Friday, June 28, 2013

Photo Friday: By Chance

I wasn't going to get on my bike and go for a ride. I mean, I wanted to, but the weather forecasts did not look favourable, had even warned about severe thunder storms. To back up those warnings, an hour before I left, the skies grew dark, thunder rumbled overhead, the wind picked up, and a few raindrops fell.

And then, almost as quickly, the clouds moved on and the sun came out. Even the wind seemed do die down, a little. I looked at the online radar images from Environment Canada, and though there were storm clouds registering, their path seemed to indicate that they would not pass through the capital.

I'm no meteorologist, but I took a chance that my interpretation of the radar images was right, and I got on my bike and rode.

I have mapped out a new 50-kilometre route around the city. It's similar to my old route, which was only 48 clicks: this one has me crossing the Alexandra Bridge, instead of crossing the road from the National Gallery, down to the Rideau Canal, across the locks, and onto the path under Parliament Hill.

Once on the Québec side the Alexandra Bridge, I turn onto the pathway that runs behind the Canadian Museum of Civilization and follow it to the Portage Bridge, where I cross back into Ontario and re-connect with my old route.

I also cycle onto Lemieux Island, where I speed to the water filtration plant, and back to the Ottawa River Parkway cycle path, where I continue home.

This new route is more than 50 kilometres (50.42, to be precise), which to me sounds better than the 48-point-something kilometres I used to do. This is my new normal, is something I've done twice so far this week and will do again over the weekend.

One of the things I really like about this ride is the view of the Parliament buildings from the Museum of Civilization. Perched atop a high, tree-covered cliff, the library and Peace Tower are majestic. This would be a great place from which one could watch the fireworks on Canada Day.

I just might do that.

Because I ignored the rain-storm warnings, I arrived at this place when the sun had begun its descent. Still hours away from sunset, but just as it was beginning to cast a warm glow. As an added bonus, a cruise boat was in the river, just below. I unclipped my iPhone, the only camera I had, and snapped a shot.

Sometimes, we happen upon photo opportunities by chance. Those moments can often be the best.

Happy Friday!

Thursday, June 27, 2013

If I Have To, I'll Go Alone

Bluesfest is just around the corner, and I'm really looking forward to going. Last year, my family and I were out of the country, which made the first time in eight years that we missed out on this great music festival.

For seven years, I volunteered for the Ottawa Blues Society, selling t-shirts, trinkets, and memberships to our club. As a bonus of working this tent, I had unlimited access to the grounds, and I saw some outstanding performances. Highlights include Taj Mahal, Buddy Guy, Great Big Sea, Metric, Cake, and Sam Roberts. I also saw Babe Ruth, who came to Ottawa a couple of years ago--their first time to our city in 38 years. And they rocked it.

This year, B.B. King is coming, and there's no way I'm going to miss his show. At 87, he still plays a mean guitar, but at 87, I don't know how much longer he's going to be playing, and I don't know if this will be the last time we'll see him in Ottawa.

So nothing will keep me from that show.

Another musician that I've wanted to see for some time is coming on July 12, and if I have to, I'll go alone. Matthew Good has been to Ottawa a few times over the past couple of years, and every time I've wanted to see him, I haven't been successful in finding company to come with me.

Lori isn't into Matt Good. She doesn't like many of his lyrics, hates when he uses coarse language. She also thinks many of his songs are full of angst. For me, that's fine: in that regard, he's sort of Canada's version of Steven Patrick Morrissey.

But Lori can't stand Morrissey, so I see her point.

Anyway, here's a video of Matt Good performing one of my favourite songs for Toronto radio station, 102.1, the Edge. The song is called "Born Losers."

What do you think? Would you go and see Matt Good? Would you come to Bluesfest with me?

'Cos, if I have to, I'll go alone.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Bonne Fête Nationale

No, it's not our national holiday, today. Unless you live in Québec. And you believe Québec is a nation unto itself.

I was born in Québec and I work there, but it's not my national day. That one comes exactly one week from today.

But I will say Happy Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day.

It's a statutory holiday today, so I'm not at work. That's great news; however, none of my family members are off today. They're at work and school, while I have to find a way to amuse myself, alone. (Mind you, they do get Family Day, in February, when I have to work.)

I'm starting the day off with an early-morning bike ride around the city, followed by some housework, and then a much-needed haircut.

That's my morning.

In the afternoon, I'm going to find a place to sit and write, and later in the day I'll do another beer review (there's a post today at Beer O'Clock, in case you were wondering).

For my Québec friends and family who celebrate on this day, amusez-vous!

Friday, June 21, 2013

Photo Friday: Drive All Night

When my mind is full, when I need to think instead of act, or speak, when I need to get away from it all, I get in my car and I drive.

I don't think about where I'm going: the car will figure that out. Which way to turn doesn't concern me.

I just hold onto the wheel, put my foot down, and go.

For how long do I go? When do I come back? Who's to say? I think my thoughts until I can think no more. I drive until the car brings me home. If it takes all night, I drive until the sun comes up.

I'll drive all night, if that's what clears my head.

(Yes, I took the photo and drove the car.)

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Dirty Politics

There is an absolute truth in politics: if you sling mud, you may miss. But you'll definitely get dirty.

To me, the federal Conservatives are like the evil Galactic Empire in Star Wars: pure evil that exists to serve itself. I see no good in that party. No best intentions. No vision for a better country. Just greed.

When it comes to the opposition, the Conservatives have one plan and one plan only: try to smear the opponents. It doesn't matter if those opponents aren't even part of the official opposition, as is the case with the NDP, who mopped the Québec floor during the last election. No, the plan has been, ever since the Liberals elected their new leader, to sling mud in his direction.

And so far, they've missed every time.

As soon as Justin Trudeau swept the Liberal leadership convention, the attack ads came out. We know the one: Justin, taking off his shirt at a charity fund raiser. The Tories tried to make Trudeau look comical, adding circus music and graphics that didn't exist during the actual fund raiser, in which Trudeau actually raised $1,900 for the Canadian Liver Foundation.

I bet Harper couldn't do that. He might raise that much to keep his shirt on.

The latest attempt to discredit Trudeau was the unsolicited information leak to the press about a charity event in 2007, where Trudeau attended and spoke, and charged $10,000 for his appearance. Before he was an MP. Where no one complained about paying the fee, even though the fee was discussed up front. Even though, in 2009, an attempt by a Tory to complain to the Ethics Commission failed.

I don't want to speak to any great length on the methods to which the Conservatives have tried to sling mud at the new leader of the Liberal party. I just want to talk about what I see.

The Conservatives are sweating. They have a lot of controversy surrounding the spending practices of some Tory senators—in particular, Mike Duffy and his buy-out by former PMO Chief of Staff, Nigel Wright. (Funny, Harper's folks can dig up details of Trudeau's speaking fees but can't come up with the cancelled $90,000 cheque that Wright wrote.) They want to change the channel, turn the attention away from themselves by slinging mud at someone else.

Smoke and mirrors. Sling, duck, and evade.

It's ironic: Stephen Harper's wife, Laureen, has headed an anti-bullying campaign but can't reign in the leader of the Conservatives. Because that's what Stephen is: a bully.

Canada's only hope is that all of the opposition parties keep their teeth firmly sunk into the scandals that are now plaguing the leading party. They mustn't let the smoke deter them. Harper is counting on Canadian citizens having short-term memories. Keep the memory fresh.

Be the Rebel Alliance against the evil Galactic Empire.

"Strong, The Force, in this young Trudeau, is. Against the Dark Side, must he fight."

The Tories love to sling mud. Keep on ducking. Because when all is said and done, they're the only dirty ones.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

In Front, Out of View

Every day, it's the same thing.

Every day, it's something new.

When I first decided to start my Bate Island Project, where I stop at the same spot on Bate Island every time I cross the Champlain Bridge, put the same lens on my camera, and point at the same view, I thought it would get old really fast, that I would become bored with taking the same picture, and that no one would want to look at them.

But I was wrong.

The subject, though the same, is ever-changing. The weather, though similar on some days, is largely different. The lighting always changes. Sometimes, if I'm lucky, objects in the foreground will change: a duck or goose will idly float on the river. A gull will fly past. Once, a person sat on the rocks at the shore, enjoying the view. She wasn't even aware of me walking up behind her, snapping the shot, and walking away.

On many mornings, this spring, the geese prefer this side of the island, seemingly want to greet the sun as it ascends over the skyline, and so I wade through the gaggle, compose and capture my shot as they waddle past, at my feet.

This morning, as I walked toward the park bench that is my marker, I couldn't help but notice something new in front of where I stand. Sometime between 5:00 yesterday afternoon and 6:30 this morning, someone had erected an inuksuk.

As I approached my spot, I hoped that the top of the stone structure would fit in the frame of my daily photo, but as I got closer I knew that wouldn't be the case or, at worst, only a tiny portion of it would be visible and it would be a distraction from the shot—noise on the edge of my picture.

It wasn't. From the angle at which I stood and the building I always align with the focus sensor, none of the inuksuk appeared in my frame.

But I wanted to capture this creation. Who knew how long it would last. (Is it bad luck to overturn one?)

Here it is:

You can see some of the bush, which is always in the foreground of my photos, to the right of the photo. That's how close this inuksuk came to being part of my Bate Island Project photo.

If you want to view a slide show of my Bate Island Project photos so far, either click the photo at the right-hand column or click here.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Pushing the Right Buttons

As many of you know already, I am the father of two daughters. And they're pretty fabulous.

Ninety-nine percent of the time.

My youngest is quite a character who is always thinking, always kidding around, always looking to get a reaction from whomever is near her. I call her my little button pusher.

And though she gets a kick out of pushing my buttons, she knows that I love her and I know she loves me.


On Saturday, it dawned on her that the following day was Father's Day and she went into a bit of a panic, saying she hadn't done, made, or bought anything for me.

"That's okay," I said, "just take me to the Star Wars exhibit, and we'll be just fine."

She became excited, because she wanted to go as much as I did, perhaps more. "Okay!"

Last night, as my girls were getting ready for bed and I was wracking my brain trying to come up with an idea for a blog post, my young daughter placed a huge gift bag next to me. Inside, was a card with a bright, red bow attached with Scotch tape.

"How lovely," I said.

"Read it," she said, "quick, before I have to go to bed."

I turned over the card and read it.

For those of you who can't read the silver pencil crayon on black paper, here's what it says:
Daddy I love you because you're my
father, and I know that sometimes
I can be a bother, I am a pest
but you still love me so, Just
take a day off I'll even throw in
this bow. I love you as much as
Sarah likes cows and by the way I
need that bow back now.
I removed the bow from the card and gave it back, with a hug. Interest.

That's my button pusher.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Photo Friday: Out of Juice

On Tuesday, I was finishing up a blog post for a friend and thinking of ideas for this week's Wordless Wednesday, when I just plain ran out of ideas.

I took a bunch of shots of my Tuesday workspace, sitting at the bar at Mill Street Brew Pub. Images of my iPad and bluetooth keypad, a pint of ale next to it. As the photos progressed the level of beer worked its way to the bottom of the glass.

I know: lame. That's why I didn't use it.

I felt uninspired, out of ideas, and out of creative juices.

That, and I hit a bit of depression. Yes, that happens from time to time. I'm not a perfect picture of happiness, but I try.

On Wednesday, I wasn't feeling any better, and so I stayed quiet, avoided social media altogether.

Ditto, Thursday.

I'm feeling better today, having pulled myself out of bed at 5:30 and onto my bike, which I rode for the first time since Saturday. And it felt great. I had an energizing ride to the office, stopping only at Bate Island to take this photo for my photo project.

Last night, I had an idea for Photo Friday, but I didn't have the energy to execute it. I'll try it over the weekend, and will aim for having it next week.

I'm hoping to use this weekend to get my head completely out of the dark fog that has consumed me these past few days, and plan to get back to my picture of happiness.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Voyage Home

I awoke just before 4:00 AM. I stirred a little, opened my eyes, and seeing that it was still largely dark, I closed my eyes again, pulled the thin blanket closer to my chin. The room was cool: the building's heat, having been shut off for the summer months, was not coming on until autumn, when the students, having returned for another year, would be preparing for mid-term exams, counting the days until all the leaves would fall, wondering when the snow would come.

I had crawled into that dorm-room bed, its hard mattress and few sheets supplied for the cyclists, fully dressed. I was too tired to change into my pajamas and my clothes were clean, so who cared? Not me. After having stuffed myself with two plates of food at dinner—one plate of whole-wheat penne with a tomato and meat sauce; the other, prime rib, potatoes, vegetables, and a spongy casserole-like item that I couldn't identify, outside the corn and cooked tomatoes—washed down with two glasses of chocolate milk, Lori and I returned to our room and stretched out on our respective beds, contemplating the rides we had completed.

I was asleep by 7:30. 

My results
When I estimated my time for reaching Kingston, I calculated for about 22 kilometres per hour. I figured that it would take me approximately eight hours to cover the distance. So I was pleased, and in somewhat of disbelief that despite some of my slow climbs up steep hills, I reached the finish line at Queen's University with a time of 7:30:04.

Seven-and-a-half hours. Exactly.

And my bike performed wonderfully. No issues, no concerns (though, after a couple of hours, my right pedal creaks a bit). The gears had shifted smoothly, the wheels had rolled effortlessly.

I love my bike. Not quite two years old, and the honeymoon still hasn't ended.

Upon crossing the finish line and dismounting my bike, I felt elated. There were times when I thought that I wouldn't be able to cycle for more than 170 kilometres, but I had. I was standing in the residence area of Queen's campus, looking out towards Lake Ontario, with Wolfe Island on the horizon. I had been here many times in the past, visiting friends who studied at this university and lived in these dormatories. I wasn't dreaming. I had made it.

But now, lying in bed on day two, several hours before I was to get on my bike and do it all over again, I began to think about what lay before me.

When I rode to Kingston, I had never participated in this event before. I wasn't familiar with this route, had not been on these small county roads. The climbs and descents were faced one by one, unannounced, as I reached them.

Now, I knew what lay before me, knew where the toughest hills were.

I dreaded the first hill out of the city. Not the railway overpass on Division Street. Yes, it was a steep incline, but it was short. It was the long, steep climb a little further on, just north of the 401. I felt my legs, lying in bed, and imagined them cranking me upwards.

The route from Ottawa to Kingston
I also thought of the steep hill in Westport. When I came down it, I travelled so fast that I had to squeeze hard on my brakes. It was that hill where I'm sure I hit my top speed of nearly 60 kph.

But then I thought, those were pretty much it. Sure, there were many more hills, but those were the two I dreaded the most. And the more I thought about them, the more I thought: you know, I can do this. I had refuelled my body, had slept for more than eight hours. I was going to be able to finish this ride.

Shortly after 4, Lori stirred. She whispered from across the room, wondering if I was awake. I softly responded that I was.

"How do you feel?" she asked, "You're breathing loud and heavily."

I had noticed that. From the moment I got off my bike, I felt that I couldn't get enough oxygen into my body. My sinuses were congested, and I felt I had to fight through my plugged nostrils, but I also felt as though my lungs had expanded and required more air to sustain me.

"I'm okay," I said. "My legs are a little sore, my knees feel a bit stiff, but that's to be expected."

"My leg muscles feel shredded," said Lori. "I don't think I can cycle anymore. I think I need to take a bus back to Perth." We started discussing the options. Made some phone calls.

There are no buses from Kingston to Perth. Lori would have to take the bus to Smiths Falls and then cycle the 20 kilometres from there to Perth. She felt she could do that, but she'd have to box up her bike, and the first bus left at 1:00 in the afternoon. By the time she reached our van, I would be somewhere between Perth and Ashton.

Assuming I could make it all the way. I was considering cycling to Perth and seeing how I felt. If I reached Perth and couldn't continue, I could wait for her (I didn't have a key to the van, so the option of driving to Smiths Falls to meet her was out).

Lori tried to persuade me to not ride. She said that the strain I had put on my body would be too much. The cost on me wouldn't be worth it. We hadn't trained for this ride. I hadn't eaten enough during the trek to Kingston. She told me that if I rode home, or even to Perth, I would be a wreck, come Monday.

She considered the option of renting a car. We would leave our things in the dorm (check out wasn't until 11), pick up the car when the rental agency opened at 8, get to Perth, and we'd each drive the vehicles back to return the rental and collect our belongings.

Except, neither of us was carrying our driver's license. Lori left hers with the van, in Perth; I left mine at home (I had packed it, but Lori convinced me to carry only my health card instead).

The Ottawa Bicycle Club, which runs the Rideau Lakes Cycle Tour, has a very strict policy. They have vehicles that ride along the course to offer assistance to cyclists whose bikes break down or who injure themselves along the route and cannot continue. As a participant, you agree that if you ride to Kingston and find you cannot make the return trip, you must find your own way back.

But Lori was becoming desperate and we knew time was short. We walked to the starting area and talked to an official. Lori explained that her legs were hurt and she had explored many options to get back to Perth.

Sorry, was their answer. We can't take you and your bike back to Perth.

"What if it was just me?" she offered. No bike, no baggage.

"We're pulling out right now," was the answer. "You would have to come with us right now, and it could take until noon for us to reach Perth." That was an hour before the bus to Smiths Falls was due to depart from Kingston, and Lori was uncertain as to whether she'd be able to pack up her bike.

She gave me a kiss and hopped in the van, and away they went.

I suppose I could have protested. I could have told Lori to stay with our things, that I would cycle to Perth, and then return to collect her. I really wanted to make an effort to complete the voyage home. But over the hours, with Lori exploring her options, complaining about the state of her legs, her concern for me, with my heavy breathing and sore knees, she stated her case that she didn't want me killing myself in my attempt to get home.

So when she left me behind with our luggage and both bikes, I didn't fight it. I returned to the room, rested some more, tweeted, and posted on Facebook, and slowly packed our things in time for checkout.

And waited.

And considered whether I wanted to do this event again next year. Next time, preparing well in advance by setting up a training regime and sticking to it. In practicing how to eat on the go. By making sure I drank often and refilled my bottles at every opportunity.

I'm really disappointed that I didn't cycle home. The more I thought about it, the more I believed I could have done it. But at what cost? On Monday, when I awoke, my legs felt fine: a little sore, but no more than when I cycle to and from work.

Maybe I'll do this again next year. Only to prove to myself, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that I can do it.

Monday, June 10, 2013

One-Way Trip

If you follow me on Twitter or Facebook, you sort of know the story, but here are the details.

This weekend, Lori and I set off on the Rideau Lakes Cycle Tour, which runs from Ottawa to Kingston (on the Classic 177-kilometre and Challenge 250-kilometre routes). A shorter course, which starts in Perth, is 100 kilometres. The plan was to cycle to Kingston and back, but that didn't happen.

Neither Lori nor I properly trained for this event: Lori jogged a couple of times each week and rode her bike a couple of times over the course of about six weeks. I rode my bike to and from work a couple of times each week (40 kilometres, round trip), cycled a loop a couple of times (50K per trip), and planned one 100-kilometre route up to the Champlain Lookout, but only covered 86K before my tire blew.

That happened on Victoria Day (May 20); I didn't fix the tire until last Thursday.

There are a lot of things to consider when preparing for a 170-odd-kilometre ride. The proper clothes, a good supply of water, and enough food to sustain you. When I left Ottawa on Saturday morning, it was wet: not so much raining as there was a heavy Scotch mist. The temperature was in the low to mid teens (12-14°C), which was good. I wore my biker shorts, a long-sleeved biking shirt, and a cycling rain shell. I was comfortable.

I carried two water bottles: one, with plain water; the other, water and a squirt of agave syrup. In a fanny pack, I had lots of high-calorie snacks: chocolate-covered coconut bars, Clif bars, dried apricot, fruit gummies, mini Oreo cookies. My friends, who are experienced cyclists, told me I had to ingest at least 200 calories each hour to sustain myself. I had to drink every 10 minutes.

Because it was raining when I pulled out with a huge pack of riders, I didn't feel thirsty for the first dozen or so kilometres, but I eventually took a mouthful every 10 to 15 minutes after that. I mostly drank from my sweetened water, but I would swap to regular water just to keep it interesting (and to ensure that I could easily reach both bottles).

I didn't eat anything until I reached Ashton, a small village about 36.5K from the starting line. There, I ate a chocolate bar (280 calories), gulped down some water, and continued (I only stopped for photos).

I learned the value of travelling in groups, as the draft did save a lot of energy. But I didn't stay with groups for long. The first group, the large pack at the start, stayed together until about south Kanata, and then it broke up into several groups. When I changed my pace, I found that I had passed ahead of one group but fell behind others. I travelled for about 10K on my own, until the pack that had fallen behind me caught up at Ashton. Because they stopped and I didn't, I found myself on my own again.

This group didn't catch up with me until about the 50K mark, and I was able to draft with them. But they were faster than me and I couldn't maintain their pace for very long. Another fellow, at the back of the pack, stayed with me and we chatted until just before Perth, but he picked up his pace when I took a call from Lori, who was meeting me in Perth (from where she would start the ride).

Lori was eager to get underway, so when I reached Perth she didn't want to stay long. She had a fresh banana for me, which I hungrily ate. I also had been nibbling on a Clif bar and was about a third of the way into it. I ate the banana, stretched, refilled my bottles (I hadn't emptied either of them, had only consumed about a full bottle's worth), took a photo of Lori, and we continued.

Lori was fresh and keen on following a pack, so we got behind the first pack we could as we left Perth. I noticed that their bikes were clean and that none of the riders had streaks up their backs, so I immediately knew they had started in Perth, where it hadn't rained. These were fresh riders, and I had just finished about 75K.

I didn't keep up with the pack for long. Lori tried matching my pace, but after a few hills, on which I struggled a bit, she decided that she had to continue at her own pace, and so she went ahead without me.

That was fine: I understood the importance of keeping your own pace. I finished my Clif bar, drank some water, and continued.

Eventually, Lori stopped to rest and I was able to catch up, about 25K into her ride (I was past the 100-kilometer mark on my trip). I took off my rain coat, ate some dried mangoes, drank, and continued. (A couple of kilometres later, we stopped at a kids' lemonade stand, and I had them top up a bottle, which was about a quarter full). I told Lori that I had already completed more than the distance that she would be facing, so that if she wanted to go without me, she should.

We stayed together for a few more kilometres, but at some challenging hills, I couldn't keep up. I could feel my muscles complaining that I had taken them further than they had ever ridden before.

Heading into Westport, the cyclists are faced with some challenging hills. As luck would have it, a large group caught up to me just after I had raced down one hill and was faced with another upward climb. But riding in their draft, I felt that I was being pulled along and I was actually able to climb the slope in my top gear. Just before you actually reach Westport, you are met with a very steep, downward hill, and, still following this pack, I had to brake hard to avoid coasting into them.

But my body was starting to feel the strain. I had cycled about 120 kilometres and I could feel my left hip, knee, and ankle start to ache. Before leaving Westport, I took a couple of Advil, drank a lot of lemonade, and ate another coconut bar.

At the 140-kilometer mark, I started doubting myself, started wondering if I could actually do this ride. I was tired, my legs were lead anchors, and I was breathing hard. More water, more pieces of dried apricot. I forced myself to keep moving.

At the 150-kilometer mark, I felt better. My joints were no longer aching, my legs began to lighten, and I felt my second wind kick in. Also, at that point, Lori called me, wondering where I was. She had stopped in Perth Road Village and hadn't seen me.

"I'm already past there," I told her, "I didn't stop. I'm about 10 minutes ahead of you."

"Keep going," she said, "I'll try to catch up."

Just shy of Inverary, I stopped at the side of the road to eat more mangoes. I was in love with that snack: it really seemed to energize me without putting a lump in my stomach, something the other chocolate and energy bars couldn't do. Lori hadn't caught up, so I continued, thinking she would still catch me before long.

When I judged that I was about 10 kilometres outside Kingston, I stopped once more before a long, sweeping hill. I needed more energy before I could face that hill. My lower back was throbbing (it had been sore since before Ashton, and it usually does ache a little on my rides to work, but now it was just plain nasty) and I thought if I could wait for Lori, we would do this hill together. I finished the last of my apricot, downed the last of my lemonade, and took a swig of water. But after five minutes of waiting, Lori still hadn't caught up. I knew that if I waited any longer, my legs would return to their leaden state, so I faced that hill alone.

At the top of the hill I was met by the Kingston skyline on the not-too-distant horizon. I quickened my pace.

A short way further, the road dipped to a long, steep descent, and I tucked in deep, raced all the way to the bottom, where I slipped under Highway 401 and entered Kingston. There was still one last steep ascent, on an overpass that spanned a railway line, but I didn't care. I was practically there.

Because of a series of traffic lights, I managed to catch up to another pack of riders. They, too, knew that the end was near, so they began their cool down, and I stayed with them to the end. Lori caught up with me about five minutes after I crossed the finish line.

We made it. Lori, 100K. Me, according to my cycle app, just shy of 174K. Either the route had changed, the original measurements were wrong, or my GPS was off. But no matter how I looked at it, I had made it from start to finish.

But that doesn't explain my one-way trip. Lori and I were meant to return to Perth and Ottawa, respectively, the next day.

However, I'm not going to tell you about the next day today. This is enough writing for one day. At the time of this writing, I had only been home for about 10 minutes before I sat in front of my computer. I've rambled. I'm tired. I need a good night's sleep.

And so, can you wait until tomorrow to hear the rest?

Yes, I have man-boobs. Quit your laughing.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Photo Friday: Telling a Story From a Single Image

The rain had wreaked havoc all day, telling them to stay indoors. The wind, a cool, nor'easterly breeze, added to the mix to bring the temperature down and make a mid-spring day as uninviting as it could. Together, these troublesome elements sent a message to all who wished to venture out and experience a pleasant day:


It was his birthday, and all he wanted to do was embrace his special day with a day out on his new gift. He had only become independent of his training wheels at the end of last summer, when he was just outgrowing his old bike's frame. He was ready to ride freely on a new set of wheels, and today he had them.

It was a short distance from his home, an apartment in a complex off York Street, down Washington Street, where the south tower of the Manhattan bridge seemed a foreboding gateway that framed the Empire State Building in its lower arch. From there, it was straight into the park.

Just a short ride, he begged his mother, to see the carousel, to loop around the pathways of the park that looked onto lower Manhattan, past the Brooklyn Bridge, and then back home. Thirty minutes; one hour, tops.

The late-afternoon sky showed some promise of respite. The rain didn't give any indication that it would stop altogether, but it was slowing to a light spittle, the darkness of the clouds easing to a light, drab grey. The wind, seeming to have already given its worst, stopped howling at their windows. Now was their best chance.

Yes, his mother said, her loving eyes soaking in the glee from her young one.


Happy Friday!

Thursday, June 6, 2013

A Need for Change

This week, as I gear up for the Rideau Lakes Cycle Tour, a 354-kilometre, round-trip bike ride from Ottawa to Kingston, and back, I think to myself: Ross, what are you getting yourself into?

But I like a good challenge, and this will be the most physically demanding one of my life.

And that's good, because I feel that I don't challenge myself enough anymore.

I have to admit, I'm a bit lazy and I like to do what's comfortable, what's familiar. I go to work and perform my job to the best of my ability, meeting my deadlines and getting my projects completed. I come home, tend to my family's needs and see that our house doesn't completely fall apart. I enjoy my photography and my beer, and my writing. I like to travel when I can and relax when all is said and done.

Life for the most part, is fairly routine.

When I run into friends that I haven't seen in a while, and they ask me to tell them what is new in my life, I'm always stumped to come up with something. I think, don't you read my blog? Don't you follow me on Facebook? Don't you read my tweets?

But even if my friends follow me on social media, they don't get the whole picture.

You see, I'm content, but I'm not completely happy. I need a change.

One of the most important principles by which I write on my blog (sort of my prime directive), is that I don't talk about work. Sure, sometimes on Twitter I share certain feelings about deadlines, projects, and people with whom I interact, but I never get into details or name names. I talk about how I have handed off five documents for review in one day, and I feel exhausted, or I'm frustrated by a piece of software that's giving me grief.

Or, how someone I didn't know asked me to make him a cup of coffee.

It's all pretty innocuous. Stuff that almost everybody talks about at any job.

I would never get down on my work, complain about my company, or rat out any of my coworkers. First, I have no reason to do so. My work is fairly routine, my company is solid, and I have a great bunch of colleagues. I'm well-paid and have decent benefits. And that's all I'll say about work.

Except this: I don't want to be there anymore. I want change. I want a new challenge. I don't want to be a technical writer anymore.

I want to keep writing, but I want that writing to change, to be exciting for me. I want to sit down each day, or each week, and say, "What's new?"

If I could find a job that gives me as much joy as writing this blog does, I would take it in a heartbeat.

I know: good jobs for writers are getting harder to find. Still, I hope that there are still some out there.

Apart from soliciting for my book or for trying to get you to try a beer, or for challenging you to identify a part of this city, I don't ask for much. But I'm appealing to you, my readers: if you think you know of a writing gig that would satisfy my need for a new challenge, let me know. I'm great to work with, I'm energetic, I'm full of great ideas, and (if I do say so myself) I'm a pretty decent writer.

(I do photos too.)

I need a change.

Oh, and speaking of challenges, wish me luck this weekend!

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Here's a Little Tip for You

Make no mistake: I'm not a cheap guy.

I firmly believe that when I go into an establishment and receive good service for items such as in a restaurant or pub, or at a hairdressers, that I will reward the person who gave me good service with the gratuity known as a tip.

And I don't do the math when I leave a tip, I calculate what I think is fair, and that amount often reaches 20 percent or more.

When I eat in a moderately priced restaurant, I generally calculate $2-3 per person served. For example, at my family's favourite restaurant, when the bill comes to $35, I add $2 for each of us, which comes to $8. So, at our favourite restaurant, I leave almost a 23-percent tip. If there's an alcoholic beverage, I leave an additional dollar per drink.

At my favourite brew pub, where I am treated like family, I will tip $2-3 per drink; if I have a meal, I leave $10. At a tweetup, $20.

People in the restaurant business work hard, and if the service is good, those people should be supported. Period.

When I get my hair cut, I leave a $5 tip. Depending on where I go, a hair cut costs me between $15 and $20. The only time that I'll do rough math to leave 15 percent is when my cut is not what I asked for, if the barber or stylist doesn't listen to me and snips away as he or she sees fit.

So, I am not unfair when it comes to leaving something extra for these services.

But what I'm seeing more frequently are calls for a tip on wireless point-of-sale (POS) terminals in places where, before the wireless debit/credit machines were widespread, no tip would have been expected or called for.

For example, when I have taken my car in for routine service, say a checkup or an oil change, the price on the bill was the price I've paid. But I've noticed that, with the POS terminals, the program for completing the transaction includes an option to tip.

Since when was tipping required for an oil change? Seriously. There are generally two or three people following a checklist of operations that are required. They do what is required and that's it. That's what the company offers for the price I pay, and the employees will perform exactly the same tasks in the same order, and they'll treat the next patron in exactly the same manner.

Should I give more money on top of the price the company charges (oil changes today are not cheap)? No. When the POS machine asks if a tip will be provided, I press No.

One other place where I pay by credit card for a service is at my massage therapy. I have been seeing the same therapist for more than 10 years and she's awesome. I carry the stresses of day-to-day life in my neck and shoulders, and every six weeks she makes them go away. I also have lower back problems, and she irons them out. Lately, with my cycling, she has found knots in my legs that I didn't even know I've had.

As I said, my massage therapist is awesome.

When I first started seeing her, she worked out of another clinic and I could only pay her by cash or cheque: she didn't accept credit or debit cards. But for the past couple of years, since she started her own clinic, she started accepting plastic payment. At first, it was a fairly straight transaction. But now, her POS terminal is asking for a tip.

The first time I encountered it, I hesitated. This was new.

The cost of my massage appointments aren't cheap. Every year, the fee goes up. In the past 10 years or so, the cost of my appointments has increased by about 50 percent. And now an additional gratuity is being requested by a machine.

I don't know what my massage therapist thinks of me. She has always been kind, has always shown an interest in my family, has shared her family life with me. I have sent her referrals and have recommended her to countless more. I appreciate all that she does for me.

But I don't leave her a tip.

Much like the way I treat technicians at an oil change centre, I feel that the full service is included in the price. If my therapist wants to earn more money, she can increase her fees. Chances are, I won't balk at the hike.

But for me to decide how much more she's worth on a gratuity? I can't. I won't.

And that doesn't mean I'm cheap.

What bothers me is that when I'm faced with a tip request on a POS terminal  and I'm not expecting it, I feel guilty for not leaving a tip. And then I feel resentful that I've been made to feel bad. And it sours my experience at the oil changers, the mechanics, and my massage therapist's clinic.

Where do you think it's fair to ask for a tip on top of a service? Where is it not fair? Do you always tip when the POS machine asks for one? Send me your thoughts on the subject.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Where In Ottawa: The June Edition

On Saturday, The Brown Knowser celebrated it's second anniversary. Time flies: it seems like this blog has been running longer, possibly due to the fact that it's a spin-off from my first blog, Brownfoot Journal. Also, I've been more active in the two years on this blog than I was in the nearly four years that I ran my other blog.

And I want to thank all of you, my readers, for continuing to visit and take an interest in my posts. Though many bloggers say that they write for themselves, I must say that I continue to write here and at Beer O'Clock because of the positive feedback that I get from you. You keep me going.

What better way to start off this blog's third year than with one of my most-popular posts, Where In Ottawa?

If you haven't seen this challenge before, the rules are simple: Below is a photo that I shot somewhere in the Ottawa area, including the Gatineau region. If you think you know the location of the photo, leave your guess in the Comments section of this post. If you're the first person to correctly identify the location, you win.

If the photo alone doesn't help, don't worry: starting tomorrow, I will leave a clue each day at the top of the right-hand column, just above my photo.

Sound good?

There is, however, some fine print:
  • If you were with me when I took this photo, you are ineligible to play.
  • Only guesses that are left in the Comments section of this post will count. I will not respond to e-mail or Facebook messages, nor to tweets.
  • If you have won Where In Ottawa in the past, you can still play but no giveaway will be awarded.
What is the giveaway? A PDF version of my novel, Songsaengnim: A Korea Diary. If you win, I will send you the book as a file, by e-mail.

As the winner, you must provide your e-mail address before the end of the month to claim your prize. Sorry, I'm getting a small backlog of unclaimed books, so if you don't send me your contact information before the start of the next challenge, I'll assume you just wanted to play along but not for the book.

Are you ready for this month's challenge?

Think you know Ottawa? Prove it!

Update: That didn't take long. After only one clue, Where In Ottawa has been solved. The location is, in fact, the Mayfair Theatre on Bank Street, near Sunnyside.

The clue, "Nice place for a picture," didn't refer to the framed brickwork in the facade: I meant picture, as in motion picture.

Congratulations to James Atkins. Good work!

Where In Ottawa returns Monday, July 1. I know, that's Canada Day. Deal with it!