Bike Commuting At Its Best / Geese In the Mist

I started this morning’s commute in a grumpy mood.  The temperature had dropped overnight to-14C and that thrilled me about as much as bathing in a tub full of garden slugs would.  The snowfall late last week didn’t faze me. I expect a few spring snowfalls. However, I do resent dealing with temperatures that low in April. The average low temperature for this date is-2C.

On the other hand, the roads were free of snow and the rising sun was blazing brightly in the clear blue sky. Once I re-accustomed myself to the effort of moving my heavy, clown-sized cold-weather boots around in circles I started to enjoy the ride a little. The studded winter tires whizzed pleasantly over the asphalt.

When I reached the river valley the commute got very good, indeed.

Geese in the mist

Geese in the mist

Tendrils of fog and small pans of ice race past each other.

Animal tracks stitch the ice like the work of a drunken tailor.

Animal tracks stitch the snow covered ice like the work of a drunken tailor.

Over the warming river a heavy fog was rising in the icy air.  The vapour was moving against the swift river current making it seem to race upstream at improbable speed. Even though I was running late for work I stopped on the pedestrian bridge and peered down at the streaming, roiling vortices  of mist. I watched its mesmerizing progress for several minutes.Two geese were slowly making their way upstream. They didn’t seem perturbed by the unusually cold weather. Why should they be? They’re covered in goose down.

Geese In The Mist

Geese In The Mist

Geese in the mist

At this point I wasn’t much concerned about the temperature, either. It was small price to pay for the spectacle over the river. As I rolled up through Mill Creek ravine I reflected on the benefits of bike commuting. It is certain that without the motivation of getting to work I’d not have been out cycling that early on a frigid spring morning. If I was in a motor vehicle I’d not have been able to impulsively stop in the middle of a bridge and watch the mist. Just as I was about to leave the ravine trail and head back up to street level a woodpecker started tapping away off to one side of the trail. Then another started on the other side, treating me to a percussive duet in real life stereo.

At this point my forward momentum drained away and I stalled in the middle of the trail caught between two conflicting forces. The river valley was urging me skip work and just spend the morning watching the river and riding the trails. I was already late for work because of my stop at the river. On the other hand, my knowledge of the huge backlog of jobs to be done at work and my sense of responsibility were pushing me to continue. I can’t remember the last time I skipped work without a legitimate reason. Legitimate in the view of an employer, that is. I don’t think that being momentarily overwhelmed by the joy of life counts.

Unfortunately, adult responsibility won the day: I left the ravine behind and cruised off to work. Still, it was a danged good commute.

Geese in the mist


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.

River Break-Up

The short stretch of the North Saskatchewan River that I see each day has been ice free for a little while now. However, a few days ago there was a lot of ice moving through from further upstream. This is a spectacle that only lasts for a little while an I’m always glad when I don’t miss it. The implacable force of the river suddenly becomes obvious as it pushes the pans of ice downstream regardless of obstacles. There is constant low rumbling noise accompanied by a crystalline tinkling. When I was standing on the pedestrian bridge watching the large sheets of ice split against the piers it was reminiscent of the ice-breaking ocean ferries that I traveled by back on the East coast. Powerful. I took a short video clip of the river break-up but it doesn’t really capture the experience.

In bike related news, I have been riding the Kona Jake cross bike again for the last couple of weeks. This was my first real bike and I still love it. It’s fast, nimble and rugged: a good compromise between a road bike and a mountain bike. The Jake is Kona’s entry level cross bike and I really think it’s aimed at people like me rather than anyone who might actually race it. This is my favourite bike to ride once the snow is mostly gone. And someday soon it will really be gone. I hope.

2008 Kona Jake

I’ve Missed you Winter…mostly.

Winter has returned to Edmonton.

It’s absence had been much noted as week after week passed with little or no snow and daytime highs above freezing. It had felt like Spring for so long that I had almost deluded myself into thinking that it really was.   During the mild weather I was actually missing winter. As a cyclist, my rational mind knew that this was foolish thinking. Bare pavement and temperatures not prone to causing frostbite are a good thing, aren’t they?

Still, I missed the frosty beauty of deep  Winter:  sparkling fresh snowfalls, the squeaking crunch of packed snow, the unreal clarity of the bone dry air, and the satisfaction of successfully pedaling through the most adverse conditions. Instead, there was an endless dirty Spring.The roads alternated between long, gritty stretches of salty sand and stubborn patches of rutted ice. The long stretches of bare pavement tantalized me with the possibility of riding one of my fast bikes while the lurking ice hazards denied me any real ability to do so. I became accustomed riding my mountain bike to the ticking accompaniment of my studded tires.

Two days of steady powdery snowfall have changed all this.  This prairie city is once again a winter wonderland. I do miss the warmer weather, but  I will enjoy the snow while it lasts.

On Saturday, the first business of the day was shoveling clear the paths and having a bit of family fun in the snow. I efficiently combined the two activities.

A Canadian Stand-off: Snowball wielding photographer versus a loaded Snow Shovel Catapult.

The day? Seized!

Much later in the day, after other duties were attended to I was finally able to get out for a little bike ride. Dusk was fast approaching and the flurries were thickening. As  I headed out on the road I felt like I was piloting a river boat as I churned through the deep snow spinning in true paddle wheel  fashion. The foot deep undisturbed, powdery snow was easier to travel through than the places that were somewhat packed down by cars. The semi-packed snow breaks as one rides over it requiring constant steering corrections to maintain something resembling a straight course. At several points I unabashedly retreated to the sidewalk to avoid traffic. You cannot assume that drivers can control their cars in these conditions. I headed to my favourite local park overlooking the river valley for a little photo session.

No kickstand required today.

By the time I returned home I was becoming overheated and my legs were feeling a bit wobbly. Riding in this sort of snow is quite the workout and I’m glad I wasn’t in a hurry to get anywhere.

I also took along my inexpensive bike-cam on this ride. I don’t do this very often as I find most videos I take are boring to watch even for me.  On this day it seemed worth it. I like the way that the video frame rate syncs with the wheel rpm to create the illusion of an unmoving front wheel. Also,  the constant steering corrections cause the handlebar mounted camera to make it appear that the rear end of the bike is fishtailing wildly.You can see my terrible middle-of-the-foot pedaling technique. I only seem to do this on this bike and only when the riding surface is particularly unstable: I like the way my boot heel rests firmly against the pedal.  Finally, I have included what I hope is a mercifully brief amount of Nostril-Cam.

The public domain music (“Winter”, Billy Murray, 1911) was sourced from the Free Music Archive, uploaded by The Cylinder Archive.

WARNING! Watching this video may cause motion sickness.

High Level Sunrise

On my way across the High Level Bridge to the Farmer’s Market this Saturday morning I stopped to snap a pic of the lovely sunrise. I offer the usual apologies for the quality of my cell-phone camera. I really need a decent camera to carry with me. There was another man on the bridge photographing the sunrise with a tripod  and a real camera. I was envious.

Hello Snow!

Beautiful snowy riding.

It has been unusually late arriving, but the snow has finally started falling. Late Friday night, I was in the garage tuning up my Winter bike when I looked through the open door and saw gently falling snow.  Obviously, I was meant to go for a bike ride. I headed out on empty streets for a quick descent down Kinnaird ravine to the river valley. The snowy night was gorgeous and the bike was handling beautifully. The shifters, brake levers and crankset I had recently put on were a great improvement. The new fenders were doing their job nicely. I had forgotten how smooth a ride the mountain bike has compared to my road bikes. I rode through the valley for a while before heading up to cruise through the downtown core. The normally busy streets were pleasantly vacant at 2AM. After a stopping for a quick bite to eat I headed home. This first snowy ride was just excellent. I should have brought my camera.

Today, I got up a little before dawn and went for another great ride. I plan on enjoying this early winter riding as much as possible as it is a little harder to maintain the positive outlook when the deep freeze arrives. I rode North and went down Kennedale ravine for some more river valley riding. The trails were deserted at the beginning of the ride, but were occupied by plenty of dog walkers toward the end. There were lots of ducks and geese in the river. The ducks seemed to be taking the weather philosophically, but the geese were making an awful racket. I imagine they were arguing about whose fault it was that they weren’t already someplace warmer. I headed back up Kinnard ravine and headed home. It was another excellent ride. This time I had my camera.

Kennedale Ravine

Bike looks at geese. Yes, those tiny dots in the river.

1985 Apollo Super Sport 14-Speed Road Bicycle

1985 Apollo Super Sport 14-Speed

My small bike fleet has a new addition: the eponymous Apollo. I spotted this bike during my routine patrol the Kijiji bike classified ads. The ad had only been up for a few minutes and the owner was only asking $50.00. These Apollos have a local reputation for being a nice and undervalued bikes so I had been keeping an eye out for one. They often sell for about $100 and this one looked to be in better condition than many I have seen come up for sale. Well, not that I really needed another bike….but I called immediately and arranged to go take a look at it.

The bike turned out to be in fine condition. The paint was excellent except for a few rusty spots, the decals were intact and as I soon found out it was in fine riding condition. The seller was the original owner and turned out to be  fellow commuting, all season cyclist. He was pleased that the bike was going to another enthusiast and not somebody who’d ride it into the ground and discard it after a year.

I’ve made a few small change to the bike. I removed the giant ugly water bottle, replaced the seat with a Wright’s W3N leather saddle that I’m breaking in (that may be the subject of  a future blog post) and replaced the clipless pedals with some old platform pedals I had kicking around. The clipless pedals will be use on a future project if they turn out to be in good working order. Since I’ve purchased the Apollo it has been my daily rider. I’ve probably put between about 250 km riding on it in the past couple of weeks and it has proved to be a great bike. It likes to go fast and is a solid, responsive ride. This was undoubtedly the best cycling related $50 I have ever spent. Seriously, what the heck can you buy for $50.00 these days?

I have added a page with a few more details HERE.

I like the head bade.

1985 Apollo Super Sport 14-Speed

1985 Apollo Super Sport 14-Speed

One of the rusty spots.

1985 Apollo Super Sport 14-Speed

1985 Apollo Super Sport 14-Speed

1985 Apollo Super Sport 14-Speed

1985 Apollo Super Sport 14-Speed

Midnight Photoshoot: 1965 CCM Continental

On Thursday night the sky was clear, the moon was full and the mosquitoes were swarming. A perfect night for a midnight bike ride. Well, almost perfect. I took my 46 year old CCM bike, my 20 year old thrift store tripod and my 5 year old 6MP digital camera. Of those three items the camera is the most obsolete. I also brought mosquito  repellant.  Did I mention the mosquitoes?

I struck out along the vacant residential streets towards a local park that is my favourite for taking photos. It sits atop a high bluff overlooking the river valley and the skyline of downtown Edmonton. Riding the CCM at night is a lot of fun, silent and smooth, with the faint ticking of the SA hub when coasting. The bike has a hub generator and lights but as I’ve never taken the time to get them working I was limited to my helmet lights. I played the beam from my headlamp over the rows of quiet upscale houses fronting on the river valley as I glided past.

The street reaches a dead-end at the park entrance. I hoisted my bike over the shin-level rusty chain, catching a pedal as I did so, and cringing a little at the noise it made. There are a couple of orange street lights near the entrance casting  dingy pools of light. I headed past them to the deeper, darker end of the park.

I stopped near a bench alongside the the edge of the bluff. The moonlight shone brightly over the river  casting stark shadows into the field behind me. Looking over the edge I could see the path of moonlight illuminating the flowing river far below and I stood for moment in silent appreciation. Then the mosquitoes engulfed me. Gahhh!

I rapidly applied some mosquito repellant and got to work.  I have no knowledge of photography and my point-and-shoot camera reflects that.  It has a couple of night-time preset modes that I thought might be useful. After a few quick test shots I settled on using the Fireworks mode. It has a longish exposure but didn’t make the resulting pictures look like daylight. A few other technical problems immediately presented themselves. The screen on my camera didn’t show any detail in the dark and I couldn’t tell if I was framing the shots correctly. Holding my helmet in my hand I used it to illuminate the bike enough that I could see an image on the camera screen. Each time I did this I also illuminated the teeming hordes of mosquitoes around me. That was a little scary. Pressing on with the photoshoot, I took some photos just by moonlight and some by the light of my headlamp. Occasionally I ran about ten feet way from the camera to provide a more diffuse light.

When I was finally done and was  packing away the tripod, two cyclists with their lights ablaze with rolled past on the riverside trail hundreds of feet below me.  Yes, it was a nice night for riding and time to be on my way.

Over the next couple of days I played with my rather limited software (appropriate to my rather limited camera) resulting in a handful of what I think are decent photos. Some of them look more like dusk than midnight but I like them anyway. It almost makes me want to get a decent camera and learn to use it.

It only takes a few days of rain.

It’s been raining here in Edmonton for several consecutive days. This is unusual. More often the rain comes in brief, torrential downpours. These few days of rain have greatly swollen the North Saskatchewan River and the creeks feeding it. To anyone unfamiliar with Edmonton these pictures won’t convey much:  the landmarks and references that indicate how much higher the river is running will not be obvious. Pictures can’t communicate the implacable force of the river or the sinister  eddies.  I cross the river every commuting day and it is  sobering to stand and watch the river, realizing how little it takes to transform it. Here in Edmonton, this is just a novelty, something to ooh and ahh at. Most of the city is safely very high above the river. I like it that way.

Normally Mill Creek just flows though that culvert in the midle.

Mill Creek

I think the river must be running about 10 feet high.

I like the clouds in this picture.