Monday, August 10, 2009

Farms For Sale

Two farms have gone up for sale in the last two weeks. I don't know either of the owners, but can see they are both on the young side (mid-30s). Farming at that age is very rarely a break-even prospect. And farming at any age occupies the body and mind 24/7. I'll be curious to see who ponies up the dough for these properties, if anybody does.

Distance: 21.4 kms in 1:07. AvS 19.3 kph, MxS 60.7 kph (there were some dandy hills, but not enough of them in my favour to raise my AvS -- in fact, I dismounted to climb one of them). A gorgeous morning, pre-thunder-showers.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009


Yesterday I rode past a small dairy operation and I realized, not for the first time, that a light spread of manure can smell rather refreshing. Not that I'm about to start dabbing a little behind the ears, or anything like that. My emotional response depends largely on the defecating animal: I greatly prefer cows and horses to goats and pigs, for example. There are reasons for this, which I will expound on (and link to) on my other blog.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Back In The Saddle

Back in the saddle after a three-week lay-off, two of which were spent on a Winnipeg visit, and one of which was simply rained-out. The heart and lungs were willing, but the body required a little care.

Too much rain, not enough sunlight makes the planted corn unhappy, but I think we're doing a little better than most corn-growers in Manitoba. It's a little hard to believe, given how much rain we seemed to get in the last month.

Distance: 14.5 km in 45 minutes, for an average speed of 19 kph (reached 56.7 kph while chugging downhill). Chafing is getting to be an issue: I suspect I've misadjusted the saddle. Too high? Not far enough forward? I'll keep adjusting until I've got it where it ought to be. (Sigh. Was a time when I would join a "cycla-thon" and pedal just over 50 miles in a day ... on a CCM five-speed ... wearing cut-offs!)

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Another Church

I'm self-conscious about taking pictures of other people's houses. I'd seen this view of the church often, but had never taken a closer look. When I came to the yard, two people (mother & adolescent son(?)) were leaning on a van and having a heated discussion. I wasn't about to ask their permission and I certainly wasn't going to snap the shot and sprint for the hills. As I passed, I noticed the building's state of disrepair. It looks like a stoner house, alas. The brushes eating at the foundation (hm - metaphor?) of the building could have indicated as much had I given the matter some thought.

12.8 kms in 38 minutes. Muddy roads.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Introducing "Smells"

I took the camera with me today, hoping to snap a shot of a picturesque schoolhouse-turned-residence just outside of town. When I reached the house, the picture was obviously out of the question. The lovely maple trees which border the property are lush enough to obscure the drama of the house; the inconvenient angle of the sunrise botched the rest of it. Throughout the remainder of my ride I realized that most picture-worthy properties face the west (I suppose most of us are preconditioned to think we have more time, or a greater need, for aesthetics at the end of the day -- sunset -- than we do at its beginning). There are ways to compensate for shooting into the sun, but few of them result in anything especially attractive. And they all require more work than I was prepared to do on a ride.

I mulled over my usual bevy of preoccupations, obsessions and anxieties, including, in no particular order, mortality, the ethical dilemmas facing my children's generation, peak oil, what constitutes a desirable perspective, etc. The body eventually reaches a point where the energy that generates questions is harnessed for locomotion. The mind slips into a pleasantly befuzzled state, and consciousness is alerted only occasionally, either by unusual sights or, in my case, smells.

I've sometimes thought my sense of smell is a shade too acute. We had a rodent problem in our first house, which a little poison quickly took care of. Less than a year later I knew we had to deal with the problem again, because I could smell them (mice pee everywhere).

Age and palate abuse has certainly dulled this sense, but I'm still sensitive. While riding, if a car passes me in either direction I can usually tell whether or not the rider has shampooed. Then there's smoker's fug, which is hardly noteworthy. There's a scene in 84 Charlie MoPic where a new Lieutenant is berated by his seasoned grunts for lighting up in the field. "Charlie can smell cigarette smoke from a mile away," or something to that effect.

Today one of the smells to catch me off-guard was strawberries. The season is ending, so there are berries rotting in their patches -- a sickly smell I was happy to leave downwind.

Distance: 17.7 kms in 54 minutes, concluding with a sore keister. Kinda humbling when I think my friend Scott is doing 100 kms in a windy day like yesterday. I'd like to work up to a century, but since I replaced my stem I've been getting saddle-weary, and haven't yet figured out the right adjustment.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

One Hour In The Rain

21 kms in one hour today, in the rain. The skies were looking heavy, but I simply couldn't absorb another day inside. 20 minutes of sprints on the trainer has got nothing on one hour of riding hills in the rain.

Unfortunately, the rain kept me on the pavement. I've done gravel roads in the rain, but that requires a thorough cleaning session which lasts just about as long as the ride. Most of the locals know me on sight (I'm the guy in the Costco undershirt and OP shorts (with a pair of Louis Garneaus underneath)) and pass me with a wide berth. Cottage travelers, on the other hand, aren't usually so generous. It was early, though, and traffic was light.

The clover in the ditch smells especially sweet in a light rain.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Mowed Fields

Yesterday was a gorgeous day for cycling, and I regret not taking the camera along: there were so many opportunities of the sort displayed on the blog banner. After a week or two of steady rain, we finally got a stretch of hot sunny days that made for perfect haying weather. I pushed myself through 16 kms of loamy perfume. The wind was slightly from the northwest, making the air less humid than it can get in Central Ontario. The wind also kept the aroma of the fields from getting too thick for me. Very fine.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Product Review: Helmet Mirrors, Filzer dZ4L Cycling Computer

Helmet Mirrors:

Under most conditions, I can usually hear well in advance when a vehicle is approaching me from the rear. But when I'm pedaling into a strong headwind, all bets are off. That's when gravel trucks catch me completely by surprise.

I bought a helmet mirror to remedy this situation. When I attached it to my helmet, I realized immediately that I was in trouble. My vision is skewed so that one eye is near-sighted and the other far-sighted. Working together they compensate amazingly well -- at 44 I still don't yet need glasses. Unfortunately, it's my left eyeball that's far-sighted, and the mirror is designed to prop four inches away from it.

I took it for a tour, figuring maybe this challenge would force my deficient lens to exercise some flexibility. But no, that was not going to happen. Instead, the mirror became a serious distraction and I finally ripped it off.

Since the design deficiency is my own, I'll not bother with a brand name. I'm told there are cyclists who swear by their helmet mirrors.

Filzer dZ4L Cycling Computer:

I gambled $16 on this baby, and I'm glad I did. It isn't a necessity for cyclists, unless they take their driving directions from Google Maps. But for those of us who wonder how fast we're going, and how far, this little gadget pays off in spades. It's a snap to mount (took me 45 minutes of consulting the instructions and attaching the gizmo to the appropriate spot on the bike). Negatives: it's impossible to read in the light of high noon; it, uh, can puncture the ego, somewhat (trips I thought were the equivalent of a spin to the Big Apple turned out to be only 16 kms).

Old Churches

The countryside is dotted with old churches and schoolhouses, most of which have been converted into residences. Having spent some time in just such a structure, I can attest that there are some practical negatives that accompany the funky positives. These places are great for holding family gatherings, art shows and parties; they're lousy for holding in heat.

But I digress. They're very lovely to pedal past. Here's one such. I'm not sure of the denomination. The sign on the door seems to indicate there is still a congregation that meets there. Either that, or the denomination is putting in a minimum of maintenance to hold on to a heritage building. The bizarre eaves-trough configuration would seem to bear out the latter theory.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Over Hill, Over Dale...

My route of choice just received a fresh drop of gravel and some grading. The Jake is built to withstand a hefty punishment, but it is not built to navigate through sand or gravel, so I took it down some unexplored roads (which have yet to receive a spring grooming).

One hill pretty much looks like the other when you're looking at it through a camera's viewfinder. It's a different story when you're pushing the pedals, of course. But I am gratified to see how quickly my aging bod is acclimatizing itself to the new regime.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Season's First Ride

I finally released the Jake from the trainer and took it for this year's first ride on the gravel roads. I apologize for the lack of pictures, but the view hasn't changed much from last year.

The temptation during the first ride is to go ahead and see what's over the next hill. After all, I was fairly disciplined with my basement sessions: the legs and heart and lungs should all be up for it.

The ugly truth, however, is there will never ever ever be an indoor workout that matches the effort required out of doors. I kept the first ride to 20 minutes; I'm guessing my resting heart rate will return to me sometime before supper.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Major Tom as rendered by Shiny Toy Guns

The other night as I dozed before the television set, I was suddenly struck with longing. I woke up, shook my head and realized what had hit me: some car company was employing a clever remake of Peter Schilling's Major Tom.

A little history: Peter Schilling was a contemporary of Nena's, both of whose management capitalized on that brief, surreal window in the 80s when "the New Wave" received a second, larger shot at life via video. "Major Tom" was Schilling's international hit, a song of desire, desolation and alienation (and, possibly, adultery and substance abuse) that was nearly undone by a goofy video.

It's a little unnerving to see kids these days take a shine to music I've almost completely forgotten, even though I once laced up my ALDO certified Italian shoes to dance to it. Unnerving, but also invigorating. I think Shiny Toy Guns gets the hunger at the core of "Major Tom." I won't be buying the car attached to the song, but I don't mind visiting their site and offering some scant info to get the "free" download. This is commercialism I can buy into.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Playing At Fitness

This month's ish of Men's Health describes a fitness camp in the rain-forests of Brazil. It can be read online, but the link, unfortunately, doesn't include any of the photos in the magazine. Basically, campers (all male) pay to strip down to their surfer shorts and run around the jungle like they're Tarzan.

You could not pay me enough to join a group like that. First of all, I hate group exercise; I hate to exercise in front of anyone. Restricting the group to men is a further disincentive. Add the flaky element of "let's pretend" ("We're warriors!" "We're an elite corps of primates!" "We're all Tarzan!") and you've just described my idea of Hell.

And yet, and yet ... there is an aspect of "play" that I miss in my fitness routine (such as it is). Years ago I took an early morning Aikido class at the YMCA. I had mixed feelings about the experience which became decidedly un-mixed the morning I was dropped on my head by a Russian black-belt (silver lining: the Russian knew a terrific chiropractor). I didn't much enjoy the grappling, but I had nothing but love for the warm-up.

This consisted of breathing exercises, followed by stretching, followed by tumbling. It lasted about 12 minutes, and by the end of it the entire body felt ready for anything (short of being dropped on the head). The breathing and the stretching I can do easily enough on my own, but the tumbling is another matter. A large space is required, and floor mats are recommended. And to be honest, there is something thrilling about a group of 20 people hitting the floor in unison.

Hm. Maybe I need to start my own "fitness camp" (emphasis on camp -- second definition) in the verdant forests of Ontario?

Monday, March 9, 2009

Stem Research

One of the locals asked if I wanted to join his cycling club. They're a bunch of guys whose median age is 44, who plow through a given stretch of woods when the moon is full. I thanked him for the invite, but turned him down. I would have jumped at the opportunity in my 20s; in my 40s it sounds like a short path to humiliation and serious injury.

My winter cycling consists of 15 minute stints on a magnetic resistance trainer, usually doing variations on sprints and only occasionally working a 20-plus minute aerobic spread (i.e., dying of boredom). Since I'm not climbing in and out of the saddle to navigate hilly terrain, I am discovering that the Jake is just a little long for my grasp: my shoulders and neck can get pretty stiff after the longer sessions. I'm hoping a shorter stem (7.5 cm, down from 10.5) will fix that problem.

Monday, January 26, 2009

The Power Toboggan

The guy who fixed our roof came into the cafe the other day. He was trussed up in three different braces. I gaped. "What happened to you?"

"Aw, snowmobiling. I jumped over a driveway and landed wrong. Then the next guy landed on me."

So far as snowmobiles are concerned, my first impulse is to be a scold. They are very popular in this part of the world. On any day of the week we're likely to see a 14-year-old kid rip through town, well past the speed limit.

But I hold my tongue. I was 14 once, too. And I jumped at any chance to use the family snowmobile: a 1970 Arctic Cat Panther.

My youngest uncle persuaded my grandfather to drop money on this machine when it was still new. It was a noisy two-stroke monster that couldn't break 40 mph. It was heavy, and gallingly dependable. By the time my uncle left town for university, my grandfather was only too happy to let my family take the snowmobile off his yard. I was 12-years-old by then, and only too happy to give it a go on ours.

I had a couple of friends with similar machines. My father would drop me and the snowmobile off at the outskirts of town, and off I'd go with my buds, cutting trails into acres of pristine snow. I also had friends with newer, snazzier, faster machines, but for some reason I never got together with them.

My love affair with snowmobiling began to cool as I grew older. The trouble started one Saturday when my father took me on a tour of snowmobile dealerships. We had no interest in actually buying anything -- we were just curious to see what was on the market. The long and short of it was that for a few thousand unavailable dollars we could purchase a lighter machine capable of reaching speeds in excess of 100 mph.

Also, it wouldn't be too much longer before I turned 16 and could drive a real vehicle -- one with over 350 cubic inches and eight cylinders under the hood. The snowmobile, seemingly in tune with my fickle affections, began to act up. If I pushed the accelerator, she responded only to a point, then cut out and died.

We took it to mechanics. We took apart the carburetor and replaced all the gaskets and aeration screws. We propped the rear on a cinder block and fiddled with the carburetor settings for hours. Nothing seemed to work.

For a while I could ride it at half-throttle, but before too long she wouldn't let me coax her past a quarter-throttle. My younger sister wanted a tobogganing/snowmobile birthday party, and I was enlisted as the designated rider. I ferried eight-year-old girls around the tobogganing hill and through a copse of poplars. The girls seemed pleased with the experience, but beneath my balaclava I burned with shame as cross-country skiers glided effortlessly past me.

I don't remember how the snowmobile finally disappeared from our yard. I expect my father sold her, and passed the money back to his father. The fact that this event didn't even register on my personal radar indicates just how out of love I was with the "sport."

Still am, really. I think these things are a blight on our landscape and a menace to our ecosystem -- possibly even to our survival as a species.

But I have to admit: it was fun at the time.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

"Mambo Italiano" -- Rosemary Clooney

What a gorgeous woman.

"Mambo Italiano" was today's randomizer pick, a peppy little novelty song that owes all its sexy snap to the young Rosemary Clooney's cheerful abandon. It depresses me a little to think she had to trot it out for audiences when she was an older woman. It's like asking the older, "Is That All There Is?" Peggy Lee to sing "How Much Is That Doggy In The Window?" But Clooney was an entertainer and a pro; if the song had become tedious to her she never let on.

So I'll amend my former declaration to: What a woman.