Monday, April 30, 2007

Coachella 2007

Three days of extended exposure to 40++ degree heat and standing/walking/jumping/dancing for hours on end never felt so good. Because I lack the skill to adequately capture the experience with only words (if it is even possible), I will relay only the most memorable moments from the weekend.

Memorable performances:
Rage Against the Machine. Sixty thousand sunburned fans roaring as they pump their fists in the air in unison with earth shaking bass and the sound of Zack de la Rocha passionately screaming into his microphone. Pure energy.
Manu Chao. This was my first exposure to the band, although they are apparently one of the best selling artists globally. The band plays a lively fusion of salsa, raggae, ska, and rock. You'll have to hear it to understand. It's good stuff.
Arcade Fire. Montreal-based band representing Canada very well. A broad range of instruments offers the music depth, made better only by the intensity of the band's energy on stage.
The Decemberists. Great showmen. This band really knows how to use audience involvement to add to the energy of the show.
Other shows that I enjoyed were: Red Hot Chili Peppers, Lily Allen, Willie Nelson, Pharoahe Monch, Jack's Mannequin, and Jarvis Cocker.

Memorable quotes:
"What do you call a dead lamb" - Flea, screwing up a joke.
"Rage against the machine is like cholesterol" - Tori, having (not) a deep thought.
"I'm here to see Dr. Jong" - Hooper, looking for the Stephen Marley and Jr. Gong show
"It is definitely not unhot" - Hooper and Ral, at every possible chance
"It's okay to be gay, just don't be stupid gay" - Strange gay guy on a rant

Memorable non-music experiences:
Charging my blackberry battery by riding a stationary bike
Waking up to the blinding flash of a spotlight through my tent, the sound of a helicopter circling overhead and a police warning through a megaphone that threatened arrest for non-compliance The crazy lightening machine. I'm not convinced that's safe.
People thinking Ral's Heineken neck tattoo was real
Anti-bush protesters organized enough to spell IMPEACH, but not organized enough to arrange for a picture to be taken overhead
Being asked to proofread a cover letter by a total stranger
The bicycle rides at cyclecide

Thanks to Hoop, Kareen, Marco, Matt and my new friends Ral and Leah for helping to make this weekend so much fun! Pictures are posted on the Exploratori link to the right.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Don't be Fooled by Science!

I watched Al Gore present on Monday night at the Epcor Centre. There were protesters outside the building, one dressed like a chicken (I'm not quite sure why), another with a barely legible 'Gore is a Bore' sign (that demonstrated only that the writer could rhyme), and a third with a megaphone that had the sound quality of a fast food drive through speaker system. I support free speech, for the most part, but I get frustrated when it is abused. In this case, the lack of organization, coherency and substance qualify this as an abuse of free speech. But more concerning than that, was the message. I acknowledge that there is a clever and, perhaps, slightly misleading arrangement of fact, opinion, and speculation in Gore's presentation. But this is a successful career politician. I would expect that any rational listener has the capacity to think critically about his message. Whether or not people buy in to every argument is irrelevant - the point is awareness of the issues and the initiation of open discussion on them. It is inconceivably difficult to battle the inertia of the general public, particularly when it involves a change in behaviour. Gore's campaign is showing signs of success in effecting change, one outcome in particular has been a movement toward reducing waste. Waste is morally bad. I believe this is an incontrovertable truth. So, what's the deal with the protesters? Why fight something positive? What are they hoping to accomplish? Perhaps Samantha Bee can shed some light on that.

Sunday, April 22, 2007


'There were many terrible things in my life, but few of them actually happened'. Arriana Huffington

6:37am: I roll over in the hotel bed and open my eyes, which my body has attempted to glue shut in retaliation to the sleep deprivation to which it has been subjected over the last week. It feels like my retina are burned by the numbers on the alarm clock. I want to go back to sleep until my scheduled waking time of 8:00am, but I know it is futile. The knot that has upset my stomach for the last week has awoken for the day.

7:17am: I'm refreshed from my shower anxious to go. First, I sit down for breakfast in the courtyard adjacent to the hotel swimming pool. I look around at a room full of strangers. I wonder if they are experiencing the same feelings as me. Nervousness. Anxiety. Fear. Curiosity. Excitement. Loneliness. Self-doubt. Self-loathing. My physical symptoms of nausea and headache are intense. I contemplate driving home, but I know that will only exacerbate the problem.

9:00am: I meet up with some friends. Their words of encouragement are genuine and are meant to put me at ease, but my mind refuses to cooperate. My feeling of loneliness deepens as I sense that, at this moment, nobody else is feeling exactly the way I do.

10:36am: It's time to face the problem head on. It's cold out and I'm covered in goosebumps. Adding to the discomfort, my bladder is full, again. I laugh nervously with the stranger next to me. I can see in her eyes that she knows exactly how I feel. She feels it too. My feeling of loneliness subsides. I wish her well and mean it, but I secretly hope that I don't see her again soon.

11:17am: My breath is loud and laboured and contradicts my aerobic fitness. I'm so physically spent that my eyes have trouble focusing on anything. I'm at my limit. I can hear someone approaching from behind. I become increasingly distressed by the signs that they are getting closer. Inconceivably, I find the means to hold them off, for now.

11:41am: The knot that was in my stomach has been replaced by a feeling that my lungs are bleeding and that my legs are so weak that I risk losing my ability to stay upright. It is a welcome trade. I know the knot is gone for good and that these new maladies are only temporary.

I finished my first mountain bike race today. It went about as well as I could have hoped. The hour-long race itself was a cakewalk relative to the week of mental stress that I created for myself leading up to it. Precisely what was so bothersome to me, I don't know. My first triathlon didn't cause me that level of anxiety. The next race will be stressful too, I know it, but it will be a different kind of stress (I hope!). I'm glad to have this one out of the way. I'm also glad to have been welcomed in to a new circle of friends that are positive, thoughtful, interesting, and seem like a lot of fun.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Saturday Night

After driving around for a while, listening to the cbc and savouring the first feeling of relaxation I've had for a while, I decided to stop for dinner. I picked a tiny little Japanese restaurant on the mainstreet. As I sat at the counter deciding what to order, an older Japanese man emerged from the kitchen weilding a banjo. He was singing 'you are my sunshine' while vigorously strumming his instrument, which was out of key, even to my untrained ear. A woman hurried behind, carrying a small plate that had a sparkler on it. Apparently someone was celebrating their birthday here tonight. I'm not sure this was a traditional Japanese birthday celebration, but it sure was funny to watch. There's nothing like a good laugh to settle your mind.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Verbal Abuse: Part I

Perhaps it is because my parents were school teachers (science teachers, in fact) and made a concerted effort to emphasize the importance of using proper spelling and grammar, being factual, and having a general knowledge of and respect for the English language. Or, perhaps my recent efforts to learn another language have heightened my sensitivity to the challenges that the use of poor/incorrect word choice creates in the communication process. Whatever the reason, the fact is that one of my pet peeves is verbal abuse. I am by no means perfect; however, I think it is important for people to make an effort to recognize and correct violations of the rules of good communication, or we risk the whole system unraveling into chaos.

As Red Foreman would say, "Without rules, we might as well all sit up in a tree and fling crap at each other".

Here are a few instances of verbal abuse that have been driving me nuts lately. I labeled this blog entry "Verbal Abuse Part I" because I know it is inevitable that I will have to add to this list over time.

1. I'm 1000% percent certain. Really? Because I'm 100% certain that you don't understand how percentages work.

2. It cost a kazilion million dollars. I believe the purpose of this one is to emphasize the high cost of something. Unfortunately, it does more to reflect poorly on your intelligence than to emphasize the point that is being relayed.

3. Irregarless. Do you mean regardless? Do you think that adding a prefix makes you sound more intelligent? Guess what, it doesn't.

4. Preexisting. I accept that this word actually exists; however, I have yet to hear it used properly outside of the example provided in the dictionary.

5. Orientated. I believe you mean to say oriented. Just because so many people get it wrong that it has worked its way into the Microsoft spellchecker, doesn’t make it right.

6. Anal preoccupation. Wha? I am deeply troubled that it socially acceptable to reference this body part in this way. Particularly in a business context, one should not use body parts to accentuate a point.

Monday, April 9, 2007

Where The Wild Things Are

Today I rode for a couple of hours at Wilder Park, which is just outside Santa Cruz. The trails took me up the hills overlooking the rugged coast. The hills are a mix of parched prairie and lush forest; an interesting combination. The trail itself was a mix of double and single track and was non technical. It was fun to cruise along speedily and get my legs and lungs burning. As I ripped around one corner, I caught a bobcat (and myself) by surprise. He leaped out of the way into the bushes - FAST! I'm scared of chickens, so this almost stopped my heart. It's hard to conceive that its possible, but I suppose that he was more scared of me (or, perhaps, my spanky the monkey jersey) than I was of him.

From then on, I sang as I rode (scary!). I thought it might help avoid future surprises. At the very least, it helped sooth my nerves.

I saw a lot of other wildlife too, which surprised me since this was the least remote of the trails that I rode this trip. There were a wide variety of birds as well as bunnies, squirrels, and other small rodents. In the forest I saw some gargantuan yellow slugs - some of which were as big as a banana. After mistaking roots for snakes enough times, I let down my guard and then almost ran over a big snake. I'm pretty sure it was too big to be a garter snake, but I'm no expert. I eventually finished the ride unscathed and then packed up and drove the scenic route back toward the airport. On the way, I stopped and watched some kite surfers on a small stretch of beach until the wind dreadlocked my hair. And, just like that, another holiday is over.

Sunday, April 8, 2007

AAA Standards, R2D2 and Deep Fried Twinkies

After breakfast, I headed to Napa Valley to ride at Skyline Park, which could be described as Napa's equivalent to Nosehill park (but with more interesting trails for mountain bikes). The weather was gorgeous and the trails were a lot of fun. Each day so far has presented me with a distinctly different kind of riding. I rode only a few hours today before exhausting all of the trails. Rather than doing repeats, I decided to relax a bit and hit the beach. My initial destination was Pacifica, because it was close to the airport. But, I was having too much fun driving (I can't believe I just said that) to call it a day. What a beautiful state - I started the day in the beautiful Sierras, rode some great trails in wine country, and now I was cruising along miles and miles of beautiful coastline. I cranked up the Cali beats (Red Hot Chili Peppers) until my ipod ran out of juice and then turned on the radio. The Clash's 'should I stay or should I go' came on - and I couldn't help but wonder the same.
I elected to 'stay' in Santa Cruz - at least for tonight. I didn't want to leave myself with too much of a drive tomorrow, and I had a hunch there was some mountain biking in the area (Santa Cruz bikes?). I grabbed a room at the econo lodge. I didn't need anything fancy; hotel rooms for one can really add up. The sign said AAA approved - how bad could it be? From what I can tell, all you need to acheive AAA endorsement is a derelict swimming pool, an overweight, heavily tattooed, chain smoking property manager, and a free continental breakfast.

I walked around town for a couple of hours. It was an interesting contrast to everything I've seen in the last couple of days. For example, Erik might want to consider coming here for a week of Spanish immersion and mountain biking.

Highlights from my walk included: a big crowd of people salsa dancing in the middle of the boardwalk, a USPS mailbox painted like R2D2, and watching hundreds of people blow money on rides, games and junkfood at the permanent carnival on the beach (do deep fried twinkies really seem like a good idea?).

I seem to be having troubles posting pictures, so I will have to update these posts when I get home.

Poison Bob, a Wyatt Earp Burger, and some Humble Pie

Today I picked a route that said 'advanced: 4-5 hours'. It was a one way route that required a shuttle to get back to the starting point (which was a short drive from the hotel). I looked at the distances (17 miles of single track and 9 miles of dirt road) and decided to start from my hotel and ride the route 'there' and back. My decision to extend the route was not because I wanted a 10+ hour ride or because I thought my skill level was beyond advanced. I looked at the distances, it just didn't make sense to me that it should take that long. I figured that perhaps the time guideline had been padded to keep city slicker beginners from getting into too much trouble. According to the lady at the hotel, 'there' was a small town called Washington. Perfect, I could grab some lunch and rehydrate before heading back. How hard could it be?

On my road bike, I have my nutrition and hydration down to a science. Absent unexpected wind or technical difficulties, I can tell you (almost to the minute) how long a ride will take. It is going to take me some time to do the same on my mountain bike. My hand drawn mountain bike trail map lacked several important features: scale, any indication of elevation changes, the sneaky little unmarked forks in the path, and the stretch of boulders across which I had to portage my bike.  When I saw the number 17 (refering to the length of single track), I thought to myself 'that's so short'. But then, that was in miles, so I needed to think of it as 27km. Still not too long. The tricky part that I hadn't figured out was how to accomodate for the fact that it's super hilly single track. If I calibrate the difficulty of that relative to the road, with the road being a 1, I'd say I could multiply the distance by between 3 and 4 to get the road equivalent. I'm hoping that, by August, I can reduce that factor to 2ish. I've got some work to do!

The trail itself was great, it just took me substantially longer than anticipated. It extended along one side of a canyon, which meant there were some great views, and also meant that I had a steep cliff on one side of me the whole way. Danger!

After almost five hours, I arrived in the town of Washington (population 150). Washington was (is?) a propecting town. The three buildings 'downtown' appear to be from the 1800s. There was a bar/cafe that seemed to be the place to go. Of course, that might be because it was the only place to go. Today's special was the Wyatt Earp burger. Something told me that's been the daily special for a while (perhaps because it was written on a deshevled, sun faded piece of paper tacked to the wall). My arrival caused quite a stir. The locals seemed eager to chat and I talked to two as I devoured my burger. The first to introduce himself was Poison Bob. He moved to Washington after he returned from service in Vietnam in 1969. I wondered if his nickname had anything to do with the drink in his hand, but I learned that he earned it after being bitten by two scorpions, a black widow, and a rattlesnake in the span of less than a month. He looked much older than his 58 years. The next to tell me his story was John, a local prospector. Last week he rolled his truck in the snow on some 'nearby' back road. His only choice was to walk back to town. He had taken his safety kit out of his truck to make room for some other stuff, so all he had was a blanket and three oranges to help him get home. Unfortunately, it got dark quickly. With no flashlight, he lost his way as he was cutting through the woods. 16 hours and almost 40 miles later, he finally reached a road and hitched a ride home. Doesn't sound like it was too much fun.

I was informed of how to get back to Nevada City a quicker way than how I had come out. It was going to involve an impossible six mile hill - and that was a warning I took seriously since I knew these guys were no wimps. Still, this seemed like an attractive alternative, as I did not have five hours of sunlight remaining and I was totally tuckered out.

In the end, I hammered out seven hours on my new ride and learned that I have a lot to learn before Transrockies.

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Good Friday? Hell Yeah

I woke up early today because I wanted to get to Winters to pick up my bike. When I got to my car, it appeared that there was an unsuccessful/incomplete break in job on my vehicle. The lock mechanism on the passenger door had clearly been tampered with. Oh well, I guess it could have been worse.

I arrived in Winters earlier than scheduled as a result of low traffic and my outstanding navigational skills. Winters is a beautiful town with a lot of character. It is apparent that its residents take pride in their community. It was peaceful, tidy, felt safe, and was, well, the opposite of San Francisco. I sat down for a cup of Joe at Steady Eddies. I picked that place because there was a cruiser bike parked out front with a Hula Girl on it and it just seemed to sum up the vibe that I got from the town. I especially like that it was not locked up - presenting another contrast to San Francisco.

I then headed to Velo City to meet Myke and pick up my new bike. He showed me how to take my fork off and how to dismantle the rear suspension so that I can fit the bike in my bike box when I head home on Monday. We didn't actually try to fit the bike IN the box, so that will be a nice little surprise for Monday to see if it actually works. He also took the time to make some suggestions on where I might want to ride over the next couple of days and made a map of one particular ride that I might like this afternoon. I've never had service like this! Very impressive.

I continued east to Auburn for an afternoon ride. Before hitting the trail, I grabbed some water in Cool. Two bottles ought to be enough, right?

By now it was mid afternoon and in the low 80's for temperature. It was a clear day and there were a lot of people out cooling off in the river. Down by the river, some peole had arranged the rocks in a decorative way that caught my attention.

Myke's hand drawn map and directions were excellent. The ride was mostly single track with a mix of of easy hard packed trail and technical sections to keep me happy. The scenery was spectacular. I encountered perhaps 12 other riders, which gave me some comfort without it being a nuisance. I saw a surprising number of snakes and hoped that they were just garter snakes (though I was happy not finding out for sure).

I tested the limits of my abilities and took a few little spills, but nothing I couldn't handle. I was extremely pleased with the feel of the bike; it exceeded the high expectations that I had. It's amazing what a difference good equipment can make. I rode for about 3.5 hours, taking a few detours to extend the ride. I would have stayed out longer but I was out of water and running out of light.

Nevada City was my destination for the evening. Based on a recommendation from a guy that was eavesdropping on my conversation with Myke at the bike shop, I got a room at the Outside Inn. Good choice. I walked into the reception area and there were maps and directions to local mountain biking spots on the wall. The staff was friendly and the rooms were reasonably priced. When I got to my room, there were some easter eggs by the alarm clock. What more could I ask for?

The town of Nevada City is small, but extremely cool. I walked around town for a while, enjoying the pleasant evening temperatures and the cool, laid back vibe of the town, and decided I would stay here at least another night. I can't wait to get out for a ride tomorrow.

Friday, April 6, 2007

Things are looking up

After a particularly difficult day at work, I left late for the airport, which put me smack in the middle of rush hour. After making it to the gate in the nick of time and boarding the plane, we were delayed 40 minutes waiting for the plane to get de-iced. After I arrived in San Francisco (late), I caught the shuttle to pick up my rental car. The driver laid a patch after every stop, which was amusing at first, but grew tired by the tenth time. After finishing the paperwork, he went out to the small parking lot to "bring my car around for me". Eventhough the parking lot was no bigger than my yard, he felt the need to lay a patch. Bad idea. He slammed into another parked car. More delays. It seemed like my day was getting worse by the minute.

I eventually made it to my hotel, which was in a really sketchy part of town - I would liken it to East Hastings in Vancouver - but I was too interested in getting to the Billy Talent show to consider finding another hotel. Plus, it actually looked decent. Built in 1956, it had a funky, retro feel and was decorated like a tropical oasis. How bad could it be? Afterall, I was just sleeping there - and, hey, I'm always up for an adventure.

I arrived at the bar where Billy Talent was performing just as they were doing a soundcheck. Perfect timing. There couldn't have been more than a couple of hundred people inside. It's pretty crazy to think that they can sell out shows in big venues in Canada and can't even pack a bar in the US. I was able to enjoy the show unbelievably close to the stage.

Dynamite show. As if that wasn't great in itself, I got to meet the band after the show! You could say this really turned my day around.

When I got back to my hotel, there were some naked men hanging out by the pool in the courtyard. Amusing. Only in San Francisco. This weekend is definitely going to be an adventure. I have a good feeling about it though.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

I'm going to Hell

I woke up yesterday morning to this:
I found it amusing enough to take a picture, but was still too lazy to shovel. It's April, it's cold, and I'm finished with winter. I didn't feel guilty about not shovelling because I'm usually reasonably good about clearing the snow expeditiously. The pedestrians that pass my house every morning are treated to a luxuriously safe and clear sidewalk for most of the year. I figured they could handle one day of walking in the snow. What I didn't consider was that my laziness would result in my elderly neighbor shovelling my sidewalk for me! What kind of able bodied 28-year old uses their elderly neighbor to do this stuff for them? I feel so guilty.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007


Technically, its not that time of year, but, because the recent pleasant surprises in my life owe to the actions of others, this seems like an appropriate time to give thanks. Specifically, I would like to thank:
- Sarah Marchildon, for including me as a link on the list of blogs that she reads. I don't know her, but I like reading her blog. In fact, her blog was one of my sources of inspiration for getting the observatori going.

- Sebastian, a random stranger, who just happened to mistake me for someone else, and just happened to speak french, and just happened to have some free time. Thanks for taking the time to help me practice my french!
- the old security guy at the Clapton concert (who went to all of the trouble of kicking us out of our stolen seats only to find he would be faced with doing the same to the people that had stolen our seats) for letting us keep our beer. - Myke at Velo City Bicycles for sending me a sneak peek at my new bike. It's still winter here, apparently, so it's nice to have something to day dream about.