A Short Cycling Break

Last week we took a short break that combined cycling, theater, and food, all things we enjoy. We returned yesterday afternoon after three days of nearly perfect conditions, virtually no wind, absolutely on rain, and temperatures in the high 20’s, hot, but not uncomfortably so.

The Oxford Inn in Stratford. Charming

The Oxford Inn in Stratford. Charming

Our journey took us 90 km, from home to Stratford the first day, to the Oxford Inn B&B and a wonderful evening at the Stratford Festival Theatre with friends. The friends met us at the Parlour Gastro Pub and then provided transportation for us to and from the production of Crazy for You. I’d never been to a play in Stratford and it was certainly a wonderful experience. We’ll need to try some real Shakespeare at some point.

Getting ready to leave after a stop in a St Marys park

Getting ready to leave after a stop in a St Marys park

The next morning it was up and on to Grand Bend via the village of St Marys. Fueled by Grant’s wonderful B&B breakfast we made the entire 92 km trip to Grand Bend with no lunch. We stopped at the grocery store in Grand Bend to pick up some food which became something of a lupper. We had intended to go out for supper, but the pool and comfy deck chairs at the Grand Hideaway B&B held us until it was time to get in the taxi to go to the Huron Country Playhouse for an opening night production of Les Miserables.download We where held through the night with Haagen-Daz ice cream.

Day three started with filling up on an even larger breakfast than the morning before, served by B&B host  Peter, a professional chef. 90 km later we were home, but not before stopping for more food at Bartliff’s Bakery in Clinton (you just can’t bike past Bartliff’s)

We mostly stayed on what should have been quiet country roads for this trip,  without any serious incidents. Grand Bend itself was a nightmare with one yelling motorist and a couple of near misses. East/west roads in southern Huron County were very busy on our Saturday trip home and motorists seemed to have little time or space for our bike. We were pushed off the road twice, once by an oncoming car passing two slower vehicles. The gravel on the shoulder was very loose, bringing us to a full stop, but without damage or injury. There was a close call with a pick-up truck in Clinton, which, on sober reflection, may have been my fault.

Apart from those small annoyances, we had a great few days away. Sun, wind, humming wheels on the road and great company. What could be better?

A Week of Contrasts

We’re on a family holiday, the first one in 3 years. We had a couple of criteria for this adventure. Since it’s winter it had to be warm. All flights from the various places where we live needed to be direct. We wanted something more interesting than a resort in the Caribbean, particularly since we would have a 20 month old grandson along.

Las Vegas provided the direct flights, warmth, and had the added benefit of being an economical place to fly. It really didn’t do the thing for the interesting so we decided to split our time between the city of casinos and the wilderness of the Grand Canyon.

From our Las Vegas Hotel room
From our Las Vegas Hotel room

What a contrast! Las Vegas is amazing, teeming with people with a continual party spirit, its casinos and hotels are beautiful expressions of human ingenuity and creativity. Towers and pyramids rise out of the landscape. Michael Angelo’s David graces the hallway of a casino with more famous sculptures in alcoves outside the building. Of course, it’s all fake, nice to look at, but fake, designed to draw the unsuspecting into the casino. Even some of the trees are fake. Nothing in Vegas is as it seems, although it is all quite beautiful.

From right in front of our Grand Canyon hotel
From right in front of our Grand Canyon hotel

After two nights in Vegas, we get into rental cars and drive 250 miles (we’re in the US now) to the Grand Canyon National Park. Here we stay in a log hotel built in the early 1900’s. Its not as luxurious as our digs in Vegas, but right outside the front door is a sight that no human could create, the Grand Canyon. The view is stunning, confusing the senses in its majesty. You could spend the whole day looking and still see new things, new colours. It just goes on and on. We are fortunate to be here in February. Its relatively quiet and yet it is warm enough to spend time outside reading a book.

Of course, you can spend the whole day looking in Vegas too, but there is something about getting to know something about the creator of the Grand Canyon that tops the best work of the designers of the Las Vegas strip.

Bike. Camp. Cook. our First Adventure in CrowdFunding

It was with great excitement that we received a package from Vermont this week. Just feeling it we knew it was a book, and getting new books here is nothing out of the ordinary, but this one was something new, something special.

A couple of months ago, one of my Twitter contacts promoted an effort by a young woman to fund a cycle tourist’s cookbook. She was using Kickstarter, a crowdfunding site, to fund her idea. Since we are long distance cycle tourists, and she did such a great job of her promotional video, we bought into the plan. It wasn’t really a huge risk, twenty five dollars for any kind of book, delivered to the door could be a good deal.

downloadOpening our package, we were amazed. Tara Alan’s Bike.Camp.Cook. was a wonderful surprise. Two hundred and seventy five pages of wonderful pictures, stories, hints, tips everyday wisdom, and of course, recipes. The book is more than just a recipe book though, its an inspiration to ride and explore. The descriptions of cooking out of a pannier bag are simple and straight forward, wrapped up with lots of practical advice.

I can’t find the book listed on Amazon, which is a pity, but, if you are interested in a copy you can order directly from the authour at http://www.bikecampcook..com.

In the meantime, we are enjoying the book and planning our next adventure, looking forward to the amazing meals we are going to have on the way.

 

2013 Christmas Letter

Christmas time is a good time to reflect on the past year. It is at this time we remember the Gift God gave to the world. It is also a time of giving gifts to each other, appreciating and enjoying these gifts. We were given the gift of another year, with all of the good and exciting things that happened in it. While 2012 revolved around the growth of our family, this year was more about travel and milestones.

Introducing D to Sesame Street

Introducing D to Sesame Street

We were in Edmonton twice this year to visit with our Grandson D and his parents. He is growing up so quickly. Our last visit in October was wonderful, because D, now walking, is so responsive. We visited the zoo together where he became totally enamored with the domestic pigs, mimicking their grunts at every opportunity. Google talk has been a wonderful tool for keeping, and growing our relationship. I find it amazing the way a eighteen month old can seem to understand that the folks on the screen talking to him are real, as he interacts with us, just as if we were in the same room. Our son-in-law, J, has finished his PhD, with his defense in September. R, continues to work on the last stages of hers and hopes to complete this spring. They are doing a great job of balancing their lives as students and parents.

J and Clementine out for a drive

J and Clementine out for a drive

In February we traveled to San Francisco to visit J and L and our newest grand puppy, Clementine.   J continues his work with Google and seems to be flying around the world on business even more than he did before. L has left Google for a job with a company that makes a robot which is run by an iPhone. This company is based in San Francisco, saving her the commute to Mountain View which J continues to make. Clementine goes to work with one of them, most days.

J and M in Toronto came home a couple of weeks ago with news. They are going to be parents to more than two dogs and a cat. The baby is expected to arrive sometime in June. This news has put a little more pressure on them to finish the work they have been doing on their house.

Doggie messengers

Doggie messengers

They have been renovating the attic for a master bedroom and still have work to do on the main floor. M completed the requirements for his engineer’s stamp this year and also got his real estate licence. J continues to be active in her church as a youth leader and in her knitting group.

Last month we said goodbye to Liia. It was tougher to let her go than either of us had imagined.

Liia May 2004-Nov 2013

Liia May 2004-Nov 2013

Over the years on the farm we had, in one way or another, had animals come and go in our lives. Liia had entrenched herself in a much more intimate spot  than any of those others. We still feel her absence every day. For the first time in over 30 years, our house is pet-free.

History and cow pastures in Ireland

History and cow pastures in Ireland

This year, we joined the group we walked the Camino with in 2011 to visit the high holy crosses of Ireland. We decided that an eleven day bus trip in Ireland was not really an active enough holiday for us, so we extended it with a sixteen day bicycle trip. Ireland was a wonderful experience. The people are amazingly friendly and the history of the place is deep. The history surrounds you in castles, tower houses, and cottages.

Across a two lane road in Ireland

Across a two lane road in Ireland

Much of it just left where it is, protected by law and maintained by sheep and cattle. We were gone nearly a month.

J continues to work at the local YMCA as a personal trainer. She has also rediscovered knitting putting together socks, shawls, sweaters, and most recently Christmas balls. She has also started playing with clay at a local pottery shop.

Some of the many Christmas balls

Some of the many Christmas balls

The first days were pretty frustrating, but now warns me a new shelf might be required for all of the pottery she is bringing home this week and is hoping to make in the future.

A couple of years ago, J and I started taking dance classes. Initially, it was to keep from embarrassing ourselves at J & M’s wedding, but, finding that we enjoy doing this together we have continued. We don’t get a lot of chances to show off our skills, and maybe that is not even the point of the classes for us. For us, it something we can do together when biking, canoeing, and travelling are not possible. It’s good to have a best friend to share life with.

In April, I finished the last class of the MDiv I have been working on since 2009. In June, I was declared a candidate for ministry in the Christian Reformed Church. In September the congregation in Lucknow, my home congregation, called me to be their interim pastor.

Graduation October 2013

Graduation October 2013

While it seems like the end of the journey, it’s really just another way point. I’m enjoying the work at the church and look forward to the next couple of years here. The call is a part time one and I continue to consult with sheep and goat farmers through Threefold Consulting.

As the year draws to a close, we look forward to 2014.  We’re already talking about the cycle trip we hope to make, the canoe trip in Algonquin, the new grand baby. How many times will we get on an airplane next year?  Even as we talk about these things, we recognize life is fragile and we’re in God’s hands; whatever comes, we trust it’s part of God’s plan.

The Annual Cycling Summary

The Cycling season is definitely over. Outside, there is over a foot of snow, and the chance of another ride this year seems pretty remote. The road bike is now attached to the trainer in the basement.

The Santa in Ireland

The Santa in Ireland

This year the new tandem got the most use with the majority of those kilometers done on the narrow roads of western Ireland. Somehow,  for the rest of the spring, summer and early fall, we had a hard time finding the opportunities to get out on long rides. There were lots of short ones, but they really don’t add up quickly.

The final tally then:

Santa Tandem: 1670km

Canondale R600: 568km

Opus Legato: 48km (all while camping)

Total: 2286km, just slightly less than last year.

The Battle with the Leech

We recently returned from a week canoeing in Algonquin Park with our good friends M and S. While we have lots of stories to tell of long portages and pouring rain along with the quiet evenings and the call of the loons, we did bring home one piece of memorable video footage. We unfortunately cannot claim that no leeches were injured in the making of this video. The use of a Raid mosquito coil as a leech removal device is, I think, unique, and therefore worth publishing. 

 

 

Ireland: Postscript

We’re home again. Jet lag is playing havoc with our sleep patterns, but it is good to be back in familiar surroundings, the quiet, the relative solitude. Distance provides an opportunity for some reflection. While we were away, we were able to reflect on our lives here, next steps, with no conclusions (although we did get some great ideas for bathroom renovations).

Now that we are back, we can take some time to sort through the experience Ireland was, the way it may have changes our perspectives, our thoughts. A month is a long time to be away from home, but spending a month in a country does have its benefits. During the first week of our trip, everything was new.

An old abbey church arch over 800 years old.

An old abbey church arch over 800 years old.

As we cycled the country we were continually rubber necking, amazed at the ruins, speculating on their history, confounded  each one didn’t at least have a set of sign boards telling the story of the place. By the end, we knew the stories, St Patrick, the Normans, Henry VIII’s reformation, the Potato Famine, the rebellion, the financial crash of 2008, all written for us in the ruins left to mark the passage of time. I’m not sure a two week, whirlwind tour of the popular coach stops could have given us the same depth, could have gotten us past the ohhhh and ahhhh stage.

20130606_111223We did find the bicycle to be an excellent way to experience the country. We were odd enough, riding a tandem through the back roads of the country, that people stopped and talked to us. This happened much less once we joined the tour, although, since our tour was very small, we didn’t totally get tied up in the closed ranks of the tourist swarm. These contacts were invaluable to our understanding of the place today. We heard about the struggles folks were having with the country’s economy, first hand. We heard their interpretations of the ruins around them (no where near the romanticism we placed on them). We learned about how they lived, their schools, their churches, their sports, their opinions about the world. These folks were our tour guides, and because we were odd, interesting, they offered their “tour guide” services free and unedited.

Our bus and fearless driver, Owen. It is just a small bus!!!

Our bus and fearless driver, Owen. It is just a small bus!!!

The bus had its advantages as well. Rain did not prevent us from getting to the places we wanted to see, although getting out of the bus for a close up look was still an issue. Distance was less of an issue as well, allowing for a broader picture of the entire country. The tour guides are trained to give a full, and possibly correct, commentary as we go, while the bus driver provided a “man in the street” view of what we were seeing. The group dynamic, which comes with a bus, can be trying. To gain the advantages, one gives up a lot of freedom. Bathroom breaks take longer, folks wander off, back to the bus deadlines are stretched, but community is built and new friends are made. Its a balancing act.

We bought a map of Ireland just before we left on Friday. This morning we opened it up and traced the journey of the past month. We realize how little of the country we actually saw. We are drawn to the idea of returning to the Emerald Isle, with its wonderfully friendly people, its deep history, and its beautiful landscapes, but the world is big with so much more to see……..