Thoughts on Main Street …

Every day, well most days, I stop at one of the local cafes for a coffee and muffin, and more often than not, it is the Continental2 cafe on Main Street. I prefer the coffee there, and the outdoor, heated seating on the adjacent side street.

Yesterday, all of the outdoor seating was occupied. Where did all these people come from? Don’t they know this is my happy place? My place to rest my wear legs, and collect my thoughts. There was a table and chair available around the corner on Main Street. Main Street is just that. It’s a main artery in the city used by vehicles of all sorts. Cars. Buses. Trucks. And, a lot of them as they race noisily to wherever they are going.

I don’t spend a lot of time on Main Street. I walk, and bike, in the parks, and on the side streets. I’m seldom on busy streets, and yet there I was sitting curb side on one of the busiest streets in the city. You have to understand. I cherish peace and quiet. I walk, bike, and drive an EV, modes of transport that make little, or no noise, and don’t pollute. So, sitting curb side on this busy street was invasive. Intolerable. Disgusting. And, awakening.

Until you sit curb side on one of these streets, you don’t appreciate how noisy, and dirty they have become. But what can be done? How has this happened? Who is responsible? I know. These are rhetorical questions. Or, are they? The answer is we are responsible. Collectively, we have enabled this to happen, and collectively we can make it better. We need to embrace quieter, cleaner modes of transport. We need to keep vehicular traffic on the periphery of urban centres. We need to encourage more green space in urban areas, places where residents can safely walk and play. Higher urban density is not the answer, and that can only happen when there is a fast, reliable, and comprehensive, environment friendly, public transport system to support more decentralized planning. I say these things, and yet I live in the heart of an urban area that is growing out of control, where low-rise condominium developments pepper the skyline.

This is not the first time I have had these thoughts. When I spend time at Camp PedalWORKS, I appreciate both the solitude, and the rural pace of life. Life there is the antithesis of Main Street. It’s quiet. There is a lot of wildlife. There is no hurry. There is no noise (except the birds). And, there is no pollution. So, the question becomes, is there a compromise, a way to make urban life more rural like?

I think there is. Ironically, COVID has shown us how. To prevent the spread of COVID, many were asked to work from home. Many businesses discovered this was not only possible, but preferable. Employees were more productive, and there was a reduced need for corporate office space. And, as a result, there was also less commuting, fewer cars on the road, less pollution, less traffic noise. So, the work from home model tackles several problems simultaneously. It slows global warming by reducing traffic volumes, and consequently, carbon emissions. It reduces urban density because people will be able to live farther from urban centres. And, it enables planners to embrace more decentralized models.

But this will be a difficult transition. Today I sat on Main Street again. It was busy, noisy, and dirty. Once again we are in the midst of a partial lockdown as the second wave of COVID spreads across the country. Where were all of these vehicles going? I understand the delivery trucks. Our grocery stores, pharmacies, and other essential services need supplies. I understand the dump trucks. There are many construction sites, many of which will house essential services, need equipment and materials. And, I understand the buses, people need to go to work, and shop for food. But what about all of the cars. If more people are working from home, why are traffic volumes as high as they were before the pandemic. This change is difficult.

This transition may be impossible. It will only happen when there is universal political will. So far, there has been a lot of talk. It is easy to say what needs to be done, but it’s quite another getting it done. The first step, whenever possible, is to get people, all over the world, out of their cars walking, cycling, and riding public transit. Working from home can help do this. The next step is to invest globally in green technologies including electrical vehicles. This does not have to take long. Look what Elon Musk has done with Tesla in a few short years. The internal combustion car manufacturers could make this transition much more quickly than they are planning.

We have pulled together to combat COVID. This is a global pandemic, and throughout the world people are, for the most part, following public health guidelines to reduce the spread. Some countries and jurisdictions better than others. And, the previous generation united to stop Germany during WW II. So, why can’t this generation pull together to combat climate change, one of the biggest challenges we face today? Well, that’s the problem. Not everyone believes it is a threat. There are alternative facts. Look what Trump has done. He has consistently spread falsehoods about COVID, climate change, and the US election results.

Two of the world’s major polluters affecting climate change are the internal combustion engine, and the meat and dairy farming industry.

So, what can be done? More importantly, what can I do?

I can set an example for my facility and friends. I can walk the talk. I can walk, cycle, or use public transit whenever possible. And, when I do need to travel, I can drive an electric vehicle.

I can convert fully to a vegan diet. I have been vegetarian for years, but I can easily eliminate the cheese and egg products I occasionally eat. There are excellent substitutes available that I actually prefer.

And, I can openly discuss why I have chosen this lifestyle with my family and friends, so they understand how these choices impact both my health and the environment, enabling them to make informed decisions for themselves, and their families.

This is what I can do. We can all do this.

Will I ever be able to enjoy a coffee on Main Street?

New shoes …

I enjoy walking. A lot.

Since COVID, I walk daily for a few hours, usually up and over the local hill. I’ve written often about this “little mountain”, how it has kept me strong, and my spirits up. It’s my go-to place during these times of physical distancing. I walk alone, but am never lonely. I walk the same routes, finding something new each, and every time. I walk rain or shine, and stop at one of the local cafes for a coffee and muffin. It’s a daily ritual.

I have climbed “little mountain” so often this past year, I have worn out 3 pairs of runners. I can tell because the treads are worn flat, and there is little, or no, cushioning left. I can also tell because my feet, knees, and lower back are sore afterward.

I need new shoes if I was going to continue these daily walks.

The reason I haven’t replaced the shoes sooner is simple. Since COVID, I do not shop in stores, and I have been reluctant to purchase shoes on-line without first trying them on. So, it was a toss up, take a risk and shop in a store, or risk ordering on-line.

I chose the latter.

I have had good experiences purchasing other items on-line, so I gave it a try. First, I traced my foot, measured it’s length and width, referenced the manufacturer’s sizing chart, and then placed an order. I immediately received an order confirmation advising delivery by mail may take longer because of COVID. Right.

The shoes arrived the next day. And, they fit. Perfectly. I now have new shoes with a full tread, extra cushioning, and no foot, knee, or back discomfort after summiting “little mountain”. Twice.

There is a moral to this story. There is no point procrastinating.

On-line shopping is not as risky as I thought. Retailers are getting the hang of it. This is the new normal. I was late to this party, concerned about security issues, and finding the correct fit, not only with shoes, but with all clothing items. Well, I’m over it. I’m a medium, and wear a size 9 shoe. What else is there to know?

I know. I know. You are going to say every item fits differently. Right.

But manufacturers are getting the hang of it. They are providing reliable sizing charts. Charts for shirts, pants, coats, and shoes. And, they display items on-line using a variety of different sized models so you can tell if you like the style, or colour.

I once said I would never shop on-line. I also said I would never need a phone with a camera, or a car powered by batteries. I’m always late to the party, but I always show up.

Book me a ticket …

I once wrote that a good golf course demands the use of all the clubs in the bag, from wedges to driver.

And, that a good bike ride demands the use of all the gears to power up long, steep climbs, and race down long, fast snake-like descents.

Today, I discovered the perfect ride. It starts with a 10 minute 3 km climb (~7%), followed by a 10 minute, fast, snake-like descent. The ride uses “all of the clubs in the bag”. It’s short, so I could do it every day if I wanted (and I may). It has spectacular ocean views the entire ride. And, there is little, or no, traffic on smooth roads. It’s perfect.

If you follow this blog, you know I purchased a smart trainer so that I could continue to train regularly inside during the cold, wet winter months in these parts. Because of COVID, the gyms are closed, so I setup my own indoor training space with a smart trainer, dumbbells, mat, and exercise ball. And, you also know I have been testing a variety of smart trainer apps, and seem to have landed on FulGaz. I like the variety of rides that are available, life like display, and training plans. Despite a few “connection issues” with the most current software release, support is excellent, and the rides are the best I have seen. It is the next best thing to riding outside.

During the past 2 months, I have cycled in Spain, France, Italy, Greece, Slovakia, Israel, US, Canada, and the United Arab Emirates. Some of the rides have been difficult, some easy, a few long, and others short. In all cases, they have been enjoyable, enabling me to select the type of ride I wanted, or needed, that day. Today, I discovered the perfect ride. A ride that demanded “all of the clubs in the bag”, a ride I intend to complete regularly, and a ride I have already added to my “favourites”. It’s the kind of ride I can use as a warm up, or cool down for other rides. It’s the kind of ride that puts a smile on my face.

It’s perfect.

So, this is a shoutout to FulGaz for providing the most realistic, indoor riding experience, and most extensive library of rides from around the globe.

Little Mountain …

I live atop a mountain.

I first wrote about this mountain in April of 2013. Almost eight years ago. And yesterday I blogged about it again. I wrote how much a part of my life it has become since the start of COVID. I walk up and over it each, and every day. I cycle around it at the end of every ride. This mountain has been my salvation.

This mountain has made me stronger physically, mentally, and spiritually. I climb it faster and with less effort each and every year. It inspires me to photograph its wide variety of trees, plants, and resting places, particularly the memorial benches. As I said, I walk alone, but am never lonely. I return every day feeling refreshed, invigorated, and relaxed.

Yesterday, I took on a new challenge. There is one road that snakes its way up to the very top. It’s not too long, but steep. It is not my usual route to the top, but for some reason yesterday I decided to climb the mountain up this road. As I began, I was passed by an athletic young woman going in the opposite direction. A few minutes later, she motored past me effortlessly, reaching the top 5-10 minutes before me. When I was 3/4 of the way up, she passed me going down. As we passed, I said to her “impressive”. She replied, “just 2 more times”. She was doing hill repeats on foot. Not running, but walking as fast as she could.

Impressive.

Today, I took on the challenge. I did the climb as quickly as I could. Twice. I wasn’t as fast as that young woman, and I didn’t do as many reps. Not yet.

The more I walk the trails, and roads of this park, the more I discover. Since the beginning of COVID, when the park was closed to vehicle traffic, it became a magnet for athletes of all types – walkers, runners, cyclists, tennis players, pickle ball players … It is big enough so that it is never crowded. One early morning, when the sky is clear, I’m heading up there to watch the sunrise. I have never done that on this mountain, and yet it boasts a spectacular, unobstructed view to the east.

I bet it’s impressive.

Reflections on COVID …

This year has been unusual. Difficult in many ways. The COVID pandemic has changed the world. It has changed how we interact, what we do, and where we go. We were told to stay in, and stay put. In some ways it has been difficult, but in others, beneficial. For me at least, there have been several positive, lasting changes that have improved my life. Changes that enable me to see & appreciate more, simplify my life, and help me train more effectively.

Let me give you a few examples.

I have always enjoyed walking, but since the start of COVID, I take the same walk in a local park every day. Its the same, but different every time. I live near a park at the top of a large hill, a “little mountain” really. Every day I walk up, and over this “mountain”, each day selecting a different route, or direction ending up in one of the nearby cafes for a coffee and muffin. The walk is 8-10 km depending on the route, and I do it rain or shine. And each day I document the walk on STRAVA with photos taken with my phone. Photos of things I have never seen before, despite living in the neighbourhood for over 30 years – rocks, benches, trees, flowers, doors, stairs, homes, and yes, selfies are my subjects. This interests me. Each day I discover something new. Each day the lighting changes, transforming the familiar into something new, something interesting. This walk has become a daily ritual. I walk alone. No music. No podcasts. No talk. Just self-talk. I’m alone, but never lonely. It’s as if I’m on an adventure, a holiday in a distant land, discovering new things, and exploring new thoughts. I intend to continue this ritual regardless.

I have always enjoyed cycling. You know that. If you follow this blog, you know each year I spend several months in the summer at my cottage cycling, and exploring the rural roads there. I couldn’t go this year because of COVID, but I certainly cycled. But differently. I didn’t venture far from the house. Instead, I selected 3-4 familiar routes. Loops I could complete out the backdoor that ranged in length, and difficulty. And, like Phil Gaimon, I began chasing STRAVA PR’s and KOM’s. I discovered there are several very difficult climbs, and challenging loops nearby. The mountain I walk every day, also became the mountain I cycled every day. Something I seldom did before. I would finish every ride, regardless of the route, with a loop around the park, or hill repeats up it’s steepest road. I became STRAVA’s “Local Legend” up this climb. And, I became the fastest, for my age group at least, up all of the nearby hills. My cycling became more focused, and more intense. According to STRAVA, my elevation gain in 2020 was twice that of 2019. Again, I intend to train this way going forward, making better use of STRAVA to meet other enthusiasts, and discover new challenges.

I have used YouTube for many years to learn new skills, particularly bike maintenance skills. Since the beginning of COVID, I have been using YouTube more, and not just for bike maintenance. I’ve discovered numerous entertaining and informative channels. I follow young couples living off-grid in the wilderness. I follow several architectural channels, particularly those about the tiny home movement, and living in small spaces. And, I have also discovered several channels that help me train better. I’ve learned the importance of the glutes, and how to train them more effectively. I’ve learned the benefit of dynamic stretching before workouts, and in the process have gained considerable mobility. I’ve learned better ways to train my core, and how to tailor barbell workouts with pauses, pulses, and increased time under tension. So YouTube is a daily habit that isn’t going away either.

In the cold, wet winter months, I usually train in a gym where I would spin, lift weights, and stretch regularly. Since COVID, I’m in no hurry to return to the gym. They are open, but I am not comfortable going back. Instead, I have purchased a few dumbbells, a smart trainer for my bike, and turned my room into a multifunctional space where I can read, write, watch TV, ride, and strength train. I don’t need more. In fact, because it is so convenient, I train more often. I train most days, and I certainly prefer the smart trainer to a spinning bike. It really is like cycling outside, particularly with apps using videos of real rides. So, despite all of the cold, wet weather we have been experiencing, I have been cycling most days. And, all over the world – France, Spain, Italy, US, and Canada – climbing up the local mountains, and in the Dolomites, Alps, and Pyrenees. I see why so many prefer indoor training, and this is certainly a habit I will continue.

I could go on. But, I won’t. You get the idea. I have formed new habits that keep me safe, and healthy. We were asked to stay in, and stay put. I have done that. And, expect to do the same this year.

Surviving Indoor Training

I have to admit I’m a Juliet Elliot fan. Her videos are entertaining, informative, and inspiring. She’s not a professional racer, although she does race, and does make a living through her bike. She has an eclectic background. A pro snowboard at one time. A model. A bike courier. And now, a YouTuber. Her latest video does a good job summarizing how to make indoor training fun, and effective.

Why I like training indoors …

There is nothing I enjoy more than getting out on my bikes, particularly on hot, summer days.

But, when the weather turns, I start thinking about training indoors. Although I have persevered through rain, snow, and gale like winds, I prefer to workout indoors. As a rule of thumb, when the temperature dips below 10 C, I head indoors.

When shifters were on down tubes, I had a wheel-on, noisy trainer in the basement. When the kids were in bed, I’d head down there for an hour, sometimes longer, battling the inevitable boredom with a selection of up tempo music. When the kids got older, the basement was repurposed, first as a playroom, and later as a bedroom. The trainer started collecting dust, and I headed to the local gyms to spin.

With Covid spiking, I’m not returning to the gym any time soon. Instead, I have repurposed a walk-in closet in my den into a “pain cave” with a wheel-off smart trainer.

My how things have changed.

The smart trainer, and the wide variety of training apps available, have transformed the experience into what feels very much like a real ride outside. I’m not going to discuss the various apps now. That will come later as I test a number of them. Instead, I’m going to list a few reasons why I prefer to train indoors.

Its a continuous effort. No stops. No resting. As a result, a 45-60 minute effort can be an excellent workout.

My bike never gets dirty. Occasionally, the drive train may need lubrication, and the trainer needs to be calibrated every few weeks, but otherwise my bike is maintenance free.

There is no wind, rain, or snow to dampen my spirits 😃

Its convenient. I can train whenever I want, regardless of the time of day, or weather.

There are no punctures to repair. I hate breakdowns on the road, especially if I have to call for a ride ☹️

I can experience rides all over the world, in places I am not likely to ever visit. For example, this off-season I plan to ride all of the iconic European routes.

If you are serious about cycling, I’d recommend purchasing a smart trainer, if you haven’t already. Covid is here for awhile. Stay safe. Gyms are not the safest places to train. Stay home instead.

I didn’t know …

I wish I understood this 30 years ago 😃

I spent most of my working life sitting at a desk, hunched over a keyboard. I’m certain you have heard that “sitting is the new smoking”. It’s true. Sitting is just as bad for your health, maybe worse, than smoking.

I understood this, at least in part. I’d take every opportunity to get up, stretch a little, and walk outside whenever possible. Coupled with regular running, swimming, or cycling, I thought I was in good shape. And, compared to many, I was. But, my glutes were always underdeveloped, imbalanced, and unstable.

I could have been a lot better ☹️

I know differently today, 30 years to late. For the past several years, I have focused on strengthening and stretching the glute muscles, and notice a significant difference in mobility, stability, and power.

The glutes are the largest muscle group in the body, and key to a powerful, and efficient pedal stroke.

If you want to become a stronger, faster, and more efficient cyclist, focus on your glutes 😃