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?

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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.

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. 

 

 

Transatlantic

Transatlantic is a new book by the acclaimed authour Colum McCann. I didn’t know he was a widely read writer when I picked the book (my bad) from a list of newly published works. I knew, from the summary provided, the book had something to do with the flight of Alcock and Brown, but strangely, the story seemed to be complete after the first chapter, like a short story.

Transatlantic Colm McCann

I laboured on to the next chapter, another seeming short story having to do with relationships between North America and Ireland, this time seventy five years earlier. The third chapter leaps into the late twentieth century again with little, or no, apparent connection with the previous ones other than the theme of Atlantic crossings. Its not until the middle of the book that it begins to coalesce wonderfully, weaving itself into a tapestry of history and the lives affected by it.

Ireland is the main character and it was very cool to be reading the book while visiting the island. We had seen the field outside Clifden where Alcock and Brown landed. We visited houses in Dublin like the one Lily worked in. We saw lakes in Connemara much like the one described as the location of Lottie’s cottage. We had seen the Famine cottages and memorials throughout the country which now came to life in words. Transatlantic was another tour guide as we wandered the landscape and history of Ireland.

Visiting the country would not be a prerequisite to enjoying this book. The expert weaving of the story is enough to make the read very worthwhile, even without the on the ground value of its keen historical insights and commentary.

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……..

The Snails

One of the highlights (there were many) of our recent visit to Montreal was being part of the Christmas gathering of “The Snails”. The Snails are four women we traveled with on the Camino, in 2011. They became a sub group in our larger group, and would invariably be the last to arrive at our daily destinations, not because they were slow walkers, they really weren’t, but because they stopped to look at everything along the way. It could be argued that their experience of the Camino was deeper than those of us who were much more goal oriented. They also built strong, long-lasting  bonds within their group. They gather periodically, and recognized our coming to Montreal as a good excuse for coming together. There was also an ulterior motive….

You see, there is another trip planned, to Ireland this time, and at least three of The Snails have committed to go. It seems they would like us along as well. We received the full force of the creative persuasion abilities of these women. I think they are used to getting their way, but aren’t afraid to put in some effort to get it. There were colourful travel books, Celtic tattoo kits, informative DVD’s and finally, a personalized top ten reasons for us to join in on their merry adventure.

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The handout for our intensive persuasion session

Here are the reasons (as they see them):

#10. They can improve their iron levels by drinking copious amounts of Guinness.
#9. They can explore modern Irish farming techniques.
#8. They will get lots of exercise climbing up and down the tour bus and crawling from pub to pub.
#7. They can finally use the rain gear they bought for the Camino.
#6. They can sleep together in a double bed, not in separate bunk beds with 50 snoring pilgrims.
#5. They can eat supper at a restaurant before 9pm.
#4. They won’t have to visit a farmacia everyday to buy blister bandages for their feet.
#3. They can wash their underwear indoors with warm running water.
#2, They can get a tattoo of an Irish harp on their ankles.
#1. They are important members of our communitas– and it just would not be the same without them. (tears fall here)
All of the pressure, however, was for naught. We had already decided that we would join the group. It was fun to watch them at work and really nice to feel wanted. The hugs when we revealed our intention to be part of the adventure were really heartwarming.
If any of my loyal readers are interested in joining us on this adventure the details are here. One thing I can promise is great company.