Monday, May 30, 2011

Pennsylvania Long Weekend

Did a different kind of riding on the long weekend just outside of Pittsburgh, PA.

We headed down Friday afternoon narrowly escaping a gnarly looking storm cloud in the rearview. Crossed without incident at Lewiston and rolled on into New York. Driving is much nicer in the US in many regards: people know the passing lane is for passing for example. And the scenery between here and Pennsylvania was just beautiful.

We arrived at G's aunt and uncle's place and they have three beautiful horses (well, two horses and a pony technically). They were amazingly generous, hospitable hosts and we all -- me, Gerhard, G's brother Adlar and Adlar's girlfriend Eva -- were treated to an amazing weekend full of culinary adventures, relaxing, libations and of course, riding!

Dorcus was our mount of choice -- she is a retired harness-race horse, and at 15 she is just at the beginning of her golden years, chilling at the farm. Boomer, their other retiree is about the same age, but he still has some crazy eyes going on revealing a little too much spirit for the saddle (at least for us).

But Dorcus treated us all to many tranquil laps of the paddock. Girlish ideas about wanting an equine friend of my own came back in a rush. Maybe one day, after I win the lottery.

Next, Belle gave us a turn. She's a Welsh pony, beautiful, but bratty. Apparently this is the case for almost all ponies which is kind of funny because they're the toughest to handle, but kids prefer them because they're a little shorter. I guess some trade-offs are okay to make. Welsh ponies were used as pack animals in the mines back in the day. But Belle's working days are over too ... unless you count kids' birthday parties.

Anyway, amazing meal after amazing meal including Pennsylvania delicacies like beef jerky had me gain about 7 pounds by the time we left. I thought I'd bring a bike, but decided against. Bittersweet really -- on the one hand, the roads there would be amazing for road riding. On the other hand, their twisting hilly nature would make it difficult for cars and bikes to get along together safely. Still -- the Tran-Sylvania Mountain Bike Stage Race is now looking like a major bucket list item. SO GREEN.

Huge thanks to our hosts for the weekend, it was definitely one we won't forget -- good times!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Return to California

I loved California when I was there with Matt P and Pete G back in January. But I had no idea how big a role the region was about to play in life-as-I-know-it when I visited then.

Because this is the internet, and no one has an attention span longer than 2 seconds, I'll get straight to the point. Gerhard has accepted a new job at the biggest snowboard magazine in the biz: Transworld.

Transworld is based in Carlsbad, CA about half an hour north of San Diego, right on the coast. Don't ask me why snowboarding magazines always seem to be published in the most un-snowboarding of places (Toronto, as another example ... no offense Blue Mountain).

And so here we are, riding the rollercoaster of life in the fast lane, trying to figure out what happens next. Because California is a loooong way from Toronto on pretty much every level.

So how did this all happen? Well let me just brag and say it wasn't like Gerhard was looking for a new job. This job came looking for HIM. And if you follow his articles with Snowboard Canada, you'll know why. Or maybe they just saw this:

Anyway, one thing led to another, and that led to a job-interview in Carlsbad. A quick trip, but I decided I needed to be there to try and make more sense of all this impending change. Maybe palm trees and ocean breeze would be the spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down.

And it was.

I travelled via Vancouver where a former colleague and her boyfriend were kind enough to put me up for the night. That lined me up for an early flight to L.A. the next morning.

When I landed, I was immediately hyped. I went to pick up the economy car I'd reserved from the rental company, and let them up-sell me to a red convertible. It seemed like the obvious thing to do. Then I booted down the interstate blaring the pop-tunes, and letting my new cut and colour fly around in the wind.

I got to the hotel first, so I had the tedious honour of waiting for G. In the mean time, I got a sandwich and a drink from a place up the road and made like ten friends who all had great advice on what to do and where to eat for our little stay. I got back to the hotel and finally Gerhard arrived. We spent the rest of the afternoon booting around in my whip, checking things out and imaginging what life could be like there.

We thought the actual interview the next morning would be over in time for lunch and surfing, but it turned out to be an all-day appointment. So I had nothing left to do but take myself shopping! I also checked out the flower fields which are famous in the area and took myself out to lunch at the "Naked Cafe" before poking my head in some neighbourhood bike shops.

To celebrate the success of both our days, we headed to San Diego to try some fish tacos one of my sandwich-friends recommended. We drove by a rollercoaster and stopped for some spontaneous thrills and poetic symbolism.

It was a great trip. But is it real life? For one of us, starting June 6 it sure is.

Gerhard has been beavering away to get his documents in order for a move to the States. Lucky for him he doesn't have to "immigrate" in the formal sense because he is a dual citizen. But chasing down passports and social security numbers plus trying to squeeze the most out of his last weeks with healthcare have kept him busy.

I have been working on finding a roommate and fussing over Gerhard's to-do list. We're having a going-away party for G next Thursday by the way if you'd like to bid him farewell (and ingratiate yourself to him so you have a place to stay if you ever want to go to SoCal.)

So that's been the overwhelmingly heavy, scary, exciting, happy, confusing, sad, proud news around here.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Early-Season Break

So that was a first ... I skipped a race the other day because I didn't feel like it. AND I'd already paid too. I think I'm slipping.

But guess what! I'm skipping the next one too. I have a friend's wedding the night before and while I'm sure I could make it work [by either not drinking, or just racing hung over] on the other hand, why bother? For the glory of finishing mid- to back-of-the pack? For the dust and heat Hardwood usually delivers (except that year it SNOWED)? For two days of driving back and forth up the 400 (not to mention Sunday night traffic)?


That flame has flickered.

For now, I've got a whole flock of ducks to get in a row that have nothing to do with racing, so that's the update from here ... in case you were wondering why there hasn't been much activity on Racer Diaries lately.

I'll be back in good form and spirits for Albion. Til then, stay tuned for non-racing/riding updates from our recent adventures in San Diego, Pittsburgh and Toronto.

Coming soon!

Monday, May 9, 2011

Mother's Day Weekend

This weekend started off with a surprise trip to Charleston Lake. Couldn't have worked out better. My mom texted me around noon on her way East via Toronto wondering if I'd like to join her. Already, I'd been mulling over the idea of going home for Mother's Day weekend, but was a little daunted by traveling alone.

So this was perfect! After work, we packed up my bike and drove out to Charleston, joining my aunt and uncle, and of course my grandpa who lives in the area was around as well. Always great to get a chance to visit with family!

Saturday, after an amazing sleep in the quietest, darkest place to catch some z's in Ontario (seriously -- the sleeping there is worth the three hour drive, every time), I woke up and got myself organized for a quick little skills ride to check out the riding in the back of the house my mom grew up in.

The woods and fields back there were sporting a spring carpeting of trilliums. There are some great farm roads and lots of rocky features to practice riding up and down. Very enjoyable appetizer before heading back to the house for lunch.

After lunch, I headed back out again, planning on just spending some time on miles and endurance. Since I had the mountainbike for a whip, that meant I could be free to explore some roads I travel less often (in Leeds/Grenville, sometimes the pavement stops abruptly and turns into gravel, so a road bike is best used on trusted routes only).

The second installment of the day's training turned into an unexpected epic ride*.

*rides are billed "epic" if they include one or more of the following features: long hours/miles, water crossings, 2+ hours climbing, muddy conditions, above-average danger, long hike-a-bike sections, questionable directions. Feel free to add criteria in the comments

I meandered around, letting my iphone maps app guide the way. However, I can't believe what passes for a "road" on that thing. Before long, I found myself leaving the pavement, riding some gravel, and then that too gave way to what can only be described as double track.

Also, here's a law of nature I discovered the hard way: if there is a puddle covering the 'road' of questionable depth and integrity, then FOR SURE, the sides of it will be lined with hawthornes. Luckily, this was only a problem for a few "crossings" because it didn't take long for me to lose my balance and fall in, thus negating the need for caution on future water traps.

And so I continued. The ride also included snarling packs of dogs keen on taking a bite out of my ankles (two packs of four, actually) and I'm fairly certain that at some point around hour 2, the black flies hatched, making stopping impossible.

Even with all the unexpected obstacles/hazards, it was a great day on the bike. I got home safely and treated both bike and rider to a good hose down, and then for a recovery drink, white wine spritzer with some of my favourite ladies: my mom and my aunt.

Needless to say, I slept well that night, no thanks to the Canucks however.

The next morning, we all had breakfast together again and packed up our things to head into Gananoque for a Mother's Day lunch with Grampa. I had some training I still wanted to do, but with my bike shoes still wet from the day before, it was a great excuse to head out for a run. Absolutely perfect weather for it too.

So I headed out ahead of my mom, and she picked me up in Lansdowne after a personal best on my ten k time. I think I have her to thank for that actually, because about half way through, she pulled up and said I'd better run faster or we'd be late for lunch. And when you're dealing with Hortons, you don't want to be late for lunch!!

We picked up my grampa, and then dined at the Champagne Bay Grill which was super yummy and a spot I'm sure we'll go back to in the future.

Perfect weekend! Thanks mom, and Happy Mother's Day! Glad I got to spend it with you.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Race Report: Ocup 1

Glad that's over with. The first race of the season is always a bit of an exercise in blunders and nerves. Case in point, guess who forgot to pick up race gels until just before leaving for the venue!!

Anyway, now that's all worked out of the system. So next race will be better. Mansfield was not too kind to me yesterday in terms of results, but I felt decent enough (although a little flat in the legs by the second half) and it was a privelege to line up with some of Canada's best. Emily Batty even showed up -- one of a few riders helping to make our category the most stacked it's been in a long time.

We also said "Bienvenue" to team Quebec who decided to join us for some early season fun. Those girls know a thing or two about going fast on bikes, for sure.

The course started with a wall of a climb which was probably the most nervy part of my day. I knew it would be fast up that road, and success would be determined greatly by how well girls could stay together with their hearts pounding from rest to red line in less than 200m.

The singletrack at Mansfield is thankfully forgiving, because any tighter and I don't know if my oxygen-indebted brain could have navigated the handling after that climb.

The course also featured a few really fun downhills. A couple wide open, and a couple technical singletrack descents. It was good times for the full suspension, but for the rest of the day, I kept the rear pretty well locked out. This is now my new favourite thing. I can't afford to keep more than one mountain bike in my quiver, but with the new remotes from Shimano/Fox I'm laughing -- it's like two for the price of one. Or even more helpful: two bikes in one so I can now really customize my rig from lap to lap.

So the race went -- short course and fast laps so it was over before I knew it. I also tried racing with coca cola for the first time. Worth repeating I think, although it did kind of make me thirsty so some more honing in training before I get the hang of that.

The best part of the first race of the season is seeing everyone in the mountain bike community after a long winter. You can't go anywhere without stopping to chat for a few minutes. It's awesome seeing everyone and their new bikes, too.

Cherry on top? Although the forecasat said rain, it didn't do anything of the kind until we were halfway done the drive home.

Here are the results:

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Katherine Cove

This month's Ontario Outdoor desktop calendar is dear to my heart!! Stoked to be looking at it for the next 31 days!

Katherine Cove is on Lake Superior and perfectly positioned to serve as a lunch stop on the long drive to Kama Bay, where our family has been summering (and springing and falling) for my entire life and back a couple generations.

It's got a sandy beach in the cove, amazing views of the lake and big Canadian Shield rocks to climb over and get your blood flowing before getting back into the car for the second half.

I've spent many an afternoon at this beautiful Ontario spot -- it's worth pulling in off Hwy 17 should you ever find yourself on your way to the North Shore.

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