Wednesday, September 27, 2006

In Search of Nessie

Having had a long walk in Glen Nevis in the morning we had decided to push on towards Loch Ness to make camp fo our last two nights before heading South towards Edinburgh and eventually home. We happened upon a Invergarry, on the banks of Loch Oich, and the Faichem camp site perched on a hill (more about this hill later) to the west of the village (Map 1).

With only a rather anonymous hotel in the village as a local option, and with the 'who's driving' debate still unresolved, we once again resorted to our trusty steed in our search for dinner. The first section of the ride was a blast, flying down the hill from the farm towards the road. Our original intention was to pick up the Great Glen cycle route which runs through the forest above the main road. However, a quick recce on foot showed that this was not really suitable terrain for the tandem so we decided to use the main A82 along the banks of the Loch.

After 2-3 miles we found we could pick up the cycle route again at the Bridge of Oich (right), using the tow path on the west bank of the Caledonian Canal (Map 2). This tow path lead the rest of the 4 miles with the canal on the right and the river Ness on the left (Map 3) until it reaches Fort Augustas at the southern end of Loch Ness (Map 4).

This is a pleasant town which has a number of places to eat. We chose the 'Lock Inn & Gilliegorm Restaurant' (above) where we both had venison stew and pints of Caledonian IPA, magic!

Outside though the weather was not 'magic' - it was taking a significant turn for the worse - steady rain and driving wind -proper Scottish weather! This was turning into a proper full-on TCA ride! With 7 miles back to the camp site we both put our heads down and peddled, hard, into the wind. 40 minutes or so later we arrived back at Invergarry, soaking wet, and now we had to climb the mile or so up the steep hill, which we had relished flying down earlier, pushing the tandem. Eventually we got back to the tent, peeled our soggy clothes off in the porch of the tent and climbed into our new, and very warm, down sleeping bags. We made a mug each of hot chocolate in the light of our storm lamp on our new 'pocket rocket' primus stove (Billy-Bob & Da you will love this bit of kit when you see it - a micro-burner with piezoelectric ignition, 96g, Ed.) which we had listening to the sound of rain against canvas. Happy Days - now THAT'S why we love being in the TCA!

Route Maps:

Map 1

Map 2

Map 3

Map 4

(Posted by: Al)

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Monday, September 25, 2006

Neptune's Staircase

We did this route twice on consecutive evenings more out of necessity than in pursuit of a leisure ride: After 6 nights in a tent on Mull, surviving 'hurricane Gordon' and a tortuous drive across the Arnamurchan peninsula we fancied a night in a real bed, and a slap-up brekkie! We plumped for the Glen Loy Lodge (Map 1), an old hunting Lodge which was located away from the sprawl of Fort William in a quiet Glen. However, we had to find dinner and, since we have never been very good at resolving the 'who's driving' debate, the tandem was the only clear choice for transportation.

We took a look at our road map and figured that if we initially headed in the wrong direction on the main road adjacent to the Lodge that we could find a way onto the Great Glen cycle route rather than take the road into town.

As the B8004 dropped down the hill into Gairlochy (just off the top of Map1) and over the canal towards Spean Bridge we found that we could join the tow path on the east bank of the Caledonian Canal (above). We then headed back in the direction we had come from, along the well maintained cycle path, following signs for Fort William. The paths wends its way next to the canal back past the B&B on the opposite bank (Map 2), and over an aquaduct (surely a first for the TCA?).

Eventually the cycle path reaches Neptunes Staircase (right), a flight of locks where the Caledonian Canal drops down to Loch Linnhe (Map 3). Rather than continue to Fort William we crossed the locks here and found The Moorings, a hotel backing onto the locks. The Moorings bar was well below TCA standards (poor beer) but then did serve a nice pint of heavy and had a nice selection of malts from which Al chose low-fat starters before dinner (The local 'Ben Nevis' was suprisingly good despite the touristy name!).

Having eaten a rather ordinary but perfectly adequate meal we went to pick up the bike from the car park, finding that it had started to rain both evenings. Fully waterproofed we set off back to the Glen Loy on the B8004 (Map 3). This was the darkest, quietest road we'd ever been on which made for a very atmospheric ride, all lights blazing. We got back to our B&B, complete with real bath and bed, in about 25 minutes, the shorter return route cutting the ride time in half. Who needs taxis, eh?

Al leads the tandem across the staircase, slowly.

Route Maps:

Map 1

Map 2

Map 3
(Posted by: Al)

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Friday, September 22, 2006

Duart Castle Duo

Our camp site at Craignure, on the east coast of the Hebredian Isle of Mull, afforded magnificent views of the mainland across the sound of Mull and of Duart Point across the bay to the southeast (above, left). While niether of us are 'stately homes & castle type' people we got back in from a busy day's sea eagle watching and fancied a quick cycle-an'-a-pint TCA style before dinner.

We set off out of Craignure on the 'main' single-track road, pulling into the passing places to allow bewildered local motorists pass our machine. We passed the entrance to Torosay Castle and thought about a two-castle ride, but it seems apparent from the local guide books this is more 'stately home' than 'castle' and not really a suitable target of our mission. We therefore pressed on up the main road taking the third left turn out of the villiage

Turning off the main road onto a tarmaced track it soon became clear that we were definitely in Scotland, with Highland cattle roaming the ground of the estate (right). The road undulated pleasantly with twists and turns that made the it feel like a roller-coaster ride. We covered the 2-3 mile route to the castle in just a few minutes, arriving just as the castle itself was closing to visitors for the day.

However, this was perfect timing as we managed to bump into Lady McClean, the current resident and ex-lady in waiting to the Queen Mum! She seem to take quite a shine to us and our bike and invited us to wander the grounds desipte it being out-of-hours. We politely declined but hung around a while to enjoy the magnificent views afforded from the ramparts.

Having taken in the views we set off back up the road and out of the castle grounds (nearly scaring the Lady of the manor half to death as we rattled over the cattle grid). As you can see we couldn't resist posing with some of the residents on the way back to Craignure.

Fortunately the village is blessed with a cracking boozer (right), where we sought refuge from our dehydrated camping diet and 'hurricane Gordon' a couple of times earlier in the week, and wherw we would enjoy a live local band on the following Saturday night. This evening though the Craignure Inn doubled as the TCA watering hole; Tee opting for her tipple of choice when north of the border - 'heavy' (Tennant's 'Ember' 70 shilling on this occasion) - while Al had a pint of the locally brewed Tobermory Galleon Gold.

Trudy trying to spot a B&B on the way back to our sodden tent

Route Map (showing our camp site in the NE and Duart Castle in the SE):

(Posted by: Al)

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Saturday, September 16, 2006

Taupo Day Night Thriller

Present: Paul, Ian, Robert, Mark and Dave

This is the 2nd 12hour mountain bike race to be held this year in New Zealand. Billed as ‘the largest 12hr mountain bike event in the world’, this was like the proverbial red rag to a bull for Billy-Bob.

After much persuasion and group organisation, of which the other founding father would have been proud, Billy-Bob managed to assemble a suitable degenerate rabble for the challenge. The team consisted of Billybob, Ian (old pro from the multi-sport event – see June 2006 archive), Big Robert (of rowing fame), Mark and Dave.

The team (left) travelled separately to assemble down at Taupo, a two hour drive south of Hamilton. This time the team had a more professional support crew in the guise of Stef and Lori, Robert’s wife. They arrived supplied with home made chilli, pasta, salad, garlic bread and various energy snacks, as well as enough camping equipment to make the tent resemble an army mess kitchen.

Having bagged a well appointed corner pitch, the team erected Ian’s tent, and upturned all their bikes to give the impression of a professional team HQ like the other teams (above).

The Race rules were simple; complete as many 8km laps of the forest in 12 hours, in a team tag relay. The first lap was 1 and half times the usual to break the marathon like bunch at the beginning. This required the most experienced rider in the team, and Billybob gamefully stepped up to the plate.

Race off (left) was at 10.30am, the going was good to firm and the weather overcast and dry – perfect cycling conditions. An accident on the first bend saw an experienced local rider plough into the watching crowd and then run over by several pursuing cyclists. His motionless body was carted off by St John’s ambulance on quad bikes. (If only the TCA had such effective back in the past, Billybob thought to himself). The first lap was, as expected pretty slow and bunched up, with few passing places on narrow pine needle tracks. The track was loop circuit, with a gradual, slow and painful first ascent into the woods. followed by 2 further shorter sharp ascents as one skirted the margins of the river. The mid section was more undulating with banked corners peppered with exposed tree roots. The final kilometre saw a gradual descent followed by a more plummeting drop down towards a log bridge, which caused some riders to dismount but not Billybob. For TCA readers the route was akin to the Hambledon Route 2 for the most part wit the final section reminiscent of the Forest of Bastard but without the sand and only a metre wide in place. Lap times ranged from 26 mins (Ian) to 45 mins (Robert) Billybob was happy with a consistent 2nd place around the 30 minute mark.

The day of course was not just for the lycra-clad, glucose gel swigging, shaven legged professional team riders, no, not at all; it was a day of fun, evident by the many examples of fancy dress. Notable appearances this time was the cast from the Wizard of Oz (I’m sure Al would appreciate) complete with Dorothy, Tin Man, Lion and scarecrow (Paul was close behind the tin man for most of his laps), and also the somewhat more risqué naked in bubble-wrap team. This was most off-putting for Billy bob, when he was behind the male members (of the team). Also of note were the crazy couple on a tandem, who cycled non-stop for the first 6 hours.

Dusk was around 5.30 and once again BB was first up to use his new Powerbeam night lights. Everyone else was relying on their Mag light/botched helmet arrangements. Needless to say Billybob’s lights were fitted to bike after bike, elongating the change over routine, although disappointingly they weren’t as bright as his trusty Vista Lights back in Blighty. Laps times remained consistent in the dark hours for Ian and Paul, although the inexperience of the virgin night riders was evident.

The day was long one with some inactivity between rides, which was made even more pleasant by the ready supply of hot grub and tea. The end of the day saw the team completing a respectable 20 laps, 4 a-piece. Billy bob was glad he declined the fifth lap in the final 30 minutes of the race, as if you were not back by 10.30 the ride did not count and the team witnessed many riders who were racing towards the finish only to fail to make the line before the final buzzer.

For the record there were 2 TCA worthy offs, Billybob was one of them. Fortunately the well practiced stunt roll paid off, and no damage done. Five bikes went out and five came back intact. Hurrah for disc brakes!

Post your entries for the caption competition in the comments!

(Posted by: Paul)

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Tuesday, September 05, 2006

SPECIAL FEATURE: A Postcard from Australia

In this special guest posting Simon "Dundee" Cotter, avid commentator and friend of TCA, provides an insight into Mountain Biking in Australia, near his home in NSW. Bowen Mountain lies about 80km west of Sydney and is a joining the world Heritage listed Blue Mountains National Park. Close by is the Wollemi National Park, home to the famous Wollemi Pine. Here is an account of Simon's regular outing.

The Ride commences at the Craigo Oberser- vatory (left), which lies at the northern end of Bowen Mountains (33° 33' 50" S; 150° 37' 15" E) at a height of 469 m. It is an astronomical observatory (telescope: 16” ƒ/7 Dob) of the Astronomical Society of New South Wales. After 8kms or so the trail descends into the Burralow Valley; the track, formed from part of the original Bells Line of road. The Burralow Valley itself has an interesting history: Now a pleasant place for campers, it covers a couple of hundred acres and was Australia's first rice farm. Worked by convicts, the Burralow with its continual spring fed water supply, seemed an ideal location. Nothing remains of the original homestead, although ruins could be seen 20 years ago. Careful riding and observation will reveal the remains of the convict lock-up as well as some road forming.

The trail that desends from Bowen Mountain (right) is a strong mix of rough rock strewn fire trail with nasty sand wash outs, exposed cliff faces which are in stark contrast to the cool rain forests tha exist in the gullys. The descent is very steep in parts and due care is needed with the need to be well over the back wheel, swapping rapidly to a standing position to 'power' out of creeks and wash outs [I hope you're taking notes Billy-Bob, Ed.].

Upon arriving at the bottom and crossing Burralow creek, a continual steady climb to Bilpin is in order. The first 4 klm is steep enough that careful placement of body weight is essential. Too far forward, and the rear wheel will slip, to far back and and the front wheel lifts. Due application to "mind set” needs to be applied as well. The wrong gear or too fast at the start will cause the rider to mis judge and "blow" well before the summit. The ride from Burralow to Bilpin in this first 4 km is exposed, and the track has a “quartz like” look. The reflective element of the sun makes it very hot. 3 litres of water is advised, and plenty of sun block.

Simon's Bike, the "Marie Celeste"

On reaching the top the next 6-8km is a leisurely climb through small gums, and bush. Lunch at a favorite log is usually order of the day (above) before returning. In terms of time the ride can be broken down like this: Observatory to Burralow 20 minutes; Burralow to Bilpin 1 hour; Bilpin to Burralow 15 minutes; Burralow to Observatory 45 minutes, Such are the steep climbs.

There are a number of tracks leading off the main, e.g. Donna track & RAAF track. there are superb views of the Grose river gorges (left) and Mt Banks from the donna track especially. Highlight of the ride are the creeks and convict ruins as well as the stark contrast of exposed areas of track Vs sudden cool of rain forest. Wildlife often seen are Goanna, Brown snake, bearded Dragon, If you are lucky a Glossy Black Cockatoo, Stinky swamp wallaby or eastern Grey Kangaroo.

"G'day. Bonzer! Will ya look at this brute! Jeeze, stand back now kids or it'll have yer arm off!" Simon exclaimed before bracing the mighty beast's jaws open with a branch.

Things to watch out for:- A lot of the track is used by 4wds. Occasionally you will meet an idiot. it is best to be well to the left. Also the sand at the bottom of a decent can be tricky. Depending on the weather the sand can be very soft causing loss of momentum and a spill. Quite a risk if you are on your own.

(Posted by: Simon)


Monday, September 04, 2006

Tribute to a TCA Hero

TCA favorite and 'crocodile hunter' Steve Irwin died this morning in a freak scuba-diving accident when he suffered a blow to the chest from a sting ray. Steve's 'in-your-face' attitude personified that intangible streak that runs through every TCA rider. We are therefore honoured to posthumously award Steve Irwin full membership to the Titchfield Cycling Association; bring it on Steve! Respect is due and paid in full.


Saturday, September 02, 2006

The Great Race

Rowing (TCA maritime log book) 1. To propel with oars, as a boat or vessel, along the surface of water; as, to row a boat.

Take the above then add a modicum of balance, timing, rhythm, concentration, strength, stamina and skill. Put all the above into a bubbling hot casserole and if you get the seasoning right on the day you get a Pinsent and Redgrave Stew! There are many definitions of this sport but to take 8 uncoordinated novices and transform them into a respectable crew within 4 weeks was a tall order for any coach, even if they were a nautically minded individual.

Hamilton City Council (HCC) required a minimum of eight people from their one thousand plus workforce to enter into the Annual Great Race. The Gallagher Great Race is Hamilton'’s very own version of the Oxford v Cambridge Boat Race and, boasting the mighty Waikato River which runs through the city, is ideally placed to host such an event. The race itself is 4.8km in length and takes place between the local University of Waikato Senior Men'’s 8 crew and an international University Crew (usually Cambridge, Oxford or Washington) who are invited over to NZ to compete.

Prior to the ‘main event’ however is the 'warm-up' corporate rowing event which Paul and Stef, along with 6 other rowers were now entrants. The corporate race is 'only' held over a much reduced distance of 250m; "not much!" I hear you cry but believe me, on race day, and pulling a barge upstream, it is no mean feat. Stef was selected for the crucial 'bow' or 'number one' seat while Paul rowed at 'number three', bow side. Both being 'Bowman’s' the coach's decision came as no surprise to the intrepid duo. Four weeks of intensive training ensued - twice during the week and the dreaded Sunday session - following which the coach had at least managed to get the crew to '‘propel'’ the boat with oars. Stef and Paul, along with the rest of the crew had also become familiar with some of the rowing jargon: '‘touching'’; '‘backing'’; and Paul's personal favourite '‘easy oar' which (translated for the non-rowing fraternity) means 'stop rowing'.

In order to appreciate the scale of this achiement, one must step back in time to the very first training session: It was the first time all eight had been together, a real hotch-potch of individuals ranging in height, weight and (dare I say it) motivation. A far cry from the rather uniform 6' 7" frame mighty Cambridge rowing eight. What was meant to be an easy first 30 minute lesson on the fast flowing river but turned into a battle of survival as the uncordinated eight drifted the best part of 2.5km down-stream. It took blood, sweat and tears and the best part of 2 hours, Yes 2 hours (!) to row back to the club house in the dark. Paul wished he had not joked about this being a good night-time event. The cox was not impressed.

The Crew forget who sits where in the boat before the off!

Anyway, 4 weeks after the 'induction night of terror' saw the dawn of the big day. The tension in the air was tangible; the orgainisers had seen fit to move the heats for the corporate racing forward to 7:30am! The Billy-Bob high carb diet of pasta the night before was topped up with a can of Watties (NZ baked beans) with baby sausages at 6am Saturday morning. Stef stuck to the safer option of honey on toast.

The fine tuning before race, Paul and Stef touching on bow side

With eight corporate teams in total the heats were split into two random leagues, the rules being to stay afloat, stay in lane, row a distance of 250m and have a minimum of two girlies in the boat at anyone time. Oh, and to observe at all times good rowing eticate e.g. No unwanted touching in between strokes. It soon became clear that, as our HCC crew only had 5 men compared to every other team's 6 alpha males, we had this obvious strength [Don't you mean weight? Ed.] disadvantage but it did not deter us ("excuses coming already", I hear you cry). First up was a rather testorone-bound engineering team by the name of MWH. After a poor rolling start by our nervous crew the opposition team soon went one boats length ahead, then two lengths. We kept them at two and well.. erm.. lost.

Next challenge was a rather dishevelled team of misfits by the name of Campac who rowed in white. Now then, this was a more even race and, with every muscle and every sinew being strained, our crew managed to control their slide and keep some rhythm. It was neck and neck for 200metres with the panting in the air visible across the misty flat river. Sadly the strength that the crew had nurtured over their training sessions just days before had deserted them and Robert (sat at 'number four') was struggling with the flu and sneezing into Paul's ear every other stroke. We lost that heat too, but only by half a boats length this time.

Half a boats length down, 50 metrs from the line.

Sadly the trend continued and things got worse when big Sean our 'number six' had to go off to collect his kids just before the last two races. A rather exhausted and now clearly struggling side was down to four men and four women. Needless to say the race against the private consultants 'OPUS eight' was a white wash, the HCC crew just surfing in their wake. "Never mind", Paul thought, at least they might take pity and invite us all to their corporate beer tent aftwards.

HCC salvaged a fantastic last race effort for the wooden spoon final, leading - yes, leading - from the start and keeping at least half a boat's length lead on stonger opposition crew right up to the 220m mark. Everone in the boat was using their full leg rowing action and feathering their oars in unison. A fantastic effort it had to be said, which even got the women grunting Monica Seles style for the final 50m stretch. At this point Paul wished he had gone for honey on toast, as all earlier tension just washed through his steely frame as he gave it his all. Sadly the day was not ours and we lost that race too.

It was neck at neck just past the Waipa Delta paddle steamer

Even the best crew's can have a bad day as the Olympic Cambridge eight found out when they lost their 4.8km race against Waikato University later that day; we were in good company. They went a boat's lengths behind from the off and then chose the wrong side of the river to compete, never really catching up the NZ crew for the remainder of the race.

The HCC Crew, left to right: Cindy, Becky, Keren (Coach), Debra, Paul, Stef, Sean, Jeremy, Robert and Big Dale. (Cox Kelly absent)

Good fun all-in-all, topped off by several post race fizzy lagers and BBQ put on by Hamilton rowing Club. We were then asked if we wished to join the full-time novice rowing club with practices 4 times a week at 5:30am and once on Sunday! I leave it to the reader's imagination to guess what Paul'’s reply was as he headed off in the direction of the hot dog stand.

(Posted by: Paul)

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