Sunday, 19 June 2016

On planning for my trip to Scotland and thoughts resulting from it

Well, I have done the bulk of the organising, planning and above all booking for my trip to the North of Scotland. This held a variety of surprises and frustrations. Margo will doubtless think I over prepared out of worry and wimpiness  ;-) and I agree with her to an extent but not so far as actually changing my plans! For one thing, there were a fair number of places I couldn't stay as there was no room at the B&B and the hotels were an arm and a leg. (One of the latter's website seemed to indicate that salmon fishing rights were included in the price! Grandpa might have liked that, but Granny would have shuddered at the price.) The worst bit for this is on the Northern stretch of the West Coast of the mainland between Ullapool and Cape Wrath. I was unable to find suitable accommodation, so instead I will travel inland via Lairg. Actually, this route will be somewhat shorter and definitely flatter. It also uses part of the  National Cycle Network's Route 1 and is also the recommended route in the Lonely Planet's Cycling Britain version of Land's End to John O'Groats (hereafter referred to as "LE JOG").  The Highlands of Scotland is no place to be caught without a dry bed for the night and if it is this hard to find beds now, imagine what it would be like in August.

Where will I be? South Uist, Benbecula, North Uist, Skye, Lewis and Harris, Ullapool, Lairg, Kyle of Tongue, Thurso, the Orkneys and John O'Groats not to mention various points in between. The penultimate destination has been on my wish list for nearly twenty years if I am not mistaken. More precisely, Skara Brae. If my memory is correct, in September 1996, while flying back from a historical research trip to Edinburgh on a British Airways 747, I saw a tourism documentary about Scotland (which I thought would have been better if shown on a flight going to the UK) which mentioned it. The neolithic site sounded fascinating and stuck in my memory as something worth seeing. While I have been to Scotland three times since (two of them documented in this blog), I was never close enough to be able to go. So this time, I have made a point to include Skara Brae (and Orkney) in the itinerary of the present trip.

ScotRail, like all British railway companies in my experience, has a very welcoming bicycle policy by Canadian standards. (Sorry Via Rail, but you could learn a lot from the Brits.) Bicycles can be taken on all trains free of charge, up the space limitations. Obviously, this varies from service to service, and on some services, the company recommends making a bike reservation. This is all very well, except that you can't make a bike reservation online unlike some other train companies. So I have had to make a couple of phone calls to the U.K. in order to book both my self and Leonardo, on various Highland train services. The one that particularly stressed me was from Thurso to Inverness as there are "only" four services a day and given that Thurso is the end of the line for LE JOG cyclists, I was worried that it might be saturated by returning cyclists in the same way that it is hard to find a bike box in St John's, NL in August. In the end, it all worked out and both Leonardo and myself have tickets on the particular train I wanted to be on.

The 1996 trip to Scotland came up a different way this weekend as just before that trip, I had bought an oversized (XXXL) T-Shirt to sleep in. It has been used of and on ever since and probably on three continents. As it's use is seasonal, it has survived. However, I noticed this weekend that it had worn through in some places and given it's age, it is now destined for the rag shelf. Today, I set out on a quest to find a replacement which was oddly difficult. However, having found a replacement, I was returning along the Lachine Canal where I stopped for a mid-afternoon pint at the Terrasse St-Ambroise. As today was a hot, sunny, Sunday, it was packed with people, mostly cyclists, many of the MAMIL subspecies. I was struck by how much this:
 resembled this. Life imitating art.

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

On what people do for fun....in the rain

On the 29th of May, Pappy, Mummy (despite her left arm being in a cast due to colliding with another cyclist going around a 90 degree blind corner), Annie S. and myself went in the Défi Métropolitain which this year took in the Greater Mirabel Area, including Kanesatake and Oka. The forecast had been for hot and muggy weather, so I made sure Mummy had Gatorade in her only waterbottle. Quite frankly it was a dodgy day for weather which began with light rain, followed by heavy rain, followed by gradual clearing and intense sunshine. Net result: Sun burn as I took too long before applying sunscreen. My performance was substandard to me. In fact, nearing the end of the day, I stopped at an intersection to consult my map. An encadreur was directing cyclists as it was a junction point between various routes for various distances. As a surprising number of cyclists in the Défis are relatively clueless, she took it upon herself to inform me that one route was no longer being supervised (though I could use it) whilst the other one, the shorter one was.  I took this as a sign and opted for the shorter route. Net result: 5 hours, 9 minutes and 51 seconds of cycling, 117.01 km covered at an average rate of 22.6 km/h with a maximum speed of 54.6 km/h.

Last Sunday was the Tour de l'Île. As I did last year, I participated as a volunteer mobile bike mechanic, a.k.a. a Bénévélo Méchano. This means I do the regular 50 km Tour de l'Île on closed streets rather than the 60 or 100 km which takes place mostly on regular streets and bike paths. This is very much to my liking as on the years I did the longer Tour de l'Île's I found that it was taking me to places I had already been to which weren't terribly interesting compared to the neighbourhoods the regular version visited. Also, I missed the pleasure of the closed-off streets.

On the other hand, the Parents are less blasé about Montreal bike paths. Also, Mummy has issues with sharing closed-off streets with hordes of cyclists. I wonder if she needs a refresher-type course about how to ride safely. I seem to recall Margo talking about having taking a such a course after she broke her collar bone.

Anyway, I set off early to the start to pick up my T-shirt, spare inner tubes, lunch and those of my friend Jean-Philippe at Parc Lafontaine, before riding to Jean-Philippe's for breakfast in company of Marie-France (his significant other), Chloé (their daughter) and Maxime (Jean-Philippe's nephew).  Chloé was born very prematurely, and while she has had two birthdays (if I have it right), she is still too small to go along on the Tour de l'Île, even in a bike trailer.  Anyway, J.-P., Maxime and I went to the start on Parc Avenue and waited by the side for our start time.

 At the start there were some people dressed as pro-cyclists with only the handlebars of bikes and fake calves and thighs. This inspired me to clown around with my pump as if it were warrior's weapon.
 Our pumps were out as many participants don't have pumps at home and so come to the Tour with under inflated tires. We are only too happy to inflate them at the start partly as it keeps us busy and partly because it means they won't have a problem later. As I was under-employed, I got involved in the clowns' joke and offered to inflate their non-existent tires! One of them accepted and as J.-P. filmed me on his cellphone, he got me to "inflate" his oversized calves

 It started to sprinkle as we started and after turning onto Pine Avenue, we stopped to put on rain jackets. I was surprised by Marie-France carrying Chloé in a backwrap. I guess she and J.-P. had arranged for her to be there.

As I was going down Berri in the left hand lane, a woman wiped out in the right hand lane. I stopped and went across traffic to see if I could help out. As it turned out, a first-aid Bénévélo was already on the scene, so my assistance was mainly to direct traffic away from the accident. After a few minutes, my services were no longer needed. As I rode down, I came across another accident only a few hundred meters further down on the other side of the lane! I attribute the cause of both accidents to potholes and speed generated by the downhills. At the corner of de Maisonneuve, I assisted some pedestrians across Berri, then just beyond, I saw an ambulance crew at work. The person they were assisting wasn't a cyclist. To be honest, he had the look of a bum. However, his neck was in a brace so he might have sustained potential injury being struck by or dodging a cyclist.
The Tour went over the Jacques Cartier Bridge this year. I wasn't impressed by the number of people pushing their bikes up it, nor with the one stopping on the edge of the relatively narrow space. There were better ways of handling the situation. Over the course of the day, I had to ask a number of cyclists who had stopped to find better locations to wait. I really think Vélo-Québec can do a better job of educating cyclists about how to behave.

Longueil was pretty much a disappointment as the route had evidently been chosen to avoid annoying suburban residents rather than giving cyclists nice places to see. The roads were mostly through industrial parks, including the Pratt & Whitney plant where they make such things as PT6 turboprop engines.

Somewhere in there, I was asked by an East Asian couple to adjust her seat as it was clearly too low. While I did the job, it came out that her bike had been bought the day before at Canadian Tire. As I worked, I told them about getting the seat adjusted by an expert when I bought my touring bike. This did not reassure them. I tried to explain the nuances of macro adjustment such as what I was doing, versus micro adjustment by an expert. I don't think they really understood, but I saw them about 20 kms later doing fine, so I think I helped them. While I was working for the Asian lady, a "stationary" volunteer asked if I would tighten the seat on his bike!

The rain was picking up, so at the Longueil Campus of the Unversité de Sherbrooke, I stopped under a building overhang to don full rain gear (pants, spats and gloves). Going back across the bridge, I came across a medical-issue case being attended to motorcycle riding assistance. I don't know if it was a fall or other medical issue that caused the intervention.

Once back on the Island of Montreal, I stopped for chocolate milk. Around that time, it really began to pour. The Tour headed East to the Olympic Stadium where I stopped under its eves to eat lunch. By this time, I was starting to offer "survival" type advice, as in "don't be ashamed to stop or ask for help". While the rain was relatively warm and there wasn't much wind, I was getting a bit concerned for the well-being of the less-well equipped members of the public. In fact, just after lunch, I had a longish discussion with some participants about how much further it was. This was made trickier by the fact that I had left my map at home! Thankfully, I have a pretty good map memory, and was able to tell them that from that point, the route was more or less heading back to the start. I felt this was a good time for people to decide to opt out as we were within bowshot of the Metro.

A few kilometers further on, I stopped to inquire of some inquire of some African-Canadian cyclists if they need help as they were busy examining the tire of their bikes. As it turned out, it was deflated. They were a bit hesitant about asking for help even though I explained more than once that it was my job to help them! The hub skewer was secured with a pentagonal Allen bolt. I wasn't sure if I could take off, but they asked me to just reinflate the tire, which I did.  A few kilomoters further on, I found them again dealing with the same tire issue.  I decided it was time to change the inner tube and managed to unfasten the skewer using a vice grip I had tossed into my backpack at the last minute.  I tried to diplomatically suggest to them that they should ride with a pentagonal Allen key. It then came out that the bike was a rental. I replaced the Schrader valved inner tube (which had been badly installed) with a Presta valved one (as that was what I had). They were very grateful and insisted on taking a picture with me.

Rain began to alternate between deceptive lulls and windy monsoon-type downpours. I was very glad to reach the end so I could head home to a hot bath and some single-malt. I felt I had earned it. As I turned into my street, I saw Pappy putting bikes on the back of the car. He and Mummy had got there a few minutes earlier.
I was a bit surprised they didn't take advantage of my shower before heading off to North Hatley. However, as this meant I could have a bath right away, I didn't argue the point. More fools, they.

Actually, more fools the lot of us as the last two Vélo-Québec events have had less than enjoyable weather. There is a third event on Saturday and the forecast isn't looking great. If it doesn't improve, I am half-tempted to give the Défi de Lanaudière a pass.