Monday, December 31, 2007

Monday 31 Dec, 2007

Caron woke up feeling sick, it seems like the same virus as Megan had yesterday so hopefully it only lasts a day because Megan is feeling much better today.

While Kisten and Carl sent the kids off to school I went and ran Bleue de Arare a couple of times and really enjoyed it, particularly the second time when I knew more or less what to expect. I am going to have to have some lessons to learn how to control myself on the steeper sections, I think I may not be leaning far enough down hill so the downhill ski isn't biting into the snow enough and I am sliding rather than cutting uphill to bleed off speed.

When Kirsten, Carl and Darrel joined me we ran Bleue De Arare again followed by Bleue De Lac which took us over into another valley where we ran Fornet twice and then Chavanette twice.

Kirsten and Carl - Pre Fall

We were all a little tired so we agreed to run Chavanette a last time before stopping at the Crepperie to have something to eat before heading home. I was skiing next to Carl on the flat about 100m before we were due to stop when something went very wrong and I just saw ski's going left and right. I stopped and could see that all was not well by the way that Carl was lying and sure enough, he had dislocated his shoulder. When I got back to him I helped put it back which was surprisingly easy but it was a horrible reminder of how easily an accident can happen. Carl has a bit of a history with this shoulder because he has dislocated it about a dozen times previously so maybe an operation is in order in the future. The problem at the moment is that we're all in this wonderful skiing place and you can't, according to the doctor, ski with a dislocated shoulder . That would be the sensible option but also the most heartbreaking one especially considering the costs involved in getting to Avoriaz.

Carl went to the doctor and they did some xrays on it which showed up the previous injuries and the recommendation was that he rest the shoulder and NO SKIING. Carl wasn't a very happy camper but has coped quite well with the disappointment thus far. I would have been far grumpier and depressed.

We took the children skiing in the afternoon which didn't work out that well. The queues for the Serussaix and the Proclou lifts were something to be seen to be believed, it must have taken about 30 minutes to get to the front of the queue with loads of pushing and shoving. I couldn't take the queues and buggered off to where the queues where less, much less.

There was a fireworks display at 19:00 which we watched from Heidi and Darrel's flat which is on the eighth floor and has the most fantastic view over Avoriaz and onwards to the valleys below. The fireworks display was good but nothing fantastic. Darrel said that it wasn't even a patch in comparison to the one on Christmas eve.

We all had dinner together in Heidi and Darrell's flat, roast chicken and potatoes, fish fingers for me. Very nice meal but by about 20:30 we all realised that most of us weren't going to make it to midnight to see the new year in but the children were very excited about it so when no children were around the clock was doctored so that midnight was actually at 21:00. A much more reasonable time at which to celebrate the new year in.

We all retired but new year was to have the last laugh. At the correct time there was a two hour long explosion of fireworks which kept everyone who had south facing rooms awake until 02:00 in the morning so everyone was a little sleep deprived the next morning.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Sunday 30 Dec, 2007

Megan woke up sick during the night so K&C didn't get such a good nights sleep and she was unable to go to ski school for the morning so the fogies were drafted to child mind.

Our room has bunk beds in it so we were intending on sleeping in separate beds but Caron had other ideas and we slept in the same single bed like a couple of teenagers. Not too bad for one night but I'm not going to be able to do it for the entire two weeks so the first order of the day was to rig up a proper double bed which turned out to be surprisingly easy.

Caron and I went off to do Proclou while Kirsten and Carl booked Alistair into school. Caron is still slow but actually looks fine, I still struggled on the last section of Zore which is icy and mogully. Tetras is still a great run. We had about 50mm of snow overnight so the runs were absolutely fantastic. Darrell went off quite early and ran Bleue de Arare which must have been quite fun so early in the morning and with the new snow. Judging from the steeper sections of blue runs I wonder how I managed the red runs last time I was here – maybe I just struggled down them instead of skiing them. I definitely prefer the less steep runs where one feels like one is actually skiing rather than just surviving. The weather was quite cloudy which made for absolutely fantastic views as the day wore on.

During the afternoon, we took all the children skiing which was interesting. It's a pity they don't understand what a privilege it is for them to be having this experience so early on in their lives.

We went out with the children in the afternoon which was quite fun but after they went home I ran another run which was a mistake. It was after 17:00 by the time I did the last little run into avoriaz and I couldn't seen the moguls at all which resulted in a spectacular nose first dive into the snow. Fortunately it was dark enough that nobody could really see.

Caron made vegetable soup for supper which combined with a bottle of wine was absolutely delicious. We retired early again.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Saturday 29 Dec, 2007

We landed at Zurich at 06:00 after circling Zurich for 30 minutes because the airport only opens at 06:00, weird but true. To take the internal flight we had to go back through a security check was turned out to be a bit traumatic. Firstly, Darrel's christmas present which was to have been a 1l bottle of Amarula cream was confiscated which was very annoying but when Megan's scissors were confiscated out of her pencil box - there was a real tantrum from Megan. The security person was unmoved and tossed both items into the trash. Carl's deodorant was also confiscated so we are looking forward to the next few days with some trepidation. We had our passport and visas checked this time which made me feel a little better about the 120 EUR that we spent getting the visas. Last time we went to Avoriaz, they weren't checked even once.

This is us trying to get used to paying staggering amounts for a simple cup of coffee.

Took off for the 30 minute hop from Zurich to Geneva and spent most of the the time coughing and blowing my nose. I desperately hoped that this would clear up soon because it definitely isn't conducive to an enjoyable holiday. Landed in Geneva and collected our baggage which all arrived safely. The taxi to Avoriaz was waiting for us which was great and we arrived in Avoriaz at about 12:00 – 20 hours after leaving home. All of us were feeling a little worse for wear – even those of us that had spent the night in relative luxury.

The fogies, Heidi and Darrel and assorted children were all waiting for us at the car park so there was a big welcome and by 15:00 Carl and myself had our ski's and poles as well as the ski pass organised so we headed out with Darrell for a couple of hours of skiing. With hindsight, it probably wasn't such a good idea because Carl and myself were quite tired and when one is tired, one tends to make mistakes which is what I did and I was very lucky not to have injured myself. I really struggled in the icy, mogully runs and I actually didn't really enjoy it very much.

We went over to the Bergesens for supper which was spaghetti bolognaise and very noisy as a family of 8 adults and 5 children in a 20m2 flat should be. By 19:30 Caron and Carl had had enough and we retired gracefully to our cave and were in bed and asleep by 20:30 exhausted.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Christmas Holidays

I've spent the last two weeks partly sick due to, I think, an accumulation of stress at work. While I wasn't feeling totally off, I spent some time destroying the flowerpot at the front entrance that holds up the roof over the entrance. The original builders of the house spent much too much time on the flowerbox, it has a substantial concrete foundation not to mention double brick walls so it took quite a while and lot of sweat too. In the end, I think the new support which is a double pole of laminated saligna looks much better and I'm glad that at last it is finished.
Many thanks to Jan, our friendly painter who turned up unexpectedly which solved my problem as to who was going to do the plastering and ended up touching up many parts of the house which were starting to look a bit tatty.

Other than spending time feeling sorry for myself and in between spending a few hours a day keeping up with things at work while everyone else is away it was great to have a little time to read and relax, exercise when I wasn't ill and just generally get myself right in preparation for skiing. I think that a sign of finally relaxing is that the days appear to get longer. I can remember as a child they days taking forever to finish whereas as an adult they go by in the blink of an eye.

Friday 28 Dec, 2007

I think for the first time in my life and probably Caron's as well, we were completely packed and ready at 13:00 for the flight which only left at 20:30 so we spent a couple of productive hours not doing anything at all which was a great way to start the holiday. We went to work at 16:00 in order to print out one of the reservations only to find that Jeff was in the basement leaving and he was the last one to go. While the cats are away, the mice certainly do play. Kim picked us up from there and took us to the airport at which we arrived way to early so we just went and sat at the news cafe. Phoned Carl and Kirsten to find them ensconced in the luxury of the Diners club lounge – a good reason to go and get a diners club card. Our check-in luggage was just below the maximum weight of 46kg's, even more that Carl and Kirsten and they have two children as well to pack for. Of course the entire bookshelf of books that are buried in our luggage might have something to do with it.
We boarded the plane and were sitting in our seats when a family arrived and wanted to know why we were sitting in their seats. We, of course, thought that they were our seats and after comparing their boarding passes and ours it was clear that there was a big problem as we really had both been allocated the same seats. One of us had to go and it turned to be us. Go to the business class section that is. Yee ha – upgrade, how lucky can we be. It would have been way too adult like for me to have just sat there and not gone back to cattle class to rub it in with Kirsten and Carl. Particularly the morning after when we had been able to more-or-less sleep on the flat beds in business class. Kirsten and Carl had an awful night, not only just because it is genuinely uncomfortable in cattle class but having two children that kept on twisting and turning on top.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

A childs view of marriage

My niece aged 3 years came home from playschool the other day and told her mother that jonni's mommy and daddy live together. "Now isn't that funny!" she says.

Depending on your personal convictions, this may or may not be an indictment of modern society that a child thinks that it is normal to only have one parent living with him/her. Since more than 50% of marriages end in divorce it seems to me that normal is no longer a couple with their biological offspring living together and that our vision of normal may need some revision.

Holiday Sickness

For some reason, both Caron and I have this very unfortunate habit of falling ill within about the first 3 or 4 days of a holiday. It is the most incredibly annoying habit but on the bright side, it is always a cold so it is over within a couple of days and definitely within the week but if your holiday is only 2 weeks long it effectively obliterates the first half of ones' holiday.

Knowing our track record we try and spend a week at home before heading out on the real holiday. That way you can be sick in the comfort of your home and not have to worry about the expense and lost opportunity while you suffer in bed while the snow or sand beckons.

This pattern seems to be quite well known because a number of people I have spoken to just say, "Ah, yes - it's the stress coming out" but basically it means that somehow, your immune system takes a holiday at the same time you do. This sounds like an interesting topic for some research - I've done a couple of quick googles for it but haven't found anything interesting.

It would really be interesting because if there is a causal link between the onset of holidays and illness and that the the sickness is due to a lack of stress if effectively means that stress keeps illness at bay instead of causing it as we are so often told.

Monday, December 17, 2007

On arguments ...

"Don't raise your voice, improve your argument."
Father of Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Police Brutality ...

Woke up to my morning fix of news websites to the following report where it is clear that Jackie Selebi and spokesperson were delighted that 11 would be robbers had been killed. The twelfth is in a serious condition. That's 12 out of 12 as far as I can read from the article.

The general feeling amongst people both black and white that I have spoken to is that the robbers had it coming to them and that rather this than that they get off on some technicality or in the miniscule chance that they don't escape custody and actually go to jail - that they get paroled in a few years. Harsh but true.

It would seem that society and very definitely the police have past the point of letting the rule of law take its course because it isn't seen to be taking its course and if justice is not both seen to be done and done - eventually people will take it into their own hands. Methinks this is a wake up call for the courts and legal system, sort crime out or society will take charge in a manner which is not going to be fair, just or even handed.

Of course our politicians haven't exactly helped to uphold the rule of law and serve as role models have they.

Monday, December 10, 2007

A little adventure

We started riding at about 8:00 which is pretty late for a long distance ride but graeme had to help get the kids organised before he was allowed to abandon the family for the day. The weather was pretty grim and we had no reason to expect it to get any better but riding in the rain isn't so bad so we pressed on regardless.

We hadn't ridden more that about 500m before we realised the value of the GPS, it is surprisingly easy to wander off the path down a dead end road or worse, a road without a dead end. The first part of the ride was fairly flat and it was great riding in the cool weather until we came to a 10' high electrified game fence. We could see what we thought was the path that we wanted continuing on the other side and it didn't look like the road that was on our side of the fence was going to be the right option. A feeling that was later confirmed when I looked at it from google earth again. It would have been a VERY long detour with numerous opportunities to get lost. From this I have learnt three things :
  • 10' high electrified fences don't show up on satellite photographs.
  • What looks clearly like a track from a satellite isn't always quite so clear on the ground.
  • Once you have decided to use a GPS route, you can't just head off in another direction so easily.

Getting over the fence was tricky but luckily graeme is 6'6" so he was able to squeeze the bikes between two gateposts. I was the lucky one to check if the electric fence was on which it wasn't, thank goodness. Trespassing, even when there is nobody around gives one a bit of a creepy feeling - you keep on expecting the farmer to jump out from behind something and let loose with the shotgun. This is not entirely an unwarranted feeling - this is South Africa after all.

Once we had crossed the farm and climbed out the other gate we rode through the most beautiful countryside complete with herds of game roaming around. I have no real idea but I suspect that they are just wild because there aren't any fences to keep them in. This was a particularly beautiful area.

We arrived at Hartbeesvlakte ruskamp which was disappointing mainly because it was derelict. I wonder what happened to the Fanie Botha walking trail which used to go through there. Immediately after the ruskamp we had the one and only serious ascent - 40 minutes of grind ascending 200m. It was wet and very slippery so there were a few anxious moments.

From the top it was downhill for a long way which would have been more fun in dry weather. In the wet we had to keep the speed down because it was very easy for the front wheel to slip and we had several occasions the front wheel would hit small innocuous looking rocks and you would suddenly be travelling at 45 deg. angle to what you were doing. Some of the descent was very tricky due to the river incorporating the road into its path, as you can see from the concentration on graemes face.

Up until now we had been going for about 5 1/2 hours and had tried to phone caron to tell her that we were late, very late since we were expecting to complete the whole ride in about 4 to 5 hours.

Next came another big lesson about satellite photography, they don't show cliffs in addition to electric fences so we found ourselves perched on the top of a 20m cliff with the invisible thin blue line (gps) running out from the bottom of it. It was only metres away but there was no way to get there. We contoured around the top of the cliff hoping for a break in the cliff face that we would be able to scramble down and as luck or in graemes case, divine intervention would have it - we found one. Actually graeme found it while I was particularly worried that this was just a route down to another cliff but given the choice between about 6 hours of riding back the way that we had come and 30 minutes to scramble the cliff, I took the 30 minute option. The terrain we were scrambling through had recently had a severe fire, so severe that in addition to burning all the forest and bush, the rocks that were exposed had burst so there were razor sharp shards of rock everywhere and holding on any rocks was fraught with danger because they tended to come away in your hand.

Scrambling down the scree slope we could see up ahead a line that looked like another set of cliffs so we were really relieved when the slope carried on after the line. We were standing there looking at the slope carrying on when I realised that there was something decidedly odd about this line - it looked way too regular, in fact it looked remarkably like a road. In fact it was the road although it hasn't seen a wheel in maybe 10 years because there were small trees growing in the middle of it.

This was where I learnt yet another lesson. A small tree was lying over the path at about axle height. It was only about the thickness of my thumb so I thought I could just ride over it. This was not to be and it stopped me dead in my tracks and threw me off the bike. The ride was pretty easy from here on although very treacherous and slippery. Graeme's bike started making horrible grinding noises which was when we discovered that he had worn through his new front and back brake pads and that the brakes were riding on the aluminium rims. I was very close to having worn out my back brake pads as well.

On one occasion there was some deep mud and for what reason I don't know but I looked back to see where graeme was and lost my line and fell off slap bang in front of the oncoming graeme. He managed to stop with his wheel against my back, pretty innocuous in the end but it could have been spectacular.

We finally made it to the meeting point with caron at 16:00, 8 hours of very wet riding later. We begged to wash our bikes and ourselves at the local car wash which they kindly allowed us to do before we tucked into some well earned grub.

P.S. I didn't see a low pole and reversed the car into it bending the back wheel of my bike. (*&^(*&^*(&^^!!!!!

Themeda to Sabie

Graeme and Gill invited caron and myself to join them at Themeda which is very near Crystal Springs just outside of Pilgrims Rest in Mpumalanga for the first week of december for some rest and relaxation as well as some pretty awesome mountain biking.

The mountain biking was to be a backroads trip from Themeda down to Sabie which should be a cinch since it has to be almost all downhill. So we thought. Since there are literally hundreds of logging backroads we decided to use google earth and trace our proposed route and then download this onto my GPS so all we had to do would be to follow the dots. What could be easier. The first technical problem was to convert the google file to a .gpx file so that garmins mapsource could read it. Thanks to the gpsies this turned out to be pretty easy but what wasn't so easy was weeding out 4750 of the original 5000 data points so that the GPS had enough memory to hold the entire route.

By the time we started our planned route looked like this

At the time, I didn't think that having the 1:50000 background on the GPS would be that useful but in the end it turned out to be invaluable.

Power Not

Power is something Africa just seems to struggle with. When it comes to political power it is next to impossible to 'turn' off whereas when it comes to electrical power keeping it on seems to be equally impossible.

I sit here at work in darkness with a headlamp on so that I can see what I am typing. For a change, it is not Eskoms fault, one phase in the building supply has literally blown up so two phases work which has lead to some rather wierd goings one. Like, my laptop is still powered but not another plug anywhere. To make things worse, it didn't fail completely but gracefully degraded to a point that the UPS kicked in but that the generator didn't. Darkness in the server room, no das blinkin lights. ^*&^***!

In addition most of northern suburbs Johannesburg was without power for most of the day today while Eskom 'load shed'. I think maybe a ritual execution at dawn of Telkom employees is in order - starting with the top for getting us into this position in the first place. Load shedding sounds like Eskom is having a dump and it is us, those who pay their salaries, that the said dump is landing on. Load shedding also makes it sound like it is a voluntary exercise which it is most definitely not - at least not from my point of view.

Some pictures to illustrate -

We've just been away for the weekend and I think that I have seen the future of lighting in South Africa.

Gas Lights - at least they work and when they don't you know that the cylinder is empty and you should get a new one not some lilly livered excuse like 'load shedding'.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Northern Farm is EXPENSIVE

Jason, Vaughn and myself met for a few hours riding which didn't go exactly as planned. We were having a great ride out the back of Northern Farm and had just come barreling down a hill and through the river. I changed into first to negotiate the wet, soft sand on the other side of the ford only to hear horrible crunching sounds as portions of my derailleur were ground into oblivion by the cluster. A very expensive noise - that of carbon fibre being ground into dust. So there we were miles from anywhere with absolutely no possibility of fixing the derailleur so we decided that we would have to turn the bike into a single gear by shortening the chain. A good plan but none of us having done it before we were unaware of some of the issues. We definitely didn't appreciate the difference between such a thing as "high normal" and "low normal" gears, an explanation can be obtained here. We shortened the chain as best we could so that it was on the middle chainring and the lowest (smallest) sprocket at the back but as soon as I started pedalling the chain immediately changed gears up taking what slack there was and continuously trying to change up to another gear. This led to horrible sounds as the chain started to ride up on the sprocket and then because the chain wasn't long enough was forced down again and eventually this led to the chain falling between the middle and large chainrings which effectively put an end to my cycling altogether for the day.

From where we had got to jason and vaughn would push me on the flats and slight uphills and I would run up the steeper sections while they got their breath back. No joke trying to push someone up a hill - I could tell from the rasping breathing of the two of them.

Methinks that I have well and truly damaged the drive train so I am now going to have to replace not only the destroyed portions of the derailleur but the middle chainring and the cluster. While I am at it, I should probably replace the large chainring as well. Ouch!.