Sunday, July 31, 2011

Bon Ton Roulet 2011


The Joys of Tourism

This was my second year doing this tour. For the first year I brought heavy bags, did not pack well and did the long routes each day. I did not stop at the designated site seeing places and came home very tired. I was focused on performance and pitted myself against the routes.

This year, I packed lighter, rented a mattress and did the short route, doing all of the little museums and stops along the way. My cycling speed was much faster, I climbed very well and had a great time discovering things from woman's sufferage to antique bicycles in historical centers. I discovered a farm with Jersey cows that made gelato and fabulous cheese, I discovered a produce store that served as a temporary shelter in a torrential rain..that also served the best pie ever.

By being a tourist, I learned to really enjoy the region. I did not rush but was able to pass most people on the hills and arrive at the end point in plenty of time to take a shower, relax, set up my tent and read.

There were adventures as well! My expensive carbon cycling shoe with ratchets broke and I held it on with a used inner tube. Oddly it worked better than the ratchet! My new MSR Hubba tent that was so highly touted and rated actually broke. The pole snapped on the final night. I was saved by Marc who rode a tandem with his 72 year old mother. His mother produced a knitting needle that was able to feed the elastic tubing through my broken pole allowing me to attach the spare pole section. It worked. Luckily that was the last camping night of the tour.


Being a tourist allowed me to take my time and enjoy. At one point I was almost knocked down by a female cyclist at breakfast. "I have lost 10 minutes!!" she exclaimed as she bolted up the stairs. "I hope you find it" I said. There is no lost time, only time wasted in worry about time, or about performance and distance.

This years tour was a true Zen experience for me. I let go of all of my performance driven anxieties and enjoyed my gelato, cheese and company. I rode with two gentlemen from New Jersey who worked at the same hospital. One of them Lloyd who rode a tandem shared all of my interests in history, politics etc and like me, relished the beauty of the hills, the colours of the hay in the fields, the fresh air and the experience.

As it rained, I recalled what a Buddhist sage once said, which is to embrace the rain, and feel its wetness. I did not mind the rain. I embraced it and bought a rain jacket. I found beauty in the wet landscape, the dark skies and the dark shining roads. The more you fight with what is inevitable, the less happy you are. I chose to accept and had a fantastic trip.

This year I did not struggle with the course, I did not set myself against the route and the hills, I embraced them...they seemed to roll easily beneath my wheels as I felt the sun on my skin and the breeze on my face.

Being a tourist is clearly the way to ride.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Dogs and conscience


Thomas Aquinas believed that dogs could not go to heaven, because they had no soul. He articulated a soul as the capacity to exert free will. A person with a soul must have a conscience.

Today I wonder if dogs have a conscience. Do dogs really know when they have done wrong without you telling them? My rescue dog Sophie is a true pirate dog. She believes that any food is fair game and takes delight in stealing.

I am going on a long bike trip and have packed special food bars. Some of them are chocolate and coffee, others peanut butter. Each bar is sealed in foil, and that placed in a plastic bag and that in a larger bag. I left to pick up my car and returned to see a foil wrapper, thankfully for peanut butter and jelly, on the floor. There were traces of torn wrapper that led, yes right to the pirates lair...her food dish.

Sophie had no idea she was doing wrong. She was rather proud of her accomplishment and sat beside me gleefully. There was no remorse, no apology. Sophie enjoyed her ill gotten gains without apology, guilt or even an upset stomach!

There are three levels to a conscience. The first level is when we don't do an action because we know there will be punishment. This is when the owner chastises the dog. This is self preservation! A second, and higher level, is that we don't do an action because we know it will upset the social order or others. This is the fear of social chastisement. Had Sophie been at this level, she would have known such a theft would clearly have upset me and confused the other dogs. The third level of conscience, Aquinas would say is we do not sin or do wrong, in order to please God. I would say that we often choose the right path out of love. It can be love of one's family, or simply to obey one's moral compass. We do this action because it is the right thing to do. This is often demonstrated by people who have risked their lives to save others. They will often just say 'it was the right thing to do'. This higher level of conscience I believe can be seen in dogs. There are stories of dogs sacrificing themselves to save a family member in fires or situations of danger.

Sophie failed somewhere between the first and second level of conscience. She is amoral. I am not sure the same can be said for all dogs. Thomas clearly never owned a dog!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Suntanning..pastime of the dinosaurs

I have never worn sunscreen. My cycling friends do. They slather it on, greasing themselves like ducks before going into the oven. I believe that putting chemicals on the largest organ of your body and then cooking it, is a recipe for disaster. A few days ago, I had my FIRST sunburn. Nothing serious, a little peeling on the arm but since I am going on a six day bike tour, I decided to purchase sunscreen. I opted for Zinc oxide as the likelihood of that being absorbed by my skin is next to none.

I went to Bushtakah today to pick up sunscreen and other products for my bike tour next week. At Bushtakah I was greeted by a salesclerk of my vintage who shares my philosophy of sunscreen. We explained it to a young salesgirl in her 20's. She looked at us as if we were dinosaurs. In her generation, once the baby comes out of the womb it is slathered and greased with thick white SPF 200 solution. Kids of her generation never questioned sunscreen, it just came with the territory. Want to step outside? Wait wait get the sunscreen. Don't forget your ears! Diaper bags have special pockets so parents can carry sunscreen!

Most of these young folks never know what it means to have a sunburn. She winced as we told her of putting tinfoil around our faces to tan, and using baby oil. I must confess, while I did not use baby oil, my solution was Dark Tropic Tan.. spf 2. I wore that when I was sailing in the Caribbean and to my surprise my feet got sunburned.

The young salesgirl no doubt has heard that "Sun is bad" all her life and is indoctrinated. I on the other hand, live in Canada where for 10 months of the year (or so it seems) we are encased in snow and ice. When the sun and the warmth do appear I relish it like a pagan Druid, rejoicing in the heat and almost worshiping the sun. If the sun gets too strong, I will put on a long sleeve shirt or get in the shade. I got burned a little because I am a cyclist and hence exposed to the elements.

I used dark tanning oil as a teenager and so did all of my friends. I have never had a skin problem. I suspect that if I had slathered on SPF 100 and covered my pores with thick, white glue as parents do to their children nowadays, it may have been a different story.

Blame it on the thinning ozone layer caused by most people insisting on private gas powered transportation (aka a car), but my sunburn has caused me to actually buy sunscreen, albeit organic and a modest SPF 15!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Overplanning and bike touring

I have a friend who describes herself as a destination person. She counts off days before her trip and if there was a transporter beam to take her to her destination she would beam there.

I enjoy the planning, probably because I am disorganized. This week I went on a three day two night bike camping trip and while I was packing and planning, you would think I was preparing for an expedition to the rainforest or at least Mt. Everest.

It became very evident that my old camping gear from my canoe camping days was not suitable. While I had a great stove, you had to prime and pump it, I could see this breaking so bought a simple little canister stove. The stove is very simple and plugs into a can of fuel. It is not like cooking over a fire. I quickly learned that you cant just turn it on, boil water and keep your water hot as we did over a fire. I ran out of fuel after making some bacon, a paltry amount of coffee and some eggs. Hmmmm.

My tent from canoe camping days was a nice light tent but a little low, so I bought a new ultra light tent, ditto for a new sleeping pad and sleeping bag. I finally have a sleeping bag that is warm enough...maybe too warm!

Titanium forks, bowls that collapse, small kettles and a food pack that I could hang and I was set. I also bought a hammock...luxury.

Towels..my pack towels are technological marvels. They fold into the size of a handkerchief and fold out to the size of a large beach towel and weigh about an ounce. They dry instantly.

Bike outfits with matching socks...that was easy but which ones to bring? I decided wisely on bib shorts for the entire trip.

When I finally decided what to pack, I must have repacked my bags 100 times to minimize what I was taking. I decided I did not need long pants or a sweater (needed both so I bought an Army surplus sweater). I decided that I did not need dental wax...mistake had to pick up some. Our livingroom looked like a war room with maps, notes etc.

I packed by Kobo reader. That was a real bonus..nothing like reading before bed. I also packed a journal with a fountain pen. The journal was small enough to carry and I journalled on some of our stops.

Once the bags are packed, and the bike loaded, the next adventure was actually getting on the bike. It was hard to vault over such high bags. Once you got going the momentum carried you but hard to stop. There is no way I could pack 'shorter' bags because of the length of the tent. However I saw Jim had strapped his tent to his back carrier hence his bags were shorter and thus easier to get over. I will copy that next time!

The trip itself after all my planning and detailing was almost an anticlimax. My trips usually are because of the attention I put into planning and packing. By the time I actually take my trip, I have already taken it in my mind many times over!

My friend is right. She would have thrown a few things in a bag, had a more spontaneous time and enjoyed herself. She would not have camped but thrown a few belongings in a bag and stayed in a hotel and she would have enjoyed the adventure!

Monday, July 4, 2011

The Freedom of Biking


When I was 13 years old I got a new bike. It was a blue supercycle with white tire walls and a white saddle. I remember feeling immense pride in owning a bike and also great pleasure and a sense of freedom as I rode it around the town. It was my route, my bike, my choice.

Some 40 years later, I still bike. I love the speed and the sense that I can use my bike to do almost anything. I don't need a car to get me places. Recently I reintroduced myself to bike camping. There is nothing like the feeling of riding a bike with your camp gear and indeed your entire world on wheels. Fantastic.

When I bike, I feel that I am not ruining the planet for my own enjoyment. The only carbon dioxide I emit is from my own breath! I love the silence and being so close to the scenery that I can stop anywhere to enjoy the vistas. I love the fact that the bike is powered by me, not some engine. I love the fact that there are no traffic jams when I am on a bike, I can zip around like a cat.

I love the fact that I can park anywhere, parking spaces are always available and I can park my bike close to where I stop for a break or to have a picnic. If my bike breaks down, I can usually fix it and for the most part I can maintain my bike,

Cars are clumsy and awkward. They require mechanics and parts and are expensive to run. They run on gas and make you fat. My bike runs on fat and uses no gas!

Ottawa is considered one of the cycling capitals of the world. We have numerous bike paths that can take you almost anywhere and for the most part, cars are getting used to the idea that the bike is a vehicle and yes, we do ride ON the roads, not hugging the curb or on the sidewalk. Over 40 years later when I ride my bike, it is still my route, my choice, my freedom!

Vive le Velo!

Karine's Blog

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