Spring has sprung

Well, it has seemed like a long and cold, wet winter here in Melbourne this year.  The La Niña  weather pattern of the last little while has brought us lots of excuses to stay in bed, lots of rain for the tanks and the garden, and quite a few flat tyres out on the road.  Yes folks, rain brings debris and crap onto the roads, and that means more punctures.  I’ve lost count of them in the last few months.

Wet, wet, wet. Like winter was when we were kids.

Anyway, today is the start of spring and it occurs to me that nearly 3 months has gone by since this blog last got updated.  The marketing gurus reckon you have to be in touch with your audience at least every 3 months or else they’ll forget about you.  I read that once, probably quite a few years ago.  Nowadays you probably have to be in touch with your audience every 3 weeks to prevent them forgetting you.  Or you should tweet them every 3 days or so, or something.  Whatever.  Since I mostly write this blog for my own benefit you may think that it doesn’t really matter.   But what if the magic 3 months goes by and I haven’t posted anything, and I lose touch with myself??  Doesn’t bare thinking about.

The main reason for the lack of blogular activity seems to be the lack of blogworthy events.  No noteworthy rides, no grand adventures, no hikes, no camps, etc.  Which isn’t completely true.  There have been long rides, good rides, fun rides and even memorable rides.  And EVERY day is an adventure, after all!  Just not always the kind of adventure that one needs to write about.

Maybe it’s the long, cold wet months of winter.  Not that’s it’s all bad.  It’s an ill wind that blows no good, as they say.  The cold weather makes for good broccoli, since the dreaded cabbage moth caterpillars go into hibernation somewhere.

Nothing beats fresh home-grown broccoli. (Apart from about a bazillion other really cool things.)

And it was looking like a good season for broad beans a month or so ago.  Sadly though, the soil seems to have stayed a bit damp up what this year is the broad bean end of the garden, and the dampness has brought on some kind of fungal rust that seems not to want to go away.  Well, we got lots of nice flowers anyway.  Red ones and white ones.  If we’re lucky we might get some beans in the next month or so.

Crimson flowering broad beans.

Anyway, winter is officially behind us, although you can be sure of a few more cold days and miserable weather still to come before we’re truly into spring.  Don’t plant your seedlings yet!

Some of next years tomatoes, squash, pumpkins and zucchini, waiting for the ground to warm up a bit.

Next weekend I’m heading back to Inverloch with Ridewiser and co.  Unlike the last trip to Inverloch, next weekend’s ride is a bit longer – 350 km over two days.  Tomorrow is my last long ride in preparation and will be 102 km in the Dandenongs, plus the 60 km there and back again.  To keep track of all this activity I recently “invested” in a new bike computer.  (Tip:  an investment is something that feeds you, as the guru once said.  When I can figure out a way to get my new bike computer to pay dividends I promise that I’ll let you know.)

My new Garmin I had to have it.  I mean, ALL my friends had one…..

With luck and good management there will be good photos to post of the upcoming rides and I’ll feel justified in adding new posts.  In the mean time, let us bid farewell once more to our old friend Winter.  The friend whose company we don’t always enjoy, but without whom there would be no renewal.  In its place, let us welcome the Spring.

And one last thing.  I said there wasn’t much in the last few months that was blogworthy, and of course I was being untrue.  There’s been lots to crow about.   It’s just that one doesn’t always want to be crowing.  However, there is one thing that appeared in my life, unbidden, just recently that would go straight to the pool room, were it not so wonderfully useful.  It fits in the hand just so, it has a kind of heft that defies description, and like so many useful additions to one’s life, it has more than its share of titanium.  Best of all, check out the engraving:

The kind of surgical instrument that no self respecting titanium-bike-riding-blog-writing-veterinarian should be without.

Many thanks to Rosstickle for these fine needle drivers!


Inverloch – the E280.

Greatness is a road leading towards the unknown. – Charles de Gaulle.

Yesterday I managed to do what I had previously feared I would be unable to do.  Today I feel pretty good about it!

Yesterday was the Annual Ridewiser Enduro 280 km challenge, from Mordialloc to Inverloch and back again, which has been the focus of some intensive last minute training for me over the last few weeks.  280km was further than I have taken a bike in a single day, so the distance itself was daunting.  Avoiding the main roads as much as possible the route took in many secondary and tertiary back roads, including several sections of dirt and gravel.  Here’s the route: http://www.mapmyride.com/routes/fullscreen/84626623/

But equally as daunting as the route and the distance is the company I would be keeping.  This ride is pitched at A and B grade club racers only, and the pace would surely be on from the start.  Would I keep up, or would I get spat out the back and ignominiously scooped up by the sag wagon?  I was apprehensive. I’ve wanted to do this ride for the last three or four years.  Perhaps I’d have been keen to do it earlier than that, but I hadn’t heard of it, and the way I was riding back then I wasn’t about to get invited.  This year, for the first time, desire and timetable came together perfectly, and I registered about a month ago.

We met for a coffee and a pre-ride briefing at cafe in Mordialloc.  But even before the briefing there had been comprehensive ride notes emailed out.  Crowie has done this a lot of times, and there can’t be many people out there in the wide world that know how to organise a ride like this better than him.  This was seriously well planned, down to every last detail.

Mr. Robert Crowe OAM: cyclist - and loving it!

With the coffee fix taken care of and the last minute instructions delivered, we were off.  A gentle roll from Mordi down to Seaford to warm the legs up, and then a left turn.  Once away from the oh-so-familiar Beach road the pace started to pick up just a bit.  From Seaford there followed a bewildering sequence of twists and turns, as we left the main roads behind us.   And soon the gravel sectors began.

That's me, having a blast on the clay.

Some were just small sections of roadworks along a straight section of bitumen, but others were full-on dirt roads.  Some clay, some loose road metal, and I think we hit just about all of them at 40km/h, and when you hit the loose stuff at that speed, here’s what happens:

All the lights go on!  Every nerve in your body goes to full alert, and every ounce of concentration goes to the business at hand.  The handle bars are shaking like a jackhammer in your hands, the wheels are dancing across the road, and every tiny drift of gravel threatens to turn your world upside down.

The first of the flat tyres was there on that first gravel sector.  After that the hits just kept on coming.  Flat after flat claimed rider after rider, and both the Sag Wagon and the motor bike riding support were working overtime swapping out wheels or helping with tube changes, and bringing riders back to the bunch.   A few riders left some tiny bits of skin on some of those dirt roads, but none so bad that they couldn’t keep riding.

Closing in on Inverloch we turned left for the biggest climb of the day, up to the top of a hill called Krowera.  Seven or so kilometers of mostly up.  If they  were giving out KOM points down to 4th place, then I’d have scored!  What we didn’t realise as we topped the summit was that more skin had been lost on the road behind us, and we sat and waited for five or ten minutes before the back markers came through.

Waiting at Krowera summit.

My own flat came a little later, just near the end of the last gravel sector.  A frantic tyre change followed, and then the  long haul back to the bunch.  I was joined by one other rider for the chase. Unfortunately we took a wrong turn (my fault) and we added a short sharp climb and an extra kilometre or so to the chase.  Even when the motor bike finally found us to pace us back there was no way we would catch the bunch before the lunch stop at Inverloch.

A note about motor pacing:

It is awesome.  It is like heroin on a bike, and I want more.   You sit behind the motor bike, protected from the wind, cranking along at 50+ km/h, and it feels nearly effortless.  Unfortunately, sitting behind the guy behind the motor bike isn’t so great, and it’s easy to drop off the back if you’re not careful.  And damn near impossible to catch back on if the nice man on the motor bike doesn’t slow down for a moment.  I’ve never experienced this before, and I didn’t realise how hard it was for the rider behind to stick to your wheel when you’re floating along behind the motor bike.

The two of us and the motor bike arrived in Inverloch sometime after the bunch.  No-one would give us a straight answer as to exactly how long that ‘sometime’ was.   Oooh, about half an hour was about the best response I could get.  Couldn’t have been more than a few minutes, surely!

Lunch was great, but even greater was a fresh change of clothes.  Of with the sweaty stuff, on with the clean, dry lemon-ie fresh stuff and it could have been the start of a ride, not the middle of an epic.  Not long out of Inverloch came the last big climb of the day, and it’s one that I’ve done lots of times in years gone by.  I’m pleased to report that it doesn’t seem to be nearly as steep as it was when I first did it five or six years ago, but it’s still a climb.  This time they could have been giving out KOM points down to the first 10 places and I think I’d have missed out.  Blame it on the chase before lunch.  Or lunch.  Or something.

Half way up the last big climb and drifting backwards through the bunch...

Missing out on the KOM points. Bunch? What bunch?

After that it was really just the long road back home.  Sure, there was some good stuff.  The road from Beena to Poowong must be one of the prettiest in that part of the world, and the road from Poowong heading north had its own magic.  But after the 200 km mark I for one started to see less of the scenery, and more of the strange inner workings of my body and mind.

Shoulder cramp.  Ouch – go away.  Thirsty.  Song stuck in my head – get out!  Legs are tired, surely I can’t keep doing this.  I’ll miss my next turn at the front.  Tired, tired, tired.  Sag wagon.  What a seductive thought.  But NO, imagine the disappointment.  Keep pedalling.  Pedalling.  Why am I doing this anyway?  What am I trying to prove, for goodness sake?  And then, just in time, a scheduled rest stop at Koo Wee Rup.  A cold can of soft drink, a bottle of water, a slice of fruit cake and all was well with the world again.  Back on the bike for the last 50 km home.

The support van, and the amazing Leanne.

And so it was, as the shadows lengthened and the long day drew to a close, a couple of dozen cyclists made their orderly way back up Beach Road.  To the casual observer we would have looked just like any other bunch of cyclists, I suppose.  Except that maybe the flashing yellow light on the Ridewiser van might have alerted those passers-by to the fact that we were somehow different.  Not just a group of riders back from a late afternoon cruise down the bay, but a bunch of heroes back from an epic day, doing battle with roads, hills and inner demons.

Or maybe we were just a group of cyclists.

I wonder why we did it?

Happy ending!

Lest you didn’t already sense it from my previous words, I should state this clearly for the record.  This day wouldn’t have been possible without the amazing skills, knowledge and experience of four people:

Crowie, Leanne and the amazing Andy LeLievre on the motor bike.  That’s three.  The fourth is each of the other riders pictured above, behind whose wheel we all sat many times during the day.

It really did happen. Average speed I'm told was 32km/h.

Photo credits:  none of the photos in this post are mine.  Many come from Crowie’s phone, shot over his shoulder as he rides along.  Others have been stolen from the Twitter feeds of fellow riders.  You know who you are.

Autumn training

This morning I’ve been riding up in the Dandenongs, soaking up the glorious autumn sunshine, breathing in the fresh air and all that stuff.   I like to ride up in the Dandenongs.  It’s generally quieter and there’s less traffic than other parts of Melbourne, and there are some cool hills to go up, which is of course, a Good Thing.

What you missed this morning...

What you missed this morning...

But my ride this morning had a slight air of urgency about it.  A bit like cramming for an exam at the last minute.  You see, I’d decided earlier this year to have a bit of a break from the bike and to concentrate on other things.  And quite right too, I hear you say.  Nothing wrong with that.

But then my good friend and cycling coach Mr.  Rob Crowe reminded me that his annual ride to Inverloch and back was on again, and I suddenly found myself conflicted.  I’ve wanted to join him for this 280km ride each year for the last few years, and each year I’ve been unable to do so because of work or other commitments.  This year the diary said that I was allowed to go, but would I make it?

To cover 280km in one day is a big ask, and to do so in the company of people like (Olympian) Mr. Crowe and his super-fit coterie is another thing.  So I’ve been rather frantically grinding away at the cranks these last 2 weeks or so.  Cramming.

And what better place to cram than the Dandenongs?  And what better time of year than Autumn?

Grapes on the eastern side of the ranges.

You can’t see it in this photo very well, but right over on the right hand side of the image there is a tractor lying idle, and near by there is a person doing something with these grapes.  Picking them, talking to them, polishing them.  I have no idea what.  But some kind of grape-growing farmer kind of activity.  The point is – what a great workplace!  Now there might be some days later in the year when the southerly is blowing a gale and the rain is driving in horizontally, and this mightn’t seem like such a cozy workplace after all.  But on this autumn day it takes some beating, doesn’t it?

The obligatory dirt section.

To get from Selby to Monbulk you go through a quaint little place called The Patch.  From The Patch you can stay on the bitumen like all the boring riders, or you take take a ride on the ever-so-slightly-wilder side.  How’s the serenity?

After the obligatory dirt section, it’s time for the obligatory coffee stop.  Once upon a time the Dandenongs, like the rest of rural Victoria, was probably relatively sparsely populated, and mostly by serious, no-nonsense farmer types who made their own tea in pots, and drank it at home in front of the wood-fired stove.  These days the Dandenongs, like the rest of rural Victoria, is dotted, nay crammed, with gourmet eateries, cafes, patisseries, bakeries, coffee shops and other assorted wankeries, and that simple pot of tea has given way to a special house blend of single origin fair-trade coffee beans locally roasted and freshly ground and lovingly squeezed through an imported Italian espresso machine that costs more than your car.  Hell, the coffee machine costs more than most high-end carbon road bikes!

What could possibly go wrong?

And it occurred to me that all would be well.  If I divide my life into little individual sealed compartments it’ll all be fine!  A compartment for work, a compartment for riding and training, another one for home and family, and so on.  Then 280 km Melb-Inverloch-Melb will be a doddle!  What could possibly go wrong?

Bright, Audax Alpine Classic, 2012.

I’ve dragged my family up to Bright for the last few years for a long weekend so that I can have some company.  The reason for my visit is the annual Audax Alpine Classic.  The reason my family comes along is simply that I asked them, I suppose, but over the years they’ve found stuff to do in and around Bright which keeps them coming back each year.

Authentic Bright magpies

This year the boys and I drove up on Australia day, leaving Liz and Zoe at home to attend a funeral.  On the way up we stopped at Avenel for a little bit of pizza.  But not just any pizza.  Quite a while ago someone I  know went and bought himself a bit of real estate in Avenel, with the intention of turning it into a Wood Fired Pizzeria.  It’s been a long road for Callum, but it finally bore fruit when he opened his doors for the very first time on Australia Day.

I wouldn’t normally abuse the enormous reach and power of this blog to plug a friend’s business, and you have no idea the number of offers that I knock back each and every day from people wanting my endorsement.  But in this case I just have to make an exception.  If ever you are in Avenel you just have to call in and check this place out.

Which is a pretty daft thing to say, since the chances of you ever being in Avenel are slim indeed.  So let me rephrase it.  Go out of your way and call in to Avenel and find your way through it’s not-quite-straightforward street layout to Bank Street.  Don’t do it on just any day, though, because at this stage I think they are only open on Friday nights and weekends.   But go.  It’ll be well worth it.

Bank Street Pizzeria

There probably won’t be a vintage car parked out the front, and unless you go on Australia day as we did, there probably won’t be so many Australian flags getting about the place either.  And since Jack and Harry and I were already their very first customers you’ll miss out on that honour as well.  But still, GO.

Check them out here if you must, but GO!

Perhaps you’ll be on your way to Bright one day….

Where you can swim in the river if it’s a hot day.

The public swimming area in the Ovens River, Bright.

This is a photo from a year ago, and it must not have been that hot, or maybe it was just early in the morning.  When the weather warms up this becomes a very busy part of the river.  So much so that you would drive up the road a distance to find a quieter spot on the river, if only you knew where to find it.

Chinaman's swimming hole.

There are no sign posts, no directions and no indications that this swimming hole exists.  It’s a short drive from the main road along some pretty rough tracks, and even on a scorching hot day (as this day was) it’s not so busy.

Diving off the cliff

It’s hard to show in a photograph, but at the bottom of the cliff the water is very deep.  And this year, unlike in previous years, the water was very clear.  If you’re brave you can jump off the cliff and into the water below.

And if you’ve had enough of swimming and diving off cliffs, there’s always the majestic mountains in every direction.

Sunrise over Mt Bogong, from Tawonga Gap.

For the Australia day weekend each year the town of Bright is taken over by cyclists, who descend on the place for the annual Alpine Classic.  Some of us ride the “classic” 200km route each year, some take the shorter options, and a growing number of hardy souls enrol for the aptly named Alpine Classic Extreme 250 km event.

The 200km event starts in Bright and heads over Tawonga gap and down to Mount Beauty, then climbs up to the Falls Creek village.  From Falls Creek the ride returns by the same route to Bright, and then up Mount Buffalo and back.  It’s a long way.  But the road is covered with cyclists, there is a great atmosphere and there is lots of support including water and food stops along the way.  Actually, you should try it next year.

A light hearted moment at the start line.

In keeping with the French origins of the Audax cycing organisation the start line always has a bit of a French theme, and the event village is like a little bit of Paris each year.  This charming woman in her French maid’s outfit has been on the start line each year that I’ve lined up, along wit an Inspector Clouseau character, keeping the humour up.

They are used to cyclists in this part of the world.

This always seems an odd sign to me.  By their very nature cyclists tend to share the road, whether it be with other cyclists, or with thundering big trucks.  To my mind the sign should say Motorists:  Share the road!


Donna Buang

A few things of note today:
1.  The first time that the Australian Cycling Road National Championships were telecast live on the telly.

2.  The 100th anniversary of Mawson’s expedition landing at what is now called Commonwealth Bay.

3.  I went for a ride.

Of these three things, the obvious one about which to blog is the ride that I went on this morning.  The other stuff you can just google.  But if you can’t be bothered, let me tell you that Simon Gerrans won an exciting and engrossing race from Matty Lloyd and Richie Porte.  These three managed an average speed of 39.5 km/hr over the approximately 160 km of racing.  Just how mortal humans on un-powered bikes manage this is hard to fathom.  Gerrans was riding for the newly formed Green Edge team – the first Australian team to be granted a licence to compete at the highest level of the sport.

And as for the Antarctica thing, there is a commemorative expedition on its way south as I type, which was supposed to arrive in Commonwealth Bay today, but which has unfortunately been delayed by bad weather.  When they get there, they will be able to stay in the hut that Mawson built 100 years ago, which is actually just a bit amazing.

Anyway, about that ride.

It’s now only a few weeks until the Audax Alpine Classic, and as in previous years I will be lining up at 6.20 am for the 200 km “classic” ride, trying again to complete that distance in under 7 hours.  My best effort to date is 7 hours 20 minutes, the year before last.   As part of this year’s preparation, I spent this morning out in the wind and the rain doing two things.  The first of these, an on-going project, is the careful crafting of justifications should I take longer than 7 hours to cross the line.

My preparation has been interrupted by a few things.

I’ve only recently stopped taking those antibiotics from that tonsillitis that I had.

I could have trained harder, but I chose to spend more time with my family.

I must have eaten something…

You know the kind of thing.  If I fall short in my quest this year, you can be sure that it won’t be for lack of raw cycling talent.  Nor will it be because of a lack of power, nor inferior legs.  And most importantly it won’t be because my goal is actually out of my reach.  There will most certainly be some kind of mitigating factor.   The important thing at this stage is to identify all the mitigating factors which might be in play, and store them in some way to be pulled out as circumstances demand.

Anyway, still hoping at this stage to leave all those excuses behind, I’m out there riding, clocking up the miles, and looking for hills to climb that will prepare me for the Victorian alps come the end of this month.  Today I climbed Donna Buang a couple of times.   I rode out to Warburton and climbed Donna with a friend last month, just before that bout of tonsillitis, but the problem with riding out there is not just the distance, it’s the road to Warburton.  It’s not very bike friendly.

So today I did something terrible.  I drove out to Warburton.  There.  I said it.

Once there I rode up the hill a few times, and then I drove home.  What else is there to say?  Well, I could leave it at that, but if a life is worth living, it’s worth recording, isn’t that what they say? *  So here’s what happened while I was riding today:

The climb up Donna Buang is surely a cyclist’s dream come true.  It’s 17km of uphill at an almost constant gradient the whole way. You can get some idea of this here.  The road is lined with fern trees and huge mountain ash trees towering up to the skies.  On a hot day it’s always a bit cooler on this road, and it gets cooler the higher you go.

*  Please excuse this premature foot note.  Whilst it might be true that a life worth living is a life worth recording, it is not necessarily true that it is worth your time to read about that life worth living.  Just so you know.

17kms of up. What every cyclist needs.

Cool wasn’t what was needed today, though.  Whilst it was a bit muggy, it certainly wasn’t scorchingly hot.  And it wasn’t quite dry, either.  Showers clearing was what the weather bureau was telling me, and that’s exactly what appeared to be happening as I set out from Warby.  Sure, the road was wet.  Sure, it was muggy and overcast.   But it sure looked like “showers clearing”.

It’s nice when the sun shines, and it’s wonderful when the clouds disappear.  But when the clouds are hanging low, and the mist is threatening to close in, and all around is wet, there’s a kind of magic in the air.  Not to mention an overpowering amount of green-ness.   So it was today.

The road is black-ish. But there's a vivid green edge...

Apart from all the greenery the side of the road was populated with a very healthy number of lyre birds.  Perhaps it was the weather that brought them out.  Or the absence of any traffic on the road.  Whatever it was, there were gobloads of them, fossicking around on the sides of the road.  Mostly in pairs, but sometimes alone, and occasionally in groups of three.  With so many of them to be seen, you’re probably thinking that I’ll have some fantastic pictures, but alas, my poxy phone camera doesn’t do them justice at all.

So you’ll have to settle for this, which is a close approximation.

Supposedly the name points to the similarity between the bird’s tail and the Lyre, that stringed harpy thing that Cacofonix played in every Asterix book.  But of course that’s just a Furphy.  The true etymology is obvious.  For example, there was this one bird, as I passed him, who sang an elaborate song that went like this:  “when you get to the top the sun will be shining and the rain will stop, and soon enough the road will dry out as well”, which he repeated a few times in quick succession, with a voice something like a cross between Bear Grylls and Mae West.   As if that wasn’t a deliberate pork pie.

This is what it looked like when I got to the top:

I figured “showers clearing” meant that the second time around the summit photo might be a bit more inspiring, but alas it was not to be.  The only sense in which you could accurately say “showers clearing” this morning was that in which showers clear in order to make way for a kind of rain which is heavier than mere showers.

Which is actually OK on the way up the hill.  But it sucks the big one on the way down.  On the descent the rain drops hit your face like little needles, and sting your eyes like…. like eye stinging things.  And the water on the road sprays up and drenches your feet, and your brakes don”t work properly, and you’re either squinting to see through fogged up glasses with water streaming all over them, or you’re squinting without the glasses, trying to catch a glimpse of the road between cornea lacerating rain drops.

Which of course, is all part of the awesome FUN of being a cyclist, as opposed to merely riding a bike.  My eyes are still stinging.

Anyway, that was my ride this morning.  Unfortunately I’m either not capable of taking good photos with my iPhone, or my iPhone isn’t up to the job.  Otherwise I’d have pictures of lyre birds, rosellas, stunning greenery, furious creeks and rivers and all that kind of stuff.  Perhaps I should take my handle bar camera off the MTB and put it on the road bike.  Still wouldn’t be able to take pictures of me, though.  Which is a shame.   Because a camera in front of me this morning would have snapped a picture that looks something like this:

Only with greener edges.