Friday, August 19, 2011

Bro Goes to Discovery

After all the family business was done my brother in law and I slipped marriage bonds and got out for a morning paddle yesterday. 

Gareth is a novice paddler so some concessions in the interest of safety were made.  We staid out of the waning tide race.

After crossing Baynes Channel and making a quick stop on Chatham we slipped into the hidden lagoon which was almost dry.  We arrived during the last hour of the ebb.

Next we played in the Sluice practising ferry glides, break outs and break ins through the eddy line. Then we explored how to paddle against the current by finding the back eddies close to shore and off of head lands.

Finally we ended the day with a long ferry glide back across Baynes Channel to the put in at Maynard Bay.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Back on the Water

Wow, I was beginning to think this blog was no longer about kayaking.  A nice little paddle today from the end of 10 Mile Point in Victoria.

My long time paddling buddy Dan was just back from Singapore and was almost as badly in need of a paddle as I was.  We made a relatively quick launch, well it would have been quick, except I kept dawdling.

Once on the water we took advantage of the waning ebb and rode it down around Discovery Island.  The south side of Discovery is a great place.  Maybe even magical. We stopped for a short break, my trick knee was screaming let me out.  After consuming some fruit and power bars Dan dragged me off the beach.  He was clearly afraid I was going to take a nap.

Jesus, just fall asleep once under a warm sun on a pristine beach, and you can never live it down.  Well maybe it was the snoring.

Back on the water we made fast time back up to Baynes Channel where the flood was starting to stack up against the water in Haro Strait.  A nice line of waves was forming.  I suggested we slide in about mid channel and try to ferry surf the waves across to the Cadboro Bay light.  This worked perfectly.

While the waves were anything but large they were perfect for surfing.  Deep green walls would form, pick us up and surf us forward for 20 to 30 feet or bury us into the back of the receding wave.  Lots of fun.

Something odd about 10 Mile Point.  Can you guess the real location of the photo? 

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Safety First

Timing. Mine's bad. I arrive at the stop sign just as a Volvo with two diminutive seniors tucked down in the front seat rolls through the intersection.

It appears that the Volvo is straining hard pulling a train of cars along behind it.  I count 10 cars before I can turn out and become the temporary caboose.  The speed limits 50 KPH.  We cruise along at a stately 35KPH.

I try to keep a couple of car lengths between me and the car directly in front. Soon there's a Miata trying to become intimate with the tail light of my bike.  Up ahead the cars are bunching up; less then a car length separates most of the train. 

Looking ahead I see a long sweeping left hand curve leading to a short straight stretch.  Inside the curve a farmer is working in a hay field.  On the outside an orchard reaches down to the curb of the road.  I'm sure I can count the aphids on the tree leaves.  My mind starts to drift off.  I'm Dickens getting 3 cents a word to describing nothing.  So far I've made $10 and I'm only on the cobble stones by the time I get to the door knocker I'll be rich.

"Braaack!" I'm snapped back to reality by the distinctive sound of a small block V8 roaring to life.  All that money gone, damn!

The pick up behind the Volvo has swung left to pass. He's misjudged the power and has overshot the road. His left wheels are throwing dust and dirt. The Volvo's brake lights flash. The Volvo drops speed like Newtons apple. Suddenly and with a startling affect on the driver now immediately behind the Volvo. Ouch!

The Newton swings left to miss the Volvo.  The truck has made the pass and is back in the right lane. But there's a car coming towards us.  Newton brakes hard and cuts back in behind the Volvo which is now creeping along.

My hands are sweating on the handlebars. It's all over in a flash.

The train resumes it's slow progress down the track as the Volvo slowly picks up speed until it reaches 30KPH where it seems to run out of breath.  Dickens sitting in the orchard witness the entire scene and starts an account for the Times.  He'll make 20 quid.

I pull over at a fruit stand shut the bike down and wait.

I can hear Donald Sutherland's baritone richly explaining the virtues of a Volvo.  I turn around and he's talking to a young couple with a baby.  Fourteen cars are piled on top of a Volvo, he explains the features, three point seat belts, padded dash, multiple air bags, disc brakes, crush zones.  It's as strong as a tank.  "It's so safe you could drive it in your sleep."  Did I really hear Donald say that?

Years later the baby is gone but the couple are still driving.  I imagine the baby having grown into a teenager throwing himself out the back door, rolling through a ditch, jumping up and leaping into the back of a pickup full of red necks running whisky and dope from the local grow op to the big city. The teenager is grinning ear to ear, shouting. "Free At Last."

The couple don't know the baby has grown and fled but are still sedately rolling along safely unconscious in their Volvo.

Donald Sutherland turns out to be a white haired farmer asking me, maybe for the fourth time, if I'd like to try some cherries.  I look at him and say, "What I'd really like is to kick Donald Sutherland in the ass but I'll take a flat of cherries."

He looks at me, he looks at the bike.  Right, better make that a single box.  I try to tell him about the Volvo.  He listens then disappears behind the stall.  I hear a cellphone chirping away then, "Betty better get down here and bring the Browning."

Ok, it's time to go.  I leave the cherries and $5 on the counter.  You meet the most interesting people on a motorcycle.  It's important to make an impression.  I round the next corner and there's a single apple sitting in the middle of the road.  Weird.  I roll on the throttle and crush it beneath the tires like a bug. 

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Salt Spring Island

Slept in late and missed the 9 AM paddle launch.  Hmmmm!  I thought about throwing the kayak on the roof and rushing down to the beach to try to catch my friends.  I rolled over and slept some more.

Around noon I decided to ride up to Swartz Bay and catch the ferry to Salt Spring Island.  Down to the garage, jump into my riding gear and out the door I went.  Hmmm! Ferry departs at 1 PM.  It's 12:31.  This will be interesting.  Google Maps says it'll take 31 minutes to travel the 31 miles to the terminal.

I make it with, ah how shall I put it, time to spare.

After an uneventful ocean cruise to Fulford Harbour I ride up one side, back and forth across the island then down the other and pull back into Ganges the heart of the last outpost of the alternative life style back to the earth movement.

It might be a Ural, but hey - It's a living.

The Tree House Cafe, reminds me of the Teton Tree House  a Bed and Breakfast I once stayed in outside of Jackson Hole Wyoming. So I give it a try.

I order a $14 cheese burger with salad and coffee. The staff consists of vegan granddaughters of aging hippies.  The girls are squeezed into tight 100 % hemp blue jeans, with conspicuous thong straps peaking out above the waist line, they wear tee shirts tie died with shade grown salmon berries from a natural watershed, kissed by sun dabbled rays diffused by peach trees planted by Pika Rose-Blossom in the summer of love.

They shudder at the thought of red meat.  I secretly smile.

Lunch arrives and as all wana-be French waiters do, my waitress arrives to ask,  "How is everything," just as I take a large bite of burger.  I look up into those doe like eyes and let some savoury juice dribble from the corner of my mouth, as the juice slides down my chin I reach for my napkin and say, "it's excellent but could I have a glass of  Chianti.  She flees.

Times passing so I leave  $20 on the table and head for the bike.  It's 3:45 PM the next ferry is at 4PM.  Why not.  I sedately leave Ganges and the sweet smell of illicit smoke.  As I climb up out of the town the beast explodes and I rip past a line of cars.  The next few miles blow by as a series of left, right, left, leans, down shifts, up again, hard brakes, accelerate until I emerge from that last corner to see the ferry 20 feet from the dock. Leaving.
Nice dock but the ferry is missing.
I park and walk over to the coffee shop and order a latte.

"Excuse me I only want want a latte.  Oh it's $5 for the coffee.  I'm sorry I thought you were asking me for this months rent."  I walk outside with what I hope will be the greatest coffee I've had since France.  It's not.

Hovering outside the Organic Clothing store staring at a line of Sanskrit  head scarfs I have a flash back.  I'm back in Roschdale, 17 years old, in a basement with my best friend and a bald guy who says he's a Buddhist.  Could be true.  My religious exposure extends to Catholics, Protestants and one Jew, Sam Cohen, who buys Pike, a fresh water fish, from me. I've illegally speared them in streams in the spring run off.  He pays me $1 a fish.

In the basement we're making silk screened scarfs and tee shirts on this giant frame.  Gold paint is poured over the screen, the Buddhists pulls a slide runs across and the paint is forced through the pattern on the screen and into the cloth below.  Back and forth until the Hindu God Shiva appears on the cloth.

Buddhists, Baptists and Catholics making Hindu gods in a basement.  Amazing.

Reg, my friend, eventually drifts away.  Oddly we both end up in Edmonton years later.  He on one side of town me on the other.  Separated by too many experiences and an eternity of time.

One day his preschool son returns from kindergarten, walks to the end of the dock by the house and topples in.  The books in his back pack hold him under and he drowns.  Reg owns a bookstore.

I'm a new dad but I'm too scared of the bad karma to reach out.

Funny what an organic clothing store and $5 coffee can dredge up out of the depths.  For me Salt Spring Island is losing a little bit more of its charm.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Motorcycle Madness

With all my paddling buddies occupied I took off for a little ride on the new bike.  There's this route on southern Vancouver Island called the Circle Drive.

It's essentially the brain child of the tourism office.  Their thinking was that if the government could find the money to pave 53 kilometers of logging road tourists in motor homes would travel this great circle dropping buckets of cash as they went.

So the government paved the road from Port Renfrew to Lake Cowichan thus creating a 265 kilometer paved circle linking Port Renfrew, Duncan, and Victoria our provincial capital.  Guess what! The tourist didn't come.  The worst section of the road is only chip sealed, twisty and narrow.  The type of road that sends the RV crowd to the commode.

What's left is a pretty little road just fine for motorcyclists.

On this day I road up the Malahat to the Shawnigan Lake turn off and swung left to ride the back road and escape the up island traffic.  If you take this route stay to the left or west side of the lake.  Part of the road has been resurfaced and the traffic volume is even lower.

When you reach the end of the lake don't go back to the island highway but follow anyone of a number of back roads.  I travelled through Cobble Hill and Cowichan Bay before slipping into Duncan.

From Duncan I road straight west to Cowichan Lake, gassed up and headed for Port Renfrew.  Watch out for logging trucks and dodgy pavement.  Some of the corners are deceptive.  I squared a few and left my braking too late on a few others.  I'm still trying to sharpen skills that sat on the shelf for 23 years.

The last straight section before Port Renfrew is a sort of paved corrugated speed bump.  You'll see the straight out ahead of you but you will soon out drive your suspension if you open it up too much.

There's new pavement between Port Renfrew and Sombio Beach.  However the section immediately west of Jordan River is rough.  Watch out for the hair pin turn at the top of the big hill leading down into Jordan River.  I felt the rear wheel slide going through the corner as I had carried too much speed into the turn.  A religious moment for sure.

After the climb up out of Jordan River the road leads back to Sooke and is mostly uneventful.  If time permits take the Otter Point alternative for a more interesting ride.  Once you reach Sooke you're back in urban madness.  To escape take Gillespie Road to East Sooke Road and follow it back into Victoria. More photos

Saint Emilion

Some time in the 8th century a guy left Brittany. Fed up with the rotten weather he wanted to become a hermit.  Over time he performed many miracles.  He turned kittens into cats, puppies into dogs and eventually grapes into wine. 

One of these miracles caught the attention of the Pope and the hermit became Saint Emilion and the wine, oh the wine, well lets just say it may not be a miracle but it's surely a gift from the gods.

Emilion had the wisdom to set up his hermitage on a limestone bluff surrounded by beautiful sun drenched valleys.  Poor soil, lots of sun, two of the keys to great wine.  Today Saint Emilion is a Unesco World Heritage site.

The wines of Saint Emilion represent some of the very best of Bordeaux.  Oddly, the day I choose to visit the sun took a vacation.  For my purpose it hardly mattered as I came for the wine and great food and fell head over heels for the charm of the village. 

At La Cote Braisee we had a fantastic lunch with perhaps the best table or house wine I've ever tasted. The restaurant, carved out of the limestone hill, is located on the steps half way between the upper town and the lower.  Most of these shops are located in caves from which limestone blocks were cut to build the village, the ramparts and the church.

If you should have the great fortune of washing up in Saint Emilion begin by visiting the tourist office.  They'll direct you to choice wineries either your own personal favourite or ones they'll recommend. Here's a link to more photos from my visit.

Monday, July 11, 2011

On Driving in France

Day two. 

My partner has been talking about renting a car and driving across France from Lyon to Bordeaux.  This talk started weeks ago when it became evident that finding reasonable accommodations in Paris would be impossible. Consequently she decided we'd train down to Lyon then rent a car and drive to Bordeaux then on down to Aracachon where we'd rented a cottage for a week.

Hmmm, Bordeaux is on the Atlantic and Lyon in the east clear across France. Little LED lights went off, but I said nothing except to ask, as our departure date approached, if a car had been reserved.  Truth - I really didn't want to drive clear across France.  In fact I didn't want to drive down the block.  After driving in England I felt intimidated.

Nevertheless it seemed important to my sunshine so I swallowed my trepidation and kept my mouth shut.  This was to be her holiday besides we'd agreed to embark on a new holiday planning scheme; she plans one then I plan the next.

On our last day in Lyon we decided we check out if any cars were available.  Conveniently there was a EuroCar Agency just outside the Ibis Hotel lobby. In we walk and yes there is a nice car available for only 387 Euros. "A DAY!"

Well that's the end of that. The smacking sound was my jaw hitting the floor as she says we'll take it pulls out the credit card and signs the rental agreement.

In anticipation that a car might be rented we'd borrowed Monsieur
Tom Tom complete with all the required maps of Europe.  Out to the parking lot, once around the car, a nifty 5 speed Peugeot 306, hook up M. Tom and off we go.  Around the block turn left onto A6. Except there are four left hand lanes, I opt for the extreme right and drive us directly into a a six story parking garage.

Ever so cool I grap the ticket and drive straight to the exit gate on the second floor.  It won't open, I see a sharp left next to the gate, take it drive around to the back of the que and try again.  No more luck.  This time I hit the Info button and ask in my best pidgon French.

"Pardon M. parlay vour Anglais SVP?"  Please parlay vour, please! I don't voice that last thought to appear weak in front of the partner is just asking for trouble.  "I can't get the gate to open," I'm babelling but not yet sweating or swearing. That comes later.

Monsieur.  Just turn to ze left and take ze stairs!" Take the stairs!
Five minutes later  we're back on the street. The Peugeot's suspension was spared as the stairs turned out to be a ramp.  Now it was across the Rhone, then the Saone, another wrong turn on A6 which was surprisingly empty but going in the wrong direction.

Turned around going the right way and at a complete stop as every driver in Lyon was enterred in what appeared to be the Friday morning crush to get out of Dodge.  After a nervous hour of lane jumping, fast action, hard braking, very alert, attentive driving, we're off the A6 and onto a secondary highway heading for Roanne.

First, the highway system in France is so superior to anything in North America you'd think they invented the car.  Second, French drivers put us to shame.  Yes they drive fast, yes you get one shot at making your decision, but they drive.  They don't eat whoppers, drink lates, or talk on cellphones.  They drive.

Travel mugs are unheard of.  Why would you want one.  Cafe cream is a shot of espesso with a shot of cream.  It comes in a tiny cup that you sit down at a tiny table and drink.  After an indetermined amount of time, never less then 30 minutes, you may seek the attention of your waiter and beg for ze bill.  Very civilized.  Who would want to take away the coffee and race to your next destination and forego the pleasantry of just sitting around drinking high octane jump juice.  An aside.  Never had a bad cup of coffee all the time whilst in France.  Do you hear that England.

Back on the road.  The highway up to Roanne is amazing, I start to settle in feeling out the little 306.  Pretty soon I'm living dangerously passing Deuce Cevels, farm tractors and the occassional stationary bus.  Life is good.

Amazingly the very best of French engineering seems to have gone into road construction.  The pavement is smooth, corners cambered, posted speed signs reflect reality.  None of this, "oh my God it's a corner, better slow down to a crawl," postings we see in North America.

It's refreshing.

But then the fill up. 90 Euros for a tank of diesel. Next the tolls once we hit the cross country auto route, another 50 Euros.  If we did not have so far to go I'd stick to the secondary roads.  In fact I'd like to return,  pre rent an affordable car, and just travel around one area; maybe Normandy or the Central Masif.

Eventually we make Aracachon and call the cottage hostest.  More about the witch later.

Oh, just one more thing, I did not drive at all in Paris although we took two taxis.  The first one featured a lazy, driver who drove in the Formula one position - with the seat back laying on my knees in the back seat.  The entire time he chatted away on his blue tooth and stuck to the main roads, crawling trough the conjestion.

The next days driver was a true pro, drove fast made quick decisive lane changes when needed, took short cuts and back roads and got us back to the airport for 10 Euros less then the first driver.  Sweet.