Monday, May 24, 2010

Picton May 21-23rd 2010, beaches, wine and sun

What a difference two weeks can make! During this weekend I led a group of 13 cyclists in Prince Edward County. The tour began with a dinner at Portabellas in Picton. This is a small restaurant with homemade pasta and the most delicious rose sauce I ever ate. It was wonderful and inexpensive. Dave and Cynthia made themselves available as leaders of the s3 group so that the cyclists had speed options! Always a good thing! Dave and Cynthia were fabulous!

Barb Bird, Carole Laflamme and I stayed at Carusos. The next morning at 7am our hosts gave us breakfast of fresh fruit and yogurt, homemade scones with butter, tea, juice, coffee, sausages, eggs! After spending the night in the beautiful out of Africa room, this was just an added pleasure. Our hostess also provides massages and before our dinner at Portabellas I had the Caruso's special with hot stones! We heard stories from other cyclists of skimpy breakfasts but Carusos excelled themselves!

The bike route was designed with the help of the Bloomfield bike company and took on the Cressy loop to visit the fifth town cheese factory (where I had their signature goats milk and cheese ice cream) and have a splendid cider tasting at the County Cider. County Cider is perched on a hill overlooking lake Ontario. With its stone tasting room and wonderful lunch area with a wood fired oven, you could imagine yourself in Tuscany. Here we had cheese and cider and grapes. The cider was so good that some on the tour bought some. I agreed to carry it in my pannier with the proviso that they buy me a bottle! The Cressy loop is splendid and lined with lilacs and bordered by the lake.

We rode to the Milford Bistro where their amiable chef and owner welcomed us with specially prepared menus. After his description of the ceasar salad, that is what I ordered. Our chef provided us with an autographed photo of him and told us his wife was diagnosed a few days ago with a horrible cancer. We gave him a hug and I told him I was a cancer survivor and it can be beaten. It is strange where life takes us.

After a decadent lunch it was back on the bikes for a mandatory stop at the Bloomfield bike shop where Lauren got her bike fixed. This gave us TIME TO SHOP. The store has a library and yes, you can read paperbacks on their porch. They have T shirts that read "TV sucks, Ride your bike" I bought one with matching socks. The mechanics are all geniuses with bikes and the owner Katey hilarious. When I was there, a young boy rang the bell. The bell was labelled please
Ring for abuse" as he rang Katey told him his haircut was terrible and his T shirt was a mess. Seeing he did not get it she pointed out that he rang and indeed got abuse.

By the time we returned to Picton, it was time for a hot tub session and some Waupoose cider. The three of us recalled our day in the sun among the vines and surrounded by the sweet smells and tastes of Picton.

The ride on day one was about 85km.

That night we dined on classic French cuisine at the Bloomfield carriage house.

The second day, we lost our young couple who bowed out and Peter who was ill. This left 10 of us. Day two was a picnic lunch that some of us picked up at the marshmallow room, which is the bakery and pastry shop run by the owner of the Bloomfield carriage house. After a bit of confusion, our portabello mushroom and cheese sandwiches on freshly baked bread were ready. I had lemonade, a sandwich and and apple...lunch for a king!

On our second day we rode to big island. This is all farmland with beautiful barns and pastureland. There were sheep grazing on verdant fields that overlooked the lake, buff coloured boats tied to docks, purple lawn chairs, and a charming marina. We watched an Osprey feed its young! It was then on to the Closson Estates Vineyard and organic winery that makes oaked chardonnays. By this time our group had cycled over 80km and they were glad to stop, We unpacked our lunches and had some wine in the sun overlooking the fields behind the purple, yes purple barn.

We cycled to the grange for more wine tasting and were given free samples, (I had two) of their newest rose.

Now there is something funny about a lot of wine on a bicycle. We rode down the dirt road to our next destination, a large public beach used only by locals. It took me a while to steer. The beach is at the end of Bakker lane and is miles of UNPOPULATED sand and beauty. We were alone. The water was cold but had it been warmer what a spot for a small fire and a beach party! It made the famous sandbanks look sick!

At about 100km my group of Mary, Barb, Carole and Michele was flagging. We rode into Bloomfield where we had icecream and I thanked Katey at Bloomfield for her wise advice. I got a special price on socks!

At 118km we rode into Picton. I was sad to leave our splendid bed and breakfast with its warm hosts, charming little orange cat, garden and comfort.

I would sum this little journey as an excursion into pleasure. It was a lot of fun!

Friday, May 14, 2010

Biking the way it should be

Today Tom Seniuk, Carole Laflamme and I rode a 93 km loop leaving from Perth. The route was chosen by the chamber of commerce and had recommendations of where to stop and eat. Bravo for them!

The route was gorgeous, passing through Maberly and Elphin along little rivers, and falls, log cabins, rolling hills with horses and cows. There was a recommendation to stop and eat at Falls restaurant in Maberly. What a place! Organic, delicious, charming and cheap. I had an arctic char burger.

The roads had little or no traffic and were in fantastic shape. Perths chamber of commerce has a cycling committee and they hand out high quality routes of 20, 30, 50 or 90km. What a great idea.

I wish Ottawa would do the same. The route that the chamber of commerce committee mapped out was safe, gorgeous, scenic, quiet and blessed by an amazing local restaurant that were it not for the recommendation, I would have overlooked.

Today was bike touring the way it was meant to be. Fun, safe and filled with discovery. Today I learned that 3 cyclists were killed near Montreal riding on a busy road with no shoulders. Like all cyclists, I am saddened by that loss and this makes me even more thankful when I discover, or am told about wonderful cycling routes like the one today.

Monday, May 10, 2010

OK bike tour to Picton May 8th and 9th 2010

Manny Agulnik is an Ottawa institution who has organized bike tours for years under the name OK tours. His trademark OK tour is the Ottawa Kennebunkport tour where riders ride about 140km or more for four days. Picton was an exception and I had no idea other than I wanted to support him mainly because of the charity work he and his wife Paula do, and also because I like biking.

We stayed at the Jackson Falls school house inn. This is a truly lovely spot where we ate in what was the one room school house. The region of Picton had many such schoolhouses until they were closed and amalgamated in 1961. While the Jackson Falls school house was renovated there are other ghostly school houses, boarded up, dark and empty of students in the area. Manny had arranged for us to have breakfast and dinners there which was great!

The first day of riding was cold and windy. Some people believed the dire weather forecast and chose not to ride. Our little group of Morley, Manny, Scott, Isabelle, John and (his gf?) rode out ostensibly to Closson vineyards. We got as far as Bloomfield and after a wonderful lunch at the Bloomfield carriage house as we watched the rain and wind over portobello mushroom sandwiches and apricot bread, decided to go back.

The entire group was around 20 cyclists and I soon learned that my roomate Maggie was a wonderful well traveled lady with a zest for life. In fact, the entire group was lovely, friendly and supportive. I believe that Manny's personality has a lot to do with this. There were people who had done almost 10 tours with Manny, which is a tribute.

Being served dinners in a one room schoolhouse with old maps and wooden flooring was lovely. Even nicer was at night as it poured with rain, we heard and were lulled by the rain on the tin roof.

After the ride on Saturday, I went to oil my bike and lifted the heavy garage door. I got my fingers in my right hand crushed. There was no one around and my opera training came in handy. I screamed for help. I woke up John and his friendwho rushed out to help me. In fact I woke up everyone. John found a brass ornament and freed my hand. The pain was horrible and I feared I would lose the finger. John and drove me to the hospital all the while alerting the hospital staff.

The hospital staff told me that many from the group phoned to inquire about me. I came back to the Inn just in time for the main course, was cheered and plied with wonderful Picton wine. The innkeeper Pete gave me pain pills and a mysterious concoction with coffee and whiskey. I was told the next morning that when I went to bed I sang the Lord is my Shepherd.. and my roommate harmonized. Our neighours enjoyed the concert and then I went to sleep.

On Sunday morning after a wonderful breakfast of French toast and more chatting with our group, I met Joyce. Joyce is an Olympian of a cyclist and she, Morley and I set off to master the Cressy Loop. Some 70km in high winds and cold temperatures. The loop is beautiful with lovely pastoral scenes, old schoolhouses, and lilac bushes lining the roadways. Joyce and I stopped at the Cider House and of course the fifth town cheese factory. By the time we rejoined the group at the Waupoose winery for lunch I realized I was in pain, cold and tired. I was driven back to the Inn by Morley, I packed and drove home.

Manny organized a lovely tour and there were maps for everyone. The people on the tour were friendly, kind and the sort of people I would consider friends. It is fair to say that on an OK tour you meet cyclists and leave with friends.

Well done!

As for my finger, I do not appear to have nerve damage. It is battered and bruised but I will not lose the finger tip. I still have 9 other fingers with which to type and cycle!

Monday, May 3, 2010

CHEO 2010 ride

Yesterday on May 2nd, I rode in the CN Cheo bike ride. I had already registered the night before and had my bib pinned on my Red Army Vodka jersey. Thanks to my neighbour and friends, I had fundraised over 1300.00! In total there were 5000 riders and over 1/2 million dollars raised!

The ride began with a tribute to Tori, a little girl who died of cancer. They released balloons in her honour and I was in tears. It brought home the fact that the ride is not only for research and support, but also to honour those who did not make it and their families.

As the ride began, I was followed by a man with a camera and a microphone in a golf cart. "Why are you riding?" I was riding for my neighbour Emma, who has childhood leukemia. Her father died a year ago at 27 years old, and Emma has been in and out of CHEO. She has had more blood tests and blood counts than most of us would experience in our entire lives. She is a very brave little girl.

The ride was for 70km, but there was poor signage. The route was simple enough but confusion over whether we ride there and back, or there twice, and back once. The volunteers also did not know. The ride had numerous rest stops all manned with red shirted high school students urging us to drink ice cold water. As the day started off a little cool I was not in the mood to drink ice water. (mistake number one)

I was unsure of the route and worried we would be on a bike path, so I took my touring bike. Because I took my touring bike, I decided to pack a rack bag. I have a new axiom rack pack which is really too slim for my rack bag..but I put it on. I had a video camera, repair kit, first aid kit, jacket, camera, pencil and paper and heavy chain just in case. I made sure to pack my cool gel pack, also in 'case.'(mistake number two)

All of this was not needed. The route had enough stops and rest and water that I did not need any of this equipment. Tommy and Lefebvre had provided a mechanic at one of the rest stops near Brittania. He was doing a brisk trade assisting with gears and in one case a minor accident. Oddly, I did not see very many or any first aid people. If they were there, they were hidden.

I learned there are three kinds of riders. There are the Tour de France wannabes, who will blaze past you without calling out huffing and puffing as they go along. Usually their ample bellies fill their overly tight cycling clothes! There are the first time out riders, who come with heavier bikes and large padded saddles and the families. I was most touched by a family who were pushing their son, clearly in chemo as he had no hair and was shaded with a hat and glasses, his face puffy.

I found a KNBC rider, whose wife Judy used to sing with me. He had broken his ankle last year and drafted behind me. We took several breaks. Along the way, we passed children and parents riding, bike buddies, recumbents, smaller children in CHEO shirts, larger kids appeared everyone was out for the event.

Back at the war museum site, there were bikes everywhere, against posts, chained to posts, in a secure area...on the grass. Strollers, blades of every colour and assortment and a sea of coloured jerseys. There was a magic show in which a little girl in a red cape caused a large bunny to appear, music, prizes (did not win!) and hamburgers and fries for all! It was a riot of colour and life, with llamas and sheep to be pet, reptiles to amaze, a bouncy castle...against what can be a very bleak time for children and their families.

May 2nd was a glorious day as I rode past tulips of flame, and cream and red colours. May 2nd was awash with dandelions, and apple blossoms and the warmth and promise of summer yet to come.

At lunch, I removed my bag only to find that the cool gel pack, which I have carried for years 'in case', had exploded. When a cool pack explodes it extrudes what can best be described as fine white crystals that look like hoar frost. You can wash the bag over and over, or wipe it and the crystals get on your hands, shorts and jerseys! I had lunch looking like I had had a run in with a grocery store walk in freezer! Three cycles in the washing machine, and my jersey and shorts are back to normal!

When I rode home, I realized I was sunburned and badly dehydrated. Memo to self drink!

Here is what I learned:
1) There is no need to bring a bag that includes a gel pack and the kitchen sink
2) When high school students in red shirts beg you to drink water..heed their counsel
3) Take in the joy and the great sites
4) Thank the volunteers along the route...a lot of cyclists don't do this.

Thanks to everyone who helped me out with this one!

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Armida or what a woman will do

Today I was at the metropolitan opera, well listening to an HD broadcast of Armida by Rossini. It is rarely performed and no wonder, the singing is incredibly technically difficult and all bel canto. Renee Fleming and Lawrence Brownlee were the leads and sang magically as Armida the sorceress and Rinaldo the warrior.

The opera is about the conflict between love and duty, or cupid and fury. It takes you into the underworld. There was a hilarious scene when the furies from the underworld did a ballet. The ballet in the second act was outstanding, again on the theme of love and duty or masculinity and femininity.

Armida is a sorceress and has an island of pleasure, it is always spring or fall despite what the outside says, it is secluded and beautiful, inhabited by nymphs. What is so wrong about that? Like the Star Trek Episode the Lotus eaters, we know it wont last. Paradise never does.

In Act three, Rinaldos warrior buddies, armed with religion come to reclaim Rinaldo from his enalavement to love. They convince him that honour and bloody battle is better and he follows them.

Armida is distraught, in what is the most beautiful and poignant singing I have ever heard, Renee Fleming pleads telling Rinaldo she will be a servant, cut off her hair, tend his horses and even go to battle with him. She even begs him to kill her, as life is not worth living without him. She tries every trick in the book but it is all for naught. He leaves her, alone and broken on her island. She renounces love and calls upon the furies to destroy her paradise.

The moral of the story, furies, revenge and honour always win over love and pleasure and in the end, destroy it all. The human condition is not meant to be lived in paradise.

Lawrence Brownlee is a young tenor with a magnificent tone in his tenor range. He is convincing on the high as well as the low notes and mastered the part admirably. Renee Fleming was at her finest. When Brownlee sings with Fleming there is never the any note you can sing I can sing louder, only sublime texture, finesse and tenderness. The opera was a treat for all my senses~

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