Why do I fear writing?

I was born to a single mother of a large extended family. For 80 to 90% of my time it was either the two of us or just me. A lot of just me. When we spent time with the extended family I didn’t identify with anyone. Nobody was even a little bit like me. I was soft and emotional and even the women in my family were tougher than me. I cried at the littlest things and nobody knew what the hell to do with me. Things that were common conflicts between my cousins, daily struggles and fights that blew over like flash paper, left me burnt, hurting, and withdrawn.

It quickly became my most common tactic to avoid the family as much as possible. I didn’t hate them, and I never have. I’ve never even been angry with them. They just don’t get me, and I don’t get them. The worst that I can say is that I was constantly aware of what a disappointing puzzle I was. My aunts tried to be sympathetic to a point, and my uncles, near as I can tell, were either disgusted with me or inclined to just write me off.

I never felt I had any chance to prove them wrong. I was disappointing. That part was always clear.

To the best of my recollection I was only ever passionate about two things that I could DO. In my younger years it was programming, and I was good at it. Then I grew disillusioned of programming, burned out on the stress and pace of it, and just confirmed my tendency to disappoint.

The second was learning to ride my motorbike. It was the first thing I ever attempted that was considered universally cool, even by those who felt it was needlessly reckless.

I was working a very physically demanding job at the time, one that frequently had me working ten and eleven hours a day. I would start work at 7:30 and leave at 6:30, regularly. When I signed up for my riding classes I was fortunate that my manager agreed to let me leave work at 5:30 to get to class by 6. It was an incredibly trying and stressful week, working hard all day lifting and delivering, then spending four hours every night learning a terrifying new skill that I invested my entire will into. I pretty much got through it by being angry all day. It was the only energy that would persevere. Anything else was too soft, too ready to give up.

I learned to ride in the dark. I had signed up for the first class of the year, which took place in the second week of March. The sun was down by the time class started and we learned by the minimal light of a stadium parking lot. The temperature was often below freezing, except for one night where it rained. The next evening the puddles froze and we learned to handle, or avoid, ice. My first bike drop was due to an invisible patch of ice in the dark. One evening we had snow. Another we had fog. Short of hail and hard wind I learned to ride in all the worst weather there was.

It paid off. I passed the class and, more importantly, passed my riding test.

Programming came easy to me. It was an enjoyable mental exercise and I rarely had to fight with it to make it work. (programming tools, on the other hand…) I always knew that, if I couldn’t solve a problem today, I could get some rest and get back to it tomorrow. In all likelihood a potential answer would occur to me before I even went to bed and I approached the problem with confidence. Programming, while it was difficult and convoluted, was never a RISK for me. It was a nice safe thing to do to make money. The risk came later with the environment of pressure and stress of deadlines and overtime and changes in mid stride and just shit that I’ve come to term “managing an artistic process with a manufacturing attitude.” While I definitely burned out of the programming environment the actual act of programming itself was just a comfortable mental exercise that entertained and challenged me.

You can always crash a car, but unless you’re moving especially fast, and so long as you’re wearing your seatbelt, you’re more than likely to come out of it just fine. Maybe a sprained neck, perhaps some bruising from your knees hitting the steering wheel, but fine. Even so, learning to drive a car is incredibly stressful.

Learning to ride a motorbike was dangerous. It was dangerous and uncomfortable and tiring and freaking HARD. Your past experience with riding a bicycle actually worked against you and you had to force yourself to unlearn it. I was perched on a piece of machinery that could literally kill me if I didn’t handle it well. We spent one of our earliest hours just memorizing where the clutch and brake are. Given that the two are identical levers under each hand, it’s very easy to get them mixed up in a panic. We learned how to change gears in the middle of a turn. We learned how to make sudden changes in direction and, even though the direction of the change was random, we knew the change was coming and many of us still panicked and made mistakes.

I learned and trained on a little 50 cc engine. The machine could barely bring me up to 80km an hour, given my weight, and I still felt terrified of the power of the engine sitting raw between my legs.

I now ride a massive 1500 cc cruiser. The engine on my motorbike is literally more powerful than the engine of my car. I’m constantly aware of the amount of power I’m guiding down the road, and I’m comfortable with it. I ride it daily, when I can find a reason to. My bike is my summer vehicle. I ride it to work and back, to the grocery store and back (if I don’t need more than a backpack and two saddle bags can carry) and pretty much any where I need to go. Rain or shine. Even through hail.

And my ideal vacation is spending days and days on my bike guiding it down the road.

My question now is why can’t I be that dedicated to my writing? Why I can’t write in the dark, through snow, rain, and fog? Why I can’t accept dropping the pen on the ice and just get back up and start a new page? Why I don’t write the way I ride? My writing has the potential to take me to worlds beyond where my bike can go. So why do I find it so easy to distract myself with something else to do?

Finally dreaming again

I had a dream last night, which I’m much relieved about. I’ve been fighting a severe cold for the past few weeks and one of the biggest detriments to being unable to breathe is being unable to sleep properly, and thus not dreaming. Since I’ve gotten used to my cpap machine I’ve rather enjoyed the resurgence of dreaming and have taken to gauging my ongoing mental state by them.

Work stress dreams always revolve around returning to my old job at the University and not knowing what to do. I suspect my mind picks that job as a minor defensive move because I always end up reminding myself that, regardless of the complexity of the task there had always been a manual to follow. This allows me to calm myself down and regain control of the dream.

Life stress often results in dreams about having to share living space or struggling with having to navigate through either very convoluted parking lots, cityscapes, or just buildings in general. The shared living space always involves rooms with gaping walls and showers with no privacy whatsoever. Open bathrooms that only afford limited privacy with opaque shower curtains figure prominently. Obviously my personal  and being able to figure out where Ian and what i.e. doing are huge buttons for me.

Last night’s dream was a new take on desires for personal freedom. In my dream the snow had melted just enough that I thought I could navigate the roads with minimal risk. I had very definite plans to hit the road on my motorbike to ride someplace hot and dry.

Apparently my dreams of freedom are becoming literal.

The only difference being, with the real world, you ultimately have to come back. In my dream I had no such intention. It was a very solid feeling of “point south and go”.

I guess that’s what makes it a dream.

Brief and Casual

Drinks with Leslie on Wednesday was inspirational. The trip to Airdrie was surprisingly short. I’m guessing the expansion of Calgary is rapidly closing the gap. It seemed I wasn’t on the open road for more than a minute before I had to suddenly cut across four lanes to make my exit.

Leslie and I haven’t seen each other in decades and I was graced with the unique position of drinking with a friend who hadn’t heard twenty years of stories. We talked about Chad quite a bit. And writing. Hence the inspiration.

The ride home was a little melancholly. The night air was warm and traffic was light. I could have ridden away for days if I’d had the opportunity. The glacial progress of the setting sun gave way to the brisk flicker of streetlights whipping past at 150 kph. I have a terrible time keeping to the speed limit on my bike these days. If I don’t get out of third gear it feels like a wasted trip. Plus the bike just rumbles happily at that speed. It seems to be made for it.

Thursday was cleaning and rearranging. It was supposed to be all cleaning but I got the majority of it done anyway. And I like the layout of my bedroom better. Now I just need to get rid of the last few pictures and my two ammo boxes stacked in its corner. Not sure if I’m going to hang the pictures or throw them out. They’re all too large to fit into the trunk for storage and I have to put them somewhere. So many of them don’t fit into how I want my place to look, though. Putting them up would just look wrong.

The ammo boxes are my tool boxes now, so I need to keep them … somewhere. Not sure where yet.

Friday was more drinks with good friends and laughter. Some faux pas on my part for talking too much, but I never do know when to stop. Discretion never was my strong suit. Part of that comes from living a life where few if any consequences would matter, and part of that comes from my philosophy of straightforward communication. I confess some of it comes from my love of pulling triggers and pushing buttons as well. I do need to learn more caution, however, when it’s more than just myself in the story.

I have, in fact, been making apologies this weekend for saying too much. Yes, that’s apologies plural. I’m really not very good at discretion.

But Friday night was good. Really good. I was able to talk with a new friend about things she already understood without my having to go into entire libraries of background information and a glossary. It was fantastic to just talk without having to stop and clarify every two sentences.

It was also excellent seeing the Dargies again after too long an absence.

I just have to remember there are discretionary points at which I should probably just stop talking.

Saturday was the rest of the cleaning and a much larger shopping trip than I had planned. In Thursday’s rearrangement I finally decided to get rid of the floor lamp that’s been balancing precariously in my living room for the past year. The top was completely free floating and stayed put only so long as there wasn’t a stiff breeze. The light had to be turned on full brightness or there was this metalic, electronic hum that made my eye teeth ache. And full brightness was far, far too bright for my little condo. It had to go.

Which meant I had to find a replacement. So I went in to Ikea Saturday morning for a little shopping. I found two replacements in the form of a pair of holmos. Don’t look at me funny, that’s the Ikea product name for them. But I have to say, there’s nothing like a pair of holmos to brighten up a room.

And the holmos were cheap, too. I got them for $20 each.

The trip itself wasn’t cheap, however. I came away with two dozen new glasses for other people to drink out of. My original Ikea glasses are Joel sized, just over a liter each. Numerous people have given me raised eyebrows and casual comments about “size” that got me thinking people other than me might feel a tad uncomfortable about drinking from a half pitcher. So I purchased a dozen relatively “normal” sized glasses for other people to drink out of.

And frames. I bought frames as well.

After having hung most of my pictures and putting away the rest I knew I needed to cull the frames and pictures that I already have. But then I also have all these Paul Chadwick prints that are being wasted by sitting in storage all the time, and I found a set of frames that might just fit them and get them out. So, yeah, after struggling to figure out which old picture frames I wanted to throw out because I don’t have room for them I brought five more home.

People should not allow me to shop at Ikea by myself.

Saturday’s party was pretty good. Not wild or crazy, but still fun. I got several drawings done up on my couch but there’s still tons of free space to work with. I’ve decided that drawing on my couch is now going to become the casual activity for future gatherings. When we start gaming again any unconscious or otherwise disabled character will result in the player picking up a couch cushion, shuffling through my bucket-o-markers, and drawing something new. I already love the stuff I have now and I’m dying to get more. It’s kind of like tattoos for your home. Each new image you receive has you yearning for more.

One of the highlights of Saturday was having Julie visit, someone I also haven’t seen in over a decade. Although I could have done without Leslie and Julie bringing their nineteen year old “kids” with them and making me feel incredibly old. (I jest, the kids are great… intelligent and quirky just like their parents)

Another highlight was the gift of two road signs created by Mike Dargie himself. A pair of his own road side variations, one “caution: pirates” and one “need head”. The Pirates, I think may find a home on the washroom door. The “need head”, of course, makes the most sense on the bedroom door. I know, it’s terribly college-dorm-room in it’s theme but the signs are fun.

Sunday morning was cleaning all over again. More than just cleaning up from the party I also found myself vacuuming all over again. I’d only just vacuumed on Thursday night and here it was, less than 72 hours later, and I swear the dust bunnies were breeding giant mutant offspring because there were rolling tumbleweeds of fluff collecting in the spaces I know for a fact I’d vacuumed clean on Thursday.

I had the place completely cleaned by early afternoon, though, and it felt great. All the garbage was gone, all the laundry done, and the dishes either hand washed or clean and drying in the dishwasher. All the tech and pens and whatnot was put away. My refridgerator is now packed with food and booze, however, and while I can bring the food to work the booze is just going to wind up staying there until someone comes over to drink it. I’ve been taught that drinking alone is pathetic. I tried it once, just to check, and yeah it’s pretty sad.

Sunday afternoon was divided up by the brief visit of a friend in my dark cool hiding place. Conversation was had and ice chilled beverages were consumed. No sooner did I drop friend off at home than my continued reverie was interrupted by yet another call. Scott offered his apologies for losing his battle with tequila Saturday afternoon and thus missing the party. By way of consolation he offered to ride with me to Cochrane for ice cream and I readily agreed. I’d been trying to think of a good excuse to take my bike out and this was a perfect opportunity.

Like a good Doctor with his Tardis our grizzled badger had a companion with him, a young lady who’s name I’m very embarrassed to admit I’ve forgotten, and keep forgetting despite having met her three times now. She’s a good foil for Scott, as any Doctor’s Companion should be, and we paired up for a volley of “poke the badger” with reasonable coordination. Badger retaliated with a debasement of Simon Pegg movies and Douglas Adams books, the humors of which he apparently finds tiring. We rebutted with a simple defection and she rode back to Calgary with me. That’ll teach the grizzled tuner to besmirch the names of such luminaries.

It was pleasant having a rider for the trip back. While I barely know the woman her presence was notable and welcome. Legs against my hips and arms around my chest, it was the most physical contact I’ve had in months. It’s kind of sad when something so brief and casual actually becomes noteworthy.

It probably would have been a lot more relaxing if the bright yellow “low fuel” light hadn’t been glaring at me for the latter three quarters of the trip. There aren’t any gas stations that I’m aware of on the number 8 highway, and when I took a brief detour into Lakeview for the one gas station I knew was there I found, much to my annoyance, it was closed. I wasn’t terribly worried. I’d managed a good half hour into Golden with that yellow light glaring at me last summer so I knew I actually had plenty of fuel left. It was just embarrassing to have forgotten to fill up before embarking on our trip in the first place.

I feel bad for having just dropped her off and not stopped to chat a while, but I wasn’t entirely sure how much longer my bike would keep running.

Monday was a test of my reserve, and I cracked a bit. I was curt with a few customers and outright stoic to one in particular. I think I’m definitely ready for a vacation. The weekend was very nice and relaxing, but the two days were far too short. Sixteen days off won’t feel much longer, I fear, but I’m ready for them all the same. Just four more days to get through without scaring or scarring any more customers and I will finally be able to relax.

Just four more days.

The Condo is clean again, now that I’ve cleared away dinner and washed the pans. The stove is wiped, all debris put away, and I’ve reduced the lights down to two holmos and a candle. My little netbook is barely visible on my dining room table even as I type away at it. Radio Paradise has been delivering some lovely Morcheeba, Black Keys, Pink Floyd, and Dengue Fever tonight.

The home is dark. The home is light. The home is soothing and serene. The home is mine, and sleep awaits.

That's not quite how the manual describes it…

The motorcycle drama continues.

On the Good side: One new and inexpensive 15Amp fuse brought the Suzuki back to life. That and having it’s battery recharged meant it started without a hitch and ran… well, it ran like a very old bike, which means lots of oily smoke and rough noise. But it runs strong.

Suzuki – They just won’t die.

On the Very Good side: Loving members of my tribe banded together and bought me a new battery for my Yamaha since the old battery doesn’t appear to exist, at least as far as the batter charger is concerned. We all crossed fingers and hoped the new battery would be the solution to the bike’s dead-ness.

On the Negative side: Hooking up the new battery to the Yamaha did nothing. Zilch. Nada. It’s dead-ness remained just as dead as… some very dead thing. A doornail, I think.

On the Very Good side: Undaunted and with a deep reserve of Refusing-To-Give-Up R managed to take the ignition panel off and traced the ignition wires to the REAL fuse for ignition. Apparently the other eight or so fuses I found in the rat nest of wires all deal with a bunch of other things. What they deal with I had no idea, but I’m suspecting I might have some clues to a couple of them.

The fuse she found was on a black wire and encased in a black in-line fuse case and tucked deep between the frame and the gas tank, so it’s no surprise I never noticed it. Once pulled, though, it was the obvious point of failure. The fuse wasn’t just blown, the fuse casing was partially melted and the wire burned through part of it’s insulation. Evidently the surge was huge, but just as evidently the fuse did it’s job. The point right before the fuse was the center of the melted bits, everything after the fuse was intact and unscathed. Let us all bow our heads in a moment of respect for the poor selfless fuse who gave up it’s life so that the bike itself would live.

Bless you little fuse. *snif*

We attempted to find a similar fuse assembly at Canadian tire, but no luck. We thought we’d found a usable casing but it was actually too small for the replacement fuse. Still undaunted R took a pointy tool to the old casing, scraping all the burnt pieces away, trimmed and re-attached the wire, and managed to seat the new fuse in what remained of the old casing. A judicious cocoon of electrical tape served to seal the deal and we installed the home made fuse assembly into the bike’s hidden innards. It might sound risky to you, but trust me the rest of the wiring is just as … “special”.

Putting the whole deal together we turned the key, made sure body parts were clear of all electrical and potential moving parts, and hit the button. First off, the good news was that all the lights came back on when we turned the key. The second bit of good news was that the starter turned over quite energetically when the start button was pressed. We did bite our nails a bit, though, as it took a good pair of minutes to get the bike to actually start. The gas in the tank, it be a bit old.

So, it runs.

I tucked all the rasta-dreads wiring back into the frame as best I could and replaced the side panels to hold it all in. Imagine picking up a wad of cooked spaghetti with salad tongs and you’ll have a pretty good impression of what the whole setup looks like.

And thus we took off for our first ride of the season, a quick jaunt to the belt-line to join some friends and family for dinner at Chianti‘s. And lo it worked. Well… mostly.

There are still a few hitches.

The original battery had some additional wire attached to it that connected to some lead from the display panel. The new battery has no such wire. While the bike still runs without it there’s a status indicator on the bike’s dash that I think is trying to tell me I have no battery.

Ah well, I can ignore that.

The second hitch relates to the gas tank. I think I may have jostled some other wire that connected to a gas tank sensor because the instrument panel also tells me I have no fuel, even right after I’ve filled up.

Ah well, I can live without a gas gauge.

The Suzuki doesn’t even have one. With that bike you simply reset the travel odometer when you fill up and keep in mind that you generally have 180 to 200 km worth of fuel, depending on how you drive. When the travel odometer gets to 150 km you start thinking about fueling up. Not quite as convenient as a fuel gauge but you get used to it.

Sadly, the travel odometer on the Yamaha doesn’t work.

Ah well, I thought, I’ll just mentally note what the real odometer is set at when I fill up and keep a target number in mind. That will let me know when I need to start looking for a gas station.

So, we filled up the bikes and took off down the road. I took note of the odometer reading, added 150 to it and set that as the number in my mind.

After far too short of a ride we arrived at the restaurant and found parking nearby. I thought to check the odometer to see how far we’d ridden and thus estimate how much gas I had left.

The odometer reading was exactly the same as it was at the gas station. Apparently it isn’t just the trip odometer that’s busted, the real odometer is busted too.


Okay, now I just have to be paranoid about filling up frequently.

After dinner R and I chose to take a very roundabout route home to get more riding time in. We ventured up into the NW before coming down Sarcee to Glenmore and eventually home. Along the way we tested out our bike radios and found them a bit… touchy. We’re definitely going to have to play around with the VOX settings so that speaking will set them off but road noise won’t. I expect it’ll be a while before we get it just right.

In the meantime R pointed out that my brake light doesn’t work when I hit the brakes. Okay, that will need to be addressed right away. The last thing I need is some sleepy driver flattening me to the pavement because he can’t tell I’m stopping.

Hopefully it’s just a bulb and not another fuse in that horrendous rats nest.

The adventure continues.

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Free tools!

Somebody gave me some free tools this morning. When I opened the front door to let Cali out I happened to notice a couple of tool boxes lying on the ground. One the street. Beside my motorcycle.

The obviously conclusion is that someone was trying to steal my bike, although how they were going to do that with a set of socket wrenches and some wire crimping tools I don’t know. But they either wandered off in confusion or were scared away by someone’s sudden arrival.

Honestly, I’m quite confused. The bike is a quarter of a decade old and looks it. While it’s a great bike I can tell you for certain that there are several brand new bikes just a couple of blocks away. I’m talking Ducatis. So why they would be interested in my 1982 Yamaha I have no idea.

Anyway, as far as I can tell the bike is intact (although I’ll be doing some test drives around the block to be sure before heading anywhere) and now we have some free tools. A complete socket set, minus the actual wrench (and possibly one socket), and a complete set of wire crimpers and cutters.

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Not riding

Updates are warranted, I expect. It’s been a while.

A couple of weeks ago I was riding my motorbike North on Deerfoot when the tire went flat, just as I was taking the eastbound exit onto 17th Ave SW. My rear end began skidding sideways in a wierdly flop-flop kind of way. At first it just pissed me off, but I quickly realized what was going on. Luckily I’d already slowed down a lot for the exit so it didn’t take much to pull over. It did take a lot to push it, however. All my weight and strength, in fact, so I wound up just leaving it by the side of the road.

I had it picked up the next day and taken in to GW Cycle World for some new tires. I figued I might as well get a new front tire to go with the back… I had considerably less confidence in my ability to handle a front tire blowout, especially if I were to be going at highway speeds again.

The mechanic called me a couple of days later to cheerfully inform me that the tires were done… but that he didn’t feel the bike was safe to ride.

… which makes me wonder why he didn’t inform me of this *before* finishing the tires, but I digress…

Turns out the brakes need new pads and the steering bearings need replacing. The brakes are no problem, but the dust cover for the steering column are no longer made. He said he’d try to use the existing ones and I’m crossing my fingers that they’ll be good enough.
That was well over a week ago and it occured to me on Saturday that I should have heard from him by now. He did say the parts would take a week to be delivered but that still gives him several days to have worked on it.

I tried giving them a call but it seems they’re closed for the long weekend so now I’ll have to wait until Tuesday.

On top of this the weather has been plummeting straight past fall and diving headlong into winter. Ronya rode to work yesterday morning through snow. Snow! In Freaking August!!

So now I’m wondering just how much riding I’ll get, if any, before winter hits.


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Electric Motorbikes!

Make Podcast: Todd Kollin’s Electric Motorcycle

This video is a couple of years old but Todd Kollin’s web site, Electric Motorsport, is still up and going strong. He has even better bikes up on his site than the one he demonstrates in the video.

As an aside, the range of the bikes is stated to be between 35 and 60 miles, which would be between 56 and 96 kilometers. My ride to work and back was a grand total of 30 km. I know because my motorbike doesn’t have a gas gauge so you have to keep track of your mileage to estimate how close to empty you are. While I don’t live on the exact opposite side of the city from where I worked, I’m still pretty far. I can see this bike working just fine for daily use within the city. It’s a rare day when I go for more than 80 km within the city for my usual visits and/or shopping. With a recharge time of 4 hours (1.5 with the optional high speed charger) You could even charge it while you work if you work more than 90 km away from where you live.

And with a top speed of 60 to 70 mph, that translates easily into freeway speeds, especially something like Deerfoot at rush hour.

The Road Less Traveled

If you want a traveling adventure then travel with an adventurer. Who, or what, defines an adventurer? Simple: an Adventurer is that one person either too unafraid, too stubborn, or just plain too… uncomplicated… to limit themselves to the common, sensible road.

Sometimes you just need to go with the dumb choice and see what happens.

Scott and I have often said we’d like to take a day ride together through Kananaskis Provincial Park, otherwise known as K-country, to visit my wife Ronya on one of her tours. Ronya works as a paramedic deep in the mountains on a two-on, four-off rotation that has her situated in some of the richest mountain scenery for 48 hours straight. The countryside is frequented by a lot of motorcycle enthusiasts and it’s always worth the trip.

This past Saturday Scott and I finally managed to coordinate our schedules enough to take that ride.

I’ve been out there a number of times to visit my wife while she’s working but I’ve only ever taken two routes: either straight out on the number 1 and then down the 40 or south out of the city through Turner Valley and Black Diamond to the south end of highway 40 and up to the station. Both routes circle around K-country to either the top or the bottom before moving inward on the well paved, well maintained, and well
traveled highway 40.

For this ride, however, Scott wanted something different. He decided we would take a
route straight through the middle of K-country, a route that would take us across to highway 40 directly. I had often tried to find such a route on my ordinary provincial map but never could. I assumed Scott had a solid idea of the route we would take. At least he seemed to.

We started the trip heading straight south out of Calgary to highway 22x. Instead of continuing further south to Turner Valley, however, we continued straight west where we got to see how the rich country folk live. One rise lead to a view of a farm straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting, complete with a large red barn nestled in massive

We eventually came to the turnoff for highway 22 and a short jaunt north took us in to Bragg Creek.

Stopping in Bragg Creek was more for me than Scott. I’d slept in that morning and our rushed departure meant I hadn’t had time to get in my morning coffee. Lucky for both of us Bragg Creek is rich with cafes and wineries, including one location that was a pleasant combination of both. The cinnamon cafe has excellent brownies, I’m told.

With a short stop for some coffee and idle chat we returned to our bikes. The sky was a perfect blue with only the faintest wisp of cloud. We couldn’t have asked for a better day for a ride.

We took highway 758 out of Bragg Creek because it took us along the very waterway for which the town is named. There were a lot of locals out enjoying the gorgeous day as well, with entire families camped out by the river. I was amused by the one teen girl who was just getting out of the river with her four foot inflatable shark.

The 758 eventually lead us back to highway 22, just as it changed to highway 66. We continued west on 66 and soon found ourselves passing the Kananaskis Country sign. A few more kilometers down the road and we were passing the iron bar gate that locks the road off during the winter months. The road intersects with a major migration route for deer, elk, and mountain goats during fall and spring months, and is just plain impassible in winter, so it gets locked down between December 1 and June 15 every year.

It’s worth the wait. The area is far less traveled and therefore far less worn than the usual camping areas. And there are plenty of camps along the highway, every one of them marked with a “no vacancy” sign that weekend. The whole park was filled to capacity with people, although we hardly saw any of them. The scenery was lush and thick.

We saw a few mountain goats and deer along the way. The important distinction between the two is that while deer will quickly bolt away from the sound of your engine and your horn, goats will simply stare at you and chew their cud as they straddle the middle of the road.

There was also the occasional herd of cattle. Their movement is generally slow but predictable.

Highway 66 eventually came to an end at little campground next to Forget Me Not
pond. The highway actually transformed into a gravel road, while the pavement continued to the left into the campground parking. When we found the pavement ended at the park we pulled over and Scott asked if I had a map. It didn’t occur to me at the time to wonder why he didn’t have a map himself, I just assumed he had a good idea of where he was going already and hadn’t bothered to bring one.

My map didn’t turn out to be much help anyway as it didn’t have highway 66 or Powderface Trail printed on it. Scott tossed it back to me, lit another cigarette, and said “fuckit, we’ll go back and take Powderface Trail.”

I hadn’t actually noted the name of the gravel road we’d passed so I thought he was talking about some other paved road further back. It wasn’t until he signaled for the left turn that I realized where he was going.

A little stunned at this turn of events I beeped my horn to try and get his attention, most especially to point out the three by twelve foot sign he’d just passed, the one that said:


But he either didn’t hear me or didn’t care. He just churned his way around the first bend, gravel rolling out beneath his rear tire.

I was sure he had seen it. It was large and white with clearly printed black letters, all capitalized. You couldn’t miss it. So, in my trusting naivete, I decided he must have known something I didn’t, and churned my own way around the first corner.

Truth was, Scott didn’t know any more than I did. He honestly had no way of knowing where the road would lead, or if it was even passable. He just figured we’d give it a try.

It wasn’t until we were past the first turn that we found out that Powderface Trail did indeed lead across the park, to highway 68, and would do so in 34 kilometers. From there we’d be able to take the 68 to highway 40 and onward to the fire station.

Which would have been no problem except this was my first time ever riding on a gravel road. It’s something I’ve deliberately avoided in fact. I’ve heard horror stories of people laying down on gravel during turns. Scott even had a joke about it: “What’s the difference between gravel and ball bearings? Ball bearings don’t hurt as much when you fall on them.”

Needless to say I was a little scared, and a little tense.

But I did it. I made it through the whole trek, and what’s more I enjoyed just about every second of it. I won’t lie, there were a few sketchy moments where I felt the front tire skidding out a bit t
hat spiked my adrenaline, but for the most part I enjoyed the ride.

More than enjoyed it, in fact. I was concerned that my bike would not be suited to rough travel, but in truth it felt like my little Suzuki 550 GS was made for rough gravel roads.

I never shifted higher than second. Most of the time the bike simply rumbled it’s way around the curves, uphill and down. without a problem. The throttle gave me just enough control to make it up the hills without spinning my wheels and the clutch just enough friction to slow me on the downgrade without sliding.

I had a thought during my ride: My bike was made in 1978, the year in which I turned thirteen. The perfect year for a young boy to receive a newborn pup were his parent’s so inclined. In a few years later that pup would’ve grown into a solid, reliable watch dog, strong and true. A few decades later, though, and the loyal dog would be old, well past his prime, and possibly a little unsure of his usefulness.

But give that old dog a dire situation, a chance in which to prove himself and to show the young pups How It Was Done In The Day, and the rough and confident rumbling growl you’d hear from his chest would sound very much like my Suzuki.

It was not spry, it was adept. It was not nimble, it was steady. It did not prance, it
prowled. It did not force, but flowed. It was firm, sure, and direct. It knew what it was doing and it did not falter. Not once.

After the trip Scott asked if I’d ever ridden on gravel before. I admitted I hadn’t. He apologized and admitted he’d wished he’d asked sooner. He would have given me some advice on how to handle it. Primary among the gems would have been “don’t fight the bike, let it do it’s thing.”

I was fortunate enough to figure that out on my own. I quickly learned to let the bike right itself when the rear tire started to slide. The temptation to hit the brakes was strong, but I knew from my training that braking on gravel while sliding would only complete the tragedy, not avert it. I also kept to a steady, slow acceleration and
deceleration. Essentially, it simply becomes important to avoid any sudden movements.

As you might with any old and loyal watchdog.

The road was glorious. Alternating between being bracketed so tightly by trees that you felt as if you were winding your way through a tunnel to wide open plateaus that left you breathless. Switchbacks and tight turns abound, with little room to pass any oncoming traffic. Luckily, there is very little other traffic on that road.

There were a dozen or so parked cars, campers enjoying their weekend in the back woods, and about a handful of mountain bikers forever pumping their way uphill. I wanted to salute those cyclists for their herculean efforts, but I was mindful of keeping both hands on my grips. I did give them a quick wiggle of the fingers from my left hand, though, and they did the same back. I guess that’s the back-roads rider equivalent of a hearty wave.

We also passed one fellow with a dirt bike who was taking a bit of a rest. He gave us a big smile and a wave. I wondered if he thought we were nuts going down that road on street bikes.

Modern bikes, I theorized, would have problems with the road if they weren’t dirt bikes. Sport bikes would be too high strung… energetic pups too eager to be kept under control, their back ends wagging with unbridled enthusiasm. One twitch of the throttle and the bike would be skittering off down the road with the rider sliding behind it. And while the laid back cruisers would probably handle the measured pace required I
couldn’t help but imagine the riders whining “My chrome! My paint job!” as the gravel pelted their showy purebreds.

We arrived at highway 68 in under an hour or so and took a short break to both stretch our limbs, congratulate ourselves and, in my case, drain off some adrenaline. I took my jacket off to cool down a bit and noted how my normally black motorcycle jacket was now an uneven tan in color. I remarked to Scott on how that was the dirtiest my jacket had been to date and he offered me some congratulations of his own.

Highway 68 was, in some ways, a little scarier that Powderface Trail. At least Powderface espoused caution and frequently warned us of turns and steep grades, suggesting speeds more in keeping with playground zones than open roads. Highway 68 was just as much gravel as Powderface but broader and less serpentine. It’s suggested speed limit is 80 km, more in keeping with what you’d expect from an open road.

I don’t think we managed 80 km more than three or four times. We kept to a stately 60 km for most of it, still watching the curves for drifts of gravel and sticking to the well worn tire tracks as much as possible. It was with some relief that we finally reached the paved highway 40. The chance to open up the throttle and race to the relatively heady speed of 90 km was a relief.

We visited with my wife for an hour or so, Scott getting his first tour of the station and all it’s gear. We took a look at the mock burning house where they honed their fire fighting skills and got to learn about the ins and outs of dealing with fighting fires out in the back country. Even when there’s a hydrant available it’s pressure isn’t always
reliable. There were siphon hoses with computer controlled pumps and, as a last resort, a massive tanker truck filled with emergency backup water.

As we sat in the hall’s kitchen, it’s front window looking over mountains shrouded in cloud, Ronya entertained us with stories about what it’s like to work out there. Like the two grizzlies that had them pinned in the station until conservation officers could come and deal with them… or the time the snow came down so fast and hard that it took two of them over an hour to shovel enough snow just to get the hall’s bay doors open. There are times in the winter when emergency services just simply aren’t available because they’re quite literally snowed in.

The logistics of backwoods emergency services makes me doubly glad I work at a desk.

Before continuing down the road Scott and I stopped in at the Delta hotel in Kananaskis village for a quick lunch. Tourism runs year round at the hotel and we saw plenty of hikers and other nature lovers coming and going. We also had a couple of the best ham sandwiches I’d ever tasted from their Deli.

Well sated we continued on down the road towards Lougheed park. We stopped at the
only gas station available on highway 40 and were pleasantly surprised to note how their exclusivity hadn’t prompted them to jack their prices sky high. I’m sure they could have charged double if they’d wanted to.

While filling up our tanks we chatted with a number of other riders out enjoying the day. A few other riders were curious about our “antique” bikes and had numerous questions, many of which I simply couldn’t answer. “It rides well enough for me” was about the best I could ans
wer them. Scott’s old BMW R80 was of particular interest because of it’s unusual side mounted piston configuration. Scott commented that while
the jutting pistons did prevent him from taking turns at steep angles there was also little need for him to do so.

After a bit more banter and comeraderie Scott and I set off once again, fully intending on checking out Peter Lougheed park. Unfortunately we missed the initial turnoff and, while debating whether or not to turn back to it, storm clouds began to loom. We decided it would be more prudent to simply head back for the city.

The 40 lead us down to Longview, known locally for its phenomenal beef jerky, where we had another brief rest stop. We used the gas station’s squeejees to clean the road debris from our helmets. Scott took the moment to point out that it was very evident which of us had the wind screen. His jacket was covered with numerous bug hits. Between his bug guts and my mud layer it was a toss up which of us looked rougher.

The distinction was soon moot, however, as we encountered an intense thunder and hail storm shortly after gassing up in Turner Valley. We tried waiting it out at the intersection of the 22 and 22x, and gave it another go when the rain stopped. Unfortunately we very quickly caught up with it again and found ourselves pelted by hail at 110 kmh.

Resigned to our fate we decided to just tough it out and muscled our way home. Twenty minutes later we were pulling into my driveway, soaked through and through.

But at least our jackets were clean.

Tripin' but not Tripin'

Did some motorcycle maintenance this afternoon. Lubricated the drive chain, which seriously needed it. Of course it wasn’t until after I’d liberally coated the chain in lubricant that I noticed it was in serious need of adjustment. So I got out the tools and maintenance manual, loosened up the rear wheel axle, adjusted the tensioners on the chain until it had the right amount of slack, then tightened it all up again. I have to say I’m honestly proud of myself. I’ve never been much for mechanics, and I’m constantly terrified I’m going to screw something up. But I took the bike out for a short test drive and it all seems to work just fine. Better, in fact, as the proper tension seems to have resolved that slight fluctuation in power I used to experience in lower gears. I confess, though, that I’m still worried I may have misaligned something that will only reveal itself in a catastrophic chain failure at highway speeds. But that’s just how my mind works. Constantly worried I did something wrong.

I’ve done a few more rides on the motorbike in the past week. So far an hour is about all I can handle before my ass feels like it’s been sitting on a narrow hardwood bench all day. Perhaps it’s something my body will adapt to, but right now I can’t help but think it’s a simple problem of too much weight on too small a seat, neither of which is changing anytime soon. My body is just too freaking heavy.

I had been toying with the idea of riding to Saskatoon this coming weekend for my high school class’ 25th reunion… but tonight I’ve decided there really isn’t sufficient reason to go. I’ve had a few of my classmates asking if they’ll see me, which is nice and all… but these are people who’s names I barely recognize. And it occurred to me tonight… the vast majority of my close friends through high school either didn’t attend my school or were in a different grade. The only two guys from my actual classes that I hung out with, Brendan and Alan, aren’t on the reunion list. The rest of the people on the list are just names I kind of recognize. I’d be standing around in a room of people reminiscing about things that never involved me.

It’s not that I didn’t do anything in high school… I remember toga parties where the primary entertainment was listening to, and joking along with, Monty Python albums. There were drinking parties outside in the summer… driving up and down main street for hours meeting up with other kids and racing… there were drive in movies (remember drive in movies?)… and gaming sessions. Endless, tireless gaming sessions. There were the long weekends with Rocky Horror midnight shows… tons and tons of shit I did with my friends to the point where my mother didn’t know where I was most weekends. But none of it was ever done with any of the people actually showing up to the reunion. About the only thing I have in common with those people, beyond the common academics, is some band practice. The only truly interesting class to me, my computer science class, involved Brendan and Alan… the only other extra curricular activity of note was the photography club, of which only Brendan and I were members.

And in all honesty, as interesting as it might be to see how some of these people have changed (and in all likelihood how many of them haven’t) it just isn’t worth the expense. Particularly now when the money could be put to better use elsewhere. The cost of the reunion, combined with food and lodging, would just nicely replace that beat up laptop I’m currently not able to use due to a dead $150 power adapter.*

Which is sad because… it would be nice to see some of my friends from 25 years ago. But there’s no “Twenty Fifth Reunion Of The Random Strange And Interesting People Joel Used To Hang Out With” committee so I guess it’ll have to wait until the 30th or something.

And I have no idea why this should keep me up in the middle of the night, but here I am typing this up at 4:30 in the morning.

* On a slightly related note some friends have come forward with offers of assistance so it looks like there might be a hot tub at the BBQ after all… more news if and as it happens.

took a little trip

Went on a roundabout trip on the motorbike the other day. I needed to ride up to the very northwest of Calgary to drop something off and, on suggestion from Ronya, avoided as much city traffic as humanly possible by the simple expediency of leaving town and driving around the outside of it.

You can do that when you’re unemployed and don’t have anywhere to be in a hurry.

Took Glenmore Trail to highway 8, 8 to highway 22, 22 up to Cochrane and onward to 567, then to highway 772 to return to the top edge of Calgary. Wound up in Country Hills.

All in all a very enjoyable ride. Although I actually meant to grab the 1a from Cochrane to come back in via Crowchild but somehow missed the turn off in Cochrane. Oops.

My only tense moment came when some dark clouds began amassing just north of Cochrane and I realized I’d missed the turnoff back to Calgary. I didn’t know how long I’d have to go North before I could go east again, but I was confident there’d eventually be a turn towards Airdrie at least. Pretty soon. Any moment now. Aaaany second. Are those clouds dropping rain? They certainly look black enough. Dammit, where is that road?

That’s about as random and adventurous as I normally get. The control freak in me was screaming in my head, demanding I either turn around and head back to Cochrane or pull over and at least consult a map. But I persisted, forced myself to not set my path out ahead of time and just find out where it would all lead.

It eventually lead me into the ubiquitous construction zone that permeates the edges of Calgary on all sides. I sometimes think of Calgary’s expansion like one of those movie maps where the scientist is using red shaded areas on a map to depict the rapid expansion of some virulent contagion. I don’t think the two expansions are entirely dissimilar.

I’m getting more comfortable on th bike, physically. Unlike other trips my knee wasn’t screaming in agony every time I got off the bike. I think it’s finally getting a chance to heal from my former job. Now it’s my hips that are starting to hurt, and it’s more of that “stayed in one unfamiliar position for too long” ache, the kind that gradually goes away as your body becomes more familiar with holding that position for extended periods. I’m feeling encouraged that I might actually be able to tour with my current bike rather than having to wait until I get an actual cruiser. I’ll still have to take frequent stops, but that’s going to happen anyway as my bike’s gas tank only lasts about 180km on average.

Anyway, definitely looking forward to more road trips this summer.