What a stranger can teach you

I’m going to do something I don’t usually do and that is to talk about people on this blog. You see, on the solo leg of my journey, I had the greatest fortune to meet and chat with two fellows, one in each of St. John’s and one in St. Pierre. I spent a few hours talking to each of them and come away so inspired and a little frustrated as I take a look at my life. It’s good, but my wings feel clipped. They are older than I am and yet don’t face the restrictions I feel, what gives? The easy answer is that they are men. The real answer is that they have made choices that have not off limits to me but I have refrained all along.

I have no connection to either one of them any longer so my proof is in writing it down. I’ll try to be as impartial and relevant as possible.

The fellow I met in St. Pierre – let’s call him Keith – used to live in Canada and now works in Silicon Valley. I wanted to trade social media information just so I could follow his adventures in FB like a “friend” and then hit him up for a tour of his workplace because it’s *really cool*.

In talking about how he ended up in St. Pierre so that I, for my part, could have confirmation my plan to visit wasn’t crazy, I learned about his travel style: In a five-day interval he visited five cities, even with almost two of those days spent in St. Pierre! He avidly plans and researches his travel and he would go to Hawaii for a weekend while others need to make it a week-long affair. I’m the same way; case in point, I used to go to Halifax or Toronto from Vancouver for just the weekend.

In the course of our conversation which spanned from sharing our last (and best) St. Pierre meal to the airport to crossing the border back to Canada, I learned about his passion, the true motive to travel: climbing. He didn’t look the part so I was surprised at first. His quest to climb has has taken him all over the world and guides his future travels. I get excited for him to put together his plans and check another summit off his list. Like me, he tries to to visit his company’s offices in other cities and countries. And so he could understand my desire to get marathon medals in every province, how close I was to two that I still don’t have.

I was reminded to embrace my passion and be motivated to make what is important to me a reality, even if no one else would understand it and if no one else is doing it.

I met a fellow at the first pub I went to in St. John’s – let’s call him Allen – and we talked over several hours as we visited five other pubs and clubs. It makes me question my West Coast radar because, like Keith, Allen hails from the west coast (sorta). He is a folk violinist who is currently employed as a special act for a cruise line and I’m glad I didn’t know I was in the presence of musical greatness or I would have been completely tongue-tied.

NPY and I watch SYTYCD and I keep having to remind him of how much blood, sweat, tears and repetition he misses when they skip from funny outtakes during rehearsal to flawless performances. The dancers are artists and slightly crazy. I asked Allen if I would have heard of him before and he showed me his driver’s license and I Googled him after we parted ways. I juxtapose my experience with rote repetition in dance and music, multiply that by a thousand and get a sense of how much work he has to do and it gives me chills that I could bend his ear for a while. I wish we had talked more about how to create.

After we got over the requisite questions about how his act works, we got into what also lies behind his squeaky clean, wholesome image. It was a bit of a one-way exchange because I am not well versed in religion and from our conversation, I realize I haven’t made nearly enough time for religion or politics. After patiently explaining to me the tip of the iceberg, a highly heretical theory, he recommended some reading and it might actually suit me as an intellectual pursuit because the unconventional interpretation makes far more sense than literal interpretation of the gospel.

As a result, Allen’s passion for music and religion reminds me to make room for it in my life. In my case, my art is my writing and other various nerdily crafty pursuits and continuing study of Buddhism and internalizing the beliefs.

So, I thank both Keith and Allen for sharing stories with me and enriching my life. I hope I was also uniquely good company in return.

30 hours in St. Pierre, France

For the best context, read this after my previous post, 30 hours in St. John’s, Newfoundland.

St. Pierre… it’s even harder to explain why I went. No one has ever heard of it and I have to explain what I know: when I was learning Atlantic Canada geography, I learned there were some islands near Newfoundland that don’t belong to Canada but to France. I hadn’t thought about them in years (decades) but when I thought about visiting St. John’s for the first time ever, I couldn’t let go of the idea of finally visiting St. Pierre et Miquelon (okay, just St. Pierre).

The reason didn’t seem like it held a lot of water and on top of that, the scheduling was awful and I had yet to learn what “off-season” meant. I’m never going to have a chance to come back again, so I grabbed it. Honestly, I didn’t have much more to do in St. John’s either.

As I did my research on what to eat and where to go, I had a pretty short list of what to eat (especially when the French custom is to eat four meals and there aren’t that many establishments) and even shorter for places to visit when even some large sites were closed for the season.

My visit schedule was dictate by the Air St.-Pierre schedule whose three-flights per week worked only if I went Friday to Sunday. (Perhaps I could have gone to St. John’s from Vancouver and then St. Pierre on Sunday through Wednesday but I’m so glad I didn’t.) So there I was, flying to St. Pierre on Friday night, arriving at St.-Pierre Airport after a 45-minute flight with 26 other people.

I surreptitiously glanced around at fellow passengers. Not all were tourists but it was hard to distinguish as many of their tourists are Francophone or actually French. Not people I was likely to talk to. It’s a task for me to be normal and friendly and the language in which I am not fluent is an additional barrier.

The airport was tiny with just one baggage claim belt and two customs control booths. I thought it was that laidback a place that a passenger’s dog was allowed to wander around the baggage carousel until I saw he was being guided to sniff every piece of luggage – duh. I was merely asked if I was coming on vacation and when I was departing (“Jusqu’a Samedi… no, Dimanche!”) and I got the most unique stamp in my passport.

Outside, there was a taxi stand but just one taxi and it was unoccupied. I didn’t know what to do and tried not to act bewildered. No one else was fretting about the lack of taxis because they weren’t tourists. When I made a motion to go inside, a tall young man asked simply, “L’Auberge St. Pierre?” So he’s the one the inn arranged… I hoped. He took on two more passengers in his Peugeot Partner (or some vehicle of the same shape). That made me feel just a bit better. He played French rap and we zipped through the deserted streets. Everything was so European from the get-go and I hadn’t braced for it.

I dared not hope too much from the inn – it’s no Nuits St. Pierre that costs 20 Euro more per night – but it turned out to be perfect and the host is a darling man. Breakfast is included and the 2L bottle of water in the room was free of charge. Sweet.

The meal times in St. Pierre are as follows:
– 7:30 a.m. Breakfast
– 12:00 p.m. Dinner (a bigger meal)
– 4:00 p.m. Tea time
– 8:00 p.m. Supper (a lighter meal)

I was on track for dinner and I hadn’t really eaten except at lunch. So I faced the new town in the evening and looked for dinner. There were no more spots at Le Feu de Baise so I ended up at R3volution. The elder gent to my right at the bar counter amused himself staring at the bar – I didn’t understand it. The younger gent on my left amused himself on his phone. I was sooo Canadian with my flurry of writing and using my phone. Wine truly is cheap at 3 Euro per glass for all varieties but I hardly felt in the mood and got a ginger ale for 2 Euro. My main was a cod in green piquante sauce with a side of creamy rice with chives. It didn’t leave enough room for dessert and I was eyeing the lemon tart in a jar.

I wondered if I looked oddly alone. I wondered if it looked like I booked a vacation to the wrong place, like people who end up in Sydney, Nova Scotia instead of Sydney, Australia. Especially when show up off-season.

It sounded like going out to a bar would be a popular activity on the weekend and there were a number of them, all open compared to the restaurants. But upon arriving in town, walking around town, I concluded without any regrets that it wouldn’t be my kind of scene. It had been so epic and fun and friendly in St. John’s nothing could hold a candle – I wasn’t going to bother and instead enjoy the retreat atmosphere.

Meal #1 per the above schedule was breakfast gratuis at the inn. It was a modest Continental spread but I ate more than I would at that hour. The host chat with a couple I saw when I was checking the night before and I tried to listen in a little. Mostly I surfed the net and plotted and planned my day.

I was eager for daylight to see what the town looked like. It was still foggy so some imagination was required again what it’s like in the summer and with more people. Through the mist, it looks smaller town European than I’ve ever been to, maybe what the maritimes looked like in the past. Like in St. John’s, many of the houses are really colourful, so-called saltbox houses. Except for the main streets, all the others looked ad hoc with fluidity between road, parking lanes and sidewalk, like it had all eroded over time.

At the last minute, I booked a van tour of the island. I looked for a goal, something high to climb, but I wasn’t equipped with proper rain-protective footwear. After breakfast at the inn, I head towards Hotel Robert at the waterfront and was a couple of minutes late for the tour. I forgot to specify and the van operator informed me the tour was in French. Okay… I would essayer. It turns out he spoke slowly enough for my level of French to figure out most of what he pointed out – I didn’t try to follow the conversations he had with the three other tourists.

He pointed out the salt houses that lined the shore – ach so, each was brightly painted and so the houses’ colours alluded to that. He pointed out utilities and government buildings, explained that most of the town was employed by them. Then, there is the tourism industry which is seasonal and construction. We drove to westward on Route de la Cléop&aague;tre and got out to take photos of south shore Atlantic waters. It was pretty cool, the real thing. On the way back to the town, I saw the only chain company on the island, a Home Hardware Centre. (There is also a Rona.) The tour guide kept referring to people going to Terre-Neuve and I would swell with pride over NS before I remember to translate and he was talking about Newfoundland, like if needed, hospital patients could be rushed to hospital in St. John’s. He definitely mentioned Halifax as the origin of the provisions the islands receive on a weekly basis. And their cars.

I am endlessly fascinated with L’&Iague;le-aux-Marins which you can see from St. Pierre. It has a ghost town, an abandoned settlement that you can visit by taking the ferry. On the northeast section of the island and therefore hidden from view from St. Pierre, lies the remnants of the Transpacific that was shipwrecked on their shores in 1971. Cool, huh? I also wanted to see the fine sands on the 10-km isthmus connecting the two parts of Miquelon, another ferry ride away. But Miquelon is really tiny, like 600 people and a whole day trip away.

Meal #2 was at the Creperie du Vieux Port. It is in the Hotel Robert which is as close to the water as you can get and looks from the exterior like a diner. It is sparse and plain inside but the crepe menu was what I was after. After weighing my choices, I went with a seafood stew and crepes Suzette. Seafood stew for vegetables and fish and local food. Crepes Suzette because it was a creperie and a proper French creation, I think. Did the server chuckle under her breath when I ordered? Whatever!

The stew was massive and I was so full. It was plainly luxurious with huge chunks of cod and salmon, large shrimp and really tender octopus. I didn’t think I could tuck away crepes but I did.

I walked around after lunch but it was no where enough distance to burn off anything and I could feel my rings tightening on my finger, haha. The van tour wasn’t the hop-on hop-off type so I walked around to photograph the sites near the core. Then, when the shops were supposed to open after lunch break, I tried to go to the gift store… which was suddenly closed. I walked some more and found a poor selection of postcards at Re-Creation, i.e., the photography was so amateur. But no matter, I was still going to get to send it from St. Pierre!

One schedule stop was the Saint-Pierre Cathedral. I stopped in the chapel first and had my conversation. Two in three days is a bit of a record and what a different the two days makes. I prayed for myself this time, to accept God should do what’s right and for the serenity to accept it. I wasn’t pleased to see a big white screen still erected in the main cathedral.

Meal #3 was tea and I embarked on that earlier than 4:00 p.m. so that I could just have more time to recover before dinner, haha. I went to, as planned, Les Delices de Josephine. I didn’t see a lemon tart and asked what was in a Hummingbird cake. Everyone had to ask and it consisted of nuts, coconut, pineapple and a banana bread like cake. They carried Mariage Frères tea and I had a pot of Wedding Imp&eague;rial scented black tea. I spent 90 minutes there surfing the net and writing my postcard, a special message… to my future self.

It started raining heavily when I left the tea room and I forgot to switch my umbrella to my current bag. Drat! So when I got back to my room, I was too happy to get under the covers and surf and chat for a few hours. It’s a whole five hour time difference between St. Pierre and Vancouver.

When I returned to my room after tea, I contacted L’Atelier Gourmand through their web contact form for a same-day reservation but received no response. I went to the restaurant around 9:00 p.m. and was turned away – a quick peek confirmed they have no bar seating. Reluctantly, I went to Le Caf&eague; du Chat Luthier which serves sushi. What kind of sign is that? When I checked in on Foursquare/Swarm, the one tip mentioned the pizza was good and that set my focus. As it turns out, it was a practical decision because I could pack some for my flights the next day. I got the most French combination I could pick since the delicious seafood pizza was not available. The pizza had goat’s cheese, honey, emmental, and green pepper. And since I didn’t eat my full pizza – but surely I wasn’t actually hungry – I ordered a crème brul&eague;.

It was another pretty fitful night of sleep but my sleeping hours and patterns are worrisome and out of whack.

My last morning was devoted to getting pastries, finally, at one, both, or all three of the patisseries recommended. Turns out one of them was closed on Sunday or for the season. And one was a former location of the only one open. It was busy and when I looked left and right at the airport later, other people were carrying a box of their pastries. I selected one of each of several for NPY to try.

I checked out of my hotel and hung out in the breakfast room and in the lounge until it was time for lunch.

I aimed to try highly recommended and such oddly named Cyber Poly Gone Home. It was open the day before but not when I tried. But I remember L’Atelier Gourmand had some lunch hours and, thank goodness, it was open. Or else I was going to have to eat pastries all day long.

The server seated me at a two-top in the corner so I could see the whole restaurant and immediately I could feel a difference. I was bracing for such casual and slow service that I’m not accustomed to but sometimes the wait was really baffling. What do the servers do with all that spare time? At L’Atelier, the server was almost prompt and even tried to talk to me. We exchanged details of where we are from (he’s from Paris) and he seemed surprised that I’m Chinois. Is it difference because he is a male server compared to all of the female servers so far? Is it a difference because it’s probably the best restaurant in St. Pierre and he is trained better?

I was set to settle in to waiting a while for food and writing when I heard a crash to my side – a guy I recognized from my Friday flight tried to open a door that wouldn’t open and I expected him to come in through the main door at any moment. When he did, I thought it was the perfect opportunity to ask him my burning questions: whatever possessed you to come to St. Pierre? Honestly, the reason why I recognized him from the flight is because he’s Asian. I was bracing to hear he’s from Newfoundland, a prosaic reason for visiting.

So after I was partway through my first appetizer and he just received his, I walked by his table and asked him if he arrived on Friday and if he was leaving this afternoon. Yes to both. So I invited him to join me at my table. I wonder if it looked so odd and if my server was disappointed because we wouldn’t be conversing any longer.

Kai and I traded stories about our past two days on the island and recent travels to St. John’s. He will be staying at the same B&B where I stayed in St. John’s and I gave him the scoop, and to try not to get scammed by the cabbie leaving the airport. It was a brilliant lunch with my delicious and artful appetizers, commendable level of service and stimulating conversation.

I can’t say I wished Kai and I had met on the flight and thus spent yesterday together – no. But I’m really glad we could spend the last few hours from lunch until we were back in Canada trading stories.

30 hours in St. John’s, Newfoundland

For additional context, after reading this, read 30 hours in St. Pierre, France.

I got in to town on an Air Canada Express flight that touched down shortly before 9:00 a.m. and after I checked into my room, a little chilled, set out again. I had a full itinerary and wondered if I would get to all of it… Hah!

There was a point between 10:00 a.m. and noon, between the deserted downtown core (hello?! it was a Thursday morning!) and returning to touristy/civilization where I had time to think. It’s a dangerous and scary thing. I couldn’t stream music to my phone for fear I would drain my battery and be stranded inside a national park as sun went down. I was so very alone for that time interval, too.

These were my first/gut impressions:

  • the city is damn hilly.
  • the city is damn quiet.
  • there are no people around, no people my age, no women, no Asians.
  • those row houses are really colourful – oh, look, more colourful row houses! And more over there! Even the mailboxes depict rainbow-coloured row houses!
  • this feels like the fishing villages I have visited in Nova Scotia and Vancouver Island, with some commerce injection.
  • Irving across the harbour, atop that hill is such a big presence.
  • this place is not at all like Halifax – it was my mistake to expect it.

What the heck am I even doing in St. John’s? I so desperately wanted to have a side trip to my Halifax trip and it turns out to have been justifiable: in just over two months, I’m back in Halifax anyways and spending like 12 days with my mother, seven days with my father; and my sister had brought her boyfriend back to Halifax with her and I felt like a third wheel – let them have a romantic Maritime holiday without me around.

With this visit to St. John’s, I have visited (at the very least, stayed overnight) in every Canadian province. It’s just Winnipeg/Manitoba I can’t claim to have visited. I sort of wish I had visited during the summer, a sunnier, warmer and busier time but I don’t come out this way in the summer high season. I tried to imagine everything I saw bathed in sunshine, filled in with more people, give the city more credit for its attractions. I was disappointed that I may be aligning more with NPY, not just being a city slicker but can’t bring myself to enjoy a different environment temporarily. The city just soooo isn’t my style even if I will tout my Maritime roots when it is convenient. ;D

So, this is what I got up to in the 30 or so hours in St. John’s.

I took a City Wide Taxi cab from the airport and was slightly mortified as the rate racked up – the airport didn’t look so far. And then the cabbie, a first-generation Canadian by his accent, tacked on a $5 surcharge because I wasn’t getting dropped off at a proper hotel – the sign said “residential” and while the apartment was in the commercial section, it was residential. “I can’t lie to you,” he claimed. He thrust a mobile credit card payment device at me and the first row allowed you to select “% or $ amount” while the second row allowed you to let the machine calculate 15%, 18%, 20%, what have you. Selecting a pre-calculated amount was easy with one button aligning below with each selection. I found the top row selection was not responding and he rushed me that the machine would time out. The surcharge racheted up the fare and I hastily selected 15% and felt a sock to my stomach at the amount I was giving him. The next day, I dropped by the visitor center to pick up a brochure for my next leg and asked the agent there. I was indeed gypped and what a sour introduction to the city that is. It’s unforgiveable.

Because I got a bit of a chill already, I sensibly changed from a dress and tights with boots to skinny jeans and boots and a long-sleeve tech top under my trench coat and light scarf. I might being wimpy Vancouver-acclimatized traveller but I’m also slightly unprepared for The Rock – wind-swept and chill to the bone.

First things first, I visited the other B&B I made a reservation with and cancelled well within their cancellation policy. I was so disappointed because I would never receive email confirmation, they charged my credit card anyhow after my first (and second) request to cancel my reservation and even after an agent reassured me she was processing it, I did not receive an email and surely didn’t see my credit card debited back the amount. I was going to demand the cash value if I had to. The girl didn’t seem entirely capable but told me my credit card had been refunded the day before. I will hold them to that.

I had planned on visiting the Basilica Cathedral of St. John the Baptist the next day but I could see it not too far off and walked up to it but not before weaving and retracing my steps to get photos of more rainbow coloured row houses. The foyer of the cathedral smelled like a musty old house but the more airy cathedral was better. I had a good little conversation with God and, as always, prayed for my parents. That’s why I visit churches when I travel – such an indulgent activity I don’t take for granted and my parents do not have the time to.

Bannerman Park was on my list of places to visit but I skipped it, didn’t even really set eyes on it, somehow.

My next destination was Quidi Vidi Lake with its trail that is part of the Grand Concourse walkway network, check out the village that supported artisans, and get lunch at Mallard Cottage. I encountered the lake on the south side in middle of its length and wasn’t overly impressed. It was so small and groomed. As I head east toward the village, there was a nice boardwalk stretch that separated you from the encroaching reeds. I didn’t find the village of artisans but saw the fishing village and proceeded to Mallard Cottage which I first heard of from enRoute’s list of Canada’s Best New Restaurants up for the 2014 People’s Choice Award. Further, cousin Alan had heard of it and recommended I go, too.

Mallard Cottage was the first bright spot in my day. It was renovated inside and so cozy. They seated me at a two-top next to the window overlooking their herb garden and with a view of some guys preparing food outdoors. The tables and settings were charmingly mismatched and eclectic. Practical items like rosemary plants, recipe books and pickling jars formed part of the decor and at the center of the room, a virtual dessert buffet sat atop a barrel. There were plenty of staff but I suspect they all have defined and many tasks. I checked my phone and realized why the restaurant was empty and why the city was deserted – it was only 11:30 a.m. despite my sustained flurry of activity. The lunch crowd started to come until the place was abuzz. I hope they do well in St. John’s and bring the scene to 2014. I noticed that every table asked what porchetta was.

The most direct way for me to get to Signal Hill once I saw the lake was to take the southbound Lake-to-Lookout Trail but that conflicted with going to Mallard Cottage west of the lake. My new option was to continue on Cuckold Cove Trail until it met up with Ladies Lookout Trail that brought you to the top of Signal Hill. What makes it a Ladies Lookout? I still don’t know. At one point, I saw a trail description that rated the Ladies Lookout Trail that ascends to the top of Signal Hill as “medium to difficult”. “No Quidi,” I punned. :P

Full of brunch, I set out to summit Signal Hill (“hill” is a misnomer – it is quite dauntingly tall in the constant fog and mist). Knowing I was going to arrive at one of the most easterly points of North America cheered me up for some reason. I’m just like that. Further, I was racing against the tropical storm that Hurricane Gonzalo might bring, haha.

Cuckold Cove Trail was clearly marked near Mallard Cottage when it took some turns but for a stretch I wasn’t sure if I hadn’t fallen off the trail. It was steep but all paved with gravel. When I finally saw the trail marker, I expected to find the Ladies Lookout Trail to branch off but never saw it. Great, I was going to do a loop around the base of Signal Hill instead, huh? I was so utterly alone the remoteness of the region really hit me. I fancied that I might get kidnapped by a transient or opportunistic predator or mauled by a bear. I think those are actually impossibilities… Then Cuckold Cove Trail dumped onto paved Signal Hill Road on which cars drove to ascend Signal Hill and I was relieved.

My first vista was from Gibbet Hill and what a payoff. You can see St. John’s and the harbour in its entirety closer than when you’re atop Signal Hill and set a little farther back.

The top of Signal Hill has Cabot Tower, the noon gun/canon and the spot where the first wireless communication was sent and received by Marconi. You can go into the tower onto the roof. I was fascinated by Cape Spear, the most easterly point of North America and just how there is a 20-kilometer course between my position and all the way out there. What a tough and quiet race that would be. I was fascinated by the waves crashing against the few embankments between Signal Hill and Cape Spear. It’s so… maritime, so harsh.

I was relieved to be headed back towards civilization, uplifted because I had finally seen other people. My first stop was at Mile 0 memorial for Terry Fox who began his Marathon of Hope in St. John’s after dipping his artificial leg into the harbour. I was sniffly from the chill I felt and coming to a stop after a lot of walking and sometime while reading the second placard, maybe the part where Terry Fox became a marathon runner after his leg was amputated and I got extra sniffly. It is a nice and very peaceful memorial.

Heading towards the core, I kept weaving between Water Street and Duckworth Street. The latter is more colourful but I was also trying to get to my firm’s St. John’s office on Water Street. I visited and lingered in the dreamy HOME on Water St. kitchen and bathrooms goods shop. I spotted Newfoundland Chocolate Company from a distance because of its mural and they profited from my visit.’’ I continued along Water Street and came across the TransCanada Trail (Highway?) Mile 0 (0th kilometer). The Pharmacy Museum was closed for the season and I considered continuing on the Harbourside Walk to the Beothuk Monument but I was tired of walking alongside the industrial waterfront. Near my place, I visited the liquor store and had fun selecting a small bottle of Newfoundland wine (has partridgeberry) and Screech (rum).

The route I took until that point was over 11 km and I don’t know how much distance was added with my backtracking. In poorly supported boots. Needless to say, with just a few hours of sleep even, I needed a break and retired to my room for a bit. I used The Telegram’s “Top 10 restaurants of 2013″ to guide me to list three restaurants on Duckworth to check out: Basho, The Club and Get Stuffed. Based on name, I wasn’t inclined towards any. Basho was too regular Japanese for what I wanted and The Club didn’t post a menu at the window so I went to Get Stuffed. Since I had been so chilled, I was inclined to get a fish or seafood stew and it was on the menu.

I finished dinner shortly after 8:00 p.m. and what was I to do with myself? George Street didn’t look like it had really woken up except at a few of the bars. An Irish pub seemed most amenable to someone who is solo and I narrowed it down to Bridie Molloy’s, Greensleeves and O’Reilly’s. The first two had a fundraiser night and looked divey, respectively, and O’Reilly’s was piping their live band into the street so you know what you were getting.

At the bar, I was soon chatting with a Toronto transplant trying to blend into with the locals, a musician who was a special act on the cruise ship coming in the next day and a very recent divorcee. I learned the George Street way which is to hop from bar to bar all evening long and the amount of stamina the locals had. Within four or five hours, we spent time at the first pub, O’Reilly’s, then five more: The Martini Bar, Allure, Christian’s, Shamrock City and Sundance…! In St. John’s, on George Street, I was far from being “too old”!

Good thing the bar and entertainment district was just around the corner from where I was staying.

The next day, I made it for my 9:00 a.m. meeting without too much difficult but I was at the wrong location. :S While I waited, passengers from the Princess Legend of the Seas disembarked and made their way from the wharf to Water Street. I was asked by three groups how to find the Tim Hortons – which was due, I realized later, to me holding a Tims coffee – and one couple asked me about the shopping available to them. Um? None? No malls, and it was too early for the independent shops to open.

My last stop in St. John’s was to “work”, i.e., write this, in a coffee shop. Rocket Bakery has been on You Gotta Eat Here, but what hasn’t (she asks cheekily)? I ordered a cod cake to have a hot item and a quinoa salad to pick at during my stay there. They have a lot of room since they serve real food and I’ve enjoyed writing this, reliving it all so shortly after, at a communal table.

I ended up enjoying my short stay very much. I’m not normally cut out for that size of city (a quarter the size of Halifax) but a visit to Mallard Cottage and the vibrancy of George Street on a Thursday night in the fall gives me hope.

Further, for four reasons I know of now, I will return to St. John’s, probably within the next five to ten years: to visit the most easterly point in North America, Cape Spear; to get my Newfoundland race medal perhaps doing the unique Cape to Cabot 20K run; I never left the downtown core but suspect there are gentrified areas with shopping (that the cruise ship passengers would have enjoyed) along Topsail and beyond; and to visit the St. John’s office after Friday’s debacle!

A tale of two adults’ attempt to learn to ride a bicycle

Sy, who is older than I am at 37, and I never learned how to ride a bicycle.

My parents got me a tricycle – it was red – and then a bicycle with training wheels. But they got busy starting the restaurant and I never got beyond the training wheels stage and always just leaned to one side or the other. Throughout adolescence, I amused myself reading books while my younger sister would mess around and, as far as I know, figured out how to ride a bike on her own. Our mum drove us everywhere we needed because we lived far from school and our extracurricular activities so I never had to get anywhere on my own. My last attempt to learn how to ride a bike was well over 15 years ago, perhaps during March Break in Toronto when some cousins attempted to teach me.

Sy and I and our group of friends have known about this shortcoming for several years. It hasn’t been a hindrance or anything as no group cycling outing has ever been proposed. Recently, NPY got a new bike after many years of not having one. It has been a nice and new turn of events where instead of being planted in front of the television all evening, NPY will call or message me and let me know he’s heading out for a ride. Also recently, I listened to the DNTO episode “Where did your bike take you?” [mp3] wherein one of the stories was about a cycling school in Montreal geared to help new immigrants learn how to ride bicycles and how the woman interviewed learned how to ride a bike within three sessions.

Three sessions. I had to get started.

Things haven’t particularly slowed down since summer ended but here was a Saturday when I was in town. I made the proposal that Sy and I learn and everyone else was welcome to attend and help and watch.

On Friday evening, we worked out the logistics which I haven’t given a lot of thought. I thought we’d rent bikes in Yaletown or Coal Harbour, the latter where Sy lives. But where would we learn? Sy wasn’t keen on there being a lot of human traffic potential spectators and we couldn’t really transport rentals to, say, Richmond. After some consultation, Sy borrowed a bike from a friend going out of town and I borrowed one from a friend who lives in Richmond and we would learn in a parking lot, which is more abundant in Richmond than downtown Vancouver. It was settled.

As we approached 3 p.m., our meet-up time, I was wholly discouraged from who knows what. I was tired and took a two-hour nap at noon. Maybe I would just sleep through it and miss the meet-up altogether?

We picked up two friends downtown and head to Richmond. Sy head with the group that went to the parking lot first. Meanwhile, I was, as I declared in the group Whats App chat, “kidnapped by the caffeine addicts and at Starbucks!” We endured the worse queue ever at a Starbucks in a Target and left without coffee. It was horrible.

Half an hour after the other group including Sy got to the parking lot, we arrived at the parking lot of Henry Anderson Elementary School and I set to work right away.

You see, I felt a bit competitive with Sy. Supposedly I have better balance than Sy since I dance and I do core-training activities like barre and ballet. I kind of look more fit than he does. I didn’t want to let Sy know I was feeling competitive and bring out his competitive spirit because he was sure to “beat” me.

The bike I rode was kind of a mountain bike with wheels with thick treads, Columbia brand, and at the lowest setting of the seat, I was on my tip toes. I wondered if I had really erred in what I decided to wear (stretchy but skinny jeans – had I set myself up for failure?) and the sun was unexpectedly brilliant for late afternoon in the fall.

The first thing Dee and NPY tried to get me to do was pedal and balance and steer while Dee held the handle (which I felt was pulling me to one side) and NPY held my seat. I wasn’t catching on. I was bailing easily and quickly. I was given instructions to build up my momentum, to try to steer, to look ahead, to not bail, where to arrange the pedals and start pedaling. I was quickly feeling a little tired holding up the heavy bike when I tipped and had to set it straight again. I was leaning my own body in the opposite direction from where the bike was leaning. They were both encouraging and saying that I “got it” and I didn’t think “getting it” for all of one second was anything to encourage me.

I looked over at Sy and he was coasting, one foot on a pedal, the other one off the ground and he was steering to adjust.

Why wasn’t I getting it?!

I kept tipping over. The bike felt so heavy and overly tall and I didn’t have control.

I rolled over NPY’s foot. I really cracked up at that. Poor guy, didn’t know how to help me, frustrated that I couldn’t go any distance, how incorrect my steering and corrections were. How quick I was to put my foot on the ground.

I looked over and Sy was cycling, slowly, in need of frequent adjusting and compensation with steering. He was traversing the parking lot without his feet ever touching the ground. Then, I got mad. He was riding! He had lied about “not being able to ride a bike”!

I was also mad at myself. Something was not clicking. I didn’t feel in control of my education. I was being too “cerebral” and listening to instructions and asking about processes. I wasn’t learning in the correct order. So, I started where it was logical, where I saw Sy at about half an hour before.

As I had kind of snapped to poor Dee, I knew how to pedal. I’ve clocked stationary biking and paddleboating experience. Sy and I have gone through over 30 years eluding knowledge of balancing in the air while in a seated position. With a few more tips from NPY like not leaning into the handlebars because that makes steering difficult and to be relaxed, I tried to coast down the small incline in the parking lot. I kept putting my foot down but started to concentrate on steering and at the slow rate I was going, it was kind of “dry steering” and almost futile.

But that’s how I got the courage to push off with a little more momentum and steer down the small slope to stay off the ground for one second, then two seconds and three.

Then, once, I had coasted for three seconds and I was tired of having my left leg splayed to the side and I put it on a pedal and kind of naturally pedaled for a couple more seconds. Behind me, NPY was bewildered and choked out, “What the…?” Then I bailed.

But… oh! Soon, I was running back up to the highest point and trying to recapture that. It still took a few tries and I would pedal for five seconds or even almost 10. I bailed a couple of times badly and scratched the end of each of the handles and even Dee’s pretty bell that reads “This bike is my car.” That’s when I put on dopey knee pads and wrist pads and still declined to wear a helmet. I was starting to go somewhere.

Sy and I are so blessed to have supporters and friends come out, give up a Saturday to spend with us in a potentially futile endeavour and to have so much faith in us: NPY, Dee who loaned her bike and hubby JZ, and another couple. But I was freaking out when someone looked over at me and kindly gave words of support or observed me or got excited I was kinda cycling. At this point, everyone except Sy, NPY and I left to get that elusive Starbucks coffee.

That was what I needed. The larger group would be away for 15 or 30 minutes or more if NPY had figured it out and told them what he suspected I needed. After more false starts than real ones, I was cycling again. I wanted to ride in a full circle in the inner parking lot like I had seen Sy doing half an hour earlier. I tried my hand at making gradual turns. I even rolled over a few speed bumps. NPY marvelled that I went over a speed bump – the bane of my existence when rollerblading – and I informed him that I had gone over a few already! He marvelled that I would just start pedaling instead of getting a rolling start. Sometimes I would start to get tense, lean forward and start to lose control but I remembered what NPY said to sit back and be relaxed. I even started to brake, tentatively at first to get an idea of the level of response.

Not that I’m consistent by any means and I fear that when I get another chance to go out, not for another week, I won’t be able to replicate my efforts, but when I crossed the barrier, to the other side, I almost couldn’t remember or fathom not being able to do it! Why did I wobble or be unsure to begin with? It is kind of natural and, cliche as it sounds, easier to do it when you don’t think about it.

Apparently, Sy had major difficulties as well in the beginning, during that half hour while I was waiting in line at Starbucks. We laughed about it and how I thought it was going to be a waste of everyone’s time and how despairing NPY was starting to feel at first.

Everyone was floored we could make such progress in a day and asked what the breakthrough point is. Soon, some of use will be teaching our children to ride and wanted to know. That’s why I tried to document our efforts here. Know how to pedal first on a tricycle or with training wheels, then learn how to coast on two wheels… then it comes together, a little like magic.

Screen Shot 2014-10-05 at 11.22.52 AM

NPY really needs a new phone, but that’s me! (There is also a video.)

And while we’re on the topic, I already have lofty goals. It’s the distance runner in me that wants to ride far and be able to report that I had gone to some mind-bogglingly far neighbouring town. Actually, if it weren’t for the fundraising amount and some fear of the inordinate discomfort, I wanted to learn to ride a bicycle in order to do the 200-300 kilometer ride to Seattle for the Ride to Conquer Cancer.

There, I said it!

Edit: I forgot to mention how tense I felt at times, even a bit fearful at times. I thought I would scrape myself up and did land on the pads of my palms and my knees. Immediately after, my hands were a little sore and today, my pecs are sore!

Eating really well around Seattle/Washington

Unlike other trips, I refrained from planning my #2DaysInSeattle to the hilt. Who knew what lay ahead or the exact schedule and what we’d feel like after the ordeal that is a half- and full marathon?

Willows Inn

The first meal was already planned. We were to dine at Willows Inn on Lummi Island (Lummi rhymes with “gummy”) and we knew this from two weeks before, the earliest we could make reservations. We were going for a Saturday reservation so that we’d only spend Saturday and Sunday but the only reservation my cousin, Alan, could get was a Friday night and suddenly we were going a day early. Dining there was that special and important. And it was three days after Alan’s 40th birthday.

We set out from Vancouver at 5 p.m. on a Friday which is just the most plum time to go with rush hour in addition to the Friday evening border queue. Our reservation was at 7:00 p.m. and I was surprised to learn that four others would be joining us, driving down to Lummi Island for the evening just to eat at Willows Inn. We missed the Bellingham-Lummi Island ferry by just a few minutes (we saw it pulling away) and so Alan’s friends arrived in two waves before 7:00 and at 7:20. We arrived at 7:40 and I wondered what the deal is and why they couldn’t hold up service for us.

 I borrowed a few seconds although we were late to take a picture of the view from our parking spot at Willows Inn – a spectacular sunset.

Contrasting with any other tasting menu I’ve ever had before, the one at Willows in starts at 7:00 and everyone else dining that evening (there is only one seating) is having the tasting menu. Every snack and course comes out at the same time so the kitchen was not delaying our amuse bouches on account of Alan and I not arriving. That there were none served us or saved for us still baffles me, though.

A lovely arrangement was that we had secured the private dining room.

I was offered a glass of the blackberry (or was it blueberry?) shrub which I sipped through dinner. It was refreshingly tart and gave me something other than water to sip on and toast while all the others had gotten the juice or wine pairing.

We missed the first course and started with the beets. What looks like large beets were shaved very thin and sprinkled with nubs of a slightly bitter green herb. The dollop of yogurt was gin-infused.

When this arrived, I was disappointed. One spot prawn that does not qualify as even medium-sized in a bowl that fits in the palm of your hand. Could it be another amuse bouche (freebie)? No, it was listed on the tasting menu and qualified as a course. So I nibbled on the prawn and sipped the broth. It was supremely flavourful and concentrated while still being runny.

A small parade of servers bring in each course so that the six of us receive our food at the same time. For the cod, we were presented with hot to the touch clay cassoulets promising deliciousness. The morsel of cod was immersed in a lovage broth cod with cherry tomatoes of pretty various colours. This was a delicious course and I had to the last drop and including the cod skin.

Alan was dry going on six weeks at that point and ordered the juice pairing. Actually, only one guy ordered the wine pairing and four ordered juice pairing. I refrained because, well, partly because of the price, and I wasn’t sure I would appreciate the pairing. When the sorel one was poured, it was mesmerizing how deep green and beautiful it was.

We were told that the smoked salmon was designed for eating with fingers and it was smoked on site. It was a delicious if odd course where the meat was firm and sweet with the maple glaze and not dry in the center.

Baskets of fresh bread with pan drippings from roasting chicken (?) was served. This was not a course and I highly enjoyed it. Good thing for the excuse of carb loading. :D The bread was very crusty but the inside was chewy and soft. The pan drippings were a little more jelly than I would have expected but so satisfying – possibly more satisfying than meat, haha.

I thought the plating of the romano beans (two of them) was on that pretentious/fine dining side that I didn’t think I would soon see. It was enough beans but just so odd to me. I can’t remember what the herbs were but they were very fresh and grass-like and I remember it being a little salty. Still, it was a nice introduction to romano beans to me when I’m not generally a fan of green beans. Some of my fellow diners didn’t understand this course.

We arrived at the meal of the meal, a small piece of lamb shank with what really was grass in this case. I would have preferred more tender lamb and it was just fascinating and somewhat delicious to nibble on grass.

I hadn’t entirely expected it but dinner was over and we had two dessert courses. Visually, this dessert was beautiful in its own way. Blackberries in a light syrup with chamomile infused ice. Who needs overly sweet dessert? This felt so good for you.

The second dessert kind of blew me away at the time. I had such low and non-existent expectations for dessert. We’d see huckleberry crop up at other places but it was a good start, a little tart berry amongst the smoky malt chips and sweet meringue puffs and cooling woodrub gelato. I wanted more malt chips.

I’m not one for caramels but this is carefully hand-crafted, locally made and fresh so I would make an expection. It was coated in flax so the nuttings attenuated the sweetness.

Our dining mates kept saying how clean and cohesive the meal was, comparing it favourably to shoto by momofuku in Toronto. My dining experiences were definitely augmented with this meal.

Sitka & Spruce

One of the first places Alan mentioned when we started talking about going to Seattle was Sitka & Spruce. I looked it up and was saddened because if we went on Saturday and it’s not a place to carb load and it would not be open on Sunday by the time the race was over. Going down a day earlier, we could squeeze it in for brunch.

The establishment is located in Melrose Market in Capitol Hill which is an adorable warehouse converted to artisanal (to the hilt) shops. We almost didn’t pick out Sitka & Spruce in the back from amongst the shops in the front at the entrance we went in. The kitchen is entirely open and right next to the communal table we decided to sit at.

We started with a dish of olives. It’s not something I would have ordered but I didn’t mind in the least to have another one to chew on between bites of other dishes.

We were hungry when we arrived so a scone that arrived quickly was welcome. It was warm and comforting. I slathered on the whipped butter and even enjoyed the fresh peach jam.

I’m going to call this a cod bagenade because I haven’t found it by searching for it and the menu at Sitka has since changed to have different offerings. A salted or picked cod in creamy salad with homemade “Melba” and sliced pear. We were introduced to more grass (called aggressi?) which was nice to nibble on. We had to order a couple extra slices of toast for this briny spread that somehow reminded me of home (although I don’t eat that there).

My contribution to ordering was the sausage dish served warm on a spicy bed of romaine and more romano beans. This was such a strange brunch but the salad was most comforting to each much like traditional brunch dishes.

Dick’s Drive-In Burgers

We thought we heard that there was a Dick’s around the corner from Sitka but my GPS directed us to the UW area (and all that traffic thanks to the afternoon’s football game). It was okay because having a burger so soon after Sitka if it were around the corner would almost seem insulting.

The UW location looked authentic to the drive-in style that Dick’s started as and it was a busy spot. There was a short queue at each of the multiple cashiers and people were milling outside their cars on the brilliantly sunny day and sitting on a ledge in the parking lot to eat their burgers. I got a single patty burger and a chocolate shake, marveling at the reasonable price for both. It’s no Shake Shack, what our dining companions from the evening before likened it to, but satisfying when we already had a meal shortly before!

Cucina Spinasse

Oh where oh where shall we carb load and have a pasta dinner? Our dining companions from the evening before mentioned Spinasse and we were definitely open to recommendations. I couldn’t get a reservation we just dropped in shortly after they opened at 5:00 p.m. Thus we would also finish dinner early and have ample time to rest.

To start, we were presented with some toast with paté and balsamic drizzle. This was a weekend with places with amuse bouches – fancy!

Alan’s pick was the cavatelli with lobster mushroom sauce. Look at me all eager and I read it as lobster and mushroom sauce. But no, lobster mushroom which Alan informed me is a parasite, transforming other mushrooms. Neat. The pasta was chewy and the lobster mushroom so meaty and satisfying. We ordered appy portions of the pastas which looked so small but were amply filling and we could try more. Alan said he would have ordered full sizes were it not for me and my self-control!

The special of the day was tajarin (thin egg noodles which we saw the young staff making) with uni butter. This was so rich and delicious maybe I wanted a full-size portion…

My pick was the pancetta-wrapped quail. It was okay. Would have preferred less stuffing and more quail. :P

Alan’s other pick was tripe braised with tomato, pancetta and chickpeas and topped with foie gras. Tripe to me is so Asian no matter the Italian spices of this dish. I didn’t understand it. I also remarked that the foie gras seemed out of place – there I go trying to be analytical – and it seemed Alan agreed.

Din Tai Fung – Bellevue Square

After we completed our races, I was torn in so many things I wanted to do. Shower! (Okay, it’s not something that was optional.) Go shopping! Show Alan more of Bellevue aside from the hotel! Eat! Get Alan something alcoholic to drink!

We drove towards Bellevue Square and I pointed out all of the restaurants available and he liked the idea of Din Tai Fung (DTF) unless it happened to be too busy. At 4:00 p.m., they were between rushes and we were seated immediately. I liked how it was finally Asian food that was relatively cheaper and would be served quickly.

Alan ordered lightly pickled cucumbers, nothing something I would have ordered. They were garlicky and something refreshing to nibble on throughout the meal.

We were warned that the pork soup dumplings (xiao long bao) were a 35-minute wait so we ordered the pork and crab soup dumplings and were shown the ideal radio of sauce: added to the shredded ginger was one part soy sauce and three parts Chinese vinegar. That was not bad proportions as it turned out.

It’s tremendously fun to eat with Alan. NPY and I wouldn’t order XLB when it’s just us because there are 10 in an order and we’d be full from just our half of it and NPY would want to try other food, more carby dishes.

We ordered pork and shrimp wontons in spicy sauce. I was remarking how I don’t get to order that dish with NPY so Alan encouraged we ordered it. Perhaps I am wary that the dumplings would get redundant but each one we ordered is in different wrappers and cooked differently – steamed in the case of XLB, boiled wontons and pan-fried pot stickers below! I would have preferred a straight chili sauce because this one was disarmingly sweet for my tastes. Alan explained it’s because Taiwanese cuisine tends to include sugar like this.

We couldn’t pass up some beef noodle soup and Alan suggested the pot stickers. So many dumplings and I was quite gleeful. The noodles weren’t great but we were so hungry I thought it was overall pretty good noodle soup. The beef brisket was a bit bland so we applied the tableside chili oil to liven it up. I hadn’t seen pot stickers prepared on a starch layer before and we gobbled all of that down. The sauce with the pot stickers were a little weird.

It was mutual. I accompanied Alan on his first real trip to Seattle and showed him parts of his he has missed in his other quick sojourns there, like going to DTF, the Bellevue and UW area. And his contribution to the trip was definitely these kinds of restaurants I would normally never have tried!

I don’t do normal yoga

… because it’s boring.

Two years ago, I did a spate of aerial yoga classes on an eight-class pass and determined I could get mildly nauseated when inverted and it strengthened my desire to try silks. A year ago, I did 10 “Yoga Barre” classes on a class card with Chopra Yoga which was a kind of hokey class.

A month ago, I started hot yoga on a 10-class pass at Bikram Yoga Vancouver, not far from my place.

At Bikram Yoga, in a studio set at 40 degrees Celcius, we go through a fixed set of 26 poses and I am relieved that some poses aren’t more than stretches. It is not so strenuous yet I haven’t tried to schedule any other physical activity on the same day. The amount that I sweat just amazes me but by the fourth and fifth class, it felt remarkably less hot than it was in classes before.

My first two classes were with Stephanie and her continuous chatter and encouragement carried me through the class. I tried a class with another instructor and was set straight to stick with Stephanie – many another voice talking incessantly for 90 minutes I cannot handle.

I like the challenge of the balance poses and despise the back bends but I know I need to push myself on the latter to not be prematurely old. During the seated series, I scramble like you wouldn’t believe to get the most out of the 20 seconds of shavasana. And I’ve learned to stop and focus on breathing to cool myself down.

Obviously I would not have photos from hot yoga. :)

Most recently, and as a one time thing, I did stand-up paddleboard (SUP) yoga on my fourth time out on a SUP.

My class was through Vancouver Water Adventures located at Kitsilano Beach, far more convenient than going to Jericho Beach on my other two Vancouver outings. It was possibly our last good summer weekend and the water was really still when we set out at 9 a.m.

The instructor likened the practice on SUP as like being on a wobble board but I much prefer getting some SUP and the wobble coming from waves. We paddled a little bit out and dropped sand anchors – bags filled with sand and sealed by velcro – so we didn’t float away from the group. We removed our ankle tethers and fastened them to our oars and took off our stinky life jackets and lay them on the nose of the boards. Only then, we were unencumbered to practice.

I’m a bit of a wimp about everything. The water is cold and uncomfortable. The sand tracked onto the board was gross and we got intimate with the board both lying back on it in shavasana and face down in child’s pose. I had to get over it and did at times.

We started with the seated poses before getting to standing ones. We did several vinyasa/sun salutations to get used to doing them on the SUP and would throw them in between sets. On one of the first balancing poses, a half warrior, one of the first-timers fell in. She was the only one who would fall in again and she also got motion sickness. I went prepared to get dunked but didn’t look forward to it.

When we did our first downward dog and I saw downtown clearly (Kits is the closest of the beaches to it) and the slightly hazy morning outline of the mountains – familiar sights – but upside down and bobbing on water, it was wild. Shavasana on SUP is my second favourite, after the one in aerial yoga where you’re in a cocoon.

I fought – and I think my core was the better for it – to not fall off the board during the poses. Sometimes, I could do the advanced version of a pose and found it more stable than the beginner version, like full camel pose and wheel pose instead of the bridge pose. But I was hopeless at the prep for headstand, dolphin pose. A headstand on SUP will not be happening.

I would do SUP yoga again and am reminded by this excursion of my affinity to water. Not so much I want to be out there weekly, but more than just once a summer! I like the component of being on the SUP – compared to kayaking which I also enjoy, I feel like a warrior all standing tall and paddling.

The instructor took photos with her camera phone and I provided her with my email address and even followed up two weeks later calling the office to remind her to email them – for promotional purposes. But no photos still. :(

Beat The Blerch: my 2014 half-marathon

My older cousin, Alan, moved to Vancouver seven years after I did and he did so to pursue his culinary dreams; he has been in Vancouver for nearly three years. It’s fascinating to see him pick up the sport of running and (pun intended) run with it. Running works well with his schedule and it’s so much easier in Vancouver, in the various neighbourhoods he has lived in and how much closer everything is. A few years ago, he started doing 10K and half-marathon races.

As the milestone age of 40 drew nearer, he wanted to cross off a particular item on his bucket list: to run a marathon. Of course I was happy to join him on this journey and even – dare I say – guide him.

Preparation

Looking back at the race registration confirmation, back in March, it turns out we had this on our minds for a while. In February/March I was looking up possible marathons in the Pacific Northwest/West coast area in the summer and fall and we had to rule out the truly fabulous ones in California. Then, on March 18, The Oatmeal announced his new book all about running and holding a marathon and given I had learned Alan loves The Oatmeal comics and it’s just in Washington, we knew it was the right race for us. Six days later, we were registering at the moment registration opened and at 9:29, we both got registered for our races and registration closed at 9:30. About five minutes later, I realized that NPY’s cousin’s wedding was the day before the race. Ooops!

Despite registering in March and having the race and training looming over us, we didn’t start training until the end of June.

activity-year-at-a-glanceIt’s a phenomenon that I’m observing each year thus far: my work’s fantastic fitness reimbursement cycle ends at end of June each year so I spend my balance on things like class-cards for barre class or the dance studio for ballet – which means they expire a year later and I’m scrambling to use up my classes before they expire. Every end of June. Plus, the weather is nicest then, the days are long and the barrier to physical activity feels lower.

I have kept myself busy this summer. Throughout March and April, I was running on the treadmill consistently (green). Then there was a completely barren patch in May through the beginning of June when we went away for a week and then packed up our rental apartment and moved into our condo. I extended my ballet class (dark purple) expiry until end of September and you can see when I finished my barre class card (light purle) because I abruptly stopped. Outdoor runs (blue) only started late June and occurred a little less than once a week. And I started hot yoga (pink) and have eight weeks to complete 10 classes! This graphic pretty much captures my summer.

The last year I trained with a group in Vancouver was in 2008, the last year I did those crazy routes. It was so cool to pull off a 20+ km run on the weekend and be able to tell anyone who would listen that we ran to North Vancouver or Richmond. I even squeeze in a run to New West, just barely. I ran farther than the half-marathon distance I registered for five times.

I ate so well on Friday and we head down to the States right after work. With dinner that lingered in the Bellingham area, we didn’t get to our hotel until past midnight. I booked us into the Marriott/Courtyard Seattle Bellevue/Downtown and was pleased all-round with the property, location and that we could swing a super-late check-out of 3:00 p.m. (which ultimately was 3:30 p.m.). We needed that because the late 9 a.m. start for the marathon means you don’t have to wake up stupidly early and drive 30 minutes to Carnation but you don’t finish a four-hour marathon until past 1 p.m.

Another item of preparation that served us so well is that I finally unlocked my phone (using an online site), managed to snag a Roam Mobility SIM for half-price and bought two days of talk+text+data for a reasonable price. The only problem was that Alan’s car cigarette lighter didn’t have a current and my phone battery kept dying (and his S4 battery doesn’t fit my S3)!

We ate so very well again on Saturday marking the huge difference travelling with a foodie chef cousin. We zipped all around the city and hit every traffic obstacle which was mainly in on the I-5 and congestion in the UW area due to the Huskies game: race packet pick-up at Road Runners in pretty Green Lake, truly unique brunch at Sitka & Spruce, post-lunch snack at Dick’s Drive-In Burgers, my first visit to University Village since 2005 (I think), trip to Costco for Alan to buy a Vitamix, early dinner at Cascina Spinasse, and a visit to Walmart where Alan could see how much junk food I get in the States. :P

I got good sleep on Friday once we were in the hotel after midnight and didn’t have to wake up early on Saturday. And we were back to the hotel on Saturday at 8 p.m. so I was so very happy to be in bed by 10 p.m. Not asleep, of course, but unwinding. I meant to re-read The Oatmeal’s comic “The terrible and wonderful reasons why I run long distances” – seemingly appropriate reading – but fell asleep and read it the next morning.

The race

On race day, with a half-hour drive between the hotel and the race start, I set my alarm and woke up at 7 a.m. Alan went downstairs for a hot breakfast while I made oatmeal with hot water from the Keurig.

Briefly before we head out, I wondered if my back bathroom routine was adequate… but we had to go, couldn’t have Alan late and frazzled before his first marathon. I fear we had gotten lost were assuaged when we saw a lot of other cars on the quiet rural roads.

I wanted to bounce around and take photos since there was so much stimulation, so many costumes. But Alan seemed reserved and I respected that. Soon, the marathoners were lined up for their race. Matthew Inman appeared in a green fatsuit, said a few words to those signed up in the formerly first race and set them off on their way.

After the marathoners departed, I got pictures at the photobooth and even lined up to get one with Matthew Inman. If I had planned a little better, maybe I could have gotten a book signed by him. All I have is an unadorned advance copy of the book the race was created to market: The Terrible and Wonderful Reasons Why I Run Long Distances (to be published on September 30, 2014).

There were so many costumes all around. When did running with a tutu become practically a common thing? And when a tutu was butt right up against me, I tidied it up and observed that no fancy sewing skills are required. The funny thing is I was wary about doing anything flashy but anything I would have done was understated. For this race, you are “in costume” merely by putting on a paper cone birthday hat or wearing a green at with a red shirt (looking like a Sriracha bottle).

As with so many races, I began it alone and it’s okay. After the summer of training with someone else, it is ultimately a solitary activity. And one of the first thoughts that comes to me with the runners all around me jostling in the starting hundred meters for space that, “It’s just another Sunday run. No big deal. But a little more fun with all these people.”

While birthday cake and Nutella sandwiches were promised on the race course, I had already set my mind to save those for the end of the race, if even then. I certainly wasn’t having any beer provided by some kindly spectators either!

Like a dolt, I dropped my phone three times with it falling out of my running pouch (it was purchased when I had an iPhone 3GS and doesn’t fit a Samsung Galaxy 3 so well). The first time, there were a couple people I interrupted and I feel really badly about that. The next two times, the crowd significantly thinned out and then on, I held it in my hand until I slipped it back in the pouch a more secure way, at the risk of wrecking my earphone cord.

At the marathon race start and again at the half-marathon race start, Matthew Inman said a few words to thank racers for participating and supporting his project. And since the Sunday race was the original, first established race but the Saturday runners of the second race got to go first, his treat for us was to dress up in a green fat suit. He was doing the half-marathon but with the out-and-back route, he was going to see everyone anyhow.

I wasn’t trying to catch up to him and eventually did around mile 5. I announced my presence by greeting a girl dressed in purple and covered in purple balloons, “Hi, Grapes!” as she was overtaking me and took her place next to Matthew. I tried to photobomb a selfie she took of herself and Matthew all while we were running. It’s a run race but that doesn’t mean you really stop to take photos!

I haven’t run on a trail in years because I’m a city slicker and I do urban races. Both times I ran in Pacific Spirit Regional Park, I twisted my ankle the moment I let my concentration on terrain slip. The terrain of Tolt MacDonald Park was barely rugged but there was a rock that I slipped a little on. That’s what I’ll do to be part of the Blerch race, run on a trail. And it all turned out okay.

The day before, on Saturday, I was reading spoilers about the race on Facebook from the first runners. Like how Alan would hear gunfire between miles 15 and 17 from the nearby gun range. And people assessing the elevation climb. One runner said it was difficult, that even the 1% elevation got to her. I calmed myself down recalling that all of my treadmill runs were at 1%. The elevation profile for the half-marathon looked like a jagged but consistently uphill climb to the half-way point and since it was an out-and-back, generally downhill all the way back. Then why did it appear to me that it was all downhill on the way to the halfway point?

It turned out my mind was playing tricks on me and when I did turn around, it truly was downhill all of the way back. Good thing.

I took a Gu Caramel Macchiato gel at mile 3. Historically, I have not taken gels on half-marathons. But I needed everything I could muster. I thought I would take my second gel at mile 7 and have it kick in halfway through mile 8 but managed to push back taking the second one – Gu Peanut Butter – until mile 8.

At the halfway point, the time on my phone read 10:39. We started at 9:30 with an ad hoc wave start and mine was around the fifth wave. I had to finish the second half in 1:06 to make it a 2:15 half. I had to – for the first time I remember – negatively split.

It was a goal that I toyed with to do a half-marathon without stopping. So I was bargaining with myself to get to halfway without stopping and then see how it went. The three times I had to stop to pick up my phone do not count as stopping.

In my self-assessment, I felt good after 10K. No pains at all. It was just a matter of willpower to continue on at that point. Iggy Azalea’s “Black widow” was my “power song” to get me to mile 8 and through to taking my second gel. Martin Garrix’s “Animals” took me to mile 10. My right hip felt tight and a little tired at mile 11. My right foot felt like a blister was forming, too.

Contrary to previous outings, I wasn’t so desperate to bargain hard with myself. I really wanted to be able to blog that I had run continuously.

I had just re-read The Oatmeal comic about running and thought about it during the race. For Matthew, running is not about vanity and I agree it is true. The cycle of running and overindulgent post-run feeding does not result in a beautiful body. But after a run (and all the cool stuff I was doing this summer), I feel good and confident and the latter makes you look better while the former motivates me to make better eating decisions.

A huge mental difference during this race was that I didn’t bargain with myself. In part, this was thanks to my goal to run without stopping for half and then the whole race. What is there to negotiate about after the halfway point and I hadn’t stopped and felt good? This summer, I read Haruki Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running (which I learned about in The Oatmeal’s comic about running) and one thing Murakami can say is that he doesn’t stop running to walk during a marathon. I don’t think I could ever run for four hours straight but two hours is within reach.

I like my music a lot. Just as intended, I pondered on some of the memories associated with the music, but not for the entire length of the song – apparently I don’t have the concentration for that.

My mental fortitude was high but I also reasoned the following: The Blerch is a gremlin-demon that taunts you to give up your resolve to run. The Blerch was actualized on the course, holding out cake at the water stations and seated on the course, inviting you to join it and break from running. Since the Blerch was outside, busy with so many runners, it wasn’t in me to whisper in my ear to take it easy. Well, that’s what I told myself and my mental strength, for once was high to begin with.

Taking two gels at appropriate intervals helped. So did ample sleep both Friday and Saturday night. So does training since late June. And a huge confidence booster was that I had trained marathon distances and run more than my race distance several times.

Once I saw the green finish line arch and the elapsed time on the clock since 9:00 a.m., I pushed it into a run, practically a sprint. My goal had been to come in in under 2:15 and the clock read 2:12 and I was going to make it and negative split! A guy and a girl wearing Team RWB each carrying a large American flag, were ahead of me and started running too. For some odd reason, I wanted to cross the finish line with them, soak up the fanfare and cheers that were directed in our direction. Wouldn’t it have been really cool if I had worn something that screamed Canada alongside them? ;)

 

Right after the race, I went to Starbucks and got water and tea and talked to NPY on the phone. When I returned, I realized I should have stuck around and immediately queued up for Matthew Inman’s autograph/comic in my copy of his new book. Darn. The queue was so long and I no longer had the time to wait and see Alan finish. I had a small piece of the cake and it was delicious. Then I waited for my cousin to finish his first marathon.

My results
Chip time: 2:12:50
Average time: 2:30:36
Overall: 285 /816
Females: 155/558 (compared to 258 male half-marathoners)
Division: 73/256

Beat the Blerch racing music

I seem to do this so often – create a playlist and post it – but I haven’t done half-marathon in two years so it has been a while. Here is my 2:15 playlist to get me through Beat the Blerch and the why…

Nostalgia set – these songs are laced with memories including exes, which is okay because I’m in a good place now :)

  • Modest Mouse’s “Float on” -  an ex
  • Nickelback’s “How you remind me” - an ex
  • Pitbull f Havana Brown and Afrojack “Last night” -  an ex
  • Martin Garrix’s “Animals” -  clubbing at Hakkasan in Vegas this year
  • Destra’s “Celebrate” - Caribana 2008 with Vinnie
  • OneRepublic’s “Counting Stars” - our (NPY and my) 2014 song!
  • Pitbull f Ke$ha “Timber” - Whistler weekend earlier this year with work peeps
  • Rawlins Cross’ “MacPherson’s Lament” – this is the sounds of home and our graduation ceremony song (from high school, which dates  me)

Running(-related) set

  • Melissa Etheridge’s “I run for life”
  • The Killers’ “Mr. Brightside” - why I include this every time: this song was playing when I started my first marathon (back in 2006)
  • Alyssa Reid’s “The Game” - either CTV or one of the sports networks used this song as part of their daily highlight reel music during the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver – also Can Con
  • Kanye West’s “Stronger”
  • Three Days Grace’s “Pain”
  • Katy Perry’s “Roar” - I’m not a fan of Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger”; incidentally, it is a lyric in this fun song
  • DJ Khalid’s “All I do is win” - or “wynne”, whatever the case may be! – and image of Emma Stone lip-syncing it on The Tonight Show
  • Sweetbox’s “Everything’s gonna be alright” - good memories of it being really soothing in a past race

“Apparently I don’t want to grow up” set

  • Jay-Z f Mr. Hudson “Young forever”
  • Fun. f Janelle Monae “We are young”
  • Avril Lavigne’s “Here’s to never growing up” - also Can con
  • Far East Movement f Justin Bieber “Live my Life” - also Can con

Can con set

  • Addictiv’s “Tonight”
  • Nickelback’s “When we stand together” – Have I mentioned before how this song makes me feel? Yes, I have.
  • Carly Rae Jepsen’s ” Call me maybe” – those legs, too

“Ladies with serious legs” set

  • Taylor Swift – I knew you were trouble - particularly her performance of this track on the 2013 Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show
  • Shakira f Beyonce “Can’t remember to forget you” - memory of watching and gawking at the video during girls’ weekend earlier this year with Vinnie and Mona
  • Selena Gomez’s “Come & get it”
  • Rihanna’s “Diamonds” - memories of hearing it performed so hauntingly beautifully in Waikiki by River & Tiger
  • Jennifer Lopez f Pitbull “On the floor”
  • P!nk’s “Try” - I’m so impressed she keeps topping herself performing her songs at awards shows, like at the 2014 Grammys

“All of the other junk-pop” set

  • B.o.B. f Hayley Williams “Airplanes”
  • Adele’s “Rolling in the deep” - memory of really dancing it up at B&K’s wedding to this
  • Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’ “Thrift shop” - we saw Pentatonix cover this in concert and Avi’s deep bass voice particularly resonated in this song
  • Jason Derulo’s “Marry me” – I caved for this ultra sappy song because of it’s great bassline
  • John Legend “All of me” – NPY and I mock how sappy this song is… maybe I’m the only one mocking it and he actually likes it :P
  • Jessie J “Wild”
  • Iggy Azalea f Rita Oru “Black widow” – I don’t care for the rap part because it breaks my stride (not literally, I hope) but like the intensity of the rhythm otherwise

What’s been keeping me busy: training my cousin for his first full marathon (+ Runtastic)

In a few short weeks, my whole life will change.

Okay, I exaggerate but I’m really comfortable in the current swing of things. I’m “training” my cousin for his first marathon (where I’m registered for the half-marathon) which takes place on September 21 in Carnation, WA. We get together to run outdoors once a week and increase our endurance with mind-blowing distances that exceed what I need to do for my own race. I cannot deny having fun putting together routes and introducing him to all corners of Vancouver. (He moved to Vancouver from Toronto three years ago.)

After seeing my friend Lionel posting his cycling outings to Facebook from Runtastic, I’m converted to using that app to track my runs. So this post is a “picture post” of some of our most impressive routes and outings and my commentary.

July 17 – 21.11km Home to Stanley Park

In our of our earliest runs, I took my cousin down the new-ish Carrall Street bikeway and he introduced me to Crab Park where the hipsters hang out and we ran through the “belly” of the Vancouver Convention Centre West. My cousin groaned to hear we were going all around Stanley Park because it just keeps going and going and you want to see the next landmark around the next turn but you don’t. It has to be done, just once. It was the first time he went beyond the half-marathon distance, and just barely.

July 24 – 11.66km Kits-Yaletown Seawall run

We are also so tired of the Seawall! Unless we turn to the city streets, it’s just right there next to our apartments in Olympic Village to hop on and get started. We did some running on sand (it’s so difficult!) when I missed a turn off before Kits and I introduced him to enviable Point Grey Road and we ran by Lululemon’s Chip Wilson’s house.

August 8 – 23.73km UBC run

From our homes in Olympic Village, we ran by all of the beaches – Kits, Jericho, Locarno and Spanish Banks. We were running by just as the KitsFest was wrapping up and there were streams of white balloons still waving in the wind strung off volleyball net posts giving a dreamy quality to the area. I think he had biked up the UBC hill before so running up it was new and we didn’t make it to the top (because I forgot where it leveled off and we breaked too early). We head back mostly on 8th Avenue where I could show him my favourite vistas of the city.

August 23 – 29.72km Three Bridges Run

I kept my cousin guessing during this run as we head east on Adanac. “Where are we going? Burnaby? Coquitlam? New West? Surrey? … South Surrey?” No…! North Vancouver! We ran across east Vancouver and across Second Narrows Bridge to North Vancouver. We thought we’d hug the shore but came across private land and started to cut across train tracks and climb between stationary train cars! Then we decided to stick to main roads but there wasn’t always a sidewalk and at one point my cousin ran into a thorny hedge and pushed it out of the way only to have it hit me! More injuries to my left arm to add to those accumulated the week before! We finally made it to Lions Gate Bridge and cut straight through Stanley Park – no more Seawall for us! The third bridge we crossed was Cambie Street Bridge to get home.

Elevation maps are so fun. It was hilly in east Vancouver and the second and third hills correspond to Second Narrows and Lions Gate Bridges.

August 29 – 13.15km Mini Bootcamp run

I introduced my cousin to Angus Drive which was introduced to me by the Broadway/Fir Running Room that I trained with so long ago – it’s a beautiful north-south running westside street that takes us from Broadway south to our hills. I showed my cousin the Trifecta of Hills we would do repeats on: King Ed at Arbutus, Nasty Nanton, and 29th Avenue. He tackles hills with far more relish than I do.

September 1 – 23.25km Vancouver to Richmond run

It has been so great to be challenged to create different (non-Seawall routes) so I was truly excited once I mapped out this run to Richmond. I pulled up the Vancouver and Richmond cycling maps and cobbled this one together. We ran down Ontario to 37th and turned west and climbed that massive hill at QE Park to Heather. From Heather down to Marine, it was downhill and I could point out SIL’s condo under development as we were running through a really stinky area. (Hopefully that landfill moves soon!)

The last time I did a Vancouver-Richmond run was back in 2008 (maybe) and we ran over Oak Street Bridge. I was excited to take my cousin over the Canada Line Bridge where runners and cyclists are on a dedicated level below the train tracks. In Richmond, we turned west onto River Road which connected to No. 3 at some points but we found our way to the Dyke Trail and passed UBC Boathouse and the impressively large Richmond Oval (site of the 2010 Olympic speed skating events). As we head towards the northwestern-most point in Richmond, he asked me if we were going to Steveston – in fact, everyone asked me that afterwards! No, just to the northwestern-most point in Richmond – which had a good payoff arriving at Terra Nova Park and running along marshland and through an intriguing community garden. We turned east again at Westminster Way and “admired” the houses that we could tell from outward appearances belong to (Mainland) Chinese people. Our end point was the Canada Line Brighouse Station and we could raid Kam Do for bakery items before heading back to Vancouver via rapid transit.

The elevation map is hilarious for this one with a steep and fast climb to QE Park then downhill to the bridge and Richmond is flat as a pancake.

Next up? He keeps asking about some lake (Trout? Deer?) so I think it will be Burnaby-New West.

It’s so Vancouver of me to want to show all the  “natural beauty” of Vancouver I can show my cousin (via running which I seem to be passionate about) and give him an intimate look and crash course in Vancouver. Too bad it can’t be the driving factor to keep in Vancouver. So I just try to enjoy these great opportunities to hang out with my cousin, create memories and take advantage of living in the same neighbourhood.

Coined a new term

Last week, I bought a pair of shoes by Christian Siriano (for Payless) which I label as undeniably devastating. Siriano has been designing for Payless for several years but this is the first one that caught my eye both online and in person. I can barely justify it because I can’t name more than three events this year to wear them but….

Payless-Christian Siriano-Kryptic Double Buckle Pump Gap-Eyelet fit & flare dress

I was trying on the shoes with my new black eyelet Gap dress that is in the fit-and-flare style when NPY returned home from work. He stopped on his tracks and said something he’s said a few times this past month or few weeks, “Who are you?”

He suggested that I’m having a mid-life crisis and I very possibly might be but I chose to coin a new term, to put an emphasis on the root cause: Pre-Pregnancy Crisis.

I hate talking about it because there is so much more to life (spoken like a true childless person). Some time in the next 12-18 months, we will have a child and while I want to keep pushing it off (no biological clock here), it is time. The part of me that doesn’t want to be left out of the mommy club that most of our social circle has joined is the part that convinces me the most to take the plunge.

Who knows what is on the other side? A better life? A worse life? Certainly an enriched life.

I have become one of those people and come to that age that while I have much to be grateful for, upon self-evaluation, I’m not happy with what I have to show for it and coming around to thinking having a child would complete us, the next and – ugh – ultimate challenge. I hate that.

In a manner of speaking, things have been going well. I have renewed focus on my career due to people I’m spending time with and the scary thought of time marching on forward with or without me.

It could very well be, as I have observed before, that I’m just a better person in the summer or when it doesn’t rain. But I also realized that around the end of June is when my fitness allowance renews which means the year before I would have spent some fitness money and several vouchers and class cards would expire if for a one-year term. So that was another push to get to fitness and dance classes a lot throughout June. That and training with my cousin for his marathon in September. What else do I really have to do after work (besides study)?

It is a loftier goal to lose weight due to and for training than, well, because I’m like every other woman. I use the guideline as a motivation, “For every pound less you weigh, you shave a minute off your marathon.” I am excited to see how many minutes I could potentially save due to weight loss alone. (Currently standing at six, within two weeks, too.)

I’m obsessed with doing something active everyday and there’s a lot of choices: dance, run, hot yoga, badminton. A condo gym is helpful because I can always go down for a really vigorous walk on a really steep incline (awesome workout for legs and glutes). Unfortunately for NPY, sometimes this no longer leaves time for our after-dinner strolls around the Village.

Physical activity is all good and well but the biggest effect come from diet and I have finally found what works for me:

  • At work: I’ve stopped having a real lunch which used to include leftovers from the night before or bread with some spread; instead, I have a malt or almond milk drink if available and fruit and celery – I feel happily smug eating celery. Not eating at work keeps me feeling better about myself throughout the day and keeps me free for whatever happens for dinner. Usually dinner is just at home and either I will cook and serve myself the smallest helping in the smallest bowl and I am relieved if NPY isn’t even eating at home.
  • Talking about it: Two people in particular are positive influences, both co-workers – Andrea and T. T is a little phenom who doesn’t (generally) eat after 4 p.m. and proves that that doesn’t mean one doesn’t have enough energy in the evening. Andrea has lofty weight-lifting goals and extreme discipline proving that a boring and unwavering lunch of baked naked chicken and vegetables yields results. We work on the same floor and can talk about food we want to eat but don’t. She gets it.
  • Dining out: It is still difficult, but here are some recent examples. (1) We went for dim sum and ordered 9 dishes. Instead of having a full piece of each dish, I had just a bite and I was full enough. Then I skipped dinner. (2) We went for a Chinese meal served family style. Instead of having a full small bowl of each of the three dishes, I had half a small bowl and then skipped dinner. (3) At a wedding banquet, I’ve been to so many now, it’s not that special. I won’t have seconds and only eat food I like. I also skip one of the two carb courses at the end – more for NPY to enjoy. (4) We went for sushi. I had my work non-lunch and participated almost equally in this meal having half of the maki and only the fish part of the salmon don. I didn’t feel bad about that.

I’ve been dressing with more care for work and washing my hair daily despite the fact it is thick and falls all the way down my back. I’d rather feel five-star all day rather than starting out four-star and plummeting to two because my hair is oily and gross-feeling. NPY is puzzled by this and doesn’t recognize me.

All this because of my huge fear of how things will change, how I won’t have control over any of this in 12-18 months and for years after that. I’m saddened that I couldn’t enact these changes six months or a year ago but… better late than never.