Posts Tagged ‘mountain biking


Back on the mountain bike again and it feels great

Ian back on the bikeIt felt so good to be on the bike again – my real bike, not my daughter’s and definitely not the one that replaced the one that split in two as I was crossing the road last year – that I rode 45km along the Elbe just because.

Tuesday it will be three months since my ski injury, and only three weeks ago the physiotherapist at rehab said to me in a gentle, roundabout kind of way that my goal of getting back on the mountain bike would have to wait.

“I think we all knew that riding again by the end of your time here wasn’t going to be,” she said, “but I think by the end of the year you’ll be ready.”

The end of the year?  Another seven months of taking the bus?  I went home feeling despondent.  I was making progress on getting the knee to bend more and more, so why such a long, drawn-out recovery?  Maybe she was just trying to make sure I wouldn’t get my hopes up too high for a quick return to full range of motion.

By some scheduling quirk they assigned me a different physiotherapist the next week.  She’s no better than the first one, but somehow she stretched me out one day so much, it made all the difference.

That same afternoon – the Friday of week three – I got up on the exercise bike, the real one, the one with the real crank and not the one you adjust shorter for those with limited flexibility – and gave it a turn.  And another.  And another.  I could not believe it.  It felt tight at the top of the circle, but I could do it just fine.  I was so happy, I wanted to scream with joy.  It was like climbing to the top of a ridge when you’re heading for the summit and taking in an incredible view knowing that you’re finally over the first big push.  I clenched my fists, bowed my head,  wanted to scream but couldn’t, so it just happened – a gush of tears.  I could not hold them back.  I was so happy, so incredibly overjoyed at once again proving to myself my leg was going to get better enough to allow me to do this simple task once again.  I tried to hide it by swiping my towel, taking in deep breaths, but it didn’t work.  It was like a release from weeks of frustration and doubt.

I looked over to my right to the desk at the corner of the gym and there she was, the physio who only two hours before had had both my legs stretched out on the table saying, “Gee, you’re really doing this well.”

I wiped off my face and walked over to where she was sitting, leaned over and said as sincerely as I could, “thank you! Thank you!  Thank you!”  She didn’t know what I meant, but I pointed over to the bike and said, “over there, the bike – I can do it!”

I led her over and got back on and showed her, thanked her again, and kept on it for another 20 minutes.

Yesterday, after practising in the  meantime on my daughter’s bike, and the dreaded split-in-two bike, I took out my bike – the one I watched them build from scratch – and took it for a spin.  The right thigh might still resemble a sausage with a slice down one end, but it bends and is getting stronger.  It feels great.


Gran Canaria biking slideshow

It’s been stormy the past couple of days, so the rental mountain bike has been sitting safely underground.  It’s been given a thorough trail test in near-perfect weather over the first 8 days of my two weeks here, so any thoughts of it suddenly splitting in half and sending me tumbling over some of the cliffs I’ve been pedaling along have been cleared aside.  Thankfully, not every bike you get to ride is a piece of crap.  As a little update from home, the store is replacing the frame and wife K has a loaner in the meantime.

The best day was this past Friday, getting out on the road before 7am to arrive at the island’s peak just shy of the 2000-metre level at around 3pm.  Along the way I got a bit lost and so had to head downhill several hundred meters to get on the right road again, so the actual vertical climb was quite a bit more than the 2 kilometers.  I also misjudged the amount of time it would take to let gravity pull the bike back to sea level, returning at 7:30pm long after sundown.  A blinking light back and front was a good precaution along with some warm clothing, because even though it can be close to 30 degrees down on the beaches, up near the top the temperatures plunge and the winds are high.

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My favourite trail from last year is even better.  At least it was last week.  All along the way up I was expecting to be passed by the usual convoy of jeeps laden with the package-tourist daytripper set, tongues clucking and heads wagging as they breeze past imagining the difficulties some people put themselves through.  But two hours up the hill there wasn’t even a single car on the road going either up or down.  The reason became clear after rounding a corner to face a rock slide blocking the road as it runs along a cliff.  I suppose word had already spread and the tourists were on another route somewhere, leaving the whole trail and surrounding countryside all to myself.

I keep hearing the word “dangerous” whenever people find out I’ve been mountain biking alone in the volcanic wilds.  Maybe they’re right, but I don’t know if it’s any worse than lolling around on the beach in the pounding sun for hours at a time amid thousands of others all doing the same thing day after day.  Some of them look seriously in need of hospitalisation.


In love with Gran Canaria

It was my first time on Gran Canaria.   Although I knew it was going to be sunny and warm, ringed with sand and rocky cliffs and gouged with the remnants of volcanic eruptions millions of years ago, I didn’t have any inkling how stunningly beautiful I was going to discover the island to be until I rode a mountain bike one morning from sea level to 1,100 metres.

Away from the coast you slowly climb impossibly narrow and twisting roads to stand facing stark outcroppings of lava weathered to craggy fingers topping massive layers of basalt dozens of metres high.  A turn of the handlebars and you’re following a rocky ledge atop cliffs plunging 500 metres to the valley floor.  Climb a little higher and you enter a pine forest.  You stop for lunch with a view to another island more than 50km away, and suddenly realise the air is so pure, so fresh, you could be miles from anywhere.

And you are, because having left behind the walrus colony of package tourists and leather-tanned pensioners lolling around in their thousands down on the beaches, you’re up in the mountains with nothing to hear beyond the wind sighing in the trees like a distant river.   Once in a while at the very top you’ll get caught in fog, a thick swirling blanket as the rising air chills, but it’s never there for long.   I went up there for six days of biking spread over two weeks, and every day it just got better.  I couldn’t get enough of the landscape.

Every morning I’d wake up expecting my body to tell me to just fall back into bed after the pounding I’d given it – and the bike – the day before, but I just had more energy.  I just had to get back up there to discover something new.

Is it possible to fall in love with a place?  To miss it so much after being away for only a week?  I guess this first time was a short fling and destined to remain a sweet memory, but I’ll be back one day with the family.  They should see this.

Here’s a sample of what I saw in two weeks on Gran Canaria.

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25 things about 25 days in British Columbia

1.  Drinking in the lake water while swimming naked at midnight
2.  Driving straight into a severe lightning- and hailstorm, doing a U-turn on the highway to outpace the hail while having a thunderbolt crash into a light pole right beside us, sending sparks flying in all directions.
3.  Hanging out with old friends Sherry and Dale, Laurie and Dan, Brad, Nando, Dave and Florence
4.  Hanging out with the whole family on a camping trip during a record-breaking heat wave
5.  Climbing the third peak of the Chief with the little red-haired girl

canada bc squamish hiking the chief
6.  Hiking to the Elfin Lakes and swimming midst a backdrop of an extinct volcano, glaciers and mountain heather

canada bc squamish garibaldi elfin lakes
7.  Seeing my mother again and how well she and her grand-daughter got along
8.  Exploring all alone – just the three of us – at the base of Shannon Falls early the first morning getting over jet lag
9.  Taking the stunning, new Peak-to-Peak lift between Whistler and Blackcomb

canada bc whistler peak2peak gondola
10. Paying 18 bucks for a salad on Blackcomb.

11. Falling hopelessly in love at first sight with the sport of kiteboarding.  If I were 30 years younger, I’d be in serious danger of becoming a kiteboarding bum.

canada bc squamish kiteboarding
12. Teaching the little red-haired girl how to dive
13. Diving into the churning waters of a rushing river

canada bc coquihalla river
14. Walking with my two brothers along part of the old Kettle Valley Railway through the four Othello tunnels near Hope, BC

15.  Getting a taste of BC’s most famous herbal remedy for the first time in 15 years
16.  Riding in the back of a pick-up truck on a steep and winding dirt road while an old friend regales us with a shared tale of UBC Rowing team initiation rites
17.  Getting away with K just the two of us for a holiday-within-the-holiday

canada bc squamish river garibaldi brohm ridge
18.  Getting over my fear of long distances by swimming out to an island in the middle of a lake and back – the longest swim I’ve ever done in my life
19.  Mountain biking at Sun Peaks, near Kamloops

canada bc sun peaks mountainbike park

20.  Groggy from a day of mountain biking and not thinking straight, walking through a screen door and utterly destroying it
21.  Eating wild raspberries creekside near McLure, BC in the middle of one of the province’s largest forest fire burn sites
22.  Driving the new Sea-to-Sky highway

canada bc squamish britannia beach sea to sky highway

23.  Two perfect meals at the Pink Pearl, a Vancouver restaurant that brings us straight back to our days in Hong Kong

24.  Aside from the thunderstorm, sunny and warm weather every day except the last

25.  Realising you can come home again, if only for a while

canada bc howe sound britannia beach defence islands anvil island gambier island


Part 9: Despite Disneyfication, Cappadocia is still worth it


Cappadocia is still the fairyland of rock formations you remember it to be, but close up… again, I hate to say it, mass tourism has taken over. Göreme, back then some sleepy little burg like the rest of them, has today been transformed into Backpacker Central, with all manner of hostels, restaurants, bars, travel agencies, trinket and carpet shops.

And although the nearby caves have been restored and designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, by the time we got around to having the time to actually visit them, we decided not to.


I don’t think we missed that much. Streams and streams of tour buses packed into an enormous parking lot, paying an entrance fee and walking around cobblestone paths and, because so many people are crammed onto the site at once, actually having to line up outside each church to get a look inside? I was five years old last time I was at Disneyland. No thanks.

Of course I’d seen the frescoes with you many years ago, and I wanted K. and the little red-haired girl to have a look, but they were as turned off at the idea as I was, so we didn’t bother. Quite frankly I’m beginning to think they should abolish this UNESCO designation altogether if the fame it brings simply makes it one more stopping point on the tour bus trail.

turkey-cappadocia-goreme-love-valley-hiking-trailBut what we missed in the caves we more than made up for on three of the most memorable hikes we’ve ever been on as a family. Slipping down the slope from our pension after breakfast we reached the floor of the Pigeon Valley for a four-km walk to Göreme. In warm sunshine we walked through autumn slashes of birch and poplar against an ever-changing backdrop of waving rock formations and impossibly placed stairways, passages, doors and windows. At one point the path actually led through a tunnel in the cliffs.

We stopped for tea around half way and enjoyed the view to ourselves.


The Love Valley hike was also stunning, though even there we couldn’t escape being reminded that we were never far away from the encroachment of tourism and technology. Munching down a few grapes at a rest stop we sat and watched as a dozen or so Israeli mountain bike riders blasted past. It looked so incongruous.


Imagine travelling far and wide to get to a spot as unique as Cappadocia only to do something you could do anywhere, really. When they get back home, what have they seen? I’ve nothing against mountain biking and have enjoyed it myself, but it’s like travelling to Paris and spending most of your time in the hotel room watching CNN. To each his own, but part of me felt like saying, hey guys: stop and take a look at what you’re going through instead of what’s just beyond your front wheel.


We capped off our Love Valley walk with a fresh-squeezed glass of orange and pomegranate juice from a man we spotted about 15 minutes away.

I know I had plans to poke around Ürgüp and maybe find our old hotel, but as soon as we stepped out of the Dolmus on the afternoon of our fourth day I realised it would be impossible. Trish, you would not recognise Ürgüp in the least. It’s still a provincial Turkish town, but they’ve let growth get out of control to such an extent that many parts have been ruined by some of the ugliest hotels you’ve ever seen. Simply awful structures, built to warehouse the tourists who probably thank God their itinerary calls for only one overnight in the place.


And that central square where we watched hours of folk dancing at a local celebration of the 100th anniversary of the birth of Atatürk, the massive rock outcropping looming up in the background? They’ve besmirched the space by plopping some gaudy excuse for a clock tower off to the side, obliterating the rest by spreading a two-storey shopping mall over the remaining two-thirds of it.

We made up for it by enjoying a long lunch on an outdoor terrace on what’s left of the square at a very good restaurant, but didn’t linger in the town long after.

I was kind of expecting Ürgüp to be a bit of a let-down because I’d read up some more on it and at the last minute decided not to stay there but at Uchisar instead. Uchisar you may recall is at the base of this enormous rock outcropping – what they call a castle – which dominates the whole area. We wanted peace and quiet and a bit of a view, and got more than enough of all three.


Every morning we watched from the breakfast table as no less than 32 hot-air balloons ascended from the valley floor, some wafting quite close to our perch as they drifted to a landing on a flat spot on the other side of town. It’s a huge business when you consider it costs between €100 and €150 for a ride and each balloon can carry between 12 and 20 passengers.

Just down the road from our spot they’ve opened up in the past year a luxury spa and resort hotel with facilities to rival some of the best places we’ve ever stayed at. I’ve enclosed a copy of their promotional CD, which we received as part of an elaborate gift bag we received after walking into the lobby simply to enquire if they had a business card so we could look the place up online later.

turkey-cappadocia-uchisar-stonemasonAt least the investment in new housing, hotels and developments like that one are bringing work to the local craftspeople. We talked to a stonemason who used halting French to explain he was working for the French owner who was planning to turn the old building into a pension. He was using an ancient hand-tool to put the final shape on a building stone made from the same light-beige volcanic material you find everywhere here. Now they’re also using it to carve patterns in the facing stone; the results are quite beautiful in their understated simplicity.


They’re also very careful in Uchisar not to overwhelm the original feel of the place. You can still see the foundations of many places abandoned decades ago, but the newer buildings on top are kept to no more than two storeys as they cascade down the steep valley side. That’s how they’ve laid out at new spa resort, and it blends in very well with the surrounding area.


Part nine of a 10-part series. Part eight: a dive into nostalgia. Part seven: knife fights, confusion and a freezing cold night. Part six: untitled, I suppose. Part five: underneath Istanbul. Part four: the Blue Mosque smells like cheesy feet. Part three: sleepwalking through Turkey. Part two: a look back. Part one: the long letter.

The banner photograph shows the town of Britannia Beach, BC, Canada, where I grew up. It's home. But I don't live there anymore.

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