Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Xmas 2003 update

[note: here's another of my previous email updates, specially formatted for this bilgespot]

G'day all from sunny Orstraylya, where I am spending November/December/January to get away from a fair chunk of the European winter. Pretty sneaky huh? I'm sure it'll catch up with me one day and I'll be posted to Antarctica to cover the cyclo-cross scene, and I'll end up living one long winter...I can just picture myself putting the booties on to go out in a -50 degree snowstorm for a quick spin across the Ross Ice Shelf and up Mt McClintock: "I'm going out. I may be some time."

I'm hoping that this email will reach you faster than a Christmas card, which - coming from me - may also be some time. So that means I can wish you all a very Merry Christmas in the language of your choice *before* December 25. Now that's what I call organised. And if you read this now, you get a Happy New Year thrown in absolutely free of charge, even though it's more than two weeks away. That's the power of the internet for you, bringing fast greetings to those who just can't wait. Book now for 2004.

That's the formal part of this Christmas letter done for, now to the more frivolous stuff. The format is quite modular so you can ignore the boringly titled sections and skip to the end where there's nothing remotely interesting.

What I did during the holidays

I took three weeks off at the beginning of December and used the time extremely wisely. The first week was spent in the company of my mother and great aunt cruising up to the Hunter Valley and beyond for several days of relative isolation (pardon the pun). No laptop, mobile didn't work, no TV to speak of and a lot of peace and quiet.

Truly, this is champagne comedy

Although I really like living in Belgium, I'm definitely appreciating Australia more when I come back home for these all too brief visits. We were only a few hundred kilometres away from Sydney, but most of the countryside was completely new to me. The first couple of days were spent at a nice little cottage in Sandy Hollow (which had a spa...), and I could ride down into the Wollemi National Park on a semi-flat tyre due to me not bringing a working pump. The roads were rough but the scenery was certainly worth it. Plus a winery or two.

The next couple of days were spent in another cottage near Ilford, which is between Mudgee and Lithgow. I had a great ride (still on a semi-flat tyre) out to Sofala and beyond, then back to Ilford and down into the Capertee Valley where I met up with Ma and Aunt Margaret at a friend's place in the valley. The ride was memorable and tres scenic, mainly due to the hills. There are lots in that area, and most of them are 4-5 km. At least I ended up at a much lower altitude than I started (cheating I know). Then we spent the afternoon watching a big storm roll across the Capertee Valley which was rather spectacular. I've attached a pic to illustrate.

The Capertee Valley

We headed back to Sydney via Mt Tomah, where we didn't see the botanical gardens due to the rain and fog, but had a really good lunch in the restaurant there. Definitely recommended! I've attached a pic of the sundial on Mt Tomah which wasn't being put to much use that day.

Mt. Tomah Botanic Gardens

Colourful Sydney racing identity report

While I certainly haven't reached (nor do I want to) the status of Dr. Bob Hampshire as the ultimate "colourful Sydney racing identity", it's hard to conceal the fact that I work for a particularly well known cycling website. I even have a jersey which reflects this, and if you look really really hard and can work out that I'm not a member of the Tasmanian Institute of Sport. We'll have a better Cyclingnews jersey soon. Anyway I just hope this doesn't lead to the excesses that Dr. Bob is so fondly remembered for. We'll see in 20 years or so...

I've actually been racing a fair bit since I got back - over 20 races in less than two months or about three times per week. They are mostly an hour or less, so recovery is not really a problem. I've been pleasantly surprised with the results: no wins, but 5 (or 8, if you ignore handicaps and just count A grade placings) second placings and a smattering of third placings. Not quite enough to break even on the race entry fees :-). But I've been able to consistently finish and factor in the Tuesday night races in A grade at Heffron Park, which have always been my nemesis. There was even a third place one week when not many people turned up :-)

To put this into context, I have to go back to the beginning of 1999 when I was able to finish more than one Tuesday in a row! Doing more racing in Belgium this year has certainly helped, and I also modified the October training plan to build up the "aerobic engine". I'm definitely happy with the results, and maybe I'll be able to convert one of these second places into a win. I'm always being beaten by the kiddies though! Even their restricted gears don't slow them down.

Fun stuff

The rest of the holidays have been spent doing fun things like tax, visiting the dentist and getting a slightly twisted pelvis straightened by a masseur and a physio, who are total geniuses I must say. The masseur just flicked parts of my feet and collarbone and lo! I was straight again. Then he started the massage. He's got a specially built metal cage so he can use some/all of his body weight to massage you. But he relied on his elbows when doing my iliotibial bands, which probably haven't been massaged for seven years or so. Those cyclists who've had this done to them know how painful this is, because their ITBs are so tight it's ridiculous. I have one more session with him.

More fun stuff

I'm recovering from an Overload of Fun after three birthday parties in three consecutive days. Fortunately there was cake at only one of them, otherwise my stomach would have rebelled. Thinks: must learn the concept of pacing oneself through slices of cake. Having cake for dinner is a no-no and can lead to Cake O.D., which can only be fixed by a lot of beer and a 150 km ride.

There is not much to report on the subject of movie reviews, as I've only seen a couple of flicks since I got back. This is probably a good thing because the movies in question were Matrix Revolutions and Kill Bill (Vol. 1). I had to see the former because I've already seen the first two and this one does at least round off the plot. It gets a bonus point for being filmed in Sydney: the final scene is in the Botanic Gardens, which is kind of a weird way to finish off a three part blockbuster but at least it's something different. I won't give away the rest of the plot because I can't really remember it that well, but there was a lot of action/fighting/martial arts/biff/bang/pow/death stuff which will please the connoisseurs of the genre.

I didn't really know what to expect with Quentin Tarantino's latest offering, Kill Bill (Vol. 1), which starred Uma Thurman wielding a very sharp samurai sword. But that alone was enough to get me to spend my hard earned $14.00 on going to see it. For more bonus points, it had Lucy Liu, Darryl Hannah, Vivica A. Fox as members of the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad, David Carradine's voice as Bill, and a very cool intro song (Bang Bang/Nancy Sinatra). I suspect there was rather a lot of tomato sauce used during the filming, as this flick is even *more* violent and slightly less tasteful than Pulp Fiction. If you go slightly queasy at the sight of a rare steak then this is a film for laying down and avoiding.

Other than that it was quite well done, and any Tarantino fan will like it. There is a Vol. 2 to be released early next year, which will conclude it. The plot is fairly comic book in style and involves The Bride (Uma Thurman) carrying a bit of a grudge against her former boss, Bill, who together with members of the Deadly Viper Assasination Squad, tried to kill her on her wedding day. She eventually wakes up from her coma and is rather annoyed at said squad members. Understandable really.

One day I'll see a movie that doesn't involve excessive amounts of violence, but next up will be the Lord of the Rings finale, so I think that might contain a bit of sword action. I hope they don't change too many important parts of the plot for no reason. In the book there was no battle detailed in Osgiliath, dammit!

Speaking of books, I've read the latest and biggest Harry Potter (Order of the Phoenix) and quite enjoyed it. I had to re-read the two preceding books to refresh my memory of who all the characters were and which side they were on but I think I'm up to date now and able to hold my own in any Harry Potter related conversation with the kiddies. I've also been working my way through more of Terry Pratchett's Discworld series which is very funny, and any other books that happen to come my way.

The last paragraph

If you've read this far then your boss is probably getting annoyed by now. If you haven't read this far, or have taken advantage of the modular format and ignored most of this email, then you are to be highly commended!

Love to all,


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