On the ski hills, on the bike trails, and thru life in general

Archive for October, 2012

Coffeeneuring 6 – Critters

Another short, cold ride today (wind chill -10C) but at least I got to see some animals that I haven’t seen for a while.  I was standing on the viewing platform on Big Lake when I noticed some movement on the ice a few hundred yards out.  Looking through the deck binoculars, I could see that it was a coyote in search of a meal.  It was quite far from any open water, hence nowhere near where the remaining waterfowl are gathered, and, as I watched, it turned and started trotting towards the nearest shore in defeat.  Although I have seen many coyotes there in the past, and I know that at least 1 pack lives in the woods nearby, this is the first time this year that I have seen one.  Too far away for a photo though.  And just as I was about to leave, I caught a glimpse of a large brownish-black bird fly past.  It was one of the immature bald eagles that my wife had seen out there and told me about.  Again, it was too far away by the time I got my camera out to get a photo 😦

I was more successful taking pictures of stationary evidence of the wildlife, like the small animal tracks (fox, probably) in the wetland.  Now that snow is covering the ice, you can see the tracks of the mammals and birds that decide to go on a walkabout.

Fox tracks on the ice in the wetland.

More tracks in the swamp

Birds that are confined to the small leads of open water in the river are easy targets too, like the ducks and tundra swan below.

Ducks and a tundra swan coping with the ice

I went for coffee at a shop that I used to patronize often a few years ago but haven’t been to in a while, the Second Cup in Inglewood Square.  It is off my usual cycling route and doesn’t have good bike parking so it has fallen off my radar.  But it does have good coffee, for a chain, and yummy treats.

Ahh – warmth and treats! With my helmet stuffed with tuque and mitts.  And not my bike thru the window – it’s an ad for a fitness club in the same shopping centre.

This is 6 coffeeneuring rides done, 1 more to go over the next 2 weekends!  With the weather supposed to get above zero next week (finally), completing the challenge should be a piece of cake.  Or donut…

Coffeeneuring 6

Date: Sat, October 27

Place: Second Cup, Inglewood Square, St. Albert

What: coffee, banana walnut muffin

Distance: 16 km

Details: Cold, with a chance of critters.

Coffeeneuring 5 – In the snow

The weather forecasters finally got it right, much to my dismay, when we awoke to a blanket of snow this morning.  Not much, only about a half inch, but enough to provide icy lubrication on the streets and trails.  My 700×35 bike tires are not suited to winter, having almost no tread, which makes them great for pavement but not so much for traction in mud or snow.  I went out for a 3-mile walk first, to check the trails, and found that the city was in the process of sweeping them clean.  It was still cool, at -6C, but the sun was shining and it was just too nice a day to pass up a ride.  So trepidation and care was the order of the day when I set out.  I often push the season when I head out in spring as soon as I see a bit of pavement showing through the ice and snow, so I figured that this wasn’t much different.  And I was pleasantly surprised!  I had no problems with traction, even on the areas that the sweeper hadn’t got to yet.  By noon, the sun had melted some of the open stretches and, with the swept areas, about 60% of my route was snow free.

Some parts of the trail were still snow covered…

Some parts of the trail were partially melted off…

And some parts of the trail were fairly clean!

The snow has covered the ice but the duckweed patch is mostly snow free. Ominous clouds in the north.

The snow on the duckweed had melted off, except in the shadows of the deck rails!

Bye geese! Have a nice trip – see you next year.

And I was able to get in my coffeeneuring requirement too.  After my usual ride out to Big Lake, I headed over to the Glasshouse Bistro and Cafe.  It is located in The Enjoy Centre, which is the new home for Hole’s greenhouse – one of the largest greenhouses in western Canada.  I enjoyed a very nice vanilla bean latte and warmed up for my trip home.  On the way out, I passed a guy dressed as a marshmallow who was just entering.  The cashier looked over at me and said “And so it begins…”.  Ah Halloween.  And here I thought I would stand out dressed in my biking duds!

Vanilla bean latte at Glasshouse Cafe

Coffeeneuring 5:

Date: Friday, Oct. 26

Place: Glasshouse Bistro and Cafe, St. Albert

What: Vanilla bean latte

Distance: 18 km

Details: 1st ride in the snow.  Probably not the last.

The Zen Cyclist

Just about the only activity that nature has been displaying this week is the slow, inexorable process of turning water into ice.  Watching ice form is a lot like watching paint dry, just colder.  Neither has much of an excitement factor.  But that pretty well describes my bike journeys this past week.  Although our normal high for this time of year is supposed to be +7, we haven’t even reached 0 since sometime last week.  So puddles and ponds are now solid, the open leads in the Sturgeon River are slowly closing off and Big Lake is completely frozen for 50 yards from shore.  Thankfully, we have not had any appreciable precipitation, so the trails are still clear and dry.  Being a skier, I am used to dressing appropriately for sub-zero temps and am quite comfortable on my rides, but I do have to watch out for overheating though overexertion.  Getting a sweat on at this time of year is not recommended!  I think that reigning in the horses that have been galloping all summer, so to speak, is the hardest thing to get used to when it turns cold.  I have turned into a zen cyclist, everything slow and deliberate.

There are still a few patches of open water on the river, all of them filled with ducks, swans, geese and gulls trying to extend their stay in the frozen north (for some strange reason). Even though the trees are mostly bare and few of the water birds remain, there is still beauty in the pre-winter bleakness.  On the sunny days, the fresh ice glints and reflects light like vast imperfect panes of glass. On the cloudy days, the structure of the ice stands out more.  The shoreline mud is frozen into little polygon patterns, bounded by solidified foam, then ice ripples spread out into the smooth texture of the deeper water ice.  The ponds are either glassy or mottled with the frozen-in-place detritus of weeds and reeds.  In the larger pond areas, the position of the green-brown carpet of duckweed shows the wind direction on freeze-up day (northwest).

Swans, geese and ducks enjoying (?) the last patches of open water on the river.

No ducks here! All quiet on Big Lake shoreline as the ice extends farther and farther out.

A frosty deck, on the Poole wetland boardwalk, overlooking a glassy frozen pond.

A carpet of frozen duckweed on the pond

The river on Tuesday.

The river on Thursday – more ice, fewer ducks.

No coffee rides this week. I have my coffeeneuring rides planned out for the weekend and am hoping for snow-free trails.  If I’m snowed out, as the forecast portends, it will be touch and go as to whether I can get the last 3 official rides in before the deadline 😦 Supposed to be above zero by mid next week, though, so there is still hope.

Coffeeneuring 4 – Oct. 19

The “nice” cycling days are dwindling so I was looking forward to a pleasant (i.e not snowy and cold) ride around St. Albert today, complete with my requisite coffee at a shop not previously visited (for coffeeneuring purposes anyway).  My plans looked like they might have to be amended when Dick sent out an email to all the roadies in our group, to meet at our usual time and place for a Friday ride to the army base.  Since I have already counted this as a coffeeneuring ride, it looked like I would have to extend my ride so that I could take in a second coffee stop.  As fate would have it, NOBODY showed up to ride except me!  The weather was a bit cooler than forecast but still above zero, dry, and not windy, so it is a mystery as to why no one showed.  Not wanting to cruise trails on my road bike, I went home, changed clothes, changed bikes and set out again to follow my original agenda.

I took my usual route along the Red Willow Trail to the viewing platform on Big Lake.  Still lots of ducks and geese on the lake and ponds, resting and fueling up for their trip south. The air is full with honks and quacks and all the other bird noises (peeps from the shorebirds, screeches from the raptors…).  There were a few binocular-carrying pedestrians on the trail and boardwalk, and a few dog walkers, but I met no other cyclists. Jeez – it wasn’t THAT bad a day for riding!  The sky was leaden grey though and, although I took about a dozen pictures, they all looked as dull as the sky. Fall, on a sunny colour-enhancing day, is wonderful for photos. Fall, on a dull, grey day, is – well – dull and grey, although I am sure my lack of photographic talent has something to do with that assessment :/

Fall is aptly named.

I stopped for coffee at La Crema Caffe on St. Thomas Street in St. Albert.  Nice shop, good coffee, yummy treats, a little pricy.

Cold camera + warm cafe = foggy lens. Note to self: check lens before snapping pic 😦

Coffeeneur 4

Date: Oct. 19

Place: La Crema Caffe, 44 St. Thomas Street, St. Albert

What: Small coffee, BIG cinnamon bun

Distance: 19.4 km

Details: A there-and-back on Red Willow Trail to Big Lake.


One of the things that I most enjoy about biking is the opportunity to explore.  Traveling in the elements, under your own power, you get to see and experience things that are just not available to travelers insulated within metal, plastic and glass conveyances.  Certainly trips that are far afield, such as my bike trip through Belgium and France early this summer, would be a prime example of discovery and adventure.  But closer to home you can discover too – there are unfamiliar neighbourhoods, new developments, parks, and trails to explore. More prosaic perhaps, but there is still the delight of finding someplace new that you can share with others.  Such was the case with today’s ride.

As expected, I took some flak from my biking group for cancelling the ride on Tuesday due to an ominous weather forecast.  As reported earlier, the forecast was totally out to lunch and it was a great day for riding after all.  Instead of having a group ride, we all ended up going out for rides on our own so it’s not like the day was a total loss.  Today’s group ride was the make-up ride for Tuesday.  It was a bit chilly and windy but 6 of us braved the conditions while I led them on trails that were new to all of them.  We started in St. Albert but made our way to the newly repositioned 137th Ave in Edmonton. A 14-block portion of it, between 184th St and 170th St, is still not open for traffic but the multi-use trail beside it is.  We continued on this trail all the way to 142nd St and then north up 142nd back into St. Albert.  On the way, I pointed out that 170th St now also has a multi-use trail developed into St. Albert so there are a bunch of safe, new options to get from one city to the other.  Although there are still many deficiencies in the trail infrastructure, this is a welcome development.

Oct 18th ride

We stopped for coffee at the Starbucks in Servus Centre, the city-owned recreation facility in St. Albert, where I enjoyed a small coffee (I don’t speak Starbucksian, but the barista understood what I meant by small) and a large chocolate chip cookie.

Coffee and a cookie. Life is good.

It was a shorter ride today, only 29.5 km, but the group enjoyed riding on the new (to them) trails.  Although some of them had driven those streets in the past, they were amazed at the amount of new development – upgraded and re-positioned roads, new buildings, separate trails – that had sprung up in the past year.  We will be doing more exploring in that area next year as the upgrading continues.

It not being a Friday or Saturday, my official coffeeneuring days, I can’t count this as a coffeeneuring ride.  With snow in the forecast for 3 of the next 5 days, my biking days are not over yet but I can see the end of the season from here. I only need 4 more official rides over the next 3 weekends. Here’s hoping!

An Inexact Science

Weather forecasting!  It has to be a tough gig when everybody depends on your latest prognostication to plan their day, at least that portion that is out in the elements.  Either get it right or duck the slings and arrows that will be coming your way. Even with the vast amounts of data being masticated, digested and spewed out by supercomputers to arrive at a reasonable guess as to what the next day or 2 will bring, they still manage to pooch it sometimes. I guess they should be allowed a few transgressions but it sure sucks when plans are made and cancelled because of an ominous looking forecast.

Take today, for example.  Last week, I had arranged to lead a group ride in St. Albert.  Yesterday’s forecast promised an absolutely brutal day for today – rain, high of 7C, and winds gusting to 70 kph.  Not wanting to subject anyone to those conditions, I sent out an email to everybody last night, cancelling the ride (actually postponing it to Thursday).  At 7 a.m. this morning, I could hear rain being lashed against my bedroom window.  Boy – they sure got that forecast right I thought, glad I cancelled the ride.  By 9 a.m. there was bright sunshine, light winds and it was already 8C.  Well crap!  By 10 a.m., and clear in every direction, I ventured out to do a solo ride for the next hour and a half.  Needless to say, it was a perfect day for a fall bike ride.  A little windy, but no rain and lots of sun.  I expect to take a lot of flak from my group come Thursday and I fully intend to pass on the blame to the local meteorologists who led me astray.

The day wasn’t a complete loss though.  It gave me an opportunity to pre-ride the route that I intended to take the group on, and search out a suitable coffee stop.  Some of the areas that were under construction a few days ago are now clear – the dirt piles on the mult-use trail on 137th Ave have been removed – and parts of the trail beside 142nd St are being trenched, which will necessitate a detour into traffic.  I wanted to find a coffee shop at around the 20 – 25 km mark, one with decent bike parking, and it looks like the Starbucks at the Servus Place rec centre will have to do.  The forecast for Thursday is for sun and high of 10C.  Let’s hope they don’t screw it up twice in one week.

Not the cloudy, rainy day that was forecast!

The tamaracks are glowing this time of year.

Coffeeneuring 3 – Big Lake, Oct. 13

I had hoped to get out yesterday for my 3rd official coffeeneuring ride but, with the temperature at 3C and raining, I wimped out. Luckily, the weather improved considerably for today and it ended up being a lovely day for a bike ride.  It was 8C and cloudy and a little cool when I left home and I overdressed to start.  By the time I did my usual ride down the Red Willow Trail to the viewing platform on Big Lake, only 7.5 km distant, I was starting to sweat!  Off came the wind pants, under-helmet tuque (what was I thinking!), and upper base layer.  The latter article of clothing, of course, required me to strip to the skin so I’m glad that there was nobody else on the platform.  I don’t like to scare the kids :/  Later, after coffee, I replaced my nylon shell with a light vest. In the hour and a half that I was out, it warmed up to a sunny 12C.  Sun and an extra 4C makes a huge difference!

Mostly there and back on the Red Willow trail, with a slight detour into Edmonton.

Instead of just doing a simple out-and-back, I decided to check out the progress being made on the newly rerouted 137th Avenue, on the border of St. Albert and Edmonton.  It is still not open for car traffic so it was a nice quiet ride on the fresh pavement.  The multi-use trail on the south side of the road has been open for a few months, apparently, but this is the first time that I have explored it.  For whatever reason, probably because the foreman isn’t a biker, the work crew preparing the road on the last stretch, near 170 St, have dumped piles of dirt on the trail.  With the road still under construction in that area, crawling with workers and big machines, and the trail now blockaded by dirt, I rode back on the vacant westbound traffic lane. What a treat to have the whole newly paved road all to myself!  The final paving is supposed to be done tomorrow so this is the last time I’ll be able to do that. Nevertheless, the multi-use lane is great, temporary dirt piles notwithstanding, and will be a welcome addition to the bike trail infrastructure.  I’m glad that whoever does the planning for new arterials in Edmonton now includes separate multi-use trails in the contract requirements. Now if only St. Albert would show the same foresight as Edmonton and Sherwood Park in requiring multi-use trails beside any major new road development.

The Red Willow trail and Sturgeon River. Still a few damp spots remain after yesterday’s rain.

Hay bales in field at exit of Poole wetland boardwalk.

Multi-use trail on south side of 137th Ave. I rode back on the vehicle-free westbound traffic lane, barely visible in this picture over the median.

A wooded section of the Red Willow trail. Autumn is here!

Approaching the trestle bridge from the south.

On the return trip, I stopped for refreshments at Arcadia Cafe, on Perron Street, which is the usual coffee stop on our St. Albert club rides.  It is in a very convenient location, situated right beside the Red Willow Trail, has a nice atmosphere and lots of places to park a bike.  They make quite a passable latte and homemade granola squares that I cannot resist!  Only 23 km but, all in all, a very pleasant ride.

Fulfilled my coffeeneuring requirement at the Arcadia Cafe. Love the granola squares!

First Sub-Zero Ride, Oct 11

It was bound to happen – we finally got our first snowfall yesterday, albeit minor, and our first sub-zero ride today.  We arranged to start our ride at 11 a.m., instead of the usual 10 a.m., to give it a chance to warm up.  Umm…, not so much.  It stayed at -3C all morning, although the wind chill did fall from -10C when we started to -8C by the time we finished.  Needless to say, the ride was short and the coffee break was long. Actually, at 14.8 km, it was the shortest ride we have done all season.

Bob led 5 of us (another 3 intrepid souls started off at 10 a.m.), from Hawrelak Park, up MacKenzie Ravine, and over to the Second Cup on 149th Street.  We lingered considerably longer than we usually do in the coffee shop to let the blood flow return to our toes and fingers.  I wore my balaclava, so my head and face were warm, but even with insulated biking gloves my fingers were uncomfortably cold.  Next sub-zero day I think I’ll wear my ski mitts! No adventurous detours today, as we did pretty well a direct route back – down MacKinnon Ravine, over Groat Bridge, around Emily Murphy Park and into Hawrelak.


Today’s route – short and sweet.

The gravel trails in Hawrelak, the south side of the river and up MacKenzie Ravine were in pretty good shape, all things considered.  The were a few frozen puddles, avoidable, but you had to be careful riding on the pervasive leaf cover ’cause you just knew that they hid a skating rink beneath.  So the ride was slow and careful.  Nobody wanted to ride fast anyway – there was already enough of a wind chill and even a minor sweat would turn uncomfortable real quick.  Looking forward to warmer temperatures this weekend.

Coffee at 149th Street Second Cup. I had my ski mitts in my pack (and wind pants and tuque) but never dug them out. My fingers were unhappy with that decision.

Biking up MacKenzie Ravine. Snow lingering on the tree branches, not much on the ground. Temperature -3C.

Again, I’ll be keeping this coffeeneuring ride in reserve in case the weather prevents me from getting enough rides in on my “official” coffeeneuring days of Friday and Saturday before November 11th.

Terwillegar Ride, Oct 9

The weekly Tuesday and Thursday bike rides for the ski club officially ended on October 4th but many of us continue on “unofficially” until we get a permanent snow cover or until it is cold enough for the local skis hills to open on either natural or artificial snow.  Last year, we were able to bike well into November and I had a hiatus of only 6 days between a self-imposed end of biking season (too freaking cold) and beginning of skiing.  I find it much easier to dress appropriately for downhill skiing when it is below zero than for biking.  At least I don’t have to climb the ski hills whereas, on a bike, getting out of the river valley is a heat-inducing grunt that just invites hypothermia.  I ride for fun and fitness, not out of need for lack of a car or an ecological principle.  Once the hills open, I just change one form of fun for another.

Although the forecast for this week is for cold and a rain/snow flurry mix, it is supposed to get back into the double digits by the weekend.  Today was a bit chilly, at a cloudy 5C, but there was no wind and everyone dressed warm. Chris led a group of 7 riders on a ride from Hawrelak Park (top of map) on a nice circuit of the single- and double-track trails in Terwillegar Park and back to Hawrelak.  The total ride was 29.5 km.  The dirt trails in Terwillegar were in prime condition – dry, hard packed and nobody else on them except for some dog walkers.  Thank goodness the walkers avoid the single tracks.  I’d hate to meet someone coming the other way on some of those trails! And no other bikers, seeing as that it was a weekday. And cold.

Route map for today’s ride.

The city of Edmonton maintains over 160 km of trails in North Saskatchewan River valley within the city limits and there are many more unmaintained kilometres that are used by the hard core mountain bike set.  I am sure that we managed to bump our way down (and up and along) some places where seniors are not usually found!

Coffee was at the Second Cup at Rabbit Hill Rd and Terwillegar Dr. (at bottom of map).

I am not going to count my mid-week rides in the Coffeeneuring Challenge but I am going to keep them in reserve, just in case old man winter decides that he isn’t going to give me 6 more (5 now) weekends this year!


Coffee at the Second Cup. And goodies, of course.

Coffeeneuring 2 – Ardrossan to Ft Saskatchewan loop, Oct. 6

Ride number 2 this weekend was in Strathcona County – a loop from Ardrossan, through Josephburg, over to Ft Sask for coffee and back to Ardrossan.  Again, we have done a few variations on this ride but they all are between 50 to 65 km.  Today’s route was a nice 53 km (view the route here).  It was a little cool to start, around 8C, but we warmed up quickly as the first half of the ride was into a wind that was gusting to 28 kph.  We normally start this ride at 10 a.m. but due to a scheduling conflict with one of the riders, and to give the day a little time to warm up, we left at 12:30.  With the later start, and it being a Saturday, the roads were a little busier than on our weekday rides but still not bad.  We had a good pace line going the whole time, which gave us all a break from fighting the wind until we took our turn pulling.  The group was only 5 strong today and we all stuck together for the whole ride.  Coffee was at the Tim’s in Fort Saskatchewan.  No action pictures this time – with the wind out and our speed back, I was too busy holding on to the bars!

Cool but sunny, so we had our coffee outside.

Gerry, Darryl, Gary and Carolene relaxing in the sun.

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