Return to the Valley

19 02 2010

Hills and ice are a combination I try to avoid at all costs, and as a result, I very rarely ride through the river valley in the winter, even though in the summer I credit my regular river valley detours for maintaining my sanity. This week it was warm enough, light enough and not quite melted-and-refrozen enough to tempt me to head down the hill into the river valley wilds. The bike paths were mostly snow covered, and the only icy patches were in the few places that caught the full day’s sun and the brutally glazed wooden pedestrian bridges.

The snow packed trails that snaked down near the river were a perfect match for my studded tire, and felt more forgiving than their loose gravel covered summer counterparts. There’s a place I often go in the summer after a long day in the sweatshop that I call “Secret Beach.” I decided to check out but found it was fairly nondescript underneath 2 feet of snow.

I left Ol' Nelli up the hill above Secret Beach.

View across the river from Secret Beach. Note the set of tracks that go out onto the river but don't come back. I hope they made it to the other side.

This tree is huge by E-ville standards. And everything does look this blue around dusk in the winter at this latitude.

As the trail follows the river around the bend, it becomes steeper and more exposed (hence, icy). This part of the trail was closed last summer “due to erosion,” and I don’t think it was ever officially reopened (I suspect it was random citizens who removed the signs). I won’t lie here, even on the driest summer days parts of this path genuinely scare me. But the giant trees, lush micro-climate, exciting twists and turns, lack of people and the exhilarating ride along the side of a crumbling cliff are so worth it.  I remember bringing a group of friends riding here a couple of summers ago, and some of them still talk about the time they nearly fell off a cliff into the river…

To the left, a 30 foot drop onto the river bed.

This is where I face my fear. My brain knows that my studded tires have far more traction than my cheap boots, but my body would not budge. It didn’t help that I stopped to take pictures, therefore negating any forward momentum, and allowing more time for fear to build. My brain eventually won this battle, and I cycled up the cliff as I had dozens of times before in fairer weather and on fairer bikes.

I’ve been getting over a cold this week, and am still wheezing and coughing a lot, so I wasn’t really feeling like taking a big hill to get out of the valley. The solution: the Edmonton, Yukon & Pacific Railroad, now known as the trail down Mill Creek Ravine. I could chugga chugga outta the valley on a grade so gentle it doesn’t feel like riding uphill on a shady, and thus snowy not icy, trail, and *only* end up riding an extra 40 blocks out of my way. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

The ravine darkened eerily, and by the time I rode under Whyte Ave, I could feel a fine precipitation in the air but couldn’t tell in the darkness if it was rain, sleet, snow or just fog.

The camera flash illuminates the precipitation but does not help with the liquid/solid question.

The combination of mystery precipitation and the last traces of daylight create a moody air. This photo was taken in the same spot as the photo above.

By the time I got out of the ravine, my bike and I were covered in a layer of fine white ice crystals. The fog was thick and inviting and made everything strangely beautiful, but I felt compelled to deal with more pressing matters, like food and rest for my still recovering body.

Streetlights highlight rare Edmonton fog.

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