Monday, October 28, 2013

mercury falling

minus 12 ~ that's what the thermometer said this morning 
when I arrived at work.

I wasn't too terribly cold as I rode from my car along the shared sidewalk and into Crestwood, but on my descent into the River Valley, I felt the temp drop a few degrees. Fortunately, I was dressed in plenty of layers: my cami, a cashmere sweater, a merino wool cardigan, two Sugoi thermal cycling jackets, and my Sugoi Versa windproof jacket. I wore long underwear. On my ears I wore a fleece earband, on my feet I wore wool gloves and lined short boots, and on my hands I had angora/wool gloves inside a pair of fleece-lined mittens. I wasn't cozy, but I was warm enough, and that's how it should be on the bike. Best of all, I didn't get too hot, even after riding up the hill on Victoria Park Drive.

During rides like this, as the icy wind hits my face, I sometimes ask myself if I am crazy. But then I remember how much I dislike driving, and how good I feel after the ride is over. And of course, the ride home is almost always easier -- warmer and sunnier.

Today in my afternoon class, I taught the students how to write a diamond poem. They loved it.They worked together to compose three poems: Elephant (the Sri Lankan student's idea), River (Cambodian student) and Trees (Ukrainian student.) It was a wonderful way to use previously learned vocabulary, and the students were so pleased with their work that they all wanted to write more for homework. Something to look forward to tomorrow!

Sunday, October 27, 2013

winterize your bike

Imagine my surprise when I saw a short article with this title in our local paper. 

"How cool!" I thought, "The city is encouraging people to ride their bikes through the winter." 

Heh, heh. Not quite, as it turns out. What the city is doing is encouraging people to record the details of their bikes (serial number, make and model, colour, etc.) -- presumably before putting them away for the winter. This, they tell us, may prove useful should your bicycle ever be stolen. Well, no doubt this is true. I wish I had heeded this advice before Bonnie Blue, my beautiful step-through bike, was stolen. And I have indeed done this for all my other bikes.

But... this is not what comes to my mind when I think about winterizing my bike. I mean, really, when we talk about winterizing cars, what are we saying? We're referring to getting them ready to drive on winter roads. 

Why not bikes, too? 
a glimpse of my commute last winter
Last winter, on all but the coldest days, I commuted to work on Clyde, my old but beloved winter riding companion. Click here for a typical ride from west-end Edmonton to downtown.

After bidding goodbye to the last of the snow last winter, I confess that in my enthusiasm to ride my "real" bikes, I simply put Clyde in the bike storage area and sort of forgot about him. But last weekend, it suddenly dawned on me that the fair weather would not last forever and that in a few short weeks, I would once again want to ride my bike in the snow. So I rolled Clyde out, cleaned the chain and other grubby parts, applied some lube and changed the hand grips and saddle, both of which were sadly worn and downright ugly. 

And last Friday I took him down to our local bike shop for some fine tuning that is beyond my capabilities. The shifting needed some work, and I wasn't sure what else might be wrong. 

Once again, the guys at the bike shop were great. As I rolled the ancient clunker into the shop, I was half-afraid they would laugh at me for even thinking this bike could be of use. But not at all. In fact, they said it was in decent shape, especially for a winter bike, adding that in the early 1990s, when this bike was made, Raleigh still turned out good quality products. The parts were intended to last, and as a result, the mechanic recommended replacing only one $15 part. Other than that, he adjusted the shifting, tightened a hub and changed a cable, all for less than $40. I bought a front and rear light and I was good to go. As I rode the bike home, I tested out the gears and all looks good. I am almost -- that is only almost -- looking forward to the snow.

weekend riding

Since I have Fridays off, every weekend is a long weekend for me. I typically do laundry, house-cleaning and all that other fun stuff on Fridays, but I also make sure I take time for a nice long bike ride. So, Friday afternoon I hopped on Milly, my Trek road bike, and went north of the city for a 60 km ride. It was about 12 degrees, with just a light wind, so a perfect day for riding. I didn't see any other cyclists, but I did see a few banana peels in the shoulder, an indication of those who had preceded me. I took the Roller Coaster Road detour, a couple of kilometers worth of small but steep climbs that I always enjoy. It no longer looks like this -- the trees are stripped of their leaves and the green grass is now a sad yellowish-brown.
The roller coaster begins
I rode to the seniors' home and greeted to the gentleman, who in vest and panama hat, regularly walks along the highway to the airport and back.

I didn't see any particularly interesting animals, but as I rode past the airport, I watched a large predatory bird (probably a hawk) interacting with a flock of smaller birds. My attempt to photograph this sight was not entirely successful:
I also saw a pair of colourful pigeons sitting in the shoulder, looking like they were wondering why they ever left the city.

I recently read Fitness Cycling, by Shannon Sovndal, MD. I like this book -- it's not too technical for recreational cyclists like me, and it's even set in age 40+ font (i.e., suitable for those who don't like to put on their reading glasses.) This isn't a issue for me, since I wear progressive lenses and usually take off my glasses when I read, but I know that Hubby and many of my friends appreciate a larger font.  

The book's subtitle is 56 workouts proven to improve strength, speed and stamina, and I'm sort of feeling like maybe I need to try a few of them. After a whole summer of riding, I find I'm in pretty decent shape, and my usual rides, which used to be somewhat challenging, are now a little too easy. I think this means I need to push myself a bit harder, especially on the hills. I love, love, love riding up hills. This book has a whole section of hill workouts, which I plan to try next cycling season (or next weekend, if riding conditions are still good.) 

This guy also says you should empty a bottle of water every hour. He's a doctor; he should know. This is something else I need to work on. I often ride the full two to two and half hours without taking even a sip. It has never been a problem, but I certainly don't want to learn the hard way that he is right.

Friday, October 25, 2013

95 Avenue -- loving those new bike lanes

Yesterday I rode in the bike lane on 95 Ave. again. This time, after exiting the River Valley, I continued straight on 148 Street to 95 Ave. This meant I avoided the dicey intersection at 149 Street and 100 Avenue. I've never had any trouble there, but almost every day I hear annoyed honks or see uncertain motorists inching forward in trepidation... waves of tension emanate from car after car.

In the bike lanes, on the other hand, the mood is relaxed and I feel safe. I did feel a smidgen of irritation, however, when I saw a young guy riding his bike on the sidewalk on the south side of the street. He was riding west, the same direction as I was going, which meant that not only was he on the sidewalk, but riding counter-traffic. I felt like yelling across to him asking whether he's ever heard of bike lanes and why he thinks the funny white lines are on the road, but I shrugged it off. To each his own... 

Thursday, October 24, 2013

am I invisible?

Just yesterday I told Hubby that I was surprised that no one has ever expressed any interest or curiosity about my morning routine. 

It looks like this: Arrive at my parking spot near a community centre. Take my bike out of the back of the van. Braid my hair. Load up my panniers -- briefcase, jacket, sweater, sometimes shoes, other miscellaneous stuff. Put my purse in the rack pack. Put on my helmet and gloves. Lock the van. Ride off towards downtown.

I have been observed by many and various people: children and young people on their way to school, dog-walkers, police officers, City of Edmonton workers, to name a few.

Some I see more or less regularly. But no one has ever shown any interest.

Until today when I returned to the van after work. After I'd put my bike in the car, an older lady, whom I frequently see in the mornings as she walks her dog, came along.

"Finished work?" she asked. I said yes. "Do you work at the school?" I told her that I work downtown. 

"Do you take the bus?" 

"No, I ride my bike." 

Her face lit up. "That's nice." I agreed, adding that I ride through the River Valley. "Oh, I used to love to do that," she said, her eyes glowing. "The scenery is so beautiful." Again I agreed and told her about the sunrise the past couple of days. From her response, it was clear she understood my joy in being able to experience that every morning.

I asked about her dog ("Dolly") and gave the little curly-haired mutt the appropriate attention. The woman then told me about the boys a couple of houses up the street, who had a bird outside with them in the front yard. 

So after Dolly and her owner had gone on their way, I went to check out the bird. It was a lovebird, perched contentedly on the oldest boy's shoulder as he raked leaves. 

After I had given the bird its due, one of the little boys piped up: "Are you the biker?"

I prefer to be called a cyclist, but I let it pass and simply said yes.

"I see you every morning," he told me, clearly in awe. "Do you ride your bike to work?" I replied in the affirmative. After a brief chat, I bade them farewell, chuckling to myself. 

Who says no one notices me? I think I must be as visible as this tree:

sunrise ... reworked

Riding east through the River Valley at sunrise...
... the infinite variety of colour and cloud combinations....
 ... reflecting off the river...
 ... just one more reason to ride my bike to work!
Looking west...

Wednesday, October 23, 2013


Riding into the sunrise -- what a way to begin the day! I had to stop to take some photos and as I was clicking, I promised myself I would take a closer look at my camera's manual settings so I can get some better-quality shots in future.

 It was a gorgeous morning, about 5 degrees, so not too cold; and for the first time in days, it wasn't windy. I was not the only cyclist enjoying the beautiful weather -- I counted at least 5 others, one on a recumbent bike, as I rode through the River Valley.
Yesterday as I was riding up the first small hill out of the valley, a guy whizzed by me on a Fat Bike. He came down from Groat, so he had lots of momentum, but even so, I was impressed -- and I confess, a little envious -- when I saw him motor past. I didn't know a Fat Bike could go so fast. And it looked like fun, too. Since I'm not willing to spend $1,800, however, I'll continue to have fun on my hybrid while the weather remains bonny, and then I'll make the most of my sturdy mountain bike once the snow covers the ground.
My ride back to the car was delightful, too. Again, the wind was almost non-existent, it was fairly warm, and the sun was peeking through the clouds. Instead of riding on the shared pathway all the way to 163 Street, I have been turning south on 153 Street, which is a marked on-street bike route. From there I normally turn east on 97 Avenue, but today I decided to ride down to 95 Avenue to try out the brand spanking new bike lanes. The pavement is fresh and the paint is fresher, so fresh that the bike images are not yet stenciled onto the road. I do love bike lanes! While I don't mind riding on a normal street, sharing a lane with cars, there is nothing like a designated lane to ride in. 

Thank you, City of Edmonton! 

When I arrived back at the car, my GPS told me I'd cycled 10 km. That made me happy. Not only that, but the clouds had all but disappeared and the sky was a bold clear blue. I took off my jacket and basked in the sun as I unloaded my bike.
After getting home, I hopped on Silver, my step-through bike, and rode over to the local bike shop to have the back rack re-installed. It had come loose one day last week when I rode on the rough and tough bike lane on 106 Street. I have never ridden slower than I did on my way over there -- the rack was so loose I could hear it jiggling around all the way. I even had to stop and pick up a piece that fell as I was riding. The guys at the shop are the best -- they put that rack on so well, it looks like it will be on there for the rest of my life.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Thanksgiving Day

Today is Thanksgiving Day. I am thankful for so many things -- family and friends, a job I love, good health, a great country to live in, and of course ... the plethora of wonderful places around here where I can ride my bike.

Yesterday we had most of the family over for Thanksgiving dinner. Little Granddaughter, at 9 1/2 months, is walking everywhere and she is, of course, absolutely adorable. She loves our dog, Maggie, but Maggie does not share those feelings of affection. Normally when Maggie sees Little GD approaching, she runs. Yesterday we managed to hold Maggie in place long enough for Little GD to pet her, so maybe there is hope. 

We had a great meal, but I still had my cold, and after dinner when everyone was getting ready to play Jackass, I opted out and went upstairs to lie down. Now, I love playing games with my family, and Jackass is a long-time favourite, so you gotta know I was really feeling lousy. I actually fell asleep for about an hour. After that, I felt pretty good and after everyone had left, I even went for an evening walk with Hubby and Maggie.

I wanted to make the most of the nice weather and do some cycling this weekend, but I didn't feel well enough the first three days. Today I woke up feeling much better. For the first time in three days I didn't have a sore throat. 

My original plan had been to ride to Drayton Valley, about 106 km from here. Hubby was driving down there to pick up Youngest Son and his friends after a three-day canoe trip, so I thought I could meet them there. But after my three days of not feeling so great, I questioned whether such a long ride would be a good idea, and we decided on a Plan B. I would leave at the same time as Hubby; he would go to Drayton Valley and pick up the boys, and then pick me up on the way back. That way I'd end up riding about 2 to 2 1/2 hours, not too strenuous for someone just getting over a cold.

I set off as planned. The wind was from the southwest, which just happened to be the direction I was headed. It wasn't too strong, but was pretty relentless, so it was a good workout. I rode along Parkland Drive and turned south on Highway 770. The road is not bad, although the shoulder is narrow and traffic was fairly heavy, but I felt comfy and safe. It's a pleasantly winding road with small hills, so not boring. I rode past some nice lakes and of course some signs that tickled my funnybone. Like Cross-Country Overhead Doors. I can just see those doors on their treks across country -- or not. Then there was the community hall that proclaimed "Perogy Supper Today - October 4." 

I rode and rode, knowing that at some point I would come to this sign:
Genesee Hill
The hill was not quite as advertised -- it was so windy going down that I couldn't really get up any speed, and in spite of the headwind, uphill on the other side was not hard at all.

The River Valley here is quite bleak. Looks like the wind and frost have already robbed it of all the autumn colours. It was a gorgeous warm day -- about 13 C -- with a brilliant blue sky, and there were some people fishing along the shore, but it was nothing like the riot of colour along the river in Edmonton. Shades of Grey comes to mind.

After I crested the hill on the other side of the river, I rode for a few kilometers, past Genesee Lake and a sweet little picnic ground, and then I started to wonder about Hubby and the boys. I had been riding about two hours, so I thought maybe they were on their way back. I sent a text giving my location and received a text in reply: "Can't find the boys. Construction preventing river access. Not sure how long we'll be."

I stopped and called to ask for more details, only to learn that they still hadn't found a spot to get down to the river. They hadn't seen the boys. They had no idea when they would leave Drayton. I decided to turn around and start riding back. I had forgotten to put my computer on the bike, so I wasn't sure exactly how far I'd ridden, but I thought it must be about 50 K. It looked like I was headed for an unplanned metric century.

I had one bottle of water -- enough for 2 hours, but not really adequate for 100K. (Just last week I had read about how cyclists should down a bottle of water every hour.) I also had a tiny bag (maybe 1/2 cup) of trail mix. And that was it.  

When I rode past the perogy supper sign for the second time, I was really wishing it actually was happening today! And I don't even particularly like perogies.

I kept calm and pedaled on, thinking that Hubby would surely overtake me at any time. But I came to the turn for Parkland Drive and still no sign of him and the boys. When I came to Blueberry School, I decided that would be a good stopping place, and pulled over into the parking lot of the church across the way. I was just contemplating a tour of the cemetery when Hubby drove up. 

Upon my arrival at home, I mapped out my trip on Map My Ride and wasn't sure whether to be pleased or disappointed when I saw I had ridden about 93 km. Of course I was proud of myself for riding that far, especially when I had a cold, but I was also a little disappointed that I hadn't continued for another 7K. Oh well, there will be plenty of nice days, and at least I know now that I can ride 100K on one bottle of water and a little bag of trail mix.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

mountain ash trees

Hubby's parents are from the Pittsburgh area, where fall colours are pretty awesome. 
But when they came to visit us in mid-October a few years ago, 
his mom was most impressed by two things...
  (she had never seen one before and had no idea what a nuisance they can be) 
mountain ash trees

Today as I rode back to the car after work, I noticed the mountain ash trees.
Some are still green. 
They look beautiful enough in that state, especially against a brilliant blue sky.

Some of them are turning yellow. 

And some are morphing into the splendid fiery red that made my mother-in-law exclaim.

Despite a relentless south wind, today's ride back to the car was pretty decent, every bit as good as the photos suggest. But I can't say the same about my ride to work. I parked in Callingwood, so the trip was about 12 km. When I left home the outdoor thermometer said 0 and the weather web site said the wind chill was minus 4. It was C-O-L-D. My gloves weren't warm enough. My socks and shoes weren't warm enough. Everything else was fine, but as Confucius no doubt say, cold hands and cold feet are enough to make one's whole body miserable. Accordingly, as soon as I got home this evening, I dug out my winter mittens with their wool liners and my ankle boots and wool socks. Tomorrow, I will be prepared!
~ ~ ~
Some days I begin class by having the students work as a team to compose sentences about the weather. After all, they're in Canada, and among us Canadians, weather is a favourite topic. Today they came up with 8 or 10 sentences about the wind, the cold, the wind chill, the sunny sky and the frost. 

Then we went around the room and the students told what today's weather is like in their countries. Quite a few of the students are from southeast Asia, which is experiencing severe flooding after a typhoon. One student's family had to move out of their house into a tent.

In Ukraine, it is about 20 degrees -- they call it a Baba (Grandma) Summer. In Korea and northern China, it is also warm. Paris is warm, but rainy. And in Hungary it is already  -9.

OK, so maybe Korea, China and Ukraine have the weather advantage right now, but I think I'll take Edmonton over any of the others. 

Especially with the mountain ash trees!

River Valley in pastels

On Monday morning it was sort of cool and rainy, and I still had a bit of a cold, so I decided to take what seems like the easy way out of the River Valley -- up Victoria Park Road. I don't know if the climb is really any easier than Fortway Drive, but the fact that I can ride on a shared pathway and don't have to worry about cars on my way up gives me some peace of mind. Or something. 

When I reached the path that goes down into the valley, instead of riding right past, I had to stop. The view was so spectacular I felt the need to take a picture. Except. I'd forgotten my camera. So, after a moment of enjoying the sight, I pressed on up the hill. On Tuesday I brought my camera and took the same route. The angle of the sun was not quite the same, making the effects of the light different from Monday (I totally understand what Monet was talking about!), but it was beautiful nevertheless.
from Victoria Park Road

I think I still prefer the Fortway Drive hill, 
but the view is definitely better from Victoria Park.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

October's bright blue weather

O suns and skies and clouds of June,
And flowers of June together,
Ye cannot rival for one hour
October's bright blue weather.
(Helen Hunt Jackson)

Today was another bright blue day -- interspersed with cloudy periods and even a light sprinkle of rain at one point. Hubby had a job west of Wabamun, so I decided to ride Milly out and meet him. I rode along the quiet and beautiful Parkland Drive, enjoying the colourful trees lining the road. My ride was about 45 km, not one of my longer rides, but I have a bit of a cold, so I felt like that was enough.

I did have to ride on the Yellowhead about about 12 km. That was less than enjoyable, as there is construction right now and of course the traffic is fairly heavy. But the shoulders are nice and wide, so it is easy riding. 

The temperature was about 14 C, which is ideal riding weather, and there was a light but steady west wind to offer a bit of challenge. I can't say this was my favourite ride ever, but it was kind of fun and something different.

Yesterday morning I tried to go for a ride -- got all ready to go and started off, but I was way too cold and ended up coming back. Then in the afternoon, the wind picked up (about 40 km/hr) so I didn't end up riding much -- just to Superstore and the bike shop in search of some warmer but still slim-fitting gloves. We did go for a nice long walk in the evening, after the wind had calmed down a bit, so at least I wasn't completely idle, but I did miss riding. So I was glad to get out for a ride today.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

being dry is overrated

It's true. 
Last night the forecast read 
High: 3 C. Rain: 5 mm.
Even so, I knew I would rather ride my bike than drive downtown to work.
Why would I want to drive and miss out on seeing Old Man Coyote on my path as I descend into the River Valley? That's what I saw this morning. Of course, it was raining and cold; and there was no way I was going to stop for a photo shoot, 
but I have the picture to treasure in my mind as a reminder of why 
life is better on a bike.

Then there are the unexpected sights like this dazzling red tree and the contrasting yellow of a fall flower garden. In the car, I'd probably drive on past unseeing.

There are the other cyclists I encounter. We exchange nods and smiles as we pass, knowing that whatever our differences in age, bicycle style, clothing, destination, 
we have something in common.

Today I was even sort of excited about the rain, as it gave me a chance to try out my new MEC Adanac tights. I had a hard time forking over the $80 for these tights. I have two pairs of almost-waterproof pants that I've used for the last three years, and they are still in good condition. They fit over my regular pants, and most days, if the rain or snow is not too heavy, they are adequate. But they are a bit too big, and on the days when they are not adequate, I really feel it. So I finally decided to outfit myself properly. I bought a small, thinking that this way they'd be large enough to wear over my regular pants. They are large enough (even a bit loose) through the hips and thighs, but the calves are pretty narrow. Today I wore them over skinny pants and they were fine, but I'm not sure how they'd be over pants with a wider leg. But they did their job! I rode for almost half an hour in steady rain, and they kept me completely dry. 

On top, over my cashmere pullover and wool cardigan, I wore my two Sugoi jackets -- one thermal layer and one barrier layer. The Versa jacket (barrier layer) is one of my favourite pieces, as it has removable sleeves -- all one piece that attaches with magnets -- and if I find I'm getting too hot, I simply pull this part of the jacket away from my shoulders, roll it up and stuff it in the back pocket. The remaining vest still gives good visibility and wind protection, but I keep cool.

On my hands, my trusty Castelli Diluvio gloves. These were a great buy, as they are perfect for temperatures between +10 and -5 Celsius, which is what we have for a good part of the year. They are comfy and look cool, too.