Monday, 28 April 2008

On another contigency plan

The division of my holiday period into two parts brings with it the possibility that the initial week would be that of the 16th of June. Given that the Défi d'Acton Vale is the 15th of June, I have devised a contingency plan that would allow me to do the Défi d'Acton Vale.

Instead of riding to Québec City by the North Shore of the Saint-Lawrence, I would ride with gear to Acton Vale on Saturday, June 14; spend the night in Acton Vale; do the Défi on Sunday, caching most of my gear; spend Sunday night in Acton Vale ; head off with gear on the Monday. This contingency plan, I will term alternative "C". If put into effect, I would be doing plan 5C.

Saturday, 19 April 2008

On matters relating to the week's biking

On the whole, the week has turned out reasonably well. While my bum has yet to adapt to the saddle, it is getting better. Right now, it only the initial few minutes every morning that cause any discomfort. As well, I managed to track down a decent supply of reflective tape at the Côte-des-Neiges branch of Canadian Tire. Why it wasn't at my usual Canadian Tire, I don't know. This led to me returning home over the mountain via Côte-des-Neiges, for the most adventurous ride of the year to date. I now have reflective tape in silver, red and black! The latter is quick surprising as it looks black or dark grey until you shine a light directly at it. In truth, I only really needed the red tape, but I wanted to build up a reserve. Besides, I can now dream up some clever uses for the black reflective tape.

On the downside of this week, I was officially told that it is now the policy of my employer to limit vacations to a maximum of three consecutive weeks. Even three weeks represents a "dispensation" of sorts as the "normal" vacation is two weeks. There is a polite term for this. Another one is bullshit. This policy represents a reduction of the benefits enjoyed by the employees. Said benefits cannot be reduced without changing the contract. The contract has not been changed. I should know as I am the local Union representative. I have sent word of this to my superiors in the Union. I suspect that my employer will eventually back down, but the operative word is, unfortunately, "eventually". I doubt I will learn the result of any grievances, compromises or negotiations on this matter for months and I will need to start making plans, soon-ish.

Consequently, I have made inquiries as to whether I might take off a week in June and then three weeks later in the summer. This would be Plan 5B, "B" for Le Bic. In the first week, I would bike as far as Le Bic, leave my bike and some other expedition gear at my brother Philip's friends place in Le Bic and take the train or bus back to Montreal. At the start of the later period, I would return by train or bus to Le Bic and pick up where I left off. One advantage of this plan would be that I could assess my performance during the initial week and adjust my plans and gear for the subsequent weeks.

I also got my first non-family comment this week. A fellow biker came across my blog and left me a very nice note including a link to a blog he had made during a Montreal to Cape Breton bike trip last year. His route makes for an interesting comparison as he went from Montreal to Portland, Maine. He then took a ferry to Yarmouth, Nova Scotia. From there, he went along the southern coast of Nova Scotia. Reading it, I am amused at the different ways I would go compared to him. He crosses into the United States significantly earlier than I would: I would go as far as North Hatley to spend the night with my parents, then go South to Newport, Vt. While he went along the southern coast of Nova Scotia, I would go along the northern coast in order to stop by my uncles in Berwick. I would be more knowledgeable about some of the parts New Hampshire that surprised him (such as Bethlehem, N.H.) having spent a fair bit of time hiking in the White Mountains (albeit reluctantly at times). I hope I don't sound negative. I am simply analysing the differences in our styles and realities.

I planned to go to Vélo-Québec's headquarters to pick up the new edition of their guide to la Route Verte today. As I was walking down the stairs, I started to chat with my cycling neighbour about matters relating to the condo association and cycling. I put forward the idea of possibly installing a bike rack on the condo association's lawn. He seemed reasonably receptive to the idea.

I got to the Vélo-Québec's HQ, bought a copy of the new edition (at a nice discount thanks to my membership in Vélo-Québec) and sat down outside to assess it over a cup of coffee. I didn't notice any significant changes to the route, but there was more in the way of information regarding accomodations and transport. Well worth the money.

I have two quibbles about the book. The first is that the title of the English version is "Cycling in Quebec." This is somewhat misleading as there are a fair number of good cycle paths in Quebec that aren't part of the Route Verte and are therefore not in the book. The Guide de la Route Verte covers the Route Verte very well, but relatively little else. The second is that it is a shade too large to fit into an Arkel map holder.

Nonetheless, I went back and bought two more copies (in English): one copy that I will first edit of unneeded content and then trim to fit and one copy for my mother's birthday (Note this portion of the blog was expanded after she got it: I hadn't mentioned it in the first version!) The lady at the counter asked me if there was a problem with the copy I had bought a few minutes earlier. I said no, I simply wanted more! Now that I re-read this section, I realize that there was indeed a problem (too large) but that could not be considered a real flaw.

When I got home, my neighbour was busy caring for the lawn. I showed him my purchase and asked him about his trip along the South Shore last summer. He pointed out a few slightly iffy spots along the way. I then lent him a copy. We also discussed the relative merits of bike fenders versus rain deflectors.

Not that rain has been an issue this last week: the weather has been marvelous for cycling. Almost too warm! I have been shedding layers frequently.

A final observation on biking to work is that it gives a tremendous feeling of freedom from the relative and erratic tyranny of bus time tables. This winter seems to have been particularly bad for buses being late. As well, my habit of taking the infrequent but useful 104 bus has meant that I had to be hyper-vigilant about shutting down my computer (a surprisingly length process) before hand as I had no margin for lateness if I wanted to catch it. Now I don't have to worry. My bike is going to be there, no matter what.

All in all, it has been a good week for cycling.

Monday, 14 April 2008

On preparing for the first commute of the year

Well, the Castafiore is ready. I attached a new milk crate to her this evening and she is now outside locked to the signpost. I will need to find some more reflective doodads for the crate, but otherwise the bike is ready to roll. I packed cycling gear into my commuting backpack. All I need to do now is to make sure my helmet is at the front door and the appropriate gloves are in my biking jacket.

Friday, 11 April 2008

On the relative lateness of Spring this year

Bicycling on Tuesday was a little surreal. While the streets were quite clear of snow, there is still a lot of snow around. Despite the snow, there are a lot of bikes out. Somehow, it looks wrong. I would like to submit this shot taken at McGill to demonstrate.
I mean, the scene looks rather like winter, until you see the not inconsiderable number of bikes locked to the railing. I guess the reality is that Spring, in the sense of the start of the biking season, is relatively late this year. I had the strange revelation that it is nearly mid-April, and I have hardly been on the bike. Last year, I was getting ready for the expedition to Santiago de Compostela that began on the first Sunday in May!

I have made the trip between Montreal and North Hatley by bus three times this week. Each time, I have noticed that I spend a certain amount of time looking at the landscape through a cyclist's eyes. That is, I am trying to judge what it would be like to travel through the varied terrain on a bike. While I have biked between Montreal and North Hatley on two occasions, I know I can still learn more about the shape of the land. Maybe another way of putting it is that I am trying to calibrate my sense of the land as it applies to biking.

Tuesday, 8 April 2008

On the first day of spring biking and milk crates

I am on vacation this week. As well, my downstairs neighbour had his bike out yesterday. This embarrassed me into getting the Castafiore out for a first ride of the year. It is surprising how much stuff I needed to dig out of storage: biking gloves, toolkit, rain gear, etc.

After I had set off on a ride to pick up a new pump, I remembered that I had meant to replace the milk crate on the back of my bike this spring. I have been using a milk crate to carry my backpack for about fifteen years now. Due to the natural wear and tear and exposure to the elements (including ultra-violet light), they have to be replaced every so often as the plastic begins to weaken and break. When I retired the first one from "active" duty, it seemed natural to start using it to hold assorted bike bits such as spare inner tubes, bike tools, and other bric à brac.

I am quite fortunate in being well acquainted with a grocery store owner who is kind enough to let me have some milk crates, so I am reasonably well stocked in them. However, not all milk crates are created equal. The task ahead of me now will be to see which of my spare milk crates seems the strongest and easiest to secure to my bike.

My trip today likely only covered 20 km or so, but I am more aware of it than I would like. I will have to start getting my butt into shape if I am going to make it to Newfoundland. Not that I am particularly worried as I have more than two months at the earliest and I know from experience that it is relatively easy for me to get my hindquarters used to the saddle in the spring.

On a completely non-biking related topic

In the last four hours, I have gained a new title: uncle. At around noon today, I gained a niece, 8.5 lbs. Both mother and child reported to be doing well.

A mite late (she was expected on the 1st) but then babies can't read calendars. I had been beginning to think that "Patience" would be an appropriate name for a girl. ;-)