Friday, 26 September 2014

On the roads to and around Kelowna

The Okanagan Valley has a complex geological history that I am going to ignore in this entry. The upshot is that it has steep sides and flat terraces that are somewhat frustrating to the average cyclist as Highway 97 goes up and down a fair bit between Penticton and Kelowna which is quite provoking as they are at the same altitude in the same valley! However all fairness, the 97 does try to make the rises and falls as long as possible so you can stay in the same mode for sustained periods. (This later had a downside.)

As the distance was shortish, I allowed myself to stop fairly frequently along the way at things such as historical markers and fruit stands. After lunch in West Kelowna, I went screaming down towards the Bridge to Kelowna passing some construction by the side of the road which distracted me long enough that I saw the sign for the bike route across the Bridge too late and it was only after the sign forbidding bikes on the road proper had passed that I could bring Leonardo to a halt, just as an RCMP patrol car went by and then braked. It didn't stop or turn on its "cherry blinkers", but suspecting I had been spotted, decided to lift Leonardo over the concrete divider to where I should have been rather than go back up and around. While I did so, I practiced my defense in case the Law did come around! ;-)

Anyway, I made my way across the bridge and to Rebecca and Paul's house. After supper, Paul told me about some of his childhood train trips. It turns out that his grandfather had been a VP at Union Pacific and had the use of their private cars. Naturally, he used it to entertain his grand kids. He also used his connections to insure that when Paul and his brother got beyond first class treatment when they traveled on Amtrak! At this, a light went on above my head. Paul's grandfather's position explained the "Union Pacific" decor in the bedroom I was assigned!

Rebecca was working from home this morning, so she was around to give me a local's perspective on which of Kelowna's many wineries were the best bets. After some discussion, I headed off for a day wine tasting. The first three were low key and landed me some interesting wines (thankfully there is no duty on alcohol within Canada) but the fourth, Summerhill Pyramid, got on my nerves with its holier-than-thou organic this and permaculture that. It was also more commercial and much more crowded than the others.

As I rode towards the downtown area the primary schools began to let out. I was joined on the road by a surprisingly and pleasantly large number of kids on bikes. What I found particularly interesting was that at a glance, many of them seemed to be "good bikes" (including road bikes) not just the big box store bikes I tend to see kids riding in Montreal. Furthermore, they knew the rules of the road!

Shortly before I got downtown, I stopped to consult my maps to figure out how best to get to my next destination. A man whose age I would put anywhere within ten years of seventy asked me if was lost.
"No, I know where I am. I am just trying figure out where to go next."
"Go to Mount [something], that's my favourite ride!"
I laughed. I rather like the attitude of this town!

A couple distilleries later, I am back at Rebecca's, soon to dine. It's been a good holiday. Back to Montreal tomorrow.

On my day in Penticton

Penticton doesn't get much rain. Somewhere I read that it is part of the Sonoran Desert region which goes all the way down to Mexico which alternately plausible or risible depending on how you look at it. I probably need to check my facts, but that can wait as the Okanagan is definitely a dry zone.

This fact was proven to me by the display of chain lubricants at my favorite bike store in Penticton, Freedom the Bike Shop. They had an assortment of Finish Line products but didn't carry my default lubricant Finish Line Wet. I commented on this to the staff as I waited for them to check Leonardo's rear tire. They said there wasn't much call for it. Probably true.

Why do I mention this? Well, I was there on a relatively rare, wet, rainy day with plenty of wind. It didn't rain all day but enough to make my visit atypically damp. I spent the morning looking after my steed including getting spare inner tubes and washing my clothes in the hostel's washer-dryer.

In the afternoon, I bummed around, seeing the sights and observing the contrasts of the town. Pentiction has an odd mix of tourists, seasonal labour (needed for the fruit industry),  alternative culture members and bums. Some people fall into multiple categories. I shared a hostel room with a dread-locked German who had just finished a four day hike and was discussing about where he would be picking apples the next day with an older American man who sounded knowledgeable about the industry!

The clouds were low and somewhat menacing. As the forecast was for more of the same the next day, I determined that I would take the easy way to Kelowna, e.g. Highway 97. This also allowed me to indulge in a bit of shopping in a used book store that I would have done otherwise.

On my current location

At Rebecca's in Kelowna via Highway 97.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

On how I got to Penticton

I opted to take the Highway to Penticton rather than the Princeton-Summerland road and/or KVR route as I had done much of it five years ago and the scenery wasn't terribly memorable. Also, that route put the hardest bits near the end of the day, the same time rain would be likely.  In hindsight, I made the right decision.

Highway 3 runs down the bottom the valley of the Similkameen in wide sweeps with the canyon walls rising steeply on either side. The road ran smoothly downwards, generally with nice shoulders for biking. I could tell the route was well used by cyclists of the road racer variety, unfortunately. I used that word as they left their spoor behind, in the form of used CO2 bottles. I am not impressed.

I stopped at Hedley* for a look see of an old mine located several thousand feet up on precipitous cliff side. It made me wonder at the determination of the miners. There are tours of it in summer. Part of me would like to go back and do the tour.

I rolled on to Keremeos where I found an Indian buffet for lunch which had great nan bread. I stopped at an old grist mill but didn't go in. As I was about to leave, noticed my rear tire was flat, again! The cause was apparently a piece of glass. I went back into Keremeos in search of a replacement inner tube as I was now without a spare and my confidence in the rear tire was shot. I found a bike shop by dint of flagging down a local cyclist who showed me the way to the Sagebrush Bike Shop which was run out someone's garage. I got a Presta tube for a skinnier (up to 23mm) tire as that was all he had in the way of 700C Prestas.  I then rode up Highway 3A towards Penticton as clouds gathered threateningly behind me. The climb wasn't bad and was followed by repeated and prolonged "whees" at speeds exceeding 60 kph. I alternated between taking the lane at speed and pulling aside to let larger traffic through as the shoulder wasn't very good for high speeds. From the bottom of the hill, it was a shortish and easy ride into Penticton.

* I kept revisiting the Heddy/Hedley Lamarr joke from Blazing Saddles in my head.

On a successful Princeton to Penticton ride

I have arrived in Penticton, non sans peine. I am zonked, but I can now say I have crossed British Columbia by bike from Victoria with the necessary exceptions, viz the ferries from Vancouver Island and across Lake Kootenay and the Massey Tunnel bike shuttle. More later.

Monday, 22 September 2014

On familiar sights

Highway 5A took me today through rolling country with relatively low hills. Almost surprisingly, there were extensive stands of deciduous trees (poplars and birches, I think) whose yellows made a pleasant contrast to all the conifers and grasslands of the last few days.

However, the road seemed strangely tough for reasons I hope are due to the poor sleep I got last night. Just before Guildford Lake, the road dove into the narrow canyon of Alison Creek which alternated between small lakes and "whee" drops with walls of conifers on either side. This was quite a relief and boost to my spirits.

I began to see familiar sights. The first of this were DCT Chambers double tractor trailers hauling wood chips. These were a feature of my last trip. At the time, I wrote a blog entry about the redundancy of the name as the "C" stands for "Chambers".  Princeton is another familiar sight along with the Crowsnest Highway (Hwy 3). I am writing this in the same pub where I ate in 2009.

I went into the tourist information to get the lastest on the forest fire ("out and no issues") and the weather conditions. The latter led me to opt for an alternate plan to push on to Penticton tomorrow rather than spend a rest day here. Princeton is boring compared to Penticton and the forecast is better for tomorrow (Tuesday) than for Wednesday. The lady behind the counter asked about my trip. When she heard it was "only" five days of biking, she said I was more reasonable than those "people who start in Victoria and ride across the province." I raised my hand and confessed to having been one of them! She was amused.

Speaking of alternate plans, leaving Merritt, I was on the combined Highways 97C and 5A. The latter is the major route connecting the Coquihalla and the Okanagan Valley. The signs listed a doable distance directly to Kelowna. I mused if I should skip Princeton. Thankfully, I didn't as somone (not the former cyclist) at the Guildford Lake rest stop mentioned that I had avoided a tough pass on the 97C.

I am debating if tomorrow I should take the route I failed to finish in 2009 or go by more established roads. The distance is more less the same. The principle of seeking out new sights encourages me to take the latter route, but pride says the former. La nuit portera conseil.

On a tiring day

I am in Princeton but Internet coverage is limited, so this will be shortish. The day began with a bannock breakfast sandwich at the Kekuli Bannock Café. Their bannock is a damn sight better than mine. It puts Timmy's breakfast biscuit sandwichs in the shade.

I had a sweaty climb out of the Nicola Valley that seemed to take forever. The only good thing was finding a Blu-ray container with the disk intact alongside the road. Unfortunately, it was for a movie called "The Conjuring" which doesn't interest me! ;-)

Beyond the ridge top, Highway 5A wound along under increasingly cloudy and colder skies which eventually gave rise to sprinkling rain. At Guildford Lake rest stop, I stopped to investigate a suspected slow leak. There was a leak (lakes are useful for finding leaks) and an obvious cause which I dealt with. While I was working, a truck pulling a horse and bedroom trailer pulled up and its three human occupants led three horse out to stretch their legs, have a drink and graze on the local vegetation! A little later, an older couple pulled up for a pit stop for them and their two dogs. The man regaled me with tales of having crossed Canada by bike in 1969 and of having travelled by train in Newfoundland in 1981.

Penticton tomorrow is the plan.

Sunday, 21 September 2014

On fire and heat

Before I started this trip, I had idly wondered if I should look to see if there were any forest fires I should be aware of. I never got around to it. When I was checked the weather for Princeton today, there was a mention of local smoke. I decided to look up forest fires currently happening in B.C., and was somewhat alarmed to see one on the Princeton-Summerland Road. This road is the one I must use if I am to make a successful Princeton to Penticton ride, unlike the last time round. Looking at web page devoted to the fire, I was relieved to see that it is entirely contained. (See the link above.) Also, the fire started on 14th, thus while I was on the Canadian. I am relieved I didn't know about it until now. There is an alternate route to Penticton. I must seek more information in Princeton.

The forecast was for very hot (30+ C) weather by about 4 PM, so I tried to make an early start of it. I left the motel before 8 AM in the post dawn coolness. the climb out of Kamloops began with a passerby asking how I was doing. I muttered that Kamloops is no city for bikes. He laughed in agreement. Seriously, if there is a substantial "fixie" scene in Kamloops, the Canadian Olympic Team needs to start recruiting there having first tested for masochism. Including breakfast at Timmy's, it took me an hour of slogging before I got out of Kamloops, whereupon the climb continued for too long. The land was hilly, dry ranching country. I was relieved reach a summit of sorts whereupon the dropped into the head of the Nicola Valley with 11% grades. Unfortunately, the road (Highway 5A) was too twisty for a full on "Whee!"

Also, there were a substantial number of transport trucks going the other way. This was a feature of the day. For some reason, there was a disproportionate number of trucks not only on the windy road but also going towards Kamloops as opposed to from by a margin of at least 10 to 1. In addition, there seemed to be preponderance of flat beds. Many of them were double units (e.g. two trailers). Of these, enough had an odd configuration that it stuck in my brain. The front trailer would have an "open" load of pipes or the like, whereas the rear trailer would have twenty-foot shipping container affixed to it. I came up with with two reasons for the presence of all these trucks on Highway 5A as opposed to the nearby Coquihalla Highway which is a much better Highway. The first is that they were avoiding tolls or weight inspections on the proper route. The second is that there was a traffic impairment (construction or accident) on the Coquihalla Northbound.

Going the other way was an abnormally large number of older, sporty cars. I identified a Triumph 7, a few old Corvettes and an older Porsche 911, as well as a quartet of original Mini's that made me joke to myself as whether another remake of the Italian Job was in the offing. At Quilchena, a number of these old cars were stopped at a gas station/hotel/pub/store/golf course. There was a woman filling the tank of her Spitfire Mark 6, who I ask what this was about. It turned out to be the last day of a three day old sports car fun rally. I felt my age when I saw two Porsche 944s in among the "old" cars. Those date back "only" to the 1980s, or the time when I first began to know about cars. More comforting was a Porsche from before the dawn of the 911. There was also a tricked out original series Volkswagen Beetle with plenty of fog lights.

It was a dry day. Around 11, I stopped to transfer water from my secondary bottle to my primary water bottle. (I have a very functional system of water bottles which too boring to explain.) A B.C. Forestry pickup truck driven by an older man (probably First Nations) going the other way stopped to ask if I needed water! I didn't as I estimated I still had one litre left before I would crack open my 500 ml reserve bottle. Very nice of him to ask, though.

I managed to avoid most of the heat. In fact, as I rode the last bit beside Nicola Lake, I was in the shadow of a handy mountain and almost too cool for short sleeves. However, the last 15 kilometers into Merritt were very hot. The South Asian desk clerk at my motel was distinctly unhappy about the heat. However, it was (it has now cooled off) a dry heat: Environment Canada was giving a figure of 19% humidity at 6 PM.

On a good supper

Kamloops, I was displeased to discover yesterday with Alice and the Girls, is built on the side of a rather tall and somewhat steep hill. My motel is part of the way up, sufficiently far from the lower downtown core that I was reluctant to either walk or ride down. I asked at the employee at the motel where dinner might be obtained in reasonably closely. He suggested a restaurant at the Howard Johnson a few doors up. I set off in search of it and never made.

Instead, I found an Indian Restaurant one door up which had what needed. It wasn't the best Indian I have had (that honour goes to Mother India in Glasgow), but it hit the spot. The restaurant has views out over lower parts of Kamloops, visible in the darkness as shimmering lights. It disconcertingly allowed me to see planes fly by at roughly eye level on approach to the airport.

I will have to climb further tomorrow on my way to Merritt. My estimate is "only" a little less than 100 kms compared to the 125+ kms I estimated for today.

For those of you who are interested: raita, nan beard, aloo palak, basmati rice and Okanagan Pale Ale.

Saturday, 20 September 2014

On a decent afternoon

Barriere is likely named after a series of defiles where the North Thompson River cut its way through some substantial hills just below the town. As the railway pinched the few bits of level ground near the water, ;-) the road had to go over in a series of doable hills with "whee!" bit on the other side.

Midway through, I stopped at a point of interest which explained the 2003 McLure forest fire which devastated the area. There are many burnt trees still in evidence. One of the most disturbing details was the presence of "fire-frozen" trees. The trees would bend from the winds that were generated by and contributed to the inferno. When they caught fire, the drying and carbonization of the wood fixed them in their bent position.

At the other end of the hilly bit, I stopped at the McLure fruit stand to buy a couple of peaches. I then left the Yellowhead Highway to take a short ferry ride across the North Thompson. There was a cyclist waiting board at the other side whom I pressed for intel about the road down the West side of the river which I believed would be quieter than the Yellowhead which gets busier the closer you get to Kamloops . (I had driven it the day before with Alice and the girls for Alice's first trip to Kamloops since Kerry was born there. As is my wont, I made mental notes about the road.) The cyclist, evidently a boomer on his day off said it was indeed much quieter.

I was a mite dismayed to learn that I was rolling along the "Westsyde Road". In the parlance of Pointe St Charles, someone needs to be smacked upside the head for that name. On the other hand, I was pleased to see there was the Privato winery, 26 klicks down the road.

The valley bottom of the North Thompson supports an assortment of smaller scale agriculture, mostly ranches for cattle and horses (including one for Peruvian Paseos (I think it was) but also for sheep, goats, at least one llama, and hay (there were signs for "hay ranches).  There were also ginsing farms as well as some for less exotic vegetables including potatoes judging by the number I saw by the side of the road as well as orchards and of course vineyards.

There is also the Whispering Pines/Clinton Indian Band which was hosting a small rodeo. From the road, I watched a cowboy being thrown from a saddled bronco named "Black and Blue" into the rails, before moving on.

As the afternoon wore on, it was getting hot despite the benefit of the increase shade on the Westsyde Road compared to the Yellowhead. I checked my bike computer to see how far I was along and therefore close to the winery. To my surprise, I discovered I had neglected to reset it after the Eastern Townships Challenge (see a previous entry). My stats were very much off. (After my bath tonight, I was able to work out the stats for today thanks to the aforementioned entry.)

I arrived at the winery just after eight young women on a stag-ette party were inside tasting the wine. One of them explained what they were up to and told me to come in with something of a leer, implicitly saying that I didn't need to worry about the fact that I was wearing sweaty spandex and they neat sundresses. I joked that I wasn't sure if I should be worried or flattered. (I will leave my readers to form their own ideas.)

Anyway, I tried three decent but not exceptional wines. The man I was dealing with wanted to know how I had found out about the place. I was a little embarrassed to say it was the sign at the McLure ferry. In sampling the wines, I realized a flaw in my packing strategy. I hadn't been able to find my Swiss Army knife while I was packing so I substituted my Leatherman. It doesn't have a corkscrew! Anyway, the quality of the wine wasn't worth the price in dollars or calories to carry it.

I made my way towards Kamloops. As the suburbs built up, I came across an area of roadwork that obliged me to get on a sidewalk/bike path on the far side. This unexpectedly ended just before a major intersection and the end of the roadwork. As the intersection was busy and complicated and I was tired, I stopped to give my map of Kamloops a serious inspection and to ponder how to proceed. The map was of limited use as I was off the edge. I decided to put on my high-viz vest in the hopes stopping a car as if I were member of the road crew. As well, the hills of Kamloops were partially in shadow.  I made my way across to a friendly flag man from whom I got directions as well as assistance across the intersection.

Once across the river there was a stiff climb (3 pauses including a red light) up to my motel a little ways up the street from the hospital where little Kerry was born.

Anyway, my reconstituted stats for the day are 132.15 kms in approximately 5 hours, 56 minutes, for an average speed a little over 22 kph and a maximum speed of 55.1 kph.

On a good morning's ride

Just a quick word to say that after leaving Alice, Mark, Maria, Anna and little Kerry in lovely, misty Clearwater this morning at 8:30, I am now in Barriere for lunch at noon!  I have made good time in very good conditions: sunshine, cool still air and a level road with lovely shoulders.  I am a little short of halfway to Kamloops and the second bit has more hills.

 Still, lots of gorgeous scenery to say the least. During my second breakfast at the High Five in Little Fort, the waiter asked the slightly silly question: "How was Little Fort different from Montreal?"

I had been a little apprehensive this morning as today is a shade long for a first day. As well, while driving back from Kamloops yesterday with Alice and the nieces, I had noticed a respectable South wind was blowing up the North Thompson River Valley. However, this morning has gone very well, touch wood, touch wood.

Friday, 19 September 2014

On road kill

Sleeping on the Canadian for me involves waking up and going back to sleep fairly frequently what with all the bumps, stops, starts and noise from passing freight trains. Consequently the quality and quantity of my slumber left something to be desired.  As such, when I woke up, if I was in a state where I felt renewed sleep was merely a eye closure away, I closed my eyes.

On Tuesday morn, I was aware of odd clunking noises from ahead of me, but I wished a few more winks even more than finding out what they were. I therefore missed the panorama car being added to the middle of the train just ahead of my car.
A little before 7, I got up and went outside to witness the sun rise at Edmonton's station. People were milling about, some of them chatting, others smoking, some strolling to stretch their legs. One older man was briskly jogging up the station in shorts and a lime green jacket. I walked the length of the Train several times trying and failing to get a satisfactory count of the number of coaches.
"All aboard" was called while I was at the front of the train, so I got in via the economy class coach and walked back. As I came into dining car "A", the maître d' queried my presence as I was coming from "cattle class". Once assured of my bonafides, he seated me for a continental breakfast. Owning to our arrival time in Jasper, the midday meal was "brunch" and therefore there was no cooked breakfast.

Afterwards, I made my way back down the Train. I stopped in the dome car to ask Cathy, the entertainment coordinator about the scarcity of kids with an eye towards Désirée. She laughed and said that during the summer months it was like kindergarten! She described several of the activities she typically organized. Seems my observations in a previous entry was wrong or at least not always the case.

Contrary to my expectation, the panorama car was not a dome, not rising above level of the other cars' roofs. It did have windows that curved to form most of the roof. They gave a very good view of the passing scenery.

I returned to my roomette for a morning snooze. I then sorted my clobber somewhat, before heading forwards for brunch. I ate in the company of Diane, one of the Brits and two others whose names elude me. I had French toast stuffed with cheesecake. Very indulgent, as was the complimentary mimosa. Borderline decadent.

The Rockies rose from the trees in all their splendour. Words fail me on the whole. Suffice to say the mountains with their  rocks, sedimentary and folded and what have you, impressed me. The line snaked up a valley as all and sundry gazed out trying to take it all in. Many were hoping to see wild animals. They were disappointed until just before we got into Jasper when we passed a herd of bighorn sheep lounging nonchalantly beside the tracks.

As the Train rolled into Jasper, I noticed the Skeena train waiting on a siding. It consisted of a single locomotive and four cars. It looked dumpy in comparison to the twenty-two cars and two locomotives of the Canadian. :-) Incidentally, I was told that of the two locomotives, only one was actually pulling the Train. The other one was generating electricity (or head end power) for all the cars! This makes the locomotives all the more impressive as a staff member passed around a history of the Canadian with pictures of the it from the old days. None of them had as many cars as "my" edition but for ones approaching it, they had as many as four locomotives pulling. Evidently, the power of modern diesels has improved a lot.

It was gorgeously sunny as I strolled the streets of Jasper. I caught sight of a Supermoose T-shirt in a shop window. I didn't resist. I noticed a bike parked next to the end car of the Canadian. My guess was that it was used by the staff to make faster end to end transits. I was later find out more about the peculiar origins of said bike.
There was an old CN steam locomotive on display near the station which bizarrely didn't have a plaque about it. C'mon, Parks Canada, you can do better! There were also three unattached Via rail cars nearby that I took as some of exhibit. As I waited at the station to re-board, I saw a sign saying that three cars had been added to the train to "dead headed" (e.g. hauled empty) to Vancouver. My guess is that they "belonged" to the "summer" version of the Skeena, and were no longer needed in the fall. I nipped outside to have a look and wasn't surprised to see that the three cars that I had seen earlier were no longer where I had seen them.

So all aboard the now twenty-five car train minus the load of Brits but plus a crew of Road Scholars from the States. I chatted with a number of them. A common thread of conversation in general was Via Rail versus Amtrak. (I had to inform one man from Colorado that it was "Via Rail", not "V.I.A. Rail"! It had been driving me nuts.)  The consensus was that Via Rail generally came off better than Amtrak, especially the Canadian. However, I pointed out that Via had the "unfair" advantage over Amtrak as it had an obvious flagship train service into which it could pour its resources, whereas as Amtrak has many potential prestige runs. Now that I think about, I don't know if it has any one train comes as close as the Canadian does for coast-to-coast service. Not to mention the fact that it has to consider North-South service as well as East-West.  If there were to be an Amtrak flagship run, it would likely be a New York to Los Angeles train.

I had walked back to the Park car for a G and T and was having a nice chat when I heard my service for supper being called. I made my way hastily back up the quarter mile to the dining car, where I had some wonderful short ribs in the company of Jill, a self-described wine snob from Napa Valley and Tom, a Road Scholar from Wisconsin. I got the impression the latter was hitting on the former to her bemusement.

I gathered my clobber from my room and set off up the Train where I made the acquaintance of Janet, the train manager. It turned out she was a cycle tourist herself recently returned from a Vancouver-Alaska trip. On that trip, she and her partner had found a bicycle in the ditch still attached to a bumper that was not still attached to an RV. As it was functional, they disassembled it in order to haul it out on their bikes! If I recall correctly, this was somewhere in the Yukon. The bike was the one I'd seen in Jasper, now used for train work.
Janet terms such finds "road kill". When I produced my best road kill, the Leatherman, she was mock jealous, and offered to swap it for the bike. If I had thought things through more carefully, I would have asked her if I might reassemble Leonardo in the baggage car prior to arrival as Mark and Alice were unavailable to pick me up. I am sure I would have been allowed. Janet seemed very accommodating.  As it was, she, another Via personnel and I spent a few of my last minutes on the Train explaining to a young Brit in the economy dome car lounge the whys and wherefores of bike touring.
I got off the Train about twenty minutes behind schedule, and set about reattaching the pedals and the handlebars with due care. After putting the box under eaves of a CN building (it wasn't there the next day), I consulted Alice's instructions, and rode off into the quiet night. It took about ten or fifteen minutes of pedaling at a deliberate and cautious rate before I arrived where Mark and Alice greeted me warmly.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

On what I saw in Alice's backyard when I was about to upstairs

 Mama and one cub. Black bears. Mama seemed on the smallish side.
They were eating apples fallen from a tree behind the house. I happened to have my camera on me so I took some flash-less pictures while quietly calling for the others. They didn't hear me over Mark's music in the kitchen, so I had to fetch them. We watched them for a few minutes before the noise from Anna and Maria alerted them to our presence and they ambled off into the woods.

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

On time in Jasper

Gorgeous day, on time. About to leave. More later.

Monday, 15 September 2014

On Prairie rails

Rather than muck about with the settings on my iPhone, I decided to let it do the work of changing the from Eastern to Central time even though I wasn't in cell range when I went to bed. I did set the alarm to go off at 7:30. The worst case scenario was that I would be up at 6:30 local time. As it was, my scheme did work and I was gently awoken on a sunny morning a little before the edge of the woods.
I gather the Train made up a bit of time over night, as we arrived in Winnipeg only about an hour late as opposed to the three hour lag we'd had earlier. Our entry into Winnipeg seemed smooth and efficient, unlike our exit from Toronto (which seemed to happen late, and involved a surprising amount of stopping, starting and reversing for unexplained reasons.) And it was a bright clear day.
At Winnipeg, the Train undergoes a significant bit of upkeep, being refuelled, resupplied, emptied, cleaned and re-crewed. This takes a couple of hours so there was time to make use of Winnipeg. I had decided Sunday morning that my beard needed a trim so I set off up Main Street then up Portage in search of a barber to do the deed. Afterwards, I thankfully failed to find an interesting book at a used book store, before sauntering back to the station where I bought a DVD about trains in the gift shop of the railway museum.  I moseyed over to the Forks Marketplace for elevenses in the form of a Jamaican paty and a cinnamon bun.

By this time, it was time to re-board the Train. I climbed into my car behind a Mennonite woman who was a new addition to the company. The new cabin attendant noticed I would be getting off in Clearwater and asked if I had any checked luggage. We discussed the matter and have made appropriate arrangements.

The Train left Winnipeg a little before 11:45. Our progress seemed more deliberate and steady, without the stops and starts. The track was much straighter and may well give the illusion of faster progress. As well, it is such a relief to be out in the open Prairies. The sight-lines are so much farther, especially as it's a bright sunny day.

I had lunch with Laverne, a Jamaican-Canadian on her way to Edmonton. We were later joined by Raj, a taciturn East Indian. He inquired quite closely of the waiter to make sure the omelet didn't any ham or bacon in it. Something in the way he asked made me curious as to whether he was a Hindu or Muslim. It turned out he was a relatively devout Hindu and didn't eat mammals.

So far, the only fault in the day has been the dull Ontario couple from "near Niagara Falls" I had supper with. They weren't particularly interested in chatting and the few exchanges I overheard between them suggested dullness. I think I may try to avoid sitting with them again.
The afternoon found me sitting for a fair bit with Roger the retired computer programmer from Denver in the "A" dome car. We chatted as the Train descended into the dramatic Qu'Appelle River Valley. It acted to my scenery taste-buds as an hors d'oeuvre for the Rockies. At least, I assume it did.

My car, no 113, Bliss Manor, seems to be located midway between the "A" and "B" dome cars, meaning it is a bit of a hike to get to somewhere "fun" or back to my cabin. Late this afternoon, I was told they will adding a "Panorama" car between cars 112 and 113 in Edmonton. This is interesting not as it means I won't have quite the hike to a lounge after Edmonton, but also as if I am not mistaken, it is unlike the rest of the Train (minus the locomotives) wasn't first built sixty years ago. Instead, I think they date from the late nineties or so. I am curious to see the contrast between the eras of train travel.

By my count, there are currently twenty-one coaches on this train.  Of these, one is a baggage car, two are "day coaches", three are Skyline dome cars, one is the Park dome car at the end and two are restaurant cars. The remaining twelve cars are sleeping cars of two distinct varieties. Ten are "Manor" cars named after Anglo-Canadian figures viz Brock, MacDonald and MacKenzie. They have three sets of berths, four roomettes and a certain number of larger cabins that I can't remember. My impression is that they have been redo relatively recently. In contrast, the two remaining sleepers are "Château" cars named for French-Canadian figures such as Papineau. They have the same number of berths but have eight roomettes with a different layout. Some are a step up in order to allow a bed to slide out for the other berth. I poked my head into an unoccupied one and got the feeling that it hadn't been updated as recently as mine. In fact, the whole of the "Château" cars gave off that vibe. I wonder if there is any politico-linguistic implications in this.

My sister-in-law Dominique is envious of me and my chance to experience the Canadian. I don't blame her as it has been quite a wonderful experience so far despite a moose shortage. I have been pondering how she, Fil and Désirée would find the experience. There would likely be language issue as relatively few of the passengers appear to speak French, native-born Canadians being a distinct minority. Désirée might have an issue as of the sleeper class passengers, there are no kids at all on my train. Lots of grey hairs, but no bairns. Then again she might find herself happy at the centre of seniors' attention. Still, it would make an almost stereotypically memorable event if Désirée's first trip to her cousins were by train.

On a day in the woods

I slept oddly on Saturday night having several odd dreams involving the Train, Northern Ontario, tour groups and anthropomorphic animal webcomics in varying degrees of realism and coherence.  The Train would be more comfortable if it moved at steady rate rather than the fits and starts along with semi inexplicable long waits in the middle of nowhere.

As expected, today was a day of "trees and rocks and rocks and trees and trees and rocks...." à la the Arrogant Worms with a particular emphasis on the trees.  The lack of vistas feels a bit claustrophobic.  I did see a couple of trumpeter swans, but no moose.

I find the Train very sociable and have been doing a lot of chatting. I was able to give a layman's explanation of the geology of the Canadian Shield to a batch of the British tour group including their guide.  It pays to be a Canadian geologist's son. ;-)

Cellphone reception has been extremely limited, so please don't hold it against me if I didn't respond to anything on Sunday.  This includes in some hamlets that looked large enough to have a cellphone tower.
In the afternoon, there was a talk about the Canadian followed by a 1955 promotional movie about it. Watching the movie, I noticed that the layout of the Skyline dome cars had been reversed in the years following. In the movie, access to the dome areas is from the rear whereas now it is front the front. Actually, the stairs are in the same place but the car has be reconfigured (dome chairs switched around) so as to do its job going the "other way".  The Park car (named "Tremblant") with its bullet shaped tail still brings up the rear of the Train in the way the Budd Company and CPR intended. After the presentation, I asked if the locomotive hauling us was the same one as the one in the new $10 bill. He checked his notes and was surprised to see it was despite it having been renumbered from 6403 to 6459.
The Train passed several work trains that included housing for workers. These looked like construction trailers (e.g. Dickie Moores) installed on flatcars.
The presence of these crews came up twice later. Once was when the train stopped to let off a member of the work crew who was joining the work train!  The other marked a coup for me.
After supper, there was a beer tasting in one of the lounges. The Train was stopped at a nowhere siding to let another train go by. As the presenter got the beer ready, I glanced out the window only see a large pile of beer cans beside the track.  So I asked the guy if he always did his beer tasting at this spot, pointing at the "evidence" out the window. He blamed it on the track maintenance crews. Like everyone else, he was amused.  The beers were Steam Whistle Pilsener, Granville Island's English Bay Pale Ale and Fort Garry Dark Ale.  Only the latter was particularly interesting.
The weather had been cloudy so I thought there would be no chance to catch the northern lights which are likely this week. As I lay in bed, I gazed out at "the green dark forest too silent to be real" to borrow a phrase from Gordon Lightfoot. Before I fell asleep, the Train came to yet another stop. I pulled the blind to see where we were. We were nowhere it seems. However, I noticed we were under the stars. Consequently, I pulled on my pants and took a stroll to a dome car to do some stargazing. Unfortunately, the tinted glass of the dome's windows put the kibosh on that idea.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

On a bit of a tiff

Posted in Folyet
I ditched one of my carry-on bags at left luggage at Union Station. I then moseyed Westwards along the Skywalk like a salmon against the river of Blue Jays fans leaving the Skydome. Along the way, I past a Toronto Tourism office. I ducked into it where by dint of a clever stratagem (asking someone) I obtained a biking map of Toronto in anticipation of next year.

I then walked up to King Street and went West to MEC. I came across a prolonged hive of activity which perplexed me for a bit until the penny dropped: it was the Toronto International Film Festival or tiff (the acronym is in lower case for some artistocratic reason. There were signs on the sidewalk saying start of the "rush line" which probably means something that I will have to look up when I have Internet access.

At MEC, I acquire a Watchtower fleece jacket. I them strolled up Spadina to Dundas, going through Toronto's Chinatown. There is something slightly mystifying to me about Chinatowns everywhere. In addition to the explicable Chinese food and cultural products (music, DVDs, books, tableware, etc.) there is a huge amount of cheap, tacky kitsch that may or may not have a Chinese connection. Gold coloured or jade lion or dragon knick-knacks, fans and screens with Chinese writing and/or art work, chintzy clothes and the truly inexplicable. Exhibit A would be a prism picture that displays an icon image of Jesus or the Virgin Mary depending which angle you look at it. Is this what Chinese people think is tasteful? In Last Chance to See, Douglas Adams wrote about being confused by hearing European music being played everywhere in the China of 1988, up to and including the "Theme from Hawaii Five-O" at Tiananmen Square. He wrote "It was hard to avoid the feeling that somebody, somewhere, was missing the point. I couldn't even be sure that it wasn't me."
This moose statue, decorated in Chinese fashion, could be a case in point.

My intended destination was The World's Biggest bookstore where I hoped to while away a few hours and if I couldn't avoid it, possibly buy a book or two.  Alas, it turned out to have been shut down for reasons likely to be connected from the general mismanagement of Canada's book industry by Indigo-Chapters along with the specific mismanagement of the store by its owner Indigo-Chapters.

I loitered up and down Younge Street, before finding supper, followed by a beer near Union Station.  I retrieved my other bag and went to the lounge to get check in as a sleeper passenger. All that I really needed to have done was to be told that I was by default in the first call for lunch and supper on the first day in dinning car "A".   The crowd of people included about forty Brits who were an organised tour that may also includes a trip the Rocky Mountaineer.  As I rather expected, the bulk of the passengers were older than me. What I didn't expect was to be in about the bottom fifth percentile of age or so.
There was a copy of Tom Thomson's "The West Wind" hanging in the waiting room. I was not particularly surprised by this, but I was amused as another copy of this iconic Canadian painting has hung in my parent's house for years. My wait was interrupted by a phone call from Mummy to tell me about her and Pappy's successful two day ride from Montreal to Magog. I had contributed advice on the trickiest bit, namely getting from the St Lambert locks to the bike path to Chambly.

I boarded the Train and installed myself in my roomette in the Bliss manor car. The Brit across the hall was grumbling about how small it was. I am not sure what he was expecting. I know I am glad to have a roomette rather than a berth or a coach seat which has been referred to as "steerage" by us hoighty-toighty sleeping car folks. The train has twenty one cars, mostly sleepers. There are four dome cars each one with two lounges in addition to the dome. There are two restaurant cars for the sleepers.

After some bubbly at an intro event, I took a shower and went to sleep in my fold-down bed. I slept oddly with two or three strange dreams relating to the Train.

I could write more but I want to post this before we get out of cell range.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

On Thierry's principle

Thierry F., a family friend, earned himself the naming of a family travel principle by coining the phrase: "You are only stressed until you remember what it is you have forgotten."  As I walked to board Via Rail trail number 63 to Toronto, I realized that I have forgotten to pack my lightweight polar fleece jacket! Given the weather, a polar fleece will be a necessity. Fortunately, there is an easy solution: MEC.  I have several hour stopovers in not only one but two cities with MEC stores in easy walking distances of train stations: Toronto and Winnipeg. Now to fire up my MEC app to find out what is stock.

I rode to Central Station with a duffle bag over my shoulder. At the station, I successfully got Leonardo into his box and properly labelled. Unsurprisingly, the man in charge of luggage didn't have a pre-printed label for Clearwater. He wrote one out by hand. As we sealed up the box, he was impressed when I produced a pre-printed sticky label with my name, contact information and Alice's address in Clearwater on it. "You've done this before" was his bemused comment and appreciative comment.

So far, the only other hiccup has been that my seat was on the North side of the train. From the many times I have taken the train between Toronto and Montreal, I have come to prefer being on the South side as the view is more interesting. Fortunately, I was able to get one of the attendants to switch my assigned seat.

Just about to leave Dorval. I am really a little giddy!

Monday, 8 September 2014

On a tangential acquaintance making the BBC news

On my way to Australia, I had supper in Vancouver airport with Margo and Chris and their Warmshowers guest Masahito Yoshida. He is a Japanese man who had walked across Asia, Europe and North America, pulling a cart full of gear.  He was resting in Vancouver before heading to Australia (indeed, he later stayed with Diane and Rob in Adelaide).  

He crossed Australia then walked up the Eastern coast of Asia (more or less) and back to Japan.  Now it seems he starting out again.  This time, he is walking from Egypt to South Africa.  I am friends with him on Facebook so I had been aware of this.  Imagine my surprise when I see an article about him on the BBC's website in its "News from Elsewhere" section.  

Good luck to you Masahito!  Have a safe journey!

Update: It turns out Masahito wasn't Warmshowers.  Please see Margo or Chris' comment for details.  When I first wrote this entry, I thought about putting a caveat regarding Masahito's exact status as they host a variety of "waifs and strays" not only Warmshowers cyclists and I am never quite sure about which of their guests is what.  However, I didn't for sake of brevity and look where that got me! ;-)

Saturday, 6 September 2014

On some surprising stats

I checked the stats for this blog just now after a couple of months of benign neglect.  The numbers of hits per country were rather interesting.  Starting at the bottom, in the last week, I got:

1 hit apiece from both Saudi Arabia and Finland; 

2 hits apiece from France, Sweden, Russia and Switzerland (the latter is probably Christina, Alice's best friend);

5 hits from Canada;

6 hits from the United States;

and 9 hits from the Ukraine!

I am not sure what that last statistic represents.

On being near the sweeps

Today was the Eastern Townships Challenge, a.k.a. "Le Défi des Cantons de l'Est" (note the absence of hyphens to spite the twits at the Commission du Toponomie du Québec (or what ever the hell it is called) who insist on putting hyphens everywhere and were trying to add a wodge of "de"s, "la"s, and "du"s to names of Metro stations on excessively officious grammatical grounds.)  Anyway, the forecast had called for rain, and I had been half tempted to spare myself the expense of renting a car to get there by not going.  I would have been in good company.
 I met the Parents at Bromont where we had breakfast at "Trattoria di Mike" (formerly known as Mike's Pizzas).  It began to rain shortly after I left the parking lot.  I pulled out my rain gear and kept it on for most of the day.  The rain was a devious bastard as it sometimes let up for just long enough for you think the day might turn out nice then snuck up on you when you thought it wouldn't.  I stopped more than my parents so they were just behind me in Ste Cécile de Milton where the first extra loop began.  I had stopped under the eaves of a dépanneur so we had a quick confab before going our divergent ways: they took the regular 100 km version, whereas I added 26 km to my day by going all the way to Saint Pious (St-Pie).
This section took me near Mont Yamaska which was fairly dramatic. I have the distinct impression that I went past it on the Défi that I incorporated into my trip to Newfoundland back in 2008.  As my memory of landscape is pretty good, I am rather certain of it.  Of course, I could be wrong as memories can attach themselves to each other less accurately:  earlier in the day, as I climb a hill, I had a vivid feeling of familiarity of a certain stretch.  As the familiarity morphed into the impression that it was like going up the hill to Robin Hill (the old family summerhouse) which I knew was miles away, I filed that feeling under "nostalgia" for country roads in the Townships.

After rejoining the main 100 km circuit, I laboured under increasing rain towards Roxton Falls, where lunch was to be had. This involved riding up a 3.2 km hill that was covered in slick clay. Despite Leonardo's "adventure" tires, the climb was tiring and I stopped for a rest at the top to catch my breath.  Another cyclist was in discussion about catching the sag wagon as far as the lunch stop with one of the "encadreurs".  To be honest, I really wasn't paying attention to the discussion, partly as it was taking place in French.  (While I am fluent in French, it takes me a bit more energy to understand French than English. As I was a bit tired, I wasn't sparing the energy.)  So I was a bit taken aback when the encadreur offered me the chance to catch the sag wagon as well.  I demurred, saying that I was good at least until lunch despite the rain.

The rain.  Thankfully, the day was relatively warm (around 20 Celsius).  Else wise, I might bailed.

Equally worthy of thanks was that the lunch stop took place at a primary school and there was a gym where I could eat indoors.  I cadged a seat and listened to the gossip as I ate. The consensus was that many people hadn't come to the event on account of the weather.  Halfway through lunch, I was startled by the arrival the sweeps.  Apparently, I was at the end of the herd which wasn't a pleasing feeling.  While I freely admit, I am not as fast as most of the spandex crowd, I like to think that I keep up a decent clip.  I also know that while I am not very fast, I can keep going longer than many people.

The weather kept many from either starting or finishing the tour.  I saw a full van-and-trailer load of cyclists leaving as I walked back to my bike.  At the risk of sounding macho, I would hazard that the bulk those that remained were the "hardcore".  And other these, the bulk came from my category, the one that I try to keep my parents in: the buffalo.

Years ago, I read a bad novel about U.S. Navy SEALs written by an ex-SEAL.  At one point, he refers to the survivors of the grueling selection process as falling into two categories:  the antelopes and the buffalo.  The antelope are those that have the physique and mental capacity to be able to dash through the tests relatively easily.  The buffalo, on the other hand, tend to be slower, but tougher. Rather than dashing, they shoulder their way through, enduring the elements.

I see the bulk of the spandex crowd as antelopes.  They are relatively "fair weather" cyclists, typically packing minimalist rain gear.  Their strategy for dealing with adverse weather, such as rain, is to push hard towards the end so they can get out of it as quickly as possible.

My parents are in their early seventies.  This should not be thought as a demeaning statement, simply as a statement of fact.  They are quite fit all things considered, but I don't see them as being particularly fast cyclists or ever going to be.  The latter is particularly true of my Father (whom I love dearly).  He is a burly individual who has never been, in my memory, slim.  Fit, yes. But not slim.  I doubt that he could ever be both healthy and slender.  He has the buffalo physique.  I sometimes describe him as a Santa Claus whom you could imagine wrestling recalcitrant reindeer into harness.
My mother is no slouch either, but neither is she particularly fast, especially as she rides a hybrid rather than a road bike.

Therefore, over the years, I have endeavoured to make my parents recognise that they should bring proper rain gear along despite the fact that the antelope spandex crowd were going by them with much less clobber.  Today was a day where the buffalo strategy paid off.

The ride back to Bromont was fairly tough.  At some points, I might well have thrown in the towel.  I should have changed my jersey at lunch.  I had been wearing a spandex affair under soft shell jacket and a lightweight Louis Garneau waterproof shell.  However, I had a slightly ratty merino jersey in my pannier, but it was only well after I left Roxton Falls that I decided I should put it on.  It was raining hard enough at that point that I didn't want to stop to put it on without shelter and it was only about 5 kilometers further on that I found a gazebo-like structure in a cemetary where I could put on the dryish and thermally useful garment.  (The structure was something of a memorial (complete with plaques that I barely read) to some Pères Demers who had been priests in the area back in the day.  I am pretty sure there were more than one of them.)

The latter part of the day saw me rolling in company of an encadreur who was vaguely concerned about me, as I had mentioned that I was discouraged on account of the weather, a white haired man on a road bike and a "trendoid" on a hybrid bike with an "urban" helmet who was listening to music from his MP3 player with earbuds.  I tried to distance myself from him.

I stopped at dépanneur in Warden to check for messages on my iPhone.  I wasn't terribly successful as despite my efforts it had been exposed to too much water.  While I was in the store, a couple of locals asked me what all the cyclists were up to? Was it a charity event?  I pulled out my favoured explanation, namely that it was an expenditure reduction event for Quebec Healthcare: the more people ride, the less it would have to spend!  They were amused, but one of them insisted on checking my pulse.  He was satisfied and commented that I must do this sort of thing a fair bit. I didn't say that over the years I have ridden most of the way across Canada.

Anyway, I made it to Bromont and went back to the car where I was pleased to see the Parents waiting for me.  After some sweet milk, we agreed that none of us wanted bother trying to find a restaurant in Granby, so we went our separate ways.

After a leisurely bath accompanied with some white wine, Mummy phoned to say that she had been surprised at how quickly I had shown up at the end.  Apparently, they had only been their about 15-20 minutes despite the fact that I ridden an extra 26 kms.  My stats for the day are a riding time of 6 hours and 2 minutes covering 128.59 kms for an average speed of 21.3 km/h with a maximum speed of 52.7 km/h.  To this I must confess that about 3-4 kms of travel weren't covered at the start as I hadn't properly clicked my Velo8 bike computer into place.  Mummy said her average speed was a disappointing to her (though understandable) 16 km/h (or thereabouts).