Baby, it’s cold outside…

31 12 2010

Perfect day for a ride.

When my buddy RDM found a new winter riding jacket, gloves and booties under his Christmas tree, he suggested we target New Year’s Eve day for a road ride. Absolutely, I said, we’ll just have to see how the weather plays out.

RDM has fully embraced the skinny tires. So much so, he’s riding around on a pretty nifty carbon Cannondale. How he got here is a bit of Kona kismet.

When we bought the condo, I had to severely purge my stable of bikes, as storage room here is in short supply. RDM, looking for a new fitness regime that would be easier on his joints than running and lacrosse, was interested in acquiring my beloved Kona steel frame mountain bike. For an extra 50 buck, I offered to throw in my vintage Italian steel road bike that had been gathering dust on a trainer for a number of years.

He took it on as a project. A bike shop spruced it up and made it road worthy again. RDM was off, going on progressively longer and faster road rides with some buddies. Soon enough, the vintage frame with the old school downtube shifters wasn’t fast enough to keep up. Hence the Cannondale. And the Italian bike is again destined for trainer duty in his basement.

RDM in his new winter gear.

A cold snap settled in around midweek, which around here in the winter means clear skies and dry roads. So we bundled up, oh did we bundle up. Not nearly enough though.

As we pointed our bikes eastward towards the flatlands, there was still an icy sheen in the shaded parts of the roadway. The tips of my gloved fingers tingled from the cold. My cheeks froze. Passing motorists looked at us as if we were crazy.

Yes, that's snow.

But once the blood started pumping into the extremities, and we rode into the low December sunshine, we quickly forgot about the cold. Well, maybe not forgot; we just stopped caring.

After all, it was one of those rare perfect west coast days, the air so clear every tree on the distant mountains seemed to stand out sharply from the snow, the sky the same soft blue as the Pittsburgh Penguins’ original jersey. I think even the eagles had to pause to admire their surroundings.

It's a great day to be an eagle.

The ride totaled just a nick short of 60 kms. It was my third road ride of December, unprecedented in my cycling annals. It was the perfect way to end the year.

Happy New Year!

 

• Movie update: We managed to do achieve some major catching-up over the past couple of day, and the formerly bleak assessment of the year’s movies has improved by two.

Black Swan earns a spot at number three. It’s a dark psychological thriller set in the high-pressure world of ballet, probably the most disturbing movie of the year, with plenty of cringe-worthy moments that actually made me wince. Brilliant performance by Natalie Portman.

The Social Network is right behind at number four. Tight writing and sharp dialogue give this movie about the seemingly snore-inducing development of Facebook a blistering momentum, overcoming the lack of any protagonists worthy of our sympathy.

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Lights, camera…

29 12 2010

With the year almost done, it’s fashionable to concoct various Top Ten lists. Top Ten fashion faux pas. Top Ten celebrity dubious achievements.

When I’m not on the bike, or lamenting not being on the bike, I seem to spend a lot time watching movies. The Friday matinee is one of my favorite indulgences. I have a whole folder of bookmarks for dvd and blu-ray web sites so I’ll know when I can see the movies I’d missed in the theater in my own home theater. I miss Premiere magazine for its great coverage on the business of movies..

So last night I sat down and compiled my annual list of movies I’d seen in the previous year. Usually I see about 60-70 movies a year, at the theater and on dvd/blu-ray. But this year, the count hit only 50, although that will likely go up by a couple in the next few days.

It’s not like I didn’t have opportunity to see more. I just think there wasn’t a whole lot of compelling content. In fact, it was a bit of a chore to come up with a list of ten worthy of being called top films. Granted, I haven’t yet seen The Social Network or Black Swan; the former’s blu-ray release is imminent, so I’ll wait, while we’ll likely see the latter on New Year’s eve. And I haven’t yet watch my blu-ray of Toy Story 3, which also made a lot of critics’ Top Ten lists.

1. The Secret in Their Eyes – Actually, this was a 2009 movie, but it didn’t get released widely into theaters until early this year, and on blu-ray in the early summer. I struggled through the first part of this twisting thriller, but a riveting foot chase through a soccer stadium snapped me to attention and the film had me hooked from there. Be sure to check out some of star’s Ricardo Darrin other work, Nine Queens and The Good Son.

 

2. Mesrine: Killer Instinct – Another film that steeped for awhile before finally seeing the projector bulb in North America, this is a sprawling biopic about a notorious French gangster whose career spanned the 1960s and 70s. Tough, in-your-face violent, with a riveting performance by Vincent Cassel. The second part of this epic is also just out on dvd/blu-ray.

 

3. 127 Hours – I loved Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire and he brings much of that same kinetic energy to this very intimate story about a hiker’s desperate measures to save himself when he becomes trapped by a fallen boulder. James Franco holds up his end of the deal with a performance that’s brave, funny and occasionally heart-wrenching.

 

 

4. The King’s Speech – Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush could sit across from the breakfast table from each other and it would make compelling cinema, but put ’em in a historical drama about King George’s desperate desire to overcome his stuttering as he ascends to the throne, and the man who helps him conquer his disability while forging a friendship and it’s grin time.

 

 

5. Ondine – This one totally snuck under our radar, and I kept passing it over at the Blockbuster until I picked it up one day to read the back, only to discover it’s directed by Neil Jordan, whose specialty is small, character-driven movies with a touch of magic. Colin Farrell goes back to his Irish roots, and his real-life partner is beautiful as the title character, a mysterious visitor from the sea who falls into Farrell’s life.

 

6. The Fighter – Not the greatest boxing movie, but a great story about brotherly bonds and familial obligation. Christian Bale is awesome as a cracked-out ex-contender whose trying to train his brother, Mark Wahlberg, towards a title shot.

 

 

7. The Town – Ben Affleck directs and stars in this east coast version of Heat, and while he’s no Michael Mann nor Robert DeNiro, and Jon Hamm is a far cry from Al Pacino, the story has some great subplots and bang-bang set pieces.

 

 

8. Winter’s Bone – A sad story about a young woman’s attempt to find out the truth about what happened to her father is as bleak as its setting in the wintery Ozark mountains.

 

 

 

9. Green Zone – Matt Damon goes all Jason Bourne, but without the identity, on the US military. Paul Greengrass is one of the best directors of action films, with a feel for gritty realism that often makes his movies seem almost like documentaries.

 

 

10. Fish Tank – Katie Jarvis gives a breakout performance as a tough, rebellious 15 year-old whose homelife is a mess until her mother’s new boyfriend seems to throw her a lifeline. Or does he. Not an easy movie to watch, especially as the creep factor climbs.





If I was a rich man…

27 12 2010

Christmas is all about traditions.

Since Katie and I got together, we’ve been creating our own Christmas traditions. Of course, the centerpiece of the day’s celebrations is the gargantuan family dinner at Katie’s parents, where more than 20 siblings, spouses, nieces, and nephews and whoever else has been embraced into their welcoming arms gather to exchange gifts, trade memories and chow down on a scrumptious feast. It’s boisterous, chaotic, a lot of fun, in other words, everything Christmas day should be.

Christmas day chaos

But Christmas eve is our time.

True to German custom, we exchange our gifts to each other on the night before Christmas. But first, we fill our bellies with our annual indulgence of rouladen, gravy, potatoes and brussels sprouts. That was one of my favorite dinners when I was growing up, and while it looks complex and involved, it’s really quite easy to make. And it’s pretty much foolproof, as long as you take care not to let the rouladen burn on the stovetop.

Christmas eve rouladen.

Our appetites sated, we gather (well, as much as two people can gather) around the tree, amidst the piles of colorfully-wrapped boxes, to begin exchanging gifts. We start with the parcel from my moms, which is always bursting with creamy Swiss and German chocolates and home-baked shortbread cookies. If the timing is right, and this year it was, my moms also happens to call just as we’re tearing into the brown wrapping around the box.

Preparing to open the Christmas parcel.

Then it’s on to the results of our own shopping frenzies.

Although we keep vowing this will be the year to get our gift giving under control, we never succeed. I think it’s because we both start so early as neither one of us cares for crazy busy shopping malls; that leaves a lot of time to just keep adding more and more gifts. Katie says she bought her first gift this year in the spring. I was a little slower off the mark; I didn’t get her her first present until late summer.

And while I didn’t score my much-desired 55-inch LED 3D tv (!!!!), I did get some great cycling-related gifts, including a warm and stylish Rapha winter hat, three issues of Rouleur magazine, an autobiography of Mark Cavendish, my annual roll of white handlebar tape (another of our newly-minted Christmas traditions), and a selection of Rapha soaps and salves. Katie says she got the latter as a bit of a smack-down to NYCbikesnob, who never misses an opportunity to take shots at some of Rapha’s more, er, esoteric products  in his irreverant blog.

I love my Rapha hat!

Coincidentally, Katie also benefitted from the bike snob, as I got her a necklace from an artisan who advertises her cycling-related jewelry on his blog.





Seeking motivation

17 12 2010

Milestones are a good motivator.

I initially didn’t have any intention to ride today. Sure, the forecast was for sunny, dry weather, but it was also supposed to be cold and windy. Instead, I planned to hit a couple of bike shops to see if they’ve got any of their 2011 stock in yet.

But that bright sunshine and clear blue sky sure was tempting. And the wind was now supposed to hold off until evening.

That's snow on those distant mountain peaks. Let's just hope it stays there.

Still, my motivation was lacking. It had been a slothful week. Last week I’d done three runs, plus a marathon three-hour game of road hockey.

But it was on that third run, 5.6 km with Katie, I felt something pinch in my left knee. It wasn’t enough to hobble me, but it nagged a little all week. And it reminded me why I’m not so keen for the running. Cycling is just way less stressful on the joints.

As the morning progressed, a huge internal war raged within me: should I ride and if I did, would it aggravate the knee issue?

Then I checked my ride log; a 66 km ride would give me 4,200 kms for the year. Not a record by any stretch, but a nice round number. And seeing as next Friday is Christmas eve and the following Friday is New Year’s eve, it would likely also be my last chance for a road ride this year.

So the milestone gauntlet had been thrown down.

It was a terrific day. The roads were dry and mostly clean, the air crisp and clear, the sunshine a soothing salve. Even a little road rage incident early on didn’t deter my joyous mood.

Apparently other cyclists also had milestones they wanted to achieve, as I encountered at least half a dozen; that’s a lot for a winter’s day. And I achieved my goal, with two extra kms to spare.





It’s not really shopping

13 12 2010

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.

When I first accompanied Katie on a run up and down the waterfront a few weeks ago, there was only a handful of light displays mounted on the condo balconies. Since then, they’ve been multiplying, and the other night, there were moments when it felt like we were running through Times Square!

The lights along our jogging route on the waterfront.

Meanwhile, back at our own abode, it’s also been festively festooned. The live tree which we acquired last year and amazingly enough managed not to kill has been decorated. And our fireplace hearth has been framed by a bouquet of cedar boughs and a lovely cedar, berry and spangly branches arrangement.

Of course, all this hoho holiday cheer inspires crazed jaunts of Christmas shopping, some of which must be done while multitasking. During our run Katie decided she needed to get a couple of bottles of wine for gifts. It just so happens there’s a fine little wine shop right along our route. And wine bottles do have a similar shape and heft to barbells, so she could add a bit of a workout for her arms while running.

Katie's not shopping. She's multitasking!

So into the wine shop we went, sweaty and all. Now we’re not exactly wine connoisseurs, so wandering amidst the narrow aisles and abundant displays is always an adventure. Basically, we look for fun names, artistic labels, or a delightful backstory, then hope for the best.

 





Turkey trot

3 12 2010

Winter rides are like a turkey dinner. They’re so rare and special, your eyes end up being more hungry than your stomach. Or in the case of a ride, your thighs.

With the promise of a dry day and possibly even some sunny breaks, I inflated my tires in eager anticipation of a December day on the bike.

I've got a riding companion. The sun is so low in the southern sky, my shadow is riding beside me at noon!

It’s been three weeks since last I rode. The only real exercise I’ve had since then was two runs and three mediocre road hockey games. But that ride was great, my legs felt fresh and fast.

So as I headed out this morning, I fully expected a repeat of that performance.

I felt the layoff a bit as I ground my way up the first hill of the day, but after that I warmed up and sped up.

The snow has been gone for a week, washed away by warmer temperatures and lots of rain. But the roads were still a mess, muddy tracks in the curb lanes, grit from the sand put down by works crews during the snowfall. I stayed away from it all as best I could; no way I wanted to spend another hour cleaning my bike after the ride.

After last week's snow, the bike lanes are a muddy, gritty mess.

By the time I reached UBC I was starting to feel fatigued; this is a ride I can do in my sleep in the summer, but in winter, with only a few rides in the past two months, it was like starting from scratch.

Just after the turnaround, the lactic acid started to burn in my thighs. I wanted the ride to be over; why hadn’t I chosen a shorter route?

In the end, the ride stats weren’t impressive at all – 66.84 kilometers in just under three hours. But I suppose I should take some encouragement that it was the first time in three years I managed to get out on the road in December and I was more than 2 kmh faster today than on that ride.

 





My prerogative

2 12 2010

Oops, I did it again.

Run that is. Or rather, accompany Katie on one of her runs.

Although I suggested it, encouraged it even; so I’m not sure if that counts as accompanying any more.

Not that I’m about to start calling myself a runner. No way.

But with last week’s snow and cold, and this week’s persistent rain (in other words, typical late-November early-December weather for this part of the world), the exercise and slob quotients have been moving in opposite directions, neither in my favor. And frankly, it’s making me miserable.

So, it’s run or die. Well, maybe not that dramatic. But for now, it’s a heck of a lot less complicated than loading up the mountain bike in the darkness and drizzle, driving 45 minutes, riding for an hour, driving home for another 45 minutes, then spending an hour tomorrow cleaning up the resultant mess.

Runners just have to throw on their clothes and sneakers, and they're off.

A four kilometer run from one end of the Quay to the other and back took us all of 30 minutes from the time we walked out the door to our return to the warmth of the condo. And it was a fun way to enjoy the Christmas lights people have been stringing along their balconies and decks all along the waterfront.

This is one way to enjoy the twinkle lights along the waterfront.

Runners are still crazy, in my book. All that pounding on the pavement can’t be good for the feet, ankles, shins and knees. But I’ll grant them it’s a pretty convenient exercise. At its most basic, you just have to throw on some old workout clothes, tie your sneakers and head out the door. No bikes to shuttle from condo to car. No repair and inner tubes to gather and pack. And when you get home, no tedious clean up to tend to.

Of course, in our world nothing is so simple. Going for a run means clipping lights to various articles of clothing, firing up the Garmin GPS, then waving your arms about because the tall condo towers are blocking satellite reception, and making a selection from a whole cornucopia of sneakers.

Even then, we’ve still got time to watch a movie afterward. And eat a snack. Guilt free.

Bring on the snacks!