Ride Like a Girl

5 03 2016

Cycling in the winter – as a practitioner and an advocate, it’s a topic I’m always interested to read other people’s takes on. The media represents winter cycling in predictable ways such as during a snow storm, “look at the tough/poor cyclist in the storm” pics, or vaguely supportive pieces including tips for winter riding, or first hand accounts of reporters doing it for the first time. The comments sections are even more rote, so I came up with this to spice up the experience:

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It’s winter cycling comments BINGO!

Meanwhile, I’ve been living with the side effects of making over my fatbike with a very eyepopping and gendered colour.

Pink in the pines. (Actually they're spruce, but pines sounds better).

Pink in the pines. (Actually they’re spruce, but pines sounds better).

I chose bright pink over equally bright green or orange – but really it could have gone any way. I’ve already got another bike with fluorescent green tires, and the only reason I didn’t go orange was because with my blue rims, it would emulate the colours of the local last place professional hockey team. This would’ve resulted in a barrage of drunken pickup truck passengers shouting “Goilers!” on any game night or in the rare event that they actually win. I don’t like getting anything shouted at me from pickup trucks, thank you very much.

Riding on water.

Riding on water.

Colours carry so much symbolism, and no colour in western culture is as heavily weighted as pink. I honestly didn’t expect the colour to completely take over. Nobody notices anymore that the rims are shiny blue and the frame is white.

So now I’m the woman with the pink fatbike. So much for being inconspicuous. Part of the appeal of getting a fatbike was being able to access areas that are hard to access, and the ability to not stand out can be helpful in that regard. Every time I ride it, people stop me to compliment my bike, or ask questions, or do U-turns mid block on 4 lane streets to say “cool bike!” (or just try to make themselves feel smart with passive aggressive statements-as-questions that they clearly don’t want a response to).

Look, I'm not entering!

Look, I’m not entering!

The main objective, though, is to bring joy, and I don’t say that lightly. With the fun, the exercise (especially in winter), the fresh air, the nourishing escapes from life’s stresses, this bike has been one of the best investments in my mental health I’ve ever made. Just looking at it makes me smile.

This bike brightens my day and coaxes me into fresh air, sunlight, and exercise.

This bike brightens my day and coaxes me into fresh air, sunlight, and exercise.

So, may as well go fabulous all the way. After all we’re talking here about an entire season in which the landscape is regularly covered in glitter!

Perfect snowflakes on black cordura on a perfect winter day.

Perfect snowflakes on black cordura pogies on a perfect winter day.

My plain black pogies were warm, but their look ultimately utilitarian.

Check out the frosted tips!

The black pogies reduce the visual lightness (if you can say that about a fatbike) of the bike.

I decided that custom pogies would be a nice touch, and had a little time over Xmas holidays to make it happen. The fabric I decided upon was perfect, except a certain cat became completely obsessed with it and kept running off with pieces as I was trying to sew.

Meet my sewing assistant.

Meet my sewing assistant.

The end product was a pair of bright pink, faux fur pogies, so glam that they distract from the huge pink tires. (Those same huge tires that a certain tubby cat tried to climb up to try to chew on the fur.)

Taaadaaa! Is there no limit to how fabulous a fat bike can be!?!

Taaadaaa! Is there no limit to how fabulous a fat bike can be!?!

Now the pogies were getting all the attention and comments. My partner, out cycling with me one day, asked “is this what it’s like to be famous?” after being stopped for the umpteenth time to be complemented on my “mitts.”

One night, headed to the sketchy corner convenience store on an errand (the one-stop-shop for munchies, crack pipes, and knives in the neighbourhood), I was stopped by the local constabulary who happen to patrol the area by fatbike.

“That is the girliest fatbike I’ve ever seen!” exclaimed one of the cops.

“Uh, haha, thanks?” They stopped me all authoritarian like to comment on my bike? As I turned toward them, they recognized me from my job at a local not-for-profit, changed their tone a little, offered to come by work with some donations, and then turned their attention to creeping the patrons of the neighbouring head shop. Awkward (which I guess is the best one can ask for in a police interaction). This creates additional complications to exploring and testing limits, so to speak, and will ensure I’m on my best behavior riding this bike, at least until I unpink it. If my fattie ever gets stolen, those dudes had better be on it.

Talus balls looking pretty clean for the middle of winter.

Talus balls looking pretty clean for the middle of winter.

As I mentioned in my last post, the original impetus to get a second set of tires was to add studs to grip ice. I was surprised how long this winter I didn’t need them, but when January rains ended the perfect winter riding conditions, I knew it was time to add metal.

First you drill the tires, then you put the screws in...

Does this still look “girly?” Does it roll like Furiosa?

There’s something confidence inspiring about having 7 dozen steel spikes protruding from each pink balloon tire, and I’m not just talking about ice. But still, bring on the ice, because ice is awesome!

Aka rollin' on a river.

Heading up the creek without a paddle.

Depending on conditions, you don’t necessarily need studded tires to ride over frozen bodies of water, but what a game changer. It feels like my tires are velcroed to the ice.

Aka still rollin on a river.

Winter makes pathways out of rivers. And rivers are pretty flat, so woohoo!

Riding on the river has been my favourite thing this year. Splashing over the gravel beds and beaches through the summer, and navigating around ice flows and over outfalls in the winter. The river is the reason for and life blood of this city, but once you are actually on it, the city fades away.

Following a lone coyote track in the dying light through tonnes of giant chunks of ice stacked by the river’s force, I passed the point of no return. In an alien landscape I would have balked at had I been able to properly see what I was getting into, I found riding skills and confidence I never knew I had. Getting safely home came down to the river, me, and my bike – pink didn’t matter. This is what riding like a girl is about.

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Meet the Olmo

26 07 2014

When you haven’t updated your blog for 6 months where do you start? My last post was about setting up the new BikeWorks South. Since then, the shop has been mostly finished, has opened, and has been extremely busy. More on that in a future post. I don’t want to talk about work as I’ve been working nonstop, but have had a little time to squeeze in a bike build and a ride here & there.
So, meet the Olmo.

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This Italian beauty started off with a set of tubular wheels, which I haven’t exactly had luck with in the past. My lucky streak continued when one of them exploded after the test ride.

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Around this time, a large, generous donation of high end road and triathlon parts came into BikeWorks, presenting me with an opportunity to upgrade this lovely old steel frame with some ridiculous modern components. This is actually my first bike with drop bars, so I felt a set of interuptor levers were in order.

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Yep, that’s carbon.
I also added some swanky low spoke count wheels as well as a small purse to act as a handlebar bag.

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It’s taken me zipping to the ends of the bike paths.

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Meanwhile in suburbia…

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Note the sky. That ain't clouds, it's smoke.

Here we have a public art installation in the extreme outer suburbs in a neighborhood that hasn’t even been built yet. In typical Edmonton fashion, instead of commissioning original art by a local artist, the developer got a Seattle artist to recreate pieces that he’d already produced for Portland. Still, I really dig the weird irreverence of it all. I live in a central neighborhood. Cycling out to see these fibreglass monoliths was nearly a 50km round trip. That’s how ridiculous this city is.
Of course I had to go back to see them at night, cuz they light up.

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Not sure why, but I always feel compelled to take my road bikes off-roading. Not the best idea at 130psi.

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This area has been cleared for E-Ville’s next footbridge, and you can see the corresponding clearing across the river. It won’t be long before you can ride down here on a road bike without feeling like your eyeballs are going to vibrate out.

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I think I like this bike a lot. I’m working on improving the stamina of my back, arms & hands as the riding position is way more agressive than any of my other bikes. I also have a few more plans for it. The old Campy shifters and derailleurs are lovely but can’t handle a modern gear range, so I expect to be making more changes yet, and to be riding centuries on it soon.





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.





My Longest Rides

21 08 2012

This summer, I decided that I was going to try to see just how far I could go on my bike, with the goal of doing an American century (100 miles = 160km) and still be up for more the next day. So, whenever I’ve had a free day, I’ve tried to spend it on my bike. In fact, I’ve been spending so much time on my bike that I haven’t had time to write about it.

Before this year, my longest one day ride had been 140km on the Tour de Perogy. After doing several “shorter” long rides this year, mostly with friends, I decided I was ready to take the next step and attempt a ride that would rival my personal record, and get me some beach time – a round trip to Lake Miquelon.

Hittin’ the highway. You don’t realize how big those signs are in a car.

Pit stop in New Sarepta where all the fire hydrants are lovingly transformed into cartoon characters. Biking is the perfect way to appreciate this public art project.

I had a sunscreen fail on this ride. In addition to a blotchy burn, I got a burnt stripe between my bike shorts and the hem of my skirt. I only sunscreened to the bottom of my skirt, but of course it rode up as I rode, leaving me with bike short lines for the rest of the summer.

Miquelon has a big sandy beach and salty water that prevents some of the algal blooms we see in other lakes in the area. The water quality was pretty good early in the season, but having been there again since, I’d recommend waiting until next season for a visit. But on this day, a long float in the lake left me feeling like I hadn’t just rode 70km.

Found a shady table just off the beach to make some dinner.

Fuel: frying up veggie drumsticks.

More fuel: “accidentally vegan” cherry strudels.

On this first ride, I was particularly concerned with getting enough food and not bonking. On average, cycling burns at least 500 calories per hour. That means that for 8 hours of cycling you’d need to consume an extra 4000 calories over and above your regular food intake (which is 2000-2500 calories a day for most people). I loaded up on complex carbohydrates in the days leading up to the ride (those calories are easier to store), and took more sugary snacks with me on the ride (those calories hit your bloodstream quicker). At every stop, I shoved a granola bar or some other snack into my face. Even so, I have rarely felt as ravenous as I did the next day.

Getting ready for the return trip.

Racing the sun to the horizon. Man those signs are big.

The evening ended with a little side trip to see family, lots of leftover fake jerky, and 145km under my tires. The next day I had enough leftover to head out of town again to see my parents for dinner. They probably wondered if I’d been eating at all after scarfing down every vegan thing in sight then raiding the fridge for more.

My next big ride was to Sandy Lake, a place I vaguely remember going to as a young child with the all important nice beach. Learning from previous rides (including the peril filled Wabamun trip), I was sporting some stronger sunscreen, a white shirt & skirt to reflect the heat & UV of the incessant northern prairie sun, smaller panniers, and a handlebar bag care of the Raving Bike Fiend.

Whoa! I don’t remember the last time I was wearing so much white. I wasn’t much of a fan of wearing white before becoming a bike mechanic, but wrenching makes it impossible. It’s my new favorite colour for touring, though.

Stopping to explore an abandoned homestead along a back road.

Inside the little house on the prairie.

Pit stop at the Angus & Agnes memorial swing set.

An operational grain elevator in the wild! Elevators were the sign posts and landmarks of the prairie of my youth, but now they’re just memories.

There was a vague familiarity to the road that snaked down to the lake to a memory imprinted in a preschooler’s mind so many years ago, face eagerly pressed against a car window. Not everything was as I remembered though.

Sandy Beach on Sandy Lake. Yep, it’s sandy. It’s a lot of other things, too, like green.

Sandy Beach is a summer village that has seen better days. It seemed like every second cottage had a for sale sign, many of the rest looked run down and on a thirty degree day, the beach was completely abandoned. I cooked some lunch in a picnic shelter with the company of barn swallows and gophers before moving on, with the promise of a nicer beach on the other side of the lake.

Another county line.

A slightly nicer beach, but the water was so green that I decided not to chance entering it.

At least the road to Sunrise Beach was fun – freshly paved rolling twisty.

I decided I’d better start heading home, and stopped in Sandy Beach again for food, water and gatorade (of which I bought the last bottle).

It’s the Sandy Beach store, where you can get gas, groceries, smokes, booze, fireworks but not lottery tickets.

At the Burger Bar, the other business in this sleepy hamlet which was surprisingly busy for a Sunday night, I met some of locals, who were both colourful and refreshing. The cook noticed my bike and asked where I was heading, and was shocked when I told her I was going back to E-Ville and that I’d also ridden out that day.

“Why did you come out here?”

“It was about the right distance, plus I was kinda hoping for some swimming and beach time.”

Loud laughter erupted from everybody within earshot.

“Well actually, there are some kids who paddle out to the middle of the lake on boats and swim there, but everybody usually goes to Nakamun lake, it’s about 15 minutes away by car.”

Unfortunately, it was too late to be headed anywhere but home, and once again I raced there against the sunset.

Sun’s getting low and I’m still in the country.

Having not had my planned swim, I was still covered in greasy sunscreen. This was a problem because as the sun got lower in the sky, swarms of tiny black flies hovered above the land, and whenever I rode through these swarms, hundreds of the flies would get stuck to my greasy legs until it looked like I’d been playing in the mud (but it wasn’t mud, it was flies!!!!). I’m not doing too well with sunscreen. I ought to go back to using the powder that comes off of aspen trunks.

Sunset over St. Albert.

Gross but safe, I made it home in the twilight, but not before a stop at the leg grounds for an unsuccessful attempt to remove the greasy mess. Later, when I sat down with google maps, I was pleasantly surprised to find that at 147km, it was my longest ride to date.

The next step would be to ride the full century. I decided a return to Wabamun would be in order as it would be the right distance and I knew the beach there was lovely and swim-able.

Hello Wabamun beach! It’s good to see you again.

When I rode out there earlier this summer, I was going slower than I could because of a damaged bike and slower companions. This would be the day to really test myself, with no excuse to hold back.  I knew I’d have to ride farther than the provincial park to complete the century, so I headed to the town of Wabamun.

Welcome to Wabamun. Bike, meet boat.

Rode out onto the Wabamun pier.

My original plan was to ride up Lakeshore drive to coal point (where there’s a beach made out of coal) but I got a rather late start, and if I went that far, the prospect of riding on that narrow road in the dark was quite real. Also, with the railroad tracks & allowance between the road and the lake, and blandly reclaimed former coal mines on the other side, Lakeshore wasn’t nearly as scenic as the name suggests.

I rested at one of the many little beaches that dot the lake, Notice there’s still signs warning of the aftermath of the 2005 oil spill.

With darkness creeping up behind me, I rode the 80km home in an astonishing (for me) 3 and a half hours, including snack, drink, bathroom & smoke breaks. Riding the highway in the dark wasn’t as frightening as I thought it would be. I had lights & lots of reflective gear, the traffic was light, and cars gave me a wide berth. The white line on the highway became my guide, and the scariest moments were when that line disappeared at intersections leaving me in disorienting blackness. As I rolled back into E-Ville, I was still energetic, and may have inadvertently serenaded another cyclist who was riding right behind me on Stony Plain Road with a complete version of Short Native Grasses, ipod singalong style.

Because I turned  back earlier than I planned, when I got home I plotted my route carefully to find my total distance, intending to head back out if I came short of the century mark. The tally? 160.9km! I did it (barely)! I’m a centurion!

A couple days later I rode back out to Miquelon with friends. I didn’t take very many pictures that day, but I’d like to share this one. Because, for me, it isn’t all this riding that leaves me breathless.

Watching this left me more more breathless than the biggest hill in Beaumont.

In cycle touring, it’s about the journey, not the destination.





Trial by Bike Tour

2 08 2012

I’d been talking with A-bomb for months about going on a bike camping trip, so the “Lake Wabamun Bike Attack” was highly anticipated. After meeting at MEC and loading up on Clif Bars and chamois cream, four intrepid adventurers, dressed mainly in white, hit the highway in 30+ degree weather with the goal of frolicking on the shores of the second largest lake in Alberta.

Panda on the highway. Highway 16A was busy but had wide shoulders that were generally in good shape.

The first stop we had planned was the legendary vegan restaurant in Stony Plain. Twice before I have tried to eat there, and both times it didn’t work out, so I was sure third time would be the charm. The promise of healthy & varied vegan nosh kept us motivated as we rode through the outer suburbs, stomachs becoming increasingly demanding. When we got there, all was quiet. There was a small sign in the door that basically said they were out of business. Some internet snooping informed us that this had only happened in the last few weeks, and there were a steady stream of disappointed customers coming to the door who hadn’t heard the news either.

I left a note on the door expressing the extreme disappointment of riding for more than two hours to get there, but that was only half of it, because now I was in the situation I really wanted to avoid, finding a nourishing vegan meal in a small town restaurant. The place we ended up eating (ironically) used to be a garage/service station, and I had (wait for it) onion rings and fries, aka the small town vegan special. I hit a grocery store before we hit the road again to try to round out my fuel.

Instead of following Highway 16A all the way to the Yellowhead, we turned down Parkland drive, which proved to be one of the loveliest country roads I’ve ever cycled. No cars, gently rolling hills, lots of trees & scenery, this is what bike touring is all about.

Parkland Drive: highly recommended.

Too bad that lovely road had a few surprises in store for me. After a rest stop at a country school, I was fiddling with my panniers because I was having some heel strike issues. We were not far on our way when a large dip in the road caused one pannier to bounce into the spokes of my back wheel, taking out three of them. This is the part where I turn into a cartoon with a cloud of expletive punctuation above my head. After letting off steam, I started unthreading the spokes from the wheel and figuring out what to do next. Disengaging the back brakes was enough to prevent most rubbing on the now warped rim, and my front brakes were good. Perhaps I could move a spoke from another part of the wheel to help balance it a bit more when we got to camp. Because I was traveling with a couple of first time bicycle tourists, I brought way more tools than I thought I’d possibly need, including spoke wrenches, so it was doable (thankfully, they were non-drive side spokes – I wasn’t so overly prepared to have a Regina freewheel remover). I also remembered the time my ex-companion rolled into Vancouver with 8 broken spokes, having travelled with more weight and farther than I was from home. As long as my wheels kept rolling, so did I, and I let my fellow travelers know that I’d be taking it easier (they were probably happy to hear that) but I was still good to go.

I formulated a plan for when we made camp. I had taken great care to pack some vegan marshmallows, and that night we’d roast them on the broken spokes.

Not long after that, I noticed some wasps flying behind A-bomb, like they were following her. A couple minutes later, a massive shocking pain sent me into screaming fits. A wasp had flown up my skirt and stung me. Having had an allergic reaction before, I was extremely worried about what could happen. Luckily, I’d packed some antihistamines and ibuprofen, which I took before the swelling started. It wasn’t long before I was riding again, wearing my brave face.

When we got to Wabamun, I couldn’t jump into the lake fast enough, but we decided to set up camp first. The check in lady was confused. What was our vehicle’s license plate number? “Umm, we’re on bikes.” Well, what were the bikes’ license plate numbers? “Bikes, you know, bicycles, we don’t have one.” the plate number on our permit ended up reading ABC 123.

When we got to our reserved spot, there were three pickup trucks parked in it. Like, seriously? The owners of said trucks in the neighboring site were rather incredulous that a group of cyclists wanted to displace them, luckily a park ranger just happened to drive by at that exact moment, and the pickups scattered like roaches in the light.

We settled in, unloaded the bikes and had a snack, then finally started to make our way down to the beach. Going down the first hill, I heard a crash and the sound of metal skidding over asphalt from behind me, then saw Neal’s saddle sliding down the hill in front of me. The bolt that holds the saddle to the seat post had sheared in two. Unlike my wheel, this was something that couldn’t be limped, and I started to really worry about how Neal was going to ride. Brendan suggested we try to find the park maintenance folks as they might have a bolt that would work. At the camp office, they told us we could try to track down the maintenance crew tomorrow, and also that there was a hardware store in town. With two possible solutions to be investigated the next day, it was time to get down to beach!

Swim bliss. At this moment, I didn’t care if I had to walk home.

A blue damselfly chows down on an unlucky fly, on my towel.

A view from inside the bay. I don’t get enough excuses to post underwater photos on this blog.

By the time we got to the beach, the sun was orange and low in the sky, and most people were going home. It was still super hot, though, and lake was the perfect remedy.

That night, I roasted those vegan marshmallows on the campfire with spokes like I promised  myself I would and unweighted the day’s stressors. The company around the fire was lovely, and despite all the difficulties, I was feeling pretty good about where I was.

One of the reasons I love hammock camping: this is the view you get to wake up to in the morning.

The next morning, I decided to leave my wheel as is because it had full tire pressure and would probably lose less momentum with the brake rub and wobble than if I disassembled the wheel and rearranged the spokes then was only able to get up to 50 or 60psi with my frame pump. And there’d be no guarantee the wheel would be true enough that i could reengage the brakes.

Meanwhile, A-bomb and Brendan biked into town to try to find a replacement bolt for Neal’s seat. I was reticent about not going, but it was a good thing I didn’t as the path to town included some steep rough single track -no place for crippled Mercier. At the hardware tore, they had almost given up and were working on plan B until another employee said “oh, I bet that’s a metric bolt. They’re on the other side of the store.” In the entire Home Hardware, they found a single bolt that fit.

Back at camp, Neal installs the new bolt. This was also the time we found out that the previous owner of his bike had sawed off the seat post and the minimum insertion point was now a centimeter from the bottom of it. Neal’s a pretty tall guy, so this was very bad news.

We packed up camp and prepared for a slow ride home, between my fucked wheel and Neal’s too low saddle. It was also at about this time that Brenden discovered his keys were missing. WTF?

As the temperature once again reached more than 30 degrees, we stopped at the now overcrowded beach again before getting back on the road.

Heading home on beautiful Parkland Drive. I think A-bomb will reconsider her choice to ride in jeans the next time she goes 80km. Other than that, she did well on the single speed.

We retraced our route in the afternoon heat, hoping to find Brendan’s keys. With every stop, our bike breeze also stopped, and the heat was starting to take a toll on us so we had a longish break in the shadow of an overpass. By the time we crossed city limits, it was late enough that the heat was finally starting to break. We weren’t home free, though, and were reminded of this by the cherry on top of our day – Brendan got a flat.

This is possibly the longest post I’ve ever done (sorry about that), and it does seem to read like a series of unlikely misadventures crammed into a 36 hour period. The thing is, I don’t remember it as a near disaster, but as a fun adventure that challenged everyone involved, and feel accomplished for having got through it. We don’t remind ourselves how much we are capable of enough. Trial by bike tour proves you’re a lot less limited than you thought. (And that when life gives you broken spokes, roast vegan marshmallows on them!)





Midnight Ride to Bike Town

19 07 2012

To put this story into perspective, we’ll start with a simple vegan chocolate cupcake.

About to enjoy a vegan cupcake with Marjory.

There’s another story I’m not going to bother with here that ends with me becoming so sensitive to caffeine that even the modest amount in a chocolate cupcake (with non-chocolate icing) is enough to keep me up all night. But I really wanted a cupcake, and at Flirt only the chocolate cake is vegan, so I decided to hop down the rabbit hole. I tell you this story not only as an excuse to post food porn but also to help explain why I decided to do what I did next.

I’ve been researching neighbouring communities, looking for destinations for cycling day trips, and discovered that the nearby town of Devon had declared itself “Bike Town Alberta,” where, according to their website, “cycling is the new golf.” I was intrigued at the thought of this little oil town turning around and embracing the bike, but something wasn’t right. The website talks more about branding than it does about bicycles, and the whole thing reeks of not quite getting it.

Case in point – this promotional video. Warning: you will not get the next two minutes of your life back if you watch this video, but if you still choose to, make it fun by being on the lookout for models wearing helmets backwards, under inflated tires, and dudes riding bikes that look like they would’ve fit them when they were 12.

So, on a hot summer night with a bee under my saddle and a little too much energy, I decided I needed to check out Bike Town firsthand.

As I was gathering supplies at the grocery store, I got a call from Geneva.

“What are you doing tonight?”

“Riding to Devon.”

“Can I join you.”

“Sure.”

Truth be told, there was a little more discussion than that, but the plan was hatched before I made it to the checkout. We’d hop on our bikes and head south, knowing full well that we’d be highway riding with only the midnight twilight of midsummer in E-Ville.

The sun hung low as we made our way towards city limits. Our first challenge came as we crossed the Henday, where Geneva got a flat.

Geneva fixes a flat in the blink of an eye.

But we were undeterred. She fixed the flat and we were back on our way.

Sunset and Devon’s still a ways to go. Note that, of all my bikes, I took Marjory for this ride.

This is the part of the ride that it started getting tough. Off the paved side roads and onto the highway, I kept pushing forward with the hope that I would be rewarded with a photo next to a sign that said “Bike Town.”

Almost there!

With the promising light of civilization on the horizon, we got our photo op.

In retrospect, I should have framed the photo to say “DEVO.” That would’ve been way cooler.

As we began to explore the sleepy streets, we found lots of evidence of the town’s history related to the oil industry, but no evidence that it was “Bike Town.” The paved path that roughly followed the top of the valley was nothing special, and we weren’t about to explore the mountain bike paths this place is known for on road bikes, in the dark.

Our first stop was to refuel.

Even the convenience store was oil industry themed.

As we had a break took turns going in to refill our bottles and get snacks, a woman approached us.

“Were you the ones I saw out cycling on the highway just now?”

“Probably.”

“Why did you do that? It’s so unsafe. How will anyone see you? All the drivers out there are drunk.” She was genuinely concerned.

We just sort of shrugged. I wanted to say “well you saw us, right?’ but was polite and told her not to worry.

A couple of minutes later I went into the store, and as I was about to go to the cashier, a man stumbled in and screamed incoherently, and then stumbled around some more. Disconcerted, I quickly cashed out and went back to meet Geneva.

“I can’t believe how drunk that guy is.” She said. It was at that moment I noticed a minivan that hadn’t been there before.

“Wait a minute, did he drive here?”

We exchanged “oh shit”  looks and decided to get out of there before the drunk dude got out of the store.

A little bit shaken by the timing of that meeting, we roamed the town, trying to decide whether to head back immediately or wait until dawn. On a whim, I said let’s look in some dumpsters (small town dumpsters have a reputation). There were no snacks, but I did pull out a perfectly good orange reflective vest. I already had my reflective hoodie on so I asked Geneva if she wanted it.

So that is how we ended up riding til the crack of dawn when we returned home, with Geneva wearing a vest we’d just pulled out of a dumpster. The roads were mostly quiet and we didn’t have any scary moments. The only regret I have is that I didn’t bring a lock, so that we could have checked out the only lively place this late at night – the hotel/bar where there was some country karaoke going down.

As for “Bike Town,” I wasn’t expecting much but was still underwhelmed. I’ll go back in the day sometime to check out the river valley and to see if there’s bicycle friendly camping. It seems their idea of cycling is recreation, not transportation, and the goal they’re working towards is to get more people to drive their bikes in from the city. It’s really too bad, because there is such a dearth of facilities for transportation cyclists and cycle tourists around E-Ville, and it’s close enough to be a relatively easy day trip. I hear they’re trying to trademark “Bike Town,” so I hope they get a clue about people who actually lead a cycling lifestyle before they monopolize that moniker.





A Soggy S24O

5 07 2012

Sometimes, I just have to be outside. And with summer underway, I want to savour every moment, including the warm summer rain. On this evening, all I wanted was to sleep in the forest away from other humanity and let the gentle percussion of rain drops on the fly of my hammock lull me to sleep. So with little daylight left, and a brief break in the rain, I headed out to a little place I know that’s off the map but not too far from home.

In the home of the deer & coyotes.

Part of the reason I wanted to go was that I wanted to test out my gear in the rain before heading out on a longer trip, and I knew that the destination I selected would allow me to head home without too much trouble if anything failed.

My wet camp in the misty woods.

Getting there wasn’t as simple as I thought. There once was a gravel road leading into the area, but all the gravel has been removed and only the clay road base remains. I suppose this was to aid in the “naturalization” process and keep domesticated animals (specifically humans & dogs) from bothering the local wildlife, and it wouldn’t have been a problem if it hadn’t already turned into a soupy, slippery mess from the day’s rains. As I powered through the mud on my fully loaded bike, the clay just stuck to it, enveloping my brakes, clogging my fenders, plastering the backsides of my panniers.

This is what my bike looked like after riding through a quarter section of hay fields and another section of game trails in the bush, which was my strategy for trying to knock the muck off.

I ended up having to drag my bike through some of the mud, and had to grab sticks to poke out the mud & rocks that were preventing my wheels from moving. After finally passing the horrible used-to-be-road, it started to rain again, and I realized that I’d passed the point of no return. I managed to set up camp and retreat to my hammock with, literally, seconds to spare before the sky completely opened up. Dry and cozy, I curled up and listened to the rain and thunder and the runoff rushing underneath while gently swaying with the trees. And between showers, I could hear the coyotes howling and slinking through the forest.

While my stay was refreshing, it wasn’t exactly restful, and I was up (for me) freakishly early. Eager for a hot drink and to try out my new toy, I broke out the Trangia to make some tea.

A Trangia is a super lightweight alcohol fueled camp stove. It took a few minutes to boil 2 cups of water.

The rain stopped just long enough for me to have some breakfast & break camp, and I was re-energized by the hot drink & fuel. After trying to poke what mud I could out of my wheels, I started the return journey. Unfortunately, the only way in or out of this place with a loaded bike is the non-road that I took on the way in. Because it had been raining all night, it was even more of a mess.

I would ride until my wheels wouldn’t turn (about 10-50 feet) and then poke out as much clay as I could with a stick and try again. I’d get off the bike and drag it, all the time barely keeping my own footing in the greasy mud. By the time I made it through that half mile of hell, I was exhausted and felt like I didn’t save any energy by not going much further afield.

Nearing home. To quote a friend, “at least my skin is waterproof.”

My upper body was sore for days after, but the worst casualty of the day was my bike. A couple of days later, when I took the Globe to EBC to chisel off the caked on mud remains, it took me 5 hours to clean it, and when I swept up the pile of dried mud under the bike stand it weighed more than 3 pounds. Come to think about it, I still haven’t cleaned the mud off of the backs of my front panniers – better get on that before the next trip.