Thursday, July 9, 2020

The North East Highland Way - Mt Victoria to Pyengana, Tasmania

This route is not the 'road less travelled' it is almost never travelled if the directions and markings are any indication. We were armed with an 8 year old blog of instructions by a 'Friends of the Blue Tier' member, some additional notes from 2015 listing updates to the track and ListMap downloads of the area. Let's say that a few things have changed, trees fallen and bracken grown over in that time to make way-finding a challenge. And ListMap, despite being a government mapping authority (or perhaps because it was) failed to list many roads and tracks which were present, and listed some on the map clearly in the wrong place. Good navigation abilities are required and we used the compass more than once. That said, the many detours we took could be avoided with the tips towards the end of this blog. We're hoping to get back to the route soon and tape sections more clearly to increase accessibility. Even then - this ain't no Three Capes.

It's originally listed as a 7-day hike but we planned for 3 and ended up doing it within 48 hours despite getting lost a few times. In retrospect, 3 days allows better appreciation of the area as we did a lot of night hiking over some of the more highly rated areas such as the Crystal Hill and Big Trees sections. After camping the night on the South Esk river outside Mathinna, we parked the car in a 'dogging spot' off the road between Mathinna and Ringarooma at the start of the Mount Victoria walking track. A short way into the track the pink tape started which became the difference between being on 'the route' and being hopelessly lost. It was a big leap of faith but, considering we had no idea how we'd get back to the car from the finish point at Halls Falls at Pyengana, that became the theme of the adventure. Crossing the lower slopes of Mount Victoria we dropped into deep, green rainforest, moss carpets, mist and magical beams of sunlight. Popping out at the Ralphs Falls car-park we had a laugh at the sign above the current cemented in gas BBQ asking for information regarding the theft of the last BBQ. We were a little more worried about where we'd parked the car then. This section and the following one heading past the falls and into Cash's Gorge would make an excellent day walk in themselves. Anyone with half a moss-obsession (#mossboner) would be stunned at the sphagnum and white spongy moss carpets underneath them. The white moss is VERY slippery!

Traversing the Rattler Range we missed most of the perfect weather in the forest but popped out 15 minutes before sunset to boil up some tea and coffee. We decided to push on in the dark taking the descent from the Rattler Hill summit with the vague directions of 'head north'. This ended with a half hour of stumbling around in the thick scrub and piecing together a route of long forgotten fire trails. 8 hours of walking later we pitched the tent at Ma Mon Chin Lake at a 'picnic spot' that hasn't been used in about 20 years. I then experienced my second night freezing using my new sleeping quilt. The idea was sound, giving me flexibility to get my feet out for temperature control. However the sleep mats we used were not insulated enough for anything other than a full sleeping bag. Apparently the Thermarest Neoair XTherm is the business so I've ordered that for next time.

Ralph's Falls

It took a while to get going the next day. Warm porridge and hot coffee helped wash down the ibuprofen. Carrying a 15 kilogram pack while hiking up hills must be the ultimate glute strengthener. It had rained a little overnight and putting on wet shoes is no fun. I was grumpy. Heading up Weld Hill for stage 4 of the route we lost an hour after missing the turn. The fire road looked to be going the wrong direction, but ended up right despite the instructions and the map indicating something very different. After three pieces of pink tape there were no more hints so we navigated onto the fibre optic cable line and eventually dropped down to the road 5 ks from Weldborough. After a short walk along, more pink tape took us down to Harridge Falls, a hidden local gem easily accessed by car for people with more sense. Finding no sign of the alleged track beside the river we walked on the road back to Weldborough to the start of the next leg. We expected the Weldborough pub to still be closed but John needed to investigate the amenities and it would be a good place to put the feet up. It's generally on Day 2 of adventures I discover the 'why' of the suffering. Gratitude for simple things.

Forest porn

After a prolonged period of being cold, sleep deprived and having wet feet, the sun came out. Walking on the road to Weldborough with the warmth on my back it was as if I was feeling the sun for the first time. Everything was new and amazing again. Other amazing things were declared:

When I packed arm warmers by mistake but they turned out to be the best gloves ever
Dry socks
Urinating on moss to minimise splash back
A log to put a foot on to avoid bending over to tie shoes
Bowel movements
Sneezing without covering my mouth and nose

We were getting ready to leave the pub when suddenly Satan appeared to tempt us. He was disguised as John Brakey, proprietor of Weldborough and Branxholm Hotels, and he offered us a room and a warm fire as an alternative to the hours of trekking and, no doubt, sleepless night in a cold tent. A 'couples conference' ensued and we decided, despite the kind offer, that we'd continue with our foolishness. It was interesting, after reveling in the simplicity, suffering and new appreciation of things, how easily we could have given that up for some immediate comfort. It struck me how often we must do this every day in our 'normal lives'. How much more happiness and gratitude are we missing by being distracted by continuous comfort and avoiding discomfort? We did accept a second kind offer of a lift back to Branxholm from Pyengana at the end of our adventure. We now had a schedule and had to be finished by 12pm the following day.

After keeping dry socks all morning we were up to our knees in creek crossings on the Old Blue Tier climb. Well, John was up to his knees while I had to take my pants off. Reaching the top just after sunset we settled in to some more night time navigation with success equal to the previous night. After more vague instructions and over-shooting the track we found the old aerial haulage route and headed down. Old mine shafts were taped off on either side of us with plenty of 'Danger' signs and mining machinery relics littered the trail. The instructions said to head down then West but neglected to say at what point we turned. After following tape going in the right direction we were bush bashing through bracken and well off track. All the adventure books say, at this point, the best strategy is to make a brew and think. We cooked up some couscous in the forest on the steep slope, threw a bothy bag over us for warmth, and thought. We then almost set the bothy bag on fire while trying to boil water for our brews. Kicking back, quite warm, content and well fed we thought that staying here wouldn't be too bad if we had to wait until morning to get out. Then we saw the leeches climbing up the bothy bag. Exit, stage left.

Eventually we retraced our steps, ignored the directions and followed more tape straight down the mountain, miraculously popping out at the right spot on the fire trail. After those frustrating hours it felt like a small victory to still be on the route after seriously contemplating skipping the whole section via the road. Back into more tape on Crystal Hill down the Groom River which was quite well marked and looked like a regular tourist haunt. After crossing the river the tape dried up and we eventually elected to just head up-hill in southerly-ish direction and hoped to hit the Blue Tier Giant Walk, which passes the widest living tree in Australia. After reading some blogs, post-adventure, there is apparently a very clear path from the Giant Walk down to the Groom River that we were unable to find close to midnight. After 14 hours of hiking we finally pitched up on Lehner's Ridge Road under a perfectly clear sky and full moon. All leeches were left outside.

Here leechy, leechy...

The alarm was a rude awakening but we didn't want to miss our ride. After 5 ks of fireroad we bashed around in the scrub for a bit more trying to find the track along the Groom River to Halls Falls. Having lost most of our patience and running out of time we got back out on Anchor Road and walked the long way around to Halls Falls making the end of the route within 48 hours with 3 minutes to spare. Curiosity got the better of us and we looked for the trail along the river from the Falls end. There was pink tape waving defiantly at us. Argh! We know it's out there and we'll be back to find it! As we gathered our packs in the carpark John Brakey drove up the dirt road as promised.

After fouling his car with our unwashedness (even the dog was appalled), we savoured a hot shower at the Branxholm hotel. Real food got added to our list of amazing things - a burger with the lot at the General Store in Derby and the Sunday pork roast at the pub. All washed down with many beverages with the locals until the wee hours (OK, it was all over at 8pm but it FELT late). And then bed. Beds that are warm, and that you don't have to inflate are so amazing.

The rest of Sunday was spent checking out the Little Blue Lake at South Mount Cameron and strolling gently around Lake Derby. Sadly the new floating sauna is not yet operational. This hike is a cracker and we saw so many things we never would have known about. Next time you're headed to Derby and Weldborough, it's worth doing some digging on the local treasures and history.

Little Blue Lake. Old tin mine. Looks nice but very acidic and polluted. 

A massive thank you to John Brakey for literally being our knight in shining armour. You really made our adventure. We encourage everyone to support local business and people like John who are getting back on their feet after a rough few months. The Branxholm Hotel is open for business and the Weldborough Hotel is scheduled for a September opening and we hope to see the visitors flocking back then.

Finished!! A proper adventure
Route tips:

1. Aerial photos from Google Maps are better than ListMap alone. Particularly on the route from the Trig point on Rattler Hill. There MAY be a taped track through the Star of Peace forest, but if you follow the Ma Looey road down it will put you out at the right route to hit Mt Paris Dam Rd.

2. Take a hiking partner and a PLB. There is no phone signal and no one will ever find you if you get into trouble.

3. Trust the tape on Weld Hill. As you're climbing (well before the official summit) the first fireroad with tape looks wrong but keep following it down. Look out for the start of the optic fibre line on your right and hop on it ASAP. Follow the road and drop down to the falls when you see pink tape again.

4. Do not go to the summit of Australia Hill. Follow the Summit Mine sign, toward the aerial haulway. Once descending for some time, tape will lead you to the right. Follow it but KEEP LOOKING for tape which starts going down hill again soon after. If you're up to your armpits in ferns, you've gone too far.

5. We didn't find the official route from the Groom River to the Big Tree. Following the river along until just below the tree and head up. You can use ListMap with GPS without a phone signal.

6. No tips about the last leg along the Groom River to Hall's Falls. The track is definitely there. I'd stay as close to the river as possible after going around the hill.

Friday, February 21, 2020

Pine Valley, Tasmania - Last chance training

Get up, eat, run 20ks to appointment, run 10ks to post office, run 11ks home. This is how I fit in my last long run before Gone Nuts 50. It would have been ‘ideal’ to do the whole run continuously. But I don’t live in ‘ideal’ right now. I live in ‘do what you can, when you can’. Once home I threw all our pack-hiking kit in the car, grabbed left overs from the fridge for dinner on the run, and picked up John on the way to Lake St Clair. The BOM had forecast average weather but it was our first weekend without kids and without me working for months. We have to grab opportunities like that with both hands, especially with the Tasmanian summer receding quickly. However, there were no signs of that recession as we sweated our way through the two-hour night hike to Echo Point cabin and put up our tent quietly just after midnight. Apart from a few surprised possums and magnificent wedge tailed eagle on the way to the park, all the other wildlife was sleeping.

Salt and vinegar rice crackers. Essential for any proper adventure.

 Despite clear signs in the park cabins to be courteous of other campers, I was woken in the morning by a woman with a hyena-laugh who was apparently talking to the most hilarious man in the southern hemisphere. She was American. Figures. But it was 8am so it was time to porridge then trek the 12km to Pine Valley where we planned to leave our packs and do some lighter traveling up the mountains. About halfway in we stopped for hot beverages and found out that our gas cannister was empty despite John’s calculations that we’d not used anything close to the 24 boils cited on the can. Apparently we should have used this website’s advice instead of having a philosophical argument about what constitutes a boil. John seemed slightly nervous that I wouldn’t be able to make coffee for the next 24 hours. His nervousness was justified.

John's "oh shit" face. My "you're a dead man" face. Slightly more difficult to pick.

My legs were a bit fatigued from the 50+km the day before but up to The Acropolis we headed, feeling quite ‘bouncy’ with only our light running packs, jackets and some snacks. The jackets turned out to be unnecessary (but ALWAYS taken anyway) as we scrambled to the northern point of the summit overlooking Mount Geryon. Just, wow. A clear day surveying the bowl formed by the Du Cane Range, with its jagged dolerite has got to be one of the best views in the country. I’d recommend a morning foray to get the sun’s rays bringing the quintessential Tasmanian rock into relief. The air was so still and we struggled to remember when we’d lingered on a summit without thermals. Oh yes. Frenchman’s Cap. But we try not to relive that day.

Mount Geryon from The Acropolis. Breathtaking.

We half ran, half fell down the steep descent and, back at the hut, managed to trade some phone charging from our power pack for some gas to heat our dehydrated meals. We’d started chatting to two sisters and their friend from the Queensland Sunshine Coast who were almost finished the Overland Track. They were very well-prepared with home-made dehydrated meals and sufficient chocolate stores. Once finished they were renting a campervan and then hitting the Three Capes track. We had some furious rounds of Uno with them before hitting the bunk beds. There was only one other sharing the very modern hut so I was reasonably confident of getting a good night’s sleep. However, the temperatures plummeted with the clear skies so some more bodies and associated heat might have been useful. I’m considering bringing a pressure gauge to ensure the correct PSI of my sleeping mat for that ‘Goldilocks’ experience. So far, the test is to sit on my mat and let just enough air out that my bottom touches the floor. This means I’m lying IN the bed instead of bouncing on top. And who brings +10C sleeping bags to the Tasmanian Highlands?

Overlooking the Labyrinth. Not sure what John found so interesting about those rocks.

After two days of heavy pack walking, soaking feet in ice cold creeks and no phone reception, I’ve discovered the true meaning of peace. I could imagine spending a lot more time in that area, with warmer sleeping gear of course. We met two rangers over the weekend and both where very friendly and resources of information. We learned what Devil poo looks like which is important. One ranger also commented on the different experiences that people call camping. The camping that’s often observed in holiday parks involves basically bringing your home outdoors. Sinks, refrigerators, televisions. And usually a lot of booze which seems mandatory and the at the root of most of the negative camping experiences I’ve had. I’ve commented to a few people that Derby, which used to feel very safe and family-friendly, now seems overrun with young men under the influence of alcohol who roam through the campsite at midnight with their ‘doof doof’ at maximum decibels. At other ‘car camping’ locations I’ve also dreaded sun down as the temporary inhabitants fall further under the influence of the JD and coke UDLs they’ve been consuming since midday. I can’t imagine anyone like that venturing out into the mountains. Sure, the Overland track is heavily trafficked and not considered ‘extreme’ by most mountain people. However, it is still a wild place and things can go really wrong if people aren’t prepared. Rangers at the start of the track assess people and turn them back if it looks like amateur hour. At any rate, UDLs weigh too much to cart 65k through the mountains. I’m sure people have many different reasons to venture out to these remote locations, but I do wonder at the similarities between them when it comes to the appreciation of nature, silence and respect for the quiet enjoyment of others.

Waiting for the boat back to Cynthia Bay. Inhaled about 30 March flies while trying to nap.

I do believe there are very good reasons to keep some places less accessible and only for those who are willing to put in the effort to get there. Instead of changing the landscape to suit us, we might better consider how the journey can change and develop us as human beings.

The Labyrinth. Didn't make it through. Next time.

Flight Centre
Wild Earth
Infinit Nutrition
Ride Mechanic
NS Dynamics

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

The Good Day

When I came to Hobart in April 2017, it was the start of a new life. Different state, new partner and future friends. I also had to re-establish a business in a town where I didn't know many people. I was lucky that, through my racing, quite a few people knew me. I had delivered skills training as part of national development training camps, but teaching absolute beginners wasn't something I had a lot of experience in. But there was so much demand for it in Hobart. It is literally a mountain biker's paradise but there were scant coaches and those that were here had other full time jobs to balance.

Reconnecting with an old friend, Russ, led to the YMCA MTB program being established in 2017. It was literally over a coffee we decided that Hobart really needed a kids mountain biking program. It was designed to run the duration of a usual school day and cost about the same as holiday care to make it a valid alternative. So we kicked off the program. We've had frost, sideways rain, heatwaves and glorious days in the sun. The sessions built; sold out; we created more sessions. We added venues which proved to be a challenge with the steep terrain and lack of toilet facilities.

Today, in our third year of the program, we had 19 first-time attendees at Tolosa Park. We keep coming back to Tolosa due to the facilities and trails. They're not the flowiest, jumpiest or more groomed. But they offer varied riding experiences, easy climbing and the open terrain makes it easy to supervise 19 kids. Also, having a shelter to come back to for lunch and clean toilets makes the experience better for all. It was a great day. Hot, but no flat tyres and all the blood stayed on the inside of the riders.

The smallest girl today would have been barely eight years old. She was struggling up the climbs with a bike with plus size tyres. Sure it rolled over things like a tractor, but those tyres are heavy for a little girl to ride all day. I walk at the back with her. She wants to stop. Her legs are tired. She doesn't like being away from her mum for this long she tells me. I listen. And then we keep walking up the climb. Moving forward. She rides when she can and walks when it's too steep. The kids asked me about my tattoo. It's a shark with the word "incesante". I ask them if they've seen Finding Nemo and remember the part where Dory says "just keep swimming"? I say that's what it means. And this girl is doing that. Just when I think she's about to give up she says "You know, sometimes you have to earn it. The fun stuff. We'll have fun riding down the hill but we have to earn it going up." Such wisdom from an 8 year old.

At pick-up time at the end of the day, some of the kids chattered excitedly about the day to their parent. Some were just ready for a big nap. It's quite a big day for them. Eventually Russ and I are left at the shelter together. We started remembering the start of the program, the progress we've made as coaches. And tremendous buzz we get from seeing progress in the riders. Every session there's one or two kids who we wonder "are they going to make it through the day?" They are usually the ones we beam about afterwards seeing how they progressed from nervousness and tears to riding with confidence. But it's bigger than riding bikes. We thank the more confident kids for their patience to allow the less confident to learn. We give kids responsibilities to teach them about looking out for each other. We let them push their own bikes to give them a feeling of self-efficacy and determination. Earning the fun stuff. A girl told me today she really "pushed outside her comfort zone". I felt honoured that we had created a space where she felt safe to do that. We both have other roles and jobs, but these sessions - these are the best days. We throw around some exciting ideas for the future (you'll just have to wait!) and agree that what we ultimately want, is to make a positive difference in people's lives. We say our goodbyes until the next morning for round two.

I head up the North South Track for my own ride. The day is finally getting cooler and it's been a while since I've been on this trail. It's a solid hour up hill on my heavy bike but my heart is full. A couple of kids fly around the corner in front of me, enjoying the descent. They brake heavily so we can all pass safely. One of them is a boy who has come to numerous YMCA session over the years. I remember him and his brother well. Nervous beginners. Not any more. He's grown a lot over the few years. And he speaks so adult here now. He greats me warmly and says I'm doing well riding up the mountain. His dad gave them both a lift to the Springs. That's cheating I say but I won't say 'no' if they want to offer me one next time. We have a laugh, chat about the snakes they've seen and then they're on their way, flying back down the mountain. I played a small part in that, I think. I watch them go and my heart is absolutely bursting.

I'm so grateful for the opportunities I've had. And so grateful to be in this place. Today was a good day.

Monday, December 23, 2019

Baby steps hurt

A week before my bike was stolen I'd decided to start running again. I don't think I have any clairvoyant skills but it did help me deal with the loss of a machine that has brought me so much joy and shared so many adventures. So, why running? Because it's simple, requires no equipment maintenance (although the body maintenance tends to step up a notch) and it's really hard. I've done a lot of hard things on the bike. But being on my feet for hours on end is a challenge I've never quite got across. I used to race half marathons and thought that was a long way. I've done long treks during adventure races. But I've never run a long way and tried to do it as fast as possible.  I used to want to race marathons. But after feeling the wonder and freedom of the forest, I can't face 42 kilometres of asphalt. I contemplated entering the 100 kilometre Gone Nuts but decided to be semi-sensible and have chosen the 50k edition so, essentially, I'm only half nuts.

After an easy hour run during the week I wasn't crippled (that's my threshold for most things). So I headed out on a longer Sunday run on the mountain. Starting at the brewery, up to the Springs, across the Organ Pipes and back down. All on trail. My cardio fitness is quite good, as I expected from all the bike riding. But my muscles, ligaments and tendons have lost their trail running adaptations. It is very true that if you stop using it, you lose it. Determined not to overdo it, I kept below 75% of my maximum heart rate which meant walking up a lot of the hills. It was a lot of fast walking which is fine for a first long run in a while. My down hill running is average at the best of times and downright appalling right now. Weak, floppy ankles one poor placement away from snapping. Unstable knees and misfiring gluteals that won't guide them straight. And I trip on things - a lot. So much so that I need to wear gloves for the inevitable dirt superman move. Elbow pads probably aren't a bad idea either. Have I mentioned the two days of DOMS afterwards?

The last time I ran those trails they were covered in snow. Today they were packed with families enjoying the warmth and an unusually clear view across the city. No snakes today but I've packed the first aid kit which is essential for summer running on the mountain in Hobart. John's doing aboriginal cultural awareness training at work and tells me the first nations people just used to sit still under a tree for three days after snake bite. I had to clarify that we wouldn't wait that long to come looking for me.

I wanted to share my goal and my 'return to running' experience for a couple of reasons. Firstly, sharing a goal publicly gives me accountability which I've been lacking lately. Even writing this article makes me more motivated to do the work now. It's important to focus on the PROCESS of preparing for the event. Accountability isn't just about turning up on the day without doing the required preparation. So the process goals will include running to work and back twice a week and doing a long run on the weekend. On the other days I will continue to ride as alternating running and riding gives me the best chance to stay injury free. My intermediate celebrations will be my first 4 and 5 hour continuous runs and a PB to the top of the mountain.

The second reason is to share with others the experience of starting or restarting a new activity. Yes, I'm a fit, active person. But that doesn't mean I can just bound out the door, after not running for a significant period, and be 'naturally good' at that activity. Starting anything for the first time, or first time in a long while, requires a plan for logical progression. Intermediate goals give little rewards along the way to the big reward - running in a beautiful place with a bunch of like-minded people and celebrating our achievement at the end. If you're thinking of starting something new - exercise, eating better, new career - expect that it will involve some pain, initially. This doesn't mean it isn't worth doing. But you will increase your chances of success if you expect the discomfort and have a plan to deal with it. And remember to include intermediate goals along the way and celebrate them. Any move forward is worth celebrating.

Have a great Christmas and see you on the trails. I'll be the runner with the gloves and elbow pads :)

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Why groups matter

I was so incredibly pumped after my morning ride yesterday, I just had to write something down. I could just say how lucky I am to live a few minutes ride from Meehan Range and some excellent trails. But that was more by design than luck and we've chosen to pay higher rent to live close to MTB facilities and riding/running distance from work. Meehan Range is not Derby. It's a low key park although the new skills park is fairly epic. Most who ride there don't use the skills park though. I've seen the carpark stacked on the weekend and less than 15 people on the jumps. The rest have been absorbed into the forest and I would only pass a couple of riders, even on the busier days. The trails are similar to what I learned to ride on in Brisbane - loose gravel over hard pack with numerous rocks. There's a tough climb to the top of Corkscrew which has switchbacks as are rarely built these days. Possibly built for 26 inch wheels and steep head angles so every time I manage to 'no dab' the climb I give myself a high five. It is a real achievement. For my warm up though I chose the easier K's Choice climb, wanting to work on my descending. Purposeful riding meant my focus was on skills today. The corkscrew descent is one of my favourite local downhills. Trying to achieve flow in 180 degree turns on loose gravel requires being fully tuned into the small movements of the tyres across the surface. Feeling where the nice drift becomes something less cool. At the bottom I was so stoked I turned around the headed back up - the hard way. No dabs. Yes! I get to experience all of this and then ride 22 minutes to work, almost entirely off road using bike paths and park trails.

It is difficult to overstate how much I believe that access to quality recreational opportunities, close to where people live, is a fundamental human right. There are numerous studies indicating benefits on physical and mental health, air quality as well as wildlife corridors and even flood mitigation. . While I value places which are more popular with tourists, it's the natural facilities which the community can access every day which should be getting more attention. If equivalent funding were put into local parks and trails as. for example, the Three Capes track or Derby, it would be very exciting to see the outcome. While there does not seem to be a lack of football fields and open grassed areas, it would be great to see more places which resemble natural areas. The Domain is a fine example of use of natural space for recreation with well maintained running and cycling trails in the city centre. There's also public gym facilities near the Cenotaph with an amazing view over the river and bridge. I see many people using it as I pass each day. Central Park in New York is a more famous example, although a little disconcerting that it's also where they keep finding the bodies in NYPD Blue. Safety, and the perception of safety can be an obstacle in people using a more natural environment. So what I'm arguing for is thoughtful park design, with a variety of experiences, with equitable provision, regardless of economic position. A democratisation of natural space. Not all green space is created equal. I think about a park close to where we lived at Moonah. A steeply sloping triangle of grass which was no good for kicking a ball on. Had no trees or features of interest. We could have flown kites if it hadn't been directly under power lines. I assume it fulfilled the green space obligation to the letter if not the spirit.

Personally, I like green space to be a journey. I'm not much for ball games which require other people. I want a place to get a quick run or ride in on a short circuit, or a more leisurely weekend exploration. We are lucky to live here. But I've met many people who look at the mountain every day but have never actually been ON the mountain, save for the obligatory drive to the summit. One my main goals, when providing mountain bike instruction, is to encourage people to use the great natural areas where they live and to give them the skills to do it. Councils have a vital role to play in this through programs such as Healthy Hobart. While our local council website is not often our first port of call for interesting activities, it might be worth checking out what's being offered, often for free or nominal cost. I'm working with the council in February to deliver mountain bike skills sessions and have arranged to provide bikes for those who haven't made the investment yet. That's real grass roots when we're targeting people before they have even bought a bike.

Local clubs and other social groups also have a vital role to play in providing people the confidence to take on a new activity. Much has been heard about National organisations and international representation. But less is heard about the work clubs do in providing events - whether that's races or group social activities - which bring like-minded people together. I didn't need a club to start mountain biking. But it wasn't until I started going to club activities that I got access to skills advice, organised rides and met people with countless years of experience in the sport. The other group I rode with on Thursday mornings was less formal, but also pivotal in growing my confidence and enjoyment of the sport. Not everyone is lucky enough, or socially confident enough, to fall into these social groups though. Which is why organised activities (races, group rides, training sessions) are really important and need to be well communicated to people who are interested in trying out an activity. One of my best experiences was with the Tasmanian Canoe Club who offered a weekend of whitewater kayaking instruction. They provided boats, helmets, life jacket and paddles and I had so much fun upside down in the water on the Forth River. I haven't taken up whitewater kayaking because I don't currently have time, or live close to facilities. But it's now a potential activity in the future because I have some basic skills and had a great first experience.

Just providing the spaces and facilities is often not enough to encourage people to use them. Groups of people with experience are needed to guide others when gaining confidence in using those assets. Investment directly by local, state and federal government, or indirectly through grants to sports organisations, is required to ensure those groups - clubs or other social groups - can help people to develop the confidence to live active lifestyles.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

John and Jodie do Scotland

While there are probably far more extensive and detailed reports of trail riding in Scotland, I think it's important to document our trip, as we relied on other people's blogs to have our own adventures. Why would be go to Scotland to mountain bike when we live in the MTB paradise of Tasmania? It was primarily a trip to meet my partner's family, with some mountain biking thrown in. And I still love exploring trails in other countries and getting their particular flavour of the sport. We only scratched the surface of the riding here we'll certainly be back.

Cathkin Braes

Close to central Glasgow, this was the site of the 2014 Commonwealth Games cross-country. The race course is now the major blue loop of the park with a maze of smaller tracks creating shorter loops. We opened our riding account here after the jet-lag had faded and it delivered up a typical Scottish day of freezing side-ways rain. While not overly technical, it was fun to burn around. It also has a pump track on steroids and a dual slalom that could cause some damage at full tilt. John's mate and local MTB and outdoor legend, Gary Tompsett, played tour guide. All was well until we came across a kid who had axed himself and John went into doctor mode. Luckily the parents didn't seem to phased and they were on their way to the nearest ED. They were parked close to the pump track so after we waved them off it was one more time around...


Glentress is the better known bike park in Scotland but we got some off-piste recommendations in Innerleithen from Rab Wardell who is a bike coach in Glasgow. Rab was my instructor at the UCI coaching course in Switzerland and it was fantastic to see the work he's doing with youth across all disciplines. There are two parts to the bike park. One has a perfectly good shuttle but we chose to grovel because I was feeling fat and unfit after days of travel and being subject to extraordinary Scottish hospitality. (I think they make human foie gras.) It was a pleasant climb up the main fire road for 400 vertical metres. We dropped down Angry Sheep, then rode up again to do Green Wing beside it. These were a good warm up before going over the back to Bye Driver which was short but sweet if you like insanely tight corners and pumping. Caddon Bank descent is one of the more mainstream tracks but with easy drops and lots of swoop it's a favourite. We dropped into the local bike shop and had some chat with the owner of I-Cycles then headed out to the golf course side with more tips for round 2. Another long climb to hit a new track called Big Baws on the bike shops recommendation. This is trail of the trip. Black traversing track with narrow chutes, wet roots, rocks, and scree. The type of trail needing constant half pedal strokes and pumping to keep momentum. So physical, so good. I had my enduro bike, dropper post and flat pedals. But John was on a borrowed XC bike and clips. He certainly had 'big baws' (or just sore baws) at the end. We finished is the afternoon sun with the iconic Rocky ridgeline track with brilliant views over town reminiscent of Trouty at Derby. I could have spent another day here and the lovely town has some inviting post ride beer gardens. But sadly the schedule did not allow it and I was forced to have another family 3 course meal and several large glasses of wine. Devastating.


This was a big drive day from outside Edinburgh to Fort William. But we'd heard Laggan was worth a look. There are 4 main loops - black, upper red and lower red and a jumps track. Each loop involved climbing the same fireroad back to the top of the hill. I liked that the navigation was super easy and it was well sign posted. I get lost in carpark so this is my kind of place. We could ride all the trails here in 2-3 hours. Back Sack and Crack (black) reminds me of a Black Stump / Lower Shearpin cross (Derby reference) and was a highlight with tons of rocks, drops, pumping and line planning. The upper and lower red trails were just good clean fun and it felt good to go fast again after the physical black trail. The jumps track was OK but nary a table top in sight. It was more whoops that one for the serious jumps fan.


On a perfectly cloudless day, a rarity in Scotland, we headed to Kinlochleven. Some steep jeep trail climbing at first that became more friendly as we headed back-country. The low arc of the sun lighting the mountains in that particular romantic way. With a clear vista down the valley and loch we were fortunate to come across 20 volunteers for the Glen Coe Skyline run series making the most of the photo opportunity. Finally a couples shot that didn't have John's camera arm missing. After a false start and climb back up the wrong trail, we turned right at the NEXT trail for the Pipeline traverse. A track that sometimes peters out to flattened grass and riding on the huge water pipes trying to find the right gear to pedal between the raised joiners. While I admired the views, after a while walking through thick bog trying not to lose a shoe got frustrating. John was extolling the virtues of proper Scottish mountain biking while I was wondering if Scots actually rode their bikes. It was a good challenge trying to pick lines and keep momentum and reminded me of my first days of mountain biking before flow trails. The Ciaran Path descent was used in the EWS but I assume competitors walked the impossible boulder strewn rock sections. It was barely rideable with loose baby head sized rocks and it was utterly fun. We celebrated a great day out by washing our bikes in the river. Scotland has a distinct lack of hoses for such a wet country.My biggest regret is having to leave the area so soon. I felt at home in the mountains and the quiet of the valley is the perfect holiday for me. The drive back to Glasgow involved a lot of neck craning to look out the back window on a breath-taking day.

Thanks to the following supporters of my adventures:

Flight Centre
NS Dynamics
Wild Earth
Ride Mechanic
Infinit Nutrition
Absolute Black

Sunday, September 29, 2019

"To sin by silence, when we should protest, makes cowards out of men."

I came back from a 'data break' (when you don't get a SIM card for an international trip because you're actually relishing a break from compulsively checking email and social media) to a Facebook feed littered with my 'friends' opinions on climate change. I've stayed silent on a lot of the discussion, save for a blog I wrote after Cape Epic this year. Silent because of a depressing feeling of hopelessness for this planet and our society in general. Made more acute by being the mother of a 17 year old who is shortly to inherit what we have made. Instagram tells me she went to one of the many marches for action on climate change around the country. It reminded me of one of the quotes I keep which have deeply moved me:

"To sin by silence, when we should protest, makes cowards out of men." Ella Wheeler Wilcox

Since I have recently used a good portion of aviation fuel flying to Scotland, it's perhaps hypocritical of me to critcise the choices of others. (I flew economy class so I'm less of a hypocrite than those in first class.) But then we are all hypocrites. Every one of you out there marching against climate change are actively destroying the climate through your own choices. If you had more than 2 children, you're contributing to overpopulation. We're not farmers in the middle ages. You don't need to worry about half your offspring dying due to preventable diseases or malnourishment. If you bought a house in the outer suburbs when you work in the city, you burn tonnes of fuel each year commuting to your job. I pass you people every day while I run or ride to work, sitting in traffic. Cursing the traffic while ignorant that you ARE traffic. Obesity is a topic I've had a lot to say about which is also related to climate change. In it's simplest form, it is consuming more than you need, which is at the core of all devastating environmental impacts. Researchers had a stab at estimating the costs of overeating on the environment and put it at ten times the significant cost of food that is wasted and not consumed. And of courses there's microbeads, plastic waste, pollution of the land and waterways...

 One of the most interesting things I did while in Scotland was visit museums. Who visits museums in their home country once they've finished with mandatory school excursions? It was fascinating and I particularly liked the animal exhibits. Seeing the animals which are still with us but don't inhabit Australia. And those species which have long since departed. The most impressive was the Irish Giant Deer - a 600 kilogram animal with antlers 12 feet wide weighing up to 40 kilograms. It, along with several other species,  became extinct or moved further north (the Arctic fox was found in Scotland) at the end of the last ice age. Yes, there was climate change then. The earth has undergone a series of warmings and coolings. But it has never happened at the current rate and this is almost entirely due to human activity.

The most common response to friends posts calling for government action on climate change, is that it isn't up to governments, we're all responsible and it's up to us to fix it. While I agree with where the responsibility lies, here's why leaving it to individuals to fix it is flawed: humans are very poor at acting in their own best interests when the consequences are long term. They are even worse at acting morally when the consequences are not likely to be born by them or people they are close to. Humans know that smoking, overeating, drinking alcohol and doing little exercise will drastically decrease their health state and, possibly lifespan. Even if modern medicine keeps you alive, you will suffer the effects of cancer, liver disease, heart disease and having parts of your body amputated due to the end stages of diabetes. And yet most of you are still guilty of at least one, if not most of those actions.  If you cannot make decisions in your own best interest now (and in the interests of our taxpayer funded health system that you're depleting), you are woefully incapable of making decisions in the interests of the planet and for future generations. This article will not speculate on why that is, but it's been explored by many behavioural scientists. Let's just accept that as individuals making long-term choices, we're a bit fucked.  

Governments and other public bodies are supposed to make and enact laws which create a society in which we reach greater prosperity (not just material prosperity, but health and meaningful existence) together. When we are too stupid to save for retirement, drive safely or stop smoking, governments step in and impose the superannuation guarantee, fines for speeding and taxes to make smoking financially unattractive. The ban on smoking indoors (2004) and the 12.5% annual excise increase (2010) saw smoking rate plummet showing that price and social pressures (like protest) are effective in behaviour change. The first things I learned in economics (second attempt at uni, didn't last) was the demand curve and its relationship with price (the more expensive something is, the less people want) and the concept of externalities which Wikipedia defines as:

"...the cost or benefit that affects a party who did not choose to incur that cost or benefit. Externalities often occur when a product or service's price equilibrium cannot reflect the true costs and benefits of that product or service."

Once you accept that human contribution to climate change is an externality which is not currently reflected in the cost of goods, the only reasonable proposal would be to assign a cost to that contribution. Also known as a carbon tax. As with the GST, this tax is focused on consumption which, at its extreme, is the blight of our society. The sugar tax, when imposed in the UK, lead to companies pre-emptively reducing the amount of sugar in their beverages. Whether you believe that sugar is to blame for obesity or not, you should be impressed at the power of taxes in changing the behaviour of the most immoral of institutions - companies. What if imposing a price on carbon forced companies to reduce their emissions? They do seem very desperate to keep selling us goods and willing to change their behaviour once sales are threatened. But more importantly, what are you willing to pay to reduce climate change. I'm not talking about choosing the green tariff or deciding to offset your overseas holiday. (I ran my trip through this online calculator which asked for a paltry 36.43 USD to assuage my guilt). 

We live in Hobart which has a ban on high density building because it threatens heritage values and the city's 'vibe'. Are you willing to pursue high density living to prevent deforestation from urban sprawl and emissions from gridlocked roads as the hoards commute from further and further out? Will you let go of the Australian dream of the quarter acre block so your one child can have a trampoline? Will you demand apartment blocks with green space from developers so that many children can play in the one yard? If you live within 10 kilometres of the city are you willing to active commute or use public transport and vote for a car-free city and parking that is so expensive that it dissuades people from driving in (don't get between a Hobartian and their free parking!). I challenge people on their car use and hear the arguments: "But Johnny and Hannah have football after school so I have to drive them to their school then me to the office so I can drive back to their school and drive them to practice. Then I have no time to get exercise for myself..." True commitment would mean radically altering our lifestyle choices in terms of where we live, how much land we own and how we get around. What if people chose to buy homes close to where they worked, and made decisions on their kids schools based on walking distance and not perceived prestige. I see a lot of kids commuting to school by foot or on scooters and they're rarely the kids of the middle or upper class. What if they sacrificed climate control and 30 minutes of (false) efficiency to get up early and walk to school and then jump on a bus to work thereby saving the planet and getting that missing physical activity. You have those options now but you don't take them because making the choices to live far away and drive a car are not nearly expensive enough.

My partner and I are in the top 20% of earners in Australia which blows me away because I feel poor comparing myself with those around me. We can't help but balk at paying more for a kilogram of loose carrots than for a kilogram of carrots in a plastic bag. Now if my partner chooses the plastic bag (and he does have a true love of the environment), I can't help but think how the lower 80% make their decisions on environmental issues.  Until the true cost of emissions is represented in the price of our goods and services, behaviour will not change. Unfortunately for Australia we are at the mercy of populist governments created by a media which has been bought by corporations and a deterioration in education regarding the function of governments and the economy in general (my experience of schooling). We cannot say we are serious about climate change when we elect governments who are not willing to impose a price on emissions. In the short time Australia had a carbon tax significant reductions in emissions were made but it was thrown out when Australians realised they had to pay more for their carbon-emitting electricity. Electricity use is the number one carbon emitter of the Australian economy. For some reason we still don't connect our own activities with climate change and we expect the path to halting the devastation to be cheap and painless. 

I loved the sight of the wind farms in Scotland which provide the majority of their renewable energy. Australia's renewables contribute 23.5% to it's energy use compared to 33% in Scotland. The majority (54%) of Australia's renewable energy comes from burning bagasse, the byproduct of sugar cane harvesting as well as wood waste. Wait. Didn't we just cover the fact that burning stuff increases CO2 emissions? Not to mention that swathes of forest are cleared to grow the cane which produces a food that we now know isn't actually very good for us. Straya. While renewables are a fine objective, people need to get to grips with the reality that the real answer lies in consuming less. Less food, less fuel, less land. And the over-consumption will not stop until it's financially painful to continue.