10 Good Things About 2020

I’m not a big believer in New Year’s resolutions. I saw a Facebook post this morning that said they are merely items on a To Do list for the first week of January. Cynicism aside, I do use the opportunity of New Year’s Eve to reflect on the year that’s been and make some plans for the year to come. And lately, out of that process of reflection and intention in my journal, I arrive at one central resolution, or as I prefer to call it, a personal goal.

This goal is not in the traditional sense of weight loss or exercise gain, but a slight shift in the way I want to look at the world, or behave. For example, one year the goal was to say Yes more often to opportunities that present themselves in my life. In another, it was to pay more attention to my posture. And this year, for 2021, I know already, my personal goal is to be more positive.

It’s been a trying year, to say the least. The Covid-19 pandemic has cost us all dearly, both personally and professionally, some more than others. We’ve had political and racial unrest in The United States, which inevitably spills over the border to here in Canada, and devastating forest fires in Australia and the US southwest. I’ve largely stopped watching news on TV because it’s all so negative and depressing, and snoozed a few Facebook friends who feel the need to remind us all of what is wrong in the world today.

This year, for 2021, my personal goal is to be more positive.

There’s certainly no shortage of negativity, if one wants to go there. I figure what is missing is positivity, and I’m going to do my best to add what is needed, not what is in oversupply. It’s not a denial of our problems—there’s no escaping them—but a conscientious attempt to view the glass as 1/3 full, instead of 2/3 empty. It is so easy to fall into cynicism and despair and become part of the problem, yet another source of darkness afflicting those around us. I know my wife is tired of my snide remarks while watching TV, which is really just a coping strategy, but not helpful nonetheless.

And with that shift in mindset as the goal, here are 10 things that were good about 2020, in no particular order. Most of these are not directly related to adventure motorcycling, and some are quite personal, so this will be a bit of a departure for the blog before we get back to discussing oil and tire choices and such.

1. The election is over!

I’m not going to say that the Good Guys won, because that would not be a positive thing to say to the 70M Americans who voted Republican. And I don’t think the political problems in America are going to be solved by an election, or in an election cycle. No, the good news here is simply that there is some peace, for now, relatively speaking. There have not been any major protests by the losing side, not at least of the violent kind, and whatever remains to be settled will thankfully be done in the courts and not the streets. Let’s hope the inauguration goes smoothly and President-Elect Biden makes good on his stated wishes to try to unite the country.

2. We survived online teaching

Many of my colleagues and I were looking toward the autumn semester with considerable trepidation. When Covid hit in March, we already had half a semester done and had established good relationships with our students. But starting from scratch in an online environment was another whole order. How do you remember names when your students don’t turn on their cameras? How do you engage students when there is a screen separating you? How do you do a pop quiz when that quiz can be shared online during the writing? How do you even raise your hand in a Zoom meeting? I’ve been teaching for 20+ years and am constantly revising my pedagogy, but this was re-inventing. I think some teachers, myself included, felt like it was the first day of kindergarten for us all over again. Well, the good news is, we survived. In fact, I think I nailed one of my standard courses better online than I ever have in person.

3. My dad survived major surgery at 91

I got the news during a club ride in the form of a text from my sister: my dad had cancer and would undergo emergency surgery that night. This was in August. It’s been a tough several months for him and my sisters, who have been at his side almost daily, nursing him back to health through companionship and gentle encouragement. The good news is that it seems he’s turned the corner and will be with us a little longer. His tenacity and the dedication of his healthcare workers are an inspiration to all.

4. Covid has brought my wife and me closer together

For some, Covid has wrecked havoc on their relationships, even in some cases, resulting in separation. For others, my wife and I included, it has brought people closer together. Lockdown and confinement stresses a relationship, and we’ve had our snippy moments, for sure, but generally we are extremely appreciative of our compatibility and the mutual support we offer. It’s easy to lose sight of these fundamentals of relationship. Covid and its resulting effects have reminded me of the ice storm of 1998 here, when Quebecers were forced to slow down and spend some time together away from electronic devices, reminding them of the benefits of staring into a fire. Similarly, Covid reminds us, whether through absence or omnipresence, that the real value and meaning in life is in our relationships.

5. Renovations instead of vacations

So my cross-country tour was put on hold another year, but I used that extra time and money to do some much-needed renovations on my house. I weatherproofed the garden fence and painted the exterior of our house. We finally lifted some old disgusting carpet up from the stairs and had a runner made to replace it. I painted the kitchen cabinets, only once I’d done that the countertop looked really shabby, so we had that replaced and I installed a new kitchen sink and faucet, giving the kitchen a face-lift if not a complete redo. Slowly, slowly, our little cabin on the bay is coming together nicely.

6. An epic road trip to Thunder Bay

Instead of The Big Tour, my wife and I vacationed along the north shore of Lake Superior. This was in July and the country was partially open, so we had the choice of drive-through Tim’s or drive-through Tim’s while on the road. But we camped the whole way and had an electric cooler, so we didn’t suffer much for the closures. Our destination was just west of Thunder Bay with some relatives at “camp,” as they call it there, where we ate and slept like a king and queen and I waterskied for the first time. I sold an article to Ontario Tourism about it, concluding that it was the best vacation I’d had in years.

7. Our Saturn survives another year

There wasn’t a lot of driving this year, permitting our old car to survive another year. It’s a 2002 and has now close to 250,000 kilometers on it. The back end has some noise from worn spindles, and while our mechanic says it’s safe, we figured we’d be in to a new car this year with the accompanying payments. The only big driving we did, aside from to the grocery store and back, was the trip to Thunder Bay, and once we were out of Montreal’s terrible roads, the back end was quiet. Somewhere between Wawa and Pukaskwa National Park, we hit some construction on Highway 17.

“How much further is this construction?” I asked the young flagman.

“Not much further,” he answered, and then, “How difficult is it to get parts for a Saturn?”

Covid has helped us avoid car payments another year.

8. The environment gets a respite

Speaking of which, Covid has had a number of environmental benefits, including a drastic reduction in CO2 and NO2. According to a recent article published in Heliyon, GHG (Greenhouse Gas) emissions were down as much as 50-70% over specific times during the lockdown, with an overall reduction of 17% annually and a resulting reduction in pulmonary diseases such as asthma. Water pollution, noise pollution, ecological devastation, all reduced. Dolphins have returned to the canals of Venice and the Bay of Bengal (Bangladesh), and the sea has changed colour due to a break in human activity.

9. Still healthy at 57

When many people our age are developing mobility issues, I’m all the more appreciative that my wife and I are still healthy. I don’t know if there’s another soccer season left in me, but I’m still able to run 5-8K a few times a week. When my dad fell ill in August, I spent some time in a ward surrounded by people with various body parts and organs cut out of them. Watching them and my dad struggle to get around afterwards, I decided to do a deep cell cleanse through a diet of intermittent fasting, restricted eating upon returning to Montreal, and my wife and I have been on that since, taking a hiatus only for the holidays. It really isn’t that hard—not as hard as it may seem. At any rate, I believe good health is never something to take for granted, especially as you get older, so I’m adding it to my list of things to be thankful for in 2020, or any other year for that matter.

Life is a story, and we construct our own reading based on what we choose to emphasize and deemphasize.

10. The vaccine arrives!

Perhaps the best thing about 2020 is that a vaccine was successfully developed for Covid-19. In fact, a few vaccines have been developed and approved in record time, with remarkable probability of success. So there is light at the end of the tunnel, and we can begin to start planning how we are going to spend our renewed freedom. I’m perusing the National Geographic Guides to the National Parks of Canada and The United States, and its Guide to Scenic Highways & Byways. I’ve got a big map of North America hanging in the upstairs hallway with sticky dots marking the places I will visit. I’m watching YouTube videos of BDR and TAT rides, trying to determine if I will attempt any sections of dirt solo. It seems I’d be stupid to not attempt some off-roading in Utah and Colorado, although I’ll be fully loaded. All going well, I’ll be spending the better part of next summer on the road with the bike. And when I won’t be touring, I’ll be riding with my club mates and playing in the dirt with the boys. I’ll be posting some blogs on my trip planning and prep in the coming months.

The power of positive thinking is more than a catchphrase for mystical delusion. Life is a story, and we construct our own reading based on what we choose to emphasize and deemphasize. If there’s one thing English Studies has taught me, it’s that the same text can be read any number of different ways, depending on your perspective. For 2021 and perhaps beyond, for as long as its needed, I’ll be looking at the world through rose-coloured glasses.

What was good about 2020 for you? I know it may be tough, but consider it an academic exercise, like when you were required to debate in school that dress codes should be mandatory. And like any mental muscle, the more you exercise it, the stronger it becomes. So state in the comment section below the best thing that happened to you in 2020. Positive thinking is contagious, and we could all use a little of that virus now.

Happy new year to you and yours. Best wishes for a happy and healthy 2021.

The End of Summer

It’s Labour Day weekend, the unofficial end of summer here in Canada. I haven’t heard any geese migrating south yet, but it won’t be long before I do. Patches of yellow leaves have started to appear, and the temperature rarely climbs above the low-twenties. I’ve zipped the quilted liner into my riding jacket.

For me, fall is usually a bit melancholy, but this year it is especially so since my major summer riding plans remained unfulfilled. In my post 20-20 last May, filled with optimism and promise, I outlined my three major plans: to ride the Hamster Trail in New Hampshire, to ride across Canada and back through The United States, and to improve my off-road skills.

As I write this, the Canada-US border is still closed, so the Hamster Trail didn’t happen. There was no club riding in The States, no DirtDaze Rally in August (at least for Canadians), and there will be no Cromag Campout in September. I miss the beautiful dirt roads of Vermont, the state parks, and the good company of our American friends.

By early July, I knew the cross-country tour wasn’t going to happen either. It’s not that it would have been impossible—at least the Canadian leg—but it would have been tainted by the restrictions imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic. My wife and I did some travelling north of Lake Superior in early July and found Tim Horton’s drive through open, but not much else in the way of food on the road. (Not that I have anything against Tim’s! Their employees are heroes, as far as I’m concerned.) The country was still opening up and some things were open, others not, and I had plans to do research toward some travel writing. All things considered, I decided to postpone that dream another year. I’ve had it since I was a teen, so what’s another year, right?

As for the off-road skills, well, there’s still some time for that. Covid can’t stop me taking my bike outside of Montreal and hitting the trails. I did a ride with The Awesome Players in June, but broke my new shock in the process (doh!) and it took a couple of redesigns by Stadium Suspensions to get that fixed. Then my preload adjuster broke, but thanks to my buddy Phil in Ottawa (aka backonthesaddle), that was fixed. Finally the bike is riding well! It’s sitting higher than I ever remember it, even with the preload at base level, and tracking well over bumps and potholes. In fact, it feels better than ever.

My wife says, “Don’t do anything to it. Just ride it!” and I get her point. So I’ve been doing that, going easy on it with some street riding. I’ve been doing day rides with my street club, The West Island Motorcycle Club, including the Telus Ride for Dad, which raises funds for prostate cancer research. This weekend, riding buddy Ray and I scouted a light ADV club ride in the Eastern Townships, ending up at the summit of Mont Orford.

The summer hasn’t been a complete blow out. I’ve kept busy by doing quite a bit of home reno, including painting the exterior of the house and doing odd jobs not done in previous years because I was too busy riding.

If I’ve been quiet on the blog here it’s because there hasn’t been a whole lot to write about except frustration in trying to get the bike fixed and toward Covid. It’s hard, though, to sound off when my wife and I are safe and have stable income.

I’m tempted to take off for a little solo trip somewhere now that I can. I like to get at least one solo trip in each summer. It’s getting cold for camping, but last year I was brave and did a weekend at the end of September in Algonquin Park. We’ll see. For now, I’ve got a set of Kenda Big Blocks sitting in the shed ready to go on as soon as my wheel weights arrive, and I’ve just ordered a new chain and sprockets. My current set has an unbelievable 35,500 kilometres on it and looks like it could do more, so I’m sticking with the same set-up: a gold DID VX2 chain (which is now upgraded to VX3) and JT Sprockets front and back in 15/47 ratio, which provides more torque and higher revs in the low gears than the stock gearing.

Here in Montreal, we are on the road until December, unless we get early snow like last year. The fall presents some of the most pleasant, beautiful riding as the temperatures drop and the trees turn colour. I’ve never had 60/40 knobbies on this bike front and back, so it will be interesting to hit the trails with the new shock and tires and see how the bike handles. Let’s hope I don’t break anything! While the summer was a bit of a bust, the fall still contains some promise.

20-20

 

Kevin_cropHindsight may be 20-20 but nobody can predict the future. This Covid-19 has thrown us all for a loop, and we still don’t know how the story will end. It’s hard to make plans for the summer when everything is so up in the air, but I am a Gen-Xer. We grew up with the threat of nuclear war hanging over our heads and still managed to make it to school each day, even hold a few tentative plans for the near future. A little pandemic isn’t going to stop me planning the riding season set to begin.

mushroom

Obviously, much of this is pending how the pandemic plays out, so I’ve made some educated guesses. The regions are starting to open now and the stores and schools will be in a few weeks. It looks like we will be starting to loosen social distancing restrictions in the near future, although I think everyone is going to be wary of close proximity in confined spaces for some time to come.

For that reason, I think most of my riding this summer will be either solo or with a few riding buddies, cognizant of minimizing contact and risk. I’m okay with that. Riding is already a pretty solitary activity even when shared. I love solo touring, but as I said in my last post, I love club riding too. Here are my tentative plans for this summer amid this weird year so far.

Touring

The first little tour I’m going to do is down into Vermont and New Hampshire for a few nights once the border re-opens. Last year I rode the Puppy Dog Route on my own in June and it was just the thing to recenter after being stretched out of shape by 100 students, each wanting a piece of me. This year I will try the Hamster Ride, which is the same sort of thing as Puppy Dog but in New Hampshire instead of Vermont. It’s a series of dirt roads traversing a good part of the state up to the Canadian Border. I love dirt roads, state parks, the White Mountains, the Green Mountains, and the secondary highways of the northeastern states. I think Bigby and I will attempt Mount Washington while passing nearby, but I won’t be putting any “This bike climbed Mount Washington” sticker on my pannier. That’s boasting. Besides, it makes you question the reliability of any vehicle that feels the need to advertise the accomplishment.

MtWashington

Photo Credit: Ted Dillard

I don’t have any other small tours planned, but Marilyn and I will be doing some day trips together. To beat cabin fever, we’ve done a few rides along the river these past few weeks. We go in the late afternoon and it’s a slow, easy ride west as the sun sparkles off the water. Marilyn says she thinks she’s caught the motorcycle bug. The other day while doing some routine maintenance on the bike, I noticed my rear brake pads were finished, so I’m waiting on new pads to arrive in the mail. Now she’s asking, “When are those pads arriving because I want to go for another ride?” Finally, she might be getting the appeal, and as long as we don’t get caught in a rainstorm, I think I’ll be able to cultivate that interest into a simmering passion. We will pack day lunches and head off on our own small adventures.

But The Big One, the tour I’m most looking forward to, is the cross-country one I’ve wanted to do since I was 19. I thought it might be this summer, but then our dog got sick, so it was put on hold; then sadly our dog died, so the possibility was back on; but then Covid hit, so now I’m not sure. But all going well, I’ll be heading across Canada sometime in July. I’ll head up toward Ottawa on Highway 417 which turns into the 17 after Ottawa, then I’ll just keep going, westward, through Chalk River, Mattawa, North Bay, Sudbury, Thunder Bay, and just keep going, as far as Bigby will take me. I’ve never driven across the country, so this is going to be a real discovery for me of the country I grew up in and call home.

Priest Carving copy

Mattawa, ON., Gateway to the West

The plan is to meet Marilyn somewhere out west (she will fly) and we’ll visit her sister-in-law in Washington State. I may be tempted to ride a portion of Highway 101, the Pacific Coast Highway, while I’m close, and that’s why I want to do this in July, although the heat will be worst then; I want to have the flexibility that no fixed deadline provides, and I have to be back to work in August. Then I’m going to come back through The United States, checking out their national parks. I’ve never seen the midwest, or The Grand Canyon, or Yosemite, or much of The States to be honest. So I’ll be discovering that country too, camping all along the way.

I’m considering doing some of this on dirt, either some BDR sections (Backcountry Discovery Routes) or a part of the TAT (Trans America Trail). There’s a lot to plan, but now that my work is done, I have the time to start.

Club Riding

I won’t be going on any tours with the club like I did last year, but I’ll do some day rides in the Montreal area. These are easy rides of 350 km/day or so into the surrounding regions with a few forays across the border. See my last post on the benefits of club riding. This year will be muted by social distancing, but motorcyclists are used to managing risk.

I’ve decided to lead a couple of dirt rides for the club. We are primarily an asphalt club but there are now a few members with ADV or ADV-styled bikes and even some cruisers who aren’t afraid of dirt. Often on club rides, I’d see an interesting dirt road leading off into the woods and I’d be dying to go exploring. I’m betting there are a few others who feel the same. Ideally, I’d like to offer these as an optional portion of a larger club ride, with a plan to meet the group for lunch. I’m going to call these 50/50 rides (50% road, 50% dirt). With my new Cardo PacTalk comm unit, club riding will be a whole new experience for me this year.

Group_ride_1web

Off-Roading

I cannot tell a lie. What I am most looking forward to this season is developing my off-road skills. It’s been a few years now since I took some beginner courses to get me started and I’m ready to take my skills to the next level. I’ve purchased Chris Birch’s Say No to Slow set of instructional videos on Vimeo and have been watching them while I wait for the brake pads to arrive. I can’t wait to get out there and try some of what Chris is saying.

Why pay for something that is free on YouTube, you ask? In a previous post, I listed some of my favourite online teaching channels, and I still think those are excellent resources. But Chris goes into a lot more detail than most of those, and more importantly, he covers the boring fundamentals that those channels can’t afford or choose not to cover, and that’s what I need. Yeah, everybody wants to learn how to wheelie and drift (but not at the same time!), but I’m more interested in things like bike set-up, foot placement, body positioning, and cornering in the dirt, which are covered in the video series. I was surprised that the entire set of 12 videos is under $50 Canadian. I don’t have any affiliation with the production team. I just know good pedagogy when I see it and what I need now most is guided self-practice.

There is a sandpit just over the border in Ontario I practice at, and a network of trails and Class 4 roads not much further starting in Hawkesbury. My bike has a new rear shock—one capable of some serious dirt—and Ricor Intiminator valves in the front forks,  so the suspension has just been upgraded to dirt-worthy. It’s got good crash protection, as do I with my new Leatt STX neck brace. We’re ready.

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The STX is for street and adventure riding. The wider scapula wings do not conflict with your back protector and you do not need integrated body armour.

Are you ready? It’s been a crappy spring for weather but the double-digits are just around the corner. Is your bike ready? I’ll be writing an article for my new paying gig, Riders Plus, on how to get started maintaining your bike. So get your tools out and let’s change the coolant, the brake fluid, the oil, check your tire pressures, and get ready for a new season. It is the best of times, it is the worst of times. Riding makes everything a whole lot better, especially when shared in the company of friends. If you want to escape the bad news for a day or more, there’s nothing quite like a fast motorcycle to help you do it.

Bike2020

Bigby, ready for the 2020 season.