Archive for July, 2010

July 30, 2010

Wooed by a pedorthist

By the time I mailed the packaged I’d come to a decision. The knee only bugged me aboard the bike. I could feel it walking around but it wasn’t bad as long as I didn’t lift the leg too high.

Yesterday while riding I’d already been on the rampage for another idea should biking the country prove undoable.

With the knee hurting this bad I figured I could keep going to Port-Aux Basques and that’d be it. Somehow I’d get a Greyhound for Halifax. There I could box the bike up, buy a back pack and walk home. If I ever got to Ontario I could even get a canoe an paddle across the lakes to save some time. Sound crazy? Don’t put it passed me.

This much I’d determined: The country was getting crossed, and on my own power. Get rich or die trying.

It would change everything. Plans for the winter would be wiped. Skip patrol would be out. I’d even done time/distance calculations and concluded on inevitably wading through snow. Skiing at least part of the way home was beginning to have a purchase on realism.

Other ideas had been to bike the whole trip standing up. That would be possible but brutal. What about a BMX? Comical and time-costly, but possible. What about a skate board? No way in hell was I roller-blading, though I’m told it’s been done.

Whatever I did, it would wait a day. Corner brook was alright, despite the fart smell of the mill, but more importantly, it was the only place to stay. Stephenville was far down the road and 30K off the highway.

That morning I’d woken up by rays coming in through the branches. The long grass was swinging in my face to a gentle ocean wind and the small brown slugs crawled everywhere leaving trails on the wet outer surface of the bivy bag. But as I left the post office the sky was bruised like a pole-dancers ankles. By the time I got back to The Lair, the rain was licking at my heels. Would this ever stop?

When I’d sat too long sending pointless emails, chatting, surfing, going to the washroom, I walked outside into the storm. It was like one of those days when you feel drunk even though you’re not. The world fades and tunnel vision sets in. You wonder if your sick.

There was a hiking store across the street and I went in. It had caught my attention yesterday because of a weird set of double doors, camping paraphernalia on one end of the store and shoes and purses on the other. Like someone from reno had knocked out a few walls and combined two totally different venues.

I’d been standing there dripping for two minutes when a lady asked what was up and I spewed some questions about a new bivy bag just to fake her out. Then I asked if she’d heard a weather report. I’d checked it on the net twenty minutes ago and tomorrow was supposed to be fine. But I asked anyway.

Here’s a journal excerpt:

… she shrugs and points to man named Dave who seems to have all the answers. He promptly rattles off a column about the weather saying it will improve by tonight.

Okay. One down. Then I ask him if the uni here rents rooms during the summer and he says yes.

We fall into conversation about the bike trip and I mention the problem with the knee…Dave tells me that in addition to owning this store he is also a pedorthist and has a clinic.

“A what?”

“A pedorthist. A foot specialist.”

I see. Dave actually looks like doctor. He is round from head to toe, but not fat. He looks like the stout type of man who’d wear a black vest and have small spectacles on a chain, maybe a stethoscope, and ride through blizzards to enter small cabins and shake his head slightly, out of view of the person dying of cholera. He just seems like that type of guy. This is what you get from reading too much Little House On The Prairie as a kid.

Now here’s the wikipedia definition:

A Certified Pedorthist, or C. Ped. is a specialist in using footwear – which includes shoes, shoe modifications, foot orthoses and other pedorthic devises – to solve problems in, or related to, the foot and lower limb.

He tells me to sit and remove my footwear…

“Trust me,” I say, “that’s a bad idea.”

I’ve been wearing these socks, soaked, then drying on my feet as I pedal for three days. Or four. He doesn’t seem to mind. I guess foot-doctors have seen their share.

…Examines both my feet, pushes a bit, and immediately recognizes that one naturally twists more than the other, meaning, he explains, that when I thrust downward on the pedal i put some sort of bad pressure…

He explains that the knee cap slides in grooves. When my foot twists naturally, under all that weight of pedalling the bike, the knee cap tries to run out off its groove, explaining the pushy-uppy feeling I’ve been having, like it’s about to explode out the top.

We pull out the insoles and Dave shows me where the wear is most intense – the inside of my right foot.

Hmm. Interesting. I think of the bones of animals and know now what grooves he’s talking about.

But I’ve bike toured before and never had this issue, I say to Dave. But with this this amount of weight, he asks.

No. I think about when Natty and I went over the Rockies from AB to BC in 2007. It was so damn hot we didn’t even have sleeping bags, just hoodies. We slept in the day and pedalled at night and footwear was flip-flops.

Today, add equipment I’m not used to and the problems begins to look like an equation. And equations can be solved.

There could be a fix for this Dave says, and tells me to wait a sec while he disappears downstairs. He returns shortly with a two millimetre half-moon-shaped insert to go beneath the insole of my shoe. This will off-set the extra twisting.

“Normally I’d tell you to stick around for a day, but I guess you want to get out of NL.”

It’s like I said, this guy has all the answers. “Tell you what, I hope it works, If it doesn’t you can probably find somewhere else along the way to get better help.”

“What happens when it wears out?” I say stupidly.

“It won’t. Look at it. It wont wear out. Its plastic.”

I’m flabbergasted. Guess I know where God’s been hiding. He gave up the Stan four thousand years ago and moved to NL.

Dave and I talk a long time and he gives me a business card. We talk various hikes, East West and North coast trails, The Yukon river and the traverse across Gros Morne. I ask about possibilities of distance and direction for paddling the Churchill but he doesn’t know much about it. He has another store in Happy Valley Goose Bay and they deal a lot with NATO…

He told me how Happy Valley is really a desert covered in trees. Sand – a thousand feet down in the ground it’s all sand. A bulldozer can be used as an excavator and a house foundation put in in one day.

I ask him about the large informal trailer parks, like communes, I saw on the way from S. Brook and he tells me they’re descendants or legacy-riders of gravel-pit campers, hippies who formed campsites in the massive gravel quarries used during construction of the TCH.

He also tells me about the re-settlement that occurred in the fifties to seventies which is why there are so many ghost towns along the coast of NL.

We bid farewell and I got to he uni and rent a room. I’m exhausted and and from 1730 to 2230, get up shower, do a few things, read, fall asleep.

Tomorrow I’ll see about the insert. Inside the shoe I don’t even feel it.

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July 24, 2010

Purging

When in doubt, purge. If in doubt about purging, purge more. Discover minimalism and you’ll never go back.

I always think of the trip in the states. Standing outside the Walmart in Arkansas, Reno an Penny who we’d ridden with for three days in their stolen jeep, gone. The snow that was falling. Me in my white T-shirt. Natty wearing my brown hoodie. Our wallets and that was it. Natty swearing and me just standing there feeling free, more free than I’ve ever felt, before or since.

For breakfast I went to a Europeen bakery, like the one mom had but bigger, that also specialized in bulk products and doubled as a coffee shop.

The lady had lived in van, then Sudbury. I sat by the window and wrote in the journal for a bit, then asked for a box, say, double the size of one that shoes would come in. She had one. Perfect.

The coffee and writing had felt good. All I had for food was a bag of rolled oats and some yogurt from last night and I sat on a concrete curb on a hill above the post office [everything in corner brook is downhill or uphill] and ate it all. One thing I’ve learned: Alway’s bring a spoon. Always.

Then it was time to do some sorting.

Johno and I have different ideas about packing. This is mine:

Not Starving plus Not Freezing = Good Living.

His is a bit more detailed, like this:

Stove + tent + sleeping bag + sleeping pad + lots of clothing + garbage bags + first aid kit + extra food and matches just in case = acceptable camping conditions.

There’s no wrong or right answer of course. People are different. He’ll carry a pound or two extra by default and I’m always going underweight. Probably I’m just weak.

The point is, the front panniers, the ones hanging off the front wheel of my bike, could now go. Along with them went a bag of sugar, the stove the pot,the sleeping pad, the headlamp and other sundries.

That left me with the bivy, the sleeping bag, extra socks [I’ve brought old worn out ones this trip so most of them can just get thrown out instead of washed.] toque, sweater and rain jacket. Also, the pump, spare tire, and tubes, laptop and journal.

It all went perfectly into the two back panniers.

July 24, 2010

Corner Brook: Johno finalized

That was the middle of NL. Deer lake was next. A few memories here. Natty and I slept in the truckers lounge at the Irving when we waited for the DRL. Deer Lake is where the highway splits. Go right and your path branches off through Gros Morne and sacrifices itself to the northern peninsula. In Cow’s Head you’ll find dinner theatre [all of NL is obsessed with dinner theatre] , thrombolites in Flowers Cove, iceberg alley and the tiny town of st. Anthony about 60 K from L’anse aux Meadows where the vikings landed. Go at the right time of year and you’ll stop your car for the long herds of moose. Beneath their hoofs the concrete suffocates.

But I kept up the bee-line. The north had been seen but the West was yet untouched.

Deer Lake [ the lake itself] is very nice by the way, but I didn’t stop. The knee was distracting me.

Late in the day i rolled into Corner Brook, a nice little mill town. Imagine a pleasant, down-scaled version of Prince George by the water [pipe dream, I know].

The geography here differs from the east. Gone are the endless evergreens rolls and I’m almost reminded of BC. Low mountains rise sharply, good enough for the ski resort called Marble Mountain, and through them runs the Humber river.

The funny thing about towns like this is that if you were flying above them in a plane you might look down and think ‘man, that looks like an active little town down there.’

You might even think this if you were entering the city on a bike. You might even think, ‘this could be a good place to live’.

But you have to watch yourself. Bike up and down the main street for two laps and you almost want to get going again.

I think this is a travellers-itch thing. You really have to focus to stay in the moment. How easy it is to get somewhere, look for a second and say, ‘okay, next thing’.

And that’s probably what i would’ve have done.

Except for the little thing with my knee.

How every time I raised my leg to swoop down on the pedal, the kneecap felt like it was exploding up and out.

Every colour played beautiful on Corner Brook in the glowing dying light. Every brick building was red and the river gleamed and the thick stinking smoke billowed from the mill by the water. But through the pain it was all black and white.

I ate Timmy’s again [I could work at Timmy’s, I’d be so good. ]

It doesn’t matter who you walk up to and say ‘I’d like soup and sandwich combo to go, ham and swiss, medium black coffee with potato bacon soup, not toasted on brown.”

Like automatons these people still say, “for here or to go? What kind of sandwich? Soup? Medium coffee? Black? Toasted? On Brown?

They should just make a little check list that people fill out while standing in line.

At the south end of town by a leaning, paint-peeling strip bar I found internet in a place called The Lair. Doesn’t matter where you go, you’ll always find these D&D types lurking somewhere.

A fat guy with purple hair told me his story about living in Toronto and working for a software company for five year,s then moving back here and opening his own business. Its been going really good. Build it and they will come. I dug out every quarter and penny, then I changed out of spandex in the washroom and on the wall were posters for Gears of War, Halo and Zelda.

Johno wrote me on Facebook:
…I write this with a heavy heart, but I’m going to have to call it here, there’s no way I can keep biking with my knee feeling like it does. I went on a little excursion to Sobey’s this morning and after resting and pill popping like crazy the last few days (watched a lot of daytime TV) the knee has not improved at all.
I’ve taken the bike to the store to get boxed and I’ll figure out how to get it home soon…
Hope the riding’s going well and the Newfie weather is being kinder.

When it got dark I went up the hill where the high-school was and behind it there was a bluff of birches separating a playing field. The grass was thick and the bike well-wrapped in blackness between thin trunks. Most of my stuff was fairly dry now. I’d hung it up in the motels. The night sky was clear.

July 18, 2010

Drowning

After leaving Johno I rode on to Port Blandford, about 40K down the road and right outside the entrance to Terra-Nova. Just a little smear of houses, a church, store and post office clinging to life beside the dead NL Railway [which saw its last train in November of 1990].

In the morning it was bagels and trail mix at five. I had removed the toe-straps by this time, the only thing that was holding my foot, against their own power, on the pedals. Everyone and his dog had said i should at least have something if not clip-less pedals but they were pissing me off.

Terra Nova was nice but mostly without view. The main road runs mostly through the dense woods and i was too committed to Gander that day to make any deviation. I met a father son team from Quebec who had started from Montreal and headed East. From SJ they’d fly to Van and carry on back home.

At Gander I ate at Timmy’s and phoned the parents and let them know about Johno. Gander’s decent enough and I’d originally planned to stop here, maybe go into the army base and see if i could get a free bed.

But I looked at the sky and the sun was only three quarters over and I though, to hell with it, let’s see if I can break a record.

At 2330 I arrived in Grand Falls/Windsor. 218Km, not bad. I’d thrown MEC turtle lights on the handle bars and seat to make myself a real carnival for passing semis, and my right knee was killing me. The last K’s had to be walked since it felt like the knee cap was trying to slip upwards and out of place. The muscles everywhere were dead and I was passed that point where you keep making small mistakes out of fatigue, like loosing your balance. Maybe it was dumb, but the ride had been worth it.

I ate Timmy’s again. I’d got a big book of coupons in the Stan and also gift cards from people at home, about eighty bucks worth, but the line-up was so long for the few days I was in KAF that I’d never bothered to go.

Afterwards I dragged myself to a Walmart and lay down behind an outbuilding, the bike standing locked between me and the wall.

Stuff was getting arranged in the bivy bag when I felt the rain and thought dammit!

It was just me being dumb of course. I’d told Johno to take the tent, I didn’t want to carry it. The bivy bag is army issue, a big Gore-Tex sack that you crawl into with everything you need dry. This one has seen a lot of wear and tear, with the army and otherwise. I’d always hung onto it since its green and I didn’t want to get the new one in digital pattern since it sticks out in civy-side like a clown at a funeral.

But yeah, it was finished and I’d always known I’d be giving it up the hard way, by getting soaked one night and maybe catching my death.

The weather remained unimproved but I was dead to the world and didn’t care, but fell asleep in minutes, and in the morning I woke up early and realized I was soaked. It was warm anyway, and I rolled over to see the bike was still there, then rolled again and went back to sleep, the rain hitting my face and running down my neck into the sleeping bag.

When I finally got up, packed, and hit the road again, I felt the flat. I’d come off the sidewalk with an unusual bounce, knew what it was, and the quick reaction had been a run across the street to Canadian Tire. I’d forgotten the tire hook when i left Johno, and its a huge pain to change one without them, not to mention the danger of damaging a wheel-rim. Crappy Tire had nothing, but Walmart did and I fixed the offending member under the friendly awning by the entrance. I even stopped a lady and told her a senseless lie about writing a book about bicycle touring in Newfoudland and getting her to take a picture of me. Its amazing how many people actually point the camera themselves and try to take picture of you: Its happened twice on this trip already.

After that there was nothing to do but push on.

I only made 20 K that day. It had to do with having been stupid when i was fixing the flat, not checking inside the tire properly and failing to find the fine wire hair that had caused the puncture.

As I pedalled along it was matter of stopping every two or three K to re-inflate the one I’d just put in which had also sprung a leak. The going itself was difficult due to a hard head-wind.

I stopped in Badger and said screw it. The next hint at civilization would be South Brook, 60 K from here.

The hotel was fifty bucks that I’ll never remember and the fish and chips were sent by God in the form of an Asian woman with a Newfie accent. Still in spandex I sat by the window and let the heat come back to my finger tips, let the coffee fill my stomach and return me to life.

It was good to get internet time, answer emails, and begin something of a blog. I also fixed the flat again and this time removed the hair-thin antagonist. A bath followed, and after that, unconsciousness. The bed was soft as a girl’s inner thigh.

The same gray skies met me in the morning. Outside the wind lashed the ground and made long moving patterns on huge puddles, and the rain was falling in sheets.

Rain gear on I sent a last glance around the room to check for anything forgotten. Good to go. No more procrastinating. The only way to get sun sometimes is by charging into the rain.

But the day is hardly worth a mention. I remember it like a bad dream, not a frightening one, but very frustrating. The wind was doing 40km gusts and practically sending me backwards. There’s nothing like having to peddle down long steady hills because if you don’t the wind will bring you to a stop and knock you flat.

Soon my hands were wood and the black Mechanix gloves, the dust from the Stan rained out of them, were soaked and useless. I had to stop a lot to just lean over in the torrent and blow on them, or squeeze them between my crotch or armpits to get the blood back in . It was one of those days were you curse yourself and you curse God and you wonder what drove you to do this in the first place. Maybe you cry hard tears and scream at the storm in anger. If I’d had claws I’d be tearing myself to pieces. But these are the same emotions that we always forget when that day passes. It’s almost as if it never happened. The brain puts up a wall because if we remembered this stuff the way we lived it, we could never do what we really want.

At the end of the 60K I was done like road-kill and soaked to the bone. The ride had gone on for seven hours – a distance I usually do in three.

Now a hotel room again. I winced. This was not the trip I’d been imagining. I was thinking very much about Johno’s tent.

But in the evening things cleared up. The skies drew back like curtains and the twilight sun appeared. I had been writing and writing about other things all afternoon and in the sinking light I went out for a walk over a long quiet bridge spanning a river, or a brook [South Brook?]

There was general store nearby and I found some food and mailed postcards before going back.

July 9, 2010

Johno wrapped up

That was a good sleep. Someone keyed open the door to our locked referee’s room in the middle of the night, then scrammed when they saw us in our sleeping bags. Nothing else came of it.

At five the racket from the rink had died down and when I stuck my head out volunteers were cleaning up and people were leaving.

We packed up and retrieved the bikes, then went for a triple breakfast at the same old McDonald’s. If Sweet-Sixteen was around she didn’t show her face.

I had hand-writing to catch up on in the Moleskine and Johno grabbed Sayonara [James A. Mitchener] off me after re-reading the comics five or six times.

The delay was due to a few things, otherwise it could’ve been a good early start. For one there’s a hospital in Clarenville and the next one is Gander which is too far. The knee issue with Johno was reaching crisis proportions and the last thing we needed were two busted knee caps in the middle of Terra Nova National Park. Church was another reason: You sin a bit, you worship a bit, it all evens out.

I’d said to Johno at some point [and my buddy AJ once, on the way downtown] “don’t worry, God kills those he loves, so we’ve got tons of time to straighten ourselves out.”

At eight we went up to a grocery store across the street and shortly after that we hit up New Life Christian Center. There were ten or so misfits in attendance and a handful of kids but the worship leader, God bless him, though he was at Woodstock. After another thirty minutes of racket a guy who was replacing the pastor that week came up and talked a bit, even made Johno and I wave since we’d never been here before. The sermon was probably good but I’m not sure ’cause I kept nodding off, for which I blame cancer and bad music and hard linoleum flooring. The smart thing in here woudl’ve been to forward a prayer about Johno’s knees but of course we forgot.

After that it was the hospital which was busy enough for such a small place. I was thinking about the bikes all alone outside with all our worldly goods on them and left Johno to do the waiting.
The afternoon was spent bumming around, reading, eating and killing time at Canadian Tyre. My mind’s mind had already turned to contingency plans in case Johno’s part in the play got kyboshed or even just delayed a day or two.

At one point I went to see where he was at and found him walking behind a nurse from one room to another.

We gave each other one of those awkward grins that go hand in hand with hospital atmosphere and he said he’d already had shots and was going in for X-rays. Sounded damn pleasant to me.

In total he was gone for five hours.

We met at the bikes. I’d been out for a stroll and he had just got out, his knees wrapped up in wide tensure bandages as if they needed complete refurbishing.

“So…” He said, “Not good. Doctor said I’ve got something called Irritable Knee Syndrome.”

Oh yes. Irritable Knee Syndrome. These Newfie doctors. “He said I’ve got to rest up for least four days and then see how it is. I might need surgery for it.”

Needles to say it was the first thing we’d feared and the last we’d expected. If anything, even after Whistler, I’d been convince that if there was any going down to be done it would be up to me. It’s not like I’d done much training for this trip.

I’d been reflecting hard all afternoon and so had he. We avoided the necessary outcome [splitting up] for few minutes and just talked about causes.

Maybe walking around in the Stan for seven months with all kinds of crap on my back had actually worked in my favour. It was just a surprise. A few times I’d managed to get into a gym there and get on a stationary bike, and I did a lot of running up the hill to the observation post, but other than that, most of what we did in the Stan was walk around, and that slowly, so we wouldn’t hurt ourselves by twisting knees in irrigated fields with a 150 lbs on our backs.

Now Johno is a racer. That’s what he does. He’s used to these crazy carbon-fibre, super-duper high end space-bikes that weigh less than a bottle of milk. Going on heavy steel frames like this with all our baggage, and having not trained for it much, was probably what did him in.

I also had private ideas about clipless pedals [pedals you clip into with your biking shoe] being bad and had refused to get some for myself. But to each his own. Whatever it was, for now, Johno’s game was over, and here we were in Clarenville just burning up daylight.

“Okay. I’ve been thinking a bit about back-up plans.” I said.

There was really only one thing to do. Johno would have to grab the bus back to St John’s with his bike and hang out at the uni and recover while I continued through NL. There is a ferry that goes [only seasonally] from Argentia, a two day ride from St John’s, to North Sydney NS. The ferry we had planned to take was the one on the other side of southern NL at Port Aux Basque, but both boats end up in the same place. The idea was that to bike properly accross Canada [because how often do we do this? – we might as well do it right] we had to go to Port Aux Basques.

But if Johno hung out in SJ for a few nights it would give me the time needed and then some, to execute the desired route [because for me it was not an option -with or without Johno I had to do the whole trip]. At that point he could make the ride to Argentia and decide if his knees were healed enough.

So that’s what we decide on.

Now if you ever go to NL, don’t count on a Greyhound, because, as I found out the hard way once, there are none.

There is only one coach company in NL called DRL and quality is great but it still feels a bit wild-west -ish. You don’t buy tickets, just pay the driver in cash. The coach runs every day from SJ to PAB [Port Aux Basques, and vice versa, making 25 stops at various towns. Since we were still close to SJ the coach hadn’t come yet. There were a few errands to run, and gear to transfer between bikes and from a girl at Walmart we heard that the bus would be coming in at 1900, stopping at the Irving truck stop like they always do. Perfect timing.

I’d already decided to make up lost time and carry on a bit that night. Among other gear that I got from Johno was the frame pump and trip computer.

The Last Supper was fish and chips at the Irving Restaurant.

Outside I stopped for a sec and talked to a guy who said he’d gone accross Canada like this after he graduated, but he’d had less stuff than we. The prairies were hell apparently.

Then Johno and I just stood there till the bus pulled up a few minutes later.

My only concern at this point was if the bus driver would allow a bike in the bagage compartment without being boxed up. There are a lot of companies out there that don’t allow it, but that’s the good thing about a little company like DRL on the Rock: Flexibility guaranteed.

“Okay-” I said to Johno. There was the obligatory hug – very fast and manly I promise – no bro-mance here. “Get better. Get better. I’ll see you in a bit. We can relay through the parents. Or just email, whatever.”

“Leave a message on my phone. I’ll check it at night.”

I was ready to go and didn’t wait to see if the bike got on okay. These things work themselves out. The light in the sky was gathering in the soft clouds with that special brilliance it has before slowly beginning to fade.

I got on the bike, waved and took off down the road, solo. A new game had started.

July 8, 2010

Star-crossed at McDick’s and sleeping in a hockey rink

Next we biked to Clarenville which is about a 120K from where we camped outside Brigus Junction. Between them is the bottle-neck of the Avalon Peninsula and we were up quite high and the weather was clear so the view was great. If you ever get depressed at the mowing down of trees in the Amazon, come to NL, or go to the Tombstones in NWT. This is what the world must’ve looked like before people showed up.

Most of the day I was way up front and getting a bit worried. It’s normal to bike quite far apart while making a similar pace but today I was way ahead and stopped a few time to look back. Johno’s knees hadn’t improved overnight and in the morning he was walking with a bit of an accent, if you know what I mean. Several times we stopped to rest and ate the bagels left over from yesterday, the Pringles, the dried mangoes. Its amazing how much you eat when you ride. I’d hoped my food budget would be at $25 a day but its turned out to be way more, like 30-35. Its not cause I’m stupid about it I just eat like a Walrus when I’m riding like this and Johno eats even more than I do even though he’s skinnier. An issue with food is how much you can carry at a time, which is not much. A bag of rolled oats is at the bottom of the pannier along with protein supplement, but aside from that the load is day to day. This means stopping a lot and taking on more, and unless you want to lose half a day to make a circle for Walmart you’ve got to hit gas stations and convenience stores [there’s a reason they’re called convenience stores] on the route which are usually way more expensive.

Clarenville is a small town by the water and is the site of the first trans-atlantic telephone line. Most of its modern infrastructure is up the steep land-rise where the highway runs. Population wavers at the 5000 line with a lot of it’s residents vanishing sporadically to AB for the employment opportunities.

We must have arrived around six, rode down to the water, asked for directions and went straight back up again. The question was food and the answer was McDonalds.

At the counter was a little blonde girl, no more than sweet-sixteen but quick on her heels. Johno had ordered a meal and I just asked for a McFlurry [which has since become the staple food of this expedition: every journey of mine must have a go-to food, usually nachos or fish and chips. But the new sponsor is Mcflurry]. Now Johno asks, why didn’t I get an Oreo one instead of Smarties and I retort that obviously because he’d try to eat it.

Lo and behold our new friend shows back up with an Oreo smoothie and says she made a mistake, would Johno take this for free and she’ll make another for his friend?

It took a minute and then as we were sitting down we finally realised, both at the same time, what had happened and burst out laughing. The gal even looked a bit like Tammy I tell Johno.

Very fast of her though, like I said. I was impressed.

That night we slept in a hockey arena.

Small town hockey is always something I feel I missed out on. In Canada its a cultural phenomenon and us Vancouverites got none of it. We’ve got the Thunderbirds at UBC, but that’s not small town hockey, no sir.

This cultural thing I’m talking about is something I’ve read about in books, saw on the new five-dollar bill and eventually experienced in a place you’ve never heard of called Amherst Nova Scotia. And its called small town hockey because the whole small town is involved. The entire mosaic shows up, young and old, male and female, the complete picture. Every night the benches are thronged and the red plastic beer cups, moving in nameless hands, look like blood-spray from a skate-cut jugular.

The boys of Triple A are the heroes and wherever they are you always find their groupies, pardon me, their puck-bunnies.

The shows I’ve seen make a pretty good night and there’s always a fist fight or two between dads. In every small place across Canada, from Vanderhoof to Regina to Barrie to Yarmouth, this is where amateur sports columnists get their start. And what do we in Vancouver see of this? Nothing, which is very un-Canadian of us.

Enough is enough.

In this particular place there was a 24 hour walk-for cancer relay going on with bands and different booths in the main rink which was very near the McDonalds. Outside we found a janitor who found a manager who found the owner who gave us his blessing, then sent us back to the manager who produced keys and let us in to the referees dressing room. The ploy at that point was to just a get shower and then set the tent up in a dark field, but the guy just left it open for us and vanished.

We’d brought the valuables down, minus the bikes, and after showering, heads cleared, I looked at Johno and he at me, and at the same time we both shrugged.

Upstairs we threw the lock on and left the bikes outside. The risk of thievery is pretty small in pace like this since everyone knows everyone and most are friendly [and an interesting side note is that in a little place like this, once you’ve arrived in town and got your shades off and your spandex replaced by regular clothing, that’s when people start talking to you, not a minute before. Maybe there’s something very big-city and intimidating about spandex, I don’t know. Mysterious forces are at work.]

The rest of the stuff was brought down and the sleeping gear unloaded. There was some really bad music coming in but that was about it. Cinder block walls and no mosquitos is something worth a noisy sleep.

July 8, 2010

On our feet

The road out of St. John's.

 

We got up at eight-ish and had some food, talked to the Austrian guy for while, and didn’t get away till right before eleven.
The highway out of St. Johns was fast and packed like they always are out of a bigger city, and the wind was hitting us from the front. At the 60 we did a hard right and went downhill through smaller communities like Woodstock and Topsail, eventually going through Conception Bay South and Holyrood. At the 90 which is called Salmonier Line, it was a right again past New Town and then we were back on the highway which was much quieter now but still two lanes a side and widely divided. The land-scape here is wide open and we could see for miles in each direction across the long emptiness of short trees and shallow water bodies. Google Earth it and you’ll see that everything in NL is either a pond [First Pond, North Pond, Old Man Pond] or a brook [Corner Brook, Middle Brook, Pynns Brook].

The hills of the Avalon Peninsula are very gracious, rising slowly and gently and descending with the same panache. We got some good taste of wind-effect on the heavily laden bikes [100 lbs per, we figured, including the bike’s own weight: approx 35-40 lbs with all the bells and whistles].

Its amazing the sway a stiff breeze can give. For me it was extra interesting while leaning low on the drops [the curved lower grips on the handlebars]. I’ve never had these before and it takes a sec to get used to them since your whole center of gravity takes on a new identity. When a semi drives by for instance, with the weight of the two panniers on the sides of the front wheel, you sometimes get the death-wobbles: your front wheel and handle bars begin to shake back and forth, not violently, but gradually more intensely. Its the same as when your riding a skate board with loose trucks down a steep hill and you begin to wobble back and forth till you lose your balance and smash your teeth out on the concrete. Johno had shown me a good trick of resting a knee gently against the top-tube to stop this but it still felt like dare-deviltry with the semis. The good thing about these big rigs going by is that they give you a nice little push. I’ve heard rumors of cyclists getting sucked under wheels by the pull but since I’m still alive I’ve written them off as groundless.

Perhaps it was on Avondale Access road that we stopped and turned off. There was a creek there and we headed up the secondary route and came through an old gravel quarry where machines and trucks were rusting on their axles. Up the way there was some kind of race track but we didn’t go that far.

It was becoming time to finds a campsite and I whacked through the bushes down to the water but it was very dense brush and the land that led up to the creek was to soft, bad for setting up a tent so we had to carry on.

A few Km before the turn to Brigus Junction we found a good spot near Brien’s Pond.

Tent, fire, food, sleep.

It was a bit of a weak start at 70K and Johno was talking about a pain in his knees. On my side there was the usual soreness that comes with new beginnings, but though my right knee had bugged me on the way up to Whistler it was doing okay. I’d felt the knee-cap slipping and sliding a bit and had been taking it slowly on easy gears while Johno had bashed on at racing speed, at least in the beginning.

July 4, 2010

Screeching In and stealing booze until the pants fall off. Now, where’s Johno?

We set up the tent on the grassy field and talked to a couple from Australia who were travelling around the world. After this it was south America. They’d hitchhiked a bit, done the train planes and automobiles thing and were ready to move on.

There was an Austrian guy camped beside us, go figure. I’d have been surprised if there hadn’t been. The Germans and Austrians are everywhere. We spoke for a minute about the East Coast trail which starts near Fort Amherst. This piste is 540 km long, a series of trails linked along the southern coast of NL, and hardly anyone knows about it. Peculiarities include abandoned towns and hamlets [due to re-settlement during the 50’s to 70’s, an initiative by the government to centralize the island’s populace] and the world’s most southern Caribou herd. There are living towns along this trail as well, so opportunities to re-supply exist. Its long been on my do-before-I-die list.

We took the bikes downtown and locked up outside the TD building. I locked my bike to Johno’s with the cable we’d got that afternoon. The separation plan [because I knew this was inevitable] was to leave my bike here under the cable and combo lock.

Sailor Jerry left the bottle cage and walked with us on George St.

“Okay, I’m cold,” Johno said, “give me another.” It was only ten o’clock and everyone would be drinking in their homes still and the most bar-dense street in North America was only getting the buzz on. Be warned by the way, George St. is truly excellent, but if you’re there for the first time during the day it’ll be an anticlimax: Its a wide back alley only two blocks long, a pedestrian-only street like in Europe except between eight a.m. and noon when trucks are allowed in to fill the cellars.

Somewhere along the cobblestones we had good chat with a wannabe beer-wench named Tina or Gina, or something with -ina and she told us where to go later on. Then it was a stroll by the water on Harbor Drive, Sailor Jerry diminishing quickly, the fast taste of the rum not so fast anymore. It was time to begin pacing ourselves a bit. At Johno’s suggestion I jumped onto a moored tugboat and started doing something, then realized he was trying to get me in trouble and jumped back again.

At eleven maybe eleven thirty the game was on. On a corner we met Callie and Brad, 19 year-old Lethbridge originals, going to school and working at Safeway, who’d been at the uni for two nights. They’d taken two weeks off at the end of may, hopped in Callie’s old Neon, seen the prairies, seen Niagra and eventualy showed up here. Lethbridge is a town that fate has denied me. I’ve been everywhere around and close to it, hear it’s an okay place, but all I really know about it is what I read from Andy Russell who pens tribute to a time when all there was to do in Southern AB was put up fences and break wild horses to the saddle. But Callie and Brad were cool, and above all, not officially together yet, though it was obvious that the latter had designs on relationship. All it means is that, as far as things had gone, I was free enough to take Callie by the arm and make her my first dancing victim. And this brunette with hair down to her shoulders, a very regular looking girl, very wholesome I’m sure, made a pretty good swing of things.

We’d talked on the corner for a bit and Johno and I pimped out Sailor Jerry’s to them to make a good start. Brad was DD tonight, and stoic, but all I could think was that it was only a matter of time.

We went to a place called Rob Roy’s [I ran to some bushes and stashed Mr. Jerry, who only had an inch left anyway], a club with two floors and a precarious wooden balcony, and got our stamps but it was to early for this kind of recklessness so in a few minute we went across to another place where the maritime music was wailing up a storm. The storm included a fiddle, and the lead guy was an animated guitarist who was making a Goliath out of himself and challenging the crowd for a dance.

The short-haired waitress was the one that Screeched us in. She even said she was a local, a ‘townie’, but I almost doubt it. She didn’t seem like a Newfie to me.

I’ll run you through this quickly: It’s the tourist thing obviously, but if you go to Newfoundland you have to get Screeched In. Screech is rum associated with NL though it originated in Jamaica. It’s blended and bottled on the Rock by the Newfoundland And Labrador Liquor Corporation but most of the really good stuff, I’m told, is put together in basements behind locked doors. To Screech In you have to drink like a Newfie, talk like a Newfie and socialize like one which means taking a shot, swearing allegiance and kissing a nice dead, room-temperature codfish that arrives at your table wrapped in tin-foil and lying king-like on a plastic liquor tray.

“I puke after shots,” Callie whispered, and I told her to go last. She wasn’t joking but held it in like a trooper all the way to the toilet downstairs. Her finest moment with me, which is always a bonding one. For lunch she’d had pasta. I held her hair and afterwards we danced.

Johno, tied up as he is with a girl he loves, played a good distraction and kept Brad talking. Never did I think I’d see johno sitting at a table covered in half-done jaager-bombs with another dude and talking up a storm. What a hero. Brad had that look a guy gets when an alfa steals his chick for the night, but come on, these two are going to get married anyway, so let me have her for an hour.

Part 1 of George St. ended well during a sag in the music. We were back at the table, Callie on my side, and she kept getting so many looks that finally she said she’d get in trouble if she stayed any longer. Hands were shaken, hugs given, good luck wished and that was the last we saw of them. It was half-past midnight and Rob Roys was calling.

This is where the separation plan came into effect.

I’d pushed my stamp in the bouncers face and took the stairs two at a time, enthusiastic about the waiting unknown. On the second floor the strobe lights were flashing and a black voice was bouncing out of the speakers in its pastell-coloured tone. The live band was down there, but the party was everywhere. Johno was behind me somewhere but i didn’t see him, and by the way things go I ended up in a flock of Bratz Dolls, generic blondes most of them, sloshed out of their minds. There was one brunette in this group, the smartest looking out of all of them. She had green eyes [weird that i could even notice] and a nice symetric nose and cheeks that had seen action, but not too much, from a compact earlier that night.

This gal Amanda and I found ourselves on the wooden balcony where the music poured out and met with the cool air, perfect for dancing, and a waist was held and lips met in the way strange lips sometimes do.

We’ve all been here right? To cut the story by half, more shots were done and a few of the girls went down and had to be pulled up by their arms so they wouldn’t get trampled. At three in the morning I was in a cab with six people who’d shown up from every point of the compass and a two minute drive had us at a house owned by a guy who thought he was damn suave in a dodgy black blazer. You sit with people, talk, drink wine and whatever else they have, talk music and places, fall asleep, wake back up, smoke, all that stuff. Amanda told me about living near Halifax and working with language students. Cool.

There was a bottle of Captain Morgan’s on the big-screen TV and I’d been eyeing it, knowing that it was meant for me. At six it was getting light outside and I had a moment of clarity that said I should go while the going was still good.

I was throwing my shoes on in the hallway very close to the door to the living room where the TV was and Blazer-Boy had appeared at the top of the stairs. We’d been eyeing each other all night the way two guys who are way to similar do when there’s girls around, measuring distance and odds. Generally we’d been getting on okay by not really saying much.

But when he showed up on the landing an altercation was had which is not worth repeating, ending in me saying something about ‘Did you even get your clothes off?” And him saying “shit,” stumbling a bit, and then “no.”

I was done here. The bottle of Morgan’s was a heart-beat away and I grabbed it thinking ‘yoink!’ and put a shoulder to the door, hit the concrete steps at full blast and was two inches away from doing ninety into a parked car. Maybe Blazer Boy yelled ‘hey’ or maybe he didn’t but all I could think of now was a hell-bent clip down the curving road towards Water St. The bottle sat well in the back pocket of the Diesel jeans which were doing a bad job staying up since i forgot the belt in Van. Johno had been making fun of my plumbers crack ever since we landed.

At a corner I stopped and took a piss, freaking out an old lady who was walking her dog. She should be used to it in this town. For some reason I actually remembered the bottle of Jerry’s stashed nearby and made to rescue it. It was still there and the new-comer bottle gave it a vile twist after a bit of a mix.

The bike was still at TD though Johno’s was gone and I made a quick weave back to the campsite.

The student boys were loving it.

“Your buddy came in two hours ago, someone said, and Johno was sleeping soundly when I got there.

“Let’s go!” I yelled, “it’s time to go! Let’s get this show on the road! Were biking across Canada!”

“Mmm…” He said. “Two hours. Get some sleep, you need sleep.”

“Let’s go right now!”

“Sleep. Did you get layed?”

“Hell no. There were a bunch of friends there. This is why i need you, this is the wing-man thing we were talking about. Did you get layed?”

“No. Of course not. Come on.”

“Where’d you go?”

Turns out Johno had sat for a while till I left with Amanda, then left, knowing there was nothing more he could do for me. He told me about being slightly sobered up and sitting at one of the tables in the club and watching the social side of things. Watching a club as an unattached observer, and what a weird thing that is. Because clubs are pretty strange places when you think about it. I wonder about this though: The park guy said he’d returned two hours earlier, but the club had closed at two.

This a tangent but some army guys I worked with did a road trip in the states once and Joey and Ess [last and only time they did a road trip together] met some girls who brought them to a gay bar. Joey was hanging with the chicks and wasn’t too bothered, but Ess disappeared for two hours [at this gay bar remember] and could never explain where he’d been. And he never heard the end of it. We always referred to it and Ess’s Lost Hour. So where was Johno for two hours?

July 4, 2010

Oodles of Noodles of Bagels and History

In the morning we got up way too late and hit the Bagel Place on Duckworth near Water St., right across from Timmy’s and kitty-corner to the TD building.

We rode from the Uni along Allandale to Bonaventure past cartoon-coloured rows of wooden buildings on the downward sloping streets that remind of a mini San Francisco. All they need is streetcars and enough Newfies back from Alberta to give a bit of ridership.

Rule # 1 is, you cannot go to St. John’s without going to the Bagel Place, because every perfect day here should end, [and begin, technically] on George St.

And you really cannot go out partying on said street without a bagel breakfast to fortify you. That’s almost as bad as drinking and driving and actually it might be worse.

A good thing is that this little locale gets better every time you go. There’s a poetic ode to coffee on the wall by one of the window booths and I forget how it goes but I’ve always maintained that this little blurb could make a solid argument as the 67th book of the Bible.

After the meal it was a bike store nearby to get some odds and sods figured out and once that was finished we took two long breaths and started the climb up Signal Hill. Johno’s never been before and I’m a bit like a dog who likes to make sure things are still where they should be. From the tower up top I looked out to make sure Cape Spear was still there so we wouldn’t try to bike there this afternoon and fall off the edge of the world by accident. Because you never know.

Fun fact: The Flat Earth Society considers Cape Spear to be a corner of the Earth. I kind of envy them for that. Once you have those kinds of questions sorted out, what else is there? Anything you want in life, you can do it.

This is also a great place to look down on the harbor. There’s only a very narrow entrance to this massive enclosed basin that’s deep enough for the large Coast-Guard icebreakers, naval vessels, and other ships that come in to port here.

Down from Cabot Tower where Marconi sent his wireless signal across the Atlantic there’s a battery of old cannon and a small barracks where the arty guys used to live. These cannon are aimed at the outside edge of the entrance to the harbor. Very persuasive.

St. John's as seen from signal hill. To the left, outside the photo lies the remains of Fort Amherst. On the knoll on the right sit canon that garded the harbor entrance and adjacent to them is a small barracks where the soldiers of the battery lived. Farther East is Cape Spear.

Looking across the canal you can see Fort Amherst, a lighthouse, and below it a sundering collection of concrete pill-boxes and gun-emplacements and ruined staircases that lead to nowhere. Your not supposed to go down there but of course I did, though not this year. If they’re going to make laws like that it’s their own fault.

Original fortifications from the 1770’s are no longer there, but the modern buildings have been installed on ancient brick foundations. The place strikes a cord with me. At the FOB in Afghanistan we had a similar thing going on at the top of a hill where the snipers lived. Buildings atop buildings atop buildings.

Two of the naval guns from the forties are still here, bent and rusting, their breeches open and the barrels clogged.

There’s a crap-load of history here and there’s no way I’m writing it all down, but I encourage you to Google it. Lots of battles etc.

After the hill we realized how much crap we’d forgot at the bike store, and after lunch which we found at a grocery store we went back. We’d wanted to bike out to Cape Spear that afternoon and the bike store boys to told us to leave the gear but be back by five. It was three by that time so we didn’t think twice and pedaled like crazy. It’s twenty K to the Cape, about an hour on average, and we wanted to actually have a look and see something while we were there.

On the way out, going down a 12% incline Johno got 79.9 on the new speedometer. Not bad.

Cape Spear is another one of those history-packed places. The second lighthouse in NL was built here in Sept 1836, after the one at Fort Amherst in 1810. A foghorn was added in 1878. There’s a large battery that was installed in the forties to protect the harbor and provide some cover for the convoy route to Europe. There are tunnels still open that lead to massive underground rooms and two of the guns are there as well, just the barrels, lying flat in their pits.

The guns themselves are huge and all I could think of when looking at them [and climbing on them] was Jules Verne’s Columbiad Space Gun. The kind of thing I’d want to get my ashes blown out of.

“You could really fuck someone up with one of those!” I say to Johno who laughs and says,

“Or a ship!”

Cape Spear is where the Trans Canada begins. The West Coast answer is the wooden peer at Tofino.

On the concrete a yellow line has been painted and marked as Km 1, and we get a picture of this. No tires could be dipped in the ocean. It would’ve been a hell of a struggle and I would’ve been willing, but the minutes were slipping ruthlessly by and the bike store was closing.

It was up to Johno to thwart Father Time. He’s a racer, used to light carbon-fibre bikes [which, later, was very possibly his un-doing] and flying at mach-3. So while I slothed along day-dreaming like I always do, Mr. Grease took off and made record time back to the city to save our belongings, which were being put out the door when he arrived [People like to say that Newfies are super-hospitable types, but the truth is wherever you go in the world you hear this same claim about people. And the second truth is, Newfies are just like everyone else – no wait – that not true at all. Okay. Hospitality-wise they’re normal, or even a bit aloof, to be honest. Kind of shy].

Having got our stuff back and completed the day’s mission, we headed for the campsite in Pippy Park.

Students run this place in the summer and we stood with them for while inside the cozy wooden shed and jabbered on a bit about prices, looked at each other doubtfully, then said we’d rather pay the extra five bucks and take the room at the uni again. Maybe the student guy felt bad for us. He finally told us to just go set up in the field for free. There was no one here anyways.

Just as I closed the door I heard him remark to a long-haired buddy who was siting on the wooden desk, “I give ’em to Port Aux Basques…”