Monday, September 22, 2008

Ego Tripping

Yesterday I went out with the big boys, on a BikeSA organised mountain bike ride called the Ego Trip. The ride consisted of a 30km route at Cudlee Creek Conservation Park (where I've been a couple of times before with Amanda (sheep and kangaroos attacked, although I saw nothing more exciting than birds this time)). The pros were going to do three laps, making 90km (for some reason they revised it down from the original 99, which sounds much cooler). I was hoping to make it round for 2 laps, but just getting out and having a ride, discovering some new trails, was the main concern.
The route was insane - it's here. All those zigs and zags on the map are up and down mountains. I just discovered that on the top left of that Bikely map there is a 'show' option and you can have a look at the elevation profile. No wonder I seemed to spend a lot of time walking the bike up really steep hills, or white-knuckling it down really steep ones.
My day started off darkly when as the last thing before heading out the door at 7.30am I grabbed the bike to load onto the racks and noticed the front tire was flat. Hooray. Because my favourite thing to do is fix flats early in the morning. I must have punctured it the day before when I went out for a little warm-up ride. So it was easy to find and repair the puncture and I hoped that boded well for a trouble free rest of the day. I made it to Cudlee Creek without getting lost at all which was kind of exciting and got all sorted out just in time for the pre-ride briefing. I started off well and truly as the last rider - I didn't want to get in anyone's way early on. Another guy and I quickly began competing for who could stay right at the back. His excuse though was a 12 year old bike with no shocks. Mine, well, I didn't really have one. Very early on, my hopes of a smooth ride after the early flat vanished when my chain came off and then I started having problems with gear changes. The other slow guy (we rode and chatted together for a long time but I never asked his name, for shame) was very helpful fiddling with things but we couldn't really get it working right. I quickly worked out that I couldn't use the very biggest or very smallest gears. After the ride, the mechanic confirmed the rear derailleur hanger was bent for some reason and that was causing the problems. Of course that was what I suspected all along... sure.
Anyway, the bike was still plenty rideable although there were a few annoying moments with attempted quick gear changes. And I'm sure if I had that one extra gear it would have made all the difference in having to walk up so many hills.
I had my new bike computer to play with as well, which is so advanced that while it was measuring my speed and heart rate I'm pretty sure it was also calculating the trajectory of the next Mars lander. The kilometres seemed to take a long time to tick over though. After I'd been riding for seemingly hours and hours I was surprised to see it said I'd only done about 15km. At about this time I scored a rear flat. Now rear flats suck a lot more than front flats, because to replace the tube you've got to deal with the chain/gears and brake when getting the tyre on and off. I opted to keep everything on, and just patch the tube. It was pretty easy to find the hole because there was a massive piece of wood sticking into it. I took my time fixing the tyre but didn't see any sign of my friend from earlier who I'd left behind a while ago. I headed on alone but soon realised that the tyre was still deflating. I stopped again and proceeded to pull the whole thing off to replace the tube altogether. About this time, my buddy finally caught up, just in time to help me with the tricky bit (putting the wheel back on). I also checked with him that my speedo was working correctly, and unfortunately it was. We'd only done 16km in well over two hours. I'd been hoping to average 10km/hr, so I could achieve two loops in the approximately six hours I had. But anyway, we pressed on, I soon left him behind again (not that I'm competitive of course). I spent the rest of the ride essentially alone, stopping for a chat with the marshall at the refreshment stop (apple juice and fruit cake - sultanas never looked so good), and otherwise only seeing other riders as I pulled over to let them pass me. The leader passed me only a couple of hours in, so he'd done 45km in the time I'd done 15. Great. He was a machine though, second rider was at least an hour behind that. I was heartened to see some of the pros also have to stop and walk their bikes up some of the hills. One guy even picked up his bike and ran up the hill. What's with THAT?! How is it easier to CARRY a bike up a hill rather than push it? They have wheels for a reason.
The route itself was great, though just to scare me it started off in the really difficult stuff, all dark under the pine trees, windy and steep with lots of exposed roots to add some variation. The park has such a diversity of trails, we also went on some nice wide gentle fire trails, and some big clear up and downs (my favourites - you can see what's coming up and so can go REALLY fast down the hills, and get enough momentum to make it almost to the top of the next hill). There was also one incredibly awesome scary downhill that went down for a VERY long time, but not just down straight, there were jumps and bends and little bridges that had been built into the trail just to keep it interesting. I just about strained my braking muscles on that bit, which seemed to go forever (although not quite as long as the incredibly steep uphill that preceded it).
In the park there are lots of downhill trails like that, rather than the cross-country ones we were mostly on, occasionally you'd hear a rustle in the bushes and a downhill rider would silently zoom across the trail at great speed straight down the hill. Those guys have it good, they have a driver at the bottom who loads their bikes back on and takes them back to the top to hoon down again.
It was really nice basically riding alone in the bush, but not having to worry about finding my way as it was very well sign-posted, and with riders passing me at fairly regular intervals so I didn't feel too alone. I had lots of time for contemplation as well as enjoying the scenery, which is spectacular up there. I didn't really come close to falling off that often, but I did come to a deep philosophical realisation about the nature of control... The times I was closest to losing it all together were on the downhills. I'd get up a bit of speed and instead of just enjoying it, maintaining the barest of control, looking out for obstacles and planning my path, I'd try to slow down and regain total control. That's when I'd start to slide... A very similar thing happened while I was skiing. It was the slowing down and trying to regain control that led to disaster. So my lesson? Relax. Go with the flow. I don't have to be in control ALL the time as long as I can see the other end.
Although I can't POSSIBLY see how that could relate to anything in my life other than the bike or skis...
By the time I'd made it around the route once (so 30km) it was getting late-ish (they'd said no new starts after 2pm and it was about 1.30). As I was nearing the end-point I'd intended to stop for something to eat and then head off again, not to do the whole thing over, but just ride for another hour or so, but first I got the mechanic to look at my bike which took a while, and by then I was just ready to get the kids, head home and shower. So I did 30km (or technically 29.8km). This is at least double what I've ever done off-road before. My exciting new (secondhand of course) computer tells me I averaged 7.9km/hr, with a max speed of 42km/hr. I was on the bike for 5hrs exactly with 3hr43 actual ride time. And because it's so technically advanced I know I averaged a heart rate of 144bpm with a max of 175, and also that I burned 2039kcal. Annoyingly, I can't get it to tell me energy used in kJ although everything else will switch metric-imperial. I even uploaded all this data to the internet, where I promptly ignored it.
Hooray for mountains and pushing comfort zones. When's the next ride?

Monday, September 15, 2008

Out riding again

Yesterday we went on the inaugural Gawler Bicycle User Group (GBUG) social ride. The GBUG was founded a few months ago by the energetic Sophia who is keen to encourage cycling as a method of transportation within Gawler as well as liaise with the local council regarding the newly released Cycling and Walking plan (which I was on the reference group for).
The first ride was planned a couple of months ago but the weather was awful so it was put off until this weekend, with the plan being that there will be a meeting every other month and a ride the other month. The weather was a bit touch-and-go for this weekend as well, after a lovely week there was some rain about in the morning and plenty of wind, but it fined up somewhat in the afternoon. There was a decent turnout of people too, some familiar faces (it is Gawler after all) and other people I hadn’t met before. We had a good assortment of bikes there – I didn’t think to bring my camera but someone else did so I might get some photos one day. Not only were there a bunch of kids (including someone from Bethany’s class), and me with the child seat on the back of my bike, but Sophie had her bike with child seat (and much feared son Derek, who Sophie is terrified of at childcare) plus cargo racks adding about an extra metre to the back of her bike, someone had a bike with two children in a trailer, someone else had a bike with tag-a-long child’s bike joined to the back, and there was also a tandem bike. An interesting and very visible group of riders we were! (which is the point, of course). We did a long ride although I’m not sure how long exactly, we covered all of Gawler from Willaston down to Evanston and back again. Sophia said it was going to take about an hour, but it took us two hours, with Hannah being the limiting factor. She was the youngest solo cyclist and did a great job. She persisted and worked hard the whole way around, never coming close to giving up (or falling off!) even though she had to hop off her bike to walk up hills a few times. Everyone was very impressed with her efforts. I could not believe how hard she worked for such a long time. It was nice travelling in a group, as I could hang back with Hannah while the other kids were being watched out for by other adults. Everyone was extremely nice and it will be nice to have it as a regular event. The kids all enjoyed themselves and said they would love to do it again.
Sophie made some new friends, Max and Eliza, who she was scared of first, I think worrying they were like Derek, but then they became her best ever friends. They were being towed in the trailer by their dad and she was forever nagging me to ride next to her new friends. Hopefully seeing Derek outside of the childcare situation was helpful for her as well, although I suspect he’s not actually that much of a problem, he seems very much self-involved and probably doesn’t even pay attention to her at childcare, other than that one fateful time he ‘roared’ at her when face-painted as a tiger. She has a loooong memory for such things.

After an incident free long ride, we stopped at the BMX track on the way home which is right next to the park where we started. Hannah was upset she couldn’t make up any of the hills at the track and in fact had a bad stack, she didn’t quite understand the concept that her legs were exhausted after such a long ride plus we had also gone out the day before for a practice ride, since I hadn’t ridden much with Sophie in the child seat, and wasn’t sure how it would work looking after Hannah and having Sophie, so we’d had a very energetic weekend. Ryan also took a big fall at the BMX track. I just couldn’t believe they were all game to give it a go after already riding so long! After that last burst of energy though, Hannah could not face the 500m ride from the BMX track to the car, so we ended up leaving the bikes (and the two oldest kids still riding) at the track and walked over to get the car. Funny how the last bit of effort is just tooo much.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Two thumbs up!!

I got home today from my trip to Melbourne. Nine days, no kids, Melbourne, Michael, Steve. A lot of fun.
So much happened during the week. First the credits: thanks to mum and dad for having the kids for me and buying my airline tickets, and thanks to great friends Michael and Steve for their generosity, sharing their time, houses and money with me. :)

The trip was every bit as awesome and fun as I anticipated it to be, in fact exceeding my expectations, which is always a good thing. Melbourne turned on the weather for me, certainly in the second half of the week. I always said loving the environment is a good thing, because it loves me back.
My holiday was really two mini-holidays, as I stayed first with Michael and then with Steve. Made the trip seem twice as long (which is a good thing!).

Michael lives out of the city in sunny Ringwood (or as he calls it 'Melbourne's Munno Para'). He had time off while I was there which was really nice, just to hang out for a bunch of time without a lot of plans. We got to visit not one but TWO giant monuments to surburban consumption in mega-shopping centres Knox City and Eastlands - totally appealing to Ms Anti-consumption here, as you can imagine. Michael coaches a kids basketball team so we went to their game and to training (they will be playing in the grand final this weekend - GO BULLS!). We hung out at home a lot, lounging around (and I mean REAL lounging, laying on world's largest lounge chair in the lounge room and listening to lounge music). I caught up on some popular culture I missed out on (how could I survive this long without having seen Zoolander or 40 Year Old Virgin??), and discovered the world of lounge music gone wrong with Richard Cheese.

Photo: this car was just darn sexy I had to take a photo of it

We went up to Mt Dandenong and watched a storm move in across Melbourne towards us. The view from Mt Dandenong was quite spectacular, even with all the clouds. In the photo you can see the rain storm just to right of centre.

Photo: Michael pondering the wishing tree at Mt Dandenong

We stopped for pancakes in world's steepest carpark where Michael achieved world's crookedest carparking.

The pancake place sold pancakes topped with curry and rice! We didn't try those although we did make the foolish mistake of going for savoury pancakes, leaving no room for the delicious sounding sweet ones, darn it.

Photo: So cosmopolitan. Sippin' chai lattes, walking on bridges, overlooking Wallaby Ave. We had it going on.

Michael took me to all his favourite food places, including world's best garlic naan (and pretty darn good butter chicken), and even cooked dinner for me (pics of that are on his Facebook page).

The first half of my holiday ended too quickly and Michael took me into the city on Wednesday where I called into work to undertake some delicate negotiations with my Victorian counterpart (I failed in my mission sadly, he refused to share some extremely valuable information, but it was a useful visit anyway). But before I went there, we went to Southbank and Greco, home of world's best cake fridge (can you tell yet that Michael is fond of superlatives??). As per usual I scoffed at his declarations of awesomeness, but this place exceeded his promises. There were so many great looking choices that, as promised, I found it extremely difficult to decide on just one cake. Finally I chose the honeycomb cheesecake and was not disappointed. Their 'real' food looked pretty good too, but we didn't actually eat any, concentrating instead on the sugar and fat laden goodies.

Photo: These two windows are only half of the cake fridge at Greco.

So on Wednesday, after I was done at work, I headed into the city and met Steve who gave me his house key and pointed me in the direction of the tram to his house. He lives in Carlton which is very close to the city, so it's only about 10 minutes on the tram. On account of having only just started a new job, Steve didn't have any days off while I was there (has he never heard of the aussie tradition of faking illness?!), so I spent a couple of extremely enjoyable days tootling around by myself. I went to St Kilda one day, chatted to the fishermen, saw a penguin swimming in the water, found some starfish, bought a genuine vintage top, and ate lunch at Lentil As Anything, a restaurant which only asks that you pay what you feel the meal is worth. Neat concept and great food. Nice to see that it is doing well.
I soaked up a bunch of culture too, so much so that everything was referred to generically as a POC or place of culture, as I had difficulty remembering exactly where I saw each cool thing. I went to both sites of the National Gallery of Victoria (what's with a state art gallery closing one day a week?), Melbourne Museum (and what's with a state museum charging an entry fee?), the Centre for the Moving Image, and somewhere else I'm not remembering right now. I also walked the streets of Melbourne, discovering chai latte flavoured icecream (yes, as good as it sounds) and Puffy Cookies (deep fried cookie/eclair type things filled with custard, yes also as good as they sound).

Photo: Royal Exhibition Hall, or more particularly, some cool clouds as the sun set

All these things were so cool, I started formulating next year's family holiday, which involves driving over to Melbourne, imposing on friends generosity for free accommodation and showing the kids all this cool stuff. Melbourne is such a great town to visit and I suspect it would be very liveable too. I know there are those who dislike it (hmm, Michael?) but there are also those who absolutely love it (right Steve?). I was so impressed with the public transport (every time and place we needed a train or a tram, it was there) and the amount of bikes and cycling infrastructure.
Steve lives right between Brunswick and Lygon Streets so there was no shortage of interesting shops to look in and great places to eat. There are also extremely high-rise old housing commission flats mixed in with the trendy renovated little terraces so there are an interesting mix of people.

Photo: Me trying to be arty at one of the commission flats

My week quickly came to an end, with Saturday my last full day in Melbourne and the only full day I had with Steve. After finally getting his car working again, (he joined the RACV on Monday specifically because his car hadn't worked for a couple of weeks and he knew he needed to take me to the airport on Sunday), the ideas man came up with an awesome plan for Saturday - SKIING! Lake Mountain is about two hours from Melbourne, and is apparently Victoria's premier Nordic resort, although we didn't actually see any Nords. Steve can ski very well having lived and worked in Canadian ski resorts, and I, well, I've skied for a total of two whole days. Sounds like fun, right? I soon learned that we hadn't actually gone up the mountain to ski together, but just so Steve could laugh at me while I tried to ski. At this place they have cross country skiing, rather than downhill, so there are no lifts, and plenty of hills you are supposed to ski UP. Ha ha. Still, I like to think I did quite well, I probably only fell over twenty times, and only five or six of those times actually hurt, with only one involving a face-plant. It was actually incredibly good fun and hard work (today I am yet to find a single muscle in my body that does not ache). We estimated we did about 25km including some black trails (the most challenging). I even got a bit of technique happening towards the end, rather than just aimless flailing. On this day I refined next year's family holiday plans to include a couple of days in the snow. Which suddenly moves it from budget holiday up into more expensive realms. But, hey, it's SNOW!

Photo: Sunrise through the mist as we drove to the snow at some incredibly early hour

Photo: Steve coming down the black trail. You will notice I am already at the bottom waiting to take the photo. Meaning I finished first. Not that it was a competition or anything. (actually I took a shortcut)

Photo: Snow bunny. The scary thing is these blingful sunnies belong to Steve. He actually BOUGHT them. To wear himself. Although he did confess he wouldn't really mind if I lost them or broke them when I fell over.

Photo: This possum stalked us the whole way around the trails. Apparently.

Photo: The Panorama Lookout. The sign writer was a bit ambitious about what exactly you could see (might need to click to enlarge).

Photo: Note to self - keep sleeves down even if you get hot, especially if you are prone to falling over. Snow isn't all soft and fluffy like it looks.

After we made it back from the mountain, tired and sore and a little sunburned, we headed out to a Japanese bath-house tucked away in the side streets of Collingwood which was very pleasant and a different experience. Nothing quite as satisfying as getting naked in a public place and then getting into a incredibly warm deep bath. And of course after that, what else for dinner but Japanese? Food, not people.
Sunday my flight was relatively early in the morning (11am) but we managed to fit in breakfast at the awesome Sugardough on Lygon Street, before heading to the airport for final farewells.

My flight out was on Qantas, so there was even some free food and drink served on board, oh the novelty. When I got back to Adelaide I was surprised to see mum and dad waiting for me. I'd intended on catching the bus out to Paul's where my car was, but my great parents just dropped by on their 'way' (yeah right) to grandpas for father's day.
Up to Paul's and many hugs and cuddle for the kids, who by all accounts were wonderfully behaved for mum and dad during the week.
Tonight we went out for dinner for mum's birthday and father's day (sadly both bad daughters neglected to organise cake, although I think I at least have a reasonable excuse, since I was in a different city that morning). Fortunately tomorrow there is no school (since I'm stupidly still up writing this at midnight!), so I get to just hang with the kids and unpack, taking it easy.
Thanks again everyone, I had such a great holiday!!

And greenie addendum: I bought some new stuff while I was away - some gloves, which I really needed for the snow (I lost one of my other ones in Adelaide, and these ones will also be great for on the bike) and some gifts for the children.
I made vegetarian choices for a lot of my meals (cake counts as vegetarian, right?) and also did my best to choose food that was not excessively packaged. I worked on brainwashing ahem educating my friends where necessary too.

And late edit: Why am I still writing this at 1am?! My body clock is totally screwed from too many late nights and sleep-ins this past week. Kiddie alarm-clock in the morning though unfortunately...