Wednesday, August 24, 2011

WOC 2011 Aix Les Bains

So here we were again - back in the land of pâtisserie and pain au chocolat for the 2011 world orienteering champs in Aix Les Bains. We spent 3 days in our favorite town of Annecy to begin with - some of the team staying in a little hotel while we camped in a campground across the road.

We ran up on two of the WOC training maps - they were super technical. The forest was fairly dense and very rocky underfoot with great big holes hidden by leafy ground everywhere. It took me nearly two hours to do the first training, and I thought I did it ok!

Some of the Kiwi team in Annecy after a squeeze-through-the-crowd sprint training

Annecy was absolutly packed with summer holidaying Europeans and wasn't quite the utopia we remembered from 2005 when Chris raced here in the Raid Expedition race. On Friday the others drove through to Aix Les Bains, and I cycled via some back roads the 50km between the towns. There were some nice little French villages and farmland along the way.

We stayed at Hotel le Dauphinois, which was a funny old place, complete with rose garden and old ladies dressed to the nines sitting around drinking cups of tea. I think we looked a bit out of place, but it was a nice place to stay and in a very convenient location right in the center of Aix Les Bains.

Day 1: Michael punches the final control after a solid run in the long qualification

Tane and his brother Ryan and I found a prime location during both the long and middle qualification races to cheer on the Kiwis and get some good photos.

Penny storms in as the third Kiwi girl to make the middle final!

Day 2, the middle qualification day, was an exciting one - first Lizzie qualified well, then Amber came in really high up - easily qualifying for her heat, then Penny came in with a great time as well. Chris was his usual tinny self - placing 15th in both the long and middle distance qualification races (the last spot to qualify is 15th).

The three successful girls talk with Hanna about their races

Wearing our choice as Tiki t-shirts for the opening ceremony!
During the main WOC races Jamie, Hanna, Dieter and I were also running in the spectator events, which were usually held very early in the morning before the WOC events in the afternoons. This lead to some very long days for us, we would have to get up at 6, drive for about an hour to the event, run, sit round in the baking sun for 5 hours, then watch the WOC races for a few more to make it home by about 7, when Jamie and Dieter would have to rush off to the team officials meeting. Quite the busy schedule!

On the day of the Sprint Qualification and Final we had to leave our hotel at 7 am due to some stupid rule - Chris, Michael and I headed down to the waterfront for some chilled morning chat before having a yummy breakfast at a nearby cafe - not such a bad way to spend the morning.

Tane punches a control during the sprint qualification in the pretty town centre of Aix Les Bains

In the afternoon Penny and I took the bus to Chambery town centre, the location of the afternoon's WOC sprint final. Both Ross and Lizzie would be running, so it was set to be an exciting afternoon. The big screen had been erected in the town square, and you can see Lizzie nervously waiting for her start.

The course wound around the complex old town streets, including little hidden passageways and back ally's. Lizzie had an brilliant race and finished in an awesome 11th place - she went on to place 13th in the long and 18th in the middle - a truly impressive WOC performance. Ross also ran very well in the sprint, losing a little time towards the end but still finishing strongly in 25th position.

After the sprint final the event arena moved up to the ski arena at La Féclaz. This was over 1500m above sea level, but even despite that the day time temperature was around 30 degrees. There seemes to be something uncanny about WOC which means it is always the hottest week in the region, whatever that region may be. This year was no different.

Chris and Helen were both starting the men's and women's long final respectively in first position because of their 15th qaulifying spot. They both had the goal of keeping that lead until the end - and both managed it, providing us with great excitement as they entered the arena and got the media spotlight for some time until a faster finisher showed up.

Neither Helen nor Chris particularly like running in the blazing heat, and both felt this had affected their runs - But they still did well; Chris finished in 28th position and Helen in 23rd.

The two happy first finishers of the long final - Chris and Helen
Chris races in to the finish line of the middle final - he was the first finisher again! He ended up in 29th place overall.

The last day of WOC finally came around - it had been a very busy and exciting week, but I have to admit that by the last day I was a bit done with orienteering, I discovered I do have a threshold and I had gone over it. Never mind, the relay was exciting to watch and the banquet entertaining as always. We (along with several other nations) had chosen to dress 'stereotypical French', with some cool glasses, little skirts and french baguettes for accessories. The guys chose fluffy hello kitty earmuffs...not so sure about that....but there you go (-:


Well done team Tiki - it was great to hang out with you (-:

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Cheesy Delights of Switzerland

One-Pan (short for one Emily carrying one pannier on bike) riding in the Swiss Alps
After our great trip in Iceland we took a midnight flight across Europe to land in Stuttgart early on Monday morning. We were laden down with bikes and panniers, and 6 train changes later we wearily unloaded our gear onto the streets of Chur, Switzerland. Not long after this young Lovely Lovell-Smith appeared with two wonky panniers and a big grin.

The three of us set off up the road to try to find Jamie and Penny at Flims Camping ground. Unfortunately we had a few mishaps along the way - my brake pad finally called it quits- and we got a little lost and ended up down in a huge ravine cycling along a very narrow track beside the railway line.

After a big grind out of the ravine we were still looking for Penny and Jamie and their camp ground as the light faded and it became dark. Fireworks started going off around the valley - it turned out it was the Swiss national day. Finally we got hold of Dieter, the Swiss coach for the New Zealand WOC team this year and he showed us to his campsite and a place for us to pitch our tents! 'A great start to a typical Em and Chris trip' said Lovely as we crawled into bed.

Dieter, Lovely, Chris and me on the first of four chair lifts and gondolas
The next day we woke to breakfast (yoghurt, muesli, croissants and fresh bread) delivered to our tent door by Dieter. Then we were heading up on the Flims cable car to run Day 3 of Swiss O Week - at over 3000 meters!

Post race Lovely and I search on the glacial rocks for a control...

This necessitates some leaping on my behalf, and some gazing on Lovely's!

The following day we took a trip on the local via ferrata - along with Dieter, Jamie, Penny, Michael, Toby, Tane, and Lizzie- a fun Kiwi bunch, plus a whole pile of other keen via ferrata-ers out for the morning.

That night Dieter drove us to his place in Davos and we had Raclette!

Raclette is delicious, what a cheesy delight. I did manage a serious cheese nightmare that evening though - a vivid dream about Chris leaping boldly across a channel, falling in and being eaten by a killer whale! Yikes!

The next morning we (being three again) set off from Dieters place up the valley with a plan to bike over a pass to a little hut where we could spend the night.

Lovely cruises into a little town near the head of the valley.

After many hours carrying and pushing our bikes up the pass we found the descent most enjoyable. Unfortunately large parts of the descent were also not very rideable, but Lovely shows off his skills on this bit.

We reached the little hut just as the sun set and night fell - just in time for some good posing (-:

We slept a very comfy night on the hard stone floor of the hut. Well at least I did on my great new Thermarest NeoAir. I am not so sure about the boys. At about 9am, when we were still asleep, we were woken by voices. Thinking they had left Chris went out to relieve himself on a nearby rock, not realising the very amused bikers were sitting just nearby taking it all in!

We set out to bag a nearby peak called Chüealphorn (3078m). The clouds were fairly low, but Lovely was convinced we would have sun on top.

The sun appeared through that little patch of blue sky just as we reached the summit. I was studying the little 'peak book' and enjoying the feeling of being up high. The coloured prayer flags sent shivers down my spine thinking of our up and coming adventure to Nepal.

Not long after we started our descent from Chüealphorn all sign of sun and blue sky was gone and it looked as if rain and thunder was on its way. We climbed down a steep gully to avoid crossing the slippery glacier we had crossed on the way up. Once we got back down to the hut we were back on the bikes - carrying them up another pass and then continueing carrying them back down the other side. This was not great mountain biking country!
In a few places we could ride for a few meters, here I am showing off some great 'quadpod' technique. Shortly after we had started carrying our bikes down the hill the rain decided to let loose, and we were rapidly soaked as we negotiated our way through a pile of angry mooing cows. Lovely was left behind to fend off the maddest ones (we are still great friends).

Feeling wet, tired and a little sorry for ourselves we came to a fairly raging river, which required the skills of Chris the expert river crosser to help ferry Lovely, me and our bikes across.

Finally we made it to the end of the valley and 50m of rideable track.

From there we carried our bikes up a very steep hillside and plonked them down onto the road which leads up to Flüela Pass. We cycled up to the pass, then put on all the clothing we possibly could for the wet, freezing but rather exhilarating descent into Davos. We stocked up with lots of yummy food from the supermarket, then rode back up the hill to Dieters wonderful warm home, a warm shower, a big warm feast and a warm bed, mmmm.

The next day we drove in Dieter's car no. 2 back to Flims to meet up with the other New Zealanders and Dieter himself again. Chris competed in Day 6 of Swiss O week, while Lovely and I did a big cycle (95 km and over 2500m climb) to meet them all near the top of Furka Pass (2436m) - via Oberalp pass (2046m). We stayed in a youth hostel which sits almost at the top of the pass, and ate a big cheese fondue for dinner.

In the morning it was time to say goodbye to Lovely who was due back at work in Freiburg the following day. It was raining as he set off on the last part of the climb, then he had another climb and then a big descent into Interlaken where he would take the train. The rest of us piled into two cars and headed away on the long drive to Annecy in France where we would stay for one week's training before the world orienteering champs in Aix Les Bains. Here we are enjoying lunch at a cafe along the way.

Iceland Part 4: The Journey's End

The ride from the end of the F88 along the ring road to Mývatn was a long and hard one, because we were already tired, a bit hungry, and for the first time in many days we had a head wind - a strong head wind. I drafted Chris as much as I could, but it was hard with the traffic roaring past us and it reinforced in our minds why we didn't cycle on the ring road.

After what felt like an eternity of unchanging landscape we finally rounded a corner and could see steam rising in the distance, and hundreds of tiny people wandering over a brightly coloured clay area. Soon we reached the pull-off and parked up our bikes for a good look at some bubbling mud and strange steaming knoll things.

Mud pots

The bubbling mud was good, but not quite up to Taupo standard in my opinion. We climbed back on our bikes and rode over the last small hill into Mývatn, headed straight for the supermarket. The supermarket seemed amazing and we bought all sorts of things we had been craving - yogurt, nectarines, a sweet sticky bun, a bottle of coke and some crisps!
Skubba, a local at Mývatn

Next plan was to find a campground and miraculously there one appeared right across the road on the lake shore. With our camping pass we got cheaper rates on the local version of the Blue Lagoon hot springs - the Jarðböðin Nature Baths.

We pitched our tent on the nice rolly green lawn, cooked up a feast and then cycled up the road to Jarðböðin for a swim. That was a great end to the day and we soaked in the warm water until midnight, then cycled back in the dark - we could notice the night's getting much darker now than when we arrived.
The rolly lawn at Mývatn

Enjoying the Jarðböðin Nature Baths
Cycling back in the dark - using our right lights for the first time on the whole trip
We planned to spend our last real day in Iceland (the following day we would be on the Express Bus back to Reykjavik) doing a bit of hot spring exploration. We knew there were supposed to be a couple of very good ones in the area - one which is in an underground cavern. After a bit of inquiry we set off on foot, it was wonderful to be off the saddles for a bit!

After about an hour we found the first one, it's called Grjótagjá and it's a very hot pool in an opening in the lava flow. There are some precariously hanging boulders on the roof which put people off a bit, but we weren't too concerned.
The entrance to Grjótagjá

For me however the pool was far too hot (Chris estimated about 45 degrees!) so I couldn't go in. Chris did and came out looking a bit like a red lobster - but we did manage to get some nice photos of him in the pool.

Chris in the amazing Grjótagjá pool

After wards Chris is a red lobster
We talked to a friendly group of Icelanders out for a run (I think they were impressed that Chris actually went in that cauldron) and they told us of some other nice pools not so far away. So we walked back to find the pools called Storagja. Here you have to climb down a ladder into a canyon and in amongst the strewn boulders we found a small rope which you could use to lower yourself into a pool.
Chris lowers himself into the pool
In the beautiful Storagja pool

Storagja was beautiful, but the pool itself wasn't quite warm enough - now we felt a bit like Goldilocks. We headed back to the campground for lunch, then readied ourselves for our final ride to Akureyri.

It was 100km to Akureyri but mostly on seal, so we hoped we could do it pretty quickly. As we left Mývatn we talked to a fellow on a bamboo bike who was incredulous we would attempt 100km at 4 o'clock in the afternoon. Fortunately we had a strong tail wind, and our average speed for the first 60 km was 32 km per hour.
On the long cycle to Akureyri

We arrived at the Goðafoss falls as the afternoon sun was just setting. The falls were very spectacular, a curtain of white water cascading down amongst green mossy pillars. We sat eating and enjoying the falls for a bit before continuing on our ride. The area seemed very green after the past days, but there were still no trees.
Greener lands than the previous days
Goðafoss (Chris is the little blue figure)

After 80km we turned off the main road and climbed up 600m on a shingle road which lead to a radio tower. From there we could drop down into the valley in which the town of Akureyri sits.
The view from the saddle down to the fjord of Akureyri

We could hear throbbing rock music coming from the town - apparently there was a big rock concert going on and the town would be very loud all night. So after a bit of time spent hunting around we found a spot in the bushes to pitch our tent and spend the night. We could look across the fjord to town and enjoy the music as we cooked dinner.

The ride only took 4.5 hours, so we laughed a bit about bamboo bike man who thought it must take at least 7. We slept very well after our busy day and it seemed like no time before our alarms went off. We had to hop up, depitch and head into Akureyri to catch the bus at 8 am. It all worked out nicely and we were soon sitting on the comfy bus which would take us all the way back to Reykjavik with a few stops along the way.
Our bus, with our bikes strapped to the front

The bus would drive through the inland route F35 called Kjölur which we would have liked to cycle if we had had more time. Still, it was nice to see the route anyway, and we had already sussed out that it would stop at the Hvervellir hot spring for 45 minutes - enough time for a soak!

We leaped off the bus when it stopped and undressed along with a couple of other keen bean travelers and enjoyed the prefect temperature of the pool. It was deliciously hot and we could take in the wide landscape with the humongous glaciers in the distance.

Mmmm, the perfect temperature at last!

We had a few more stops along the way including an extremely crowded Gullfoss - I don't think I have ever seen so many tourists at one waterfall and of course the famous Geysir. Geysir itself doesn't actually erupt any more, but another geysir called Strokkur proved to be much more spectacular than we imagined and we got some good video footage of it along with the hundreds of other tourists.
Chris enjoys Gullfoss (yogurt snack in hand)
The Emerald Pool - I had been looking forward to seeing this one
Strokkur erupts (but you can't see its top! - x this picture by about 3)

We reflected that it had been nice to see some of the main tourist attractions of Iceland, but our adventure on the bikes exploring and discovering under our own steam had been so much more rewarding.

Finally we arrived in Reykjavik at 8pm after 12 hours on the bus. We had time for a quick wander through the capital and time to buy a delicious take away pizza to eat in the park, before getting on another bus to Kelfavik camping area. There we picked up the gear we had left behind and cycled down to the airport.
The main pedestrian street in Reykjavik

Chris cycles along the cycle path in Reykjavik

We did a quick bike pack outside the main entrance to the airport with a little audience laughing at all our smelly gears strewn every where and then packed away again into two bike bags. At midnight we flew out of Iceland bound for Germany. It had been an amazing two weeks we will never forget and I can't believe it took me four blog posts to get it all down! Hope you enjoyed it too (-:
Mmmm, a yummy pizza in a park before we fly away!