Saturday, March 28, 2009

Crazy legs

There was an interesting profile in yesterday's Globe about a Canadian who will be competing (for a second time) in the grueling Race Across America cross-continental, solo, virtually sleepless bike marathon. The RAAM is an extraordinary event, one that makes the efforts of Tour de France cyclists (with their teams of domestiques and days off between stages) seem like a Sunday ride through the park, and was recently rated the second toughest race (after the Badwater Ultramarathon) by National Geographic Adventure magazine.

After months and even years of training, the riders undergo an intensely transformative experience, both physiologically (in multi-day competitions like this, the body shifts from burning carbohydrates to fat reserves) and psychologically (I once spoke to another Canadian who had completed the RAAM and he described the out-of-body visions that accompanied his final few days of cycling). It's a secular spiritual practice in many ways—a modern version of the ancient ascetics who subjected their bodies to the most exquisite pain in order to bring themselves, however briefly, closer to the ineffable.

While I've got no interest in ever riding the RAAM myself (seven days of the much more manageable TransRockies Challenge brought me close enough to my Maker, thank you very much!), I do find the dedication and efforts of the handful of women and men who race across North America every year truly inspiring. They really emphasize the power of two of the most efficiently designed machines to traverse our planet: the bicycle and the human body. When anybody suggests they can't possibly bike to work a couple days a week because it's too hard or takes too long, I just think: There are other people who cycle across the breadth of our continent in just over eight freaking days! Amazing.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

M, M, M good!

A big thanks to everyone who voted for Fatal Tide in the balloting for the "M Awards" hosted by my journalistic alma mater Monday Magazine. My literary baby was one of three locally produced nonfiction books to make the short list in its category—and to beat back a shameless attempt at vote-stuffing by an out-of-town editor. (Hi, Bruce!)

The final winner will be announced at the M Awards gala on Tuesday, March 31. As I've learned to repeat from several experiences of being a bridesmaid at the National Magazine Awards, "It's an honour just to be nominated." And it is.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Times Colonist readers are morons

Okay, maybe just the ones who comment on the newspaper's web discussion forums. An accident occurred on Lands End Road last weekend, near Sidney, in which a car rashly passed a pack of road cyclists (including two-time Olympic medallist Simon Whitfield) and then was knocked into the riders (putting two in the hospital) after it was struck by another car making a right turn (without actually stopping) onto Lands End. Whose fault? Well, it's complicated.... except in the mind of many T/C readers, who placed blame clearly on the "elitist" cyclists. The comment thread is long and depressingly familiar to anyone who reads the Colonist's Letters page after a cycling accident: Why aren't cyclists licensed, insured, they don't deserve to be on the road, etc. etc.?

Here is a classic reply, written by a reader I like to imagine is nicknamed "The Major" from the sherry-soaked comfort of his Oak Bay mansion:
When I was young (here in Victoria), we had to take a test to ride our bikes on the road. If we passed, we were given a small license plate that hung on the back of our seat. If we didn't have one of these plates, we were not allowed to ride on the road. If the police saw anyone riding a bike on the road without one of these plates, their bike was permanently confiscated. Then sold at a police bike auction. Which is where many of our parents got bikes for us when we were young. Why don't we still do that? Why do we make it so easy for people with no sense or regard for others to enter into traffic on a bike? I'm also a firm believer that bike riders should have to buy insurance to ride in traffic. Then, if they cause an accident, they can pay for it. On a daily basis, I witness bike riders blatantly breaking the rules of the road. Most of them act like they don't believe the rules pertain to them. My biggest beef is WHY DID WE START ALLOWING THEM TO RIDE ACROSS THE JOHNSTON STREET BRIDGE??!! What happened to the days when cyclists had to dismount and walk their bikes across the bridge on the footpath?? Also, what happened to the rule that cyclists had to dismount at an intersection and walk their bikes across in the crosswalk?? I constantly see cyclists ride across while the light is still red!! Why are they allowed to do that?? Cyclists are slower than cars; if they're riding more than two abreast, they are blocking traffic. People become impatient and try to pass. This is what caused this unfortunate accident. It had nothing to do with the fact that an Olympic hopeful was riding in the bunch. I don't know why the TC felt it necessary to make that the headline. Sensasionalism sells they say. I'm also happy to see that most of the people sticking up for the cyclists seem to have very poor spelling. That demonstrates their level of intelligence; so their opinion can pretty much be disregarded.
No wonder our planet is burning up...

Friday, March 6, 2009

Protect the Harbour

Anyone who cares about people-powered paddling in Victoria will want to join tomorrow's protest in the Inner Harbour to voice dissent about a proposed large-scale marina for mega-yachts that would seriously disrupt kayakers and canoeists enjoyment of the area.

The good folks at Ocean River Sports are all over this issue and are coordinating the protests over a dumb, ugly proposal that will attract rich Americans' mega-yachts at the expense of everyone else.