Sunday 29 April 2007

Granville Island - and a chat with Bob

On Thursday, I rode my Vespa into the Vespa store in Vancouver for an oil change. It was pouring but not terribly cold so I enjoyed the ride, especially when my wife and one daughter met me and we went out for dinner at a French bistro, the Salade de Fruits (not too expensive but really good country bistro cuisine).

Yesterday morning, I caught a ride into the city with my wife, and after a latté, went back to Vespa Vancouver to pick up my serviced scoot.

Bob was working there, a real bonus, as he is a very friendly guy who loves to talk about scooters but doesn’t try to sell you a new one every time you walk in the door. He had some interesting things to say, as usual, one being that there was a reversal of sales trends from just a month ago when the 50cc scoots were flying out the door. Now the bigger bikes, including the GTS and the MP3, are the big sellers. He also gave me some frank information on conversion kits - that they can reduce the life of your engine - when I asked about bumping up the cc’s.

He did talk about some of the bigger bikes, reminding me that I could take my parking lot test (for my motorcycle learner’s license) on my 50cc and then I could test drive anything else he had. Can’t blame him for trying!

After I left, and since it was such a spectacularly sunny day, I stopped by Granville Island on the way home. Granville Island is actually a peninsula located in False Creek, which is really an inlet, under one of the bridges, which is actually a bridge, that connect downtown Vancouver with the rest of the city.

It used to be a big industrial area but was redone several years ago and now is a big tourist attraction - for both tourists and locals - as it has, among other things, lots of restaurants, a theatre, a marina, and a public market. An art institute named after Emily Carr is also located there. The one industrial holdout is Ocean Cement, a cement plant.

Usually, it is difficult to find a parking spot - but not on the Vespa! Less than two metres - about five feet - and I was in! I wandered over to the public market and bought some French saucisson sec - you know, those French sausages that hang from a stand and have a white powdery covering. On the way back to my scoot, I stopped by the Ocean Cement Open House. I would have enjoyed it a lot more if I were nine years old - lots of big trucks and machinery and big chunks of concrete everywhere - but it didn’t really capture my interest - besides, the free balloons wouldn’t have made the trip back to Maple Ridge.

I then had a nice, leisurely ride back home in the sunshine. Oh, and Guinness, the new dog, was happy to see me return!

Sunday 22 April 2007

Dog gone...

First of all, a warning - this entry has nothing to do with scooters. It has to do with dogs. Specifically my dog.

Even though I have never talked about my dog in the blog, I’m sure it is easy to understand that a dog, or any other pet, for that matter, can become a valued member of a family.

Eleven years ago, my family and I decided to get a dog. We hopped in the car, headed down to the SPCA and found the perfect dog, a year old chocolate lab / duck tolling retriever cross named Coco.

Coco was a great family dog. She loved to run with me while I rode my bike, play all the silly dog games that my family could think of, and chased birds that were way up in the sky. I remember flying a kite with my girls when they were small. When the kite was on the ground, Coco could care less. When the kite got a metre off the ground, she started to go crazy. The higher the kite went, the louder she barked. When the kite came back to land, she wandered away in disinterest. We figured that she thought the kite was a bird until it was close enough - and then it was just a kite!

There are a lifetime of stories about Coco - how she walked, what she ate, when she barked, how different people made her act in different ways. Being a medium sized dog, we thought she would live until she was 14 or 15 at least.

Friday started off like any other day. Coco ate her food and happily ran outside, barking and looking very healthy. By Friday night, however, she had difficulty walking. We rushed her to the emergency vet, but it was too late. She had massive internal bleeding and there was no option but to put her down.

The story doesn’t stop there, though.

Today, the girls were looking at all of the different dogs at the SPCA that were waiting for adoption. Similar to eleven years ago, we once again hopped into the car and headed down to the SPCA. An hour later, and we had a new dog, a four year old black lab / chow cross named Guinness. The vacuum that was evident during the short time that we no longer had Coco has at least partially been filled.

A couple of observations to finish this post. One is that when someone dies, let’s say an older family member, it is a deep sadness that happens but, unless you live with them, you are not constantly reminded that the person is gone. With a family pet, especially one that has been with you for years, you are constantly reminded that the pet is not around any more. The second observation is that when a dog dies, unlike a relative, it is possible to, in some way, go and get another one to replace it. Because of the first observation, we’ve done the second and I’m hopeful it will work out.

So long, Coco. Good girl...

Wednesday 18 April 2007

No talking, just surfing

Spent the last two days home with no voice. I’ve had a pretty relaxing break as I haven’t felt sick, just a little tired, but it’s pointless for me to try to teach a class of 30 Grade 6 students if I can’t talk so that's why I've been home.

I spent the days at home, did some marking, etc., but also had time to play around on the computer. After the nice comment I received on my tortilla ad in the last entry, I decided to try something else, this time with a picture of a Vespa. I got this technique from Photoshop TV, one of the podcasts I regularly watch. I really enjoy using Photoshop to create photographic art - I just wish I was a better photographer.

The other thing I did was look around YouTube for a while. There were lots of interesting scooter videos, but the one I liked most was this one. It briefly tells about a charity ride based from an Army Base in Germany. I believe it is an actual news story as it looks and sounds quite professional.

I hope to ride this weekend as the weather is pretty nice and my voice has returned. I will be at a teacher conference for most of the weekend but I know that I will feel better if I can get out - even if it’s only for a short time.

Sunday 15 April 2007

Wasabi, Honey & Horses

Lately, the weather has been fantastic.

I try to ride my scooter in most weather but it’s days like Saturday that are warm and sunny that I love the most. Riding is not only exciting and exhilarating, it is also not too much of a challenge.

My ride yesterday was not a terribly long ride, although I did have a couple longer rides during the week. I scooted to Superstore which is a large grocery chain in Canada to track down a treat that a co-worker had shared with me earlier in the week - wasabi and honey flavoured tortilla chips. They’re Superstore’s own premium brand called President’s Choice (nothing to do with George W., thank goodness) and are a unique taste. I got a little carried away with my enjoyment of them as I took some photos and then played around with the images with Photoshop. Trying to avoid my marking load again, I guess...

On the way home, I took the back roads. There are many different farms and horse ranches in Maple Ridge which I still find new and interesting even though I’ve lived here for twenty years. I grew up in the city of Vancouver and really only saw farms and horses when we went away for the holidays. Living in Maple Ridge, just a few minutes on my Vespa or a few more on my bike and I’m in the middle of farming country.

It was a very pleasant ride - neither bricks nor bouquets today - and I came home with a nice cache of wine, chips and a few other groceries, all carried in my handy pet carrier. As always, I felt recharged, yet also relaxed, and maybe even ready to mark those darned math tests...

Monday 9 April 2007

In my own backyard

The remnants of the Easter ham are safely cooling in the fridge, shiny wrappers from chocolate eggs and other sweet goodies are tucked into different nooks and crannies around the house, and the bottle of Tums that has sat unused for several weeks has been accessed by all the members of the family. Easter weekend is over.

Many of the blogs about scooters that I read, including mine, often focus on trips to scenic places or interesting destinations. I, for one, love that feeling of scooting someplace simply for the love of riding, taking some photos, and riding back. If only I had more time to ride like that.

But the reality is that most of my trips on the Vespa are rather mundane - off to the grocery store to pick up a bag or two of groceries, over to the hardware store to buy some paint, or to the speciality liquor store to buy a couple bottles of red wine. I don’t usually blog about these kind of trips but it’s exactly these trips “in my own backyard” that motivated me to get the Vespa.

If I have the time, it’s nice to be able to walk or ride my bicycle. Walking to shops takes about an hour so isn’t practical for a lot of things. My bike is faster, but I’m so worried about it getting stolen, that I don’t like to leave it in busy areas.

The Vespa, then, is the best choice for making trips around town.

Today, it was to pick up some frozen quesadillas at a food store. I did take the long way home and stopped at a couple places on the way home.

The first was the Billy Miner pub. It is in a historical building and named after a famous train robber who committed Canada’s first train robbery. Legend has is that he was the first to use the phrase “Hands up!” and after the robbery in 1904, he said, “Goodnight boys, sorry to have troubled you.” I didn’t stop in for a Guinness this time, but I was there last week for a meeting, tipping my glass to the memory of the Grey Fox.

Nearby is the Port Haney wharf, a public wharf, still in the ‘historic’ area of Maple Ridge. The wharf is on the Fraser River.

After taking the photos, I scooted home and smiling, parked my scooter. It’s wonderful that even the most mundane of trips can be made enjoyable riding on my Vespa!

Friday 6 April 2007

Some Thoughts on Going Green

This morning, my wife, dog (Coco), and I walked to Starbucks for breakfast. It’s about a half hour walk and was especially pleasant today as the weather was sunny and warm. We felt good because we got some exercise and we weren’t contributing any crappy stuff to global warming or climate change. I felt almost as good as when I take my Vespa to the hardware store (like I did today) or to the grocery store because I’m being part of the solution instead of part of the problem. When I’m in my new Mazda, that’s a different story but we’ll leave that for now...

So my wife and I are enjoying a bagel and a latté and the dog is enjoying a bowl of water. The Starbucks is, what I guess, a typical suburban Starbucks - there is no cool street or plaza to look onto so our outside table looks onto the mall parking lot. Not as interesting as the Champs Elysees, but there are still people that go by and some are quite watchable.

Suddenly, we came to the realization that there are several pick up trucks, most of them black, all of them large. Now, remember, this is a mall parking lot, and most of the people are going to Starbucks to grab a Good Friday coffee. My wife and I sigh and comment quietly to each other about the number of gas guzzling trucks that have been pressed into coffee retrieval service. There is a certain resignation - maybe it’s because that’s the only vehicle someone has - as the steady stream of dark coloured pick up trucks roll by. At least I drive my Vespa, or ride my bike, I think, a good deal of the time.

And then, it happens. Some guy in a massively big pick up rolls up with his wife. He hops out fo the cab ( he is rather short) and leaves his truck running! He spends five or ten minutes in Starbucks getting his coffee and then spends another five minutes chatting to the people who are next to us. As the huge engine thrums and chugs and clouds of smoke issue forth, I actually consider saying something. I realize, though, that there are people who have always felt that they could idle their cars all day long - and I’m sure, at one time, that was what was accepted. Getting mad at them or making them mad at me is not the answer.

So what is the answer? Well, I teach a group of 30 kids. They see me ride my bike or my Vespa most days to school. I talk to them about how if everyone makes small differences in saving the environment, then it adds up to big changes. I speak to the people I work with and also my extended family about what I am doing to reduce my impact on the environment. I’m certainly not a super environmental greenie, but I’m trying and I’m working to affect change with people around me.

Eventually, the guy in the idling truck roars off. It seems that most of the trucks have left the parking lot as well. I sit back in my chair with my latté and look up at the clearing sky as the sun pokes it’s head through the clouds. I contemplate a nice walk home and then a trip to do several errands on the Vespa. My final thought as I grab Coco’s leash is, don’t be mad, and think - the more people that make a difference, the better off we’ll all be, so do the best I can. And don't worry about the idling yahoos...

Sunday 1 April 2007

Golden Ears Ride

Last month, when I tried to ride to Golden Ears Park, it was closed due to the severe wind storms. It recently reopened so yesterday, I took advantage of the fine weather we had to go for a scoot into the park.

The first photo shows the entrance once you pass the gate. The mountain goat carving has always been associated with Golden Ears Park. There are usually two carvings, one on the other side of the road, but that one has been taken away for minor repair.

The park staff has done a good job of cleaning up as here was little sign of the damage by the wind. In one area, there was some heavy machinery tucked away in the forest but other than that, the park looked fine.

The park is at the base of the Golden Ears - two mountain peaks - so the ride is mostly uphill. It’s not too steep a grade so I kept a good speed up in most parts. The road is paved all the way and is in good condition. My main concern was for a wandering deer or bear to cross the road while I was riding past.

It was a little chilly, even on such a sunny day, but it felt so good to be out in the sunshine, zooming along, that I wasn’t really bothered at all. I’ve had a couple of rides in the sun this week and it makes it so much more enjoyable - less of a challenge, but a lot more fun. I’ve only had the scooter since August so more than half of my riding has been in typical rainforest weather conditions.

I parked briefly at the boat launch area (beside the no parking sign) and watched some boaters take their boats out of the water. Even though I felt a bit of warmth while standing in the sun, I am sure that it was quite frigid on the water. I love to fish in the summertime and go out on a boat but this time of year is still a bit too cold for me.

Speaking of parking, Golden Ears Park, which is a provincial park, started charging for parking of vehicles a couple years ago. The charge is $1 an hour or $5 a day. Many people are upset with this as traditionally government parks have been free to park in. Apparently the compliance rate is only 30- 40%.

I finally stopped in at the day area called Alouette Lake (no, I didn't pay for parking). This is a great area for families to come as there are many picnic tables, lots of trees, a big beach area (although the beach itself is rather pebbly and the water is - well - glacier fed so it’s a wee bit cold), and basic conveniences like bathrooms. We used to go there quite often when our girls were small and didn’t care how cold the water was. There were a few families there when I wandered around, wearing big coats, hats, and gloves - as I said, it was a bit chilly.

Afterwards, I zoomed down he mountain. By this time is was later in the afternoon so it was quite cold. Luckily I had my lobster gloves in the pet carrier so was able to stay pretty warm.

As I returned home, to face the pile of weekend marking from school, I felt good that I had taken a bit of time for myself to clear my head and recharge.