Thursday, April 9, 2015

Bike overnight - Lightline Road bush camp

One of the good things about being a slightly successful cycling magazine writer, is that every once in a while I get the opportunity to do something really cool.  A couple of weeks ago I got a call from a magazine editor asking me if I'd like to take part in a fully supported off-road ride through the South Australian outback.  Obviously my answer was YES!!!!, and as a result in about 6 weeks I'm flying off to Adelaide to take part in the Bike SA Outback Odyssey.  It's going to be an amazing adventure, however the prospect of putting in big days in the dirt is a little daunting at this point in time - basically since my bout of pleurisy late last year I've become as soft as a Caramello.

Accurate depiction of my toughness at this point in time.

Fortunately, it's not all terrible news.  Since November last year I've been competing a lot in foot orienteering events, and have managed to work my way up to the hardest level of competition.  This has managed to keep my fitness ticking along, it's just that that my bike handling skills, particularly in the dirt, could best be described as weak - powerful weak.  With the Outback Odyssey departure date drawing ever closer, my intertia was finally overridden by my fear of failure in the South Australian outback, and I decided I needed to get bush to rebuild my skills and test out some new kit.  Still too lazy to load up my car and drive somewhere, I decided to find the adventure right outside my front door, and explore more of the massively underrated southern section of the D'Aguilar National Park.

Here we go again
The boundary of D'Aguilar National Park is only about 10km or so west of the centre of Brisbane.  However as it's largely undeveloped with no vehicular access, combined with steep trails, there are generally very few visitors on the trails on any given day.  Having said that, some of the trails (particularly South Boundary Road), and popular with cross-country mountain bikers as a traffic-free off-road route to the top of Mt Nebo.  There are number of bush camps and huts dotted around the mountainsides, which are also largely unused as the general public are mostly unaware of their existence.  My destination today was the Light Line Road bush camp.   A few years ago I tried unsuccessfully to reach the camp - however today I'd be travelling solo, taking an alternative route through Samford and up the fabled Goat Track, returning through the township of Mt Nebo, before a long undulating descent down South Boundary Rd into the north-western suburbs of Brisbane.  I didn't have very far to ride (only about 40km from home to camp), and a whole day to do it in - so I decided to take the video camera along for the ride to try and get some footage.

The ride from my place to Samford Rd is usually a nightmare at any time, but on a loaded touring bike it's an outright hellscape.  After taking much longer than necessary taking a convoluted series of backroads and bike paths I eventually I reached Ferny Grove train station, where my overnight adventure really began...

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Ride of the weak

I think it's pretty standard practice in the blogging world to start posts with a statement like "it's been a while since my last blog", so I don't see why I should try and re-invent the wheel and do things any differently.  It's been a while since my last blog...

Since about June I've not been very motivated for cycling.  Not sure what the problem has been - I'm still totally interested in cycle touring and spend much of my spare time looking at maps, watching cycle touring vids on YouTube, and perusing the touring journals at Crazy Guy On A Bike.  It's just been that I physically don't feel up to going riding.  A few times I've gotten my bike packed up on a Friday night to go out riding, but I get up on Saturday morning and just physically don't feel into it, so I cancel.  I've even stopped going on my regular night training rides - I just felt out of fitness and out of breath.  Then about 7 weeks ago I got a cold or something and lost my voice, had to have a few days off work.  I never seemed to really recover from that, with a nagging cough and breathlessness that kind of came to a head earlier this week.  Over the weekend I'd been coughing so much that my ribs and shoulders started to hurt - then on my way to work on Monday I suddenly had a huge coughing fit that involved bringing up all this weird lung butter mixed with blood, while tearing muscles in my chest and shoulder on the left side.  To say it was painful would be a profound understatement.  Anyway I somehow got to work, where one of my bosses saw me and said "what are you doing here?" and one of my other bosses said "you're going to the doctor right now" and insisted I go home.  I must have looked pretty dire, the fact I couldn't really speak, breathe or stand up straight may have played a part in it.

I arrived at the doctor who did a bunch of tests, including sampling the amazing lung butter, and the conclusion was reached that I have pleurisy, as a result of my earlier infection from 7 weeks ago combined with an existing autoimmune inflammatory disease.  Until that moment I didn't even realise that pleurisy was still a thing - I always just assumed it was some medieval disease my nanna used to threaten I'd catch if I didn't wear a singlet outside in winter.  I returned home where my life took on the following pattern for 5 days:
  1. Cough from lungs full of gunk.
  2. Have violent muscle spasms in chest, shoulder and arm.
  3. Cough from the pain of the muscle spasms and torn muscles.
  4. Have violent muscle spasms in chest, shoulder and arm.
  5. Repeat steps 1-4 for about 8 hours.
  6. Fall asleep exhausted for a few hours.
  7. Begin again at step 1.
It wasn't a huge amount of fun, and there didn't seem to be much I could do to get any relief.  By Friday the spasms were very painful and lasting about 30 seconds each, so I phoned the doctor, who prescribed me some muscle relaxants and epic painkillers to cut down on the muscle spasms so I could at least get some rest of a night.  Only one problem though - I needed to get to the doctor then the pharmacy to get the prescription filled, and due to the muscle tears in my chest / shoulders I couldn't lift my arms enough to drive.  In my pain addled state I had the genius idea that I could probably lift my arm enough to rest it on the handlebar of my ALDI folding bike, and I probably had the fitness to do the ~4km round trip to get my medication.  And so began a ride that was simultaneously the weakest and most hardcore bikecycle I've ever undertaken...

Dumbest idea everrrrr
The ride started off OK, rolling downhill from my place towards the doctor's surgery.  I opted to ride on the footpath as I didn't have the perspicacity to ride on the road.  My speed was never going to be amazing on the footpath anyhow, but combined with the fact I could barely get enough oxygen in to power my brain let alone my legs, my speed was similar to that of a lethargic barnacle.  My footpath route put me in close proximity to the local schoolkids having lunch in the playground, a few of whom pointed and laughed at my horrific visage as I slowly pedalled past.  

To try and paint a picture of my look, I was riding a folding bike with the seat too low, in granny gear on flat ground, moving at maybe 8km/h.  To really complete my "junkie riding to the chemist" image I was wearing old joggers, a backpack, a ratty old screenprinted T-shirt and a crumpled pair of grey shorts.  All I needed to complete the scumbag look was to hang my helmet off my handlebars, get some white rim Oakley sunnies, put a Monster energy drink hat on my head and tuck my ears into it.  My wife rather unkindly remarked that I didn't need to take my wallet, I could simply ask everyone I saw "for $2 to get a prescription mate" as I rode along.  She also couldn't help herself but get a photo of my quality professional cyclist look as I set off...

How the mighty have fallen...

So I managed to roll down the hill and across the flat ground OK.  Next up was the major challenge of the slight incline up to the doctor's surgery.  Bike was already in granny gear and I was already at maximum capacity, so what happened next was me wheezing and coughing up the hill at a snail's pace, my upper body bobbing up and down with each pedal strokes as I struggled to get any kind of power into the pedals given my shortness of breath and shortness of seat post.  After what seemed like an eternity of riding up a 300m long incline, I arrived at the doctor, spent a few minutes on my hands and knees coughing / throwing up into the garden out the front, before walking in, looking forward to a bit of a sit down while I waited for the doctor.

No such luxury awaited me, however.  The doc had left the prescription at the front desk, so I was straight back out onto the bike, rolling down the hill on my way to the pharmacy.  It took me approximately forever to get the 2km along the bike path to the pharmacy.  Just to make things even easier / more stylish, the seatpost of the old foldy started slipping down, giving me the look of an adult bogan riding a stolen 24" Kawasaki branded kids mountain bike from K-mart.  By this stage I was too exhausted to care, and was focused on reaching the pharmacy for a bit of a sit down while I waited for the prescription to be filled.  Old men on ancient bikes were whizzing past me like I was standing still.  I was wheezing and coughing and spitting like it was the end times for Velo Cetera.  Somehow I arrived, locked my bike out the front of the shops, and staggered through the shopping centre, sweating like Paul McCartney in a divorce court and shaking like a shitting dog...

Turns out there was no rest for the wicked at the pharmacy either.  They had one of those whiz-bang automatic machines that instantly grabs the medicine and drops in on the counter.  So once again without a break, I was back out in the bike path, heading to my home 1km away.  I was fading fast, and as I got the final incline up to my house my seat had slipped even further - down to "cool-teen-on-a-bmx" level - and my speed was now considerably slower than walking.  Time for the final indignation - in my defenceless state a local magpie started to swoop me as I rode up the footpath.  I couldn't raise my left arm off the handlebar to shoo it away due to my chest pain.  I couldn't raise my right arm as I needed that for steering the bike with.  I couldn't go any faster as I was already struggling just to move at the speed of a glacier.  All I could do was plod along and take the hammering from the magpie, like a boxer putting his gloves down during a fight.  It was an inglorious end to a taxing ride.

I got home and flopped down on my bed awash with sweat, chest spasming like crazy and in searing pain.  I eventually got the strength to get up and take all my medication, including sedatives, and spent the next 12 hours in a drug-induced slumber, having a recurring nightmare where I had to get to the airport to catch a flight but I hadn't packed my bike yet.  And then I woke up feeling much, much worse than I did 24 hours before.

Did I learn a lesson from all this?  Yes I did...

Next time my wife offers to drive me to the chemist for medicine when I'm sick, I think maybe I might just say yes.  Perhaps.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Nano-adventure at Dularcha National Park

Since returning from a fortnight cycling in the South Island of New Zealand, I must admit I've been a bit off bike riding.  I'm not sure exactly what the problem has been, but over the past 12 weeks I've only ridden about 100km in total.  I'm not 100% sure of the reason for my lack of cycling motivation - maybe it was injury, cold weather, a particularly bad rheumatoid arthritis flare up, a general lack of inspiration - the list of excuses could go on and on really.  I seem to go through the cycling doldrums thing once every few years, and normally I claw myself out of it by starting back on the small rides in the local area.  This week I decided that I needed to snap out of it and get back on the bike, but this time around there is a critical difference to when I last went through this a few years ago - this time my oldest daughter Miranda has her own geared bike and is a capable little off-road rider.  Taking the daughter out bush on the bike satisfies her love of bike riding, and gets me back out on the bike exploring new places, without the need to ride hundreds of kilometres to have an enjoyable day.

Our destination today was Dularcha National Park, on the outskirts of the town of Landsborough, 75km north of Brisbane.  I've been trying to find some off-road rides suitable for little kids (Miranda is 6 years old), and from what I'd read the mostly flat fire roads of Dularcha gave us a chance to sample some dirt touring style riding in a quiet bush setting. After loading up the van and driving for about an hour, we hit the gravel into Dularcha National Park.

Riding into the entrance of Dularcha National Park at the Landsborough end.  There are a few car parking spots here, although the ride out from Landsborough town is all on dedicated bike paths so getting to the start is no drama.

After crossing the park boundary, we simply followed the main trail heading north through the park.

The tunnel track follows an old rail line that undulated very gently across a few creek beds.  The trail surface is smooth, sandy and firm.  There's nothing close to steep on the trail, with Miranda easily managing to ride the inclines and declines.

I've never said anything about horses to Miranda, but she is still obsessed with the things.  What's all that about???

Miranda walks a creek bed that was just a bit too rocky for her to handle.  On the way back she must have been a bit more tuned into the terrain, and breezed through the whole thing easily.

 The creek crossing seemed like the low point of the terrain, and from there the trail climbed up to the southern end of the old Dularcha rail tunnel.

It was pretty dark in the tunnel.  As we rode up to it Miranda said "Dad can you put your back light on? I'll just ride along behind you and follow the light."  I was impressed - there's no way I would have thought of that!

The tunnel is curved, making it a little bit dark in the middle - however the surface is smooth and firm.  Miranda and I got through with no trouble.

 Little kid in front of big tunnel - northern end.

Nut bar break at the tunnel.  We turned and went back towards Landsborough, although the trail continues on to the town of Mooloolah just a kilometre of so away.

Miranda emerging from the southern end of the tunnel.
It's all downhill from the tunnel back to Landsborough.

As a day out off-road / mountain biking with the kids, I reckon Dularcha is right up there with the best.  It's just far enough out in the bush to be a nice nature ride and, most importantly, it's technically a breeze.  The tunnel trail is very flat, and the surface has plenty of grip with just enough slightly sketchy bits to challenge the kids slightly without demoralising them.  Riding out to the tunnel gave Miranda a real sense of exploration and achievement, and left her wanting more rail trail / off-road style riding.  She's keen to do some overnighters, and I'm keen to take her.  However, despite the fact her moving average is about 7.5km/h, it still took us 2.5 hours to ride 7km today - I'll need to very carefully choose our destination for her our first overnight ride as riding with little kids definitely isn't the fastest way to get around.

The other cool thing about this ride is it gave me just a little taste of what riding around the Glasshouse Mountains might be like, and left me keen for more.  It occurred to me that getting the train to Landsborough, riding the Dularcha trail and continuing onwards might be a great way to start a weekend tour around the Sunshine Coast hinterland.  Miranda and the Dularcha tunnel track seemed to snap me out of my non-cycling malaise - time to hit the maps and get back out there again...!

Monday, July 7, 2014

Destination: Dunedin - NZ 2014 Part 10

My alarm went off while it was still well and truly dark outside.  Today was the last day of the tour - we only had to ride about 70km to Dunedin where Chris and I would pack up and fly to our respective home cities.  I crept around the dark hostel drinking a liquid breakfast and putting my panniers on the bike.  The forecast said it was going to start raining at about 2pm in Dunedin (NZ forecasts are unusually specific), so I wanted to make a mile and get moving as I was unsure of the terrain that awaited us on the ride.  The plan was to follow Highway 1 for an hour or so, before heading down to the coast to follow the beach all the way into Dunedin.  The weather was already variable when we got going, switching between drizzle and light rain as we rode across town.  Our exit out of Milton was marked by a dead dog on the roadside that somehow had its intestines unravelled their full length across a couple of lanes of the road.  It seemed like a good sign to get my head down and get out of Milton as quickly as possible.  As soon as we hit the open road, Dunedin seemed to start pulling me in with some kind of tractor beam - Chris dropped back almost immediately as I rode the 20km-ish stretch of Highway 1 to the next town in about 40 minutes.

My old Redline Conquest Classic ready to hit the road one last time to finish this tour off.

Chris gets moving out of Milton through mud puddles from the night before.  Conditions were to remain damp all day.

My view for the first 20km of the day.  Trucks, rain and traffic as I pedalled east along Highway 1.

The only mildly interesting sight between Milton and Lake Waihola.  I could even be bothered stopping to get a photo or check it out - I was on a flyer and wanted to beat the heavier rain forecast for later in the day.

Sign on the outskirts of Lake Waihola.  Fortunately that was to be the end of our riding on Highway 1 for this trip - it really is as bad as people say it is.

Stopping for breakfast and some bike adjustments at Lake Waihola.  Chris was only about five minutes behind me - despite a bad start to the day with knee some pain, he was now feeling good and riding strong.

From Lake Waihola we headed south towards the coast, on a quiet road away from Highway 1.  Here's a picture of Chris listening (and singing along) to Hootie and The Blowfish on his phone.  That dude's music collection is truly mystifying / awesome.

The photo doesn't show it, but the climb south out of Lake Waihola is very steep.  At least the roads were quiet...

Chris' knee pain of the past few days seemed to completely evaporate, and now he was flying up the climbs - so fast that I really struggled to keep up with him.

There's the town of Lake Waihola below us.  It took is an hour to get maybe 8km.  Even old ladies in Milton were telling us this road was particularly steep.  Turns out they were right!

After a few false summits we eventually crested the range, before a 75km/h blast back down to the sea at Taieri Mouth.  Even with the showers and watery sunshine, it was good to see the ocean.

Getting close now...

The road tracked along behind the sand dunes for 15km or so, with occasional glimpses of the ocean and the sun to energise us.

The pull of the Dunedin tractor beam got stronger the closer I got to the city.  My average speed over the 16km from Taieri Mouth was 32km/h - I was riding more like a Sunday club racer than a touring cyclist.

Milestone reached.  Now all we had to do was get into the city itself, which I knew from a previous visit involved a fair bit of climbing.

During the taking of this photo Chris sustained the worst injury of the tour as he lifted his bike over the grass...

...and there's nothing more uncool than a chainring grease mark.  True road riders look away in disgust now!

The road became progressively wetter as we pedalled closer to Dunedin - although we were now riding with a handy tailwind to speed things up even more.

Stopping for a quick bite to eat by the beach.

Beachside riding near Brighton.  Despite being so close to the city, this coastal road was surprisingly quiet and remote - definitely gets the full recommend from me for a cycling route into Dunedin.

Stopping at the only shop in the seaside town of Brighton, on the outskirts of Dunedin.  From here I knew there'd be hills and bad weather, so we both stocked up on hot chips and chocolate milkshakes for energy.

Our last road meal - huddled under a shelter trying to avoid the steadily increasing rain.

The photo doesn't show the scale of it, but this was one last killer climb up from the coast into Dunedin city.

Suddenly we were in the suburbs of hilly Dunedin, dropping down into the city centre.

 Dunedin city centre - certainly a shock to the system after being out in the bush for a week or so.

...and then it was all over.  Shortly before 2pm we arrived at our destination in the centre of Dunedin.  Within 2 minutes of getting into our room, the rain started to pour down solidly for two hours.

Chris and I decided to spring for a nice big 2 bedroom apartment at the Dunedin Palms Motel, a pretty fancy place right in the middle of the city.  We were glad we did - they were super bicycle-friendly, allowing us space in their garage to wash, pack and store our bikes.  As the rain poured down outside, we sat in all our riding gear, drinking cups of tea, not saying anything and contemplating the ride we'd just undertaken.

My legs seemed to know the tour was over.  As soon as I got up from my hotel room tea drinking session a searing pain shot through my right ankle - sort of like it was sprained or something.  The only sensible thing to do was hobble to a Dunedin pub for a few quiet drinks and a feed to mark the end of another great New Zealand bicycle tour.

At the end of our ride in Dunedin, it seemed like it was a lifetime ago that we'd left Christchurch at the start of our tour.  The biggest lesson I'd learned from my previous tour in NZ was that I needed to do more riding each day and have less rest days - something that I was pleased I managed to correct on this time around.  We'd only had one rest day in ten days of riding, and the distances and terrain each day had mostly been a real challenge.  The other thing about this tour that was a real treat was spending time with my mate Chris - we live in different countries and rarely get to spend any time just hanging out.  This ride was also Chris' first cycle tour, and I very much enjoyed being a part of that - getting to share in his touring highs and lows that over time I've somehow taken for granted. To sum up the whole experience, a good time was had by all.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Back on the blacktop - NZ 2014 Part 9

Despite being the only guests at the Beaumont Hotel that night, the resident Icelandic chef still went to the trouble of putting on the full breakfast spread for us.  As we sat there ploughing through numerous breakfast courses and cups of tea, we surveyed the weather outside.  It looked dark.  Dark and cold.  A very low and thick fog restricted our view of anything more than about 100 metres away.  With breakfast consumed and bikes packed, we stepped outside into the cold.  I don't know quite how cold it was at that moment, but it surely must have been well below zero - certainly judging from the frost everywhere.

Sun rising through the morning fog at Beaumont.  Another Lord Of The Rings scene plays out before my eyes.

As we were leaving, the fog lifted around the pub and the sun blasted through.  Somehow, being in the full sun was even colder than being in the fog.

Single lane bridge into Beaumont, complete with cyclist-controlled traffic lights.

Chris unleashing his inner shepherd on the Clutha Gold trail.

Leaving Beaumont, the Clutha Gold trail turns away from the river and heads through farming valleys on the way to the town of Lawrence.  Only a few hundred metres from Beaumont it was bright and sunny, with the thick fog still clinging around town.

Scenery like Windows XP standard wallpaper...

Fast and easy riding, hoping it would warm up a bit.

Within half an hour of leaving Beaumont the trail started up a long shaded valley.  While the climb wasn't exactly steep, there were a few pinches and switchbacks here and there that required a little bit more effort than I had put in since riding Danseys Pass five days ago.

We rounded a spur on the climb and I saw the road pass over the range high above me.  For a moment I was none too amused at the prospect of more climbing - fortunately it turned out we were on another old rail line with a tunnel cut through the hill.

Chris had a light this time, which made it considerably safer / easier than our previous tunnel experiences on the Otago Central Rail Trail.

Last tunnel of the trip = completed.

After passing through Big Hill tunnel, it was downhill through farmland pretty much all the way to the trailhead at Lawrence...

...except for a tiny little switchback climb about 6km out of town.

Can't argue with that!

Last leg of the Clutha Gold trail into Lawrence, through some cropping land.

A cropduster was working over the trail as we approached.  We stood there for ages trying to get a good photo.  The pilot spotted us and did a super low flyover on one of his turns - so close we could see the carbon buildup on the engine exhaust.  It was totally awesome.

End of the Clutha Gold trail and the end of the dirt.

The Lawrence trailhead.  By linking together the Otago Central Rail Trail, the Roxburgh Gorge trail and the Clutha Gold trail, we'd managed to ride over 200km of completely car-free trail through some pretty out-there landscapes.  I can't recommend these trails highly enough for cycle touring in NZ - absolutely a must-ride.

Back in a busy town on a busy road.  A very odd feeling - we hadn't ridden on a main road for the past seven days and it was taking some getting used to the traffic, trucks and buses.

Helmet hair world champion of the world contender.

I hadn't had a liquid breakfast drink for at least a few hours so it was time to have yet another.  I must admit I haven't been able to stomach these things since this trip.

Wow - first sign pointing to the end of the trip.

Leaving Lawrence on the main highway did my head in.  I wasn't used to the road, and wasn't used to the cars, and wasn't finding it all that much fun.  Chris was looking good on the first climb out of town as we headed towards the coast.

The closer we got to the coast, the windier and hillier it became.  Despite a strong start out of Lawrence, Chris' knees soon let go over the undulating climbs, and I left him far behind out on the road.  I wasn't feeling too bright myself, and just wanted it to be done for the day.

One final monster climb for the day, before a long and fast descent down to the coastal lowlands.  At this point Chris was a spent force, sitting crestfallen in the drain by the road.  Things were pretty grim up there on top of that hill, until I ripped a massive loud fart that lightened the mood / galvanised Chris into action to outrun the stench.

Only a few kilometres to go along highway 1 into Milton, where we were staying for the night before our final push into Dunedin tomorrow.

Ducked into the first open food business we saw for carrot cake and beer combination.

The sign said "Milton - Town of Opportunities".  Probably should have read "Milton - it's not quite right".

We were staying the night at a hostel in town.  We were the only guests there.  The place was nice enough and comfortable, but much like everything in Milton, something about it was deeply unsettling and unnervingly odd.

The only pub in town was some syndicated sportsbar type joint.  After a few beers and laughs in the charmless bar, we wandered into the world's bleakest Chinese takeaway shop for fish and chips.  Although by this stage I'd somehow downed four pints of beer and was just looking forward to bed.

Potted plant display in the middle of the floor.  Interior decoration Milton-style.

It was another one of those crazy days of cycle touring where the beginning and the end were completely different - seemingly starting and finishing on different planets.  We'd started at a remote little village at a cozy pub, now we were in a characterless service town on the main highway in slightly sinister hostel.  Despite our pretty bleak surroundings, I was still pumped about tomorrow.  We'd be finishing the tour by riding along the coast into Dunedin - one of my favourite cities.  I packed up all my gear ready for a quick escape in the morning to get this tour finished off.  I turned into bed and commented aloud how comfortable it was - in hindsight that assessment may have been augmented by the 2+ litres of beer I'd drank that afternoon trying to dull the pain of being in Milton.  At any rate, it did make for a fun end to a long day.