Enjoying the view from Dad World

21 06 2015

Being a dad was never one of the overriding goals of my life.

For most of my adult life, fatherhood wasn’t even on my radar. I hadn’t met the right partner. I had plenty of other interests and activities to occupy my time and attention. I was scared.

Years passed.

Then along came Princess of Pavement. And she thought it would be cool to have a kid.

So we did.

Admittedly I got into the game pretty late.

The patterns and rhythms of my life were well-entrenched.

There’s no doubt the arrival of Little Ring would turn them upside down.

So he did. In the best way possible.

When you’re not of the Dad World, you tend to roll your eyes at all those cliches of dad-dom: it’s the best thing ever; it enriches you in ways you never thought possible; there’s never a dull moment; you’ll never sleep again.

When you join the Dad World, those cliches start to define you.

Some dads go into the Dad World with very definite ideas of the kind of dad they want to be, the example they want to set for their child.

I had no idea.

It would be cool if he glommed onto some of my interests, so we could share them. I’d like him to be curious about the world around him, eager to learn. I’d want him to be tolerant, open-minded, accepting. Brave but not foolhardy would also be good traits to impart. Smart and funny would serve him well.

Somehow, just 34 months into his young life, Little Ring is all of those.

I have no idea how much credit Princess of Pavement and I can take for that, or how much is bred into him.

His curiosity was apparent from the get-go. Whenever we went for walks Little Ring alertly took in everything around him from his stroller, his eyes darted back and forth, his head turned this way and that. Everything he saw was a wonderment. It was as if he wanted to drink the world in in one big gulp.

Who says newspapers are a dying medium. Little Ring gives his daddy hope.

Who says newspapers are a dying medium. Little Ring gives his daddy hope.

Little Ring’s bravery is a force. He wants to try new things, he wants to climb, he wants to explore. But he seems to have an innate sense for his limitations, and he’s not afraid to ask for help when he needs it. That’s the biggest bravery of all.

He’s sharp. He asks questions and makes note of the answers. He can connect the dots.

Road bike party!

Road bike party!

He’s funny. And usually he knows it. preceding his own jokes with a sly, knowing giggle.

That he’d share my love for cycling and hockey was inevitable. One of the first things we did when we got home from the hospital was watch the Vuelta together. I told him what was happening, I regaled him with tales of Eddy Merckx. We hung a cycling alphabet poster in his room.

Little Ring pays rapt attention to the Giro, cheering for his favorite team.

Little Ring pays rapt attention to the Giro, cheering for his favorite team.

The hockey was more accidental. Apparently whenever I watched a game, he was taking note of what was going on. He knew the goalies, the players, the referee and the zamboni. He figured out penalties.

Being Little Ring’s dad is a marvel every day. His smile lightens my heart. His giggle uplifts me. The quirky things he says make me laugh out loud.

As his vocabulary widens, and his understanding of the world deepens, we can share stories, have conversations, and I’m able to see my own world from a new perspective. And it looks pretty darn good.

So on this, Father’s Day, I’d like to thank Little Ring for letting me be his dad. Forever.





Group dynamics, or, the importance of beer at the end of a ride

15 06 2015

FR Fuggitivi is growing.

I haven’t been able to attend many of the Sunday morning group rides so far this season. Scheduling and daddy duty often take priority.

But in my absence, the group has added a number of riders.

What started a few years ago as a chance posting to the internet to gauge interest in a riding group based in suburbia has grown from an occasional handful to a consistent eight to as many as a dozen. Reportedly there are a few more out there sitting on the fence, wondering if the group ride idea is for them.

I had the same hesitation.

I’d always been a lone wolf, preferring the company of my own thoughts, planning and executing my own route, my effort on the road accountable only to myself.

But the routes I favoured had become repetitive. My motivation waned occasionally.

Joining a group ride reinvigorated my sense of adventure on the bike. Everyone brings new route ideas, new places to stop for refuelling, new skills, new challenges, new conversation.

Yes, Guy really does pack latex gloves in his emergency kit so he doesn't get his hands dirty while changing a flat.

Yes, Guy really does pack latex gloves in his emergency kit so he doesn’t get his hands dirty while changing a flat.

But the group dynamic can be a tricky, perilous tightrope. What if not everyone shares the same goals, or ideas of what the group should be?

Factions can form. Cohesion and common purpose break down. Chaos ensues.

I know.

I’ve walked that tightrope for 24 years as the organizer of Sunday Morning Road Hockey.

Every new face is an unknown quantity, a bit of a risk to the status quo.

The group has to balance its principles and raison d’être with being welcoming, open to newcomers and what they can bring to the dynamic. The differences can be subtle. They’re often unspoken, rarely quantified.

A strong group leads by example, manages its parameters by its own behaviour.

Those with other ideas usually get the message and move on. Or adjust their own expectations.

On the cycling group scale from casual to competitive, we definitely ride closer to the former than the latter. We keep a good pace, but bragging sprints are rarely contested; we leave those to Strava trophies. We design our rides to be long enough and challenging enough to test our legs, but short enough to still give everyone time for familial pursuits the rest of the day.

Of course, the group’s success at maintaining that level might have something to do with its unofficial motto; More Miles More Beer. Pretty tough to harbour delusions of Cat 1 racing when that’s what brings you home every week.

 





Wind beneath my cleats

12 06 2015

I’ve got a need for speed.

Usually I’m only able to indulge it on descents.

Today I aired it out on the flats.

With a little help from the breeze at my back. Or maybe it was a gale.

Overnight the wind howled, flailing our blinds, spinning our patio umbrella. Further afield, it knocked out power, tore branches from trees.

This morning it was still blowing with purpose.

Usually I cower from riding on windy days.

The constant rush of air over my ears is annoying. The effort to get anywhere can be frustrating.

But sunshine and new wheels on the Lapierre beckoned.

Of course with every tailwind must come a headwind.

But some clever routing along urban bike routes, sheltered by trees and houses, mitigated much of the headwind.

When we turned for home, the full force of the day became apparent.

The wind picked us up and sailed us along. With minimal effort, the Garmin quickly climbed through 30 kph, 40 kph, kissed 50 kph.

This is what it feels like to ride like a pro, I thought. Except they can do it uphill.

I’ll take my victories, and Strava achievements, any way I can.

The reward for a fast day out on the bike; grilled lamb with rosemary from our garden!

The reward for a fast day out on the bike; grilled lamb with rosemary from our garden!





Cycling for passion, not fashion

1 06 2015

Not every roadie is a fashion victim.

Yes, most of us covet the latest wicking micro-fibre jersey, the most comfortable, shock-absorbing shorts. All the better if they’re color-cordinated, even down to the socks.

Shoes are bling. Black is passé; white is the new black. Although, ironically, white quickly becomes black as the grime of the road takes its toll.

Helmets have also become a fashion statement, with manufacturers like POC pushing the design envelope while keeping our heads safe. Wearing a helmet from a boutique company is like belonging to a secret society, being in the “know.”

And then there’s Grant.

Grant (fifth from the left) isn't a curmudgeon when it comes to cycling fashion. He just prefers comfort over Lycra.

Grant (fifth from the left) isn’t a curmudgeon when it comes to cycling fashion. He just prefers comfort over Lycra.

A longtime buddy and work colleague, Grant has been riding his own path for a while.

He started chugging on a heavy hybrid, occasionally making his way into work astride its bulky steel frame.

Then, as he started riding more for recreation, he bought a nifty orange ‘cross bike.

As his leisure rides got longer and longer, his cycling goals more ambitious, he started to see the potential in a sleek, light, road bike. So last year, Grant treated himself to a very fine BMC.

But even as his cycling has progressed, he continues to thumb his nose at the cycling fashionistas.

Grant rides for comfort, not to impress. No Lycra for him, just a t-shirt and hiking shorts. And the pedals on his BMC are old-school flat, no snazzy clips to bind him to carbon-soled shoes; sneakers will suffice.

And it works for him.

He’s a strong rider, even if he’s not the most aero.

Chapeau Grant. A tip of the cycling cap.

Oh yeah, you don’t own one.





A missing man in the FRF peloton

21 05 2015

The FRF peloton is diminished by one rider.

A ripple of shock rippled through our small group of riders late last week as word spread that John had suddenly, and quite unexpectedly, passed away.

John, second from the right, was an enthusiastic rouleur in the FRF peloton, astride his beloved steel bike with old-school toe clips and leather straps. Sadly, he passed away last week, quite unexpectedly.

John, second from the right, was an enthusiastic rouleur in the FRF peloton, astride his beloved steel bike with old-school toe clips and leather straps. Sadly, he passed away last week, quite unexpectedly.

John was retro, but he was anything but a grouch.

While some of us revelled in our lightweight carbon fibre beauties, he pedalled furiously forward on his vintage steel frame, attached to it by traditional toe clips and leather straps.

His classic leather shoes were the first thing I noticed about John when I joined the FRF peloton. They didn’t have fancy buckles or loop closures. They didn’t have shiny reflective heels or slippery carbon fibre soles. They were beautiful in their simplicity.

Over the course of many rides, we still didn’t know much about John. Just as we don’t know much about each other. Conversations about work and family ebb and flow through the course of the morning, but they’re mostly fodder to help the kilometres roll by.

That’s the way it is for a lot of us; we lead compartmentalized lives. We have a work life, family life, social circle and then there are the things we do separate from those, and the world we create around those activities. When any of those worlds intersect, it’s usually in cursory, glancing ways.

It’s like that with road hockey.

I’ve been playing every Sunday morning for 24 years, and I can count on two hands the number of roadsters for whom I knew their real name, occupation, and would be able to recognize them in street clothes away from the hockey court. We created this world and for two or three hours on Sunday morning, it offers a bit of an escape from responsibility, work, the day-to-day stresses.

It’s the same with FRF.

We don’t have nicknames, other than those of us with Twitter handles. We come from disparate backgrounds, occupations. But in the FRF peloton we’re all just cyclists, taking a pull off the front, shooting the breeze at the back, dutifully checking our Garmin stats when we get home.

But on Thursday we got a glimpse of the John we only knew from listening to some of the stories he told as we rode. Almost 500 people attended his funeral. They were colleagues, friends, people whose lives he somehow touched as a nurse at a local hospital.

It was humbling to be amongst such a contingent, even as we represented such a small part of his life.

Ride on John. We’re going to miss you. And your toe clips.





Some enchanted evenings… on the bike

15 04 2015

There are few better harbingers of spring than the first evening ride.

But a lot of pieces besides nice weather have to fall into place for it to happen. The shift ahead by two weeks of Daylight Savings Time a few years ago was a boon for the evening ride. It used to not happen until late April/early May. Now it’s a possibility as soon as the first week of April, right after the clocks change.

The evening ride is a sure sign spring has arrived. Even if it still gets cool as the sun sinks to the horizon.

The evening ride is a sure sign spring has arrived. Even if it still gets cool as the sun sinks to the horizon.

That’s when the evening gloom doesn’t descend until 8 p.m. Late enough to make a 35-40 km spin happen right after dinner.

That is, if dinner can be assembled, consumed and cleaned up in time. Which only happens if Little Ring is cooperative getting out of his daycare, getting into his car seat and getting down to the serious business of eating dinner without too much fuss.

And that dinner has to be somewhat simple, at least partially prepared in advance so the only thing left to do is cook it.

Twice already all those pieces have clicked into place. That’s a record for me for in mid-April.

The rides aren’t long, mostly flat, along a favoured route with minimal traffic lines. That keeps the legs spinning for most of the hour-and-a-half.

The air cools quickly as soon as the sun starts its descent to the horizon.  And if clouds roll in, darkness can come on unexpectedly.

But at this early stage of the riding season, the kilometres are bonus, exercise capital to deposit in the cycling bank.





Requiem for a killer… hill

5 04 2015

It rises gently from the horizon then curves sharply left into the trees.

In the heat of summer, those trees bring welcome shade after the beating sun of the flat valley floor.

At any time of the year, the canopy hides the true menace of the slope.

Killer Hill doesn't get serious until it sweeps left into the stand of trees that camouflage its 20 per cent gradient.

Killer Hill doesn’t get serious until it sweeps left into the stand of trees that camouflage its 20 per cent gradient.

For years, Lefeuvre Road has been the last hill to conquer on the 52 km ride to the Princess of Pavement’s family homestead in the tiny crossroads of Bradner. It’s a killer, maxing out at 20.6 per cent along its 800 metre ascent. If it had cobbles, it would be the Paterberg.

Too often, climbing that hill, I’ve heard the auto pause engage on the Garmin. I’m just going too slow; the satellites think I’ve died.

In 2009, I climbed Killer Hill en route to my wedding. Talk about a last hurrah to bachelor life.

Sometimes Killer Hill is more murderous than others. Especially early in the season. Never does it spare you.

Saturday, I almost bailed from my first ascent of Killer Hill of the season. I had a multitude of excuses; it was cold, it might rain, I wasn’t feeling the right mojo for a ride. Basically, I feared Killer Hill, wanted nothing to do with it.

But Princess of Pavement convinced me otherwise. Do it, she said. Just suck it up and do it.

Perhaps she knew this might be the last time I get to climb Killer HIll. You see, her parents have sold the family homestead; they’re downsizing into condo life.

Soon there will be no reason to ride Killer Hill. No beautiful wedding to call me to its summit. No roast pig on a spit to fill my belly. No cold beer offered on a hot day. No great family gathering.

It did rain on the way to Killer Hill on Saturday. It also hailed. It was cold at first, then warmed as the sun tried to break through the towering slate clouds.

Killer Hill didn’t end up killing me after all. I’d leave it at that, but I’m sure we’ll meet again.








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