Sunday, 19 December 2010

High and Low

View from 3 rock towards Sugar Loaf

The Featherbed is a boggy, mountainous wasteland - less than 20k from Dublin, but a world away. It is surely one of the most wild and desolate places around, maybe even in the country - not a house, a tree or even a sheep in sight. It's also a great road bike route - an hour's gentle climb along the Military Road (eventually leading to the Sally Gap, unpassable these last few weeks) brings you to the top nearly 500m above sea level. And this is where I headed to yesterday afternoon, a dusting of snow outside, and wondering how far I'd make it, or if I'd be able to complete the loop over the top and back via Glencullen.

Not surprisingly, there weren't many people about (I saw one car all day). Roads were dicey, just needed to take it handy, but nothing too serious. Leaving the trees behind, opening out into a frozen and beautiful plateau, with higher mountains rising above. Dropping down now towards Glencree, the road worsening and I knew the smaller back roads to Glencullen would be even icier. Better to turn back, and climb over the top again.

Bitterly, seriously, unbelievably cold - not a day to be taking chances. While taking off my jacket to get a few extra layers on, sweat had incredibly frozen inside (a first). Thermometer is showing about 4 below. Time for balaclava with the descent ahead. For some reason I'd only brought 'ordinary' winter gloves, and not my ski gloves. I paid the price on the journey home - no exaggeration to say I wasn't far off frostbite by the time I was back off the hills.

This is surely the harshest winter I've spent anywhere, and that includes two winters in NZ's South Island. Spiky ice tyres on the bike, schools closed, snowed in at home - all the norm now in the last month, and three years in a row. Climate change is here, and I think we'll be getting used to these conditions from now on.

But yesterday was a wonderful spin on the bike - up in a place where you could die in the extreme temperatures, I felt very alive up there alone, and in the deafening silence of the mountains.

Postscript: No camera yesterday, but here are a few pics of some recent hiking, biking and boarding adventures in the snow:

On the Military Road - "This is a road through the Wicklow Mountains, which is still in use for mainly tourist traffic, built at the beginning of the 19th Century to open up the mountains to the English Military to assist them in putting down the insurgents who were the remnant of the 1798 uprising". More here.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Young man's game mate

So Jimmy White and Stephen Hendry met in the first round of the 2010 UK championship, finishing yesterday. It was Jimmy's first time qualifying for the event in 4 years and the first time the pair met in a ranking event in 7 years. Hendry trotted out the old reliable before the match, saying of Jimmy, "He is probably the best player not to have won the world championship." Jimmy has beaten Hendry twice at the world championship though never when it counted, loosing the final to him 4 times in the early 90s.

Still, Jimmy was crowned world champion last month...yes you read that right, he won the first world seniors championship, beating Steve Davis in the final. Alex Higgins, RIP, was due to play the tournament. An over 40s event, it was the first World Seniors Championship for 19 years. Peter Ebdon, 40, was knocked out in the first round. Disappointingly, Hendry, 41, declined the invitation to play the tournament.

But back to the UK championship. Jimmy had a 8-7 lead in the first to 9 and incredibly the pair went on to have only their 5th ever final frame decider. Jimmy said afterwards, "I was 8-7 up, but there was so many mistakes you haven't got enough tape to go through it, and there was a bit of vintage Hendry at the end."

Looking back, it's been an interesting 12 experimental months for snooker. Last December there was the did it really happen six-red world championship in Killarney. The experiments continued, especially after Bary Hearn took control of World snooker this summer, and we saw Power snooker, not sure what that's about...

And in that time we have an Australian world champion. To cement his year, Neil Roberston beat Ronnie O'Sullivan to win the world open in September and become world number 1. Still, Graeme Dott was the player of the world championship this year, Dott needed to get to the final to stay in the top 16 and amazingly he made his 3rd final - if he had won he would have joined a select club to have won it more than once - but just ran our of steam in the end. It's a young man's game in fairness and to remind us of that, Jimmy white, now ranked 64 in the world at 48 years of age concluded, "I tried to get focused but I didn't play well at all and I'm really disappointed because I've done a lot of qualifying to get here. I was so pumped up for it but just couldn't produce the goods."
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