Dino's blog for mini adventures and endurance challenges

The Adventure Begins

May 27th, 2013 | Posted by Dino in Canada | Uncategorized - (2 Comments)

I thought I’d take the opportunity of Dino being up in the air for 10 hours or so to sneak in another guest blog post.

Arrival in Vancouver at 11:10 sounds quite civilised – until you factor in the 4 am alarm and the 8 hour time difference.

Our intrepGatwick Airport 0630id traveller looks surprisingly chipper and unstressed as she arrives at Gatwick Airport at 6:30 am. As she remarked “Good thing I’ve got a small bike for negotiating these walkways”. There was a little more stress to be had yesterday, when the important songs refused to transfer to the iPod and the panniers were still to be packed. Eventually everything disappeared into its place and got swallowed up inside the big tartan bag – at least we’ve not found anything she forgot yet.

Bon Voyage Dino. Have a great trip. Bring back lots of photographs and memories (and a small pot of maple butter).

You would expect people who work for an environmental organisation to be interested in the diverse, colourful and endemic wildlife that Canada has to offer.

Yet for the the last 5 months my colleagues have been captivated by only one animal: bears.

Paw jokes
Colleagues have shared with me unbearable puns, grizzly stories and concerns that I will be munched by a bear. One colleague has even taken it upon herself to send me a daily bear joke. Given her efforts, I thought it only fair to share one:

A policeman in the big city stops a man in a car with a baby bear in the front seat.
“What are you doing with that bear?” He exclaimed, “You should take it to the zoo.”
The following week, the same policeman sees the same man with the bear again in the front seat, with both of them wearing sunglasses. The policeman pulls him over.
“I thought you were going to take that bear to the zoo!”
The man replied, “I did. We had such a good time we are going to the beach this weekend!”

Grizzly stories
Only one sensible colleague has said anything useful about bears (having been to Alaska.) Other colleagues have worried me enough with fanciful stories that I have done extensive research on bears. Here are some of the more interesting facts:
* Bears can run up to 30mph – that is faster than me cycling on the flat. Although doubtless I’ll find a surge of strength if I am being chased by a bear.
* Grizzly and black bears are not attracted to the smell of menstrual blood – but polar bears are. (I love that someone has clearly done a PhD on dangling used tampons in front of bears. Bet they are a good dinner party guest.)
* It is actually more dangerous to go to work. 173 people die at work each year in the UK, compared to only 3 people in North America killed by bears. I can see my colleagues now all reaching for the unpaid leave request form…*

Bearing gifts
I was very touched yesterday (last day at work until September) that a thoughtful colleague arrived at my deak bearing a parting gift:


And inside…

Nattily packed in a box 10x larger than the item

Nattily packed in a box 10x larger than the item

Alas I was too polite to point out that scaring a grizzly witless by tooting a loud horn is a sure way to end up as the hors d’oeuvres at a teddy bears’ picnic.

However the horn will come in very handy into scaring witless the annoying dogs that meander across the bike path to work – the dog on one side, the unobservant owner on the other and the leash-cum-lethal-trip-wire stretched across the path.**

And finally…
I just want to say thank you to the team. I may have heard the same puns over and over, and you may be bored of my endless Canada chatter but I am very grateful to my employer for giving me the time off work and to my friendly colleagues for being so much fun.

* The geeks among you will be keen to point out that there are lies, damned lies and statistics. Clearly the population sizes are different and more people work in the UK than there are people who come into contact with bears in North America. Still, all my colleagues will be safer now that I won’t be driving into work or parking directly into their cars for 3 months…

** I should point out that yes we do share the path and cyclists should take care to similarly avoid running over dogs and children. However, cycling to work earlier in the year I did have to make a sharp skidding diversion into a fence to avoid tripping over a lethal dog trip wire. The owner was a grumpy sod.

Mind mapping

May 22nd, 2013 | Posted by Dino in Canada | Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

It’s difficult to focus in stuff like brand, development, restructures etc when an adventure is hanging on the horizon. Or indeed the office wall.

2pm yesterday – I was sat in a team meeting at work. A huge map of the world was pinned on the wall. Try as I might to focus, my eyes wandered over to the smudgy brown relief of the Rockies.

Today – on the request of my boss, I printed off an A2 Google map of my route and pinned it onto our noticeboard. Given my colleagues keen interest in the wildlife of Canada I added “Here Be Bears” at the appropriate sections. Tomorrow (my last day at work) I may draw on moose, whales and eagles.

I love a good map.
A map is adventure on paper. You don’t even need to leave the house. You can just pull out a good map out, trace a route with your finger and start imagining…

A map isn’t just a picture of the world. It’s a picture of our minds, and a reflection of the way we think about and have acted upon the world. We draw neat lines, boxes, smooth edges and neat corners upon a rugged and tangled world.

Just look at a map of Canada – those dead-straight lines along the provincial borders are the products of history, not geology. Recently I’ve been reading a interesting book about Canadian history. The book points out that having two nations running in horizontal stripes west to east across the North American continent is pretty odd because the physical geography runs more vertically like this:

So over the next 3 and a half months I will be cycling across a single country. But this map shows I’ll also be cycling across 7 different physiographic provinces. What will it be like to witness the transition from the Rockies and the interior highlands to the great plains and Canadian shield?

I can’t wait to watch, at the speed of a bicycle, the slow and majestic unfolding of the riotous colours, vegetations, smells, storms, squawking wildlife spectacles, rock formations and sandy shores that Canada has to show.

I can’t wait to turn my imaginations into memories.

And through the ceaseless tapping of my pedals, I can’t wait to turn the neatly plotted line on the map into my own meadering path across this great and varied continent.

Sunshine and peanut butter

May 20th, 2013 | Posted by Dino in Canada - (1 Comments)

When you imagine living on a boat isn’t the sun always shining?

You picture chugging up and down the leafy waterways of timeless rural landscapes, waving your straw hat in greeting to passing boats, licking ice lollies and lolling on the desk applying sun cream every hour. Bliss.

Cycling across Canada will obviously be a lot like that. Just replace the ice lollies with a peanut butter and jam sandwich, the straw hat with a nodding bike helmet, and the leafy waterways with the Trans Canada Highway and that is exactly what I am expecting.

I have just checked the weather forecast for Vancouver. Next Monday the sun should be out to greet me as I pedal out the airport.

I can hardly believe that I am only 1 small week away from my trip. I’ve spent 8 years dreaming about this. 8 years! What were you doing 8 years ago? I was getting excited about going to Canada for the first time*: packing my bag, emailing friends in Canada, checking my passport for the third time that day to check it hadn’t magically expired since breakfast.

Algonquin park Summer 2005. This isn't instagrammed. It's just a photo taken on a film. Remember those?

Algonquin park Summer 2005. This isn’t instagrammed. It’s just a photo taken on a film. Remember those?

Peanut butter
So not much has changed in eight years then? Nope. I am still me: a Dino is search of adventure and on a mission to discover the land of my birth. Even though I rightly know from my Oxfordian vowels, my inability to ice skate smoothly and the fact that I say ‘alright’ rather than ‘for sure’ that, yes, I am a Brit. However, I do love a good peanut butter sandwich made with jam. I love a good adventure. And I love this sign post:

I took this photo along 8 years ago. Note: perfect blue sky.

I took this photo along 8 years ago. Note: perfect blue sky.

So next week I will adventure** in search of sunshine, peanut butter, and a piece of Canada all to myself.

*I’m not including “being born” in first time.
** ‘adventure’ can be a verb

Guest blog: Digital cycle touring

May 14th, 2013 | Posted by Dino in Canada | Guest blog - (0 Comments)

Is cycle touring genetic? It’s certainly in the Rock DNA. Last year my Dad cycled coast to coast across France, navigating his way using just his smartphone. So I invited my Dad to write a guest blog on his digital cycle touring experience…

Steve Rock (aka Daddy)  in the Gorges du Verdon

Steve Rock (aka Daddy) in the Gorges du Verdon

“This time last year I was cycling my bike (or sleeping in my tent – I didn’t do much else) somewhere in France between Caen and Cannes. I was celebrating my 60th birthday by fulfilling an ambition to cross France coast to coast.

This year I will spend my birthday driving Dino to the airport at 5am! But she’s also asked me to write a guest blog spot about digital navigation.

Paper v. phone
The traditional way for a Brit to do a long cycle ride such as Le Jog (not French, but Lands End to John O’Groats) was to buy a road atlas, rip out the pages that didn’t cover his or her route and discard the remaining pages as they pedalled cycled north (traditionally south-to-north because of the prevailing wind). The modern hi-tech way is to dispense with paper maps and do it all on a smartphone. It worked for me but would it work for you?

The idea is you have a map app on your phone or tablet showing the relevant part of the world, with or without your planned route plotted on it. The device is GPS-enabled, so it can indicate where you are. In theory you’re never lost – how great is that!

But like most electronic devices: great when it works, useless when it fails. It may not even fail itself, but have failure thrust upon it when you drop it, drown it, bake it, lose it, find it’s eaten by a bear and so on. Whatever the reason, you need backup.

Back up
My backup in France was the confidence that I could find my way to a village large enough to have a service station selling a road atlas, then tear out the pages I didn’t need. This approach might not work so well in other parts of the world.

In places like Britain and France where there are lots of wiggly roads it’s very useful to be able to plan a route away from the busy roads and make sure you stay on it. It’s also quite likely you won’t need to travel for more than a day or two before you stay somewhere you can recharge your phone and spare battery pack(s).

Somewhere like Canada there are not so many roads and they all go in straight lines at right angles to each other, so your navigation needs are different. It can still be reassuring/depressing (delete as per your experience) to know exactly how many more kilometres and hours of cycling there are before the next bend in the road, although I’m told sometimes you could be days between campsites with electricity.

So how good is digital touring?
It’s good for showing you:
* Where you’ve been (if you switch on tracking with GPS and/or mobile data). GPS will use your battery, mobile data will eat it even quicker and also clock up data charges)
* Where you are (if GPS is on)
* Where you should be and how to get there (if you’ve planned a route and stored it)

But you need a backup plan.”

You can read the full article my Dad wrote for Cycle magazine about digital cycle touring.

Do get in touch if you are a digital cycle tourer. We’d love to hear about your experiences.

For the (medical) record

May 7th, 2013 | Posted by Dino in Canada | Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

“Where are you starting from? Which direction are you cycling? What bike will you take?”

The doctor showered me with eager questions. None were, you might think, medically relevant.

I’d gone to the doctor to get some antibiotics and period-delaying tablets. Next thing I knew the doctor was prescribing Goretex socks and propounding the merits of cleated sandals in hot weather.

On the wall in his surgery Dr Bike had pinned a map of the world. Clearly, he is a man with a similar mind set to me as we both sat gazing at the map and seeing not political boundaries or time zones but past and possible cycling adventures. Impressively Dr Bike and his wife have cycled most of the North Sea Cycle route and so plotted a line of bicycle tyre from Norway to Barcelona.

“Imagine being able to look at that map and see a line all the way across Canada,” the doctor gushed, gazing at the expanse of green above the pink triangle of America, “and knowing you’ve travelled that line with nothing more than a bicycle and your own quadriceps.”

Having discussed the ins and outs of my trip we moved on to discuss medical bit. My medical record was up on the computer. Dr Bike started typing: “Cycling from Vancouver to St John’s!!!”

Yes, with 3 exclamation marks.

A smile broke across my face as I leant over to watch him type.

A medical record ordinarily details the mundane sicknesses and wariness of our lives. A life of pain and mild embarrassment. A life of ear infections, hypertension, vaccines, stress, sores, sprains and sickness. A medical record states that we moan a lot, get old, feel old, feel ill, fall sick, and slowly or quickly pass away.

With the thanks of the friendly Dr Bike, my medical record now wonderfully states: “I lived!!!”

Yes, with 3 exclamation marks.

The 2000th kilometre

April 25th, 2013 | Posted by Dino in Canada | Uncategorized - (2 Comments)

If instead of cycling to work I’d started cycling from Vancouver then I’d be here by now:

Congratulations! You've reached the, erm... Middle of Nowehere

Congratulations! You’ve reached the, erm… Middle of Nowehere

This is the stretch of road just inside the Manitoba border, near a town called Russell. It sits in an area known for its grain and cattle. But as you can see – there ain’t much going on.

But this spot marks 2000km from Vancouver. And today marks my 2000th kilometre since training began on January 1.

Thank you accosted dog walker for taking the snap. And not running off with my iPad.

Thank you accosted dog walker for taking the snap. And not running off with my iPad.

It was quite fitting that today I cycled my 2000th km on my way back from work. As indeed most of the distance (62% to be precise) has been gained pedalling to work.

Cycling to work doesn’t feel like ‘commuting’ in the regular (horrendous) sense of the word. Cycling to work is not a waste of time spent swearing at heavy traffic or waiting for a delayed train. I’m lucky because my cycle to work is a 18.4km off-road jaunt along the Sustrans Route 51. A route so fabulous it has it’s own guide.

My journey is a joy, a bliss, a wonder to behold. I’ve enjoyed seeing barn owls, badgers (live ones, not just road kill!) fieldfare and green woodpeckers. I’ve watched the sunrise and the sunset countless times and enjoyed watching the slowly shifting cloudscapes of the open skies.

I’ve cycled in rain, mist, fog, snow, and – very occasionally- sunshine. I’ve fought a 40mph gusting headwind and been blown home at record speed by an easterly so strong it felt like being on a conveyor belt.

My brakes froze solid in the cold and my front derellaier has refused to budge since. I’ve soiled the office shower with muck and sand, and hung up my socks and thermals to dry on the radiator. I’ve nodded good morning at the same hi vis orange woman every morning and said hello to a hi vis yellow man on the way back.

I’ve burrowed through deepest, darkest winter with a bike light that dazzles the sun. I’ve cycled through winter. And I’ve survived.

Now spring has sprung and I’m fitter than ever. Which is just as well – as I’ve only just crossed into Manitoba. And next month instead of cycling to work I’ll be starting again in Vancouver.

Buttocks of Brick

April 23rd, 2013 | Posted by Dino in Canada | Uncategorized - (1 Comments)

“Your piriformis is like a brick,” she says while jabbing into my buttocks. The comment is intended as an explanation for why my back is wonky but I take it as a compliment.

I’d pedalled off to the Osteopath this morning to get advice on an old back injury that has come back to bite. Before she attacks my piriformis, the Osteopath hands me a large cardboard tube.

“This will hurt,” the Osteopath warns me, “so you can hit me with this tube.”

Argh! I let out a small yelp and tightly grip the cardboard tube as her elbow digs deeper into my buttock.

But as she’s twisting and stretching me back into position, I feel oddly chuffed to have managed to cycle so many miles that my buttocks have officially been declared by a physio to be “like a brick”.

Buttocks of brick. That’s practically the same as having Legs of Steel. Which basically puts me in the same category as this chap:

These Legs of Steel belong to the German sprinter Robert Forstermann. His father was an elephant and his mother was an oak tree.

But it turns out however that having Buttocks Of Brick isn’t very useful as it causes huge amounts of pain.

The word piriformis is Latin for ‘pear-shaped’. This is unfortunately apt given my ample thighs and the shape things are going…

Here I am, about one month before I’m due to cycle, with a wonky back. I’ve spent years (about 8 in fact) dreaming of this trip and many months planning it. I am not, repeat not, going to be stopped in my tracks by my own back.

Thank goodness the osteopath that I found was brilliant. Should I, the person sometimes so crippled with pain I cannot move, have to take the train across Canada?

No: “We’ll patch you up and keep you pedalling.” She says.

For what is the point of having Buttocks of Brick if you cannot use them to cycle 7500km?

How to start a fire with a tampon

April 18th, 2013 | Posted by Dino in Canada | Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

Did you know that the trick to lighting a campfire in wet weather lies in a lady’s handbag?

Specifically, this is a lady who a) smokes b) has chaffed lips and c) is on her period.

Key campfire ingredients: a tampon, some vaseline and a lighter.

Key campfire ingredients: a tampon, some vaseline and a lighter.

Now, I’m not exactly the type of lady who has a handbag but I did chuck these important items into my backpack when I set off on a camping trip last weekend. My aim was to test my new tent and to practice making a campfire.

In typical British fashion the weather forecast was… drizzly. So like any intrepid modern day explorer I prepared for my camping expedition by watching very macho men on YouTube demonstrate how to light a fire. Alas, I don’t have a beard, a knife, an SAS background or a Swedish fireknife. But I can show you have to light a fire with a tampon.

So, what do you do then?
1. Unwrap the tampon and then unfurl it so it’s a rectangle (yea, who knew tampons were actually rectangular?)
2. Smear some vaseline over the tampon.
3. You’ve already make your stone circle and gathered your kindling, sticks and logs right? Great.

Stones, kindling, sticks and a couple of logs for later.

Stones, kindling, sticks and a couple of logs for later.

4. Place tampon on stone circle. Cover with a bit of kindling.
5. Light the tampon string.
6. And you’re off…
Before kindle was an e-book, it was a way of starting a campfire. The irony that paperbacks will become kindling...

Before kindle was an e-book, it was a way of starting a campfire. The irony that paperbacks will become kindling…

7. Blow and add wood as necessary.
8. Get the marshmallows out.
I could blog at length on how to toast the perfect marshmallows. Another time.

I could blog at length on how to toast the perfect marshmallows. Another time.

9. Lie back, listen to the gentle hiss of the water burning out the logs.
10. Watch the stars come back. Smile.

What is this life, if full of care, we have no time to stand and stare...

What is this life, if full of care, we have no time to stand and stare…

Fits like a glove

April 7th, 2013 | Posted by Dino in Canada | Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

“Do you do a discount for CTC members or people cycling across continents?” I ask as I put the gloves down on the countrer.

“Which continent are you cycling across?” The salesman enquiries and, suitably envious of my Canadian coast to coast, he gives me a 10% discount.

As my hands went numb last week I decided should investigate better gloves. So these are my delux new gloves.

Pearl Izumi elite gel gloves

Pearl Izumi elite gel gloves

Compared to the old gloves, there looks to be a lot more gel padding in these. The nerve that gets squished is the fleshy bit on the bottom corner furthest from any thumb or finger. I’ll let you know if these new mitts do the job and stop my hand going numb.

Lots more gel padding on the new ones, eh?

Lots more gel padding on the new ones, eh?

Do you have any experience or advice on numb hands from cycling? Please do get in touch.

Note for UK folks: I bought my gloves from the Trek shop iin MK. A very good store where the staff are always helpful (and – great rarity – not patronising to female cyclists!)