Sunday, 31 January 2010

Wildside Tasmania Day 2

We're departing this morning from the little 250 person town of Tullah in a haze of forest fire smoke.  I'm optimistic about the day, changed my chain out for my spare (the amount I saved relative to buying one here is staggering).  Turns out that's the fourth XT/Ultegra level chain I've broken in the last two years. 

It's fun chatting to all the Aussies, seems like they're very outdoorsy (yes I realize it's a biased sample), but there's a lot of people here who aren't mountain bikers (or racers anyway), they're just do-ers looking for fun things to get out and do.  It also seems like half of them have worked at a ski resort in Canada - go figure.  The Tasmanians in particular are friendly, but the stereotype holds - they're a bit off sometimes, I see where all the Tassie jokes come from (like Newfie jokes).

This morning's stage was real mountain biking, BC rainforest like.  Up a massive technical singletrack climb then back down the other side.  I started way back in some slow group due to my mechanical.  Thought it'd be fun to hole shot and tt'd off the front (too bad I didn't actually have talent to do that in other packs, it feels good), tried to catch at least the 2 minute group before the gravel narrowed to the singletrack.  After that, it was picking off riders one at a time, or in bunches, by negotiating polite passes on the narrow trail.  I also took to bushrunning (bushwalking is their phrase for hiking) when the trail was full of hike-a-bikers who couldn't make it over obstacles such as... well I don't know, a wet rock or something that got the group confounded.  Once the top was crested it was a full on Canadian style descent, except for the "traffic".  I did my best to a) mimic a brake failure, and b) impersonate Jon Nutbrown by taking the off the edge lines through the rock drops to pass groups of people walking. 

I could have done that all day long, and with chain in tact I was doing my best to show this island it wasn't gonna get the best of me.  Man I was smiling from ear to muddy ear, I live for biking on trails like that. As a side note, on one spot we crossed a bit of a gravel road, and were greeted by a sign saying "keep your mouth closed, bees!"  Considering we were going mach speed, 2 seconds later I had bees pelting off me like crazy as they had huge colonies set up.  I don't think that section would be popular with those who are allergic. 

I think I made decent time, but the passing and slowing both up and down grinds off a few minutes.  The riding part was an honest performance, which always feels good.

Lunch was in a beautiful spot and it was getting hot.  The rest of the participants seemed fine with it, but waiting for stage 2 to start at the 1:30pm heat of day doesn't ideally suit this guy, and I started to worry when the Aussies were complaining about the heat.  Oh well.

Before the second competition, which would be the longest, they had a "dash for cash" around the steeply banked asphalt, err I mean bitumen running track.  Two laps, with about 10 guys stepping up to the challenge.  The massive guy who won put down a mad sprint, and it all became clear!  He's the one who passed me on the headwind flat gravel section yesterday like a freight train... and he's got a Dutch looking last name but is Aussie... and apparently a national level track guy here.  Ahhh... that's why I felt so futile trying to hold onto that train!

The second competition started in the baking heat, up a 7km bitumen mountain climb in the baking heat, kind of Moose Mountain gravel road-ish but paved, and it just happened to be in the baking heat.  I figured to hell with the heat, I'll just ride and see how I feel once I get to the "special" water station they added in the last 10k to help people in.  Right when we were about to start, a guy from the A group who had a mechanical (in the start queue a guy fell over and landed on this guy's derailleur) came up and was allowed to start with us (we didn't reshuffle from the morning so I was back again.  He took off the front and I stayed 5m behind.  After 20 minutes I was on his wheel, which apparently wasn't popular.  He continued to attack, but we were going into a headwind.  He wouldn't say anything conversational so I just sat in.

Once we crested the top it was gravel descent.  I slid by with a "lesser preference for braking" and that was it, nice start.  As it so happens, never saw him again till I was lounging at the finish.

We did a monster down on good trails, I flew past riders like they were in reverse, easy to do at the mid pack level.  After that it was a long controlled grade climb that was perfect to power out in a higher cog in mid ring, just reeling in riders non stop, but with passing space.  All was going well until the corner with the high hanging foot bridge... that had a huge lineup.  Stood around for 5 minutes as people progressed across in small numbers not to weigh it down too much, later to find out the groups I'd "normally" ride with had no bunch up and just ran across.  Oh well.

From there it was a little more climbing, then a 10k narrow descent at a mild grade.  I heard two arguments instantaneously: one side said just cruise it in and keep the bike upright.  The other said "live life, taste death".  The latter half won.  Big ring took me up to mach speed, I felt like a motorcycle.  Many people preferred half pedaling or coasting that'd leave you at 18km/h instead of over 40.   I stood for most of the 10k to float the hardtail over the chop and kept pedaling non stop; there was always a "worse" line to pass people on so it wasn't bunched up.  We're on the rainy side and I was one with the mud, it'll be coming out in the wash for a month.  Smooth riding, arms sore from the fork being pushed to its max and my hands blistered.  That was a real day of mountain biking - I LOVE THIS STUFF. 

Compared notes with a guy who rode a few minutes behind me on the first stage of day one and it sounds like we were equal time, but he didn't do the suspension bridge wait.  Fun is what counts, but maybe tomorrow I'll eke my way up to a start block with less traffic ahead. 

The little towns we're in are awesome, the people are so fun to talk to. 

Saturday, 30 January 2010

Callout 1 - Timex

I'm gonna break with my general aim of positivity here for two topics, the first being Timex.  Before this trip I bought a new Timex Ironman watch, a replacement for my old one. I bought it at a store in Bankers Hall out of convenience rather than price point... ouch, $90. 

My other one filled with water 1 month after warranty expired (ie. 1 month plus one year).  Timex - note - your watches are supposed to last longer than this.  I don't abuse them, I'm an office jockey 95% of the time.  That kind of just post warranty failure is so Chrysler 1981 not Timex - Japan is supposed to march to the beat of a different drum.  Has anyone nocticed a multi decade trend in the declining price of small microchips?  Apparently Timex is trying to convince their customers this doesn't apply to their product, sheesh.  Aside from the failure itself, the conversation with the sales lady was a joke unto itself:

Lady:  (after I've waved her down since I was standing at the Timex case and looking straight at her for a minute) Hi, can I help you?‬‪
E: Yes, thanks.  Can you open the glass, I'll buy that one‬‪.
Lady: Do you want to try it on?‬‪
E: No, I'll just buy it, I have the same one‬‪.
Lady: Then why are you buying another?‬‪
E:  I spoke to you two days ago actually, and the cost you described of sending it in and having it fixed doesn't make economic sense to repair it, plus I want it now cause I'm leaving town soon for a bit. 
Lady: I don't remember, that's too bad.
E: I'm also a bit of a fan of supporting planned obsolecense too.
Lady: Well, it is only a $90 watch‬‪ sir (suffice to say, the tone of this nearly made me flip).
E: $90 is a lot of money as the world goes, and a lot of markup, because they're like $50 at Costco and $55 at Walmart.
Lady:  We've just opened and this location costs more.
E:  Yeah, I know, but it's convenient and that's why I'm here.  It still isn't right that a Timex failed after warranty expired.
Lady:  We have many fine watches here with long warranties and higher quality you could look at.
E: I just prefer basic watches that don't say "mug me" when I travel, plus they're comfortable, and I get joy out of the inverse status symbol of it relative to all the expensive ones floating around.
Lady: Do you do sports?
E: Yes, lots.
Lady: That may be what shortened it's lifespan.
E: (Picture disbelief and frustration here).  But this model is the "Ironman", and Timex's motto is "it takes a lickin' and keeps on tickin'"‬‪.
Lady: Uhh, do you want the box with that?‬‪
E: No, just let me put it on and pay you and be on my way.

Yes, I know I'm not always game for sales pitches and those types of conversations, sorry.  But I'm also not game for someone attempting to shame me, with terrible arguments, especially at a cheap watch boutique (their high end ones were tacky Guess ones and such).  I'd sound like even more of an ass if I guessed at how many hours of her wages equated to a Timex such that she's so qualified to pass them off as cheap.  Plus, for a side note, how would Timex feel if they knew their retail store sales people who are the front lines of marketing their product are making derogatory comments about them?

Ps.  I contacted Timex and asked about warranty with a picture, description of timing of failure relative to purchase.  They promptly said they'd fix it and send it back to me as long as I sent it $7 insured mail.  So basically the chick at the store was lying through her teeth and trying to scrub big margins off me to send it in.  Yuck. 

I feel a millimeter better now, I just hope Timex reads this!

Friday, 29 January 2010

Wildside Tasmania Day 1

Morning greeted us with a cool mist again, felt quite Vancouverish in my opinion. After breakfast and plenty of nervous milling about, we finally mobilized for the cruise stage out to the actual race start. The 450 participants were randomly arranged into start blocks A-M in about thirty each, A's being previously seeded riders, and the rest just in random assortment. The goal was to get the groups off at 2 minute intervals... and after the morning's stage everyone would be regrouped by their times.

I was in F with Mike Murphy, we decided it was F for fun. The organizers went on at length about not ruining your race in the first 20m as it was a downhill grassy right hand corner. As it turns out, I lined up on the inside (right) hand side of the banner as it was further from people, so I could run off into the brush to releive myself ahead of the start. I eyed up that slope and for the life of me couldn't see anything hazardous about it. 30 seconds to start is announced, I punch my watch, and go for the inside corner hole shot, basically 4 pedal strokes then coast. The rest of the lot were much more conservative... and it appears the faster riders were buried somewhere in the pack. The first 10 minutes were a constant reminder to just keep pedaling no matter how shocking it felt to be at this pace for the first time since BC Bike Race this year.

A couple guys passed me, and 20 minutes in we were catching people from the group in front. We were riding 4x4 type stuff that was rubbly enough that it minorly rewarded technical skill, but mostly was just a horsepower drag race. No matter what kind of interval training I can muster for myself, nothing beats having a guy 2 feet in front of you, another guy 2 feet behind, and having a steady stream of others to reel in nonstop for an hour to push the intensity. Bam! (I did wonder to myself how little work I'd be able to do in life if I actually had a Shawn Bunnin like engine so I could place at these "hobbyist" races... although this one does seem to have some pretty high end talent).

I crossed the line at just a bit over 51 minutes with my lungs nicely scorched then started on the commute over a few big mountains on the highway to the lunch spot. Lunch was plentiful and good, and they had a whole team working French presses for coffee. We're continually mobbed by bees, but they're the little "fly bee" looking things, and they don't really ever seem to get riled up, they just want to lick salt I'm guessing.

As it turns out, that put me middle-ish in the "B" group, which was say 40th overall roughly, or my usual 10th percentile. The A's are all legitimately fast - Norm Thibault managed to hang on for last in the A's.

We pre-rode the start for the afternoon, noting that it filed down to single track in about 30m then continued on something that'd approximate BC fresh cut singletrack for several kilometers. I decided to line up at the front again as I hadn't seen broad evidence of people riding that kind of stuff to smooth. That worked well, other than I decided it wasn't worth the effort to battle the South African half elbowing me to death for the singletrack, so he ended up in front. After crashing a couple times and spending much energy trying to do high speed running remounts, he exclaimed that he couldn't ride this stuff. I said just let me slide by and follow my line ; ) That lasted about 30 seconds until he was gone.

After the singletrack we ended up on flat gravel roads, I shoulder checked back and saw a couple guys say a hundred yards back, and two were about a hundred yards ahead. 3 minutes later three guys who officially qualify as "big blokes" who I'm guessing spend a fair time road riding blew by. Nothing says smart riding like trying to get onto a train of a bunch of 6'+ guys with massive quads just powering into a headwind, but as much as they couldn't ride singletrack fast, I couldn't push a gear to stay at their pace even in the draft. Oh well, not worth blowing up on already.

I settled into another group, then started feeling distressed. It dawned on me that sweat was dripping in my eyes, down my helmet strap, and that my back was soaking wet... and that the morning mist had burnt off leaving the sun to nuke us. I think it's only probably 25C ambient and maybe feels like high 20's on some of the direct sun, no wind climbs - so in absolute terms not that bad. Having said that, it's a far cry different from single speeding in -10C last weekend - the temperature switch doesn't change that fast in me. I started to think about riding my own pace instead of the groups...

... then while spinning up a powerline steep climb, with no ticking of the driveline to forewarn of a failing chain, I just spun loose and saw my chain dragging behind me. Right. OK, whatever I'm here for having fun and a little field mechanics isn't going to get to me. "Serenity Now!" just like Kramer says.

That wasted an inordinate amount of time, people buzzing by like crazy. Considering these groups are divided by only minutes, I'm gonna be back of the bus tomorrow it seems. Oh well. Once I got it running again, cruised along and saw the 5km to go sign and tried to hold a decent pace to the end.

The cruise into Tullah was a nice paved downhill. They're really into flavoured milks here, so I grabbed one from the town store and some water, then went to the lake to swim. Most people were bitching about the temperature of the water, only going in to clean up of sheer necessity. As mediocre as my life talents are, bearing a northern climate for years came in handy this aft. As I chatted to the other participants, a guy asked me what I thought of the water. I said it was nice, that for a couple weeks every summer a few of our shallow lakes might get almost this warm. Funny what we all get used to.

I'll put on my new chain tonight, feel glad that one out of two stages went well, that the scenery is beautiful and that I'm having fun being a bike tourist - who cares about fixing a chain anyway!

Wildside Tasmania Day 0

Had a great night's rest at the Cradle Mountain Chateau and woke to a cool, misty rain morning.  We dawdled around until the cafe near the park entrance opened for breakfast (and the weather broke) then loaded up on the hearty breakfast which saved us a good $10 off the hotel options.

It felt nice waking early and having the bikes together, once the sun came out we rode into the park to Dove Lake, in the shadow of Cradle Mountain.  It's ridiculously beautiful here - no wonder this is a world heritage area.  Tasmania seems very beautiful and photogenic as a whole, it's an impressive landscape, and without many people, feels very natural (the 2h drive from Launceston to here didn't involve a single traffic light for example).

We returned toward the Chateau the kept going the direction the of the race start - eventually finding the start and doing a little pre-ride.  I'm so excited to race.

On the way back, heads down into the wind, we stopped to see an echidna ambling across the highway.  It didn't seem to care much about us, and walked towards my tires.  I didn't feel like testing my stans sealing ability so we shooed it off the road as best we could and continued home.  I love seeing these unique little animals.

Race check in was organized and speedy, I'm on half a sugar high now as the gallery also has sampling of Tasmanian honey.  I love unique flavours of honey just as much as unique mustards.  If I wasn't battling the domestic airline pay by weight rip off  system I'd load up on a bunch of flavours, but not sure I need to be doing that right now.

Chilled out most of the afternoon, listened to the racer meeting which was full of corny Australian humor - man these guys seem to come at it all from a slightly different angle.

The highlight of the night was my 8:30 to 10:15 feeding tour of Tasmanian Devils, watched a video, petted a devil, watched them eat for an hour, saw a spotted quoll.  It was all quite amazing, and unbelievable to think they may be kaput in 20 years on the still current exponential decline rate.  They're actually really calm when they don't have meat in front of them, but man they're tough little buggers other than that.

Rode home in the dark past a bus with spotlights giving people a wildlife tour, after I passed them I was doing better anyway with night adjusted eyes and the silence of a bike, saw the wallabies taking over nibbling on everything.

Thursday, 28 January 2010

Wildside 2010 travel and preparation

The 15 hours of flying across the massive blue pacific allowed me to read the competitors handbook.  First impression is this is a well organized, well documented event.  Reading a race package like this is pure soul food for BikingBakke, I can't even describe the run of emotions and anticipation I go through. 

Their descriptions foreshadow fording rivers, leg burning climbs, slippery rocky and rooty technical sections, ferocious headwinds on beaches, and plenty of diverse scenery along the way.  Sounds like "bicycle infrastructure" is light out on the west coast, not surprising given it's not very populated.  That brings useful tidbits as well, like don't worry about drinking surface water, the amount of rain and lack of people/animals mean it's all fine.

People have been asking me what the race was going to be like, and frankly I had little clue other than it is 4 days long - now I can elaborate.  Each day is a mix of "cruise" and "competition" stages.  I'm unsure if this is for the social aspect, an Australian focus on faster/shorter racing, local geography conditions, or all of the above.  By distances/times, it seems the cruises are good warmups and cool downs, and that the competition stages are, on average, 60-90 minutes (they quote record stage times, most of which are set by names I recognize - Australian Olympians - so needless to say I'm adding some cushion), approximating  xc racing I'd be used to at home.  I haven't done one like this, but to be honest the cruise parts sound great, expecially since I'm here on my own and I presume the majority are english speaking, will be fun just to chat.

Their style of signage works for me.  The official signs to keep an eye out for are left and right arrow markers that say Wildside MTB, one color of ribbon to mark the track and another to block off joining tracks, and a skull and crossbones with danger written above.  I guess that's about all that's needed.

They seem to talk a lot about support crews and such, not sure exactly how that works out with short stages.  Maybe people want to race the sections without bottles and just have them handed over after.  Regardless I'll be in the self sufficient category so we'll see if that's a non event or actually matters - my preferred riding style last few years means I'm not short on knowledge of how to bike for a full day with proper provisions.

I think I'll pay the local photographer guy for a picture set, I have great intentions to snap a few of my own, but puddles and racing don't exactly mix with cameras... plus the photos from the cat skiing trip are a good reminder of what a real photographer with real equipment adds!  Not so much for vanity, but it looks like he does a lot of great scenery and wildlife stuff too... Tasmania seems to offer up great material to work with on both fronts.

After sleeping on the plane forever, my bags were basically first off the carousel.  The dirt on my bike passed quarantine inspection, so it was off to a $5, 2 minute train ride to the domestic terminal.  Lunch of a mixed lentil and ravioli salad plus water was $18.  A coffee while waiting for the flight to Launceston was $3.50.  I don't think this trip is going to be cheap.

Norm, his friend Mike Murray and I decided to take a taxi to Cradle Mountain and I'm rooming with them, instead of me staying in Launceston (Lonny as the airport girl said) as planned... deplaned straight onto a runway walk, then 2 hours of beautiful winding roads and $280 later for the taxi we're putting our bikes together 8 feet away from some wallabies looking at us while munching on bushes - yeah!  We biked down to get a pizza dinner which is basically right next to where they have a Tasmanian Devil preserve/park thing... for sure I'm gonna check that out tomorrow morning.
Temperature is nice racing weather, warm but not hot.

Bike race friends

I haven't even made it past Vancouver yet, but I've already bumped into a cycling acquaintance known for chanting "deadgoat, deadgoat, ... " under his breath in the start queue, awesome.

And to think just last night I took the BigAir cartridge I owe him out of my toolkit because I didn't want my box opened and searched.

Norm Thibeault, but without Wendy who's at home with the new (couple months old) baby and didn't want him to cancel after years of wanting to do the race... small world!

Monday, 25 January 2010


Tonight, or more accurately the next day and a half plus a day leaping ahead over the dateline, I'll be travelling to Tasmania... totally excited about that. I want to see one of these, although I know I'll have to either a) stay up late and find a carcass in the woods to hang out with, or b) visit a zoo:

I'm half prepared. I've been riding a bit, and have restored a semblance of fitness. I almost have logistics and packing worked out... but to be honest, I'm half assing the preparation since it'll be the first english speaking, credit card functioning locale I've vacationed in recently. That should make things easier.

The purpose of the trip is twofold - to do the Wild Side 2010, which I'm totally excited about. One of my boss' relatives sent him some information regarding the race to him to encourage a visit, he realized he's got too many things to make it work. He passed it along to me with the comment that if he can't do it first hand, living vicariously is a decent alternative. It's not the longest, it's not the hardest, or any of those monikers... but it seems to be a great way to see Tasmania up close and personal:

It'll be hard to ride with Aussie's who are in their mid summer form, but I'm there for the scenery and just for the straight up joy of riding where ever I can... even if I try to ride briskly for my "ripe old age". I have a little time before hand exploration too.

After the race Tori and I are meeting up in Sydney for a few days, which again is quality time that's invaluable these days.

Saturday, 23 January 2010

9 to 5

I came home cold, tired, slow and hungry today... generally felt like jelly I couldn't figure out why my fitness wasn't a little better after going out for a ride with what ended up being a gang of 8. Turns out that after starting with Craig at 9am on single speeds, we ended up riding single track and paths all day, only arriving home at 5pm. I hadn't followed our time very well, we stopped for an hour combined at two lunch spots... but that still equates to 7 hours of torquing or spinning my single speed. I lost my bottle before first stop (it was 6 years old, gonna miss it), so needed to drink more at the stops. It's harder to fumble for food through pockets, so we just kind of rode on what energy we could produce, other than a lunch.

The -10C with light snow probably sapped a few extra calories to keep the furnace warm... it's funny when I'm trying to tune up fitness for Tasmania that a relatively colourless landscape (other than grey, white, and street slush colour) is the training ground.

Gerry had the Pugsly out, doing extra duty pushing that around. Craig, Dallas and I rode single speeds. Ken, Shawn and Kyle had mountain bikes, and Lauchlan showed up last minute on a 'cross bike and hung in well all day on the singletrack, and excelled on the bike path sections! Most of the way through the ride we saw Jamie Sparling doing his training ride too, it's good when you can recognize the other hard cores from 40 yards away into the snowfall.

Monday, 18 January 2010

Island Lake Cat Skiing 2010

Cat skiing is so fun, gravity and powder are such a magnificent combo... plus the absence of those things called "tracks" is such a nice perk ; )

Island Lake has so much good terrain and great food. Our guides are awesome. One of the guys on this trip has done this tour 20 years in a row... that's good living. It's heaven on earth out there!

Looks like some fun to be had out there today.

The big group: Steve (guide), Alex Chalkley, Jay Reid, Peter Hanrahan, James Kidd, Brian Robinson, Cam Plewes, Erik Bakke, Grant Zawalsky, Bill Maslechko, Jeff Saponja, Alex Verge, Rafi Tahmazian, Doug Mills, Brenda (guide).

Steve making sure the snow is "ok".

After the first run.

Run number two with the sun coming up.

Scenic turns by your's truly.

Up on another peak while they heli bomb for avalanches behind us.

A BIG one set off from top down both the front chute and to the left.

What started the slide (charge is 2 mins 20 seconds, helicopter is not in frame at that point).

High speed fun. I didn't mean to be a powder pig, but everyone kept telling me to go early in the queue, possibly they wanted extra seconds to rest their legs... and yes the snow is deep, they jeered me on into doing just one massive 50m arcing GS turn to save more fresh tracks for themselves, so at that speed I'm not sinking in. That smile says "speed is fun".

Steve, Brenda, and Island Lake. Tough day at the office.

The road up... cat going down to get us in a few minutes.

Closer view of the avalanche break points.

That's a lot of nice snow!

Good times all around. Here's a few pics, plus (part of) the full set here.

Saturday, 16 January 2010

Cat skiing

Day one was great... for 2 runs.  A high speed compression on second run tweaked my back, grimaced remainder of day, and skiied stiff, which is a downward spiral towards ruining every bit of grace and balance.

I went for a massage, after a thirsty beaver beer.  That helped.  Some radiologist girls got the shot ski and flaming sambuca action going after dinner... but since we had a law enforcement quality breathalyzer here, things stayed under control (I'm not in a voracious drinking mood, despite the being a guinnea pig for the flame exercise), but never got above 0.02.

Woke up stiff and immobile, went over to the stretch room for 45 mins and did what I could.  Was ok through breakfast, then survived first run... the bright blue skies, massive amounts of snow, new terrain opening thanks to the heli bombs and one of the coolest/biggest avalanches I've seen just made every run better.  My back agreed, and by the end of the day it was big air, 360's and cliff drops.  Funny how tweaks are binary - they either are immobilizing or gone.

Island Lake is awesome, it's like heaven.  This place serves up some of the greatest snippets of this thing called life, yeah!

The crisp sunny day blue sky mountain powder photos will follow from all the real hand Canon's everyone is wielding.  (You're advised not to carry cell phones in conjunction with an avalanche beacon).

Monday, 11 January 2010

Cat Skiing

I knew 2010 would be looking up vs. that grind at the end of 2009... I just didn't know life would get this good this fast:

Mr. X: "Bakke, what are you up to this weekend?"

BikingBakke: "No plans yet."

Mr. X: "Can you join us on our cat ski trip?"

BikingBakke: "There's only one answer to that - hell's yeah!"

Mr. X: "Thursday noon from downtown, we've got lunch and beer packed."

Now I've already used Emeril's BAM!, so this rotates over to a Jim Cramer BOO-YAH!

ps. I love Weezer and Warren Miller - thanks Hoop for bringing this gem to my attention a year or so ago... and yes I'm aware that the video definitely lacks cat skiing... but what it lacks in cat skiing, it makes up in awesomeness.

Saturday, 9 January 2010

How I Feel

Yes, that's how I feel, despite the absence of Nutri Grain bars from my diet recently. I feel great, let's hope its an omen for 2010... I'm now home from the first Calgary ride of the year, 10 guys out having a blast, in nice weather. I'm riding an entirely badass new bike that's finally found its stride. I'm a different weight, metabolism, musculature, and mindset from pre-Christmas when I left (more on that later when I feel I've reached the goal).

Craig dropped by shortly after 9 this morning. I rolled into the driveway at 4:15, with no activities in between but coffee drinking, telling tall tales, and turning pedals on snow covered backroads of Alberta. For the last hour, I felt golden - no fade. I wanted to let it rip, but that's not the kind of ride it was, and yes in truth I'd quickly fade, and heck it is January anyway. I'm not saying I'm anything different from a middle aged guy who likes riding bikes - this isn't laying claim to big performance claims that aren't true or won't materialize... it's saying that corporate dinner laden, working 24/7 for 6 months guy that left for the airport in December to see Tori got left behind, somewhere on the other side of the world, and I'm back much closer, and on the right track, to the shape I prefer to be. It's the feeling that counted, nothing beats knowing the tank is full. Like Emeril says, BAM!

It always amazes me the quality of the people I'm able to count as riding partners (and friends!), at least until they turn up the pace to what their talents allow. This time of year that's not in the cards so much, which works in my favour. Besides being just good people in the broadest sense, the Watts at the disposal of the Dallas, Bunnin, Sparling, Stappler, Nutbrown, McNeil crowd are always impressive. Dylan Snowdon was a new introduction (to me) today, and Thomas Yip is working it hard - it'll be rewarded, that's not a group that picks easy January rides, and even if the hammer wasn't dropped too severely, the "easy pace" can still be brisk. Awesome!

Friday, 1 January 2010


We've traveled to two distinct places on this trip, so we thought we'd add in a third before leaving. 

The theatre inside the Siam Paragon is a theatre unlike others I've seen.  We've already traveled in time forward from Cambodia to Thailand, and the whole Siam Paragon is a very futuristic mall, feels Tokyo like.  The multilevel theatres on the top floor are amazing.

Avatar has been in James Cameron's mind for about 20 years as the story goes, technology wasn't yet there to do it justice.  He pushed the 3D technology along and now on the first day of 2010 I've seen 3D like I've never seen it before.  We even paid up and booked tickets a day in advance to see it on IMAX.

The combo was mind blowing, the 2:45 minute run time was simply buckle in and hold on for another world to be seen.  Like film (and sci fi) are supposed to do, it makes you look at your place and self differently as it takes you to another world and potentially another set of shoes.  It fully delivered, as even the characters themselves were making the same journey.  It was technically impressive to see it pulled off so well.  I can't believe how fast humankind has come from no picture capturing to black and white stills to the ability to create from scratch a 3D world.
Sci fi can deal with classic themes so unencumbered by reality - the seperation of person from physical being, and the ability to create an infinitely malleable stage for justice, greed, war, revenge, human priorities of science, development, and environment, and respect, trust and love to be explored. 

I kinda even wish I had an Avatar myself, and a big blue long tailed Na'vi would do just fine!

ps. even if the glasses look funny, they're entirely comfortable and disappear 10 seconds after putting them on.

The King, tattoos

The King is very prominent here in terms of public image.  He's on all of the money in the same set pose on one side, the other side has other shots of him like this one with an SLR camera, too bad I can't see the brand. Traffic circles have big paintings of him, restaurants have framed pictures, and our hotel has pictures by every elevator that also share some facts. One shows him with his dog that was once a stray and it has a little blurb explaining how this shows compassion and other such virtues. One shows him visiting the remote areas of Thailand to better understand the conditions in the kingdom there and what he can do as a good king to help.

This place has so many tattoos it's unreal. Like not quite Maori, but close.  It's all the Ameri-Euro-Brit crowd, and although a few of them don't look to bad,  most don't add much it seems. I'm not against tattoos per se, but maybe in the context that they look good. It's like Banksy versus unartistic kids with ten bucks to waste on spray paint. Fatness doesn't exactly help either. It's not often I see two parents with a tenth of their body inked, let alone a dozen sets of them all with kids in tow over the course of three days.  The fellow in the attached picture had both arms done, plus about 80% of the surface area of his chest and stomach wrapping around the other side, and his wife was similarly done too.  The amount above population median that has mucho tattoos can't be fluke, this must be a vacation spot/time/location that draws a concentrated demographic by a filter system not obvious to me.  They probably think I'm an oddity.

Royal Palace, "asian queues"

We visited the Royal Palace today, it was very blingy and palatial, at least the temple grounds part. 

We also got to do "asian queuing" which is a bit of a misnomer.  It's kind of a funny thing, seemed to get under Tori's skin more than mine, I theorize because she's a little shorter and therfore a bit more "in" the mele.  Maybe if I grew up in over populated areas I'd develop the same habits.  Everyone wants to be first, even if there's a thousand people jamming towards a small opening, and even if jamming is counterproductive for the group (there's no coordinated group thinking) - it's even more pronounced here than at the passport line at the airport.  There's no rationalization that the "ill" tradeoff of clawing your way one spot forward means nothing more than saving one second.  There's no apparent social stigma about queue jumping or budging in line.  If you're just walking, someone can cut a millimeter in front of you.  To test if they actually think that's rude, I did the cutoff in varying degrees of assertiveness to a few different age groups - it doesn't even look like it registered to them, they're well conditioned.  It's just the way it is. 

In terms of packing the lineups tight, if it feels gay, it's about right.  There should be no space in front of you, your junk should be within a hair of brushing that dude or granny in front of you (ie. "cropdusting" is the norm here, not the exception). 

Being a head above makes it all more humorous/tolerable... and allows me to take a few pictures.  There's a lot of people going home from the hubub today with useless pictures where the bottom third is 20 heads of black hair milling about.  They must not think highly of me as my pictures are just of the buildings.  It seems the preferred way to go is a) give your friend your camera, b) walk to desired spot and show them how to frame it, c) pull out hanky to wipe sweat from your brow and face, d) pull comb and mini mirror out of pocket and fix'er up a litte, e) strike a pose as best you can like how you see magazine ad models doing, then finally f) let your friend know it's ok to click a shot.  It's odd to me, but that's what I'm seeing over and over again.

If there were a stampede here, look out grannies and toddlers, you're gonna have a rough go of it getting trampled, it's totally ripe for disaster.  If I were feeble it'd seem like walking around in a potential death trap, but given the demographic of the palace tourists this morning I think I'd be a survivor.

We donned our covered toe shoes and long sleeve shirts in addition to walking over with pants - if this was day 1 of the trip I may feel near death in the heat and congestion, but somehow today the over 30C high humidity plus direct sun and huge crowds now seem fine.  All the tourist books are right that you should dress that way in here, there were guards pulling people out of line for non compliance, and as a whitey it's probably harder to slip through, but in actuality enforcement is like 60%, just try not to wear anything too far off the mark.  There's too many people to do it that completely.

Here's a few temple pics, plus they have a replica model of Angkor Wat.

Tuk tuk driving

Here's all I've learned from the various tuk tuk rides:
1.  Keep your revs way up and double clutch.
2.  Lean into corners, especially if the tires squeal.
3.  Drive it like it's stolen!

They're fun!