Sunday, 3 July 2016

The boy who harnessed the wind

I seem to be doing more of this lately ...

Walking the dogs

Than this ...

Riding in the East Risdon area

And I definitely seem to be spending way too much time doing this (sitting in front of a computer writing), but there is an upside this ... I have started to discover the joy of audio books and podcasts ...

My audiobook adventure started some months back now when I went to the State Library and got "The Martian" out on CD (all 8 CD's), copied them onto my computer and into iTunes, and then started listening to them as I walked the dogs ... and I got hooked.

Seriously the movie, The Martian, is crap ... listen to the book.

I guess you could read it as well, but this blog is about listening, not reading, because listening creates a whole new world of opportunities - an audibook turns a 45 minute walk with the dogs into 45 minutes of reading time (with some low level exercise).

Plus the dogs love it because I don't notice as they go running off everywhere chasing things ...



After 42 years, I've finally found something I can multi-task at!

Like, any new experience, I've hit some speed bumps.

I listened to Chris Hadfield's "An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth" which was like wading my way through an economics text book at University, especially as it was again a multi Cd download from the library and for some reason, it kept resetting itself on my ipod so I'd spent the first 10 minutes of any walk trying to find out where I was in the book.

Fortunately, around this time I also discovered that the State Library of Tasmania website also has ebooks you can download, so I next found myself being transported along on Scott's expedition to Antarctica (another brilliant book), and most recently I have listened to one of the most beautiful stories in the world ...  The Boy who Harnessed the Wind.


I cried and I cried as I walked around my various doggie circuits listening to this book.

Unfortunately, like downloading CDs,  the library audiobook collection is frustrating - the selection is limited, the searching, browsing and App integration is beyond painful and I never seemed to be able to listen to a book in the required timeframe requiring me to go through the whole process of checkout.

More recently, I began exploring podcasts.  I started with one of Fat Cyclists podcasts interviewing Jill Homer, but to be honest it was so horrible I couldn't bring myself to go back and listen to any more of those despite them being my two favourite bloggers.

I have however discovered ted talks radio, freakonomics and just this week, Revisionist Histories which I'm loving, not so much because the podcasts are good (in fact I've found the first two podcasts of Revisionist Histories rather weak in their argument and detail) but what I enjoy is that I'm listening to things I would never have actually taken the time to read.

In the last month, I've become particularly excited about my foray into audible (Amazon's audiobook service), but mainly because of the future it represents.

Long time readers of this blog know that I have lots of kindles (most of which don't work). I am kindle addicted.  I was reading a book the other day (like a real, old fashioned, paper book) in bed and decided I was enjoying it - so I logged into amazon.com.au and bought the kindle version (for $15) because I wanted to read it on my kindle.

Similarly, I was at my mum's the other day and noticed the book "Wild" by Cheryl Strayed sitting on the coffee table.  I had watched the movie recently and really enjoyed it, but mum insisted that the book was so much better and detailed and offered to lend me the book.  So I took it home, read a few pages ... remembered how much I dislike reading books, and downloaded it onto my kindle for $3.99.
It was at this point that I was offered the opportunity to download the 'audible' version of the book for another $3.99 ... and being newly converted to the discoveries of audiobooks, I clicked "buy".

I'm about 90% of the way through this book (it is about 12 hours long I think), and I've probably read about 3% of it and listened to the rest, but I love the fact that I can listen to the book, get back to my house and pick up my kindle and it just syncs back up to the page I was listening to and I can then continue reading.

I subscribe to lots of magazines which I never read (in fact many now I never open).  I have piles of books I never get around to reading and yet every day I spend hours walking dogs, driving in the car and riding my bike where I could easily listen to these publications if only the technology were available (and I could find a safe way to ride and listen to a book).

The exciting thing is, we're on the cusp of implementing this technology.

Somebody is harnessing this wind already and I can only see it getting better ...

Saturday, 25 June 2016

It's been awhile (again)

So, it's been awhile (again) and that reflects what is perhaps a loss of excitement I now hold towards blogging in a world where I seemed chained to a computer six and a half days a week keeping up with work and other obligations I've taken on because they seemed fun at the time.

But hey, I'm here typing now, so rather than complain, let me bring you up to date on a few things I left hanging ...

Remember that assignment ...

Do you remember that Uni thesis I blogged about back in February?  The one where I essentially researched and wrote a 10,000 word post-graduate thesis in a single day and promised myself, I would never, ever, ever do something like that again if only the gods allowed me to pass ..

Well I passed ....


In fact I got 68%, which means I can now add a Graduate Certificate (Public Sector Leadership and Management) to my C.V.

But that's only the beginning of the story ...

At about the same time that I completed this assignment, the State Government released their "Agenda 2016" plan of work for the next year which included the preparation of a Draft Cycle Tourism Strategy.

That may not excite you, but writing something like that is a dream job for me.

I so wanted to be involved, so I set off to find out who was doing it (with my assignment under my arm as evidence of my knowledge in this area) to see if I could be involved somehow ...

The story from there is a bit boring and convoluted, but the end result is that part of the reason why this blog and tassietrails.org are looking a bit unloved at the moment is because I may have gotten my wish ... and am now a little bit involved.

So there you go ... that was a day well spent doing that assignment.

Oh ... I should also mention that in a true demonstration of how little I learn from these experiences, I've gone and enrolled myself in yet another four day post-grad short course (this time in public transport planning).   Hey, it seemed like a good idea at the time, but god help them if they start talking about pre and post course assignments.

Remember that Trek Frame warranty ...

Remember my broken Trek 520 that I wrote about back in January?

The one where I was attempting to get a replacement for my thirteen year old frame under Trek's lifetime frame warranty after it snapped on a ride into work   ...

Well, it was a bit of a palaver having to strip everything off the frame, but kudos to Trek, they honored their warranty and I have a new bike.

Well actually, I have a new bike frame ...



... and I have a lot of old parts which I'll probably never get around to putting back on this new frame.


I did get a price for a new groupset for the bike, but the price came in at $1,150, plus around $150 to put the bike back together.  So $1,300 all up.  Given that I can buy a brand new carbon bike with a 105 groupset for around $1,500 at the moment, that just seems a little expensive to me and so it's all been bundled away into a part of the garage I seldom enter to gather dust.

So a chalk mark in the win column for getting the new frame, and a chalk mark in the lose column given that I'll probably never do anything with it.
 
Thief!

For those of you who follow my tassietrails facebook page, you'll know that I had my road bike stolen back in April which was kind of upsetting.




But, if you let these things get you down, then ... well, you'll be down.

So I didn't let that happen.  I wished the thief all the best with his/her new bike and then embraced the opportunity I had to buy a new bike without having to increase my 'N' quota and more importantly getting too close to that S-1 barrier (if you have no idea what I'm talking about read rule 12 here.

A few days of shopping later, I was the proud owner of a new gravel grinder ...


I even went and got a professional bike fit down ...



Which turned out to be a complete waste of time because after having my seat and handlebar height and angles tweaked by half a millimetre here and a full millimetre there, after a few days of riding I ended up lifting the seat about 2 to 3 centimetres higher than the bike fit had set it ...

A story, by the by, that every other cyclist I've talked to has also done.

But after a bit of adjustment, I'm loving the new bike.

Finally, that Strava challenge ...

Remember the 100km per week challenge I set myself this year.

Well with the combination of my bike theft, needing to pick up and drop off kids before and after school and work travel commitments reducing my cycling commuting opportunities, and to top it all off, some very painful periods of gout which have prevented me from putting on cycling shoes ... well there is a big (and growing) gap between where I am and where I'm meant to be ...

A 474km gap to be precise ... which is probably a good segue for me to end this post and go out and get on my bike ...

I'll write again soon

Or not.

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Evans Street Junction

All cyclists hate the wait at Evans Street junction.

Let's just get that said and out of the way.

Evans Street Intersection (with Davey Street).  This is the first intersection you hit
when you come into Hobart from the North and has probably the largest volume of
cyclists through it in the State.

We rock up at this light and we seem to wait and wait  ... and we get frustrated and the temptation to run the red light builds and builds (I mean surely  it's been red now for at least 4 minutes???) but so to does the risk of crossing and AAARGGGHHH ... why can't they just do something about it!!!!

Eventually, as cyclists, we do one of five things:
  1. We sit there frustrated (as all those other cyclists and pedestrians run the red light), but we wait (and get more frustrated), and go on green building up our brownie points in cycling heaven.
  2. We check for vehicles in the left turning lane as we approach the intersection and, if we deem it safe, we run the red light.  We know this is illegal (it breaks road rule 260 if you're interested), but we do it anyway;
  3. A small, but increasing, number of cyclists are cycling out into Davey Street (at least on the way into work in the morning) just above the Engineers Building (at the little lay out) and then just ride through the intersection with the flow of traffic, rejoining the bike lane on the other side (the straight red line on the map below).  This is an interesting one, because practically it gives them a 1 minute 40 second window to get through the intersection, rather than 15 seconds, but it is arguably still illegal under road rule 260 which seems (with my bush lawyer hat on) to indicate that a rider on a bicycle must still comply with the cycling lights at the intersection, not the main lights, no matter where they are in the intersection, so technically my reading of the road rules is that if the cycling light is red, the cyclist has to stop, which doesn't really make sense if you're in the main flow of traffic and the main light is red  - I'd love to have that clarified though).
  4. My personal favourite on the way into work - we head left into Evans Street if the light is red and clock up some extra distance (about 500 metres) doing a loop around the Hunter Street buildings.  This works for me because although it might add up to a minute (which may or may not be less than the red traffic light wait) I'm heading towards Salamanca and it let's me avoid another intersection later on, but for most cyclists it is inconvenient and is the car equivalent of driving from Kingston to Hobart via Taroona instead of the Southern Outlet; and
  5. We do the 'Evans Street Hook', which means that we ride around the corner on the shared cycling/pedestrian into Evans Street (hoping there isn't a bank of metro buses around the corner) then we enter the traffic on a driveway (pretty sure this is legal so long as it is safe to do so), do a U turn past the end of the continuous white line (again pretty sure this is legal, so long as it is safe to do so and we go past the end of the continuous white line), then rejoin the cycling lane on the other side (which is again legal) ...  It looks like this ...
Yellow line is the main cycling route
Red straight line is option 3 - a growing route in popularity (join the traffic and go through on the green light)
Red hooked line is the other common alternative to bypass the red light (option 5)
Street View of the hook turn often used at this intersection (Option 5)
which follows the hooked yellow line.
On the way out of town in the evening, the options for getting across this intersection are a little more constrained, and I'd guess that we mostly either wait for the green light, or run the red light, as the Evan Street options are less attractive heading out of town (why do a long detour when there's a chance you might hit a green light?).  The on-street option doesn't exist as Davey Street is one way.

So, hopefully that pretty much summarises how we cyclists feel about the Evans Street intersection, and what we all sort of do.

There is of course another side to all of this.  Despite our frustration at that red cycling light, most of us know that in peak hour traffic, the magical beings that try and keep the traffic flowing are probably far more focused on getting the thousands of vehicles that flow through that intersection moving than they are about a few cyclists having a bit of a delay (I couldn't find an actual number on vehicles, but I did find a report that said that 37,200 vehicles in total went up Davey Street each day in 2011).

Spock would be on their side (the needs of the many, must out-weigh the needs of the few ...)

The problem is we think Spock has missed a key bit of evidence (which would make him very unhappy).  What we beings on bikes see that Spock doesn't, is that as we sit there waiting and waiting for that red light - virtually no cars actually seem to turn left and so it feels perfectly safe to cross (especially when heading out of town - if only we could see if that traffic light was green or changing) ... that's what is so frustrating and leads (I believe) to many cyclists making the choice to run the red lights

We're just rebalancing a bad decision - right!

Maybe an enlightened being like Spock might approve, but of course the police, motorists and the general community won't.

But really all of the above is a bit of conjecture because we each only really get a small glimpse into the traffic flow each day (and we're usually pretty frustrated when we do waiting for that light to go green).

Well, we (James and I) decided on Wednesday 23 March to take a peek (no pun intended) into the mystical world of what is happening at Evans Street so that we could talk numbers not just discuss viewpoints.

So we sat there (latte's and good old fashioned clipboards in hand) and we counted some key bicycle and car movements through the intersection from 7:30 am to 8.45am - which we figured would catch most of the 'peak' flow of commuter traffic.

We figured there were some key things we'd need to know to advance the discussion on light timing for this intersection.

Firstly we were bicycling orientated so we wanted to get a handle on what cyclists were actually doing at the intersection.

James also thought it would be a good idea to count Pedestrians as a bit of a comparison, so we did that as well.

We also recognised that for the road planners their key consideration for managing peak flow traffic would be to get a smooth flow of vehicular traffic into and out of the city and in particular they would want a light sequence that doesn't result in traffic turning into Evans street choking up the greater flow of traffic into the city, so we counted the number of vehicles turning into Evans street from Davey Street, and we actually tried to do this in 15 second blocks to get a picture of the 'flow' of traffic.

So what did we find?

Firstly, the basics - on the morning we counted, the traffic light at Evans Street and Davey Street was red for traffic coming into the city for 20 seconds and then green for 100 seconds (1 min 40 seconds).  So it was a two minute cycle.

Cyclists and pedestrians only had a green light for 15 seconds of that two minute cycle and only if someone had pressed the pedestrian of cyclist button (See this link to read about Bicycle Networks successful campaign run last year to extend the green pedestrian/cycling light time from 5 seconds to 15 seconds).

We did, however, note that if either the cycling or pedestrian button was pressed then the traffic turning left into Evans street was held up by a red arrow for those fifteen seconds to ensure that any cyclists entering the junction during a green light did not get hit - kudos to the road planners for that idea.

In terms of bicycle and pedestrian data in the 75 minutes we counted:
  • 132 cyclists and 56 pedestrians (total 188) crossing through the intersection on the bike path side of Davey Street.
  • 116 cyclists (88%) and 49 pedestrians (88%) were heading into the city and 12% were heading out of the city.
  •  Of those cyclists riding into town:
    • 12% arrived on a green cycling light and were able to ride through legally;
    • 31% arrived on a red light and waited (option 1);
    • 23% ran the red light (option 2)
    • 7% entered the traffic light from the road (option 3)
    • 13% went around the corner into Evans Street and went into town the longer way (option 4)
    • 14% went into Evan Street, entered the traffic, did a U turn, then came back into the intersection (option 5)
  • Of the 16 cyclists heading out of town, eight cycled across on the red light, five waited for the green and three arrived on the green. 
  • Contrary to the stereotype, not every cyclist was a lycra clad MAMIL on a $5000+ road bike, in fact we saw a huge variety of bikes and people.
So out of that it can be said that during the time we monitored 13% of cyclists hit the lights on green, and then of those cyclists that came to a red light,  36% waited for the light to turn green and nearly two-thirds, 64%, took some form of action to avoid waiting at the red light including 30% running the red light (almost as many that waited).


An interesting comparative statistic is that while 23% of cyclists heading into town ran the red light, this was less than the 29% of pedestrians who also walked across on the red light.

And what about vehicle traffic.
By way of comparison 186 vehicles turned left into Evans Street from Davey Street during the 75 minutes, which is actually slightly less than the number of pedestrians and cyclists that crossed during the same time (188).

Although this wasn't something we thought to count (because we were unaware of the red arrow), we did see three cars illegally turning left on the red arrow.

We did plan on counting how full the turn left lane got at each light change (it could take an estimated 8 vehicles) but what we didn't think to record was the number of times that the second lane on the left got so full that vehicles could no longer get into the turn left lane (I did see this happen a few times).  I would record this next time, though in theory these cars should have come through in the first 0 to 30 seconds.

So, of the 39 traffic changes we monitored:
  • None, zilch, zero ever had a full turning lane, in fact the most cars that were ever in a lane when the light turned green was four (this occurred at six light changes (15% of the time).
  • In  summary
    • There were no cars in the lane on fourteen light changes (36% of the time)
    • There was one car in the lane on 7 light changes (21% of the time) 
    • There were two cars in the lane on 9 light changes (23% of the time)
    • There were three cars in the lane on 2 light changes (5%); and
    • As already stated above, four cars in the lane on six light changes (15% of the time)
However, if there were pedestrians and cyclists crossing the road, the cars turning left were held for another 15 seconds by a red light, so we counted the longest the line got including this extra hold time, and the most it got up to was 5 cars (once).

In fact, if there was a 30 second gap for cyclists and pedestrians to cross (instead of the current 15) the number of cars still wouldn't have exceeded the lane capacity (it got to seven once, five once, four once but otherwise was less than four).  See graph below ...



Even allowing for a forty five second green light, this would still only have seen the lane at capacity (8 vehicles) once in the period we counted.

Looking at the total number of vehicles that turned left into Evans Street off Davey Street over the 39 light changes, it can be seen that there were only two occasions where the number of vehicles exceeded the capacity of the turn left lane ...


So what does this tell us?

Well, to be honest, not a huge amount without conducting the survey quite a few more times and doing it in both the morning and the afternoon because peak flow is more important than averge flow in this case (you only need one incident to hold up traffic and create gridlock), but it does (prima facie) support some of the arguments being put forward around a longer green light time for pedestrians and cyclists at the junction and it certainly does not provide evidence that the current light cycle for pedestrians/cyclists is causing any traffic issues for vehicles.

There is obviously a lot of behaviour modification (including illegal running of red lights) occurring by cyclists and pedestrians who are responding to the long red light interval.  Over half the cyclists we monitored (56%) modified their cycling pattern in some way from the optimum path, or they just ran the red light all of which increases the risk of injury at the intersection.  This is even taking into account the 13% that just cycled across on the green light and may have also modified their behaviour if presented with a red light.

You also have to remember that people were still doing this despite at least three police crack downs on this intersection (that I know of) in recent times, and the fact that there were two people sitting at the intersection with cameras and clipboards which may have induced 'better' behaviour.

The vehicle count we did also seems to indicate that there isn't a high vehicular pressure of turning cyclists from Davey Street into Evans Street which would lead to a peak hour block, although I'll be the first to say that I'd want more data to support this in the current debate over managing peak hour traffic.

It was also interesting to see that there was actually about the same number of cyclists and pedestrians going through that intersection as there were vehicles turning into Evans Street.

So what are the solutions?

Firstly it would be great to see if this sort of data (if we collected more) might actually influence the decision makers and allow them to make an informed decision on how long the pedestrian and cycling light should remain green based on an evidence based risk analysis.

Sure one response to this situation would be for more police enforcement of people on foot and on bike running red lights.  Just so it's on record I don't advocate breaking the law and I don't run the red light (anymore).  I cycle into work via Evans street (or very occasionally by doing a hook turn if I'm in a rush) and I wait for the red light when cycling home.

But police crack downs have been done three times and it's not having a big affect because the driver (ie. long delays) for running the red light is very strong.

So what are some other solutions that might lead to better outcomes?

We could of course look at doing a few more counts and  if the numbers look good, extend the green pedestrian/cycling light from 15 seconds to 30 seconds.  This could be a potential easy win.

I have seen examples in other countries where the pedestrian light turns green for a period, goes red to let the cars through and then turns green again for cyclists and pedestrians to allow a second wave to go through.  Yes, you need to make sure that you control traffic turning left safely (but you can do this with the red turning left arrow signal for vehicles).

Wouldn't two chances to legally cross the road be awesome? (eg.  an initial 15 seconds of pedestrian/cycling green, then if a person (on bike or foot) presses the signal button after the pedestrian/cyclists light has turned red (and say a minimum 30 seconds has been provided to let cars through), then the turn left arrow could be brought back up and the pedestrian/cyclist light could go green again for another fifteen seconds letting a second flow through).

How implementable this would be would depend on how programmable the current traffic lights are, but if the technology can allow us to do it, then it's just a matter of public will and education.

You could also supplement this in various ways, eg. automatic bike and people sensors on the cycleway to detect them coming and having this trigger the light, painting an obvious green strip on the road as a visual cue that this is a significant cycling lane and maybe adding a "caution cyclists when turning sign" for traffic (in an ideal world, this could also be an electronic smart sign which is triggered by a cyclist going over a sensor).

Another idea, growing off what is already happening (option 3), is to investigate formalising the idea of cyclists entering the traffic flow on Davey Street further up the road to improve flow (for cyclists who choose to do this) into the city (even if they could just enter the turn left lane and then move to the right of it and flow through the traffic).  This wouldn't help flow coming out of the city.

An old school hard-infrastructure solution, might be to adapt some of the ideas being used at roundabouts and divert cyclists 50 metres down Evans Street on the sidewalk and then have a signed and obvious cycling crossing there.  This area currently has very little traffic and would essentially be formalising and making more obvious the increasing use of the u turn currently being undertaken.

Another idea, which I've not seen done anywhere else, is to introduce the concept of a "flashing amber cycling light" (cyclists proceed with caution).  I admit this is blue sky thinking and would need legislative change, but with improvements in vehicle detection and smart signage I could see this working.

For example as you're cycling out of town you can clearly see whether or not there are any vehicles in the turn left lane and make a judgement as to whether it is safe(ish) to cross.  What you don't know is how long it will be until the lights will change and whether you're going to enter the intersection just as the traffic flow changes from Davey Street to Evans Street.  If there were a flashing amber cycling light that ran from the 15 second point to the 1 minute 25 second point (15 seconds before the lights change) and a countdown clock showing the time until the next light change ... then this would be enough information to let me know I could safely cross, and of course, the flashing amber light could turn to red when there is only 15 seconds until the lights change - so the countdown clock is only really a 'nice to have'.

I'm sure there's lots of other solutions out there as well, but the question is ... is there a will to have this conversation ...

Friday, 25 March 2016

SBX25 - Strava Challenge 2016

For a long time there's been a pretty big gap between the Meehan Ranges and the Blue Tiers if you're heading up the east coast and looking for somewhere to ride.


The East Coast - A grave yard for cyclists
And yes I am ignoring Kellevie, the Orford forshore trail, Maria Island, Friendly Beaches, Coles Bay, the Bicheno Jumps Park, the Douglas Apsley northern circuit, the downhill from St Mary's, the little reserve south of Scamander and the various trails around St Helens and the Bay of Fires because they're all illegal or no one but you and me knows about them so they don't count.

So, we're all agreed - there are no trails up the east coast (don't argue, just agree).

Until now!!!

Thanks (I think) to the big efforts of the new Break O' Day bikeshop up at St Helens, we now have the SBX25 strava challenge route.


Which you have until tomorrow (as I type this) to ride.

I decided to go up and get an early time and so I stupidly took of with 17,000 other Hobartians to drive up the east coast (at what felt like 75km/hr) as I tried to overtake the other 16,999 stupid drivers who felt this was an adequate speed (except when they got to an overtaking lane and sped up to 120km/hr).

I don't care what you say about Hanlon's Law and the homeostatic risk response to wide open straight overtaking lanes that leads to this speeding up in overtaking lanes to occur - I know that all of those drivers were doing it simply to annoy and frustrate me.

All of which meant that I was righteously pumped when I pulled into Scamander at around 2pm, ready to ride the SBX25 and score myself a top five finish.

Yes, you read that right, I was going for a top five finish ...

I will caveat this slightly ambitious target by noting that when I'd downloaded the strava track the day before I did notice that only four other people had actually ridden the route to this point making a top five finish a reasonable goal to aim for.

I was quite nervous about pinging the start because I'd read the caution on the facebook event page to make sure I crossed the 8,137th grass blade on the right of the beer garden (and not just start on the road) to ensure that I was actually on the strava route, but as it turned out this was made rather easy by the presence of a big ruddy sign that said ... SBX25 START.


So I started there.

I wasn't in a rush (I had this fifth place in the bag) and so I cruised down onto the road and then across the old bridge taking photos as I went ...


The track (which I was thrilled to see appeared to be signed) then followed the highway briefly before turning left up Thomas Street where I discovered something altogether horrible and unexpected.

A steep, short, hill.

If I hadn't been so certain of a top five finish I would have turned around and headed home in disgust there and then.

Fortunately the climb was truly short lived and so I was soon at the end of the street and heading through the sort of track that brings a big smile to my face ...


Unfortunately it finished approximately 3 seconds after I entered it, dropping me out on the oval for my first "where the heck do I go now?" stop.

Fortunately I had downloaded the strava segment into Gaia GPS on my phone and so was able to figure out I was just supposed to skirt the oval on the left (clockwise direction) and from there I saw another SBX25 sign as I was coming off the oval with the golf course on my left.

I was soon back on bitumen, making good time, and to be honest drifting off a bit into cycling brain numbness when suddenly I say a sign on the side of the road pointing off into the bush on my right.

Unfortunately there is actually a track right where that arrow is pointing.
If you're on the bitumen then just keep going straight ahead.
"Huh", I thought  - "that would be easy to miss - lucky I didn't" as I hoicked the bike to the right and took off onto the bush track.  I hoicked (simply because I like that word) the bike right and then left again as the 'main' track took a few sharp turns and then started heading down the track with this little thought in my head "where are the signs?".

Which is where I did the most intelligent thing I've done all year.

I stopped and checked my GPS trace ... and sure enough I wasn't supposed to turn off onto this bush track.

Thankfully I'd only lost a minute or so doing this little detour and was soon back on track heading down the road.

The bitumen turned to gravel and just as I was coming down one of the first hills, I heard this strange noise like a leaf or twig scratching something everytime the wheels turned.  Having lost a deraileur to something like this in the past, I quickly stopped and did a search for any foreign objects, but seeing none I carried on, only to immediately hear the sound again.

Bemused, I stopped and this time I heard the ominous sound of a deflating tyre.  A little more investigation found a half centimetre gash in my front tyre with tyre sealant pouring out of it, but not sealing.

Thus commenced a fun five minutes trying to get the gash to reseal, which I did several times only to have the seal break again when I tried to put air back in, so eventually I let it reseal again at a lower pressure, and figured that although it was around 15-20 PSI, I might, still be able to ride it at that pressure.

Remember - I only had to get around the course to get that top five place.

So off I set again.

After a short confusing moment when I passed a couple of SBX25 signs together  ... one pointing down the gravel road and the other down a quarry beside the road (on the right), I figured out that the quarry route was part of the return route and so continued on.

I eventually came upon the (very well signed) turnoff from the gravel road and commenced a wonderful section of riding along a plantation firebreak.




The only thing that could have made this better riding would have been if I wasn't nursing that front tyre (and hence was very nervous about every rock and puddle), but I still really enjoyed this section and I started to get a hunch that all the pink tape I'd been seeing along the route may actually be for this route (turns out it was, and that's a useful tip to know as it is often used as 'comfort' tape letting you know you're going the right way).

I was kind of pleased to get to the end of this firebreak as I knew this was sort of, kind of, the furthest point out, and all I needed to do was loop up onto the ridge and fang it back again (hint - I was wrong - in effort terms you're only about a third of the way there).

The next little section follows an old trail through the plantation which was just beautiful and then - joy oh joy - the trail fairies had even thrown in a short section of good old-school single track.



From here the track snaked it's way along old forestry trails, which while never the fastest way to any point, was nice riding, before dropping out onto a big gravel road.

I had it in my head that I was now in for a big grind as I headed up what looked like the foothill into the ridges, but the trail quickly switched onto another road and I found myself actually going fast (for me - with a very spongy front tyre) before, around 14kms into the ride, the real climbing did actually begin.

This next bit is where strava time would easily be won or lost as you first grind your way up what felt like a short, parabolic track which just got steeper and steeper as you climbed, then you get dropped out onto another nicely graded gravel road, but just as you're getting used to this and start singing "I am a rambling king" at the top of your voice (accompanied by the sonorous undertones of the ever present trail bikes which seemed to be everywhere) the track turns off this nicely gravel road onto an old, steep track that climbs like a goat up to the ridegeline.



To be honest, I found this section to be one of the real highlights so don't let me put you off it.

To be really honest - I did push up most of this bit which may be why I enjoyed it so much.

You start to get some nice views out to the coast from this point, appreciating just how far you've come (and how far you've got to go).

This short track rejoins the gravel road and from there it's one last  (and very rideable) effort upwards, before (just as you start up a climb which has you thinking "oh, really - I have to ride up there?")  you find out you don't, because a short way up, the lovely, beautiful, magnificent SBX25 signs point to the left ... and down.




It is time to drop one's seat and reposition one's weight backwards ...

It's fun time.



The next section is a combination of steep, rutted, rocky trails and some very nice singletrack.  I whizzed past a few signs which seemed to indicate double black diamond sections (I didn't actually stop to read them), and there were lots of rocks and root stumps painted red to hide the blood of those that didn't quite make it, but to be honest I found it all well within my comfort zone and I'm a pretty sh*t technical rider, so don't be too scared (but be cautious).

I was almost disappointed when I got to the bottom of this section and found myself back on roads, but I should't have been as the designers of this course just kept surprising on the upside with some lovely route choice connecting old roads together with very cool sections of single track and bridges, and you just never knew what you were going to find around the next corner ...






Just before you cross your path out for the first time, you get thrown into this wonderland of jumps, drops and god knows what else, which (if you weren't in line for a fifth place) you might well be tempted to go back and ride again.

But, I was chasing that top five position (and was getting worried about not finishing before dark) so carried on.

I loved the next section of trail (which you get onto after following the road for a while).  It was a soft, sandy trail and finally my super low PSI tyres were an advantage.

That quarry and ambiguous signage, which on the way out had seemed strange, suddenly made sense on the way back as it was too good a little trail section through that quarry not to use (thought note of caution - don't do what I did and ignore that double black diamond sign thinking "pah - the rest of the sections signed like this have been easy, this will be easss... OH F*#K" ... which is the sound that you make when you suddenly realise that you're going over a half decent drop completely in the wrong position.

If this final section wasn't signed, it would be easy to get lost, and don't try and read those yellow signs in too much detail - they say "SOFT SAND - BE AWARE" - which if you're concentrating on reading a yellow sign while turning around a corner in soft sand is kind of unhelpful.  So just remember - yellow sign means soft sand - WATCH THE GROUND.

I still had to stop a couple of times and just verify I was taking the right track on this section, and if I were to give one piece of advice to anyone keen on podiuming this challenge it would be to do a warm up lap around the bottom part of the circuit and familarise yourself with the route as you could lose minutes here just by taking a wrong turn.

The top section (out past where you cross over your track for the first time on the way back) is easy to follow.

I also had to stop a few times and take some pics as it was a very pretty area ...




And, yes, this is my idea of racing.

The final section pops you out back at the entrance of the golf course from where you just retrace your steps around the oval and back to the start the way you came out (make sure you ride up the grass and pass the 8,137th blade of grass - this time on your right) and you've done the SBX25.

You're time to beat ... 2 hours, 22 minutes and fifty seven seconds.


If anyone can get slower than that, then kudos to you.

You might notice two key things from the strava screen shot above.

Firstly, my ride time was five and a half minutes faster than my actual SBX25 time, despite my riding an extra 2 kilometres before and after the SBX25 route.

There was a lot of dead time on my loop as I repaired tyres, took wrong turns and (let's face it)  took photos).

Second key thing - I only came 6th overall.

WTF?

Yep, some other rude person had come and ridden the route this morning, stealing my top five position.

I'm devasted, but I'm also hoping that there's a huge turn out tomorrow to support this great route and to push me well and truly out of the top 25.

Seriously, if you can, get out there and ride it.  Just don't steal my lantern rouge!

Sunday, 20 March 2016

Lake King William Circumnavigation (Fail)

I've been thinking for a while now that with all these record low water levels in our hydro storages that this could be the time to try and circumnavigate Lake King William ...

Lake King William
Little did I know as I set off this morning, to do just this, that not only was I heading towards an epic fail, I was also this close (think of something really close and insert it here) to the ignominy of almost drowning in what was supposed to be an empty lake.

No one's surprised there, I bet.

But, back to the beginning.

One of the first routes I put up on tassietrails.org was an out and back route from Butlers Gorge to Derwent Bridge alongside Lake King William.  I later got some feedback about a potential low water route which made the ride even more attractive, but had never got back to try it.

I had also scouted out Harbacks Road, on the other side of the lake, on my way back from the West Coast one day and found a perfectly rideable trail that ran all the way down to Guelph Narrows ...

Notice Harback Road - it actually continues all the way down to a hut on Guelph Narrows.
Albeit you need to walk/ride down the last few hundred metres of road.
This meant that if, and it was a big if, I could get from Butlers Gorge to the other side of Guelph Narrows, then I could circumnavigate the lake.

This seemed like a very rambler type thing to attempt, which is why I found myself looking out over the dam at around 11am this morning, thinking to myself "now how am I going to get across here ..."

My Plan  for this trip had been that I'd simply cross over the top of the dam on foot, as I recall having read bushwalking stories of people who had done this in the past, but it was very clear from the security put in place that this was not a legal or desired thing to do ...





This is actually taken from the other side, but the principle is the same.
So, I had to settle for the less convenient Plan B - paddle across.



Which is where it all started to go wrong.

I got all my gear together (this was the big try out for the Surly ECR), rode down to the waters edge and inflated the packraft.




So far, so good.

But then, as I finished putting a last few breaths in the raft I heard that ominous sound of escaping air.
That's not so good.

After a bit of an investigation I found the culprit - the o ring seal around the main valve had several cuts in it which was letting air escape.

Not a problem I thought, this is why I bought an Alpaka repair kit, so I casually opened my emergency repair kit ... and of course there was everything in there but a new o ring.

That was a problem.

After a bit more tinkering, I finally managed to get the raft inflated and it didn't sound like it was releasing air ... but I knew that that could change at any second, so after a bit more pondering and with images in my head of my new Surly ECR sinking to the bottom of the dam as my raft sank, I made the hard decision to abandon the bike and just paddle to the other side ... for a bit of a look.

After all, I had driven two hours to get here and it seemed a bit of a shame to go home straight away.

Figuring I was alone and that I would never be out of sight, I just left the Surly where it was and jumped in the raft to paddle to the other side.

About 40 metres from shore I noticed that the raft was definitely feeling a bit softer than when I launched.

About 100 metres from shore, I realised the raft was definitely soft.  I started paddling a bit faster.

About halfway across the raft had a horrible bend in the middle where I was sitting which indicated that it seemed to be deflating faster than I was paddling.  I really started paddling at top speed with just a little bit of panic setting in.

 Twenty metres from shore, water was just below the top of the raft and I was starting to feel like I was in one of those cartons where the raft shrinks around you as it deflates and you go slower and slower and slower as it loses all of its firmness.

But I made it, managing to touch shore and get out before the water came in over the side.

I was pleased about this, as the idea of Newspaper headlines reading "Man drowns in empty lake" was not how I saw myself exiting this world.

As I lifted my rather sad looking raft out of the water and looked back across to my car, I realised I had a serious problem with getting back home ...


So I did what I think any reasonable person would do in this situation ... I figured I'd cross that bridge when I came to it, and wandered off to explore the area.


Now you have to remember that I came up here to go for a ride, so all I was wearing was my clip in cycling shoes, my knicks and a lycra top.  I wasn't really equipped for a long walk, so I just thought I'd wander up to the other side of the dam to check that out ...


But then, when I got there, I found this excellent track heading up the hill (the one I'd hoped to cycle to the narrows) so I thought "what harm would there be in just following that for a few hundred metres?"

So I did ...


And soon found myself at the top of a steep little climb next to some sort of communication tower.


Now despite the non-fun experience of walking in cycling shoes, it was a beautiful day and it really was a lovely area ... and hey, what were the chances of anyone stealing my stuff?


... so I thought ... "maybe I'll just wander down that side track I saw - the one that I think I saw on Google Earth that seems to head about half way to the narrows then disappears"  (OK, so I didn't exactly think all of that, but just thought I'd put that in there in case anyone is reading this after seeing the same trail on google earth and is wondering if that's the one I followed).

So off I wandered ...


And found myself heading down a beautiful old track imagining myself on the Surly enjoying what might have been a very rare circumnavigation of the lake.

The track did however peter out after about 600 metres and became a bit of a scratchy affair for the last 50 metres before emerging out on the side of a very dry lake king william ...



Problem was ... the track seemed to continue on, and well, I'd come this far and it would be a lot of effort to come back here again ...  so off I went to see where the track would take me.


It was actually quite a good track again (a few downed trees, but nothing serious) as it headed over another smaller headland and then dropped me back alongside the lake another kilometre along, but then it turned left along the lake and it started getting a bit more overgrown ...


And then it became a full on scrub bash ...


But I persisted for another 30 minutes or so and while there were bad patches, in the main, it was walkable, even in the gear I was wearing.

It would not however have been fun on a bike, possible, but not fun.

It took me over 30 minutes to walk the next kilometre and realising that I was still probably at least an hour or so away from getting to the narrows at this pace (albeit that I didn't really know as I had no maps, no phone service, and I couldn't really locate where I was in the bush) I decided to turn back.

I had also gone a little bit further than I'd planned and it was playing on my mind a bit that I did just leave my bike lying in plain view on one side of the lake and my packraft on the other side of the lake just sitting there waiting for someone to drive past and think "hey, I'll take those".

I decided to take a short cut across the lake on the way back, and that was rather awesome ...




... albeit that there were moments as I was jumping off logs onto muddy sections that there was this little voice in my head saying "these could be really deep" ... but they weren't and so it was just cool.

I seemed to get back to the dam in no time at all, and as you do, after scrub bashing my way up from my packraft to the dam, I now found the path that ran all the way down to my raft, making my return much, much easier.




Now here's the strange thing.

As the packraft had been sitting in the sun, the air inside had warmed up and it had gone from a floppy mess to being reinflated, and so without really thinking about it, I just jumped in the raft and started paddling across to my car ...

As my facebook image says ... "I'm not a stupid person .... I just do stupid things".  

About half way across, I realised that my raft hadn't magically healed itself and it was, again, leaking air, but the leak was a lot slower this time and I easily made it across with around 80% of the air still in the raft.  The physics of all that I still haven't figured out.

Anyways, that was my very failed attempt at circumnavigating the lake ...


All up I was out there for just under three hours, and it was a great day.

But now I'm home again and see how close I actually was to Guelph Narrows, I just wish I'd pushed on that bit more ...