Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Quick update (how I got home)-will be updated when I have time

hey guys,

so it was a whirlwind of a week getting ready for ecuador, and as a result this blog is missing the story of how I got home...

I am currently writing this in ecuador (the blog website conveniently changed itself to spanish) and I will be out of internet contact for the next 12 days while we tour around Ecuador and do the volunteer project in the rural area.

So unfortunately I will have to give a more thorough account of how the trip ended in due time.

But as a quick version: I got home safe, still had some stuff in my lungs when I got back so it was another round of antibiotics for me, the trip down here was very long (more than 24 hrs), quito is eye popping, I just climbed to the top of a church today (at least 20 stories), and I feel better but definitely still recovering

look forward to a better update soon :)

alrighty now i just have to find the spanish for 'post'

Saturday, 18 June 2011

The Two Tires -continuation of the Fellowship of the Tour

Cancer Donations: Here
Ecuador Websites: Here
Ecuador Donations: Here

So if you didn't read the previous entry (Fellowship of the Tour), do it; because you evidently didn't read the title of this blog either :P

Lying in bed the night of the 200k day of riding, I could feel I overstrained the tendon in my left calf muscle right above my heel and knew I should rest the next day. So with that comforting thought I drifted off to sleep, my legs numb and tingling from the day’s exertion. The next day’s weather forecast brought good news and bad news: the good news being I wouldn’t have a headwind today, but 2 days from then it would be a 60km/h headwind, thus the bad news was that I needed to ride that day so that I could plan my rest day for the windy day (I don’t think I actually have a gear low enough to ride in 60km/h headwind).

So with that I set off from Malta, and if I thought the previous day was difficult and painful, I was definitely in for a surprise. Although the tendons in my leg stabilizers I had pulled during the crash were mostly healed by then, the road rash and hole in my left arm had been making it very difficult to sleep, both with its throbbing and with the shots of pain every time it touched something. I had also noticed that while I’ve been sick, my muscles have not been recovering nearly as quickly as they usually do, and I regularly had to have naps mid-day to prevent falling asleep on the bike. Waking up that morning and biking that day I also knew my bronchitis was getting worse, and that I was putting my body through too much stress and chills (riding in the rain and hail) for it to heal both the bronchitis and my arm at the same time.

Its hard to describe what it was like to bike that day, its almost like trying to get the last of the toothpaste out of the tube: you think you have nothing left until you give it a good squeeze, and as long as you just keep squeezing harder more will come, but every time you have to dig deeper and push harder than you ever have before. That’s what every kilometer was like, and there were 150 of them. Biking previously I’ve had experiences where my legs would give out, or my lungs would feel like they were going to explode; but this was different. My legs were almost overwhelmingly painful each time I started to pedal, and I had to keep my legs spinning while riding otherwise they would start to seize up and the pain would return.  Oh and the hills! Each hill seemed like a mountain, even though they were embarrassingly small (haha I never thought I’d complain about the hills in the prairies…). The sweat continually dripped off my brow into my eyes, and during the hottest parts of the day it would feel like my entire body was a heartbeat, pulsing in cadence with my labored breathing.

BUT I finally made it, and we met up Andre and Shauna there. They had been having some mechanical problems with their bikes, Andre’s gears weren’t working properly, and Shauna’s rim ended up exploding (it was literally shredded metal). So after we got all that joy of fixing those problems out of the way, we headed up to the campsite where there was a classic car festival, but more importantly all you can eat tacos with a table FULL of deserts. I ended up eating 8 tacos, 2 brownies, 2 caramel thingies, 3 rice crispie squares, and a cookie.

After I finished consuming an inordinate amount of food, and was subsequently revived from my food coma by the guys, we checked out the cars for a bit and chatted with the locals (who were quite nice, despite the fact that I knew as little about old cars as they did about bikes).

It was certainly a day to remember, and (in conjunction with the previous day- 200k) I had set a personal best of biking 350k in two days; with the addition of the next day (100k) and the day before I knew I had bronchitis (180k) made it 630k in four days…while being sick.

The next day I woke up coughing quite bad, I would end up doubled over after a coughing fit trying to clear my lungs. So I decided to take a slower day and stick with Andre and Shauna, who would take a lovely pace around 18-20kmh as opposed to my sadistic 31-33kmh. It was also a day to see if I could get my lungs feeling better, but even at the slower pace I couldn’t stop the coughing going up hills when my breathing increased, and felt out of breath even on the flats. 

But it was a lovely day nonetheless, we stopped for food and rest in some very nice small towns (I say ‘small’ liberally for the towns: my physics class had three times their populations). It ended up being an almost exact 100k day (100.54k) to Chester, and we had quite a pleasant surprise with a town fair that was going on when we arrived. But before we could enjoy the festivities we needed to eat, so found the most stereotypical western bar I’ve ever been to: they had everything from a “Fistful of Dollars” playing, to nothing but country-western music in the jukebox, to a bunch of old smelly guys with missing teeth, big wiry grey beards, and laughter that sounded closer to someone wheezing while dying from tuberculosis than anything. It was so dark in there that by the time we left, I actually forgot it was still day outside and was promptly blinded when opening the door.

The little festival was fun (I forgot what it was for…), but it was still hot and muggy and the mosquitoes were terrible. Actually this would be a good time to mention that the bugs this entire trip have been awful, with the insane amount of rain we’ve had there has been a cornucopia of still water for them to breed in. To put it in perspective I was debating shaving my leg and arm hair because I would literally have to smear the layer of bugs off myself every 20k, and the town I was in yesterday had 5 days of sun since January.

Anyways back to the fair; we basically got back just to see the finale, which were two locals doing motorcycle tricks. It was actually the coolest thing!! I was totally taken aback by how such a small town could put on a show like that, and how they were so trusting and generous (we were offered probably 3-4 homes to stay in, and one lady offered us her car to use, “my car’s across the street and the keys are in the ignition if ya’ll want it”). Although Victoria isn’t a large city by any standards, I felt like the biggest New York city slicker that afternoon. After the motorcycle show we wanted to show off our bikes too, but after concluding that no one would stick around to see us bike a few hundred klicks, and none of us could do anything else mildly interesting with our bikes (except maybe changed a tire really quickly), with resignation we made sleeping preparations and chatted with another cyclist heading east who was stopping there for the night.

I had a few more blogs posts that I’m working on at the moment, but for now I thought it would be best to get this one up, and see if I can get the video working on this site :) – to show you guys the motorcycle show. If not I’ll put it up on YouTube and put a link later.

The current score for blown tires-   Montana Roads: 4 Michael: 0 

Drying everything out in Andre's hotel room.

Part of the Classic Car show

Camping with Andre and Shauna

another long day...

Ohhhh Canada...

You: "hey Michael is the road flat?"
Me: "yes, I would say so"

They say if you loose your dog you can still see him 3 days later, its a lie. Its actually a week later.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

It's not all about the bike

Cancer Donations: Here
Ecuador Websites: Here
Ecuador Donations: Here

These are a few stories that I have been meaning to share. I figured after all these blogs about the riding itself; it might be nice to take a bit of a detour into some of the other memories of the trip.

The 2011 Canada Wide Science Fair ambassador program finished in Toronto, and I was very sick when it finished. I knew that I wouldn’t be able to ride for a while, so we decided to take a quick drive on the day the fair ended from Toronto to just inside the US. My experience with crossing into the US had always been through airport security, who are generally pretty friendly. Boy was I in for a surprise… We got the border late at night; I was totally exhausted (probably from the 3am Boston Pizza run the night before with the ambassadors) and could barely speak from a very sore throat. The boarder guard asked us what our purpose was in the US, and after we told him that I was doing a bike ride to raise money for cancer and poverty in Ecuador, (I kid you not) he accused us multiple times of being religious missionaries bent on soliciting the good American people out of their hard earned money, then absconding with that money down to Ecuador for who knows what dastardly plans. They asked us to leave the vehicle, and enter some kind of holding facility where they continued to question us. I think the best non four-letter words I could use to describe them would be incredibly incriminating. Everything we said (that was totally normal) was spun into something we never said (like soliciting, or missionary). And that was before Daffyd had to say he’d been in contact with farm animals… Long story short, they made a mess of the car, and eventually let us go to freely roam the US on our religious missionary work, aggressively soliciting innocent people so that I could take the money down to Ecuador to foster anti-American sentiments :)

All of the biking I had done previously had been on the west coast, or in Ontario (both of which have hill and trees). So to do about 1600k of prairies was refreshing at least for a while. Two of these things that most people don’t have on their front yards in Victoria are horses and cows…

I was heading down a gradual hill and started to hear this repeated thudding noise, and as a rule of thumb if something is wrong on your bike, your first indication is usually sound or feel (and after 100 hours of listening to your bike you’ll be able to hear slight changes in the sound it makes). So here I was riding along looking like a fool checking my bike from head to toe, when I look over to my right and I see about 7 stallions galloping right beside me (I don’t know if they were actually stallions, I didn’t stop to check, but it sounds much cooler than horses). It was later in the day and the sun was projecting behind them, it was definitely an unforgettable moment that would put any Clint Eastwood ‘riding into the sunset’ movie to shame.

The other memorable encounter with farm animals was significantly less gallant. I was just biking along doing my thing, and I look over at a field full of cows. Then I notice one was looking at me, then another, and another and before long almost the entire field of cows is watching, slowly rotating their heads unblinkingly, as I rode past. I’ve never felt so self-conscious biking in my life; the piercing judgmental look of those cows was like the look I would get if I wore a full pink plaid spandex outfit to my first day of high school. And this didn’t happen just once, oh no sir, this happened every time there was a herd of cows. I could probably have filed passive aggressive harassment complaints. But I did have a chance to get those cows back, one tried to run with me (I didn’t even know cows could run), but I kicked his butt in the race, and made myself feel better :) I think the cow was just jealous of the horses running with me.

There are a few other stories that might be worth sharing, but those will have to wait. For now I have the duty of being the only Canucks fan in the bar in West Glacier Montana…

Monday, 13 June 2011

The Fellowship of the Tour

Cancer Donations: Here
Ecuador Websites: Here
Ecuador Donations: Here

Sorry for the lack of blog updates in the last little while, its been some of the longest days of riding yet; but if you are following the facebook event page there were some updates there :D link Here

So I believe the last I left you guys was coming into Stanley ND. It seems like were we meant to stay there because we happen to meet up with another 4 cyclist all going west. The new group of three guys (Herb, Andre, and Bob) had been riding together since Connecticut, and Bob was doing a charity ride for prostate cancer. So we all had dinner (well I tried to have dinner but got kicked out of the bar, and had to have the guys bring it to me after…). Its strange going from being illegal before April first, to being legal for the two months I was in Canada, to back to illegal down here.

Coming out of Stanley ND I saw my longest day of riding ever undrafted, 180k from Stanley to Cumberland (Victoria to Naniamo is about 100-110k), and it was A. Hot. Day. Probably went through at least 1.2 bazillion water bottles. This was an excellent day of riding, minus the fact that I could feel myself start to get more sick. Up until this point I had been riding sick to the point where I would be coughing up phlegm and sneezing during the ride, but other than that I could still breathe. That was the first day I had problems with a tight feeling in my airways.

The next day was very cold and rainy, and even though I had a tail wind, it was a very difficult day of riding. During the end of the ride (maybe 15k out from the stopping point) I had two flat tires within 5 mins of each other, and it was just as I was fixing my second flat tire we got hit with some kind of hurricane-hail-wind storm. I was so sleepy by that point that I just had a warm drink and nap in the car. But after a while of trying to wait the storm out, it was apparent it wasn’t going anywhere. So out I went… I have never in my life ridden in conditions like that. It was so windy that I was riding on at least a 20-degree tilt to the right, and the water flying off my tires was blown almost horizontally. I ended up wearing glasses as much for eye protection from the freezing rain as anything, but the right side of my face was not so lucky and it was totally numb by the time I got into town.

Biking the day after was when I knew something was wrong with my health, I tried biking 20k out of the city and nearly passed out on my bike. So I went into the van and collapsed onto the back seat where I stayed for a good 3 hours sleeping. I drank some coffee and managed to get to the next city that had a hospital, and I got checked out the next day (the room they put me in had a wonderful bed, and they were really slow getting the doctor so as a result I had another wonderful nap :). The doc said I had bronchitis, but I felt like I had been through worse before on the trip (being sick, battling tornado winds, and riding injured after crashing) so I decided to rest for the rest of the day, and keep riding.

I don’t know what got into me the next day, maybe I needed to prove to myself that I still had what it took to keep riding, but I rode like a bat outta hell and it tuned into my second day of longest riding ever. 200k from Wolf Point to Malta MT. For the first part of the day I had a tailwind and was able to hold 38km/h for 2 and a half hours, but the wind shifted into a very strong crosswind during the afternoon. The last 40k felt like an eternity, I never knew my legs could hurt so much from fatigue, or it could feel like I was having a 6-hour asthma attack from the bronchitis. I still don’t know how I made it, but the campground we stayed at had THE NICEST BATHROOM EVER! It was tiled, smelled good, and was clean. The shower I took there was literally the best shower of my life. Ever. Period.

---------------interlude for some fun facts about cycling in strong crosswinds-----------
Although it seems crosswinds wouldn’t be as bad as headwinds, they are certainly comparable. Crosswinds will still slow you down considerably, but they are also very dangerous when you are riding on the side of a highway with huge freight trucks roaring by you at 110km/h. The gusty winds, in conjunction with the wind blasts from trucks, easily have the power to throw cyclists off the road, especially when one is tired. It also means that dust from dirt roads leading off the highway is blown into your face, making very hard to see and breathe, and rocks that are flung up from trucks are more likely to hit you; on this trip I have been hit once in the left lens of my sunglasses (thank god I was wearing those) and once in the right arm (took a good chunk of skin out and left a hole I still have).

I will keep the updates coming, but Ill do smaller amounts at a time to keep it manageable. but for now, ill do my service for the greater odiferous good of the world and go take a shower :)

poor wittle fella's had a big day

Biking with Andre

 its blurry because I'm going 40km/h

that was a long day...

the crew with me

The crew, from left: Bob, Daffyd, Shauna, Andre, Herb

Saturday, 4 June 2011

'Well at least we can't get hit by a Tsunami...'

Cancer donations here

I have recently come to realize that its actually really difficult to keep this blog up to date…

Additionally (but equally unrelated), I’ve had a lot of people ask me if I’m married or had kids, or what I did (like career wise), which is kinda weird… maybe a shower, haircut, and shave would be a prudent investment.

So! Where to begin…

After taking two days to weather the weather (pun intended) I set off on what was the most perfect day of biking ever known to man, beast, or wizard: It was sunny, warm, the road had a nice shoulder, and I had a tailwind. I saw a rest stop and what should have been the easier left turn I’ve ever done (Derrick Zoolander would agree) was complicated slightly by the gravel on the road. I barely even started the turn when I went down (if you’ve ever seen a wakeboarder catch a front edge, it was kinda like that). I hit the ground going I think about 30km/h, bounced once, and then skidded until I was in the middle of the entranceway facing back the way I came. Some very nice but confused people stopped and gave me some napkins and helped me up while Daffyd came over. I subsequently decided to repaint the sink of the rest stop red, and after that was done I made the very wise choice to drive the rest of the way into Devil’s Lake, where Doctor Daffyd Cook got everything bandaged up.

The next day we went to see a very nice physio (who didn’t even charge for the appointment!!!) and said I had no major muscle damage (even though my hip stabilizers so painful I could barely walk), and recommended (yes as strange as it seems) a rolling pin to massage my legs. That day (even though it wasn’t sunny) had a blistering fast tail wind. So I decided I’d give biking a try. I started on the east side of Devil’s Lake (the exact place I fell back at the rest stop, which was about 15k out) and I biked a little outside the city to the west before I had to give up from pain. Every pedal stroke, and every bump was painful, not to mention my left arm and leg where I fell were on fire. I sat in the car and rested; weary from the 650k I had done from Duluth. At that point I was so very close to giving up the day (and probably the trip), on account of the recent injuries, weather, and the chest cold that still had not improved. But for whatever reason I decided to give it one last shot, so I took another 2 extra strength Tylenol (taken 8 already that day), and got back in the saddle. The first 5k showed little improvement in the road or pain conditions, until I tried riding in aero position (arms on front handle bars). There was something about that riding position that alleviated a lot of the pain, and I was able to position my arm so that the wound wasn’t in contact with the bike. After that, the highway smoothed out (so I didn’t have to contend with pain from bumps), and I guess the Tylenol kicked in, along with a boat load of adrenaline and a tailwind, because I ended up going ~43km/h for close to an hour. The tailwind eventually turned in to a crossing headwind, and the last 30k were like watching Harper talk (really long and painful). But I made it 120k to Rugby!

That night we watched the most beautiful lightning storm off in the distance, it was far enough away that we didn’t get any rain (but we did get 100mph wind that night, and slightly less strong wind for the next 2 days). There was lightning about twice a second, and every time it just set the sky on fire with white light.

The next day we were informed that there was major flooding in the area (particularly the highway I was going to use), and the other highways out of the city (that weren’t flooded) were not bike safe at all. So we made the choice to circumnavigate the flooded roads using the car to go on the highways that I couldn’t bike. The area where we drove through had lots of people who had lost their land, houses, and livestock, and many of the roads we drove on were surrounded by water, others had impromptu dirt roads build just to cross flooded fields. I swear it sometimes feels like I’m in the middle of some kind of apocalypse: sickness running rampant (between Daffyd and I), bloody injuries, tornados, destructive 100mph wind, lightning and rain storms, entire country sides and half of cities flooded. I think the movie 2012 got it wrong; it was suppose to be 2011.

The last thing that happened in the last 3 days (because this trip was obviously too uneventful) was that my back wheel (the wheel that we had issues repairing before the trip started) started not rotating properly. AKA I can feel and hear grinding when I turn the axel, and its stopping far too soon when I push it. Unfortunately we’re going to have to find a solution for that at some point, but finding a good bike store when you’re in the middle of nowhere is kind of like finding an ugly trombone player: there just aren’t any.

As of now we’re in the half flooded city of Minot. When we got here we asked the lady at the tourist info booth where the good campsites or interesting spots were, and she just looked at us and said, “its all under water… but you could try Walmart.”

So here I am, stealing internet off Buffalo Wild Wings Grill and Bar in the parking lot of Walmart, about to eat a ready-cooked chicken for dinner, and will try to convince the local bar to switch from baseball to put the hockey game on (which I think will be more difficult than all the tribulations of this ride combined…)

Time for pics!

Below: Riding into Rugby (the geographical center of North America), with a look of pure bliss when I finally saw that sign...

Me and my bandaged left arm, so I didn't start bleeding everywhere :) I guess it wouldn't have mattered, my bike and jersey were red anyways :P

Flooded highways...

Ummm excuse me sir, but it seems you left the tap on.

If you don't like blood don't scroll further!!


My sad elbow :( Trust me it was a long and painful process to individually pick all the tiny rocks out of that hole... Oddly enough, the gash I have on my knee now is in the exact same place I have a scar from when I first learned to ride a bike (strangely coincidental indeed)

I didn't put a picture of my black and blue hip up, thought it would be too scandalous and I'd like to keep this blog PG 13 :)