Sunday, March 31, 2013

uphill and down

Today I took my first long ride of the season, on the range roads and secondary highways north of town. 

Here, I am at the highest point of my ride, looking down towards St. Albert. I rode 47.5 km, using my winter commuting bike with its heavy knobby tires. It wasn't bad, but I do look forward to getting back on my summer bike.  This year I might even break down and buy a for-real road bike. 

It was a great first-of-the-season ride, although I definitely should have worn the padded cycling shorts under my tights. I am just a tad saddle sore.

I found the hill Wordsworth mentions:

Like an army defeated
The snow hath retreated;
And now doth fare ill
On top of the bare hill.

 And today is Easter:

Christ is risen!

He is risen indeed!

I hate to introduce a sad note to a post about such a delightful bike ride, but I really have to wonder what kind of people feel free to throw garbage on the side of the road. Pop cans; beer cans; water bottles; wrappers from McDonalds, A & W, Wendy's and Tim Horton's; washer-fluid jugs; even a soup can and a file box. Always one to give people the benefit of the doubt, I'd like to believe that these litterbugs are misguided philanthropists, eager to help out groups like the Junior Forest Wardens, who get paid by the county to collect trash from the roadsides. But somehow, I doubt it.

Back to happy thoughts: After this bike ride, I came home and ensured an adequate iron intake by eating some Quadruple Chocolate Loaf Cake. I made it with 100% stone ground whole wheat flour from an Indian grocery store on 34th Avenue, and I used half applesauce and half butter to make up 3/4 cup. I also used dark chocolate. Oh yes, and only 1 cup sugar instead of 1 1/3. And non-fat Greek yogurt instead of sour cream. So, it's kind of a healthy cake,yes?

Temperature: about 0 celsius. Wind: NW at 14 km/hour. 

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Written in March -- Alberta style

Recently I've been reading a lot of poetry. The students in my afternoon ESL class were interested in improving their pronunciation, and I wondered if reading poetry might be a good way to go about this. We started with the iconic prairie child's picture book (in appearance a children's book, but really for the adults) If you're not from the prairie, by David Bouchard. As I told the students, this entire poem is a hyperbole -- exaggeration to create a powerful image -- about life on the prairie. They all agreed, however, that the poet might be justified in saying, "If you're not from the prairie, you don't know the wind..." as well as " don't know the cold..."

Well, it turned out that reading poetry is a perfect way to practice pronunciation, so I got really serious about this. My starting point is an American book, English Pronunciation Made Simple, which approaches pronunciation sound-by-sound. I carefully select poems that contain the sounds we are learning.

"Written in March," by William Wordsworth is one of those poems. This is one of my favourites, and today while riding my bike, some of the lines came to mind.

And here it is -- Alberta style, illustrated with photos from right where I live:

The cock is crowing,
The stream is flowing,

The small birds twitter,
The lake doth glitter

The green field sleeps in the sun.


(Okay, I know this one is a bit of a stretch, but you can see the green grass, can't you?)

The oldest and youngest
Are at work with the strongest;
The cattle are grazing, 
 Their heads never raising;
There are forty feeding like one!  

 (I didn't see any cattle this morning, but I did see the very ones he is talking about on my way home from Edmonton on Thursday)

Like an army defeated,
The snow hath retreated,

(Well, it's beginning its retreat, anyway!)

And now doth fare ill
On the top of the bare hill.
The ploughboy is whooping, anon, anon.

(I agree -- it's not much of a hill. We don't have many bare hills around here yet)

There's joy in the mountains;
There's life in the fountains;
Small clouds are sailing,
Blue sky prevailing;
The rain is over and gone! 

(Blue sky certainly prevails today, but I'm afraid the rain is yet to come.)

Other poems we've used so far are "How Do I Love Thee?" by Elizabeth Barrett Browning; "The Road Not Taken," "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" and "Dust of Snow," by Robert Frost; and "Who Has Seen the Wind?" by Christina Rossetti. Not only are these wonderful pronunciation practice, as the students read slowly and carefully, but a lot of new vocabulary is introduced almost effortlessly.

Each time we start a new poem, I can tell the students are overwhelmed and I wonder if I chose wisely, but as we read through it slowly, discussing the words and ideas, the light dawns. Imagine the thrill I felt when we were reading our reader (Leaving Microsoft to Change the World, by John Wood) and one of the students related John's decision-making to "The Road Not Taken."

Friday, March 29, 2013

50 Shades of Ice

Spring Break. No work. Well, not unless you call doing bookkeeping and taxes, spring cleaning, snow removal, and lots of cooking work.

What I'm not doing this week is commuting into the city for my teaching job.

Yesterday, however, I made a special trip into Edmonton to pick up some computer parts for hubby from a shop near Oliver Square. Instead of driving downtown, I parked at my usual parking spot and rode my bike. I took the route I normally take to go downtown, but this time I dawdled, stopping to take photos.

I started riding on the shared sidewalk that runs along 100 Avenue from 163 Street to 149 Street. It wasn't long before I saw this behind and in front of me:

Boring? No. Scary? Yes!

A little further along, there was yet more ice:

I've never been on one of those fat-jiggling exercise machines, but after riding my bike on this shared sidewalk yesterday, I think I know how it might feel.

As I went further, the ice became worse. You didn't know that was possible, right?

As you can see by the abundant footmarks in the ice, many people walk here as well as cycle. I busied myself wondering which would be harder. I decided maybe cycling is better, because at least you stay fairly dry. The poor people who walked here when the ice was soft must have ended up with pretty wet feet. I do love the blue sky, the shadows of the bare trees, and the way the sun glints off the smooth sheet of ice.

At the end of the shared sidewalk, I decided to try my preferred route, straight across 149 Street to 148 Street. I turned left here and found a huge improvement since last Wednesday. The street, which had been thick with packed snow and ice, was bare and dry -- mostly. I'm not sure whether to thank the City of Edmonton or Mr. Sun for this.

I took 148 Street to Summit Drive and crossed the bridge to Stony Plain Road. At this point I was feeling pretty optimistic -- the condition of 148 Street made me think that maybe the upcoming service road would also be clear. So I rode along, anticipating great things ahead.

But first I had to ride those six blocks to 142 Street.

When the roads are clear, I ride on the road. I admit, however, that I've been tempted to use the sidewalk, as I see many other cyclists do. This stretch of road is just a bit scary, with heavy traffic and a lot of trucks and buses. In the winter, when there is that nasty combination of snow and ice and gravel on the road, the sidewalk wins hands-down. This is also the sidewalk I use when I walk to work. And again yesterday, ice prevailed. You'd think the people who live here had never heard of the Community Standards Bylaw.

After another session on the fat-jiggler, I reached 142 Street. Crossing this intersection is always a dubious pleasure, and it was no less yesterday, with giant puddles added. But I made it safely.

And now for the service road. This road runs parallel to 102 Avenue for about 3-4 blocks and is a perfect alternative to the busier main road. When the road is clear, pedestrians and cyclists alike are happy to take this stretch, with its mature evergreens and minimal traffic. 

Ay, there's the rub. All this winter, the road has not been clear. Not even close. (But look at that gorgeous blue sky in the background. It really was a glorious day!!)

I must take a moment to apologize to Tennyson for creating my own version of his famous poem:

Ice patch to right of her,
Ice patch to left of her, 
Ice patch in front of her
Glitter'd and Glisten'd.
Surrounded by ice and snow
Boldly she rode and well.
Into the jaws of death;
Into the mouth of hell
Rode the commuter.

A couple of weeks ago a fellow commuter showed me a way out of the Jaws of Death. After about two blocks, you can ride on the sidewalk for the last bit. So, I did this yesterday. This is the spot near 137 Street where unwary motorists get zapped by photo radar, so be assured that the City of Edmonton is aware of this section of treacherous ice.

The sidewalk here, while better than the road, was not exactly in tip-top shape either. Again, it's obvious that both cyclists and pedestrians make good use of this walkway -- why isn't it properly maintained?

After this, ah, freedom! I rode on the road, zipping along unimpeded. Traffic is usually relatively light on 102 Avenue, even at rush hour, but especially at 10:00 a.m., and there are signs saying that this is a bike route.

But I soon came to another hazard, in the form of a bridge. Signs here instruct cyclists to use the sidewalk over this bridge. Sometimes I ride on the road anyway, taking a lane, because often there isn't much traffic. But yesterday, as I concentrated on observing route conditions, I missed my chance. I switched to the sidewalk and started across the bridge. Hmm. It's a bridge with a sidewalk especially for cyclists and pedestrians.  I guess that's why it looked like this:
and this:

After this icy bridge, everything was hunky dory. I took a right at 125 Street, a shortcut to Jasper Avenue. At 121 Street I turned right again onto the dedicated on-road bike lane (100 Avenue), which is well-maintained and mahvelous, simply mahvelous. (If you've never read Homer Price and the story about the doughnut machine, you are missing a good thing.)

Riding here, you almost wouldn't know it's not summer. After negotiating the quirky 116 Street intersection, I continued east on 100 Avenue, which takes me almost to my destination.

Yesterday I didn't ride to my workplace, but instead I tried, for the first time, the Railtown bike trail. Heading north from 100 Avenue on this beautiful, well-maintained path, I rode unhindered all the way to the end. Because I wanted to end up on the south side of 104 Avenue and I was unsure of my ground, I decided to cut across the parking lots of the businesses that line 104. Not a bad way to go; and I reached the computer shop safe and sound.  The Railtown path had some hazardous ice, but only a couple of patches. After what I'd ridden on so far, this seemed like nothing.

Now for the trip back to my car. I wanted to check out the River Valley, and to simulate my normal work day commute as closely as possible, so I rode back to 100 Avenue (using the Railtown path) and headed east to 108 Street, where I turned right. A left at 99 Avenue and a right at 107 Street and I sailed downhill into the River Valley. (A tip of the hat helmet to the kind truck driver who stopped mid-turn to allow me the right of way!)

Of course the River Valley should be the perfect ride to and from work. And when there's no snow, it is. However, all this winter it has been questionable, because of a huge patch of perfectly smooth ice at the lowest part of the valley. Also, the rest of the trail has been pretty much another fat-jiggler machine.

During the previous months, I've ridden/walked my bike over this patch a few times, but finally decided it wasn't worth it and elected instead to use the streets. But yesterday I wondered, can I safely and comfortably use the River Valley when I go back to work next week?

I wasn't feeling very optimistic as I rode downhill, visualizing a descent into the Valley of Hell, but guess what?

The first part of my ride was superb. The path was clear, or almost clear, past the Royal Glenora and the Victoria Golf Course, all the way to the bottom section, where the ice hazard formerly lurked.

Yesterday this ice patch was about 1/4 its former size and looked to be on its way out. To be sure, at 11:00 a.m., there was a rather large and deep icy puddle (think North Atlantic with icebergs) in its place, but hey -- it was no longer a skating rink.

I rode through with minimal difficulty (accompanied by friendly chuckles from the male occupants of a City of Edmonton truck who stopped to let me pass) but when I turned around to take photos, I saw a woman on foot, trying to gingerly pick her way through.

A case where bicycle trumps feet. For sure.

As I pedaled up out of the River Valley, the amount of ice under my wheels increasing with every turn, I asked myself whether I'll ride DOWN the same way when I go back to work on Tuesday. And the answer was NO. I don't mind riding uphill on an icy trail, but downhill is another story. Maybe after another week or two.

Once out of the valley, I had to decide: More fat jiggler (aka the shared sidewalk)? or busy street? Since I am already plenty skinny, I opted for the street. I rode across the bridge to Stony Plain Road, took the pedestrian crosswalk to the north side and rode on the road, trying to keep as far right as possible. Through the 149 Street intersection. Past the pawn shops and tattoo parlours. Past the ever-lovely Jasper Inn. Past Ben's Meat and Deli, which has the best licorice ever. Past the Anatolian Market, with its mouth-watering selection of genuine Turkish food. This road is always busy, but with its wide lanes, it is not bad for cycling.

Another pedestrian crosswalk and I was back at 100 Avenue and my waiting car, a little wet and mud-spattered, but feeling great! Really, can anything beat a good bike ride?nton bicycle commuting