The Midnight Mystery Ride Returns

29 07 2010

Friends, the time has come to beat the heat and take to the street for a ferocious nighttime two-wheeled feat!

Announcing the triumphant return of the the Midnight Mystery Ride to E-Ville’s unsuspecting boulevards. What is a Midnight Mystery Ride? It’s a cool ride on a hot night, it’s going somewhere you’ve never been before with a group of debaucherous cyclists intent on fun, it’s out of bounds, it’s the fast lane on a sidewalk budget, it’s pushing the limits of what you think is possible, it’s a blast, and it’s totally at your own risk.

So if you dare to join, meet at Tipton Park (108 St & 80 Ave), Friday July 30, at 9:30pm. Make sure you and your bike are prepared for anything. Food, beverages, lights & patch kits are all good ideas. Leave behind your inhibitions and any overdeveloped sense of propriety but don’t forget your good sense! If the riding’s right, it could go all night.

Warning: this blog post is about to get extremely nerdy.

Light on the valve stem of my front wheel. You can also sort of see the shadow of my fork & V-brake.

I took this picture while riding downhill, leaned out funny to capture the wheel with my camera, on the verge of being out of control, in the dark. Because I am a nerd who thinks math is fun, I used this picture to calculate how fast I was going at the time. My fat 700C tires have a circumference of 2.26m, and over the half second exposure the wheel rotated approximately 355 degrees… Multiply it out and I find that I was traveling at 16km/hr. Wheeeeee!

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Full Moon Ride

26 07 2010

Night rides are my favorite way to beat the heat during the dog days of summer. I met up with some friends last weekend as the full  moon rose to go riding, but it just kind of petered out before it went anywhere. As I pedaled home, I thought to myself that it was still a beautiful night, I still had energy, and damn it, I still wanted to ride!

So I did a U-turn and headed south on the new bike path by the LRT tracks to see how far I could get on bike paths. It turns out I got pretty far.

The point where the city stopped.

My biggest complaints about this new path are that it’s next to a noisy, busy street, and it’s completely out in the open, with nothing to provide shelter or shade (which is particularly important to fair-skinned me on a sunny day). The night time, though, is the perfect time to enjoy the fresh, smooth tarmac while having the sleeping streets and cool breeze to myself.

I rode to the edge of sprawl, the sprawl frontier, if you will.

This is what sprawl looks like. Move to a new suburb at the edge of town to be closer to the country, and the only large trees in the area are set to be taken down to make room for all the other people who want to live close to the countryside.

For its population size, Edmonton is one of the largest cities, area-wise, in the world. And it continues to expand at an alarming rate.

With storms on the horizon, and 140 blocks from home I raced home on lovely Marjory, on the front cusp of a little boomer, under the first light sprinkles of rain for nearly the whole way

Nearing home, nearing dawn.

When I finally got home, I checked a map to see where I had wandered (and got lost – not a good first impression Twin Brooks!) only to find many of the places I’d been were so new they weren’t even on it. By next summer, there will surely be even more houses, more condos, more streets, more cars, more of the same, and it’ll be that much further to ride out to a semblance of countryside.





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!





Class & Sass at the Mass

16 07 2010

I’m a little bit late posting photos from last month’s Critical Mass, mostly due to the sheer volume I had to wade through and edit out out of the many blog worthy pics. June’s Critical Mass is usually the largest of the year in E-Ville (’cause it’s bike month), and there were around 200 people in a mass a block long, in one of the biggest rides this town has ever seen.

This guy is really stoked!

Hawt!

Taking over the High Level Bridge is usually the best part of the ride.

A rare moment to enjoy the view, the breeze, the peacefulness of the ride while there are no cars on the bridge.

Jasper Ave, cyclists for a solid block.

These two had just pulled a bike switch-a-roo on their equally rockin' bikes on Whyte.





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.





Riding Pays

10 07 2010

So, exactly a week after wearing used gull food, right down to the hour, what does the wind blow into my bicycle wheels? Howabout cold, hard currency – the pink kind? Hells yeah! Thank-you universe! This almost makes up for being shit on. I used it to buy a new rack for my bike, and on it, this weekend I’ll explore the countryside, including something I’ve never heard of before, a vegan restaurant in small town Alberta.





When Shit Happens

4 07 2010

Some days you’re the bird. Some days, you’re the statue.

So, what do you do when you’re on your way to work, and suddenly find yourself covered in more shit than you could picture coming out of an ostrich?

Regular readers of this blog may be interested to know that the avain offender was a common seagull, not a woodpecker. He got my skirt & head too.

Step one: scour E-ville’s unusually clean streets for something to wipe off the chunkage. I found a single piece of newspaper about a block away from the initial incident.

Step two: ride to city hall, pushing bike through the throngs of children (it was Canada Day, so there were literally thousands of families crowding the square), trying not to rub shoulders with anyone.

Step three: immerse entire left side of body in the cold fountain, regardless of the 15C air temperature, to remove any remaining gull residue. Splash around and rub hair & face manically, emerge half dripping, half dry, and shake hair to scare off any gawking tourists.

Step four: ride away triumphantly with the knowledge that having just been shit upon, the rest of your day will be better in comparison. I was smiling within 5 blocks, and dry by the time I got to work, 20 minutes later.

Living without a steel cage forces us to engage with public space in case we need a contingency plan if shit happens. On & near my regular commuter route, I’ve explored dozens of places to take shelter in case of a severe storm (ever been caught in hail?), escape routes if I encounter a bad scene, and public restrooms for obvious and not so obvious reasons. Life can be messy, and it’s nice to have places to clean up.

Last week, I had stopped to take some pictures when I heard my bike fall over. To my disgust, I found that one of my grips & brake levers were embedded in rotten apples.

Nope, don't like them apples. Notice the brake lever imprint in the top one.

Step one: don’t panic. Use leaves to wipe off as much apple chunkage as possible.

Step two: ride to a little used, bicycle accessible bathroom. A security guard actually directed me (bike in hand) to the brand new washrooms in Louise McKinney Park.

Cleaning up the bike in a lovely, though underused modern facility.

Step three: using water and TP, clean everything. Don’t forget to air dry to prevent corrosion!

Dry thoroughly.

Step four: ride to EBC to disassemble levers and clean out remaining apple bits. Swear off applesauce for the foreseeable future.

Step five: ride to 99th street to pick a rose and rub petals on hands, grips & gloves to cover any remaining odors. Ride away triumphantly, smelling of roses.

The moral of the story: there's no security like a bicycle accessible bathroom.