Friday, August 4, 2017

add some beauty to life

“I'd like to add some beauty to life," said Anne dreamily. "I don't exactly want to make people KNOW more... though I know that IS the noblest ambition... but I'd love to make them have a pleasanter time because of me... to have some little joy or happy thought that would never have existed if I hadn't been born.”

I didn't read the Anne of Green Gables series until I was an adult and pregnant with my second child. I loved those books, and as soon as I met Anne I recognized a kindred spirit. 

And when I read the above words, I had that feeling you get when you wish you would have said it first. 

Travelling by bike offers opportunities to stop along the way and add some joy and happiness to people's lives. Of course, this is not one-sided -- those people usually do exactly the same for me.

Because I commute to work, I cover approximately the same route at approximately the same time every day. As a result, I see some people quite regularly, walking, riding a bike, or waiting for a bus. Sometimes these people fail to appear and I experience a fleeting curiosity about what happened -- did they change jobs, move away from the area, start driving to work, take a holiday? The curiosity comes and goes and I quickly forget about them.

One person, however, stands out as a little different. This is an older lady whom I think of as Princess Grace. She reminds me of Grace Kelly. Her hair is in that classic, impeccable 1950s bob; she carries herself regally, and she wears the most beautiful scarves. 

A few years ago I would see her every day after work as she ventured out of her care home (I could see her call button around her neck) for a slow, painstakingly careful stroll to the end of the block and back. We always exchanged smiles and greetings. 

One day when I arrived at my parking spot and began unpacking my bike, she didn't appear. I dawdled a little, but in the end I had to load the bike into the back of the van and drive away. This time I experienced more than fleeting curiosity; I was slightly worried. Where was she? Was she sick? In the hospital? Perhaps even...

I told myself that this was ridiculous. First of all, I didn't even know her, not really. Secondly, she was probably just fine.  I would probably see her the next day -- maybe she just took her walk later than usual this one time. 

But, no, I didn't see her the next day. In fact, I didn't see her again for months, perhaps even a year. I thought of her from time to time. I even told my ESL class about her when we were studying modals of possibility (might, could, may.) The students, practicing these verbs, offered many possible explanations for her sudden disappearance. None was completely satisfactory.

I didn't forget her. I didn't think about her every day, but occasionally when I arrived at my parking spot, I would wonder...

And then one day, I took a slightly different route back to the van. Instead of riding on the main street, I took a side street, and there she was, wearing a lovely scarf (Hermes?) and walking as elegantly as ever. In astonishment, I stopped my bike and said hello. Her face lit up and she explained that she was taking longer walks now and she started a little earlier, so that by the time I arrived at my parking spot, she had already passed. We had a nice little chat and I rode to my van with a cheerful heart.

That was about two years ago.  Since then, I haven't seen her very often, but just this week I met up with her again. I stopped to say hello and she immediately smiled and said, "It's so nice to see you again." Of course, the feeling was mutual and I told her so. And I thought of Anne and her desire to add some beauty to the lives of others.

As we ride our bikes, taking life at a slower pace than so many people around us, we have the chance to do just that. 

Share your stories!

Monday, June 19, 2017

Lilac Lane

One of my favourite spots north of town is what I call Lilac Lane -- farm fields planted with a border of lilacs. Last year I missed seeing the lilacs; you have to get the timing just right. But today I saw them in all their glory. 

It was a gorgeous day for a ride, so I headed up the Campsite Road hills and on over to Lilac Lane. Close to this spot is a semi-hidden range road that is like a little roller coaster. I love to ride up and down the hills until I reach the highest point, and then comes the reward -- I can turn around and ride down (with a few ups along the way) to the bottom. It's a great workout with a beautiful view. One day on this road I spotted a fox. Today a deer ran across the road a few hundred meters in front of me.

Today I also ventured onto an unpaved road. I was on my commuter bike, so the tires are a little fatter than the road bike tires, so I thought I'd give it a try. The road was not exactly gravel, but a sort of hard packed dirt and gravel mix, and the riding was fine. This was another pretty ride with a couple of decent climbs.

Get in the bike lane!

It had to happen sooner or later. When I ride to work on 102 Avenue (07:30ish), rather than crossing the street twice (a potentially dangerous activity for Edmontonians) and bumping along riding on the  shared pathway on the north side of the avenue, I usually take the lane and ride on the road. At this time of the day, as at other times of the day when I have ridden on this road, there is not much traffic. Little enough that one lane for the motor vehicles is sufficient, so why not ride my bike in the other lane? Makes sense to me.

But I felt deep down inside that I was being bad -- I mean, really, the city spent all that money and time to make that cute shared pathway on the north side and I'm not using it? Bad girl!

The person who yelled at me today agreed. He was in the one car that was heading west on 102 Avenue. There were no eastbound cars at that time. In other words, except for a single vehicle and my bike, the 4-lane road was empty. But this helpful fellow thought he should offer me some advice. "Get in the bike lane!" he screamed as he passed.

You know what? I'd be happy to get in the bike lane. Only one problem. There is no bike lane.

When the new bridge was being built, I heard rumours that after construction was finished there would be bike lanes on 102 Avenue. Needless to say, I was looking forward to them. But alas, construction is finished and what cyclists have is not bike lanes, but a shared pathway. On the wrong side of the road for my commute. 

Not only that, but the shared pathway has bumps. At every intersection, where the sidewalk material meets asphalt, there is a big bump. When it rains and during the spring thaw, these same spots boast large puddles. 

And one more thing: every intersection of the shared pathway has little yield signs directed at cyclists. This means that if there should be a collision between a cyclist and a motorist, there's a good chance the cyclist could be found at fault because she didn't yield. 

All these things combined mean that I prefer to ride on the road. No crossing the street unnecessarily, no bumps, no little yield signs. And oh yes, no need to ride around vehicles stopped across the crosswalks.

I will admit that in the winter the shared pathway was not so bad. The city usually kept it clear of snow. (Well, except for when we had big snowfalls.) It felt safer to ride separated from traffic even if it meant waiting to cross the street twice. 

But when there is no snow or ice on the ground? No question in my mind but that riding on the road is the way to go.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Upon a bright and breezy day
When May was young, ah pleasant May! (Christina Rossetti)

This was Tuesday -- a perfect "bright and breezy" May day. The flowers along the shared pathway on 100 Avenue not only look, but smell, heavenly. It was 28 degrees, with not a cloud in the sky.

And then it was Wednesday. Of course the forecast had been posted a couple of days in advance: heavy rain and strong winds. And this time, the forecast was spot-on. The day began with rain and a brisk northerly wind. I drove into the city, to my usual parking spot, and after I'd parked the car, I briefly wondered if I should have driven a bit further in and parked, say, in Crestwood, or even Glenora. But I had already taken the keys out of the ignition and I didn't feel like starting the car again and re-entering the stream of traffic, so I stayed where I was.

My ride downtown actually wasn't too bad until I hit the second shared pathway  -- the new one on 102 Avenue that the city is so proud of. At this point I usually just ride on the road. It is faster and I don't have to worry about those little yield signs and the bumping that occurs at each intersection. But because of the wind and occasional large puddles, I decided to use the pathway. That was a mistake. At each intersection, not only did I have to endure those bumps where the sidewalk meets the pavement, but I also had to ride through big deep puddles. Result: my shoes got wet. Even that might have been okay, however; but when I was crossing the bridge (yes, the one where cyclists are told to dismount) a car passed and splashed me royally. Now my shoes were not wet; they were sodden. I gave up trying to avoid puddles and simply tried to ride as fast as I could the rest of the way. (Fortunately I keep a pair of dry shoes at work.)

After work, I was offered a ride. "No, thanks," I said. "I don't mind riding in the rain."  Ah yes, but what about 100 km/hour winds?

I set off, wearing my still-soaking shoes from the morning. Again, I didn't worry about pointless things like avoiding puddles; I just pedaled like mad, trying to make the best time possible riding into the wind. When I saw the first downed branch, the thought crossed my mind -- I sure hope one of those doesn't come down on me. But by that time I was committed, so I kept going. 

When I reached 102 Avenue, I briefly considered taking a bus. But then I remembered the reaction of Edmonton bus drivers to the sight of a bicycle, and I decided I would rather bear the wrath of the storm than the wrath of a bus driver. I once again opted for the shared pathway and persevered, sparing but quick glances for an uprooted tree or two and multitudinous branches. 

As I approached the point where 102 Avenue meets Stony Plain Road, I saw the most disturbing sight yet -- a felled 4-meter tall evergreen, completely covering the sidewalk and lying on top of a power line. There was even a little box with some wires and stuff hanging out. I steered clear of that and continued on my way, fighting the crosswinds which were threatening to cast me into the traffic lanes. Fortunately, traffic was light, so I was able to make my way unhindered to the bridge that leads to 148 Street. From there, it is about 2.5 km to my parking spot, mostly on the flower-lined shared pathway, so I felt safe enough and finally arrived at my van, drenched but otherwise unharmed. 

A 7.8 km bike ride in a once-every-decade storm!

Incidentally, this time as I rode past the flowering trees, the line of poetry that came to mind was from a Shakespearean sonnet: "Rough winds doth shake the darling buds of May..."  Those buds were shaking big time!

I'm not sure that riding in that type of a storm was the smartest thing to do, but I don't regret it. My only regret is that I didn't have my GoPro operating.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Copenhagen Cyclists in the Spring

How Lorne Gunter gets to be a columnist for a major Edmonton newspaper is beyond me. I can only hope it's because he is willing to work for food. Oh wait, maybe it's his ability to overlook the obvious: He claims that on his recent visit to Copenhagen, he didn't see any cyclists in the bike lanes

To put it quite simply: I don't believe him. But wait, maybe that is a tad uncharitable. Maybe he is telling the truth. It's possible that he didn't go outside, since he thought the weather was so formidable. (We're talking 8 degrees Celsius -- that's PLUS 8, not minus 8.) Or maybe he just didn't look around him as he walked along with his jacket's hood obstructing his vision.  

In stating his claim, he is trying to prove a point, summarized in the last line of his op-ed: Spending millions on bicycle infrastructure cannot create a bike culture where Mother Nature rules against it.

Why do I think I know better than an esteemed columnist? I have visited Copenhagen not once, but twice.

The first time was in early March and the first thing I noticed was all the cyclists. I rented a bike and rode along with them, all over the city. It wasn't exactly warm -- about 3 to 5 degrees Celsius during my 3-day visit -- but the cyclists were definitely out there.

This statue of King Christian X was one of the sights I rode past. I also rode to the harbour to visit the Little Mermaid.

The second time I visited Copenhagen was in late April. Again, Mother Nature was doing her best to discourage outdoor activity. It was about 8 degrees, and it was windy and raining rather enthusiastically, which made it feel even colder. But the local cyclists were undaunted. During the morning and afternoon rush hours, the bike lanes were busy, and even in between they were well used.

Not only were there plenty of cyclists out and about, I was struck by the way they were dressed. Some of the women had bare legs or just thin nylons. Some of the riders had bare hands, although most wore what I would consider thin and inadequate gloves. Many had nothing on their heads. Of course, most of them were probably just riding a short distance to work, not spending the whole day riding around, as I was, but still...

So, a word of warning -- just because you read it in the Sun, you shouldn't necessarily believe it. 

Above photo: My rental bike from the Wakeup Hotel in Copenhagen. At first, I was nervous about parking my bike because I thought I might lose it among all the other bikes (hundreds) that were parked nearby. Fortunately, this bike has some identifying marks -- a bright green "wakeup" stamped on the frame, a green "503" on the back fender, and bright orange front forks.

The photos below were all taken on my trips to Copenhagen.

March 5, 2015 - 5 degrees Celsius. You just can't keep those Copenhagen cyclists off the streets!

Oh yes, one more thing... Gunther also discusses Amsterdam. I've been there, too, three or four times, and yes, the first time I inadvertently stepped into a bike lane and received hard stares from passing cyclists. But guess what? That happened to me in Vancouver's Stanley Park, too. As Dr. Suess might say: In cars or on bikes; in the rain, in the snow; people are people wherever you go. A bike lane is for bikes, after all. 

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Back to work

It was with a sinking heart that I looked at the forecast for Monday, January 9th -- the first day of our winter session. 

Minus 30 windchill. Three to seven centimeters of snow. 

I considered taking the bus instead of my usual park and ride (my bike) commute, but the bus from Spruce Grove to Edmonton isn't exactly a dream come true either, so I chose the bike.

I parked in Crestwood and rode to work without a great deal of difficulty. I must admit, I did use sidewalks in places. If the city ever decides to do proper snow removal, sidewalk riding in winter will not be necessary, but until then I will just have to squash down those feelings of shame and ride with confidence on the sidewalks. I have a speech all ready to go in case I get stopped by a cop with nothing better to do than bother people riding bikes on the sidewalk.

As I said, the morning ride was not bad. I wore gore-tex mitts that I "borrowed" from my third son, along with wool gloves, and I didn't even need hand warmers. 

102 Avenue Multi-use Trail a.k.a. "bike path"

The ride back to the car after work was another story. Normally it takes me less than half an hour, but this time it took almost an hour. I had to walk my bike a good part of the way, through ankle-deep loose snow. (see photo on left)

I was just thankful I had parked in Crestwood and not Glenwood, where I park when the weather is good.

This bridge is troubled waters, so to speak, for cyclists and pedestrians

Tuesday I took the bus, figuring the streets and shared pathways would probably not be cleared yet. 

Wednesday, I rode again. And again, the ride to work was pretty decent. I tried 102 Avenue, and except for the piles of loose snow here and there along the way, that was okay. And a tailwind of 30-50 km/hour is always nice. It was also quite a bit warmer than the previous two days. Ah, but on the way home, that same lovely tailwind was a headwind. And by that time, there was drifted snow in places, making that ride colder and a little less pleasant.

As always, though, I arrived at the car feeling good about the ride.

Thursday, we were back to minus 30 -- or more. Some of the reports said minus 35 to 40. I parked in Glenora, near the ravine this time, feeling uncertain about the cold and the drifted snow. This was a good decision. I used handwarmers inside the mittens, but by the time I got to work, my thumbs were feeling it. I wore my balaclava and my big warm scarf, so my face was OK, but I don't know how it would have been to ride much farther. This time the wind was from the east, so I had the headwind riding to work and a bit of a tailwind most of the way back to the car. And thus ends another week on the bike. 

With warmer days in the forecast and increasing hours of daylight, I'm anticipating some good rides ahead. Now, if only the city would decide to maintain the roads... Maybe someday.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

so far this winter

I haven't been blogging much this year, but now that winter has hit in full force, I have a few photos and thoughts.

This first photo, of Ravine Drive, was taken towards the end of November, the morning after our first real snowfall. It's a bit hard to see, but there were more bike tire tracks than car tire tracks in the fresh snow. 

And on the 100th Avenue shared pathway, the bike tracks mixed with the foot prints show that lots of people were getting to their destination without the aid of cars.

I took these photos when the temperatures were still mild -- in the single digits or low teens. 

Since then, things have changed. Every day last week the temperature was around minus 20 C, with wind chills of -26 to -30 C. 

I continued to ride, although I did park closer in -- in Crestwood instead of Glenwood, which cuts about 2 km off my ride.

With several layers on my body and legs, a balaclava, my lined winter helmet and a warm scarf on top, and two layers of wool socks in my bulky winter boots, I was warm enough, and as always, so happy to be riding instead of driving.  I haven't stopped for photos, but maybe this week I'll try to do that.

We have moved our ESL school to a new location, a little farther away than before, so I've been taking a different route -- along 102 Avenue. Once again I am astonished at the number of stop signs and the long red light on this designated bike route. Is it a deliberate plot to discourage people from cycling? Who knows?

I have noticed that this year there seem to be more winter cyclists than ever. Maybe the mild start to winter made people more interested in continuing to ride? Whatever the reason, it is noteworthy, and we can only hope that the city will notice and respond by maintaining bike routes properly and creating more bike infrastructure.