Wednesday, January 10, 2018


Here's the situation:
I'm rocking things solo, as Kim and Lila are in Canada for six weeks, and I have a 10 day break off work for the Christmas holidays. Hmmmm. What to do. I pondered doing a backpacking trip in Tasmania, mountain biking in New Zealand, or doing a big bikepacking trip right out my front door into the heat of the Australian summer. While Tassie and New Zealand sounded like great options, I was just too busy to try and organize flights and wanted to keep the cost down. Thus, I decided to leave from my front door and embark on a 10 day trip through the most mountainous regions Australia going through Namadgi, Kosciuszko, and Alpine National Parks. The route... well, that was secondary...
I've done a fair bit of bike touring including mountain bike off-road stuff but always used panniers and a rack to carry most of my gear. This time however, I wanted to travel lighter and with a full bikepacking setup.

You first question might be ‘What is bikepacking? Isn’t that just touring?’
Well, kind of. I think most people would agree that bike packing is touring but on a bike suitable for various conditions and generally without the use of traditional rack and pannier systems. This will be my first time with a proper bikepacking setup as previous trips have still had either a front or rear rack with panniers.

What’s wrong with panniers and a rack you might ask?
Well, weight wise, it actually isn’t that much different unless you are going ultralight for racing or staying in hotels. The total weight of all my bags is around 1.8kg which is about the same as a rear rack and good light ortlieb panniers. The benefits are more around weight distribution and clearance. When riding with panniers, they are low and wide and tend to get caught on lots of trail side vegetation. If you are riding on good open roads, this won’t really be a problem; however, on previous trips I’ve had the panniers grab on narrow overgrown tracks many times where they could have either broken the bag itself, and/or broken the rack (which did happen to me!). So, a bikepacking system gets the load all over the bike and out of the way from trailside obstacles. While the weight is up higher on the bike, it is very well distributed and feels much better while riding and gives you great traction front and rear.

There were three main goals that I wanted to achieve with my setup:
1.  Have everything on the bike with no backpack required
2.  Have everything necessary to be as light as possible while being comfortable
3.  Be almost completely self sufficient that stopping for a resupply would not be required

What I found out is that the first item is quite hard to achieve without impacting the other two! Even with all the bags on the bike, space is generally at a premium and with no backpack, all my water would have to be carried on the bike. Now, in some places, this might not be much of an issue as water can be accessed everywhere. However, here in Australia, water can be scarce so being able to carry a sufficient amount for a decent amount of time is necessary. It’s also one of the hottest times of the year with temps in the low to high 30s Celcius so, having some good hydration is very important.
After much thought, deliberation, tweeking, testing, weighing grams, packing, repacking, etc, I’m happy to say that I achieved my goals!

What bike for the job?
For my bike, I’m using a dual suspension Giant Anthem 29er mountain bike that I custom built with durable and light components and tips the scales at 12.5kg. It is an XL size alloy frame, has a Fox shock (RP2 100mm rear) and forks (FIT CTD 120mm), Chris King Hubs on carbon rims, Thomson Masterpiece seatpost, WTB Ti Volt saddle, Easton Havoc Carbon bars, Ergon Carbon grips, XTR/XT 1x11 drivetrain, XT brakes with Hope 180mm rotors for excellent stopping power, and Maxxis Ardent 2.4’s running tubeless. It will be the perfect bike for some of the ruff trails that I’ll be riding, is very comfortable, and so far, has been super durable with no issues.

What does all your gear weigh?
In summary, I got my entire kit, including bags and everything I need minus food and water to just over 10kg which I think is rather acceptable. Note that biking always requires more gear than backpacking as you have to carry all the essential spares, lights and tools to keep the bike rolling which for me totalled 1.3kg alone. I can carry a bit over 3L comfortably in my frame bag and have just under 5kg of food that should last me a good portion of the trip. That puts me around 18kg fully loaded or 30.5kg with my bike. For those interested to see a detailed list of everything I brought, check out my bikepacking list with weights, sums for each group of items, and total weights.
Bikepacking List

Some notes about my gear
Keeping with Goal 2, I’m using an Easton ultralite tent (thank you Zane!), sleeping pad, sleeping bag, and even a pillow and silkbag which are definitely luxury items but makes things so much more comfortable. Clothing is kept to a relative minimum with the ability to look normal in town situations with a pair of shorts and shirt. Cooking supplies are again at a minimum but include everything I need. My Platypus gravity water filter has an additional 4L bag so, my total capacity is around 9L with my one water bottle; I do have an ultralight backpack that I can use to carry the additional water such as just before a camping spot. For maps, I decided to mostly use my phone and bought a battery bank that can keep my phone going for at least 4 days with moderate use along with watching movies or reading a book. I have some nice scanned maps in high quality JPGs and also a couple paper copies in case my phone fails.

What’s all that food?
If you don’t know, I’ve been running on a ketogenic diet for about the last 18 months and thus, eat only fats and protein with very minimal carbohydrates. For endurance activities such as a big bikepacking trip, keto is the bomb. I’ve lost weight while being keto and can much more readily utilize my own fats stores for fuel while on the go. When not burning my own fat, I’ll be mostly fueling on nuts, oils, cheese and salami. I’m just under 90kg these days and I’ll likely lose 3-5kg over the next 10 days which is fine since I have much more than that to lose :).

Where to?
So, I spent so much time and effort getting my bike ready for action that the actual route I was going to take took a back seat. I talked with some friends and got a general feel for what I wanted to do which was a loop from Canberra, down through to Victoria and back. Some of it was based on the Hunt1000 route from Canberra to Melbourne but with more off-road particularly at the start. I was pretty flexible with my time so, determined that whatever I did, I could always change plans on the fly which was quite liberating. So, on the morning of the Saturday, I was off... not quite. One thing I hadn't got to was organizing an emergency locator beacon (EPIRB) in case I got into some serious trouble. I was going to be in some pretty remote areas with very few people around (they're all at the beach!) so, I organized to pick up an EPIRB that morning (yes, very last minute I know). It was a bit of a drive and back to get it and they only opened at 9am so, it wasn't until 10 that I was back home and... wait a sec. At my doorstep was a box of bike goodies that I was hoping to have arrived in time for my trip! New rear tire, chain, chainring, sun sleeves and photochromatic glasses were awaiting me so, it was a no brainer to get these items fitted and have my bike be in great shape. So, just after 1pm, I finally rolled out of my place in hot and dry mid 30s heat (ie: not the best time to be leaving!).

I'll try to be brief in my day to day descriptions and provide more insights into what I was going through.

Day1 - Canberra to Pryor's Hut - 81km
It's always strange when you first leave on a trip that will be so big and long and it always takes a bit of time to get used to the rhythms of the day's routines. First things first, I was riding with too much stuff! Too much food and too much gear. I find there is always a breaking point at which that extra kilo 'breaks the camels back' so to speak. I definitely started out this way and it was tough starting out with some big ups and downs over the Brindabella mountains at the start. My original plan was to get to Pocket Hut which is over the mountain range but leaving so late, I soon realized that this was not going to be a possibility. I ended up making my ride more difficult by doing Warks Road, Wombat, and Parrot before I got to Mount Franklin road which is more up and down but a good way to go.
When I got to the hut, I'm pretty sure that I wasn't sure how the rest of the trip would go. I was feeling pretty slow, was pretty knackered, and hadn't covered as much ground as I would have liked.
Would my bike break with all this weight?
Can I do the loop I was planning on?
Maybe I should turn around in the morning and play disc golf for the next 9 days...
Yes, I did think about this.
Honestly, disc golf sounded very good at this point.
I mean disc golf is always a good option but really...

Day 2 - Pryor's Hut to Mackay's Hut - 100km
I left at a decent time and ended up running into some rangers who politely informed me that I'm not supposed to be biking in that area of the park (which I did not know). However, they let me pass and I kept moving forward to the hike-a-bike over Leura gap. This would be my first hike-a-bike for the trip and certainly not the last! The descent on the other side was steep and fun and feels quite remote as it is virtually unused. At the bottom, there was a culvert with a good running stream that was perfect to lie down in with the cold water flowing over me. There is something special about lying in a cold stream on a hot day in the nude. Was a good stop!
Passing by Pocket Hut (where I wanted to stay on the previous night), the road becomes more formed and eventually becomes a larger and wider gravel road that is not gated so has vehicle access (not that I saw many though). This track meanders down the valley past Tantangara Reservoir and eventually connects to the Snowy Mountain Highway. Lots more ups and downs than I was expecting but all very rideable. Today was super hot and I decided to take a break at a horse camp by setting up the tent in the shade to get away from the flys and get out of the scorching mid day sun. I then continued south crossing the Snowy Mountain Highway and started to get into the alpine high country of Australia.
Things were going quick until I got onto Grey Mare Trail which is a lumpy alpine grass single double track. It was at this point that the weather started to turn for the worse and was the first (and only time) that I donned my rain jacket and prepared for the scattered rain showers that were coming through. The rain let off but the skies got darker and a big thunderstorm was coming through and I was in the midst of it.
I continued to ride but the lightning got closer and closer to me until eventually I had to make the smart decision to get out of the open alpine and stop at Mackay's hut and end my day a bit early. Mackay's is set in such a beautiful area and was probably the nicest spot I stayed for the trip. It even had a nice verandah on the outside where I could sit under cover and watch the rain and storm go by. Beautiful sunset too!

Day 3 - Mackay's Hut to Thredbo - 83km
The next day I woke up in a thick, wet and cold cloud. Merry Christmas. It was hard to get moving and so I waited until the clouds lifted, passed, or burned off. They did a bit, but by 10am, I decided enough is enough and headed out into it. It stayed like this until I got around to Mount Jagungal where I finally got out and the blue skies awaited. I also saw the first hikers of the entire trip heading up to Canberra on the Australian Alps walking track. I ended up stopping at noon after only a couple of hours to chill out at Grey Mares Hut to get out of the sun, give some attention to my chain, and have some lunch. It was a pretty cruisy morning.
The above is what I mean about a lumpy alpine grass track. The next section gave way to some hike-a-bike's into Valentine's Hut which is this pretty red painted hut that is perfectly set in such a beautiful spot. Would be a great spot to spend the night in the future. I pushed on and cruised at high speeds down to Guthega power station which is part of an elaborate hydro electric scheme and connects over to the ski fields of Guthega and Perisher where I got my first mobile reception and was able to let people know that I was still doing well. Out to Charlotte's gap and up to the highest point in Australia on Mount Kosciuszco! Then down to Eagle's nest which is the top of highest lift off Thredbo Alpine Resort. When I got here, it was getting late and unbeknownst to me, there was no gravel track to get down the 600+ meters elevation to Thredbo that I could see and it was certainly not signed on the main sign board at the top. Hmmm. There were three main purpose built mountain bike trails that I could take. I had a choice of the downhill trail, all-mountain trail, and the flow trail. Having never ridden any, and having the downhill trail out of the question, I decided to see how my gear laden bike would handle the flow trail. While not super technical, there were a lot of rocky step downs at the beginning that I was afraid was going to put too much stress on my frame and seriously thought that Thredbo might be the end of my trip. However, I took things on the slower side and the trail did get smoother with more swooping flow the further down I went. It was pretty fun and eventually, I rolled into Thredbo just before it turned totally dark. I really wanted to make Cascade Hut for the night but this was about 1 to 1.5 hours away and so, decided to get a good meal, and stay at a hotel for the night. It was a good stop as it allowed me wash my bike kit, and go through my gear and purge anything that was absolutely not necessary. Silk bag, body soap, massage ball, extra tent pegs, anything that was not essential I put in a bag and left at reception for a friend to pick up for me the next week. It wasn't a crazy amount but was likely 400+grams which I was happy to eject off my bike.

Day 4 - Thredbo to Omeo - 127km
As it was Christmas day back in Canada, I spent the morning having a big breakfast and talking to Kim and Lila and company who were chilling out in the snow in Quebec.

It was a nice morning but again, I didn't leave until after 10am and went out into the rising heat. My bike definitely felt lighter and better and I became obsessed over the rest of the course of the trip seeing what else I could do in the future to lighten my load. I was out at Cascade Hut before noon and continued south toward Tin Mine. I saw quite a bit of wildlife on my trip. Kangaroos, Wallabies, Emu's, snakes, Fallow deer, Sambar deer, wild pigs, wild cats, owls, tons of birds and of course, Brumbies (wild horses).

I don't really like seeing Brumbies.
Not anymore that is.

I was actually warned that there was an aggressive stallion just south of Cascade hut that was black with a pink lower lip. I came around a corner and startled three horses and stopped to let them move on. However, the stallion turned and started to stand his ground. He was black with a pink lower lip. What are the chances.
I think if this was a farm horse, picking up a stick and showing him who's boss would have been an easy solution; however, these horses are wild and me picking up a stick and threatening him might not be the best way forward. I quickly decided to move away a bit and go to the side of the road beside a outward facing tree rootball and put my bike between the horse and myself. I was in an ok place to defend myself but the dropoff beside me was a bit steep and full of broken branches and blackberries. To my dismay, the horse started to go agro on me showing aggressive behaviours and then coming right up to my face snarling and hooves up within a metre of me. Yeah. Not cool. He did this multiple times with each time me keeping my bike out far and trying to remain calm and talking softly that I just wanted to get by. After 20min of this, I decided to drop down into the slope off the side of the road and get on a large log that traversed the corner (since it was in a 90 degree corner bend). I was fairly protected from the horse here but was also 3m off the ground with a 30kg awkward bike in my arms. He eventually went up the hill a bit and that's when I took off down the road continually looking back over the next km to see if he was coming. Now, I'm pretty sure that this is a bit rare with them but it certainly made the next 20+ encounters with horses more difficult and the Stallions would generally do a similar thing but then back off when the others were further away.

Anyway, I was happy to get away from there and keep heading south down to Cowombat flat which is close to the head of the iconic Murray River.
It is a beautiful spot with a great little shaded camp spot under some gum trees that I was tempted to stay at. I had a decent break and then continued on over a nice rocky climb and descent which turned out to be one of my favourite biking sections of the trip. Over to limestone road which is a nice big gravel road that headed all the way down to Omeo. It was a long day (especially leaving so late in the morning) and the last 20km or so were not so fun as my back was getting pretty sore for the first time and was something that I would have to monitor over the rest of the trip with short breaks. I ended up finding a quaint caravan park that was cheap, nice, had showers, and had a kitchen where I could get some food which was very welcome. Great spot and will be back there in the future for sure.

Day 5 - Omeo to Roper's Hut - 90km
This day had a lot of paved road and a lot of climbing! The beginning section on the Omeo highway isn't too bad with reasonable slopes and winding roads. In fact, much of it is really windy but is simply contouring along the slope so was quite quick. However, once I hit the turnoff for Fall Creek up the Bogong High Plains road, the grade significantly increases and I was feeling way to heavy for the this length of climb. The climb is also quite exposed and as it was close to noon, things were getting very hot. I did not like this climb. It felt a bit like torture and there was no water until close to the top so, I ran out of water for about an hour and definitely hit a low point on my trip. I finally got water from a little mountain stream and when I got mostly up to Buckety Plains camping area, I drank lots, and literally passed out lying in the grass under the shade of a gum tree while periodically getting bitten by ants and march flies (horse flies). I didn't care.
After regaining some gumption, I moved on and found that I was indeed close to the top of the road climb and into the alpine high plains of the Bogong area. I got off the road and did some of the Aqueduct track and climbed up higher over to Mount Bogong and eventually dropping down into Roper's hut which is a fantastic spot and hut nestled amongst some gorgeous gums.
I had a soak in the creek and enjoyed the company of many hikers who were either on their way to, or coming from Mount Bogong which loomed on the other side of a steep valley between us. Definitely not a biking route going there! Lots of lively discussion, live music and I had a great night's sleep!

Day 6 - Roper's Hut to Mount Murray - 112km
Roper's Hut was refreshing as it was good to have finished a bit early to have that down time and relax. But now it was today and today, today was going to be a good day! The climb out of Roper's is a chunky climb out which felt good to ride clean. Hitting the main track I turned right and climbed up slightly more to 1800m and the top of the descent down to Mount Beauty which is around 400m and has breakfast! I was stoked and this descent did not disappoint.
This was one of my favourite moments of the trip as the descent was so fun. Lots of obstacles such as logs, sticks, gravel, cobbles, and boulders with a steep dropoff on the side of the track. It was like my personal downhill slalom course. Dual Sus Approved! One river crossing and a bit of a climb, and then continued down all the way into Mount Beauty for a big breakfast and restock at the local shop. I took awhile here as, well, it was comfortable, not too hot at the time, and just good to relax and people watch for a bit. From here, there is a gravel track over to Bright or a paved road.
I've done both but decided to do the road climb so that I could climb up a little higher from the top and reach the powerline lookout and the hyper fast descent down the backside that is ear to ear grin if you have a need for speed! I may have a need and was back on the pavement in no time. My shit eating grin lasted for another 5km. No joke.

At the intersection to Bright, I turned left and headed towards Harrietville and the big but calm climb up to Mount Hotham. What goes down must now go up. I had a nice break in Harrietville before heading up the climb and making it almost to the top at the Dargo road exit. From here, I turned west into the 4x4 Victoria High Country on chunky rocky tracks as the clouds turned darker and another thunderstorm brewed. I got to Mount Murray and sprinted to get my tent up before the deluge came down.

Day 7 - Mount Murray to Black Snake Creek - 97km
It rained on and off all night but around 7:30am, it eased off and let me pack up freely. I got on the bike just after 8am and just wasn't really feeling it. 
I felt like I had lost a gear but maybe it was just the road. All the rain had made top surface of the road swell and it felt like loose rocks in molasses. It sucked. There were hike-a-bikes and then there were climbs that should have been climbable that were also hike-a-bikes due to the surface. I was not having fun and started to get in a pretty serious low.
And then there were the trees. About a week prior, a big storm went by and knocked a whole bunch of trees down. I decided to alter my route to cut off some kilometres and this may or may not have been any better. After tetrising my bike up, over and through many multi-forked fallen gum trees, I headed down a new track and ran into some Victoria road crews that were clearing the roads with chainsaws. Just after I passed them, I passed the magic stick. You know the one. The one that somehow flings up into the air and lodges itself somehow through your rear derailleur and waits for you to pedal so that it can snap it off. I stopped pedalling immediately and pulled the stick out to find that the stick had almost sheared my derailleur cable right off and there were just three tiny strands of wound wire still hanging on. No, I did not have a spare cable and quickly realised that I also did not have any cutters to make any kind of fix. Lukily for me, the Vic guys showed up and helped me out with some cutters that didn't work but they did have a file that was able to file it's way through my derailleur casing which in turn gives me a bit more cable so that I could get it on again. And... it worked. Perfectly actually even despite the jagged edge of the casing, I had a full range of gears. Now, to climb over more trees.

There were over a hundred of them.
Yes. Over a hundred. This felt more like an adventure race then anything else.
What made this so bad was that climbs became all unrideable since you had to stop so frequently to cross a fallen tree, and the descents you had to slowly coast down to the next down tree, get off and cross. It really sucked. The final descent was mostly free but I also learned why the Vic guys were telling me it was steep down. It was super steep. With the seatbag in the back, there was just no way to get my weight any lower and there were times where it felt like I could go over the bars. This was also the point where I realized that I had brought no extra brake pads and this could become a seriously problem with a few more days left to go.
I got down to the river and it was smooth sailing from here.
Uh, no.
My map was designed for 4x4ing and was a bit too zoomed out to show all the climbs and descents that I would face. With 50m contour lines, it was hard to not see that the river road was in fact not flat at all. The climbs were steep hike-a-bikes, the descents were so steep they were slow, then cross the knee deep river, and do it all again on the other side. There was probably over 400m of climbing on this river road with much of it pushing, braking, and then carrying the bike over and through the river. I was getting pretty worked. I stopped at a basic shelter and my next sections did not look good. I had a 100m hike-a-bike, a steep descent down, and then the quickest way out was a super steep 500m hike-a-bike. I knew it wasn't going to be fun but had been through so much already that at that point, it was just all additional character building.
The road up was steep. So steep that the water bars pushed over 100% slope (more than 45degrees) and was almost at the point where if you started to slip, you might just keep sliding backwards. I tried switching my bike shoes out for my crocs but that was just silly. I really had wished that I had installed the toe studs in my shoes for more grip.

I'm pretty sure that that was the biggest single hike-a-bike I've ever done and I would like to keep it that way. Once on the top though, I also knew that I had an equally steep decent I had to do to get back down to another river and the gravel road over to Dargo. You could hear my brake pads glossing over and by the bottom, I knew that my pads couldn't handle too much more of that.

At this point it started to rain. Hmmm. I was at a camp spot but decided to keep moving in the hopes of finding somewhere a bit nicer and maybe the rain would subside. The rain did go away for a bit but then built up to the point where I was officially soaked on the bike and needing a place to stop. I finally hit Black Snake Creek campground where I used the hut as a refuge just as another deluge of rain came down and kept coming down for most of the night.

This was one of the hardest days I've done on the bike in my life. I likely had over 1000m of elevation gain in hike-a-biking alone and had so many trees to get over which is super hard work when you have a geared up bike and have to tetris it through branches and awkward positions. So many stream crossings, slimy slow road surfaces with all the rain, and just mentally tough. I was just happy to get out of there and looking forward to better roads ahead.

Day 8 - Black Snake Creek to Swift's Creek - 99km
After a deluge of rain fell all night long (just like the night before), it stopped early in the morning and I was nice and dry since I pitched my tent under the overhang of the hut at Black Snake. That being said, none of my clothes dried at all so it was into wet kit and out into the blue skies. The road was wet and a bit spongy but not as bad as the previous day. After a short ride, I made it into the small town of Dargo and decided to have a good stop in the sun and get some breakfast and a few supplies at pretty much the only shop in town! I even had an ice cream bar as well, since, well, why not. I was just happy to have yesterday over but also realized that I was in for some good climbing today as well as I had another look at my route from Dargo over to Swift's Creek. Today was pretty uneventful especially compared to the few previous days and especially the last one.
After a meander along the Dargo river where there were nice camp spots galore, I got into the groove on a nice but not so steep climb and close to the top came into a road closure. Good thing I was on a bike as there was no way I was turning around at this point! There were some dozers and excavators up the road but everything was silent as no one was around. A bit more up and then a screaming fast downhill down to another river. All that climbing and I was now at the same elevation as the Dargo River. Hmmm. I decided to get some water and have a bit of a relax in the cold river before doing the big climb out, and lots of ups and downs before getting over to the next big valley. It was quite pretty coming into Swift's Creek with the grazed pastures in a beautiful setting. After Swift's Creek there just didn't look like many options to camp for at least a good 30km so, I decided to call it a day. I picked up some supplies and found a local free campground which also had hot showers! This was a treat and it was nice to pack things in early, get some food into me, and get a good night sleep.

Day 9 - Swift's Creek to Tin Mine Hut - 127km
This was a good travel day as I was trying to get to Tin Mine Hut or maybe even go further. The weather was again fabulous and my bike was the lightest it had been all trip and I could tell. I also (finally) checked my tyres the night before and my rear was quite soft so, put some air in to make the climbs a bit easier. I should have picked up a bit more supplies the day before as I had a big supper and didn't actually have much left. I had some cheese and salami and a few other small items and that was it. As the shop didn't open for at least another hour, I headed out onto a nice flat road that was absent of cars. A little turnoff up the valley and then to the start of a 1000m constant grade climb. It was pretty hot and exposed going up but I just kept at it and knew that this was just the start. Although I would gain that 1000m right away, I'd have quite a few more shorter climbs of 100-300m peaking me out at 1600m elevation and that would add up to around 3000m total for the day. There were actually a few vehicles moving about up high with all of them towing horse trailers and going to or from riding. Over almost the entire trip, the number of vehicles and people I saw were so minimal that if I did have a breakdown of some kind, it would be hours or days for someone to randomly pass by. It was a good thing that I had arranged to have an emergency beacon with me in case things did go south.
I rode a fun track called Native Cat Track which dropped me down at limestone road where I would be going back on my tracks to Tin Mine Hut. This meant that I would get to ride the Cowombat track again in the opposite direction to Cowombat flat which, again, was such a good section and definitely a highlight. Crossing the Murray river, I was now back in Kosciuszko National Park and getting closer to home. From here, there were two options out and I decided to check out the one that I did not do on the way out; this was a bad decision. The climb out of Cowambat flat was mostly a hike-a-bike of about 300m and the top, while beautiful on the snow gums trail, was so slow due to the surface being lumpy grass. After travelling so well and quick throughout the day, this hike-a-bike and lumpy trail were painful mentally. I finally got back on the main trail and it was a fun, mostly downhill cruise in to Tin Mine Hut. When I arrived, there were a lot of people there and it was also New Years Eve. I actually met some of the same hikers that were at Valentine's hut several days earlier who were now there and had friends hike in from Thredbo with them to spend New Years. Lots of good people and it was a good night. We stayed up until 10 and brought in the New Year on New Zealand time and then packed it in.

Day 10 - Tin Mine Hut to Jindabyne - 66km
At this point, I knew I wasn't making it back to Canberra so, just wanted to get out to Jindabyne and then figure out how to get back home from there. I could take another day off work and ride the 177km road ride back home in a day but the road is busy and riding that section of road would suck. So, just get to Jindabyne was the plan. I should mention that I had almost no food left. I had a coffee with my last bit of MCT oil for breakfast, and had a small piece of cheese and salami for the day. I literally had nothing else left. 
I said goodbye to everyone and headed out in the sunshine to Tin Mine Trail. Now, I thought that today was going to be relatively easy. But, au contraire. Tin Mine was a small lumpy grass track that was hard work going up, and you still had to pedal going down as it was so slow. To top it off, there were some dozers re-grading parts of the trail so when it wasn't lumpy, it was bumpy serrations from the dozers tracks. I also did not look very closely at the elevation profile and missed the 800m descent and subsequent 600m climb/hike-a-bike up the other side.
When I finally got up, I was in a new mix of roads that didn't quite jive with my map, and google maps was taking me to private property. After some swearing and wasted time, I finally made my way over to Barry Way and the tarmac that would take me into Jindabyne. Upon arrival, I was pretty happy to call it a day and leave the trip at that. I picked up some food and relaxed down on the lakeside to enjoy the views and start to reminisce over the adventures I had just been on. I secured a room for the night and ran into a friend who could give me a lift back to Canberra the next morning which worked out great. Then, after a two hour car ride in the morning, right to work in a haze that only occurs after a big trip where suddenly you are back in 'reality' and it was like nothing ever happened.
'How was your break?'
'Yeah, it was good'
And back to my desk...

The End!

This trip was so many things: Amazing, tough, fun, challenging, character building, difficult, relaxing, and everything in between. It really had all the checks of a great trip overall as the tough moments seem to define the journey the most sometimes and allow the highs to be higher.

In the end, I covered around 1000km with something like 20,000m of climbing. See my route here:
Todd's 10 Day Bikepacking Route

Trials and Tribulations

What type of Track?
Most of the trip would be on dirt roads/tracks as there is very little dedicated singletrack here in Australia for either hiking or cycling. However, the tracks would range from a double wide full nice gravel track, to a single width full track, to a small vehicle track, and to what I like to call single double track which was generally the most fun as you would have to pick one or the other and would be constrained to each due to the vegetation or materials in between them (and I would be constantly trying to pick the better one although the grass is usually greener on the other side :) ).

Watch out for Sticks!
Many of the backroads (especially those that are gated) are full of woody debris; lots of bark and sticks from the surrounding Gum trees (Eucalyptus). The easiest way to end your ride early is to get one of these into your wheel and break your spokes and/or tear your rear derailleur off. Thus, it is paramount that you are constantly scanning the trail (especially on fast descents) for sticks that are not perpendicular to your line of travel (perpendicular good; parallel very bad!). I was very diligent about this the entire trip.

Watch out for Snakes!
I saw three black snakes on my trip all in the first two days. They like to hang out in the sun on the roads and yes, look just like sticks. So, while you're scanning for things that will snap your rear wheel, you're also watching out for those sticks that may rear up to bite if you were so unfortunate!

Plan your water
While on a bike you are covering much more ground than hiking, you still need to check ahead and see where your next water will be. At the start of the trip, I was simply carrying too much. After the 3rd day, I tried to only carry two litres and only more if I had some huge amounts of climbs and limited water sources. Over the 10 days, it was hot and sometimes sweltering with lots of mid 30s temps doing big exposed climbs in the middle of the day. I was drinking at least 10 litres per day with some closer to 13 or even 15. That is way more water than I'd ever drink but when you are outside and exposed for so long, that's just what I was doing. My electrolyte powders were being well used!

Keep your skin out of the sun!
Here in Australia, it can be quite normal in the summer for the UV index to be above 12. In fact today, there is nowhere in all of Australia that has an index of less than 12 at noon. Anything above 3 is recommended to have sun protection measures. Thus, you really have to cover up here. On the bike, I almost always use white sun sleeves to keep the sun off and avoid having to carry and supply copious amounts of sunscreen. For my neck, I ended up using a white bandana that was attached to my helmet and this worked so well that I never had to use sunscreen on my neck and the bandana could also be used to wipe off my glasses or the sweat pouring down my face on a hot climb!

Did your bike break?
No! It lasted great although I did significantly lighten my load over the trip. I did a gear dump at the end of day three in Thredbo and carried less food and water which made things easier going. For the trip I did, having a dual suspension bike was just great. Yes it would be slower on the climbs compared to a hardtail or rigid but was so much more comfortable on the rough trails and let me absolutely open up on the descents (especially with all the extra weight carrying me down)! So, it really depends on what type of trip you're doing but for this trip, the dually was the ticket. My only complaint would be that I have a full lockout for the rear shock like I did on the front to make some climbs easier.

How about that bikepacking kit?
My kit was outstanding for the entire trip. I have a mix of Relevate and Blackburn bags and they did not disappoint.
My Blackburn seatbag never swayed like some others I've seen or tried and just plain worked; it was also super nice to be able to take out the drybag at anytime and leave the harness as is attached to the bike.
My frame bag held all my water like a boss and the top tube bag was well used. While the blackburn stuff is not the lightest out there, it is built to last and I'm sure will be on many more trips to come in the future.

Ketogenic Stuff

While I took way too much food at the start of the trip, the food I did take was great. As it was so hot over the duration of the trip, I had a lot of long moments (up to 5 hours) where I ate nothing and just focused on keeping my water and electrolyte levels up. In fact, there were a lot of times where I just wasn't hungry. I've never drank so much water with at least 10 litres of day coming in and limited pit stops telling me that, at the least, I wasn't getting too much. If you don't know much about keto and endurance, here are the main points about the diet and what happens when you're on it:

  • The purpose of a ketogenic diet is to be in a constant state of 'ketosis' where the body produces ketones in the body for fuel. You 'HAVE TO' restrict carbohydrates to a very low amount for this to occur (although, everyone is different and requires different restrictions); thus, it is not advisable to go half way (you are either keto full stop or not). I really like how simple this diet is in that you are either keto or not and that any 'cheating' will be physically noticed. I have a blood ketone monitor that I can check my ketone levels with but I don't really use it much anymore once I got the hang of what I was doing. Keep things above 0.5mmol and you are all good.
  • Most organs actually run on fat for fuel but your brain can either run on glucose or ketones. If you flirt with a bit too much carbs, then your body stops producing ketones and then your brain will likely not get enough fuel as glucose is there but in too small of quantities (or you are not keeping your blood sugar up throughout the day and have foggy brain moments). The main point here is that your brain works just fine (if not better) running on ketones than it does on glucose; you just need to ensure that you keep your ketone production up.
  • Once adapted to being keto (which took for me a good 6-8 weeks in terms of athletic adaptation), your perceived output goes down. At least it did for me. I think the main reason for this is that fat is a more efficient fuel and you now require 70% of the oxygen that you used to use for the same level of effort. Thus, a hill that would have me breathing hard before on, I can now have a full conversation; this can make it seem like you're working less hard but the speedo doesn't lie.
  • At first it feels like you have absolutely no 'snap' in your legs for hard outputs. However, once you truly adapt from doing hard outputs, your fat utilization goes through the roof and you get your snap back. Maybe it's not quite as intense as with carbs. I'm really not sure. I'm a bit of a diesel rider anyway so, full out sprint efforts are generally quite rare and thus, this diet really suits me. I'm also not to sure on if I should actually use some carbs during and/or slightly before a race and if that would give me the best of both worlds with the body having high fat utilization and then having the carbs as a type of nitro. Again, this is beyond what I have experimented with.
  • You can go a long time without taking in any food since you have so much fat stores to access. Insulin is the gatekeeper to fat utilization. Keep insulin up by keeping glucose up and your fat stores are more or less cut off. Being ketogenic means fuel freedom from an endurance perspective. Any ride I do now less than 5 hours, I don't bring any food. Seriously, I used to bring some 'emergency' food and now don't bring anything other than water and some electrolytes (I do sweat quite a bit so have to keep them in check). For a long 5 hours ride, on carbs, I would bring at least 1200 Calories with me of bars, maltodextrin mix, etc. So, bringing nothing is such a liberating feeling.
  • You know those times when you push yourself really, really hard and then go to do the same the next day and you get out of bed and your legs are like, uh, really, no, please? And then you get up and do it anyway with your body still saying no at first? Achy, sore, tired legs? Well, I used to know that feeling and it's called inflammation. I don't get that any more. Not once have I felt what I used to think was a completely normal reaction from training and racing. I've raced a lot over the years and have had many many MOMARs and other events where I try after the race to elevate my legs, massage them and other things to help them recover better and feel less sore the next day. After 10 really hard days on the mountain bike with bikepacking kit, a crazy amount of hike-a-biking and long days, I never once woke up to sore legs. Not once. Zero. Nothing. If you would have told me this before keto I would have laughed at you. Sure, they might feel a bit tired sometimes but never sore or achy or hurting; those things are all related to inflammation and that is a byproduct of fuelling your body on carbs which is more inefficient of a fuel, and creates a large amount of free radical damage.
  • Cravings are glucose related. I don't get cravings at all anymore. Sure I get hungry, but I never have cravings. If you think about things you like to snack on, my bet is that every single one of them will be carb related. Almost all snacks are some kind of flavoured carb. Even snacks with a high fat content will also have high sugar as well (like cheese cake). It is so much easier to not overeat and to eat more sensibly on a keto diet.
  • As fats are more dense than carbs, the quantity of food that you consume on a daily basis goes down; in turn, your stomach shrinks, and intestinal inflammation goes down with way less gas produced, less to no bloating if you had issues before, and it just seems to calm your system. I have suffered with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and have had oral thrush (candida which is a yeast that feeds on glucose) for most of my life; I have neither now. It's funny at how you forget the things that used to be normal too. On a recent trip to Italy, I transitioned back to carbs for the first time since being keto and for the first week, things seem fine. After the first week though, I started to notice all these bodily functions happening like some bloating, more gas, and my energy levels being more like a roller coaster as my body responded to glucose/insulin responses. It was pretty amazing and was a good experience to show myself what life was like before. After three weeks, I was able to quite easily transition back to being keto with some intermittent fasting and avoiding carbs (obviously!). It also showed me that having a day off keto is not so bad and it was quite easy to transition back (unless you spend an extended amount of time off of it I suppose).
  • Will I stay Keto forever? I'm not sure and will see how I feel as I go. It's been a long time on it now and I still feel very good (actually, probably the best I've ever felt). If I do go off it though I'll likely never go back to a high carb diet again.
  • Over the 10 days of riding, I lost around 3.5 kilos which I'm pretty sure was all fat. I came in at 86.5kg and looking pretty cut if I do say so myself.

My Best and Worst Moments During the Trip

Favourite trail section - Australian Alps Track from Cowombat flat (headwaters of the Murray River) to Limestone Road. Nothing spectacular but just a great technical track that was fun and challenging both ways. Some great climbs and descents. Cowombat flat was pretty special too.

Most Scenic Section - Mackay's Hut down to Valentine's Hut on Grey Mare's Trail. Beautiful high country in Kosciuszco National Park. Rough, lumpy and slow going on the bike and some hike-a-bikes to Valentine's Hut but well worth it.

Best Longest Descent - After climbing out of Roper's hut looking over to Mount Bogong at 1800m, you have a 1400m descent down into Mount Beauty. The top of this descent reminded me of a video game with steep vertical drops with expansive views, and a track full of logs, cobbles, boulders, sticks and hairpin turns to maneuver around at hyper fast speeds! So fun. If you ever are in the area on a mountain bike, do not waste your descent on the road like all the roadies. Top notch. A bit of a climb out from one river but mostly all downhill and coming out at Rock Pool Road. Epic stuff. Full suspension approved!

Best Short(er) Descent - If you take the road climb from Mount Beauty to Bright and when you get to the top, don't waste your climb on the super boring road descent. Keep going up on the gravel for about another 10min until you reach the powerline viewpoint and the powerline trail going down. Go past the gate and make sure your brakes are tuned. Holy shit! Such a good descent that meets back up with the road to Bright. Biggest smile on my face on the whole trip after that one.

Hardest Hike-A-Bike - 500m straight uphill hike-a-bike on the Wombat Range Track. This was the hardest hike-a-bike that I've ever done and was done after I had already done over 500m on other trail sections that day alone. The approach on the water bars on this 4x4 spur trail were at or over 100% slope (more than 45 degrees). Yeah, f you. It was just almost steep enough that if you started to slip, you might just keep sliding backwards and when you're pushing your bike, your head is below the bars because you're leaned over so much. I drastically underestimated the 4x4 trails in Victoria and will not be so naive again if ever going by there again.

Hardest Section - Mount Murray to Wonnangatta River. This included the dreaded hike-a-bike above. This day started after a deluge of rain the night before making the top of the tracks like molasses. The tracks were steep, and there was massive blowdown from a recent storm. I changed my route because of this and ended up going down Whites Track that had over 100 trees down. Both climbing and descending was almost pointless on the bike since you had to stop so frequently to tetris my bike through multi-trunked gum trees (with a 25kg bike, my core got a serious workout with all the twisting and away from body positioning). This leads into...

Hardest Section That Looked Not Hard! - Whites Track led into Humphrey's River Track which, you guessed it, is alongside a river. However, what was hard to distinguish on my map, was that the track would cross the river something like 20 times (knee deep) and had many ups and downs. As in, cross the river, hike-a-bike 100m straight up, go straight down with brakes on hard and almost going over the bars (can't get behind the saddle with a seatbag), then cross, up 50, down 50, repeat. Yeah. When I was finally finished, I then was at Wombat Range Track for the big hike-a-bike. Note that in some of these areas, there is simply no other option than to push your bike; it's not like I could have went a slightly easier way and ridden. The tracks were steep everywhere and if you had too much gear, you might not even be able to push yourself out.

Tips and Tricks

In no particular order, here are some good ideas that worked well or will work well!
  • Right up front, it helps to have small and lightweight gear already. If you backpack, you'll likely have most of the stuff you need already. If you can get your shelter, and sleeping system sorted without breaking the bank, then everything else should be reachable.
  • I feel silly for saying this as I've never been a super gram counter but borrow or buy a decent scale that measures to the gram. You really have no idea at how much some things weigh until you actually weigh them. I was surprised at how little some things weighed and how heavy other things were that I thought were light. Another hook style hanging scale is also great for weighing things like your bike or heavier items that max out your scale. 
  • A 3-4 L water bladder (130g) is way lighter per how much it can carry vs a 750ml bottle (85g), cage and bolts (45g). Use one in a frame bag or in a backpack and ditch the bottles. Only ever keep pure water in it...
  • However, bring one bottle and mix your electrolytes, milk powder, whatever in it. I brought an Allmax shaker cup that is slightly bigger and heavier than a standard water bottle but it also has no indentations in it and has a wide mouth with no lip. This makes cleaning it a breeze. I carried this in my jersey pocket usually with little to no water in it.
  • Try to get rid of little carry bags / stuff sacs as they all add up in terms of weight. For example, my towel has a mini bag (10g) but I can also wrap up the towel and snap it together with the included snap cord to still keep it together. Sometimes having the bag is worth it in terms of organization but if you can ditch it, then do! You'd be surprised at how much extra weight these little pouches add up to.
  • Don't let anything rattle (especially metal); this is particularly important for your camp pot if you're bringing one. Not only is rattling annoying, but over a long trip, you can wear things down a lot including your frame. For my stove, I wrapped it in a small cloth and could fit it in my pot with the fuel and other items without having things rattle.
  • My Samsung phone lasted super long if left in ultra battery saving mode and still let me take and view photos, look at my maps, and connect to mobile networks. I still used the battery bank but if I was on a shorter trip, I would likely not bring it.
  • The ability to resupply is much easier on a bike due to the distances that you can travel. So, next time, I'll plan ahead better and bring less stuff (food in particular).
  • Bring an extra gear cable! My trip could have ended because of a snapped cable. Next time I'm bringing one!
  • Bring extra brake pads! I almost had nothing left by the end of the trip and my pads were almost new both front and rear when I started.
  • Bring a leatherman style tool with cutters and pliers as they are much more useful on a bike than a Swiss Army Knife.
  • Don't ride through creeks if they'll get your chain or hubs wet. I would either ride super slow or simply walk over via stones; this kept the drivetrain in much better shape with some days not having to lube the chain once. If you're in it for the long haul, then think long term. Same goes for keeping your feet dry unless you have tons of water crossings to deal with.
  • Learn to enjoy cold stream baths. It's great for your muscles and is the only way to get clean after a good long day. During the day stream breaks are great too!
  • Bring some swim shorts next time as you can't always have a naked swim!
  • My for next time trick: have a water bladder that has a large fill opening so that you can get ice when stopping through town. Then, store your items you'd like to keep cool on top! I would keep my cheese and stuff in there anyway but my water filter bladder doesn't have a big enough opening to get ice in. Ice water would have been fantastic during some of the sweltering climbs too!
  • It was nice to have a big waterproof paper map to look at where I was going. While digital is nice and weighs nothing, it's sometimes hard to see the big picture. Plus, if your phone/gps fails, then you always have something to navigate off. Note that I didn't use a gps unless the roads didn't line up right and then I used it through google maps on my phone.
  • I brought two heavier weight tubes as backups for my tubeless setup that both equated to 0.5kg. I had no flats but would still bring two tubes in the future as you would be screwed if you double flatted. However, next time, I will bring lighter weight versions that would be likely 200g lighter for both. The chance of getting two big flats is pretty low so, bringing a heavy-weight tube is likely overkill.
  • I think the trick is to avoid gear duplication. For example, if you're going to bring a pot and stove, use leatherman plies for your pot holder; this would have saved me 28 grams alone and for me, my pot holder is already very light so for you, the weight might be more.
  • If you never need to wear clothes in your sleeping bag, than you could get away with a lighter weight bag. You can always wear your warm jacket to bed and use your rain jacket to cover you legs or zip it up and slide the bottom of your bag in for extra warmth. 

So, that was my trip! 

Would I do it again? Well, maybe. I would love to do parts of it again but modify my route to try and eliminate some paved sections. It was an epic trip and a first for me in terms of length and difficulty. I certainly learned a lot and am already planning on some additional smaller trips with a different setup to try and minimize more weight. This means purchasing some different items but also just swapping out a few pieces of gear for something else or eliminating them altogether while still having everything you need. Hope you enjoyed the read!

Saturday, June 09, 2012

2012 Burnaby MOMAR Race Report

I went into this race feeling pretty good all round as my fitness was high and while I had come down with a cold the week of, I took some time off my legs, tapered properly, and felt like I could put in yet another solid effort. My back has been doing excellent as I have finally figured out the balance I need to keep everything healthy: keep my upper back mobile, keep my hips and glutes loose with massage and stretching, and getting in some solid core work and overall body workouts at CrossFit Vancouver Island (which I highly recommend!). 

For the first time at a MOMAR, I paddled a Think EVO surfski courtesy of Bryan Tasaka through the Big Chop paddle series.  I made it out on the water twice prior to the race and found it to be the first surfski that I felt stable and comfortable enough in to try and paddle in a race.  I also used a wing blade paddle which, while not as capable for bracing and changing strokes as a flat blade, is definitely a faster paddle to use.  I knew Bart Jarmula would be my main competition in this race and being that he put 15 minutes into me last year, my goal was to limit his lead but primarily, not to flip!  I got in my boat and while not perfectly adjusted, it seemed to work fine and I felt somewhat comfortable while paddling it to the race start lineup.  Before I knew it, the gun went off and the race had begun. 

The paddle went quite well as I maintained a steady pace and avoided any chance of flipping by turning the boat into broadside wakes created by passing motorboats.  I stayed in third place and watched Bart slowly pull away adding a bit of time into me on each stroke.  As we were paddling identical boats, it was obvious that the time and skill that he spent in the kayak was paying off.  Coming into the first transition area of the race, he had put a solid five minutes into me.  Time to catch up!

This race was probably the first I have ever done where I actually took it a bit easier through the first half of the course.  I was still going at a good clip but just tried to ease it down especially on the first climb that brought us from sea level to the top of SFU while climbing over 500 stairs.  With this type of climb, going anaerobic would be easy so I really focused on easing down the effort and being efficient.  I made a small nav error which cost me a bit of time but coming into the bike TA, could see Bart departing not too far ahead so knew that I was doing well.  Onto the bike and down some technical singletrack, the Burnaby course had lots of gnarly terrain that I thoroughly enjoyed!  I've been riding a fully rigid steel 29er for the past six months and while I know that I could ride some of the techy down sections faster with some suspension, I have come to love the climbing and all-round predictability of a rigid (geometry never changes, no pack down in the front end or loss of power while standing). 

Then things started to fall apart.  For the first time ever in a race, I decided to try and get splits from some of the manned checkpoint staff. 
"Five minutes!"
I was sure I was gaining on Bart yet at the next checkpoint, I was told I was even further behind.
"Eight minutes!"
I was flabbergasted.  I guess I just don't have it today.  Maybe the cold is worse than I thought.  Maybe this is it, I'm good for second today and that's what it'll be.
I never get this type of jargon going through my head, yet here I was, mentally creating a toll on my body to slow down and accept defeat. 
It wasn't until I rolled into a checkpoint where my good friend and course designer Gary Robbins himself was positioned, that I got slapped out of my defeatist slump.
"Bart is less than two minutes up on you.  Looking good.  Go get him!"
It was just the motivation that I needed. 

I upped the pace, cleaned the Cardiac hill climb, and rolled into the orienteering stage transition area just as Bart was heading out.  I did a quick transition and was off on a similar loop to collect the controls.  For the next half of the O course, Bart and I raced side by side, exchanging places a couple of times with me making a mistake, than me taking a better route choice.

I got a bit of a lead, came into the TA first, and jumped onto my steel steed for the last bike section. 

I felt quite good at this point and put in a big effort to gain as much time as possible.  I rode the trails clean with a good amount of pep which is rare for me so late in the race.  I came into the final O stage strong, picked off the controls in a good order, and just a couple before the finish line, came into an old building foundation where a control was hung in just off the dirt floor.  The wall was a few feet high so I lowered myself a bit and then jumped down into pain.  At first I thought I just hit my quad on a stick and it wasn't until after doing a double take that I saw a hole, rather than a cut, in my leg. It was half an inch deep filled with black blood and looking over, I saw I landed onto a flat rusted piece of foundation metal.  I knew then and there that I would be taking a trip to the hospital. When was the last time I had a tetanis shot?

While my leg hurt a bit, the adrenaline kicked in and allowed me to push hard through the last couple of controls.  I knew at this point that I had first and crossed the finish line all smiles and super happy with how things turned out. I came out of my mental stupor, came back strong, and finished with a solid lead over the rest of the pack to take my 10th overall MOMAR title! Bart Jarmula came in 2nd place and a battle between Norman Thibault and Hayden Earle saw Hayden cleaning up the O course faster and taking 3rd, his been finish to date. 
Overall, I had a great time although was a bit disappointed in the lower than average turnout being that the course was really top notch, and everything from the food, to awards, to venue and after-party was excellent.  Bryan Tasaka really knows how to put on a great event! Hope to see you all in Cumberland in the September!

Gear and Fuel:
Merrell True Glove shoes
Salomon AR Raid bag
1500 calories of Carbo-Pro powder
2 Gels
1 fruitbar
15 electrolyte tabs

Photos courtesy of Martin Teasdale

Friday, September 30, 2011

2011 MOMAR Cumberland Race Report

Back injuries suck. I know. I have had one now for the past 10 months and have had some good experience now dealing with it. While I have had many ups and downs, I think I finally have things figured out. A bit of extra rest, back mobility exercises, core strengthening, and a dash of acute listening for any signs that I might be doing a bit too much was just what I needed.

Being sidelined for Raid the North Extreme was tough, but on the other hand, it put things into perspective for me and also allowed me time to heal and work out a recovery plan. Limiting my time on bike was probably the best thing for my body as the flexed over position of the back kept adding extra strain that my back didn't want to deal with. On the other hand, running has been going well since I tend to do well with my back in a neutral position. Gradually, I was able to add some distance until my form came back to a decent shape and I felt confident going into MOMAR Cumberland that I should be able to put in a decent performance.

The Cumberland MOMAR in 2005 was my first ever adventure race and even after 13 additional MOMARs, I still always look forward to making it back. Every year seems to be the same for the weather as well; despite rain and storm warnings, the day of always seems to manage to hold off and provide a decent window of weather. This year was no exception.

The kayak stage this year was shrouded in fog which added a nice touch of mystery as you couldn't quite see where you were going to go next. I managed to borrow a friends Seaward Quest which is a pretty fast ocean kayak with a relatively narrow beam and with a long 19 foot waterline. I briefly tried out a surf-ski the week before the race and quickly decided against using it due to my inexperience in getting back in after a capsize and not being used to the position which could compromise my back (and race). Thus, I choose the Quest and this boat helped me keep a good draft with the doubles and kept me close to the front of the pack. I had a pretty good paddle and felt fairly fresh to get on the legs once we hit the beach and transition area.

In a twist this year, Bryan Tasaka put in a big trekking section right after the paddle; when I say big, it was a maybe 13km but for some racers, this section turned into a half marathon. After three checkpoints, I was racing at the front of the pack with Norm and Stephan from Frontrunners, Shane And Garth of Team PIT, and Marhsall House and Ryan Pogue who destroyed the paddle section in a double surf-ski. Maybe it was group mentality or the symbology of the map but all of us missed a small track we were supposed to take as we were all looking for what was shown on the map as a road. Whether the track should have been shown as a trail or road was not really what caused all of us and several other racers to have problems though; there turned out to be a short logging spur road just down from the track and this spur road wasn't marked. Thus, we started to aimlessly bushwhack from the end of the spur road assuming that there must be a trail just around the next tree. I knew early on that this couldn't be correct so I decided to climb the hill to the north and see if I could catch onto another existing trail (if we were in fact in the right location, than there should be a trail at the top of the climb). At this point, Marshall tried to get Ryan to follow but in a few moments, I was out of sight. The top of the climb had nothing but an old overgrown logging road heading down. I knew then that we must have veered to far south and that a quick additional bushwhack to the north would get me in the right place. After some cursing and a swamp crossing, I was on the correct track and had racers everywhere. A few more curses and I was off to climb up to control 4. I had lost over 20 minutes and now had some serious catching up to do.

The rest of the trek went like clockwork as I passed several other teams and ended up running into the bike transition tied with Jeremy Grasby for 2nd overall and with Roger and Hayden just ahead of us in the top spot. My transition was clean, I wished Jeremy luck, and started on the big bike climb to catch the leaders. At this point, I was feeling quite good although my legs were a bit on the sore side due to the extended trekking section I did. I caught Roger and Hayden and continued at a good clip to the top of the climb with only a short hike a bike in the steepest part.

Just before hitting up CP12, I tore open my sidewall on my rear tire. Shitty. While I do run tubeless and the stans sealant might have held, the tear was a bit on the long side and I would need to add additional air anyway. I tried to run the tire as is but shortly after dropping onto the Bear Buns trail, I knew that I was losing air and had to stop. A quick tube install and CO2 did the trick but unfortunately, my CO2, being designed for 26" wheels, was not enough to give me enough pressure so I had to use my stupid pump anyway. Jeremy had already passed me and just as I finished getting the tire up to pressure, I heard Roger and Hayden coming down the trail so took off before I was in sight.

My riding was a bit labored after stopping for 5+ minutes but I quickly regained myself and I started to have a fantastic ride. It was now Grasby and I and hard as it would be, I would try to track him down (Grasby is a phenomenal single speed rider who builds and knows his local trails inside and out so catching him would be a big effort). After a few checkpoints, I rolled in and tried to get a time on Grasby.

"Uh, you're in first."
"What??? Grasby hasn't rolled through here yet?!"
"No, you're the first one."

While I was ok with taking first, I couldn't figure out what could have happened other than that he took a wrong turn (which turned out to be the case). I hammered down the last part of the course and rolled into the final TA to complete the final orienteering stage of the race. This section started out very sloppy with getting totally confused with the scale of the map and thinking I was on a trail that I actually wasn't. I wasted a bit of time and soon heard that both Grasby and Roger & Hayden were also out in the 'O' course. I really tried to focus, had a clean back part of the stage and went to punch the last control... where is it! Turns out, some kids at the campground took down the final control so with Carl Coger hurrying over to replace it, I ran into the finish shoot and ecstatically took my 9th overall MOMAR win.

While I wasn't super happy with how I raced with making a nav mistake early on and losing concentration going into the orienteering stage, I was overjoyed that I came through after such a hard effort and had absolutely no back issues whatsoever. It really seems like I have a good plan that is working for me and that it is letting me compete to the level where I would like to be.

Another big shout out to all the awesome volunteers who helped make this event run like clockwork and for Bryan Tasaka who put on yet another premier event.

Gear and Fuel:
CarboPro Powder ~1000 cal
2 gels
2 fruit bars
Ultima Electrolyte Mix
Hammer Endurolytes (~40) yes, 40

Salomon AR Raid bag
Merrell Pure Glove Barefoot shoes

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Sidelined for Raid the North Extreme

Hey Team,
I am injured and will not be able to race Raid the North Extreme. This fucking sucks. Everything since the Burnaby MOMAR had been going well; my training was ramping up, I felt great and was so looking forward to this upcoming race. I had no signs of any problems whatsoever until last weekend when my back flared up during and XC mountain bike race. My lower back generally gets sore during an all out mountain bike race so it didn't cause any alarm bells. The course was super mucky due to torrential morning rains so I decided to pull out of the race to avoid any injuries. The rest of the weekend was great and I resumed some runs and bike rides into the week. Then, one day late last week, my back spasmed out and I was back to square one again. WTF! I went to see my physio who has been so helpful to me at this point, and I found that I do infact have a bulged L4/L5 disc. He has had tons of experience with this injury as he has worked with the National Rowing team in which this type of injury is very common. While he said that I could be racing a short event in as little as a few weeks, doing something like RTNX is just not possible. It is the type of injury that if it occurs (during the race), there is absolutely no possibility of continuing on and 'pushing through the pain'. When your back shuts down on you, you are like a pile of shit on the floor. There is also a very real possibility of rupturing/herniating the disc which could mean years off and never a full recovery. Regardless, I told myself that I would see how the recovery went over the weekend as this occurrance has not been quite as bad as previous ones. Everyday gets better but the fact that I still can't tie my shoe laces from a standing position tells everything. You have no idea how fucking aggrivating this injury has been (or at least I hope you don't). The biggest problem up to this point has been the lack of knowledge in how to go about healing. Unlike other injuries, in a week from now, I will feel great and could go about 'normal' sedentary activities without hint of injury. But, as soon as I push anything, relapse occurs and I start the process all over again. At least I will have some guidance this time around to really know what exactly I should and shouldn't be doing and at what kind of intensity level. Obviously, when I said yes to this race, I had no idea that this would once again occur and this is really a complete surprise to me that I have to write this.

For the team, I really hope we can all find a strong replacement that will be able to completment the team. I will do whatever I can to search for and recommend another teammate.

Again, this totally fucking sucks but I guess this is life.


To My Back,
Why do you keep letting me down. I am here, ready and able to take on any challenges that I may face and when facing these obstacles, you wither like a plucked flower on a hot day. One moment, my whole being is ripe with energy, toes gripping the ground with firing calves, quads and hamstrings ready to let go. The next moment I am a blob of useless mass lying on the floor... all because of you. All this power that you decide to hinder. What's worse is that you blow up at the most inopportune times. You are so self-centred. I cannot tell you enough how frustrated I am in your ability to continually let me down. I hate you. I wish you would leave my life forever. You're a useless coward. I wish you were dead.

However, I cannot replace you so have to live with your petty gripes that aim to ruin my life. You are delegating me to sit on a bus and read books while my bicycle collects dust in my shed. My main mode of transportation and the freedom of my life is now in your hands.

Does this make you feel powerful to be able to control me so?
How does it feel to be in such control?

Can we just talk about this? Really? I mean, what is it that bothers you so? I thought you liked biking. Not to mention running and paddling and climbing and the various other pursuits that we have bonded together with over the years. You never mentioned anything problematic to me before. Is it something I said? Do you want to be a normal person who only walks to and from the car for exercise? Should I start to take the elevator at work? Please talk to me!!!

I'm sorry I'm feeling so bloody frustrated and taking it out on you. Please get better soon so that we can resume the things we love doing so dearly.
Your friend for life,


Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Life, Injury and Suffering at the MOMAR Burnaby

Firstly, it has been a long time since I updated this blog. 2009 to be exact. I think the lag was due to me not wanting to spend so much time in the virtual world of social media and actually doing more things that I enjoy. Like most of us, I spend my working day behind a monitor (two 24" monitors for me) so the thought of getting home and sitting behind another monitor yet again has become less and less appealing; so much so that I try to keep my weekends completely internet free. That being said, I am going to try to keep my blog relatively up to date as I do appreciate a blog's abilility to allow others to follow along with what I've been up to.

2010 was a busy year for me with moving back from Norway, buying my first house with Kim in the beautiful village of Brentwood Bay, doing tons of cycling including partaking in the Island Series mountain bike races and, of course, the Squamish and Cumberland MOMARs.

Moving to Brentwood Bay meant that I would in-effect double my cycling commute from 22km to 45km round trip. So, needlesstosay, I was putting in lots of distance on my commuter bike plus lots of mountain bike riding on top of it along with running three days a week. Then, one day in November, a couple days after a mountain bike incident and the day after I was shovelling snow, I woke up and my lower back hurt. The next day and for the next week I was doing the hunched over old man walk and literally could not stand up straight. This eventually subsided but still left a constant numb pain that would not go away. I saw a physio, two chiros, and a massage therapist over the next five months who all helped alleviate the pain but were not able to solve the problem. The only diagnosis that I was given was that it was likely a herniated disc and it would simply take lots of time to heal.

During the five months, I could not bike much, could not run, and paddling was ok but I could not go for too long before aggrevating my lower back. I was on the bus almost everyday and was becoming depressed (the never ending winter didn't help either). Also, I have had some minor injuries in my life but never something that kept me down for so long. My back would start to feel great but then suddenly, I would find myself back in a relapse. It was a very trying time.

Then, about five weeks ago my doctor recommended that I see a physio who is a back specialist. His name is John Hunter, works out of Shelbourne Physiotherapy, and he saved my life. Ok, well he helped to fix me!

A month ago I was unsure whether I would be able to do Raid the North Extreme let alone do the MOMAR or any other events as I had yet another relapse. I booked an appointment with John but I was not overly optimistic that he would be able to do much. Within a couple of minutes working with me, he explained exactly what my problem was, how he was going to help me fix it and that I would be on my feet running and cycling fine in as little as a week or two! Every other practictioner up to that point had provided me with treatment that termporarily relieved the pain but didn't diagnos or solve the problem.

So, the diagnosis... my upper back was not very mobile and my hip (particularly my right hip) was very tight (both likely due to the excessive amount of biking I was doing at the time leading up to the injury). All this tightness meant that one area, my low back, was doing all the mobility (hyper-mobile) and when I tried to bike or run, my low back would be aggrevated. So, no herniated disc and easy to fix. The solution? Roll out my upper back, stretch my hip area and get some IMS therapy to help release these areas. IMS is like accupunture except the needles are stuck in trigger point areas of muscles and are pulled out after the muscle spasms. Yes, it is a bit painful and yes, you do go into a full sweat but I must say, it definitley works!

After the first IMS treatment, I biked back from the clinic with no low back pain whatsoever. I was sold. It completely made sense to me now that the pain I was feeling was from tight muscles in my hip 'pulling' on my low back during exercise and my tight upper back was putting extra stress on my low back during mobility. I did the exercises he recommended, went back for some additional IMS treatment, and three weeks later I was feeling great. During this time however, I wasn't running but was biking more than usual.

For the MOMAR, I made a decision not to race on the Tuesday prior to the race as I told myself that it would be stupid to enter and potentially re-injure myself. Me to Gary Robbins:

Hey Gary,
...haven't told anyone this yet, but I am not going to be racing. I am doing super well but can definitely not put in a performance that I would want to put in and since I cannot not race, it could be possible to set me back in terms of injury which I don't want to risk for RTNX.

On the other hand, I knew that my injury was not a serious thing (nothing was really broken) and my body was functioning how it should. And besides, I got in two 'solid' runs, one of which was a 4km run on a track (longest run in 6 months), that week so that should prepare me well right? I also hadn't taken my mountain bike out in three months but that's no big deal right? So, two days after sending Gary my race 'resignation', I somehow turned things around in my head all the while Kim is looking at me in disbelief. She has a lot of sense that girl but for somethings, you just have to go with instinct (or have to be missing something up top). Either way, two days before the event, I replied to Gary:

Hey dude.

Will be racing tomorrow. Feeling great and my back has given me no issues over the past week which is the longest it has been in 6 months! Pretty stoked that I finally figured this all out.

That was my long winded catch-up intro from my life going into this past MOMAR. So, yeah, wasn't really prepared for this one, but I was just going to have fun right? I don't NEED to race. I can just hang back and have fun right? Apparently, I can continue to fool myself into this thought which immediately disappears come race time. To be fair, I knew that I would be suffering regardless and was secretly hoping that I would be far enough back that a podium finish would be out of the question and then I would just get through the race and have fun; this is how the race started for me.

I showed up with a regular fibreglass sea kayak and after the gun, fell into a decent pace behind Brent and Sara getting a nice draft off their double Passat. All was going well until about a 1/4 way into the paddle, my right foot went to the bulkhead, and my kayak turned sideways into a traffic of boats. My rudder cable snapped and with that, I had to paddle the rest of the stage rudderless; this wasn't a huge deal as I own a rudderless boat myself but lean turning does not work so well in a boat designed for a rudder and thus, I had to do lots of sweep strokes to keep myself going straight. Bart Jarmula was a rocket on the water and I was glad to see him so far upfront; this made me relax, not to worry about the race or pushing too hard, and so I continued to chat with Brent and Sara.

I came off the water almost 13 minutes behind the Bart and many other racers. On the bike, my legs felt a bit stiff but decent. I did manage to get in 120km on the bike the week prior so knew that the biking would be relatively fine but that I was going to suffer on the runs. The first bike stage was going fine until we hit the steep gravel climb. My bike is currently setup as a 1x9 with a 32 tooth single front ring. While I love this setup on my Salsa El Mariachi 29er, I simply did not have the fitness to use the lowest gear. Thus, I was relegated to walking all the steep pitches and trying to pedal where I could. Having passed several teams, I made it to the first orienteering stage in good time and proceeded to pick off the checkpoints. I had a relatively clean run but could not really 'run' any of the uphill sections as I knew that if I tried, my legs would explode on me.

Coming off the 'O' stage I was informed that I was now in 2nd place! This was both good news and bad news. The good news was that I cut the gap to first place from 13 down to 5 minutes. The bad news was that there was lots of course left and I would now go into full-time suffer mode as I was now officially racing for 1st.

On the bike and into the singletrack, I came around a corner confronted with a trail walker. I looked up, lost my concentration for a split section, and went down hard on my hand and right quad after my front tire just barely hit a small log sticking out from the side of the trail. This incident left me with two lost water bottles full of race fuel and from that point on, the rest of the race started to take on an inebriated blur. I recall riding down the trails 'gear jammer' and 'lower snake' continually saying to myself outloud 'stay focused', 'relax', 'flow' as my concentration began to wane.

I hit up the trek stage and for the first time, had Bart in my sights and as he turned off of the road climb onto the gravel track service road, he saw that I was chasing him down. I passed a walker shortly after who told me it looked like Bart was hurting. I think he said that before he looked how pathetic I looked. We came into transition almost neck and neck with Bart having a slight lead out on the bike. A short time into the climb up and my legs began to sieze. Time for more electrolytes; I was popping them like candy to ward off the creeping cramps that kept wanting to shut me down. I don't think I've ever taken so many in such a short time (about 40 by the race end).

Bart and I continued to battle it out with him gaining on me on a couple climbs that I could no longer muster the strength to climb on the bike. Two checkpoints before the final 'O' stage, we were together going for the control when Bart could not locate his passport and had to turn around on the bike to find it. I felt really bad for him and did not feel great if that was the deciding factor that determined the race winner. However, with nothing I could do, I went on into the final section of the race.

At this point, my mind was crumbling so much so that I did not realize that the final bike portion had been cancelled (no one told me) but this should have been obvious as the O stage was the final leg of the race. I stumbled around picking up checkpoints as I tried to run in my bike shoes and helmet, which I had forgotten to change, and was afraid that if I stopped moving to do so, that I would be down for the count. Going for my last control, I then realized that I had yet to get the now infamous control 'G' which was on the extreme opposite side of the map. At the same time, I found out that, yes, this was in fact the last stage and I was about to be done... minus control G.

I put in the best run I could muster and because the control was an out and back, I knew that if I saw Bart coming the other way early on, that there was no way that I would be able to catch him. I kept running and running and eventually saw the control with no one in sight. Either Bart had picked up this control first, or he had yet to get it. It turns out the latter was correct as on the way back, I passed Shane Ruljancich, who was flying on his feet and determined to podium, followed by Bart and Normon Thaibault (all going to control G). I knew at this point that I simply needed to get to the finish in one piece to take the win. I constantly was looking over my shoulder to see if someone was coming after me and about 500m to the finish, started to have tunnel vision as I was about to pass out.

I literally was about to collapse. I don't mean this lightly nor am I trying to be overly dramatic. Mentally and physically, I was at the end. I had never suffered this hard in any other race and my body was about to shut down on me.

I entered the finish shoot and for the first time in a MOMAR, I turned my run into a walk, gave a pathetic little fist pump, and didn't crack even the slightest smile. Gary was at the finish trying to get that great finish photo, but it just did not happen. I walked a bit away from the finish shoot after a zombie finish photo, decidedly crashed on the ground and didn't move for over 10 minutes. Not sure how I came from not racing to racing to winning other than I dug into a place that I didn't know existed. Regardless, I'll take it!

It turns out that Bart made the same mistake with control G as myself which, had he not, would have surely taken him to first. Shane worked his way up to a solid 3rd overall.

Somehow, after everything, I was still able to get hammered and shut down the bar with the rest of the die hard MOMAR after partyers. Was a good night.

Bryan Tasaka put on yet another great event and continually shows why his events are always rated so highly. Gary Robbins' course was definitely MOMAR worthy and I hope to see more people at the start line next year as the terrain around the SFU campus is very nice indeed. Don't be on the fence next year!

Race Fuel:
Carbo Pro 1200 and powder
1 gel with caffeine
1 fruit bar
~40 electrolyte tablets (yes 40!)
Deep suffering