Sunday 26 July 2015

The Munda Biddi Wrap...

Before we get into the details of the track and the ride, maybe a bit about the gear first?

For this ride given the temperature range I pretty much took the same gear that I took on the ill-fated Cloudride expedition earlier this year... well at least for most of it.  But I did change a couple of key things.

Firstly, lights / charging system.  The Supernova system that I've been using for a new years now is gone and replaced with an Exposure Lights Revo Mk 1 and a Sinewave Reactor USB charger.  This setup proved to be amazing - pretty much ideal for this sort of riding in that it was set and forget - the balance between the two seemed ideal and I could just leave the light on and GPS on charge pretty much all the time - I think the lowest charge % my GPS hit was 95%!

I also swapped pedals to the new Speedplay Syzr which was a bit risky but they proved to be trouble free over the 1000km although I did notice that too much mud did affect the ability to clip in though.

Apart from that is was all pretty much tried and true gear with not a lot of surprises.

Perth and Singapore are in the same timezone so my after work flight on Tuesday arrived at about 1am on Wednesday morning.  I had a hotel in Perth so it was a very early morning putting the bike together - sadly the bead on my tubeless tyres had broken but at least I was able to prove that I can seat a tubeless tyre with a hand pump... oww.

I was up at 6:30 and at the brekky buffet by about 7 dressed in my riding gear - I hadn't packed 'normal' clothes as part of my kit so it was going to be a long week in lycra!  Of course I'd only had about 3 hours sleep at this point.

I'd chosen to take a bus from Perth to my start point in Albany - this was a pretty easy option with a 6hr bus ride that arrived in Albany at around 3:30pm.  Of course this meant a 8:30 am departure and a little ride from the hotel to the bus (train) station.

I was actually thinking for a while that the plan could be to just arrive in Albany and start pretty much straight away - after all (my thinking went) in an ITT, day/night is irrelevant so may as well just get going right?  Fortunately I had some time on the bus to think and realised that after a stressful week or two at work and no sleep the night before an early night and early start might be the more sensible option!

Day 1 - Albany to Campsite Past Walpole (255km)

I had chosen to start in Albany as the way the track worked (at least on paper) was that the easier (flatter) sections were in the south with the northern sections being more technically challenging.  My thinking was that it was better to start easy and ride myself in rather than get hit with technical hills at the start of the ride.  To my mind, having completed the ride, going North is definitely the way to go - getting progressively more difficult forces your mind to engage with the trail whereas if you got easier then its easy to switch off and get bored.

I started day 1 at 7:25am Thursday and had a rough target of hitting around 200km per day but was pretty much following my TDR strategy of planning not to plan - i.e. if I felt good, keep going and if I was struggling then stop.  Based on the route notes it looked like there was going to be somewhere for water every 50km or so but there were going to be at least a couple of sections of 120km with no food resupply but all in all pretty manageable and besides, surely there was going to be something in between that wasn't on the map right?


The first stretch from Albany to Denmark certainly fulfilled the promise of a flat track with occasional singletrack sections cut in to relieve the long gravel roads.  But the smooth roads and flat track didn't last and the true nature of the Munda Biddi began to reveal itself.  On average the course was flat.  On average.  I don't think there was any section in the remaining 925km where I wasn't either on (at least) a slight climb or descent - most of it ridable but it still takes it out of the legs.

I was doing pretty well for water so didn't refill at Denmark figuring I'd resupply at the camping hut 50km down the road.  Well, that was the plan anyway however when I got to the hut at 120km it was closed due to being mostly wrecked by a bushfire the previous summer (something perhaps useful to mention in the trail notes on the website!).  Uh oh.  With the next water stop not until 170km it was time to start being a bit more conservative with the drinking...

The rough idea was to get to the camp at 170km and take it easy for the first day with a stretch goal to make Walpole (210km) by late evening and then call it.  To my surprise I managed to get to Walpole just after 8.  Of course then the realisation hits that this is small town Australia and by 8pm on a week night nothing is open!  After riding up and down the main street a couple of times I saw a motel that had a restaurant that still had a couple of people inside.

Sadly it was closed but by shivering a bit and looking generally bedraggled the owner was convinced to stop the cook from leaving and get me a meal and I ended up sharing a nice hour in the bar with a couple of randoms (one walking the Bibbulmum track and the other just stopping over driving through).  I almost decided to get a room and stay the night but in the end decided what the hey and got my cold riding gear off and headed out into the night to see if I could make the campsite at 250km.

In hindsight I should have stopped.  The section from Walpole to Northcliffe is known as the Walpole Wilderness and its pretty remote.  And hilly.  And remote.  And hilly.  Although the maps mark this as mostly intermediate country the climbs - although not long - were usually too steep to ride (well single speed that is).  I hit the campsite at about 11:30 or so, just in time to get into my sleeping bag and listen to the rain start to pelt down.  Whew!

Day 2 - Walpole Campsite to Pemberton (145km)

Sadly it was still bucketing down when my alarm went off at 5am the next morning.  After giving myself an hour lie in I got dressed, put on my wet weather gear and headed out into it.

At this point I realised that I had perhaps gone a little long the day before and just had nothing in my legs.  This meant lots of walking.  In the rain.  Oh joy.  The track in this section was actually pretty good - old overgrown logging roads with sections of singletrack cut in to connect various sections - upon reflection it was really quite beautiful.  Of course, at the time I was wet and cold and has developed a little bit of a sniffle so perhaps did not appreciate it as much as I perhaps could have.

Oh and of course another camping (and water) site along the way had been destroyed by fire (once again no mention in the notes!).

My mood didn't improve much when I finally reached Northcliffe (after taking more than 6 hrs to go 80km) to find that the only cafe in town had closed about 10 mins before I got there (at 2:30 in the afternoon!).  Sigh.  I eventually sat down and had snack of some twiggy sticks and junk food washed down with some milk before heading off to ride the next section to Pemberton finally riding in at about 6pm.  The highlight here was a series of tight switchbacks leading up into Pemberton - real tight singletrack riding where you got so into the trail that you didn't even realise just how much elevation you were gaining - magic stuff.

I was pretty much toast so called it a day figuring that a hot meal and an early night would mean a better day.

Day 3 - Pemberton to Wellington Rd (273km)

I woke up on Day 3 with a raging sore throat and a cold.  Oh great.  But still it was nice to get up and get dressed somewhere warm and at least (although it was cold) it wasn't raining!

I had a great time on this section - the riding was quite tough with lots of climbing but for the most part I was able to ride it and there seemed to be a lot more singletrack cut in - or at least track sections on very old rail trails which had turned into singletrack over time.  One particular segment has about 3km of downhill switchbacks.  Truly a spectacular piece of trail.

Whlist I'd left too early for breakfast in Pemberton, the towns along this section were quite well spaced and I managed to get a decent breakfast in Quinninup.  I managed to eat quickly and get on my way and eventually arrived in Manjimup (the 80km mark) still in time for second breakfast.  Oh and more importantly, a source of cold and flu tablets as well as industrial strength throat lozenges!  Yup.  That cold was progressing nicely and I was developing a nice chesty rattly sound!

The riding from Manjimup to Donnelly River (a 50's mining town now offering cabin style accommodation) was great - awesome singletrack and interesting scenery which just encouraged you to push on rather than get bored!  Just as well as I don't think there was a flat section on the entire track!

The little cafe at Donnelly River was (a) open and (b) looked inviting so I stopped and chatted to the owners while enjoying a nice vienna coffee.  At least I thought it was nice - lets face it, when you've been riding for the better part of 10 hours and you find a nice warm cafe, anything it serves is nice by definition!

I was still feeling good so kept pushing on to Nannup.  The nice singletrack soon gave way to more open gravel roads and then... shock... tar!  It says something about the awesomeness of this trail that it was almost a relief (and certainly a novelty) to spend time on a smooth (ish - this is country Australia) road.  What wasn't great was the hefty climb - I hate climbing on tar on the single speed - no excuses... if you stop its cause you ran out of legs!

Once at the top though I was treated to a good 20 minute tar descent!  Awesome stuff - yes dirt descending is great but sometimes its nice to just be going fast!  Although by now it was dark and the wind chill was killer.  It was a very cold rider that pulled into Nannup (what is with all the 'up' towns in Southern WA?).

In small country town fashion not much was open but the pub did an awesome counter meal with a roaring open fire and it was nice to just sit for a while.

After dinner (the menu said lamb shanks but it was the biggest bloody lamb I've ever seen!) I looked at my map and decided that I'd try and make the 80km or so to Donnybrook.  I'd heard from a guy I met on the trail that the first 40km or so was all rail trail so I figured I'd make good time on that section and was looking good to make it by midnight or so.  It was getting to the low single digits but I was carrying the gear for riding in those temperatures and besides, when the legs feel good... keep going!

After some old school accommodation searching (my data plan had failed so I was using these yellow pages thingys!) I got a room in a motel and they agreed to leave a key in the lock.  Knowing that I had a warm bed for the night was another reason why leaving the warmth of the fire to ride into the night seemed like a good idea.

Now here it all went pear shaped

So the ride out of Nannup was rail trail as promised and very fast.  After that though it was into some real bush bashing territory (think markers tied in trees every 20meters or so!) - it was actually pretty ridable but slow going and quite mentally fatiguing.  I'm blaming that on the schoolboy error that followed.

The whole trail is very well signposted - every point where you think you might need to make a decision there is a helpful trail marker pointing which way to go and usually another one in 50m or so confirming you're going in the right direction!  Hence it was a bit of a shock to arrive at a track junction and have the direction markers point both ways!  Hmmm.  I had the route mapped on my Garmin (which was about 90% accurate due to the vagaries of the tracks the Mundi Biddi uses and Garmin's route finder) and didn't remember there being an option to split the track here so I trusted the Garmin and went left.

Why. Didn't. I. Check. My. Paper. Maps!


By the time I worked out that I should have been in the town it was past midnight.  Reading the maps by torchlight I worked out that Donnybrook was actually a 5km out and back off the main track and I'd missed it entirely.  Bugger.  More map consultation revealed that there was a cycle camp ground about 25km away so I decided rather than backtracking the 20km or so to town I'd just keep going.

Of course this was the beginning of the hilliest section of the whole trail.

I eventually came across a caravan park at about 3am (that actually seemed to have a pretty good cafe and shop - can't comment as it was of course closed during my visit) and was pretty much toast.  I found a disabled toilet that was open and dragged my bike and gear inside and went to sleep.  Too tired to even get out of my riding gear.

Note to self.  You are never to tired to do this again!

Day 4 - Wellington Road to Collie (51km)

I got up at 5:30 or so after a bad 2hr nap - I wanted to be away before people were starting to stir and potentially query as to why a smelly man was sleeping in a toilet!

At this point the effort of the day before really hit me.  I just had nothing in my legs.

To top it off, the initial section through the Collie River valley is brutal - the hardest climbing sections of the track... both up and down!  Or at least it would have been if I hadn't ended up walking most of it!

My cold had turned into something nasty and I was coughing up more green slime than an episode of 'You Can't Do That on Television'.  I really was not having a good time and thoughts of pulling out began to creep in.

Collie, while part of the Mundai Biddi trail is actually about a 40km out and back detour so in my initial planning I was actually planning to skip it as I was confident that I probably wouldn't need the resupply but given how broken I felt the trusty sheep and I trudged into Collie (yes you can trudge on a bicycle).

I sat down at the first cafe I found (after about 4 hours or so of travelling) and began the process of refuelling and taking stock.

I felt a lot better once I got food but was starting to feel quite ill (as well as simply blocked up) and was dubious about my ability to make the next major town by the time things closed and didn't feel up to sleeping rough.

It turned out the cafe was actually part of a small refurbished hotel (pub style) and after catching me falling asleep in my second bucket of coffee, the owner asked if I'd like a room.  Although it was just after 11:30... it took me all of about 2 seconds to agree!  I figured I'd sleep for a few hours and if I felt good when I woke up then I'd just leave otherwise make an early start the next morning.

Well, waking up at 6pm I still didn't feel better so decided that a night in Collie it was and ventured out in search of food.  I found I was actually craving asian food as I'd been pretty much living on breakfast fare and some sort of meat and 3 veg country standard stuff (all of which was delicious nut same-ish).  So I tested out the Collie Chinese Restaurant.  Well, lets say it was a case of quantity over quality... I suspect living in Singapore might have spoiled me for aussie chinese!

I was back in bed and asleep by 8.  Alarm set for 4:30 to get an early start and perhaps get back some of the time I'd lost by sitting around all day.

Day 5 - Collie to Dwellingup (154km)

Day 5 dawns... (well actually it was a while before dawn but I digress) and if anything I'm feeling worse.  Head feels like its going to explode, great gobs of green gunk are ejected with every cough and I feel like I've just done 10 laps of Manly Dam on a 'cross bike.  Reluctantly the decision is made that my Munda Biddi adventure is over.

After lying in bed for a while feeling sorry for myself my attention then turns to the new logistic challenge of just how to extract myself from Collie... its not that it isn't a pleasant enough place it's more that I've now spent the better part of 18 hours in a room thats slightly larger than a double bed and I need to get out.  Besides I have a sneaking suspicion that whilst the train station looks very shiny the trains might be somewhat infrequent!

Well, turns out my train prediction was more or less spot on... infrequent to the point where they don't actually run anymore!  Its actually used as a bus station.  Only in Australia...  Ok.  Bus it is then.

Next challenge.  Turns out Collie doesn't warrant a regular bus to Perth, it only operates every second day and yes, this was not the day.  Argh!  So I lay in bed contemplating my next move.  A bit more surfing reveals a couple of things, firstly there is a regular service to Bunbury (which of course does not take bicycles!)... and secondly , my Facebook feed was full of the exploits of Jesse Carlsson, Beth Dunne, Seb Dunne and Saul Britton smashing it on the Transamerica Race and Tour Divide.  So, I decided that I could ride to Bunbury and catch a train to Perth...

So, I got up.  I got dressed.  But the funny thing was that once I got dressed I began to think... 'well its 60km to Bunbury... I may as well just keep riding the route'.  Before I knew it, I was in Mc Donalds fuelling up on brekky mc muffins and heading back out on the trail!

Funny how a change of attitude makes all the difference!  I just decided to chill a bit and take it easy and just see how far I could get.  Y'know... the funny thing is that really there is not much of a difference in my chilled pace as there is when going flat out!  I'm not sure what that says...

I actually rate this day as one of the most fun times I had on the trail.  I stopped and took a couple of photos, had an awesome second brekky at some caravan park in the middle of nowhere, dodged some enormous mining trucks (when I decided to ignore the signposted detour and followed the original route despite the 'route closed' signs) and eventually ended up in Dwellingup at about 6pm.  I actually felt like I could go on but common sense prevailed and I decided that having dinner and staying and in the pub (and enjoying 2 dinners!) was a much better plan.

Day 6 -  Dwellingup to Mundaring (175km)

After the relatively easy day before and an early night to bed, I woke up feeling quire refreshed.  Of course no-where was open for breakfast but I had planned ahead and mixed some peanut butter with boiling water and milk to create a delicious drink.  Yes it sounds gross (ok - I just dry retched thinking about it) but at the time it was pretty good and besides - its not normal peanut butter its gourmet!

I headed off into the dark to tackle what would be my final day.  Initially I had set myself a target of sub six days and although I had secretly hoped to go under 5 I was still on track to make my initial time so I was feeling pretty good.  To top it all off I was able to take a deep breath without my chest rattling for the first time in 4 days so I was on top of the world!

One of the things I'd been advised was that the best bike for the Munda Biddi was a fatbike... so far I hadn't seen why people would say that... today I managed to find the 50 meters or so of track that a fatbike would have worked better.  So 50m in approx 1100km - yeah its a fatbike trail... NOT!

I pulled into Jarrahdale and found a great little cafe and had a nice brekky.  Actually it was so nice I had another brekky (it was quite funny - the ladies that ran the place were actually quite offended that I ordered a second and made it about double the size of the first one - mustn't get many hungry through riders!).

From here it was only about 100km to go and I was feeling great.

Now its been my experience that sometimes the end of long bikepacking trips are somewhat anti-climatic - you know you see and experience amazing things on the trail and then at the end you just potter into whatever finishing point is randomly selected (hello Tour Divide!).

Well.  This is not the Munda Biddi experience.

I would rate the last 100km as roughly the equivalent of most 100km MTB marathons in Oz (but with more singletrack!) Technical, hilly and some intense navigation and even the requirement to walk descents which hadn't happened anywhere else on the trail.  Lawd knows how you'd get a bob trailer through there!

It was a tired rider that pulled into Mundaring (despite the nice sign in Albany - finding the corresponding sign was almost impossible) - singletrack until the last 10 meters or so and an amazing experience.

My total ride time was about 5 days 12 hours or so which I'd rate as acceptable.  I don't know anyone else who's tried to through-ride TDR-style so I guess this stands as the quickest time so far.

As far as routes go, I rate this as the best backpacking trail I've ridden (yes more so than Tour Divide).  Whilst it is relatively short, 80% or it is off-road and by off-road I mean true MTB territory rather than a mix of back roads and gravel.  I suspect I would be quicker over the route riding my Moots Routt 45 but it would be a lot harder for sure.

I guess the true test of a great ride is that when you hit the end how do you feel?  After TDR I remember quite clearly thinking 'never again' (although I'm reconsidering!) but after Munda Biddi the thoughts in the taxi on the way to collect my stuff from the start were more about when could I schedule to do this again.

The track's a winner and in my NSHO every aussie bike-packer owes it to themselves to ride it at least once.  Actually, the challenge would be to only ride it once - I plan to be back!

Thursday 18 June 2015

Sometimes ya just gotta go...

Finally getting around to posting again!

My riding plans for 2015 had revolved around riding the Transcontinental Race across Europe from Flanders to Istanbul.  Its a road based backpacking race with the added difficulty that instead of a predefined route (as per Tour Divide for instance) instead racers are given four checkpoints and left to choose their own route.


Especially when you've never (really) been to Europe!

Anyway, had managed to get an entry and was on the upswing with training and had started the process of at least roughing out the route (was looking to be about 4500km or so).  I was looking at a race time of roughly three weeks or so.

But then disaster.

Whilst in Oz, my attitude to work had pretty much been 'its a job - I can take or leave it'... but here I seem to have (somewhat and within reason) rediscovered my enthusiasm (although that's probably too strong a word) for my career.  Sadly this means that in the conflict between backpacking and earning the $$$ to support backpacking sometimes the $$$ does override things.

As I started to get into the planning I realised we would have a whole series of major 'work stuff' tat would be due probably in the week that I was due to depart.  Hmmm, in a perfect world this would be ok but more than likely not.  This was making me stress and then through this whole period I'd be trying to plan a route... it just got too much and I pulled the pin on the big TCR adventure.

Luckily I had a plan 'B' - as part of my training for TCR I'd been doing lots of rides with Singapore Audax and had done the pre-requisite rides to qualify for Paris-Brest-Paris, a 1200km ride to be completed in under 90hrs held every 4 years.  Best part was that the dates worked and the time boxed nature meant only needing to take about 4 days off work!  Genius.

Also I gotta admit I am a bit of a sucker for big mass participation events and am pretty pumped thinking about being part of a group of close to 10,000 cyclists riding across the French countryside!

However, in order to have been able to go to TCR as initially planned I had pretty much not taken any leave across the first 5 months of the year (saving it you see) and I found I was starting to get quite run down.  Little things that should have been mildly irritating were becoming major problems, co-workers who used to be frustrating were now making me homicidal etc.  I needed a break.

With PBP not until August, I looked at my schedule and worked out that in between Lisa going away, the boys having school holidays and my work commitments I had about 2 weeks that I would be able to get away.  So I immediately began looking for some sort of event I could do to get away.

Tragedy, no events (well there were but this time of year in the US is dominated by Tour Divide and Transamerica so not really good for a 7 day get away.

But then I realised that what I wanted to do was to ride and be damned if I needed and 'event' to do that - I just needed to pick a place and then go!

Whilst the Northern Hemisphere is better for riding this time of year, the logistics were just too complex so I settled on going back to Australia and giving the Munda Biddi trail a go.

The Munda Biddi runs between the outskirts of Perth and Albany (about as far south as you can go) and at about 1000km is billed as the worlds longest off-road cycling route.  Sure Tour Divide is longer but Munda Biddi promised to be a more off-road experience than TDR which uses a lot of road sections to link stuff up.

Munda Biddi on the other hand has been developed as an off-road cycling trail so pretty much its been put together to maximise the amount of dirt but also in a way that ensures that there are ample places along the route to be able to resupply if required (unlike the Bicentennial National Trail for example which is more designed for horse riders with their large gear carrying capacity and hence supply points can be many days apart).

The trail either has a town or camping hut about every 50km or so.  The camping huts are cycle-specific shelters that basically give you a roof and a floor off the ground to bivy on as well as a rainwater tank to resupply water.  Luxury.

Of course the recommended dates to ride the trail are Spring / Autumn and I'd be giving it a go in winter but really - I have the gear to ride in the cold and lets face it... at projected minimums of 4'C or so and daily averages in the high teens... its not exactly the Iditarod!

The other good thing about Munda Biddi as a travel destination is that the amount of pre-planning you have to do is pretty limited.  A 9-map set is available from the association which clearly sets out the route and points of interest along the way and its all well laid out for cyclists to use.

Now, I gotta admit that once I saw the maps and their covers of smiling happy families riding bikes along groomed paths my enthusiasm did diminish somewhat.  After all, it did look somewhat 'noddy' really.  Oh well, time away is time away!

Once I looked at the planning I decided that the best option would be ride from Albany to Perth as this would work out much easier with transport options etc.  Also, from the map descriptions it was clear that the trail was more technical and hilly in the North so starting South would give me a couple of days at least to ride myself in.

Whilst it wasn't really a race, I'm also not aware that anyone had given the track a 'serious' go to try and set a decent time end-to-end and to see just how quickly it could be completed.  With that in mind I planned I would essentially be riding Tour Divide style - eat, sleep, ride and see just how quickly I could get it done.  I was aiming for sub 6 days.

It was to turn out to be a very interesting 6 days!

Saturday 11 April 2015

Ubin is not Urban!

One of the things I get asked a lot by friends back in Oz is:
"Don't you go a little stir crazy in Singapore?  How do you get out of the city"
This is especially relevant as my routine back home would be to pretty much take off on early Sunday morning and then 'go bush' (Aussies understand) for a good 6-8hr mountain bike ride.  Occasionally with friends but more often than not alone. Additionally for the past 12 months or so I would probably get at least one overnighter (or longer) in every couple of months.

Now, so far I don't get the 'stir crazy' thing - I ride into Malaysia a couple of times a month, I travel a bit for work and really, although you don't get in your car and drive for 3 hours... there are these things called 'planes and once outside of Oz you realise that people take these things to go places.  No, its true!

But still, even with cheap flights and other countries being readily accessible the one thing that is hard to do here is get away from civilisation and get into something that has some semblance of nature.

Well, at least that's what I thought until I discovered Palau Ubin (or Ubin for short).

Ubin is a small island just off Singapore - transport is via a small boat known as a 'bumboat' and takes about 10 minutes.

Once there its like you've stepped back in time 20 years (apparently) - lots of jungle, a few walking tracks a few basic shops and (very) local restaurants and that's it!  Oh and about 20 bike hire places where you can take your pick of rusty, poorly maintained steeds!

The final attraction on Ubin is that it has one of Asia's only IMBA designed and certified mountain bike courses.  One of the few tracks around that has actual flow!

After a couple of visits I decided to take the opportunity of Lisa being away over a weekend for work to take the boys camping on Ubin.  But of course we would have to ride there :)

Now, last time I tried to take the boys bike camping on my own (in Australia) it almost resulted in a visit from Child Welfare and no camping was done.  However, the boys seem to have repressed the memory so I thought we'd give it another try.

A word on my setup.

The main engine of this enterprise is a Wee Hoo iGo2 trailer...

These are pretty amazing...

They work like a recumbent towed behind the bike.  Kids sit behind each other and the child in front can pedal (allegedly, there doesn't seem to be much pedalling on our trips from what I can tell!).

Mine was modified to carry a set of Ortlieb panniers on the back.

Despite the weight, it is actually pretty easy to pedal.  With the weight of the trailer, two kids and camping gear I think I was probably towing close to 50kg or so.  Of course whilst the weight itself isn't hard to lug around, having a significant amount of weight on the back of your bike pivoting around the seatpost means the whole thing really isn't that stable!

Still, it more or less worked and we made our way down to Marina Barrage and then along East Coast to the Ubin Ferry Terminal.  Of course there was a howling headwind so what in my head was a nice easy flat cruise turned into a 2 1/2 hour mission - made me wish I hadn't gone out riding with ANZA earlier in the Day!

After managing to get a bike, a trailer and two very excited small boys down two flights of stairs and onto a small boat we were on our way!  It seems silly but a simple 10 minute boat ride can make a world of difference and you can really feel the city being left behind.

Once at Ubin, we followed the directions and attempted to register at the local police station (ok, house marked police near the ferry terminal would be a better description!).

On Ubin, there are at least three difference campsites.  For this trip, we hadn't bought food (apart from snacks!) and cooking supplies so we chose the campsite closest to the ferry terminal as I knew there was a decent local seafood place there which would be great for dinner.

The Jelutong Campsite is only about 5 minutes walk from the small village near the Jetty but has a reasonable view and is nice and shady.  After a quick scout around we found a spot to pitch our tent!

Much to the disgust of my camping companions we did not have equipment to build a campfire (advice was that it wasn't allowed) but this site had a few well defined firepits as well as other campers who had fires.  Although to be honest the whole 'sit in front of a nice campfire' thing looses some of its appeal when its 26'C at 9pm!  Well we'll know for next time!

Dinner was a fairly simple affair but its good local food and pretty cheap - the tiger beer wasn't cold but a few ice cubes helped (ok, to be honest its that Tiger is so watered down that you don't notice the ice!)


So after a big feed it was starting to get dark so we retired back to the campsite.

Whilst we were camping you can't escape the fact that my kids are little urbanites at heart so I had come prepared with iPads for the boys and I.  Given how warm it is at night here I hadn't bothered with sleeping bags and we just had a couple of sheets to put over camp mattresses.  The boys curled up inside the tent with their iPads and I set up under the stars.

Oh, of course I'd bought a warmer :) Ardberg 10yr old from a Nalgene Hip flask is fantastic!

As far as camping trips go it had been pretty successful - kids were enjoying being out and about and whilst we were really only 15 minutes from Singapore proper, when you're lying outside reading a (e)book then its just enough to convince yourself that nature really isn't that far away.  Just the thing I needed to get a bit of a fix!

Things got a bit shaky the next morning as none of the shops were open at early o'clock when the kids chased me out of bed.  Luckily there were many things to entertain small boys around the camp ('Look Dad... a stick!') and we managed to get an icy cold coconut water from one of the shops that opened early to cater for the hoards of mountain bikers who had started coming in on the first bumboat.

With no real food we just packed up the campsite and headed back over to Singapore where we got brekky at the Changi Village hawker market (Kaya toast apparently is close enough in taste to Peanut butter that the boys accepted the lie gladly).

From there we headed back along East Coast.  Luckily there was no headwind this time and we made pretty good time back to Brussel Sprouts - a Belgian Beer cafe chain where we met Lisa for a quick bit of lunch (she had arrived back from her work trip early that morning).


All in all a pretty good way to spend a weekend!

Thursday 9 April 2015

Cloudride 1000... the fine line between tough and pointless

Well, as promised here's the Cloudride post mortem.  Apologies for the lack of photos but I was busy.

Right at the outset, I need to point out that (a) I didn't finish (actually it was a pretty dismal effort) and (b) the level of toughness and grit shown by those who pressed on - finisher or not - is amazing.

I felt a little underdone coming into the ride, both fitness wise and in terms of preparation.  I had made my own cue sheets for the course and felt I pretty good handle on things but I probably hadn't invested a huge amount of time in ensuring that I was fully prepared.

Ok, I'm prepared to admit that there was a little 'I've done Tour Divide and know how to suffer... how bad could this be?'  How wrong can you get?

I had worked out that the two 'extreme' sections were likely to be day 1 - based on the experiences last year there was no way I'd get to Nimmitabel and then the section from Delegate to Jindabyne which would be another overnight stay with no resupply.

After setting off in an overcast but dry morning, I handled the ride through to Bungendore pretty well.  There's a little bit of climbing through this section but the riding is lovely - mostly 2nd class forest roads.  Even the little flat cruise to Hoskinstown on tar was fun (although by now the drizzle had set in).

A quick water resupply and time check showed I was well ahead of my rough timing so things were travelling well.

Of course then it turned to shit.

The real climbing begins after Hoskinstown - smooth surface but constant stuff and pretty steep.  Nightmare single speed territory.  But I was overall feeling quite positive - I was mentally prepared for walking the steep sections so all was good.

But... as we gained elevation the mist and drizzle turned into actual rain.  The track we were on was soft and had been freshly scraped - nice in the dry but with a bit of moisture it was slow and awful.  I found getting on top of my gearing (about 32:18) almost impossible and ended up either walking or killing the energy I had... the net result being more walking.

Probably the bit that did me in was the Cowangerrong Firetrail and its 750+m of elevation gain over 23km or so.  It took me about 4 hours to crest it.  Slow going.  Even then, getting down to the Jerrabattgulla Creek also took an age as the rain had turned the old logging track (which wasn't remotely close to the GPS trace) into a muddy slip and slide.

After refilling it was another 90 minutes of trudging up a muddy track onto a decently formed road.

At this point it was about 9pm.  I'd done about 120km. I was wet.  I was cold.  It was still raining.

By now I had abandoned any thought of perhaps getting to Numerella but kept pushing on to minimise the amount of time I'd have to 'make up' the next day.

I finally pulled the pin at 140km or so at about 11pm.  Luckily the rain had stopped.

Well, so after the rain came the fog / mist.  My ZPacks tent and bivy combo is awesome for keeping you dry in direct rain but thick mist just settles on everything.  The combination of the moisture in the air and the wet body in the sleeping bag made for a very sleepless night.

Oh and a sodden sleeping bag the next morning - down is super light and warm but get it wet and its useless!

I was underway at 5:30 am the next morning and managed the difficult nav section off the Rocky Range Firetrap pretty well but I was just slow.  Too Slow.

By now I was pretty much fed up and had let the negativity creep in and was having difficulty keeping motivated.  Even the open roads on the way to Numerella didn't cheer me up.

Once I arrived in (more or less) civilisation I just sat down and opened my last 'real' food and just sat and contemplated what to do next.

From where I was I figured it would be a good 5-7 hours to Nimmitabel which created the real possibility of perhaps spending a night in a wet sleeping bag - especially if I wasn't able to get somewhere to stay where I could dry my gear.

On the positive side, although I was slow, I was still making decent time although my achilles  tendons were starting to get quite sore - fine whilst riding but each hike a bike section was getting more punishing.

But, in the end it was thinking ahead - at my pace and given the gear I was carrying I probably was not equipped to spend 48 hours between service stops.  Managing that is a whole different strategy to my 'fast and light' TDR setup.

So, having decided that I wasn't going to manage that section I decided to call it early and let Steve know I was pulling the pin.  I ended up riding the tar to Cooma (which is actually a really fun ride!) and got a lift back to Canberra with tail firmly between the legs.

The what and why's of not completing were pretty simple in the end.  I stopped having fun and couldn't get into really enjoying this ride and well, after all we do this for fun and if you aren't having any then its just an exercise in self flagellation.

Now, you might be reading this and thinking it was pretty crap but there are some things about this ride which other backpacking style events should take notice of.

Firstly, the general organisation of the thing is top notch.  Steve Watson has put a lot of effort into the course notes and they need to be read.  Re read.  Read again.  And then tattooed on your arms.  My experience just in the first day was that sometimes the GPS trace of the course was inaccurate (and in a few cases wildly so) but Steve's course notes were always spot on.

On top of that, he also recognises the difficulty (and indeed, danger) of the country we're riding through and his efforts to retrieve broken riders who need rescue have been awesome (as of writing there is one finisher and 3 left on course out of 18 starters).

Doing the Tour Divide your planning is aided by comprehensive maps and a guide book and Steve's notes are an admirable substitute.

Now, the things I didn't like!

Firstly, its masochistically difficult.  In both years only a few have finished and the course has destroyed seasoned riders.  A sub 5 day ride on this course means you are the sort of rider that has a shot at winning Tour Divide (Ollie who won year 1 is a TDR winner and Calvin this year placed 2nd).

The sheer amount of climbing boggles the mind - at 24,000VM in its 1000km length that's more than 8000VM more than the most difficult 1000km stretch of Tour Divide.  Actually, if you took all of the biggest climbing days from my TDR ride and added them together you still don't get that much climbing in 1000km.

But the difficulty in the course is not actually the climbing.  Its the logistics.

The resupply points are pretty few and far between - especially in the first 600km or so.  The need to be totally self sufficient (not even a farmhouse to wander into and beg for help) means that you are reliant on hitting towns between the hours of about 9-5 in order to find a store to buy more food.  Arrive 30 minutes late and you effectively loose 14 hours while you wait for the shops to re-open.

This means that for the truly mind-numbingly fast, sub 5 days is do-able but for the rest of the pack a few slow hours quickly turns into a day or two's delay.  Added to this is that with less pace comes the need to carry more food and gear which means more weight and in turn less pace (called a vicious circle!).

For instance if I was going back I'd add cooking equipment and the sort of food that goes along with that.  That is a bit of a re-think to how I've packed for events like Tour Divide or the New Zealand Brevets.

Finishing Cloudride is truly an achievement and those that get through it have my utmost respect.  For me though, the unforgiving nature of the course and how its laid out mean that to attempt it you're either a gun and aiming for sub 5 days or, you need to be prepared to chill and take it a bit slower and pack accordingly.

Its probably never going to be an event for the masses (like Tour Divide / Highland Trail Race / Colorado Trail Race etc) as at times it feels like its tough just for the sake of being tough.  But then again, as one of the ultimate tests of self its right up there and it is in our back yard.

Being constructive, I would say that a perhaps a Cloudride 'light' course which skips some of the more masochistic sections would be a great addition.  I really enjoyed all of the experiences around the race and actually loved riding in the alps.  I'm also glad I had a chance to spend a little time with Steve (even though it was forced) this guy loves the country and his knowledge of where to ride is amazing - its nice to meet a race organiser that has gone out of their way to put something together just to show off places they love.

Last year's race served as a warning as to its toughness and the field grew for this year so me being soft I guess just adds to its reputation I suppose... personally the current course didn't suit me but Steve, throw together a slightly softer (there... I said it) option and I'll be the first to sign up :)

Sunday 29 March 2015

Proper Prior Preparation...

Prevents P** Poor Performance.

Yup, good old rule of the 7P's... got drummed into me through 5 years of school cadets and 3 years of ADFA (in between adventures with vacuum cleaners).  Even made an appearance in my MBA somewhere (not sure that teaching method was as effective as a drill sergeant yelling at you so close you could feel the spittle but I digress).

So preparing the body has pretty much been assisted as always by my coach Mark Fenner.  Actually to call Mark a coach is probably understating things.  I found him more or less by accident when I needed a coach to take me through to 24hr Solo Worlds in 2009.

He'd been coaching more or less in addition to his his day job and had just decided to go at it full time.  I remember being at a training camp at his place with Josh Carlson (now a pro on the US Enduro / Freeride scene), Jason McAvoy (multiple Masters world 24hr champ) and Kev wells.  Now Mark coaches Pro Tour road riders, pro mountain bikes, is pretty much full time with the Avanti pro team and to top it all off has launched Today's Plan with Andrew Hall (who I used to work with once upon a time).

Yet manages to find the time to keep coaching a tubby-ish bloke in his early 40's just out to add challenge to life.  Amazing huh?   Much more of a mate now than just a coach though.

Bikewise I'm riding my trusty BlackSheep - well documented by Cycle Exif.  It's single speed, rigid (no suspension) and I love it.  Although to be honest Singapore stretches the friendship at times - there is actually a fair amount of MTB trails here but no hills.  Well, of any length that is.  The biggest climb is to the top of Mt Faber.  On the Sheep it takes about 5 minutes.  Not awesome when you're trying to train for a race that is going to require you to climb for hours.  On the single sheep that means that any ride of any length involves spinning like a demented hamster and not going anywhere particularly quickly.

Probably the biggest issue is going to be the temperature.  In Singapore when we get up to go riding (at about 5am) its usually about 25'C. In the middle of the day it rises to around 35-38'C.  All year.  Oh and the humidity is generally about 75%.  For someone that is prone to cramping at the best of times this is a nightmare and getting used to this is an ongoing project.

Cloudride on the other hand is going to be in temperatures ranging from 0'-18'C.  Much more my preferred riding temperatures but you adapt to your environment and my system just ain't used to it.  I was in Korea last week riding in 0'C and its amazing how you forget just how unpleasant it is to be cold!  Hmmm.

Gear wise I'm pretty sorted and am pretty much using my Tour Divide kit list with just a couple of changes.  I've switched from my Klymit mat to a Therm-a-Rest Neo Air.  The Therm-a-rest is a little heavier (by a whole 50grams or so) but is a thicker mattress and I'm hoping lets me sleep a little more soundly - I anticipate that Cloudride will involve very little in the way of hotel stays and so something that helps me sleep better on the ground is important.

Other stuff is pretty similar.  My frame bags are still supplied by Bike Bag Dude (another little Aussie company that I've used since before it was famous :) ) but learning from TDR, the new bags are slightly wider which means that its less of a struggle to fit the full 4 litres of water in it.  The great thing about custom design is that you can have a conversation about whether another 20mm of width is easy to do and then it simply happens.

Final major change is the upgrade to the Garmin Edge 1000.  Despite warnings to the contrary my 810 has been very reliable and performed perfectly on Tour Divide (and since) however, lately my vision has been getting a little worse and the larger screen of the 1000 is a help.  Also, it seems to be a slightly better navigation (as opposed to simply following a line) tool than the 810.  The auto upload to starve etc on a wireless network is also pretty handy.

Everything else is pretty similar with the exception of some riding gear where I tend to use more Rapha stuff now...

My complete list is below.

10l Dry Bag - Front Ortlieb
Sleeping Bag Western Mountineering 2'C
Bivy Borah Designs Cuben Fibre
Sleeping Mat Thermarest Neo Air X-lite Change More Comfort
Tent Zpacks
Down Jacket Western Mountineering
13l Dry Bag - Rear Ortlieb
1 spare Jersey Rapha Brevet Change Shorter Trip
Warm Jacket Assos Bonka
Winter Baselayer Assos Fall
Summer Base Layer Rapha Change
Spare Knicks Assos T.607 Change Shorter Trip
Gillet Rapha Brevet Change Jersey Pocket
1 * Warm Socks Assos Fugu  change Shorter Trip
Waterproof Socks Rocky Sox
Beanie Assos Fugu 
Arm Warmers Rapha Change
Basic First Aid Kit
Tek Towel
Light Trousers Kathmandu  Remove
Wool Shirt Kathmandu  Remove
Underwear Rapha (can't help it!) Remove
Spare Belt Gates
Water Filter Sawyer
Chamois Cream Paw Paw Ointment
USB Charger
Spare GPS Garmin Edge 810
Large Framebag BikeBag Dude
4l Water Bladder MSR Dromlite
Rain Jacket Rapha Change Assos can't make zippers!
Rain Pants Assos SturmPrinz
TDR Map Set Remove
Passport Remove
Small Framebag BikeBag Dude
Winter Gloves Rockel Mittens
Insulator Gloves Assos Insulator
Summer Gloves Rockel Gel Remove
Pump Lezyne
Misc Spares
GasTank Oveja Negra Change From Bike Bag Dude
Camera Sony RX100
FeedBags Bike Bag Dude Change Better!
Bike Lock
Jerry Can Oveja Negra Change From BBD
Spare Tubes
Handlebar Bag Change Not Carrying - distribute gear in Drybags
Asthma Meds
USB Cords
Misc Stuff
Shoes S-Works Trail Change Mavic stopped making theirs - these are awesome
Helmet Giro Change Lighter XC based 
Spare Light Exposure Diablo IV