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

Posts tagged ‘bike trails’

Better Late Than Never

I think it is time that I actually got down to work and filled in some spaces in this blog. My intentions have been good but life and summer fun kept getting in the way of me keeping this thing updated.

It has been a summer of some cycling firsts though. Not that I set my bar very high compared to others, but to rundown:

  • most km ground out by the end of August – 4500 km;
  • first Gran Fondo completed – the Gran Fondo Highwood Pass, a 135 km ride up and back down (thankfully) the highest paved road in Canada (summit at 2206 metres);
  • first real century ride – 166 km (103 miles) route in the Tour de l’Alberta;
  • volunteer “hydration staff” at all 6 stages of the Tour of Alberta, a UCI 2.1 stage race – the highest ranked professional road cycling stage race in Canada.

Besides my usual riding around St. Albert, I also cycled in Edmonton, Canmore, Banff, Kananaskis country, Red Deer, Sturgeon county, Strathcona county, and Fort Saskatchewan – mostly with the cycling group in our ski club and Edmonton Bicycle and Touring Club (EBTC).

Alberta has pretty much been in a drought all summer, which is bad for farmers and forest fires but great for cyclists. The minimal snowpack from last winter and sunny and warm days starting in March, meant that the roads and trails were ice free early. My first ride on the hybrid was on March 14th and I was able to get the road bike out by April 9th once the grit had been removed from most of the roads.

I take pictures at the same locations over the biking season to follow the progression of winter retreat, the slow emergence of spring greenery, the fullness of summer and the inexorable march into fall. The following pictures show this progression, month by month, on one of my favourite trails in St. Albert:

March 14, 2015

March 14, 2015 – trail clear but wet. Good to be biking on clear pavement!

April 19, 2015

April 19, 2015 – still a few snow patches.

May 12 - green starting to show!

May 12, 2015 – green starting to show!

June 17, 2015 - summer has arrived.

June 17, 2015 – summer has arrived.

July 25, 2015 - still enjoying summer.

July 25, 2015 – still enjoying summer.

Aug 29, 2015 - What! Are those leaves starting to cover the trail?

Aug 29, 2015 – What! Are those leaves starting to litter the trail? Already?

The lack of snowpack has resulted in abnormally low water levels throughout the province, including the Sturgeon River which passes through St. Albert. The flooding of the Red Willow trail underpasses, a common occurrence most springs, sometimes to the point of sandbagging low lying buildings, didn’t occur this year. The river has shrunk considerably in width and depth over the summer, becoming barely more than a trickle in some places and the torpid flow has promoted considerable algal growth. I’ve seen lots of herons this year though, with a lot more shallows for them to fish in.

March 14, 2015 - river starting to melt.

March 14, 2015 – river starting to melt.

May 12, 2015 - water level at high point.

May 12, 2015 – water level still ok.

August 29, 2015 - water low and slow.

August 29, 2015 – water low and slow.

Heron fishing in the shallow Sturgeon River.

Heron fishing in the shallow Sturgeon River.

The receding water level in Big Lake can be seen in the following photos, using the guy wires from a power pole as reference:

March 14, 2014 - Big Lake ice retreating from shore.

March 14, 2014 – Big Lake ice retreating from shore.

April 19, 2015 - Lake ice free and water level at peak.

April 19, 2015 – Lake ice free and water level at peak.

May 17, 2015 - water level receding.

May 17, 2015 – water level receding.

June 17, 2015 - more a "damp level" than water level.

June 17, 2015 – more a “damp level” than water level.

July 25, 2015 - Lots of new grass where there was once water.

July 25, 2015 – Lots of new grass where there was once water.

August 29, 2015 - waves of grass instead of waves of water.

August 29, 2015 – waves of grass instead of waves of water.

We have had a little more rain in September so far but not enough to raise water levels. I’ll be gone for most of October, cycling in Italy and Slovenia, so it will be interesting to see if there will be any change by the time I get back. Perhaps snow.

Coffeeneuring 2014 Compilation

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.

Still a few green bullrush stalks in the wetland. Not for much longer though.

Still a few green bullrush stalks in the wetland. Not for much longer though.

Some gold with the fading greens and browns.

Some gold with the fading greens and browns.

The trail on September 1st.

The trail on September 1st.

The trail on October 4th.

Same trail on October 4th.

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.

Molly's Eats food truck at St. Albert Farmer's Market.

Molly’s Eats food truck at St. Albert Farmer’s Market.

My latte and granola bar and informal seating on a fountain.

My latte and granola bar and informal seating on a fountain.

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.

Tim's coffee and muffin in Fort Saskatchewan.

Tim’s coffee and muffin in Fort Saskatchewan.

Mural on the side of the Ardrossan Rec Centre

Mural on the side of the Ardrossan Rec Centre

Route

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.

Coffee and cinnamon bun. Yes I ate all of it. Yes it was good.

Coffee and cinnamon bun. Yes I ate all of it. Yes it was good.

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.

Limited bike parking, and by limited I mean chain up to whatever is handy. Or lean your bike against the window. They don't seem to mind.

Limited bike parking, and by limited I mean chain up to whatever is handy. Or lean your bike against the window. They don’t seem to mind.

Click to see the route.

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.

On the way to Big Lake. A sunny, warm,  and colourful, but windy, day.

On the way to Big Lake. A sunny, warm, and colourful, but windy, day.

Bullrushes in the wetland, from the Poole boardwalk.

Bulrushes in the wetland, from the Poole boardwalk.

Tamaracks bending in the wind.

Tamaracks bending in the wind, needles being blown off.

Won't be long now until the trees are completely bare.

There is a bike trail under there somewhere. Won’t be long now until the trees are completely bare.

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.

Latte and cinnamon bun. That's 2 days in a row for cinnamon buns - I must have a craving.

Latte and cinnamon bun. That’s 2 days in a row for cinnamon buns – I must have a craving.

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.

Small latte, big cookie. And fog on the lens :(

Small latte, big cookie. And fog on the lens 😦

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.

Stopped for a while to watch the boys of fall.

Stopped for a while to watch the boys of fall.

Oct 18. Yup - fall is here.

Oct 18. Yup – fall is here.

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.

Rating 0.5/5.

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.

Entrance sign to Elk Island National Park, 50 km east  of Edmonton.

Entrance sign to Elk Island National Park, 50 km east of Edmonton.

Bare trees, but no traffic and a sunny, warm day in late October.

Bare trees, but no traffic and a sunny, warm day in late October.

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.

Lamont, home of the limo graveyard.

Lamont, home of the limo graveyard.

Cappuccino milkshake. Closest thing I could find to coffee.

Cappuccino milkshake. Closest thing I could find to coffee.

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.

Bison peacefully plodding in front of Lucille, just before the stampede.

Bison peacefully plodding in front of Lucille, just before the stampede.

 

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.

Rating 0.5/5.

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.

Shorebirds patrolling the shore,  even with ice starting to form on the edge.

Shorebirds patrolling the shore, even with ice starting to form on the edge.

Tundra swans on their stopover migration to warmer climes.

Tundra swans on their stopover migration to warmer climes.

 

Slushy skim of ice on the lee ponds.

Slushy skim of ice on the lee ponds.

Trail and trees clear of leaves. Now just waiting for the white stuff.

Trail and trees clear of leaves. Now just waiting for the white stuff.

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.

Latte and pasteis de nata (Portuguese custard tart)

Latte and pasteis de nata (Portuguese custard tart)

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.

Rating 2/5.

Distance: 16.6 km

Leiden – Delft Loop

My intent in writing this blog was to give family and friends a bit of an insight to my experiences while on my latest cycling trip. Circumstances, as noted in my first entry, were that I did not have the inclination, nor sometimes the ability (no internet), to keep it updated every day. Normally, I would make a few notes on what happened during the day – where we lunched, what we saw, etc – on my phone or even make a voice recording or two. I also tracked all the rides on my Garmin 305 and took a lot of pictures, which were great for jogging my memory. But jogging my memory only works for as long as I can remember stuff :/ And this ride was the only one that I neglected to make any notes on. So, armed (and alarmed) with a steadily rusting memory, here goes:

June 11 – Wednesday.  This day was to be our final, and longest, bike ride of our time with Ad. Blessed with another blue sky and warm temperatures, we again struck out from our hotel in Leiden, this time heading to Delft. Once out of the city, it was another relaxing ride on well maintained bike paths beside canals and pastures, cattle and sheep, and by acres of greenhouses. Maintaining an easy cruising speed of 16-18 kph for about 25 kilometres, we stopped for a mid-morning beer/coffee at a conveniently located café with a lovely patio. We were greeted by a pet peacock in the parking lot who seemed none too happy to see us, as it squawked and took flight into a neighbour’s yard. The café staff, if 1 person can be called a staff, was happy to have the business though.

Passing by small canals suitable for pleasure boats. With bikes tied on the back!

Passing by small canals suitable for pleasure boats. With bikes tied on the back!

The typically beautiful separated bike trails on the way to Delft.

The typically beautiful separated bike trails on the way to Delft, alongside pastures and farm fields.

Sometimes trails and pastures became one and the same.

Sometimes trails and pastures became one and the same.

Wooly, but cute, moving obstacles.

Wooly, but cute, moving obstacles.

Greenhouses - acres and acres of them...

Greenhouses – acres and acres of them…

And more acres and acres. They went on forever on this trail.

And more acres and acres. They went on forever on this trail.

Spooked up a peacock when we went to a cafe. Hopefully not too traumatized.

Spooked up a peacock when we went to a cafe. Didn’t know they could fly that well.

90-minites into our ride, time for our first beer, or second coffee.

90-minites into our ride, time for our first beer, or second coffee.

Once on the trail again, the ride continued through woods, over pretty little bridges, and beside more pastures and canals, until we reached Delft around noon. As with all the other towns and cities over here, the market square is the focal point of tourist activity. Bounded on one end by the New Church (completed in 1498, 200 years after the Old Church), on the other by the city hall, and on the sides by restaurants and stores, the Delft market was a scenic and, surprisingly, quiet place to relax and have some lunch. Ad gave us 2 hours to sightsee so the group split up according to their priorities – some to eat right away (it was noon, after all), some to check out the New Church, and others to window shop. A few of us headed over to the visitor center for maps and on the way passed a bike store, just a block off the square! Unlike most of the other bike stores we went to, this one was fully supplied with an assortment of clothing – including some nice looking jerseys. So, with one more jersey added to my expanding international collection – 3 from France (2 years ago), 2 from Holland – we went off to check out the New Church.

The church is the burial place of the princes of Orange, as well as more recent Dutch royalty. The public can’t visit the royal crypt but the monument to William of Orange, assassinated in Delft in 1584, is quite prominent. Also in the church are many posters describing the history of the House of Orange and the political intrigue of the times. It was like reading Game of Thrones, but more bloody! Consider the Wikipedia entry for William of Orange, and how his assassin was dealt with:

“He was tortured before his trial on 13 July, where he was sentenced to be brutally – even by the standards of that time – killed. The magistrates decreed that the right hand of Gérard should be burned off with a red-hot iron, that his flesh should be torn from his bones with pincers in six different places, that he should be quartered and disembowelled alive, that his heart should be torn from his bosom and flung in his face, and that, finally, his head should be cut off.”

The New Church in Delft. New because the Old Church, a few blocks away, is 200 years older :/

The New Church in Delft. New because the Old Church, a few blocks away, is 200 years older :/

Organ in the New Church. Typically huge.

Organ in the New Church. Typically huge.

Monument crypt of William of Orange in the New Church.

Monument crypt of William of Orange in the New Church.

Delft city hall, at the other end of the markt square from the church.

Delft city hall, at the other end of the markt square from the church.

I would have liked to spend more time in the church, climb the bell tower, and visit the Old Church just a few blocks away but time was running short and we still had to have lunch. Among the many restaurants on the square, we found one that had delicious bagel sandwiches and fruit smoothies – quite a change from our usual beer lunch!

Delft town square reflected in a cheese store window (thanks Donna/Darryl).

Delft town square reflected in a cheese store window (thanks Donna).

We could have spent more time in Delft, since there was a lot more to see, but Ad was due to leave for his home in North Holland in the evening. It was at least a 3-hour trip by train and bike, and we wanted to have supper with him so we got back on the bikes shortly after 2 pm. The trip back to Leiden was, again, on beautiful scenic trails and was a joy. Two hours later, we arrived at the rental shop, turned our bikes in, and walked the kilometre back to the hotel.

A more rustic trail on the way back to Leiden.

A more rustic trail on the way back to Leiden.

Mike on his single-speed.

Mike on his single-speed (thanks Darryl).

Still passing windmills. Such a scenic route.

Still passing windmills. Such a scenic route.

Chaos reigned at the bike rental shop. An American girls field hockey team was returning theirs at the same time to a thoroughly disorganized clerk.

Chaos reigned at the bike rental shop. An American girls field hockey team was returning theirs at the same time to a thoroughly disorganized clerk.

After a nice supper at El Gaucho, an Argentinean restaurant in Leiden that we had eaten at a few days before, we bade goodbye to Ad. The next 4 days would be bicycle-free (almost).

After our bike/barge week, I was asked which day was my favourite. I couldn’t pick out one at the time but, after the Delft trip, I’d have to say that it was this day. Why, I’m not sure, but the combination of perfect weather, cloudless sky, scenic trails, more time on the bike, fewer stops, and Delft itself all contributed. I found it to be the most relaxing and enjoyable day of the 10 days that we rode. A perfect end to a wonderful bike trip!

Route link: Leiden to Delft loop

Rode 60 km

Leiden – Den Haag Loop

June 10 – Tuesday.  We stored the rental bikes in the hotel basement lockup overnight so we didn’t have to make the 1 km trek back to the shop in the morning. As such, we were able to mount up shortly after 0900 under warm, sunny skies and head southwest out of Leiden on our way to the coast, then inland to The Hague. We skirted to the south of the Valkenburg Naval Air Base, with nary a plane to be heard or seen, on nearly abandoned trails. After the holiday long weekend, most locals were back at work and the trails were left mainly to the tourists. Eleven kilometres later we were back in the dunes area, heading south, just a kilometre east of the North Sea. We were on a fietsroute (specifically, the Noordzee Route), one of the many long distance cycle trails, as opposed to the short commuting trails, that run throughout the country. It was not only scenic, with the sand hills and greenery, but the trail itself was pretty fancy, constructed of well laid cross-hatched brickwork. Talk about your labour-intensive project!

The elaborate brickwork trail to Scheveningen. Follow the tawny brick road!

The elaborate brickwork trail to Scheveningen. Follow the tawny brick road!

Gerry and Mike waiting patiently for the group to start riding again.

Gerry and Mike waiting patiently for the group to start riding again.

The brick trail led us into the Scheveningen area of Den Haag, an attractive seaside resort. We locked our bikes up on a main street across from a very imposing building, the Dutch flag fluttering off many of it’s domes and turrets. I initially thought that Ad was going to show us some high-profile government building but it turned out to be a 5-star hotel, the Steigenberger Kurhaus Hotel. Wanting to get to the beach just beyond it and not seeing a way around, we opted to just traipse through their lobby – in the front door and out the back. Passing by the hotel dining room, I was reminded of Versailles by the opulence of the place! Ad told us that the hotel was the first concert venue for the Rolling Stones in Holland, back in 1964. A star plaque was inlaid in the back deck of the hotel to commemorate the event (even though the concert had spawned a riot), as well as ones for Golden Earring and Bon Jovi.

Locking the bikes up across the street from the Kurhuis hotel.

Locking the bikes up across the street from the Kurhuis hotel.

The ornate dining room of the Kurhuis.

The ornate dining room of the Kurhuis.

The stars in the walk of fame on the back patio of the hotel - The Rolling Stones, Golden Earring, and Bon Jovi.

The stars in the walk of fame on the back patio of the hotel – The Rolling Stones, Golden Earring, and Bon Jovi. Appropriately placed in the shadow of a half naked woman.

No explanation necessary.

No explanation necessary.

The size of the beach was immense, even larger than the beaches of Katwijk and Noordwijk! With it being a regular workday, there were very few locals and tourists to clutter it up. An out of commission (bankrupt) boardwalk blocked the horizon to the north but the south was just an expanse of empty well-groomed beach, sea and sky. What a summer playground!

The beach looking north, with the now unused boardwalk cutting across it.

The beach looking north, with the now unused boardwalk cutting across it.

The beach, looking south. Sand, sea and sky!

The beach, looking south. Sand, sea and sky to the horizon!

A little more than an hour later, we were off again. After a few kilometres, we passed another war monument. But this time, instead of honouring fallen foreign soldiers, this monument honoured Dutch citizens. It was The Indies Monument, erected in memory of all Dutch citizens and soldiers who died in battle, in prison camps or during forced labour during World War II as a result of the Japanese occupation of the Dutch East Indies. Ad said that, although he had seen it many times on TV in ceremonies, he had never seen it in person. It was ironic that, by leading a bunch of Canadians around his country, he too was able to experience some of his country’s history.

The Indies Monument, honouring the Dutch who died by Japanese hands during WW2 in the former Dutch East Indies.

The Indies Monument, honouring the Dutch who died by Japanese hands during WW2 in the former Dutch East Indies.

Not long after that, we came to the Peace Palace, which houses the International Court of Justice – the principal judiciary of the United Nations. We were not allowed in the building, or even onto the gated grounds, but it did have an interesting public museum attached that explained the history of the place and it’s function in international affairs.

The Peace Palace in The Hague.

The Peace Palace in The Hague.

Ad gave us 2.5 hours in downtown Den Haag to check the place out. We got maps from a visitor’s info kiosk but, rather than explore museums, Gerry and I spent the time looking for bike stores and having coffee/lunch. The sky had been darkening all morning and, by the time we were set loose in the city, the rain started coming down. Although we visited about half a dozen bike shops and sporting goods stores, we were unsuccessful finding jerseys that were identifiably Dutch. Ad later told us that, unlike the ubiquitous orange Holland football jerseys, the Dutch do not trumpet their country on cycling apparel. Both Ad and Tom commented on the number of Canada jerseys that our group wore, noting that Canadians like to be recognized as such (we told them that we do that so we wouldn’t be confused with Americans). We did, however, find a very comfortable coffee shop and went there twice (friendly and attractive waitress) to wait out the rain.

When we met Ad back at our appointed meeting place, he told me to get on my bike and follow him – he had found a bike store for me about a 5-minute ride away, but they were closing and we had to hurry! Biking in the city, especially a Dutch city, is not for the faint of heart. The locals know all the rules and know where they are going. Trying to follow Ad, speeding down rain-slicked sidewalks, lanes, and roads busy with traffic, took my riding experience there to another level altogether. Unfortunately, although the store did have some nice looking jerseys, none were in my size. So back we sped to our meeting place where everyone was now waiting for us in a light drizzle.

The 90-minute trip back to Leiden was damp but not cold, fortunately. The only mishap was a tube with a slow leak, requiring Ad to stop periodically to pump it up. Thankfully, it never went completely flat.

Pumping up a slow leak. Changing a tube on an internal hub bike, especially on the rear, is a huge pain. We had patches but, thankfully, stopping to replenish air every 5-10 km was sufficient to get it home.

Pumping up a slow leak. Changing a tube on an internal hub bike, especially on the rear, is a huge pain. We had patches but, thankfully, stopping to replenish air every 5-10 km was sufficient to get it home.

Gray and drizzly but not cold.

Gray and drizzly but not cold.

Route : Leiden to The Hague

Rode: 46 km

Leiden – Katwijk – Noordwijk Loop

June 9 – Monday.  Back on the bikes. We went to the rental shop to pick up our bikes, and a motley group they were. Some 8-speeds, some 3-speeds, some with hand brakes, and all internal hub. Mine was the only single speed coaster of the bunch. I haven’t rode one of those since I was 12 but what the hell. I have seen lots of locals riding them so they are obviously suitable for the terrain. Except for the split second of terror the first few times I went to grab the non-existent hand brakes and then realize that I had to use my feet instead, the bike wasn’t too bad. The gearing was such that I had no trouble on the minor elevation changes that pass for hills here (the steepest “hills” are the canal overpasses), although my cadence got a bit high when our speed got over 23 or so.

After adjusting all the bikes to fit, Ad led us out of Leiden at 10 a.m. Twenty minutes later, we were crossing the Rhine on a cute little free ferry, only big enough to take half our group at a time.

Tiny community ferry across the Rhine.

Tiny community ferry across the Rhine.

Soon we were in Katwijk, which is only 11 km away from Leiden and on the coast of the North Sea. It is beach community and very popular with the locals and tourists for good reason. It was our first encounter with the beaches of Holland and they are freakin’ HUGE! We stopped for a coffee, then continued another 10 km up the coast to Noordwijk for a longer break. The sand dunes between the 2 towns are spectacular and not what I expected of the Dutch countryside. Since it was sunny, 27C, and a long holiday weekend to boot, the trails and towns were packed with locals and tourists.

Bikes parked by the beach in Katwijk.

Bikes parked by the beach in Katwijk.

Bike trail through the dunes between Katwijk and Noordwijk, with a separate walking trail (unpaved) off to the side.

Bike trail through the dunes between Katwijk and Noordwijk, with a separate walking trail (unpaved) off to the side.

After grabbing some lunch, a few of us went wading in the North Sea. The beach sand was a perfect consistency – not too fine, not too coarse – and felt great underfoot. It was a little disconcerting to see how many jellyfish were floating around though. We weren’t sure if they packed a punch or not so we tried to avoid them. The ones that washed up on shore looked like big eyeballs :/ The other waders didn’t seem too perturbed though.

The beach at Noordwijk.

The beach at Noordwijk.

Lucille collecting shells and avoiding jellyfish.

Lucille collecting shells and avoiding jellyfish.

Shimmery eyeball-looking jellyfish.

Shimmery eyeball-looking jellyfish washed up on shore.

After we had played/ate/drank for 2 hours, it was time to get back on the bikes and continue our loop back to Leiden. Great day, great trails, great scenery, great group.

Trying to find our bikes among the hundreds parked at the beach.

Trying to find our bikes among the hundreds parked at the beach.

The seniors peleton on the way back to Leiden.

The seniors peleton on the way back to Leiden.

Donna, Gerry and Lucille obviously not having any fun.

Donna, Gerry and Lucille obviously not having any fun.

Rode 50 km for the day.

Route: Leiden – Katwijk – Noordwijk – Leiden

Breukelen to Amsterdam

June 6 – Friday. A cloudless blue sky greeted us for our final day of riding off the Gandalf. We left our moorage in Vreeswijk around 0715 in order to get through some locks on time. We cruised through the locks at the start of the Amsterdam-Rhine Canal then north on the canal until we arrived at Breukelen two hours later. The original Breukelen, not that poser in New York (formerly New Amsterdam). We off loaded the bikes for the last time and set off, passing through some upscale neighborhoods in Luenen. You could tell that from the mansions on the canals, with boathouses and fancy lake-going yachts in their “front” yards. Stopped for a break at a small locks, for pleasure boats entering the main canal system and watched the operator position a few boats, collect the €4 fare and send them on their way.

Getting ready to start the day. Blue sky is always welcome.

Getting ready to start the day. Blue sky is always welcome.

The baby locks at Luenen, sized for pleasure craft.

The baby locks at Luenen, sized for pleasure craft.

Actually, because we made better time cruising on the canal and riding than Tom had planned, this was a delaying tactic. He had scheduled a tour of a grist windmill a short distance away but it wasn’t open yet. We were getting antsy so we biked the extra kilometre to the windmill and hung around there until they were ready for our tour of De Hoop, the name of this mill. The volunteer tour guide, a former teacher, found some kindred spirits with all the former teachers in our group! He gave us the history of the grist mill, showing us how everything operated on each of the 4 floors open for the tour. The price of the tour included coffee, so all was good.

De Hoop, a historic grist mill.

De Hoop, a historic grist mill.

View from the vane deck.

View from the vane deck.

After 90 minutes, we set off again, for a short half-hour ride to the town of Abcoude, where we would have lunch. From there, we followed a towpath beside the Amstel River right into the outskirts of Amsterdam. For the whole week, a few of us had been trying to get Tom to stop at cycle shops we passed along the way to check out their stock of cycling jerseys. Unfortunately, every one was closed when we passed or time would not permit us to stop or, if we did, they did not sell jerseys. We discovered that most of the cycle shops do not sell jerseys – jackets and rain gear, yes, but not jerseys. We didn’t want anything generic – we could buy plain jerseys back home. We wanted something that identified the jersey as Dutch. Tom was promising that we would find one today and finally, in Ouder-Amstel, he came through. The De Haan shop had lots of selection and sold at least 10 jerseys, and even socks and gloves, to the group. Laden down with our purchases, we continued our ride into Amsterdam. Once off the towpaths and quiet streets, some of the riding in Amsterdam was a little daunting. The city is literally crammed with bikes and cyclists whiz past with rarely a bell or a signal. They know where they are going and it’s up to the tourists to pay attention or suffer the consequences. It was also our introduction to signal lights on the cycle lanes. Bike traffic is so thick that there are separate traffic lights for vehicles, pedestrians and cyclists! After a great day of riding, we arrived at the barge docks near the NEMO science centre at 1630.

Waiting for the red bicycle light to turn green.

Waiting for the red bicycle light to turn green.

After supper on the Gandalf, Tom took us for a walking tour around town. When he is not guiding tourists on bike-barge trips, he operates a bicycle rickshaw in Amsterdam so he knows the city. We started with a canal tour, to get a water-level view, then he led us over to the red-light district. Actually red-light lanes, as all the action is in windows down narrow lanes. Lots of inebriated testosterone wandering those lanes though! Pot cafes were pretty common, judging by the smells wafting on the breeze, and people openly smoking up.

Throughout our walking tour, we would constantly be hearing sirens – police cars, ambulances, fire engines.  Is this place under attack or something?  Thankfully, it was the something.  Once a year, on the feast of Pentecost, Amsterdam emergency services give disabled kids rides in their vehicles with sirens blaring. Kind of a special day for special needs kids – neat thing to do.  Overall, a very interesting city. It’s the same size as Edmonton but infinitely more vibrant and social. Yes, it has the history but even the new buildings – the library, NEMO, the performance center, etc – attract the eye. Looking forward to spending 3 more days here after our time in Leiden next week.

One of the red-light lanes, populated by drunk tourists and pick pockets.

One of the red-light lanes, populated by drunk tourists and pick pockets.

Waxing moon over statue. Art is everywhere.

Waxing moon over statue. Art is everywhere.

Moon over canal at 10 p.m.

Moon over canal at 10 p.m.

Breukelen to Amsterdam

Breukelen to Amsterdam

Route from Breukelen to Amsterdam

Rode 39 km

Alblasserdam to Schoonhoven

June 5 – Thursday. The drawbridge blocking our moorage was scheduled to be raised at 0730 so our timing to leave Dordrecht was dictated for us. We cruised north on the river for about 5 kms, docked briefly at Alblasserdam to off load, then cycled from there. The forecast for today was rain later in the day so the original plan to cycle over 50 km was changed to do a shorter distance and hopefully beat the rain. After 5 km we entered the Kinderdijk area, which has many now non-functional windmills of the old design. In the past, these windmills were used to pump out the water from inside the dykes (very few of the windmills in Holland were used for milling grain). Thomas said that there used to be about 11,000 operating windmills but now there are only about 1100 of the classic design left. The pumping from this area is now handled by huge Archimedes screws.

Archemedes Screw, used for pumping water over the dikes.

Huge Archemedes screws, the modern way to pump water over the dikes.

Examining our Kinderdijk route, hoping we stay dry.

Examining our Kinderdijk route, hoping we stay dry.

Some of the many windmills in the Kinderdijk area.

Some of the many windmills in the Kinderdijk area.

It must have been impressive when all these windmills were operating.

It must have been impressive when all these windmills were operating. None turn now.

Fortunately, the weather forecast for rain was wrong and we were able to stay dry while riding. We rode leisurely through the windmill area, stopping often to admire the views as well as stripping off layers as we went. When the sun peeked out it through the clouds, as it did often, it was strong and everyone had dressed for a cool day with rain! Proof positive that weather forecasters the world over still have trouble getting it right :/ We stopped for coffee at Nieupoort then biked over to the ferry landing for the short trip across the river to Schoonhoven. Once there, we all spread out to different places to have lunch (and beer) and while away the time until the Gandalf was due to pick us up. Good timing, since the rain then started up in earnest. Ironically, the only time we got wet was when we were walking around the town – didn’t get wet while riding at all. Schoonhoven is a historical silversmithing town and Thomas took us to one of the shops that also functioned as a silver work museum. The manager took great pride in showing us his most elaborate and expensive items, not that anyone of us could remotely afford them. As expected, even the trinkets were overpriced.

Coffee in Nieupoort.

Coffee in Nieupoort.

Waiting for the ferry over to Schoonhoven.

Waiting for the ferry over to Schoonhoven.

This was the largest ferry we were on. Foot and bicycle traffic was secondary to vehicles.

This was the largest ferry we were on. Foot and bicycle traffic was secondary to vehicles.

Once back on board the Gandalf, we motored on the Lek River for a few hours to Vreeswijk, just south of Utrecht, where we moored for the night. Across the river from us, there were what appeared to be houseboats. But after a second look, some appeared to bi-levels. Concrete boxes sunk in the water so the house can have a lower level? Rooms for hobbits? Hope they float or that the water level doesn’t fluctuate. After supper, Tom led a short bike trip to Viannen to see the historic part of the town. On the way back to the boat, we stopped at a beach bar for (expensive) drinks and a group picture. In France, two years ago, we had our group picture taken on a play structure, so we figured why break with tradition? Tom was bemused with all these seniors clambering atop a jungle gym but he humoured us anyway.

The Gandalf moored in Vreeswijk

The Gandalf moored in Vreeswijk

Do these houses float? Bi-level houseboats?

Do these houses float? Bi-level houseboats?

Group picture on the jungle gym. Tradition has been maintained.

Group picture on the jungle gym. Tradition has been maintained.

Alblasserdam to Schoonhoven

Alblasserdam to Schoonhoven

June 5 route – Alblassrrdam to Schoonhoven

Rode 33 km before supper, 12 km after supper.

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