Sunday, August 28, 2011

Chartwell House

One of the great delights of being back in England is the accessibility of interesting historical things. The previous few days had struck a similar pattern - miserably wet & cloudy in the morning before clearing to a reasonably nice afternoon. The same happened yesterday, so Trish & I were looking for somewhere to go. Initially the Hop Farm looked like a good idea, but it seems to have turned in to a family park which would be teeming at this time of the year. Eventually we settled on a shorter drive south to Chartwell House in the Kentish countryside.

I'm not sure how I wasn't aware of this place on my last stay here as it's quite close & satisfies my historical interest being the home of Winston Churchill from the early '20s until just before his death in 1965. We managed to snake a parking space - of course many other people thought it would be a good time to visit such a nice spot. The grounds aren't particularly large, but there is a nice big lawn sloping down towards a couple of ponds & looking out over the Weald of Kent. There were also plenty of ponds & walled gardens - the first walled one we came across was a very nice rose garden. Further past the house & the croquet lawn was an extensive kitchen garden - some of the walls for this were built by Churchill himself. Also out in the grounds is the studio where Churchill pursued his love of painting.

The house isn't from the outside overly exciting or ostentatious. Entry inside was timed so that one could still move comfortable in & between the rooms. No photos allowed inside - interesting to see where Churchill had written most of his many books. Shortly after taking over the house, Churchill had a lot of work done including adding a wing facing out towards the lawn & ponds. This at least gave a lot more space & light to the interior. More of Churchill's better paintings & an extensive library abounded. Upstairs there was a small museum detailing some of his life & achievements, as well as many of the various ceremonial & other clothes that were very interesting. Overall a very pleasant afternoon pottering around & enjoying the Englishness of it all.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Settling back in to London

From the lofty heights of a prolific 80+ posts since the USA Roadtrip began at the start of May, I have comparatively little to mention of what has been a very pleasant first week back in the UK. Being quite familiar with the place I haven't even taken any photos - shock, horror.

In amongst the sorting & storing in my room (which has had a great makeover since I left) I've managed to get a couple of trips in to the city already. Saturday afternoon was a great catch-up with Levi, a school friend from my earliest, & in fact all of my, Te Puke days. We wandered a round a bit, I finally had a curry on Brick Lane (which was prolonged as we waited for the rain to pass - which it did) & was in the strange position of giving a brief London history lesson. Somehow we ended up on Charing Cross Road, with a bus ride back & a brief Tesco stop (alcohol is so much cheaper here than in Canada) we were back at Levi's where Marki soon had a huge roast chicken in the oven. Although still quite full from the curry, it was a great meal & very good company.

Monday I do remember actually getting stuck in to updating & revising my CV (including getting rid of 26 ampersands - I do like ampersands!) and even sending one off. But that enthusiasm has fallen by the wayside as birthday season settled in. Trish & I dashed off to London one afternoon to catch the matinee of Mousetrap in the West End. Catching a show was one of those things that never quite happened last time I was here, so with the recent (& still going) Agatha Christie spree it was appropriate that I went & saw the Mousetrap. It was great fun to be sat high up on very steep seats & see typical Christie characters come to life on the stage. It was funny in parts, as the books most assuredly are, but a little odd being set all in one room. A few of the plot devices, particularly the identity of whodunnit, reminded me throughout the play of a few of her books I'd read recently - but I'll say no more on that subject. Good pleasant fun - followed up with great cake, hot chocolate & a wander to Trafalgar Square. Alas, the New Zealander, Sir Keith Park has gone from the Fourth Plinth (another statue of him can now be seen in Waterloo Place).

The rest of my birthday was pretty quiet - but it did clear up nicely in the afternoon & Trish & I spent a good while strolling around the beautiful grounds of Hall Place. Followed by scones with clotted-cream & jam - very nice. Here's a picture of Hall Place from my visit almost two years' ago - I assure it looks the same.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

29er testing over

So now that I'm leaving Canada & the house of 29-inch wheels behind I'll give my final thoughts riding those big wheels.  I don't think much has changed since my initial impressions.  With the larger diameter wheels & a set-up tending towards the XC side of things - those bikes just climb & climb oh so well.  I'm usually a handy climber, but could get up so many more things than I remember last summer.  It makes it seem easier, but I think you end up going a little faster & therefore don't save much energy (also the gearing was a little different - larger granny-ring & smaller big-ring. 

On the undulating/flat terrain & going downhill I never felt that I was enjoying the trail as much as I should have been. I still think that's because the bike feels disconnected from the trail & it's more difficult to move the bike around & get a little bit of air. I never got used to less grip on the downhills - still don't know why the rear tire never gripped as a Crossmark should; this led to less confidence for me.

So I'm looking forward to getting back on my bike sometime - it may be old & scratched up, but it's been a lot of places with me & is still a good steed. On that note, I still haven't got the dogbone for my bike from GT Canada. While they make good bikes, if you're considering buying a GT bike in Canada or the USA - don't bother, the service from the distributor is truly awful. I could have had such a simple part shipped from New Zealand in the time it's taken for my part not to turn up (three weeks for a 10cm strip of steel with a hole in each end - would have got a homemade one if I had have known). Well, it looks like boarding is starting two hours late, so that can be the end of my little rant.

*A big thanks to Megan & Alex for letting me use/try out their bikes while mine was out of action during my brief return to Canmore.

So long, Canada

With a long delay on the cards, I could be sitting here in Calgary Airport for some time.  Air Canada slides from their position of decidedly average in my mind to somewhere worse.  But never mind, I have no pressing engagements in London.  The last week has been spent enjoying summer, riding, entertaining the resident child, cleaning, packing & snatching the last few moments with various friends.

Wednesday last we had an early first birthday celebration for Finn. I remember eating a lot of cheese, sliced meat & chocolate (fondue will do that) before Megan served up a delicious spiced chocolate cake - in true Australian Women's Weekly, it was shaped as the digit one. Finn particularly enjoyed his first taste of cake - as the photos here show. On Friday we were off to the airport as Megan, Alex & Finn headed in a big metal tube to Iceland for near on three weeks of hiking, being cooked in hot pools & chasing geysers. I wonder, given his fondness for eating dirt & rocks, if Finn will fancy a drink from a mud-pool. So the round of Canada good-byes started there as I farewelled great friends that have been so helpful & the source of many varied adventures (not to mention many games of Settlers). Funny to think it all started well before we, or even our parents, were thought of - as Megan concisely explained.  I hope I see them again soon - Canada, UK, Australia or NZ - any of those will do.

It must have been Thursday that I sold my car, got the cash in my hand & now have just the registration plate as a lasting souvenir of all that driving in the States & a winter of sending the wheels through a lot of snow. Rides for the last week have included the Montane Traverse (which was very boring by myself), Riders of Rohan & the Highline (which may have been a little optimistic to take Joel & Steve on - but we did get nice & close to a big herd of elk along the riverside), & a nice little jaunt with Steve around the Nordic Center's Orange Loop for the last time.

This is definitely the most luggage I've ever taken on a plane with me - in there is my bike, my hiking backpack, my skis (& boots), a suit bag & a small backpack as hand luggage. It only cost me $275 for the privilege too - a bargain compared with shipping skis.

So after final farewells with good friends over (also my last plate of yam fries from the Drake), I'm heading off to London. Checking in all that baggage took a while, just as well the flight was delayed so I could pop off back into Calgary to see Anya & go to Tim Hortons one last time (Timmy's wasn't important). Last week with all that rioting I wasn't overly keen on heading to London - but more unknown adventures await in all manner of places I hope. But I sure will miss the mountains, the riding & the skiing - but it's probably a good thing not to be facing another winter like the one past. Knowing I was only doing one was probably got me through all those days when it was below -20ÂșC.

Monday, August 15, 2011

USA Roadtrip 2011 Map & Data-fest

Here is the map of my recent travels promised some time ago to Liz (who has a great blog going of her & her husband's ever-increasing self-sufficiency on a small block of land in rural Queensland). It's taken me most of the day to compile this & frustratingly I found out two-thirds of the way through that to keep page-speeds up Google separates larger My Maps in to different pages which you can't view mashed together. I was looking forward to adding in all the rides I did & some photos at various scenic places, but with such a poor user-interface & result it's not worth the effort. I did manage to find a way so that one can view the whole map at once - so here it is.  As it's not obvious, the trip started & finished in Canmore, Alberta, & was a counter-clockwise loop (or thereabouts).

edit - You may have to zoom out a bit for it to work first time.

A few more links for those that are interested or just like spreadsheets:
 [Footnote: Heartily sick of Google Maps now, I recommend you don't try using Google Maps to compile such a set of data as the page-ifying is really annoying.  If however you, like me, start & then find that you exceed the ridiculous 3 MB limit for viewing a kml file in Google Maps (by right-clicking on KML, copying the link location & then pasting that in to the Google Map search box) & don't want to give up on all that you've just done - you can use Google Fusion Tables.  Click on the KML link of your Google Map & save it on your computer, then open Fusion & go New Table>Import Table & point Fusion to the kml file you just saved.  Press Next two times & then Finish & you will have a table of your data - just press Visualize>Map to see your map.  Now you see why I said don't use Google Maps to map out your big trip.]

    Thursday, August 11, 2011

    Being Lake touristy

    Exhausted from Sunday's big ride, we had a late start before I took Brent & Emma up to see Lake Louise & Moraine Lake. We blew past the park gates at the busiest I've seen them for a long time (twas Monday too) & of course when we got to the lake it was insanely busy. But never mind, we found a sneaky parking spot & went to gaze at the beautiful lake for a while, feeling wonderfully lazy. There was considerably less ice than early May in the lake - in fact, there was actually water in the liquid phase, brilliant.
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    If we hadn't have been so sore & tired, I would have been pushing for the nice little ride to Moraine Lake - you actually earn the view, instead of just driving there. As it was, we drove & there were less people there than at Lake Louise. The lake was a lot higher than last time I visited in the fall - all the logs at the outlet were floating. Brent tried valiantly for quite a while to cross them, but in the end he was too big to not sink. Emma managed to get a very wet foot trapped under a log or two for a while. The frivolity over we wandered up the lookout point.
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    A cruisy drive back down the parkway home - we saw a couple of huge-antlered elk.

    Tuesday morning we were in a fit state to ride, but as Emma & Brent had to hit the road south I opted to show them the rocky & rooty technatality of the Nordic Center. With a bit of the Yellow Loop, a little bit of "Brendan getting slightly lost" & then some of the Orange Loop across the meadows & down we came to the Coal Chutes intersection. Brent persuaded us to go down the black run. I'd forgotten just how much fun it is - a little steep, but on the smooth & non-grippy coal surface I was just on the right side of the edge of control & it was a blast. With the nice Georgetown climb, a bit more of the Orange Loop (Orchid) & a little more toiling up hill we were back at the day-lodge after watching little kids with guns (not something you want to come across on your MTB ride) at the biathlon range. The usual fun down the berms, table-tops & doubles on Soft Yoghurt & then down Devonian Drop & along the loose gravel beside the hydro facility & our nice little jaunt was over. Sad to see my Kiwi accented visitors leave, but I'm sure I'll hear some Kiwis in whatever is left of London next week.

    Wednesday, August 10, 2011

    Lusk Pass - Jumpingpound - Cox Hill - Lusk Pass epic

    I was surprised to learn earlier in the week that Emma & Brent were going to be up around Canmore so soon in their big American roadtrip (we saw them mid-June in San Luis Obispo, CA) as this weekend just gone. But they managed to get up here just in time before I go back to London next week (which I'm not looking forward to so much after the last few days' news) & I was very pleased to have my first Kiwi visitors to Canmore. A lot of Saturday evening was spent sharing roadtrip & mountain-biking stories - I hope we didn't bore Megan & Alex too much. A small period of time was given over to discussing the ride we were to take them on the next day. My favourite ride from last summer was Jumpingpound Ridge & Cox Hill, so I was keen to show off some good backcountry riding in Kananaskis Country. I think Alex has been missing big rides this summer - he wanted to go over Lusk Pass to start & finish the loop (making more of a lasso). We, perhaps naively, were up for this.

    Parking at the University of Calgary Barrier Lake Field Station, we were soon climbing up towards the top of Lusk Pass. It was mostly double-track (we followed the Trans-Canada Trail for a while towards Baldy Pass) & steady climbing. However, near the top of the pass it got really quite steep & so loose in parts that we were all walking. I was beginning to think that we were spending a lot of energy that we would want later in the day. Nonetheless, we had a little descent from the pass to the road, Powderface Trail, where we turned south & headed ten kilometres or so to the trailhead. We were fortunate to have a thin layer of cloud keeping the sun off us & not much wind to contend with.

    I covered most of the trail last year, but that climb up to Jumpingpound Ridge is still brutal. Looking back on my last trip report, I think I was able to ride the same as last year - but the big wheels made it a bit easier & less energy sapping. We all kept a good pace up - well three of us kept a good pace & Brent was noticeably ahead of us as he cleared everything. That hardtail with a single (30T) chainring obviously works for him. The rocky part along the ridge was definitely easier for me on a 29er; soon we were out of the trees & at the summit as the clouds cleared & we got the views we deserved.
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    Before long we were snaking along the ridge - the lack of wind compared to last year was great.
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    After the ridge-riding, the trail drops nicely through a couple of hundred vertical metres & is great fun. There's a few rocky bits & small periods of unobstructed panoramas.
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    Can you tell I was enjoying myself?

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    It's more steep climbing to regain most of the altitude just lost to summit Cox Hill. That first Lusk Pass bit must have had me tired, because I feel that I didn't ride quite as much as I did last year & this time there were no insane gusts to contend with. We all rejoiced (well, three of us) when Brent's climbing ability was finally defeated by a lack of traction less than fifty metres from the end - he is human after all.
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    Once again, the huge downhill off Cox Hill made the 1800m of climbing we did in the day worthwhile. Starting with those big open traversing switchbacks on loose rock before diving in to the trees & the trail changing to roots, to rocks & frequently back again it was a blast all the way down. I was pleased to mostly be keeping pace with Brent - I'm still not completely used to having the brake levers on the opposite side, so I'll stick to that as some sort of lame excuse.

    We had a steady climb along the road for seven or eight kilometres & after being out for six hours & climbing so much, we were all starting to feel rather exhausted. But we kept a good pace along the road & were eventually back at the Lusk Pass trail - which, naturally, had more of a climb to the top than we remembered going down earlier in the day. But those steep bits we had to walk up were a complete blast on the way down as we blew through many loose rocks. Brent & I got a nice little surprise to come around a corner at speed & see a bear cub running off down the trail - we started making a lot more noise after that. The last part of the old fireroad had a lot of logged trees across it, which was a bit of drag.

    We persevered & were back at the car 56 km & almost seven and a half hours after leaving it. Truly the longest, most epic & best ride that I've done all summer - which is great, as I've been looking forward to it for many months. We all hurt, but were pretty happy with the riding & that we'd achieved it. Joel & Kristy had us all (Megan & Finn included) around for barbecued beer-can chicken dinner, all that meat was much needed & deserved!

    - Some photos taken shamelessly from Alex & Emma.

    Monday, August 8, 2011

    Mt Indefatigable - Fatty

    More short rides around my favourite trails in town ensued for the rest of the week. Prospector with Lafarge workmates was good & I'm slowly getting used to this 29er thing - I was very pleased to clear the entire G8 the other day while out riding Megan. I've been able to ride everything in the past, but not string it all together - there was one particular creek exit that would always trip me up.

    On Saturday, after a late start we drove up to the Kananaskis Lakes to ascend Mt Indefatigable. This appeals by just having a great naval name (too much time spent studying Nelsonian history & watching Hornblower). With many variations possible of the name - popular ones being Indefatigue-able & Indefeatable - we settled on calling it Fatty. It was supposed to be two to three hours to the southern summit (the less travelled route apparently, although it didn't seem so on the day) & we got off to a late start just before one o'clock. After less than a few minutes walking & just about to start climbing away from the lake we came across a woman with a freshly (obviously) broken ankle being carried down the slope by her father & son. She didn't seem in huge amounts of pain most of the time, but those carrying her were rather tired. Alex & I spent some time tag-teaming some others to carry her back to the parking lot.

    We walked up through the usual variety of terrain - damp forest, exposed rocky ridges, some small meadows with nice flowers out & then a little more scrambling as the soft dirt trail gave way to rocks, rocks & some more rocks before reaching the final ridgeline & the weather station near the top. The view off the back wasn't nearly as exciting the one we'd been looking at on the way up. Looking across Upper Kananaskis Lake we could easily see (not so) Hidden Lake, the falls & across to Aster Lake & Warrior - the site of a ski-tour a few months ago that I found particularly gruelling. The descent was one of those that we were feeling in our quads the day after, but we were quickly down & driving home via Spray Lakes (saw a moose shortly after departing).

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    Finn taking it easy while Megan picks a route - Lower Kananaskis Lake down below

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    Upper Kananaskis Lake in front of Hidden Lake & Warrior

    Wednesday, August 3, 2011

    Trying out a 29er

    29ers have been around for a while now, but until this week I've never ridden one on a trail before. If you don't know, a 29er has 29 inch wheels as opposed to a normal mountain-bike which has 26 inch wheels; also, that maybe a sign that this post will be of little interest to you. With larger wheels, they are supposed to be easier to roll over bumps &, once you get those big wheels rolling, easier to keep moving with the extra rotational inertia. With my bike still waiting for a part to turn up to get it back to a rideable state, Megan has generously let me use her bike a bit to enable a little riding during the start of my final three weeks in Canmore. She & Alex have both now got shiny new 29ers recently - I have in fact ridden Megan's a couple of times, but as there was this much snow in the Canmore Winter Meltdown Triathlon it hardly counts as trail-riding.

    The first thing I noticed riding through town to the G8 was that the tires were hard & fast - pumped up for the recent 24 Hours of Adrenalin event in town. Tire choice & pressure make a big difference to a ride & while I love the Crossmark on the rear, it never gives me much confidence on the front. I prefer something a bit chunkier with enough tread on the side to save me from washing the front wheel out too often. Near the start of the G8 is a decent climb that I only conquered a few times last year on my bike - it's steep enough that the biggest flaw in my bike's geometry tends to show itself & the front wheel becomes very difficult to keep on the ground. The 29er got up this easily, although with the bigger wheels I was spinning the granny-ring a bit earlier than normal to keep them turning at slow speed. This was a pleasing climb, but pretty much what I expected. With the big wheels requiring an easier gear, it was nice to make my way up the rest of the climb feeling that I wasn't spinning excessively (the reason I prefer the middle-ring on 26").

    So having shown that the larger wheels made the more difficult climbs easier, it was time to see how they would go on faster undulating & then downhill terrain. Generally, the roots & rocks were absorbed better - but perhaps due to the setup, not markedly so. I did also notice that I would repeatedly have the rear tire skidding a little in the strangest places - perhaps better brakes & the hard tire a bit, but not completely. It was hard to keep the control I wanted with that wheel not gripping. Also, through the twisty parts of the trail the large wheel is not nearly as nimble & agile - but when you can just hit things & roll over them, it doesn't matter so much. As suspected, I didn't have much confidence in the grip of the tires to rail the corners as I normally would.

    On the downhill, there was a strange disconnect from the trail - a little hard to describe, but I just didn't feel the trail as much. It's noticeably less work, less rewarding & less fun. The bike would also pretty much stay planted on the trail - which can be good & bad, but in this instance I was really missing not popping off the odd root or rock. So after that first ride, the least enjoyable part (uphill) was easier - but the most enjoyable part of the ride was less fun. Not completely sold yet, but it sure was nice having a shiny new bike to ride.

    I let a bit of air out of the tires yesterday for a little spin around the Nordic Center. This improved things a bit, but I still had that same problem of the rear wheel not gripping the surface properly. Consequently, on a couple of chutes that I usually ride at speed & with ease I was just past the edge of control & mildly alarmed. Good to be out on the bike on another glorious Canmore day, so I can't be too picky - especially as I won't be buying another bike for a while yet.

    Monday, August 1, 2011

    Back to Canmore - Roadtrip Complete

    To finish off the three months of driving I decided to drive all the way back from Vancouver to Canmore in the middle of the long weekend. The logic there being that Jasper would be a zoo on a sunny holiday weekend & I'd be better off checking it out a little later when there were less people around.

    So Saturday morning I set off on a wonderfully sunny east across BC. The traffic was pretty good & BC was beautifully forested - it really is a large province when you drive across the bottom in one day. After Kamloops I was back on roads I'd driven before & there was a half-hour wait near Shuswap - but I had the Kindle out so I wasn't too fussed. Over Rogers Pass & coming into Golden there was an ominous big cloud of black smoke billowing into the sky. I was near the front of a queue for almost an hour as some poor family watched their RV incinerate. The rest of the drive was uneventful & I was soon driving below familiar peaks - just they had a lot less snow (almost none) on them than I remember. It was a little odd getting closer to Canmore - being away for three months & doing so many other things must have lessened the blow of leaving such a great place as I wasn't too concerned that I'll be gone in three weeks.

    So that was it really, just under 22000 km, 87 days, 13 states, two provinces, 45 MTB rides totalling a thousand kilometres, at least 15 National Parks & 5 National Monuments, only 2600 photos & 435 gallons of gas. What a great trip! We were blessed by the weather - notably it never got really hot, as it did the last time I visited Utah, Nevada, Arizona & California in 2009.  Highlights are hard to list as there were so many. But I'll try anyway:
    A separate list for the riding highlights, which is even harder as I rode so much quality singletrack.
    That's that - thanks again Valerie for coming along for the ride & sharing the experience (& financing a lot of it too!).  I'm in Canmore until mid-August before flying back to London to catch the last of the English summer.  Mum's coming across to England for the last few months of the year, so it'll be great to see her & plenty of other friends & family in the UK.  From then on, I only have vague ideas as to what I'm going to do with myself... But riding better figure in there somehow.