Thursday, June 25, 2009

Of Fog and Freedom

Fog has been all pervasive lately - riding in on the highway, I can see the fog over settling over the Murrumbidgee and gradually seeping towards the city. Or flirting spookily with the pines in Majura, or sweeping rapidly over the dramatic, exposed summit of Mt Coree, or even lingering in the pre-dawn twilight over Cataract Gorge. Fog has both the power to conceal, and enchant perhaps... mystery of the unknown?

Uni's done and dusted, so riding has taken over. Rode out at Appin on Sunday (managed the 4am wakeup), and struggled over a very challenging, if rewarding course. Blasting up the short, steep climbs on the single speed meant massive muscle compression, and I struggled to find any smoothness or flow from this point on, and rolled slowly around the course. Still, it was an awesome challenge and great fun. After 8 hours I felt thoroughly smashed, but some sense of achievement.

Since then, I've been trying to loosen the body up by doing road miles up the yellow valleys and sparse hills towards Gundaroo, or even heading up to the summit of Coree. The infamous summit climb has been graded (except for the notorious last section, complete with concrete step), but the rocks have been replaced by mud, so the climb was a slow and painful grind through the slop. I think I realised just how steep this climb was when traction was low and the slope unrelenting - that or I was pulling a much bigger gear. At the summit, we were battered by an icy wind and whispy clouds that

The descent down Two Sticks was as awesome as ever, although now there are fewer rocks and more water bars, so dirty whips are in order now.

What are plans, then? Lots more kilometres leading up to the Sydney 12 hour, including another Wee Jasper ride and probably a coast trip. All this should hopefully provide a good base for the Scott 24 hour.... and thus the qualification for 2010 Worlds.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Twilight days

Being sick means I'm off the bike, which consequently means I'm thinking about biking. Have managed to get some good distance rides in with some climbing, and am enjoying settling and spinning up long hills.

Did a Wee Jasper epic a little while back, which is basically a Brindies ride with the prospect of a cooked lunch to boot. How can you go wrong? I think I'm enjoying the theory of long rides simply being a cafe point-to-point.... it's a very civilised notion.

The interesting route to Wee Jasper is over the Brindabellas, via a road called "Doctor's Flat". It's not flat - there are 5 significant climbs within 40km, all of which are over 100vm, with the first around 400vm. Wee Jasper itself is picturesque - a small hamlet situated in a cosy valley between the mountains, and a fun little climb back out of it!

Below are some fantastic images by Paul of the ride, winter colours and some people goofing around on the sealed road climb. Keen for some more of this stuff soon!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Voodoo Aizan

Well, Autumn is progressingly with a full flush of colour and the days have been mild and balmy. Awesome riding weather for cruising around town or climbing up lofty (or not so lofty, given Canberra) mountains.

Speaking of vibrant colours and all that, I was hoping to wax lyrical about a pretty susnet with lots of photos, but the sunset proved to be a disappointment, or my attendance was as tardy as ever. Take your pick. So I took a photo of my bike instead.

It's a Voodoo Aizan 29er - a lightweight, scandium-doped aluminium frame. Flickable and a bit flexy, but very fast - does have a good ability to plow a line too. It's the bike for those days when gears are needed - long, steep climbs or super fast fireroads. Might go to Canada with me one day.

So what's ahead? Well, certainly no more "single speed" category at club races, because spending an entire race passing all of Sport C and most of B is stupid. Probably some Brindies action, a coast ride, and then the 8 hour at the Gong. Fun times now that uni is not consuming everything like a voracious black hole.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Brindabella dreaming....

Well, imprisoned at home or in the library through the enlightening and oppressive wonders of university education. Am thinking a lot about riding - escapism? - and indulged last night in rather a fun night lap around Majura... penetrating ever deeper into the heart of darkness, although less symbolically than the literary reference might suggest.

Tumut race on Sunday was fun - awesome course full of natural bush, some sharp climbs and flowing descents. This time there was no hypothermia and no mud - it was actually quite hot. Pace was hotter of course and a blast. Cramps aside, it was an awesome race with a reasonable 10th and 2nd in SS, but most importantly rather a big grin. Interesting course for SS - lots of punchy climbs that were quite steep in spots, but it all worked out quite well.

Dreaming of the Brindabellas.... photo attached paints many words too.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Memoirs of a first-time Soloist.

I'd ridden plenty of 24 Hour races in teams, and had done a few long bike rides in the time. But there was always that nagging temptation to push the limits, face my own fears and try to ride for 24 hours solo.

The Australian Solo 24 Hour Championships have been held for the last few Easters at the Majura pine forest, which happily are my favourite trails and training ground. In another happy coincidence, the race fell the weekend after the first term of uni finished. These propitious factors made it ideal for a first time attempt.

Notably, I was determined from the outset to ride single speed. There's a simplicity and purity in the single speed much raved about - certainly, the feeling of perfect power transfer hour after hour helped considerably. It does make the climbs harder in some regards, but it's one less exigency in the race.

The leadup was full of anticipation and lots of kilometres, never entirely with a sense of surety. It's hard to train for such a long race or even to engage in the headspace - perhaps it's wiser not to try, because the enormity can be oppressive. The last few weeks went badly - I was tired from uni, and got sick 3 weeks in a row before the race, then crashed on my "practice" lap on the Friday. Turned up on Saturday morning and didn't feel ready at all - wanted 24 hours of sleep instead.

However, with awesome support from fellow maladjusted people Phil and Joel, I found myself on the start line. The start was intense as ever, but I cruised out slowly and spent the first afternoon rolling gently around the trails and just trying to ride consistently.

The steep climb to bunny required some serious cranking, but otherwise the 9.6km course flowed smoothly through the afternoon. The striking thing about this time was the awesome vibe of the race - all the racers were friendly and obliging, and the supporters greeted us every lap with cheers and cowbells. It was fantastic to partake in this! During the afternoon, I ran into fellow single speeder Tim Smith. He and I would be so close after so far!

The afternoon wore on and I felt progressively better - warming into the race. However, the weather was getting ominous and the prospect of the early sunset was a little dampening for the spirits.

Sure enough, the night came. And the heavens opened - we were faced suddenly with strong winds and heavy rains. The course became a treacherous mud pit - fun for sliding, but hard going without traction on the climbs. The day's sunscreen was leaking into my eyes and blinding me, I missed a transition and was soaked to the bone, and my left calf and hamstring started to cramp every time I cranked up the climb to bunny. Things were not looking good!

Some fresh clothes and electrolytes later and I was on my way again thanks to a very organised pit crew. I consciously backed off the pace, started walking the steep climb and tried to keep my mind focussed on the moment, and off the gravity of the task ahead. Fortunately, the rain receded, and the track began to try up a bit, so midnight slowly came on. I hit a lowpoint around the midnight hour - struggling for energy and motivation, I even contemplated giving up.

About 12,30, I had a long transition and resolved my focus for the witching hours of the morning. I'd heard the reputation of this period as the bane of many a racer in the lonely, dark passages of the small hours. Oddly enough, this was my best period of the race. I was finding strength to tick over a steady, slow pace without much exertion, and my resolve to finish was firm. One good thought leads to another, and I held the cramping leg at bay and drove off that emotion to get me through to dawn.

Dawn eventually came. The night was close to 13 hours, and the sunrise lap revealed beautiful fog rolling through the valley and a soft, gentle light. For me, this was accompanied by the shocking revelation that I still had 5.5 hours left to race, and suddenly there was pain everywhere. I had moved into second place in 18-24s and second place in single speed as I plodded on through the night, but now I was cracking. My left leg was stiff, my knees were hurting, the saddle was intolerable and my arms were so badly pumped that descending was agony. Here I made a huge mistake - I started to think about the pain. The more I thought about it, the worse it got and soon I was rolling around, wishing only for it to be over. Some of the guys who'd slowed through the night came flying past me at this point - including Tim, although he offered kind words of encouragement as he came through. I dropped to 3rd in SS and 4th in 18-24 and it all seemed done at about 10am.

Joel and Phil somehow tolerated my irrational anger and self-pity and made me keep lapping. They also gave me some fresh powerade and Nurofen (thanks Harry!) and I was alive again and the power in the legs was finally released. Motivated and focussed, I turned the pain into a mad, driving rage and rode of the adrenaline rush. This was the best part of the race - I was hammering around after so long and loving it. Contrary to my thoughts a few hours earlier where I wanted to finish as soon as possible, I was now busting to fit in lap no. 36 before midday and try to regain second place in single speed. After a 32 minute lap, I went flying through transition at 11.52am, having taken 6 minutes out of Tim in a single lap and reduced the gap to a bare minute. It felt good to be putting on a show for the people around - and most importantly, for the support crew's efforts! However, Tim saw my attack, yelled "Go Ed!" (people are so friendly in this sport!) and proceeded to launch a stunning counter-attack. I had no answer for this power - and when my chain fell off, decided to cruise into the finish. Poor Tim didn't know I'd backed off and was riding one of the fastest laps of the race - I yelled my encouragement as he flew down the descent. I crossed the finish line with Sam Warmington (another single speeder) at 12.30 - the last of the Soloists to finish, and stoked on my performance with a podium in my first race and an "elite" qualification - "only" 7 laps behind the mighty Jason English. I did 36 laps - around 350km - about 50% more than I'd imagined possible and had stayed on the bike through some hard times.

The experience was unforgettable, and the support fantastic. Despite the vegemite incident, I couldn't have imagined having better support for the race - mechanically, food wise and just for general motivation.

It may be unwise to quote from "Into the Wild", but Chris McCandless' quote really resonated with me - that sometimes it's important not just to be strong, but to feel strong. There were times when I was facing a void, and everything is stripped bare, and the only thing that matters is your will to endure. Finding that strength there and making it in the end justifies all the trials and hardship, and the sense of accomplishment is overpowering.

Will I do it again? Definitely. Will I be rocking a single speed? Helll yeaaaah......

Heresy and blogotry!

Well, a riding blog. Full of monocogs (and bad rhymes). Not so much of a training log as a general rant about the "spirit" of the ride and other such fuzzy and romanticised concepts.

Having spent the last few days kicking into Winter by slushing around in the cold, nighttime mud on a rigid 69er SS, it's been a lot of fun. Whether it's the nirvana of the hill, the oblivion of the night, the immersion in nature, the adrenaline or just an endorphin high, there's something magical happening. Something which feeble blogged words are clearly failing to describe.

Maybe videos will help? These were shot by Seb down on the New South Wales south coast. They feature some sweet trails, gorgeous scenery and some dude taking very poor lines on a 29er.

Lilli Pilli Cliff ride:

Mogo Trails... Angry Doctor here soon!

I'll post something about my first Solo 24 soon - it was a pretty cool experience.