That’s pretty cool

A couple of old friends from my time in the Army Reserve found my picture and post at Rants and Revelations » Lorne Scots SRTP 1979 and have left some comments. It’s great, especially Alex McKelvey’s precis of what happened to nearly everybody. All this time later, it’s hard to remember who you liked and who you hated, and it probably doesn’t matter much now, but Alex was one of the ones I liked.

Break in

While I was mowing the grass on Saturday, I managed to notice that both the passenger side doors on Laura’s car were unlocked, and the front one was actually ajar. Since both Laura and Stevie were known to not lock their doors when they were passenger’s in Vicki’s or my cars (in much the same manner that fish are known to like to swim in water), I assumed that she or her friends had just been careless the night before. I somehow managed to miss noticing that the back window was smashed. Somebody evidently broke into her car and found nothing worth stealing.

I guess I should probably stop leaving my GPS, digital camera, film camera, kayak paddle, and flight bag with 3 expensive headsets, portable transciever and my worthless but irreplaceable log book in the trunk of the car any more. Not sure about the XM radio – yeah, it’s supposedly portable but that would be such a hassle to drag in and out of the car every night. The CDs can probably stay – they’ve all been ripped to MP3 anyway, and besides they’re all obscure crap that nobody would steal.

Back when I worked for GeoVision we had a tradition in the winter that the night of the full moon, we’d go cross country skiing in the dark up to one of the lodges there, cook some dinner, hang out for a while, then ski home. It was extremely cool. One day at work, the day after one of these ski trips, I noticed that there was no money in my wallet. No matter, I thougth, I’ll just head over to the Toronto Dominion next door. But somebody else who had been skiing with us asked if my car had been broken into last night. I said I didn’t think so, so they asked me if there was any money in my wallet. They suggest that I go down to my car and look for a small hole beside the keyhole. Sure enough, there was one. Evidently somebody had gone around to all the cars, punched a hole in the door panel near the keyhole and opened the door somehow, and stolen any money he could find in the car, but only money.

The next full moon came, and this time I decided to be one step up on the theif. I put my wallet in my bum bag so it would come with me when I went skiing, and left the doors unlocked so I wouldn’t get another hole in my door. However, I stopped for gas on the way to the parking area, and so my wallet made its way from my bum bag to my work pants, so didn’t come with me on the ski. I came back to find my wallet had been emptied once again. Buggeration.

I miss it so much

This morning I watched NBC’s “The Great Race”, a recap of the men’s 4x10km relay at the Lillihammer Olympics. (It’s available on Google Video if you didn’t catch it, but it costs money and requires Windows to do so.

It was an extremely well done piece, although they didn’t show the famous bit where Dahle stopped and tried to force the Italian to go ahead of him, but he wouldn’t. At least I think that was in this race – maybe I’m thinking of the 4×10 at Salt Lake?

Anyway, I’m watching these guys race in brilliant sunshine, and it’s a similarly brilliantly sunny and cold day here. And I feel every movement – my muscles are twiching in time to them, and I can feel it, I can smell it, and I can taste it. I feel the fatigue, the joy, the accomplishment. I remember the way your lungs burn and your muscles work, I remember the way you could smell the humidity and temperature, see and feel the condition of the tracks, and adjust your stride accordingly. I remember seeing and feeling every little rut and bump in the track and trying to use it to your advantage. I remember that nifty little way you’d swing one of your poles forward when you switched from diagonal stride to double poling, and how cool it looked when others did it. I remember being in packs of skiers all in synch. I remember going out every weekend that there wasn’t a race and skiing 30 to 50 kilometers, and not thinking anything about it. I remember skiing in the rain, in bitter, bitter cold, in icy conditions, in slush, where there wasn’t any snow on the ground or when it was snowing so hard that you couldn’t see the next bend in the trail. And I remember doing it all because on those days when it was sunny and about -2C and your wax was good, there was no feeling in the world like it. It didn’t matter if you won or came in slower than your personal best, it was just great to be out there. The effort beforehand, and the soreness and tiredness afterwards, it was all worth it.

After the race, I started to cry. It was the worst cry I’ve had since I was in therapy, huge wracking sobs. And all because I realized that I’ll never have that feeling again.

When I was a young skier, just starting to enter ski races, there was a skier in my club named Karl. He was older, grey haired, and had started skiing in his home country (Germany, I think) when he was quite young. I was about 15, and he was probably in his mid to late 50s. He gave me advice and encouragement. The first year or two, he was well ahead of me in every race. Then I got a pair of real Peltonen racing skis instead of my heavy old Madshus light touring skis. They were light, they were fast, and they had three grooves in the tail that were supposed to break the suction on wet snow. They weren’t the most aggressive racing skis on the market, they weren’t even the most aggressive racing skis that Peltonen made. But they were mine. And the first race I skied in them, I cut a HUGE percentage off my previous best, and beat Karl by a small margin.

Karl became less and less of a factor in my later years, but I always thought that when I got to his age, I’d be enouraging young racers the same way. Between him and Jackrabbit Johannsen, I had enough role models to think that skiing was going to be part of my life for the rest of my life.

That was before the pain. And now I have to accept the fact that pain is going to be the defining element of the rest of my life, not skiing.

1979 Mississauga Train Disaster

In 1979 I was peripherally involved in what was the largest peace-time evacuation in North America. Late November 10th or early November 11th, a train carrying tank cars full of propane and chlorine derailed in downtown Mississauga, Ontario. Some of the propane cars caught fire and there was a great danger if some of them exploded they could burst the chlorine tanks and spread chlorine gas (or as they called in the First World War, mustard gas) over the city.

I first heard about it the next morning, where as a member of the Lorne Scots – Peel, Dufferin and Halton Regiment of the Canadian Armed Forces Reserve, I was taking part in the Remembrance Day celebrations in Brampton, a short drive from Mississauga. One of our number had been walking home from the bar when he’d seen a huge fireball to the south, and had assumed that somebody had nuked Toronto.

As an aside, I should mention that a disturbing number of reservists in our Regiment were expecting and hoping for a war to break out. I should also mention that the state of our training was pretty lousy – we could do drill and we could shoot, but we had very little exposure to tactics and rules of engagement and the like.

I enjoyed participating in the ceremony, although I wasn’t high enough rank to be invited to be in the honour guard, so I was wearing combats (or as they say in the US, BDUs) rather than kilt and tunic. It’s a touching ceremony, plus it was an easy half day’s pay.

Before and after the ceremony, we were abuzz with information and rumours of what was going on Mississauga. As we were sitting around in the Junior Ranks Mess drinking, the sargeant came in and said “You know boys, when you signed in for your pay, you’re officially signed in until dismissed. You haven’t been dismissed yet, and we’ve got something else for you to do.” And he lead us out to the street where we had one deuce and a half (two and a half truck) and a bunch of civillian cars.

We headed down to Mississauga in convoy. It seemed that every street corner had police directing traffic, and they weren’t letting people in. The lucky people in the civillian cars (warmer than the back of a deuce and a half) had to put on their emergency flashers to signal that they were with us to get through the road blocks. What we saw of Mississauga was mostly traffic heading out, and otherwise deserted streets. We went to the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) station to offer our help to patrol the empty streets or direct traffic or whatever they wanted us to do. But I think they were a little scared about putting uniformed soldiers on the streets without a direction from Ottawa, so we were put in a room, and did nothing for hours and hours. Eventually they told us to go home. We were pretty pissed off at having our offer of help rejected, especially when we learned on the way home that the Canadian Airborne Regiment had been flown over from Petawawa to do the work that we’d been already there on the ground offering to do.

So we left. By that time, probably 4 or 5 pm, there was almost no traffic anywhere on the streets, not even people leaving.

The upshot of the whole mess was that the chlorine tanks didn’t rupture, 218,000 people were peaceably evacuated without major problems and without leaving behind the old, poor, elderly or disabled. The Mississauga evacuation plan was evidently a model for other cities to emulate, and the CN railroad stopped putting chlorine tankers next to propane tankers.