The Coffeeneuring Challenge is a great one because it not only ensures that I go for a ride at least twice a week at a time of year when the weather here could be really iffy but that I also report on said ride. Although I have ridden lots this summer, my discipline for blogging, about riding or anything else, has been pitifully non-existent. So Mary G. forcing me to get behind the keyboard may be the incentive I need to get these posts going again. I have been Tweeting each Coffeeneuring ride (@cruisindownhill) but 140 characters seems so unsatisfying (says the guy who hasn’t put word to blog since June). So I’ll offer a little more detail, and pictures where I have them, here. I’ll be updating this post with each new ride so it will end up being my 2014 coffeeneuring compilation.
Coffeeneuring Ride #1: Oct. 4 – To the market
With only 1 week left in the St. Albert Farmer’s Market, touted to the be largest in Western Canada, it was a good opportunity to take advantage of Rule 2 – visiting a “coffee shop without walls”. My route from home to Big Lake passes right by the market, going and coming, so I did my usual ride down to the wildlife watching platform and boardwalk before heading over to the market for vittles.
It was a sunny and windy 15C and a nice day for riding. Because I had been biking in BC for the previous week and the weather the week before that was abysmal (0C and snow), I hadn’t been on the trail for a while. Three weeks ago it was summer. Now, it was plainly fall. Leaves littered the trail, most of the waterfowl have moved on, and brown is becoming the dominant colour. Thankfully, we still have some tamaracks adding a little gold, and yellowing poplars, but that little dash of colour won’t be here much longer.
At the market, I chatted with a friend who makes and sells Health Crunch granola bars, bought a few, got some broccoli requested by my wife, then went over to the food truck area to find a beverage. The latte, from Molly’s Eats, was acceptable, especially when coupled with a 72% bitter-sweet dark Belgian chocolate covered granola bar, and I enjoyed my snack while sitting on the side of a fountain that had been drained for the winter. Yes, winter is coming.
When: Sat. Oct. 4:
Where: Molly’s Eats food truck at St. Albert Farmer’s Market
What: Latte, in a paper cup, and a granola bar.
Bike Friendliness: A few racks by St. Albert Place (housing city hall, library, etc.), though not nearly enough in mid-summer when the market is packed. The LBS at the corner of the market, though, offers monitored bike parking. I usually chain up to a convenient tree or lamp post in a green space bordering the market. Never have had trouble finding a secure place to park my bike. Rating 4/5.
Distance: 16.5 km
Coffeeneuring Ride #2: Oct. 5 – Road Ride
The weather was too nice to pass up, sunny and mid-teens, so 5 of us gathered at the Ardrossan Rec Centre for a ride up to Fort Saskatchewan and back. It was a familiar route, having done variations of it a bunch of times over the summer. Rolling terrain, light traffic and good asphalt make this an enjoyable area to ride in. We always stop at the Timmy’s in the Fort for a coffee so it was perfect for a Sunday coffeeneuring ride. Heading right into a 44kph NW wind for the first 20 km, we definitely earned our treats! The ride back, taking a longer route, was far more enjoyable (and significantly faster) since we had the wind in our favour most of the way.
When: Sun. Oct 5
Where: Tim Horton’s, Fort Saskatchewan
What: Coffee and chocolate chip muffin
Bike Friendliness: There is one rack outside the coffee shop, usually full. We normally lean our bikes against a fence bordering one side of the parking lot, by some picnic tables, and station someone there to watch them while we get our coffees. It’s also a popular spot for bikes of the 1200cc variety and the owners are usually sitting at the picnic tables. Rating 2.5/5.
Distance: 53.3 km
Coffeeneuring Ride #3: Oct. 11 – Dutch Delicious
One of St. Albert’s less endearing qualities is a distinct lack of good, independent coffee shops. There are numerous Timmy’s, Starbucks, and Second Cups, but, after the demise of Arcadia, only 1 other independent (La Crema, which I will visit later on). So, trying not to rely on the chains to fulfill all of my coffeeneuring requirements, I headed off to the big city.
St. Albert abuts Edmonton but there is an industrial buffer between the 2 cities and it isn’t the prettiest ride. There are a couple of safe routes to take – i.e. ones where you are not compelled to ride on the busy roads – but I wouldn’t call them scenic. Regardless, I have ridden the routes many times this season and they are old hat by now. I did my usual research – consulting urbanspoon for coffee shops within a reasonable distance from home – and decided to check out what I thought was just a bakery that possibly had coffee.
Located about 11 km away, the Dutch Delicious Bakery was a pleasant surprise. Located in a strip mall by a traffic circle, there are no bike racks anywhere around and I had to resort to chaining my bike up to a pillar in front of the store. It is small, with only 3 2-person tables inside, but well worth the visit. It is not really a coffee shop, more set up as a retail establishment selling mostly Dutch items, from pastries to clogs, and it was constantly busy the whole time I was in there. When I asked for a coffee and a cinnamon bun, after much perusing of the plentiful assortment of baked goods, the clerk answered “You know that we charge for coffee now, don’t you?” Excuse me? I guess coffee used to be free with pastries in the recent past! I wish I had known about this place before.
I had just settled at my tiny table when to my surprise, another cyclist leaned his bike against the window outside and came in. As we chatted, he said that he had been coming here for years and told me that he brought a dozen or so cyclists here after a long ride a few weeks before. So the store is used to having bikes leaning against their windows and a milling crowd out front. Nice atmosphere, friendly staff, and great coffee and treats. I’m glad I came and I’ll be back.
When: Sat. Oct 11
Where: Dutch Delicious Bakery, Edmonton, AB.
What: Coffee and cinnamon bun
Bike Friendliness: Distinctly unfriendly but that doesn’t seem to stop bikers stopping by – tasty treats will do that. No racks and no place to put one. Two pillars in front could secure 4 bikes in a pinch. Rating 1/5.
Distance: 27.5 km
Coffeeneuring Ride #4: Oct. 12 – Warm but windy
For some reason – perhaps a combination of being too tense hunched over my handlebars and starting up squash season again – my right shoulder has become quite painful of late. Stretching and a chiropractor haven’t helped much so it looks like rest might be in order. My last few rides have been pretty uncomfortable, squirming around trying to find a pain-free position (sitting straight up with my right arm dangling by my side seems to work best but not an efficient riding stance) so I thought that I would just do a short ride today. As I mentioned yesterday, La Crema Caffe in St. Albert is the closest independent coffee shop so that became my #4 coffeeneuring destination.
The usual ride out to Big Lake was uneventful, except for the howling wind (gusting to 52 kph) making things interesting when in my one-armed stance. Thank goodness most of the ride is in the trees! Surprisingly, the waterfowl that haven’t yet joined their friends in the migration were not hunkering down in the weeds but were happily swimming, diving, dipping and whatever else happy ducks do while being buffeted by wind and waves. But, then again, it’s hard to tell when a duck is happy.
La Crema was as I remembered from the last time I visited, which was for last year’s coffeeneuring challenge. Decent goodies and coffee selection but absurdly expensive. Eight bucks for a small latte and a smaller cinnamon bun? That’s why it is only a once-a-year destination for me, cheap-ass that I am.
When I arrived, I noticed 3 road bikes leaning against their patio fence, with the owners inside (too blustery to sit outside today). Since it is the only remaining coffee shop in downtown St. Albert, it is now the de facto caffination destination for the two-wheelers who need a break.
When: Sun. Oct 12
Where: La Crema Caffe, St. Albert, AB.
What: Latte and cinnamon bun
Bike Friendliness: No bike racks. The fence around the patio is good to lean bikes against but no way to secure them. Have to be watched. Three arty racks across the street are good for securing 6 bikes. Rating 2/5.
Distance: 17 km
Coffeeneuring Ride #5: Oct 18 – Elm Cafe
In my coffeeneuring quest to attempt to patronize small, independent coffee shops as much as possible, I ventured into Edmonton to check out the Elm Café. It is located in the Oliver neighbourhood, just west of downtown, and the ride there was decidedly unscenic with much of the ride on either multi-use trails beside arterial roads or on high-density housing residential streets. Thankfully, there is a good system of designated bike routes into the area so there was not much traffic to contend with. Edmonton is striving to become more bike friendly and this is one of the easier areas to access from St. Albert.
Elm Street certainly fits in the category of small coffee shops – I’m sure there are bigger food trucks! I’m also sure that I have slept in bigger tents in my bush days. It is tucked into a corner of a low-rise medical building and surrounded by apartment buildings and small businesses. Seating is minimal, with only 4 window stools inside and 5 2-person tables on a tightly cramped patio, but it is mainly a take-out place for coffee and sandwiches so that is to be expected. The good reviews I had read of the place were spot on. I had a very nice small latte and an oatmeal cookie and spent my time watching the steady stream of customers in and out of the place. It is obviously a popular destination, with quality goodies.
I took the same designated bike routes back through the residential areas in Edmonton on my return trip but then turned west down 137 Ave. so that I could get back to St. Albert via Big Lake and the Red Willow trail. It was another glorious, sunny and warm fall day and I took my time riding on the trail and did the odd bit of exploring. The city/province has been developing a new access into the Lois Hole Provincial Park from Ray Gibbon Drive and it looked close to completion. The road has been packed and looks soon to be paved so, with no construction equipment on it today, I rode its extent from the Poole boardwalk to Ray Gibbon. There are still concrete barriers at Ray Gibbon to prevent vehicular access but it will be a good way of getting to the Enjoy Centre next year.
There were lots of people out enjoying this last stretch of shirtsleeve weather – cycling, jogging, walking, watching/playing football, even picnicking. The forecast is for yet another week of temperature into the teens (that`s 50`s for the Fahrenheit crowd). Here`s hoping.
When: Sat. Oct 18
Where: Elm Café, Edmonton, AB.
What: Small latte, large oatmeal cookie
Bike Friendliness: The tone of the place would seem to appeal to the bikey crowd but there is NO bike parking whatsoever. I had to chain up to the railing bordering the miniscule patio but had to lift my bike over the landscaping of large rocks/boulders to do so. I would have taken a picture of the arrangement but the patrons sitting at the table on the other side of the railing didn`t seem amused.
Distance: 46 km
Coffeeneuring Ride #6: Sun. Oct. 19 – Elk Island
With the temperatures still in the mid-teens, it was a perfect day to head out for a road ride. A group of us decided to drive out east of the city to Elk Island National Park and do a ride through the park to Lamont and back. We have done this ~50 km route many times before and it never gets old. Light traffic, smooth asphalt, rolling terrain, wildlife (the 4-footed kind), and a great training hill just before Lamont – it is one of the best road rides in the Edmonton region. And we always stop in town for refreshments.
It was sunny, with a stiff south wind, so we enjoyed the north-bound leg of our ride. Although the park is named Elk Island, it is not an island (i.e. land surrounded by water) and I have never seen an elk here. The predominant large mammals here are plains bison and the park has 100’s of them, all free roaming in a completely fenced park (fenced meaning island, I guess). Once you pass over the Texas gates close to the north and south road entrances, you are in their territory. They seem to have a distinct dislike to cyclists, probably because we are so quiet compared to cars, and this is rutting season so there was extra incentive to be on the lookout. More than once, we have been stared down by a large bull on the road daring us to encroach on his harem. In those cases, we wait until they clear the road, all on the same side, then warily pass. That said, we all hope to see them because they are such an impressive animal. This time, there were a few way off in a field – too far away to even try a photo.
The ride to Lamont was uneventful, except for Darryl’s flat after the Lamont hill. Better there than when we are usually doing 60 kph on the downhill! Unfortunately, the shop where we usually get our coffee had closed down and we had to resort going to the small grocery store to see what sort of refreshments they had. No coffee, but it was warm enough that the milkshake machine did a brisk business.
The ride back was not as much fun, as that tailwind coming was now a headwind going, compounded by going uphill into the wind for a few kms, but it’s all part of the ride. The bonus part of this leg was that a small herd of bison had now moved close enough to photograph as we approached the south entrance of the park. They were slowly meandering through a field towards the road and Lucille, between us and the herd, was trying to decide whether to ride up to us or wait for them to plod across. The decision to wait was a good one because they got spooked by something and stampeded in front of her, right where she would have been if she had continued on. Heartrate elevation and sphincter tightening ensued, and another story grew to tell her grand kids.
When: Sun. Oct 19
Where: Lamont grocery store, Lamont, AB.
What: Cappuccino milkshake, though I’m not sure that it contained any natural ingredients other than coffee.
Bike Friendliness: Although we have seen many bikers besides ourselves stop in the town for refreshments, I have yet to see a bike rack nearby any of the stores. Nobody seems to mind when we lean our bikes against their windows though and we always congregate outside anyway.
Distance: 51 km
Coffeeneuring Ride #7: Sat. Oct. 25 – Vinyl Rock
The double digit highs that we have enjoyed for most of October, and that have provided a welcome exclamation point to a wonderful summer of riding, are now tapering off to more October-like single digit coolness. Overnight temperatures are down around the freezing point, most trees are completely bare and there is a skim of ice on the ponds out by Big Lake. Moreover, tomorrow’s forecast has a possibility of flurries. Yes, winter is coming. Still nice for a ride though.
While riding past the downtown part of St. Albert on the Red Willow trail out to Big Lake, I noticed that the space previously occupied by the defunct Arcadia Café now has a new tenant. I rode over to check it out and behold – it’s a new coffee shop! Not surprising, since the last 4 businesses to be in that place have been coffee shops, but it was nice to see the tradition continue. I went in to make sure that it was actually open for business and not still under renovation and sure enough they had opened last night. I promised to be back after my ride, happy in the knowledge that St. Albert now has a new independent coffee shop to patronize.
It was a steel-grey 5C (41F) with a bit of a chilly breeze but I was dressed warmly enough and enjoying the relatively uncrowded, and remarkably leaf-free, trail. Out on the viewing platform, I watched a few Greater (or Lesser) Yellowlegs wade about the shoreline, stabbing up whatever it is they eat. The water level in the lake and river is the lowest it has been all season so there actually is a shoreline now. Before, the water lapped right up to the reeds, not leaving any bare shore at all and, hence, no shore birds for most of the summer. Also, groups of Tundra Swans were just close enough to the platform to tease me with some picture attempts. The ponds off the boardwalk that were out of the wind still had a partial skim of ice from last night’s freeze, like a wetland slushy, but there were still a few mallards paddling about the open areas. Not for too much longer, methinks.
Once back in town, it was time for Coffeeneuring #7. I had planned to go to another establishment but a new coffee shop in town was too good an opportunity to pass up. The new place is the Vinyl Rock Café, with a somewhat incongruent fusion of a Portuguese/European theme but playing classic rock as background music. It worked for me though and it serves a nice selection of pastries (as well as healthier fare) and excellent coffee. The owner came by to chat and give me a complementary Portuguese butter cookie to try. Nice touch. Hope they can make a go of the place and that it is still here next summer when all the cyclists are about and the Farmer’s Market is hopping.
Completed my final official coffeeneuring challenge before the snow! Now hope to be able to do a bunch more unofficial coffeeneuring before I break out the skis.
When: Sat. Oct. 25
Where: Vinyl Rock Café, Perron Street, St. Albert, AB.
What: Latte and a custard tart, with a complimentary Portuguese butter cookie.
Bike Friendliness: As with its predecessors, there are no bike racks. But there is a wrought-iron railing around the large patio that at least a dozen bikes can chain up to. Seeing as the place is right on the Red Willow trail and it is guaranteed to see a lot of bikers, it would be nice if they invested in a few racks.
Distance: 16.6 km