The First Mountain Bike Commute of 2014

Finally, finally, FINALLY!

The Iron Horse is back in working order and ready to dive into the mighty fine Edmonton river valley trails. I had wanted to do a ride on Victoria day morning, but was forced to spend my few free hours at the Bikeworks North tuning the bike up. All is well now, and on the very next day I rode the Iron Horse on my daily commute.

I love that my city has such a great network of singletrack, so easily accessible. I’m particularly lucky that I can plot a route more or less directly to work on these trails. My trip in the morning was more on pavement than I planned because I was running late, but I took my time on the way home and spent as much time as possible rolling the big tires through the dirt. I hope to do this sort of commute at least once a week this summer, weather permitting.

I was mostly having too much fun to stop and take photos, but I did manage a token few.

Commuting at its best.

Commuting at its best.

Take your choice: abandoned stairs or tree roots.

Take your choice: abandoned stairs or tree roots.

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I never tire of the prairie cloudscapes.

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Changing Seasons

Back when I used to put the bike away for winter, I would always look forward to that first exciting ride of the spring. Now that I’m cycling year round I miss that feeling. However, there is a compensation in watching the slow turn of the seasons from the seat of my bicycle.

We’re currently passing through one of my favourite periods.  At this time of year the sun is just clearing the top of Mill Creek ravine as I pedal to work in the morning. This is quite nice, but even better is the fact the the trees are just starting to bud at the same time. The poplar trees are laden with downy, white, young seed pods that catch the the low morning sunlight and and shine with a pearly glow. The elm trees are still heavy with last years seeds that shine with warm amber light.

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In little more than a week the poplar pods will slowly change from white to a vibrant green, and together with the budding leaves will make the morning woods seem to be suffused with a jade mist. Get out there and enjoy it Edmontonians.

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This picture does not do it justice.

A Trip to Jasper

All-Absorbing-Real-Life-Concerns have kept me mostly away from the computer for the past few weeks, but never fear, the cycling kilometers have continued to slowly accumulate. Spring has more or less installed itself here in Edmonton. I’ve put the winter bike away, and I’ve been doing my best to start giving each of the bikes a bit of time on the road. The R20, the Kona Jake, the Moulden, the Norco fixie and Nishiki-san have all had their day in the sun.

My biggest cycling accomplishment so far this season was making it out to the mountains almost a month ago. My wife’s mother and her husband were taking our kids out for a bit of spring skiing in Jasper, and I tagged along with my bike. This turned out to be a pretty good way to start the non-winter riding season. Considering that it’s early in the season and the bike trails would probably still be snow covered, I chose the Jake to take with me as it’s my best all around bike – at home on pavement and gravel.

2008 Kona Jake

2008 Kona Jake

The trails were indeed mostly snow covered.

The trails were indeed mostly snow covered.

On the first day, I started off with a lazy spin around the town and then headed up towards Pyramid lake. The air was crisp but not cold and the sun was shining down from a ridiculously blue sky – a perfect spring cycling day. My immediate thought was that living in flat, flat Edmonton does not prepare a person for cycling uphill for 6km. Still, I managed to mostly avoid resorting to the granny gears and with only a moderate amount of wheezing I made it first up to Patricia lake and then Pyramid lake. The quiet, wooded mountain roads were a real treat, and the view was fantastic.

Patricia Lake - Pyramid Mountain

Patricia Lake – Pyramid Mountain: Patricia lake was the site of a WWII experiment to determine the feasibility of building giant island-like ice ships for use against U-Boats in the Atlantic. Unsurprisingly, it was found to be impractical, but the history of Project Habakkuk is an interesting one.

While stopping to take a picture I found a Toonie, freshly melted out of the snow.

While stopping to take a picture I found a Toonie, freshly melted out of the snow.

During the trip there was no shortage of beautiful, quiet mountain roads. Automotive traffic was light and considerate towards cyclists, of which I was one of only a handful.

Jasper Trip

Jasper Trip

Jasper Trip

A shoulder almost as wide as a full lane.

I also headed down to the banks of the Athabasca river, to dip my hands in the bone-numbing glacial run-off.

Jasper Trip

Mandatory bridge photo.

Jasper Trip

The distinctive colour of the river, caused by glacial till, was particularly apparent from under the bridge.

The distinctive colour of the river, caused by glacial till, was particularly apparent from under the bridge.

Clear, cold and fast running river.

Clear, cold and fast running river.

There were a lot of Elk loitering about just outside of town. In fact, the amount of droppings littering the grass beside the sidewalks showed that the Elk were comfortable with wandering around the town at night. My 5 year old son was impressed with all the poop.

Jasper Trip

Jasper Trip

There were several reassuring signs to be seen as I cycled around the mountain roads.

Jasper Trip

Staying with my vehicle, the Kona Jake, would likely not have helped protect me from a bear.

Jasper Trip

On the chance that anyone reading this blog has an interest in lichens (and there were a lot of them), I offer the following photos:

Jasper Trip

Jasper Trip

Jasper Trip

Without doubt, the highlight of the trip was my ride up to Maligne Canyon, a beautiful testament to the erosive power of even a small stream. I could have spent an entire day gazing at the smooth-flowing whorls of rock, and exposed slabs of strata but was under a time constraint to get back to the town for the drive back to Edmonton. If I’m back to Jasper again I will budget my time differently.

Jasper Trip

At this point, Maligne canyon is not particularly wide. . .

. . . but it's an impressive fifty-one meters deep.

. . . but it’s an impressive fifty-one meters deep – a narrow slot cut in the rock.

A view of the same bridge from farther down the trail.

A view of the same bridge from farther down the trail.

A different bridge. Here thew canyon is narrower but a mere 10 meters deep.

A different bridge. Here the canyon is narrower but a mere 10 meters deep.

For a sense of scale, please notice the walkers on the trail along the edge of the canyon.

Some walkers on the trail along the edge of the canyon giving a sense of scale.

I found this obviously well traveled route down to the floor of the canyon. If there were less people about I might have skulked down there, myself.

I found this obviously well traveled route down to the floor of the canyon. If there were less people about I might have skulked down there, myself.

After reluctantly leaving the canyon, I hopped back on the bike and raced down the long descent back towards town, an  exhilarating  plummet down a winding, wooded mountain road. The effort of travelling up was well repaid here. Once back in town, I met up with the others, loaded the bike on the vehicle and settled in for the drive home.

Getting into the mountains was a fantastic way to inaugurate my recreational riding season I’ll have to try to do this again but next time on the trails and with a mountain bike.

Jasper Trip