Spring Scenes

28 04 2011

Finally, FINALLY, this long E-Ville winter has let up. The robins have returned and most of the snow has finally melted. More cyclists are popping up, the bike paths are mostly clear, and the city’s finally making a little bit of progress (hey, every bit helps) in cleaning the streets and filling the potholes.

Street art is also starting to pop up again. Hooray!

This past week, I took two epic rides in honor of me getting older. The first was with a half dozen of my closest friends, followed by a lovely dinner. The idea was to meet up in a park near my workplace and set forth from there. I was so stoked for just a simple ride with good friends for the first time after such a brutal winter, I don’t remember the last time I was so excited about a bike ride.

So, of course, I also ended up getting my first flat tire in forever on the way to work. The back wheel that came with the Transend included a “self-healing” tube filled with tire slime, which bled fluorescent green slime reminiscent of you can’t do that on television all over the back end of my bike and into a small pool on the ground. Given the quarter inch long shark tooth shaped piece of metal that was completely embedded in the tire, the slime probably slowed the release of air enough to get me down the road instead of immediately and completely deflating. Still, I was on the cusp of an epic ride with a flat tire and a bike that looked like it ran over a gremlin, and though I had a pump and a patch kit, the patches wouldn’t stick to slime so I would need a new tube.

Luckily, my friends are awesome. I sent out text messages with my tube size, pumped up my tire after work and set off, hoping the tire would hold air long enough to get to the rendezvous point in the park.

Transend, ready for service!

Eventually, someone showed up with a tube, and we fixed up the bike, and even though we spent way more time hanging around the park and less time riding than originally planned, it was still a lovely evening. Thanks everyone for an awesome birthday! (And special thanks to Geneva for pumping my tire up to 60psi with the little frame pump!)

Bathroom break in the valley. There were ski racks, but no bike racks.

This week I also hit the highway and made my first ride out of the city of the year to see my folks.

On the shoulder of the highway. Nothing but rumble strips and a white line between me and 120kmh traffic. At least most of the gravel's gone.

Within city limits, the shoulder of the highway was still covered in an inch or two of gravel, and it was a tough slog, especially on Marjory, but after I passed the county line it looked like there had been some effort made to clear the winter debris. Riding in the city all winter is good exercise, but you never have the chance to just ride flat out for miles and miles, and I was a little surprised at how winded I got on some of the long overpasses. Other than that, it was an uneventful ride.

Later, on a warm spring night, riding with a friend, I decided to stop at a dumpster I know is often good for food and flowers. I needed bread, but I wanted flowers. I guess you can’t always get what you need. I didn’t even have to dismount from the bike, I just stuck my arm in the dumpster and pulled out a dozen long stemmed roses that were laying on top of the rest of the trash.

No bread, but roses for Marjory!

The best things about the arrival of spring are not having to always ride alone, and being able to stop and look for treasure (Terrence and Phillip got one thing right about this canuck) without freezing your butt off.

A Little Orange Sign and a Little Orange Bike

18 04 2011

It’s federal election time here in Canada, and I’m proud to be living in the only riding in Alberta that didn’t elect a conservative representative last time around. Of course, I’m cheering on NDP incumbent Linda Duncan again.

A little orange bike and a litle orange sign (and yes, it snowed again).

Though I’ve been politically active all my adult life, and have worked on many campaigns (though not this one, I should clarify), this is actually my first lawn sign. Or, I guess I should say was my first lawn sign. Less than 12 hours after this picture was taken, the sign disappeared. I hope it was someone from Linda Duncan’s campaign that took it to put somewhere that there isn’t an orange sign on every second house on the block (I heard that they had already run out of signs), but I have my doubts, especially considering it disappeared overnight/early morning and, coincidentally, there was a conservative flyer stuffed in my mailbox.

S’pose I should be glad they took the sign, and not the bike.

Me Versus the Pickup Trucks

14 04 2011

Edmonton straddles the juncture of two great pickup truck cultures: the modern cowboy (or wannabe cowboy) of the south and the oil patch “rig pig” workers of the north, so pickups are ubiquitous on the streets of E-Ville. Still, it seems like I have a disproportionately high number of nasty encounters with dudes in trucks.

This episode begins a couple of weeks ago. I was riding downtown and was the first vehicle stopped at a red light, where I was taking the left lane as the right hand lane was blocked by parked cars on the other side of the intersection. As the light turned, I could sense a truck following uncomfortably close behind me, and as I moved back into the right hand lane after passing the parked cars, he passed me really close, fast and aggressively. “What a jerk,” I thought, but then something else caught my attention, “Whoa, what’s with the stickers?”

Downtown traffic being downtown traffic, I caught up with the truck again at another red light a couple of blocks later. I slowly approached, taking note of the license plate, and then the stickers – “fuck taxes” “fuck work” “fuck you you fuckin’ fuck” and a confederate flag!?! I rolled up beside him in the right lane, and he rolled down his window let off a barrage of profanity. Let’s just say it was extremely rude, misogynist, abusive, didn’t make a lot of sense, and at least 50% percent of the words used started with the letter F.

I was getting worried and having flashbacks to an encounter with a certain enraged driver last year that started with similarly taking the lane. I managed to keep it cool, though, and replied by reciting his license plate number, over-enunciating so he could read my lips. He shut up, rolled up the window, and drove away uneventfully, leaving me shaking my head. Funny thing is, I bet this dude and I have a (superficially) similar opinion of cops.

As I rode on and tried to make heads and tails out of this incident, I continued to be amazed at what a complete stereotypical angry redneck dude this guy was. He even had a mullet, a baseball cap and a plaid shirt. Add a little steam coming out of the ears and he’d be a cartoon. And those stickers? What kind of ignoramus sports a confederate flag in the 21st century? And “f— you, you f—in’ f—“? Was he trying to be clever by demonstrating how his favorite word could be used as a noun, verb and adjective all in the same sentence? Somehow, I doubt it. But it got me thinking about what other words in the English language are as versatile, and I could only think of one other example…

Remember the Smurfs? This dude was Angry Racist Blue Trash Smurf! “Smurf you, you smurfin’ smurf! You smurfing stupid smurfette, why the smurf don’t you smurfing try to smurf over into the smurf lane again, you smurfy smurf!” In his blue truck, with stickers for Blue supremacy along with “smurf taxes,” I wonder what parts of his anatomy are blue and smurf sized. With the image of Road Rage Smurf in my head, I was smiling again by the time I left downtown.

A couple days later, I was riding downtown again, when I skidded to a halt, yelling “Holy crap, it’s the truck!”

A proud a-hole drives this truck.

A look at Smurfman's sticker collection. (Click on images to zoom in).

During the initial incident, I didn’t notice the stickers on  the driver’s side, but seeing them, my jaw dropped.

The SS lightning bolts are used by white supremacists to identify each other.

This dude is a straight up racist and white supremacist, and has covered his truck in symbols that proclaim his hatred to the world.

I feel ashamed at what happened next. I had an opportunity to do something nasty to his truck, to haul something disgusting out of a dumpster and leave it on his hood, or perhaps to just administer some old fashioned U-lock justice. But I froze, and other than taking these pictures, I didn’t do anything. Blame the busy street, the small crowd of people smoking outside a nearby building, the fear of Rabid Pitbull Redneck Smurf storming out of the building and catching me in the act, whatever the reason, I chickened out and lost my chance.

Two days after that, I was riding down Whyte Ave. with panniers full of cat food when a different blue pickup truck pulled up beside me, and the dude in the passenger seat threw a handful of pennies at me. (And yes, they hit me, and yes, it stung.) For those of you who aren’t familiar with E-Ville, Whyte Ave is a major commercial strip where cars can’t really travel much faster than bicycles, and sure enough, a couple blocks later I was right behind the truck at a red light. Thinking fast, I took off my glove and rubbed “DOUCHE” in 12 inch letters into the grime on the back of the truck (I would’ve added “BAG” but I couldn’t reach far enough). Three people waiting for a bus saw what I was doing and yelled “Hey, stop that!” and “What do you think you’re doing?’

As I finished the lettering, I yelled back “these guys threw a bunch of shit out their window at me back there!”

The guy who yelled stop smiled. “Yeah? Alright!”

As the light turned and the truck pulled away, the faces of the other folks on the sidewalk lit up as they saw my handywork, and as I rode off, I was followed by the beaming smile of the dude who would’ve tried to stop me.

It seems like happenings on the road with pickup trucks never end. White pickups have been particularly problematic at times for me, starting with the first time one tried to run me off the road when I was in university. When I told my dad about it, he produced a copy of Bicycling Magazine he’d received in the mail that day with a story of another cyclist being run off the road by a white pickup. Ever since then, I’ve been extra wary around them.

So last week while riding Porta-Bike, when someone shouted at me from a white pickup truck I automatically put up my guard. I nearly wiped out from cognitive dissonance, though, when I realized that what they had yelled was “Nice bike!” (no sarcasm detected).

Later on that day, the words coming from another white pickup were disappointingly more like what I’ve come to expect, and I thought to myself “it figures…”

The next day, riding the bike path alongside a parking lot that employees of the Remand center and/or police headquarters use, I flinched as a beer can flew over my head (bud tall can, to be exact). Looking back to its source, I saw the window of an idling white pickup truck roll up. It would be a no-brainer to call it in as a drunk driver, except it was in the secured parking lot for `justice’ system employees. I’d probably have more luck getting justice by banging my head against the prison wall. I shook my head and rode on, wondering what it is with this town.

I’ll end this long post with one more E-Ville anecdote. No trucks in this one, though.

The snow is finally melting, and it’s finally getting warm, and I found myself overdressed one recent lovely sunny afternoon. Removing my vintage wool coat, I stuffed it in my pannier but I couldn’t get it closed, so I just left the lid open and flapping and continued oblivious, on my merry way. At some point, my coat fell out, onto the road, and I didn’t notice as I was too busy enjoying the sun and slick tires and happy tunes on my ipod. A cyclist riding behind me noticed, though. He picked up my coat and chased me for three blocks before he finally got my attention.

So Mister Awesome Cycling Stranger, thank you once again for going out of your way to reunite me with my favorite outerwear. You made my day and brightened my life when I needed it most. When I was feeling overwhelmed by how shitty people can be to each other, you profoundly reminded me that it doesn’t have to be that way. Thank-you. Thank-you. Thank-you. (And you might think I’m fast, but you did catch me!)

I Hope This is the Last Winter Post

3 04 2011

First day of spring in the great white north, the sky’s gray, the wind’s bitter, and great bodies of ice are thawed and smashed and rammed and frozen back together.

Water frozen, broken up, then refrozen.

Except this is actually the bike path.

Just when I thought it couldn't get worse...

There was water underneath the ice in places, and at one point my tire broke through, bringing me to an immediate halt as my tire, rim and spokes sank under the icy crust. I (oh so carefully) hopped off my bike to try to free it only to find that the water engulfing my wheel was quickly refreezing, trapping the bike in the ice. It took considerable pulling and yanking to free it.

As I was taking pictures, another fellow on a bike rolled up in the opposite direction. “This is ridiculous,” he said, “if I hadn’t seen you stopped here, I might’ve rode right into this and wiped out.”

A fellow winter cyclist on a challenging trail.

As the first cycles of freezing and thawing began, it was clear that winter wasn’t leaving quietly. But after such a long winter, I have just gotten into the mindset of pushing on, no matter what. I have commuted by bike every day this winter (though there were a few days I went partway with my bike on the train). Every day, 10km each way, every day, not even sick once, every day, through one of the worst winters in memory, my body and bike reliable transportation, every day.

With full on snow melt in the forecast, I decided it was time to make my final peace with this long winter, and packed up a few provisions for a late night river valley excursion.

Sassy hops in my bike bin, looking for a cure to cabin fever.

Which, of course, required utilization of the tube-oggan.

Another look at the tube-oggan, a sled made of a discarded coroplast sign and old bike tubes.

I rolled the full length of Mill Creek bike ninja style, the darkness obscuring how icy the path really was. But there was no one around, and as long as I didn’t need to brake I knew I could ride out of trouble, so I rode confidently. The toboggan hill was also abandoned, so I had it all to myself and didn’t have to worry about anyone wondering why a thirty something woman was tobogganing alone in the middle of the night. It’s a scary thing to do. What if I was injured and couldn’t move? Would it be the next day before anyone found me? As it turned out, the worst injury of the night came when a bungee cord flew into my face as I was trying to secure the sled to my bike. I never crashed once, either on the hill or the bike path.

A bike rack in mill creek, peeking out through 3 feet of packed snow.

Since then, my friends, the snow has finally started to melt (and pool up in my basement, in case you were wondering why I haven’t posted anything lately). Finally, spring is in the air. I even rode a bike without tire studs yesterday, for the first time since November. It’s going to be a while, yet, before the snow is gone, but I’m ready for the puddles and passion of a new season, so bring it on!

Non Sequitur Post Script: Where else but in Edmonton would the municipal government release a video promoting winter cycling in March?

Not bad. I’ll save the analysis for another day, but suffice to say it’s not exactly the video I’d make. I guess I’ve just set myself a project for next winter…