Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Big Wuss

I have far to fertile an imagination.

You see, I recently got hooked on the US TV series "The Walking Dead".


Source: taken from some random website.
It's a classic zombie story, but I don't care, I'm just loving it for what it is ... I'll watch three or four episodes back to back while I should be doing much more important things. 

I can't help myself ... as each episode ends, I just have to know what happens in the next episode ... I have to know, and I have to know straight away.

Problem is that then I go to bed ... and I start thinking about it ... and it's dark.


Zombie's like the dark.




In the dark, they can break into my bedroom like they do on the TV show and zombify me. 

I know I'm supposed to be a grown adult and all ... but I've got too much of an imagination and I just lie there thinking about it.  Then I'll hear a noise like someone is walking up my stairs and I know it's zombies, just like in the television show.

Last night I actually locked my bedroom door.  I have never in my adult life locked my bedroom door.

I am such a wuss ...

... but I still bet I'll watch another episode (or three) tonight.

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Mt McCall (Franklin River Road)

Some days are extraordinary and some days just suck.

Mt McCall ... almost.
Then there's the days that do both ... like today.

You see I think it is extraordinarily cool that I can get up out of my own bed, drive 300kms to the other side of the State before most people would have finished having their breakfast, go for a five hour mountain bike ride through our gorgeous Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area at the end of a 30km road that most people wouldn't even know exists ...
 
Note highlighted road in yellow.
It keeps going all the way to the Franklin River
... and still be home by 7.30pm for a hot shower and dinner. 

Eight hours and 600kms of driving, five hours of mountain bike riding, 3 coffees, 2 cokes (one six months past its used by date) and a chance to visit one of Tasmania's most epic environmental battlegrounds ...

"No Dams" sign - no doubt from the Franklin Blockades

Yep, that's what I'd call an extraordinary day.

But then here's the bits that sucked.

Maybe I should have known the day wasn't going to go so well when I woke up with what felt like a hangover (I hadn't been drinking), but I shrugged it off and decided I'd push through.  I didn't, and by days end I had a headache that felt like a jack hammer was inside my head, a bad cough and a temperature.

Maybe I should have gotten another hint when I bought my 'half way' coffee at Ouse only to find it was so disgusting that I could barely drink it ... but I had got chatting to a guy who was walking the Tasmanian Trail and was so caught up swapping track notes and advice that again I shrugged it off and continued onwards.

Yep, I drove to the start of the track, unloaded my gear at the locked gate and happily set off up the first hill to see what the day would bring.  I told myself I was exploring new trails and therefore I was happy, no arguments to the contrary allowed. 

Now I expected there to be climbing - lots of climbing in this ride.  I had done a bit of homework and looking on Google Earth realised that this ride wasn't flat  ...


but those climbs looked fairly gradual and all up it was only 1000 metres of climbing over 22kms with the added advantage of what looked like a pretty nice downhill run on the way back.

Yea right.

This ride is a monster.  It takes the worst elements of the Yo Yo Track (up - down - up - down) and just scales it by 2 or 3 times with both the climbs and the descents being absolute brutes.

Here's what it looks like from a GPS perspective (noting this is an out and back and I turned around at the 18km point on the above route):

 Those climbs look a bit steeper don't they?

A bit hard to see, but the road ahead can be seen winding it's way up Mt McCall.
Don't get me completely wrong here - it is a magnificent ride with lovely bits of track winding through forest, interesting history (from the Franklin Dam protest days) and amazing wildflowers and scenery including cool views over to Frenchmans Cap and down to Macquarie Harbour  ...



 






But I was expecting washed out and rutted four wheel drive tracks (fun, fun, fun), and it isn't that at all, in fact I reckon if the gate wasn't closed I could easily have got my Subaru Impreza the whole way along the track ... it is a good gravel road most of the way.

But it's so steep.  I ended up pushing my bike up half to two thirds of the ascents, and what's worse I wasn't really able to enjoy the descents due to a combination of loose pea gravel surfaces and way too many snake sightings for my liking (they seemed to enjoy coming out and lying on the nice open track to sun themselves right where I wanted to ride).  Combined, the snakes and surface made me very cautious as I headed down around blind corners and stick strewn trails (is that a stick or a snake?)

Then the real bit that sucked hit me.  After a bit too long on the brakes due to the above caution my back brake started making a very un-nice squealing sound.  A quick check just out past Mt McCall found that I was 18kms from my car and 300 and something kilometres from my nearest set of brake pads ... and I needed them NOW.

Remember that route profile above .... I had a lot of downhill riding to do ... and no bake brakes to do it with.

The other thing that sucked was my expectations (as per the above paragraph) about the route profile (Remember that route profile above) ie. that it is downhill most of the way back.

Well, if you're like me, your eyes would have been drawn to the long climbs to the highest point on the way out and your brain would have fogged over all of the short steep climbs on the way back (heck I thought, I'll just get a run up and roll up them, completely ignoring that they were often 100 metre ascents).

Those climbs on the way back are killers if you're tired and feeling sick.  I think I was almost crying at one point I was so over this ride, I do remember a brief little scream at the gods for the unfairness of it all.


But I made it, and yes deep down I enjoyed it, even if I didn't get all the way out to the Franklin River exit point (I turned around about a kilometre past Mt McCall and about 3kms (and a 400 metre descent / ascent) before the rafting pick up point.

I had also planned staying overnight in Queenstown and doing another ride the next day, but with no brakes and feeling sick there was little use in doing that (lesson learned in being prepared, although in my defence I do usually have a spare set in my car, I had just used them up for the Goldfields Track and not got around to replacing them) and hence my epic and extraordinary out and back day.

I'm now struggling to decide whether to put this on tassie trails, because I can see that there would be the rare cyclist that would actually enjoy this ride.  They'd just have to like remote locations, and be fit and know what they were getting themselves into.  I would wear ankle gators if doing this ride again for the snakes.

If I decide not to do that, then the GPS data from my trip is here.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Demolised Dreams ...

For the last few weeks, I've clung onto a belief.

A belief in Lance. 

As all around me others just accepted that he was a drug cheat and moved on, there was a stubborn bit inside of me that wouldn't let go, that didn't want to believe.  Lance's seven wins (can I still call them that?) in the Tour De France were a defining part of my life.  They inspired:

"Finally, the last thing I’ll say to the people who don’t believe in cycling, the cynics and the sceptics: I'm sorry for you. I’m sorry that you can’t dream big. I'm sorry you don't believe in miracles. But this is one hell of a race. This is a great sporting event and you should stand around and believe it. You should believe in these athletes, and you should believe in these people."
Lance Armstrong, Farewell speech at the Champs-Élysées podium, after winning his seventh Tour de France

I believed.  I dreamed.  I believed in miracles.

I wasn't going to stop believing just because everyone else had stopped believing and the experts told me it was true.  I had a dream.

Then, last week, I received an email that a book I had put a loan on a couple of months ago at the State Library was ready for pick up: Tyler Hamilton and Danial Coyle's "The Secret Race".


I read this book over the weekend.

It is a brilliant book, well written and compelling in its arguments.  It paints a picture which makes sense.  It's a picture where all successful riders are drug cheats because they have to be.

I no longer believe. 

I keep thinking back over all those moments in the Tour where I had been brought to tears of joy as human beings had shown me what we can truly achieve at our boundaries ... and now I realise that many of those moments were probably lies or at best half truths.

I've lost one of my most important dreams, and so I've decided in my letter to Santa Claus this year I'm going to ask him not to send presents to all those naughty cyclists, and I bet you he won't because I bet you he's up there in the North Pole right now and he's just as cross as I am about all of this.

Yep, at least I've still got the big red man and his reindeer's on my side ... and that's a dream no one can take from me.


Saturday, 17 November 2012

Revisiting the Goldfields ...

OK, This is an up front boredom alert ... you may wish to cease reading this blog post now because this post is just for me ... and maybe the two other people on this planet who have an interest in the economic benefits of bicycle tourism (hi Dan, hi Tom).


OK, so you didn't listen to my warning - well from here on in it is all on you, but let's go ...

First we need to tie a couple of threads together.

Thread one: you need to understand something about me and it is quite well explained in this diagram derived from one of the many personality surveys that are available.  This was one of the expensive ones and is my Team Management Profile (better acknowledge TMSProfile at this point so I don't get into copyright problems):


There are four things I bring your attention to:  (1) when it comes to relating to others, I'm an extreme introvert, in fact I got a 29/30 on this scale and I swear to this day that the only reason I didn't get 30/30 is that I must have misread one of the survey questions.

Secondly, I am quite creative (but with a little bit of practicality) in how I go about using information, which to me means that I'm good at looking at information and seeing things, and in particular solutions, that others don't. 

Next, skipping to the bottom chart, I much prefer to be flexible in how I organise myself and others ... that means I don't like locking things in, and I'm less than clear in conveying what I want to do because if I'm clear then that may reduce my future options and well ... what if there is a better option that I don't yet know about?

As an aside, this is why Kim spends her week days pulling her hair out (or preferably mine)  when she asks me my plans for the weekend and I respond with something like "I'm thinking of going for a ride out along McMcCall road south of Queenstown or I might head up to Launceston and do Sally's Ride or I could go for a paddle down to Bruny" (turns out so far that I'm sitting at home doing this blog post, but while I'm distracted by this thought has anyone actually cycled out Mt McCalls Road to Franklin River  - it looks like it could be a good ride to me.)

Finally, and this is the important one ... I've got a pretty strong bias to being analytical when I make decisions and why, as I noted in my previous blog post, that perspectives fascinate me.

Anyway, bring all this together and I'm (apparently) a 'creator-innovator' which basically means I am very curious and like to solve problems ... provided it is sufficiently interesting.  A spin off of this is that if I see something that I don't think looks right, well I can become a bit obsessive about it.

Herein enters the second thread that you need to understand ... back in 2009 a study was published by Associate Professor Sue Beeton titled "Cycling in Regional Communities - A longitudinal Study of the Murray to Mountains Rail Trail" (the MMT report).

Now in the main, I found this report very interesting and well presented.  What got to me was the results that riders to the region spent on average $244 per person per day and specifically that they spent on average $123 per person per day on food.

wtf?

Now, I'd just got back from a three month cycle tour around Europe with Christie at the time that I first saw this report and I was darn sure that we had spent no where bloody near that amount of money per day (we barely spent that per week) and I was pretty sure that every other cyclist that I had met in all my travels also spent no where near that amount of money.

My version of pre-dinner drinks and snacks in a French Campground.
Dinner was a french bagel and cheese.
Furthermore, I had to ask myself - how could you spent $123 per person per day on food? ... I mean I have a huge appetite but I still think I would struggle to spend that much money even if I really, really tried (and remembering that many bike trails have you spending the night in small towns, so meal options are generally cafes, pubs and low to mid end restaurants - not upper crust places where you can blow your dosh easily).

Kim and my attempt at blowing big money on the Goldfields Track - Breakfast $44.
So presented with something I couldn't compute, I did what any severely introverted, analytically biased, creator-innovator type would do ... I obsessed about it ... for years ... and slowly but surely I started to gather information to see if this could possibly be true.

For instance on my recent(ish) month long jaunt over to Canada and the USA, where I stayed in motels virtually every night, ate out or got takeaways for most meals and didn't stint myself in pretty much anything ... I was only able to spend a grand total of  $8,915.21 (note the obsession in cost gathering to the nearest cent) and that includes all the hundreds of dollars of bank fee charges and my flights which I bought at the last minute so were quite expensive ($2,400).

This means that, excluding the airfare,  I only managed to spent on average $197 per day.  


Do you know how pathetic that makes me feel?  I didn't even manage to make the average spend of a cyclist here in Australia and I had no one to share accomodationexpenses with, I had car hire and fuel expenses, train expenses, I went on an organised kayak tour ...  all these expenses that cyclists don't have and I still couldn't even  make the average spend.

I felt like a failure.  I still do.

I'm sorry Canada, I'm sorry USA and I'm particularly sorry to you Amtrak ... I feel like I let you all down, and that's not good enough ... especially when you offer such cool food ...


Fast forward to last month and with our first anniversary looming, and Kim keen to go on a long weekend bike ride along the Goldfields Track I saw my opportunity to once again bring out my bicycle, credit card and most importantly: my calculator and get a first hand understanding of how the heck I could meet Victoria's expectations of what I should spend as a bicycle tourist.

Without warning Kim of my ulterior motive for this trip, I handed over my credit card to her to book the accommodation and off we went ...  here's what I found:

Accomodation

According to the MMT study, trail users used a variety of accommodation from cheap camping to luxury B&B's with an average cost of $53 per person per night.

We went for nice (3 stars or better), but not excessive accommodation so I expected we'd blitz this number getting me off to a good start.  I was disappointed: our average spend was $114 per night (cheapest $75, most expensive $160), or just $57 per person per night.  Hardly a blitzing.

Food and Beveridge

This was the big one.  We ate out every night, we usually had a bottle of wine, a few ciders or bourbons and we bought plenty of snacks for the trail, and yet still we only managed to spend a total of $555 over the four days (and this included meeting some friends at the airport and shouting them dinner).  This amounts to just $69 per person per day, well below the required $123.

Fuel/Transport

It cost us $472 in flights and airport parking, but ignoring that as money spent in Tasmania and not contributing to the Victorian regional economy, our only fuel/transport spends were Skybus transfers to Spencer Street Station and V/Line train tickets which in total came to $125 for both of us, or if averaged over the four days about $16 per person per day.

The MMT report was $18 per day.

Cycling / Souvenirs/Gifts / Other

The MMT report  reported a combined spend of $51 per person per day on cycling stuff, souvenirs, gifts and 'other'.    The only expense we had was the purchase of the guidebook and map in Ballarat which cost $39, or $4.88 per person per day.

How do those other cyclists carry all that stuff ... if anything I think we would have paid people to take some of our gear away ...

Summary

A detailed breakdown of our expenditure is shown at the bottom of this posrt, but the take home message is that ignoring the airfares and airport parking in Tasmania, we only managed to spend $1,172 whilst in Victoria, or $146.50 per person per day, and I would have placed us at the upper quartile of what a mountain bike touring cyclist would spend on a trip like this.

Furthermore, we could have easily reduced costs significantly by camping each night, and buying a few more groceries in the supermarkets and cooking our own dinner, and we had no desire to buy extra souvenirs (or anything) that would have added weight to our travels.

The only way I could think of to significantly increase our expenses would have been to stay at more expensive accommodation.  I don't think I could have eaten or drunk much more and still managed to ride.

I'm not saying that the MMT report is wrong, but I do suspect that the results may have been extremely biased to the area and maybe by large purchases of wine to be shipped home direct from vineyards which inflated the food and beverage price (something noted as a possibility in the report), or my gut feeling (and I apologise to the author if I've got this wrong) ... that the results for some of these items weren't actually per person, but were actually per group or per trip.

 I just can't see how people would spend that much money per night.

Epilogue

Interestingly  in researching (I know, a strong word) this blog post I came across a subsequent study of The Value of Cycle Tourism in the Southern Flinders Ranges: A Preliminary Study which found that the average spend per person per day was around $165 per day (still above what we spent), and noted two other studies, one of which found the average spend was $124 per night, and the other (in Canberra) found the average spend was $236 per night.

I just keep scratching my head at these numbers.

I can understand that high-income, short-duration travellers would happily spend up for a bit of luxury, as we did, and these surveys do seem to indicate that this is the demographic of the people that are responding to their surveys, but I still can't get away from the fact that even when I try and spend money, I can't get up around these average spend figures.

The other thing that confuses me is that most of the people I meet on the road when out cycle touring aren't in that high-income demographic (except at events).  They're budget oriented travelers and I don't see where these people are represented in these surveys.

However, the most baffling thing to me in all of this is simply this: where are all these bloody cyclists that spend all this money?

Hello?  Is there anybody there?
Virtually every trip I've gone on in all of these cycle tourism hotspots has involved mainly cycling by muself and meeting other cyclists has been a real novelty and surprise.

Maybe all the other cyclists are at home filling in online surveys about their expenditure?

So I have yet to resolve this issue to my satisfaction, but it is important to me because when I read these studies about how cycle tourism can bring all this money into Tasmania, and I chase down the research behind these statements I keep hitting this conundrum ... what I see in the data just doesn't match my own experiences and I can't explain the difference.  

Luckily I am up to the ongoing challenge to continue to resolve this issue and I already have plans, flexible plans of course, for further research in New Zealand and Europe in 2013 ...

So, I better stop writing now.   I'm guessing that even those of you who ignored my original "this will be a boring post" warning have well and truly stopped reading this anyway, but that's OK ... fortunately I'm a severe introvert and I like my own company ... a lot.



... and thus ends the tying together of the threads ...  I wonder if there's still time to head over to the West Coast.


========= COSTINGS FOR OUR GOLDFIELDS TRIP =========


Category Pre Trip Melbourne Ballarat Creswick Daylesford Castlemaine Bendigo Total
Accommodation

$75 $108 $161 $110
$454
Flights & Parking $472





$472
Food - Breakfast

$49

$20
$69
Food - Dinner
$94 $73 $89 $80 $15
$350
Food - Lunch
$10
$20 $20

$50
Food - Snacks


$37 $18 $18 $13 $86
Guide Book

$39



$39
Vic Travel
$89



$35 $125
Grand Total $472 $193 $236 $254 $278 $163 $48 $1,644

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Floating down the Huon River

Perspectives on things absolutely fascinate me - the way two people can look at the same object and see something completely different or how just changing your camera angle slightly when taking a photo can completely change what you see ...

 
Perspectives also shape how you think about things.  For example, I've capsized in enough rapids in my life to know that underwater is not a good place to be.  This has led me to the perspective that rivers are dangerous places, even if they don't always look so scary ...
 
 
That's why I was really glad when Kim agreed to come and packraft the Huon River with me this weekend ... I figured if I was going to drown, I should at least have a witness to the event.  I guess that's another perspective.
 
That's not to say that the section of the river that I planned to paddle was big ... in fact in the scheme of things it was tiny ... grade 1 & 2 rapids which most kayakers wouldn't even get out of bed to paddle.  But I'm a wuss, and the river was completely unknown to me so just knowing that there were rapids was scary enough for me, especially as I had vague recollections that there was a dangerous weir somewhere on the river ...
 
So after a crappy breakfast at Banjo's (hint: don't try and tell Kim that 'big breakfasts' always come with hollandaise sauce on the eggs, I still feel sorry for the poor guy who tried to tell her that) we drove out to Judbury and left a car and dry clothes there before continuing on to our launch site just next to the Southwood Site (Huon Wood Centre) 15kms further up the river.
 

We quickly pumped up the rafts and before I could think about it too much, we got on the water and drifted downstream.  All too quickly we were too far downstream to do anything about it but continue on down the river and see what we would see.  It was very Huck Finn.

Waving goodbye to the Southwood Bridge.

Fortunately for my nerves, the first few rapids were just little grade one shingle rapids which gave us both a chance to get a feel for how our boats handled the waves and to realise that we weren't likely to die this day.  In fact a few kilometres in I was boldly suggesting to Kim that we should have brought the monsters with us (not that they would have come given that they've both now shaken hands with Prince Charles and Lady Camilla and as such would no longer deign to get into any water craft smaller than the QE-II).
 
We drifted downstream, actually enjoying the occasional rapid, and noting the changes along the river (like a house built in the bush which wasn't there a few years ago which explained why you could no longer cycle down the western bank).
 
Kim enjoying a run down a small rapid.
... and the flat stretches in between.

Just before our first real rapid for the day a platypus popped up before us and we got to drift downstream as it kept us entertained diving down and surfacing repeatedly.

That little streak is a platypus.
Then we hit the first little drop for the day.  It was one of those rapids that sounded a lot louder than it looked and so I curiously approached it wondering how such a small rapid could make such a lot of noise.  It wasn't until I got right onto it that I suddenly realised that it had about a half metre drop (and hence the noise) and so thinking it was my dreaded weir I yelled out to Kim to just paddle hard and went for it ... turns out it wasn't the weir, and it was dead easy though I did get a bit of water in my boat so we pulled off to empty the rafts and stretch the legs.

 
Of course once we got off the water on a small shingle bank on the left hand side, I then looked across to the other side of the river and noticed the lovely beach stretching up into the meadow behind it right across from us.  Doh.


 
There were a few long flat sections after this, but then we came up to another one of those rapids that sounded a lot louder than it looked, and fortunately this time I decided to head into the left hand side of the river and check it out.
 
This rapid was my weir.
 
 


However, it looked quite possible to paddle it on river right if you don't mind a few bumps and scrapes over the rocks.  We chose to portage it though (perspectives again).

After this it was an easy meander down to Judbury with just a few more small rapids and we just enjoyed ourselves and the sights around us.





Yep, not a bad day at all as we covered the 15kms in about three hours.  Amazing how a good day on the river can change your perspectives ...  I don't think I hate rivers anymore.

However, given we're talking about perspectives, I wonder what Kim's perspectives are on Lantra Sportswagon's after today's trip ...


I reckon she might think they're expensive pieces of junk and that she should get a subaru ... or maybe that last bit is just my perspective again.



Monday, 5 November 2012

Glaziers Bay

During our Audax ride on Sunday, we pedalled through the area where I grew up.


It was only a four kilometre section of our 100km route and for the others it was just another scenic section of the ride, but for me it was a flood of childhood memories and happiness.

It started at the jetty where we would build jumps and launch our bikes, and ourselves, off into the water (with rope tied around the bikeframe so we could retrieve them).

It continued around the road that I would have walked hundreds if not thousands of times, the quarry where me and my mates built our forts and had fire cracker wars during bonfire night (you know, before they banned fireworks sales to children).

It was the old boat shed and seven inch beach, simple words for simple places which for me bring back a flood of memories, but to you mean nothing.

The river where we sailed and fished and rowed ... the mudbank at the end of egg island ... how we loved the mudbank on low tide. We would row or swim out and sink up to our wastes in stinking smelly mud and have the world's best mudfights.

We cycled around the bay where I used to chase Mrs Collins ducks in my kayak, and the old hay sheds and barns where we secretly built our club houses and forts  ... it was all these and a thousand other things which I could never explain.

Then I started to cycle further away, still through places I knew well, but somehow beyond the boundary of what I thought of as home.



 
It was such a brief visit, but it was still so nice to go home, because home is what makes us who we are.

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Mountain River Meander (100km Audax)

Sometimes getting to the starting line can be the hardest part of a ride.

Today I had decided to do the Mountain River Meander 100km Audax ... my first ever Audax ride and the first 100km ride I would have done since I did the 100 (Little) Miles to Nowhere with Cath back in June.

If you've never heard of Audax, then the quick overview is that they're non competitive rides, usually of ridiculously long distances (they start at 100km and go up, way up, from there) but they're not races ... you basically have to maintain a minimum speed over the distance (15km/hr) and it can be as competitive or as social as you want it to be after that.

We chose sociable.
I was really keen to do the ride last night, but when I woke up this morning I was hit by a wall of doubt ... I had used up my only spare tube fixing a flat tyre last night so if I got a flat today it was game over; I hadn't ridden 100km for nearly five months; come to think of it I hadn't ridden my road bike for nearly five months; I would be riding with a group of people who trained to ride 1,200 km audax's (no that is not a typo) so was kind of out of my league; I was still a bit fatigued from my two rides this weekend and finally ... I'm scared of new things (true story).

Then, as I was wavering on the edge of indecision, I managed to wrench a muscle in my neck whilst making breakfast, meaning I could barely turn my neck.

Amid this wall of reasons not to go, I could only think of one reason to actually go on this ride ... given my fitness and state of preparedness it sounded like an epic adventure (or disaster) waiting to happen.

Suffice to say that was good enough for me, so I downed a couple of ibuprofen's, put a big smile on my face and headed down to do the ride ...

... five minutes later I was racing back home after realising I had left my socks and cycling shoes behind, but then I headed down to do the ride.


There were only four of us, and in the tradition of Audax we spent as much time chatting and enjoying the ride as we did hurting ourselves.  Well when I say 'we', I actually mean 'they'.

I discovered that my front wheel was badly buckled when I turned up at Mountain River, and although I managed to tweak the spokes enough to get the wheel to turn through the brake pads, it wasn't a happy wheel and it constantly creaked and groaned the whole 100kms, so I kind of sat 50 metres off the front of the other three for most of the ride so as not to inflict the noise on them for the whole ride.






About 70kms in, we got to Cygnet and I had the best burger in my life (that's also not a typo) and yet I still managed to get over Balf's Hill soon thereafter and that kind of summarised the day ... it just worked.



I think I might like Audax ... when is the next one?