Sunday, 28 February 2010

February winds down: hockey mania and warm weather riding

This weekend was beautiful - beautiful enough that for the first time in months we're randomly bumping into hoards of other cyclists on the roads and at the coffee joints, not just our offbeat group who's had fairly few other riders to "compete" with for time on the rural gravel roads.

Saturday was a 5+ hour nonstop blast entirely with Shawn, a good chunk with McNeil, and some time with Devin, Dallas and Pat. Beautiful ride out on highway 66 to the gates, at the Bunnin/McNeil conversational pace that had me working pretty hard. Riders were filtering in and out of Cadence Cafe and the Cinnamon Spoon by the dozen. There were smiles everywhere, stories, catching up from winter, and a definite absence of hardened stares and frozen toes and just trying to make it home - in a word, Calgary's first taste test of spring. It was fun. So here's what came to mind - a tribute to fun times, warm times, and those points in life where right now is the funnest thing going, no need to think ahead to tonight or tomorrow or whenever. Guess there's something about a relatively nonsensical two word chorus that'll do that:

I was bagged Saturday night, although Bunnin did some gourmet chef action on burgers so we could settle in for Olympic action and some shelf rearranging action. Although I'll credit Craig with the lion's share of the actual shelf rearranging, Devin, Shawn and I did maintain support with a beer in hand. Here's a priceless action shot of Shawn renovating. Misfits t-shirt aside, everyone knows a proper shelf relocation project isn't complete without Cypress Hill, so we followed suit. I think Shawn could star in a really offbeat "tim the tool man taylor" style home reno show where the reno's are minimized, but the bike tinkering time is maximized. As of yet, TV shows focusing on trick buildups of Kona Major Jake special edition frames seems to be an untapped market segment.

Sunday was a timed event - early start for early finish to be home for the Canada vs. US gold medal hockey game. Cruised through town a bit, then out to the northwest for a couple of solid hill intervals. Nothing like preparing to watch hockey by doing a few short, high intensity intervals to remember just how hard those guys have to work on the ice. It's nice to feel fitness coming around (or that type of fitness anyway) where at the top of a relatively long hilltop jam I just feel like breathing hard for 20 seconds and get on with it again (vs. the my guts hurt, my body doesn't like that level of intensity, and I think I'm going to puke). Definitely a quality little chunk of training in these two warm days.

Watching the last events of the Olympics - the curling, 50km cross country with Devon Kershaw's awesome performance, let alone the medal going to the country who cares most if I can say that - the Norwegians. And lastly, but CERTAINLY NOT LEAST. The political history, family roots, and excitement of mens hockey has been phenomenal this weekend. With a Slovak mom who lived through the Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia, father side Norwegian lineage, and our family living in the US and now Canada, the mix of Canada vs. Russia, Canada vs. Slovakia, and Canada vs. US is a lifetime of history in our household. I'm pretty sure the TV has never been host to more stress and yelling in it's history of being planted in this living room... Crosby and Iggy pulled the clutch manoeuvre in overtime, good god were we on the edges of our seats! This photo is just like any other from TV, other than it's sent by a work buddy of mine from the epicenter, titled "glorious gold".

From another lucky colleague/attendee, this one was titled "Be very proud, what a great country"

House Renovation 9 - it's been a while

Long time, no house shots. I know that's part of what I'm supposed to be doing here as the Canadian anchor of the Bakke-Fahey household... it's just that there's been a lot more fun stuff going on to write about than the minutiae of a house renovation. So here's where Tori's half of her home improvement budget has been going lately. Let's just say I'm looking forward to this being over, but just don't ask me about it (even if I try to restrain myself, you may get one of those diatribes nobody wants to hear).

This is way back when the foundation was being insulated.

New roof on the garage... just picture all those square feet underneath.

Nice little roof drains.

Backyard neighbour is going to put up a nice pad starting later this year.

House roof - top done, bottom almost done (back in December).

Roofing works when they were ongoing.

Here's part of why I wasn't taking too many pictures or posting high frequency updates. Plumbing and wiring need to be done, but they aren't exactly grand progress to view from a photographic standpoint.

The exciting makings of a downstairs bathroom, watching concrete cure is right up there with watching paint dry.

Foundation insulation in.

I think this derived from the roots growing into city water/sewer lines last year, but possibly had something to do with the house project.

Windows and doors mostly in, just two doors remaining to be added (front door and front patio door).

Garage door in way back there.

Back entry door now in, siding half gone.

Closer up of the garage door. This and the side window let in a decent amount of light, plus I'm "over lighting" it inside as I'm never a fan of dim garages, and I acknowledge in advance the lights will have to fight their way through "a few" bikes hanging from the ceiling.

Back doors and windows in, now when you walk through the house it's feeling much lighter and more open... obviously the city warming up and getting lighter has a lot to do with that, but we'll also give a little credit to the big new triple pane windows throughout transmitting a little more light than the average sheet of plywood.

Front of house two big windows just about done, just waiting for that one on left which will be a double door that can open and fold open totally leaving a space the size of those windows open, or just half can be used like a normal door.

A bit of the front entry and future exercise room, little hard to see what's actually going on here, but point being this house will be sunny in the afternoons.

Back entryway, bathroom area, and a bit of that workout room.

The living room/kitchen area is feeling much more open with the light coming in.

A pretty open view out to the back patio (and Garage Mahal).

Monday, 22 February 2010

Like Monopoly

Sometimes you draw a good card... like a free case of Big Rock Lime for everyone in the firm, just out of the blue.

Saturday, 20 February 2010

Big Hill Springs to Cochrane

Shawn "Intrepid Explorer" Bunnin (trust me, he's earned this one well this winter) and I went out for a little adventure today, but part of the way in I began to wonder if it was true adventure, or simply a ploy on Shawn's part to lure me back to the snowy single track where I left him in the dust last weekend to re-assert his Alpha-ness on the 'cross bike... he did have brand new high traction tires... hmmm.

We rode gravel, hills, iced over streams, stayed out of the way of cows, and some great but raw single track. We even elected to skip the coffee stop to get home sooner to play with that other toy, the petrol burning one. Great plan, other than my stomach is conditioned to the coffee stop, and I had to cram back a little food quickly in the absence of one of those day old muffins to avoid running myself down to empty.

In my cycling life I've had two great compliments that I'll accept/cling to up 'til today:
- "nice pull man" - Gord Fraser after he pulled through on a Shootout in Tucson years ago on his down tube shifter 1980's Peugeot (for the record, it was down hill, I basically went maximal, yet tried to look composed even as I slid to the left to catch my breath and let the pace line continue)
- "you really love riding bikes" - Trev Williams (yes indeed!)

Today I earned a third:
- "that chain is really shiny" - Shawn Bunnin, man of incomparable bike cleanliness standards (I previously hadn't thought it possible to clean a chain to a standard that Shawn notices how gleaming it is, especially enough to generate verbal acknowledgement)

Awesome day, nice weather out. The Big Hill to Cochrane connector won't be rideable for too many more weeks if these temperatures hold.

2002 BMW M Coupe

BMW is known as a bit of a yuppie machine manufacturer, but they probably didn't set out years ago with that title as a specific goal, it just kind of worked out that way. Modern corporations, as much as they'd like to self indulge in the pure pursuit of skunkworks engineering of awesome machines, also find that easier with "profits" available. Kind of like how the C6 Corvette isn't a jalopy just 'cause it came from GM... it stands out as an incredible machine in its own right. Either way, I now own something with a motosport heart, or a yuppie machine, depending on your point of view. Given the particular model, I feel more of the former.

BMW sets out to, and makes, drivers cars. Cars created for people who care about the driving experience and dynamics prioritized above the rudiments of pure transportation in economical form.

Their M editions further push those drivers cars by transforming them to Motosport focused drivers cars... in essentially what's grown to become a commercial aspect of what was once a racing focused skunkworks.

A pristine M Coupe through chance found its way to my attention, seems like every now and then such opportunities present themselves. On first glance, I thought "neato, I've always thought those little M Coupe's were cool", maybe I 'm onto something, but I need to ask around and gather some data, since this is out of my scope of knowledge.

I converse with a long term friend of mine who's a certifiable Bimmer head/car guy, and he says "that is THE model with the most raw motor sport appeal of the last 15 years put out by BMW" for whatever an opinion is worth. I do a little google reading, and hear things like "best handling BMW ever" (as of 2002 of course), and that its been referred to as "the blackest sheep" of the M family for all the right reasons. Miniscule. Overpowered. Glued to the road. Indeed, I'm onto something... keep digging.

Scanning over the M lineage in another filter through the BMW stable, there's yet an odd duck (or black sheep?) that sticks out even amongst the M's - the M Coupe. It was created, skunkworks fashion, by a part of the Z3 engineering team who just didn't feel satisfied with the handling and performance (rigidity) that could be achieved with the convertible body style. They took it upon themselves to address this issue, which eventually led to a Coupe hardtop that was multipes stiffer than the convertible could ever be... and a 690 unit production run of M Coupes.

I'm don't have a well cultivated automotive vocabulary, so I'll reference Jalopnik "obsessed with the cult of cars" guys add the editorial flourish:

BMW M Coupe 10 best cars of the decade blurb from Jalopnik (italicized is the model I have)
Years Produced: 1999 - 2002

Base Price When New: $45,990 (2002)

Engine: 3.2-liter I-6, 315 hp but with aftermarket modifications adding a little extra

Curb Weight: 3230 lb (2002)

Power-To-Weight Ratio: 10.25 lb/hp (2002)

This is it, propellerheads — this is the last of the nuthouse BMWs, the last car Munich built where the loonies were in charge of the asylum. Step one: Take a Z3. Step two: Graft a steel roof onto it, increasing structural rigidity threefold. Step three: Add a version of either the E36 or E46 M3's in-line six. The Z3 M Coupe is as unhinged as BMWs come, a rolling testament to the fact that the company once gave a shit about the die-hard enthusiast. Every BMW since has been too ordinary, too dull, and too fat by comparison.

M Coupes made in 1999 and 2000 featured a version of the E36 M3's 240-hp S52 six-cylinder. These are nice cars — and they're far cheaper than 2001-2002 models — but something is missing. We prefer to think of that something as "batshit crazy."

Other entirely recommended editorial here which rounds out the flavour nicely.

As if stock wasn't enough, this particular car has had an aftermarket air intake and exhaust added, and been chipped to utilize these mods, and as well has been lowered and equipped with 20" rims and additional fairings. The end result is the capability to destroy petrol in an absolute fury of violence, yet with beauty sound and beauty sheet metal gracing the package. What isn't there is also alluring. No more week's worth of camping gear, 2 bikes and room to spare... we're talking 2 seats plus room for a cell phone and possibly a prospectus/pitchbook briefcase, as long as it's a slim one. No excess of living room consumer electronics - GPS navigation systems and all that jazz. Lights are electronic, right? And the car has an electronic starter, no more winding under the hood. That's enough. The technicalities aside, and Calgary being small, I don't have much challenge using downtown channels to identify, locate and discuss with the prior owners, the importer, and broker of the last transactions... and interesting history, and one that removes concern often associated with used vehicles rather than adding to it.

Therein starts the journey of my exposure to the German version of "batshit crazy"... I'm glad it has two seats just for Tori and I. Track time here I come (maybe??)!

Obligatory car pictures:

Friday, 19 February 2010

Economical Automobiles

I'm most often guided by economics, I guess that's what happens when you have degrees in both economics and finance. This permeates much of my life - most costs are measured not so much by the nominal dollar, but the opportunity cost of that dollar. I guess that's worked OK so far, but it's a bit like having the proverbial devil sitting on one shoulder and the angel on another. Irrationality, passion, desire is often swept aside in decisions for "what makes most sense". Lately I've been trying to alter that balance in favour of a little more "now" such as travel, the house stuff, possibly even a bike (who wudda thunk that?), and...

Take Tori and I's choice of transportation for example (or any of the prior vehicles we've owned). The fact that I refer to it by function (transportation) over the experience of driving foreshadows the rest. A 1999 Mercedes Benz ML320. For its 10 year life, rain, shine or snow, it drives approximately the same. Stable, reliable, goes any speed from 0-200kph (although it's working fairly hard above 100mph), but doesn't change speed particularly rapidly as it's equipped with a small engine given its bulk (which has the side benefit of keeping fuel consumption somewhat inline). It has lots of space for stuff, yet isn't so "new off the lot" that I feel tentative about using it to haul said stuff. Hauling stuff is good, I enjoy driving with friends to bike races, and it does that job adequately. Even the terms under which I purchased it were (in my view) quite practical - split 50/50 with Tori, so I only own half (usually the drivers side, as she prefers being a passenger). We bought it used, with about 30,000 km on it - partially inspired by a friend's dad who owns one approaching 250,000 km and had not relayed many ill reports thus far despite a decade of pretty thorough/intense use. The price paid was humble. It's an awesome vehicle, has treated us well. When lifestyle dictates that mental energy is best spent elsewhere, it consumes very little energy to keep it happy doing its task.

But cars aren't all like that - part of me has always stayed tuned to that "other" paradigm. I liked construction trucks as a kid, then came Herbie the Love Bug, the Autobots series of Transformers, the Dukes of Hazard, Smokey and the Bandit... and yes, that scene from the Blues Brothers that can't ever be undone in my mind:

Elwood - It's a 106 miles to Chicago, we got a full tank of gas, a half a pack of cigarettes, it's dark out and we're wearing sunglasses.

Jake - Hit it.

There's more an automobile accomplishes than mere transportation. There's driving, as in the artful combination of man and machine. I have learned to appreciate the art through a series of taste tests - the g-force fun of Lotus racing in Nevada, local track days in Calgary in a Shelby Cobra replica that'd pin me to the back of the seat with its beautiful growl, and oh yeah baby, repeat doses of Baja buggy racing in a fury of petrol power, suspension travel, and the general unsupervised nature of Mexico.

I admit I've been looking to making that "other" paradigm a permanent fixture, not an intermittent taste test experience. Tori sent me this the other day, not knowing what was coming:

Thus far in this endeavour, fuel economy, cargo space and year-round utility aren't words that have cropped up...

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Alberta Beef Stew

Craig and I car pooled down to Glenmore to start a big ride with Ken and Thomas today... I was hoping I'd be up for it.  The morning phone call was my alarm after not too many hours of sleep, and from waking to drinking coffee to the first couple of hills, I felt definitely not up for it.

On the third hill in I felt normal and had good legs for the rest of the day, and no fade at the end of the ride which was satisfying.  I'll do my fading after dinner when I go lights out - two big rides and a concert in between (not ideal recovery) leaves me craving my pillow.

We did a highlight tour of some of the best gravel roads down south, Ken and Thomas seemed to agree that they'd be worth committing to memory for future visits.  We had Alberta Beef Stew at Priddis which left 3 of the 4 of us feeling warm and satisfied, and one not so much on the same level of satisfaction.  Mostly a beauty day, and again I'm testing if this Icebreaker clothing is worth its price - so far the answer is yes.

That's about 250km this weekend in chilly feeling conditions - I need to sleep in tomorrow!

Hilltop Hoods, Calgary February 13th

The 2010 streak of just plain awesome to the level of fun squared continues... before going to Australia, I was notified the Hilltop Hoods were playing Calgary a week after I got back just one week before I left (if that makes sense)... figured this would be a great way to round out the Australian introduction of 2010. I forgot to pick up the tickets from ticketmaster until a Friday afternoon email reminder from their automailer program. Long story short, switched them from downtown pickup to pickup at the event as their business is crap in terms of service hours (10-2pm downtown). Best part of this is we had our names at the door, in the short line, sans paper tickets.

This little hulabaloo was observed in our open office with great excitement about the concert... and I appreciated the interest to help get the tickets used relatively last minute. As it turns out a coworker and his girlfriend are joining me, plus one of the girls I work with. Since it's "kind of" valentines day, we went out for dinner before. The anonymous waitress' natural pairing assumption aside, we figured it'd just be more simple saying my stand-in valentine for Tori is a Finnish derived, Canuck loving dude named Troy (Tron) rather than the single 23 year old who just started working with us a month or so ago. In another remarkable instance of "small world", she knows (admires!) Tori, and Tori knows her reciprocally... Tori let me know when you've got your guess (side note: when I called to make the reservation, the hostess who answered the phone was Tori). We even looked at your 10:41 PM email from China wishing a happy v-day simultaneously... which in an exercise of peculiar romance, I figured was the second most amazing fact of tonight. The most amazing was that DJ'ing/MC'ing is an actual profession... holy cow is my daily routine massively different - it's hard to grasp.

The concert was an awesome package of sheer fun: 50% activity at lactate threshold, 50% at the bar or lounge. Since I'm using numbers: the attendees were 50% Calgarian, 50% Australian, and by way of mathematical competency, I assert that equates to 100% pure fun. The Gateway at SAIT was a great host. Our lounge chaise mates were 4 Aussie girls who live in Fernie, who bonded with Troy's girlfriend with high-fives after an awkward conversation regarding a liquor shot with an off coulor name inclusive of names of organs I don't posses (a circumstance of "evening making" humor). They asked how old we were... and the rest of the "we" in the group averages to 24, so I mentioned that and said that was a partial average. When I said my age it was met with pause... I haven't yet determined if that was "holy cow you look worn out" or "that ain't bad for your age". I was conscious of being 31 at a college bar concert with amazingly young looking people and an amazingly inexpensive feeling bar... but also realized it's hard to hide it that Tori and I recently started seeing the wrinkles in each others' eyes (things of beauty, if one counts the years of us together as a thing of beauty, which I definitely do), and I'll prefer to live oblivious rather than finding the answer to the above from an outside perspective.

My vertical wasn't what it used to be, but a few Red Bulls and testing my jumping ability "with the people in the front row": all night foreshadows that tomorrow may feel a little sluggish regarding bike ride arrival time and performance on the road.

Saturday, 13 February 2010

The good, the bad, and the ugly

Had a great time riding today with Craig, Shawn and Dallas - left house at about 9:30, home just before 5. They're riding well, and Bunnin has a noticeably performing engine on him. The Blacksheep is a totally awesome bike to ride, and today seemed to be good conditions again for my tires (Schwalbe CX pros). I'm onto this Icebreaker merino wool stuff, one merino shirt and a cycling jacket that's not really too wintery by design did the job well today, I'm impressed. The warming and comfort of it I'm fully a believer in. I'm doing my own "smell test" on it this week just to be sure... they write that stuff in their marketing, but hey, lots is written and ain't true. So far so good. And I'm gearing up for a fun night and another "no drop" ride tomorrow, which I hope not to test too much!

I'm a few weeks out of having a reference point with the rest of these mad winter riders, but either they're super blazing fast (likely) and/or I felt super crummy today. Shawn/Dallas/Craig can always scrub me off the back when they want, they're just built with more. Usually if: they intend to let me draft + I try hard to stay on = I stay on. Today I was off the back all day long, sheesh... I bet I even got dropped drinking coffee in Cochrane.

Grey fog Calgary day, wind, -8C, and on the way home mist froze to my glasses, the insides were fogging, the air was foggy so visibility was only a hundred meters anyway, and my left contact froze, got pushed out, and stuck to the side of my face. Rode home by brail essentially, Craig and I weren't seeing so well. Yes, I still seem to be able to draw on the right parts of the gene pool I'm built out of to be winter active in whatever weather... but considering Australia just a week ago... uhhh... you know... this just felt like grade A crap.

Sunday, 7 February 2010

Sydney pictures

Despite being pumped about my new little camera, turns out I'm still luddite enough not to want to carry it all the time. Maybe that's too much hubris thinking my memory will stay in tact. Here's a few from our rides near town.

Shake in Mona Vale. Did two 7 hour rides Thursday and Friday, plus about 3.5 hours on Saturday. Good exploring all around, but needs a few calories.

Happy rider in Ku-Ring-Gai Chase national park.

Those are some sweet cycling roads, complete with watch out for kangaroo signs. Too bad I didn't see any.

The big Sydney bridge is surprisingly well set up for power climbing intervals. I'm surprised they were so thoughtful to include that in their urban training grounds.

We're silly.

Ooops, we're silly again. We just finished our first Turkish dinner, a 6 course meal of pure delight.

Sydney has funny stuff out and about.

Glass tornado thingy. I wish I had this at home, it was cool to look at up close.

Tori loves blasting close ups of me. Wakey wakey, here's my reciprocal close up. I like seeing you close by.

Tasmania Wildside tourism pictures

I'm now back in the land of worthwhile internet that can upload photos, free from airports and coffee shops. Go Canada. That functionality is competing with the feeling of snowy grey-ness... hmm... missing that Australian landscape and climate already.

At the very least, here's a few pictures to supplement my wordiness of prior commentary - I couldn't find more than a few bits written about Wildside Tasmania MTB in review form or otherwise before my trip (maybe it wasn't uploadable in 2008 in plain text from the Australian internet backbone) so now there's a few more bits out there.

That dazed blank look is what happens when you time capsule into long haul airline flights.

Australians have good wine and like to promote it. This was a smart setup. Having said that, internally consuming Argentine wine in Argentina is still the tastebud to dollar ratio that I haven't seen beat worldwide.

I like this kind of tastebud experience when I travel. Nippy, whatever that is. Iced Honeycomb flavoured. Good stuff.

Considering the wallabies were mere feet from our hotel room when putting together bikes, the availability of Tasmanian wildlife didn't disappoint.

These guys seemed really placid. In between munching, they did some sweet chest fur scratching while staring at the sun.

Spot the incredible cycling road in the world heritage area. Heavenly!

Made it to Dove Lake, yet ruined this photo with looking too bike keen.

Ahhh... that's more like it, nature on its own.

Tasmanian animal encounter number two: the echidna walking across the road. Seeing these animals just made my day, it's like another world down under (or is that under under?).

After the race meeting, went to see some harder to spot wildlife at a local recovery center/breeding ground/tourist thing/research place. This is a spotted quoll, who would likely be happier if it had more family left on earth.

Tasmanian Devil. Yeah! Even got to pet one.

These guys are pretty placid until a raw chunk of recently shot wallaby was thrown in for them... then it basically turned out as intense as that spinning dude in the cartoon. Noisy little guys!