Days of future past

30 09 2018

Three years ago this week, my 30-year run as a journalist appeared at an end. My paper was being closed.

But the reward of such long tenure — 24 years at the same company — meant a severance arrangement that would tide us over for several months.

The next job could wait; it was time to enjoy my newly-earned liberation.


The fall really is a most wonderful time to ride.

The fall of 2015 was one of the best in recent memory, resplendent with sunny days and dry roads. Along with my fellow unemployed newsroom colleague, Lone Granger, we embarked upon day-long pedals with languid lunch stops at café patios. We were the guys you cursed as you peered out the office window from your cubicle.

That October I spent 25 hours on the bike, 560 kms. In November, I rode 443 kms in 20 hours. December was a dud, but the pace resumed in January through to May, when I became employed again.

It’s easy to look back fondly on that respite from the work-a-day world, especially when there was money in the bank account. But the stress of an uncertain future always percolated just below the surface. It was the worst of times, but also the best of times.

Last week I got to recapture some of that feeling.

Little Ring’s daycare where he goes to before and after-school care had scheduled a holiday break. We’d known about it for months, and took a run at juggling various options to cover the gaps around his school day and my departure for, and return from, work. But I still had a week of holiday coming so I thought, why not use it to eliminate that particular stress. And if the weather holds, I can ride.


Let my falliday begin!

It did. And I did.

While errands demanded my attention for two of the five weekdays, for the other three I rode in glorious fall sunshine. It truly is the best time of year to put kilometres into the legs. The air is fresh, the light soft.


Sunshine, clear air and views.

By happenstance, another regular riding companion, Flying Oakes, had also booked some vacation time; so, for a couple of rides at least, I had a companion.


The long and very straight road.

We’d hit the pavement in the brisk morning air, arm warmers extended all the way up, a wind vest as the outermost of two or three layers. By noon, the sleeves would be rolled down to the wrists, the vest packed away in a jersey pocket.


The reward is that much sweeter when there’s no line at the patisserie.


Construction! Curses!

We stopped for snacks, and for construction. We exhilarated in our freedom, speculated this is what retirement will be like. Until, well into our longest ride of the week, an actual retiree joined us and complained he never has anyone to ride with. He seemed a little desperate for the company.


If riding on a workday is a glimpse into retirement, I wonder what this guy’s retirement is going to look like?

It’s easy to be overtaken by life. Getting on the bike is a way to get ahead of it again, even if only for a day.


Fearing the broom wagon

21 08 2018

Fondos are a great excuse to get out of town to ride a bike.

So far, mass-participation rides have lured me to New York City (actually the Five-Boros ride), Santa Rosa, Calif., Penticton and Whistler.

This weekend, Princess of Pavement and I were in Victoria, so I could join the throngs in front of the BC provincial Legislature building for Ryder Hesjedal’s Tour de Victoria.


No car for this trip to Victoria. It’s transit and passenger ferry for Franco.


The weekend’s first — and only — hiccup. Our planned lunch stop is closed!


But a quick recovery two doors away reveals a pretty good Bahn Mih sandwich two doors away.


Bikes can just be rolled aboard the V2V passenger ferry. There were a few of us headed to the Tour de Victoria.


We arrive in Victoria’s inner harbour 3.5 hours later and walk five minutes to our hotel. Downtown Victoria is wonderfully compact and walkable.

The former winner of the Giro d’Italia put his name on the fondo several years ago as a way to promote and support cycling in his hometown. The event has been growing steadily, to some 1,800 riders registered for this year’s event, which included seven distances, from 160 km for the hammerheads to a 7 km ride targeted for kids or cyclists just dipping a toe in the fondo fountain.

Last Christmas Princess of Pavement presented me with various little wrapped boxes containing puzzle pieces. I had no idea what she was playing at, but when they were put together, they formed a map with the course for this year’s Tour de Victoria. She had signed me up. And, in a blind leap of faith, she went all in for the 160 km event.


My days of 7,500 kms of cycling a year are behind me. Heck, even 2,500 is proving a challenge at times.

I hung onto that goal as long as possible. But with the requirement to maintain a minimum speed of 24 kph so as not to get swept up by the broom wagon looming ever larger as ride day neared, I pulled the plug and rejigged my registration for the 140 km. Still a worthy challenge to justify a weekend away, and my longest ride in more than two years.

But doubts lingered.

Heading into August, I still had less than 2,000 km in my legs, and not many of those went uphill — no ascents of local mountains like Seymour and Cypress. There’s about 1,800 metres of climbing in the Tour de Victoria.

So boarding the passenger ferry Friday afternoon that would take us, and Franco, to Victoria’s inner harbour, there was still a kernel of worry in my belly. Four hours later, with the ride packet containing my timing card and bib number squirrelled in my backpack, there was no turning back.

I pinned my number, laid out my gear, set the alarm for 5 a.m. and then we walked into the downtown for a pasta dinner — carbo loading.


A fondo eve surprise, the Naval Reserve Band plays a concert on the Legislature steps. Franco approves.

If you haven’t heard, much of the province, including Vancouver Island, has been smothered by a haze of woody smoke from the hundreds of wildfires currently scoring the province and parts of Washington State. For the second year in a row, it’s been a bone dry summer and the trees and wild lands are like matchsticks waiting to alight.

It’s cast us in an eerie orange-yellow glow like Blade Runner 2049. Not great conditions in which to be doing strenuous physical activity, like riding a bike for 140 kms.

But Saturday — ride day — dawned clear, even a little crisp. An ocean breeze had cleared the air and would keep the temperature around 23-25 C. Perfect riding conditions.

In its eight years, the Tour de Victoria has gained a pretty solid reputation amongst fondos. Some riding buddies who’ve done it praised it for the scenery, challenging parcours with lots of little climbs and technical turns and tight organization. And it’s just far enough away to feel like an adventure, but not too far you have to pack your bike into a box and entrust it to an airline. Apparently lots of people agree; the race director told a Victoria media outlet about 60% of the 1,800 riders registered for this year’s event were from out of town.


Not a lot of miles in my legs, doubts linger.


FRF represent.


The 160 and 140 km groups were the first scheduled to start from the driveway in front of the BC Legislature building, at 7 a.m. The other groups would start later to minimize congestion on the common sections of the various routes.

Right from the get-go our pace was quick as the 600-strong peloton cruised around the inner harbour, over the new “blue bridge” and out towards Esquimalt, Colwood, Metchosin and beyond. Even as I covered 30 km in the first hour, I still felt slow as I was constantly being passed. It seemed every traffic control reopened just after I rode through. I glanced behind for the broom wagon. Fear propelled me as much as my legs.


Seaside riding. The pace was so quick, I didn’t have much of a chance to shoot photos while riding. Also, I was afraid of the broom wagon.

The course is, indeed, hilly, the climbing relentless. None of the climbs are particularly big, but they seem to come at you at a dizzying pace, with some steep pitches of 10% or more just to suck away a little more of your spirit.

And the descents are broken up by sharp, technical corners that demand a keen eye and deft finger work on the brakes.

Just after the summit of the day’s biggest climb, up Munn’s Road, a traffic sign promised nine kilometres of twisting, steep downhill, but the road seemed to go up more than it went down. So dispiriting. But I did manage to hit 85 kmh at one point.

The route wound through dense forest, past vineyards and rolling hay fields, through suburban commercial and industrial developments, along a stretch of the Galloping Goose multi-user trails, beside curving, rocky beaches.

I saw two deer, a fawn that darted quickly off the road and a big buck with an impressive rack of antlers wandering amidst the posh homes of Oak Bay.

The seven aid stations were well stocked with bananas, big plastic jugs of water and electrolyte drinks, salty chips, peanut butter sandwiches, gels, bars and Honey Stinger waffles, all being offered by legions of eager volunteers.


Replacing salts.

At 70 kms, I was passed by a police motorbike and wondered why the sudden escort. But then along came two big guys on each other’s wheel, the 160 km race leaders. I was quietly thankful I didn’t have to try to keep up with them.

My one disappointment was the relative quiet of the ride. There hardly seemed to be any conversation. At previous fondos I had always engaged with other riders as we chatted about where we were from, or our bikes, how we were feeling or wacky things we’d already experienced in the day. For most of the day, everyone who passed me or (more rarely) who I passed seemed to have their head down and their eyes set on the task at hand. It’s not a race, but sometimes it felt like one.

The ride’s last stretch, past Beacon Hill Park and around the leafy neighbourhood of James Bay, seemed interminable. I just wanted it to be over.

I triggered the timer at a tick below 5.5 hours, a little faster than I had anticipated so Princess of Pavement was still downtown shopping.


Bruce Allen’s worst nightmare.


Back in the hotel for a few moments R&R before hitting the shower. Starting to feel better about the day’s ride.


We stumble upon a heavy metal festival in a civic square. Not my music, but kinda cool that it’s happening.


Appropriate decor for dinner at Fiamo Italian Kitchen. Not the best pizza margharita, but a nice room.

And, much to my surprise, I finished solidly in the middle of the pack of 350 or so riders in the 140 km group. It turns out I wasn’t in peril of being swept up by the broom wagon after all.

In praise of the Perfekt Deli sandwich

6 08 2018

I’m not very good at riding solo.

Which is ironic because, for the longest time, it was the only way I rolled.

Group riding is as much a social occasion as a workout. You drift up and down the peloton having various conversations, and there’s always a snack stop. It’s a priority.

But when I ride alone, I do just that: ride.

The conversations are in my head, and I’m so focused on the rhythm and momentum of my ride, I inevitably keep putting off the snack stop. I can’t make up my mind what I’m craving to eat. I don’t know where to stop. The snack stop options aren’t appealing. I don’t want to spend money. I’ll be home in time for a late lunch anyway. I don’t want to stop pedalling.

Sunday, a family barbecue was scheduled in Chilliwack, about an hour and fifteen minutes drive from home.

I decided I would ride there, about 115 kms.

I mapped out a route, targeted a couple of possible places I could seek out lunch.

For the first half of the route, I was accompanied by fellow FRFer, Maxwell Oakes, who wanted to scout a possible itinerary for our club’s annual Fondont. 


Of course, when riding with Maxwell Oakes, there must be gravel!


What to do when approaching horses? Apparently you have to yell your intentions from about a kilometre away.

It was a perfect riding day, not too hot.

After a couple of detours to explore some gravel trails because, well, there must be gravel when riding with Maxwell Oakes, we went our separate ways.

I quickly got into my zone, turning the pedals at a nice, steady cadence. The route was flat, the traffic light, I was making good time.

One lunch option passed by.

A second would have meant a slight detour off my route. Instead, I kept riding.

But as I approached 100km, my energy was waning, my spirits flagging. And with a summit finish up the side of a mountain to a suburban enclave looming, I needed a boost.

And then, in the small hamlet of Yarrow, I happened upon a small deli, Perfekt Deli, and it was open! So I poked through the long weekend Sunday traffic heading to a popular recreational lake just up the road and peeled up to their front door.

And it was, indeed, perfect.

A good, simple deli sandwich can be elusive. Everyone wants to serve you a grilled panini, which is basically a cop out to keep using their stale bread. Or the sandwich options are heaped with needless accoutrements so they can justify charging you $12.


The Perfekt Deli sandwich. So simple. So perfect.

Give me a mound of cold deli ham, a selection of thinly-cut fresh veggies and tangy mustard between two slices of fresh, spongy brown bread or a kaiser bun, plus a drink and change for a $10 bill and I’m happy.

That’s exactly what Perfekt Deli was offering. It was so simple, yet so delicious. The ham so cool. The veggies so crisp. I savoured every bite. Each washed down with a chilled Coke in a small, sweating glass bottle. 


Not a welcome incline at km 110.

It was exactly what I needed to get back on the road and up Promontory Heights.


But there’s cold beer at the top!

Dusted and done

28 05 2018

Nobody warned me about the dust. Or the bear.

Both were features of the first Golden Ears gravel fondo that ploughed its way over dusty gravel dikes and trails from Port Coquitlam up to Minnekhada, over to Pitt Meadows and back on Saturday. Although, I didn’t witness first hand the latter, the lineup at the post-event beer garden was abuzz with stories about the young bear that wandered out of the bush next to the trail near Pitt Meadows airport, and one of my ride companions had photographic evidence.

Uncertain of my fitness after just a month of regular riding following the conclusion of our road hockey season that occupies my Sundays from October to early May, I signed on for the less arduous 50 km route, rather than the 100 km full meal deal. Plus, I’d never done a sustained ride of more than a kilometre or two over gravel while on a road bike and I’d heard it can beat you up and sap your legs over time.

Still, this would be a fitting conclusion to my first season with my new Norco Search adventure bike which had carried me through several evening trail rides and even a few road rides through the winter months. But with the arrival of warm weather and clean roads, it’s all Franco, all the time.


The Norco is clean and shiny for the day’s big gravel fondo. Alas, it won’t stay that way.


Flying Oakes prepares for the major ascent of the day.


Oh no, our leisurely arrival foiled by an inconvenient train.

The fondo would also be an opportunity to experience some familiar landscapes from new perspectives; much of the route skirted roads I’ve ridden dozens of times, but veering hundreds of metres away from pavement, along sloughs and the back edges of farms offered fresh vistas. And no shortage of cat crows from chicken coops.


A preview of what’s to come.

About 250 riders at the event were almost evenly split between the 100km hard-core and those with more leisurely intentions. Some of the former were fully-committed to gravel mashing on their tricked-out carbon fibre bikes with deep-dish wheels and 3-D printed chain catchers for when the path gets really bumpy. Our group was more of a hodgepodge, with fat-tired mountain bikes, fendered cruisers and even a single-speed fix with high-rise handlebars intermingled amongst dedicated gravel and adventure bikes.


The FRF represent!

The event got off to a slow start because of a “police incident” that closed access to part of the planned route. The nature of that incident was never revealed, and there’s been no mention on social media of intense police activity in the area at that time. But the organizers had to do some scrambling to devise and mark out a detour.

When the countdown to send the first heat of riders finally went off an hour later than scheduled, everyone was champing at the bit to get their legs churning as the morning overcast had brought a cool breeze up the neighbouring river.

As advertised, the course was pan flat. The only inclines were up and over the Pitt River Bridge. This is what it must be like to be a cyclist in Florida.


Following the gravelly road. For 50kms.

The course was fairly well-marked and there were traffic marshals to stop cars when we had to cross roads. Not all the motorists appreciated their efforts as a few impatient ones leaned on their horns.

Apparently there were some areas of confusion, though, as some of the 100km riders were complaining in the beer garden of riding extra loops because of ambiguous signage.

I covered the 50km course at an average speed of about 23.5 kmh, good enough for 39th place out of 115 entrants. But my legs felt like I’d ridden 80kms. The gravel dikes don’t beat you up as much as bog you down, although my slightly under-inflated front tire — as recommended in the pre-event prep email — might have had something to do with that.

And everywhere, on the bike and myself, there was a coating of fine grey dust. It’s been an exceptionally dry month, and it felt like I’d absorbed half the dikes into my socks and shins.


The dusty damage of the day’s ride.

It had been a good morning out.

And apparently nobody got eaten by the bear.

Don’t pay the ferryman

12 05 2018

Road hockey season is over. And while the triumphant conclusion wasn’t exactly satisfying, it’s time to move on to… riding season.

And what better way to rejoin the FRF peloton than our annual John Lee Memorial Ride, which also happens to coincide with the anniversary party for renowned craft brewer, Dageraad.


Heading across the Port Mann bridge in glorious sunshine.

John would have totally endorsed the idea.

He was the quintessential rouleur, devoted to his lovingly restored and maintained steel Marinoni, complete with downtube shifters, old-school toe clips, and vintage-looking leather lace-up shoes.

John was amongst the FRF’s charter members. The group was much smaller and he loved to work his way up and down the small pace line, talking about his daughter, asking about everyone else’s family.

He was a regular bike commuter and his work ethic on the bike carried onto his recreational rides as well, taking his pulls regularly and without complaint, then drifting back through the group, exchanging pleasantries along the way. HIs fitness never seemed to flag.

So when we got the word he’d passed in his sleep from a massive heart attack, we were all shocked. Mortality had slapped us in the face bigtime. We all thought of his young daughter, to whom he was so devoted, of whom he spoke so frequently. We thought of his wife, who tolerated John’s cycling excursions, then must have resented them like hell when his heart betrayed him despite his apparent fitness; a couple of FRFers tried to stay in touch, to help her deal with the dispersal of John’s bike and parts should she choose to do so, but they were politely rebuffed. Her pain and shock must have been tremendous.


It’s an FRF takeover of the ferry to Barnston Island.

The FRF rides with John’s memory in script on our kit. He would have been proud of today’s effort in the warm sunshine — the peloton 16-strong, the pace moderate, the conviviality overflowing, the sense of adventure never-ending. We had gravel sections, bridges and even a ferry ride across the Fraser River. There were croissants and pains au chocolat at the coffee stop, and fine beers at the end.


This is the way to travel… across the water.

It was a good day for the FRF to remember its fallen friend.

On the road again

22 04 2018

I am a cyclist. Again.


Heading out. First ride of the year on the Franco.

For the second consecutive year, it’s been a spring of bad weather and sporadic rides.

While the Norco gravel bike sustained me through some fun trail rides through the winter, the spring has been another slog of rain and cold temperatures. Riding shouldn’t be misery.

So for the better part of more than a month, the Norco gathered dust. Nevermind the Franco, which hasn’t left the condo since October.

Until Saturday.

Finally a forecast of dry weather, maybe even some sunshine. And that meant dry roads.


Finally, the sun breaks through the clouds!

With Little Ring at Granny’s for the weekend, and Princess of Pavement deeply engrossed in studying for her final final exam of the term, I was free to ride. A promising weather report was the only motivation I needed.

So after a little tweaking from fellow FRFer, Guy, on Thursday, Franco was hoisted to the roof rack early Saturday morning to join the Saturday crew out of Coquitlam for a jaunt to Fort Langley, and beyond for some.


Heading out by the dawn’s early gloom.

Just my luck, as I started to drive, it started to rain.

But there was light blue sky to the south, visible in the dawn’s early light.

The ride had a bit of everything one could want from an early-season venture; some banter and catching up, a bit of gravel, one flat (not me), a stretch of pace-lining, a biting breeze and burning quads.


Franco, meet gravel. Gravel, meet Franco.


This is what happens when a tri bike meets gravel…

It’s always hard to gauge your capabilities early in the season. Once the legs start turning, it’s easy to overestimate their fitness and bite off more mileage than they should chew.

But at about the 39 km mark, I knew I’d have to turn back if I didn’t want to blow myself up on the return ride; 78 or 79 kms is still a good day out I bargained with myself — especially in April.


A familiar friend en route to Fort Langley.

The cycling season has begun. The weather is taking a turn for the better. And so are my spirits. I’m back in the saddle.


19 03 2018



Rolling past crocuses in Vancouver.


We’re well past the middle of March and, finally, we are getting tantalizing tastes of spring: daylight savings time; the odd warm day; a craving for burgers on the grill; a burning desire to ride.

The Norco prevented the winter from being a total write-off. Although, at the end of the day, getting out for a ride in the cold and darkness is mostly about overcoming a loathing for being in the cold and dark.

Now that spring officially arrives in a matter of hours, the Norco is seeing some pavement as the Franco bides its time for the winter’s grime to be washed down storm drains. But it’s getting antsy.

Friday, with some time in the bank and sunshine in the sky, it was a riding day. Franco beckoned, and its tires were pumped. But some minor mechanical adjustments gave pause, and she was rehung on the wall.

Norco is a fine bike. She’s a blast on the trails and in the snow. And she performs admirably on the road. But her lines are nowhere near as lithe as Franco, her giddy-up nowhere near as sprightly. She ploughs; Franco dances.

Friday’s effort was a modest 54 kms. It’s a far cry from two years ago when I had time on my hands and plenty more rides in my legs. But at least it was something. And the budding trees, popping crocuses and warming rays of sun portent more rides to come.