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 (I was a sweeper on the ride, and my duties superceded taking pictures, luckily someone else was.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!





Puddle Vision

21 03 2012

Day after day, the same commute, the same ride, the same potholes to dodge, the same creative maneuvers through badly planned infrastructure, the only things changing are the wind direction & temperature. The mild winter should have left me more opportunities to explore and play on my bike between home and work, but thanks to a perfect storm of illness, appetite killing medications (which I’m thankfully off now), and quitting my pop habit (which is a really good thing, but I’ve missed those extra 500 calories a day), my body has been left short on fuel and exhausted, and I’ve lost weight (and I did not need to lose weight). In fact, for the first time in my life, my BMI is in the “underweight” category (my doctor told me that I shouldn’t expect any sympathy for this problem). This has also meant that my commute has become extremely rote, always the same, shortest route, treading closer to feebleness than enjoyment.

Sunset, brighter in the puddle world, as the first fingers of ice crystals begin to envelope the water.

For a short time in spring, the puddles of melting snow offer a glimpse into a different world, similar to this one, but the sun is brighter, the sky is clearer, there’s magic in the air and the outlook is always up.

Only in a reflection can you see the magic in the air.

And so my commute came to life again, and staring into the puddles & watching the constantly re-framed reflections allowed me to see my familiar surroundings from a different perspective. Sometimes, a different point of view makes all the difference in getting out of rut.

I could look back at this past winter as a lost opportunity for all sorts of winter adventures. For Edmonton, it was a cyclist’s dream, the mildest winter in memory, warmer and for more days than this born & raised prairie girl would dare to hope for. Yet, I probably would have done the same cycling if it was constantly -20.

Let it be known, that for a few short days in March, there was just barely enough snow on the ground for a "Canadian kickstand."

But it isn’t just weather that makes the winter, and instead of looking back I’m focusing on the future with a reacquired sparkle in my eye, and full fat coconut milk on my cereal.

 

 





Of Bike Paths and Snacks

31 12 2011

It’s slippery out there, folks! So, please be careful, no matter what form of transportation you’re rocking!

Better salty like a pretzel...

...than glazed like a donut...

...though sprinkles make icing OK.

Winter riding sure works up the appetite.





I Hope This is the Last Winter Post

3 04 2011

First day of spring in the great white north, the sky’s gray, the wind’s bitter, and great bodies of ice are thawed and smashed and rammed and frozen back together.

Water frozen, broken up, then refrozen.

Except this is actually the bike path.

Just when I thought it couldn't get worse...

There was water underneath the ice in places, and at one point my tire broke through, bringing me to an immediate halt as my tire, rim and spokes sank under the icy crust. I (oh so carefully) hopped off my bike to try to free it only to find that the water engulfing my wheel was quickly refreezing, trapping the bike in the ice. It took considerable pulling and yanking to free it.

As I was taking pictures, another fellow on a bike rolled up in the opposite direction. “This is ridiculous,” he said, “if I hadn’t seen you stopped here, I might’ve rode right into this and wiped out.”

A fellow winter cyclist on a challenging trail.

As the first cycles of freezing and thawing began, it was clear that winter wasn’t leaving quietly. But after such a long winter, I have just gotten into the mindset of pushing on, no matter what. I have commuted by bike every day this winter (though there were a few days I went partway with my bike on the train). Every day, 10km each way, every day, not even sick once, every day, through one of the worst winters in memory, my body and bike reliable transportation, every day.

With full on snow melt in the forecast, I decided it was time to make my final peace with this long winter, and packed up a few provisions for a late night river valley excursion.

Sassy hops in my bike bin, looking for a cure to cabin fever.

Which, of course, required utilization of the tube-oggan.

Another look at the tube-oggan, a sled made of a discarded coroplast sign and old bike tubes.

I rolled the full length of Mill Creek bike ninja style, the darkness obscuring how icy the path really was. But there was no one around, and as long as I didn’t need to brake I knew I could ride out of trouble, so I rode confidently. The toboggan hill was also abandoned, so I had it all to myself and didn’t have to worry about anyone wondering why a thirty something woman was tobogganing alone in the middle of the night. It’s a scary thing to do. What if I was injured and couldn’t move? Would it be the next day before anyone found me? As it turned out, the worst injury of the night came when a bungee cord flew into my face as I was trying to secure the sled to my bike. I never crashed once, either on the hill or the bike path.

A bike rack in mill creek, peeking out through 3 feet of packed snow.

Since then, my friends, the snow has finally started to melt (and pool up in my basement, in case you were wondering why I haven’t posted anything lately). Finally, spring is in the air. I even rode a bike without tire studs yesterday, for the first time since November. It’s going to be a while, yet, before the snow is gone, but I’m ready for the puddles and passion of a new season, so bring it on!

Non Sequitur Post Script: Where else but in Edmonton would the municipal government release a video promoting winter cycling in March?

Not bad. I’ll save the analysis for another day, but suffice to say it’s not exactly the video I’d make. I guess I’ve just set myself a project for next winter…





Ice, Ice, Baby

23 02 2011

Last week, as I stopped to take a picture of the ice encrusted bike path I ride every day, an old man carrying bags of empties stopped his slow shuffle, gingerly balanced on the junction of the snow bank and the ice sheet and offered me some free advice.

“Turn back! It’s like this all the way.” (FTR, I had already ridden most of the full length of this trail and was on the final block.)

“It’s OK, I’ve got studded tires.” (I find people who try to tell me what’s best for me never want to hear about my studded tires.)

“You can’t ride on that!” (he motions to the ice) “You’ll break an arm!”

“I’ll be OK.”

“No! You can’t ride there! You’re going to break a leg!”

“I’ll be fine.” (I wasn’t in the  mood to again point out my tire studs and explain about angular momentum and torque and how, unlike my (or his) footwear, my studded tires have the traction of a mountain goat.)

“No! I’ve already fallen twice today! It’s too dangerous to bike! You’re going to break an arm and a leg.”

I was getting impatient by this point. “Okay, I’ll turn back after I take this picture.” This response seemed to satisfy and quiet him and he continued down the icy trail. I wonder if he noticed that I didn’t turn back, and just kept on riding down the middle of the skating rink.

There's a bike path under that ice.

The path is straight, flat, there’s no cars, and I’ve got two studded tires, so I’m not bothered by the iciness of it anymore. If you changed any one of those factors, it would be a different story, but I’ve ridden stuff like this enough times and I know this path well enough that I can just relax and roll with the flow. Every winter at some point, I reach a state of winter cycling zen where I stop thinking of all the techniques and technicalities and can just trust my body to do what it does. It’s sorta like remembering how to ride a bike.

There’s been some snow since I took this picture, so at least now I have a layer of packed snow between my tires and the Ice Capades. I love packed snow. When it’s cold out (current temperature -20C, wind chill -32C) I prefer packed snow over asphalt to ride on. The sound of snow creaking is so much nicer than studs grinding away on the pavement. Here’s hoping that it stays for a long time, and when the snow finally melts, it doesn’t refreeze until next fall.