Wednesday, August 25, 2010

A different kind of human-powered transport

Moving from a big city where pretty much anything I can possibly dream up is available in a short distance, to a rural island with pretty much four shops: a hardware store, a general store, a bookstore and a craft store, has proved to be somewhat of a challenge. Not that I'm a consumerist, and I also like being free of the constant commercialism of a city. I just like to know if I think it, I can get it. Although my dream is to become self-sufficient for food, since we aren't there yet having just moved in (unless my diet were to solely consist of blackberries), this involves usually going to town once a week for groceries. A 10-minute ferry crossing and then a 50 km round trip ride.

One of the simple pleasures I miss having ready access to is beer in glass bottles. The general store has a limited selection of choices, all in cans. While bottles have the ability for reuse rather than recycle, it still probably comes up earth friendlier on the cans since they are lighter for transport. We can get bottles at the ferry terminal store on the other side, but by the time we return from a long ride with everything under the sun laden on our bicycles, if we even have time to hit the store before racing onto the ferry we pedalled so hard to make (avoiding another 1-1.5 hour wait depending on time of day), the last thing we want is heavy bottles to lug up the 15% hill on the island side.

But wait, there must be a better way! We recently bought a tandem kayak for recreation. Hmm this could also prove useful for getting from A to B! Just like sometimes it takes a lightbulb to go off in people's head that a bicycle can be used for transportation rather than just a toy.

Setting off from the front yard

The waters of Baynes Sound are pretty calm for beginners like us, so even though my instinct is to hug the shore, a crossing to Vancouver Island is pretty easy. The only question marks are being sure to not interfere with the ferry, and where to park when we get to the store. Turns out there was nothing to worry about, just a bit of wake from the ferry where the spray skirt may have come in handy. Actually I think more of my getting wet was splashing myself while paddling. Refreshing on a warm day!

We didn't time it, but it probably took about 20 minutes each direction. Very time efficient considering the time to get to the ferry, wait for it, and load. I have done an out and back on the same ferry before, to buy fresh fish from the seafood store there, so the kayak will also be handy to save ferry fare to buy fish (actually fishing for it myself might throw me over from pescetarian to pure vegetarian land).

Slipstream by Phillips Beer - an apropos choice, no? Almost, but not quite within 100 miles, but at least originating from Vancouver Island.

Actually technically this was not our first kayak for transport trip. We paddled to a nearby social event, Mystery Beach Happy Hour, a couple weeks ago. Although it would probably have been easier to walk, it was that close. We ended up parking the kayak on the beach just a little too close, considering the tide was coming in. While sitting at a picnic table chatting somebody remarked on a red kayak getting away! Fortunately it was not getting away too quickly, but some swimming was involved.

Not sure where the next water destination will be! My arms will need to work up some more strength first. Too bad there is not a good place to secure a kayak, and to secure some bikes for storage on the other side. That way we could really go multimodal.

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Monday, August 23, 2010

Operation Tandem

Where to begin? After such a long blogging hiatus where to just jump in and start up again? I think I'll just jump back in with the latest bikey acquisition! As a bit of background to catch you up, Dave and I moved to paradise aka Denman Island, BC less than two months ago. We're planning a really small wedding that's just three weeks away. In the process of moving across the country (sadly not by bike, but with a u-haul truck and two cats) I culled my herd to just three bikes: the Bacchetta, the Kona, and Twenty. Since we've gotten here I've ridden the Bacchetta almost exclusively. Right now I'm working from home, so the riding is infrequent, usually a once a week trip into "town" (Courtenay) for supplies, which is about 50 km round trip. A challenge for sure to remain car-free on a rural island!

We really wanted to have a tandem bicycle for our wedding as the "Just Married" vehicle and associated pictures, and figured we would rent or borrow one for the day. However after asking who the bike enthusiasts were in our new community, and contacting them, and contacting all the area stores that rent bikes, it was determined there were no tandems to be had. On a whim I checked Vancouver craigslist on a Friday night, and found a lovely advertised-as-purple vintage CCM tandem, which looked from the photo the same color as my maid-of-honor's dress.

Want to fly to Vancouver tomorrow? I asked Dave. It seemed like madness to fly somewhere for something off craigslist (having dealt with more than my share of craigslist flakes before). Flying seemed like a saner solution than a bus and a ferry as getting from Denman to Vancouver by vehicle and ferry takes about 4-8 hours (depending on if you are naive enough to show up in a rental vehicle on a summer Sunday afternoon without a reservation figuring 1.5 hours is plenty of time to catch the next ferry, but I digress). First we made enquiries about the condition of the bike. Do you think we can ride it 100+ km to take it home, we basically asked. Oh no said the previous owner, its better for short rides. Without qualifying information, I assumed they were recreational bike path cyclists, and went muuu, this tells me nothing. I'm sure it will be fine.

And with the special Harbour Air was having, the cost of the bicycle worked out the same with the flight as another (albeit overpriced) CCM tandem posted. To boot, Harbour Air is carbon neutral to alleviate any guilt about whimsical bicycle buying. Having never flown in a float plane I thought it would be a fun part to the adventure. But the plane was out of Comox Harbour to downtown Vancouver, and not wanting to leave stranded bicycles about, we decided to take the local transit to get the plane.

Public transit schedules here leave something to be desired. There is no transit on Denman itself (though the locals will pick up thumbers!), and the bus from the other side to Courtenay-Comox only runs 4 times a day. Fortunately we live close to the ferry terminal, and although its about 25 minute walk by the road, we can walk along the beach in about 15 unless its high tide. But with the bus schedule we needed to be on the 9:40 ferry from Denman to catch the 1:30 pm flight. This did not sound much faster than the non-flying option, however it gave us time to explore downtown Comox which we hadn't had a chance to yet.

This was our first trip on the transit, and with a bike rack on the front it seemed awfully convenient to do our shopping trips. I remarked to Dave why don't we time our weekend shop with the 10 a.m. bus and then just ride home? He didn't get it though, why take the bus when you can ride?

While exploring Comox we stopped in at Simon's Cycles, and picked up a new pair of cycling gloves each, as well as a happy honker horn for the tandem. We didn't manage to get out of there without first test riding a Kona Ute, which seems awfully useful for our new rural car-free lifestyle. However something about not buying more than one bicycle a day...

The float plane ride was quite scenic, although a little unnerving being on a small and quite noisy aircraft, and we were in downtown Vancouver before we knew it. (45 minutes to be exact) A hop on the SkyTrain to suburbia later, and we are test riding the beautiful tandem. As we warbled around the parking lot for a minute or two it felt this contraption was a death trap on wheels and I had visions (and fear) of the descent into Horseshoe Bay. However it was very well maintained for its age, and mechanically sound enough to ride away without doing anything. It definitely looked to me more burgundy then purple or mauve, but hey, color coordination isn't everything.

The tandem along with the previous owner

"We'll take it!"

Dave's plan was to take it on the SkyTrain back downtown, but this confused me. Aside from the hassles of stairs and/or escalators with a tandem, and trying not to be a nuisance to other transit passengers - I had to ask the question, why take the SkyTrain when we can ride? First we decided to outfit it for the ride with our own saddles and clipless pedals. We feared the old pedals might be hard to crack, but well greased they came off without any problems with our pedal wrench. Trying however to put the clipless pedals on confusedly, its like, hey are there two diameters for pedal threads? Ah they would not fit. Strike One. We then pull off the ancient saddles to put on our Brooksies already well conformed to our own butts. The clamps however on the old saddles were designed for two rails instead of one. Strike Two. At least the panniers fit onto the rack so we didn't have to carry our stuff! Oh well one out of three.

Halfway downtown I got the distinct feeling of something hard digging into my ass. Dave is similarly unhappy with the vintage saddles.

Once we passed the Bike Doctor, we decided to pick up some parts for some doctoring: 1/2" pedals that could take rat traps and the associated traps, as well as seat post clamps. A bystander by the store asked if we were going to be doing any touring on the tandem, but I mentioned how I prefer doing so with my own bicycle. Ah my ass is going to be so much happier now. We really should have picked up a longer seat post for the stoker position though, as the small seat tube required keeping the seat below full leg extension height. Not much further to go, and we parked the tandem and ourselves on a Kitsilano pub patio for some r&r after the 20 km inaugural tandem ride, and visiting with friends. The tandem seemed to get some curious stares from onlookers, including a nearby bike shop owner, no doubt confused by the juxtaposition of old CCM tandem, less-vintagey Brooks saddles, and the Ortleib panniers.

Doctoring the bike

He came by to chat, and we discussed route options for the next day. Scenic and a fave of roadies Marine Drive to the Vancouver island ferry was ruled out for too many hills for the 3-speed. The Upper Levels highway, while still requiring a significant elevation gain was more one up and down rather than a series of climbs. And besides you can push up Taylor Way he mentioned.

Bright and early Sunday morning fuelled by espresso we set out on our quest. Thankfully for our efficiency, I was stoking, and had a view of Dave's back, instead of letting my fear of bridges take over on the Lion's Gate bridge. (in fairness I think this is particularly due to being forced to ride on a sidewalk) The ascent up the causeway basically felt like the limit of first gear on this bike. On this bike the shifter is unusually in the stoker position, so the captain had to request which gear he wanted. (or I just mentioned hey going to shift now) Being a big finicky, I didn't always get it in the first gear when I meant to and I think we were trying to climb the very steep Taylor Way up to the Upper Levels highway in second. No matter, as we hopped off in short order to push it up the sidewalk until we got there.

I was a bit fearful that the spitting rain would turn into pouring rain just in time for the steep descent into the ferry terminal. Did I mention this bike just has a coaster brake, plus added front brake on steel rims? And all the weight on a tandem means it descends very fast. Fortunately it stayed at the spitting level, and the descent from the upper levels highway was more gradual than Marine Drive which we had cycled before. Although I still panicked when I saw the truck "Brake check" stop.

With the hilliest part of the trip behind us (I think the Upper Levels ascends to a high point of 185m and then we go back to 0 at the ferry) I'm feeling confident about the rest of the trip as we stow the tandem on the vehicle deck of the ferry. I make use of the 1 h and 40 min ferry crossing to catch up on knitting! Theoretically I should be able to knit as the stoker but I still feel I should keep my hands on the handlebars!

The climb from the ferry terminal out to the highway is not too steep but rather long and by the end of it I'm already huffing away and pointing to a bench - Are you sure the rest of the trip is flat I ask? We've done the same route before a couple years ago on our blind date bike trip, but my memory for hills is failing. Yeah its flat, Dave says. Have I ever lied to you about hills before he asks? Hmm something about telling me the Sunshine Coast is gently rolling comes to mind...

The highway through Nanaimo is quite busy and although there is enough shoulder, its still not very pleasant with all the whizzing high speed traffic. We make a special effort to navigate over to the MUP that follows it - normally I don't like sidepath bike paths but there are few intersections. We probably go about 8 km on it before it appears to turn away from the highway. Too risky, (that we get way off route) better get back on the highway. We're trying to make it to Parksville before taking a break, but I'm seriously waning in energy and we stop to snack along busy whizz-land.

In Parksville we pull into a coffee shop for a coffee and a snack. One 3-shot Americano later and I have so much energy Dave notices the big boost in stoker power and comments he should have caffeinated me long ago. We are able to make good progress on the flats, and at one point we encounter one of those "Your speed" signs. We give it some juice in third gear and the sign flashes, 95, 34, 110. (Obviously we were the 34) But we can't really go any faster than that on the flats without spinning out in third. I notice we are slogging up a long ways as we get close to Qualicum Beach and comment hey you said this was flat! Oh yeah Dave comments, I remember now, we descend like bastards into Qualicum Beach. Hmm, and what goes down must come up again, eh? Sigh.

The small beach community is filled with tourists on a sunny Sunday afternoon, and I start getting a little mental as a whole slew of recreational cyclists are riding towards us on the wrong side of the highway. We stop again to snack and watch some paddle boarders.

While it seems like a never ending journey, we eventually hit Buckley Bay for the 6 p.m. ferry back home. The ticket taker at the ferry is amused by the tandem, and jokes about what to charge us, but we hand our ferry card over making the point moot (bikes are free with a card, but $2 extra without)

Relaxing on the ferry...

At 15% grade we don't even attempt to cycle up the monster hill out of the ferry, but push it up and then cycle the last small stretch home. One fun adventure, although the low handlebars and low seat have left me a bit achy.

Stay tuned for bikey wedding photos!