All right, I'm back online. Chronicles of my life as a pod person, and the subsequent battles with Microsoft Vista will follow in their proper sequence.
In the hotel parking lot, I noticed a flatbed trailer containing an unusual vehicle. I'd call it a bicycle, but a bicycle has two wheels and this has instead four really big wheels. It also has about thirty bicycle seats, thirty sets of pedals, and thirty sets of handlebars all arranged in three columns on a frame with the approximate footprint of a schoolbus. And not the short bus, either. It's would be a really, really, big bicycle, if the word "bicycle" didn't imply two wheels. I noted that it was cool, and assumed that it was headed up to some 4th of July celebration in Alaska. (Happy 4th, by the way, to my U.S.A. readers). Everything else on this highway is headed to Alaska.
The next day I crossed the parking lot on my way back from supper just in time to see the big bike pulling out of the parking lot. Not the big bike on the trailer pulled by the truck: but the big bike being ridden by about thirty people all pedalling like crazy. It was fast!
"Hey!" I asked of people at a table with banners on it. "Who rides on the bike?"
"Teams," she said. "Corporate groups, other organizations. Other people too."
That didn't quite answer my question, so I cut to the heart of the matter, "Can I ride on it?"
And the answer is yes -- for a donation --. The whole escapade is a fundraiser for the Heart & Stroke Foundation. I know someone who has had a heart attack and someone else who has had a stroke in the last few weeks, so in their names I ponied up the cash and joined in the fun. "What team are you on?" they wanted to know. A team captain was within earshot worrying that many of the people from her organization who said they would come hadn't turned up, so I said I was on her team, and they were happy to have the ringer. The fire rescue squad was supposed to be there too, but their captain had told them the wrong date, so the whole bike was ladies, with the middle row of seats unoccupied. Those of us who were there got on and were issued silly noisemakers and then we cranked up the onboard tunes and rode off. The seats were big wide fat-bottomed girl seats, so I had to sit forward on the forward point of the seat in order to pedal properly. The drive train was quite complicated. I think the woman in front of me wasn't putting power into the same chain as I was, but the woman two ahead was. She kept putting her feet up and stopping pedalling, possibly because I was pedalling more furiously than she wanted to keep up with. Hey, if I'm going to ride the big bike, I'm going to ride the hell out of it. Even with only two-thirds of the seats filled and not everyone as enthusiastic about pedalling as I was, we got going pretty quickly. We were riding along the Alaska Highway south service road.
We rode past the laundromat-sex shop-buffalo meat sales outlet and up the hill past the grocery store. It wasn't a very steep hill, but it was a heavy bicycle. We all waved and cheered and shook our noisemakers at everyone we saw. And of course because it's a small town, everyone who isn't a ringer like me knows everyone else they see in the pickup trucks or walking on the sidewalk as we go by. We ride past the hunting store, past the Northern Store (which the locals still call The Bay) and past one of the two Chinese restaurants. When we get to the street opposite the community centre, the one that had been constructed incorrectly and had the roof fall in last year right after a kids hockey tournament, we turned right, crossed the Alaska highway and turned right again down the north service road. Now this was a downhill road, not so steep you notice walking, but enough that when you get a mammoth steel-framed "bicycle" loaded with twenty women, some of whom are still pedalling like they paid to do this, it goes pretty fast. There are stop signs at some of the sidestreets, but our driver is just looking up at anyone coming and I guess staring them down, because we barrel on through. "Hang on everyone," he says. "We're going around the corner pretty fast."
The corner is a cross street with a Yield sign to merge with or cross the Alaska Highway. There's one of those bannered Wide Load trucks coming. And we peel around the corner at about 40 km/h screaming like we're on a roller coaster, across the highway and back into the hotel parking lot. Best fifteen minutes on a bicycle I ever spent, and I've bicycled a lot of places, including down the slope of a volcano, across national borders and mountain ranges, and through some spectacular national parks.
Also, some of the participants were from a hospital team, so I checked if they could clear up my mystery. I wasn't too specific, mentioning only that there was a "particular type of garbage" on the street above the hospital. They immediately recognized the reference, but didn't have a clear answer for me. They said it was right down the street from the high school, where free condoms were available. The hospital gives out free condoms, too, but they said they weren't the same kind. They were not aware of orgies occurring on the street behind the hospital.
Back on the subject of bicycles, the people at Montague sent me an e-mail recently about their Paratrooper bike. It's a full-sized bicycle that uses standard bicycle components and is rugged enough to be dropped out of an airplane on a parachute and for a big soldier to ride around in the desert carrying an additional 35 kilograms of gear. And it folds up to barely bigger than airline checked luggage. The unfolding process is apparently a 30-second, no-tools operation. The price is about $500, too, which is a reasonable price for a rugged bike that doesn't fold.
In the picture on the website you see it folded on the seat of a car and it looks smaller than my much- travelled suitcase. But then you realize that the "car" it is in is one of those giant military jeep things, and the soldier is probably a gigantic guy too. Air Canada and United Airlines both restrict standard checked luggage using a weird formula where they add the three dimensions.
Max size for checked luggage: Width + Length + Height = 62"
Paratrooper bike dimensions: L36" + H28" + W12" = 76"
That's too bad, by a mere fourteen inches. I wonder if I removed the pedals, seat and handlebars if that would squeeze it down enough. Possibly. But you don't want to be so close to the borderline that you risk getting slapped with a $175 oversized baggage fee. Also you'd have to put it in an opaque bag, so that the airline doesn't automatically charge the bicycle fee. After all, if you can drop it out of an airplane, you can entrust it to baggage handlers, right? You can do a bit more disassembly and get everything inside regulation suitcases, and then of course not tell them anything is a bicycle, to avoid the $100 bicycle surcharge.
I only have one checked bag now. It is tempting to travel with a second one, and have a bicycle with me. My wandering radius would expand from ten or so kilometres to thirty or forty. I'm thinking about it. Does it mean I'd have to sell one of my existing and beloved bicycles?