Deep South Excursion

27 06 2012

E-ville is one of the most spread out, sprawled out cities in the world, covering more area than cities with 10 times its population. This place was built for cars first, people second, and beyond the central core that I inhabit with the rest of the green, radical and artistic types, there’s seas of suburbs. Before people started questioning the wisdom of infinite suburban sprawl, the city annexed large tracts of farmland for future ‘burbs, and in the outskirts, some of the agricultural land still remains. With friends, I’ve been taking rides out to explore this country side within the city limits. On this day, we headed south.

First stop: fuel. Loma House Vegetarian Express in Millwoods was a delightful surprise that was definitely worth the ride.

As I got my gear ready and pumped up my tires, my friend mentioned that she wanted to check out a yard sale at a nearby housing co-op on the way out. I wasn’t too excited about the idea, because if either of us bought something it would mean carrying it with us the whole ride. It was rather ironic that I was the one who ended up making a purchase – a pair of red sunglasses that couldn’t leave my face after I tried them on. With my new hipster-vision, we hit the road.

Deep South side, FTW!

My impression of the area was a little bit country & a little bit country club.

A little bit country, a little bit country club, whatever, le Mercier is a class act wherever it goes.

Every time I go down this way, I have to cycle further and further to escape the metastasizing suburbs. It’s sad to know that the land in this area is now worth too much to use it for agriculture, and that it won’t be long until the only semblance of countryside will be the privatopias and gated clubs where the rich play.

Amongst the new developments, we found a long abandoned homestead.

Loft no more.

Looking out from the farmhouse onto someone else’s idea of dream homes.

It looked as if the house & barn were nearly on the property line of a new development, as everything  had been bulldozed to within a couple meters of the house on one side, while the secondary poplar growth sheltered it from the other side. I suspect that this house was once completely hidden by the trees, which would explain why there was so little evidence of vandalism or graffiti in such an easily accessible abandoned building. I doubt it will last long once the bored children of the new residents find it.

Looking in. Recent residents include barn swallows and honey bees.

Luckily for us, the private clubs in the area aren’t used to cyclists crashing their digs, so we picnicked on some fairly exclusive real estate (not pictured) before starting on our return journey to the center of E-Ville.

Self portrait, with bicycle.

On returning from every excursion to the outskirts, the biggest issue always seems to be how to get across the bloody Anthony Henday freeway/ring road/exclusion zone. Things weren’t looking good as we approached the Terwillegar overpass. The whole thing (this is a major thoroughfare) was closed for paving, including the bridge, and the detour to the next overpass would have taken us miles and miles out of our way, and we didn’t have lights or that much time before sundown to be riding on unlit backroads. There was a construction worker manning the barricades, but it looked like the overpass was clear and still passable beyond that. We looked at each other and said “wanna just go for it?” We rode straight for the closed road and gave the worker a cutesy wave. He looked confused for a second, and then made a gesture that said “I’m averting my eyes and I didn’t see you.”

We encountered a crew at the top of the overpass and told them our sob story about trying to get home before dark. They seemed mildly sympathetic and gave us tacit permission to pass so long as we gave the workers & equipment a wide berth. We took off before they could give it a second thought and began riding & gallivanting down the middle of an empty freeway, woo-hoo!

Terwilliger Drive with no hands!

I must say, I’m running out of freeways and other major roads in this town that I haven’t ridden while they were car free, but it still never gets old for me.

After the joyride, we got lost in the twisty streets of T-town before finally finding a familiar bike path to take us home. Overall, it was an amazing day including good riding, good exploring and good company, and I can’t wait until the next long ride.

The last and biggest hill of the day.

Road Bike Season

25 04 2012

All spring I have been watching the road and trail conditions, waiting for the last remnants of ice to disappear and for the city to sweep up all the gravel it’s laid down throughout the winter.

Notice that there's so much debris in the counter-flow bike lane that it obscures the markings. More notable is the awesome neighbour who pressure-washed clean the lane where it passed by his house. I sure appreciate not having to choose between no traction and oncoming traffic.

Road bike season started for me the day before my b-day when I realized that one of the stays on Marjory’s rack had snapped as I was loading it up, and I just couldn’t bear another day of chugging on the heavy Transend. I had been wanting a long ride on le Mercier for my birthday, so I thought I’d better break it out and give it a try. I’ve missed that bike: so swift, so light, yet handles so well I can trackstand forever and never have to take my feet off the pedals.

So, if you’ve been following my blog for a long time you may remember that last year, I got a flat tire for my birthday. This year, after a roll through a short but intense rainstorm, I wiped out. I was rolling through the leg (pronounced “ledge”) grounds (where it looked like it hadn’t rained) and hit several inches of pea gravel as I was navigating around the stupid traffic control arms they put up after 9/11 that they never open for cyclists, even though it’s a designated bike route. There was a peace officer in the little booth who saw me go down, but didn’t come out to check on me until I was ready to get back on my bike again, when he was a patronizing ass about it. I rode home slowly and carefully, avoiding jarring potholes, ordered a pizza, and spent the rest of the night taking it easy and icing my sore spots.

The next day the sun was shining, my body was hardly aching at all, and Mercier seemed no worse for wear, so I decided to try once again for an epic ride.

Keeping an easier pace than usual through the valley meant I was more prone to seeing little dirt side paths and wondering "what's down there?"

Le Mercier, after a roll through the grass.

Signs of previous visitors.

There's still a little ice on the river.

Obligatory awkward self-portrait with bicycle.


Finding myself famished in a far flung suburb after most places closed, onion rings and root beer was the best I could do for fuel while still keeping an eye on my bike.

After turning back towards home, a long, lighted, clear bike path was a welcome sight. Not pictured: more deer.

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.

On the Curious Behaviour of Trees

20 06 2010

Ubiquitous to this part of the world, aspen poplar are fascinating trees that are scorned and overlooked because they are so common. They spread quickly by suckering, and whole groves of trees can actually be just one single organism, connected underground. In the fall, because of this, entire stands of trees’ leaves will change to gold on the same day, and in turn the golden leaves will all rain down at once in a magical display. And on a hot June day, a forest of poplars will simultaneously release their fluffy seeds, covering the ground like snow.

The poplar fluff angel that made my ride.

Beautiful as this is, the poplar fluff is thicker than usual this year, and it’s a sign of something a little more nefarious under the surface. As the river valley has greened out, to see the amount of trees dead and dying from drought is shocking. All the trees, including the “weedy” poplars, are stressed, and this surplus of seeds is a last ditch effort for forest survival.

Kicking up the fluff.