Smoke gets in our eyes. And lungs.

25 08 2015

Of all the weather on all the meteorology maps in all the world, we never counted on smoke.

It’s been a hot, dry summer. And in the days leading up to Sunday’s climactic FRF Fondon’t to Mt. Baker, we all hoped that trend would continue.

But the downside to hot, dry summers in this part of the world is the tendency of forests to catch fire. It’s been happening a lot. Careless smokers, lightning, spontaneous combustion; all of them conspiring to char the landscape and choke the air with woody smoke.

Which is exactly what wafted over us early Sunday as we car-pooled to the launch rendezvous for our 160 km roundtrip ride up the Northwest’s tallest peak.

The smoke settled in the valleys, dimmed the horizon, obscured distant peaks.

Smoke blankets nearby ridges as the FRF crew rolls out early Sunday morning.

Smoke blankets nearby ridges as the FRF crew rolls out early Sunday morning.

By the time we fell into a quick paceline after clearing U.S. Customs at Sumas, the smoke tickled our throats.

Otherwise, it was a fine day. Warm but not too warm, no breeze to slow us.

This year’s FRF Fondon’t contingent comprised seven regulars and three privateers joining us for our big day out.

The FRF crew plus special guests gather in a parking lot on home soil before crossing border to their destination, Le Sommet.

The FRF crew plus special guests gather in a parking lot on home soil before crossing border to their destination, Le Sommet.

It was a fast bunch, and by the time we got into the meat of Silver Lake Rd., a quieter but longer approach, I had fallen off the pace, lost contact.

Taking a break at Maple Falls, before the serious riding begins.

Taking a break at Maple Falls, before the serious riding begins.

But I didn’t fret, just fell into a comfortable pace. The purpose of our ride, the 20 km ascent to Artist’s Point atop Mt. Baker, was still a long, hilly way off.

FRF’s entire season had been structured for this ride. That meant lots of climbing.

In the weeks leading up, I’d ascended Mt. Seymour twice, Cypress Mt. once, Burnaby Mountain more than a few times. I’d made it out to a number of the regular Tuesday night climbing rides.

Team photo at Glacier. Who will survive? Who will summit?

Team photo at Glacier. Who will survive? Who will summit?

I’d never ridden Baker. I wanted to be prepared.

It’s not a hard climb; grades rarely nipped past six or seven per cent, and usually only in the switchback hairpins.

But it’s long. And it’s official 16 km route is rendered even longer by the approach from Glacier that rolls up and down into a river valley for another 20 km.

The road heads up, and then down, and then up again en route to Mt. Baker.

The road heads up, and then down, and then up again en route to Mt. Baker.

At the service yard that marks the official start of the mountain’s ascent, my thighs were already sore.

Again the speedy climbers shot away, leaving me with only my heavy breathing to keep my company.

A few times along those early ramps, my Garmin mocked me by going into Auto Pause. I blamed the trees, maybe the smoke. I hoped it wasn’t because I was going so slowly.

Sadly, the smoke obscured the peek-a-boo views of sprawling valleys and distant peaks which Baker’s veterans assured me were all around.

But it’s a beautiful climb nonetheless. The towering trees of the lower slopes shade the road.

As they thin towards the alpine, the road begins twisting and turning in ever-tightening switchbacks. They lessen the gradient, but they also demoralize the spirit.

Seeing those switchbacks rise up and away above me, I thought a couple of times of packing it in, waiting to catch the group on their way down. The climb seemed never-ending, and my legs, my belly and my lungs weren’t happy.

But you don’t ride this far, prepare all season to only get part way.

The magnificence of the surroundings kept me going.

Riding up Baker is a true mountain climb, the closest thing we have to a Tourmalet or Mt. Ventoux.

I imagined the crazed tifossi lining the narrow, rocky shoulder, their cheers pushing me through my limits.

More importantly, I anticipated the leans and sweeping turns of the speedy descent. I didn’t want to deprive myself of a single switchback, skip a hairpin, neglect a ridge.

 

The view from here is magnificent. If it wasn't so smokey!

The view from here is magnificent. If it wasn’t so smokey!

 

Le Sommet.

Le Sommet.

Because for every gruelling, arduous ascent, there’s a beautiful, exhilarating descent.

Lunch!

Lunch!

 





Climbing to cure pancreatic cancer

16 08 2015

 

For eight years, the Glotman-Simpson engineering company has sponsored a ride up Cypress Mountain to raise money for research into the cause and treatment of pancreatic cancer.

One of the company’s founders, Geoff Glotman, had lost his mother-in-law to the insidious disease, which has a mortality rate of almost 100 per cent. Glotman is an avid cyclist. His company sponsors a rather large cycling club. So he put the two together to create the Cypress Challenge to raise awareness and money to help improve the odds for those diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

All the registration money for the Cypress Challenge goes to fund research into the cause and treatment of pancreatic cancer. This year's ride raised more than $400,000.

All the registration money for the Cypress Challenge goes to fund research into the cause and treatment of pancreatic cancer. This year’s ride raised more than $400,000.

My dad died in 2004 of pancreatic cancer.

It was not a pleasant end. Within months of his diagnosis, he was wasting away to nothing, his pain controlled by increasing amounts of morphine. And there was nothing we could do. By the time pancreatic cancer presents itself with symptoms, it’s usually too late.

So when the Cypress Challenge was moved to a Sunday date this year from its usual Saturday, and with the company of some fellow FRFers, I registered.

I’d never ridden up Cypress Mountain. But I’ve wanted to for some time.

A ride with a view. Waiting for the call to line-up for the start of the 2015 Cypress Challenge.

A ride with a view. Waiting for the call to line-up for the start of the 2015 Cypress Challenge.

Cypress veterans assured me it’s easier than the opposite bookend of the North Shore’s three major climbs, Seymour. Just as long, 12 kms, but a more gradual, steady gradient.

The Challenge is simply the climb, 24 kms round trip. To make it a good morning out, our trio of FRFers shuttled in the early morning gloom to North Burnaby and rode from there to the start point, ensuring at least 75 kms of riding.

The Challenge has all the trappings of a Fondo, the mass start, the nervous anticipation before rollout, chip timing, treats at the end.

The FR Fugittivi represents at the 2015 Cypress Challenge.

The FR Fugittivi represents at the 2015 Cypress Challenge.

A starting line selfie. That's Ross on my right, Guy to my left.

A starting line selfie. That’s Ross on my right, Guy to my left.

But they come at a fraction of the price, with all the registration money going to the cause. Services and treats are all donated, or absorbed by the organizer.

The announcer said this year’s peloton was the biggest ever, more than 650 riders.

We formed an impressive snake spread over two lanes up the sinewy curves of the mountain’s lower slope at the start line.

More than 600 riders make an impressive snake up the coiling curves of Cypress Mountain's early slopes.

More than 600 riders make an impressive snake up the coiling curves of Cypress Mountain’s early slopes.

Once the start horn blasted, it didn’t take long for the snake to thin out. Climbs have a way of doing that, which is likely why most fondos try to place some sort of climb early in the route to make it safer for everyone.

The advice I was given before the ride was to just find my pace, which is exactly what I did. It’s not blistering by any stretch, but I never felt uncomfortable or strained. I passed some riders. Some passed me. For the most part, I hung in with the same general group most of the way.

At the top, 53 minutes after I had crossed the timing mat at the start, there was too many sweet treats in which to indulge; donuts, cinnamon buns, breakfast burritos, muffins, energy bars, recovery drinks, yogurt beverages. A good idea at the time; not so great about an hour later.

Awaiting us at the top, a photo op with 2012 Giro champion Ryder Hesjedal.

Awaiting us at the top, a photo op with 2012 Giro champion Ryder Hesjedal.

All in all, a great event for an important cause. I hope they keep running it on Sundays.





June is Bike Month; July is cycling month

1 08 2015

June is Bike Month.

But July is cycling month.

It’s the month when Le Tour takes over the TV; the news and other regular programming goes unwatched.

It’s the month of long days and longer rides.

It’s the month of big mileage, sore legs, new routes.

Here's something you don't see on every ride; a bear in the city!

Here’s something you don’t see on every ride; a bear in the city!

Last year, July was a bit of a letdown.

The Tour was lame. And for the first time since 2009, I didn’t achieve 1,000 km in July’s 31 days.

This year I was determined to right that ship.

The weather helped. Aside from a couple of light sprinkles, and a rainy morning that scuttled our group ride on the month’s last Sunday, every day was dry, usually sunny, mostly warm.

A hot slog up through the Seymour demonstration forest; but the effort is worth it.

A hot slog up through the Seymour demonstration forest; but the effort is worth it.

The company of other riders helped. Two of our FR Fuggitivi rides in the month topped 100 km. And the summer of Grant meant there was always someone to answer the request; “wanna ride?”

In fact, Grant’s mileage made my modest accomplishment look like a medio fondo.

Still, it was a good month; I was on the bike 17 times for a total of 1,312.6 km.

That made it my best July since 2008, when I just nudged over 1,600 km in the month, also in 17 rides.

But then, 11 of those rides were longer than 100 km.

The metric century seems harder to achieve now. I don’t know why.

I doubt it’s a question of fitness or commitment.

I think it’s about time.

In 2008, with no family, no Little Ring to drop off and pick up from daycare, no errands like groceries or laundry to tend to on an almost daily basis, spending seven or eight hours on the bike didn’t feel like stealing time from other duties.

Now, those duties call constantly.

Six hours on the bike instead means a couple of hours leftover to answer those commitments of life, to ensure everything is in order when Princess of Pavement returns from school, Little Ring gets home hungry for food and attention.

It’s a good shift of ride-life balance.

The mileage may not be as extreme. But the experience is richer.





What I did on summer vacation. Ride, of course.

22 07 2015

I need a vacation. From my vacation.

As has become something of a Big Ring tradition for more than a decade, I book off for the last two weeks of Le Tour de France. Unfortunately, I don’t have the funds that allow me to actually attend Le Tour de France every year.

So I get up early to watch the live TV coverage, then head out for a ride that pales in comparison to what the pros achieve on a daily basis.

It’s a vacation of many kilometres, guilt-free snacking and little rest or relaxation.

This year, circumstances have allowed me to ride in the company of my former colleague, and current cycling fashion curmudgeon, Grant, who’s taking full advantage of his summer sabbatical to crank the pedals and crank up the mileage.

Grant has an issue with simple out-and-back rides. That means we have to design circuitous loops. Not always easy. But certainly conducive to new explorations and long rides.

We climbed the highlands above Kanaka Creek in eastern Maple Ridge. We crossed an old wooden single-lane bridge to the rural enclave of Westham Island. We hopped a free shuttle service that ferries us underneath the Fraser River. We were amongst the first dozens of cyclists to try the new traverse on the Port Mann Bridge over the Fraser River. We found excellent new sandwich stops in Ladner Village, Maple Ridge and North Vancouver.

And, of course, there were flats. This is the summer of flats, after all.

And, of course, there were flats. This is the summer of flats, after all.

An old single-lane bridge is the only way on, and off, the rural enclave of Westham Island.

An old single-lane bridge is the only way on, and off, the rural enclave of Westham Island.

Fields of flowering potatoes stretch to the horizon on Westham Island.

Fields of flowering potatoes stretch to the horizon on Westham Island.

Blackberries are an unexpected treat while waiting for the Massey Tunnel shuttle to depart.

Blackberries are an unexpected treat while waiting for the Massey Tunnel shuttle to depart.

Triumph! Cycling fashion curmudgeon Grant celebrates his first ascent of Mt. Seymour.

Triumph! Cycling fashion curmudgeon Grant celebrates his first ascent of Mt. Seymour.

Don't let the shopping plaza aesthetic dissuade you from trying the excellent food at In Grain. A tasty reward for climbing and descending Mt. Seymour.

Don’t let the shopping plaza aesthetic dissuade you from trying the excellent food at In Grain. A tasty reward for climbing and descending Mt. Seymour.

With more than a week still left in the month, I’ve already achieved my 1,000 km goal, an annual yardstick of my cycling fitness that eluded me last year.

My legs are tired. But it’s a good tired.





Célébration Bastille brumeux

12 07 2015

The FR Fuggitivi ascribes to the Italian cycling ethos: ride for enjoyment, look good while doing it, and the quality of the coffee stop is as important as the Strava data.

But once a year, we channel our inner Bobet, pull on our French cycling kits, stumble through the high school french expressions we’ve somehow manage to retain and head up.

FR Fuggitivi’s French day falls on the closest Sunday to Bastille Day, which usually coincides with the beginning of the mountain stages in Le Tour de France.

For us, a mountain stage means Mt. Seymour; 1000 metres of elevation over 13 kilometres.

Guy serenades the bikes with a little piano music to soothe the savage climb ahead.

Guy serenades the bikes with a little piano music to soothe the savage climb ahead.

Fortunately, this year’s Gallic grind also coincided with a break in the heat wave that has afflicted this neck of the woods since pretty much the middle of May.

Richard channels his inner Virenque.

Richard channels his inner Virenque.

The misty clouds that shrouded us almost the entire climb were a welcome relief to the interminable furnace that softened the pavement and parched our throats on last Sunday’s epic Tour de Everywhere.

I wish I was a faster climber.

But as I’ve learned over many years of climbing the Grouse Grind, a steady, comfortable pace ensures survival.

While the mountain goats in the group spun off into the distance, Richard (Not Virenque) and I maintained a rhythm that kept us moving forward and upward, while still saving us enough breath for conversation. The mist had the added bonus of hiding from our sight the inclines ahead. Instead, we counted off the kilometre markers on the side of the road.

The view from the FRF autobus. The mist shrouds the inclines ahead.

The view from the FRF autobus. The mist shrouds the inclines ahead.

By the time we reached the foggy, chilly summit, everyone else in the group was bundled up and ready to head down. So we turned and followed.

The group is ready to head down.

The group is ready to head down.

Alas, the same damp mist that was our salve on the ascent, meant the roads were wet and slicked for the descent, so there would be no land speed records set today.

Of course, what's an FRF ride without the requisite puncture; my fourth official flat this season!

Of course, what’s an FRF ride without the requisite puncture; my fourth official flat this season!





Mann oh Mann

4 07 2015

There’s a new bridge in town.

Actually, the new Port Mann Bridge has been open to traffic for a few years now. The billion-dollar behemoth spans the Fraser River, linking the eastern suburbs to Vancouver and its immediate neighbours. For a time it was the widest cable-stayed bridge in the world, comprised of 10 lanes for highway traffic, and one for pedestrians and cyclists.

Well, it took them a while to finish the latter.

Cyclists welcomed the news of an additional crossing with a jaundiced eye.

The narrow old Port Mann bridge had no accommodation for cyclists or pedestrians, meaning a ride over the Fraser River and out to the Valley could only be achieved by a circuitous route to some of the other, more distant bridges like the Golden Ears or the Alex Fraser. The old Pattullo is an immediate option, but it’s a horrific, dangerous traverse that requires nerves of steel because of the close proximity of speeding traffic along its narrow lanes.

But the new Port Mann is bookended by complicated weaves of entrance and exit ramps that are difficult enough for a motorist to disentangle. How a bike lane would be squeezed between them was anybody’s guess.

Well, Wednesday we got our answer when the lane officially opened.

It’s on the east side of the bridge, offering a soaring view of the river below and the valley beyond.

150704bridge

The lane is wide, the climb from the west end gradual enough that it doesn’t strain the legs.

A high barrier hides much of the traffic speeding past on the highway, and adds a further sense of safety.

So far, the entrance to the bridge is still a bit of a mystery to the rookie crosser. There’s a lack of signage on the feeder bike path, and until you’re actually on the final approach to the bridge, it’s still hard to conjure how a bike path could access the bridge. Hopefully that’s dealt with.

It’s a good crossing that opens up new options for exploration. It should be used.





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.








Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 65 other followers