31 Dec 2017
Last year ended with a hike up to the Bendora arboretum in the Brindabella mountains that frame Canberra.
As the sun went down, the excursion was a relatively cool and calm way to see out a 2016 that had a few rough edges. This year I’m pleased to say has been smoother sailing.
Our major improvement to our home this year was to replace all our aged windows and draughty sliding doors with new double glazed windows. We paid a lot for high quality German engineered doors and windows which are extremely solid and of high quality. Of course, given our location the installation was a challenge, and required the destruction of parts of our garden to get a machine in to lift and move the windows. Unfortunately due to a manufacturing error - we had to wait until September to have the final sliding door fitted and the installation complete.
This year I joined the Executive Committee that represents the Owners Corporation for Wybalena Grove. This has been a good experience so far, building networks with members and residents of the Grove, dealing with a wide range of issues coming up for discussion and decisions (including some curly situations that threaten legal action) and the perenial ‘difficult’ residents to manage.
We sadly bid farewell to our little compnion Roger in November. He arrived in our life about 12 years ago as a rescue dog from the pound, and lived to a good old age of about 17. For the past couple of years the old man had got increasingly frail and unaware of his surroundings. He was costing us a fortune in absorbent towel, not to mention the disturbed nights sleep. The decision came quickly after he turned off his food and was ill over a weekend. On that Monday afternoon we took him in for his final vet visit, and a few days later had a well sealed box of his cremated remains. Farewell Roger and thanks for being part of our family.
I set myself a goal of increasing my yearly mileage from just over 2000km in 2016 to over 2500 this year. That was going to require a pretty consistant 50+ km / week. As you can see below I’ve hit my target with a very consistant year.
I bought 3 shoes this year*, and with each pair averaging about 1000km before they are retired, my current stock on rotation is looking pretty good:
- Inov-8 Trailroc 285* (238.0 km)
- Inov-8 Trailroc 245 (1,157.4 km)
- Inov-8 Trailroc 245 #2 (635.5 km)
- Pearl Izumi N1 trail v2 (708.4 km)
- La Sportiva Bushido (880.3 km)
- La Sportiva Arkasha* (496.7 km)
- La Sportiva Mutant* (161.4 km0
The one glitch to my otherwise injury free year occured a few weeks ago when I tripped onto a sharp pointed rock that punctured my knee. No lasting injury - but with a lot of bruising and a single stitch on my kneecap it laid me low for a good few weeks.
I only entered two big events this year. I would have liked to have capped off the year with another Deep Space Mt marathon run - but my bruised knee ruled that out. What I lacked in quantity however I sure made up for in quality - with two superb runs in amazing locations.
Mt Solitary 45k had a false start this year - with the remains of the tropical cyclone leaving too much rain and danger across NSW. The race was rescheduled for July and David and I returned to the Blue Mountains to run it out. You can read my race report here.
The highlight of the year however would have to be the multi-day stage race, Run Larapinta. This was 130km over 4 days across the spectacular Larapinta trail in the West McDonald ranges outside of Alice Springs. Travelling on my own, and exploring central Australia was a real treat. Unfortunately having unseasonably-searing-heat in late August, with averages of 31 degrees, made it a far bigger challenge - and one that I’m keen to return to. My race report for Run Larapinta is here.
Next year I have a goal to run more +50k runs, starting with the 65K Razorback run in mid March, and all being well followed by UTA100 in May! As always the main aim is to maintain consistancy and the pleasure of running, exploring new places with great views, and meeting great people out on the trails.
Denise and I took the opportunity in March to sneak away for a short city break to Singapore. It was my first time over there, and we stayed in the beautiful Hotel Fort Canning nestled amongst the green and relative cool Fort Canning park. This was a lovely break with some time spent running, relaxing with a good book by the pool and heading out for short excursions in the heat. Fortuitously our mate from Melbourne, Sandy, was visiting friends in Singapore over the same period - which meant we all headed out to the local coctail bars and restaurants to catch up.
This year my work sent me to a few peer National Statistical Organisations to review their IT solutions that support the Census in their country. This meant I had some time in Washington DC, followed by Ottowa Canada, then Titchfield in the UK. Being in late July the days were long and the weather pretty good - until the UK at least! In late November myself and my boss travelled to Christchurch and Wellington in New Zealand to review the Stats NZ preparations for their Census in March.
In mid-September Denise’ sister Nicola travelled out from the UK to visit. She wanted to see Quokka’s so we quickly obliged
We then spent the next two weeks road-tripping north up as far north as Shark Bay and Hammelin Pools, before returning south down to the Stirling and Porongurup ranges, and via Margaret River back up to Perth. A really good mix of scenery, food, wine and company.
This year we also got in a few trips up to the Tate Lodge in Guthega and down to our friends lovely holiday home in Lilli Pilli on the beautiful south coast.
A steady stream of good books this year - including finally reading War and Peace on my kindle about a decade after receiving a hard copy version.
I continued to refine my all-grain BiaB setup this year - purchasing a nice Ss brew kettle, a Ph meter and a 5l demijohn.
I captured my brewing setup here
This year I brewed the following batches:
- Aus BitsaPride
- Tiny Bottom Pale Ale (take 2)
- Who’s your daddy porter
- English Bitter - I’m not bitter I’m thirsty
- Tiny bottom my arse
- Make it up as you go Red IPA
- nearly SMASH
- Blueberry Berliner Weiss
- Gammy Knee Pale Ale
I also developed a taste for the sour/funky beer styles. These styles can be challenging to create - often taking over a year to develop and requiring some advanced methods to blend and balance the flavours. I brewed my first batch using the simpler, kettle souring method - which used a lactobaccilus starter from natural yoghurt to innoculate the wort and sour it within 48 hours. Whilst not to everyone’s taste - this light beer is fresh and carries a nice tartness and blueberry hue and has been brilliant over summer. More sour beers to be created in my home brewery soon.
Back in April I rebuilt this website using GitHub hosted pages, and the static site generator Jekyll. So much simpler than a traditional wCMS for such a simple purpose. I wanted to use this as the impetus to blog more, and whilst not proficient I certainly have posted more this year than any other.
We’ve now effectively ditched the old home theatre PC setup in favour of a single Chromecast. So much simpler to stream everything, including ‘live’ TV (when we occassionaly watch it). Works a treat using any iDevice or computer to cast to the TV. We continue to use NordVPN for security and cough geo-blocking reasons, and it continues to work pretty well despite Netflix playing whack-a-mole with the IP ranges they use every now and again.
I found myself subject to the recent Apple CPU throttling on my old iPhone 6plus which was starting to drive me nuts. I also cracked my phone screen during our WA holiday. It was only when the screen went on the fritz properly and wouldn’t work at all that I decided to fork out for the new iPhone X. Again another well engineered phone, brilliant camera and screen, and the face ID works really well.
To close out the year - a new Suunto sports watch that I’d been eyeing off showed up online for 40% off. Denise kindly offered to buy it for my Xmas present. So hopefully next week I’ll have the Suunto Spartan with wrist HR monitor on my arm during all my runs.
So that was a flavour of 2017. Denise and I feel a bit more like free-agents despite frequently seeing shadows of Roger. We think 2018 will involve a few small holidays, starting with a trip back to the UK to see the Maddens. However 2019 is shaping up as a year of travel and adventures as we think we might avail ourselves of our long service leave and spend some time OS.
I don’t make new years resolutions - but in 2018 I hope to run over 3000km including my first 100km ultra run.
Here’s some other awesome things I discovered in 2017:
16 Aug 2017
Back on new years day - when work was still nuts - I committed to Run Larapinta. A four day stage race out across the Larapinta trail in outback central Australia. The escape and challenge was something to look forward to.
I decided to get into Alice Springs a day early so as to not be rushed and have a bit of time to check out the town. The first afternoon I grabbed some supplies from the supermarket and shuddered at the hot 27 degree heat and forecast 30 degree race days. This was going to hurt as I’ve always run hot and needed some cooler air to stop me forming into a hot dripping mess above a massive puddle. That night I checked out the recommended Monty’s which indeed was a nice venue - and early the next day wandered out to the nicer cafés in the Todd mall. I’d been told if I had time to do one thing in Alice to head to the Desert Park - which I did and was indeed a great few hours to learn about the flora and fauna in central australia and view an impressive native bird show.
Friday afternoon was registration and briefing time - before a 5:30 dusk run around the trails behind Alice Sprngs. The organisers quite rightly impressed the need to manage yourself and forget about your time for the next few days. It was an environment where you would be asked to take a concrete pill. Bail out points were few and far between - so being highly reslient, self supporting and able to self rescue yourself out of a bad situation was crucial. As reality set in we all sat out our nerves and made our way to the late afternoon start line for day 1.
Day 1 - 19km from Alice Springs to the Old Telegraph Station
Starting on a sandy river bed - we followed a dusty fire trail behind the suburbs of Alice for a few k’s before turning off into the flowing single trail used by the moutain bikers around Alice. With beautifully framed ranges, the setting sun and fresh legs it was a delightful spin. Before long I was tucked behind a group not far off the lead, and enjoying the evening so much I decided to keep the tempo pace for the night. It was a fast pace but not uncomfortable - and as always I was spurred on by the fading light and fun trails.
When the light was so low I was at risk of triping - I stopped to strap on my Ayups and used the opportunity for a quick photo opportunity
As I slung my pack back on out flew my phone and smashed it’s screen on the ground. Ooops.
Back cruising I rejoined the gang I’d been running with, a couple of mates - Nathan and Shagger - from Portsea in southern Victoria. It wasn’t long and we were intermingled with the Namitjera (short course) stage runners. Most were pretty aware and quickly parted to allow us to bomb on through - others needed a friendly “passing” call, and a few were oblivious as we kept the buners on and flew past.
Before too long we were down to the Telegraph Station with cowbells, cheering and a finishing chute. Home in 6th place, and a snappy 5:07/k pace - fully aware this would not last through the next few days.
Day 2 - 41km from Simpsons Gap to Standley Chasm
In the pre-dawn chill we rolled out of Alice Springs for the start of a big day 2. It was forecast to be unseasonaly hot - 30 degrees. Since there was only two aid stations (at 16k and at 28k) and as the final stretch from 28k was hard the organisers had set expectations that all runners had to leave that second aid station with a minimum of 3L of water. This seemed at the time like it was being overly cautious - 3L to run out the final 11ks - how naive many of us were!
The start line was in front of Simpsons Gap. It was beautful albeit freezing at dawn - with a huddled crew of about 40-50 runners eager to have our first big day out - and start warming up. From the start an easy pace was set and there was some beautiful undulating single track as we moved out along the trail. I soon again picked my natural spot tucked in behind Nathan and Shagger from day 1 and Aaron. Aaron a young bloke who hadn’t run before starting his adventure - was out raising money and awareness for mental health. Travelling around outback Australia solo and running 18 marathons in 8 months. He’d toed the line at the Townsville marathon only the weekend previous and after four hard days and two marathons in the Malbunka couse of the Run Larapinta race he was due to back up with the Alice Springs marathon the next weekend! A humble and natural runner - and one of the many quiet legends you meet out on the trails.
The day started heating up soon after the sun was out - and by the first checkpoint at the 18k mark it was already feeling pretty warm. I was still feeling great - so grabbed a water top up and quickly pressed on to the 28k station. By about 25k mark it was getting hot and the legs were starting to feel a bit heavy, then we turned the corner to the ‘Fishing Hole’ which was nothing but a dry river bed of sand and stones that needed to be walked through. The 28k station was a few ks up the river bed - and just when it was in view we had a pinchy climb up over and down a ridge to get to it. By now it was hot!
I took my time at the aid station - some water on the head, some refills and making sure I had 3 litres, and a quick nigari roll with soy sauce that hit the spot. Just as I was leaving I saw some folks I’d droped at the 16k station - so pressed on. 13k to go - this shouldn’t be too bad - oh how wrong was!
The climb started soon after, but was mostly gently for a few kilometers. Then we started the real climb. It was here that I started to see others reel me in - first Nathan and Shagger were past. Then came a few more. By this stage I was feeling it - a power hike up with this steepness and the heat was getting too much and I had to take a few pit stops to bring the heartrate back down. There was a breeze flowing as we rose higher which was delightful and helped contain the body temperature somewhat.
The climb up the ridge was only a few km’s but took me over an hour! For me a power hike should be 12-15 km/hour but up here I was taking over 30 minutes per hour - and I’d realised now the day was baking hot that the aim was to complete and not to kill myself. Once finally over the peak the top of the ridge was highly technical which meant little running was possible. The bit that was runnable I kicked a stone that didn’t move and couldn’t correct myself soon enough, biting the dust hard. After the quick check to find what was injured and how bad - I saw it was mostly my pride and some decent skin off my elbow and hand. Luckily I could still run - I just had to work out how to get up again without cramping. Something that was becoming increasingly present - but mostly manageable. I rolled up - and found a million spinifex grass needless poking out of my skin, clothes and pack. It took a good 20 minutes to pick them all out - and in doing so I realised a few had pierced my 2L Platypus bladder and my 500ml body bottle. Fortunately they were not leaking and only did so if squeezed. That could have been a lot worse.
As I came down off the ridge the descent was into a beautiful green gully with a nice variety of trees and plants - and best of all some shade and relative cool. It was at this stage the trail started to get a bit indistinct and you had to keep your wits to ensure you stayed on the trail. I took the opportunity to take a 5 minute rest in the shade and keep hydrating. Something like 5ks to go - again thinking that’s a doddle to walk out - but again not recognising the fun the trail had yet in store.
Soon after there was an indistinct and unmarked junction. The ‘natural’ direction straight on led to a river bank.. I stayed straight for about 10 metres, but my watch and the map I’d just re-read when taking a break indicated a right direction was required. I corrected one runner who was pretty sure I was on the right path to go right, and then 3 more who came up to the junction. Later that night I found out that a number of runners made the same mistake a few of us almost did. Some carrying on for another hour and half to the same junction marking the split between the high pass we’d just gone over and the short pass they’d incorrectly taken. This mistake turning a 41k epic day into a 50k monster.
From this turning point there was some climbing up over boulders and ledges to rise up and out of the river bed, crest another small ridge, and descend into what looked like the final 1 or 2 kms out through a gorge in the mountain lines. Unfortunately the course kept on giving and as myself and another runner made our way up another dry river bed we saw the blue triangle signs that mark the Larapinta trail pointing straight up a steep face. I think every competitor cursed out loud as another bit of their soul got wrenched out of their spent bodies. Up we went - again slowly hiking and resting.
Near the top - we saw some of the organisers on their way down. They had some water to help out some competitors who it was believed were off course and out of water. At this stage I was feeling pretty rotten - my stomach which had only been a bit nauseous during the later stages of the run (something not too uncommon in myself and others) decided to pull up stumps. I vommitted a few times - collected myself in the shade - and committed to getting the last km done.
There was one more steep ridge to climb then downhill to home. I gingerly and slowly made the final climb, and equally gingerly the steps down. Then I hit a managed trail, and a gentle downward incline - where I could slowly run out the last 500 metres to the finish. At the end I felt pretty weak but was delighted to have just got out of the heat and the generally un-runable final 11kms. What and epic day out.
Later that afternoon and evening, as my skin crawled, my head ran a constant headache and I couldn’t keep any food or fluids down - I realised that the heat on the course had taken a proper toll on me. I definately had mild heatstroke - and as I lay miserable in bed at 8pm was pretty sure depending on how I felt in the morning - it was either the short course or nothing the next day.
Day 3 - DNS
Day 3 was meant to be an easy day. 30kms from the Ochre Pits to Ormiston Gorge. However from 5am the next morning when I awoke I knew I was too weak to toe the line. Not only that I couldn’t face being in the searing heat again. I was glad I did pull the pin - as I watched the crew take of at 8:15 in the morning with the day already starting to warm up.
I then carried on with our bags and a few other supporters onto the Glen Helen homestead. Nestled in front of a beautiful cliff wall with the only remaining water in the Todd River since it last rained 6 months ago the homestead was just that, a proper bush retreat from the harsh outback.
I grabbed a much needed breakfast and caught a lift with an organiser onto the finish point of the short and long course. Myself and a few others then sat and chatted under a large shelter as the short course runners ran through 13ks into their 21k course, with a loop around Ormiston gorge to complete their day. It was getting hot and I was still slowly regaining strength after yesterday - so I had no regrets from siting the day out - except the beautiful parts of the trail I’d be missing out on.
Day 4 - Mount Sonder to Glen Helen homestead
The organisers the previous night had made the sensible call to start everyone off an hour earlier as it was going to be another 32 degree day. Whilst I was reasonably rested, eating again, and pretty sure I could push through the longest day (45km) - I couldn’t bear the thought of a few hours out in the raging heat again. I decided to step down to do the 30km shorter leg instead. This meant starting at 7:15 and not running up the stunning Mount Sonder.
I deliberately kept it conservative and ticked along very easily on the generally flowing single trail. At around the 15k mark we had a 400-500m hill to climb, and whilst it was warming up the breeze and still coolish air kept it pretty comfortable. The views back to Mount Sonder was stunning - and whilst on any other day I’d have loved to run up it - today I was pleased to just be soaking in it’s presence.
As I came down of the hill - with around 10kms to go I felt that today was going to be comfortable and a great way to finish out the challenging Run Larapinta event. Unfortunately by around the 23km mark the heat was so strong again and my core body temperature was getting too high that I had to temper the pace down to a jog/walk. Whilst frustrating as I had the legs and energy to run home - the heat meant I had to slowly slog it out to the finish. Crossing the finish line at just over 4 hours - and immediately plunging into the cool and refreshing river.
The remaining afternoon everyone could relax, and cheer in the back end of the field - some of who were out in the baking heat for 12 hours. The evening saw the final presentations - and a big feast, with the homestead again catering really well for a hoard of hungry runners.
The next morning a bunch of tired but immensely satisified trail runners jumped the bus to the airport and back to our normal lives.
An incredible event in an incredible place. Thanks to the organisers, Rapid Ascent, for not only putting on such a challenging and great event in a wonderful place, but also being flexible and sensible in dealing with the extreme conditions that raised the risk out there significantly.
A few days ago with heatstroke and an absolutely spent body I could curse this stunning race - but now back at home I feel I have unfinished business on the trail and a desire to be out in those amazing and remote mountains again. Run Larapinta 2018 anyone?
30 Jul 2017
The third and final leg of my work trip was into the Office of National Statistics in the UK. They are located in Titchfield which is roughly halfway between Portsmouth and Southampton, and consequently a pain in the arse to get to from Heathrow. A coach followed by a train later I arrived into Fareham station - around 1pm - for the quick cab ride to the luxurious Premier Inn hotel.
I had made tentative arrangements to meet up with Denise’ parents in the afternoon - as they are only about a 50 minute drive away and I had the rest of the day free. We planned to meet at 2pm and after a quick refreshing shower and change I took some biorythm resetting sunshine and waited. They had got a bit lost - and so by the time they arrived we agreed to just sit outside in the sun at the next door chain ‘TGI Friday’ “restaurant” for some drinks. They had brought Denise’ uncle Brian who’d I’d met a few years earlier and who lives just out of Portsmouth. Whlst the in-laws had coffees, Brian and I grabed a pint, and I got a late lunch snack. It was pretty hot in the sun, and we had a good catch up - and fortunately I felt mostly awake and human after an overnight trans-Atlantic flight. We actually had to move due to the direct sun and heat - what a novelty! After another round of drinks we said our goodbyes - and I think all really appreciated the catchup and conversation.
I wanted to use the remaining afternoon to go explore with a run before diner and an early night. After the food and a few beers - it didn’t feel great to begin with as my stomach bloated and churned. But it was delightful to quickly find a commons and a patch of trail and trees wedged amongst the bitumen and houses. I followed my nose down towards the ocean and before long was almost able to smell the salty air. Unfortunately I only had time for a 30-45 minute run at most so had to loop back to shower, meet my colleague and find a good’ol’English pub with a few wee cask ales! (I subscribe to the CAMRA philosophy!)
The next day saw a typical soaking drizzle for our 15 minute stroll to the Office of National Statistics. A good, relaxed and informative day in the office. As we sauntered out and walked back to the hotel - we reconvened at the next nearest nice pub for another nice gastro-pub meal and some English pints.
To keep my training up and explore more I set my alarm clock to jerk my jetlagged arse out of bed the next day, by 6am, for a longer run. As usual the morning run was a struggle at first but as soon as I neared the coast and the blood was pumping - I got the joy of exploring new trails, commons and villages.
We stayed on script for our second day at ONS, and a half day on the Friday so we could track back towards Heathrow via Woking. Unfortunately policy does not allow for any private travel components on international trips for work - so I lined up an hour catchup with my cousin and her new baby Clara at the Terminal 5 departures. We had a nice cup of tea and catchup and I got ample awkward baby holding. Then onwards to the BA lounge for some dinner, wine and work - and aboard the metal bird for a weekend timewarp landing me into Canberra Sunday late morning. Less than 21 hours before I’d be back at my desk in Canberra - lucky I flew business and slept reasonably :)
24 Jul 2017
I had a brief American Airlines flight into Canada from DC. I was so tired from a poor nights sleep before hand, that as soon as I was on the aircraft I started to nod off. I was most discombobulated when I woke up - assuming we were still on the tarmac, only to find we were 30 minutes into our flight and I’d slept right through our takeoff!
Landing into Ottawa I was out of the airport pretty quickly, and straight into a taxi to the hotel in downtown to meet up with my colleague who landed an hour or two before me from Australia. We quickly wandeed down to the Mills Brewery. This was a nice old (1850s) brew pub in an old Mill by the river. Unfortunately the food was nothing special, but the blueberry wheat beer set the tone for Ottawa’s impressive micro brewery scene. Apparantly Ontario alone has a few hundred microbreweries, and more are opening every year.
Like the US before hand I had 3 days in town to visit, share and learn from our colleagues at Statistics Canada. The team we met with were very nice, a lot more relaxed than their US counterparts, and culturally and logistically so much more similar to the Australian context. I only wore my suit on day one. We wraped up our first day and got a bit of time to soak up the balmy evening. This involved a short walk along Spark street with a myriad of choices - but we parked ourselves at another brewery/diner 3 brewers sparks. The long evenings, and warm weather made it impossible not to take up their featured seasonal raspberry (wheat) ale. A slightly sweet, very tasty, and incredibly morish beer that along with dinner kept the conversation with my colleague flowing until the late evening.
After our second day in the office, the friendly folk invited us out for a Friday night social beer. We headed up the blossoming Wellington Street. Up in a rooftop venue we had a great and welcoming few beers. Here I learnt a bit more about the pervasive ‘Cabin culture’ - think Australian shacks by the lakes that get heavily used in the Canadian summer as a weekend getaway, how you make small batch artisanal maple syrup (a tree that is tapped can yield up to 1L of syrup, and the syrup you harvest needs to be reduced through a long boil in the open air, reducing down to a 40:1 ratio for the perfect maple syrup).
After a quick Uber ride back to the hotel to ditch the work gear, we again went out walking to explore the city and places to eat. We settled upon a nice place called Black Tomato on the edge of the famous Bywark markets. The waiter here was a lovely english lad who built up a quick raport with us - and the food and wine here was excellent.
I had resolved to go exploring through a few researched run options over the weekend. Unfortunately Friday night gave me a slightly delicate head and as a consequence I was a little sluggish to get moving. Nevertheless, I jumped an Uber and my gear for a planed 20-30 km trail run up in the Gatenau reserve. I’d heard from some locals that this is used widely for cross country skiing in winter, and mountain biking in summer - and that the large Lake Meach is a good place to swim in. Sounded perfect.
The drive up into the park took almost 30 minutes, and in the end felt a little remote to be droped off with no idea of my return logistics. But that’s what adventures are all about. Soon I was off into the lush green trails, and within 5 minutes I was delicately navigating an active biathalon range.. I’m not sure who was more confused me or the couple of guys shooting. The trail I was runing was marked pretty well as trail ‘9’ - obviously a known x-country ski route - but the path was nice and technical, with quite a few boggy sections to deftly try and navigate. My foot only sunk to my ankles a couple of times!
It took a good 30 odd minutes to find any other soul in the woods - and after an hour or so I arrived into Lake Meach.
Here there were cars parking up, and folk sliding their standup paddle boards and kayaks into the lake. A couple of people were out for a swim - and it was a delightful temperature and very placid and calm place to cool down in.
Despite half intending to carry on and do the 8.5km Wolf Trail loop - the heat and the mosquito infested trails made the day a bit more taxing than expected, so I decided to loop back. After returning to Camp Fortune ski resort (the start point) I found a mixture of poor mobile data and Uber not ‘supported in my area’ meant I was a little uncertain if getting home would be easy after all. The guys around taking part in some golf or mountain biking said if I was still there at 6pm they’d give me a lift - but given it was midday that wasn’t ideal. Fortunately a traditional taxi came after a phone call and a good 20-30 minute wait. The driver was nice and friendly - which made up for it costing $20 more than the Uber did out there.
The rest of the afternoon I explored a bit more through the Bywark markets. This place had a lovely vibe, a lot of fresh food, maple syrup, cheese and assorted shops. I was pretty happy to browse and explore. The city was pretty alive with the 150 year anniversary of Canada as a nation meaning a lot of events had been organised. I even got to my first Virtual Reality experience with a video showing the history of the Parliament and surrounding buildings and area. Good fun.
I met back up wth my colleague at 6pm to recount our days and head out for dinner. We stumbled across a nice Mexican joint called Ace Mercado and after a lovely meal we had a couple of sneaky G&T’s on our walk home and called it an early night.
I thanked the responsible me on Sunday as I laced up my runing shoes early - and hit the pavement. The downside was, being a Sunday, there was no coffee or breakfast for me - and I knew the run could end up being 25-30kms. The route was from the hotel, down to and along the river, then cuting back up via the rail line to the Rideau canal.
This was all on bike paths, with a small suburban stretch. After 8 or so kms in, I was cruising along the hip Wellington Street, and decided to take a pit stop for a coffee and a bite. Despite profusely sweating in the cafè, the veggie muffin and machiato was just the ticket. The run, especially along the canal was chockers with active Ottawan folk running in groups or solo, and the morning was cooler which made for a nice change.
After my run - I was famished, and found an awesome wholesome salad bowl venue called Mad Beets. Very hip, with a ginger kombucha to wash down my smugness. I then found another cafè to give myself sufficient caffeine, and catch up on work and documenting the previous few days of notes.
My next stop after this would have to be the highlight of my time in Ottawa - with a visit to a speakeasy style micro brewery - Waller Street Brewer. This venue was super tiny - with a sweet young francophile microbiologist brewer, and a barman that guided me through their range of beers. I started with a flight of small beers - sampling a few sours, an IPA and a dark beer. The highlights for me was the Scotch River sour - a once a year brewed sour with local spruce tips and birch sap, as well as the Livery Stable Blues a Brett farmhouse ale with 5 different yeasts. The venue was all the more pleasant by the convivial atmosphere, good unforced acquantances and conversation and incredibly small and unique batches they brew.
I met some interesting folk, had some good chats, and drank more than I had intended - but they shut at 5pm and I like a few others ordered at last drinks and sauntered out nicely buoyed.
Diner that night was a Keralan Indian joint I found - which did great authentic southern Indian food. Satiated and still a bit pissed - my one weekend in Ottawa closed out. With the final Monday in town grey and soaking wet - and my future nothing but airport lounges and transatlantic flights onto my final leg - the UK.
19 Jul 2017
The US has always been lower down on my mental ‘want to check this place out’ destination list. With so much US cultural creep into Australia, the mindsest around guns and violence, and to be frank the frightful appearance of a broadly insular and uneducated population - it just never had the same attraction it does to some. The one thing that has for a long time drawn me to the US is the national parks - but that will have to wait for another time..
I was fortunate enough to be asked to undertake a visit to our peer statistcal agencies in the US, Canada, and the UK. So a 4 day stay in Washington DC was locked in! The trip over was pretty pain free with a 14 hour business class long haul to Dallas on a Qantas A380 (not as nice as nice as our go-to Emirates, but not bad). I had a perfectly timed transit, which was expected to be 115 minutes, but by the time we landed and exited the plan was more like 90. The immigration queue had a few familar faces from Canberra, and after striking up a conversation found they were DFAT folks heading onwards on the same connection to DC. After clearing customs and immigration, receiving my bags, and sending them onwards, then taking the airport rail to my terminal - I had just enough time to grab some US dollar bills and use the toilet before we were boarding again. Perfect.
Landing into DC Nancy Raegan airport - I was able to get a pretty good view of the city. A quick cab ride and I was checked into my hotel in the Navy Yard (South East) region and keen to get walking in the fresh air and heat. I was staying within spiting distince of the Nationals Baseball stadium - the very same one that recently had a Bernie Sanders fanboy take a rifle pot shot at a Republican senator ‘playing ball’. Welcome to the US of A where the NRA mindset holds a gun to the head of the more rational folks.
I made a beeline straight down to a hipster open-air craft microbrewery right by the Anacosia river, called Bardo Brewery. Such a pleasant summmer environment, on a Saturday night, a few small groups, some music piped from speakers under he freeway bridge, and a few tasty ales went down a treat.
In a jetlagged state - and without eating for what felt like half a day - I briefly went in search for a quick bite. With nothing doing - I decided to wander over to the 7/11 I’d seen coming in. What an experience, on a hot Saturday night. There was an African American dude out front with a magazine round of bullets slung over his shoulder, and a swarm of people, some friendly, others a bit whacked out. I slowly grabbed some nuts and juice - and cautiously wandered back to the hotel.
As expected, I used the ‘waking up at silly o’clock due to jetlag’ as a good reason to haul my ass out and go for a good run. This was to double as a tourist mission to see the sights before it got too hot.
The run was hot even before the sun had risen - and I was pleased to stumble across some North American wildlife with deers seen along the Anacosia river trail and squirrels scurrying around in a few places. I managed to see the Supreme Court, the US Capitol building, the White house (Trump wasn’t in until later that night apparantly), the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial. All very impressive. The rest of the day I hid from the heat and tried to keep myself awake, ironed my shirts and organised my stuff.
I had a very warm reception at the US Census Bureau. Their security is tight, with metal detectors and bags scanned on entry. On the first day I was able to enter with just my drivers licence photo ID, but on day two - the security lady advised I must have my passport - and her seniors denied me entry - forcing a metro roundtrip back to the hotel. My head is spining a bit from the size and complexity of what they are doing - but they are spending a phenomenal amount to run their decenial Census. A lot of useful learnings and ideas to share on my return.
On my last night I felt finally in the right timezone - so went for a nice evening walk, folllowed by a quick Uber out to a bar with the most awesome beer menu I’ve ever seen. Over 100 tap beers, and over 500 bottled beers. I had a cask ale to begin with, followed by a few lambic/sour beers to help build my confidence and appreciation of this style.
So what were my general impressions of DC?
- pot coffee percvasive, coffee shops exist without an expresso machine, but a couple of decent true coffee shops were starting to pop up
- despite being opressively hot - the countryside was very green
- the place felt safe and there was generally very little obvious poverty to be seen where I was
- all the people I came across seemed very friendly - must be that ‘go-get-em’ American attitude or something
- the tiping culture wasn’t too hard to adjust to; but I did have to remember that taxes
- the metro was easy to use and pretty efficient way to get around.
- DC had a pretty good cycling culture, with pervasive share bikes that unfortunately didn’t get a chance to use
- jobsworthy security staff
- hardworking civil servants - but I didn’t query them on politics, and the car-crash dysfunctional state of American politics and society.
- police were everywhere; but I didn’t see any obvious signs of them being jobsworthy or oppressive.
- uber driver says he’s noticed tourosm is down as I pass a trump hotel
- smart fire hydrants? Well, at least some had aerials.
- disposable society, even when drinking/dining in which was a little frustrating.
So long DC - it was warm and fun.