Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Canberra Centenary Trail - dawn till well after dusk

I knew this would be a long day, and that perhaps it should have been attempted a month or two ago, but finding a free weekend these days is sometimes not trivial.  In any case, the ANZAC day weekend loomed and we went for it.

The Centenary Trail was marked last year in commemoration of Canberra turning 100.  Intended as a trail which can be walked in 7 days or ridden in three, the trail starts at Parliament House, skirts the War Memorial, then soon has one at the scrubby base of Mt Ainslie before arcing in a wiggly anticlockwise 145 km loop along the perimeter of the built up areas (and beyond), before returning one back (eventually) to the flagstaff on the hill.

We packed the seven PDF trail maps, snacks and a few warmer items into backpacks and were rolling at 7 am - as early as we could muster even though sun-up was at 6:35.  Our hotel was 5 km from the start/end points (the big flagstaff), so we were always going to be looking at something close to 160 km for the round trip.  I was hoping we’d be done by sunset at 5:25pm.  Not being locals, actually studying the map would have made things a bit slicker and saved us a good hour due to navigational hiccups.  However, unsighted, it's hard to know which bits were going to catch us out.  In any case, a good dose of uncertainty adds to the adventure.

The Centenary Trail does a great job in showcasing some of the best of what the ACT has to offer, and it doesn't take long before the manicured grandness of spaced buildings, boulevards and gardens melds into native woodlands, with the fat tyres rumbling along red earth rural trails in the morning shadows of Mt Ainslie.  Almost collected a few startled Kangas on those first few bush kilometers.  

Thus far the trail was well marked, and my brain switched off.  Sidling round the base of Ainslie we cruised a bend too far and onto a segment leading to one of the summit tracks.  Such diversions are intended to be walked only - optional features which periodically present, and would have been quite obvious had we printed the maps in colour – OK, or actually studied them.  We subsequently crossed the only other rider we'd seen thus far who immediately recognised me and blurted my name.  What are the chances of that?  Alex is a friend of my brother's and a few years back rode with our team at the Mont24.  After a few minutes chit-chat we parted ways, blindly clawing over more terrain which was a good deal more punchy than what had passed before.  

Soon I could see signs of Queanbeyan in the distance and I knew we'd stuffed up.  We retraced about 1.5 kilometers of pinch climb lumpiness (Mudge not happy) and eventually found the correct line which took us further north along to the base of Mt Majura (ironically, where Alex was headed in the first place). 30 minutes lost and we'd only just started! 

The trail meanders north to Mulligans flat, a nature reserve bordering Gungahlin, where another brain explosion had us miss the pedestrian door in the otherwise no-nonsense electrified perimeter fence.  A bit of boundary skirting had us back at the magical door (where the fence is first encountered!), and through.  Another 10 min penalty.  A handful more times we had to do a bit of detective work to get back on the scent.  Stop to get the map out – that's another minute gone.  Repeat 30 times.  Whingeing aside, overall the course was pretty well marked, although pauses we couldn’t avoid came in the form of dozens of livestock gates we had to pass bikes over or through during the course of the day. Again, at 1 min a gate minimum that's another 30-45 minute time penalty for the day. You can see where this is going.

Our only other major-league stuff up occurred trying to bridge between the Arboretum and Stromlo Forest Park, of all places, a segment I've even raced in years past.  Conflicting maps, ambiguous trail markers followed by some critically defaced markers had us scratching heads.  We could see Stromlo, we just couldn't get to it.  The direct option was disappointingly halted by the Molonglo River. Backtracking we skirting this to the south which dumped us at an extensively fenced off building site (new suburb).  Anxiety levels were rising but we eventually picked our way through the fences and blackberry patches to gain the familiar grounds of Stromlo at about 2:30 pm, still with about 60 km to travel, but we were back on track, and there were some great trails to come.

Not that any of Stromlo's trails would be ridden- that's not the idea of the CT.  The emphasis is on showcasing lesser-known trails and areas, especially the northern and southern boundaries of the loop.  The northern sector had some terrific single track which led to big-sky vistas and hill-side traverses, followed by a great descent into the small outpost of Hall, where we lunched at the post office on kick-A lamingtons and bacon and egg rolls, although the coffee wasn't much chop (you’ve been warned!). The southern sector has one descending to and skirting the beautiful Murrumbidgee river, with the Brindabella ranges as a towering backdrop.  Again, terrific single track with lots of little pinch climbs out to regain civilization at Tuggeranong.

At “Tuggers” we had out second shop stop, mainly replenishing liquids, (forgetting to top up at Stromlo) yet still had approx. 30 km to travel with the clock nudging 4:20.  It would be dark in an hour and someone was making mention of an abandon.  I tried to keep spirits up, yet given that our cumulative average for the day was in the order of 13 km/hr, at least an hour under lights was on the cards.  But we had lights fitted and in theory the run home was fairly flat.

Fortunately this turned out to be the case (mostly), mashing along the suburban bike paths in big gears, losing the trail only once (if you find yourself suddenly in Chisolm, about-face and go back over the bridge).  The final hiccup was grinding up another of those “walk-only” pinch climbs to the Trig at Isaacs Ridge (great last light views, BTW), before a sketchy descent and easy underlights traverse around rabbits, kangaroos, Mt Mugga Mugga and Red Hill.  There were just enough markers to guide us through swanky suburbia back to the Light On The Hill itself.  A security guard did the photographic honours on the back steps before shooing off the premises.

We cruised back over the bridge and onward to the hotel, bathing in the smugness that, in spite of numerous stuff ups, we’d burnt the candle at both ends and experienced a terrific day out, one that has raised Canberra and surrounds another notch or two in my estimations.  Steak at the pub never tasted so good.  According to Anita’s Garmin the moving time (not a metric I’m a fan of) was 9:20 for approx. 162 km.  But door-to-door we were a neat 12 hours.  Given that we now know what is in store and where to go, I know we’ll be back and manage a daylight finish at the next attempt.  Best birds?  Toss-up between numerous Scarlet Robins and a family of Double-bar Finches in the Arboretum.

Monday, 28 April 2014

About Thereabouts

Evidence my sideburns are getting overly proud of themselves includes them dragging the rest of me to tipple beer and hors d’oeuvres at one of the bastions of hipster hairiness, the Rapha store in Sydney.  The event; a film launch, no less, about the brothers Morton (reasonable cyclists, I’m told) and their off-season (one being seasoned enough to require one) bicycle jaunt from home digs at Port Macquarie, across the vast interior to that red lump of papier mache in the middle of the continent.  [Disclosure.  This has little to do with bad sideburns. I know the driver of the support vehicle, hence the invite]. 

Wasn’t really sure what to expect (my “old” old phone was in meltdown when the invitation was offered) but found the film really refreshing and inspiring, given that the fellas crunched across huge chunks of that corrugation and dust magnet known as the Oodnadatta track….on road bikes….in the heat of December just past.  Well worth a look if you are into that sort of thing, or even if you just enjoy the fact that other people are into that sort of thing.  I believe there are several lengths of “Thereabouts” floating about cyberspace.  We were shown a 30 min version, which was terrific.  Lord Christopher K, similarly inspired despite not even catching the event, is already mustering expressions of interest for a re-enactment, but from Sydney.  Any takers?

Thursday, 24 April 2014

Destination Nangar

I'd never heard of it either.  Nangar National Park lies half way between Orange and Forbes, a reasonable distance from Sydney to constitute a mini Easter escape.  Friday arvo we packed in 1 hr 20 min.  One of our most efficient throw-togethers ever.  But considering we were taking bikes, binoculars and camping gear something was bound to go wrong.  Before even getting out of the street I realised that camping in only thongs was not going to be pleasant.  We arrived in Orange just after sundown and checked into a motel only a short stroll from the local Irish pub which equated to dinner on a night where most establishments were closed.

Saturday morning we hit the Kinross State Forest XC mtb circuit where Anita discovered that, like me, by avoiding multiple A-lines she too could ride what is a terrifically crafted undulating circuit, especially the white-knuckle descent back to transition.  The bike fix out of the way we spent the rest of the day breakfasting for lunch and filling out the all important bird list.  On what turned out to be a long-winded approach to Nangar we unwittingly hit "finch-avenue", adding Zebra and Double-bar to the Red-browed and KA Plum-headed we’d already bagged at a dilapidated farm house, where we also ticked White-bellied Cuckoo-shrike (only the second time we've ticked the latter two).

Nangar was gained, once again, just as the sun dipped.  What a terrific place.  Like a mini version of the Warrumbungles, albeit lacking the majesty of the volcanic plugs.  But a similar distance west, similar lumpy terrain, and similar cypress-dominated arid vegetation.  That said, the country was so unbelievably green all the way west from the Bluies you could have been in Europe!  Similar to the "bungles" but much better camping.  We picked out a bend in the creek all to ourselves and pitched the tent on lush turf next to a partially stocked fireplace.  The fact that my Thermarest seemed not to have made the trip didn't dampen my spirits, as a ripper campfire was soon going, followed by excellent stodge and booze.  It’s been far too long between bush camps.  

A predictably crap night (for me at least) was followed by a "pleasant" ride to the summit of Mt Nangar.  This is what the information board suggested.  I can only surmise that the author had not actually attempted such a feat.  Although only a 24 km return trip it was an unrelenting roller coaster experience on loose gravel.  "Rough" 4WD track can mean one of two things;  massive sump-rupturing pot holes, or mega loose and steep inclines.  It was the latter in spades, with pinch climbs neither of us could clean.  But the summit view was terrific, especially the Wedge-tails making a fly by, and the return trip was significantly easier than the ascent.  

Given the Thermarest situation we eschewed another night in the frost and headed back to Orange, but not before birding the Back Yamma forest (Red-capped Robin, Jacky winter and Whiteface) and dropping by Forbes and Parkes before heading east.  After our final night in Orange we again hit the trails of Kinross before setting sail for the big smoke complete with mega traffic jam at the bottom end of the Bell's line, which required a couple of bypasses, including a tour of the Pit Town turf farms. 

The twitch total came in at 109, although Nangar and Back Yamma are sure to throw up a few more dry country specialists if afforded a bit more time.  Well worth another look methinks.

 Fork-tailed Kite
 Double-Barred Finch

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Driving the bus

It's not quite up there with Chris's recent flying adventures - on any level really (although i had to fly to Melbourne to use it). 

Mission control.  The only thing missing is donuts.
 More crappy diffraction
 The fruits of the labor - CA-cartoon style

Not strictly relevant, but how often do you get a crystal that looks like a duck?

Monday, 7 April 2014

Rule 65

The realisation that I should pay more attention to my long-creaking steed was brought home by a trip to the post office.  Courtesy of Kev and Dee and by way of the Royal Mail was a hardback edition of The Rules (as decreed by Velominati).  I was vaguely familiar with some of The Rules, the most oft quoted seeming to be Rule number 5 (something about munching on cement).  But I had no idea there were so many of them.  Kev's instruction was simply, "Please pay more attention to rule #65 going forward.  That is all."  

Rule #65.  Maintain and Respect Your Machine.

I concede that the special edition Wombat was in sub-optimal condition for 3peaks (although it did sport new improved front shifting).  Even I was embarrassed by its symphony of creaks and groans to the point of actually investing a bit of time into the old girl since, especially given that she's carried me for 40K plus Kms and I'm starting to contemplate a replacement.  Maybe with an overhaul I can squeeze another season on her before splashing around my earnings.

A bit more attention wouldn’t go astray.  With the Mont24 cancelled due to torrential weather, and with Rule 65 firmly on the brain I spent Saturday afternoon stripping down and regreasing every bit of the headset (zero grease in the bottom race), re-cabling and restoring full motion to the rear brake callipers (most of the spring-actuated travel having seized), truing the rear wheel, putting a rag over the rest, and basically getting it running smooth as whence it was new.  Also gave the Mudge's commuter a new headset, and then converted the Mtb hardtail from swashbuckling singlespeed mode (9.3 kg) back to the geared version (10 kg even) I'm planning to run at the Convict in a month.  

So Kev, if you're reading this, thanks for the gentle nudge from afar - message received loud and clear :)

Whilst on the subject of The Rules, although I’ve barely scratched the surface of what is a 270 page tome, some of the others which caught my eye include;

#24.  Speeds and distances shall be referred to and measured in kilometres.

#25. The bikes on your car should be worth more than your car. (OK, not exactly a challenge in my case)

#42.  A bike race shall never be preceded by a swim and/or followed by a run.

#59.  Hold your (insert expletive) line. (and its cousin…)

#82. Close the (insert expletive) gap.

#30.  No frame-mounted pumps.  (must say I take issue with this one).

#8.  Saddle, bar tape and tyres shall be carefully matched (easy enough, everything being black) in order to be photogenic (=Rule 26, although this requires fastidious upkeep – not my strong suit – nor abiding by the myriad other Rules concerning aesthetics).

…and a finishing thought…

#74.  Small computers only.  (and it goes on) 
“The Prophet (aka Eddie) didn’t ride with a computer, mainly because they weren’t invented, granted, but all he needed to know was how much pain he could endure as he crushed the opposition (seems appropriate seeing as the Classics are upon us).  There’s only one number you need to know, and a computer or power meter or heart rate monitor isn’t going to tell you.  The only number that matters is the number that tells you if you can go just a little bit harder.  And, unless you’re passing out, the answer is, predictably, yes”.  (which basically distills and concentrates back to Rule number 5)