Seizing opportunity

1 02 2016

Winter riding is about seizing opportunity.

When the rain takes a break, the roads dry and the cold winds off the ocean calm, it’s time to pull on the tights and head out.

A break in the weather, if not the cloud cover, allows for a spontaneous day out on the bike along a favourite winter route.

A break in the weather, if not the cloud cover, allows for a spontaneous day out on the bike along a favourite winter route.

Not having a job makes that kind of spontaneity possible. Having a small cadre (well, one) of fellow post-employed journalists who also happen to ride, makes it enjoyable.

After a sparse December, January turned into a cycling bonanza.

The month started cold; in fact I wore four layers and then some for our annual FRF New Year’s Day outing.

But a clear schedule and some clear days offered great opportunities to build base mileage, more than double the distance I’d ever been able to achieve in previous January’s. The early-season riding is keeping me fit and my spirits elevated as a I continue to plough towards my next career.

It’s been four months now since my newspaper closed. Resumes are out there, but have yet to bear fruit.

But I remain confident some opportunity will present itself. And I credit some of that confidence to being able to get out and ride; getting on the bike feels productive, it brings that sense of accomplishment that can often go missing after a long day of mining job sites with no results. The cold air in my lungs and warm burn in my thighs gives me energy to press on, clears the frustration that can set in. And the swelling Strava stats set me up for a good season when it’s truly riding weather.

Towards a safer, more relaxing ride

19 01 2016

Metro Vancouver’s bike network consists of almost 1,700 km of off-street pathways, separated lanes, designated low-traffic routes as well as marked lanes and wide shoulders.

Until a few years ago, most of them were a mystery to me.

I preferred to find my own way, usually on quieter arterial roads that got me where I needed to go, but weren’t choked with trucks and traffic.

But connecting with bike route savvy cyclists through FRFuggitivi has exposed me to the joys of relaxing rides on some of those protected pathways.

The bike path on the Dunsmuir Viaduct is one of the more spectacular ways to enter Vancouver. Alas it's days may be numbered as the city explores whether to tear it and the adjacent Georgia Viaduct down.

The bike path on the Dunsmuir Viaduct is one of the more spectacular ways to enter Vancouver. Alas it’s days may be numbered as the city explores whether to tear it and the adjacent Georgia Viaduct down.

Sure there may be a few more stop signs along the way, a few more twists and turns as routes find their way.

The trade off is a safer journey because motorists expect to encounter cyclists and for the most part respect our presence. I can count on one hand the number of road rage encounters I had last year; along busy thoroughfares they were a regular occurrence.

The routes often travel through areas I’d otherwise never traverse. You roll through the region’s history and evolution as neighbourhoods transform and gentrify from commercial to single family homes to high density condo projects.

The connections between routes mean no two rides have to be exactly the same; the variety is almost endless.

There’s still gaps, though. Routes end abruptly. Signage suddenly peters out. Traffic lights are inexplicably lacking at major cross streets. Pinch points throw cyclists into a stretch of heavy traffic.

But it’s getting better.

Today’s ride along some of the region’s oldest, most established routes brought us through three major problems that have recently been addressed, or are in the process of being fixed.

One of the scariest was the narrow, uneven sidewalk along the Stanley Park Causeway that connects the park to the Lion’s Gate Bridge. A couple of years ago a woman riding on that sidewalk, which is the designated bike route alongside a busy stretch of road, lost her balance and fell into the path of a bus. She was killed. But the accident sparked a review of that stretch of the city’s bike network and work is now ongoing to widen it and erect a barrier between the high sidewalk and the roadway. The northbound side is pretty much finished; work is beginning on the southbound side.

A wider bike lane and a barrier now make the ride onto the Lion's Gate Bridge safer for cyclists and pedestrians.

A wider bike lane and a barrier now make the ride onto the Lion’s Gate Bridge safer for cyclists and pedestrians.

On the North Shore, a worrisome pinch point along Marine Drive as it climbs up to 3rd Street has also been addressed with a nice wide multi-user path where the sidewalk used to be. While the road was always a marked bike route, it’s narrow and heavily trafficked, a stressful combination as you chug up that climb.

The pair of deer we saw nibbling on a bush next to the path was a bonus.

And finally there’s the Ironworkers Bridge; once notorious for its narrow, bumpy sidewalks that flanked the busy highway we now have wide, smooth pathways that can be easily shared by passing cyclists and pedestrians. It’s actually possible now to enjoy the spectacular views down the Burrard Inlet to the city, or up towards the mountains that rise above Indian Arm.

TransLink, the  pseudo-government agency that manages transportation in Metro Vancouver, promises even more improvements to make cycling easier and safer. It’s 2011 Regional Cycling Strategy committed to improve the connections between bikeways, maintain them in good repair, make the network easier to navigate, and improve facilities for parking and connections to transit.

I’m not sure about that last part yet. But I’d say they’re making pretty good headway on the rest.

Night rider

15 01 2016

When I first landed in the west coast on my feet, I congratulated myself with a brand new road bike; Columbus SLX frame, chromed forks and stays, Shimano 600 components (predecessor to Ultegra), Mavic wheelset.

It was a handsome ride.

But it was the 90s and mountain bikes were king. Most of my buddies preferred mashing trails on fat tires than long rolls on pavement out to the Fraser Valley.

So I joined them: bouncy rides over the cross country trails on Burnaby Mountain long before they were pocked and eroded by heavy downhillers, gruelling ascents and harrowing descents on the North Shore mountains, a jaunt or two out to Vedder or up to Squamish or Whistler. for a few years, the road bike gathered dust, a piece of kinetic sculpture leaning against a wall in my living room.

Some of our favourite rides were speedy rips along the numerous trails out at the UBC Endowment Lands. We could spend hours there, criss-crossing, looping around, reversing direction. The variety seemed endless.

We rode there in the rain, in the snow, in the heat. And when all of us finally acquired lights, we rode in the dark.

Bouncing over roots, mashing loamy trails, skipping through rock gardens takes on a different character when all the world just beyond the cone of your headlight is darkness. Your concentration heightens; is that a shadow or a rock? The sounds from the blackened forest startle and delight; coyotes howling, a mouse skittering, an owl swooping.

Pausing to take in the skyline lights.

Pausing to take in the skyline lights.

At our peak, we did these night rides two or three times a week, even through winter, usually followed by a beer and nachos at a pub nearby

But as our lives progressed, the night rides became less frequent. The winter ones pretty much ceased altogether. People moved away. Priorities changed. A busy workday became more tiresome; it was easier just to stay warm at home and watch TV.

My last night ride was three years ago; Little Ring was just a few months old and when I returned from an evening of cycling indulgence, his crying and fussing had worn Princess of Pavement out.

With time on my hands, energy to burn and Little Ring not so little anymore, it’s time to bring back the night rides

There’s not as many of us anymore; but the feeling of freedom, the cold air burning the lungs, the fearless barreling into the gloom are just as they were. So were the coyotes, howling at the sliver moon.

It’s good be back on the trails.

Introducing Little Ring to the trails at UBC.

Introducing Little Ring to the trails at UBC.

The more things are the same…

11 01 2016

The more things are the same, the more they’ve changed.

Twenty-five years ago (almost half my lifetime), I was in the exact same boat; looking for work, pondering the next phase of my career.

Back then a recession punted me from my first full-time newspaper gig. I desperately wanted to make my mark in the industry, I was single, rootless, willing to go anywhere to make that happen.

I never imagined I’d end up in British Columbia’s south coast.

I’d visited Vancouver as a tourist once, during Expo 86. People in my part of the world talked with wistful hope about someday being able to live in balmy Vancouver, especially in the depths of a cold, snowy Ontario winter. It seemed a fanciful dream.

But some timely connections, a little luck and a burgeoning, competitive community newspaper scene in Vancouver’s suburbs brought me here.

A quarter century later I’ve had a good run in the newspaper business, I’ve planted roots in a community I love, I’ve a partner who inspires me every day and a Little Ring who makes me smile every minute.

And when the sun is glinting off the snow-capped Coast Mountains, the roads are dry, the temperature is tickling 10 degrees and I’m riding my bike while the rest of the country is scraping ice from windshields and digging out of snowdrifts, I appreciate that fanciful dream of long ago is my reality. Has been for almost 25 years.

Really, does it get any better than this? Riding on a sunny, mild Saturday afternoon in January, river, mountains and sky filling my vision.

Really, does it get any better than this? Riding on a sunny, mild Saturday afternoon in January, river, mountains and sky filling my vision.

Sure, I’m currently out of work and a part of me is always worrying about the future.

Sure, it’s an expensive part of the world that likely means we’ll never progress beyond the condo we currently occupy, and love.

Sure, traffic can be a nightmare. The urban landscape can cut an ugly swath through nature’s beauty.

There's old growth forest and then there's industrial growth forest.

There’s old growth forest and then there’s industrial growth forest.

But when a panorama of sea, mountains and sky fills your vision, the air is clean and cool, and your thighs burn from a spirited off-season ride, life is good.

A humbling time of year

1 01 2016

January is cycling’s most humbling month.

The summertime fitness that peaked in early September has been eroded by ennui, bad weather and shorter days. Seasonal sloth and holiday over-indulgence add girth.

Suddenly the effortless sprint along the flats becomes a slog for survival. Strava is no longer your friend; it’s a heartless reality check.

Time to shape up.

Friday’s third edition of the FRF’s celebratory New Year’s Flask ride started in a thick, icy fog. The roads were slicked by thin sheets of white frost, our cheeks burned from the chilled air.

The FRF peloton is bundled up and prepared to ride into the ice fog for the annual New Year's Day flask ride.

The FRF peloton is bundled up and prepared to ride into the ice fog for the annual New Year’s Day flask ride.

October and November had been good riding months. But December’s dreary weather and busy schedule meant I had only two rides in my legs.

But some in our FRF peloton had barely been on the bike since the season ended.

So our route would be flat, the pace languid. With stops along the way to warm bellies with alcohol.

Flask break!

Flask break!

As we headed west, the fog thinned. The wan sun started to warm us. The pace quickened.

But there were hazards in the shadows.

An ice patch disguised as a harmless wet patch claimed a rider, sent him crashing to the road with a clatter. We all stopped as he collected himself, assessed the damage to himself and his bike. There was none.

The icy fog paints the roadside with white frost.

The icy fog paints the roadside with white frost.

Acclimated to the chilled air, relishing the burn in our thighs, we pressed beyond our first turnaround point.

The roads were busy with other cyclists of a similar mind. One even packed a small bottle of champagne in his bottle cage.

Everyone exchanged greetings as we passed. It’s January, we’re on our bikes; how can we not be in a good mood?

But somewhere along the return leg, the energy stores suddenly expired.  All those potatoes and gravy and sweet treats of Christmas week had taken a toll and now it was time to pay. A spirited sprint in the sunshine turned to a grim grind back to the warmth of home.

A flat straight stretch of road along the Fraser River where the summertime pace often touches 40 kph seemed more like quicksand that dragged some of us down to barely faster than 24 kph. Conversation stopped. Only two things now mattered; get home and get warm.

Strava told the tale; the ride was 20 degrees colder and two kph slower than the same route in May.

There’s plenty of work to be done.

The pause that doesn’t refresh

14 12 2015

Cycling is a multi-sensory experience.

Riding along busy roads, sharing space with traffic, demands your full engagement.

Your ears pick up the buzz of approaching cars and trucks.

Your hands feel the textures of the road surface, which at this time of year, seems mostly to consist of a whole lot of grit and grime. Your face stings from the cool air, the occasional raindrop. Your leg muscles burn with the off-season effort.

Your eyes linger on the landscape that slips by slowly, noticing things you’d otherwise miss zipping by in a car; the heron hanging out in a muddy puddle in the midst of a barren field, the odd deposit of what looks like refuse from a Mexcian restaurant that appears regularly along a favourite route.

Your tongue tingles with the taste of indulgences allowed because you’re burning calories on the bike; the tart pucker of a lemon square at the coffee shop, the sweet softness that floats in your mouth of a pain au chocolat.

But nothing can prepare you for the olfactory assault of riding alongside rural farm ditches filled with runoff from two days of heavy rain.

The pause that does anything but refresh, alongside a dung-filled ditch in Richmond. P.U. (And yes, that is a fender you see besmirching the lithe figure of the Lapierre; I ported it off my mountain bike to see if it helped keep myself and the bike a little cleaner given the damp, dirty roads. It didn't.)

The pause that does anything but refresh, alongside a dung-filled ditch in Richmond. P.U. (And yes, that is a fender you see besmirching the lithe figure of the Lapierre; I ported it off my mountain bike to see if it helped keep myself and the bike a little cleaner given the damp, dirty roads. It didn’t.)

Motorists whizzing past, cocooned in the environmental pods of their vehicles, likely had no idea of our suffering.

For three or four kilometres on our rainy ride this morning, the acrid smell of an open sewer was our constant companion. The weekend’s rain had washed manure fertilizer from the fallow fields into the roadside sloughs, turning them a sludgy, putrid brown.

The smell certainly quickened our pace; no one wants to hang around that for long. Even the ducks we’d seen sheltering in those ditches last week had moved on to cleaner environs.

It also sparked some nasty mind games; what if a car or truck passed too close and sent one or both of us careening over the grassy shoulder and down into the ditch? Forever unclean…

Stormy weather

10 12 2015

Being Leisure Guy isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Two months into my post-employment as a newspaper journalist has settled me into new routines, presented some new challenges and given me the chance to ride my bike at a time of the year that is normally barren for mileage.

A new storm front pushes away a brief break in the December deluge.

A new storm front pushes away a brief break in the December deluge.

I’ve no illusions that I’ll ever work at a newspaper again. The industry is strangling itself into irrelevance on its own greed and mismanagement.

I’m excited to take my talents and skills as a storyteller in a new direction.

It’s getting steered into that direction that can be frustrating and, on some days, dispiriting.

It’s been 25 years since I was last looking for a job.

Then, the recession cast me from my first full-time newspaper gig where I’d been for six years. Then, I felt I still hadn’t made my mark. I desperately wanted to stay in that industry to see where it could take me.

As it turned out, that was clear across the country.

Considering I’ve been here, with the same employer, for 24.5 years, I’d have to say that turned out pretty well.

This time around, I don’t feel that same panic. Yet.

I may not have landed my dream gig at a daily or wire service, but I feel like I accomplished a lot, experienced a lot, and was able to make a bit of an impact at the community papers that have been my venue my whole career.

But it’s hard to ride the downward trajectory of an industry you love and that’s supported you for more than 30 years. Every newspaper closure, or staff cutback, or furlough announcement, no matter how far-flung, stings you a bit because you know that tide will eventually reach you.

Two months ago it did when my newspaper closed.

Everyone says you should always have a Plan B.

Princess of Pavement is enacting her Plan B because she saw the writing on the wall for her newspaper career as well.

But a part of us always wants to live in denial. Perhaps that’s a coping mechanism to stay motivated and committed when all the signs point to the rug getting pulled out from under at some point.

The first few weeks of post-employment were a whirlwind of meetings, information interviews and even a couple of minor freelance gigs thrown into the mix. Mix that in with some long midweek rides on nice days and life was good.

But now, after a week of December rain, the doldrums are kicking in. And so is a bit of fear.

I joined LinkedIn. I upped my social media game. I’ve pushed myself to try some new things like a couple of public speaking engagements and even an appearance on a local TV talk show. My resume has been tweaked and rewritten a dozen times. It’s a constant work in progress. I’ve got a handful of versions of cover letters ready to go. But I’ve no idea if they’re effective.

The job hunting game has changed so much since I last participated.

Now I haven’t any indication whether the I send to jobs that have pique my interest are ever seen by human eyes. Did I include enough key words to trip the algorithm that is the first line of screening? Do my skills, attributes and experience stand up against the dozens and dozens of other post-employment journalists and ambitious communicators, or am I not pitching those skills properly?

There’s no way of finding out, because nobody gets back to you unless you “make the shortlist.”

I’m not bitter about that. It’s the way the game is played these days when so many people are looking for work and every job opportunity goes through a computer before it ever sees subjective human eyes.

A colleague from the paper said, “If I write my cover letter and resume so it will get caught by the computer, it reads like crap.”

So you spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to play the game. Encouragement and optimism comes in tiny increments. Score an endorsement on LinkedIn? Win! Notice that someone other than a fellow journalist also in the throws of post-employment has checked out your profile? Win! Get positive feedback at an information interview? Win!

Unfortunately, none of those wins put food in the fridge or pay the mortgage.

Fortunately, I still have some time.

Severance will help pay the bills through much of the next year. That gives me a bit of wiggle room to await the right opportunity, not just the first opportunity.

But at one point will that equation tip the other way?

Some colleagues who’ve been through the same experience landed on their feet right away, and were able to pocket a nice wad of extra money.

And then there’s stories like this one about a sports columnist in New Jersey, Jeff Bradley, who lost his job three years ago and went from covering the New York Yankees to working as a locker room attendant in a golf club.

His struggle to regain employment is a cold, harsh reality check of what every talented, motivated, hard-working journalist who’s taken a fall faces in the crowded competitive job market.

I’m optimistic my post employment forecast is still good. But there’s always the threat of a storm blowing up from the horizon.


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