Tuesday, 25 December 2012

On Christmas presents given

The list of suggested presents for my eldest niece from my brother Philip contained the injunction "No princesses", something I was rather suspicious was a parental injunction rather than Désirée's wishes. As the list didn't contain particularly inviting presents in my opinion, and the present I really wished to give had princess content, though tempered by rebelliousness, viz, Pixar's Brave, I went against instructions and gave it Désirée on DVD along with Disney's Cinderella. (After all, she isn't a princess for most of the film!) :-)  Désirée was quite happy with it, Philip and Dominique less so. In the aftermath, it came out that Désirée's actual wishes had been for "fairy, mermaid and/or princess".

Conversely, the list of presents Edward's parents presented included the wish for tracks for his toy cars which ideally should not require batteries. I found exactly what was wished for in a Hot Wheels set of assorted tracks, curves, jump, loop-de-loop and spring launcher. Edward had been hopping up and down with anticipation of his presents until he opened that one. After that, it was pretty much all people could do to pull him away long enough to open his other presents.

I think I can tick that one off as well received.

Even more fun was that Désirée also got a kick out of playing with the track. Actually, Stephen, Margaret, Philip and myself have all had some fun with it!

Finally, two days ago, I was adding some reflective tape to my Arc'teryx soft shell jacket using my Mother's sewing machine when Dominique came in the room. She commented that she needed some of the tape. As providence would have it, I had bought twice as much reflective tape as I needed and thus was able to put the other portion in her stocking! She was amused and happy.

Giving presents that are obviously enjoyed is lots of fun!

On my geekiest Christmas present

 I had suggested that I would like this to my siblings. Alice and Stephen bickered over who would get it for me. Alice won. For those of you who aren't up to speed, it is a Star Trek, the original series, bike jersey in the engineering/security department colour. The one downside of it, is that in the original series, people in red shirts were very often killed, to the point that in science fiction the term "red shirt" is often used as shorthand for "expendable crew member".

Merry Christmas!

Monday, 24 December 2012

On a half white moose

I have just seen some remarkable footage of what is believed to be a "half-albino" moose courtesy of Thomas, Louise's significant other, (one whom I jokingly threatened with bodily harm if he didn't dance with her) via Louise and Margo.
 
  The moose, or more accurately "Eurasian elk", was spotted in Norway. From passing the article through Google Translate, I gather the moose is being referred to as "Saltogpepper" which translates as "Salt and pepper". There is also speculation as whether the elk is related to white bull elk known as "Albin" who was shot by a Danish hunter much to what I understand is the annoyance of the locals.

Of course, the article doesn't mention the possibility that the elk might be an all white elk that had come in contact with mud or something similar! ;-)  Then again, on the first "Moose Wanderings" trip, I saw a two-toned lobster.

Rather neat if I say so myself.

Sunday, 16 December 2012

On the end of biking this year and ideas for the next

Well, it looks like biking is over for me this year. A week ago I rode into work, knowing that a snow storm was expected for the following night. When I got home, I hauled Floria up the stairs and into my long term bike storage area. December 9th is a fairly late date, and to tell the truth, it had begun to get quite nippy. Of course, I am already looking forward to getting back on the bike as the bus schedule is very annoying.

As far as next year's biking plans are concerned, my main one is to go back to Scotland and go deeper into the Highlands and Hebrides. I will thus get to see Scotland before it separates from the UK, or possibly not. Actually, I just wish to see more of Scotland.

I have a notion that it would be interesting to do a week of biking in Puerto Rico in February. This idea started when Puerto Rico voted to become a U.S. state back in November. If it goes through, it would be the first time a state has joined in my lifetime. It would also be very interesting to watch how the linguistic politics play out given that Spanish is the lingua franca of Puerto Rico and the Yanks are notoriously monolingual English-speakers.

My rough idea would be go along the North Coast of the Island and visit the Acreibo Observatory. This would also be my first visit to the Caribbean.

There are a number of problems with this idea. The first is that getting to Puerto Rico from Montreal is surprisingly difficult. Despite all the ads in the travel section for Caribbean vacations these days, Puerto Rico doesn't seem to be popular. Also, despite some vague promises, Air Canada doesn't fly usefully to Puerto Rico. Its website suggests there may be flights between Montreal and Puerto Rico, but going into detail, you find that your only option is to take the one weekly service between Toronto and Puerto Rico. Unfortunately, this flight occurs on Saturdays at time that really don't work for me.

Looking at the American airlines' offerings is comparatively depressing as they generally charge $100 to $200 each way for shipping bikes. What's more is that the more logical and efficient the flight plan is, the more they charge for bikes. One airline's suggest route home was Puerto Rico-Houston, Texas-Montreal. I don't expect American airlines to offer direct Puerto Rico to Montreal flights, but I would think that changing planes at an East coast hub makes much more sense than flying to Texas.

Hence, this trip probably isn't going to happen.

On being a PUNK

There was an article in the Monday, December 10, 2012 edition of the Montreal Gazette about "PANKs" which it defined as "Professional Aunts No Kids". It discussed how there is enough of a demographic of professional, childless women buying gifts for nieces and nephews that marketers are trying to target them specifically. There is even a dedicated website called the SavvyAuntie.com.

I was disappointed by the article and even a tad offended that there wasn't any reference to the male equivalent, to which I belong a professional, an uncle and having no kids. This feeling was heightened by the fact that the relevant acronym works so well, i.e. PUNK: Professional Uncle, No Kids! This is blatant gender discrimination, I tell you! PUNK dollars are just as good as PANK dollars! ;-)
Actually, I think I'd rather prefer not being marketed to, and revel in my "outlaw" status of a PUNK. ;-)

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

On being a parent

My immediate superior asked about my visit to my nieces today. Between my gratitude to her willingness to be flexible on my schedule made it possible for me to get to Mississauga last weekend and my love for my nieces, I gave her a precis of the events, including my wonder at Maria's helplessness and my sister's inability to deduce the cause of Maria's cries. Her response was to wonder that I didn't have kids of my own. I had to stifle a number of possible responses to the mother of two. The most profound is that right now I think I would be terrified of not knowing how to help one of these tiny little beings whilst knowing that I was responsible before god, state and society for it.

Yes, I know that countless prospective parents must have felt the same way and still raised happy children, but I fear I am made of weaker stuff than most people.  My respect for parents has grown considerably in the last week.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

On biking in cold weather

The weather is getting colder, as is normal for this time of year. Once again, I am asked if I am still biking. The stock answer to this question is: "I bike until it snows." In truth, there comes a time when I start wishing it would snow so I don't have to bike! While it hasn't snowed yet in Montreal, I am frequently riding in sub-zero temperatures which affect more than I sometimes notice.

Take today, for instance. My plan was to ride downtown from work, stop at a drugstore, find some supper and go to HMV. When I my bowl of wonton soup arrived at the Wok Café, I dove into it with a relish that surprised me. Boy! was that soup nice and hot after being outside. I went through the General Tao chicken in record time for me which only reinforced my suspicion of being famished by the exercise in the cold.

After doing some work related shopping at HMV, I came home and wrote the previous post. It was only as I started this post that I remembered that I had forgotten to stop at the pharmacy!

All this to say that there are limits to how much cold weather biking I can withstand. For that matter, there are probably limits on how much cold weather biking anyone can withstand. I am increasingly of the opinion that the acquaintance of Margo's who is trying to ride to Tuktoyatuk in winter has got a kangaroo loose in the top paddock! (And I mean that in the nicest possible way!)

On my youngest nieces

Anna, my second youngest niece, is a charming cutie who, I am told by a qualified medical authority (e.g. the medical doctor known as Alice, e.g. her mother and my sister. ;-) ) is well ahead of her 18 or so months in her extensive verbosity. She unleashed her extensive (if no more than two syllables and sometimes slightly inaccurate) vocabulary on me twice in the last two months. The first time was the long (Canadian) Thanksgiving weekend. At the time, she could barely string two words together, but she has come a long way since I last saw her, in August. She substituted repetition for complex sentences and generally made herself understood.

Under the relatively flimsy excuse of delivering some boxes Alice had been storing with me, I went up to Toronto on the train on the Friday before Thanksgiving with said boxes to stay with Alice, Mark and Anna, over the long weekend. Probably owing to the long weekend, the cheap economy tickets on Via Rail were sold out. However, the cheap business class tickets weren't. Consequently, as they were only about twenty dollars more than the only available economy class tickets, I booked myself in first class going both ways. In relative terms, it was a bargain as food and booze was included. It also allowed me into the "fortress" of the Panorama Lounge in Montreal's Central Station. In my many years of taking trains of there, I had always seen it, but never been in. It didn't live up to the name, which I had always suspected as it is thirty feet underground! However, it was very comfortable and let me feel smug at how "posh" I was. They also provided "complimentary" magazines which included a biking magazine, one of which I snaffled to read on the train. (Hmm, I should have grabbed a "People" magazine for Alice.)

Anyway, Alice's Plan "A" for meeting me had been to drive to Union Station from Mississauga. However, as the train was a bit late, and as this would have meant she would had to face long weekend, Toronto rush-hour traffic, so instead we went to my Plan "A" and I took a GO Train to Mississauga. The GO Train's iconic double-decker cars have fascinated me for years, but until Thanksgiving, I never had the chance to go on one. Hence, I rather appreciated the opportunity to take the Go Train.
Anna, as mentioned above, is quite the talker. She is also very inquisitive and very friendly. A cheery little devil. About her only downside is that she likes to push buttons a little too much. This resulted in her pushing the emergency call button in an elevator in the Eaton's Centre without Alice or myself noticing. It was only when a voicee from a speaker inquired if we had an emergency that we realised what she had done. We apologized to the unseen security person. I was tempted to say "No, we don't have an emergency, but we do have a button-happy toddler!"  ;-)

(In the interest of due disclosure, I must admit that I once pushed the emergency stop button on an escalator somewhere in Toronto when I was 4 or so.)

The words in Anna's vocabulary are a little garbled. More than two syllables, and a word is nearly guaranteed to come out mixed up. However, Anna has made progress in the last month. At Thanksgiving, she pronounced "blanket" as "ballat", whereas by last weekend it was "blanke".

Among the things I did at Thanksgiving was to make some calzone to stick in Alice and Mark's freezer so they might have something quick to make once Maria arrived. I also located a very nice park in a nearby ravine which made for good walks. I had been a little surprised at how little Alice knew of how the geography of Greater Toronto worked until I remembered that she had been a little under two when she left for North Hatley, that is only a few months older than Anna!
Anyway, I went up last weekend to see them do what little I could to help.  At one point, Maria started crying in her crib just as Alice was putting Anna to bed. On the theory that quieting Maria would assist Anna going to sleep, I picked up Maria and tried to soothe her with little success. When Alice emerged from Anna's room, I explained what I was doing, but that I didn't really know what Maria wanted but that I was guessing Alice might have a better idea than me. Alice replied: "I don't think she knows what she wants!" So much for the theory of maternal intuition! ;-)
 Maria is absolutely a tiny, helpless marvel. I find it mind-boggling that only 18 months ago, Anna was the same. Not to mention the fact that myself and the rest of humanity have gone through that stage. I mean, Maria cannot even smile yet!
She is quite cute, but somehow she doesn't capture my imagination as much as Anna does. At least right now.  In seventeen months, a lot can change!
 Nonetheless, Maria is still very cute and cuddlesome.
Anyway, on Friday, Mummy and I took Anna for a toddle in the ravine park where Mummy and I had chickadees feed from our hands.
We tried to get Anna to hold the seeds in hand for the birds, but she couldn't get the concept of holding them in her flat palm. She was interested in much of the nature around her including the fallen leaves, sticks and other plant material.
When we went back the next day, we were lucky enough to see fairly large white-tailed stag walking through the woods. And this was only a few hundred meters from the 403!

Sunday, 4 November 2012

On my newest niece's middle name

I had been waiting impatiently for a colleague to return to work in order to tell her about Maria, as her name is also Maria. Interestingly, one of her questions on my informing her of her namesake was "What is her middle name?" I was slightly embarrassed to admit that I didn't know but that I assumed she had one. (I have since found out that it is "Christina", in honour of Alice's best friend.)

My co-worker's question reminded me of something she has mentionned in the past. She's from Argentina. While she goes by just "Maria" behind the scenes at the Library, she has let it be know that in Argentina, she goes by "Maria Luisa" as being just "Maria" would be "low-class". And she comes a relatively moneyed background from what she says. Hence, why she (and only she) was interested in what my new niece's middle name was.

In the conversation with Alice in which I found out my niece's middle name, I also found out that Mark, my brother-in-law, doesn't have one which rather surprised me. I had assumed "everyone" had one. Shows what I know. Alice had the bon mot regarding this and Maria of: "As I [Alice] had two middle names, and Mark had none, we compromised on one for Maria."

Technically, this isn't entirely true as Alice's "second" middle name (which I share) is sort of an extension to our last name and her "first" middle name is the last name of one of our great-great-great grandfather, namely "Bond". This means my sister could introduce herself as "Bond. Alice Bond." should she so feel inclined. ;-)

Hmm, I just have had the thought that Maria's initials will be M.C. W. which might open up a career for her in hip hop music! ;-)

Monday, 22 October 2012

On babies being unable to read calendars

Alice just phoned to say she had her second baby! A little girl named Maria. Big sister Anna still adjusting to the event. Mother and infant doing well, all things considered. This is slightly ahead of schedule, "proving" my belief that "babies can't read calendars!" ;-)
I must confess I had been quietly hoping I would gain a nephew for other reason than it would balance the subtitle of this blog. However, I am told (cross fingers and pray) that my best friend's James' wife Jennifer is expecting a boy. As "his" older sister is my quasi-niece (in my opinion), I feel I would be justified in altering the subtitle to "nephews" in "his" honour.

Addendum:
At work today, I was sorting through old, uncatalogued books in the far corner of the basement. Among them was a copy of "Jackrabbit, his first hundred years" which includes a chapter written by my maternal grandmother. Her first name, like that of my paternal grandmother, was Barbara. As Maria was on my mind, I idly speculated that maybe she should have "Barbara" as middle name. Along this line thought, I wondered what that would make as initials: M.B.W. I quickly noticed that if Alice and Mark were to make Maria's actual first name "Barbara" (while still calling her Maria), her initials would be B.M.W.! ;-)

(Not that it is any of my business. This is just a very silly thought.)

Second addendum:
Alice (or Mark) has posted photos here.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

On an interesting news story about the flight I took to Australia

It has been nearly a year since I went to Australia. Part of me is slightly in denial that I was ever there. However, the rationale part of me knows that I was, if for no other reason than this blog gets google hits from time to time relating to Air Canada flights 33 and 34!

The former was in the news today (October 16 in Canada) as it was diverted near the end of its flight to look for a marine distress beacon set off on a yatch in trouble. It had lost its mast, was low on fuel and was being blown away from Australia. Anyway, the crew spotted the sailboat with the help of binoculars borrowed from passengers, and passed on the location to Australian search-and-rescue. It landed in Sydney about 90 minutes behind schedule. An Air New Zealand flight later confirmed the location and the Australian authorities seem to have the rescue well in hand.

Read more about it here, here and here. Oh, and here.

In other news from the Southern Hemisphere, TV New Zealand's website has a dedicated page for news relating to The Hobbit film!

Sunday, 9 September 2012

On making lemonade out of life's lemons

John and Caitlin's cake had lemons made out of icing on it in reference to a geek variation on the saying "When life gives you lemons, made lemonade." I am not sure what the geek variation in question is.

Anyway, I had the opening to put the saying into effect in yesterday, in this year's edition of the Eastern Townships Challenge bike tour put on by Vélo-Québec. This year the event started and, alas, ended at the Sutton Ski Hill which is up a 4 km long hill which is quite a challenge to face at the end of the day. For a complicated set of reasons, I drove out from Montreal to Sutton in a rented car with Leonardo in the back in time to meet the Parents for breakfast shortly after 7 AM. This entailed waking up a little after 5 AM, which is outside my comfort zone.
After breakfast and the obligatory "cheese de groupe", we set off on our respective bikes, speeds and routes. I left a few minutes after the parents, but, as might be expected, I passed them not too much later.
This Challenge (or Défi)'s route was comparatively challenging compared to those of the two previous years. This, combined with the cold I'd had a week earlier, meant I never intended to do the maximum distance. In addition, there was a strong, unsettled wind that gusted from various directions, most of them contrary. It was also quite humid which, combined with the warm weather, meant I was drenched in sweat. I put a bandanna under my helmet to keep the sweat out of my eyes. When I took it off at lunch time, it was completely soaked.
I did do one of the optional extra segments. It was the hillier, but shorter segment starting in Mansonville and going beside Lake Memphremagog, as I knew it was a very pretty area. The problem with the extra bits these Défis is that I rarely pass people on them as they tend to be the domain of the serious spandex types who have faster bikes than my Leonardo, not that he isn't reasonably fast. However, in the hilly Townships, his extra weight compared to carbon fiber bikes is a distinct handicap. Conversely, his granny gear is a distinct asset on the steepest hills. Near the end of the optional section, a faster cyclist called out (in French) to: "Courage!" My translated reply was: "The important thing is to finish," as while I wasn't as fast as he was, I was still going a respectable clip and I knew I would get there. It wasn't a race.
 After rejoining the main route, I zipped through Bolton Pass which was rather dramatic but unfamiliar bit of the Townships. As luck would have it, the Parents had arrived a bit before me at the lunch stop in Knowlton.
We ate lunch on a bench dedicated to a friend of some friends of the family.

The wind seemed to pick up after lunch, and became, if anything, stronger, more chaotic and unpredictable. This sapped my strength. I stopped at the bottom of the hill leading up to the finish to muster my energy. While doing so, I commented to someone: "Maintement, le calvaire commence." In fact, I was being hyperbolic as it wasn't that bad, though Mummy went to spare Pappy the task by going to meet him at the bottom with the car. Nonetheless, the fact remains that the humidity was draining and I drained the equivalent of more than 2 litres of Gatorade yesterday. Stats: 5 hours, 39 minutes and 11 seconds of biking; 121.10 kms covered; an average speed of 21.4 km/h and a maximum of speed 64.3 km/h.

Driving back to Montreal, the storm the weather had been hinting at struck with a vengeance. The rain was so intense that visibility dropped to next to nothing. The car shook from the wind and the driving rain. The average speed on highway dropped from over 100 km/h to the 60-70 range. I really didn't like the situation so I took the first exit and stopped the car in the parking lot of a defunct restaurant.

I briefly pondered what I should do while waiting out the storm. I quickly noticed that I was really quite tired between my early start and the physical exertion. Consequently, I took out my contact lenses, reclined my seat and closed my eyes for 15-20 minutes. I didn't sleep, but I would have been surprised if I did. Still, it was a relief, hence the title of this entry.

Incidentally, the storm spawned at least one tornado and cut power to 90,000 customers in Quebec.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

On my decision matrix for dealing with Australian snakes

Somehow this doesn't seem to have made it into my blog prior to now, but as it is such a good story, I think it is better late than never.

Prior to, during and after my trip to Australia, people asked me what my plan for dealing with Australia's snakes (known for sometimes being very venomous) was. My answer was the following:

If the snake is one that I know is poisonous, I will leave it the hell alone (for obvious reasons).

If the snake is one that I don't know if it is poisonous or not, I will leave it the hell alone as it might be poisonous.

If the snake is one that I know isn't poisonous, I will leave it the hell alone as I don't want to bother the wildlife.

When I described this decision matrix to Rob in Adelaide, his laconic, Aussie reaction was "Spoken like a man who isn't going to be bitten by a snake."

In truth, even after visiting the Adelaide Zoo, all Australian snakes fall into category two for me. Given how venomous some Australia snakes are, my "prejudice" is well-founded.

Nonetheless, it is conceivable that in particular circumstances, one might need to alter it. One example of such a circumstance was told to me in Seattle by Jeannie (mother-in-law of Margo's John). A friend or sister of hers near Brisbane was horrified to realize that her three-year old daughter was dragging a live, four-foot snake (toxicity undetermined) through the house by its tail. In short order, said snake was outside the house, beaten to death.

However, barring such circumstances, this decision matrix also works for the snakes in other countries, except for Ireland and Iceland.

Sunday, 2 September 2012

On Seattle area attractions, day two

John's in-laws, Tom and Jeannie live a large and somewhat excentric house in Bellevue, a suburb of Seattle. The house was built by a Conservative Jew (as in he followed the conservative variety of Judaism, not he was a political conservative and a Jew). Most notably, this meant that it had a "double kitchen" to keep milk and meat separate. This means two fridges, two stoves, two dishwashers, etc. Around the time the man was to move in, he became more religious (that is to say devout) to the point that he would no longer drive on the Sabbeth to his "temple" or synagogue, which was on Mercer Island, which is a good hike away. Consequently, he sold the house before he moved in.

(Author's note: Jeannie had used the word "temple" to refer to the synagogue. I was wondering about this word usage. When I looked up "synagogue" in Wikipedia, I was interested to see that this usage is not uncommon among Conservative Jews. Hence it being used in this context.)

The man who bought it made further changes to the structure before moving to California, prior to moving in. He in turn sold it to Tom and Jeannie who then moved in with their offspring, thus becoming the first actual occupants of the house.

Among the features of the dwelling is what amounts to a guest wing, complete with bathroom, video gaming den and kitchen facilities in the form of a microwave and fridge. This area alone is at least as large as my flat. Jeannie has a large number of sisters and her house serves the gathering place for family celebrations. The figure of 23 people being able sleep there was mentionned.

Anyway, I slept in after my first night and got my bearings a little better.

Caitlin's sisters, Molly and Miranda were there, though they were about to return to their respective university towns and one from there was going to "The Gambia". This involved her trying on a number of outfits from India lent by a friend of Jeannie's in order to meet Gambia's Moslem dress code. Some of the outfits were quite beautiful.

We were watched over by Loki, a border collie/Australian shepherd mix which either Molly or Miranda had chosen from a dog shelter. He had been abused by his former owners and was, in Jeannie's terminology, a "pancake dog" when he was adopted. This meant that he was so scared of humans that he would flatten himself completely against the floor. Through love and affection, he was now a very nice if somewhat reserved dog who kept us free from attacks by coyotes or dingos. ;-)

Jeannie drove me over to Tom's workplace at Microsoft's building 99. He works in the hardware R&D department of Microsoft and has been told that if his department's projects succeed more than 60% of the time, then they haven't been pushing far enough. As I understand it, his department is supposed to develop hardware-type technologies for Microsoft. These technologies will then be put into actual products by another department. This means that he gets to "play" in an electronics workshop with all kinds of neat stuff, including 3-D printers. I know that if I were working there, I would run-off a few widgets for my bike in my "spare" time.

I was also struck by how much his job was match for my cousin John as he is something of an electronics tinkerer. I don't know Caitlin that well, but Tom was certainly a fit for John. I voiced this comment to Jeannie and was told that Caitlin does indeed ressemble Tom in the techie respect.

Tom showed me some doohickies that the department had invented. They had demonstrated them to the "brass". The brass had been sufficiently impressed that they wanted to try them out. The demand was such that the department had to build more prototypes! This made me think of an anecdote relating to the Etch-a-sketch. Apparently, the inventors knew they had a hit on their hands when during a flight from A to B, the executives of the company were bickering as to who would get to play with the toy next.

At one point during the visit, I apologized to Tom for the way I was dressed. He said my outfit of khaki cargo pants and a workshirt was pretty much the Microsoft uniform. I agreed but pointed out that I was carrying an iPhone!

After lunch, I was picked up by Reiner, Tom's neighbour. He is a professor emeritus in aeronautics. After helping him and his wife move a couple of metal firepits, he took me to the Museum of Flight at Boeing Field. This was a slightly surreal experience. I am an aviation geek, even though I don't enjoy flying. I can identify a huge variety of aircraft at glance. On other hand, at one point, Reiner pointed at a Sikorsky S-62 helicopter in the museum and said: "I worked on the tail boom of that helicopter when I was an intern at Sikorsky. I got to meet the old man Sikorsky while I was there."

Yet, he couldn't identify a Republic P-47 Thunderbolt in the WWII section. It felt very strange. He commented that the plane he liked the most was the Lockheed F-104 Starfighter. I observed that the WWII ace Johnnie Johnson had described it as a superb aircraft, "but not to go to war in!" I also mentionned how Canadian pilots referred to it as the "lawndart" on account of it tendency to crash! I hope he wasn't offended.

Towards the end of the visit, he ran out of steam. He left me to go across the road to see some outside exhibits whilst he investigated a B-17. I got to go inside an old Air Force One and a Concorde. I was struck by what seemed to be ten-foot long section immediately aft of the cockpit that looked like it was filled with avionics. I wondered if this was the case, then surely the application of Moore's law would mean than the reduced weight and space of more modern computers could have meant that British Airways and Air France should have increased the size of the passenger cabin by installing newer computers during the Concorde's hiatus following the crash in the year 2000. I also got to look at the first 737 and 747's up close as well as get a close look at tail of a 727 and see it's Cooper vane.

I walked back to the B-17 Reiner was inspecting. He made the observation that when he was young, such aircraft were trying to kill him. By this he meant that as a child, he had been at the wrong end of Allied bombing raids. He was born in Germany and had come to the United States when his father was offered a job working for the Lycoming aircraft engine company. Reiner's father was involved in the design of the T53 turboshaft engine, which powered the early Bell Huey helicopters. Reiner arrived in the United States on January 29, 1954 on the S.S. United States. I mention this as he asked me to look up a bit of trivia relating the S.S. United States. Unfortunately, partly owing to the relatively generic name of the ship, I haven't had any success so far.

It was a fun day.

On travelling in Executive class

On account of my restlessness and long legs, I generally angle for an aisle seat. However, the seat in Executive was a window seat and I really wasn't going to argue. Also, the increased legroom makes one of arguments moot.

As well, it was a clear day and therefore, lots to see. This is an understatement as it was very clear from take-off to nightfall. Our flight path took us along the Border. Had I been on the port side of the plane I could have seen much of the route I took across the Rockies three years ago. As it was, the only bit I recognized was the mountains near Creston.

I took pictures but as usual with photos from airliners, they never do landscape justice. Someone should work on making windows on planes photo-transparent. Or maybe have a passenger-controlled camera turret on the underside of the plane. You would be able to download pictures onto your electronic devices.

Somewhere over the darkening Prairies, I saw a flash of light below. Looking more closely at the land below, I saw it repeated further on. I began to see it was light reflected on small water bodies. However, I couldn't determine the source of the light. I theorized that it might be a low flying search-and-rescue helicopter with a search light but it didn't look quite right for that. Then I figured out that it was the reflection of the moon I was seeing. A very neat effect, if slightly spooky.

Dessert was ice cream and freshly baked cookies. Freshly baked as in they baked them on the plane. Delicious, but somewhat over the top. I should have asked what they did with the leftover cookies.

The older woman beside me had been on standby for the previous flight. Like me she was given a upgrade, but not for obvious altruism as in my case. It turns out Elaine, my seat mate, was from the City I work in and is in the neighborhood watch, the HQ of which is in part of the basement I work in.

The section had been largely disused, except for storing various files until the watch program took it over. The City renovated that section. At some point in the process, I chanced upon the plans and noted that it included a shower. As that section of the basement adjoins the Library's, I have been trying to figure out how to work out a system that the Library employees would be allowed to use the shower. Particularly cycle-commuters, i.e. me. I was a little annoyed to hear from Elaine that the shower is unused except to store files!

We were in the last row of the Executive class section. I doubt this was an accident. I have read that Air Canada deliberately serves that section front to back. If you are in the last row, you may not get your meal choice. For that reason, I suspect they put any "unwashed refugees" from Economy class in the back of the section.

Sunday, 26 August 2012

On Seattle area attractions, day one

Wednesday morning I went to Paine Field to to the Boeing Future of Flight tour. It is a big deal and involves probably more security than is strictly necessary. No "electronic devices" are allowed. This really means no cameras, mobile phones, laptops, etc. Digital watches are allowed provided you don't succeed in taking pictures with them. This also means that there is lots of locker space available which is much appreciated by the bicycle tourist.

Our guide had a snappy line of patter though much of it may of been scripted. The main building is the largest building by volume in the world and looks it. Among the factoids, there are about a dozen coffee shops in it, all run by Tully as they have an exclusive deal with Boeing. The guide added that this probably makes Paine field the largest area in Seattle without a Starbucks! The building also has 9 cafeterias each with it's own name in large, expensive, lit up signs. One of them was called the Dreamliner Diner, as it was on the 787 Dreamliner production line. That really surprised me as I think of the 787 as a very new product (which it is) and therefore the sign on the cafeteria was very new.

The building houses the production lines for all 4 of Boeing's widebodies (747, 767, 777 and 787), so it has to be big. In fact, it is so big that it has problems with rain clouds forming inside the building. (This is not something the guide mentioned.) The scale of production is incredible. There are "nerds" in cubicles out on the production floor. These cubicles have to be moved every so often in order to get out of the way of jetliners as they near completion, or at least near enough that they can be taken outdoors: there are an assortment of production glitches meaning that there are something like 40 787's waiting outside for various parts, including engines in some cases.

Afterwards, I toured a gallery section where one could learn about older aircraft and sit in the cockpit of a Boeing 727 and fiddle with the controls. You could also pose near full scale reproductions of the latest turbo fan engines, which are fricking huge. These babies are close to producing 100,000 lbs of thrust which is loosely equivalent to 100,000 horsepower.
 In the gift shop, there was a large model of a Lockheed S-3 Viking which Boeing had apparently proposed to change into an odd-looking rhomboidal wing. That is from the wing goes back from the tip, to the tail.

I subcame to temptation and bought a Buff in Boeing colours. I resisted the urge to get a Dreamliner-themed cycling jersey.


Working my way counter clockwise around the field, I stopped at the Historic Flight Center. It is a relatively low-key affair and features a dozen or so aircraft, mostly of World War II vintage, in flying, or close to flying order. The highlight was being allowed to visit the inside of a North American B-25 Mitchell. I was initially reluctant to through the nose section of the light bomber, as the tunnel was narrower than I was happy with. But, encouraged by the guide, I slid my way into the nose section. It wasn't easy for my 6 foot plus frame to do it on the ground. God help someone trying to do it in the air in an emergency.

A littler further around the field was Paul Allen's Flying Heritage Collection. The docent at the Historic Flight Center was a little dismissive of Paul Allen's baby as some of the restorations weren't as accurate or authentic as the ones at his organisation. I am not in agreement with him as some aspects of the aircraft could be improved with little compromise. The technology of seat cushions has improved dramatically for example. As well, most WWII aircraft weren't designed with longevity in mind. There are various small tweaks that could be made to improve it along with safety.

Consequently, I also went to the Flying Heritage Collection where I saw some aircraft that while "Heritage", aren't likely to go flying anytime soon.

As in ever.

These were a Messerschmitt Me 163 Komet (a rocket-powered fighter) and a Fieseler Fi 103R Reichenberg (a manned version of the V-1 flying bomb). I teased one of workers at the Collection by asking him if they ever took the Komet up for a spin? One of the design compromises of the Komet was that in order to remove the need for an ignition source, its two (corrosive) fuels would combust on contact with one another. When this happened in the combustion chamber, there wasn't a problem. However, any leaks in the system could mean the plane could blow up. This was relatively common on landing. Hence, my question was facile sarcasm. Airplane geek humour.

Saturday, 25 August 2012

On Vancouver airport

Sovereignists, if they bother to notice must loath Vancouver Airport. Announcements are dutifully in English and French. Electronic signs, however, are at times displayed in at least six languages. English, French, Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Thai, and that is in the domestic section. So far today, I far seen jetliners in the colours of China Eastern, Philippines, Lufthansa, KLM not to mention British Airways and Virgin Atlantic. On previous visits, I have seen jets from Air New Zealand, Japan Airlines and Korean Air. French is secondary.

As I waited for my flight to board, there was an announcement asking for volunteers to "donate" their seat as the flight was overbooked. Upon inquiry, I found out the deal was I would get a $200 voucher for flights and $10 voucher for food. The flight was about two hours later. I volunteered.

When I got to the new gate, I was informed that they were upgrading me to Executive Class! I moved up from seat 33D (the absolute back of the plane) to 4F. This marks the 2nd time I have flown in a class other than coach. The other time was Montreal to Vancouver (coincidentally enough) in December, 1984. That flight was also on Air Canada. If I recall correctly, it was Business class out of the three classes then offered.

Thursday, 23 August 2012

On getting to Caitlin's folks' house near Seattle...

...I was much relieved as I had underestimated the amount of time the aircraft museums around Paine field would take and the distance between them and the house was. I arrived later than expected, but fortunately I was able to phone ahead and warn them. I am quite relieved to be here. More later as I am also tired.

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

On going against the flow

There were a few gaps in my preparations for this trip. One of these was not finding an bike path app for Seattle. This has made finding my way around that much trickier. To compound the issue, I am coming into Seattle against the "expected" flow. From the layout and content of the tourism information centres, the ISO 2001 tourist is going from Seattle rather than vice-versa. Maps of bike routes and the like aren't easy to come by.

There was one element going in my direction. Rather unexpectedly, there is no charge to take a bike on the ferry from Kingston to Edmonds. I spoke with some more local cyclists who said the company charges cyclists going the other direction. I would have expected the reverse in order to lure tourists into the Olympic Peninsula from Seattle much like P.E.I. does.

Another error in preparation was overestimating the distance between Sequim and Edmonds. As a result, I got there at around 3 in the afternoon. Instead of staying in Edmonds, I decided to push closer to Everett and the Boeing Tour in order. This got me on the comparatively dreary State Route 99 (endless "strip") with no real idea where I would spend the night. The traffic was more draining than I was conscious of. I did find a crazy overstocked bike shop which provided me with a bike map. As I neared my revised goal and not seeing any motels with vacancies, I "borrowed" wi-fi from a MacDonald's to locate a motel. (My iPhone has U.S. voice roaming but no data plan.) I rang up the Motel 6 to see if they had a room available. They did but reserving a room took a bit too much data and I got a bit ratty with the clerk when he tried to inform me of the cancellation policy.

Anyway, I am now housed and fed.

The landscape East of Sequim was majestic and beautiful. Also a mite damper, judging by the vegetation. I passed near the John Wayne Marina. It is so named as he donated the land it was built on.

I crossed the Hood Canal (actually a channel) by a long and slightly nerve-racking bridge. It wasn't too bad and did feature generous bike shoulders but it was long enough to make me feel uneasy. Consequently, I was glad to see the end of it.

Shortly thereafter, I stopped for lunch in the picture postcard town village of Port Gamble. (Think an uptight and commercial version of Georgeville.) Lunch was a mildly unholy combination of New England clam chowder and bleu cheese fries.

The waitress was interested in how far I had come today. As she was new to the area, she didn't know how far Sequim was. I had to check my odometer to see how far and then make a rough conversion from kms (62) to miles (40). She was impressed even though I said it wasn't that much.

The restaurant had been a general store but was now mostly gift shop and restaurant. A fellow cyclist in MEC bike shorts and a white beard asked me if they had chocolate milk as they didn't in have any in the drinks cooler. I shrugged and suggested with humour that if he was truly desperate for his "recovery drink", he should have some mocha almond fudge ice cream which I knew they had as we were in front of their ice cream counter! I was amused when he accepted my proposal!

At the motel office, an older African American janitor was distinctly impressed with my laden bike. He said he wanted to cross the country by bike. I might have given him pointers, except that I was tired and he seemed a mite simple. He was also unduly impressed at me having ridden from Vancouver to here. (It has been only been three easy days of riding broken by two days off.)  I did tell him about biking from Calgary to Winnipeg earlier this summer. Unfortunately, there was a cultural translation problem as neither city was in his American mental geography and I couldn't think of the appropriate equivalent cities in the U.S. northern tier.

Monday, 20 August 2012

On John's wedding and American soil

John and Caitlin's wedding was a distinct success. Jonathon S. summed up their respective qualities very nicely by describing John as someone who would walk over broken glass for a friend and Caitlin as someone who would remember to wear shoes! In the dancing portion of the reception, Thomas (Louise's significant other) was reluctant to dance with her until I informed him with tongue in cheek that he was either dancing with my cousin or his excuse would be he had a broken kneecap! ;-)

The next day was spent schmoozing with John's new in-laws in the morning. This resulted in my getting an offer of a bed in Seattle from Caitlin's father. This is particularly appreciated as my plan always was to bike to and visit Seattle after the wedding. I even had my Amtrak ticket reserved for both myself and Leonardo.

I spent the afternoon and evening with my parents, Alice, Anna, Stephen, Edward, Margaret and Margaret's parents who were in Victoria through some happy coincidence. Edward just had a birthday (his third) and I had organized Alice and Margo into getting him a bike. Carolin (Margo's sister-in-law) described to me just how touched Edward was to get the bike.

This morning I bid adieu to Margo, Chris and Carolin before zooming South to catch the Coho ferry to Port Angeles. There were a number of people waiting to board who were carrying life jackets. I knew they had been in Victoria for dragon boat races. However, I decided it would be much more fun to tease them about how they didn't trust the ferry! They took the joke with a smile.

From Port Angeles, I rode without incident to a little past the Robin Hill Farm State Park where I noticed my back tire was flat. This is the third or fourth flat that tire has had. My suspicion is that there is something amiss with the tire.

Unlike the last time I was down this way, the weather was bright and sunny. Consequently, there was much more traffic on the Olympic Discovery Trail.

I am now pleasantly drunk in my motel room Sequim.

Addendum

Margo has informed me (see comment below) that Alice had come to the bike-for-Edward idea independently of moi. Great minds thinking alike I guess, not to mention I think I got things mixed up. Anyway, Margo and Chris did do the ground work.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

On renewed problems getting Leonardo through security.

As I am traveling on Air Canada on my jaunt to John's wedding, I had assumed that getting Leonardo through security would be simpler than my last trip with WestJet (please see a previous entry, link to follow when I get to a proper computer.) More fool, I.

When I went to the Air Canada baggage drop-off (regular sized), I was told that something wasn't working at the oversized drop-off and I would have to go to the "WestJet" oversized drop-off point. As the box didn't fit in that place's scanner, I had a repeat performance of last time's experience of taking Leonardo under escort to the bigger Air Canada scanner and then back to the WestJet drop-off point!

Hmm, I hope this doesn't affect my chances of meeting Leonardo in Vancouver! The evidence suggests a full flight. Thankfully, I remembered to put Margo's address on the box.

Monday, 13 August 2012

On biking in the rain

Margo has been quoted in and out of context as saying that "sometimes the best option is to just get wet". When applied to biking, my take on this dictum is that the "sometimes" is when you know how and when you will get dry and warm.  For example, if you are only a few minutes from home, it probably isn't worth the effort of stopping to don your rain gear. On the other hand, if you are just setting out on a long of biking, it is probably wisest to deck yourself out.

The type of rain encountered also matters: a light rain in warm weather probably doesn't necessitate full rain gear whereas a downpour in November calls for everything you can lay your hands on! The presence or absence of wind also matters greatly as being wet will amplify the cooling effects of the wind.

This is the background for some of this summer's commutes to work. The weather has been quite hot and humid making rain gear unpleasant to wear on my daily commute. Consequently, I have been biking in the rain with minimal rain gear on several occasions. The most extreme was one day when I stuck my head out the window to see that there were some sprinkles, but no major rain in sight.  Consequently, I pulled on a quick dry t-shirt and stuffed a cotton on in my bag and set off to work in shorts, knowing that I had long pants at work. After about 10 minutes, the rain began to change from sprinkles to a serious downpour by slow steps. It kept looking like it would ease up, only for the rain to increase in strength! By the time it was a total downpour, I was thoroughly wet, but as I was only 5 minutes from work, I didn't stop to pull on my rain gear!

I got into work looking like a drowned rat. However, I could change out of my wet clothes into dry ones once I got to work. I had mentioned that I had a cotton t-shirt in my bag. Well, I also had respectable shoes, long pants and long-sleeved shirt in my filling cabinet. The shoes are there all the time, and I often leave long clothes overnight during the summer. In addition, for over a decade I have kept a pair of socks in my filling cabinet for just an event. Thus, I was quickly able to get into dry clothes.

At the other extreme was yesterday. When I left work, there was about the lightest rain I have every experienced: tiny, fine drops. It was an utterly warm rain. I gave no thought to rain gear and pedaled home through the damp air.

Saturday, 4 August 2012

On loads on Prairie roads

There is a considerable amount of truck traffic on Prairie roads, particularly the Trans-Canada highway. This is hardly unexpected. I must also add that Prairie truckers are generally very considerate towards cyclists and very often pull over into the far lane when passing, even though there is a lovely wide shoulder as the following picture demonstrates.

I extend a big "thank you" to all the truckers on the Prairies who are so courteous.

One thing that I found curious (and by curious, I mean "fascinating" rather than "wrong") were the diverse natures and size of some of the over-sized loads being hauled along. One of the more interesting was a light aircraft with its wings removed which went by somewhere in Saskatchewan before I could photograph it. Other loads included a large-ish house...
...and some very large tanks.
The latter cause me to wonder "Why on Earth didn't they move that thing by train?" My next thought was "Don't be stupid, Bikemoose: something that size is are too big be moved by train on account of the loading gauge!" (A loading gauge is the maximum size a train can be before hitting things beside or over the track.)

The man who rented me a motel room in Treherne, Manitoba, told me that he was only helping a friend by being the clerk for the motel. His "real" job was driving a pilot truck. Pilot trucks are the pickup trucks that often precede or follow over-sized loads to give warning of the behemoth to come. I suspect they also keep a look out for any bits of the route that are too small for the load so as to give the truck hauling it time to stop.

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

On what I might do after John's wedding

Margo and Chris' son John will be getting hitched in Victoria in August. I will be there, as will Leonardo. Well, actually Leonardo will be there for the ride. Actually, for me to ride, as I see little point in going all the way out to Victoria without getting in some biking.

My plan is, after the wedding, to take the ferry to Port Angeles and go visit Seattle. Among the target destinations are no less than 3 aviation museums (Messrs William Boeing and Paul Allen being "notoriously" aviation minded Seattle residents).

Anyway, I was poking around GoogleMaps about how to get from Port Angeles to Seattle when I noticed the Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge, a little North of Sequim. This triggered a memory from my first bike tour with Margo and Chris. We had thought about paying it a visit but as it was pouring with rain that day, we passed over it in favour of making the ferry to Victoria. However, why not give it a looksee this time around? It would make a relaxed day. Leave the hotel in Sidney, catch the 10:30 ferry to Port Angeles, have lunch and see the Dungeness spit and wildlife refuge in the afternoon. Then spend the night in Sequim or thereabouts.

Of course, this assumes the weather won't be foul with rain.

Friday, 6 July 2012

On impressing myself

After getting into Manitoba, I accidentally reset my bike computer's odometer to zero. Fortunately, I had noted its data prior to this event so nothing was lost. This did mean that figuring out just how far I rode between Calgary and Winnipeg was something I wasn't willing to bother trying to figure out. I did the math a few minutes ago. I managed to impress myself. The total distance covered in the 2 weeks and 1 day I was between the two cities was 1751.4 km. This is considerably more than the 500 kms a week that I use as a rule of thumb when planning these jaunts. I do believe I have impressed myself.

On getting Leonardo into a Ford Focus

The nice big box that MEC provided was too big to fit into the trunk of the Ford Focus that the rental company provided me with at Trudeau Airport. I had asked for a Dodge Caliber hatchback, but they didn't have one. Thinking laterally, I took Leonardo out of the box, collapsed the box and put it the trunk (with the rear seats down) and then put the disassembled Leonardo on top of it.

I was the only guest in my dorm room yesterday evening. I fell asleep only to be woken by someone arriving quite late. I said "Hi." and turned over to go back to sleep as he settled in and took a shower. A certain time later, I had the impression of being shaken awake and consequently awoke with a start and a yelp. In fact, it was my roommate who was simply climbing into his upper bunk of the slightly wobbly bunk bed. He was startled by my yelp.

Two more people arrived in my dorm room in the wee hours which tended to interrupt my sleep. I guess I might have got the last laugh, as I got up at my planned time of 7 AM and proceeded to pack my remaining bits of gear and leave. That will disturb others no matter how had you try.

By some fluke, I had a row to myself on my WestJet flight, which I exploited by lying down on the three seats available to me. Then something unusual happened: I fell asleep! It was a pity the flight was only 2 hours long!

Oh, yeah. I have noticed that the paragraphing of my blog entries hasn't been working. I will deal with it anon.

Thursday, 5 July 2012

On my last day in Winnipeg

So here I am on my last evening in Winnipeg, with little to do.

I met Raymond for breakfast. He seems to have taken more time than I did getting to Winnipeg. However, he's off for Ontario. At least, I hope he is. If he gets as far as chez moi in Montreal, I'll crack open a bottle of bubbly in his honour.

Afterwards, I biked to Assiniboine Park. I sort of thought I'd go to the zoo in order to see bison, but as I could see bunch through the fence including some cream (white) ones, I figured I'd skip it. I then went on a bit of a goose chase trying to find two attractions that weren't what I thought they'd be. I ended up settling for the Winnipeg rail museum where I also saw an East-bound Canadian stopping before its 36-hour run to Toronto, and the Winnipeg Art Gallery (or WAG).

Coming back from the latter, I cut through the Bay store. It seemed less vibrant than the Montreal one.

Back at the hostel, I packed Leonardo. I had trouble with getting the pedals off. Note to self: be sure to grease them thoroughly when get home. He's also got some glitches with the derailleur that needs looking into.

I then sorted my clobber into needed on flight and not needed on flight categories. The latter was stuffed into my duffle bag.

In the former category, I have included a Playmobil spandex cyclist and road racer bike. The comes complete with helmet and biking sunglasses. I picked him up at a toy store yesterday. Possibly because of the Olympics, Playmobil has a line of summer sports figurines. A disconcerting set was women's beach volley ball, itself a disconcerting Olympic event.

Anyway, I am checked in with WestJet. I have also avoided a snag with my car rental at Trudeau, so am I pretty much ready for tomorrow. It's been a decent ride with good days (230 km) and bad days (losing my sandals).

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

On where next year's trip will be and other musings

After visiting the childhood home of Gabrielle Roy and the Royal Canadian Mint (where I acquired some of the last Canadian pennies ever made barring severe deflation) I took in "Brave", this year's Pixar offering. As usual in medieval based movies, there aren't enough peasants and farms in the background to support the aristocrats. However, the Scottish-oid landscape and wild Celtic music have firmly cemented where my next major bike trip will be: Scotland!

In other thoughts, this morning I was walking back from MEC with a large bike box through the rain when a woman asked in good humour if I had a ghost in the box! I did a double take before noticing that the box was from a Ghost bicycle, a German brand that MEC is selling these days!

In further musings, yesterday, I had a weird feeling of being very far removed from the guy who set out from Calgary. Or possibly being very far removed from Calgary.

Winnipeg is quite a different place than Calgary. Much more liberal, ethnically diverse and poorer. A side effect of this is a more visible police presence. As well, the police seems to give off a vibe of a force facing a serious challenge in law enforcement. Police cars are only black and white and uniforms are black.

Makes me glad I handed the license plate into the RCMP! Actually, they first said it should have gone to the local cops until I pointed out that I had found it outside of city limits. As well the window I was directed to was marked "Major Crimes", something I made clear that my query did not particularly represent!

Anyway, tomorrow I will having breakfast with Raymond so best get some shut-eye.

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

On fields of yellow and blue

Leaving Treherne behind, I came across the renewed line of hopper cars in waiting. It "only" lasted for a little under 6 kms including a couple of significant gaps. I used the iPhone to make a note of some of the owners markings. Once I get home I will make a fuller report.

The land in that part of Saskatchewan is flatter which has the effect of making the horizons seem that much closer, especially in areas with trees. It also makes the sky a bit smaller. My mental contrast is with the highway between Calgary and Medicine Hat where I could see a CPR train reduced to insignificance by the landscape. However, the openness of the Manitoba landscape is highlighted by the fact that a couple of times I could see the grain elevator of not only the next town but also that of the one beyond it at not inconsiderable distances.

Shortly before I arrived in the village of Starbuck, I saw and picked up a license plate by the side of the road. It was bent but readable so I tucked under the bunt securing the red bag of camping gear. It was near a sign for the Starlite Colony, a Hutterite community. It was also near the Starbuck glider port.

I have passed a number of canola fields in the last few days. Their bright yellow flowers make a pleasant sight especially on overcast days like yesterday. At around the same place as I found the license plate, I was greeted by the pleasing contrast of my first flax field in full blue bloom next to a canola field.

The downside of canola is that it makes me less visible in my yellow biking shirts. I was a little bit put off when a driver rolled down his window yesterday to say I was particularly visible to him. For the record, I was wearing my 25 Tour de l'Ile biking shirt in yellow and black.

I pulled into the town of Starbuck hoping for a convenience store where I could get a nice iced tea for my elevenses. I started at a convenience store (c-store in the local short hand) which was closed as it was also a post office and yesterday was the substitute day for the Canada Day legal holiday. The other obvious businesses were also closed. I was walking back to Leonardo when a man I'd seen cleaning the windows an insurance office called out the offer of refreshments. He and his wife and daughter were taking advantage of the day off to spruce up their offices. After providing H2O and relief, the man asked me my opinion of the student protests in Quebec (I'd mentioned I was from Montreal). He accepted my opinion (they're self-serving idiots) as it was pretty much the impression he'd got from the media.

I reached the Winnipeg perimeter highway around 1. After lunch at Timmy's, I made my way towards Winnipeg on what was a relative back entrance. I passed some signs for the Manitoba Star Attraction of the Fort Whyte Experience which gave no idea about what it was. Well, I had an idea it involved bison, but that was it. Consequently, I simply headed straight into Winnipeg.

After a certain amount of cross-checked navigation involving two differently scaled maps and three separate iPhone functions, I found my hostel.

As mentioned before, the AC is mostly on the fritz and the place gives off a weird vibe. There is poster from when the place was renovated about five years about. However, either the renos weren't very good or the place has been allowed to run to seed. Certainly, the front desk don't impress me as one of them gave me poor directions when was looking for supper last night.

Not that I am immune from poor planning. For some reason I hadn't realized there is a MEC in Winnipeg! This been a double boon. First of all, it allowed me to get new Chaco sandals to replace the ones I left behind. (The cheap sneakers from Moose Jaw have gone to Goodwill.) Secondly, as it sells bikes (not all MEC stores do) it will provide me with a bike box within an easy walking, distance of my hostel. When I asked this morning, they didn't have any big ones available. However, the bike guy said that he had some new, big bikes he had to assemble this afternoon and he would put aside a box for me.

I dropped the license plate off at the RCMP. Alas, the plate wasn't valid which meant no one was looking for it. Also, I wasn't allowed to keep it as a souvenir. This afternoon, I visited the Manitoba Museum. Between the reproduction of the Nonsuch and the references to the Hudson's Bay Lowlands, the paternal unit must pay it a visit if he ever comes here.

Monday, 2 July 2012

On the weather in Winnipeg

I made reasonable time today, but unfortunately the weather will hot and humid for the next few days and the air conditioner at the hostel is on the fritz. They say they will be getting someone to look at it tomorrow.

I have more to say but I am tired, and it can wait.

Sunday, 1 July 2012

On where CPR stores hopper cars

I left the B&B I had been sharing with a family from Denmark I understand at a reasonable hour this morning. The day was hot and sunny. Lovely for 1st of July parties but less desirable for biking. I went through a lot of fluids today.

I also had some tension to deal with as I couldn't seem to get my iPhone to call the motel in Treherne I had my eye on in order to confirm a bed for the night. Cellphone coverage is a bit spotty in these parts.

This only added insult to injury as the coverage in Saskatchewan caused me some headaches. Saskatchewan is technically in the Central Time zone, the same as Manitoba. However, they don't have daylight savings time there, so for most of the year they have the same time as Alberta. This arrange apparently confuses cellphones as when I crossed into Saskatchewan my iPhone jumped ahead an hour despite the fact it shouldn't have. It later corrected itself but the thing bore double checking. Still later as I neared the Manitoba border it began to prematurely set itself ahead by an hour. Finally, when I was in Souris, it set itself back an hour! Currently, it is behaving itself.

In the town Holland, the last one before Treherne, I finally made contact with the Motel who indeed had a room available. This was just as well as I later found out that my backup place in Holland was closed for holiday.

Leaving Holland for the last 14 kms to Treherne, I saw the end of a what I thought was a long grain train stationary on the the CPR branch line that ran beside the highway. In order to pass the time, I decided I would measure the length of the train using my bike computer. Except it was exactly a train. It was instead where CPR is storing currently unneeded hopper cars. How do I know this? First of all, the line of cars extended nearly 10 kms, which I believe is longer than the longest train ever. Second, there were no locomotives around. Thirdly, the line of cars was broken in about a half dozen places to allow road traffic through. To top it off, crossing the track in Treherne, I am pretty sure I saw more of the same on the other of the town!

The cars themselves make an interesting study as they bore a wide range of makings from their owners. There were cars from CPR, the governments of Canada, Alberta and Saskatchewan (but oddly not Manitoba) as well as the Soo Line, the Canadian Wheat Board and Pilsbury. As in the Pilsbury Dough Boy. Even amongst the cars of a single owner, there were cars in liveries of several eras in corporate branding. I counted at least 4 from CPR alone, 2 of them using the name CP Rail.

As I walked from my motel to find some supper at the Ho Wah Gardens restaurant and lounge, I was diverted to Treherne's main tourist attraction, namely a set of buildings made of bottles. There was a house, church, a working outhouse with a flush toilet and a wishing well. A volunteer who happened to be painting a door gave me the tour. They had been built in the early 1980s by a local farmer. They were given to and moved into town around 2006. Rather neat really.

Tomorrow, I am going to try to get up early to beat the heat and make my way into Winnipeg. I will be at least a day ahead of schedule thanks to the wind on Wednesday. Forecast is for hot and muggy with a chance of a thunderstorm.

Saturday, 30 June 2012

On Manitoban roads

My entry into Manitoba wasn't nearly as dramatic as my entry into Saskatchewan. Just a short bit of a road with a few signs and an end to the hard shoulder. I already miss that shoulder.

The day went pretty smoothly apart from the loss of two bananas.

At Souris, I found my B&B and washed both my clothes and Leonardo. In the process, I noticed a tear in one my Ortlieb bags which is a pain. I have patched it with duct tape (inside and out) for the time being but I am not very optimistic about the efficacy of the repair.

Fortunately, the weather forecast is for mostly dry weather for the next few days. Unfortunately, it is also for fairly hot weather.

Manitobans live up to their license plate motto: they are quite friendly.

There are signs of cultural shifts in the form of slightly different town layouts as well as menu variations. One dubious one is the appearance of deep fried pickles.

Friday, 29 June 2012

On the Prairies, English gentlemen

Between the iPhone getting confused by the proximity of the Manitoba border (more on that later) and general sloth, I got off to a late start today. However, my goal for today was Redvers which wasn't that far. In fact, I deliberately made decisions to increase the journey time.

The first of these was to look up the Cannigton Manor Historic Provincial Park. Cannington Manor was set up in the 1880s to be a place where young, English gentlemen would learn how to farm the Canadian West in genteel conditions. Almost predictably, these remittance men spent more time socializing than learning about farming. I'd read about the place in a book about Saskatchewan Alice had lent me. I had envisioned the place as an example of Victorian grandeur on the Prairies. The first place on the list of places seemed to confirm the notion. The Humphrey/Hewlett house seemed to confirm my opinion. While I couldn't enter, the floor plans of the three story structure included at darkroom!

However, when I got to the town site and was able to enter one of the structures, I was disabused of my notions. It was a reproduction of one of the houses that one of the few of the gentlemen who stayed that did it. It consisted of a two story structure which had no internal divisions! The original had been in use until the 1960s with no electricity! Part of me wonders what sin the man had committed in England that he wore such a hair shirt for the rest of his life.

My conclusion was that the young men from England might have spent a lot of time socializing, fox hunting, etc. but that they lived in relatively rustic conditions. It puts a different spin on things.

The place also made me appreciate just how rich my great grandfather had been in comparison. Robin Hill was much more luxurious than these tiny shacks, yet it was built only thirty or so years later. It also had the advantage of a railway nearby and motor transport, two things denied Cannington Manor.

After leaving the park, I headed South to my old friend Highway 13 and the village of Manor (which was connected to Cannington Manor). It lacked an open restaurant so I opted to head West for 13 km to Carlyle which I knew had a restaurant for lunch. This decision was influenced by the fact that otherwise the day would be quite short, as Redvers was only 31 kms to the East of Manor on Hwy 13.

Anyway, tonight is my last night in Saskatchewan. I get to Manitoba and Souris tomorrow. As someone who is fluent French, I tend to pronounce "Souris" as "soo-ree". However, the Saskatchewaners seem to say "soo-rees". I don't know who is correct.

Thursday, 28 June 2012

On the day after

Raymond made it to Broadview and the room I had rented. The room showed the Teutonic influence of the owner complete with lots of instructions notes on the walls which sometimes had small elements in the phrasing of them that hinted at their Germanic origin.

This morning, Raymond and I set off to the East. At Whitewood, I turned South bidding Raymond goodbye.

In the town of Whitewood, I noticed a sign that said "Nous parlons le français" at a motel. This is just about the first bit of bilingualism I have seen in a while.

I stopped at a museum that had farm machinery painted pink outside. Apparently, a friend of Raymond stopped there the day , the guide asked me if I was on of the MS bikers. I laughed and said "No, but I know of who you are talking about!"

Heading South, the relatively light wind was on my right and thus not helping me. After yesterday, it was a let down to have to plod along at a relatively slow pace. The pace was slowed by the lesser quality of the highway I was on and the increased number of hills. At some level, this was expected as my destination was Moose Mountain Provincial Park.

The park ended up being a let down as it seemed to cater to RVs and cottages. That's right, cottages, and in significant numbers. I looked around a campground but couldn't find a spot where I would feel comfortable with just my bivy sack. I half feel I have missed an opportunity. On the other hand, what the hey? What is done, is done. I did get in a short and refreshing swim.

Partly out of curiosity, I inquired at the Bear Claw Hotel and Casino in the White Bear First Nation just South of the Park if they had a room for one tonight. They did and the rate was all too reasonable, although the registration process was a tad convoluted as in order to get the best rate you had to get a club membership at the Casino which also got you a cash rebate and a meal discount. My depressing conclusion is that evidently casino gambling is only too profitable if they can eat the relative loss to blokes like me.

Anyway, I have booked my next two nights in advance as it will be a weekend and Canada Day. I will in Redvers tomorrow and Souris the day after.

It has been a nice day but a bit of a let down.

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

On too much of a good thing

The forecast called for strong winds out the South West or West depending on the time. Strong as in up to 50 gusting to 70 km/h. Raymond remarked that it was a good thing. I replied a bit more cautiously as my intended route to Weyburn would take me on a route that angled South, and said it was possible to have too much of a good thing.

We left Moose Jaw behind us and headed West together until the junction with Highway 39 and we parted company. I didn't get very far on 39 as the wind was coming in at such an angle and speed that it took a lot of concentration and effort to keep the bike on course. After a kilometer, I gave up and went back to the T-Can were I soon caught up with Raymond who'd stopped to adjust his clothing.

We set off again and zoomed along to the outskirts of Regina where we parted company again as he wanted to look in at the RCMP museum. I had decided that I wanted to see just how far I could let the wind push me along. (Raymond asked me to keep him informed about where I got to tonight.) I wanted to "carpe ventus".

The day was cool and sunny with some friendly clouds.

Also windy, very windy.

In fact at the Tim Horton's I stopped at on the East side of Regina while I was fiddling with my bike, a large piece of metal paneling blew off the building a few meters away and fell to the ground. I first stepped on it to keep from blowing further and more dangerously afield. I then picked it up and took it inside. The manager came outside to survey the damage and in a slightly corporate manner asked if I been hurt or if my bike had been damaged. I said "No, just startled."

I set off again and made Indian Head ("Home of Little Mosque on the Prairie") for an excellent lunch at its bakery. The land has become flatter with more trees. At Grenfell, I passed the 200 kilometer mark and I started pondering where I should stop for the night even though it was well before 4 PM and I wasn't particularly tired. I settled on Broadview. I checked into the last available room at the Sweet Dreams motel courtesy of the German owner who had been keeping one room available more or less for waifs and strays.

So the numbers for today are: time, 6 hours, 50 minutes, 18 seconds of easy biking; distance, 230.58 kms; average speed of 33.6 km/h; maximum speed 60.0 km/h (more on that later). I attribute these numbers almost entirely to the wind combined with the flat landscape and excellent Saskatchewan roads. Obviously, Leonardo did his part and my reasonable fitness level contributed.

One slightly nerve-wracking bit was a construction zone where I was obliged to get into the one lane available. This was for quite a substantial stretch and I was slightly nervous about traffic coming up behind me. However, I was doing 40+ and I was wearing my most vivid shirt. Nonetheless, I decided I would turn on the red Turtle light on my helmet and push my speed up a notch assisted by a slight descent of the road. I quickly got my speed above 50 which was reasonably safe as the speed limit in construction zones is 60. There wasn't, in fact, any traffic behind me to get annoyed at my taking the lane, but that didn't mean some couldn't catch up. I pedaled faster until noticed my speed was nearly over the limit. So I slacked off just in time, as fines are doubled in construction zones!

Anyway, I am pumped by today's achievement. The downside is that I now have to figure how not to arrive in Winnipeg too early! ;-)

Addendum, 2013-02-18
After talking with Margo and the Mole on the weekend about this extraordinary day, I was inspired to look up the wind speeds for the day on the Environment Canada website. It gives the average hourly windspeeds in Moose Jaw as over 50 km/h between 1000 and 1600 hours on June 27, 2012. It shows a windspeeds in excess of 50 km/h in Regina between 1000 and 1800 hours on the same date. The wind directions are always close to 270 degrees or due West.

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

On my head, a burrowing owl

The burrowing owl in question was an "ambassador owl" and a member of the team of the Saskatchewan Burrowing Owl Interpretation Centre. I had stopped by there just as a group of school kids were about to be shown around the modest facility which houses about seven burrowing owls and a short eared owl. As it was sunny I donned my Tilley hat.
Burrowing owls are very small, scarcely bigger than a robin but have a defiant stare that makes them oddly cute, as well as appearing larger than they actually are. They are endangered, alas, hence the need for the centre. The staff member showed us the owls in their cages and told us about them and their plight.

 As a finale, we went into a building where the ambassador owl was brought in so we could get a really good look at her. She was a little restless often flying off on the leash attached to the keeper's arm.

The presentation over, the school kids trooped out and the keeper put the owl into her carrier for the short trip back to her enclosure. This involved taking off her leash whilst in her carrier. Being a bit fractious, she bolted out the carrier door and alighted the tallest object in the room which was my head!

Thankfully, I was still wearing my Tilley hat so I didn't suffer her talons. I stayed very still and tried to remain as calm as possible as the keeper returned the bird to its carrier! Alas, I have no photos of that incident.

On what awaited me as I left the movie theatre


I ended my day off in Moose Jaw with a late afternoon showing of Madagascar 3. When I came out, there was a thunderstorm in evidence and a message on my cellphone from Raymond that tornados had been reported in the area. Not terribly surprising as the day has been very hot and muggy. Consequently, I holed up in the lobby of the theatre waiting for things to clear!

Monday, 25 June 2012

On getting to Moose Jaw

Raymond and I agreed to get an early start today with a planned 7 AM departure time to reduce our exposure to the blasted and blasting East wind that has been plaguing us. However, when we arose, there was a storm in evidence so we delayed things by an hour.

By our revised departure time the wind had dropped entirely and we had fast pedaling conditions across a relatively level section of Saskatchewan. As it was such a joy to be free of the wind and that I knew that Moose Jaw was an interesting place, I kept up a fast pace as Raymond drafted behind me: having left Chaplin a little after 8, we pulled up at Mac the giant moose statue outside the tourism office at a few minutes after noon having covered nearly 90 kms with a few stops along the way, and getting buzzed by a training jet out of CFB Moose Jaw.

We checked into a slightly dodgy downtown motel for two nights. I spent the afternoon looking for replacement footwear (ending up with a cheap pair of sneakers) and taking in one of the two Moose Jaw tunnel tours. Moose Jaw has a network of old steam tunnels that were used for various purposes including illegal and/or morally suspect ones. These included hiding and exploiting Chinese immigrants after the railway was built and assorted bootlegging and other vices associated with Al Capone and company. There was a large crowd for the Al Capone themed tour and me for the one on the Chinese experience. I won't go into the details but I came out rather ashamed to be a white Canadian.

When I got back from the tour, I had a discussion with Raymond, a recent Chinese immigrant, about the general topic and other facets of life and history in Canada. He's car mechanic so my liberal arts perspective on life seems to be a novelty to him.

Sunday, 24 June 2012

On making headway

Well, I am farther along the Trans-Canada than I anticipated today. The weather forecast when I got to Herbert, SK, was for more of the same for tomorrow (i.e. strong contrary winds) so I decide to make a bid for the town of Chaplin which had finally revealed the fact that it had a hotel.

Shortly before getting to Herbert, I'd stopped to eat a banana. Unable to eat it and ride at the same time, and unwilling to stop completely, walked the bike as I munched. I was surprised when a passing driver stopped to see if I needed help! These Prairie folks sure are decent.

Shortly before I got to the town of Morse (my original destination) the highway went along side a good sized lake with all kinds of waterfowl in evidence. How I wished I had my bird book on hand. Among the fowl were some Canada geese with goslings that were much bigger than the goslings I had seen in the Cypress Hills. Altitude/climate difference?

About this time, saw a red spot up ahead that came to reveal itself as a fellow cycle-tourer. I was a little hesitant as he was doing his journey to raise money for MS. I believe my readers are aware of my antipathy towards cycling for causes. Anyway, the cyclist was a young (21) guy from Vancouver, born in Hong Kong called Raymond. We chatted as we rode on before coming to a salt lake(!) and Chaplin. We have ended up sharing a room tonight and we will see how we get along tomorrow.
Interestingly enough, he was wondering if there was a technique I was using to get up hills with the relative ease he saw I had. I didn't have anything to offer except that I had more relative weight to throw around. Raymond is a skinny guy of about 110 lbs whereas I was 178 the last time I weighed myself. As our loaded bikes both come in at about 80 lbs, I have an "unfair" advantage. I also have the advantage having been riding road bikes longer than he had been alive as well as nearly seven years of biking touring experience under my belt. This is his first trip. So I think I will stay with him for a bit to guide him.