Good Weather, More Distance

If there is one thing I’ve learned as I’ve been training for the 75km Ride for Heart — it has been that the weather is something you just have to contend with and that good weather will just mean you tackle more distance.

Don’t get me wrong — good weather doesn’t necessarily equate to more comfortable conditions. When it’s too warm or too breezy — it can actually slow me down or I end up getting sneezing fits from all the allergens in the air. Ah, spring time…

So this Victoria Day long weekend, we set forth on yet another training ride — this time while dealing with the insane amount of traffic on the Waterfront Trail in Toronto. It was as if all of Toronto decided to come outside. Particularly at the ferry over to Centre Island — good grief the line up was crazy. Granted, I can totally see why … it was sunny and warm all weekend. Not hot, just warm enough. I saw and smelled barbeque everywhere — ice cream trucks spaced out perfectly amongst the waterfront — ready for anyone’s frozen treat-craving to kick in.

We weren’t really sure how much distance we covered but upon calculating it this time around … it seems we unknowingly went over 50km. Can’t really be absolutely sure by how much but it is reassuring that we may actually have made it over 60km! My quads were feeling the pressure from the workout but they definitely could have gone for more, but since we thought we had made it over 50km — we figured it was good enough.

One more week of training before the big day arrives. Weird how it arrived so quickly.

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Quick Update (practically July 2016)

I haven’t disappeared.  Still working on writing out my experiences earlier this year — a sort of catch up.

That said, there have been some changes in my life — notably that:

  • After eight years of working at a national not-for-profit organization, I’ve moved on to a new job.  Don’t worry, still exploring life and data.
     
  • I no longer have the flexibility and the resources to tackle the remainder of the Bruce Trail at this time — so my friends are going to continue it with out me.  Part of me is saddened by this reality as I really wanted to finish it but there’s no way around this for now.  I hope to continue and finish it in the future.
     
  • With the change in resources and budget, I’m now directing more attention to exploring with the bicycle — I haven’t decided yet how to integrate that into this website yet so it currently sits on a separate website here.

Some upcoming stuff or longer-term goals:

  • I’ll be taking a few fun road trips locally and through the north-eastern US.  One of my goals is to do some hiking in Acadia National Park in August.  I know, it is tourist season but I had planned the trip when I was in my old job.
     
  • The cycling is tied to my goal of tackling the 500km Greenbelt Route here in Ontario next year.  Probably around the summer or autumn of 2017.
     
  • I really am enjoying cloudspotting so I’m probably going to delve further into that at some point but I’m not sure what to do as of yet.

Thanks again for visiting and stay tuned for more — feel free to reach out on Instagram where I’m probably the most active.

If you have questions for me, feel free to ask.

Postponing Rides due to Weather Conditions

I am typically keen on riding my bike regardless of conditions although a past wipe out incident back when I was in university curbed my enthusiasm a bit.

So when I saw the weather conditions for the Sunday — my friend and I decided that it really wasn’t worth getting wet and frozen for a 50km training ride.

Hopefully the weather will be better this upcoming Victoria Day long weekend.

Unfriendly weather conditions
Unfriendly weather conditions

So what’d I do instead?  I began reading up on touring bikes.  It is really interesting the different takes and thoughts on touring.  I have some folks telling me that it’d be hard on a mountain bike and so I should spend the money to buy a new bike — while others just suggest doing it on a modified mountain bike.

One thing that I think I’ll definitely need to assess is whether I should change up my tires from the mountain bike knobby tires to something more road friendly (and still handle some gravel).

Some good food for thought from these folks:

Some tune-ups, upgrades, and another 50km ride

The last weekend, I had enough of leaning my bicycle against everything.  I wanted a kickstand.

Safe-T-Salt can be useful at times...at propping up a bike.
Safe-T-Salt can be useful at times…at propping up a bike.

I also noticed that the bike was making some really squeaky noises as I was peddling — I figured it had to be the chain.  It needed some TLC, so I took a stroll down to the Trek store near Yonge and Eglinton and picked up the kickstand and a bottle of chain lube.

Ideally, I would have picked up stuff from MEC but it was too far out of the way for me and I didn’t have any time to spare before the weekend.  It was a busy busy week.  Have I mentioned that I was about to change jobs after nearly 8 years?  Well, now I have.

Anyhow, setting up the kickstand was a bit of a pain.  Instructions were pretty hard to interpret and it didn’t help that whoever put the price tag on the package, decided to place the sticker right on the instructions (which were on the plastic packaging of the kickstand).  It more or less felt like I was trying to piece together a puzzle but I figured it out eventually.

The good news about all of this is that despite the effort, I gained a sense of pride in figuring this out on my own.  That said, I still don’t see why they could not have improved the user experience and instructions.

Next up was to apply the chain lube.  It grabbed an old rag and started cleaning the chain by winding the pedals backward — just as I was taught in the MEC class!  Pretty amazing to see all the grime and dirt come off of the chain but I got pretty tired of dealing with it after spending 10 minutes winding the chain and still seeing tons of dirt and grime show up on the rag.  Then I applied the chain lube and wiped the excess off.

It was pretty amazing to ride my bike and immediately feel the difference.  Last week, I could hear my bike squeaking.  As my friend phrased with respect to her bike after a major tune-up, it was like butter — super smooth.

So that was Saturday.  Sunday was an attempt to tackle 50km on the East Don Parkland.  Just like last time with some solid hills to climb up.

We were ready for this round but unfortunately the weather ended up surprising us.  While the weather reports were informing us that there’d be less than 1mm of rain that day (40% probability of precipitation) — my friend and I ended up in the middle of a thunderstorm and multiple showers!

Thank goodness the trail we were on run underneath bridges such as these.  They saved us numerous times from hail as well as pouring rain.

Bridges like these saved us from hail
Bridges like these saved us from hail
Saved from the thunderstorm by this bridge
Saved from the thunderstorm by this bridge

We managed to get in about 35km despite the crazy weather and since it was Mother’s Day — there were important plans for the remainder of the day.

Climbing Kilimanjaro – Lemosho Trek Day 8

It felt weird waking up today on January 2nd, 2016. Not only was I now officially in the New Year (the past couple of days just felt like one very long day) — the realization that I had completed one of my goals that I had set out to tackle two years ago was just dawning on me.  I was too exhausted and tired from the summit hike to really think about it. It all felt bittersweet to me as I reminisced fondly of the days that we had spent on Kilimanjaro.  I loved waking up seeing the snow-capped summit and today would be my last day on this beautiful mountain.

It felt weird waking up today on January 2nd, 2016. Not only was I now officially in the New Year (the past couple of days just felt like one very long day) — the realization that I had completed one of my goals that I had set out to tackle two years ago was just dawning on me.  I was too exhausted and tired from the summit hike to really think about it. It all felt bittersweet to me as I reminisced fondly of the days that we had spent on Kilimanjaro.  I loved waking up seeing the snow-capped summit and today would be my last day on this beautiful mountain.

Waking up to our final view of the summit at Millennium Camp. It was nice to see green again too. Waking up to our final view of the summit at Millennium Camp. It was nice to see green again too. After breakfast and sorting out the details concerning tips -- we were privileged to a participate in a thank you ceremony with the porters and guides. After breakfast and sorting out the details concerning tips — we were privileged to a participate in a thank you ceremony with the porters and guides.

The descent back to an elevation where there were trees made for a great setting to enjoy our final breakfast of this trek.  They were also a reminder that we were breathing much easier than before.  We could move around without feeling shortness of breath — one might even notice that there was a hop and skip in between when everyone walked around now.

Breakfast was excellent as I had the opportunity to enjoy more chapati pancakes (I still have a craving for them).  All of us hikers got to sorting out our tipping for the porters and guides and once that was settled with the chief mountain guide and everything was calculated out — we stepped out of the mess tent to meet with all of our porters and guides.  Here, for full transparency — the dollar value of all the tips were announced based on the role that each person had on the team.  I was happy to see that as the tips were being declared — all of the porters and guides were all smiles.  I had read that much of the livelihood of the porters and their families are heavily dependent on tipping.  It is unfortunate that this is the case and I hope that in the future — some sort of living wage or salary is simply built into the cost of a trek.

The tipping ceremony eventually lead to the overall farewell ceremony.  Mweka camp would be the last time we would see all of the porters.  They would descend the mountain faster than us and then take a separate van home.

The ceremony started with a number of the porters and guides singing local traditional songs and eventually lead to the famous Kilimanjaro Song.  It wasn’t just our group so we’d hear voice and song across the camp.  It was pretty amazing.  Even after hearing the Kilimanjaro Song over and over again, I didn’t get sick of it.  Search for it on Google and you’ll find plenty of YouTube videos.

Jambo! Jambo bwana!
Habari gani? Mzuri sana!
Wageni, mwakaribishwa!
Kilimanjaro? Hakuna matata!

Tembea pole pole. Hakuna matata!
Utafika salama. Hakuna matata!
Kunywa maji mengi. Hakuna matata!

Kilimanjaro, Kilimanjaro,
Kilimanjaro, mlima mrefu sana.

Na Mawenzi, na Mawenzi,
Na Mawenzi, mlima mrefu sana.

Ewe nyoka, ewe nyoka!
Ewe nyoka, mbona waninzunguka.

Wanizunguka, wanizunguka
Wanizunguka wataka kunila nyama

After we said our farewells to each and every porter, we parted ways and set off on the last stretch of this journey.

As we make our way down Kilimanjaro, we begin to see and enjoy views of the tree canopy of the rain forest. As we make our way down Kilimanjaro, we begin to see and enjoy views of the tree canopy of the rain forest. Another look off to the side of the trail. Another look off to the side of the trail. The trail is quite steep along the way down is covered with loose rocks and gravel. The trail is quite steep along the way down is covered with loose rocks and gravel.

The descent was long and steep.  Some parts of the trail were full of loose gravel and it made it very slippery at times.  I would highly recommend that everyone make use of trekking poles on the descent.  It saves your knees from all the impact, reduces the energy your legs consume to slow yourself down, and helps stabilize yourself on the way down — which is very important because after a very long descent, your ability to maintain stability and balance diminishes.

The important thing is not to feel rushed.  I think members of my group felt like they had to keep up with the rest of the group but it is crucial to pace yourself.  Descents often stress people out and many find it more challenging than climbing up (myself included) so moving faster doesn’t actually help.  Besides, I really enjoyed the earlier areas of the descent when we were just reaching the alpine forest area.  The trees and the greens seem to always have so much character.

Descending from the higher elevation alpine forest. Descending from the higher elevation alpine forest. Taking a break after hiking down countless steps. Taking a break after hiking down countless steps.

The trekking poles really come in handy later into the descent.  When we eventually make our way into the rain forest — the trail is actually quite nice, but unfortunately it is made up of countless number of steps.  It is literally like walking down a never-ending staircase.  At some point, I tried counting the number of steps but lost count because I eventually got bored.  I also think at this point, most people just wanted to get back to the lodge and have a shower — something we haven’t had for the past 7 days!

After we make it to the end of the stairs — we arrive at the furthest point of the trail where supply trucks or ambulances can drive up to in the rain forest before everything has to be carried up or down by porters.  Alas, we still had a ways to go.

We finally make it to the furthest point where an ambulance or truck can drive up into the rain forest area. We finally make it to the furthest point where an ambulance or truck can drive up into the rain forest area. Spotting a glimpse of civilization ahead. Spotting a glimpse of civilization ahead. Finally arriving at the site of the Mweka Gate.  This is it, we're practically finished! Finally arriving at the site of the Mweka Gate.  This is it, we’re practically finished!

I think by the time we were just walking on a dirt road towards Mweka Gate — no one was really talking anymore.  Everyone was tired.  I guess it didn’t help that with the descent, we also were returning to a warmer and more humid climate which zapped a lot of energy out of many of us.  Once we spotted the vans and buses carrying trekkers away though, it was as if everyone had a final burst of energy!  We powered our way to the end.

Of course there needs to be some token photograph of signage at the end.  This time, I definitely didn’t care enough to take a photograph with the sign so I simply just snapped a picture of it with everyone around.  It was a busy place with everyone happily (but wearily) having their photograph taken.

Where our trail finally ends.  Way too many people are trying to take photos so I just end up photographing them. Where our trail finally ends.  Way too many people are trying to take photos so I just end up photographing them. Some groups preparing to leave while others just arriving to sign into the last ranger's office.  We sat down afterwards for a last lunch. Some groups preparing to leave while others just arriving to sign into the last ranger’s office.  We sat down afterwards for a last lunch.

After taking care of that photograph, we made our way to the ranger’s station to leave our final signature.  It was a long line up and my knees were aching from the descent.  It was past noon and we had a long drive back to the lodge — but before we would depart, we’d have a last lunch with our guides.  It was good to have a hot lunch in the sun.  Some folks in the group ordered beer while others like myself just settled for a warm soda.  It felt like it had been decades since I last had a soda.

A local joint we stopped at to taste test some mbege (banana beer). A local joint we stopped at to taste test some mbege (banana beer).

On the way back to the lodge, our guides who had spoken with us about the local Chaga people and the local drink mbege, took us to a local bar or restaurant to celebrate our accomplishment with a drink.  Mbege is referred to as banana beer because it is made from a type of banana and is often consumed in groups.  Apparently, everyone would share a container full of mbege (imagine a large yogurt-sized container) and each person would drink from it and pass it on to the next.  It was amusing to watch everyone’s faces as they drank it.  Some people said that it was very sweet — I thought it tasted just like beer with a hint of banana to it.  I definitely couldn’t consume much of it but I think even the hardiest of people in the group mentioned that it had gotten pretty quickly to their head a little.

It was a long drive back to the lodge and everyone carried smiles or a peaceful look on their face.  I thought it was pretty awesome that we had all made it to the summit and even more fascinating to me — how we all came together from different parts of the world to tackle Kilimanjaro, for completely different reasons. I was happy to have accomplished what I had set out to do two years ago when I started hiking the Bruce Trail — and to have had the opportunity to do this with people who were complete strangers to me in the beginning, and all of whom I consider a friend at the end.  Was it harder than I thought it’d be?  Yes.  Much of it was psychological.  I’ll discuss this in another time.

Most importantly, this whole journey would not have been possible without the mountain guides and porters.  I am forever grateful to them for their support.  Simply put, their spirit inspires me.