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.

Friday, September 27, 2019

Repetition as a way to notice improvement. ( And salvaging positives from disappointment)

I haven't blogged about my last race. I can't think of anything to blog about. We raced, nothing went too wrong, we came third. Only 3 teams finished the whole course, so we joked that we actually came last. I criticised the last event run by the same organiser for being a shambles. This event went smoothly and the course was interesting incorporating some local features like Obi Obi gorge and Kondallila Falls. The swim/run up the gorge was an absolute treat. If you're in the area I highly recommend checking them out. And if the weather report says 7 degrees and windy and you start the paddle leg at 3am, I also highly recommend layering up. The race finish dash continued under the arch to the van where the heater was turned up to maximum and there we stayed until we stopped shivering enough to make it to the McDonalds drive-thru for coffee and breakfast.

Finally stopped shivering 

After a short recovery I went back to run training in earnest. John and I had planned to attempt the Ramsay Round in Scotland in conjunction with a holiday. It's a 80k-ish grovel over 24 mountains in the north of the country to be completed in under 24 hours to be recognised as meeting the challenge. So in between a full time job, part time business and study, I tried to fit in 4 hour runs in the mountains and 16km foot commutes to the office. There are many times I did not want to do these. But it's part of committing to a project - you get the preparation done. Full stop. And I did get to see some incredible sunrises, and run in the snow and it made me grateful to have the opportunity to do these things. And then I got to the office, and struggled through the day wondering if everyone was as tired as I was. If studying until 11pm and getting up at 5.30am to run was really worth it. If I didn't have the challenge to aim for I would have taken the sleep in. I never realised how important having a goal was to simply getting out the door. I could manage a 5k jog each day to stave off cardiac disease without much trouble. But to really push myself, that takes a bigger carrot. It was easy when there was always the next race. When sponsors expected podiums and I was on an upward trajectory. But on the gentle slope to middle age, if I didn't race again no one would care and I have no one to answer to. My clients are in this position all the time. It's bloody hard!

Ran through plenty of this over winter. Still chuffed with snow after being a Queenslander for 39 years.

One thing I think is important to being successful - not just in sport but in life - is having a high tolerance for repetition. Learning anything new takes repetition. Judging the effectiveness of an intervention takes repetition, and time. John and I don't get to run together often, but when we did he would always ask what route we were doing. And I'd say "the same one as last time". Boring hey? But repeating the same route meant less thinking about where we were going, more focus on the running and generally improves the efficiency of the whole process. And when I'm really busy, I value efficiency above novelty. Although it's hard to be bored running on the mountain which ranges from waterfalls, moss and fern trees to dolerite and alpine scrub over a 1000m ascent. Another benefit of repetition is noticing improvement. I was doing an endurance run so kept my heart rate under 160 on the climbs and ticked over about 130 on the easy flats. Nowhere near flat out but enough to be tired and sore (damn you downhill running) after 4 hours. Over the course of a couple of months, I noticed I was running up hills I'd previously walked. I started getting back to my car earlier so I'd have to run up the road for a bit to make up the 4 hours. And a bit further each time. I wasn't as sore or tired and could muster the energy for a family ride in the afternoon. I felt like a runner again.

Saw plenty of sunrises. Am always blown away by their beauty.

As is the way with running, injuries bring things to a screaming halt. Not me, but John with a torn calf. I could have done the run by myself, but that wasn't the point. I've done a lot of challenges by myself. This was something we wanted to share. And, with my sense of direction, I would have got hopelessly lost. I was disappointed. All those tired, early mornings would be for nothing. I had no 'result' or release. But what I did have was that experience of adaptation. The experience of sucking at something and finding it difficult, but persisting, repeating until I got stronger, and better. And that's why I do most things and why I'll never stop trying new things. "He who stops being better, stops being good". Apparently that's Oliver Cromwell but I first saw it on a running program my coach sent me. It's always stuck with me as an attitude to sport and life in general. If we stop trying to be better, we may as well curl up and die. I'm reading the hot book of the moment by Jordan Peterson. It's hard going. But rule 4 is "compare yourself to who you were yesterday, not to who someone else is today". It urges people to think of small ways they can make life better, be better, each day. In coaching we talk about outcome goals and process goals. The outcome is what you want to ultimately achieve (eg. 40kph average for a race, under 3 hours for marathon). The process is how you get there. I WILL go to bed at 9.30 each night so I can wake up at 5.30am and train. I WILL get out for at least one hour of exercise each day, no matter what other obligations present themselves. I WILL prepare a nutritious meal to support my body even though I'd rather spend that time watching Game Of Thrones (or whatever people watch. I don't even have a TV nor time to watch it). If we compared ourselves to professional sports people every day, we'd never get out of bed. But if we can notice the improvements, the outcomes, of our commitment to the process, then we can be satisfied that it is 'good'. 

One more shot of my running route. Yes I'm showing off now. Get out there and find the awesome spots around you!

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Geoquest 2019 - Yamba, NSW

Another weekend, another adventure race… Well actually the first race since our ill-fated Alpine Quest in the January furnace. Life got busy. More busy than I thought possible. Full-time work + business + study. I’ve never put training so far down my priority list. Commuting to the office and trying to do some intervals on the way. Creeping home at night astounded at how tired you can get from sitting on your arse all day. Working after work. More study. I started to realise I didn’t even get into the forest during the week and I needed this desperately. For my soul, not just my legs. Then suddenly it was time to pack for the race. And another 6am flight. Argh.

This isn’t going to be about Geoquest. Well not mainly. It’s about the meaning we, I, attach to these events. I’ve had some close friends – mountain bikers and adventure racers – seek my counsel lately. They had the same question – what’s it all about? Why do we do this? Why do we keep doing this? I don’t know why they thought I had any answers. I’ve been asking myself the same questions a lot lately. And not just about racing.

So clean and uninjured. 

One thing is certain – it’s not for the fame or money. As I sat at my desk the day after the race, my body was littered with bruises and cuts. The dark circles under my eyes suggested that an extra couple of hours shut eye doesn’t make up for missing an entire night’s sleep. “You look tired!” Yeah, 33 hours of racing will do that. Just touching things hurt from all the splinters and thorns in my hands. Everything in Yamba was covered in thorns – vines, palm trees, shrubs. I wore gloves the whole race but it didn’t seem to matter.

“What did you get up to on the weekend?”
“Not much. Did a race”
“How far?”
“250km. 33 hours.”


I’ve stopped telling people now. My battle scars are evidence of a secret life. There used to be some perverse pride in watching them try to comprehend. But now it’s just frustration. When telling people you ran 15kms to work it gets the same response as 250k. They wonder how I could do these things. I wonder how they can’t. From what I can tell, any able-bodied human can do these events – and they do. They’re not especially gifted. They just want to challenge themselves to the extra-ordinary. And feel pain.

River crossing with bike. Best bit of the race happened straight after this. John back-stroking after returning the boat. It's a Scottish thing I think.

That cleansing pain. The type that centres you and focuses you on the task at hand like we’re rarely focused in this world of distraction. When your body screams ‘pay attention’ and you can’t ignore it. There is always pain somewhere – the burning calves on a steep hill, screaming abs while paddling, the sensation as the skin on your scrotum is slowly rubbed raw because you forgot lube (obviously this one wasn’t MY pain). There’s the ‘normal’ expected pain. Then there’s the ‘what the hell is that?’ pain. Which, for me, was the tendons in the front of my ankles filling with fluid and making every metre of the last 27 kilometre beach run pure agony.

Facing your fears. Coming off a night paddle and shivering so much you can’t dress yourself for the bike leg to come. Being wet ALL. THE. TIME. Afraid you’ll crack before the job is finished. But mainly the fear of not being good enough – being the weak link. Gritting your teeth and facing the fear. No high ropes for me this race. Just the pounding ocean. The big swell. How big? So big that the organisers have to wait until the last hours before the race to tell you if they’ll let you paddle in it (or, more accurately, their insurance company will let you). The fear won with some with a team forfeiting the paddle to run to the first transition. That’s where trust comes in. Trust in your team mates. Gary wouldn’t let me die. Hopefully. He doesn’t look worried so I’m sure the big waves are fine. But then Andy didn’t look worried during that Geoquest ocean paddle in 2015 either. Afterwards he said “yeah I was pretty worried…”

Bliss. The quiet of sunrise on the river. Carefully picking our way through small creeks on to small rivers on to the mighty Clarence. Driving past it so many times I’ve always wanted to be in it. And now we were. Micro-sleeps. When half the team is having them on the paddle and the other half of the team is feeling their double No Doze kick in. Sometimes the enemy isn’t pain and the hardest parts of the race aren’t the most physical.

It rained. A lot.

Monotony. Is it 38 hours a week at an unfulfilling job? Or running in sand toward a headland that doesn’t look any closer than it did 2 hours ago. Which is the more pointless? Does the race monotony prepare you better for life-monotony, or vice versa? Data-entry workers may make the best adventure racers. There’s a school of thought that says adventure racing makes you more resilient.

Resilience – the ability to tolerate discomfort. That certainly is REQUIRED for racing. Can you learn it while racing? Does this have cross-over benefits to ‘normal life’? In my experience, racing makes day to day existence and routines seem infuriatingly mundane and pointless. The discomfort of a six hour trek is understandable. The pain caused by clicking a mouse repetitively is unfathomable because, on its own, it’s such an inconsequential action. After each race associating with ‘normal people’ (who stand still on escalators to avoid effort when the whole point is to get where you’re going faster) more isolating. Like standing in a crowd of people with ear muffs on.

Understanding. Being with our own tribe. That’s why we race. Because the only people who really understand you are the other crazy nut-jobs on the beach thinking ‘this is going to be a long day…’. The ones who are taking nervous pre-race poos in the park gardens because the organisers have chosen a start line with a solitary toilet with zero understanding (or fucks given) of the effect of adrenaline on the gastrointestinal tract. Your family, friends and probably your partner have no idea what drives you to do these things. But everyone else who’s paid crazy amounts of money to do the event is at least as close to the truth as you are. Let’s face it, none of us REALLY know why we’re doing it. It just feels…right. More right than many other things in life right now.

Waiting for gear, but we did get coffee. Not a bad spot to wait with 'my tribe'.

And sometimes your work colleagues, who really have no clue, ask you questions about how you train, what trails you explore and they write that down. And the next weekend they go out and do something. Not 250 kms, but something more than nothing. And that’s pretty cool.


The actual race in a nutshell – lots of running on beaches. This shit has to be seriously curtailed because I think I’ve run the entirety of the New South Wales coast now. Find some mountains please. Some good mountain biking – no single track but enough technical, raw descending to be fun. Rogaine was tops, even with all the spiky things. Great game of strategy – take the long safe road or straight line through the bush? We did fairly well here but lingered too long at the Tiger Adventure transition area eating snags and sipping warm, sweet coffee. Comfort is a trap. Thumbs up to the sunrise paddle but major flaws in the logistics plan for this race with teams waiting up to 2 hours at TA for their gear. We ended up tied for 3rd after the racing was too close to rely on vollies wrist watches for time deducted for waiting for equipment.


I like to reflect on stuff that served me well (or not) during each race. Injinji socks were great – no blisters or numb feet. They can get a bit warm in races but are brilliant when stuff is wet and cold. My $50 pack I bought in 2015 finally died so I’ve invested in a new Salomon Skin Pro 15 ( and will review this after Hell’s Bells. Salomon S-Lab SGs were very confident over the wet rocks. I wore the more flexible Inov8s in the soft ground sections and the lugs were good but they are useless on rocks and tree roots.
I second guessed my food and paid the price. Too much sweet, processed garbage. I barely touched my Infinit because the weather was so cold I wasn’t drinking much of anything. Must make more of an effort next time. Back to basics for solids with sandwiches and dried fruit. Creamed rice and weetbix in a bag were solid, as always.
Truly horrendous conditions for the bikes. Ride Mechanic Bike Mix showed its superiority in keeping the chain clean and turning. The Liv Lust also has great clearance around the wheels (and RS1 fork) so they keep turning when mud starts to accumulate. Keep this in mind before buying that fancy Specialized. Just sayin…
Thanks to Flight Centre for getting my there and home.

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Bike packing Bruny Island TAS - #moreadventuresclosetohome

Things have been a bit quiet since my Cape Epic adventure. Taking two weeks unpaid leave and missing a bunch of university lectures made 'head down, arse up' my modus operandi on my return. Aspects of my last blog post struck a chord with some people and my friend, Peter, sent me his hashtag #moreadventuresclosetohome which I think is a great idea. Now I write this having just booked a trip to Scotland later in the year so I'm not saying I'll NEVER travel. But I want to ensure that, if I'm going to burn a bunch of fossil fuels getting there, that it's something that is going to really inspire me. We're meeting friends and family, riding some world-famous mountain bike parks and (weather permitting) having a crack at the Ramsay Round ultra running challenge. So that's ticking a lot of boxes in my mind.

My partner and I are becoming known for a home-adventures/near catastrophes and it does seem logical, living in Australia's adventure capital, that #moreadventuresclosehome will be an easy option for us. A few weekends ago we had an adventure that was less back-country than usual. I'd never been to Bruny Island before despite it being a short distance from Hobart. We drove out of the city to Kingston to avoid riding the same-old roads, and headed off bike-packing. The ferry to Bruny from Kettering is a mere $6 per person return which is ridiculously cheap. It's mainly a ferry for vehicles so don't expect luxuries for the 15 minute trip.

Before the rocking started

Arriving on big swells and with a wind warning, we headed over the lumpy terrain passing an establishment called "The House of Whisky" which would be getting a visit on the ride home. While people in Hobart were battening down hatches, we decided that pedaling bikes laden with gear into cross-winds was what was really required. We were camping the night and brought our own food which proved totally unnecessary. There is no risk of starving on Bruny. Every 10 kilometres or so there is local eatery with great coffee, amazing view and exquisite local produce.

Wanting to get some training in (or make room for more food) we did the North Bruny loop anti-clockwise and coincided our first stop at the Jetty Cafe at Dennes Point with a passing squall. (Okay, technically our first stop was on the road side where I had to pee is some long grass to avoid the gaze of tourists driving past while John ate a hot-cross bun). The cafe overlooks the ocean and serves a decent soy latte. John, for the third time so far, got soy milk with his chai latte. After almost getting into physical altercations with the last two baristas who assure him "chai lattes are ALWAYS made on soy" I was glad he let the 60 year old lady off with a withering look. If someone can clarify this issue for us that would be appreciated.

Pedaling for quite a while but getting nowhere fast we happened upon the Bruny Island Cheese Co. This is somewhere I'd normally ride past lest it interrupt my structured training. But this is also, it appears, the essence of many bike packing adventures so we pulled in, if only to stop fighting the wind for a while. After a few tastings we figured that the cheeses wouldn't last too well on our trip but we grabbed a loaf of freshly baked sourdough to go with our camping meals and opted for a beverage. John got some beer that tasted like beer and I ordered Simple Cider with ginger. The barman looked my small frame up and down and cautioned "just an FYI, these are 8%" before handing over the drink.

Everything but cheese. Need an esky...or bigger stomachs

I perhaps should have heeded his warning as I got back on my bike, but it may have given me the courage to sit on the front as we punched into a 70kph headwind over 'the neck' on our way to the island's south. Our plan was to camp at Jetty Beach, but by the time we'd reached the intersection, we chose to take the turn off down to Cloudy Bay to a more low-key campsite called The Pines. We figured this would be more protected from the winds, we were tired and it was a lot closer.

For the record, 'low-key' now means no toilet and no drinking water in our camping dictionary. The former we have dealt with many times but the latter was not optimal with dehydrated meals and bodies. Luckily a couple in a Wicked Camper parked up nearby had plenty of water. They were visiting from Chile and trying to do an express Tasmania trip before the bad weather set in. We hoped they had some indoor activities planned for the next couple of days.

We finished our dinner and John cleaned up while I went looking for firewood. Easter had just recently been so most of it had been used by the camping hordes. I filled a backpack with pine cones figuring they would burn pretty well. On cue as we tried to light the fire it started to rain. We are seriously thinking of offering our services to drought-stricken farmers. Let us camp on your property and you will be assured of opening heavens. It's our special gift.

Waking up to blue-er skies the next day, we briefly headed north then turned east on to what I'd call 'the back way' to Adventure Bay. It was hilly and muddy but quite lovely apart from the almost-head-on we had with a 4WD. Who drives along that track when there's a perfectly good road alternative? He was probably thinking the same about us.

I always attract attention walking into cafes after a mountain bike ride. Being so close to the ground my face seems to attract more mud that usual. Wandering into the Penguin and Pardalote cafe I got a proper hipster-standard coffee while John played it safe with a tea. It sure was nice to have so many opportunities to eat, drink and relax while overlooking a beach. I declined John's kind suggestion of some extra training kilometres by circumnavigating the north of the island again. But I was coerced into climbing the 200 steps (a kind boy counted them for us all the way back down) for the obligatory photo over The Neck.

Don't know why my helmet is so much muddier.

Back at the House of Whiskey - well it seemed rude not to. And it was after 12, windy and cold. Disappointingly we discovered that there is, in fact, no whiskey produced on Bruny Island. The Trapper's Hut label is actually produced in Moonah which is at the bottom of our street. We opted for some mulled wine, heated gently and sipped in the impressive interior display of whiskeys and gins. Heating up alcohol is still quite a foreign concept to a Queenslander but mulled wine and hot cider have been a revelation. Some other customers commented that they seen us riding, what hard work it must be and how crazy we are. But then I think about how much tasty local food we enjoyed which fueled our human-powered weekend. And there's a special type of bonding that occurs between a couple who have had to take turns riding into the wind together and laughing about how bad things are at times. You just don't get sitting in a car. I really enjoyed a relaxed weekend of riding, eating and drinking and can say, if this is bike-packing, I'm in.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Cape Epic 2019 - South Africa

Having placed 4th in an elite female team in 2011, I really thought I'd ticked the Cape Epic 'must do' box. So I was still a bit shell-shocked to be standing at the start line in Cape Town again. A combination of good timing, luck and great friends had me partnered with Mark Martin, a riding mate from Brisbane. In his heyday, Marto was a top triathlete. But at 56 the rigors of running had taken their toll on his knees so he had turned to mountain biking. Back when I was trying to make Australian teams, Mark was one of my supporters who funded my first trip to Italy for the 2010 World XCM Championships in Villabasa. We met up for a ride and while he was super strong uphill, he couldn't descend to save himself. Fast forward a few years and the man who wouldn't ride at Gap Creek if it was slightly moist announced he had signed up for the Swiss Epic, renown for its wet, icy tree roots and steep, muddy descents. After that, and a 2015 Cape Epic in a super masters team, Marto became a better rider. Not good enough to make the start line of our 2016 Swiss Epic when he busted his shoulder and my partner took his place. So when he asked me to be his team mate for this year's Cape Epic, it seemed a fitting partnership toward the end of my cycling career. He'd missed out on a top 10 finish in 2015 after he and his team mate got separated and copped a time penalty. (NB. You must stay within 2 minutes of your team mate at all times) Top 10 seemed like an arbitrary but achievable goal.

Trying to beat the jet-lag in the sun. Table Mountain is pretty spectacular overlooking Cape Town.

There were two rules for the trip: Don't get separated; and no fucking tents. Being on the Avis upgrade package and getting whisked away to a comfortable bed and fluffy towels each day lacked the camaraderie of the race village tents, but made my 2am wee a lot less hassle. It was far from a flawless experience with rolling blackouts (more on this later), variable service standards and a missing pool. But it definitely afforded more comfort and dignity than I was used to . Our assigned coordinator, Farazaanah, and massage therapist, Brandon, made our experience 5-star.

Pool at our second hotel at Arabella Hotel and Spa. Post stage sauna and spa was mint!

I can't remember much of my 2011 race, being flogged for most of it after coming out of an average XCO season. I'd definitely forgotten the beauty of the area. Each day started in an amphitheatre of mountains with jagged peaks to rival Switzerland. Not so much in height but in texture and sun-drenched valleys. It was satisfying to look across and see the trail we'd traveled on an hour ago. I find this gives a better sense of the journey as John and I often look back at the ridge-line we spent the last 8 hours traversing. Less welcome were the mornings riding directly into the sun on trail so dusty the rider a few metres in front of me was obscured. I put the bike approximately where I thought the trail was and hoped for the best. Blind faith was also a prerequisite for the numerous pitch-black underground tunnels and drains were we sent down to avoid road crossings. The rider was left to feel the wheels on the curvature of the pipe to make sense of which way they were going.

Credit: Dwayne Senior / Absa Cape Epic

One thing that had notably improved on course was the volume and quality of the single track. The descents on days 4,5 and 6 were some of the best I've done anywhere. While battling with the Spanish Flax & Kale team on Day 4, we were absolutely flying down the trail in a train, attaining that enviable 'flow' state. The guy turned to me at the end with a huge grin and asked "Did you have an orgasm??". I think I did. Not overly technical, but if hooking down berms and pinging off small table tops and gaps for 10 minutes at a time is your thing, you won't be disappointed. The fire-road to single track ratio is on par with races like the Trans Rockies in Canada so it's not the Jeep track grovel of old. There's still plenty of grovel though with most days over 2500 metres of ascent. Not smooth tarmac or trail either. Tufts of grass, loose rock and slippery shale all featured. I don't think I've ever ridden as much deep sand UP hill.

Bergs for days. These handy stick ons helped tick them off each day.

The weather started pleasantly cool, progressed to freezing summit rain and finished in the high 30s for the last two days. One very welcome addition to the race logistics is a small rider bag we could throw our jackets into on the start line and which was transported to the finish tent each stage. No more shivering on the start line because you don't have a support crew to throw your gear to. The whole operation has become a lot more slick since 2011. We definitely didn't go hungry with the feed zones stocked with all manner of snacks every 20k or so. Riders only needed to bring their sports foods of choice to start each day and then they were well catered for over the rest of the stage. I will miss my mid-stage fruit cake and banana bread. Much of the course runs through private land so can't be ridden outside of the event. But large parts of the single track network are mountain bike parks attached to wineries (because riding a bike at speed and alcohol go really well together...) and it would be a fantastic stop over for a few days riding around the Elgin area. It was the usual 'muppet show' on a lot of the trail descents with an abundance of unnecessary braking behind less skilled riders so hitting these again at speed would be nice.

Up at 5am each day for breakfast, even at the hotels. Sunrise over the mountain at Houw Hoek hotel. The hotel pre-dates settlement in Australia. 

Marto and I were fairly matched on the climbs for the first few days. But with me being faster on the descents I could pace it up the next section while he was constantly working hard to close gaps. That adds up over 8 days. I'm glad he was the one 'in the box' because I don't think I could have hurt myself the way he did for the whole race. I'd settle in to a nice rhythm thinking I'd have an easy day, then another team would come past and BANG! Marto was chasing them down. My legs objected to the surges so I either rode a steady pace in front or put a hand on his back and pushed from behind up the smoother climbs (there weren't that many!). We rode with similar people each day and got to know everyone's capabilities. I was spinning up a climb and felt a hand grab my jersey for a tow. I thought "Good, Marto is on" only to turn around and see one of the South African guys latched on. Nice try. I watched an Argentinian crash into an apple tree and get pelted with falling fruit as he lay on the ground early in the race. This taught me that constantly looking behind for your team mate was potentially painful.

Credit: Absa Cape Epic. Photographer not listed.

While we oscillated between 9th and 11th in the mixed category, we moved steadily up the general classification and start waves as people dropped out due to broken bones or broken souls. I saw numerous people with the telltale collarbone sling, gravel rash and one young guy having a cry beside the trail because the task in front seemed insurmountable. People riding solo after losing a team mate overwhelmingly said it was more difficult and their motivation to continue was almost absent. Your team mate can be your best ally or your worst enemy if they push so hard you crack. Choice of partner is a huge key to success in this race. As is preparation. This is a huge outlay of money and it did astound me the number of people who didn't complete it due to insufficient preparation. Whether that was ensuring their bike was up to the task, or that they'd trained sufficiently or addressed their nutrition before and during the race. This event sells out and organisers have zero latitude for people missing the stage time cut-offs. They want to keep the exclusivity and challenge of getting two people through the event, and part of that challenge needs to be time-bound.

The line was long by Day 4. The staff are experts 'down under'

Marto and I had not so much as a flat tyre through the whole race which is astounding considering what we rode through. One team we were with had 6 punctures on the one stage. Body-wise, I had one trip to the infamous bum clinic (drop your pants and bend over) to get a staph infection treated and some protective dressing applied. Marto washed out on Day 7 and, I was told, hit a tree with his face. This seemed plausible given the lack and dust and gravel rash on him and the gaping wound on the inside of his mouth from his teeth. Some internal stitched and ice for his swollen cheek saw him soldier on for the final day. About 50 percent of the field was riding with some sort of injury by the last day. The thousands of off-camber gravel corners in the race claimed many victims.

Marto getting his mouth stitched up. The event offers a mini hospital, not just first aiders. If you're going to have a cardiac arrest at a mountain bike event, you're better off having it here. 

As a race I really enjoyed the course. It was a good balance of pleasure and pain. The organisation is astounding as you would expect for its reputation and $9000 (per pair) entry fee. There were a couple of days I was really pushed and I don't think I would have dug that deep if I didn't have a team mate urging me on. It's nice to know I can still tap into that place and has made me appreciate that my time left to compete at a reasonable level is short. I need to make the most of it. We held on to 9th place against the fast finishing German team.

There were a couple of things in the background of the race that were concerning though. The number of empty dams we rode past; the 'no swimming' signs beside dust bowls. The 2 hours of load-shedding each day where houses and businesses have no power due to mismanagement and incompetence of the state power provider. We were shielded from it somewhat as most hotels have generators - although sometimes they failed to kick in. Brandon (massage) is doing his honours in exercise science but the university he is at has no generator. So they often fall behind in their lectures with no power for projectors or Wifi (mobile data is very expensive in South Africa). Despite the signs urging considered water consumption, house-keeping still laundered our towels every day and I'm sure no one actually took the recommended 90 second shower. The amount of waste generated by the race in terms of polyester satchels, plastic bags, cups, packaging and cutlery was staggering and embarrassing. The country, already showing the ravages of climate change, left cars and buses idling constantly. That we were serviced in comparative luxury while locals had insecure access to basics like water and electricity just felt a bit...wrong.

I've started to consider where the sport I love sits in terms of its net affect on the environment. And I'm not talking about the oft-cited erosion on trails that mountain bikers are, sometimes unfairly, blamed with. That is a small issue compared to the carbon emissions involved in flying halfway across the world to compete in a event that generates huge amounts of non-recyclable waste. How do we reconcile the personal transformation which these events can bring about with the huge environmental impact that participation imposes? I could justify it previously. But now I think I've learned all the possible lessons that suffering on a bike can teach me, is it ethical to keep participating? In my more extreme moments I question the morality of endurance sport, full stop. Is doing more running/riding/other than is necessary for good health (benefits top out at around one hour per day), akin to leaving the car idling in a garage in terms of increased use of resources? It's not as if we are transporting goods to market these days. Most of us probably ride before work and then jump in the car to commute to the office. I'm not boycotting endurance events altogether. But I will be taking a more considered approach to travel and examining the policies of the event organisers when it comes to waste production and reduction at events. Most mountain bikers I know have a huge respect for the natural environment. I'd just like to see that concern extend past the one we immediately enjoy.

Thanks to my team mate Mark Martin for turning himself inside out every day. And to the following sponsors who support my adventures:

Flight Centre Sports and Events - travel and sports events
Wild Earth - outdoor gear
Ride Mechanic - bike and body maintenance products
NS Dynamics - fork and shock servicing
Absolute Black - oval chain rings
Infinit Australia - sports nutrition products

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Destination mountain bike forum, Maydena - the future of dirt

Despite living in a freezing cloud for two days, the forum was a worthwhile experience and I came away feeling some excitement for the future and also a new appreciation for the hard work of people behind the scenes. Each of the speakers and workshops offered some insights and tips for those working in various roles in government, private business and clubs. The messages that really stuck with me are:

1. These things don't happen over night - Although it seems as though developments like Bike Park Wales, Maydena and Queenstown just spring up the actual timeline from concept to construction is a lot longer than most people would realise. Most of these developments take 5-10 years from the time someone says "Let's do this!" to when the first tyres runch on dirt. During that time there will be set backs, seemingly insurmountable red tape, thoughts of abandoning the entire project and small mental breakdowns by the proponents. When they hear people say "wow, that happened quickly" they must want to stab them.

2. Not everywhere can be Derby - While the conference focused on big developments that, in some cases, revived a whole town, in reality not every venue can, or should, aim for something of that scale. For every 100-kilometres-of-trail 'destination' development we need ten smaller 'long weekend' type developments and probably twenty 10-20 kilometre trail networks where people can ride every day (my figures). There was some concern in the room that, with all the new developments that there may be more trail than riders. That supply is outstripping demand. Where are the riders coming from? My answer is that they're coming from the kids that can ride trails after school. The working people who can do a quick lap around the local track after work. People don't learn to ride at Maydena. They learn to ride on the trails close to them and this fuels the demand for the bigger destination trails. It was great to see representatives from Hobart and Glenorchy councils and I hope they walked away with an appreciation of where local trails fit in the big picture of mountain biking.

3. Maintenance is a barrier to approval - The biggest question mark over new trails is planning and budgeting for ongoing maintenance. This is an argument I have heard many times - everyone wants to build new trails but no one wants to maintain this. Relying on volunteer labour is no longer a working model. The world-famous Queenstown trails are almost exclusively volunteer built which is unbelievable given how much venue they generate for Skyline who operate the uplift. While this is not a totally one-way relationship with the company cleverly boosting club membership numbers, it does create an issue due to volunteer burn-out and the constant battle to raise money for more trails and equipment. It is surprising to hear the Queenstown club struggles to get people who want to build trails. But there is a theory that having trails has become normalised for the residents and an attitude that the 'trail fairies' will continue to provide. In contrast, the government funded Warburton Trail Development has budgeted on $400,000 of maintenance per year for the life of the tracks. This is the value the council has placed on benefits the trails will bring to the community.

4. Application of a user-pays model - Private parks such as Maydena and Wales obtain revenue from entry, uplifts, food and beverage. The model makes logical sense. Public parks like Warburton and Derby are in a totally different position. Millions of dollars have been allocated to development of these parks despite no direct financial return which speaks volumes for their ability to put a proposal together! Return on investment from projected visitor numbers and average spend can be assumed from analysis of other similar developments. However many of these have a 'public good' component in encouraging healthy lifestyles for the local community. This is harder to account for and is the basis for smaller developments in the community. With limited funds, how do councils know that their money is best spend on a mountain bike park rather than a skate bowl or walking tracks? Although there is a lot of evidence that access to cost-free (apart from the initial bike purchase) physical activity can enhance public well-being, the return from that particular investment is less able to be ascertained. In the scheme of things, mountain biking is still a small sport in comparison with other more traditional sports. Even though, in our circle, it feels like 'everyone' does it.

Thanks to Maydena for organising a great event and for the Hobart YMCA for assisting with my attendance. It's an exciting time for mountain biking in Australia and I love assisting people to enjoy the sport and live active lifestyles.

Friday, February 1, 2019

Alpine Quest 2019 - Falls Creek

In the lead up to Alpine Quest I kept saying things felt too organised. Flights, hotel, car and team mates were all arranged well ahead of time. No usual pre-race scramble to sort out the details. It was quiet. Too quiet. This could not be good. Unfortunately, I was right. The best thing adventure racing has taught me is to deal with whatever is thrown up at me. Nothing ever goes to plan, although I’d like to keep the adlibbing to the race and not the logistics. What follows is a tale of both bad luck and poor planning.

The first hiccup was when John realised he’d booked the hire car for the previous weekend. In his defence I spend almost every commute to the airport worrying I’ve booked the flights for the wrong dates. It only happened that one time. Usually sourcing a hire car wouldn’t be an issue. Except it was Thursday before the long Australia Day weekend so of course most things were sold out. Especially the things that would fit three bike boxes and people in them. Thanks to Steve from Birmingham at Enterprise cars for finding us a vehicle that worked. We hit the baking hot road to Falls Creek looking forward to racing 36 hours in a heatwave.

Three of us had adventure raced before – John and I together and Wayne with other teams. Callum we dragged in from various multisport and mountain bike races we’d seen him go fast in. The fact he had an orienteering history was a welcome surprise – mostly for John who was the only other team member who knew which way the map went. As the Wild Earth Tiger Adventure team we were a dark horse in the race for top honours with our previous team winning X Marathon the same time last year in similar conditions.

The second hiccup was when Wayne’s bike and two of our paddles were left in Brisbane by the airline. One of the risks of flying in to a small airport like Albury is that heavy things like bike boxes are the first to get offloaded when the plane is too heavy. Again, this wouldn’t have normally been a problem, except AQ had a 3-5 hour prologue the next day which would count toward our overall time for the main race. Facebook posts were put out and messages sent. We eventually obtained a paddle and PFD from race organiser Maria, another basic paddle from Peak Adventure’s Jarad Kohler and a hire bike from the local shop complete with flat pedals and triple chain ring. Not the best but at least were in the game. Just before the start of the race we changed bikes to Serge’s hardtail with better pedals and set up and swapped the number plates. With ten minutes to race start Wayne’s bike turned up so we quickly built that and attached the number plate for the third time that morning. Third time’s a charm, right?

So very hot

 The prologue went well except for the high 30-degree temperatures. It was fast and furious as maps were given after race start and a route quickly plotted. My calves exploded as they hate run legs straight up hills. The navigation was good and we hit transition with three other teams in the lead. Mountain biking was always going to be our strength and we put at least 10 minutes into the other teams bombing down all the black descents with a grin. It was on the climb back out from Flow Town that the full force of the heat hit. We stopped at every trickle of water on the mountain to refill water bottles and soak heads. Absolutely stifling. It must have been a fountain of youth as I felt (finally) great hitting the road for the climb to the lake.

I gave Wayne my carbon blade and took the crap fibreglass one thinking that it would be better for the person who was least able to contribute watts to have the rubbish paddle. But the blade was much bigger than my ¾ paddle so it slowed our stroke rate and we consequently limped around the kayak leg. After spending some time in thick scrub looking for a check point John started screaming like he’d broken his leg. His hamstrings were cramping badly and I gave him my usual sympathy by encouraging him to ‘stretch it out babe!’ as I ran past. We were caught by Alpine Adventurerers at the end of the paddle and Thunderbolt were close behind. Once on the bikes we held our position and finished in second place.

Up at 4am Saturday for the main race we were on buses to Omeo Valley to start with a kayak down the Mitta Mitta river. We knew there wouldn’t be much water but after a bit of boat dragging there were some really fun sections. Fun for Callum and I as the lighter boat, less fun for John and Wayne who got hung up on every shallow section. We kept having to wait for them and eventually found out their boat had a leak and about 20 kilos of water in it. Bad luck I guess.

Team tactics: "I'll take the small chick, OK?"

We had a fast transition building bikes and getting our food and gear together. Somewhat marred when, after 15-20 minutes of riding on a road that didn’t look quite right, we realised we’d headed in the exact opposite direction as the course from the TA. This can happen when nobody is looking at a compass (nobody was) and when people are relying on ‘left and right’ instead of north and south. It’s easy to forget you got out on the right-hand side of the river and then disorientate yourself to the map. Bad management.

I never assume the win is lost as races can turn on one check point. But it was now less likely and we were pretty deflated to have made such a big error early on while in a great position. Making our way back through slower teams we started the big climb up to the ridge. I can honestly say I’ve never been so thoroughly cooked in any race I’ve done. Struggling to push bikes up an endless, impossibly steep fireroad in close to 40 degrees, I had the goal of making it to the next shady spot before hunching over my top tube and trying to breath/not pass out. I was in front of the team which told me they were struggling as I absolutely suck at walking my bike up hills. This is why I try to ride the steep stuff as much as possible (cue: 30 tooth oval chainring). 

At the top of the hill (well there were always more hills, but the big hill) most of us had run out of water. Wanting to let the guys rest but also conscious that were we getting dehydrated just sitting there, we pushed on. With just 1.5 kms to transition it was all up hill and John was looking pale and shaky. I pushed his bike and he walked while being pushed by another team and collapsed into TA. The volunteers where wonderful getting him cold packs, water, electrolyte and a comfortable place to rest. We got ourselves ready and packed his gear up. I wasn’t sure we should go out on the 12 hour trek but thought the setting sun would help with the heat and we could slow the pace. I did the girlfriend thing of lubing his sweaty feet and putting new socks on as he cramped every time he tried to do it himself. The lengths we go to.

Adventure racing transcends team rivalry. Thanks for the push guys.

We spent most of the trek walking with the Wild Yaks and it was nice to experience the more social side of adventure racing. It’s so busy before the race, and people are so wrecked after, I don’t often get to meet other racers. They were looking strong and we picked up the pace until John started vomiting. I’m not talking about ‘oh I’m going to be a bit sick’. I’m talking about on his knees, hanging off his walking poles and hurling until he was dry-retching. This went off and on for 4 hours and we were halfway down to check point 25 before we reassessed our situation. He couldn’t keep fluids down and needed to rest. We weren’t sure if he was going to get worse and if there was a shorter way to a main road to get picked up. In the most remote part of the course, on a mountain ridge near the Bogong summit, we had a satellite phone but wrote the emergency numbers on the paddling map which we’d left at the last TA. Bad management.

We were laying back on the grass with our head torches off admiring the stars but Wayne also commented on a large cloud so I thought a storm could be on the cards. Sleeping on the trail wasn’t an option so we trekked back up the mountain to Maddison hut. Except Maddison hut doesn’t exist anymore despite what the map says. Three kilometres further we finally fell into Cleve Cole hut and disturbed a bunch of walkers at around midnight.

Happier times with the Wild Yaks who ended up in third spot.

John got a spare space on a bed while Wayne and I went outside to gorge on beef jerky and BBQ Shapes for dinner while watching the lightning across the valley. We accosted an unsuspecting camper who went for a toilet break and managed to use his mobile phone to call HQ. The plan was to bed down for the night and they would send us an evacuation plan in the morning. Another kindly camper gave us two sleeping mats and I finally fell asleep when the door opened. There was Tiger Adventure founder Trevor looking a little worse for wear and various members of two teams who had got in a similar predicament to us. Except now it was raining and they were close to hypothermic. I gave up my mat and crawled into the other bed with John and wrapped us both in a foil blanket to keep warm.

Another kayaking shot as we disappear from the official photographs at this point. Water looks nice and cool.

Race HQ had texted our camping helper, Billy, a new map with the exit point. It was a trek toward the top of Mount Bogong then down a spur to shelter in another hut. Once we were there, we were to contact the pick-up crew and hike the final few kilometres so we didn’t get caught exposed waiting in the weather. It felt like a proper adventure as we trekked across the ridge in a 60kph cross wind with sleet that threatened to blow us off the mountain with every step. In a weird way, this was my favourite moment of the event. We were seeing a part of the course that no other teams saw. The view down the valley from Mount Bogong was stunning and with the cooler temperature this felt more like the rugged Australian Alps. Once at the hut the reception on the phone was patchy but we managed to ascertain that the 4 wheel drives couldn’t make it up to Granite Flat Spur so we’d have to hike down Eskdale Spur instead. We were very happy to see the event crew at the end of the track and Callum did a great job leading us out.

So this is my second DNF in a row (third if you count the Did Not Start when Gary ended up with appendicitis before Geoquest 2018). I’m getting a bit of a complex as I generally prefer to finish what I start. I learned more this race than any other race though. I generally just focus on keeping up, hanging on and carrying extra stuff if needed. I looked at the map more than any time before and had to monitor and look after team mates. Giving directions while keeping motivation up is difficult. Organising logistics and problem-solving is both exciting and exhausting and fundamentally what adventure racing is about. I’m really looking forward to the next one. But for now, it’s 100% bike as I prepare for the Cape Epic in South Africa. Maybe a run or two a week just so I don’t have to go through the agony of resuming running AGAIN.


Adventure Junkie Event Team
Tiger Adventure
Wild Earth
Flight Centre Sports and Events
Infinit Nutrition Australia
Ride Mechanic
NS Dynamics
Absolute Black