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This contains a selection of my writing and photos from a number of trips I've made around the world.

Our Dams Adventure

June 21, 2016  •  2 Comments

I’ve been cycling semi-regularly since I was about three. Depending on how far my commute was, I’d cycle when I could. I even survived cycling to work in London as it was much nicer than crowded, unreliable public transport.

I moved back to Perth a couple of years ago after almost a decade in the UK and really appreciated the Australian climate which allowed me to cycle more regularly. I was keen to join a group so I could improve my cycling fitness. I’d seen a number of cycling groups around Perth around but felt quite intimidated to find myself out of my depth.

I’d seen a handful of “She Rides” cycling course ads on Facebook. I signed up for the “She Rides Together” course which suited my cycling ability. I could learn about riding in a group in a friendly environment. Our Kings Park She Rides Together group were quiet as we got to know each other. That quickly changed as we went for a few rides.

During our “She Rides Together” course, I quickly learned the techniques and benefits of cycling in a group. Our group of ladies were a terrific bunch. We often stayed for coffee after our She Rides sessions, talking for longer than we actually rode!

Our She Rides group kept in touch after the completion of the course and organised our own rides. We entered the 40km Armadale Grand Fondo the week after our She Rides course finished. Sally and I found ourselves up ahead of the group at a good speed while we were chatting.

I’d heard of the “Dams Challenge”, a single-day cycling event in the Perth hills. I mentioned to it Sally who promptly signed both of us up as a pair before we knew too much about what was involved. At that time, a “big” ride for us would be about 40km. The 3 Dams Challenge is 145km with about 1,800m of climbing. It was only three months away.

The first month of our training was consistently riding for at least an hour, three times per week, climbing hills where possible. We were very excited to complete hills ride of over 30km at the end of January with about 400m of ascent.

We intensified our training effort in February, mixing hills with flat rides to increase distance and time on the bike. Our first “big” climb was up Welshpool Road, around 250m of climbing taking about 30 minutes. We knew it was getting hard as we had to stop talking to breathe enough to complete the climb.

Sally’s partner, Adrian, completed the 3 Dams Challenge last year and took us on some tough weekend training rides he’d done to prepare himself for the event. We ensured we were out for at least four hours in different conditions. We experimented with what to eat, drink and wear for a long time on the bike. It was the height of summer so we’d be up before dawn to ride in cooler temperatures. Sally and I had our individual ups and downs during these longer rides but we worked very well as a team to help each other.

We also needed to manage rest time. We were honest with each other when we weren’t feeling well on a tough ride. We managed our training load to ensure that we didn’t get run down. Leg massages and were required to keep the legs relatively fresh along with the foam roller every day. We both have active lifestyles and made adjustments to our exercise routines to ensure cycling was our priority.

Adrian lead us on the “2 Dams” ride, our last big training ride, a few weeks before the 3 Dams event itself. A 5.30am start, and we managed 110km with 1,300m of climbing. Strava rated it as “Extreme”. It was hot towards the end so we jumped into the river in all our cycling gear to cool off!

The day of the 3 Dams Challenge finally arrived. Our aim was to enjoy it and finish comfortably. The first big climb was Greenmount Hill. We hadn’t actually climbed Greenmount Hill in our training but we felt good on the climb. Several other competitors commented that we weren’t trying hard enough as we were talking too much!

 

It was a great boost to see some of our She Rides friends supporting us along the route, especially at the top of the first climb. It was the hottest day for a few weeks. I was overheating so much that I felt cold. We pulled over to a service station, bought some cold water and poured some over our heads to cool off. I was seriously considering standing in the beer fridge for a while!

After that break we agreed to back off on the pace a little so we wouldn’t overheat. We continued the slog towards Canning Dam, where the road gets very rough. The “2 Dams” training ride had taken us on that route before so we knew what was coming and continued to successfully negotiate each climb. A lot of competitors were suffering in the heat and we saw a number of cyclists lying under trees to cool off.

We finished our last climb out of Wungong Dam and we were thrilled to reach Albany Highway and the descent into Armadale. Only 40km to go! The ride got really hard, it was early afternoon and we could feel the heat coming off the tarmac even more. We knew it was hard as weren’t talking much now apart from swapping the lead rider. We powered on. We had one last stop on the Kwinana Freeway and welcomed some ice and cold water poured over us.

Finally, we made it to the finish at Curtin University. We were elated to cross the finish line and all the pain disappeared with the adrenaline rush. Our supporters took a few photos with our well-earned medals and celebrated with us. It was a fantastic achievement.

Sally and I have enjoyed the journey of our training and the Dams Challenge itself which has cemented our friendship. Our experience of the She Rides Together course a year ago and completing the Dams Challenge has given us a terrific platform to take our cycling further. However, I’m not sure we’ll be signing up for the 3 Dams Challenge next year!


View from the top of St Pauls Cathedral

October 30, 2015  •  Leave a Comment

View from the top of St Pauls CathedralView from the top of St Pauls CathedralLooking south across the city towards the River Thames

 

I finally did a tour of St Pauls Cathedral when I visited London on a recent holiday. This is after I never toured St Pauls during my time living near London for many years!

This panorama is from the top of the cathedral to the south towards the River Thames.

 


Walking from Cremyll to Rame Head in Cornwall

September 28, 2015  •  Leave a Comment

Rame Head from Penlee Point

The English South West Coast Path is a 630 mile walk from Minehead in Somerset to Poole in Dorset. One of my favourite day walks on the South West Coast Path is from Mount Edgcumbe to Rame Head in Cornwall.

The start of the walk at Mount Edgcumbe is easily reached by the Cremyll Ferry which runs the short trip across the Tamar River from Plymouth. The walk continues through the grounds of Mount Edgcumbe, through a deer park and then through forest. There are good views across to Plymouth and the harbour from the deer park.

It's about 5.5km to the twin villages of Kingsand and Cawsand. There are a few pubs and cafes which are open year-round.

 

From Kingsand, the walk extends through further forest up to Penlee Point. It's a clear view trees of the English Channel to the south and across to Rame Head. It's a few more kilometres to Rame Head where there are views right along the south coast on a clear day.

Rame Head

Return the same way from Rame Head to Cremyll which will probably take a couple of hours' walk. Enjoy a well-earned icecream or pint on the shorefront while you wait for the Cremyll ferry to provide transport back across the Tamar River to Plymouth. 

The total distance from Cremyll to Rame Head and back is about 20km which means the walk will take around 4 hours to complete. Allow time for stopping for views and pubs!


Moving back to Australia - one year later

June 06, 2015  •  1 Comment

About a year ago, I arrived back in Perth after 9 years in the UK. It's taken a while to adjust back to the Australian way of life.

Here's some things I've noticed while I've settled in Australia:

Lifestyle

  • An incredibly laid back lifestyle. 
  • Most people say "thank you" when they get off the bus, even in peak hour!
  • A traffic jam is anything over 10 cars (and sometimes even less).
  • A "really crowded" train or bus is when there are no spare seats available.

Weather

  • The relief at the end of summer when the daytime temperature drops below 30 degrees and night temperature below 20 degrees.
  • Related to the end of summer: getting excited when it actually rains after months of hot, dry, dusty weather.
  • If it does rain, don't even attempt to go outside as it's too wet. Unable to find umbrellas or rain coats as they haven't been used for months. Chances are it won't rain tomorrow anyway.
  • Any daytime temperature below 20 degrees is "freezing".
  • Relief at the end of "winter" when it's finally getting above 30 degrees. Winter only lasts a month or two anyway.

Language

  • The greeting "How's it going?" without expecting a response.
  • The "Australian Salute" (ie. swishing away flies buzzing around your face)
  • Bogans. The Australian equivalent of chavs. Also "cashed up bogans".
  • Places are called really obvious names:
    • Great Sandy Desert
    • Shark Bay
    • Great Dividing Range
    • Great Barrier Reef
  • FIFO = Fly-in Fly-out. A worker who commutes via plane to their remote work site.
  • The Australian accent. Adam Hills explains: http://youtu.be/KpBYnL5fAXE

Clothing

  • It's perfectly acceptable to take off your thongs (ie. flip-flops) and walk around someone's house barefoot. Especially on a hot day.
  • Dressing up means not wearing thongs (ie. flip-flops).
  • Board shorts are acceptable clothing in almost any situation.
  • "Hi-Vis" (high visibility) clothing is acceptable anywhere since it's common workwear. It's acceptable to go to the FIFO airport in your high visibility/safety gear. If you don't, you'll be the only one in the entire airport not wearing high-vis clothing. Spoken from experience.

 


Wheatbelt Camping

April 19, 2015  •  Leave a Comment

SunsetSunset in a big sky, just after we set up camp. We camped for a couple of nights in the wheatbelt, about 200km east of Perth. Just after we arrived, we were treated to an amazing sunset.

Sunset over our campsite Then we awaited the lunar eclipse. Even though it was a relatively clear sky, a single storm cloud appeared on the horizon right where the moon was due to rise. We were fortunate to see the start of the lunar eclipse and a single flash of lightning. Then the cloud cleared just in time for the total lunar eclipse when the moon turned red.

Storm cloud over the lunar eclipse We spent some time exploring the area which had a number of "monolith" rocks. They are a single rock, similar to but not as big as Ayers Rock. Climbing up offered a great view of the surrounding country.

Kokerbin Rock

After a couple of nights' camping, we drove back to Perth. It started to rain on the way home so it was perfect timing with the weather!


Rottnest Swim

February 24, 2015  •  Leave a Comment

Sunrise over Cottesloe BeachSunrise over Cottesloe Beach

Kayak selfieKayak selfieWaiting for the start off Cottesloe Beach. The Scottish flag helped both the swimmer and support boat find me!

The Rottnest Swim is a 20km open water swim which starts at Cottesloe Beach and finishes at Rottnest Island. It has now grown to be so popular that there's a ballot to enter a team in the race. Our sailing crew managed to win the ballot to enter the race so we all helped out as support crew. 

The standard Perth summer weather conditions are an offshore easterly wind overnight and into the morning before an onshore seabreeze later in the day. Therefore, it's best to start swimming west to Rottnest Island with the offshore breeze as a tailwind and get as far west to Rottnest as possible before the seabreeze comes in. The start time for our swim team was 7.15am but we needed to be on the boat at 4am to motor up to the start line and get organised.

The support team needs a boat to provide safety and recovery for the swimmer(s) and navigate the course over to Rottnest Island. A kayaker paddles very close to the swimmer to guide the swimmer along the correct course as it's very difficult to see any distance when swimming.

My support crew role was kayaking so I stepped off the back of the yacht into the kayak to meet our swimmer at Cottesloe for the start. Our swimmer was Scottish so naturally I was given a Scottish flag to help identify me amongst hundreds of other kayakers and support boats.

Start wave at Cottesloe BeachStart wave at Cottesloe BeachSupport kayakers waiting and attempting to identify their swimmers.

Our swimmer started and we found each other relatively quickly thanks to the Scottish flag! The first 1km of the swim was relatively straightforward as no support boats were allowed in the swim channel. But after that it was chaos with boats, kayaks and swimmers everywhere. So I did my best to protect our swim team. Even at the start, it was a steady southeasterly wind that soon became a southerly crosswind so we knew we were in for a difficult crossing.

Support crew & waiting swimmersSupport crew & waiting swimmers

The swim team of four swimmers took turns to swim 10 minutes each at a time and rotated through resting and recovering on the support boat. We continued west, before the wind died out. But it wasn't long before the seabreeze started and we were battling to make the cutoff time for the 10km mark. We just made the mark, but with choppy seas and a headwind the writing was on the wall that we'd need to retire. It was unfortunate, but there wasn't much we could do about it. 

Support craft & swimmerSupport craft & swimmerThe dinghy and kayak helping the swimmer. A long way to go!

We decided to retire from the race and pull the swimmers and support craft into the yacht. Then it was time for the Rottnest pub! It's easily one of the busiest days of the year at Rottnest so we soaked up the atmosphere and had a good chat over a few beers. Perhaps we'll enter a team again and hopefully have better conditions next time.

 


Lake Ballard

February 05, 2015  •  2 Comments

Lake BallardLake BallardSalt lake north of Kalgoorlie, Western Australia

Lake Ballard is a 50km long salt lake 200km up the road from Kalgoorlie, Western Australia. 

Lake Ballard has Antony Gormley’s 51 Carbonised Steel Figures which were initially installed as a temporary art exhibition but proved so popular they are now a permanent fixture. 

A real sense of the expanse of the outback. Flies and dust are mandatory!


Blue Mountains

December 06, 2014  •  1 Comment

I spent a week in Sydney. I was fortunate to see a good friend of mine and we arranged an overnight walk in the Blue Mountains. I last visited the Blue Mountains when I was a teenager (ie. a long time ago!) so it was time for another visit.

The weather was dicey earlier in the week with snow falling in the area but fortunately it cleared up on the weekend. I'd had a 6 hour delay arriving into Sydney due to severe thunderstorms

We drove up to Blackheath which was about 2 hours from the middle of Sydney and commenced our walk at Evans Lookout. As it was an overnight walk we needed to carry everything so we had a fair weight in our packs. Walks in the Blue Mountains start high from the car park, and then descent down to the valley floor to spend the night before climbing out of the valley to finish. 

Evans Lookout offered a great view to the north of Blackheath and we could clearly see our planned route. 

View from Evans LookoutView from Evans Lookout

From Evans Lookout we descended down to the base of Grand Canyon, a side valley leading down to Junction Rock. The terrain and the flora changed quickly as we descended through various ecosystems. We descended past of a number of waterfalls as the terrain became steeper near the valley floor. 

Descending to Grand CanyonDescending to Grand Canyon

We then walked through Eucalyptus forest along the river to Junction Rock, where we turned north to head towards the blue gum forest. We had glimpses to the distinctive cliffs lining the top of the valleys around us. 

Lockleys PylonLockleys Pylon

We set up camp at Acacia Flat and then had a short walk to the Blue Gum Forest in the evening light. 

Acacia Flat CampAcacia Flat Camp

We enjoyed a cool night before packing up camp and heading back up the valley the next morning. We remembered that we had to climb back out of the valley after the relatively easy descent the day before! We turned right at Junction Rock and climbed up towards Bridal Veil Falls. As the temperature was around 30 degrees it was a warm climb but fortunately there was plenty of shade. It was an impressive path that became steeper until we were climbing stairs up the cliff face.

Stairs up Govetts LeapStairs up Govetts Leap

The view across the valley and Bridal Veil Falls made the climb worthwhile!

Bridal Veil FallsBridal Veil Falls

We finished the climb up to Govetts Leap and then crossed the top of Bridal Veil Falls before the finish back at Evans Lookout. Then a well-earned ice cream.

It was a great weekend and a reminder that I should visit the Blue Mountains more often!

 

 

 


(Almost) Swimming with a Dolphin

October 04, 2014  •  Leave a Comment

We anchored our yacht at Rockingham Beach, south of Fremantle. As we took the dinghy to shore, we had this close encounter with a dolphin! 

 


Pune, India

September 29, 2014  •  Leave a Comment

Tuk tukTuk tuk We visited our office in Pune, India for about 2 weeks in late August. I'd travelled to India on a couple of previous occasions so I knew what to expect: chaos! 

Pune is a city of over 5 million people which is makes it the 8th most populous city in India, behind Delhi, Bangalore and Kolkata. It's in the same state of Maharashtra as Mumbai on the central western coast. As Pune is on a less travelled route to India from Australia, it took 3 flights and over 20 hours in transit to get there from our home in Perth. The newly built airport in Delhi made the transit much easier than the old airport that I went through on previous visits to India in 2007 and 2004. Two wheelersTwo wheelersWhenever there was a red light, the motorbikes would line up at the front.

It's no surprise how crowded it is on Indian streets. There are literally people everywhere. It's now quite visible that some of the population are better off since the Indian economic boom as there's more cars on the road. That said, there are also lots of "two wheelers" or motorbikes on the roads there who battle for the front at red traffic lights. Fortunately we had drivers assigned to take us everywhere for our stay so we didn't have to deal with driving on India roads. A different style of driving means that's generally friendly to use your car horn to let other drivers know you're there. Many trucks have "Please use horn" painted on their back bumper bars. That makes the streets of India very noisy. Not to mention the frequent cows and other animals frequently seen on the roads!

CowsCowsOur driver was quite used to unexpected road obstacles.

Most of our week was spent at the office which only offered evenings to look around the city. The Osho International Meditation Resort is based in Koregaon Park. It was started by Acharya Rajneesh in the 1970s which attracted many Westerners to visit India and many have stayed in the meditation resort for a number of years. 

LavasaLavasa

LavasaLavasa

Not far from Osho is the German Bakery. As we had several Germans in our group, we had to visit the bakery. Unfortunately, this bakery was bombed in 2010. Since this bombing, there is increased security around Pune. Upon entering any shopping centre, reasonable hotel, office or tourist site visitors must go through security, get frisked and have bags x-rayed. As I'm about a foot taller than most Indian ladies, my head was often sticking out above the security screen as I was frisked by female security staff. 

India has become much more westernised in the past decade. There are plenty more shopping malls and recognisable western brands (and rip-offs)  available for sale. But there's also millions of people living in extreme poverty on the streets. The "Land of Contrasts" label is obvious everywhere. Besides flashy cars are children begging at traffic lights hoping to buy their next meal.

We made a day trip to Lavasa, a hill station built between Mumbai and Pune in 2010. It was nice to get out of the big city of Pune and see some of the surrounding country. We passed through a couple of valleys of the "Western Ghats", a hill range which extends along the west coast of India. Lavasa is planned as a totally self-sufficient town but it's still under construction. It surrounds a dam which offers views across the valley. Fortunately there was a reasonable restaurant for a suitable lunch stop. 

As it was August, it was monsoon season. Most days had a huge rain downpour in the afternoon and we drove back from the office through some deep, muddy puddles. This made the surrounding land look very lush and green. Our hotel overlooked the river which ranged in height from barely trickling to a large torrent following downpours in Pune and the hills upstream. 

Ganesh for saleGanesh for saleIn preparation for "Ganesha Chaturthi"

Ganesh Chaturthi, the Hindu "Festival of Ganesh" was celebrated after we left. It's a week-long festival where statues of Ganesh are erected around India and worshipped. The celebrations are particularly long in Maharashtra. We didn't want to get stuck in the impending traffic jams for the festival so we departed back to Perth the day before the festival started. I'm sure we'll be back to visit Pune soon. 

More photos are in the gallery.

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