Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Christmas Ride 2006

Adrian and Julie kindly offered to host this years annual 'Xmas Poof's Ride' from their base in Nywood. Freezing fog may have been shutting down the domestic transport system, with all flights from Heathrow and Gatwick cancelled, but there was no keeping the TCA down! It was a bitterly cold (-3C) pea-souper of a night; a thin layer of ice had formed on both Jon and Al's bikes while they were strapped to the cars for the journey's from Arundel and Hambledon respectively. There was much jumping around the farm yard and clapping of hands to keep warm before the off, from Ad's parents' place, while the final adjustments were made... to the tinsel which adorned the helmets, rather than the more usual technical adjusments the group are more accustomed too.

The TCA Xmas ride is traditionally a gentle, sociable road ride taking in a couple more beers than usual. This year we planned to do a circular route taking in three of the best pubs in the area around Elstead and South Harting. Using country lanes we headed north towards Steadham. The ride was a generally unevenful affair at a slower pace than usual; although it was extraordinarily cold speeding up to get warm seemed to be more detrimental than helpful due to increased wind-chill! Also of note was a bizzare display of Christmas lights in a field apparently in the middle of nowhere, somewhere on a country lane near Iping: A large ring of illuminated tents, fairy lights and festive paraphernalia were strewn around the field with no reasonable explanation. It was an eerie sight with no obvious power source miles from the nearest building. Jon was keen to investigate but the others thought it too sinister - it had a definite touch of the Blair Witches about it - and pressed on to the first pub, The Elstead Inn. Al's first attempt to order a round was unsuccessful as his mouth was so numb with cold he could not enunciate the word 'beer'. However, using the language of internationally recognised hand signals, 3 lagers and 3 bitters where obtained and paid for.

The Executive Committee in Session
(Left to right: Jon, Al, Ad)

As if the festive season wasn't enough cause for celebration Ad pointed out that this was a record turnout for the TCA with 6 riders in force - hearty toasts were made, as is by now customary, to our various absent members and for the continued success of the TCA into the New Year. In truth the first pints didn't really touch the sides and, to the disbelief of the local punters, we were off into the freezing fog again heading for the Three Horseshoes a mile down the road. The distance was covered in record time by Matt - like a horse whisperer Al quietly pointed out to him that the sooner we got to the pub, the sooner we would get our next beer - he shot off like a rocket!

After another swift pint, and more hearty toasts in the 'shoes, it was a fairly flat run to South Harting (albeit quite dark as lights were running low), Al teaming up with Matt to guide the way and, using his new coaching techniques (any mention of beer), coaxed the last ounce of speed out of him! The White Hart was our last stop for a pint (and round of toasts) of the evening; having pronounced 2006 one of the best, discussion turned to activities for the New Year. Ad and Ju move to pastures new over the holiday (Devizes) and a commitment was made to try out this potential new site. With the riders in good spirits for the short ride back to Nyewood a rendition of The Twelve Days of Christmas ensued (up until 'eight-maids-a-milking' anyway, as no one could remember nine). If the ride wasn't good enough then what awaited our return was exactly what six-cyclists-a-freezing could have wished for: Chicken soup with crusty bread; cottage pie; mince pies and cream laced with brandy, and all washed down with a bottle (yes, a whole bottle) of Jura single malt donated to Al on his last birthday by Billy-Bob [Cheers! Ed.]. Needless to say, queue more hearty toasts.

The TCA festive party
(Left to right: Julie, Jon, Matt, Ad, Al, Jerry)

Thanks to Ad and Ju for organising a fitting end to a brilliant TCA year, thanks to Ad's folks for letting us crash at their's for the night. Thanks also to everyone who's come out for a ride in 2006, we look forward to seeing you again in the New Year, and finally thanks to all the readers of TCA2006 for your encouragement; your comments are always appreciated!

...see you on a bike in 2007!

Route Map:

(Posted by: Al)

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Sunday, December 10, 2006

Mount Pirongia Hike

Present: Paul, Kate and Stef (support crew)

Mt Pirongia’s distinctive green summit dominates the otherwise flat skyline of the Waikato plains south of Hamilton. It was on one of the first fair weather weekends in Hamilton, finally signalled the onset of warmer weather. Without further ado Billy-Bob and Kate decided to tackle the local green monster as a ‘warm up’ to the bigger walk in the new year - the infamous Tongagaro crossing - already verified in the TCA log book as a fair old walk!

Billy-Bob dusted off his leaving present from earlier in the year, a compact paper book ‘North Island Weekend Tramps by Shaun Barnett’. He thumbed his way to the Mount Pirongia section and noted from the description it was graded medium, 1- 2 days, well marked footpath. Cautious as ever with his TCA route planning he noted the length and difficulty chapter which stated a medium walk may encounter river crossings, steep sections of track or some travel on unmarked, open tops….travel times could be five to six hours per day. Undaunted Billy-Bob and Kate decided that it was well within their capabilities. As a seasoned walker Billy-Bob was quite confident that walk would take 8 hours, having enquired at the local camping shop just a few weeks earlier.

The Start (Apologies for slack map work)

Mount Pirongia is a modest summit standing at 959 metres (or 3146 ft for the imperial readers) and is probably the most sought after summit in the Waikato. The easiest access is via Tirohanga Track however, those seeking a slightly more rugged round trip, can start instead from Grey Road (S.Barret 2002). Billy-Bob (in true TCA style) opted for the latter. According to the book times the route was the Mahaukura Track from Grey Road to the Summit (4-5hours) and then returning via the Tirohanga Track (3- 4 hours). The astute among you will automatically see that already this medium walk is 9 hours at the upper limits. Stef in her now accustomed role of support crew dropped the pair of intrepid walkers off at the start of the walk at Grey Road end, marked by an unmanned information centre. Both lathered up with factor 30 in preparation for a hot days tramping!

The ascent was gradual at first, very enclosed within an almost snake like casing of rimu and kahikatea trees with peppered outcrops of the nikau palms. The darkness of their enclosure screened to some extent the change in gradient from gradual to steep to near vertical. The moist almost swamp like ground under foot made the intrepid duo’s ascent hard. Although it no longer resembles one, the forest clad mountain was once a large volcano which went someway to explain the dark volcanic humus soil underfoot.

The ascent, Billy-Bob style

After only a brief spell on the track the contrast in walking styles was clearly evident with Billy-Bob’s more efficient lumbering, Shrek-like gate often outpacing Kate’s nimble Ninjaesque traverse of the ridges. The ascent continued and after 2 hours of hard slog in one upwards direction; it was becoming very clear to them the kind of 'moderate' this walk was turning out to be. But, no fear! Billybob had figured that if they made the summit of Wharauroa by 1pm, then it should only be another one and half hours over the second ridge to Pirongia.

After almost 3 hours of further hard slog the summit of Wharauroa was reached just after 1pm, perfect timing. Mount Wharauroa whilst smaller nevertheless stood majestically above the green carpet of forest below like an unlanced boil on the chin of a rugged woodsman. Although this section required the use of a chain already set into the rock to secure a safe ascent, this was achieved relatively easily.

The only Summit

Whilst Kate sat down on the rocky knoll for a well earned breather and reapplication of sun lotion Billy-Bob rounded the corner for a discrete well earned 'rest' stop. It was at this point the sense of accomplishment and satisfaction of nearing their target was wiped from Billy-Bob’s face: The next rocky knoll in the visible distance was not as Billybob had hoped the comforting rugged backside of Pirongia. Sadly it became evident from the DOC sign next to Billy-Bobs legs which read….Pirongia 3 hours that way!. Thankfully Kate was well out of ear shot and did not witness what then spilled out of Billy-Bob’s mouth: A quick calculation of the route in Billy-Bob's head meant that at best the summit would be reached by 4:15pm. This sadly would mean leaving little or no time for the all important lunch stop, let alone an impossibly quick descent to get off the slopes by nightfall! Certainly the initial 6pm return they had told Stef was now NOT possible.

Kate 'n' Chain

After pushing on for another hour in vain hope that their pace would quicken and another sign might appear along the way with the words …’shortcut to summit for f**kwits’ it was decided that the next visible rocky outcrop would be their lunch stop and final stop. At 2:30pm they made the penultimate ridge to Pirongia but alas it was still another hour plus away. Not ever wanting to call it a day it was decided unanimously that it was the best thing to do; the pair sat down and tucked into their sweat-drenched sandwiches and cheesel’s crisps before turning about and taking the aborted route off the mountain. Whilst deflated that the summit had not been reached it would still mean that the pair of hikers could get safely off the mountain by 6:30pm having done a good eight and a half hours solid walking.

The Exit

A further 3 hours of steep descent clambering through the intertwined roots of the spindly spiderwood trees Kate and Billy-Bob finally emerged from the Ents-like forest just after 6pm. The forest opened up into some stunning undulating volcanic hills and meadows dotted with hundreds of sheep who were in a full chorus "Baaa...". Billybob imagined them laughing at their failed attempt of Pirongia but it was he who had the laugh as Mrs.B.B had rung saying they were just in time for the lamb stew she had simmering in the slow cooker – oh yes!

(Posted by: Paul)

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Thursday, December 07, 2006

Forth Road Runner

Technically I suppose the TCA, being an association, is all about group activities. However, it being TCA night with slim prospect of a posting I thought I would mention my solo effort: While away from home in Scotland I like to stay at The Priory Lodge in South Queensferry. Sandwiched on the shore between the famous rail and road bridges, it's conveniently located near the airport and major routes to the north and west, as well as Edinburgh city centre.

The forth road and rail bridges from South Queenserry

However, it's also got a delightful village-like feel to it with a chippy (translation for kiwis: fush & chup shop, Ed.), a superb curry house, a swish seafood restaurant (for entertaining colleagues/customers) and a blinding pub - The Ferry Tap - which serves Dark Island from Orkney, one of my all-time favorite beers. All these establishments offer spectacular views of both bridges and across the Firth of Forth to North Queensferry. This is Home from Home for the seasoned traveller.

What's this got to do with the TCA (I hear you ask)? Well, to justify the Orkney Dark and Queen's Spice chef's special chicken madras I often go for a run up and down the shore. With my legs still a bit stiff from the weekend's Ulverston Xmas Pud 10k I though tonight in particular would be ideal for a gentle run to loosen everything up a bit before my traditional night out. Still not worth a post really but tonight I had a long-held ambition in mind - to run across the 3300ft Forth Road Bridge to North Queensferry and back.

The forth road bridge

Having made a recce the previous evening to determine whether the feat was possible (in terms of pedestrianisation rather than distance), running to the apex and back, tonight was the night for the full length. The evening before was a lovely evening; calm, moonlit night and the bridge offered great views of the famous red rail bridge to the east, and a nice photo opportunity. It was a little breezy tonight, cold - 6 degrees C - and light rain in the air. Still, a spectacular place to go for a quick run before dinner. what's more tonight was the night the Christmas lights are turned on in Queensferry and the fireworks added to the sense of occasion.

The forth rail bridge by night

Must get my hands on a bike next time... and some Scottish friends.

(Posted by: Al)

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