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 mtbr.com 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 mtbr.com 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.