Empty Days

Monday, August 23, 2004

White nights.

No sleep tonight, it would seem. In the dead of the night I decided to learn how to true a wheel... Bad idea. Ken Kifer offers helpful advice but my rear wheel is so terrifically wobbly I feel overwhelmed by the prospect of tightening so many spokes - especially since i am not at all sure I understand how this works exactly. I don't like the idea of over-doing it and then have a punctured tube because a spoke-head was tightened in a bit too boldly (already had that mysterious problem with one of the garbage wheels in my collection - upon revealing the insides found spoke-heads protruding atrociously: no wonder all the spokes felt so tight). All in all, not a good time to experiment with a working wheel - let it be as wobbly as it's always been and wobblier still. But the truing tool that I snatched from the store does seem to work even on a pretty rusty wheel (I applied some WD-40 though).

But since I am so worked up about this bike-mechanic moment, I may as well try to install that generator for head-light which is a bit too huge for my purposes though. I am pretty positive nothing will happen as the actual lamp must be thoroughly unusable at this stage in its long and unknown life (I don't even know where I got it from in the first place). How am I going to test that the generator works? Don't know yet - I have a pocket lamp: it should respond to power, no? 6v/3w.


Some hours later... Well - it doesn't make sense installing a generator on a really wobbly wheel since there are sizable gaps in contact. I don't have assembly material that could fasten it on the front-wheel which is fairly straight (forks are too wide as opposed to the rear-fork tubes). In most of my childhood bikes the generator was always on the front wheel - I guess this is way too european.

Another hilarious thing is that I am so lousy in basic physics that I don't even know how to create a test with a pocket-torch lamp and the generator. I vaguely sense that it's gotta be easy but I can't remember the required conditions. In such cases I usually appeal to my brother but this is too much of a short notice right now. In all such things a clear understanding of how electricity works is essential - unfortunately I am sadly lacking in the abc of it. Project postponed due to ignorance.


Skies are as overcast and gray and rainy as has been anounced - which also means that I may well trust that tomorrow will be very different, just as they said on tv.

I hear that weather is horribly cold in the prairies (below or quite near zero C, killing crops) and vermonters are complaining of too much rain all through july and august. I guess Montreal escaped this bad trend - we've been having fairly decent weather lately, though without those huge heat waves in July. It was not a brilliant summer but it wasn't all awful as in some other places.


Another thing that I need to find a solution to is that I have a bad back and my spine gets killed on my garbage bike. It's gotten progressively worse. I likely need to raise handlebars but the frame is made for a man and I really don't fit the profile - the handlebar will always be too far from the seat, no matter what I do (luckily they're very curved-back, so I usually ride with my hands just on the tips of it). It's also true that I haven't been able to pull out the handlebar stem on my own - it's either rusty or I am too weak, but it just doesn't bulge. This is one of the eternal problems with garbage bikes - there are things I can't handle because they're too rusty and wouldn't move and I lack mere physical force to force them out. Even changing tyres can be exhausting, often because the tyre rubber is so caked it wouldn't stretch. If my very-old rear tyre blows on the road I will likely spend the rest of the day trying to put it back. I've broken quite a few of those plastic tyre levers this way and had to use screw-drivers instead.

My worst experience was in Berlin where I found an abandoned Dutch bike and tried to fix a flat on it - the tyre was made of rubber so tough (or so old, or both) I nearly died trying to deal with it. It was a nice bike though - too bad I had to leave it in the end, it proved too much for my frail person. I can well say that such rubber is simply not found in modern bikes - even the thickest cheapest kind is still a joke compared to that 1950's monster. I wouldn't be surprised if it turned out that in those days they made tyres the same for bikes and cars.


I have a substantial growth in my right breast to the point that I am feeling it practically all the time now. It progressed a lot over July. It the growth is not malign, I wonder why it grows so fast. Will go for a full check up right after my trip. Who knows: this summer might be my last, or at least it might be my last summer of relative autonomy. Whatever fates hold in store I will accept - including lengthy waning away and early departure.

I've been asking for death too often - I am usually granted all I am asking for. Just my version of luck.


It's interesting: if I go down with cancer now, I wonder what I could say of my life up to this point. The most accurate account would be to say that it's been exceptionally chaotic and meaningless. Which does not mean that I will be glad to see it terminated - it's been a senseless ride but it's been a ride one way or another.

People live their lives in blindness - and one fine day this blind walk comes to an end, for no particular reason. There is no moral lesson to learn from this, it's only in books that life is presented in terms of meaning and subject-line. It's the biggest lie and a very comforting one too - people have to invent meaning where none exists. The stuff of reality, which is pure non-meaning, is kept incommunicado - we can't share the very heart of our lives which is made of utter meaninglessness. So we keep telling tall tales but deep down every one knows that none of this ever made sense. Nevertheless the mad ride continues for the sake of movement - and as every traveller secretly knows, movement is always more important than destination.

Life needs no justification - it's destinations and goals that always need one.

Well, it's already almost 4am, so I am definitely not going anywhere tomorrow :-0

Olympic dream continues.

Actually, I woke up at 6am this Sunday and it was such a shiny, beautiful day. I felt like taking off then and there but having slacked on preparations in previous days, there were still things needing fixing.

So today I made sure I would finish arranging the tarp-tent setup - put in some more eyelets and finally found a reasonable configuration with enough head-room which proved difficult with an A-shape if I don't want the tent to be too high. Finally found the trick to make enough space while keeping the whole thing at 3-feet high and less: not to fix the two rear corners but rather stake at the next set of eyelets a feet forward, so that the lower-end of the A-shape is cut forward and there are two flaps left over that can be closed from inside (with tape or metal paper-clip). The front-end corners are fixed normally. Then two middle sets of side-eyelets are staked to form something of a pentagonal space in the tent. It still looks A-shaped from outside, but on the inside there is much more room and the head doesn't bump into side-walls all the time. All this is possible with 3 feet height at one end and a little less on the other. The length of the tarp is 9.5 feet by 8.5 feet wide. I attached both ends to trees, thus no poles are necessary nor available - it will be a matter of length of rope if the tree configuration is not accomodating. For stakes I used two long metal bolts that I have in my scrap and two screwdrivers, plus sticks found on the ground.

I have no idea how such a tent will fare in wind and rainstorm - it should take the wind (?) but it will likely need a plastic screen taped over the main entrance. I am taking a sheet of clear plastic with me for that very purpose. The ground situation will likely be a problem - assuming it will keep the shower out, what will happen to a deluge of water accumulating all around the tent? Well, it would normally want to get in if it is not absorbed by the ground. With thunderstorms I expect this is inevitable. Idea: find a stone or thick branch to sit on for elevation during this sort of deluge. With feet in water? Put on plastic bags. Stuff gear in garbage bags and pray for the best. Sleeping in such a storm won't be possible due to noise of water and thunder. All this assuming I will find time to put up the shelter and prepare before such a rain begins.


I could go tomorrow but it's already 2am and I am not about to go to bed. Weather people said it's gonna be cloudy and rainy tomorrow, not a very inspiring configuration. Will be bright and shiny on Tuesday though - and there is still some chicken-soup left, maybe I should finish it.

But basically I am all set and ready to go. I will not need to go see my parents (which always takes a lot of time, most of the day in fact) as I decided to leave the keys hidden near the fire-exit door - so my father may come to feed the cat.


The most amusing thing is that I truly have no idea where exactly I am going. The only part I am set about is to go north rather than south (in Quebec there are only two possibilites in any case - either north shore or south shore of the great St-Lawrence river along which all humanity dwells one way or another). The southern part is flatter but is also more densely populated and is plagued with too much farmland. The northern part is mountainous, has more forest and is colder. I am not sure about other characteristics - I am so unfamiliar with this province I basically have no idea what to expect. So in a way it doesn't matter where I go - the main goal is to seek out less populated areas.

In the northern direction there are three overall possibilites - go north-west or north-east following the river more or less, or go all the way north into the mountains. Ouch. I have no clue how steep that particular route might prove to be but I can't reasonably expect any easy rides there. But like that "roughstuff" world-tourer said (and this is experience rather than theory): look for mountains if you want to find less heavily trafficked roads. I guess the reason for this (excluding some main highway that leads through such an area, of course) is that less people overall live in mountains than in flatlands. A natural fact of human settlements, I guess.

At the end of the northern-most road lies a pretty huge national park (about 200 km just to ride through). With my tremendous bike and speed I would certainly end up spending at least two nights in there - and I don't think there are shops to buy food in that forest. Heh - I thought of taking a 28oz metal can to boil water over fire and cook pasta/make tea in case I get so stranded. I also have no clue whether they require a fee to even travel through that park - just to give you an idea how clueless I am about out-of-town life.

But it's amazing how little human presence there is only about 400km north of Montreal - look at the map and all you'll see will be innumerable lakes and rivers and a few far-between gravel roads. Tough land up there - maybe a bit too much for my canvas sneakers and no camping-stove or cold-weather clothing.

Sunday, August 22, 2004

Ga-ga outdoors stores.

That's an expression from a world-tourer's site - that's how he calls those high-tech out-of-price outdoors equipment stores. He's absolutely right. I've just visited one today, having heard on the radio that it was having a big sale - the weather was really nice too, so I decided to take a look.

It was my first visit to such a store - when entering, I overheard somebody say something about Gortex. Made me chuckle. Inside I found very intent people dressed in latest summer fashion who were indeed shopping madly for madly expensive stuff - sale or no sale. I looked for rain overshoes and a pad to put under the sleeping bag. The cheapest overshoes were indeed exactly $20, just as I thought (but I found them a bit too low-cut for my needs), while pads were mostly therma-rest matresses in the $50-100 range. Hiking shoes were all over a hundred - and so on and so forth. So basically I spent some time admiring totally incredible stylish bikes and saw people actually buy some of them as if it were the most natural thing to do. All in all, these folks must be making some pretty cash on a regular basis to shop like that - in a way, it's a different species of people compared to my humble self. I know I will never graduate to be a "real" westerner - I'll always be a poor student or just a non-descript pauper and I'll never buy anything from all those "gortex ga-ga stores". Culture clash it was - I still maintain that it's possible to go on the road without all that gortex.

I looked at bike panniers too, to see how they're made (should I mention prices? perhaps not). It turned out that the cheap shoulder bag I strapped on my bike is made of exactly the same material - the shape is somewhat different of course, panniers are longer and fat rather than wide and slim. They also have a simple sheet of tough plastic inserted for form, which has two metal hooks bolted through. I can do that myself any day. A fat elongated backpack can also be strapped to the rack - and it's also made of the same material, though workmanship might not be as durable in the very-cheap variety. All in all, it makes no sense to buy ready-made panniers - unless a 100 bucks is like a 10 bucks to you, which was obviously the case for most of the people I've seen in that store. Holy crap - it's the same folks who buy all those SUVs and own houses and have those high-paying jobs. It's another world, a world I am familiar with only through tv.

The australian world-tourer on the internet made his panniers out of canvas bags found for cheap in army-surplus store. He also made metal racks himself. That's the way to do it - hunt for odd stuff that's sturdy and then adapt it for your needs. The high-tech stores are for those who swoon at the word "gortex" or "north face" - and who never consider they can or should do anything with their own hands. I wonder why not? Maybe it's a blessing in disguise that I can't easily buy from such stores and am impelled to do stuff myself.

I would grant however that they have very nice comfy hiking shoes in there that are probably well worth the price - the kind of stuff you could never find in a department store, no matter how similar it looks on the exterior. Shoes are the one thing I am particular about - perhaps I will get myself a pair of really good shoes one of these days, just after I discover I have cancer and have nothing to lose anymore. Heh.


All this reminds me of Ken Kifer's observations about what happened to biking in the 80's - when fashion and obsession with specialized equipment made things really complicated. Whenever some field becomes over-commercialized, prices soar and it gets really hard to get anything remotely decent for some reasonable sum. The same exact thing happened to outdoors activities - you can get very comfy handy stuff but you will die paying for it.

It would serve one well to remember all those 1920's explorers who went climbing in the Alps in nothing less than their tweed jackets. You might wonder how on earth they did it without gortex... I guess tough wool sweaters were just fine. It's also true that their preparations took a few years rather than just a few weeks of running around ga-ga stores... Yeah, things have changed - but you still can make it with what basic stuff you have or are capable of obtaining.

Not that I am going to the Alps, but it's an interesting subject nonetheless.


However I was still able to partake somewhat of the high-tech world by trying out my nylon pants as shorts - unzipped the leggins and off I went. They are pretty cool in that while I work up some sweat on the bike, they dry off almost immediately. I also tried out those padded mountain-bike gloves that I "took" from the department-store - extremely handy on pot-hole filled parts of the road since my bike is pretty hard and so are the tyres. I sort of hope that I will get less flats with these cheap but hard tires than I would with the softer ones that are easier to mount but seem a bit too ready for punctures. Sometimes cheap things are better than more expensive ones - let's see if this proves true in this particular case.

Whacky stuff.
OSLO, Norway (AP) - Armed men stormed into an art museum Sunday, threatened staff at gunpoint and stole Edvard Munch's famous paintings "The Scream'' and "Madonna'' before the eyes of stunned museum-goers. The thieves yanked the paintings off the walls of Oslo's Munch museum and loaded them into a waiting car outside, said a witness, French radio producer Francois Castang.

"What's strange is that in this museum, there weren't any means of protection for the paintings, no alarm bell,'' Castang told France Inter radio. "The paintings were simply attached by wire to the walls,'' he said. "All you had to do is pull on the painting hard for the cord to break loose - which is what I saw one of the thieves doing.''
Yes, it is indeed strange. But regardless, it's not everyday you have such gutsy thieves break in during visiting hours. What I also don't understand is who they are going to sell it to. The art world is really small and only an obsessed collector could buy a stolen masterpiece - and then keep it in his backroom for fear of showing it to anyone. At least high-value jewels can be processed into some other form - but you can't do that with a world-famous painting. It's really a mystery to me who buys this stuff.

Mighty frisky tonight - around 10C and probably a few degrees less out of town. This is likely going to be the story for the rest of the summer now. I don't mind. The most important is that the rainy weather doesn't start just yet.


Watched some Olympics on tv - I don't care about who gets the medals, but I certainly like seeing various unusual sports (well, unusual on tv at least) like swimming or indoor speed-cycling or jumping. Many sports are quite wonderful to watch because of the incredibly elegant yet powerful body movement that you get to see there. I also don't care much about doping scandals - what can you expect in weight-lifting, let's say. They're clearly all doped up, and those who don't get caught are just more careful about it, I would think. Besides, if they were able to eliminate all doping, I wonder what would happen to those glorious olympic records set in previous games. Me thinks they'd remain forever unbeaten.


I made myself some chicken-soup with vegies and am trying to eat as much of it as possible - apparently this is supposed to be light food that's good for energy. Feeling a bit better these days, but not 100%. Hopefully I'll be set to go soon, though I am not fixing a specific date in case it gets on my nerves like it did previously. At some point there will be a moment when I know I am all set and it's time to take off. I think I was too slack on preparations for too long which was a mistake because preparations are actually part of the trip itself - it's like the first stage of the trip, it sets the way for the actual going. I've read this idea on a bike-touring site and it struck me as very true - you have to go on that trip in all possible detail in your mind first and that's what it means to be ready. All the material preparations are an integral part of the trip - if you're doing them in a wrong frame of mind, thinking it's just a nuisance, you're putting off your trip by the same token. Proved true for me.


I will most definitely attempt to make camp fire every night no matter where I am - if it's chilly like that. I am not sure just how much I will need to hide to light a fire. In the open country in the dark a fire is visible from very far away, even if it's a small low one. A lot of bored people roam the country at night - that includes those police patrols.


Aol news made it known that two backpackers sleeping on some wild californian beach were found shot point-blank in their sleeping bags with none of their things taken. Obviously somebody exercised a wonderful chance to commit wanton murder without reprisals. It is reassuring that such news are exceptional and sensational - not an everyday occurence. The article went on and on about how they were upstanding christian scout instructors - very unlucky christians, to say the least.


I am not reading anything and my mind is completely taken with various practicalities. Which is good - it's the closest I come to living any sort of actual life.

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