Sunday, February 25, 2007

Another morning ride

I now have a new cycling LED headlamp which is worn believe it or not on the head of the rider.
This morning while it was still dark and all were sleeping I decided to put it to the test in a pre-dawn cycle through the monsoonal forest to Lee Point. But like the old story about the frogs who decided to jump off a log goes; deciding and doing are two different things. Suffice to say I didn't get out on the road until the birds had already risen and the dusky light of dawn was forcing it's way through our flat's roughly drawn curtains. Deciding that it was better late than never I rode anyway, with my flash new LET headdress on full beam.

Having read some interesting propaganda come sales pitch about the new housing development of LYONS I thought I'd like to see their storm water diversion and creek management plan in action, so I made a detour through the grounds of a local sporting club. There was smoke in the distance which I thought was just coming from a longrasser camp but as I got closer I found the burned out wreck of a utility work vehicle! Another one! This sort of thing is fairly common around the fringes of Darwin. As I like to ride in the bushland close to town I often find the remains of cars that have, most likely, been stolen, thrashed, smashed up and burned. Without condemning or judging this sort of idiotic behavior I have to wonder why anyone would do it? I can't say that, even in my most rebellious days, it had ever appealed to be as something cool to do. What satisfaction is there in this kind of destruction? It makes no social or political statement that is obvious to me. It just looks and smells like hateful destruction for the sheer thrill of it. How dumb.

burnt out car
Burnt-out utility

I left the scene and continued my ride. Cruised past LYONS and had a look at their drainage network. Lots of silt traps and soil retention stuff, wide sloping grassed banks and probably still no chance of preventing turbidity or reducing flow from the increased drainage that will be generated from the development (cynic). I'd seen enough of this place and was keen to get out on the beach. I left.

It was getting a bit late to be riding the full distance to Lee Point so I decided to have a look at the water quality down at the mouth of Sandy creek. At 7.00 am there were already a few dog walkers and joggers enjoying the clear morning air down at the free beach. The tide was out and conditions were perfect for riding on the sand. I cruised along to the mouth of the creek with the wide open horizon and miles of flat sand driving me along the coast. The creek is a fairly remote part of Casuarina Coastal Reserve but there were still a few tracks from someone who had already been there this morning or last night. Along the way I came across a few large jellyfish that had washed ashore, probably in rough weather. There was a large flock of small migratory coastal birds and I even saw a beach curlew, cool!

Jelly fish
Jellyfish with sand-cycling shoe for scale

The water at the mouth of the creek was very muddy. I'd noticed there was a fair bit of muddy water flowing in from the new estate despite all their precautions and wondered how the increased suburban input would affect the life of the creek. Only time will tell.

sand creek2.07
View from the mouth of Sandy (Sandfly) creek

It was a great ride, I was gone a bit longer than I'd planned but arrived h0me just in time to greet Sam with her morning coffee and smile at our daughter as she woke from a full night's sleep. Wrecked cars aside, it was a great beginning to the day.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

The long ride home

I’ve now made the trip from Palmerston to home four times and it is getting easier. By using the bike computer I tend to go faster because I’m always working against the clock or trying to increase my average speed. I’ve ridden once under the midday sun, once in the comparative cool of early morning and twice in the evening. The path is becoming quite familiar to me now and I have divided the trip into segments so I can raise the pace or rest within measured sections waiting until I reach a weigh point before I allow myself to reduce the pace. It’s still fun and I am making pretty good time. The radio helps me keep up the pace as I try to match the cycles of my legs to the rhythm of the music.
Last night was the first time I have ridden home after dark and it was by far the most challenging time to ride! I finished work at 3:30 peddled home and threw down a couple of glasses of reconstituted fruit juice and water and consumed a quick sandwich and a banana, grabbed the ex-Bunnings hardware reflective vest and took off for my 5:00 pm cataloguing class in Palmerston. I made great time and passed a few troops peddling their slower mountain bikes from Robertson barracks to Palmerston along the way.
The 4:00 am mornings and extra exorcise have taken their toll on me and I did start to drift off during class but our teacher is into drilling us with various cataloguing Areas, Elements and punctuation so the fear of failure kept me from dozing!
The lights began to flicker as a thunder storm rolled across Palmerston, blinding flashes of electricity tearing up the sky as the heavens opened up over Darwin. I was ambivalent about riding home in bad conditions, on one hand I wanted to test my waterproof panniers but on the other I didn’t want to be struck by a bolt of lightening and die like a fruit bat tangled in powerlines!
When our class was finished the storm has eased and I rang Sam to let her know I was about to begin the 20 km journey home. She didn’t answer the phone. Just as I had gotten out on the road I heard a familiar 'Beep' and turned to see our car making a U-turn and heading back towards me. Sam had come to the rescue to drive me home so I wouldn’t be fried like a potato chip in dirty oil. (the lightening had been pretty bad!) I refused her offer with a smile and a mocking laugh and told her I would see her at home. I am committed to this ride! And peddled off so she would think I am a super cyclist with powerful legs and unstoppable determination. I am astounded by the enormous feats of stupidity my ego can inspire me to do!
Off I went, hard as I could go, into the dark soaking night and onto the unfriendly highway (my daughter in the back seat of the car excitedly waving me on). I chose to ride the highway because the bike track is in complete darkness and sometimes harbours itinerant camps that I’m not comfortable passing at night.
Street lighting is intermittent on the Stuart Hwy between Palmy and home, and the edge of the bitumen drops away invisibly where tropical rain has washed shallow swathes out from under it. I rode on the slippery white line because it was smooth and I could see it. Waiting for a mob of trucks, busses and possibly drunk drivers to pass I managed to cross over to McMillan’s Rd without incident and headed for the bike path. Sam waited on the other side to see that I was actually going to make it off the highway, (I rode harder).
McMillan’s Rd was OK but when the bike path narrowed and the streetlights had faded into the distance I became dependant on lightening (there was plenty of it) to illuminate the twists and turns in the slippery path. As I approached Vanderlyn Dve the whole sky lit up as off in the distance a thick beam of plasma light stretched down to the earth with an explosive thud and a flash of orange light. Something was hit, it looked just like a scene from Independence day! I felt quite vulnerable on my bike with this stuff around me so I peddled harder.
Nearly at home and on an easy downhill section I caught a whiff of something rotten! There was a lump on the side of the road up ahead but I couldn’t make out what it was. I prayed it wasn’t a person. (We have a high incidence of pedestrians being knocked down by cars in the NT!) As I got closer I could see that it was a dog, probably frightened by the storm, and not a person. He was lying stiff as a board. This poor fella won’t be going home. There was nothing I could do, he was far enough from the road not to be hit again so I left him there like so many other casualties of the heartless road!
With my heart pounding I pushed on, determined to get home in good time. Coasting comfortably down hill with only a couple of metres visibility and the steam from the rain rising in pockets from the hot tar, something ran across the path right in front of me! I went for the brakes and there was a flurry of feathers and long stick like legs! What was this in front of me?! I slowed a little as a mob of frightened curlews struggled to gain altitude with me hot on their tails! They rose gracelessly and lunged to the side before I caught them up! I felt the air move from their wings! And could almost taste their damp feathers! What a close call! I’d hate to have hit one of these beautiful birds, I’d never forgive myself if I killed one.
So anyway I made it home alive. Just. But now I have a dilemma about how to get home at night. If I ride on the road I have better visibility and there are less obstacles but one psycho drunk driver could put an end to my trip in a second. If I ride on the bike path I risk close encounters with wildlife, vegetation and unmarked gutters that will also cause me much grief. I am well lit up so should be safe on the road but if I ride slowly the bike path will be safe from four wheeled lunatics. I don’t know what I’ll do next time but I sure prefer to ride before the sun goes down!

Monday, February 19, 2007

Extreme Sport in extreme cold

The Susitna 100 is still going and more than half of the entrants are yet to cross the finish line but I am glad to say that the two entrants I have been watching have completed the course and in excellent time!
As I have never done anything like this race and am flat out just commuting a few miles I now view all who have as my heroes! What a phenomenal effort! Well done guys and good luck to those who have not yet finished.
Over the weekend I have been keeping a close eye on the Susitna results page, weather forecast for Anchorage (I think that's the closest City) and the local time (In Anchorage). As time ticked by, day turned to night and the mercury dropped to 10 degrees f /-12 c. I began to realize the true meaning of the word endurance! I even prayed that the people out there would be safe, I can't imagine myself surviving in that kind of cold after hours of racing! Actualy I can't envisage myself riding a bike for that long!

If you're interested in the times check out the results page Here. The one and only Australian competitor Paul Lester made an awesome time and finished at 01:38 with an elapsed time of 16:38 putting him amongst the fastest! Jill from Juneau completed the race with an elapsed time of 20:50 and was home by 05:50. She was the third woman to cross the line! What a triumphant effort and a great result! It must have been so tough out there at night.

I reckon I would have been wishing for a pair of ruby slippers if I was out there!

Sunday, February 18, 2007

The Great Spear.

What hope is there for the environment in this paradoxical time of political conservatism and an age of global warming? None I would have thought.

It was only about a year ago that there was no apparent environmental imperative from either of Australia’s major political parties. The only issues that seemed to be of significance were the economy, terrorist threats, que jumping illegal immigrants and the War in Iraq. Even though many scientists considered climate change one of the worlds greatest threats, there appeared to be no political interest in dealing with the unsavoury topic at all.

A lot has changed since then. The Labor party has a new leader and there has been a phenomenal shake-up in the upper ranks. Somewhere back in 2005 Peter Garrett joined the Labor Party. Somehow they hooked him in and he’s now the Shadow minister for Climate Change, Environment, Heritage and the Arts! That’s Peter Garrett the former president of the Australian Conservation Foundation, Lead Singer for the most excellent (and often political) Australian rock band Midnight Oil!

When he was presented as a political candidate for the Labor Party I thought (and said) “What a sell out!” How can he possibly continue to stand up for environmental and social issues if he’s a member of either of our major political parties? They have no commitment to the environment; he’ll just be used as a novelty. The relationship will go sour and he’ll be out on his arse! He won’t fit the political mold, they’ll try to control him and that will be the end of it.

Now Mr Garrett is a Shadow Minister on the front bench and fighting strong. I wonder how they will contain him when things get hot? I was wrong to assume so much. Who am I to judge? This guy is awesome he’s a fair-dinkum hero and he will give Australia the integrity and leadership we need to see in our leaders. It is most likely true that the best way to bring about change is from within and if that’s true you couldn’t get any closer to in than Peter Garrett has in such a short time.

Mr Garrett has always made a powerful impression. He delivers his message with such focussed intensity and conviction that I doubt anyone would want to be subjected to his wrath.

Anyway what brings me to this rant? Well actually it was the baby names book my wife has been reading! For some reason she looked up Peter and Garrett in the ‘Book of Baby Names for Australians’ (1991) compiled by Dalys Newman.
Apparently the name Peter means ‘Rock’ but get this! Garrett is Teutonic for ‘Mighty spear worrier’!

If anyone can spearhead the hearts and minds of this nation into a new age of environmental consciousness it is Peter Garrett! If he can’t make an impact on the conscience of this country then there is little hope left for us. I hope this coincidence of name and attitude will be a good omen for the future of Australia. I hope we are encouraged by his passion to see a better country that is guided by the conscience of it’s great thinkers rather than the greed of its bankers. I hope that this new political power lives beyond the fight against our present, economically obsessed, government and comes to represent the hope for an environmentally responsible, and saner future in this Country.

Bring on the Great Spear!

P.S. Just found-out Sam had read an article about Peter Garrett in the Bulletin, written by Rob Hirst (The Oils great lyricist); apparently one of Peter’s nicknames is ‘Rock’! I’ve subsequently read the article it’s ‘Ace’. So that’s where the idea came from to look his name up in that book. Now I’m also wondering why is she looking up baby names anyway?

You can find the article at the Bulletin with Newsweek online, lots of uninspired conservative comments have been left from online readers. :)

Friday, February 16, 2007

Bicycle race in the frozen North

For several months now I've been following the regular blog posts of Jill from Up In Alaska as she journals her experiences in endurance cycling and training for an event known as Susitna 100. Her partner Geoff has had a suspected fracture in his foot but still intends to compete in the Little Su 50k! These guys are committed and serious about their sport!
Jill is a very dynamic and inspiring writer who has a natural ability to describe her experiences in a way that will compel you to feel like you are a part of the action. Up in Alaska is a great read for all us armchair vicarious adventurers!

The Susitna 100 is a 100 mile multi-mode race across "... remote frozen Alaska" it is accompanied by a running race called the Little Su 50k and is only for the well prepared and courageous as the conditions are tretcherous and the dangers are real. The race commences at 9:00 am on Saturday 17th February somewhere in remote icy frozen Alaska (don't know where exactly) where it will without a doubt be really really cold! To be eligible to compete in an event like this is an enormous feat that requires a huge amount of commitment, preparation and training I imagine that crossing the finish line will require something extra.

I have just checked the field of competitors and it appears that one of the two international entries is an Australian by the name of Paul Lester. All I know is what's on the roster. Paul is 41 and from Cooma in NSW. Good on you Paul.

Why not check out the Susitna website for updates on how the racers are going over the weekend. I will definitely be tuned in and cheering them on. You can show your support for Jill and Geoff by going to the blog Up in Alaska and making a comment under one of Jill's latest posts.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

The commute begins

The commuter
Shadow of the commuter on a field of green

Today was my first class at Palmerston Campus, about 20 km ride from work. I made it there just in time for class but was sweating profusely. With no shower in sight It was a hard job trying to mop up all that sweat with my wet T-shirt and paper towels . I staggered into class 15 minutes late still red faced and dripping with sweat! It's going to take some time before I am able to do this ride with ease! I've decided to call an end to my chocolate and 3 coffees breakfasts, may even stop drinking Pepsi Max, reduce the pizzas and get some fresh stuff into me. Could even start eating vegetables and fruit again! A glass of cool fresh water always tastes better when I've put in a bit of physical effort. If it stops the heart palpitations and jitters I get from merely walking up a flight of stairs these days it's gotta be worth it right?

In a tight spot
On Monday I discovered a young Rose-crowned Fruit-Dove on the balcony at work. The poor fella must have flown into a window and was sitting stunned on the tiles for most of the day. I wanted to save it but knew it would be stressful for the bird and decided to leave it alone on the balcony where it was reasonably protected. These are beautiful and shy birds that I have only ever seen in the coastal vine thickets. I wonder how he came to be on the balcony of a building separated from favorable habitat by carparks and other open spaces? Many forest birds have an absolute aversion to open country and avoid open spaces at all cost. I sat for a minute watching the bird through the window and feeling quite sad, knowing that it must be feeling very vulnerable out in the open so far from the safety of a forest canopy.
When I went back at the end of the day to collect him I was kind of glad to find him gone. At least he didn't die on the balcony so far from the forest and I could imagine that he would survive and find his way back to where he belonged.

Rose-crown Fruit-dove
Rose-crowned Fruit-dove (well kind of) not where he belongs

Sunday, February 11, 2007

The Birds

Crested Tern
Crested Tern at Stokes Hill Wharf on Saturday afternoon

Once again the monsoon has redistributed our bird life as the atmosphere progresses towards saturation. Humidity, a change in the wind, thunder and lightning cold winds charge in to fill the gaps that warm air leaves behind as rain comes teaming, creatures do fleeing, trees bend and the grass keeps growing with every drop of wet season rain. I don't think the Silver Gulls like it. Terns have replaced them along the wharf and the coast feels freer for their absence.
Favorable thermals and fires no longer feed the huge flocks of black kites, they have retreated south to the hot dry deserts. But there are flocks of Imperial-Pigeons pulling stunts, zooming, whirling, diving and rolling they tempt fate as they enjoy their tropical skies, some don't make it.

All up it's a pretty good time here in the wet. We like to sit on the wharf and watch tropical storms come surging across the harbour. The lack of seagulls at the moment is a bonus.

Oh yeh.. I've done a bit more work on the bikes. I replaced the gear cable housing on my rode bike and stuck a mud guard on the cruiser. Here's a photo of the cruiser with Wee-rider and new mudguard, I'm still working on something for the front... I might put a proper wrap around one on. Kids love riding up front but you have to ride like a frog to accommodate them.

The cruizer complete with Weerider
The Cruiser (my current short distance commuter)

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Monsoonal puddles

So finally the monsoons have hit and Darwin is receiving some considerable rainfall. I am committed to riding my bike rain hail or shine and for the past two days I have ridden through monsoonal downpours on the way to work.
On Monday morning I had to take the car to the mechanic (wheel bearings - brakes etc...) and then ride to work. I took the main Rd which was a big mistake because the gutters were so full that I was forced to ride in the middle of the lane to avoid scuttling my bike in the gloomy depths. The traffic was OK but I felt kind of vulnerable in the haze of rain and foggy windscreens. I was very glad to take the back streets from Nightcliff where I could enjoy the experience of riding in the warmth of soft, heavy tropical rain. It was an utter delight and the Nightcliff foreshore looked awesome with the dirty water splashing out of Rapid creek into a turbulent sea confused and turbid with the sudden influx of fresh water.


I rode through the rain again yesterday and man did it pour! This time I wore a bright green raincoat so I could be seen. The gutters were flowing backwards as the sudden rush of water overwhelmed the unsuspecting drains, their capacity reduced by mud and debris. Great pools were creeping across nature strips and back up the foot paths as cars cut momentary channels through the torrents that should be roads. I kept peddling, the warm water engulfing my peddles and feet as the front tire split lakes and sprayed more water ove the teaming gutters.
A flash of white light filled the street and burned the back of my eyes, *CRACK* a lightning bolt smashed through the rain and brought fear in an instant. What the hell am I doing?! Dogs howled in agony, cars raced on un-deterred and I peddled faster hoping to make it to work alive. Bang there goes another one, Oh Shit I'm gonna die! - (I didn't.) Finally I arrived at work just two km from home.

I haven't been on the Lee Point track since last week, I think I'll spare my bike the misery of all that mud and grit.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Fixing stuff

Well living up here in the Top end can guarantee one thing above all else. Your stuff won't last half as long as it does down south. I'm sure there must be a breakage / rottage probability factor that increases the closer you get to the tropics.
This weekend we discovered that the rear wheel bearings on the car are about to seize, the chipboard cabinet that our extremely heavy TV sits on has buckled and is at the point of collapse after one too many years in the humidity, our DVD player will only play when it feels like it and the horizontal beams on our fence have been consumed by termites.
So today we started fixing the TV cabinet and I had a go at repairing a couple of my bikes. As usual I tried doing everything at once and ended up in a huge mess, I was just about to ride my bike to the tip for some materials when the sky opened up and down came the rain. That's Darwin for ya!
In past years I'd found that all my good quality work boots had lost their soles to some kind of parasitic rubber eating bacteria! I have finally given in to the fact; the only footwear that can meet the high demands of a tropical environment is the humble yet resilient thong. I'd always hated thongs until I came to Darwin. Back in Victoria I much preferred to go barefoot but up here we have killer germs that live in the soil and can enter the blood of innocent barefoot pedestrians and gardeners. It's a tough place for the unshod.

Raleigh in need of repair

My list of urgent bike repairs is growing. My mule (carry anything bike) The Raleigh needs so much stuff I should probably get rid of it but it has a nice large frame and has been my most reliable transport for the past 6 years. I've decided to give it a new crank, new peddle arms, new wheels, brakes and maybe a new gear shifter(when I say new I mean working).
The shogun, my road bike, hasn't been ridden for about 3 years I need to grease all the bearings and lubricate the cables, it'll also need new handle bar tape. The new mountain bike I picked up from the tip needs a whole new crank, peddles and all and will also want new gear shifters and handle grips, and a gear service.

Yesterday I started fixing all this stuff and my lack of knowledge brought me to grief with more than one component but I will persist.

Tug boats

Two tugs in the sunset at Fort Hill Wharf

On Friday night I took the family out for dinner at Stokes hill wharf. It was a lovely cool night and the atmosphere was quite relaxing. I thought these tugs looked great with the sun setting behind them.
Rickshaw Way

I've decided to start a new blog where I'll make posts about trishaws, rickshaws and other peddle powered utility vehicles. I don't know what it'll amount to but I guess it's a way of storing stuff I think is pretty cool and leaving it somewhere for others to find. (Maybe someone else is into that stuff too.)
Here's the link Rickshaw Way

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Moderate Themes

Last night Sam and I watched the Al Gore film An Inconvenient Truth. What an appropriate title! The lengths we will go to in order to deny the fundamental truths that surround us is unfathomable! I will allow myself one pessimistic and ironic observation regarding the undeniable message within this film. The apathy that still exists in relation to this matter was symbolized by the government rating on front of the box which read: PG Moderate Themes.

I have been re-assessing my attitude lately having read my instruction manual for life that reminds me that cynicism is not a luxury I can afford and does not facilitate better understanding between me and my fellows. I'm afraid this may be true. But what is there left for those whose eyes have been open and have seen the writing on the wall for so long?
Is it possible to not be cynical when the obvious has been denied for so long.

What factory would punish a machinist for identifying a faulty mechanism that, if not repaired would lead to a halt in production? If the foreman of the factory suggested innovations that would considerably improve the companies long term productivity he would be considered a valuable employee. Or if a consultant identified assets that would enable the company to diversify in the future surely she would be rewarded!
If we think of human society as a company of firm and the ecology of the planet as the machine or natural resource management as the innovations that may prolong our activities then surely we should value the warnings or advise from the professional people who work in the field our scientists and ecologists. Even the sometimes emotive views of environmentalists would be valued.

The film was very disturbing and indicated urgent facts that must be addressed immediately, well actually they should probably have been addressed years ago but the sad fact is that no one wanted to know!
What will be changed now? Which of our leaders actually have the strength to stand up and make a decision that may save future generations?
We constantly hear arguments why it is not in our best interest to act now, most of them financial or simply a cop out by saying "Well if they're not doing it then we aren't either!" It seems a bit like listening to someone who has argued that the world is flat rather than a globe who has then been shown an image of the earth from space and so changes his argument to: "well the world is kind of circle shaped but that doesn't meant it's not flat!" Or something like that, I dunno it just came to me that way anyway the point is that surly the time for action is now and the people to do it are us! I want my daughter to see snow! I want her to be able to drink clear cool water from a stream and stuff like that!

What future is there if our leaders are so short sighted? Who will take responsibility for making the changes that may save future generations?
In light of the most recent scientific reports that announce global warming of several degrees to be unstoppable for 100's of years into the future, surely not making these changes today can be considered no less than 'ecocide' on the grandest scale! Some might say that we are already committing this without taking the effects of global warming into consideration.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Morning rides

The cycling is going well I have now been cycling the long way to work for one week and am getting quite used to the extra distance. It's time to step it up a bit but the difficult thing will be to find somewhere interesting to ride. I am occasionally passed by other cyclists who are more serious about peddling and seem to wizzz past me as I trudge along admiring thunder heads and rainbows in the morning sky or the lush green foliage surrounding the road.
Road riders sometimes pass me twice as they ride the Lee Point loop; speeding easily down the hill through the carpark at the end of the road and muscles pumping as they force themselves to maintain the same speed back up to the caravan park for one more circuit. I turn left and head for the trees, preferring to grind through the mud and slosh, surrounded by the dark canopy of the monsoon vine thicket.

Dumped car
Dumped car (I thought it was just my unfocused morning eyes that made it look a bit blurry!)

Yesterday I took a track through an area of bushland that is being developed into a housing estate, although there were some old dumped cars in there the country was in rather good condition. The lush growth at this time of year makes everything look so much healthier. Up here in Darwin we have grasses that can reach well over 7 ft high but this all depends on the other vegetation in the area. Where I rode yesterday there were only short grasses and shrubs in amongst the Turkey bush and sand palms. Although the dreaded Gamba grass lines Lee Point road it hasn't yet made much progress into the scrub on the coast side of the road.
There has finally been some rain so my ride was a bit gritty but the track was still quite firm.
About half way along the monsoon vine forest track a tree had fallen and there was a gaping hole in the canopy. It was nice to stop and listen to all the birds.
When I got to the mangroves I noticed that I'd picked up a hitch-hiker. A rather large Orb weaver spider complete with web was clinging to the front of my bike like a hood ornament!

Orb weaver spider on my bike
Orb weaver spider (same colours as the car)

The tidal creek was flowing with fresh water, hopefully this will continue for the rest of the wet season. It's been another unusually dry one this year.

Sandfly (sandy) Creek Casuarina coastal reserve

It's late again so I'd better get on my bike and ride ride ride. But before I go I'll post this link to a 'Ministry of Sound' video I saw this morning.