Friday, 28 September 2007

Alberta Alliance Response to the Report of the Royalty Review Panel

I'm glad someone isn't pulling punches. Other than bits of political flamboyance, I agree with this article.

Alberta Alliance Response to the Report of the Royalty Review Panel.
Keeping in line with Chairman Hunter's warning that the report must be accepted in full or not at all, the Alliance Party rejects the Report of the Panel.

The Alliance Party has the following comments regarding the Report.

1. The panel did not follow the first term of reference given to them from the Finance Minister which was, "How Alberta's royalty system compares to other oil and gas producing jurisdictions, taking into account investment economics, and industry returns and risks in Alberta." The panel answers this question by talking about Alberta's royalties without mentioning what kind of return investors receive in Alberta. From our review, we cannot see where any effort was made to measure the rate of return of Alberta's oil and gas producers and explorers. To the contrary, the panel in its own words states that "Costs are not an argument for or against a particular finding of a fair royalty level" (Page 37). Costs in Canada are very relevant as our oilfield workers and tradesmen and women are well paid compared to many jurisdictions mentioned in the report. In some of the countries used to compare the government rate of take, rig workers earn less than a thousand dollars per month. Our environmental regulations are more stringent than most countries in the world (as they should be) and this costs money also. To suggest that costs can be controlled by good management in a booming economy is an absolute lack of understanding of the current state of the oil and gas industry.

2. The Report seems to discount in a rather flippant way, and fails to differentiate between, the effect of capital dollars invested versus the overall economy of Alberta and Canada. The main health of the Alberta economy comes from new capital and not just reinvestment of cash flow from Canadian oil and gas companies. Do we think that 140 billion dollars of investment in the oil sands are going to come from the cash flow of companies? Failure to demonstrate good rates of return will lead to the inability of companies to raise additional capital for reinvestment. The report does not mention the downturn of that capital investment, already being experienced today in Alberta. In conventional oil and gas, this has resulted in an estimated 10,000 people being laid off in the service industry. To scare away additional capital could result in layoffs tenfold higher than currently being experienced. We have seen that movie in the past and we do not want to see it again. We must retain a favorable investment climate for our future well being.

3. We have heard plenty of rhetoric from the Liberals, NDP and the left wing MLAs of the PC Party about the average royalty rate dropping to 19%. However, nobody in government seems to take the time to explain to Albertans that our revenue from the oil and gas royalties and leases has gone from $6.5 billion in the fiscal year 01-02 to $12.5 billion in 06-07. The report also does not consider other revenue streams that have resulted from the oil and gas industry under the current royalty structure. Corporate and personal tax incomes have also both increased since 2001. In the last fiscal year, the personal tax revenue jumped from $4.6 billion to $7.5 billion, for example. When estimates say that oil and gas drive 35% to 50% of this province's economy, these tax revenues should have been considered by the panel. Albertans have been served well by the current structure of the conventional oil and gas industry.

4. The panel has recommended an increase of 56% for conventional oil royalties and an additional 16% for natural gas royalties. The Panel does its best to sell this increase with a break to low producing wells but fails to recognize a basic fundamental of how the conventional oil and gas industry works. The good wells drilled pay for the poor wells drilled. Raising royalty rates to 50% maximum on good wells will cause companies to change their risk profiles and drill fewer wells. When wells are drilled that will never pay for themselves due to low productivity, it does not matter what royalty rates are, the well is an economic failure. The low royalty rates are in place just to keep the good wells producing and contributing to the overall economy of Alberta. The good wells pay for the poor wells.

5. The Alliance Party understands that oil sands, being a relatively new industry that is just being proved economically viable, will always require some adjustment up or down. We believe that industry understands this also. The key is to not kill the goose that is laying the golden eggs for Albertans. We saw what happened in 1982 with the National Energy Program and thinking the industry could withstand large tax increases. Albertans were subject to severe economic hardships that took years to recover from. We cannot go there again.

6. It should be noted that in the fall of 2006 a total of $700 million was clawed back from the industry by the removal of the Alberta Royalty Tax Credit (ARTC) and Low Producer and Well Reactivation programs.

7. We were also disappointed that the report did not take the initiative to compare oil sands mining with other low margin mining projects in the world. It should be noted that in Alberta, like oil sands, coal mined for electricity generation is also a low-margin product mined in pit operations. Coal royalties give a rather paltry 11 million dollars per year to the Government of Alberta. The most probable reason for this number being so low is the political liability that would come with increasing Alberta's take of coal royalties due to a resultant increase in electricity costs for consumers.

8. Finally, it is disturbing that the report did not seem to seriously consider the possible repercussions of raising royalty rates. The panel despite making firm predictions in other areas, refuses to take a position on how investors will react to royalty hikes. It also takes a dismissive tone when mentioning those who did predict consequences for Alberta if rates go up. In order to judge the panel's findings and the government's response to them, the people of Alberta deserve more balanced information.

Alliance Recommendations

1. Before it even considers royalty changes, the government needs to get its current royalty house in order. One of the findings of the panel often ignored in the media was that the government's understanding and maintenance of the current royalty system is incomplete and flawed. Evan Chrapko, one of panel members has been quoted as saying about the current royalty accounting structure, "we have record-keeping that works for Third World countries in the 1960s." This need to be rectified before we can move forward.

2. Leave the conventional oil and gas royalty system as is. We are in a basin that consistently yields smaller and smaller pool discoveries. The cost per barrel of finding these pools is increasing. We must accept that Alberta is at a disadvantage regarding potential discoveries in conventional oil and gas and work to remain competitive in attracting capital.

3. We should not break deals currently in place without consultation with the industry. The report suggests that it is common place for governments to change deals with companies around the world. The Alliance Party suggests that we should be what Albertans want us to be and that is deal-keepers. We can make changes only through consultation with those who are investing and Albertans themselves. Albertans want Alberta to be known as trustworthy. This is not just a moral obligation but a practical financial one. International investors will certainly think twice about putting money into this province if they know their deals with the government aren't worth the paper they are printed on.

4. After consultation and with contribution from industry, increase oil sands royalties on the front end by 1% in a progressive four year phase-in. When fully phased in, this would result in an increase of $292 million per year by 2010 and $438 million per year by 2016 when bitumen production will have risen to three million barrels per day (based on $40 per barrel bitumen.) The phase in period will give industry proper time to adjust for the increased burden. The 1% would continue after projects payout as well, in essence be a Gross Overriding Royalty.

The Alliance Party is convinced that if the report in its current form is implemented that it will result in catastrophic consequences for all Albertans through our collective connection to the oil and gas industry.

Other Alliance Points of Contention with the Report

* The panel had no mandate to suggest what should be done with the additional two billion dollars it suggests the government should grab. It is the underlying belief of the Alliance Party that money in the hands of business and people is far better spent than in the hands of government. The PC government over the past several years has demonstrated that clearly. Most industry profits are reinvested in more drilling or paid out to shareholders. It is well understood that primary dollars such as oil and gas industry profits will have a five to seven times multiplier in growing the economy of Alberta. Why not turn the two billion into 14 billion rather than allow the government to waste money on projects that will only increase costs to taxpayers?

* We feel that the Alberta Department of Energy has performed in line with the expectations given to them by the Government of Alberta. Any changes should be in who the government is and not by adding more departments and ministries as suggested by the panel.

* In comparing Alberta with some of the states in America, little recognition is given to distance from markets and the harsh climate we must build and design for, in Alberta.

* The report regrettably does not acknowledge the fact that the Alberta oil sands are unique in this world and should be treated so, rather than being compared to some heavy oil projects in the world.

* The report makes a large number of comparisons to countries where dictatorships and communism are the rule. Alberta is a free market society and should not be compared to any state-owned companies or industries.

* Regrettably the report does not compare the Marginal Effective Tax Rate (METR) in percent to the mining business, which is what the oil sands are.

* The report intentionally leaves out municipal taxes as stated on Page 32. The terms of reference specifically instruct the panel to include taxes in the review.

* The report talks about the importance of stability but then suggests a radical change to the royalty system. Industry has said they can accept some small changes. Why create an atmosphere of instability?

* Presentations to the panel suggested satisfaction with conventional oil and gas royalties yet the panel suggests a 16% increase in gas royalties and a 56% increase in oil royalties. Why?

* Alberta's average size of gas pool discoveries is 1.7 BCF since 1994, while the global average is 490 BCF. This in itself should explain why we have to have more competitive royalty rates to attract investment.

* Alberta's average size oil pool discovery since 1994 is 0.3 million barrels, while the world average is just over 100 million barrels. Once again, why do we compare our royalty rates with these giants?

* The report recommends an increase of 50% of the Freehold Mineral Tax from an average payable currently of 4% to 6%. This is a tax on 50,000 mineral Freeholders in the province. This is a tax, off the top, on people and companies who own the oil and gas below the ground. Should this be taxed at all?

* The report claims that oil sands costs are largely a management issue. This shows a total lack of understanding of how business works during a commodity boom economy. Plenty of socialists think this can be controlled but then Albertans will miss out on the upside of the commodity cycle.

Let's keep Alberta on top

For more information contact: Paul Hinman, Leader of the Alberta Alliance
(403) 393-2003

EnCana's position on Royalty Review

I would hope that someone will listen to EnCana's point of view, considering their impact on Alberta's economy annually.

EnCana seeking a solution that balances more royalty revenue with maintaining a competitive investment climate

CALGARY, Alberta (September 28, 2007) - EnCana Corporation (TSX, NYSE: ECA) has conducted an evaluation of recommendations contained in the Alberta Royalty Review Panel Report. If adopted in full, the royalty changes will negatively impact EnCana's future investments and operations in Alberta and will have a widespread impact on economic activity across the province.

If the proposed recommendations are adopted, EnCana plans to cut its 2008 capital investment in Alberta by about $1 billion, or 30 to 40 percent of the $2.5 billion to $3 billion the company has planned for Alberta-based activity. Most of the reductions would be to EnCana's natural gas activity in areas where the proposed royalty scheme makes those activities uneconomic or uncompetitive in its portfolio. The company plans to reallocate capital to investments outside Alberta.

"If the Royalty Panel's recommendations are adopted in full, many of Alberta's new and emerging resource plays will simply not be economically viable. These new plays would have formed the foundation for the future of Alberta's natural gas production. Even without that future gas production growth, under the recommended changes EnCana's royalties on Crown lands would effectively double, assuming current gas prices. We will have no choice but to slow down our Alberta-based activity and move investments to other areas in Canada and the U.S. that are more economically attractive. As a further consequence, Alberta natural gas production will continue to fall," said Randy Eresman, EnCana's President and Chief Executive Officer.
"We do not want this to happen. This does not need to happen. The consequences would be far reaching. We are open to changes to Alberta's royalties - changes that reflect the economic realities of volatile commodity prices, higher costs and the appropriate risks and rewards of long-term capital investments. A royalty system can be developed that achieves Alberta's objectives without so severely damaging the province's future," Eresman said.

The proposed changes will have immediate and long-term impacts on working Albertans. The magnitude of the expected capital reductions is the tip of the iceberg. In the short term, these changes would mean extensive job losses across the industry. There will be fewer wells drilled, completed, pipelined, operated and serviced. There will be fewer hotel bookings, vehicle purchases, landowner lease payments, restaurant meals and lower property taxes in the areas where EnCana operates, and that is just about every corner of Alberta, from the smallest towns to the biggest cities. More importantly and over the long term, well-paying, permanent jobs will not materialize across Alberta.

"We would greatly regret seeing these job opportunities evaporate. We are Albertans. We care about the people of Alberta and we hope we won't have to make these choices," Eresman stressed. EnCana will continue to thrive "As North America's largest natural gas producer, we have built an extensive and diverse portfolio of investment opportunities with the flexibility to strategically deploy capital. With a land base of approximately 27 million net acres onshore North America, our depth of inventory means that EnCana will continue to thrive. We will allocate capital across our portfolio in a disciplined and efficient manner. Most importantly, we have developed the expertise and technology required to unlock maximum value from our resource base. Our current projects and emerging opportunities in British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Colorado, Wyoming and Texas offer continued growth potential and strong returns for our shareholders.

"Our province faces a great future, but only if we solve the economic challenges together, in a spirit of co-operation and collaboration. We are confident that innovative, creative and pragmatic solutions can be found. That is our Alberta history. That is our Alberta tradition. We have found those solutions in the past and we believe we can do it again. We look forward to the opportunity," Eresman said.

EnCana Corporation With an enterprise value of approximately US$50 billion, EnCana is a leading North American unconventional natural gas and integrated oilsands company. By partnering with employees, community organizations and other businesses, EnCana contributes to the strength and sustainability of the communities where it operates. EnCana common shares trade on the Toronto and New York stock exchanges under the symbol ECA.

Energy Politics in Alberta

Alberta has commissioned a royalty review panel to evaluate the current system of royalties in the province. Their report, and related comments, are available here:

If you live in this province, this is extremely important to you, even if you don't work directly in the oil and gas industry.

I wholeheartedly disagree with the report... there are elements of sense and utility to it, but the report itself demands to be accepted or rejected in whole. So I reject it.

My action at 7:30 am the next morning was to sell my oil and gas stocks that are Alberta based. I now own none. My initial findings when I stayed up the night it was released were as follows below, that the image of more revenue from conventional oil and gas production royalties was a lie.

"One point I'd like to draw attention to is the table on page 17 of this report. It shows estimated revenue impacts using a production forecast out to 2016 based on current and proposed royalties. Naturally, it shows an increase in royalty revenue under the higher royalty scenario as proposed.

Sure, in the short term this will happen, as the industry can't adjust on the first month.
However, both scenarios use the same production forecast. Wouldn't you think that raising royalties by 20% might reduce capital investment over a 10 year time horizon? And that oil and gas production might decline under that reduced capital environment? And therefore that the extra revenue shown (up 37% overall, 20% up on conventional) as take for Albertans in 2016 is FALSE ADVERTISING and SIMPLISTIC and maybe the populace isn't that dumb?

I've made a rough production decline/reinvestment model out to 2016 in an attempt to reverse engineer the forecast included (for conventional oil and gas only), and calibrated it to the numbers on page 17. I've assumed plugged a 15% basinwide decline, as well as $20,000 flowing barrel capital efficiency, which necessitates an annual capex solve of about $8.5bn to make the forecast production as shown in 2016. If you assume that a 20% increase in royalty costs takes $2bn a year out of private industry pockets, I've correspondingly reduced capex by $2bn/year to generate my new forecast.

Removing $2bn a year of capex for a decade results in 40% less production at the end of the forecast period ceteris paribus rather than the stoic "(same)" as indicated in the table. Higher royalty rates on a lower production base... the result is that 2016 royalty take off conventional production could be 20% lower as indicated by this calculation than the base case scenario rather than 20% higher as shown for conventional. Higher decline assumptions and worse capital efficiency make this worse.

Hmmm.... Higher taxes on a smaller base doesn't mean more revenue... Haven't we heard this before?"

Thursday, 27 September 2007

4 hits of Thursday

I walk into the office early today to get myself settled before our 8am closing where we hand over a hefty cheque to a junoir oil co for a financing we've led. However, in ominous fashion, 10 minutes before we leave, my MD is on the phone, and from the looks of ithe's pissed. Turns out something entirely preventable, yet totally uncommunicated to our department had occured this week with a subscriber. Had someone informed either the MD or I three days earlier rather than 15 minutes before closing, it'd be but a mere hiccup. Unhappy MD and a shit show isn't the way to start the day.

A respectable lunch at Brava had my day feeling a bit more on the upswing.

Leaving at 5:30 to meet "the gang" for some cyclocross fun had the day looking downright peachy... until my chain broke. That's twice in a short time, and those are the only two breaks I've eber had. I cut the fun short and softpedaled home, as the pin was still half functional.

And on the path by the university, as I'm coasting by, some absolutely ridiculously beautiful 20 something comes around the corner onto the path, looks over and sees me cruising straight at her going probably too fast, and steps aside and just displays a cherub like smile. I can't even recall the last time I saw a face like that, she looked like she should be on some Bob Dylan album cover, since she already had the wind blown hair and earthtones fall apparel on.

That was the highlight. The lowlight was that her beauty temporarily removed my chain break from my mind, and I pedalled hard, and it broke catastrophically.

She's a menace to society, like a PG version of that chick in Seinfeld who walked around bra-less and wreaked havoc wherever her melons trod.

Wednesday, 26 September 2007


I was introduced to the sport of shooting sporting clays on Monday, and enjoyed it. I thought going into it that I'd be terrible, the noise would be excessive, and that my shoulder would hurt the next day.

In fact I didn't do as poorly as I expected, the noise isn't a factor really with earplugs in, and the recoil wasn't bad.

I was a 50/50 shooter, but like any average, it's misleading. I'd shoot either 3/6, 4/6 or 5/6 on the different stations, but on two I came up with a big fat zero. Somehow my mind either got the kinetics of a given shot, or it didn't. It's all about a feel for the motion - how much are you leading the clay's path when you pull the trigger (shoot where it's going, not where it is). Like any other sport, the most helpful thing seemed to be to bend your knees, as pivoting your body to follow the clay is much easier that way.


Saturday, 22 September 2007

Alberta Roubaix

The inagural ride of the "Alberta Roubaix" course I mapped out went pretty darn well today with Pat, Gerry and Henry. A 9am start with cloud cover till noon left us a little chilly, but riding new roads made it that much more worth the while.

We headed out through Bowness Park, then up through Valley Ridge to the TransCanada. I've got an idea of how we can stay off the highway for longer, riding along the power lines near the community... possibly even making it over to the east end of Airport road.

Airport road is the same old, however we turned right near the stinky farm and hit the first extended gravel of the day, it rode easier with cross tires than it did on my motorbike (less float). Hung a left and climbed to 22, then went across 22 for a peek across the reserve. Descended a nice hardpack gravel hill, then turned north generally parallel to 22. Continued north to the Cochrane burbs, then exited the community by the bridge, but climbed south on 22, then crossed both lanes at the "right spot" to a sideroad that provides access to the second bridge across the Bow. A bumpy descent gave way to smooth gavel to carry speed across the wood surfaced bridge.

After a coffee stop, I elected to cut out about 3k of roundabout, and climb up by the schools directly, then up retreat road. We then made our way east on TWP RD 262, turning north on Glendale Road. From there it was north to Big Hill Springs, until we got onto Bearspaw Road, where we turned left on another township road. Connecting Glendale to this road by field is probably feasible, if we could find the right farmer/quad track/power line right of way to go on. From here we wind south until Henry observes the sign that says "No Exit". This is where I'd been confused earlier, as I've found a "road" that's not on the map that connects back to the Rocky Ridge area.

We climbed under the barbed wire fence to ride some sweet looking new bike path (great location for an unsanctioned cross race, nobody would ever notice your presence, everyone could park at Wal-Mart 10 min ride away). Wound our way through the northwest and stopped at Doyle's for some refreshments.

I rode back along Sideshow Bob, when Shawn Bunnin came upon me with his fresher, and always faster legs. We rode back to my house together, but with about 2k to go, my rear tire bead came off my rim, so I had to deflate, push it on, and ride back taking it easy. I'd say that's fairly weak performance for a brand new Schwalbe inflated to the appropriate pressure as noted on the sidewall.

4.5 hours riding time in total for me, at a pace that was rather leisurely. Great ride!

Saturday, 15 September 2007

Love affair of the Western Provinces

Manitoban single speeder at XC8,

Let's clarify that "mope" was a filler word that probably I could have politely excluded, and be clear that nowhere did I (or will I) put a name out. Even reading the results didn't 100% identify the comment. Putting a name to the remark was your call.

However, there's small reason I didn't use a word with a more positive tone...

1. Climb one - I was surprised that you came back onto the "main line" before your bike was in front of mine... your rear wheel still overlapped my front wheel by a foot and a half, which became a forced (and somewhat forceful) wheel rub when you cut left onto the line. It's a small thing that got to me. Sure it's racing, but why cut it so close? Clean passes are easier on the mind, bike and body.

2. Climb on third last lap - all three deadgoats I think were very impressed at the speed you can climb on that rigid single speed - certainly faster than I was willing and capable of putting out at that time. But what sense is it to blast by in a 15 second climb of fury only to obstruct the three race leaders on the downhill? In retrospect it was immaterial overall, but it just didn't make sense in the context of the race. You're fast downhill, but let's face it, a rigid bike is going to be tough to descend as fast on as a FS bike... especially when there's a few laps seperating us at that point? It just didn't seem to make sense to me.

It's just the way two people saw one day unfold from different vantage points. It's racing, it's fun and games and a bit of luck. You're fast as blazes on hills, no doubt about that. You should throw on a suspension fork next year for a little added joy (or pain reduction), and I'm considering doing it single speed.

More fun times to be had by all next year. And holy cow, sounds like people did a lot of driving... hook up a Westjet to Regina... not too bad on cost. And that little B&B on the hill in Moose Jaw was deee-lux.

Saturday, 8 September 2007

XC8, Buffalo Pound, Saskatchewan

Solo Women:
1. Trish "I mean business out there" Grajczyk defending on her home turf.
2. Tori "Hi, I'm an endurance mountain biker now" aka. The Bee.
3. A Winnipegger.

Also of note, a prize went to Tori in recognition of the bee outfit.

Solo Men:
1. Papa goat Pat "show no mercy" Doyle... laid the smack down on a leg busting climb at the 7 hour 15 minute mark, only to be glimpsed one more time in the distance by the chasers. I think Pat would even win with no gears. Or running. Or even crawling, just cause that's the kind of tough as nails shit he's made of.
2. Craig "I'm back" Stappler - nice enough to wait for a Bakke wipeout on the start of lap 13 (ever notice your handling starts to decline at the 7:45 mark?), then sprints to the finish for 2nd and takes it by 1/2 a second to...
3. BikingBakke who hangs on for third. Surprise of the day was that some mope who cut me off on the first climb took the hilltop prem of two mins I thought I'd pocketed - guess there wasn't a seperate one for singlespeeders.

Gerry and Linda overcame some adversity for 6th (Gerry started the day off by breaking his chain on lap 1 - too much power)... and had a second break later in the day.

We put in 13 laps (Trish 10, Tori 8), and finished in about 8 hours 20 minutes. Which was 114k of riding and 3,517m (11,500 feet) of climbing on my computer. I can tell you my right lat was cramping on the last two laps from so much high torque climbing and gripping the handlebars. If I heard right, the first place team did 10 laps, and 4th place solo did 11 laps.

The course was FANTASTIC. Funnest trail I've ridden all year, it never got old. Fast and flowy, technical came from high speed turns and fun rather than being a bone jarring course. Weather was great, a little sprinkle at 4pm but that's all. The three solo deadgoats put in lap after lap together, and I think we surprised the field in that Craig and I rode the whole 8 hours together in paceline form.

Deadgoats also cleaned up on draw prizes... I almost missed a Marzocchi Corsa SL World Cup fork cause I was busy drinking champagne from Trish's trophy, but clued in just in time. Sweet!

Ps. Maybe a category for first non-deadgoat next year is in order??

Friday, 7 September 2007

Saskatchewan Bound

Getting home at 1:30 to pack and drive to the airport for a 3:45 flight is kind of a tight program for the afternoon. Packing is relatively easy, as I'm just bringing my bike bag, but going through the hassle of boxing my bike is something I would have rather done without. Unfortunately I couldn't get confirmation on the bike bags - Westjet said the people at the counters usually have them, but not always. I didn't even feel the need for one, I just wanted to bring my bike with the handlebars turned sideways. But they say it's necessary so they have something to stick the luggage tag to. I'm pretty sure I could find a way to overcome that. The bright side was they didn't charge me anything for the box.

Anyway, plane started to taxi 5 minutes after we boarded, and I had a solid one hour nap, waking up just before we landed. We got buttons that say "I love Regina" from the airport staff.

We went to the Copper Kettle for a good dinner, and were served by a waiter who had left Calgary 3 months ago. His rent in Calgary was $1,500 per month, which wasn't high on his affordability scale. He bought a house in Regina for $33,000 and pays $127 per month mortgage, plus utilities and all the rest bring him up to $295 total cost per month. Crazy.

We stopped at Atlantis Coffee after to get something for the drive to Moose Jaw, and were once again surprised at how friendly service was. The coffee girls, were having fun at work that night.

Driving to Moose Jaw was ridiculous. I think you could see the lights right from leaving Regina. The road is straight as an arrow and flat as a pancake. This province should do away with speed limits on roads like that.

We found the 99 year old historical B&B pretty easily. Take a hint - if you're ever in Moose Jaw - stay here. It's not perfect, but it is $70 per night, and Tori's web search showed most hotels were $100. The money you put in to this place goes toward the couple who are the owners, proprietors and chief restorers.

Sleep wasn't hard to come by.

Monday, 3 September 2007

Labour Day Monday

Since today was the last day of the long weekend, I thought I'd make good use of it. I golfed 18 holes at Elbow Springs starting at 7:45 this morning with a couple of work buddies, Nick and Hugh... one guy couldn't make the foursome. Nick tried to talk Tori into joining us... but she wasn't exactly dressed for golf as she'd just joined me for a ride down to the course to kick off her Millarville road ride early.

I (we) had a great time, I shot 102, only lost a couple of balls, and am generally upbeat on the sport. I'm going to see if I can get down to a 90 type score next year, after which I'll declare myself a "non-embarrasing corporate golfer", meaning I should be able to participate in client days without causing myself too much regret (I'm not particularly good at ongoing participation in activities I'm cruddy at - learn quick or find something else).

I actually was the first one to make it over to Devin's for lunch, I thought I might be cutting it a bit tight, but fortunately had coached everyone to show up a little later. Had a golf course sandwhich which was made palatable with a local dijon mustard Shannon had found somewhere, plus a slice of apple cobbler... can't say no to that!

Played with the whole family and pets for a half an hour till the gang arrived, then loaded up for Station Flats again. Shawn, Alan, Jon, Craig, Devin and myself were the riders today, naturally I was up for getting my ass handed to me again with that group.

We rode up Tom Snow, where I was suffering off the back with the fast start. We started climbing the Moosepackers swtichbacks when I "expertly" used my Shimano derailleur to shift from my granny into my rear spokes. And by expertly I mean I did a really good job of jamming it into the spokes, a novice job would have been easy to rectify in under 10 seconds. I got the chain out, adjusted the low gear derailleur stop, and started going again... but yes, it happened again. Plucked it out, adjusted the stop, and started going... till it happened again. Jon and Shawn eventually came down to see me, and I pedalled along fine for a while, until it happened again. We repeated the procedure, at which point I gave the stop a healthy couple of screws to make sure this wasn't going to happen... and it seemed to hold for the rest of the day.

Climbed up Moosepackers, then the loose gravel trail. Actually felt good on the loose trail, bike was riding smooth and traction was good. I think everyone managed to ride without dabbing. Once up a the parking lot, Jon steered us over to drop into The Whore.

Jon led, followed by Craig, Alan and Shawn. I was 5th, and Devin was right behind me. The first 20m felt like total crap descending, I was worried that after a cruddy climb with the chain bouncing around that a cruddy descent was up next... until I realized I still had the Bomber locked down in it's climbing position, so I asked Devin to slow up behind me a few seconds so I could get my hand down to change the setting.

Some time during the next 20 minutes, I was reborn into the sport of mountain biking. The mojo came back... or maybe it was always there, but the Turner was just keeping it in the garage for me out of spite. Once the shock was doing it's job, I caught up to Shawn, but wasn't quite sure what was happening, so I didn't ask to pass yet at our next stop. We hung it out behind the saddle on the steeps, and just entering the tight canyon part I ended up riding in front of Shawn and Alan. The rocks in the gulley didn't seem to phase me, it was the first time this season where I was riding lines again rather than dodging obstacles to avoid getting kicked off my bike. Next thing I know, Iggy Pop is yelling in my ear, reminding me that I've got a lust for life. Nikki Sixx had kick started my heart. Babyshambles was asking me what's the difference between death and glory. It's always good when the rock 'n roll starts, in fact I think I may have grown an insti-mullet under my helmet for the remainder of the trail.

Jon had stopped, and we fully regrouped. I decided that I wanted to ride second wheel to Mr. Downhill himself, just to see how it felt. And instead of Mr. Downhill creating an insurmountable gap in the first 10 seconds as usual, I could hold the 4m behind him for quite a while. Teeter totters, 2 foot ramps, rock gardens and roots were a blur beneath my wheels, and I didn't feel like the bike was going to buck me off at any second. I could losen my grip, relax my shoulders, and just knew it'd be fine floating over everything. The bike went from smoothly eating everything in its path to full on earthquake beneath me, but either way it felt stable.

I tried the 30 foot skinny, but only made it the first 10 feet. Craig blew by, and I instantly knew I had a new measuring stick... could I close the gap? I was nearing, then saw the bridge with the 2x4 teeter totter, and knew I had to slow down a bit to hit that... then it was chase time again. No longer was I fighting my bike and my mind for speed, it was back to the classic, proven methodology. Less brakes. Less steering. Less worry. Just let it roll, and let it roll fast. Bike does the work, just sit back and relax. Once we exited the trail, I could hardly think. I wanted to ride my dirt bike at redline. I wanted to drive the baja buggies at 90mph. I wanted to ride The Whore three more times, and Ace of Spades, and Volcan Irazu with only the slightest of brakes. And afterwards I wanted to shotgun a beer and crush the can on my forehead just for good measure.

So I haven't lost riding downhill all together. Is it just the bike? I don't know. I did try fatter tires on the S-Works (the same as are on the Turner) to see if that helped at all. Mckee can downhill the S-Works faster than me, so in theory I'm a crappy pilot and can't coax much out of the bike. But I do think that a bike and rider have to be on the same wavelength. You don't ride the supermodel if she ain't your type, you go for the fun ride. I think the S-Works is superior as a smooth(ish) track racer, a TransRockies racer. But the Turner is a bike that just rides, and rides great. No speed limits. It's fast, it climbs better than the S-Works on loose rubble and technical stuff, and it's more confidence inspiring for me.

We made our way back at breakneck speed along riverside, maiming a chipmunk on the way. I don't have time to feel bad though, the bike euphoria is too good today.

I don't think the collection is going to lose the Turner...

Mo mountain biking, mo better

As if Saturday wasn't enough of a dose on it's own, we rounded up the troops for a Sunday ride as well. Shawn Bunnin, Alan Reain, Jon, Craig, myself... and Tori. I tried to pick up my Turner from Bow Cycle in the morning but it wasn't finished yet, I was keen to ride it. Keeping in the team spirit of carpooling, we all packed into the yuppie mobile and headed out for some fun at Moose Mountain.

Tori split with us right away and went with Shawn's dad and sister. The rest of us blasted off on Sulpur Springs at full XC pace, then went over to Ing's Mine. I suffered with poor technical riding on Ing's Mine and Prairie Link... but still had fun on the flowing turns. We stopped for a little snack at the base of a Prairie View, trailhead was super busy. Climbed at a good tempo all the way to the top, but fortunately for the most part it seemed the "lets race each other till someone drops" mentality had died out, at least for a while. Shawn had the sharp eyes to spot a Canon digital SLR camera in a bag at the side of the trail, so we sent it down with some hikers, suspecting that it belonged to a Japanese tourist family that we'd passed who were on their way back down. I managed to be the last one up to the top, and the last one down to the gravel road, no surprises there. Tried to descend well, but still felt sketched out and like I was always toying with danger. Came back on Prairie Creek, nice tailwind and the downhill technical stuff had us all smiling, it's a fun trail to carry some momentum through. We passed a bunch of weekend warriors and hikers at the end, the hikers seemed a bit dumbfounded that we rode the last rocky descent approaching highway 66. I was fading a bit on Prairie Link, and strategized that a stop in Ing's Mine would be neat for the guys that hadn't seen it before while giving me a rest. We crawled all the way to the back, and I definitely felt refreshed after a few minutes in the cool mine.

We had a meeting of democracy at the Sulphur Springs/Ing's Mine 4 way trail crossing, and decided to ride back up Sulpur Springs. It's a nice, non-technical climb, and all was going well until Craig attacked Shawn, which was enough incentive for everyone to finish the climb off in pain. Sulphur Springs back down to the parking lot was fast and fun... as an aside, I actually think running the Suffer Solstice in reverse has some merit to it.

Craig gets the award of Chief Instigator and otherwise standout rider. He hasn't just decided to "return to mountain biking", he's obviously "returned to elite mountain biking" in short order... which makes the 'goats stronger for sure. I might as well be wearing a girl scouts jersey when Craig comes along for rides...

We hurried back into town so I could pick up the Turner from Bow, and drop off the Specialized. There definitely is some utility in having two mountain bikes, one can be serviced while the other is being pulverized, so in theory at least I could ride 24/7. I'm coming fairly close this weekend so far.

Jon, Kelly, Tori and I went for a heaping pasta dinner at La Viena on Kensington road... I'm glad I finally made it there, had always heard good things about it and it certainly didn't disappoint. We arranged Monday's ride at the same time, then planned to meet up with Devin and Shannon for a couple of beers at Original Joes in Garrison Woods. The first 15 minutes upon arrival were spent molesting a Honda Ruckus out front that had a for sale sign on it, talk about a sweet looking little ride.

Biking stories and good times ensued, until bed was beckoning. Like my dad used to say when I was little, "tomorrow's going to be a big day".

Sunday, 2 September 2007

Bike Friends

I spend a lot of time with "bike friends", but in a way it takes a lot of time to get beyond bike talk and learn more about people.

And to save a long story, I had a dream last night about time travel. Why? An interesting post ride discussion yesterday postulated that time travel was only possible if everything was happening all at once everywhere, yet we can only experience from one location. That's a butchery of the wording exercise we went through, but close enough. I was amazed that someone had a verbal essay on the subject of time travel on the tip of their tongue (thanks Jon).

What I'm still trying to figure out is if the Prime Directive (Star Trek) is the only reason that we haven't seen time travellers or extraterrestrial species (thanks Craig). For the record, the Prime Directive serves to limit the contact modern travellers of the United Federation of Planets can have with primitive civilizations, where primitive refers to civilizations that have not yet achieved warp drive.

Saturday, 1 September 2007

Mojo Approaching Zero, Fast

Long weekend in town looks like it'll be fun - finish off post TransRockies house clean, ride locally with the gang, relax, and of course work a bit... never really able to shrug that off.

Had a hard time getting out of town today; Craig, Jon, Tori and I arrived at the chosen trailhead and were ready to ride at 3pm. Funny that we couldn't collectively mobilize any faster.

We started at deadmans flats, rode back on the Trans-Canada trail, over Jewel Pass, came UP the "race course" that everyone rides down off the switchbacks going up the other side of Jewel, and back along the highway was we ran out of time.

Good fun for the most part. But Erik's brain spent a lot of time thinking as his legs and body piloted him along... where has the mojo gone? When did my ability to really RIDE a mountain bike regress substantially? Slippery rocks were bugging me. Stairs I wouldn't have even blinked at prior I was walking down, all the while telling myself how dumb that was cause they're more slippery by foot than by bike. I fear leaning my bike over enough to get the side knobs of the tire to bite, which is totally counterproductive. And while I'm walking all sorts of obstacles, I have plenty of time to dwell on this.

Some of it may have happened with the Fernie wipeout, some of it is attributable to less time on a mountain bike, and some of it is likely due to perception change - ie. if pacing is being set by Jon on singletrack... not being able to keep up is a pretty predictable outcome. But I've tried to abstract from that measuring stick - I really just feel clumsy and inferior, an inside perception rather than an exterior measurement. The trail is in control of me rather than the other way around. I'm reacting late constantly instead of predicting and flowing.

For my own sanity I need to improve. I'm going to commute by mountain bike more and spend more time at Bowmont fooling around on the technical trails. I'm going to get my eye prescription updated as my left eye vision seems a little suspect - I don't fixate on trail objects as I know I can roll over them, but having said that I'm getting some funny input from the current contact lens. I'm also gonna try a few rides on the Turner again. I can't really say anything bad about the S-Works, but my mind is asking if there's any correlation (or placebo effect?) If I go back. I long for the more competent days of yesteryear on the Turner, whether or not it's totally uncorrelated or not is yet to be figured out.

We've lined up another good group ride for tomorrow (location unknown), but still staying with the theme of "everyone that's coming will likely ride faster/better than Erik". I like it, it's my self improvement tool. I just hurts 99% of the time. We'll see if tonight magically brings back some mojo.