Late this summer my buddy and I loaded our bikes onto a train and headed to the east coast of Quebec to eat our weight in poutine and bike along the famous Route Verte -- a 4,300-kilometre network of bike trails, lanes, dirt roads and paved highway shoulders.You can read about the Route in my story for the National Post. But since I also lugged along my camera gear -- including bungee-cording a tripod to the back of my bike, which I hated myself for somewhere around the 20th hill -- I thought I'd also share some photos here.
There were bikes everywhere, and in the small towns nobody locked them. It's a beautiful trip, if you're up for the hills.
Decisions, decisions. In Parc Bic.
Found a town in Bas-St-Laurent whose chief export was sunflowers
View from the saddle.
We did have the share the road.
Stumbled across these insane contraptions, built using bicycle parts and plastic lawn chairs. Apparently the inventor likes to scoot around town in them, to the chagrin of his neighbours.
The largest town was Rimouski (population 42,000), which boasted an extensive and envy-worthy bike path that stretched along the waterfront.
A very impractical solution to hydration. Spotted in Rimouski.
Did I mention that my gears AND my brakes stopped working?
Admittedly I've had this seat for years...but finally busted the seam.
Heels on Wheels with Wallis Giunta
Occupation: Opera Singer
Tell us how cycling and singing intersect in your life?
Cycling and singing are my two favourite things; so naturally, they have a big affect on each other. I’ve used my bike as my main mode of transportation since I was 12, and I arrive at almost every performance on two wheels. When I’m cycling, I feel clear-headed and at peace, which helps me get into the right zone for performing. It also warms up my body, and opens my lungs.
Do you ever sing while cycling?
I really love to sing while I’m riding. I figure if I can sing a difficult piece while I’m biking, it should be no problem under normal breathing conditions! Also, cycling is such a rhythmic and enjoyable process that I can’t seem to hold back. When I’m happy, I sing, and when I bike, I’m happy.
What are you working on now?
I just started working at the Metropolitan Opera in New York this past September. I’m a member of their Lindemann Young Artist Development Program, and I absolutely love it…but I do miss Canada. Fortunately, I have lots to look forward to at home this season. My next performance is at Roy Thompson Hall on New Years Eve! It’s the annual Bravissimo! Gala, and I will be singing opera classics with a quartet of fabulous singers from around the world. Following that, I have a solo recital with Music Toronto at the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts on March 1st, with pianist Steven Philcox. Not to spoil too much, but the program is very exciting and very Canadian.
Can you tell us a bit about being a Lindemann Young Artist with the acclaimed Metropolitan Opera?
What we have available in this program is really quite amazing. Our main job is to watch and learn, which is very easy since there is a performance almost every night, and rehearsals all day throughout the building. We have access to the world’s best opera coaches and directors; we get private language instruction in the most common operatic tongues (this season I plan to master Italian and German); we have frequent auditions for opera companies, festivals and conductors; we learn to dance and move - most recently, we had salsa dance classes as it helps to release tension in the body and make a singer more relaxed, with a lower centre of gravity. The list goes on. It is a very similar program to the Canadian Opera Company Ensemble Studio, of which I was very fortunate to be a member of for the past two years. The only difference is the volume of singers, conductors, and productions that come through the Met’s massive doors.
Do you ever bike in NYC?
So far, I’ve used my bikes around my neighbourhood and for recreational riding, as the commute would be too long from where I’m living. It’s cool for me though, because in Toronto my bike was my car, and I rarely had time to ride just for fun. Now I go in the park on the weekends and ride just because I want to.
Have you ever worn heels while riding your bike?
I like to arrive at events ready to go, so I often ride in performance gowns, with my heels and jewellery on! The only thing that I can’t do is my hair, because I have to wear my helmet. (Yes, mom I do.) So, the hair waits until I get to the theatre. I actually like wearing heels to bike. There’s a way to hook them on the pedals, and it’s quite stable.
Ms. Giunta demonstrates stability while wearing heels on wheels.
Tell us about your gown.
I am a very lucky girl because my gowns come from David McCaffrey at McCaffrey Haute Couture. We work together to create looks for my performances that reflect how I feel, what he’s into, and what each performance requires. The gowns live at his boutique, on display gallery style, and they send them out to me when I have a performance. It’s totally ideal. I am also the face of David’s label, and we have great fun shooting each collection in beautiful locations. This gown was for a performance for our Governor General, and also happens to be my favourite color.
What is your best cycling accessory?
My most indispensable bike accessory is my wire basket on my back rack. It hooks on the side of the rack so easily, and has a strong handle, so I can carry it around with me – everywhere.
I also love my YNOT pedal straps, because I can use them with heels just as easily as my Blundstones!
Do you cycle in the fall and winter?
I cycle 365 days a year if I can. I have two bikes, and they both do all seasons. I love riding when it’s cold. When you ride in the winter, you stay much warmer, and arrive at your destination toasty. I actually get overheated all the time when I ride in the winter. I have to stop and peel off layers during my ride. Take that, streetcar.
How does wool work it’s way into your fall cycling wardrobe?
First I will say that I don’t have a cycling wardrobe. I wear what I wear, and it all works on my bike. I’m a pretty practical and casual dresser. But, wool has fully infiltrated my wardrobe in general. My dad got me into Icebreaker merino wool clothing, and I have at least one layer of it on each day. I also make use of my collection of wool kilts from my mom’s Highland Dancing days, and my Hudson’s Bay red wool parka from Value Village. And my wool socks that my grandma knits me. So far, I haven’t gotten into cashmere, but you always need something to look forward to, eh?
Wallis hearts wool.
Do you ever match your wardrobe with your bicycle?
Not really. If I did, I’d be wearing mud splattered, ripped up black clothing. But I do love how using my bike influences my style. No matter what I’m wearing, riding my bike always brings me down to earth. Being physically responsible for your own transportation is very humbling and liberating. I like my style to reflect how that makes me feel.
What is your favourite city to ride in?
I love riding in Germany. I’ve been in Gutersloh, Neumarkt, and Nürnberg, and all three places I was able to easily get a free bicycle; legally. They all had dedicated lanes, and you never had to worry about cars, or car doors. Cycling is a big part of their culture and is not just welcomed but encouraged. It was luxury.
What is the strangest thing you’ve done with a bicycle?
I’ve dressed my bike up for Halloween. We’ll leave it at that.
In 2007, I wrote a blog post for Spacing called, A day for remembering on the second anniversary of the death of cyclist Ryan Carriere.
Ryan was killed six years ago today while on his bike by a right-turning truck at the intersection of Queen and Gladstone. That was the first time I interviewed the lawyer for the Carriere family, Patrick Brown.
We would also like to remember Jack Layton on this day and all he did to improve the safety of cyclists in this city.
But, as Jack would say: there's still much to be done!
The province-wide coroner's study, announced one week ago today, will seek common factors in the incidents in order to make recommendations in the spring of 2012 to help prevent future deaths. Coroner's inquests do not make judicial findings.
When long-time dandyhorse contributors and supporters, Albert Koehl and Patrick Brown, along with Marie Smith on behalf of the United Senior Citizens of Ontario, wrote an opinion piece in the Toronto Star in August urging the chief coroner to look into cycling and pedestrian deaths -- he took notice.
A similar coroner's review of 38 cycling deaths in the city of Toronto over an 11-year period was completed in 1998. That review led to a number of cycling initiatives, like the bike plan and the creation of the cycling advisory committee, which was disbanded earlier this year -- as well as a recommendation for truck side guards.
There are more cyclists on the road now than ever before. Recent studies have shown that 60 per cent of Ontarians would cycle more but are afraid to do so.
Interested parties are encouraged to provide feedback for the inquest (details below).
Comments and recommendations can be sent to Dr. Cass and the review panel before Nov. 30, 2011 by writing occo.inquiries @ ontario.ca or at the following mailing address: Dr. Dan Cass, Office of the Chief Coroner, 26 Grenville Street, Toronto, ON, M7A 2G7.