Friday, November 29, 2013

Running ... Like An Idiot

In the last few days, a couple of folks I know from back home in the cold land have signed up to compete in either marathons, ultra-marathons or other extremely long endurance events. The advertising for these events is dominated by emotive jargon that asks “are you tough enough”, “think you're hardcore”, and “put yourself through pain.” The names of the races themselves are evocative of what is to come - “Sufferfest,” “Sinister”, and “Death Race.” 

The motivation to do these races, I can only guess, comes from being able to think of yourself as “one tough mudder” (yet another race title) because these races certainly are not about improving your mental or physical health and well-being. They are mindless, disease inducing epics, nothing more.

There is clear evidence, even in the mainstream medical media (which can be frustratingly slow on the uptake), that endurance running causes inflammation, oxidative stress and increased cortisol levels, all the harbingers of cardiovascular disease. Running decreases muscle mass, impairs thyroid function, and causes all kinds of repetitive strain injuries. If you run hard enough and long enough, you can be pretty much guaranteed to impact – negatively – every system in the body, from digestive to reproductive. Put into this light, it is literally mind-boggling that anyone would run for health!

Ripped, but not from running

All the runners out there will, of course, come up with all kinds of inspirational stories of the dozens /hundreds of people who went from couch-loafer to runner and have lost weight, improved their mood, or had some other putative benefit from a running program. These arguments, while emotionally appealing have little basis in fact. They remind me of the 130 kilogram guy who switched from a diet of junk food to a vegan diet and reported feeling better. Eating any kind of real food will make you feel better than eating junk, but that doesn't mean that a vegan diet is the best long term health strategy.

The best long term health strategy does not involve running yourself into an early grave. Lift heavy weights, sprint once week, walk a lot, sit a little, eat real food. There's no magic to it.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Process and Persistence

Life is one long process of getting tired. Samuel Butler.

When I first starting trying to learn to eskimo roll my sea kayak, I saw the whole thing as a relatively brief journey (at least I hoped it would be brief) to a fixed end point. Sure, I would occasionally roll once or twice every few weeks to keep my hand in, but basically, I'd get this bomb-proof roll and I'd be done. Box for eskimo roll checked, time to move on.

More and more, I've realized that, at least for me, learning to eskimo roll is a process, and a long one at that. Mentally, this never ending journey is taxing as no practice session ever ends with any sense of completeness. If I have a good day and get a bunch of rolls I am fearful that I will fail next time. If I have a bad day, and don't get any rolls, I fret endlessly over what I did wrong, how I can correct my errors, and when I can get out and try again.

 Doug performing a fish rescue after my unsuccessful rolling mission

As you have probably guessed by now, after executing a series of successful rolls last Sunday, I didn't get a single roll today. What changed? I'm not sure. I definitely felt all crunched up and tight, and as soon as I set up and started the sweep I could see that I had a problem as my paddle blade kept diving under the water. But, try as I might, I could not get the paddle blade to stay on the surface. Something in my mechanics was all wrong, but what?

After about a dozen failed attempts I quit for the day. Quitting for me is harder than continuing to try, but, I have learnt that there is nothing to be gained, and much to be lost, by grooving in the wrong movement patterns. In hindsight, I think I should have quit after two unsuccessful rolls, instead of persisting for another ten. But, if there is one thing I have in my favour on this long and seemingly endless journey, it is the ability to persist. 

Paddling back from Double Island

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Leeches on Lambs Head

We had previously committed to helping out with a “canoegaine” on Lake Tinaroo on Sunday, and, in order to improve on the all important “drive to activity” ratio, we decided to camp overnight at Davies Creek and hike to the top of the Lamb Range on Monday. The forecast wasn't really that good, but, as I've mentioned before, you can never really tell with Australian weather forecasts what will eventuate. A forecast for “showers” can result in either 1 or 100 mm of rain in 24 hours, and anything in between.

The big granite boulders of Lambs Head

After a rather unpalatable meal at the RSL club in Mareeba – why is every vegetable consumed in Australia a starch? (probably the same reason nearly every Australian has a big wheat belly) - we drove off to find ourselves a campsite as the rain began. It's always difficult f**king around in the rain trying to set up camp, especially when it is also dark, so it's probably no surprise that our nice, flat well drained campsite actually – come morning when we could see properly – turned out to be below a steep slope that turned into a rushing water-course with any precipitation. 

View from one of the Lambs Head boulders
It wasn't raining in the morning, but the forecast for “periods of rain” was fresh in our minds so we skipped breakfast (easy to do with metabolic flexibility from eating a paleo diet) and started the walk right away. I dropped Doug off at the first trail-head (“Ridge track”) and drove another 2.5 km along the road to the second trail-head (“Kahlpahlim Rock track”). These two routes converge about 1 km from the top of the Lamb Range.

My trail was easy to follow and not very steep. I was chugging along making good time when I felt a small pinprick on my ankle and looked down to see a leech on my right ankle. I flicked it off with a stick, and noted another leech on my left ankle, I flicked that leech off, and noticed another leech on my right calf, then another on the left calf, then further up the right leg, the left foot, leeches, leeches everywhere. I pulled up my socks, but, as everyone knows socks are no deterrents to leeches, neither are shoes, gaitors, trousers, or pretty much any other man-made barrier.

View to the west

I plugged along, stopping every so often to flick off a dozen leeches and after somewhat more than an hour I got to the track junction. I vaguely remembered reading something in the guidebook about there being two routes along the final section on the ridge, one higher and one lower, but the exact details evaded me, and, truthfully, all I could think about was getting the hike done and escaping the leeches. Great quantities of leeches can send you a bit crazy.

The QPWS trail is marked with the standard orange triangles so I followed those down past a cleft between two boulders, under a fallen tree, along the base of some large granite boulders and then began the final steep, rooty climb up to a saddle. I ran into, not literally, Doug on this final climb up. I could see he was shocked by the leech situation – his eyes were rolled back in his head in a strange manner and he was stopping every few seconds to frantically flick at this legs, and kept exclaiming “hundreds, there's hundreds of them.” I pushed past and soon came out at some kind of structure in a cleared area. Here I stripped off my shoes and socks and plucked big fat leeches off my feet which were running with blood. When Doug arrived he did the same. We attempted to squash the buggers, but, as you all know, killing leeches without salt is difficult. They are surprisingly resilient.


We snapped a few pictures of the view and then investigated a flagged trail that led off from the tower. This track went down, down, down – at least that is how it looked to us – and we weren't sure that the track did not eventually descend the west side of the range which was nowhere we wanted to go, at least with the leech situation as it was, so we walked back. A short scramble up a steep section of track opposite the tower leads to a good view from the top of another large granite boulder. Looking in the guidebook when I got home, I discovered that the downhill track leads down to a boulder lookout below.

Desperate to escape the leeches (yes, we are sooky) we hightailed it back along the ridge track to the main track junction. Doug went to the left, going down the track I came up, while I went right and went down the track he came up. We both thought we had the better end of the deal. Once I passed the junction I seemed to escape leech terrain as the ridge trail is fairly open, while Doug thought he could go faster through the leech infested terrain I came up as he was going downhill.

On the final rocky ridge

Four hours after starting, I came out a the first track junction and walked down the road until Doug came along with the car. We both plucked ourselves clean of leeches and went off for a swim in Davies Creek.

Monday, November 25, 2013

In The Beginning

If we are to go forward, we must go back... Martin Luther King.

Humans hate going back. Even if going back is the right choice. We seem programmed regardless of rationality to keep moving forward even if, in moving forward, we'll fall off a cliff. “Not so bad,” we'll say to ourselves as we tumble down, “at least I didn't have to turn around.”

Sometimes we need to physically turn back – if we are climbing and are off route, back-country skiing and have entered hazardous avalanche terrain, or sea kayaking, and the waves are too big for our skill level. Other times, we need to mentally go back. We may think we know how to route-find, navigate, or plan trips, but, if everything goes wrong more times than not, we should go back and assess whether we really know all that we think we know.

Zoe Creek, Hinchinbrook Island

For quite a while now, I've been working on getting a reliable eskimo roll in my sea kayak. That journey has had its high and low points. Some sessions, I've rolled successfully multiple times, other times I haven't nailed a single roll. I have had advice from a half dozen different people, and I've seen another half dozen people shrug their shoulders in despair and walk away. At one point, I had heard so many different and disparate pieces of advice that I rolled over and simply hung upside down in my boat unable to do anything at all.

Finally, I decided to forget everything I thought I knew and start again. I did some reading, watched some videos and started practicing some basic drills – hip snaps, dryland rolls and the like. As best I could, I tried to erase all the muscle memory I had managed to accumulate and focused on a few basic manoeuvres – setting up in a full tuck with the paddle well out of the water, sweeping the paddle right back on the surface of the water, and, finally pulling the boat up with my knee and keeping my head on my shoulder. 

Doug landing at Ellis Beach
Last time I practiced I got three out of three rolls. At which point I quit for the day. One other thing I have learnt in this journey is that, like most things, more is not necessarily better. Best to stop while your form is good and finish the session with success rather than failure. There is nothing to be gained, and much to be lost, encoding poor or wrong technique. 

Friday, November 22, 2013

Big Boats and Bouldering

It was bouldering day today, even Doug came down for a while. Although the bouldering area is under the shade of some big fig trees, I'm not sure I'd want to be climbing down there in heat of a tropical summer, so I cycled down right after breakfast. The big rain event last week had washed all the chalk marking the new routes off, so I spent most of my hour there working technique and general endurance. I finished off working on the big cave which is good for finger and trunk strength, but the holds are placed kinda funky so you have to be careful you don't tweak a tendon.

 On the wall
Doug had some errands to run so he took off early while I finished up my hour. I cycled down to the pool to have a swim before coming home, and, once at the pool decided I should cycle right to the end of the Esplanade and down to the Marina. I haven't been down this way before and was shocked to see all the big catamarans and tour boats that take people out to the reef. I had no idea the place was so busy. At the far end of the port, a monstrous cruise liner was moored and all the passengers were wandering about with their identification tags hung around their necks.

I'm not really into man made stuff, but this cruise ship was so big even I felt compelled to cycle past and take a look. I'm not sure how big the boat really was, but it seemed to cover a few city blocks. Must use a heck of a lot of petrol to run that thing. The amount of resources being used up for people's leisure is just astonishing. Strangely enough, I could see a small climbing wall on the back of the boat!

Huge ocean liner with bouldering wall
Finally, I went back and swam in the pool which is nice in its way, but the water is now easily as hot as the air so you don't really cool off much. I always cycle home in my wet clothes to try to get a bit more cooling influence but today that didn't seem to work too well.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Trouble With Normal

Nobody wants to be average. We all want to feel we are somehow better than or at least distinct to the other seven billion people on the planet and, to prove that, we'll exaggerate, cheat and lie to impress other people with our extraordinary distinctiveness. Strangely enough, however, if we really do stand out by dint of some characteristic uniquely our own, we'll end up with an inner yearning to fit in.

I listen to a lot of “paleo” podcasts and read a lot of “paleo” blogs. This is a whole lot like a confirmed Catholic going to Mass everyday. It truly is preaching to the converted. Sometimes I wonder why I do this. True, I often garner some new pieces of information that help me in my quest for the best possible health, but, lots of times what I hear or read is not new to me. I think my drive to consume the “paleo” lifestyle is a lot more about wanting to fit in, than it is about wanting to educate myself.

Alone at Little Oberon Bay
The truth is, if you don't eat grains (yes, corn is a grain), any kind of processed food (with the exception of bacon, of course), reduced fat dairy (reduced fat anything), and restrict your carbohydrate intake to a level that improves rather than impairs your physical functioning, you will, sooner rather than later, find yourself feeling more than a bit weird compared to all your friends and acquaintances. You'll pass on the birthday cake, the ice-cream, the “just this once” treat, the bread, the biscuits, the crackers, so many staples of most people's diets that even your closest friends will start to think you are a bit weird, possibly even neurotic, and most certainly uncomfortably different. At this point, you'll start thinking it is easier to fit in than stand out, and you'll start looking for some sense of community where people are more like you than not.

 Alone on Razorback Ridge

That may lead you, like me, on your journey to “paleo land” where the idea of trying out something new to you and seeing if you “look, feel and perform better” actually has real meaning, because you have real measurable performance goals. Not wishy washy “I want to be a better climber/skier/biker/runner” goals which you can wriggle out of because you never really committed to any finite target, but real performance goals that you are intrinsically motivated to work at every day even if it means – gasp – changing your diet and throwing out all the dogma you've assimilated from whatever media you follow. 

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Kuranda Uphill Track

Somewhere, I can't precisely remember where, I found out about the Kuranda Downhill Track that runs down to Smithfield from the high point of the Kennedy Highway as you head towards Kuranda. Apparently, this is a very popular down-hill mountain bike track. People ride it multiple times in a row shuttling bikes up to the top by vehicle which somehow seems contrary to the whole spirit of going for a bike ride to me.

In any case I was interested in neither riding up nor down, but I thought walking up from the bottom would provide a nice mornings walk accessible by bicycle.

First thing in the morning, I cycled over to the Kennedy Highway at Smithfield and had a rather unpleasant ride/bike push up to the start of the track. All I knew about the bottom of the track was that it came out on the first switchback out of Smithfield. I rode up to the start of the switchback and then crossed over the road, hefted the bike over the guardrail and walked up the switchback looking for the start of the track. At one point, I thought I saw it below me so I locked the bike to a tree and slithered down a slippery bank and found myself in someone's back garden. Climbing back out, I easily found the track right at the uphill side of the first switchback. I left the bike where it was and started walking.

Huge spider across the track

The first thing I saw was this giant spider with a large web spun across the trail. Once I'd got around this beasty, it took me about 45 minutes and a gallon of sweat to hike up to the lookout on the Kennedy Highway. I took my shirt off at the top to wipe the worst of the sweat off myself and noted that there was not one centimetre of material that was still dry. Prior to living in Cairns I did not realize that the human body could produce the amount of sweat that an easy hike generates.

Cairns from Henry Ross Lookout

After admiring the view, and repelling all the tourists that stopped to see lookout over Cairns as they drove by, I headed back down. This sign marks the start of the trail and cautions against walking the track as you might get taken out by a cyclist going 70 km an hour. That seems improbably fast, but maybe downhill bikers do reach those speeds. The more interesting thing to note is that it takes the average biker 4 to 6 minutes to descend. Seems these bikers don't get a whole lot of exercise doing this trail given that they shuttle to the top instead of ride up. 

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Turn And Face The Strange ....

Without change, something sleeps inside us, and seldom awakens. The sleeper must awaken.  Frank Herbert.

It often seems to me that people would rather die than change something in their lives. Any discussion of different ways of being, eating, exercising, recreating, and just plain living invariably leads to the proposal of all kinds of reasons why the new way of doing things is undoubtedly worse than the old, or at least no better. Sometimes I wonder how it is that we aren't all still dying of the black plague and thinking disease is caused by miasmas, our resistance to change is just that strong. Except, of course, when change means getting the latest i-phone, smart phone or other piece of electronic junk, and then we are all over it.

The only people who find change easy (or at least easier) are people with goals. I don't think it matters too much what those goals are – getting stronger, climbing better, reducing your medications, or lowering a golf handicap – as long as the goal is intrinsically motivated. If you are really driven to reach your goal you are much less likely to keep banging away doing the same thing when the same thing is clearly not working. No goal, no change, however. 
Coming into shore on the east side of Hinchinbrook Island

Monday, November 18, 2013

Dolphins In Mission Bay

I could have titled this blog post Rolling Bay to Rocky Island by kayak, which would have been overtly truthful if a little dull. As we all know, style beats substance in the early 21st century, so I've gone with the stylish – yet truthful – alternate title.

We set out this morning to paddle from the boat ramp at Brown Bay, east past False Cape and across Mission Bay to Rocky Island. Our nautical chart shows massive amounts of dry ground all through this area so we were timing our trip to last two hours either side of high tide.

With our usual aversion to driving, we pulled off at Rolling Bay, the first place we got to where you could launch a kayak, rather than driving the last three kilometres to Brown Bay and the boat ramp. Given the name of the bay, it seemed appropriate that I practice a few eskimo rolls – that accursed skill that still evades me. In lieu of practicing in water, I've been doing a few dryland rolls (go here), which bizarrely enough, has been helpful if a little painful on the shoulder. Doug was very enthusiastic, but I believe I only got one proper roll. I felt somewhat hampered by not being able to see my paddle as the water is a bit murky around Cairns (something the tourist literature doesn't let out). 

Doesn't this look like fun?

In the past, I've made attempt after attempt after attempt, racking up probably somewhere near 20 or 30 tries in one session. People are amazed at my tenacity (not to mention my inability to master the skill), but, it's a strange thing, more attempts doesn't necessarily mean better efforts. Once I pass about 5 or 6 attempts, my form always deteriorates. I really want quite desperately to get a solid roll, so I find it difficult to stop trying even when I should.

After about six attempts and some hip-flick practice (Doug was enthusiastic about that too), we paddled north along the shore-line past some big boulders in the water at Lyons Point and passed the boat ramp where a couple of aging bikers were gazing thoughtfully out to sea. In another 3 km we reached Sunny Bay and stopped for a swim. When we paddled from Flying FishPoint to Cairns, we had breakfast our last day at Sunny Bay after camping the night at Turtle Bay. There are some big slabs that come into the water at False Cape. You could put some climbs up here, but the rock is black and you'd be cooking hot trying to climb there. Access would be tough too.

Paddling past Lyons Point (DB photo)

From False Cape we paddled over to Rocky Island and circumnavigated the small island. We stopped for another swim on the west side. It's pretty warm paddling when it is 32oC, there is no wind, and you are wearing a full body lycra suits as it is marine stinger season. As soon as your suit dries, you start feeling very hot. Yarrabah Aboriginal Community lies at the end of Mission Bay and judging by the junk on Rocky Island, there was once an old camp there.

It was a bit later than we had hoped to pull out so we paddled straight back to Rolling Bay which took about two hours. We were probably fighting the outgoing tide a bit, but we did get a slight push from the wind for the last kilometre or two. Coming past False Cape we paddled past a pod of dolphins. By the time we got back to Rolling Bay my shoulders and back were sore and tired so I was glad I had already done my rolling practice.

In The Real World

This stupid advertising video is making the rounds of the interwebs right now accompanied by all sorts of commendations for the amazing skill of the dude in the video, who, apparently is some guy called Jean-Claude Van Damme, a person unknown to me as I live outside the reach of advertising (we can all live outside the realm of advertising if we choose).

The idea that people find this video impressive boggles my mind and perhaps defines everything that is wrong with our society. We are impressed by banal party tricks yet blind to the heroism of every day people in our midst. People like Andrew McAuley, who, in 2007 was lost at sea after an epic and unrepeated crossing of the Tasman Sea below the 40th parallel in that most elegant of all ocean going craft, the single sea kayak.

Instead of polluting your mind with garbage, watch Solo, or, even better, read the book

 Paddling Through the Barnard Islands

Saturday, November 16, 2013

A Little Climbing

It's been a couple of weeks since Doug and I scratched out a little cragging in the Cairns area. In the meantime, I've been riding the bike around looking for more promising crags but, so far, have not found anything better. Given the daytime temperatures and the somewhat sweltering humidity, there is no sense driving up to the Tableland to look for climbing (there is rumoured to be some good bouldering up near Mareeba, but it would be insanely hot right now), as it is only possible to manage a couple of hours in the early morning before you start slickly greasing off routes. 

 Longer but low angle

Most people would probably just give up on climbing in this area, but, I still find it fun to boulder and top-rope a few pitches, so this morning we headed off at 6 am to put in a couple of hours before the heat and humidity became insufferable.

For a change, we climbed at the upper crag, which is much longer than the lower crag, but is also fairly low angle for almost all the extra height you get. We managed four laps each before sun on the crag and our grumbling bellies made an end to the day. Next time, I think we'll stick with the lower crag as ambling for most of the route up 4th class to low 5th class (Ewbank grade 8 or 10?) terrain with the odd harder move is not as good a work-out as climbing shorter but harder routes. 

Doug at one of the more interesting sections

Friday, November 15, 2013

Hot Enough For Ya: Stoney Creek to Wrights Lookout

Saturday seemed like a good day for a longish walk, mostly because I wasn't doing anything else, and I felt no need to go hammer myself at the gym. Doug agreed to come along, and we settled on hiking from Stoney Creek up to Wrights Lookout via McDonalds Track. You can get to Wrights Lookout from Kuranda, but that would involve driving a motor vehicle, something we are loathe to do without good reason, so we biked from Petersen Street up to the trailhead at the end of Stoney Creek Road and walked up from sea level.

Apart from being a purveyor of poisonous food, McDonald was a surveyor originally from Dumfries in Scotland back in the early days of Australian history and I assume, but cannot confirm, that the track bears his name. McDonalds track connects Kuranda with the Douglas Track up near Red Bluff. Apparently, these old tracks followed aboriginal travel paths from the Tablelands down to the Coast and were heavily travelled back in the big resource extraction days of the late 1800's. 
 Looking down into Barron Gorge
The first part of the walk is a steady climb – thankfully under dense rainforest for the most part – up to Red Bluff. After about half an hour, you reach a huge mango tree that is drooping with green mangoes, and, soon after that you climb up some iron steps and cross over the Kuranda Railway line – a wonderful place for trainspotters. After 2.6 km and about 300 metres of elevation gain, you come out on the hillside above the Barron River and under some power lines. This seems to be a popular turn-around location for the early morning exercises as we saw no-one else past this junction. The Douglas track takes off to the left (west) while McDonalds Track goes roughly north following the route of some power lines.
Sweaty Doug

We had worked up an impressive sweat by this time. Doug was leaking water like a politician leaks promises and I could probably have wrung a litre out of my shirt. The track undulates along for almost 5 km mostly in rainforest but occasionally out in the sun by the power line. At one point, you descend a fair distance to cross Surprise Creek, which was surprisingly stagnant and black looking at this time of year and in a few places you get views up Barron Gorge and even a tantalising glimpse of the lower Barron Falls.
Surprise Creek
Near the end of the track we passed a big red grader, a fallen tree, and came out at Wrights Lookout which offers a seat in the sun as you look down on Cairns and the Barron River. You can continue another two kilometres along the road to Barron Falls look-out but I hate walking on tarmac especially in the baking sun on a humid day, so, after eating half a sausage (good primal snack) we turned around and walked back.

Stoney Creek is too shallow for a real swim, but you can lay down in one of the deeper pools and feel the heat leaving your body. There is a track up the creek to a weir and it is possible that there are some deeper pools up there.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Where It All Began

A couple of days ago, I cycled up Barron Gorge Road to check out the three little “climbing” crags that are supposed to be found up near the power station. Two were an abject disappointment – not unexpected – and one, the most famous of all, Macka's Bluff, I failed to locate. While I did not have high hopes of Macka's Bluff, I felt compelled to go back and see if I could find the Cairns crag where all the hardmen (and women) hang out. I should have been forewarned by the route names of two of the three routes on Macka's Bluff . Neither “Loose as a Goose,” nor “Slippery When Wet” are auspicious names for rock climbs.

It was another Stronglifts day so I had to recover from that first, and, by the time I got on my bike, it was hot, sticky and sunny. I didn't really feel like riding back up Barron Gorge Road and pushing my luck with psychotic-sugar deranged Australian drivers, but at least I could have a good swim in the Barron River before I came home.

I cycled past the same workmen not-working on the same weir over the river and happily thought that this would be the last time I would have to ride past them. A couple of them look like like they have done hard time and are only just managing to stay outside the pen. In these situations I'm never sure whether it is best to make eye-contact or keep your head down. I went with keeping my head down. 

 Looking up at Macka's Bluff

Up near the power station a big fence protects the road against rock fall and this marks the top of Macka's Bluff. I knew I was in the right place as the top of the rock had been asphalted to make a smooth track for abseiling ropes. I could not find an easy way down to the bottom of the “crag” from this location and I couldn't see anything from the top so I rode up to the power station and took an old road that goes down to the river and then rock-hopped downstream to the base of the bluff.

It's not at all clear to me how there are any routes on this broken vegetated pile of choss, or why it is (or was) thrilling to abseil down it. The best thing about Macka's Bluff is undoubtedly the water hole at the bottom where I had a swim. 

Swimming hole at the bottom of Macka's Bluff

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Biking, Bouldering and Bracing

I tried to come up with a word that starts with B and means “playing on small waves in a sea kayak that would be better if they were just a bit bigger but lets not complain about something inconsequential” but, strangely, I couldn't think of a single word that covered that concept and began with B or even a C, or D, or E....

My day started with a bicycle ride down to the Esplanade and the bouldering area. On the way, I stopped at the old quarry and did a few laps along the bottom of the quarry cliff to warm up – not that you really need to “warm up” when it is 28oC and 85% humidity. The old quarry is not really a great bouldering spot as the bottom is too easy, and climbing higher exposes you to a nasty fall, but, it a reasonable spot for a lap or two on your way past. I was sweating so much by the time I finished that I looked like a balloon someone had filled with water and poked holes in – water was literally oozing out of me.

Down at the Esplanade, I got to business, shoes on, chalk bag, MP3 player with a paleo indoctrination podcast playing. There were a bunch of new chalked routes (chalk instead of tape) since my last visit, courtesy of “Topknot” I assume. They were actually pretty good routes. One had a bit of a reach that I had to dyno for, which I made first time but, as I got more fatigued over the session I never managed again. I briefly thought about coming down for the group bouldering sessions (every Tuesday at 5.00 pm) and then decided that would be foolish for someone as introverted as myself. Chances are, I wouldn't like anyone I met. I'm that kind of person. After about 45 minutes my fingers were getting sore so I called it. I've popped tendons and got tendonitis from bouldering walls before so I know how important it is to restart slowly and not stress weak ligaments and tendons. 

Cairns bouldering park

It would have been good to cycle down to one of the fitness parks and do some pull-ups, ankles to bar, and have a swim in the pool, but Doug and I were planning to go out with the kayaks before lunch so I had to get home.

We took our kayaks down to Yorkeys Knob where you can easily launch at the marina. A small wave breaks off Yorkeys Knob immediately north of the marina. I'm not sure if the sandbars in the vicinity make the wave break or if the tide coming out of Moon River also contributes. The winds were pretty light to non-existent so we didn't have a big wave. Last time we came down to try this we came at high tide and found the wave washed out. The best time is low tide.

Today the waves were a little bit too small so you had to wait quite a while for a “set” of bigger waves to come in to be able to ride any. Even then you didn't get a very long ride. Once I got dialed into not expecting a long fast ride I had a much better experience. Sometimes it is good to have low expectations. 

Baby waves at Yorkeys Knob

After a couple of hours we paddled back through the soup zone to the marina. A couple of blokes had just finished loading up two sit-aboard kayaks preparatory to paddling to Cooktown and were hanging around smoking. They were strikingly ill prepared without life jackets, stinger suits, or much of anything and their entire food supply appeared to consist of green bananas, small mangoes and a few star apples that they had filched off local trees on the way to the boat ramp. They seemed pretty amped up about their trip and said that “if things were going well” they might carry on to Cape York or even right around Australia! I snapped a picture of them by their boats for posterity and the rescue team. 

For the rescue crew

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Stronglifts, Rudyard Kipling, Aussie Abseiling

So today I started the Stronglifts work-outs again, after over a year hiatus. It was pretty sad as I had to go right back to starting weights, except on the bench-press where I managed to start a whole 2.5 kg higher than “never lifted anything heavier than a cup-cake.” Does this mean I have hugely strong chest muscles and wasted lower extremities or have I been eating too many cup-cakes? On the down-side, it's kinda scary how fast you lose strength, but, as I always like to think “if you are lying face down in the gutter, the only way out is up.”

Anyway, after I recovered from that, I got on my bike and cycled up to Barron Gorge as there is rumored to be some small climbing crags up there. On the way there, I passed this interesting sign by a big poison (sugar cane) field where you get a view up to Stony Creek and Barron Gorge. Before all the toxic sugar cane was planted here, this land was actually used to grow real food like fruits and vegetables!

Freshwater Valley Heritage Sign

In 1879, there was also a rice mill on this spot that was owned and operated by Joseph Kipling, nephew of Rudyard Kipling.

I snapped my own picture of the view, toxic sugar cane in the foreground and then carried on towards Barron Gorge.

Freshwater Valley today with poison growing in the foreground

I cruised along Lower Freshwater Road until I reached Kamerunga Environmental Park where you can get on a nice pathway that takes you to an old weir across the Barron River. A bunch of council workers were sitting by the weir having their usual three hour smoko break before working a desultory hour on the weir until it was time for their next smoko. I just cruised on by. The sight of someone exercising could be enough to shock them into some kind of coma so I didn't think it wise to stop and chat.

To get to Barron Gorge, you have to ride up the appropriately named “Barron Gorge Road”. I wasn't really looking forward to this. This road should make a nice bicycle ride as it is shaded by big rainforest trees, has lots of access points to the river if you want a swim, and is just steep enough to easily ride up while giving you a good cruise on the way down. But, it's pretty narrow and I didn't fancy riding my bicycle beside crazed Australian drivers whose diet is composed almost entirely of pies, cakes and biscuits (Australian for cookies) and who are driving like maniacs because they are either coming down hard off a sugar high and craving a fix or feeling euphoric as the latest lamington spikes their blood sugar.

Not too far along the road I came to a big boulder called variously Split or Hinge Boulder. One of the local “climbing” companies uses this boulder for abseiling and climbing. I scrambled on top, around, through and over the boulder and my guess is a lot more abseiling gets done than climbing. On the uphill side, the boulder is only about 3 or 4 metres high and not really worth hauling a rope out for. While the downhill side is much higher, it is also situated in dense rainforest and is consequently seriously greasy. You could probably boulder here, but there are better bouldering sites around. There is a big cleft in the rock that houses a small colony of bats and is apparently part of the “experience” when you come abseiling here. For some reason I felt compelled to “experience” scrambling inside scaring out a few bats.

Looking out of the bat cave

The anchor bolts on top of Split Rock are pretty scary looking. Not only is a huge expanse of bolt protruding, but they are very rusty. I'm not sure I would be all that happy using them as abseil anchors, but, to date, they must have sustained the weight of at least a few dozen happy Australian abseilers. Aussies are inordinately fond of abseiling, which, to a climber is inexplicable as abseiling is just something you do as part of a climb not as a sport in its own right. It's a sort of zero skill activity with no appeal except as a way to get off a climb.

Typical scary looking Aussie bolt

There are two interesting things about Split Boulder. One is the nice big swimming hole right below the boulder, and the other is this cool fig tree that has swallowed up a smaller boulder with its roots.

Fig tree eats boulder

Anyway, after fully scoping out Split Boulder and deciding it was not worth coming back to, I rode up to the end of the road and the power station buildings. I had sketchy directions for finding three other crags and can only be certain I found Radiation Wall as that is the only crag with a photo on-line. I locked up the bike and walked down to the river and, after scrambling around upstream for a distance I found Radiation Wall and snapped a picture. Another little crag not worth coming back to.

Radiation Wall

By this time I was quite close to Surprise Falls so I decided to go over and see if I could find the old trail that used to lead up the west side of the gorge. A little cement retaining wall holds in a dark pool of black water and, on the north side of this, if you push through a cyclone fence (hole in the bottom) you will find the old trail to Surprise Falls. I think this trail has been closed since around 2000 when Cyclone Steve came through. It would be interesting to try and walk up the track but you may not get very far as vegetation grows pretty fast around this area.

Start of Surprise Falls trail

Finally, I set off downstream looking for Macka's Bluff. Apparently, some dude started the Aussie trend of “rap jumping” here way back in 1989.  Rap jumping is supposed to be a "highly advanced form of freestyle rope work" that somehow enables you to "live life to the fullest."  But I think that might just be bullsh*t advertising.  The directions I had managed to find on the internet weren't all that clear and I didn't find anything that could possibly have “6 jump faces” as Macka's Bluff is advertised to have. It wasn't until I came back home and dug around a bit more on the internet that I worked out that Macka's Bluff is below the big cliffs that have a retaining wall built around them to prevent rock falling onto the road. I found a series of bizarre videos of people “jumping” off this eminence labelled things like “star” jump and “big” jump. Strangely nothing was labelling “f**king stupid jump.” Curiosity will probably impel me to go back up and check out Macka's Bluff if for nothing more than a sense of history gone by.

 Pools on the Barron River

The last thing I did before riding home was have a swim in one of the pools on the river. This cooled me down for round about 10 minutes while I sailed down the road, but, once I got back into the cane fields near Freshwater, I was dripping out sweat again. As I came back over the weir on the Barron River I was surprised to see all the workmen up and on their feet. Musta been that short interval called work between smoko breaks.

Monday, November 11, 2013

sWEaT Season

It really feels like the wet season is starting in Cairns, at least to my uneducated climatic sense. This morning it was 25o C at 5.00 am with 90% humidity. Yowza. I rode my bike down to my favourite Mount Whitfield trail and hiked up to the top, by which time I had dripped out about half my body weight in sweat. There were a few other folks out this morning, including the guy who (I found out this morning) maintains the trail, and we were all pretty much awash in sweat.

The weather forecast for today is kind of interesting, in a nerdy weather kind of way “showers then a few storms.” It will be interesting to see what sort of weather this forecast brings. It could bring 2 mm of rain, it could bring 200 mm of rain. Sometimes I think there is no way of knowing in Australia where the climate seems gratuitously fickle. 

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Things That Are Just Too Weird

Some things in life, we all agree, are just too weird. My list of what is just too weird will probably differ from yours. However, this is my blog, so this is my list of what is just too weird.

People who “like” their own photos on Crackbook. Facebook must be one of the most egotistical mediums out there – and I'm as guilty as anyone else – but “liking” your own picture pushes egoism into narcissism.

While I'm on the subject of Crackbook, what is with all the food pictures people post? I can see, barely but I can see it, posting a picture of some healthy (or what you think is healthy) food you've made yourself, but I cannot wrap my head around posting picture after picture of some zero nutrient toxic sugar piece of crap you are going to eat. Why not just shoot yourself and take a picture of that?

Status updates that are way too personal. I don't need to know about the swingers party you went to last night, or the fact that you and your ex are having a very public dispute over the house/kids/car, or your crisis of faith, or any other personal thing that should remain personal.

Try a sport you have to think about
The whole craze for long endurance running that, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, is really bad for your health. The fact that you can push yourself into a near coma, lose all your muscle mass, drive your hormones out of whack, and completely degrade your joints is NOT a badge of honour, it's a sign of stupidity. If you need a challenge, engage in sports that require technique, skill and intelligence, not ones that reward folly.

Healthy people blending fruits and vegetables up into a drink in NutriBullets, Magic Bullets or some other piece of crap consumer electronics as if this is somehow healthier than sitting down and actually eating a salad or piece of fruit (don't over do the fruit). The only reasonable excuse for this is if your jaw is wired shut and you can't chew. We did not evolve to eat pureed/extracted/blended food. Have we got to the stage where we are too lazy to even chew?

Long, melodramatic trip reports where nothing really happened except you got shut down by the weather. Get used to it and get over it. If you are going to go out into the big wide world climbing/hiking/kayaking it's gonna rain, snow, blow, or some combination of all of the above and you'll do some suffering. Your suffering is no worse than any one else's and probably a good deal less. Suck it up, Princess. 

We've all been there, suck it up
The whole idea that if a bit is good, more has got to be better. A lot like long endurance running. Lifting heavy weights is good, but not every day. Bouldering is good, but not every day. You need to rest your muscles for them to get stronger. Try doing pull-ups every day and, pretty soon, the number of pull-ups you can grind out will get less and less and less, until you can't manage a single one. You don't have to slide into absolute sloth on your rest days, but you do need rest days. 

Some A2B on the rock rings
Watching any one of those endless “extreme sports” videos that get sent around on Crackbook or going to any mountain/outdoor film festival. Admit that you are basically wasting your life watching someone else live theirs. Which is fine if you have no life, but really, wouldn't it be better to make your own life interesting?

Watching videos to “get your stoke/mojo” or whatever to go out and run/climb/ski/bike/whatever. If you can't motivate yourself without watching videos of some other dude living life you are never going to last at your sport. Either learn to “want it” or take up something you do want, even if it's knitting. Better that than pretending. 

 Go out and get your own "stoke"
Well, that's part one of “Things That Are Just Too Weird.” There are so many weird things out there that this series could go on and on and on, but, that would be just too weird.