Monday, 11 September 2017

CQ17 - Day 9 The final wrap up

Final pack up day is a bitter sweet day.  It's the last time you have to work out how to fit all of your gear into your bags ready for the final load onto the luggage trucks.  It's the last time you will have to have your meal ladelled onto your plate.  And blissfully, it's the last time you will have to use toilet paper that is more closely related to paper rather than tissue.

But sadly, it's also the last time you will catch another cyclist's eye on the way to breakfast and say "good morning" and get a big smile back.  It's the last time you get to be cheeky to your favourite Marshall standing giving directions on the roadside.  And it's the last time you will share the road with 500 fellow Cycle Qld folk, at least until next year.

Every year, friendships are rekindled.  There are people I only see on CQ but when you arrive on site, it's like you only saw them yesterday.  They are welcoming and inclusive.  Many of these friendships become FB mates, which means we can catch up throughout the year, and keep up with their many cycling adventures.

There's Jenny and Russell who I met on CQ11.  We have been mates ever since and Jenny has even gotten me to get onto a mountain bike and try some new skills.  There's Sarah who I met at CQ16 as we climbed the Glasshouse Mountains.  We are Chicks Who Ride Bikes and caught up for coffee post ride.  This year, Sarah provided much needed mental fortitude given my lack of training prior to the event.  CQ12 I met Sue and Brodie, which was great for Hayden, as it meant he had a mate close in age to join on the ride.  Sue, Troy, Dylan and Jan are a great group of people who are so welcoming and are always good for a conversation around camp.  There are so many more - cyclists and volunteer's alike.

Final pack up complete, final breakfast eaten and its the final 31km of the tour.  5km of beautiful flat cycling through the cane fields outside of Murwullimbah, followed by a 5km climb up and over Mt Tomewin.  Once again the bell birds were out in full song, and it was a slow and steady pace up the mountain.  It's not too bad a climb - relatively regular gradient, with a slightly steeper stint in the middle, followed by an easier gradient to get to the top.  Along the way there were spectacular views across the hinterland and then the most delicious descents with the chance to get up some really big speeds.  These are my favourite parts, although truth be told I may need to learn to curb my enthusiasm as I sometimes push the boundaries of my comfort zone and a dose of the speed wobbles can be catastrophic, if not fatal.  Thankfully, this time I arrived safely at the bottom intact.  The final 10km was another beautiful flat ride, with the chance to roll the legs over and head to the finish chute.

Very excited to see Brendon waiting by the side of the road to watch me finish, and the chance to say goodbye to everyone.  I hadn't caught up with Mary and Linne over the course of the ride (they are early birds), so it was wonderful to see that they had just crossed the line ahead of me.  After over 500km I finally got the chance to give them a congratulatory hug and a hello!

Collected my luggage, had my obligatory chocolate frappe to celebrate end of ride and finally, before leaving, paid my deposit for next year's ride for a chance to have my airfares paid to Cairns.  The CQ circus had ridden into town in Goondiwindi, moved to Yelarbon, Texas, Stanthorpe, Woodenbong, Kyogle, Murwullimbah and finally was finishing up at Currumbin.  The tents are packed away, the bikes have been boxed and it's time to start dreaming about CQ18.

The Daintree to Cairns via the long option - can't wait.

Saturday, 9 September 2017

CQ17 - Day 8 - a day of firsts

Today is the first day that I haven't been able to ride the course in 7 years of CQ adventures.  I woke up early this morning with the dreaded gastro bug and while it is only quite mild at the moment, the camp medic has advised against riding today as the risk of further dehydration is too great and could lead to other complications out on course.

While I'm disappointed to be bussing it to Murwullimbah, it has been an interesting experience watching the logistics of moving so many sick cyclists from A to B, as well as having a chance to see the camp packdown, which is all part of the magic that happens when most of us are well and truly on the road.

The volunteer army that makes such an event not only possible but also affordable gets in and starts to dismantle the site piece by piece - the Easy Campese tents come down and are flat packed in the backs of budget trucks, piled high to fit them in.  Fleets of trucks are picking up luggage, marquees, tables, chairs, tents, catering equipment.  Until you start to see the skeletons of the campsite, you don't realise the logistics of transporting 500 camping cyclists day by day around the countryside.

Our bus today is an additional piece of the plan - 20 sick cyclists, whose bikes and luggage are safely stowed in the luggage trucks and who need to be transported to the next campsite.  The cycle route takes the riders 76km today up and over the hills to camp.  Our drive, the vehicle route, takes us 160km around as we avoid putting heavy traffic on the same route as the cyclists.

Kylie, our wonderful Ride Reception vollies has taken our names, checked the list twice and gottten us corralled onto the bus to begin the journey.  She is a great ambassador for Bicycle Qld and I look forward to seeing her smiling face at the event each year.

So for now I will sign off and try to catch some sleep on the drive.  I'm hoping all will be well enough to ride the final day tomorrow.

Friday, 8 September 2017

CQ17 - Day 7 and an early mark

One thing you learn on CQ is to never take anything that is said at the ride briefing as absolute gospel, especially if it relates to tailwinds or flat roads.  Also now included In that list is overnight temperatures.

We were promised a lovely six degrees overnight, which may sound cold, but compared to minus 4 in Stanthorpe would have been positively balmy.  It wasn't to be - the temp once again dipped below zero with an even thicker sheet of frost on our tents to greet us this morning.

The ride however was exactly as promised. We were asked to start later today to avoid the school bus run (can't have the kids late for school).

In 2011 we rode over Mt Lindsay and today we followed the same route.  It really is a beautiful ride - a nice easy uphill climb for a few km, surrounded by forest and the sounds of bell birds and whip birds echoing around.  Then there is the most glorious downhill section - km after km of fast descents and twists and turns.

And the views - absolutely pristine magnificence looking out across the tops of the mountains to the valleys below.  It really is better on a bike as you take the time to soak in the sights and sounds around you.

I'm still having problems with my butt, however short of changing seats, which I don't want to do while I have a sore butt, I really just need to nurse it along and just suck up the pain and channel it elsewhere.  This is my problem, as I didn't train enough, so as they say, I've made my bed now I need to lie in it.

When I think of the people I meet on CQ, it makes me realise how lucky I am to be with my tribe here.  Today I met Pauline at the coffee shop in Kyogle.  She is a 72 year old grandmother who is on her 8th ride (I think.  6 or 8).  She is one strong woman.  She lives in Goondiwindi and she has brought her children and grandchildren on the ride over those years.  Today I told her how awesome she is, and that I hope I'm still pedalling on tours when I'm 72.  I'm not sure I will be, but I hope there is some level of activity close to that when I'm her age.  The thought of bringing the grandkids along for the ride is certainly enticing.

Now I'm resting at camp in anticipation of another tough day in the saddle tomorrow - 76km of more hills - you've really got to embrace the climbs when you join this mob for their tours.  So until tomorrow, may all your rides have tailwinds.

Thursday, 7 September 2017

Day 6 - Thank goodness for a day of rest

No blog yesterday can mean only one thing - no riding and a day of rest.  I enjoyed the chance to rediscover Girraween National Park and spent the day hiking and using a few different muscles.  It was also a great opportunity to keep my butt off the saddle too.

Another first yesterday as I was invited to take part in the CQ trivia afternoon by The Sunny Coasters - and we rocked it, even if we didn't win.  Still a great way to spend some time on the rest day laughing and trying to figure out answers to questions I had no idea about.

And so onto day 6 and we are crossing the border into NSW and riding to Woodenbong.  104km of further ups and downs, but thankfully more downs than ups.  We even got to play in the dirt today with a few k of gravel roads to test out our mountain biking skills.

I have to thank two of my CQ friends for today - at the lunch stop Jenny was mothering me about my pressure sores on my butt and making sure I made the right decision about my future butt health.  I hope she knows how much I appreciate her kindness and concern.  My other shout out goes to her other half (note I didn't say better half, Russell), Russell, who gave me a "pep" talk at the afternoon break.  Said pep talk involved telling me I had no hope of finishing and should just stop.  A few onlookers were proabably wondering what was going on when they heard, but it was the funniest thing he could have said and it motivated me for the final 20ish km to the end.

I had another very effective massage this evening, and my body (other than my butt), seems to be responding nicely to the exercise, regular food and rest.  Unfortunately there is a gastro bug going around - thankfully I've avoided the full hit of it, as the vomiting is quite nasty.

However the most exciting news today was the announcement of next year's ride destination - commencing in the Daintree and travelling the long way to Cairns.  I didn't think I'd be saying this at the beginning of the week, but I can't wait.

So if there's a potential riding buddy who'd like to give it a go next year, I know a chick who will be happy to train with you.

Tuesday, 5 September 2017

CQ17 - Day 4 Fighting my fears

The dreaded day had arrived.  Day 4, a 100km hitout with hills, hills and more hills.

I rode this route in 2011 and it hurt. A lot.  I walked four sections of the ride that year, but I got through.  I started the ride today with no real expectations.  I didn't know if I'd make it past lunch.  I didn't know if I would walk up those same sections.

I got up, got dressed, packed up and rode out of Texas with just one notion.  I would give it my everything and see how far it got me.

Section one was the most difficult of the day, with three pinch points where you climbed for about 2km only to be hit by a pinching gradient that took a lot out of the legs and the lungs.  I walked three of those sections last time.  Today I rode them all.  I used my fifty count so many times today that I think I will be counting in my sleep.

At morning tea I shared a patch of grass with Lynell, a fellow CWRB member and while we didn't ride together (she is too fast!), I did manage to catch her at each rest stop after that, which was a great chance to debrief, complain, compare maladies and prop each other up for the rest of the ride.

Section two was a little less punishing and once again, the section I walked last time was conquered this time on the bike.  Honestly though, this was probably the second toughest day I've done on CQ, the toughest being the climb up the Palmerstone Range in far NQ.

By the final rest stop I was in agony.  I struggled to find comfort on my saddle, mainly because with few training hours on the bike, my butt was not primed to long hours on a minimalist saddle.  The hardened skin is just starting to form now.  I figure it will just about right for the final two days of the ride.  In the meantime, Calmoseptine and Aussie butt cream are my two best friends!

Not only was my butt painful, but my legs were not happy with the workload either.  My left leg was weakened from a knee injury and as a result the right has taken the slack. With over 100km today, mainly climbing, poor old rightie was sending out signals that, had it been Star Trek, Scottie would be screaming, "she canna take anymore Cap'n"

To say I limped in the last 14k would be an understatement.  I was lucky to meet some nice folk at the last rest stop who, while I couldn't take a wheel, I was able to keep in sight and that buoyed me home.  That and the fact that I rode the entire way - no walking for Sue today!

Tent set up was comical as nothing wanted to bend and when it finally did, it didn't want to extend.  A hot shower helped refresh my outlook, and a massage went down a treat after dinner (handmade cannoli for dessert was a thing of utter deliciousness).

And now for a day of rest before the final four days of the tour.  I'm off hiking in Girraween National Park.  Until next time, look after your butts - you don't realise how much you spend on them until they are covered in saddle sores!

Monday, 4 September 2017

CQ17 - Day 3 Deep in he heart of Texas

So yesterday I promised to fill you in on shower conversations on CQ.  

First, let me describe the showers - converted shipping containers with a row of showers (about ten) split up by plastic sheeting to make individualised stalls and shower curtains on front for privacy.  No room for changing in the stalls so you come out into a communal area to dress.

If there are vents to draw out the hot air, they aren't particularly effective, so it gets oppressingly hot in there. So here's how just about every shower conversation starts...

Woman enters through slatted plastic flaps (door) - "Oh my god it is so hot in here". Someone in the shower "welcome to your sauna and shower" someone else "at least it will open the pores and give them a good cleanse".  Followed by "anyone else having problems with the hot water?" "Is this shower free?"

That is pretty much the standard convo.  Then follows a dissection of the day's ride, the good, the bad and the ugly.  Then we talk about the next day and the next day we repeat again.  But the difference is that each day, it's a different set of woman sharing the communal area, rarely are we all showering at the same time each day.  Again, it's a community that we share and enjoy.  

This year I've also enjoyed showing of my new towel - a lightweight, full-sized, blue, microfibre towel that I picked up from Aldi for the paltry price of $10.  It folds down into a tiny pocket about the size of two tennis balls.  When I first showed Phoebe from BQ, we were sceptical about the ability to pack it back down after use.  Actually I was sceptical that I wouldn't end up looking like a giant smurf after using it!

But I am pleased to say that not only did I not morph into a big blue smurfette, but it also packs down perfectly.  Worth every cent!

Now onto today's ride.  A lovely 64k trundle, with the last of the dead flat scenery now behind us.  Would you believe we had tailwinds for the better part of the day? It was nice not to be battling against them but to have them buffeting us on our way to Texas.  We were even rewarded with sightings of emus and kangaroos in the paddocks.

Spent the afternoon exploring Texas township and have now settled into my tent to rest up ready for tomorrow's 100k slog up and down the Texas-Stanthorpe Rd.

So it's see you later for now.  Hopefully I'll make it so you can read my blog tomorrow 😊

Sunday, 3 September 2017

CQ17 - Yelarbon and the Desert Jewels

Each year, the beauty of CQ is that riders are introduced to small towns and communities that we would otherwise drive through and not pay a second glance to in a car.

Yelarbon is one of those such places.  A petrol station/shop, post office, arts and craft and a cafe, along with the all important pub is pretty much all there is along the Main Street, along with some empty stores that were once home to and Australian-Italian takeaway restaurant and other such little gems.  There's a school built in the traditional weatherboard and a number of streets Lind with houses.  It's quite an unassuming town but it really does have some hidden gems.

But I digress - first the journey to get here.  As usual, the zipper parade (the sounds of hundreds of sleeping bags, bags and tents opening begins at about 5.30am.  It was a little warmer overnight and by the time my bladder would no longer listen to my Brain say "ten minutes more" it was well after six and time to start the inevitable pack up ready to roll out after seven.

This year I am determined not to take any food that I don't intend to eat so after breakfast of a ham and cheese croissant (with a banana tucked away for morning tea), I finished stuffing my bags and headed to the start area ready for the 57km ride from Goondiwindi to Yelarbon.

Another flat day today and with legs fatigued from the day before with no training to back them up, it was a day for a nice, easy pace, constantly reminding myself it was not a race.  Thankfully I rode about 20k with a lovely NZ lady who kept me entertained with stories of her rides and travels which got me almost to the rest stop.  I did have to drop off as the head winds were just starting to mess with my head and I needed to just ease back and continue at a pace I knew I could maintain.

Rolling into the rest stop I was fortunate to be introduced to Joanna (thank you Jenny Moore) who was wearing a Camino de Santiago bike jersey.  She had done the same walk ride option that my friend and I are planning with the same tour company. It was great to hear how gorgeous the hotels will be, how amazing the food and how nice the weather is at almost the same time of year we are planning to go.  Hoping to catch up with her again on the ride to hear more about this next big adventure we are taking on.

The second part of the ride was relatively uneventful, apart from a couple of close passes by motorists who refused to drop a tyre off the side of the road to pass safely on a narrow road.  More head winds to play with the brain, but the finish point was worth the struggle as we rode to the Yelarbon waterhole which was abundant with ducks, black swans and water fowl.  It was a calming and restful way to finish the day on the banks of the waterhole, and a lovely introduction to one of the desert jewels.

I explored the second after a quick tent set up and a cold, refreshing shower.  I think tomorrow I will have to write about the conversations we have in the showers each day as they really are a highlight!

Until then let me tell you about my walk.  The desert jewel biodiversity walk is a 500m circuit track that demonstrates the diverse Eco-systems in this region.  Yelarbon is the eastern-most spinifex desert and it is a real wonder to see the wetlands and the desert meet and the diverse wildlife and flora of the area.

These are two things I would never have seen from the car as we were driving through.  While they are signposted I am more likely to make a mental note that they were there but probably wouldn't bother to stop to see them.

That is the jewel in the CQ crown.  It's exploring small towns, supporting communities (500 thirsty tourists can float a pub's profits quite nicely even for just an overnight stay), helping to put money in the coffers of small community groups (today's rest stop was run by the local girl guides) and getting the cycling message out there.  So many people associate cycling with charity rides and fundraisers, while this ride shows it can be an active holiday that the whole family can be involved in.

Add in the comraderie and friendship of 500 like-minded strangers - both riders and volunteers alike and you've got CQ in a nutshell.  And there my friends is my mojo.

I may be slower this year, I may not be as prepared as I could be, and I may be in a world of hurt by the end.  Hell, I may not even get through it, but this is why I ride.  And suddenly I'm glad I came because sickness or not, these people and this event is family.

Saturday, 2 September 2017

CQ17 - Day 1 Little by Little

The morning was upon us after a cool overnight tent-camp.  There's nothing like temperatures in the low single digits to remind you that you are alive!  Had an early start and walked into town for a breakfast, hoping to catch sight of Brendon doing his ParkRun.  Missed him by about 15 seconds at the turnaround point but happy to hear he was running comfortably and finished first.

I'd been feeling crook during the night and my throat was burning - once again a cold was making itself apparent while on CQ!  Breakfast done, we hung around camp, prepped the bike, tidied the tent and got ready for the mass start at 1pm.

They promised us a dead flat ride and today they delivered.  44km of riding through the crop growing areas of the region.  Plenty of road kill to dodge (it's a real skill knowing when to stop breathing so you don't get a noseful of decomp that can make the best of them wretch with the taste that the smell can evoke and just enough of a headwind to play with your head.

Once again I found myself working into the wind, with a couple of people behind me getting sucked along for the ride - 20km of me working my butt off while they cruised along behind me, without so much as a "thanks".  

The lunch break was a real delight - a yummy BBQ like never before on our rides on the banks of the river, shaded by trees on a grassy bank at a private homestead.  Complete with live music and a cool breeze it was just the ticket for the half way point.

Back into town and here I am in my tent, freshly showered and awaiting time to go to dinner.  Nachos are on the menu tonight - there are many kids rejoicing tonight at the food choice!

So how am I feeling now? I'm still not firing on all fours, but I enjoyed the ride today.  I've had so much wonderful support from fellow riders  who have read my blog and I'm beginning to feel a little normal again.  It's been nice to talk through this with them and I hope they will read this and know that each and every one has been truly valuable in helping me get my head right.

So tomorrow is day 2 and we head for Yelarbon, where there is a beautiful desert walk to enjoy at the end of the ride.  That is tomorrow's highlight and goal and once we've packed up and ridden, the bonus is at the end. So the mojo isn't at full load but each day is another step in the right direction.

See you tomorrow.

Friday, 1 September 2017

CQ17 - wherefore art thou my motivation

It's the first weekend of September.  For the last six years I've planned for this week long touring ride with nothing short of avid anticipation.  This year has been different.  I have struggled with my motivation.  I feel nothing more than flat.

Everyone assured me it was because I was busy, life left little room for extras and that once I got to camp it would change.  Sadly, it has not.

I love riding my bike. I love this event.  But this year my mojo has evaded me and I'm feeling out of sorts.

So here I sit in the campground in Goondiwindi, hoping that the switch will flick tomorrow and once again I will be looking forward to the ride with the usual anticipation.

It has been great to see so many friendly faces.  Hugs all round from the regulars who encourage you each day and offer a smile and a high five at day's end.  But there's something not quite right in my world and while I can't quite explain it yet, we will see what tomorrow brings.

The very first ride I did on CQ started from this beautiful town.  I remember it was brisk that year too, with howling winds to push us off at the start.  The best part this year is we ride a loop tomorrow, so we have two nights here before pack up and move on - cos lets face it, no one loves pack up day unless your name is David Booth (shout out to you my friend!)

So let's see what the morning brings.  Let's see if I can find my happy place once again in the saddle.  Let's see if an overweight, unfit 46 year old woman can complete this week of riding (with a hike thrown in on the rest day) and find that wonderful depression buster that is the joy of riding a bike.  Stay tuned...

Sunday, 16 July 2017

A Tea Room Revelation

Last week I bumped into a colleague in our tea room at work.  Rachel and I not only knew each other from work, but had initially met when Brendon took me along to one of his Tri club social get-togethers.  She had recently returned from a hiking tour of Italy and I had a question for her about her trip.

I had been thinking about doing the European Peace Walk (after another friend posted about it on Facebook), however I had read that it wasn't particularly well organised and that something called the comino was better.  I googled the comino and was interested in finding out more.

My question for Rachel was whether she had walked any of the comino.  She said that she had walked on some parts of the Italian paths and it was on her bucket list of things to do.  I casually mentioned I was interested in doing the hike and things escalated very quickly from there!

Within the space of a week, we had firmed up when to travel, who to travel with (we are leaving our respective husbands at home) and the type of trip we would undertake.  Personally, I had ordered moleskin blister kits and a backpack, and parted with my hard earned cash to buy some serious hiking boots.

So what is this adventure we had committed ourselves to?

The Camino de Santiago are the paths travelled by pilgrims from across Europe to pay homage to St James, whose bones are said to rest in the Santiago Cathedral in Spain.  The trail we are planning on hiking begins at St Jean Pied du Porte and travels over 800km across the Pyrenees mountains and east to Santiago.  Each year, hundreds of thousands of 'peregrinos' (pilgrims), follow in those medieval footsteps on pilgrimage to the cathedral.  People take the journey for a myriad of reasons, not just for the religious aspect, but also as a form of self-discovery.

Future blog posts will cover my reasons for walking, but in the meantime, we have begun our training and are eagerly anticipating the majesty and the beauty that awaits us.

Until then, buen Comino x

Sunday, 2 July 2017

CQ17 - Goondiwindi to Brisbane - the countdown begins

Here we are again, a new month and only 10 weeks until my favourite part of the cycling year.  Year seven sees a route similar to year one, with CQ travelling from Goondiwindi through to the Gold Coast, with stops in Yelarbon, Texas, Stanthorpe, Woodenbong, Kyogle and Murwillumbah.

It promises to be an interesting ride - crossing the range twice and travelling through so many different landscapes.  The last time we did this ride it was a cold and frosty time of year, with temps in the single digits.  It certainly made for some chilly morning rides and some wet and cold pack ups each day.

So with ten weeks to go, I thought it best to commence my training this weekend.  The last six months is probably the most cycling-poor period I've had since 2011 - I could count the number of rides on both hands in that time.  I wish I could blame it fully on my knee problems, but let's face it, it's not so much the knees as the mind that needed a good, stern talking to.

While I've been walking a lot, the bike has been neglected.  I gave myself any number of excuses not to ride and will now pay for that mindset as I work to get myself back into some semblance of bike-fit to tackle the ride.

Two rides this weekend, including some multiple Gateway crossings have made for tired, heavy legs. However with a training plan now firmly in mind, the way is open to get some of my previous fitness back and begin the slog to conquer the Texas to Stanthorpe ride - a particularly hellish memory from 2011.