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Colombia 2016/2017

This time just a video:

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Straddie Virus

111

(written for Australian Amateur Boatbuilder magazine)

Few years ago (20…)  I bought a small surf ski 14′ long and used it regularly on our Gold Coast canals, occasionally taking it out in the ocean through the Spit or Currumbin Creek on a good day. The boat served me well, but it is getting old, looks beat up and the thought of getting another one or designing/building a kayak crossed my mind a good few times. Actually, it became a persistent nagging thought for a while. Some might call it obsession (my wife).

The problem was a limited space to store. Having a mezzanine floor in the garage used for storage made hanging the boat impossible and so the only available space was outside, along the side fence in a small backyard where the old surf ski lives. The length is exactly 4.2m. You can’t find a decent kayak this short. There are some designs for fishing enthusiasts, but that’s a different category. Arctic Tern 14 was the only design I liked, however the plans were not available and ordering a kit from USA just didn’t suit me. Besides, I wanted to have something unique and have a go at designing as well. Testing the ‘not pointy end in the rear’ idea became a part of the obsession.

Like previously, quite a few scale drawings started the process, the main criterion was the aesthetic appeal, which is very individual, hard to define and kind of fluid as it changes in time. At some point I got tired of it and made a 1:5 scale model of the hull, placed a scaled weight (0.125x70kg) in it that represented a paddler and noted with pleasure that the boat set on its lines quite well. One might ask, don’t you use a 3D software to speed up all this? I used Hullform previously, but my new version of Windows doesn’t work with it, besides, call me old school, but there’s something more assuring for me when I test a boat in a bathtub. And fun.

One of the most important points of the design brief was the weight. For me, if I can’t put a boat on top of the car by myself, it has a very limited appeal. The plywood of choice was 3mm and (shock horror!) not marine. Other than the weight, you can cut it with a utility knife and not create any dust – very important if you build a boat in your own garage. The shapes of the panels were taken off the model and enlarged x5. After the panels were cut and put together by the usual stitch and glue method, the hull was painted with 2 coats of epoxy resin. The deck was then cut to shape, stained (Minwax Gunstock 231) and attached. Cockpit was next, coaming was laminated using 2 layers of 3mm plywood. After that, the boat was taken outside for some sanding, painting and varnishing which could not have been done inside. And 15kg – yipee!

First test on the water made me feel like I was sitting inside a huge violin… It also showed I needed a decent seat, but instead of making it I just bought one. Weight distribution on a boat of this sort is very important, after few trials the seat was installed so that the transom just touched the surface.

The speed proved to be exactly the same as my old fiberglass surf ski judging by the usual route: home – casino island – home, 1hr 2′ exactly. However, this one was more comfortable on longer trips. Directional stability was fine, the size of the rear skeg was adjusted after few trials to be able to control the boat with paddles alone. And of course there is nothing like looking at the varnished deck with beads of water shining in the morning sun.

Next trip – Straddie  😉

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is how it all went, in short (come on, it is a big project and a long distance, one page is not enough) .

PART 1. ‘Holy shit I signed up for Kokoda 100k trail ultra marathon’

After few years of contemplating it, it finally happened. So far I have been just a spectator, specially at the start. The start is actually very spectacular, hundreds of teams, their friends and families watch the brave ones go off into the hinterland no matter what conditions. It is usually a bit cold here, being middle of winter at 7am it could be 5 deg C or so. Sure it’s not Chicago, Canada or Poland, but relatively cold. Everyone is dressed warm, the live band plays some very Australian rock, few old veterans with their bolt action rifles give a loud salvo, the crowd cheers, police escort the long line of runners and walkers along the road till they disappear into a rural property. I suppose after watching it, one naturally develops a desire to do it at some point in the future.

The distance and terrain is scary, 100k and 5000m elevation gain, however,  for me more difficult aspect was putting the team together and then the fundraising. Each team has to raise at least $1600.- for Kokoda Youth Foundation and having never raised a dollar, this was a very serious obstacle. I recall only once posting someone’s appeal on Facebook with no result 😦

Putting a team together is another obstacle, but somehow this year I managed to inspire few people I know to join the team. This however didn’t bring any results. It was actually a mistake talking to people before registering a team. It all changed though, after one of the local 5k parkruns, a friend introduced me to Maureen who completed the event last year and was really eager to do it again. Somehow we clicked, nothing was a problem and a week later ‘Orange Agents’ was officially a team. Maureen also brought two other girls who were on her team last year. ” Choose your team wisely, she said” – the words that would come back many times later to bite.

And so my plan of being in the forest at night with three girls finally was taking serious shape. Just kidding ;).

PART 2. Training, fundraising and disputes.

Beginning from January we started regular trail running/walking in the hinterland pretty much every Saturday morning, sometimes starting as early at 4am… Maureen was in decent running shape and gradually we fine tuned the pace, nutrition and all the gear to carry. The other two girls, Alisha and Hope preferred working out in the gym and only once we had a chance to train together. Alisha held out good, but Hope couldn’t take the hills and decided to pull out of the team. Being a busy Aldi supermarket manager she wasn’t eating or sleeping properly and it showed. Few weeks later the girls found another team mate Megan, who really wanted to do it, but working together with Alisha in a coffee shop, her weekends were busy and again, only once we had a chance to train as a team.

Megan was keen, but her lack of real trail training showed in serious blisters she developed straight away. Still, we had a team of 4, or rather, considering our different training routines, two teams of 2.

And then there was the fundraising and the disputes.

Fruit slices and cup cakes sold at the coffee shop, some donations from friends and alcohol raffle sold at our workplaces did most of the fundraising. This part actually went quite good, thanks to Maureen’s experience. Somehow though, Alisha and Maureen couldn’t get along very well. There were occassional disputes about money and other  issues and it became obvious that Alisha hijacked the leadership from Maureen who, by experience, age and the fact she started the team, rightly deserved it. It began from Alisha literally abusing Maureen for choosing the name ‘Orange Agents’. The name was actually my idea and even the Vietnam veterans I worked with found it funny, but this girl, not actually knowing what agent orange was, thought it was deeply offensive. Fine. We let her have a go at the new name and she came up with a really clever one using PNG native language, ‘Halivim’ (good luck). Great!

Walking the trails with Maureen on Saturdays we had a lot of time to talk and apparently things between the girls were not good. Abusive text messages from Alisha, constant issues with money being not put into account, everything was a problem. At some point Maureen had enough and simply quit. Being on her side I naturally quit the team too and we were left with the prospect of forming another team, raising remaining money or simply not doing it at all. Three weeks prior to the event.

Enter Andy and Jared.

Andy was a NZ girl who trained for Kokoda 9 years in a row, completed it 4 times and even got her kids to do it. Other than that she was a nurse with a busy schedule, avid mountain biker and kayaker. Having a hole in her heart (!!!) she was not a runner, but would out perform all of us on long distance trails. She also liked to party hard. All that we learned as we met her accidentally on the trail and we got along well straight away. Andy was training again this year for Kokoda, had a team, but was not happy with it since they were all marathon runners and she felt odd amongst them. At some point we made it clear that in case things changed, we would love to have her on the team. And now things did change.

Jared was a 17 yo really tall guy from Brisbane who didn’t get into his school team for Kokoda and was desperate to join any team. 3 weeks before the event we had no other option and recruited him straight away. One time on the trail showed that, in spite of what he claimed he did, he was the weakest link and after few hours he simply faded. Still, he was determined to do it and so the new team The Young Ones was ready to go.

PART 3 The actual race day.

it was cold as expected, frost on the ground in Mudgeeraba, wife Janneth and daughter Lalita in the car and at 6 am we met with our support crews (Maureen’s husband Brad and Jared’s parents) at the small shopping centre few kms from the start. Checked the bags, flashlights, nutrition, clothes and packed in Subaru XV, team The Young Ones went to the start. Warm socks, gloves, few layers of non cotton clothes, poles and backpacks full of water and nutrition and we were ready. Some people wore just shorts and t-shirts, no sticks, no bags – real elite runners. The rest were all rugged up. It seems there were few thousand people there between the actual teams and their supporters. This year the start ceremony however was a bit low key comparing to the previous years, no live band, no guns, no big pomp.

7 am and off we went. First 2 hours or so we just walked through the streets to get out of town. Long line of people, all talking, joking, the sun shining – it was a great and easy start. Before the first real hill we had a minor checkpoint, toilets set up, channel 9 drone hovering above with a camera, people taking their warm layers off and than bang, the first climb. Sweating now for a change, we were using our sticks for balance and step after step gained some altitude. Sure enough, after we got to the top the descent started and people began to slide, fall on their butts, hold on to trees – real fun!
There were many hills like that after that one, I don’t remember how many, it seems all we were doing was climbing up and sliding down for hours. Then – a paved and very scenic road downhill for about 5kms to the first major checkpoint at Polly’s. Usually we would run it, but now Jared was beginning to fade seriously. Up untill this point we were waiting for him longer and longer on top of every hill, no problem, we thought he was just going at his speed, but this was different. The guy was pale, was walking really slow dragging his feet and weaving. He said he was OK, but wanted to sit down and rest… After only 20 something kms! Knowing what was ahead we realised he wasn’t going to make it. No, actually there was no way he could even make it up the next hill.

At the checkpoint, Andy and myself waited about half an hour as Maureen walked with him to join us. Poor guy, sat down, had something to eat (while we were hoping he would just quit straight away…), talked to his parents and decided to pull out. On top of his lack of  training he was visibly sick, coughing and shivering.

Fresh water in our bags, some hot coffee, banana and a powerbar and off we went again.

Steep 45 min climb was next to get to the ridge and then gentle descent down to the Environmental Centre minor checkpoint. Waterfall circuit next with 8 creek crossings, luckily not much water in them after a long time with no rain. Jumping carefully on rocks we managed to stay totally dry, other people didn’t bother and just went through the water. One girl had a brilliant idea of putting her feet in large plastic Aldi supermarket bags to keep dry. It worked! Time went relatively quickly and after few more hours we were approaching half way checkpoint. This was a huge area around a Community Hall in Numinbah Valley. It was already getting dark and cold again, we had some hot chocolate, bananas, replenished the water, mixed some more perpetuem, put more vaseline on feet, new socks and started the night walk. Btw, there are two ways to treat the feet on something like this, one is lots of vaseline, the other is strapping tape. I was afraid of the tape, because the feet swell up a bit and this can be dangerous. I believe most people use the tape though.

One hour of trail. up and down sort of parallel to the road, the Environmental Centre again and then off to the Army Land, area closed normally to the public, no training there, so this was a real adventure into the unknown land. It was pitch black now, head lights on and another really steep climb. Finally, a long gentle sloping field overgrown with grass and a pathway for us to follow. People were really spread out at this point, unlike after the start where you felt like being in the middle of a crowd for hours. The wind picked up here and being wet from all the climbing we got cold really quickly. All layers were back on, gloves, beanies, the works. When we got to the next major checkpoint in that area we were freezing. Hot chocolate and hot tomato soup (heated V8 juice!) did wonders. I felt sorry for the support crews who sacrificed their night for us and were shivering on that ridge for a long time. Thanks Brad.

Next section was a gravel road gently sloping down for about 5 kms. It felt really easy and we were cruising happily, talking and occasionally passing others.

Here my battery died and needed to be replaced. No big deal, had a spare, they were expected to last 6 hrs or so. It was all planned. Too bad the next one lasted only 2hrs… Now this was beginning to be an issue since I had only one spare flashlight, the next spare batteries were at the next major checkpoint hours away.

The road finished and were standing in front of a massive climb with a narrow gravel path. Why on earth did they put all the gravel there? To torture the poor soldiers? Or to prevent the mud from forming? One way or another, this was an uphill battle whilst sliding down on that gravel for about 1 hr. In darkness, my light died and I was saving the batteries for Hellfire Pass later on where they would be more useful.

Finally we got to the top, which was a big achievement, we all congratulated ourselves and after registering at a minor checkpoint at Syd Duncan Park went along the road to Hellfire Pass. Here Maureen started to feel a serious pain in her knee… Every descent she was almost crying and it looked like she might consider quitting (the rules would alow Andy and myself to join another team behind us and finish with them if we wanted to). The road to the Hellfire Pass is mainly uphill so Maureen was kind of Ok there, but as we got to the steep trail down – she stopped in pain. Few minutes later she forced herself to continue, slowly and carefully using the sticks to take the load off her knee. This continued till the end of the pass to the next checkpoint. It seemed to us she injured the ITB which is pretty common on uneaven terrain, but the medic had a different opinion and suggested taking MRI scan and  X-rays. He also strapped the knee with a strong tape and wished her good luck. Now, this guy, Scotty, was not an ordinary medic who would probably send her to the hospital straight away, he was a hard core runner, winner of Kokoda few years back and a 10 hr Ironman.
To make matters worse, in front of us was a young guy with a radio in his back pack blasting the transmission from the  ashes cricket tour. I’m not against cricket, but at 2am on the trail this was really selfish. We were all on the edge at this point, tired, hungry and this was just too much. I asked him politely to turn it down to which he responded ‘No, this is the only thing that keeps me alive’. I said ‘That’s all you can think of? YOU? How about other people around you?’ The radio was still blasting, but few minutes later there was a sign ‘Keep it quiet, residential area coming’ and we didn’t hear him again.

We were walking strong, only going downhill was an issue. This time I had a good light on my head at least after replacing useless batteries from Aldi. Yes, lesson learned, buy Energizer or Duracell next time (did I say ‘next time’?).

The terrain was somewhat gentle now comparing to the previous experience only one long steep hill in the Nerang State Forest. Knowing that it was the last one, helped a lot! We were on the home stretch baby, only 10k or so to go! This still dregged for a loooong time though. We were hungry, perpetuem and water supplemented by occasional real food at checkpoints was a good idea, but tiredness finally set in and we were not eating much, just expanding energy.

The actual last stretch in Nerang State Forest was a huge relief, we could already hear the music from the distance and Scotty announcing the finishers! Finally, after 25 hrs and 30 min of practically continuous walking, we crossed the line! Pictures taken, medals received, families and friends greeting us, non alcoholic beer flowing freely thanks to the sponsors – the big adventure was closing.
We still waited for about 2 hrs watching teams arrive behind us. Neighbour Greg and The Wanderers – we finally beat you at something, Ironman 😉

Big thank you again to my wife Janneth, daughter Lalita for supporting us and tolerating our training pretty much every Saturday for months.
The support crews, Brad and Jared’s family – without you guys this whole thing could not happen – big cheers.
Michael, Silvana and Gabbi – always fun to catch up with you guys!

And of course – the team mates!!! I don’t know where to start, will talk about it over dinner next weekend.

Back at home I opened a real beer and that’s pretty much all I can  remember.

The End.

Wholemeal Couscous

It’s been pouring for days here, even the work was cancelled yesterday, the office had to be evacuated. We are slowly going under, some streets are already flooded and I’m turning into a couch potato watching the Australian Open and too lazy to even go to the store to get some food. Just kidding, I ran 15k this morning in the rain and then did yard work.The sweat was pouring down and two hours later I was really hungry.

Looking into the pantry revealed a box of wholemeal couscous and the fridge still had some veggies.
The beauty of couscous is that you mix it with hot water and after 5 minutes you have something to eat. Today I added half of veggie cube and a bit of butter to the water to create a hot broth before the infusion took place.

Brilliant!

While this was brewing, the potato was cut in half and together with a chunk of butter pumpkin was put in the microwave for 2 minutes. On big frying pan, the chopped garlic, broccoli, carrots, onions and some cashews were simmering in butter and when the microwave sounded the ‘ding’ – the potato and pumpkin joined the veggies on the pan to make them look and taste as if they were grilled. Sprinkled them with a bit of chilli and salt, added a spoonful of coconut milk  and simmered for another few minutes.

Voila! The whole operation took exactly 15 minutes!

My cousin B. who writes a fantastic travel/food blog (in Polish) would probably not be impressed, but while her creations are superb, she can’t do them in 15 minutes (Jamie Oliver might come close with his 30 min meals, but this beats him too…) 😉

DSC_0987

DSC_0988

So what about couscous? I liked it!

Australia is a beautiful country, but it’s very far from the rest of the world. Coming back from Colombia takes 3 flights: 5, 12 and another 5 hours each. That combined with time in between flights ends up being 2 days, not counting the time change. It is also very tiring. This time we decided to stop in Santiago de Chile overnight, get a good sleep in a hotel near the airport and then continue further.

As good as the Hilton hotel was, the surrounding area was quite industrial and boring.

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Having half a day to our disposal we could either watch TV in the room and relax or go somewhere. We decided to use the complimentary taxi service to the nearest train station and catch a train to the centre of the city. Apart from the boring surroundings at the hotel, just to eat lunch there costs a small fortune and besides – stopping in a country without a trip to the city just doesn’t count as visiting the country.

10 min drive to the train and few minutes later we’re zooming towards the centre. The station and the train was already a surprise – quite modern, fast and it felt safe. The train actually had rubber wheels!

Next surprise  – from Monte Tabor to Plaza de Armas was quite a distance, 13 stations in between! The train after few kilometres went under ground and it felt quite like Chicago subway. As we got out and climbed the stairs to the top we were again surprised by what we saw. Nice, clean city square closed to the vehicular traffic, quality historical buildings, busy people, lots of places to grab something to eat – it felt really nice. We walked around, had lunch (got surprised how expensive things in the city were, you pay as much as in the US at least for food), walked some more and headed back to the train station.

I like it when a place leaves me with a feeling of wanting to see what’s around the next corner and Santiago was one of those places. Hasta la vista Santiago!

Basiu, po przeczytaniu Twojego komentarza postanowilem po prostu pojsc po chleb i zrobic pare zdjec. Nie wybieralem ani pogody ani obiektow, bo latwo przedstawic wszystko w innym swietle. Nie zostawiam tez komentarza, tak po prostu tam jest bez ubarwniania. Takich dzielnic w Bogocie sa kilometry kwadratowe, zgubic sie jest bardzo latwo. Oto zdjecia.

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Basiu, after reading your comments I decided to simply go get some bread and take some pictures along the way. I didn’t choose the weather or objects, it’s easy to show things in different context. No comments either, it is what it is. There are miles of suburbs like this, easy to get lost… Here are the pics.

From Armenia we flew back to Bogota to catch a connecting flight to Santa Marta and since Avianca’s planes depart almost as accurately as trains in old communist Poland, this took a while. Pacho, my wife’s brother picked us up from the airport and kindly drove us to the apartment.

The place where we stayed was not in Santa Marta, but a really nice modern complex near the airport about 15k from the city. Very nice coastline as well, but a bit industrial with coal shipping infrastructure. The water was not clean enough to swim and since we were not sure about the security in this area, my occasional running was cancelled till further notice. Tried once on little beach in front of the apartment, but it was too hard, too hot and after seeing a security guard with a sawn off shotgun I gave it a miss. Not the end of the world, the pool was superb and we all had a lot of fun there, specially The Little One.

There are spectacular beaches around this area though and we went to two of them, Bahia Concha and Playa del Muerto (doesn’t sound good, I know, but I didn’t make it up). A bit different experience than going to the beach say, in Australia, where you just park the car and go wherever you want. Here you need to deal with local people who arrange everything for you and of course you have to pay for it. Place in the shade, beach chairs, specially made lunch, drinks, you get everything you want. If it happens to be a national park you will also be charged a fee by the government park money collectors (double if you are a foreigner, about $20.- just to get in). They also have strict rules regulating the number of people they let in. Sometimes you have to be there at 4am to sign in!

The best beaches are inaccessible by car and you need to arrange a boat into those lagoons. The boat will drop you off, pick you up and also deliver lunch at arranged time. Quite an experience! The scenery is breathtaking, the water warm,  Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountains in the background – hard to imagine anything better. Interesting thing – while it all looks very green, the rain is rare, sometimes it happens only few times a year.

Few fireworks near the hotel for New Year’s, few bottles of beer near the pool and it was 2015 already.

We never really saw Santa Marta, just drove through parts of it, according to our guides it was not worth seeing, overcrowded, not very historical etc. Hard to argue with that.

Next and last on the list was Valledupar, 3hr drive or 220k from Santa Marta. The good quality road passes through many small settlements and is quite scenic. The city feels very spacious, has clean air and mountains all around. Quite modern, medium density housing developments are growing like mushrooms on the outskirts, the city doubled its population within the last 20 years!

We’ve been to Valledupar before and I remember the intense heat, 30-40c and dry air. You feel like you are in the oven, but you don’t sweat. Or maybe you sweat, but it evaporates straight away and you never see it. Just like during our previous visit, almost every morning I did the ritualistic run to the Guatapuri river, dipped in the freezing cold water  and ran back, some 6k distance.

January 6th, the day of the race. (Warning: Biblical quote coming)

“Come what may,” he said, “I will run.” So he said to him, “Run.”  Samuel 18:23

And so it came to pass, that the long awaited running race finally happened. It turned out to be a 10k, not 1/2 Marathon distance, which, considering having a flu and extreme heat here, was a blessing. At 7am Pacho took me to the race officials to pay the fee (15 000.- pesos, roughly $7.-), pick up the number and a shirt. The actual race was scheduled at 4pm, pretty much the hottest part of the day.

With the whole family here as support crew we arrived at the city centre where you can see a monument depicting a naked girl on a big pole.

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Big stage was set up, small vendors selling refreshments and lots of runners already walking around and stretching. Took an hour to get going, with one major organisational hiccup as the 5k finishers and their front support vehicle had to go through all the runners waiting at the Start/Finish line, but never mind…  Finally the Mayor waved the flag and off we went. It was hot and my pace was very conservative (i.e. slow). Visually I seemed to just follow the main peloton with still a bunch or people behind me. This continued to the end, but it spread a lot more. One guy, ‘Pibe’ (soccer hero) look alike, generated huge crowd support and it was fun to stay with him getting all the cheers. It really felt like a major Marathon as we ran through the streets and crowd was there all the way. Great experience, but caution: not that many people run here, those who do are damn good at it and if you are not – it will look like you suck, that’s all.

And that pretty much finished this chapter of the journey.