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.





Railway Museum Ride

11 06 2012

A couple of weekends ago, a few friends and I set out for the the city’s rural outskirts to check out the Alberta Railway Museum on opening day of 2012. While it’s technically within city limits (it actually sits beside the line), it’s in a part of town known as the “rural northeast” that is mostly farmland, and is far enough away that we rode more than 50km that day, though that included some backtracking because we couldn’t figure out how to cross the newly constructed Anthony Henday freeway.

Finally, a sign that we’re on the right track! Groans from the back of the pack ensued when the next sign, around the corner, informed us that it was still another 5km to go.

I love taking Le Mercier out on the paved country roads.

Uber-cool companion is also too cool for gears.

The last stretch: a gravel road along the tracks.

Not pictured: the part of the sign that said “All unattended children will be given a cup of coffee and a puppy.”

There were lots of things to be stoked about at the museum, but none got me so stoked as the rail bike. It looks like Porta-bike with a few extra stays and the brace for the third wheel on the other track. The wheels looked like regular steel bicycle wheels with the rail wheel welded to the outside.

There are many different types of train cars in various states of restoration that you can tour that are also used as museum exhibits. Others, like the one in the background that are beyond repair, slowly decay on overgrown tracks.

Rockin’ the cycling shoes (don’t worry, no cleats) in the Northern Alberta Railways caboose. This caboose had side bay windows instead of the more common “bird’s nest” lookout points because of the twistiness of the track that went up to Fort McMurray. Caboose lookouts were used to spot fires caused by sparks from the wheels.

Boxcar hoppin’

First class, 1920’s style.

The 1940’s passenger car was once fitted with a bike rack at the front. Alas, only the sign remains.

Heading out. The train museum was lots of fun, interesting and affordable. It’s completely volunteer run, and there’s lots of cool old people who know lots about trains. One of the better kept secrets in E-VIlle, I’d say.

Single speed on the wide, flat prairie.

Not wanting to ride the huge detour on the Manning Freeway we took on the way there, we tried to find another spot to cross the Henday. I knew I saw an overpass around here somewhere. Why don’t any of the roads lead to one?

We decided to chance a dead end and were rewarded with a freshly constructed overpass, no cars, and an incredible view.

Woo-hoo! We’re across the Henday! Who cares if we have to navigate a closed dirt road.

Looking less promising still.

There was a lot of earth moving going on.

I could have sworn there was a road where this massive hole in the ground is now.

But I could see the light – bike paths were near.

And where the hole in the ground turned back into street, a bike path also awaited to whisk us back into the urban core.