The spring of our discontent (a cyclist’s lament)

Now is the spring of our discontent
Made ever more miserable by this lack of sun
And all the clouds that lour’d upon our rides
In the deep chasm of the puddles buried.
Now are our brows bowed with discouraged furrows;
Our soggy bibs hung up for monuments;
Our muddy cleats march to gloomy forecasts.
Grim-visaged trainer rides hath smoothed our wrinkled front;
And now, instead of mounting carbon steeds
To fright the souls of fearful pelotons,
We caper sullenly in garages and basements
To the lascivious pleasing of a lute.
But I, that am not shaped in previous seasons,
Nor made to be pleased by my reflections;
I, that am rudely lacking of sinew and muscle
To strut at the end of ambling pace lines;
I, that am curtail’d of this fair proportion,
Cheated of physique by dissembling weather,
Deformed, unfit, sent before my time
Into this breathing world with scarcely half the mileage,
And that so lamely and unfashionable
My Garmin barks as it forgets about me;
Why, I, in this weak piping time of rain and cold,
Have no delight to pass away the time,
Unless to chase my shadow in the sun
And slim down on my own deformity;
And therefore, since I cannot ride whenever,
To pine for days of warm, pleasant weather,
I am determined to prove a villain
And hate the idle sloth of these cloudy, cold days.
Rides have I planned, long and languid,
By optimistic ambitions, routes and schemes,
To set my legs spinning and Lapierre
In delightful rhythm with each other:
And if the Weather Man be as true and just
As I am discouraged, cowering and cold,
This day of better weather should closely follow,
About a time, before spring becomes summer,
As cyclists wish for roads dry and bare of puddles,
Of days of shorts and cold beers.
Ride, thoughts, down to my soul; where
Is the sun?

This was previously published on my cycling blog, The Big Ring.

Circle of Journalism

Journalists wear their profession.

Everything we do passes through the prism of a storyteller. When we watch the news, one ear is on the craft of the writing, one eye honed to the visuals. When something cool or extraordinary happens, we want to immediately be there to pass the story on.

So while you may take the journalist out of the newsroom, you can never take the newsroom out of the journalist.

This week, I officially return to a newsroom to tell stories again.

When my newspaper, the Burnaby/New Westminster NewsLeader, closed in Oct., 2015, I thought I was walking out of a newsroom for the last time. And I was fine with that. I’d cobbled together an admirable career for just over 30 years. I’d seen and experienced a lot of interesting things. I had had a front-row seat to some incredible happenings. I met amazing people. I learned a lot about building and connecting communities. I got paid to be curious, find out stuff.

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One of my early photos after landing in the West in 1991. I have no idea what was going on here, but it seems someone was so upset with something at New Westminster City Hall, they decided to strip down.

But with the newspaper industry in its death throes, sucking morale and enthusiasm from depleted newsrooms everywhere, I accepted I’d have to find other avenues to tell stories.

After some time away to decompress and reorient myself to a new path, I did just that. I learned some new skills, explored new topics for new audiences.

But in conversations, I still called myself a journalist, I still referred to the newspaper business as “our industry” when lamenting its sorrowful state.

This is my tribe. For better or for worse.

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The Banana Republic vest-of-many pockets. The button-up denim shirt. The Ray-Bans. The Canon A-1. It had to be the 1990s.

Then, a couple of weeks ago I was presented an opportunity to pull some shifts for the Tri-City News. While I’d visited newsrooms on social calls to old colleagues, or to discuss freelance projects with editors, this was the first time I’d sat at an actual desk to log in to write a story, download photos from the camera, in more than 18 months.

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Office hi-jinks circa 1991.
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My new editor, doing his best upside-down-reporter schtick back in 1991.

It felt like I’d never been away. It felt right. It felt like home.

And I’m not just speaking metaphorically. Because my first official day at the News came 26 years almost to the exact day I landed there after being encouraged to head west by the paper’s former chief photographer Craig Hodge.

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On my first shift at the News 26 years ago, colleague Greg Kinch took me for lunch at The Lunch Doctor. So it’s only fitting that this week I went again.

A lot has changed over that time. But a lot hasn’t. Not the least of which is the drive and determination of a small newsroom to keep the citizens of three growing communities informed, share their stories, help out when there’s need, call out when it’s required.

It’s what we do. It’s who we are.

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Covering a football game at Centennial secondary school in 1991.
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A couple more blasts from the past I dug up from the archive. Left, the NAIA track and field championships in Abbotsford. Right, riding shotgun with hydro line workers high above Barnet Highway; I don’t imagine we’d get this kind of photo op these days.

Man on a mission

“Ride,” she said, as the sun broke through the clouds. “You need to go for a ride.”

Of course, Princess of Pavement was right.

It’s been a dismal winter of ceaseless cold and snow and ice and rain. And it’s put me in a sullen state.

Last year at this time, I’d already put 1,300 kms into my legs. This year, it’s a third of that.

It hasn’t helped that the wintry weather also cost us nine weeks of road hockey.

There’s no doubt the lack of activity has softened my belly. And the diminished endorphins have soured my mood.

So when the morning rain turned to sunshine, Princess of Pavement prodded me. She knows the frustration of inactivity as injuries and school commitments have kept her from her beloved running for more than a year. She’s only just getting back to it, heading out for measured 5 kms when she has the opportunity; her smile lights her way.

But while the sun was out, an icy wind blasted up the river. We’re in the back half of March and we’ve ventured into double-digit temperatures maybe a half dozen times. Last year, the cherry trees were already in full pink bloom.

It was slow going into the stiff headwind. My ears chilled even under the flaps of my winter Castelli cap. I harboured no great ambition for the ride, other than 90 minutes of turning the pedals in fresh air; but it was so much warmer at home in the condo.

But at the turnaround, when the head wind became my booster, my mood lightened, my face warmed. My heavy legs suddenly became powerful pistons. I was a jet engine, rocketing along the flats at 35-40 kph with barely any effort.

It had taken an hour to get to the turnaround; it took only 30 minutes to get back home. Grinning from ear to ear. Mission accomplished.

This was originally published in my cycling blog, The Big Ring.

Stealing rides

Facebook is taunting me.

My feed is pocked with reminders of last winter, when the weather was mild, the roads clean and riding opportunities seemed endless; in the first two months I already had 1,000 km in my legs.

This year has been all about stealing rides.

Sure, there’s the whole job thing; earning a paycheque again does have a way of curtailing long midweek days in the saddle, turning the pedals.

But mostly it’s been the weather.

This has been a winter unlike most.

It’s snowed, a lot. So much in fact, even our weekly road hockey game was put on ice for two months.

It’s been cold. Thaws have been few and far between. And when they did happen, they were quickly followed by more snow and extended stretches of freezing temperatures, icing the roads and bike routes all over again.

So when the clouds do part, the temperatures moderate, and the roads are dry, it’s time to pull on the tights, layer up and steal a ride. Even if it’s just for 90 minutes or so. Before Environment Canada issues the next “weather advisory.”

Spring can’t come fast enough. The way things are going this year, it likely won’t…

A café where everyone knows your game

We all like to geek out from time to time.

For cyclists that can mean waking in the pre-dawn gloom to hunt down streaming feeds from bike races around the world because Eddy Merckx knows we don’t get those on mainstream TV. Or exchanging quips about the results from the latest World Cup cyclocross race.

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There’s still lingering snow on the ground as the FRF prepares to head out for a special holiday Monday ride to The Musette Caffé.

Around here, some serious geek jones can be fulfilled by a ride to The Musette Caffé.

I’ve written about The Musette before. But that was when Vancouver’s favourite cyclists’ coffee shop was a hole-in-the-wall tucked into a back alley off a bike route.

In January, The Musette emerged from its secret spot to a highly-visible location on one of the main thoroughfares for bikes and cars into the downtown peninsula. It had been closed more than a year after the old site was bulldozed for a gleaming new condo tower, and the owners built out the new café. The wait was worth it.

The Musette has been a destination for Vancouver’s cycling community from the day it opened. The snacks are tasty and healthful, perfect fuel at mid-ride or as a post-ride treat. The walls are adorned with all manner of cycling bric-a-brac and memorabilia, from classic steel bikes to a collection of cloth musettes from various pro teams, to autographed pro team jerseys to route markers collected at the Tour de France and the Giro. There’s even bike racks inside the café so cyclists never have to be out of sight of their ride.

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The Musette Caffé has a shiny new home for its impressive collection of cycling memorabilia.

The new location takes that cycling geek chic to a whole new level. The memorabilia is still plentiful, with new discoveries to be made every visit. But the café now offers a full immersion experience into cycling lore and legend. The outdoor patio is constructed of cobbles. The communal tables inside are made of wood reclaimed from an old velodrome track in Antwerp, Belgium. The banquette overlooking the main floor area is modeled after the open concrete showers at the Roubaix velodrome in France where the Paris-Roubaix spring classic race concludes every April; the race’s winners are commemorated on little brass plaques affixed to each “stall.”

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The banquette area at The Musette is an homage to the historic Roubaix velodrome with concrete shower “stalls” surrounding the seating area. The light fixtures are modeled after shower heads.

The attention to detail is stunning. Interior pillars are wrapped with ad banners from the roadside of the Tour de France. Order number stands are modeled after number plates affixed to bikes at the Tour and the Giro. The impressive espresso machine has been painted with World Champion stripes.

Stepping into The Musette is like walking into cycling, and everything that is great and colourful and historic about the sport. And yes, there’s still racks to park your bike inside. Although it was so busy on our holiday Monday FRF pilgrimage, we had to lean our bikes amongst the dozen or so already parked outside.

This post originally appeared on my cycling blog, The Big Ring.

Cutting into journalism’s quick is a cut too far

This week dozens of experienced, dedicated and skilled journalists across the country will be walking out of their newsrooms for the last time as the latest round of Postmedia buyouts (aka cost cutting) takes effect. This time they’re chipping deep into journalism’s quick.

The bylines departing are some of the most recognizable in their markets. They’re the pillars of their papers who’ve been telling the stories and taking the photos in their communities for decades. They know every nook and cranny of their beat, they know exactly who to call, where to dig. They are trusted, by sources and by readers.

But for the corporation that employs them, they are a drag on the bottom line that is plummeting further and further towards the abyss. They are senior staffers, and that means they’re expensive. It’s much cheaper to fill the ever-shrinking spaces between the fewer and fewer ads with quick-hit stories pumped out by disposable J-school grads who will also find themselves cast aside when they’re deemed too expensive. That is, if their papers even last that long.

Because as much as newspaper publishers like to think their august front page banner is their brand, the relationship with readers and advertisers is forged by the reporters, photographers and editors who toil for that banner. Diminish them, you diminish the brand, weaken your connection to the community. Until one day readers wake up and decide they’re not getting much for their subscription dollar anymore. And advertisers realize they’re being sold empty promises.

Almost to a fault, the departing journalists are putting a hopeful face on the future. They’re writing all the right things about an industry turned upside-down, struggling to figure out a way to turn itself around, trying new things, forging new paths to retain their relevance.

Their colleagues who left before them wrote similar words. So did those in the round of buyouts before that, and so on.

Yet here we are, with no end to the cost-cutting in sight. Until there’s no-one left to cut.

This round of names I grew up with, bylines I sometimes encountered on the job during my own 31-year career as a journalist that was truncated by the closure of my paper, is feeling perilously close to that end.

Good luck to everyone walking out of their newsroom for the last time. You dedicated yourself to telling stories that might not otherwise get told. You informed and enriched your communities. You made us smile and wrenched our hearts. Thank you!

Keeping your head down!

Keeping your head down on the bike is how you power through rough weather, or a bonk on the third mountain climb of the day.

This winter, it’s a matter of survival.

It’s been an extraordinary off-season. After a run of virtually snowless winters, we were hit hard in early December by three consecutive storms. The thaws that usually wash those snows away never really happened. Instead we descended into a weeks-long deep freeze that iced the land and roads and bike paths.

Now that temperatures have moderated, and most of the snow and ice has melted away, we’re finally able to safely get back on our bikes. But keep your head down and your eyes on the pavement ahead!

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Blue skies and warmer temperatures have afforded some welcome opportunities to get back on the bike.

Because the consequence of our wintry weather is streets and bike lanes cratered with crumbling asphalt, gaping potholes, yawning sinkholes. A moment’s inattention can collapse a front wheel, pitch a daydreaming rider over the handlebars, destroy a season.

The work crews are out there, doing what they can to patch the pocked pavement. But they can’t keep up with the structural failings. The repeating cycle of freezes, brief thaws and subsequent deep-freezes expanded cracks into fissures, pocks into potholes. And with more cold temperatures forecast, it’s only going to get worse.

Still, a couple of weeks of warmer weather has afforded some chances to ride. The legs are still feeling the effects of the season’s sloth, so the routes have been conservatively flat, the pace languid. But the air filling the lungs feels good, the muscled fatigue is welcome. Because it means we’re actually out there, turning the pedals, keeping our heads down. Dodging divots.

Remembering a rocky start for a hometown hero

One of the special things about working in community journalism is being able to cover stories at a very intimate level, jumping in before they capture the attention of bigger, regional media.

In November, 2008, Kyle Turris was a young NHL prospect trying to earn a regular place on a team coached by the legendary Wayne Gretzky.

But the NewsLeader had been telling Turris’ story for years. We were there when he led his junior team, the Burnaby Express, to a national championship. We were with him when he packed up his bedroom in his family’s New Westminster home to embark on a collegiate career at the University of Wisconsin. We covered his selection to a team of Canadian all-stars to play a series of games against a team of Russian all-stars. We held the paper so we could get the story of his selection in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft by the Phoenix Coyotes; he was selected third overall, the highest position in the draft ever achieved by a graduate of a Tier II Junior A hockey league.

Turris played a year of collegiate hockey, then turned pro in the spring of 2008.

When the NHL released its 2008-09 schedule that summer, NewsLeader reporter Grant Granger and I circled Nov. 6 when the Coyotes would visit the Vancouver Canucks and Turris would be able to play his first game as an NHLer in front of his friends and family. It would be, we thought, a triumphant, feel-good story of a hometown hero making it big.

The Coyotes were in town a day early for their Thursday night game so Granger and I headed down to the team’s Wednesday morning practice; it would be a chance for him to talk to Turris in a more relaxed setting and for me to be able to get a folio of photos we could use for years to come, including some of him interacting with Gretzky, who had championed his selection by the Coyotes.

Game night, we worked the plaza outside GM Place, talked to some of Turris’ old high school buddies who were there to cheer on their former classmate.

Inside the arena, Granger ascended to the press box while I headed rinkside to get a few closeup photos of Turris warming up during the pre-game skate. As the players left the ice, I went to my accredited position at the mezzanine level to prepare for the game.

But when the lights dimmed and the teams returned to skate a few laps before the opening face off, Turris was not among them. He had been scratched from the Coyotes’ lineup. He would not get a chance to play for his friends and family. And our triumphant story took a dark turn.

Over the cellphone, Granger and I plotted our next move. We would connect partway through the first period, then head downstairs to see if we could find Turris and get some comment.

I half-heartedly shot a few frames of game action (after all, I didn’t get many chances to shoot NHL hockey in good light) but a mid-season game between Vancouver and Phoenix wasn’t my story.

As Granger and I descended a stairwell, heading to the dressing room area, we bumped into Kyle. He was wearing civvies and a heavy black overcoat. He clutched a sandwich in plastic wrap. He looked very sad, almost near tears.

Turris said he was going to look for his dad and graciously allowed us to tag along. Granger asked some questions, I shot a few photos. None of us was feeling particularly good about the situation.

When Turris found his dad in the concourse, they embraced. I shot a few frames and then retreated. For a kid on a winning streak of hockey success for most of his young life, this was a kick to the gut.

Sunday, Kyle Turris played his 500th NHL game. Most of them have been with the Ottawa Senators, where he was traded just over three years after that sad night in Vancouver.

New facility fails to lure lazy roadsters

Not even the novelty of a new home court was enough to fire the roadsters up for the second half of the season.

Only five players reported Sunday to the converted basketball court that was one of the few outdoor facilities completely clear of the snow and ice that has kept the road hockey season frozen for the past seven weeks. A week of warmer temperatures and heavy rain diminished the glacial sheet a bit, but the roadsters may be banished from their traditional home court for another week or two until the tundra has melted entirely.

In fact, conditions are so bad at the road hockey courts, they’ve been secured by bright yellow caution tape.

Colonel said the unfamiliarity of the new venue may have tempered the ardour of some of the roadsters to get their game in gear after the extended layoff.

“I think people like what’s normal and comfortable for them,” said the veteran centreman. “I’d say our guys aren’t super good at being outside their comfort zone.”

Nouvelle Guy, who supplied the nets that converted the basketball court to a hockey venue, said he was discouraged by the ambivalence of his fellow roadsters.

“It’s pretty disappointing,” said the versatile veteran. “I expected there would be more people out here, but it is what it is.”

The new facility presented some challenges. While it’s mostly enclosed, the surrounding fence is much lower, allowing more balls to escape play. And the fencing doesn’t quite reach the ground so low rollers had a tendency to slip beyond the game.

But, said the Colonel, it was a more than adequate alternative.

“It’s a nice clear court,” said the feisty forward. “The surface is smooth. It’s a lot of fun running around here today.”

That exercise was a major motivator for Nouvelle Guy.

“It’s been really tough,” said the power forward. “I’ve been wanting to get out on the court. It’s one of the things I love to do.”

The mid-season break that has now stretched to seven weeks for some roadsters is unprecedented. And that could have serious implications as players begin to gear their game for the climactic Stanley Stick championship series in April.

“People are fatter,” said Colonel of the season’s slothful pause. “People don’t quite grasp it’s a lot easier to put a few pounds on than to take a few pounds off.”

Playing consistently keeps players sharp, hones their timing and playmaking, said the veteran. Those skills diminish quickly.

“You lose your hands, you lose your ball skills,” said Colonel, who struggled with some of his deke moves during Sunday’s half-court scrimmage. “It’s best for everyone to be out playing the game.”

The previous story was first published on my weekly road hockey blog, roadhockey.net

Roadsters dig out before digging in

Twizzler scored four times to become the first, and most unlikely, winner of the inaugural Shrimp Ring Shootout on Sunday.

The shotstopping stalwart was given a rare reprieve from his armour of heavy leg pads as the competition required only one goalie; he took full advantage, ripping bullets past his rearguard rival, Joker, high into the top corner, over his glove and through the five hole. It was a remarkable offensive effort against some of the game’s top snipers including Doo, Lak Attack and Scooby, who was making his first appearance at the courts in more than a year.

That the Shootout occurred at all was a testimony of the roadsters’ resolve to restart the season after a five week hiatus brought on by extended wintry weather.

“This is the week we were going to get back to playing hockey and you have to take a stand that you’re not going to let anything stand in your way,” said Doo during a break from the arduous effort to chip and shovel away more than a foot of hardened, compacted snow and ice.

It may have been the worst conditions the roadsters have ever encountered at the concrete courts said Lak Attack. A snowfall early in December wasn’t cleared before a thaw and subsequent freeze encased the concrete surface in ice and frozen slush. More snow piled on over the holiday hiatus that was compacted when the neighbouring school reopened.

“This is something we’ve never seen,” said the veteran who’s participated in numerous shovel brigades over his long career. “The amount of snow, and the ice underneath; there’s a lot of challenges.”

But the roadsters wered undeterred. Every chunk of snow or block of ice heaved to the side felt like a victory, said Doo.

“They’re doing something impossible. It’s back-breaking labour for a game that we’re probably not even going to be able to play.”

That realization was apparent more than an hour into the clearing effort as the accumulated snow had been removed from only a third of the court, and a thick layer of hard ice still remained.

The shoot out contest may not have had the competitive fire of a regular game, but for the roadsters who survived Sunday’s shovelling brigade it still felt like victory.

“It’s great to see,” said Doo. “This is probably helpful for people’s fitness.”

“This is a building block of how badly the guys want to play,” said Lak Attack. “It builds character for the guys… and that’s good for the rest of the season.”

This story was originally published in my road hockey blog, roadhockey.net