Category Archives: Older stuff

Still a slave to my competitive spirit.

Today I was out for a long bike ride. I was 35km into what was shaping up to be a 50km ride – my previous longest ride this year was 40km or so. The combination of the pea gravel and the headwind on the canal path was kicking my ass, and I was barely holding 18 or 19 km/hr. (There will now be a short pause while real cyclists laugh themselves silly at how slow I go and what I consider a long ride.) I passed a cyclist going in the other direction, and paused to do one of those standing stretch things that provide temporary relief from a sore butt and stiff legs. But as I was doing it, the cyclist I’d just seen going in the other direction now passed me going in my direction.

I couldn’t help it – I sped up a bit, and when I realized I was going almost as fast as him, I sped up some more and tucked into his slipstream. I soon found myself going at 26km/hr but not working any harder than I’d been going 19km/hr alone. He kept glancing back at me but he powered along. I saw he was riding a much newer bike than mine, with a lot of gears in the back sprocket – probably nine or ten, and he was in the smallest. When I was riding more 20 years ago, the Shimano XTR with 8 gears was considered almost too much. I couldn’t see the front rings so I don’t know if he was in the biggest one. He was also dressed in shorts and had regular toe clips rather than the SPD clip less pedals like I have, so I figured I looked more the part even if I wasn’t as fast as him.

Anyway, I didn’t want to lose the free ride so I put in an extra effort to stay behind him, but after a few minutes I was feeling I’d gotten some rest and was more energetic, so when his speed dropped to around 23 km/hr, I pulled ahead. He said something about me enjoying the free ride and hoping I’d return the favor, so I resolved to take a pull. At the front, I made sure I maintained that same 26km/hr he had, and he tucked in behind me for a long pull. It felt like I’d been in front for more than my share, and we were just coming into Schoen Place, where you kind of have to slow down anyway, so I was planning to let him take another pull after we’d cleared the village, but then he pulled off! So unfair.

Beautiful Sun

Like many lucky kids, for many of my teenage years I went to summer camp. I went to YMCA Camp Beausoliel, on Beausoleil Island in the Georgian Bay Islands National Park. It was a wonderful and very formative interlude in those years, and probably did more to create and reinforce my love for the outdoors that continues to this day. It was a very long time ago and my memories aren’t 100% complete of that time but I’d like to share my memories of my last year there.

The oldest campers were put together in a cabin called “Islanders”. Being an Islander was like being king of the camp. Our cabin was on a tiny island just off shore from the camp, so we had our own canoes to get back and forth to the main camp. It was actually a prank that seemed to happen every time that the kids from the second oldest cabin would sneak over in the night and steal the Islanders canoes, so they’d have to swim to breakfast. That wasn’t a bad thing, because any cabin that went swimming before breakfast got the “Morning Dipper” award that sat on your table for the day.

As the oldest cabin, we got the least experienced counsellor – I guess they figured with our experience we could take care of ourselves if the counsellor wasn’t great. In our case, we got a counsellor who was a major flake.

The most major feature of YMCA Camp Beausoliel was that it was a “tripping” camp. Generally you spent the first day or two preparing for your big canoe trip, then left on your trip. The time back in camp after the trip was almost an after thought.

As a senior cabin, we did the usual long ambitious trip that senior cabins did – up the Musquash River to near Bala Ontario, then down the Moon River to Georgian Bay, and then down the shore back to Beausoliel Island. It wasn’t an easy trip – the first night was spent at Flat Rock Falls at the top of Go Home Lake (if you think some of these names sound a bit familiar, maybe you’re remembering the song “You Sold The Cottage” by Martha and the Muffins). When I had been a more junior camper, Flat Rock Falls had been a multi day trip to get there, but back then we’d stopped at the diving rocks in McRae Lake.

All Beausoliel cabins had 7 campers, and each trip consisted of three canoes with three people in each canoe – the counsellor took the stern of one canoe, and either a junior counsellor (jc) or the camp’s trip leader Larry Owen took another, and the three most experienced and strongest campers made up the “camper canoe”. I was considered a strong paddler, so this year I got to be the bowman in the camper canoe. Generally the counsellor got the pack with the sleeping bags, because he was supposed to be the best canoer and therefore less likely to get them wet. The jc got the food, because you didn’t want it getting wet but it wouldn’t be a disaster if it did, and the campers got the tents and cooking pots because it didn’t matter if they got wet. This year that turned out to be a big mistake.

On the first or second day, the counsellor decided to show off and do a handstand on the gunnels of his canoe. That didn’t go well, and he ended up upsetting the canoe. While all of us had been taught how to roll a sleeping bag in a groundsheet to waterproof it, unfortunately only mine and four other sleeping bags had actually turned out waterproof. So we spent the rest of the trip with seven campers crowded into one tent with two sleeping bags underneath us and three on top. It was only years later that I realized that the counsellor in question must have been pretty damn high to do something that stupid. All counsellors were only a few years older than the campers, so you’ve got to expect some immaturity, but that was just crazy.

The third or fourth day, we were on the Moon River, on a stretch called The Seven Sisters which is a sequence of rapids. As is usual in these trips, at each rapids everybody got out to scout the rapids. At one rapids, the camper canoe had a look, and said “we’re portaging”. The counsellor and jc had a bit of debate on the best line, and either the jc decided on a different line or they decided to portage. The counsellor said “HELL, LET’S SHOOT THEM!” We all portaged and then walked back to watch the action. The counsellor’s line went between two rocks that nobody but he thought the canoe could fit between. And as soon as he got into the rapids, past the point of no return and lined up on them, he realized we’d all been right and yelled “BACKPADDLE!” They didn’t have a hope in hell. The river was running too fast and with him in the stern and his strongest paddler in the bow paddling on the same side only balanced by the weakest paddler on the other side (whose name was Jeremy – don’t ask why that’s the only name I remember of the other 8 guys), it was inevitable that they’d turn sideways and be carried into these two rocks. The rush of the water under the canoe flipped it on its side, and the force of the water pinned it there, and the contents of the canoe, including sleeping bags, paddles, life jackets and Jeremy were carried down river to be rescued by the rest of us watching this performance. Meanwhile the counsellor and jc were finding it damn near impossible to pull the canoe off the rock, and they only managed to do it after the bow split open, relieving some of the pressure.

We spent a considerable time on the shore of that rapid, trying to dry out our sleeping bags and clothes in the sun while the counsellor and jc repaired the bow of the canoe with every canvas patch, tube of ambroid (a glue that we used for making canvas repairs) and piece of wire in the canoe repair kit. It took a while, but at the end of it they had a mostly water tight canoe that would have gotten them home if the counsellor hadn’t been such a moron.

One funny thing that stocks with me – the counsellor’s clothes were completely soaked, just like all of us (his canoe load from dumping, the rest of us from jumping in to rescue them), and we were all sitting in the sun stripped down to our underwear, except the counsellor was naked. And as we sat there eating lunch and waiting for our clothes and the repair to dry, a giant horsefly bit him on the penis. You’ve never seen a guy jump so high!

After the repair, we crossed under a bridge, the only road that crossed our route from Bala all the way back to camp. We went through one set of rapids safely and sanely, but at the next one the counsellor proved that there is no way in hell he should have ever been in a leadership position. The rapid had a shelf, about a two foot drop. An experienced canoer might have managed it, but not a moron in a canoe held together with baling wire and partially dried ambroid. He took one look at it and yelled “HELL, LET’S SHOOT IT!” Those of us in the camper canoe thought he was completely mental and we portaged. But the jc agreed to try as well, and he went first. Now he was a lot heavier than the campers in his canoe and I think the fact that it was stern heavy helped him get through it. The counsellor’s canoe was more evenly balanced, and when they hit the shelf they kind of hit the water below nose first, and dumped in the whirlpool below it. I have a vivid memory of Jeremy getting smashed between the canoe and the rock wall on the side of the whirlpool before we could drag him out. He also lost his camera in the whirlpool, although god knows how he held into it on the previous disaster.

This time the canoe was a write-off. The split now went beyond the bow seat and no amount of wire was going to hold it together, even if we’d still had any more canvas and ambroid. So we did the only responsible thing we could do – we distributed his packs and campers to the other two canoes, making them dangerously overloaded and tippy, and paddled back upstream to the bridge. The counsellor paddled his banana split of a boat from the stern deck, which kept the bow out of the water. We made camp at a fishing access that was not a legal campsite while the counsellor and jc hitchhiked to a phone to contact the camp. Much later that night a truck came from camp with a replacement canoe, but sadly not a replacement counsellor.

For the next couple of days, the trip went as they usually went. I don’t recall if the counsellor stopped trying to shoot unshootable rapids or if he just got overruled, but we ended up making it most of the way home without further incident. Until the very last day, when once again this moron decides he wants to try another handstand on the gunnels. Fortunately by this time the two campers in his canoe were more seasoned paddlers and so when he inevitably fell into the water, they kept the boat upright and prevented him from further soaking people’s sleeping bags. (I should mention that campers used the same sleeping bags as bedclothes in camp, and the camp didn’t have laundry facilities of any sort, so even without this a few of the campers still had damp sleeping bags for a night or two after we got back.)

Rereading this, I sound awfully angry about the incompetence of the counsellor. But the amazing thing about being a kid at camp is that we weren’t mad at him. Well, except for getting the sleeping bags wet. Everything else was dumb, but we just took it in stride. Just part if the adventure. It’s only afterwards as a parent I think back and think “we’re lucky he didn’t kill anybody” and I get mad at him.

Thoughts on the Tour

When they initially announced the route of this year’s tour, I knew that Andy Schleck wouldn’t be winning it. That was before Nissan-Radio Shack-Trek turned out to be the biggest disappointment of the entire season, never really getting any good results through the spring. Other than Fabian Cancellara’s prologue and winning the team category, they’ve really been a team in complete disarray and it’s shown. I have heard rumours that they won’t be around next year, and that isn’t at all surprising after all the bickering and infighting in the team.

I don’t know if Frank Schleck’s positive test was some sort of sabotage, or just the fact that with Bryneel occupied elsewhere, they made a mistake in their doping program. Schleck’s team mate Chris Horner wrote that when you’re not the biggest team in the race or not one of the top contenders, you *do* sometimes end up drinking from those bottles that spectators try to hold out to the riders – the guys you see on TV sometimes take them and dump them over their heads to cool off, but they never drink them because you never know whether it’s fresh water or water from the streams beside the road, which are probably half beer fueled piss by the time the riders get up there. And as the tacks on the road proved, there are people out there willing to sabotage the race. I could easily see somebody putting drugs in their bottles and offering them to riders they dislike. On the other hand, as I see stages being won by men who’ve served two year suspensions for doping, I wonder if we’re even yet seeing a clean race. I want to see an end to doping, but I suspect while we’ve still got team managers who admitted that they doped when they rode in the tour, I don’t think it’s going to happen.

I’d hoped that Cadel Evans less than perfect showing in the Dauphine was just him getting into form to peak for the Tour, but it was obvious when the Tour hit the Alps that he just wasn’t as good as he was last year. I wanted to see him repeat, but that’s racing for you. If you’re not perfect at the Tour, you’ve going to get beaten by somebody who is.

Even before the Tour, Bradley Wiggens and Sky Team looked like a team dedicated to and perfectly capable of being as dominant in GC as they ended up being. But I really wondered why they wanted Mark Cavendish or why Mark Cavendish wanted to be on Sky. We knew he wouldn’t get the lead-out train like he had for his winning seasons at HTC Highroad/HTC Columbia. He proved early on he could win as a scrambler like a Robbie McEwan, and be he also proved that not being a priority for your team can end up with you being in a pile of riders in the road with a broken helmet. Fortunately his team decided they were comfortable enough on GC that they could give him a decent lead-out on Stages 18 and 20. But I wonder if his reason for joining Sky wasn’t more about the Olympics than the Tour? Certainly not being the focus of his team’s efforts meant he wasn’t expected to get the Green Jersey, and it gives him a chance to ride with other British riders who he’ll probably be riding with at the Olympics. Wiggens and Froome could very well end up leading him out to a sprint finish in the Olympic road race.

No offence to Wiggens and Froome, but I miss the slashing attacks and mountain top finishes of the Armstrong and Contador eras. This year seemed more like the Indurain era, where everything was predicated on not losing any time in the mountains in order to win it on the time trials, and I’m sorry, but time trials are boring. Maybe next year they’ll have more mountains, and it will be Froome’s turn to win?

I was disappointed that Ryder Hesjedahl crashed out of the Tour. Nobody is ever going to win the Tour and the Giro in the same year in this era, but it would have been great to see how he did against Nibali and the others who did both.

Canadian Ski Marathon

CSM Silver Courier du BoisHere I am skiing near the beginning of doing the Silver Courier du Bois. I look a little tired here, but I’m pretty sure this is the near the first or second feeding station on the first day, so I’m not sure why. Maybe I was just cold? At various points along the way, they made large marks on your bib, such as when you got your pack weighed or when you finished a day. Maybe an efficient system for preventing cheaters, but it sure ruined your bib as a souvenir. But that’s how I know that this was early the first day – no marks.

I already wrote about my memories of the CSM. You can re-read them here.

Road Ski Race

(This is first of a new series: my mom sent me a bunch of my old pictures for Christmas and I’m in the process of scanning them and uploading them.)

Newspaper coverIn 1980, I was doing most of my training on road skis because my knees were already hurting. The Southern Ontario Ski Division had their first ever road ski race, and I figured I had an edge on the guys who were normally better than me on the snow because they probably trained mostly on foot. So I lined up on the front row beside guys I knew were way better than me on skis. Well, it turned out that they were still way better than me on road skis, so I quickly ended up in the back of the pack. But at least I was near enough the front of the pack in the first lap to get my picture on the front cover of the first (and probably last) issue of “Track”, the newsletter of the Southern Ontario Ski Division.

In case you can’t figure out which young fit hirsute guy is hiding inside my current old bald and obese shell, I’m the one wearing bib number 532.