Tuesday, October 26, 2010

When Adults Play - Part 2

Bike parking. Thanks for another great Shawntoberfest, Mr. Bunnin.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Guatemala 2010

A few of my favourite moments from a wonderful week in Guatemala with Gerry, Trish and Steve.
A clown in a tuk tuk.
 Gerry getting hit in the face by a bird while riding through some overgrown single track (reenactment).
 Go-go dancers selling tiles at the side of the road.
 Getting local in Chichicastenengo
El Hombres del Mais, perhaps the most bizarre street festival that I have ever witnessed. Pirates, Wolfmen, Austin Powers, Dr. Evil (and mini me), aliens.
 Little Guatemalan girl showing Steve how to use his iPhone.
Having the motor stall in the middle of the lake. And then having the start cable break off.
 Hawaiian pizza with coconut, raisins and cherries!
Walking up an active, smoking volcano.
Gerry getting hit in the face by a bird while riding through some overgrown single track.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

El Reto del Quetzal

Carrying on what I hope will be a world tour of stage races, we headed south this fall for El Reto del Quetzal, a three day mountain bike race in Guatemala. The race this year was almost cancelled on account of severe mudslides that took out sections of major roads and left large segments of singletrack unrideable (getting 900mm of rain - the yearly average - in one week is not without its consequences). The result? This year's course offered up some technical challenges to spice things up. As Gerry said on one of the descents:

"This is totally rideable, if you're Jon Nutbrown and there is a hospital nearby" - The Ger

Nevertheless, we had good weather for the entire race and came away with some very good memories (even Brent, who suffered a bad injury on the first stage, left with a smile on his face). The only means that I can conceive of to share the experience of a stage race is to compel you to do it yourself. As I would guess that most people who might consider this race would be making a decision between El Reto and La Ruta, I will share some perspectives on the race by comparison.

While I think that La Ruta is a necessary right of passage for any stage race, I wouldn't put it in the category of 'relaxing cycling holidays'. El Reto, on the other hand, offers a nice combination of adventure, cycling, camaraderie and fun, without the intense suffering. The race has a number of distinct advantages over it's big brother:
1) The terrain is fun and challenging, without being soul-crushing (read: no lomo!)
2) The look of surprise and excitement on the faces of the little girls (and some of the older ones, too) when they see a girl ride by is something to remember. Their screams of 'Muchacha!' will stay with me for some time. It's nice to be somebody's hero.
3) The stages go from hotel to hotel, so there is no wasted time waiting for shuttles or other logistical issues (showers, changing, eating, massages). Relaxation and recovery starts from the moment that you cross the finish line.
4) The race is smaller (~120 racers versus 450 at La Ruta) and has more of a family feel. For example, when you cross the finish line, you shouldn't be surprised if the race organizers mother gives you a hug (that's pretty cool).
5) If there is cheating, it's much less blatant (with the exception of towing. It's not actually against the rules, I just think it is not in the spirit of the race).
6) The climate is much more comfortable for long days on the bike (no oppressive heat and humidity).
7) The race is WAY cheaper ($600 for El Reto versus $1,650 for La Ruta), putting it within reach for those of us flying in from afar.
8) It's much more 'local'. We were part of only a handful of english speakers among the racers.
9) The days are just a bit shorter, so riders like me can enjoy some daylight and take in the surroundings, rather than crawling into their sheets under darkness.
10) This may be the only place on earth where you can do an 'urban ride' like this (skip to about 2:20 to start):

El Reto is a worthy stop on any stage racers circuit. It sounds like they will be moving the race to take place in the spring some time, which will make it a pleasant pre-season warm up. By the next edition, I would hazard to guess that much of the damaged single track will be on the way to repair, the towing issue will probably be gone and, maybe, they will even have a solo women's category.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Street Art

On my flight home from Paris, I watched a documentary on street art by Banksy, the street artist known for reshaping the crime of vandalism into a constructive form of expression.
I'm often inspired by graffiti and guerrilla street art, the Charging Bull on bowling green being one of the most inspirational pieces that I've seen.
I'll admit that I've caught myself taking pictures of pieces that I find visually appealing or thought provoking. Heck, it doesn't even need to be either for me to take a photo.
Case in point, the sign in front of the London Drugs by my house, which often serves as a canvas for young (and misguided) artists.
Is it art? or vandalism? I don't know at precisely what point the distinction is made, but I'll say that the douchebag who carved "Mohammed" into my freshly poured walkway could use some art lessons.

And a severe vandalism fine.

Friday, October 1, 2010

My Slow Home

Have you ever had a customer service experience that left you feeling violated? I am in the middle of one. This is the story of my painful experience with Housebrand.

The drama starts almost three years ago. After a long debate as to whether to renovate or rebuild, Erik and I settled on renovate. The next decision was with whom we would take on the project.

We came across Housebrand after seeing some of its finished projects and thought that the signature style fit with our needs. In addition to that, I was a long time fan of John Brown's Slowhome philosophy, which advocates improving the quality of space rather than increasing the quantity; urban living and short commutes rather than urban sprawl, and tailored homes rather than what he labels McMansions. Even the name Housebrand was chosen to reflect the ethos of escaping excess. "A well designed reasonably priced alternative to the cookie cutter world of suburban houses".

Everything seemed to line up.

And now, almost three years after initiating the project that was estimated would take under one year, the house is finally almost ready for occupation (a slow home indeed). I say almost ready because, although I was handed the keys today, every door of the house is obstructed by scaffolding, which makes occupancy a bit of a challenge. At least it is a start, as the move-in date has been 'a month from now' since the summer time.

The project is more than 50% over budget, despite a soft labour and materials market. So much for responsible cost control and escaping excess.

To add insult to injury, Housebrand has been challenging to communicate with. Emails and questions go unanswered and we are left having to follow up, sometimes several times, in order to maintain any momentum on the project. The question of why the project has been delayed by so much remains a mystery that Housebrand seems determined not to address.

Fortunately, all signs so far indicate that the finished product will be lovely, even if it was very slow, expensive and frustrating (Erik having carried the vast majority of this burden).

My hope is that, eventually, I can come to call this overpriced slow home, just 'home'.