Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Waddlebla Downhill Track

You might notice a theme here where I am consistently walking up downhill tracks. I actually ended up on the Waddlebla (apparently there is a mountain somewhere up there in the Lamb Range named Waddlebla, but I saw neither mountain nor waddle and I didn't feel bla) downhill track by accident. 

I set off on my (borrowed) bicycle this morning for the Ivan Evans Walk. This short trail (only 2.4 km return) was next on my list to tick off, and, although at first glance, this might seem like a long bicycle for a short walk, the ride to and from the walk is quite pleasant, and, now my arse is more adjusted to cycling, I don't mind a longer cycle approach, which always, but always beats having to drive somewhere. 

It probably took me about 50 minutes to cycle to the start of the walk, but I couldn't swear to that as I don't pay much attention to time. I had not ridden this route before so I stopped to check my handy Cairns cycle track map a few times to make sure I was still going the right way. The streets were pretty quiet on this New Years Day but a few Cairns folk were out walking before it got too hot. 

 Warning sign #2

I started from the Ellen Close trailhead where there are at least three signs warning you of “very steep grades” as you walk up to the lookout. Actually, the trail switchbacks up nicely on stone steps and, while it is a consistent uphill walk, the trail is never really steep (at least by other Aussie standards). The lookout has almost entirely grown in. By craning your head about, you might get a glimpse of the coast line, but mostly you will just be looking into the canopy of leafy trees. I actually walked past the lookout and had started the descent on the north side before I realized that the minor bulge in the trail I had passed was the lookout. 

 Lookout view

Right at the bulge in the trail (there is an old wooden railing as well) at the “look-out” (such as it is) a steep trail starts heading uphill on a little spur ridge. I can never resist a trail going somewhere I'm not actually going, so I followed it up. This trail is steep but clear and in not too long, I intersected the Waddlebla downhill track. I had no idea this was the Waddlebla Downhill track – a fact I only discovered later after a Google search – but I was clearly on a well defined downhill mountain bike trail. Where there is a downhill mountain bike trail there will always be a road, and I was sure this trail would eventually lead up to the Lake Morris Road. But, here I was again at another trail going somewhere else, so up I went.

Waddlebla Track

Apart from the last couple of hundred metres (distance not vertical elevation gain) the Waddlebla track is never as steep as the one that comes up from the Ivan Evans track, and it didn't take me long to hike right up to the Lake Morris Road. The track follows a prominent ridge all the way so there are a few level sections and even one short downhill stretch. The track comes out on a broken rocky bluff at 500 m ASL. Apparently this is about 10 km up the Lake Morris Road but there is nothing to mark the trail-head.

View from the Waddlebla Downhill Track

I was actually interested in following the mountain bike track all the way down as I wanted to see where it came out (I told you I can never resist another trail), but, I thought I might come out a fair distance from where my bike was stashed so it was completely unintentional that I missed the junction where I had first joined the Waddlebla track and ended up following the Waddlebla track all the way down to Vine Close, which, I was happy to note was only about 500 metres from where my bike was parked.

The whole journey door to door took only about 3.5 hours and the walk up the Waddlebla Downhill track was much more interesting than the Ivan Evans walk. There are some big trees on the trail, the ridge that track follows is pleasant to walk and you even get a view.

Monday, December 30, 2013

We Are What We Do

Apparently, the state of Queensland has officially declared a “heat wave.” In the interior of Queensland temperatures are climbing into the mid to high forties. Yeah, that's hot. Here in Cairns, it is calm, still and dry, but, with the coastal influence we are only getting up to 33 Celsius. Which is really nothing compared to Windorah (at 47 C) or Miles (at 48 C) but enough to get you outside early before it gets too hot. 

Early this morning I rode down to the Esplanade to boulder for an hour. I was thinking, as you do when riding a familiar route, about various things, like why you never hear people say “I have trouble maintaining my muscle strength.” Yet, particularly among women, it is so common to hear “I have trouble maintaining my weight,” which almost inevitably means “I am getting fat”, even though technically it could mean “I am getting thin.”

Eyeing up the next hold

Our whole paradigm would shift if, instead of obsessing about a number on a scale we focused on maintaining a good level of muscle strength. I'm not talking about crazy body builder levels of muscular development, I'm just talking about maintaining (or developing) a reasonable level of muscular fitness so that you can do some full depth squats, pushups, pull-ups, and lift heavy objects off the floor. Instead of running and other steady state cardio while limiting calorie intake, people would eat lots of fat and protein and would go about lifting big rocks or tires, doing pull-ups on playground monkey bars, jumping up onto picnic benches and, even better, do lots of bouldering. 

Which is a good segue into one of the other things I was thinking about while riding which is what you see people do is a pretty good indicator of who they really are. Yesterday I cycled over to the local freshwater swimming hole for a dip in the afternoon. With the exception of one man, all the adults were lying about on the banks of the swimming hole while all the kids were swimming. The kids were all smiling and having a great time, the adults all looked hot and grumpy. I know which one I'd rather be.

Unusually, there was actually another couple bouldering today – I rarely see anyone else bouldering (rare being exactly one other time). But, a similar pattern to the adults/children phenomena was playing itself out. The guy was climbing, the woman was just standing there watching him climb. They were both “climbers” as far as I could tell as they were both wearing rock shoes and chalk bags, but only one was actually climbing. We are what we do.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Bullshitometer

There are so many sites, blogs, programs, work-outs, diets, training plans, make-overs, protocols, and the like out there right now that it is really hard to separate the good from the bad to the down right stupid. The best thing, of course, would be if we were all trained in statistics and the scientific method and we set about rigorously reading every study ever done and working out whether or not the conclusions were bona-fide or bogus. We'd accept the bona-fide ones, with the caveat that we would see if the science actually worked for us and we'd toss out the bogus ones. Pretty quickly Big Food and Big Pharma would disappear and we would be in charge our own health and longevity. A utopian paradise with no metabolic syndrome, no diabetes, no wheat bellies, no hypertension, basically no fat out of shape people who can't get off the couch, do a real push-up or squat with their hips below their knees. Yeah, you're right ain't gonna happen. Real health takes too much work, requires too many sacrifices and there are too many vested interests.

Ocean turmoil, reflection of inner turmoil? 
Paradise might be lost, but we can at least have a somewhat developed “bullshitometer”. We've all got one. The question is how well your bullshitometer is calibrated. Some people have a scary low bar on the bullshitometer such that everything they see and read becomes an instant call to action. They've been vegan, vegetarian, fructarian, or a raw-food-atarian, all the while running (literally) themselves into the ground. Other people's bullshitometer is calibrated to what Big Food, Big Pharma and government (way too influenced by Big Food and Big Pharma) tells them, or what the conventional medical/dietetic/fitness industry tells them – which are pretty much the same really. Any slightly non-conventional way of thinking scares these folks scary.

In a perfect world, our bullshitometers would be perfectly calibrated and we would be open to ideas that didn't correspond with our own instead of seeking out information that bolsters our already myopic view of the world. My own bullshitometer is likely just as biased as everyone else’s, but, I do like to think – I'll grant you I could be fooling myself – that the things I now dismiss based on my bullshitometer are things that I've tried in the past and haven't worked for me. If it's something new, I like to think – again this could be erroneous – that I'd give it a try. 

Anyway, what a long and tedious preamble. The reason I started thinking about the bullshitometer has been the proliferation of blogs and programs and protocols that are sprouting up as everyone peddles their particular brand of health and fitness. Some programs are just clearly idiotic and can be discounted immediately, but most are a mix of the good, the bad and the stupid. Pulling out the good from the garbage is difficult without a well calibrated bullshitometer. I can't believe I've written yet another paragraph of preamble and haven't got to my personal bullshitometer. 

 Caught mid-squat, hips not below knees

Finally, in a similar vein to my “things that are just too weird” here are the most common things that fail my bullshitometer test:
  • Endorsing any kind of steady state cardio without issuing the caveat that steady state cardio does more harm than good.
  • Core workouts that feature sit-ups.
  • Using girlie weights or endorsing girlie weights for anyone who isn't really broken.
  • Squats where your hips do not go below your knee. It's tough, I get it, we've all got years of poor movement patterns, but the ultimate aim is to get your hips below your knees.
  • Anyone saying that squats or deadlifts will hurt you. Lying on the couch will hurt you.
  • Any kind of prescription that means you must eat breakfast, eat at certain times, or eat a certain number of times per day. Why is it so hard to eat when you are hungry? It shouldn't be, unless your metabolism is broken.
  • Anyone who thinks that fasting will break your metabolism.
  • Any endorsement of grains in the diet unless you can substantiate that the particular grain does not contain harmful proteins.
  • Things that indicate that you just don't get the science of human nutrition, such as not understanding that the reason you fall asleep after lunch is all the carbohydrate you ate, or that dairy is insulinogenic, or that active people (all people really) need a certain amount of complete protein every day.
  • Any endorsement of vegetarian diets. I get the animal cruelty issue, I also get the problems with industrialized food production, but man was not meant to live by vegetables alone.
  • The idea that legumes (beans) or grains (e.g. quinoa) contain any significant amount of protein. Yeah, technically there is a small amount of incomplete protein in those foods but how many brain-killing carbohydrates did you just ingest along with that tiny bit of incomplete protein.
  • Not eating egg yolks. WTF!
  • Any endorsement of seed oils as healthy. Come on, even the conventional nutritionists have got past thinking canola oil is good for you.
Whoa, this is getting scary. I've come up with 13 things that activate my bullshitometer and I feel like I am just getting started. I think I better stop now, step away from this computer screen and do something healthy.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Not Another N=1

I have some very early childhood memories of insisting my mother make me tuna fish cakes, lamb chops and mince rissoles for breakfast (not all at the same meal although that would be awesome). I'm pretty sure such a nutrient (not to mention) fat dense breakfast would have fueled me up for the day ahead, but, sadly, that part I can't really remember. I do know that I got side-tracked from this diet somewhere along the line and spent the next 30 years in a carbohydrate induced haze. For a few years I was even vegetarian (horror), during which time I consumed an appalling amount of “healthy” soy.

Early morning, south coast, NSW

About five years ago, I quit eating grains of any kind and, since then, I've gradually been eating less and less carbohydrate. In the last few months, I've discovered that I “look, feel and perform” best on a really low carbohydrate diet. Of course, I wish it hadn't taken me over four decades to work this out, but, I guess I can at least look forward to the next four decades now being very healthful.

In paleo land, that amorphous place where all us wackos who don't eat “bird seed” hang out a lot of people are experimenting with nutritional ketosis, a condition implicated in improvements in cancer, autoimmune conditions, and neurological disorders (among other things). I've been naturally slipping in and out of ketosis frequently over the last couple of months without really trying and I've noticed that I sleep better, but less, have no hunger but massive energy, can go hours or even all day without eating yet have great strength, have great mental clarity, and just generally feel pretty awesome. Skeptics will also think I am also suffering from ego-mania, illusory superiority or just some generalized narcissism.

Whatever the real truth is (if you believe truth is relative you'll think there is no one truth), I am going to enter the n=1 experimental realm of which paleo folks are so fond, and try for the foreseeable future to stay in a state of nutritional ketosis. I am not Jimmy Moore, or Peter Attia, so I won't be measuring all kinds of blood levels and making copious notes on my experience, but I will keep some rough notes of how I'm feeling and how the experiment is working out. Either my illusory superiority will become real, or I'll come crashing down. Stick around and see how it turns out.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Swallow A Camel, Choke On A Gnat

Outside Online had this little blurb recently about “Diet Cults” where Matt Fitzgerald, the author of a new, but not yet released book, opined that:
“People who become convinced that a certain way of eating is best for everyone believe they are making a rational choice in pursuit of improved health, whereas they are primarily making an emotional and moralistic choice to join a special group that makes them feel good about themselves.” 

By this logic, I could join the Twinkie eating (substitute Lamington eating for Aussie readers) diet cult and “feel good about myself,” regardless of the fact that I would, in rapid time, become fat, diseased, weak, and eventually succumb to a litany of dietary induced diseases such as metabolic syndrome, diabetes, and heart disease - to list only the most prominent in our society. But, not to worry, because as I lie in my hospital bed awaiting the arrival of a panoply of machines to save me from multi-system organ failure I can feel all righteously sanctimonious and my gravestone will bear the epitaph “I belonged.” 

This dude does not eat Lamingtons

Given that Outside Online has endorsed diets such as gluten free, cholesterol lowering (without any debate about whether lowing cholesterol is a good thing, which has to make you say WTF), paleo, carbohydrate heavy (aka eat less, move more, still not lose fat, although you might lose weight), the DNA diet, the so-called “Abs Diet” (headlined as showcasing real foods and includes bread, packaged tomato sauce, smoothies and advocates eating six times per day - another WTF), yet another ridiculous headline grabbing, substance empty article should probably not come as a surprise.  Nor should it be surprising that each new diet Outside Online recommends is contrary to the one which preceded it. 

In fact, I'm not even sure why I am wasting bandwidth writing about Outside Online's latest appeal to the lowest common denominator diet that encourages people to “swallow a camel and choke on a gnat" all the while feeding their sugar habit.   

 Morning light, South Point, Wilsons Promontory

Not Quite As Planned

After spending Christmas night up at Davies Creek National Park, where we enjoyed visiting with friends and swimming in the pleasantly cool Davies Creek, we headed back down to Cairns on Boxing Day. Doug dropped me off at the top of the Macalister Range and took the car down to Cairns. I planned to walk down to Cairns via an unmaintained (non-existent would be more appropriate) walking track over Crupper (crapper) peak to Saddle Mountain and down a steep trail to James Cook University.

Doug swimming in Davies Creek

The start of this adventure involved walking back along the Kennedy Highway about 400 metres to the start of the track, a very unpleasant experience as the road is narrow, has no verge and was packed with cars, most of which were undoubtedly operated by half-cut drivers still under the influence of the previous days festivities. The “track” is marked by a faded piece of flagging tape and immediately dives into seemingly impenetrable rain forest. Before taking the plunge, I liberally applied several layers of different insect repellents hoping to deter any blood-sucking leeches. I followed the “track” for about 15 minutes, 14 minutes of which involved bashing about in dense, spiky, stinging rainforest vegetation looking for the next piece of faded pink tape. A quarter of an hour was enough to convince me that this was not a Merry Christmas type of activity and I returned back to the Kennedy Highway.

The track or the bush, who can tell

On the other side of the Kennedy Highway another unmaintained track heads along a rainforested ridge to the Skyrail terminal. I'm not exactly sure what the point of this walk is as there are no views and the forest is uniformly dense. As I was pretty much abandoned on the Macalister Range I decided I may as well do this walk instead. Another 15 minutes of pushing through bush followed before I decided that this was another unpleasant activity on a hot steamy day and I walked back to the highway. 

Of course, I now had to get back to Cairns, so I walked a kilometre down the Kennedy Highway – really, really unpleasant as I had to walk in a narrow road ditch, jumping to avoid cars every few minutes – to the Henry Ross Lookout where the Kuranda Downhill Track starts. I have walked up and down this track before, but not on a weekend when the downhill mountain bikers reach speeds of 60 km/hour as they descend. It's a toss up whether being hit by a car going 60 km/hour is worse than being hit by a bike going the same speed, but, in the end, I opted for the bike option. I waited until a party of four bikers had started down and then scampered down the track myself. I emerged about 20 minutes later on the Kennedy Highway unscathed. 

Doug at Davies Creek

Initially, I thought I would call Doug from Smithfield Shopping Center, but, once I got down, I figured I may as well walk home, a distance of about 9 km, so I set off on the pedestrian path by the highway. It was hot work in the mid-morning sun and there is no shade along the path. I had walked half the distance when the pedestrian path ran out and I had to walk on the road verge in long grass. Emerging from the long grass on the bridge over the Barron River I realized I had been stung by an insect, remembering my recent Atherton experience, I quickly swallowed two antihistamines. After this, I decided to call Doug to come and pick me up before any other calamities, such as the bridge collapsing occurred. I got home and managed to have a cold shower before falling into a antihistamine induced coma for a few hours, and that's how I spent Boxing Day.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

A Few Of My Favourite Things

It's early morning Christmas Day in Australia. Light rain is falling in Cairns and the raucous chorus of early morning bird song is just warming up. I am on a really clean high fat, low carbohydrate paleo diet these days and find I just don't need the same number of hours of sleep I used to and get up at around 5 am most days. The pre-dawn hour is when I sit down and prepare for the day ahead, most often by writing this blog. 

Not at all like Cairns at Christmas

This Christmas we are heading up to Davies Creek National Park on the Tableland behind Cairns for a couple of days where we will do some bushwalking and swimming in the creek with some fellow escapees from the commercialism of the season. In Nelson, we always spent Christmas skiing, usually staying in a little mountain cabin, like we did in 2011 (our last Christmas in Nelson). Neither Doug nor I are traditionalists and could just as easily skip the entire Christmas scene. 

Christmas 2005, Caribou Cabin

I do feel the end of another year approaching, which is a time for regular folks to take stock and – gasp – even set a few goals. No doubt, there will be many new diet and exercise programs launched on January 1, 2014. To that end, I've gathered together some of my favourite blog posts about health and fitness.
First, Jay Stanton, on his one day fasted Mount Whitney walk to demonstrate metabolic flexibility.

I haven't read all Jay Stanton's posts (that would require staying in one place for far too long) but I really like his post “There is another level above I'm Doing Fine” which you'll really only understand once you get yourself into peak health and notice all the minor little irritations that used to plague you have completely disappeared. 

Early Christmas morning, 2011

Steady state cardio is so entrenched in both the mainstream media and the fitness industry (with the exception of the primal type fitness experts) as the way to “cardiovascular health and fitness” but the entire concept is flawed. Start a running (or other steady state cardiovascular program) and you'll see some modest improvements in whatever steady state cardio activity you are engaged in, but, you won't be improving your overall health all that much. Michael Eades explains in this blog post – you'll have to read down to the second half of his post to get to the nitty gritty of the issue – why weight training is better for overall health than steady state cardio. Those improvements in your ability to huff and puff that you see after a few weeks of steady state cardio are the result of muscle conditioning (specifically mitochondrial efficiency) not any change in your overall cardiovascular system so the smart thing to do would be to condition your muscles with weight training and ditch the huffing and puffing. 

On the way to Snowspider, Christmas 2006

A while ago, John Keifer wrote an article damning steady state cardio that got all the long (and even short) distance runners out there all riled up when they thought that they might have to curtail their addiction to the endorphins released during their long (and otherwise tedious) workouts. You can read Keifer's article here.  A slightly less inflammatory take on the same thing (for the running junkies out there) is here.

On a more general note, anything that Peter Attia writes is interesting, but I particularly like his blog post on “Got Grit” which is all about determination and deliberate practice. It taps into a concept that Hamilton Stapell addresses at the Paleo FX 2013 conference, view the slides here, or the video of the talk here, where he explains why the paleo movement will never go mainstream.  Basically, most people just aren't motivated enough to walk away from the instant gratification of the standard western diet even if they will "look, feel and perform better." And finally, the paleo backlash is now in full swing, Keith Norris explains why the mainstream media has got it all wrong here.

If you want something a little more seasonal, you can view our Christmas letter here.  Have yourself a happy and healthy festive season.

Christmas morning, Grassy Hut, 2003

Monday, December 23, 2013

Ten Lessons Learned

Ocean kayaking reminds me a lot of climbing, you can choose your own exposure level and there is always something to learn. You can climb well protected one pitch sport routes at Wingello or hang your butt out on some sandbagged line with dubious trad gear in the Blue Mountains. Ocean kayaking is the same. You can have a pleasant paddle around Port Hacking where the biggest hazard is some drunken yobbo in a power boat, or paddle out on the southern ocean in big swells and whipping winds. Each day brings new lessons that enrich our lives both on the rock/ocean and in our regular day to day lives. 

Wingello access

Our latest ocean kayaking trip from Bramston Beach to Lyons Point lies somewhere between those two extremes. A bit tougher than paddling on Port Hacking, but, only minimally risky. North Queensland waters are warm and the coastline is protected from the full force of the ocean swell by the Barrier Reef so capsizing is not a lot worse than falling off a multi-pitch trad climb. There is, however, always a chance that things could become epic and I certainly would not have relished capsizing on the day we paddled from High Island to Fitzroy Island. The sea conditions were rough enough that pumping out the cockpit of a kayak with our current hand pump would have been very difficult. 

Surf landing on the east coast of Hinchinbrook Island

Which leads me, after a long, rambling and discursive preamble, to lessons learned, some of which will seem frightfully obvious:
  1. Keep your kayak in good repair. Leaking hatch covers that aren't a big deal on calm waters become a real safety hazard 10 kilometres from shore in a breaking sea. Bungees and deck lines that are near breaking point will inevitably break, gear stored under them will be irretrievably lost, rudders will fall off, spare paddles will go astray, and pretty soon that easy days paddle morphs into an epic.
  2. Check all your safety gear before each trip. Spurred by this last trip, I checked all our gear when we returned and discovered that one of our emergency strobe lights had leaked, corroded and stopped functioning. The open ocean is no place to discover your paddle float no longer inflates, your bilge pump is clogged with sand and your tow rope is tangled.
  3. Learn to paddle without a rudder. My kayak tends to weathercock in the slightest breeze so I most often paddle with the rudder deployed, but, paddling without a rudder is one of the those essential skills that just have to be mastered. I don't use a rudder for surfing as it makes the boat too slow to turn, but I do tend to over-rely on my rudder in windy conditions, simply for ease of paddling. This is mostly laziness as I don't like having to throw in corrective strokes all the time or paddle with the kayak heeled over on one side to give directional control. But, after this last trip, where we had two broken rudders, I am going to practise paddling without a rudder more.
  4. Kayak sailing is easy until it isn't. Sailing in winds up to about 20 knots is pretty easy to master. With the wind above 20 knots, conditions get challenging and a full range of boat control issues begin to surface. I need more practice kayak sailing in stronger winds. I'm working on it, but I've got more to learn before I am totally proficient.
  5. Rafting up when kayak sailing is very stable, but very tedious and is hard on boats and bodies. It seems a lot like a sitting glissade versus a standing glissade. The former is used only when the individual can't master the latter.
  6. A lot of water comes into the cockpit during rough crossings. Crossing from High Island to Fitzroy Island the water in my cockpit reached to the bottom of my calves. Pumping out with a standard hand pump is virtually impossible in rough water as you can neither remove the spray deck nor take your hands off the paddle. The oft recommended practice of sticking the pump down the inside of your PFD and spray deck is ridiculous.
  7. Storing your hand pump behind the seat is quite workable in average sea conditions, in wild and woolly sea conditions, it is pretty much inaccessible. Which may not make a lot of difference, see point #6. A better option is either an electric or foot operated pump.
  8. Tow ropes should be adjustable in length, easily deployed and able to be quickly released. Otherwise, they are pretty much useless.
  9. An efficient forward stroke that you can keep up for hours is helpful if you have to paddle a heavy boat into a strong wind. Torso rotation is likely the key.
  10. Beyond a certain point, everyone is responsible for their own safety at sea. In strong winds, rough seas, big swells there is only so much one kayaker can do to assist another. No doubt this is why sea kayak clubs have such stringent proficiency requirements for participants on club trips. 
    Mellow paddling in Nooramunga Inlet

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Wild Times: Sea Kayaking From Bramston Beach to Cairns via High and Fitzroy Islands

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness. Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities. 
Friday morning, and our group of seven people in five kayaks is assembled on the north facing beach of High Island preparing to depart for Fitzroy Island. We have had a solid southeasterly flow for nearly a week now, steady winds never dipping much below 15 knots and gusting up to 35 knots at times. The sea state is lumpy and confused, with cresting waves around two metres high that have not yet organised into a cohesive swell. 

The day before, after a tricky launch in a dumping surf off Bramston Beach, Doug, Dee and I had kayak sailed the 23 km to High Island arriving around 1.30 pm, where we met our four other friends in two double kayaks who had kayak sailed over the previous day. Although the winds were blowing steady from the southeast, High Island is small enough for the waves to wrap around the island and I had spent an hour or two in the afternoon surfing my kayak on small regular waves off the northeastern point of the island. 

 Fitzroy Island from Oombunghi Beach

Our four other friends were in two double kayaks, capacious and stable. Dee was paddling a Storm, another large stable single kayak, while Doug and I were in our rather tippy Prijon Marlins. One by one, we launched off the beach waiting for a break in the bigger sets, and soon, five boats were afloat. About 50 metres off-shore, the rudder on one of the double kayaks fell off (the rudder had fallen off the previous day as well). An on the water repair was instituted, which lasted about another 50 metres. 

The wind was now blowing a steady 17 knots and gusting to about 23 knots. Our plan was to paddle due north 26 km to Fitzroy Island. This long crossing would save us about 9 km of paddling but would keep us an average of 10 km off-shore. When the rudder on the double kayak broke for the second time I wondered if this direct crossing was really wise. Doug and I had done this trip before and we had crossed from High Island back to the mainland, paddled north to Oombunghi Beach and then crossed to Fitzroy Island, a crossing of only about 7 km. But, when you are in a group, particularly a group that is already spread out and bouncing about on a disorganised sea in moderate to strong winds, there is often no option to change the previously agreed upon plan. 

Moonrise, Oombunghi Beach

So northward we went. The two couples in the doubles, launched sails and rafted up, and we three in singles, did the same, however we only deployed two sails, one on the either side of our “raft.” For the first couple of hours, we whipped along quite smartly. Individually, I don't think any of us would have been sailing as the risk of capsize would have been too high. We were travelling largely broadside to the swell and with the building gusty winds, it was a wet and wild ride.

Rather quickly, we pulled ahead of the two doubles. We pulled one sail down for a while and allowed the double kayaks to catch up a bit before we redeployed our second sail. With two sails up, we quickly pulled ahead again, but for the first three hours of our journey, I could still see the sails on the two doubles in the distance behind me. During the fourth hour, I lost sight of them. Rafted up, we were all quite safe from capsize, although the experience was more or less gruelling depending on your position in the raft. I had the preferred middle position and was relatively comfortable. Doug had the upwind side and quickly developed cramps in his shoulder and arm from hanging on and always felt in danger of capsizing as his boat heeled far over in the wind. Dee on the downwind side, had to lean far across my boat to stabilise her kayak and was similarly uncomfortable. 

High Island, far away from Fitzroy Island

During the third hour, to entertain Dee, I told her stories of our Canadian adventures including the classic food-drop lost in a high mountain tarn during a two week ski traverse that necessitated a four day ski out to civilisation with nothing to eat during a Pineapple Express weather system, and the unfortunate incident of the stuck knee on Bugaboo Spire (published in the Canadian Alpine Journal). 

As we neared Fitzroy Island, a few things happened. We lost sight of our companions in the double kayaks, Dee's rudder broke, our progress northward slowed, we began to get pushed further and further east, and we noticed that the bow of Dee's boat was submerged. When pumping out her cockpit (not an easy manoeuvre in 20 knot winds) did nothing to ameliorate the issue, we began to think that her boat was seriously leaking. I argued for putting up a third sail to get us to the island before Dee's boat became a submarine, but the other two were not comfortable with this option. Doug and I also wanted to pull the sails in, and paddle the final few kilometres to the island but Dee, with a half submerged boat, no rudder and 20 knot cross winds to contend with was understandably not keen.

Freshwater swimming, Turtle Bay

Eventually, we had drifted so far west, that dumping the sails and paddling was the only option. It actually wasn't hard to paddle in to Fitzroy Island, at least for Doug and I in fully functional boats, Dee however struggled to bring her boat in, laden as it was with sea water. Eventually, however, we pulled around the west side of the island and slowly paddled in to shore. We attempted to tow Dee in but our tow rope – tested only on an inland lake – turned out to be too long for the job and we were unable to even give Dee an effective assist. 

Four hours after leaving High Island, we pulled up to the beach at Fitzroy Island, relieved to see our four friends already on-shore having arrived about 15 minutes before. They too had been pushed far to the west on approach to the island. Dee's front hatch was full of sea water and all her gear and food were soaked. On inspection, we noted that the neoprene skirt had numerous large holes. The 26 km crossing had taken us about four hours. 

Approaching Turtle Bay

The next day, various injuries and ailments were cracking the veneer of our group. Doug had wrenched his neck and was stiff from the waist up, Tim had succumbed to MF's cold and was feeling “a bit ordinary” as he said, while Dee had no wish to paddle a leaking kayak 33 km into Cairns. The winds, however were falling, and, although the sea was still confused, conditions were easier to manage. The two double kayaks set off for Cairns around 10.00 am with the option of pulling out near Lyon Point, a distance of about 23 km. I paddled a few kilometres along the northern side of Fitzroy Island to Little Fitzroy Island, but, given the rough sea condition deemed it unwise to continue and circumnavigate the island by myself so I came back and went snorkeling over the reef. Dee organised to catch the ferry back to Cairns with the Storm. 

Around 2.00 pm, Doug and I packed our kayaks and paddled out from Fitzroy Island heading for Turtle Bay, a pretty little rainforest fringed sandy bay on the northern end of the Yarrabah Peninsula. We sailed most of the way except around the first headland north of Little Turtle Bay where haystacks and standing waves caused us to reef in our sails and paddle out wide of the headland. With sails down, the seas were easy to manage. After the busyness of Fitzroy Island, the deserted Turtle Bay was an oasis. We landed in a small shore dump, pulled the boats up on the beach and had a freshwater swim in one of the two creeks that drain down to the beach from the hills behind. We camped at Turtle Bay the last time we paddled this stretch of coastline and it was easy to settle back into our old campsite, a grassy little nook tucked under Casuarina trees by a big granite boulder. 

 Early morning, Turtle Bay

I woke up early the next morning with the traveling head-cold that was making the rounds of our group, and Doug still had a wretchedly stiff neck. The winds were relatively light, only blowing about 10 knots, but the sea was still roiling off-shore. We had coffee, skipped breakfast and were on the water by 7 am. The headland from Turtle Bay to Cape Grafton runs southeast to northwest and we sailed most of the way, although the gusty winds and confused seas made this challenging at times. Near Cape Grafton, I got weary of the bow of my boat being tossed from one side to the other in the lumpy seas – an easy enough phenomena to manage when the sail is furled up, but challenging when every slight twist is amplified by a big top heavy sail on the bow – and I pulled the sail in until I had rounded Cape Grafton. 

We crossed 7 km long Mission Bay mostly under sail although I found it difficult not to get blown too far to the north as the wind was now coming across our sterns. We ended up about a kilometre north of False Cape – the western end of Mission Bay – a combination of having to head north to avoid the endless line of tourist boats streaming out to the east and the building southeasterly winds. When we were north of False Cape, we reeled the sails in and paddled into Sunny Bay for breakfast. We had traveled about 14 km and had gone no quicker than the last time we had paddled that section without sails. 

Russel Island sunset

Our initial plan had been to continue northwest for another 12 km crossing Cairns Harbour and landing at Holloways Beach, but, Doug's stiff necks, my head cold, the gusty winds, and, most importantly the incessant stream of tourist boats exiting Cairns Harbour all induced us to change our plans. Tim was driving our car back up to Cairns from Bramston Beach and would be passing by the turn off to the Yarrabah Peninsula so we decided to see if he could drop our car at the boat ramp near Lyons Point instead. We managed to catch him on the telephone as he was leaving Cairns for Bramston Beach and we organised a new pick up location. 

We cooked up some breakfast at Sunny Bay and then paddled the three kilometres around to the boat ramp where we unloaded the kayaks for the last time. Tim arrived within about 10 minutes and we were soon heading back to Cairns, another interesting trip concluded.

The photos in this post are from our last trip up this section of the coast. Among the many things that broke either before or during this trip was our waterproof camera.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Stumbling Along

We learn to walk by stumbling. Bulgarian Proverb.

If you allow it, life can be a series of lessons where stumbles become steps along the road to some distant goal, not the end of the road. Yesterday, was one of the those days where a series of stumbles can provide a whole host learning experiences. 

Probably the first lesson learned is that I have to work out some way of getting the sail down quickly in strong winds. I have been able to manage when the wind is in the 15 knot range and even in gusts up to 20 knots, but when the wind is blowing stronger than that, unless I manage to raft up to another kayak, once the sail is up, it's up for good. Capsizing would work, but is clearly not a reasonable option.

 Easy paddling in the North Barnard Islands

I really must learn to steer the kayak better when sailing in following seas with a strong wind blowing. When we first got back into kayaking after a long hiatus, I broached frequently in a following sea. Gradually, I've got to the point where I can handle a following sea pretty well, but, yesterday, with the sail up, I was sailing in circles such was my inability to control the kayak. This was not only inefficient and energy consuming, but, at times, downright scary. 

Ashore in the North Barnard Islands

Because I felt as if my kayak was heeling right over in the wind and threatening to capsize I was using my paddle blade as an outrigger not a rudder. Doug, however, had his paddle oriented somewhere half way between an outrigger and a rudder and was relatively easily maintaining control. At the time, I knew I needed more rudder, but, when you are just holding on to an upright position, making changes which feel as if they will affect your stability (in the wrong direction) are tough to commit to. 

Getting out sailing on all the windy days that we can has certainly improved my ability to control the kayak as have the surfing sessions at Yorkeys Knob when we get a wave running. In the end, all this stuff has to be instinctive because you don't have the time to think things through when you are whipping along in a stiff wind. And, the only way to make things instinctive is to get out and do them over and over again.

Early morning in the North Barnard Islands

Riding The Wave: Kayak Sailing From Machans Beach to Ellis Island

“Where are you going?” Doug was screaming at me as I hurtled across the waves in front of me, leaning way out to the side on my paddle blade desperately trying to keep my kayak right side up as the wind, gusting into the 30 knot range threatened to capsize my kayak. “I'm just hanging on” I screamed back. I was finding communicating just as difficult as kayak sailing in the raunchy conditions. 

We were on our usual 23 km kayak sailing route from Machans Beach in the south to Ellis Beach in the north and the wind was blowing a steady 23 knots with gusts up to 32 knots. We had already had one minor adventure when Doug capsized as he was deploying his sail and his paddle, held only loosely in one hand, had wound up under the gunnel and tipped him over. It took me much longer than I had hoped (although it was still probably only a couple of minutes) to get my kayak pointed back into the wind (best to pull-up the rudder to enable a sharper turn) and rafted up along side his kayak so he could climb back in and bail out. 

 An old photo, our camera has gone in for repairs, 
and I couldn't have taken a picture if I tried

Using a bit more caution, we stayed rafted up and deployed just one sail at first. After a while, we decided to deploy my sail as well and sail/paddle independently. After all, the whole point of the exercise was to gain more experience with our Pacific Action sails in stronger winds.  We covered ground relatively quickly up to Yorkeys Knob and stayed well off-shore as variable water depths and small cliffs can make for some confused sea conditions closer in to Yorkeys Knob. 

Somewhere between Yorkeys Knob and Taylor Point I began having increasing difficulty controlling my kayak. I was surfing wildly down the following sea broaching first to right and then to left. Usually, I find the sail keeps the bow pointed into the wind, but, with a much stronger wind blowing, I was having difficulty travelling in anything resembling a straight line, and a few times, I could swear, I virtually sailed in 180 degree arc. 

Another oldie

The problem with kayak sailing, at least at my level of experience, is that once the sail is up in a strong wind, it is desperately hard to pull it down. We both have fairly tippy kayaks and with the strong gusty wind and building seas, I needed both hands on the paddle to brace and avoid a capsize. No matter how out of control I felt, I couldn't get the sail down, all I could do was lean out on a good brace and hang on. 

After my eighth near capsize in as many minutes, I shouted at Doug to raft up. This procedure took another 10 minutes as, try as he might, Doug could not slow down (he also could not pull his sail in) and I was having a hard time catching him and pulling along side. Eventually, yelling “on your left” I managed to ease in beside him using some strong back paddling strokes and grabbed on to his cockpit cowling. 

We quickly pulled in both sails and sat panting for a time getting pushed around by the building seas but now in no real danger of a capsize. At this point we were probably about 2 or 3 km off-shore and I thought if we paddled in a bit, we might get some shelter from the wind and building sea behind Taylor Point. We separated and paddled shoreward, getting blown well past Taylor Point but coming closer to shore near the south end of Palm Beach. I had only one almost capsize when I got caught by a bigger wave during a moment of inattention. It was somewhat disconcerting to hear the crashing of the waves breaking behind me as I paddled shoreward, but, I felt reasonably confident that I could keep the kayak running straight and any waves I did broach on, I could handle by bracing over the break. 

Last old photo

Once we had got closer inshore, we decided to deploy one sail and stay rafted up and sail to Double Island. This worked really well. We made good time, were much more stable than when we sailed solo, and managed to stay on course without great difficulty. The only difficult part was hanging on tightly when the wind threatened to blow us apart. As we came into the shelter of the reef between Haycock and Double Island, we pulled down Doug's sail and struggled to paddle the kayaks into shore against the wind. Standing on dry land was a bit of a relief except we found ourselves getting dive bombed by a couple of Plovers that must have had a nest in the vicinity. 

We decided to sail into shore to the north of Buchan Point using only one sail and staying rafted up. As we thought we would get pushed quite far north, we aimed our kayaks to the SW and thus had the wind blowing across our port side as we headed towards shore. We deployed Doug's sail and stayed rafted up. Doug had to lean way over to keep his kayak upright and I developed a technique where I hung on straight armed to his cockpit and also leaned my boat way up wind. 

The sailing was much easier when we pointed the boat towards Ellis Beach. I'm not sure if this was because we were getting some shelter from Double Island and Buchan Point, or if we had been in a bit of a wind tunnel as we crossed from Double Island to the mainland, or if it was just a factor of sailing down wind rather than cross wind. In any case, we sailed quite easily up to Ellis Beach where we pulled in Doug's sail and rode the waves into the beach.

After we had pulled the boats up on to the beach (closed due to strong winds) we said “Wow, that was fun.” It seems that kayak sailing, like climbing, also involves that strange mental warp where you forget all about how much you were scared and struggling and remember only how great the experience was.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

And Now For Something Completely Different

Goals should never be easy, they should force you to work. Michael Phelps.

One of the ways in which Doug and I are different, apart from the immediately obvious, like he stands up to take a leak and I don't (at least not usually), is that Doug often articulates his goals, while I keep mine silent. I could claim that this is because I don't want to fall into the trap of “symbolic self-completion” (Google it) but I often think it is really because I don't want to be held accountable when I fail miserably. After all, if I haven't announced my goals, no-one will know that I haven't come closer than a lizards underbelly to achieving them. 

Just your usual pretty picture meant to be motivational,
Selkirk Mountains, BC, Canada 

If past behavior is a good predictor of future behavior (which it is), I could not articulate my goals, fail to reach them, and, with no written record and no-one to remind me, I could walk away feeling pretty good about the whole thing. Sounds ideal really. Or, maybe not. Maybe it is time to try something different. After all, I've written myself about how more of the same usually doesn't help. So, now for something completely different my goals for the summer in Cairns:
  1. Climb the roof at the Cairns Esplanade bouldering area;
  2. Get strong as measured by a 50 kg back squat and a 70 kg deadlift.
  3. Develop a semi-reliable, that is four times out of five, eskimo roll in my sea kayak.
What is really apparent about these goals is how ego-centric they are. These are clearly the goals of a financially stable, white, middle-aged person who doesn't have too much of anything to worry about. Were I black, poor, or from any other religious, ethnic or sexual minority, I suspect I would have very different goals; if, in fact, I had any energy left after battling bigotry and prejudice to have any goals. 

Dom cranking the roof on Monkey Bars,
Bangor, NSW

Perhaps I should add one more goal, to be thankful each day that I am lucky enough to have the wit, the resources and the opportunity to even contemplate the prospect of doing more than just staying alive.

Friday, December 13, 2013

White Rock Peak Walk

Today was the one day a week when I didn't have to either dash off to the gym or the bouldering wall first thing in the morning. Of course, I don't really HAVE to dash off anywhere if I don't want to. I could lie in bed until noon, then stagger out, eat a load of gluten and surf the net the rest of the day, but that would be no kind of life and wouldn't get me any closer to reaching my goals. To get strong and to climb better, I gotta get up early and get out before the midday heat of a Cairns summer sweats all the liquid out of me and I turn into a human prune, so that is what I do six days a week. 

I like to have one day (at least) a week when I go for a nice hike somewhere, but I had trouble deciding where to go this time. There is no shortage of tracks I haven't done, but, I seem to have done most, (maybe all?) the ones that are within easy cycling distance. I did the same thing with peak bagging when we lived in Nelson. I quickly ticked off all the peaks that were within a short driving distance and then was left with long drives to do new peaks. After spending some considerable time calculating how long it would take me to cycle to various walks I ended up just picking the first walk that I hadn't done on a list I made when we first moved into Cairns. 

Cairns from the bluff

The track to White Rock Peak isn't very long, only about 4 km return and, after much deliberation I decided to take the lazy cowards way out and drive to the track head not cycle. The narrow, windy road with no verge justifies my cowardliness while my laziness is explained by the 1.5 to 2 hours it would take me to cycle to the track head, which, unless I left at 4 am, would have me walking in a hot part of the day and today was supposed to be a quasi-rest day. 

For some reason, although this track has “official” orange triangle track markers, there is no other signage so you need to know to start on a gated side road road 9.7 km up the Lake Morris Road. Luckily, I knew this. I shimmied through the gate and followed the old road up a switchback to a fenced utility building which can be skirted on the south. Beyond the building, a pretty good track marked with orange trail markers leads slightly downhill along a ridge to White Rock Peak – 30 metres lower than Mount Sheridan where the utility building is located. The further you get along this track the narrower it becomes, but, compared to lots of other tracks, it's actually pretty good the whole way, although the final section before White Rock Peak (no view on either named peak) gets a bit dense with wait-a-while on either side of the track. 

Walshs Pyramid from the bluff
I have not done this walk yet, but I'll have to drive to the start

At at trig station (which marks the top of White Rock Peak), a steep slippery track descends about 50 metres to a broken rock bluff where you get good views over Cairns and the farmlands and forests to the south. I had to snap off a few pictures without really framing them in any way as my camera has developed the annoying habit of shutting itself down seconds after I turn it on regardless of the state of the battery. 

There appears to be an illusion of a track that continues descending from the bluff, and, if you could walk down this way, you would come out in suburban Cairns. I found one reference, from early 2012 which mentioned a proposal to complete such a track, but it appears that the actual track work was never done. I walked a short way down the “illusory” track and it was very steep, slippery and soon became virtually non-existent. I guess you could bush-whack down, but it would probably be pretty ugly.