Thursday, 30 August 2012

Monsters III - Monsters on the Gold Coast

The monsters are back ...

and this time they're on wheels ...

Even more scary, they're hungry ... very, very hungry ...

... and that's her best restaurant manners.
 ... and they've now got some big, scary friends:

God help me, God help us all. At least those few of us that are still alive ...

Peak hour at Movieworld.

Forget the Expendables 2 (seriously forget this movie, I saw it in the States and the acting is so bad they can't even spoof themselves ... except Chuck Norris ... he of course is a God and there are a lot of reasons not to piss off the Lone Wolf.)  ...

Yep ... this is Monsters 3 : Monsters on the Gold Coast .... and it is scary, very scary.

Saturday, 25 August 2012

South Arm to Cremorne Paddle

I'd advertised today's paddle in the club's trip program as a "Downwind Frolic" for proficient paddlers seeking some wind and wave assisted fun somewhere around Hobart. 

Perhaps knowing something I didn't, I had only one taker for the trip from the club - Mike Edwards - so Saturday morning Mike, Stephan and I were the only one's who met up at Cremorne to shuffle boats and gear between cars before continuing on down to Fort Beach at South Arm for the start of the one way paddle.

Stephan (white outrigger) and Mike (yellow Dagger Cortez)

After managing to get us lost on the way down to the start (ending up at the army base instead) I then proceeded to fall out of my boat about 50 metres from our launch site in pathetically small seas probably leading Mike to wonder what he'd signed himself up for ... Stephan knowing me better just carried on paddling.

Fortunately those were the only hiccups of the day  ... if you ignore the fact (as I studiously am) that I sort of stuffed up the 'downwind' and hence the 'frolic' purpose of the paddle.

You see, I'd chosen the route based on Thursday's weather forecast which show a predominantly westerly coming through  on Saturday morning, with the wind swinging around north-westerly later in the day. This made the South Arm to Cremorne paddle route look almost ideal.

However, by Saturday morning the forecast had changed somewhat with the morning wind dropping off a bit, and the forecast wind shift around to the north west coming earlier in the day.  By the time we'd fully digested this, Stephan and I were already sitting down in Lauderdale Bakery drinking coffee thinking "we probably should be doing a different run today" ... as we looked out to the seas on the other side of us clearly showing a strong north westerly influence.

Despite this, I think all three of us were happy just to be on the water paddling along a beautiful bit of coastline, and as per Mike's prediction we did have a nice set of smaller waves giving us some assistance for the first hour to Betsy Island.

Betsy Island, notice the small seas.
However, after that we started to hit a few pockets of stronger head and side winds, and a lot of lulls in between.  This was definitely no downwind frolic, but for me at least it was still nice to get back on the water after many weeks away and get the feel of the water again.

There are many beautiful cliff and beach sections along this stretch of coast, though Mike in his sea kayak was the only one of us who could really get in close to shore to enjoy it given the swells and hidden rocks just below the surface.

Cool blowhole, between Clifton and Cremorne.
We got back into Cremorne in just under 3 hours on the water (it's just over 21kms) to discover that the tide had come in and my car, which had previously been parked high and dry on a large beach, was now stranded high and dry on a tiny pocket of sand with about 100 metres of water between it and the nearest road.  Who knew.

Stephan and Mike found this hilarious, and neither were in any mood for my suggestion that we wait for the tide to go back out ... therefore the only solution was to drive straight through it ...

My poor car. 

My only consolation was that Stephan and I had to come back through it again (twice) to pick up our boats once we'd dropped Mike back off at the start of the paddle, so his car got a bit salty as well.  Apparently the water came up to the top of my tyres ... and I don't think Subaru's are built for that.

Despite the hiccups along the way, I have to say it's good to be back home and on the water again.

Friday, 24 August 2012

Introducing ... Blue

After an appropriate period of mourning for the loss of Red, I'd like to introduce you to Blue ...

Blue joined me today, and will be accompanying me on my ongoing explorations, something I think you'll agree is a courageous decision given what happened to his little sister, Red, so recently.

I confess before asking Blue to join me, I had an early and ill considered date with a Go Pro 2 Hero HD video camera before realising that videos are just not for me, I had a brief flirtation with an Olympus Tough due to their wider focal range but was let down by their picture quality,  and I even found myself on the equivalent of considering propositioning a non waterproof camera for all the wonderful extra features I would get ...

However, sense prevailed and after thinking about what I put my poor little cameras through, I realised that there was a reason why I ended up with Red, (Red was a Panasonic Lumix DMC-TC3), and for that same reason I chose Blue (a Panasonic Lumix DMC-TC4). 

I'm also very excited about the fact that unlike my last few digital companions, Blue is actually a local, purchased from a Tasmanian retail store (well The Good Guys in Moonah) so comes with an Australian camera warranty and was (much to my surprise) only $35 more expensive than the price I could get it for online at my usual online stores.  Go Tasmania - nice to support the locals.

Here's to hoping for a long and productive relationship with Blue.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

The Junction

To most people it is just a nameless junction onto the I17 Freeway that they will have forgotten before they've even driven through it.

To me it is where I made one of the most interesting decisions of my life:  To give up on an adventure I'd dreamed of for years.

It was at this junction, just over two years ago, that I pulled up with my bike, sat down with a map and decided that I couldn't do the trip I'd planned.  It was here that I realised my heart wasn't in this trip.  It wanted to go home and try and save what proved to be a doomed relationship.

It was here, two years ago, that I turned left and headed back to St George and ultimately home.

Today, I got out of my car and was surprised to find it to be just a hot, dry featureless piece of ground. 

I have been thinking of this junction a lot over the last couple of weeks, knowing that soon I would be returning to it.  I guess I was expecting some kind of cathartic cleansing returning to this spot, but I didn't.  I just felt ... hot.

I wandered around a bit, snapped off a couple of photos, and then jumped back into my air-conditoned car and departed.

This time however, I turned right ... even though I'm still heading home.

A loss in the Zion Narrows

I clawed my way out of the muddy current and up onto the right bank, trying unsuccessfully to get out of the water and throw my now heavy, water filled, backpack up in front of me at the same time.


Tell me this didn't just happen.

I finally got my pack off and threw it up onto the sand.  F*#k, f*#k, F*#k.  How could I be so stupid.  I am so stupid.  I'M STUPID!

I turned back into the river and plunged back into the deep water where it had all gone wrong.  There ... I saw the special floating case I kept it in bob to the surface and I lunged for it before it went back under.  I felt an immediate relief ... everything was OK.

I grabbed it ... it was empty.  f*#k. F*#K, FFF***###KKK.

I spent the next few minutes feeling around on the bottom of the river with my feet as best I could, I swam up stream into the current where it was well over my head and drifted down trying to feel, just for a second, something hard that might be it, but all I felt was water and mud.

Eventually I swam back to shore next to my backpack and stared forlornly back into the thick muddy water in utter disbelief.

How could this have happened?  one stupid, stupid, stupid moment of bravado, of inattention, and now my camera ... and all my photos from this trip ... were sitting somewhere at the bottom of the narrows gorge, separated from me by a 10 foot wall of thick muddy water.  I knew where it was, it was such a small search area ... but it may as well have been on the moon for all that I could get to it.

I just stared at the muddy water for a few more minutes... gone, how could it be gone.  This place needed photos to describe it, not words.  Stupid.

I eventually pulled out my iPhone thinking I could at least take some photos of the rest of the narrows, but today God obviously had it in for me - when I'd packed my phone in its hard waterproof case this morning, I'd accidentally depressed the power button and the battery was now empty.

I didn't know whether to be angry or sad.  My camera was so close.  I sighed, threw my pack back on and continued on down the narrows ... I guess this will be one trip which has no photo memories.


The trip had started so well, I'd set of from Chamberlain's Ranch, the top of the sixteen mile hike down the Zion Narrows, around 11am the day before, and it had been great.  Only one other group - a family of four - had caught the later shuttle with me, so we basically had the walk all to ourselves.  I walked with them for a while just chatting away, but eventually they decided to stop for a break and I decided to continue alone.

The walk into the Narrows starts on a gravel road through paddocks and bushland, but after an hour or so the road stops and the path begins.  Over the next 5 miles or so (I don't really know, I'm just making these distances up) the trail meandered from side to side, and often straight through the creek as the canyon walls grew higher and higher and slowly started to close in.  Not that it was a gradual thing, one moment you were walking through cliffs a few metres apart and the next you were back out into more open sided valleys.

It took me a lot longer than I thought it would to get down to the first narrows section, just below which is a 25 foot waterfall which you can (carefully) swim in - the carefully bit is because this section of the narrows has such a high bacteria count they tell you that it can't be drunk even if you use iodine and filter the water - there's just too many bad bugs.  Yum.

However, the water was nearly crystal clear and it was so nice to cool off on a hot day so I couldn't resist a swim.  It took me nearly six hours to reach my campsite, which was almost an hour longer than I expected based on the map notes, and which had me worried for the next day which was meant to be 7 hours walking.  Gulp.

That night it was nice just sitting next to the river listening to the water flow by whilst eating my peanut butter bagel dinner with a warm vanilla cherry pepsi (yuck - in fact why did I even think that might taste nice?).  It was nice to be alone.

I got up early the next morning, a bit worried about how long it would take me to complete today's walk.

I soon discovered the river had changed overnight.  The level had risen slightly and the water had turned from a clear blue to a muddy, more angry, brown.  This latter colour change was a real issue because it meant you could no longer see what was in front of you or how deep the water was.  It made for interesting walking.

I walked past the other camp sites over the course of the next hour or so (there are 12 camp sites spread out over a couple of miles and I was at only the third camp) and all those other lazy bones were still snoring or just getting up, so by the time I got to the Big Springs I was the first walker of the day heading downstream.

There was a certain magic in being the first person descending the river and for the next hour or so I was entirely by myself, wading waist deep through a tight, narrow canyon with cliffs, just the tops of which were bathed in sunlight, rearing hundreds of feet above me.  It was wild, and in a few places the water roared into clefts and it sounded like a massive wall of water was coming crashing down behind me.  It was very raw.

I was quite often knee to waist deep in the river, but only twice went in up to my shoulders.  The second time was when I came down around this rock and, already waist deep I realised (after prodding around with my stick) that the only options were to backtrack and try and climb up and around the rock or trust that like everywhere else it would quickly become shallow again in a few steps.  I decided to trust, and stepped forward, I quickly was in over my waist, then over my chest and then up to my shoulders.  My backpack was starting to push me forward into the water, so I undid my waist belt to let it float out from me a bit, this made it a lot easier as I stepped forward one more step and suddenly found myself swimming.

Not worried, but struggling a bit to breathe, I unthinkingly reached down and unclipped my chest belt as well to allow a quick escape from my backpack ... just in case ... even as I did it, even before the clip was fully undone, I realised what I'd just done ... my camera was threaded through my chest strap.  I forgot about staying above the water and grabbed down with both hands to save my camera, hoping that it would still be caught onto the straps, but it wasn't there.  I think I went under, came up reaching, grasping everywhere, hoping it was still caught on me somewhere.  That's when I swam to shore realising that I had to get it soon or I'd lose it forever ...

You know the rest.

Probably 30 minutes later, I met my first upstream walkers for the day.  We had a good chat and then continued on our respective ways.  Not long after that I met my next group of walkers, and the next and soon it was a constant stream of people walking up river.  I was soon asked by one guy, in a spectacular section of the river, if the narrows get any narrower further up, I walked around a corner and found a lady pissing into the river, not far downstream I found two boys doing the same.  People stopped saying hello at about the same time, there were orange peels thrown on the side of the river where people couldn't be bothered to carry their own rubbish back out, and I found myself walking along, deliberately choosing the side of the river that everyone else didn't, and if they were on both sides, well I walked down the middle in the deepest part of the current.

Despite this rude reintroduction to humanity and the loss of my camera, the Zion Narrows is truly one of those walks that you have to do in your life, but I mean the full walk from top to bottom not the crowded touristy bit down the bottom, and if I did it again, I'd do it in a single day, carry less water (I packed in 6 litres of water, a litre of powerade and a pepsi as I didn't have a water filter) and I definitely wouldn't lose my camera.

I promise.


Some things I wished I'd known before I walked the Narrows:

1. When you pick up your permit they give you a map (it's basic but it's all you need) and also what I was most worried about sourcing - my - well let's call it portable carry in / carry out toilet.  Sounds better than silver ziplock bag.  This is part of the permit fee.

2. Hire the canyoning shoes, wetsuit socks and stick.  They will make the walk so much better (I did).

3. The campsites are all pretty close to each other (probably an hour top to bottom) and they all looked pretty good to me, so don't fuss about the site.

4. At the wilderness permit place in the information centre they list the sources of fresh water on a whiteboard behind the desk and whether they are available.  I didn't realise this at the time, and if I had known wouldn't have carried so much water - just a filter or iodine tablets.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Gooseberry Mesa - The Best Mountain Biking on Earth?

So I decided to be very sensible and have a chillax day today - pick up my Zion wilderness permit, organise my car shuttle and get my gear ready for a two day hike.  Maybe I'd go for a short hike on one of the trails in Zion ... maybe.

I knew for a fact that I wasn't going mountain biking because I had already spent an hour cleaning my bike back in Colorado in preparation for putting it back in its bag for the flight home.  No way was I taking it out on any dusty, dirty trails  ...

I swear that is not my bike.
Nope, no way was I going to do anything as stupid as that ... because I also knew exactly what would happen if I did.  After waiting two years to get back here and finally go and explore the narrows, I bet if I went mountain biking that I'd do something stupid, crash my bike and end up taking the skin off my leg and injuring my shoulder, just like this idiot did ...

Exhibit A: An idiot's leg.
And there was no way I was going to do that.

But then, I got to thinking about how the Fat Cyclist kept on writing about these brilliant trails down near St George, and I thought to myself ... there aren't any good mountain biking trails near St George.  None.  So I thought I had better google it and see what he was on about ... you know, just for research sake.

That's when I found this post where he claimed there was not one, but three brilliant trails down this way.  A bit more research and I found out the problem.  These St George trails are all actually out near Zion National Park .... they're nowhere near St George.

Hey now ... I'm near Zion National Park. This can't be a coincidence.  It must be destiny.

... and just like that I was going mountain biking again.

I dropped into the local bike shop just outside the park, and the owner there was super helpful - to be honest I would never have even found the trailhead without the directions he gave me as it was nearly 13 miles down this very dodgy road, with directions like "take the third turn, just past the dying cactus".  OK, I made that up, but seriously, without a map and directions you wouldn't just stumble onto these trails.

For no better reason that it was the only name that I could remember from my previous nights research, I asked how to get to the "gooseneck trails".  The shopowner kindly pointed out that I actually meant the "Gooseberry trails" and then pulled out the map and talked me through all sorts of combinations of trails I might want to consider riding seeing I only had a day.  As you would expect most of this went in one ear and out the other and I just figured I'd try and ride them all.  Seemed easier.

But then I got there, I started riding, and I just fell in love with these trails.

I started out from the White trailhead, ducked off onto the SlickRock101 (Practice) trail which was just the most awesome fun, then with a bit of confidence under my belt jumped straight onto a black section of the North Rim Trail, which, if my travel insurance didn't have a clause in it which said I'm not covered for dangerous activities such as mountain biking, I might admit I came a cropper attempting a short, steep climb in the wrong gear.  Fortunately, soon thereafter the North Rim Trail drops back down into intermediate territory and I just spent the next hour tackling slickrock and sand, firing up short climbs and bombing down  technical drops whilst all the time being just metres from this sheer drop off the top of the Mesa.  It was just awesome.

It's a bit hard to see, but this isn't a scenic shot - that's the trail.

The trail runs right alongside this huge cliff drop off.  Makes cornering very exciting

I finally dropped back out at the end of the North Rim trail and then after riding up the white trail, I rode the final black section out to "The Point" where you have these expansive views right out over the valley.  Did I mention this ride was awesome.

At The Point.  Two more pedal strokes and it was a 1000 foot drop ...

See ...

It was a long way down.

So I turned around ...
After an orange (as in fruit) break, I realised that my leg was stiffening and getting quite sore, so I took the easy way back to my car along the White Trail (what a hoot).  I love that on this ride, the white trail is a green route, but if you want to ride some black trails, then you could always cut off onto the yellow trail ... or maybe that is only funny if you were there.

I did cut off onto the last blue section of the South Rim trail, and if the North Rim was some of the funnest riding I've ever done, then the ride back along th White and South Rim trails was the best riding I have ever done.

Follow the white dots ...

Yep, I'm calling it, and it's a big call ... I think that these trails may be the best trails I've so far ridden on this planet.

It was definitely worth the scratches ... not that they happened ... and just goes to prove my belief that often the best things in life are the small, unplanned things that just happen.

What a brilliant day.

Monday, 13 August 2012

Travelling by car ...

A car gives us so much freedom - it allows us to see so much more than we'd otherwise get to see.

Utah Scenic Byway
 Lake Powell, Utah
The Hire Car

The only downside is that you tend to see most of it at 65 miles per hour.

The other big advantage of travelling by car is that it makes it so much easier to correct your mistakes.  I've slowly made my way from Crested Butte down to Durango, and then back across Southern Utah over the last couple of days with the aim of getting to Zion National Park either today or tomorrow.

Yesterday, I pulled into the Natural Bridges Natural Monument, and spent half a day just kicking around exploring.  As you can hopefully see it is a beautiful area.

I figured I'd had enough sightseeing at about 4.30pm and decided it was time to head to the next town on the map, Hanksville, as I was getting a bit hungry and was starting to think about where to crash for the night.

I locked Gypsy onto Hanksville and was somewhat surprised to see it was over 200kms away.  Oops.

Now on a bicycle this would have been a catastrophic miscalculation, but in a car, well it's only a couple of hours away, so I put my foot down and enjoyed a wonderful drive along some of the most amazing roads I've ever driven.  It was real Forrest Gump running across America imagery, and so different from the Imterstate.

As I got closer to Hanksville, the sun started to set and the whole plain was bathed in these vivid yellows and greens, I tried to capture it on film, but, well, it turned into a bit of a blur (you try holding a camera out the window in you left hand whilst driving at 65 miles an hour).

Finally pulling into town around 6.30pm, I felt like I'd driven into a set of some horror movie with neither the hotel or the campsite looking overly appealing, so I checked with Gypsy, and sure enough there was a Rodeway Inn ... just another 25kms down the road.  A hop, skip and a jump in a car.

20 minutes later I was standing in the reception of the hotel only to find they had just one room left and it was well outside my price range (well for what I was prepared to stay in a Rodeway Inn) ... not a problem, it was only another 50kms down the road to Torrey and I was sure to have a few more options there, and thus begun a wonderful sunset drive through Reef Canyon National Park.

I finally pulled into Torrey around 7.30pm, booked myself into the first hotel I came to that looked half way affordable - The Days Inn - before heading down the road to the local burger joint that the lady at the reception recommended.  Just on 8pm I finally got to munch down on a good old American Burger and fries in the cool evening air.

What a day.

Looking at a map, I drove half way across Utah in a single day, and probably 100 miles further than I planned.  But I could do this, and do it easily and cheaply (gas is still only $3.60 a gallon over here), because I had a car.

Which brings me to this guy ...

I passed him way back before I got to Natural Bridges National Park and, at a guess, I'd say that was probably where he was heading for the night.  It would have been a hard ride for him to have got there though.

At my riding pace, he probably would make the trip I made in a single evening over the course of 3 to 5 days.

I know this is easy to say as I sit in my hotel room with my car waiting outside, but I'm missing the cycle touring on this trip.  I'm missing having to earn where I want to go.  The constraints of being powered only by your own ability to move forward makes you appreciate where you are going, and where you have been.

Don't get me wrong, travelling by car has a lot going for it, but personally after a few holidays in the car, I really miss my bike.


Don't upset the car ... after posting this blog yesterday I drove from Torrey down to Hurricane, and about an hour into the drive the air conditioning gave up.  It is not fun driving for 4 or 5 hours in 40+ degree heat without air conditioning.  Not fun at all.