Gaspé – The Ultimate Cycling Tour

It’s been in the planning stages for months.  I’ve alluded to it in several previous posts.  It’s only just over a month away.  So I think it’s time to elaborate on our plans for our most extensive cycling trip yet – The Grand Gaspé Tour.

This trip is Rich’s brain child.  That’s nothing new, he plans most of our adventures.  But the sheer magnitude of this one makes it unique.

The inspiration is his missed opportunity to take a college graduation trip.  While his friends piled into old cars to cruise the USA, Rich dove right into work at his first job.  It’s a decision he came to regret, and one he expects to rectify with this trip.  Having taken all three of our children on graduation trips when they finished college, now it’s Rich’s turn.

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Our route through Maine, New Brunswick, the Gaspé Peninsula, Quebec City and New Hampshire

Since we are now both retired, we have plenty of time.  Rich took that concept literally and dreamed up a 2-month, 2,000 mile trip through the Canadian Maritimes.  When he proposed it, I jumped right on board.  After all, it combined my passion for fitness and love of travel.

The idea is to take small roads and hug the coastline as closely as possible, taking in the stunning scenery. It must be our Duluth upbringing – we just can’t get enough of coastline and water views.  We will also visit Quebec City for the first time.

For the first week our son, Carl, and my high school friend, Myra, will be cycling with us as we travel up the cost of Maine.  That week is well scripted, with reservations already in place at small motels along the way.  We plan to spend an extra day in Acadia National Park, and reach the border of Canada by the week’s end.

From there on, we’re on our own.  And it’s all virgin territory.  We’ve never cycled with such an open agenda and flexibility before.  We know that if we maintain our normal pace, doing about 60 miles a day, we could complete the route in under 6 weeks, even taking one rest day per week.  But the idea isn’t to just cover the miles.  We have enough extra time to allow spontaneous side trips.  If we like a place, we can stay longer.  If the weather turns rotten, we can wait it out.  Even our end date is loose – we can extend that too, if we choose.

Some of our kids keep wondering just why we’d want to do this.  Who in their right minds would  spend two months on a bicycle with only the contents of their paniers?   WeGaspe Jersey Back just smile and nod, looking forward to the challenge and seeing the countryside up close, at cycling pace.

So come August and September that’s where we’ll be.  On the Grand Gaspé Tour.  You can’t miss us.  We’ll be the ones sporting the lighthouses.

The Second Century

After the cold and wet weekend, it was hard to believe the forecast for a beautiful sunny day on Monday.  Crossing our fingers, my friend Myra and I planned our second annual Century Ride, and were pleased when the weatherman was right for once.

Brimson Century Ride MapOur inaugural 100-mile bike ride last summer was a flat out and back ride on a smooth bike trail.  A good start for novices.  This year we took on a more ambitious route.  We wanted a circle tour with nice scenery, good roads and little traffic.  We quickly settled on the little town of Brimson for our destination, and by manipulating the course with a few detours to add mileage, we finally came up with a good route.  My husband Rich warned that it was too hilly for such a long ride, but that only solidified our determination to stick with the plan.

The good news was that we did most of our hill work at the outset.  Before the sun had an IMG_0114opportunity to heat up the day, we had the bulk of our climbing behind us.  Once inland, we only had rolling hills, and those created more interest than nuisance.  It was a very green route, lined by trees and with little other variation besides the wildflowers blooming on the wayside.  We had hoped to see the numerous lakes that line Pequaywn Lake Road, but they were hidden by those same trees.  However, we did enjoy the unique mailbox that confirmed there must be a lake nearby!

Lunchtime brought us to Brimson, which conveniently happened to be our half-way point.  We didn’t find much evidence of a town, but Hugo’s Bar and General Store provided shade for our picnic as we refueled for the next leg our of ride.

Having attained a nice altitude, our Brimson Century Ride elevationspayback came on our descent into Two Harbors.  It was a straight shot down toward Lake Superior, but it wasn’t as smooth sailing as expected.  We found ourselves pedaling straight into a stiff wind which checked our pace.  I didn’t mind.  It saved wear and tear on my brakes.  On the intermittent uphills Myra admitted to drafting behind me, but somehow I doubt I was much of a windbreak.

We were surprised how quickly the miles mounted up behind us.  Without any major sights to distract us, we took just a few breaks for food and to replenish our water supplies.  Our final rest was a requisite DQ stop in Two Harbors.  After all, what’s the purpose of cycling if we don’t have ice cream?  Heading down the Scenic Highway back to Duluth, we welcomed the slightly cooler breezes delivered by Lake Superior.  By that time we were counting down the miles – not that we were tired or anything…

It felt good to finish, with a great sense of accomplishment.  And we were still smiling!  IMG_0117

Myra, as well as our son Carl, will be joining Rich and me for the first week of our Grand Gaspé Cycling tour later in the summer.  On that trip we will need to push on, day after day, regardless of what the weatherman delivers.  No matter how relentless the hills.  Whatever the road conditions.  I think we can handle it.

Post-race Rehash

A marathon or half marathon takes only a few hours to run, but requires at least two days to dissect and re-live.  Since yesterday’s Garry Bjorklund Half Marathon my son, Erik, and I have been doing just that.  It’s best to have a family member with whom one can share this activity.  It just doesn’t have the same appeal to those who did not participate in the race.

DSC_0041The first rush comes in the finishing chute.  Erik was there waiting for me, and we quickly shared notes on our finishing times.  He clocked a fast 1:33 compared to my 1:52 finish, but we both beat our goal times and shared a common surge of accomplishment.  The cold, foggy, windy day was perfect for running, but did not encourage lingering after the race.  Basking in the afterglow soon cooled to shivering in the wind, so we headed home to continue reviewing the race.

The initial burst of analysis is focused on times.  With the aid of our Garmins GPS watches, we could quickly distill the race down to mile splits and paces.  “Here’s where I slowed down,” and “Look how I picked up my pace at the end” punctuated our detailed view of the data.  Even if we don’t remember the nuances of our progress along the course, aided by technology we could reconstruct the journey.

The instant availability of race results online takes the discussion in a whole new direction.  Suddenly we can see how we stacked up against the whole field of runners, our sex and age classification.  The topic takes on renewed energy, as we then hunt down the results for family, friends and loose acquaintances who ran the race.

IMG_0113 trimmedOnce showered, fed and sporting our new Finisher T-shirts, the intensity of our scrutiny dwindles, and we can even engage in normal conversation.  But fair warning to family members – any comment can readily trigger a return to the race route and a related comment.  Particularly over dinner that evening when congregated with spectators and supporters.

Morning brings the newspaper coverage of the race.  Admittedly it is already dated, and although we rarely read the physical print edition any more, the race requires a purchase.  There is nothing like pouring over the list of finishers in tiny print, checking the times of the top age group runners, and reading the stories of victories and personal experiences.  It not only refuels the post-race frenzy but spawns new ambitions and challenges.  “If only” in this race is converted to “next time.”

Didn’t I tell you I’d be reconsidering a return to the full marathon?  It must be catching.  Erik just signed up for the Twin Cities Marathon.  I think I need more time to rehash that decision before committing.  Maybe next year.

Full or Half Marathon?

There’s a big difference.  After a couple of half marathons back in the early 90s, I went for my first marathon – Grandma’s Marathon.  Once you move up, it’s hard to go back.  Or is it?

IMG_0104There’s no denying that being a marathon runner carries a certain prestige.  It’s a badge of honor we runners love to wear, and after running 15 of them, I feel I’ve earned that right.  It’s such a thrill to walk into the Expo before the race, surrounded by other marathoners, going up to collect my bib.  The energy exuded by the crowd of runners is palpable, and it’s easy to IMG_0109get pumped up about the race.  At that moment, everything seems possible.  I just know I can do it, and it’s going to be a good race.  Bring it on!

Arriving for a half marathon, surrounded by marathoners, it’s hard not to feel like a second class citizen.  I can’t help but experience a tug of envy, wishing I were one of them.  It’s not as if running 13.1 miles is something to sneeze at.  It’s just not a marathon.

But it does have its advantages.  Tomorrow I’m running the Garry Bjorklund Half Marathon, not Grandma’s Marathon.  Were I running the full marathon, I know I’d have had a case of nerves all week.  I’m not conscious of worrying, but more often than not I haven’t felt well leading up to the race.  This week?  No problem.  I barely knew the race was coming up.  If I were running the full marathon, I wouldn’t be blogging right now, I’d be obsessing about what clothes to wear, what the weather will be, and how early to get to the starting line.  Tonight  I’m not too concerned – after all, I will only be out there for a couple of hours at most.  I think I’ll bake a batch of chocolate chip cookies instead of fussing.  To run the full marathon, I would have had to devote hours and hours to training, and would have followed my own tried and true training plan to the letter.  My half marathon training was rather haphazard.  How could it be otherwise, when I took a 500 mile bike trip in the middle of it?  No matter.  I know I’ll finish.  It’s just a matter of how fast.  Or how slow I will be.

I expect to just go out and enjoy myself tomorrow.  It will be fun, and I’ll catch the enthusiasm of the runners and spectators.  Going back is a lot easier.  But I won’t kid myself.  I’ll be thinking about returning to the full marathon as soon as I cross the finish line.

A Dandy Summer Day

Nothing says summer like dandelions. Normally I’m not such a fan. But after waiting so long for summer this year, seeing anything in bloom is rather a thrill. So even though the fish house on Stony Point is a highly popular subject of local photographs, including mine, as I was cycling by I couldn’t resist capturing it surrounded by the brilliant yellow blooms.

Fish house at Stony Point

I’d been taught to look for new and unique angles in my photography class, so I decided to get up close and personal with the dandelions. Lying flat on the grass, nestled into their yellowness I clicked away. Perhaps the resulting image is not all that unique, but the process of capturing it was distinctly satisfying. Stretching out in the sun and peering through the low flowers was the epitome of a summer day. No reason to hurry, no pressing need to move on, I felt as peaceful as the calm water on the other side of the building.

It was that sort of day. Taking advantage of the lack of wind I’d decided to cycle up the Scenic Highway and back again, clinging to the shore, savoring the views and basking in the sunshine. It’s not often that the water is so calm, and the seagulls, birds and mysterious swimming animals seemed to be enjoying it as well. For once I was able to shed my obsession for exercise and cycle for the sheer joy of being out on a beautiful summer day in such idyllic surroundings.

Stony Point shoreline

Even without a “wind off the lake” there were still pockets of Superior-chilled air along the shore. I cycled through a patchwork of warm and cool temperatures. Lake Superior was gently exerting her influence, with reminders of the just how recently the ice retreated from her shorelines.

The spring green color of the newly leafed out trees belied the advanced date in June. The lilacs, apple trees and tulips had suddenly burst into bloom. And for the first time this year it felt like summer. Dandelions and all.

In search of the photo

IMG_1202A while back, my son gently suggested that I change the header picture for my blog.  Apparently, he felt that the outdated scene didn’t really speak to readers as well as a more current seasonal photo would.  I could see his logic, so I’ve since made it a point to update the header with the seasons.  And just to be consistent, I’ve tried to periodically refresh my profile picture as well.IMG_1220

Spring was slow in coming this year, and so was my photo update.  The trees hadn’t leafed out yet, and the scenery around the lake continued to be bleak for so long that I finally dug into some old photos so I could at least retire the one with snow capped rocks.  But that selection didn’t really do much for me, and my to-do list IMG_1214 rotatedincluded finding a replacement.

On a bike ride along the shore this week, I decided to take a detour around Stony Point in search of that photo.  After the interminable wind and heavy clouds of late, it was a pleasure to find calm waters and some sunshine among wispy clouds.  The air still held a chill, but it was IMG_1219peaceful to hear the soft lapping of the water against the rocks and feel some warmth from the sun.  I stopped in several spots for photographs, and ended up with several shots in contention for the header position.  Overachieving is good.  I may need to use some of these runner-up photos in the future.

A boat is coming!

Growing up in Duluth, we could hear the boats tooting from our house.  And the bridge’s unique signal in response.  The incoming ships would sound their horns just about even with our house.  On a nice summer evening, it spawned instant activity – “let’s go see it go through the bridge!”  We’d jump in the car, race the ship down to Canal Park and rush to the pier to watch the huge vessel slide under the bridge.

I had a poster on the dresser next to my bed, with all the smoke stacks of the Great Lakes ore boats.  And my dad, who worked for a mining company, knew many of the ships by sight.  Living in Duluth, shipping season is part of every day life.

Having returned to live in Duluth once again, I still thrill at the sight of the boats on Lake Superior.  I was there on the shore to see the first ship leave port this spring, among the piles of ice that lined the water’s edge.

While I still love to hear the ships tooting, I no longer need to rely on them for my ship arrival and departure information.  With the leap in years between my youth and my return, there has also been a leap in technology.  While there is a wealth of information available on the web, I wanted access to the data any time, anywhere. So I turned to my trusty iPhone and yes, there’s an app for that.

photo 2I’m a visual person, so I tested out several apps that display ships on a map.  I chose the MarineTraffic app for its intuitive visual display and ease of use.  It has different icons for docked and moving ships, displays the direction of travel, and tapping an icon displays a picture of the ship and detailed information about the vessel, its current voyage and last position.  It’s a great way to see what’s coming and going, or to identify a ship out on the lake.

But that still doesn’t tell me when to find the ship under the bridge.  For that I turned to a shipping schedule.  The best source I found for that is the Duluth Shipping News.  They have a web page that lists Arrivals and Departures for Duluth, Superior and Two Harbors.  In addition to estimated ship movement times, it includes what cargo it is loading or discharging, which I find interesting.  To make this easy to access, I created an icon on my iPhone that goes directly to that web page. (Here are step-by-step directions to do that.)

My techie side is happy with my new apps.  And I’m sure they will be very useful.  But if I hear a boat tooting on a nice evening, I may still race it down to the bridge.

To Auld Friends

I looked it up, and I like the definition.  Auld: of long duration.  My college friends – we’re not old, we’ve just known each other for a very long time.

It 75-13 spring UN group trimmedwas 40 years ago, in fact, that we all met at Knox College.  Four years we spent living in close proximity, sharing dorm space, tough classes, crushes, late night popcorn and cafeteria food.  We survived killer tests, romantic crises, music recitals, unsolvable math problems, swimming and track meets, impossible lab assignments, and sorority life.  We were drawn to each other through common values and interests that spawned lasting friendships for the duration of our college years.  And beyond.

A few of us braved a reunion or two over the last 36 years.  It was fun to see the campus again, visit with old profs and meet up with some good friends.  But the nucleus of key people was missing.  Those we really cared about were either not there or our encounters were diluted by the myriad other events going on.  Enter the Knox Mini-Reunion.  Last weekend six of us rendezvoused in the Twin Cities for our own get-together.

It’s amazing how quickly we were able to slip back into familiarity.  One I hadn’t seen since graduation, others were almost that long.  But the foundation of common experiences bridged the years and the intervening periods melted away.  And there was never a shortage of conversation.  We talked our way through a Twins game, a walk around Lake Calhoun, Grand old Day in St. Paul and many meals together.  We even took a private yoga class – not much conversing there, but good bonding.  We’ve all followed different paths since college, but we soon discovered that we are the same people we were then.  And we still have the same common values.

It’s wonderful to be among friends who understand you.  Stories don’t require explanation or background, they “get it.”  It was a rare immersion in friendship that brought us all back to our roots and reminded us of what we gained through college life.  Looking back on photo albums from those days and paging through our year books brought a lot of laughs, sparked memories and stumped us when we couldn’t remember names.  It also reinforced the good times – both then and now.

IMG_0569 trimmedIt was tough bidding goodbye to my friends at the end of the weekend, accomplished only with promises of another such gathering in a few years.  I felt as though I’d been in a time warp for a few days, having focused solely on our little inner circle and letting the world go by without us.  But I felt renewed, refreshed and very fortunate.

Here’s another definition.  Auld Lang Syne: for the sake of old times.  That pretty well sums up our weekend.  Till we meet again, my auld friends!