Wednesday, April 27, 2011

MS Tour Day 2 Revisited

Gratuitous bike picture

In honour of my friend Heather D. who has MS and in the thirty odd years I've known her, has always shown great courage and an indominatible spirit - I dedicate this blog to her. 

The live band in the lounge underneath my room in the hotel last night didn't have any effect on my sleep as I couldn't keep my eyes open past 10Pm as it was.  It did help that I had the air-conditioner on full blast and its constant mechanized drone drowned out the annoying frequencies from the local band downstairs.  As well, the feeble stream of air from its vents helped dry my sweat dampened clothing.

I checked out at 6am and made my way over to the Camrose Fairgrounds where I dropped off my luggage and dove into the enormous breakfast hall which was alive with the excited chatter of at least a thousand hungry cyclists.  I scanned the list of acceptable foods to eat that my daughter Jackie had provided to me over the phone last night and then made my way to the tables groaning under the weight of a delectable assortment of breakfast foods.  On my cardboard plate I made a mile-high stack of pancakes and added a shovel full of scrambled eggs and a pail of fresh fruit.

My plan was to leave as soon as I had eaten since I knew the route we were to take and I wanted to beat both the sun and the heat that it was surely to bring.  I sat with a friend from United Cycle and one of the tour marshalls who explained to us that "The first day is all about broken bicycles and the second day is all about broken bodies!"

After scarfing down my high - powered breakfast, I had just mounted my two - wheeled conveyance when the fairground gate was swung open and five of us eager types rushed its opening.  I exulted in being with the lead group for four minutes and ten seconds when over my left shoulder I heard the plaintive cry "On your Left!" and the day's steady stream of hard-chargers began.  As I rounded the second corner I was passed by Kevin, a triathele that I had met earlier who told me that he would make Nisku in 2 hours.  As he passed, I looked down at my cyclometer and saw I was doing 22km./hr. and he was easily going twice as fast as I.  What an impressive display of strength and stamina.

Riding close to the front of the pack was quite a different experience from last year.  No bikes being hurtled to the ground at the rest stops.  No bodies thrown onto the cool grass in wasted slendour.  No cacaphony of groans and complaints.  No flaggin' wagins full of broken bodies.  No department store bikes.  These were serious riders astride expensive, lightweight road bikes.  A lot of riders like Kevin who were using the tour as training for a triathalon or another tour.  I felt proud to be among them (even if my secret was just to have left early) and I knew that even though hundreds, if not a thousand would pass me, I would still finish higher in the pack than I had done last year.  There might even be a volunteer or two to cheer me into the finish line this time.

At lunch I  found a shady spot on the fire escape of the Community Center in the town of Hay Lakes where volunteers were busy quartering oranges and slicing juicy watermelons.  While I was waiting in line for grub, an older gal asked if she could take my photo.  She was collecting pictures of greybeards and since she was sporting an official MS Society badge, I agreed.  I struck a manly pose in the doorway of the Community Center and in my mind I decided to shave off the beard at the earliest opportunity.  I haven't mentioned that yesterday, before we reached the first rest stop, a marshall rode up beside me asked me just how old was I?  At 57, I don't consider myself old and I was rather insulted at his question.  When I saw him at other times during the tour, he acted like he'd never seen me before.  Maybe he lost a bet with one of the other marshalls.  "Hey I bet you that old dude over there is at least 80!"  "Okay, you're on!  At the snail's pace that he's pedalling, I'd say he's at least 85!  I'll go ask him!".....  In my mind, I again resolved to shave off the white facial fuzz as soon as I got home.

Next:  After lunch meeting Anna!  Finish line photos!  The clappers!

If you'd like to sponsor me on this year's tour, please go to my donation page:

And Thank You!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Reprising the Reprise


Luckily for me I found the rarest of things in Alberta - a patch of shade to eat my lunch and rest under.  Sitting near me was a gal named Arlene and as we cooled off, we swapped stories of the tour so far.  She related her plan to keep her bike in her tent so that she could start whenever she felt like it on Sunday morning instead of waiting for the bike barn to be opened hence releasing all the bikes.  I explained to her that my hotel was right on day two's route and I could start from there if I skipped the free breakfast at the start line.  What I didn't tell her is that I'm so cheap, I wouldn't pass up a free breakfast.

After lunch, I met up with a strong cyclist - Anna, a yoga therapist.  We chatted for a while riding side by side until she suggested that for safety's sake we ride single-file.  Since she was so fit, it wasn't long before we became separated.  I next saw her when she snapped a picture of me riding into the rest stop at Gwynne School and being eager for some shade, I didn't pause to talk but simply found a cool spot near a shed to rest.  I did wonder if our paths would cross again on the tour.  With 2,000 cyclists scattered over 200 kilometers, it was highly probable that we wouldn't meet again on the tour.  Being as vain as I am, I wanted that picture!

We had all been warned at lunch about road construction near Camrose and it did involve a bunch of us being stopped by a flagman and waiting for the paving crew to finish.  When we were waved through, I could hear the pearl sized tar bubbles popping beneath my hot tires.  Anyone on a road bike had to be trucked over the hot asphalt because of the risk of their high-pressure tires exploding from the added heat.

It was a long single file line of us entering Camrose and I realized that I had probably made better time than last year when I had pedalled into this fair city all alone (the majority of riders already having crossed the finish line and were quaffing cold beverages in the beer garden).  As further evidence that I had made better time, there was a group of volunteer "Cheerleaders" shouting congratulations as I crossed the finish line.  Unlike last year when I came in so late that the volunteers had given up seeing anyone else ride across the line.

Once in my air-conditioned room, I put the next day's powerbars and water into the bar fridge, showered and then put on long pants, a striped shirt and a bandana around my neck in a lame effort to look "Western" for the themed banquet.

After meeting the rest of my "Teammates" at the banquet, our defacto leader "Stew Hutchins" announced to the group that as a team, we had raised $16,000.00 towards the cure!

Next:  Day 2....

If you would like to sponsor me on this year's tour, please visit:

And Thank You!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011


In honour of my friend Haydn who has MS I thought I'd reprise my story of last year's MS Bike Tour (Nisku to Camrose).  Since I'm kicking off my fundraising for the tour, I'll also include a link for you to make your own donation if you'd like.

SATURDAY, June 19, 2010

The magnificent sight of 2,000 cyclists and their bikes and knowing that each and every person is here to make a difference in the fight against MS was, for me, awe inspiring.  I snapped a couple of pictures hoping to capture the energy of that scene while we waited for the tour to start.  Everyone, including myself, was eager to get going and an old boy near me began to heckle the speakers in a loud and petulant voice.  I found out he was nicknamed "Whitey" because of his white beard and he appeared to be quite an experienced tour participant judging from the number of MS stickers on his helmet.

I managed to leave in the first 300 - 400 riders and was quite pleased with myself until I realized that with approximately 1,500 cyclists behind me, I was bound to hear "On Your Left!" hundreds of times before reaching Camrose.  I was just feeling warmed up when we turned south into a headwind that would plague us all the way to Westaskiwin where lunch was to be served.

Riding into the wind was no fun.  I watched  my cyclometer as my speed dropped down and down.  Up ahead, I spied a cyclist the size of Herman Munster and the image was complete when I got closer and saw how large his feet were, how his legs were as thick as telephone poles.  Even the bowtie perched on his collar appeared to me to be as large as a ribbon you might find on a gift of an automobile.  What this meant for me was that I could tuck in behind his large frame and draft him all the way to lunch.  Impressively, he was riding a fixie into the wind and I had to pedal hard just to stay within inches of his rear wheel.  I was feeling so grateful that I hoped he would win a prize for "Best Dressed" at the banquet later that evening.

To be continued....

If you would like to sponsor me on this year's tour, please go to:

Thursday, April 14, 2011


 My favourite bike is my silver TREK 4300 mountain bike which I bought for $500.00 five or six years ago at UnitedCycle. It replaced a nice black road bike that my buddy Roy had given me.  The bike has a name - "Furry Lewis" - named for an old bluesman whose career was resurrected after an article about him appeared in "Playboy" magazine.  My friend Jerry Quesnell says he buys the magazine for the articles.  Sure!

Furry Lewis has a 16" aluminum frame with a wide handlebar mounting Shimano Rapid-Fire shifters.  Except for the handle bar, the left shifter and the rear wheel, I have replaced everything else since its purchase.  Which means I have a bike I really like and now has pretty good components.
Last year I replaced the front crankset and the one I chose has external bearings which I think are stronger than a regular bottom bracket.  Most bottom brackets are sealed and this eliminates repacking the bearings.  The rear cassette has been changed out numerous times since it wears out faster than the front chainrings.  I can't count the number of chains I've used in these last five years.

External bearings

A spill a couple of years ago necessitated a new front wheel and right shifter and never being happy with the Shimano disc brakes, they've been replaced with Avid BB7's.  I first read about Avid brakes while studying the Park Tools blue book of repair and when I saw that Avids are adjustable, I liked that option very much. There are good reasons for going for mechanical discs rather than hydraulics. A couple of years ago on one of our adventure cycling trips, we met up with a group of riders on the bi-pass around the Myra Canyon.  One of the riders had had a spill and a tree branch had torn off both the hydraulic hoses from the front of his bike leaving him with no brakes.  With mechanical discs, it is a relatively easy fix to replace a broken brake cable.  With hydraulics, you'd be screwed.

Avid mechanical disc brakes

I change my tires frequently during the riding season - studded tires in winter/spring/fall, and knobbies for the KVR and the MS Mountain Tour and slicks for commuting.  Even the pannier rack has been swapped out and I use different handlebar bags depending on my needs.  I don't even remember what seat came with this bike but I've enjoyed having a Spiderflex hornless bikeseat.
It wasn't hard to replace the front shocks and I especially like the feature of having a remote control to lock out the shocks right from the handlebar when making a long climb.  Mind you, front shocks can add a tremendous amount of weight to your rig.  But necessary for control and comfort.

My son gets a good laugh out of all the "Bling" that ends up on my bike.  What's so funny about a bell, a bike computer, front and rear lights, saddlebags, fenders, handlebar extensions, and extra bottle cage, a heart rate monitor, a handlebar bag, bar tape and a mirror?  And a pannier rack?  Once, commuting to work, he saw a cyclist heading toward him and he wondered who the old fart was riding this heavily accessorized bike?  Turns out it was his old man. Didn't even recognize him!!

This is Furry Lewis and I want to call him a friend.  If you can do that with an inanimate object.

Monday, April 11, 2011

One Simple Item

Keeping the sun off
When it comes to accessories and items that you can take with you cycling, the list seems endless.  One item that weighs nearly nothing and doesn't take up much room is a bandana.  My cycling friend Richard uses a wet one under his helmet to cool himself off.  I use one around my neck - dry, it keeps my neck warm and keeps the sun off and when it is really hot, soaking it in water turns it into an air conditioner.

A couple of years ago when my cycling buddy Roy and I were climbing the KVR to the top of the "Paulson Pass" between Castlegar and Christina Lake, we happened upon raspberry bushes lining the trail.  Without dismounting, we gorged ourselves on the delicious berries and not wanting to stop too long since it was raining, there had to be a way of carrying the delicate fruit so that we could enjoy its crunchy, sharp flavours down the trail.  Hence the bandana basket.

The bandana basket
Prior to the MS Tour, my daughter had made a batch of her excellent fuel - packed "Cosmic Power Cookies" and wanting to keep my bike as light as possible, I had nowhere to store them since I had taken off my panniers.  The bandana basket to the rescue!  I was able to enhance my riding performance by dipping into the "basket" at frequent intervals to recharge my tired and hungry body.

On a dusty trail, a bandana is an excellent way to filter out grimy particles and wearing it across your face does give you that bandit look which can be helpful on a lonley trail in warding off any unfriendly backwoods locals.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011


This transition from winter to spring has its own challenges.  One of them being temperature control.  I took my mittens off to take a picture of some ice and even though I still had my full-fingered cycling gloves on, my hands began to freeze.  And yet when I got to my desk with my Timmy Ho's coffee and began to take off the many layers I wear, I noticed my neck was moist with sweat from wearing a neck tube.  Not wearing a packsack on my back since I use saddlebags, I was surprised to find my back somewhat damp with perspiration.  The hot black plasma I was sipping warmed my fingers but I found it necessary to take off my shoes to allow my feet to thaw.

I love breaking this stuff
While ice can be dangerous and I treat it with respect, I enjoy hearing the different sounds that riding on its surface can make.  Since I was a kid, I've looked forward to finding what I call plate ice.  This is the type of ice where the puddle begins to freeze over and as the water is still draining, a hollow is created.  As my tires roll over it it makes a resounding CRANCH! as it shatters.  Or you come across a small pool with a thin crust of ice on top and the tires make a ZIP ZIP sound as you cross over its surface.

When one rides a bike, it is necessary to pay attention all the time.  Not only is there traffic and pedestrians to watch for (both can be unpredictable) but add ice to the mix and a moment can't be lost to fantasizing about an upcoming bike trip or thinking about the hot coffee you are soon to enjoy.

A treacherous glaze of ice

Friday, April 1, 2011

Spring is Sprung the Grass Ain't Rizz

Our roads aren't quite as bad as this!

With the temperature hovering near 6 degrees Celsius, I was looking very much forward to my ride home after work.  Downtown, the streets are clear of snow and ice, but only three blocks west of the city core, the residential streets with their towering, naked elms were a minefield of ponds, puddles and snowdrifts.

It was only necessary to stop once and that was to disrobe.  I had seen a cyclist earlier wearing a short sleeved cycling shirt and cycling shorts and even though the weather was co-operating, I thought the guy was going a bit far.  Yet nineteen blocks later, I found it necessary to pull over and take off my spandex pants and my regular shorts.  As soon as I was up on the bike again, I congratulated myself on how smart I was to wear layers and my speed increased as I cooled off.  My over - confidence must have increased as well because not long after, I happened upon a road filled with water.  Having splashed my way through numerous puddles already, I dove right in (no pun intended).

While the water was deep enough to kiss my pedals, what I hadn't factored in was the slick ice underneath the lake.  Six feet in it was "MAN DOWN!".  Into the freezing cold, coffee and cream coloured water went I.  This was the second time today that I had gotten soaked.  Earlier in the day I taken it upon myself to climb into a swimming pool wearing only my shorts to film some children enjoying a swim class.  I had looked at the instructor in the water and it came only to her mid thighs.  What I didn't know is that this particular instructor was six feet, nine inches tall and when I stepped into the pool, the water quickly engulfed me to my armpits.  At least it was warm.

I squished my way home and as the sun dipped behind some clouds, the temperature plummeted and a cold breeze began to blow.  My soggy bike gloves offered no insulation and my sopping wet shoes began to freeze.  But I can tell you that it was a pleasure to have a hot shower after stringing up my wet clothes around the house and after finishing in the bathroom, my senses were stimulated to a high degree by the extraordinary aromas wafting from the kitchen where my wife was preparing one of her mouth - watering stir frys.