Darkness

21 12 2011

Combine the unseasonably warm weather with one of the longest nights of the year and you have a recipe for a dark ride through the river valley.

The rain made the wooden bridge shine.

It started to rain just as I left (and December rain in E-Ville is always freezing rain), which soon turned to sleet, which greased up any exposed asphalt and made me second guess whether I should be joy riding in the valley (on a single speed foldie no less) on such a night.

Things started getting dicey after this picture was taken.

I’ve said it many times – freezing rain is my least favorite riding condition – specifically, when freezing rain forms a very thin but effective coating on hard surfaces that renders tire studs useless. As I rolled over the black roads and paths, I could feel my back tire slipping back and forth, and hoped I wouldn’t have to try to stop, because I doubted if I could and still remain upright.

Once I got into the shaded ravine where the trees protected the last snow we had from disappearing, the freezing precipitation formed a hard crust that my studded tires easily bit into, creating perfect traction. If I had been walking, it would’ve been a much different story.

The sepia glow of darkness in a city lit with sodium streetlights.

Through the night, the rain turned to  snow, and I awakened on the shortest day to the sun reflecting off a blinding white landscape. And even though the worst of winter still lays ahead, I can at least look forward to every day being a little bit brighter.

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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…





Winter’s Last Gasps?

22 03 2011

Over the past week, the temperature has finally started to warm up and some of the snow has even started to melt. I can’t help but be jealous of many of the other bike bloggers in the northern hemisphere who are already enjoying clear roads and spring weather, as it’s going to take a long time for all this snow to melt here.

Sunset over an eight foot high pile of snow.

At the EBC Bike Art Auction two weeks ago, I took home a door prize (thanks Karly & MEC!), a Portland Design Works cup holder to put on my handlebars. I’m not a coffee drinker, so I wasn’t sure how much I’d use it, but I really appreciated having easy access to a hot drink during a cold ride. It warmed me up better than chemical hand warmers! My cup wasn’t 100% watertight though, and would occasionally send out splashes of liquids that would freeze into little balls of tea-cicle on my bars and coat. Come summer, this could also be a solution for transporting my favorite summer beverage, squishees!

The last week of minus 20 temperatures was mitigated by having hot tea handy. Note the string on the tea bag has frozen in anti-gravity position while I was in motion.

The temperature finally began to rise just in time for the Frozen Weenie Ride, organized by raving bike fiend. We met up in Mill Creek Ravine by bike and by foot, gorged on fruit & sausage (roasted on bicycle spokes, and you better believe there was vegan sausage) & hot chocolate, frolicked in the snow and gathered round fires.

Meagan lounging on one of the lawn chairs that Keith brought in on his long bike.

There's still enough snow around to make kickstands redundant. In the foreground, Keith's long bike.

In a fit of late winter cabin fever and slow-day-at-the-bike-shop-itis, I created a toboggan out of 10 old bicycle inner tubes and a corrugated plastic sign that I had eagerly been waiting to test out. I wove inflated tubes together to create a padded but grippy surface to sit on, then used cut up ones for handles and to secure the inflated tubes to the plastic base. I brought it to the picnic thinking that if I couldn’t find a place to slide, at least I’d have a comfortable place to sit.

Behold the Tube-oggan, strapped to the back of my bike.

There was a couple of chutes near the picnic site that I had a screaming good time riding that puppy down, and even though there were crashes, the 3 feet of soft snow everywhere kept the damage to a minimum. The tube-oggan performed beyond expectations on it maiden voyage, fast, light weight, predictable, well padded, and best of all, none of the tubes leaked or exploded.

In the background, the steep path that became our luge chute, in the foreground, the game is step off the path and sink into snow up to your crotch.

After sliding to the point of near injury, we warmed up around the fire as night fell.

Keith, Tracy & Brett gather round the fire.

Bah, spring! Who needs it when winter is this awesome? The bike paths were packed with clean, white snow that was a breeze to ride through, but as the freeze-thaw cycles of spring progress, that lovely white snow will turn into black ice, and even though it’s almost over, the worst riding conditions of the winter still await.





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.





Return to the Valley

19 02 2010

Hills and ice are a combination I try to avoid at all costs, and as a result, I very rarely ride through the river valley in the winter, even though in the summer I credit my regular river valley detours for maintaining my sanity. This week it was warm enough, light enough and not quite melted-and-refrozen enough to tempt me to head down the hill into the river valley wilds. The bike paths were mostly snow covered, and the only icy patches were in the few places that caught the full day’s sun and the brutally glazed wooden pedestrian bridges.

The snow packed trails that snaked down near the river were a perfect match for my studded tire, and felt more forgiving than their loose gravel covered summer counterparts. There’s a place I often go in the summer after a long day in the sweatshop that I call “Secret Beach.” I decided to check out but found it was fairly nondescript underneath 2 feet of snow.

I left Ol' Nelli up the hill above Secret Beach.

View across the river from Secret Beach. Note the set of tracks that go out onto the river but don't come back. I hope they made it to the other side.

This tree is huge by E-ville standards. And everything does look this blue around dusk in the winter at this latitude.

As the trail follows the river around the bend, it becomes steeper and more exposed (hence, icy). This part of the trail was closed last summer “due to erosion,” and I don’t think it was ever officially reopened (I suspect it was random citizens who removed the signs). I won’t lie here, even on the driest summer days parts of this path genuinely scare me. But the giant trees, lush micro-climate, exciting twists and turns, lack of people and the exhilarating ride along the side of a crumbling cliff are so worth it.  I remember bringing a group of friends riding here a couple of summers ago, and some of them still talk about the time they nearly fell off a cliff into the river…

To the left, a 30 foot drop onto the river bed.

This is where I face my fear. My brain knows that my studded tires have far more traction than my cheap boots, but my body would not budge. It didn’t help that I stopped to take pictures, therefore negating any forward momentum, and allowing more time for fear to build. My brain eventually won this battle, and I cycled up the cliff as I had dozens of times before in fairer weather and on fairer bikes.

I’ve been getting over a cold this week, and am still wheezing and coughing a lot, so I wasn’t really feeling like taking a big hill to get out of the valley. The solution: the Edmonton, Yukon & Pacific Railroad, now known as the trail down Mill Creek Ravine. I could chugga chugga outta the valley on a grade so gentle it doesn’t feel like riding uphill on a shady, and thus snowy not icy, trail, and *only* end up riding an extra 40 blocks out of my way. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

The ravine darkened eerily, and by the time I rode under Whyte Ave, I could feel a fine precipitation in the air but couldn’t tell in the darkness if it was rain, sleet, snow or just fog.

The camera flash illuminates the precipitation but does not help with the liquid/solid question.

The combination of mystery precipitation and the last traces of daylight create a moody air. This photo was taken in the same spot as the photo above.

By the time I got out of the ravine, my bike and I were covered in a layer of fine white ice crystals. The fog was thick and inviting and made everything strangely beautiful, but I felt compelled to deal with more pressing matters, like food and rest for my still recovering body.

Streetlights highlight rare Edmonton fog.