Jul 4, 2014

Riding The Trails Of Maffra and Tathra

The two people I cycled most regularly with often espoused the virtues of mountain biking. Ostie spent much time on his road and commuter bikes, but professed to having a deep love of thrashing his mountain bike on trails. Daniel took to mountain biking after retiring from running. He raced underneath the Westgate Bridge and enjoyed the competition, especially at night. Despite the peer pressure, my experience off-road was extremely limited. But it was inevitable that at some stage I would have to take a bike off the tarmac.

Riding to Mumbulla Creek Falls from Tathra on a hired 29-er mountain bike

An early stop on the Bugling odyssey was the Gippsland town of Maffra to visit a college friend of Mrs Bugler’s. As luck would have it our hosts, Julie and Steve, both loved mountain biking. Further, not far from Maffra on Blores Hill are a number of well-maintained trails suited to beginners through to the more experienced. Naturally, conversation got around to cycling and I expressed an interest in trying out my cycling ability on Blores Hill.

Although Steve’s gear was a touch smaller than I would have liked, his bike is top-of-the-line. Due to a broken hand, his hard-tail 29-er was not being used. For the unfamiliar, a ‘hard-tail’ means the bike has only suspension on the front wheel, and ’29-er’ means it has 29 inch wheels. This style of mountain bike is relatively new but increasingly popular. For a newbie, it was a perfect steed on which to try out the trails of Blores Hill.

Rocky Mountain 29-er mountain bike at the top of Blores Hill after riding up the trails

The first things that I noticed about mountain biking on the Blores Hill trails were that I had to concentrate every second without taking my eyes off the trail, and I was constantly on the brakes to wipe off a bit of speed. The technical nature of riding on the trails meant that I barely had a moment to blink. I managed to successfully negotiate my first few trails and was enjoying the solitude and beauty of the forest at Blores Hill. For the most part I was competent. It was only when I tried to climb up a steep trail over large uneven boulders that I came unstuck and had to walk.

After testing myself out on a variety of trails, I was thinking that although mountain biking is technically harder, physically I was not as exhausted as I would normally be after an hour or so of cycling. On cue, I went past a resting rider. He was the only other cyclist I saw that morning and he was quite a bit larger than me. But just as I was patting myself on my back for my superior fitness, he flew past me on the next trail. Quite obviously my technical abilities were restricting me from working harder and going faster.

Taking the fire trail around Blores Hill on a 29-er mountain bike

Our time in Maffra came to an end, and the Bugling odyssey continued into New South Wales. The Sapphire Coast is a beautiful area and we had a legion of places to set up camp. We chose the seaside town of Tathra. A short drive away down a dirt road is a place worth going for a picnic and a swim – Mumbulla Creek Falls. Hidden in Biamanga National Park, the waterfalls have created a natural rock water slide that ends in a deep pool. The daring can also jump off a rock platform about 5 or 6 metres above the pool.

Some swift internet searching revealed that Tathra had mountain biking trails almost on top of town, and the local bike shop hired 29-ers. A stroke of luck for the Bugler. To get my money’s worth for the bike hire, I planned on two rides. The first involved some negotiation with Mrs Bugler and a plan was formulated. It was decided I would ride to Mumbulla Creek Falls and Mrs Bugler would meet me there with a picnic and the mini-Bugler. They would take the highway and I would take the road less-travelled on the 29er.

The ride to Mumbulla Creek Falls from Tathra is one of the toughest and most scenic I have done. It is only a touch over 30km but the ride begins at sea level and meanders through the hills of Mimosa Rocks and Biamanga National Parks. On sometimes steep, dirt and gravel roads I ascended about 900m. Exacerbating the physical difficulty of this was the personal isolation. I was on very unfamiliar territory and spent much of the time not knowing if I was following the correct uneven gravel road. As I kept climbing, nagging doubt contributed to my tiring legs. I definitely earned my slide down the rock into the pool and the ensuing picnic.

Sliding down the natural rock waterslide at Mumbulla Creek Falls picnic area

Early the next morning, I stretched out my stiff legs and attacked the trails in the hills behind Tathra. Climbing through the quiet streets to Bundadung Trails, I began to regret my decision to go cycling. But I was already out of bed and had to return the 29-er later that morning so I took off down Anchors Away trail.

The conditions were very similar to Blores Hill and I again enjoyed the solitude and the natural beauty of the area. But my tired legs meant I was counting the time and kilometres. Suddenly a tree interrupted my tribulation. Squeezing through a tight gap, my handlebar clipped the tree and I came off. Both the rental and I escaped unscathed and I remounted. Funnily, the little tumble improved my mental state. The next hour passed rapidly as I re-concentrated on cycling the trails and got lost in the reverie. Before I knew it, I was running late for breakfast.

Riding the rutted road out to Mumbulla Creek Falls on a 29-er mountain bike

Two formulae are often quoted when talking about the correct number of bikes to own, n+1 and s-1. ‘n’ refers to the number of bikes you currently own, and ‘s’ refers to the number of bikes that would cause separation from your partner. Thus, the correct number of bikes to own is one more than you currently have but one less than would result in separation. Even with the crash and the exhausting ride out to Mumbulla Creek, I enjoyed my time on the 29-ers. But I also enjoy being married and only a year has elapsed since I purchased my road bike. Perhaps with some more mountain bike hiring and more subtle hints, n+1 < s-1.

Jun 10, 2014

An Off-Road Adventure On Fraser Island

Despite owning a four-wheel drive car for over six months, I had rarely taken it off the tarmac. Jokingly, I had slipped it into 4WD a couple of times when driving up a steep hill or down a gravel road. But I still didn’t know the difference between 4WD, 4HLC and 4LLC. Twice I had changed the mode into 4HLC and 4LLC – once on an inner-suburban street in Melbourne, and once when I got stuck in the sand near Myall Lakes in New South Wales. This second “incident” didn’t inspire Mrs Bugler with confidence, especially when I proposed taking the Canyonero onto the largest sand island in the world – Fraser Island.

Lake Wabby and Hammerstone Sandblow on Fraser Island

To improve my skills, I investigated taking a course but couldn’t find one that fitted our itinerary. So in true Bugler style, I chatted to a couple of people, read an article or two, watched some YouTube videos, and declared myself prepared for three days of driving on/in sand. To be on the safe side, I bought some snatch straps and watched a couple of clips on how to use those too.

My education on sand-driving did teach me the importance of one thing – tyre pressure. The “incident” at Myall Lakes was solved when a couple of adventurous types drove up and helpfully let down my tyres. I was then told to “just drive out”. Which I did. Normal tyre pressure in the Canyonero is 29psi but on sand the advisable pressure drops to 16-20psi. This gives the tyre greater contact area with the ground, creating more grip and making it less likely to sink.

The Canyonero takes a break from driving on the sand of Fraser Island

The Bugle family met Gen and Chris at Rainbow Beach for lunch before continuing out to Inskip Point to catch the ferry. As we neared the point, a couple of cars were pulled over with the drivers addressing their wheels. Duly, I did the same. I carefully dropped the pressure to 20psi reasoning that if I got stuck, I still had a few psi left up my sleeve. Chris did similarly. I slipped the car into 4HLC and we drove the last couple of hundred metres on the sand to meet the ferry.

The short ferry ride over to Fraser Island was brilliant. The sun was shining and all the passengers were excited, looking forward to their own adventures on the island. That ebullience continued as we drove onto the beach at Fraser. The first couple of hundred metres were slightly tense as we negotiated our way around the southern tip, but the beach widened on the east and the sand was hard and flat. With Johnny Cash playing, I accelerated across the sand and grinned.

A dingo runs along the sandy beach highway on Fraser Island

The eastern beach serves as the main highway on Fraser Island. Being exposed to the elements, it is not the best for swimming or surfing. Some intrepid types cast a line in but we were in no danger of hitting a pedestrian. As we cruised along nearing the speed limit of 80km/h, the main dangers were the odd dingo and small river crossings. The advice was to hit the river crossings with some momentum, and obviously to not hit the dingos at all.

We decided to set up camp at Central Station due to its dingo fence and proximity to the major Fraser Island attractions. We turned off the beach at the hamlet of Eurong and began to negotiate the inland tracks. The speed limit dropped to 30km/h off the beach but the main limiter of speed was the tracks themselves. The narrow, sandy roads wound their way through the thick bush, up and down hills, over roots and through puddles. The Canyonero had no problems with the terrain, but the 8km trip from Eurong to Central Station took close to half an hour.

An inland sand road near Central Station on Fraser Island

Our home for three nights was set amongst the tall trees and bushy ferns of the rainforest. The winds blowing on the coast did not make their way into the thick growth. Similarly, the sun set early and rose late, unable to penetrate the foliage until high in the sky. Our few neighbours were distant enough to make us feel comfortable, but not too distant to make us feel uncomfortable. In short, our campsite at Central Station was about as good as camping gets.

The mini-Bugler rose with the light in the morning. We breakfasted before all piling back into the Canyonero for a tour of Fraser Island highlights. Our first stop was Lake McKenzie. With the sun shining, the morning dip in the crystal clear, fresh water was refreshing and more invigorating than our morning coffee. The mini-Bugler frolicked in the white sand and shallows, warbling with the morning bird calls.

A refreshing morning at Lake McKenzie on Fraser Island

The afternoon touring session took us further north on the island and we returned to the “highway” for greater speed. We sped by tourist buses, more dingos and fellow travellers. Salt spray from the ocean washed over the Canyonero only to be rinsed off as we splashed through more shallow river crossings.

The Pinnacles were our first stop and furthest destination. After a whistle-stop look, we re-boarded and headed south to take in the rusting hulk of the wrecked SS Maheno. A fascinated mini-Bugler ignored the 3m rule and peered through the portholes to see the waves washing in. But not for long. Another quick ride and we were at Eli Creek for an afternoon swim. While the four adults waded the fresh water, the mini-Bugler once again splashed around and made the most of the stop.

A young Bugler inspecting the wreck of the Maheno on Fraser Island

The most trying four-wheel driving I did on Fraser Island was as the sun was setting. We wanted to see Lake Wabby and turned off the beach to negotiate the track to the lookout. Our map wasn’t to scale and we didn’t know how far it was inland. We crawled for close to half an hour before arriving at the lookout and as each minute passed, the sun set further. A sign at the exit said we had 20km to travel back along the track to Central Station. The hour drive was onerous as car members began to feel sick with the constant motion, and tiredness set in after a day of sight-seeing. Nevertheless, we arrived in time to feed a hungry hoard.

We resolved to spend less time in the car the following day. Chris and Gen were not so lucky, they had to take the long drive back to Brisbane. After a sad farewell, we relaxed for a midday snooze preparing for an afternoon hike to take a swim in Lake Wabby. It had tempted us with a glimpse the evening before.

Walking across the Hammerstone Sandblow to Lake Wabby, Fraser Island

The natural beauty of Fraser Island is known far and wide. Tourists travel the world over to take in the sights and swim in the lakes. It tempts the intrepid who head into the more remote north for some solitude and a break from the developed world. Similarly, it attracts the serious off-roader who likes to tackle dunes and difficult terrain. But it also holds a certain mystique for the novice, who dreams of flying along the beach in the sea breeze singing Johnny Cash. Just make sure you let down your tyres.

May 28, 2014

A Footy Team On The Frontier

The 2014 season hangs in the balance for the Lismore Swans. With 3 wins, 3 losses and a draw, the Swans sit 3rd of 6 teams on the QAFA B (South) ladder. The pace is being set by the unbeaten Bond University Bullsharks and last season’s premiers, the Tweed Coast Tigers. In the remaining 10 games, the Byron-Bangalow Magpies and the Robina Roos have some ground to make up with only 1 win apiece. Possessing an identical ledger to the Swans, the Ballina Bombers’ season is also evenly poised. Time will tell if these two teams improve to be legitimate premiership contenders or fade into also-rans.

Lismore Swans Josh McGuinness and Will Alexander swoop on a ball in their AFL footy game against Ballina Bombers

The season began on the right note for the Swans when they defeated the Roos on the Gold Coast by 23 points. But a difficult month ensued. Ballina spoiled the Swans’ first home game at Gloria Mortimer Oval to the tune of 36 points. A tough trip to Pottsville to take on Tweed Coast was made tougher when Tiger full-forward Ash Gemmill slotted 8 majors. After that 40-point defeat, Lismore again hit the road to the Gold Coast to take on the rampant Bond Uni. An improved defensive effort limited the loss to 23 points but the Swans were staring down the barrel of a 1-3 win-loss record.

Back in Lismore, the Swans welcomed the Magpies in a must-win affair. With the warm May sun beating down, the Swans beat the Magpies by a comfortable 7 goals. A highlight of the win was veteran Simon Howard kicking a sealing goal in his 200th game for the Swans. Again to the Gold Coast for their second away game against Robina, the Swans returned victorious. Despite the 9:45am start, a 35-point margin gave the team cause for cheer on the bus ride home.

Coach Joe Mitchell welcomed the team’s improvement. Although the loss against Bond was hard to take, he was pleased by the efforts of his under-manned team. Mitchell believes that the strong defensive effort that day set the standard that led to the ensuing victories.

Lismore Swans AFL footy coach Joe Mitchell addresses his players

With both teams on 3 wins and 3 losses, the match between Ballina and the Swans was expected to be tight. Lismore’s players drove the short journey to the seaside town on another warm, sunny Saturday. The game was close but the Bombers were the more efficient team at scoring. To 3/4 time they had kicked 7 goals from fewer possessions, while the Swans were held to 4. But an inspired final term saw the Swans come back hard. Swingman Angus Legoe snuck forward to kick a brace and equal the scores. Although they possessed superior fitness, time ran out for the Swans and the siren sounded signalling a draw.

The challenges facing the Swans are legion. In the Northern Rivers region of NSW, footy comes a distant 4th in the football codes. Soccer reigns supreme in the former rugby league stronghold, while a few union stalwarts remain. This battle of the footballs leaves the Swans with a home ground and facilities that make them envious of the other codes. President and centre half forward Wes Seewald is in the process of negotiating for improvements. His dealings with different bureaucracies have seen some success and new changerooms are planned for Gloria Mortimer Oval. A long-term move to Oakes Oval is also in the works.

Lismore Swans wingman Daniel Bruce gets a kick away in their AFL footy match against Ballina Bombers

Despite the state of the clubrooms, the Lismore Swans retain a vibrant club atmosphere. Many players spent their formative years playing footy at rural Victorian and South Australian clubs and have looked to replicate their experiences after moving north. Mitchell hails from Kyneton in central Victoria, while Legoe grew up near Naracoorte in eastern South Australia. Half-back flanker Jesha Bone escaped the cold of Ballarat for the warmth of northern NSW with his partner and kids. Captain Scott Brown is another South Australian and moved up with his partner to manage a macadamia farm near Eureka.

A glorious feature of country football clubs is that they include those from all walks of life. The Swans are no exception. Macadamia farming Brown roves balls from his orthopaedic surgeon ruckman Luke Henschke. Seewald is completing his law studies while he clerks at the Aboriginal Legal Service. Dairy co-operative Norco employ Legoe as an agronomist. Full-forward Dean Webb spends his days installing insulation as utility Will Alexander hones his physique at the Southern Cross Uni gym.

Sitting in a valley between Lismore and Goonellabah, Southern Cross Uni is an important part of many Lismore Swans’ lives. On-baller Shaun King moved up from Kiama on NSW’s south coast to study Sport & Exercise Science, in which he is now completing a Masters. The New England trio of Andrew James, Nathan Keam and Brodie Calvert study the same course as King and all took up footy at the Swans after playing rugby and basketball as juniors. Rad Schofield is another learning the game as he also learns about Environmental Science at SCU.

Lismore Swans gather in the three quarter time huddle during their AFL footy match against Ballina Bombers

A challenge of Mitchell’s is to take a disparate group of people with differing experience of footy and mould them into a team capable of winning games. For all of their different life experiences, these young men voluntarily come together for training, games and socialising at the club’s sponsor The Richmond Hotel. It is not always easy especially with regular games on the Gold Coast, an hour and a half drive away. But the positive feeling surrounding the club demonstrates that Mitchell is performing his task well, as is President Seewald.

Although the Lismore Swans play footy in territory usually reserved for other codes, they retain the unmistakable feel of an Australian football club. The players and people involved voluntarily give their time for a cause that creates a community where they reside. This gives a richness to their lives as they work and study in the Lismore region. With 10 games still to play, the on-field prospects hang in the balance. But, to a large extent, the prospect of winning the premiership is secondary. The real measure of the Swans’ success is that there exists a footy club in Lismore that gives people a community and a place to have a kick.