The Big Ride Archive

The following blog entries are about my preparation and participation in the 2011 Ride to Conquer Cancer.  They have very little to do with food, but will give you the background to some of my comments in the current blog, particularly those referencing kidneys, spin classes, and truck drivers who keep their testicles in small wooden boxes.

The Beginning
Sat, Apr 30, 2011 @ 4:05 PM

Hello everyone,

When you think of me, Darin, what's the first image that comes to mind? If you said "skin-tight bicycle shorts and rippling quadriceps", then you must have received this in error, because you obviously don't know me.... Or, you may have already heard that I have entered a 220 km bike ride this summer to raise money for cancer research.

I have started my training, which mostly consists of "spin" classes (apparently named for what the room does after I stumble off of the bike at the end of class). Nina, the vaguely German fitness instructor, won't let me cheat, so maybe I do have bicycle shorts in my near future. (I won't be offended if no one asks for pictures.)

So, I have Nina "Leave Everything You've Got on the Bike!" Dusseldorf (okay, I made that up...I don't actually know Nina's last name)...anyway, I have Nina helping me with the fitness part, and now I'm looking for some help with the fundraising part. To participate, each rider must raise $2500 (yeah, I know), and I suspect that bake sales aren't quite going to get me all the way there. Fortunately, my three teammates and I are getting some sponsorship from our company, and we do have a few fundraisers planned. However, I am hoping that you might also be interested in sponsoring me for this worthwhile cause.

I know, this is the part where you say, "We don't hear from Darin for months (or years) and when we do, he asks for money!" Well, you've got me there. All I can offer in response is that, based on the concerned looks Nina throws my way in class, I don't think she expects me to survive 220 kms. So this should be a one-time request.

If you are interested in supporting me, the organizers of Enbridge's Ride To Conquer Cancer have made it very easy to donate through a semi-personalized webpage. If you would like to support me in fighting cancer (and couch potatoage), you can make your donation right online. Or, you can even send a donation by good old-fashioned letter. I promise to write back, and who knows, it might even start something.


You spin me right round, baby...
Sat, Apr 30, 2011 @ 4:15 PM

So, my spin classes are getting easier. I don't even cheat anymore! For those of you wanting ideas on how to cheat in your spin class, my personal favourite was this: when the instructor would tell us to increase the tension (i.e. pain) on the bike, I would cup my hand over the dial and turn my hand in the air and then make a face like I was trying to do my taxes in my head.

I'm not proud of it, but it was a matter of survival.

Fortunately, my fitness level has increased enough that I am now quite willing to turn the dial for real. (I still make the "taxes" face, but it's more of a performance art now.)

Spin Classes & Spinal Taps
Sat, Apr 30, 2011 @ 4:28 PM

I told you before about Nina, my vaguely-Germanic class instructor. Well, I have since found that spin class instructors are a lot like drummers for Spinal Tap and secretaries for Murphy Brown.

In the short time I've been training, our class has gone through no fewer than seven instructors. Which would be okay, except they all use different terminology. One will tell us to start pedaling in Zone 4, another will say Level 9 to mean the same thing, and another will ask for 85rpms "as if you were biking through tall grass after a light rainfall before the dew has had a chance to dry". (Okay, that last one might be a slight exaggeration....but only slight.)

The most memorable instructor so far has been Cathi (yes, with an "i"), a middle-aged, bleach-blond, sun-tanned hard-rocker who was obviously a body-builder in recent history. You know those bad-asses in movies who sneak up behind guards and snap their necks with one effortless twist? Cathi could totally do that without putting down her beer.

Ignorance is bliss...and healthy.
Sun, May 01, 2011 @ 7:00 PM 

I recently had first-hand experience of a universal truth, a truth that all males suspect and often go to great lengths to avoid: you are perfectly healthy until you have a physical.

Alison, being very aware of my sedentary lifestyle, made me promise to get checked up by my doctor before jumping on my bike for 220kms. So I called his office and arranged for my annual physical. (Don't give me that look; I can too call it "annual"! I know you've all been to events called the First Annual Something-Something. It's the same thing.) Anyway, my blood pressure is normal, my heart is normal, my weight is normal, and Dr. Squires' rubberized finger seemed to be very pleased with whatever it found. So I left his office feeling pretty good about myself (if a little bit violated).

I had blood drawn as well and figured the blood tests would be just a formality with equally normal results.

Yeah, right.

It's in the blood.
Mon, May 02, 2011 @ 9:57 PM 

I got the dreaded call from my doctor's receptionist: "your blood test results came back, and Dr. Squires needs to see you". Of course, all kinds of scenarios went through my mind: the family history of diabetes has caught up with me and I'll never get to eat another Pumpkin Pie Blizzard, or maybe God's sense of irony has given me leukemia because I entered a ride to end cancer, or maybe that spider that bit me was radioactive! Yeah, let's go with the radioactive spider. I bet Alison could even sew me a costume.

You've gotta be kidney...
Wed, May 04, 2011 @ 8:15 PM

Of course, it wasn't a radioactive spider, but it was something equally surprising. Apparently, my creatinine levels are out of whack, which means my kidneys are not filtering toxins as efficiently as they should.

Now don't worry, this is not going to become a plea for someone to donate me a kidney. Of course not! That's why we had kids, to supply us with easy access to compatible organs for harvesting.

Seriously though, my doctor says I'm a long ways away from kidney failure, but we still need to find out why someone my age is experiencing these unusual test results. Naturally, that means more tests.

My first test was a bit surreal. I had to go in for an ultrasound, mainly to see if my kidneys might just be too small to keep up with the work of detoxifying my body. (Just when I thought I would never again hear the phrase "small for his age".) The process felt strange to me because I have always associated ultrasounds with being pregnant, something I have successfully avoided so far.

So, the technician slathered me up with that goop they use to replicate drool in the Alien movies (I know, me and slathering, it's a compelling image), and proceeded to do her best push the scanner straight through my ribcage to get at the organs inside. I think she was new, because she seemed to be operating under the misconception that the device has to make direct contact with my kidney in order to scan it. Now, some of you may know enough about anatomy to wonder why she was trying to view my kidneys through my ribs. I wondered the same thing. Aloud. Apparently, when you order an ultrasound for a particular organ, they throw in the rest as a bonus. Whee, lucky me.

An hour (and several internal bruises) later, the technician finally left me to clean up and get dressed. (That kinda makes me sound violated again, doesn't it?) Before sitting up, I paused for a minute to admire the tummy-mohawk I had just made with the ultrasound gel and actually experienced a moment of optimism. I remembered what originally brought me here, the Ride to Conquer Cancer, and realized that many people come to get scanned for things far worse than what I was facing. In all likelihood, we'll be able to monitor and treat my kidneys so that they will outlast the rest of my body, and my lifestyle will be virtually unaffected. Too many people can't say the same thing.

Big Gulp (in reverse)
Sat, May 07, 2011 @ 12:07 PM

I'm only going to briefly describe the second test. It involved what appeared to be a bright orange 2 litre gas can with a sports-bottle spout on the cap. Over a 24 hour period, I was it. I'm really hoping that they also have similar tests that last many days, because a full can in 24 hours was being very optimistic, and the thought that they need a container that big for some patients is a little unsettling.

And, no, I never found out why it had a "drinking spout". And I'm okay not knowing.

Sat, May 07, 2011 @ 12:14 PM 

We got our team jerseys! (Thank you First Calgary for paying for those.)

They look pretty cool, but they fit, well, oddly. Being the wee fellow that I am, I usually wear everything in a size small. Some winters I have to upgrade to medium because of my powerful hibernation (i.e. fat-storing) tendencies, but no fitting room attendant has ever called out to me over the stall door, asking, "Do you want to try that in a large?" So, naturally I ordered a small bike jersey.

Well, I tried it on and I looked like 10 lbs of sausage in a 5 lb casing. Sure, washboard abs might have helped it fit better, but even my arms were losing circulation. (I know what you are thinking: Darin's got great biceps, so of course it would be tight around guns like that! Okay, I'll reluctantly admit you have a good point.) As a point of comparison, I also tried on one of the large ones we had ordered, and it fit pretty well, if a bit loose.

Now, before anyone accuses me of having a distorted self-image regarding my (lack of?) trimness, the small jersey was even too short. In case you didn't catch the significance of that statement, the jersey was too short for Darin. This is the guy who would go shopping for suits in the Shire if he could.

Fortunately, we were able to work it out for me to have a large jersey. Otherwise I might have had to bring back the tummy-mohawk on the day of the big ride to make people think I intentionally wanted my shirt hiked up to my shoulder blades.

Dew the Don't
Thu, May 12, 2011 @ 5:46 PM

The weather is much nicer now, so I have been riding my bike outside much more. But there are still some very damp places out there. About a block from our house, there is a ravine with a bike-worn path going through the middle of it. There is also a stream that winds its way through the length of the ravine that interrupts the bike path from time to time. In the middle of the summer, that isn't a big deal, because the stream is very shallow and narrow.

But that's not the case right now.

I should have realized my mistake immediately as I descended the hill leading into the ravine, my back getting pelted by baseball-sized clods of grassy mud flung from my back tire, and I started imagining myself starring in a Mountain Dew commercial.

Yep, that's right, Darin and extreme sports. You know what else doesn't mix? Mud and brakes.

After locating my bike.... (Ha, I'm kidding, I knew exactly where it was. It had just landed on me.) So, after getting back on my bike, I somehow thought I could still take on the rest of the ravine. (This is just further evidence that bike helmets do nothing to protect riders' brains.)

I soon came to my first water-crossing. When it's shallower, this is the part where you pedal hard, lean back, raise your legs above your handle bars, and fly across, spraying everything for twenty feet around you. When the water is nearly three feet deep (I swear it only looked 10 inches tops), it's a bit different. Halfway across my bike abruptly stops and, legs still raised triumphantly, I have a brief Wile E. Coyote moment before my bike tips me over into the water.

This was definitely the point where I should have just carried my bike back up the hill and gone home, admitting that my mountain biking skills have much more in common with Fresca than Mountain Dew, but stubbornness and the hope that open air would dry my shorts more quickly kept me going forward.

Except for some thorned bushes that made my right leg look like a medieval flogging, the rest of the ravine was very challenging, but a lot of fun. Deeper into the ravine, there were places where there were still patches of snow, and unstable (the funnest kind) ice bridges crossed over some parts of the stream. By the time I finished my ride, I had bits of mud in my mouth and eyes (and even more of it in my does it even get there?), but it was a good workout and far more interesting than spin class. Fear does that.

A Tale of Two Kidneys: The Movie
Sun, May 22, 2011 @ 12:56 PM 

The suspense is over. I finally received the results from my second round of tests, and, would you believe it, there is nothing wrong with my kidneys! I know, all that drama for nothing. And I was really hoping to be able to milk my condition for material on this blog for weeks to come. I had even imagined the final scene, like a made-for-TV movie:

The first leg of the bike ride goes well, but after dinner I experience some sharp pains in my abdomen. One of my teammates notices, but I just pass it off as indigestion. Secretly, and because of the ominous music playing in the background, I suspect it might be something more.

The next morning, I feel refreshed and the previous evening's pain is a distant memory. However, once I hit the 75km mark on the day's journey, I am nearly knocked off my bike by a flood of sheering pain and a wave of brass-heavy soundtrack music. My vision goes blurry and I begin to weave dangerously, nearly crashing into a corporate team of bike-riders from Phil's Pancake House. I persevere, pedaling past the pain. But it is to no avail; I barely make it another 5 kms before everything goes black and my bike wobbles slowly towards the ditch before dumping my limp body into the tall grass. The inevitable (at least as far as TV-movies are concerned) has happened: my body has rejected both - one from each son - of my transplanted kidneys!

I regain consciousness to see the concerned faces of my teammates looking down on me. Kevin is looking more concerned than the others as he gargles hand disinfectant after giving me mouth-to-mouth CPR. I try to stand as someone cries out, "Just stay down! For the love of all that is holy, just stay down!"

But I don't stay down (naturally). I start lurching towards the finish line (which has mysteriously advanced from 20kms away to just 100 meters), a teammate supporting my arms on each side, my bike tied to a rope around my left leg and dragging behind me (because of some rule that I must cross the finish line with my bike), and each of my sons right behind me carrying the kidneys my body just violently rejected. (It looks like they are being supportive, but they are secretly hoping the organs can be repatriated back into their bodies.)

The soundtrack is now making use of the full orchestra, and it is becoming difficult to hear the applauding and cheering of the crowds lining the shoulders of the road over the pounding kettle-drums and soaring guitar solo. It's also getting harder to push forward - everything has switched to slow motion - and I find strength by focusing on my wife who awaits me at the finish line. Why isn't she by my side? Don't ask me. Talk to Hallmark Hall of Fame; they're the ones who write this stuff.

At last I reach the final step, and with a gentle push from my teammates, I stumble across the finish line into the arms of my wife, the image freezes, aaaaaaand...scene.

But now, because I'm being told that my kidneys are okay and were (what??) just having a bad kidney day for the first test, none of this will happen. Instead, I'll cross the finish with no soundtrack, just a sore butt, and my wife won't even want to get near me because I'll be all sweaty and gross.

The View From Behind
Thu, May 26, 2011 @ 11:30 PM 

I bought my first pair of bike shorts. Ah yes, I can see by your uncontrolled laughter that you are imagining me wearing them. No, no, you go ahead, get it out of your system. I can wait....

Better now? No? Fine, you just let me know when you're ready. Don't worry about me; I was expecting this, so I brought a book.

Yes, I know it hurts your ribs when you can't stop, but look, the rest of us want to move along here. You can catch up when you've caught your breath. So, as I said, I bought my first pair of bike shorts on the advice of many people who have biked long distances before me. For those who had decided against bike shorts, the word "chafing" came up a lot. "Rubbing" was also in heavy rotation, not to mention "abrasion". These are exactly the kinds of words you want to hear when picking out the perfect sandpaper, but not when you are talking about your nether-regions. Apparently, dressing like a French weightlifter is the only way to prevent such discomfort. This is something I'm going to have to take on faith, because it feels a lot like I just sealed my genitals in Tremclad. Also, because of the deceptively bulky built-in padding, I've been given a glimpse into my distant (I hope!) future relationship with another brand name: Depends.

On the plus side, my ass looks amazing. Admittedly, I've always had a pretty fine butt. At an age when most men find their derrieres drooping, their gluteous no longer maximus, my heiny is still proudly held high. (Getting sick yet?) Honestly, I think it is because, as close to the ground as my cheeks already are, gravity hasn't bothered to drag them down any further. But add bicycle shorts to the mix? Well, I just feel sorry for any cyclists behind me, 'cuz their concentration will be anything butt!

(Sorry about these horrible puns. I think I might have crossed a line this time, and I deserve a my new bicycle shorts!)

I wish I could be as optimistic about the scene just above the shorts. Any illusions I had about my waist getting trimmer have been completely dashed. Hanging my gut over the shorts isn't pleasant for anyone, and trying to tuck it all inside looks like someone forgot to mention that fanny-packs should only be worn over my clothes.

I have a lot of sit-ups to do in four weeks.

Highway to Hell
Fri, Jun 03, 2011 @ 12:04 AM

Aloha from sunny Manitoba! I have taken the blog this week on the road to exotic Winnipeg. And yes, the city really is everything you have heard it is...only more so!

No, of course I didn't ride my bike here. That could easily take weeks of pedalling through Saskatchewan. Have you seen the scenery in Saskatchewan? That's right, nobody has.

I'm in Winnipeg for a Canadian STD (don't laugh, it stands for Society for Training and Development) symposium as a representative from First Calgary's ED (again, don't laugh, it stands for Employee Development) department. I'm in a very nice room that was obviously meant for two occupants. What am I supposed to do with two double beds all to myself? (Actually, the answer should be clear to anyone who knows me, and yes, the ceiling is plenty high enough for me to make the leap with little risk of head trauma.) Also, having two beds, I've got enough pillows to make a very impressive fort, and since they gave me two bathrobes, I alternate wearing each of them every half hour to ensure my company gets its money's worth.

So, I have a few days off from fitness training, but that's fine because I'm still recovering from last weekend. On Sunday morning, two members of the First Gears team, Kevin and Kelly, and I went for a 42km ride on the highway just south of Calgary. That's not too far, especially compared to the 220kms coming up in three weeks, but that's before you take into account just how crappy my bike is.

I hate my bike.

Sure, a 20-year old solid iron mountain bike serves its purpose - when small children dart in front of me in my neighbourhood, I barely notice the bump in my ride - but when hitting the highway, I'm seriously outclassed by your average road bike. My teammates both had road bikes, and Kelly's in particular was a shiny new piece of very fine engineering. Even going downhill, I had to pedal vigorously just to keep up with what gravity alone was doing for Kevin and Kelly.

Remember the opening credits of the Partridge Family with the animated family of birds racing around the TV screen? In particular, the littlest partridge that kept falling behind the others, never quite catching up? That was me. My teammates had to wait so often that Kevin started to use the downtime to knit a sweater, and Kelly decided to begin learning Portuguese.

At the beginning of yet another hill I asked Kelly to let me try her bike for a hundred meters, just to see if how much difference a road bike would make.

Oh, wow.

This thing weighed about an ounce and started moving before I had done anything more than just think about pedaling. I'm telling you, it was like riding a silver cloud. When I switched up to 12th gear, two cherubs descended from the sky, grasped the handlebars with their pudgy little hands, and gently pulled the bike forward, their wings beating a light cooling breeze against my face. Looking behind me, I could see Kelly struggling to will my mountain bike up the hill, and I swear my bike was giving off a cloud of diesel exhaust.

A hundred meters ends very quickly, so I stopped to wait for my teammates to catch up. Kelly pried her bike back from my clenched fingers, and we continued on our way on our original transportation.

Did I mention I hate my bike?

Less than an hour later, we turned around in the community of Priddis and headed back towards Calgary. I stopped pretending to keep up, and Kevin and Kelly became two vaguely bicycle-shaped specks in the distance. My cursing under my breath had reached NC-17 levels, and, as I passed several frog-infested marshes, I was sure I could hear a ribbety chorus of "justgiveupnowjustgiveupnowjustgiveupnowjustgiveupnow...." By the time I caught up with my teammates waiting for me near the city limits, Kevin was half way finished his second sleeve, and Kelly had moved on to Welsh.

Fortunately, I have already arranged to rent a decent road bike for the "big ride" itself. Of course, then I'll have to come up with a new excuse for falling behind my team.

Hmm, maybe something breakfast related.

Mind the Road
Sun, Jun 05, 2011 @ 10:30 PM 

As the day of the ride gets closer, communications from the organizers have begun to increase. One I received this week was an invitation to complete my online check-in. This is where I promise that I will personally cover any amount I fall short of the $2500 minimum (I could sell a healthy, if inconsistent, kidney for a few bucks), learn about the all the rules and regulations of the ride, and arrange for accommodations for the end of the first day. And by accommodations, I mean a sad little gray tent in a field of hundreds of sad little gray tents. I saw a photo of the canvas metropolis from last year's event; the tents were pitched side to side and back to back, and it looked less like cyclists bunking down for the night and more like a thousand refugees trying to escape the zombie apocalypse.

As for the rules and such, I watched a video that mostly discussed safety. Some of it made complete sense to me: ride in single file, call out if you're passing, use hand-signals, stay hydrated, no drafting (I had to look that one up. It's where you ride so closely behind another cyclist that you get a little pull from their airstream. I've apparently been doing it wrong anyway, but you have to admit that clutching the back of the seat of the bike in front of you with both hands is much more effective.) Anyway, no drafting, no iPods (sigh), and no conversations.

Wait, what?? No iPods and no conversations?

That's not good. Do you know what a Gregson does when left with nothing but his own thoughts for 5 straight hours?

He obsesses. About death. About his job. About mistakes he made when he was 21. About mistakes he made when he was 7. About the obscenity of a CEO paying himself over $20 million while firing 500 people to save $15 million. But mostly about death.

I'm afraid every rest-stop is going to have to have Prozac and Gatorade for this rider.

Saddle Sore Point
Tue, Jun 07, 2011 @ 3:53 PM 

Nina, the spin class instructor, was putting us through our paces last night. Between taunting us for wanting to take a 30 second water break and seeing if it would be possible to get a participant to fall off of a stationary bike (trust me, it's definitely possible), she asked us to do something she hasn't asked before, loudly commanding, "Grab that seat with your buttocks!"

Grab my seat with my what??

I remember a TV program about ten years ago about a woman who had been born with no arms. To compensate, she learned to use other parts of her body to do what you and I take for granted and normally do with our hands. She would write with her mouth (with better penmanship than mine), lift watermelons and peel bananas with her feet, and (I could be remembering this wrong) she would use her left ear to fold hundreds of origami cranes. It was inspiring to see the physical - and mental - dexterity she utilized to accomplish day-to-day tasks. I can't even lift a foot off the floor to remove a sock without falling over, and she would use hers to cook dinner. (Her feet, not her socks.)

But you know what she didn't do?

She didn't fold, spindle, throw, catch, pick up, put down, carry, clean, twist, manipulate, lift, peel, grind, shake, spin, button, zip, unzip, tie, toss, write, flip, grasp, hold, or grab (!!) anything with her ass.

So I'm sure as hell not going to.

Lactose Intolerant But Water Resistant
Sat, Jun 11, 2011 @ 3:49 PM

Just a quick note about something I discovered at our last fund-raising event.

We had a BBQ at our company's head office, selling burgers, chips, and pop for $5. A pretty good deal if you ask me, especially since I grilled every burger with my secret ingredient: love.

Anyway, it rained. And not just a little bit. At one point it crossed over into "torrential" with raindrops the size of bullets (or at least the size that I imagine bullets to be). Even with my teammate Kevin holding an umbrella over me, I was soon soaked to the skin, the buns were soggy, the pickles were turning gray as the water leached away their color, and the lettuce leaves were bobbing like little paper boats on their serving tray.

But the processed cheese slices? They repelled water like the back of a duck. In fact, they repelled water so well it made me wonder why they bother to wrap them in those little plastic sheathes. If they really wanted to protect the cheese slices, they should wrap them in more cheese slices.

Kraft really should diversify into rain gear. Heck, it's already the right color.

Objects in Your Pants May Appear Smaller in a Truck
Sat, Jun 18, 2011 @ 9:37 PM

I tried out my rental bike today to get used to it and make sure I have everything set right for my wee hobbit legs and arms. I took it out on the highway, and very quickly I began to notice something. You might have wondered this too:

Does buying a truck turn some people into dumb-asses, or does being a dumb-ass make a person want to buy a truck?

Because I have to tell you, I wasn't nearly run over by any coupes, hatchbacks, SUVs (nope, not even SUVs), motorcycles, wagons, minivans, RVs, or Smart cars.

Just trucks.

And it wasn't an isolated thing either. They seemed to take great pleasure in cutting me off at exits and edging way too close to me even when I was riding on the shoulder.

Now, I have heard that many men (yes, the drivers were all men) purchase large trucks as a way to,......let's just say, compensate. So I would imagine, with a greater need to compensate comes greater anger and a larger 4x4. Then, when faced with a symbol of masculine virility (i.e. Darin in a pair of bike shorts), they must become nearly blind with rage and seek to destroy the object of their fury. The level of their wrath, and apparently their commitment to vehicular homicide, is naturally proportional to the size of their pickup, which is inversely proportional to the size of, fuel injector.

In light of that, if I ever encounter a eunuch driving a Ford F-750.....I'm a dead man.

What Happened to Truth in Advertising?
Sat, Jun 18, 2011 @ 11:09 PM

This past Thursday I missed my spin class. Wait, before you start calling me a slacker, it was for a good cause. In fact, I have discovered something even more painful than spin class:

A junior high school talent show.

My eldest son, Will, and his band were going to perform. So, being Time Magazine's Father of the Year 5 years running, I was naturally going to attend. Now, Will is a teenager. Which means that things like times, dates, locations - you know, those little things called "details" - are as foreign to him as personal hygiene and financial planning are to his 9-year-old brother. That's why we arrived believing this was just a one hour event. When we got there, we were informed by other parents - who must have purchased their information on the more reliable black market - that it was a 2-hour show. It gets even better: Will's band was the very last act.

Then, to the surprise of everyone, one of the teacher judges announced that there were 49 performances. Forty-nine??? Even with a conservative average of 4 minutes per number, peace would be arriving in the Middle East before we were leaving this gymnasium.

Don't worry, I'm not going to give you a play-by-play of everything we saw and heard. Let me just highlight a few things I learned:

1) Contrary to popular stereotyping, Asian kids are NOT all violin playing prodigies. In fact, I heard some who made stirringly convincing arguments against that notion.

2) Usually, when someone is performing, the polite thing to do is give them your full attention. When that performer is a 14-year-old girl wearing an outfit that would make the Solid Gold dancers blush, and she is doing the splits while "getting jiggy with it", the most appropriate response for a 40-year-old male is to immediately engross himself in checking his email on his smartphone (even if the concrete walls of the school gym are completely blocking his reception).

3) When a teenage boy says he's going sing a medley of three popular romantic tunes while accompanying himself on the piano, what he really means to say is he plans to sing all three songs in their entirety, pausing only briefly between each song to update all the "young ladies in the audience" on his dating status. And yes, you lucky girls, he's available.

4) When singing, projection can be a very good thing. As well, modern amplification (i.e. microphones) are also very good things. However, trying to project to the back row (of the building across the street) while also using a PA system being run by a volunteer teacher who doesn't know a decibel from a cowbell...well, that can cause the kind of physical pain that PETA wouldn't allow animals to be subjected to.

5) Contrary to what is often portrayed in movies and TV, you rarely need someone else to point out that you are bleeding from your ears. I refer you back to points 1, 3 and 4.

6) Apple does not have an app that turns your iPhone into a wrist-slitting razor. I checked. And at minute 173 of the talent show, I tried using the edge of the iPhone itself, but it's not sharp enough to do more than leave a red mark.

7) Finally, I might have misjudged Simon Cowell. I have always thought he was an insensitive, mean-spirited bastard whose "heart was two sizes too small". Now after experiencing just three hours of what he has to literally sit through days of (St. Simon the Martyr!), I can conclude that his only fault is to turn down the drugs that his co-judges must obviously be taking.

"So, how did Will do?" you might ask. Well, my son reported that several girls came up to him after the show and told him that he "looked really hot with his guitar." In other words, as far as Will is concerned, the talent show was an unqualified success.

The Road Warrior, Part One
Tue, Jun 28, 2011 @ 1:42 AM 

Just give me a moment to pull on my tweed sport coat, light my pipe (cough, cough...maybe not), and sit myself down by the roaring fireplace, because I have a tale to tell:


The starting line was at Spruce Meadows, a show-jumping venue located on the south-west corner of Calgary. There were 2200 riders and the weather was perfect for a long bike ride: sunny sky, cool air, and a very light breeze. A second bit of good news was soon announced to the crowd anxiously waiting for the "starter's pistol". (They didn't actually use a starter's pistol. We've all seen the panic that ensues when horses hear a gun go off in movies, and this place was the home to more horses than a glue factory.) Anyway, the Master of Ceremonies announced that the event's participants had earned more than $8.6 million dollars for the Alberta Cancer Foundation. Wow.

The first leg of our ride took us over back-country roads. They were paved, probably before I was born, but we didn't mind a bit of bumpiness. This was exactly how we had pictured the event: surrounded by beautiful weather, picturesque scenery, and by throngs of smiling bikers. (For those of you reading this blog for university credit, this is what we in the tweed-wearing circles call "foreshadowing." I believe it's Latin for "bad shit is going to happen later.")

Our first stop was Okotoks, a growing community south of Calgary, and we dropped by to visit our company's local branch. They were prepared to greet us with Freezies. Never has frozen sugar-water in a plastic tube (specially designed to slice the corners of your mouth) tasted so good! So good, in fact, that I made sure to try one of each flavour.

I should now say a few words about my bike seat cover at this point, because this was when the attitudes of other riders regarding my bike seat were beginning to change.

While we were waiting to begin the ride back at Spruce Meadows, I heard the giggles, the guffaws, and the mockingly feigned interest of other riders asking each other, "What is that thing made of?" Well, the answer, when they bothered to ask me directly, was "caribou." That's right, my bike seat was covered in the remains of a close relative of Dasher and Vixen. My wife, Alison, bought me this bike seat cover about 15 years ago. It is ridiculously comfortable; a comfort that is only matched by how ridiculous it looks. It has a thick, decadent appearance and texture, and I could imagine Barry White with an ottoman made out of the same stuff. Only difference is: this fashion would fit in perfectly with a mid-1970's swinging bachelor pad. But on my rented road-bike, the pinnacle of 21st century engineering, it kinda stuck out like a Hutterite in a Sony store. In fact, until this big ride, I had never actually used the thing. (Too embarrassed.)

But as the day proceeded, derision slowly turned to admiration, then to envy, then to bribery, and finally threats of bodily harm. (Granted, the violent threats came from one of my teammates....) Between the caribou seat cover and the padding in my bike shorts, my backside was probably the only part of my body that wasn't experiencing pure misery by Day 2.

Things were still pretty good right up to lunchtime. Lunch was provided for the riders in a town called Longview, which apparently everyone knows produces the best beef jerky in the world. Everyone except me. How could I have missed such a vital fact?

However, immediately following Longview, which is located in a valley, was an enormous hill. I don't think they officially name hills, so let's just call this one "The Widowmaker". Every time we thought it had finally crested, the road turned left or right and rose even further. By the time we reached the top, my legs were screaming, my neck was in agony, and all the riders around me were starting to speak foreign languages (that's a Biblical reference...look it up).

But with refreshments and moral support supplied by one of our teammate's mom, aunt, and daughter - providing us with rest-stops between the official pit-stops - we persevered and, soon after crossing the 100 km mark, we caught sight of our destination, Chain Lakes campground. Suddenly, I found untapped reserves of energy and sprinted to the city of tents.

The Road Warrior, Part Two
Tue, Jun 28, 2011 @ 1:48 AM 


I am proud to say that I did not cheat. I made the entire 200+ kms on Darin-power alone. (Not everyone was so honest. Our bikes were all installed with plates displaying our names, and I saw one "Rebecca" with some very full facial hair.) But we did, how should I put this.....make the most of our available resources. What I am saying is that we took one look at the Spartan conditions of our sleeping quarters and hightailed it out of there to stay overnight at Alison (not my wife, but my teammate named Alison) and Steve's house. They live out in the boonies between our campsite and Calgary, and it was no contest between a tent surrounded by (potentially drunk) revellers and a real bed. So, call it cheating if you want, but it took no time nor distance off our ride; we were just going to be much better rested than everyone else.

The Road Warrior, Part Three
Tue, Jun 28, 2011 @ 1:58 AM


I awoke, lifted my head from my Princess pillow and looked past Sock Monkey and Hello Kitty to see that it was raining outside. No, I wasn't delirious from the exertions of the day before; I was borrowing the room of our hosts' daughter for the night. They told me it was because it was one of the rooms the cat never entered (I have slight allergies), but I suspect it was actually because nobody else could fit into a 7-year-old's bed. Really, I didn't mind. It was very cozy, and there is something comforting about Ernie and Bert being the last things you see before you go to sleep.

But there is nothing comforting about waking to find rain when you have another 100+ kms of pedalling ahead of you.

We had a quick breakfast, drove back to the campsite, pulled our bikes out of the mud, and started the return trip back to Calgary. It was so cold. And the wind! Somehow it could still reach me through a rubberized rain-parka, a hooded sweatshirt, a cycling jersey, under-armor, and 30 years of body hair growth. This misery lasted for more than two hours, and before we had even reached 20 kms, dozens of riders had dropped out of the ride and were being shuttled back to Calgary.

My mood swung wildly from despair to deeper despair, and then I remembered: the previous night I had stuffed my bike bag with a bunch of easy-to-eat snacks, including Peek Freans! (For those of you who don't know about Peek Freans, they are a wonderful cookie made, ironically, by the British. They have two "biscuits" sandwiching a layer of butter crème and a fruit jam center. Yummy.) Not wanting to stop (because I would probably not start again), I reached for the bag, struggled with the zipper, and dug around until I found the familiar shape of a Peek Frean 2-pack.

Okay, here's the problem: you can't daintily nibble on a Peek Frean - as I am sure the British intended - whilst (hey, that sounded British!) riding a road bike in the pouring, freezing rain. ("Lovey, would you be a dear and pass me another biscuit?" "Certainly, my buttercup. And another spot of tea?" "Oh yes, that would be delightful. By the way, have you seen Chauncey recently?" "Oh dear, no. I'm afraid he was run over by a lorry just past the 15 km mark while snacking on a Peek Frean." "Oh, that's a pity. I thought Chauncey was such a nice fellow. Do you suppose the second Peek Frean survived the collision?") So, no, of course you don't nibble. You just shove the whole thing into your mouth. No-one's going to correct your manners out here.

But back to the problem. You see, when riding a bicycle in the cold, cold rain, your nose tends to instinctively plug itself up, becoming more congested than the Plus Size aisle in a Walmart. So, after putting a full cookie in my mouth, I was suddenly unable to breathe. The cookie exploded from my mouth, missing the garbage-bag clad rider in front of me by just a few inches. What a waste.

At lunchtime, we finally caught a break when we hit Turner Valley. We had lost what must have been hundreds of riders to the weather that morning, but those of us remaining were rewarded by sunshine for the duration of our mid-day meal. Well, you might call it a reward. I call it giving a false sense of security.

We had only about another hour of rain after a break from the original downpour, but the wind just doubled its efforts to compensate. Really, having to pedal downhill is just cruel, and I can't tell you how many times I was sorely tempted to give it up and wave down one of the road crew to carry me home. Honestly, when you start to seriously weigh the option of having a passing car just clip you, not full-on run you over, but just disable you and/or your bike enough so that you simply cannot continue the ride....well, some might call that less than healthy.

Up to this point, Kevin and I had become the only members of our team to remain together, but at the last pit-stop he had found his second wind and I was still railing against the one blowing all around us. I told him to go ahead ("Save yourself!"), and I rested for a bit longer, psyching myself up for the last 20 km leg.

Strangely, the last 20 didn't feel like 20 and it wasn't long before I saw Spruce Meadows' rows of international flags waving in the distance. I stopped and tore off my rain-parka and hoodie to reveal my jersey. I was going to finish this ride in style, looking cool and triumphant.

This bubble was quickly burst by a stranger named Jarrod, who slowed down to see if I was okay and offered me encouragement to make the last kilometre to the finish line ("You can do it, buddy!").

Jarrod, with a knee brace.

Jarrod, who had a yellow flag on his bike identifying him as a cancer survivor.

Jarrod, the 22-year-old lung cancer survivor.

Jarrod, who I found out later hadn't even started his chemotherapy...because he wasn't healthy enough yet.

Wow. I must have looked anything but cool and triumphant if Jarrod thought he needed to give me encouragement. Pretty humbling.

I climbed back on my bike and headed for the flags. But before crossing the finish line, I reflected on some of the things I had learned on this ride:

  1. I wasted good money on a vasectomy. I'm sure two days on that saddle did the same job by cutting off my circulation and slowly starving my wedding tackle.  
  2. Hills can't be uphill both ways, but the wind can definitely blow against you both ways.  
  3. When the wind is blowing against you, it feels like the hills are uphill both ways.  
  4. Who am I kidding? I swear some of those hills moved overnight to make themselves uphill both ways. I dare you to prove me wrong.  
  5. God really does have it in for members of the Gregson clan, and He's quite willing to make 2200 other people suffer to get at one of them.  
  6. After seeing many cancer survivors and the surviving loved ones of cancer victims complete this ride, I really have nothing to complain about. (Not that it'll stop me from complaining because, really, do you want to read a blog about some guy just counting his blessings? Nobody wants that.)
So, that just leaves one final question:
"Darin, are you going to do this again next year?"

Oh, I sincerely hope not.