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.