Saturday, August 29, 2009


As they say in our part of the world, you blink and before you know it, summer is over. And I, well, I took some time away to enjoy some of our short summer. Sure, there are still a few weeks left to enjoy some of the weather but lately it feels more like early Autumn rather than summer. For the most part we have had a lot of rain, a small stretch of wretched humidity and now some cooler windy weather accompanied by some very strong winds. For the most part, I walked away from technology and just enjoyed a little R & R. Doing nothing more than enjoy my surroundings and some quiet solitude. But now it is time to get back to the grind. And time to watch for the early signs as the leaves of the trees turn from vibrant greens to burnt oranges, golden yellows, and fiery reds. Sweater weather, I fear, will soon be upon us. No worries for me as it is my favourite time of the year.

In the meantime however, there is no sense wasting what is outside the doors. I have already planned another bicycle camping trip for next weekend and just hope the weather holds out long enough for me to enjoy that. Another hint at the changing seasons is an email that awaited my return, informing me that my hockey season starts in 2 weeks. Oh where, oh where does the time go. Last Sunday I quietly turned 50. Although the reality of it hit me as I contemplated my life, when I awoke that morning, I realized that it affected me not in the least. Oh sure, there are typical regrets etcetera, but the reality is, that I am still here and there is still more life yet to live. One thing that I do want to change though, is no more rushing around accomplishing nothing. These past months I have lived a little more for myself. Deliberate. Doing more of what I want to do or at least attempt.

I have said no to golf invitations (a first) and a few events planned by others. Instead, I have decided to be more conscious of my own time and where it goes. Too many times I find myself in the late hours of a Sunday evening wondering where the weekend went. Realizing that things I needed to do for myself remained undone. Either waiting for me during the week or postponed until the following week end. Although it is sometimes wise to have scheduled things to do. It is also nice to have a little more spontaneity mixed into the whirlwind we call life. One of my favourite things to do now is, to just get on my bike and ride. Something I rarely did until this summer. Since I have been keeping track, I have ridden over 1000km. The longest being 100km in a day. I'm sure this will help out as I go from cycling to lacing up my skates again.

Anyways, I am just rambling a little here trying to work out some of the numbness of both my brain and my fingertips. I am sure that there will be plenty of reading for me to do as I try to catch up in Blog Land. However, I'm also quite sure that some of you were also out enjoying some of your surroundings as well. And I am looking forward to finding out what you were all up to. While we here are beginning to feel the early signs of the North Winds bite, there are also others half way around the world waiting on their Spring thaw (so to speak). I must also check out our Community Calendar and see what goings on are out there for me to investigate. Well, I guess that is kinda sorta what I have been up to the past couple of weeks. And as I have had said, now I have to get my brain to cooperate with my body to get back into the swing of things. I sure do hope you all have been enjoying the summer and have found a little bit of Peace and Serenity. See you all soon!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Wide Open Spaces

Needless to say, when I arrived at my destination I felt an unbelievable sense of accomplishment. The previous 5 hours evaporated as though they didn't even exist. It was barely noon and I had the rest of the afternoon ahead of me. I parked my bike along a fence and stood behind a van with a yappy dog, waiting my turn to check in. When I got to the window to check in, I gave the lady my name and she punched in my reservation. She then asked for my license plate number. When I told her that I didn't arrive by car but by bike, she just looked at me and said, “You're nuts”. I just smiled quietly. The lady then gave me a card with my campsite number on it. One for the post and one to show when I come in at the gate. Thanking her, I got back on my bike and headed toward the site. The first thing I came to was a long steep hill going down. Which was nice at the time but I knew that I would have to climb back up that hill a few more times. However, at that moment I didn't care.

I quickly found my site and began to unload my gear. My tent is a lot bigger than necessary for one person but I wasn't about to go buy a new one for this trip. It goes up fairly quickly; in about 20 minutes or so. I wasn't in too much of a hurry but I knew I needed to find town and get some provisions. A trip I knew I would have to make daily because I didn't have a cooler to keep the perishables from going bad. I improvised and made due with ice and one of my smaller back packs. Anyways, I was getting tired but knew what I had to do. I headed back up that steep hill and headed into town. Relying on my maps instead of asking directions, I tacked on a couple of extra clicks and a couple of extra unnecessary hills. Oh well.

My energy level was now fading as I headed into the prevailing westerly winds. I came to a cross roads and not knowing whether to turn left or right to find what I needed, I asked a passerby. He told me what I needed to know but not what I needed to hear. I had another 6-8 km to go. I had to get one more piece of equipment for my campsite if I wanted to eat and had to find a Canadian Tire. The campsite did not provide grills for your campfire but I knew where to get one. It would have to be left behind but it was worth the $14. I picked up everything I would need for the night. Including the all important coffee for breakfast. My saddle bags filled again, I headed back towards my temporary home for the next few nights. Before leaving for town, I stopped by the concession stand and asked them to deliver 5 bags of firewood for later. When they heard I made my journey by bike, they were very accommodating. For which I was grateful.

My site was backed by trees and so was fairly dark as the sun was setting behind me. I went into the woods, gathered up some kindling and set about getting a fire going to start dinner. I cut up some baking potatoes into chunks, added some butter and seasoning. Wrapped them in tin foil and set them on the grill. I made extras for home fried potatoes for breakfast. When the potatoes were near done, I seasoned up a couple of pork chops and cut up a couple of yellow zucchini to grill. I was famished and set about eating almost everything. After eating, I heated up some water and filled my collapsible “sink”, collapsible being the key word. Because, it was very difficult to keep it from collapsing. I tidied everything up and cleared away as much as I could.

The sun, having completely settled for the night, I took in my new surroundings. Heaping more wood on the fire, I set up a couple of bags of wood to use as stool and sat by the fire. It was only after 9pm but I was exhausted and could have fallen asleep standing up. When I arrived at my site, I met one of my neighbours briefly and said hello but could not really understand his response. I found out later that he was mostly deaf but could read lips and appeared to be stricken with cerebral palsy. His wife was completely deaf and they signed in order to communicate. Their son, who was about 8 years old was also able to communicate with his parents using sign language. What an interesting dynamic. By Sunday however, it appeared as though the wife returned home leaving her husband and son to fend for themselves.

The biggest pain in my backside, were the neighbours on the other side of me. They were a young group in their twenties. About 8 or 10 of them with the sole purpose of seeing how drunk they could get and how often. The first night they were told by the park security to shut it down a few times into the wee hours of the morning. The only thing that kept me sleeping that night was the comfortable exhaustion I felt. The rest of the week end was very difficult to get any quality sleep at all. They were not only loud but rude and vulgar as well. Especially with young kids parading around the sites.

The next morning I got up facing a sunny blue sky and was looking forward to a cup of coffee. I had one of those little portable stoves with the tin fuel and proceeded to get a pot of coffee to brewing. The problem was, it never get hot enough to boil the water in the pot forcing me to start a fire in the pit. Eventually I got the coffee pot to boil and enjoyed it immensely in the morning sun. Heating up my griddle on the wire rack, I then fried up some bacon, eggs and the leftover potatoes from the night before. I even had a couple of slices of toast to go with it. This was my morning ritual while I was there and well worth the effort.

The next couple of days, I rode into the town of Woodstock getting familiar with it and taking a couple of pictures here and there. Knowing the way around didn't make it seem all that long a ride once I got used to it. However, the back and forth trips and sight seeing did enable me to log another 60km while I was there. It was a nice little town and surprisingly not too busy. It had some great old buildings with some interesting architecture. A lot of the older homes were quite large as well. All in all, it was a nice town to visit and I was happy to be there.

The evenings were my favourite time of all. Sure you had mosquito's to contend with but what the hell. The skies were clear, the stars shone bright and the moon played peek-a-boo through the trees. I tried valiantly to get some pics of that but my camera just isn't up to that kind of shot taking. That may be just the gift I buy myself for my birthday. Anyways, in the evenings after eating and cleaning up the few dishes, I always made sure I had plenty of firewood to keep a roaring fire going. There was no sense in trying to sleep early, the group beside me made sure of that. They did however provide some half decent music. There was enough light to read by and just relax. It was in those brief moments of clarity that I was beginning to doubt whether the trip back would have been a wise move. I thought about calling a friend and asking to be picked up. But then, I thought to myself, you got yourself here, you will damned well get yourself back.

Before hitting the sack, I would take a quiet walk around the campground. Watching the flames from the many fires flickering against the dark sky and the hushed tones of quiet conversation. Some people were enjoying a quiet beverage while others were playing boardgames or cards by the light of their lanterns. Marshmallows and wienies on sticks abounded and I kind of wished I had a few to enjoy. Mind you, there were still those few who could not leave technology behind having brought every modern convenience you can think of. Imagine seeing satellite dishes at a campground. Sheesh! Talk about “roughing it”. Oh each their own.

Sunday night was my last night. For dinner I made myself some skewered garlic shrimp with rice and a side Caesar Salad. Yummo! Again, I cozied myself up to the fire and just soaked in the atmosphere. I tried to stay up as long as I could hoping beyond hope that my neighbours would allow me at least one night's decent sleep. Didn't happen. Besides, I was now running through my mind what I would have to do in the morning if I were going to get back on the road at a decent hour. Needless to say, I tossed and turned all night. Sometime before 7am, I thought I could hear the crackling of a fire. I thought, “you have got to be kidding”? Without success, I could not put the sound out of my mind and finally succumbed to the inevitable. When I got out of my tent, there was my other neighbour standing by an early morning fire oblivious of the crackling sound it was making. “Oh well”, I thought. Might as well get packing.

There would be no big breakfast this morning. Just some juice water, a banana and a dry cereal bar. Slowly I packed everything I had with me leaving a couple of the things that I bought behind. The grill for instance and a couple of odds and sods that I was sure would be scavenged before too long. Another neighbour, who I had spoken to the night before, was amazed that I was able to pack away everything that I did. When I felt the weight of the backpack again, I just groaned quietly. After hooking up my saddlebags, I scanned everything at the site to ensure I left it as clean as possible. I then mounted my trusty “steed” and began the rolling uphill climb towards home. It was ten past ten in the morning.

When I got to the top and headed out the exit, I paused and waved goodbye to the lady at the front desk. She just shook her head and laughed. I could only imagine what she was thinking. The early part of the ride appeared quicker than I remembered it on the way up. When I cycled through the first town, I just felt more comfortable than I expected. This time the wind was a little more at my back and made the down hills all that much more enjoyable. I had decided on 10km segments before stopping for a rest but before I knew it, 20km had already rolled by. This time, I made the turn on the road that I wanted to travel on. At least part of the way anyways. I came to a small town called Bright where they make cheese and cheese products. It was somewhere around the halfway mark.

Leaning my bike against a post, I sat in the dry grass and had a drink. Recognizing the upcoming towns on the directions signs, I studied the maps to ensure I was heading in the right direction. I thought, something was wrong because the trip back appeared to be passing quickly. What I failed to mention was, that my hands were the ones that paid a bit of a price. Not only on the trip up but also on all of the previous practice rides. The amount of weight on my back and holding onto the handlebars, my hands lost some strength and three fingers on my left hand are kind of on the numb side. Hopefully, it is only minor and all will eventually return to normal. So, needless to say, I was trying to be very cautious and decided to go back to the 10 klick rule. I also stopped to get the circulation flowing properly before any hill that appeared to be long or steep. No sense being an idiot after all.

Before I knew it, I was in a town called New Hamburg. Only a hop skip and a jump from home. I stopped to take on more fluids, knocking back a bottle of Gatorade and water which I purchased at a local store. After stopping for about 10 minutes or so, I continued on my way. Up ahead in the distance, some guy was peddling his bike up a hill and did not see me coming. I caught up to him and passed him satisfied with myself at still having some energy. He caught up to me and we started talking for a bit as I asked him for directions back out of town. He couldn't believe I had just come all the way from Woodstock and this put a bit of a smile on my face. It would be the last one I would have for awhile. I said goodbye and heading back onto the road home. Little did I know that it was the beginning of the road that I had used as a practice run.

There were more hills than the Sahara desert. And just as hot. Stops and starts were more deliberate now but I also knew that my destination was getting closer. Soon enough, after a rather nice long down hill respite, I was at the crossroads of an intersection I recognized. Only 12km to go but still a few more treacherous hills to climb. When I finally got to my turn off, I knew I was home free. I knew every hill that remained but also knew were but mere ant hills in comparison. I was back into residential area and the klicks tumbled off.

Now for a little amusing stretch. I was coming down a rather steep hill when up ahead I spied a family out having a leisurely bicycle ride. Mommy in the rear, interspersed with the kids of various ages and sizes, (there were 3 or 4 of them) and way up ahead, of course, was “Big Daddy”. Well, more because of my momentum rather than my effort, I cruised on by Mommy and a couple of the wee ones. One of the little guys decides he wants to tag along with me and starts talking. He looks at my backpack, and says, “That looks awful heavy”. I assured him that it was. Then he says, “Are you having fun”? Not really, I admitted. But I smiled anyways. By then of course, I passed him and his daddy. But we were heading down another hill before the final uphill climb as I coasted on down and began peddling methodically back up the other side. Well lo and behold, here comes daddy like a bat out of hell racing up the hill around me as though it were a competition. Now, I wonder how successful he would have been if the roles were reversed. And, how stupid he would have felt if he couldn't even lift the backpack never mind carry it. Regardless, I watched with satisfaction as he got to the top of the hill and stopped, panting heavily, trying to catch his breath while waiting for the rest of his family.

The ultimate satisfaction was mine. My goal loomed a lot larger as I peddled my way through the cemetery. This was one stop I wouldn't be making any time soon. Yes, I made it. I cannot even begin to describe the feeling that I felt at that moment. It was one of the most gratifying things that I have ever done. It was something I thought of on the spur of the moment. Decided to give it a go and even with doubt lingering in the back of mind, accomplished it. Even with all of the extra little stops, I managed to get home in 3 hours and 50 minutes. And just in the knick of time. Within an hour of my getting home, the winds intensified and the clouds became as dark as coal. Then, the rains came the likes of which haven't been seen since Noah built his Ark. I was home. Safe and dry and could care less what went on outside my windows. That night, I slept like a well fed baby dreaming of the accomplishment and planning my next journey under the wide open spaces.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Over Hill, Over Dale...

They say you never know what you can accomplish until you set your mind to it and just do it. Well, I set my mind to this little trip and I finished it. All I knew for certain was the general direction to where I was going and a rough distance in kilometers (around 60 give or take). I had no idea of what to expect on the roadways once I started or what I would have to endure to even get out of the city never mind the back roads of the country. In deciding what would be required on the trip, just in case, I almost drove myself nuts. I had a general check list of items I would need and made sure I had everything that I thought I would need. You know, essentials like tent, sleeping bag, cooking equipment etcetera. Then I added a couple of things that weren't on the list. Such as spare tubes for my tires and bicycle tools....just in case. I also came across a web page by a renowned bicycle camping and touring enthusiast, Ken Kifer, who basically lived and breathed this form of activity. Sadly, because of the web page I was on, I didn't find out until I came home yesterday afternoon, that Ken was killed by a drunk driver in September of 2003. Regardless, his website is still being cared for by a friend of his and is well worth checking out for both the stories he left behind and his guidance to other cycling/camping enthusiasts.

Most of the gear I would need I was able to fit into the panniers or saddle bags on my bike. The rest, clothing and other odds and sods were carried by me in my backpack. Without weighing it, I would have to say it weighed in excess of 50 pounds. (Will need to whittle that down some the next time.) Who the hell knew clothes for 4 days could weigh so much! I was hauling a 65 litre backpack full of everything else I thought I would need. Of course, not finding out until much later that I was forgetting one of the most important items of clothing. Can you guess what? You probably guessed right! I forgot underwear! Fortunately I was leaving with a clean pair on, just in case they found my carcass on the side of the road. At least I had that going for me.

I think I only slept about 3 hours while my brain began to do a mental check of everything that I still had to do. Getting out of bed around 5:30, I showered and got myself ready. I kept hefting the bags wondering whether the bike would be able to handle all of this stuff not to mention carry my hefty backside. Would I be able to strap on that backpack and endure the weight of it? That was when I said a little prayer to God asking Him for strength and also for calm winds and a relatively flat ride. Well, one out of three wasn't bad. The sun was beginning to peak over the trees and I began to get nervous. I wanted to be on my way by 7am so I could try and avoid the early morning traffic along some of the roadways leading out of town.

It was actually 7:10am when I left and of course the very first hill was at the end of my street. My original plan had me going along a path I had ridden before but knew contained many more steep hills and this early on, I was not prepared to start any major climb. So, I dissected the city as best I could. It didn't matter. No matter which way I took, the hills were inevitable so I endured them until I got to the top of what I thought would be a temporary plateau whilst meandering my way through the outskirts of town. That was when some wise ass tried to take me out at one of our round abouts. Considering the weight of the bike with it's cargo, I managed to stop and jump off the seat in time to get it under control. Now my heart was pounding in my ears and I was angry. I regained my composure, remounted and kept on going eventually getting out of the way of the worst of the traffic. I managed to find my way to one of the roads that would begin my journey out.

My initial goal was to survive, which of course, I did. Otherwise you wouldn't be reading this. What I saw ahead of me however began to make me doubt not just my sanity but whether this was all worth it. It appeared as though there weren't a flat piece of land in all of the area. Who the hell was I kidding. I peddled on, listening to the sound of the passing vehicles, my breathing and the thumping in my chest. Monitoring my speedometer, I was getting around 20km per hour in the early stage and that was on the flat surface. I was just trying to get comfortable with the weight and making sure it was snug on my back with little movement. What I didn't need was to start some irritation that would start to worsen. Believe me, my intention was to get there, not to break any speed records. My first mistake was going farther down the first country road than I should have. I missed a turn somewhere but when checking that out later, the turn would have had me go down an unpaved road so no harm done...or so I thought.

One thing is for certain, to put a little twist on the old saying, “what goes up, must come down”. What goes down, must also climb back up! And oh, did I climb. You will see that I only took a few pictures of my journey on the actual ride. I had some form of momentum going and did not want to get too relaxed. There are a few pictures here, that will give you some idea of my surroundings. Including the downhills and the uphills. I drank a combination of water and Gatorade and just small swallows. Enough to say I did. I stopped for about 10 minutes near a junction to get my bearings. I was still heading in the right direction, so that was good. I remounted and continued on. I was supposed to keep going straight at the last turn but came across the name of a road a friend mentioned would bring me through a small town. So, needing to get restocked, blindly, I took it.

The ups and downs continued until I actually had to hit the brakes on the way down one of the hills when I went over 52km/hr down the hill. If I had hit anything on the way down or lost control, something was going to hurt. And that something would have been me. As fun as that may have appeared at the time, my brain was already thinking about the climb back up. And it was a climb. Remember, I am not an experienced road warrior so to me, these hills seemed ginormous. And with the extra weight, it just made it that much more of a challenge. I made it up that hill and every other hill after that. I finally made it to that town and realized I was over the half way mark.

I stopped off at a little convenience store and bought some more liquids. Plus a couple of seed type bars that would have been right up Mr. Beaks' alley rather than mine. However, having skipped breakfast, I was getting hungry so I settled on those. Yummy....not! One of the locals stopped to chat, asked me where I was coming from and where I was going. I told him but when I asked how far it was to the next town, he said it was about 15 minutes by car. But the expression that showed on his face led me to believe there was something that he wasn't telling me. Yup! More hills...big deal. The problem was, I could feel myself starting to get tired. My hands, arms and feet were beginning to hurt. As well as a certain other area of my anatomy which was also developing a “minor” irritation.

When I strapped the backpack upon my shoulders, it now felt like about 100 lbs. However, knowing the end was closer than the beginning, I kept on going. Time didn't matter at all out here only gaining a steady cadence and persistence. The one thing I do have to say though is this, the town fathers in this area must have all had some warped sense of humor. Because, it appeared as though they all built their towns on an upgrade. So, no matter which way you were coming into town, you were going uphill. Strange. Anyways, I saw the unmistakable sight of a golf course up to my left and recognized it as one of the courses I had played many times in a town called Innerkip. Which meant of course that the town was nearby. The funny thing was, having driven out here by car many times on the highway, I knew it only took about 45 minutes to an hour. I was already around the 4 hour mark. Yuck!

Peddling through the town, I stopped at a crossed roads where road numbers merged and changed. Believe me, at this point, I did not want to make the mistake of taking a wrong turn and having to backtrack. So I was careful, took off my gear and sat in the shade of a post at a used car lot studying the roads. I knew I was running out of energy and the irritations were beginning to set in. I don't recall how long I sat there. Maybe 20 minutes, but it was good to take my shoes off and just sit and relax.

Now, looking at my watch and knowing the destination was imminent, I wanted to get in under the 5 hour mark. A challenge! I had myself a challenge! Back in the saddle, the first part was a downhill run. Little did I know, it would be the last major one I would get. The rest of the way was a steady parade of steps. One long stride after another. But I climbed them. Definitely slower than when I began the day but with a little more purpose. Finally, up ahead a sign loomed in the distance. Destination, next left. I turned the corner staring one final climb up to the end. I made it and in just under 5 hours. Didn't break any speed records. Wasn't planning on it. Just trying to get there and I did.
(More to come)