Thursday, 15 September 2016

GNW 100 Miler 2016

Attempting to run 100 miles.  Oh my word !  What an experience.  Need to get it all down before it begins to fade away, but as I keep having flashbacks I suspect I will be adding bits and pieces and editing constantly.  Not to mention people reminding me of stuff I had completely forgotten.

It is hard to know where to begin because it involves work, training, preparation, planning, and of course the event itself.  Here is my attempt to make some sense of it all.

Of course I should start by saying that I didn't complete 100 miles.  I reached 132.9km at Check Point 5 (Somersby School) and that was fine by me.  Like getting a pass mark on a difficult assignment, and next time I will do better.

I had pretty much decided to take on this challenge late last year.  However changing jobs early 2016 proved way more difficult than anticipated.  I began thinking I would be better off attempting the 100km event (something Gavin Markey kindly talked me out of).  Added time commuting, trying to mix running and riding home by bike, changing shifts, and other elements conspired to leave me pretty much exhausted by weeks end. No long runs after work.  In fact I ultimately dropped running through the week and relied on my bike riding to maintain fitness, as well as keeping leg strength.  I had to completely rethink how I usually trained.  Sleep became a huge priority.  I did stick to my major rules though.  Keep a good base, build steadily as the time approached, keep the wife happy (which meant becoming more creative and flexible with my week end runs)However, a major plus was being able to take Friday off, and a week to recover (which I am currently enjoying).  The lovely Cait and I cruised up to Warner's Bay with Bon Jovi blasting and me icing niggles on a foot and a knee (both of which disappeared as soon as I started so shouldn't have bothered)We were pleasantly surprised by our accommodation with views over Lake Macquarie.  We wandered along the Warner's Bay Esplanade to check out dinner options, and decided on a funky Mediterranean restaurant.  Weird, as I had been having cravings for Lebanese food all week and many of the options were similar.  Took it as a good sign.  We made a booking for 7pm, grabbed some beer and wine, and headed back to the motel to chill.

Possibly other runners would have been in bed by 7, but we sat back, sipped on beers and wine as the sun went down, and watched a bunch of cars arrive filled with skinny people unloading running vests and drop bags.  It was obvious they were here for the same thing as us. 

Dinner was awesomely good.  The lovely Cait had put so much time and effort into supporting me, and it was nice to pretend that we were simply here having a relaxing romantic break at a lovely restaurant in a lovely water setting (until the alarm rang at 4.00 am tomorrow shattering that illusion).  I polished off most of what Cait couldn't finish.  I suspected any extra calories might come in handy tomorrow.  Returning from the restaurant it semed everyone had  gone to bed.  I would have just lay awake for hours so no point.  I was way too excited to sleep.

Back at the motel room, the romance of the weekend continued as I mixed my drink bottles, sorted out my drop bags, laid out my running gear (including treasured racing undies), made a coffee for the thermos, rechecked my mandatory gear (again), rechecked my drop bags (again), set my alarm for 4, and made sure my vaseline and band aids were easily accessible in the morning.  All those things that bring a couple closer together.  I posted pictures of my running kit on facebook and my undies sent social media into a meltdown.  Eventually I turned off the phone, closed my eyes and went nigh nighs.

I woke up at 3.30, and bounced out of bed soon after.  I always sleep so well before these things, and get up easy.  This is why I work with kids (I still am one).  Applied copious amounts of lubricant to prevent chafing before Cait woke up.  She had made me promise to do this before her eyes were open.  She has been scarred by the sight in the past.  Made a second coffee for me, then one for Cait before waking her.  Had a delightful chocolate gel for breakfast.  As she sipped away, she kept calling out the time to me, kept me on track, helped me load the car, then drove me off to the start.  What a wife.

The obligatory photo - now let the games begin

Before leaving home I was 60kg.  At weigh in I was 63.8kg.  That's what 3 beers, 2 coffees, and plenty of fluids will do to you.  Chucked my drop bags in the big boxes, chatted with other runners, did the obligatory photos.  Suddenly I saw Rebekah Markey with a ridiculous grin on her face, and wondered what was going on.

It was a "THAT GUY" banner for me, because I am "THAT GUY".  I must admit to getting a bit choked up and teary, and probably didn't express how much it meant to me at the time.  I have been a part of the Markey madness for a few years now.  Have you heard the expression "if someone asked you to jump off the Harbour Bridge, would you do it ?"  Well with Gavin Markey the answer has mostly been "yes".  Then he would jump, and I would jump soon after.  However, before jumping, we would both go off and analyse previous jumps, set up spreadsheets, then jump.  We are way too similar.  However, afterwards Gav would probably worry that he could have jumped better, and I would write an amusing blog post about jumping off a silly big bridge.  He has been a constant source of both inspiration, amusement, and bemusement for a while now - but this time we were holding hands and jumping together, and they had made up a wonderful banner to commemorate it.  Thanks guys !  It was actually a great source of motivation at various points along the way.

I stood cuddling the lovely Cait, then suddenly runners began to move off.  For such a monster event, there is so little fanfare.  Love it.

Nothing much to report for the first 17km.  Some road, some trail, some climbing.  Just after Wakefield I diverted off track and disposed of the extra 3 kg of fluids I had consumed over the past 24 hours and trotted on contentedly.  I reached 17km (Heaton Gap) and the road crossing.  Everyone else lined up to desperately cross the road, but I found the tap for a drink instead.  In training I had discovered that I always drank too little, usually resulting in a whopping great headache and drinking litres of water afterwards. I was not going to sabotage myself so early on, so went off to have a drink..  

After the steep climb (not nearly as bad as people say) I caught up with Eric Burgess.  We ran and chatted a while, then headed into the rain forest together.  I let him go ahead as I really wanted to enjoy this bit and was in no rush.  I have read so many reports about people not enjoying this section, but I love it.  Probably the bush walker in me.  I did scrape my knee, and used my cap to wipe the blood away.  Eric and I were together a lot in this section chatting away, but he pulled ahead on a steep climb.  Eventually I thought I was catching him up, but it was other runners instead.  He had chucked a left instead of a right and disappeared into the wilderness.  Which is why this race is a challenge in more ways than one.  There are countess intersections, and so many get muddled.  I hoped he would pick up his mistake quickly.

I reached Check Point 1 to a rousing reception from Markeys Rebekah and Ryleigh, who even got the crowd cheering for me.  The couple I had been running with looked very confused (is "THAT GUY" a star or what !).  A great way to finish the first 30km.  4.5 hours. Had a race plan for fours hours, but slower is better was my plan.  Bek had a freak about all the blood on my head until I explained it was actually my knee.  She and Ryleigh helped me hustle through the check point - new shirt, sunblock, top up supplies, big drink, cuddles, then good to go.  Seven minutes all up. Perfect.  Off I went.  Big thanks to you girls - I was already in a good place, but you made it even better.

I had not run this section before.  I had saved it for a special treat.  I relaxed into it so I could take in some of the views which are amazing.  I passed a big Kiwi bloke in a most fetching short pink running skort.  The lovely Cait hopes I never meet too many sexy ladies out running, and this fellow definitely posed no threat to our marriage.  I passed him so I wouldn't have to follow him up any more steep climbs.

The descent down to Congewoi road was the first of many quadricep busting descents.  I tried to take it easy, but looking back, not easy enough.  I should have just walked.  I was to pay for all these descents later in the day (then night, then next day).  All those little 1% things can add up over 100 miles - and they did.

I arrived at Crawford's Tank, and a big sign saying "Return to Great North Walk".  THAT GUY had missed a turn.  Back tracking (not too far thank goodness) I was glad that it hadn't been too big a boo boo.  Don't follow THAT GUY ! 

Upon reaching the road, I sucked back the last of my fluids.  I had resolved not to reach a checkpoint with anything left to drink as that would mean I wasn't drinking enough.  This 5km road section was pretty warm though, and it was the first time I though "ooh, this is getting hard" - but as this was the 50km mark, not bad going.  The weather this year was extremely kind, and overall I was feeling fantastic. 

The amazing Paul Eveniss was waiting for me at Congewoi Public School (Check Point 2).  I had asked him to pace me after CP4 (100km), but he had declined.  Politely.  He is so English.  I hadn't asked him to crew, yet here he was !  Mentally, it gave me such a huge rush.  Paul, you will never know how good it felt to see you there.  He was racing back and forth getting me drinks, then unpacking my pack for a gear check.  While I just sat there enjoying it all.  Unless you have run 50km and have a man slave fulfilling your every desire as you sit motionless in a plastic chair, you just haven't lived. 

I was at CP2 for thirty one glorious minutes.  I had a long water less stretch ahead, and I wanted to be rested, rehydrated and ready.  I bid Paul farewell and set out again.
50km done.  Only 125km to go. Woo Hoo

Yes I did feel this good !

I had determined not to carry more than 1 litre in my back pack.  It always throws my balance out, and changes my running gait.  This is why I took so long to leave CP2.  I drank extra knowing I would be walking a while and it could all settle, and carried extra out in soft flasks.  I powered up the big climb to the Communications Tower, then set about running, thoroughly rehydrated.

This was easily my best section.  As the sun began setting, I was all systems go.  I had been eating and drinking well all day, taking it easy.  Plenty of TAILWIND, Hammer bars, gels, water.  Along here, it all "clicked".  Head torches came out, and as always, running through the night was such a buzz.  I found a lovely lady to run and chat with for a while, but she dropped off when we hit the rain forest stretch into CP3.  I was blissfully power walk/ running like never before.

CP3 arrived in a burst of voices, lights, music.  A volunteer offered me chicken soup and it was exactly what I needed.  I put on a dry shirt and warm top and felt a million dollars.  The first cup of soup had disappeared, so I had another.  After watching the volunteers in action last year, I was not fussed about organising a crew - and they didn't disappoint.  They found my drop bag and organised food and drink like I was one of the family.  Just brilliant wonderful people.  I was here less than 20 minutes, but it felt like hours.  One aspect of my race plan had been not to leave a CP until I felt I had set myself up for a successful next leg.  I felt ready, and off I set.  Eric was just arriving so it was good to know he was still going and back on track.

I was enjoying this section immensely until the descent down to Cedar Brush Road.  Suddenly the legs were hurting.  I kept telling myself "reach the road" and then it would be a flat run.  However, when I reached the road and began running, it still hurt. 

I had planned on reaching Yarramalong - CP4 (100km) at 10pm.  I was an hour behind that schedule, and stupidly was worried about falling further behind, keeping Steve waiting, and began pushing hard for the first time.  Big mistake.  10km of road running into Yarramalong was not a good idea.  It probably really wasn't a good idea either to push the pace for the last kilometre and sprint finish to get another runner in under 17 hours (it's the pacer in me). 

Dear readers.  At this point, take out a big highlighter marker, underline and draw circles around this bit.  This is the bit where I think I screwed up.  I had not been hurting all day.  I had been feeling great.  Yet here it was hurting, and instead of just walking it in (the smart thing) whilst eating, drinking, recovering, saving myself, I pushed through the pain and buggered everything up.  Sprint finish ? What madness is that ! Apply big slap here.

I eventually reached CP4 where my pacer Steve Deveney was waiting.  When Steve announced that he had dropped out of the 100km event a few weeks back, I had asked him to pace me.  Then when he didn't get back to me, I thought it was his way of saying "no".  Instead, he was waiting for me to confirm.  My fault.  He contacted me again on the evening before the race, we swapped a few details, and we were all good.  Then he and the lovely Cait did all the organising on my behalf.  Again, thanks guys.  Being honest, I was worried about arriving at CP4 totally smashed and telling Steve "thanks for coming all this way now take me home" (instead he had to wait 7.5 hours and walk 30km before the pleasure of my telling him this).

Steve was with me until CP5 (Somersby) a mere 30km away.  He had made all kinds of last minute arrangements to drop his car off and get a ride from CP4 to CP5.  All for me.  What a top bloke.  Good thing I felt chirpy and able to go on.  I got sorted, put on warm gear, had more soup, then we set off with another two runners after some company and guidance.

Every time I had left a check point, there had been a degree of stiffness that had quickly worn off, and I had settled into running and walking quite easily.  This magical feeling failed to reappear after Yarramalong.  I was travelling OK, but finding it hard to get any kind of speed going.  I had been roaring up hills all day, but the first big climb up Bumble Hill, whilst not at all painful, was way slower than at any other point.  I wasn't fussed though, as nothing much was hurting.  However, when we reached the top I suddenly discovered that running was not an option.  I kept hoping that things would change (as they had throughout the day).  I just kept walking, talking, eating, drinking hoping for a change.

Didn't happen.

Descending down into (aptly named) Dead Horse Creek, the down hill walking was increasingly painful.  No problems though as I could still move, which is all I needed to do.  Then the climb out was real hard work and deadly slow, as I began flogging that dead horse.  Eventually we hit wide open fire trail, started moving steadily again, but then the sleep bunnies began hopping around my brain. 

I am absolutely crap in the cold, but this time I was ready.  I had many layers - gloves, extra thick thermal top, wind jacket, two buffs, a scarf.  There are so many temperature variations going in and out of the valleys, and in and out of the rain forest, and I was forever putting clothing on, then removing it all again - but at least I stayed warm.  Eventually, despite being  all layered up, I was still cold. Steve suggested I put on my thermal pants.  As I couldn't bend down to do the shoes/ shoe lace thing, and I couldn't get my feet into my thermal pants, Steve kindly knelt down in the dark and dealt with proceedings.  Glad no one was passing by at that point as it looked rather compromising.  The things a good pacer will do.

It became farce after this, as we increasingly began to look like two drunk mates coming home from the pub.  I was nodding off on my feet, and Steve was tapping me on the shoulder to wake me up, or catch me as I began wandering off the road into the bushes.  It was all hilariously funny.  One second I would be thanking Steve for helping out, next second I would be walking in a different direction with Steve saying "woah, this way Rob". 

So many ask about being out at night.  Despite falling asleep on my feet, it truly is an awesomely magical experience wandering along quietly,  soft sound of footsteps, hearing birds and bats, watching your torch beam make a tunnel in the mist, the occasional horse looking back across a fence, big moon silhouetting through the trees, little golden spider eyes sparkling everywhere.  Even falling asleep and brain dead it was fantastically beautiful.

We began joking about about jumping on one of the horses and riding into the next checkpoint, shouting "runner 119 Rob Sharpe and pacer and horse".  It was getting silly now. 

As some of you know, I have paced a few runners.  At the end I have always thought "did they really need me".  I needed Steve.  He was doing all the good pacer tricks like asking "have you been eating" and I would eat.  "Have you been drinking" and I would drink.  He would tell me "it's cold here and we need to walk faster" and I would keep walking.  He shone his light on big puddles and said "look out for the big puddle".  He said "go this way" and I went that way.  He was my brain.  I would have happily lay down to sleep on the road, hypothermic, hungry and dehydrated.   Steve said I could lie down if I wanted, but he might hurt me dragging me along the road.  Mean pacer.  I kept walking. 

So many people asked me "do you sleep ?".  The answer is "no".  It could be "yes" but if you have a poo poo head pacer then the answer is "no".  Childishness over.  Back to race report.   

Any descending was becoming agonising.  Going up was relatively painless, but increasingly slower.  The real problem set in though, when I began losing control of stability.  I would step up, then Steve kept having to catch me from losing my balance as I fell backwards.  But we kept on keeping on.

At this point I began hallucinating.  I had two options.  Option one was thinking Steve was someone else, and I would be confused why I could hear Steve talking when it was Eric or Gavin.  The second option was imagining a tree was next to me and reaching out to lean on it with predictably hilarious results.  It was all too funny, and I kept laughing as I staggered along, leaning on imaginary trees and falling into thin air.

Eventually the sun began to rise. It was the most beautiful bright golden orange sunrise I have ever seen.  We saw a funnel web enjoying the dawn (I did confirm with Steve that it was real and not an hallucination).  A beautiful bird flew across the sky and Steve said "look at that bird".  I did, then he caught me as I looked up and began losing balance watching it fly overhead.  At this point I began to suspect my journey was ending.

About 2km from CP5 (Somersby) is a road section.  As we climbed Kilkenny Road, Steve said "look Rob, a snake".  Wow ! It was enormous, and heading right towards us.  Steve kept getting closer and closer to it, asking "can you see the snake ?"  I kept saying  "yeah, look at it move" and wondering why Steve kept walking closer to it.  Is the man an idiot ! He was telling me "it's a red belly".  I was watching it move closer and closer, gliding smoothly down the road, and worried about Steve being so close until eventually I reached the snake which was 2 metres of totally flat road kill.  I had been hallucinating big time, and Steve was having a good chuckle.  

After 7.5 hours, we reached CP5 and I announced I was out.  I had planned on being here at 4.30am, and it was now 7.30am.  The volunteers (especially the lovely Sally Dean, bless her cotton socks) did their best to convince me to have a rest, then keep going.  They kept reminding me "it's just a marathon to go" which would only make sense to an ultra runner. If I was just tired, just sleepy, just sore, if the next 40km were flat road, I would have had a snooze, then moved on.  I had plenty of time.  I knew, though, that it wasn't flat road and I wasn't going to be safe without Steve around to catch me every time I got the wobbles. I made the big decision

Steve had his car parked at Somersby.  Some might say that this gave me the option of stopping, but not true.  As I limped to his car, and struggled to climb in, I knew I had made the right call.  On the drive home, as we chatted, I kept falling asleep mid answer.  He wanted to know if I was going to yoga that night.  Funny man.  I live at the bottom of a very steep drive way, and the lovely Cait was suitably amused as I attempted to walk into her loving arms.  She waited with those loving arms outstretched, and waited, and waited, and waited... Then after a bath and a snooze it was off to Patonga to collect drop bags, and have the much anticipated fish and chips and a beer, and a chance to catch up with Eric for a debrief and to gaze with wonder upon his horrible feet (at least I think they were feet.  They were meaty objects sort of hanging off his legs).  Wandering around Patonga I amused my family as I struggled to step onto the kerbs.

I have done many crazy things in my time, and this was possibly the craziest.  Thank you Gavin Markey for talking me into it.  I was worried about not being able to finish, but as it turns out, that is part of the fun.  Thanks for talking me out of the safe option.

Thank you Steve.  I have never been so deliriously tired in my life.  Thank you for keeping me safe.  Feel free to laugh at my expense.  It was a funny funny night.  If you are wondering if you could have done more, the answer is a big "no".  Thanks also to Kirsty for sharing.  No wonder you love him.  Although I hope he doesn't shake you and wake you up all night like he did to me.

Thanks Paul for just miraculously appearing at CP2.  I was already on a high, and you made it even better.  Sorry I missed you at Somersby.

Thanks Bek and Ryleigh.  You didn't have to hang around CP1, but so glad you did.

Of course THANK YOU to the lovely Cait.  I tried so hard not to let this event disrupt our lives too much, whilst knowing that of course it did.  Every runner needs a wife like you (but I'm not sharing so boys, go get your own).  Thank you for feeding me lots of healthy food, cooking Anzac slice for my drop bags, training with me, listen to me blabber on about boring running stuff, driving me around, tolerating my long run and recovery days, washing my toxic waste running gear, buying me beers, making me laugh.  We joked about this week end being all about me, but it was true.  Not to mention the pleasure of waking up to my lovely puffy face the morning after my big run.
The morning after

I will be reflecting back upon this experience for quite a while.  I could have trained more, but I suspect this would not have helped a bit.  I was fit as a fiddle leading into this event, but most importantly, injury free (well, a few niggles perhaps).  I have heard the expression "you train to run 100km, you learn how to run 100 miles" and have just been schooled in how true this is.  I easily completed the 100km bit (well relatively easily), arriving at Yarramalong able to continue on; but then the rest just chewed me up and spat me out.  Watching a fellow called Andy Hewat, a fellow 50-59 year old runner, just cruise past me running into CP5, was just incredible.  We arrived at almost the same time, but he was just warming up.  I ran bits that he walked, but he was still running when I couldn't even walk.  Young Grasshopper, watch as The Master glides past like you are standing still.  Oh wait, you are standing still.  Amazing !  

Since finishing, quite a few have asked am I disappointed I didn't "finish".  Not a bit.  It was a thoroughly wonderful experience.  I gave it all I had, and then a whole lot more, and I loved and laughed the entire experience.  I totally smashed myself and it was completely wonderful.  How often are we able to do this in life?  Most of our lives are spent engaged in the everyday, which is perfectly OK, but there are times when we need to get outside the comfort zone.  Ever since I first learned about running 100 milers, I have spent years wondering "could I do this" and the answer is a resounding "yes".  I just have to wait another twelve months for the chance. 


Sunday, 27 March 2016

Rob and Cait go Tassie Glamping March 2016

For over twenty five years the lovely Cait has been listening to me blab on about how wonderful Tasmania is. A Year 5 school trip and a trek along the Overland Track in High School left lasting impressions. However, when Cait suggested we actually go there, I was a bit surprised. So much so that she thought I never actually planned to return again and was a little miffed by my lack of enthusiasm. Sorry Babe. I was in shock.

I had also just changed jobs and was in a weird brain space. I had been facing redundancy for months, suddenly redeployed, and commencing a new job almost immediately which meant cancelling existing holiday plans, being thrown into whole new work environment and new work colleagues. A huge change in lifestyle. One of which was being able to choose when I take leave, and not having to base holidays around work commitments. I was still getting used to this strange new concept, but Cait had seen the possibilities and intended to push me off the ledge and into the abyss of this brave new world.

In part my reaction was also based on having spent years thinking that returning to Tassie would involve walking shoes, back packs, shuttle buses and budget accommodation. However, Cait was obviously planning to come along as well, so these things were probably not going to be much of an option. I suspected that she wanted to stay in nice places and eat nice food. This makes my tight arse clench to the point of sphincter cramp.

However, leave forms submitted and approved, Cait set to doing what she does best – organising our lives and melting our credit card. Which left me free to do what I do best – where are those maps ! I love to plan trips, and it helps me to ignore the smell of melting plastic.

The big day arrived. We waved good bye to our aged dog Evie (please don't die while we're gone) and our nervous trembling Staffie Buddha. She has learned the signs that means that her Mum is going away and it makes her crazy. They were in the trusty care of our hairy son who would no doubt over feed them and shower them with love, but for Staffies there is never enough food or love. Ever.

They say that over time, couples begin to resemble each other. Possibly this is true. What is true is that they begin to shape each other. The lovely Cait had booked a “park and fly”arrangement. We paid to park our car safely for a week, they shuttled us to the airport, then picked us up on return and drove us back to our car. I have been married long enough now to do the sums in my head, work out that it would have been cheaper to use public transport to get to the airport and back, but still thought Cait was pretty smart organising “park and fly”. It did save hours of time removed a mountain of stress out of our trip. Consider me shaped. Even though it cost more. Just saying.

Although so early in the trip, the lovely Cait began asking "will this be in the blog ?" Dear God. I have created a monster celebrity whore of a wife. Keep the paparazzi away from her.

Leading up to the trip, I sadly realized that despite flying many times, I actually had no idea about how the whole check in thing worked. I had always gawked about, then suddenly by magic I was on a plane. By magic, of course, I mean that I had always left it all to Caiti. This time around I determined to find out how it all worked. This meant that I asked the lovely Cait questions about every aspect of what we (she) was doing. She calmly ground her teeth as I asked the same questions over and over (restated in various ways to keep things both interesting and frustrating). There were signs up everywhere warning passengers not make inappropriate jokes about explosives. I am pretty sure that eventually Cait wanted to step away from me, point and and loudly shout “this man has a bomb in his pants” and have me hauled away for a painful strip search.

Plane engines roaring, we rose into the sky and off to Tasmania.

I love flying. The lovely Cait had booked me a window seat so I could watch the world pass by below. Uninterrupted views, interrupted only by the endless sound from the seat behind of one voice ear bashing her poor trapped friend and anyone else within hearing (the entire plane) for the entire flight.  

On arrival, we collected our trusty rattly wobbly steering little hire car, and set off to Hobart town. A slight delay as Cait got lost in the car park, driving right past the “EXIT” sign and boom gate and having a practice lap before we set out on the road.

We checked into our beautiful hotel, Hadley's Orient. As we arrived at the third floor, Cait giggled. The lift had announced our arrival on the third floor with a little voice saying “third”. She thought it sounded like “turd”. So immature. However, after several days, we both thought it said “turd” and sniggered every time we heard it. A small highlight of our trip. We also thought the sound of Hobart pedestrian crossings made the same noise as placing a hand under an arm pit and making a farty “pptt” sound. This also kept us endlessly amused. Sometimes being married to Cait is like being the naughty kids at preschool.

We arrived with time enough to wander the Salamanca Markets. From Sydney, where buskers are shot on sight by the fun police, it was great to hear so many talented (and not so talented) amateurs out and about. Lots of guitar bashing, smooth jazz, ripping flamenco, cats being strangled. One woman was simply standing with a song book, belting out “Jolene”, unaccompanied by any instrument or sense of melody. I loved it.

The markets were great. The sun was intense, but without the humidity we left behind in Sydney, it was heaven. Cait had a burrito from the Wallaby Burrito stall. Delicious. It took her a while, but after several restaurants advertising “Seared Wallaby Tenderloins” and the like, she eventually realized that she had eaten a real wallaby burrito. Not a highlight of the trip for Caiti (burrp).

We found a classic car display, and Caiti being Caiti soon had old blokes telling her all about their cars and their life stories. The cars were pretty damn sensational. As they explained about how much time and money they spent on their hobbies, I proposed swapping Caiti for 'rod. I could save both time and money. Cait looked horrified, old dude considered the offer. He declined. Guess I will have to keep Caiti.
Cait is pretty awesome, but how good would this beauty look in my drive way
We returned to our hotel, giggled at “turd”, then crashed for a while. I channel surfed the TV that was two rooms and about ten metres away. An interesting room arrangement. I stumbled across “A Walk in the Woods” based on the Bill Bryson book. This was an in house movie, repeated several times a day. I had missed it at the cinema, but over four days and in no particular order I managed to watch the whole thing.
so relaxing to sit in bed watching TV through binoculars
We wandered off to find dinner. We found “The Mill”, a tapas bar. As the girl explained “Patatas Bravas” basically meant “big potatoes” Cait's eyes took on a Homer Simpsonesque look. Can't not order “big potatoes” On holidays there are no calories.

Our eating over the next week was a mix of fine dining, fine wines, and cobbled together eats from Woolworths. We soon realised that our room had no crockery or cutlery, so we bought picnic cutlery and nice storage containers to use as bowls. My long term plan is to get the lovely Cait out camping, and one morning she cast me a suspicious look over her oats as she ate out of her stylish container. She informed me that she was well aware that I had her eating breakfast out of a plastic box, but that did not mean that she was camping anytime soon. I think she is on to me.

For our first full day we took a trip out to Bruny Island. A ferry trip is required, and Caiti was bouncing around like a big kid. The girl loves a ferry ride. As we drove onto the ferry, she gazed longingly at the cars on the top deck. Sadly, we had to settle for joining the lower classes on the bottom deck. Oh well, a girl can dream.

Upon disembarking, we drove around happily for a while with no particular plan. A sign announced Bruny Island oysters, but Cait felt it was too early in the day for oysters and we drove on. Another sign announcing Bruny Island cheese had her performing a “Fast and the Furious” driving move and skidding to a halt. Never too early for cheese it seems. When the woman behind the counter began describing how you place a prosciutto wrapped lump of cheese in the oven to cook the meat and melt the cheese, Cait began melting herself.
Cheese purchased, we continued cruising. We stopped at a penguin rookery. Lots of holes but not a penguin in sigh). We climbed up to Truganini's Lookout. Such a sad story in such a beautiful place. I became aware of her story at a very young age. Say what you like about Indigenous culture now, but it is deeply rooted in some very dark and deep events.

We found a lovely spot to picnic and eat our cheese purchase. After eating, we wandered the beach and played with starfish. Then we headed off to a pathetic berry farm (Cait's words not mine, but she is spot on) that had no berries to pick and else nothing of interest. Some tourists gave us directions to the elusive white wallaby that were as useless as the Berry Farm, and I got a tad cranky pants. If you are going to stick a picture of an albino marsupial in several brochures and promote it as an attraction, then how hard is it to give directions to find it.
South Bruny from Truganini's Lookout at "The Neck"

Truganini's Lookout with a tourist blocking the view
On the return trip, Cait's wildest dreams were realised as they lowered the ramp and we were signalled to drive up onto the top deck. I admit, it was pretty cool. Then it was off to Mt Wellington.

Very exciting, but hands on the wheel please.
On the way to Bruny, we had begun noticing the endless amount of road kill along the way. Every fifty metres we were greeted by a shapeless corpse. It was everywhere. We envisaged a truck driving along with blood spattered men flinging dead animals far and wide. Unsurprisingly the State Animal of Tasmania is the Tasmanian Devil. It could just as well be an unrecognizable bIoodied smudge of fur and entrails. As we drove to Mt Wellington, I began pointing a gun finger at each corpse we passed and making a farty traffic light “pptt” sound. Cait joined in by saying “turd”. This kept us giggling all the way to Mt Wellington, and through most of our stay. Although by the final day we had to give up as we just couldn't keep up with the carnage. Death does not take a holiday in Tassie.

Cait drove up Mt Wellington like a woman born to rally drive. The weather at the top was perfect. One minute sun and sweeping views, the next moment cold and engulfed in a cloud. Five seasons in one day. We wandered aimlessly and happily for a while like the happy tourists we were taking endless happy snaps, then headed back to our hotel to crash.

The next day was MONA – the Museum of Old and New Art. The ferry ride is a must. MONA is a must. An emotional, auditory, visual, intellectual experience. Lots of penis's. Enough said. We are still recovering from the sensory overload. To help recover we played silly buggers taking reflection photos in the mirrored entrance.

mirror madness

Tasmania is a little different to Sydney. Runners and cyclists are thin on the ground. Cait and I went for a run together on Tuesday morning and she got yelled at for running on the footpath. What tha !! By an old bloke who was two beers down by 9.30 and could do with a little run himself. Oh well. I dropped Cait at the hotel and kept on my sightseeing tour. I ran along the Hobart Rivulet Track to the Cascade Brewery. Got lost a few times, but made it home safe. That afternoon we drove up for a visit. We took the next right as sign posted and took a scenic drive along several one way streets. Then we took the second right and were there – except the signage led us on another merry chase all over.

Here I quote from their website

“The Cascade Bar and CafĂ© overlook our beautiful heritage Gardens. Here you can sit back and enjoy a selection of great Cascade beers by the glass or as a tasting paddle. And why not stay and pair your favorite brew with a tasty lunch from our chef’s extensive menu.

Load of codswallop

When we finally arrived at the Visitors Centre there was a confusing beer pulling competition and the bar was closed for a while. When this madness finished I ordered one beer but got another, while Cait perused the sad menu, eventually ordering (drumroll) THE DODGY ONIONS RINGS OF DEATH. I had a couple, whilst Cait ate way too many . These suckers just would not stay down. As we strolled the tiny little garden area that was filled with scrappy half dead plants, I enjoyed a lovely vurp (vomit burp). Later that afternoon found Caiti just rolling around groaning for hours back at the Hotel and moaning about feeling so sick.

The next day was the big one. We hit the road at 8.15 and began our trek to Cradle Mountain. We managed to buy petrol despite the best efforts of two crazy old ladies sitting on a chair and shouting instructions about using their crazy fuel pumps. “If you can't work it out, just drive down the road to the next station” - customer service Tassie style. Eventually we worked it out and drove on leaving Macbeth's witches cackling on their verandah. We had decided to head up the middle past the Great Lake. It would have been better if we weren't strapped into the trusty rental Nissan Micra, with its kind of vague steering and minimal suspension.  By the time we finished up 30km of unsealed road our bladders were all a tremble as we held on to our waters. Of course being a boy I had no worries about standing by the side of the road waving to passing cars as I admired the views of Quamby Bluff whilst I took care of business, but the lovely Cait has higher standards than me. By the time we reached Deloraine she was sweating as she drove. She kept yelling “is that a toilet ?” as we sighted any building with even a passing similarity to a facility. We sighted a public pool which had her screaming in anticipation, but it was closed (more screaming). We eventually sighted a caravan park with a sign indicating “public toilets”. Trembling with anticipation, Cait fanged a left into the entrance, and immediately got trapped by a car driving well under the 10km/h speed limit (I can not repeat what Cait said at this point). Eventually they stopped, then began an interminable 15 point reverse turn. Cait then screamed something and jumped from the car (with engine still running) and tore off into the distance, leaving me to find a parking space. After we regrouped, she was talking about a key. What key ?The public toilets were not locked but Cait in her desperation had tried to enter the caravan park toilets, and had been met with a locked door as she tried to enter the caravan park facilities. She had then been forced to beg for the key to heaven from a nearby caravaner (the unlocked door was just around the corner). Bladders emptied we enjoyed a snack and Cait made friends with a duck she named Gilbert who kept pecking my knee.
Of course I was melting down in my own way. I had waited thirty five years to get back to Tasmania and Cradle Mountain – and our drive seemed headed towards taking another thirty five years. The unsealed road by the Great Lake heading towards Deloraine really was a hassle, and then we had run into sheep. Not just a few sheep. Thousands of sheep. Being herded along the road. Completely surrounding our car and trotting along at a lovely sedate sleepy sheepy pace. It was a completely awesome experience and we both loved it, we felt privileged to see it, and we wouldn't change it for the world, but it was so.......slow.

Then we (actually just me) got confused in Deloraine. A few times I suggested Cait chuck a U-turn as I strongly suspected we were clearly not going the right way. This placed us in classic boy vs girl territory, and I was struggling not to crack the shits. When it came time for me to finally concede defeat and ask for directions at the Information Centre (which Cait had suggested a little earlier because she is a practical female and I an obstinate male), I swear she was giggling as she drove an extra 500 metres, waited for every possible vehicle within a 5km radius to go past before doing her U-turn, then drove the perfect distance from the Vistors Centre to park guaranteed to drive me crazy without necessarily causing permanent insanity. Of course the Visitors Centre was packed with people who had come to Tasmania for the sole purpose of delaying me.

Eventually we got sorted, and we got back on the road for the last stretch to Cradle Mountain. We drove through “The Town of Topiary” - cute and creepy all at the same time.

I should add that my original route, if followed, would have been even slower. Being muddled eventually saved time. We flew along after Deloraine. As I nervously looked at my watch and made time calculations.

We finally made it to Cradle Mountain about 2pm. I had optimistically predicted a 12.30 – 1.00pm arrival. Tell him he's dreaming. We arrived at our hotel and our room wasn't ready, but I didn't care. I WANNA SEE THE LAKE !! As Cait politely chatted to the helpful staff, a voice in my head was shouting “stop talking, where is Cradle Mountain, how do we get there, I wanna go NOW!”. The girl gave us some maps and pamphlets which told us nothing. Turning back time, she should have said “travel back to the Info Centre, purchase a day pass, and hop on the shuttle bus which will take you 8km down to Dove Lake”. But she didn't do that. Instead we wandered blindly about watching shuttle buses pass us by. Eventually we got worded up, drove back to the Info Centre, purchased our passes, and hopped on a shuttle bus. Finally, at 2.45pm, I stood on the shore of Dove Lake, 35 years after my last visit. All the stress and driving done, it was even more brilliant than I remembered.

Cait and I then had a soul restoring 8km walk around the lake. I dipped my bottle in and drank some pure mountain water much to the horror of the lovely Cait. Apparently if you pay $3 per litre for fresh mountain lake water it makes it better than drinking it for free. I also got some extra nice floaty bits to make it tastier. Nommy nommy yum yum. When we started out, all the mountains were obscured by cloud. As we progressed, the clouds moved away, turning on an afternoon sunlight show, before swirling back. We stopped and gawked together constantly as new vistas appeared out of the mist. At times Cait wandered ahead, leaving me to my thoughts (or maybe she just walked faster). We took endless photos.

Travelling all this way I was worried that Cait might go “it was alright I guess”, but she seemed just as overawed as I am by this place. However, when I said “now you know why I want to do the Overland Track again” she suggested that maybe she just meet me at the other end. Nature's amazing beauty only goes so far and is clearly trumped by a hot shower and sitting on a real toilet.

free water
didn't kill me

Eventually we finished our lap of the lake, and we shuttled back to our car. Then back to Pepper's to begin a night of luxury. I had always imagined that I would return under different circumstances – cabins, tents, sleeping bags. However we had a spa bath, fine wine, exceptional food and service, temperature control. I even managed to score a visit down to the wine cellar (that's what happens when you order the South Australian Barbera like a total wanker). Apparently this is an “iconic wilderness experience”. Dear Lord. I will admit to enjoying it immensely though. Even the moment where I trod in possum poo on our little verandah. I tread in it everywhere I go.  Travel interstate. Gotta tread in poo. Right up between the toes. That is iconic wilderness. We also had pademelons bouncing around our lodge and big brown wombats all about (that's the wilderness part) and saw the world's biggest fattest possum eating apples from tourists (not so iconic).

The next morning we ate an enormous breakfast, then sadly packed up and checked out. No sheep this time, and we travelled the highways at great speed. Cait had a moment when no matter how hard she tried, she was forced to run over a lump of animal matter. Already dead, it made a meaty thump nonetheless. Cait also tried an overtaking move past a big ute. As our tiny vehicle reached maximum revs, and oncoming traffic approached, I politely asked “are we going to make it?”. A polite “mmm, I hope so” was not overly reassuring. I clenched my sphincter and hoped for the best. With an hour to go, I took over driving duties, and soon we were in Hobart missing turn offs and getting lost in road works (a personal specialty of mine). A few loops of Bellerive and Lindisfarne later, we pulled into the car park. A young girl looked over our Nissan Micra sewing machine of a car for damage. Any damage was probably hidden by a shit load of dust, dirt, mud and dead animal matter. No damage detected, we went off to check in.

Our flight was announced, we boarded, and sadly flew home. Holiday ended – and even the meringue made it home safely.
The meringue ?
Oh wait. Did I forget to mention THE MERINGUE !
OMG - Best Mum Ever !
On our first afternoon in Tasmania, Cait had passed the Daci & Daci Bakery and seen a gigantic meringue which for some reason had the lovely Cait and World's Greatest Mum convinced that our young boy Tuck (only 23 years old, the little pet) would love. Everyone knows that meringues are easily the best kind of treat to cart all around the place, load on a plane, and take back home interstate. The lovely Cait and I work shopped the pros (few) and cons (let me count the ways) of buying said meringue and taking home. We carted that sucker the length and breadth of Tassie, held it like a new born babe on the plane, drove it home from the airport, and ceremonially presented it our son who was extremely thankful about his Mum's thoughtfulness, who then rated it as extremely average and after a few days it was binned uneaten. C'est la vie.

What the hell is this ? tastes really bland

Soon after, we headed up to the Blue Mountains for a night away. One night at a 5 star luxury hotel - and the lovely Cait wanted a blog post. Seriously ? I'm a Celebrity - get me out of here! She will need a publicity agent soon. I will spare you the details. We drove, we swam in a heated pool, we ate, we came home. No wait. Cait drove home. I walked 45km and slept in a tent. Not blog worthy.