Thursday, 27 November 2008

On folly and wussishness

A number of posts ago, I described a fellow cycle tourist as striking me as a bit foolish. He had this to say about my comment:

You say foolish, I say inexperienced.

In my own defense, the only touring that I had ever done before biking across Canada is nada. I only did training rides around Vancouver on a carbon fiber race bike (and commuting, I guess).

Of course, my way of looking at it is if you only do what you know, if you never take the jump into trying what you think is impossible, you never actually grow. Things like making the commitment to biking the continent fall into that category.

Feel free to call me foolish if you want, I'll feel free to call you a wuss. ;-)

I have been trying to decide what my reaction to this is. Looking back at my biking career, I realize that I discovered the dangers of overloading bicycle wheels going to work with a decent load on the back of my bike over the lousy surface that passes for pavement in Montreal. I blew a fair number of tires and went through a couple of rims before I was introduced to the benefits of touring grade wheels and Kevlar tires by my local bike shop. Since then, I have been a firm believer in them. In addition, I made the transition into true cycle-touring with the advice of my aunt. She, in turn, learned a good deal about modern cycle-touring from her contacts at a bike shop in Vancouver. Thus, I had a certain amount of experience under my belt. The trouble with experience is you don't always know you have it.

It would seem that MarkE didn't have the benefit of experience and was possibly spoilt by the good road of B.C.. In addition, he seems a braver spirit than I. More power to him.

However, my approach to life is a bit more belt and suspenders. I would rather test things out, ask advice and plan ahead. I must admit that on the Newfoundland trip, I think I sold myself a bit short in the planning and wasn't bold enough to dare to go longer distances each day. However, in doing so, I was erring on the cautious side of ideal and that is where I would rather be. I'd rather be on the wussy side than have all the mechanical issues that MarkE. So, if I saw foolish, perhaps that was the experience I didn't quite realise I had colouring my judgment. Sorry MarkE.

I don't know what I should write next, except that next trip I plan on covering longer distances per day, circumstance permitting. Less wussness from me.

Then again, a lot of people think I am some sort of Lance Armstrong type just for biking to work (all 7.5 km) seven to eight months of the year (remember this is Montreal). Now they combine both folly and wussishness! ;-)

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

On something to remember when biking in France

Be aware of which way you strap your baguette to your bike.
Shamelessly stolen from a book I catalogued this week.

On why Monday should have been the last day of biking

It turns out that it was colder last night than expected. Not by much, but enough to make a difference. About 1 or 2 degrees. The same as the dew point early this morning. Unfortunately, I didn't know this.

Today today dawned bright and sunny so I threw caution to the wind, and biked to work. At the second corner, my wheels slipped out from under me on the dew that had frozen onto the nice, new and above all smooth pavement that is such a rarity in this province. Fortunately, this corner was a back street and there was no traffic to run me over as I lay on the ground recovering my breath after the joint jarring fall. I picked myself up and with pig headed determination, rode rather cautiously into work.

Apart from a few bruises, the only damage seems to be that the brake lever on the side that took the fall (the left hand side) has been banged out of place making it harder to operate. However, this was enough to convince me that the gods don't want me to keep biking this year. I have taken the Castafiore in for the winter. I had thought of bringing her into the shop for her end of the year upgrade, but with the expense of Christmas coming on, I thought it best to wait until February.

I rather wish that I had put the bike away after Monday's high note.

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

On the frustrations of the start of winter

On Monday, I had one of the best runs into work in a long time. I didn't have to stop for lights until I was in sight of the Library. I am in the zone.

It snowed overnight leaving just enough snow to be treacherous, but not enough to be definitively the end of biking. Tonight the 5-day weather forecast from Environment Canada is as follows:
Periods of rain mixed with snow. Wind northeast 20 km/h gusting to 40 becoming light near midnight. Temperature steady near plus 2.

Day: Cloudy with sunny periods. Periods of light snow mixed with rain beginning in the afternoon. Wind becoming southeast 30 km/h in the morning. High plus 3.
Night: Periods of light snow mixed with rain. Wind southeast 20 km/h becoming light near midnight. Low zero.

Cloudy with 70 percent chance of showers. High plus 2.

Periods of snow or rain. Low minus 2. High plus 3.

A mix of sun and cloud. Low minus 2. High plus 1.
Thus, it will be warmer than last week, but wet and possibly snowy. I BMW'd (Bus Metro Walk) to work today (having bought a weekly bus pass). Now, do I take the faster, healthier method of biking or do I BMW tomorrow? Both of the ways have their merits. Unlike some years, I am still keen to keep biking, but, but, but...

I wish it would either snow a lot or not snow at all (for another few weeks: Christmas needs snow!)

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

On being seen and baby shots

Shorter days have come and along with it the need to think about about being visible to traffic. While it is twilight when I leave work at 4:30, by the time I get home, it is full dark. Despite this, I pass any number of invisible cyclists. Well, not technically invisible, so perhaps stealth cyclists is a better term. No lights, dark clothing and few, if any, reflectors. Why more of them don't get smucked I don't know. Coming home today, I saw a cab driver cursing a stealth cyclist and I couldn't really blame him.

The good side of these semi-suicidal stealth cyclists is that I stand out as relative beacon of visibility to drivers with my assortment of visibility devices: lots of reflective tape, reflectors and no less than four different lights. I have an MEC white Turbo turtle light on my handlebars, an MEC red turtle light on my helmet facing backwards, a compact BLT headlight on the front of my helmet and a red blinky light on my bag in the milk crate, carefully arranged to be visible from the rear. I have had a number of people comment favourably on my lights of late, not the least of which was a driver at the corner of Cavendish and Côte Saint-Luc road this evening. He lowered his window to say this despite the fact that it was about -3 degrees out there. That's an indication he was favourably impressed.
My helmet with lights fore and aft

This made for an amusing coincidence as I got an e-mail from Margo when I got home that she and Chris were in this little video on the subject of visibility. Unfortunately, they spelt Margo's name wrong in the credits. All you stealth cyclists out there, watch, listen and learn. Then go out and get visible! ;-)

Baby shots

For no particular reason except that I have been waiting too long to put them up, here are a couple of shots of my niece. The first sitting down...and the second standing up with a little help from her mum.Actually, while it doesn't look it, Désirée is getting a lot of support from Dominique. When I held her hand to give her support, I could feel that my niece was keeping her balance mostly by her arms as she was putting a lot of force through her hands, and boy! is she strong. If this keeps up, she will end up being very strong. Not bad for only seven months. Philip was joking that his goal is have her walking by Christmas. Mind you, I was walking by my first Christmas: there is a very good shot of me walking behind Granny and Granpa's house on Upper Lansdowne in my snowsuit. Of course, I was born in January, not April!

Actually, now that I think of it, there is a good reason for me to put the baby shots up: stress relief. There is something wonderfully calming about looking a picture of a happy baby. My desktop at work is this shot:
It does wonders for my inner calm. Désirée seems to be particularly good-natured baby which makes it very easy to feel affection for her. Lots of warm fuzzy feelings.

As a semi-related note, a week or two ago, my mother had planned to go to read to Mrs. Biron, a very nice lady in her nineties who can no longer read, at a local old folks home when at the last minute Dominique asked her if she could look after Désirée. Rather than cancel the session, my mother took Désirée along. Naturally, my niece was quite the center of attention. Mummy didn't say as much, but I infer that Désirée was "good" during the visit. ;-)

Monday, 17 November 2008

On the "botte secrète" of Trans-Canada biking

Victor Chisholm made an interesting comment to my last post. He effectively pointed out that I had neglected to mention the lack of alternate routes in the area, thus making it the only way for all Trans-Canada traffic.

More positively, he gave me the links to two blogs of trans-Canada cyclists namely: or guy in the former seems to suffer from a huge number of flats and other mechanical failures, culminating in a frame break just before Kenora. Reading between the lines, he strikes me as a bit foolish. He only gets a Kevlar tire in about Manitoba (as opposed to before he started. Go Schwalbe, Go!) and at one point admits he had been underinflating his tires.

In addition, I am pretty sure he was riding a bike that wasn't really strong enough for the load he was carrying, given the number of spokes he broke, the frame fracture, etc. Then again, he likely didn't have an aunt making very good suggestions about what to buy and bring. (Thank you, Margo! ;-) (To put this into perspective, in 3000+ kms of cycling touring, I have had two real breakdowns. The first was the loss/disappearance of two bolts securing my rear rack in Cea, Spain and a flat tire caused by a big piece of broken glass in Madrid.)

On the flip side, he was doing some major distances. There are several 200+ km days mentioned in his blog.

Interestingly, both blogs feature the same shortcut, one that I had been unaware of. Instead of going via Sudbury and North Bay, they took a ferry from Manitoulin Island to the Bruce Peninsula and from there into Southern Ontario. The advantage of such a route is that it would get me into more populated areas more quickly than the Sudbury-North Bay route I had been pondering. Of course, as Victor points out, it would be a longer route.

All things being equal, I prefer the idea of the Manitoulin Island route over. It seems such a wonderfully sneaky way of quickly getting out of the Northern Ontario that it almost qualifies as some sort of "botte secrète".

If I may explain that last term, at one point I was watching a number of French swashbuckling movies. One feature of them (especially "La fille d'Artagnan") was discussions amongst the characters of various fencing moves, known as "bottes" in French. Various characters had favourite moves of varying quality, some of which weren't widely known. If they needed to, they would surprise their opponents with with their "bottes secrètes". I think I need to come up with an equivalent term for biking, because the Manitoulin-Bruce Peninnsula ferry surely qualifies!

Saturday, 15 November 2008

On a possible long-term biking mega-project

When I began planning and thinking about the Newfoundland trip, I was quite adamant that this was only a Montreal to Newfoundland trip and not part of a larger biking project of biking across Canada. I didn't want the expectation of people that I had to go the full distance across the continent, even in small sections. My principle rationale for this can be summed up in two words: Northern Ontario.

Not the mountains of the Rockies or vast distances of the Prairies, but the sparsely populated, undulating, forested Canadian Shield. Come to think of it, the distances of the Prairies are shorter than Northern Ontario. I did some work with Google maps this morning and discovered that Calgary to Winnipeg is about 1300 km, whilst Kenora to North Bay is 1600 km. What's more, there is little of interest in those 1600 km. My memories of having driven through Northern Ontario in 1985 suggest that it mostly trees, small hills and the occasional moose, the latter being a plus. Very few vistas and even fewer towns. The thought of spending several weeks with little change in scenery doesn't appeal.

And would be cool to say that I have biked from coast to coast, at least in sections. When I started thinking about it, I mentally divided the mega-project up into four sections: Vancouver to Calgary, Calgary to Winnipeg, Winnipeg to Montreal and Montreal to Newfoundland. (The rationale for doing the trip West to East is that the prevailing winds in Canada are West to East.) Technically, there is an additional section, namely Victoria-Vancouver. However, I have already done Victoria-Vancouver by bike. Twice in fact.

The Vancouver-Calgary and Calgary-Winnipeg sections both seem very doable by my current standards. Both sections seem easy enough distance-wise to complete within a three week period, thus fitting into the maximum length of holiday, I am allowed to take from work. In addition, both sections seem fairly well populated with towns thus allowing my "credit-card" style of cycle-touring to function.

Conversely, the Winnipeg-Montreal section doesn't work with my current practices. For one thing, it is simply too long. However, this could be dealt with be cutting it into two trips, such as Winnipeg-Sault Ste Marie and Sault Ste Marie-Montreal. I could also "nibble" away at the length of the Sault Ste Marie-Montreal section by doing shorter (one week or less) trips such as Ottawa-Montreal.

However, there is also the "Canadian Shield factor" described above. One way of dealing with it would be to change either to a more independant style of cycle-touring, such as cycle-camping or, ironically, a more dependant style, such as going with an organised tour. Another possibility would be to opt to go via the United States, where the Canadian Shield portion of the trip would be shorter.

In any case, I have plenty of time to think about how to do it as the earliest I would likely be doing any of these trips is 2010. (This assumes that next year my main biking trip is joining Margo and Chris for the last leg of their epic.) Even then, assuming one section per year, it could be 2012 before I would have to make any hard choices about how to tackle the Winnipeg-Montreal section, by which time, I might well be tired of cycle-touring or have evolved a new style of cycle-touring. Then again, I might have the opportunity to go on a non-Canadian trip of some description, therefore have to "waste" my vacation time on something else.

One case in point, Alice is likely to be in Southern Africa for two years which might be my opportunity to go there. Then again, maybe I should stop planning my vacations around her. In the last eight years, I have used her perigrinations as springboards to visit Belfast, New Zealand, Edinburgh, Halifax and, of course, Newfoundland.

Anyway, these are only possibilities for the long-term, and therefore nothing to really worry about. No decisions have to be made any time soon.

Friday, 14 November 2008

On an unusual breakdown

I was rather surprised and a trifle annoyed yesterday morning when the chain on the Castafiore broke whilst I was climbing St-Jacques Street on on the way to work. While I have had issues with bike chains in the past, I have never had one break on me before. One odd thing about the break was that the link that broke was the joint link but not at the removable pin.

Fortunately, I wasn't far from my bike store and alternate means of transportation. As the bike store only opened at 10, I left my bike locked outside of it, and took a bus to work. It luck would have it, the breakdown may well have spared me having to ride home in the cold and heavy rain.

There was a new person at the bike store who looked very young. In fact, he was only 16, several years younger than the Castafiore! However, he put a new chain on and seemed to know what he was doing, which is possibly more than could be said about me.

To be honest, I have been following my typical end-of-the-cycling-year bad habit of delaying maintenance issues. I have the vague excuse that until recent I was still paying off the Newfoundland trip and related debts. However, I realized that I was in potentially dangerous situation as the Castafiore has some minor mechanical issues that will need to be dealt with at some point whilst I don't think I should use Leonardo for getting to work owing to some more serious mechanical issues. All this to say that I should make a point of taking Leonardo in to be looked at tomorrow morning.

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

On the death of a friend

I was saddened to read in this morning's paper that Emru, older brother of my friend Tamu passed away last night. As you may know, he was the one that was suffering from a rare form of leukemia that pushed me into putting my name on the bone marrow donors list.

A donor had been found this summer. Unfortunately, the donation was either insufficient or too late to help his body resist the disease. He was a few years older than I and leaves behind a wife and son as well as Tamu and their parents.
I can't say I knew that well, but what I knew of him I like. He was funny, smart and cool. One of my favourite memories of him was when I was helping Tamu move one time. Emru came in and was introduced to me. He told me not to believe anything his little sister had said of him. He obviously thought that his sister had been telling tales about her "nasty" older brother. However, about the only thing I could remember about him involved his son. So, with lightning wit, I replied, "You mean you don't have a son called Max whom you bench-press?" With a sheep-ish grin he admitted that perhaps not everything that Tamu had told me was a lie.

The world will be a poorer place without him. May you rest in peace, Emru.

Sunday, 2 November 2008

On the difficulty of blogging about long range plans

Margo has quite rightly pointed out that once she and Chris are on the road, how and when I might join them will become much more obvious. Things will fall into place and it will be relatively simple for me to determine how to join them.

However, this does not make it easy to write about it now, as things are still very much in flux. For example, I had been assuming that the European leg of their trip would take them across Central Europe.

View Larger Map
However, it now seems that Margo and Chris' working plan is somewhat different. They are thinking about island hoping in the Mediterranean, Sicily, Sardinia, Corsica and then up across France.

View Larger Map
This is a relatively radical change from my perspective. One significant advantage is that I can stop thinking about learning at least a smattering of German. One disadvantage is that I might have to "contaminate" my relatively limited ability in Spanish by learning Italian!

(If I may digress, Granny once told me that she made the "mistake" of trying to learn Spanish after studying Italian. The problem was that as the languages were relatively similar, she kept on mixing the two up. She reckoned that she might have been better off sticking to just Italian. Of course, she didn't use either very often, so perhaps it was a moot point.)

Other advantages of this route would be that much of it would take place in countries where I can get by in the official languages. Then again, fluency in Québécois isn't a guarantee that you will be understood in France. ;-)

All this to say, that as plans are still in a relative state of flux, it feels too soon to dream and speculate in writing. What I should be doing is dressing up past posts with photos and maps such as the ones featured in this post. (Thank you Chris for letting me know how to do it.)