One Everest in One Month

The first day of the year and month (of January) started out like most other months – just me wanting to enjoy my bike riding, but still challenging myself to do better. But from the 2nd day, things got much more intense right from there right through the month. I blame the weather – the second day of the year / month was forecast to be hot, and because of that I had the idea of doing an alpine ride to a place where the temperature would be cooler than the lower altitudes. In other words, an Alpine Resort. We are very fortunate to have 3 alpine resorts, and Victoria’s highest mountain within 2 hours drive from where we live. And so I decided the 2nd day of the year would be spent riding the mountain bike from Mt Beauty to Falls Creek alpine resort and back. The completion of that ride set a series of events in motion. After that ride I decided to join the Strava January Climbing Challenge, and trying to do the 7Peaks Challenge before the 2017 season for that challenge finishes. The goal of the Strava Climbing Challenge was to climb 7500 meters in a month, a not insignifacant amount of climbing, especially for someone like me who rarely does any cycling with decent altitude gains. The goal of the 7Peaks Challenge was to ride the 7 nominated rides between mid-October 2016 and the end of March 2017 —

  • Dinner Plains
  • Mt Hotham
  • Falls Creek
  • Mt Buffalo
  • Mt Buller
  • Mt Baw Baw
  • Lake Mountain.

Falls Creek was the first of those rides that I did, and apparently 100 or so other riders had the same idea to ride to Falls Creek on that particular day.

I very quickly got into a routine – do an alpine ride on Sunday, with more sedate rides Monday to Friday before work (the coolest / most pleasant part of the day). The second Sunday I tackled the Mt Hotham climb, which the 7Peaks website described as being “the most epic of all the climbs with the greatest views”, and then stated that many people fear the Mt Hotham climb and that even the fittest will be challenged by it. That sounded a bit ominous, and I found myself questioning whether the Hotham ride was really such a good idea. But in the end I decided to try it anyway. One particular part of that ride concerned me – the Diamantina Spur ascent. At around 20% gradient, it sounded like a real motiviation killer. And it was tough, no doubt about it, but I made it to Mt Hotham village with a little energy left in the tank. One thing about the 7Peaks rides (or any other mountain climbing ride, for that matter) is the wonderfully stated physics law : “What goes up must come down”. So after the hard slog up the hills, it’s especially wonderful to be able to roll back to the starting location of the ride. The Mt Hotham ride, at 32 1/2 km one way, provided plenty of rolling on the way back!

The next ride to complete was the Mt Buller climb. Much less “epic” than the Mt Hotham climb, it was nonetheless still a tough ride, especially the last km or so to the village. It was along this ascent to the village portion of this ride that I found my second “Gnome Home”, a quirky statement about Pygmy Possum habitat and protection of said possums. Rather than going back along the asphalt, I decided I would do something different for the return leg: do part of the Australian Epic Trail across to Howqua Gap Hut, then follow the Circuit road through Telephone Box Junction back to Mirimbah where I had camped for the night. After all, I was riding a Mountain Bike, so some mountain biking would be a good option to return to camp. That ride took just under 4 hours to do the 50km loop, the average speed being around 14kph. Because it was nearly always under the shade of tall trees the heat wasn’t very obvious at all. And then it was time to pack up camp, and drive home in the heat. That was definitely the worst part of the day, although I drove home through Tolmie and Whitlands which is almost alpine in altitute which provided some respite from the heat of the plains and valleys.

The next Sunday I didn’t do a 7Peaks ride, as I had the bike in the shop getting the drive train replaced. And I’m glad I did because the next 7Peaks ride on the following Sunday was the most daunting of all – the Mt Baw Baw ascent. This ride is described as the most feared and hardest ride in Victoria. At only 6.5km long, and what appears to be a moderate amount of climbing (741 metres) it almost sounds easy, until you look at the gradients – the average grade is 11%, and the steepest grades were greater than 20%. Mt Baw Baw was the closest alpine resort to where I lived up until I was about 30 years old. And in my younger years I used to go there nearly every Sunday to go downhill skiing. And I remembered the climb to the Baw Baw village being hard even for a car. I knew that if any of the 7 peaks rides would break me, it would be this one! I remember saying to myself a few times on that ride “it’s only 6.5km”, as if that was somehow reassuring while I pedalled ever so slowly towards the hioghest point of the ride. Funny thing is, I remembered the grades being somewhat steeper in the car, and some of the sections my memory told me were really steep actrually weren’t as bad as I remembered them.Well, I made it to the village. I conqured the hardest of the 7Peaks rides. Now I felt like a climbing cyclist! And then the same physics law (“what goes up must come down”) that brought so much joy on the other 7Peaks rides kicked in, and with more than a little trepidation I carefully, slowly made my way back down to the start of the ride – carefully and slowly because it was so steep in sections, and I didn’t want the bike to get out of control or the brakes to fail or fade.

The Mt Baw Baw ride was on Australia Day, and I managed to get the Friday off as Annual Leave, so that meant I had a 4 day weekend. So I had set up camp in Yarra Junction, and planned to do Mt Donna Buang (not on the 7Peaks list, but still worth doing) on the Friday and Lake Mountain on the way home on Sunday. The Mt Donna Buang ride was actually a lot harder than I thought it would be, although I don’t think I had any illusions about it being an easy ride. But it was beautifully cool at the time I did the climb to the summit, and the gradient was probably one of the easier alpine rides I had done up to that time – I actually spent a fair bit of time in the second front sprocket – all the other alpine rides I spent most of my time in the smallest front sprocket. The last few kms to the summit seemed to go on forever! On this ride, like on the Mt Buller ride, I decided to ride a loop, and from the summit I hearded along the dirt ride that passed by Ben Cairn and joined up with the Healesville – Launching Place Road, which passed through Don Valley. Between Mt Donna Buang summit and the the Healesville – Launching Place Road, the scenery was breath-taking, and the road somewhat narrow and rough and I stopped at a few places to enjoy the views. And I even saw a couple of other cyclists on this section (I only saw a few cyclists between the start of the climb out of Warburton and Don Valley), going the opposite way, on road bikes (or maybe CX bikes). The gentle descent along this section was really quite beautiful with lots of shade and some amazing vistas across the Yarra Valley.

The next day was Sabbath, and time for a well earned rest. So I headed over to my old church on Sabbath morning, and spent some time with my mum and dad and one of my brothers in the afternoon. I think that restday  must have helped prepare me somewhat for the last of the 7Peaks rides I would do for January – the Lake Mountain ride. This ride, the following day, started off tough with a climb of 4.5km at about 10% steepness. But after that, it was really quite a pleasant ride, through beautiful temperate forests (some of them burnt out because of bush fires). Like the Donna Buang ride, I found I was not in the lowest gears all the time, especially after the initial 4.5km was behind me, and found the ride to be “almost” relaxing. And the ride back to Marysville was also faster because I spent less time riding the brakes due to the steepness of the descents. Mostly I could just coast down instead of having to worry too much about using the brakes. By the time I had done this ride, I had ridden around 240km for the week (Strava starts the week on Monday), and had climbed more that the height above sea-level of Mt Everest (8848m metres) for the month. That produced a pretty satisfying feeling. So January 2017 will be one of those months I can look back on with fondness as the month I rode “virtually” to the top of Mt Everest.

Here are the links to the Strava data for the rides:

History is not a burden on the memory but an illumination of the soul

“I like the dreams of the future better than the history of the past.” (Thomas Jefferson).
As 2016 slips quietly behind, with little more than a few ticks on the clock (if you have one that ticks), it’s a good time to reflect on the year that has been. Lord Acton once said “History is not a burden on the memory but an illumination of the soul.” And so with that in mind, lets turn on the light that was 2016.
I’m not one to make New Year Resolutions – mostly they are just one more goal to not fulfil. And there can be plenty of them without adding another. Mostly, this year has been an interesting, although at times stressful, year. My oldest daughter, Zoe, left home to embark on a journey of learning as a University Student. That was a little stressful, but no where near as stressful as my son getting his car licence and the subsequent having to compete with him for use of the car – those of you that have sons and have  gone through this will know what I mean (yes, mum and dad, that includes you). And then there was the health conditions that manifested their ugly heads that made it hard to exercise, as mentioned in previously entries in this blog. I have also had ongoing problems with my voice over the last year which has made certain activities and situations very frustrating, with lack of (sometimes no) volume and sometimes a very unreliable voice. Interestingly enough, my preaching hasn’t really suffered and has actually been enhanced somewhat by including my wife in my preaching appointments – it’s a quite unexpected blessing to be able to share the pulpit with my wife!
The year just gone wasn’t all stress, though. Actually there were some great things happen this year. Eliana and I got to travel on a railway that neither of us has travelled on before from Bairnsdale in Victoria’s far east. We had some great times away camping, hiking and exploring Australia’s eastern states with visitis to Griffith, Young, Weddin Mountains National Park near Grenfell, Jindabyne and Kosciousko National Park, Bombala and the South East National Park in New South Wales (NSW), Mitta Mitta, and Omeo (and the surrounding region) in Victoria. There were also a number of day trips. I got to explore some interesting railways that have been converted to rail-trails in the Otways in Victoria’s west, and to explore parts of Victoria’s high country on my bike. And while on the subject of bicycles, I saved up enough money in 2016 to buy a brand new mountain bike this year which has made exercising and exploring heaps more fun. The last time I got a brand new bicycle was about 5 years and around 15000 – 20000 cycling kms ago.
Here are some cycling stats for 2016:
  • Distance travelled: 5615km (more than the distance between the southermost point of Tasmania and the northern most point of Cape York Peninsula, the norhernmost point on the Australian mainland, via the most direct route. And roughly half way between the 2014 and 2015 distances).
  • Amount of time to travel those kms: 262.5 hours.
  • Average speed: 21.4kph.
  • Elevation gain: 23611 metres (2.66 Mt Everests).
  • Rides: 215.
  • Average distance per ride: 26kph.
I also became a member of a Gym in 2016, the plan being to increase my upper body and arm strength –  something my cycling generally doesn’t increase.
On a more intellectual note, I have been learning Biblical Hebrew for the last few years, and this year saw me actually starting to read a Hebrew Bible for myself in the original language, which has really been a very slow but extremely pleasant and mind expanding experience. I have gained a much greater appreciation and love for the Bible, and the God who inspired it, as a result. And I’m looking forward to more of the same as I continue through the dynamic and descriptive world that is the Hebrew Bible in 2017. I also almost finished a Certtificate III in Fitness, which when finished will allow me to be a Gym Instructor / Fitness Trainer, something I have been interested in doing for a while. While I enjoy the “software Enginerring” / Web Programming that I currently do (and will continue to do), I have been feeling a lack of human interaction in recent years since since I started working from home. And while the computer work is helpful and necessary, I want to be able to make a personal impact on peoples lives in the area of Fitness, which is why I embarked on the fitness courses I am doing in my spare time.

Life Changing?

It all started 18th November. I had finished a Gym workout. One different to most of the others I had done previously. And then the next morning, early, I went for a 20+ km bike ride. Before I started the bike ride I noticed a pain in the buttocks, well, one of them anyway.

As that day progressed it became increasingly difficult to sit down, with the pain becoming almost unbearable by the end of the day. I decided on a hot bath, and noticed that there was some relief from the pain in doing that. But the relief didn’t last long. I also noticed a large lump in one of my buttocks.

The next day was no better. Actually it was still getting worse. I booked an appointment to see the doctor. And after examination by him, he announced that I had a perianal haematoma. I knew that “haema” meant something to do with “blood”. And the doctor explained that it was basically a huge blood blister or clot from broken blood vessels around the area of the lump. He said they normally go down on their own, and may leave what is called a “skin tag” – something that would be left behind, probably indefinitely. That’s a nice way of saying “for as long as I live”.

Over the next few days, which was a weekend, I spent most of the time either on the couch, laying (not sitting as it was too painful to sit, stand or walk), in a warm to hot bath, or trying to sleep. And it was during the weekend that I noticed some bleeding. “Some bleeding” was apparently normal for this condition, but the amount of bleeding increased, and became more concerning as time went on.

When the weekend was over, my wife booked me in to see the doctor again. Then there was a rather painful “proceedure” to drain the lump. This provided almost instantaeous relief, but there was still some pain – different to the previous pain, but still pain! Following this experience I was determined that this condition was not going to happen again! And so did some research on causes of the condition. And that’s the “life changing” bit.

My research found these as possible causes of the condition:

  • Lifting heavy weights (including Gym workouts).
  • Cycling.
  • Sitting for long periods of time.

The problem is that the first 2 are 90% or so of my exercise regime. And the last one is what defines the basic posture I assume in by job (I do software engineering).When I considered that last one a bit more I realised that even most of my exercise regime involves sitting down, either on a bicycle seat or gym equipment. Bummer!

So then I had to face this question and have to grapple with the answer…

Q: How much do I want to stop this condition from happening again. A: currently, I NEVER EVER(!!) want it to happen to me again.

The fact that the haematoma happened within 24 hours of sititng down for work, and both a Gym workout and a bike ride made me suspect a link between those activities and the condition. And if that’s the case then the implication is that a total change in lifestyle may need to take place, from one predominatly sitting down with medium to high intensity exercise (cycling or gym) most days, to one where I predominatly stand with possibly low to medium intensity exercise being the norm. I have already retro-fitted my computer desk so that I stand at it rather than sit at it. So the work posture is more or less sorted out. That may even be enough to stop the condition happening again. But what if it isn’t? What was I going to do to keep fit and healthy?

I enjoy walking, but it’s nowhere near intense enough, and cannot be sustained long enough to be the basis of my exercise regimen because even when I am wearing good walking shoes I can only walk about 14km maximum before my feet really need a rest. I enjoy running, but can’t run too much either or it causes a lot of soreness in the knees and joints. The fact that the condition occured after a gym workout, followed less than 24 hours by a bike ride, suggests it is possible that those two contributed significantly to the condition. And in any case, with the “skin tag” possibly remaining indefinitely and causing discomfort when I sit down for too long, cycling as I have been engaging in it might just have to be given up all together (can you hear the weeping and gnashing of teeth) or engaged in as a ‘luxury’ rather than a core exercise component. There is one possibility : using my wife’s footbike / kickbike, which does not involve sitting and is easier on the knees than running, but in the few rides I have done on it I noticed a lot more muscle fatique than running the same distance, although that will probably lessen if I persist with it. The gym workout will need to be a lot less intense in order to stop the condition happening again, which suggests workouts with a larger cardio component, with muscular endurance being the main goal rather than muscle strength – this is not a bad thing, but would require a significant re-think and some possible experimentation to get right.So far I have come up with this as a possible starting muscular endurance Gym workout:

  • Warm up: Treadmill for 10 minutes, distance greater than 1km, speed anywhere up to 9kph for 1 or more minutes.
  • Barbell Bicep Curl x 16kg x 20 reps x 1 set.
  • Dumbbell Shoulder Shrug x 8kg x 20 reps x 1 set.
  • Seated Dumbbell Overhead Press x 8kg x 20 reps x 1 set.
  • Iso-Lateral Wide Pull Down x 10kg each arm x 30 reps x 1 set.
  • Pectoral Fly / Rear Deltoid x 15kg x 30 reps x 1 set.
  • Tricep Extension x 15kg x 30 reps x 1 set.
  • Stepper Machine x 20 floors, level 5.
  • Cool down: Treadmill x 10 minutes, 14 to 0 slope decrease over 7 minutes, 5kph.

Over the few weeks that have followed since the haematoma, I have tried a few Kickbike rides.


Kickbike Sport G4

I started off with a 6km or so Kickbike ride, and I managed that ok although I did notice that the muscles were fairly sore the next day. But I was half expecting that. Over the days that followed I did varying length Kickbike rides, between 5 and 8km, and then on the weekend just gone I managed a 19km kickbike ride. All of a sudden, basing my fitness on Kickbike rides started to appear do-able AND desirable. And so I have hatched a plan:

  • Sell the mountain bike, and it’s accessories / spare parts (because mostly they wont work on a Kickbike).
  • Save up some extra money…
  • Then purchase a Kickbike of my own so I don;t have to ride my wife’s Kickbike – either a Sport G4 (a versatile road / cyclocross type model), or a Cross-Max 20D+ (a mountain bike model).

And so now my fitness goals and activities have changed somewhat, from being based on a standard bicycle, to being based on a Kickbike. This means that the avergae kms per ride and average speed per ride will be lower than it was for the bike, for a considerable time at least. I estimate that every km travelled on a Kickbike has a workout equivalent of between 2 and 3km on a standard bike. So if I am ever going to get to riding, say, 100km on a kickbike then my fitness will need to be significantly improved to be able to do so.

Just in case you’ve never heard of a Kickbike before, they are a footbike or scooter with models designed for people aged 8 to 80 (or more) years old depending on the model – they have no pedals / chain / gears, seat, or other complicated mechanics. About the only moving parts they have are the front and back wheels, and brakes. The person riding “kicks” along porivind propulsion. Here are some links to videos, just to show you the possibilities: