Updates! Updates! Updates!

It’s been almost two months since my last offering here. Thank you for your patience if you were wondering, “Where the hell has he gone?”

Let me tell you. This is a story in two parts:

The first part begins with a note on my Messenger from an old friend: “I’d like to know if you’d be interested in a summer project.”

This note was sent a few days before the end of June. Summer projects are usually talked about in the early Spring or dead of Winter before. My feeling was immediate: curiosity – I hadn’t heard from this friend in a very long time. I used to teach guitar to her son more than a decade ago; and immediately following curiosity, a sense of “Hmm. This sounds like an emergency.”

I phone her back. Would I be interested in composing music for songs and background for the Theatre Georgian Bay’s production of Shakespeare’s Tempest? I can get you in touch with the directors for further details.

I was intrigued. My summer was not terribly full. A phone call from the directors revealed that their original composer and his partner, who was to take a major role in the play, would no longer be available and they advised the production team two weeks before rehearsals were to begin. So basically there was nothing to go on and I had to create everything from scratch a scarce week before rehearsals started at the beginning of July.

Hold my beer.

Intrigue turned into a yes, sure, sounds like a plan. I scratched together some ideas for songs and rewrote the epilogue speech into a Broadway kind of ending. The next evening we had a meeting to go over what would be involved. I did have a previously booked gig in the Muskokas on the second day of the performance, but that proved no obstacle. I could record the tracks, get some free cueing software, load it up, and one of the stage directors could operate it on the night I wouldn’t be there.

We started rehearsing. We were getting the finale right and timing the other songs to fit into the plot. Fine-tuned some melody and word choices. The cast was amazing, and together with the directors, we sculpted the words and music into the play. The result felt like we had a show by the time the dress rehearsal was finished at the end of July.

Did I mention that the play was to be presented outdoors in the Collingwood amphitheatre a stone’s throw from the waters of Georgian Bay? I didn’t? Well, I have now.

Twelve performances over two Thursday to Monday weekends later and we were done. Highlights? The last performance had a light rain throughout and then the gods had had enough of our foolishness and emptied the remainder of their celestial cisterns. Both the cast and the audience stayed in mutual defiance of the elements.

My guitar and gear survived.

Another earlier performance had its very existence threatened by a massive thundershower coming in off the bay. All of us, especially the audience, could see the magnificent dark grey rolls of clouds in the northwest. We could feel the thunder and see the lightning dart in the distance. No rain. There was a point about three-quarters of the way through where Prospero stood alone on stage, abjuring her powers. She had her arms outstretched, staff in her right hand pointing to the sky. At that very moment, a lightning bolt flashed in the distance, and it appeared from the audience’s perspective that the lightning emanated from the tip of the staff. Gasps and laughter and more than a bit of awe. A golden moment. Then, as we took our bows and started to strike the stage, the heavenly floodgates opened.

I would do it all again in a heartbeat.

That is one of the reasons for my absence from the blog pages.

The other has to do with a bicycling fundraiser I have been a part of off and on for the last decade and a bit, the Ride to Conquer Cancer. It is a cycling challenge to raise money for the Princess Margaret Foundation for cancer research. My previous rides were from Toronto to Niagara Falls, 200+ kilometres over two days. Since I had moved to Collingwood I was looking for an opportunity to do something similar a bit closer to home. I found the Muskoka version of it: the Northern Pass Ride to take place on August 12, a scarce week after the Tempest. So in addition to the rehearsals and performances, I also had to prepare for the Ride.

I had originally thought I could do the longest of the three choices of routes, the 160km. My early prep had my body telling me, “Are you out of your effing mind?” So I changed to do the 100km.

Thanks to my generous sponsors I raised over $1700. However, I had not counted on two things: riding in the Muskokas and, as with any outdoor event, the weather.

The Muskokas are Canadian Shield. Rocks, trees, and water. Straights are on the bridges. The rest is hills. And more hills. And just for a change, hills again. They all seem to be going in one direction only: up. Ten, even five years ago, I could have managed. This time, however, geography and age humbled me.

Cue “Old as the hills” jokes.

Because this was a much smaller event than the Toronto one, counting perhaps hundreds instead of thousands of riders, the opportunity for me to be among the slower riders was obviously present.

Add to everything on the day of the event it was raining. Cycling in the rain is not my favourite form of activity, but the cause was good and compelling. Because of the forecast, the numbers were even less than usual, perhaps a hundred and fifty riders. I had to get up at three-thirty that morning to get ready for the trip to Gravenhurst from Collingwood. Left at four-thirty and arrived two hours later. Light rain was falling. After the opening ceremonies, we started riding at 7:45, and they cancelled the 160km portion of the ride. By the time we got to the first rest stop at the Muskoka airport, it was raining heavily. Pooling on the tarmac. When you’re in that situation, resignation is key. It’s gonna rain, you’re gonna get wet, might as well keep on going.

I got into a fascinating conversation with a rider who happened to be working as a research biologist for the Princess Margaret. During the time we were riding together when it wasn’t raining too hard, he shared insights about the way new research into the way proteins behaved and formed in cancer cells led to ways of individualized treatment that would eventually lessen the need for chemotherapy.

And then came the hills and the rain. Torrents of both. Hill climbing is no place to find out that the gearing system on your bike is unreliable. During the storm (cue thunder and lightning and sheets of rain) the hills turned into rivers. This was a great time to experience aspects of the Ironman challenge: you could swim and bike at the same time!

It was also the realization that the support vehicle following me was doing so because I was dead last in the group. Four kilometres from the halfway point I walked up through the streams of rain on an 8.1% grade (read fecking steep) with the bike. A truck pulled up beside me. “Want a lift?”

I said, “I’ll walk up this hill. Thanks.”

And there, at the top, in the middle of what seemed to be an unending shower, was Brandon, the driver, opening the back of his truck. I nodded, gave the thumbs up, and packed the bike and myself in to drive to the halfway point rest station, where we picked up two more riders. The organizers had cancelled the shorter 40km ride.

In spite of all that weather, we raised a million dollars for cancer research.

So. I’m back, I’m dry, I’m not too sore. I did sleep a lot for the next few days.

And that is the reason for the absence. See you next week!

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