Archives for the month of: June, 2013

The Grand Boucle has kicked off once again and for the first time in its 100 race history it started in Corsica. I prepared myself for the 3 weeks of insomnia that us antipodeans have to endure to enjoy the race (and the Formula 1 season, and the European Football season…). I even got my lounge chair set up to watch the ride. If  only I could move it into the centre of the lounge room as the left hand side of the peloton always looks like it is about to break away.

My Road Bike on my Elite turbo trainer

Winter has hit Sydney wet and hard and I need to be fit and healthy going into September for a couple of big rides, no point risking pneumonia. 23 days of Le Tour on a turbo trainer plus rides outside on my other steed (outfitted with slicks) will be my base. On a side note, I will be using the trainer to focus on getting my technique sorted – focusing on cadence, position on the bike, pushing intervals, and flexibility on the drops. It is tough going on the turbo trainer as there is no free-spinning and you sweat like a pig, just constant spinning at pace. Last night I logged 1hr 20min at 90RPM – torture.

Anyways back to Le Tour and my amateur assessment of last night’s stage.

Etape 1 – Porto-Vecchio to Bastia

With the route as flat as an ironing board this was always going to be a sprinter’s stage. A couple of futile breakaways tried to get some sponsorship advertising time ahead of a peloton who really couldn’t give two hoots knowing that these guys were showboating. The first half had only a few teams pulling the weight, with Cav’s Omega Pharma-Quickstep team doing the majority of the pulling aided by Gorilla Griepel’s Lotto-Belisol and Kittel’s Argos Shimano. Surprisingly the Tourminator’s (Sagan) Cannondale team were nowhere to be seen. As for Orica-GreenEdge, if they have aspirations for points or a stage they need to be bringing Matt Goss up with a bit more organisation. But when it came to the intermediate sprint, it was all Gorilla! He left Cav in his dust and Sagan struggling. It is going to be interesting to see how the Maillot Vert competition to play out, but we were to be later robbed of the first true test. Sagan looked like he was about to play a game of American football with black marks under his sunglasses to no doubt stop errant laser beams or an electro-magnetic pulse.

El Pistolero’s (Contador) Saxo-Tinkoff team were given a rocket not long after and it sent jitters through the peloton. BMC and Sky both responded in kind and then the Jensie marshaled his Radioshack-Leopard Tank team up the front as well. They started belting it out at over 55km/hr and the Jensie had the mind to try and calm everyone down. The peloton stretched out to over 400m which left the newbies scratching their heads thinking “we have 3 weeks of this?” So they dropped a gear or two back down, but by this stage the whole peloton had hit what was a very narrow stretch of road. Cannondale decided that they needed to jump to the front of the group and a couple of them cut across via the non-trafficable part of the road and in front of the peloton – and Jensie. Careful boys, you may have the Tourminator in your team but the Jensie may just go out and kill you – show some respect!

Then the banana peels came out

First it was Johnny “pain” Hoogerland was the first to go down into the side barriers – which he probably found better than barbed wire, but not ideal. Then it was the turn of Hesjedal and Kessiakoff to show their inexperience with both going down and it was not pretty. Hesjedal might have one Grand Tour title, but his positioning left him wanting. But the real drama was one that did not involve the riders at all. Tony Martin also joined the asphalt dance which will leave him wondering, haven’t I done this dance before?

The wheels on the bus go round and round

Orica GreenEdge may think that any publicity is good publicity, but wedging your bus under the finish banner is not good publicity. Why they need the tallest bus in the whole tour begs belief, and it could be the focus of the team mechanics overnight to work out how to lop a couple of feet off the top of the vehicle. This caused pandemonium for the race organisers who did not have cranes or similar heavy machinery anywhere near the finish line. Jonathan Vaughters aptly tweeted “Boy, I wouldn’t want to be the Greenedge bus driver…” So the organisers were trying to work out where they were going to finish the race should the bus not be dislodged. Race radio broadcast to all the teams that the 3km to go point would be the mark where the speeding peloton would be measured. But this was a crazy position, as it was in the middle of a chicane. Don’t know what they were thinking.

Apparently all the teams had been warned about the difficult road conditions on the route, but I am not sure how many were actually listening because more carnage ensued.

More banana peels

The peloton had started ramping it up again when down went one of the riders from Cav’s Omega Pharma-Quickstep team. He promptly took down Cav and the Tourminator who was marking him closely. This crash also took down a host of others namely El Pistolero. The Tourminator went down hard, but he told his team mates about how his flesh was merely an out coating over his metal body and that he would be back. The Gorilla, Kittel, and Goss were licking their lips thinking to themselves there goes two troublesome ones. But then The Gorilla copped a mechanical, which should prove to the team that bulletproofing their bikes is better than focusing on the helmets. They finally managed to get the Orica GreenEdge team bus dislodged, and luckily for some of the day’s victims the race organisers informed the field that 3km from the 3km mark would be the point at which the stage timing would be taken.

The group out front were left wondering – WTF? Evans and Froome-dog kept their noses clean and now it was really down to Argos-Shimano to deliver Kittel to the line. Only Matt Goss could really throw a spanner in the works, but on the final left hand turn towards the finishing straight he mis-judged his turning line and his pedal or bars clipped the side barrier taking himself down. Led out by his teammates, Kittel stormed past everyone taking a well deserved win and taking the first Maillot Jaune for this year and also jumping into the lead for the Maillot Vert. Evans and Froome-dog finished unscathed, but there will be a host of other riders putting on the Dettol (Australian antiseptic for those who don’t know and it stings like a muther….) after the race.

It was pretty manic and the Jensie was probably right in trying to tell everybody to calm the hell down. This is going to be a long and painful tour, so if they all want to finish safely they better start riding a bit smarter than some of the shenanigans that were on display.

For a more serious assessment of the stage read:

Cycling News – Stage 1 Results – http://www.cyclingnews.com/tour-de-france/stage-1/results

VeloVoices – TDF Stage 1 – http://velovoices.com/2013/06/29/tdf-stage-1-kittel-conquers-as-coach-carnage-causes-confusion/

SBS Cycling Central – Chaos and Kittel the winners on Tour opener – http://www.sbs.com.au/cyclingcentral/news/49610/Chaos-and-Kittel-the-winners-on-Tour-opener

And if you want to track the progress of the peloton then go to –

The Official Le Tour de France website – http://www.letour.fr

This week’s Travel Theme from Ailsa’s blog – “Where’s my backpack?” is Sculpture. I like this theme in my travels and find myself photographing sculpture a lot. Probably because I know that it is an art form that I have no chance in being able to produce or replicate (unless it is with Lego bricks, then that is a different story). I do like a combination of human scale sculpture and the large scale sculpture that leaves you in awe of its size. The difficulty in selecting the photographs for this theme was more a choice of which ones to cull rather than include. As usual, all the images in this post link through to the larger photos on my Flickr site (which since starting this blog less than a year a go has had over 5,000 views – makes this amateur photographer feel good).

This first shot was taken in Caloundra, which is a beach side town in Queensland, Australia. A lot of these coastal towns look very similar; awesome beach, different buildings, cafes, and surfers. The local council have invested some money in beautifying the boardwalk with sculpture representing water – large pipes, taps, and tubing. This was my favourite shot of the afternoon we spent there with my cousin and her family.

Caloundra - Beach Tap

In Australia we also have a bizarre affinity (translation – cult like obsession) with big sculptures of things. There is a big prawn, big banana, and from what Wikipedia says another 150 or more big things located around the country. In some respects it is putting country towns, that were traditional rest stops but are now being bypassed by high speed freeway construction,  back on the map. This is the “Big Merino” at Goulburn which is about 2 hours drive South of Sydney. We always end up stopping here on the way to Melbourne. BTW it is 15m tall, and requires a compulsory tacky tourist shot (my wife is not in this photo but was in the next).

Goulburn - The Big Merino

Any trip to France would mean that you have taken at least one shot with a work of sculpture in it. Some are unique in their historical context and others are just beautiful. For my 30th birthday my wife and I went on a road trip to the Champagne wine region. Visiting the cathedral of Notre Dame de Reims is an awe-inspiring experience. This cathedral has the same historical significance as Westminster Abbey in London, but of course the royal line of French Monarchy is no longer around. I don’t know whether this sculpture is still on display inside the church, but I found it beautiful in its colour and simplicity.

Reims - Cathedral sculpture

Also in France but more decadent in its purpose is my favourite sculpture in the gardens of Versailles. The gold leaf glistens under water in this sculpture known as “The Encelade” which represents the mythical fall of the Titans being buried under the rocks of Mount Olympus. It is a stunning piece which took two years to build.

Versailles - The Encelade

Maintaining the French connection, how could one not include the majestic Statue of Liberty across the Atlantic Ocean in New York, USA. This was a gift from one freedom loving nation to another. You can find the original still on the Seine and the riders in this year’s Tour de France may ride past it on the final stage.

New York - Statue of Liberty

Still in North America but quite a bit further South in Mexico is a long legacy of sculpture from long disappeared empires. The destruction of the Mayan text and scriptures by the conquering Spaniards now leave a large gap in our historical knowledge of Mayan culture. This small sculpted head was one that took my attention when we visited Chichen Itza. It was one of many located around what is now determined to be the observatory on the site. It was probably the best preserved of all the ones lined up and it is a bit spooky how its gaze looks directly at you.

Chichen Itza - head

In Japan, sculpture is very different from that in the West. These sculptures have a very deep meaning as they represent family members long passed away. They can be found at shrines all over the country, and the care that is provided them is the of the same reverence that pay towards tombs.

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Back home in Sydney, I was surprised one day to learn that life-size Lego had descended on Martin Place. I rushed out at lunchtime, camera in hand, to snap the delightful bright colours of the vintage Lego trees and flowers that brought me back to my childhood. You can see I was not the only one.

Lego Play - 0001

Last but not least, and maintaining the Lego theme, was the opportunity for the Pok (AKA my son) and myself to visit Nathan Sawaya’s “Art of the Brick” when it landed in Sydney. The Pok was quite tired when we first got there, so I had the opportunity to pose him next to a life size Lego man. The freaky thing was when the automatic facial recognition system in the camera started recognising the Lego faces. Freaky!

Lego - The Art of the Brick

I have posted about sculpture before when I was working in Melbourne, here is a link to my previous post – Melbourne Urban Sculpture.

Thanks Ailsa for this week’s travel theme. Please take the time to look at some of the other blogger’s posts – there are some gems.

The insomnia of July is about to dawn upon my household. My wife is already complaining that her husband will be lost to cycling on another continent. But let’s face it.

The Tour de France has arrived!

And the Australian television station who has been brought us ‘le grand boucle’ for the last 17 years is primed and ready again to bring us the 100th edition. They have been showing a pretty cool advert to get us all pumped.

Even Google thinks its a great idea to showcase the race with a doodle on its homepage.

Vive Le Tour! Allez Cadel!

On our third stop of our recent trip to Hawaii, we visited the island of Maui for a week. Like all the islands in the Hawaiian chain, Maui had plenty of different things to offer. The large slopes of the dormant and imposing volcano of Haleakala in particular offer you many places to explore and experience. We decided one day to visit one of the many botanical gardens on the slopes and the one we chose was the Enchanting Floral Gardens of Kula. It is located about a quarter of the way up to the summit of the volcano, and covers 8 acres. It was quite a change in scenery once you start to climb Haleakala, and the change in altitude brings a change in the climate to one of being more temperate. That shouldn’t have surprised me because we did climb to just over 2,500 feet, but it did and what was the most noticeable change was the amount of greenery in abundance. As the name of the title says this garden was very much focused on flowers. So while my wife, aunt, and son enjoyed (my boy thought that the best part of the trip was jumping on the directional arrows painted on the ground, and then instructing commanding the rest of us which ones were “our” arrows to jump on) the stroll through garden I delighted in the opportunity to capture the natural colour of the blooming flowers and flora. Here are my favourite photos from our walk through the gardens. As usual, all the images will link through to the larger photos on my Flickr site.

This flower is known as a ‘Red Jade’.

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And this next one is the blue version of the same type of flower – the ‘Blue Jade’

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Don’t know the name of this flower. I would love it if someone could tell me its name. Google searching “pink flower” gives me the phone book – it is tough reading phone books.

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This tree was awesome, and I had never seen anything like it. It is known as a ‘Silk Floss Tree’ which is native to South America. It’s spiky trunk reminded me of a rose stem, but this was a full size tree trunk and each of these spikes were the size of a small rose flower.

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This flower was my favourite of all the flowers in the garden – a ‘Red Ginger Lily’

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The purple petals contrasted beautifully against the yellow pistils. Again, my gardening ignorance left me wanting for its name.

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Took me a while to find out the name of this shrub, it is a ‘Coleus’

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The succulent garden had some pretty big plants on display, but I liked the detail of  the leaves and how they created a cage of green on this plant.

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There were many different types and colours of ‘Protea’ on display, and they were the hosts of many small insects. Maybe next time a bit of macro photography might be in order.

Enchanting_Floral_Gardens-09

I would recommend a visit to these gardens as we got to see hundreds of different flowers and trees in a brief hour long stroll through the garden. The views over the island of Maui are also a highlight. And from where we were staying in Kihei it was just over 30 minutes of driving to get to.

Jeffrey Smart was my favourite artist and he will be a fondly remembered Australian. He has left us with a beautiful legacy.

Stephen Kelly Creative

Cahill Expressway

Last week the art blogs and websites were lit up over the death of prominent Australian artist Jeffrey Smart, who passed away on June 20 at the age of 91 at his home in Italy. Though he lived more than half his life in Italy, Jeffrey Smart was regarded as one of Australia’s greatest artists, and along with Albert Tucker, Charles Blackman, Sidney Nolan and Brett Whiteley, he was also considered one of the leading Australian twentieth century modernists. Another expatriate Australian, Clive James, once wrote Smart was the “modern Australian painter whose paintings look least Australian”.

Surfer's BondiIndeed, rather than beautiful Australian landscapes, Smart choose to portray an urban life of factories, trucks, roadways and vacant lots. He was moved by man in man-made nature and not concerned with your typical landscape. His paintings take everyday symbols of modernity and transform them into remarkably still, harmoniously composed images (Smart once…

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I love going down to Melbourne, for a host of reasons. The main reason is to visit family, but my brother and I have a shared love of cycling. I have ridden with him and his riding crew quite a few times, and this weekend just gone gave me another opportunity to indulge in our shared passion. But best laid plans came undone from the time I touched down. No QANTAS didn’t lose my bike, but my brother was suffering from a serious case of man-flu – enough to keep him off the bike.

So it would be me riding solo to meet up with his riding crew. I knew that riding in Melbourne would require me to come prepared. This meant thermal tights and lots of layers. I was just hoping for little wind and no rain. Little did I realise that the city was experiencing its coldest weather spell of the year. Saturday morning and I was up at 6:15 to suit up for the ride. Did I say it was cold?

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Light on, liquid bottled, layers on, I stepped outside and BAM – it was 0 degrees Celsius (32 degrees Fahrenheit). It was bloody cold. The normal gradual warm up for the first few kms was thrown out the window, I was spinning 110 rpm just to get warm. By the time I got to Beach Road (about 8km from my brother’s house), my average speed was up over 33kph. I couldn’t feel my toes, it was soooo cold! Getting to Beach Road on the weekend is always a sight. Waiting for the lights to turn green I estimated that at least 200 cyclists had ridden through the intersection in both directions. There wasn’t an event on, this is just Melbourne on the weekend – Australia’s home of amateur cycling. I would eventually ride past thousands of cyclists on this trip, and it makes you happy seeing so many people enjoying their two wheel freedom. They have even implemented a clearway on both sides of the road on the weekend mornings in acknowledgement of all the two wheel traffic. I rode the further 8km to Black Rock to rendezvous with my brother’s riding crew. First up was Mark and his wife Leslie, joined by their friend Darren who I would ride with for the first time. Darren had just acquired a new BMC Racemachine RM01 – SWEET! Next came Big Dave, who is always good for a laugh. He proceeded to remark that he thought he looked like Robin Hood in his winter tights and that it was so cold he nearly grabbed his skis instead of his bike. Next came Pete who had been off the bike for some time since his big ride on the 3 Peaks challenge. Last to arrive was Tall Dave, on his custom Ridley uber fast bike. One of the other regulars, Pete’s brother in-law Carl, had already set off to do some “secret training”. The group was assembled and we weren’t getting any warmer so off we went.

It was good to catch up with the crew most of whom I hadn’t seen in a long time. Normally we have Big Dave’s wife Sue riding with us too, but she had succumbed to an injury with her hamstring. Bad enough to have her seeing an osteopath for treatment and no chance to go out for a ride. I have to admit that both Sue and Leslie are pretty impressive on two wheels. If we keep a pace no more than 30kph (18 1/2 mph) they can keep pace with us the whole way. I got the chance to chat with all the crew and catch up on what I had missed. They proceeded to tell me that my brother has been conspicuously absent from the weekend rides of late, so much so that they suspect that he has a mistress named Donna (which is a mis-spelling of doona, the Aussie word for duvet or quilt, which he has used as the excuse for being under rather than on his bike). I asked Mark where we were headed and he told me Two Bays. A quick calculation in my head, and I figured that I might be on a century ride for the day – cool. The ride to Two Bays involved riding down to Frankston and then climbing up the hills in the back country to get to Mt Eliza. The climbing was decent enough to challenge us, and I wanted to lead out as much as possible. Up the first steep incline, Mark wanted to show off his new Look bike and put the hammer down to go past me. Tall Dave followed him up, coming alongside of me. As we neared the crest, Tall Dave turned around at the same time as Mark began to peter out. Their wheels overlapped and then Tall Dave touched his front wheel against Mark’s rear. It all happened in slow motion in front of me, and Tall Dave nearly caught it but had lost too much momentum and went down. This triggered off a set of events that would unfold later in the day – but we were not to know at the time. Tall Dave had gone down reasonably hard on the palm of his hand – he is tall after all and fell from a greater height than I would have. He also bashed up his elbow, and his knee was letting out a bit of Claret. But he told us he was alright and he rode on gingerly never getting to the front again. We continued riding up the hills and Mark was telling me about the virtues of his new Look machine. It was at this point I heard someone yell out, “C’Mon Boys, get moving!” It was Leslie. Yes the sole lady rider in the group laid down the gauntlet. So off I went. I pulled up a few kilometres up the road to allow everybody to regroup and continue on to Mt Eliza together.

As we came up to the roundabout with Two Bays Road we saw Carl returning from his secret training run. He proceeded to swing around and join us and it was great to see him again too. I had a bit of a chin wag with him too on his Specialized speed machine. His brother in-law Pete came up behind me and told me to get on it again, but for a different reason – Carl’s only Strava KOM was on that stretch of road and he wanted me to go for it. But Carl took off like a bat out of hell and it was not going to be. My favourite part of this ride is the descent down Canadian Bay Road back to the Nepean Highway – it is a long descent with a left-right chicane down the bottom that reminds me of “Eau Rouge” at Spa-Francorchamps Race Course in Belgium. This was only the third time I had ridden this descent, so I didn’t go full belt and followed Pete who is a crazier downhill rider than I am. Getting back to the Nepean Highway we pulled up for a coffee at around 60km into my ride. This was needed as we were still in the throws of some very cool temperatures.

Did I say it was cold? I tried to wolf down my carbohydrate muesli bar, which was so cold that it was as hard as a toffee. We couldn’t have drunk our coffees any quicker because we needed to get back on the bikes to keep warm. A quick diversion down Old Mornington Road gave the guys another opportunity to stretch out their legs on one of their favourite descents, before we returned back to the Nepean Highway. My second favourite part of this ride is the downhill bombing of Oliver’s Hill where I always clock over 60kph. Back at Frankston, Tall Dave pulled the pin complaining of a sore neck. This was the second indication that things were not right for him. He gave his wife a call and told us to ride one because she would come and pick him up. We rode back at pace, and the weather was finally becoming perfect. The bay was flat as a tack, no wind, and the mercury was creeping back up over 7 degrees Celsius on its way to the 11 degrees that it would hit at the end of the ride. I stayed on the front setting the pace up around 33-35kph and I felt very strong. I looked back a couple of times to see that I was leading out a longer train with a few other groups tacking onto my tail. That was cool by me, because I was feeling strong. Gradually the rest of the crew all ducked off to their respective home destinations and I left Mark, Leslie, and Darren as the last ones as we neared Black Rock. They wanted a second bout of coffee, but for me I wanted the century. The remain 16kph I rode mostly at my own pace solo at or around 30kph. Glancing down at my Garmin I was keeping 28.5kph (about 17.7kph) for the whole ride, and I just wanted to maintain that pace. The challenge was going to be all the intersections and now busy Saturday traffic coming back into the city. But as I went through St Kilda on the way back to South Yarra I jumped back on the pedals and hammered it back to my brother’s place. Rounding the corner into his street ticked over the century mark at 100.1km.

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I felt very strong throughout this ride and was quite chuffed, and hungry, by the end. This is the second century ride that I have done in as many months but this one was definitely quicker and stronger. Now I have to maintain this base and build on it through the rest of the winter so I come into September with good lungs and legs. BTW – the average temperature for the whole ride ended up being 4 degrees Celsius. Here is the route that my Garmin captured.

Melbourne_Century-22_Jun_13

As for Tall Dave his fall might have been a small blessing. He went to the hospital to get checked out thinking that the accident, and it was a genuine accident because these guys are an experienced and safe bunch to ride with, might have caused his neck aches. The diagnosis was a lot more serious than we could have imagined. He had an aneurysm developing at the base of his skull. He was moved straight away to the best hospital in Melbourne, but we are all concerned with the seriousness of his condition. They have not operated on him yet, and will be conducting an angiogram tomorrow to determine the extent of the condition. It would appear that this had been developing for some time. My brother, the rest of the riding crew, and I are all concerned about what happens next. I could write something flippant like “hope he gets back on the bike soon” but I know how serious this is – and it is not about the bike. The good thing is they have detected it now and he is in good hands. I love riding and travelling, but I also like life and want my friends to remain healthy to enjoy their lives too.

The best thing that we did on our recent visit to the Big Island of Hawai’i would have to be the dive that my brother organised with Manta Rays. He had chartered a boat for our group specifically which consisted of two of my three brothers, my wife, my brother’s future wife, and a host of their friends. We had got in a bout of sightseeing earlier in the morning and my brother who is based in Melbourne had only flown in the day before and was shattered through minimal sleep on the flight over. But we were all keen, especially my wife who loves getting in the water. We came equipped too, having brought over with us our own snorkels and masks. Furthermore, I had picked up an underwater case for my Canon Powershot G15. I had owned one of these before for a previous model Canon Ixus 430, which was a good little camera that I still have up my sleeve. It will probably end up being one of the Pok’s first cameras to play around with. Off we trekked in the Chevy Suburban hire car to the dive shop.

Big Island Divers

The guys and girls from Big Island Divers were very professional from the start and this reassured us that we were going to be in good hands for the boat ride and subsequent dive. The plan was to go to a spot where they knew the Manta Rays were regular visitors, then we were to embark on two dives – one in the afternoon and then one at night. This was going to be cool! We got fitted with wetsuits and flippers in addition to our own kit. My brother and his future wife were going to do a full SCUBA dive, so they got kitted up for that too. After the mandatory waivers (i.e. you are about to do something that is potentially threatening to your health – got it!) we headed off to the marina to meet up with our boat and her crew. Quite a few of us were starving, so I picked up a snack – this would later prove to be an error of judgement on my part. Unfortunately for me I get sea-sick easily, and I had forgotten to take motion sickness tablets early enough for them to kick in. I don’t get motion sickness when I am at the helm of whatever vehicle, but a bobbing boat definitely throws me. I also challenge one of my comfort zones when I go diving, because I do get anxious every time when I go underwater and especially in the open ocean. But all of that was not going to stop us.

To the Ocean

The dive site was not too far away from the Marina, at about 5 nautical miles distance. Where we were stopping was pretty much just off the coast of the Kona Airport runway – the Southern end. It was strange seeing the solidified lava field flows where they met the ocean, and the resulting sharp coastal rock formations. Our boat trip out to the dive spot was escorted by several pods of dolphins which came quite close to the sides of your boat, and no doubt underneath our boat. The only shot I managed to get of them was when we pulled up to the dive spot.

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These dolphins would later on end up jolting a manta ray out of the ocean, with the ray shooting up a couple of feet above the sea like a flying bat out of hell.

Our boat crew proceeded to tell us about what we would experience as we suited up. This was where my dive experience would start to take a turn for the worse. As I zipped up my wetsuit my body temperature soared. I was starting to get hot before I had even jumped into the water. In hindsight, I should have just dived into the water in my board shorts. It took a while to see any fish, and the ocean bed was about 5-6m below the water surface. When they finally did come out and play from their coral hideaways they certainly put on quite a show. It was difficult with the underwater camera bobbing up and down on the surface get them in focus. The afternoon was overcast, so even though the visibility was good, the light could have been brighter. My favourite fishes were the ones that I captured in the photos below. The black one was cool, because what doesn’t come out in the photo is that he swims flat with the fins on either side of the silver lines flapping like wings.

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After about 15 minutes in the water, somebody spotted our first ray and off we all went to hover above them. This was an awesome experience, a combination of excitement and a little bit of fear. Even though the guys from Big Island Divers told us that they weren’t dangerous, seeing a ray for the first time in the water is pretty awe inspiring. The first one we saw was huge, at least 4 metres in diameter with its wings graciously moving through the ocean. I had given the camera to my wife to get some shots and missed what was the highlight of my outing when the ray turned up and headed directly for me with its mouth gaping open widely. It was feeding on the plankton between me on the surface and it on the ocean floor. The colours of its skin were beautifully shaded in dark hues of deep blue and grey.

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My wife was giddy as a school kid in the water, which is how she is whenever we go snorkeling or diving. She would swim up behind me a pull on my flipper to excitedly point out another fish as if she was the only one in the water and I couldn’t see. I managed to get a good shot of her in the water reveling in the bubbles from my brother who was SCUBA diving below.

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By this stage, I was going down for the count. I had unzipped the back of my wetsuit just so I could get cool water flowing through to my body. I pulled the pin and headed back to the boat, having succumbed to sea-sickness from all the bobbing on the surface. Unfortunately I would not get back in the water again, spending the rest of the night trying not to worship the porcelain god.

The Night Dive

This is where the rest of the night would be the experience of my wife and brother Marc. There were six of us struggling with sea sickness, including the soon to be married couple. In fact, my brother Daniel threw up in his SCUBA mouth breathing apparatus – poor bugger. The guys on the boat proceed to explain to us a bit about the manta ray and what we as humans knew about them. They told us how for the night dive they would be shining torches down into the water from the surface. This was to attract the plankton which in turn would attract the rays to feed. They would also come very close to the people in the water, but largely ignore them. So with camera in hand, my wife returned for the second leg, and managed to get some amazing photos. Both my wife and the rest of our crew all came out of the water with grins from ear-to-ear. My wife proceeded to explain to me who close they had come to her, sometimes within a foot and then turning away. They would perform loop after loop through the water constantly scooping in plankton. Here was the best shot, though in the dark light the camera was really struggling for focus.

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The unique markings of manta rays are denoted by not only their skin colouration but also their birth marks on the underside of their torsos. This is how the marine biologists keep track of the populations.

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The best part about the dive was the video my wife took. Here is her attempt at a bit of movie production. Not bad for a first go, and I wish I had the stomach to get back in the water.

This had to be one of the highlights of all of my travels – it was an awesome dive. Thank to the guys at Big Island Divers, who really took care of us throughout the whole night and made the experience even better dealing with a professional and knowledgeable crew. If you ever get the change to go diving with manta rays in Hawai’i, I definitely recommend going with these guys.

This bag has been one of the best investments I have ever made. Grants me the freedom to fly and ride.

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I think the Cervelo “é” wings are quite appropriate for the livery. Here’s looking forward to some happy kms in Melbourne.

A couple of my fellow bloggers have got me revved up to get some kilometers in mid-week. The last couple of weeks have been a bit of a struggle as I have thrown myself into a new job and quite frankly I have been exhausted. But that all just sounds like excuses! So I took the road steed out for a spin tonight. I was prepared for the ride, with a new night light (a NiteRider Lumina 650 which is a little beast of engineering), bidons full, and three layers of clothing – I was raring to go. The only hitch was the bout of man-flu I had been carrying since the weekend, but this was not going to stop me. When I stepped out into the night I was greeted with a bout of cold winter air. In Sydney it never gets as cold as in North America or Europe, but it was quite fresh. It was not until I got back and loaded my ride up to Garmin Connect and Strava did I pick up how cold it was – an average temperature of 9 degrees Celsius (or 48 degrees Fahrenheit for my fellow US riders). Fresh!

The Joy of Riding at Night

There are quite a few advantages of riding at night, particularly in Sydney. For starters the traffic is at its lowest, and in Sydney this is a real problem for cyclists because for whatever motorists are quite aggressive towards two wheeled road users (though this is improving). On routes where you mix with pedestrians, like some of the bike / walking tracks on my local runs, there are fewer of these people too. In the Winter months, there are even fewer pedestrians about. At night, you are seen better because you are lit up like a Christmas Tree – albeit one that is travelling at times up to 50km/hr. And you don’t have the sun beaming down on you, further burdening your attempts to get ahead of the dehydration curve. Finally, the best advantage is that you get a pretty good night’s sleep after a good workout in the saddle. On the other hand there are a few disadvantages; it gets cold, your visibility of the road surface at night is much poorer, and sometimes you have to avoid the odd pedestrian who has enjoyed an evening fueled with alcoholic beverages instead of electrolyte fluid. At night and in the cold you have to maintain your hydration discipline as well, just because it is not hot does not mean you aren’t sweating and losing valuable minerals.

Getting Stronger – Strava is not so Evil After All

Even though I haven’t got that many big rides in over the last few weeks, I still feel myself getting stronger on the pedals. My post ride ritual now is hydrate, carb up, and upload my ride. I religiously upload my rides now, and ensure that on every ride I have my heart rate monitor on too. When I first started blogging I posed the question Is Strava Evil? I now don’t think it is, because it is critical in telling me how I perform on my regular rides. If I am feeling on it like I did tonight, I push it and go for broke on a segment that I know about. Tonight I had 6 segment PRs, and that is giving me incentive to go harder next time. A couple of the PRs were on a few of the torture pinches that I throw into my shorter rides. Two of these pinches are back to back over a 1km stretch with the first peaking at 17% grade and the second at 16%. These pinches are my measure of form, and getting ready for the big rides in September and October will see plenty of climbing up these. Tonight’s ride was short, 23km, but I got in just under 400m of climbing and another hour in the saddle. Big riding this weekend when I pay my brother in Melbourne a visit and go for a spin with his riding crew – maybe even a century ride for giggles.

Can’t wait for the weekend.

This week Ailsa has given us the travel theme of “Flow”. You can find a link to this week’s travel theme here. Looking through my photos I found lots of different interpretations of this travel theme. I chose to focus on flowing falls of some kind, be they natural or man-made. I was surprised to find that a lot of the photos that matched this theme were taken with my older digital cameras – my Canon Powershot G2 and G5. I loved my G2, it was my first proper camera and really got me hooked on photography. But when I look at the quality of the photos that I have taken I cringe. There is chromatic aberration, fringing, and all sorts. But I suppose the more you practice the more you realise where you started. All the images below link through to my larger images on Flickr.

The first shot was taken on our second trip to Singapore, where this time we stayed overnight. We decided to visit Sentosa Island, which at the time still hadn’t been fully constructed. It is one of the most popular places to visit in Singapore, but it is very man-made. But like a lot of things in Singapore it is done vibrantly and well. Here is the man-made cascades that flow from the base of the Merlion on the island.

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The next one is from Paris, France which has some pretty cool vintage museums but also some of the best modern museums I have ever been too. This was taken around the exterior walkways of the Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie which translated into English means the Museum of Science and Industry. The exterior of the building looks like something out of a science fiction movie (maybe a Luc Besson film). The tubes were not enclosed, so it is the curvature and the speed of the flow that keeps the water from spilling all over the place.

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My third photo is one of my favourites. It was taken at Fitzroy Falls in the NSW Southern Highlands in Australia. The photo was overexposed in the top right corner, but it was the first time that I captured flowing water streaming like a painting.

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I have been fortunate to work and travel on several Olympic Games, and as a spectator one of the best to see was the Athens 2004 Olympic Games. The lack of visitors meant that you could see a lot of sports that would be a sell-out at other Games. Here are the flowing man-made rapids at the Canoe-Kayak slalom event. This is one of the coolest sports to watch as it is so full of action, suspense, and surprises.

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My last shot is of absent flow, again on Fraser Island in Queensland, Australia. Being a sand island, there is not rock based land for river beds to flow down. What you have is sand based channels to guide the rivers with the detritus of the plants forming the base. This river only flows when it rains, which it does a lot on the island.

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