Three Peaks 2017 – kerblammo!

Rode my first Three Peaks on Sunday and am happy to report I smashed it up real good. I was aiming for a sub-10 hour ride time and had 9 hours 30 minutes as a stretch goal. Managed to get ‘er done in 9 hours 19 minutes. Very, very pleased, and it didn’t destroy me. Indeed, it’s a few days after right now and my body and mind are feeling great.

It was great to go out on ‘the big loop’ and ride it as hard as I could. I’ve done that route so many times now – all those Audax 250s, the recent 320 Utlra, the training weekend in December – that I think I’ve finally figured out how to ride it well. Where to be constant, where to conserve, where to give it some curry. The Back of Falls climb is never, ever easy, but I do think I climbed it better on Sunday than I ever have.

High points on the ride would be the handful of micro-friendships I made with dudes where we helped eachother and worked together through some touch sections. The two cans of full-strength Coke I had halfway up the last climb made me feel like Superman, and lived that by dragging a bunch of broken chumps up the last 10kms of climbing before dropping the hammer and racing to the finish line. What a buzz that was.

I’m not sure I’ll be back for more of the Three Peaks. I’m thrilled with the time I managed it in, and though I’m sure I could improve it, I’m not sure I feel that motivated to do so. That could be a reflection based on the immediacy right now of ‘wow, that was hard, and my butt is sore, and that’ll do’, but really, I feel like that’s something I can put in the bag and not take back out.

But I’d never say never.

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Farewell, Old Soldier

Seeing a bike aging and rusting away in a backyard is such a bummer. And yet I did that very thing to bike I had previously loved so, so hard. Watching this boy degrade away in the driveway was making for an ignoble and sad end to a once great and much-loved companion. Action has been taken and arrangements made for a fitting end.

Once upon a time this was a Cannondale F2000 mountain bike. CAAD 4 frame, full XTR group set, and hydraulic disk brakes, which at the time seemed like science fiction technology from the future.

This bike was also the first year of the much celebrated Lefty fork. If I had a dollar for every time a fellow trail user said “Where’s the other half of your fork? Fnar fnar fnar…”. Man, hearing that never got old.

The hideous Stars and Stripes paintjob led me to name him “Mister President”. He’s been hybridised and bastardised many times over the years, but in the day this bike was the shit in 26 inch hard tail cross-country riding, and I loved it like nothing else.

I bought the bike ever-so-slightly used in 2002. It only felt like I spent a lot of money because back then I had far less cash than I had time. What it unlocked for me was a great many years of the hardest of hardcore adventures and fun times with mates and on trails too numerous to recall.

And now I’ve given it the proper, fitting end. Over the course of about an hour I dissembled the bike completely, looking at and enjoying the feel of all those well-used components. Some of the parts I’ll keep, most I’ll toss, but the frame will live on hanging in the shed, there to remind me of a freer life.

Got my money’s worth, fo’ sho’.

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Tour de Point Hicks 2016

An amazing five days just passed out in far-flung East Gippsland staying at Point Hicks lighthouse in Croajingolong National Park. Mountain biking, walking giant dunes, drinking wine and adventuring.

We started in Bairnsdale and toured our way to Point Hicks on rail trail and off road fire trails, meeting the support vehicle at key food stops, then did some day-tripping once we were settled at the lighthouse. We did a massive amount of dirt miles and ascent metres, all with a very fast crew of strong cyclists. Couldn’t be a better riding posse.

I’m still a bit stunned at the good times I’ve had. So much fun with great people in an incredible environment.

The routes:
Day 1 – Bairnsdale to Orbost rail trail
Day 2 – Marlo to Point Hicks offroad
Day 3 – sweet, sweet rest day
Day 4 – Point Hicks to Wingan Inlet beach return
Day 5 – Point Hicks to Cann River offroad race

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Easter 2016

Another glorious Easter camping out west at Mount Arapilies, scrambling up and over rocks with my two best guys, going to bed exhausted and sleeping warm on cool desert evenings.

It was my slight return to climbing after a year off (or more?) while I focused exclusively on being fit on the bike. No climbing training whatsoever before heading out but it was never going to be a massive bash for me. Mostly about making sure the kids have great experiences out there, getting good and grubby and eating lots of chocolate.

And boy, did they get both in spades. My oldest got so dirty that even I was feeling the shame of questionable dadding, so I had him change into new kit. 30 minutes later he was just as grotty all over again, so I gave up on that idea promptly. As for chocolate. . . woah momma, did those boys eat a lot.

We had a great crew this time, George running kid-free and having an old-school off the leash time of it, and him bringing along a group of people new to me who quickly became good friends. Love having a big pack of good kids running together and having the time.

Mount Araplies, how I missed you.

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A hill of one’s own

I am nowhere near Mount Everest. If I was there’d be ice and yaks and shit but instead there’s gum trees and bugs and bitumen. I’m on a small suburban road in the back of Warrandyte. I’m not wearing furs and cramp-ons and ropes, I’m riding a bicycle. This is a bizarre and ridiculous construct. I feel foolish. I’m having the time of my life.

I am Everesting. There’s no way to explain to anyone what this is about. I mean, sure, I’m aiming to ride on a bicycle up and down the same hill until I reach the vertical ascent metres of Mt Everest – 8,848 metres, exactly – but the logical, obvious question is ‘why?’. I cannot adequately answer this, either to myself or anybody else.

I was out riding some hills with some of the Hells 500 crew one Sunday and they said that a few of them had been planning a group Everesting effort. I said that sounded like a cool thing to try, and my mate Tom said ‘you should totally do it with us’. I thought ‘hmmmm…’. And just like that the seed was planted.

I took a few days to mull it over and tentatively told them I’d at least start the day with them and see how I went. But deep down I knew I was 100% in.

So, ten days out from the day, my compressed planning began in earnest. There were three parts of the prep for me:
Mind – decide it’s going to happen.
Body – make sure it’s tight.
Fuel – keep the machine running.

I’m glad to say my body fitness wasn’t such an issue. I love riding hills and I didn’t think I needed any special training, and anyway, the window between deciding to try this and actually doing it was pretty narrow, so there was no time to train even if I wanted to. I have a few of the bigger climbing Audax rides under my belt so I figured that even if I slowed to a crawl, physically I could complete it. I don’t have any injuries or strains, and lord knows I’ll never be younger than right now, so bugger it, check that box.

Locking down the brain angle was critical. This was going to be mentally taxing, both in terms of preparing and executing, and in keeping my resolve strong. Such a long time on a bike gets boring, and making sure I had enough to mentally keep myself focussed or occupied would be important.

The one that really bothered me was nutrition. Eating enough is the big, hard thing to manage. Loading up on food the week leading up to was fine, and making sure I ate often early in the ride would be okay, but I knew that at a certain point I’d get really, really sick of food. Sick of sweet, sick of salty, sick of chewing and swallowing. It happens. But whatever you do, you cannot afford to stop. And if you do, you’re in trouble.

The ride plan was to start in the black of night. On the Friday night I set the alarm for 1am, got up and drove to pick up one of the guys, and by 2.30am we were lined up on top of the quiet little street and ready to go.

It was a strange feeling, kicking off and descending that first run in darkness. I had no real idea for what I was in for, how it would go for me, or even if I could do it. Then turning and starting the first of many, many laps, it was so still and cool, the quiet rhythmic hum of tires on bitumen as we humped up the climb.

The road was a well-chosen: Floods Road is 7% climbing over 1km, completed comfortably in 5 minutes at a leisurely pace, 2 minutes to descend, rinse and repeat. It has four sections where I’m out of the saddle in the granny gear – 34/27 on my set-up – but not so severe as to need to really crank it. It was the kind of rise I favour, a pinch but with respite, and good to build a rhythm to.

The group rode in silence for the first few hours, each at our own pace, chatting here and there. Dawn came, giant black kangaroos moving around in the scrub, the sunlight charging us all up. People started showing up to cheer us on, bring us food, ride with us. Tarps were set up for shade, a water station, deck chairs. By mid morning a party vibe started up, more and more people coming to watch the freaks. The Hells 500 Massive came in huge numbers, riding laps with us, keeping us pumped. A totally amazing crew of people, the guys you want on your side.

Midday came and went. It got hot: by two o’clock the temperature was 33 degrees. Some of the guys retreated to the shade to wait it out but I pushed on, mindful of not losing momentum. I started drinking a bidon of straight water at the top of every climb, desperate to keep the hydration up.

Eating started to suck. I’d begun well enough with egg salad sandwiches, cheese and pickles, bananas, muesli bars, the like. By mid-arvo I’d moved onto more pure sugar/carb concoctions like rice cream, donuts and a miracle raspberry slurpy that pretty much rebuilt me. But damn, refuelling got hard. I knew I had to keep eating of the whole machine would stop but geez, it becomes hateful after so many hours of stuffing in calorie-dense bland nonsense.

If there was a trough in the day, the tough part, this was it, and I was in it. And then my Sherpas started showed up.

I’d anticipated that I’d need company most once I was past halfway, and that’s what I told peeps who wanted to come and support me. Sure enough my guys started appearing one after another in the early arvo, just when I needed them. Darren was first – frequent training companion, hard man of the hills, and great company, full of stories and laughs. Then Kristan, who was too crook to do any laps but kept a smiling, encouraging vigil at the top. Then came Scott, Matt, Richard, Tim and Kate, . . . face after friendly face there to lend support. When the Lewises left at 6 o’clock I had 6500 metres climbed, and confidence was riding high.

As I farewelled the last Sherpa and the sun set on the day I put my ear buds in and my head down and just went for it. The laps and the numbers became a blur, I barely stopped to take on more fuel. At some stage I moved onto pure old-school Coca-Cola. Caffeine and sugar delivered in the the perfect tasty format.

At 18 laps to go I could smell victory. I felt myself getting faster, crushing out the metres, the end in sight. At three laps to go the eerie calm descended. And then suddenly it was done. Back slaps and big grins from the small group left, me euphoric and grinning. Off the bike, changed out of the superman suit, rubbing my numb feet and trying to make sense of what had just happened.

Hours later, after everyone had finished and we’d decamped, I got home and wandered inside. I’d left the house in the middle of the night, everyone asleep, all quiet. Here I was walking back in 24 hours later to the same sleeping house, like nothing had changed at all. It was the most surreal moment of the whole day.

A few hours later I woke up to my oldest boy standing next to the bed looking at me. He said “did you do it dad?” and I said “yeah mate”, and he said “good work” and turned and wandered out. The applause still rings in my ears.

Sunday I was a mental case. My body pulled up great – I was worked but not injured or sore at all – but I had the brain of a chicken: distracted, drifting off. We had friends over for lunch and I kept taking micro-naps mid-conversation and vaguing out. My youngest kept slapping me to wake up. Great company, me.

In a life so far full of fun, great challenges and pointless but grand adventures, Everesting has been been a stand-out in all three. And now I can’t wait to get my next adventure on.

NOTE: massive props to my co-Everesters Tom, Derek, Peter and Brent. You guys were excellent and inspiring company and I’m thrilled we got to do this ridiculous thing together.

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A cave of one’s own

Where once we had a shitty old broken shed in the backyard we now have something entirely different. A brand new room, in fact.

I loved the broken brick shed formerly known as my man cave. Water damaged floor, leaky roof, broken walls, dark and dank: I pretty much had the run of the place since the applications for this poorly failing space where so limited and noone else wanted to come near it. Weights, a fingerboard and an old couch were about all it was good for. I could have lived with the imperfections and limitations but the whole thing was sinking lop-sidedly into the ground. Something had to be done.

Concurrent to this has been the growing need for more space in our humble home. We’ve been using our bedroom as a study – desk and computer crammed in next to the bed, books and clothes all over each other – and it’s been far from ideal. Plus them boys of mine are getting bigger and need more cat-swinging space.

We have a decent sized backyard and we talked over the grand vision of what we could do: a new kitchen here, a family room there. But who in their right mind lives through a renovation? I’ve had too many friends try it with considerable damage to their psyches and their relationship, not to mention their wallets.

And so the plan was hatched. Let’s not live in chaos, let’s live near it. Let’s have the reno you have when you’re not having a reno.

You hear tales of people being ripped off by a building experience, so we were super wary going in. Through lots of asking around we found a bloke who would do the job for a not unreasonable amount. He did a lot of hand-holding with us to make sure we were comfortable with what we were planning, and then he brought two extra things to the table that sold me: 1. It would be finished on the agreed time, and 2. Any cost blowouts would be on him. That seems as a good a guarantee as we were going to see.

And then they went to work. Two blokes came in and went at it, tearing stuff down, pouring and hammering, building things up. For two weeks they slogged away, me doing regular morning and evening check-ins to make sure all was well, watching and loving the progress. And lo, one day the lads packed up and left, and it was done.

I spent one weekend doing the major bit of the painting, getting the inside ready to move stuff back in, and I’m finishing the rest bit by bit. It’s the long tail but the room formerly known as ‘the shed’ is pretty much good to go.

But good to go where, exactly? Where once there was a damp and broken dark hole noone but me loved, we now have a functional, clean beautiful space, and everyone in the family has their ideas about how it’s going to be used. The amount of grand ideas I’ve had to fend off are mind-boggling. Certainly the kids seem to think it’s theirs.

I’m glad I had some good locks put on them doors.

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Coffee up

Roasting your own coffee beans. The final hipster douche bag frontier.

My brother grew a coffee plant in his garden and gave me a bunch of green beans to take home. I was curious to see what roasting them myself would produce, and a bit of research showed that an air-popping popcorn machine would do the trick. I dragged the Poposaurus out and fired him up in the backyard and away I went.

The roasting was slow to start but sped up incredibly quickly, which meant watching for how the beans changed as they roasted was difficult. They started to brown up and make the distinct ‘pop’ I’d read about. Poposaurus never worked so hard: the husks came off and blew out of the machine, along with a clouds of the white, acrid smoke, the kind of smell that fills the streets of Melbourne, and it felt like it was really happening.

The smell started to change and I could tell I’d overdone it and crossed some kind of line, so I got the beans out and started picking off the husks. I pulled out a few clearly burnt beans but mostly it looked just like the proper stuff.

And the taste? If I’m generous I’d call it ‘French style’. Being unkind and somewhat more accurate, I’d say I burnt the crap out of it. Still, it was drinkable. And I learnt a lot for the next batch.

Projects are fun.

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Winning streak | update

Ned experiences the full joy of Monopoly.


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Winning streak

We have a regular game night at our place. Bit of ‘Snakes and Ladders’, some ‘Uno’, some ‘Operation’ for my youngest.

Two things I can tell you about Game Night. First up, ‘fast game is a good game’ does not apply. These simple games have lots going on for junior players to follow. These nights roll s-l-o-o-o-w. Also, my four year-old would make a particularly horrific and giggly surgeon.

My oldest boy lately got really into Scrabble. I’m thrilled because I freakin’ love Scrabble. He does well with the words he knows and I help him a lot when he can’t see a good move because, of course, I play very gently. There are three reasons for me to take it easy: 1) I want him to know the fun of making and playing with words, 2) I want to encourage his interest in the game so he’ll play more with me, and 3) I’m not a psychopath. Some dudes have a ‘don’t hold back’ and ‘how else will they learn?’ approach to raising their kids, but Jesus, I just don’t see what my seven year-old gets out of me whupping him at Scrabble.

I owe a huge debt of gratitude to my father for the Leftie leaning world view he instilled in me. It was entirely unintentional and unconscious. Indeed, I’m quite sure he had no inkling he was doing it. But there’s certain behaviours an impressionable child can’t help but learn from.

Dad’s upbringing was proper working class – born and bred coastal boy who made good by joining the police and working the same job his whole life. Hard work, and hard play, typify his attitude to life. And though he undoubtedly possessed a strong Protestant work ethic and drive to keep plugging until you got somewhere, I got none of it.

Of Protestantism, it should be noted my dad was utterly areligious. Church never meant much to him: the only tangible thing it seemed to offer was the free child-minding that Sunday School enabled. I’m sure he thanked almighty God for the sleep-ins.

The character-shaping part for me was in being up close to his competitive streak. He was massively competitive in the old school Australian way and wore that loudly and proudly and in your face. I only came to recognise it later, when I saw him out-performing in sport, out-drinking men in the pub, lifting more, going longer, all of it. But looking back to when I was younger I can see that the competitive thing was fundamental. Even if you were a small child with no idea there was a competition on, it was on. All of this was for the most part fine. Not being particularly sporty or able to compete in arenas meaningful to him, I remained largely unaffected.

But then sometimes, if I was really unlucky, we’d play Monopoly.

It was the Monopoly board where my father’s alpha-male douch-baggery would find it’s perfect outlet. He was merciless. He would slowly but surely thrash us utterly and terribly, the full force of his zeal growing in space and volume as the game went on. He would gloat and tease us at how bad we were as we marched inexorably to our final defeat and his ultimate glory. It was a shitty, shitty experience every time it happened, and it built a deep loathing within me toward all competitive and sporting efforts, but most especially for everything the game of Monopoly represents.

Monopoly is a repulsive, ridiculous game. The whole pitch is that it perfectly mimics the Capitalist dystopia. What fun! You start the game happy and in need of nothing, then you’re compelled to endure hard work and demands on your time and energy and make a bunch of difficult decisions, your friends mercilessly shaft you and you finish broke and unhappy. Exactly like life in all its depressing, moribund tedium. Who in the tit would sit and play this as a fucking entertainment?

Nevertheless, I’m grateful for the early experience. It was shaping, no doubt. Knowing in my own small way what it was like to be crushed under the heel or the gleefully uncaring Capitalist overlord, my gravitation to the unfortunate and unprivileged seems, in hindsight, inevitable. A lesson to live by, I guess.

Last game night, running through some suggestions for future games, the boy mentioned Monopoly. Some of the other kids at school were playing it and he was keen to play.

I guess I’m going to have to tear him a new one. For his own sake, you understand.

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