Thursday, June 26, 2008

The BC Lakes District

[Wordsworth - the Lakes Poet]

is so beautiful. Only a moment so i will be brief. Yesterday we got the triple -- rain, headwind, and hills. But am getting stronger and made it here tired but not beat, an important distinction. I now feel free to indulge my scarcely suppressed addiction to orange juice. I drank a liter when we got here last night. I am able to pace myself because the sun is up until after 9 pm and there is enough light to put up a tent until 10. So we have all day to c0ver our allotted 80 km per day. Gotta go.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

From Prince George

Coming to Prince George was a fine day with a perfect beginning, a perfect middle, and a perfect end. Florent (of whom more later) and I started out with breakfast at a country diner near Hixon, a wide spot in the road north of Quesnel.

The conversation in the diner among ranchers, tow truck operators, local Indians, local loungers, was pure Canadiana. Both charming and illuminating. Who knew that ranchers have dreams of what they would like to do someday? This one wanted to ride a horse from Inuvik in the Canadian Arctic to Tierra del Fuego. He was proud of being a 6th generation Canadian tracing his ancestry to Ireland. The tow truck driver was the son of a Polack. He mentioned that Poles whose last names ended in -ski had been landowners and those whose names ended in -sky had not. His ended in -sky. His tenant-buyer whose name ended in -ski had twitted him about it until she fell into arrears. Then he got his own back by happily evicting/foreclosing on her, for non-payment. The Indian held his piece about ancestry and origins. A lady whose business was organizing rodeos came by, had coffee and pie, and left a check with the obviously gay owner of the diner for somebody who was sure to come by just in the nature of things, for some horseshoeing he had done for the rodeo.

After breakfast Florent and I rode 90 kilometers to Prince George.

Along the way he had contacted friends of friends of friends of friends of his parents to whom he had been directed. They invited us to a dinner party at their home. The house was big and luxurious, the food elegant, the company charming, the wine good. Afterwards we all went for a dip in the pool. I kept thinking about F. Scott Fitzgerald and the word 'halcyon'.

The friends of friends of friends were Roy and Marie Louise. Roy is a barrister who apparently represents substantial business interests, and Marie Louise is Crown Counsel, a prosecutor. The other sweet lady with big eyes and quick wits, there with her husband, was also a lawyer. A very nest of attorneys.

Later it occurred to me that the two conversations were separated not only by 90 kilometers but also by class and the membrane between country and city. Even so, the people at the diner were none of them poor and none of them alienated, except perhaps the Indian and the lounger. Nor were they ignorant or ill-spoken.

These reflections faded as the long northern twilight and the cognac turned the trees still in the light to gold and at last to silhouette.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Getting Too Old For This

[The Gov]

Yesterday I realized that my intermittent sense of being a stiff, sore, helpless, bent-over, fat little old man who could barely and painfully hold his obese body upright, came only in the mornings. It is not brought on by tiredness from bicycling, but is the stiffness brought on by inactivity, and particularly by the stiffness of sleeping with my back cold. Prolonged exercise makes me feel fine, even bicycling in cold and rain. I am at last becoming slightly stronger and developing the first hints of stamina.

This is great news. It means that I am not as nearly a cripple as I feared and felt. I am not way out of my depth in attempting this, I am not engaged in something clearly futile at which I cannot succeed. It also means I have a future as an early-elderly man in denial about aging. I can continue to do this, this year, and next year. I don't have to give up, go home, and take up bocce, golf, and television. I am still me.

Even so, it is not so long ago that bicycling only 75 kilometers in a day would have been a disappointment. Yesterday it was a success.

Into the North

There are signs, symbols, mental notes that accumulate. There begin to be spaces between settled areas. Then the settled areas become sparse, then widely separated. Then there aren't any except in the vicinity of ever smaller and more widely separated towns. The side roads into the bush become few, then rare. A note on the notices board outside a country store advertises to clean your house or cabin. The trees go from pine and spruce to spruce and poplar and occasional aspen. It is the beginning of the boreal forest. A beaver lodge. Igloos on the ice. .... OK, maybe not igloos.

The only town of any consequence north of here is Prince George, based on lumber and pulpmills. I was there last summer in the Pachyderm. My impression was that the grime left behind by melting dirty snow never got completely washed off the town. Maybe my impression will be better this time.

After Prince George there is land and not people.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Le Cochon

Just how much of a pig is Jacques Chirac? This former contender for leadership of the free world, and perennial pal of Yasser Arafat, appeared in Moscow to receive Russia's highest honor, the State Prize. It was awarded him by Russia's presidential stooge, Dmitri Medvedev. Chirac, in accepting the prize, praised Russia for "having chosen the path of democracy." The ceremony was attended by Russia's effective dictator, Vladimir Putin. The State Prize includes a million rubles, currently 27,000 euros.

Equally amusing, it turns out that in French, Putin's last name is spelled "Poutine". In Canada poutine is French fries with gravy, and is the cultural equivalent of nachos.

Cache Creek Not Necessarily a Casino

I have gotten as far as Cache Creek, the junction of the Trans-Canada and Cariboo Highways (route 97). I am astonished to discover that I have gotten old, fat, and out of shape. I don't know how or when this happened. I neither planned nor expected it. So I am following Harvey's advice on cross country running -- start slow, then taper off. Yesterday was hills and headwinds, but no rain. Today is a rest day.

Last night I connected the iPod to the little pc and watched an old movie in glorious black-and-white on a 7" screen. It was "All About Eve", a chick flick from the late 1940's. Bette Davis, Anne Baxter, Celeste Holme, and George freakin' Sanders. Bette Davis won best actress and George Sanders was terrific. Lots of good dialogue and good acting. Jack recommends.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

From the Globe and Mail

I read an excerpt from a speech by Kevin Lynch, the Clerk of the Privy Council (apparently roughly the equivalent of the White House Chief of Staff) in which he said Canada ranked 7th in the world in worker productivity per hour. The list given was:
1. France
2. Ireland
3. Italy
4. United States
5. Germany
6. Sweden
7. Canada

I find it astonishing that France is first. Apparently when they aren't at lunch, on vacation, or on strike, they really are at work. The Irish on the job sober? The impulsive disorganized Italians getting more done than the Swedes? The US working harder than Japan? France and Italy both more industrious than Germany?

One needs stereotypes in order to think at all. The old ones are clearly crap. We need new stereotypes.

Business-like Italians? Shiftless Japanese? Gemutlichkeit Germans? World-beater French? Didn't-come-to-work-today Dutch? This is not going to be easy.

From Savona

Today was rain and hills. I enjoyed it anyway. There is something about the somber beauty of a dark rainy landscape that really does it for me, even if I am getting pelted by it.

Savona is on Lake Kamloops, between Kamloops and Cache Creek.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Blanche Dubois in the Okanagan Country

I had gotten only a few miles out of town before the rear tire went flat. This was both annoying and time-consuming because all the luggage had to be taken off in order to set the bicycle upside down. After replacing the tube and reassembling everything I found that the replacement tube wouldn't hold pressure either. I had three spare tubes and none of them were any good. Apparently they were all punctured at one time or another and I threw them in the attic with the intention to repair them later. Later never came, and I forgot about the punctures. So I patched and reassembled and pumped up, and patched and pumped and reassembled, and patched and pumped and reassembled over and over. And hours passed while I screwed around with it over and over, trying this, trying that. None would hold pressure no matter how much I patched them

I thought about how this seemed to be yet another delay in getting on with the bicycle trip yet it didn't feel like it. Fixing flat tires is not a delay in a bicycle trip -- it is part of the trip. The saying that the object of a trip is the journey, not the destination, is not just another annoying platitude when speaking of a bicycle trip. It is literally true. I didn't get frustrated because of the delay, but I did get annoyed when I realized the problem was that the patches I was using were NFG (a Navy acronym for 'No Darn Good').

It was surprising to realize that I am not actually in any hurry to get to Alaska. It would be nice to succeed and fun to brag about, but it doesn't truly matter. Bicycling through the beauty of the northern vastnesses is what I came here to do, not to reach anyplace. Just as I realized this, it sank in that the whole time I had been futzing with the bicycle tire, tube, pump, and patches I had had a fine view of Lake Okanagan and the surrounding mountains and hadn't until then thought to enjoy it. I smiled at myself, because enjoying the vista was a sign of an autumnal growth of self-acceptance and world-acceptance. I am not just getting old. At 61 I am also still growing up.

Getting old may be good for some things but not for others. At 61, finding a pinhole in an inner tube requires reading glasses. I simply could not have done it at all without them. The decline in my vision has passed beyond being an inconvenience. It is a genuine disability in the ADA sense of the word. Though the prosthetic device is cheap, readily available, and effective, I can no longer perform some basic functions in life without them. It is fair to say that, like other people my age, I am partially blind.

I finally accepted that, with bad patches, I could never succeed. I assembled everything one last time and was just about to begin hitch-hiking when the Mounties arrived. A troop of Canadians mounted on bicycles was riding up the grade toward me. One of them gave me a kit of the old-style, actually-work, type patches and glue. Dudley having Doneright, they rode away.

Soon the patches were on, and I was off. As I resumed my trip I reflected, "I have always depended on the kindness of strangers."

Thursday, June 05, 2008

On the Road Again - day one

I am at Winfield, just north of Kelowna. I got a slow start today. It took several hours to unwrap and then to re-assemble the bicycle. There was more time spent screwing around in Kelowna getting glue, food, and plastic bags and then repacking using the plastic bags. Finally I made it to Highway 97 and turned north. By then it was 3:30 in the afternoon.

l am being as unambitious as possible. I have come only 20 kilometers and have stopped for the night at Winfield, the very next town north of Kelowna. It has been raining all day which has dampened my enthusiasm. It doesn't seem cold but I could see my breath so it must be.

The Beginning of the End?

Continental Airlines announced that it would lay off workers, ground planes, reduce flights, to "reduce capacity", because of high fuel costs. One wonders where that will end. Has jet travel cheap enough for common people been just a function of cheap petroleum? Is it doomed to vanish? With higher prices reducing the number of travelers, and consequent inability to spread costs over a huge market, jet travel could be reduced to a niche for millionaires and diplomats. We may be nearing the end of what has been a brief golden age of global mass transit.

There are alternative technologies for ground travel. Are there any for air travel? Steamships can run on cleaned-up coal, but not airships. Back to steerage.

How I Spent My Summer Vacation by Jack Kessler

I was surprised by my ability to both generate to-do lists, and, with limitations, to plow through them. Seemingly simple list items frequently turned out to be dauntingly compound. Finding a place to store the Pachyderm took day after day of discouraging screwing around. Insurance. Beds. Taxes. And on and on. But eventually it worked. But why dwell on the past, the daunting, discouraging, delaying, frustrating-unto-frenzy-making, mother-f__king past?

Now all that is behind me while I sit in this admittedly beautiful resort with a great view, enduring yet another mother-freakin' delay. Apparently when I changed planes in Seattle yesterday, my luggage didn't have time to get on the second plane. At least they know where it is, so the tags are still attached.

I am beginning more and more to believe in karmic pollution or Hashem's irony. I cannot help but wonder if this delay is somehow related to my having lied and claimed that my elaborately wrapped bicycle was a wheelchair so as to avoid paying $50 extra for it. Cheaters never prosper.

I watched SpiderMan 3 last night because the DVD was in the room. It raised the question of whether comic books really translate as well into movies as Hollywood thinks they do. They don't. Of course, from Hollywood's point of view, this web-spinner was able to spin crap into gold just fine. And nobody forced me to watch it. Feh.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

At last! At last! At Bloody Long Last!

No, it is not about the Democrats nominating a black guy 145 years after the Emancipation. It is about finally disentangling myself from the tar baby from Hell. The amount of hassle and delay in getting my house rented for the summer and then preparing it for the arrival of the renters seemed like it would take up the whole summer for which it was being prepared. My year calendar showed that I was going to leave a week after returning from RV camping in Utah with my sister and cousin and their husbands. The calendar shows me leaving on May 1. Today is the 4th of June, 33 freakin' days later.

I was supposed to visit Chico -- I never made it. I still haven't seen Harvey's and Lisa's (and moppets') new house. I was still crossing items off to-do lists until 6 minutes before the Bayporter arrived to take me to the airport. (The last one was "wash bird shit off kitchen window". The ravens were still venting over the Edgar incident.) Even now I have yet to sign the Memorandum of Insurance from the new company because the agent's secretary cannot figure out how to send it to me as an attachment. No matter what I do, how hard I try, I somehow cannot get to the end of the bastard. Ever.

At some point one has to just leave and hope for the best. So I did. I am in Kelowna, a beautiful lake resort town in southern British Columbia. My luggage however, according to rumor, is languishing in Seattle.

Which is a good word. Most of my life has been a prolonged languishing. He was born, he languished, he died. RIP and QED.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

The Market

Lost 1% of its value today. One wonders whether it is because the Federal Reserve announced there would be no further cuts in interest rates, or because Ted Kennedy survived his surgery.

What's Good for GM is ....

In today's NY Times --

The automaker also set a firm schedule for production of the extended-range, electric-powered Chevrolet Volt. Mr. Wagoner said the Volt, which is powered by batteries augmented by a small gasoline engine, will be available for sale no later than the end of 2010.

“In other words, the Chevy Volt is a go,” he said. “We believe this is the biggest step yet in our industry’s move away from our historic, virtually complete reliance on petroleum to power vehicles.

Which is to say that GM will have a small hybrid passenger car on the market in 2011, only 7? 8? years after the Toyota Prius and the Honda Whatever became widely available.

Is it OK to stop blaming the failures of Detroit on unionized American auto workers versus Japanese auto workes yet? Or was it the UAW that decided the Hummer would be a good idea?