Friday, 30 April 2010

On a way of dealing with air travel

I am not a gracious air traveler. I am utterly fascinated with airplanes and could probably tell you more than you would want to know about them. However, I find the whole business of actually getting to the airport, going through security, etc., then actually strapping my above-average sized self into a seat designed for someone on the small end of average for a flight that will last many hours to be both tiresome and stressful. While some say "just try to sleep it off", I don't necessarily sleep well at home, and in a strange, unpleasant environment of an airplane, well, let us just say I have very rarely got shut-eye in the air.

Anyway to distract and relax myself beforehand, I left work at noon and caught the early showing of Gunless, a movie staring Paul Gross. Set somewhere in Western Canada (either Alberta or B.C.) in the late 19th century I was very amused when late in the film, the main characters go to a NWMP dance at what I recognized as the reconstruction of Fort Langley which was many miles from the dry landscape depicted in the rest of the film!

Time to go.

Thursday, 29 April 2010

On the bike box, putting the wheels

After a conversation with Margo last night, I took some photographs of the wheels I attached to the bike box I will be taking to Britain. I procured them from my father who also provided an axle and attached the red axle firmly to a piece of green corroplast using various bits of wire and copper. Possibly a bit too much as well as a mite too wide for the box. I put a second piece of white corroplast over the axle, sandwiching it between them.
I then firmly duct taped it to the box. I also trimmed the corroplast back a bit so as to have a better purchase for the duct tape.
I think I have got it solidly attached, but tomorrow will be the acid test.
I put the wheels at one end of the box, and cut a handhold on the other. The theory is that doing it this way will avoid overhang problems. My trial runs in my apartment have gone fairly smoothly. Then again, my apartment floor is quite smooth! However, my sense of the structural issues involved suggest that it will stand up to what is asked of it.

Monday, 26 April 2010

On a good test run

I put Leonardo into the reinforced bike box yesterday. I haven't sealed it up on the grounds that it is best to wait until the last minute until doing so. I have attached a set of wheels that I obtained from my father to the box in order to make it easier to move around. I am hoping that it will make it very easy to schlep the box around Montreal, Heathrow and London.

I also procured tickets for the no. 747 bus. This bus is a nominally express, city bus that runs to the airport. I say nominally, as it stops at several hotels and (conveniently for me) the Lionel-Groulx Metro station before charging off to the airport. As well, the tickets cost $7, considerably more than the standard fare. However, it is somewhat cheaper than the inconvenient licensed banditry practiced by the normal airport bus. (BTW, the number of the bus was deliberately chosen in order to evoke the romance of international air travel associated with the Boeing 747.

After work today, I rode over to the Mountain Equipment Co-op to procure some last minute odds and ends for my trip as well as some non-essentials. Coming home along Park avenue, I decided that I would liven up the trip by going over Mount Royal via the Camillien Houde parkway. For those of you unfamiliar with Montreal, going up this road on a bicycle is a challenge. Arguably one of the toughest on the Island of Montreal, it is often included in the circuit when professional cyclists come to race in Montreal. As such, I felt it was a useful preparation for the North Britain trip as while nothing in Great Britain is as high as the Rockies, what British roads lack in height, they oft times make up for in steepness. In addition, the ad hoc, after work nature of the jaunt, made it a fairly accurate gauge of my fitness level. I am pleased to say that while it winded me a bit, I made it without stopping. However, in all honesty I was passed by two cyclists on road racers very shortly before the summit.

Thus, I think I can say to North Britain: "Bring it on". However, pride goeth before a fall. Also, I should keep in mind that bacon (and ham) make me particularly thirsty and thus should be avoided despite their central nature in British breakfasts.

Off to check the tire pressure on Floria die Fledermoose.

Saturday, 24 April 2010

On preparations afoot

Well, I am getting ready: I bought a map of London today.

I also reinforced the bike box I got in Alberta with corroplast, spoke with John in Campbeltown and Donald in Edinburgh, and came to the conclusion that it is a mite ambitious to want to bike-ferry-bike-ferry-bike to from Campbeltown to Glasgow. Unless the conditions prove unusually favourable, I think it will be bike-ferry-bike-ferry-train. For some reason, I had underestimated the distance between Ardrossan and Glasgow. For those of you who don't know what I am talking about, the shortest route between Campbeltown and Glasgow is to go via the island of Arran. This involves going up Kintyre to Claonig, taking a ferry there to Lochranza (on Arran), going part way around the island to Brodick, where you catch the ferry to Ardrossan, where there is a train station near the ferry terminal where you can catch a train to Glasgow.

I have also done a fair bit of poking around for bike related information relating to the trip. One of the more amusing bits is part of Virgin Trains' bike policy. If I may quote their website:

Travelling with a bike? Well, our trains have racks for up to 4 bikes or 2 tandems (but not penny farthings). It's free but because space is at a premium, do remember to book a reservation for your bike in advance. However, if it folds up, then it can travel for nothing without reservation (only applies to bikes, not contortionists).

It would seem that Richard Branson and company have a good sense of humour.

I bought the map at a map store on Président Kennedy near Berri. Getting there involved navigating a part of the de Maisonneuve bike path that I was not familiar with and that shows the signs of numerous "clever" ideas that have been put into effect without actually thinking them through. Most notable of these is the failure of the City of Montreal to move the bike from de Maisonneuve to Président Kennedy from the Place des Arts to Berri. The problem is that with all the annoying music festivals in the summer around the Place des Arts, the bike path keeps on getting blocked by stages and music lovers. By moving the path to Kennedy, there would be less of a problem.

I missed an opportunity to get my hands on tickets for the 747 bus while I was in the area. Oh well, there is always tomorrow.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

On some good news

The Brits have announced that UK airports (including Heathrow) will re-open tonight. *happy dance* This is good news as I had been fairly worried whether I would be able to go on my planned vacation or whether I would have to go to plan B. I had made inquiries as to my alternatives including revisiting the mileage between Calgary and Winnipeg.

Of course, the volcano could start spewing even greater quantities of ash and I would be back to square one or possibly even stranded on the "wrong" side of the Atlantic. Fortunately, I have the security of knowing that my aunt Izzy would shelter me in case of the latter.

Here's to hoping everything continues to improve!

Sunday, 18 April 2010

On the grounds that you can never have too many cute photos of your nephew

On the University of Victoria campus grounds, my nephew Edward, in his bunny hat, surveys some of the numerous feral rabbits.
A close up of Edward in his bunny hat

(Shamelessly stolen from Margaret's photo site which has more photos of Edward. Also, photos of other people.)

Friday, 16 April 2010

On an unexpected (potential) hitch in my plans

Until recently, I doubt many people had heard of the Eyjafjallajokull volcano. Fewer still could pronounce it. Currently, the name is something a curse word in the circles of European air travel: the danger from the ash of the volcano's current eruption is closing down airspace all over Europe with Great Britain being the first suffer the effects.

With two weeks to go until my departure, I now have doubts as to whether I will be able to get to Britain. Reading this article, it is clear that the vulcanologists simply have no real idea how long or how intense the eruption will be. It is both depressing (from the point of view of my vacation plans) and fascinating (from the scientific point of view) to note that the last time time this volcano blew, the eruption went on for a few years.

I have talked to my superior at work about what would happen if I can't get to Britain and was relieved to know that I would be able to change my vacation dates. However, in real terms, I rather doubt I would be able to fit in the North Britain trip this year. I guess my fall back plan is then biking from Calgary in the late summer. I hope Air Canada will feel generous should I have to change my bookings.

Thursday, 8 April 2010

On vague worries about the North Britain trip

I was surprised earlier this week when the British Prime Minister called a general election for May 6. I guess I hadn't been following British politics as closely as I should have. This a vague concern as I will be in the middle of it. It could well be that the PM will change while I am in Britain which would be a little weird. I was in Spain in the lead up to lower-level elections and was a mite perturbed at how determined the Spanish were to sell their candidates. I am both hoping and expecting that the Brits are much more laid back about their elections. Furthermore, none of the parties likely to win are that extreme.

I am reminded of an American diplomat asked to comment on a Canadian general election (probably the 1988 election). His statement amounted to that the U.S. government didn't see any problems working with a Canadian lead by any of the likely parties (Liberal, Tories or NDP) as none of them were "like the Sendero Luminoso." While this could be seen as flippant, it is at heart an endorsement of the Canadian political process. The same can be said of British politics.

Another concern is over the relatively extreme weather the Brits have been having of late. I was startled to read that it had snowed in the last two weeks. While it is unlikely to snow in May, I rather hoping that the country will warm up a good deal in the next few weeks!

Sunday, 4 April 2010

On buying the elephant and other matters

There is an older woman in my home town who is a retired anesthetist and therefore no slouch intellectually. However, she was reluctant to start using in the Internet as she was afraid that she might wake up one morning to discover that she had bought an elephant on-line! This was a tongue in cheek expression of her fear of getting carried away by the excitement of the Net and doing something outrageous.

I mention this as last weekend in a flurry of activity, I booked all my accommodations for my North Britain trip up to and including Edinburgh. With the exception of two places, all of this was accomplished over the Net and included ordering breakfast at one place and buying a ticket to a museum! I worry slightly that I have planned too far ahead and that if the unexpected arises I might find that I have painted myself into a corner. In this way, I might have "bought the elephant." Then again, I generally have been pretty good about planning these bicycle tours, so I probably won't have a problem.

On installing a Christmas present

My Father and I were rummaging through his basement yesterday looking for some small wheels, when I noticed that the mudguards I had given my sister-in-law Dominique for Christmas had not been installed. As the weather seems to have decided to skip Spring and go straight on to Summer (yesterday's high was 29), and I had always intended my gift to be installation comprise, I moseyed up the street to Philip and Dominique's house with the mudguards and Daddy's bike tools.

Dominique's bike already had mudguards on it, but in back they were fairly high, leaving lots of room them to spray the person behind her with dust and mud. As said person is often my niece Désirée, in her trailer, in my capacity of Official Doting Uncle (or ODU), I had got mudguards with greater coverage. Anyway, in order to get to Dominique's bike, I had to get various other bits and pieces out of the shed, including Désirée's trailer. Dominique used the occasion to re-adjust the trailer to Désirée's ever increasing size as well at to check if Désirée's helmet still fit her. My niece was quite happy to try out the trailer. Indeed, it was evident that she wanted to be taken for a ride. However, neither Dominique or her bike was quite ready.

As I write this, I realize that Désirée remembers the trailer from last summer which is relatively remarkable as she only turns two next week! (We are celebrating her and Daddy's birthday at lunch today.) I don't think I knew small children had such good memories.

On parental encouragement

I was surprised at how much my parents are excited about my North Britain trip. To my mind, it is a less ambitious trip than say either my ride to Newfoundland or across B.C. However, it is a fun trip (or at least should be), so maybe they are living vicariously through me.

On a possible further acts of ODU-ness

As I have mentioned previously, one of the places I intend to visit is the Tailor of Gloucester House. I had been thinking about what souvenir(s) I might purchase for niece and nephew. This morning as I was preparing my breakfast, I noticed a Peter Rabbit bowl that had been put out for Désirée which led me to the idea of looking for a Tailor of Gloucester bowl(s) for Désirée or Edward. (Gloucester would come at the end of my trip so there is little in the way of weight issue.)

On why I say North Britain

Some of you might wonder why I use the term "North Britain" to describe the location of my upcoming trip. The answer has a couple of strands. One is that it is simpler than saying "Northern England and Southern Scotland" which is where the "real" biking will happen.

The more complicated reason goes back to the days when I was working on a Master's degree in Scottish History. The period I was studying was the 18th Century. More particularly, the phenomena known as the "Scottish Enlightenment" when Scots such as David Hume and Adam Smith blew the English out of the intellectual water. They deliberately eschewed notions of Scottish-ness in favour of a larger entity, namely Great Britain. They preferred to see themselves as "North Britons" rather than Scots. There were philosophical reasons for this as it assisted them in opening up their minds to new ideas and pushed aside easier, conventional notions and custom. Cynically, it also made it easier for them to gain access English patronage! In honour of these men, I therefore borrowed the rough concept of "North Britain" and apply it to my needs.