East Coast Day 3: Sticking with it

No cars

Yesterday was really rough on me physically and mentally. Today I started the day by calling 3 different Enterprise rentals in Fredericton.

Not a single one had any available cars for another few days.

I was surprised that was the case, but I also wasn't that dissapointed. Something about having no choice but to go forward on the bike was calming. My clothes were mostly dry, so I got ready and headed out around 10pm.

The ride

The day started with some drizzling rain, but just a little less than the day before. Rain, but just a bit less. Cold, but not quite as cold. Not as windy either. All of that was way easier on me. Sure, I was getting rained on, but I wasn't shivering, and that made a huge difference.

About 1 or 2 hours in it cleared up and I was able to cruise on dry roads for the rest of the way. Once you have to go through large stretches in bad conditions on a bike, the good conditions seem that much better. I absolutely ripped through New Brunswick and half of Nova Scotia to get to Cape Breton.

The skies stayed gray until the last 10% or so, when I caught a small shred of blue sky through the clouds. It only lasted about 10 minutes, but it put a big grin on my face.

Eventually I crossed onto Cape Breton and everything became scenic.

Also, most of Cape Breton doesn't have Rogers service at all, but fortunately the GPS had my destination cached so I managed to find it.

The B&B

The B&B was in a small coastal town, almost at the edge of a cliff, marked by a bright yellow motorcycle with sidecar (which I learned is actually their garbage can). I pulled up and met the owners, Roger and Brenda, for the first time. Wow, great people.

I walked in and met 2 girls who were staying there before heading out the following day. We all chatted about the area, what to see (from what they've already explored), and I got my plans in order for the next day. Then I had to head out to a restaurant they recommended about 15 minutes away.

Problem for me was that this town has practically no street lights, and is full of great curvy roads and hills. I didn't want to ride it at night. So I wanted to eat quick. Directions were also a problem since my GPS wouldn't work.

The system they used was speed signs combined with another factor. "Once you see the speed limit change to 50 at the bottom of a hill, the restaurant is at the top". Worked like a charm. You're always paying attention to the speed signs.

Something else I discovered about the area is that a lot of parking lots are just rocks. Pavement seems hard to come by. Rocks suck for riding a motorcycle on (well, for someone as inexperienced as me at least). The area also has some driveways at really steep angles both up and down. Combined with the surface, there were places I just wouldn't pull into.

When I got to the restaurant there weren't many cars, so I just parked in an open patch and pointed my bike towards the exit so I could get out easier.

Turns out it was a huge asshole parking move, as the locals clearly had a system and I basically parked right in the middle of it. Oh well!

When I sat down I chatted with a retired couple beside me from Maine (I think). They had just pulled an entire cross country road trip from Vancouver to Cape Breton. They told me about going through Northern Ontario, and have probably seen more of it than I have. Lovely people, and some of the first random conversation I'd had on the trip since I'd just been bombing my way through provinces until then.

As they left, a younger couple sat down on my other side. But I saw the sun setting so I was busy devouring my food. I ordered the slowest meal like an idiot, the crab legs, but probably broke those bastards down faster than I ever have in my life. I was sort of proud. I grabbed the check so quick it probably seemed rude, and headed out.

It was already dark despite my best efforts, but I had no choice there. I flicked my highbeams on and off when I needed to see a bit further, it was a bit harrowing for me in such unfamiliar territory. But in the end it was fine.

About 20 minutes after returning to the B&B, the door opened up again at that same young couple from the restaurant came through the doors. Turns out they were the 3rd guests that night! Small town I suppose.

We sat around in the livingroom going through photos and videos that Roger and Brenda had collected of the area. From their porch they see the lobster and crab fisherman come and go each year, cruise ships heading for PEI, whales up to 40 feet in length, and birds that shape themselves into arrowheads to slam through the surface of the water.

It's all pretty amazing.

They also showed videos of 170km/h winds they get in the winter. We learned that they get 2 types of winds: incredibly strong winds from the mountains, and salty winds from the sea. The mountain winds have been strong enough to rip their entire deck out and throw it across the road, and it was built pretty well. Sometimes their windows bulge inwards from the force, and the vibration actually moves their beds as they sleep.

The sea breeze isn't as strong, but the salt in the wind and mist turned most of their plants completely black in the first week they moved here. It also rusts things really quickly. The salt is a big maintenance issue it seems.

Roger told us of a building under construction that had left a steel girder embedded in the ground overnight. The next morning they found it had been ripped out by the wind and thrown. To a nearby island. Incredible stuff.

I also learned that the yellow sidecar wasn't just a passing interest. Roger is 71 years old and he's been riding motorcycles since he was 17. Brenda rides as well. Roger got a sidecar when he lived in Montreal and needed something to ride in the winter, but couldn't afford a car yet. The sidecar gave him the stability to do that, and it just stuck.

It was great talking to them about all that too, they were excited when they saw me pull up in a bike. As I walked through their home I saw photos of them riding through the decades, including a New York Times article featuring them talking about high performance sidecars. So cool.

Learned so much about the area from them, really great people.

Tomorrow I ride a loop of the Cabot Trail. I'm excited and nervous about how I'll handle all the elevation changes and twisty roads, but the weather looks like it's easing up. Should be good!

East Coast Day 2: Everything bad

The first day of my trip was just from Toronto to Montreal, and I couldn't have asked for better conditions. 25ºC, no wind, sunny. Got to the hotel as the sun was setting, wasn't too tired. It was everything awesome about riding a motorcycle.

The next day was the opposite. It was brutal.

First of all, apparently I suck at planning trips because I carved out way too ambitious of a schedule. Over 800km to cover, going from Montreal to Fredericton. A bit over 8 hours Google Maps said. Ok.

I left at 8am sharp, assuming that stops should add up to about one hour extra. 9 hours then. Leave at 8am, arrive around 5pm.

First, I forgot that Fredericton is in another time zone. 5pm is actually 6pm.

But worse, the conditions were absolutely terrible.

Here are 3 bad things for motorcycling: 1. Rain 2. Heavy wind 3. Cold temperatures

Day one had none. Day 2 had all 3 in spades. I think I could take 2 of those 3 and manage. But all 3 is absolutely draining.

After I got out of the morning rush hour traffic of Montreal, temperatures dropped from the mid-teens to about 9ºC (well below the forecast) and within half an hour it started to rain. It didn't stop for the next 6 hours.

I layered up as it got colder, going from just my normal jacket (which on more than one occasion almost boiled me alive in Toronto) to adding a base layer jacket, and then an inner liner that came with my jacket.

The jacket (and everything else I have) is water resisitant, but definitely not water proof. I've ridden through rain before and been just fine, but that was 30-60 minutes. Over 6 hours it was inevitable that areas around my collar or cuffs eventually let water in, and that eventually soaked me to about 50%. Below the waist, totally soaked. About 1/3rd of my upper body.

In dry cold I would have been alright, but soaked like this, I was shivering.

Then there was the wind. Never ridden in anything close to that. It was powerful. A crosswind on a motorcycle can push you out of your lane if you don't react in time. If it's a sustained gust of wind, you end up leaning into it to compensate so you can ride straight. On a few occasions I was at a 20º angle just to keep moving forward.

When the road curved to head into the wind a bit more, the wind alternated hitting from the left and the right, keeping things erratic. It felt like the wind was running boxing practice with me, jabbing me here and there with an occasional heavy hit that put me to the edge of my lane before recovering.

I was focusing so hard that my entire body was tense, and I was gripping the handlebars far more than I usually would. I had to stop more frequently to recover, once every hour or two. That ate into my time. Also it didn't dry me out, just made me aware of how wet I was.

Around just after lunch I saw that Edmunston was on my route before Fredericton, and they had an Enterprise rental. I couldn't take it. I decided to throw in the towel.

Edmunston - Canada's Silent Hill

Ok I don't have a great reason for that name, but in my delirious suffering it made me laugh. But I do have a good reason to hate the place. First, no damned cell service (on Rogers anyways). Just "Edge", and that went nowhere. Stopped into a Tim Hortons to warm up and get the phone number for the Enterprise. Their Wifi didn't work. Asked some locals, they pointed me to a McDonalds near by.

Went there, Wifi didn't work again. No damned data anywhere.

If your town doesn't have cell coverage or wifi where it's supposed to, I pretty much equate you with a murderous nightmare town where staying is a death sentence. I mean I can't even tweet about it. Place must be full of monsters.

Anyways the kindly McDonald's girl pointed me in the direction of the Enterprise office just around 5 minutes deeper into town. I saddled up again and went wandering.

I found the tiny Enterprise office, but I could tell there wasn't any activity when I pulled up. Then I walked up to the door.

"Closes at 5:30pm".

Current time? 5:35pm.

Fuck.

So I said screw it. I had a "universe, are you telling me something?" moment and snapped from being disheartened to determined, jumped back on my bike, still soaking wet, and got back on course for Fredericton. 3 hours away according to my GPS.

That was putting me well past sunset in terms of timing, which I had told myself I wouldn't be doing. I didn't want to break schedule on reservations, and I sure as hell didn't want to stay in Edmunston. So I went for it.

About 30 minutes after I was back on the road I realized ther rain had stopped. It was unreal. I didn't think it was possible that day. Fifteen minutes after that the ground was actually dry! It totally changed my perspective. I cruised happily until daylight was gone and as visibility improved I saw some fantastic landscapes. I thought about stopping to get a photo, but the thought of losing daylight was looming so I just kept moving.

Eventually the sun set (I still never actually saw the sun that day, it was totally overcast) and it got dark. Really dark. Pitch black in the middle of New Brunswick.

For safety I got behind a big truck going a decent speed, both for light and just to know that at least someone was around. Also there were a lot of "SLOW DOWN FOR MOOSE AT NIGHT" signs, and I figured it could mostly shield me from potential animal encounters and it'd take a lot less damage that I would.

It was a scary last 1.5 hours, but I got there.

Revised plan

But I'm sore all over from tensing up and compensating for the wind. My hamstring is lightly pulled and I don't even know how.

It's a tough call. It feels like failure (who even fails at vacationing?), but I'm going to rent a car here in Fredericton and continue on with that. I'm also cutting Newfoundland and Gros Morne, because knowing travel time and how things just come up, it would have been a frenzied race and not enjoyable. Gros Morne deserves more time than I was going to put to it. I'll have to come back for it.

I'm going to head to Cape Breton as planned, spend my 2 days at the Cabot Trail, and drive it. Then I'll head to Charlottetown and still cross the Confederation Bridge on the way back to Fredericton where I'll pick up my bike.

None of it's ideal, but the forecast has too much rain potential and temperatures are too low. I can't do another day like today. Not that fast. I'm beat.

Long range forecast says that by the time I get back to Fredericton it's supposed to be 18ºC and sunny. If that maintains, maybe I can have a great ride back to Toronto from here.

But from this point and Eastwards, I'll be driving.

Moto Diary #9: Video and night rides

First Run

My GoPro mount arrived last week and so a few days ago I got around to placing it on my helmet (with a 24 hour wait after for the adhesive to set). I wanted to take some test footage, and I thought I'd try doing a mini-project by doing a few night clips.

I was a lot more ambitious when planning, and predictably the scope was shrunken down to fit my schedule (meaning just an existing commute and not a special filming trip).

Things I had to find out

  • Is it difficult to press play on the go? (easy at a stop)
  • How would the low-light performance be? (not so great)
  • What kind of view does it get on top of my helmet? (too high, will expand on that below)
  • What's the battery life like? (Recorded for about an hour and it was almost up by then)
  • How's the added wind resistance up there? (significant)

Things I discovered and didn't consider before

  • Editing 1080p video even on a modern machine can be pretty slow, especially if I'm trying to stabilize the whole thing in software.
  • When the camera has no point of reference to the vehicle and is set fairly high, the sense of speed is greatly reduced. Looking at the video it looks like I'm going about half the speed that I actually traveled at.
  • I thought my head would act as a decent stabilizer, as one naturally tries to keep their head stable, but in addition to being a windy night, and the camera acting as a mini-sail, the recording was pushed around quite a bit.
  • Everytime I check my mirrors or my blind spots it is super disorienting in the video. I tried to limit it with editing, but it's such a fast movement and with no stable point of reference it's even worse.

Take aways

First I'm going to buy a heat gun and remove the mount from the top of my helmet (this is annoyingly necessary as the adhesive is crazy strong). Then I'm going to try and remount it on my helmet's chin area for a lower viewing position – more natural viewing angle and away from the wind.

Second I'm going to look into stabilizing tricks. I've read some people wedging bits of tissue into the mounting bracket to reduce micro-vibrations. Worth a shot.

Third I'll do a daytime ride and see how much better it is with proper light when the GoPro isn't struggling to produce a decent image in the first place. I was way too optimistic with the darkness, I thought Toronto's significant light pollution would solve this for me, but it didn't.

So lots of things to learn!

If you have some video experience and have any tips, I'd love to hear from you. It's a lot of stuff to think about!

Moto Diary #8: Long road to Ottawa

The Idea

If I keep pushing distance, I'll put in the hours and get the experience I need to do longer trips. Multi-day at least. Multi-week? Multi-month? I don't know. I'm trying not to think about bigger goals, rather I'll just keep pushing higher and see where that takes me.

Thinking too big ends with me coming up with reasons why it'd be crazy. So why not just do something.

In any case, I had a good reason for at least a full day ride as I haven't visited my sister in Ottawa in awhile. I was due!

The Route

The scenic route from Toronto to Ottawa

The scenic route from Toronto to Ottawa

I wasn't going to take the 401, that's boring but fast. I'd been trying to find a reason to head into the Muskoka region as well as the Kawartha lakes, but for quick afternoon round trips that's a bit far. But it was perfect for passing through on the way to somewhere else.

The basic route was shooting up North out of Toronto on the highway more or less to the end of the 404, then striking out East to the Kawartha Highlands. I'd ride up the Eastern edge of it, and take a nice winding road due East until I was practically above Ottawa, then I'd dip down into the city to my destination.

Starting out

6 hours and 15 minutes it says. Plus an hour and a bit for breaks, so I was estinating 7.5 hours. Not bad.

But unfortunately the day of I got a late start, and I didn't really hit the road until 11:30am. I was pushing it, but at least it was early enough to avoid any cottage traffic out of Toronto.

I blasted out of the city and immediately set to getting lost.

Wayfinding

I didn't plan how to stay on course very well. I had the route noted on my phone, but I didn't have enough power to keep it tracking for the whole journey, so I basically didn't use it unless I was stopped.

Honestly I sort of wanted to get a bit lost, especially knowing that if need be I could always find my way back. I really think that my wayfinding skills have taken a big hit since GPS became a normal, everyday thing. It's easy to not think about where you're going. But I don't want to have to rely on it, so I should practice without it.

It worked out alright!

(Failing to) photograph

I didn't have a GoPro or mount, so I couldn't take any video while I was moving, where I knew the best views would be. If I wanted to take photos I'd have to identify a good view and stop on the side of the road.

To be blunt, I totally failed at doing this. I was trying hard to focus on the roads, the high speed of traffic, and where I was going. I identified good stopping points too late, I was nervous about stopping on gravel shoulders because I wasn't sure if I'd enter them too fast and skid (and potentially then lose my bike into a ditch), and traffic was all going between 80km/h and 120km/h.

My takeaway is that if I want good photos, I'll have to specifically research points of interest to stop at. I'll get better at stopping by the side of the road, but it'll take practice.

And in the end this trip helped me realize that at least.

The Ride

It was damned gorgeous, and I wish I could show people. It's a beautiful region of Ontario, and if you pick the right routes you'll see a few shallow valleys, beautiful lakes, and towering trees. I'll definitely do it again to explore more, and perhaps take less major roads.

One mistake I made was packing too lightly. I bought a nice mesh and textile mixed jacket that lets wind through really well, since most of my experience has involved stopping frequently in hot Toronto weather.

The jacket was perfect for the first 2 hours getting out of Toronto, but 3-4 hours in I was getting really, really cold. The skies became more overcast, I went through some areas mostly shadowed by tall trees, and it started to rain a bit.

I remember holding my second layer in my hand before I walked out the door and I thought "Nah, I'll pack light. It's a beautiful day." Whups.

Things that really saved me a lot of suffering: the wind guards on my grips. My hands got a bit cold, but it would have been wa worse otherwise.

I also have heated grips, but I'm honestly not sure about the effectiveness of them. They do heat the surface of my palms, but I'm not sure I feel it do much more than that. Sort of uncomfortable honestly. Your palms get really hot, but the back of your hand could still be gold. Hm.

Late

I did get lost heading to Bobcaygeon, and instead of heading North East I somehow went way South East. I eventually realized I was running so late that I'd be racing the sunset, and I didn't want to be in Muskoka region after sunset with my limited lights and visibility. Another reason why I didn't end up stopping much.

By the time 4pm rolled around I was cold and worried, so I ended up hauling ass the rest of the way. I arrived at my sister's place at 7:30pm, with the sky darkening.

Great ride overall. The ride back 2 days later was pretty great too. I took a simpler route, sticking to highway 7 most of the way. Traffic was definitely worse, and once I hit Toronto again there was some serious gridlock, but overall still great.

Now to plan what's next!

Tough Mudder Toronto 2014

Tough Mudder Toronto 2014 Course Map

Peer Pressure

I'm easily peer pressured into events. My friends know this.

Two weeks before Tough Mudder Toronto I was convinced to sign-up (they had a discount code!). I did want to do Tough Mudder eventually, but I had always wanted to train up to it. But I also knew that thought process could just become procrastination, and never doing it. So why not just do it? What better time than after not running a single km in 2 months?

Fortunately I used to climb regularly, and if there's 2 things you need for Tough Mudder it's some climbing ability and cardio. Felt okay about the climbing part, and so I just went hardcore with running over 2 weeks until I got back up to doing 10km.

Tough Mudder is 16km, but I knew we were probably going to walk a lot so I felt decently prepared. It came up fast.

Tough Mudder

The forecast wasn't great. Mid teens, right around 15C, overcast, and strong likelihood of rain throughout the day. Nearly the worst conditions we could ask for in the middle of August.

The course in Toronto is also categorized as "Mountain". There are a variety of categorizations, as courses differ through the world, but this is Toronto's. I thought it'd be more hilly, but my teammates filled me in on the grim details.

It took place on a ski hill, and you end up running up and down various hills. Steep, long, and incredibly slick with rain ski hills. Even if I had trained up to 20k I wouldn't have been close to running this thing. It was nuts.

Start Line

First, we lined up for an hour in the cold before we could even register. The whole thing was a organizational disaster. By the time we were getting to line up some of us were already shivering from the cold, and the rain had already started.

Before you even get to the start line everyone has to scale a wall. I think it was 7 or 8 feet. I admit that it was intimidating, but also a smart move on their part. It's a solid ice breaker, and actually pretty easy once you do it, so once you do reach the starting line on the other side you're sort of amped up.

The start line is placed at the bottom of a ski hill, and once we were cleared to go the whole crowd of us started running. So much energy!

After a few minutes pretty much everyone had dropped to a walk in the face of the massive incline. One more smart move was placing a simple obstacle about 1/3rd of the way up, just climbing over a 3 foot high pipe. It sort of gave everyone an excuse to stop running, but with dignity.

The next obstacle that I remember was called the "Blades of Glory". It was a set of short walls that are set at an incline angled towards you. These walls were also perhaps 8 feet high, and again not too difficult, but doing several of them in a row was a good warmup.

The Mud Mile

But the first really tough obstacle was the "Mud Mile". This was another of the ice breaker variety, placed to just get everyone used to something. In this case it's being 80-100% covered in mud.

Repeating hills and troughs purely made of incredibly slipper mud, with the troughs filled to 5+ feet of completely opaque, muddy water. The scary part is that when you're about to slide down into it (8 feet down) you have no idea how deep it goes. If you slip, you submerge completely before you regain your footing. That means for a lot of people that muddy water pretty much blinds you temporarily, and it's a lot worse if you're wearing contact lenses, like some of us were.

I slipped once, and when I rose up I felt like JCVD in Bloodsport. Blinking wildly, arms out trying to see where the wall was.

As filthy as the Mud Mile is, it's also a great team obstacle since most people need help to get over each hump. It's just so damn slippery that getting a foot hold is nearly impossible. The rhythm seemed to be you get helped up, that person moves forward, and you turn around and help someone else up. All for one, one for all. Strangers or not, it was pretty fun (excluding my eyes feeling like they were being stabbed by tiny knives).

Brutal Weather

As we continued the weather only got worse. It went from a drizzle to pretty heavy rain several times, and by then we were soaked to the bone. Every strong breeze seemed to cut through us. The huge amount of extra precipitation loosened most of the ground making every hill pretty treacherous.

On every hill we had to climb the grass was completely slicked upwards with patches of just mud that was dangerously slippery. It was slow going and a huge burn on our legs.

But even worse was going down, as again the grass was slicked in the direction we had to go, there were large patches of every more slippery mud, and slipping could make you tumble down, potentially hitting difficult to see rocks on the way.

It was exhausting. Way harder than just running on flat ground.

It was so cold that when we did have level ground, we frequently opted to jog just to feel warm again, and even the level ground was going through deep mud and puddles sometimes a foot deep. That was the pleasant stuff!

Nevertheless we soldiered on.

Arctic Enema

We were nervous about this one. This is an obstacle that one of our teammates had tried last year (in May! At 0C!) which finally gave him hypothermia, causing him to drop out. So we heard it was bad.

Fortunately 15C is relatively toasty in comparison.

Arctic Enema drops you into about 5 feet of ice water, making you wade another 5 feet, and then duck/swim under a barrier (felt about 3 feet tall), and them coming out the other side. Completely submerged.

The ice bucket challenge doesn't seem so bad in comparison to swimming through ice water. Ice water that is also filled with muddy sediment so you can't see anything.

But all in all it wasn't bad! Once stepping out you suddenly felt pretty warm. At that temperature, while shocking, it wasn't dangerous. We got through it, took a team photo, and kept on moving.

The rest

There were several more climbing obstacles of increasing difficulty, with the most difficult being 12ft high, called the Berlin Wall. There was a 12 foot half pipe you had to run up and jump to a ledge as well, but usually to grab the hands of someone already on top.

There were a few easy ones too, like 2 people carrying a log for 5-10 minutes through the forest, and jumping over bales of hay.

In the end it was a hell of an experience, with plenty of opportunities for teamwork and camraderie. If the organization of the event was better I'd absolutely do it again.

I still might, but it's their clumsy organization that bothers me.

After the finish line

First thing to get done after the race is to rinse off in "the shower". At this point most are 95% covered in mud at least. Layers of mud are caking on. You gotta get some of it off before going anywhere.

The solution they provide is maybe 8 shower frames with a bunch of cold water hoses, and a crowd of people large enough that it looks like people raiding a grocery store at the beginning of the apocalypse.

I feel like we were in that line-up mess for 45 minutes, getting colder and colder.

Showering got us clean, but was also damned cold. That whole process was way worse than Arctic Enema.

At some point they also brought out a firehose, which some people cheered for, and I thought was horrible. I got out of there as it hit.

Took awhile for us to get a shuttle bus back to the parking lot as well since they said they couldn't get enough of them. Which is just inexcusable. They know how many people signed up, so this was just poor.

Conclusion

Glad I did it. It's a real sense of accomplishment. I think many people could finish it, and training really just alters how quickly you do it, and how much suffering you endure.

The 2 days after I was incredibly sore, and for the week after I was genuinely more tired all day. I also caught a cold, which I sort of expect was due to my body feeling weaker by being cold and soaked for 8 hours while exerting myself physically.

But I'd still consider doing it again. Nothing much like it!