Winterus Maximus!

16 03 2016

I haven’t published anything for far too long, but it’s not like my draft bin’s empty. This weekend is the annual Flying Canoe Volant festival, which is fantastic and highly recommended to restore your sense of wonder at the world. Here’s something I started writing almost a year ago, in a much simpler time, about the 2016 festival:

Spring has come disconcertingly early this year after the warmest winter in memory and I’m pissed off. Not only is this a sign that climate change is ramping us up into a dystopian future, it also means that prime winter fatbiking conditions are already long over for the year.

Ahhh, good memories…

So tonight I’m looking back on a way too short winter. A highlight was the annual Flying Canoe festival, which takes place in Mill Creek Ravine and E-Ville’s French Quarter for two magical nights in February.

This is actually a barrier to a washed out trail. 

My favourite part of the festivities happens in Mill Creek. The familiar single and double track, shrouded in darkness, is reimagined with art and light, connecting a lively Metis camp with a colourful Indian village. The name of the festival comes from a Metis legend about lost voyageurs who make a deal with the devil to gain the ability to fly home. As you wander about the ravine of whimsy, you never know when you’ll meet a canoe clad voyageur paddling through the forest or be chased by giant wolves with red glowing eyes, pack leader growling through a megaphone. Dylan Toymaker’s enchanting lanterns transform the drab winter forest to otherworldly, punctuated by many light and art installations by him as well as Grant Mac art students.

This year, Flying Canoe included winter cycling fun. The Brite Lite Winter Nite Bike Ride attracted around 40 riders who decked out their bikes with all sorts of lights and rode through the valley and through the festival site. (I was a sweeper on the ride, and my duties superceded taking pictures, luckily someone else was. Unluckily, the link to them is now dead.) 

My bike. Not my photo. Unfortunately I can no longer find this online to give proper credit.

We arrived just in time to catch Winterus Maximus. 

A crowd gathers for strange happenings in the darkness.

“What is Winterus Maximus?” you might ask. It’s brand new this year, so you can say you heard it here first when it becomes a big thing. Winterus Maximus is a fat bike chariot race – two bikes pull one sled and “driver” over a snow covered track.

Except, plot twist, the snow had melted and refrozen into a thick crust of ice over the entire schoolyard/racetrack.

Yes, it was as slippery as it looks.

Teams put together their own chariots, and since this was the inaugural fatbike chariot race anywhere, there was no standard to follow, no model to copy. It made for some creative sleds.

On your marks…

The fastest teams modeled their rigs after, or built them with dogsleds & kicksleds.

There was also at least one creation fit for a Roman emperor, complete with elaborate lighting. Thankfully, the builders and pullers of the most creative (and heavy) sled also received a nice prize.

Looking forward to 2017’s race, I anticipate more standardized sled designs based on 2016’s faster ones, and lots more LED’s. This race occurring in the dark certainly made my, as well as other folks’ attempts at documenting the magic frustrating, so I can’t wait to see how version 2.0’s organizers and participants step up to this end, because in the 21st century if there’s no photos, it didn’t happen. And I sure hope they bring back the guy who calls the horse races back to call the next race! Dude was epic!

Sled & steeds

See y’all at the fatbike chariot races!

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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.