Give Peace a Chance!
One morning in early February, while listening to my morning news on the bike I caught wind of a big anti-war / anti-nukes demonstration and rally in London. Being of a somewhat spontaneous ilk, and lacking kids or pets to slow us down, in two days Shoko and I were on a flight to the UK.
This was Shoko’s first trip to London and my first time since 1996, but this was business – no time for fun. The purpose of the demo was ‘anti-war’ and there was a hodge-podge of groups there with placards declaring ‘World’s #1 Terrorist’, superimposed on a giant, nasty face of George Bush, ‘No New Nukes’ (referring to Britain’s decision to buy new Tridents from the US), and ‘Freedom for Palestine’.
No tear gas or riot police this time, so can’t make a good story out of it.
Sea to Sky
A couple of years ago my buddy Nigel and I went to the Pink Cow in Tokyo to watch a slideshow of a British guy who had cycled from England to his other home in Japan. We were inspired by the awesome pictures, the motivational talk, and the 10 or so beers we consumed! By the end of the night we (and for this I need to rely on the memory of Nigel, as mine was obliterated) had made a pact to do a Big Trip of our own. Well, to shorten the long story, Nigel did and I sucked out.
But I did want to share a little in the adventure, and with an unfounded suspicion that Nigel himself might suck out along the way, I made plans to meet up with him before he bonked – in Europe and near the beginning of his journey (to Japan, by the way).
I flew to Amsterdam with the…approval of Shoko (I promised her it would be a ‘tough, manly trip’) and spent the first two days cycling around the area and taking advantage of the growing number of friends with guest bedrooms we have in Europe. Thanks to the Kamei family and Michiel and Femke for not making me sleep in a tent.
Then, incredibly, as planned, I met up with Nigel at the tiny train station in the tiny town of Boxmeer in eastern Holland. We chose this place using Google Maps and it actually worked. When I rocked up at the station, there was Nigel, looking perplexedly at his GPS, wondering how on Earth it had taken him over 3 hours to come 30 km. Well, we put that behind us and cycled off towards Switzerland, squeezing in the extremely steep hills of Belgium, the tiny and extremely steep county of Luxembourg, the mercifully flat Mosel and Rhine rivers in Germany, and an unexpected visit to France (we were on the ‘wrong’ side of the river, it seemed). This blog entry tells more of this story.
I have to say that I LOVE European cycling paths. Coming from Singapore, a country where people in cars see target signs on anything with two wheels, this was a dream come true. You can literally cycle anywhere in The Netherlands without ever having to deal with traffic. They even have their own cute little cycling traffic lights!
The campgrounds are another big plus in Europe. No searching for dead twigs on the ground to start that fire; just head down to the restaurant (next to the pool) for a three course meal and a fine selection of wheat beer and local wine. Yes, perhaps sadly (but truly), my best meal in Europe was in a campsite in Germany.
‘Ringers’ from Singapore
As some of you know, our life in Singapore has been totally consumed by dragon boating, and this year we decided to take the show on the road and do one of the many overseas races that the teams here take part in. We decided to join the Japanese team here and go to Okinawa for one of their local ‘Harly’ races. We were the only foreign team in town and were treated royally, with a welcome dinner at the local brewery put on by the mayor, and a camera crew from NHK that followed us around from the airport till the races were over.
Alas, this was definitely not our ‘A’ team, and we didn’t do all that well. Added to the team lineup was the unusual u-turn that this race entails. We are used to going straight in Singapore. Anyway, it was good to get back to Japan and not have to teach English this time!
Living a Nike Commercial
The all-consuming dragon boating took up most of our free time in 2007, but because of this sport Shoko and I both started hitting the gym and beefing up a tad, although in my case my ‘beef’ has just shifted around a bit. It must be the endless summer here, but could also be the incredible opportunities to exercise and do sport here. Singapore probably has a run or triathlon every month of the year; this in a country the size of Toronto. Shoko got a bit insane about running and did a couple of 10k races, as well as a half marathon at the end of the year. That was on top of DB practice 3 or 4 days a week. For the first time in history perhaps, someone has made it a New Year’s resolution to exercise LESS!
The team crossing the finish line first is the Canadian Dragons of Singapore, by the way – a position I’m happy to say is not all that unusual.
Cycling Down Under
Shoko, not having had enough exercise with the half marathon, wanted to do something ‘tough and adventurous’ for this winter’s vacation. Always game for a little pain with my pleasure, I planned a cycling trip to Western Australia. A homecoming for me (I lived there in ’95) and the first time for Shoko, it seemed the perfect idea…until the flies…but we aren’t there quite yet.
We had a good start to the trip, cycling down the beautiful Swan River to Fremantle, then along the Indian Ocean till the cycling path disappeared. For the next few days it was a futile effort to avoid the truck-laden, narrow-shouldered, 110 kph highway. We did what we could and managed a few stretches through a lovely estuary and a couple of ‘scenic drives’ along the coast. As Christmas holidays hit, we entered wine country and then had better choices for roads…but I’m getting ahead of myself. The flies were before the wine country.
I remember these little bastards from my Adelaide – Darwin trip in ’96, but apparently had repressed that memory. All of a sudden, around Busselton, every time we stopped to take a rest or stretch, a swarm of ‘midgies’ attacked the salty bits of our bodies (after riding for any amount of time, this means EVERYWHERE). Luckily they don’t bite, but they totally drive me batty. Shoko didn’t seem to mind them as much, but we were both very glad to find head nets in the camping store that day. For the rest of the ride we looked like hospitality workers that hadn’t read the hairnet instructions properly. We rode into many a town with these stockings on our heads, but thankfully we were in friendly company – Aussies are used to these things (the flies and the retarded headgear) and we never had one person point at us and laugh.
Other than the flies to make a good story, we had Dec 26th. This was the day in which the hottest place on Earth was…you guessed it…Western Australia (45 degrees in the outback and 44 degrees in Perth). It was also the day in when there was ONE SHOP between when we started in the morning at 7:30am in Augusta and where we ended in the evening in Pemberton (see the General Store picture for proof). It was also our longest day – 130 km. It was also the day where we didn’t see a tree high enough to offer any shade the entire day. Riding in that heat is an experience. The usually fun downhills made you feel like someone was blowing a hairdryer in your face, and the uphills were just not nice at all because you knew you’d need some water at the top and you only had one sip per 5 km (our ration once we figured out we might run out). When we finally reached the outskirts of Pemberton (Karri Valley Resort – a place I worked as a bartender and waiter) we felt, and probably looked like, Bugs Bunny dying of thirst in the desert after taking a wrong turn at Albuquerque. We sat by the lake and drank water, Red Bull, Gatorade and ginger beer until we felt human enough to do the 20 km more to the campsite.
Other highlights of the trip include a very happy vegetarian wife, with all the options of great food in Australia; a very happy bathtub-loving wife on our last night at the B&B in Albany; and a very happy kangaroo-searching wife on our 2nd to last day, finally seeing three of them hopping (yes, hopping!) along the road on our way to dinner.
For a fleshed-out version of this trip I’ve got a blog article here.
We have big plans for 2008, which I’m sure will change before I insert the pictures into this file, so I won’t inflict them on you all just now. I’ll be 40 though, so I may be ready for a mid-life crisis…
Hope you all have a wonderful 2008!
Gerry and Shoko