Good Bye to the Vanagon (well, we think)

Yes. It is a sad day indeed, but we have decided to put our wonderful Westfalia on the market.Westvalia.jpg It’s in Autotrader, back where we found it in the Fall of 2002.

The decision to sell was a difficult one. However, with me being in Africa six months of the year, Rob has been using my Civic when I am away and so the poor van is sitting on the driveway rarely being used.

We will have awesome memories of it. The most notable being the Burning Man Festival in Nevada, I think, when we drove her across the US to Nevada and lived in her for a week in the desert. But she has also taken us safely to and from many mountain biking competitions, adventure races and just plain old camping trips. We have even slept in her overnight parked on the street in Toronto after a friend’s party and in the car park of a pub in Hamilton when neither Rob nor I wanted to be the designated driver.

 As yet we have received no calls, which I am surprised about, as Rob practically had to fight off three other buyers when we purchased her. Perhaps it is a sign of the times and people are less willing to buy older cars because of the price of gas, which is now over $1 Canadian a litre. Who knows. I hope she goes to a home that has as many adventures in her as we did.

To compensate us for this major loss, Rob and are going to take motorcycle lessons and buy an entry-level scooter as a run about for when I am home.  I used to own a Vespa when I lived in London and so I am quite excited about the prospect. We haven’t quite worked out what we will do in the winter months, but since those are getting less and less severe (now I really have tempted fate) we are wondering if the scooter may not be completely out of the question…


World Cup Fever

Scottish View on Engish Football.JPGUnless you have been vacationing in Timbuktu (although maybe even they have a football team for all I know), you will not have failed to notice that it is World Cup time. It started just before I left Canada. Now I am in even closer proximity to avid football supporters here in Rabi and therefore more aware than ever of the drama as it unfolds.

 I am also aware of the marked contrast between the way the competition is being supported in Canada compared to here. In Rabi the population on camp is about 75% Gabonese, and the rest, for the most part are either English, French or Scottish, with a few Aussies, Kiwis and people from the US thrown in for good measure. So there is a fair cultural mix, even if it is not exactly as diverse as in Canada.

So in that odd way that Canadian citizens like to think of themselves as coming from somewhere else, Canadians whose Great-Grand parents, once removed, were Italian, support Italy. People whose Great Uncle married a woman who once lived in England, say the are actually English (even though they have no idea where it was their Great Aunty actually lived in England and have never set foot in the country in their lives) and support the English team etc etc. But it’s all fun and in general the rivalry between countries is good natured. However, emotions seem to be running a bit higher here in Rabi.

Check out the photo of the English flag in the toilet roll above (although apparently the owner of the flag had the audacity to put it on a Scottish person’s car earlier in the day). There were also some comments referring to the English (in general) as ‘bastards’ in the bar after the Trinidad versus England match last week. We might serve warm beer and not have played a great match on Thursday night – but does that make us a nation of bastards? And this was from an otherwise extremely well-balanced, intelligent man, who is otherwise a great conversationalist. He was however, Scottish.

I could undersand if Scotland don’t want England to win because of sour grapes that they didn’t qualify, but that is not the motivation behind these comments. The Scottish HATE the English. In football and any other sport you care to mention. I don’t get it. Can anyone enlighten me, because no-one here seems to be able to give me an objective explanation. And they say women struggle with irrationality… 


Petal the Puppy

Petal.JPGAnyone who knows me will know that for some time I have wanted a dog. Unfortunately, our life style in Burlington, as well as Rob’s allergies, mean that this would not be a good move for us at this time. However, here in Africa, it seems my wish has come true!

Whilst I was on leave one of the dogs who lives on the rig gave birth to six cute little puppies and my back 2 back, Sharon, along with one of the guys from our Well Services contract company, Halliburton, agreed to take one of the puppies. In fact they have been looking after all six plus the mother whilst a rig move takes place, but today they will be returned to the rig and our little one will stay in her new home.

Sharon and I decided to call her something girly, as we don’t get the chance to be girly in this, otherwise, all-male environment (where men are men and they like it that way, etc, etc). So meet Petal!! She is adorable, fun, healthy and also, at the moment, a bit is bath time this evening.. 


Last Friday I was having lunch with my friend Ruth. She is very well-read and is currently going to school to do her teaching qualification. I have absolutely no idea what we were talking about. However, if it was along the same lines as the usual topics we get in to, we were more than likely putting the world to rights. In the middle of this conversation with her, I got lost for words. You know that experience when you want to use a specific word and you know if you could just remember what it was, it would be perfect for what you are trying to say, but it just won’t come?

I knew that it began with a ‘d’ and that it described something that was left over, but that was all I could remember.

So, cut to now, almost exactly one week later (minus a few hours) and on an entirely different continent. I was sitting writing a work related e-mail this morning and all of a sudden the word I was looking for popped into my head.


I have no idea why I suddenly remembered it now, but I thought I would post the definition in case anyone reading this has a need to say it at some point in the near future (‘honey, can you please clean up the detritus in the back garden…’ etc).

Main Entry: de·tri·tus
Pronunciation: di-'trI-t&s
Function: noun
Etymology: French détritus, from Latin detritus, past participle of deterere
1 : loose material (as rock fragments or organic particles) that results directly from disintegration
2 : a product of disintegration, destruction, or wearing away :


The brain is a very weird thing. Well, mine is anyway…..! 


Fast Food Franchise Hell

Well the weekend that has just passed was a great one to end my 28 days vacation with.

On Saturday Rob and I did our Imperial Century. I was a bit burnt out in the morning (I had already ridden 170km that week) and we kept asking each other, ‘are you sure you want to do this?’. Neither of us would actually admit that we couldn’t really be bothered and so off we went….We parked the car in Grimsby on top of the escarpment and cycled in a big rectangle from Grimsby to Port Colborne then through Lowbanks to Dunnville, back through Caisterville and then to Grimsby again.

At around 3pm we stopped for a late lunch in Dunnville. For some reason (I am not sure why) we were expecting a quaint little town where we could find a nice cafe to eat. Instead Dunnville turned out to be a bit of an armpit of a place. Unless we wanted to eat wings at the local sports bar, or god knows what at the strip joint, then guess what our choices were?? Why, KFC, Tim Hortons, Subway or McDonalds, of course!! How depressing. We had a Subway since that seemed the healthiest option and then got the hell out of there. Rob’s sandwich gave him the hiccups and I could here him going ‘hic…hic‘ in front of me for the next half an hour, even with the raging head wind!

It was an absolutely beautiful day and although we were fighting a bit of a head wind (well actually at times, a lot of a head wind) for the last 80km we finished feeling relatively fresh. It took us 5 hours 47 minutes. We were tired but rather pleased with ourselves. It isn’t a bad route, I’d recommend it since it is relatively flat and for the most part the scenary is interesting enough to keep your mind off your numb bum!

On Saturday night Rob and I did a very deserved bit of couch surfing and tried, unsuccessfully, to eat all the left overs in the fridge since we’d both be away the following week.

On Sunday morning I found out I had won the Salomon Women Will contest!! I was over the moon. Basically I had won a free entry to the next Frontier Adventure Race, and, with one other female winner would be racing on an all female team of three, captained by an elite female adventure racer. I had entered a couple of weeks before thinking that it would be an awesome experience, one, to race on an all woman team, but also to get the benefit of racing with an experienced racer (or, I should say ‘another experienced racer’, since Rob, who I usually race with, is very seasoned). Basically I had to write an explanation of why I should be chosen. I must have made myself sound quite good!

However (and here comes the bad news) the race date is June 17th…….Bugger! I realised I’d be in Africa. I had to write back explaining that I had mixed up my dates and that I couldn’t participate. I was a bit disappointed, but nonetheless thought it was interesting that I had written something that had inspired someone to think I was any good. I must try to remember what I said…

These are a few of my favorite things..

Yup, I know, this is the second post that I have written today, but as usual, when I get verbose, I get verbose…

Last night Rob and I went to a wine tasting and art event at the Paletta Mansion on Lakeshore here in Burlington. Paletta Mansion (built in the early 1900’s) was the holiday home of the people that started the Dofasco steel factory (back then they made fasteners) and affords a beautiful view of Lake Ontario, whilst across the water you can just make out the Dofasco plant on the skyline. The event was held in what used to be the master bedroom. So I suppose the old chap used to get up in the morning and look out the window and genuinely know he was the master of all he surveyed. Jolly nice, I am sure..

Today the house and gardens are preserved for historic interest, for people to have their wedding dos at and for events such as the one we went to last night. We got the chance to look at the art work of one Christine Audit, who was very nice and seemed to be very popular, judging by the amount of work that was being bought there. It wasn’t my taste, but that said, I am not a big collage fan. I like my paintings to look like paintings, which I am sure is not a very cultured or sophisticated thing to admit.

The wine, on the other hand, was definitely to my taste (big surprise there). Rob and I tried 9 new white wines (new to us, they were all of a 2003/2004 vintage), 11 reds and a couple of dessert wines. After each tasting we scored them secretly, without letting the other know what we had given, out of 10. At the end we bought a mixed case of the ones we had both given a 9 to. This ended up being six bottles each of one white and one red. The white, which is only a $16 bottle at the LCBO was the New Zealand 2004 Stratum Sauvignon Blanc. The red was a bit more expensive, but if you have ever tried and liked Chateau Neuf du Pape, then this is the one for you. It was a 2003 Californian Robert Hall ‘Rhone de Robles’ blend. Yum, Yum.

Other notables, in my opinion (though not necessarily in Rob’s) was the (white) French ‘Roux Pere et Fils ‘ 2004 Meursault and the (Red) Californian Redhorse Ranch Merlot.

As you might expect there were some rather flamboyant characters there (anyone who knows me will know that that is exactly the type of evening I love) and so I got to eavesdrop on all kinds of interesting conversations including one that went something like this…‘I love that Syrah. You know why I like it? Because it doesn’t have that burnt out Syrah taste that Syrah has’??????? Everyone in the know nodded sagely.

We also had the wonderful experience of meeting a very knowledgeable gentleman who was involved with the Burlington Children’s theatre. He reminded me in everyway (including personailty, dress sense, body type, and, I’ll be honest, sexuality) of Carson from the show ‘Queer Eye for a Straight Guy’. Now, before you start sniggering, that, in my opinion, is a huge compliment since I think Carson has a phenomenal sense of personal style and is extremely clever and funny.

A good night was had by all and we woke up this morning feeling fresh as daisies.

Timing is Everything

Once again I am in countdown mode for going back to Gabon. This trip has been so good. I am not sure whether I am just a bit of an over-achiever or organized to the point of being anally retentive, but I always have certain loosely planned-out goals going into my time at home. This time it was:

  • Renovate the second of the spare bedroom’s in the attic of our house
  • Ride a century (I was a bit noncommittal with myself about whether this should be a metric or an imperial century)
  • Start going to yoga classes

I have done all of those things. The upstairs room still hasn’t been completed, I am waiting for Rob to finish the floor (I am the walls and trim worker in our house, Rob does floors). The blue air has cleared up there now after the foul language that I used during the wallpapering stage. It was not my forte. Thank you to Paula for helping me out, I could not have done it without her.

Once the floor is laid I am going to put my yoga stuff up there (which is essentially my mat) and use that as a quiet space for practising. I think this is a direction that I haven’t written about a lot in these posts, but I am very interested in Yoga. I have been practising, in one form or another, almost every day since around February. During this trip home, I have started going once or twice a week to 90 minute classes in Iyengar yoga with Nesta at the Burlington Yoga Centre.

I am not going to go into all the benefits that I think it brings me, they are personal and my individual experience would be very different to someone else’s, but I have certainly become more flexible and my attention span (aka boredom threshold) seems to be increasing to something beyond that of someone suffering from borderline ADD.

The interesting thing about this is that I tried ‘getting in to’ Yoga about three years ago and HATED it. Rob wanted to try it as he has flexibility issues and I went along for the ride. I found it uncomfortable, far from relaxing and ultimately boring. My favorite bit was snoozing during Shavasana (the bit where you lie down and relax at the end).

I am not sure what has changed, but it goes to show that things do change. From this, it seems to me, there are all kinds of lessons to be drawn. Like, not writing something off (like an activity) just because it isn’t right at this current time, or not getting despondant with a particular period in your life, or relationship, because life has a subtle way of shifting so that the odds become differently stacked and your perspectives or those of the people around you, change. Now, it is possible that I am just developmentally retarded and this is a universal truth that the rest of the world has known since birth, but at least I know it now.

This change in me has coincided with a major life change in one of my close friends. I am sure they would not thank me for going into details here, so I won’t, but it is an honour to witness and be part of the personal growth of a friend.
Well, before I get so philosophical that I start disappearing up my own backside, I’ll sign out.

Tomorrow is imperial century day, although we are having friends round for a BBQ tonight (yes, I know it is calling for rain..) so it could be another rather long day….

There’s no ‘I’ in ‘Team’

So I am sitting (or rather lying) on my couch writing this. Rob and I just got back from a 130km ride with the Neworld bike store crew. We finished it, and in this semi-comatose state with my legs killing me and my head feeling like I drank 13 beer last night, I am reflecting on why I love endurance sports so much.

I felt, going into the ride, that it was not going to be my day. This was largely based on my observations of the turnout for the ride at 9am this morning. There were about 30 riders and as they arrived at the store I noticed two telling details. One, they were all men, and two, over 80% of them were wearing the Neworld jersey, which meant that at some point they had parted with a fair amount of money to be a member of the club, usually a sign of a serious rider.

So, off we went in a double paceline, taking it in turns to ‘pull’ at the front. The trick to road riding in a group like that is to keep up with the main group because draughting behind, or in the middle of, a group allows you to travel at speed with less effort than if you were riding by yourself. If you get ‘dropped’ it takes a gargantuan effort to catch up, because, not only are you having to play ‘catch up’,  you are doing so without the benefits of the groups collective speed. Even once you are dropped, if you have to ride home without the group it is a much slower and more draining ride than if you hang in with them. So, get the picture? You don’t want to get dropped!
I can’t say the 3 hours and 50 minutes was easy. In fact, including all the adventure races and mountain bike races I have ever done, my legs have never been so tired before. I think it is because it’s so early in the season and spending so much time in Gabon takes it’s toll on my endurance. At two points in the ride, just after the half way point, I got dropped. On both occasions with a little help and encouragement I was able to rally and come back strong to finish the ride.

Jeff who owns Neworld took the trouble to come back for me on both occasions to ‘pull’ me back to the group. Jeff is a phenomenal cyclist, he rides with Elite riders, I rarely go out with his group. There was no reason for him to do that for me, people get dropped from those rides all the time. But as he left me to go off and do a bit more herding, he said that he was so impressed by my ability to hang in there that he wanted to give me a fair chance. That meant so much to me that I dug deep and hung on and ultimately finished the ride with the group, reduced to about 15 riders by the end.

This post would not be complete without paying homage to my wonderful husband who rode with me all the way and  even when he was tired and hurting, gave me a little push up the hills at the end when I was almost in tears with frustration at my fading power and my aching legs.

And that’s why I love this sport. It is about the people you meet and what they give you when you most need it. I hope I can get good enough to be able to return the favour at some point in the future, or at least pay the good deeds forward to those who find themselves in need.

But for now I am planning on how I am going to make up for all those expended calories…I think tonight is going to be a curry night…

Home Sweet Home

I’ve been back in Canada for a week. The journey home was quite eventful. I witnessed the French airport security blow up someone’s luggage. The errant suitcase owner had foolishly left it unattended at Charles De Gaulle and ‘BOOM’ (or should I say ‘LE BOOM’?) it was history. Good to know that security is being taken seriously in France…
I am now a fully fledged Canadian citizen, having taken my oath on Tuesday. The ceremony was a very solemn one and I could not help getting the feeling that I was being a bit of a fraud by being there. There were people in attendance from Iran, China, Pakistan, Roumania and Bosnia to name but a few. Many of whom have, no doubt, had a much tougher time getting citizenship than myself and the emotion that they showed during the ceremony made that very apparent.

In sharp contrast, I have left one rather benign, western, democractic country (the UK, for those not aware of my cultural heritage), for another one and the main motivation for me getting a Canadian passport is to avoid the hassle at the Canadian/US border when we go south on our various road trips (Oh yes, Mr Blair, all that ass kissing has done us British citizens no good at all as far as the US Dept. of Home Land Security is concerned).

The judge got a bit confused by my name thinking that I must be French (happens all the time, darling) but I blew that whole thing as soon as I opened my mouth. However, there was a woman there from NY, so I suspect I wasn’t the only one who’d had an easy time of it, since she didn’t even have to change continents to get here….

Is it really 5 months since I last wrote?

Family with Baby 3.jpgYikes, time flies when you’re having fun. I apologise to anyone who still bothers to look at my blog for not having updated it sooner. To find out what we have been up to in the five months since I last wrote, check out In a nut shell it has involved renovating our basement, visiting friends in beautiful Bagneres in the French Pyrenees, a few days in Paris and then the start of the cycling season in Canada.

I am in Rabi at the moment with one more metric week (a silly way of saying ’10 days’) to go before heading back to my home and my husband. This trip has been great. I have some awesome elephant pictures, which, needless to say I have no idea how to link to this blog, but will try my best. The baby in the picture is only about a week old. They are magical animals to watch.

It is rainy season here and the weather is absolutely glorious in the mornings and then we have huge storms for about an hour or so each afternoon. Very dramatic and utterly devastating to any piece of building that has a minor leak or is in need of a bit of maintenance. It is a constant battle against the elements to keep things ship-shape at this time of year.

Since my last blog, Rob and I had the pleasure of having dinner with two friends of ours, Jeff and Chrisite. Big news, not only because they make a great turkey dinner, but also because they can claim the honour of having given us our first exposure to the idea of the Transrockies Mountain Bike Race. It is a 600km epic through the rockies in Alberta and is staged over 7 days. It is held each year in August and, although there are concerns every year whether it will take place, Rob and I have decided that if the 2007 race goes ahead, we’re doing it…..check out the website at 

Rob celebrated the decision by going out and buying a $4,000 road bike to train on (well nothing focuses the mind like a new toy!) and we both have drawn up a plan of which endurance events we need to do this year to prepare mentally and physically to train for such a long race. So, to anyone who is interested, here’s the rough schedule for summer 2006. There will no doubt be other events and rides in between, but at least we have something to aim for at the moment:

June 10th – Imperial Century Road Ride

Mid July – Double Imperial Century

August 5th – 12 hour adventure race

September 30th – 8 hour solo Mountain Bike Race 

 To me this has meant that I need to haul my butt onto a stationery bike 5 times a week whilst I am in Rabi. It is NOT fun, but it has meant that I have been exploring the world of podcasts so that I have something to listen to whilst I am watching the sweat drip off the end of my nose. Mainly I have been listening to A podcast for endurance atheletes and adventure racers. The interviews are in handy 15 minute slots and offer inspiration as I am grinding out the kilometres. I can’t wait to get on a real bike! I’ll write updates about our success at each of these events as I go along.

Well, my wonderful parents have just finished renovating my flat in Brixton, UK after the previous tenants vacated following a litany of complaints by the poor, long-suffering, neighbours. Major thanks to Mum and Dad and, if anyone knows anyone who is looking for a beautiful little one bed flat in sunny South London, check out search on postcode using SW2 - Mine is the one under the ‘Wingford Road’ heading.

 Well, I think I have written enough for one post. Hope whoever is reading this is happy and healthy. I do read comments so please feel free to add them.