Sunday, 31 May 2009

On the post-trip assessment

I don't have the energy to properly write-up the New Brunswick trip right now. What I do have the energy for is to pick over some of the results of the trip. The first of them is that my parents seemed to have really enjoyed themselves and my Father was talking about other trip possibilities. I informed him rather firmly that I would only take him on another trip if he replaced his current bike (which is geared much too low) and if he had a more visible jacket. The former condition was actually rather to his liking as he has been somewhat dissatisfied with his current bike. On train back from Moncton, he and I discussed bikes over some Famous Grouse.

The second result is that I am pretty sure that I will eschew much of the Kettle Valley Railway trail for my trans-BC trip in September. The significant sections of unfinished rail bed on the New Brunswick trip were pretty hard work. I don't know precisely what route I will now take through B.C. but I have three months to work on it. If nothing else, I could always take the Crows Nest Highway. One benefit of this is that I will probably be spared the expense and hassle of getting wider tires for Leonardo. Mind you, Schwalbe has pretty nifty 700x40c's. ;-)

The third conclusion is that I may well have botched the planning a bit. Much of tourist New Brunswick only opens for business in mid-June and it was only in Moncton(!) that I managed to find an open tourist information office. As well, I think I should have worked in a proper rest day: in trying too hard to keep within the margins of my parents' need for short days and a limited time frame, we biked for seven days, no day shorter than 50 km, according to my log. It was a bit too much. Of course, I am saying this a few hours after biking 104 km in the Défi Métropolitain in very windy conditions. (Gusts over 50 km/h). Time to relax with some Demerra rum.

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

On the road again

Well, this post comes to you from the Newcastle Library in Miramichi, N.B.. The train trip was a blast. I was very exicited when I boarded the train. I was even more plushed to be asked if I wanted to be the designated Able Body by the car attendants. This meant, that I would someone they could call upon to lend a hand in the event of an emergency. I accepted.

When the parents joined the train in Drummondville, they were as excited at myself. The next morning saw us arrive in Bathurst very much on schedule. Thank you Via Rail. Unfortunately, Mummy's front tire was flat on arrival, and Pappy managed to pinch her spare while putting it in, so it blew after I pumped it up. Luckily, I knew the location of a pretty good bike store in Bathurst from my previous trip. I was also not impressed to learn that my father hadn't actually tried putting his new saddle bags on his bike before hand. This was particularly unfortunate as his back rack lacked a lower attachment point. I improvised points using zip ties. However, his bike and preparation leave much to be desired. If I had a mantra for patience, I would have worn it out by now.

Weather has been as expected. Mostly cool and clear except for Sunday when it rained. We have come a bit too early and a lot of things are shut. The forecast is for decent weather until at least Thursday, possibly Friday. I have been mostly wearing my merino cycling jersey, under my rain jacket. My father brought a dark grey (almost black) gore-tex jacket that makes A. look like an old man, and B. isn't nearly conspicuous enough. Sunday night, I made him start wearing my high-visibility vest.

Leaving Bathurst, we found an old railbed that had been converted into a multi-use trail. After about a kilometer, the surface degenerated into dirt and large stones. These jarred loose one of the bolts securing my front panniers.

This miserable trail persisted for a bit too long. We knew that it would be crossed by Highway 11 at some point. My Father declared that we would turn off the trail at that point. I pointed out that the sensible thing would be to see if the trail changed at that point and then make a decision. I quipped that it might become a smoothly paved trail. Mummy responded that "Pigs might fly". We took Highway 11.

The next day, we were coming into Bertrand, N.B., when I saw the trail cross the road. In the direction we wanted to go, the trail was smoothly paved. I turned onto it, and waited for the others. I greeted my mother with the words: "Beware of low-flying pigs.

There might be more, but I can't think of anything else to write at this point.

Thursday, 21 May 2009

On preparations afoot

Well, there is little left I can think of that I can do at this point in preparation for going to New Brunswick, so I think I shall it a night. After much pondering, I decided to bring a novel I had catalogued at work and my (paperback) copy of The Horse and his boy. The latter choice was inspired by the memory of my cousin Tessa reading it to me many years ago. She passed away, prematurely, earlier this week.

The weather forecast for Bathurst, NB, is for most sunny condition until about Wednesday, except for showers on Sunday. Temperatures will be in the range of 3 to 18 Celsius. Pretty good forecast, let's hope it is reasonably accurate. Here's to hoping that Environment Canada is wrong about Sunday!

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

On the approaching trip

The New Brunswick trip has snuck up on me. This is partially due to the fact that last week was quite busy at work, what with what amounted to an all day meeting with my union, furniture delivery (see the previous post) and the like. Then again, I was so distracted about planning the trip, I had nearly forgotten that yesterday was Victoria Day, and therefore a holiday.

I spent the (long) weekend doing some packing, shopping and other preparations for the trip. For numerous reasons, some items will have to wait until very last minute before being packed. Among the preparations was the cleaning and treating my assorted waterproof-breathable garments.

I probably had some sort of brilliant remark about the trip, but I seem to have forgotten them. What a pity.

Saturday, 16 May 2009

On the new old

The parents were in Montreal on Thursday. They kindly took back with them, my old kitchen table. This allowed me to put an antique table that my late Aunt* Lorna had had in her dining room in North Hatley. My brother Philip had inherited it he passed on to my sister Alice. However as she wasn't going bring it with her to Namibia, I am storing it for her. Unfortunately, I have found out that it is too large to cover with South American aguayos. I will need to buy a tablecloth for it.
(* For those readers not related, "Aunt Lorna" was in fact my great-aunt on my mother's side.)

In addition, my parents brought in my restored Elizabethan chair. Here it is, lurking in my bedroom. It still need some work with a staple gun as well as time to lose the paint smell. But time it has, unlike my film camera which took this picture. I hadn't used it since last summer when I took some shots of Pete Seeger in concert with his grandson Tao Rodriquez-Seeger. To be honest, I wasn't even sure if the camera still had film in it. The concert pictures didn't come out that well due to assort lighting problems. That they came out at all is a testament to something. Here are the two best shots of the lot.
I nearly didn't include this second one, but it features Pete on his signature instrument: a five-string banjo with an extra-long neck. The roll of film had been in my camera for quite a long time. As near as I can figure it, I must have put it in the camera on my first bike tour back in November 2006. There weren't any biking pictures, but there was this shot of Stephen and Margaret in what I am pretty sure is their kitchen in Victoria. At least, what was their kitchen. I understand they moved a month or so ago.
Rather embarassing to have so abandonned my old film camera. However, it does go to show how practical digital really is.

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

On the point of the Tour de l'Île revisited

Margo was kind enough to point out this article by Sheldon Brown in a past issue of Momentum that related to my previous post. ("As she is in Khazakstan right now, she had to wave very frantically to get my attention. Wok-a, wok-a, wok-a!" ;-) Thank you Margo.) I had read the article in question at the time as that issue of Momentum was the first issue I had read. (It that issue also features an article featuring some familiar persons.) The article by Sheldon Brown voiced an opinion against charity "bike-a-thons" that likely inspired the position I voiced in my last post.

However, re-reading the article, I was intrigued to note an interesting difference in our approaches to the issue. Sheldon's take might be described as anti-"bike-a-thons" as they can be a negative experience for nascent cyclists. My approach was to say that the point of the Tour de l'Île is to encourage bicycling and the fund-raising would detract from that basic message. Sheldon and I are largely in agreement, but our arguments cover different, but complementary areas. As well, I was dealing with a specific case, whereas he was presenting a general refutation of "bike-a-thons".

In other Tour de l'Île news:
My kits for both the Tour de l'Île and the Défi Métropolitain arrived yesterday. In addition, as I was riding down the Glen this afternoon, I noticed that some of the more egregious potholes had been filled in. I couldn't help but wonder if this was related to the fact that the Tour is supposed to go that way this year. All is still not perfectly smooth, so if you are going in the Tour, keep a sharp eye out as you go under the wonderful old stone Canadian Pacific train bridge.

Thursday, 7 May 2009

On the point of the Tour de l'Île or It's about the bike (with apologies to Lance Armstrong)

About a week ago, someone wrote an editorial piece in the Montreal Gazette complaining that the Tour de l'Île was getting a free ride from the City of Montreal as it did not allow people to use the event to raise funds for charity by having other people sponsor them for the ride. This despite the roughly $600,000 the City of Montreal spent on the event. That is roughly a subsidy of $20 per participant! My reaction to this was A. Bollocks, and B. to write a letter to the Gazette saying said person had rather missed the point of the event.

If I were to ask people to sponsor me for charity as I was taking a flight to New Zealand (economy class), they would look at me as if I were mad. Yet several people on my trip to Newfoundland last summer asked if I was doing this for charity. People going around making trips to fund-raise are clearly warping people's perspective about what it means to bicycle. Also, it is a little hard to understand why we should give money to someone because he or she is making an effort to do something typically relatively unconnected with the cause in question.

Biking is fun, easy, practical, environmentally friendly and safe. It is something you can do without feeling guilty. That is the fundamental idea the people at Vélo-Québec are trying to promote. I think of it as demystifying this means of transportation.

In contrast, by bringing in fund-raising, said person was saying, in effect, "No, it is not enough that you are on you bike. You must also be actively doing good (i.e. fund-raising) at the same time." In other words, you are not allowed to just enjoy yourself.

The problem with this is that it contributes to the mystification of cycling. It makes cycling less, instead of more, the act of the common man. It removes cycling from the commonplace and puts in a more lofty realm.

By keeping the Tour de l'Île down to Earth, Vélo-Québec is contributing to the increasing use of bikes as a means of transportation. Yes, you can quibble and disagree with many aspects of how Vélo-Québec runs the Tour (and I do so), but I stand firmly behind Vélo-Québec in its stand vis-à-vis fund-raising.

Said person contacted me after my letter was published in the Gazette. After a brief exchange of e-mails, I came to the conclusion that it simply wasn't worth my while arguing with him, and ended any contact. Why? Not only was his tone and words relatively insulting to me, but also he revealed himself to be something of zealot for his cause (raising money via sports). It seems that for him, the end justified exposing that Montreal taxpayers were paying for the inconvenience of not being able to drive everywhere the like on the first Sunday in June. (Horrors!) He also urged people to pressure the civic governments to end the subsidy. (Incidentally, I calculated the subsidy works out to less than 40¢ per citizen of Montreal.) Nothing I could say was likely to change his mind as he evidently refused to accept that by adding his cause to the Tour, he was undermining the Tour's fundamental message. Therefore, I severed the means of communication.

Don't get me wrong. I am not against charity sports events. If you want to organise an event to raise money for x or y worthy cause, go ahead. If it is a good event, I might participate. But to try to change an event with a purpose that goes against that of the change, is very wrong.

Said person's minimal website amounted to little more than an appeal to the vanity of athletes or wannabe athletes. There was too much talk of competition and the like. That is not the point of the Tour.

The Tour is about the biking. It about showing ordinary people that they can do quite ordinary things with their bike. Where it is special is that by doing ordinary things such as biking 50 km ordinary people can feel like they are extraordinary. With luck, they may realize that biking a fair distance isn't that complicated or hard, (indeed, it can be very practical) and it can bring with it a tremendous sense of achievement.

I fight the perception at work that I am some sort of "Lance Armstrong-lite", as it makes my bicycle commute seem like a sport for the super fit. Ironically, the fact that I am built tall and relatively slender works against me in my role as bike advocate as I am seen as being fitter than I really am. What I wish I could say to my colleagues is that you don't have to be a Lance Armstrong to ride a bike, but that if you get on your bike and get the right conditions, you can feel like a Lance Armstrong.

"All I ask is for a following wind, miles of good, flat pavement and a well set-up bike."
Which admittedly is a lot to ask for, but when you get it, you should try to relish the emotions you get.

I hope this all makes some kind of sense.

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

On a decision being made

Well, the Air Canada seat sale ends tomorrow, so I figured "what the hell" and booked myself a ticket to Victoria and from Calgary. Hence, therefore or otherwise, I will be traveling from Victoria to Calgary, mostly by bike, come September. The process is made that much more trickier as I found out that there is one more set of people to see in Vancouver than I originally anticipated. It may well work out for the best, though the bus from Fort McLeod option looks increasingly attractive.

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

On a hell of a party and the proper usage of the Chair

Last weekend was the annual April birthday party of my family. For some reason, a significant number of people in my family have birthdays in April. Rather than celebrate the individual days, a tradition has developed over the years to celebrate them all at once, thus saving resources. This event more or less doubles as a family reunion on my father's side of the family. This year's shindig was particularly large, featuring no less than all six of my father living siblings in attendance. Also featured were no less than 8 members of the great-grandchildren generation (counting from from my gradndparents.) Cutest among them was, of course, my niece, the newest member of the April birthday club. (It is quite possible that I am biased.) Much food and drink were consumed and many people had the violin played at them by my cousin in-law Martine. We are a tribe of unruly gourmands.
My cousin Andrew being played to by Martine

More pictures here.

In addition, the "share and cuddle" function of my chair was put through its paces. On three separate occasions different pairs of people sat together.
Here we have yours truly reading to Adéle Désirée.
Rebecca with her son Declan.
Last but not least, Josée with her daughter Sarah. This last picture shows off the colour scheme of the restored chair particularly well.

Friday, 1 May 2009

On a decent Friday

I (finally) got confirmation of my late summer vacation period at work. Three weeks starting Labour Day weekend. Now I have fewer excuses about coming to a conclusion about where I wish to bike this year. Plan A. remains Victoria to Calgary. Plan B. was Marseille to London or similar, but after chatting to Jean my cousin-in law from Belgium who was raving about a bookstore in Lille in the North of France, I am wondering if perhaps, Bordeaux-Lille via the coast might also be appealing. One idea would be to follow the pilgrimage route that eventually becomes the Camino Francés. No reason to rush.

In other news, about a year ago, I submitted an article to Momentum magazine about the Tour de l'Île. I am please to announce that with some modification, they have published it on-line, but not in print. You can see it using this link.

It has been a decent Friday.

Post Posting Script

It is turning into a decent weekend as well. On Saturday morning, I found this article about my hero, Pete Seeger, on the BBC website. Also, there is a big shindig in North Hatley this evening.