Friday, September 25, 2015

Flinders - 38° 16' 55"S 145° 9' 49" E

Flinders at its springtime best. Sparkling ocean, blossoms in the orchards, vines and flowers budding and the paddocks green. The local shops and cafes are starting to buzz with tourists and weekenders ... even a koala has taken up residence in a gum tree on the main drag of the town to add to the attractions.

For Kate, this is back home.  For me, this is a place where curtains of normality shroud the occasional surprise.  Looking carefully at a pastoral scene of horses and cows grazing reveals a kangaroo.  While watching traffic whiz by, I'm sometimes startled by their seemingly driverless state, with a passenger sitting in the car holding a steering wheel.  Chopping wood reveals a small, innocuous-looking spider that I pay next-to-no attention to.  My twelve-year-old nephew says in his thick aussie accent, " Careful - that's a Redback!" (which, it turns out, is one of the more deadly native spiders).

Gabby and Graham's home
Yet I, too, have history here.  We've landed at Graham and Gabby's lovely, valley-facing home for this visit.   I'm reacquainting with my rellies-in-law and catching up with friends.  My original road bike sits waiting in my mother-in-law's shed for me, just down the road.  My guitar has made its way over on a previous trip and makes for a good distraction when we have a few spare minutes around the house.  I know where the tea is in the cupboard, we have a guest room set aside for us, we know the rhythms and routines of the residents of the house.

This stay is long enough for us to want to set up some routines.  We want to get out on our bikes and get into the pool.  We want to be able to do attend some kid-focused events (birthday parties, school concerts) that we normally only read about, post-event, in an e-mail.  We want to be part of the plan when friends are planning invites for a dinner party.  I'm getting a state drivers license today.  We have the 'loyalty' card for the local supermarket.  Graham has generously loaned us (for five months!) his Ute, which is tremendously handy when you are staying on a farm.

We are happily settling in to life back in Australia.  Now, to complicate things, someone has offered us flights to Thailand and accommodation to help him tinker with his 47 foot Beneteau.  What would you do?

A slab of VB on the tray of my ute.  Its a local thing.
Koala in the tree along the main street of Flinders

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Canberra - 35° 18' 26" S 149° 7' 27" E

Graham and Gabby have met us in Canberra.  We are staying with them in their caravan on the edge of town and using it as a base to explore Australia's capital city.  All is neat and orderly here.  The streets are well laid out and signed.  A man-made lake is at the center of the city and provides a view to many of the major institutes in town.  We've come at a good time, too.  Floriade is an annual floral display and festival that happens on the lake.  We've decided to take it in and pick the nicest of the days to wander around.  Lots of colour, lots of prams, lots of grey hair, lots of school uniforms are wandering around the showgrounds.

Graham at the National Museum
We take in the War Memorial (which builds up our knowledge after visiting Gallipoli) and spend all day wandering around the displays.  The next day we go to the Parliament Buildings and find more than a few hours of interesting displays.  Australia owns a hand-transcribed copy of the Magna Carta (dated from 1297!) that is on display in the main building.  We looked into the chambers of the lower house and the senate chambers by tagging onto a tour that was making its way through.  I found it fascinating discovering the differences between the Canadian and Australian systems of government.

Friends are already emerging from Kate's past.  We were contacted by Hilary and Andrew, who invited us over for an evening to visit and catch up.  We had a look at suburban Canberra life - their lovely home, their two pre-teen daughters, their stories of comings and goings.  Evenings were spent back at the caravan park, catching up with my grey nomad parents-in-law, trading jokes, stories and sharing evening meals.

As the weather in Canberra was sunny but refused to warm up (or let up the easterly winds), we decided to pull up stumps and head back towards Flinders.

Sean, observing some of the locals


Paintings of Prime Ministers at the House of Parliament

Caravan Life
Evening stop at a roadside pullout

Friday, September 18, 2015

Wentworth Falls - 33° 41' 56" S 150° 23' 26" E

The perfect place to recuperate from the long flight and the dull, drizzly weather made lazing in front of the fire a valid pastime. In the stunning Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area, the  scenery is gorgeous, despite the mist and rain. We hiked the National Pass Trail which zig zags down a waterfall, edges around the cliff face and climbs back up to the top of the escarpment.

And standing at Echo Point, the sun shone on the Three Sisters just long enough for the perfect snap.

Foggy day in Katoomba
A bit of sun on the Three Sisters

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Gladstone Road - 51° 03' 15" N 114° 05' 32" W

Phew. We did it.

We are now homeless ... homeless, but with resources! All our properties are rented, including one with all our furniture. A supersized Tetris game saw all our toys stacked into our storage locker. The tandem is snugly housed with a BMW and a couple of Mercs as garage mates and our road bikes are feeling quite at home in a garage on Broadview Road. Our pantry Tupperware is off to enjoy a season at Fernie while our clothes and Sean's guitars are living it up in Cochrane.   And we have stashed a couple of overnight bags along with the "OMG how did we forget this cupboard" boxes.  Huge thanks to Adrienne, Karen and Jeff and The Pettigrews for agreeing to allow us to clutter your homes. A thanks to everyone who offered beds, box storage, offers of dinner and fed us wine before we skipped town.

So here we are on our last evening in Calgary. To become a fully fledged Canadian, I still need to swear allegiance to The Queen (yeah, yeah, I know) but have not yet been notified of the date. So I will pop back aaallll the way from wherever for this momentous event.

Oh, and we put in an offer on a condo in Canmore - we found some spare time. It was either that, or adopt a baby....

Monday, September 7, 2015

Edmonton - 53° 32' 30" N 113° 29' 20" W

The end of the tour, and wasn't it fun.  We had all kinds of weather - mud, snow, rain, cold, glorious sun (for the Jasper stage), wind and now a moderate, almost-autumn day in Edmonton.
The Tour of Alberta finishes with an eleven-lap circuit that climbs into and out of the river valley, winds through downtown and past the Greyhound bus station, where I am marshaling and have my backpack handcuffed to a safety rail (courtesy the policeman stationed here with me).  Kate is at the other end of the block at a corner, within whistling distance.  It's very handy for me, as she has a better sightline for the oncoming entourage.

Sean's bag will be safe while he marshals,
courtesy of the city cop he is working with
The cyclists do their thing, Kate and I direct the peloton through and keep the dumb-dumb spectators and random street people from accidentally wandering onto the course, then retire back to the festival at the city centre.  The Tour has housed us at the downtown Westin and we somehow ended up with a top floor room with a southern view, overlooking the river valley and the better parts of Edmonton, a city renowned for its potholes.
Roger, Wendy and Cheryl - fellow marshals
As the race ended on the last day of a long weekend and finished after 4 pm, the tour organizers kindly put us up for that evening, allowing us to start our journeys home the next day after a good sleep on 600-thread-count sheets.  This year we marshaled with our friends, Barry and Cheryl, a retired couple in their late sixties whom we hope to emulate as we get older.  They cycle and hike all summer,  snowshoe all winter, drink lots of wine and have great stories of traveling the world.  We also met and trained some first timers, Roger and Wendy, and got to meet a very competent team captain, Wade, whom we hope to work with for many tours to come.  

We carpooled back to Calgary with Cheryl and Barry and had great conversation the whole way, talking about upcoming adventures that both couples were having. 

Marshals on the way to their next drop
The peloton climbing Victoria Park Road

Marshal Team 5 and our van, 2015

September 11, 2015 - Four days after getting back, we received an e-mail from Cheryl, letting us know that she and Barry had been out for a bike ride two days ago and Barry had suffered a massive heart attack and had passed away.  We were both shaken and shocked ... but especially saddened - yes for Barry, who had passed away quickly, doing something he loved - but even more for Cheryl, who had lost her playmate and best friend.  It punctuated our resolve to spend time together, doing what we love and building up some really, really great stories.

Farewell Barry.  Thanks for sharing your joie de vivre with us.


Barry, out having adventures.  We'll miss you.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Edson - 53° 34' 36" N 116° 26' 46" W

An early start today to get into Grande Cache and out to our drops. We had over 70km of the course - no corners, all just logging roads and camp grounds. But it did mean long drop times, in the cold and snow!

My drop was of a small forestry road in a research area. The area of research is lichen and how it is affected by different logging densities.  This is important because the woodland caribou eat lichen though the winter - that on the ground until it is covered by snow, then that on the trees.  I know all this because there was a sign, a little weathered and worn, but obviously, still most informative.

I had plenty of time to read and make a snowman marshal. Otherwise, it was silent, nothing but nature. Just the honking of the Canada geese flying overhead (disconcertingly flying north!), the plonking of the snow off the trees and caribou crossing the road.

As the peloton passed, several water bottles landed at my feet. I called out thank you and a rider called back 'no, thank you! You have a beautiful country'. Cool!!

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Grande Prairie - 55° 11' 13" N 118° 48' 13" W

Adventures can sometimes mean going places you never intended to go.  Last year, we discovered a new source for adventure - The Tour of Alberta.  On a whim, I decided that seeing a cycing race close up would be entertaining and knew from my swimming days that being behind the scenes at major sporting events is a large amount of fun.  The Tour of Alberta is a major cycling event that draws teams from the international circuit to come to Alberta and race for hundreds of thousands in prize money.  Riders that have raced in the Tour de France, Giro de Italia and other world-class grand tours will come to our little corner of the world and entertain the locals.

Two years ago, the Tour came within 100 metres of our house and so Kate and I looked into volunteering for the event.  Last year, we signed up to volunteer as course marshals, which meant giving direction to the cyclists, support vehicles and media entourage as they make their way along the course.  We were there the day before the first stage and found out they were short of traveling course marshals - those that go from town to town for the duration of the six-day event.  We cleared our calendars for the week and off we went ... to visit small farming communities, hang out with the camera crew, motorbike riders, police, mechanics and others that make up the 600+ staff and volunteers that make the race possible.

Each morning has a festival where the riders and teams check in, local politicians make speeches, local businesses set up tents and displays and the whole own seems to come out to see what all the noise is about.  We arrive (there are five teams of seven marshals), get our drops (places where we will be standing to direct the caravan) assigned, then plan a strategy to be in place while the caravan goes by, then pick up the team in the van, then race ahead of the caravan on back or side roads to get in place for the next assigned drops.

This year, I was the designated van driver.  I got to be the first person the caravan passed when they went through our marshaling team's area.  I would be in place, getting them safely past an obstacle or through an intersection.  I would then jump in the van that was parked nearby and drive right behind the police, medical and official team cars at the back of the caravan, picking up my team members as we went past.  Then, I got to drive as fast as the van could go to the next marshaling area.  All this on closed courses, with police happily waving me through.  The highlight of this was a 150 km/hour run between Hinton and Jasper with a 12-motorcycle-strong and 10-police-car motorcade ... with me at the front!  Two of the motos would rush ahead when an intersection came up and ensure it was safe for us all to zip through! 

Being part of the circus as it goes through is just as much fun as it sounds like.  And we get to visit all sorts of places that we might never have chosen to go if we weren't part of the tour.  Beaverlodge, Alberta anyone?