Sunday 13 December 2015

Spit Bridge To Manly Walk

The Spit Bridge To Manly walk features on a lot of "best things to do in Sydney" lists, so I thought I'd do it given some free time in Sydney. It's a beautiful walk and well worth doing: 10.5km, 191m elevation, 2 hours walking time at a fairly quick pace, and 3 hours total including hanging out on the beach.

Getting to spit bridge from Glebe on public transport involved light rail and two buses, and should have taken about an hour, but I messed up the stops at one point so it took a bit longer. Doing the more complicated transport juggling at the start is better because you finish with the simple and spectacular Manly ferry ride back into town. The closest bus stop to the start of the walk requires a dash across a fairly busy highway to get onto the other side, there's probably a better way to do that.

You get a lot of great stuff on this walk, but on a weekend in good weather solitude isn't one of them. I found myself wishing I had brought my headphones to avoid listening to inane conversations being had by others. You'll do a lot of overtaking and/or getting trapped behind other groups.

There's a few amazingly pretty little beaches that were deserted except for a handful of rich people on their boats. Come prepared to swim, you'll want to.

Castle Rock beach, one of the best.

Great tree colours

One of the best views. There's a decent climb in the walk, more if you take the sidetrip to Arabanoo lookout as I did. Manly on the left.

As you get closer to Manly the walk is mostly a tour of rich-people houses, and one smelly boat-launch cove.

Quintessential Sydney view from the ferry on the way back.

Saturday 12 December 2015

Blue Mountains MTB: Woodford to Glenbrook on the Oaks Fire Trail

An adventure in the Blue Mountains: the very well-known Oaks Fire Trail. The weather was perfect for riding, not too hot.

But before the main event we took a quick spin on a cool little downhill course near Glenbrook, in Tunnel Gully Reserve. Someone has put an awful lot of work into building berms and bridges, it's pretty cool.

Yeah, I'm not riding across that one.
Then we put the bikes in the car, leaving one car in Glenbrook. You can normally do The Oaks without a car shuffle using the train, but they were doing trackwork, which is pretty common on the weekends apparently.

I hired a bike (Trek 29-er hard-tail) from Blue Mountain Bikes for $100. It was a pretty decent bike, although I really missed the rear suspension, dropper post, and cleats of my bike at home. It just has demo pedals, and I slipped off them a few times on some of the singletrack drop-offs. My only real complaint is that I paid for a puncture repair kit, but they gave me a 26-inch tube :(

The track starts very near the bike shop (we left the car there), you basically just cross over the highway.

The first 17km is fire trail, which alternates between climb and descend. Fun, but nothing challenging. Some nice views over the mountains through the trees.

After the gate at the end of the fire trail you start on the singletrack. It's really good. The first few km is fast and windy through fairly dense scrub on either side. Nothing particularly technical. The second half-ish is amazing with some more technical drop-offs and rock platforms. Many are marked with blue and black diamond options. Really fun singletrack.

You eventually pop out into a carpark and have the option of turning right to go up to a lookout. It's well worth the climb, there's a great view out over the Nepean river and the plains towards Sydney.

And this is the point one of our party realised they had a flat tyre and no tube. My tube would have come in handy at this point if it had been the right size...Anyway we patched it, and a ridiculously nice guy actually drove back to his house and came back with a 29-inch tube for us.

On the way down the bitumen I rode over a black snake. Eeek. It may have been dead already. Maybe.

It was a great day's ride, highly recommend.

Sunday 8 November 2015

SF 49ers vs. Atlanta Falcons @ Levi's Stadium

We'd seen a pre-season game back in Baltimore, but it was on my TODO to see a real-deal NFL game. A friend of Em's visiting from Australia wanted to see a game, which was a good enough excuse to tick this one off. We got decent tickets $160 each(!), which when combined with a babysitter for 7 hours (another $140), Uber and VTA fares, and food/drink at the game, it all made for a pretty damn expensive day.

Amazingly it rained and was pretty cold. Amazing because it was probably only about the third wet day this year...but we came prepared and were comfortable under a blanket and raincoats.

Getting to the game was fairly painless on VTA, and surprisingly efficient and fast on the return journey too. I just wished we had driven to one of the closer stops (like Moffett Park) and parked (we got an Uber to Mountain View and had to sit through lots of stops). Security was intense. If you expect to carry anything you should probably buy one of the NFL-approved clear bags. Anything else won't get in.

The game was great, and close enough to be exciting.

The stadium is impressive (it will host the Superbowl this year), as is the constant bombardment of advertising. You probably don't go more than 20 seconds without seeing an ad. That wasn't surprising, the NFL is a money-making juggernaut, but what was surprising was the level of military propaganda: there were probably a dozen or more different "support our troops" moments from appearances by veterans on the field and in the stands, to multiple messages of support from players pre-recorded and played on the big screen. Unsurprisingly, there has been some significant recent controversy about paid patriotism in the NFL.

It was a fun day, but I won't be rushing out to go to another game any time soon.

Sunday 25 October 2015

Possibly the best Halloween decorations of all time

This house in Los Altos may have the best Halloween decorations of all time.

There was an animatronic battle with smoke shooting from the ship's guns, dialog blaring from speakers and simulated flames above the castle. Not to mention the skeleton that moved and talked to you, controlled by someone using a Kinect tracking their arm movements from the garage. Spectacular stuff.

Sunday 11 October 2015

Jack-O'-Lantern 2015 edition

This year's Jack-O'-Lantern was christened "Glowy". This is him in all his glory, i.e. before the bridge between his eye and nose was eaten by a squirrel...

Saturday 26 September 2015

Riding in Google's self-driving car

Google threw open its doors and let the neighbourhood in to talk to engineers, see various iterations of self-driving cars, and best of all, get a ride in one. It was great stuff. There was a course for the cars that included a pedestrian and a bike rider that the car detected and avoided.

Sunday 30 August 2015

An unusual visit to the beach

Today was like lots of times we've been to the beach, or played near a creek, until it wasn't.

E and I were at the Kirkland Marina Park, throwing rocks into the water, building rock cairns and knocking them down with stones. Then I got the idea of throwing rocks off the boat jetty into the deep water. We picked up fists full of rocks and walked out onto the jetty. E is miss independent and didn't want to hold my hand, which made me nervous, so I held onto her jacket, which annoyed her just as much. In any case we got to the end and dropped our rocks off one by one while singing the Jake and the Neverland Pirates theme-song. We faffed around on the jetty having a great time, and then went back, got more rocks and did the same thing again.

On the way back we passed, for the second time, a mother and son who were fishing. Not long after we walked past I heard a splash, looked back, and saw the mother jumping into the water fully-clothed. Uh-oh.

I picked up E and ran back and saw the mother struggling to hold her son's head above water. They were trying to hold onto the jetty pole but it was very slippery with algae. It was also crazy windy with whitecaps on the lake and a small swell (I just looked up the monitoring buoy temperature for Lake Washington - turns it was surprisingly warm at 20°C, I assumed it was super cold at the time). I called down that they should swim to the ladder, which was just on the other side of the jetty, maybe 5m away, but they didn't understand or couldn't see it.

I was sorely tempted to jump in and help them, but I knew from first aid training that this often doesn't work out well, you just end up increasing the number of people who need to be rescued. I saw another guy coming up the jetty and called out "we need a life ring!". I ran back to the main part of the jetty and put down E and said DON'T MOVE, in what I hoped was my most authoritative voice. I didn't want to be rescuing her too.

I started running for the boats, figuring I could find some sort of flotation there, but there was nothing to be found, all stowed away. The guy behind me said he could see one and pointed back at the hut near the beach, not far away. I sprinted back and found a few lifejackets, and he came up behind me and grabbed a life ring he had seen.

I sprinted back and dropped the lifejacket down to them, and as I did I realised they were actually closer than I first thought, and I could reach the kid's hands by lying down on my stomach and leaning right over. Luckily he was light, maybe 8 years old, so I could pull him right up out of the water without too much trouble. It's strange what runs through your mind, but as I was doing it I was thinking about the technique for pulling people out of the water using your bodyweight when white-water rafting. Anyway, once he was up I directed the mother to the ladder and climbed down the first few rungs, she swam over there with the help of the life ring and life jacket.

We even managed to recover the fishing rod by pulling on the line, which had gone in with the kid as he stepped back one too many steps to cast. I warned them about secondary drowning, but the kid said he hadn't gotten any water in his mouth.

Em had seen me sprinting and had assumed E had fallen in, and was initially furious that I wasn't in the water rescuing her. She came running and I found her with E and F on the main part of the jetty when all this was over.

We redoubled our commitment to making sure the kids know how to swim.

Saturday 8 August 2015

Philadelphia: Penn's Landing

I was in Phili for work, staying at Penn's Landing. There is a great night market there, with lots of food trucks, beer, and floating bars.

Monday 25 May 2015

Mountain Biking Verbier, Switzerland

I stayed a long weekend with Phil and Lucy of and had an amazing time being guided around some awesome Swiss singletrack.  It was all wildflowers, glaciers, snow-capped peaks, wildflowers, wildflowers and some more wildflowers.

Day 1: Col du Tronc and Martigny

On day one I thought this singletrack through a field of dandelions was impressive.  Little did I know what was to come :)

Lunch in a Roman ruin in Martigny

Descent through a vineyard (really, through the middle of it).  Never done that on a mountain bike before.

Looking over Martigny

Day 2: Val Ferret traverse, climb to Lac de Champex

Phil took this just before I hit that rock on the uphill section and put a foot down :(

Cool rock sculpting by the glacier

Lunch (and a coffee at the cafe) at Lac de Champex

Did I say wildflowers already?

Day 3: Verbier

Dropped off in the van by Lucy at 2140m, it was chilly!  Watched a paraglider take off and then jumped on the bikes to warm up.

Some pushing through a couple of snowy sections :)

Looking at Mont Fort (3329 m), lost in the cloud

Some more visibility would have been great, but getting 3 dry days in a row in May was amazing, so I'm not complaining.

Today was a bit muddier...