING: grizzly stuff below

You should have seen the other guy!

Monday, 22 November 2010

Perfect Blueys Day

"Smack my pitch up" (120 m, with pitches of 18 18 18 20 17)
Sublime point, Leura, Sun 21st Nov.

Anita grappling with the overlap crux on the 4th pitch (of 5!).

Photos of us courtesy of Anelia Dietmann (pictured belaying, above), on the neighbouring classic at the grade, "Sweet Dreams" (17). Thanks Anelia for some great shots!
We actually started on "Whymper", which shares the same first pitch with SMPU, then discovered the line of new rings heading skyward. Couldn't resist given that the alternative was all carrots. Fantastic climb (SMPU) and probably the best multi-pitcher at the grade in the mountains.

Monday, 15 November 2010


The theme for the Highland Fling this year was one of "baking"…mixing the ingredients to make a good course – firetrail, singletrack, hills and descents – for what has traditionally been a 110 km (vs 100 km) mtb enduro. There was also the 100 mile option, which I had absolutely no desire to do. The last and only other time I rode the Fling was in 2007, on the Stumpy with original tubed wheels. Pretty gruelling experience – took ~6'20", which included 1 puncture and a whole lotta hurt. I've missed out in recent years because, of all the enduros on the calendar, this one tends to sell out quickest – ~2000 spots sold in 5 and ½ hours last year! This year I managed to get a spot courtesy of GKs diligence on the computer 6 months ago.

To be honest I was already feeling pretty fried and could quite easily have given it the flick, but as the entry was there it seemed a shame to waste it. It's been 5 weeks since the Scott24, and although my toes have finally stopped tingling, I'm still not sure my lower back is quite returned to normal. I hadn't done much in the way of kms in the intervening weeks, so at least I'd be fresh! The lead up in Sydney has been pretty wet – rain every second day sort of stuff. On the drive to Bundanoon we hit some pretty heavy downfalls, but managed to get the tents up in the dry, and remarkably had no rain that afternoon as we headed from the campground into town to register and carbolode at the pub. A heavy shower during the night cleared to reveal a hot yet humid race day.

The course is typically broken into three segments; ~30 km of paddocks, ~50 km of windy singletrack with lots of climbing, and ~30 km of fire road. This year the first 30 was much quicker courtesy of avoiding the creek-lined singletrack segments which got shuffled to the last 30. The middle 50 was mostly unchanged, although the tracks were more groomed, and the last 30, which could also now be described as more paddock dominated, started fast but had some horrible stings in the tail.

At 7:30 we were off, and it was nice to see that the organisers had dealt with the bottlenecks which plagued the first sector in previous years by letting the long segments of undulating paddocks thin the ranks. Within about 15 km I was steaming and decided to remove my gloves, something I've not resorted to before on the mtb. Although I had 3 L of fluid on my back, and another 0.75 on the frame, at the rate I was sweating I was hoping to have air-through-fingers provide some additional cooling. Riding glove less is a gamble in the sense that crashing is even less desirable.

With the first sector dispensed with I was feeling pretty good as I went through the untimed transition [5 min is allowed to travel from one set of timing mats, across the railway line to the second set of mats ~ 1 km away]. I was dreading the middle 50 km sector, as last time my technical skills weren't sufficient to make the large tracts of single track flow. This time I quite enjoyed it, but seemed to have forgotten how much climbing was involved. By the time I hit the 55 km feed zone at ~ 2'36", the first of the Elite riders were just starting to filter past (they started 30 min behind the main field), and I was starting to feel pretty fatigued, and was suffering the first uncomfortable signs of cramp. This was going to be a long day! Although I wasn't originally planning to stop at the 55 km feed, I needed to gulp down multiple cups of fluid, and have a pee (which produced almost nothing). I was already pretty dehydrated.

From here on the racing had well and truly ceased and it was once again a case of survival. Lots of steep climbs. Lots of failed cramp management = lots of cramping and walking of steep pinches. Maybe BT and Kev are right – this really is the domain of the masochist. Even suffered the indignity of having to abandon a good wheel I'd been working well with on the flat run back to the untimed transition. The head was willing, but the legs simply said "continue pedalling at your peril". Finished the sector, but not in great shape. At transition I oiled my chain, gulped down more fluid and a banana, and headed out onto the last sector. My clock read ~ 4 hrs elapsed and I had approx 27 km to travel. In 07 this last sector was a quickie, so I was hopeful that I might get home in 5'30", which I would have been pretty happy with given I'm not at peak fitness. It started out well – lots of flat-chat dusty roads and lovely paddock gliding, but whenever things turned uphill I was instantly in trouble. Oh how slowly the kms ticked by, especially once engaged in the "roller coaster" sector, which I've no doubt is more groovy in the reverse direction. My ETA for finishing had to be continuously revised as yet another pinch had me doubled over in cramp. Somehow the end came with my clock reading 5'57", the last 4 hrs of which were pretty hot and hard yakka. This placed me 96th in a field of ~680 starters. The winner, Jason English, came home in ~4'25", very similar to the winners time in 07, which makes me think the course, albeit better groomed and not as rough, a little harder in its current incarnation. The main difference is that the merits of the first and last sectors have basically been swapped – and multiple stings in the tail are far more devastating at the death on wasted bodies.

Despite the ordeal, enjoyed a good hose down, and relaxed in the sun with lunch and brews as riders kept coming across the line for the next ~3 hours. Didn't have to wait long for GK, who put in a great ride to come home as the clock tickled 6'30" – THREE hours better than 2 years ago – well done GK! Caught up with friendly faces I only seem to bump into at these events. Remarkably, two unicyclists completed the course as well – one of which had two gears. The first one home, on the geared wheel, thought the other "crazy". In retaliation, the ungeared unicyclist declared the other a cheat. Blend in a smattering of cyclocrossers, single speeders, cyclocross singlespeeders, and tandems and other clowns from the mtb circus – well, you get the picture, it's that sort of event. Requisite masochism aside, I still love doing these things.

Don't quite know how to manage my cramping in the heat. Quite possibly the 4 beers downed the previous evening had something to do with it, but in the last 3 or 4 enduros (most of which haven't involved a significant beer quotient), whilst burning at similar efforts the cramps start to bite around ½ way in. Will have to do some research in this regard before the next one, which will most likely be Dirtworks in April of next year. Till then……rest…

Friday, 5 November 2010

Walking the plank, possum style

A few weekends ago i returned from a ride to find a commotion in the backyard. A Ringtail Possum had somehow not found his/her way home the previous eve, but had instead been found by a gang of Sulfur Crested Cockatoos who, like a bunch of teenagers, made their displeasure known to the poor little fellow. Boy those things can make a racket. The Maggies joined in as well. Attempts to escape to a bushier neighbouring tree were met with screeching and the occasional nip to the tail. Poss did eventually escape...with his tail in tact, and an experience that hopefully won't go forgotten.

One of Poss's bids for freedom

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Plain Wanderers

"What the hell is a twitchathon?" Well, a twitchathon (or "twitch") is a race to see as many different bird species as possible in a given 24 hour period (obviously I'm not totally cured of these 24 hr things). The race is undertaken by teams of bird enthusiasts (yes, I am a nerd), usually 2-4 per team, and in NSW happens in late October, when things are more interesting due to the return of many birds who winter in the far north or abroad. Invariably, the strategy is to visit as many different habitats as possible, jumping in and out of cars in a race across the state, with most teams starting somewhere in western NSW to pick up the dry country birds (4pm start time on the Saturday), driving like a madman (or women) through the night to catch dawn with rainforest species in the more northern forests, and finishing at one of several designated spots on the coast at 4 pm Sunday (we chose Newcastle as one can avoid Sydney traffic and still pick up the seabirds).

Last year I did my first twitch in a team of 4, the "Plain Wanderers" (with reference to a rare oddball quail found only in a couple of paddocks in southern NSW and Vic, the "Plains Wanderer"), comprised of myself, Rob and Andy from work, and Rob's English bird fanatic friend Ed. Last year we covered about 700 km and picked up 173 species, placing us ~15th in the state - a long way from the winners (Menacing Monarchs) amazing score of 247 (and > 1000 km covered). This year, being a little older and (hopefully) wiser, we hoped to crack the double ton. But it would be no walk in the park. The breaking of the drought in NSW this winter, and the generally wet state of the red (green!) center, means that many inland species which would normally be picked up where we planned to start, south of Gunnedah, were nowhere to be seen, yet were being reported in huge numbers in the country's vast interior (ie way way further west than one could reasonably travel in 24 hours).

We all skipped a day of work and headed inland on Thursday eve in the langles mobile (pretty squishy!) to scope out the various areas we had in mind. Stayed in Scone Thursday eve, spent all day Friday on reconnaissance, and boozed and bedded at the only pub in Spring Ridge on the Friday night. On the Friday we stumbled upon the vast plains of Lake Goran, which actually contained water (first time in years) – and consequently loads of waterbirds. So this is where we counted down the minutes to the start on Saturday arvo, with spotting scopes and binoculars strained on various parts of the lake, trying to keep track of distant rarer species which were easily lost and hard to find again amongst the shimmering heat haze and hundreds/thousands of more pedestrian species/specks. With the race under way and after a good swag of ticks we were soon in the car and driving at warp speed along dirt roads south to Spring Ridge, where we bagged a good range of dry forest species, such as Red-Capped Robin, Hobby, and an Owlet Nightjar who's roost we'd discovered the previous day (no bashing of the tree trunk required!). Back-tracking we got Babblers and some of the inland parrots at Breezer State Forest, before getting the divine White-Winged Fairy Wren at Breezer Dam (we knew exactly where to look), before speeding towards Quipolly Dams to tick the two species we knew we would be unlikely to get anywhere else – Blue-Billed duck and Nankeen Night Heron. We got these just on ~7:20, with the light now so bad that everything else had virtually shut up shop for the day.

On our way out of Quipolly we spot-lighted a Frogmouth, and picked up a Boobook Owl at the Quirindi sewage ponds! (ahh, the fabulous places we choose to visit!). Driving through the night proved a little dangerous as one of the headlights had blown during the day, so upon stopping at Muswellbrooke Macca's for dinner (Jebus I'd forgotten how truly awful that shit is), we swapped out the globe and headed further south then north along the diabolically twisty and rutted route to the Allyn river in the heart of Barrington Tops. Upon opening the car door within seconds the car was full of about 1000 midges – I kid you not! We evacuated pronto, opening the windows and flooring it over the range to camp a few valleys away, in a less insect infected yet equally sodden and leech-ridden site, getting to sleep approx 2:30 am with the count at 95 – a couple more than the same stage last year.

Morning arrived all too soon. Apparently I did some impressive snoring during the night, and managed to miss about 10 ticks the other guys heard through the tent in another phenomenal rainforest dawn chorus (only 3 out of the 4 have to identify the bird to make it count). We eventually packed the tents (ie squashed them into the boot), backtracked over the range, and on our exit managed to bag the unmistakable call of the Noisy Pitta from the car, a magnificent little rainforest bird I haven't seen or heard in about 20 years – highlight of the trip for me. We travelled by more back-roads, stopping intermittently at oddball paddocks, lakes and bits of forest, until we met the coast at Stockton Sandspit, and eventually the Newcastle Baths, before heading back to several more swamp areas before arriving at the finish (Newcastle Wetlands Center) with about 40 min remaining, where we bagged the obligatory Magpie Goose and finished with a count of 193 for our 609 km travelled (about 1500 km for the weekend).

Although short of the desired 200, we were pretty content with our effort, given the difficulties wet conditions had presented. We placed 8th in the state with only 4 teams besting 200, and with the Monarchs again winning with 237, but again covering over 1000 km to do so. Most impressive was one team who ticked about 150 birds entirely by bicycle, covering (only!) 105 km in the process. Goes to show how much one misses by being in the car. Now there's a challenge! I was as trashed as last year, but not as trashed as the car which really copped a beating on the dirt tracks, and bottomed out one-too many times resulting in a ruptured muffler; so you can imagine how our ears rang on the drive home. Hopefully that's the only thing wrong with it. All in all, it was a great race and I'm certainly not cured, and want to do it all again….next year!
The (normally) dry side of the Breezer reservoir
Ordinarily diving off the end of this jetty would result in a broken kneck.
Scopes the order of the day at the Lake Goran floodplain - in flood!
One of many obstacles the car had to deal with
....and rest.....

Monday, 18 October 2010

Stromlo all sorts

Some snaps to give you a feel for what 24hr racing is all about. This first image from the event photographer - long exposure of lights down the front of Mt Stromlo. Most shots courtesy on Ben and his fancy new camera.

Chilling in pit lane before the start

Cockpit of our pit neighbour
Ham and Mike before the chaos (below) of the team event start
Anita prepares my snacks whilst Matt makes custom adjustments to my spare wheels
View form the top of the mountain in the late afternoon
Felix providing tunes for returning riders

Jimmy models standard 24hr attire and sustenance
Craig at one of his longer pits having lights fitted, and revealing damage incurred during a spill on his second lap.
Making a pig of myself (again)

My pitcrew in action during the wee hours, and passing the time (below)

Rare moment of looking like I know what i'm doing on a switchback, and hanging on somewhere in the midst of Pork Belly (below)

Craig still looking strong early on his 19th lap
Are we there yet? Bliss in the Z position!

Friday, 15 October 2010

Shaken rattled and rolled

(My take on the 24solo worlds. Beware, this one prattles on a bit)

My mood during the days immediately prior to the race was not as rosy as an earlier (Tuesday) post might have portrayed. Although optimistic at the time, the morning after posting I felt that disquiet at the back of the throat indicative of something fluey, in spite of the fact that I was enjoying my taper and had just had essentially 3 straight days off the bike. By the Wednesday evening I felt pretty ill. Thursday was a shocker so I stayed in bed all day – something I never do. After a second crap night Mr Grumbles and Anita packed the car to the gunnels and set sail for Canberra, first registering at the event hotel – where I got further intimidated by the jumbling of foreign accents, smiling faces, ripped legs, and banter about 50 min lap splits. After all the time, miles and preparation I'd put in, spluttering on the start line was not the way I had envisaged kicking off.

After registration we trundled out to Stromlo to bag the campsite I had in mind, not too far from the solo pit area to make life a little easier for my merry band of helpers also doing the teams race (Team Megasaurarse), so at least that went to plan, brown snake and all. The others soon arrived – the Salmon brothers, Ham and GK, and later that evening Jimmy, Sean and Co. Had to then exit Stromlo for the 2 pm race briefing at Canberra Stadium (the Mal Meninga stand, for all you Rugby League fans….more about him later). Returned to Stromlo to ride a shortened lap in the late afternoon including the technical rough parts that been contributing to my insomnia. Not crashing = confidence gained. Happy to note that a particular hole in the Pork Barrel descent off the back of the mountain had been plugged with a boulder. A huge bowl of pasta for dinner was followed by some sedatives to knock me out, and I finally got a solid night's sleep under the belt.

Race day. Although we camped at the venue this time I was still a bundle of spluttering nerves getting the pit area organised (thanks for all the lugging guys), myself ready, and down to the start line for the presentation of the elite riders and start. The gun cracked at 11:45 and I was under way in a field of ~100. Craig, with whom I was sharing the pit area, was entered in one of the age group categories (40-44 in his case = another field of ~70 riders), which collectively kicked off 15 min later with all the other age group categories (another ~300 riders in toto).

With the course being more difficult this year (~18 km and ~500m climbing per lap), I deliberately tried not to get carried away with the quick end of the field but just rolled with the traffic for the first lap, negotiated the gnarl, and came into the pits for the first time with an hour split – quite a bit faster than I was expecting. The pit looked cramped but Anita and Matt (Craig's handler) had things sorted, and I simply swapped out bottles, took on an energy bar, and was off. Craig would pit a little later, and the process would repeat, and so on and so forth upon the hour. In spite of having the occasional monumental hack and spit, I didn't feel too bad. My lap plan was to take it easy up the front of the mountain, be really focused for the Pork Barrel thuggery off the back, but put the hard yards in up the steep back side of the course, before hanging on for dear life down the fast Skyline Traverse and super twisty and bermed Luge descents back to the pit area.

My bike handling was already far superior to that of the practice runs of a week prior, thanks in large part to actually reading a book about the subject penned by Brian Lopes and Lee McCormack (world class downhillers), which I finished reading on the drive to the race! [Seriously, if you want to improve your skills, read this book!] Hence, I was handling the rough better than ever and yielded splits for the first 6 laps only ~10 min off the pace of the race leaders. With the darkening sky came the donning of lights and longer pits to shovel down noodles, pizza etc, all consumed whilst my chain would be oiled and all too soon I would be thrust back out on course with a big shove to get the wheels rolling again. Speaking of wheels, I swapped out a softening rear wheel on about the 3rd pit (turned out to be a puncture), and that was the only mechanical I suffered for the entire race, although as time progressed the chain required more frequent attention, in part as it was stretching, combined with the course getting more and more rutted, and dustier and strangely wetter during the evening – wet patches were appearing everywhere although no rain fell and the temp probably didn't drop below approx 5 C, so conditions were ideal.

By nightfall fatigue was starting to set in big time. Actually, after about the 3rd lap the climbs were becoming much harder and my splits were starting to reflect this – coupled with longer and longer stops in the pits, more so after dark. Every time the big drop down the front of the mountain would start I'd be looking forward to getting to the pits and hob-knobbing with whomever happened to be present. Anita (and Matt) always, and an assortment of the rest of the troupes, who would pop by during down time in the teams event. It was great to see their faces and receive their encouragement.

Doing one of these races really is a war of attrition. With the passing of laps different parts of your body get hammered more and more. By late evening I was sore all over – as though Mal Meninga had been using me as a tackling bag all day long. On the climbs, especially up the back of the mountain, I would get to the top to find my hands cramped onto the bars. On the rutted descents I would lose feeling in my toes, and have the bejesus shaken out of my arms and shoulders. My fingers, and thumb especially, were getting so compressed by the snug-fitting gloves on the descents that I eventually decapitated the thumb ends for relief. My back was starting to atrophy into the Gollum position, a dagger was positioned between my left neck and shoulder blade, and my unmentionables were starting to give me grief, such that whenever the chain needed a lube, so did my nether regions. But the warmth of the pit was all too brief and before you know it another lonely lap was under way.

At times it seemed interminable. Man, how much longer was I going to be able to endure it all? But I was not alone. I think most competitors go through rough patches, but eventually one usually comes good again. Whilst there was no magical awakening accompanying dawn last year, this year I did feel rejuvenated, but in large part due to a strange sound I heard as the light started to strengthen at the far end of the course. Someone was wailing on the bagpipes. It was the most magical moment to roll round the corner and come past the lone piper giving the sack some welly! I'm sure I wasn't the only one to get a big lift out of this deliverance back to the day. Another trackside attraction that I'd forgotten about was a roadstop sign positioned on course; "Broccoli and Custard". And there, perched proudly on a log in the blazing sun was a magnificent head of broccoli and a festering carton of custard – both unopened. Cracked me up every time.

My stablemate Craig caught and passed me in the pits late in the night, but it was short lived as I passed him on the next lap up the back of the mountain and didn't see him again till after the finish. In contrast to my leisurely pit stops (3-6 min each – I'm told I spent approx 1 ½ hours off the bike in toto), Craig was hardly off the bike at all, a strategy used by many top riders, who would spend less than 5 min idle (Hard core!).

Although with the coming of day I felt as though I picked up a bit this wasn't fabulously reflected by my splits (around the 1'20'' mark now) as I think physically I was starting to fall apart. With 18 laps under the belt I knew I was placed (unbelievably) somewhere in the top 20 in the elite field. During the race my pit crew couldn't quite believe the persistent drop in my position. Seeded 97th (hence my number plate), my ranking progressively fell through the 40s, 30s, 20s, and eventually into the high teens. Photos were periodically taken of the lap board as a record in case it all fell apart. Top 20 was far more than I could have dreamed of. It was clear I would get a 19th lap in and probably have time to start a 20th before 24 hours expired – which I must confess I was dreading. The 19th lap was a toughie, and I found myself in a bad line down the Pork Barrel (first time of the race) and almost parked myself in the tree at the bottom. This sector was very badly chopped by this stage (more like a course requiring a few more inches of suspension travel) and I wondered whether I would be so lucky the next time. The guys I rode the back of the mountain with had all had enough too, and all I wanted to do was get off the bike come the end of the lap. I was mentally defeated and had truly had enough. I got hammered by the big descent for the last time and nursed myself through the camping areas and stopped the clock with 6 minutes to go. Seeing my face Anita didn't have the heart to force the issue of another lap, so I stepped off for the final time and just lay down (with difficulty) on the comfy concrete steps – something I'd been dreaming of for a long time. In that 19 laps I covered some 340 km, climbed ~9500m of altitude, and drank my way through about 20 bottles of sticky fluid. This distance/time placed me 15th in the elite male category, and 44th overall if the numerous age group, elite female and singlespeed categories were also considered. Not bad for someone who anticipated finishing at the blunt end of the field.

Craig, on the other hand, had a reason to keep suffering. Completing his 19th lap (relatively 7 minutes faster than I finished my 19th) he also had the option of going again just prior to the bell. He was positioned 4th in the 40-44 age category, and had been closing consistently on 3rd place. If the trend continued he had a chance of passing his target and getting on the podium with a 20th lap. So with a red bull in hand he set out for his 20th lap, which he duly completed and not only picked up his target, but jumped from 4th to 2nd in his category. So a bloody good effort at the death!

Now that I've forgotten how much the whole thing hurt, I kind of wish I'd suffered one more time for the 20th. Another lap would have shunted me from 44th overall to the mid 30s, and jumped me from 15th in the Elites to 12th. But it's all so easy in hindsight, and an extra lap might not have helped me at all, depending on who did or didn't pucker up for more pain. It's all a game of chicken, you see!

I was a pretty broken wombat at the end – the most physically trashed I have ever been. Just showering, or doing anything requiring movement was an issue. My lower back, in particular was cactus. My arms and shoulders were bruised raw, my palms blistered, my groin painfully chaffed. My legs were still sore 3 days afterwards. The dagger is still in my neck. I still have scabs on my rear courtesy of the saddle edges, and I'm still coughing up lots of green stuff. I'm glad I stopped when I did, and I think I can be very satisfied with my performance (knowing that pride is a sin and all). I still can't believe the Elite results sheet. I'm in the company of some pretty accomplished mountain bikers, most with some form of sponsorship. I'm equally proud of the job done by my pit crew. The very least I could do was honour their professionalism, and the faith and enthusiasm they placed in me. I didn't realise till afterwards that Ham, for instance, who was there all through the night on chain duty, had himself crashed heavily on the Teams course and was nursing a pretty sore hip and shoulder. So Anita, Ham, Sally and Matt (the all-night crew), and Ben, Mike and GK, who were there periodically as well as out on course, and to the troops back of the tents who would cheer me on upon every return, take a bow you lot – I love you guys! Having done two solo 24s now, I'm feeling perennially spoilt (although I must admit it is nice to be waited on hand and foot). Perhaps the time has come take a different role, and have a go in the pits helping someone else don the boxers gown and realise a 24solo dream. Perhaps next time I can work the pit for one of you!

Wednesday, 13 October 2010