Monday, March 8, 2010


I've made a lot of long car trips over the years with Marc Campbell in Toyota Camrys that were built in the 1980s. I guess I'd never thought about how many Camrys there's been until I recently returned to Edmonton from my little trip to Saskatchewan and I rode with Marc in his grey 1989 Camry four-door sedan. It always attracts attention because Johnny and Josephine, who live on the farm I talked about in the last blog post, painted scenery on it when they were younger. The car has over 400,000 kilometres on the odometer, the clutch slips and it doesn't really want to go over 90 km/h. But it always starts, and it got us home safely.

The first Camry road trip I took with Marc was back in 1991 when we drove accross Newfoundland to compete in the Corner Brook triathlon. Paul Beaumont and Dave O'Neil were also in the car and Marc, having been a math major in university, calculated the greatest fuel efficiency could be achieved by going 78 km/h. We actually had to go even slower when the roof rack, which was built for two bikes but was carrying four, began sliding around at speeds greater than 70.

The next Camry was Marc's 1984 hatchback which he bought when he moved to Calgary. I was living in Calgary then, too, so the car was handy for cross-country ski trips to the mountains. He loaned it to me to drive to a job interview in Medicine Hat, and when I got the job, I bought a 1987 Camry LE sedan. (Marc went on a blind date with the woman who sold it to me.) When I quit the Medicine Hat job two years later to travel to New Zealand, I traded the car to Marc for an airline ticket. I later bought it back from him when I returned to Canada.

Camry trips with Marc are never fast. We trade turns at the wheel every two hours. Sometimes they include Paul Beaumont or Corey Bradley, and sometimes they don`t. Pit stops are leisurely, and excuses to make stops are always welcome.

There`s been a lot of news lately about Toyota`s problems. I guess they just aren`t making them like their Camrys in the 1980s.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Prairie Winters..

At first glance, you might think I've interrupted Johnny in the outhouse. But no, this is his home-built ice-fishing shack!

Johnny is 13 and this week I visited the Saskatchewan farm where he lives with his sister, Josephine, and his parents Tom and Judy. He built the shack and can tow it onto the lake by hand -- note the cross-county skis it's sitting on. There's even a stove on the side for heating water to wash his hands after gutting his catch, or for frying the fish for lunch.

The farm has no electricity so oil lamps are used for light and woodstoves deliver the heat. We used horses to haul deadwood from a poplar grove for firewood. The food we ate was pretty much all grown there. (The mustard was particularly flavourful.)

There's no running water on the farm, and call me soft, but it's tough pulling on boots and a coat to trudge to the outhouse at night in February. There's also no TV so I've missed several days of Olympic coverage.

I'm catching up on my TV watching this week in Prince Albert. Go Canada! (And U.S.A., and New Zealand, and Australia, and Great Britain, and Japan, and the Netherlands, and...)

Monday, February 8, 2010

Home In Edmonton..

Everyone keeps telling me how mild the weather is here. They say it went down to -40 back in December, so the current -7 to - 13 feels warm to them. I just can't believe how cold it is!

I had to borrow a winter coat when I first arrived and the bike I'm riding in the picture is a loaner, too. But I've bought new panniers and retrieved one of my old Nishiki road bikes from a friend's garage and should have it running soon with a studded front tire for winter.

The Nishiki came from the Dumpster behind a popular Edmonton bicycle shop and it's been my summer ride for almost five years. Unlike Darling, which was the bike I lost in an accident in Iran in September (see earlier "Crash" post) this bike has never had a name. I've always just called it "The Summer Hooptie." I think now is the time to shorten that to "Summer." I know this doesn't make a lot of sense considering I'll be using it in winter, but I think I'll keep on the lookout for new winter bike in the coming months.

Darling, by the way, may not actually be dead. Her frame wasn't seriously twisted and the Iranian dentist who hit me with his car thought he might be able to repair her for his young son. In order to claim the bike from the police, though, the officers at the impound lot demanded proof of ownership. Fortunately I had my digital camera with pictures of Darling in England and Canada, and that seemed to satisfy them.

I wish I could have saved Darling myself but I really wasn't in a position to at the time. Who knows? Maybe she'll have another life in Iran.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Flying Pickups..

In one 24-hour period here in Houston, I ate at Burns BBQ, went to a gun exhibition and saw a monster truck show at Reliant Stadium.

Burns is a Houston institution, and it was a long drive even by Texas standards. Barbeque in the south is not the same as what we call barbeque in Canada. Here, it's smoked brisket or ribs served with beans. They call what we do to steaks in our backyards "char-broiling." Burns has a screen door on the front and the menu is written on big sheets of cardboard. It reminded me of what Ches's Fish 'n Chips used to be like in St. John's in the 1970s.

The gun show was in an exhibition hall on the grounds of the now vacant Astrodome. The big -- and pleasant -- surprise for me here was how many exhibitors were selling historic guns. There were Second World War Lugers and Civil War era stuff. The historic sellers also had lots of little derringers, which I suppose come in handy if you cheat at poker. I was also happy that there was only one table selling anti-Obama stickers.

The truck rally was the last event of the day. It was LOUD! Reliant Stadium was built to replace the Astrodome and dwarfs it, yet even in the higher seats, ear protection was a necessity. Fortunately earplugs were available at the concessions stands for a dollar a pack. Beer was an astounding $7.50. Not many people were drinking, though, because most of the fans were there with children under 10.

So that's about it for Houston. Very soon I'll be flying back to Canada. I'm bracing myself for Edmonton in February.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010


If you look closely behind the sign, you can see the wingless fuselage of a jet airplane. I tried to get more of it in the shot, but I was in a serious hurry to get away before the owner came out and pointed one of his microwave weapons at my head. Or worse -- insisted on explaining his theories on how the United Nations wants to force everyone to get an H1N1 vaccine.

Anyway, I'm in Houston staying with my old friend, Harry Wiseman. Coming to Texas at the end of big trips has become a tradition for me. I did it in 1998 when I took an Amtrak here from Los Angeles after riding my bike down the Pacific Coast, and I came again in 2002 at the conclusion of my year abroad in New Zealand and southeast Asia. Harry and I watch TV and go to cheap buffet restaurants together. It's where I decompress.

In Australia, I picked up a battered hardcover copy of Mark Twain's "The Innocents Abroad," which is the account of a cruise Twain took to the Holy Land in 1867. He's awfully whiny throughout most of the journey, making fusses about everything from the poor skills of French barbers to the lack of luxury at Turkish baths. But I stuck with the book because I often felt the same way on the road, particularly when I visited some of the same places in the Middle East.

I read the following passage was while I was in a 747 flying from Sydney to Los Angeles. It's near the end of the book, after Twain and his fellow passengers reached Jerusalem on donkeys and knew they would soon board their steamship, the Quaker City, to return to America. They were relaxing at this point, laying on divans in their hotel and smoking.

"...[I]n time this fatigue will be forgotten; the heat will be forgotten; the thirst, the tiresome volubility of the guide, the persecutions of the beggars -- and then, all that will be left will be pleasant memories of Jerusalem ... memories which some day will become all beautiful when the last annoyance that encumbers them shall have faded out of our minds never again to return."

I wasn't on a donkey in the desert -- I was packed with 15 other passengers in a Toyota van. But some things about travel haven't changed much in 140 years.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Circular Quay 2010..

The best way to enjoy New Year's Eve is to expect to be miserable. That way, if you get home without anyone throwing up on you you're pleasantly surprised.

Take last year as an example. The bar I went to was nearly empty, yet a waitress somehow managed to dump an entire tray of drinks on my new shirt and a drunken cowboy wanted to fight me because his girlfriend kept brushing my leg. Was I bummed? No. At least the cowboy wasn't armed.

So it was with this attitude that my brother, Eric, and I took a bus and then a train into Sydney, staked out a viewing position at Circular Quay near Sydney Opera House, and sat for over six hours on hard stone with 1.6 million other people until the fireworks began at midnight. The garbage bins overflowed by 9 p.m. and there was a half-hour queue for the toilets. But the show was pretty good, and the sick girl on the train waited until she was up the stairs and out of the station before she spewed. All in all, not a bad night.

I don't want to imply that I've never had a good New Year's Eve. I had one once that went so well I was nearly kicked out of a bar for lewd behaviour. There was another where Eric and I went to a party and a friend taught us to juggle. We practiced until dawn before we finally could do it. (Eric still can!)

One of my funniest New Year's memories happened about ten years ago when Eric arrived at a party shortly before I did. He told guests who didn't know me to pretend that they did, and he gave them some details about me so they could pull it off. When I got there, I just assumed I couldn't remember these people and -- because I didn't want them to feel insulted -- faked that I knew them. I didn't learn it was a prank until Eric told me in the taxi on the way home.

I didn't pick up any new skills like juggling while celebrating the arrival of 2010, but at least there were no drunk cowboys. And Sydney will remain significant for me because, by virtue of being the first world city to celebrate New Year's each year, its fireworks always make international TV newscasts. That means wherever I am next year, and every year after, I'll be able to say I was at Circular Quay back in 2010.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Sleds Without Snow..

The Drinkwater brothers' adventure-challenge series continued this week as we moved to Threadbo in Australia's Snowy Mountains. Threadbo is a ski resort that keeps running in summer with hiking trails, downhill mountain biking, a 'bobsled' run and a nine-hole golf course. But since Australians don't go there until after Boxing Day, Eric and I had the place all to ourselves.

This was great on the golf course because it meant we had lots of time to look carefully for snakes before stepping into the rough. And on the bobsled run -- which was an aluminum track that we rode with a wheeled sled -- we could go as fast as we wanted without colliding with cautious Australians. (The Aussies aren't used to crashing tobaggans, so they tended to be a bit slow in the turns.)

The downside to being at an empty resort was that nightlife was somewhat slow. The place was so eerily quiet in the evenings that we were often completely alone walking through the town square. So we watched TV.

On our last evening in Threadbo, we watched a hockey game between Toronto and Buffalo on Fox Sports. Neither of us normally watch hockey, but we enjoyed looking at the ads on the boards at Air Canada Centre for familiar products like Mr. Sub and Tim Hortons. After the game, the "Trailer Park Boys" movie came on. The all-Canadian soundtrack featured Rush, the Tragically Hip, April Wine and Helix, and it made me homesick.

It's been a long trip and some of you have been asking where I'm going next and when I'm coming home. As it stands, I will be returning to Edmonton at the start of February -- as scheduled. But before then, I intend to make a final stop in Houston, Texas.

Houston is where my trips end. I'll tell you why later.