Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Heaven and Hell.

Another ride on a similar route to the Central Plateau Gravel Grinder. Two very interesting days. I'll let the photos tell the story. Tassie riders keep an eye out for a 160km/200km ride over these roads in mid-February.


Ash Dash 2013

A group powers away from the Silver Hill control.
One of the great pleasures of being involved in Audax cycling is being able to play the role of ride organiser once in a while. I love riding, but running a ride is a uniquely enjoyable and rewarding experience in a way I would not have suspected until I took over the running of some events from a previous organiser. One of these is the Ash Dash. Also known as the Annual Seven Hills Dash, this 210km ride traverses the biggest hills around Hobart in a single outing. It's a formidable day in the saddle and attracts only the toughest of local riders and the occasional daring interstate entrant. The Ash Dash ranks up with the Alpine Classic in Victoria and Fitz's Challenge in the ACT as one of Australia's hardest one day rides. I added a 120km option this year, although both rides are challenges with 4071m of vertical in the 210km event and 3032m in the shorter distance.

Happy riders at the Kaoota control. Only one more hill to go.
The ride takes a bit of organising, but online entry has made life so much easier. We had a respectable 23 starters this year and most entered beforehand so I was able to be very precise about how much food and drink I needed to buy for the supported controls. Saturday was spend shopping and then taking the food to the Woodbridge control for the volunteer there. Sunday night was spend on paperwork, including sorting out a running sheet so I knew where riders were likely to be on the course during the day and the opening and closing times of controls. I run the start, finish and one control myself and set up and pack up another control, so there's a bit of running around to do.

Plentiful uphills means downhills in spades too.
Sunday is a somewhat long one for the organiser with more than 13 hours separating the start time and the cutoff and a fair bit of driving, but it was made most enjoyable by the unfailingly cheerful riders who were clearly having a good time despite the challenges of the day. The weather was kind, not too hot for most of the day and the wind wasn't too much of a problem on most of the course giving some riders a welcome push up the final hill towards the finish. Even the rain held off.

What was most remarkable was the speed of this year's event. The first rider was around he course in nine hours, including stops. The last rider was barely over 11 hours. Last year the last rider finished at 8.20pm, whereas this year I was on my way home by 6.30pm, which seemed a little early. The volunteer who was to run the second-two hour shift on the final control turned up just as the last rider was passing through .

The Silver Hill control. Food and drink to satisfy the hungriest of riders.
The great benefit of having run this ride for a couple of years in a row now is that I'm constantly getting ideas about how it might be run better which I'm keen to put into practice next year. Thanks to everyone who helped out with the running of the ride and thanks to all the riders for their feedback on this year's event. I hope to see you all again on the second Sunday in December next year.

6907km so far this year.

Thursday, December 05, 2013

The Trucker.

I've put an old fashioned Carradice bag on the Surly Long Haul Trucker. It's the longest serving bike in the shed and I don't ride it nearly as often as I should but it looks really sweet and goes like a rocket on expeditions to the bakery about 15km down the road. Nicole has a matching LHT but with flat bars which she rides like a demon. Both of them have very low granny gears which come in very handy for the 200m climb back up the dirt road to home where the photo above is taken. Good views means steep climbs. And climbing makes us stronger.

6708km so far this year.

Monday, December 02, 2013

The question need not even be asked.

In South Australia, a judge has been charged with drink driving after hitting a cyclist. Her blood alcohol reading was allegedly 0.121, which is more than twice the legal limit.

Her future is in doubt? There should be no doubt. If convicted, this judge should step down.

Sunday, December 01, 2013

Cycling Vietnam

Rural traffic.
In hindsight, the typhoon season might not be the best time to visit Vietnam, but the two and a bit weeks we just spent touring the country were among the most enjoyable holidays I've had on a bike. We joined an Intrepid Travel group travelling on the Cycle Vietnam tour from Hanoi to Saigon (or Ho Chi Minh City if you prefer). There are advantages and disadvantages to this kind of travel, but we decided that having someone else look after the organisation was well worth the cost. 

The group assembled in Hanoi on what was nominally Day 1 of the trip. There was no cycling this day, just some formalities of filling out some forms and sorting out bike hire ($US150), the snack kitty ($US40) and the tipping kitty (from memory about $60) for the trip. Day 2 saw us fitted to some fairly ratty mountain bikes and a 90 minute spin around Ho Tay Lake.  

Most of the kids we encountered were friendly.
Day 3 was the first real day of cycling. We began with a long descent of a mountain pass, during which my front rim disintegrated while I was braking, causing a front wheel blowout. This potentially quite dangerous failure didn't enamour me of our bikes greatly. Soon after I grabbed a handful of left brake when I tried to stop in a hurry (left brake is rear in Australia, has been all my life) and fired myself over the handlebars. A skinned knee seemed to be the worst of my injuries. I frequently wished I bought my own bike with me, although the conditions of he road meant mountain bikes were probably the best choice. While it is possible to bring your own steed, it is all but discouraged in the tour information. In hindsight it would have been easier than I thought before we departed.

Mechanical issues aside, the riding was wonderful. The scenery we passed through was superb, great karst landscapes with beetling crags and lovely flat travelling through rice paddies. We stayed the night under mosquito nets in a longhouse especially set up for tourists, an enjoyable experience.

The pattern that emerged over the next few days became an easy routine. We'd get up around 7am and have a light breakfast before a shuttle on the bus to the starting point for the day. Because we had a bus and a truck supporting us we didn't need to carry anything heavier than a camera. Chi, the capable, informative and endlessly patient tour leader would set the pace, and a mechanic would follow up the rear. The bus or the truck would be parked at intersections to show us the turns.

We'd ride for 45 minutes to an hour and have a drink and a snack before tackling another section of roughly the same length. We'd have lunch in a local restaurant, often pho, then do another section before a bus transfer to our accommodation for the night. It's not cycle touring from point to point for the purist, but it did allow us to cover a fair bit of ground. Mostly we rode 70km to 90km a day and finished in time for a few beers before dinner. 

The pace was easy and although we strung out along the road, we regrouped at each rest point so nobody was every too far behind and the last rider had the mechanic for company. We were also fortunate to have a most convivial group of 11 cyclist ranging from the hugely experienced and fit to a woman who bravely decided on the trip despite not having ridden a bike since childhood. She completed the tour in fine style. That said, there was a bit less cycling than I expected. There were three days along the way we either didn't ride much or at all, plus the nominal first and last days. Overall we covered about 515km.

Another flooded crossing.
The tour took us from Hanoi to Mai Chau and on to visit a primate sanctuary in the Cuc Phuong National Park before heading south to Nihn Binh, where we jumped on the overnight train to Hue, which was one of the highlights of the trip. From there we stayed in Da Nang, Hoi Ann (which was unfortunately flooded) Quy Nohn, Nha Trang and Da Lat before a long bus transfer to Saigon. Each of these towns was well chosen and we had a great time in each.

Along the road we'd often encounter groups of children travelling to or from school or who just wanted to say hi. Most were delightful, although there was the occasional one who would deliver a slap or try to grab you as you went past. A couple of riders reported having a stone thrown at them or being hit with a stick. I suppose it's to be expected.

And another. We rode around this one. 

Also to be expected was the traffic. Traffic in Vietnam might charitably described as chaotic. Even something as basic as which side of the road to travel on doesn't seem to have been agreed upon definitively. All the same, people are less challenged by the presence of cyclists than western motorists and even in heavy traffic I generally felt safe. Most Vietnamese get around on motor scooters. Those few who drive cars bear watching because they're infested with the sense of entitlement that seems to afflict some of our drivers too. 

There was only one slight downer of the trip, and that was the weather. It rained a lot, although it was warm rain so it wasn't as bad as two weeks of wet weather touring in Tasmania would be. The start of our trip was impacted by rains associated with the devastating typhoon which hit the Phillipines several days before. Under the circumstances there I wouldn't dare complain about the minor inconvenience we suffered. And having signed up for an outdoor holiday, you tend to have to take what comes your way.

Typical scenery.
The highlights for me included the quaint National Park Hotel with it's mosquito-netted beds, the bustle of Hanoi's old quarter, the beachside restaurants in Nha Trang and the cool and beautiful Da Lat. There were many more highlights of course, but those stand out. The people we travelled with were also a highlight, we had a good group. The accomodation was generally of a good standard and Vietnam is an extremely cheap place to travel. Dinner for two of us frequently cost less than $A30 including drinks and the food was excellent.

If you're thinking of cycletouring in Vietnam, I highly recommend it. With the benefit of this experience under our belt I would think about travelling independently next time, particularly as I'd much prefer riding my own bike. A well-planned trip would need to take into account the sheer size of the country, certainly we could not have covered the ground we did without the many transfers. Even expanding the trip out to three weeks, it would be wise to confine oneself to the north or the south rather than trying to pack too much in. 

6708km so far this year.