Family Lines

stories for you

Month: September 2013

Finally on the Rock

Bauline East, Newfoundland.

Bauline East, Newfoundland. We stayed in the orange cabin on the right.

As years pass St. John’s keeps beckoning to me from the waves. I’m a born and bred Bluenoser, a Nova Scotian, a Maritimer, but I’ve somehow skipped over seeing Newfoundland and Labrador. Probably because it has always been there. Hanging out in the Atlantic. Telling me it’s cool to see other parts of the world first.

Last week I finally made it to the Rock.

Since I now live in Calgary most of my trips usually consist of going home to Nova Scotia or to other more “exotic” spots. I’ve flown over Newfoundland to get to places like Glasgow and Warsaw and Senegal. I’ve made my way through the rest of Canada, from New Brunswick to the Northwest Territories to British Colombia. However, I’ve missed out on exploring our far east because I thought St. John’s would always be there. But thanks to a friend’s wedding I got a chance to visit the friendly province.

Landing in St. John’s there was a whole new world to explore. From listening to the ocean while sitting on a cabin deck in Bauline East, to eating fish and chips in Portugal Cove, to seeing the brightly painted houses in St. John’s, to taking in the colourful local language while being Screeched in. Of course, there was a lovely wedding in there too.

Beautiful September evening in Bauline East, Newfoundland.

Beautiful September evening in Bauline East, Newfoundland.

All these sights and sounds culminate into wonderful memories that I want to hold on to forever. But I know through the years the nuances of the trip will fade and dissipate into the dry Calgary air. I won’t remember the biting taste of Screech rum, I won’t remember how warm the wind was on my skin during a jaunt to Water Street and I won’t remember my sore feet from wearing high heels all day as a bridesmaid. Guess this means I’ll have to write some more about Newfoundland soon. Words are good reminders and help save those little things from escaping.




Surprise, you’re in a triathlon

Tour of Alberta.

The inaugural Tour of Alberta finished in Calgary on Sunday, Sept. 8. The speed of the cyclists created a strong wind. Amazing. Click here for a video of the finish.

The Tour of Alberta, a professional bicycle race, ended in downtown Calgary two weekends ago. My husband and I were at the finish line when the cyclists sped to the finish – and blew us away. Literally. The athletes were pedalling so strong and fast the peloton created a stiff breeze. What amazing and powerful riders, there’s no way I could even imagine keeping their pace. It reminded me of a time I got stuck among triathletes competing in Sackville, N.B.

While living in Sackville I did a lot of sports but combining three and doing them in a row was not on my radar at that time. I was happy to swim and bike and run at different times on different days. That was good enough for me.

After being in the small university town for three years, I was moving on to other prospects. I was packing up my belongings at the end of August, ready to move out of a five bedroom townhouse that I shared with four Mount Allison University students. I had already taken apart my bicycle so it could be easily loaded into the moving van (my parents’ SUV).

A friend called me and reminded me I had left some bowls at her place after a potluck. She lived about five kilometres away in Middle Sackville, an idyllic spot. The way to her home was a meandering road that passed by green fields and towering elm trees and offered a lovely view of the Tantramar marsh. A nice drive, but I didn’t have a car. Nor did I have a working bike.

One of my roommates had a bicycle. She was petite, about 5’2”, about to go into her fourth year. She had brought her bike to school for first year but hardly ridden it. I asked her if I could borrow it for about an hour and she said sure. Then told me it was actually a child’s bike that was given to her as a present one birthday or Christmas. Oh, no wonder it looked small.

But the tires were pumped full of air and the brakes worked. I hopped on the bike and started for Middle Sackville. Riding the tiny thing was a bit uncomfortable – my knees were almost hitting my ears when I pedalled. To hang on to the handle bars I had to hunch over, way over. I looked ridiculous and felt like an idiot. I couldn’t go fast either because my feet barely fit the kiddy pedals.

“Oh well,” I told myself. “No one will see me if I go the back route.”

The back route was a trail, an old railway track that went almost all the way to my friend’s place. So that’s the path I took.  A ways into my trip a cyclist whizzed by me. Then another, and then some more and then there were people on the side of the path cheering. For me?

No, I had somehow managed to insert myself into the middle of a triathlon. Here I was on a child’s bike all scrunched up and looking like a fool while all these athletes, kitted out with the latest and greatest and best bikes, flew past me. I was embarrassed and wanted to shout at the cyclists and cheering crowd that this wasn’t my bike. I usually ride faster than this. Please don’t think I’m actually a competitor.

I said nothing and continued my slow and contorted journey for another 10 minutes before the racers turned off onto another trail. At my friend’s house I collected my bowls and made sure I took the road back into town. If the triathletes were running I hoped I would be at least be a little faster than them.


The Worst Journey in the World is the best

Apsley Cherry-Garrard was 24 when he joined Scott's second expedition to Antarctica. Photo:

Apsley Cherry-Garrard was 24 when he joined Scott’s second expedition to Antarctica. Photo:

Every night I get into bed in the Antarctic. No, it’s not some kind of teleportation trick and it’s not that cold in Calgary yet. I’ve been reading The Worst Journey in the World, by Apsley Cherry-Garrard. Cherry-Garrard was part of a British expedition team that travelled to the South Pole in the early 1900s. His non-fiction book was created from journals he had written, along with the memoirs of other team members, and I find it fascinating.

Long before my hands were frostbitten, or indeed anything but cold, which was of course a normal thing, the matter inside these big blisters, which rose all down my fingers with only a skin between them, was frozen into ice. To handle the cooking gear or the food bags was agony; to start the primus (cook stove) was worse; and when, one day, I was able to prick six or seven of the blisters after supper and let the liquid matter out, the relief was very great. Every night after that I treated such others as were ready in the same way until they gradually disappeared. Sometimes it was difficult not to howl.

Excerpt: The Worst Journey in the World by Apsley Cherry-Garrard

Cherry-Garrard survived the ice and the snow and other extreme conditions while the leader of the group and four other men died. It was a disastrous adventure and they weren’t prepared, especially as there was pressure on the expedition captain Robert Falcon Scott to reach the South Pole first, before Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen. It didn’t happen.

What does happen in the book are vivid descriptions of the sail to New Zealand and then to Antarctica – amid hot weather, cold weather and storms. Trying to protect the ponies and dogs they brought on board from searing heat or icy waves (even though some animals were washed overboard in squalls) while keeping them healthy in the tiny stalls on the ship. Once off the boat at the south, the crew hopscotched over ice floes, making sure no one or nothing was eaten by orcas that smashed their way through the ice for an easy meal.

Cherry-Garrard with Michael, the pony. Photo:

Cherry-Garrard with Michael, the pony. Photo:

The men grappled with the worst weather possible – and not in technical, sweat-wicking gear either. They did hard, physical labour for two years without the comfort of going home and relaxing after a solid day’s work. They hiked long distances in the cold while pulling and pushing heavy sledges and trying to avoid falling into crevasses. In the beginning the dogs and horses did much of the work but the animals started dying. Some because they couldn’t take the polar chill and some because they were weak. One horse was lost when a crack appeared in the sea ice underneath his stall in the stable. He simply disappeared into the black void.

His name had been Guts and I was devastated when I read he was gone. I felt a personal connection to him because I had a Guts once, my bicycle. I thought I was being original in 1994 when I called him that. He got the handle because he took all my guts to get up the big hills around home in Nova Scotia. Thankfully, my Guts is still here and my father gets to take him out around the valley now.

I liked the book before I read about Guts the horse. I’m only part-way through the book now. It was hard to get into at first because there are lots of names and it gets confusing. The other thing is, I wish they had included a timeline with the people who went on the different missions. I’m a bit mixed up about who goes where, at what time and why. Otherwise, it’s a great read and I look forward to heading to the Antarctic each night.

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