Monday, January 31, 2011

Planuary - Men of Inaction

I was sitting on my couch last night watching Japanese game shows, and I realised the entire month of January has passed.  My summer of cycling is 2/3 of the way finished - with a disturbingly low amount of actual cycling actually taking place.  One month has passed since I booked my tickets for the NZ tour, it's time to blog about the month in review, in the hope I can make myself feel like I'm moving forward by making a month of not actually doing any touring seem slightly more dynamic and interesting...

Retail by proxy
Earlier in the month Jer bought his tickets for the big tour, and committed to a number of lead up tours throughout the year.  However to date his riding has been limited to more traditional road riding, rather than touring riding.  As I am the "alpha" tourer of the bunch (that is, I ride slower,  my bike is heavier and I have a beard), I already have most of the gear I need, whereas Jer has none.  My superior status as a velo touring guy clearly bothers him a lot, as I found this photo he took of me while looking through a shoot for a magazine article we wrote.

Jealousy is a curse Jer, it really is.

Still, despite his apparent disdain, he was silly enough to give me his credit card, along with instructions to get him hooked up for whatever the road might throw at him.  The last thing I want for any of my fellow cyclists to be in any way underprepared for anything, so my shopping spree included panniers, handlebar bag, computers, pedals, sunnies, jerseys, tent, sleeping bag, sleeping mat, lights, saddle bag, gloves, bidons, bidon cages and other bits and pieces.  Sitting back and thinking about it after the above mentioned retail blowout, I realised his bike wasn't really going to suit being loaded down with all that stuff, so I had to buy him a whole new bike as well.  Which bike did he get?  You'll just have to wait until he picks it up from the shop.

Ride of the weak
There was no touring and very little riding done in January by the Velo Cetera crew.  I managed a weak 639km, and Jer probably even less than that.  And most of that comprised sub-70km rides, usually to coffee shops to sit around for hours before riding home in the baking heat.  Night rides made a bit of a comeback this month to beat the heat, however the intensity of those post-dinner rides was usually very low, and progress hindered by the billions of cane toads that reside on Brisbane's bike routes in the summer.  Being covered in the blood and guts of dozens of squashed toads does get a bit tiresome after the first few hours. Weakness leads to weakness, and even on our one decent length ride of 133km, we still managed to execute it in such away to avoid any and all climbing.

Skilled avoidance of local ranges for 133km

We can freelance it for you wholesale
Sitting around doing nothing in this 21st century generally involves a lot of time sitting front a computer, turning to the world wide intertubes to solve our problems.  One advantage of being stuck off the bikes for most of the month through the combination of heat and wet is I managed to get pretty much all my tour routes and dates for the whole year, including Aotearoa, all sorted.  However, much like my fellow cycle touring blogger from The Big Ride South, I won't be giving any details away until the rides are actually happening.

The other good to come of sitting around staring at a computer screen all summer is that after years of inactivity and writers block, I have found the headspace to start freelance writing again, and with the help of Jer's photography, have already had some articles accepted by cycling magazines.  It will work well, giving us more impetus to get places on tour, photograph it, write about it, get paid for it, then do it all again.  It's a vicious cycle of cycle adventure awesomeness.

But probably the best thing to come from my time in front of the net this month is the greatest cycling image in the history of the cosmos...

No caption required!

I don't know what this picture is, where it is from, what the product is, or who these guys are, but I guess that is irrelevant.  Who am I to question the perfect storm of a bicycle, a camera, 3 nude guys, a bar code, and the word "nipples"?  Some things are just too profound for us to ever comprehend...

Monday, January 17, 2011

Sort out the details later - making the big plans

The summer of (not) cycling
I came into this summer with the best intentions - it was to be the "summer or cycling".  Making best use of the long days and warm evenings to clock up some serious time on the bikes, to launch into 2011 feeling a million bucks as a mile eating climb destroying audax machine.  Didn't really work out that way in reality...  

November rained most of the month.  December it rained all month too, although I managed to get about 900km in, riding around in mud, slop and rain.  January rolls around and it's not been any better - torrential rain, floods, and now more searing heat.  The best I've managed so far this year is a paltry total of 261km.  Sitting around doing nothing was fun for the first two months, but now it's getting a bit dull.  

I've tried everything to keep my cycling spirits up during this time: talking about cycling, texting my mates about cycling, reading about cycling, thinking about cycling, even starting this second rate cycling blog.  On the first  day of the new year, I did something I'd been thinking about for months, and pulled the trigger on my next big bike adventure...

Land of the long white etc
Yes that's right, I'm going back to New Zealand.  This time for a tour of the southern part of the South Island by bicycle, and Jer is coming too.  As I write this it's been almost a year since I last set bicycle wheels on that part of the cosmos, and I miss it a lot.  Yes, I need once again to feel the raw excitement of sitting in an airport lounge, waiting to jet off to ride a new destination.

"I am having the greatest day of my life"

Of course it's not all about looking thrilled in airport lounges, when I'm in a foreign nation I also enjoy looking enthused and interested at local ale houses.

"Unless you are complimenting me on my jaunty cycle themed shirt, I don't care"

And in my classic "shoot first and ask questions later" style I've booked the plane tickets, but have no idea about any other details, least of all how to get from the pale, indoorsman I have become, to a hardcore cycle touring camping freakout guy.

Making the big plans
So the plan is simple and looks easy enough on the face of it.  I need to get back into form as a cyclist, and also back into form as a minimalist camping guy.  

For the cycling part I'm very lucky to be surrounded by some great riders, some of whom ride at elite level.  I'm also very fortunate and grateful that Iain at OC Coaching is helping me out with a training plan for this trip and my audax riding, keeping me motivated and heading in the right direction.  He is also usually up for 2hr coffee catch ups on a regular basis so that is a massive bonus.

For the minimalist camping guy part, Jer and I have a series of short trips of a few days each in QLD and NSW to figure out our systems, try the gear and see how this whole thing is going to work.

Of course, I plan on documenting the whole thing, so I'll need to work on my writing skills as well.  Expect blogs about our rides, our gear, adventures along the way, and any other stuff we happen to find amusing along the way.  I'll also keep writing the odd freelance article for cycling magazines, with the help of Jer's photography.

Back to business
Now that we've made a whole bunch of commitments in public arena, we should probably put in some kind of effort to keep them.  More training, more riding, more audax events, more camping, more writing, more photography - all sounds good and rewarding.

I'll start immediately...

...starting tomorrow.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Biking the Brisbane Floods: Post-apocalyptic cycling

Pointing at stuff on the flooded Brisbane River

We've saved the best for first
Let's put it out there right away - this morning's ride was easily the best ride we'll ever have.  And that's what we realised at the time - I'm sure with the benefit of hindsight the magnitude of what we saw and where we rode will sink in, and it will cement it's place in history as the greatest ride in the cosmosphere.  Of course that's just us hyping it excessively - the only way this blog can go now is down the slippery slope of underwhelmed disappointment, but here goes anyway...

Where the floody hell are ya?
To the set the scene: This week Brisbane, city of 2 million people, got smashed by the worst floods in a very long time.  Lives were lost, whole suburbs were inundated, houses swept away - in short, very bad times now and ahead for the city.  The flood waters peaked this morning, and media reports were telling us that parts of the central business district were inundated, the middle of the city was a ghost town, and the river was raging, flinging down all manner of debris.  Got up at 0500, roads were dead quiet, so decided to sneak in for a look.

Sunrise over the flooded Brisbane River

Riding into the city was surreal enough to start with.  Roads were virtually empty - we were able to ride pretty much straight down the middle of the main roads without fear or being destroyed by a council bus or errand drunk bogan in a Commodore ute, a rare treat for an early morning ride.  Arriving into the city centre, police had blocked many of the roads, and the CBD was a ghost town.  Silent except for the birds, and the oddly quiet sound of the river raging away.

Deserted streets of the CBD

The chances of finding a coffee shop are slim

Gallery of Modern Art - right by the riverside

The destruction was mind-boggling.  It was all there in plain view, but it was so surreal it just didn't make any sense.  But what did make a lot of sense was in the car-free streets and riverside expressway, was that the bicycle was prevailing!  There were literally hundreds of people from all walks of life, on all types of bikes, riding around quietly looking at things, taking photos and generally being awe-struck.  We even spied the usual "hipster" on his "cool" "fixie" ride in front of a crowd to be seen, do an "epic" trackstand while he surveyed the damage, then ride off using the squarest pedal stroke I have seen in a very long time...

How to be good and stuff at pedalling

Velotown Heights
The car-free metropolis took a bit of getting used to at first, but once in the swing of things, myself, Jer and hundreds of other cyclists were enjoying some once in a lifetime forbidden delights - riding the wrong way down the empty Riverside Expressway, riding along footpaths and through red lights in the CBD, tearing up and down the ICB ramps, all the while waving at the smiling police.  I was chatting to one cop and at one point and his thoughts on all the cycling sight-seeing was "It must be awesome riding around here looking at this, you guys would be able to see so much stuff people wouldn't normally be able to see!".  He certainly was right - this morning all the empty rhetoric the council tries to promote about Brisbane being a "cycle friendly city" actually came true for a few sweet cycling hours, at a very hefty cost though mind you...

Shooting the rapids
Of course never far from this blissful morning dawdle around a deserted city was the angry, muddy, stinking bastard known as the Brisbane River.  All manner of stuff was shooting past at a great rate of knots, pontoons, boats, bins, unidentified stuff.  The awesome power of water was on full display - awesome and deeply terrifying.

Boat stuck on a ferry pontoon

Angry river

As we stood on the ICB bridge, a very busted up yacht that had clearly been underwater a lot on it's journey downstream popped into view and smacked into the new bridge to West End.

Boat smacks into bridge

The boat somehow emerged from the other side of the bridge with the mast intact.  At that point we jumped on our bikes, and rode flat out down the expressway to watch it smash into another bridge, then another, before the mast finally snapped off and the severely damaged vessel shot off downstream.

Doomed yacht

Back into society
Unfortunately all rides must come to an end, so we headed off out of the city, back to an area of the city not affected by floods.  Leaving the car-free zone was a rude awakening, insane traffic, maniac drivers, buses, no room for bikes, all the usual stuff you come to expect cycling in Brisbane, but we had forgotten about it in the few hours of poking around on the city roads doing whatever we pleased.  We were a bit like kids coming home from school camp - after days of swearing and eating chips and running around, we were very quickly forced to stop our silly behaviour and settle down once back into normal society.

Muddy, stinking reflections
Much more will unfold from the flood, emotional, financial and environmental disasters that will continue for long after the waters subside and slip away out of the headlines.  Much will be written about it so I won't dwell on it much, other than to say life in Brisbane is going to be really, really muddy, stinking and generally shithouse for a lot of people for a long time to come. For people wishing to donate to the government flood relief appeal, they can do so here.

Back at home, sitting in the dry, reflecting on the ride, it was clear we had just been on a once in a lifetime cycle, it is unlikely that bikes will ever take over the city in such a way again.  Add to that the completely surreal and numbing destruction, and the  unstoppable juggernaut of water, and it was recipe for an amazing 4 hours of riding that will never be repeated.