The Shed…a place where tall stories can be told, a few laughs had, where you can grab a “coldie” out of the fridge to share with mates and if you are motivated it can double as a training gym.
Since arriving home from the Outback a few weeks back I have been heading up the driveway to “The Shed” in the pre-dawn darkness to exercise on my rowing machine and lift a few weights.
Don’t worry, I’m an early morning person…
Over the coming months my exercise regime in “The Shed” will involve high intensity workouts on the rowing machine and weight resistance training in preparation for my expedition to Papua New Guinea early next year.
And rest assured, there will be plenty of hill climbing with a 20 kilogram backpack and I could never go a week without getting in a couple of paddles on the surf ski.
And this weekend’s weather in the harbour city is set to be perfect for all kinds of outdoor pursuits…
The training shed up in the backyard was in full action this morning with a 10,000-metre row to the sounds of Deep Purple at silly o’clock…
As much as I enjoy strength and weight training, I can’t expect to be a 100-kilogram gorilla and climb mountains, but the weight training has kept me going over these past few months…
Hey, keep your fingers crossed that my Achilles tendon that I had surgically repaired earlier this year holds up!
And it seems to be as I start ramping up the cardio exercise and I must say it makes a pleasant change to the weight training.
As part of training for the mountains I am working towards a 100 kilometre-running race (I use the term running sparingly) through the mountains that I regularly hike and that takes place in September 2014.
And yes, that Kiwi brother-in-law of mine is hot on my heels pushing me, again!
I’m also planning to cycle the iconic Birdsville Track in outback Australia in April 2014. It is roughly 500 kilometres in length and the aim is to ride as much as I can on my Canondale 29-er Mountain Bike.
Dream big I say, and of course, live to the motto that “those that don’t think it can be done shouldn’t bother the person doing it.”
With less than one week to go before I head off to climb in New Zealand I spent Saturday morning preparing my gear and getting it all packed away.
It is hard to imagine that most of it will find its way into a 65-litre backpack.
Snow shoes, crampons, my best pair of Italian Leather boots, climbing hardware in the form of carabineers, devices and ropes, and plenty of thermals to keep warm up on the glacier and in the mountains…
But once that was out of the way we headed straight for Narrabeen Lake on Sydney’s northern beach’s, our second home, for a paddle with long-time paddling partner, Bob.
Janet, Annette, Bob’s partner, and Debbie, my sister chatted on the lake’s edge, while the younger “boys” were out on the lake in various watercraft.
TomO even had a paddle in one of the bigger boats, which resulted in a couple of “swims” for him!
And crikey, how good is the sun setting over the lake – you wouldn’t want to be dead for quids!
I feel like I’ve eaten far too much over the festive season, although I do need to have a little extra body fat as I head to climb Mt Aspiring in New Zealand’s Southern Alps for a couple of weeks.
Well, it is a great theory and the one I will be running in any case.
However, training is back on in earnest, and I was lucky enough to get out for a couple of paddles on the lake over the past few days, despite the weather being less favourable.
Although, being out on the lake is more than just training or exercise, it is great for the soul watching the pelicans glide over the water, and other people out and about with family and friends, just having fun, the kite-surfers, the wind-surfers, and paddle-boarders…
But as time is ticking away I will be doing a full gear check over the next few days, and that will raise the excitement level in our household – it will be reaching fever pitch in another few days!
And of course, Janet and TomO are very excited, as they will be following me to New Zealand a few days after I depart.
You just wouldn’t want to be dead for quids…
And of course, if all else fails, remember, just remain out of control and see what develops!
NarrabeenLake, situated on the northern beaches of Sydney, Australia, is a beautiful sun-drenched oasis situated right on the ocean.
It is a mecca for kayakers, windsurfers, andpaddle board riders alike, a place where you can spend a lazy afternoon with family and friends under a shady tree just wiling away time…
The lake, which is 10-kilometres in circumference, is my choice for kayaking as it has very few power boats on it and it makes for a great change from the daily rows on my static C2 rowing machine.
Without fail, a pelican will glide by whilst out on the lake and how majestic are they to watch, something you don’t get to see on the rowing machine up in “The Shed“.
Crikey, as much as I love climbing and mountaineering, and let’s face it you’d have to if you intend to climb Mt Everest, the other past-time I enjoy equally is just being out in one of my kayaks. Whether it is a training session, or just more of a laid-back paddle with friends…
These days, I mostly find myself paddling my 6.5 metre long Epic kayak, a beautifully crafted and sleek boat which is quite fast, well in the right set of hands it is – but I’m working on that!
Next year this will be my choice of racing boat in the winter marathon series, a series of 20-kilmetre races run monthly for about nine-months.
And no, our winter doesn’t go for nine-months, so I’m not sure how that works out!
Over the Christmas break I’ll be hanging up my climbing gear and heading for the lake with family, friends and the kayaks, to get some training in, and to simply enjoy the smell of the fresh sea air…
Now, I’ll let you in on a little secret, so don’t tell TomO, but he’s got a paddle-board coming for Christmas, so maybe he’ll get it a day or two early, just so he can get Out and About on it this weekend coming. After all, it’s pretty hard to hide it up in “The Shed” with him seeing it…
And after a lap or two of the lake there is nothing better than kicking back and watching the sun cast a golden hue over the water as it sinks into the western horizon…
Anyway, jump on board, I’ll take you for a spin around the Lake!
You’ve got to love the Aussie Shed, a beacon in a sea of green grass, usually found near the back fence on any Australian suburban house block.
I love my shed and even though it was designed to house a couple of cars and all that other stuff that you accumulate over the years, you know, the Christmas presents that you couldn’t stand but didn’t have the heart to send to the refuse tip, they all invariably end up hidden away in a dark corner of the shed.
As a long-term fitness junkie, my shed houses surfboards, more kayaks than you can poke a stick at, a Concept C2 rower and my weight-lifting racks and associated equipment, as well as numerous bikes collected over the years.
Mind you, not all Aussie sheds house exercise equipment, unless of course you count the bar fridge in the corner, which is standard equipment in any shed. Often you’ll see the men-folk doing some elbow bending as they drink a toast to the day passed, usually just around the time the sun is going down over the yard-arm.
Crikey, like a bunch of Cockatoos, high on the fermenting nectar of fruit consumed under a hot Aussie sun, the squawking tends to increase as the amber fluid flows.
And you can be sure a fair amount of advice is passed around, an exchange of ideas, thoughts, happenings, and the odd joke or two. A bit like Speakers Corner where everyone is given a chance to say their bit, to tell their yarn in a not too serious way.
But I’m digressing…
Each morning around 4.30am, or silly-o’clock, as Janet suggests, I make the journey out the back door and up the driveway to the shed. Even the dogs, Milo and Jack, can’t be bothered to get out of their beds, preferring to wave me through. Although, usually after about 30 minutes or so one of them will wander up to see what is going on, but I suspect if they could speak they’d actually be asking for a feed, seemingly oblivious to anything else.
Such is a dog’s life.
Depending on the day I’ll either pursue my strength training, or use the rower for my daily cardio fix and although I would prefer to be out on the water kayaking it isn’t always convenient during the week, so the rowing machine is a great substitute.
I must confess upfront to being an early morning person, I guess you’d have to be to manage a 4.30am start each day, but it does have its advantages. In between the clanging of weight plates being moved, or interval sets on the rower, I can stand outside in the pre-dawn silence and marvel at the stars in the sky, the wondrous universe with you at its centre.
Or once a month watch a full moon setting in the western sky, and if I’m lucky even a shooting star to ponder a thought on.
Strewth, what of the neighbours I hear you ask, what if they don’t share my love of the early morning?
I must say it is hard not to be tempted into playing some heavy metal, AC/DC or Led Zeppelin to help the mood and give that much needed pump for the session. But alas, it is mostly done in silence, apart from a moan or groan under the weight of a squat bar, or the last 500 metres on the rower.
Hey, but it is fair to say, if I head up for an afternoon session, which is more often than not, it is always accompanied by some loud rock or heavy metal music. I’ve always said that Theo, our next door neighbour, is a closet heavy metal fan, so the relationship has never been strained, he doesn’t always say much mind you, but smiles a lot, so maybe he’s actually deaf.
And I’m frequently visited by Janet and TomO during these sessions, which is always welcome, mind you there would never be any chance of that happening in the morning, in fact I don’t think they know what 4.30am actually looks like.
There was a suggestion not too long ago that maybe the shed could be converted and upgraded to have a loft, an upstairs area where TomO and his mates could hang out, maybe even move into as he advances in his teenage years.
You know, a brand new building without the cracks that have accumulated over the years, possibly from too much heavy metal music resonating through the walls, or perhaps just cracking up from the tall stories that have echoed from within – but it just wouldn’t be cricket, and besides where would I put the bar fridge?
No thanks, I like my shed just the way it is, and as the sun slowly breaks the eastern horizon I’m heading to the shed for a row…
And as I do, I’ll leave you with a thought for today, one of my all-time favourites…
“Those that don’t think it can be done, shouldn’t bother the person doing it!”
There are no ordinary moments, no ordinary people, no ordinary lives.
That has to be my all-time favourite mantra that I like to chant to myself, it energisers my mind, body, and spirit whenever I do.
Strewth, I’m probably sounding like one of those weirdos’, but in any case, as I headed to the shed for my first row since falling ill with a viral infection just over one week ago, that little ditty was revolving through my mind.
I didn’t push myself on the 10,000-metre row, preferring to simply let me body find and regulate its own pace. Consequently, this wasn’t my fastest or strongest row, in fact it would more resemble something I would do as a warm-up, or warm-down.
But you know, it didn’t matter, this was one of my best rows ever, after all it signalled my body was getting stronger once again, back to normal.
And yes, as I headed back down to the usual spa bath and cold shower I had a beaming smile on my face.
Truly, even in the face of adversity, there are no ordinary moments, no ordinary people, no ordinary lives…
Chant that mantra a few times to yourself today and you might find that the world takes on a whole new and wonderful dimension!
Crikey, I guarantee that strangers will smile at you, you’ll feel better inside, and you’ll feel empowered to tackle anything that life throws at you…
But of course, if all else fails, simply remain out of control and see what develops…
It isn’t too often that you get to have one up on a crocodile and live to recount the experience, let’s face it, they are one of nature’s most efficient hunters.
And it will always be the one that you didn’t see that will get you…
A few years ago, Janet, my partner, and I lived in Papua New Guinea, an independent Nation just to the north of Australia. During our time there we tried to experience much that the country has to offer, and we travelled as much as we could.
Each day I paddled the coastline on my surf ski, a sit-on-top kayak measuring around 6 metres in length. At the time there were no other craft like mine in this area, if not the country, and it always caught the interest of the villagers’. It was sleek and glided effortlessly through the water…
There was much to explore and the local villages I passed were always friendly and welcoming.
The tropical waters of the Papuan Coast are full of marine life, large stingrays, and majestic turtles, some of the most colourful reef fish you will ever see and of course sharks of many varieties.
I’m pleased to be able to say that the most common sharks I encountered where the black tip reef sharks which are mostly harmless if left alone. And I was often told they are well fed… Just on what and how often seemingly was an unanswered question.
Of course, the tropical waters are also home to the more menacing and much larger tiger shark.
From a hill top vantage point near Port Moresby, the capital city, I once observed the largest tiger shark I have ever seen.
It was following a pod of dolphins heading towards Local Island, which is situated about 3-kilometres offshore from the local beach, Ela beach.
We lived within a stone’s throw of this beach and it was a paddle I did regularly and after this encounter I was left wondering how many times I may have been stalked as I crossed to the island.
Papua New Guinea is also home to the saltwater crocodile, or Puk-Puk as it is known in the local language. I was always alert for the possibility of one of these creatures being present in the waterways I paddled. Realistically, I’m not sure what I would have done if I encountered one, and it is unlikely there would ever have been any forewarning before encountering the “death roll”.
The sight of local villagers’ fishing in the water from the shore was always a comforting sign, as they are also alert for the Puk-Puk’s presence. And normally there are telltale signs they may be present.
Recently, a friend and I were discussing paddling in Papua New Guinea and an encounter I did have with one of these creatures.
It was in the mountains about 40 kilometres from Port Moresby at a place not to far from the start of the Kokoda Trail, a place immortalised in Australian Military history.
I had decided to take my kayak into the mountains for a paddle down one of the rivers just for a change to the coastal paddling I was more accustomed to. During a two-hour paddle I was rewarded with magnificent scenery and a couple of friendly villages along the way.
I had Janet drop me off and I was to meet her at the Kokoda Trail Motel, a small pub, after negotiating my way along the river. I was a little nervous at first and any bump underneath the kayak left me wondering if these were to be my final moments before the jaws of one of these pre-historic creatures crushed the kayak, or worse!
There was an element of excitement about it…
As I made my way with the flow of the river I was observing the muddy banks for any telltale signs of a slide. Places where a crocodile may have slipped into the water from its resting point.
Crikey, in an instant my heart skipped a beat…
There was no doubting what I saw heading my way.
Isn’t it funny how sometimes every thing around you can go into slow motion?
Strewth, this was a moment suspended in time.
Was it to be my one and only encounter with a crocodile?
The final scorecard reading, Puk-Puk, one; Baz, nil…
I’m pleased to say it wasn’t…
Upon sighting my arrival on the banks of the river beside the motel, Janet ordered me a Puk-Puk steak for lunch and it was heading my way, suitably seasoned, and on a plate…
And to this day, the sight of Janet always makes my heart skip a beat!
I had many more visits to the mountains where I enjoyed a paddle, a Puk-Puk steak, and a couple of ice-cold beers with Janet…
And if you have never tried Puk-Puk, do yourself a favour, it is delicious; just make sure it is on a plate…
I have always found there is something very romantic about the South Pacific. Palm trees swaying gently in a balmy late afternoon sea breeze. The sun gracefully sliding towards the western horizon in a warm glow of burnt orange as the sea caresses the golden grains of sand on a faraway beach…
As a boy growing up I was an avid reader of the writings of Robert Louis Stevenson, so it should come as little surprise that places like Yasawa Island were the playgrounds of my mind…
After a relatively short flight of fours hours from Australia, and another thirty minute flight in a small aircraft we arrived at the beautiful Yasawa Island Group in Fiji.
The welcome was warm and friendly.
We enjoyed a lovely dinner accompanied with a few wines, a restful sleep, before heading off for a snorkel this morning.
We weren’t disappointed!
Our week ahead promises to be one of fun and laughter, perhaps romance, with Janet, my partner, and TomO, our 12 year-old son. TomO has taken an active interest in girls over the past few months, and with a couple here around his age it will be interesting to watch…
After all, this was the setting for the movie Blue Lagoon…
Va cava tiko: How’s it going!! (Pronounced vah-cah-vah-tee-koh)
Most days I get out and about and do some form of exercise. One of my staples is rowing, and I belong to a virtual rowing team based in America, with members scattered around the globe.
The Luna-tics was formed by a group of NASA people many years ago with the intention of rowing to the moon and back on C2 rowing machines. Members log their metres whenever they row, advancing the journey. We have been to the moon and back and we are on the return journey.
Currently I am standing at around 15,000 kilometres of rowing over the past 4 years.
But I’m digressing, as usual, mind you if you are a rower we are always on the look-out for “space travellers” to join the journey…
Most, if not almost every day I will do some form of strength training, which will either be body-weight exercises such as push-ups, or chin-ups. Alternatively, I will do all the bigger compound lifts with weighted barbells.
I follow a progressive 5×5 program, which involves 5 sets of 5 repetitions with weights advancing in a periodised way over an 8 week cycle. There is plenty of information available on this style of lifting and it works best for me as I want strength development, rather than too much bulky muscular development.
And when I can I put some indoor climbing in there, or better still a climb up in the Blue Mountains with TomO, our son…
Since this year’s Coast to Coast race across New Zealand I have placed more focus on strength training during the winter months which requires some calorie excess to gain muscle. But over the next 3-4 months I will be looking to cut up to 10 kilograms out of my frame to prepare for the mountaineering and climbs I have planned next year. I’ll do this progressively through diet management whilst continuing with the same exercise regime.
And on other days, if I haven’t run out of my quota of seven, I will grab my “sled” and load it with a sandbag and drag it around the park while carrying dumbbells or do sprints dragging it behind me, even go for a run…
But sleds are an awesome workout!
Of course there is my other passion, kayaking.
We try to spend weekends on the water, especially through the summer months. And this is a family affair at Narrabeen Lake, on Sydney’s northern beaches. Well, Janet, my partner, is more inclined to be lazing around on the shore with the weekend papers, taking a well earned rest from the weekly grind.
She loves being part of it all, but is happy to get her exercise with a daily walk of our dogs, MilO and JackO, which can be quite a sociable affair with lattes and morning tea afterwards. Mind you, she’s first in line for the adventure bits, like skydiving, but less inclined if it involves a “Landy” style endurance walk…which can be a non-stop overnight affair…
If you’ve never experienced an overnight walk or run, give it a go. It is a different world out there in the dark, just pop a Petzl light on your head and go!
And including family is the key to my training. I don’t use a gym, preferring to work-out in the shed at home, and down at the beach or lake, that way we are all together…
And on diet, I don’t stress too much about the actual composition of what I eat, focussing more on controlling weight through portion size. The formula is pretty simple, eat more than you need and weight increases, if that is what you need, or eat less and it declines.
Mind you, I am pretty much a meat and three veggie man, so the diet is fairly well balanced by the time I add some fruit. And Janet is a wonderful (the world’s greatest) cook…
But my point is this, it doesn’t matter what you do, or even how long you do it for, the main thing is you try and do something every day.
Consistency leads to habit…habits lead to life-long health benefits…
But don’t beat yourself up if you miss a day either, just get back to it the next day, sometimes a good snooze under the mango tree is just what the body needs!
Having said all this, I ceased all weight-lifting this week as I don’t want to run the risk of injury ahead of climbing in New Zealand this coming week.
I manage injury risk through daily stretching, weekly massages and chiropractic adjustments. I see these three things as just as important as anything else I do. But Murphy’s Law say this will be the week I’ll injure myself, so by stopping it I can manage the risk. It won’t make any difference to my fitness levels.
And none of this comes easy for me, but I try and look through the daily routine to what it is I am trying to achieve.
I visualise where I want to be.
The brain is an amazing thing, give it a thought and it will simply accept it without qualification. If you tell it you’ve already climbed that high mountain, or run that marathon, or just done a new PR in weight-lifting, it will believe you.
Next time you come to do it, it just happens…well, as long as you put the work in!
Every day I see myself on the summit of Cho Oyu, of people congratulating me on my return…
Believe in yourself, your inner strength and Just Do It….
Well I was excited a few weeks ago when I booked a mountaineering and climbing trip to the Southern Alps in New Zealand south island…
Now I’m bloody excited, you know, like when you can barely control yourself, excited like when you still thought Santa came down the chimney!
After an early morning paddle down at Narrabeen Lakes this morning, which I almost had to myself along with a few pelicans, I headed home for a final gear check and pack as I depart this coming Friday.
Whilst in New Zealand I’ll be climbing under the instruction of Dean Staples who is Adventure Consultants Chief Guide for New Zealand.
Dean is a highly skilled IFMA Guide and has guided many expeditions around the world for the company. These include three ascents of Cho Oyu, two times to Ama Dablam, and the Vinson Massif.
He’s also travelled to the Antarctic Peninsular.
If that all sounds very impressive, get this, this year Dean summited Mount Everest for the eighth time, yes that’s right eight times.
My current goal is to summit Cho Oyu, the world’s sixth largest mountain peak, which measures in at 8,201 metres (26,906 feet). But there is plenty of preparation and training to be done before I head off on that expedition, hopefully in 2014.
Under Dean’s guidance I’m hoping to learn some very valuable skills during my week in New Zealand, or N-Zed, as us Aussies affectionately call it…
We will spend the week in either Westland National Park, Mt Cook National Park, or Aspiring National Park, depending on where conditions are best suited. And as it is still very cold we will be staying in mountain huts rather than camping on the glaciers.
We will fly into the glaciers by helicopter or ski plane and at this stage we are planning to fly out at the end of the week, but that will depend on the weather and aircraft availability at the time, otherwise it will be a hike out.
Our focus over the week will be on crampon and ice axe skills, and crevasse rescues, with a few other mountain skills thrown in for good measure. So there should be a fair amount of ice-climbing.
This is designed to prepare mountaineers for climbing the “seven summits” the highest peaks on each of the world’s continents.
I’m also going back to N-Zed in January for a summit attempt on Mt Aspiring.
What makes this a real challenge for me is that I grew up in tropical Northern Australia, my playground was the Australian outback, and the tropical waters of the Great Barrier Reef.
I was almost thirty years of age before I even set foot on snow, and I’ve never snow skied in my life.
And as I confessed in an earlier musing, I can’t even tie my shoe-laces! But I can tie quite a few mountaineering knots, lucky that!
And what of Everest you ask?
Well let’s see if I can get to the top of Cho Oyu first…but Janet, my partner, has penciled it in the diary already, saying she knows me too well.
For me, I will be very happy to get to a position of where I could reasonably contemplate having a go for it…
And thanks for the vote of confidence Janet…I’m taking it as tacit approval for the funding of that trip if it ever eventuates…
If you’re inclined, I’ll be updating Facebook when I can, check out The Landy there, just click ‘like’…
The other day I wrote about an ocean paddle I had at ‘The Haven’ at Terrigal, just to the north of Sydney. It was a great day, but unfortunately there was little in the way of the ocean swells that can come that way, it was full of promise, but when we arrived there was very little happening…
The Skillion is a prominent feature in the area and is a promontory on the southern-end of Terrigal that commands excellent 360 degree views of the ocean and surrounding beach. It is also a popular whale watching spot and they are currently on their annual migration north…
We had a lot of fun out there, catching small swells and sprinting through to the beach on them, a great work-out for those who would like to give it a go!
And as I had the Go-pro running (don’t you love them!) I put some footage to one of my favourite Aussie rock-bands, TheBlack Sorrows.
And it makes a change to all the climbing I have been doing recently. Mind you there is plenty of that coming up very soon in New Zealand and I’m excited (very excited) about that!
I paddle three different kayaks, one is an Epic V10, which is a very fast boat, especially on flat water, but it is also designed to perform exceptionally well in larger ocean swells. It weighs in at 15 kilograms (33 lbs), is 6.5 metres in length (21.5 feet) and is made of fibreglass, carbon fibre, and Kevlar. And despite its narrow width, it is quite stable once you get used to paddling this type of craft.
The second is a Fenn XT, a great all-round boat that I have competed and paddled the Hawkesbury Classic Bridge to Bridge race in Sydney on. The race covers 111-kilometres and starts at 4pm on the last Saturday of October each year and runs through the night, supported by a cast of volunteers.
And if you haven’t paddled at night under a full moon, give it a go!
Starting as the sun slips lower on the western horizon the race usually has around 600 starters in all kinds of kayaks, and it is a great feeling covering those last few kilometres heading east watching the first strands of light appearing on the eastern horizon.
And after about 11 hours in the kayak you are suffering numb-bum… I’m calling that a technical kayaking term!
Anyway the Fenn XT is slightly heavier weighing in at 17 kilograms (38 lbs) and 5.8 metres in length (19 feet). It is full fibreglass and that is what makes it slightly heavier.
I usually use this for ocean paddling as it is more stable and much easier to get back on in an ocean swell than its bigger brother, the Epic V10.
And yes, I swim every so often when that rogue swell or wave hits you and catches you off guard! Although, when you’re a kilometre or more offshore the thought of a great white shark lurking kind of encourages you back on pretty quickly…
My other boat is a K1 race boat, very old, and I have kept it for TomO, my son, to use! They are typically very unstable due to the narrow width, but extremely fast in the right conditions, and with a good paddler.
The Landy – Out and About had many emails of support this morning. I was a little surprised to find the inbox filled with messages…
I was even more surprised that one was from the good people at WordPress.com informing me that I had been Freshly Pressed!
I felt humbled…
There are so many wonderful stories on WordPress, many inspirational, plenty that are motivational, and of course there are those that give you a chuckle just when you need it.
It would seem unfair that anyone of these stories is singled out…
In fact, I have spent so much time reading them recently that I have a pile of books that I have put off reading, gathering dust in the study…
So to all, I simply say thank you!
In part, my blog is about my journey to climb an 8,000 mountain peak, the trials and tribulations, the warts and all account, but it is also an opportunity for me to provide a window into an averageAussie bloke’s day-to-day life.
The commas may not always be in the right place, or the grammar might be left wanting at times, but hopefully the story shines through…
I chose to share my story because the dream I have, my goal of high altitude climbing frightens me a little.
Who am I that I should dream of such an undertaking?
And there is nothing wrong with being a little bit frightened, but I am determined to give it my best shot, approaching the challenge in a logical way and seeking the assistance of those who have been there, who have the skills, to learn those skills, but above all else to have fun trying…
Since putting my story out there I have received many words of encouragement. This encouragement is the energy, the fuel that powers me on…
Many people are on a journey, pursuing their dreams and it has given me great comfort to know that others are scaling their own peaks, whatever they might be. It is the collective sharing of these stories that demonstrates loudly that ordinary people are achieving great things each and every day.
The legendary mountaineer, Walt Unsworth summed up many of us when he opined…
But there are men for whom the unattainable has a special attraction. Usually they are not experts: their ambitions and fantasies are strong enough to brush aside the doubts which more cautious men might have. Determination and faith are their strongest weapons. At best such men are regarded as eccentric; at worst, mad…”
That first kilogram of weight loss, or a new personal best in a running race, overcoming adversity, or baking the best cake you have ever made, these are the dreams of others, and they are no less or more significant than others, but the one thing these dreams have in common is they provide a starting point for us all to start our journey…
And for many of us the greatest support we receive is from our families, encouraging us to find the greatness that lies within us all.
In the words of someone who inspires me, TomO, our 12 year old son. On taking my place on the start line in the Coast-to-Coast adventure race across New Zealand earlier this year, he took my hand and simply said – Dad, just embrace it!
Today we celebrated Father’s Day in Australia, and we had an awesome day. With Janet, my partner, and our son TomO, we headed to the Central Coast region just to the north of Sydney for some fun at ‘The Haven’ – Terrigal.
Janet’s sister, Leah, and partner, Ray, and their beautiful son, Aubrey, joined us at Terrigal which is an old haunt of Ray’s.
Ray and I have decided to spend more time ocean paddling this spring and summer to help hone our white water skills. This will assist our chances in the Coast-to-Coast race across New Zealand next time we enter and hopefully give us an edge to improve our times from this year. It has a 67-kilometre kayak section, including around 35 kilometres of white water paddling along the Waimakariri River.
Ocean and surf paddling is a good way to assist in developing and advancing white water skills and is more accessible for us than white water kayaking. We have lots of beaches near-by, but very little white water other than the stadium that was used in the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games.
And Terrigal turned it on for us today, we are only two days into spring and the weather was fantastic, if this is what we can look forward to over the next few months then we will be in seventh heaven!
I gave my other kayak, a Fenn Mako XT, a run today, its first in months as it is a very stable boat to paddle. Although it is slightly shorter than my Epic kayak, which measures in at 6.5 metres long, and 42 centimetres wide. Ray was paddling his Beachcomber Barracuda…
There wasn’t much of a swell coming through the Haven and further offshore a strong southeasterly was making conditions choppy, but we made the most of what was on offer spending about three hours on the water.
Ray was eyeing the large hill that shelters the Haven from these winds, pointing out that the stairs leading to the look-out would be good for a cardio-workout and was booking me in for next Saturday morning at 6am. I was thinking of some ‘naughty’ words to use, but simply smiled and said…bring it on!
But hey, happy to put it in the diary as it is a great spot and we can finish off the session with a paddle in the kayaks, that will give me a chance to wreak my revenge on Ray…
And seeing TomO out on the paddle board today having fun in the sun whilst Janet and I looked on was the best father’s day present a dad could wish for…!
Out and About with the family, it doesn’t get much better than that…
Exercise, you have to love it, otherwise you end up hating it. I make it part of my daily routine and it is a lifestyle choice for our family…
I find it provides a great escape, a release valve to the daily grind and pressures we all face, and for me there is little better than cranking up the music in the shed and getting stuck into a workout session!
Most days I rise at 4.30am to row on my C2 rowing machine and I do some sort of resistance exercises using either body weight, or free weights later in the day. Usually I spend around two hours a day on exercise, depending on the program for any given week.
For strength I train as a power-lifter as I believe it strengthens not only the body, but also the mind.
My personal bests are listed here, and I am lifting not too far from those levels presently.
Squat – 175 kg (385 lbs.)
Bench Press – 152.5 kg (335 lbs.)
Dead-lift – 215 kg (475 lbs.)
But I might also grab a backpack, usually weighted at around 30 kilograms and go for a 10 kilometre walk up and down the hills near where I live. I have been increasing this in recent weeks to assist in the mountain climbing I will be doing over the next few months in New Zealand and later next year in Nepal.
In recent times I have been doing 50 & 100 kilometre walks, starting in the early hours of the morning and walking until I get to the finish, taking as little rest time as I can manage. Great for the mind, body, and soul…
And on the weekend I can usually be found kayaking on Narrabeen Lake located on Sydney’s northern beaches with my family. It is a great place to paddle, and nothing beats watching the sunset over the lake after a lazy summers day on the water.
This all fits perfectly with my pursuit of long distance adventure racing, and mountaineering goals I have set myself.
Earlier this year I competed in the Coast-to-Coast race in New Zealand. A 243 kilometre traverse across New Zealand’s South Island, and Southern Alps, running, cycling, and kayaking. A tough, but rewarding race.
I think we over complicate it too much these days. For me it is meat and three vegies a couple of times a day, in addition to eggs, oats, and good quality milk. It is a simple formula really, eat more than you burn and you put weight on, eat less and it comes off…just stick to a good quality diet, it usually works well…
Well I gave away gyms many years ago, preferring to workout at home to my own music!
TomO, our 12-year-old son, popped up with a camera this morning during my session, which I did to a great Australian rock band, The Angels, and he started shooting some pictures for something to do, so here they are!
It is mecca for kayakers, windsurfers, and paddle board riders, a place where you can spend a lazy Sunday afternoon with family and friends under a shady tree…
With very few power-boats on the lake, which is about 10 kilometres in circumference, it is my choice for kayaking and makes for a great change from the daily rows on my C2 rowing machine, although I did get a rowing session in earlier in the day – just call me a creature of habit.
Today started on the chilly side, but warmed into a beautiful day full of sunshine and a cloudless blue sky. A day to good to waste so Janet, my partner, packed a picnic lunch into ‘The Landy’ and we headed to the lake for a training session, a bit of fun, and quite a few laughs with our friends.
TomO, our 12 year-old son, was waiting in ambush, as usual, at the end of my paddle, ready to toss me out of the kayak, but he was a bit slow off the mark and missed his chance today. Just as well, as the water is still quite cold…
Be sure to stop by the lake if you are visiting Sydney, and if you want to get out on the lake, drop in to see Matt Blundell, a world class kayaker, at his boat shed, Prokayaks. Matt will hire you a kayak, or paddle board and get you underway…
There is nothing better than kicking back and watching the sun settle behind the hills casting a golden hue over the lake, pure magic!
It was going to be a dark, wet, and strenuous night, but after months of rigorous training there I was facing the starter’s gun in the Hawkesbury Canoe Classic. Twelve hours and twenty one minutes later I crossed the finish line at Brooklyn Bridge just as the first rays of light were piercing the eastern skyline.
The Hawkesbury Canoe Classic is a paddling race covering 111 kilometres of the Hawkesbury River from Windsor to Brooklyn. The race had its beginnings in 1977 when members of the New South Wales Outward Bound Ex-students Association decided to organise a canoe race along the route they had paddled during their course, raising money for medical research in the process. The first race attracted 250 paddlers and raised $8,500. Twenty seven years later the event attracts over 600 paddlers in about 400 boats and raises in excess of $1.7M for medical research. Of the original 250 paddlers, two have completed every race since then.
The race is held annually in October as close as possible to the full moon. The weather at this time is usually more stable, with lengthy daylight hours. You might be left wondering what the full moon has to do with the race. No, it isn’t some sort of pagan ritual, although being a little affected by a full moon might go some way to explaining why you would subject yourself to this type of gruelling punishment.
The race was originally run overnight to take advantage of calmer weather conditions and lighter traffic on the river. The Hawkesbury is a mecca for water-skiing enthusiasts who are more likely to be partying than skiing on a Saturday evening. It also allows the slower paddlers to make the last painful strokes in daylight.
The organisation of the event is outstanding, with hundreds of volunteers working towards one common goal—the safety of the paddlers and their support crews throughout the event. This was no mean feat, given that 600 paddlers had to be accounted for at the nineteen checkpoints throughout the evening. But it was seamless, a credit to the hard-working officials and the army of untiring volunteers.
So just how did I come to be in this event? Many years ago, more than I care to remember, I was living in Papua New Guinea where I took up paddling a surf ski. A number of my work colleagues joined me over time, and we even had our own surf club of sorts—The Loloata Surf Club, based at Loloata Island. The surf ski kept me fit and provided many enjoyable hours paddling along the Papuan coastline.
Well you know how the story goes, returning to Australia and a new job in Sydney the focus changed and the Loloata Surf Club became something to raise a toast to when the boys got together for a reunion, although the only exercise seemed to be the bending of the elbow and talk of times, enjoyable ones mind you, long past.
A couple of years ago I decided to buy myself another surf ski (they tell me my original is still going strong in Papua New Guinea). It took me another twelve months to translate that into action and at the beginning of this year I purchased a shorter version of a typical racing ski. This lasted me about two months before I outgrew it. It had whet my appetite for paddling again so I decided to buy myself something faster and commit to paddling in the Hawkesbury Canoe Classic. Christine Haywood from Pro-Kayaks, a specialist Kayak shop situated on Sydney’s Narrabeen Lake, assisted me in selecting the right craft, which for me ended up being a Fenn Mako XT.
The team at Pro-Kayaks run a training clinic each Saturday morning and on joining this group I quickly discovered the only thing I knew about paddling was that you needed a boat and a paddle. Whilst still trying to perfect that elusive technique exhibited by the champions I’ve improved immensely since my first session. In fact to the point that I’ve felt confident enough to join the Manly Warringah Kayak Club which races every Sunday on Narrabeen Lake.
But what about the race I hear you ask? In typical fashion I committed myself to the Classic without giving much thought to what an overnight paddle totalling 111 kilometres really entailed. Those who know me are probably saying, so what’s new Baz?
In the lead-up to the event there are a number of familiarisation paddles that effectively cover the whole course in sections over a number of weeks. This was really helpful for me as it took out some of the mystique of what lay ahead. In addition to many paddling sessions, some covering thirty kilometres and more, I spent a fair amount of time cross-training, doing weights, swimming and riding a bike to increase my fitness level.
Originally I entered myself in the Veterans 45—unclassified craft. This group was timed to start last at 6pm. However, on one of the familiarisation paddles someone casually remarked that the 6pm starters was the fastgroup comprising all the serious paddlers. Rightly or wrongly so, I had visions of myself bringing up the rearguard, paddling into a dark abyss by myself and as back-marker in the event. I quickly amended my entry to start in the Brooklyn or Bust category, a group reserved for those who aren’t out to break any records, and as it suggests, just want to make it to the finish line.
After spending the later part of the morning registering myself, having the craft checked (there was no hidden outboard) and my life vest certified, the time had come—I was in the starters hands. Too late now, the gun sounded and off we went.
We had some light showers of rain in the first 20 kilometres and darkness descended very quickly. This didn’t bother me and I settled into a routine, after all I only had to put one blade in after another and pass one check point at a time. The moon came up about midnight, although it spent a lot of time behind the cloud and didn’t provide much light at all.
I stopped at Sackville, a ferry crossing on the river, and the first major check-point in the race. My support crew was made up of Janet my wife, and a long-time friend, Bob Todd. They were a welcome sight as I pulled into refill my water supply and grab a quick bite to eat. The paddle to Wiseman’s Ferry, the event’s major checkpoint, was hard as I was now challenged by an incoming tide. I stopped at Wiseman’s much longer than I had anticipated, in fact my total stop time for the event was a lengthy ninety minutes, however I was running ahead of my planned time and my crew thought they should not push me back out onto the river until I was ready to go.
Leaving Wiseman’s behind I was quite relaxed and felt that I was actually going to finish; that was the plan from the outset mind you, but there is always a sneaking element of self-doubt. I stopped at the pit stop barbeque which was situated about twenty kilometres past Wiseman’s. It isn’t an official checkpoint, but on a bend in the river a small band of men serves you scones and jam, soup, and a hot drink. At 1.30 am in the morning and some eighty-five kilometres downstream from the start it is hard to put into words just how good those scones and jam tasted. They were so good I actually had three!
Rounding checkpoint Q and heading towards Milsons Passage I felt a renewed vigour. Perhaps it was the sense that the finish line was little more than a few kilometres away or maybe it was just a relief knowing that in a handful of minutes I would be able to get my butt out of the boat, either way the last three kilometres weren’t easy. I could see the finish line, but it just didn’t seem to get any closer. Eventually a town crier was ringing a bell and announcing my name, the crowd that had gathered was cheering and there was Janet and Bob clapping and waving frantically—I had made it!
As I stepped out of the boat I was presented with a medallion to signify just that—it wasn’t a fast time, I didn’t break any records, but none-the-less I felt like a winner.
The question seemed innocent enough, and I must confess to jumping to attention like a new recruit whenever I hear the call go out, and let’s face it, on a Saturday afternoon the chances are you will be escaping the lawn mowing that you’ve been promising for the last two weeks. So when brother-in-law, fellow hiking companion and adventurer, Ray Tong, sounded the bugle I was all set. And even the wry smile on his face didn’t alert me to the journey I was about to embark on so I grabbed my wallet and there I was at the back door panting like a faithful dog ready for a walk.
I assumed this was going to be our chance to discuss the possibility of participating in the London to Mongolia car rally conducted by a group calling themselves the Adventurists’ which was a hot topic for us as one of Ray’s work colleagues had just completed it and loved every moment of the journey. It sounded like our kind of adventure…and I was ready for it.
As the beer flowed there was a long and animated discussion about the merits and cost of such an undertaking, punctuated by bellowing laughter of the trouble we might find ourselves as we headed to Mongolia and by about the time the third schooner had been downed I was convinced we would be heading to London and on our way before long at all. But somehow it was all lost in the translation, the beer Ray was referring to was the one handed to you after completing the Speight’s Coast to Coast Adventure Race in New Zealand and as the liquid amber flowed the implication was lost on me!
It is worth noting that ever since we hiked from Sydney to Newcastle a couple of years ago along the Great North Walk I have been wary of the pay-back for the day I made Ray walk double the distance we had planned, oddly enough, all in the name of getting to the finish and a beer one day earlier. Mind you I figured after I had helped lay about 5,000 pavers in his driveway last year the incident had well and truly been forgotten, clearly not – but I digress…
Sunday morning and I was staring down the barrel of an entry into one of the world’s toughest multi-sport events, and not to mention the disapproving eye Janet was casting between me and the knee-high grass in the backyard. Although on the later, Ray had smoothed Janet over already by telling her I was taking the family on a New Zealand holiday in February – thanks mate!
So just what was entailed to get the beer, Ray laid the information out for all to see. And the teasing grin on Janet’s face seemed to be saying, if only you had mowed the lawn instead! I read on.
The Speight’s Coast to Coast has been billed as the world’s premier multi-sport event, and a benchmark by which all other multi-sport events are judged, in New Zealand and all around the world. The race traverses the South Island of New Zealand from Kumara Beach on the Tasman Sea to Sumner Beach on the Pacific Ocean. There are options for a one day event, or a two-day, both entailed cycling 140 kilometres in stages of 55kms, 15kms, and 70kms. Running 36 kilometres, including a 33km mountain stage that crosses New Zealand’s Southern Alps, and finally a 67 kilometre kayak down the Waimakariri River through the Grand Canyon of New Zealand, the Waimakariri Gorge.
I pleaded, even offering to mow the lawn without further haste, but the King’s Schilling had unwittingly been accepted and like an impressed man my fate already had a predetermined path over the next six months. Entries were dispatched and my acceptance letter from Robin Judkins, the man who conceived this event thirty years ago, into the individual two-day event gave some relief and signalled my surrender to the journey ahead.
I’ve never trained for a multi-sport event, wasn’t much of a runner, I had done a lot of cycling in younger days, but an enthusiastic kayaker having competed in winter marathon events and two Hawkesbury Classics, a 111 kilometre kayak race in Sydney. In more recent times I had been focussing on power-lifting along with rowing on the roster of a virtual rowing team based in America. So I had a good base level of fitness to work from.
A visit to the City Bike Depot in Sydney saw me walking out with a brand new Cannondale CAAD 10 racing bike and a wealth of knowledge imparted by Hugh Flower, a previous competitor in the Coast to Coast. In fact I had regular discussions with Hugh on the various facets of the race and he was always willing to offer soothing advice, perhaps it would have been better had he just given it to me straight! But he had me training up and down the Sphinx Track at Bobbin Head, a wonderful part of Sydney’s North Shore, along with some sound advice on cycling. Janet was even heard to quip on more than one occasion that I must be a shareholder of CBD by now after all the money I had invested there.
As time progressed I was actually looking forward to the adventure that the Coast to Coast promised and I threw myself into the training with great vigour. Christmas was always going to present a challenge in balancing training with the festive season, but Ray and I managed to transition this period with little dent to our training regimes, in fact it actually provided some good quality time to train.
By this time we had obtained our grade two kayak certificate, a prerequisite for the event, although we were yet to master rolling in the kayak, perhaps that will come in time! And that brought up the question of kayak selection for the event, would we take one, or hire one in New Zealand? As it turned out Rob Howarth, from Canoe and Kayak in Auckland, a sponsor of the event, was most helpful in this regard and we each hired a Barracuda Beachcomber kayak to use. These boats have proven to be a popular choice for the event as evidenced by the number of yellow boats on the river on race day.
The organisers suggest a familiarisation paddle and run over the mountain prior to race day, so with cheap airfares on offer I headed to Christchurch in mid-January. It is often said some things you have no control over and weather is one of them. I arrived on a Thursday evening, and seemingly my arrival marked the end of a week of fabulous weather and kayaking. Friday was raining, windy and cold and it was against this backdrop I headed off with Rob Howarth and a group of fellow competitors for an introduction to the Waimak. Rob judged that the conditions were not suitable for a kayak through the gorge as the water level had risen significantly in the past 24 hours and the wind was gusting up to 100 kph – welcome to New Zealand!
For me it was a real eye opener as we kayaked the first and last 15 kilometres of the course the race would take, and whilst we avoided the gorge it was a most enjoyable day enhanced by a visit to the Sheffield pie shop, a must do for anyone passing by that way.
The next day was scheduled as a run over the mountain, but the weather was no better and it came as no surprise that the run had been cancelled. In fact, whilst we were kayaking the previous day two groups training for the race were air-lifted off the mountain at Goat’s Pass by helicopter after being caught in the extreme conditions. So I tagged along with Rob for another paddle along the route we followed previous day. The river was completely different, the water level much higher and the flow much faster…
Unable to complete a training run over the mountain I took the opportunity to travel to the transition point at Klondyke Corner, near Arthur’s Pass, on my final day in New Zealand to get a sense of what it was like – it was snowing on the mountains, very cold, and left me pondering whether this beer was going to be worth it…
Having survived the temptations of Christmas only a couple of weeks earlier, a real test was coming up with a planned holiday at Khancoban, a small town on a lake nestled in the foothills of the Australian Alps region. With good intentions I loaded my race bike into the car to enable some cycle training, but on the morning of departure I took it out having decided that with just over two weeks before the event little would be gained from a fitness perspective and the risk of injury was at the forefront of mind. So with that mindset we headed off to Khancoban with our friends and had a great week on the lake, a couple of steaks, a good laugh, and a beer or two!
Fitness is a given for this event and the physical aspect is not to be understated, but often it is mental fortitude that will see you through to the end of a physical endeavour. I adopted this line in any case realising that my training had not been specific enough and too late to correct, so I would be drawing on that mental fortitude to get me across New Zealand’s Southern Alps.
It seemed like ions ago that my entry had been submitted but here we were seated on board an Air New Zealand flight on our way to the inevitable firing of the starter’s gun on Kumara Beach. Once again I was welcomed to the North South Holiday Park in Christchurch by wonderful hosts Julie and Steve Fraser who were pleased to see me back. The park was clearly popular with Coast to Coast competitors with a number of them staying, readily identified by bikes and kayaks atop cars.
One of my greatest fears was my race bike not turning up at the luggage carousel at Christchurch Airport, but it did and in doing so extinguishing another excuse for not being on the start line. The next morning was spent putting it back together whilst Janet headed off to pick-up the Brtiz Campervan she’d organised for our travel.
And who ever said Kiwi’s don’t have a sense of humour? When Janet returned she was in an All-Blacks Rugby Campervan, one that was used during the World Cup series and from that moment on Janet was known as Aussie All-Black, there was no missing us!
With our gear packed into the van we headed in convoy for the West Coast, Kumara racecourse to be precise where we would spend the night prior to the event, pick-up our final registration pack, race numbers, even a six-pack of Speight’s before heading off to the final briefing given by Robin Judkins and dinner at the Kumara Town Hall. And whilst the serious safety stuff was discussed at the briefing, Robin was very entertaining and humourous when recounting past race stories, some of which are now Coast to Coast folklore.
This was the business end of the trip, one last sleep, for those that could, before the silent ride and walk to the start point, Kumara Beach on the Tasman Sea. I needn’t have bothered setting the alarm for I tossed and turned most of the night, as predicted by the old-handers, and before long it was time to get ready. And with one final hug from all Ray and I were on our way, our fate well and truly sealed.
Out of the drizzle and pre-dawn light, in what seemed to be a moment suspended in time, a black helicopter emerged, swooping down onto the beach like a seagull in pursuit of a hot chip, and from it Robin Judkins emerged, megaphone and air-horn in hand. Both Ray and I had been pacing the beach, saying very little to each other, although I probably mumbled bastard toward him at some stage, with a smile of course!
I felt like I should be saying or doing something profound, after all I was about to cross the South Island of New Zealand for goodness sake but I couldn’t think of anything worthy, so I picked up a small pebble and placed it in my bike shirt intending to place it on the East Coast when I finished – I never saw the pebble again, most likely disgorged unceremoniously somewhere along the 243 kilometre route.One minute to go the big fellow bellowed, and in an instant I had an enormous surge of adrenaline through my veins which nauseated me to the point of almost throwing up, but no time for that even, the air-horn sounded and we were off. And I can remember those first few steps I took and thought perhaps this was my profound moment, but I’m not sure why!
The residents of Kumara Junction were out in force, cheery face and clapping as we made our way along the 3 kilometre run to the bike transition, but let’s face it anyone would be cheery in the knowledge you could head back to bed after waving this bunch on their way. Seemingly, in almost no time at all I was clipped into my bike peddles, Ray was tucked in behind me and we were making our way along the 55 kilometre cycle to Aichens Corner in light rain. There was a cruel twist as I cleared the bike transition, a sign that said only 240 kilometres to go!
Settling into the bike ride Ray, who hired his bike in New Zealand, was having some gear trouble and found himself going faster than he wanted to – if only I had that sort of problem I thought! The ride was pleasant and undulating with some small hill climbs. Mind you when I saw the hills the previous day on our drive to Kumara I was cursing under my breath, I thought they said it was flat, but I guess this was Kiwi Flat.
The road had been closed to vehicle traffic for the first 40 kilometres of the ride although we were warned to expect vehicles at anytime, but the last 15 kilometres would be open so the appearance of a road sign warning of oncoming traffic was welcoming as it meant only 15 kilometres to Aichen Corner and the commencement of the run.
The last 15 kilometres passed quickly and in no time I was off the bike and running towards TomO and Janet, both beaming large smiles and clearly happy to see I’d made it to the first transition. They did a superb job of getting me into my running clothes and shoes, and slipping my alpine survival pack with all my sustenance in it onto my back. But it was at this point I diverted from a well laid plan, thought out in the comfort of our living room, and discarded the idea of changing into my running shorts instead opting to leave my bike shorts on for the mountain run. Well blow me down, what a mistake that was and a week later I’m still paying for that spur of the moment decision, mind you it was because of a spur of the moment decision that I was here in any case…
When it comes to training I had done as much running on rough bush tracks as time permitted and some of these runs spanned five or more hours, but I hadn’t actually prepared myself for getting off a bike after 55 kilometres and straight into a run. And yes, it was suggested by the girls that we do this type of training but we never got around to it and here we were slogging it out and that was before we even got to the timing gate!
You wouldn’t believe there could be so many rocks in one place. The terrain had large size boulders increasing from the size of a softball to the size of a car and they had to be negotiated as you made your way up the river valley. Competitors’ in the know cross the river 10 or so times, those that aren’t probably do it twice as many times. Mind you, it was a reasonably warm day and the river crossings provided an opportunity to rehydrate and for this purpose I carried a plastic cup and simply scooped water at each crossing.
Perhaps it wasn’t the gears on the bike that was Ray’s problem as he was now stepping out in front of me, possibly spurred on by the fact that we had been passed by a couple of grand-mothers in hiking boots, bless their souls. He offered plenty of encouragement and I settled into a quick paced walk, albeit slower than his. Realistically very few could actually run the whole mountain, although the fastest time recorded this year was 2 hours 58 minutes, by Trevor Voyce, for the 33 kilometres, but I’m sure he probably spent the last three years living with a herd of mountain goats, for at times there wasn’t even a track to follow.
Eventually it was with some relief that Goat’s Pass Hut came into view framed against a spectacular blue sky. Though I’m not sure I should have felt so much relief as I was only around the half-way point and the downhill was not going to be any easier. I caught up to a young lady named Yvonne, who had twisted her ankle, but still making great progress. With true Kiwi grit she simply said I have to suck it up to which I quipped, with a chuckle, that I was trying my hardest. She had a good laugh and we were the best of mates from that time, mind you she put on a cracking pace despite her injury.
The final section of the run took us down a river gorge towards the Beeley River confluence and Yvonne suggested she had a short-cut and I recall thinking maybe Ray won’t know about it and I’ll catch up to him. I suspect everyone knew the short-cut and it was to no avail as he was at the timing gate to cheer me in from the mountain run. TomO was waiting on the river bed about 500 metres from the finish, I think Janet sent him out on a search and rescue mission as the clock was ticking away and many had finished by this time, but I got a cheer from the crowd as I made my way down the timing chute, and much to Janet’s relief I was in one piece and looking okay, relative to the undertaking of course…
I enjoyed the day immensely despite taking much longer than I anticipated, but equally I was also glad to be sitting in a chair devouring a pie from Sheffield pie shop and reflecting on the past few hours. Dieticians’ might have a differing view on recovery food but let me say for the record, that pie was bloody good!
Prior to the event I spent time researching at length my nutrition requirements and had it covered between gels, liquid nutrition and solid muesli type bars, in fact none other than Em’s Power Cookies, a New Zealand product produced by previous Coast to Coast winner Emily Miazga. But I did struggle to get the solids down on the run and without doubt I was underdone on the nutrition throughout the day – I can see that eating on the run is an art form that requires plenty of training to achieve successfully…
At the conclusion of day one, support crew Team Big Bad Baz went to great lengths to ensure I was okay, constantly checking in on me, in fact Janet is always looking after her boys something TomO and I appreciate greatly. But all I really wanted was a shower and a bit of a snooze. And it was at the point the hot water flowed I realised I had a serious chaffing problem, in fact anyone within a 500 metre radius of the All-Blacks Van would have been alerted to my problem!
I wish I could say I slept like a baby – but I didn’t, and it seemed like I had only put my head to pillow when the alarm jolted me into the start of day two of the event. A 15 kilometre cycle, 67 kilometre kayak, and a final 70 kilometre cycle into Christchurch. I don’t think Janet and TomO actually knew what 4.30am in the morning actually looked like, neither are known as early morning people but dutifully they were up and fussing over me before preparing themselves to head to the kayak transition – they needed to leave the campsite by 5am and down to the Mt White Bridge for the kayak gear scrutineering. Fortunately for me, Leah, Janet’s sister and Ray’s partner, was staying behind with their son Aubrey so I was able to stay in the relative warmth of their camper van until it was time to head over to the start line.
The morning was cold and it was with some relief that we were eventually dispatched in groups of 10 towards the Mt White Bridge on the Waimak River, climbing a couple of hills along the way. The 15 kilometre ride finishes on the highway and it was a requirement to dismount from the bikes and run approximately 800 metres down a dirt road to the kayaks and despite planning to take my kayak shoes, I didn’t and was left to run in my cycle shoes, consequently many people passed me who obviously had the sense to stick with their plans! Before long Janet and TomO were pouring me into my life vest, kayak, and with a hug sent me on my way down the river. This was to be my first encounter with the gorge, an unknown for me, which actually made it quite exciting. Ray hadn’t been on the river at all and due to our different start times he was about 15 minutes ahead. And okay, I’ll fess up that I did think to myself, with a slight snicker, if he falls out I might catch up to him, besides it would have been fun going down the river together…
The first of the braided section was fairly straight forward and the river was quite low which was good and bad. The paddle would be slower, some of the more difficult bits would be gone, but the lower river level would expose many more obstacles to be avoided! I recognised the Rock Gardens, a series of four rapids, seemingly thrown at you as a teaser for the gorge ahead. They had some kayakers in play boats at hand to rescue those who went for a swim, fortunately I negotiated this area with little trouble and was back in to the braided section ahead of the gorge in no time at all.
The gorge was spectacular and whilst this was a race I took in the view between negotiating some of the more difficult rapids, although it was whilst looking around admiring the view that I found myself upside down and swimming alongside my kayak – how’s that for karma, sorry Ray! The waters of the Waimakariri River are usually a beautiful turquoise blue and its name roughly translates to River of cold rushing water and it is fair to say it lived up to its name on both counts. After a short swim I was back in the boat only to find myself swimming about 5 minutes later, and my mind turned to thoughts of being the recipient of a trophy, an old washing machine agitator, which is given to the person who swims the most in the gorge. Fortunately this was the last time I swam, and I must say that on both occasions the river was fairly benign where I came out, the first was just after passing through a fairly large wave train, the second time I can’t even be sure, but clearly I was relaxing too much!
There were numerous jet boats and check points on the river, monitoring our progress and Woodstock was the final checkpoint prior to the kayak finish. Woodstock was about 1 hour from the finish and required you to negotiate braided sections of the river, but the river makes you work right to the end with a couple of bluffs with large pressure waves and boils to negotiate literally in sight of the finish.
I rounded the corner and up onto the beach, TomO was excitedly calling to Janet who was anxiously scanning the monitor board. It turns out that they were sending through race numbers as kayakers passed Woodstock and these were being placed on a notice board, but apparently they missed a number of us, myself included…
The transition area for the bike leg was at the top of a small rise, so after a few hours of having your legs cramped in the boat you need to make your way up the hill and onto the bike. TomO led the way and got me onto the bike and pointed me in the direction of Christchurch and the finish line at Sumner Beach. At first I was just going to head-off in my kayak shorts, but a mental whack across the back of my head saw me changing into bike shorts, as planned!
Ray and I had rationalised that once on the bike it was only 70 kilometres to the finish – yeah, right. There was nothing easy about this ride and whilst the wind was initially coming side on from the south eventually it turned easterly into a head-wind just to make it a bit harder. Fortunately I passed another competitor, Robert from the Cook Islands just after the transition and without hesitating he jumped onto my back wheel and simply said move out when you want a break and I’ll take the lead. We did 5 minutes on, 5 minutes off all the way to the finish line without speaking a word to each other – there wasn’t much to say at that stage and the job was still ahead of us, but we gave each other a congratulatory hug as we crossed the line. The value of teamwork well and truly highlighted.
The ride to Christchurch was via long flat roads and starting about 40 kilometres out there were cars parked alongside with people cheering and clapping as we passed. The crowds got bigger as we passed through the city and the police halted traffic at all intersections waving competitors nearing the end of this epic journey through like royalty, ensuring a clear, safe cycle to the finish line…
A sea breeze was blowing as I rounded the final bend, officials were ahead waving me in and at the ready to take my bike so I could make the final sprint, okay … let’s just settle on a jog, down to the finish line.
The announcer’s call went out, number 4-6-0 Barry O’Malley from Australia… Janet and TomO were there smiling ear to ear, Leah, and Deb were fussing over Ray, who glanced my way with a big smile, and the crowd cheered loudly – I felt like a champion and welled inside with pride as Robin Judkins handed me my Speight’s Beer, put his arm around me and said, good onya mate! This was a fantastic event run by an army of enthusiastic volunteers and the flamboyant Robin Judkins is to be congratulated on conceiving it 30 years ago, our friends across the Tasman welcomed us warmly wherever we went, even if they did take the puss out of us about the All-Blacks van, the camaraderie was second to none, and I enjoyed every minute of it…
And over the din of the cheering crowd I could hear a small voice in my head echoing the advice TomO had given me many months earlier… Dad, just embrace it…