The City Limits: Northeast Rural Edmonton

Last weekend I continued my  exploration of the countryside North of Edmonton. Again I headed up 82 st in the early hours to avoid automotive traffic and on reaching the the army base at 195th ave I turned East. The plan was to follow 195th until it ended. Google maps seemed to show it ending at the river, which would give me a new stretch of shoreline to explore. This area is within city limits but is definitely rural in nature with nice country roads and farmland. I moved pretty briskly along, especially when a strong tailwind propelled me effortlessly down 195th ave. Of course I would pay for that on the return trip. The quick progress was brought to a disappointing halt by the change of 195th from paved to gravel at 25th St.

The gravel road begins here. I decided to time my approach to avoid the dust clouds thrown up from the occasional car.

The tracks also cross through this intersection. The freshly plowed field to the East provides a nice prairie scene. It’s hard to resist the temptation to include lots of sky in a photo like this.

I couldn’t resist a little walk on the rails. The rural house I grew up in was so close to the tracks that a derailment would have been a Very Bad Thing. Trains only came by twice a day and we spent a lot of time goofing around on the tracks. Rail walking was a big past time and until now I hadn’t done it in decades. Like riding a bike, it’s a skill that stays with you.

I had company on my rail walk.

Flattening coins was another big youthful pastime. There were stories about this causing train derailments but I’ll bet that those were started by parents to discourage their kids from playing around the tracks. I waited for a short time but no obliging train came along.

An electrical line runs past the tracks here. My Dad worked for Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro so the synapses in the nostalgia center of my brain continued busily firing away. Aside from that, I like the big towers for their looming geometric splendor.

Inside the tower.

While I was snapping photos of the tower I heard a train horn blowing. Unfortunately I was to far away to scurry back to place a coin on the track for flattening. That was one nostalgic indulgence denied me.

I did get some good pictures of the train thundering past as I stood a couple of feet to the side. The shaking ground, the heavy rhythmic  sound of the wheels and even the smells were richly evocative of my childhood. It’s strange, but I’ve seen innumerable trains in the city without experiencing such nostalgic overload. The rural setting must make all the difference.

When the train passed ( and I was finished wallowing in childhood memories ) I continued cycling down the gravel portion of 195th Ave until it ended.

The road ended on a high bluff overlooking the river. There was a steep path down that I could have explored but the morning was wearing on and I decided to save it for another trip.

I was interested to see that this road also ended at Riverbend Gardens. This is a farm that sells produce at the Farmer’s market I shop at.

This is Aaron, one of the farmers at Riverbend Gardens, who stopped to chat while I was loitering around snapping photos. He was pleasantly welcoming and invited me to cycle down through the farm, an offer that I accepted. He  told me that the farmland in Northeast rural Edmonton is at risk due to proposed developments. This is prime farmland with a micro-climate that allows a longer growing season. In the short time I have lived in Edmonton I have already seen urban sprawl gobble up farmland so I can well imagine the economic pressures at work. I wish them well in their efforts to protect the farmland. I would much rather see their riverside farm and others like it prosper than roads running through or it being parceled out for affluent urbanites to build monster homes on. There is more information at Friends of Farmers.

I like the juxtaposition of the picturesque wagon and the solar panels.

At this point my camera battery ran down so no more pictures but I will definitely be back out this way as the summer goes on. The ride home was good although the headwind was a killer and the increased traffic made picking my return route a little trickier.

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The Long Weekend Report

I’m running behind on blog posts…

On the last Monday before May 25th we non-francophone Canadians celebrate Victoria Day. This is  in recognition of Queen Victoria’s birthday and also is the day that we recognize the current  sovereign’s birthday.   Officially, that is.  In actual practice, everybody that I know refers to it as “The May Long Weekend” and gives no real thought to distant monarchs, either current or long deceased. Those who care for gardening mark it as the point at which one can feel fairly safe that frost is not going to strike overnight. For many it is the first camping weekend of the year, often plagued by swarms of drunken idiots. For myself, it was a pleasantly bikey weekend.

Over the course of the weekend I made some real progress with my bike maintenance tasks. I finished lacing  the new rims for my Raleigh 20 and trued the rear wheel. The front still has to be trued. I am inching ahead towards being able to ride that bike again. I replaced two broken spokes on the ’65 CCM and trued the wheel, putting the bike back in riding condition. I also replaced the punctured tube on the Apollo and put a new cassette on the Kona Jake. All in all, the little fleet is slowly improving.

On Saturday I woke up early and took Nishiki-san for a spin on some of the roads North of the city. I was out of the house by 6 o’clock and was able to ride up 82 St. without worrying about traffic. This is a great route out of the city early in the morning as it brings you all the way past the Henday to the Forces Base. It was pretty cold ( 3 degrees) and windy but still a great ride. I didn’t take many photos as my fingers were getting numb from the icy breeze. Once back in the city I went to the Downtown Farmer’s market which had set up in its outdoor location for the first time this year. The vendors were looking pretty cold and many were wrapped up in blankets. I bought a pile of food including a basket of excellent mushrooms from Mo-Na Foods. Man, I missed my mushroom connection during the off season.

Although I still haven’t quite mastered the panorama mode on my camera, I think this picture really shows how flat it is around here.

Nishiki-san can handle a little unpaved riding.

Last years cat tails alongside a weirdly deserted 141st.

On Sunday I had a few errands to run so I took the opportunity to take the newly recommissioned CCM for a leisurely spin.  Cruising along the streets on the old 3-speed was very relaxing and I spent the first bit of the ride with a big goofy smile on my face. I’ve missed this bike. I went to MEC to pick up a cassette for the Kona Jake and then down to Earth’s General Store for some sundries. The weather was excellent and the river valley trails were well populated with holiday cyclists. It was a great day of city cycling.

The obligatory photo at the High Level Bridge

POV shots are also required when crossing the High Level.

The bridge for the Edmonton Transit LRT runs next to the High Level. The pedestrian walkway underneath the railway connects to the river valley trails and was quite busy.

There were lots of cyclists.

This ramp off the bridge is fun to coast down.

Crossing the High Level

Quadragenarian

My 40th birthday arrived near the end of October. I had  been regarding its approach  in a thoughtful mood. My 30th birthday had been at the point of major life changes, with marriage and fatherhood each arriving within a month of my birthday. Since my crystal ball tells me that this decade will  also bring  major changes, I felt the need to mark the day with a personal challenge to set the correct tone for the coming years.With cycling occupying my mind more and more over recent years I decided that it was appropriate to attempt my first long bike ride.
 
I set a goal of 100km. This is no big deal to many, many riders but it is twice my previous longest ride. Although I ride a bike almost every day of the year they are always short trips, averaging about 20 km per day. I felt that I was in good shape, but would it translate into the ability to achieve longer distances? Also, I would now be 40 years old. Surely I would wake up on the morning of my birthday in a suddenly decrepit state.
 
My bike choice was obvious : my 1983 Nishiki Continental Touring Bike. It is a really lovely ride, smooth, light and reliable. For the trip I picked up some skookum new Schwalbe Marathon tires and a bike computer so I could know how far I had cycled. I had recently bought a used Arkel handlebar bag just because it was cheap and I now had  reason to use it. I had hoped to finish setting this bike up for touring this summer but it never happened. This trip would hopefully make up for that a little.

On the morning of my birthday the temperature was near the freezing mark. I dressed accordingly and brought a small pannier to shed layers into. As I don’t actually own a water bottle I had to borrow one from my unsuspecting, sleeping  wife. I supplemented my lunch materials with a few items from the local bakery . I probably have the wrong attitude to ever be any sort of sporting cyclist: I didn’t pack anything for hydration or nutrition but instead brought food and drink. The Environment Canada weather report informed me of steady winds from the Northwest. I accordingly decided that the first part of my trip would be to the North and West so as to tackle the winds when I was at my freshest. I planned to cycle just North of the city and explore the surrounding countryside.The first part of the trip was easy. I sped through familiar neighbourhoods and enjoyed the sights. I dipped into the river valley and headed North past Hermitage Park.

Ready to depart.

This was the first real test of the vintage Ideale saddle I had recently put on the bike. It made for a very comfortable ride.

Picking up food at the Portuguese bakery.

Heading North through the river valley.

I was soon on the outskirts of the city. This was the best part of my ride. It was very peaceful moving briskly along the empty road. It was strange knowing that there were no vehicles approaching from behind and I wondered why it had taken me so long to get around to riding outside the city. These quiet roads were  such a short distance from my house. Nishiki-san was running smooth and silent. I varied my route at my whim, sometimes North, sometimes West. I headed an extra 5 km along one road to check out the Railway Museum although I assumed it would be closed. I was correct.

I pedaled past farmer’s fields and small groups of houses.  I discovered an abandoned mountain bike ( a nothing special Supercycle). There was a field of at least 100 geese lounging about before continuing their flight South. Smart geese.  Fleeing the Alberta winter sounds like a good idea.  I stopped a one point to cut a cat-tail that I stuck in my pannier as a standard.  Considering the length of time I’ve lived in Edmonton I have escaped the city very few times. Mostly I just enjoyed the feeling of riding in a rural setting.  Though the details of the prairie rural landscape are different from the East Coast were I grew up there is a similar overall spirit.

Country roads!

This Hay Bale Jack-o-Lantern alone was worth getting out of the city to see.

Prairie Nishiki

Cat-Tail Rider

Oh boy, I do so love this bike.

It's just as well the Railway Museum was closed as I likely would have lost a lot riding time here.

The big Sikh temple North of Edmonton.

I never did use the map.

Once you get out of the city there is very little to block the wind. The weather report from the city center airport tells me that the wind was still from the Northwest at about 25 km/hour. I can tell you that it definitely felt to be more from the West than the North. As I struggled West on highway 37 my speed rapidly dropped. At one point, as I toiled up a very slight hill into the wind my speed was an unimpressive 16km/hour. By this time I had started to get a feel for how long my trip was going to take. I knew that I couldn’t continue Westward and hope to get home in any reasonable amount of time and I was even tempted to give up. Instead, I decided to put my tail between my legs and flee back South into the city to continue my ride. It turned out that this was easier decided than done and it took some time until I reached the next good road South. This was Range Road 244 at Namao.

Idyllic postcard scenes like this made the ride into the headwind worth it.

This helpful sign amused me

I like this tiny but well maintained church.

Across from the church was this very typical little prairie store.

This is the point at which I fled back to the city.

I rode briskly back towards the city, not entirely sure what my chosen route would be like.  It started with more pleasant country scenery and light traffic until I neared CFB Edmonton. At this point I encountered another cyclist headed in the opposite direction! This would be the only other cyclist I encountered. As I passed by the Edmonton Garrison I learned that it is important to remember to zip one’s handle bar bag closed after use. Otherwise, when you hit a bump your lunch and camera may be violently ejected onto the asphalt . It turns out that my camera is more shockproof than I thought, thank goodness!
 
 As I drew closer to the city I had to alter my route to avoid busy thoroughfares and dense traffic.After the idyllic country riding it was somewhat deflating to return to the urban blight of the far North end of Edmonton. Tightly packed, grandiosely named developments of bland monster homes clustered around stagnant looking ponds. I stopped for a brief rest in the pleasantly landscaped park surrounding Lake Beaumaris, a human-made lake that I used to visit when I first arrived in Edmonton and was living at my brother’s. I rode two quick laps around the lake and headed back up onto the city streets. Castle Downs is a good example of the sort of city planning that I dislike. Unless you want to ride on the few main streets you get trapped in confusing, intestinal, looping  roads and cul-de-sacs. I rode in circles for some time and was absolutely denied the chance to make any real progress West or South. I returned to the main roads.
 
When I eventually worked my way back into the core of Edmonton my spirits started to lift. I rode the grid down the tree-lined avenues of the older neighbourhoods. This is the Edmonton that I love and have roamed for the past decade. Although I was starting to feel a little tired, the ride started to be fun again. I dipped down onto the familiar river valley trails looking for the perfect spot to finally eat my lunch. The perfect spot eluded me and I eventually stopped on the grounds of the Muttart’s to rest beneath a tree. Lunch was leisurely and pleasant. I discovered that the lady at the bakery had completely misrepresented the flavour of the cheese I had purchased. Instead of mild and creamy it was crumbly, pungent and incredibly salty. It was good, but a little odd. I ended the meal with few celebratory sips of scotch from my flask.
 
After resting under the tree for a spell I climbed back on the bike and pushed on through the river valley, wanting to reach my goal quickly. As I toiled up the steep hill to Forest Heights I reflected that at this late part of the ride I should probably have remained up at the much flatter street level instead of descending into the valley. On the other hand,when  I paced behind a slower cyclist near the top of the hill I could easily have overtaken him. That made me feel better. I gradually headed homeward watching the odometer for the big moment. As it turned out, I misjudged the distance home and I had to ride a few laps around my neighbourhood to reach the 100km mark. When the moment arrived I rang my little brass bell several times in self-congratulation. Minutes later I was resting comfortably in my kitchen rocking chair sipping a home-brewed apple cider. Ah, the cycling life is good.
 

Another prairie postcard-like scene.

This path got me through some of the North Edmonton quagmire.

Down near the river.

80 km into the ride.

Tea, Scotch, Bread, Cheese, Apple, Brownie

This is the view from flat on my back after lunch.

My home for the past decade.

 Although I was somewhat fatigued I felt that I could have ridden farther still. With a little preparation I feel sure that I could complete a century ride.  It was a bit late in the season to contemplate it, but it will definitely be a goal of mine for the summer of 2012. It is heartening for me to note that despite the headwinds, my numerous stops to take photos, and an extremely un-hurried lunch that I still completed the 100km in under the allowable time for a randonneuring populaire. I am quite happy with this result.Furthermore, on the following day I experienced no real soreness or other after effects. Not bad for a quadragenarian after his first long bike ride.
 

1983 Nishiki Continental Photoshoot.

I needed a new header image for my blog as the winter picture was feeling unseasonal. Since I hadn’t yet taken any pictures of my favourite bicycle Nishiki-san I took a quick spin (the first of the year on this bike!) over to the top of the river valley and accomplished both tasks at once. I finished just as the sun was setting.  Here are a few shots of a pretty river valley and a pretty bike.