Sunday, September 29, 2013


My daughter just came back from a bicycle camping trip along the Kettle Valley Railway and sitting around the backyard campfire, she regaled us with stories of her many adventures.  I'm proud that she could make so many complex navigational decisions that affected not only her own enjoyment of the trip but also her cycling partner's experience.  Thinking about her recent foray, I have come up with a number of rules that might help another cyclist who might be contemplating such a tour.

Which way do we go?

As the flames rose higher on our circular brick fire pit, Jackie told us about their first day on the trail. It was hot and sunny as they set off towards Beaverdell, which would be a full day's ride from Midway (assuming you stop for lunch - which normal people do).  Since it was their first day, they were fresh enough to pedal hard for the first 30 km. (18 mi.) which took them past the abandoned rail tunnel outside of Greenwood and through the field where my cycling partner Roy and I had come across a rifle - toting farmer years before.
Yee Ha!
It was not far from the farmer's field where the Kettle Valley Railway crosses the "Crowsnest Highway" that it began to dawn on Jackie that the scenery was becoming unfamiliar.  She had no recollection from last year's trip that the KVR crossed Highway 3, except one little jog the trail makes just west of "Mile Zero" on the KVR.  Surrounded by Llamas and their  young charges, she began to think that perhaps she had led her friend in the wrong direction.

I might be smiling but my friends aren't!

It was true.  They had set out east toward the summit at Eholt and not north toward Rhone that morning.  And they didn't start out from Midway but from Rock Creek - a substantial cycling distance error.


While putting another log onto our fire, Jackie related how she and her friend could not find one of the campsites that I had described so many times from my own bikepacking trips and the one that we had camped at last year.  She had texted me from the trail and I had replied with what I thought was an easy - to - understand message:  "There is only one main street and the campground is at the end.  Between the highway and the river".

The place where they might have camped


Due to a boulder having rolled into and damaging one of the trestles in the Myra Canyon, British Columbia Parks had created a bi-pass route around the weakened structure.  Jackie has heard my story many times about traversing a makeshift route around the Myra Canyon after the Okanagan Mountain fire destroyed many of the trestles.  It was one of the worst cycling experiences that I have ever had. The terrain was so rough that the bumping and jostling caused my rear pannier rack to fall off, scattering my camping gear across the dirt track and into a briar filled gully.  It took an hour and a half for us to figure out how to attach the pannier rack back onto the bike using only a pipe clamp and a length of Velcro.  It also helped the Roy took a huge load of my gear and fastened it to his bike.

Warning! Warning!
As our backyard campfire burned down to a bed of glowing embers, we all came to the conclusion that Jackie had had a challenging but ultimately a fun trip.  She has discovered a secret that I only discovered by riding my bike along these abandoned rail beds - that having a holiday that is tough physically and mentally gives you a tremendous amount of satisfaction and you wait impatiently all year to do it again!

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Batting a 1,000

While riding my bike this weekend, two of our city's most embarrassing civic projects presented themselves.  One being a pile of shiny steel balls and the other is a large metal baseball bat.

The steel balls are supposed to represent the pile of rocks and debris found at the base of a mountain -  something called a Talus Field.  The nearest mountains to our city are four hours away and this "art" might just as well have been installed at our city's baseball stadium called Telus Field.
A real talus field
The pile of balls sits next to a freeway bridge and as you zip by in your car, you can catch only the briefest of views.  Riding a bike past the installation offers a better option although there is nowhere to rest and or lock up your bike while you admire the sprayed - on happy faces adorning some of the shiny globes. 
The artist's conception
Employed at a television station, I once asked one of our reporters what story she was working on that day and she replied that she was doing a story on the world's largest bat.  I pictured a monstrous winged animal in someone's attic and that once the news got out, our city would be flooded with the tabloid press wanting to make the most of this bizarre story.

What I discovered weeks later while in the north end of the city was that the reporter was doing a story on a baseball bat.  Not an animal in the least.  Over my left shoulder as I rode through a busy intersection, I was astounded to discover that our city fathers had paid good money to have installed the world's largest baseball bat.  Surrounded by a busy intersection, the bat sits alone without any context - is it near the baseball stadium?

The bat does serve a purpose - albeit one that was never envisioned by city council.  Many is a time you'll pass the baseball bat and see someone sitting with their bum on the knob, hugging the shaft while a friend swivels the bat around and around the base of the structure.  An ear-splitting screech as the non lubricated parts grind against each other combines with hoots and hollers of the usually inebriated revellers who have disregarded the civic notice posted nearby: "THIS IS NOT AN AMUSEMENT RIDE.  IT IS A PIECE OF ART AND SHOULD BE RESPECTED AS SUCH". 
Home for both pieces of "art"?

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Tour De Farce Part 2

As mentioned in my last blog, I've never worked a professional cycling race before and there was a steep learning curve for me to negotiate.  The old pros who were working for the likes of Velo News or from the big news agencies like Reuters and United Press International gave me the hairy eyeball until, after many requests, I was given a TV vest to wear which gave me almost unlimited access to the riders and their teams not to mention a choice spot at the start and finish lines of each stage.

During the whole tour I was impressed by the cameramen and photographers who would jump on the back of motorcycles that would roar ahead of the tour and allow the operator to get moving shots of the racers in action.  I was asked several times if I'd like to have a try but I'd find some excuse to beg off.  No way was I going to stand up with a 30 pound camera on my shoulder on a swiftly moving vehicle with nothing to hang onto, drifting around corners, darting in and out of traffic for hours on end.

By accident while looking for somewhere to eat, I came across a whole village that had been set up in the parking lot of a local hotel.  A bevy of team members busily engaged in scrubbing each bike and then hosing off the clouds of suds.  When I asked if cleaning off the bikes helped with the aerodynamics of the bike, a young lady explained that it was easier for the mechanics to detect problems with the bike if the bike was clean.  She aslo told me she was soigneur.  Telling her that I was sorry to hear that, I walked off to my vehicle to find dinner.  While chowing down and reading the technical guide for the tour, it was then that I discovered that soigneur:  "are assistants responsible for feeding, clothing, massaging, and escorting riders; from the French for the "one who provides care".  Another lesson learned.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Tour De Farce

As a cycling enthusiast and a cameraman, I've spent the last week on a dream assignment - covering the Tour of Alberta.  A six day, 950 kilometer professional bike race held in 10 different communities throughout a large portion of the province.

Never having covered a cycling race of any sort, I had a lot to learn. It took me four days to discover that there was a media van that would zoom ahead of the tour and take you to scenic spots where you could set up and wait for the perfect shot.  Never again on the tour would I race out of town using my old school paper maps thinking that my cleverness and my navigating skills would lead me to postcard views of the peloton zipping past grain elevators or farmers in their fields harvesting their crops.
Dream shot

In reality, as I drove closer to my selected spot, there would be a lineup of 50 cars blocking a crucial intersection that I needed to drive through.  Driving on the edge of the road up to the RCMP officer directing traffic would only earn me a stern warning to not proceed further and who did I think I was driving on the shoulder?  Then it was a matter of grabbing the camera and tripod and running as fast as I could and with only moments to spare, level the tripod, mount the camera, fire it up, white balance, focus and frame up a mediocre shot as the first riders blasted through the countryside.

Where do you think you're going?
It was raining the day I discovered that the tour provided a media vehicle so I welcomed sitting in a warm, dry van driven by a tour organizer who could breeze through road blocks and drive at terrific speeds without any concern about speeding tickets (since the police were at the roadblocks).  What I didn't realize was that being in the media van meant being thrown about the insides as the vehicle sped around corners or slammed on its brakes to avoid a collision with an eager spectator.  At one point we could barely squeeze past the crowds lining a tight uphill curve somewhere in the foothill portion of the race.
Imagine squeezing through this
Once I gobbled some Gravol and my stomach settled down, I was able to focus my camera through the windshield of the van and grab a shot of four cyclists who had broken away from the peloton.  Surrounding these four cyclists was a cavalcade of motorcycles, VIP vehicles, team cars - seventeen in all,  and bringing up the rear - our little van which was now trapped behind the leaders meaning we would miss the cyclists crossing the finish line.  At least we didn't have to stand out in the pouring rain for hours on end waiting to grab the winner with arms upraised and winning this stage of the tour.
The breakaway group as seen from inside the warm, dry van

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

That's A Lot of Bull

A friend knowing my interest in cycling gave me a wonderful present – an old-timey John Bull Repair Outfit.  A slender, rectangular tin box full of all the items necessary to fix an old time flat tire.
"For the man who wants the best"

There are handy instructions printed on the inside of the tin lid and some are rather quaint.  Like using an indelible pencil to mark the puncture with an L shape.  Or cleaning the area to be repaired with a wet match.  A wet match?  Being a non-smoker, the supply of matches in my house consists of a packet of paper matches that I know are Canadian since they advertise a cigarette named “Export Eh?”.
The French gives it away as being Canadian
Looking at this thoughtful gift reminded me of some of the flats that I’ve experienced during my cycling adventures.  Just a month ago both Roy and I developed flats which we attributed to riding our tires with 50 pounds of pressure on hot tarmac heated by 30C plus temperatures (90 plus).
These guys make fixing a flat look like fun
A few years ago, my faithful cycling companion had a tear in the sidewall of one of his tires and being the cheap guy he is, he refused to buy a new tire or even consider looking for a bike shop.  During our trip, I recall stopping four times to fix his flats and when on the last day of our trip, his tire went flat for the fifth time, I gave him my spare tube which if I wasn’t so cheap, I might have given to him earlier in the trip.
One of the five flats being repaired
Perhaps I should see if I can find John Bull tires.  On the back of the tin repair kit is a slogan that claims John Bull tires are so good that you probably won’t need the repair kit at all.