Elk Island Redux

21 09 2012

Three rides in three weeks down the same country roads, but even though the route was the same, the rides certainly weren’t.

Elk Island National Park is just east of Edmonton and is a fairly popular destination for touring cyclists, but I couldn’t remember the last time I was there, so I figured a beautiful Sunday would be a great day to check it out.

Rollin’ down the Parkway.

One of the biggest attractions at Elk Island are the herds of plains and wood bison that call this place home. Over the last century, the park has been crucial in the survival of both species, and many modern populations can trace their lineage back to the Elk Island herds.

Part of a herd of plains bison.

The presence of North America’s largest land animal creates a few extra challenges for cyclists. For example, 4 weeks after this ride, I still haven’t been able to get all the buffalo poop off le Mercier’s tires. And then there’s the threat of hitting one – this actually happened to an acquaintance of mine and ended in broken bones. The other surprise were the oversize texas gates everywhere.

Texas gates are usually used where a road crosses a fence to keep cattle inside the fence. These buffalo size gates are huge!

The first gate I encountered I just rode over, which shook me up literally and figuratively. Hoping I hadn’t aggravated my much abused wheels, I walked over the next gates. Luckily, most of them had some sort of bike gutter on them.

Taking a break in a shady grove.

There are many trails in Elk Island, but this is the only paved one. The unpaved ones just aren’t roadbike friendly.

Astonin Lake.

Cattails.

Lunch break by the lake.

Land of the silver birch, home of the beaver, where still the mighty moose wanders at will. Blue lake and rocky shore, I will return once more…

As the sun was getting low, I turned back towards the park gate to head for home. As I crested a hill with the sun in my eyes, I came within a foot of hitting a lone male bison on the shoulder of the road that had somehow disappeared into the long shadows. I’d always wondered how someone could crash into such a large animal, but now it made perfect sense. The bison seemed unperturbed and I crossed the road to observe him from a safe distance.

You’d think it would be impossible to miss an animal this size when it’s directly ahead of you.

The following week, the ravingbikefiend had a plan: a fast ride out to the Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village, which is just east of Elk Island, with a caveat that only steel framed bikes would be welcomed. I was stoked to push Mercier to the limit with a faster rider to keep up to, but the day had a number of false starts. As we were about to hit the freeway out of town, I could feel my bottom bracket loosening up. That wouldn’t make it 100km, so we headed back to EBC for some emergency repairs. Satisfied it would hold up, we hit the road again. By the time we got to Sherwood Park the group was already quite spread out, and A-bomb decided she was going to turn back as the pace was greater than either of us expected. I caught back up to a waiting Keith and David, and with a brisk tailwind we made it to the village in ridiculous time – my new bike computer recorded a top speed of 58km/h, though I still couldn’t keep up with the boys.

Keith on his Cooper and David on his Miele, in a rare moment when I wasn’t lagging far behind them.

Meta blogging at the village: taking pictures of taking pictures of taking pictures of bikes.

Fancy lug on the Campagnolo’d out Cooper.

The tailwind on the way there stuck around to become a brutal headwind on the way back, and with my upright riding position, I was at a greater disadvantage than my companions. I basically only saw them when they stopped to wait for me, or when Keith got a flat.

Unscheduled stop for roadside repairs.

Radial tire wire is Keith’s nemesis.

One of the nice things about traveling with awesome bike mechanics is that when somebody else gets a flat, I can just sit back and enjoy the beauty of a skillfully performed fix.

Between the wind and the much faster than expected companions, I had my ass handed to me that day. I like to think of myself as a fast, efficient rider, but I’ve still got a long way to go before I can keep up with the best.

The following weekend was the annual Tour de Perogy. Here is how it went from my perspective: I slept in, missed meeting up with everyone, but decided to head out anyway and caught up with the group at the halfway point. Not long after that, I got a flat (first one in thousands of km of epic rides this year!), which  meant an unscheduled break for everyone else, and lower tire pressure for me the rest of the day. At the Ukrainian Village, I gorged on wildberry sorbet after eating the tempeh in peanut sauce I’d brought for lunch.  On the way back, I offered to lead the way as I knew it well, and pulled the peleton most of the way. About halfway home, it started to rain. Le Mercier really hates rain. My white cotton travel shirt was permanently reverse skunk striped with road splashings. Overall it was still a good ride, but I didn’t take any pictures.

Three weeks, three metric centuries plus. As the weather gets colder, the days get shorter, and I get busier (I’ve got an exciting new job!), it’s going to be harder to find time to go on more big rides. Here’s hoping I can squeeze a few more in before winter.

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6 responses

21 09 2012
anniebikes

Thnaks for sharing. I enjoy your epic adventures, flats and all.

21 09 2012
adventurepdx

I cannot believe that the Raving Bike Fiend could ever get a flat…wait, he did get one when he “guided” us into Edmonton that one time, so scratch that. (And the risk of speedy rides with Keith is minimized for you for the next few days, as we’ve still got him.)

Elk Island was cool, but damn, those bison are intimidating to a bicyclist like myself. Of course, we managed to hit the park at the peak of rutting season.

Yay metric centuries!

21 09 2012
Old Bone Machine

Love the lug and Elk Island. Great post. Thanks.

22 09 2012
Bill Chance

Great entry and photos. Love the Campy shift lever.

Thanks for sharing.

23 09 2012
**

Thanks for this interesting post and photos.

14 10 2012
Michael

You guys have so much fun and I really enjoy reading your blog… ‘metastasizing suburbs’ really resonated with me. The longest epic ride I’ve ever managed is the 65km or so roundtrip out to Clifford E. Lee Natural area for bike camping. Have you guys ever biked up across the Yellowhead to Lois Hole Natural Area? I’m curious how one would cross that big highway.

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