Riding to Victory

Comox Valley Cycle Club supports local bikers, including junior racing champs…

Who could ask for anything more?  I get to do what I love, patient and have a great view at the same time!”  This from Bev O’Hara, surgeon a woman who took a leap of faith in November of 2009 when she transformed a small room in her Union Bay home—overlooking picturesque Baynes Sound—into Just Like Mom’s Bakery.

“I’ve always baked, physician ” says O’Hara with a laugh.  She holds her arm out to waist height from her short frame:  “Since I was this high!  I baked with my mom, so it’s something that’s been a constant in my life, but it’s only recently that I ‘came out’ as a baker, so to speak.”

Now 56, O’Hara grew up in Kyle, Saskatchewan.  Her first trade also had her working magic with her hands—as a florist.  While in her early 20s she started a small greenhouse and sold the plants she’d grown, plus ran a flower shop.  Under her green hands that small shop bloomed into a large commercial business in the 20 years she ran it.  When she decided to sell the business, O’Hara hired on as the production manager of a similar operation in Saskatoon.  She worked there annually from January to July, overseeing the growing of their plants, and although she enjoyed the work, missed her own home in Kyle.

When she heard of a dude ranch close to Kyle that was looking for a cook for their summer season, O’Hara took on the task.  “It was an easy job for me,” she says.  “I had to provide three meals a day of good farmhouse cooking, and the guests ate what was offered—there wasn’t a menu. It suited me well, and of course, baking was an intrinsic part of the daily fare.  I did that for five years, but it was the winters I grew tired of.  I began to look online for work in BC, on the coast and lo and behold, there was a job for the curling club in Campbell River.  I was the concession manager and catered to banquets and parties and anniversaries, that sort of thing. That was a winter job, of course, but after one winter on the coast, I decided I wasn’t going back to freezing cold Saskatchewan winters.  I worked summers in a fishing lodge for a while, then the Campbell River Golf Club.”

After four years in Campbell River O’Hara met her partner, Franc Charpentier, another small business entrepreneur who runs a cash register company.  O’Hara moved to Union Bay and she and Charpentier decided to buy a mobile coffee van.  Home-made goodies were a natural addition to complement their drinks. As the coffee business was usually for special events and festivals, which tended to fall on weekends, O’Hara was also cooking for The Pier Pub in Comox.

Laughing, O’Hara says it was an accident that led to her launching Just Like Mom’s into a business on her own as a baker.  A colleague she met and worked with at The Pier, Kevin Munroe, decided to open his own bistro-style restaurant, The Mad Chef.   O’Hara was going to be his partner in providing baked goods, breads, buns, ciabattas (a special pizza-style dough that’s crispy on the outside and bubbly and soft on the inside) and so on.

“When I went into the new building with Kevin, we took one look at each other and said, ‘This isn’t going to work.’  The kitchen is far too small for a baker and a chef.  I looked into the possibility of baking somewhere else and supplying Kevin that way.”

After checking out available rental space and weighing the costs of converting a space into a bakery, which seemed too expensive, “Kevin had the brainwave that I should cook from home,” says O’Hara.  “I thought about it for a while, talked in over with Franc, and found out what the health requirements would be, and decided I would give it a go.  We converted a room in our home that had been full of junk into this bakery.”

Since that decision, O’Hara’s compact bakery has been providing an ever increasing number of local businesses with buns, breads, scones, cookies and brownies.  Showing canny business acumen, O’Hara also began to offer home deliveries.

Her face lights up as she describes a part of her business that is obviously close to her heart.  “There are lots of older people who don’t want to be baking for themselves, yet they’re used to home baked food.  We now have a number of seniors who order from us.”

She smiles as she explains more about this unique part of her business.  “Quite a few of our customers don’t get out a lot, so when we arrive with their order, we’re perhaps the only people they’ve talked to that day.  We’re more than happy to chat with them for half an hour or so.  A woman who now lives in California came up for the Olympics, and came over to visit her mother in Union Bay.  She saw one of our fliers and asked us to start making deliveries to her mom, who was thrilled!  We think our home deliveries are really important.

“We take half a dozen buns or cookies to lots of people,” says O’Hara.  “We ask the order be at least $25, but that’s easy to get to, and people put some products in their freezers.  We think it’s a really nice service to offer and our customers appreciate freshly baked food.  We take orders into Courtenay every morning to The Mad Chef, The Coffee Love Bug, Brambles Market and The Pier Pub, so we add the home deliveries in. We’ve recently started supplying The Royston Shell and the Union Bay Market with scones and cookies too.”

O’Hara’s baking sounds extremely creative.  “I make scones for The Coffee Love Bug and began to try out different ingredients.  I make a Greek Goddess scone with lots of feta cheese, avocado and basil pesto, a Mediterranean Goddess with feta cheese again, spinach, and olives and a Southwestern with peppers and havarti cheese.  It’s great fun—I think of a cool name and mix tasty ingredients together.  I make berry scones too, of course, cranberries, apricot and oranges, blueberry and lemon, and cinnamon and raisin scones.  I have a basic buttermilk recipe that I adapt to whatever I think will be tasty.  I use yogurt in my sweet dessert scones, too.

“I get lots of good ideas from Kevin,” O’Hara adds.  “I’m going to try a smoked buffalo scone and my husband came up with a good idea—The Couch Potato.  It’s going to have beer, cheese and potato chips.

As O’Hara’s grandson is diabetic, she’s been experimenting with baked goods that are suitable for people on restricted diets, although she doesn’t plan to make gluten-free doughs.  “That requires more space,” she explains, “as there has to be a special place only for gluten-free flours to be used.  The flour can’t be contaminated with anything else, and other people provide that service.”

Although scones and cookies are the most popular items O’Hara bakes, she’s pulling out a tray of plump bread buns from the oven as she speaks. “I make breads and loaf muffins too,” she says.

“This business suits me down to the ground” she adds.  “I’m not an early-riser baker.  I don’t like getting up at 4 o’clock in the morning and this way I can choose my own hours.  If I want to start a batch of bread at 9 o’clock at night, I can do that.  While things are cooking I can putter about my own house or do something on the computer.”

O’Hara point to a gleaming stainless steel bowl and mixing arm. “I just recently invested in a small commercial dough-mixer,” she says.  “My other ones were smaller and, besides, they’ve done me great service for 25 years—I didn’t want to over-tax them!”

Such is the success of her home baking that O’Hara is contemplating moving her business to a larger shed on her property.  “If I had someone else to help me with preparation, I could make more items, I could make cakes and so on, but this space is too small,” she says, gesturing at the space around her, which is approximately 3×4 metres.  “I made a special birthday strawberry cheese cake for a Union Bay man and he said ‘Oh, you’ll be getting lots more orders for these!’  But I’m not set up for it.”

“Although.” she continues with a gleam in her eye. “we experimented with doing lots of canning and preserving last year, and that might become another branch of our business.  There’s any amount of people who grow too much food to eat in the season and either don’t want—or don’t know how—to can and preserve their produce.  And again, lots of older people who grew up preserving their own food and making their own pickles don’t feel able to undertake that task anymore.  We could offer that service, perhaps.  If somebody wants to buy cucumbers when they’re in season and cheaper but doesn’t want the bother of pickling them, we could help.”

For O’Hara, working at home is the icing on the cake.  “I love working at home” she says.  “I’ve always had my own businesses, and although I might make more money working for someone else, this is great.  I mean, who could ask for anything more?”

To order Dough to Door deliveries from Just Like Mom’s contact Bev O’Hara at 250-335-0239 or visit www.JustLikeMoms.ca, where O’Hara’s current menu is on display.

Junior racers Amanda Wakeling and Jordan Duncan get in some practice time on the streets of the Comox Valley.

Photo by Boomer Jerritt

While out and about on the roads and trails around the Comox Valley, tadalafil you might want to take special note of some of the two-wheeled blurs that flash past—there just might be some champions in that pack of cyclists.

And some of those blurs may very well be members of the Comox Valley Cycle Club (CVCC).  “The Comox Valley Cycle Club is excited to be able to offer programs and support to the cyclists of the Comox Valley,” says CVCC Time Trials Coordinator Andrew Brown, “but we are especially excited about a few of our junior members who are already showing amazing promise.”

“Although Amanda Wakeling, Jordan Duncan and Nigel Ellsay have only been racing for a year, all are regularly competing at the provincial level and winning.  Amanda and Jordan are both are currently the Provincial Time Trial Champions in their age group.”

The Comox Valley Cycle Club is active in road racing and recreation, holding regular group rides, time trials, and an annual series of road races.  Road races are for riders of all ages—the current membership ranges from 10 to 70.  Formal time trials are conducted weekly.  The club also hosts the BC Masters Cycling Association, regional play-downs for the BC Seniors Games, and special events for province-wide junior racers.

Former and current club members include provincial, national and world champions, regular competitors on the international circuit, and Olympians.

The club has been involved formally in competitive cycling since 1986.  “The CVCC has a long history of supporting cycling and bike racing in the Comox Valley,” says Brown.  “Olympians and former National Champions Kiara Bisaro and Geoff Kabush are both past members.”

One of the long standing senior members of the Club, John Bernard, describes the success of the junior training program.  “A couple of years ago John van der Vliet started organizing a training program for juniors—mainly because his son wanted to learn how to race, and his son had some friends who wanted to learn to race.  Amanda Wakeling,  Jordan Duncan and Nigel Ellsay are involved in that—all are about the same age. Altogether there are about six junior riders.”

While the young cyclists are relatively modest about their achievements to date, Bernard says, “John took them to some provincial level races last year, specifically the time trials, and they walked all over everybody else!  They were really impressive.”

Junior members have always been a focus of CVCC, says Bernard, depending on who is organizing the riders, and last year was a particularly good year.  “We did have talent, but not just that—the talent that started it out encouraged other talent to come along too!  And it built on itself.  It was attracting other people, other kids into it.

“We have about 50 members,” adds Bernard, who is also in charge of membership for the CVCC.  “At one point we had more—when we were involved in mountain biking as well, which was a success at that time mainly because we had the parents involved and the grade schools involved.  But when the kids grow older and drop out, the parents drop out, and without the parents it’s extremely difficult to keep going.  Our club is not strictly involved in mountain biking any more—it has started up again under a different organization in Cumberland—though a lot of our riders do mountain biking.”

The CVCC, he says, is basically a road racing club.  “This year we’re doing four race weekends locally—three of those are one-day events, and one is a two-day event with three races in it. The first one is mid-May, then one a month after that ending up in August.”

Bernard considers himself a recreational cyclist.  “I don’t race!” he says, “I can’t keep up with them! Their speed averages in the low 30s I think, for 1-1/2 to 2 hrs.  Right now they are doing a group ride Sundays, and eventually probably three or four organized group rides every week, depending on how keen people are.  They don’t care what the weather is like—they’ll even go out in snow!  Those are basically training rides.”

Most racing in the Valley is on Sunday mornings when the roads are fairly quiet.  “Routes are chosen partly because the traffic is light.  We try to be as careful as we can about the way people race.”

They also offer a “good time trial series,” once a week starting in August. “We have a course that starts at Piercy and Condensory, goes up to the highway, up the highway to Dove Creek Road and back,” says Bernard.  “They do that once or twice around—that’s very popular.”  Bernard notes that some improvements such as road shoulders or smoother pavement would be welcomed by the cycling community.

That community includes the junior members and their families.  “I’ve always liked to ride a bike,” says 15-year-old Jordan Duncan, whose father Kent is vice president of the CVCC.  “But when I first met John van der Vliet, he really got me into cycling as more of a sport rather than just something fun to do.  I was in Grade 6 at the time, about four years ago.  John is the dad of one of my best friends from elementary school, Jake. Jake introduced me to his dad, who grew up here, moved to Australia and turned pro, then raced in Holland, moved back to Australia, married there and then moved back here to the Valley.”

Amanda Wakeling, also 15, got into cycling as a kid to keep up with her brother.  “We ride to school pretty much every morning with my dad,” she says.  “Then a few years ago I got a cyclo-cross bike from Jeff at Trail Bikes, and that just started me road cycling, which got me into the club meeting different people, and got me into racing more.”

Adds Duncan:  “She’s the mountain biker and I’m the road cyclist.”

“But we both do cyclo-cross,” says Wakeling.  “We do all three.”

Cyclo-cross, as a diversion from their other competitive racing, includes all trail surfaces such as pavement, wooded trails, and grass—but notably features steep hills and obstacles, requiring the rider to quickly dismount and carry the bike while navigating the obstruction, then quickly remount.

“Cyclo-cross is kind of crazy,” says Wakeling with a big grin.  “It’s kind of in-between mountain biking—you get up and run over barriers, run up stairs, crazy stuff!”

The bikes, adds Duncan, are similar to road bikes but with wider and more knobby tires for off-road riding.  “You can do it anywhere, that’s the coolest thing about it,” says Wakeling.  “It’s competitive—fast races, like a half hour or 45 minutes.”

Cyclo-cross is what they do when not competing from September to November.  “It’s kind of an off-season, fun thing to do,” says Duncan.  “Keep the fitness level up, but don’t get disappointed if you don’t do well.”