Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Big Block

One warm February Sunday (Feb 4)... another training ride. The local cyclists refer to it as the 'Big Block'. I suppose you might call it riding 'round the block'. It's just a BIG block.

We drove into Coffs and parked near Park Beach, then headed out to the highway, rode up the 'Big Banana Hill', down past the Big Banana, and then 'turned off the highway and rode 'up Bruxner', a 3 km uphill grind, winding up through banana farms. It actually isn't too steep, but tell anyone you've ridden up it and they are impressed. Sensational views to the ocean, problem is you're riding away from the view, and you're too busy focusing on riding up, you don't think to stop and take a photo!!

It's a good feeling to reach the top.. you suddenly find yourself in a patch of rainforest...

And, having been here before, you know the next bit down the hill, through the rainforest, is yee ha! And you lap up the coolness because the rest of the way, out of the trees, is going to be hot, hot, hot. The stretch along Bucca road to Nana Glen was pretty challenging - from a traffic point of view, plus there were a few unkind hills in there. I was feeling it - and got the 'you need to work on your aerobic fitness' lecture. Hmmm, well, what was I doing right now then?! Also considering during the week before my back was playing up -it hurt to just walk! - and that cough I had for 6 weeks really knocked me.. yes, well.. this was aerobic training!

We stopped at Nana Glen for lunch. Didn't see Russell, but a bunch of middle aged trail bike riders chatted to us and gave us a big rap for having ridden with the kids 'up Bruxner' and out to Nana Glen (and that we planned to keep going through Coramba back to Coffs.)
The road from Nana Glen to Coramba was mainly through farmland.. Cait snapped a few photos when she could. Loved this:

We had to deal with a few wallies in their cars being impatient about overtaking.. one clown freaked me right out, he roared impatiently past Cait and me who were behind the others a bit.. then screeched in behind the triplet.. then sped all too close past them. Then, because he was obviously in such a hurry, after Marc made it kind of obvious that he didn't appreciate his actions *ahem* (well, I gave him the finger as well!!) slowed down, as if to have some sort of confrontation with us for daring to be on the road.

Karangi General Store.

Total km, by the time we got back to the car in Coffs, about 63. Not bad for a hot day and a few hills. What you might call TRAINING!!


Monday, April 09, 2007

Photos from the Yamba-Grafton return trip.

Breakfast at a cafe on the river at Yamba before heading off. The girls were fascinated by the jelly blubbers or whatever they are called in the river!
And the triplet drew a bit of attention from passers-by!

Heading into Maclean... on a bike you have time to read all the names on the tartaned telegraph poles. Maclean has been promoting itself as 'The Scottish Town'.. and it combines trappings of Scottishness with quaint old country town buildings.

The girls spent a lot of time in the trees both days. Just made for kids to climb and sit in.

The bridge back over to Woodford Island.

and riding onto the ferry
On the road between the ferry and Lawrence we noticed all the birds in the trees in this bit of marshland..

Just resting!
In the park at Lawrence again...
On one of the country lanes between Lawrence and Grafton.

Backtracking to Tracey and Cait riding into Lawrence - the general store behind us is just across the road from the park and the river.

I think this one was taken back on the island, with all the sugar cane fields...
And this was along the west side of the river, heading to Grafton.


Monday, February 05, 2007

Grafton to Yamba - and back.

Last weekend of school hols (Australia Day long weekend.)

We got the idea from the family that was riding in Cuba. (I wonder how they went.) An overnight 'credit card' bike trip. Drive up to Grafton. (60km from here.) Park car somewhere. Get on bikes. Ride to Yamba. Stay in motel. Ride back the next day.

Why? To make ourselves do a reasonable distance as training for the Big Ride.

Logistics? Pack the bare essentials in panniers, ride along the non-highway side of the river, crossing over on one of the vehicle ferries at one point, buy snacks and lunch on the way.

So we did it; got the bikes sorted (some mechanical jobs, and a wash) on the Friday, and we did it Saturday and Sunday. It was a good trip, despite the near 40 degree heat on the Saturday. I suppose you'd have to call that part training as well.

I've marked the route we took in purple. About 32 km to Lawrence. Catch the ferry across to Woodford Island, then 12 km to Maclean, and then about 18 to Yamba. It's easy riding - mostly flat, bar a minor 'hump' just short of Lawrence (which we even avoided on the way back by taking the 'scenic' route.) It was a great ride to get into a rhythm and test your pace.

I'm sure people thought we were insane - particularly on the Saturday. In fact, a woman at Lawrence looked at us - I nodded .. and she said dryly, "Bit hot for that, innit?" I was inclined to agree, as we only about half way - or less. Still, when you tip water over your head and clothes, and then move through the air quite briskly (ie. on the bike), then you get a cooling effect.

I suppose when you have embarked on what seems to many others as sheer madness, (particularly when you appear to be dragging the kids with you on your madness) you look perhaps more intently than you might have done for all the positives.. all the good things that come out of it.

Riding through the countryside lets you experience and appreciate the surroundings in a way you just don't do in a car. The kids greet the cows... "Mooo!". The tandem travelling behind usually gets to witness the "What the hell was that?" reactions to the weird contraption that has just whizzed past them. One horse did a classic double take. And while most cows were fairly unflappable, the calves tended to react. One pair looked like they racing us as they loped along the fenceline the same way were were going. (Or maybe they were just looking for mum.)

People also talk to you to ask you about the bikes. And so you get to meet interesting people. One guy with his family in tow talked to us for a bit, and then told us he owned and lived on an island on the river up near Iluka. And invited us to go and camp on it sometime!

Anyway.. guess the pictures we managed to get ("we" mainly meaning Caitlin of 'Stoker Photography Inc' - and Beginner stoker photographer, Alison.) tell the story.

Riding out of Grafton.

Morning tea at Lawrence.

On the vehicle ferry crossing from Lawrence to Woodford Island.

[still more to add... this is time consuming!]

Lunch at Maclean.


Friday, January 12, 2007

Things not quite going to plan..

I'm ashamed to say that there hasn't been much in the way of bike riding happening in the Schmidt household of late. Not really ideal with the Big Ride looming; thank heavens it is a few weeks later this year. So much for the aim to get more training in this time.


Back in mid December we did rock up to the Community Ride with the kids in tow (bribed with promises of Big Brekkies from the Town Centre outdoor cafe where we usually have a coffee and OJ after the ride.) The lure of bacon and eggs had Ali and Zoe all up and at 'em. Caitlin was (unsurprisingly) grumpier,.. couldn't find socks, blamed Mum for not being able to find socks, blamed Mum for her socks being in Alison's drawer... Not received very well by Mum before 6 am, as you can imagine.

"Mum" was already dealing with her own doubts about going. The weather didn't look too crash hot, but Marc was sure it'd be ok. Half way to town, the rain began. (I tried not to give him the "I TOLD you so" look.) We kept going because, well, we were up already, we'd made the effort to get the bikes on the car (no mean feat getting the triplet on its super rack), and we had limited riding opportunities together because of Marc's overseas work commitments. We had rain gear. It wasn't that cold. Training. He We said.

Not the usual turn up at the Community ride.. Only a few other crazy people with a 'rain, hail or shine' mentality, but there was a sense of camaraderie as we set off. Well, I felt it. Marc, Ali and Zoe felt it. Cait didn't. She was cold. She had wet feet... Her bum was wet and cold. Her legs were cold. Etc etc etc. I suggested she put her thermal top on under her rain jacket, but she wasn't cold there. Just the legs. And they were going to freeze and drop off. 'Just think of the Big Brekkie' I said..... "Don't care about the breakfast." We got as far as the airport, and I couldn't handle the carry-on anymore. Maybe I could have if I wasn't trying to push through my own issues; I'd been coughing for a few weeks, and it was a bit of an effort to keep up with the triplet and the rest of B-group, especially with the stoker on strike.

She got an earful from me the whole way back to the car, and for the next half an hour. This might sound harsh, but she had committed to doing the next Big Ride with us - committed to it the minute she crossed the finish line on the 2006 one. She's played rep level netball. She knows that for sporting achievement you have to push through discomfort sometimes. Etc etc. When I found out that she'd worn cotton undies under her bike nix, despite having been advised on numerous occasions not to, I really hit the roof. Small wonder her bum was staying wet. "Decide NOW, Caitlin, if you want to do the Big Ride or not, because I WILL NOT be let down by you again. I need to train (you need to train).. and if you aren't prepared to do it, I will do it on a single. Without you."

I left her in the car, and rode the tandem solo back a couple of blocks to meet the others for coffee and breakfast. No! No way was she getting the breakfast that she didn't care about. The others did ok on the ride - no great drama - the rain stopped - Zoe copped a bit of spray on the back, but she was fine. And they enjoyed their brekkie.

Unfortunately, Christmas was the next thing to get in the way of more riding. We went to the Blue Mountains for a week for family commitments, and it wasn't practical to try and take the bikes as well. And I coughed, coughed, coughed through everything physical we tried to do - a course of antibiotics the week before Christmas not achieving anything.


A few days after we got back I went to the doctors again. Different antibiotics. And the advice to rest. I figured that as soldiering on (with trying to swim and bushwalk) hadn't worked, I'd better try the rest thing... difficult as it was. Hate being a blob. Husband with itchy pedal feet - and both of us frustrated that we were wasting riding time while he was on leave. What can you do... ?

By yesterday I was starting to feel like I was almost better. Almost. Grand plans to get to the community ride on Saturday morning. Yesterday while having a late bodysurf with Ali and Cait, Marc dislocated his shoulder. Something he does from time to time (and he probably should get a shoulder reconstruction, but the time involved in recuperation would kind of cramp his/our style!, so he keeps putting it off. He is just careful about activities where he is likely to put it out: diving at Touch, sleeping with his arm 'above' his head, and being a bit cautious with bodysurfing.. usually. Till he gets carried away and the waves are dumpers, and he gets dumped.

So, sore shoulder.. arm... rules us out for bike riding in the morning. It usually takes a few days to settle down again. So today I figured I had better test my lung capacity. Rode my bike round to the tomato stall to get tomatoes (6.5km grand total)... few inclines... and I feel like an asthmatic (or what I imagine an asthmatic might feel like.) So perhaps 30 km tomorrow morning would have been a tall order. Perhaps I should fill the repeat script for antibiotics tomorrow and really try to knock this thing on the head.

And we will have to get our riding in where we can. Marc is back at work next week. Unsure yet when he has to go back overseas.

Meantime we are working on making some improvements to 'the green tandem'. I want/need a cluster with lower gearing.. but with the current arrangement being a 7 -speed freewheel cluster (do I sound like I know what I am talking about?) I am a bit limited with options and will have to go with a 'megarange' one that makes a big leap to a super granny cog (something like 24 to 32 teeth.) I gather that people like the 'bail out' gear concept, but I feel like I will miss my 28 tooth granny. I don't think that I want such a big jump... I think we were still talking about maybe changing the front wheel.. and were kind of interrupted by the shoulder dislocation thing. I also want to drop the height of my headset... so a bit of work to do to make 'The Tank' more ..... appealing...

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Saturday, December 09, 2006

Saturday morning riding, yeah!

Marc was due home from KL before last weekend, but as often happens, he was delayed into the weekend. One more missed weekend activity (ie. the Community ride last Saturday) to go on my I-Hate-the-Company-he-Works-For file.

I guess I could have gone myself again, but I hadn't got round to fixing my flat tyre! (And I've been a sloth.) I waited for the private home tuition this week... and now I'm ready to rock and roll on my half-bike again, AND I think I might even manage to change a tube by myself IF I don't have anyone looking over my shoulder and giving me a hurry up. I also bought myself one of those short pumps this week that will fit on the bike. So theoretically I should be more self-sufficient for getting around on my bike more often.

Anyway, this morning; despite me courting a lingering cough I've been trying to fight off the past week and a bit, and Marc nursing a slightly sprained/strained wrist from falling in a divot at Touch during the week, we got ourselves going and rocked up to the Community Ride with the Santana at 6.30 this morning.

Decided to ride the B group again, given my shortness of breath, and enjoyed the ride. Missed the start because Marc was lending his spanner to someone to fix a flat, but didn't have too much problem catching up. Whether we could maintain an A-group pace for an hour and a half I'm not sure...)

The B group probably did a faster pace than last time, and we weren't the only tandem either. The Dad and one son from the family going to Cuba on a Bike Friday triplet + single were there, but their Bike Friday was in tandem mode. "Where's the rest of the team?" we asked. Younger son had broken his arm a few weeks ago!! Oh! (They should be right for their departure on Jan 4... talk about bad timing though.)

Had a bit of a spin a few times around the velodrome at Toormina, Marc with a more 'go fast' approach to it than me. (Yes, I was a bit scared of falling off - never having ridden on a banked track before!)

32km @ 25kph (could do better, really - we've gone faster and further on solo rides pretty much) followed by a coffee/OJ, a BLT and good company as we chatted to the "Cuba" guy and his son. We've talked the girls into coming with us next Saturday - with the 'carrot' of a BLT or a "Big Breakfast" of bacon, eggs and all the trappings. With the numbers looking like they might be dropping off a bit as we enter the Silly Season, we can do our bit by turning up with 5 of us.

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Thursday, November 30, 2006

Now this is a biking family:

Exploring America on a triplet and a single.

I 'discovered' these guys a week or so ago: an American family of Mum, Dad and twin 8 year old boys. I 'lost' a few hours that day catching up with their trip so far, and I've been keeping tabs on them ever since.

I'm in awe!

(Warning: if you check out the category links on their home page, you could be there for hours... days.. reading about bike touring by a huge range of people. And people think we're crazy doing the supported Big Ride!)


Sunday, November 26, 2006

Big Ride 2007 - We're in.

Marc decided to pull out of the Touch tournament in NZ... so that we can do the Big Ride in March!!! In the end the family adventure time won out. Which is good for the girls and me.

Despite hoping and hoping that he would fall this way on the decision, I am a mixture of emotions about it. I am really looking forward to doing it as a 'returnee'... and knowing that we'll know quite a few people now.. all the other tandemers.. and quite a few from the Coffs BUG that we didn't know last year. (And that was a big reason for being really sold on the idea of backing up for the NSW one for another year.. that and how much of a shame it would be not to be taking the triplet on it now that we have it.)

There is a little niggly part of me, however, that wonders if we have taken leave of our senses (again)! The hills! The early mornings! The greater likelihood of rain. The training..!

Must actually do the deed and register on Monday (there is the complication of my winning entry).. and start thinking about any other gear we need.. new riding jerseys for a start...

Bring it on!


Thursday, November 23, 2006

Tracey on a "short bike"

I amazed myself, and Marc (over in KL) by getting myself up and in to the Coffs community ride last Saturday morning. (Had something to prove to myself, as well as him after my carry on the previous weekend... Note: It helps to go to bed at a sensible time the night before!)

The Coffs BUG people didn't recognise me at first. "You're on a .. short bike" they exclaimed. I must look lost without a tandem.

I had been worried about keeping up on my MTB, but had no problems in the C group, and I was happy that I handled any of the hills with ease. Must have been getting a bit of bike fitness with all our rides.
The only bummer was that the group got really strung out.. There were a few of us in the middle that I think lost track of the rest who did a last detour out past the racecourse and round the headland and we cut back to the city centre maybe too soon.

I had been paranoid about getting a flat and not being able to fix it myself. I grabbed a 1.75 tube (which Marc said would get me by)... When I got the bike out of the car, I realised the pump didn't fit on my bike with the water bottle holder. Thought I was clever and moved the holder.. then realised the pump still didn't fit. So I just went and hoped. And was ok.

Got home, got bike out of car, wheeled it round the back and left it propped against a pole. About an hour later I did a double take as I passed it. Front tyre was flat as a tack. doh!

I've yet to fix it... though I did get a replacement tube. Might attempt a DIY tomorrow and if I am successful I might risk riding again on Saturday. However, I'm kind of looking forward to a bit of a sleep in. (The Sloth Within is prevailing this week.)

Pretty high on the priority list for when Marc gets home is a lesson in changing a bike tube. And other bike maintenance-y type things. I have spent far too long just relying on him to look after all that stuff. There are a few more tyre valve issues to sort out with my bike too.. I have one of each kind now, which makes carrying one spare tube only a bit dicey anyway. Add to list of Marc jobs.


Meanwhile, he has an even bigger dilemma to sort out. He managed to, in theory, double book himself for the weekend of the 17th/18th March by making himself available for selection in an Aussie mens over 40s touch side to play in a tournament against New Zealand. In New Zealand. (He got selected.) The 17th is the start of the Big Ride... but it didn't click with him that the ride had set down for later than this year's, despite the fact that we'd talked about our rainfall concerns for that time of year still. Oops.

Meantime I've very much warmed to the idea of doing it. (Despite flashbacks to the early mornings.) Know heaps of people doing it now. Just got the triplet. Etc.

And now... to really put the cat amongst the pigeons. Seems I have won myself a Big Ride entry... got a call from Bicycle NSW earlier this week to say I'd won their 'Who Am I' competition. (I won something!!!!!!!)

Just to make the decision that much harder for him.


I think he's wavering. Stay tuned.

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Friday, November 17, 2006

Coffs Coast Community Rides... a plug!

This is copied from an email sent out this week by the organiser of these rides, Cr Ian Hogbin.
I'll be linking to here from the sidebar.. it's a handy guide for anyone considering going. It would be great to see it grow and grow.

What a great turnout last Saturday. Magic weather, TV Camera, and 84 riders. Lots of bikes on the cycleways, roads and in City Square is really great. It's on again this Saturday at 6.30am, and every Saturday. So bring along a friend to join in the ride and enjoy the company of others.

So the deal is

City Centre Square
6.30 am, back at 7.45am
All bikes catered for.
All standards catered for.
(If under 18 years of age, you will need to bring your parent with you)
Coffee at City Centre Cafés upon return.


All Riders: Please follow all road rules, including maximum of 2 abreast at any time.

Information on Groups – It is better to start off in an easier grouping and move up in following weeks:

A Group : Travel around 35-40km at an average speed of around 30kph. You will need a road bike and to be quite fit for this group. This group is for those riders that just like to go fast. The ride can include climbs such as Red Hill.

B Group : Travel around 30km at an average speed of around 26kph. Again a road bike is recommended for this group, but the speed is a far more acceptable level for social interaction. The route will generally be around Sawtell and return.

C Group: Travel around 25km at an average speed of around 20-22kph. This group caters for a wide range of riders, and does include mountain and hybrid bikes as well as road bikes. You will need a reasonable fitness level for this group and a good understanding of gearing and drinking whilst riding.

D Group: Travel around 19km at an average speed of around 16kpm. This group caters for a wide range of riders, and includes the younger riders, together with the newcomers. It is likely, that in coming weeks this group will break into 2 groups along Hogbin Drive, in an endeavour to best cater for all riding levels.

Information on Bikes – New Riders:

A couple of pointers that will ensure the new riders enjoy their ride and return. Please see a bike shop and try to borrow a mountain or hybrid type bike if you don’t have one. Please avoid road bikes, drop handlebars and foot straps on your early rides. Also, have a look at your gears, and try them out on a quiet street before venturing out.

The best option for the new riders is to leave the chain on the middle chain ring(if there are 3), or the small chain ring(if there are 2) for the duration of the ride. (The Chain rings are the cogs attached to the peddles). This set of gears is usually driven by the left hand side gear lever, so I suggest you leave that control alone. Then you focus on the range of gears on the back wheel, which is controlled by the gear lever on the Right Hand Side of handlebar.


Monday, November 13, 2006

Why being a stoker isn't such a terrible thing!

For the uninitiated, first a lesson in tandem terminology: The Captain is the one in front, who steers and brakes, and basically has responsibility for the bike. The Stoker is the one on the back. The engine. (And we have gleaned that on a triplet, the one on the very very back is called, by some, the 'Rear Admiral'!)

We are discovering that there are quite a few misconceptions about the role of the Stoker. The most common we hear, mostly when we are riding with the kids, is the clown call: "Hey, the one on the back isn't pedalling!". Yeah, hah, hah. Wish I had a dollar for everytime someone said that. It might hold true for some kids on trailer bikes (although when they pedal they really can make a difference!) but on a tandem, guys, the pedals are linked, and you can't help but have your feet go round and round in time with your Captain. Of course, you can 'put in' or 'clock off', but it's essentially not true to say the Stoker isn't pedalling! [Throughout the time that Alison was my stoker I would always answer that call with 'Oh, but she's my Turbo!' ]

The real myth that needs shooting down, though, is that being Stoker is second rate. We had someone ask us about that on the community ride on Saturday... and I once came across some pretty intense criticism about riding on the back of a tandem on a blog I found once (when I did a random search for tandems.)

Both are essentially ignorant assumptions by people who have only ever ridden a tandem round the block... but both make this assumption that it is some sort of dominate/submissive relationship and there seems to be some 'gender control' issue involved. The blog I read must have been by a raving feminist - "Why is it the man is always in front." (She was really uptight about it and made a ribald suggestion about why you wouldn't just "bond" in another way, then go out and ride your own bikes!) The question I got on Saturday was "Don't you hate not having control?"

So, to address these questions and more... here are some reasons why it's cool to be a Stoker.
  • You might usually see the guy as captain because more often than not, the guy is the stronger, and fitter, person in the team. And the tallest. So it makes more sense for him to go at the front. Mind you, the woman we bought our original two tandems from used to ride Captain, as her husband was losing his eyesight. It's not something set in concrete.

  • Riding a tandem is a teamwork thing.. so while the stoker isn't in control of the steering and brakes, she/he has a job to do, and to do it well involves being alert to the nuances of the pedalling needed. When to put in, when to relax.. you learn to read that through what the captain is doing. You're not just a dummy on the back.

  • Again on the teamwork thing, it's about trust, and you do need to trust your Captain's bike riding ability. I don't have a problem with this with Marc. We have a 20 year relationship (which helps)..and early on we paddled canoe marathons together in a double kayak. So we are used to the teamwork/partnership thing. And we like it.

  • As Stoker you get the liberty of being able to check out the scenery more - you don't need to be as alert, or keep your eyes glued to the road ahead. (I could also mention the perks of getting a close-up view of your husband's backside - in bike nix - but I won't.)

  • Any 'control' you relinquish to your Captain is more than made up for in Speed when you crank it up - particularly when you go downhill. Yee-ha.

  • Some stokers enjoy the chance to sit upright, give their arms a rest from the handlebars.. give them a stretch, and even take photos. (Just ask Cait.)

  • Most of the people who stress out about the idea of losing control as a Stoker would quite happily travel as a passenger in a car with another person driving. No difference. (In fact, the stoker on a bike is not passive like a car passenger.)

  • Another analogy: tennis. Think playing doubles vs playing singles. Noone blinks if you play doubles tennis - but in reality you relinquish some control to your partner, but gain a teammate in the process. Like any good tennis doubles combination, a tandem team will be better the more time they spend together.

  • For me, riding on a tandem with Marc is brilliant. We get to spend time together - reality is he would leave me for dead if we were on singles - and we are doing something we both enjoy. The teamwork needed increases the bond between us - and his commitment to buying a tandem for us to ride together is a bigger investment in our relationship than any eternity ring or bunch of flowers could ever bring.

  • If you ever decide to try riding a tandem with anyone... whether it be your sweetheart, your kid, your mother, or an acquaintance.. do yourselves a favour and take it out for a decent ride. Not just around a carpark or around the block where you won't get a chance to find rhythm and balance. The Stoker, particularly if he/she is used to piloting their own bike, will need time to learn to follow the Captain's pedalling habits - the biggest one is the timing of coasting (When I am captain I coast more - while Marc likes to keep pedalling.) The Captain will also need to be patient while his/her stoker learns to read him, and also learn to communicate stuff like 'bump!' and 'duck!', and other warnings - until the 'team' develops a non-verbal understanding (which you will.)

Riding a tandem is a hoot. You really oughta try it!

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Bike riders in Coffs coming out of the woodwork!

Back in September a few Saturday morning 'Coffs Community' bike rides were organised - initially in conjunction with Bike Week. They proved so popular, that they are now happening every Saturday morning - and so Marc and I rocked up on the Santana yesterday morning to see what it was like.

We had actually tried to do this 2 weeks ago - only the information in the paper was incorrect! We turned up at Bob Wallis cycles at 7am - when the starting place was the city centre, at 6.30am!

That day we took ourselves over to Sawtell anyway, and passed a couple of groups coming back along the bike path, figured it was the Community Ride, so we detoured via the City Centre on our way back, found everyone having coffee at one of the outdoor cafes in the mall, and got the correct info.

I am still not quite sure why I agree to these things... as I am not much of a morning person. I was particularly bad getting up at 5 am yesterday morning - probably something to do with still not going to bed till after 11pm the night before - and muttered about it loudly enough to myself to give something Marc can tease me about for the rest of our days. I was serious though! It was bringing back the bad memory part of getting up on the Big Ride, and I was berating myself for even contemplating doing all that again!

Of course, once I get going it is ok.. (though I was quite shattered by mid-afternoon and needed to go and have a sleep - something I normally only do if I'm sick!)

Around 78 people (I gather) turned up for the ride; the numbers are increasing all the time. All ages, all abilities and experience by the looks of it. A mum and dad with a trailer bike on one seat, and a child seat on the other. A couple of kids with road bikes and cleats. Plus a heap of other people. They made up 4 groups - A grade do around 35-40km... B1 does 30ish. ... B2 does around 25.. and C does around 20. I think.

We decided to go with B1. We'd heard that the A group are super serious about their riding, and certainly don't wait for you if you fall behind, so didn't want to bite off more than we could chew. We had no trouble, however, with B1, and spent a lot of our time on the brakes... and never really put in at all, so we figure next time we'll tag along with the A group and if we get left behind, so what. It will give us something to work towards.

We headed out to Sawtell along the bike path on Hogbin drive. Glad Marc put a suspension seat post on for me.. it made a lot of difference on the bike path, which is a bit of a ka-thunk affair. I'm not sure of the wisdom of such a big group riding along a narrow bike path (especially having experienced meeting such a group head on the other week!).. but I guess you have to use the bike paths when they are there.

One of the good parts of riding in this sort of thing is the opportunity to meet other people who are keen about bike riding. Straight up there were people from the Coffs BUG, so we didn't feel so alone. Plus another women started chatting to us because we were on a tandem.. because their family had a Bike Friday triplet on order - AND - with their 2 kids, they were going on a bike riding holiday in Cuba in January. Classic.

The idea of the community bike ride is to return to the city centre by 8am.. and then most people order a coffee or whatever from the cafe. Nice morning out.. bit of exercise.. and home in time to do a few truckloads of washing.

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Tuesday, November 07, 2006

A wild and woolly Gong Ride

So it wasn't quite what we had in mind. Without the challenge of those southerly gusty winds, the 90km would have been a doddle!! - well, if you don't count the congestion caused by 10,000 cyclists with a range of experience, and riding nous. Next time we do it, it'll seem impossibly easy! (Odds have got to be for better weather, surely!) The big shame is that the conditions weren't really conducive to Stoker Photography.

Possibly some of those who registered pulled out before the day began, given the rain we'd already had, and the forecast. But as we'd travelled some 600km, we had to make an effort to complete the course, and hope for the best. At least we didn't actually get rained on till the last 6 km!

This is a great link where you can follow the route at whatever zoom you like. Very clever!

But first things first.

Backtrack to Friday, and despite some packing stress on the Thursday night, I had the luxury of a few hours to pack the car (by myself), as well as ducking out to the supermarket for the 'munchie' shop. Wasn't a bad way to do it, actually!

The rain started mid afternoon.. fortunately I'd finished packing the car by then, and just had to wait for Zoe and Cait to get home from school, do a quick change, and then we picked up Alison at 4.00 at a band workshop, and headed into town. Marc had left for work in the morning after we got the tandem on the roof; he still had the triplet at work, and we got that on when we got in there around 4.30. The rack is a beaut - the only drawback is that it extends beyond the rear of the car, so that you can't lift the hatch right up. Bit of a stoop happening with the packing, but what can you do. At least the triplet was secure.

Rain, rain, rain on the way down to Tea Gardens. Not an early night (after stopping at Kempsey RSL for dinner), but we were able to sleep in till around 8.00. Marc set up a new TV his mum had bought for her bedroom, and then we made Hornsby, and my sister's place, for lunch.

Had good intentions to get an early night, but the meal ran late (as they do), and we only managed to get the girls into bed by around 10.30, and ourselves about an hour later. Not ideal.. Alarms on mobile phones set for 4.50... and we woke to a slight hitch. No lights. Blackout. Not a good notion... We did the angst thing about that for a few minutes, wondering how we were going to get the girls packed and organised in the dark! Then, hey presto, and hallelujah.. bang on 5am, it came back on again. Thank god.

My sister and brother in law emerged then; their answering machine 'complaining' about the power being off had woken them an hour earlier, and they'd been worrying about how we were going to get their automatic double garage door opened. With the lights on, we sent them back to bed, and managed to get ourselves gone, and at St Peters in time. And we didn't seem to have forgotten anything..

After queueing for the loos, it was probably 7.40 by the time we got going - and by then we'd already come across one of the Sydney Tandem guys (though his stoker had piked, and Chris was on his half bike.)

A fair bit of the first section (to morning tea at Loftus) was congested. Just what you get when you ride these rides, I guess. Spent a lot of time on the brakes. And watching wallies darting out into the car lanes and getting hooted for their trouble.

* One of the most notable experiences early on was when a jet flew over on its approach to land at the airport. It was so low you wondered it didn't knock a few roof tiles off the buildings, and so loud, and so right above us, that Caitlin nearly jumped off the bike. It did feel just like the big spaceship hovering over London in a couple of the recent Dr Who episodes. As one guy commented to Marc - 'NOW I understand what people living under the flight paths are talking about.

The section along Brighton-le-Sands is usually quite picturesque.. but today wasn't the best I've ever seen this part of Botany Bay. And it wasn't the most pleasant riding, right into the teeth of a southerly. At least it wasn't raining.

We stopped briefly at the first rest stop (Cook Park, on Botany Bay) at 14km. Quick snack (and Chris suggested I didn't offer bananas to the kids quite so loudly in case I got mugged! - so we were from Coffs, where you can find them at roadside stalls for only $5 a kilo - as opposed to the current $12/kg in supermarkets everywhere.)

Morning tea was at Loftus at the 30km mark. They were giving out free muffins that were quite nice too. And on my way to the bin, I stumbled across the other Sydney Tandem guys... Malcom and Damon, and Roger and Richard. They had decided, given the headwind we'd already encountered, that the bit along the coast was going to be a shocker, and they decided to call it quits and catch the tailwind back home. It was a tempting idea, but we'd come too far to give in. (Besides which, our car was already en route to Wollongong!)

The last time Marc and I had done the Gong Ride (nearly 20 years ago, I'd say), the route had detoured off the Princes Highway at Loftus, with much more of the ride through the Royal National Park. We thought it was a bit of a shame that this time (and I don't know for how many years it's been like this) you had to continue along the highway until turning off at Waterfall.

Cait and I kept losing the triplet.. due to their superior speed, and Marc's superior skill at getting past the dopes who would ride two abreast.. slowly. We then caught a few traffic lights, and lost them until we caught up to them waiting by the roadside, and talking to another couple on a tandem. Blow me down if it wasn't Richard - an old friend from our canoeing days - and his Mum on the back! Certainly not someone we'd expected to see - although his family can take some credit for reigniting Marc's tandem passion. (The chance ride mentioned in this post! - they had brought a tandem with them to a canoe race at Mylestom a few years back, and we had met up, and Marc had ridden it around the car park, with me freaking out on the back.) His brother and his wife were also on the Ride - and when we talked to them at lunchtime, it turned out that we had spotted them with their tandem on the roof of their car on the drive to the Start!)

At the start of the detour (and downhill) into the National Park they were stopping people - while motorcycle escorts returned from down the hill. I had to beg to be allowed to duck through so I could 'be with my husband!' Heaven knows how long he would have waited at lunch for us otherwise. (He is also faster on the downhills. I am definitely more circumspect.. plus he reckons the Triplet handles incredibly well at high speed.)

Cait tried to take a few more photos here, but they all turned out blurry.. and I was yelling at her to get her hands back on the bloody handlebars while we went downhill, thank you very much!

While we knew that what went down must go up, it was beautiful riding in this section. It had rained earlier, so the dampness gave it a rainforesty feel. Lunch spot at 51 km, and a welcome rest. By then I'd developed a stomach ache. Weird. And even weirder that Zoe felt the same. Including pain round into our kidney area. Marc had already joined the queue for sausage sandwiches (I was wishing I'd made up lunches, but frankly, I couldn't see myself getting up any earlier to do so!) I wasn't quite sure what to do; maybe we hadn't drunk enough? Zoe definitely hadn't. She decided to tell us then (not at the two earlier rest stops!) that her drink bottle had been empty from the start! I have no idea how that happened.. and who was responsible for putting it on the bike like that! Whatever.. "Drink, Zoe, drink". I drank too, and strangely enough, the staminade seemed to help ease the stomach ache. Zoe had told me that the ride was harder than she thought it was going to be.. not in a complaining way though. Just acceptance.

In hindsight we probably spent far too long at lunch. It's a delicate balancing act - the desire to enjoy the "Ride" vs the need to keep moving. The lunch spot had cleared significantly by the time we got going, so I had this feeling of being at the back of the field... but we did pretty well up the hill out of the park, and started to catch more people as we reached the first lookout south down the coast to Wollongong. And caught the full gusts of wind! Oh boy.

A big downhill at Stanwell Park.. and then the new Sea Cliff bridge. (Here's another link and photo). So much for any ideas of taking photos along here... It was 'hang on for dear life' time, as the wind gusts threatened to blow us off the bikes. A few people on their single bikes had given up trying, and walked instead. Cait got off at the end of it, and took these photos looking back.. though they don't quite do it justice.

(See that kid there on his bike? Marc saw him cause an accident which almost involved the triplet as well. There is a good reason why the rules for the race have no kids under 12 being able to be registered; it isn't the route or ride for kids that young piloting their own bikes. We saw 2 boys apparently registered, and I don't know how that works. (And there I was stressing about taking our younger two on the tandems!)

Anyway, straight after the bridge.. more uphill!!!

I have to say that Cait and I handled the undulating ride down the coast far better than I remember doing all those years ago. (A few more bike riding kms under my belt since then!)

About 15kms out, the route joined a bike path for pretty much the rest of the way. A bike path that stayed close to the beach. Doh! Must be fantastic in nice weather...

The other downside to riding on a bike path is that it is, by nature, narrower than a road lane... and people have a tendency to want to wander all over the place without regard to the fact that faster bikes might be coming up behind them! By this stage we weren't in the mood to be held up... some stretches into the wind were hard yakka..sometimes with sand being whipped up and blown into our faces. (We stopped for a last rest about 10km out - something I don't think we would have done if the weather had been kinder!) I think Cait took this picture as an older couple on a tandem limped in.. the stoker was in pain and her riding partner snapped 'What's the matter, haven't you seen an old couple doing it tough'.. or words to that effect .. when Marc tried to acknowledge them as fellow tandemers! - I don't think he noticed we had tandems lying alongside us!

And that was the last photo we took. About 6km out, the rain came in, and we stopped yet again to put our bike spray jackets on. At the finish, on Flagstaff Hill, it was really copping the rain and wind. We sheltered behind some bushes to get our thermals on underneath our raincoats.. and decided it wasn't conducive to hanging around.

Mum and Dad had left the car back about 500m or so back up the road.. so we cycled back and started getting the bikes on the roof. We knew that more friend of ours were going to be on the Ride. Kim was riding with 14 year old Emily and 12 year old Samuel- all on their single bikes - and Andrew and youngest son Rowan, were picking them up at the end. Their start time was later than us, so we weren't expecting to see them on the road, or Andy in the crowds at the end. Of course, Andy had ended up parking across the road from our car! A chance to catch up a bit while he helped us with the bikes! (He'd not been able to get mobile phone contact with Kim very much, and we were quite dubious about how they were going to cope with the weather and wind along the last stretch. Found out later they made it, which was a HUGE effort, given they haven't ridden terribly much... certainly nothing like the distances we've been doing.)

We were damp, and decided to go and check in to the cabin accommodation I'd booked at the Wollongong Surf Leisure Resort. Bzzzt... We were getting a bad feeling as we drove round to the cabin. (They had somehow managed to make a very tacky and ordinary looking holiday park into something that looked pretty good on a website!) The $135 cabin I had begrudgingly booked to sleep 5 (or 6) - instead of an $89 one for 4- had as its 5th and 6th person "bedding" just a corner lounge. (Not even a sofa bed). An extra $45 for that?!! (And the cabin was as poky as!) We spat it, took the refund they then offered., and decided we had no better option than to ring my folks and ask if we could drive back up to Sydney and stay there.

We did a clothes change in Maccas car park (rummaging around in the back to find our gear - well - I went into the loos!)... bought some fries (and a VERY BIG cappuccino for me) to keep us going... and headed back to Sydney. Bikes back down off the car .. in the rain.. and wheeled through wet foliage round to the back of Mum and Dad's house... But a welcome hot shower, and a meal of pasta.. and bed!

And then on Monday a big drive home, through some heavy rain - of course when I drove! - and home sweet home. A long way to go for a bike ride... but it was fun to be a part of it, and to be able to say we did it... We can say "We did the 25th Sydney to Gong. The one with the shocker headwinds."


Thursday, November 02, 2006

Now THAT's a rack.

I am babysitting the triplet. It's on the new super duper heavy duty rack Marc had made up, and is on the roof of the Commodore. He just dropped it off at home (on his way to Grafton for a work job - it was an opportunity to do a test drive, with work mate following to observe.) He is picking it up on the way back through, to add a few more things to it later this afternoon. Not sure quite what... though he will need to find something stronger/thicker to tie the wheels down with.

He didn't like the idea of me going out and leaving it sitting there in the front yard (supermarket trip thusly postponed) so I figured while I was babysitting it, I may as well take photos and post them up. (There are people out there who might be interested, you see.)

Possibly over-engineered.. but he's having none of that 'shearing' thing that can happen with light aluminium sections with flexing and fatigue. (See the Spring Cycle write up for details on the problems we had.) I joked last night that now the weak point now will be the roof bars.

He still has to make some decisions about the properties of rubber padding on the clamps. It needs to be gentle on the bike, but not soft enough that it will wear through.

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