Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Fort George

This year we found ourselves in Canada on Canada Day, so we celebrated with some friends by visiting the historical site known as Fort George.

For my non-Canadian readers, July 1st is Canada Day, which is a national holiday that commemorates the singing of the British North America Act in 1867 which united the three colonies and created Canada as a country.  Think of it as July 4th, but without the war.

Not that Canada's history is battle free. There were many battles and skirmishes during Canada's history before 1867. Many were between the colonies, but the most notable was with the United States during the war of 1812.

Fort George was one of the British forts used during the War of 1812.  It was captured by the US in 1813, and recaptured a few months later.

The fort is mainly made of earth works shored up with logs.

 The fort looks over the Niagara River, and is intended to make crossing the river as hard as possible.  This is a forward outpost used for monitoring the US side of the river.  There is a stone lined tunnel running from this post to the main fort.

Most of the volunteers manning the fort today were in period dress. There were several demonstrations about life in the fort, from how they made food, to how they conducted warfare.
The musket demonstrations were the most dramatic.  A fellow dressed up as a British soldier and a fellow dressed up as a Militiaman gave demonstrations on how the soldiers handled their weapons. One thing I learned is that the purpose of the brightly coloured uniforms were to keep track of each other.  Black powder muskets produce a surprisingly large amount of smoke, so when a battalion of soldiers fire their guns all at once they quickly get lost in a fog of smoke.  In the style of warfare of the time keeping track of your own forces was a lot more valuable than hiding from the opposing forces.
Another thing I learned is that the British muskets were not rifled, whereas the Militia used mainly rifled muskets.  The Militiamen had a much more accurate shot, but the British depended on a wall of lead.  The defense of Canada was lead by the British, but they were vastly outnumbered, and would have completely failed if not for a large militia force, as well as a lot of assistance from the local native indians. 
As it stood, I don't believe too many battles occurred when the Canadian defenders were not dramatically outnumbered (tho it didn't stop us from ultimately repelling the invaders, and setting fire to the White House - which is why its white - you are welcome.)

A visit to an historic military base would not be complete without a formation of soldiers. Fortunately they had one of those too!
One of the activities was for us civilians to get a chance firing a black powder musket.  The musket was loaded by one of the volunteers, which was handed to me to shoot.  I did an historically accurate (in my opinion) commemorative dance, then took my shot.

Note that I was dressed in a Sergeants uniform.  I like to think I deserved the promotion, but in reality it was due to that being the only uniform that fit the larger sized gentleman.
I got to take two shots, which I took while picturing a line of damn dirty Yankees standing in front of me. (Don't worry, my American friends, I shook my fist at the damned British empirical menace 3 days later on July 4th to make up for it - fair is fair).  I am pretty sure I got the guy third from the left.
So that was my experience at Fort George.  I have always found the history around 1812 to be fascinating - one of my child hood heroes was Sir. Isaac Brock, the British general who defended Canada at the beginning of 1812, before being killed at the battle of Queenston Heights.

It is always a good idea to reach out and touch history. It reminds us of where we've come from, and how good we have it today.  Fort George was a great way to touch a part of my heritage.  Thus today was a good day.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

The Road To Nowhere

Canada is a vast nation, and its population is relatively small.  This means that one often finds themselves a long way from anywhere.

So, metaphorically, you are often nowhere.

This does make one wonder, (philosophical question alert!) are you ever really, truly, nowhere?  I mean, what does that even mean, anyway?

My wife and I decided to go on a quest to see if we could officially find nowhere.

We started in the middle of the suburbs in Beeton Ontario (because if there ever was a candidate for soul sucking nothingness, it's the 'burbs).

To our left was a wide open expanse of wilderness of nothing but vegetation, and a little overgrown path. Since the 'burbs, while uninteresting, contain something, and logic dictates nowhere will have nothing, we turned left towards the promising emptiness of the wilderness.

It was at this point that I paused for a selfie:
Turns out this wilderness is full of vegetation growing over very soggy land, so I spent a good amount of time sloshing thru mud, whilst wading through tall grasses with lovely thistles.   Don't get me wrong, it smelled like an adventure, but it was still a tad bit dampish in the boots department.  My wife, ever the trooper, was gracious enough to let me find a trail thru the muck before she followed.  
We eventually came across some train tracks, which was odd cause trains are typically going somewhere, and we were not. We were not hunting for any random somewhere.  We were hunting for nowhere, in particular.
Then we looked across the tracks.

There it was. Staring back at us.

Nowhere!  It was there!
We were, officially, there.  We could have (if we thought of it at the time) had this witty exchange:

"Ask me where we are!"
"Where?"
"No."
"WHERE?!?"
"NO!"
"You're a jerk!"

We would then mentally change "nowhere" to "now here", and smirk at our own cleverness.  (In retrospect I suspect it was best we didn't have that witty moment).

So, ironically, nowhere is a real place, and philosophers world wide are now in search of new jobs. Mission accomplished.

Have you ever been nowhere? Tell me about it in the comments below.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Port Dover Or Bust

Throughout southern Ontario there used to run a vast network of train tracks.  I know this because today there runs a vast network of rails-to-trails pathways.

I have wanted to ride some of these trails for a long time, so the last time I visited Canada I brought my Geobike of Destiny, and rode the trail south from Brantford to Port Dover.  The route was about 30 miles, very flat, and ended at Lake Erie.

Now, when I say flat I mean flat.  Over that distance the total elevation is 108ft, and descent is 256ft (for reference, my 5.3 mile commute to work has an elevation gain 5x this one).

I had my wife drop me off at the trail head in Brantford at 9AM, and arranged to have her pick me up by the lake in Port Dover at 5PM... so off I went.

There are a lot of geocaches along the route as well, so I planned on both riding, and finding some geocaches (I actually found my 3000th find during this ride).  Since I was planning on getting off the bike several times I brought along two GPSs. One to navigate to geocaches, and one to keep track of my ultimate destination and record the route of my bike (avoiding all the side excursions to find caches).
The trail winds its way through a lot of beautiful farmland, so I got an eyeful of this sort of view a lot along my journey.
There was not a lot of water along the way, so this was a nice site to run across.  Appropriately this was taken while passing through the town of Waterford.
More awesome farmland.  I am pretty sure the foreground is winter wheat (tho I am not a farmer, so who am I to say?).
Another shot of my bike on the trail.  The first third of the trail was lined with trees.  This is the middle third, which was lined with open fields.
Approximately 20 miles into the ride sits the town of Simcoe.  Like all good Canadian towns, Simcoe contains a Tim Hortons, conveniently located right along the trail (the density of conveniently located donut shops is why Canada will always be the best country in the world.)  So I stopped here for some refreshments, and a much needed break from the trails.
The final third of the trail was wooded, and meandered a lot more.  There was more evidence that this trail was once connected to the Great Canadian Railway system.
The trail ends at Lake Erie.  It was a great feeling to be able to ride to the end of the pier.  The views were a nice ending to a great day.  My wife met me there, and we headed off to eat some food at a restaurant overlooking the lake.
All in all I did 33.5 miles on my bike, and found 30 geocaches.  It pretty much wore me out, but I had a great time doing it, and I can't wait to do it again.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Legendary

The following was said to me while cycling my way home from work last night.

"You are a beast on that thing. You're sort of a legend around here about that."

He said this while pointing at my bike.

Apparently I have reached legendary status. Go me.

One more thing to add to my resume.

(this is going to go to my head, isn't it...)

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Power Play In Tennessee

Last weekend I spent geocaching in Tennessee with 4 other North Carolina cachers.  Our goal was to do some of the power trails near Bristol.

It all started a few weeks ago when a local cacher named NinjaChimpunk put a call out on a local geocaching group wondering if anyone would be up for such an adventure as this.  I signed up immediately (after getting permission from my wife), and a few others jumped in as well.  We quickly had a team, and started making plans.

First up was selecting a team name.  I suggested Awesomesauce McGansky (seemed like a good name to me), but we shortened it to Team Awesomesauce (we shortened it further to AZMSCE when we signed the cache logs).

Several of the cachers are from a fair distance away, and my house is the closest to Tennessee, so 3 of them crashed at my house Friday night.  The other met us at 5am Saturday morning, and we all piled into the Geovan of Destiny, and drive the 2 hours thru the dark to our chosen hunting grounds.

Somewhere along the way we picked sauce themed nick names for ourselves (would you expect anything else from a group of geeky folks engaged in a geeky activity?)

I picked Duck Sauce for myself, tho in retrospect I realized it may be confused as an homage to Duck Dynasty.  Let me tell you, it isn't.

We arrived at the start of the first power trail just after breakfast, and we quickly assumed roles.  driver, navigator, jumper, cache signer etc.  We soon got our rhythm figured out and were signing log sheets left and right.

However this was to be short lived, and fate was about to toss us a curveball.

We found about 50 caches or so when we started noticing that the vans brakes were acting funny and overheating. All that stopping and starting was kicking the crap out of them.

50 more caches and the brakes gave in completely, and started grinding.  We made the decision to abandon the trail and head to a garage to get the brakes fixed.

Fortunately the repair shop had the van fixed in a couple hours (two new rotors, two new pads), and we were back in business.

We spent the rest of the day geocaching along the highway, finding caches on signs, and hidden in guardrails.
We had a few other must-do caches on our list as well, so from time to time we took a break from the power trail to take in scenes like this one.
And to check out history, like this cemetery that contains the remains of Davy Crockett's grandparents.

As the day was coming to a close we saw a truck parked on the side of the road, at a cache going the other way.  We wondered if it was fellow cachers.  When we finally turned around and arrived back at that cache, it turns out that they were the cache owners of the series we were currently doing.  They had noticed us doing the power trail and had stopped to wait for us so they could grab the travel bug trackable code on the van. 
It was really cool to meet the cache owners, and we chatted for a few minutes, but then it was time to resume the trail.  So we headed off again.  A couple hours later, at sundown, we finished for the night.

We grabbed some food, then crashed at a nearby hotel.

My son let me borrow his Scooby Doo suitcase, so I used it to pack my stuff - it seemed very appropriate.
The second day, Sunday, we ended up noticing more interesting things along the way, starting with this abandoned steak house near the hotel...
... these purple cows...

... and this giant guitar on a music shop.
We finished the last cache on the last power trail at 5:30PM, and we started the drive back to my house.

All in all we did a great job keeping on track.  Despite having a few DNFs, and spending a couple hours at a mechanic, we found 392 of 424 planned caches.  Not bad all things considered.

This was a new experience for me, but it was a great deal of fun.  I really hope Team Awesomesauce hits the road again to tackle another power trail.  If we do, stay tuned.
Have you ever done a power trail?  Let me know in the comments below.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Milestone: 3500

This must be milestone season.  This weekend I hit my 3500th geocache find.  The cache location seemed appropriate tho, so we detoured from a power trail run.  Dedicated this milestone to my son, Zeke.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Peterborough Lift Locks

Across a large part of central Ontario runs the Trent-Severn Waterway, which is a series of lakes, rivers, and locks that run from Lake Simcoe to Ottawa.

The last time we were in Peterborough Ontario we had the pleasure of hooking up with some old friends, launch a boat onto the river, and ride the waterway up to a historic lock: The Peterborough Lift Lock.

The boat is a decent size pontoon boat, so not exactly a small craft. However that didn't stop us from going for a geocache hidden in a culvert that is only accessible from the waterway.  There was only a few inches of clearance on either side of the boat.  Tight fit indeed - also lots of spiderwebs... nasty business, really.
We ended up DNFing that cache, but it was still fun to attempt it.

We launched in a small bay, and the mouth of the bay had a pedestrian bridge across it.   It looks cool, but we barely squeaked underneath it.  The kids loved it tho, as did the two gentlemen standing on the bridge.
Our goal was the Peterborough lift lock, but we had to navigate the Ashburnham lock first.  This lock are 8ft high, and are the much more traditional type of lock.  You can see me here manning the ropes to keep us close to the walls as the lock filled with water to rise us up.


Our next stop was the Peterborough Lift Locks.  What makes these locks special is that they are really a pair of gigantic hydraulic powered water elevators.  One side goes up, while the other side goes down, all riding on two giant pistons.  There are only 8 lift locks of this type in existence, and at 19.8 metres in height, these locks are the highest hydraulic lift locks(queue Jeremy Clarkson)... in the world.

(note: there are higher lift locks, but they do not use the same simple mechanism to achieve their movement).
The locks themselves are impressively large. When build in 1904, these locks were the largest non-reinforced concrete structures in the world (the non-reinforced part was on my mind a lot whilst experiencing these locks first hand).  It contains 20,000 cubic metres of concrete.

This is one of the chambers that goes up and down.  Each one is about the size of the other locks on the Trent-Severn system.

The view from the top.  An interesting fact is that due to the Archimede's Principle, no matter how many boats are in each chamber, the weight in the chamber will not change.  This is because the boats displace a quantity of water equal to the weight of the boat.

None of these locks use any power.  In the case of the regular locks they use humans to open and close the doors.  For the lift locks they use the weight from one chamber to lift up the next one (the chamber that is going down has more water in it, so they do not get stuck in the middle).
Once we finished exploring the locks, we headed off to a lake.  The kids then took turns piloting the boat.  Zeke had a great time at the wheel.
Abigail didn't want to drive the boat, but she still had a great time on the water.
If you ever find yourself in Peterborough Ontario I highly recommend you check out the lift locks for yourself, either by land or by water.  It is impressive, a great use of practical science, and a national treasure.