Monday, October 29, 2007

Math is hard

I've grown accustomed to continually doing the math to figure out what time it is back home. It's easy: just subtract 2 and toggle am/pm. I base all of my timezones on this simple calculation. If I need pacific time, then I figure out east coast, and subtract 3.

All of this is being thrown into upheaval. This week, Australia began day light savings time. Everywhere except Queensland. So now, Sydney and Melbourne are an hour ahead of me. That means I have another equation to remember. Then next week, the US goes back to standard time, and, for the life of me, I can't figure out what that does to my equation. Is it 3 hours difference from here but 4 from Sydney/Melbourne? Or 4 and 3?

There is no longer any order in my world.

Aussie Indie

New project: discovering great Aussie bands.

All of these seem to have creepy videos, and it's not cause it's Halloween, cause it's not Halloween here. Maybe just the Aussies like their videos creepy. Enjoy.

Exhibit A: Faker, one of my new faves, not available on US itunes, but still great, though the video is a bit creepy

Exhibit B: Operator Please. I think these kids are in high school. Maybe not as indie as they might be. They rocked the charts here with a song about ping pong, "Just a song about ping pong"

Exhibit C: Skipping Girl Vinegar. For some reason, I really like this video. Reminds me of The Maxx

Exhibit D: Sneaky Sound System. Probably the least "indie" on the list, but still fun dancy tracks.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

No shoes, no service?

I guess I've always assumed that McDonald's requirement that customers wear shirts and shoes was a matter of decorum. Maintaining a certain standard among its ranks.

I was standing in line at Bunnings (aka Home Depot) the other day and realized I was the only person in line wearing shoes. Ah, Cairns. This image spoke volumes to me about life here.

Then I got to thinking: shoes in a hardward store are not just a matter of decorum. They are a serious safety precaution. Think of all the things you wouldn't want to step on in your bare feet there. With the seriousness with which many safety issues are taken (e.g., the stickers on my oversized luggage reminding handlers to lift with their legs, not their backs; regular reminders from our office manager to keep cords coiled or under rugs to prevent a tripping accident) it seems odd that this one is completely overlooked. Then again, I would have been the only customer in that line had they required shoes.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

NFL coming to Australia?

The nytimes has an article today about a Giants v Dolphins game being played in London as another attempt to broaden the read of American Football. The article states the goal is to have a team on another continent by 2020.

Could Australia be next in line for a grid iron game? And would Aussies accept it?

My prediction is that it will not catch on here. There are already 3 different footballs (and soccer) being played here with strong regional ties. Every Aussie I meet has a particular favorite sport and team. They are accustomed to ignoring the other footballs and have vehement rationales for loving their sport and feeling nothing more than indifference, if not hatred, for the rest.

Plus, most have already passed judgement on grid iron and have found it "too slow and boring" for their taste with players who "don't look like athletes" and "only have to know how to do one thing."

I feel like the same statements could be made about cricket, but perhaps I just haven't been exposed to enough test matches.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Weekend sport

A few more lessons to be added to the Triathlon list:

Ocean swims are even harder when the water is choppy
Sunday provided the types of waves that I would have liked better with a surfboard. Enough so that I almost didn't do the swim. But it seemed once you got out past the breakers, it was ok.

If you compete in enough tris in a small club, you'll win an award
Even though I've never placed, or even come in above the bottom quartile. I got an award on Sunday for winning the most points in the 20-29 female division. I think I might have been the only 20-29 year old female to compete in more than one race. But, hey, I got a trophy and a $25 gift card to the bike shop.

Night Run: not such a great idea
Although, I think every one made it back unscathed, the 6K fun run on Saturday night was, in retrospect, a bad idea. First, running in the dark makes it difficult to see spots in the road that might, say, sprain an akle. Second, this road ran along a steep cliff down into the Barron Gorge. Third, the course was marked with glow sticks, but they weren't consistently on one side of the road, so each one you came to, you had to determine to which side of it to run. Fourth, it was an out and back course, so there was a risk that you could run directly into some one running the other direction.

Friday, October 19, 2007


Today's Cairns Post (the only reputable source of news in Cairns)

This guy was swimming in the ocean just north of Cairns when he happenned onto a croc, but was able to fight him off and get back to shore. I'm still not worried about the ocean triathlon swim this weekend because:

  1. He was apparently very near an estuary, the crocs natural home
  2. He was drunk, an didn't check the water before he jumped in
  3. Hopefully, the croc will attack people at the front of the pack (i.e., not me)
  4. He got away, right?

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Marsupial encounter

I had completely forgotten to include in my Mission Beach post about my latest marsupial encounter. As Lisa and I drove down the dark, winding road toward Mission Beach, with eyes pealed for cassowaries, our headlights picked up a small animal sitting in the middle of the road that looked like this. Neither of us was sure what it was, but it was about the size of a cat and in our path. Following our wildlife instructions, we braked but did not swerve to miss the animal. And we safely missed it.

Rabbit? Must have been. We continued, then we saw another one. This one even scurried across the road, then gave a good hop into the bush. Couldn't be a rabbit, it has small ears.
Once at Mission Beach, we read that both bandicoots and pademelons are common to those parts and upon the advice of the "Wildlife of Far North Queensland" volume that we found in the long house, we determined it was a bandicoot. (Pademelons look like tiny kangaroos - definitely not what we saw, since we didn't notice the tail) Not quite as exciting or majestic as a cassowary, but still genuine Australia fauna nonetheless.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Hiking the Pyramid

About 20km south of Cairns, the highway passes Walsh's Pyramid, a naturally occurring mountain with a steep and pointy top. It climbs to an altitude of just over 900m and can be visible from Cairns on a clear day. When Rowan and I drove to Yungaburra, we passed it and discussed hiking the Pyramid. It's apparently the thing to do. Only takes 2 hours to get to the top.

Between triathlons, weekends in southern Australia and visitors the Pyramid hike had taken a back seat. But we finally arranged to go last weekend. We sought advice from some experienced hikers (Thanks, Dave!) and set off on Sunday morning at 6:30am with 6L of water, 6 granola bars, 3 bananas, 2 oranges and some almonds for Rowan, Lauren and myself.

The weather could not have been more perfect. After a week of breathlessly humid days in Cairns, we got a reprieve with a few clouds and a cool ocean breeze. Despite this about 10 minutes into the hike we were all soaked with sweat. The hike was less of a hike with some steep spots rather a set of uneven stairs with a few flat spots. Lauren set off at a break-neck pace, and would stop every 10 minutes or so for Rowan and me to catch up. The climb was so steep that we rarely spoke. We couldn't, we were gasping for air. The first 20 minutes seemed to take forever, and I felt like there was no way I could keep this up for another hour and forty. But from then on it went quickly, covering ground, looking back out toward Cairns and watching the surrounding farmland transition from fields of individual crops to a green patchwork quit.

We stopped at the halfway point for granola and almonds. The path got steeper from there on out. It kept looking like we were almost there, just around that corner, just over that boulder, that must be the top, that tree, that's it, right? The last 30 minutes were filled with false hope. Then we started to hear people. We had made it. It took just over 2 hours. We could now see out over the other side of the pyramid, out to the Tablelands and south toward Innisfail. At this point I thought to myself, this wasn't that bad. In fact it was pretty great. I could definitely do this again, maybe when Andrea visits.

We ate and chatted for about 30 minutes at the top before deciding to start descending back to the car. We were making plans for Cairns. We'd stop by the farmer's market for produce, then a quick shower, then to a cafe for newspapers, coffee and brekky. I was already hearing the siren call of poached eggs as we started back towards the car. Maybe it was the desire to be back in the city, or the knowing that the big sense of accomplishment with climbing the Pyramid was over, but the way back was hard. Harder than going up. Every step threatened to slide out from under you. Rarely was there a rock or tree to help steady you or take some of your weight off. I became much more aware of the changes in the landscape as well. Pine needles near the top were the biggest slipping risk for the first part, as we got lower, the needles gave way to loose gravel. Although we weren't winded and could talk on the way down, I found that the pain in my knees was making it difficult to focus on much else.

We must have passed the halfway point and not noticed it. It's already been 45 minutes, surely we're going down faster than we went up. No, there was the halfway point, still ahead of us. We sat down, had a snack and stretched our legs. Ok, we were so close to the cars I could almost taste the eggs. One the way up, I had noticed a granola bar wrapper on the ground. On the way back, I picked it up to throw it out, thinking, this had been really close the cars, we're almost there. Still there were turns, the highway still looked small. This hike would not end.

We did eventually make it back to the car, Cairns, the market, coffee, newspapers and brekky. But, not before I had changed my mind about hiking the Pyramid again. It was great to do it once, and perhaps if some one installed a slide or a zipline from the top, I would consider it again. But at least for now, and given that my legs are still in immense pain two days later, I will not be making the trip again.

Walsh's Pyramid


Pretty far off the reef snorkel destinations, even farther off the coast of Cairns. A man who was spearfishing was attacked by a shark. He is recovering well.

Second attack reported today off the North coast of New South Whales (over a days drive south of here)

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Election fever

The Australian Election was called yesterday. Australians will go to the polls November 24. If the polls to date can be trusted, there will likely be a change in the Federal government. Not sure how this affects our work, but it definitely could.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Mission Beach Aquatics Festival

Mission Beach

Lisa and I went to Mission Beach last weekend which is about a 2 hours drive South of Cairns. Mission Beach is known for its Cassowaries, which are large, endangered, flightless birds. It's home to 50-60 of them and has the densest population of them in the world. Despite this and the many signs indicating that we should be cautious drivers we saw a grand total of zero.

We stayed at a place called Sanctuary. It offers accommadations to tourists in the middle of a bit of conserved rainforest just north of Mission Beach on Garner's Beach. We stayed in a rainforest hut which was like a screened in porch with two beds and a night stand. At night we could hear all the creatures of the forest come alives. So even though we never saw a cassowary, we are convinced that we definitely heard one. They either go "ribbit," "hoo hoo," or "cock-a-doodle-doo."

Sanctuary also boasts an organic farm (which you can work on for accommodations), a yoga studio, and an incredibly yummy restaurant. With everything there, there is a sense of responsibility, that you are renting a part of the community there. Thus, when the yoga class is done, you wash your own mat. If you would like dinner in the restaurant, you must order by 6pm off the menu which is announced at 4pm and it will be served between 7 and 8. It's the type of place that by the second day you get the feeling that you had significantly destressed. If you could stay there for a week, you may no longer be recognizable to your friends and family.

Ultimately, the rationale for going to Mission Beach was to see the Mission Beach Aquatics festival and to compete in the triathlon that Sunday. The Festival was small. And I feel like I'm starting to see the same "local flavor" bits again and again. The highlight of the festival was supposed to be the world's largest sarong. But when we went we saw that, in fact, it had been just many pieces of fabric pinned together in a patchwork sarong, and that most of it had already been disassembled. We then found a good table to grab a beer and watch the parade. The parade consisted of an old tyme car, kids with surfboards, scouts dressed as flip-flops and a firetruck. I think they might have won the award for the world's shortest parade. Our waitress went to get our beers and when she came back she had missed it.

I bought shoes for my bike. They clip into the pedals so you can both pull up on the pedals as well as push down. This is a big step in my cycling career. And it's to be expected that you will fall off your bike a few times as you get the hang of using them. Saturday, the day before the race, I still had not tried them out with the bike in motion (I had practiced them with the bike stationary and held in an upright position). So after two beers and the excitement of the parade, we decided it was time to practice. Lisa ran out ahead of me, so I could ride to her and she could catch me if I started to tip. I clipped in, pedalled a bit, clipped out and came to a stop right in front of her, still upright! She ran a bit further. Again, I made it successfully. "This is awesome" "You're a natural" "Ok, let's try it one more time, back to the car and we'll be good" As Lisa ran back toward the car, I turned the bike around with one foot still clipped in. And then, I was on the ground, laughing and calling out to Lisa. We tried a few more times and I didn't fall again, so I was feeling good for the race the next day.

I woke up in the morning anxious. Worried about the shoes still. But Suzie was there. Whew, not going to be last. Then it turns out, she was doing the half distance course. They explained the course to us: four buoys on the swim, left out of the lot on the bike, road turns right, over a small bridge, take a turn, out to South Mission Beach, around the cone, back, second lap, run across the street, pass the "Run-turnaround sign", but don't turn around there, take a turn up a hill, follow the cones, back to the turnaround sign, second loop and back to the transition area. What? I'll just follow the signs. The group of us traipsed out to the beach for the swim. I saw two buoys close to shore, where were the other two? Off on the horizon, I spotted two small orange dots. Those were them. Was it possible that was 750m? I started to panic. I can't swim that far in the ocean, I have clippy shoes I'm going to fall out of, I have no idea what the course is. I looked around and spotted Greg a member of the club. I told him I was anxious about the swim. He said not to worry about it, just take it easy, take my time, don't try to go out too hard and I'd make it.

He was right. I was very slow, and I got caught in a rip coming back in and kept getting pushed off course, but I made it out of the water. The very last person out. At this point I was a bit disheartened, but strapped on my new clippy shoes and took my bike out to the course. I couldn't get my right foot in. I had practiced starting with one foot in, and now I couldn't get it in. I stood on the right pedal, I heard it clip, but then my weight was on the right, and down I went. My second spill with the shoes. A race official came back over to me to help. He offered to hold the bike up right, and I could just clip both of them in. But I couldn't do that, that wasn't how I had practiced, I knew I would fall again. I managed to get the right foot back in with him holding the bike, then finally got on my way.

Ok, right turn, over the bridge, out to the intersection, there are people there directing traffic. I hang a right. I swear I pass people cheering me on. Then it's just winding hills. Where's the turnaround? I see a sign "Caution bikes on road", ok I'm still going the right way. Then the road ends, another intersection and there's no sign, there's no one there. Which way do I go? Where are all the other riders? I must have screwed up. I turn around. I go all the way back to the transition area. I spot Simone, "Where's the turn around?" "There's a cone in the middle of the road" How could I have missed that? Back out, I come to the first intersection, and I yell out, "Where's the turn around?" "It's to the left." The left. I turned right last time. Why didn't you stop me before?

Maybe, I should just rack my bike, and not run. But as I get back to the transition. There's Lisa, cheering me on. I get off my bike, and I don't fall over. Ok, time to run. It's now about 10:45am, it's getting hot. I'm running. I do the first lap slowly, and I know at this point that every one else has finished. I ask the official, "can I finish?" He says "Yeah". I turn around at this point things start to click. My strides feel good. I make it up the hill this time with a lot less effort. And when I turn the corner to the finish line, there's Lisa and Simone cheering once again.

I don't really care about being last. I do care about being so far behind. It's hard to keep myself motivated to push hard when I can't see any one ahead of me. And I feel guilty for making people wait on me. One more triathlon next weekend...

Monday, October 08, 2007


It's 30 degrees (86 in fahrenheit) with 66% humidity. It is becoming critically important that I find the remote control to my air conditioner.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Why it's so expensive to get to Australia from the States

"Qantas makes an estimated 20 per cent of its profits on the route [US to Australia], deemed as one of the most uncompetitive long-haul routes in the world."

But perhaps all of this will be changing:

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