Sunday, 28 June 2015


The Winter Solstice

At last!  We've finally moved from the days getting shorter to now getting longer again. Can we tell the difference just a week later? Well, maybe not but psychologically it's a huge boost. On this page you can see sunrise and sunset times, and it tells me that we'll gain 3 ½ minutes between sunrise and sunset over the next week. And it shows that the difference between each day as you go along increases.I like the sound of that!

The Winter Solstice brought to an end the third annual Dark Mofo Festival - 10 days of hedonism on Hobart's waterfront, with 174,000 people eating, partying and then - some of them - washing their sins clean with a nude swim at sunrise on the 22nd ...

It's a pity that the days, although lengthening are also still getting colder. July is the the basement as far as our monthly temperatures go, with an average daytime maximum of only 11.7 degrees. Thankfully, we'll soon be heading slightly  north for the rest of the winter, with slightly warmer temperatures expected.

The Growing Season

Actually, although lots of things die back in winter the growing season never really comes to a full stop in Hobart. We've almost finished picking tomatoes out of the garden, the last cabbage just came in from the cold and there is some lovely rainbow chard flourishing. We even have an open invitation to skip across the road and pick some of Sue's magnificent kale when the fancy takes us.

Nevertheless, it is great to see some things coming up out of the earth. Our garlic, which we were somewhat tardy sticking in the ground has nonetheless favoured us with shoots appearing out of the earth ...

A few days ago I saw a handful of green spears emerging from the earth; this morning it was more like twenty or thirty. I reckon that before we leave in just over a week all of the sixty or so cloves I stuck in the ground will be reaching out of the darkness towards the ever-increasing sunshine.

Not long after I ruptured my Achilles tendon and badly mangled my ankle, our dear friends Heather and Tony turned up with a pot to cheer me up (that's a pot, not pot). They told me to just put it out in the yard and it would look after itself. Well, it has. Very soon - almost certainly before we go away - we're going to have daffodils showing themselves ...

Out With the Old ...

As previously mentioned, I decided to pull out the Tea Tree hedge I had been nurturing in favour of espaliering some apple trees. Well, the framework is now finished and keenly awaiting the trees ...

Hopefully Woodbridge Nursery will come to the party and let me pick up the trees before we leave for our big ride, so they can have all winter to settle in. I'm planning on using the KNNN method of espalier. It's all a learning curve, so wish me luck!

Folklore has it that blueberries really like pine needles. As in really, really like pine needles. We finally got ourselves organised to pick up a couple of bags and spread them around our four blueberry bushes. Here they are all snugly bedded in ...

They are still mere infants really, but seem to getting themselves established. I've pruned the one in the left foreground right back because it was a little leggy and I want it to fill out a bit. Hopefully we'll have a few bowlfuls out of them this year.

Tapering Our Training

With just a short time now before we head off for our long ride we've cut down on the hours we're spending on our bikes. We're still doing the occasional 100+ km ride when the fancy takes us, but mostly we are trying to focus on quality rather than quantity. In the three months since I've been back on the bike I've done a touch over 4000 kilometres and Di has done a few hundred more than that, having started a little before me, so we figure we've got enough distance in our legs to cope with the demands we'll face. (I'm also trying to do a bit more walking, which I've neglected somewhat in trying to get cycling fit.)

Today's ride ended up being even shorter than we'd anticipated. I started to notice a metronomic noise as we got out near the 20 kilometre mark, which became more pronounced. Upon stopping and examining the bike I noticed that I  had a bulge on my rear tyre, which was hitting the brake pad each time the wheel revolved. Here's what the bulge looked like ...

Not very confidence inspiring, eh! I tried letting the air out and re-seating the bead of the tyre a couple of times, but the bulge just kept reappearing. We reluctantly decided to turn around and head for home. It's probably a good thing we did because as things turned out there was a fault in the actual tyre bead that had worsened to this extent by the time I got home ...

As these were brand new tyres out on their first ride (we had just put them on in preparation for our upcoming adventure) it had to be a manufacturing fault. We've had lots of these tyres before and never had a problem before. They are a great all-rounder: not too heavy yet durable and highly puncture-resistant. Luckily I'd bought two new sets so was able to replace this faulty tyre with another. We'll only have a handful more rides before we fly across to Perth, so hopefully this will be the only equipment glitch we'll have between now and then!

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Four Likely Lads Go Walkabout

Echos of the Past

Talk about a blast from the past. I was pulled up short after my last post when Kevin Vallee, an old travelling companion, contributed a comment. It took me way back in time ... as far back as the 1st of December, 1977. That's the day Kevin and I, along with James Newman and Terry Barr, two other great buddies, set out from home in the Comox Valley to go exploring Australia and New Zealand. Little did we know what a life-changing journey it would become. Indeed, although the rest of us have paid visits to Canada over the years, James was the only one to really return home. And I think even for him, this trip was a major factor in the way his life has played out.

What callow youths we were! Just out of nappies, really. Innocents abroad, and all that. Anyway, I was the first domino to fall, so to speak. After various combined and separate adventures, we'd come to Tasmania together to do some bushwalking, pick apples and then continue our explorations of mainland Australia. 

Before setting off to walk the Overland Track we stopped off in Longford to attend a Folk Music Festival. On my second day in the Apple Isle my fate was sealed when I met Di, who was to become my soulmate and lifelong partner.

The four of us did walk the Overland Track together and had a magnificent trip with glorious weather. On the first day we had a swim in Lake Wilks and climbed Cradle Mountain ...

Circled, L-R: Terry, James, Doug, Kevin with Barn Bluff in the background
... before stopping at Waterfall Valley Hut for the night. The weather was so good, and we were so young and energetic we even climbed Barn Bluff that evening just because we could.

Here's another photo - further proof of the great weather we had - of the four of us on top of Mt Ossa, the highest peak in Tasmania ...

Weird: two days later and we're in the same order!
It was a fantastic hike. At the end I headed east to Hobart to rendezvous with Di, while Terry, James and Kevin headed west to hike into Frenchmans Cap. They had a snowstorm that caused them to spend a few more days there than they'd planned, while Di took me to Freycinet National Park for my first taste of rock climbing. If my fate wasn't sealed at the Longford Folk Festival, it was now! We all did go and pick apples together, but that's when our paths started to diverge.

The Story Plays Out

I never really left Tasmania. The apple orchard's charms were nothing up against Di's embraces just a short hitch-hike away, and I spent more in Hobart than in the pickers shed. Although I had a brief foray back to Canada, my heart stayed here and back I came. Kevin was on his way home - and almost made it - but became sidetracked in San Francisco, eventually settling in upstate New York. He tells me he is about to retire to live aboard his yacht and do some cruising. Good for him!

Terry stayed in Australia, also falling for an Antipodean lass. He married, finished university, had four kids, divorced, fell in love again and started a new family.  He's a highly skilled geologist working in the Middle East after a long career in Brisbane and Adelaide with Santos. He hopes to retire too before much longer, and we hope to see more of him, Heather and their son Riley when he does.

Jamie went back to Canada, enrolled at the University of Victoria, won numerous national basketball championships under coach Ken Shields, graduated and eventually started his own highly successful fitness equipment business. He and Cathie brought their two kids out to Australia for a fantastic family holiday a few years ago - what am I saying? It's almost a decade! - and we look forward to another visit sometime. I think Cathie can see the end of her working life not too far into the future, and Jamie is talking about selling his business.

I have a dream of us all getting together to celebrate the 40th anniversary of our departure from the Comox Valley. That's less than a year and a half away. Now wouldn't that be something, eh lads?

Addendum (From a Dumb-Dumb!)

Sitting here looking at my desktop I just twigged that the photo I cherish most and look at every day I am home really should have been added to this post. It was taken by my (at that time, future) brother-in-law when I went to climb at Freycinet with Di while my buddies Terry, James and Kevin went to Frenchmans Cap. Geoff and his wife Susie kindly agreed to come up with us, play about on the rock and help Di show me the ropes, so to speak. In the photo I am actually wearing a pair of Susie's climbing shoes. They are EB's and were the bee's knees back in the day. Without further ado, here's the photo ...

Now those were the days!

Sunday, 21 June 2015

The Sun Returns


This year, June has been a real dog's breakfast as far as weather goes. (Or, maybe after not being around Hobart during June for a few years we've just forgotten what it's like at this time of year.) We're already just about on our monthly average of 44 millimetres (and I mean the median) for rainfall with a third of the month still to go. Most of that has come in three days. There have been a couple of very windy days when the I've been worried about the young olive trees in the backyard, including one day when there were gusts in Hobart up to 106 kilometres per hour.
On the other hand, we've had eleven days with no rainfall recorded and lots of days with very light winds, so overall we've  had great conditions for cycling. The other day when we were easing back into town along the bike track after being out to Richmond, Di suggested I stop and take a photo over the Derwent. I took two in the end: one of her looking out over the river ...

Di eyes the Derwent

... and another of what she was looking at ...

Tugboats in the slipyards

Unfortunately, I've been struggling with a cold for a while now aso decided to take a three day break from the bike during the middle of the past week. It seems to have paid off as I am not sneezing and coughing as much and the mucus has pretty much dried up.

In the Garden

After the advice I received from various folks I decided I would pull out the Tea Tree hedge I'd lovingly nurtured for many years, and espalier some fruit trees in their stead. We've got a wonderful nursery down the Huon Valley called Woodbridge Fruit Trees with a huge range of trees, including many heritage varieties. They ship their trees all over Australia ...

Woodbridge Nursery sends trees from the Huon Valley all over Australia

Woodbridge reckons the best trees for espaliering are dwarf apple trees. We wanted varieties that are early maturing, so I've selected two classic heritage varieties in Beauty of Bath and Cox's Orange Pippin, along with the more recent but very highly regarded Vista Bella.

Of course, before the trees go in I've got to build the framework for the espalier. It took a while to decide exactly how I wanted to put it together but in the end I have just put four posts in the ground and am in the process of connecting them with a simple post and rail structure. Rather than use screws and brackets from the hardware store I thought it might be fun to use old-fashioned carpentry techniques: cut joints, put in a fillet of wood and hold the lot together with dowels. Nothing to rust away and a stronger joint. To hold it together so I could drill the holes and put in the dowels I used the twisted rope method. Here's what I'm talking about ...

A section of my espalier frame

... and a close-up of the dowelling holding it all together ...

Old time building methods

A bit rough and ready but that's all we need. I'll finish putting together the woodwork tomorrow and when the wire and turnbuckles I've ordered arrive it will all be done. Can't wait to plant the trees!

We've also replanted a patch of strawberries, pruned the cherry tree, moved a blueberry bush, dug up the rhubarb and replaced it with what we hope will be a nicer variety, as well as - somewhat belatedly - put in our garlic crop.  It will be great to come back from our big ride across the continent to see all these things flourishing: we hope!

Today's Ride

It was just too good a forecast not to go for a ride today. Di wanted to do something a little longer and we both thought it would be pleasant to go somewhere we hadn't been for a while. We waited until just after 10:00 a.m. before setting off to let the frost disappear. Here's what we ended up doing ...

Sublime cycling terrain in the Hobart area

It was a fantastic day out, quite cool but almost completely still and completely blue skies all day. Of the 105 kilometres or so we cycled, about 85 kilometres were on quiet, undulating rural roads. Highlights include riding through Tea Tree past the ever-increasing vineyards in the Coal River Valley, along the undulating Fingerpost Road, out through Seven Mile Beach between the airport and the sea and on through the Acton Park towards Lauderdale. Beautiful rolling countryside broken up from time to time - but not too often - with flat sections of road. Just brilliant!

A New Helmet

Just over a week ago we were out on a ride and I got it a bit wrong. We were actually just having an easy ride after working a bit harder the day before, and clearly I wasn't paying enough attention following Di just north of Bridgewater. I had allowed my front wheel to slightly overlap her back wheel and when she swerved to avoid a pothole I paid the price. Luckily Di didn't go down but I did a bit of a cartwheel, destroying my helmet in the process (a dent in the top and cracked clean through in two places) and picking up a few bruises and patches of road rash. Thankfully it wasn't any worse than it was, serving as a timely reminder to be alert at all times. It's the first time anything like this has ever happened to me in over half a century of riding a bike, and it could have been a lot worse as we'd just come around a roundabout on the main highway heading north ... 

X marks the spot!
So now I have a brand new helmet - a little lighter than the previous model as I thought that if I had to get a new one I might as well lighten the load a little. (The lighter the helmet the easier it is to hold your head up hour after hour on a bike.) Let's hope I won't need to put this new scone saver to the test for a long time to come ~ if ever!

Saturday, 20 June 2015

Telling It Like It Is

Just had to share this today. Nothing else for me to say except please watch ...

... and maybe ask you to leave a comment ...

Friday, 12 June 2015

Sublime Cycling in the Valley of Love

The Weather Gods Smile On Us

Today was about as good as it gets - at least as far as winter in southern Tasmania goes. A look at the forecast suggested that it might be worth riding to New Norfolk and further up the Derwent Valley - and it was. Here's a photo of Di about 50 kilometres into today's ride ...

As you can see, she's all rugged up but, apart from a few wisps over the peaks in the distance, the skies are clear of clouds. The photo was taken just after midday, when the ambient temperature was about 12 degrees and the apparent temperature was around 10 degrees. That probably sounds a bit cold for most Australian cyclists, but if you ride year round in Tasmania this is just the sort of day you relish.

What made it so good of course was the lack of  two things: rain and wind! Unlike most days recently, the forecast was for zero percent chance of rain and very light west to nor'westerly winds. Of course this is Tasmania, so there is always some wind. Today was about as close as one gets to completely still conditions. And the forecast suggested that if we went as far as Bushy Park we'd be have whatever wind there was in our faces on the way out, but at our backs on the way home. Really, the light northerly air flow was, if anything too light to even call a breeze. On the way out is was akin to a sage spirit checking one's urge to overstep the mark; on the way home it was like a whisper of encouragement in one's ear to pedal, pedal, PEDAL!

These snapshots of observations in Hobart ...

... and Bushy Park ...

... while we were out riding highlight how benign the conditions were.

And here's a Google image showing today's route ...

(If you've been following the blog, you will have seen this part of the world before!)

Another (not so good) photo of Di just after we passed through Bushy Park shows the view across Glenora and on up towards Mt Field National Park ...

This part of Tasmania is hop heaven, hop central, the hop hotspot of Tasmania, with hops having been grown here for about the past 150 years.

And here's a photo that Di took from almost exactly the same spot on an earlier ride, looking down towards the River Derwent ...

We didn't stop long enough to take any photos of the hop fields. Mostly, when we're up this way our stops are at Banjo's Bakehouse in New Norfolk!

The Valley of Love?!?

It's almost impossible to find anyone referring to the Derwent Valley/New Norfolk as "the Valley of Love" these days, but when I first fetched up in Tasmania you'd hear that phrase all the time. It was back in the halcyon days of the mighty Eagles, New Norfolk's football club, when they were battling the heavyweights of Glenorchy and Clarence in the now-defunct TANFL/TFL Statewide League. Wayne "Baldy" Fox was regularly booting over 100 goals in a season - he holds the record 135 sausage rolls. The iconic nature of the country footy club is reflected in the club song ...

There's a team on the track,
Dressed in Red, White and Black,
We are the mighty Eagle team.
It takes a good team to stop us.
A better one to wop us,
And Hobart knows that's true.
If the Magpies ever head us,
We'll all come fighting back.
For we're fighting for our colours,
The old Red, White and Black.
Down the 'Roos and the 'Gulls,
And we'll bust the 'Robins skulls.
We are the mighty Eagle team.

In case you missed it - or aren't from Australia, it's after the classic colonial song "The Road to Gundagai".

Anyway, the Boyer Oval was a fortress for the mighty Eagles, especially mid-winter when it might be a bit foggy alongside the river and significantly colder than Hobart down by the seaside. The footy club really united the town and the district as a whole. Back in the day, when country football was the lifeblood of the local community and a home game attracted thousands of fans, and the ABC broadcast the game of the round on the tele - and posted regular updates - from the other matches - New Norfolk became a mythical place each Saturday afternoon. Was that the reason the Derwent Valley in general and New Norfolk in particular was known as The Valley of Love? Or was it something else? This was one of the things spinning around in my head as I cycled through the township today. I'd love to know the answer if there's anyone out there who can help me out ...

Thursday, 4 June 2015


Do Wolves Change Rivers?

This probably seems like a pretty strange heading. Well, just recently my friend Jon sent me a video. Apart from being a beautiful presentation of Yellowstone National Park, this video explores the concept of trophic cascade and how the reintroduction of wolves have revitalised the environmental values of the park. You've just got to see this ...

Beautiful, eh! However, some wolf ecologists have cautioned against giving wolves all the credit for the resurgence in plant and animal diversity across Yellowstone, which makes perfect sense. This article suggests that a number of other factors have made significant contributions to Yellowstone's rebirth. Whatever the role they've played it seems clear that the reintroduction of wolves (thanks need to go to the Canadians for supplying the wolves) into Yellowstone has been a real good news story.

The story got me wondering about the phenomenon of trophic cascade generally. It's a pretty interesting concept, raising lots of questions about the balance in nature. For example ...

Can Whale Populations Affect the Earth's Climate?

Now that does seem like mumbo jumbo, doesn't it? Well, I've got another little video for you. Even if you don't buy into the science, enjoy this amazing vision starting with a close-up image of a humpback's eye ...

Don't you just love that faecal plume! It seems that whale poo makes an invaluable contribution to the ecological health of the world's oceans - and, of course, thereby the health of the planet as a whole. This alone seems reason enough for Japanese to stop killing whales. 

Which brings me to look at this issue from the point of view of a Japanese pro whale-slaughter proponent. One argument put for whaling is that it is part of traditional Japanese life. Hmmm. Apparently, a 2006 study showed that 95% of Japanese don't eat whale meat. And
I don't think sailing halfway around the world in huge ships, burning countless tons of fossil fuel to cart a few whales home which sit uneaten in freezer warehouses quite fits that bill either. 

Another argument is that the Japanese support whaling. Well, a poll conducted by the Nippon Research Centre suggests that 71% of Japanese do not support whaling, so there goes that claim.

Japan says that we Australians should be the last to criticise them killing whales when we are increasingly slaughtering kangaroos and wallabies. This was one point of view explored with friends last night over the dinner table (along with some hearty winter food and a few bottles of red). On the surface, quite a reasonable-sounding argument. And, tragically, some sub-species of kangaroo and wallaby have gone extinct due to hunting and destruction of habitat. We need to do what we can to protect endangered populations. 

However, overall kangaroo and wallaby numbers are at all-time high levels due to conversion of wild land to agriculture. In a nutshell, farmers grow crops and the natural herbivores in our environment eat and multiply to plague proportions. 
Except Victoria, all mainland states harvest kangaroo commercially, which helps keep populations from exploding. In Tasmania, it appears that  the systematic culling of wallabies keeps the population at a stable and sustainable level, while our only kangaroo, the Forester, is protected. (I'd be interested in your opinions on this issue if you'd like to leave a comment at the end of the post.)

Anyway, back to the whales. If you watch this next video - which is of a whale being liberated from a gill net in the Gulf of Cortez - you'll see some fantastic footage of it celebrating its freedom ... a truly heartwarming story:

Sharks Attack!

If you believe media reports, shark attacks in Australia would seem to be on the rise. This may or may not be true. In any case the chance of an encounter with a shark remains extremely unlikely.  (Since records began in 1791, fewer than 1000 attacks have been recorded, with roughly one-quarter of those proving fatal.) Nonetheless, the Western Australian government reacted hysterically last year to a couple of attacks in WA by introducing a controversial culling program, which was dumped when the Environmental Protection Agency recommended its cessation.

As it turns out, even sharks make positive contribution to the environment. This video explores how sharks in the wonderful, Western Australia World Heritage Area (try saying that quickly three times!) of Shark Bay influence patterns of seagrass growth, ensuring that good dense banks of seagrass survive and provide nutrients.

Anyway, the sun is shining and the Bridgewater Jerry has finally burnt off so it's time to get on the bike, where I'll contemplate these wonders of our natural world as I ride along.


The following is, admittedly, a bit clich├ęd, but being all touchy-feely, I felt like sticking it in anyway as I thought it fit nicely with the theme of this post.

We were out on a walk, doing a bit of rehab for my ankle this arvo when I spotted a sign outside a shop that said ....

If you want the rainbow
you've got to put up with the rain!


Couldn't agree more.

8th June Post Script: Sitting - Snugly and Smugly

With the forecast for the next couple of days (wet, windy - maximum windy - and cold) not very inspiring for cycling we saw a window for getting out this morning before things really blew up. Just a short spin out to Granton and back, but better than nothing. We slogged out into a steady northerly and just about reached the turnaround point before the first of the major gusts came into play. It hasn't rained yet, but boy-oh-by has it got windy. Thankfully we were home again before the worst of it, but did cop some blasts up into the 60+ km/h range. It has gusted to over 100 km/h since then and is gusting in the 90's as I write this. Here's a look at what we've had so far today:

Sure glad to be home and snug. Besides, the bikes are overdue for some much-needed maintenance after a week of variable conditions. Better get to it!