Martin

Martin

Friday, 27 February 2015

Cycling Around the World – Moods of Future Joys and Thunder & Sunshine, by Alastair Humphreys

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I came across Alastair Humphreys during the TGO Awards Outdoor Blogger of the Year debacle. I was impressed to discover that he seems to be making a career out of being an adventurer, motivational speaker and author. I decided to buy his children’s books, about ‘The Boy Who Biked the World’, as a Christmas present for Sue’s nephew, Alexander. It was a good choice, and Sue and I enjoyed a cheeky read of these books before wrapping them.

That led me to buy the Kindle versions of Alastair’s ‘adult’ narratives that he wrote after his 46,000 mile, four year journey around the world. They were his first books and I wasn’t expecting anything exceptional; I just wanted to show respect and support for his choice of career in a very small way.

Both Sue and I have now read Moods of Future Joys and Thunder & Sunshine. They are excellent, arguably ‘exceptional’, books, taking the reader around the world with Alastair, experiencing his ‘highs’ and ‘lows’ both in moods and metres.

I commented on the books here, so I’m not going to try to write my own detailed review, especially as I basically agree with Guardian reviewer, Susan Greenwood. Alastair’s pages provide links to her review of his first book, which review is unfortunately blighted by adverts, so I’m reproducing it below.

That’s all really, though some readers may be interested in following Alastair’s blog, or investigating his forays into ‘Microadventuring’.

Here is Susan’s review:

Reading about someone else's remarkable achievements tends to make you do one of two things. You either (a) reach for another bar of Dairy Milk/ can of Stella/ packet of Doritos in a depressed funk of self-pity, or (b) leap off the sofa, thump your chest and scream "carpe diem" until your lungs burst.

With cycling experiencing something of a renaissance at the moment, Alastair Humphreys' book Moods of Future Joys could be just the ticket to inspire a mass expelling of air.

You have to hand it to him. Whereas most people subtly back out of those classic Friday-night pub boasts ("I'm totally going climb Everest using just my teeth") as soon as the hangover kicks in, Humphreys stayed true to his words - and 46,000 miles later he'd cycled around the world. Which puts us all in a terrible situation because if a lad from Yorkshire can overcome international terrorism, dysentery, a crushing Siberian winter and a month without showering to achieve what Sir Ranulph Fiennes calls "the first great adventure of the new millennium" then there's not really any reason why we all can't.

He may not have meant it but Humphreys' engaging, sometimes brutal, sometimes comic style is above all a call to arms. Or rather wheels. His book deals with the first leg of his four-year odyssey which started rather unceremoniously with a wrong turn out of his road in Airton, Yorkshire, in 2001 and ended on the glorious coast of South Africa more than a year later.

The intervening miles, which could probably be described as one of the longest detours in history after September 11 made central Asia a no-go, are documented with unflinching honesty. Cycling across Africa on a route passing through Sudan, Ethiopia and Kenya is apparently a brutal experience but one, it would seem, that is worth the effort. Humphreys conveys his loneliness, wanderlust, grit and despair in a manner reminiscent of the great tradition of British explorers. He may have spent many hours asking why the hell he was doing this; anyone reading his book may, in the great tradition of watching British explorers, be more curious as to whether this man was insane or not.

But anyone who has ever got on a bike when they'd really rather not will find a kindred spirit within these pages. It is a common misconception that cycle touring is "fun". It is not. [I don’t agree – Ed] Fun refers to bonfire night, sitting in the pub with mates or bunking off work to go to Brighton for the day. Being woken in the dead of night by solvent abusers demanding money, cycling for three days into an unrelenting headwind or pedalling along the floor of the Blue Nile canyon with the weight of a looming excruciating climb out playing on your mind is not fun. Euphoric, boring, unrelenting, unique, exhausting, liberating, lonely. These are words that describe a long journey by bike and Humphreys weaves them into his chapters in such a way that you can't say you weren't warned but perhaps you're a little intrigued to try them out for yourself anyway.

If you did decide to, you should hope for some friends like Humphreys', who litter his tale with some superb comedy moments. How worldly wise he must have felt on receiving an email from Simon, who joined him briefly in Amman, crying out for help after ill-advisedly shaving his buttocks to make cycling less painful. And only an Englishman and a Frenchman could pass the miles in Mozambique with a competition to see who could cycle the furthest with their eyes closed. Cyclists are a strange lot.

But the great running theme throughout the book is solitude and the effect of transient friendships on one's soul - in Humphreys' case, this manifests itself in raging tears and tactically used swear words. Occasionally this gets monotonous but then it was probably monotonous for him too. In fact the entire book has been an exercise in self-determination after it was rejected resoundingly by every publisher and agent he approached, leaving Humphreys to publish it himself through website Print and Be Damned. For a man who claims in conversation not to be a solitary person, he has consistently chosen to go it alone - a glimpse perhaps, of a steely motivation which this adventure clearly required but which is only alluded to by the author.

Moods of Future Joys isn't a rollercoaster ride of laughs and high jinks, nor is it a serious or poetic description of Africa. Ultimately it is not even a book about cycling to Cape Town - because as all cycle tourers will tell you, the destination is not the important part. A guy asked whether it was possible to cycle around the world and then he set off to see. Be careful not to choke on those Doritos as you leap off the sofa.

(For readers local to Timperley, we have these and other books on a spare Kindle that’s available for short term loan – just ask.)

Monday, 23 February 2015

Dunham Massey Winter Garden

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Yesterday, Sue and I popped down to the Winter Garden at Dunham Massey. The idea was to teach me how to photograph the flowers. My habit of just turning on the Macro setting isn’t very reliable, so we spent some time over a coffee discussing a better technique.

My new found knowledge (now forgotten!) was not put into practice as I didn’t risk using the camera in the rain that greeted us on leaving the café. However, Sue did pull hers out from under her jacket to take these pictures.

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I’m not sure of the precise identity of the top two flowers, but the flowers above are obviously one or more of the many varieties of Snowdrop in the garden, and the flower below is Helleborus 'A G H WhiteBlotched'.

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We didn’t spend long in the garden. It was wet. Sue then adjourned to the swimming pool to get even wetter, but my walk home along the canal towpath took the biscuit for wetness and resulted in me getting rather muddy, as well as soaking wet due to forgetting to take waterproofs to combat the large soggy snowflakes. Duh!

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Friday, 20 February 2015

Thursday 19 February 2015 – The Adlington Circular Walk

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This was a revisit of our New Year’s Day Walk, by way of a morning outing for any LDWA Plodders or others who cared to come along.

Lots of apologies were received, but I was pleased to find Alan R parked outside Lyn’s house in Grove Crescent. (Thanks, Lyn, for the loan of your driveway.)

We wandered down to the excellent café at White Bear Marina and were surprised to find Paul and Julie waiting there. After enjoying a cuppa with us, Paul wandered off to mend a commode (don’t ask!) and Julie joined us on the circular walk.

It was raining as we headed along the Leeds & Liverpool Canal towpath, but nothing like the deluge we’d driven through to reach Adlington.

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As we left the canal to find our way around the extensive engineering works connected with the railway electrification, the rain eased, though the path to Slack’s Farm incorporated some slurry dunks for the unwary (me).

By the time we’d crossed and re-crossed the M61 motorway to reach the remains of the old driveway to Anderton Hall, it was time for a drink and some of Sue’s shortbread.

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A pleasant walk alongside the River Douglas brought us out at Adlington’s lower road, opposite the sadly defunct Waggon and Horses pub.

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Luckily, just up the road, The Spinners is still going strong.

Then it was back to the canal to complete the circle and return to Lyn’s house.

For more details of the walk, my previous account contains much more information. The 11 km route is shown below. Allowing 2-3 hours, it’s a very pleasant and well signposted ramble.

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It’s a long time since I’d seen Paul (aka ‘Angus’). He’s gone slightly grey (maybe we all have!) since this picture taken in Chatham Grove, Withington, in 1972. But Julie hasn’t changed at all, and nor have Anna (pictured left – she and Dale joined us on our Shap to Richmond walk last September) or Jacqui (pictured centre – she joined us in the Dolomites last July).

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The more observant may notice that Paul’s attraction to commodes was already in its infancy in 1972!

Alan R’s take on this short stroll – entertaining as ever – is here.

Monday, 16 February 2015

Gatineau Loppet 2015

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The Gatineau Loppet is part of the Worldloppet circuit, a series of 16 Loppet races across the world. Whilst we stay in Canada we can experience one of these international events, featuring a range of skiing abilities from Olympic standard to our relatively novice efforts.

Ken has competed in Loppet races on a number of occasions; I competed in the Gatineau Loppet in 2012, taking a shade under five hours to complete the 51 km course. I reported on it here.

Today’s conditions were a far cry from that relatively balmy day in 2012, when the race was won in 2 hours 37 minutes. We woke to blowing snow, a cold easterly wind that would be in our faces for virtually the whole route, and a temperature of minus 19C that remained like that all day. It was an estimated minus 31C taking wind chill into account.

Arriving with freshly waxed skis at the Mont-Bleu High School at around 7.30, whilst Ken went straight to the bus that would take him to the start at Wakefield (P17), Sue and I kept warm in the High School, together with others who were concerned about the cold conditions. Many, like Minna Kantsila from Finland, pictured below, sported facewear in an effort to protect cheeks and noses from frostbite.

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We eventually left the High School at 8 o’clock, Sue and I jumping on the last buses for the 40 minute ride to Wakefield. Once there, we stayed on our respective buses until the last possible minute before taking our places on the start line.

Ken and Sue were perceived to be quicker skiers than me, so they had been allocated to ‘Wave D’ (Ken should be wave C) whilst I was in the ‘old timers’ wave E, last to start – about 8 minutes behind the first off at 9 am. I was right at the back of the 420 or so starters, even behind the last minute faffers!

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That was the last picture I took (before the start) before the finish, over 6 hours and 51 km later. It just wasn’t amenable weather or conditions for photography, although a few hardy souls dotted along the route in snow holes did their best to record the event. The snow and cold continued throughout the day, with conditions being tougher than Ken had previously experienced on the Loppet.

I felt I was going really slowly (I was going really slowly), but at the 10 km point I caught up with Sue, whose pace I’ve been unable to maintain for all this trip until now. I slowly drew ahead, but I was still concerned about making the 30 km cut off point by the deadline of 1 pm.

The cold east wind was really biting, as well as blowing dumps of snow onto the competitors and the track. In 2012 we skied along nicely groomed tracks. This year the trails may have been groomed the previous day, but that counted for little as we ploughed our way through fresh snow that was constantly filling the tracks. I soon realised that even if I did make the cut off, I’d be unlikely to finish within 6 hours, let alone 5 hours.

The section from Herridge, where Ken apparently stopped for a while to have his nose warmed by a first aider, to O’Brien was slow but enjoyable – at least the fresh snow made the sometimes tricky luge like descents on trail 36 quite easy, and by now I knew I had a few minutes to spare, arriving at the cut off point with 20 minutes in hand. Sue arrived a bit later with 10 minutes to spare, by which time I’d set off on the long uphill haul to Huron.

During the previous two weeks I’d frequently suffered from cold hands, and on one occasion cold feet. Using Sealskinz waterproof socks completely solved the foot problem, and Sealskinz gloves, often pretty useless in the wet in the UK, have proved to be the best I can find for this type of skiing. I’d bought some Heat Factory disposable hand warmers but didn’t need to deploy them as on this occasion my hands had warmed of their own accord after about twenty minutes, and they stayed warm apart from one short period after a break for a toilet stop at Shilly Shally cabin. Long johns, leggings and waterproof trousers kept my legs warm, and all I needed under my old RAB Vapour Rise smock was an Icebreaker 200 long-sleeved t-shirt. That got a bit sweaty at the start, but after a while it reached an amicably dry equilibrium and was completely dry and warm when I finished. A Lowe Alpine mountain hat, which I find too warm in the UK, is superb headgear for these (-31C with wind chill) conditions, supplemented by an old scarf, a neck gaiter, and on this occasion a buff that I think was superfluous and simply made my neck ache.

For most of the route there was just one usable track, so any overtaking that would normally be accomplished by switching tracks needed to be achieved by running (not that easy on skis) past the skier ahead. This could be very annoying for the skier being passed, and really energetic for the person passing. People passing me often appeared out of nowhere, didn’t give enough space and simply trod on my skis. I tried to be more courteous and chatted to some folk as I went past. Mostly they had nothing to say, though a couple of ladies skiing together bucked the trend by chatting every time they passed me - they stopped for more breaks but were skiing more quickly apart from on the downhill sections, where they kindly stood aside to let me pass before overhauling me again as I slithered slowly up the next hill. People with spectacles seemed to be having a harder time than those of us fortunate enough to have good vision, as in these conditions specs simply ice up for several reasons.

The checkpoints were ideally placed at about the 10, 20, 30, 35 and 45 kilometre points along the 51 km route. These are manned by volunteers who hand out hot drinks and snacks to the skiers as they pass. Some of them looked pretty cold, but mostly they were cheerful and encouraging. Apparently there were First Aiders who were keeping a close eye out for skiers who may be suffering from frostbite. I noticed a few minor casualties.

After the Huron checkpoint there’s a long Parkway section where the ‘endurance’ aspect of the event comes into play. Sue by this time knew she could make the finish and simply bimbled on, stopping to chat with the marshalls at both Huron and at the final checkpoint at the Notch. To avoid cold hands etc I simply carried on at a fairly metronomic pace until the turn down trail 26 signalled the final couple of kilometres. Loudspeakers from the finishing line at the Mont-Bleu could be heard for the last half hour or so as the route circled to the finish. There was a timing chip sensor about 400 metres from the finish, giving the commentator full information on the competitors as they approach the finish line to her blaring encouragement and a group of students with tambourines. I don’t think she was brave enough to try to pronounce ‘Altrincham’, and the number of Brits amongst the 400 finishers could probably be counted on the fingers of one hand.

Having finished, I waited near the finish line (forgetting to turn off the Garmin Gadget for a few minutes) to see if Sue would appear. I just missed her, as after 20 minutes my hands started to feel cold. Meanwhile my camera returned to life.

Here’s local man Pierre-Yves Gauthier, who I must have passed during the ski from Huron.

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Apart from the fanfare that greets finishers, even so far down the field, a medal is thrust around your neck and a Toque hat is stuffed into your mit – three years ago it was a buff. That is the extent of the ‘Goodie Bag’ for this event, which costs about £50 to enter. You do get a meal at the end in the High School cafeteria as well. Considering all the logistics of the event, I think this is probably good value.

Here are some more finishers.

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Elizabeth Hurdman, from Toronto, was competing in the 15 km version of the race. She’s blind, so it must have been tough for her in these conditions to finish in a respectable 2 hours 22 minutes.

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Minna (pictured near the top of the page) would also finish the 51 km course, in around seven hours. There’s also a 27 km course that some people find sufficient of a challenge.

The Garmin Gadget recorded the event as below:

The results for each competitor can be displayed as shown below for Ken and Sue and me (for geeks only), but the search facility doesn’t go as deep as ‘country’, so we don’t know how many people took part from any particular country without going through the data for each competitor. The Total Participants figure of 483 is a little misleading, as that includes 60 or so who didn’t turn up, and a further 20 or more who didn’t get past the 30 km cut off point.

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The full results are here, the winner taking about three and a half hours instead of the usual two and a half. That made us all feel a bit better about our slow times, Ken finishing in 5.31, me in 6.10 and Sue in 6.34.

Here’s Sue’s short report on her day out:

The roads were white with fresh snow as we left for Mont-Bleu High School at 6.50am. CBC radio broadcast "it is -20C in Ottawa this morning, feeling like -31C with wind chill". Ken and I exchanged a look in the front seats! Luckily we could wait in the school until the last minute, diving onto the yellow school buses, which took 40 minutes to reach P17, the car park at Wakefield. Again, we could stay on the bus until the last minute, leaving its warmth for the corral at the start line. Surprisingly, Martin was allocated wave E whereas I was in wave D which started 2 minutes earlier.
The open fields were perishing and it was snowing quite hard, so glasses soon fogged up, then became coated with ice inside! They were put away! There wasn't too much vying for space and by the 15km marker, I was skiing alone. Martin caught me up at about 9km and we skied together to the first checkpoint at 10km.
The trail alongside Lac Philippe was bitterly cold into the wind and my two pairs of gloves weren't keeping my hands warm. This was to be a feature of the day, with hands warming on the ascents, but cooling on the descents or after a brief stop. After the checkpoint at Herridge, the ski to O'Brien was a delight with some fast descents. I noted the time I left O'Brien as 12.52, having had my face checked for frostbite. The cut off was 1pm, and I hadn't realised I was so close. From this 30km mark, it was uphill, first steeply up trail 36, requiring herring-boning, then the gradual ascent up the Fortune Parkway to Gossip's Corner. Here, I had to stretch my aching lower back before continuing up the Kyber Pass to the high point of the course at Huron, where the bagels were freshly warmed, washed down with Gatorade.
From Huron, the course is supposedly mostly downhill on the Parkway, however, the fresh snow made going slow, and there was effort required even on the descents. By now, recreational skiers were out, well wrapped against the cold. Unusually, we vied for the single tracks on just one side of the Parkway (normally there are two sets of tracks either side). It was snowing only lightly and the sun shone weakly for short periods.
The km markers tracked progress. Now, my shoulders were aching and I was relieved to turn off the parkway onto a smaller trail and the last 2km. The sound of the loudspeaker at the finish line could be heard, and some snowshoers shouted "Great job!" Alone, I covered the last few hundred metres, to be serenaded across so the finish line by a group of people with tambourines, etc! A medal was put around my neck and it was a relief to have made it and have the opportunity to get out of the cold. The temperature didn't rise above -15C all day, with wind chill taking it to below -20C. The 51km course included around 1000m ascent. Of the 63 women who finished, I came 53rd, in 6 hours 34 minutes. Would I do it again? Yes, but I hope the conditions might be less challenging!

Well done Sue!

But this is after all a ‘Beach Holiday’, so we returned to base to discover that Helen had been deep sea diving to catch our tea.

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It’s now over two days since we started the Loppet. ‘Beach Holiday’ activities have delayed this posting. Yesterday Ken attempted the ‘freestyle’ (skate skiing) Loppet, which was reduced from 51 to 42 km – a circuit from Mont-Bleu - due to the cold weather. Unfortunately he found it impossible to keep warm and failed to make the cut, returning to Mont-Bleu, happily without succumbing to frostbite, in two hours after a 20 km ski. Well done for trying, Ken, and thanks also for going outside later to barbecue our steaks. The rest of us stayed in our beach hut (apart from a short walk along the beach) on a day when Ottawa was reported to be the coldest capital on the planet. Even Mongolia was warmer.

We had hoped for a final ski today (Monday) before leaving for home tonight, but with the outdoors temperature at minus 24C (minus 37C with wind chill) we’ve decided to stay in the hut!

That concludes our missives from Canada for this year. Thanks go to our congenial hosts, Ken and Helen, and also to Susan and Roy for organising the Lake Placid trip that now seems like a distant memory. We hope to see you all again soon.

Friday, 13 February 2015

Thursday 12 February 2015 – Western Cabin from P10

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Just a short 16 km ski today, in cool and cloudy, but quite acceptable weather after another 10 cm of overnight snow.

Sue and I drove to P10, whence she shot off up Fortune Parkway, leaving me for dead in the wake of a small child.

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Trail 3, the Burma Road, was a delight to ski after overnight snow and a few folk in front of us had smoothed the trail. We turned right at Ridge Road then took trail 2 down to Western Cabin, where Sue is pictured leaving in the top image.

We hoped to avoid having to light a fire in a cold cabin for the third day running, and we were granted our wish. The cabin was full, with about thirty people warming themselves in front of a roaring fire. There was standing room only for a while, but we eventually found a couple of places on a table with two old ladies.

Then it was back up trail 2 and along the sweeping undulations of trail 1b to reach Champlain Parkway and its attendant ‘Lookout’, pictured below – one of the coldest spots in the Park.

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Not exactly blue skies, but a good view from the escarpment – a bit like some of the views from the North Yorkshire Moors escarpment above places like Thirsk.

We hastened on to the Étienne-Brûlé Lookout and then along trail 3 to regain Ridge Road. Zooming down past Huron Cabin and flying on down the Khyber Pass – in superb condition for a fast descent – we were soon back at Fortune Parkway by Gossips’ Corner. The easy descent from there to P10 car park was achieved by 2.30. My Garmin Gadget* wasn’t working today, but I reckon we were skiing for about 2¾ hours, plus our lunch break at Western, covering a little over 16 km, with 250 metres of ascent.

The evening was spent most enjoyably with Michael and Sayuri, Michael having taken the day off to cook us a splendid meal. It was brilliant. Thanks.

As I write this on Friday morning, it’s minus 25C outside, and with wind chill the weather forecast says it is currently minus 37C. We won’t be going far in those conditions, so the next entry will be in a couple of days’ time. I hope that won’t bother any of the thirty or so prompt readers of these postings; I’m sure it won’t disturb the reading habits of thirty more who tune in every few days to catch up, and it won’t bother the 250 or so other readers who tune in daily (perhaps by mistake) to one or other of the 2100 or so other postings to this on line diary.

* The ‘Garmin Gadget’ is my Garmin Forerunner 310XT gadget that I use to record my routes and produce .gpx files. Fellow blogger Gayle recently posted within some ‘Random Witterings’ a list of mainly ‘human errors’ that she has encountered when using her own GG, and I recognise all her ‘common failures’, reiterated below:

  1. Turn on GG before setting out on walk; place by window to obtain satellite signal; forget to pick up before leaving; upon returning from walk, switch it off with nothing recorded.
  2. Turn on GG before setting out on walk; obtain satellite signal; put in top pocket of day-pack; forget to press ‘start’; finish walk with nothing recorded.
  3. Turn on GG before setting out on walk; remember to pick it up and start it; complete walk but forget to stop it; drive off somewhere, very quickly increasing the recorded mileage and speed.
  4. Decide to take day-pack on walk for no reason other than to give a pocket in which to hold the GG; check contents of pack (decide not to take anything out for fear of forgetting to re-instate it later); go out for walk; remember after half an hour that the GG is still sitting, switched off and completely forgotten, in the living room.

To those I can add what happened to my GG today (a recurring issue) – I had re-charged it the previous night and taken it off the charger, the act of which inadvertently turned the gadget on, completely draining the battery in preparation for its next trip…

Duh.

Thursday, 12 February 2015

Wednesday 11 February 2015 – O’Brien to Herridge

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The sun wasn’t as bright today, and with wind chill it was about minus 25C, but we enjoyed good snow conditions on the classic 10 km trail from O’Brien (P11) to Herridge Cabin.

A little way into this route there’s a shortcut across Meech Lake. Sue couldn’t resist it.

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Herridge Cabin was empty and cold. Sue laboriously lit a fire. I went to nearby Healey Cabin. It was full of French in front of a roaring fire. I went back to retrieve Sue. Back at Healey the cabin was now empty and hot. Our toasted ham and cheese sandwiches nearly got over-toasted. We were joined in front of the fire by a friendly couple from Ottawa.

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Then we left the cabin, which had been occupied by a farming family until 1955. They also served as caretakers for the Prime Minister’s nearby residence, so the humble farming family got to know a variety of Canadian Prime Ministers, foreign heads of state, and royalty. None of these was in evidence today – probably hidden behind private gateways.

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Trail 36 back to O’Brien is an entertaining route, with three steep downhill sections that can form icy luges in some conditions. Today they were easy and fun, as was the ‘Black Diamond’ (hard) trail from P11 to Fortune Parkway. We nipped up that before coming home, and enjoyed the sometimes tricky steep cambered descent back to the Imprezza that Ken kindly lends us whilst he is slaving over air traffic control software systems.

Pneumonia hasn’t dampened Helen’s culinary skills. We enjoyed a sumptuous dinner tonight, perhaps helped by the fact that her illness prevented her from joining us skiing, so she could enjoy pottering around the kitchen all day!

Today’s 24 km route is shown below:

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Tuesday 10 February 2015 – A Trip to the Fire Tower

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The ski from Lake Meech to the Fire Tower and back is usually an enjoyable one, and in today’s (relatively) warm and sunny weather the 25 km there and back trip, with about 550 metres of ascent, was superb.

We got a late start having waited for the early cloud to clear, so it was 11.30 by the time we set off up the steep hill (pictured above, looking deceptively flat) from P12.

There were very few people about, and the trails had been freshly groomed, so the going was superb, and having shortened my ‘wax pocket’ my skis were gliding along much better today. I was almost able to keep up with Sue, who’s pictured below on Trail 40 that leads up to Ridge Road.

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Arriving at McKinstry Cabin at 1 pm, we were surprised that nobody had bothered to light the stove, so our resident girl guide did the business before continuing on to the Fire Tower, the furthest you can get on this side of Gatineau Park on the groomed trails. There’s a path down to Luskville from the Fire Tower, which I have a vague recollection of visiting on snow shoes a few years ago.

The Fire Tower isn’t particularly photogenic, or did Sue just slip when taking this picture?

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Back at McKinstry the fire was now in full bloom and our sandwiches quickly toasted on the cast iron surface. The other visitors were both skate skiers, one who had popped across from Montreal for the day, and the other had a tin of oysters for his lunch then needed a bag to take care of the oily tin. These people hadn’t done much skiing this year due to the persistently colder than normal weather and the lateness of the snow.

After our second long break at the cabin we set off yet again into the blinding sunshine.

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It’s an easy 10 km back to the car park by 3.30 pm. A very enjoyable, mainly downhill, run in lovely light with long shadows. Our route is shown below (but the link, like many things, isn’t ‘Apple friendly’, I’m afraid).

Back at home, Ken was nominated for barbecue duty and we enjoyed some of British Columbia’s finest salmon burgers. Sue’s stomach has returned to normal, and Helen has some medication for her pneumonia, so she should make a full recovery but may not be able to do much skiing this week.

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Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Monday 9 February 2015 – A Beach Holiday

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Those who know us well may appreciate that Sue and I regard our winter trip to Ottawa as our annual ‘Beach Holiday’. Much of the time is spend lazing around, with occasional trips to the beach such as today’s to Mooney’s Bay.

Sue was recovering from explosive innards and Helen was battling with pneumonia. Ken wisely went to work. I eventually escaped to the beach at Mooney’s Bay and whizzed around three laps of the Classic Ski Track – about 10 km – before meeting Ken’s 4pm deadline for picking him up from work.

All this doesn’t really warrant an entry, but if I leave it blank I’ll be puzzled in years to come… “why was there no entry for 9 February 2015? What on earth could have happened? The answer can’t possibly be ‘nothing’!”

Since setting off on this trip I’ve been reading Alastair Humphreys’ book ‘Thunder and Sunshine’ – around the world by bike, part 2’, having recently read part 1 of the same adventure – ‘Moods of Future Joys’. I finished part 2 this morning, so the answer to the question above is definitely not ‘nothing’, as these are books to be appreciated and remembered. Alastair’s single-mindedness is remarkable; he is one of a rare breed of professional adventurers who are an inspiration to many but are emulated by very, very few. Not many of us will want to match Alastair’s feat of spending over four years of his life cycling around the world, but as a young man that trip has formed the foundation of his career as a writer and adventurer. Well done to him, and I wish him every success in the future. The books are a delight to read, providing an insight into Alastair’s many and varied feelings and moods and encounters as he undertook his journey, and relating how even in the poorest parts of the world, indeed more often in those parts, the ‘niceness’ of people and their generosity and helpfulness got him through so many difficult moments. Whilst inevitably he had a few bad experiences, his overwhelming conclusion was that the ordinary people of the world have something in common – the impression that they left on Alastair led him to conclude “Don’t believe what you see on the TV: the world really is a good place.”

Alastair’s latest project is one of ‘Microadventures’ closer to home, and I think he’s reported that the book is selling better than those about his epic bike ride. To my mind, there’s something not quite right about that, especially as the bike ride books are cheaper, and available in a bundle and on the Kindle (which version is sadly full of typos and minor errors).

NB I haven’t read the book, but I have an idea that Alastair’s take on a ‘Microadventure’ at Mooney’s Bay today would be to dig a hole in the ice and take a quick dip, regardless of the absence of a lifeguard…

Monday, 9 February 2015

Sunday 8 February 2015 – The Whiteface Resort

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For our final day of this holiday within a holiday, we headed to the Whiteface Resort in Lake Placid, which had been recced by Helen yesterday.

It comprises a series of short sections of well groomed undulating trails, on which a one-way system operates. A mix of picturesque woodland and open country makes for a most pleasant experience, albeit there are only 6-7 km of trails. We enjoyed two circuits of about 5 km each, punctuated by a long coffee break and followed by lunch in the comfortable lodge. Then we said our farewells to Susan and Roy, who had a long drive back to Glastonbury, and we set off ourselves into the snow that had been falling since we left Ottawa on Friday. For much of the journey home this snow mutated into freezing rain, despite the temperature of minus 16C.

A longer skiing route, the Jackrabbit Trail, passes through all three of this weekend’s Cross Country skiing venues.

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Roy is shown below on today’s trail. We had nearly a foot of snow overnight and Roy had tried to ski through this fresh snow instead of the groomed trail. He chose a steep hill on which to experiment, and after the resultant somersaults he was still smiling. We hope the imminent operation on his broken wrist (broken in a cycling accident last year) is more successful than the original surgery.

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We also hope that Sue recovers quickly from the stomach upset that competed with the freezing rain to blight our journey home.

Meanwhile, Ken managed all five stages (80 km) of the Canadian Ski Marathon on Saturday, spending the night at the ‘Gold Camp’. But in today’s tough conditions he decided to call it a day after just two sections, eventually arriving back home at 8.30 pm, with split boots (due to ‘the cold’) and split thumbs (due to ‘the cold’). He’s coming to the UK in April. We’ve found something a bit easier for him to tackle!

Sunday, 8 February 2015

Saturday 7 February 2015 - Mt Van Hoevenberg Ski Trails

Light snow continued to fall overnight,  giving good skiing conditions if a distinct lack of mountain views in this area where the 46 Adirondack summits over 4000 feet in height are 'bagged' by locals in much the same way as the Wainwrights are bagged in England. Well, that's not quite true as most of the 'Wainwrights' offer splendid views, whereas here (I believe) many of the summits are below the tree line.

After a hearty breakfast in Susan and Roy's adjoining room, Helen (full of cold) went off to explore the facilities at the nearby Whiteface Club and Resort (a bit like Mooney's Bay, she later reported) whilst the rest of us took a trip to the Mt Van Hoevenberg skiing complex.

A good choice. The trails here were used in both the 1932 and the 1980 Winter Olympics. After a relatively easy 10 km warm up in the north west corner of the complex, where a biathlon contest was due to take place later, we paused for an early lunch in the Cross Country Lodge, a warm, welcoming and busy spot. 

Then it was on to the Porter Mountain Ski Loops and the Ladies 5 km Olympic Circuit. The Loops reminded us of the Burma Road trail in Gatineau Park, but here the hills were a little bigger, if not steeper. Anyway, it was great fun even if I did struggle to keep up. I'm regretting replacing my old skis as the new ones - as of last year - seem to have a 'drag factor' that makes them rather slower. They simply refuse to glide.

After that 13 km we returned to the Lodge for a second lunch, before embarking on a further 7 km of action on the North Brook Trail and the Flatlander Extension Loop (a nice wind down), taking our total for the day to a little over 30 km.

It snowed gently all day - soft, fluffy stuff, so all we really saw was snowy woodland and intricate systems set up to tap into the local syrup factories - the maple trees common to this area. 

Dinner in Cascade Mountain Inn, followed by a slideshow of Susan's Tasmanian pictures nicely rounded off an excellent day.

Sent from Lake Placid

Saturday, 7 February 2015

Friday 6 February 2015 - A Trip to Lake Placid

It was minus 20 with flurries this morning in Ottawa. Skiing would be cold.

Snow Crystals glinting in the sunshine brightened our day as Sue, Helen and I drove towards the St Lawrence River at Cornwall. Two big bridges to convey us to the USA, plus a magnificent old structure that is being dismantled. 

Three month visas were granted with a rare gesture of pleasantness from the staff on the border.

New York State - deserted farm buildings amongst farmland and forestry. Snow flurries with spindrift.
Through Malone we went, and into the Adirondack area with its lakes, forests and mountains.  The forests are laden with snow and a haze of blizzardy spindrift, with little sign of the lakes and none of the mountains. 

Past washboard houses in pale shades of grey and green and blue. 

Past an ice castle at Saranac Lake, then at last a pause - at Dunkin Donuts for lunch.

On then to our home for the night in the small town of Lake Placid, over which tower a couple of massive ski jumps that were used in the 1980 Winter Olympics. 

After a brief and slightly alarming interlude involving a local bank, we drove up to the Cascades ski centre. A compact area where a series of narrow trails led us to a clearing.

Susan and Roy were there,  having driven up from Glastonbury (Connecticut) this morning. Well, Susan only really passed briefly through her home, having commenced her journey in Tasmania yesterday.

We managed to clock up a fun filled 10 km of skiing in a couple of hours on the excellent trails, before adjourning for beers/coffees etc, then back to the hotel, and a happy evening in a Rustic Restaurant before a walk home in the snow.

Meanwhile, Ken was busy installing himself in a massive dormitory in preparation for the weekend's CSM (Canadian Ski Marathon).

Sent from Placid Bay Inn

Friday, 6 February 2015

Thursday 5 February 2015 – The River Rideau and Mooney’s Bay

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Another cold day. Pictured above: ‘Waiting for Waxwings’.

Exhausted after plumbing problems (beware anyone who invites us in – your convenience will be inconvenienced), and satiated from last night’s barbecued bison burgers (it’s traditional that once he’s sorted the plunging plumbing, Ken is sent in minus 20C to dig out the barbecue and provide the first of the year in that genre), and in the absence of Tim to give Sue a lift to Gatineau Park, Helen stayed at home and Sue and I enjoyed a 10 km ski by way of three laps of the Mooney’s Bay nicely groomed classic ski piste.

Before that, I’d wandered down to the river for a while and had discovered a lifeguard sitting out the winter in a plastic chair. Spotting me from a distance, he left his post for a while and hid behind a tree whilst I passed; perhaps he was embarrassed at having such a cushy job at this time of year due to the limited bathing opportunities.

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It’s a five minute drive to Mooney’s Bay, where the piste had been freshly groomed, but the wind off the river was perishing cold. It took me a good lap (3+ km) to warm up.

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Here, another lifeguard had done a bunk. We later found him shivering in the cafe, from where he was soon kicked out to resume his duties.

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Then I followed another tradition, having been misled by some incorrectly labelled ‘pitted’ olives that weren’t pitted the other day. Dentist Adam shook his head and admitted there wasn’t a lot he could do, the remains of my broken tooth being likened to a tree stump.

And so the holiday continued apace…

It’ll be going so fast over the next few days that any postings are likely to be delayed or very brief. I’m sure readers won’t object.

Have a great weekend.

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Wednesday 4 February 2015 – A Snowy Ski to Western Cabin

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We woke to a balmy minus 8C and snow that persisted all day.

A trip to McKinstry Cabin had been planned, but after reaching P12 (Meech) at 10.30 after nearly running over an errant wild turkey, and wending our way slowly up to ridge road, we decided on a shorter option as the going in the fresh snow was very slow, albeit enjoyable.

So we turned left instead of right, along Ridge Road to the junction with trail 2. The bench situated half way along Ridge Road sometimes triggers a pause, but not today as it was loaded high with snow and afforded a view into the swirling snow storm. There’s usually a good view to the west from this prominent point on the Gatineau escarpment.

Trail 2 plunges quickly down to Western Cabin, which was empty when we arrived. However, there was already a roaring fire and the cabin soon filled up. Perhaps a better choice than the more distant McKinstry today.

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Despite being perched on the edge of the escarpment, views were as limited as they had been earlier from the bench.

Today’s conditions were ideal for the backcountry ski trails, so Sue and I returned to Ridge Road along one of these, trail 9, whilst Helen wimped out by heading up trail 2. Back at the big junction where trail 2 intersects Ridge Road, we headed back down to Meech along trail 2, the climax of which is a tough descent that Sue and I had never done. In today’s conditions it was easy peasy, so we just bombed down, hardly needing our ‘snowplough’ brakes.

Trail 2 joins trail 40 for the final plunge down to Meech, where Helen is shown arriving on this still snowy day.

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Our route is shown below – 11 km, with 260 metres ascent, taking a little over two hours skiing time.

Excellent.