Thursday, January 28, 2016

Cycling in Australia – Animals that either kill you or make you stronger


Australia is full of exotic animals, especially when you are from Germany where the fauna’s fascination stops short of encountering a deer or a daddy longlegs (German:Weberknecht). 

Having lived nearly a year in Australia, I had the (mis)fortune to meet some of its inhabitants. Let me introduce you to a few of them. It is always good to know by what one gets killed:

Kangaroo 
Every time I see a kangaroo hopping at the side of the road I get into staring, photo-taking tourist mode….
”Look, look there is a kangaroo. 

Do you see it? 

Did you see it? 

Oh my god, it is hopping next to us. Awesome (Monikanouncian is: Ooooohsome). “

What I keep forgetting is that my fellow riders, usually Australians, have already seen one or two or thousands in their lives. Tough to get much excitement out of them. 

Kangaroos behave like mega-bunnies. They cant make up their mind where they jump and all of a sudden they land in front of you. Can you guess where I am going with this?

Just like a mega bunny

Snakes 
The most deadly snakes call Australia their home. So if I see a snake, I would not be exactly indifferent about its presence. 

Well, surely enough, I was riding with a few mates (yeah yeah turning into an Aussie already) through the lovely Australian gravel country side when my riding buddies in front of me circumvented a seeming stick on the road. 

I was a confused. 

Why don’t they just hop that sucker? Even I could do that (and if you have ever ridden mountain bikes with me, you know what I am talking about)! 

They were calling something in slurry Oz. Unconcerned and ignorant of the situation I was rocking up to this stick ready to bunny hop. 

Lightning struck. I knew now exactly what was going on. Snake! 

If the same situation happened in Germany, everyone would get of their bike, take their phones out and determine what snake it is. Australians are a little bit more laid back. “Ah, just a brown snake” I was told. After some thorough research on most venomous snakes, I learned that it is ranked as number 2. 

Huntsman 
I know this might be a stretch as “need to know” cycling knowledge but if you don’t know about this animal and see it the first time you wish you had already written your will. 

I had the misfortune to encounter it at 2am on my way to the bathroom. I peed my pants. The bathroom was not required anymore. Compared to the huntsman, a daddy longlegs seems a joke made by nature. 

Flies  
You must be now thinking…Monika…seriously? 

Well, let me tell you, the Australian flies are different. Seriously! 

I made the first real encounter while out-of-shaply grinding up a monstrosity of mountain, one fly after the other felt like joining me and climbed in my ears, nostrils and eyes. Waving in front of my face encouraged the flies to do it again, just a bit more annoying. Well, after an eternity of annoyance and wild waving, I made the mistake of stopping. 

Pooofff, an entire fly colony with its neighbors made picnic on me. After that, I was literally flying to the top of the mountain. 

Magpies  
Well, comparing flies with Magpies, I am not sure what is more challenging – the constant tickle in your eyes, ears and nose or the occasional smack to the head? 

Welcome to Magpie land. 

If it doesn’t kill you on the ground, don’t worry, Australia got the air covered as well. During Magpie season, October and November, these birds attack you from the back and smack you in the head if they think you deserve the full treatment. 

The bird’s exceptional business idea resulted even in an app where you can locate the most active Magpies. 
If you are a fan of fartlek training, the Magpie is your secret training partner.

Koalas 
So I have been living in Australia now for almost a year and still haven’t seen a koala. I start to think that this is a myth to have a cute little fluff ball in Australia’s killer animal kingdom. On top of it, it is high all the time – someone must have been stoned while inventing this creature.

Discovering Australia’s fauna is a work in progress and I am sure I forgot some crucial animals. And I have this odd feeling, that I will discover them rather sooner than later.

Although I am not quite sure about this deadly animal business, there is one thing I am sure about: there is not much left that could unsettle the Australian human species.

Monday, January 18, 2016

You never wanted a spoon that bad - Cycling in Port Fairy

Everyone knows a movie from the "old days" played in a small town where everyone knows each other. Cars are honking to greet each other, the latest gossip is caught up at one of the busy town cafes and phones are not necessary because you see each other every day anyway. Adding a strong cycling community with a famous local club race that convenes in a community hall to announce new racers or famous returning locals before every race and you think I am dreaming.

Well, maybe there is a reason for the town name but I felt like in a fairy tale when I had a chance to visit Port Fairy. This "old days" mentality is vividly ingrained in the 3000ish soul town with gorgeous beaches, beautiful architectural town structure and welcoming and community oriented people.

I, myself, had the fortune to meet one of the most active couples in the Port Fairian community: Jenny and Jeff. If they did not work on maintaining the cycling rail trail, they are leading a group ride for their fellow Port Farians or help kids new to cycling with their first ride.

A word about cycling in the Port Fairy region:

Although I havent quite recalled a Swiss climb in this region (the steepest and most vicious climb is getting out of a crater which is an experience in itself), cycling is not all fairy-talish. The wide open region (which reminds me very much of the American Midwest) gives the wind full access through the countryside like a leaf blower. A good workout is guaranteed!

And yes, there is a crater in the region filled with wild animals....basically anything that could knock you off your bike. But as an European, it is quite entertaining if a mega-duck...oh wait....an emu is running across the street.

And there is this infamous spoon race....

The local bike race called the spoon race substantiates this extraordinary community. All racers meet in a community hall before the race. The race promoter mentions every racer by its name and introduces newbies and welcomes returning local heroes. After the ceremonial introduction, the race starts casually in waves according to strengths of the racers. But dont underestimate the importance of this event as the winner receives one of the most highly sought spoons in town. Some people have been racing for years and still eat their soup with a fork.

Oh and just a word of caution, you may or may not get lost if you dont know the course. Let's say I speak from experience. This might be the secret way of the locals to gain advantage so the spoons never leave the town. :)

Port Fairy has kept its small town character despite its attraction to tourists. If you seek a weekend escape from Melbournian's hustle and bustle, Port Fairy is the place to be.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Climbing out of the unfit spiral with The Hurt Box

Warning: You might want to jump on your bike after reading this article. Please take appropriate measurements if required.

Can you imagine waking up at 4:45am in the morning, excitedly jumping out of the bed, almost taking your ceiling lamp out, singing with your radio and rocking up to the ride location ready for a tough ride?

No?

Well, I wasn’t either until I met Dave, Harry and Lisa, the coaching gang from The Hurt Box (THB). And yes, they chose their company name with intention.

On my first ride with THB five weeks ago, I had a true fitness reality check. I knew I was not in shape. But I was not only “not in shape”, I was even beyond the “out of shape” classification. 

I wasn’t sure what had a deeper dent, my legs or my ego. But I immediately knew, I arrived at the right address. Lisa, our female coach and National Track Champion, reassured me, if I follow the program, I will become fit and conditioned. There is no other way.

A promise too good to be true?

Well, I would know soon enough.

The training program is based on power and heartrate. As a sworn-in “no-number” cyclist, I was hesitant at first. So I chatted with Harry, the mastermind of Ridermetrics, a free available training software he programmed himself. Just to spell this out, there is a coach at THB, who thought all the current popular training software programs are not good enough so he built his own! I call this 100% dedication going all the way. And just for good measure, he improved the algorithms as there are error calculations in the most popular training software.

So, it didn’t take long and the power meter and a heart rate monitor was ordered. However, it’s one thing to collect data, but a totally different thing to analyse them and even more importantly to train accordingly. 
Dave aka Steggles, THB coach, elite racer and an icon in Melbourne’s cycling scene, is the key to transform the data into a training plan. Plus, not only does he write the program, he does the training with you. Three times a week, he personally ensures we are in the hurt box (sorry, couldn’t help it). 

But by no means does this mean we are digging deep the entire time, quite the opposite. Surprisingly, we are riding a lot of steady pace. As of rather sociable nature, it is a fantastic time to meet my fellow Hurt Boxers. They are quite a bunch, I tell’ya!

Although every THB rider has a different goal why they train – World Champs or for the local crit - there is one thing everyone has in common - they know how to have a good time on the bike – especially when a German tries to use American slang in Australia! This multicultural combination was asking for awkward misunderstandings. Let’s say this, not all American cycling terms are appropriate to use in Australian lingo, especially when juniors are around. I learned that the “did-she-really-just-say-that?” way! J

But back to the “you will get fit, there is no other way” promise, my initial data aversion and off-the-map-out-of-shapeness: 

Like in a cheesy movie, everything is having an amazing turn to the better. There is this indescribable connection with my bike returning– it is hard to describe but those who got back into shape from a miserable unfit state know this awesome feeling. 

I know this might sound over the top, but I couldn’t ask for a better Christmas present than being part of The Hurt Box. If you ever have been in that deep hole of unfitness, weight gain and lack of motivation, it is tough to get yourself out of there. THB was the key to get me back on track. Being motivated in the darkest hour to get up and excited to ride my bike while getting truly fit again is an awesome feeling. For those who have been there, they know exactly what I mean. 

And the journey is just starting…

View to the ocean on the way up Arthur's Seat

That was steep! Pictures never really show it.

Yep. Me.

Slowly but surely riding up Arthur's Seat.


Riding through a gorgeous countryside.