Epic cycling tour comes to North America

Tour d’Afrique Ltd., the adventure travel company that organizes some of the best cycling tours on the planet, has announced the latest addition to their catalog, and this time they’re bringing their magic to North America. This new ride is aptly named The North American Epic, and when it launches next May, it will cover nearly 5000 miles, stretching from the Pacific Coast of California to the Atlantic Coast of Canada’s Newfoundland.

The North American Epic gets underway on May 29th from San Francisco, and immediately proceeds south along the Pacific Coast, before the riders turn east, heading into the desert. From there it’s on to the Grand Canyon, and the Four Corners of Utah, Arizona, Colorado, and New Mexico, before tackling the Rocky Mountains themselves. The tour continues into the American Heartland, taking the legendary Route 66 east across Missouri and Illinois, then turning northward toward Michigan and the Great Lakes region, before finally crossing the border into Canada. Cycling through Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, and Quebec, before proceeding up the scenic St. Lawrence Sea Way, the riders will experience plenty of Canadian hospitality before the ride finally comes to an end in St. Johns, Newfoundland on the 28th of August.

This three month long cycling tour features 76 days in the saddle, along with 16 rest days, and costs $9950 for the complete ride. But as with all their tours, Tour d’Afrique Ltd. offers cyclists various options for riding shorter sub-sections of the entire route. In the case of this tour, there are five shorter segments that can be ridden in any combination as well, allowing those with time constraints to take part in this great new tour too.

And for adventure cyclists looking for something a bit more exotic, check out the company’s 44 day ride along the Silk Road or their 80 day tour of South America. But for something really adventurous, go for the flagship ride, the Tour d’Afrique, which is 120 days in length and runs from Cairo to Cape Town.

[Photo credit: Tour d’Afrique Ltd.]

United just can’t win with Canadian singer

Canadian singer-songwriter Dave Carroll flew United again, and it just didn’t work out. Carroll made the headlines when he released a YouTube video explaining his experience with United, which broke his guitar when he changed planes at Chicago’s O’Hare airport.

In his first song, Carroll said he wouldn’t rule out flying United again, specifically, “To save the world, I probably would … but that won’t likely happen.” Well, he did fly United again, simply because he needed a direct flight from Nova Scotia to Denver, and United had the only one available. This time, United didn’t break his guitar, but it did lose his luggage.

When he arrived at Denver International Airport, Carroll learned that his luggage was delayed, and the United employees on hand told him to wait for it. Meanwhile, an airport official told him to leave the baggage claim area. Eventually he yielded — a smart move, since his luggage didn’t arrive until Wednesday. And, yet again, United is in the position of having to investigate a problem associated with quite possibly the nicest wronged customer in the history of the travel business.

Following his original debacle with United, Carroll said he’d create three videos for YouTube. He’s created two so far, in addition to a statement explaining the situation with United and urging people not to be so hard on Ms. Irlweg. All three have been viewed a total of nearly 7 million times.

United has promised to take steps to improve customer service, but this seems to be slow-moving, as evidenced by Carroll’s recent situation. To make matters worse, the word from United’s vice president of customer contact centers, Barbara Higgins, said in an interview with Christopher Elliott, “Our agents are empowered to escalate serious concerns that they hear from our guests. We have since provided them with a better way to do that to ensure we can be more responsive to special situations that arise, while also protecting us from the fraud that we see.”

“Empowered to escalate” — that doesn’t strike me as terribly empowered.

The lack of movement on the issue seems clear in Carroll’s Denver debacle. He had finished the lyrics for the third song before taking this trip. “They lyrics that I used sort of encompass what happened here this week so I might not have to rewrite it after all,” he told CBC. That’s a sad statement, when you think about it. He was writing about a problem that happened over a year ago, and recent events don’t call for revision.

So much for progress …

Ironically, Carroll was flying to Denver to give a speech at RightNow Technologies, a company that develops customer service software. Maybe United will schedule a demo soon.

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[Photo by cliff1066 via Flickr]

Canadian wine?

When you think of Canadian food products, wine doesn’t exactly spring to mind. Back bacon and maple syrup, yeah, but wine? Mention Canadian wine and the first reaction you’re likely to get is either laughter or a blank stare.

That’s beginning to change as vintners in the Great White North are proving themselves.

The history of Canadian wines goes way back. Even the Vikings, who visited eastern Canada a thousand years ago, called the place Vinland after the vines of native grapes they found. The Native Americans (called First Nations up here) only used the grapes for eating, but it wasn’t long after British and French immigrants showed up that the first attempts at wine production were made. By the mid-nineteenth century it had become big business.

The major wine growing regions are British Columbia (shown here) and Ontario, with much smaller levels of production in Quebec and Nova Scotia. It should come as no surprise that most of vineyards hug the southern border and much of the wine they make is icewine.
Icewine is produced from grapes that have frozen on the vine. They aren’t harvested until the temperature dips lower than -8 Celsius, which means harvest is often as late as December. The frozen grapes only produce a tiny bit of juice rich with acid and sugar. The resulting wine is a very sweet dessert wine that comes in smaller bottles and is best served chilled and in small glasses. The expensive production process leads to a corresponding price tag. Canadian icewine is considered some of the best in the world.

Some Canadian producers actually import grapes and press them in Canada or mix them with Canadian grapes. These are labeled “Cellared in Canada” and are not true Canadian wines. All Canadian ice wine is the real stuff. Frozen grapes aren’t hard to come by here.

But icewine isn’t the whole story. According to the Canadian Vintners Association, more than thirty varieties are produced in the country. The Rieslings of Ontario were the first to show promise back in the Seventies, and Vidals, Chardonnays, and other varieties have become prominent. Pinot Noir, grown in Niagara, has done so well that Boisset, the largest producer in France’s famous Burgundy region, has joined with Vincor International, Canada’s largest wine company, to build a winery in Niagara dedicated to Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

If the French have faith in Canada’s potential, that means something. Who knows? With global warming, Canada may become the new southern Europe.

A Hurricane Hits Canada

When television reporters try for their moment of glory by standing outside in the midst of a hurricane, there is usually a palm tree being whipped by the wind in the background. Hurricanes are known mainly as a tropical phenomenon. But not always. Hurricane Kyle battered Nova Scotia yesterday. Meanwhile, the neighboring US state of Maine issued the first hurricane warning in 17 years. Winds of 96 miles per hour were reported when the category one storm made landfall.

While rare, hurricanes in Canada are not unheard of. Hurricane Juan caused two fatalities when it hit Canada’s Atlantic coast 5 years ago. No deaths have been reported during Kyle. However, trees and power lines were downed.

The worst-ever storm to hit Canada was Hurricane Hazel, which killed 85 people in 1954 and left large parts of Toronto flooded. Kyle is the 6th hurricane and 11th tropical storm of the season. Storms this year have been particularly bad for Caribbean nations.