Friday, 29 February 2008

On rails to trails and trails to rails

I e-mailed the organization behind the Newfoundland T'Railway about its current suitability for biking. Alas, it turns out that the information in the 2003 guide to it is still valid. More's the pity.

In other news, it seems that there will be a new edition of the Guide de la Route Verte will be published next month. I will need to check it out to see if it will be worth the $20 to buy it. If it is useful, I think I will mark my route in the old one (assuming no great change) and leave it with my parents so they can monitor my progress. I am toying with the idea of getting a second Atlantic Canada Backroad Atlas in order to do the same. At $10, the Backroad Atlas is a pretty good deal.

Finally, I read in the paper that there is a move afoot to start having trains run from Montreal to Sherbrooke again. Included in the article was the mention of having the train have facilities for cyclists!!! If it goes, I am so going to be a passenger on it. The only downside of the movement is that is seems to be led by a Bloc Québécois MP. That means he has relatively little political weight to put behind it. In addition, I am loath to support the BQ.

Monday, 25 February 2008

On the uses of the Newfoundland T'railway/TCT

I borrowed my Library's copy of Sue Lebrecht's Trans Canada Trail Newfoundland Official Guide this afternoon. I was curious to compare it with my Atlantic Canada Back Road Atlas. While my first analysis of the Newfoundland T'Railway as described in the guide was mostly that it wasn't very useful to my needs, I had the idea that I should nonetheless incorporate some of the information in it into my planning.

According to the Guide, only the 11 km section near Port aux Basques is suitable for bicycles (A). However, several interesting sections are rated B. The first of these is the most significant as it A. immediately follows the Port aux Basque section (hence easy comparison of grades) and B. it cross several roads so that if it turns out to be truly awful to cycle, I could easily opt out if necessary. One potentially interesting section varies in quality from C to B. I intend to inquire locally if that section has been improved since the Guide was written five years ago. Come to think of it, five years is quite a long time, so I should probably inquire directly if there has been improvements to the trail.

None of the sections of the T'Railway represent short cuts. However, they are likely to be more interesting and quieter than the Trans-Canada is frequently the only alternative.

For future reference, I penciled in the grades of the useful sections of the T'Railway into my Road Atlas. Leafing through the Guide, I also came to the conclusion that it might also be useful with regards to accommodations as bikers share certain similarities with hikers in that respect.

At some point, I should sneak a peak at Sue Lebrecht's Trans Canada Trail Nova Scotia Official Guide at Chapters' in order to take down similar information about certain sections of the Trans Canada Trail in that province. I will not be doing this for either Quebec or New Brunswick as my Route Verte guide covers the former and the Trans Canada Trail does not suit my needs in New Brunswick.

Sunday, 24 February 2008

On matters relating to the Underground city

I ran 5 km today indoors without retracing my steps. Well sort of, the Fête du Montréal interieur et souterrain 5km does come fairly close to retracing its steps. However, the concept is sufficiently novel that we can ignore that. This is the third year that it has been held, and I have been to all of them. It has gotten larger each year, and I hope that it doesn't get any larger unless the organisation of the event can be significantly improved as there was way too many bottlenecks before and after, generally waiting to drop off or pick up bags of winter clothing. I also hope that someone tells the boss to lay off the damn microphone, or at least develop better mic technique.

My time was 30:53.1 which is 10 seconds slower than last year. I was 604 out of 936 overall, 158 out of 188 men 30-39 and 470 out of 584 men. The short version is that I am not very good runner. At least, I am not a runner with much training.

In addition to yet another Dry-fit t-shirt, among the freebies I got was a neat, little compass from Hydro-Quebec. I have attached it to the zipper of my biking jacket which was in need of a zipper pull. I don't know how well it will stand up to the rigors of use, but I hope it will.

Along the way, I passed the Palais des Congrés where it was the Salon du Moto weekend. I was amused to note that they were handing out free copies of the Journal de Montréal at that event. The Journal de Montréal is Montréal's main tabloid newspaper, unlike La Presse which is a more staid, middle of the road, broadsheet. Why the comparison? Well, if you will review my previous entry, you find reference to La Presse being given away at the Salon du Vélo last weekend. Obviously, cyclists are a higher class of people than motorcyclists! ;-)

Speaking of the Salon du Vélo, or rather speaking at the Salon du Vélo was a guy by the name of René Ouellet who at the age of 50 set off from Matane to visit the northern and southern extremes of the inhabited continents by bike. He was 55 when he got back. Along the way, he seems to have become something of a celebrity to the Taiwanese. He is also an advocate what he terms slow tourism. Certainly, he is likely a slower cycle tourist than I, carrying at times roughly a 100 kilograms of stuff on his bike. Then again, he was going as a very self-sufficient cycle-tourist carrying as many spares as he could (I saw some photographs where he had 2 spare tires on his bike) and clothing suitable for the extreme range of climates he had to face. Then again, he was traveling through many countries where bike shops are few and far between.

There was one note that struck me as a little off in his presentation. When he got to Alaska (after having taken the plane from Korea) he had thought that the northern extreme of North America was in the Yukon. While he found out very soon it was in fact Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, I would have thought that nearly five years into his trip, he would have known where his second to last major destination was. I knew that Prudhoe Bay was North America's farthest north.

I managed to acquire a significant number of biking related material such as regional biking maps and the like. Not only for the Newfoundland trip but also for more general use. Unfortunately, the maps I really wanted, the routes to the Défis de l'été, were still not available. (C'mon Vélo-Québec. Get a move on.)

One of the exhibitors at the Bike Show was Arkel. I would have been surprised if they weren't there as Montreal is the closest major city to there headquarters in Lennoxville. I looked with a certain interest at their handlebar bags. They seemed quite sturdy and practical. Unfortunately, they are also expensive. (As an alternative, while I was at MEC yesterday, I looked at the MEC alternative. Unfortunately, while it was cheaper, the map case portion was simply inadequate.) The advantage of having a handlebar bag would be to have an obvious, and quick release place to keep valuable and/or frequently used items. (Keys, wallet, multitool, camera, snacks, documentation, batteries, binocs, etc.)

One discovery at the Bike Show was that Devinci also makes helmets. They seemed quite nice. Unfortunately, they have yet to make their appearance on Devinci's website.

Saturday, 16 February 2008

On corporate self-promotion

I was at the Salon du Vélo this afternoon, but this is not a full report on the festivities. Rather this is a philosophical musing related to it.

Like many such events, it was sponsored by a variety of companies including La Presse newspaper. This is, in my opinion, a less than obvious product placement, but then again, I have seen stranger things in sponsorship. Besides, if La Presse wants to subsidize my hobby, I am not going to say no, even if I am unlikely to buy the Newspaper.

My favourite bit of corporate self-promotion was on the Tour de l'Île a few years ago. The route that year went through a quarry in East End Montreal. At the far end of the quarry, near some of the industrial installations of the cement company that owned it, were a couple of cement trucks and a earthmover parked carefully beside the route. They were all perfectly clean. The drums on the cement trucks had been stopped in a position that the company's name, Lafarge, was easily readable. To me, it was obvious that the company was doing some minor and very reasonable corporate promotion. I mean, it deserved to be allowed to show itself off to the public if it was prepared to let several thousand cyclists across its property. In addition, it likely answered the wishes of many small children (as well as some grown-up children) to inspect cement trucks and other machinery up close.

Of course, while Lafarge raised its corporate profile by doing so, I don't think that it had much of an impact on sales. While, I now know the name, I haven't ordered any cement from them. The market for cement amongst the general public is relatively low. ;-)

What I really liked about this bit of self-promotion was that it was actually fairly subtle and very non-intrusive. My parents, for instance, were completely oblivious to the fact that self-promotion was going on.

Friday, 15 February 2008

On why I am going to the bike show by Metro rather than by bike tomorrow

A picture is worth a thousand words.That is about as high as I have ever seen the snow on my back balcony since I moved into my flat in November 2003! Montreal has had a lot of snow this winter.

Wednesday, 13 February 2008

On the relative merits of cycling in Spain versus Canada

This post will likely be edited several times before I am quite happy with it. However, the goal of it is to come up with 10 reasons why cycling in Spain is better than in Canada, as well as 10 reasons why the reverse is true. Please factor in the tongue in cheek. Suggestions welcome.

10 reasons why cycling in Spain is better than in Canada
1. Café con leché not is only better than a "double-double from Timmy's", it even sounds better.
2. Cheap hostales. Try finding a room for the equivalent of 15 Euros a night in Canada.
3. Castles, lots of them. Unless, I detour to Louisbourg, I will only be near two sets of fortifications on my whole trip (Quebec City and Île Sainte-Hélène. (Ironically, the latter was designed by the Duke of Wellington who is of some note in Spain. His effigy in Salamanca.))
Two castles was a sloooow day in Spain.
4. Lots of history. Even Quebec City's 400th anniversary bash pales in comparison to Spain where you have Roman, Visigothic, Moorish, Medieval and Counter-Reformation periods before you get to 1608! Heck, from some points of view, the history of Spain has gotten quieter since then! Well, apart from the Peninsular War and the Spanish Civil War. ;-)
5. Lots of well paved back roads. Even ones that aren't on the map.
6. Chocolaté con churros.
7. Jamón ibérico de bellota. Imagine a contented pig. A big, black, contended pig that spends its life happily eating acorns in cork grove beside a quiet road, with only the occasional bother of a cycle tourist taking its photograph. (Such as the ones below.)
Now imagine a ham cured from this pig in a manner not unlike that of prosciutto, and cut into thin, lean slices. That is jamón ibérico de bellota with an incredible subtle nuttiness to its flavour. As far as I know, the only jamón ibérico de bellota in Canada is the small amount smuggled in by jamónophiles.
8. It is easy to find a bar that doesn't play loud music.
9. Longer biking seasons.
10. Freshly squeezed orange juice, everywhere.

10 reasons why cycling in Canada is better than in Spain
1. I am fluent in all the official languages.
2. Canadians campaign much less aggressively than the Spanish.
3. The ease of finding smoke-free dining.
4. Poutine (at least in Quebec).
5. It's easy to find powdered Gatorade.
6. I can "read" the road better. (That is to say, I know, more or less, what the roads will do before they actually do so.)
7. Real milk. The EU bureaucrats that structured the milk business in Europe in such a way that made UHT milk the norm shall find a circle in Hell reserved for them.
8. Superior biking infrastructure, especially in Quebec. In the last six months, I have been amazed to discover how many cycling routes and organizations there are. I saw very little to match it in Spain.
9. 110v electrical system means you can bring along your battery charger! I spent a fair bit of money on batteries for my digital camera in Spain.
10. At long last (March 10, 2009) but not least, Canada has moose.

Tuesday, 12 February 2008

On the advantages of the Internet

Years ago, I saw a signature quote to the effect that the Internet makes it hard to be truly perverted. If you enter a search query "people who have sex with burning mutant goats" you would get back the message "Specify breed of goat".

Why is this relevant? Well, I was poking around the Vélo-Québec website, when I came across a link to the 6e Salon du Vélo or Expodium. It describes itself as "the only consumer show in the province of Quebec dedicated exclusively to the world of bicycles and cycling tourism." I.e. more or less my particular perversion! :-)

I don't know how truly useful it will be for me and the planning of the trip. One of the events is the municipality of Chénéville proposing "Le Tour du Lac-Simon-BMR. Randonnées à vélo de 20, 40 ou 70 km." I had never heard of either. Looking up Chénéville in my Quebec Road Atlas, I found out that it is a bit to the north of Montebello. I guess my point is that it is a cycle touring event in the sense of touring biking around a defined and relatively small space rather than long distance travel by bike. Which definition the Salon du Vélo gives to cycle tourism is evidently debatable.

With luck, their definition will be broad enough to cover my type of cycle-touring. In any case, some of the events look fun even they aren't actually useful, so
it looks like it will be worth the $10 admission charge. Besides, if Devinci bicycles will be there it must be good! Won't it? ;-)

Monday, 4 February 2008

On doing the math

Today I spent some time using Google Maps and Excel to add up a better idea of just how far it is to Norris Point, Newfoundland from Montreal. Using the former, I could calculate the distances between certain way point locations. Using the latter, I could both record the distances and add them up. It produced some interesting results. It also made me wish there was a bike equivalent of Google Maps.

The total distance is1993 km. Of this, 858 km are in Quebec, 782 in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick and 353 km in Newfoundland. Of course, this is only the basic distance. Not included are the assorted wiggles required by seeking shelter, food and other supplies. Also not included are various optional segments such as going all the way out to Caraquet on the Acadian Peninsula, which would add at least 100 km but would be rather interesting. Likewise, going to see the Confederation Bridge would add 54 km to the trip.

The Excel file should prove fairly useful as it will allow me to plan in greater detail the amount of time I will need to cover the distance. It should also permit me to establish a timetable of sorts letting me know where I am relative to a median journey. If the weather is great, and I am making good time, then I might indulge in a side trip. If the weather is bad, then I might decide to hole up in a motel for the day, confident that I still of a certain number of days in reserve before my flight from Deer Lake. Furthermore, by having the information about the relative lengths of various side trips with me, I will be able to make more accurate decisions about whether to do them.

Forewarned is forearmed.