Wednesday, 22 December 2010

On how I am glad I am not biking to Newfoundland right now

I came across an article on the CBC news website about how a storm is disrupting ferry traffic between North Sydney and Port-aux-Basques. It made me remember my crossing, and made me reflect on how delightfully uneventful it was!
The article also featured this picture, which brought back memories. If my memory is correct, I stayed in the Radio Station Inn B&B which I believe is the house nearest the center of the picture, just to the left of the bright headlights.

Sunday, 12 December 2010

On when my transportation lifestyle works

In a previous post, I noted that I sometimes regret not owning a car. However, today I had the pleasure of not only feeling smug about it, but also getting an advantage from it. I am a member of a car-sharing organization. As I had a few things to get at Ikea, I used one of their cars to get to the store this morning. I parked close to the exit, and walked over to it. As I did so, I saw that there was a few spots that were reserved for "green" cars as close as can be to the exit of the building. That is to say hybrid, electric or "shared" cars had priority parking. In fact, "my" car-sharing organization was specifically mentioned on one of the signs. Just to take advantage of this, I went back to the car and parked in the reserved spot. Not that it made a huge difference!

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

On the end of another biking year

Well, it seems that last Friday was the last day of biking for me for 2010. Not a bad year all told. Highlights included a second major bike tour in Europe and Floria die Fleddermoose making it through her first year with only one major hitch, and that was hardly her fault.

It has been snowing every day since Saturday, with 24+ centimeters hitting the ground on Monday rather unexpectedly. The "B" in BMW continues to be problematic (see previous entry). I am already missing the freedom of the bike.
This is how high the snow was at my back door on Monday

I will have to watch myself these next few weeks with regards to diet and exercise if I don't want my paunch to expand further. While overall I am fit, I think I have a bit too much abdominal fat as it is.

Friday, 26 November 2010

On missing the B of BMW

As the forecast was for freezing rain this morning, I brought Floria in last night, on the grounds that only a real lunatic would bicycle in freezing rain. Instead of riding to work, I would BMW it. As most of my readers will know, BMW stands for Bus Metro Walk.

Walking was dicey as it was a bit icey, but manageable.

The Metro part went okay.

It was the Bus part that gave me trouble.

When I left the Metro at Plamandon station, there was longish line for the 161 bus, situation normal. Except, the bus didn't come, didn't come. Not only that, but there were no buses going in the other direction as well. After about 15 minutes and few unsuccessful attempts to get a cab, I decided to walk it. 35 minutes of slippery walking later I saw my first bus, going the other way, on a different route right in front of the Library. As my walk had followed the route of the 161, I had witnessed 50 minutes of 161 non-activity in both directions at rush hour.

Dear STM, if service is interrupted on a major bus route, would it be too much to ask for you actually try to inform people at major points?

Monday, 15 November 2010

On Australia becoming a little more real

About a week ago, my co-workers and I approved a new collective agreement that had been in the works for about three years. The start date, if you can believe it, of the contract is officially, July 1st 2006! The end date will be the 31st of December 2012. This means it is already more than half over and it is yet to be signed! The signing will take place in about 2 or 3 months meaning early in the new year, I should be looking a nice chunk of retroactive salary rises that may well be enough for a flight to Oz by themselves! All this to say that the trip seems that much more likely.

In addition, after some reading, about the exact definition of the Indian Ocean, I can add a new possible route to the mix. It seems that the seas West of Tasmania is considered the Indian Ocean. Therefore, by the "red desert" and Indian Ocean criteria, a Broken Hill to Melbourne run, via, say, Portland, would fit.

Reading recent entries in Margo and Chris' blog, I wonder what Margo's reaction would be to all of the very venomous snakes to be found in Australia, none of which have the rattlesnake's courtesy to warn people off! ;-)

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

On a possible narrowing down of places to bike in Oz

I finished reading Bill Bryson's A sunburned country on the weekend. From it, I drew a few ideas about where I might choose to go on my proposed trip Down Under. Not so much specific ideas as broad things that I would like to say I have seen.

One very broad thing, namely the Indian Ocean. The nearest I have been to said ocean is New Zealand. And the only oceanic swimming I did there was on the East Coast! That is to say, the far side of New Zealand from the Indian Ocean!

Another broad thing I would like to see on my trip would be what Bryson described as the red-baked desert clichéd image of Australia. Actually, this is a thing that has attracted me from the start.

In broad terms, to combine these two purposes I have two options as I see it. Option one is Alice Springs to Darwin. Option two would be to work out some sort of loop around Perth. Margo has pointed me at a bike touring website that proposes such as a loop.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

On biking to work in cold weather and my fitness level

Biking in cold weather
Late fall weather has been around for a couple of weeks. One of my co-workers asked me if it was tough biking to work through the cold. My response was "No, but I get ice-cream headaches" to which she added "Without the benefit of having eaten ice-cream!" I got a good chuckle out of that. I started using my polar fleece balaclava given to me by my sister many years ago. Thank you, Alice.

On my fitness level
Generally, I don't see myself as being particularly fit. I am not unfit, but on the other hand, I have a bit of a paunch and all.

However, yesterday I suddenly realised that I am fairly fit, if not rather fit. A somewhat rotund acquaintance of mine goes to the same gym as me. Our schedules are different and I only see her as she is leaving on Mondays as I arrive. The last couple of times, she has made comments to the effect that she is utterly tired after her session with her trainer (roughly an hour). Today, I had the thought, "Hey, you know, when I leave, I am tired but not wiped." From this, I conclude that either I am not putting enough effort into lifting weights, or I am actually pretty darn fit, all things considered. I prefer the second opinion.

Monday, 1 November 2010

On a very good improvement on my daily commute

I will start this entry with a message I sent to the City of Montreal this evening.

Revenant du travail cette après-midi (Nov. 1) j'ai eu la bonne surprise de voir que on a prolongé la piste cyclable de Grand Boulevard jusqu'à la rue deMaisonneuve. Ça fait des années que je pensais que ça serait une bonne idée de faire cela. Mes félicitations à qui le droit!

In English: "Coming home from work this afternoon (Nov. 1), I had the pleasant surprise to see that the Grand Boulevard Bike path has been extended to de Maisonneuve. For years, I have been thinking that it would be a good idea to do that. My thanks to whom it may concern!"

What I didn't say is that the new development means that I can now do legally what I had been doing illegally for a number of years. That is to say, ride against traffic for one, short block on Grand Boulevard in order to cross Sherbrooke Street at a light. In my defence, I always admitted to myself that what I was doing was illegal, and that if challenged I would offer no pretense of innocence, only the explanation that doing so was the safest of a number of poor options.

For the price of some paint and the time it took to paint it, the City of Montreal has thoroughly justified my faith in my ability to determine the best route on a bike. I don't often say it, but here's to the City of Montreal!

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

On how bicycles and moose shouldn't be combined

There was an article on the CBC News website describing how one Newfoundlander is combining moose and bicycles. Namely hunting them on his bike. I am not sure if this is entirely legal, let alone fair.

There are laws against hunting from vehicles, though I don't know if they apply to bikes. Furthermore, hunting is rarely done from horseback (except in some cases) so I have serious doubts about the legality of the whole business.

Part of the rationale of not hunting from vehicles is to give the prey a sporting chance to bugger off before the hunters get in range. Using a bicycle would therefore be unsporting and potentially upset the balance.

Also, the article doesn't describe how he carries his rifle while cycling. I wonder how safe that is. Come to think of it, what are the rules and laws about transporting a firearm by bicycle?

For the record, I am not against responsible hunting. I won't say I am for it, as I am not pro-hunting. Rather, I have better things to do than weigh the pros and cons of responsible hunting, let alone try to go out and change the status quo. I am prepared to enjoy the benefits of hunting in the form of the very occasional bit of moose meat that comes my way. Before anyone points out that I shouldn't be eating my totem animal, I would like to say that it is my spiritual-value system and I can live with its apparent hypocrisies quite happily!

Sunday, 24 October 2010

On a decison, of sorts

I have come a decision regarding going to Australia. Not an irrevocable decision, nor a definite one. But a decision nonetheless. Barring the unforeseen, I will go there in the next vacation/fiscal year i.e. May 2010 to April 2011.

I still haven't decide where I will go in Australia (and where influences when), but I will go. A long time ago, I sort of promised myself I would get there some day and as there will be a "0" in my age come next birthday, I think it is appropriate.

On some gems from a conversation

Last week I was chatting on the phone with Mummy about my possible trip to Australia and matters arising therefrom. The maternal unit was looking at where the various places I was talking about in her atlas (bought for her by yours truly). The process, she looked at the map of Niue and commented that it would be an easier country to bicycle around, even having a circumferential road. Given the Niue is only slightly larger than Jersey, that isn't very hard! My comment was that it might even be possible to bike around the country in the time it would take to refuel the plane!

Also in the conversation, Mummy facetiously asked how would the Aussies react to me walking into one of their hotels after day on the bike, i.e. all hot and sweaty. I replied that I didn't think it was much an issue as Australia as a whole is 1. a fairly hot and sweaty place and 2. the Aussies are a very laid back bunch of people, as whole. Also, given that Aussies backpackers are nearly ubiquitous in most places around the World, I don't think they have much to complain about. Furthermore, the "hotels" of which I spoke are in fact outback pubs, and therefore rather less formal.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

On 2nd and 3rd takes on biking in Oz

Thanks to Margo or Chris pointing out the advantages of Expedia, Australia is back in the running as an option for next year. I have also done a bit more research that suggests earlier in the year might be desirable, at least if I do the Alice-Darwin run. May would be the target month.

Using a combination of Google Earth and Google Maps I was able to identify a number of places to stay along the Stuart Highway, as well as the distances involved.

Biking day





Alice Springs





Barrow Creek



Barrow Creek





Tennant Creek



Tennant Creek

Renner Springs



Renner Springs





















Pine Creek



Pine Creek







This is only a very preliminary breakdown based on the concept of credit card touring and does not include rest days, etc. I have no idea how realistic the distances per day are. In point of fact, I am particularly nervous about the first two days given the significant distances and the learning curve of starting to bike in an unfamiliar country.

It also doesn't take into account a rather significant detour I might take. From Pine Creek, I would hang a right for 212 km to Jaibiru in Kakadu National Park and then go 255 km to Darwin. This side trip would involve camping.

In the research process, I noticed that the speed limit on the Stuart Highway is 130 km/h, enforcement is minimal as are the shoulders. All this makes me a little nervous about the suitability of the Stuart Highway for biking.

Given that Oz is a fairly big country, I still have the option of looking somewhere else for a trip, possibly in slightly more populated areas. I should ask Louise who did some biking on the East Coast of Oz a few years back about what she did.

Saturday, 16 October 2010

On a librarian's perspective on some poor fictional use of information

This post does not conform with the standard types of entries for this blog (i.e. biking, mooses, nieces and nephew.) Sue me.

As my readers know, or should know, I am a librarian. I also studied history. This means I have a well developed sense of how information works in the present and over time. In turn, this means I have a certain intolerance for when writers ignore how information works.

Centuries-long conspiracies à la Dan Brown make me gag as information will leak out. You simply can't maintain a functional veil of secrecy for that long unless the organization is absolutely tiny. (Then the danger is that the knowledge will simply be forgotten.)

In reverse, big information sticks around for a very long time. Especially when this information is widely published. Several months ago, I was reading The passage by Justin Cronin. Overlong, boring and poor structured in the guise of being clever, his post-vampire-apocalypse tale has many indications that he doesn't understand how information works. To begin with, the cause apocalypse is a hyper-secret, yet massive, U.S. government research project that unleashes vampires. (This is actually wrong from the preceding point.) After the dust settles, the tale concerns a small group of descendants of survivors in the American Southwest some eighty years or so later. According to Cronin, it takes less than century for people to forget major cultural artifacts such as Christmas! Despite the fact that there are all kinds of books lying around describing it. A copy of A Christmas carol is found but nobody really understands the context. Likewise, Christianity seems more or less unknown. The Bible is the most widely printed book, ever. And I wouldn't put A Christmas carol that far behind! That type of knowledge would survive.

I also don't like The passage as the protagonists burn a library with nary a second thought. Come on people, if nothing else, a library would provide masses of reading material to occupy your bleak existence.

In a slightly different vein, I went to see the movie Red this afternoon. At two points, two different characters enter the ultra-secret file vault of the CIA (kept by a librarian type character played by Ernest Borgnine). These files are of the really, ultra, top, I-could-tell-you-but-then-I-would-have-to-kill-you, secret variety. This is the one place (in theory) this information is supposed to be kept.

Except that both files looked at have been heavily redacted. That is to say, all the useful information has been blacked out.

The whole point of keeping such ultra-secret information in the first place is so the organization can refer to it if the issue comes up at a later date, if only to know which set of lies to use. Redacted documents are copies you give to politicians and journalists. You still have to have an accurate original somewhere.

While the filmmakers probably thought it would be topical and prevent the truth coming out too quickly in the movie to have the information redacted, to me it just looks stupid. I think one of major problems with Hollywood is that most filmmakers knowledge of the world comes from watching other movies, which unfortunately, isn't real.

On one of more annoying bits of my trip from Britain

Just after I returned to London, I discovered that the removable accessory bar for my 2008 Topeak Compact Handlebar Bag was missing. Doubtless, it was pinched by a hairy, shifty South-American I saw in the railway station. ;-)
The piece in question is the hollow tube on top the mounting bracket that allows you to attach accessories like bells to your bike despite having the bag mounted. Topeak sells a replacement mounting bracket which unfortunately isn't compatible with the bag I bought in 2008. I am half tempted to get a whole new bag as the new, incompatible mounting bracket is said to be easier to use. The old system led to pinched fingers.

Monday, 4 October 2010

On the issues of biking in Oz

The problem I most feared is reality. I did some poking around on the 'Net today and was rather startled that a round trip ticket to Alice Springs is on the order of $3500 CAD or more, plus possible charges for bikes. Somehow, I didn't think it would be quite that expensive. When I went to New Zealand in 2002, the ticket was something like $2400 CAD, if I recall correctly. Of course in those days, I still used a travel agent!

It is also tricky to get logical routes as Air Canada and Quantas belong to different airline groups. Air Canada is Star Alliance whereas Quantas is One World. (Air New Zealand is in Star Alliance.) It also means that the routes generated aren't as short as they might be. For example, Air Canada proposes Montreal-Vancouver-Sydney-Alice Springs. This implies taking a great circle route North to Vancouver before heading South to Sydney then North again to Alice Springs. On the Sydney to Montreal leg, Quantas suggested LAX (ugh)-Chicago (eeek!)-Montreal on its American partner (aieee!!).

This is also important as you can't get an accurate quote out of Quantas for flying from Montreal, as my city isn't in their database. Or something.

I looked into using an around-the-world ticket to get a lower fare but found it was A. more expensive and B. took more time, on account of mandatory layovers, etc. (My sister used one to get to New Zealand, but now that I think of it, she also had brief visits to Switzerland, India, and Canada (she was living in Belfast at the time) on that trip.)

I also poked around a couple of third-country carriers in the region namely Cathay Pacific and Singapore Airlines. I didn't even bother with Garuda ("Retro vadis, Satanico!") as I am not sure they are even allowed to fly into North America. (Though you have to hand it to the world's largest Muslim nation to name their airline after a Hindu deity!) to see if there was anything to be gained. Alas, none of them will admit to flying into Alice Springs (not surprising) or Darwin. The latter was somewhat surprising as it is the northern bit of Oz, and therefore closest to Asia. (So close that the Japanese bombed it repeatedly during the Second World War.) It took a lot of very direct probing of route maps before I found an actual international flight out of Darwin International Airport. Even then, it doesn't work.

Prevailing winds
From my research, the prevailing winds in the Northern Territory are pretty much East-South-East. This means that Alice Springs is better as a starting point from the wind perspective. It is also better from a psychological point of view as you are heading "towards the sea" rather than some "fly-speck" on a map. No offense to Alice Springs intended.

I'd had the mistaken idea that winter was the wet season in Oz. Not so, or at least in the Northern Territory. Summer is the rainy season, at least near Darwin. The average heat and humidity levels make the thought look like a very uncomfortable idea. Therefore, my take is that the good biking window is probably the fall and early winter (before it gets too dry). In practical terms, May, June, July.

The road
When I looked up the distance between Darwin and Alice Springs on Googlemaps, the directions amounted to "putz around on local roads in Darwin for 5 km. Get on the Stuart Highway. Drive 1350 kms. Take the Alice Springs exit!" There is effectively only one road between Darwin and Alice Springs. This means sharing it with all the traffic including road-trains. My mental image of Aussie highways is fairly good, but ultimately boring compared to, say, the back roads of Spain. I wonder if even Bikemoose the Montrealer could tolerate several weeks of being buzzed by trucks on the same damn road!

Potential biking companions
Margo and Chris are in the planning stages of biking in South America from January to June-ish. This will likely be taking up pretty much all of their biking resources for next year. Hence, I doubt I will have them along for the ride which makes camping less attractive and therefore the trip as a whole less attractive, especially given the price of the airplane tickets.

My financial situation
While I earn a very comfortable income as a librarian, what with various things I really don't have the cash lying around to spend on something like this. I haven't been saving, and I doubt I could have enough saved for a trip next year.*

In summary
Oz ain't in the cards for next year. Maybe the following.

(* Not unless the Union comes to a collective agreement with the City in the next few months and the retroactive is large enough.)

Friday, 24 September 2010

On yet another idea for next year's biking, outer limit

In the pipe dream category, Darwin to Alice Springs, or vice-versa. I have a desire to visit Oz and it turns out that the distance is almost exactly 1500 kms or three weeks. I got the idea from reading about "the Ghan" train. The downside is that it would be quite expensive to get there and the time it would take to get there and back is probably prohibitive. Still, I hit a round-numbered birthday next year. Ah well, a man can dream!

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

On a few random bits and pieces

On the photos of Margo and Chris' KVR adventure
Before last year's trip across BC, Margo and Chris had ridden much of it in the opposite direction. The photos of their trip are up on the web here. I had seen them before, but a couple of weeks ago, I went through them again. It was very weird to see them from eyes that had seen many of the sights themselves, especially as I had first seen the sights from the self-same photos.

As well, the angles chosen are intriguingly different from the ones I used. For example, this photo is from M&C's photos.Whereas I got a passerby to take this picture at nearly the same spot!
(I'm looking pretty darn good in this photo, even if I do say so myself)
On being ahead of a computer geek
I am feeling a little smug this week as I found out that my brother Philip (or Fil as we sometimes call him (but never Phil)) the computer geek has followed me into blogsphere with a blog called User-tolerant Liveware. Thus far, it seems mainly a venue for him to grumble about computer, but I now that, sooner or later, Désirée will show up on the blog. Usually, I am the technologically backwards one, yet here he is following me into to something computer-ish. Then again, blogging is a user application rather than something for programmers.

I can also take partial credit for the name of the blog, as this entry demonstrates.

On finding Scots in and of odd places
Well, not so much of odd places as knowing of odd places. I was having a quiet pint of Guinness in Hurly's awaiting my supper, when a co-worker came in with an assortment of relatives. She invited me to join them at their table. I had an interesting chat with her party. The main reason for my co-worker's presence was the visit of some cousins from Scotland. Having recently been there and being a partly Scottish, I was pleasantly surprised to find that they knew about Campbeltown. While the place is hardly a state secret, it is relatively little known, being out on the end of the longest peninsula in the United Kingdom and has relatively little of note to offer the casual tourist. In defence of this statement, I will submit that the head of the Scottish party I met said that it was rare for him to meet someone who knew about the place! Of course, he may have been referring to non-Scots or even North Americans! He was also pleased that I knew where Ayrshire was. I flattered him by saying that I remembered Ayrshire well from my last trip as it was the first day that I had warm weather on that trip!

In the same conversation, the head Scot inquired if I went to the United Kingdom often. Thinking back, I replied that I averaged about once every 5 years, having been in 1990, 1996, 2000, 2004 and 2010. However, I now realize that I had forgotten my 2006 trip. I think the reason was that the goal of that trip was the Island of Jersey, rather than United Kingdom, even if it did take in Manchester and Nottingham. Also, the whole trip was only a week, including Jersey.

(I must admit, I get a perverse pleasure deliberately getting people confused as to the origins of my brother-in-law by saying he is from "Joisey"! ;-) )

On where my next bike jaunt will be
I haven't decided. The three main contenders are Deer Lake to St John's, Calgary to Winnipeg and the Highlands of Scotland. The first two are fairly self-descriptive. The third would be roughly, Glasgow, Arran, Campbelltown, Oban, Mull, Skye, Loch Ness, Inverness, Perth and Edinburgh.

Deer Lake to Newfy John (as referred to in the wartime RCN) has the issue of not being quite long enough. As it is "only" about 830 km via the scenic route, it isn't quite enough to satisfy a summer's lust for bike mileage. Adding St-Pierre and Miquelon to the trip, has the disadvantage of that it would require biking Highway 210 in both directions between Goobies and Marystown. Given that is 146 km each way, I am less than enthused.

Calgary to Winnipeg involves a lot of the Prairies. In point of fact, most of the Prairies. This is the doubled edged sword as it means lots of km and bring-me-that-horizon moments, but also lots of what will amount to "not another damn grain elevator" moments! ;-)

The Highlands jaunt would be fun, but perhaps it is too soon after my last trip.

Perhaps that optimum solution for next year's major bike trips would be to spend two weeks doing Deer Lake to St John's and two weeks Calgary to Regina (instead of Winnipeg).

On temporary amnesia, resolved
From time to time, I suffer from insomnia. One of my remedies is a variation on ye olde counting sheep: I try to work out where I was on a given day of my BC trip.

However, I always hit a mental wall in trying to remember where I slept the night after Kelowna. I remember the small roadside motel, I remember why I was there and not in Beaverdell, and can place the municipality on a mental map. However, I couldn't recall the name of the of the burg. Cheating (i.e. looking at a map) reveals that it was Rock Creek. Not a terribly memorable name. However, there was a memorable sign in the gas station: "Unattended children will be given an espresso and a free puppy."

Also, the same bit of google mapping led me to discover that Avey Field Airport is nearby. It is one of three airports that cross the Canada-U.S. border. A neat concept when you think about it. Also one to give Homeland Security wonks a restless night.

Monday, 13 September 2010

On some biking I did last weekend and today

On Saturday, it was the 2010 edition of the Eastern Townships' Bike Challenge. The parents and I met near exit 78 (i.e. Bromont) and proceeded in convoy to the Bromont Ski center where the event started. Unexpectedly for the parents (but not surprisingly to me), the event was sold out of registrations with lunch, so the parents (who hadn't booked ahead of time) would have to fend for themselves. (I had signed up in March or April, along with the two other summer challenges and the Tour de l'Île.) On the other hand, I forgot my bike computer. (Consequently, all distances are based on what was marked on the map.)
The day was near perfect cycling weather, sunny but cool with only a light wind. I made fairly good time in the morning, but owing to a few minor events, left the start after the parents. I passed them in reasonable order, calling out to my father as I took his photo, the immortal family inquiry: "C'est encore loin, Grand Schtroumpf?"
My father was quite impressed with the ease I could take photos on the fly. Little does he suspect the amount of practice I have had doing it!

Like the other challenges, Saturday's event had a number of optional sections that increased or reduced the distances to be pedaled. I had intended to do the third optional section from the start. This added 16 km of flat terrain which promised "Bring me that horizon moments". However, as I was doing so well in morning, I was rather tempted to do another optional section that would have added 33, very scenic, kilometers. At the relevant junction, I stopped for a break and gave the option serious thought, but ultimately rejected it as those 33 km were quite hilly. As I did so, my father caught up with me but, failing see me, proceeded around the corner, then stopped for a break. I got on my bike and renewed the family whine-cry. After some chit-chat, my mother caught up with us, and immortalized us on digital camera.
I left them to their break, and pedaled off to Farnham, where lunch awaited me. I was about a third of the way into my meal when the parents showed up. My father inquired if I had anything to share with him (implying my lunch). I said: "Yes, some wisdom. Chances are, if you ask one of people working here, they will know where you can buy a lunch in town!";-)

The parents briefly debated the pros and cons of trying to finding a meal in town. My father seemed to think that they could survive on gorp and other munchies. I told him not to be so bloody silly. In the end, they found a Metro grocery store where they and "dozens" of other cyclists bought sandwiches and other sustenance. As they ate their lunches in front of the store, the store manager came out and handed out bottles of water to them! Kudos to the Metro manager. (I only heard of this after the finish.)

I was glad I had opted not to do the extra 33 hilly kms as I was short of energy after lunch. I hadn't done a long ride since June and I felt it. I was still rolling along, but there wasn't the same feeling of speed that I'd had in the morning. One highlight was the view crossing Autoroute 10 near Granby. As it was a fairly clear day, I could see Montreal loom in the distance, including St-Joseph's Oratory. According to GoogleMaps, the distance is approximately 70 km as the bird flies! Unfortunately, the zoom quality on my camera wasn't up to the task.
Shortly before, I finished, armour clad mountain bikers zoomed onto the road amongst the weary roadies. I had ambivalent feelings towards them they outpaced me on their fat tires. On the one hand, they were putting us to shame. On the other, they hadn't ridden 117 km! Also, chances were they were downhill cyclists who'd gone up on the chairlift!

I finished a very pleasing and solid hour before the parents. I was slightly worried about their non-presence at the end. It turns, they had also done the extra 16 km. I used my mobile phone to let them know I was on the verge of leaving. My father stopped to take the call, and thus was slightly behind my mother.
But they both got there...

On the biking today
...which is more than I can say of others. At the Library where I work, all too regularly, I too easily amaze my co-workers with tales of my physical activities. I don't set out to amaze them, they simply are amazed. In particular, there are a couple of adorable Jewish matrons, now in their mid-sixties, (i.e. only a few years younger than my mother). Quite a few years ago, I was telling them about the ninety odd kms I had skied in the Canadian Ski Marathon the weekend before. They were falling over themselves with telling me how I was in such good shape. I didn't feel I had done as well as I might have. Indeed, I was getting slightly embarrassed by their compliments. Eventually, I simply said: "My mother did the same distance as I did!"

Why do I mention this? Well, when I got to work this morning, one of my co-workers told me that the husband of one of the aforementioned ladies had suddenly died on Sunday. Massive heart attack, it seems. The funeral was this afternoon. I asked a couple of my co-workers for a lift to it, before one of them made a comment that it wasn't that far away. So I rode over on my bike. After locking it to a fence, I stashed helmet and other biking gear in my backpack and put on my black working jacket.

Between my backpack, my goy-ness and the fact I had never attended any formal Jewish religious observance before, I was somewhat at a loss as what I should do, and so opted to sit in one of the back rows. Fortunately, Jewish funerals are nowhere near as complex as Catholic ones, so there was nothing for me to mess up. ;-) It consisted of the cantor (at least, I think he was the cantor) beautifully singing the 121st psalm in Hebrew, a few eulogies and then a prayer in Hebrew, none of which I was expected to participate in! ;-)

I am not sure if I ever met the man, but I know and love my co-worker. From the eulogies, it seems he was a great guy. All I can say is that my co-worker is a very determined person, and if he wasn't worth it, she wouldn't have had him!

I hope that I am not being flippant about this sad event. I guess my point is to say how glad I am that my parents are only an hour behind me after 116 kms or so, and making jokes as they get off their bikes. I can only hope I will get to keep biking and bickering with them for many years to come.

Friday, 10 September 2010

On why Floria is faster than the Castafiore

Chris commented on my previous entry regarding the fact that Floria is faster than the Castafiore was:

My guess is your new bike has lighter rotating components.. especially the rims. These are probably solid on the old bike and are hollow on the new.

This is a mixed blessing: the bike is faster, but the rims wear out faster!

Removing weight from rotating components has twice the effect of removing weight from the frame when accelerating. Acceleration is probably a key issue in your ride to work.

The bearings are probably also improved... below about 18 kmh rolling friction dominates.

I respectfully disagree with Chris' main point. Floria was designed as a cyclo-cross bike. As such, she was built with fairly robust components. On the other hand, the Castafiore was designed as an entry level road bike but in the course of various upgrades, received rims of near touring-grade quality. Thus the rims are probably very similar as are the tires. In fact, the front tire on Floria came from the Castafiore! (The rear one had to be replaced as described in this entry.) Therefore, I doubt that there is a significant difference in the rotating components between Floria and the Castafiore.

However, Chris' point about better bearing may be valid. Although the number of times the wheels on the Castafiore were changed is significant, bringing the possibility of incremental improvements to her bearings.

My take is that it is the improved shifting components that are responsible. Moving from friction shift levers to brake-shifters is a huge leap forwards. On the new bike, it is very easy to accelerate in low gear and then pop into high gear with little thought or worry. The process of shifting is faster and much predictable. Consequently, acceleration is faster than before. Faster acceleration equals higher average speeds and thus a shorter commute.

As well, the ease of shifting means that the new bike is more energy efficient which translates into less fatigue and a greater ability to apply power later in the commute. This also leads to the shorter commute.

Sunday, 5 September 2010

On how much Edward looks like his daddy

I submit to you, dear readers, the following photographs:
One of them is Stephen, aged 15 months, one of them is Edward, aged 12 months. The resemblance is striking though perhaps unsurprising given one is the father of the other.

Thursday, 26 August 2010

On my nephew's first birthday present from me

My nephew Edward turned 1 last week. I ordered a couple of board books from Chapters-Indigo to be sent to him. Hey, I'm a librarian. Anyway, they arrived yesterday. Edward got to open the box. Margaret recorded the incident on camera.He seems to like the books. Yes, that is a Star Wars Spaceships board book he is holding.
My brother and I were kids when Star Wars came and we are Star Wars geeks. It seemed very appropriate for Edward as the love of Lucasfilm is going to be transmitted one way or the other. Margaret says Stephen enjoyed reading the books to Edward nearly as much as Edward likes them.

I am not first one to send Edward down the dark path of Star Wars geekdom as his mother had already made him a crocheted lightsaber. If you look at the next photo, you may note that Edward is somewhat younger than in the other photos.
To paraphrase Douglas Adams (more geekdom): "People have done worse things to children, if perhaps not much sillier."

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

On the why I haven't been blogging and bits and pieces

The short version is that I haven't been doing any interesting biking.

Unfortunately, that is also a slightly inaccurate version as I have had to change the route I had been biking in the morning for over ten years. The cause? Well, they are starting work again on the new English Montreal super-hospital or whatever it is they are calling it. More specifically, they are hauling dirt out via Décarie southbound, south of de Maisonneuve. This means reduced traffic flow northbound (i.e. me). In addition, they are doing work under the train underpass which further reduces traffic flow and is making Decarie between de Maisonneuve and St-Jacques too unpleasant for me. My solution? Go up the Glen instead, and hang a left on Ste-Catherine. I hadn't been doing that before as it is a slightly longer route, it involves a steeper climb and it means I have to make an unpleasant left turn at a busy light.

My readers with a knowledge of my part of Montreal will know what I am talking about.

In other biking news, Floria is officially a faster bike than The Castafiore was. It has been taking me four to five minutes less time to get to work. Not bad for a nominal 30 minute bike ride.

On a use for molasses and the Internet

A year or more ago, I read about blackstrap molasses somewhere. Somehow, the idea of it caught my imagination and I went to considerable lengths to get my hands on some. I then had the embarrassment of not being able to figure out what I want to do with it. I did have the idea of combining molasses and oatmeal in some sort of baked good, but I didn't have a recipe nor do I do much baking.

For some reason, I finally figured out how to get a recipe. Do a google search for "cookie oatmeal blackstrap molasses recipe". This is the result:
Reasonably tasty, and a mistake to bake the day before I go to the gym and weigh myself.

Also, the appearance of molasses is really quite beautiful.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

On the passing of Happy

I was sad to learn that Dominique and Philip had Happy the cocker spaniel put to sleep. He was more than 15 years old (which is older than average for a cocker spaniel), somewhat blind and deaf as well as rather grumpy towards Désirée. He wasn't a bad dog by any stretch of the imagination. Indeed, I found him to be a very friendly and agreeable dog. (My take on his dislike of Désirée is that he didn't like her uncoordinated intrusions into "his space" rather any jealousy. Then again, I could be wrong.)

His short tail was often in motion and to see him sniff out scents by the roadside was to see a happy dog. He wasn't smart by any stretch of the imagination but then a smart cocker spaniel is almost an oxymoron. He was reasonably smart by cocker spaniel standards.

Another of his shortcomings was that he and Philip's cat Lucky had to be kept apart. I asked Philip if Happy's passing meant more of the house was now open to Lucky. He said yes but that she hadn't quite realized it yet. Lucky has always been a very timid cat. Thinking back, she was about a year and half old when Philip inherited her from (Great) Aunt Lorna. She and her brother Toby (short for October) were found abandoned near Aunt Lorna's house in October of 1993 when they were a few months old. Being a very kind soul, Aunt Lorna adopted them. (Toby was hit by a car the following summer.) This makes Lucky about 17 years old. Older than Désirée's half sister!

Goodbye, Happy.

Friday, 16 July 2010

On Floria die Fledermoose getting screwed

People wise and/or foolish enough to ask me for advice about bike tires will know that I have no compunctions about recommending Kevlar tires of one variety or another (Schwalbe's Marathon series and Specialized's Armadillo series are my favourites). In short, I believe the cost/benefit ratio is very much in their favour. The money you invest in the extra cost, you will recoup in the prolonged life of the tire and the reduction in the number of replacement inner tubes you will have to buy. As well, you will spend less time changing punctured inner tubes.

There are, however, limitations to the abilities of Kevlar tires. I don't know if they degrade over time or if it was simply too much to ask of the Nimbus Armadillo tires that had first been used on the Castafiore. However, last night as I rode to my friend James' house, I heard, then felt something get into my rear wheel. I stopped and was annoyed to discover that a 2 inch wood screw had pierced the edge of the bottom of my rear tire and then came out again through the side wall. In addition, the tip of the screw had scratched the rim!
Very annoyed and recognizing that my rear tire was finito, I phoned James for a lift. While, I was waiting, I carefully removed the screw by unscrewing it from the tire. To say the least, I was miffed. I rode Leonardo to work and on the way home, I bought the "basic" Schwalbe Marathon HS 368 tire. From the Schwalbe website, it appeared to come closest to meeting my personal requirements for a commuting tire out of the Schwalbe lineup. I also considered two different Specialized tires, namely the Nimbus Armadillo and the All-condition Armadillo. I think the tipping factors in my decision was the legendary quality of Schwalbe Marathon tires and the fact that that the basic Schwalbe Marathon was cheaper than either of the Specialized offerings.
Another damage photo
The screw re-inserted into the holes

I must confess that I have borrowed somewhat risqué elements in the title from my friend James and a passage in an obscure song sung by Stan Roger and written by Royston Wood, namely, The Woodbridge dog disaster:

Now, if there's a moral to be gained from this song,
It's that innocent language might sometimes sound crude,
And as in the case of the carpenter's mate,
Your linguistic enlightenment might arrive late,
And you could end up getting screwed, boys!
And you could end up getting screwed!

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

On a clever bit of jobbering with odds and ends

My brother Stephen uses the verb "to jobber" which loosely defined as "doing something to something". It usually is used in as the verb equivalent of "doohickey", as in the command "Jobber that main sheet".

In any case, one of the library clerks has recently started biking to work and asked me for advice. I was quite happy to fill her in on some of the tricks of the trade as it were. She has an elderly mountain bike of no particular distinction with next to nothing in the way of accessories (i.e. racks, fenders). Fortunately for her, she lives fairly closely to the Library so she has only about half the distance that I have to travel. As her resources fairly limited (library clerks do not make as much as librarians), she is currently unable to invest much in biking stuff.

When she came into work today, she spoke of having to ride slowly to avoid a stripe up her back (it rained this morning). For some reason, I was wondering how I might make her a rear deflector from coroplast all day. When I got home after watching a Korean movie about kimchi (very good by the way), I had a flash of inspiration. I took the attachment pieces of the rear deflector that I had removed from die Fledermoose. I then removed the actual reflector, folded the arm down and put two bolts through the holes. I then punched a couple of holes through a scrap of coroplast and attached it to the reflector holder. Voilà! El cheapo rear rain deflector.Not too shabby for five minutes of jobbering, mostly looking for the parts. I will trim the corroplast fit when I see my co-worker.

Sunday, 11 July 2010

On my photos from Britain, beer and translations

Photos from Britain
The collection is nearly complete. I only need to do a few more from the last segment and I am done.

I have just finished reading Nicholas Pashley's Cheers! an intemperate history of beer in Canada. Having just returned from Britain where one of my techniques for finding food was to go to pubs that featured real ale, I found it a fascinating read. (My ad hoc rule-of-thumb in Britain was that pubs with real ale generally had good food. "Good food" being defined as stick to the ribs, keep-you-going-tomorrow, but not nasty food.) I must note the brewpubs Nicholas Pashley recommends in places that I may yet visit as part of AMUAM JuNITO. These include Calgary, Regina and Winnipeg as well as St-John's.

I was in a pub (probably in Coniston) when I witnessed a barkeep trying to describe what the local oatmeal stout tasted like to an older, Midwestern-American couple. After listening to his poor efforts (he was no poet) I piped up with that it was rather like Guinness, a.k.a. the only stout that most Americans know about. This earned me something of a black look from the barkeep as he was most insistent that it was different (and better) than Guinness. However, my point was that to these beer illiterate Yanks, Guinness was the best reference point to describe the local product.

Similarly, I acted as a translator a fair bit whilst I was in Britain. Some of it was quite blatant translation, such as the time a confused French tourist turned to me to ask if I knew French, as couldn't understand what the staff person at the youth hostel was trying to tell her. I think she was pleasantly surprised when I replied in fluent French, even if it was Québécois French. I spoke a surprising amount of French on my trip, though this included Donald and Dominque's French au pair.

As well, I overheard a conversation between some Spanish(?) tourists and a tourist information officer at the Glasgow tourist office which appeared to revolve around which currencies they could pay for a tour in. The information clerk kept on talking about Sterling and Euros. As the tourists seemed a bit confused, I quietly suggested to the clerk that maybe he should refer to the local currency as "pounds" rather than "Sterling".

I guess the point of these anecdotes is to say that I had to act as an interpreter in more ways that one whilst in Britain.

Friday, 9 July 2010

On just how hot it has been in Montreal this week

Not only did I spend my nights in a friend's basement where it was a bit cooler for sleeping and only a third of the distance to commute, but I also installed a water bottle cage on my city bike to keep hydrated. Thankfully, the heat wave broke at lunchtime today.

Sunday, 27 June 2010

On bits from the road in Britain

On mistaking a candidate for the British general election
As I have mentioned before, my trip to Britain occurred during a general election. While I follow British news, I knew I didn't know all the nuances of British politics. I therefore opted to simply observe and deduce what was going on. In fairly short order, I figured out that Labour wasn't very popular in the countryside and what the colours of the various parties were (Tories, blue, Labour, red and Liberal-Democrats, an orangey-yellow).

The latter-most factoid lead me to conclude that the individual who's name was on stickers on the backs of a fair number of cars was a popular contender for a relatively large riding in the North of England. However, after two days, I came the realization that my conclusion was wrong given the overly wide dispersal of cars so marked.

For the record, Arnold Clark is in fact the name of a car rental company and not a Lib-Dem politician.

On what it takes to be a certain type of pilot
It is one thing to be a pilot and have the sang-froid to deal with all the stresses of keeping a plane in the air.

It is quite another to fly low,

in a mountainous region,

in bad (cloudy, windy and rainy) weather,

in formation,

in a Hercules Mk. C4!
Yet that is what I saw fly over me in Inveraman (a little to the North of Loch Lomond)! Unfortunately, I could only catch one of the two in this picture! The term "big cojones" springs to mind. Also, "smart like tractor" as in "Strong like ox, smart like tractor."

On my knowledge of Scottish songs
At times, I like to sing while I am biking. Furthermore, it pleases me to sing songs that somehow relate to the area I am cycling. I was singing Viva la Quince Brigada in Spain, Got to get me moose, B'ye on the way to Newfoundland and Northwest Passage from Victoria to Calgary (yes I was going the wrong way, but then it includes the line "to find there but the road back home again!") along with other songs.

In the Lake District, I was singing Archie Fisher's Witch of the Westmoreland and was even tempted to go via the Kirkstone Pass because of it. Unfortunately, when I got to Scotland, I could remember the lyrics to any Scottish songs that weren't laments or one description or another. Think about it, Loch Lomond, The Skye Boat Song, Flower of Scotland and Will ye no come back again, all evoke past defeats rather than victories. Shades worse than a Frenchman of my Father's acquaintance who was "surprised" at how the British built monuments to defeats such as Trafalgar and Waterloo. A Scottish Soldier is a nice tune, but rather mawkish. (Interestingly enough, I found out during my trip that Andy Stewart had used the tune of The green hills of Tyrol, a bagpipe tune adapted in turn from an alpine folk tune used in Verdi's William Tell during the Crimean War.) Campbeltown Loch I do know, but it lacks the je ne sais quoi to keep you going over hill and dale. Or should I say, "ben and glen".

I had a notion that A hundred pipers and Johnnie Cope referred to victories, but I could not remember the words well enough. In the end, I had to settle for mumbling Kornog's version of the chorus of Robbie Burns Sherriffmuir which goes along the lines of "Hey dum dirrum, hey dum, dan/Hey dum dirrum, dey dan'", and thus lacks enough drive.

If I am to return to Scotland by bike, I must first find a suitable "biking song".

On the day after

In the end, I took the Metro downtown to find some supper, followed by some dessert at Ben & Jerry's.

I slept reasonably well and quite late. While there was some stiffness in my left leg, it was very much better and I rode die Fledermoose around town on various small errands.

At one point yesterday, I was wondering if the pain was related to scar tissue from an old, self-inflicted, machete wound. Then I remembered that I had cut myself at that place on the right leg not the left one! I must confess I had been rather worried about potentially lasting effects yesterday. However, those fears appear to have been ill-founded.

Saturday, 26 June 2010

On why I sometimes regret my chosen transportation lifestyle

As my readers may know, I don't own a car. Instead, I own two bicycles and live relatively close to downtown and very close to a Metro station. Much of the time, this works out for me as I have little need of a car, and what little need I have can be met by a combination of a car co-op, regular car rental agencies and mooching from friends and family.

Family, in the form of my parents, was in the fore earlier this weekend as they came into Montreal to participate with me in the Défi de Vaudreuil-Soulanges bike event. They arrived noon-ish early yesterday and we all went off to Ikea to buy a chair for my sister on behalf of my brother Stephen. Contrary to my expectations, Ikea was very busy for a Friday and my father rather bristled at the experience. My mother and I managed to locate and buy a Poäng chair.
I later photographed the chair's packages with my Kiki the ferret plushie on top of it. For those of you not in the know, "poing" is the onomatopoeia associated with her, as she bounces through life and her acquaintances' apartments and labs.

The weather today featured a lot of sprinkle showers, accompanied by a fair amount of wind. While the route of the Défi took us downwind from our starting point (generally a bad idea), the clever people at Vélo-Québec put us on a wooded road for the return leg. This event marked the first time I have bicycled in Ontario for many years. The last time being in 1997 when I was living in Guelph. I jokingly note that there was a cut-off that allowed hardcore sovereigntists to remain in Québec. I would also like to note that this map contains a number of inaccuracies, such as the fact that the Optionnel 4 departed from Saint-Lazare and went through Hudson rather than Pointe-des-Cascades and Vaudreuil-Dorion.
Along the way, there was a mailbox which had two special boxes for certain types of mail.
I took the number 2 route option which added about 27 km to the course. Near the end of it, I saw a rather damp coyote. The parents rode the baseline route (a nominal 101 km). I arrived at the lunch stop (85 km for me and 56 for them) just as they were finishing their meal. I asked a passerby to take a picture of us for the record.
Note my blue MEC Slicker Long Sleeve Jersey given to me by Stephen and Margaret. Thanks to them, I now have them in all the primary colours. (Please note: I have a sufficiency of cycling jerseys for the time being.) ;-)

The parents left long before I had finished my lunch. As expected, coming back to the start was a bit of a slog, though I managed to draft behind a peloton for at least a dozen kilometers. A little after I passed my mother (only a dozen or so clicks from the end), I got something of a cramp in my left calf, just below the knee on the outside ascending a hill. I managed to get past the pain, but when I got to the finish (a minute or two after my father), I found the effects of it made walking, especially down stairs a bit of a chore.

I am now back in my third-floor apartment, bathed and showered. The parents have driven back to North Hatley in order to babysit my niece. Unfortunately, there isn't a really decent meal in the kitchen. I am too tired to shop.  With my fatigue and leg issue, I am loath to get on my bike to hunt down supper. I could order in, but I am not in mood for pizza or Chalet-Bar-B-Q. I could take the Metro, but I lent my Opus card to Margo and it hasn't arrived back yet. (Curse you, Canada Post).

It is times like these that I wish I owned a car. Times when I have ridden 132.1 km at an average speed of 25.0 km/h. That is 132.1 km of pushing myself.

(The nit-pickers will note that the advertised 101 km + 27 km equals 128 km not 132 km. However, 132.1 km is what my bike computer says I did.)

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

On why the look of my blog has changed

During lunch, I made the mistake of fiddling around with the look of my blog and somehow managed to install a new template without saving the old one. I don't think this one works very well, so I will try to figure out how to change it to my liking later.

Monday, 7 June 2010

On an unrelated note

For my readers outside my family, a couple of weeks ago my sister asked me to be her witness at her wedding. The wedding will take place next week.

As part of my "preparation" for this role, I watched the movie "Made of honor". The short version is that just as a guy (played by Patrick Dempsey) decides he wants to marry his female best friend, she announces her engagement to a Scot and asks her friend to be her "maid of honour". He accepts so as best to sabotage the event.

My take? My God, the Yanks seem to take their weddings very seriously. Even filtering out the Hollywood element, there seems to be an incredible amount of display, glitz and what have you that passes itself off as tradition. Ay, chihuahua!

Also, Dempsey's character is a first-class twit for letting the bitchy cousin (whom he trumped to be "maid of honour") take charge of his kilt. Dude, the kilt was about the only guy thing in the list and she hates your guts to begin with.

In favour of the movie, there was some gorgeous Scottish countryside in evidence and a beautiful border collie plays a pivotal role. Cameos by a Scottish terrier and a West Highland terrier. Also, the Scot's family tartan looked a bit like the Mactaggart tartan.

On the advent of yet another helmet

I left the moose antlers on my helmet so I could show them off at work. Needless to say, they were quite a hit. One of my co-workers asked me if I could send her pictures so she could show her brother. I hurled her the URL of the Picasa shots.

Unfortunately, in the process of carefully donning the helmet today, I noticed that part of the helmet retention system of the helmet had broken. The proper fit of the helmet was only being assured by a piece of decaying rubber. From the maker's website, I found out that there is, in theory, a spare parts kit that could provide a replacement. In practice, none of the dealers with which I spoke to in Montreal had them or even had heard of them.

I had been having trouble getting a good fit for sometime, so I figured "what the hell", and went helmet shopping on way home from work. I ended up getting another helmet from the same maker, only this time, I choose something with a sturdier "retention system". To be honest, the new system is much easier to adjust than the old. I have some reservations about the helmet overall as it is lower down the scale than my previous one.
However, it is a more interesting colour, bright yellow rather than white. The man at the store said that the yellow helmets were selling well because of the visibility factor. I agreed as he was pretty much preaching to the choir on that point. In point of fact, while researching helmets on the web at lunchtime, I had decided that for this model, the yellow was the desirable colour. While it does come in what is described as "red", as you see, it is more white than red!
I have since retired my older helmet to display duty on the frame of the Castafiore.

On the roads in Britain, thoughts

One the relatively frequent questions people have asked me is "did I find the roundabouts scary?" The answer is no. In fact, I found them a damn sight more bike-friendly than the equivalent North American large stoplight intersections. Roundabouts have the singular advantage for bikes as they rarely require bikes to come to a complete stop as it was almost invariably possible to coast into a suitable slot in traffic. By this, I mean that you could slow down while watching for a gap and then speed up in order to take it. It was rarely necessary for me to stop, and most of the times that I did stop at roundabouts, it was to double check my navigation, rather because of the traffic. The relative narrowness of bikes, means that it easier for a North American to use a roundabout on a bike than in a car. At least, that was my feeling about them and I do have a high tolerance for traffic.

On the subject of British drivers, I found them very well behaved and exceptionally tolerant of bicycles. Or at least of me, as I think drivers generally accord greater respect to laden tourers than to, say, teenagers on mountain bikes! Drivers frequently pulled right out into the oncoming lane in order to pass me. Given the narrowness and often winding nature of British roads, at times I was afraid that I might indirectly end up being responsible for an accident. One of my mental road games was to think what I would say to the police in such an eventuality.

This fear was accentuated by the relative lack of visibility on roads lined with either hedges or stone walls. In some instances, I could the tops of approaching cars but not their drivers and therefore I knew that while I could see them, they could not see me. In others, the hedges or walls blocked even my sight. However, these obstacles were very much appreciated windbreaks much of the time. As the reader of this blog knows, there was often a cold, contrary wind for me to face.

While paved shoulders were relatively rare in Britain, the generally good quality road surfaces easily balanced out the relative lack of shoulders. While there were some rough spots, British roads are far superior than Quebec ones.

One spot where Britain could learn from Quebec would be with regard to bike maps. While Sustrans does publish good maps of its routes, it doesn't publish (at least Stamford's didn't have any) anything equivalent to Vélo-Québec's Guide de la Route Verte. By this I mean that while Sustrans publishes maps of individual routes in the National Cycle Network, it has yet to publish a single compendium of all the routes. I believe part of the problem lies in that the maps that Sustrans publishes are a bit too detailed to be compiled into one book. A bit less detail would translate into more coverage and thus greater suitability for the long-distance cyclist, such as myself. I have rather a mind to mail them one of my older Guide de la Route Verte's with a note explaining how such a format might to be useful.

The quality of the paths of the National Cycle Network, like that of the Route Verte, varied significantly. The signage was sometimes weak, particularly in suburban areas. However, I usually managed it, having learned to check behind me when in doubt as there were sometimes signs pointing in the direction from which I had come that gave clues as which way I should go. It sounds warped, but it worked. One thing I didn't appreciate was as I was nearing Edinburgh, the NCN took me up a ramp with steps to cross a railway. It was the end of my longest day and to lift a laden Leonardo over the steps was a chore. Curiously enough, at the other side of the railway, there was a small group of Sustrans volunteers putting up new signage. Knowing that it wasn't their fault, I indicated my disapproval of the route in the gentlest terms possible. At least, I tried to and I know I phrased it along the lines of "Generally your routes are very good, but this bit (i.e. the bridge over the railway) leaves much to be desired." The volunteers acknowledged the bridge wasn't a particularly good bike route, but that was what they had to work with. I don't think I offended them by voicing my opinion as it was a legitimate complaint. However, my fatigue may have coloured my language.

The day I got to Campbeltown, I passed a pair flaxen-haired kids running alongside of the road. Aged about 5 and 7, their long pale hair made quite a sight, as was the charming, innocent happiness with which they ran. This was a little before Glenbarr. When I mentioned this incident to John and Helen, Helen commented, "Oh, that must have been so-and-so's boys." It is things like this that make me want to live in Campbeltown.

Another pleasure of biking on British roads was the smells. One of the distinct advantages of cycling is that you get a much clearer olfactory sense of the places you visit. (Yes, this can be a disadvantage.) Some of smells of Britain that stay with me are the smell of burning coal (in smaller settlements), wild garlic and a distinctive sweetish smell that I associate with the coast of Scotland.