Return to Secret Beach

19 07 2010

Everyone, especially cyclists, ought to have their own personal cartography, a map of those important little places that you can only find by exploring or experience. For me, a place I call Secret Beach is an inviting little refuge when I want to go a little out of my way after a hot day at the sweatshop. I never would’ve found this place if I didn’t ride a bike.

A shady refuge on a hot day.

The “beach,” which is particularly kind to bare feet, is a large silt deposit along the river that formed the last time it flooded (I think it was 2005) , and has been slowly eroding away ever since. There are a few other people that use it as well, including some who regularly clean up garbage & debris, in and out of the water.

Someone has taken it upon themselves to dig some stairs into the steep enbankment above Secret Beach.

There is an underlying secret in this story, something that people often find shocking, and I am going to share it with you: I swim in the North Saskatchewan River, fairly often over the past few years, and I have suffered no effects other than relaxation, cooling down on a hot day, exercise, and plain old fun.

Cooling river.

Of course, anyone who would dare swim in the North Saskatchewan should know a little about Edmonton’s sewer system. In most of the city, there are two sewers: a storm sewer for runoff from rain that feeds directly into the river, and a septic sewer that takes household sewage to the Goldbar water treatment plant. In the oldest parts of the city, there is only one sewer that takes the runoff and the sewage to the water treatment plant, but if these combined sewers are over capacity, it overflows directly into the river. Unfortunately, there is far more density over these sewers now than they were initially designed for, and the net effect is that raw sewage goes into the river almost any time it rains. Therefore, I do not swim after a rainstorm (and don’t wash clothes or take showers when it’s raining because I live in one of those old neighborhoods).

Edit: When I wrote this post, I didn’t think that I needed to include warnings about the current, but after someone was swept away upriver last weekend, I just wanted to remind everyone that the North Saskatchewan has an extremely strong current and that you shouldn’t enter it if you’re not a strong swimmer, and even then be extremely cautious. Back in Edmonton’s early days when people more regularly swam in the river, drownings were common.

The pictures above were all taken last week. It’s been raining a lot this week, and when I decided that it was again time for an after work river valley sojourn, I headed back down the way of Secret Beach even though I knew a swim was not an option.

My bike is in the same place as the picture above, but the water is a full 10 feet higher, and the beach is now secreted under the river.

When the water subsides, perhaps my secret beach will be swept downstream to be someone else’s little getaway, or maybe it will be waiting for me to wade in up to my waist and start swimming upstream but getting nowhere again. In the meantime, there’s miles of river valley trails to explore and rediscover.

In the spirit of the Let’s Go Ride a Bike Summer Games final event, I took the longest route through the valley with the most hills (this is like two events in one – taking the long way home on a greenway).

The bike path cuts through a rare grove of old growth.

There are a lot of nasty hills along this route, and I’m proud to say that I did not have to dismount once to climb any of them: 8 speed internally geared hub, for the win!

Any route that involves going under the High Level bridge, instead of over it, can safely be called the hard way.

After pausing under the bridge, I headed back up the hill for the final time on the switchback bike path below the university. I’ve always wondered why they built that trail on such an insane grade –  it’s so steep I even have reservations about riding down it, but, out of breath and in my next to lowest gear, I proved I was stronger than I thought I was when I made it up without stopping!








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