Monday, 29 April 2013

The Mawson Wrap-up... Finally

"So are you Arran?"


"You'd be the bloke we're looking for then."

"I figure so..."

... and so my Mawson Mega Marathon attempt came to an end, on the side of a muddy road between Hallet and Burra.  Standing there surrounded by sodden gear wearing my very fancy undies (a present from Lisa who had returned form overseas the day before I left) and a woollen undershirt shirt (mmm merino).

But this is the end - what about the beginning?

So, when I first put up the facebook event and Blog there was initially a lot of interest but gradually as the time got closer, the list whittled down to 5 brave souls...





and although not a starter (this year)... our super volunteer driver - Stevo!

Oh and of course yours truly (sorry... compulsory selfie shot!)

A small crew but with Liam being the first home at the recent Great Dividing Trail ride and Jesse being rumoured to be even faster... the talk was of a sub 3 day run to Adelaide.  After all, it's pretty much flat... hah!  All were using this as a bit of a test run for Tour Divide with Jesse, Liam and I planning on heading over this year while Beth and Seb are aiming for 2014.  A small field but a quality one.

At this point, its time to mention my nominee for Mountain Biker of the year... Steve Partridge.  Blinman (the race start) is about a 7 hour drive from Adelaide so getting to the start is a bit of a mission... there's only one bus and up until a couple of weeks before the event it was looking like we were organising a charter and with 5 people that was going to be expensive!

Enter Stevo... he got in contact with me thought Facebook and basically offered to pick up the crew at the airport and then drive us to the start.  All we had to do was organise a bus... easy.  At the time he was planning on hitting up the awesome trails in Melrose on the way back but as it turned out he needed to be back for his daughters birthday....

So... he picked up a group of strangers from the airport... drove them to the middle of nowhere and helped us unpack and set up bikes... had a beer and something to eat then drove home again.  Amazing.  The MTB community often surprises me with its generosity but this was well as truly beyond the pale.  Next year Steve you better be on the start line!

After much bike faffing and a fitful nights sleep... (mosquitoes... a room for of MTB-ers who had been carb loading all day and well, Liam coming down with a cold)... it was soon time for the not-so-grand depart... well after the boys have completed their morning yoga routine!

Quick pre-race photo and we were off!

The route starts with a 20km ride along the main (ok... only...) road out of Blinman and at this point all those geared bikes just disappeared into the distance.  Oh well.  At least on the singlespeed you don;t feel the need to play racer boy games!

The first 180km of this ride is amazing - some of the most spectacular country I've ridden through and despite the lack of serious climbs there is certainly enough here to make me glad that I was running around about the 32:20 ratio!  I was sure glad of it during the raging headwinds that made the drag into Hawker (the 180km mark and dinner!) a bit of a test of the legs!

I ran into Beth at the local pub - I'd caught back up to her at Wilpena Pound only to have her ride past as a repaired a slashed sidewall then catch again as she repaired a flat on the way into Hawker!  She was coming in as I was attempting to eat my way through an over generous dinner order but after a little chat I was on my way and headed out into the dark.

I had a rough idea of riding until about 10pm or so which would give me a good 6 hours or so rest before heading out again the next morning.  As night fell the wind dropped down and I just rode on through the night.  The Supernova dynamo setup had proved flawless - my Garmin Edge 810 was fully charged and now it was dark even on the SS I was having no trouble maintaining a pretty steady pace well about the 14km/h required for the full 800 lumens.

The section from Hawker to Melrose... well... I've never actually seen it as both this time and at the Mawson Marathon I rode it in the dark but it feels pretty boring - all gravel road and no real hills to stretch the legs.  Just ticking it over in the dark and making the miles.  Actually I was feeling so good that 10pm crept up on me and it was a bit of an effort to break the rhythm and find somewhere to sleep!

A lack of trees saw me find a little spot amongst the salt bushes beside the road and as it was a clear night I just pulled out the Bivy (all 122g of Borah Bivy) and had a great nights sleep under the stars.  Awesome.

My alarm went off at 4:30 the next morning and I was on and on the road well before 5 - actually I was too early as the plan of getting something to eat in Quorn  turned out to be a bit of a fail as nothing was happening at 7am when I rolled in.  Oh well... I was prepared for that and rolled on to Wilmington where the need for bacon was satisfied!

After brekky I rolled on to Melrose and decided that I'd replace the rear tyre I'd slashed outside of Wilpena Pound.  As I pulled in to Over the Edge Sports I was amazed to be greeted with a hearty cheer - turns out they'd had the tracker running and knew I was about to roll in!  Quick tyre change and a pastry and I was on my way. 

At this point I made a slight error... I knew Laura was about 60km away and there was an IGA there  so rather than resupply at the small Melrose general store I decided to push on.  

Well... I got to Laura at about 3pm... to find the IGA closed at 2.  As did pretty much everything else (the races are on didn'tcha know?).

Oh well, I still had food and figured that I'd be able to get something at the roadhouse in Spalding - oh that is if it hadn't burnt down about 3 months ago :(  Hmm... the food supplies were getting low but I figured that I had plenty to get me through until 11 or so the next morning which when I figured I'd be hitting Burra (and I had the smaller town of Hallet to ride through where there might be something as well).

The ride from Melrose through Laura and on to Spalding is spectacular - you ride through some amazing trails through the Wirraba Forest and Bundaleer Forest reserves.  For a change this was off the  gravel roads and even off fire-trails and on to double track.  By now it was dark and although the dark robbed me of being able to get a good look at my surroundings, the thrill of riding through a deserted forest in the dark more than made up for it!  Although even for a Southern Brevet Gate Opening veteran like myself there was a lot of faffing about as the trail traverses a large number of property boundaries!

The last 10km into Spalding is along an old Water Race - this is a bit of an engineering feet and would be worth stoping to take a look at... well... if you're not in mile munching mode that is!

I rolled through Spalding and rolled on towards Hallet - at this point the wind had sprung up and as I would later discover, this section between Spalding and Burra was the hilliest of the route.

Eventually 10pm rolled on and I found myself bereft of good bivy spots and eventually stashed myself under the first reasonably sized tree I could find!

Not a bad second day, close to 270 covered and I was still feeling pretty good!  Once more the night looked fine and so I just hunkered down in my bivy to sleep.

Well, I got woken up at about 3am by howling winds and rain on my face (through the bivy bug netting).  My bivy is water resistant but I knew it might not hold up well to more of a downpour so grabbed my tent and pulled it over me and tried to get another hour in.

This was a pretty futile gesture as the wind made keeping the tent in place almost impossible.  As I was lying there deciding to what to do, I saw a light cutting through the gloom.  It was Beth catching me while I was sleeping!  Oh well... at this point there was no doubt... the WWSD rule was applied and I got up and packed in the rain.  Ripping my sleeping gear drybag in the process.  Oh and the rain was getting steadily worse.

By the time I got going I was a bit wet and cold - I was wearing all of the warm / wet weather gear that I had (woollen shirt, jersey, arm-warmers, wind vest and a rain jacket) but I felt pretty good and headed off into the rain and howling headwind.

So it turns out that all that red soil turns to glue once it gets more than a sprinkle on it!  More than once I ended up going sideways down a slope as both wheels simultaneously lost traction.  Not only that but I wasn't really moving fast enough to clear the mud from the tyres and was clogging up the rear triangle with the stuff.  Luckily the route switched between red soil tracks and decent road base gravel roads where the tyres would have a chance to clear.

Through this I was steadily following Beth's tracks and was pretty confident that I'd catch her and at least have some company.  Although at this point whilst I was cold, the number of hills meant that I was at least keeping a bit warm.  However I lost her track at some point and figured that she must have stopped at some point (I later found out that she'd found a sneaky verandah bivvy spot at an abandoned farmhouse - Jealous!).

I rolled into Hallet after about 2 hours in the slop... muddy, a bit tired but the legs felt good and although I got a bad case of the shivers when I stopped to get more water, while I was moving I felt ok.

So, at this point I made a dumb decision and headed out on the dirt road to Burra 80km away... ignoring the signs advising that it was a dry weather road.  I'll say it again.  Dumb.

I made it about 30km into this section until I hit a long section of clay which filled up my rear triangle and popped the belt off... this isn't a massive problem in an off itself but I did need to clear the belt.  TO do this I needed to use my water bottles.  However, the rain, howling wind, low ambient temperature (3'C) and lack of any cover combined with wet clothes sucked the heat out of me very quickly and I was shaking so badly I could barely squeeze the water bottle let alone aim it effectively to clean a 11mm wide belt!

There were some trees on the horizon so after using a sheep bone to clear some of the mud so the bike would at least roll (I kid you not!) I pushed up to the small clump of trees and somehow managed to pitch my tent, get my sleeping gear out (which had managed not to get completely sodden despite the destroyed dry bag) and huddle up to try and get warm.

After lying there for an hour or so I made the decision to activate the beacon... I was running low on food (see dumb decision 1) and had used up more than 1/2 of my water trying to clear the belt.  Whilst I was warm(ish) and dry(ish) I wasn't sure how long that would last - especially if the rain continued.

Hence a lovely conversation in my underwear with the local copper from Claire some 4 1/2 hours later!

Once I was back in civilisation I learnt that the front had caught everyone out - even Jesse with less than 100km to go had decided that the time to complete wasn't worth it!  Beth had bivvied in a farm house and pulled the pin at Hallet, Seb had pulled the pin in Burra having caught the beginning of the storm on his way in and Liam had pulled out earlier succumbing to a cold.

So, 5 starters and a 0% success rate.  A failure?

Far from it - if anything it has reinforced the real difficulties of the sport we do.  If it all goes well then you carry a bunch of gear that you never use but as the Mawson showed me... when things go wrong you need that stuff.  Even on a route which we'd all dismissed as a bit of a flat road smashfest!

Personally, the ride was intended to be a bit of a shakedown for Tour divide and it sure has done that!  Physically I was ok with the distances (250km+ is probably slightly more than the daily distances I'm looking for on TDR) but.  I need to work through some gear choices (I pretty much had all of my warm stuff with me - its not like I left a bunch of winter stuff at home!).  I also need to think about making sure I take the opportunity to resupply when its on offer as it really cuts into your margin of error!

So thats the Mawson for 2013.  I've had some thoughts about 2014 although the Munda Bindi track in WA is calling!

Monday, 22 April 2013

I say NO to compulsory gear lists for Thru-Riding events...

Ok, the Mawson Mega Marathon write up is coming which has all the gory details but thought as I've got my own personal soapbox set up then I may as well use it...

There is a discussion thread in the Bikepacking Austral Group on Facebook discussing the merits of compulsory gear lists for thru-riding events (point A to B with an emphasis on speed - just to differentiate it from general 'bikepacking') and rather than write a long response I thought I would put a reasoned argument here and then link to it!

So, as the title says... no I'm not really a fan of the concept - with the exception that I think if you do one of these things and don't carry a Personal Locator Beacon (e.g. SPOT tracker) of some sort then you are, well, stupid.

To date there are three pretty serious bikepacking / thru-riding events that people have hosted... the HuRT (320km ish) BigHuRT (750km or so) in the Hunter Valley, the GDT Race (380km) in Victoria and the Mawson Mega Marathon (870km) in SA.  All of these have had pretty significant failure rates - only 2 people have ever finished the BigHuRT, the MMM had a 100% failure rate and it was about 50% for the GDT.  Given the failure rates then it is perhaps understandable to question whether people are pushing the boundaries of gear / safety in the pursuit of speed and perhaps there is some need for regulation etc to improve this and make the events perhaps more accessible.

My perspective as an organiser (the MMM was 'my' idea) and as someone who has used their beacon when I've gotten into trouble (twice - although Southern Brevet in NZ didn't actually result in search and rescue attendance) is that gear lists can lull you into a false sense of security and may actually do more harm than good!  'Huh?!' you might say... 'why?'

Ok, so lets be clear about what we're talking about here.  These 'events' are not really aimed at newbies - its a endurance test and pretty far away from the concepts about getting and enjoying just being in the great outdoors.  I love that stuff as well but thru-riding is keeping yourself (and kit) going almost beyond where it becomes fun.  There is a reason why the motto of the Tour Divide is 'Eat, Sleep, Ride'.  On any of these events that is what is going on... no stopping to enjoy the vista... no side detours to check out that interesting diversion.  Follow the route, do the miles, find food, find somewhere to sleep and repeat.

I've been a trip leader / organiser for a number of 'organised' bikepacking trips for newbie friends and commercial companies and we ABSOLUTELY have a minimum packing list - it ensures that everyone has at least  basic set of equipment and we're assuming that some people may not know what that is.  If you're fronting up to ride the Mawson trail in sub 3 days... I assume you have a fairly good idea about what you're doing...

As a side note, one of the things I did do (and I know the organiser of the GDT event did as well) was get in contact with people who 'signed up' to the event who I didn't already know to ensure that they knew what they were getting in to.  I have about 5 people on the MMM who initially signed up and then backed out once they realised what it was about.

So, back to the packing list.

I think that having a packing list to follow does 3 things:
  1. It encourages a false sense of security - i.e. I have all of the gear the organiser said I must take so therefore I am going to be prepared and everything will be ok.  This leads me to:
  2. It transfers the responsibility from you (the rider) to the organiser... 'I got into trouble and I followed your list so it's all your fault'.  Even if it doesn't end badly it is the first step down that path.  I think the emphasis should be that it's your experience, your decisions and you need to live with the consequences... a novel concept in today's society!  finally:
  3. Packing lists are a constant source of rule bending... for instance, the first Mawson race had a pretty specific list of items you had to take (as do things like the Ottway Odyssey) and what those who want to go fast do is take the list and work out how to follow the letter of the law and not the intent... for instance... it says you need to carry a spare tyre? At the first Mawson, some carried a 700*38 road tyre... not perhaps what the organiser meant!
I think all that DNF'd from these events would say that it wasn't equipment that let them down but more to do with human error - compounded by the pressures of the need to do the miles and general tiredness that imperceptibly messes with your decision making ability.

On the recent MMM, the errors were all mine.  I chose to ride in the rain for 6 hours into horizontal headwinds.  Yes, more 'robust' gear may have helped but as it was I had a thermal shirt, wind vest, thick arm-warmers and a rain shell as well as a bandanna under my helmet but lets face it... 6 hours in the rain in driving wind is going t make you dangerously wet and cold no matter what happens.

It was also my decision, when I was wet and cold and tired, to head out on a road that was clearly signposted as dry weather only without a good understanding of what hard rain was likely to do to the road surface.  I also stupidly tried to ride even though the drivetrain was clogging up which resulted in forward progress ceasing.

Probably the _most_ sensible decision I made was to know I was done and use my beacon to get help.  I realised I had exceeded my limits and had perhaps gone past the point of no return.  Not an ideal situation but better than the alternative.

Now, had I been carrying a small fuel stove, some coffee, dehydrated food etc then maybe I would have just settled in to have a cuppa, eat some warm food and just waited until I felt better and once the weather had cleared then made another (more concerted) attempt to get the bike working or failing than simply try and walk out (although in this case the rain kept up until the small hours of Monday morning...).  So is the solution that everyone should carry a fuel stove and emergency 'I need my mum' supplies?

No, the thing is to not make the bad decisions in the first place but also, carry the insurance (i.e. Spot tracker) just in case you do!

The other point here is that packing lists are not (and should not be) a secret - most of us blog about our gear and there's a ton of information about what we (and others) carry.  Its up to the individual to make some sensible decisions about what to take and when pushing on is crossing the line between 'tough' and 'unachievable'.  Its a lesson that I'm still trying to learn obviously!

Now, I know a few people who do carry more gear (stoves etc) and still do just fine in these things... once again, its personal choice - I don't judge the choices they're making.  If these things are as much about the experience as the achievement then however you choose to experience it is up to you.

Well, rant over and I guess I'll post this now and let the flames commence!

Thursday, 14 March 2013

GDT 2013... Legde.. end... wait for it... ary!

Wow wow wow wow... I think Australian bikepacking events came of age this weekend (sorry HuRT guys...).

I'm going to apologise in advance for the lack of pics... was a bit busy though!

But I seem to have skipped to the end...

After the BigHuRT there was much talk about 'what's next'... with various plans being made for Tour Divide, Colarado Trail Race, Arizona Trail Race and a whole bunch of other random bikebacking adventures overseas it was generally agreed that more events at home were a necessity.... even if for no other reason than to train for these iconic overseas races.

Enter Ryan Hawson - he was pretty quick off the mark with the suggestion of an event on the Great Dividing Trail in Victoria.  The ride would start in Bendigo and run through Castlemain, Daylesford, Ballarat, Bacchus Marsh then back to Daylesford and finishing in Castlemain.  In a fit of enthusiasm and peer pressure I signed up last year and then promptly forgot all about it!

Well, forgot is the wrong word... perhaps failed to engage is a better description?  I knew it was on... I had booked flights but I hadn't really gotten into it - studied the route (think I only downloaded it the day or so before the ride!), worked out a 'strategy'... decided what I was going to take etc.  Luckily Ryan had posted a little set of cheat notes onto facebook so I entered these in as waypoints on the GPS file and promptly forgot about it.

Luckily Fenz had remembered and this was structured into my programme so at least the legs were ready... and with two weekends on the trot putting in big hours bikepacking I reckoned I'd be able to handle most stuff.  Hmmm.  Well, at least with a couple of weekends of riding in truly awful weather in NSW would prepare me for a standard weekend in Victoria!


I flew in Melbourne and caught up with Ollie (yes, 2012 TDR winner Ollie Whalley) and Ross Cairns at the airport as we were all getting a lift with Ryan to the Bendigo Bush Cabins where we were staying before the start.  Best of all, this was also home to the Bush Pig Inn - awesome.  Spending the night before a big ride in a dodgy pub... those weekends riding out of Lithgow were really paying off!

To say the nights sleep was sh*thouse... was probably overstating the comfort - Victoria was in the middle of a heatwave there was a room full of carb loading mountain bikers as well as about 10,000 mosquitos.  I remember lying there wondering if anyone would notice if I just slippe dout and started early?  Its what Stamstad would have done...

Finally the various alarms went off and it was time to go.  Some last minute bike fettling and we were all off for the short ride to Bendigo Train Station and the 'Grand Depart'.  the Coles at Bendigo ended up with a hoard of hungry MTB riders scouring the aisles looking for breakfast and trail provisions... my person win was noticing that the cheese and bacon buns had just come out of the oven and then ignoring the protestations of the bakers ('they're too hot!') and scoring some fresh warm brekky!

Finally it was time to depart - BigHuRT in 2012 had 7 brave starters and there were 16 'official starters for GDT 13 - looks like the bikepacking / ultra racing scene in Aust is alive and well!  (there were supposed to be 17 but a pre-ride shakedown incident incident involving a sleeping bag, a front wheel and a lengthy hospital stay resulted in a man down before we even started!

Perhaps it was in anticipation of what was to come but the first 2km of neutral start was pretty cruisey - even to the point of when we hit the actual start point it required some prompting for it all to get underway!  Probably the most relaxed start to any race I've seen!

Anyway, once we were underway it didn't take long for a couple of groups to form.  Ollie, Ross, Ryan and Liam quickly gapped the rest of us and disappeared whilst a second group including the single speeders, Courtney and Beth and a a few others settled in to enjoy the next 380km, behind us was yet another group with the few Cyclocross nutters and others.  All in all a fairly typical start to an event.

I rode along pretty happily with the group and managed to survive the suicide overtaking move as one of our number attempted to make an early break and chase down the lead group.  At this this point I was feeling pretty good and was really just happy to go with the flow.

The GDT out of Bendigo to Castlemain is pretty amazing  - a combination of single and double track that just seemed to go on forever with enough pinches to make it interesting but nothing really to taxing.  If this was the GDT ride then how easy was it going to be?

Our little group kept together for the first hour or so but somehow without planning it I found myself alone out front about 1/2 way to Castlemain.  Figuring I'd be caught I just kept riding and enjoying the trail.  It was pretty amazing riding - mostly double-track following an old water race with the odd steep pinch but easy to ride with plenty of time to enjoy the scenery.

As the trail got closer to Castlemain the navigation got a bit more difficult - lots of criss-crossing trails and whilst the GPS was stored in the trusty Garmin... sometimes it takes it a couple of hundred meters to work out that you're going the wrong way!  Added to this was some nasty thorny bushes (at the time of writing I still have some of these embedded in my knuckles somewhere!) so I was feeling a little frazzled as I rolled into Castlemain.

Still feeling good I just refilled with water and headed out on the trail to Daylesford.  This next section of singletrack was a bit of a nightmare - some steeped sections and multiple choices of track that all went roughly the same way.  Annoying.  Multiple navigation mishaps saw this section take an age and I was pretty glad to be back out on the gravel roads.  Although with the gravel came some hills!

I caught Aaron about an hour later and we pretty much rode together all the way into Daylesford - some of the steeped pinches here saw me engage the 'walking' gear on the Sheep and the temperature had climbed well into the mid to high 30's.

After not seeing any obvious 'fast-food' type outlets is Daylesford (apparently it's Australia's Spa capital - lots of lovely looking cafe's but not much in the way of 'feed smelly biker quick' stuff).  I found myself at the local Coles and here I caught up with Ryan Hawson (the organiser of this excellent adventure).  He wasn't in a good way - a dose of man flu and a bike that refused to change gear had him contemplating pulling out so we chatted a bit while I wolfed down Gatorade, Coke, Choccy Milk and some Baker's Delight Pizzas.

But, if I did have a 'strategy' coming into the event it was to maximise the time on the trail and minimise the time spent stopped in town so despite feeling a little weary (we were over 100km in at this point) I jumped on the bike and headed off into the heat.  This was the beginning of the point where some time spent 'engaging' with what the course had to offer would have been useful!

Ryan had noted that we should only count on resupply at the major towns on route as there was little in the way of services between them.  Surely I'd be able to get water right?  Hmmm.  I was carrying two bottles and a 2l Camelbak bladder - surely that was going to be ok for the 80 or so km to Ballarat?

No was the short answer.

The first part of this track was amazing - about 30km on old rail and 4wd track.  Heaps of fun and some amazing scenery,  The other benefit was that this was mostly in a pretty dense forest which shielded me from the heat of the day.  Once out of the forest it was a different story and it got HOT.  I passed a toilet block outside of Creswick but figured that I'd get closer to the main part of the town and still had two bottles left and about 40km to go.  I reckoned I'd be fine.

Well, not so much.  Turns out we pypass the actual town and the combination of tight twisty singletrack and more nav dramas saw the next section of single track (25km or so) take the better part of 2 hours.  Adding to this was the heat which hadn;t really dissipated despite it getting late in the day.  Luckily as I crossed a major road I saw a house a few hundred meters off route and rode down to beg for water.  I suspect they let me refil and get on my way simply to remove the smell from the front yard!

I pulled into Ballarat at around 7:45pm and pretty much ordered the menu from Maccas and gave myself about 45 minutes to eat, give the GPS battery a charge and generally get my head together.  I eventually rolled out into the dark at 8:45 or so and once I managed to navigate out of town settled in for a good night stint.

This was a really pleasant part of the ride for me.  The heat had come off (although it was still better than 25'!) and the combination of Supernova dynamo light with a backup helmet light (Exposure Diablo Mk4 on low power) meant I could pretty much keep motoring for as long as I wanted.  I motored through Buninyong without stopping to sample the delights of the 24hr Service Station and settled in for the long road ride to Bacchus Marsh.

For Tour Divide, my rough plan is to sleep for about 6 hours a day, have a couple of hours in food and resupply and ride for 16 or so.  On this schedule I would be looking to bivy at around 11pm or so.  Well 11 came and went and I was still on the road and to be honest I was feeling pretty good.  Midnight came and went just before I rolled into town.  I ended up sitting at a 24hr service station at about 1pm wolfing down a warm(ish) sausage roll and yet more chocolate milk.

Despite the stimulating conversations with the (mostly drunk, stoned or both) people who are at a service station at 1 in the morning... It was time to move on.  I was still feeling physically ok - a bit tired but not drastically so and began to think about just riding through the night and keeping on.  A quick check of trackleaders revealed that somehow I had passed Ollie and Ross on the road somewhere (they'd bivvied early) although it looked like Justin (another single speed rider) had made some ground.

The town of Bacchus Marsh is pretty much in a depression... big hills no matter which way you go and Ryan had warned us that we'd be climbing more than 1000m in the first 18km out of town.  Ouch.  By the time I crested the first hill out of town I'd decided that although I was still awake and feeling OK I should probably try and have a bit of sleep - firstly part of this event was TDR shakedown and I was conscious that most of my previous trips hadn't involved camping and the associated process of setting up and breaking camp.  Also, while I was feeling good at the moment I wasn't sure how I'd be feeling in another 10 hours or so!

So I stopped.  This is not WWSD.

After a fitful three hours I was once again on my way.  And I felt like crap.

Despite having plenty of food on hand I really didn't feel like eating and in packing up I seemed to have left my legs back at the campsite.  On top of this there were more pinches and pushing of the bike to come.  On a positive note I did pass Justin up the road a little - apparently he'd continued on until about 4am.  Liam out front hadn't bothered to stop and was powering onto what would be an amazing finishing time of under 26 hours. Machine!

I finally crested the last major part of the climb at about 7:30 or so.  I was feeling ok-ish but the dead feeling in my legs hadn't gone away (similar to the feeling after the long day I'd done around Sofala a few weeks ago).

This next section was simultaneously fun and terrifying.  About 10km of singletrack cut into the side of a cliff.  Not as bad as the Roaring Meg section in Southern Brevet but most of it was less than 1.5m wide and when you've got 800mm wide bars... the margin for error is uncomfortably small.  I was pretty slow through here and was just waiting to be caught by the guys behind.

Once off the cliff the soul destroying part of the ride began... back onto the GDT proper and in the valleys around Blackwoods.  I was feeling the heat and not really eating like I should have been - added to this was some truly awful hike-a-bike - almost too steep to push... add to this 30+ degree heat, blowflies and general tiredness and I was pretty much over it!

Oh and once again I had forgotten to refill with water.

Justin caught me about 10km from Daylesford and the whole competitive thing took over and I lifted the effort rate and managed to drop him and Will (who had to work and had joined the route in Ballarat) on the way into town.  Note to self... playing racer boy on no water in 30+' heat after more than 280km of riding is silly.

I figured that my only hope of holding onto second place was to have a quick stop... so once again into Coles, two Gatorades, a 1.25l bottle of Coke, Large choccy milk and more water and once again I was on the bike and away.  Hmmm should have taken notice of the dizzy spell when I stood up.  But hey, it was under 60km to go... how long could it take?

Whilst the first 15km was on road... the downside was the baking that was occurring - no shelter and the temperature was climbing to the 40's.  Justin and Will caught me about 10km out... I tried to lift but as it turns out Justin was pushing an enormous 38:20 ratio (compared to my 32:20 or so).  They quickly disappeared into the distance.

You know when things are going your way it just keeps going but when things go south... it happens all at once?  Well my rear tyre finally gave up the ghost and I stopped to put a tube in.  Then of course pinch flatted at the bottom of a downhill section.  Yup.  I decided then to just slow down (and preserver my last tube) and just focus on finishing.  By now I'd been on the road for more than 10hrs and only eaten about 1/2 a packet of trail mix.  Bad.  On top of that I was beginning to feel sick when I took on water.  Very Bad.

Once again I had chewed through all my water and was relying on finding houses to get water along the way but I just couldn't seem to get enough water in and was constantly thirsty even though I was feeling bloated from the amount I had drunk.  On top of this I was cramping very badly (despite copious salt tablets) as I was just loosing electrolyte much faster than I could replenish it.

Ollie came past me with about 10km to go as I dejectedly sat on the side of the track - I'd taken more salt, drunk the last of my water, taken Voltaren and some panadol and was waiting to see if I would start to feel better.  Ollie was also in a bad way but was eager to press on... unsure what the terrain had to offer I rested for a little while before continuing.

Well, even in my delirious state this last section was magic - once again we were riding beside an old water race.  This was more or less a downhill run that went for over 10km all the way into town.  Phenomenal riding... would have been nice to be in a shape to really enjoy it.

It was a very tired singlespeeder that pulled into Castlemain station at about 7pm or so - 36(ish) hours after I started.  I ended up in 4th place and the 2nd singlespeed home.  An amazing ride and as I've been writing this (and working out what to leave out for the sake of getting something done!) it just gets better.  The heatstroke on the second day was awful - I haven't felt that bad on a bike for a very long time but having fought through it I think I learned a bit about riding to one's limits and how to better manage myself.

Gearwise I took:

Drybag Front Rack:

  • Integral Designs Bugaboo eVent Bivy
  • Mountain Hardware 2'c sleeping bag
  • Kylmite X-Frame sleeping mat
  • Camelbak Unbottle 2l
Drybag Rear Rack:
  • Spare tube
  • Kathmandu wool long sleeve shirt
  • Kathmandu nylon long pants
  • spare drive belt
  • first aid kit
  • spare knicks, jersey and socks
  • arm and knee warmers
  • Sawyer water filter
Revelate Feedbags * 2 (bars):
  • Food
  • athsma medication
Revelate Gas Tank (top tube):
  • Powermonkey Battery
  • More food
Frame pockets:
  • Leatherman knife
  • tube
  • puncture repair kit
  • multi-tool
  • panadol / voltaren / salt tablets
  • charge cords
  • USB charger
Tyres: Maxxis Aspens - these were a pretty good choice and I didn't feel I was lacking for traction on the climbs and they rolled very well.  The downside is that they are a bit 'drift-y' in loose corners but its all pretty predictable.

What would I change?
Well, I waz using this as a TDR shakedown and the above is pretty much my TDR kit.  Liam was pretty much equipped for a long day ride.  The only thing I went into the rear drybag for was a tube and as far as sleeping kit goes I didn't use the sleeping bag.  That's probably about 2-3kg of gear that I was carting about and didn't use.

If I was to race this again than my plan would be a no-sleep strategy and only carry an emergency shelter.  Also, I think pushing through the night when it was cool and then planning to rest a bit in the heat of the day would have been a lot smarter!

But overall, I had a ball and really enjoyed myself out there.

Ryan and his mapping partner are to be commended for putting on a truly excellent event - there were 17 starters and I think about 12 finishers but even those who pulled out had a great time.  It just goes to show that you don't need large formal events to get out and have a great time - with the appropriate sense of adventure, a GPS and some gear you can get out and have a truly great weekend and the whole thing including food will cost you less than a single 100km race!

Next event up for me is the Mawson - 900km and less single track... should be a good test!  

See you there!

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

What Would Stamstad Do?

I was discussing training with Mark this week and working out what I'm doing training wise for the next few weekend and it struck me... there aren't that many weekends between now and when I leave for the Tour Divide.  Yikes.

So far this year my focus has been on building a good base level of fitness (after the decimation that was 2012) and not getting sick.  So far, so good!  It was looking dicey for a little while there but sensibly I took time off the bike and missed some training rather than running myself down to the point of needing two weeks of bed rest!  See, an old dog can learn new tricks...

Racing wise, its been pretty quiet - I showed up for the Rocky Trail 100km but entered in the 100 mile version on the Sheep - I figured it would be a good test to see how I'd go riding 100 miles on a single speed.

Well, in the leadup it was revealed that the course was going to be more like 130km rather than the 160.    It seems like madness now but I was a bit disappointed...

The short version is that this race taught me a lot:
  1. The sheep is a lot of fun in single track;
  2. I have the legs;
  3. There's no amount of frame flex that compensates for suspension around Stromlo; and
  4. No amount of light is going to help me punt a rigid bike downhill at pace!
I ended up completing 3 of the 5 laps... the legs and body were fine but my hands were not good.  Must not wear new gloves!  The combination of that and the lack of suspension meant that even my blisters have blisters... Might need to think about this if I plan to race the WEMBO world 24hr Solo Champs on the thing later this year.

Last weekend we had a birthday party for a friend in the Hunter Valley... I managed to get out on my new fatbike for a couple of hours on Saturday but the main event was going to be riding back home.  So I set my trusty GPS and off I went... 

Note... must ensure that auto routing is set to be road biased rather than dirt biased when I do this on the crosser.  Not that the Great North Walk wasn't fun but really, when you have more than 170 km to ride carrying your bike on your shoulder over rock isn't the easiest way to start.  Just as well I wasn't able to get those slicks fitted!

Still a decent ride though - more than 180km on cross tyres takes some time!

This weekend the plan was to go out and get some practice at doing some long back to back rides.  I booked myself into a flophouse hotel so I could get out nice and early and put in a long couple of days in the saddle.  My intention was to ride out from Lithgow to Hill-End via Sunny Corner and then back via Capertee.  I've done (almost) all of this ride before but never strung it together.  All up it was planned to be a 320km, 6000VM weekend.  Just as well I was packing snacks!

Now, those on Australia's Eastern Seaboard will know that the weather lately has not been conducive to outdoor adventures.  This weekend proved to be no exception - the evening news was full of tales of the flooding that was affecting the Central Coast of NSW.  But hey, the flooding was all the North East and I was planning to ride South West... surely it would be ok?

Well.  My alarm went off at 5am and I lay in bed listening to the sound of rain on the roof.  Not what you want to hear when you are planning to ride for 15+ hours!  The urge to cancel was almost overwhelming but I convinced myself that I was going and rolled out into the night and the rain.  Yup.  Fun.

But hey, once you're wet... you're wet!

The rain pretty much stayed with me all day - mostly it was light mist but every now and again I get drenched.  Of course for the brief non-rainy periods is was so humid that it may as well been raining!

I made pretty good time and got into Sofala at about 10:30 but didn't take the time to hang around and after a quick Bacon and Egg roll (and choccy milk!) I was off again.

This was the stretch I hadn't done before.  The direct road to Hill End from Sofala is pretty quick but I really wanted to ride the Bridal Track again so the plan was to take a turn off towards Bathurst and cut across the ridge line and join the track about 2/3 of the way along.  I'd mapped out a route to follow and it all looked pretty reasonable... well apart from the 1000m high ridge to get over!

The first thing I noticed was that I was following a Garmin route and for some reason the GPS kept trying to direct me onto different roads.  Annoying!  I ignored its suggestions and followed the path I had set.  After a couple of hours following an amazingly desolate (in a so scenic it hurts kind of way) road I eventually found the path taking me through a 'No trespassing' sign.  Bugger... down to my last water bottle and a half of water I made the decision that I would push on.

The track passed close by to a couple of farm buildings but they were all deserted (and seemed to have been for some time).  The track I was following was mostly just faint 4wd tracks in the grass but there was enough there to follow and especially with the GPS there to help!  Mostly though I was just trying to keep my head down and get off the private land as soon as possible!

With less than 4km to go to the Bridal Track intersection I arrived at a locked gate... very rusty and corroded sign... very new and shiny looking lock.  Not good.  By now I had come too far to turn back and lifted the bike over the fence and continued (tales of mountain meth labs and their unfriendly operators ringing in my ears).

Now why is it that you find the best tracks just where you're not supposed to   be?This last 3km of trail was magic - steep, rocky and technical - not perhaps the best thing to be riding on your own on a loaded bike but still awesome.  There were a bunch of houses at the intersection of the bridal track but again - deserted.  I've put up the Strava file from this trip but would not recommend the route I took - besides this bypasses the best section (the road cut into the side of the mountain) of the Bridal Track anyway!

From there the only thing left to do was get up Hawkins Hill - this a good 3km+ 10% or so climb... Maybe do-able if you're fresh but not after 150km or so...

It was a tired and hungry rider that eventually pulled into Bathurst around 11 hours after leaving Lithgow.  I was actually feeling pretty good so after a couple of packets of chips and 2 cans of coke I refilled my bottles and Camelbak and decided to head back to Sofala.  After all, as John Stamstad has been reputed to say... of the weather is crap, you're already wet so may as well keep riding (of course he's also been known to say that never waste good weather... are you seeing a pattern?).

The pub looked to be going off though - lots of 4wd drive groups chased out of the campgrounds by the rain no doubt.

 I pulled into Sofala at about about 6:30 pm or so... On the way out I'd scoped out potential spots to camp and apart from a few spots beside the river (not good when its raining) the most likely spot was only about 5km out of town.  I decided that it wasn't worth riding 15 minutes out of town to sleep under a picnic table and nabbed the last room at the pub.  All in all a pretty decent day...

Now, for TDR I'm planning to use a dynamo setup to run both lights and a charger for USB devices - I've used this setup on a few longer rides now (including Southern Brevet) and it works a treat.  But this time I had a fail - the lights worked perfectly but I no reliable charging.  Bugger.

Now, luckily I managed to borrow a USB charger from the publican and had my Garmin charging behind the bar,  It was still charging when I finished dinner so the publican agreed that he'd leave it in the lounge when he locked up for the night.  Yeah.... well that didn't happen.

By the time I got away it was closer to 9:30... oh well... at least I got a sleep in.

The plan for the second day was to retrace some of my route and then head up to Capertee via Turon Gates.  This is a really great ride - scenic, some killer downhill... oh and of course a MONSTER climb. While my legs were feeling pretty good I discovered that I just didn't have the top end to keep the pedals turning up anything too steep.  This is one of the great things about single speeding - theres no shame in walking!

The 40km to Capertee took me the better part of three hours.  I was still feeling ok (and making sure that I was eating more consistently than the day before) but at this rate the 60km back to Lithgow was going to take me another 4 hours and by the time I drove home it would be getting late so I decided to just shortcut it and head back along the highway.  Just what every single speeder loves... although I did make the top 10 on the strava segments on the way back!

So all up it was a fairly solid weekend - 270+ km and more than 6600m of climbing and added to this was the diabolical weather.  Each trip is a learning experience and I got a fair bit out of this one.  Even on this ride I found that I was forgetting to eat and when I did eat, trail food isn't the same as a packaged energy bar - it takes a while to digest so it takes a while from 'I feel low and need to eat' and 'I feel better'.

Coming up is a 150km weekend with City Bike Depot, a 380km event on the Great Dividing Trail in Victoria and not to mention the Mawson ride I'm organising... I reckon by June I might be just about set!

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Its time to get FAT

Those that have been following me for a while know that I started this whole biking caper as a way to shed some of the excess baggage that I'd been carrying around with me (starting weight was about 138 kg... now lurking somewhere between 78-88 depending...).  Anyway, so the idea of going fat might not make a lot of sense...

But hey... irony, geddit?

Late last year a mate went overseas and asked if I'd like to look after his fatbike for him.  'Sure' was the response.  To be honest, more out of the fact I had shed space rather than any desire to ride the silly thing... big fat and slow bikes aren't my thing (and with the Witjra, still aren't!).  The thing (Salsa Mukluk) sat in my shed for ages until I got bored one afternoon...

Wow, hooked!  More fun than I'd had on a bike for a very very long time.  Sure, it was awesome on sand - actually just on this - fatbikes make riding on sand easy and fun, almost like riding on a path - but I digress; to my surprise I found it was a hoot to ride pretty much anywhere.  Sure you didn't get there fast but hey, I ride a singlespeed as well so taking time to 'smell the roses' is all part of the fun.

It was so much fun that I hooked it up with a baby seat and a trailer hitch and took the little ones on the Annual Sydney-Wollongong bike ride.  Amazingly, 90km of tar with a trailer and two small boys was a hoot for all concerned!

So.  I was hooked... now to get one!

A bit of research and some assistance from the guys at City Bike Depot and I settled on a Salsa Beargrease.  This was a new model for Salsa and it was a 'racing' fat bike - apparently Snow racing is a big thing through the Northern Hemisphere where they have lots of months of the white stuff.

Of course given my propensity to fiddle I had worked out a few 'extras' on the standard build... I think I drove the guys as the Depot a bit nuts (is it here yet?  Is it here yet? Is it here yet?... you get the picture).

Then, disaster struck... seems that Winter is peak fat bike purchasing season in the US and the Australian shipment got... diverted...


So I was looking around for an alternative when an option came up to get a frame from a new Aussie Fatbike builder - Muru Cycles... and not just any frame... a sweet tasty Ti frame - better yet, at 1700g it was about the same weight as the Beargrease... add that to an XX1 groupset that was originally destined for the Scalpel and this was looking like a pretty serious fat bike...

Although, its pretty cool being one of the first people to ride a bike from a new bike company... the problem is that you're kind of in uncharted territory.  A bit of research on the various fat bike forums will quickly give you the idea that getting these things together can be 'difficult' - there can be a lot of mixing and matching of components to get things to work.

Also, XX1 on a fat bike?  Yeah... not a lot of people doing that!

After much reading and discussions with various people the spec I ended up with was:

  • Frame: Muru Witjira
  • Cranks: Middleburn RS7 Square Taper - I chose these cause of a great combination of light weight and durability
  • Bottom Bracket: Phil Wood Ti Square Taper
  • Drivetrain: SRAM XX1 (front ring is a Middleburn Duo 29t - getting a SRAM ring on something other than an XX1 crankset is nigh on impossible at the moment)
  • Hubs: Hope (135 Front, 170 rear)
  • Wheels: Holy Rolling Darryls
  • Tyres: 120 tpi Big Fat Larry's  (was originally planning to go for Husker Dus but no availability)
  • Bar: Mt Zoom 740mm (bit of leverage to throw the beast around)
  • Stem: Ritchey Carbon (no reason apart from the fact it was lying around the shed - think it was on my roadie at one point)
  • Seatpost: Eriksson Ti
  • Saddle: Selle Italia Max Flow (surely they could have thought of a better name?)
  • Pedals: Shimano XTR Race (came off the Scalpel)
  • Brakes: XTR Trail - want to keep it the same as what's on the Sheep
  • Fork: Carver Carbon O'Beast (although there's a Salsa Enabler on it at the moment until the Carver arrives)
She turned out all right...

My worries about XX1 turned out to be unfounded... a bit close but Fatties Fit Fine!

Ok, enough about the build... how does it ride?

Well, firstly... its not the Mukluk experience of slow and fun.  Oh its still fun but slow it aint!  The geometry quite 'racy' I'm running a couple of spacers under the stem and I still have more drop than I do on the scalpel (29er).  Its not uncomfortable but as soon as you get on it you realise that this is a serious trail / race machine... its just got fat tyres.

I was away for the weekend so only managed a short 2hr trail ride but luckily there'd been a bit of rain and I managed to find mud!

Ride wise, you just forget the fat tyres and just concentrate on the trail - it goes where you point it.  The BFLs are a bit floaty on the gravelly trails I was riding but thats probably a pressure thing - I was running about 14psi or so... no issues with grip on the climbs just a bit of vagueness.

Now, climbing.  So weight wise its around the 13kg mark - silly light for a fatty but a bit porkier than the sub 9kg singlespeed I've been getting around on lately.  Well, with XX1 out the back paired with the 29t up front theres plenty of gears to get up pretty much everything and the BFLs gripped nicely.

My ride also had a fair bit of tar and the 29 / 10 combo was about right... I used it but certainly wouldn;t say that I was spinning out.  No issues with the chain dropping either - I know that SRAM have invested a lot of effort in the whole grippy tooth profile thing but on my first ride, a normal SS ring (the duo isn't ramped) held on just fine even over the rough rocky downhills.

So.  Muru.  I'd like to say that as a first effort the Witjira is pretty good... but I can't.  See, its just good period.  It built up fine with a pretty eclectic set of parts and rides fantastically.  More updates to come once I get a chance to put some serious saddle time in but gotta say - given the hand destroying experience of riding the Rigid SS at Stromlo for 100kms or so... don't be surprised to see me fatting it up at World Solo Champs this year!

See ya on the trails!

Monday, 28 January 2013

2013... What's next?

Flippin heck... its the end of January already?  Where is this year going?

Oh well... its been in my head for a while so I guess its time for the 'goals, ambitions etc' for 2013.

Ok, this is easy... Tour Divide.  Done.

The Grand Depart is on June 14th (2nd Friday in June) and judging from the traffic on the Ultra Racing Forum on there looks to be about a hundred or so people that are undertaking the journey with me.  Yikes, less than 5 months away.

Given the enormity of the undertaking, preparation for the race pretty dominates everything so every event I'm doing is about getting ready for the race.

Fitness wise, Mark has made some changes to my programme for this year... simply put... less intensity and more volume!  Makes sense... its not going to be about smashing out 330w for an hour, more like hitting an average of 200w for more than 16 hours for more than 20 days in a row.  I'm actually feeling pretty confident that I'll have the physical fitness required to race... the main thing will be whether the body and mind can cope with the degree of stress.

I read a great blog about Eszter Horanyi who was the womens race winner from 2012.  In the interview she makes the point that she based a large part of her race about woking out how much sleep she needed to function and then built her days around that.  She said she would end up passing other riders even though they were riding at a faster pace as she was focussed on keeping moving and doing the miles - passing while they were asleep or eating.

Using that sort of equation, I function pretty well on about 6 hours or so of sleep. So 6 hours of sleep, an hour or so in setting up and taking down where I'm sleeping and about 2 hours or so of stops along the way.  Thats 15 hours a day of riding time.

It gets more obsessive though...

15 hours of riding time.  On average on the singlespeed over the 800km or so since I've had it I average about 17km/h.  So that means doing on average 255km per day giving me an estimated time of just over 17 days.  Putting things into perspective... the singlespeed record is about 19 days.

I'll save a post about the bike for another time... but I'm often asked about why I am choosing to do this on a single speed?  Its a lot about simplicity - less to go wrong and much easier to maintain but its also about what I want the experience to be.  Gears encourage a certain style of riding - aero bars and pushing yourself to chase higher and higher outputs.  Singlespeeding on the hand is at times insanely difficult as you strain to push a 1.6 ratio up a 20' include but then it also allows you to smell the roses a bit as you spin out along that flat(ish) piece of road.

If TDR is as much about the mental as the physical then to me, the singlespeed is an important part of that step - it signifies a willingness to take things as they come.  Prepared to work my body to the limit when I need to but also to slow down and take things in when I don't.  Since my Black Sheep arrived late last year all of my mountain biking has been on a singlespeed and it sounds hokey but it really is a more soulful experience (well at least for me anyway) - you try and if it doesn't work, you walk.  Simple.

Oh and I'm smashing all my Strava PRs on anything with a hill in it!

So, if the fitness is looking ok then what?

Well, I figure one of the best ways to get prepared for a bikepacking race is to go out and do more bike packing.  As you get tired and stressed, routine is one of those things that saves you.  A good routine means that you don't need to think too hard to make decisions.  Its actually one of the things that the army was pretty good at drilling into me.  Get the morning routine down pat and save brainpower for stuff that matters.

As an example, on the BigHurt, I set my alarm for 4:30.  Didn't get on the bike until about 5:15 - so it took 45 minutes to get organised and moving.  If you can cut that by 15 minutes then over the course of 20 days or so of racing that's 5 hours of riding time you've just gotten back.  Of that 45 minutes, I know theres 15 minutes of faffing about in there as I work out where to put stuff and just generally think about the order that I need to get dressed.  (yes it sounds dumb but after riding for 5 hours with my knicks on inside out its a mistake I'm keen not to repeat!)

So, unlike the states where Ultra racing has seemingly exploded over the past couple of years... the scene here is pretty much in its infancy.  The HuRT and BigHurt events in Newcastle were really the first bikepacking style events to be launched here (I tried... it bit me bad).  The Grand depart for the BigHuRT is on August so its a bit late but luckily... some other stuff has popped up to fill the gaps.

Ryan Hawson is organising a bit of an adventure on the Great Dividing Trail in Victoria - should be a 3 or 4 day adventure and I've decided to get something happening on the Mawson Trail in South Australia.  This now gives us three pretty good events in Oz over a variety of different terrains and best of all somewhere decent to practice!

So, my 2013 is looking like:

  • Feb - Rocky Trail 100 Mile race Canberra (ok, not bikepacking but serious distance on the Singlespeed)
  • March - Bikepacking the GDT
  • March - Mont 24hr (social 6)
  • April - Bikepacking the Mawson Trail
  • May - Dirtworks (yeah - short and fun!) 
  • June - Tour Divide
On top of that I might be in a pair for the Chocolate Foot series... Something about entering on Fat Bikes... Skinnies on Fatties :)

After that... who knows what the next part of the year will hold!  I have a rough schedule of:
  • August - HuRT of some description (big or little, haven't decided)
  • October - WEMBO 24hr Solo Championships (singlespeed)
  • November - Highland Fling 100 Mile Singlespeed
There was some discussion about potentially doing the Simpson Desert Challenge but I suspect that I will be out of points well and truly by then!  Although that does give me a 2014 goal to think about...

So, not that many events really although totalling up the distances will mean that its about 7000km of racing for 2013.  Ouch.

It would be remiss of me to talk about all this riding without a word about my lovely wife and family.  One of the things I've really come to appreciate is just how much of a difference support can make to you as a rider - professional or amateur.  I often get the comment from friends about how much I 'get away with' given the amount of riding that I'm doing.  Its specially relevant as I really got into the biking obsession well after Lisa and I got together (i.e. she didn't know what she was signing on for!).

The time taken to actually go out and do these events is significant but training for this type of stuff is really what puts the stress and strain on your family.  For us, it means that pretty much one day a weekend is killed by training.  It means that most days I'm up at 4:30 to train and hence am ready to go to bed by 9 not to mention that I am usually scheming about how to take at least one bike with us on every holiday.

It is the other person in our relationship.

So its hard work.  I love it and its my escape but at the same time it does take a toll.  I try and manage it but being 'present' when I'm at home (he says sitting alone typing a blog post).  Its not always fun being away but it somehow makes the time I spend at home even better...

Hmmm things seem to have taken a turn to the maudlin - time to get back to the bike stuff!  

Well, despite the above I'm looking forward to 2013 - new sorts of challenges and more importantly, so far its making riding feel like fun again.  Something which was missing from the last couple of seasons.

So, I guess I'll be seeing you on the trail somewhere.  If you see a guy riding on odd looking singlespeed feel free to say hi!  Chances are I'm in the middle of going or coming from somewhere interesting and I'm usually up for a chat... besides... you might have a good place to go that I need to check out!

Friday, 11 January 2013

2012, a year in review.

...and we're back! I just can't believe we're almost halfway through January already.  As I write this it is 156 days until the Tour Divide Grand Depart in Banff on the 14th of June.  Yup.  Less than 6 months to go.

After breaking my shoulder back in November I just decided that my year was done and some good chilling out was in order after what had been a pretty frustrating 2012 bike-wise.  The main things I had on my list to do for 2012 were:
  • Southern Brevet (in NZ)
  • Australian Solo Championships
  • Sydney 12hr
  • BigHuRT
  • Scott 24hr Solo
  • Highland Fling 100 miler
With a few misc odds and ends thrown in.

So, it started pretty well.  The Southern Brevet was / is the highpoint of anything I've done on a bike to date.  Physically demanding, mentally draining and all the while surrounded by some of the most amazing countryside I've ever seen.  Actually as a side note I re-watched the Lord of the Rings movies over the break and am pretty sure we rode through big chunks of it!

After Southern Brevet though it all started to go off the rails.  I had recovered ok from that race and was actually looking forward to the Solo 24hr Championships - I had even gone back to riding for City Bike Depot which really felt like I was coming 'home'.

This year we were trying a programme based on a little more intensity and less volume as Lisa and I discovered that two children are actually more than double the work of one!  This worked pretty well and leading into Solo champs I felt strong and was looking forward to racing with none of the motivational dramas that plagued me in 2011.

However, 6 hours in the wheels fell off... riding well, sitting 4th in category and steadily gaining on 3rd I was feeling good until nightfall and it began to get colder.  My lap times slumped and it began to get difficult to breath.  After a discussion with my crew we called done about 7 hours in and I slunk back to Sydney with my tail between my legs.

Consultation with my GP and some tests revealed that I had developed mild asthma.  It's not typically bothersome in normal day-to-day activities but it gets triggered by cold... dust... allergies... deep breathing... all of which are par for the course for a mountain biker!  Seems this also explains the susceptibility I have to chest infections.

So with that in mind training for the 12 hr was a little 'challenging'... just in a cycle of get sick, take time off training... try and recover lost time... intensity makes the problem worse followed by getting sick again.

So, blue line is a good approximation of overall fitness.  Peaks in January and then goes downhill...

The Sydney 12 started much like the 24hr... felt strong at the beginning.  After my usual crap start I then started to make up places - catching and then passing Jess Douglass - something I'm generally only able to do when I've got a bit of form.  Then... again at the 6hr mark the chest tightening thing began again.  Annoying... I'd forgotten to take my asthma meds that morning and also not got any ventolin on me.

Another race... gone.

Ok, next on the list was the BigHurt - a 750km self supported race.  More details are here... Suffice to say - its wasn't heath this time but another race that didn't go according to plan.  Apparently the Grand Depart this year is in August sometime - I have it tentatively on the list but I suspect I'll have well and truly tested the limits of Lisa's patience by then (not to mention the lack of annual leave for the job which pays the bills!).

Ok... so the year wasn't shaping up well but hey, a side benefit of this is that I hadn't really put myself deep in the box so could probably salvage some form for the end of the year.  Given that World Solo's return to Canberra in 2013 I decided that it would be good to finish another 24 solo before then and the Scott 24 would be the plan.

The little graph tells the story... a nice steady build to some form and then... sick... really sick.  Didn't even bother to start this one.

Ummm what's left?  Ah, the Highland Fling 100 miler...

Bit of a discussion with Fenz and we pretty much decided to call an end to structured training after pulling out of the Scott but I figured with the regular commuting to work and just general riding I do then I'd still be fine to front up for the fling... after all I had still managed to take a couple of friends out bikepacking on a 350km weekend... (We rode from Glebe -> Blackheath -> Yerranderie (Part 1 and Part 2) -> Mittagong

So coming into November, a couple of weeks before the Fling I was feeling pretty good - not good enough to tackle the full 100 mile (I had dropped back to the 110km after pulling out of the Scott) but pretty happy.  Weight was down below 80kg and power was holding up nicely.  

Then... in the way the year has worked out... I went for a spin the Friday before the fling to give the legs a blast and crashed on the bikepath on the way to work.  One of those innocuous little things - just caught the front wheel on the edge of the concrete path and went down.  Hard.  More details are here.

Season over... the universe was saying enough.

Well.  Not a great year but I guess the positive is that I've spent the last couple of months not training and getting out riding my bike.  My custom Black Sheep arrived late December so I've just been getting out and enjoying the rigid Singlespeed thing (anyone want to buy a Scalpel 29er?).  It's really refreshed my head and I've really been enjoying the last couple of weeks of being back in a formal programme again.

Much more to write but I figure I'll put 2012 into a nice little box now and save the positive thoughts about 2013 for another day!

See ya on the trails!