Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Filthy back packers

It takes a special person to be a back packer... Travelling around the world with the absolute bare minimum of belongings and even less money. Being alone in countries where they don't speak the language and trying to ask for directions. Sharing a dorm room with a dozen other people and then having to share 1 bathroom with 20 more. Having to wash the 3 sets of clothes they have in said bathroom with communal soap and struggling to get them dry. 

I have a strange sense of envy when I see them but it is mixed with feelings of pity and compassion. Sure, they may look like a filthy back packer but I bet they have 101 brilliant stories they could share with you. If only they looked more approachable and less, well, homeless. 

Today, I was the filthy back packer... 

My friend is visiting from Australia at the moment and we decided (well I told him) to do a hike up Montserrat. In the past, I have a history of turning adventures like this into what others classify as an 'ordeal' through lack of planning and preparation so he was somewhat hesitant and even sent a 'goodbye' message to his wife before we left.

Despite my preference to do things on a wing and a prayer, I decided in order to redeem myself, that I should be a bit more ready. I made sandwiches and packed a lunch. I even put a couple of cold beers in so that we could enjoy them at the top amidst the wonderful views. I checked the weather (for where I was at the time and not Montserrat) and it said cloudy. The previous days had been spectacular so I was sure it would be ideal. 

When we began the walk, it was hot. Crazy hot. I was dreading the next 4km of hiking. After about 1.5km, I felt a few rain drops on my face and pointed out that some ominous clouds were moving in. My friend disagreed and we continued on. 

After 2km, it started to rain. It was the kind of rain that feels like it could turn to hail at any moment. Huge, fat droplets that are freezing cold. I suggested that we turn back but having come this far, we were determined to get to the top. 

The trail turned into a river of brown flowing water and we were shivering like drowned rats but we pressed on through the mud and slippery rocks. As we neared the top, the sun seemed to come out again and we finished the walk in relative comfort. Then the rain drops did turn to hail. 


Just as we reached the top, the skies opened up and dumped down hail, rain, thunder and lightning for what seemed an eternity. We were freezing and had nothing but t-shirts and shorts on so we did what any filthy back packer would do. We went into a room of vending machines and tried to get warm by the heat from the refrigerator motors. My friend even resorted to hugging the coke machine. 

Water flooded down the mountain so the trails were not an option for our return to the car on the other side of the mountain. Our preferred option was to take the cable car down the mountain and then walk the 6km road back up to the car. Then the power went out. 

This meant that now our only other option was to catch the train down the other side of the mountain and walk the 9km back up to the car. We had no choice. 

We made a run for the train along with everyone else as soon as the rain stopped. As we got close to the bottom of the mountain, as if karma wanted to kick us in the groin, the heavy rain started again and we began our walk back to the car even more wet and cold than before. 

Soaked to the bone, shivering cold and walking along a main road, we decided to try to hitch hike our way back. One car stopped and after awkwardly conveying our predicament, the driver told us we couldn't fit because of the passenger and 4 dogs he had in the car with him. I think he just didn't want to pick up a couple of filthy hitch hikers. 

The rain finally stopped and we made it to the car. I have never been more relieved to feel the hot air coming out of the air vents. Strangely, I still have the reputation of having adventures turn into ordeals. 

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Tour de Korea

A couple of months ago, after a long stint of races, I became a bit fatigued and my race schedule had to change. I was able to take some rest back home in Australia before the Team's next big races at the Tour de Beauce in Canada and the Tour de Korea. I was scheduled for the 'easier' race, the Tour de Korea. This would be my second attempt at the race after 2011 where I crashed out on stage 3.
To be honest, we were all under the impression that Korea would be easier. Even though it only lasts for half as many days, the Tour de Beauce is know for being very lumpy and usually has a strong field of teams in the race. Korea was expected to have a few bunch sprint finishes so the team sent Andrea along, one of the team's sprinters.
Stage 1 in Korea started out in the usual fashion... crazy attacks, big open roads and no breakaways allowed to form. After around 100km, the race somehow split in half. Three of us were in the front half and continued to race on with Andrea sprinting to 10th, but strangely, the other half of the race seemed to have no interest in racing and finished a long way back. We though that this was a sign of things to come.
We were wrong.
From the race hotel, or pretty much anywhere you stand, every direction you looked seemed to have mountains in the back drop. In fact, the internet tells me that over 70% of South Korea's terrain is mountains! Not just small bumps either, but proper mountains. Check out this list of mountain peaks in Korea... You would think that this would slow the race down, especially when the stages are around 200km long, but it seemed to do the opposite. It seemed to inspire the breakaways.
Every stage started in a frenzy of attacks. The first 50-80km was done at warp speed as riders attacked and chased each other down at the front. I would try to get in the break, keen to do well but also wary of how long and difficult the stages are. After trying for the first 50km, it seemed that as soon as I sat in to rest, a small break would just roll off the front.
On a hilly stage of 200km and a chasing peloton of 110+ riders, you would think that it is extremely unlikely that the break would stay away until the end. Despite this, the break somehow managed to stay away and finish ahead of the peloton, sometimes by only a few seconds. It was mind-boggling that a group of 5 guys could out-run a peloton charging at full steam. This was frustrating as it was taking away our opportunities for our sprinter to do his thing.
Due to a couple of difficult mountain stages and breakaways stealing the win, the final stage became our last opportunity to get Andrea into the sprint. It was a relatively short and flat stage of just over 80km which meant that although we could finish fast and fresh, so could everybody else! The final km's were hectic but Andrea managed to round out the tour with another top 10 finish.
So that was the end to the 'easier', Tour de Korea. I don't think that any of us have ever been more happy to see the end of a race. With 1310km in 8 days at an average speed of 40kph and 14000m of climbing, the Tour de Korea is definitely not the 'easy' option.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Time poor

When I was working full time and trying to train as much as I could, I never really took a step back to take an overall look at my lifestyle. My last 4 weeks at home have been a real eye opener to the hectic and time-poor lifestyle that I used to live and that so many people still do. 

Now that I have the luxury of having a little more time, I can take advantage of all the small things that I never used to be able to do such as starting my ride after the sun has come up. However, watching my wife go about her daily routine has given me a new appreciation for the fact that I am able to. 

My wife works full time so spends around 9hrs per day at her work place. This just happens to be a 30-45min drive away depending on traffic. Sometimes she has a meeting after work or catches up with friends for a coffee so doesn't get home until late. Then she has to do all the usual things like cook dinner, laundry etc etc etc. 

This all makes for a pretty jam packed day so if she wants to go for a run or exercise, she has to do it before she leaves for work. This means that my wife wakes up a 4am to go for a quick run before racing around to organise breakfast and prepare for the day ahead. 

Like most people, my wife cannot leave work where it belongs and is constantly bringing home more jobs and tasks to take up what little time she has. When I think about it, I can't believe that I used to do the same thing. 

Because time is such a precious commodity, even the simplest of things can become a nightmare. How do you fit in receiving a delivery that only comes between 9am-5pm? How do you get to the post office to send something between those same hours? How do you find time to go the the department of transport between 9am-4pm just to change your address? How do you even find time to do the groceries?

Take a step back and take a look at your lifestyle... The way we live is ridiculous!