Sunday, 5 July 2015

Winter Commute Challenge - Week 5

And the gap closes in the winter challenge ...

... and I'm not only referring to this "overly-close" encounter with a car passing me going downhill past the clarence aquatic centre on Monday ...

The mirror on the car touched my sleeve as it overtook at about 45km/hr.
Even without vehicle mishaps, Monday mornings never seem to feel good on the bike.

I usually get to the first little climb coming up out of Lauderdale and my legs just seem to scream at me saying "Nup, haven't got it, let's pack this stupid challenge in and go get the car", however somewhere between there and Clarence street some sort of magic happens, or maybe it's just that the blood gets flowing in the legs and I begin to realise that work is not so far away really ... and it all starts to feel better, it feels worth it ... until I find myself at the bottom of the least favourite hill of my daily commute - Rosny Hill.

I dislike the climb up Rosny Hill (in both directions) due to the equation that: my weight + my gearing + the gradient of that hill = hurties, and I don't like hurties.

So this morning, I was grinding my way up the steepest part of this hill (you know the corner if you ride it) when a certain, nameless, mountain biker went flying past me like I was standing still completely destroying any confidence I had been building up over these past weeks that maybe, just maybe, all this riding was doing me some good.

Yep, there's no way I'd name such a cruel destroyer of dreams ...

However, to demonstrate the fickleness of the day ... after a fairly poor morning, I then went and smashed out my fastest ever commute home (albeit with quite a bit of wind assistance) and picked up five strava PRs ... haven't bagged one of those for a while.

Tuesday is my drop Zara off at the bus and do a mini-commute day, and I decided to park on the Lindisfarne side of the bridge this week and enjoy a pleasant ride in on the up-river side of the bridge.

The main thing I noticed from the day (on strava, not on the road) is how many other people seem to be commuting at the moment.

Now I do realise that I'm most likely noticing this simply because I'm now so focused on commuting that I'm therefore noticing the other people who are also commuting in every day, but in my own hubris I've decided that I prefer the explanation where all these other people are in fact joining me on my winter commute challenge (even if they don't know it) so I'm going to go with that explanation.

Wednesday was another day of infamy with the second police blitz this year on the Evans Street intersection resulting in fifty-five cyclists and pedestrians getting cautioned for riding through the red light there (See mercury article).

I meanwhile was oblivious to it all until I got into work, as in a moment of very un-john like luck, I hit that magic five second window where the bicycle crossing light was actually green and so I sailed right on through and didn't even see the police.  I won't mention a certain beautiful, girlfriend who may have been walking into work through that same intersection earlier in the day and who had not been so lucky (because this post is all about not naming people).

After a few days of mild and enjoyable riding, Thursday saw the return of snow to the mountain and a chill to the air.

It also saw me hit a new problem ... I only did half a commute on Thursday (I rode in, but not home as Marcus wanted to go to Hog's Breath for his birthday dinner).

Now going out to dinner didn't seem to me to be a valid enough reason to call a 'bye', but what do I do?

Do I give winter the point for the day?  Well that didn't seem fair seeing I had put the effort into at least riding into work and I also figured that if I applied that rule then any motivation for half day commutes would disappear.

Do I just call it a bye if I commute in, and not out?  This seemed liked the simplest solution, but didn't really recognise my ride in which got under the claw a bit, but the only other option was to give me and winter half a point each.  To be honest, although somewhat clumsy this did seem the best solution, but then I have to start adding up half days and that seems a hassle ... so I've decided at this point just to call it a bye, reserving my right to change this later if more half day commutes appear.

Did I mention just how much time I have to think over stupid things in great detail when commuting two hours a day?

Despite all my effort this week, the sad reality was that come Friday morning, it was a tied 2:2 heat which meant that for the second week in a row I had to pull on my sweaty and smelly cycling gear and head into work on the bike on Friday.

And to make matters worse, because my road bike was at work, I had to ride in on my mountain bike.

It took me a full 10 minute more (1hr:05mins) to ride in on the mountain bike (though it was kind of nice) and I also got to ride another new section of the new Shoreline to Rokeby cycleway which had just opened ...

... or maybe hadn't quite opened and I cycled down it in oblivious bliss.  Definitely one of those two options.

And that was the week ...

With three full commutes,  one half commute (bye) and one mini-commute (medium bye) that means I win the week with three weeks to winters two fails.

On the points score (which I'm sure no one is interested in until I start winning), Winter creeps up to 11 points and I've made a big move up to 10 points, so winter is still ahead, but I'm rapidly closing.

In the medium category, winter scored no points this week, and I scored three, meaning I move into the front at 9 points to winter and 10 points to me.

Woo Hoo ... but I keep reminding myself that if this was the Tour De France, then this would only be the end of week one and there is a lot of cycling still to go ... and I have the attention span of a gold fish when it comes to challenges like this.

On other good news, despite the humbling fly-by of he-who-shan't-be-named (maybe I'll call him Voldemort from now on) on Monday, all this cycling is doing me some good dropping 2.7kgs in the month ... (but with a heck of a long way still to go).

Bring on week six.

Friday, 26 June 2015

Winter Commute Challenge - Week 4

And we have a win!

But I get ahead of myself.  If you've got no idea what I'm on about with this Winter Commute Challenge, then here's a quick recap:  For some whimsical reason that I've almost forgotten, I dreamt up this idea of doing a winter commute challenge to keep me motivated to keep riding through winter.  I admit that I expected my interest in this challenge to last about as long as it took me to write the first blog post ... but it has strangely persisted.

The rules were pretty simple - If I ride to and from work (40kms return) I get a point, if I don't ride -Winter gets a point.  At the end of each week, and ultimately at the end of winter, either me or winter will win depending on who has the most points.  I also allowed that sick days or special circumstances would allow for a 'bye' where neither of us got points.

I won week one, but then lost (terribly) in weeks 2 & 3.

Well I'm pleased to report that week four saw me back in the game and on top of the podium ... albeit with a long way to go to catch up in the overall winter challenge.

Here's the weekly recap ...

After a fairly decent ride around the Tanagara Trail on Sunday, my legs had that horrible empty and weak feeling in the morning, and I think I had one of my slowest commutes ever (around 58 minutes), but I did ride and that's the important thing in this challenge.

As I was struggling home that evening I was delighted to see that the new Shoreline to Rokeby cycleway (Oceana Drive to Buckingham Drive) had been opened ...

I'd been looking forward to riding this for months and happily turned my wheel up the new path to see what I would see ...

... and kind of wish I hadn't bothered.  It's a pretty disappointing route, with no thought to making it an attractive cycling experience at all, it's just one boring chunk of concrete right on the side of the highway ... I just hope that they don't close the old route, and connect them near the top so I can stay on that.

Another thoughtless contribution to cycling infrastructure by our beloved roads department. Sigh.

It also looked strangely unfinished when I cycled it with bits of plastic lying around and pipes sticking out of the pavement.

Still back to the important point - day one to me.

As I was warming up in front of the heater that night, I noticed Kim looked like she was preparing Zara's lunch for school the next day, which was obviously weird as she only did that if she was leaving early and I was taking Zara to the school bus, and I was 100% sure that wasn't the case because Tuesday was locked in as another commute day for me ... so I thought I'd ask her what she was doing ..

"What ya doing? 

"Are you making Zara's lunch?"



"So she's got lunch".

"Oh ... am I taking Zara to school tomorrow?"

"Yes, it's Tuesday, and you said you'd take her to school."

Me (quite indignantly) ... "well, I don't remember doing that".

"You do, we discussed it ... remember."

"No ... we never, ever, ever, ever, discussed it ... I think I'd remember something like that."

"Yes we did, Tuesday's my platinum club gym session in the morning and you said you'd be happy to take Zara to school on Tuesdays so I could go."

A pause, then me ...

"Oh yea ... that discussion ... we did discuss that didn't we  ... quite a few times".

And that's how I drive Kim crazy, and more importantly how I found myself with a winter challenge commute dilemma .... I needed to ride in on Tuesday to beat winter, and somehow I'd written the day off in perpetuity.

As I was pondering the implications of this, a seed of a thought came into my head ... a new rule ... maybe I could introduce a mini-commute on Tuesdays ... I'd drop Zara off at the bus, drive to Montagu Bay, and then do a min-commute in from there over the bridge and still get a point.

It was genius (and it saved me paying for parking) ... and so that's what I did.

I discovered two things by doing this ... first, and most importantly, my mountain bike is so much less wind affected than my road bike on the bridge and I love that, and secondly, despite all the kudos I give myself for making the effort of doing a mini commute, counting a short 15 minute, 5 km commute as a point in the winter challenge feels like cheating.

So I've decided to compromise, and in an effort to give myself some chance of winning (and hence staying interested in) this challenge, I'm introducing the "medium" challenge category to the current list of race categories.  Under this category, I'm going to count any day that I at least commute from the eastern shore by bike as a bye ... that is I don't get a point (as that felt like cheating) but I also don't lose a point.  Clever, huh?

So in the original hardcore category (which I've still not 100% given up on, it was 1:1 for the week, but in the new medium category, I was up 1:0.

Both my legs and my lungs felt a lot fresher on Wednesday than they did on Monday and for the first time since I was sick, I started pushing myself a bit going up a few hills and feeling the burn.  That was the good news.

The not so good news was that I may have been wrong about the new cycle path being open.  Either that or they'd closed it again.  Either way it was back to the old route (which confirmed my thoughts from Monday that I preferred this route).

The other bad news was when I got home and went to plug in my still fairly new (and expensive) Fly6 camera light ... only to find that the charger port had detached from the motherboard and was now rattling away inside the camera  ... it will be interesting to see if they'll replace it under warranty, if not then I figure it cost me about $10 per commute.

This bit should still be in the camera.
Thursday was a day off the bike (I had to pick the kids up after school) and thus came a decision that surprised even me ... I rode into work on Friday.

A history making event, as I never ride into work on Friday.

What was even more shocking, is not only did I ride in, I felt good on my bike (albeit that my nose is still clogged up like a 20 year old drain pipe) and so I pushed myself on the way home, pulling into my garage just as my bike ticked over to 50 minutes and zero seconds.

A full eight minutes quicker than my ride on Monday, and my second best time ever on my road bike (Just for the record, it was taking me jut under 50 minutes to ride to work on my electric bike and so I am trying to beat that consistently as a long term goal).

So at the end of Week 4, here are the various standings:

On a week by week basis ...  it's neck and neck with winter having two wins, and me having two wins.

In the traditional hardcore points category, I'm still a long way behind, but I have closed the gap marginally with winter moving to 10 points and me moving up to 7 points.

Finally, in the new 'medium' category, my mini-commute on Tuesday robbed winter of a point meaning it's a 9:7 race.

Bring on week #5 ...

Friday, 19 June 2015

Winter Commute Challenge - Week 3

Well if last week was bad, then this week in the Winter Commute Challenge was a disaster.

My man-flu from Friday erupted into full on "I'm sure this is the end of the world and I'm going to die" man-flu that night, and I had to suffer through the weekend, mostly by myself as Kim wisely fled to the other house so as to avoid getting woman-flu which apparently makes your head explode.

Yep, just me, the pups and the entire series of Game of Thrones ... it was torture.

Puppies walking themselves on the beach.
Due to my man-flu, Monday was spent in bed sick (so another bye) and Tuesday is now pretty well locked in as the "take Monsters to school day" (so Winter was up 1-0).  Not that I would have ridden in on that day anyway the way I was feeling.

Wednesday and Thursday I was still coughing up my lungs and cycling wasn't an attractive option (winter 3-0) and to be honest I was only saved from losing another point on Friday by a last minute nomination to go on a new Pilot State Service Strategic Management Program which required me to spend an induction day at Rokeby Policy Academy ... This, under the rules, made it another bye.

End result ... Winter is now up two weeks, to my one, and overall the score is winter 8 to my measly 4 points.

Not good, not good at all.

Friday, 12 June 2015

Winter Commute Challenge - Week 2

So ... week two of the Winter Challenge.

It didn't go so well ...

Monday was a public holiday (so that's a bye), and Tuesday I was on monster drop off duty, so that's a point to winter.

Wednesday and Thursday were my planned riding days, but they were also Budget Estimates days and I was on the 'B' list for possible Departmental call up.

Now I am, let's be honest, a bit of a slob and would happily go to work in t-shirts, shorts and my crocs if I could (even in winter).  This is why I found myself ransacking my wardrobe on Wednesday morning trying to hunt down a tie (any tie) to wear in case I got called up to Estimates.

End result ... I got behind schedule ... and drove in (and found I had moved all my ties into my office for just such an emergency).  Winter was up to 2-0 for the week.

I wasn't called up to Estimates on Wednesday, and with the assurance that I wouldn't be needed on Thursday either, I finally got a winter commute in.  It was 2-1 for the week.

Tempted to try and come back in with a 2-2 week, I set myself the goal of riding in on Friday ... until I woke up that morning with what felt very much like an oncoming bout of man-flu, so you guessed it ... Winter 3, me 1.

Which means at the end of week 2, it was one week to me, and one week to winter, and overall Winter had turned the tables on me with a score of 5 to 4.

Bring on next week ...

Friday, 5 June 2015

The Winter Challenge

I spend a lot of time concocting new challenges and adventures in my head as I slowly cycle along on my various adventures ...

Example - why not ride Japan on a folding bike.
Unfortunately, I'm not so good at actually seeing most of them through.

I essentially have the motivation of a sloth.

But ... I've dreamt up a new challenge for winter, and rather un-originally I've called it "The Winter Challenge", and it's quite simple - the challenge is to ride my bike into work more days during winter than I don't.

I'm still working out the rules to this little challenge (and fully expect to abandon it well before the rules are determined, never mind the month of June half gone) but regardless here is what I've come up with so far ...

To be successful, I have to ride to and from work at least three times per week.

That by the way is slightly harder than it sounds, as I usually have to pick up or drop off the Monsters at least one day per week, and I do not ride Friday's ... so pretty much I have to ride every other day of the week.

Did I also mention it's a 19km, 56 minute, commute to my work, along generally poorly maintained, narrow shouldered, busy roads?

I have exempted myself from riding days where (for example) I have to drive a work car in because I have to go to Launceston for work, or if I'm sick.  If we were talking about this in tennis terms, then these days would count as a 'let'.

On all other days I either get a point for riding in, or winter gets a point, because I drove.

Example 1 - One Point to Winter.
So, week one of this challenge is now under the belt ... and I think the most amazing thing is not that I won the week, but that I didn't give up on what is proving to be a particularly ridiculous and pointless challenge ...

Day 1 (Monday) - First day of winter - First hitch - Kim needs me to pick up Zara and a friend after school and take them to gymnastics at 3pm.  After a bit of discussion we realise I can get away with using her car to do this and so I'm off on my bike. There's a cold headwind, and it starts raining about 5 minutes from home ... that leaves only 51 minutes to go in cold rain. No worries.  It stops raining after about ten minutes, but I get to work cold, wet and freezing.  I have a shower and convince myself that it all wasn't so bad.  Wish I'd brought a warm jacket in though.

That afternoon when I climb back into my cold and wet clothes I decide that this is the singularly most stupid idea I've had (this week) and seriously consider taking the bus home.  Already decided that the first ten minutes on the bike are the worst.  Riding in the dark, at night ... that's nice.  End result  - Day 1 to me, score 1:0

Day 2 (Tuesday) - Still in the "this is new and fun zone" so getting out on the bike on day two isn't too hard.  I can't however believe how frickin' cold it is this morning.  Hobart is in shadow and there's lots of snow on the mountain.  Still - it's not raining.  I get into work (noticing a lot less cyclists than usual).  I also remember to bring in my puffer jacket.  I wear my puffer jacket for an hour at my desk until I defrost enough to take it off.

Decided that I really don't enjoy the section of my day between turning off my computer and getting to the top of the hill just past the Clarence Aquatic Centre.  I also decide that whoever is doing the Rokeby to Clarence roadworks should be shot - I was riding along the 'cycleway' tonight and it was more like doing a Cyclocross as I rode through mud, grass verge, over gravel humps and through slippery mats.  Still ... 2:0 to me!

Day 3 (Wednesday) - A planned day off as I have an early doctor's appointment.  It is of course a beautiful clear day.  Score: 2:1

Day 4 (Thursday) -  This one for the win - and I'm on my bike.  Again it is bitterly cold this morning,  Coldest day so far, made worse by a fiercely cold Bridgewater Jerry ...

Despite winter socks and gloves, my feet and fingers are frozen by the time I get to work.  I have an extra long shower to defrost.  Everyone at work takes great joy mocking me as I sit in my puffer jacket trying to warm up.

The ride home is particularly pleasant - until I get to Rokeby when I nearly kill myself on the bike track next to the roadworks - the nice ramp they built over the road verge has disappeared, and in the dark I almost slammed into an exposed gutter.  Coming down into Rokeby, the temperature suddenly dropped 4 or 5 degrees in a few hundred metres.  Still, who cares: The score is 3:1, which means week one to me.

Day 5 (Friday) - Just to be fair to winter it scored the win on Friday (as planned).  It was of course another beautiful clear morning ..

but who cares ... the final score for the week is John 3: Winter 2.

Now ... I wonder if there will be a week two ... or whether I'll get distracted by some other idea.

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

The Unlikely Voyage of Jack De Crow ...

While I may have made the transition from books to kindles, one thing hasn't changed ...  I still love to read.

It relaxes me, it's my time out, it's what I do to unwind at the end of the day and prepare for sleep and perhaps most importantly, virtually every book I read is a chance to go on a new adventure without having to leave the comfort of my own bed.

...  and that appeals to me, particularly during winter in Tasmania,

However, I will also admit that most books that I read are either fictional stories that would be considered by most as trash (except the Zombie books of course), or they're travel stories that whilst enjoyable, don't transcend or transport me to new a place.

But not all ...

I picked up a copy of the Unlikely Voyage of Jack De Crow after hearing a friend recommend it to another friend, and from just a few pages in, I was hooked.

There are very few authors that capture what I see as the true joys of travel - the highs and the lows.  The amazing moments and the disasters. Alastair Humphreys was probably the last author that grabbed me this much, and A.J. Mackinnon has done so again.

In fact it's captured me so much, I've already put his next book on hold ... and I'm even going to do it old school - I'm going to read a real book from the library.

Yep, that's how much it got me.

Sunday, 31 May 2015

Quirky Japan

One of the quirky things I liked (or maybe didn't) about Japan was that there was a lot of English language signs around, but they weren't always particularly helpful ..

In this case we saw the prominent "Morning Menu" in english, thought 'great, an english menu' and plonked ourselves down.

As you can see, that's where the joy ended and the pointing and pantomime to try and get a meal began.

Still we had a good brekky, even got them to serve us a hot chocolate and cafe latte.

Yay, us, Yay Japan.