Sunday, August 28, 2011

One last hurrah (or maybe two)

I can measure the number of days until school starts on one hand. But, I'm not shopping for pens and paper just yet. I've taken these last few days to jam some reunions into my life before I hunker down and get to the books.

First stop: Amsterdam.
Purpose: Tour d'Afrique reunion.
Fellow riders came in from South Africa, Denmark, Great Britain, USA, and Holland. It felt so natural to be together again; even if we were enjoying cold beers in the city instead of warm coke's at bush camp.
Carrie and I crashed at Bastiaan's new house in Utrecht (an awesome alternative to Amsterdam, if you are interested in visiting Holland). He's just about to renovate, so we took the liberty to start the demo (note the hammer in the wall) and make a temporary art installation (that's supposed to be Africa).
Second stop: Champagne.
Purpose: Birthday party, "relaxation", and mini-INSEAD reunion.
About a dozen of us descended upon Champagne just in time for the first days of harvest, making for the perfect opportunity to contemplate the craft of champagne production while enjoying a little taste of the magic bubbles. In the end, it wasn't the bubbles that were the highlight, it was the costume party that followed.
I couldn't identify a unifying theme among the costumes; obelix and asterix, a cow, a pixie, a bee, 80's girls, disco, a luchador, to name a few. But that didn't matter much.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Tori 3.3

So far, 2011 has been defined by a discovery of places, people and myself using two wheels. I have relied on my eyes and ears and legs to take me to new places philosophically and physically. My odometer crossed 17,000kms y-t-d sometime in early august. That's more distance than most people cycle in a lifetime. That's more distance than I've driven in the last two years.

I've satisfied a long kept dream of crossing Africa, and captured a number of spontaneous opportunities along the way and in between. The lessons and struggles and wonderful adventures that these experiences have afforded me are impossible to describe. I am indescribably grateful for the opportunities this life has afforded me.

What is there to do after 17,000km of enlightenment? Keep going.

In just a few weeks, I will trade in my wheels for textbooks and lectures, opting instead to propel myself through the next chapter with my brains and imagination. I will begin a Masters program at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA). Though I will miss my family and friends back home, I am extraordinarily excited at this opportunity to study something that I love and enjoy the wonders of living in New York City. At least this time, I'll only be two time zones away!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Zurich and the Street Parade

Coincidentally, serendipitously, wonderfully, my dear friend, Laura, returned home to Switzerland for the weekend, just as I was finishing up my (tor)Tour of duty. This is how my Zurich came to be part of the itinerary on my whirlwind european vacation.

It's my first time to the city and, in some ways, the city is exactly as I had expected. In other ways, it is not. This weekend is Street Parade. For me, hearing the term Street Parade conjures visions of glittery floats, marching bands and beauty queens.
At best, I might imagine Ferris Bueller belting out the lyrics to Twist and Shout atop a float as it makes its way down Madison Avenue for the Macy's parade.
This can't begin to describe what Street Parade means in Switzerland. 900,000 people descending on a city of less than 400,000 for a techno festival (though, technically I think that it is supposed to be a political protest). Hoards of oddly dressed, inebriated, techno fans filled the streets while music blared all around. Broken glass and litter everywhere. Quite a spectacle.
Even more amazing than seeing an event like this unfold is seeing the pace at which the Swiss can clean it all up. By Sunday morning, there was no sign that the event had taken place. 

Friday, August 12, 2011

(Tor)Tour of Duty

I've seen the sun rise twice since my head last hit a pillow, I'm wearing a bright orange Tyvek wristband and I am surviving on a potent cocktail of Redbull and adrenaline. No, I'm not in Ibiza anymore. I'm in Switzerland and I am crewing an ultra endurance bicycle race. I'm supporting a six man relay team, racing 1000 kilometres, non-stop, around the country.

This is the Tortour 2011.

My job is to navigate one of the support cars for Saxo Bank Schweiz.
Navigation might seem an unlikely task for a girl who recently got lost while running in Hyde Park and who took numerous wrong turns following a GPS track while cycling America's continental divide, but I like a good challenge. Further, it would be easy to assume, as I did, that the commercialization and proliferation of the GPS would make the role of a human navigator obsolete. In fact, this is not the case.

The logistics associated with coordinating six cyclists and three support cars are complex, especially on a european road network on which certain support cars are not permitted to drive on certain sections of the course. Though an elaborate plan was devised to direct where and when each support car should be at each checkpoint, the dynamics of a six man relay in a race like this have meant numerous on-the-fly changes to 'the plan'. And there is no time to spare, no room for error.

Now, throw in a language barrier.

Driver speaks german; navigator speaks english. This is the part where I would like to say that hilarity ensues, but that's not quite the right word for what has gone down. Fortunately, even the most volatile combinations eventually neutralize, given enough time in a crucible. In this case, that took about ten hours. I now find it rather hilarious when the GPS unit pleads "Please observe the speed limit" (about every five minutes) and the driver, Martin, responds with "Shut up!". When I offer a manual instruction, I could swear that Martin says "No!" just to make me laugh. Martin is awesome.

I am the only one among the team and crew who does not speak German. Still, I have been welcomed so warmly by the crew and team. Those who are able have made a concerted effort to keep the communication in english (or, at least, translate a synopsis) for my benefit. My language deficit has forced me to take a back seat in the organization, which has been difficult for me on a personal level (control freak?), but has made this this a useful learning experience.

The drive itself itself has been absolutely beautiful. Everything about this country seems perfect. The vibrant greens of the forests. The intense blues of the pristine lakes. The mountain villages with immaculately-kept chalets. The breathtaking mountain passes. Oh, the mountains!

And, euro cyclists are a special breed, taking bicycle fashion to a new level. The standard attire is a full pro kit; matching jersey, bibs and socks. It is difficult to tell who is in the race and who is out for a casual ride. And there are many out for a casual ride, in this cyclists paradise. I feel as though I am part of the pro tour. In fact, there are many high-profile ultra-endurance riders here for this event. My Saxo Bank team has held fourth place since early on in the race and seems well positioned to finish in the top 10. This is particularly impressive as the team is comprised of non-pros and is competing against cyclists who have made a living out of events such as this. These guys are made of steel and I have the privilege to be a part of it all.

I could not imagine a better backdrop for this adventure or a better way to discover Switzerland. Canada is home and I love my country. Over the past few years, I have struggled between a desire to be with my family and friends back home and my interest in experiencing other parts of the world. Of all of the places that I have travelled, Switzerland has come the closest to feeling like a home away from home. All of the beauty of home and the allure and charm of old europe. Now, if I could just transport all of the people who I love to this place...

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Discovering Germany

There are many ways to discover a new place. Having a local connection is, perhaps, one of the most rewarding of these. Though I have had only a few days in Rotweil, I have had an opportunity to take in a number of the local treasures, thanks to Horst. Among the highlights:

Black forest cake, in the Black Forest!
 The finest of German craftsmanship at the Porsche museum.
A picnic atop a clocktower in Rotweil (you can't do that without a local connection!)
And, some German history at a proper German castle.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Ibiza Recovery

My flight out of Ibiza was notably more subdued than my adventure in. No roudy chav's high-fiving the stewardesses. No airborne drinks falling on unsuspecting passengers. No laughing, singing or yelling. Everyone was tired (or maybe just German).

I am now in Rotweil, Germany, gearing up to help my good friend, Horst, with a RAAM-style race around Switzerland (

From INSEAD reunion to TdA reunion in a flash. And, few hours out on the bike for a Monday group ride were just what I needed to shake off the effects of my time in Ibiza. I wish that I could bring my Calgary cycling friends out here for a ride. It's absolutely beautiful out here.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Ibiza Reunion

I've never considered stilettos to be an ideal shoe pairing for a g-string bikini. But then, I've never been to Ibiza before.

To my right are women laying suggestively on top of concrete islands in the middle of the swimming pool. Bodies and bikini's putting the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue to shame. Stiletto's stored safely at the edge of the pool.

To my left is a sea of tanned, chiseled, perfect six packs. Too many to count. Not a single chest hair unwaxed. Not a single male eye-brow unmanicured.

Ahead, a crowd is forming around a stage and there's a DJ warming up the audience with House Music.

...doush doush doush de de doush doush doush....

It's funny that this should be called House Music. I've never heard it at my house. Never the less, it's nice. Nice because I'm surrounded by friends so close that they can make even this place feel like home.
And, maybe, just maybe, I'm starting to like techno.

Every few minutes, the rhythmic thump of the music is interrupted by the roar of an airplane passing very closely overhead. The planes close enough that their shape fills one third of my overhead view.

...doush doush doush de de doush doush doush.... 
...doush doush doush de de doush doush doush....
...doush doush doush de de doush doush doush.... 
...doush doush doush de de doush doush doush....

It feels as though we are right at the end of the runway. And it just adds to the energy of the crowd, which is now a synchronized, pulsing, mob of skin and sweat.

Were it not for the fact that Ibiza was chosen as the location for our one year reunion, I can comfortably say that I would never have found myself in this place. It's not exactly 'my scene'. Yet, now that I'm here, I'm shocked to say it, but Ibiza rocks!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Party Time

Are all Easyjet flights like this? Is it the Brits? Or is it just our destination that has set people behaving in this way?

After a rather uneventful journey over the Atlantic Ocean, I'm now approaching my final destination of Ibiza. I have just awoken a brief slumber after my airplane hit a pocket of severe turbulence. It wasn't the turbulence that disrupted my rest, rather, that, when the plane dropped a few feet very suddenly, it launched the tumbler of rose wine belonging the lady in the seat behind me into the air and then onto my head, soaking me with the smelly pink liquid.

The rush seating process for this flight, it turns out, has put me in the epicentre of an about-to-get-out-of-control-seated-airplane-party. How could I have known when I picked this seat next to a pair of sweet looking, could-be-choir-boys that I would wake up to find them shirtless, drunk and hitting on some girls about five rows ahead of us?

Beer cans and plastic cups strewn in the aisle. Tramped up lady-gaga-wannabees wearing more cosmetics and less clothing than vegas show girls. Roudy boys with tacky tribal tattoos, too-tight tshirts and rhinestoned sunglasses. Shouting, laughing, and spontaneous group singing. And, cheap wine dripping from my hair to add the extra dimension of smell to this experience.

It is a caricature of a frat party and I'm just trying to catch some winks on an air plane. Perhaps this is not a fair snapshot of the people as a whole; however, I might be developing an allergy to the British. Don't get me wrong, I likes to have a good time; indeed, this is what has brought me here in the first place. I just really hope that these kids aren't headed to the same hotel as I am.

Counting down the minutes now until my Ibiza INSEAD reunion!
Sent from my BlackBerry device on the Rogers Wireless Network