Semi-Unemployed Friday Mornings Just Don’t Get Any Better Than This

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Every Autumn, there is always one perfect trail ride. This was it. The river valley was in full seasonal splendor, the weather was perfect and the paths were gloriously illuminated by the morning sun through the golden leaves. As an added bonus I even rode the trails far better than I usually do, managing ride the Cambodia / Pipedream route eastbound mostly without having to walk the bike. On days like this, I almost think that if I’d started seriously mountain biking a couple of decades earlier I might be skilled by now.

climb

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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.

Coyotes & Songbirds

Winter Morning Ride

Winter bike commuting can be a very fine thing. If you were to head down to Mill Creek and conceal yourself in a snowdrift, and patiently wait, peaking out with a periscope, you just might spot me happily cycling past while whistling a jaunty tune or singing a song. On the other hand, you might not want to do that as the warble of this winter cyclist is often off-key. Despite the pleasures of commuting, it’s nice to actually get out for a purely recreational ride sometimes. On Saturday morning I finally managed to do this for this for the first time in a month.

The weather forecast had showed that Saturday was likely going to be the last of day of our two week long unseasonable thaw. We’ve had temperatures as high as +8°C when the normal temperature range for this time of year is between -18°C and -8°C. Knowing this gave me the necessary motivation to set my alarm for early Saturday morning. More importantly, it gave me the motivation to not press the snooze button a dozen times, ultimately ignoring the alarm, sleeping in and then annoying everyone around me by bemoaning the missed cycling opportunity. Shortly before dawn, I was out on the ravine bike and happily zooming down Kinnaird Ravine.

The thaw-freeze cycle has added a slick, icy crust to the boot-tromped, hard-packed snow on the trail. It’s probably treacherous to walk on, but it didn’t bother me much as I did my very best to let the studded tires do all the work. I did travel a bit slower than I normally would. I headed along the north side of the river towards the Capilano pedestrian bridge.

Winter Morning Ride

As I approached the bridge, I could hear some coyotes yipping somewhere ahead. Peering down the river, I thought I could see some shapes moving about on the ice. I rushed onward to get a better view. From the bridge I could see two coyotes scampering around on the river, chasing each other playfully. This was the high point of the ride, and I stopped to watch for a good 15 minutes, breaking out the thermos of tea as well. I tried to take a picture of the animals, but they were a fair distance away, and my rugged little point-and-shoot camera has wretched zoom ability.

Yes, those little black dots on the ice are coyotes. With effort, you can almost make out that they have legs.  National geographic photography awards, here I come!

Yes, those little black dots on the ice are coyotes. With effort, you can almost make out that they have legs. National geographic photography awards, here I come!

Also visible from the bridge, and equally majestic, was the Goldbar wastewater treatment facility that looked to be flaring off an excess of methane. Ah, the poetry of urban life!

Also visible from the bridge, and equally majestic, was the Goldbar wastewater treatment facility that looked to be flaring off an excess of methane. Ah, the poetry of urban life!

On the South side of the bridge, I headed back upstream and into some trails with a bit more climbing. There were a few comic moments along this segment. At a couple of spots I spun out and stalled out on a steep, icy climb and had to put my feet down…but it was too icy to walk or even stand easily. In the past I have been reduced to crawling to the side of the trail dragging my bike along. Today I was close enough to the crests to stand and lock the breaks, then use the bike as an anchor, shuffle ahead a few inches, then gingerly slide the bike ahead and repeat the process. Sheer cycling elegance, that’s my style.

Winter Morning Ride

Morning Winter Ride

Down in the riverside trails there was plenty of evidence of our recent unusually windy day. I will forgo my usual sneering at what Edmontonians think qualifies as a windstorm, and admit that it actually was pretty gusty that day.

Winter Morning Ride

Hmmm...should I bunny hop this obsatcle, shoulder my bike cyclocross style and hurdle it, or just heroically slink around it.

Hmmm…should I bunny hop this obstacle, shoulder my bike cyclocross-style and hurdle it, or just heroically slink around it.

As I was rolling along the path below the golf course, I startled a flock of little songbirds that flew up into the branches of a decrepit old tree and then started crying out a storm of protest at my intrusion. Suddenly suffering from an attack of a sort of digitally induced neo-pavlovian conditioning, I emulated a certain Langholm blogger and got out my camera and attempted to take a photo of the little birds. It turns out that this was actually really difficult to accomplish; the little creatures were in constant motion and my camera is at its worst in low light conditions. Once they decided I wasn’t some sort of bird-eating Sasquatch, they returned to feasting on the frost-wizened berries on the little stand of rowan trees. I found their choice of food to be a dubious one. The local rowan, or American mountain ash is, I think, the same species of tree that we call dogberry back on the east coast. Folks back there make a country wine using these berries. I’ve never yet had a drink of the stuff that I would describe as pleasant, though it certainly “does the job”.

Winter Morning RideAfter this, little of note happened during the ride (other than, ya know, exuberant enjoyment of the beautiful river valley trails and warm weather). I eventually headed back up out of the valley to city street level and headed off to Bikeworks to squeeze in some time at the shop before my family was up and about. The streets were a swampy slurry of water and slush covering lunar ridges of ice. Perfect conditions for creating roadway chaos when the temperature drops.

Winter Morning Ride

Twenty-four hours after taking this picture the temperature had plummeted from  +6°C to -16°C.

Twenty-four hours after taking this picture the temperature had plummeted from +6°C to -16°C.

Frosty Morning Ride

Frosty Morning Riding

It’s Thanksgiving weekend here in Canada, and with Winter lurking about waiting to drag me into an alley to rough me up, I plan on getting a lot of riding done in the next few days. This morning I managed to get myself up in the wee hours of the morning, before sunrise, and headed out on the road for my first purely recreational bike ride of autumn. The temperature outside was -2 °C, the coldest morning of riding for me so far this season. Still, there was a beautiful, heavy frost on the ground and early morning tranquility was a balm to my cycling soul.

I headed up a 82nd street, over the Yellowhead, and then Eastward to Kennedale Ravine. I haven’t been down this ravine since last year, so this was an overdue visit.

The sun was just about to rise as I reached the entrance to the ravine,

The sun was just about to rise as I reached the entrance to the ravine.

Thanksgiving

I found a bit of singletrack to ride, which was fun while it lasted. It was only a short section, though, and it quickly lead me back to the gravel trail. I spent the next bit of the ride futilely looking for more side trails. I felt like there were paths just out of sight that I was missing, but given the narrowness of the ravine at that point maybe there aren’t.

I took a lot of photos of the frosty plants around me. A few actually turned out. Click to enlarge.

I sped down the ravine, until it widened out and I was at one of the ponds in Hermitage park. The wildlife was stirring in the light of the rising sun.

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There were lots of ducks.

I startled a muskrat at the edge of one of the ponds. I’m sure it enjoys swimming in frigid, mist covered water more than I would.

Making tracks.

Making tracks.

Frost angel.

Frost angel.

After Hermitage, I rode toward Rundle and pondered the merits of heading across the river to the Science Park. I was pondering so  hard that I came around a corner a bit too fast and was surprised to find staircase leading down. I started  clutching the levers in a panic stop, but in an uncharacteristic impulse, I let them go and rode down the stairs. Another first for Tuckamoredew, and it actually wasn’t that hard to do as they had a low rise and long tread.

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After this, I was feeling like a some more singletrack, so I did head over to the Science Park. I explored the low trails between the park and the river, following one down to the riverbank. Sorry, no photos; you’ll just have to take my word that these are great paths. I headed up to the Pipedream / Cambodia trails. This time I took the Cambodia trail, which turns out to have a LOT of tree roots. Some of this I traversed OK, some of it…not so much. There was again an unseemly amount of walking my bike.

I will explore you next time Bedbug.

I will explore you next time, Bedbug.

Upon reaching Goldbar, I headed up into the cross country ski trails, a series of paths that I think of as the Clinton Trail for reasons that may be explained in a future post. The sun was warming things up quite nicely at this point, and a gentle shower of leaves were falling. Idyllic autumn riding.

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The final part of my trip was along the North side of the river to Kinnaird Ravine and then upwards toward home. Near the top of the ravine I met one of the Bikeworks North volunteers that I haven’t crossed paths with in a while who was walking her dogs. We chatted a bit about the the plenitude of good trails to ride in the river valley.

After this it was back to street level, and home again.

Dusting off the Mountain Bike

I hope this to be the first of a barrage of posts written over the next few days recapping this summer’s cycling. I have a new computer (with a properly functioning keyboard!) that should make blogging less of a chore.

The first Edmonton reader who can correctly identify the location of this photo will win 1000 TuckamoreDew points that may be redeemed for pathetically small prizes.

The first Edmonton reader who can correctly identify the location of this photo will win 1000 TuckamoreDew points that may be redeemed for pathetically small prizes.

This past spring I was all fired up to ride the river valley trails on the mountain bike I built over the winter. The season started well, with a couple of good rides and the discovery off lots of nifty singletrack hiding off to the side of main trails I’ve been travelling for years. I’m pretty much completely lacking technical skills but I was having lots of fun, just the same. I vowed to ride the mountain bike at least once per week.

Then it all fell apart.

The main problem is that it was a very wet summer by Edmonton standards. For what seemed like months there were few periods where the weather was dry for several days in a row. The trails were mud pits and like a conscientious rider, I avoided riding them under those conditions to avoid chewing the heck out of the paths. The river was running high at one point and flooded some of the lower sections of trail. On the occasions that the trails might have dried out a bit, I was unable to get out for any rides. All in all it was pretty disappointing. ‘Course it could have been worse: I could have been laid up with a broken ankle. At least I got fair amount of road riding in.

Finally, as the summer neared its end, we were treated to an extended stretch of warm, dry weather. I’ve snatched the oppourtunity to get in one good weekend ride and a weekday commute by MTB. Here’s a quick photographic overview.

Pipedream and Cambodia trail (and beyond):

These trails are a blast to ride. The local mountain bike enthusiasts have been hard at work building and maintaining trails, complete with bridges where necessary. Awesome work, folks! Frankly, parts of these trails were beyond my riding ability and there was an amount of cowardly walking my bike down steep sections. Luckily, I encountered no other riders and was spared any embarrassment.

I heartily approve of the sentiments  expressed on the Pipedream sign shown below.

There was a fine example of crumbling infrastructure.

Below you can see a few examples of the excellent features the trail builders have created. Thanks again! The washed out bridge was just fine when I was through there this spring; that little creek must have been running pretty strong during all the rains.

Eventually, I found my way to Forest heights for a view of my beloved river valley, the single best feature of life in Edmonton.

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Click to enlarge. No, I really mean it: it looks much better that way.

I had a quick break for a drink of tea and then rode the trails below the heights, and then on towards home. An excellent morning of autumn trail riding.

Mountain Bike Commute:

Wednesday morning saw the arrival of a cold snap, with a daybreak temperature of only 5°C. Meaning I had to forgo my normal commuting attire of sandals, shorts and t-shirt for warmer clothes. Meaning I was a little grumpy.

However, once I was in the valley, sucking in the cool air and careening down the leaf-strewn single track I was reconciled to the changing of seasons. The just risen sun illuminated the looming mackerel sky. Beatific.

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I was running late for work and had to abandon the single track for paved trails part way through Mill Creek. That’s OK though, because on the way home at the end of the day I took my time and continued my trail explorations, discovering a few new turns that I will be revisiting.

I rode the low trail down by the river that had been flooded earlier in the summer. Signs of the flooding were apparent in the deeply cracked earth.

While I was riding the riverside trail I also saw a lot of signs of beaver activity, and was unsurprised to soon spot a beaver lodge. In my younger days I probably would climbed up on it and tried to rouse the sleeping animals inside. Years older, and now much more appreciative of sleeping myself, I left them in peace.

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From here I made my way home, pleasantly tired but with renewed resolve to squeeze in as much riding as possible before the inexorable arrival of winter. Which is much closer than any of us want to think about.