Sunday, 25 September 2011

6 Hours, 45 controls, 2 bikes ... MTB Rogaining here we come!

Today was MTBNav day.

Participating in this event was the reason why Kim had been doing so many rides with me lately.  To be more specific, I'd mentioned to her soon after she'd bought her bike that she should join me for this event.  I seem to vaguely recall that it was meant to scare her off or something (I mean what kind of cyclist who is scared to ride on roads, and who thinks that a 3 or 4km ride into town is a good effort would enter a six hour mountain bike rogaine on Hobarts Eastern Shore?) but instead she wrote back immediately saying "Yes" and from that the rest followed.

So anyway, if you have no idea what a rogaine is, basically you get given a map something like this:

The map has lots of control points all over it, usually worth between 10 and 100 points each, and the challenge is to decide the optimal route that maximise your score inside the event time, oh and then there's the small detail of actually having to go out and find those controls, adapt to changing conditions and random events (such as this time one of the controls had been hidden).

The critical thing to know about a rogaine is that every minute you come in over time, you lose 10 points, and if you're more than 30 minutes late ... well you're disqualified.  Having previously experienced the pain of pushing myself in a rogaine with C just to gather an extra 60 points in the last hour of an event, only to make a navigational error (river we couldn't cross) forcing us into a detour where we arrived exactly 6 miuntes late (losing all 60 points) I can tell you the number one rule of rogaining is to NEVER be late.

So anyway, Kim agreed to my strategy that we'd each get our maps and spend 20-30 minutes digesting it and individually deciding the best route, and then we'd get together and compare notes and agree on an optimal course.

This is what we came up with for our starting strategies:

My route is the red line, Kim's the black line and the green house is the start/finish point:.

Not much of an overlap to work on was there? 

My route was 100% focused on maximum point accumulation, and a maximisation of options at the end to allow for us to adapt and modify the route home depending on how we were going.  It pretty much went everywhere that was steep and tough seeking the big point controls. 

Kim's course was aimed at being easy, scenic, keeping her off the roads and away from steep hills and somewhat bemusedly her interest in cycling through the section which read "Dangerous Magpie Here".

Some frantic discussion was held, I outlined the genius of my route, and then was beautifully stonewalled into agreeing to take hers.  This of course was not capitulation on my part, it just shows my peace making qualities.

The starting line.
So with a sort of route sort of decided, we got ready to head off and just after 10am we set off with all the other riders for six hours of fun.  I was somewhat surprised by how many people were going our way.  Surely this was the wrong way to go? after all it's not the way I would have choosen.  Then again, my experience is that on the odd occasions I do well at a rogaine, it's not because of my fitness or skill, it's usually because I go a completely different way to everyone else.

As usual for me it took a while to get into the map and so it wasn't a great start.  Kim didn't quite have the same urgency I had to get into the race, I took a few poor route choices on the way to the first control and spent too much time watching other people and not the map leading to a lot of wasted time as I rode past the first control. Most annoyingly of all though my bike had developed a high pitched screeching noise in the rear wheel which I could not get rid of.  As it turned out I was to be stuck with this for the rest of the day.  This was particularly annoying given I'd just forked out nearly $300 to get the rear wheel fixed just 2 weeks earlier.

Our first control is over there on Gordon's Hill.

However, after stuffing up the first control, I then took a slow cautious approach to get into the detail of the map on my way around to the second control, and then ripped lose.  We overtook, and then dropped 3 or 4 teams as we wound our way from Gordons Hill, around under the bridge and to the Kangaroo Bluff Fort, before powering our way through the Bellerive controls.  Kim had caught onto my idea somewhere around the bridge that fast is good, and we were motoring along as a team.

Kim ... being fast.
By the time our first decision of the day (whether to go out and up to get two controls out in the Tranmere Hills) was upon us we were well ahead of our proposed schedule so picked these up without a second thought.  We even caught and overtook another team on the way.  We were flying, well to be more exact we were navigating to the controls more easily than the other teams.

We made a bit of  a boo boo as we headed back through upper Howrah (mistakes are always plural when I make them) and I went into a head spin and seem to recall restating the line "But it should be here" several hundred times before realising that this attitude wasn't actually going to make the control appear, so instead I moved to where the control most certainly should not be, and of course found it.

We took off to lose another team, only to have my map board come loose, and I had to watch miserably as we were caught and overtaken after our fine effort.  However, as we made our way into the Knopwood Hills, we watched as the team that had just overtaken us appeared to miss a turn, and so managed to slip by, grab the control and get the heck out of there.  A quick shuffle across the highway and a technically legal, but somewhat dodgy descent into Mornington Hill Reserve and we pinged yet another control despite the complex map detail.

At this point we decideid to reward ourself with a lunch stop tore-enrgise ourselves before the very, very steep ascent up to the top of Mornington Hill and then the fun ride back down again.

Coming over the top of Mornington Hill

The really strange thing is that things just kept going right - we pinged control after control after control, completely cleaning up the map section we were on and rarely making a mistake on either route choice or locating controls.

The only big decision came near the end, we were 5 hours 15 minutes in and had to make the choice over at Government Hills on whether to try and get up to the top and pick up a 100 point control, or whether to make a safe return.  After my dismal endings in the last few rogaines, I so wanted to let Kim's rational argument for a safe return sway me, but I couldn't ... I had to gamble, at least a little bit on achieving a big win, rather than the safe return.  I mean what if we lost by just 90 points and we had to look back and say "if only....". So we compromised and Kim gamely agreed that we'd go out for 15 minutes and see how close we could get to the 100 point control.  We turned ourselve inside out to get there, but 15 minutes later, with just over 30 minutes to get back to the hash house, and with the 100 point control still a kilometre away through tough terrain we had to admit defeat, turn tail and belt back to the finish picking up the last three controls on the way there.  We got home with nearly 10 minutes left on the clock.  A brilliant rogaine.

It was only later, when I was posting the scores up on the Rogaining Tasmania website that I got to look at our scores ... we'd come second in our division, and we'd lost by just 50 points ... so if we'd pushed for the 100 point control, even if we'd skipped one of the 30 point controls on the way home we'd still have won.  I'd like to say I was devastated, and yes a bit of me was, but really - it was a great day, and who therefore really cares?

Finishing results

Results here

Just to finish off a near perfect day, I headed up to Allan Lee's that night to watch a DVD of a recent kayak crossing of Bass Straight by members of the Tasmanian Sea Canoeing Club.  Completely inspiring.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Goin' down the only road I've ever known ...

I developed a toothache last Monday evening, and two days later found myself in the dentist chair diagnosed with a badly infected wisdom tooth and placed on a severe course of antibiotics.  I then developed quite a severe reaction to the antibiotics so instead of spending the weekend up north doing a four hour enduro and exploring some new trails, instead I spent the weekend in front of the TV and relaxing by the beach.

I got to thinking, a lot of thinking, and I'll share some of those thoughts later, but whilst sitting down by the beach I began listening to the words of Uncle Kracker's song "Livin' the Dream" and the words just captured my mood, and so in tribute to the lyrical brilliance of Uncle Kracker and to the last five years of my life I bring you my first video ...  I hope you enjoy it.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Wandering out west ...

After pushing up a bit of a steep pinch, I came over a small crest and for the first time could see what looked like the top of the trail, loping over a crest in front of me.  I waited a second for Kim to come up behind me, and as I was about to set off, I heard her say "your back tyre is looking a bit flat".

Not thinking much of it, I reached back and gave it a quick pressure test only to be hit by that sinking feeling as my fingers pressed deeply into an overly soft tube.  I had a flat.

Somewhat in denial, I got out my pump and tried to push the tyre back up towards 40 psi, but it was no good, I could see and hear the air rushing out of a hole near the valve.  I had tubeless tyres, and I was stuffed.

Going back to the beginning, there were several rides I was keen on chasing up over on the West Coast, and when Kim decided to join me for another riding weekend, we decided to head over to do just that.  We headed over to Queenstown on Friday night to maximise our time over there, and were liked young kids when we pulled up at Derwent Bridge just on dark with snow falling down around us.  It was a perfect start to the weekend. 

After chatting to a couple who worked at the Renison Mine, we had a pretty darn good, though slightly pricey, dinner at the Derwent Bridge Wilderness Hotel before continuing on over the plateau with snow settling around us on the road, and with the snow flakes themselves creating this hypnotic kaleidoscope of light as each flake charged into the cars headlights.

We were a bit lazy on Saturday morning, starting with a hot breakfast in Queenstown and not really getting out of town until well after 9am.  We headed out on the B28 up past Lake Plimsoll towards Tullah as I'd never been on that road before (it's a great little road, and there were several interesting trails for future exploration).  Just south of Tullah, we looped around back onto the Murchison highway and headed back to Zeehan via Rosebery, the main purpose of which was to see if I could find my way onto some trails up Mt Black that I saw on Vertigo MTB's website.  No luck on that front, so instead we went back to Plan A which was to do a 30-50km circuit out from Zeehan over to the Spray Tunnel, along the old tramway and then over a series of old 4WD tracks that skirted along the base of Mt Heemskirk which I'd located on Google Earth.

The ride started out really well, though Kim was pretty under-whelmed by the spray tunnel, and (I think) my pfafing around taking photos.

However we next headed onto the old tramway line, and the riding through big deep puddles and slippery mud more than made up for that little disappointment.  I sensed this as Kim came charging past me whilst I timidly skirted around the deeper looking puddles trying to keep my feet and backside dry a little longer .  The old tramway drops out onto the paved C248 highway through a mine site after a few kilometres.

We turn right, and followed the paved road for about a kilometres before turning off onto another gravel track to the left.  This track led us steeply up under some power-lines onto a small hill top with great views, before descending rather menacingly back down again.  I found the ride down a hoot, with plenty of deep ruts, washouts, loose rocks and sharp drops.  Kim found it a little less pleasurable and pushed a few of the trickier sections.

This track dropped us back down onto another paved highway (the C249 that heads towards Corinna) which we followed for another short distance (about 750m) before cutting back out onto what looked like a less than promising track. There's no denying that this section of the track was another step up again in technical difficulty from what we'd ridden so far, and there was plenty of pushing and a few near spills as we ascended and descended sharply, dropped down into creeks and forded deep, deep puddles.

It was just as we were lifting up out of this technical mess and a long downhill looked in sight that I got my flat. 

I wish I could tell you that I quickly fixed it, but the truth was that having never changed a tubeless tyre before, I found myself unable to get the valve out to allow me to get a tube in, so after a bite to eat and a bit of a think, I sent (pleaded and pushed) Kim back down the way we came to get the car (once on the highway it was only a 2-3km ride back into Zeehan in a straight line) and proceeded to carry and push my bike back out to the highway to meet her.  Fortunately this all worked out, and I had purchased some "Stan's No Leaks" stuff the week before.  I'd never used it before, but basically you shake it (and then shake it some more) then pour the recommended amount into the tyre.  Once that was done we just pumped up the tyre with a foot-pump to get a seal on the tube and just like that it was fixed.  I am now a big fan of Stan's.

It didn't take much convincing to get Kim to join me in a drive out to the other end of the trail to ride the section we'd missed (in fact she was in the passenger's seat so fast we almost drove off with the GPS still sitting on the car roof), and so we spent the last couple of hours of the afternoon riding an out and back course over some super-superb gravel trails back to the 'tube puncture spot' (located precisely by my GPS and more importantly by Kim's lunch - half of which was still sitting on the trail).

The weather just started to close in on us on the way back, but fortunately because we'd done the car shuffle, we avoided the 9km ride back into town along the highway.  This worked out well as it was getting on past 4pm anyway and we were both thinking of hot showers and meals.

Sunday we planned to do a ride out along Ocean Beach, so we headed down to Strahan fairly early, fueled up on Banjo's eggs and bacon then drove down to the Beach.

Much to her credit Kim ran straight out into the surf  (her first time on the west coast) whilst I more sedately shivered in the cold southerly breeze and snapped off some pictures whilst deciding whether to do this ride or not.

In the end, the combination of cold winds, a poor nights sleep due to an all night party next door to our hotel, Kim's cold and needing to be back in Hobart by 6pm led us to turn tail and slowly wend our way home, with a few stops for coffee (well at least that's what they called it) in Queenstown, a bit of a wander out to Nelson Falls, lunch at Lake St Claire ($36 for a small bowl of chips, a chicken burger and two milk shakes!!!) and finally, finally I got to go and check out Laughing Jack Lagoon, even if it was just a brief visit.

Nelson Creek

Nelson Falls

Lake St Claire

Laughing Jack Lagoon

All up, another pretty darn good weekend and another trip to add to ... just not tonight.

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Southport to Dover

After a good day on Saturday participating in a couple of club courses on boat handling skills and kayak sailing, I then joined the club for a weekend paddle from Dover down to Southport on Sunday.

I think there were nine of us that set off from Dover beach, with the expected paddle of around 25kms ahead of us.

Not that much to say really other than it was as close to a perfect day.  Got to paddle out of Port Esperance in near flat conditions, saw cows on Hope Island (this being news-worthy just because it was different), several sea eagles soaring above or by their nests and 3 or 4 seals basking on the near vertical cliffs and rocks along the coastline.

The day had this wonderful, foreboding presence with thick clouds sitting off in the distance.

Yet at the same time, the weather was warm, the waters were beautiful and clear, and the wave conditions allowed much frolicking and playing in and out of caves and rocks close to shore.

We made a couple of landings and had a look around, and although the wind kicked up a bit at the end, we all still made it to Southport by about 5pm.

A few of us silly males threw in a race to the shore over the last kilometre or so, but as there were no females participating we promptly set off in the wrong direction, and had to stop half way through, reassess our landing point and take a 45 degree turn to the right.  After this little mishap, we had a gentleman's agreement to paddle quickly, but without racing, to within 100 or so metres of shore and then have a sprint finish.  Sensing a chance for victory, I launched off at about 150 metres and got just enough of a jump to leave the other two and claim a non-gentlemanly victory while my racing compatriots promptly disqualified me and annuled the race.

Next weekend will be on the bike, so so long to the boats for a while.

Some of the recently constructed Skin on Frame kayaks.