Thursday, 22 June 2017

On my first Challenge of the year

I sat out the first of Vélo-Québec's 3 Challenges this year on account of a sore ankle. I am not sure what I did, but I think a pulled a tendon or something at the gym on the Wednesday before the Metropolitan Challenge and so I was in a certain amount of discomfort vis-à-vis my right ankle for a few days to the point of popping into a nearby clinic to get a medical opinion. Unfortunately, all the nurse could say was that there wasn't anything obviously wrong. So I opted out on the grounds of prudence.

Naturally, the pain went away on the day of the Challenge and I wasn't in a position to take advantage of the relief. This was the weekend before the Tour de l'Île.

Last Saturday was the Mauricie Challenge. I drove up in a rented car to Trois-Rivières to meet the Parents and their friend Annie S. (not Fil's old girlfriend Annie B.) at the Trois-Rivières youth hostel where Annie had booked us a room for four.  The next morning, after a breakfast of spinach and onion omelets with Mummy homemade toast and coffee, we set off to the start the other side of the Saint-Maurice River in Cap-de-la-Madelaine.

It had rained the night before, but day turned out fairly nice.  Quite cool and mostly dry with little wind. It was fairly cloudy most of the day with sunny breaks which increased with afternoon. After the obligatory "cheese de groupe au départ", we set off like herd of tortoises to borrow a phrase from my sister. This refers to any start that happens in bits and drabs and takes longer than expected. I am afraid I was the last to leave owing to a pre-departure pit stop.

 I fell in behind a group of cyclist going at a fair, but slightly too slow, clip for a dozen or so kilometers before they slackened their pace for a bit which led me to overtake them. This resulted in me pushing myself a bit too much for my first real jaunt on Leonardo this year which meant I had soreness in my legs by the time I overtook Mummy on her new road bike. I slacked off the pace and let her draft behind me, allowing her to exploit my size and relative youth. This ties into one Margo's sayings, namely: "Large nephews make good windbreaks."
 I used the opportunity to take a selfie over my shoulder. Mummy was impressed at my skill. Apparently, she has yet to master the ability to shift gears and pedal at the same time. I would have thought she was better at multi-tasking than that. I was feeling a shade out of shape so I kept to the basic 100 km course, the same distance as my parents and Annie did. I can say that I averaged a higher speed, but then I stopped a bit more than they did meaning that we kept leapfrogging each other, and arrived at lunch at about the same time.
 After lunch, I passed this business which evidently believed in the pre-literacy school of signs, and thus the backhoe sticking from the wall and the large hammer. ;-)
 My Father has a somewhat aesthetic taste in bike clothing and tends to make snarky comments about the logo laden spandex-type cyclists. He something of hypocrite in this as he is notorious for mixing and (mis)-matching various bits of active wear.  One of his more outlandish hiking outfits is a pair of genuine leather lederhosen (minus the suspenders), with a random t-shirt and South American fedora hat which he pushed the crown out.  So for the Défi, he chose to actually wear bike shorts, in which he tucked in (a definite faux-pas in and of itself) a red t-shirt, and wore a red and white helmet under which he wore a bright yellow skull cap which I had bought him so that he might have a second one to go with the red one (which I also had bought him).  Would it have been too difficult to coordinate by wearing the red cap?
The Parents arrive ten or so minutes after Annie and I. We sat at a table in the shade and drank chocolate milk and iced tea.  I offered to go to the bar tent for beer which Pappy accepted. Annie and Mummy demurred though the latter then helped herself to sips prompting the family joke "Oh no, you don't! You'll have 'arf a pint like the rest of us!"

While we were loafing around, Mummy made unfortunate comments about a rather plump, middle aged woman who crossed the finished line.  I pointed out that by the colour of her bracelet (light blue such as Pappy and Mummy are wearing in the above photo) I could tell she had done at least 80 some odd kilometers, and from the time she arrived, I suspected she had done at least 100. As well, she didn't look knackered (as in "Oh God, I don't wanted to go another step. Some please catch me.") Furthermore, the important thing was that she was out on her bike.

To be honest, I was feeling a trifle defensive as I feel I am too thick around the middle these days.

Thursday, 8 June 2017

On clueless prizes

Apart from one incident, this year's Tour de l'Île went very well up until Vélo-Québec awarded me a prize.

The day had been forecast as unfavourable with cloudy skies, cool and with a chance of rain for much of the week. However, the forecast got better on Saturday and in the event the weather was near perfect. Sunny yet cool (high of 21). Indeed, I made the mistake of heading to the event in long trousers. I was again a volunteer mobile bike mechanic. Again like last year, I left my place early for th Chalet in Lafontaine park to pick up my Bénévélo kit and that of my friend J.-P..  There was a sign on the outside wall saying beware of the mother duck.  Low and behold, there was indeed a mother mallard who had made a nest in one of the big planters next to the wall. She was keeping a close eye on anyone who came close to her. A pair of duckling poked their fluffy heads out from under her and I had the impression that there were more under her.
 After picking up the kits, I headed over to J.-P.'s for breakfast. His family has grown by one since last year. Chloé is now a big sister to Estelle who is just starting to locomote. Both very cute. After breakfast, J.-P. and I headed to the start to await our orders to roll and to seek out people who needed their tires inflated. Our team was in fact sought out by a woman who had found a young girl who had lost her mother. J.-P. and a couple of policemen looked after her.
 The one seriously untoward incident came when Montreal's fat  and evil slob of a mayor got on the public address system and made a blatantly vote seeking speech which touched on his needlessly expensive Montreal 375 party which he implicitly contrasted with the previous night's terrorist attack in London and made empty promises about bike paths. (This, by the way, is the first time I have heard a mayor speak at the Tour de l'Île.)  I would have thrown a mushy banana at him, but pity stayed my hand: it was a pity I wasn't near enough to see where he was.
After a while, J.-P. and I set off, but a few blocks later, we stopped to greet Marie-France, daughters and Felix, his nephew. The latter had been put in charge of pulling the elder daughter in the Tour in a trailer! What with one thing and another, J.-P. and I were separated before we left Parc Avenue. My services were called for in order to help someone with a flat tire and possible seat handlebar interface problems which would be tedious to related but not so tedious as to endure, to borrow a phrase from Douglas Adams. The one good thing was that I got to say "Shalom" to passing Hasidic Jews who pointedly ignored me.

The Tour de l'Île generates an amount of surprising and potentially dangerous litter. I make it a point to pick up as much of it as I can. This year, I picked up one full biking water bottle, two Gatorade bottoms (one full and one empty), a velcro LED visibility strap, a pair of biking gloves (whose owner I found) and a new inner tube, still in its box (size 700x35-42 Schrader valve).

My observation is that people who are participating in the Tour are either trending towards the better equipped or are opting for Bixis. The former require less intervention from Bénévélos and the latter are of less concern as if something goes wrong we can't really help them given the way Bixis are designed. All this to say that I didn't have whole lot of business from cyclists. Discounting inflating tires at the start, I would say that I escorted more "civillians" across the road than I helped cyclists!

Once back at Fletcher's Field, I found the volunteers' tent where I enquired where I was to return my unused inner tubes. One of my fellow volunteers told me it had been cunningly located at the opposite corner of the field. I went over and dropped off my unused inner tubes as well as the one I had found as I have no use for  Schrader valved inner tube.

Around lunchtime today, I got a "Thank you" e-mail from Vélo-Québec which reminded volunteers that there was a "happy, jolly" thank you party this evening and that the following volunteers had won a prize. I was surprised to see my name on list and J.-P.s!  The party was to be held at the Musée Grévin. So I headed there after work.  My path was blocked by the f***ing street party on Crescent street for the f***ing F1.

The Musée Grévin is, in essence, a Québécois knock-off of Madame Tussaud's. It is located in a former movie theatre in the Eaton's Centre in former years I saw such movies as Cutthroat Island and Interview with a Vampire. As you start the tour, you first confronted with number of Québécois celebrities, before encountering people most non-Québécois are likely to have heard of. The effect is really rather cheesy. One room was laid out like the shower from Psycho with Alfred Hitchcock sitting down and reading a script. However, if you looked behind the curtain, there was no Janet Leigh, nor even a bottle of chocolate syrup! Also, the accuracy of at least one of historical figures was farcical: depicting General Wolfe with a musket on his back is monumentally wrong.

That didn't stop me from taking a few selfies.
I was surprised at how tall he was.
I was also surprised that they didn't have one of his son.

I would have love to have taken a selfie with her husband.


After making my way through the maze, I came the table where I could claim my prize.  Oh joy.  Oh rapture.  A year's free Bixi usage.

Do the clowns at Vélo-Québec even try to think these things through? I mean, chances are a "bénévélo" is bound to already own a bicycle. And those that do and who happen to use Bixis (all three of them) have probably already yearly passes. To boot, this "prize" is only really useful to those who live in the Bixi area and those who live further away from downtown would might view it as a pretty empty prize. Then you have the not insignificant percentage of the population who view Bixis as a poorly thought out waste of taxpayer's money and a serious drain on the biking budget.

Sorry Vélo-Québec, while the Tour de l'Île might be better than the Five Boroughs, a prize of "free" Bixi usage is not a suitable thank you gift. It is an insult.

Monday, 9 January 2017

More on European cyclists

At the last minute, Johan was invited to my parents' new year's eve dinner party which I not only attended but also but also cooked for. I took the opportunity to get my facts straight about the Opa who had borrowed Johan's bicycle back in the 1980s. He was in fact Johan's father. (I could easily go back and change my previous guess that it was Pauline's father, but the entry is no weaker for this error. I did change the spelling of Johan from the German "Johann" to the Dutch "Johan".) This inquiry led to a discussion of the fact that Johan's father had never learned to drive and therefore had used a bike. This very much falls into the current North American cyclist's view of Dutch cyclists.

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

More on Pauline and Johan

Rereading my previous post, I realized I had forgotten about some important bits, especially as relates to biking. I hadn't been particularly close to Pauline, more or less because their kids weren't my age. So it was a revelation when Johan gave a very good eulogy at her memorial service in the Unitarian Church in North Hatley. (The last time I had been in that room was for Olivier's baptism!)  He told the story of how they had met, something I had never heard before.

Fate evidently intended them to be together as you could not write this as fiction. Pauline had gone on a bike trip in Scotland with a friend of hers. Johan had been hitchhiking around Britain with a friend of his. Johan and his friend needed to split up for a while but made arrangements to meet up in Killin in Scotland on such and such a day. The choice of Killin was determined by throwing a dart at a map of the UK(!) and then checking to see if there was a youth hostel nearby. There was and that was were Pauline and Johan met, Johan's friend having failed to get there. It may not have been love at first sight (though it could have been) but at the very least, Johan was attracted to Pauline sufficiently to pursue a relationship which led to what seems to me as a successful marriage, though one cut too short.

One of the things that struck me was that I more or less knew where Killin was having biked near it on not one but two bike trips in Scotland.  I have since looked it up and it lies roughly midway between Crianlarirch and Kenmore. On my first bike trip in Scotland, I rode within 5 kms of it!

Another thing that struck me was just how positive a person Johan is and has always been in my view. It is too easy to be negative or to fall into the trap of negative statements. Lately at work, I have been asked if such and such a minor schedule change would be acceptable. I have striven to avoid responding with "No problem" and instead have written "Fine by me". I would like to hold up Johan as an example of positivity.

So, hear's to Pauline and Johan!

Sunday, 4 December 2016

On European cyclists

For the second time this fall, I have hauled Floria up the stairs to my bike storage area in anticipation of snow. Who knows if the forecast snow will stick, but I getting the point where I tend towards the preemptive.

I am in the process of watching the Suzuki Diaries featuring David Suzuki and his daughter travel around Europe by train and observing various ecofriendly features such as Copenhagen's bike culture. This made me think on an incident (possibly exaggerated) from my youth. As I was growing up, there was a Dutch family up the road with which my family was friends. (Olivier, with whom I stayed in Corner Brook, is a member of said family.)  The mother of the family, Pauline, died recently, which partly explains the "why" of this post.

At some point in the early 1980s, the one set of the family's grandparents (i.e. the grandparents' of "my" generation of the family) came over for a visit. I believe they were Pauline's parents, but I can't be sure.  In any case, the story came out that the Opa (Dutch for Grandfather) borrowed Johan's (the father) bicycle and rode downtown.  As many of my readers may know, North Hatley is in a valley and the slopes are significant. Opa zoomed down the hill to centre of the village and is said to have said: "What a wonderful country for biking!" He struggled back up the hill, whereupon he is said to have said: "Canada is no country for bikes!"  From what little I know of him, I gather he would have been saying so facetiously. In any event, the story was related to me as such.

However, on much later reflection, I am intrigued by the fact that he would have borrowed a bike in the first place. The distance between the house and downtown is less than a kilometre and easy walking distance. Yet he casually chose to bike it. Looking back, none of my grandparents would have chosen to ride a bike around North Hatley, even Granny M., who was very active and with whom I biked around Stanley Park when I was 10. (I once skied to church (in North Hatley) and back with her on a particularly snowy Christmas morning in the late 1970s.)  My point is that Opa riding the bike was, in its own way, quietly remarkable for North America in the early 1980s, but probably utterly unremarkble for the Netherlands. And yet, as a child, I didn't think it remarkable aside from the funny comment on Canadian hills coming from a Dutchman.

Saturday, 22 October 2016

On being an authority, of sorts

While in Scotland, I made fairly frequent use of my rain shoe covers until the last several days when good weather reigned. (And rain didn't.)   However, the covers had seen better days with fraying stitching and weakening velcro. They were MEC brand and quite effective. Unfortunately, the design had a mild flaw which caused people to sue MEC into withdrawing them from sale and indeed issuing a product recall.  I had been trying to get a suitable replacement for them for months to no avail, so when in Kirkwall, I bought a new pair. However, the weather has been quite dry these last couple of months, so it was only in the last week that I have really used them. And I found them wanting. So I went back to the old ones.

Because of this, when I was in MEC this afternoon on other business, I stopped by the bike department to see if there was anything suitable. As luck would have it, there was a new type of rain shoe cover for sale which fit the bill and my feet. I therefore returned the well-used, and recalled pair for a refund and used the money to help pay for the new version! I felt a bit guilty about this, but not enough to seek confession.

There was a rush at the cash as the store was about to close, so after paying for the new shoe covers, I went to the door to don them (it was raining).  As I did so, a man in scruffy urban cycling togs, asked me about my rain pants and then rain jacket. His approach to biking in the rain was a poncho, but evidently he had doubts about it.  I gave him my opinion, namely that my Activa rain pants had served me well for ten years and that my Showers Pass Transit jacket was value for the money and, no it wasn't too warm as it had pit zips. I was a shade embarassed at saying this, as a glance at his gear suggested a jobbering, budget approach to cycling gear.  In plain language, he wasn't as blessed as I in his biking budget. I made an attempt to cover my relative expenditure by saying my bike was my car, hence... 

As we chatted, a second cyclist approached me and asked where had I got my rain shoe covers! I told him that I had just bought them, then and there! I felt like I was the authority on biking in the rain!

Thursday, 15 September 2016

On the end of my trip

I guess the place to begin is Inverness. I had chosen an earlier train than strictly necessary in order to have time to try and buy a CD or two of Scottish music, most notably a Red Hot Chili Pipers CD so I could give it to Col as a bit of a tease. (He's a rock music aficionado.) I therefore stashed most of my bags in the lovely lockers at the train station and rather foolishly set off on the bike for the shopping centre. This was foolish as it turns out the shopping centre is next to the station. I'd have done better to add my helmet to the the stuff in the locker, secured the bike to a bike rack and walked. Anyway, I found the music I wanted. 

I went back the station to have a shower. I then found supper in a nearby pub which featured a good selection of real ale. As I was eating, some other patrons came in, three ordered wine, whereas the fourth ordered a Budweiser. When I went to order a second pint, I asked the batman if he ever got discouraged by such behaviour? He shrugged and said it was money in his pocket. A little later, two couples of older people came in together. One of them asked if the Supermoose T-shirt I was wearing referred to a bar! I said no, it was just a novelty tourist shirt. One couple was from Vermont, the other from England.

Back to the station to retrieve bike and panniers, then over to the Caledonian Sleeper where I employed a cunning strategy I worked out. Typically the bike-carrying car is located close to the entry to the platform. However, I have come to the conclusion that the best way to proceed is to go to the car containing one's sleeping compartment with the bike, put the bags in the cabin and then bring the bike to its' car thereby saving a bit of lugging of panniers. In other words, I use the bike as a luggage trolley.

The trip South was uneventful. Not having get up at 3:45 AM to move bikes made it much easier get a good night's sleep. (I have learnt that it is only Fort William trains that are so afflicted.) Ironically, I woke up briefly in Waverly Station at about 1 AM. A little after seven, I asked the attendant giving me my morning coffee and shortbread biscuits how close the train was to being on time, thinking that long distance trains often pick up a bit of delay. I was surprised when he said that we were going to arrive a minute ahead of schedule!

In Euston Station, I bought a breakfast roll (i.e. bacon and egg in a bun) and walked over to one of the bike parking areas to eat it. While I munched away, I witnessed at least a couple of businessmen exit the station and proceed to unlock a bicycle from the rack and head off, presumably to their offices. I was a bit surprised to realise that they evidently keep a bike at Euston Station for the station-office segment of their morning commute!  To my mind, this speaks wonders for the state of biking in Britain.  

I spent some more time bumming around Regent's Park, including stopping to have tea by a pond filled with birds. I could look up which pond it was, but I don't feel like it. I was killing time as I didn't wish to have a day in London, but did want to shop at Cadenhead's Whisky Shop which only opened at 10:30. In a sense, I was stuck with Leonardo and bags, but it wasn't that great a hardship. At Cadenhead's, I made a number of purchases, most notably a bottle of the defintive version of the Kilkeran 10-year Single Malt. (Cadenhead's is more or less the retail arm of J.A. Mitchell, makers of Springbank and other fine whiskies.) I also got a bottle of Old Raj Gin for Caddy as I had been informed she is something of a gin fan.

I then caught a train to Didcot from Paddington Station. Caddy's Dan was there to greet me, as was Bella who told me of her tail of woe and of how she had been beaten with rolled up strips of bacon and then not been allowed to eat the bacon or even lick the crumbs off her fur. ;-) 

What next?  My stay with Elly and Collin is now a bit of blur. I told them about my journey and things I had seen. Caddy was happy to get the gin and Collin enjoyed the beer from Orkney I brought with me. The next day was somewhat wet, so I took a train without Leonardo to Oxford, where I saw acres of bike parking at the station and around town. I saw a large number of East Asian tourists, likely Chinese. I nearly went to see the new Swallows and Amazons movie but the timing wasn't right, so I had lunch and the Eagle and Child instead. I spent a shade too much time and money in bookstores, including the surreal Blackwell book store and it's underground Norrington Room.

On the Saturday, I took in a visit to the Didcot Railway Centre which included a ride in a train hauled by the King Edward II steam locomotive. I took a picture of it for Edward's benefit. Then it was time to head to Heathrow and catch a 787 back to Montreal. This involved a somewhat surreal experience as although British Airways has the entirety of Terminal 5 almost exclusively to itself (and the terminal has 3 sub-terminals) getting to my plane involved taking a "mystery bus tour" and walking up a gangway!

The flight was nondescript which is good. The high point was the meal where the choices were between roast beef or chicken tikka Marsala which, as I pointed out before, represents a considerable amount of British cooking, and especially adjusted for the fact that fish and chips doesn't fly as airline food (pun intended). I had chosen the chicken tikka Marsala The real problem came from the fact that the plane landed in Montreal at 8 PM which was sufficiently late that it made jet lag harder to deal with.