Slow and steady. Mostly slow.

28 06 2010


I was feeling every step from yesterday’s climb up the Grouse Grind during tonight’s slow and arduous ascent of Burnaby Mountain. Emphasis on slow, as my speedo dipped below double figures a couple of times.

The morning rain and continuing gloom made an evening ride seem unlikely earlier in the day, but as the sky brightened just before dinner, so did my aspirations to get on the bike.

As Katie was heading to yoga in the evening, I was unencumbered. And while the skies gloomed up again as we ate dinner, I was undeterred, although the grayness meant I’d have to scale back my notions of a longer 65 km ride.

A construction project on the overpass I usually use to traverse the railroad tracks at the start of my rides has necessitated some adjustments to my usual route. It took me a few tries to come up with a new exit strategy from our area that wouldn’t kill my legs completely on any of the multitude of hills that are the only way out of New West. The one I settled on may actually become my new start, as it’s steeper but much shorter than my usual route; two blocks of climbing instead of six.

The real problem is coming home.

All my hill options are really steep, often bisected by busy cross-streets. That means lots of stopping, which isn’t always easy on a steep descent.

The way home is paved with steepness. Too much of it in fact.

On one route, I almost skidded out when I had to jam on the brakes for a turning car. On another, my back wheel actually lifted off the road when I had to stop on the slope for a red light.

I’m still trying to find the right combination of streets with manageable traffic and gentler hills. But by the time I achieve that, the bridge to my old route will probably be fixed.

Sometimes, the weather can be a Grind

27 06 2010

Sunday’s cool, damp grayness may not have been so conducive to a long ride, but it was perfect conditions for a little cross-training.

It was a perfect morning to climb the Grouse Grind.

The Grind is a 2.9 km trail that climbs 853 meters up Grouse Mountain; that’s an average gradient of about 30 per cent!

The Grouse Grind summits somewhere up in those clouds.

It was cut in the early 1980s by a couple of outdoorsman and over the years has become very popular with anyone looking to achieve a fitness burn in the great outdoors.

This popularity has meant great long sections of the trail have had to be shored up with rock and wood stairs, some with rope handrails.

Make no mistake, it’s still a rugged, challenging climb, especially when it’s wet and the rocks and roots are slippery and the dirt sections have turned to slick mud. Which makes it all the more bewildering when people head up the trail wearing jeans, or flipflops, or carrying their groceries, or a kid in a pack on their back.

On a nice day, the trail can feel and look more like a vertical highway at rush hour than a wilderness hike as all manner of touristas and casual climbers try to find out what all the fuss is about.

But the rain tends to keep them confined to the malls. That makes it easier to find parking at the bottom of the trail, and easier to achieve a good time on the climb.

Because make no mistake, doing the Grind is all about the time.

Dedicated, hard-core Grinders can even buy a special card they swipe at a reader at the beginning and end of the trail to record their time in a computer, which displays the results on monitors in the ski lodge up top.

The best time ever recorded was just over 24 minutes.

A person of decent fitness should take anywhere from an hour to 90 minutes.

A few years ago, when I had done a number of Grinds, I was able to get my time down to about 44 minutes.

Sunday, I reached the top in 50 minutes. Not bad for the first time out.

I actually had an excellent first quarter, which is the longest, but least steep, sector. But I paid the price for my quick early pace through the middle half, when my legs felt like lead. I recovered nicely in the last quarter, though, and ended up finishing about a minute ahead of my riding buddy Dan, and two minutes ahead of Shanksman.

A rare sight indeed, Dan reaching the summit about a minute after me.

I learned years ago the key is to keep moving, even when your legs want you to take a break; essentially you take working breaks, just slowing your pace a bit to recover.

As the weather at the summit was rather dismal, cold and pouring rain, and it was still morning, we didn’t hang around long to indulge in our usual reward of a cold beer on the outdoor patio. Just bought our tickets for the gondola ride back down the mountain and headed home.

As in all things in life, what goes up, must come down. Our last $5 ride on the gondola.

It turns out, today was the last day for one of the last great bargains of BC; tourists who ride the gondola up and then down the mountain pay $42 but if you hike up, the ride down costs  only $5. But Monday that downbound fee doubles to $10!

While that $5 fee hasn’t changed for years, and we were even discussing in the early part of our hike while we were all still together the likelihood that it would be going up with the implementation of the new Harmonized Sales Tax that combines the federal GST and the Provincial Sales Tax, a 100 per cent increase feels a bit like a gouge!

An historical artifact: the last day of the last of the great BC bargains.

It’ll be interesting to see if the fee increase leads to more people choosing to hike DOWN the Grind, even though there are signs warning against it, and those who have done it say it’s even tougher on the knees and more dangerous than the hike up.

A ride, and a rebuttal

25 06 2010

It’s fitting that my ride on the last Friday of Bike Month achieved a number of firsts.

• It was my first ride of the season without tights, a jacket, full-finger gloves, or warmers of any kind; we’re finally getting some summer weather!

• As a consequence of the former, it was also the first time I had to do a full-on application of sun screen; hello tan!

• I also stopped to enjoy my first street ‘dog of the season. Yeah, not the healthiest lunch, but there’s something simply sublime about a well-grilled smokie garnished with raw onions, mustard and sauerkraut.

Mmmmm, hot dog!

• It was my first round-trip ride to The Stan, otherwise known as Stanley Park.

I've no idea why the flags are at half-staff at Stanley Park. The first anniversary of Michael Jackson's death, perhaps?

• Which means it was also my first 100+ kilometer ride of the season; 103.64 km to be exact.

My first 100km ride of the season! Albeit much later than usual.

Unfortunately, all of those accomplishments came at least a month later than they usually do; last year my first 100 km ride happened on March 13. That’s how crummy our spring/early summer has been.

Riding to The Stan necessitates traversing the Burrard Bridge. Before last year, that crossing was always the source of heart-stuttering anxiety; bikes were confined to the narrow sidewalks, battling for space with often oblivious pedestrians. And with the road more than a foot below the sidewalks, there was no margin for error.

Last year Vancouver council decided to close one lane of the bridge to car traffic and turn it over to cyclists. They also gave the full northbound sidewalk to bikes and confined pedestrians to their own southbound sidewalk.

Now the crossing is pleasant and stress-free.

Except to some blowhard dinosaur motorists.

Like the host of the afternoon drive show on the local all-sports talk radio station, David Pratt.

One afternoon last week he kicked off his show with a 10-minute rant against cyclists. By the end of it, he all but encouraged motorists to start running cyclists off the road. My jaw was agape. Katie also heard it and she was outraged.

What set off his hate-filled vitriolic diatribe was a recent decision by Vancouver council to build a bike lane on another of the bridges serving the downtown core.

Now, I don’t listen to sports talk radio expecting to hear intelligent, well-reasoned discourse and debate. Mostly it’s just background noise while I’m in the car, with the occasional nugget that catches my attention.

Mr. Pratt’s anti-cyclist crusade was an absolute turd.

According to Mr. Pratt, granola-chomping, non-tax paying, eco-terrorist cyclists have co-opted the local government and are plotting to squeeze the fossil-fuel guzzling car into extinction because he’s lost access to one lane for his ten minute drive from his downtown condo to his station’s studio.

Of course, if Mr. Pratt got out of his Mercedes and walked the 20 minutes or so it would take him to do that commute on foot, or, better yet, ride a bike, he might not be so prone to getting stressed out by the inconvenience these new bikes lanes are apparently causing him.

It’s his contention that the bikes lanes, built to serve only a handful of cyclists, are causing unnecessary traffic congestion, making it impossible for motorists to get into the downtown, likely scaring many of them away from ever venturing there.

But his argument quickly falls apart.

The lanes aren’t being built just for existing cyclists, but to create a safe environment to encourage future cyclists to park their cars and get on their bikes now that they can get to work reasonably assured that they won’t be run over by a bus.

And where is this choking traffic congestion of which he speaks? At rush hour? Well, that’s always been the case, even before the bike lane. But certainly not in the middle of a Friday afternoon.

Everything is calm and orderly on the Burrard Bridge in the middle of a Friday afternoon.

As often occurs when car-loving dinosaurs rant against cyclists, Mr. Pratt’s characterization of cyclists as scofflaws who don’t pay taxes and yet have the gall to claim a right to a piece of the road paid for totally by motorists is based entirely on ignorance.

By law, bikes are recognized as vehicles with the same rights and responsibilities to the road as a Ferrari or semi-tractor trailer. Sure there’s some cyclists who take advantage of that recognition to do pretty much whatever they please, usually at their peril. But there’s just as many motorists who speed, blow yellow and red lights, roll through stop signs, change lanes or make turns without signaling. It’s up to the police to enforce traffic laws upon whoever abuses them. And it’s up to everyone to take responsibility for their actions on the roads, whether we’re on two wheels or four.

As for not paying taxes, I wonder if Mr. Pratt could point to the line in the Revenue Canada tax forms that asks whether I’m a cyclist, and then absolves me from paying tax; heck, if that was the case, I could afford to buy a new Pinarello or DeRosa every year!

News flash Mr. Pratt; most cyclists have jobs, that means we DO pay federal and provincial taxes. Most of us aren’t homeless, which means we also pay municipal property taxes, either directly as homeowners, or as a share of rent payments as tenants. And many of us aren’t so puritanical that we also don’t drive cars.

So yeah Mr. Pratt, we’ve also helped pay for those very roads upon which we choose to ride our bikes. Get over yourself, and your prehistoric ways.

A necessary evil

24 06 2010

Sometimes you’ve gotta do what you’ve gotta do.

We’re finally getting some weather worthy of being called summer, and after some ambivalence earlier in the day, I left work with ride on my mind.

Katie would be at her running clinic and not home until later, the sun was out, the temperature balmy. I picked up some takeout sushi to minimize my dinner time, even changed into my cycling kit before eating.

But as I sat at the dinner table, I was overwhelmed by the crumb-bunnies taunting me from the countertop and the floor, the fingerprint smudges on the stainless steel appliances, and the dust on the mantle. The condo needed a good cleaning!

With Katie running five days a week now as she trains for her first marathon, and my own workdays busy to the point of exhaustion, the routine condo cleanups have been slipping a bit lately.

So off came the bike shorts and out came the cleaning fluids.

Sometimes cleaning can be good for the soul.

Nowhere near the calorie burn of a 65 km evening ride, but a clean condo gives almost as much satisfaction.

A little of dis, a little of Dazs

22 06 2010

Cycling earns you rewards.

Fitness. Ripped calf muscles. A nice tan. The adulation and reverence of passing motorists.

Well, maybe not that last one.

But the best reward of all for a road ride is ICE CREAM!

More specifically HAAGEN DAZS!

How can an ice cream be a "Limited Edition.?" Does that mean if I never open it, I could sell it on eBay for a huge profit sometime down the road?

(Or Ben & Jerry’s, if it happens to be on sale)

Katie and I have a long-abiding relationship with Haagen Dazs, especially the flavors with a chocolaty inclination; Vanilla Swiss Almond, Chocolate Chip, and (apparently) for a limited time only, Chocolate Chocolate Chip.

We’ve indulged our love for Haagen Dazs in Paris and Barcelona, and most recently, in the very first Haagen Dazs store, in Brooklyn Heights.

Enjoying a little Dazs at their very first store, in Brooklyn Heights. Note the Giro d'Italia hat, thus earning my right to a Haagen Dazs reward.

We’re forever dismayed by the general lack of Haagen Dazs stores in our neck of the woods.

And we’re really miffed about the way we’re shortchanged on the flavors; the Haagen-Dazs website lists more than 40 flavors of ice cream, seven types of sorbet, eight frozen yogurts and a new product of all-natural ice creams with only five ingredients that come in nine flavors. The website for Nestle Canada, who is licensed to make Haagen Dazs up here lists less than half those flavors. The ice cream freezer at our local grocery store has all of EIGHT flavors, and none of the fancier stuff.

Where is our banana split, our cherry vanilla, our pineapple coconut? Why are we deprived of rocky road and dark chocolate?

And don’t even get me started on how Ben & Jerry’s have deprived us of their flavorful goodness; their US website shows about 51 different flavors, of which we’re lucky to get eight (although their new “Let’s go waffling” is quickly becoming my all-time favorite).

What is up with our Haagen-Dazs deprivation???? Is America afraid if we’re given access to the full range of premium ice cream flavors, we’ll take over and make them even better?????

Father’s Day

20 06 2010

My dad and I will be forever connected by cycling.

Heck, I’m on this earth, writing this blog, because of the bike; he met my mom while on a cycling tour of his native Germany. He courted her from his bike. And after he immigrated to Canada, he convinced her to join him.

Of course, when I was a kid, he did all the fatherly things; took the training wheels off my first bike, steadied me as I learned to ride a two-wheeler, made sure I didn’t fall asleep after I banged my head while crashing that two-wheeler, bought me various bikes through the years as I outgrew them, and then kept them in good repair with annual overhauls.

My last great memory of him involves cycling.

In October 2003, the World Cycling Championships were held in Hamilton right next to my hometown of Burlington. That summer, I had been to France that July to see the final week of Le Tour, so I was enthralled many of those pros would be riding some of the same streets I knew as a young roadie. I booked a flight home.

It was a great weekend, perfect fall weather, Thanksgiving turkey dinner and pelotons of national cycling teams training all over the place.

On the Sunday I took transit into downtown Hamilton to watch the men’s final. It was a fabulous day, a lively race, lunch on a patio next to the course, hung out with the Devil for a bit. My dad collected me from the train station and indulged me as I told him of my day. He was tanned from a summer of working in the garden, lean and fit as always, and forever smiling.

A couple of weeks later, after I had returned to my life at the other end of the country, he told me during our weekly phone conversation he’d been having some medical issues; he was getting some tests done but he wasn’t overly worried. He suspected it might just be some side effects from the anti-cholesterol drug he’d been prescribed.

It didn’t sound particularly ominous.

In early November he said the doctors had found a tumor on his pancreas, and he’d know more after his next doctor’s appointment, with an oncologist. Again, he sounded confident it would all get sorted.

But a little research on the internet gave me a more realistic picture. Pancreatic cancer is one of the most insidious of all the cancers. It lurks in that small, but important, gland, deep within the belly, shielded from easy detection by a bunch of other organs. By the time symptoms indicate something is amiss, the disease has already taken a solid foothold, and likely spread. The prognosis is never good.

I know my dad knew that too. He would have been spending hours on his computer as well, researching whatever his doctors had told him, getting a grasp on why he was losing weight and looking a little jaundiced.

In December he had major surgery to relieve some of the blockage in his bile duct. I flew home to be with my mom. It was a grueling day, made even tougher by the cold, bitter wind blowing off Lake Ontario. At the end of it, it was difficult to see my dad in the recovery room hooked up to all sorts of hoses and wires to a myriad of machines and monitors.

But his color was back to normal, and within a couple of weeks he was active and in good spirits.

By January, life seemed to be going on as normal. My dad was eating well, getting out and about, enjoying life again.

When we spoke on the phone, we didn’t talk much about the cancer. I think we all wanted to think something miraculous was going on, and to speak of it might burst that bubble.

The reprieve lasted about three months.

By late March his color was yellowing again. HIs appetite was diminishing. He was complaining of back pain. And he was getting very frustrated at this turn in his health. My mom was at a loss at how to comfort him.

I went home for a visit in April. It was a difficult week. My dad was sleeping a lot, eating very little. When he was awake, he was often frustrated and angry. My mom worried about him, and about the future. The stress was palpable.

In June my dad passed.

He spent his last days in a wonderful hospice, surrounded by his family, visited by many friends, cared for by amazing, selfless volunteers, nurses and doctors. It was almost six months to the day since he’d been given his definitive diagnosis. He was 68.

I think of my dad every time I ride. I feel him watching over me. I wear a Livestrong bracelet to remind of his battle. But mostly I think of that day in October when he picked me up from my day at the World’s, so happy, so healthy, so much more to live for.

Happy Father’s Day pops. I miss you.

My pops, Klaus, in healthier and happier times, when he was visiting Germany.

What’s up Doc?

18 06 2010

I’m slow.

When I pop into the roadie discussion forums on the internet, I’m forever reading how guys average 25 miles per hour on their casual rides. I’m lucky to achieve 25 kilometers per hour.

So either these guys are blowing smoke because, on the internet no one can tell whether you are who you say you are, or I’m just slow.

Today's turnaround was the Jericho Sailing Club.

But if there’s one thing that will help quicken my pace, it’s a rabbit.

No, not the furry kind with long ears that you may occasionally glimpse along the side of the road. I’m talking about the cyclist way up ahead that causes the competitive instinct to kick in and your legs to pump a little harder as you set yourself the challenge to catch that rabbit.

It doesn’t matter if that rabbit up ahead is another roadie, a dude on a mountain bike weighed down with panniers, or a little old lady on a cruiser; the race to catch the rabbit is on.

I mean, it’s not like I’m pumping like Mark Cavendish in a 100m sprint to the finish line, just quickening the pace a bit to achieve my goal.

And there’s always a twinge of satisfaction when I catch my rabbit, especially on a climb.

Of course, as I’m not at the top of the cyclist food chain, the hunter can just as easily become the hunted. It’s pretty humbling when I’m the rabbit to some guy in stovepipe jeans riding a creaking, rusty Miele, or, as happened to me a couple of years ago, a craggy old man in a flannel shirt booking it up the Northwest Marine Drive hill on a mountain bike, not even breaking a sweat, or a smile, as he blew past me; I’m betting he skulks in the bush at the bottom of the hill, just waiting for the chance to show up the “fancy boys on their sleek carbon and aluminum racers.”

Today my rabbit was a young hipster on a fixie. We traded catches for about 10 blocks; I’d catch him, get ahead, then he’d catch me at the next red light, and we’d begin the hunt all over again. It was good sport, and we exchanged small talk as we waited out the red lights. But in the end, I knew I’d outlast him; slow and steady wins the day.

Bike: the final frontier

14 06 2010

One of the joys of experiencing the world from atop a bike is discovery.

No matter how many times I ride a route (and believe me, once I find a route I like, I ride it over and over), I always see something new, maybe even surprising. Sometimes it makes me smile, like an impossible cluster of satellite dishes on a house rooftop; how can anyone possibly watch that much tv? Sometimes it makes me frown, like a sign notifying an upcoming road closure or detour because of sewer upgrades or paving. Sometimes I just take a moment to admire something I’ve noticed dozens of times before, but never really looked at.

Sunday’s ride had a bit of each. Like the public art installation on the 49th Street SkyTrain station of three giant bear heads, their dayglo orange pallor not of this earth. But remarkably like the color of my bike! I’ve seen these bears every ride; Sunday I decided to stop for a moment to take a photo.

The only other things on earth that are this shade of orange are Cheesies and my bike.

Or the old red Honda parked along the curb in Kerrisdale that caused me to do a double take, and then a double back; the engine compartment had been converted to a planter for an apple tree! Turns out it’s one of four such vehicles that have been dropped around Vancouver by a group called the Stick Shift Project to heighten awareness about our dependance on fossil fuels to deliver to us our food, rather than growing our own sustainably, nearby.

It's a car! It's a planter! It's a political call to action!

The slower pace of the bike (especially in my case) invites discovery. Or maybe I’m just trying not to be lulled by the monotony of turning over the pedals 70 or 80 times a minute?

Reality bites

13 06 2010

Cycling is an escape.

A few hours on the bike is a few hours away from whatever annoyances or worries may be poking at my brain. It’s time to work out problems or conjure creative ideas. It’s a chance to hold in my head all those witty, erudite conversations/tirades I’d so love to be able to express in real life; funny how my voice always sounds like John Cusack in those imaginary convos.

Of course, all the while you have to be aware of your surroundings and the road ahead so it’s a bit of a left-brain right-brain exercise as well.

Sometimes, though, reality intrudes.

It might be a close call with a car or truck. Or, as happened today, it might be a detour to my planned route because of a police investigation.

This morning, all the entrances to the lower trails at Pacific Spirit Park were closed by yellow police tape. Halfway up the Camosun hill, the road was blocked by police vehicles, including a command centre mobile home.

The local morning news on television said a body had been found Saturday evening, but police weren’t confirming anything.

Across from the command vehicle, a handful of reporters, photographers and camera operators huddled next to the tape, exchanging gossip, killing time.

Like moths to a flame, media respond in force whenever police tape goes up and command vehicles roll in. Then we fritter away the day waiting and gossiping.

I’ve worked scenes like that a number of times over the years. They’re never like they’re portrayed on tv, where reporters show up and a chatty detective or incident commander ambles over to give them all the information they need to know to file a breathless live report on air. And they’re certainly not like days of yore, when ambulance-chasing photographers like WeeGee were escorted right to the crime scene to capture it in all its black & white horror on his Speedgraphic for publication on the front page of the next day’s tabloid.

For the media, such situation are essentially paid kaffee klatches; you catch up with fellow journalists, many of whom you haven’t seen since the last yellow tape incident, you tell curious neighbours you really have no idea what’s going on, maybe ask them for their reaction to all this nothingness, so at least you have something to put in your story, occasionally squeeze off a shot if a cop looks like he’s doing something important, although it’s more likely he just has an itchy chin. And sometime after many hours of this unproductive idleness, the police spokesman will come to the tape to say they “can’t release any information at this time.”

Today’s scene is of particular interest because a woman was murdered while jogging along those trails about 14 months ago, and the crime remains unsolved. The trails are heavily used, by joggers, cyclists, walkers, dog-walkers, even horseback riders. They’re in an affluent part of the city, where crimes more serious than the occasional car break-in rarely happen.

So when police tape  goes up, people notice and the media responds. In the absence of official information, the unofficial rumour mill explodes.

Oddly, even though it’s my day off, and Vancouver isn’t even my jurisdiction, I still felt compelled to check the scene out. I recognized most of the media faces at the tape, but in my cycling kit, I was just another voyeuristic looky-loo to them. That’s fine, it was too nice a day to just waste away standing around and gossiping anyway.

Crunching for numbers

8 06 2010

I love digits. I’m addicted to them.

They’re my motivation. They’re my justification. Sometimes they’re my ruination.

They amuse me. They enthrall me. They mock me.

I know I shouldn’t be this way, but I get a bit of a thrill watching the digits accumulate on my Sigma bike computer. Whether it’s ride distance, total distance, average speed, top speed, the higher those numbers get, the more I want to get them even higher.

I love watching those digits on my Sigma get bigger. That means I'm getting smaller.

And when I get home, I immediately enter those digits into an online ride log, so I can chart my progress, maybe even compare it to how others are doing in my age category or geographic area.

Tonight’s ride was short, 35.36 kms. But there was a lot of climbing, up and over Burnaby Mountain. It took me 1 hour and 35 minutes, for an average speed of 22.11 kmh. Not where I’d like it to be; it was only my second time up the mountain this season, and I think I tackled the climb too quickly after dinner.

My top speed coming down the mountain was 76.59 kmh.

Since I started logging my rides online late in 2004, I’ve ridden 27,871.2 kms. My best year was 2008, when I rode 7,415.8 kms, including four straight months in which I managed to better 1,000 kms. My best ever month was also that year, July, when I rode 1,600.6 kms.

I’m not sure what good all those numbers do me; they’re just neat to know. And they give me goals.

This year I’d like to crack 4,000 kms. That’s considerably more than I managed last year, my least productive full season since I started keeping my log. But it’s also less then I totaled the three seasons before that. It just seems harder to get all the ducks lined up to get out on the bike as I get older. Or maybe I’m just getting lazier.