Return to Secret Beach

19 07 2010

Everyone, especially cyclists, ought to have their own personal cartography, a map of those important little places that you can only find by exploring or experience. For me, a place I call Secret Beach is an inviting little refuge when I want to go a little out of my way after a hot day at the sweatshop. I never would’ve found this place if I didn’t ride a bike.

A shady refuge on a hot day.

The “beach,” which is particularly kind to bare feet, is a large silt deposit along the river that formed the last time it flooded (I think it was 2005) , and has been slowly eroding away ever since. There are a few other people that use it as well, including some who regularly clean up garbage & debris, in and out of the water.

Someone has taken it upon themselves to dig some stairs into the steep enbankment above Secret Beach.

There is an underlying secret in this story, something that people often find shocking, and I am going to share it with you: I swim in the North Saskatchewan River, fairly often over the past few years, and I have suffered no effects other than relaxation, cooling down on a hot day, exercise, and plain old fun.

Cooling river.

Of course, anyone who would dare swim in the North Saskatchewan should know a little about Edmonton’s sewer system. In most of the city, there are two sewers: a storm sewer for runoff from rain that feeds directly into the river, and a septic sewer that takes household sewage to the Goldbar water treatment plant. In the oldest parts of the city, there is only one sewer that takes the runoff and the sewage to the water treatment plant, but if these combined sewers are over capacity, it overflows directly into the river. Unfortunately, there is far more density over these sewers now than they were initially designed for, and the net effect is that raw sewage goes into the river almost any time it rains. Therefore, I do not swim after a rainstorm (and don’t wash clothes or take showers when it’s raining because I live in one of those old neighborhoods).

Edit: When I wrote this post, I didn’t think that I needed to include warnings about the current, but after someone was swept away upriver last weekend, I just wanted to remind everyone that the North Saskatchewan has an extremely strong current and that you shouldn’t enter it if you’re not a strong swimmer, and even then be extremely cautious. Back in Edmonton’s early days when people more regularly swam in the river, drownings were common.

The pictures above were all taken last week. It’s been raining a lot this week, and when I decided that it was again time for an after work river valley sojourn, I headed back down the way of Secret Beach even though I knew a swim was not an option.

My bike is in the same place as the picture above, but the water is a full 10 feet higher, and the beach is now secreted under the river.

When the water subsides, perhaps my secret beach will be swept downstream to be someone else’s little getaway, or maybe it will be waiting for me to wade in up to my waist and start swimming upstream but getting nowhere again. In the meantime, there’s miles of river valley trails to explore and rediscover.

In the spirit of the Let’s Go Ride a Bike Summer Games final event, I took the longest route through the valley with the most hills (this is like two events in one – taking the long way home on a greenway).

The bike path cuts through a rare grove of old growth.

There are a lot of nasty hills along this route, and I’m proud to say that I did not have to dismount once to climb any of them: 8 speed internally geared hub, for the win!

Any route that involves going under the High Level bridge, instead of over it, can safely be called the hard way.

After pausing under the bridge, I headed back up the hill for the final time on the switchback bike path below the university. I’ve always wondered why they built that trail on such an insane grade –  it’s so steep I even have reservations about riding down it, but, out of breath and in my next to lowest gear, I proved I was stronger than I thought I was when I made it up without stopping!

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Hauling Foliage

28 06 2010

Marjory Stewart Baxter, my 30 year old Raleigh, has become my bicycle of choice whenever I need to carry anything bigger than my purse. It’s not because she’s a great cargo bike, but because my Bike Bins don’t fit on my new bike’s rack, and I haven’t bothered taking the studded tire off of Ol’ Nelli (my way-more-suitable-for-hauling-shit winter bike), Marjory’s become my default workhorse for groceries and whatnot.

Today, I rode out to the the Home Despot to find some sale priced plants to fill out my garden (especially for where my landlord mowed my perennial herb & flower bed – jerk) and pick up a couple of things for ECOS.

 

Right bin - small veggies & edible flowers tucked safely inside. I wouldn't put plants inside just any pannier.

 

It turned out that tropical plants were on sale as well, so I picked up a couple that will hopefully be cat proof, but it left me with more to carry than I had originally intended. Still, I managed fine. I put the smaller plants in the left bin and closed it, then bungeed the ECOS tool hooks on top, hooking one bungee cord so that it was holding the left bin open, where I put the taller plants. I dangled the remaining plants from my handlebars, in a maneuver that I perfected long before I ever knew what a pannier was. (Tip: if you ever have to carry something this way, tie the bag as tight as possible and hang the knot over the handlebar. The higher the bag hangs, the less it will swing and the the less likely it will hit your feet or the front wheel. I used to do all my grocery shopping this way.)

 

Bungees hold my other purchase as well as holding the left bin open so the larger plants aren't crushed.

 

I get a lot of comments about my Bike Bins, and overall I like them quite a bit. They are the best way to carry stuff I have ever used, but I still can only make a qualified recommendation about them. The pair I have is mismatched because one of the original pair broke, and I have scrounged every usable part off the broken one to replace broken parts on the other two. At $60 each for a chunk of plastic that might last 2 years if you’re lucky, you could get much better value spending a little more on something that’ll last you a decade, or could DIY something out of buckets or other large plastic containers.

But I didn’t pay full price for them. Altogether I’ve spent $60 on all three (two from EBC, one on clearance at MEC) and I’d say I’ve got my money’s worth (even though only one in three has a working lock). They’ve survived daily use through Edmonton winters and remained perfectly waterproof (which is awesome squared, unless you pack ’em too tightly and puncture a can of pop). Additional benefits include a flat surface on top you can strap even more stuff to, rigid sides that protect delicate cargo (like plants) while asserting your space on the road, and an audible warning system when they’re empty and it’s just the pump & tire levers rattling around in there.

I would love to see a second generation Bike Bin with more durable components. If I could count on them to last for, say, twice as long, I wouldn’t bat an eyelash at paying full price and wholeheartedly recommending them.

This post is an entry in the Let’s Go Ride A Bike Summer Games, in the carry a load on your bike event.





Saturday Night on Swift Wheels

6 06 2010

Saturday night + no cash + a motley crew of old and new friends + bikes = crazy night ride!

It started with a rendezvous in one of those rare spots, off the map and out of sight, but still comfortable with benches and flowers where friends can laugh and plot away from judging eyes, perched upon the grand refuse of an historic construction project. There were 6 of us, exploring a part of the city most people never see, and waiting for the last of our group to converge for a night time ride. There was no one else around, so when another cyclist approached, we thought he was somebody we’d invited but in fact we’d never met him before, (though he and one of our posse were wearing identical shirts). It turned out that his Saturday plans had been suddenly derailed and his new plan was to “find somewhere to go and chain smoke,” and he was on a bike for the first time in years. Did he want to join us for a ride? “Sure! Why not?”

Shortly after, the last of our party arrived and we set off to cycle into the rooftops.

A quiet perch above the city for those who cycle up off the beaten path.

Of course it did mean riding uphill.

Spectacular views above the street were one reward.

Being on the roof of an unused parkade is strangely tranquil and relaxing, at least after getting over the dizziness of cycling up and around and up and around… but nothing compared to the way down.

So, how're your brakes?

I was pretty dizzy when I hit the bottom.

“Wanna do it again?”

“Sure, but let’s use the elevator this time.”

Anti-gravity machine.

I think our new friend was a bit surprised at the bravado of such an unassuming looking group who dare to play where cars roam, but he did say that it was “way better than chain smoking.” No one in this crew disagreed. Welcome to the wonderful world of bicycles, Mike. I hope we helped you take the suck out of your night.

This post is also an entry for the Let’s Go Ride a Bike Summer Games in the social cycling category for going an a group ride and saying hi to (then riding with) another cyclist.  Fun contest on one of my favorite blogs! Check it out if you haven’t already.