Say What?! is an email conversation between sports editor Steve Lyons and sports columnist Paul Wiecek. Look for us regularly but intermittently on the Free Press website.
Heya. How you doing? How’s 2020 treating you so far?
Few things to get us started:
A woman called yesterday lamenting your retirement — we found one finally haha.. she was longing for your stellar curling coverage. Still amazed you ended up being best known for that. The horse racing awards, sure — I mean, we were both kinda degenerate gamblers at one point or another in our lives. But, curling?!
I thought of you a few times last week. I was in Scottsdale for five nights. The last time I was there was with you, when we did that buddy trip around Arizona for a week.
The Jets went into a freefall while I was away — they are not connected by the way. But, we’re not gonna talk sports too much today. A while back, we were doing one of these exchanges and we spent a fair bit of space talking about our world travels. A couple of our followers were not overly impressed, suggesting we keep our convo to sports — what we know best. I’m not sure that’s accurate by the way. He also suggested if we wanted to talk about travel so much, that we do it in the Travel section. It’s called Destinations and Diversions these days. Soooooooo… I ran it by my boss and the travel section boss, and here we are. Today’s Say What folks, will mostly centre on travel, but like any one of these things that we’ve been doing for a couple years now, who knows what we’ll chat about haha.
Great to hear from you again. My 2020 has been outstanding — I’m a Grampa! Erika’s eldest, Duncan, and his wife, Sarah, had a baby in January. The little guy is very handsome and has a great name — Hudson James. His nerdy father likes how the name references a couple of great Canadian bays because of course he does.
I’m looking forward to teaching the young fella how to swear. I’ve always been a bit of a connoisseur in that area, as you know.
I’m delighted to hear that there’s at least one reader out there who still remembers me. I will tell you the same thing I tell anyone who asks these days if there’s anything about the job I miss — not a damn thing, except for curling.
The people in that sport — on the ice and off of it — are some of the best people I know. And topping that list is Resby Coutts — I loved the Q and A Sawatzky did with him on the weekend about his induction into the Manitoba Curling Hall of Fame.
I love that we’re getting a chance to talk a little more about traveling today. I didn’t get a chance to do a lot of travel writing in my years at the paper, but some of the travel writing I did do generated a lot more emails than some of my best read sports pieces.
People in this province love to travel. I guess that’s what happens when you live in a place that is a deep freeze six months of the year.
I was invited down to Arizona by the good people at Experience Scottsdale. I’ve done several travel stories on the area — it started with golf, then went to hiking; and this time it was biking. I’ll spin a yarn for our readers in the next few weeks.
I do love the Arizona desert terrain and did some great trail rides in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve. I believe we went for a hike in part of that park when we were there.
The preserve encompasses some 30,500 acres and is the largest urban park in the United States, something like three times the size of Central Park in New York. It has over 290 kms of trails. And while the dessert may appear flat in pictures, it’s anything but with lots of incline and decline in the trails.
I think you went for a bike ride when we were last in Scottsdale, while I went to the gym and the mall. Fashion Square in Scottsdale is a killer mall by the way.
When people think of that part of Arizona, they of course always think of Phoenix first. But Scottsdale has it going on — the food is great and the arts and culture is the opposite of a desert. Some of the best galleries in the U.S. are down there mostly because some of the wealthiest Americans live down there, or have vacation properties.
But my favorite part of Scottsdale — and the whole U.S. Southwest really — is all the outdoor activities. The hiking and biking is second to none down there. And if you love to ski, neighboring New Mexico has what is easily my favorite resort in North America in Taos, a tiny old hippy enclave tucked into a corner of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains that just happens to have some of the best skiing anywhere.
I’m very disappointed you didn’t take me along on this latest trip.
Thanks for spelling desert right. I had it dessert — because I ate one or two every day I was there. My last stop was the Sugar Bowl on Scottsdale Road where they’ve been serving ice cream treats since 1958. I had a two-scoop sundae with chocolate marshmallow and cherry toppings. When I was done, the fellow serving at the counter asked me what I was having next — I almost had another one. I biked about 300 kms in five days and gained five pounds while I was away.
I’ve been fortunate to do some biking in some great places recently. In 2019, I cycled in Jordan, Greece and London. Oh, and Winnipeg. Ya know, our city has some pretty good trails if you get out there and find them.
My biking in Jordan was a 50-k trek across the desert landscape. The biking in Greece was on coastal highways. The biking in London was from those Santander bikes you pick up and drop off at various docking stations. You had been telling me for years to grab a bike and explore a city on two wheels. You were right pal, it’s a great way to see the sights. Riding up to the gates of Buckingham Palace; biking through Hyde Park; or crossing Tower Bridge were all so much more fun on a bike.
You just experience so much more of a country on two wheels than four. Biking is to cars, what trains are to airplanes — if you really want to experience a country, always opt for the former when you can.
You’ve had some incredible cycling experiences in a very short time, so there’s not much more I can offer in that regard. But I would like to recommend one other bike experience: some of my favorite experiences traveling for the paper within North America were using the various bike-share programs cities have set up across North America.
Minneapolis, Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver to name just a few cities all have bike share programs that allow you access to bikes at hundreds of stations around the city. The programs all work pretty much the same way: you use a credit card to pay a flat rate for 24 hours (I’ve paid as little as 5 bucks for 24 hours in Montreal) and you grab any bike available and away you go. As long as you return the bike to another station near your destination in less than an hour, there’s no additional charge and you’re free to then grab another bike.
I’ve covered entire assignments using nothing but these bikes — they always have a large carrier on the front that I could stuff my bag into. It’s a great way to travel cheaply when you’re on the road and you know me — I always love to travel cheaply, whether it was for work or on my own.
Hence, you are retired and I am still slaving away. I’m learning to travel a little more economically these days, but you’re the master sensei.
I did have my first Uber experience on this recent trip. Wow, what a great service!
Great cars, friendly drivers, quick service, and way less expensive.
I had one fairly lengthy ride with a fellow from Poland. I told him I’m likely going to visit this year or next year and he gave me lots of recommendations, including Zakopane. We should do a biking buddy trip there pal.
This guy was great. He spends a couple of months at a time on a commercial fishing boat off the coast of BC and Alaska and then drives Uber to fill his spare time while he’s back in Arizona. He had a great Lexus SUV that was uber-comfortable and the convo was great. One thing I love about travel is meeting people and hearing their stories.
My taxi ride from Winnipeg airport to home was not as enjoyable. A little over $20 for a ride in a worn out Prius, behind a glass shield, while the driver talked loud on the phone to someone. The Uber drivers would get out and open the darn door for you — the guy here barely broke his convo on the phone while he passed me the machine and then waited for me to get the hell out.
Some of the nicest cars I’ve ever been in have been Uber rides. A guy picked me up in a brand new Beemer 7 once. Ridiculous.
I understand cab companies cannot compete with that. But it’d be nice if they’d at least try. I understand completely that the world has changed on them and the internet has wrought havoc on the taxi industry. I was a newspaper reporter — I understand what the internet can do to your business model better than most.
But until cab companies either drop their prices or improve their services, the ride-share programs are going to mop the floor with those poor guys. And that’s too bad because it was the cab companies that gave a lot of the immigrants that built this country their first jobs.
Ask any Pole for a recommendation on where to visit in their country and nine times out of ten they will tell you Zakopane. I’ve been to the home land twice in my life and both times I went to Zakopane. Picture Banff, but 1,000 years old and you start to get an idea of how spectacular that place is. It’s about a two-hour drive south from Krakow and you’re tucked into the Tatra Mountains along the border with Slovakia. In fact, there’s one hiking trail that you can take that actually takes you over the border into Slovakia. Erika and I took it on a few years ago but had to turn back when the fog became so thick we couldn’t see where we were going.
I regret not making it to this day. I’d love to make that right with you.
Before I forget, I’ve been to the Scottsdale area now a handful of times and one thing I noticed this time more than ever is people actually talk about hockey now. The Coyotes have been in the desert now for almost a quarter-century and it seems there’s actually a fanbase. People are still surprised though when you tell them the team originated in Winnipeg. "You guys have a team, don’t you?" they ask. "Yeah, we took it from Atlanta 15 years after you took ours."
Um, so how about our local NHL team. Don’t wanna say I told you so, but I did. The current roster is simply not good enough to compete with the better teams in the league. You can’t rely on five forwards, one defenceman (named Pionk by the way) and a goalie trying to stand on his head every night. I’m not sure what Chevy has planned to fix this mess, but it’s definitely a mess. Even True North acknowledged as much with their announcement to fans on Tuesday that they "have become increasingly aware of a growing sentiment related to ticket prices, the cost of food and beverages, mobile ticketing, elevated security measures, and of course, team performance."
The sentiment is not a favorable one by the way.
The Jets have problems alright — on and off the ice.
That’s an organization that has taken their fans for granted for far too long, but they got away with it, first because people were just happy to have the NHL back in town and later because the team was actually pretty exciting on the ice.
Well none of those things are true anymore and it’s been a cold hard slap of reality for the Jets this season. Their sell out streak is over and my sense is people are tired of an organization that from the very top has treated them with nothing but condescension.
If the NHL is going to work in this town long term, the fans need to be treated as a partner in the organization. And that means you don’t lie your ass off to them when the most popular player in the organization goes AWOL at the start of training camp, which is exactly what the Jets did in the Dustin Byfuglien affair, thinking they could get away with it like everything else.
The free ride is over.
As for the team on the ice, I continue to believe they have enough to get into the playoffs but not nearly enough to actually compete once they get there.
Not a chance bud, but I have been proven wrong by you in the past... I think.
My trainer Richard Burr (name dropping) asked me the other day of there was one place I could travel to that I’ve already been to, where would it be.
I told him I was torn between two places — Ireland and Israel.
I have deep family roots in Ireland — my great great grandfather has a street named after him in Dublin — and there’s no place I have ever felt quite at home more than in Ireland.
But, Israel was likely the most fascinating place I’ve visited. The history, spirituality, food and landscape are all so amazing.
I sat on a bench in the backyard of a church in Capernaum overlooking the Sea of Galilee; ate the most amazing shawarma from a little kiosk in Jerusalem; and hiked from Bethlehem to Jericho with a Palestinian guide. It’s one place I really long to go back to.
How about you?
I’m going back to Nepal, sooner than later I hope.
I spent about a week there a few years ago, hiking to the base of Annapurna. The people couldn’t have been nicer or more generous and you have to see the Himalayas in person to appreciate the sheer scale of their majesty.
That hike was one of the most physically challenging things I’ve ever done because I quickly learned that after a life time spent at pretty much sea level here on the prairies, my body needed more time than I gave it to adjust to the altitude. But because it was so hard, it was enormously satisfying to achieve my own little summit — a little lookout at 13,000 feet where I had an incredible view of two of the world’s 14 8,000-meter peaks — Annapurna 1 and Dhaulagiri.
I want to go back and take on a tougher lookout on the opposite side of Nepal — a place called Kala Patthar at 18,200 feet where it’s said you get the finest view in the world of Mt. Everest.
I’m not sure where I’m headed next. Likely Oregon in May. You know how I drove that Bimmer around Germany and Czech Republic a couple of years ago, right? Well, BMW says I could take another car out in the fall if I want — was thinking Munich to Berlin to Poland. Let’s chat about it.
You’re headed to Bonaire or something?
Yes, we’re off to Bonaire next week. It’s going to be a couple of weeks of diving down there and then we’ve got another week in Miami and the Florida Keys on the way home.
I think we might take in a couple of spring training games too while we’re down there. Maybe go heckle those cheating Astros.
Do it! Haha
Have a great trip and say Hi to Erika for me.
I’ve gotta get back to my regular gig here.
Great talking with you again.
Paul Wiecek was born and raised in Winnipeg’s North End and delivered the Free Press -- 53 papers, Machray Avenue, between Main and Salter Streets -- long before he was first hired as a Free Press reporter in 1989.
As a young boy in the 1960s, Steve would plead with his mother to let him watch Hockey Night in Canada on Saturday nights. And CFL football. And baseball. And PGA golf. And… well, you get the picture.
Updated on Thursday, January 30, 2020 at 11:56 AM CST: corrects attribution