Wednesday, 31 August 2011

The Last Day of Winter

I realised tonight, as a faint chaffing feeling under my left shoulder drew me out of the routine of night time paddling, that tonight was the last night of winter.

I wish I could capture the beauty of night time paddling in a photo, or even just in words, but I know I can't (the photo above is from a lightning storm at my place a year or so ago).

Setting off into the dark in a small kayak, watching the city settling into the night readying itself for sleep, the outline of Mt Wellington silhouetted against the lighter sky dominating the view whilst the lights of cars and houses clearly define the boundaries of the city. 

The other paddlers around you are often perceived as lights, not people, as they move away or come closer.  Your paddling stroke has to be dictated by the feel, not look, of the inky water and waves around you.  It all makes night time paddling so different to day time paddling

Tonight, illuminated by the light of a quarter crescent moon, I found myself digging deeply and strongly through the water, the surface reflective and bright, as I sat near the front of the paddling group in my own world ... stroke, stroke, stroke, stroke.

I couldn't believe that today was a normal working day in the middle of the week, I'd spent eight hours behind a desk earning my pay, and whilst most people were huddled at home, I was here, free on the waves enjoying an adventure in a black world.

What a wonderful way to say goodbye to winter, and welcome in Spring.

Sunday, 28 August 2011

An Hours Lesson in Humility

I entered my first MTB Enduro today, and to be honest I really had absolutely no idea what I was getting myself into.  By luck (not good planning) the Enduro was only an hour long, and for that piece of luck the race result was only humiliating, not soul destroying.

I came last out of the open men and completed six laps, which means the guy that won lapped me four times (he did 10 laps), but strangely I am beyond thrilled with the result, because I learnt more in that one hour of racing than I've probably learnt in the last month of riding by myself.

You see, we got there an hour or so before the race to ride the course, and it was a terrifying experience: the ascents, the descents, heck even some of the flat sections were way beyond my technical level of comfort.  I was screwed and, unfortunately, I'd also paid my $30 entry fee, and being the miser that I am I was determined to get my monies worth.

I did have the good sense to start the race at the back of the pack, and whilst I won't bother you with the full details of the race what blew me away was what I learned.  You see there was so much of that course which, if I was by myself, I would have walked, or at best crept around, but in a race, when 20 or 30 other riders have already ridden over a rock bridge, or down an almost vertical drop, over sharp roots and up muddy slopes, well I thought maybe, just maybe, I could too.  And I did. 

Sure it wouldn't have been beautiful to watch (it was ugly), and yes there were several uphill sections that I had to jump off and run up as my lungs gave out, but I pointed my front wheel up and down slopes that I knew I couldn't cycle, and yet somehow I did, not once, not twice, but six times over six laps.  I tried different obstacles at different speeds, and in different ways and I learnt so much more about what I can do, what I can really do, in a world that was previously not only outside my comfort zone, but was simply outside my world.

What a brilliant hour. A brilliant, brilliant hour.  I was physically empty at the end of the race: my back ached, my legs burnt, but my mind was spiralling upwards with excitement of the potential of where I might go.

To top the day off, we then headed around to Belbin's Road and competed in a 30 minute sprint MTBNav event at Stringy Bark Gully. 

After a great start, picking up three controls quickly, I was heading into a fourth control when I came around a corner only to find a guy parked on the track in front of me, I couldn't unclip quickly enough, and had one of those low speed, embarrasing crashes.  Wanting to put that behind me I jumped on and took off taking my eyes off my position on the map and getting disoriented.  I missed the control, and the next one, and ended up spending five minutes cycling way too far trying to re-orient myself.  Five minutes is a lot of time to lose in a 30 minute race.

It was only at the end of the race that I realised that that guy was actually parked on the track because he was punching the control I was looking for.  What a stupid mistake!

Anyway, that just threw me, and I ended up getting confused by the detail in the section of the map I was in and looping around and around at a technical junction losing time and getting nowhere.

Eventually I gave up trying to sort that junction out, and with about 10 minutes to go headed back to the start/finish, picking up three controls on the way and returning after 26 minutes with a score of 60 points.  That placed me pretty much midfield, with the winner scoring 100 points, and most people scoring 90 or 60 points.

So how's that for a cool weekend: A three hour ride to the top of Grey Mountain, my first Enduro and a MTBNav event ... and I never went more than 20 minutes drive from home.  Sweet.

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Grey Mountain

I turned 38 this week.  It's an age that has burrowed into my head because I remember a time, and it doesn't seem that long ago, when 38 seemed ... old.

Surely I'm not old? and if I am, then when did that happen?

The good news I'm taking from this, is that I've got two whole years before I turn 40, and you know if I'm lucky, that's just half way on this one way journey through life.

I have a couple of races planned Sunday, so I just headed up to Snug Tiers for a bit of a ride today.  The road near the top gets ever worse, and as I only had a few hours, I wanted to get to the top car park in the car so I found myself flicking the subaru from one side of the road to the other to get there without bottoming out, but we made it.

The track was so different to two months ago when I was up here riding in a snow blizzard.  This time around although there was a lot of water, the first taste of Spring was in the air, and the early buds of flowers were pushing forth.  I'm looking forward to the coming months because as much fun as snow and sleet are, to be out in the bush capturing the burst of life on my camera is a whole new world, and I'm ready to explore it.

So today I just headed around and then up Grey Mountain (I forgot how steep that last bit is).  Fortunately I already knew there are only three reasons to go up there: (1) to say you've been up there (which is not a very good reason), (2) it's an obvious point to turn around (an only slightly better reason) and (3) because once you're up there, it's ruddy fun coming down again :).

Steep bit .. lots of these towards the end.

WWOOWW!!! - look at that view.

... and it's such a pristine, undisturbed place.

Fortunately, there's always beauty if you go looking.

and sometimes it's so small you barely see it.
My descent was particularly enjoyable as I passed another guy struggling towards the top about three quarters the way down and he looked just how I had felt at that spot on the way up.

On the way back I decided to explore all of the little side tracks, so dropped down into a lovely reservoir and cycled along the bottom of that to the other end, played around in the spillway taking some pics and explored quite a few dead ends heading off below the dam.

Then I found another side track which took me off to a second dam (but another dead end), before finally cutting through and down another track which dropped me out at the Y junction just below the sawmill on the way out to Pelverata Falls.  I'm really excited about as this will make a much better circuit for my Pelverata Ride Notes at

All up it was a good few hours, but still have so much fitness to gain and now got less than sixty days to do it.

Saturday, 20 August 2011

Friggin' Ida

Can a failure be as enjoyable as a success?

The seemingly obvious answer is "no", success tends to be more fun, but if you think about it, isn't it sometimes better to try and fail at something new, something adventurous, than to continuously succeed at those things that are within your comfort zone?  Can't the failure of trying, be more enjoyable, more satisfying than the creeping failure of not pushing ourselves?

On the retreat ... back through myrtle forest.
Lens is fogged up because I have nothing dry left to clean it with.
I got beat today (hence the justification above) trying to get up Mt Ida, with the annoying thing being I got so ruddy close.
Mt Ida - the pointy peak on the left.
I mean it looks easy enough right?
... and the view in the opposite direction from near the top.
Lake St Clair which I paddled down.

However, I didn't summit, instead I sat perched on a small, slippery ledge, what appeared to be 20 or 30 metres below the top, after two and a half hours driving, one and a half hours paddling and three hours of bush bashing and rock scrambling and I admitted defeated, threw on some thermals (I was drenched from all the slippery bush bashing) and turned tail and headed home ... two more hours of bush bashing, one and a half hours of paddling, two and a half hours of driving ... friggin' Ida.

What stopped me - this was the next section I'd have to ascend
and yes, that is straight up and slippery.

At least when I fail I don't do it in small doses.

So what happened? In simple terms, the height got to me.  I found myself a long way up a steep chute, with a near vertical 10 metre climb above me, and although it was do-able, my combined fear of heights and the knowledge that this was right on the edge of my skill level made me choose to turn around.

Looking at my GPS route when I got home, I now suspect I went up too early (I found some route notes which said to look for a saddle and go up that and I think I may have gone up the wrong saddle) or maybe I was going up the right way (there was certainly evidence of others having been up this chute before) and maybe the walk was simply beyond my skills, I won't know unless I go back there again.

But that's the failure bit, what about the success.

I had a gorgeous drive up from Hobart, mostly in the dark, and by the time I was on the fourteen mile road shortcut, the early morning sun had risen and the paddocks and forests were clothed in mist and early morning sun.  Why would I want to be anywhere else?

I pulled into Lake St Clair about 8am, and threw the boat onto near crystal flat water as the sun continued to wrestle with the mist and clouds in a battle to see whether it was going to be a good day or a brilliant one.

That small bump in the distance is Mt Ida shrouded in cloud.

Time to go ...

I felt like I was completely alone as I paddled down the lake. (it's about 10kms or an hour and a half's paddling in good conditions) with Mt Ida slowly getting closer and closer.

Mt Ida on the far right, notice the split peaks, that's the saddle.

Mt Olympus (I Think) on the other side of the lake.

There is no track up Mt Ida, and the route notes I'd read had mentioned landing on a small beach directly across from Echo Point (I'd also gone to the library and got The Ables - Volume 1 which had some very basic route notes which sort of confirmed this).  After initially landing at the wrong spot at the mouth of the river (but discovering a great little hidden camp site for my effort) I pulled into the small beach (and it is a small beach) which granted much easier access into the bush beyond.

Wet kayak gear off, and warm walking clothes on, I took a GPS bearing on the summit and started to follow it. The first section is very open through some beautiful myrtle forest and I started to have ambitions that maybe this was going to be fairly easy after all.

View from landing site.

Kayak pulled up off the lake - no tides to worry about here.

Start of the walk.

Pick a straight line ... then wobble and circle around a lot trying to go that way.

Then it started to go up, and it got very steep, very quickly.  This section is not for the inexperienced.  I went for several tumbles on the way up and down (worst slide I slipped 3 or 4 metres downhill before being able to stop myself), there are logs blocking the path everywhere (it's like a 3D maze) and there are several little sand stone cliffs which you have to find your way around.  All up it took me about an hour to get up this section, and despite the above, it's actually not that bad if you're prepared for it (good waterproofs) and are happy to settle into a bit of route finding, backtracking and realise that the pace is going to be slow and steady.

The bark colours in the eucalypt's were magnificent.

Fairly typical country - that's the track I've just come across.

A rare break in the foliage offers a view up Lake St Clair.
Downside is there was a view because I'd come out on a ledge
which needed to be navigated around.
I don't know if I got lucky, or if the country cleared as I moved from wetter rainforest to drier eucalypt dominated ridges, but as I got up higher the going got a bit easier, with lots of small pads to follow, and I was actually a bit surprised with how quickly I appeared out under the base of the Mt Ida dome.

This was however a bit of a "false summit", and it was in fact quite a long rock scramble around to the right, and then up what I thought was the saddle before I finally reached my point of defeat.

So that was it, the walk down was quicker than the walk up (after I got down the saddle), but I did lots of slipping and sliding on the way down, and for some reason I just couldn't find the animal paths that seemed to make the top bit of the climb up easier, despite having a GPS to allow me to try and stick close to my upwards route.  I was also very glad that I had GPS'd a few key waypoints for tricky spots though as it is very easy to get turned around in that bush.

All up it was another great day, made the better as I drove back down towards Hobart and saw that it was bathed in a heavy cloud whilst I'd had beautiful blue skies with just a few whiffs of clouds all day.

Yep, if that's a defeat, I reckon I can survive without winning them all.

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Inside the race

Sitting on the water at Franklin, with the mist swirling around my boat on the starting line, I felt the joy, nervousness and anticipation of a player stacking up his pieces at the beginning of a chess game.  In just a few minutes we'd start moving our pieces, and over the course of the next hour the game would be decided.  It was delicious.

No this isn't my boat - it's a scene setter.

A kayak race, any race, may seem to the uninitiated to be a bit repetitive, but like a game of chess, although the players and board may all look the same before the first piece is moved, the outcomes are actually infinite, and that's the reason why we play again and again.
So the gun goes off.  It's begun.

A pack of six to eight paddlers quickly took off faster than I can follow, and I found myself surrounded by a few familiar faces from previous races as the first few moves of the game take place.
There's one guy who is obviously stronger than the rest of us, and he starts to pull ahead, first a metre, then two and then ten.  I recall Ben's instructions from training the other week about jumping, and up my tempo and push into the red zone to grab the guy's tail.  In the process I drop all but one of the other paddlers I'm paddling with.

I just manage to grab mystery man's (we'll call him fast man) tail and settle into a tempo behind him as we sit 20 metres off the front group.  But then something strange happens, my fast man starts taking a different line than all the front paddlers, and over the next couple of minute he arcs further and further to the right.  I start getting nervous about his play, and decide to see if I can surge off and catch the group out front after my brief respite.  I make my second move of the day, and break off to the left, but less than a minute after I jumped, I realised my mistake:  the leading group had paddled into a bay in the mist and were now veering hard to the right.  I was on the correct line to start with, but now found myself in no-mans land.  Not a good opening move. 

Fortunately I managed to cut back across and rejoin my original group, but I had burned up a lot of energy in the process and had to watch as the front group started pulling slowly away in front of me.  I couldn't take it, watching them slowly pull away like that so I ignored good sense and surged again.
It was a mistake, I briefly began to the bridge the gap, but burned up all my reserves doing so, and before long I had to again watch as the game began to widen and now I had burnt my reserve reserves and had two paddlers sat on my backside.

In short, the opening moves had been made, and in gambling for a win above my skill level, I now found myself moving into the middle game in a very weak position. 
It stayed like this for the next few kilometres.  I tried jumping on the tail of a few of the faster paddlers coming past from the more advanced groups, but just hurt myself further in doing so for no real gain over the other paddlers. 

I also tried cutting out into mid stream hoping that one of the two guys behind me would come around inside, but Mr Black (he was in a black kayak) just stubbornly sat on my tail no matter where I took him.  Fast man though realised the folly of my line and cut right across to the other side of the river, then back again and ultimately we found ourselves back together at the half way point as we turned around the end of the island and headed back into the slight but biting breeze. 

Much to my surprise, after sitting on our tails the whole way down, Mr Black tried to make a surge on the inside line soon after the turnaround point, but his attack wasn't anywhere near strong enough, and  I lazily jumped onto his tail as he went past and let him wear himself down a bit.  At this same time two more paddlers from the faster group caught up to us, one went past wide on the left, but the other just pulled up beside me and just seemed to hold there.  Mr Black tried to surge a couple of times, and I could see he was tiring.  I figured I could jump onto the tail of the guy who had just gone past us, but was unfortunately cut off on the left by the other paddler.  In hindsight, I made a strategic mistake at this point, I should have just jumped when ... let's call him yellow man ... was still only 10 metres out front, but instead I worried about cutting off the guy on my left, so I paused for another minute, in which time yellow man stretched his lead out to 30 or 40 metres.
Then I jumped, and for about a minute I launched into a full on sprint opening up a 20 or 30 metre gap between me and the other three paddlers, and for the next few minutes I put everything I had into bridging the gap across to Yellow Man, and I came, oh so, so, so close.  I got back within 10 metres, but eventually I had nothing left and found myself, yet again fading behind into a no man's land by myself. 

I realised at this point that, deep into the middle game, I had outpaced all my usual competitors, and had even jumped a few people faster than myself. All I needed to do now was hold a good pace and not let those behind me work back onto my tail and I'd go into the end game with a good safe margin.  I settled into a strong rhythm and pulled.

What happened next was, well just plain annoying, for the next several kilometres the pace behind me seemed to hold, but then about 500 metres from the channel back through the Island I glanced behind and noticed that the gap seemd to have shortened.  I put in thirty strong strokes and glanced around - no difference, he was still there.  By the time we got to the channel through the Island he was only 10 metres behind.  It was one of those two fast guys who had pulled up beside us and he was definitely gunning to put his nose in front of mine before the finish line.

I gambled on putting a big enough gap between me and him during the channel that he might not go for a line sprint, and as I exited the channel I thought I just might have done enough.

I hadn't.  I saw him coming up beside me and the finish line seemed painfaully, impossibly distant.  It was end game time now, and we both still had a chance to win.  I almost gave up.  I knew this guy was stronger than me, I knew he'd had a break I hadn't, and I knew he had a faster boat, but I had worked so hard to be where I was and I wanted to hold my position so badly, or if I lost, I wanted to lose with nothing left, no excuses. 

So I dug deeper, my arms burned, my wrists felt weak and every stroke just hurt plain and simple.  But the line got closer, and I held.  In fact although he never actually gave up, I felt that moment when he stopped pulling as hard as I did, it was a tiny difference, but I just knew he had sat up ever so slightly, and so it was that I managed to cross the line just ahead of him, seconds, just seconds in front.

We had a good chat after we crossed the line, and it was obvious that he had enjoyed the sprint finish as much as I did, and really as he started behind me, he beat me overall, and with us both been placed well back it really didn't matter to anyone but us.  That's why it's a game and it seems like this time, we both got to win.

A perfect game, and a wonderful checkmate.  I can't wait to set the pieces back up and start again.

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Muddy Face

We stopped at the turn off onto the first bit of 'track' for the day, and as we glanced down the very muddy descent I stressed how slippery and rutted this section could be.  If only I knew how prothetic my words would be.

I took the lead, and gently headed down the hump between ruts until I saw a good clean run that led into what looked like a nice flat paddle, so I let off my brakes and let the bike build up a bit of speed to get through the water. 

My front wheel dropped into the puddle, and just stopped.

Before my brain could even begin to process what had happened I was flying head first over the handlebars and found myself embeded face first in foot deep mud, with my bike crashing down on top of me soon after.  I stood up, still trying to process what had just happened.  I was covered head to toe in mud.  No injuries however, so looks like it was going to be a good day.

My metaphorical crash and burn.

What I'd hit was just a taste of what was to come, with the next kilometre or so of the track being churned into a morasse of deep ruts by irresponsible four wheel drivers.  It was a mess and most of it had to be pushed.

The rest of the day's ride (a circuit following the better sections of the Tahune MTB 50km race with a side trip out to Glover's Bluff and Reuben Falls) was splendidly fun, although I was disappointed to see that the last section of single track off Fletcher's Spur 2 is now very overgrown and ends prematurely at a new road that has been pushed through, so it is no longer a riding option.

The joy of this 50km circuit has to be the old 4WD track leading back up from the southwood site towards the bridge over the Weld River, plus the 13kms of predominantly downhill riding on the return from Reuben Falls, but it is the totallity of the ride which really makes it a great day.

All up it was a great days cycling, though given some people's bike handling skills I still wonder how the heck we made it back alive:

Kim on her butt, having lost her front wheel cycling up the disabled access ramp.

We spent the night at the Airwalk Lodge, and were the only guests.  It was great having a log fire and Kim cooked a wonderful meal.   We did have to chuckle at some of the lodge touches like lack of  a colinder (this seemed to be a bigger issue for Kim than it was for me), the fake lino "wood panel" floor (good look for Forestry Tasmania) and truly horrible mattresses.

Also for some reason they put me in one of the outside rooms, meaing I had to walk around the outside of the building to get to the kitchen and toilets in the cold and the dark, and had no heating in my room.  Why they put me there in the middle of winter, when there were no less than five spare rooms in the main lodge I will never understand.  However, once I'd hauled my bed from the outside room into the main lodge so I could sleep in front of the fire, this fixed that problem.

We finished the day with a walk around the airwalk under the full moon.  It was just magical seeing the rivers illuminated below us.

Yep, another great day.