Biking Through Blizzards in the Coldest Place on Earth

13 01 2014

As hard as winter has come on this year, this past week has really taken the cake (except I started writing this post last month and got sidetracked). The work week began with blizzard warnings and ended with windchill warnings as the coldest temperatures in the world were registered in this province. In E-Ville, though, life doesn’t stop for the weather, and bicycle is still the best way to get around.

With the snow coming down and drifting on Monday night, I had to ride cross town. As I’ve always said, riding through fresh snow isn’t a problem, it’s when the cars start packing it down and churning it into oatmeal that things start getting dicey. Still better than waiting in the cold for a delayed bus.
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A little trail maintenance is a nice touch, though.
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And while the approaches to the High Level Bridge were drifted over and close to impossible to navigate, the upwind side of the bridge deck stayed clear.
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With days of warnings of the storm, the streets were empty, the desolation more striking than the bitter wind.

It’s all enough to make a girl stud a green tire for her fixte.
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For the record, I haven’t used my front brake since I installed the studded tire up front, though I have had a couple of hilarious slow motion falls into snowbanks while getting my riding boots caught in the pedal straps.
My long awaited bottom bracket and large track cog came in time to witness more than double the average snowfall through the the first months of winter. Unfortunately, it appears that Shimano doesn’t test their grease in E-Ville conditions as the bottom bracket starts getting extremely stiff below -15C. I’ve compensated by bringing the bike indoors whenever possible. We got long runner mats for the living and dining rooms to deal with all the slop melting off the bikes. 

Blizzards, too, must pass, usually not without some subsequent arctic air.
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I celebrated the cold snap with vegan Froyo for me and my sweetie. When it’s this cold, it’s very easy to transport without it spilling or melting.
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Life is sweet. Cold and sweet.





Midnight Ride to Bike Town

19 07 2012

To put this story into perspective, we’ll start with a simple vegan chocolate cupcake.

About to enjoy a vegan cupcake with Marjory.

There’s another story I’m not going to bother with here that ends with me becoming so sensitive to caffeine that even the modest amount in a chocolate cupcake (with non-chocolate icing) is enough to keep me up all night. But I really wanted a cupcake, and at Flirt only the chocolate cake is vegan, so I decided to hop down the rabbit hole. I tell you this story not only as an excuse to post food porn but also to help explain why I decided to do what I did next.

I’ve been researching neighbouring communities, looking for destinations for cycling day trips, and discovered that the nearby town of Devon had declared itself “Bike Town Alberta,” where, according to their website, “cycling is the new golf.” I was intrigued at the thought of this little oil town turning around and embracing the bike, but something wasn’t right. The website talks more about branding than it does about bicycles, and the whole thing reeks of not quite getting it.

Case in point – this promotional video. Warning: you will not get the next two minutes of your life back if you watch this video, but if you still choose to, make it fun by being on the lookout for models wearing helmets backwards, under inflated tires, and dudes riding bikes that look like they would’ve fit them when they were 12.

So, on a hot summer night with a bee under my saddle and a little too much energy, I decided I needed to check out Bike Town firsthand.

As I was gathering supplies at the grocery store, I got a call from Geneva.

“What are you doing tonight?”

“Riding to Devon.”

“Can I join you.”

“Sure.”

Truth be told, there was a little more discussion than that, but the plan was hatched before I made it to the checkout. We’d hop on our bikes and head south, knowing full well that we’d be highway riding with only the midnight twilight of midsummer in E-Ville.

The sun hung low as we made our way towards city limits. Our first challenge came as we crossed the Henday, where Geneva got a flat.

Geneva fixes a flat in the blink of an eye.

But we were undeterred. She fixed the flat and we were back on our way.

Sunset and Devon’s still a ways to go. Note that, of all my bikes, I took Marjory for this ride.

This is the part of the ride that it started getting tough. Off the paved side roads and onto the highway, I kept pushing forward with the hope that I would be rewarded with a photo next to a sign that said “Bike Town.”

Almost there!

With the promising light of civilization on the horizon, we got our photo op.

In retrospect, I should have framed the photo to say “DEVO.” That would’ve been way cooler.

As we began to explore the sleepy streets, we found lots of evidence of the town’s history related to the oil industry, but no evidence that it was “Bike Town.” The paved path that roughly followed the top of the valley was nothing special, and we weren’t about to explore the mountain bike paths this place is known for on road bikes, in the dark.

Our first stop was to refuel.

Even the convenience store was oil industry themed.

As we had a break took turns going in to refill our bottles and get snacks, a woman approached us.

“Were you the ones I saw out cycling on the highway just now?”

“Probably.”

“Why did you do that? It’s so unsafe. How will anyone see you? All the drivers out there are drunk.” She was genuinely concerned.

We just sort of shrugged. I wanted to say “well you saw us, right?’ but was polite and told her not to worry.

A couple of minutes later I went into the store, and as I was about to go to the cashier, a man stumbled in and screamed incoherently, and then stumbled around some more. Disconcerted, I quickly cashed out and went back to meet Geneva.

“I can’t believe how drunk that guy is.” She said. It was at that moment I noticed a minivan that hadn’t been there before.

“Wait a minute, did he drive here?”

We exchanged “oh shit”  looks and decided to get out of there before the drunk dude got out of the store.

A little bit shaken by the timing of that meeting, we roamed the town, trying to decide whether to head back immediately or wait until dawn. On a whim, I said let’s look in some dumpsters (small town dumpsters have a reputation). There were no snacks, but I did pull out a perfectly good orange reflective vest. I already had my reflective hoodie on so I asked Geneva if she wanted it.

So that is how we ended up riding til the crack of dawn when we returned home, with Geneva wearing a vest we’d just pulled out of a dumpster. The roads were mostly quiet and we didn’t have any scary moments. The only regret I have is that I didn’t bring a lock, so that we could have checked out the only lively place this late at night – the hotel/bar where there was some country karaoke going down.

As for “Bike Town,” I wasn’t expecting much but was still underwhelmed. I’ll go back in the day sometime to check out the river valley and to see if there’s bicycle friendly camping. It seems their idea of cycling is recreation, not transportation, and the goal they’re working towards is to get more people to drive their bikes in from the city. It’s really too bad, because there is such a dearth of facilities for transportation cyclists and cycle tourists around E-Ville, and it’s close enough to be a relatively easy day trip. I hear they’re trying to trademark “Bike Town,” so I hope they get a clue about people who actually lead a cycling lifestyle before they monopolize that moniker.





Country Roads

14 07 2010

On a hot summer weekend, what options do city weary, vacation deprived, car free folk have, except to load down the bikes and head for the hills?

Alex can see for miles. Miles & miles of canola and hay.

The biggest problem is where to go. What’s the point of going on a car free camping trip just to end up in a campground full of all-night-drinking-car-campers, RVs with massive noisy generators and ATVs ripping up the back-roads? Camping in a “non-sanctioned” area is a possibility because the bikes can access places cars can’t and a bike campsite can be easily concealed and leave no trace. However, there is almost no crown land within a day’s ride of the city, which leaves the option of finding a place to stay where you won’t be noticed or bother anyone. When we left the city, we had such a place in mind: an abandoned ski resort with a sketchy absentee landlord.

The snags started before we even left home. My companion’s derailleur imploded after a late end to the night before we departed, leaving him unable to get home and pack until right before we were supposed to leave. We ended up leaving several hours late and did at least 20km in wrong turn extra riding, mostly on roads with no shoulders and cars going uncomfortably fast. The previously mentioned vegan restaurant was closed by the time we got there (small town hours), but I was happy just to verify with my own eyes that it was actually there. The sun had already set when we turned off the highway towards our intended campsite, and we were both grumpy & tired from the long ride (75km – personal record!)  but we were still facing the stress, uncertainty and growing desperation of finding a place to sleep.

The old resort turned out to be not as abandoned as we thought it would be, and we anxiously rolled our bikes through the mud in stealth mode before being swallowed by the evening mist.  On arriving at the former chalet, we hurriedly pulled our bikes inside and hunkered down for fear of being followed. All the windows had been smashed, and every surface inside was covered in broken glass, ceramic, fluorescent tubes, really anything that was smashable had been smashed. And we weren’t alone – the place was full of bats (and bat guano). It was about the same time I realized that I didn’t want to camp anywhere near this building that I realized that the layer of mud on my bike tires was now completely coated in broken glass like sprinkles on ice cream.

My companion calmed me down and cleaned my tires, and we set off to find a better campsite nearby, setting up in the dark, and hoping to at least get a full nights sleep before any possible rude awakenings. Then the loons started to call, and when I heard their manic, bone chilling cries, I knew that this trip was worth the trouble. They called through the night and into the morning.

Waking up to a place being reclaimed by nature was both disorienting and glorious after the previous night’s misadventure.

Campsite by daylight.

With daylight, tracks revealed that we did have a night time visitor – a deer had wandered through camp, and I also found I had hung my hammock over a large pile of moose turds (which were everywhere). Daylight also afforded an opportunity to check out what was left of the ski resort, so we packed up, stashed the bikes, and set off exploring.

Overgrown T-bar lift.

Poplars have begun to grow into the chair lift seats that have hung in place for the last decade and a half.

The remains of the ski chalet, now home to many, many bats. The place looked like it was once pretty nice. There are even little hearts carved into the shutters.

Down on the lake, the family of loons swam and cooed. It was encouraging to see so much wildlife thriving in this former human playground, and it makes me hope that it doesn’t get redeveloped, just forgotten and reclaimed by nature.

With the temperature rising and our water dwindling we hit the road, on the hunt for water, both the swimmable and the drinkable kind, and coffee for my companion. There are many little private beaches on the lakes in the area, but no public ones, at least not since the last one was bought by a developer intent on building a bunch of condos and turning it into a beachside privatopia. Some pre-trip research revealed that said developer’s plan was denied permission by the county, and that the beach was still in good shape for swimming, so we figured it was worth checking out.

Research, curiosity and audacity is rewarded with a swim at a nearly perfect beach, all to ourselves. Also, check out the front lowrider rack, FTW!

Refreshed from our swim, we headed back towards town. We decided to take the major highway back into the city, as even though it had more traffic and a higher speed limit, it had wide, freshly paved shoulders and was more direct than the meandering backroads. I can’t really call all the highway riding pleasant, but it wasn’t really that unpleasant either, with drivers giving us lots of space and not being assholes like they are in the city. I preferred the main highway to the shoulderless secondary highways of the previous day by far (though the empty country roads were the best).

As we were riding through the inner suburbs of Edmonton, almost home, a woman in an SUV stopped and yelled at us, “I saw you guys riding way out there! Wow you’re fast!” Wow indeed.





Hauling Foliage

28 06 2010

Marjory Stewart Baxter, my 30 year old Raleigh, has become my bicycle of choice whenever I need to carry anything bigger than my purse. It’s not because she’s a great cargo bike, but because my Bike Bins don’t fit on my new bike’s rack, and I haven’t bothered taking the studded tire off of Ol’ Nelli (my way-more-suitable-for-hauling-shit winter bike), Marjory’s become my default workhorse for groceries and whatnot.

Today, I rode out to the the Home Despot to find some sale priced plants to fill out my garden (especially for where my landlord mowed my perennial herb & flower bed – jerk) and pick up a couple of things for ECOS.

 

Right bin - small veggies & edible flowers tucked safely inside. I wouldn't put plants inside just any pannier.

 

It turned out that tropical plants were on sale as well, so I picked up a couple that will hopefully be cat proof, but it left me with more to carry than I had originally intended. Still, I managed fine. I put the smaller plants in the left bin and closed it, then bungeed the ECOS tool hooks on top, hooking one bungee cord so that it was holding the left bin open, where I put the taller plants. I dangled the remaining plants from my handlebars, in a maneuver that I perfected long before I ever knew what a pannier was. (Tip: if you ever have to carry something this way, tie the bag as tight as possible and hang the knot over the handlebar. The higher the bag hangs, the less it will swing and the the less likely it will hit your feet or the front wheel. I used to do all my grocery shopping this way.)

 

Bungees hold my other purchase as well as holding the left bin open so the larger plants aren't crushed.

 

I get a lot of comments about my Bike Bins, and overall I like them quite a bit. They are the best way to carry stuff I have ever used, but I still can only make a qualified recommendation about them. The pair I have is mismatched because one of the original pair broke, and I have scrounged every usable part off the broken one to replace broken parts on the other two. At $60 each for a chunk of plastic that might last 2 years if you’re lucky, you could get much better value spending a little more on something that’ll last you a decade, or could DIY something out of buckets or other large plastic containers.

But I didn’t pay full price for them. Altogether I’ve spent $60 on all three (two from EBC, one on clearance at MEC) and I’d say I’ve got my money’s worth (even though only one in three has a working lock). They’ve survived daily use through Edmonton winters and remained perfectly waterproof (which is awesome squared, unless you pack ‘em too tightly and puncture a can of pop). Additional benefits include a flat surface on top you can strap even more stuff to, rigid sides that protect delicate cargo (like plants) while asserting your space on the road, and an audible warning system when they’re empty and it’s just the pump & tire levers rattling around in there.

I would love to see a second generation Bike Bin with more durable components. If I could count on them to last for, say, twice as long, I wouldn’t bat an eyelash at paying full price and wholeheartedly recommending them.

This post is an entry in the Let’s Go Ride A Bike Summer Games, in the carry a load on your bike event.





The Cygnet, an Antique Design Revisited

22 06 2010

Last weekend was the annual Bikeology festival, and this year it included another component, Park(ed), that closed down 4 blocks of downtown streets. As cool as that sounded, I was more excited about seeing some of the work of local master frame builder Arvon Stacey after super-mechanic Keith tempted me with this picture of a Cygnet (complete with skirt guard!) and a promise that there would be one at the festival.

The Cygnet, this one purple, sans skirt guard.

Here’s the skinny:

A little background on the back of the single sweep frame.

When Keith told me I could take it for a spin, I was so ecstatic! I’d never ridden any bike quite like this before.

What a sweet ride!

The Cygnet lived up to it’s promise of an elegant, cushy ride, and the only hiccup I had involved getting used to it’s slightly longer turning radius and coaster brake. With such an ingenious design that simply & stylishly integrates fender, chain guard, skirt guard and suspension, it’ll be no surprise if more bike makers revive this style of bike in the future. I’m trying not to covet this bike, as it is out of my price range by an order of magnitude, but I can’t help but imagine taking her on a ride on an autumn day, in a frock with balloon sleeves, long split skirt and big hat to an idyllic rural picnic straight out of an impressionist painting.

After the test ride, I realized that that test riding a different bike was also one of the tasks in the Let’s Go Ride A Bike Summer Games. Double sweetness!





Saturday Night on Swift Wheels

6 06 2010

Saturday night + no cash + a motley crew of old and new friends + bikes = crazy night ride!

It started with a rendezvous in one of those rare spots, off the map and out of sight, but still comfortable with benches and flowers where friends can laugh and plot away from judging eyes, perched upon the grand refuse of an historic construction project. There were 6 of us, exploring a part of the city most people never see, and waiting for the last of our group to converge for a night time ride. There was no one else around, so when another cyclist approached, we thought he was somebody we’d invited but in fact we’d never met him before, (though he and one of our posse were wearing identical shirts). It turned out that his Saturday plans had been suddenly derailed and his new plan was to “find somewhere to go and chain smoke,” and he was on a bike for the first time in years. Did he want to join us for a ride? “Sure! Why not?”

Shortly after, the last of our party arrived and we set off to cycle into the rooftops.

A quiet perch above the city for those who cycle up off the beaten path.

Of course it did mean riding uphill.

Spectacular views above the street were one reward.

Being on the roof of an unused parkade is strangely tranquil and relaxing, at least after getting over the dizziness of cycling up and around and up and around… but nothing compared to the way down.

So, how're your brakes?

I was pretty dizzy when I hit the bottom.

“Wanna do it again?”

“Sure, but let’s use the elevator this time.”

Anti-gravity machine.

I think our new friend was a bit surprised at the bravado of such an unassuming looking group who dare to play where cars roam, but he did say that it was “way better than chain smoking.” No one in this crew disagreed. Welcome to the wonderful world of bicycles, Mike. I hope we helped you take the suck out of your night.

This post is also an entry for the Let’s Go Ride a Bike Summer Games in the social cycling category for going an a group ride and saying hi to (then riding with) another cyclist.  Fun contest on one of my favorite blogs! Check it out if you haven’t already.





Scofflaw, Canadian Style

1 06 2010

A cyclist rides through the vast expanse of concrete known as Churchill Square.
Two police officers on foot see her, shout “Hello,” wave, and move to intercept her.
She says “Hello!” and waves back.
The cops are now in front of her. One says “Please get off your bike and walk it. You’re not allowed to ride here.”
She says “Oh, sorry about that,” maneuvers around them, and rides away unfettered.

Churchill Square. No bikes allowed.





Rainy Daze

23 05 2010

A little rain won’t stop the riding, just like several days straight of rain won’t stop the riding. Add fleece-lined tights, a hood,  gloves and gore-tex (not pictured) and it’s not so bad (at least until losing feeling in the fingers after stopping to take pictures).

Ducking out of the rain but not wind for a quick documentation of foul weather fashion.

The chilly rain refreshes and soothes the skin better than anything from a cosmetics counter, and the ride makes the whole body glow from within.

Then a friend calls up and asks for help making a film of people riding in unusual places, so why not?

Another one for the "it seemed like a good idea at the time" file. The video better be epic.

Aaahh, E-town’s characteristic light coloured mud-clay, still clinging after a long ride through tall wet grass in an attempt to get it off. So not looking forward to cleaning this up.





Work is What Happens In Between Bike Rides

3 05 2010

Hello spring!

A blue sky, a strong, warm wind, skin that hasn't seen the sun since 2009, bright stripey socks, red stubby riding gloves, bike shorts, a swift steed and a million dollar view. What else could a girl want?

Pausing at a bend in the path.

Sunshine after an April shower.

Goose over Walterdale.

Marjory in the pines (though I think they're actually spruce, but pines sounds better).

And at long last, a thoroughly soaking rain.





Back to our Regularly Scheduled Season

10 04 2010

Early April in E-town is more often a time of snow and chills than of anything most people would consider springlike. This year, the snow melted early and the sun has already started sucking what little moisture is left from the parched ground. The last decade has been among the driest on record, and years of drought are  beginning to do permanent damage to Edmonton’s urban forest. Knowing this makes it harder to embrace an earlier retirement of the long underwear for the season, as it comes at the expense of the trees that protect me from the summer sun and break the brutal winter wind.

So, a change in weather is welcomed, but not one involving gale force winds.

A dust cloud rises over downtown. This is taken from the same spot as one of the pictures in the previous post where you can see the skyline.

This is the type of wind that sandblasts you and everything around you with dirt and gravel and sticks and garbage. It’s the type of wind that, when it’s at your back, can blow you up a hill, accelerating without pedaling, and when it’s at your side it can blow you off balance. It’s the kind of wind that will leave you motionless, blind, and breathless should you be so unlucky to have to ride straight into it. It’s the type of wind that evaporates precipitation before it hits the ground and sublimates snow before it can melt and be absorbed by the soil. In short, it’s the last thing this thirsty burg needs.

Street art near bicycle bottleneck.

Having an errand to do, I arrived at EBC just as the first clumps of snow began blowing in horizontally. I was light headed from the wind but ecstatic about the prospect of precipitation that could actually stick. That’s when I saw this old girl that had appeared mysteriously in the yard overnight.

A vintage step-through frame with most of its parts but in very rough shape.

Perhaps it was the prospect of enough moisture to quell the dust storm mixed with the first flashes of fever from an impending flu that made me so infatuated I decided to start fixing her up on the spot. The impression I have is “farm bike,” used & abused for many years before being abandoned, overgrown and partially buried, then rescued, repainted but never given more “maintenance” than the occasional shots of WD-40. I was hoping to restore her into a stylin’ ride for EBC to sell to a very lucky someone, and eagerly began cleaning, sanding, and replacing spokes and bearings. However, everything I’ve taken apart so far has revealed major issues with this bike, including bent frame & forks, shot rims & worn down hubs, serious enough that it shouldn’t be resold. Still, I want more practice working on these old cruisers, so I’m going to see how far I can get with this one.

Hub crud - one of many reasons you should keep WD-40 away from your bikes.

The hub was encased in an unholy epoxy of balsam poplar sap (and buds) and WD-40. I had scraped off approximately 90% of it before taking the picture above, and was still left with a sticky gungy mess. When I finally did get things clean, I was greeted with a pitted hub and disintegrating cones.

This is what a cone should not look like.

All the poplar-cement (my new least favourite thing found in a hub) removal took a few hours, and I’ve still got much more to do. Here’s hoping for no sap in the bottom bracket. As the snow had started to collect on the bikes outside and the wind was forming it into icy drifts on the side streets, I ended my impromptu repair session to return home to curl up with the kitties and listen to the wind howl.

EBC yard bikes under a blanket of snow. Don't worry, petites bicyclettes, spring is coming and we'll find new homes for you soon.








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