How it all Began
Pretty good, as you see for yourself below. Shoko and I started 2015 under some brilliant Barcelona sunshine, with a burger and a beer on the beach. It could very easily have gone all downhill from there, but our luck held out and it was a pretty darn good year in the end.
An Unwelcome Trip Home
When you have lived overseas for over 20 years you will be making some unpleasant trips back to the homeland once in a while. Luckily for me this has been rare, but this winter I was forced to pack my bag because my step-father, Tom, had passed away suddenly. Tom was simply too healthy to die, so even though he was nearly 90, most of us thought he’d outlive us all.
It was a hard time for my mom (and still is, I’m sure) and his two sons, but I hate to say it – it was a great chance to see long lost family.
I’ll miss Tom, too. We had a whole host of things in common, and he was the one who introduced me to my coach – and his son – Rob.
Shoko graduated from the Ecole des Beaux Arts de Nîmes with a Masters degree (‘avec felicitations’ no less!) this year. Because you apparently can’t just graduate from art school and get a job as an artist, she somehow wrangled a 6th year out of her school and is still, more or less, a student.
In September she left me for the potato fields and grey skies of northern France, to do a ‘residence’ at Le Fresnoy, the National Studio of Contemporary Art, which was an excellent opportunity to get some exposure to high-quality art, in particular video, which is what she works in.
She’s back in the south with me now, with less intellectual stimulation, but a lot more sun.
The Year in Beer
I lost my Social Insurance Card a decade ago, but I don’t need a number to tell me I’m Canadian – I love beer. I sometimes love it a bit too much, but those days are thankfully (for everyone involved) getting fewer and farther between. These days I just love one beer at a time mostly.
Below is a collection of some memorable brews from this year. From top left we have a couple of Belgian classics, drunk on a sunny balcony in Saint Tropez in the spring; next is a local Burgundy beer (yes, I followed that up with wine) while Shoko and I were near Dijon; top right is a wall of beer, and only beer, in the hipster neighborhood of La Croix-Rousse in Lyon; middle left is a big Konig that, along with the giant burger which came with it, nearly knocked me out for the afternoon one day in Spain; to the right is not a Paulaner, but a homebrew of my cycling buddy, Eric; bottom left is an anti-Nazi Catalan beer, drunk in my new favorite city – Girona; right is a pint in The Moose Canadian Pub in Paris, watching the Tour de France on TV (no, it doesn’t get much better than that, if you’re wondering); and finally a beer brewed in our local mountains – Les Cévennes, complete with Robert Louis Stevenson and his donkey Modestine on the label.
Is it just me or are you getting thirsty, too?
Like the past half decade or so, most of my waking hours this year have been consumed by le vélo. I’m riding 4-6 days a week on average, and my bike tour company is growing by little leaps and tiny bounds, which keeps me on the road with clients from March to October.
This year’s big racing objective was Haute Route Alps, the self-proclaimed ‘Toughest and Highest Cyclosportive in the World’. I’m sure there are harder things to do on a bike, but 7 days of endless Alpine passes has to be up there. This was my 2nd time doing this event and I got my 47 year old butt to the finish line in 168th place out of around 600 who started. A satisfactory result, but not as nice as my 125th in 2013. I blame it on everyone else, who seemed to be skinnier, faster and younger than me this time around.
Apart from Haute Route, I rode all over the south of France, especially in my backyards: the Cévennes mountains and Provence. I traveled to the French Alps several times to climb and do tours, and did a solo ‘training camp’ in the Italian Alps to prep for Haute Route. John and I (my partner in the cycling business) went to Mallorca and Girona, Spain, for ‘business trips’ to research future tours. My Strava page tells me that I’ve spent nearly 500 hours on the bike this year, which is around sixty 8-hour days. Strangely, it’s doesn’t feel like work.
Friends, New and Old
Through 44-5 (my bike company) I met hundreds of great new people this year, as well as plenty of unintentional meetings, too, like the Italian driver of the car I hit descending the aptly-named Colle dei Morti (mountain of the dead), or the goat called Johnny, who gave my clients a show of his sexual prowess while visiting a cheese farm (if you don’t know how goats get it on, mix yourself a stiff drink before you Google it).
But I met normal people under normal circumstances, as well. Below, from right to left, is John, my partner in crime in the cycling business; Greg, a friendly Oregonian living in St. Remy de Provence; Julie Mautner of Provence Post fame; and Chef Jon, a fellow tour operator.
A regular character in these parts now, Suze visited Shoko and I this spring while doing her annual solo cycling pilgrimage to the south of France.
And finally, someone who came to France to rub in how old we’re getting. This is Tess, the daughter of my best friend when I lived in Japan. I met her when she was 4 years old. As you can see, she isn’t anymore.
She only visited us for a short time, but it was a joy to see how wonderfully she turned out; unsurprising given her excellent parents, but joyful nonetheless.
Shoko and I are in Rome right now, which will either you inspire you or crush you with its preposterous amount of ancient awesomeness. I’m fighting the weight of the latter with wine and feeling at least a little optimistic about the future.
We feel like 2016 could be a turning point for us because Shoko will finally stop being a student and there may be a move depending on what direction she goes in. On my side, despite the affects of the Paris attacks in November, the tour company is seeing a big jump in growth for the next season already. We’re not confident enough to talk about a ‘breakthrough year’ yet, but it’s heading in the right direction.
I’ll leave you with well wishes from Rome. Hope 2016 brings you everything you wish for, or deserve, whichever is better!
P.S. No tourists were hurt during the making of this double selfie.