Monday, 29 February 2016

Tasmanian Mountain Bike Plan - Six Years On

Almost two decades ago, I started a Graduate Diploma in Environmental Studies (Hons) at the University of Tasmania, and then six months in, I got a job at Forestry Tasmania.  So I switched to part time, and promised myself I could do both an honours degree and a full time job.

I was wrong.

I found a thousand reasons to put off starting my honours thesis (most to do with the fact that work was actually real and meaningful) until finally, two weeks before the final deadline, I bit the bullet, took two weeks off work and just researched, wrote, ate and slept ... and somehow managed to submit my honours research project (bound and in triplicate) with hours to spare.

It was an academic disaster from my perspective - I just scraped through with a second class honours and I promised I'd never do something like that again.

In fact, when I was sponsored to go back to Uni a decade later to do another Graduate Diploma (in Information Technology (Project Management)) I kept that promise.  I turned my life into a six day working week, and every Saturday I would go into work and study.

I did this for the better part of two years and aced that course, getting seven Higher Distinction's and  one Distinction (which I was very disappointed with).

There's a story there about sweating the small stuff.

But all that long intro is just to bring us to the present.

I volunteered for another Leadership and Management Course last year, which was sold to me as a three week executive course aimed at the future leaders in the State Service.  What no one mentioned (until induction day) was that this three weeks was actually just meant to be the start of another Graduate Diploma.


I loved the three week course, and then I tried, I really tried, to get into the University part of the course, but I just couldn't.  I managed to submit my first 2000 word assignment by the deadline, but then the idea of sitting down and writing another 6,000 word thesis ... double groan.

So, like my first Graduate Diploma, I put it off, and put it off, until finally .... it was due.  And it wasn't due in a fortnight, or next week ... it was due the next day.

In fact, the only reason it wasn't overdue was because it was a leap year and so I had this one last extra day - the 29th of February - to submit the assignment.

I thought about this a lot as I drove back from Cradle Mountain after doing Nic's Mini Cradle Challenge and although I had previously resigned myself to not submitting the assignment and just failing, I realised that I should at least try and submit something ... I owed it to my sponsor to at least do that.

So instead of going to work on Monday, I got out of bed at 5am, walked to my home office and I started writing, and I wrote and I wrote and I wrote all day (OK, I drank lots of coffee and coke as well, but mainly I wrote).

Now I'd be lying if I said I started with a completely blank slate, because the topic I'd chosen was one I really had been researching for years ... the development of Mountain Biking in Tasmania.

Old school ...
To the new ...
My assignment had to take a management and leadership angle on things, so I looked at the role that the Tasmanian Government had played in implementing the Tasmanian Mountain Biking Plan's actions and therefore mountain biking itself over the last six years (The plan was released back in 2009).

I should also mention that I was constrained in my Uni assignment by not having applied for a human ethics committee approval (so I couldn't talk or interview anyone for the project) and could only rely on published information (and my own original research) in looking at progress, but if you think about it,  I've accumulated a lot of published information on mountain biking through the last five years:
  • Want to know how many kilometres of trails have been constructed since 2009 - it's all on tassietrails
  • Want to refresh yourself about developments in mountain biking projects - it's all on tassietrails
  • Want to know how many bike events and bike shops and bike businesses have come and gone since 2009 - it's all available through the work I've done for tassietrails
  • Need to know whether mountain bike tracks in Tasmania have adapted a uniform signage system, or the IMBA classification and signage system ... I've got photos from every single one of them that I was able to go and check.
  • Want a National and International perspective on mountain bike trails - I've ridden all the trails you read about in the big reports (Whistler, Scotland, New Zealand, Utah, Colarado ...)
  • Need to know which reports and websites to look at ... tassietrails.
Yep, I had a wealth of information at my fingertips ... almost too much in fact ...

The assignment had also got me thinking about new datasets which I hadn't previously thought to look at like, like event participation (which was one of the goals in the plan).  I realised that events publish finishing lists so it's possible to go through websites and compile this, which I did ...

... and in doing so discovered that individual event participation actually seems to be in long term decline, although it's hard to know whether this is because of participants spreading their spend across more events, increasing costs or because people are now able to ride many trails outside of events (whereas back in 2009 many of the trails were only rideable through events).

Having hit a brick wall on getting trail count data, I realised I could create an index of relative trail popularity from strava ... it just took a bit of time.

Yep, I had a wealth of data built up from years of research into mountain biking, and so by the end of the day I was kicking myself for not giving myself more time to have done this assignment properly.

But - kudos to me - at 11pm that night, I downed pen (well - keyboard) and pressed submit.

My home office was a mess, my brain was fried and the puppy dogs were looking at me worriedly (or maybe they were just hungry having maybe not have been fed yet), but I'd done it - I'd written a 6,000 word essay on the development of mountain biking since 2009 (with a 5000 word attachment looking at progress against each of the fifty-five actions in the plan, albeit that 2,500 of those words were the actual actions themselves).

If, and that's a big if, I get a pass on this assignment, then that will be an impressive days work ... but next time, if I'm going to do something like that, I'm going to do it right.

PS. If you have any interest in seeing the report, you can download it here.  I cringed a bit when I read it, but it has some useful information in it which I'd now like to go back and re-explore with more time and without the constraints of academic research.

I'll let you know when I know my results ...

Sunday, 28 February 2016

Nic's Mini Cradle Challenge 2016

I've wanted to do Nic's Cradle Challenge for several years now ...

And I guess the good news is that I've still got that to look forward to, as the idea of riding up and down the gorge between Cethana and Moina - twice  - was a bridge (well actually a chasm) too far.

So this year I did the Mini Challenge instead - a 66km ride from Moina to Cradle Mountain and back again.

The start line.
It was a good choice for me in the end as the ride turned out to be far enough to be challenging, but not so far that it wasn't enjoyable.

Of course, as normal and despite being concerned over whether I could even ride the required distance, I couldn't just sit back and enjoy the ride, but instead found myself constantly trying to chase people down, or sit in front and shelter the group I was in from the wind, or in some cases just get to the top of the hill without stopping ... (which is another really good reason why I am glad I only did the 66km version).

But I made it out, and I made it back again, albeit I ended up riding by myself for over two-thirds of the route.  It really is a gorgeous place to ride and I can see why so many events follow this route

So next year ... maybe the full challenge?  I'd like to think so, but I've got to get some serious riding in between now and then if I'm going to do that ... and maybe I need a new road bike ... one with more smaller gears :)

Saturday, 27 February 2016

Warrawee Reserve Mountain Bike Trails (An early preview)

For those of you who aren't members of the Latrobe-Kentish Mountain Bike Network facebook group (I mean where the bloody hell are you?)

Nope - don't see you under this mushroom which is a surprise.
... you may not know that a Warrawee Reserve Mountain Bike Trails Master Plan has recently been prepared and approved by the Latrobe Council (yes, feeling left out now aren't you?) as part of the proposed greater Latrobe-Kentish mountain bike trail network.

Because you didn't know this, you didn't get to think to yourself "Hmmm ... I'm heading up to ride Nic's Mini Cradle Challenge on Sunday - maybe I'll cruise on by Warrawee Reserve and check out  what the attraction is..."

But because I am a member of that facebook group, and because I was going to Nic's Mini Cradle Challenge, I did get to think that, and I did get to head up there and check it out.

Which was probably illegal, so all up - kudos to you - and bad, bad, bad Rambler.

Warrawee Reserve is about 4 or 5kms south (on a dead end road) from Latrobe (just in case you're trying to locate it on a map).  I firstly drove down to the main reserve area where the Platypus walk is, then backtracked out past the front gate and parked there (just in case I took longer than expected ...)

Then I set off to see what I would see ...

I had fun and found some very cool trails ... they were even signed.

Hmmm .. think I'll just follow that blue line.

Old Reservoir

Just for the record, this was the only sign I saw which said
Authorised Access only and I didn't go up there.

I  discovered an old reservoir, an old tramway, cool single and double track ... and also some sections of track that I would rather not have ridden (hint: after riding to the crest of the hill, I ended up carrying my bike down most of the fern gully descent, including a slightly tricky section around a big rock and under a tree as you come back into the main reserve area).

I was surprised at the number of people that found their way to the reserve, though as it is billed as a place to go and see platypus, I guess I can see the attraction.

All up, my first impressions were ... that it was nice.

Which I'm guessing isn't the response that people would be looking for.

I can see that the terrain in this area could make for some really good trails, and the sections along the river and in the fern gully were just beautiful, but I use the work 'nice' because the area generally didn't strike me as iconic - it just struck me as ... well ... nice.

It's somewhere I'd definitely head to ride if I were in the area, but I'm not sure if I were planning a mountain biking trip 'somewhere' that it would be in my top ten places to go, or that I'd even cross out a day to ride it if I had already decided to come to Tasmania for three days or a week and was deciding where to go and not go.

Now, I've not engaged in the attractions of the Latrobe-Kentish Network and so while I do want to offer up this opinion, I don't want to sound like I'm judging.  I just want to say that based on my short time in the reserve it got me wondering what the big draw-card is going to be for this trail network, because I don't think that good trails alone are enough to draw mountain biking tourists to areas anymore - at least not in large numbers  - there's just too many good trails out there already.

There needs to be something different, iconic, original that only these trails can offer ...

Though they are building a flying fox for bikes as part of the trail network - so I guess that would be kind of awesome.

I wonder if I could use the flying fox to evade the police when they realise I've been carrying my bike around their trails illegally ...

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Risdon Vale MTB Trail

I went along the official opening of the new Risdon Vale MTB Trail on Saturday.

...  and I have to confess I felt a bit out of place, being perhaps the only person present that wasn't from the local area, who was dressed in Lycra, and wasn't there to see the members of the Hawthorn Football team ... but, hey, it was new trail and I wanted to see it.

The actual single track is pretty short (just over a kilometre) but it is very well built and has a few nice trail features (including an optional drop which I had to do the wimpy way).  The 'loop' is around 2kms.

The drop

It was good to see Vanessa Goodwin out there supporting the launch, as well as all the locals, and it will be very interesting to see whether local respect keeps all the young guys who were riding their motorbikes through the bush off the dedicated MTB trails ... let's hope so.

I've put some trail notes up on and have also added the route to Open Street Map so it should be visible on strava or any other product that uses this as a background.

Sunday, 21 February 2016

The 2016 5000km challenge - progress update

I'm not expecting that anyone is actually thinking about this, but just in case, I haven't forgotten about my rather rash New year's resolution decision to ride 5000km this year ...

And it got off to a really good start with that initial spurt of enthusiasm you have with these challenges.  I even knocked off a secondary goal of riding to and from work for five consecutive days in early January.

Then I got struck down by a really weird foot problem - sort of like gout, but not really, and the end result was I spent the best part of three weeks hobbling around not even being able to put cycling shoes on it hurt so much.

I was sorely tempted to give up at that point, but over the last few weeks I've clawed my way back into the challenge by slotting in as many short commutes as I can (even when I drop off the kids at school, I'm now parking on the Eastern Shore and riding into work ), I chalked up an almost-century ride last Sunday, an epic "I can jump puddles" ride through the worst of last Monday's downpour, and a few "Oops, I forgot to turn right at the bridge" rides (which means I then have to ride to the Bowen Bridge and back again).

The net result of this little push is that I'm actually ahead of the ever moving goal ...

I've signed up for Nic's Cradle Mini Challenge (66km) next weekend to give me something fresh to aim for, and in the meantime I just keep aiming to chalk up at least 100kms a week to build a bit of a buffer for the challenges that are still bound to come ...

13.7kms a day for another 315 days ... how hard can that be?

Saturday, 20 February 2016

One hour thirty six minutes ...

If we'd been sitting here this time last week, and you 'd asked "So, what you up to next week?"  I would probably have replied something boring like "work, work and more work - if I'm lucky I might get some study in".

Funny thing is that if you'd asked me the same question about 6.27pm on Wednesday, I probably would have replied something like "Well, I'm supposed to be having tomorrow off on study leave to work on my as yet unstarted University thesis which is due in 10 days ... but I have to go to work as I've got to write an XXX " (I better not tell you the last bit so I can't be accused of talking about work in this blog - not that anyone would do such a thing).

Then, at 6.28pm, I received a text (albeit I didn't read it for another 30 minutes because I was riding home).

It was the sort of text that really catches your attention and changes the whole flow of your week.

A few more texts were exchanged  just clarifying a few details that what I thought was being said was really being said ...

Then one hour 36 minutes after that text .... well you know that Surly ECR that I was dreaming about a few weeks ago ... I own it.


N=10.  Now I'm in double digit maybe people will start taking me seriously.