Monday, 26 May 2008

On destruct testing

Of all the things that were subjected to destruct testing yesterday, the thing that came off the worst was my planning. I failed to allow enough time with regards to the rental of the car that took me to and from Repentigny yesterday. Consequently, I unduly rushed in order finish all 145 km of the Metropolitan challenge.

Actually, my odometer readings for yesterday was 146.92 km, done in 6 hours, 1 minute and 14 seconds of cycling time, giving an average speed of 24.3 km/h, with a maximum speed of 52.8 km/h (down a hill). It claims that 2537.0 calories were thus burned, but given that the bike computer doesn't know about my weight, the wind factor or hills, we can ignore the calories.

These results are based a closed circuit on relatively flat terrain, with a light load on Leonardo, fitted with 700x28C tires in good weather with a fair wind coming from the starting point. They are not what I intend to do on the trip. Leonardo will be much more heavily loaded and, even now, is fitted with 700x32C (i.e. wider and therefore slower) tires. My intent, yesterday, was to test myself to see just how much punishment I could take, as well as to build up my bum muscles. By pushing as hard as possible and then gauging the results I have a better idea of my relative fitness level.

If I had been smarter about the car, I would have had a better average speed as I would have stopped to rest a couple of times in the last 40 km or so. In addition, I wouldn't be as tired.

I am sore today from both muscle fatigue and sunburn from badly applied sunscreen. However, I made it into work (7.5 km) today so I can't be that sore.

What was particularly irksome yesterday was that the last 40 km or so alluded to earlier were into the wind beside the St-Lawrence (i.e. very open ground). They were very tough to do and were a very predictable challenge that the organizers could have reduced by reversing the route. Had the Challenge been in a counter-clockwise rather than clockwise direction, the winds in the afternoon would have been somewhat lessened. I stopped at a vineyard to use the loo in the afternoon. The man at the place asked about the route we were taking and expressed the opinion that it should have been counter-clockwise. He was a cyclist (which was probably why the place was a designated pit stop). When he went for trips in the area, he would come back along the river (i.e. with the prevailing winds) and would go against the wind inland where the wind would be reduced. The place was called Vignoble Le Mernois. They deserve the name drop for letting cyclists in.

After getting home, abluting and having supper, I set about changing Leonardo's tires from the ordinary tires he came with, to the expedition grade Schwalbe 700x32C's. I had Schwalbe Marathons on Leonardo in Spain but one of them was pierced by a large piece of glass in Madrid on the very last day of biking. I discarded that one. My parents were kind enough to give me a Marathon Plus with SmartGuard for my birthday to replace it. My brother Stephen questioned the need for such a deluxe tire. (It had been on my wish list.) After all, he made do with much more ordinary tires. My response was that it is one thing to fix or replace a flat tire in your home city, but quite another to do so on the road. In addition, when I asked him how often he replaced his tires (not inner tubes), he indicated more than once a year. I have found that by paying the extra bit of money for premium tires I actually spend less as I have to replace the tires much less often and thus end up saving money.

The tire changing process was not without challenge: at one point I realized I was so tired and stupid that I wasn't 100% certain which way the drive arrow on the tires should be pointing. Luckily, Margo was only a phone call away. Thank you Margo for the advice, and thank you Parents for the new tire.

Getting back to the destruct testing concept, I think I now have a better picture of just how many kilometers I can easily do in a day, thanks to having done many more kilometers than I can easily do in a day! I hope this makes sense.

Saturday, 24 May 2008

On a relatively busy week

In the last week, I have come to the end of my Memories of Spain sequence, "booked" 5 to 6 nights of accommodation for phase 1 of Plan 5C (Montreal to Le Bic), booked my ticket from Deer Lake to Montreal (with Air Canada, despite its confusing website), worked out the logistics of getting Leonardo tuned up before phase 1, but after the Défi Métropolitain tomorrow, become a member of Hostel International Canada, acquired a new bicycle bell, secured the storage of Leonardo in Le Bic and picked up a new pair of biking sunglasses.

Where to begin? I arranged beds with both my cousin Marianne in Quebec City and with Philip's friend Pascale, la fille, in Le Bic. In both cases, I received a much warmer reception than I had expected. In case you were wondering, Philip has two friends called "Pascal". In order to differentiate them in conversation, it has become a trope in my family's conversation to refer to "Pasal, le gars" and "Pascale, la fille". (Confusing the matter, I have a good friend by the name of Pascal St-Onge (male). ;-) ) Getting back the subject at hand, I hadn't expected either Marianne or Pascale to turn me down, but the warmth of emotion they expressed towards me was considerable given that I am not particularly close to either. I guess it is karma as I also volunteered to house an acquaintance of Margo's this week. Then again, maybe I am also a nice guy who makes a decent impression with friends and relations.

In order to pick up a membership package from HI, I went to their hostel on Mackay street this morning. I was wearing my red MEC Slicker Jersey. As went in, an older man inquired, tongue in cheek, "How do you expect people to see you on your bike?" I thought it was funny. While I filled out the form, I was gratified to overhear two or three people inquire about when the bicycle tour of Montreal was going to start. Go bike-tourism!

The membership package included some remarkably useless pamphlets from Foreign Affairs Canada. Given that I will be in Canada the whole time, I think you can guess why they aren't terribly relevant given the issuing body. In addition, one of them was titled: "Drugs and Travel: why they don't mix". Well, duh! For the record, I have never, ever used illicit drugs.

While my old MEC chameleon sunglasses are adequate, they are getting rather scratched. Therefore, I took the plunge and bought a new pair of MEC Expresso sunglasses. These are rather fetching as they come with plain grey lenses rather than the blue mirrored lenses of my old chameleons. Furthermore, they come with a red frame. I like red. Red is best.

Tomorrow comes the first big challenge of the season, the Metropolitan Challenge! The weather conditions look very good: sunny, yet cool. The only possible weather hiccup is that the (light-ish) winds will be out of the southwest tomorrow which means they will be against me at the end of the day. I guess you can't have everything.

Wednesday, 21 May 2008

On a cute photo from the Magog trial run

As I was cycling down beside the Magog river, I saw this sign attached to a tree. I thought it warranted a photo.

On only tangentially biking related matters

I was reading Polly Evans' "Kiwis might fly" at lunch time. Polly Evans wrote a book called "It's not about the tapas" that detailed her bike tour in Spain. As the title of "Kiwis might fly" suggests, this time she is in New Zealand. Not on a bike but a motorcycle.

Intriguingly, her trip started roughly the time that my trip to New Zealand ended: December 2002. In addition, she went on a day hike at the start of the Milford track (which I did). She describes a former hut wardens at the powerless Clinton Hut (the first hut of the route) as saying: "Sometimes, for a laugh, we used to screw an electric socket into the wall. You'd be amazed how many people tried to plug stuff in. Some had even carried hair dryers all the way out here." When I did the track, there was a man who was carrying his wife's propane-powered hair curling iron!

I am vaguely tempted to write to Polly Evans about this.

Tuesday, 20 May 2008

Memories of Spain, part 15

Santiago was so close I found it hard to wait for the parade. We had come across the Fiesta of San Isidro in the town of Camporrapado, or at least the parade thereof which was waiting for the word to start. What it lack in size, it definitely made up for in enthusiasm! There were only a few floats, the most notable being the one below. I could not make out the theme of the float beyond it had a number of motorcycles from the 1950's on it. The occupants of the float were very friendly and offered us tripe stew that rather hit the spot given the iffy weather.

They also offered us wine from their copious supply of unmarked bottles. It was drinkable if not exceptional. However, the sheer quantity of it and their willingness to share with very random strangers was a mite unnerving. Those of us who drank in the party had to beg off after a glass given that we still had number of miles to go until we reached Santiago.Santiago is a city built on hill surrounded by valleys. This means we had a lovely whee downhill before...
...having to go up this hill and reach the old city. We all had to push our way up it.We got lost in the maze of streets of Santiago before we found the square in front of the cathedral.
We had made it!!!

Monday, 19 May 2008

Memories of Spain, part 14

We left Ourense very early in the morning, before it was quite light outside. Of course, the fact that the morning was overcast did not help the matter. We left the old part of Ourense by a very old bridge.Our first stop of the day was in the village of Cea. It is fairly well known for its bread that is very distinctive in Spain. Not only in style but also in law. By law, you can only make this bread in Cea. It is appellation controlé to the point that the loaf we bought had a serial number on the bag. To be honest, I didn't think it was that special, aside from its double bun shape. It was more interesting than the average Spanish loaf though.We were getting ever closer to Santiago. Cockle shells were increasingly common on the roadsides, such as the one I am photographing in the photograph taken by Chris.
We made a fairly significant detour to visit a monastery whose name eludes me but it was very impressive. Unfortunately, we weren't allowed to take pictures inside it. Likewise, we weren't allowed to take pictures inside a nearby museum of old agricultural implements. I would have dearly love to be able to take a snap of the matatopo or "molekiller" in essence a large club.From the monastery we climbed along and up a ridge into an upland that looked more like my idea of undeveloped section of rural Ireland than rural Spain.
Atop the ridge, we saw the blades of wind turbines swooping out the mist in an almost spooky manner.
Afterwards, there was a long, and glorious downhill made all the more satisfying with the knowledge that there would be no more big ridges to climb before Santiago. Near the end of that day my odometer went from this......to this!!!It had been at zero in Seville.

Sunday, 18 May 2008

On another trial run

I am spending the long weekend with the parents in North Hatley. I got out here by a combination of bus and bike. I put Leonardo with bags and all on the bus to Magog. From Magog, I cycled to North Hatley, but not by the direct route. Instead of going via Katevale, (a.k.a. Sainte-Catherine de Hatley) and the dreaded Katevale hill, I rode down besides the Magog river to Sherbrooke on the réseau des Grandes Fourches bike path network. There, I lunched at Louis'. From Sherbrooke, I made my way to Lennoxville, and from there took the granddaddy of local bike paths to North Hatley.

While this route was significantly flatter than the Katevale hill, it was also much longer. According to Google Maps, the direct route is about 17 kms. My route was 50 kms and very scenic it was, passing at least four sites where beavers were in evidence as well as seeing moose tracks.

Another reason for the trip was to see how well I remembered riding with fullish panniers on my bike. I think I did fairly well.

Memories of Spain, part 13

As we were leaving Verin, we past this statue in a square. We believe it was of a traditional carnival figure. In the process of photographing it, I managed to drop my camera. The case was slight opened by the fall and I was afraid I had destroyed it. However, I managed to press it back together and it worked fine. It still works fine.
We made decent time to Ourense, our destination for the day. Unfortunately, getting into Ourense involved quite a bit of cycling on a fairly busy road which upset Margo somewhat. Consequently, we made plans to leave Ourense early the next morning.
During the afternoon, I set out from our albergue or pilgrim's hostel to find a post box. This lead to a remarkably prolonged odyssey around Ourense, made more difficult by the fact that the mail slots were shaped like lions' heads and were very easy to mistake for merely decorations. I submit to you the above photo.
After a very nice supper we retired to our beds in view of our planned early start.

Saturday, 17 May 2008

Memories of Spain, part 12

This proved to be our hardest day. It was also one of the most rewarding. Our exit strategy for Portugal was to travel through a national park, in which wolves were said to lurk and into Spain. There was a slight hitch that the roads we would need did not appear on our maps. Using internet resources such as Google Earth and Mapquest, we were able to determine that the roads did exist. The problem was identifying them.
The scenery was gorgeous, if rather precipitous. I think it is no accident that Portugal choose this bit of land to be a national park as there weren't that many people using it. There were a number of hamlets in the park that clearly pre-dated it. I submit to you this cart by the side of the road.
The reason for the lack of human activity I put down to the precipitous geography. Who would want to farm this?
Of course, what person in their right mind would really want to cycle up and down these mountainsides? Well, us. And it was really gorgeous.
We arrived at the other end of the park and were faced with the task to choosing which road would lead us to the town we were planning to spend the night. (Verin, in Spain). The road had been very peaceful with very few cars. However, now we wanted a car to go by so we could flag it down to ask for directions. An older man driving a pickup with his wife turned up at about the right time. It turned out that he was a police officer (currently off-duty) for the area and knew it well. He was very pleasant and gave us a very good idea of where to go. He also informed us that while the route he was suggesting meant that we had to face an immediate hill of some size, but after that hill, it would be virtually all downhill from there.
As we were climbing this hill, pushing our bikes, Margo, I think, spotted this carved stone. "P" on one side, and "E" on the other. It was a border marker from another time.
A few minutes later we passed this waterfall. A little beyond that, there was a sign saying this was "Ye olde smugglers' route 3", or least, a Spanish variation on that theme. I believed it was correct given the low population and the traditional work ethic of the Spanish Official. That they are now tarting it up for tourism makes lots of sense given the lack of EU borders.

If I have used a lot of photos in this entry, it is because it was so beautiful. It was sunny and hot. However, if I were to do it again, I would have cycled 20 km beyond Braganca to the last town before the park the day before to ease the amount of cycling to be done. Margo found it particularly tough. That night she seemed a mite down on herself. To cheer her up, I said to her "There is only one relative of mine of your generation that could have done that any better..." She stiffened at that, fearful that I was about to name her sister and sibling rival, (i.e. my mother) "...and that's Chris!" Whereupon she relaxed as it was very evident Chris had handled the day's exertion better than she had. As well, Chris isn't the threat to Margo's pride that my mother is.

Memories of Spain, part 11

Sorry if this is late, I was busy yesterday.
This was another rest day. We spent it exploring the medieval town of Braganca. It was a relatively quiet place, but very quaint. One of the characteristics of Portuguese architecture is a passion for ceramic tiles, often decorated in blue, on their outside walls. Indeed, I have seen such decoration to a lesser extent on buildings in a Portuguese dominated neighbourhood in Montreal. However, in Montreal, it is limited to a few tiles, rather than completely covering the face of a building as above.
Braganca is graced with old, walled section of the town, complete with a well preserved and restored castle. I have a romantic fondness for castles, so it was great fun to visit this one as it struck a nice balance between restoration and romantic ruin. As well, there were relatively few other tourists around so we could feel we were alone, at least for a given value of alone.

Thursday, 15 May 2008

Memories of Spain, part 10

Strictly speaking, this should be memories of Spain and Portugal, but what the hey?
We left the hotel under mostly sunny skies though it was fairly cool. Note that in the above photo I am wearing my windbreaker and leggings. Margo and Chris' room was on the balcony and had a very nice view of the village.The fact that it wasn't warm can be seen by the fact that the village cats were remarkably torpid. They were much more interested in sunning themselves than in us.Our host had suggested a particular road (that wasn't on our map) would be both scenic and get us to where we wanted to go. He was right. The area was something of a flat tableland with what looked like fairly thin soil given the numerous outcroppings of rock and the frequent use of stone for fences by the locals.
This made the change of scenery in Portugal all the more remarkable. After crossing the border at the dam below (and not seeing a welcome to Portugal sign as I have written about previously) the land became much rugged.
However, it was rugged in a different way than Spain. In Spain, the slopes were caused by hills and mountains, whereas in Portugal it seemed that the slopes were cause by valleys. I know that must sound strange. In Spain, a road squiggling on a map meant that there was a pass. In Portugal that meant the road was going down into a valley to cross a river. Here is one such example.
I am exaggerating a bit, and I only intend my statement to apply to the relatively small bit of Portugal I saw which was the northeastern corner of the country near Braganca.

One of the strange things to see was the difference in apparent wealth of Spain and Portugal. It was surprising how obvious is was that Portugal is a poorer country than Spain. (Or at least the small bit I saw.) It was also amusing to see that Portuguese border towns evidently do a good business selling a variety of goods (such as furniture) to the Spanish as they are evidently cheaper in Portugal than in Spain (probably for EU tax reasons, etc.). Contrary to statements made by a Spaniard the previous day, the Portuguese drivers were not particularly bad compared to the Spanish. Moreover, there were relatively fewer cars on the roads. This might have been because of the relative poverty of the Portuguese or because we were in the "back forty" of Portugal.
The day ended on a glorious note as we had a long, gentle downhill down the side of a valley (pictured above) on a road that hugged the walls. Combined with the golden light of the setting sun, it was fantastically beautiful.

Wednesday, 14 May 2008

On mobile phones

I now have one. I am only going to keep it until I get back from Newfoundland. Not that I have much choice as it an analog one that will not be supported by Bell as of November.

It is an old one of my father's that I have reactivated. In the process of checking it out, I deleted a significant number of his phone numbers and text messages.

Its number is the same my house number except it has 917 instead of 989.

While I have a hard copy of the manual, I have also downloaded an electronic version of it from the Internet. I am strongly think of making a mini-CD of assorted electronic data such as instruction manuals, lists of phone numbers, etc. to bring with me instead of and/or as back up to paper documents.

Memories of Spain, part 9

Rather than continuing to follow the Via de la Plata, we veered Northwest from Salamanca. Our intention was to cross into Portugual for a few days before returning to Spain. Part of the reason for doing so is that Margo and I are descended from a Portuguese woman who married an Irish soldier, by the name of John Meagher, who fought under Wellington during the Peninsular War. Another reason was for the sheer fun of adding another country to the list of those we have been to.
The day was mixed sun and cloud with a chilly breeze which made the fields dance and wave to us. While this was pretty, it was a bit unpleasant to stand around in. Consequently, our lunch was taken lying down in the lee of a stone wall.
The disadvantage of leaving the Via de la Plata was that we no longer had the benefit of the Via de la Plata guidebook's suggestions of where to stay in small towns not covered by Frommer's or the Lonely Planet. The former was almost useless anyway as it was aimed a richer species of tourist than us.

We arrived in a village whose name I have forgotten. We went into a bar for an afternoon drink and to inquire of the locals where lodgings for the night might be had. They suggested a place in a nearby village that we could get to using a road that wasn't on our map. We found the place, however, it wasn't really open as it was a weekday during the off-season. However, the maid phoned the owner/operator who was in Salamanca. After a certain amount of negotiations, he decided to let us stay. This was by far the most luxurious place we stayed in on the trip. At a certain level, some of luxury was wasted on us. At another, we lucked (and "lux'ed" out). The place often catered to upscale mountain bikers and I suspect that when the owner/operator heard we were cyclists, he may have chosen our menu accordingly. The main dish was a rich beef based-stew that stuck to the ribs. As a cyclist himself, he offered his opinion that Portugal was a bad idea as the drivers in Portugal were "loco".

Thankfully, we ignored his advice.

Tuesday, 13 May 2008

Memories of Spain, part 8

This day saw the highest average speed of our trip. I registered 28.8 km/h as an average with a maximum speed of 60.8. Of course, we only did 20.51 km that day and it was mostly downhill with a stiff wind at our backs as we whizzed, or to use the Margo-ism, whee-ed into Salamanca.
Feeling fairly smug, we settled in at café in the Plaza Mayor for a "merienda" or morning snack of chocolate, café con leché and pastries. We chatted with some Spaniards who turned out to be mountain bike enthusiasts. Margo ended up promising to e-mail them some contacts in B.C. One of them ended up by paying for our merienda. He claimed it was free at this café that day. When I jokingly expressed my skepticism about his statement, he said with a grin "What, you don't believe in Santa Claus?" I replied "No, I just don't believe you."
Later in the day, I visited the cathedrals of Salamanca, one next to the other. I think I preferred the Gothic old cathedral to the newer, baroque edifice. I was amused to note that this was the first church I had entered on the trip which was a bit odd considering we were following a pilgrimage route.

Monday, 12 May 2008

Memories of Spain, part 7

The importance of carbohydrates in biking nutrition was demonstrated on this day. The night before was the only time we cooked for ourselves on the trip. Unfortunately, we neglected to include significant amounts of carbs in the menu. This was unfortunate as the weather turned quite cool, even raining a bit, as we crossed a range of mountains. I definitely felt a lack of oomph that day. This was despite having stopped in Baños de Montemayor for churros and chocolate.
The remarkable thing about chocolate, a Spanish form of hot chocolate, is the thickness it can be. At this particular establishment, the chocolate was only slightly thinner than chocolate pudding!
Later in the day, I possibly made a faux pas in the way I asked for directions. I had arrived at an intersection in some small hamlet and wasn't 100% sure which road led to Endrinal. As luck would have there was an older woman, dressed in black walking by. "¡Buenos dias, Señora! ¿Por favór, está la ruta...el camino para Endrinal?" I inquired, pointing the way I thought it was. "¡Si! ¡Endrinal, si!" She replied. "¡Muchas gracias, señora! ¡Muchas gracias!" I thanked her, bowing vigorously in what I hoped was international body language for "Thank you."

Margo critiqued the exchange was that I had asked the question a bit abruptly. It would have been more polite if I had first greeted the woman with a few pleasantries before getting to the heart of the matter. On the other hand, my command of Spanish isn't great and I had to carefully compose the question in my mind before speaking. Setting up pleasantries and then the question would likely have been beyond me. Furthermore, I don't think the woman was particularly offended and probably understood that I was some species of young foreigner who A. wasn't sure where he was, B. didn't have a great command of Spanish, and C. didn't intend to be rude.

Sunday, 11 May 2008

Memories of Spain, part 6

Near the end of this day, we visited the remains of a Roman town, complete with a triumphal arch......as well as a Roman no entry sign.
What was particularly fun about the arch was that the actual Via de la Plata ran through the arch. In order to avoid a heavily traveled road that Margo found trying, we rode along the Via de la Plata, through positively bucolic fields...
...and some serious mud holes!
We encountered some streams that could not be ridden through. One of them had a series of granite blocks set across it as stepping stones. Rather than make two trips (bike and panniers) I thought that it would be a good idea if I simply shouldered my bike complete with the panniers and walked across the stones. This was not a particularly good idea as the load was quite a bit heavier than I felt comfortable with as I negotiated the stones. However, I was too much of a proud idiot to admit this once I was part of the way across. I made it safely, but in future I will make two trips.
Me (in orange) being a proud idiot. (Then again, I was in Spain, the land that gave the World the word "macho".)

On a reasonably successful trial run

The short version, I biked to Marieville and back today.

The long version is that I wanted to find out exactly where the Route des Champs begins in Marieville. In addition, I need to get used to riding Leonardo for long distances as well to sort out the various new bits and pieces I have. A trial run in other words.

My estimate was that Marieville was about 40 km from my place in Montréal. This proved a bit of an underestimate. The total distance was 98.08 km, including a few meanders. Average speed was 21.9 km/h. The maximum speed was 41.9 km/h coming home with the wind at my back over the ice breaking bridge. Incidently, the posted speed limit on said bridge is 30 km/h!

As I was riding down beside the Seaway to the St-Lambert locks, I was thinking how much fun it would be if there was a ship in the Seaway, especially if it was in the lock. Lo and behold, there was one just coming out.
She was the BBC Elbe, a multipurpose tweendecker of some 13,380 metric tons deadweight. I had no idea what those big conical cylinders she was carrying are. The only thing I can observe is that they can't be particularly heavy as she was riding fairly high.

I left Chambly on highway 112. As luck would have it, I found the route to the exact start of the Route des Champs right off. You turn off the 112 at this gas station, a.k.a. Le Chemin de Chambly.

Then proceed East until you arrive here in Marieville.
You then make a hard right. Ride about a kilometer or so and you will see a bike path on your left.
Coming back from Marieville, I stopped to watch a surprising number of madmen surf and kayak on the Richelieu river just below a dam. Both surfers and kayakers were trying to stay on the same "wave" of the rapids with varying degrees of success.

It was a gorgeous day, sunny but not too hot, combined with a fair breeze. I think it is not too surprising that there were many people out on their bikes today. A very good day's ride, especially as I don't feel particularly tired or stiff after having done nearly 100 k.

I will probably regret those words tomorrow.