Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Happy (nearly) New Year

2009 is nearly here and I'm in Nelson with Paul, Suzanne, Krista, Kala, Jasmin, Claire, Meaghan, Dave, and Geraldine... playing in the snow and enjoying the quaint and quirky delights of the place.

Paul and I drove over on Boxing Day and got a shot ski tour in on Hummingbird Ridge before the others arrived. The snow was cold and light, but resting on top of not a lot... making skiing a little treacherous. We ran into some locals out there and got to share the trail breaking.

Once the whole gang were together we skied a day at the Whitewater ski area just outside town, then yesterday headed up onto Kootenay Pass and toured into the Ripple Ridge cabin. It was a great little place and gave us a spot to practice beacon searches and make cups of tea. We hiked up onto the ridge and skied back down through the forest. Breaking trail through the deep and increasingly heavy snow was tough going, but it's rewarding to look back and see everyone skiing up the foot deep trench you plowed up the hill. We finished of the night with a game of "Poopy Cat"... a Japanese game which seems to have an unfortunate translation in English. You have to draw pictures, pass them on and then the next person writes what they think is going on... then the next person sees that description and draws another picture, and so on. "A fox in the popcorn breaks hearts". Apparently.

Today we had a slow start and plentiful faff then got ourselves to the non-massive town of Salmo to ski on their tiny ski hill. I love these places, really cheap, really friendly, great snow... and loads of fun. Paul had his camera out and caught me off the ground.

The snow is still falling and 2009 is only a day way. Have a great time, whatever you do, and wherever you're doing it!

New Year's eve update... Paul and I had a bit of an epic day of sking, which he's put great photos of here.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Merry Christmas Everyone

Well, here it is. Merry Christmas. Throw your yule log on the fire, tinsel your tree, and nail your sock to the wall.

It's festively snowy here in Vancouver and I'm preparing for a marathon of eating and general yule-tide cheer. I'll raise a glass of something to you all... though it won't have any alcohol in it for me at the moment. Bah humbug. Marc, Nikki, and Mathilda are coming to stay and ski, we have Polish Christmas at Jacek and Gail's place tomorrow, skiing on the North Shore on Christmas day, and Irish Christmas at Dave and Geraldine's afterwards. Then a bunch of us are off to Nelson to ski, eat, play scrabble, and welcome the new year. We're going to meet up with TransRockies Chris (of Winthrop fame) too... so it'll be like a family gathering of unrelated people... or something.

To all of you in the UK, Peru, and anywhere else, who I won't see this year... Happy Christmas! Have a great time, and eat that one extra sprout for me.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

White Christmas?

A load of us are off to Nelson for New Year, thinking we would escape the grey rain of Vancouver and see some real winter weather... however Vancouver is providing it's own real winter this year. Normally the North Shore gets a lot of snow, but it's often of the sloppy "schmoo" kind. But... after over a week of weather consistently below freezing it's still very crisp indeed out there. In fact, there's a lot of snow falling past my window right now down here at sea level. We've also had blue skies and sunshine, which has been great. 

On a cold clear Saturday afternoon, lots of Vancouverites head for the mountains... so did we. After a monumental faff involving boots being taken home by the wrong person, forgotten, left, presumed lost, searched for, and eventually found... Suzanne, Krista and I headed up Mt Seymour in pursuit of Jacek, Paul, and Angie. There were lots of other people up there to choose from.

Vancouver dwellers invade Mt Seymour.

On a collection of slightly dubious borrwed gear, Krista is picking up telemark skiing at a frightening rate. I think we might have a new member of the backcountry skiing collective. 

Krista getting to grips with backcountry skiing.

Krista and Suzanne on the first summit.

The usual suspects have photos too: Suzanne, Jacek, and Paul

Friday, December 19, 2008

Dawn Patrol

It's been a good week for doing stuff. Starting off with a very cold and crunchy frozen nightride at SFU on Tuesday... ice crystals floating in the air and glinting off my headlamp. This time I didn't have any run-ins with the Burnaby wildlife on the trail home. I'm sure they were wolves stalking me last time, or possibly lions. 

Then the snow came... cold and fluffy, not the usual ice-cream that we get on the North Shore. A big gang of us went up to Cypress to night ski on Wednesday and I rode my first ski lift of the season. I think I prefer the human-powered approach these days, but it was a fun night ending with cheese and broccoli soup. YUM.

Yesterday Angie and I ran up the valley from Lynn Headwaters in more cold, light snow. It was beautiful... pillows of snow on all the rocks in the river and hanging in the trees. The best part was my feet didn't get wet until the snow thawed in the cafe at the end! Of course I forgot my camera... so you'll just have to believe me that the forest looks very pretty with it's winter coat on. Then I finally got to try out my new climbing shoes at the indoor gym with Paul in the evening. So comfortable. I might actually be able to wear these for longer than 15 minutes when the summer comes back and we climb real rocks again.

Then this morning Paul and I climbed up for a dawn raid on Mt Seymour before work. This time I remembered my camera. 

Blue skies and cold, light snow on the North Shore. Wow.

Paul takes up wildlife photography.

The wildlife in question.

Paul skiing back to Vancouver (with his heels reluctantly fixed down).

Of course Paul took some (rather good) photos too, which have me in them. There are more words and pictures on Paul's blog here.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Very, very, cold.

This weekend I finally got out into the snow on skis. The snow has been slow in coming and is still very thin compared to this time last year but a big storm last Friday improved things enough to coax us out. Paul, Angie, Dan, Meeko, Suzanne, and I headed up north of Pemberton in search of snow, driving into -25 degree temperatures. That's very cold for the coast!

We skied into a really fantastic cabin and found we had the place to ourselves. We fired up the log burning stove and went of a quick ski up on the other side of the valley. Paul found every rock on the slope, but he was on borrowed skis... so that's ok. The snow was patchy, but we got glimpses of good skiing in the deep patches and I found I could still ski after all these months off. We spent the evening eating, drinking hot chocolate, playing Trivial Pursuit, and enjoying the 45 degree temperature difference between the inside and outside of the cabin.

Very cold indeed (outside)

After a great night's sleep, we headed out for a quick ski behind the cabin and found some deeper snow. In between the rocks and trees there was some good skiing to be found, and great views.

Me, dodging invisible rocks

It was so cold my camera wouldn't wake up, Suzanne had to warm hers in her armpit and Paul's developed strange ideas about exposure times... but we still got some photos. Suzanne has pictures here. Paul's photos are here. More snow is forecast for this week and the cold is set to continue. Winter is here!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

In appreciation of the North Shore

It's been an overwhelming week all in all... but at the end of every week comes the weekend. This weekend I felt a lot of fondness for the North Shore mountains being right there for me to go and play on. The weather was really very "Vancouver" (wet) but that didn't stop Suzanne, Kala, Krista, Luisa and I riding up Fromme to do a wet and slippery run down the Seventh Secret and Pipeline trails. There's no snow at all up there, which is very different to this time last year and a little upsetting for skiing... but it will come. All in all it was a great, muddy, wet, and cold winter ride. Just the way it should be! We finished off the ride with a (rather late) Hippy Breakfast in Tommy's Cafe. YUM.

After a day in the rain, what could be better than making jelly and cake? To be honest, I have no idea what might be better... but jelly and cake were pretty good. Krista's housewarming had a jelly moulding competition and I went for points in the creativity category by putting a flashing bike light inside mine. The idea was to make a kind of lighthouse, but the collapse of my jelly coming out of the mould made it more of a "traffic cone in a pile of tar" composition. I was quite pleased with it anyway. I was more pleased with my banana and apple cake... which I think I ended up eating most of. YUM (again).

Today there was more North Shore fun to be had. Jacek, Kala, and I ran from Lynn Valley to Deep Cove, along 14km of the Baden Powell Trail. We also got a bit lost and added a rather large road climb into the route. Oops. The trail was really fun... rooty, wet, muddy, with the classic North Shore mist hanging in the trees. Then at the end the sun came out! Deep Cove was looking very pretty in the evening light and we met up with Paul and Angie for famous Deep Cove doughnuts... bumping into Margaret and Tomas on the way, who had come out for a walk.

Thank you everyone who came out in the manky weather, and thank you North Shore mountains for the good times. Paul's been processing some old photos, this is what I was doing last January. Will the snow be like that 6 weeks from now? I hope so...

Sunday, November 30, 2008

"To Do" list.

I like making lists of things to do. I most like crossing things off the list once I've done them. I remember Jacek and I had an interesting conversation with the shuttle-van driver at the end of TransRockies about what was on our list of things to do in life. I realised that I do have quite a specific list of "things I want to do before I die", but they all seem quite mundane. You would think I should have "cure cancer", or "teach the world to sing" on there... but no. Also, there are a lot of the things I've done in the past few years that I think of as the best, or most significant moments in my life that were never on "the list". So, what's the point? Well, maybe it makes more sense for it to be a list of small things, things I might forget to do otherwise. So, as I've never really made the list anywhere other than my head... here it is, in no order at all:

1) Ice-skate along a frozen waterway of some kind (this is my favourite frozen waterway).
2) Play music in a band again.
3) Climb Mt Baker on skis.
4) Learn yoga.
5) Cook more interesting things.
6) Bake bread.
7) Brew beer.
8) Multi-pitch climb (I did in fact live this dream this summer... but it stays on the list).
9) Do a sea-kayak expedition for a long time, maybe in Alaska.
10) Do a multi-day whitewater kayak trip.
11) Ride my bike in the desert... Utah I think.
12) Go bike touring (I did this... but it's also staying on the list).
13) Get things right with work/home/community/life/love/domestic bliss etc... but that's a bit serious for a list of mundane things, so it's not on the list really. But it is... secretly.
14) Spend time regularly doing something I believe in (I am currently doing that here, and hope to keep that going and make it better).
15) Build bike trails (I've been helping these people off and on, but want MORE).
16) Teach the world to sing.

The list is bound to change, grow, shrink, get lost, be found again... but at least I wrote it down for a change. I'd better go and check if my banana bread is cooked...

Friday, November 21, 2008


On Wednesday I completed my epic drive back to Vancouver, without a hitch. My car perked up and the check engine light turned off again... so maybe it's happy to be home. It felt very odd walking back into my place. Despite only being away for 13 days this time, it felt like my return to Vancouver after my travels this summer. Luckily my plants were still alive, there were no horrible surprises in the mailbox, and I was able to catch Lina on Skype, unpack a little, and then head out for a nightride on the Shore with Jacek and Paul. Not a bad way to get used to being home again. I love riding on the Shore... and it was even dry.

After an amazing and fairly crazy few months I'm working on doing the things I need to do (work) and adding some things I want to do into my new routine. I'm hoping to carry on paddling on Thursday evenings from Deep Cove with Lina's paddling guys... and I made it out last night, so a good start. I also want to get back into Our Community Bikes regularly and start going to yoga. I reckon if I get all these things happening before the snow really comes I will be able to stick at it. Now I've written it on here, I have to do it.

So, the list of chores is long and the work as piled up... but I am keen to get on with it and enjoy some new things too. Of course I'm distracted by the fantastic experiences of (particularly) the past two weeks. I've put a few of my favourite photos from the trip into a Flickr slideshow... some are recycled from the blog posts and Lina's Flickr, but I wanted to put all my favourites together while the memories were still fresh. Good times...

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Homeward bound

All good things come to an end? Well... this trip has definitely been a good thing, and now I am on my way back to Vancouver. I left Santa Barbara yesterday afternoon, after two fantastic days of biking with Lina and Daniel. Driving away from Daniel's apartment and waving goodbye felt so sad... even though I will see Lina again when she returns from IGWA. Of course then she's off to South America until April, but I'll deal with that when the time comes! Lina's photo album of our trip is here.

I spent last night in Monterey at Damon's place (thanks Damon!) and got to meet not only Damon's son Ely, but also his parents. Good times. Then I called in to work with Damon to pick up some extra lighting for Lina to take to Peru for the Patagonia expedition race she's hoping to do. Between us we're pretty well illuminated these days. Damon also tinkered with my new Seca to waterproof it better. That's going to be a good thing for a winter of North Shore mist and rain. Then I got back in the car and drove a heck of a long way. Twelve hours, 3 tanks of fuel, 1 can of Red Bull, 3 mugs of coffee, 1 blueberry scone, and 1.5 pounds of pretzels later... I am back in Portland at Mike and Kristi's place. Tomorrow I'll make it to Vancouver, I hope. I wish the "Check Engine" light wasn't on in my car...

Saturday, November 15, 2008

California... it's true what they say

It feels like I've been in California for a long time... although of course I haven't. The place really is full of beautiful beaches, beautiful surfers, beautiful sunsets, and chihuahuas. Today we spent the whole day on the beach living the California lifestyle. I could get used to this. You can read about the past few days fun in the sun on Lina's blog. Yes, it's another lazy theft of someone else's work... but isn't that what the internet is for after all?

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Dukes of Hazard (Bike Shop)

Last night I got to ride my bike around in the mountains, in California... with Californians. It was a very special time indeed thanks to Daniel (who's place we are also lucky enough to be staying at, even though he's gone away) and the folks from Hazard's Bike Shop in Santa Barbara. The pace for 3 hours (plus another 2 hours of "commuting" to and from Daniel's place) could only be described as fierce, and the trails were fast and dusty. It was even warm... in November. Crazy. My new bike light was amazing (thanks Damon!) and I ended the ride feeling like I must have dreamt it all. Me, riding my bike in California, in the dark, with  light that works? How did that happen...? 

We finished the night sitting outside with an obcene amount of mexican food and cold beer. Good times.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Blog convergence

I've been very lazy and not kept the world informed of my antics on via my blog. Never fear, plenty has been going on. It's still lazy, but for now you can read about me via friends:

Paul wrote about the awesome Comox "mud" ride... where there was no mud but plenty of riding: here.

And now... Lina and I are travelling and playing in the US of A before she flies off to race in Guadaloupe, and then to Peru. You can read about our trip on her blog here and here.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The times they are a changin'

It's getting cold here in Vancouver and this morning there was snow on the Lions. I went up onto the roof and took photo. If I had thought of it a couple of hours earlier (when I walked back from collecting my mail) it had that beautiful orangey morning light and less clouds. Ah well...

Snowlions, hiding in the clouds.

It was Lina's birthday at the weekend, so of course we needed to do some celebrating. We managed a good variety of celebrating, starting with a trip across the border to ride at Galbraith with Paul and Angie where there was sunshine and dry (in places) trails.

A bike, at Galbraith

Post-riding we had dinner in Bellingham and then went to see the Fleet Foxes... a local(ish) band who have found found fame and fortune recently. Their fortune didn't show in their clothing, hair, or beard choices, and they played really well. The venue was a lecture theater with a pipe-organ in the background, which was really quite odd. Vocal harmony is the new rock and roll, apparently.

On Sunday (Lina' s actual birthday) we ran/hiked up Lynn Peak on the North Shore. The climb was mostly in the clouds, but at the summit we found ourselves above it all. Not a bad place to be on Sunday morning...

On Sunday night we explored a new (to me) pot-luck dinner idea... make your own pizza. We had sourdough bases made by Margaret and Kala (thanks!) and some more dough from the fantastic Italian bakery near my place. Some very fine toppings were brought along and I of course ate too much. Although we ended up with fewer vegans than expected, we made vegan-carrot-birthday-cake which turned out to be really, really good. Here's there recipe if you fancy a go at it. Really, it's great!

Paul's got some very nice fall leaf photos and some from the ride on his blog entry here. Lina has more photos and words here.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Giving thanks for mountains, friends, and bikes.

This weekend was Canadian Thanksgiving, which for some reason is a different weekend to Thanksgiving in the US. However, we went to the US and celebrated Thanksgiving anyway. Confusing.

Paul, Jacek, Angie, Lina, and I drove across the border and across to Mazama, near Winthrop WA. We met up with Chris, who Jacek and I met on TransRockies and who's parents happen to have built a very nice house out there. The trails and dry climate of the Okanogan didn't disappoint and we had sunshine, clear skies, and fast, dusty trails. Summer is definitely losing its grip even in the interior and the ground was a beautiful carpet of leaves in places, with a little snow high up too. As usual I was amazed how a few (well, 6) hours drive from home can change the landscape so much.

Lina in full Steed Cycles regalia.

After a short, but fun, ride around Buck Mountain on Saturday we spent the evening cooking a massive Thanksgiving dinner and playing on Lina's slackline. Paul too photos of all that stuff, which are on his blog here. Sunday we were due for our epic ride... which is why we went all the way to Winthrop after all. Starvation Mountain didn't disappoint. A huge climb, followed by a huge traversing descent, views, lots of broken bike parts, crashes, ice, sand, mud... we had it all. Jacek put in a heroic effort running the uphills and scooting the downhills after his freewheel exploded. Amazingly Jacek still seems to be quite fast even when his bike won't pedal...
On Monday we went back to Buck Mountain to do a variation of Saturday's route so we could ride down the trail we came up before. Jacek and Paul's bikes had been combined into one working bike and Paul ride a fine vintage Klein from Chris's garage. 
Paul on the vintage Klein.

The Thanksgiving collective, in some bushes.

We made it back to the border (via some very tasty Thai food) with my car pouring smoke... which upset the border guard a little. Thankfully we got home and my car is now fixed (again). Thank you everyone for a great weekend... let's do it again next year!

My photos are here, Paul has a blog entry here, Lina has one here, and Jacek has photos here.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Back in the saddle again

Today, I start a new job. This job is doing much the same thing I've been doing for a while... for people I have worked for before, but it is new none the less. In the calm before the storm I've been up to some of the usual fun, and some unusual fun too.

Last week I finally rode my bike out on the long causeway from Iona Beach Park. This is one of those "things to do in Vancouver" that I had never done... so I did. It was strange looking back at Vancouver from what was apparently the middle of the sea, and being quite close to some big ships. After that I went and joined the monthly civil disobedience of Critical Mass... where cyclists "Don't stop traffic, they are traffic". It's all a lot of fun, riding through town with a huge group of bikes and maybe even adds weight to the argument for improving and building new bike lanes. Who knows.

My bike, at sea.

A boat, quite close.

Vancouver is over there.

This (slightly extended) weekend I mountain biked in the rain in Squamish with Lina... then paddled some whitewater on the Cheakamus with Kala and Lina, raced in a cyclocross race, and ran around Buntzen Lake. I'm pretty happy with all that for one weekend. 

Paul and I flew the Fig Rolls flag at New Brighton Park, which is conveniently right down the road from my house. Lina battled the 'cross bikes on her mountain bike and is pretty keen to get a more appropriate machine for next time. I loved the whole comedy experience that is cyclocross... riding road bikes on slippery grass around 180 degree switchbacks as fast as you can. Who invented this silly sport? I think it might have been the Dutch. The race went pretty well, though we're not very sure of the results yet. The venue was really great, a bizarre mixture of the industrial side of Vancouver with the backdrop of the ocean and the North Shore mountains. Angie was on photography duty and took some great pictures... some are on Paul's blog.

Spot the Fig Rolls.

Jumping over planks with a bike... what else?

After the race, Lina and I went over to Port Moody and ran around Buntzen Lake on the Diez Vistas trail. The views back towards North Vancouver were really beautiful and the forest was full of fallen leaves and autumn foresty smells. Then to finish off a great day we cooked dinner with Paul and Angie, including flambĂ© banana... which only resulted in minor burns to my arm. 

Now to get back to work!

Monday, September 22, 2008


I love it when a plan comes together... what's even better is when it comes together without the plan. On Friday night Margaret and I had planned to celebrate our (cumulative) 62nd birthday party and my housewarming by getting everyone around for a pot-luck dinner, and all the usual party stuff. A lot of amazing food (which I'm still eating) came along in the hands of a lot of great people. Thank you all! My house survived and whether my kayak could be successfully ridden down the stairs and out of the living room window fortunately stayed a mystery. After first abandoning the plan to go dancing in town, at about 1am we trooped out... to go dancing in town. We'd missed the last bus, but we hadn't missed the band at the Roxy. I did my vocal chords some serious damage singing (yelling) along to the party-rock favourites including of course Bon Jovi. Fun times. Sunday arrived with rain, which was a relief as it gave an excuse not to rush out and ride on the Shore. Cups of tea, chat, indoor climbing, and Thai food made for a wonderful relaxing day... not something I have many of! 

On Sunday Kala, Lina and I headed to Chilliwack in my freshly-repaired Subaru (thanks Chris!)  for Lina's long-planned introduction to whitewater paddling. Lina took to whitewater like, err, a duck... and was picking her way down through the rocks like she'd been doing this for years. Teaching talented people is so rewarding. Kala and I bounced down the Tamahi slalom course at the end and my enthusiasm for paddling that came back on the Wenatchee was in full force again. It's great to be back on the water. After some hopeful, but unsuccessful hitching I started running back towards the car but soon got picked up by a couple of strangely quiet, but friendly, guys in a huge jacked-up monster truck. I think they were pretty amused to pick up a soggy English bloke by the side of the road in Chilliwack. Thanks guys, whoever you are!

Kala and Lina on the rocks.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Cowboy mountain biking

This weekend we gathered up representatives from (from east to west), Poland, UK, Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, Ontario, and BC... to go biking. To be honest we only realised we'd done so well in the geography department around the campfire on Saturday night... but we thought it was pretty good going none the less. Our destination was the cow country of Merritt, famous for country music, cowboys, and floating down the river in a truck innertube drinking beer (apparently). The trails were refreshingly different to what we ride over on the coast... smooth, dusty and winding through sparse trees. There were plenty of cows around and we met a guy on a horse wearing a hat, which is close enough to a cowboy for me.

We camped at Lundbom Lake, where the mooing of cows drifted across the water. The power of suggestion seemed to be working quite well as the number of conversations we had about cows was quite disturbing. Who would have thought we could know so many cow-related anecdotes? Following trails that looked a lot like cow tracks proved a bit tricky at times as we found ourselves on dead-ends which lead to wherever it was the cows were going, and stopped. Where cows want to go and where we wanted to go weren't often the same thing. With a little Trans Rockies style hiking up hills we found our way around and were treated to some fast, dusty riding. On the way back to the campsite, Jacek's trusty (?) rear tire gave up leaving him with a bit of a walk home and a plan to visit Canadian Tire the next morning.

On Sunday, after a lengthy breakfast-faff, coffee stop, and trip to Canadian Tire where Jacek bought the greatest bike tire ever created... for $15, we went riding again. The Coutlee Plateau area had some more well-worn trails (though we did still get lost) including some fabulous squirmy stuff through the trees and down a natural gully. The trails really reminded me of Honrby Island but on the scale of Penticton, which was a fine combination. No doubt we will come back to Merritt again some day for more.

My photos with some of Nikki's are here, and Jacek's are here. Paul's blog entry is here.

Inevitable mucking around on the Orange Bike

Fall colours and mountain bikers

Angie and some nice plants with red leaves

Monday, September 8, 2008

Summer's last gasp and my new gaff

After a truly moist return to Vancouver, the sun got his hat back out of storage and we've had some summer again. We've also had some snow... but it's Canada after all.

A week ago a whole lot of us went up to the Chilcotins and had a royally good (if rather cold and muddy) time. This trip has to be the best recorded outing ever. There are photos from me, Jacek, Suzanne, and Tom. Plus... blog entries from Paul and Lina. 'Nuff said.

This weekend I ended up staying up in Squamish for a few nights and meeting up with Marc, Nikki, Paul, Angie, Jacek, Jen (a biking friend of Suzanne's), and Matt and Emma. Matt is a bloke we went to Africa years ago, so meeting him at the top of a climb in Squamish was a bit of a surprise. Amongst all this socializing I got my first experience of multi-pitch clibing on "Calculus Crack" with Marc and Nikki, which was really quite special. Then the was biking, more climbing, and ice cream until Sunday night. Not bad considering I only went up for dinner. I took some really nasty photos with my phone:

Marc, near the beginning somewhere.

Nikki, climbing towards my feet.

I think this was Marc on the last pitch...

Last of all, I have entered the grown up world of home-ownership. It's all a bit of a shock, but the idea of not moving house for a while is good. I also get to sleep really near my bikes, which I'm happy about. Photos of my concrete cubicle are here.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

2008: A Bicycle Odyssey

It seemed I should write something about what I've been up to this summer while I remember. Duncan has done some sterling work getting started on a Google Map record of our route, which you can also view in Google Earth. Here it is.

“I’m going to be riding across France with this man” said Duncan to his new housemate as I fell through his front door onto the living room floor and split the skin open my knuckle. Since moving to Canada four years ago my capacity for coping with the effects of fine British alcohol has apparently decreased. The following morning, up bright and early (4am) due to jet-lag and with the pub send off for our big adventure haunting me I wander downstairs to put my bike together worried that Duncan will be for the first time more organised than me. I needn’t have worried. “You’ve got mudguard and a triple chainset”, “I took my mudguards off to save weight” comments Duncan as we get somewhere close to leaving some six hours later. As Duncan fashions a mud-flap from sleeping mat and duct tape I start to have concerns over what we are about to do: ride from Sheffield to Chamonix, via as many mountains as possible. Less than two weeks before I stood on the starting line of the BC Bike Race, feeling only slightly out of place on a cross-country bike and looking forward to riding seven days of familiar trails from Victoria to Whistler. On the start line Nikki my race partner for the BCBR was probably feeling the way I did that morning in a living room in Sheffield.

Nikki picked the BCBR as her first mountain bike race. I was drafted as a replacement race partner as I was ideally qualified: freshly unemployed and easily led. Considering Nikki hadn’t really ridden a mountain bike much when we met a couple of years ago, the BC Bike Race was an ambitious objective. Fortunately a winter of training on the wet, dark and rooty trails of BC and a monumental level of encouragement from husband Marc had Nikki fully prepared for the task at hand. The seven days of racing quickly became a blur of massive meals, start-line nerves, long logging-road drags, and the welcome sight of course markers pointing us into another rooty BC trail. Spending a week eating, riding, and sharing a tent with your team mate was part of the BCBR experience I had looked forward to most. Getting up every day, gorging yourself on breakfast cooked for you, riding all day, gorging yourself on dinner cooked for you, and falling in asleep in a tent put up for you isn’t such a bad life. You would think that after seven days of dehydrating, bone and bike braking (not our bones or bikes, thankfully) riding the finish line would have been the light at the end of the tunnel, but I almost didn’t want to cross the line that marked the end of our journey. Nikki’s bike apparently felt the same way as the chain wrapped itself into a series of dramatic loops and jammed solid just meters from the finish.

As Duncan and I rolled off the ferry in Bilbao into the refuse of the last night’s street festival I seriously doubted our ability to make it to France, let alone to the Alps. I had already broken one spoke in my back wheel on the canal towpaths of Birmingham and Duncan’s odometer was proving reluctant to stay turned on. Perhaps it was the nerves, the frustration of not knowing enough Spanish to communicate, or the lure of French croissants, but two great things happened on the first day: we rode 200km and hit 80km/h on a descent. If there are prescidents to set on a bike road-tour I think there were two pretty good ones. Spurred on my our success in riding, and lack of success in finding shops to sell us food and ability to understand Spanish we crossed the border into France the following morning and immediately applied ourselves to the boulangerie and coffee shop. A daily routine of eating cake, drinking coffee, riding fast, and climbing “Hors categorie” mountain passes soon fell into place. Among our conversations (mostly about the quality of cake and croissants) we started trying to define what exactly it was we were doing. After all, what are a couple of mountain bikers doing on road bikes, carrying camping gear, and taking just about the most difficult route possible between two places? Despite endless analysis and the invention of the genre “debit-card touring”(a kind of budget version of lightweight credit-card touring) we never really came to a conclusion on why we were there or what we hoped to achieve. We did seem to be having a lot of fun though. The feeling of hurtling down an alpine road on a heavily laden bicycle with dubious brakes and clothing that provided fairly poor protection against insect bites, let alone road rash, was addictive. The memorable moments came thick and fast: drafting a truck laden with lavender, descending from 2600m in the freezing dark, sleeping in the ditch by the road, riding downhill for 30km, eating expensive family sized cakes with our hands in the supermarket car park, the pain of dragging my weary body and 60 pound bike up to over 2700m for the second day running, the cake, the croissants, the coffee, the cake, the cake, the cake. Arriving in Bourg-St-Maurice I was sad to feel we were about to lose our daily routine. Why did we have to stop here? We’ve been doing this every day for 2000km, so why stop now? Duncan had a mountain bike to ride and I had a date in Chamonix, so we sipped our last espresso and went our separate ways. Riding on my own over two beautiful alpine passes and along the valley to Chamonix felt strange solo, especially when yet another spoke snapped in my back wheel and a thunderstorm loomed ahead. “Be careful what you wish for, you may get it”, and after a couple of days in Chamonix with Luisa I got back on my bike and we set off for Geneva. Back on the road it felt good to be moving again, the end of the journey had another reprieve.

I stepped out of the airport back in Vancouver after another epic train journey across France and the UK with my bike in tow and my mind turned from the end of my time as an itinerant cyclist in Europe to the start of the summer’s most intimidating ride. When Jacek suggested racing in the TransRockies I think my response was: “No, I don’t think I would ever want to do that”. A few weeks later I was typing my credit card details into the TransRockies website. Whilst I’m not naturally someone who likes to define things you do for fun by their dimensions, bike touring had got me thinking in terms of meters of elevation gained and lost and kilometres travelled. TransRockies has some fairly terrifying numbers and my apprehension of how I would measure up against these impressive figures was not helped when we found the elevation change in the course had been increased by 50% since we signed up. This was going to hurt, a lot. Jacek was visibly excited, I was wondering what I was doing there. The first day of TransRockies was a challenge in itself. Having blown up my car on the way from Vancouver to the start, getting towed home by an over-caffeinated tow-truck driver, renting a car and starting all over again 10 hours late and missing a nights sleep I did not feel we were seeing many auspicious omens. We had however managed to find a patch of dirt in the car park to camp and met a couple of other budget-conscious racers there, apparently we were the only 4 people thrifty enough not to shell out for a pre-race hotel. Things picked up quickly and in much the same style as the BCBR the days merged into a haze of food, riding, collapsing into bed, food, riding, collapsing into bed. The numbers started looking less frightening: another 1000m climbed, another 100km ridden. Whilst the trails were sparse and the logging road bountiful compared to the BCBR, the experience of hurtling along in the draft of a pack of riders with the backdrop of the jagged ridges of the Rockies was quite awesome. Of course the race was not without riding challenges. The memorable “rock garden”, apparently a favourite of TransRockies regulars, was an amusing twisting chute filled with large, pointy rocks and racers wiser than us carrying their bikes.

As we started TransRockies Day 7 riding into Fernie, I was drawing close to the end of two months which I had anticipated and to be honest, feared, for much of the year. On each of the BCBR, Sheffield to Chamonix, and TransRockies I had ridden, eaten, and lived every day with friends; sharing the fun, frustration, in jokes, AC/DC on the start line, and need for “private ass time” that come with riding bikes all day, every day. Jacek and I rolled across the TransRockies finish line, enjoying the announcer’s struggle with the pronunciation of Jacek’s name, receiving our medals, and finding the friends we had made over the week to compare stories of the day’s heroic feats. This really was the end of my bicycle odyssey of over 50 days, 3500km, and who knows how many thousands of meters climbed. It was time to return home to Vancouver, rain, bills, my broken car, and to plan the next trip. Nikki, Duncan, and Jacek: any time you want to go biking… just let me know.

Marc’s BCBR pictures are here, my Sheffield to Chamonix pictures are here, Duncan's are here, and Jacek's TransRockies pictures are here. Nikki also wrote her account of the BC Bike Race, which is on the Fig Rolls Blog.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Cheffield to Chamonix

Duncan and I have returned, triumphant, from our road tour of the patisseries of Europe. In short: we rode about 2500km, getting from Sheffiled to Bourg St. Maurice via Bilbao... then I carried on to Geneva via Chamonix. There were sheep, cakes, lemon Yop, new friends, old frields, darkness, sleeping in ditches, mountains, croissants, coffee, broken spokes, pain, joy, and overall a lot of enthusiasm for bikes. It was all kinds of fun and I will no doubt write about that at length, but for now, here's a taste.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Bicycle Race

On Friday last week, Nikki and I finished the BC Bike Race which you can read (rather little) about here.

I'll be writing up some kind of story about the whole thing later, but the jist of it will be that it was great and something I will remember forever. Having just done 7 days of punishing riding of course didn't put me off, and after a rest on Saturday we rode Whistler bike park on Sunday and I've just been for an evening ride on the North Shore before I head off for the "Cheffield to Chamonix" road tour with Duncan. After that... I'll be doing Trans Rockies with Jacek. I could get used to this.

Cheffiled to Chamonix is a truly ridiculous idea, which rather took on a life of it's own. The plan is for Duncan and I to ride down to Portsmouth from Sheffiled over 3 days, then get the ferry to Bilbao. The more observant reader will have noticed that Bilbao is in the wrong country. The solution to that is to ride through the Pyrenees, until you get to the right country and then ride up through the Alps. Somewhere in there we might find Chamonix. Don't worry, we'll be getting the train back home again.

I've packed the Lucky Lager jersey, let's hope it works the magic.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The first faltering steps of summer

Summer has been sighted in Vancouver, though it's done a good job of hiding again just when you thought you'd caught it. I'm sure we're at the start of something good now.

Since Skaha I spent a few days over in Comox with Marc and Nikki where we did lots of biking, been to the Chilcotins with Jacek, and decided to buy a flat to live in. In Comox I explored my newly invented genre of mountain biking: technically-cross-country. You need to be specific about these things after all, and downhill, cross-country, freeride etc just don't seem to describe the way I express myself through the interpretation of landscape using a bicycle. Reading that back to myself, I think I've been watching too many arty bike videos. Anyway, for anyone interested (surely someone must be interested) technically-cross-country credentials are available for riding a log way, with less suspension, clipped in, without armour... but making sure to interpret the landscape (in the style of an arty bike video). You heard it here first.

A technically-cross-country interpretation of a rock.

When I got back from Comox, Jacek and I had planned to go up to the Chilcotins to get some big rides in. Unfortunately the weather had other ideas and things were looking grim oop north. We delayed for a day and then went anyway. When we got to Tyax we were told that the campsite had been closed as it was over-run with angry grizzly bears. This seemed like a good reason to close the camp site, and the bonus was we got a room in the fancy bear-free lodge for a rather good price. We also got to drink beer, play pool, and have breakfast cooked for us... you can't argue with that. The first day we spent exploring some trails near the lodge that Cliff from IAG drew us a dubious map of. We found some great stuff, only got lost a couple of times... and avoided the bears. A good day. After that warm up we kept our fingers crossed for clear weather and a big ride up to Spruce Lake, then towards Warner Lake as far as we could go. Things started off in typical Chilcotins style: beautiful.

We got up to Spruce Lake without a hitch, then took a trail around the lake which turned out be mostly ankle deep water, followed by a descent down a small stream. Moistened, we carried on up the Gun Creek trail towards Hummingbird Lake. The trail had suffered from fallen trees though the winter and there was some interesting clambering over things and paddling through creeks to be done. We made it to Hummingbird Lake, ate lunch, and felt generally happy with the world.
The descent back down to the car was as excellent as ever, whizzing through the alpine flowers, distracted by mountain views, and making imaginative loud noises to let the bears know we were on our way. We didn't see any bears (phew), though I did have a big deer run alongside me for a few hundred meters, looking over at me as if to say "is that as fast as you can go?".

That night we camped (in the car as we were scared of the bears) next to Carpenter lake in a really nice campsite provided for free - thanks BC Hydro. The weather looked dubious in the morning so we went into Gold Bridge (population 47), got toast in the Cafe and phoned Frank to ask if we could buy some petrol. Frank came out with his big dog and sold me petrol so we could drive back over the Hurley River road to Pemberton. Once in Pemberton we found a big pointy stone had stuck into one of the car tires and the tire repair place was shut. The hardware shop was open, so I got my first experience of plugging a tire myself. Amazingly this worked, and proved to be a useful new skill the following day. Rolling again, we got sorted out to ride some Pemberton trails when we bumped into Robbie and Naheed who we rode with a week or so ago. Jacek and I rode up the Happy Trail (which still made me happy), and then failed to find the trail we were looking for, so rode "Hawaii" instead which turned out to be great. Lucky that. We called back to Robbie's place where they gave us some firewood (thanks!) to take to the Owl Creek campsite where we were going to stay. We also got locals info on a recently rebuilt trail called Resurrection opposite the camp site. The evening was spent watching the Rocky Mountaineer train go by, making toast on the campfire and resting weary legs for the next ride.

We managed to find Resurrection, which was a classic steep, twisty, Pemberton trail after a long logging-road climb. We even bumped into the trail builder who was out with his shovel. There were even a couple of opportunities for a little technically-cross-country riding in places. All in all, a great trip. More photos are here and here.

And finally, something completely different. This morning Paul and I went skiing. Yes, really. The snow hasn't all gone on the North Shore yet and it even looked like winter up there due to a (temporary, I hope) failure in the summer which put a big cloud on the mountains. Not the best skiing ever, and rather wet... but a fun way to build yourself up to breakfast. Tonight we going biking on the same mountain, just a bit lower down.

Summer on the North Shore

Dubious skiing conditions, excellently skied by Paul

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Skaha - something completely different

Waiting for summer to arrive got boring, so we went and found it in the interior of BC. Amazingly, Penticton is only 5 hours from Vancouver... but the weather was like this all the time:

I wrote things on the Fig Rolls blog here, Paul wrote things on his blog here, and Jacek put photos here. I think that is all that needs to be said.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Manatee Glacier ski touring

Paul and I just got back from 5 days touring around the Manatee Glacier here in BC. We were supposed to go to Mount Waddington but like the weather, and in fact because of the weather, things change. Paul and I met up with Jasmin on the island and stayed over at Marc and Nikki's place... then early the next morning drove up to Campbell River to meet the rest of the group plus Cliff and Jan from Island Alpine Guides. Unfortunately the weather had other ideas and the first flight couldn't land on the glacier due to poor visibility. So, we drove back to the ferry and went home to Vancouver to wait for better weather. The new plan was to fly from Pemberton (so no more ferries for us) on Saturday morning, which meant we could go to the pub on Friday night. Three hours sleep later we loaded up the car and drove to Pemberton, where the clouds were clearing. However, the clouds still seemed to remain in my head...

Suitably refreshed, and with the weather looking good we flew into the Manatee Glacier and set up basecamp...

For the next 5 days we toured around the area from the base camp each day, guided by Cliff and Jan. Despite being quite a big group (11 of us including Cliff and Jan) we got around pretty smoothly with amazing view all around us. As the first trip Cliff and Jan had guided together there were plenty of experiments, including the $99 "Skeena" kitchen tent. We had a sweepstake on when it would blow away, but amazingly it survived and had enough room for us all to pile in there to eat.

From the second day we started the hunt for the elusive corn snow. I've never skied real corn snow in the backcountry before as you have to have the right combination of cold nights to freeze the snow pack, followed by a sunny morning to get the surface melting, then you're in for quite an experience. The melted surface holds a ski edge really well but is incredibly smooth and fast... like a groomed run in a ski resort but covering the whole mountain side. A few thousand vertical feet of that got some excellent telemark thigh-burn going.

Returning to Pemberton felt strange after the solitude of the mountains. We hadn't seen any other signs of human life (other than a couple of aeroplanes passing overhead) the whole time. Despite spending most of my weekends in the snow through the winter it felt good to have really got out there for a few days. It's hard to believe how close you really are to home (in a straight line) when you're out there. Back in Vancouver the readjustment to suburban life was quick and Paul and I headed out for a mountain bike ride in the evening from Port Moody, stopped at Leo and Karen's for beer... and then got a take away pizza. You can't do that up on the glacier.

Here are my photos, here are Paul's photos, and here are Jasmin's photos.