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.

Sunday, 6 June 2010

On the last two weeks, or Bikemoose Triumphant

Well, maybe the alternate title is perhaps is overly dramatic, but there is a reason for this, which I will get to in time. Suffice it to say, there has been a noticeable success in the bicycling department.

I got back from London without significant problems. The following weekend saw the Défi Métropolitain. The parents and I all went in it. I had got Leonardo out of his shipping box the day before, and there was no damage.
There was a stilt cyclist near the start of the tour, but I doubt she did even the shortest circuit (c. 78 km). ;-)
The parents both did the 100 km circuit. I contented myself with the 133 km circuit. Shortly before lunch my average speed was 28.4 km/h.
Unfortunately, then the route turned into the wind, and my average speed for the whole day was 25.2 km/h. The quality of Quebec roads in comparison to those of the United Kingdom is very poor.

The next day, I saw a quite unusual symbol on the Environment Canada website. This one, in fact:It stands for smoke. The smoke from forest fires several hundred kilometers to North and East had drifted here. After dodging volcanic ash clouds on my trip to the UK, I got hit by forest fire ash!

Unlike the Metropolitan Challenge, the Tour de l'Île is less of a test of one's stamina and speed, and more of socio-political statement. Consequently, one can make more of a fashion statement.
This year, I made a very distinct and much commented such a sartorial statement. In a nutshell, I lived up to my nom de plume and attached moose antlers to my bike helmet.
Unfortunately, this picture doesn't do them justice owing the background. This shot gives a better idea of the effect.
I cut out two double thicknesses of corroplast, more or less perpendicular to the corrugations. The ends of each side, I bent in opposite directions, have cut the plastic on the inside. I then thread a zip-tie through holes I had punched into the corroplast and hence inside my helmet. I had been thinking that I might need multiple zip-ties per antler, but one each seemed to work very well.
Doing it this year had the benefit of raising morale considerably amongst both participants and organisers. I must have heard a hundred or more amused comments, and doubtless caused many more silent chuckles. About three of the commentators thought the antlers were wings and one person thought they were caribou antlers. For heaven's sakes, caribou antlers are "fore and aft"! One spectator did a double take, then mimed shooting me with a rifle. I yelled that it wasn't hunting season! ;-)

This year saw some of the most consistently foul-weather that I have experienced in the Tour. It rained the whole time, and the temperature never rose about 12 Celsius. There was a Tour with especially nasty weather about a dozen years ago. However, though the rain that day had teeth, the day started out nice. In some ways, today's persistent and consistent rain was good as it weeded out the less-determined and the poorly-equipped. The traffic on the tour was much lighter than normal. Even in the ranks of my experienced party, the Mole opted out before we got to the start, and my Father dropped out rather than complete the last 3 (uphill) kilometers. Only the hardcore (my mother and myself) persisted until the end.

Therefore, I put forward the notion that the chuckles and grins I caused were particularly appreciated and even-needed today. Certainly, seeing the grins on people's faces put me in a better mood. Doubtless, I gave strength to people. Thus, it has been a triumph. Hence Bikemoose triumphant.