Lost and found

27 04 2016

To say Princess of Pavement is directionally challenged would be an understatement.

Over the course of our relationship, I’ve spent hours on the phone trying to guide her to a destination, navigate her way through stress and tears.

So when she declared she wanted to do some bike rides during her two-week break between school semesters with an eye to learning some new routes she could eventually do solo, I knew I had to keep things simple.

The Princess of Pavement takes a pause as we cut through the Ocean View cemetery in Burnaby.

The Princess of Pavement takes a pause as we cut through the Ocean View cemetery in Burnaby.

Considering I’m still learning the quirks and nauances of Vancouver’s extensive bike network, that can be easier said than done.

Since joining the FRF and connecting with other cyclists who are veterans of the peaceable routes that bisect and criss cross Metro Vancouver’s suburbs and the city’s diverse neighbourhoods, I’ve come to appreciate their slower, safer pace away from the road ragers that often pollute busy thoroughfares. But sometimes I get lost.

The cycling network in the suburbs can be a bit of a gong show; designated routes lead nowhere, signage is sporadic or they’re poorly positioned along roads already busy with speeding, impatient motorists.

Vancouver’s network is much more established, better refined. But sometimes it befuddles me.

The twists and turns a route takes to traverse a busy traffic route can be confusing; why does the Ridgeway route on 37th Avenue suddenly take me to 38th Avenue?

Signage is sometimes lacking or ambiguous, especially at the junctions where multiple routes converge or cross.

The names of some routes don’t always correspond to the street names they mostly follow.

So it was with some trepidation the Princess and I set out to find some routes she could navigate for a couple of hours without getting lost, that offered some identifiable landmarks she could use to reassure herself she was on course.

Alas, I got us lost.

The route I followed was one I’d ridden plenty of times. But that was always west to east; going the opposite way it looked different, the ascents were now descents, the landmarks I was used to seeing on my right were now on my left.

Fortunately getting lost along a bike route isn’t entirely unpleasant; there are new discoveries to make, different houses to appreciate or scorn, unknown neighbourhood parks to see.

Homeward bound with a smile!

Homeward bound with a smile!

A few twists, turns and feeble excuses and we were back on track. But not before the Princess launched a few little digs in my direction; I’d been humbled.





Playing dodge squall

23 04 2016

The Unemployed Journalists and Booze Merchants Cycling Union is now The Unemployed Journalists, Booze Merchants and Underemployed Scholars Cycling Union (UJBMUSCU).

But even as we’re growing, we’re about to shrink.

One of our founding Unemployed Journalists is about to embark on the adventure of a lifetime, joining his brother and his nephew on a cross-country cycling expedition. He figures seeing as he has the time, and his health is good, might as well make use of them.

They’ve no itinerary, no schedule set in stone, other than a few pitstops at relatives along the way. They’re packing all their necessary gear in panniers and pointing their front wheels east. Only their fitness and resolve will determine how far they get each day, and when they’ll reach their destination.

That was sort of the intention of our ride on Friday; point our wheels down the road and see how far our legs could take us. Unfortunately, the weather had other designs, and our outing turned into a game of dodge squall.

The first sign of trouble came as we traversed an undulating suburban street that skirted the side of Mt. Fromme; the air cooled and was heavy with humidity. It smelled like rain.

The road turns up as it skirts Mt. Fromme.

The road turns up as it skirts Mt. Fromme.

But the occasional crack in the low cloud cover gave us hope, propelled us onward.

We descended to sea level, where it only got cooler, more humid. We kept pedalling, but our hearts knew we’d have to turn around or else we’d get soaked.

We decided to cut bait and head away from the mountains’ shadow, to try to outrun the approaching squall.

A squall rolling in off the ocean, and steered by the mountains, seems determined to catch us.

A squall rolling in off the ocean, and steered by the mountains, seems determined to catch us.

But it was too fast.

The ping of occasional drops grew to the thrum of a persistent shower. We sought shelter at a cycling café along our improvised route; even as we noshed on our pains au chocolat under cover of an awning, the rain became a diaphanous curtain.

A respite from the rain as a cycling café along our improvised route.

A respite from the rain at a cycling café along our improvised route.

It was going to be cold, soggy slog home.





Five years on, Lapierre still moves me

18 04 2016

Five years ago, Lapierre and I consummated our affair.

Ours had been a whirlwind courtship conducted from afar, loving glances at images of her in action. Her supple curves and quiet confidence set her apart from the others, like the wispy, colourful Italians, the brash Americans, the functional yet unattainable Germans, the socially conscious Spanish. She had surprises, unexpected touches of endearing and exciting flare; the thumbprint of her creator, the racing rooster tattooed on one of her lithe limbs.

Five years into our relationship, Lapierre's subtle curves and timeless beauty still stir me, especially when the sun comes out.

Five years into our relationship, Lapierre’s subtle curves and timeless beauty still stir me, especially when the sun comes out.

When finally we were in each other’s company, we knew ours was a relationship of destiny. Our first forays into the world as a couple were greeted with sideways glances, probing questions: Who is this Lapierre? How did you meet? What are your plans?

It’s funny to think back on the innocence of those early days when being together was all that mattered. Five years, and more than 20,000 kms on, we are still inseparable, still bonded.

Lapierre moves me when I’m mired in inertia. She challenges me when the road ahead rises up, protects me and wraps me in comforting confidence when it pitches down.

What better way to celebrate five years with my French mistress than to ride on a gorgeous day with my very tolerant wife, Princess of Pavement.

What better way to celebrate five years with my French mistress than to ride on a gorgeous day with my very tolerant wife, Princess of Pavement.

When we are together I want to travel as quickly as she will allow me, yet slow to enjoy our every moment.

I glow with pride when others give an approving nod, make a passing compliment.

While others succumb to fashion’s fickle trends, Lapierre’s beauty is timeless; there is no fluo in her wardrobe.

Some have questioned the future of our passion; will we stay together? They point to other seductive temptresses with their electronic baubles and more advanced bangles. They say just as Lapierre usurped my ardour for Orbea, a new love will catch my eye, tickle my desire, grip my heart.

And of course, a toast!

And of course, a toast!

Perhaps that will happen. You know what they say at the bike shop; once a wanderer, always a wanderer.

But in the warm spring sunshine, as Lapierre and I move as one, it’s hard to imagine…





All the route’s a stage; we’re just riding through it

12 04 2016

Cycling is full of surprises.

Sometimes they’re dangerous, like the pedestrian who decides just because they’ve pressed the Walk button, they’re cleared to cross the intersection even if it is against the light.

Sometimes they’re awkward, like the driver who insists on yielding the right of way even though you’ll happily wait your proper turn.

A cycling surprise can make your day. It can also end it in a hurry if it involves a mechanical breakdown, or worse.

I’ve ridden portions of the Ridgeway/Midtown cycling route that bisects Vancouver from east to west a half-dozen times. Usually my head is down, or I’m engrossed in conversation with one of my colleagues from the Unemployed Journalists and Booze Merchants Cycling Union. So I hadn’t noticed the collection of whimsical, delightful and even thought-provoking public art pieces, some of it cycling-related.

Some of the pieces are artistic expressions of urban furniture, like the baseball backstop that has been cleverly reimagined as a theatre curtain.

"Backstop: A stage for Wordsworth" in Cartier Park is a poetic setting for pick-up baseball.

“Backstop: A stage for Wordsworth” in Cartier Park is a poetic setting for pick-up baseball.

Some are tacked up high, atop signposts or light standards. Some are disguised as gardens. One, at the corner of Ontario and 37th, looks like a small seating area at the edge of Queen Elizabeth Park; but it’s not until you admire it from a distance that the form of bike seats and tires are realized. The bench is a rear rack.

At the junction of the Midtown/Ridgeway and Ontario bike routes, "Bicycle Intersection" is a themed rest stop.

At the junction of the Midtown/Ridgeway and Ontario bike routes, “Bicycle Intersection” is a themed rest stop.

Rolling along the 14km route is like riding through a linear gallery. A sign along the way indicates nine pieces of public art between Knight and Granville streets. Although I think a few unofficial works have been added.

If you’re not expecting the show, the art will surprise you, maybe even slow you down as you realize what is happening and begin to anticipate the next one. If you know what’s coming, you may pause to ponder their context, what they say about the urban experience.

And on a grey, cool day in early Spring, they’re sure to bring you a smile.





Cycling’s fickle mistress

8 04 2016

Motivation is a fickle mistress.

It can wax and wane on weather, circumstance, what you ate for breakfast.

A 10C day in January is every reason to get out on the bike; the same temperature in April is every excuse to stay in. Especially after we’ve already been spoiled with some fine early-spring riding days. Even getting out on an overcast day can be tough when you’ve previously felt the kiss of warm sunshine on consecutive rides.

One advantage of riding alone; you don't feel guilty when you pull off the road for a photo op!

One advantage of riding alone; you don’t feel guilty when you pull off the road for a photo op!

This has been a tough week to get motivated. The weather started poorly, grey and cool; but it’s progressively improved.

But more importantly, I’ve lost my riding buddies. The Unemployed Journalists and Booze Merchants Cycling Union is down to one; me. One of our members is off on a bit of a road trip. The other is pulling shifts in the film industry. So even as the temperature has nudged 20C, my motivation to ride has been a bit of an uphill battle.

I used to be the lone wolf cyclist. I didn’t need, nor did I seek out, riding partners. That started to change when I joined the FRF; and in this, my Fall, Winter and now early Spring of The Big Ring, it’s been great to have co-pilots who are quite happy and eager to roll along with me at the first hint of sun or nudge of temperature. Having ride companions is also a great motivator when the weather is marginal; if you’re going to get caught in an unexpected rain shower, conversation and a pace line are good ways to get through the misery and still be smiling at the end of the ride.

You kinda get used to having riding buddies; losing them can be a hit to your motivation to get out.

You kinda get used to having riding buddies; losing them can be a hit to your motivation to get out.

But today I beat down all the excuses; I’d finished a couple of projects, put some more aside, and headed out. Alone. With just my inner thoughts. Like old times.





A chip off the old Big Ring

30 03 2016

One of the first things Little Ring saw on television after he was born was the Veulta a Espana.

Only days old, and already watching La Vuelta.

Only days old, and already watching La Vuelta.

His first Halloween costume was a little cyclist.

Before his first birthday, he cheered his mama on to her first Fondo ride. Later that year he got his first bike, a balance bike, and we perched him on it and pushed him around the hallway so he could get used to it.

Helping Princess of Pavement train for her first Fondo. Note the pillow.

Helping Princess of Pavement train for her first Fondo. Note the pillow.

One of his early favourite movies was Triplettes de Belleville. Or as he likes to call it, Tour de France.

He is his father’s son. Whether he likes it or not.

Little Ring's cycling dreams started very early.

Little Ring’s cycling dreams started very early.

Fortunately he does.

He loves zooming up and down the boardwalk to our nearby market on his balance bike. Although the ice cream treat that is usually his mid-ride reward may have something to do with that.

Little Ring and his riding buddy know ice cream is only a button push away.

Little Ring and his riding buddy know ice cream is only a button push away.

And last fall, when I pumped the tires on my mountain bike so we could do that ride together, the smile on his face outshone the sun.

“C’mon, let’s race daddy!” he said over and over on our little excursion. And off he’d zoom ahead of me, then stop and look back with a great big grin.

Little Ring checks out the local cyclocross scene last fall.

Little Ring checks out the local cyclocross scene last fall.

Recently we kicked it up a notch and started hitting the dirt trails out a UBC. They’re easy enough, wide, hard-packed and well-groomed with a couple of modest climbs that Little Ring likes to call “big hills.”

Our first ride there didn’t last long; he was more interested in playing in the park near the car. The next time out our ride doubled and he complained. Saturday, he didn’t want to leave.

“Let’s go again daddy,” he said when we pulled up to the car.

It’s moments like these that will make great copy for the opening pages of Little Ring’s biography after he wins the Tour de France. Clean, of course.

Ah, a Big Ring can dream…





Doing double duty

23 03 2016

Sometimes one ride a day just isn’t enough.

March has been a pretty crappy month. Lots of rainy days. Yet somehow I’ve managed to turn the pedals more than 430 kms so far. Almost half those kilometres came on a couple of back-to-back nice days last week, and included my second 100+ km ride of the year.

Otherwise it’s been a series of 45-50 km efforts between cloudbursts. Sometimes they leave your legs wanting more.

Tuesday’s ambitions were truncated by threatening dark clouds that moved over our intended destination, threatening to storm at any moment and dropping the temperature by at least five degrees. So instead we veered south where blue skies and less ominous puffy white clouds beckoned on the horizon.

There was no sun to be found on this particular route.

There was no sun to be found on this particular route.

But that meant less mileage and less climbing.

So in the evening I filled the exercise gap with a brisk bolt though the woods on the mountain bike.

The “double” is a rare achievement. Mostly because of time; there’s not a lot of days when you can turn your back on obligations or duties to hit the road bike AND the mountain bike.

Sometimes one ride a day just isn't enough.

Sometimes one ride a day just isn’t enough.

But if there’s one thing I have plenty of in my post-employment, it’s time.

The evening seemed balmier than the day; the threatening clouds that had rolled in through the morning were now like a protective blanket, trapping the city’s warmth. The full moon glowed faintly through the thinner patches.

The trails were soft, sometimes muddy, but still fast. The trees and bushes passing our shoulders smelled fresh with new growth.

Then, part way through our ride, just before the descent down to the beach, we stopped dead. All around us the air was filled with a loud steady drone.

We steered down a side trail, headed straight into the sound storm. We knew the source, and when we arrived we let it wash over us, like natures’ own Dolby surround tone.

Spring had arrived at the swamp flanking the trail; it had been transformed into a boggy singles bar for frogs and it was half-price shooters night.








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