Country Roads

14 07 2010

On a hot summer weekend, what options do city weary, vacation deprived, car free folk have, except to load down the bikes and head for the hills?

Alex can see for miles. Miles & miles of canola and hay.

The biggest problem is where to go. What’s the point of going on a car free camping trip just to end up in a campground full of all-night-drinking-car-campers, RVs with massive noisy generators and ATVs ripping up the back-roads? Camping in a “non-sanctioned” area is a possibility because the bikes can access places cars can’t and a bike campsite can be easily concealed and leave no trace. However, there is almost no crown land within a day’s ride of the city, which leaves the option of finding a place to stay where you won’t be noticed or bother anyone. When we left the city, we had such a place in mind: an abandoned ski resort with a sketchy absentee landlord.

The snags started before we even left home. My companion’s derailleur imploded after a late end to the night before we departed, leaving him unable to get home and pack until right before we were supposed to leave. We ended up leaving several hours late and did at least 20km in wrong turn extra riding, mostly on roads with no shoulders and cars going uncomfortably fast. The previously mentioned vegan restaurant was closed by the time we got there (small town hours), but I was happy just to verify with my own eyes that it was actually there. The sun had already set when we turned off the highway towards our intended campsite, and we were both grumpy & tired from the long ride (75km – personal record!)  but we were still facing the stress, uncertainty and growing desperation of finding a place to sleep.

The old resort turned out to be not as abandoned as we thought it would be, and we anxiously rolled our bikes through the mud in stealth mode before being swallowed by the evening mist.  On arriving at the former chalet, we hurriedly pulled our bikes inside and hunkered down for fear of being followed. All the windows had been smashed, and every surface inside was covered in broken glass, ceramic, fluorescent tubes, really anything that was smashable had been smashed. And we weren’t alone – the place was full of bats (and bat guano). It was about the same time I realized that I didn’t want to camp anywhere near this building that I realized that the layer of mud on my bike tires was now completely coated in broken glass like sprinkles on ice cream.

My companion calmed me down and cleaned my tires, and we set off to find a better campsite nearby, setting up in the dark, and hoping to at least get a full nights sleep before any possible rude awakenings. Then the loons started to call, and when I heard their manic, bone chilling cries, I knew that this trip was worth the trouble. They called through the night and into the morning.

Waking up to a place being reclaimed by nature was both disorienting and glorious after the previous night’s misadventure.

Campsite by daylight.

With daylight, tracks revealed that we did have a night time visitor – a deer had wandered through camp, and I also found I had hung my hammock over a large pile of moose turds (which were everywhere). Daylight also afforded an opportunity to check out what was left of the ski resort, so we packed up, stashed the bikes, and set off exploring.

Overgrown T-bar lift.

Poplars have begun to grow into the chair lift seats that have hung in place for the last decade and a half.

The remains of the ski chalet, now home to many, many bats. The place looked like it was once pretty nice. There are even little hearts carved into the shutters.

Down on the lake, the family of loons swam and cooed. It was encouraging to see so much wildlife thriving in this former human playground, and it makes me hope that it doesn’t get redeveloped, just forgotten and reclaimed by nature.

With the temperature rising and our water dwindling we hit the road, on the hunt for water, both the swimmable and the drinkable kind, and coffee for my companion. There are many little private beaches on the lakes in the area, but no public ones, at least not since the last one was bought by a developer intent on building a bunch of condos and turning it into a beachside privatopia. Some pre-trip research revealed that said developer’s plan was denied permission by the county, and that the beach was still in good shape for swimming, so we figured it was worth checking out.

Research, curiosity and audacity is rewarded with a swim at a nearly perfect beach, all to ourselves. Also, check out the front lowrider rack, FTW!

Refreshed from our swim, we headed back towards town. We decided to take the major highway back into the city, as even though it had more traffic and a higher speed limit, it had wide, freshly paved shoulders and was more direct than the meandering backroads. I can’t really call all the highway riding pleasant, but it wasn’t really that unpleasant either, with drivers giving us lots of space and not being assholes like they are in the city. I preferred the main highway to the shoulderless secondary highways of the previous day by far (though the empty country roads were the best).

As we were riding through the inner suburbs of Edmonton, almost home, a woman in an SUV stopped and yelled at us, “I saw you guys riding way out there! Wow you’re fast!” Wow indeed.





When Shit Happens

4 07 2010

Some days you’re the bird. Some days, you’re the statue.

So, what do you do when you’re on your way to work, and suddenly find yourself covered in more shit than you could picture coming out of an ostrich?

Regular readers of this blog may be interested to know that the avain offender was a common seagull, not a woodpecker. He got my skirt & head too.

Step one: scour E-ville’s unusually clean streets for something to wipe off the chunkage. I found a single piece of newspaper about a block away from the initial incident.

Step two: ride to city hall, pushing bike through the throngs of children (it was Canada Day, so there were literally thousands of families crowding the square), trying not to rub shoulders with anyone.

Step three: immerse entire left side of body in the cold fountain, regardless of the 15C air temperature, to remove any remaining gull residue. Splash around and rub hair & face manically, emerge half dripping, half dry, and shake hair to scare off any gawking tourists.

Step four: ride away triumphantly with the knowledge that having just been shit upon, the rest of your day will be better in comparison. I was smiling within 5 blocks, and dry by the time I got to work, 20 minutes later.

Living without a steel cage forces us to engage with public space in case we need a contingency plan if shit happens. On & near my regular commuter route, I’ve explored dozens of places to take shelter in case of a severe storm (ever been caught in hail?), escape routes if I encounter a bad scene, and public restrooms for obvious and not so obvious reasons. Life can be messy, and it’s nice to have places to clean up.

Last week, I had stopped to take some pictures when I heard my bike fall over. To my disgust, I found that one of my grips & brake levers were embedded in rotten apples.

Nope, don't like them apples. Notice the brake lever imprint in the top one.

Step one: don’t panic. Use leaves to wipe off as much apple chunkage as possible.

Step two: ride to a little used, bicycle accessible bathroom. A security guard actually directed me (bike in hand) to the brand new washrooms in Louise McKinney Park.

Cleaning up the bike in a lovely, though underused modern facility.

Step three: using water and TP, clean everything. Don’t forget to air dry to prevent corrosion!

Dry thoroughly.

Step four: ride to EBC to disassemble levers and clean out remaining apple bits. Swear off applesauce for the foreseeable future.

Step five: ride to 99th street to pick a rose and rub petals on hands, grips & gloves to cover any remaining odors. Ride away triumphantly, smelling of roses.

The moral of the story: there's no security like a bicycle accessible bathroom.