Tuesday, July 23, 2013

wildlife after the rain

THE RAIN HAS ENDED: still more than a few puddles on the road
Yesterday was another rainy day. In fact, my day started at about 5:00 a.m. when I was shaken awake by a huge clap of thunder. Sleep was over after that, as there was almost continuous thunder and lightening and heavy rain for the next hour. Six is my normal rising time anyway, so I got up just a bit before that and contemplated my alternatives: ride my bike in the rain OR drive in the rain. The bike won, hands down. Before I left the house I donned my nylon running pants, slipped a rain jacket over my T-shirt and hoped for the best. And the best was mine! By the time I started riding, the rain had stopped and the sun was just beginning to peek through the clouds.

 I had ridden no more than  a few meters when I spotted a rabbit hopping on the lawn along the sidewalk. A couple more spins of the wheels, and there was the quail? pheasant? grouse? -- a game bird of some sort -- that I have seen before in that area but that remains as yet unphotographed and unidentified.

I rode on the city streets instead of through the River Valley, but even so, it was immeasurably better than driving.
a typical obstacle on the trail

My coworkers and students thought I was a bit nuts for riding, but I assured them that even being splashed by puddle water is better than sitting in a car for twenty minutes.

And when it was time to go home, the air was warm, the sky was blue and the River Valley was as beautiful as it could be.

In the evening Hubby and I went for a walk with Maggie and I noticed that the Saskatoon berries are ripe. In morning ESL class, one student had mentioned trying these berries, and it turned out that most of the students had never heard of them. So after we got home I hopped on Bonnie Blue and rode back down the hill, returning with a container full of plump juicy purple berries, enough for each student to sample a few.

On my way back up the hill, I found myself behind a earphone-encumbered roller-blader who was happily weaving his way across the entire width of the trail. There was no room for me to pass. I rang my bell. No result. Rang it again. Still no response. Rode behind him for a while, ringing the bell almost constantly. A couple came by in the other direction and laughed sympathetically as they observed my dilemma. The roller-blader remained oblivious. Finally, I become tired of riding so slowly behind him and taking a deep breath, I yelled out: "Excuse me. Passing on your left." Finally he clued in, apologized profusely and moved to the right so I could pass. The bicycle bell bylaw is probably a good one, no doubt. but the next bylaw they pass might have to prohibit wearing earphones on public walkways.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

an exercise in futility?

In my mom's family, the youngest daughter was named Isabelle.
The family had a Knock Knock joke that went like this:

Knock, knock
Who's there?
Isabelle Who?
Is a bell necessary on a bike?

Well, if you ride in Edmonton, the answer to that question is YES. Until recently, however, I didn't realize that the law goes a little further: you must have a bell on your bike, and you must ring it when passing pedestrians.

Since learning that, I have tried to comply, faithfully ringing my bell to warn pedestrians of my approach. Some people react by jumping into the air or moving off the trail onto the grass, as if they're afraid I'll hit them otherwise. I always say a gracious thank-you, but I do feel bad for seemingly inconveniencing them. My favourite people are the ones who, upon hearing the bell, stay to the right, continue walking and calmly raise a hand to let me know they are aware of my presence.

Other pedestrians are a little more difficult. Some, especially those who walk in groups of three across the whole path, seem to be downright deaf and continue strolling along as if they are the only people in the world. Others, with earphones in place and music blaring, are clearly oblivious to my existence. People like this make me wonder whether my bell is any use at all.

The ultimate "makes me wonder" story was when I encountered a group of school girls on the multi-use trails here in town. There were about 10-12 of them, and their walk was clearly a class outing of some sort. They were talking and laughing and having a good time, but were blocking the entire trail. As I approached, I rang my bell a couple of times. No reaction. I slowed down and rang it again, louder and repeatedly. Still no response. I slowed even more, rang the bell again and called out, "Passing on your left." Still nothing. Finally, when I was right behind them, I yelled at the top of my voice, "Girls! Move over!" and at last they complied. But as I rode past, one of them had the nerve to say, "Hey lady, you should get a bell on your bike."

gloomy sunday

Gloomy is the only word for today's weather. Cloudy and dark, with occasional bits of blue sky and sun. Gusts of wind. Continual threat of rain. I couldn't make up my mind to go for a long ride, partly because I couldn't decide what to wear. I hate being too cold, but I also hate being too hot.

Finally, after indecisively scanning the sky and skeptically eyeing my cycling wardrobe, I decided to just ride around town, using my red vintage 10-speed steel bike. I've ridden it around a few times and feel quite comfortable with it now, and each time I ride I am impressed with how fast it is and how easy to ride. I've never ridden a modern road bike, but if they really are an improvement over the old ten-speeds, I can only imagine what it must be like to ride one. I'm not a big fan of high speeds, so I'm not sure I want to go any faster, but maybe I'll get there. I am getting comfortable with the drop bars and braking, so that is one hurdle cleared.

I rode 24.88 km on both the trails and the streets. My average speed, including slowdowns at curves on the trails and stops at red lights, as well as a complete and exaggerated full stop at a stop sign where an RCMP SUV was making a u-turn, was almost 25 km/hour.

And, what is wrong with this picture? It's not that mine is the only bike parked at the bike racks -- this is a school, and as Alice Cooper would tell us, "School's out for summer."

But what I find objectionable is that this is the only bike parking I could see at a school built for 1,000-1,100 students. The bike racks are on the side of the school, not at the front. And look how few there are: I figure maybe 120-150 bikes could park here. This means that, at best, about 15% of the students are expected to ride their bikes to school.

Pondering this gave me an idea -- to ride from the school, which is at the far west end of town, to the residential area at the farthest east end of town, to see how long it takes. The answer: 15 minutes. I turned around and rode back in less than 15 minutes. This means that any students who live in town could ride to school in about 15-20 minutes. Why not encourage this by placing bike racks in a prominent place in front of the school, and by providing lots of bike parking -- enough for 400-500 bikes?

Each school year we give Teenage Son the same choice: he can have a bus pass, which costs $300, or he can have the $300 and get to school on his own steam. Each year he chooses to take the money and ride. Each year I feel a little sad when I see that his is often the only bike at the school bike racks.

Friday, July 19, 2013

the long way around

I took the long way to Superstore today. The store is only about a 3-minute ride from my place, but I took Bonnie Blue and rode on the trails, first to the library to return some books, and then down through a park, along the main northerly road to the very west end of town, back to the trails, up the hill, and finally to my destination, where I bought a few cans of tomatoes, some passata and some fruit. It was warm out (about 24 degrees) and I must confess that by the time I stopped riding and removed my helmet, I was a bit sweatier than I like to be when appearing in public. Oh well. I had the satisfaction of knowing that I was the only one (as evidenced by the lack of bikes at the bike rack) who had pedaled my way to the store instead of sitting behind the wheel; that I am clearly fitter than most of the people I see while shopping -- and that I am happy. After all, I didn't have to prowl the parking lot, looking for a place big enough for an SUV or F150 -- which I don't own anyway -- or even for the minivan that I actually do own.

My total distance was more than 15 km. I love it that I can use the bike to run errands and can include a little extra riding for exercise and pleasure while I'm at it. 

Look what they've done to my trail, Ma!

Sidewalk Closed!
Our little prairie city's biggest claim to fame (besides the fact that it is home to a recent Olympic gold medalist) just might be its recreational trail system. The trails run right across town, through an old-growth forest, past ponds and up and down some small hills. On the trail system, which runs right behind my house, I can ride my bike almost all the way to the library, to the east end shopping area, to grocery stores, to friends' homes, to my son's school.

The trails are hugely popular with dog-walkers, cyclists of all ages, skateboarders, roller-bladers, families with strollers, photographers, elderly couples, teenage couples -- in short, pretty much everyone.
So, we were more than a little sad to see that they have closed and torn up a large section of the trail -- not to make improvements to the trail itself, but to make a road that will facilitate the development of a new construction project. Big machines and plenty of noise and mud are in the forecast for the next few months or longer. One can only hope the result will be a good one.


... was another sunny, warm day. I rode my usual route, and as I reached the top of the Fortway Road hill, I was greeted by a guy in reflective vest, leaning on a tree and lackadaisically holding a "slow" sign. Really, I don't have a lot of choice about my speed at that point on my route. I always go pretty slowly on that hill. For a second I wondered what he was doing there, as there was no construction in progress. Then, as I looked ahead to a long line of barely moving traffic, I remembered: this was the day of the Premier's breakfast at the Legislature, the kick-off for K-days. I was glad to be on a bike instead of in a car, as I zipped past everyone up the 107 Street hill.

And today was our City Hall tour. My first visit to City Hall happened when I stumbled on the building by accident when riding my bike and went in to pick up a bicycle map. Today our morning classes (about 18 students) walked from the school to Churchill Square, about 2 km, and met our guide at the south entrance to City Hall. Jackie, a 71-year-old woman who has worked at City Hall for 56 years, is a pretty amazing lady who also has a part-time job as a lifeguard. She took us around the building, giving an excellent presentation about civic politics and the history of the building. The students listened eagerly and asked some good questions. After the tour a few of us hung around at Taste of Edmonton, finally walking back to the school for afternoon classes.

Some of the same students attend both morning and afternoon classes, but there are some who come only in the afternoon. So I had the morning students tell the afternoon students about their visit to City Hall. They told them about Jackie, their guide, and one student said he thought I should emulate her, continuing to work as an ESL teacher and riding my bike to work even into my seventies. A worthy goal!

On Wednesday...

I rode my normal 9K route through the River Valley. It was another fantastic day on the trails. The sun was shining and even on the way to work I wore short sleeves.

In ESL class we are preparing for a tour of City Hall, so today`s lesson included news articles about and interviews with the mayoral candidates. Kerry Diotte got the raspberry for his comments about bike lanes and cyclists and his failure to define his platform. The students were impressed with 61-year-old Karen Leibovici's youthful good looks, but decided that she, too, wasn't saying much of anything about her vision for the city. Curtis Penner was judged handsome, and the students liked his stance on municipal parkland. 

But -- there was a collective sigh from the women when I opened Don Iveson's web page, and all the students were impressed with his comments about affordable housing and public transportation. 

It was a fun lesson that led to lively discussion about life in Edmonton -- the good, the bad and the ugly. Public transit, they all agreed, is an ugly -- why does it take so long to get anywhere by bus or train? The city's many parks were deemed a good. Safety and the generally peaceful atmosphere were also goods. Dirty streets (dust, gravel, debris) were a bad. I have to say, I was a little surprised. Although I hear repeatedly that the students are glad to live in Canada, Edmonton itself is not quite as highly rated.


In anticipation of picking up Little Granddaughter's laundry after work, I parked at my Callingwood spot and rode 13.5 km, mostly on multi-use pathways. Nice! I still feel a little uncertain on the many-branched path between my parking spot and West Edmonton Mall, but seeing a line of red shopping carts ahead is a good way to know I am focused on my target: the WEM Target store. 

As I ride along 165 Street, I pass some schools with names that have pleasant associations for me. There is Afton School, bringing to mind long-ago piano lessons. A little farther along is a school named after Thomas More; in my opinion, one of history's most interesting characters. There is also a sign that I find amusing: Parent Parking Patrol. No idea what it means, but it sounds like something that would feature on Sesame Street for the Letter P.

cartons of what??

And no matter how fast or slow I ride, I always seem to hit the red light at the Foody Mart intersection. In fact, I always arrive just as the light has turned red, meaning I have lots of time to contemplate this sign and to wonder just what "By the Carton" items Foody Mart deals in. Maybe one day I'll stop in and take a look. But I doubt it. It's on the wrong side of the street, for starters. But it is clearly an up-and-coming business.

Today as I entered the River Valley, a rabbit ran across my path. Seeing wildlife along the way makes my already-enjoyable ride even more delightful. As I began my climb up the Fortway Road hill, I saw another form of wildlife: a group of about 20 men, dressed in matching athletic wear, sitting on the grass and apparently listening to a pep talk of some kind. No idea what sport or what team. 

It was a gorgeous day and a great ride, but look what I wore! I wanted to wear my peachy-coloured skinny jeans. It was a cool morning, so I threw on my hot-pink thermal cycling jacket for the ride to work. A fashion statement I was not! I did look more pulled-together once I removed the pink jacket, revealing a cute and classic black pleated top.

A Study in Clashing

By the way, I love this Sugoi RS Zero jacket. I had to buy a larger size than I normally wear, as the shop didn't have the smaller sizes, but that turned out to be a good thing, as I can layer it over almost anything. I wore it all winter for both riding my bike and cross-country skiing. It is comfortable, cozy and highly visible -- everything an urban cyclist needs.


... rain again. More than a few people thought I was nuts for riding. But when I considered the option of driving all the way downtown, a vision of the stop-and-go traffic along 102 Avenue came to mind. I know it's only for a few minutes. I know that many commuters in other cities sit in stop-and-go traffic for an hour or more every single day. But the fact is, I'd rather be on my bike, cruising past the creeping vehicles, getting wet, than sitting behind the steering wheel. My almost-waterproof pants and jacket held up pretty well until about 1 km away from my destination. I was wearing my regular work clothes under my semi-waterproof layers, and I suddenly felt my pant legs and my sleeves below the elbow get very wet. Oh well, I was almost there. And wet clothes dry. I've thought about buying MEC's waterproof cycling wear, but when I went to the store they didn't have my size. And when I went online to order, the idea of spending so much money for only occasional very wet weather stopped me. Also, I have my doubts about the size 4 -- why don't they offer smaller sizes? Maybe one of these days I'll break down and fork out the big bucks, but on Monday, I settled for a good soaking. 

On rainy days, I usually eschew the River Valley route and ride on the city streets. This way I figure if I have a breakdown, I am near alternative modes of transport -- bus or taxi. So far it has never happened, but I like to think ahead. The on-street route is also shorter -- 7.5 instead of 9 K, so there is less time to get soaking wet.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Mom, what's a trike?

 Look at this poor little three-year-old boy.

 Clearly he thinks he is hot stuff, riding his brand-new bright red tricycle. 
But he's not. 

He doesn't know it, but he should be riding a "run bike." The three-wheeled design of a trike means that he might not learn to balance as he should. If this boy continues in his foolish ways and persists in riding a trike, as his parents are seemingly forcing him to do, he might later, like his older brother, pictured below, succumb to the fallacy that training wheels are helpful when learning to ride a real two-wheeled bicycle. 

And, training wheels? Why, if he relies on training wheels, he might never learn to balance on two wheels.
Does this sound a bit like the story of The Three Sillies? I thought so, too. 

 (Deep sigh of relief from the audience)
From the photo above, it appears that our fears were groundless. 
Older Brother did indeed learn to ride on two wheels. 
Maybe there is hope for Little Brother after all.** 
This was 1990, when bike helmets for everyday riding were still a relatively new idea and when parents and children everywhere believed that the natural progression was: Trike, Bike-with-Training-Wheels, Plain Old Bike. Somehow, it worked, even without the benefits of the latest European technology.

** Since the long-ago days depicted in the above photos, Big Brother and Little Brother have ridden their bikes together on the Icefields Parkway, across southern Alberta and across Vancouver Island. Big Brother has also ridden the 250 km from Montreal to Quebec City in one day. Their early riding lessons on trike and bike-with-training-wheels seem to have been pretty effective.

ride leader in training

When I first started road cycling I read a few books about the sport. One thing that struck me as kind of funny was that a ride leader is expected to call out words of warning to those behind, thus informing them of hazards such as potholes, gravel, ridges in the pavement, etc. Well, around here, it might be more noteworthy to encounter uniformly smooth pavement. Otherwise, it is best to assume that There Will be Hazards.This is particularly true on the 106 Street bike lane in Edmonton. I laughed when I rode on the northerly portions of this lane. A ride leader would quickly become breathless from calling out, "Pothole!" "Another pothole!" "Gravel!" "Pothole, pothole, pothole!"

I also laughed the other day when I was out for a walk with Maggie on the trails here in town. A boy on a bike rode past, carefully moving as far left as he could to stay out of my way. He then called back, "Watch out for the person! Stay right!" -- and I watched as four other young riders obediently fell into single file behind him. 

I was especially taken with "the person." Was he merely being scrupulously politically correct? Or could he really not tell whether I was a man or a woman?

Or perhaps he wanted to say, "Watch out for the lady," but had learned from my 1st year French prof, Father O'Brien, that chaque dame est une femme, mais chaque femme n'est pas une dame.  (Every lady is a woman, but not every woman is a lady.) 

Incidentally, Father O'Brien also taught us: "Chez moi ou chez toi?" (My place or yours?)

And he taught us this song (we learned the first version.) He was a pretty cool guy and definitely knew how to make learning French fun for first-year university students.

[Chevaliers de la Table ronde
Allons voir si le vin est bon] [bis]
[Allons voir, oui, oui, oui
Allons voir, non, non, non
Allons voir si le vin est bon] [bis]
- 2 -
[J'en boirai cinq à six bouteilles
Une femme sur mes genoux] [bis]
[Une femme, oui, oui, oui
Une femme, non, non, non
Une femme sur mes genoux] [bis]*

Saturday, July 13, 2013

back in time...

...to the land of the dinos. Today we went with Son #2, Daughter-in-Law and Little Granddaughter to Jurassic Forest. They had free passes through the military, so we tagged along.

Of course, I went by bike. It was 71.81 km north and west of here. I began by riding my usual northerly route to the airport and then ventured into unexplored territory, taking Highway 44 north from Villeneuve. The shoulders on this road are nice and wide, but beware the sand-trap at Inland Concrete: the shoulder at the plant entrance is covered with a thick layer of gravel and fine sand. For my flat bar road bike, gravel is not usually much of a problem. Sand is another matter. I made it safely through the dunes, but it was a bit nerve-wracking. I do like the look of this huge plant, though, with its enormous catwalks and sky-scraping mounds of various concrete-creating materials.

At the junction with Highway 37, I headed west. This is another good highway for cycling, with wide, debris-free shoulders. The scenery along here is beautiful right now, with the vivid greens of the spruce trees and grains and the bright-yellow canola.

I expected an almost completely flat ride, so was quite surprised to see this sign:

It made me a little nervous. I am not a big fan of riding down large hills, especially when they also require a sign like this:
But, all went well -- the hill was not nearly as dramatic as these signs would lead one to believe. I didn't exactly pedal like mad to increase my speed as I descended, but I didn't brake constantly either.
And the uphill on the other side was a breeze, especially compared to the hills I ride around here.

After riding west for quite awhile along Highway 37, I finally came to Highway 28, where I turned north. This road's shoulders are almost like another lane -- a cyclist's dream. The pavement is smooth; there is no almost no gravel and traffic is fairly light. The road is pleasantly curvy and mostly flat, with a few small hills (and another rating the truck sign) to break up the monotony.

A few surprises along this route: Several dog-boarding facilities with charming names: Blackpaws Pet Resort, Wagging Tails Pet Resort, The Ranch Kennels. Appealing names attempt to hide the real theme of these places: Abandon hope, all ye [canines] who enter here.

A U-pick apple orchard -- in northern Alberta? Who knew? Several U-pick berry farms.

A golf course called Terrae Pines. This sign, as Hercule Poirot would say, gave me furiously to think as I rode along. Did they leave out the "c" in "terrace"? Impossible! (French accent.) Is it a feeble attempt to translate "Land of Pines" into Latin? Maybe it's someone's name? Whatever. Do place names always have to make sense?

Then there was the Moonlight Hotel, coupled with the Double Dragon Chinese restaurant, in Bon Accord. Almost tempting. I glimpsed cemetery gates at Namao and Bon Accord -- again, somewhat enticing. The Bon Accord cemetery was established in 1905. It might merit a visit on another day.

When I came to the turn-off for the town of Gibbons I was stumped. I'd printed directions from Google Maps, but they didn't make a lot of sense, so I called Hubby. He and Teenage Son were still on their way, so they stopped to pick me up. It was a good thing, as the entrance road to the park is large-chunk gravel, not at all suitable for cycling.

It was a gorgeous day. I had a hard time deciding how to dress, but chose just the right combination of clothing -- I wore my longer cycling shorts and a short-sleeved jersey with a thin long-sleeved jersey on top. If necessary, I planned to take off the top layer and stuff it in one of my pockets. But I wasn't too hot and I wasn't too cold -- I was just right. The temperature was about 12 degrees when I started and around 18 at the end, and the sun was shining most of the time. The above photo was taken on the drive home. (Sadly, I had what must be bad batteries in my camera, so I couldn't take any photos on my way.)

The Jurassic Forest park is kind of cute, set in a lovely cool old-growth forest and peopled by mechanized dinosaurs. Little Granddaughter, at six months, wasn't quite ready to appreciate it yet. When our boys were younger they would have loved it. For adults, it's just a nice walk on a beautifully-made boardwalk.

And for some adults, it's an excuse to take a nice long bike ride.

the bard

Last night we went to King Lear performed by the Free Will Players at the Hawrelak Park amphitheater. We met Oldest Son and his girlfriend there.

I rode my bike into Edmonton again, along Highway 16A. It was pretty busy at 5:00 p.m., but not too terrifying. The worst part was under one of the overpasses where the light was dim and the gravel was thicker than it appeared. I skidded a bit, but regained control and all was good. From 16A I exited to the Anthony Henday and then 87th Avenue. I took a different multi-use path this time, turning right at the first path I came to. This is obviously a very old path of its ilk and is about half the width of the newer ones. But it does the trick. I rode from there through a nice quiet neighbourhood until I came to another path heading south. That led to the first overpass that goes across the Whitemud. I'd never taken that before, so chalked up another "first." This leads to 76th Avenue, which in turn leads to the 69th Avenue bike lane. I rode on this into Wolf Willow and through the Ravine to Patricia Heights. This was another first, and an interesting one. From the residential street, the path looked superb -- nice and wide, paved, painted middle line, the full monty. I rode happily along -- then my stomach lurched when I came to the downhill part. It was steep. Of course I knew that what goes down must come up, so I was ready for the big climb on the other side -- or so I thought. The first part was fine. But then the beautiful pavement suddenly became gravel -- the big-chunk, loose kind. After skidding along for a bit, not making a lot of progress, I finally gave up and walked my bike to the top. From there I took a wrong turn and ended up at a dead end, so I u-turned and came back to 76th Avenue, which took me past some rather elegant homes and finally to the bridge that crosses the Whitemud. Here I found myself on the steepest path I have ever encountered. I actually got off and walked down part of the way; my stomach simply couldn't handle the curvy steepness. I'm not sure how much of my nervousness was due to the foreboding signage, warning riders about the steep grade, the possibility of oncoming foot and bicycle traffic, the hairpin curves; but whatever it was, I decided there was nothing in the least shameful in walking down part of a hill. It was an easy ride at the bottom to Laurier Park and from there to Hawrelak, where I met Hubby.

The play was fantastic, as all the Free Will performances always are. I don't know why, but I always forget just how cold it can get on a summer evening under the tent ceiling. I did bring jeans and put those on first thing. Also a wool sweater. Also a shawl. I could have used a few more layers. While we were waiting in line, we were snickering at the people wearing down-filled jackets, but by 9:30 we were eyeing those same people with envy. Nothing like a cool winter summer evening in northern Alberta!

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

close encounters with nature

One of the things I love about riding through the River Valley is the chance to encounter nature right in the middle of the city. Today this is who I met up with:
It was a desolate spot on the trail, just me and Old Man Coyote. I felt a bit nervous as he eyed me up -- like yon Cassius, he had sort of a lean and hungry look -- but once I'd passed him I couldn't resist stopping to take a pic. Then I high-tailed it out of there.

Yesterday a garter snake slithered across the trail in front of me, and a few days ago a pair of yellow warblers flew from one side of the trail to the other. And then there are the woodchucks I've seen a few times, down below the museum. We even saw a deer in the Wolf Willow Ravine when we rode to Fort Edmonton on Saturday; I have yet to see one on my way downtown. Maybe someday.
 Severe thunderstorms are in the offing once again tonight and tomorrow, and this cloud we saw approaching as we walked the dog doesn't exactly make me doubt the accuracy of that forecast.

Tomorrow's forecast is as follows:
Thursday, 11 July
Increasing cloudiness. A few showers with thunderstorms beginning near noon. Wind becoming northwest 30 km/h gusting to 50 in the afternoon. High 20. UV index 3 or moderate.
Thursday night, 11 July
A few showers with thunderstorms ending in the evening then clearing. Wind northwest 30 km/h gusting to 50 becoming light in the evening. Low 10.
Sounds like a perfect day for cycling!  At least the UV index is only moderate.

Monday, July 8, 2013

caught in the storm

Today I parked in Callingwood and rode 13.7 km to work instead of only 9. It was great; the first two or three kilometers are on a multi-use path that doesn't see much multi-use (I saw maybe 3 pedestrians the whole way.) The path does have a few branch-offs and of course I managed to take one of those. Instead of coming out across from WEM's Target, I found myself in a nice quiet neighbourhood, with no obvious way out. So I had to backtrack and find the right path. Other than that, it was an uneventful ride to the 100 Avenue shared sidewalk. From there I followed my normal route through the River Valley to downtown. It took me about half an hour, which wasn't bad at all.

The trip back to my car was another story altogether. When the afternoon class ended, I looked out the window and saw dark sky. Hmm, I thought: Looks like rain. I got packed up and ready to ride, and by the time I stepped outside, it was not raining, it was pouring. My two Ukrainian students stood on the steps with me and told me that if you can see bubbles in the puddles, it means the rain is going to last. I laughed. But they were right. We stood there, waiting for the rain to stop, but that didn't happen. There was thunder and lightening. Some of those thunder claps were nothing short of terrifying.

Finally, there was a bit of a lull and I decided to bite the bullet and go for it. I unlocked my bike and brought it close to the steps, carried my panniers down, hitched them on and took off. By the time I reached the corner of 102 Avenue and 124 Street, in front of MEC, it was coming down harder than ever.

I exchanged a few words with a fellow cyclist. He was enviously eyeing my fenders; I was lusting after his rain jacket. But, he assured me, the rain jacket wasn't doing him any good. I believed it.

As I continued west along 102 Avenue, I could see flooding on all the side streets, with water flowing south onto 102 Ave. Riding as fast as I could, I skirted the bigger puddles, rode through the smaller puddles and kept going until I reached the crosswalk to the pedestrian bridge at Crestwood. It was still pretty wet there, but by the time I got to 100 Avenue and the shared sidewalk, the rain had lessened considerably. And by the time I reached 163 Street, there was no rain. The road was dry and the rest of the route looked like it had never seen the rain.

When I reached my car, my shoes were soaked, but my pants were already somewhat dry, so I simply slipped off my jersey (worn on top of my regular top) substituted my sandals for my riding shoes, and all was well. I even stopped in at Safeway to do some shopping before stopping to get Little Granddaughter's laundry.

Yet another day to be glad I rode my bike instead of driving!

Sunday, July 7, 2013

to wear or not to wear...

a helmet, that is.

For many cyclists, that is the question. Since I began bicycle commuting about three years ago, a few of my students and co-workers have been inspired to do the same, leading to some discussion about helmets. No, I answer, wearing a helmet is not required by law. Yes, I wear a helmet. No, I do not necessarily believe that wearing a helmet will protect riders from injury. Yes, I do prefer riding helmetless. No, I did not wear a helmet as a child, or a teen, or a twenty, thirty or forty-something. In fact, until three years ago I almost never wore a bicycle helmet. I deemed it unnecessary, unattractive and a nuisance.

What changed? Not my hairstyle -- I still have long hair. Not my experience -- I have never fallen and hit my head while cycling. (My knee, yes. My gluteus maximus, yes. My tailbone, yes. But I haven't yet started wearing kneepads or tailbone pads.) But what has changed is my attitude. Prior to becoming a bicycle commuter, I was a recreational cyclist. I rode to the store, to friend's homes, to the library, on the trails around town. But I generally rode during low-traffic times, in fair weather only, at low speeds and for short distances. In short, although I complied with traffic rules and rode my bike on the street, I did not think of myself as a particularly serious cyclist.

When I began commuting to work, that changed. Suddenly I was riding my bike during rush hour, on busy city streets, in all weather. I was interacting with motorists in a new way, not exactly competing, but definitely being tested and on exhibit. Drivers' perception of me became exponentially more significant than it had ever been before. And I started wearing a helmet.

Arguments against mandatory bicycle helmets usually have two main points: 1) helmets are not effective in preventing injuries and deaths; 2) helmet-wearing cyclists take more risks and are less careful than those who do not wear helmets. In both of these statements there is, no doubt, more than a kernel of truth. 

It doesn't take scientific studies to convince me that if a cyclist going 25 km/hour is struck by a car driving two to four times faster, only a miracle will prevent serious injury or even death. Helmets are not even consistently effective in preventing concussion. A recent article on the CBC website states that "A 1996 study found that more than half of U.S. riders who sustained concussions were wearing a helmet." Apparently since bicycle helmet safety standards were established in 1999, much new information has emerged about concussion causes and prevention, but helmet design and requirements have not kept pace. So the helmet I wear every day while riding to and from work may or may not protect me if I fall and hit my head. Great. But, I tell myself, there are no good statistics on how many concussions were prevented by wearing a helmet. After all, when Hubby fell off his bike and hit his helmeted head, he did not rush to Stats Can to report his near miss. No one, other than a few friends and family members, is privy to this bit of information. And absolutely no one knows what would have happened had his head been bare. I'm sure his is not the only such story.

As for the second argument -- perhaps this is true. But for every helmet-wearing cyclist who considers himself invincible because of that piece of glossy-plastic-coated molded styrofoam on his head, there must be two or three like me, who wittingly or unwittingly follow the advice of Robert Hurst, author of The Art of Urban Cycling, and "wear helmets but ride as if they don't." After all, it is my inherently cautious nature that compels me to wear a helmet, and that nature doesn't change the moment I cover my head.

So, why do I wear a helmet and recommend that others do, too?

The possibility of protection from a head injury carries some weight, to be sure. But my real reasons are a little more subjective.

First, I want to be perceived as a serious cyclist, someone who takes my own and others' safety seriously. Wearing a helmet is one way I attempt to communicate this to those around me. 

The bottom line for me, however, is something I have never seen directly addressed. Recently there have been a few cycling accidents in Edmonton. In news articles about such accidents, a subtly condemnatory line can frequently be found: "The man/boy was not wearing a helmet." Never mind whether the outcome would have been different had a helmet been worn. Who really knows, anyway? But for some reason, this piece of information is included. And this clinches it for me. If my entry into "that good night" is precipitated by a cycling accident, I do not want my epitaph to be, "The cyclist was not wearing a helmet."

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Fort Edmonton

Today Teenage Son, Hubby and I went to Fort Edmonton with #2 Son, Daughter-in-Law and Little Granddaughter.

I left here at about 8:45 and rode Miranda to Edmonton. This was a first for me. Yes. Although we have lived here for more than 13 years, I have never before ridden my bike into the city. I did try once, many years ago. #2 Son and I set out with good intentions, but made it only to the overpass across the train tracks (about 5 km out of town) before I got a flat tire. We didn't have a spare tube or any tools with us, so we called Hubby to pick us up, and that was that. Since then I have thought many times about riding in, but until today I didn't actually make it happen.

It was a good ride: 24.5 km from our house to the parking spot in Callingwood. It was not exactly warm, but at 15 degrees and with a light northwest wind, it was very pleasant riding weather. I rode on 16A and Anthony Henday, then took 87 Avenue to the multi-use pathway that winds south to the pedestrian overpass across the Whitemud. When I arrived at the parking spot, I saw that my average speed was exactly 29 km/hour. This included stopping at numerous stop signs and red lights, so I thought that wasn't too bad. I didn't ride hard, but didn't slack either, so it was a comfortable speed. Next time (yes, I am already thinking ahead) I'll try to go faster.

This was the first time I have ridden any significant distance without any real hills. I thought it would be boring, but it wasn't, and the various landmarks -- the unofficial used car and RV lot; the highway 60 exit; the landfill -- went by quickly. Although this ride is not nearly as picturesque as my north country rides, it was surprisingly enjoyable, and I'm glad I broke the ice and finally did it.

I met up with Hubby and Teenage Son at the Callingwood parking lot, and from there we rode through Wolf Willow into the ravine. Now, that was an adventure. I knew we had to go down some stairs. So we did. At the bottom, I expected to turn right, but the trail didn't give us that option. Fortunately, just then a woman came by with her dog and I asked her for directions. Turns out we had gone down the wrong stairs. "You want the 200 stairs," she said. Great!

About face, carry bikes up stairs (maybe 50?) and head for the other set of stairs. Two hundred stairs is a lot of stairs! Especially when you have to carry a bike. But we made it down and crossed a small bridge and came to yet another obstacle: a washed-out section of trail. Dismount yet again; carry bikes through the crater left by the floodwaters. Once we were finally on the right trail, all went smoothly and we came to the Fort Edmonton footbridge. From there it's just a short ride to the Fort itself, where we met the others.

We had a great time walking around the park, looking at the historical buildings, eating together and enjoying Little Granddaughter's happy smiles.

After we got home, I decided to take a spin on my vintage ten-speed. I just rode to the end of the trail and back again -- maybe a twenty-minute ride -- but somehow along the way I managed to lose my cell phone. When I realized I had dropped it, I had to decide: do I retrace my ride, or just go home and wait for the phone call? I decided on the latter course, and it turned out I chose well: as I was putting my bike in the rack, I could hear the phone ringing inside the house. Sure enough, it was the guy who had found my phone. He lives just up the street, so we took Maggie for a walk and stopped at his house along the way. What would this world be like without neighbours like him?

Now it's time to finish laundry and do some house-cleaning.

Friday, July 5, 2013

in the big ring

I could tell when I set out this morning that it was going to be an "I fought the wind" kind of ride. But it was a northwest wind, so I didn't mind. Riding north and west are when I climb the biggest hills, and I don't really mind if the wind is against me when I am climbing. I'm working hard anyway to crest the hill; why not fight the wind as well? It's when I'm on the flats or riding downhill against the wind that I feel slightly ripped off.

Today I stayed in the big ring the whole ride. As I eyed this hill, which doesn't actually end where it seems to, but starts again after the high point visible in the photo, I wondered if I would be able to make it without switching into the middle ring. After all, the wind was against me. But I made it. I worked hard and didn't even have to gear down really low. There is a slight downhill before the climb begins, but because of the wind today, the downhill wasn't a lot of help.

It was another beautiful day, around 20 degrees and mostly sunny with just a few photo-worthy clouds.

After the big climb I rode down to Roller Coaster Road and climbed again. I counted the hills this time. There are only four, but the first one is a three-parter. The second hill has two small but steep bumps; the third is a single climb and the fourth hill is the killer. Riding downhill again after the turn-around point, it's obvious that it was a significant climb to the top. This is also where the pavement is of the fat-jiggling, bone-mass-building variety. Sadly as I was speeding downhill, building bone mass and jiggling the last vestiges of fat off my already rather skinny frame, the cadence magnets fell off my pedal. Next time I ride there I'll check to see if I can find them, but I don't feel optimistic about it.  

The lilacs on Lilac Lane are almost finished blooming. Now the roadside is lined with white and yellow flowers which I have not yet identified. They smell pretty good, though, so that's all right.

Distance: 51.76 km.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Shopping for cycling

I've noticed something about hobbies. They force you to go shopping.

Unlike many women, I am not normally a big fan of shopping. Other than for Christmas shopping, you will rarely see me at the mall or at any store, for that matter. I do like checking out thrift shops and garage sales, but even at those I am not exactly a big spender.

But the bike shop (or the bike department of a sporting-goods store) is another story. I stopped in at MEC twice this week. If I ride through the city, it is right on my way. And today I urgently needed a helmet. 

Yesterday my need for a helmet was not as urgent, but on the weekend when Teenage Son had to change his tire, I realized how handy it is to have spare tubes in stock, especially since Canadian Tire doesn't carry all the needed sizes. So I bought two each for Hubby's and my bikes. And a set of tire levers to keep in the garage.

At lunchtime yesterday I walked to Forzani's Tech Shop. I like to go for a walk anyway on my lunch break and this store is sort of irresistible. They cram a lot of stuff into a small space and always have some good sales. I combed through the myriad pairs of cycling shorts until I finally found two extra-smalls, on sale for about $25 each. Score! It's hard to find the smallest size, especially at that price. Now I can get rid of my too-big pairs -- they kept catching on the nose of the bike saddle. 

And last week, while I was off work, I ran into a great deal on a vintage 10-speed road bike, similar to the one I had when I was in high school. But better. This one has classy deep red paint and a step-thru frame. It is in great condition, although I did need to replace the back tire. 

I'm afraid Bike Shop Guy didn't feel the vintage vibe and used a plain black rubber tire instead of the gumwall.  Oh well, it still looks pretty good and it's fun to ride. I am still getting used to it, though, and so far have only ridden on the trails close to home.

fallen trees and other sights

Back to work and bicycle commuting after a very stormy weekend, I wasn't completely surprised to see this on the 100 Avenue shared sidewalk:

There is just enough room to get through on a bike, but it definitely cramps one's style!
I don't think this next obstacle was the result of the storm. The photo was taken after someone tidied up a bit. The tree and shopping cart were part of the scenery on my commute every day this week.

I didn't take a photo of the dead cat I passed on my way to work this morning. Fortunately it was gone by the time I rode back to the car.

Other than this, it was a great -- though short -- week of riding my bike to and from work.

Today I forgot my helmet. My spare helmet, which I normally keep in the car, just in case, was out on loan. The result -- I rode to work bare-headed and noticed something interesting: my uncovered braided hair seemed to attract a lot of male attention. Much more than my helmet does. It was a strange feeling, since I normally consider myself quite inconspicuous when riding. 

As I was heading out of downtown, I sat at a red light beside two police cars. They were in the turning lane and I was in the going-straight lane. Oh no, I thought, half-expecting a comment along the lines of: "You really should wear a helmet." But no, the guys in the first car simply gave me a friendly smile. And the guy in the second car not only smiled, but said, "Have a nice day."

I had been planning to buy a new helmet anyway, as my old one is getting a bit grubby, so I stopped at MEC and bought a shiny white one. I also finally found some extra-small riding gloves, so I bought those, too.

I also stopped at the Russian market in Callingwood -- European Deli, or some such name -- where I bought some yummy peaches and nectarines and a few Jonagold apples. And, I cannot tell a lie, every time I go to this store I buy at least one bar of dark chocolate and often a fresh poppy seed roll. A word of warning: this is NOT the store to visit if you are trying to lose weight.

Monday, July 1, 2013

lazy days of summer

So far, it's been a hot (almost 30 degrees) and lazy July 1st. Hubby couldn't be persuaded to venture out to one of the nearby Canada Day celebrations so we are having an in-house BBQ instead.

Teenage Son wanted to ride his bike to meet some friends. Problem: his mountain bike is out of commission. We bought it in the spring and it has been in the shop more than out of it. Still not working properly. Hopefully we can get it taken care of once and for all this week, but not today; the shop is closed. His road bike had two flat tires and Presta valves. Our air compressor doesn't work with Prestas, so we watched a YouTube video on how to use adapters. The front tire inflated lickety-split. Not so the back. Turns out the valve was broken. We needed tubes for some of the other bikes anyway (I think each of our bikes uses a different tube) so I decided to ride Bonnie Blue to Canadian Tire to get some. The only ones they had in stock were the road bike tubes, so I bought two of those. When I returned home, I got to pass on what I learned earlier this season about changing tire tubes by showing Teenage Son how to do it. It was a little harder with the road bike tire; in fact, it took two of us to both take off and put on the tire. But we got it done. And he was happy.

At Canadian Tire as I was unlocking my bike and getting ready to leave, I met an older couple on their bikes. We chatted a bit, and then they asked about my Basil panniers, wondering where I'd bought them, so I told them about MEC and their amazing selection of bicycle bags. (Unfortunately, there is no local shop that carries this sort of thing.) I love to encourage others to ride a bike more often!

Last week I also bought a front basket and fenders for Bonnie Blue, so I plan to test my skills again and attach them during the next couple of days. 

And tomorrow it's back to work, so my mind has been busy planning the first day of classes. Flexibility is always paramount when teaching ESL, but especially so on the first day in a program such as ours. Registration occurs during the session's first week, so we are never sure until the last minute exactly who our students will be or how many students we'll have. And since our students are all ages and come from such varied backgrounds, the composition of the classes can be quite different from session to session. I always plan a variety of things and use the ones that seem suitable. It's been nice to have a week off, but I'm looking forward to going back, to riding my bike to and from work, and to seeing old students again and meeting new ones. My co-worker is a great person, too, so it's always nice to see her again as well.