Spring is here, so spring on your bike today!

The weather very definitely plays a big part in my own cycling repertoire.

I know true all-weather cyclists will laugh at me for saying this, but I only really like cycling when the weather is dry….ok, if I’m caught out in the middle of a rainstorm, then there is not choice but to battle on regardless.

Cycling in snow I don’t mind at all, having had years of experience in those weathers when I used to reside in London, UK and Ontario!

But let’s get back to the present. For the past few days, the weather has shown unmistakable signs of warming up, which was my wake-up call to get my ike cleaned up and ready for this year.

I have always been an avid cyclist, and as we speak, I have 5 bikes…yes, that’s the truth!

Three are road bikes, with curled over racing handlebars, one is a hybrid mountain type, and the last one is a full-blown mountain/trail only job.

I always get asked by so many people as to what kind of bike they should buy. In short, it mainly depends on a set of factors, namely how often you will be cycling, what kind of areas will you be using it in, and how much of a budget you have put to one side for it.

If, like many people, you will be using the bike mainly in town, but with occasional forays into hiking trails or rough ground, then I would suggest you go for a hybrid type.

This will be perfect for general around-town use, and will also be capable of handling all but the very serious trails.

Just such a bike is the MEC Midtown bicycle.

It is a home-grown design, so you can be sure that it has kept jobs and resources in Canada rather than overseas. Beginning with its tapered aluminum frame, all th way to the very high quality Shimano 9 speed gear train, this bike is easy to maintain, parts are available very easily, and comes with MEC’s Rocksolid Guarantee and Bike Service Agreement….which is unique as it means you can bring your bike to any MEC Bike Shop for free adjustments and minor maintenance for a year after purchase….isn’t that something? And at just C$500, with a saving of 23% over the regular price, you cannot go far wrong!

See it here….



What to wear when hiking and why…

Sometimes, when I’m on a hike in cold areas, I mean REAL cold areas, where temperatures regularly reach -35 to -45C, I feel thankful for all the advice I was given to me years ago by my friend Yutai, who had lived all his life in the land that has now been named Nunavut.

Yutai was blessed in 2 ways–he knew how to clothe himself with skins as well as modern-day textiles, and best of all, he knew how to combine the two to ensure you were never in trouble if caught out in a snowstorm or blizzard.

What Yutai taught me is now universal, or should be, amongst us hikers, and that’s layering.

Up in the North, unlike anywhere else on earth, it’s not healthy to sweat. For those of you who don’t know the answer, let me tell you why. As Yutai said, in cold weather, you must at all costs try and avoid sweating, as when you stop your work, that moisture that has settled in your clothes will freeze, and that frozen moisture can kill you with hypothermia just as soon as not wearing any clothes will.

So in order to beat that, he taught me to wear my clothes in layers…as an example, I wear a vest first, then a full sleeve fleece, on top of that I will wear another fleece with a hood and then on top of that, I will wear a fur hat and waterproof/windproof jacket, with thermal gloves on my hands.

For my lower torso, I wear thermal long johns, two pairs if it’s really evil out there, then outer waterproof pants.

Once I’m on the hike, and if I find myself beginning to sweat, I stop and take off 1 layer and restart the hike and so on….it’s real funny sometimes, as you may see me walking on thick snow with ice all around, wearing just my base fleece, as once you’re on the move, you get pretty damn warm!

Following Yutai’s advice, I have never had to hang up my clothes once I’m at camp, in order to dry out the sweat. Remember this….it may help save your life!

Basic wilderness survival — Fire

photo courtesy ehow.com

It’s all very well posting new and never before tried walks or hikes, but if you happen to be caught out in a storm or inclement weather, and are wet, cold and hungry, the first thing you will need to have is a fire.

A fire has always been the main prerequisite for campers and hikers. There’s nothing else in this world that boosts your moral more than a fire you’ve made yourself.

In this series of posts, we’re going to be talking about some of these very important points, and today we’ll choose fire.

I always like writing from a worst case scenario, so let’s assume the weather is very cold, possibly in icy or snowy conditions, or raining. And yes, you’ve located your matches…but they’re soaking wet and useless.

So, how do you make a fire in this circumstance? Well…with difficulty, is the short answer! But it’s not impossible, so here we go.

Of all the methods that I know of, the very best one that uses just pieces of wood you’ve found, is what I call the Groovy-Slide method (call me a groovy dude!). There are other methods as well, such a using a long stick and turning it like a drill with both hands onto another piece of wood…very ahrd work!

Then there is the lens method, whereby you use a small magnifying lens to start the first spark, but what if you’re caught out in complete darkness….? Another method is to use a carbon steel rod on a piece of flint, a very easy method, but I’m assuming you didn’t pack this!

Ok, so we’re assuming you’ve been lucky in being able to locate some dry wood to use; if you haven’t got any dry wood, then you are in deep trouble really, as dry wood is an absolute essential here, unless you can somehow dry it out. The method I’ve been successful with is what I’m going to describe here, but I warn you now — it’s not easy, no siree!

Right, so you have found some dry wood; one big piece and one long slim piece. Firstly, try and chop the big piece in half lengthways; this will be the bottom half of the firemaker. Then try and trim the end of the longer piece with your knife, and end up with a slightly tapered end, but this is not essential.

Next, with your knife, cut a shallow groove in the bottom piece; this groove is where you will slide the long piece, which hopefully will create some embers relatively quickly and allow you to start the fire.

With the 2nd half of that big piece of wood, scrape some shavings off it with the knife again and put to one side in a dry place; these shavings will be your tinder.

Now holding the long piece of wood at a slight angle, begin sliding it up and down the groove. You will find that after a few strokes, some powderish shavings will begin to build up at the far end of the bottom piece with the groove in it; once enough friction has built up, these scrapings will start glowing as embers and it is these embers you will use to add to the shavings that you saved earlier, to start the fire.

Continue sliding the stick up and down until you can see little puffs of smouldering embers in the bottom wood. Next, very carefully add the shavings to the smouldering embers and very gently at first, blow on them, and soon the shavings will burst into flame.

Once the flame has caught, quickly pile on small, dry pieces of wood or shavings that you saved up earlier, and then gradually put bigger pieces of timber on.

There you are! You’ve started the fire with nothing but 2 pieces of wood, and you now feel really safe, your dark mood has lifted, you are warm, any animal nearby will not dare come near the fire and you can prepare some food. I’ve dredged up a little drawing explaining all this below; hope you can understand it!

But remember, before setting out on your hike, always, always have a back-up plan in case you are drenched and all your fire-making equipment is soaking wet. I always carry a flint and steel set, with which you can start a fire very, very quickly. My suppliers, MEC of Canada, sell a very cheap and thoroughly reliable set here.