Monday, December 8, 2008

Bone-chilling cycling

It was about -20C this morning when I set off and biked to work. Upon arrival at my office, I remembered that one of my winter cycling rules-of-thumb is not to cycle when it's colder than -18C outside. Hmm. Or rather, brrr.

This morning as I headed out the door, I was dressed as follows:
  • pants and windpants (maybe should have worn long underwear instead of regular);
  • cotton socks, cycling shoes, "booties" (nylon shoe-covers);
  • undershirt, long-sleeve button shirt, thin wool sweater, long-sleeve polar fleece, down-filled vest, water-proof breatheable shell (yup, 6 layers);
  • liner gloves, mittens; and
  • face-mask, hat, bike-helmet.
I was on the whole warm enough. My feet were a little cold, but I wasn't wearing winter boots or woolen socks. The only problem were my fingers, and particularly my two thumbs. I wonder what I can do to keep my hands warmer. Pogies seem weird and I'm not sure they'd work on the handlebars of my bike. Maybe I'll have to stick to my "no cycling when it's colder than -18C" rule of thumb. It's just that public transit in Montreal in peak-periods is hideously overcrowded, so for now I'll eschew the BMW option* as much as possible in favour of my bicycle.

* BMW: take the bus and metro to work

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Hiking in the Adirondacks: cross-training?

Last Saturday, I went hiking in the Adirondacks - more precisely, near Keene NY, on the Nun-da-ga-o Ridge from Big Crow Mountain to Weston Mountain - in a group of 10. It was beautiful! I found myself asking why it's taken me 15 years of living in Montreal to try hiking in the 'dacks.

This is a blog about cycling, so what's the connection to hiking? Well, I thought that from all the cycling I do, I would have an easy time when it comes to hiking. What I forgot is that when you move from one sport to another, even if the two sports use "roughly" the same muscle group, there will always be some small muscle that one sport fails to use. In this case, it was the outside part of my calves, which seems to have something to do with supporting the load when stepping down (as opposed to pushing up). I guess that makes sense, because in cycling you're always working at either pressing the pedals away or pulling them up, but not with absorbing your own weight. And I suppose that's why my calves still ache, 3 days later, but only when I go down stairs.

The other little downer was that my big toes were very sore by the end of the day. (My hiking shoes are a little tight there.) When I got home and took off my shoes and socks, I saw that I had two giant blisters, one on each big toe. The swelling has gone down but the blister spots are still a bit tender.

But blisters and aching calves aside, this hike was definitely worth it! I want to do more hikes before too long.

I've posted my photos on my
Picasa pages.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Cyclostravaganza 2008: Distances and stats

7/1/2008White River: VIA station to hotel1.410:06:4024.012.7
7/2/2008White River to Wawa92.3003:55:5547.023.4
7/3/2008Wawa to Agawa Bay91.6204:52:0745.718.8
7/4/2008Agawa Bay to Pancake Bay63.7503:12:1544.919.8
7/5/2008Pancake Bay to Sault Ste. Marie73.2003:21:3843.621.7
7/7/2008Sault Ste. Marie to St. Joseph's Island71.0102:57:1453.124.0
7/9/2008St Joseph's Island to Spragge137.2204:56:1853.527.7
7/10/2008Spragge to Espanola72.6503:13:5142.622.4
7/11/2008Espanola to Tobermory117.7105:02:2248.821.8
7/12/2008Tobermory to Owen Sound122.4306:04:3142.220.1
7/13/2008Owen Sound to outskirts of Shelburne98.8304:21:5260.222.6

Total distance: 942.13km

My average speed was usually between 19 and 22 km/h depending on terrain and wind - and maybe my condition and mindset? Two days were much faster:
(1) Sault Ste. Marie to St. Joseph's Island - D. had picked up my bags in the Sault, so I was riding without those extra 50 lbs of gear.
(2) St Joseph's Island to Spragge - the tailwind that day was nothing less than phenomenal.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Cyclotourist musings: on bugs, blueberries, and biodiversity; and on packing light

On my July 2008 cycling trip, the mosquitos were really quite bad. Mosquitos seem to like to land on my socks to bite through the fabric to my ankles... or on my spandex bike shorts to bite my posterior (sneaky buggers). At one stop, I watched a mosquito land on my spandex and try to bite the sensitive male... er... anterior. "Oh no you don't!" and I shooed it away. This led me to a later musing: biodiversity is important, but would the world really be worse off if we could just get rid of four kinds of flies: mosquitos, horseflies, deerflies, and blackflies? Apparently it might. I was told that blueberries rely on blackflies for pollination. Egads! This may be false, and if it's true then what's with apiarists marketing blueberry honey, but nonetheless, a world without blueberries would be sad indeed.

My luggage for this trip weighed just over 50lbs, including panniers, but not including the bike. Given the number of items I carried, 50 pounds of luggage translates to an average weight of a little more than 100g per item I packed. 100g is the size of a respectable chocolate bar - i.e., not very heavy at all. It's amazing how it all adds up. So the next time I pack, and throw in one more thing thinking "But it weighs nothing!", I will recall the story of the Everest mountaineer who removed the packaging and string-which-makes-it-easy-to-fish-out-of-your-cup from each teabag he packed.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Cyclostravaganza 2008: My packing list

This is my packing list for my 2-week, ~1000km trip.

Some notes about my trip and packing style:
* This was a camping trip, which meant carrying tent, sleeping bag, and more. That took up one large pannier (15L), and a small amount of stuff in other panniers.
* My gear weighed slightly over 50lbs. Many of the long-distance cyclists I saw actually had more baggage than me, often with a "bob" trailer.
* I like to be well-prepared. A more minimalist camper could shave off a lot of items from this list.
* Although I ate most of my meals in restaurants or by food in grocery stores, there were some stretches of my trip with no services for more than 100km, so I had to bring enough food and food-preparation equipment for that. I chose food that only required boiling water.
* These remote stretches also dictated some equipment and safety items I might not have needed in other locations.
* Other than some of the tools, spare parts, and safety/first aid items, there were very few items I did not use.
* Some of my campsites were in locations with bears or other wildlife. I had food and other items that shouldn't go inside the tent. The best option I could figure was to leave them in the dry sacks outside my tent, either on the picnic table or (better) hung from trees when possible.
* Astonishingly and very gratefully, I had no flat tires on this trip.
* One of the few areas where I was almost minimalist was with clothing. I only brought one jersey and one pair of cycling shorts. I hand-wished my laundry almost every night and hung it to dry (sometimes with a bungee cord rigged on my bike). It was usually still damp in the morning, but no problem, it would dry after I put it on during breakfast or while riding. For wet underwear or towels, I clipped them to my backpack or rackpack with the carabiners, and they would dry while riding (as long as it wasn't raining). Wet socks went into a mesh stuff sack, which I could attach as above.

Bike basics
* Bicycle
* Racks
* Fenders
* Cyclometer
* Heart rate monitor
* Rear-view mirror, handlebar mounted
   Bought while travelling
* Water bottles
* Pump
* Helmet
* Reflective tape on bike, helmet
* Lights for night-time riding
* Reflective ankle strips
    (for when occasionally riding at night or in pants)

Bike tools
* Wet ones
    For hand-degreasing
   [link to item description]
* Hand cleaner (de-greaser)
   This stuff is great - but did not use; Wet Ones were enough.
   [link to item description]
* Spoke wrench
* Chain tool
* Patch kit
* Spare tubes, 3
* Tire levers
   For removing/replacing tire in case of flat
* Multi-tool
* Additional allen-keys
   For racks, mirror
* Spare bolts and nuts for racks
* Chain lubricant
* Rags for cleaning chain
* Presta-to-Schraeder valve adapter
* Wrench, ratchet action
   For fenders

* 1 medium pannier (rear), 15L
   [link to item description]
* 1 medium pannier, waterproof (rear), 18L
   Same actual volume as item above
   [link to item description]
* 2 small panniers (front), 21L
   [link to item description]
* rackpack (converts to backpack), 11L
   [link to item description]
* "wedgie" under-seat tool bag
   [link to item description]
* "bento box" (gel box) for camera, cell phone
   [link to item description]
* backpack, 13L
   Backpack made shoulders sore, back sweaty
   [link to item description]
* hydration pack for backpack
   Very convenient; for water only (no sweetened drinks)
* rain-cover for backpack
   [link to item description]
* Map-holder
   Mounts on handlebars

For packing bike
* Electrical tape
* Foam pipe insulation
   Use this to pad frame, derailleurs, pedals, and anything that sticks out. Cut to shape, tape in place.
   [link to item description]
* Pedal wrench
* large duffle bag, 136L
   For transporting bags on trains, buses.
   [link to item description]
* Bike box
   Buy at bus/train station
* Utility knife

Stuff sacks etc.
* 3 (mesh) for sorting clean/dirty clothes
* 2 (mesh) for towels
* 2 (mesh) for cosmetics
   [link to item description]
* 1 (mesh) for first aid items
* 2 dry bags for food, 10L each
   [link to item description]
* many ziploc bags (bring spares), various sizes
* compression dry-sack for sleeping bag
   [link to item description]
* Nylon foldable reusable bags, 2
   For groceries, laundry (not essential - but so small!)

Gear: bike
* Bungee cords
   For securing bags; also as laundry line
* "Turtle" lights, white and red
   For night biking AND for lghting tent
   [link to item description]
* Bike lock and cable
* Spare spokes
* Spare brake pads

Gear: shelter
* Sleeping bag, down-filled
   [link to item description]
* Sleeping bag liner (sheet), silk
   [link to item description]
* Inflatable sleeping pad (plus patch kit)
   [link to item description]
* Pillow, down-filled, small
   [link to item description]
* Pillowcase
   Brought 2, only needed 1
* Tent (plus poles, pegs, storage sacks)
   [link to item description]
* "Gear attic" for tent
* Ground sheet for tent (plastic vapour barrier)
   Buy at hardware store -Tyvek brand if you are fancy
* Seat cushion / trail seat, inflatable
   [link to item description]
* Tent whisk & dust pan
   [link to item description]
* Earplugs
   Campgrounds can be noisy

Gear: cooking
* Camping stove (MSR Pocket Rocket)
   [link to item description]
* Gas for camping stove
   [link to item description]
* Kettle (GSI)
   [link to item description]
* Pot gripper/lifter/handle
   [link to item description]
* Mug, lightweight
   [link to item description]
* Bowl, stainless steel - for eating or cooking (MSR)
   [link to item description]
* Plastic cutlery
* Waterproof matches
* Coffee filters, 1-cup (Coghlan's)
   [link to item description]
* Sponge for washing dishes
* Dish detergent (very small container)
* 2 small dishcloths (for padding metal items)

Gear: laundry
* Small scrub brush (also good for cleaning nails, etc.)
   For scrubbing stains
   [link to item description]
* Flat sink stopper
   [link to item description]
* Nylon rope (fine) for laundry-line
* Stretchy laundry line
   [link to item description]
* Clothespins: 12 standard, 12 tiny
* Laundry detergent, liquid (e.g., Zero)

Gear: misc
* Headlamp
   For campsite at night. Handsfree!
   [link to item description]
* 2 carabiners (for strapping and hanging things)
   [link to item description]
* Leatherman knife
* Plastic grocery bags
   For garbage at campsite.
* Plastic bag, heavy-weight, large
   Can be used for doing campsite laundry if sink unavailable
* Plastic tie-wraps
   For securing loose things (did not use)
* Combination lock
   For swimpool locker-rooms; for locking bike with cable when bike lock doesn't fit

* Digital camera plus charger and cables
* Cell phone plus charger
   Doubles as alarm clock
* iPod, headphones, cables
   For bus/train rides; also doubles as address book

Clothing: cyclist
* Shorts (cuissard)
* Jersey, short-sleeved
* Arm warmers
   [link to item description]
* Leg warmers
   [link to item description]
* Wind vest
   [link to item description]
* Wind jacket
   [link to item description]
* Bike gloves, 2 pairs
   1 pair would have been enough
* Socks, bike-style, 4 pairs
   more would have been better

Clothing: non-cyclist
* Swimsuit + goggles
   For swimming
* Silk long underwear, 1 pair
   For sleeping or camp-lounging, when cool.
   [link to item description]
* Boxer shorts (for sleeping), 1 pair
* Pants, lightweight, fast-drying, 1 pair
   [link to item description]
* Bandanas, x3
   2 would have been enough, but 3 better.
* Sun hat for when not biking
   Could have done without
* Small toque (knit cap) for chilly evenings
* Socks: cotton style, 1 pair
   Not necessary, but nice for rest days
* Socks: woolen, 2 pairs
   1 pair enough. At campsite, mosquitos can't sting through wool.
* Underwear, 3 pairs
   2 pairs would have been enough
* t-shirt, cotton, for sleeping, x1
* t-shirt, synthetic, x1
   for daytime when not cycling
* tank tops, synthetic, x3
   both for not cycling and for layering with jersey when cold
* snap/button shirt, short-sleeve, synthetic, x1
   for daytime when not cycling
* long-sleeve zippered fleece, thin, x1
* light-weight fast-drying shorts (nylon), x1
* Flip-flops for showers, campsite

Toiletries etc.
* Soap
* Razor plus spare blades
* Shampoo
* Deodorant
* Nail clipper
* Sunscreen
* Insect repellent
* Contact lenses (plus spares)
* Contact lens solution + eyedrops
* Sunglasses
* Moisturiser
* Essential oil of lavender
   For making washed clothes (and me) smell better
* Toothbrush, toothpaste
* Dental floss
* Small synthetic towel (for after shower)
   [link to item description]
* Small face-towel
* 1 travel-size pkg kleenex
   Pick up napkins from restaurants en route
* Anti-histamines
   Also reduces reaction to insect bites
* Analgesics, anti-inflammatories
   Do not use while cycling ("listen" to pain)
* Calamime lotion
   In case of poison ivy, etc.
* Q-tips
* Waterless hand sanitiser (e.g., Purell)
* Vitamin C
* Anti-fungal cream
   Was recovering from athlete's foot from last trip
* Bag balm (small container)
   For saddle sores
   [link to item description]

First aid
* Small bottle iodine
   For disinfecting wounds OR drinking water
* Various sized bandages (band-aids)
* Tape for dressings
   For larger wounds
* Non-adherent dressings (such as Kendall Telfa)
   [link to item description]
* Gauze pads
* Gauze roll
* Triangular bandage
* Scissors
* Compression bandage
* Sam splint
   [link to item description]
* Antibiotic ointment (polysporin)
* Latex gloves
   Also useful for handling greasy bike stuff
* Emergency blanket (aluminized)
   [link to item description]

* Book
   For bus/train rides.
* Address book
   Hard copy of essential contacts and bike shop info.
* Maps, guides
   Heavy - discard or mail home when no longer needed
* Pens, sharpies, highlighter
* Small notebook
   For recording memories
* Emergency contact info
   Store in ziploc bags. Keep several: on bike, in bags

* Ground coffee, 400g
* Canned milk
* Instant hot chocolate
* Instant oatmeal (just add boiling water)
* Nuts and raisins (for oatmeal)
* Ramen noodles
   Discard seasoning; add Thai tuna and peanut butter
* Canned tuna, Thai flavour
* Peanut butter, individual containers
   Liberate these from restaurants
* Energy bars
* Dried fruit bars
* Cheese
   Baby-bel (wax-wrapped) keeps well
* Canned fruit or ready-made jello
   Individual portions, easy to open
* Salt, pepper, sugar; individual packages
   Liberate these from restaurants
* Scones, butter tarts, muffins, etc.

Should have brought
* Spare tire
   Was biking in remote locations
* Can opener
   Could only buy canned foods that didn't need an opener.
* Rear-view mirror, helmet-mounted
   Limited view from handlebar-mounted mirror
* Something else instead of backpack
* Better pump
   Hard to get enough pressure with mine.
* Tweezers
   In case of ticks, splinters.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Cyclostravaganza 2008: Shelburne to Toronto (to Gananoque) to Montreal

Short version: I decided to take the train home (as a passenger) to Montreal; my train decided to take a crash. Fortunately there were no fatalities, there were a few injuries but they seemed non-life-threatening, I was unharmed, and my bike was undamaged. My cycling trip thus concluded with a certain amount of drama.

Longer version:

I enjoyed a lovely rest day with A and S (and Z) just outside Shelburne. They quite spoiled me with food, drink, attention, and the like. I even managed to convince them to give me a tour of their garden.

At this point, I was ahead of schedule: I had had a fantastic tailwind one day the previous week; cold rain made me cut the next day short, but I was still ahead; and I forewent two rest/play days on Manitoulin Island and at Tobermory National Park. So I was debating whether to extend my trip a bit, and cycle from Toronto to Kingston. Partly I was having a hard time choosing what roads to take, partly I thought it would be nice to get home to Montreal and have a few days there before going back to work, but mostly I had been feeling tired and headachey all day long. So rather than court illness, I decided to take the train back to Montreal on Tuesday.

A few years ago, I'd cycled from Shelburne to Toronto, and felt no especial need to repeat that. My uncle A very kindly offered to drive me from Shelburne to Brampton/Bramalea where, outside of peak hours, I would be allowed to take my train aboard the GO Train (commuter train). Things seemed to work out very well for me: bikes are allowed on GO trains only if they arrive in Union Station after 9:30; there was a GO train that would arrive at 9:36; that would leave me plenty of time to pack my bike up in Union Station and catch the 11:35 VIA train to Toronto; in the worst-case scenario, if I missed the first GO train, there was another train an hour later which would still leave me enough time to catch my VIA train. So that is how I planned things.

On Monday evening, I booked my VIA ticket online. Because it was a last-minute booking, the economy-fare ticket wasn't that cheap. It was only a few dollars extra to travel first-class, plus there would be a fancy-shmancy lunch. So I went for that!

On Tuesday morning, I learned something that could have changed everything. My aunt had been serving me decaff! That's why I'd been feeling tired and headachey. Maybe I was fit enough to continue the bike adventure (or would have been fit enough, with adequate caffeination). Oh well, the die was cast, as I had already bought my train ticket.

Other than the decaff, everything else went smoothly Tuesday. A and I left on time; we had a nice ride from Shelburne, through rolling farmland, over the escarpment, and then into the GTA. We got to the GO station, I bought my ticket, and A helped me lug my bike and luggage to the platform. Carrying 50lbs of luggage is one thing when it's in 4 panniers and a rackpack, mounted to the bike; but you can't check that many separate bags onto the train, so I had a very large duffel bag to hold them all; carrying one 54-pound bag plus trying to move a bike is not fun; so I was very grateful to have a hand with this. Getting from the parking lot to the platform involved an underground crossing of the track; again it was time to be grateful, as there was an elevator to take us down, then a very clean tunnel, and another elevator to take us up. Three cheers for accessible infrastructure. Once I got to the platform, A bid me adieu.

Taking my bike on the GO train was pretty straightforward. Some of the train cars had no-bike pictograms by the doors, but soon I found a car with a door that didn't expressly forbid bikes. (Everything that is not forbidden is compulsory, right?) I hoisted my bike up the steps, muscled in my duffel bag, and that was it. There wasn't a special bike rack, just a designated area by the door where bikes were permitted. I sat down, held my bike to keep it from falling, and off we went to Union Station.

More elevators in Union Station made it easy for me to get from the GO train's platform into the station, thence to the VIA baggage check-in. A had removed my pedals the night before for me, and the rest of the bike-packing was easy: remove and turn the handlebars, remove the seat, and put it into the box. Voila, that's it. To make things better, VIA only charged me $21.00 with tax for the bike transportation, and that included the bike box. (By contrast. Greyhound had charged me about $70.00 to ship my bike from Montreal to Sudbury, plus their box cost extra.) I had to remove a few items from the giant duffel bag because my 54-pound bag was 4 pounds too heavy, so I just plucked out one pannier and checked it as a second bag. Ah, everything with VIA was so easy!

I had plenty of time before my departure, and I was in need of caffeine. Since my ticket was in first class - a treat I had never indulged in before - I was able to use VIA's Panorama Lounge. Free coffee, free beverages, free newspapers, comfy chairs! (I had been hoping for free snacks and a computer with free internet access, but I guess you can't have it all.)

Unlike the GO concourse, the VIA concourse involved taking escalators. I didn't mind because my bike and most of my luggage were checked in.

When I looked at my watch, it seemed like we left Union Station a few minutes early. Perhaps that was why before we had even left the Toronto yards, the train reversed back into the station to pick up a few passengers who had missed the train. One of the VIA crew members seemed annoyed because this apparently meant the train would be at least 10 minutes late arriving.

First-class was very nice, I must admit, with complimentary beverages (alcoholic and non-alcoholic), snacks, and a very nice hot meal for lunch. I declined the seafood choice due to my allergies, and was having a hard time between the spicy Asian chicken option and the mushroom-beef option; I chose the latter since I so rarely eat beef at home. Dessert was a white chocolate mousse of sorts with cranberries. The red wine was pleasant but a bit sweet and plonky. Drinking the wine and the coffee was a bit of a challenge; about half of the coffee splashed out of the cup due to the lateral movements (which we could politely call "rocking") of the train. Fortunately the food and drinks were served on a tray with a placemat of sorts to catch the spills. The crew came by frequently to refill beverages to keep ahead of the splashing. Ahh, life in first class is good.

But you were wondering about the train crash, weren't you?

We were passing through Mallorytown (east of Kingston) when there was a jolt. Instinctively I braced myself against the seat in front of me. The train slowed down. I looked out my window and saw a huge dust cloud. That's when I realised that the jolt was from hitting something, and the dust was from dragging something or maybe from having derailed. The conductor announced that we were in an accident. It took some time to figure everything out, but we'd hit a truck.

It seems that the truck's trailer (possibly a low-clearance trailer) had become stuck on the train tracks. The tracks in Mallorytown are apparently higher than the road. The truck driver had enlisted another vehicle to help pull it off, without success. When they saw the train coming, apparently they loosened the chains (from the towing vehicle to the stuck vehicle), and tried to signal to the oncoming train. The train could not stop in time. Fortunately the truck-folk were not in their vehicles. It was also fortunate that they had undone the chains between the two trucks, or else we might have dragged along two trucks intead of just the one.

It could have been quite bad, but I guess we were fortunate. One of the engineers injured his foot and ankle, and some people were taken to the hospital from having been bumped around, but nothing seemed life-threatening (as far as I knew). I was completely unhurt; my car was at the very rear of the train so I was barely jolted. The baggage car derailed, and perhaps the engine car at the very front, but all of the passenger cars stayed on the tracks. Paramedics came to take those who needed or wanted to go to hospital; they entered via the train, but removed passengers to the side, and transported them on an ATV to the ambulances that must have been nearby.

The derailed baggage car near the front of the train precluded us moving forward. There was another VIA train that had stopped behind us; although we were on a double-track section of rail, the derailed baggage car blocked both rails, so it too was stuck. After a rather long wait, that train was first able to connect to ours to provide some electricity beyond our own train's emergency power (providing some intermittent and very welcome air conditioning while we were waiting to get going going), and then later, it towed our train's passenger cars to safety.

It remains that the baggage car derailed, so I was pretty worried about whether my bike had been damaged in the toss-about. I was very relieved when I claimed my bike the next day at Montreal Central Station and found out it was undamaged.

The worst thing for me really was the inconvenience - instead of arriving at 5:17pm, we were still waiting on the tracks at that time. Eventually that other train pulled us back to the previous station (Gananoque), where buses took us on to our final destinations, and I got into Montreal around 10:45pm.

I did feel bad for the couple from the UK on our train. They had flown to Toronto for their honeymoon the day before, and were just recovering from jetlag en route to Montreal. How about a train crash to welcome you to a new country?

(I think there is some irony in the fact that while some of my family members were worried about me, and while I had some unpleasant moments while cycling on the roads, the accident that I was involved in on this trip actually had nothing to do with cycling.)

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Cyclostravaganza 2008: Owen Sound to Shelburne

I cycled from Owen Sound to Shelburne. I met 3 cyclists on the road who were biking coast to coast to raise money for Alzheimer's - but they weren't carrying their bags, so I couldn't quite keep up with them.

It was another windy day, with a cross-wind to try to blow me into the traffic. In Flesherton (or thereabouts), I caught up with the Alzheimer cyclists, who had stopped to shake hands and kiss babies. (Well, there weren't actually babies...) There I met a kind local cyclist who suggested a side-road I could take from Dundalk to Shelburne. That made all the difference to my day. On highway 6, I had had to spend most of my attention on the poor quality of the shoulder and on the motorists speeding home from their cottages who really didn't want to be where they were at that moment and just wanted to get elsewhere fast... and the poor shoulder quality and proximity to traffic meant I couldn't really cycle that fast myself. The sideroad, however, was so nice and quiet, the road was actually better, and somehow the wind turned into a mostly-tailwind. It was smooth sailing as I roared past a fantastic windmill-farm (new to me, hadn't seen that when I was last in these parts) and into the town of Shelburne.

The reason for cycling to Shelburne was to visit my uncle and aunt A. & S. who live just outside the town. For supper, mean old A. & S. force-fed me wine, roast chicken, squash, potatoes, special broccoli, condiments galore (chutneys and hot sauces and relishes), strawberries with cream, rhubarb crisp, and brownies with pecans. The 5000-calorie life is really tough, eh? S.'s grandson Z. was also visiting (but not S.'s other boys). It was fun to see Z. - it had been a very long time.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Cyclostravaganza 2008: Tobermory to Owen Sound

I cycled from Tobermory to Owen Sound. The traffic on highway 6 was very unpleasant, so I took a sideroad as soon as I could. This had the bonus of taking me along the coast instead of inland, so I had better views. I also had several climbs... including one descent past a freshly-killed skunk. (What would smell worse, a freshly-killed skunk or a not-so-freshly-skilled skunk?) If you were to ask, "Why did the animal (hare, skunk, raccoon, snake, turtle...) cross the road in southern Ontario?", sadly, the answer would have to be, "To get run over."

It was a 4H kind of day: hot, humid, hilly, headwind. One of my calorie-boosting treats was in Wiarton, when I needed sugar, something cold, and something caffeinated, so I had a double espresso over vanilla ice cream. Yummy! All said, I was exhausted by the time I got to Owen Sound (and frustrated with myself for missing a turn for the regular route, and thereby adding an extra 10km or so of detour). I camped at the campground of Owen Sound's municipal park. It's located in a beautiful ravine setting. The sites were a bit crowded and the facilities could use a bit more attention, but on the whole it was nice enough - and they gave me a special cyclists'/backpacker's rate. Wahoo again!

Friday, July 11, 2008

Cyclostravaganza 2008 - Espanola to Tobermory

After Espanola, I travelled south on Highway 6. This stretch, from Espanola to Little Current, was one of the most beautiful parts of my trip. I think it's called the La Cloche mountains. The road takes you through all sorts of different geologies, including a marble mountain. I picked up a chunk from the edge of the road (white with pink) as a souvenir.

I had been planning on spending a rest day on Manitoulin Island to go hiking, but the nice hikes seemed far from campgrounds - plus it was a sunny day and the weather forecast was dicey, and I thought it was best to make hay while the sun shone, so on I pressed on Highway 6 through Manitoulin Island. It was pretty enough but not remarkable. Perhaps if I'd turned off the main road there might have been nicer stretches.

I took the Chi Cheemaun ferry from South Baymouth to Tobermory. It's about 1.5-1.75 hours across, and you are never out of sight of some island or another. A very sizable number of the crew were Newfoundlanders or Cape Bretoners - surprise!

I was hoping to camp in the national park on Friday evening, but when I arrived that evening, there were no spots left, so I camped in a private campground in Tobermory instead. Private campgrounds are generally cheaper but often less scenic.

I had scheduled a day in Tobermory to explore the park but I wasn't sure what exactly to do, and again wanted to press ahead while it was clear. Wahoo: between the tailwind day on highway 17, and the two foregone rest days (Manitoulin and Tobermory) I was now well ahead of schedule.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Cyclostravaganza 2008 - Summary, St. Joseph's Island to Espanola

On July 9, it was time to leave the comfort of D's cottage on St. Joseph's Island. I'm not very good with getting away early. By the time we had breakfast and had tea with a friend of D's who was passing through, by the time I packed up, by the time I became un-lost from my wrong turn, and after stopping at the local bakery for supplemental carbs (you can never get enough when cycling - even though D very kindly packed me some fantastic muffins)... well, it was almost 1pm by the time I got from D's place in the island back to the main road (highway 17). Once there, I was treated to the most amazing tailwind. Instead of struggling for a cruising speed of 25km/h and an average of ~20km/h, I was sailing along at 35km/h - which pleased me greatly, given the 50+ pounds of gear I was lugging. Wheeeeeeeeeee!

On the road I met several cyclists. Two were French Canadians who, after a bit of conversation, recognised me from the log entry I'd left in the guestbook back at Vélorution in the Sault. Wow, that was neat. They were slower than me, so I pushed on and met three cyclists - one Aussie living in Victoria, two Britons - and we soared along in the wind. I felt I needed a campground (shower, laundry, etc.) so I bid them adieu while they carried on to enjoy the wind a little longer and later search out a field or such. It would have been nice to ride longer, but I can't complain as I got in 137km with a heavy load and having left after noon. I camped at the KOA in Spragge on the Serpent River - nice enough but nothing remarkable, and there was a fair bit of noise from the road. My site was near the CPR line, and when a train passed early in the morning, it felt like an earthquake.

On July 10 (today), I came to the conclusion that it is a lovely thing to move slowly in the morning. So what if it takes me almost 4 hours to have breakfast, clean up, pack up, and go? As long as the weather cooperates, it's so nice to savour the breeze and delight in the birdsong.

The morning brought a long stretch of construction, riding over very rough roads. Ugh. The rest of the day held a lot of traffic. Double ugh. I'm very glad for the rearview mirror I bought in the Sault. I pull off the road a lot just to be sure. Cars and trucks are very good about giving me room, but sometimes (i.e., traffic in the other lane) there isn't room for them to move very far. Even though there is usually still enough room, well, better safe than sorry.

I stopped for a midday break in Massey, Ontario, and did some minor groceries: canned milk (for breakfast another morning - canned milk is not my favourite, but hey, no refrigeration needed!), a slice of strawberry-rhubarb pie (mmm, bring on the calories - you can't get enough when cycling), and almost a pound of organic dark cherries. Yummy. As I was snacking leisurely, I felt guilty about stopping for so long, until I realised: hey! I'm on vacation! I have no one else to please but myself, so why not enjoy the moment?

My original goal for today had been Massey (see google map) but yesterday's tailwind put me ahead of schedule. Late afternoon rainfall, however, cut me off, so I stopped in Espanola (see google map) for the night. The cold rain was making me desperate for shelter. Gentle reader, I can advise you not to stay at the cheap motel next to the Greyhound bus station... though hopefully you didn't need my reminder.

An early start tomorrow should take me on to Manitoulin Island. Fortunately the weather looks good!

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Cyclostravaganza 2008 - Summary, White River to St. Joseph's Island

Hello from St. Joseph's Island, Ontario!

My cycling trip has been going quite well. This is a summary of my trip to date. At a later date, daily blogs and photos may be added if I have time... or not!!

Lake Superior is a superior lake indeed. Is it heresy for a Nova Scotian to think it might just be better than the ocean? No jellyfish, no seaweed, no bad smells, crystal-clear water, an abundance of sandy beaches, waves (although not as big as on the ocean), water you could drink while swimming... it's just been a wonderful discovery.

The coast of Lake Superior, from Wawa to Sault-Ste-Marie, was very hilly. There were lots of hills (up to 511m) and although the climbs were not overly steep (the steepest marked grade I've seen was 7%), they were long. On the slow climbs, I sometimes reassure myself by considering that the sum of my weight, my bike's weight, and my luggage's weight is about 275 lbs, and that it is therefore okay if my own pedal-power isn't all that fast.

Much of the ride was inland but the portions by the lake (Wawa, Old Woman Bay, Agawa Bay, Alona Bay, Katherine Cove, Pancake Bay, Michicopoten Bay...) were stunning. In Wawa I stayed with a friend at his parent's house on Lake Superior (magnificent!), then I camped at Agawa Bay (beautiful) and Pancake Bay (wonderful but not quite as nice as Agawa Bay).

I took three days to ride from Wawa to the Sault. I felt a little under-achieving when I later met cyclists who covered this stretch in one day. I'm still in awe of them, but I have to remind themselves that while I was just at the start of my cycling trip, they'd been on the road for about 6 weeks or so, having started their journeys in Vancouver or Victoria. Their warm-up was with the coastal mountains and the Rockies.

In Pancake Bay I saw a brochure for a bike shop in the Sault called Vélorution, which offered mountain biking trails and free camping to cyclists, so that's where I stayed in the Sault. I was initially a little suspicious (would this just be a place for teenage mountain bikers to run away from their parents, and be loud and drink beer?) but instead it turned out to be a wonderful place. The owner is a bike-loving physiotherapist who opened this shop about 3 years ago. He added a separate entry to the bathroom with a shower, and a small campground at the rear. This was actually where I met those trans-Canada cyclists. On the road, you don't always see them; in bigger campgrounds, you get mixed in with all the other campers; so it was really wonderful to have this small community of cyclists where we could swap stories and share tips and advice.

On Sunday, I took a rest day for the Agawa Canyon tour train. It's about four hours north of the Sault (that is, four hours on a slow train) through scenery that is by turns okay and by turns spectacular. The canyon itself is fantastic with its steep walls and river valley. I had some lovely hikes on the canyon's very well maintained trails. The train ride back was a bit long, but hey, it was a chance to read, snooze, and write in my notebook/journal.

In the Sault I bought a rear-view mirror for my bike. I wish I had this earlier! I must say that on the whole, drivers (and especially transport-truck drivers) have been very good about giving me a wide berth, but all the same, it's so much more reassuring when you can see what sort of (and how many) vehicles are about to pass you.

On Monday I once again had some great luck. My friend D. and his Mom had to come into the Sault to do some groceries, so we met up, and D, took my bags with him in his car. It's amazing how much faster you can cycle without 52 lbs of gear! I then cycled out to St. Joseph's Island, where I am visiting with him for another rest day.

Goodness, a family email like this should contain some food matters. I have mostly been eating in restaurants (as carrying food is heavy). When I look at the super-sized portions, I think about how crazy this is for the average person... but how great it's been for me. Cycling burns a lot of calories. Through Lake Superior Provincial Park, there are long stretches with no services, so I had to do some cooking. My main course one evening consisted of two packages of ramen noodles, 1/2 of one package of seasoning (spicy chicken), and one tin of herring fillets in hot sauce. It was actually not that bad, though next time I'll use Thai-flavoured spicy tuna and add some peanut butter to make the broth into peanut sauce. Man does not live on ramen alone, so fortunately I also had cheese, crackers, fruit, and hot chocolate.

Tomorrow, the journey onward continues. Wish me good weather! The stretch from here to Espanola should be okay, but I'm more looking forward to Manitoulin Island and the Bruce Peninsula... and then rest days and visits with A. & S. It will be great to see them.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Cyclostravaganza 2008: White River ON to Toronto ON

Tonight I set out on my next big cycling trip. I am taking this easy, so I aim to complete the approximately 1000km in just under 3 weeks. I will have lots of rest days, plus visits with friends and family along the way.

First I take the bus from Montreal to Sudbury. Some of their tourism copy says, "Whether you're seeking solitude, a little romance, or perhaps some quality time with the kids, Sudbury offers adventure that is within eveyone's reach. In a few hours, you'll see - Outdoor Adventure is in our Nature!" ...and what copy that is! I never equated Sudbury and romance before, but I guess I just haven't lived yet; I do have "a few hours" on my stopover - I wonder if that's enough - but I guess if the romance part doesn't work out, I can enjoy Sudbury's solitude.

From Sudbury I take the train to White River, Ontario, and after an overnight stay, there begins my cycling adventure. I ride down to Wawa, where I will stay with a friend from a Montreal choir. Next stops are Lake Superior Provincial Park and Pancake Bay Provincial Park, en route to Sault-Ste-Marie. I've heard that this stretch, along Lake Superior, is very hilly but also very beautiful, so I'm quite looking forward to this.

From Sault-Ste-Marie, I'll take a day-trip on the Agawa Canyon train. This is supposed to be one of the nicest train rides in Canada, and it will be a rest-day for my legs.

Next, a short ride to St. Joseph Island to visit another friend at his cottage. I'll have another slack day visting him before cycling east along Lake Huron, then south through Manitoulin Island. After the ferry to Tobermory comes exploration of the Bruce Peninsula, then a visit with family before continuing on to Toronto, from where I'll take the bus or train back to Montreal.

Here is a map of roughly what I plan to do. Follow this link for a larger map, showing many of my planned stops.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

CCCP: My new cycling club

Today I went riding with my new cycling club. They are associated with a local bike shop, called Cycle Pop and so the club is called Club Cycliste Cycle Pop, or for short, CCCP. As you can see from the club's website, the logo features a wrench and cog, styled in the manner of a hammer and sickle, and the team colours are red and white.

That brings me to one of my concerns: the club attire (mandatory shorts and jersey) are red and white. I thought everyone knew that bike shorts must never be red or white, as the following picture (not from my club) certainly illustrates:

Oh well!

It was so nice to get out for a ride. I've been cycling my city bike all winter long, but yesterday was the first time out for a real ride on my better bike.

The group headed to the Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve (racetrack) and divided into four groups, with various target speeds. I thought I wouldn't let my hubris take the best of me, as I haven't done much training this winter, so I didn't place myself into the fast group right away... but my group was too easy for me, so I moved up. Hooray for ego-boosters!

Unfortunately there were two accidents in our ride. (My friends assured me that last year they only had one accident in the whole season.) The first time, someone at the front of the pack decided to change directions (turn or go straight) at the last minute, without adequate lead-time or signalling, and the person following didn't have time to react. Ouch! Fortunately she wasn't hurt beyond some scrapes. The second accident was one of the strangest accidents I've seen. He pulled out of the peloton for a minute, and suddenly just flipped over! Either his rear derailleur or his chain seized up for some weird reason. His chain broke and his derailleur will need serious work, but fortunately he too was uninjured. Let's hope future rides are uneventful!

After the ride, Syvlain, Patrice, Steve, Bruno, and I went to brunch just off St-Laurent, and then to a beautiful chocolate shop on St-Denis for hot chocolate. Life is good!