A grape day

30 09 2011

It’s Fondo Eve, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have a few butterflies tickling the insides of my belly.

Good thing we’re in wine country.

And if our first full day in Sonoma, Katie and I dived right in.

Our quaint loft cottage in rural Forestville is right at the edge of the renowned Dry Creek Valley where there are more than 60 wineries and 150 grape growers. Vineyards crowd the valley flats and crawl up the hillsides, occasionally punctuated by the odd palm tree. As it’s harvest season, most of them are busy with pickers and tractors hauling the bins of grapes to the adjoining wineries for pressing.

The Dry Creek Valley is wine country in Sonoma.

At the center of it all is the little town of Healdsburg where upscale boutiques and posh tasting rooms are cashing in on wine tourism. Maybe a little too much, it seems; the Santa Rosa Press Democrat newspaper had a front page story Thursday that the Healdsburg locals are getting a little concerned about all the rampant alcohol consumption going on in town with more than 30 tasting rooms in the town’s half-dozen blocks.

Of course, it’s lost on them that it’s pretty tough to get drunk on the sip or five you might get at a tasting room, and with most of them charging $5-10 to sample five varieties or vintages, it would be a heck of a lot cheaper and way more efficient to plunk down once for a bottle of good plonk and get drunk in the town square.

When it comes to wine, Katie and I have no real idea what we’re doing. We usually buy a bottle based on label or name and hope for the best. We’ve developed a preference for lighter, smoother wines, although a good Malbec or Chianti has its place as well. So when it came to selecting wineries to sample on our tour of the Dry Creek Valley, we just steered the rental SUV wherever our mood took us.

When in wine country, visit the vines.

By the end of our day we had visited a half dozen or so wineries, and returned home with one absolute favorite, a silk smooth 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon from Zichichi Family Vineyard. We also enjoyed everything we sampled at the Roadhouse Winery tasting room in Healdsburg and we had a good time chatting with the proprietors and checking out the artifacts at the Raymond Burr Winery.

Enjoying a sample at Zichichi winery, on the deck overlooking the family's vineyards.

All the winemakers we spoke with were passionate about their product and proud to be serving it. They endured with patient smiles our dumb questions and occasionally clumsy attempts to put words to the flavors in our mouths. Along the way, we did manage to learn a few things; we actually like Cabernet Sauvignon and a nice Zinfandel would go well with pizza margarhita.


Friday is our Santa Rosa day, registering for the ride and hopefully acquiring some worthy swag, sorting the logistics for Saturday and visiting the Charlie Brown museum.

Leaving on a jet plane

27 09 2011

Our bags are packed, we’re ready to go.

Good thing we had a couple of days to achieve that.

That Katie takes a long time to sort and pack her suitcase is a given. Usually that process involves her emptying the closet and then working backwards from there.

Meanwhile, I grab whatever I think I’ll need, stuff it in my Eddie Bauer bag and hope for the best.

But packing the Lapierre is a whole different ballgame.

That process started on Sunday, when I cleaned her of the road grime from a few last training rides. On Monday, I started breaking her down, heeding some handy tips from the guys at Jubilee Cycle.

Be sure to mark the placement of all bits that have to be moved or removed.

No sooner had I started when I encountered a hiccup; I couldn’t loosen the pedals. Uh oh, deja vu. The same thing happened the last time I packed a bike. That ended badly, with my beloved steel Cramerottie folded in half on my roof rack the day before I was to leave for France.

No way I was going to make that same mistake with the Lapierre. So I put the frame in the back seat and drove over to Jubilee to get a little help.

Back on track, the first attempt was a little sloppy.

Mining google, I gleaned some more tips, including using pipe insulation to protect the frame and other bits. Off to Home Depot, and the end result is a lot neater, and hopefully more effective then towels and old t-shirts.

Wheels in...


Then the frame, nicely protected with pipe insulation.

I can’t say I’m not nervous. I hope I didn’t damage or bend anything in the packing process. I’m hopefully security at the airports will be equally as attentive. And I hope I’ll be able to put the bike back together again properly. That will be job #1 when we arrive in California, to give me time to get it to a bike shop if I run into issues.

All this packing and repacking has diverted my attention for the reason, the Gran Fondo itself.

The weather forecast for Saturday is good. There will be celebrities like Patrick Dempsey, Ethan Suplee and the guy who played Zach on Saved By the Bell. Plus Levi Leipheimer and whoever else from the pro peloton may be in the area.

Let’s hope I’m up to the challenge.

Riding to save young lives

26 09 2011

For all the frustrations and insecurity of being a journalist in a post-literate world, we persevere because we love telling stories, we believe in what we’re doing. We love chasing a good story, sharing a great image. And every once in a while we get to merge our craft with our passion.

On Wednesday, I had the opportunity to spend my work day riding my bike with the Cops for Cancer Tour de Coast. It’s an annual nine-day ride by members of local police forces, border services and paramedics to raise money for paedeatric cancer research. I did a couple of training rides with them a few years ago, but this time I rode the first official day of their tour, an 80 km swath through the middle of Metro Vancouver. Add on the 23 km ride to get to the ride’s starting point, and it was also a good little training ride.

Here is the story I filed for the paper:

INSIDE THE TOUR DE COAST PELOTON – Bryson Davies’ first ride on a road bike lasted all of 17 seconds. By Thursday the Burnaby RCMP constable will have pedalled more than 900 kilometres in nine days in the Cops for Cancer Tour de Coast.

Davies is one of two officers from the Burnaby RCMP, and two from the New Westminster police department, riding in the peloton of 29 members of police departments from around Metro Vancouver, as well as Canadian Border Services and a contingent of paramedics, to raise money for paediatric cancer research.

The Tour de Coast, which kicked off last Wednesday at Scott Creek Middle School in Coquitlam, made stops at Burnaby North and South secondary schools as well as the Metrotown branch of Coast Capital Savings on its opening day, before heading to the Sunshine Coast, Powell River, Pemberton and Whistler. The tour returned to Greater Vancouver for its final leg, including stops at Burnaby RCMP on Monday and Honour House and the New Westminster police headquarters on Tuesday. It wraps up Thursday in Richmond and Vancouver.

The tour is sent off with a rousing reception for a field full of school kids.

Combined with similar tours in the north, Vancouver Island and the Fraser Valley, the Cops for Cancer raised more than $2.4 million last year, making them the Canadian Cancer Society’s largest contributor to paediatric cancer research.

Getting ready for this year’s tour also helped Davies lose almost 30 pounds. But first he had to learn how to use the ski-binding like pedals that attach his feet to¬† his lithe aluminum Trek road bike.

Though he’s a member of the RCMP’s bike squad that uses mountain bikes to patrol Burnaby’s streets, back alleys and parks, he’d never been on a road bike before signing on to the Tour de Coast. Ten feet into his first training ride, he had trouble twisting his foot out of the pedal and tipped over right in front of his house.

“I was bleeding before my first minute on the bike,” says Davies. “I was worried about how much of a fool I was making of myself.”

Lara DeWitt of the New Westminster police department was equally inexperienced when her good friend and fellow officer Adam Spindor approached her about joining him on the tour.

Spindor has family members who survived cancer and he’d heard good things about the tour experience from fellow officers who participated in previous rides, but he knew his prospective teammate would be a tough sell. So he waited until DeWitt was in the middle of an overnight shift, when her resistance would be depleted.

“Before you say no, hear me out,” he prefaced his pitch.

A few weeks later they embarked on their first training ride together, a 25 kilometer loop out to Queensborough.

“I thought that was the be all and end all,” says DeWitt, who was also flummoxed by the pedals on her borrowed bike and survived a close encounter with a truck on her maiden ride. “I was sore in places I’d never been sore before.”

Cruising along. Participants have to be able to maintain a pace of 25-30 kmh.

Scheduling training rides around work shifts, family responsibilities and fundraising is a juggling act for most participants. To join the tour, each rider must raise at least $6,000.

“That’s where all the stress was,” says Davies, who held a family garage sale and a pub night to reach the goal. “Riding was the stress reliever.”

His teammate, Sergeant Stephan Brossard, says he wasn’t shy about using his rank on junior officers to extract donations. He also hosted a barbecue at the Burnaby RCMP headquarters, a 50/50 draw and a spinning marathon on a stationary bike at Lougheed Town Centre.

“Every weekend you’re doing something for fundraising,” says Brossard.

The hard work of training and fundraising behind them, the mood on the tour’s first day was buoyant. After setting off through a corridor of noise created by the entire student body of Scott Creek Middle School clapping together inflatable thunder sticks, the peloton took a circuitous route around Coquitlam’s Town Centre area, through Port Moody, then along the Barnet Highway to the day’s third stop at Burnaby North.

The group is escorted, and protected, by a flying squad of motorcycle officers led by Don Duncan of the Vancouver Police Department who keep traffic away from the peloton and block intersections to allow it to pass through unimpeded. With relatively few climbs on the day’s 80 km route, it’s easy to maintain the 25-30 km/h pace expected of the riders.

Lanes and intersections are cleared for us by a flying squad of motorcycle escorts.

As the lycra-clad cyclists swooped past the glowering giant steel viking that guards the entrance to Burnaby North and into the school’s driveway, they were greeting by the excited cheers of hundreds of students lining the curb and filling the plaza. Over the years, North has become a traditional stop for the tour, an honour and responsibility the students take seriously, said the student council president, Everest Shi.

The peloton shouts a thank you chant after a visit to one of three schools on the day's itinerary.

“We really enjoy doing this every year,” said Shi. “The students get really hyped.”

So much so, there was no shortage of volunteers allowing themselves to get wrapped up in duct tape to which students and staff would stick spare change as they walked the halls. Combined with a barbecue and an upcoming dodgeball tournament, the school hoped to contribute $1,000.

“You guys are amazing!” shouted “Amazing” Bob Lee, a paramedic with the BC Ambulance Service who gained his nickname with his ebullient enthusiasm

Forging connections with schools is especially important says Sue Woods, the manager of revenue development for the Canadian Cancer Society. The fund raising events organized by students help instill in them a sense of community and a visit from the peloton is a chance to promote a message of healthy activity, healthy eating choices and being smart in the sun.

“It’s about creating opportunity for kids to be involved,” says Woods.

It's not often you get the chance to ride into and out of a school gymnasium.

But more importantly it’s about helping kids overcome cancer, says Davies, a challenge that overshadows anything the riders face over the course of their nine-day tour. “It’s hard, but it’s well worth it.”

To learn more about the Tour, and to support a rider, go to http://www.copsforcancerbc.ca

Getting numb, comfortably

19 09 2011

Sometimes it takes seven years to get back on the horse.

That’s how long it took to build up the fortitude to take another run at Comfortably Numb, an epic cross country mountain bike trail just north of Whistler.

On the hottest day of summer, 2004, my riding buddies, Dan and Shanksman, and I ventured to this undulating, rocky, rooty route that climbs to 1100 meters over more than 20 kilometres. It almost killed us. Well, me especially.

I ran out of water. I got lost. I got nauseous from the sandwich I’d packed for lunch. I was overwhelmed by the difficulty of the terrain. In other words, I’d bitten off more than I could chew.

This time, we decided to take a more modest bite.

We waited until September, when the weather is cooler. In fact, it rained right up until we mounted our bikes and climbed the first ascent.

Getting ready for Comfortably Numb

And we decided to ride only about a third of the trail, opting for the early exit that would spare us some of the more challenging parts of the trail, but still give us a good four hours on the saddle.

This would be Giebelhaus' first Numb, not that he's worried.

It was a much more enjoyable day. And with seven more years of wisdom on our side, we were all a little more content to hike-a-bike whenever the terrain got too tough for our capabilities, which was often.

Seven years after our first attempt, we all embraced the hike-a-bike.

Some of the climbs were steep.

All that pushing and carrying the bike can be tiring.

During that first attempt, I wanted to beat the trail, and every time I got off the bike I felt like I’d lost a battle, that the trail was showing me up.

This time, I embraced the portage. Any time I doubted my ability to negotiate a drop, or a bridge, or a root-littered climb, I clipped out and crab-walked the bike or outright carried it. The last thing I needed was a broken collarbone or sprained wrist.

Instead of attacking the mountainside, we respected it, enjoyed its beauty and the clean, dewy air.

The mountain views were worth the effort.

As were the waterfalls.

We survived. Barely.

At the end of the day, we were all in one piece and the beverages at the pub were just as refreshing.

Sleeve season

16 09 2011

And just like that, it’s fall.

Friday the sleeves and knickers came out for the first time in two months.

The weather forecast for the foreseeable future suggest they won’t be going back in the closet anytime soon. Which is too bad, as the riding opportunities are already becoming more and more limited; sunset at 7:30 means no more evening road rides after dinner.

The sleeves are on, likely for the rest of the dwindling road season.

Whether I like it or not, I guess I’m in taper mode.

And with two weeks to go until the Fondo, a bit of doubt is starting to set in; have I trained enough to go the distance, what about the climbing, what will the weather be like in Sonoma?

Let's hope it's warm enough in California for ice cream!

Of course I felt similar panic last year in the days before the Whistler Gran Fondo, and I got through that just fine. But that was 121 kilometres; the Levi Leipheimer will be close to 160 kms. I suspect it’s going to be a long day in the saddle.

On this day…

12 09 2011

It was a milestone weekend.

Saturday was the second Whistler Gran Fondo. I opted out after being a part of the first one. With the Leipheimer Fondo three weeks away, I figured one Fondo a year would be plenty. But when my buddy and occasional riding partner RDM scored a late registration and then sent me a photo from the start corral early Saturday morning, I felt a pang of regret. It would have been a perfect training ride!

I may not have ridden this year's Whistler Gran Fondo, but I did catch Bob Roll and Alex Stieda at the Velo-Spoke expo.

Sunday was, of course, the tenth anniversary of 9/11. That crazy morning has been in my thoughts a lot lately. Perhaps it’s our proximity to the flight path to YVR, or my regular riding route that now takes me right below so many planes on final approach to the airport. Whenever one passes overhead, I can’t help but have a momentary remembrance of that famous film footage of firefighters tending to a suspected gas leak in Lower Manhattan when a huge roar passes them overhead, they look up, the camera pans up and catches the first jetliner streaking towards the World Trade Center.

What followed was such an incredulous, horrific day, filled with so many emotions, thoughts, questions.

A lot of them have been flooding back in these days leading up to the 9/11 anniversary, and even ten years later they still feel so raw, momentous, unresolved.

And Monday was perhaps the most important milestone of all; our second wedding anniversary.

Every morning I wake up and marvel that Katie is in my life. Every night I close my eyes happy and comforted that she’s beside me.

In between we share plenty of smiles and laughs, share adventures, formulate dreams, find inspiration from each other, push each other to be better people. It’s hard to remember my life before her. It’s impossible to imagine my life without her.

Happy anniversary babes!

Her smile lightens my heart. Her laugh just makes me want to make her laugh more. Her quiet words of support when I’m having a bad day lighten the darkness.

Happy anniversary Katie!

Building confidence

5 09 2011

I’ll be the first to admit, I’ve gotten softer as I get older.

There was a time I used to love riding the trails up on Burnaby Mountain. Descending on the narrow cross-country routes, brushing through the bushes, the bike rolling easily beneath me, I’d feel moments of harmony with the mountain, and with the bike. But a few bad crash landings spooked me.

Fortunately, I escaped injury, but a separated or dislocated shoulder always seemed one bad tumble away.

It’s all about confidence.

Hesitate for a moment before a drop, or a series of roots on a downhill slope, and inevitably you’d squeeze the front brake too hard and launch over the handlebar.

Once the confidence is gone, it’s hard to get back.

A ride up the mountain earlier this summer had a couple of dicey moments as we explored some new trails. But there were also moments of that old bliss.

Riding the road is all about piling up those kilometers, feeling the wind and the sun and the burn in the legs. It’s about litheness and speed and finding that rhythm that will propel you up a climb. It’s about being connected to your bike.

Riding the trail is more organic, adjusting your riding style to the terrain, finding that balance that will keep you upright while still moving forward. It’s about reading lines, planning and executing. It’s about putting the spring in your knees and arms to gather and absorb the bumps. It’s also about avoiding bears.

We've never actually ever seen a bear on Burnaby Mountain.

In two weeks we’re planning to revisit our Waterloo, the epic trail in Whistler called Comfortably Numb. Six or seven years ago we rode it on the hottest day of the summer and it beat us up something fierce, eight hours of arduous climbing and precarious descending. Many f-bombs were hurled that day.

Older and hopefully wiser, we’re only going to bite off half the trail this time. Hopefully it won’t bite us back.

But that means building confidence.

So today Dan and I headed for Burnaby Mountain again.

It's hard to get hurt while riding up.

After a slow start in which I crab-walked over a couple of drops, I got a little bolder, found my rhythm, feathering the brakes instead of mashing them in panic. And it was good. Great fun in fact. No bones broken or separated.

A glorious Labor Day on the mountain.