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

Posts tagged ‘Red Willow Trail’

2018 Coffeeneuring Compilation

Back to Coffeeneuring again after missing last year due to my bike trip to Portugal. This fall, the weather in Edmonton has been abysmal for biking. Almost the whole of September and early October has been snowy and cold. Lucky for me then that I spent most of this time on a bike trip in PEI and Newfoundland, on Canada’s east coast, where the weather was far more conducive for biking. I arrived home just in time for another dump of snow but, by the official start date for coffeeneuring, the snow had melted and the air temperature smartened up a bit. So here goes my attempt to get in my 7 rides in 7 weeks for 7 coffees!

Coffeeneuring #1

Where: To Big Lake, just outside St. Albert, Alberta

When: Sunday, October 14, 2018

What: A latte at Sips & Sweets (also known as La Crema Caffe), St. Albert

Distance: 16.8 km

Ride Link: https://ridewithgps.com/trips/28727307

Bike Friendliness: 3/5. Three bike posts across the street but nothing in front of the cafe itself.

Weather: Sunny, 0C to start my ride but warming to 5C by the time I got home. Nice day for riding.

Duckweed on the storm ponds frozen into pointillism-like swirls.
The trees are mostly bare now. No fall colours here.
I love the frozen duckweed patterns in the ponds. Very artistic.
A very humdrum latte. No art here! But it was warm inside, sitting in the sun.

Coffeeneuring #2

Where: Edmonton Garrison, Namao, Alberta

When: Wednesday, October 17, 2018

What: A coffee and chocolate chip muffin at the Tim Horton’s on the base.

Distance: 51.81 km

Ride Link: https://ridewithgps.com/trips/28806351

Bike Friendliness: 2/5. No bike racks, have to lean bikes against the building, but pretty safe.

Weather: Sunny, 10C when started at noon but warmed to 20C by the time I got home. Abnormally beautiful fall day.

Leafy trail through the woods on the way to the base.
On the bike trail to the base. Field finally harvested after all that snow in September.
Small Tims coffee and chocolate chip muffin – my usual treat at the 38 km mark.

Coffeeneuring #3

Where: St. Albert, Alberta

When: Sunday, October 21, 2018

What: A coffee and chocolate chip cookie at Good Earth Cafe, 130 Bellerose, St. Albert

Distance: 26.61 km

Ride Link: https://ridewithgps.com/trips/28929473

Bike Friendliness: 2/5. No bike racks but lots of bolted down steel chairs to attach a bike to on a large accessible patio. This place is one of our “go-to” stops on our club rides in St. Albert, when 40-60 of us show up.

Weather: Sunny, 5C when started at noon but warmed to 10C at finish.

The Sturgeon River in St. Albert. Not much greenery anymore but no ice yet.
Nice enough day to have my coffee outside in the sunshine, although I was the only person on the patio.

Coffeeneuring #4

Where: My usual route to Big Lake, just outside St. Albert, Alberta

When: Friday, October 26, 2018

What: A french press coffee at Cerdo Tacos & Tequila, Perron Street, St. Albert

Distance: 16.0 km

Ride Link: https://ridewithgps.com/trips/29058214

Bike Friendliness: 2/5. One bike rack, which can accommodate a few bikes, on a common patio for the shops in the area.

Weather:  An overcast 8C with a cool north wind. The coffee was a nice warm-up.

The only coffee they offered was a french press and I was not allowed to take it outside on the patio. Afraid of me running off with the press I guess. My bike just visible through the window.

Coffeeneuring #5

Although I went to the gym for a stationary bike ride and a workout, I needed to get this coffeeneuring ride in while the weather was still nice for riding. So I just did a short ride over to Juntos, a nice coffee shop in the Campbell industrial park. For a change, I rode up Poundmaker Road, a dirt road on the edge of St. Albert. It had been recently graded and sprayed with calcium and, although a little slick, was not bad to ride on. If I didn’t have to get back home to prepare for the trick-or-treaters (carve pumpkin, get treats ready, etc), I would have done a longer ride.

Where: St. Albert, Alberta

When: Wednesday, October 31, 2018

What: A coffee and chocolate chip cookie at Juntos Bistro, St. Albert

Distance: 8.1 km

Ride Link: https://ridewithgps.com/trips/29189397

Bike Friendliness: 1/5. No bike racks at all even though our bike club takes up to 40 riders there on our rides in St. Albert. Gets kinda crowded in the parking lot with bikes strewn everywhere. I was the only bike there today though so just leaned it up against their window.

Weather:  An overcast 5C. Not much wind so it was really pleasant for riding.

An only mildly bumpy Poundmaker Road but still shook the camera enough to fuzz up the photo 😦
Coffee and cookie, with my bike patiently waiting outside.
It has been dry enough, finally, for the fields to be combined.
Bare trees but clean trail. Flurries in the forecast for tomorrow so it was good to get out today.

Coffeeneuring #6

After 2 weeks of roller coaster weather – snow, followed by a partial melt, followed by frigid temps (-20C wind chills), then more snow, and repeat ad nauseum – I was finally able to get out for a ride. The streets and paths had melted off enough to ride, although I took it pretty slow going around corners. It started out sunny and +5C and ended up overcast and +4C by the time I got home, but still felt great to get the bike out again. Took advantage of the “coffee shop without walls” rule.

Where: St. Albert, Alberta

When: Wednesday, November 14, 2018

What: A coffee on the Poole boardwalk in Lois Hole Provincial Park, St. Albert.

Distance: 16.1 km

Ride Link: https://ridewithgps.com/trips/29542484

Bike Friendliness: 1/5. No bike racks, it being a boardwalk through a wetland and all, but lots of observing areas to park a bike and um, observe.

Weather:  A sunny then overcast 5C.

Critter tracks on the frozen ponds. Probably a fox looking for any waterfowl that got caught in the last freeze.
My bike on the snowy, though melting, observation boardwalk. Nice place to sit and have a coffee.
The path was wet but not icy. Yet. That skim of water will turn to slippery ice by the evening.

Coffeeneuring #7

It was touch and go whether I would be able to complete the challenge this year but a few days of thaw enabled me to take an embarrassingly short ride out to the gazebo at the north end of the Red Willow Trail in St. Albert. With no fat bike or studded tires, I took it pretty carefully on my completely iced up residential street. The main roads and the Trail were mostly ice-free but it still required my full attention to make sure that I stayed vertical. There were still a few sneaky ice patches lurking in the shadows ready to do me harm if started to get complacent! My target destination was the final rest stop that we use on our weekly road rides in St. Albert – a gazebo at the north edge of town. This ride approached it from the opposite direction from what we usually do and after a considerably shorter ride. The city had not cleaned off the trail in that part of the park and it was mostly glare ice for the last few hundred metres but doable with care. There is no coffee shop anywhere nearby so this was another “coffee shop without walls” ride.

Where: St. Albert, Alberta

When: Wednesday, November 21, 2018

What: A hot chocolate at the gazebo in Kingswood Park, St. Albert.

Distance: A paltry 4.1 km

Ride Link: No link this time. Hardly worth it 😦

Bike Friendliness: 3/5. No bike racks but lots of room to lean bikes on the gazebo and bushes surrounding it. Our summer rides have had as many as 12 bikes comfortably and safely resting.

Weather:  A partially sunny 4C.

My icebound street. Sidewalk was mostly ice free but the street needed my careful attention.


The gazebo – a dry island in a field of snow and ice.


The approach to the gazebo was a little slick. That is solid ice, not slushy at all. Slow riding.


My thermos of hot chocolate and coffeeneuring patch from a few years ago.


The Sturgeon River ice-free again. Has been frozen and thawed multiple times already this season with our roller coaster weather.

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


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

The Greening Arrives

The infrequency of my blog doesn’t mean that I haven’t been active on the skiing or biking front! After a long, snowy winter, in which I managed to get in 16 days skiing in the mountains and at least as many at our local hill, it felt good to get back on the bike again and cruise on ice-free trails. On my trips through St. Albert to Big Lake, I (almost) always stop at one particular spot to take a picture. It is a pretty stretch through a treed area and a good place to follow the changing of the seasons. Here are a few of the pics:

April 6 - Clear path but still snow in the bush.

April 6 – Clear path but still snow in the bush.

April 19 - Still a few snow patches remaining.

April 19 – Still a few snow patches remaining.

April 28 - Snow all gone but still pretty brown.

April 28 – Snow all gone but still pretty brown.

May 17 - Finally some green starting to show up.

May 17 – Finally some green starting to show up.

May 22 - After some warm days, the leaves finally burst out.

May 22 – After some warm days, the leaves finally burst out.

Although we had a lot of snow this winter, we have had a long, cool and dry spring, with only a few days making it past 20C (68F) so far.  The slow melt meant that, uncharacteristically,  the Sturgeon River didn’t flood the trail under all the the underpasses.  Not that the city wasn’t prepared this year! They actually built a temporary bridge under a bridge to enable safe access to the Lois Hole Park on Big Lake. Good idea, even though it hasn’t been necessary this year. I imagine it will come out in the next few weeks.

The bridge under the bridge.

The bridge under the bridge.

Now that the lake is ice free, there are lots of birds nesting in and migrating through the area. Among the many ducks, geese, swans, pelicans, shorebirds and such, I have seen more yellow-headed blackbirds than I have in past years.

Yellow-headed blackbird posing cooperatively.

Yellow-headed blackbird posing cooperatively.

I have managed to ride over 750 km so far this spring, preparing my legs for the next few weeks when I will be cycling with friends in Belgium and Holland. No hills to contend with but biking from Bruges to Amsterdam, then around the Leiden area, there will be the North wind (i.e. – the hill that never ends). Next post from there, hopefully. Looking forward to Belgian beers!

Coffeeneuring #7 – Last warm ride?

How fortuitous that my final coffeeneuring ride of the year should occur on what is probably the final double digit temperature day of the year. I’m talking plus side here, people! The double digit negatives will be here shortly. This has been a wonderfully warm and dry October, where we have made it to at least +10C/50F for all but 3 days so far.  Unfortunately, the “so far” is forecast to come to an end tomorrow with snow and a high of -4C/25F. Good timing for the last coffeeneuring ride!

It was +12C/54F when I set out on my regular ride to Big Lake at noon. Overcast, with just a light wind, was great for riding and I was thinking that maybe I should have gone for a road ride instead. But I had my heart set on going to a particular café in downtown St. Albert and I hate riding my road bike on the trail system or on the city streets.  So I chose the hybrid and set off on the trail for my coffee ride.

On weekends, the trail is usually pretty crowded with runners, walkers (usually with dogs, on leash and off) and other cyclists. But, remarkably considering the weather, there weren’t many people at all, maybe because it was lunch time, and I was able to keep up a good pace. As I came around the corner by the BMX park, though, the pace ended abruptly.  What the hell were 2 big trucks doing blocking the trail?  Then I remembered that there was some sort of unidentifiable spill reported in the stormwater outfall at that location and the trucks must be cleaning it up. Had to bushwhack a bit to get around them but glad that it was being cleaned up. They were gone by the time I made the return trip.

A "what tha?'" moment after rounding a corner. Vac trucks taking up the whole trail.

A “what tha?'” moment after rounding a corner. Vac trucks taking up the whole trail.

On Big Lake, the geese were making a racket in one of the far bays and the swans were still there too, both too far away for a picture. I spotted an immature bald eagle (no white head yet) perched on a light pole by the highway over the river but my camera and skills were too poor to let me get a decent picture.  All I got was a brownish blob, albeit with a wicked beak and long, sharp talons.

Immature bald eagle perched on light pole by Ray Gibbon bridge.

Immature bald eagle perched on light pole by Ray Gibbon bridge. (Click on picture for bigger view.)

On the ride back to town, I noticed that more trees had been beavered down by the trail near the river. The rascals have been busy getting ready for winter. At least they haven’t fallen any across the trail. Yet.

Evidence of our national animal hard at work.

Evidence of our national animal hard at work.

Thought that I would throw in a few pictures that show what a difference 3 weeks make in the vegetation.

Oct 3rd - path through the woods. Still lots of leaves on the trees.

Oct 3rd – path through the woods. Still lots of leaves on the trees.

Oct 26th - same path. Leaves on the ground, not on the trees.

Oct 26th – same path. Leaves on the ground, not on the trees.

I stopped for refreshments at the Arcadia Café, in downtown St. Albert.  It’s a nice place, though I found my latte a little weak. I have yet to see any latte art by the baristas here either, though that doesn’t detract (or add, for that matter) from the taste. Our cycling group, usually 50 to 70 strong, stops there when we ride in St. Albert at least once a month during the summer and they are pretty efficient in serving us, unlike most of the chains. No bike racks, although there used to be some, but they have a 40-foot long metal fence surrounding their (closed for the winter) patio that is great for chaining to.

Latte and lemon/blueberry muffin on the pastryneuring, er, coffeeneuring ride.

Latte and lemon/blueberry muffin on the pastryneuring, er, coffeeneuring ride.

Arcadia Cafe, with 1 lonely bike.

Arcadia Cafe, with 1 lonely bike.

Coffeeneuring #7

Date: Saturday, October 26, 2013

Place: Arcadia Café and Bar, 24 Perron Street, St. Albert, AB

What Had: Latte and lemon/blueberry muffin

Distance: 16 km

Details: Possibly last warm ride of the year

Coffeeneuring #1 – To The Market

Coffeeneuring is back! Not that it really went anywhere, since I almost always stop for a coffee on my rides. But the official chasing mailboxes 3rd annual coffeeneuring challenge, with rules and all, runs from October 5th to November 17th. All I have to do is ride to 7 different local coffee shops over 7 weekends. Sounds easy until you consider the vagaries of weather in these parts. Riding in the rain when it is hovering around freezing, even with the promise of a hot coffee half way through, is not the most pleasant of pastimes. Cold is fine, cold and wet is a bone chilling challenge. Maybe that’s the point 😉 Add snow and it becomes life threatening unless equipped with appropriate tires. Anyway, for me to successfully complete this challenge, I have to hope for a lack of precipitation on my appointed coffeeneuring days. As a retired guy with no employer making demands on my time, I can invoke Rule 3b and pick any 2 consecutive days as my “weekend”. But I think I will stick to the same Saturday/Sunday option that the working class have to abide by. Now to hope the weather cooperates and I don’t have to do my final ride through 35 cm of snow, like last year.  Or any ride. Are you listening, weather gods?? Yeah – didn’t think so.

I did my initial ride of the challenge today and I made use of Rule 2, i.e. the Coffee Shop Without Walls rule.  As my regular route to Big Lake passes by the Saturday Farmer’s Market in St. Albert, I thought that I would stop by the Molly’s Eats food truck and pick up a hot chocolate on my return home. The ride comes first though!

Although it was an overcast day, the temp was warm (10C) and there was no wind.  The colours have certainly changed over the past 2 weeks.  We have had a few hard frosts and the leaves are more yellow and red than green, the ones that are still on the trees anyway. Leaves are building up on the paths, the geese are leaving in honking droves and the trail walkers have started to trade tee-shirts and ball caps for toques and gloves. The kids are still out playing baseball and football, although I think the baseball season is pretty well over.  The hardass football players, though, will play well into the snows of November.

The leaves are starting to litter the trails

The leaves are starting to litter the trails

Zooming through the leaves

Zooming through the leaves

The wetland is looking like fall

The wetland is looking like fall

Exiting the boardwalk onto the trail

Exiting the boardwalk onto the trail

Pretty soon those bushes will be bare

Pretty soon those bushes will be bare

Not all of the trail was leaf covered.

Not all of the trail was leaf covered.

The kids are well into football season

The kids are well into football season…

and, surprisingly, baseball.

and, surprisingly, baseball (though fans are a tad sparse).

After my ride out to Big Lake, I stopped by the Farmer’s Market to pick up my reward. Since the day was so nice, it was obvious that the reward fairy figured that I didn’t deserve one, since as soon as I picked up my hot chocolate I proceeded to dump half of it down the front of my jacket (some people you can’t take out. With me, it’s safer if I am out).  An auspicious start to the challenge!

St. Albert Farmer's Market

St. Albert Farmer’s Market

Steel drum busker at the market

Steel drum busker at the market

Molly's Eats food truck. Coffeeneuring destination #1.

Molly’s Eats food truck. Coffeeneuring destination #1.

Coffeeneuring #1

Date: Saturday, October 5, 2013

Place: Molly’s Eats food truck, St. Albert Farmer’s Market

What:  Hot chocolate (half of one, anyway)

Distance: 18.8 km

Details: A trip to Big Lake along leafy trails, followed by a stop at the second to last St. Albert Farmer’s Market of the summer for broccoli, kale, granola bars and a partial hot chocolate.

Coffeeneuring #7 – Snow Problem

What a difference a couple of weeks makes.  After coffeeneuring #6, I was sure I could pull this challenge off. I mean, two weeks – 4 full days – to make one measly ride to a coffee shop I hadn’t visited before on a previous coffeeneuring ride? Slam dunk, I thought.  Piece of cake, I opined. It didn’t start well.  Nov. 2nd and 3rd were just raw and ugly days – not cold, just below 0C – but windy and the trails were very icy, so I chose not to ride.  With warmer temperatures forecast and still 1 more weekend yet to go, I decided that I would be better prepared for my next opportunity.  I would build an ice bike!

I had recently changed out my tires for a new pair and still had the old ones cluttering the garage.  I read a bunch of blogs and watched some YouTube videos on how to stud your own tires and figured what the heck – I’ll give this a shot.  So I stuck a bunch (about 40) 1/2 inch screws through what was to be my front tire.  I took it out for a short test drive on our icy street and the front tire traction was great but the unstudded back tire kept sliding out.  So I went to work on the back tire.  The old rear tire was almost a slick so, with not as much tread to hold a screw, I decided to use pop rivets on it instead.  I was afraid that screws would just push right through the thin casing but rivets, with a washer on the outside, would give almost as good traction as the screws and stay in the tire.  The results are in the pictures below.  All I had to do now was wait for next weekend and complete the challenge.  Again, s’no problem. Well, kind of. Apparently, Mother Nature had her own idea of what s’no problem meant. And a nasty sense of humour.

1/2 inch screws through the front tire

My studly front tire

Pop rivets in the back tire

Rivet pattern: 2 on sides – 4.5 inches – 1 in centre, repeat

On Wednesday, the Edmonton area, and St. Albert in particular, had their first real snow storm.  Not so much of a storm, really, as there wasn’t much wind, maybe more of an inundation of snow.  A temp of just below 0C was enough to cause the initial layer of snow to melt and refreeze into solid ice. It was then covered by another 35 cm (that’s 14 inches for you non-metric people) as the temperature fell throughout the day. No giant windblown drifts, thank goodness – this was a vertical storm not a horizontal one. Still, nothing says “hello winter” like watching a 40-ft long bendy bus slide sideways down an icy street, which happened numerous times in both Edmonton and St. Albert. But I was ever hopeful that the trails and streets would be magically cleared and/or compacted in time for the true test of my ice bike.

Note my neighbors car just peeking out from under the snow.

Today was the day.  It was a bit cool, -11 with a wind chill of -18C, but I wanted to ride on a Friday because there would be a lot less traffic on the roads and fewer people on the trails and Saturday was not going to be any warmer anyway.  I had my route scoped out. I even drove part of it this morning to make sure that the one portion of the route that I was most concerned about was plowed.  It was, so off I went.  For about 20 feet.  Our residential street was a mess of deep snow and ruts, unplowed of course. I was hoping that the ruts would be compacted enough that I could ride in them but no way.  My 700×35 tires, even with studs, were no match for the deep, loose oatmeal. I had no traction at all, even with the studs. The sidewalks, having been shoveled by the homeowners, were in much better shape so I resorted to them (that’s legal here, btw).  I made my way down the sidewalks to a bus route street which was plowed. It was a little better but it’s not like they plowed right down to the pavement so I was still being thrown this way and that by the mealy snow.  Not fun when traffic is passing you.  When I got to the Red Willow trail and went to turn north, I found that it wasn’t plowed at all!  WTF!! Apparently, as I found out from the operator of a trail sweeping machine that I met on the trail and managed to avoid (during our chat, the operator called me “brave” for venturing out in these conditions on a bike. My wife used other adjectives), the city has a deal with the local X-country ski club to leave that portion uncleared so that it can be trackset and used by skiers. There was no other way to get to my appointed coffee shop without going onto busy streets. No bike lanes, no shoulders, not even any sidewalks. Damn. Change of plans.  I turned south and decided to see what else nature and the city could throw at me.  The trail was icy and incredibly lumpy but, with my new fangled ice tires, I had no problem biting into the ice and maintaining control. Unless I did something stupid, like make an abrupt change in direction to avoid an ice lump or deep rut. But this was a new experience for me, biking in these conditions, and I was learning on-the-job. I never went down on the entire ride though. I finally reached a decision point on the trail – I could turn off to a Starbucks that I hadn’t been to before but would have to do a bunch of walking/pushing the bike through unplowed streets and shopping centre parking lot OR I could continue on down the trail and go to the Arcadia Cafe, which I had previously visited (Coffeeneuring #3).  I figured that walking the bike would not be in the true spirit of a coffeeneuring ride so I chose to patronize an independent, locally-owned cafe that I could actually ride to.  I also have a much better idea of how to succeed in this challenge next year – with the vagaries of Edmonton weather in late October and November,  save the easy ones for last! With the revisit to Arcadia, I guess that I failed the challenge this year 😦 but it was not for lack of trying.

Getting set to go

On the snowy trail. There is better grip on the verges than in the centre.

Trying to stay on the straight and narrow (and less slippery).

Looks like the x-c skiers have been out already. On my bike trail!

Hot chocolate and granola square. And a complimentary gingerbread man (that I bit the head off of before I took the picture. Doesn’t everybody bite the heads off first?).

My unhappy, cold bike peeking in the window. I think it would have rather been inside with me.

I even saw another cyclist on the way back, on a mountain bike, and noticed that his tire tracks looked twice the width of mine, with a deep tread.  My hybrid won’t take mountain bike tires (I’ve already tried) but I think I’ll keep an eye out for some 700×38’s with a more aggressive tread that I can put screws into.  They definitely work better than the pop rivets for traction.  I was worried about getting a flat – a screw backing out into the tube – but they held really well and were not an issue.  Just the damn deep snow!

Thanks MG for coming up with this idea!  I doubt that I would have ever tried winter biking if not for accepting the challenge. It was great fun. Although I think that, with the ski hills opening, my biking season is finally over. But I’ll leave the bike in the garage just in case I get the urge.

Coffeeneuring 7

Date: November 9, 2012

Place: Arcadia Cafe, St. Albert (revisited)

What: Hot chocolate, granola square

Distance: 9.7 km

Details: 2 days after a 35 cm snowfall, on homemade studded tires.

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