9B Blog

Melbourne Marathon 2018

They say that ‘life is a marathon, not a sprint’…and this is because it takes a lot consistent effort to do it well, it costs more than you think it should, and there is always the risk that if things don’t go well, you will shit yourself in public. Nevertheless, I’ve signed up to do this year’s Melbourne Marathon. This will be my third marathon, although the second one doesn’t really count as it was at the end of an Ironman, and was more of a glorified stroll from Frankston to St Kilda as I tried valiantly to keep my food down, and ideally, stop vomiting blood. So I’m not a newbie…but I still don’t consider myself a ‘runner’. In fact if I think about running, there are three memories that jump to mind immediately.
The first is being at school athletics carnival when I was in about Grade 2 and running in a relay, I was running next to a kid who I thought was the slowest in our grade (shout out to Daniel Grover) and he started to pass me, and I remember having the choice of putting in all of my effort and trying to get back past him (and of course running the risk of still not beating him), or just ease off and let him go past, but not have to put my pride on the line by trying and failing. I heroically chose the second option, and I’ve never really forgiven myself.
The second memory is going for morning runs on school camp at Buxton when I must have been 12 or 13 and always being in the last couple of kids who would make it to wherever the faster kids had had to wait while we caught up. I was usually the lone skinny kid amongst the chubby kids…and I always felt the guy that ran the camp (shout out to Johnny ‘Bloody’ Malcolm) had a special look of ‘I’m not angry, just disappointed’ that he saved just for me.
Man I hated running.
But then my third memory was from when I was training for the Ironman and saw that I had a 21km run to do on the weekend, and my first thought was ‘so that’s 2 hours I’ll have to set aside’. Not ‘Oh dear God! How the hell am I going to run 21kms?!!!’ or ‘How can I get out of this?’ There is an incredible feeling that comes with doing sufficient training to see 21kms as an allocation of time, rather than a major challenge. So a big motivator for attempting the marathon this year was trying to get back to being that fit…plus I’m 42 and the marathon is 42kms…so there was that too. I’m now less than a week out, and now seems as good a time as any to go through what I’ve learnt this time around.
So I’m no expert but here are a few things I’ve learnt about training for a marathon.

Be like Kim Novell

Ask yourself ‘Who is actually going to come out on the day of the marathon and watch me run?’ This is the exact number of people who are sufficiently interested in the fact that you’re running a marathon that you should post about it on Facebook or Instagram each time you train…and you’re going to be sitting around the dinner table with them tonight…so keep the #crazyrunner #marathontraining #longrun stuff to an absolute minimum.
Unless of course you’re writing a blog about it…in which case…shine on you crazy diamond!

‘Yeah, a marathon is tough, but have you heard of…’

For some people the thought of running 5kms seems impossible, for some people the thought of doing 10kms or a half marathon seems impossible, and for a lot of people the thought of running a full marathon seems impossible. If you’re running a marathon, then you have probably already proved to yourself that the first three aren’t impossible, and so you should have a sense of achievement…and once you’ve done a marathon, my God…you’ll never have to listen to someone else talk about their achievements again! But sadly, no. There are ultra-marathons, 100km runs, 100 mile runs, 100 mile runs up hills, multi day events, the 79km hop* and people will talk to you about these, and it will feel like they’re trying to diminish your achievement. But don’t let it. Just remember, you set yourself a challenge, you worked hard, and you achieved it. That’s awesome. If other people want to set themselves other challenges, then so be it, but you can only control what you do…and you’ve done something amazing.

*This may not actually be a thing.

Fingers and toes

When you think about training for a marathon you probably think about how sore your legs are going to be…and believe me they do get pretty sore…but the true victims for this campaign have been my fingers and toes.
For any run over 15kms I am now having to tape up most of my toes to stop them inflicting damage on each other. My little toe on my left foot now has a callous so sharp that it actually cuts the toe next to it…and the little toe on my right foot has decided that having a toe-nail is optional and so has done away with it altogether. Meanwhile, my big toes have conspired to poke their toenails through the tops of my shoes and the remaining toes appear to decided to use their toenails to attack the toes next to them.
But at least my toes have the decency to be hidden by socks and shoes at all times. On the other hand (*zing!*) my fingers have decided to react to the regime of early morning winter runs by developing chilblains. Yes, chilblains. You know those things that along with scurvy and ‘the vapours’ you thought were eradicated in 1800s.  Well they weren’t and I’m living proof. When I started to get lumps on my fingers I made the logical assumption, ‘I have hand cancer!’, but it turns out that, much like the 79km hop, that’s not actually a thing. Then I remembered a TV jingle for socks in the 80s that mentioned chilblains, did some online research…voila! Chilblains! I also realise that basing my medical advice on a TV jingle and Google is the sort of approach that has health professionals across the country smacking their heads into desks and saying ‘Why do we bother?…Why do we bother?’ But to them I say ‘We don’t need expertise anymore, we have the internet! Facts are boring and uniformed opinions are FUN! Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a rather important ‘Mr. Squiggle was a flat-Earther conspiracy’ rabbit-hole to fall down.’

The bare necessities

One of the great thing about running (as opposed to cycling for example) is that you pretty much just need a pair of runners and you’re good to go (as opposed to just needing a bike, shoes, helmet, cycling kit, socks that are the correct height, a power meter, a second bike [for Cyclocross/commuting/whatever excuse you can come up with], new set of carbon wheels, etc). However, if you are training for a marathon, there are a few other things things that I think you should invest in:

A coach – a coach will design a program that suits your situation (level of fitness, time commitments, goals) and will keep you motivated. There were a few times when people would ask what I had planned for the weekend, and I would say ‘I have to do a 32km run on Sunday’ and they would reply ‘Well, you don’t HAVE to do a 32km run!’ and I would laugh and say ‘Yeah, I guess.’ But deep down I was thinking ‘But what would Amanda say if I didn’t?! She would be both angry AND disappointed!’
I’ve had two coaches (one for the Ironman and one for this marathon) and they have both been excellent. So find someone you click with and get a program done…and if you’re looking for a personal recommendation, Amanda Meggison at Planted Life is fantastic!

A device – A Garmin, a Fitbit, an Apple watch, whatever…just make sure it can give you your heart rate, pace and distance. This will help you track how your fitness is progressing, let you know what your pace is while you’re running…and most importantly provide you with the stats you will need to gloat on social media / justify eating that second serve of French Toast.
For me on this campaign I have been amazed that the running hasn’t gotten any easier…but the times have gotten faster. If I was going on ‘gut-feel’ I think I would have given up a while ago.

Headphones –  You are going to be spending a LOT of time by yourself, and unless you want to hear hours of your internal monologue saying ‘This sucks, this sucks, this sucks’, then headphones + podcasts are the way to go.
However, this will leave you with the quandary of whether to wear them when you do the actual marathon. This is a bit of tricky one for me. On the one hand, changing a key thing that you’ve done in every training session when you do the actual race is stupidity 101, and Lord knows it make life a lot easier if you’ve got a banging 4hr playlist to get you through the tough times. But on the other hand, I think that part of the challenge with any endurance event is that extended conversation you have with yourself through the really tough times…the mental toughness required for a marathon is just as important as the physical conditioning…so if you wear headphones, are you actually diminishing the challenge? I don’t know…but I have decided not to wear headphones when I run the marathon…and I expect to spend close to 4 hours regretting that decision.

Timing’s everything

Much like having a child or doing your tax return, there’s never really a ‘right time’ to do a marathon. You just kinda have to commit to it, and then start training. Having said that, having a two week holiday in Tasmania three weeks out from the marathon is either the smartest thing I could have done…or the dumbest. It’s surprisingly hard to find the time to sneak in a few long runs while on the road. But by the same token, it’s pretty hard to find 8 hours of sleep every night during my normal routine. So I’m feeling rested…I just hope I’m not TOO rested.

Also, having your heaviest training load coincide with work hitting bat-shit crazy levels of busy is really not fun…especially if you’re having to work long days knowing that you still have to get home and get a run in. At the same time, having a physical outlet for all of the frustration is pretty damned therapeutic.

So there you go, a few of the things I’ve learnt this time around. I’m confident that I will be able to get a sub 4-hour time, but from memory, I was equally confident of running sub 4-hour time last time as well, and that didn’t pan out as I had hoped (4hrs 11mins for those keeping score). But rest assured, I will do a brief race report afterwards to work out what actually worked and what didn’t…but in the meantime, I’m going to eat everything in sight and secretly pray for rain on race day.

A very muddy day on the trails at Westerfolds Park

If you would like to donate to the JMB Foundation please head here: https://melbournemarathon2018.everydayhero.com/au/chris-riordan and if the link doesn’t work, just send them some money anyway, they do great work!

Beagle Tinder

As we clearly established in the great ‘Josh buys a snake‘ debacle of 2017, our family really is a dog family. But much like a tree-falling in a forest with no one around, is a ‘dog family’ without a dog really a family? Of course, the short answer is ‘yes’, but that’s not going to sustain an entire blog entry, so let’s go with ‘no’. So we decided that we would get a dog, after we returned from our trip to France and the UK. After all it would be very unfair to get a dog and then promptly abandon it for 6 weeks (also, I’m of the parenting style that strongly favours the ‘Why do today, what you can put off for an indefinite period?’ approach). While we were in France the kids got to interact with an aged Bernese Mountain Dog named Bacchus at our first accomodation, and they got to spend 3 weeks looking after the indefatigable Trevor and Darren in Arromanche-les-Bains. The kids passed the international canine test with flying colours, and so when we returned we set about looking for a dog to call our own.

OK, sure, there was that one time that Xavier lost the shirt off his back to a pair of streetwise King Charles Cavaliers

That was then, this is now

When Katie and I got our Beagle/Labradors (more on that later) Jasper and Ceilidh, we read through ‘The Trading Post’ (a weekly newspaper that listed things for sale) and called the pet store (what we would now call a ‘Puppy farm distribution point’) on our land line (like an iPhone…but with the 99.8% less functionality) to arrange a time to come and pick them up (this was a time before ‘Uberpets’ [the drone based pet-delivery system that I’m sure is only weeks away]existed).
This time we decided to get a rescue dog (as in a dog that had been rescued…not a dog that was capable of rescuing people) because we wanted to show people that we were better than them…but veganism just seemed like too much hard work.  Instead of waiting for Thursday to roll around so that we could go to the newsagent to buy the Trading Post, we simply logged into the interwebs and started searching for our new dog. The number and variety of dogs was almost overwhelming. There were Staffies, Greyhounds, Staffordshire Terriers, Irish wolfhounds, Staffies, Staffordshire Terriers, and some more Staffies. Plus, there was a dazzling array of terms to describe the dogs that didn’t sound too bad…but could also double as a defence in a court of law (eg ‘Energetic’, ‘enthusiastic’, ‘Full of beans’, ‘prefers to be an only dog’, ‘great singing voice’ ‘ate last owner’ etc,etc). I also discovered that there were a lot of different organisations offering rescue dogs, and so something like Pet Rescue that fed all of these different organisations into one website was remarkably helpful. But even then, there were a HELL of a lot of dogs out there. It was time to start focussing our attention. We knew we didn’t want a large dog (Great Dane, Wolfhound etc), we knew we didn’t want a working dog (Collie, Heeler, Husky etc) and we knew we didn’t want anything that would scare little kids (Bull Terrier, Rottweiler, Doberman, etc).
Both Katie and I had really loved our Beagle/Labradors, and so we settled on a Beagle and began a daily routine of checking in to ‘Beagle Rescue Victoria‘ to see what dogs were available.

The adoption process

After about a month we found a dog that we thought might be a good match for us, and so I decided to ‘apply’ for him. But first I had to fill in an application form. Now up until this moment, I had very much been under the impression that I simply had to put my hand up and say ‘We’ll take a dog’…and a dog would be sent our way

‘You get a Beagle! And you get a Beagle!’ via GIPHY

So when I downloaded the application form, I had assumed the questionaire would be just one question:

Are you an amazingly wonderful person?
A. Yes
B. Yes, but I’m too modest to say
C. All of the above.

But it wasn’t…it was multiple pages, with questions about how many hours the dog would be left alone, and how high the fences were, and had we ever owned a hound before, and what was my favourite season of ‘The Wire’ (actually they didn’t ask that, but that gives you an idea of just how probing the questions were). To make matters even worse, after filling in the application form and sending it off…we were rejected! Rejected from adopting a rescue-dog! I hadn’t felt this ashamed of my family since the first time I had to tell my boss that I couldn’t come to work because we had ‘Hand, foot and mouth’ disease. How could we go out in public now? People would be whispering behind our backs ‘There go the Riordans…not even rescue dogs want them.’ Oh the indignity.

Right on the Marnie

But we didn’t give up. If a series of letters could convince Katie to go out with me 20 years ago…a series of emails could get us a Beagle now! So I started sending regular emails asking about the availability of various dogs. Like a pimply teenager, I heard all of the reasons why I wasn’t the best choice; ‘we wouldn’t be home enough’, ‘the dog needs another dog for company’, ‘it’s not them…it’s you’, etc. But then one day Tam from Beagle Rescue Victoria said ‘I think we actually have just the right dog for you!’ ‘Really?’ I said, a bit perplexed, as I knew all of the dogs on their website, and couldn’t for the life of me think of the one that was ‘perfect’ for us. ‘She’s actually not on our website, as she’s so good looking that people would want to adopt her just for her looks, not because they’re the best match for her’. I explained that was the exact same reason I have so few photos of myself on the internet.
Tam asked for a few more photos of our fences and gates, and once they had the tick of approval, she sent through some photos of a dog named Marnie and we arranged a time for her to come and visit.

Marnie: The Regal Beagle

First date

There is nothing normal about cleaning a house to make a good impression on a dog. There is also nothing rational about screaming at your kids ‘Act normal…no, I didn’t say ‘do what you normally do’, I said ‘act normal’. Oh God, the dog’s going to hate us…quick, one of you cover yourself in dog treats!’ But then in a whirlwind of black, brown and white, Marnie (the Beagle), Tam (from Beagle Rescue Victoria) and Amanda (the lady whose family was currently looking after Marnie) arrived. Marnie was indeed too beautiful for the internet. She gave us a cursory sniff, and then spent the next hour furiously smelling the entire backyard.
Meanwhile the ‘parents’ talked, and one of the things we kept saying about Marnie is that she was so small compared to our Beagle/Labradors. Tam and Amanda asked to see some photos of our dogs (Jasper and Ceilidh) and so we showed them some. ‘Oh’ said Tam ‘Did you get these from *and then named the pet store where we got them*?’ ‘Yes’ I replied. ‘They’re Foxhound/Beagles. That’s why they’re bigger’. Now, when Katie and I were looking for dogs back in the Trading Post days, we wanted Beagles, but thought they would be too hard to train, so we thought that Beagle/Labradors would be perfect as Labs are a bit easier to train, and so when we saw them advertised at a shop in Croydon we headed out there. We then spent the next 13 years sanctimoniously telling people that ‘No, they’re not Foxhounds, they’re Beagle/Labradors…we call them Legals’.
So to every one of those people, especially that one lady at the Zwar Park who kept saying ‘I just can’t believe how much they look like Foxhounds!’, you were right, they were Foxhounds!!

But back to Marnie, just like any reality dating TV show, we proceeded to the next round…and on the next weekend Marnie arrived at our house for a 4 week trial.

Getting to know you

One of the big concerns about taking in a rescue dog is the the fear about what they have already gone through, and how that is going to manifest itself. I would hate to have a dog that snaps at other dogs, or worse, other people. So for the first couple of weeks we did everything we could to get her in situations where we could see her reaction. Katie walked her to school with the kids every day, we took her to the park as a family in the evening where she could mingle with other dogs, and she handled all of this really well.
But she is a VERY different dog to Jasper and Ceilidh. Where they were outside dogs who sometimes came inside, Marnie is definitely an inside dog. She barks at any man who comes to the door, but she will also wait until she’s told she can eat her food (with Jasper and Ceileidh you always had to do a quick count of how many fingers you had left after you’d put their food-bowls down). She REALLY doesn’t like being left at home alone, even if it’s just to go the market for 40 mins, and then goes absolutely berserk when you return (Jasper and Ceilidh just kinda figured it was cool that you were back).
But the thing that probably stands out the most, is just how seamlessly she has managed to fit in with our family. She’s the happy little face that greets us in the morning, the constant companion throughout our day, and the relaxed weight at the end of the bed when it’s time to sleep. It’s as if she’s always been here, and as we near the end of our trial period, hopefully that’s how she’ll remain.

 

 

My top photos of 2017

There’s nothing like scrolling through all of your photos for a year to make you realise how much has happened in 12 months; 40th birthdays, 66th birthdays, weddings, first days of school, international travel, trips to the beach, rain, sunshine, surf, posed portraits, spontaneous moments, and best of all…photos that make you sit back and think ‘Man, I’m really happy with that shot!’
So of the 3,447 photos that made it through the culling process of this year, and the 192 that were given the coveted ‘5 star rating’ in Lightroom, here are my 20 favourite photos of 2017.

Josh does his Felix Baumgartner impersonation

Josh jumping off the tower at Blairgowrie

There is a decent period after you’ve bought new camera gear, when you are absolutely terrified of getting it wet/dusty/cold/hot. So you miss shots because you’re not willing to take a risk. Then at the other end of the spectrum is when you’ve had a camera for so long that you’ll wade into the ocean and takes shots not caring what happens to it…but also knowing, that its best days are behind it, so you may not get the shot you want.
But there is also a wonderful mid-point where you a camera will take the photo you want, and that you’re willing to hang over your shoulder as you jump from one rock to another over waste deep water and then scramble up a rock tower to take a photo of your 11yo son jump from a feet-tingling height. I’m at that point with my Fuji XT-1…and it’s a very happy place.
I was also really happy with this shot, as the tide was coming in and if we stayed much longer in that spot we were going to get stranded, and so I knew I only really had one chance to get it. So no pressure…no pressure at all.

Danny Ross at the 303 Bar

Danny Ross at the 303 Bar on the 56mm

My brother in law, Will, was playing drums with Danny Ross for a show at the 303 Bar in Northcote. I will never pass up an opportunity to take photos of a band, because there are always moments in a live performance that give you an insight into who the musician really is, and if you can capture them…they usually make great images. Also, guitars are cool.
Over the course of the night I shot, wide, I shot tight, and shot from up high and down low, from outside and inside (no really I did), but it was this shot that I took between two people that really worked.  The two shoulders provide a perfect shadowy frame for Danny, plus the light is hitting him enough to illuminate his face under that distinctive hat…and he has an ever so slight rock n roll sneer on his face.
In truth, this photo is a mess in colour…but black and white really provides some focus!

Walkerville cave portrait

Beach life be like…

If you’re new to photography and want to try to create a quick and easy ‘arty’ portrait, get someone to stand somewhere where it’s dark but there is a single source of light (a recessed doorway, open garage door, or in this a cave with a hole in the roof), get them to look towards the light, and then expose your shot for their face (or just set your autofocus point for their face) and the resulting shot will knock out the background enough for you to make to their face really  pop…but with just enough ambience to give some context.
Of course you do still have to convince someone to crawl into a dark cave that smells of rotting sea-weed…but that’s why you have kids!!

A440 (there is a prize to the first person who can explain this photo title…it’s GENIUS!)

Songrise singing at Katie’s 40th

If you have ever tried to take a photo of someone giving a speech, you will know that what looks perfectly normal in real-life can look mortifying as a still image. The blink of an eye, the movement of someones mouth, or a gesture with their hand can make them look drunk, psychotic, lecherous or constipated. The same can be said for singers, although to a lesser extent because they tend to hold facial expressions and emotions a bit longer as they hit certain notes…and because they usually want to be singing, whereas people who are making a speech would usually rather be anywhere else doing anything else. So taking a photo of a singer is easier…but then when you add another singer, the difficulty increases exponentially…now you need to capture a moment where two people look great…then you add another person…and then another…and one of them is your wife…and it’s her 40th birthday party.
No pressure…no pressure. Just capture an image in which all four people look great…and DO NOT STUFF THIS UP!

Fire twirling in North Melbourne

Spin those flaming balls…and drag that shutter

You know that feeling when you’re at your best mate’s 40.5th birthday and someone dressed in Polynesian attire starts doing tricks with two flaming balls…and you think to yourself ‘How am I going to get a good shot of this?’ Sure you do. It’s a predicament as old as time itself. Just go for 1/6 second, at f1.4 on a 35mm.
If you’re still saying ‘Wait. WTF is a 40.5th birthday!’ Then I think you and I can be friends.

Can you just sit there while I test the flash?

Lighting test

Any time I set up the flash for a portrait I ask one of the kids to sit in so that I can make sure it’s going to work, my brief is always ‘Just sit there, you don’t even have to look at the camera’. The combo of a photographer who isn’t telling someone what to do, and a subject who isn’t trying to be anything but themselves…invariably leads to some of my favourite photos.

Channeling Alain Laboile

The old take a photo of a reflection and then turn it upside down trick

I shamelessly stole this from Alain Laboile’s ‘Reflexion autour du bassin‘ series where he took photos of the reflection in a pool of water, and then turned them upside down so that the photo looked like a distorted version of the real world. After a hefty downpour here in Melbourne, the lane out the back had some massive puddles…and the kids were dressed in rain jackets and gumboots. So I got may chance to create my own ‘Reflection around the puddle’ series.

Turin Brakes

Gale Paridjanian at the Northcote Social Club

While I’m really happy with this photo, this one made the cut because I only got it by having the chutzpah to call a festival promoter and ask for a press pass so that I could shoot it. So I got to spend the first three songs right at the front taking photos of one of my favourite bands…and this shot further assuaged my guilt about buying the Fuji 56mm f1.2 lens.

In the surf with Josh

Boys in the surf

There are few places I love being more than in the surf. But with young kids, going to the beach becomes more of a ‘let’s build sandcastles and wade in the knee-deep water’ than ‘let’s head out the back and try to catch some decent waves’ experience.
But the body-boarding bug has bitten Josh, and he’s now strong enough to venture out into the surf with me. In this shot we had made the decision to paddle furiously over a wave, rather then trying to duck under it after it had broken. It had been a close run thing, and we very nearly had the wave break right on top of us, but we’d made it and we were both very happy with ourselves…and the GoPro captured it.

Kids, France and trampolines

The best cure for jetlag

It took about 30 hours to get from Melbourne to Paris, and then a terrifying drive for 2 hours in the dark to get to our accom in Normandy. But when we woke up the next morning the kids discovered that there was a trampoline and took to it immediately. So this was among the first photos I took for our trip…and it was probably my favourite! Even though you can’t really see either of their faces…you just know they’re smiling from ear to ear. Because…well…tramampoline!

Normandy beaches

Holly atop one of the enormous walls at low-tide

I would love to claim that I saw this scene and said “Holly, quickly go over there and climb that ladder and then hang off the handle at the top as if you’re in a musical from the 1960’s!” But in truth, I was pretty much waiting for her to get down so that I could take a landscape shot…and stop worrying about her falling off!
But as is so often the case, a landscape looks a whole lot better with a person in it, especially someone who can inadvertently strike a pose like this.

Tuba flamethrower

Just a man, playing a tuba, with flames coming out the top.

It’s a man in a top hat, playing the tuba, with flames coming out of the top, in London…of course it made my top 20!

The test shot

Lady in red, with a blue bag, and blonde hair, surrounded by green walls.

The plan was to get Katie to walk towards me and I would get the shot just as she came through the doorway, so I was just doing a test shot to make sure my focus was going to be right…and it turned out to be a much better photo than the one I had planned.

Mont St Michel

Mont St Michel through a 56mm

It’s pretty hard to get a shot of Mont St Michel that hasn’t been taken a thousand times, so here’s one that hopefully only been taken 995 times. A friend of mine showed me this trick of holding a lens in front of the the camera and then taking a shot of what the lens can see.

A bird and an old man

A bird slowly circles through the fog on the Isle of Skye

We all got up early and made our way to the Old Man of Storr. When we got there we were one of 3 cars in the car park, so we knew we wouldn’t be fighting off the crowds. We were however fighting one 6yo who wanted to make it very clear, that he didn’t want to be there. The weather was also ranging wildly from foggy, to drizzling, to raining and all points in between. I only have one weather-proof lens and that’s the 50-140mm, and I was having to stop pretty regularly to explain to the angry 6yo that ‘No, this wasn’t a stupid idea. No, I’m not stupid. No, everyone isn’t stupid. No, we can’t turn around and head back. No, that’s not stupid.’
So this is a long way of saying that my photo options were limited…but when I saw this burn circling in the mist, I had a vision of a Tolkienesque image and was really happy with how it came up.

Highland coo

Highland cow on the Isle of Skye

I love these cows. The look like the bovine version of the guitarist from a 90’s shoe-gazer band. One of my goals for our trip up to the North of Scotland was to get a shot of one these fine beasts. But our drive from Glasgow to Skye, while offering some amazing potential cow action, was so fraught with traffic issues that the opportunity to just pull over and take a photo just didn’t present itself. Having done a lap of the Isle of Skye and still not got a photo of a Highland Cow, I had pretty much given up all hope. Then on our way to our final stop on the Isle of Skye we came across this fine specimen just next to the road. So I hopped out and grabbed this shot, and all was right with the world.

Steam punk

A steam train backing out of the NYMR yards in Pickering

There is something magical about trains, and I can see why they fascinate people young and old (by which I mean, very young and very old). From a photography perspective they are a dream. Everything is on a massive scale, there is polished metal, steam, light & shade, history, and some amazing faces. This is my attempt at capturing all of that in one shot.

The headless bass player of York

The Hyde Family Jam take to the streets of York

After pouncing on the first coffee place we found at 9am in the morning, we had been traipsing around York all day and by 4pm we were pretty keen on finding another coffee emporium. But despite having seen quite a few in the preceding hours, suddenly there were none to be found. As we left the market in the centre of town we could hear a band playing the opening bars of Franz Ferdinand’s ‘Take me out’. It’s a testament to how good these guys were that I actually chose taking photos of them, over getting a coffee (and people who know me, will know that I very rarely choose anything over coffee…least of all complete strangers). But with that late afternoon sun acting as a backlight, and their energy & enthusiasm, I knew I would get something memorable.

The Mae Trio

Maggie from the Mae Trio playing at the Wesley Anne

The Mae Trio’s ‘Take care, take cover’ was my favourite album for 2017…and that’s really saying something when this year saw new albums from The War on Drugs, The National and Iron and Wine. So I was pretty excited about snapping some shots of them when they played at the Wesley Anne in Northcote. Sadly the gig was actually a farewell for one of the band (Anita) and so there was a mix of celebration and melancholy on the night. I feel that this shot captured that. I also know that I manually set the focus and waited for a long time to capture capture Maggie looking up and getting that little bit of light in her eyes.
I got some photos from the night that I was really happy with, and deep down hoped that they might see them and feel so inspired by them that they immediately wrote a modern-day folk anthem called ‘Chris the remarkably good photographer’…but this hasn’t happened…yet…probably because ‘photographer’ is a really hard word to rhyme with.

So there we go. I’ve travelled the world, but taken some of my favourite photos really close to home. I’ve shot a fair bit of music, and clearly love converting them to black and white. I’ve tried new things, and refined some other things. I’ve shot three weddings, and quite a few corporate jobs. I’ve left my day job of 11 years, gone back to working 5-days a week in a new job, and started a podcast project.
So it’s been a big year, and I’d like to thank you all for your support…rest assured, I’ll be back in 2018.

Nan

My Nan and I had the same birthday, and I always thought that was pretty amazing. Now I know that statistically speaking if you walk into a room of 75 people then you are guaranteed that 2 people will have the same birthday…but I also know that I failed statistics at university…twice…so there’s little surprise in me being so amazed by this coincidence. It always made me feel like we had a special bond, that we were a part of some exclusive club. It also meant that I never once forgot to wish Nan a happy birthday, except for one year when I was travelling to America, and due to a complications to do with international timezones, forgot it was my own birthday.

My childhood memories of Nan are a whirlwind of colours, tastes and sounds. The colour is turquoise (her favourite colour), from her jewellery to the paint at our holiday house on Lake Eildon, to…and as I write this I’m suddenly second guessing my own memory…but a turquoise car!
The tastes are of Boxing Day at Eildon, of cold Coke being drunk from an anodised metallic cup, of meat and veg and gravy, and of course of the pudding being delivered to the table with a halo of blue flame from whatever spirit was on hand.
The sound is Nan doing her impression of Alfred Hitchcock saying ‘Good evening’ and everyone laughing, and me laughing…and me simultaneously wondering who Alfred Hitchcock was.

When I first learned to read she gave me a copy of ‘Black Beauty’. It was a book for grown ups, and I loved that she had included me in that cohort. In fact all through my teens and my early adult life, Nan was always vocal in her support of what I was doing. I have no doubt that this was because Dad was being VERY selective with the information that was being passed on, but if I ever heard Nan talking to other people about what I was doing, I always thought ‘Man, I wish I was living the life that Nan thinks I’m leading!’

I was the first person to inflict the status of ‘Great Grandmother’ on Nan, and she seemed to really relish the being able to emphasise the ‘Great’ in that title. But the maelstrom of looking after my own young family lead to me being in contact with Nan a lot less. If work, or a triathlon, or family holiday drew me to somewhere near Shep, then I would come and visit Nan. But ultimately it became a phone call on our birthday, and the Riordan Christmas in July.
It was at the final Christmas in July that Nan attended that I was having a chat with her and had asked how she was doing and she said ‘Oh, not very well really’. Clearly the correct answer is ‘Fine Dear, how are you?’, and  I knew that Nan knew the art of social decorum better than anyone, and that she would never break the rules of polite society without a good reason, and the look in her eyes told me that she was looking for support. She was looking for someone to talk to that perhaps didn’t have the burden of responsibility that her kids had, she was looking for someone who had that wonderful degree of separation that has bonded grandchildren and grandparents together since time immemorial, she wanted someone who knew her story and could tell her what an amazing person she was. How strong she was. How much she was loved and respected.
But instead I made some sort of glib remark, some weak platitude, and the moment was lost. I’ve ruminated on this and regretted it ever since, and have promised that I would put it right. But now she’s gone and I’ve lost the opportunity. Stuck overseas, I can’t even attend her funeral and attempt to atone for my inadequacy there.

So I don’t want to make the same mistake twice, and I certainly don’t want my last words about Nan to be about regret. Because I never came away from my time with Nan with anything other than happiness, confidence, and if I played my cards right, some chocolate.
So Nan, thank you for teaching me so much.  For welcoming Katie, Josh, Holly and Xavier into the Riordan family, and for 41 years of birthday phone-calls. My youngest son shares his birthday with his grandmother, and I hope he has as wonderful a life with her as I did with you.

Long service leave: Just a really good idea.

When was the last time you took a break from work? I don’t mean two weeks off at Christmas, or adding a day to a long weekend, I mean really took a break from work. To the point where you are so far removed from your daily work routine that you have to check your phone to see what day it is. Can you remember what that feels like? Can you recall that feeling of being able to climb out of the morass of deadlines, and performance reviews, and endless & unnecessary meetings, and take a look at your life as a whole? To capture what drug addicts and alcoholics refer to as a ‘moment of clarity’ and make it last for hours on end.
Probably not.
In fact our lives are geared in exactly the other direction. Our work follows us everywhere on our phone. We’re working longer hours and we’re not being paid for them. Most of us are only two missed paycheques away from defaulting on our mortgage or rent. And we’re so jealous of the lives that everyone else is enjoying on social media, that we are simply resigned to putting our heads down at work and hoping that it eventually all pays off…and that the family we have neglected in order achieve this pay off, still wants to spend time with us when it does.

What we all desperately need is an escape hatch, a get out jail free card, some time to focus on the things in life we neglect because of work…and we need to get paid while we do it. In short, we need long service leave!

For those outside of Australia and New Zealand, long-service leave is basically 2 months of leave that you are entitled to after 10 years of working full-time for one organisation. It’s a throwback to when English people had to come and work in Australia. When they had worked for 10 years, they were entitled to sail back to England, stay for a few weeks to catch up with family, then sail back to Australia…all on full pay.
For any Millenials reading this, a full-time job is a bit like one of the three part-time jobs that  you’re currently working, except that you work at it all of the time and it offers some security, which is good when you want to get a mortgage. A mortgage? Well that’s when you go to the bank to borrow money to buy your own home. Your own home? Well…sorry, that’s a figment of your imagination…and did you know that we have set up an economy that means that you will be the first ever generation to earn less than your parents? You’re welcome.
But back to me. Having being made redundant from two of the three full-time jobs that I had enjoyed after leaving Uni, and absolutely hating the third. I chose to take a job with the Victorian Public Service (VPS). I promised myself that I would only be there for two years, as I was terrified of becoming an ‘institutionalised public servant’ who would never be able to find work outside of the VPS.
10 years later, I was still in the VPS. Thus proving that I am truly a man of my word. But more importantly, I was now a man with 12 weeks of long service leave available to him.

Just hanging out in Bayeux, reading ‘Madame Beaute’.
Feeling the serenity of Chateau Villarceaux

In 2016 we went for a 3 week campervan journey through Queensland, and at the moment we are spending three weeks looking after a B&B in Normandy, before heading over to the UK for two weeks. I know that, just like Queensland, this trip is going to be an incredible experience for our family. The kids will be exposed to new cultures, new languages and new ways of life. They will get to see the versions of Mum and Dad that aren’t stressed out about work (I can tell you categorically that they are a LOT more fun), we will get to bond as a family unit, I will get to spend time taking photos and making videos, and Katie gets to see the fun guy that she married, rather than the financially neurotic handbrake that gets to spend her life with normally. In short, we get to be the family that we want to be, and we get to do this because of long-service leave.

Taking in the view at Mont Saint Michel

Now I know that the more conservative voters amongst you will be saying ‘Well that’s just great Chris…but you know what? It’s not up to your employer to be providing you with this. They give you an income and annual holidays. That should be enough.’ To be honest, the Catholic guilt part of me agrees with this. Certainly the part of me that got made redundant twice, knows that a full-time job is something to cling to…especially if you actually enjoy it. But I think that these feelings are actually symptomatic of a bigger problem; we’ve all started to believe that our role in the economy is more important than our role in society. We’ve all borrowed more than we can afford, and now we’re at the whim of ‘business’. We can’t afford to be unemployed, so we keep working longer and longer hours, with no relative rise in income, while those at the top earn eye-wateringly large amounts of money, and it pisses us off. So we get angry in traffic, we retreat to our phones to see how everyone else is doing, and we see that, according to their Facebook posts, life is just peachy, and so we get pissed off again, and when the Government tells us that the real problem is refugees, we think ‘Yeah, that’s why my life isn’t what I want it to be’ and suddenly we have people like Peter Dutton in charge of Immigration and Border protection…and that’s pretty bloody bleak place to be.
But you know what could break this cycle? An extended period doing what actually makes you feel good as a human being. Some time travelling, some time following a passion, some time not in the 8-6 grind (we all know the 9-5 grind is ‘aspirational’). Some time being the person we want to be.
So yeah, maybe your job doesn’t owe you long-service leave…but  you know what? You don’t owe your job all of the work you do outside work hours…but you’re still doing them. So let’s just call long-service leave a slight re-adjustment of the ledger.

Seconds later…important lessons were learned.
French life is tough…tough I tells ya.

Now before I start to sound too much like that annoying 2nd year Uni student who has just discovered Marx. There are of course myriad reasons why taking a long break actually makes you a better employee. If you’ve travelled, you may have picked up a new language, if you’ve followed a passion, you will almost certainly have developed new skills, if you’ve spent 6 weeks painting the outside of your house…well…you’ll be a lot less likely to complain about whatever work you come back to. But I can guarantee that by doing something different for an extended period, you will have created new neural pathways. In short, you will be able to think differently, and you will be able to problem solve better.
Sure you might spend the first few days back at work weeping at your desk as you wade through a sea of unread emails…but after that, you’re going to be a better person, and therefore employee, than you were when you left.
Also, don’t ever underestimate the value of your ‘organisational knowledge’. In any organisation there is ‘the proper process’ (ie ‘what they tell new employees’)…and there is ‘the way to get things done’ (ie what you know after 10 years of working in an organisation). I know that over the course of 10 years at DHHS I have learnt how to get in contact with most of the key decision makers…and most importantly I have forged good relationships with all of their Executive Assistants, so that if I need something done in a hurry I can at least get an audience with someone who can make it happen. There are hundreds of these little communication channels that only open up after you have served your time in an organisation and shown your worth, and they save your organisation large amounts of money every year…so just see long service leave as your organisation’s way of saying ‘Thanks for making us more efficient’.

This is happiness

In an era of fewer and fewer full-time jobs, and of people moving jobs more frequently, the number of people who are actually going to work for 10 years in the one organisation is no doubt dwindling. But for those of us who do have it, for the love of God use it! You will never regret taking a holiday. You will never be as; young, energetic, enthusiastic, adventurous and capable as you are right now. Don’t put it off. Don’t sit on it like some bizarre nest-egg. Don’t worry that your job wont be there when you get back. Just do it! Book that holiday, go to that place that you always wanted go, do that thing that you always wanted to do. Be that person you’ve always wanted to be!
You’ve earned it.

Getting back on the court

One of the great things about being a parent is that you get to watch all of your foibles, inadequacies and quirks enacted by a miniature version of yourself. ‘Ah’ you get to think ‘So that’s what I look like when I lurk around the periphery of a group conversation instead of joining in!’ Or, ‘Wow, so that’s what I look like when I try to block out the mundanity of hanging out the washing by plugging in headphones’, or ‘Ahah! I like the way he’s running down the basketball court at just the right pace to create the impression that he wants the ball, but all the while actually never getting into a position to get the ball, and inevitably miss the layup’. That last one is particularly apt. I’ve been taking Josh to basketball every Saturday for the last few years, and I fast saw myself becoming that Dad who tells his kids what to do in their sporting endeavours…knowing full well that he didn’t do it when he was a kid…and certainly wasn’t doing it now.
I hate those guys.
So I decided that if I was going to tell Josh what to do on the basketball court, I should probably be able to do the same myself, so I committed to joining a basketball team. Although this was a bit easier said than done, as I didn’t know anyone playing basketball…let alone someone who was looking for a new player. So I figured that if I just started hanging out at the local basketball courts, and showed some hustle, then eventually someone would put me on their team and take me under their wing, and while it may be a bumpy road, eventually I would repay their faith in me by pulling off a crazy dunk to win the game!
But then I remembered that this was actually just the plot to 1990’s movie ‘White Men Can’t Jump‘…and so I was back at square one.

After a bit of research I found an organisation called Just Play that basically provides a service for lonely people looking to find a team to play with…it’s a bit like Tinder, but for people who long for balls to play with and who love to get sweaty…no wait…it’s exactly like Tinder!
So after grossly underestimating how large the ‘medium’ singlet that I ordered was going to be, I headed off to Coburg Stadium for my first game.
Now is probably a good time to explain that I’m actually not that great at basketball. I really like playing it, and I may have spent 40% of Year 10 skipping music class to go and shoot hoops with some friends. But I’ve only really ever played socially. So I was kind of banking on this being a good chance to meet some new people, get a bit of exercise, and have fun playing basketball with a group of people at about the same skill level as me.
After five minutes of playing my first game, I realised that this may not be going to happen. The game moved so fast! It was like landing in a foreign country with no language skills and being dropped into the city at peak hour. I could see everything happening around me, but couldn’t get my head around any of it quickly enough to actually contribute. I took one shot that kept everyone guessing by not only missing the goal, but missing the entire court. My only score was one magnificent Falcon where a pass rocketed through my hands, into my face, and then out of bounds. I did however manage to keep the scorers busy by racking up three fouls, and one of my teammates suggested that maybe I head to the bench, given that I was now 2 fouls away from being kicked off the court for the rest of the game…and we were only quarter of the way through the first half.
This was not the glorious return I had hoped for.

After a few games

Thankfully after about 3 games I started to get into the rhythm of the game. I certainly wasn’t contributing a great deal, but at least fewer balls were smacking into my head.
But in terms of my role within the team, the damage was done. I was clearly the weakest link, and so I spent the most time on the bench. Plus our resident alpha-male had taken it upon himself to let me and the rest of the court know when he was displeased with my efforts…which was pretty regularly. In terms of putting myself in Josh’s shoes, I was pretty much putting on a masterclass…except that in his case,I had been the one telling him everything that he was doing wrong. This was meant to be a story of inspiration to him…not one of pathos to me!

The great irony was that we won our first 10 games in a row, but I was hating it. After 10 years of triathlon training, it was nice to do a sport that wasn’t; swimming by yourself, riding by yourself and running by yourself. But I certainly wasn’t making new friends, and I had forgotten how much I hate the macho bullshit that comes hand-in-hand with guys playing sport. Worst of all, I could see myself doing all of the things that I had been chastising Josh about; the apparent lack of passion, the reticence to be the ball carrier, the resignation to warming the bench.
So what should I do? Adult me knows that I usually learn the most about myself when I’m pushed out of my comfort zone…but adult me also already knows most of the things I’m learning about myself by playing basketball, and would be a lot happier without the weekly reminder.
But ‘parent me’ knows that ‘Hey kids, just remember to quit as soon as things get difficult!’ isn’t exactly a life-lesson I was hoping to instil in my children. So I don’t know if I’ll play again next season. Fortunately I’ll be away for the last 6 weeks of the season…so I’ve bought myself some thinking time!

Shooting your first wedding…part 2

About a year and a half ago I wrote down my tips on shooting your first wedding, fortunately they all hold up pretty well. But taking photography advice from someone who has just shot their first wedding is a bit like asking a learner driver for advice on how to drift simply because they have returned from their first drive around the block without crashing the car. But I’ve now shot 5 weddings…so you know…I’m now like a learner driver who has done a stint of driving home from a family holiday, you’d have to be an idiot to not listen to me!
To be honest, I know that I am not a wedding photographer…but I know that I am a photographer who can do weddings. It sounds like semantics, but a true wedding photographer can; work with a nightmare client, or get incredible poses from their subjects, or tell two people to kiss and then take a photo…without feeling like a pervert. They most likely have camera gear worth over $20K and an assistant with them on the day. Most of all, when someone asks them ‘Can you shoot my wedding?’ their first reaction is most likely ‘Yes, because that’s what I do.’ rather than ‘Oh shit! What if I stuff it up?!’
But if you have semi-decent people skills and you know you’re way around the basics of photography, then there’s no reason why you can’t shoot a wedding.
So without further ado, here is what a few additional weddings and 18 months of experience has taught me about wedding photography.

Don’t fear ‘auto’

Ok, I know that the photographers amongst you just spat your collective cornflakes onto the screen and yelled ‘Imposter. IMPOSTER!!’ But fear not, I’m not saying shoot the whole thing on auto, or that you shouldn’t learn how to use your manual settings. I’m just stating a simple truth; that your job on the day is to capture moments, and if stuffing around with your settings means that you miss one of those moments, then you’re not doing your job. I can assure you that no bride is going to be looking at the photos 5 years later and saying ‘…and this photo is my Dad, six seconds after he saw me walking down the aisle. The photographer didn’t capture the actual moment he saw me…but look at the way he nailed the exposure in the aftermath!”
In time you will be able to shoot everything on full manual and never miss a beat. But for now, just nail the composition and capture the moment.

These are the little moments you want to capture

Money

If this is your first wedding, then there’s a pretty good chance that you’re either family or friends of the bride and groom. Which can make working out what  you are going to charge a bit tricky. You will be tempted to quote low, or ‘just make sure you cover your costs and then anything else is a bonus’, or think ‘I really like taking photos anyway’ or ‘I’ll just do it for the experience and to work on my Flickr gallery’.
DON’T!
If you’ve got an hourly rate, then work out how many hours you will be shooting on the day, and how many hours you think you will be editing for. Bear in mind that you will be working longer hours than you have before on a photo job, you will most likely have to hire a second camera (and possibly some lenses) you take at least 700 photos, it will at least an hour just to load these photos from you camera onto your computer, it will take hours to work out which photos to keep and which to toss, you will need to have a second hard-drive that you can keep all of the files on for safety. In short, this is not like when you took some photos at Christmas and sent them around to everybody. This is a big undertaking. You need to take it seriously, and the bride and groom need to take you seriously, and a really good way to do this is to charge like someone who deserves to be there. That way there’s no confusion as to who is doing who a favour.
You’re a photographer, you’re good at what you do, and you’re charging accordingly.
Now just make sure you back it up with some great photos.

Give them what they want….not what you want

For the last two wedding I’ve shot I’ve taken about 750 photos. From this I’ve culled them down to about 150 – 170 photos, worked on these photos until they are about 90% done (straightening any crooked shots, doing basic colour grading our black and white conversions, trying to work out what the $*%& I thought I was trying to achieve with that shot) and then sending these through to bride and groom for them to select 60 – 70 that I will do the final editing on.

For all of the weddings that I’ve done there have been at least 5 photos that I thought were crackers that didn’t make the Bride and Groom’s top 70…and at least three that I didn’t think were particularly strong, that they have loved! What they see in the photo can be totally different to what you see in a photo. So even if you’re only 50/50 on a photo, make sure you at least give them the option to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’. And if they happen to say ‘no’ to something you thought was genius…then just suck it up…or show the photo to your photographer friends who will no doubt see how brilliantly you were channelling Cartier Bresson.

Don’t get 10 versions of the same shot

This is one area that I have had to really work on. It was depressing to sit down to edit the photos to see how many times I would take multiple of versions of what was essentially the same shot. So I now work really hard on making sure when I’ve got a shot that I like, I also try to shoot from high and low, or wide, or maybe with something in the foreground to frame the shot, believe me you’ll be thankful when you come to send the photos through to the bride and groom and you can see a real range of shots.
It will come as no surprise that my current obsession is using reflections.

The gear

‘Oh thank God’ I hear you say ‘Finally a photography blog that talks about gear! There just isn’t enough of that on the internet!’
Well I don’t really care for your tone….but I will endeavour to keep this as short as possible anyway.
Unless you have some sort of magical lens that can do wide-angle all the way through to telephoto in low light…You will need two camera bodies.  I’ve shot the last two weddings on two Fuji bodies, I’ve paired one with a wide-angle (10-24mm) and then put a 50-140mm on the other one for the ceremony, and then put a 56mm portrait lens for the photos of the bridal party. That way I always have the wide option available without having to go through the palaver of changing lenses.
If you’re going to have the two camera bodies, it’s really worth buying some sort of sling so that you can carry both of them and still have your hands free. I picked up one for $10 on Gumtree, so don’t feel you have to drop cash on a new one.
I’ve brought a tripod along to each wedding…and I’m yet to use it. This may be because there is only one of me and so I have to get all of the shots, which leaves less time for setting up tripods and locking off shots. I’m still too scared to forget about it altogether…but I’m also getting pretty sick of carting it around for no apparent reason.
One of my more self-absorbed purchases was my 56mm f1.2 lens. It seemed like a such a luxury when I bought it as 56mm was already covered on my 50-140mm and that was a f2.8 lens…so did I really need a f1.2 lens? The short answer is ‘YES!’ I have shot some of my favourite shots on this lens because of the low f-stop (and the way Fuji handles high ISO) I’ve been able to get some really good candid shots by shooting from a bit of distance and not needing a flash.

Sure it verges on stalking…but you often capture great moments.
Fuji X-t1 and X-t2, a winning combo

Not the gear

I 100% realise that this falls into the ‘no shit Sherlock’ category…but it’s also really easy to overlook the fact that how you are as a person on the day can be even more important than all the gear in the world.
If you can look like you belong there, and you can make the bride and groom feel that you are enjoying the day as much as they are…then it will show in the photos you take. If you look stressed or look like you’re out of your depth…you are unlikely to get people to relax in front of the camera. If you stuffed up the exposure on a shot, or if someone moved, it’s not the end of the world and no one else needs to know, so just take the shot again.
Learn a couple of poses that you can ask people to do. Just the simple act of telling people how to stand can be enough to let them know that you know what you’re doing.
The bride and groom have enough to worry about on the day…don’t add to that.

But most of all, remember that someone liked your work so much that they were willing to trust you with capturing one of the most important days of their like…and that’s pretty awesome!

The parable of Joshua and the serpent

Quite often a parable is an allegoric tale that teaches a lesson…whereas this is a strictly factual story from which I’ve learnt nothing, but I know how much people enjoy other people’s suffering. So here goes.

About a year ago, our eldest (Josh) saw that a few of his friends were busking and making some sweet coin. He decided that this was definitely for him, and asked if he could start busking on his ukulele on the corner of our street. Now at this stage he wasn’t really practising on his uke, and we don’t live on a busy street. So the bad parent in me saw this as an excellent opportunity to teach him a few valuable lessons around hard work and free-market capitalism. First of all, people will not simply throw money at you because you’re sitting there playing, you need to have practiced sufficiently so that you can play well, before people will part with their hard earned cash. Also, simply plonking yourself on a suburban street corner where there isn’t much foot traffic is foolhardy at best. You need to be somewhere where a lot of people will be passing by and will have cash on them (such as the Preston Market or one of the local supermarkets). Best of all, I got to teach him these harsh life lessons while appearing like the good guy! ‘Sure Josh, off you head to the corner…I fully endorse your endeavours…I certainly hope you don’t learn any harsh life lessons…good luck!’
You can imagine my bewildered surprise when he returned about 40 minutes later with just under $50. Apparently he had to come back because he was worried the wind was going to blow away all the notes…that’s right, people weren’t just giving him coins, they were giving him $5 notes…one person had even left a $20! $20!!!  Apparently even the police had pulled over, listened to him and then said they’d get the next shift to drop past and listen. What is wrong with these people?! Can’t they see I was trying to teach my son some life lessons?!

Sadly this did not prove to be a one-off…and over the course of about 6 months Josh continued to busk and continued to make money. He purchased a remote control car with the money he made. He started to donate money to charities that he liked. He appeared to have joined an international fraternity of buskers which required us to leave money with almost any busker we passed (he also mastered the art of never actually having any cash on him for these tributes to the busking Gods, and so I invariably ended up handing over some coins).
Then he decided he wanted to get a lizard as a pet. I wasn’t dead keen on this as I didn’t imagine a lizard being a great pet (due almost exclusively to the fact that they were not a dog…or if you got desperate, a cat). But he was dead keen. So eventually we went to the pet shop to see how much it would cost. Now, much the same as my previous attempt at parenting, my theory was the he would hear how much it costs to purchase the tank and the heating lamps and all of the other paraphernalia and would realise that this was a foolish idea. When the guy in the pet store explained that it was going to cost $1,400, I saw Josh’s face fall. Finally…a victory for lazy parenting!
On the trip home he said ‘$1,400! It will take me at least another two weeks to earn that!’ After nearly crashing the car I looked at him and said ‘Wait! How much money do you have?!’ ‘About $1,200’ he replied. This was roughly $1,150 more than I had in my bank account. ‘Oh’ I said ‘I don’t suppose I can borrow $50?’ ‘What?’ ‘Nothing…nothing *sigh*’

Next we discovered that he had to get a license in order to keep the lizard. Woo Hoo! Finally the slow moving wheels of a bureaucracy would be my ally. After all, I get frustrated with unnecessary paperwork and ridiculous wait-times…and I’m a 41 year old man who works for a Govt Department. Surely this will be enough to crush the hopes and dreams of an 11yo boy!
But no. He saved the money for the license, filled in the paperwork and sent off the application…and in what can only be described as ‘not nearly enough time’ he was sent his license. So now he had both the money and the paperwork for his lizard.
But the Gods weren’t finished with me yet. Our next door neighbours inherited a their son’s 15yo, 2.5m long, pet python for a month or so. We were invited over to have a look at it, and Josh was smitten. While I looked at it and thought about it eating Jon Voight in ‘Anaconda’…Josh genuinely loved handling the snake…and needless to say, now he wanted a snake.

For some reason the Sorting Hat chose Slytherin

When it comes to pets, I’m quite the traditionalist. 4 legs and fur = good, 2 legs and feathers = pretty good, more than 4 legs = avoid, less than two legs = you had better be a fish. I have grown up running with dogs down at the park, taking them for long, teenaged walks where I could discuss with them my current top 10 reasons girls didn’t like me and they would listen attentively and without judgement. I’ve grown up with cats who blithely tolerated my existence. So the appeal of a snake, or lizard as a pet was just beyond me. I remember with great fondness visiting a bachelor pad of very blokey guys who had a pet bird-eating spider. The clear reason for this, was to be able to say ‘We’ve got a pet bird-eating spider!’ But on the night that I visited, it was discovered that the lid to the enclosure had been left slightly ajar and the spider could no longer be seen inside. You know in the old cartoons how when an elephant sees a mouse it jumps up onto the nearest stool and looks terrified…well imagine that…but with 3 very large men instead of an elephant…and some couches that had clearly been found on a hard-rubbish night instead of a stool. It was highly entertaining…apart from the fact that a highly venomous spider was currently loose in the living room I was standing in. Thankfully, it turned out that while the lid to the cage had been left ajar, no one had actually checked the underside of the lid, which is where the spider was hanging out (no doubt enjoying the high drama playing out outside of the cage). This experience did not imbue me with a love of your more ‘exotic’ pets.
But if the 1980’s TV show ‘Different Strokes’ taught us anything, it’s that ‘What might be right for you, may not be right for some’. Just because I don’t like something, doesn’t mean everyone else has to agree (although, I stand by my complete lack of interest in Drake!) So maybe Josh feels the same about snakes as I do about dogs. But then what about the other kids in the family, how will they feel about having a snake in the house? These things live a sodding long-time. What happens if Josh loses interest in it after a couple of years? If we have frozen mice in our freezer to feed the snake…does that mean I have to be even more careful with what I take out and put in a smoothie for the kids?
So many questions!
I know that as a parent I’m meant to put my foot down on some things, but this pre-supposes that I know best…and I don’t know anything about owning a snake. I just have a whole lot of ideas and beliefs that all lead to me not wanting a snake in the house…I don’t have any factual justification, I just want them to go back where they came from…and isn’t that a line of reasoning that’s working out just super for Australia?
On top of that, as a parent, what do I want for my kids? I want them to follow their dreams. I want them to know the value of money. I want them to set goals and work hard to achieve them. I want them to learn negotiation skills. I want them to understand that sometimes you have to navigate your way through systems that you think are a waste of time. These are all really good life lessons, and Josh was doing all of them. Granted it’s also a good life-lesson to know that sometimes you can do everything right, and put all your effort into something, only to have some dick at the next level of management just say ‘no’ and ruin everything…but I’ll be damned if I’m going to be that dick!

So tacit approval was given to the purchase of the snake…with my usual stalling clauses about ‘Well I’m very busy this weekend’ and ‘We’ll have to see when they have one in stock’ and ‘Well you know you can’t buy a snake while the moon is in the third house of Aquarius…that’s just bad luck.’ etc, etc.
But then I made the rookie error of going away for the weekend to do the Peaks Classic bike ride. Upon my return I was greeted by a beaming 11yo who said he had a big surprise for me. I had a pretty good idea what it was going to be…but this was confirmed 3 seconds later when our 5yo said ‘Josh has got a snake!’ I could tell that Josh was excited about the snake because he didn’t maim Xavier for ruining his surprise.
So Josh lead me into his room where the snake enclosure was and moved the little shelter that the snake was residing under. Now bear in mind, I had done a 13 hour bike ride up and down mountains the day before, and had just driven for 4 hours to get home, and I was in a room with an 11yo whose excitement levels were currently at ‘teenage girl at a Beatle’s concert’. So it was already a bit weird. Then there was a scream from Josh…and I realised that I had never heard him scream before…this may have been because he had never been bitten by a snake before. No sooner had he screamed, than Josh realised that this was not the best way to introduce his new pet to someone who he knew wasn’t really all that keen on him having it in the first place, so he casually picked up the snake and showed it to me. He excitedly told me all about going to get the snake and what had happened so far, and that the snake was still a bit ‘cage aggressive’ and so he shouldn’t really have reached in so quickly, but hey isn’t it beautiful?! All the while I’m looking at the small trickle of blood from his finger and thinking ‘the child I’m talking to just got bitten by a $*#@ing snake!’
But I reminded myself that I had seen dogs snap at children who had startled them, and I’d seen cats bite and scratch people…I’d even been attacked by a Pelican at the zoo when I was a child…so let’s not be too hasty. Besides, now that he was handling the snake, it looked totally calm, and Josh was equally calm manoeuvring it around.
So I adjusted to my new role as ‘parent whose child has a pet snake’ and the next 36 hours were fine.

A boy and his snake

But on the Tuesday night at about 2am, the alarm attached to the heating lamp in the snake enclosure went off. This basically means that the heating lamp had turned off for some reason and the thermostat had realised that the temperature was dropping to a point that wasn’t good for cold-blooded animals. The alarm was going off about 2 meters away from Josh’s head…but he was sleeping through it. Katie on the other hand, can be awoken by a mouse farting in the next suburb and so could hear the alarm from three rooms away. So she went in to wake Josh and tell him to reset the alarm. From all reports a drowsy and grumpy Josh opened the enclosure and reset the alarm, then he and Katie went back to their respective beds. While Josh went straight back to sleep, Katie lay in bed thinking one of those ‘I wonder what this lump is?’ type thoughts that you only ever think as you’re trying to get to sleep and thought ‘I don’t remember seeing Josh close the door on the enclosure’. So she headed back into his room to discover that not only had Josh failed to close the door…but the snake was now missing!
Up until this point I was doing what I do best at 2am…sleeping. This came to the most abrupt of endings when Katie came in and said ‘The snake’s loose!’ As a general rule I can sleep through most things…but ‘The snake’s loose!’ turns out to be one of those terms that gets the body moving before the mind has even caught up. So about 5 seconds later I was in Josh’s room looking at a very empty snake enclosure…then at the myriad hiding spots in his room that a snake could take advantage of…then at the open door of his bedroom…then back at the empty snake enclosure. I felt like one of those people who tries to jump onto a running machine when it’s already running at a very fast rate, things were coming at me way too fast, there was no way I could get up to speed, and it was only a matter of time before things went horribly wrong.
Katie was by far the most awake person in the room, I was just trying desperately to catch up, and Josh was trying desperately to convey that this wasn’t really a big deal…and that if it was a big deal…then he certainly wasn’t responsible for it, and that above all, this was no reason to get rid of the snake.
Just as I started playing a mental game called ‘I wonder what sort of scream the person who finally finds this snake will make?’ Katie found the snake, and thankfully didn’t scream. It had slithered over to the window and was currently hiding in the window sill. Coincidentally, this window sill was also as physically close as the snake could get to the Rabbit and Guinea Pigs sleeping outside. Just a coincidence…a pure coincidence. Just in case I thought my night couldn’t get any worse, I was then given the job of helping Josh get the snake back into the enclosure. Which it turns out is a bit like trying to all of the toothpaste back into the tube once you’ve squeezed it all out…but in this case, the toothpaste can also bite you. Josh, who had been so full of confidence with the snake earlier in the day, was suddenly more hesitant and less self-assured, and suddenly every time the snake coiled back a bit, we were convinced it was going to bite. To prove this point, the snake coiled back, and then bit Josh. To his credit, Josh kept working the snake back into its enclosure. I think he knew that his future as a ‘snake owner’ was on very thin ice…and now was not the time to make a scene about the fact that he been bitten by his snake…again.

With the door to the enclosure now closed Katie and I returned to bed, where we were both thinking the same thing; ‘This is not tenable…how the hell do we tell Josh that he has to take the snake back?!’ We had let this situation evolve and now it had come perilously close to a ‘worst case scenario’. I’m a firm believer in kids being allowed to make a mistake once, so long as you don’t do it again. But thus far that had only been applied to trying to pour milk into a glass from a full 2 litre bottle and trying to put 2 DVDs into the iMac at the same time. Somehow this felt a bit more like one of those ‘you only get one chance’ type situations. This was not proving to be the parenting masterclass that we had hoped it would be.
Then Katie thought she heard someone sobbing. I headed into Josh’s room and there he was, fighting back tears. He told me that he had been desperately thinking of all the things he could say so that he could keep the snake, but at the same time, was really scared that the snake would get out again, and that if it attacked Holly’s rabbit or guinea pigs, he would never forgive himself. I had the crushing realisation that while he had been acting so mature throughout this process, and had carried himself with the standing of an adult…he was still just an 11 year old boy who had gone through a hell of a lot, and was now just scared. I asked if he’d like to come into our bed and he said ‘yes’. So I reached down to pick him up…then I realised that he is actually a freaking giant and that me trying to carry him was going to be like one of those videos where the spider has killed a mouse and is trying to carry it away. So we settled for us walking back to my bedroom with my arm around his shoulder.
We crawled into bed and the three of us (Katie, Josh and I) had a long chat about taking the snake back, and we spoke about how Katie and I had had second thoughts the whole way along.
I can remember growing up that I felt as though my parents knew everything and that they never made decisions that they regretted…so it felt a bit weird to be admitting to an 11yo that I was so unsure of my own decisions that I had let him bring a python into the house. But I also felt that between the two of us, he had been the most mature throughout this whole process…and so I probably owed him a bit of honesty.

So the next morning Josh and I moved the less than impressed snake from it’s large enclosure into a very small container so that we could drive it back to the pet store (every part of this process was exactly as much fun as it sounds). The pet store were very understanding (I imagine the puncture wounds on Josh’s hand helped a little), and pretty soon I was dropping him off at school and left to ponder what the hell I’m meant to take away from this whole ordeal.
On the one hand, if I’d just gone with my gut instinct from the start, none of this would have happened. But on the other hand, while it was traumatic, I think Josh will have learned so much more about himself and Katie and I than any lesson I could have constructed. He now knows that we will back his judgement, that we are fallible, and that sometimes you can work towards a goal only to discover it’s nothing like you thought it would be, and these are great lessons in life. But most of all I hope that as a family we have all learnt, that we really are ‘dog people’.

 

Turin Brakes

If serendipity is a marker of success, then Turin Brakes may be the greatest band I know. My journey with them began when I strolled into the record store near where I worked in South Melbourne and their album ‘The Optimist’ was playing. I quickly bought the CD and fell in love with it. For younger readers, a ‘record store’ was a shop devoted solely to selling music…it was a bit like Spotify, except you got to drink the music one album at a time…instead of wrapping your mouth around a musical fire-hose. A ‘CD’ was like a digital download…but without any of the convenience. CD’s did however have ‘liner notes’ that you could spend hours reading and dissecting because the artists didn’t have wikipedia pages where you could learn everything you ever needed to know about them. For older readers ‘hours’ were the measurement of time you used to have up your sleeve, before you had kids, to do things you actually wanted to do.
‘The Optimist’ was on pretty high rotation as Katie and I prepared to get married, and even played a part in our wedding. When Turin Brakes released ‘Ether Song’ the next year, they were pretty much locked in as one of our favourite bands. Whether we driving in the car or cooking a meal, Turin Brakes became our soundtrack. The only thing better than listening to the harmonies of Olly and Gale, was listening to the harmonies that Katie would come up with singing along with them. It was an absolute certainty that we would see them when they toured.


However, from memory, one of the two key members of the group had a serious fear of flying, and while they were regularly touring the UK and parts of Europe, the lengthy flight to Australia was proving a bridge too far. Then suddenly, in what was clearly divine providence a tour was announced that would coincide with our 1 year wedding anniversary! What joy!
But proving that the God’s can indeed be cruel, we realised that we would be in Tasmania when they were playing in Melbourne…and in what can only be described as a cruel blow, they would be in Tasmania when we were in Melbourne.
So we missed out on seeing them.

I bought their next album ‘Jackinabox’ in 2005 and it was a cracker…but in the liner notes there were photos that were clearly taken down on the St. Kilda foreshore, and it served as a subtle reminder that they had been in Melbourne…and I hadn’t seen them.

By 2007 we had a 1yo child and I had started a slow decline into musical irrelevance. I simply no longer had the money or the time to stay on top of new music. I was also riding to and from work everyday and so was no longer listening to the radio to hear new songs…besides, to paraphrase Homer Simpson ‘Why do we need new music? Everyone knows it reached perfection in 2001!’

But then I heard Fee B Squared on the RRR-FM Breakfasters announce that she had a new track by a band called Turin Brakes and played ‘Stalker’. The song still had the beautiful harmonies…but also had a sense of self-assurance and urgency. My love for the band was reignited by the simple good fortune of listening to the radio at the right time. Best of all, I was able to walk into a JB HiFi and buy a CD that didn’t have dust on it!


The album was great, but over the next 10 years (and two further children) I well and truly lost touch with the band. I briefly reacquainted myself with them when I stumbled across Olly talking to Phillip Bloom a photographer/videographer whose work I really like, and who was unaware that he was in a video battle with Zack Arias to see if I would go with Canon or Fuji for my big camera purchase.
Then, one afternoon some friends came over and on the spur of the moment we decided to get some pizzas. I drove to collect them, and on the way home I happened to be listening to the radio when an ad for the Northcote Social Club came on, and among the list of bands they had coming soon, was Turin Brakes! Now the odds of me happening to be in the car, with the radio on instead of a podcast, and of the radio being on PBS-FM when the ad came on, and of them having Turin Brakes on the list of upcoming artists seemed pretty astronomical. In fact part of me was pretty sure that there was a hot new band called ‘Curing Snakes’ and I had simply misheard the ad. Nonetheless, when I got home I jumped on my phone and checked the Northcote Social Club website, and sure enough, Turin Brakes were coming to Melbourne, and playing a venue less than 3kms from my house! Needless to say, tickets were purchased quick smart.

Taking photos at the gig

So that’s where the story could have ended. ‘Boy finds band, boy loses band, boy finds band again.’ But as the gig drew closer, I realised that it would be an awesome opportunity to take some photos of the band at the show. I’d recently taken some photos next door at the 303 Bar and Danny Ross was happy with those shots, so I knew I could do it…I just had to work out how.
So I sent the Northcote Social Club an email explaining that I’d like to take some photos at the gig, and that I already had a ticket, so it wasn’t going to cost them anything. They explained that I would need to get a press pass from the company organising the tour (Bluesfest touring), and at this point I started to wonder if it was worth trying to get a press-pass just so that I could take some photos of a band that I liked. Also, Turin Brakes have a song called ‘Stalker’…and I was starting to wonder how ‘some guy says he’s a big fan and wants to come and take photos of you’ was going to sound.


But I also realised that a large part of my reticence was having to step out of my comfort zone, and while that is never pleasant,  it’s usually where I learn the most. Plus, it really was a win-win. If the photos were good then the touring company got some free photos, and I got the chance to take some photos of a band I love that I could keep for the next 15 years until they toured again! So I sent the email, and a few emails later, I got the press pass.

I’d only ever shot at gigs where the band had invited me, so one of the first things I learned was that the photographers only get to shoot for the first three songs. I don’t know if this is so that the photographers don’t get to stay for a free show…but it does kinda suck, as bands rarely hit their straps until after the first three songs. Plus, it doesn’t give you a whole lot of time to work out which lenses and which settings work.


I decided I was going to rely pretty heavily on the 56mm as it handles the low-light so well…and is just a beautiful lens to work with. Plus I would take the 10-24mm so that I could at least get a few wide-angle shots that had the whole band.

I got the venue just before the support act started so that I could chat to the bar manager and get the lay of the land. The rules were pretty simple; First 3 songs, No flash, no backstage. I asked if seeing as I had a ticket if I could keep shooting…he said ‘no, that was the agreement they had with the touring company’. So I headed in to watch the support act, have a look at the lighting and try desperately to work out what was going to work in terms of settings.

Lee Rosser

In the interests of not making the non-photographers read this want to gouge their eyes out by banging on about the technical aspects of the photos, I will just say that the 56mm was awesome, and that the X-t1 is a genuine joy to shoot with. Beyond that, if you have any questions, hit me up in the comments and we’ll crap on about f-stops and shutter speeds until our virginity grows back.

The wash-up

  • I shot just under 200 photos in the three songs with Turin Brakes and 3 songs with the support act (Lee Rosser), from this I got about 30 photos I was happy enough to keep and 12 photos I was happy enough to share.
  • walking into that environment and acting like you belong makes a big difference.
  • Drummers really do sit too far back for me to get a decent shot
  • There are things that happen during songs after your 3 song limit that would make amazing photos…and you just have to look at them, acknowledge that they would have made a great photo, and die a little bit inside
  • Getting to take photos of one of your favourite bands, and then stay up the front for the rest of the gig is pretty much a dream. Sure they didn’t stop halfway through a song and say ‘Wait, is that a Fuji camera? We love those. You should totally come backstage after the show, take moody portraits of us, then spend hours dissecting our lyrics before we all decide to appear on your podcast’…but you know…but it was still pretty awesome!
  • Push yourself out of your comfort zone and take a chance!
  • Turin Brakes were worth the 15 year wait.

 

Peaks Challenge 2017

As discussed in my previous blog, I really hadn’t done enough training for the Peak’s Challenge Falls Creek (aka ‘the 3 Peaks’). But was I going to let a woefully inadequate training load stop me from attempting this? Hell no! After all, how bad can 13 hours on a bike be?
Well…I think that when ‘How bad can 13 hours on the bike be?’ is a question you are legitimately asking yourself…then perhaps your state of mind isn’t all that flash to start with, and perhaps it would be a good time to start questioning the decisions you’re making. Of course, I know this in hindsight…because I now know exactly how bad 13 hours on the bike can be. But I also know just how much of a difference the people you meet along the way can make. So without further ado, here is my race report for the Peak’s Challenge 2017

Checking in the day before

A bit of background

Just in case you haven’t read the previous blog, here’s the background:

  • The Peak’s Challenge is a 235km bike ride through the mountains in the Victorian Alps
  • I signed up for this last year as the final part of deal with my coach and friend Craig Percival. He was going to coach me for the ride, but tragically passed away in December of last year
  • I have done a lot of training on an indoor trainer…but not nearly enough out in the real world
  • My ride plan is to avoid getting caught up in groups that are riding too fast for me, working with people when I can so that I don’t exhaust myself riding solo…and then hope like hell that my legs will get me up that final climb.
  • I ultimately just want to finish the ride, but if I can finish inside 13 hours, then I am deemed an ‘official finisher’.

Falls Creek to Harrietville

This was actually pretty cruisey. I ticked off one of my goals by not crashing on either the descent from Falls Creek to Mt. Beauty, or from Tawonga Gap to German Town (nothing says success quite like binning it 20mins into a 13 hour ride!) A small part of this success my have come from me noticing that I had put my front wheel on the wrong way round and having to change it about 2 minutes before the start.

Waiting to start…in about 5 mins I would realise that I had my front wheel on the wrong way around…je suis une genius.

Towards the end of the descent from Towanga I got into a group of 5 who were setting a pretty good pace. As we hit German Town, they wound up the pace a bit and suddenly I was sitting just outside of comfort zone. I sat with them for about 5kms, but knew that this was exactly the mistake I had made so many times before…sticking with a group, but burning more energy that I could afford given there was over 180kms and two mountains to go. I also knew that I had been sitting on the wheels of the other 4 guys for the duration, and that slipping off the back without pulling a turn would be pretty poor form. So I rolled to the front and did about 1.5kms. If sitting in the group was on the limit of what I could sustain, then sitting out the front in whatever wind there was, was definitely beyond what I should have been doing. But up ahead I could see a larger group that were clearly travelling slower. So I decided to hold on with the group I was with, in the hope that we would catch the next group. We did, and thankfully they were sitting at a pace that let me recover all the way into Harrietville.
I pulled into Harrietville, had something to eat and drink, and then headed back out onto the road, all within the time limit I would need to adhere to if I wanted to finish in 13 hours

Harrietville – Dinner Plain

Pretty much straight out of Harrietville we hit Mount Hotham, and the climbing began in earnest. I’ve never climbed Mt Hotham before, and all I’ll say is it’s about 20kms of tolerable climbing…and then about 10kms of ‘when the hell does this finish?!’ Every time I thought the summit would be just around the corner…it wasn’t…and in its place was a snaking line of cyclist disappearing into the distance.


But once I hit the summit I began the rolling descent to Dinner Plain. As I was to find out over the rest of the day, a rolling descent means that there is just enough time spent going downhill to technically be getting closer to sea level, but there still feels like there is a lot of going uphill as well. I pulled into the lunch stop about 7 minutes down on where I needed to be, but I figured if I could just keep my lunch stop to about 10 minutes, then I would still be back on the road in time to achieve the 13 hour mark.

Dinner Plain – Omeo

This was tough. We had a bit of tailwind, which was really nice, but it was hot. I started to get ‘hot spots’ on my left foot, and so loosened my shoe as much as I could. But it was the element of the unknown that was the hardest to deal with. When I was climbing Mt. Hotham, even though I didn’t know the climb, I knew I would be climbing, and so I was resigned to that, with any downhill sections a bonus. But for this part of the I just didn’t know what was coming, and every small hill felt like a slap in the face.
Then as we made the final turn into Omeo there was a literal slap in the face, with the change in direction turning a crosswind/tailwind into a headwind. I pulled into Omeo knowing that I had lost time, but figured if I could just get some food into me and have a quick rest, then I would be able to tackle the 40kms to Angler’s Rest. But no sooner had I filled up my drink bottle, than the guys manning the aid station said ‘You’ve got another 10 mins’ and then we close. On cue the Lanterne-Rouge (the last two riders) arrived, and I suddenly realised how close I was to having to retire from the ride (if you fall behind the Lanterne-Rouge riders then you have to retire).
So I hastily jumped back on the bike, and headed off into the headwind and unknown.

Omeo – Angler’s Rest

Shit got real. The wind was hot and in your face. The road was unrelenting, and my confidence was shot knowing how close I was to the cut-off. I found two other guys who were riding a bit faster than I was and asked if they wanted to roll some turns. They were up for it and so we just rotated turns, with one guy sitting in the wind, while the other two tucked in behind him. I know that I wasn’t really pulling my weight, and so when they started to drop me I just fell back. They looked back at one stage and started to slow down, but I waved them on. I was done. I knew that there was no way I was going to do 13 hours…and in reality, there was no way I was going make it to the climb up Falls Creek. Which actually really pissed me off, because I knew that I could make up some time on that final climb. I’m not a strong rider, but I’m a pretty good climber. Now I wasn’t even going to pit myself against the climb because I wasn’t going to make the cutoff at Angler’s Rest.

It’s a funny thing with these sorts of events. Ultimately I do them because I want to see how I respond to that moment of absolute despondence. When I think I can’t go on because it’s all too hard. In that moment of darkness, how will I respond? But the simple truth is, it’s not a single moment. It’s a series of moments. In this case it was about and hour and a half of moments where I just had to keep pedalling. I knew that I was cooked. But there had been 3 ambulances go past on this section of road alone, so I was still having a better day than some others. I decided that I wasn’t going to retire from the race until I was asked to. So I would ride on for as long as I could. Not exactly a gallant defeat…but perhaps a less ignominious one.
I will admit that I spent a lot time pondering what Craig would have said if I had failed to finish the ride. I concluded that he would have tolerated it, provided I had left nothing in the tank. Even though I was spent, I knew I was still holding a tiny bit in reserve to get me up that final climb. So when the Lanterne-Rouge riders swept past with about 8 riders sitting with them and they said ‘Jump on’, I knew that I had to go. I had been trundling along at about 16km/h and they were sitting on closer to 25km/h, but I knew that if there was a time to burn my matches…this was it. I sat with them for the last 5kms into Angler’s Rest, and arrived with enough time to eat my last sandwich (home made peanut-butter with a lolly-snake inside…adversity is indeed the mother of invention).
One thing that had kept me going for the last couple of hours was the promise of a can of Coke at Angler’s Rest. No less than 4 people had told me how amazing this hit of sugar and caffeine was. Sadly the mythical ‘best can of Coke of my life’ didn’t happen because they had sold out…so I had to settle for the ‘best can of Lift of my life’.
I heard the announcement that we had 5 minutes to leave Angler’s Rest and then 30 mins to ride 10kms to WTF Corner (the start of the climb to Falls Creek). That sounded eminently doable, and so I set off again.

WTF Corner to Trapyard Gap

I made the time cutoff for WTF and started the climb. If you haven’t seen the first part of the climb of the back of Falls Creek, it is insane. It kicks off insanely steep…and then pretty much holds that for about 12kms. I was only about 400m into the climb when I started seeing people walking. After about 2kms the number of people walking far outnumbered the people riding and there were an increasing number of people sitting by the side of the road either swearing at their cramping legs or with their head in their hands. By the time I got 10kms into the climb it was like a scene from a war movie. There were about 6 ambulances that went past, sag wagons full of dejected looking people rolled through, bikes were left by the side of the road, those who were still walking had 100 Mile stares, and the people sitting by the side of road looked shattered.


I knew I was making good time and that I was now a really good chance to make it in before the Lanterne-Rouge…and maybe even within the 13 hour time limit. I had promised myself that I wouldn’t stop until I got to Trapyard Gap. I wasn’t riding much quicker than walking pace…but there was principle at stake! Then a marshall stopped by the side of the road and offered me a can of Coke. There was a moment of hesitation…but I quickly dismounted and drank what was indeed ‘the best can of Coke of my life’. Then rode on to Trapyard Gap.

Trapyard Gap – Falls Creek

In a day of swinging momentum, I felt the momentum swing back my way. We had 23kms to go, 10kms of which were climbing, then the remainder was ‘rolling’ to the finish…and we had an hour and half to get it done to make the 13 hour official finish time. This was actually doable.
The Lanterne-Rouge riders rolled in and I had a quick chat. My mate Bill who was one of the Lanterne-Rouge riders told me to put my vest on as it would get pretty cold from here on in. As someone who had spent the last 6 hours suffering in the heat, I found that hard to believe…but I put it on anyway and then rolled out for the last part of the day.

If I reflect on the day I can see that the best parts of the day were defined by the groups I was with; the group from German Town to Harrietville, the two other guys I rode with for about 15kms out of Omeo, the Lantern-Rouge riders that I held onto for dear life into Angler’s Rest. The ability to have a conversation offers a respite from the relentless drudgery of following a wheel or turning over the pedals. It also serves to remind you that other people are suffering just as badly as you are.
Beginning the climb out of Trapyard Gap was pretty funny. On any other day, we would have been flying up this climb, but everyone had locked into their own rhythm and was pacing themselves up the hill. I could see how slowly I was going (about 10km/h) and each time I looked up I expected to see the other riders disappearing into the distance…but instead we all just travelled at the same pace. Sometimes you would have a burst of energy for 15mins and ride past some people, but then you’d fall back, and some of them would ride past you. But whereas for the first 12 hours the other riders had been either a wheel to jump on, or someone who was passing you, or someone for you to pass…once we got to the rolling section at the top of the climb, everyone banded together. We had taken the worst of it, and now we were desperate to finish as a diaspora of stragglers.
As the sun set it really was an amazing sight. The skies were grey in front of us, save for the burning orange on the horizon, the skies behind us were clear and dissolved from pinks to mauves and purples, and on the ridges you could see the silhouettes of riders. It’s a sign of just how tired I was that the thought of stopping to take a photo was not even entertained. Then the sun set, the sleet started and the landscape started to look like ‘The Upside Down’ from ‘Stranger Things’. Everything was muted greys and shadows, with the bike lights picking up the highlights of the raindrops. As I descended briefly and turned back into the wind, I checked my watch, it was nearly too dark to see, but I made out that I had about 5kms to go, and about 12mins to do it in if I wanted to make the 13 hour cutoff. I did some quick mental arithmetic and realised…that I was in no state for mental arithmetic. In short, I needed to average over 20km/h over the last 5 kms, and I had no idea how many hills were left, and I was riding into a headwind, and within a few minutes it would be too dark for me to see either my watch or bike computer. Deep down I knew this wasn’t possible, so I decided to just go flat out for the last 5kms and at least beat the Lanterne-Rouge riders home.
Having spent the first part of the day conserving energy for the inevitable final climb, and then spent 2 hours between Omeo and WTF Corner riding well out of my comfort zone just to avoid missing the cutoff times, it was strangely liberating to just go flat out and push myself, knowing that no matter what happened, I was going to finish the 3-Peaks.
I don’t want to get too prosaic, but for that last 5kms, even though I was riding into the wind, I felt like I was riding down hill. Everything felt fluid and strong, and I can only assume that a strong Tasmanian was pushing me along, and in the dark I gave a quick word of thanks to Craig Percival.
One more quick climb, and a sketchy descent in the dark and wet, then suddenly I was in the carpark of Falls Creek. Then there were people, and lights and noise, and the finishing chute. Then it was done. It was over. I pressed ‘stop’ on my watch and looked down to see how close I had come to 13 hours, my watch read ’12:58:49′! I’d snuck under the 13-hour time limit by just over a minute! Did this make up for the previous 13 hours of mental suffering and physical exhaustion? Noooooo, No, no, no, no, no!


No.
But I will say that the 10 minutes I spent stumbling around the finish area talking to fellow finishers (including Jean-Pierre who had been my companion from Trapyard Gap, and one of the guys who I had ridden from Omeo with) was among the best feelings I’ve had in my life.
So unlike the Ironman where I walked away swearing ‘I would never do that again’, I reckon I would like to do this again so that I could at least know what to expect with each section of the ride…but next time I’ll train better…next time I’ll train better.
Last but not least, a big thanks to Katie and the kids for giving me a weekend off to see what was apparently some beautiful countryside, thanks to Ailie, Peter, Troy and Aaron for the support along the way, thanks to the Sufferfest for the training videos, thanks to the volunteers who were so awesome over the whole 13 hours, thanks to Bicycle Network for running such a great event, thanks to Bill and Chris the Lanterne-Rouge riders for keeping me in the hunt, and of course thanks to Craig Percival for the inspiration to do the ride…and for the push for the last 5kms, I couldn’t have done it without you.

To the winners go the spoils…and by ‘winners’ I mean people who have been riding for 13 hours…and by ‘spoils’ I mean not having to do that anymore.