Tuesday, May 31, 2011

HRM Bike Week 2011, Part 2: Bike & Boat

On Tuesday, one of the most anticipated events of the week (on my part, anyway) was happening, and I could barely wait.

(I'm not used to seeing a full bicycle rack.)

(Apparently neither was the boat club. Here you can see bikes locked to fences and trees, and if you look closely, you can see that the fence way back in the distance has bikes locked to it too.)

The reason there were so many bicycles parked outside of the St. Mary's Boat Club on this day, is because people who rode their bicycles were able to paddle a canoe or kayak for an entire hour, and/or join a group yoga session, for free. This was a marvelelous idea for a few reasons: A) It involves bicycles (enough said), B) look at how many people showed up - it was obviously a success, and C) Nobody in Halifax seems to even knows that this place exists. Most of the staff who work at the facility only found out about it through past HRM Bike Week Bike & Boat events.

St. Mary's Boat Club is actually a municipally subsidised facility in a prime location on the Northwest Arm. It provides an inexpensive recreation experience to the entire population of HRM for less than the cost of going to the a movie. Twice a week during the summer, the Club provides group canoe and kayaking sessions, and you can even take lessons on how to sail.

(On this day, it was going to be kayaking for me, and from the above image, you can see that most of the other visitors were interested in paddling in a kayak as well.)

Our friendly, neighbourhood instructor-man, Steve, helped us get into the kayaks safely (read: dryly). However, I decided to get a bit of practice in on the dock first.

(Hey, who's that good-lookin' guy in the blue kayak? He looks like he can really paddle.)

After an hour we finally were able to get everyone into the water and were on our way around the Arm.

The Northwest Arm is one of the most beautiful and interesting areas in Halifax, if not Nova Scotia. In and around it you can find trails, National Historic Sites, towers, parks, monuments, homes of rich people, and even dead American soldiers.

(Some of the houses, like that one behind me, cost upward of $900 000. Here I paddle past and steal some of its attention. My apologies to the owner. Special thanks to my new friend Brent who teamed up with me to perform a daring boat to boat transfer of my camera before taking these shots.)

(Lest you think St. Mary's Boat Club only offers kayaking, I provide this picture as proof that canoes can also be rented. In hindsight, canoeing is far more relaxing than kayaking - it's just far too tempting for me to try and make my kayak go fast.)

Towards the end of our session, we congregated in Melville's Cove to hear a bit of history. Long-time readers of EPTN (and those who clicked on the above links) will know that Melville's Island used to be a prison during the War of 1812. The soldiers would shoot across the cove to a small peninsula they called Target Island (the Brits at that time seemed incapable of distinguishing peninsulas from islands). Many years later it was discovered that there were dead American prisoners of war burried on the "island." But now you get to hear "the rest of the story."

Because of the American policy of "leave no man behind," The United States of America proposed that some soil be brought up across the border, spread over the ground, and Target Island be named American territory. Well, the leaders of Halifax are capable of making at least one good decision, and they figured it wasn't such a good idea to have a bit of the U.S.A right in the middle of Halifax. Instead, it was agreed upon that the area be named a park, and a monument was placed there with the names of all the soldiers. Every year on the last Monday of May (the day before this day, incidentally), a Memorial Day celebration honouring the soldiers is held on the renamed Deadman's Island.

(One of our guides exhibits proper boating safety, as he recounts the history of Deadman's Island, and tells a story about how he and some other instructors told the students at a summer camp that the area was haunted with the ghosts of the buried American. The students were told the ghosts became bald eagles, which nest around the Northwest Arm. One day the students came screaming down from a hill, and a bald eagle was chasing them. 10 of the 11 children ran and hid, but one brave little girl grabbed a mini-oar, about three feet long, and started waving it in the air to defend the canoe. It sounds like she's got what it takes to be the next EP. From here on, I will refer to her as "EP Girl.")

HRM Bike Week 2011, Part 1: Take A Seat

From May 27, to June 5, the best event of the year will be taking place at various locations around the city. HRM Bike week was developed to celebrate cycling and encourage and nurture a cycling friendly environment in the Halifax area, as well as to encourage new riders to give it a try and riders who haven't tried it in a while to dust off their old two wheelers and experience the joy of peddling once again.

I specifically remember seeing advertisements for this ten day event in the Farmers' Market on my first day out exploring when I arrived here last May. However, I was disappointed to see that the week in question would be the week I would be on my train journey to Vancouver. Consequently, I've been waiting with anticipation for this year's event for a full 12 months, and I don't plan to miss any more of it than I have to.

The first event I attended took place on Monday, May 30, on the Dalhousie University campus. The Halifax Cycling Coalition organized a showing of a film entitled Take A Seat, and for $8 I received admission, free cake, free popcorn, free apple juice (or Daveoline, as it's been called in the past), and a 3 year membership to the Halifax Cycling Coalition.

Take A Seat is the story of an amazing young man from England, Dominic Gill, who rode a tandem bicycle from Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, 29 519 km down the western coast of the Americas until he reached the most southerly city in South America, Ushuaia. The bicycle weighed far too much for him to peddle the whole journey on his own, and so along the way he met, and was able to convince over 270 people to jump on the back of his bicycle and travel anywhere from a few minutes, to a few days with him to help him out. The whole journey took him over two years.

To get an idea of how long this is, find Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, on Google Maps. Zoom in until the scale reading reads about 10km (bottom left corner of the map), and then commence clicking and dragging the screen all the way down to Ushuaia, Chile. The whole operation took me about eight minutes of constant dragging. I got lost a couple of times around Mexico, and ended up in the Pacific Ocean before I widened the image to see where I was.

How long did it take you? How many times did you get lost? How many clicks did it take? Now, imagine each one of those drags being about 2-5 days worth of peddling on a 100 kg bicycle.

Watching the film I remember strongly the sense of isolation he related feeling as he spent a lot of the journey by himself. To Dominic, being alone was the hardest part. Additionally, I was struck by his determination to push through, even after suffering hundreds of tube punctures, and breaking his bicycle numerous times in different places, not to mention having intense diarrhoea at one point.

Mostly though, I smiled at the people he met along the journey who recognized someone doing something special, and who wanted to be involved in it themselves. Watching Take A Seat has renewed my love of cycling, my love of people, and my love for the sense of adventure that prompted me to embark on this grand mission of living in every province, and visiting every National Historic Site of Canada.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Blue Nose Marathon 2011: May 21-22, 2011

For any of you long time followers of my EP adventures, you may think the name Blue Nose Marathon sounds familiar, and are wondering where you heard it before. If you remember my Cross Canada Adventure, you will recollect that when I left Halifax for Montreal, on the start of my train trip across the country, I had to make my way across the street past a bunch of runners. That's right, this last weekend marked the one year anniversary of EP Dave's arrival in Halifax.

To celebrate the occasion I decided to volunteer at the event which was to be the first strong evidence to me that I had moved to a more cultured city. See, to me, running/walking is the sport of kings. It takes determination, patience, and perverseness. Furthermore, it is the most egalitarian of sports, since nearly anyone can do it, and the biggest competition takes place mostly within yourself - whether you're struggling to complete your first 5K, or you're a seasoned veteran aiming to shave a minute off your personal best for the full Marathon. In many ways, I feel the existence of a popular Marathon within a city is a sign of that city's sophistication as a whole.

(We were a motley crew, us volunteers, but we got the job done.)

My first task was to be a course marshal for the Kid's Fun Run on Saturday, May 21. I had a couple of the thunder sticks you saw in the above photo, and I smacked them liberally and shouted encouragements at the children that most of them didn't understand: "You're in the final mile now; you're more than 2/3 done the race." When that didn't work, I simply used my tried and true motivation methods I learned from my years as a summer sports camp instructor: ["Mister, my side really hurts *sob sob*."] "I know how you can fix that. Just run down this hill and around the corner and you'll be almost at the finish where you can get some juice and snacks." ["Okay!" *takes off sprinting*]

Win or lose, everyone got a medal and moral support from Myles - the Blue Nose Marathon's mascot. Since I know you're probably wondering, "blue nose" is a reference to a true Maritimer. Historically, the men of the sea would have worn heavy blue pea coats. After being out in the cold rain for even a short while, they would invariably have to wipe their noses. The sleeve of their coats would have been their first choice, and the wet blue dye would stain their noses, hence the term "blue nose."

The next day, on Sunday, I showed up bright and early to work the marathon event (which also featured the more popular 5K, 10K, and half-Marathon events).

For anyone who doesn't know, the Marathon is not simply a long race, but a very specific distance of about 26.2 miles (44.2 km). The name comes from the dubious and improbable legend of an Athenian herald named Pheidippides, who supposedly ran about 25 miles from the Battle of Marathon to Athens to inform Athens of the Greek victory over the Persians before collapsing dead.

The story is improbable not because 25 miles is a long distance, but because it is more likely the Athenians would have sent a rider on horse back. Furthermore, this legend is a "modern" European perversion of the original version of a professional runner (Pheidippides) who was sent by the Athenians to Sparta to request support when the Persians landed at Marathon.

The original Pheidippides travelled 150 miles (240 km) in 2 days without a problem to deliver the petition, making the mere 25 miles he supposedly ran from Marathon to Athens seem like a warm-up jog. Nevertheless, this new version of the journey and Pheidippides' subsequent collapse at the end, was the story Baron Pierre de Coubertin used to create a 26 mile race called the Marathon for the 1896 Olympics in Paris (the first modern Olympic Games).

The weather was chilly on Sunday (as it has been for all of May this year really), but that didn't stop over 10 500 competitors from showing, up and a number of fan also, to take part in the 8th Annual Blue Nose Marathon Weekend.

(Garnering most of the attention, were the now "famous" Pink Tutu Boys - running in the half-Marathon, and winners of the Best Costume prize.)

(Runners push off in a pack at the start of the 10K race.)

From what I heard from the runners, the Blue Nose Marathon - due to Halifax's hilly topography and horrible spring weather - is not a fun race. The only reason anyone enters it is because of the massive hype surrounding it. Here (above) we see runners struggling up the final hill towards the finish.

(Once you finished the race then the real struggle began, as you tried to make your way past the throng of finishers back to the Metro Centre to warm up, get some refreshments, and maybe have a massage.)

Before I arrived I thought I would be out on the course, helping the runners, but I was actually given a new position as a "results roamer". My job was to wear a special shirt and carry around a smart phone from Telus, which had a special App that would grant me instant access to racers' results as they became available.

As with most new technologies though, the system was flawed. For starters, there weren't enough phones for me to have one, and of the phones that did exist most of them would shut off frequently causing much frustration on every one's part. In the end I was moved to baggage claim, where I had the difficult but necessary task of sifting through the pile of bags to find the belongings of the runners as they hobbled in stiff-legged from the course.

Because I spent the whole race inside I couldn't get many pictures of the action, but I did capture some memorable moments from the big screen that streamed live video of the racers as they crossed the finish line.

(This woman was clearly elated to have finished what I assumed was her first half-marathon.)

(This group of runners travelled all the way from Newfoundland, and were in great spirits and dancing around.)

(Some of the runners chose to run the full Marathon though, and very few of them were dancing at the end. In fact, most of them could barely move they were in so much pain. I can't wait to try too!)

(As usual, Myles was there to offer encouragement and support. On a cold day like this, the guy inside this suit was probably the only warm person at the event. It was even cold inside the Metro Centre because the doors were propped open.)

Sunday, May 22, 2011

EP Dan's Last Day, Part 3 - Museum of Natural History

In every province in which I will eventually live, I have my major "EP Goals" to complete (see above tab, just below the blog title), but I also plan to make a number of sub-goals, specific for each province. For Nova Scotia, one of those sub goals is to visit each of the province's 27 Provincial Museums.

First up on the list of 27 is the Museum of Natural History. I was quite excited to finally pay a visit to the museum for an official blog trip - I had been here on some other occasions for special events. Additionally, EP Dan was excited to come here because we had missed out on a chance to see the animals during the Nocturne: Art At Night festival back in October, 2010, when the exhibit closed before we had arrived.

(My two-headed turtle picture from my trip to Korea was so popular that I thought I'd include another. I fear this one isn't quite as impressive though...)

(Speaking of impressive water creatures, this is "Francis" the lobster, who was too big for any lobster trap. He actually would have been caught in a net, before being given to the Museum of Natural History.)

One of the major instalments at the Museum is a collection of Mi'kmaw artefacts, clothing and tools. The Mi'kmaw people, which still inhabit the region, had lived in the Maritime provinces of Canada for centuries before contact with European explorers was made.

(This is just a sample of the Museum of Natural History's massive collection of Mi'kmaw quill work on bark - assumed to be the largest collection of its kind in the world.)

The other major collection at the Museum is that of the large underwater animals found around the area. The highlight being the massive skeleton of a pilot whale found stranded on Sable Island, some 300 kms south east off the shore of Nova Scotia.

(A closer inspection of the fins will reveal five finger-like bones. I thought they were interesting.)

The real reason EP Dan and I came to the Museum today though, was to see the exhibit "A T.Rex Named Sue." Named after Sue Hendrickson - the archaeologist who discovered the skeleton - Sue is 42 feet long, and 12 feet high at the hips. Officially it is the largest, most complete Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton in the world. Purchased by the Field Museum in Chicago for $8.4 Million, Sue has been on a world tour, and has been seen by over 10 million people, but Halifax is the first Canadian city ever to host the exhibit.

(Psst... Don't turn around.)

By this time we were both getting a bit tired so feeling lucky to have escaped with our lives, we headed back home. With Dan now gone back home, I'm on my own for the summer. I'm not worried though, what with all of the major festivals coming up again, life will not be boring for long.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

EP Dan's Last Day, Part 2 - Lunch At Westcliff Diner

When I first moved into my new apartment, I remember quite distinctly the person who dropped me off saying that this restaurant made the best club sandwich in Halifax. This was back in June, 2010. Since that time I can remember two other people on two other occasions recommending the club sandwich or the fish and chips here as well.

I had always kept promising myself that when I had an occasion to go dining with someone I would come here. After Dan and I finished painting our pottery at Clay Cafe, we walked about twenty minutes to get back here (we actually passed it on our way to Clay Cafe the first time). This was my chance to scratch another "to do" item off of my list.

We both ordered the club sandwich with fries, and I must say it was every bit as good as its fans had suggested. For desert I ordered what has to be the best chocolate milk shake ever made, and the most delicious hand-made maple fudge.

The food was incredible, but it was the atmosphere that will have me coming back. It's a family run business, with an older couple who bicker back and forth behind the counter, make the food, serve the food themselves, and get themselves into some of the most hilarious conversations with the regular customers.

When we were there, one conversation focused on how the wife wouldn't be coming into work the next day, because she just had to watch the Royal Wedding, but not the part before or after, just the wedding, but not the part before or after, just the wedding, but not... It was too funny, and they were easily the most stereotypically "East Coast" couple I've had the pleasure of meeting.

The charm of this diner is the food and the character and the cheap price. If you're ever in Halifax, it is not to be missed.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

EP Dan's Last Day, Part 1 - The Clay Cafe

I can't believe it's been eight months already, but back on April 29th, EP Dan went back home to make some money during summer vacation. Since it's about half-way through May already, I figured I should finally get around to sharing what we did.

For the better part of 2011 we had both been too busy, and the weather too crummy, to enjoy much of our surroundings. I really wanted to show Dan a good time before he left, so I decided to take the day off from work and spend it with my brother so that he could have at least one good experience before he went back home.

The first place we went was somewhere I've been wanting to visit since I first came to Halifax - The Clay Cafe. On a number of different occasions I had even walked inside, but I seemed to be waiting for the moment to feel right to enjoy one of the best experiences in Halifax. (It seems like it would be a great place to go on a date too, although that's just a bonus, and completely unrelated to this post.)

The first step for us was to choose the object we wished to paint. The price was written on the bottom, and this included the price of the paint and firing the finished product in the kiln.

(EP Dan chose a turtle and I chose a small piggy penny bank.)

Next we chose our paint. Not only were there various colours, but there were also different kinds of paints, with different textures, as well as different stencils and stamps for making shapes.

While there were a variety of different colours, both EP Dan and myself are pretty conservative, so we just went with the standard version for our creations (you can't tell, but that is pink paint I'm using).

In order to get a solid, dark look to the paint, it was necessary to cover our pottery with a minimum of three layers of paint. To speed the whole process up, blow dryers were provided. Looking at this picture again though, I probably got a little too intense while I was "shooting" the paint.

The end results turned out better than I thought they would. My piggy bank says "A penny saved..." on one side, and on the other I wrote "... is a penny earned." My goal is to collect all the pennies I find on bus seats, or on the ground, or in my wallet, and deposit them in my bank before depositing them in the bank, as I run a little experiment to see how much money we waste by just throwing away our pennies.