2019 Skinny Tire Cycling Year in Review – Gravel and Cyclocross

With snowfall and bitter cold at the end of October it seemed that fat biking season was coming early. But we got a reprieve this past weekend with a glorious few degrees above zero and fast gravel. I think it might be the last time I ride the gravel bike until next year, given that we’ve got fat biking on the plan for tomorrow night!

So given that gravel’s done…. I thought I’d recap a few events from 2019.

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RCC Ride the Bypass

Yesterday bike riders of all kinds came out to enjoy the pristine pavement of the Regina Bypass before it gets opened to traffic at the end of October. I am an analyst on the project, and I helped to get the ball rolling with MHI and the Regina Bypass Partners who kindly let the Regina Cycling Club put together an event allowing access to a portion of the highway.

We made a day of it, setting up the RCC tent with snacks and drinks and having access to a ~15 km stretch. Some riders did one or two laps, while others did 4 or 5. I manned the registration station and then joined our club for one hot lap, and one casual lap, before tear-down.

Mike leads ~100 cyclists down the Bypass
And they're off! The view from the registration tent.

All ages came out – the youngest participant was being towed in a trailer, while there were others in their 70s. It was mostly locals from the City’s many cycling clubs, but one fellow came up to our team after to thank us and let us know he was from Prince Albert!

CTV also came by and  covered our event for the evening news. They got some great shots, and interviewed Mike. The only thing they missed was the headcount… we had 106 signed waivers at the end of the day.

It was a real treat to be able to use the full width of the roadway, and to be able to race and have fun without being worried about being passed by vehicles. This is just one of many examples of the project being considerate toward cyclists – they have also done a good job of sweeping the shoulder of Dewdney Avenue, which is a popular route. I know we’re all looking forward to the highway opening up – that pristine 3 m shoulder is going to be great to add to the roster!

The DeBonds Chase an Eclipse to Wyoming

Solar Eclipse - Photo cred: Andrew DeBond

If you ever get a chance to see a total solar eclipse, do it. Growing up in a family of amateur astronomers, I have many memories of club meetings where members shared pictures and stories of various eclipses they traveled to see around the world. Almost everyone would go to one, get bit by the eclipse chasing bug, and then see another and another… and… well you get the picture.
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A Visit to the Mountains

Given that we said our goodbyes and spent three days driving from Ontario only a few short months ago, we weren’t quite ready to go back home this Christmas. Instead, we decided to visit a friend of ours from our time in Taiwan, who’s now working in Calgary. We rented a car and did a whirlwind tour.
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Finally Complete: (1974?) Revel Cutty Sark

I’ve completed another model! Last winter, my modelling took a turn for the nautical. I started a complicated project from my father-in-law, and picked up a simple kit while visiting my sister-in-law in North Carolina to work on as a break.

The complicated project was a (1974?) Revel Cutty Sark at 1:96 scale. It was originally gifted to my father-in-law by his father, and had been waiting patiently in the basement for someone to assemble it ever since. I said I’d do it, but that it belonged in Port Hope, so I’d be bringing it back when complete. Last winter, I got through most of the hull construction. It was very different from any of the other modelling I’ve done before – usually I don’t take on projects that need much paint.

This winter, I took the model out again and worked on the masts and rigging. The model kit was designed to be displayed with either sails billowing or sails furled. It took a while to decide, but in the end the model’s plastic was aged enough that many of the pins were too brittle to tie rigging to, so I just did the standing rigging and left the rest. I think it turned out pretty well:

Now all that remains is taking the Cutty Sark back to Port Hope so it can take its rightful place in my father-in-law’s garage. I just need to figure out how to get it there in one piece!

Taiwanese Reunion – Keeping it Weird in Portland

Friends of ours from Taiwan, Gavin and Pamela were planning to take summer holiday visiting Gavin’s parents in Vancouver, Washington. We were about ready for a vacation and they suggested we come and visit too! If there’s one rule for a good trip, it is spend time with locals, so of course we took them up on it!

Gavin’s parents were wonderful people, and very accommodating to have a couple strangers in their house. And Gavin was a wonderful tour guide. We spent a bit of time in Portland, taking in a few breweries, a trip downtown, a visit to REI and we window-shopped Voodoo Donuts, but the lineup was massive and there was too much to do, so we didn’t actually try one. We did however make more than one trip to King Burrito, a local legend that deserves a line at least as long as the one at Voodoo Donuts (although I’m glad the line there was shorter).

As much as Portland was fun, the best parts of the trip were driving around where Gavin grew up. He’s a “spot” guy (as in, “I know this spot…”), and so we checked out all the places he’d go with friends to pass the time.

Gavin takes us to another spot...

One of the places he brought us to was a a camping site near Mt. St. Helens, and did a bunch of hiking and exploring. I was absolutely fascinated by the geology of the area. Lava tubes are so intriguing and the stratigraphy is amazing! We also took a trip to a beautiful waterfall. The water was crisp and cold and Gavin warned us about jumping straight in. Boy was he not kidding! The water was so cold my muscles seized up and I pretty much had to get out right away.

The intrepid campers stand in front of the waterfall...

We had planned to stay with them only a few days and then go on a little road trip of our own, so they could have their family time. We started with Mt. Hood on the way to an overnight in Bend.

Pretty far from home, but still making it on the signpost!

Bend was a surprise and we were both wishing we brought bicycles there. We had more good beer and a nice dinner and a walk around. The plan had been to head to Crater Lake, but it was thwarted by raging wildfires. All but one entrance to the park were closed due to fire, and it seemed like entering the park knowing all other exits had been blocked by fire was asking for trouble.

Instead we decided to cut back to the coast, via the Willamette National Forest. That meant driving through a massive lava flow and stopping for the view at Dee Wright Observatory. This is a neat stop – the lookout, which is made out of the surrounding bassaltic andesite, was constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression. It is a curious structure, and the interpretive trail is worth the walk (bring water!). The area was used in 1964 by NASA as a moon analogue training ground. Definitely worth the stop!

Lava Flow at Dee Wright Observatory

We had another pit stop a few hours later to stretch our legs, cool our feet off in the ocean, and explore the Oregon Dunes. I was expecting dunes on the order of what we have at Sauble Beach, and so I was very surprised when we got there. These dunes were amazing! They were fun to climb, although it was a bit harsh to be out there when the wind picked up. All in all, it was a very geological day.

The Oregon Dunes

Our last stops before returning to Portland to catch a flight home were the Oregon Coast Scenic Railway which runs between Garibaldi and Rockaway Beach, and and a visit to the Tillamook Creamery to see how cheese is made. The train trip was fantastic – I LOVE a good train trip and this one had good scenery and a steam engine! It isn’t too long, but the stopover is just enough to do a little exploring, and so it makes for a very nice small outing. And the Creamery was interesting too – they have turned it into quite the informative tourist attraction. And of course we got some ice cream and bought some cheese to snack on.

Oregon Coast Scenic Railway - Did I mention I like trains?

And then it was over! We drove back to Portland, grabbed one last meal from King Burrito on our way to a cheap hotel by the airport, and prepared for the long trip home. I’m sure we’ll be back – there’s a lot more to see!

Missing the hot springs of Taiwan (and Japan)

A long cold winter has me pining for the wonderful warmth & relaxation that comes from a day visiting hot springs.

My first exposure to hot springs was the onsen culture of Japan.  Starting slowly, at an indoor facility in Osaka called Spa World (check out Mike’s review here), both Mike and I quickly got over our reservations about being naked in (gender segregated) public, and became onsen converts!  After Spa World, we took every opportunity we could to relax in the lovely hot water.

Taiwan is very tectonically active, and one of the consequences of this is a multitude of geothermal hot springs, and a hot spring culture that is very similar to that in Japan.  A visit to the steamy waters is especially welcome during the rainy winter.

Beitou is one of the most famous examples of hot springs in Taiwan, and Mike and I really enjoyed our visit there.  It was especially fun, because not only can you enjoy a soak in wonderful warm water, but you can take a walk down to the geothermal pools of the Thermal Valley, something we weren’t able to see for ourselves in Japan.  The hot spring pool is stunning, with temperatures reaching 100°C, and pH values as low as 1.2. You can smell the sulphur well before you can even see the steam rising from the surface of the hot spring pools.

The valley is the discovery site of hokutolite, a variety of the mineral barite.  Hokutolite was discovered in 1905 by a Japanese mineralogist, and it only forms in hot spring environments.  The mineral gained a reputation for having curative powers, and was removed from the valley in large amounts.  Unfortunately, while it doesn’t have any curative powers, it does precipitate at a very slow rate. It was removed in such quantites that the mineral is now protected, and the best examples in Beitou are at the Beitou Hot Spring Museum.

On our visit to Beitou, we first took some time to walk around the town, and then we rented a spa room for a couple of hours for a mid day soak and rest. Beitou is a really enjoyable and easy day trip from Taipei – the Xinbeitou station is within easy walking distance of all the fun. I highly reccomend a trip to the area for anyone who hasn’t experienced hot springs, or is looking for a neat day trip away from Taipei.

And as for me, perhaps there will be a visit to the Scandinavian Spa at Blue Mountain in my future…