I’m back

Hi again.  Ok, so I’ve been a little delinquent about posting.   My apologies.    It’s funny how life and work seems to get in the way.   Plus, there really hasn’t been a lot to write about – the bike is still on order and will hopefully be here by the end of March.   Once it arrives then things will pick up.   It’s kind of ironic in a way as we’ve been having one of the mildest winters in recent memory – I’ve already seen people out on their bikes which is unheard of for this area at this time of year.  Not to say it’s without risks – there is still a lot of gravel on the shoulders so it doesn’t make for really safe riding.   Plus, it’s really not as warm as it looks.   We’re back to -10 degree temperatures today.   Hopefully, by the time the bike arrives it will be proper road cycling weather.

I’ll keep you posted.

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What if…?

For the past 50 years, we, as a society, have been told by government and health officials that eating too much saturated fat is not good for our health.  It can lead to obesity, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol which results in an increased risk of heart disease.   As a result of this advice, our society has been encouraged to move towards the “Mediterranean diet” eating more unsaturated fats, less meat and more vegetables.

Makes sense, doesn’t it?

But, what if the experts were wrong?

Yesterday on the CBC radio show “The Current”, author Nina Teicholz was interviewed about her recently published book “The Big Fat Surprise”.    You can download the podcast here – http://podcast.cbc.ca/mp3/podcasts/current_20150126_55811.mp3

Nina has spent the past nine years researching the sage advice that too much saturated fat is bad for our diets.   What she uncovered is quite startling.    I was so taken by the interview that I managed to get  copy of her book and began reading it last night.   Even though I’m only into the fourth chapter, what I’ve read so far is very unsettling.

The major premise of the book revolves around the notion that the scientific evidence that was used to demonstrate the negative effects of saturated fat on the body is so flawed, that we should pretty much ignore what it is saying.   To substantiate this, the author went back and read as many of the original scientific reports she could find.  She also interviewed as many of the original scientists who began this research some fifty years ago.

One scientist, in particular, a  man name Ansel Keys, played a major role in promoting the notion that too much saturated fat was dangerous.    He conducted many experiments to prove his hypothesis but also discounted many other experiments by other scientists that showed differing results.   However, Keys was very good at promoting his theories and eventually the American Heart Association came on board and began promoting his ideas.   The AHA also received substantial funding from companies like Procter and Gamble, and Monsanto which encouraged the AHA to promote the use of vegetable oil in a healthy diet.   Guess who benefitted from that?

What’s interesting about  all this, is that research around diets and their effects began as early as the turn of the 20th century.   A scientist spent a year living with the Inuit eating a diet of primarily animal fat, meat and eggs.   The only time the Inuit ate vegetables was during  a period of famine.   Interestingly enough, the Inuit of the day showed no signs of heart disease, scurvy or cancer yet lived long, healthy lives.  Another study around the Masai people in Africa revealed similar results.  However, most of these results were discounted or ignored by Keys – along with a plethora of others.

Now, more than 60 years later since non-saturated fat diets have been promoted, research has shown that the positive effects of this type of diet do not seem to have materialized as expected.  Quite the opposite has occurred- obesity rates are at an all time high, cancer rates are through the roof and heart disease does not seem to have been diminished.

Maybe our grandparents and great grandparents were right!   Bacon and eggs ain’t so bad after all!

I would highly recommend you listen to the podcast and if you have a chance, read the book.     It really is a “Big Fat Surprise”!

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The “S” word

If you’re new to cycling, especially road cycling, there comes a  point to which every new cyclist has to confront the dreaded “S” word – you know what I’m talking about.

Yes – “Spandex”.

Or in my case, “Expandex”.

Those skin tight shorts that you see these incredibly fit people wearing as they race down the highway doing mach 3 actually look pretty good – on them.

For the average joe blow though, especially those of us who might be a little “larger” around the middle, wearing spandex cycling shorts for the first time can be a fairly “revealing” experience.     Now, fortunately, for me, I am no stranger to wearing this type of athletic garb.  When I first started cycling 20 years ago, I owned several pairs of cycling shorts and became quite comfortable showing off my girth as I sped down the highway.

However, as time went by, the shorts that I owned when I was 24, became noticeably smaller and tighter as my cycling days began to wane due to other commitments.   Eventually, they didn’t fit at all.  So, when I became inspired last year to take on my fondo challenge, I realized I would have to confront the “S” word again.

Why do we, as cyclists, wear these silly looking things anyway?   A couple of reasons – one is they cling to your skin so they don’t ride up and chafe your legs like normal shorts do .   As well, they come with some pretty serious padding on the inside.   That was the biggest change that I noticed when I purchased my shorts last year.    In 1994, you were lucky to get any kind of padding at all in cycling shorts – usually it was just a thin layer of chamois.     Now, as you see below, it’s all gel filled pockets in specific areas to help protect the you know what.

ATD_6PanelGel_CyclingShort_ChamoisTop

Kind of gives you the willies, doesn’t it?    Actually, they make a significant difference, especially for long distances.    The right, or wrong, pair of shorts, combined with a  decent saddle, can make or break you.  So it’s important to get it right.

There is another part to this story, however.

After I bought my first pair of shorts last year, which are great, it occurred to me that in order to start training in March (hopefully, if the bike arrives on time), I would need something more than cycling shorts.   After all, it doesn’t usually get to be prime cycling weather around here until about the middle of April.   So, thanks to the gods of Ebay, I discovered these –

castelli

They arrived via Hong Kong last week – $40 U.S. for the set.    And they are actually of decent quality.   Ok- I admit – I had to get the XXL.  And, yes, trying them on for the first time was quite daunting.  Fortunately, the bib pants fit pretty well – that was my biggest concern.   Surprisingly, the zip up jersey was a little tight (ok- very tight)- I guess XXL in Hong Kong ain’t quite what XXL in North America is (imagine that).     So, one of my new goals is to be able to make the jersey fit comfortably.     Soon.

So, things seem to be falling into place – got the bike ordered, got the spandex, new cycling computer – just need shoes and pedals (details, details …)   but that will happen when I get the bike.

On a positive note, I rode my indoor trainer for 30 min. today and feel pretty good.    The countdown is now on – only 164 days to go until the Penticton Gran Fondo .

Oh crap!

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Done deal! (almost)

So, I finally did it.  I bought a bike.   Exactly like the one you see below

Defy-Advanced-2-Comp-White

It’s a Giant Defy Advanced 2.    Bought it in Cranbrook.  Excited?  Yes!  Can’t wait to ride it?  Yes!     Only one problem- it won’t be available until the end of March!    Apparently, the bike is so new that Giant hasn’t even started building them yet.   However, given that I live in a climate zone that doesn’t even condone cycling until the end of March, it’s not a huge deal.

So what does all this mean?   I guess it means that I’m more committed than ever to doing something – after all, if one spends a whole whack of money on a bike with the intention of completing  a gran fondo, one had better do it.    So, now my plan (which will probably change, as they often do) is to enroll in the Axel Merckz Gran Fondo in Penticton in July.  However, instead of doing the whole thing (160 km), I will probably only do the medio fondo which is about 90 km.   The reason being that I may not be ready to tackle 160 km within 3 months of getting my bike.

So, I figure that if I do the medio fondo in July, that will help prepare me for the Kootenay Rockies Gran Fondo in Cranbrook in September.   By then, I will hopefully be able to do the whole thing (150 km) as I will have had two additional months of training.

In theory, it sounds, good.   The reality is often different but I suspect that once I get the bike, it will hopefully be so enjoyable to ride, that I will look forward to training on it.

Fingers crossed!

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My first time (it’s not what you think)

As my date with a bike store draws closer (this coming Monday), it makes me wonder when my desire to take on a long distance endurance ride actually began.   After all, it’s not like you wake up one morning and say ” I think I’ll ride 150 km on a bike today!”.     Well, maybe some people actually do that, but not me.

My desire to take on this challenge has been slow in coming.    I began cycling seriously over twenty years ago but have been on hiatus for the past ten years due to family and work commitments.   But I recall an experience that I had long before my cycling days really took off.  And, I suspect, that this experience may have been influential in my love affair with the bike.

We have to go way back to 1986 – yes, nearly 30 years ago.   What was going on in 1986? Well, here are the top songs from that year

Billboard_1986

That was a very good year for music – I was 16 at the time and spent many hours making cassette tape mixes using my 45 lp’s.   Yes, they actually still had 45 lp’s back then – remember these?

music-records

In the summer of 1986, my family was living in the Okanagan – a little community called Kaleden, which as about 10 minutes south of Penticton.    Now, if you’ve ever been to the Okanagan, you will know that summers there are as close to perfect as you can get.  Endless sunshine, scorching temperatures, surrounded by lakes as warm as bathtubs.   It doesn’t get any better.

Living in Kaleden was,  as you can see from the view below which was similar to the view from our house, a very beautiful place.

kaleden_skaha_bluffs_01_640

It was also rather uneventful, especially for a 16 year old.   So, what do you do when it’s the middle of July, your parents are working, and you have no vehicle to go anywhere?   You decide to go for a bike ride.   Ah!  But not just any bike ride.   Something possesses your inner workings to look out the window of your house at the beautiful lake below and decide, “Today would be a good day to ride my bike around the lake!”

Now, let’s stop and consider this radical idea for just a moment.     Total distance from Kaleden, to Penticton, around Skaha Lake, to Okanagan Falls, and back to Kaleden is about 40 km.   Here is a map to help give you the lay of the land

Screen Shot 2015-01-15 at 11.00.34 AM

Now, 40 km in the big scheme of things is not that far.  I could knock that off today in about an hour and a half.    And I’m sure that went through my head back in 1986 – “40 km?  No prob, dude!”    I think we said “dude” back then.   Anyways, the difference between completing this ride in 1986 and today is technology, as well as having a lot more common sense!

BTW, this route is a key section of the Axel Merckz Gran Fondo, one of the fondos I would love to complete – talk about coming full circle!

In 1986, I was riding the much coveted Baycrest 10 speed, the one with the foamy handlebars.   Forget about index shifting or toe clips.   This was your standard 35 pound, solid, reinforced steel, department store bike, with downtube shifters and the most uncomfortable saddle  known to man.    I did have a water bottle holder, though.

As for my cycling outfit?   I don’t think spandex had been invented yet – if it had been, I can assure you that no 16 year old male in his right mind would be caught dead wearing it.   That was Jane Fonda workout material.    Instead, I hit the road wearing a cotton t-shirt, Adidas shorts with the required three stripes down the side, a pair of chewed up Nike shoes – and that was about it.   Helmet?  What was that? Nobody wore helmets in 1986.     Gloves?   Didn’t exist.    Sunscreen?   Hopefully, but probably not.     Water bottle?  One, partially filled.    Food?   I wasn’t going to be that long.     Cell phone?   Have you seen what a cell phone looks like in 1986?    I’d have to pull a wagon to help carry it.  Identification?  Please!  I was a modern day teenager in complete control.  What could go wrong?   I was 16 – invincible, young, energetic.  This would be a cakewalk!    I’d only be gone about two hours, max!

You probably can sense where this is going.

Oh, one more thing – I’m sure that I didn’t tell anybody where I was going – maybe my younger brother but I’m sure he wasn’t listening.

So let’s set the scene, shall we?

It’s mid July, sunny skies, temps soaring to the mid 30’s by the late afternoon.    I’m pretty sure I left the house after lunch (at least I had the common sense to eat first).     By then the temperature had to be in the mid 20’s with no clouds in sight.    The first leg of the journey is riding along hwy 97 into Penticton – a very busy highway, I might add, without a helmet.     That took me probably about 30 min. to complete.   I remember riding into Penticton and rolling along the street past Skaha lake beach.    I also remember there being hundreds of people that day down by the  lake.       The other thing I distinctly remember was my water bottle was already half empty, with less than a 1/3 of the journey completed!

No fear!  Right?   Carpe Diem!!!!     Besides, I was too far  into this to turn back.    Plus I would have to ride uphill to get home –  so, I kept on going.   Now – one other thing I forgot to mention.    My route took me along the east side of Skaha lake – a twisty, old two lane road that I had never been on before.    In other words, I was about to tackle half of my route with no knowledge of what I was about to encounter.

At first, it was pretty easy going –   here’s a picture of what it looks like

CyclingWEST_GFAMnorthloop

I distinctly remember it being a beautiful place to ride a bike and how much I began to enjoy what I was doing.   There was hardly any traffic, not too much of  a head wind – but it was hot.   Eventually, the road starts to climb as you near Okanagan Falls at the south end of the lake.   By that time, the heat was taking its toll, I was almost out of water – I had been riding for close to two hours by then.   Plus, my lunch was wearing off.    Did I mention that I didn’t have any money?

When I got to OK Falls, I pulled over at a park – at least 2.5 hours into the ride.   At this point I began to question my sanity to undertake this quest.    Perhaps I should have put a little (ok, a lot) more thought into the type of ride I was about to tackle.    Leaping before looking has always been one of my biggest faults.    Ask my wife.    Even today, when I get, what I think, is a brilliant idea, I tend to dive right in without always thinking about what the consequences might be.   I am getting better – somewhat.

After having rested at OK Falls (thankfully, I managed to find a fountain to refill my water bottle), I realized the dilemma I had placed myself in.    I was still at least 15 -20 km from home, it was about 33 degrees, I had no food, nobody knew where I was, nor did I have any method of contacting anyone.   Not a lot of options.    So, I did the only thing I could do, and that was to push on.

If you’ve ever driven through OK Falls on your way to Penticton, you will be familiar with the MASSIVE HILL that one has to climb as you leave the town boundary.    I had forgotten about this.   Had I remembered, I’m sure I would have reconsidered the whole ride in the first place.   Ignorance is bliss?  Maybe.   This is the best picture I could find, and believe me, it doesn’t do it any justice at all.

pen-race222

So let’s recap.   A 16 year old boy ventures out onto a 35 km bike ride only to find himself without food, assistance or a hat in 30 degree temperatures, and still 15 km from home.  What to do?

Start pedalling.    I remember sitting in the park at OK Falls, feeling sorry for myself,  wishing there was someone I could call to come get me.  I also wished I had some food.   Alas, neither was to be.   So, not having any other choice, I sucked it up and started pedalling up the hill.   I made it not even half way to the top when I had to stop.    There was no way I had the energy reserves to pull myself up the hill.   Instead, I got off my bike and started walking.    After what seemed like forever,  I got to the top where it levelled off.  I hopped back on my bike and kept on going.

It must have taken me another hour, at least, to finally get to the turnoff into Kaleden.    I remember a sense of overwhelming relief when I saw it because I knew that the end was near.   Total ride time- probably 3-4 hours.   Fortunately, I didn’t get a flat tire – then I would have been really screwed.

When I think back now about that adventure (which it was), my first thoughts are “What the hell was I thinking?”    Clearly, I wasn’t.    However, I remember looking across the lake for weeks after, thinking – “I did that – I rode all the way around that lake and survived!”     Would I do things differently if I was to do it again?   Of course.  But part of the adventure was knowing that I was on my own and no one was coming to help me.    I had to reach inside myself to find that willpower to keep going.  That was probably the first time that I had been put into a situation like that knowing that it was up to me to get through this.

When I got home, I remember being absolutely exhausted.   I had to be dehydrated, if not feeling the effects of heat stroke.   When my parents came home from work later and they asked me what I had done during the day, I’m not quite sure they believed me when I told them of my journey.   Did this experience cause me to fall in love with long distance cycling?  Probably not as a direct consequence.  I’m sure I didn’t want to ride my bike anywhere for a long time after what I had just gone through.    But, subconsciously it must have had a lasting impact on my psyche.    Thirty years later, it feels like it was a dream and I sometimes wonder if I actually did complete the ride.   Deep inside, I know I did, because some of the images and memories are so ingrained in my  mind, there’s no way I could have not done it.

When I told my dad about my adventure, I remember him asking me “Why’d you do that?!”    At the time, I was bored, looking for something to do.   Perhaps, though, it was more than that.  Maybe it was a way for me to assert my independence as a sixteen year old.   Regardless of the reasons,  I remember feeling very proud of my accomplishment for a very long time.    As a matter of fact,  I still am.

And I can’t wait to do it again!

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An extraordinary day

Yesterday was an extraordinary day.    And it had nothing to do with cycling.   Instead, it had everything to do with this:

IMG_2740

If you’ll indulge me, I will explain why.

In 2002 I became a member of Golden Volunteer Fire Department.   I recently retired this past December with the rank of Captain.   There were multiple reasons for my retiring, one of them being to allow me to have more time to pursue my Gran Fondo goal.    However, that’s not what this post is about.

Yesterday, the new truck that you see above, was delivered to the Golden Fire Department where it will now take on the role of responding to highway motor vehicle incidents (MVI’s).   What makes this extraordinary is not the truck itself, although it is a remarkable piece of machinery.        It’s more about how the truck came to be.

In 2011, our department underwent a major change in its leadership.   A new chief, Ken McClure, was hired to come in and help rebuild a department that had hit hard times.    Within three years, he completely transformed a small town department, that was barely hanging on, to one that exhibited pride and professionalism in all aspects of its duties.    Ken also managed to change the process of how road rescue expenses were reimbursed to fire departments in this province.

If you are at all familiar with Golden, you will know that we inhabit one of the deadliest stretches of the Trans Canada highway in the country.   You will probably be familiar with the Rogers Pass – an engineering marvel when it first opened nearly 60 years ago – now a twisty, outdated, deadly highway that has claimed dozens of lives over the past decade alone.    Golden Fire Rescue undertook the responsibility of responding to MVI’s about four years ago.    Initially, GFR had to use its existing apparatus (trucks, for those not familiar with fire lingo) to respond to calls.    We were being reimbursed at the rate of $125 per hour by the province of BC for dealing with situations outside the town boundary.   However, when you have ten members showing up for the call being paid at $16/hour wages, you’re already in the hole before you even leave the hall.  Never mind the cost of wear and tear on your equipment.

Ken, our chief, could see that this was not going to be sustainable and that eventually, the town might pull the plug on the highway rescue program.    So, he undertook it to begin negotiating with the province to change that.    After several years of hard work, he managed to fund a pilot program where GFR would continue to respond to highway calls while collecting data on expenses incurred for those calls.   Eventually Ken was able to demonstrate to the province the sizeable expenses that were incurred, especially by small departments, when they were forced to leave their town boundaries to  respond to those in need.   As a result, he convinced the Province of BC to raise the reimbursement rates from $125 per hour per call, to over $300 per hour.    This not only applied to our department, but is now the standard rate for the entire province.

As if that wasn’t enough, Ken also managed to raise $100 000 from the province to help supply our department with much needed new equipment to do the job.   And, to top it all off, he secured $500 000 from gaming grants to purchase a new state of the art highway rescue truck – the one pictured above.   This was the first time that this type of funding had been awarded to a department in BC.     What it meant, was that the province had agreed to cover the costs of highway rescue (in the Golden area, at least) and not download the expenses to the community.   As you can imagine, other departments from around the province had been watching us closely and have been grateful for our work.

I wish this story had a happy ending.

Unfortunately, four months ago, as the truck was being built, Chief Ken McClure passed away suddenly of a heart attack.     As you can imagine, the effect was devastating on all who knew him.    Since then, the Golden Fire Department has been coping as best as they can while they await the hiring of a new chief, which will hopefully be happening within the next few weeks.

It was decided that the best way to honour Chief McClure was to dedicate the truck to him.  It was given the name “RESCUE 120“.   In the fire service, every firefighter has a numerical call sign – the Chief’s was 120.   So, from now on, every time the new truck rolls out the of the hall, the number 120 will be spoken over the air waves, reminding us of the caring, talented, and dedicated man our chief was.   He will always be remembered for his kindness, courage and dedication to the people of the Town of Golden.   He was a truly, remarkable human being.

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Chief Ken McClure – 1959-2014

Yesterday was an extraordinary day.

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T minus 6 and counting

So if you’ve been following along, you know by now what my purpose for writing this blog is (if you haven’t, it’s to complete a gran fondo this summer).    You also know that in order to achieve my goal, a substantial investment in new equipment is going to be required.    Which brings us to today’s entry.    Bike shopping!!!

Now bike shopping is not the easiest thing to do in January.   After all, most bike stores don’t have their 2015 stock in yet.   However, they may still have their 2014 models leftover where good deals can be found.   So why buy a bike now rather than later?  Well, in my case it comes down to logistics.    Our tiny town only has one bike shop and, unfortunately, as much as I like to support local business, they don’t carry the particular brand that I’m interested in.   That means that I have to travel to another larger community (at least 2.5 hours away) to find what I want.

Also, chances are that the particular bike I’m interested in will have to be ordered which could take a few extra weeks.  So, when you look at finding time to travel to the community, ordering the bike, then having to go back to get the bike, it could take up to  a month to get what I want.   If I wait until March or April to start shopping, there is the potential for me to lose nearly a month of spring training time on the new bike.   With the  gran fond taking place on July 12, that’s not enough time to get ready!

Now, I did visit a bike shop in Cranbrook over the Christmas holidays.  As expected, they had a few 2014 models left over, all on sale.   However, there were not may in my frame size (56 cm) so that limited the selection to about three.   Two of them were designed more for racing than endurance, so that eliminated them.   The other was a Specialized Roubaix – nice bike, but mediocre components and it was an ugly flat black colour.  Not exactly a head turner.    Having owned a Specialized, I know that they make good bikes.   They did have 2015 model downstairs in a box, but it was an ugly neon green and was about $400 over my budget.   Probably looked like this

imagejpg3-2

Since then, I’ve been shopping around.   When shopping for road bikes, there are dozens of companies who make good bikes.    The only problem is that they can cost a fortune.   Companies like Focus, Specialized, Pinarello, BMC, Giant, Cannondale, Orbea, Look, BH, Lapierre, Canyon, Cervelo, Ridley, Trek, Scott, Felt, Colnago, Merida and Bianchi all make bikes for the Tour de France.   But because so many of these companies are small in the big scheme of things, their bikes tend to be somewhat pricey.   It’s not uncommon for them to sell bikes in the $10 000 range.   I know- makes my $2000 budget seem like peanuts.    Fortunately, all is not lost.

One of these companies, Giant, who just happens to be one of, if not, the largest bike company in the world, has just released their 2015 lineup.   After having spent a lot of time looking at bikes on different company’s websites, as well as in showrooms (I checked out Treks last summer in Vernon), I’ve gotten a pretty good idea of what it is I’m looking for.    And Giant just happens to meet those expectations at a price I can afford!

So!   Are you ready?  All right then, – here it is.

Giant-Defy-Advanced-2-LTDThis is the Giant Defy Advanced 2.   What makes it better than the others?  Well, for just under $2000, you get a full carbon fibre frame and forks (Giant makes their own carbon fibre whereas other companies rely on someone else to make it), as well as disc brakes.  Love ’em or hate ’em, disc brakes are the future in road cycling.   Do they add weight?   Yes, but Giant has been able to counteract this by making the frame the lightest they’ve ever done.    As well, you get an 11 speed cassette (most others in this price range are only 10) and, most importantly,  it looks amazing!    The same features on other bikes cost at least $500 to 1000 more.   So pretty good bang for your buck.

Why disc brakes?   They allow you to stop on a dime in any weather condition.   My mountain bike has them and they really  do make a difference.   And when your’e doing 50-60 km on a road bike in the rain, stopping safely becomes a major concern.  Disc brakes allow that to happen every time.  Also, getting rid of the calliper brakes allow the wheels to be designed to be just that – wheels that can be lighter, and more aerodynamic.

In 2016, the UCI (Union Cycliste Internationale – the body that oversees international cycling competitions) will allow disc brakes to be used in international competition.  You can expect to see an explosion of disc brakes being used from that point on.

So, in six days I will be in Cranbrook for a meeting.   Having already spoken with the local bike shop there that sells Giant bikes, my plan is stop by and see how long it would take to get one ordered.  We’ll see what happens.

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