Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Hollybank Trails (and Trials)

I think I am unique amongst the mountain biking community in Tasmania  (and not for any of the rude reasons that have probably jumped into your mind).

I'm claiming uniqueness because I reckon I'm the only mountain biker in Tasmania that isn't champing-at-the-bit to get out and ride the Hollybank Mountain Bike Trails.

In fact, right now, the idea of riding back up the Juggernaught sends shivers down my spine.

The reason for this is displayed in black and white on my Garmin ...

Garmin data post Hollybank Ride
Yep, you're not reading that wrong, I got to go for a 'sneak peak' ride on the trails today (all officially sanctioned) and it took me over 5 hours to cover the 30kms of trails.

That's an average speed of 6kms/hr.

That's slower than most people walk.

Given that these trails include a 10km dowhill run, it would be pretty reasonable to assume that something went wrong.  Actually, scratch that, it's probably easier to just say that given I'm involved, it's reasonable to assume that something was bound to go wrong.


So, if you're anything like me, you've been eagerly following the construction of these trails and  reading the track descriptions put out by Dirt Art.  More recently you're probably been ogling the  photos posted by the Flow riders (who rode the trails the same day I did) and you're thinking "I want on those trails".

If so, then you can imagine how excited I was when I pleaded my case for an early ride on the trails  ... and got the nod to go ahead.

If you can't, then my excitement was around the 9/10 point on the excitometer scale.

After getting a safety briefing from Rob at the trail head (it is a work site after all), I set off around the green (beginner) "No Sweat" loop that pretty much follows or parallels the old XC course around Hollybank Reserve (if you know it).

Yea, my photos aren't quite as good or exciting as FLOW's.
OK, they're not even in the same ballpark as their photos
Look at those switchbacks disappearing down the hill
But they do probably give you a feel for the overall loops.
You can see from the photos above that it's all wide, gravelled, IMBA green, riding, but don't let that put you off riding it as it was a lovely ride (albeit that about a third of the route didn't have a surface on it when I rode it).

It will make a great little beginner circuit as well as a nice option for families or more casual riders to add a ride to any trip to the reserve.  For reference it was 4.6kms by my GPS.  Not sure if there will be hire bikes there, but I believe you can hire bikes back in Launceston (check out Ride Tasmania's Bike Hire page)

It also has a feature or two which makes it an excellent place to warm up for more experienced riders before heading out onto the intermediate tracks ... you may recognise this timber feature from quite a few photos (albeit their photos would have had cool people whizzing around it)...

Exhibit A: Fun Feature.
Well it's on the green trail if you want to ride it.

Now because I was there before any signage was installed, and because I'd been told that I'd see the blue loop (Tall Trees) heading off from the green loop, I started to get a bit concerned when I found myself almost back in the car park where I started with no recollection of seeing the blue loop heading off.

Not wanting to interrupt Rob who was busy on his excavator (OK, more honestly I didn't want to appear like an idiot who could't navigate his way around the most obvious of trails), I figured all I needed to do is head back the way I'd come until I found the trailhead ... so I headed back the way I came (well maybe I headed down ecology track thinking it may be down there) and pretty much rode most of the way back around to the tree top adventure building trying to find the trail.

But I couldn't find it, so then I did something novel and asked one of the track crew where the blue trail was ("Hi, my name's John and it's been 41 years since I've asked anyone for directions ...").

After making sure that I was allowed to be there, I was happily told that the blue track actually heads off back at the McNeill Buildings car park near where I turned around, and sure enough not 10 metres past where I turned off down the ecology track ... there was the Tall Trees trailhead.

I think that was the first hour gone.

Things changed the second I turned down onto the Tall Trees track.

Gone were the wide gravel paths and I immediately found myself sweeping down some cool bermed switchbacks with a big wide smile on my face ... I really didn't want to stop to take any pictures but thought I probably should ...



Though I don't know why I bothered (stopping to take pictures)
You then drop out at a beautiful little river (no idea if they'll build a bridge here, but I got wet feet crossing it) which the track then follows before switch-backing its way up away from the river and to the junction of the Juggernaught (approx half way, so 2kms, down the "Talls Tree" track).




And that's when things really departed from the plan.

The Juggernaught trail is unlike anything I've so far encountered in Australia, and it's not a trail to meet unawares (like I did), especially from the bottom with the intention of riding to the top whilst it only has a half finished surface on most of it.

When I'd set off from the car park earlier in the day, I'd figured: "30kms, including 5kms of green track and 10kms downhill  ... I'll knock that over in 2 to 3 hours, no worries" so I'd set off with half a litre of water and a chupa-chup in my backpack.

Oh how the Juggernaught must have been laughing at my approach.

I noticed in the track notes just released for the opening day that it says to allow 45 minutes to an hour to ride to the top of the Juggernaught.

Well, it took me just over two hours (which is probably about right, given I usually take twice the time of the elites when racing), to get up the juggernaught, and I reckon I must have been pushing my bike 80% of that time.

Now most of that is down to me and my poor fitness (and a little bit to the fact there was a lot of trees and other stuff blocking the track to stop illegal riders) but the juggernaught is essentially a downhill track which has been designed so it can be ridden uphill.

That doesn't mean that it is any fun riding it uphill (though several of the track crew were telling me about how much fun they had riding up it, so just remember this is coming from me and you may love it).

What the Juggernaught is not, is a smooth, switchbacking, easy gradient ride (like the blue loop) that I was expecting.

Sure, I could probably ride 80% of the juggernaught, but the problem was the bits I could ride were usually no more than 20 or 30 metres long and were interspersed with drops or jumps that were just that little bit to steep for me to make it up.

After a kilometre or two of stop/starting the whole way up, I got sick of it and just decided to push ...

Pretty much the whole darn way ...

OK ... maybe not the whole darn way ... I rode this bit ...

It's a long, long push when you don't know where or how far the end is away, and the whole way up I just keep telling myself that this track had better make sense in the other direction because (water and energy deprived) I wasn't having a huge amount of fun pushing up the track.

you can't really see it but these little 'ups' are steep and there's lots of them.
Does it ever stop going up?
Getting close to the top now ...
The other (slightly) frustrating thing going through my head was that I knew that there was a road I could ride up to the top of the trail ... if only I knew which road to ride up and where to ride to.

But I didn't know either of those things at the time so had no choice but to follow the trail.

Finally, after pushing and riding around a recently logged area and then up a nice ridge, I finally got to the top of a rocky knoll, headed down the other side and out onto a road with no apparent track continuing on.

This be the top.
So I turned right and I rode up the road to where it ended (about 200m) ... no track.

Then I rode back down the road to a junction ... no track.

Then I texted Rob and got the perfect response: "Sounds like you're at the top".

Which meant it was time to head down.

Insert Big Smiley face here.

And, yes, from that point onwards all those jumps that I hated so much on the way up started to make sense.  Even a rider as technically incompetent as me was able to use the flow of the trail to just whiz down most of the track and through what were some quire reasonable intermediate grade riding.

It was a blast.

It would have been much more of a blast if I wasn't so stuffed and dehydrated by the time I got to the top.  I knew I was cooked when I got back down to the last kilometre of the juggernaught just before it rejoins the blue loop and found myself pushing my bike up little jumps I should have been able to fly over.

Five hours after departing, I finally rolled back into the car park tired, overjoyed to see my car (and more importantly the cold drinks it contained), and somewhat emotionally conflicted over just how much I did, and did not, enjoy riding these trails.

I really liked the two lower circuits, and once they settle in (remember they were still under construction when I rode them), I reckon they're going to be gorgeous to ride through as well as fun to ride.

I also enjoyed riding down the Juggernaught and I love the fact that we now have the Juggernaught because it caters to a type of downhill riding that we don't have here in Tasmania, and I love that we've got variety.

My conflict (when I desperately want to do nothing but sing these trails praises) is that I'm someone who likes to go "bushwalking on two wheels" when I go riding, and the Juggernaught isn't built for someone like me,

With that said, I come back to what I said at the top of this post - I'm pretty unique when it comes to mountain biking tastes and I'm not a 'technical' (or fit) rider, so the fact that the Juggernaught might not be my cup of tea, probably means that all of you normal, fit, competent riders are going to love riding these brilliant quality challenging trails (like the Flow guys do) ... It is going to make an awesome gravity enduro course.

I suspect the Derby trails are going to be much more to my liking in this regard, but I will come back to Hollybank after the trails are ridden in a bit.

I'll just pay for the shufflle next time.

Monday, 22 September 2014

Spirit of Tasmania - The Return

Have you ever considered how you'd go about hijacking the Spirit of Tasmania?

No?

To be honest, nor had I.  In fact the very idea of it hadn't even crossed my mind.  Now that it has, I'm still asking myself one very important question ...

What would I do with it once I've hijacked it?  Ram it into Flinders Island?  Demand they take me to New Zealand (I wonder if it has enough fuel)?  Maybe I could demand a million, billion dollars or else threaten to run over a sea kayaker?

Sounds to me like a Darwin award in the making.

Anyway, the reason for this strange line of thought was that as I was getting on the Spirit of Tasmania tonight, I was asked if I had any firearms or weapons, which was not a question I was expecting, hence my response ...

"Uhm .. no".

"No guns or axes?"

"nope"

"OK, please go ahead to that inspector over there in lane 3"

So off I drove ... while mentally cataloging what I do have in the car and that's when I realised  ... "well, I do have my pruning saw - I wonder if a pruning saw is considered as dangerous?".

So when I got up to the inspector in lane 3, and being a good and honest person, I asked him that very question (fully expecting him to say something like "of course not, what could you do with a pruning saw ... you go right ahead")


But he didn't ... he decided that my small, rusty and blunt pruning saw was actually a potential weapon (even though he couldn't figure out how to open it) and I guess rules are rules so he took it off me for collection in Devonport.

Now before you think I'm whingeing about this, I'm not.  In fact it was fabulous because having already bought dinner in Melbourne before departing (I do learn), I had very little to do on the boat other than watch "How to Train a Dragon 2" and try and figure out a scenario in which I might, with my little pruning saw, hold a whole (metal) ship to ransom ...

And hey, when it comes to the Spirit of Tasmania, anything that passes the time is a good thing.

For the record, my brain was too logical to come up with anything because all scenarios start with me leaping out with my pruning saw in hand yelling "nobody move ...  this is a robbery" and ending up with several hundred passengers and crew looking at each other, realising that one man with a pruning saw isn't much of a threat to them, and either ignoring me or throwing me overboard.

The End.

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Kowalski Classic 2014 (50km)

So even before I'd reached Canberra, I'd abandoned my original ambition for the Kowalski Classic (which was to get fit and not lose too much time to Kim) and embraced the more humble goal of just getting to the finish line without dying.

Yep, my goal was just to get around the 50km course without giving up.


Problem was that whilst my ambitions may have been lowered significantly between the time I entered and my arrival at the start line, on the official starting list I was still supposed to set off with wave 4A (waves 1 & 2 being the elites and wave 3 being the more serious amateur riders) which would mean I'd have around two thirds of the 900 mountain bikers who were there for the race behind me ... all of whom would probably need to get past me somewhere in the day.

With over 95% of the race being on single track that would have made me the really irritating guy who holds everyone else up.

This was not the person I wanted to be, and that's why I found myself, 15 minutes before race start, sitting on my bike right next to the flag which marked the demarcation between the last wave 4 group (there were four - A through D) and wave 5/6 (who were combined into a single wave) wondering if anybody but me would notice if I set off with the wave 5/6 group ...

The waves in front ... it curves around to the left and heads back the other way.
Then, after much fretting, I came to the realisation that it didn't really matter where I started because if my goal was to just finish the race, then who cared if I lost 12 minutes from starting in a later wave than the one I was supposed to (as it turned out I lost no time as it is all measured from when you go over the starting and finishing mat).

That start is getting closer, but it's still a long way away.
However, this dilemma does highlight a real problem with entering events ... not knowing what the impact of entering different waves means in terms of start times.

Despite what you're thinking, this is important stuff (it really isn't) and it is often overlooked by event organisers (probably because it's unimportant),  What they don't appreciate is that if you've got to race off (no pun intended) to somewhere else after the event, eg. if you're booked on the next nights ferry from Melbourne 700+kms away then you need to get away as early as possible and that means getting as early a start as possible.

In the Convict 100 race (which we did last year) there was something like a two hour gap between the 100km and 50km racers and even then there was a further 30 minutes (I think) gap between the first and last waves within the 50km race ...  so I left something like 2.5 hours later than I thought I would and those sort of things matter when you have to go places afterwards.

Now here's why this matters ... if you don't know which wave you're starting in then there's an incentive for slow people (like me) to overstate our abilities in order to get an earlier start ... and that's probably why you get so many irritating slow people in front of you holding up the race ... and I think we all agree that that is important and annoying.

Almost ready to race
With all that said, the Kowalski race has got it pretty sussed with just three minutes between waves, and so we only set off about 25 minutes after the elites, and I was only 12 minutes (four waves) behind Kim when I set off ...

And all of that above was really just to pass the time while I got to the starting line ...

Finally ... at the starting line.
Once the gun went off, my race plan went pretty much as expected.

I held position for the first 500 metres ... until we hit the bottom of the first little climb, and then I progressively fell further and further back in my wave as we climbed it.

I'll be honest and say two things:

About three quarters the way up that short hill, I was 99.9% convinced that there was no way, and I mean no way, I could get around a 50km ride today.  I was in fact 99.6% sure I wasn't going to make it up this first hill.  As part of my mental negotiations with myself, I made myself a pact that if I couldn't ride up this first (of what I expected to be many, many hills) then I'd turn around and DNF.  I was in a very bad headspace and was having to negotiate hard with myself to keep those wheels turning.

Secondly, by the top of the first climb, I wasn't just at the back of my group ... I was off the back and there were people closing in on me from the final group that had started three minutes behind me.
None of this was good when I was probably only 10 minutes into the race.

My little mental gremlins have been here before though, and I know that I really suffer for the first few kilometres of any race (ed - maybe that's why people warm up before a race you idiot ... hang on these blogs don't have an editor so who wrote this?).

I know this will sound cheezy, but as I was grinding my way up the climb I kept thinking back to the stories of bravery that I had read in the War Memorial the previous day and I just kept telling myself that if I can't even ride a frickin' 50km race then I am not even 10% of who I think I am (I'm very into percentages in this post aren't I).

So, with all that going on in my head, I did make it to the top of the first climb (without stopping) and then I also started to catch back up to some riders from my starting group as we start riding back down the single track.

I also, in turn, started getting caught by the faster riders from the group behind me, and being over-polite when it comes to racing,  and also being very conscious of holding up other riders, I would stop as soon as a rider got within about 10 metres of my rear-wheel to let them pass.  Then I'd wait for all of the other riders nearby to get past as well.

I did feel somewhere along this race that I was taking this to extremes when I stopped on the edge of the track for well over a minute letting people (who I later had to go pass again) get past me ... just because I didn't want to slow them down.

But that was in the future.

Back in the now, I was just trying to convince myself I could complete 50kms, and I knew this started by first completing 5kms, then 10kms and so on.

Now as you can see from my strava below, this course is extremely convuluted, and so it was quite common to be riding along in one direction whilst seeing riders all around you going in ten other directions.



This was kind of cool, especially when I'd be riding along and I'd see huge long lines of people riding along (or stopped) in another direction and I'd think "cool, they're not that far in front of me, I'm not doing so bad after all" only to then find myself head off in another direction completely and later realise that actually they were a heck of a long way in front of me as I came back to that spot 30 minutes later.

After about 10kms, I sort of had my riding rhythm going, my breathing had settled down and although 50kms still seemed a long way away, it seemed slightly less impossible.

By 20kms, I was starting to gain a little confidence that this might be possible as I settled into a dispersed group of riders who were all passing each other as we hit our strengths (climbing / descending), but it still seemed a long way to the finish.

I was really enjoying the trails though.

At about 22kms I saw a whole lot of riders stopped at the half way point and thought "you beauty - I'm actually 3kms ahead of where I thought I was, my GPS must be missing corners".


Then the track headed off to the left ... and three kilometres later, after a nice long out and back ride, the track actually delivered me to the half way point - right where it should be ... 25kms into the race.


After refueling I enjoyed a nice run down a gravel road, before turning into the single track and onto what I expected to be the start of the hard part of the race.

Now at the start line, the announcer had proclaimed this as one of the hardest races in the region and I'd looked at the course profile and although it looked fairly flat for the first 50km (other than that first climb), there looked to be at least four more similar climbs in the last 25kms ... and that had me worried.

But the thing is, these climbs were all on single track that was designed to deliver riders to the top of a climb as easily as possible and so, now largely riding by myself, I enjoyed what the trail had to throw at me as I chugged my way through the 30km and then 40km mark.

There was a couple of final climbs in the last 5kms (incuding a partial repeat of that first hill - which this time I pushed), but before I knew it I was hurtling down the last descent of the day and across the finish line ... in just under four hours.

It was a definite back of the pack race-pace (Kim finished a full thirty minutes faster than me), but as we got talking about the course I realised our rides were chalk and cheese .. and I got the cheese.

Kim had set off in one of the largest race waves and as a result had found herself in a large conga line of riders for virtually the entire 50kms.  She'd enjoyed the race, but spent a lot of time riding below her natural pace, collecting a lot of dust in her face and most frustratingly, whenever she had come near something even vaguely technical, she had to walk it due to all the riders in front of her having been stopped by that one person who didn't know how to ride over a 5cm high log.

I on the other hand had pootled along at my own pace, and whilst I had lots of riders around me, very few were actually riding with me, so I'd been able to pretty much pick my own pace and enjoy the ride, dust free and alone.  Most importantly I hadn't held up a single rider all day.

Who knew that the slowest riders could be the winners!

Now you have to excuse me ... I have a ferry to catch and it's 700kms away.

Friday, 19 September 2014

Parliament House

So as the Nation went into high alert over ... over  ...  actually it's been a week now since we visited and I can't recall exactly why we were in high alert anymore, but with that detail aside, at the time the radio and television stations (at least in Canberra) were broadcasting on an hourly basis about heightened terrorist dangers in Australia and how security had been ramped up at Parliament House ...

So Kim and I decided to go for a visit ...




You know ... to support freedom and democracy and whatever a pluralist society is.

I even got followed in by an Australian Federal Police vehicle.

But, I'm sorry to disappoint anyone who was hoping for this to be one of those unfinished stories from a blogging genius who died before his time, because I didn't.  Yep, I'm still alive.

In fact, I suspect that like most people that visited Parliament house, other than being very impressed that there is still free parking right under the building (I believe that free parking is the number one positive statement made about Parliament house over on Trip Advisement), I pretty much found the rest of the trip to be ... less than mind blowing (hey, in my defense I pretty much know how the Parliamentary System works).

So we entertained ourselves taking tourist photos instead ...





Then we drove out of Canberra to stay in Queanbeyan (NSW) because it was cheaper and closer to Sunday's mountain bike trails ...

Mt Stromlo MTB Park

Mt Stromlo Mountain Bike Park blew me away ...

Now that's what I call Trail Head signage.
It is head and shoulders above any other mountain bike trail I've come across in Australia in terms of signage, trail quality and user friendliness ... and it's darn fun to ride as well - especially on the downhill flow sections!

Heading off - you choose from one of the numbered routes and then just follow the numbers at every junction.
Loved the playground - good signage explaining how to tackle
an obstacle and then off you go.
... and they had some serious obstacles to tackle.
Notice that there are three ramps ... a black, blue and green line.
It even offers good views.
Cool places to visit (also notice the numbered signage on the blue sign.
We did pick a good day to ride ...
Fast flowing downhill runs ...

Some technical stuff ... unfortunately I missed the shot of Kim going down
this double black diamond run.  She was glorious.
The Luge is marvelous.
Hmmm ... what's that red dot up there on the track.
Oh ... it's Kim having tried to get around that little corner a little bit too fast
but she did find someone's glasses.
... and we're off again.
... just maybe a little bit more tentative on those corners.
There we go (plenty of time for photos)
... now it's time to catch back up.

I particularly loved the "playground" skills park.  Well at least I loved it as far as the second obstacle where I managed to do a low speed crash and completely embarrass myself.  Maybe I should say Kim loved watching me on the (lack of) skills park.  At least it seems to be the story she's telling everyone about our trip.

Whilst I'd probably get bored riding Stromlo on a regular basis (as I get bored of doing anything on a regular basis) I'd come back here in a heartbeat if I had the chance.

Yep, Stromlo stole a little bit of my mountain biking heart.