Friday, December 31, 2010

A little more skiing & snow

One last post for the year - Christmas was nice & quiet as I imagined it would be up at Sunshine.  It was calm & warm & clear (it got a little overcast in the afternoon) - I left my down jacket in the car & didn't even regret it.  Early(ish) morning the parking lot was relatively empty & all the lifties were in good spirits wishing people a Merry Christmas & some even were dancing as you came to the top of Strawberry.  There were a few costumes on the slopes as well - Santa, of course; a Yeti; and some guy that looked like he had a lynx skin on his head.  There still wasn't a lot of snow, but I had a good time & got a lot of runs in; Alex joined me briefly between some of his jobs.

It was still pretty warm on Sunday, but I was exhausted from all the skiing the previous day (I don't think I've ever had a Christmas that was so active, for once the Energy In to Energy Out ratio must have been above unity).  So a good day for lazing around ploughing (damn this continent - I don't know how to spell anymore; I thought it should be plough, but the spellchecker says plow & now I am confused) through my book - I've almost finished the epic.  It's been an interesting walk through England's (more particularly, Salisbury's) notable events from prehistory onwards - & it's always nice to finish a 1000+ page book, there's been a few this year.  I digress, we (Steve, Alex & I) did make it out to the Nordic Center that night for a quick lap around under the lights - once again it wasn't really cold.

We finally got some decent snow yesterday & the mercury has dropped a good twenty degrees Celsius - so hopefully the skiing will be better in the New Year.  Another good sign that it's a little nippy is when you go to unplug your car, you can't coil up the extension lead as it has lost all of its pliability - despite having had a standard current running through it all day.  Have a great 2011 - I hope you're as excited about it as I am (on that note, I'm trying to work out what to buy first for the roadtrip - a GPS for riding, a SPOT personal tracker or a GoPro helmet cam - the SPOT is the cheapest & available locally, so it might be that).

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas!

Shortly after posting my last update I suddenly realised I hadn't wished that rare breed of people (those who read these musings) a great holiday season.  So, Merry Christmas and all the best for the New Year; I hope you get to spend it with loved family or friends or both. 

My first Christmas cards turned up yesterday (now that I have others, I'm not counting the one from the Plant Manager here).  Along with a very sweet one from my grandfather in Sydney mentioning how much he misses my grandmother (she has had dementia for a few years now & is in residential care), Mum had slipped in a DVD of home movies from our 1987 trip around England & Scotland in with her card.  Once I started watching it last night, I had to go all the way to the end, little realising that it was almost two hours long.  It's precious viewing - with many occurrences that have since entered Pheasant family legend.  The first half in particular is quite amusing as it has much of the family that I spent time with last year in England looking twenty-three years younger & thinner (& in some cases, alive).  [Megan, there is even some short footage of your grandparents.] 

Unfortunately, the episode of almost-rolling the rental car isn't quite on there, but you can see the narrow flooded, un-paved lanes we were traveling down.  Only once do you hear me launch in to my catch-cry of "P for Parking!".  Every time we are near a farm (we seemed to stay on quite a few while touring) there is a brief summary (usually from Dad) of stock levels, farm size, wintering arrangement & so on - that's to be expected really.  There are many shots of Dad leading Adele & I (we were 2 & 4 years old at the time, strangely I was still blond at this time) off in to the distance while Mum gets the shots she wanted.  I could go on, but while it may be compulsory Pheasant-family viewing it doesn't really fit in to the compulsory family viewing category that is so popular at this time of year.

Have a good one.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Twenty-ten summary

I've spent a lot of time this week sending out a rather brief attempt at a Christmas letter (about my only concession so far that Christmas is quite soon; actually, I did send some gifts home but they may be a bit late, oops).  It really is just my take on my year & trying to remind people back home I still exist & if I'm lucky I might get some NZ (or whereever) news back.  Without further ado & my being distracted by many classic Brit comedy moments, here it is.

This Christmas finds me well away from any family (immediate or extended) for the first time - I'm still not sure exactly how I came to be living in Canada.  Never mind, it was a great rushed decision - I thoroughly enjoyed a summer chocked full of mountain-biking (& a little hiking).  Now winter is slowly rolling around - well, it's cold but there's not all that much snow yet; so the next few months of skiing promise to be almost as good.  For those that haven't been keeping up with my ramblings here are a few of the many highlights of 2010 for me.
  • Ten days in Madrid & further south exploring & conversing with Spaniards trying to overcome their Spanglish.
  • Many many days spent exploring London & spending time with friends & family.
Here in Canmore I supported myself for a few months with all manner of temporary jobs before starting at a cement plant (pretty much the only industry around here) - where I still am enjoying it & I hope to be there until my visa expires in May.  I'm trying to contain my excitement with respect to next summer's three-month mountain-bike oriented road-trip around the western USA & British Columbia.  I'll be back in London in August next year - after that, I don't know.

Still being distracted, damn it.

Winter sports variety

After a getting a couple of concerned emails worrying that I had dropped off the radar (thanks Mother), maybe I should update this.  Looking back, it seems that I've been busier than it feels like.  There was the weekly session at the local bouldering gym last Thursday - it would be nice if I was progressing.  Alas, as I have no technique & no "measurable upper-body strength" there are a few problems in the numerical progression that I'm finding fiendishly difficult to get past the second-to-last hold.

Joel, Kristy & I hiked off to Calgary last Friday evening to watch a hockey game (that's ice hockey for those down in the bottom of the world that don't realise that hockey here is played on ice & quite the big deal as far as sports go).  After searching too many grocery stores for corned silverside (I still maintain that all the Safeways around here must share the same supply chain) with no luck (who would have thought that would be so hard to find in this part of the world - I thought they loved beef in Alberta) we picked up Karin (a friend of Kristy & Joel) before heading to the Saddledome.  For my first hockey game attendance, it was the Calgary Hitmen against the Kelowna Rockets in the WHL (Western Hockey League - the highest level of junior competition around these parts).  Some of the hits & fights were pretty good, but the game as a sporting spectacle couldn't really hold my interest - but the skating ability was quite amazing.  I hope my disappointment was mainly due to the Hitmen getting spanked by five goals to one & not with the sport itself.  Apparently the Hitmen are defending champions, but you would have hard time trying to convince me of that on Friday night.  Nonetheless, it was good night out of the valley.

After quite the sleep in on Saturday for most of us, the four of us headed out for a short day of skiing at Sunshine.  We got to Banff before some muppet realised that he'd forgotten his pass & we wasted forty minutes going back to Canmore to get it.  Eventually we were skiing by one o'clock - I don't think any of us were too fussed with our lazy schedule (I tell myself that so I don't feel guilty about wasted skiing time) as all afternoon it stuck around -15ºC.  Pleasantly, there was no wind & that temperature wasn't quite as bad as I would have thought.  The good thing about it being pretty chilly was that the lift lines were really short & we could fit a lot of runs in to our short time (there was a little more snow than a fortnight ago, but it's still pretty bare in parts).  The last few runs of the day were off the Divide chair & these were the best - but also the coldest as it seemed to be the most exposed.  Getting home, it wasn't long before we all assembled again for a nice little dinner party with yet another Australian added to the group - there were quite a few very strong accents assaulting my ears!  Good food, good wine & great company - all in all an excellent day.  [Sunday was a write-off with a lazy morning sleeping in & then the afternoon on the couch attacking the thousand-page book & watching movies.]

Since the weekend I've been for my first skate & XC ski of the season - finally.  Perhaps inspired by the hockey, it was time to drag the skates out & have a go.  As it takes me ages to relearn how to skate every few years, I was pleased that I wasn't quite as bad as I remembered - but by no means was I any good.  I'm just home from a quick lap at the Nordic Center under lights - my waxing of the XC skis seems to have been adequate; perhaps a little more grip wax is in order for next time, but that could just be lack of skill.  I may be a lot fitter than January, but it was nowhere near as exhausting as I remember; being alone may have reduced the pace a bit.  Either way, it was hell boring (as I correctly remember) - but it serves the purpose of getting me out of the house after work exercising & will keep me semi-fit for the next riding season & it was a beautiful evening to be staring at the surrounding mountains.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Roadtrip Planning!

Here is the long promised Summer 2011 West USA Roadtrip outline.  Ever since I realised that I would be ending a year in Canada with a car (probably), my long held pipe-dream of a classic USA roadtrip with my mountain-bike in the trunk (or on the back or on the roof - you get the idea) took many steps closer to reality.  My visa here expires mid-May, so the plan is to leave sometime just before that & travel down from the Alberta-Montana border to San Diego (with much time spent in Utah & Colorado) trying to do as much riding as possible.  As I'm also a bit of a sucker for famous sites & sights, plenty of National Parks & other such things will also be included - maybe even some hiking &, dare I say it climbing, could be in order too.  After spending time with good friends again in San Diego it'll be up the west coast to British Columbia & then back across to Canmore to sell the car & leave for London again.

I've done a bit of research on the forums & other useful websites, but I'm keen to hear the ideas of others.  Here is a loose plan (in vague chronological order & which I haven't really looked at for a while) of the places I intend to visit so far.  I fully realise that by the time I get to ride in some places, it will be stinking hot - but that's just the way the visa timing works out; I think I'll be doing quite a lot of early morning riding.  If anyone has any suggestions of great places to visit or ride that I might be able to work in to such a plan - please, please let me know.  Perhaps more importantly, if riding in such places appeals & you're keen & possibly able to join me (for whatever part) - let me know, it'd be fantastic to share some sublime riding with friends.

Now I know why I was putting this off - there's still six months to go & just writing about it makes that seem so far away.  If the taste of riding I had in the South West last year is anything to go by - it's going to be a ripper.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010


No, I didn't see a big avalanche, fortunately (or even a small one, unfortunately).  I did however spend all weekend on an Avalanche Skills Training Level One course.  Saturday was a classroom day (nicely a short walk from home) where Felix, our guide/teacher, took us through all the theory.  Not really being at all familiar with avalanche country there was an awful lot to take in.  We had a good class of eight & there was enough discussion & questions to keep things interesting.  I'm sure I soaked in quite a bit of the theory; even so, I'm still confident that I know enough now to know that I really don't know much & picking slopes is going to be tricky.  Still, that's why one goes back-country with more experienced companions.

Felix also had a lot of great avalanche stories & videos to show us why it's not really a good idea to trigger one.  This one from back home has been floating around the interwebs for a while, but it was definitely the most impressive (despite the music).

There were also plenty of human (skier or sled/snowmobile) triggered slides, rescue & failed-rescue stories to sober us up.  Felix was a great tutor & I particularly enjoyed swapping (off-topic) mountain-biking & trekking stories of Nepal - of course, mine weren't nearly as impressive.

The practical day was up at Bow Summit (a little way up the Icefield Parkway towards Jasper); leaving town at about seven o'clock the snow started (finally) just before Lake Louise.  The Parkway is not all that high on the roads-that-must-be-plowed-immediately list, so in a car that doesn't have suspension on steroids it was a little interesting hitting various drifts.  Definitely a little different to driving in NZ.

The day was pretty warm (-5ºC) & it snowed on us all day as we traipsed around locating hidden beacons, learning how to use our probes & shovels the most effective way & listened to as many tips as possible.  Eventually we skinned a bit further up the hill out of the trees to take a look at a few slopes & try to tie in what we had learnt the previous day with real life.  Of course, the wind was blowing in an unusual direction to confuse us a bit - but we were able to make some sense of it all.  Taking our skins off, the descent wasn't much fun as there wasn't really all that much snow & all the little Christmas trees-tops were a little hard for me to avoid.  We finished the day by simulating a couple of rescue scenarios - pretty simple, but a good way to learn a few extra things.

The weekend didn't end all that well as I was often topping the car with oil - & the drive back to Lake Louise wasn't a cakewalk either.  By Monday afternoon I'd put over eight litres of oil in over a few days & most of that didn't last all that long.  Sunday night was relatively sleepless as I thought of all the damage that had probably been done (I'm just glad I had oil in the trunk when I was up the Parkway, which is slightly remote)) & recoiled at the cost of the repairs or replacing the engine or car & the subsequent obliteration of my roadtrip savings.  I got it in the garage after work on Monday & as I was making the forty-five minute walk home, I was pleased to get the call that the leak was from the oil sensor (& not my last oil & filter change).  So that repair turned out a lot cheaper than I expected & now I just have to hope that my topping up on that trip back from Bow Summit was enough to get the  (what is supposed to be a durable & hardy) engine through.

On another note, I'm in from the yard this week at work & working at a desk.  I never expected to be spending part of my working-holiday working on PMs (Preventative Maintenance) plans - but here I am with another chance to impress people with my Excel & Pivot Table (those ones are thanks to you, Neil) proficiency.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Trying out the new foot appendages

After the eating, working & driving too much of the previous week it has been nice to be at home & a lot more active over the last few days.  Especially as the weekend was free to go skiing finally.  Thursday I got to try out my rock shoes for the first time at the bouldering gym ("gime, what's a gime?").  At least after a couple hours of that I didn't have any really sore muscles over the next few days.

The weather forecast over the weekend was for (relative) warmth & clear skies, so I was keen to finally see if I could remember how to ski.  After a reasonable sleep in Saturday morning (much needed after [perhaps too-] generously babysitting Finn on Friday night so Megan & Alex could go see Harry Potter - Finn screamed most of the three & a half hours) & Megan being unable to join me I headed up to Sunshine alone.  I must never get to Sunshine so late on a weekend - it's not fun having to walk even half the length of the parking lot.

The early season snow wasn't great but it was nice to try out my skis & have a little refresher on what was a stunning day.  There was no wind & I think the mercury sat around -10 to -5ºC, so it wasn't unpleasant on the chairlifts.  I hit the new Strawberry lift first (sucker for little traditions like that) - it's a huge improvement on the old one, much faster & now a quad-chair.  I got quite a few runs in there, off Wawa & down from Jack Rabbit to the mid-gondola station before meeting another Aussie (a friend of Alex & Megan's whom I'd been for one G8 ride with some months ago), Joel, his girlfriend, Kristy & their colleague, Anya/Anja/???? for lunch .

After a leisurely lunch (the poutine was average, as was the service) & getting to know everyone a bit (not to mention many Fort Mac stories - always one of the hazards of sitting with a group of people that all work together) we were off up for quite a few runs down from Standish.  It was nice to be skiing with a group, as although it's nice to ski at your own pace & not have to wait around when you are alone, it gets a bit boring after a while & skiing with others better than you helps improve your own skiing - much like biking & many other things I suspect.   The views from the top of the Angel chair across the meadows to Mt Assiniboine were spectacular & rather a lot whiter than last time I was out this way.

After a rather rocky ski-out, what better way to treat bodies that have forgotten the aches of a day's skiing than a good soak in the Banff hot springs?  We couldn't think of one, so that was where we headed & it was great.  The day finished with a few beers & snacks at the Drake (somehow I've managed to avoid it over the previous seven months) - good yam fries (yams in this country are what we call kumara or sweet potatoes back home, not those tiny little red twisted vegetables).

Sunday dawned an even better day.  James (a workmate from LeFarge) & I were heading up the Spray Valley for an easy ski-tour to Chester Lake to start off the touring season.  The -20ºC at the parking lot didn't really seem that bad & with the skins on & climbing up the trail it wasn't long before the jacket was off.  We climbed for about 75 minutes before I was hungry (surprised I lasted that long) so we had lunch in the sun.  Getting past the annoying flats parts on the way back, the skins were off & we had a pretty cruisy run down to truck passing many others on their way up to enjoy the glorious day.  Thankfully not much of note happened this time - last time I was up here was the second & last of my shoulder dislocations.   There was snow, could do with more, & the views were good.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Damn you Air Canada & referrals

In the end I wasn't successful in convincing Air Canada to shift my return flight back a few months.  So now I'm going back to London for a massive three-day visit, at not inconsiderable expense, at the end of February.  About the only good part of this is that I'll get to see good friends & family - some of whom I probably wouldn't see for some years otherwise.

Now that I actually have the odd visitor, the Stats Tracker (that's what that funny little symbol is down  under the Twitter feed) has some little things of interest.  Apparently someone in Houston is using Netscape 4 - I don't think I've seen Netscape since I was in Bangkok in 1996.  The best one so far is that someone stumbled on this post by googling "piranha fire dept saw".  I'm not sure what I'm more surprised by - that that search term got to my blog or that someone actually searched for that.  But my little blog & its related search terms don't really compare to what this occurrence reminded me of.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Survived Kamloops - wasn't difficult.

Actually, I had a great week away working in Kamloops.  It's a really nice little city - unfortunately I didn't see a lot of it as was mostly dark when I wasn't at work.  A big bonus of my little escape from the valley was that I missed the cold weather at the start of the week.  Word has it that it was appreciably below -30ºC in Canmore on Tuesday & pretty close to -40ºC at Exshaw (where I usually work).  It was comparatively balmy -20ºC in Kamloops that day.  Unfortunately, quite a few of the conveyors at LaFarge Kamloops are outside - it was pretty tough trying to write on a clipboard in the biting wind.

The plant itself is very small & almost cute (in an industrial way) - they have one kiln & three dinky little mills.  With a staff of only thirty to forty people, it's just like a big family & they were all very welcoming & glad to have some extra help for the week.  There were quite a few out-of-towners working in the plant - which was good as it meant I had company for dinner at the hotel on some of the nights.  I even met a Kazahk who was very chatty - many Borat jokes ensued.  After it started to warm up a bit later in the week, we got some decent dumps of snows - which was OK until I had to walk down about four-thousand feet of conveyor on the side of a hill without falling over. 

Being rather tired from the travelling & working, I gave up on reading the Hunchback of Notre Dame (very tedious start) after a couple of nights & went to the cinema a couple of times.  Somehow I saw Unstoppable - some sort of action-thriller about freight trains (not sure that's much of a selling point) starring Denzel Washington.  It was surprisingly enjoyable - but then I quite like trains & it was neat seeing bits of Pennsylvanian countryside & industry - geek.  I couldn't but help think of the three year old daughter of my friends north of Philly & her love of trains.  A couple of nights later I saw the Deathly Hollows (yes, I know - but that's what my ticket said) - my perception of it suffered from too much anticipation; I think it was probably pretty good, but having read the book recently it was never going to capture the detail, humour, suspense or conflict as well.  On the plus side, the camping trip didn't seem quite as long as my initial reading - & the scenery of said camping trip was great (except under the Severn Bridge, who goes camping there?).

Speaking of names, the few times I could be bothered venturing away from the hotel (their steak was fantastic & I just had to indulge in the NZ lamb chops), I managed to dine in such places as The Noble Pig, Senor Froggy's,  Billy Miners & The Village Idiot.

Even though it was warmer by the end of the week, the first half of the drive home was harder than earlier in the week as on the BC side a lot of the snow & ice had thawed in patches & then frozen again in other patches.  One was never quite sure exactly where those patches were.  But this side of Roger's Pass, it got cold again & the road was much easier.  Except perhaps for this truck - I was first in the queue to watch a bit of the salvage operation. 

 If anyone from warmer parts of the world (almost everywhere else last week) is wondering how I can say the road was good with so much snow around - these a part of the reason, I saw dozens of them.

This time through Revelstoke I actually managed to find the town itself & not just the Tim Hortons (a Canadian coffee & donut & other assorted fast-food institution) by the highway.  They seemed to have a lot more snow sitting around than both Canmore & Kamloops.  Also, the houses in the town are a lot older than in Canmore & with a lot more character.  The small part I saw was both very white & quite charming.

The rest of the drive was quicker & relatively uneventful - beside passing the odd car in a ditch, a not uncommon sight around these parts in the winter.  It was a lot clearer than when I drove through & the mountains were pretty stunning, this slightly wonky sunset picture will have to suffice as back-up for that statement.

Back home, Alex has gone & complicated our Settlers games by buying the expansion pack Cities & Knights.  There's a lot more to the game now & it should keep us interested for quite sometime.  I had a lazy day yesterday after staying up too late reading this great (& insanely popular) trip report of a Belgian couple that drove across the Congo a couple of years ago.  Not sure I would make it - it was frustrating enough just trying to change the taillight (if I ever meet the person who kicked the previous one in I would very much like to kick them) & install a finicky lighter socket (but now I'll be able to charge my iPod on the roadtrip).

Just got my touring-ski bindings adjusted & sent off the rego for an avalanche safety course - looking forward to get out amongst the snow soon.

Monday, November 22, 2010

A weekend of driving

It seems that I've been sitting in a car for much of this weekend.  But I seem to survived & have managed to conquer the reward huge-steak dinner & waddle up to my room (perhaps the first time I've turned down the chance of cheesecake).  Yesterday started well too early for a Saturday, with a drive to Calgary in the dark.  Perhaps against my better judgement I ended up babysitting a three-month old for close to four hours.  I'm sure this would've been a bit easier if it hadn't been -15ºC outside & I had some idea what I was doing.  As it happens, I had to traipse diagonally across Calgary in search of a tail light for my car; the first wreckers didn't have any & the only other one that was open was of the pick-a-part variety (that is, where you have to go & extricate the part you want yourself) & they wouldn't let me take a baby in.  It must be said you get a lot of amusing comments when you turn up at a wreckers carrying a wee baby from the sort of people that frequent those places on Saturday mornings.

The drive back across town was somewhat interrupted by a forty-minute screamathon - of which I couldn't pinpoint the cause.  Never mind, there were some moments of quietness - eventually just before we reached our destination sleep & quietness descended (not for me, I was driving - it was safer that way) so I spent the rest of the time until the rendezvous driving around suburban streets trying to drive over as much bumpy snow as possible (of which there was quite a lot).  Relieved of my duties, I made it back to the wreckers to try & track down the elusive tail light.  I eventually found one - but trying to remove it from the car was problematic.  Firstly, it was -15ºC and all the cars were covered in snow (inside & out); secondly, the nuts to undo were tiny & very difficult reach when one's fingers are freezing & legs are at risk from the tail gate falling at any moment (I had to prop it up with the parcel tray as the struts were gone).  It wasn't a complete waste of time - I got a lighter socket for the exorbitant price of $1.04; that will come in handy for keeping the iPod charged on the roadtrip.

Speaking of the roadtrip, after Air Canada being completely unhelpful (& too much time spent on hold) it looks like I will have to fly back to London for three or so days in February & come back on a completely different booking just so I can back to London when I want to in August.  Grrrr, that $1000 could be put to much better use. 

Back in town in the dark & after a quick tea it was round to Alex & Megan's for a couple more games of Settlers.  That's only really worth mentioning so I can link to Megan's neat little post with some delicious looking game boards.  I'm unconvinced that any of those would make it through an entire game (usually forty-five to sixty minutes) intact.  I had a shocker first up, reevaluated my strategy a bit & snuck in for a win before going home & pretending to pack.

I was out the door by quarter past nine on Sunday morning for the drive to Kamloops.  A tad over five hundred kilometres, I was hoping the snow & ice wasn't too bad.  It turned out the biggest problem with ice was getting the trunk/boot open - I couldn't.  So my luggage sat on the back seat through to Revelstoke by which time it had warmed up a lot (well, from -20 to -6ºC) & I could pop the lid.  The drive was beautiful with all the trees covered in snow & the cloud sitting mysteriously & low all around.  I was surprised that this drive was so much easier than in the summer - that was mainly because there was markedly less traffic (I went for about half an hour at one stage with no vehicles on my side of the road; this is a good thing as passing on the unused lanes is sketchy at best) & the extraordinary amounts of construction had been stopped for the winter (the TCH is now twinned all the way to Lake Louise).  Most of the rest-areas/turn-outs were closed for the winter, so there wasn't any good places to stop for photos.  So these two snaps will have to suffice to give some idea as to what I saw for most of the day.

The rental (some sort of large Buick) was rather a mixed bag.  The big plush seats looked nice, but seemed to have forgone any sort of lumbar support for the airbags; consequently, I was rather sore after an hour or two & could never find a good driving position.  Also, the car seemed to inexplicably shake/vibrate quite often - this seemed to be independent of speed & road surface, perhaps the wheels were out a bit but that doesn't explain the intermittent nature.  On the plus side, the large V6 (large if you come from NZ, probably just ordinary if you are North American) was quiet & effortless (and surprisingly economical - less than 8.5 L/100 km), the audio system was good.

So I'm in Kamloops now & spent the rest of my afternoon (extended by going back in time crossing in to the Pacific time zone) napping & reading.  Apparently Kamloops is pretty nice, so if I've got time after work this week I'll try to have a look around (in the dark probably, but better than nothing).

Friday, November 19, 2010

Winter yells "Hello!" finally, orbitals & Loops

Just for a change, the week's weather forecast in the valley has actually been mostly correct.  It's been cold & doesn't seem to have stopped snowing much at all.  After all this time, it's nice to finally make winter's acquaintance.  I think it's been, on the whole, colder & with more snowfall than the entire five week period I was here over January & early February.  The biggest downside so far is having to get up ten minutes earlier to make sure I get to work on time after scraping/brushing all the snow off the car, warming the car up & driving a little slower than normal.  Being at work all week, I haven't had the opportunity to get any decent photos during daylight, but here's a few I snapped late this afternoon.

I don't think we'll be using our lawn chairs again for a while.

Don't leave your bike outside.

 Looking across the tracks to Lady Mac at dusk, with a clear sky for the first time in a week.

This week at work we've been shovelling a fair bit of snow each morning off the path ways - another first for me.  With two concurrent kiln shuts coming to an end, there has been a fair bit going on.  I seem to have spent the last couple of days sorting & then adding steel mill balls(big steel marbles really) to the mills.  It's a far cry from my process engineering degree in some ways, but it has everything to do with a unit operation so it's vaguely related if you think hard enough.  The balls roll all over the place (I haven't managed to spill too many so far), but throwing the first few in to each wheelbarrow they roll all over the place & then bounce off each other in interesting ways.  Should I be worried that all I can think of are s, p, d & f orbitals, then van der Waals forces, & finally when there are a few more balls in the barrow - crystalline structures?

Next week I'm being sent to another LaFarge plant in Kamloops for the week to do another conveyor survey.  Apparently, the Kamloops plant is a baby one - so it shouldn't take me too long & I won't have to climb quite as many stairs or ladders.  I'm excited to have a week out of the Bow Valley & the prospect of catching up with Krysta & Steve again in Kelowna at the end of the week.  It does unfortunately mean that'll be two weekends' delay to the first ski of the season for me.  But I seem to have found another back-country ski buddy for the rest of the winter (Alex & I unfortunately do not have corresponding days off, any trips Megan & I do will be constrained somewhat by the Finn factor) - one of the other temps at work.  We're an interesting bunch of temps - one is earning some money before entering police school, one is a heavy diesel mechanic, one has operated various plants up north Alberta (oil territory), one wants a millwright apprenticeship, a few want to stay on at LeFarge permanently & then there's me - a process engineer with supervision experience on a work visa who will leave in May for some great mountain-biking.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Riding Diary

With a nice snowy & cool forecast up now (thanks Alex), there is some hope that it will start snowing properly soon & I'll be able to kick the relative laziness of the last few weekends by getting out skiing.  Sunshine hasn't opened yet - they have delayed it for lack of snow.  Somehow I ended up buying a pair of secondhand  XC skis & boots yesterday - so I should be able to keep my cardio fitness up over the winter with a night or two a week on the XC trails at the Nordic Center.

Thursday, being the eleventh of November was Remembrance Day here in Canada.  The annual parade is at a bit more of a reasonable hour than the ANZAC Day dawn parades back home - but having worked my final double-shift the previous night, I appreciated the sleep-in so only saw the tail end of the parade from Alex & Megan's balcony - did hear the pipes & the Last Post, so that was cool.   The local rags were full of tributes to Canada's fallen & serving troops - nicely, it's all a much bigger deal over here than back home.  I don't think I've ever remarked here that many provinces & states have special registration plates for veterans - that's kind of nice.  Also, the plates in this part of the world are so much more interesting than NZ's bland black on white plates.  It seems I don't have too many pictures of NZ cars, but here's one of the only car I ever owned in NZ - I definitely got my money's worth out of that.  The second picture shows an old-school white on black (non-reflective) NZ plate on a friend's Capri restoration.

Also on Remembrance Day, our big package of bike parts turned up from Jenson.  I've just now got to get around to installing a new drive train, nice new grippy (can you say grippy? - that's for you Gareth) tires, grips (they had better be grippy too) & and a brand spanking new bottom bracket.  I'll leave going tubeless for next year when my bike isn't just sitting around in the garage.  I've been messing around very briefly with trying to share the odd document on Google Docs.  As this riding season comes to an end, here is my Riding Diary.  This goes back four years to when I started training for my first Karapoti Classic - since then I've just kept it going detailing every single ride I've been on.  Unfortunately, my bike computer died so some of the distance & time fields aren't completed.  But you get the idea - I think I've done just a tad over sixty rides this summer/fall.  As you can imagine, there are a lot of good memories, friends & places visited detailed there.  Not all the functionality made the transfer from .odt to .xls to GoogleDocs format, but that's not all that important.  My poor bike has done well over five-thousand kilometres off road now (ranging from NZ & Australia to Nepal to North America to Britain & Europe to Kenya), but at least it's not as neglected as the singlespeed left in Rotorua - only about four hundred kilometres on that.  When I sort out what OpenOffice did to all the hyperlinks I had in my roadtrip worksheet, I'll get around to posting that too.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

It's always surprising just how quickly fitness fades

Only one month ago was the previous long weekend (don't despair - there's another public holiday this week, Remembrance Day) & between stuffing myself with turkey & other Thanksgiving goodness I managed four good rides - including that epic Jumpingpound/Cox Hill combo.  Most of that fitness seems to have gone.  Maybe it was the cooler air, but my lungs were screaming as I climbed up to the top of the Prospector loop this afternoon.  I was annoyed at having to sit in the granny ring for much of the climbing - but pleased to clear that tricky steep bit just before the climb flattens out in the middle. 

After turning at the top, it wasn't long before a big grin was back on my face.  I wasn't riding particularly well, but that trail is just so much fun I couldn't help smiling.  Quickly I had a little bit more flow back in my riding.  As I was by myself, I avoided most of the more difficult trail features (some of them seem to have changed a bit - one I looked at & just couldn't believe I'd managed to talk myself in to riding off/down it, let alone not crashed & burned) & simply enjoyed being out in the sunshine with a bone dry trail under wheel (I was going to write tyre, but now my spelling is getting confused & I couldn't decide if tire was better or not). 

This little ride was also notable for the groups I met.  Near the start I came across two guys carrying rather large crossbows who were quite keen on knowing if I had ever seen any sheep up this way.  I hadn't, I thought sheep lived on golf courses in New Zealand.  As I rolled on to the biggest feature at the top I was mobbed by a pack of eight dogs - the two guys with them tried calling them off with some degree of success.  Still, it was somewhat unnerving to have a dog running up my escape ramp (I'm never going to attempt that gap) to the right.  After the Pennsylvanian & Kenyan dog attack incidents, I'm not all that keen on packs of barking dogs - but I escaped unharmed.

Back home Megan, Finnian & I went exploring the riverside walking path upstream as far as it would go in the relative warmth (I still think it should be a lot less than 10ºC in early November).  Megan for some reason had a hankering for poutine & I'm not one to discourage such things, so we grabbed some of that artery-clogging-pleasure on the way back.  After stumbling on that video this morning, I've just wasted too much time watching trail videos of rides I did in California & Utah last year.  This skiing caper best be good (when it arrives) or else I'm going to go spare in anticipation.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Found this little video

Stumbling around while I work up the motivation to go out for a cold, damp ride, I found this neat little video of the Cannell Plunge trail I rode when camping with some randoms I'd met on north of LA last year.  I'm pretty sure this is the last section which was a complete blast (dropped five thousand feet in eight miles apparently) that absolutely fried my brakes.  As this riding season comes to an end up here in the Rockies, I can't wait for the next one in the western USA.  I've just decided on all the replacement parts that need ordering - perhaps I will have to go in to outdoor sports winter hibernation to finance the trip, but that's not too likely.

Cannell Plunge - Kernville, CA from Mark Weidinger on Vimeo.

Here's my take on the whole trail.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Why do I ever doubt that I'll enjoy a G8 loop?

It was another beautiful fall day in town today & after Saturday morning chores, discovering some drunken lout had kicked one of my tail lights in (grrrrrr) & a trip to the grocery store my thoughts turned to going for a ride.

There was a bitter cold wind blowing down the valley today & riding across to get to the G8 was on the chilly side - I wasn't enjoying that at all.  Feeling rather lethargic I failed to clear that first steep climb & was pretty slow until some guy caught up to me & I got a bit of motivation to get going.  From then on the ride was great & as I was by myself I decided I wouldn't complete the last part of the figure-eight - I rode back up the first part I did to make more of a Gp or Gd ride.  This was a stroke of genius as I could finally check out a side trail I'd seen many times shoot off up the hill a bit further.  At some stage after climbing a while & then a little pushing I felt that I was going to hit the hiking trail going all the way up Grotto.   I really wanted to turn around at the top of the loop & come back the way I'd come as it looked really fun, but this desire was less than the one to see where the loop came out on the main trail.  There were small bits of steep slickrock & some fun parts in the descent.  I finally knew where I was after another couple of junctions & I shot down the last descents to come back out at Cougar Creek.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Work Changes

Just a quick update for those (or the one person) wondering how I'm supporting myself on my travels at the moment.  After five months working for a temping agency doing all sorts of things (mostly low paying & not all that interesting) & the last two months here at the cement plant for the same temping agency, today is my last day for PPP for a while.  For on Monday, I start as a temp employee of the cement company.  This is great as it gives me five months of the same job & a large chunk of what the company is paying is no longer being siphoned off by PPP - therefore I get a nice bump up in my pay checks & I will be able to save more.  I'll be doing the same sort of little projects for a while (at the moment I'm working on the equipment downtime reporting - quite like those many hours I spent working with & redesigning the OEE system in the Iron Plant) until those projects run out & then I'll just be general (but well paid) labour helping keep the place tidy (there's a lot of dust & spillage around - as I found out during those exhaustive safety & equipment audits).  Now that I'll have a decent amount of money coming in (well decent compared to the last year and a half since I left shift work), I must start budgeting & saving well if next year's three month MTB roadtrip around the western USA is to be everything it should be (more about that another time).

All this means that I shortly won't be baking bagels on Tuesday & Wednesday evenings - can't say I'll miss the two double-shifts & 55 hour each week.  I definitely didn't come to Canada to do that - although, it was good for a time to learn something new & different & it helped me buy the Outback off Megan & Alex.  This weekend is Halloween - a much bigger deal over here than it is back home.  Still, I won't be dressing up or anything - but this self-portrait of me trying not to fall to my death off the top of the Clinker Stacker in the dark depths of the Storage Hall is not my usual get-up & worthy of posting.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Cement visitors

We never had these guys wandering around the steel mill back in NZ - bighorn sheep apparently.  I'm told with the combination of hunting (bows only, no guns) & mating seasons, these males are down from the hills for a bit as its safer & there are better prospects.  But that does mean that there are more cougars wandering around Exshaw now.  Still, I suppose it's better than the grizzly bear visitor we had a month or two back.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Three Sisters Pass

Somehow Alex & Megan managed to find a short local hike that they hadn't done before.  Shortly after noon today we headed up the Spray Valley (about twenty to thirty minutes drive) to walk up to Three Sisters Pass.  We found the deserted trailhead & proceeded up; not too sure of where the trail was, we found it eventually next to the (dry) drainage for the valley.  We followed this up, mostly on our left of it & sometimes on the drainage & occasionally on the right.  This trail doesn't get a lot of use it would seem, but there were just enough cairns for us to find a good route up.  Once out of the trees after the first third we on a lot of rocks of varying stability. 

A brief section had us choosing to go straight up & a through a small, and mostly dry, canyon - this was much easier than negotiating the loose rocks above it.  In the bottom of the drainage for a while we could look back across the Spray Valley until it disappeared as we followed a corner around some rocks.
There was some nice slickrock around & we displayed our different mindsets - it wasn't steep enough to climb for Megan & I thought it was a little to steep for me to ride comfortably.  We chased the elusive sunshine up the valley & eventually struck the golden light - & of course started complaining about how hot it was (must have been all of 10ºC) & shed some layers.  The final twenty minutes or so of climbing up to the pass was through the trees, and ninety-five minutes after setting out we were at the pass looking out over the east end of Canmore & the Three Sisters.  The wind picked up a little here (it was slightly exposed after all), but we hung around taking pictures & feeding our faces.  Finnian had been quiet the whole way up - apparently being carried up big hills in a sling is quite relaxing; after his feed he was not so thrilled with the wind, so we headed down.

Of course, heading down was a lot trickier with all the loose rock in places.  We were keen to get down quickly as the ranges in the distance were now obscured by clouds & it looked like it was rolling towards us pretty quickly.   Thanks to Megan talking about the distant future and the year two-thousand we all quickly had Conchords' songs rattling around in our heads - at least we now have some compulsory background noise for our game(s) of Settlers tonight.  After a little slipping, we managed to get through all the rocks without damage to anyone's head and then it was easy to get back to the car in sixty minutes.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Gondola & a bit of snow on the G8

Last Saturday was locals' day at the gondola on Sulphur Mountain in Banff.  As I apparently qualify as a local now - at least my Alberta Driver's Licence says so - I thought I would go & check it out as the passes were complimentary ("yeah, they were for free").  We'd had a little snow on Friday morning in the Bow Valley (quite a bit more out at work at Exshaw), but as the rest of Friday was pretty clear there wasn't a whole heap left on the surrounding peaks.  I joined the line & then played guess the accent as I shared a gondola car with some tourists.  I find I'm not so good at picking Canadian accents - as Megan said last week while we were watching The Trotsky, "this must be a Canadian film - they don't sound unusual" (or words to that effect) - but other accents are a bit easier.

I was a little under-dressed with only three layers on & it was chilly so early in the morning at the top.  There was a lot more up there than I expected - I think I thought there would be a food outlet of some description & not a lot else.  There was a bit of a paved trail to the summit, that took about ten or fifteen minutes & heaps of boards pointing out various peaks, flora, fauna & some history of the summit. 
There's Banff in the bottom left.  That small lump near the centre is Tunnel Mountain (the trail I rode the previous week, Star Warz, is on the back of that hill).  In the distance in the centre Lake Minnewanka - it's been a few months since Alex & I rode there a bit.   Cascade is the mountain on the left & you can see the Bow River running past Tunnel Mountain & off down to Canmore & then Calgary.

The light's not great, but that is Mt Rundle running from left to centre - Canmore is behind the far end of that.

Amusing Asian tourists obliged with this photo - up the Bow Valley on the left, the summit over my left shoulder.

After only getting a pair of cheap skates at the local ski swap, we mooched around town a bit on Saturday afternoon & I finally relented & bought Settlers.  So of course Saturday night was spent teaching Alex & Megan how to play, getting beaten a couple of times before I finally got on the board in resounding fashion.  It's nice having Settlers again - reminds me of many good friends in Pukekohe, Warkworth, Kenya, & London.  I wonder how long it will before Knights & Cities becomes necessary.

Returning home after a car maintenance & shopping trip to Calgary on Sunday, I finally remembered to pack my camera for a gentle loop of the G8.  This is easily the trail around here that I have ridden the most (up to eleven times now) - that's probably because it's usually the driest (gets more sun & is more open than the others) & it's the easiest to complete if you don't have a lot of time.  The first part of the 8 still had a fair few patches of snow lying around, but the far section of the 8 was really dry.  We had a cruisy loop (it's been a while since I've done just over an hour door to door on this trail) & it was very enjoyable stopping to take photos & appreciate the views.
 Alex riding off down the valley.

The other side of Mt Rundle - & me, of course.

Probably the jump I've hit the most in the Bow Valley (not that you can really see it) - just beside the path on the side of Benchlands Trail.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Local rides & my first Thanksgiving

Sunday I popped over to Banff to ride with a mate, Dale, I met construction temping at the Banff Center.  Dale was just back from some time in England visiting friends & family & was keen to hit some local trails.  I, of course, was up for that & we first rode part way around & up Tunnel Mountain to check out a new trail - Star Warz.  It's not a particularly long trail, but its all downhill & the local MTB organisation had built a lot of structures on the top half (they are still working on the bottom half).  Dale managed to quite spectacularly stack it on the first, & easiest, trail feature - a flat low bridge like structure.  It was a quite a sight, unfortunately I didn't have the camera out.  This was followed by a series of tight berms that I couldn't quite get right, but fun all the same.  Further down the trail, as we passed a group of riders pushing their big DH bikes up the trail, I popped over a little jump on the side of the trail & was immediately confronted by a stump that my front wheel was determined to make its acquaintance with.  Somehow I managed to jump off the side & down the bank & grab on to a small tree with only my pride injured.

Straight after these little incidents there was a nice wall ride that we rode a few times - it doesn't require a lot of speed to get up high, but I'm not sure that I ever got the line completely right.  It was quite fun to able to ride the same feature a few times as we traded my camera & tried to get decent photos.
 Here is Dale

 And here is me

Shortly after leaving the wall we found this jump.  For those with sufficient skills, it was pretty easy to clear and land on the other side - while I could still get a little air and land on the horizontal platform.  Here's Dale showing me how it's done:

And here I am getting about the amount of air I am comfortable with (that said, we both had some rather interesting landings).

From here we rode through a few berms that had just been built the day before - they were pretty soft & loose, as one would expect.  Then it was time turn up the hill back to the road that would take us back to town.  Riding through some sort of holiday camp, I was amused by this sign:
Is this for obese children that spend all day in the living room playing video games?  I'm still unsure.

Cruising back down the hill to Dale's place we loaded up his car, jump-started it & drove up to Norquay to ride Lower Stoney Squaw.  We rode both the Upper & Lower trails back at the end of August - this time due to time, fitness & motivational constraints we bypassed the steep climb to the summit & rolled in to one of our favourite downhill trail sections around Banff & Canmore.  Dale, with his big DH, bike was pushing on the slightest hint of a climb - suits me, finally someone taking photos, on my camera, of me riding trails.

I had a lot of trouble remembering any of the trail, even though it was only about six weeks since I first rode it - due in part from joining the trail from a different direction.  Nonetheless, it was a blast riding down here & there were plenty of little rises to launch off - although, I did, somehow, keep landing right before rocks I would've preferred not to hit.  Just before the end of the trail there is a nice easy jump that one can get a little or a lot of air off - compulsory photos stop.

Crossing the TCH, we battled a headwind back in to Banff & I split quickly to get back for my first Thanksgiving dinner - I was quietly excited by this prospect.  We had enough people around in the evening to take a fair chunk out of two turkeys & all the other food our guests brought.  Steve had some how managed to wangle himself a complimentary rotisserie for the barbecue - so one turkey went on there, while the other, wrapped in bacon & stuffed with pork sausages went in the oven. 
 James sniffing & trying his best, I think, not to lick this turkey delight.

 Steve basting this bird of goodness - I think mostly with beer; whatever, it was brilliant.

Thanksgiving didn't disappoint my preconceptions - masses of great food with good friends & (pseudo-) family (that's you Alex & Megan [& Finnian - although I suppose he can't quite comprehend it yet] - thanks, I'm pretty sure Canmore wouldn't be what it is to me without you).  For some reason, I'd scheduled (yet) another ride on Monday morning with a random on the forums at - so it was an earlyish night for me.

Dragging myself out of bed, breaking the fast, loading & de-icing the car I headed out to meet Jeff at the trailhead at nine o'clock (he came in from Calgary) so I could show him Razor's Edge.  The first bit of the trail along the highway was good fun & in nice condition with no other users around - it was bloody cold though, the clear skies lulled me in to a full sense of warmth.  What was I thinking riding in short sleeves?  The ride up to the pass warmed us up a bit - I was particularly pleased to finally clear a steep, rocky section in which you have to choose your line carefully as the rocks are loose & send you in directions you really don't want to go.  This photo doesn't show just how much difficulty I have had in clearing it the previous half-dozen times (it's steep, I promise you - & it comes in the middle of a tough, long climb).

After somehow missing the unsigned turnoff, we were finally on the new trail.  There is lots of cool moss & general undisturbed growth.  The first half was OK, but being a new loose & moist trail it became increasingly difficult to get any sort of rhythm to make the climb to saddle.

Before long we were riding along what I assume the trail is named after - the exposed jagged rock on the ridge line that you have to transverse.  Sometimes, it's difficult to see how one could ever get the front tire to negotiate such a narrow path; but you do know that if you can, it will grip like crazy.  Unfortunately for Jeff, he had left his helmet behind - so he had to walk a lot of obstacles that he would have otherwise ridden.  There are no man made features on this trail, but the rock provides more than enough great drops & drop-offs.  I was pleased to ride things that I avoided last time I was up here - & perhaps even more pleased to have a willing photographer to capture me pushing my limits.  As always - I assure you it's steeper & trickier than it looks (at least for me, especially the first feature [the next two images])

Just before the annoying hike-a-bike section up a hill & after negotiating more of the jagged rock there is this cool wall ride (I suppose about a forty-five degree angle) that is so grippy that it doesn't really matter how much you stuff up the entry (I should know - damn chain dropping a ring on bumpy descents), you can still ride along this slope with a lot of confidence.

Getting back on the bikes after the push up through the trees we were on dirt for a change - a very steep plunge had us walking briefly before blasting down (stopping briefly to look out over towards the prairies) & then a short little climb before on the slick rock.  It can be quite difficult to spot the trail as you drop many metres towards the road - & this particular spot is a wind funnel.  For the second time in as many days I was struggling to negotiate tricky trail with the wind buffeting me incessantly.  Still, it was greatly challenging & very fun.  Down one part with particularly loose rock & then a sharp drop off my front tire & some rocks decided it was time I had a little rest - I firmly planted my butt on a very hard rock.  Shortly after we turned the hard left to avoid riding off the cutting on to the highway & were heading back to the parking lot. 

Four great rides in one long weekend & a lot of turkey - I love it.  Although, the end of the riding season can't come soon enough for that big buy up - my rear tyre & drive chain are decidedly sub-par.