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

Posts tagged ‘sturgeon river’

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.

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!

Thanksgiving Ride

Last Monday was Thanksgiving Day in Canada so I took a break from getting ready for a turkey supper by doing a morning ride in St. Albert.  We have been having surprisingly nice weather for the past few weeks and, by the time I usually go for a ride, the morning frost has dissipated. I was a little earlier Thanksgiving morning and the frost was a little heavier so I finally was able to take a few frosty pictures on my regular route to Big Lake.

Frost lingering on the hillside above the river.

Frost lingering on the hillside above the river.

Frost in the shade on the river bank.

Frost in the shade on the river bank.

Out on the Poole boardwalk, the marsh is starting to show that winter is indeed around the corner. The shallow pools had a skim of ice, for a few hours anyway, freezing the duckweed, bulrush fluff and other assorted marshy detritus into swirly patterns.

Pond detritus in temporary frozen swirls

Pond detritus in temporary frozen swirls

A pretty fall day in the marsh

A pretty fall day in the marsh

After crossing the Ray Gibbon bridge, I went for a ride around the perimeter of the White Spruce Park. The trail, only about 2 km long, varies between single- and double-track (depending if you can find the other rut) through the field and brush around the park. I have never seen another cyclist out there, only a few dog walkers and bird watchers, and is a fun ride.

Heading into the White Spruce Park

Heading into the White Spruce Park

One well used track, one not so much

One well used track, one not so much

This area is spongy when wet but bone dry now

This area is spongy when wet but bone dry now

Single track through the field

Single track through the field

Heading back to the paved trail over the bridge

Heading back to the paved trail over the bridge

The geese are flocking off

The geese are flocking off

No coffee today – every coffee shop I passed was closed for Thanksgiving (shades of Alice’s Restaurant).

Garrison Redux

Otherwise known by our esteemed group of senior skiers cum road riders as “the base ride”.  The base, in this instance, refers to the Edmonton Garrison, the largest army base in Western Canada and located between Namao and Edmonton. It’s only about 15 km as the bicycle rolls from St Albert but we take a somewhat convoluted and variable route to get there and generally squeeze a 50-km loop out of it.  Being extremely civilized bikers, we also stop at the base Tim’s for refreshments. We do the ride about once every week or two with minor changes in routing depending on whether anyone wants to do a 2 km-long, and perilously busy, hill to get there.  When we are preparing for the Tour de l’Alberta, almost everyone does the hill because it is great for training – not too steep (about 5% max) and with a couple of short terraces to give the legs and lungs a short break.  Unfortunately, said hill is on a busy highway, complete with a narrow shoulder and lots of over-wide semis.  Their updraft is sometimes a nice boost in aiding the climb but also a little nerve wracking in their intimacy.  Today, the wind was from the east, i.e. right in our faces going uphill, so we chose the cowards way out and opted for a more protected and less hilly route.

The ride is a great combination of tranquil country roads, smooth meandering multi-use trails, suburban streets and, with the exception of the above noted Hwy 37, a not-too-busy main road with a wide shoulder. We usually crank it up here for the ride back, figuring that if we exhaust ourselves, at least we are close to our starting point and we can collapse unobtrusively in the privacy of our cars/homes.

We usually have from 3 to 12 of us on the ride but only 4 managed to show up today.  Lots of excuses offered by those who didn’t show – sometimes life just gets in the way of having fun – but our group enjoyed a pretty well perfect riding day. Here is the route we took today.

Al, with Dick and Richard behind, on a quiet country road.

Al, with Dick and Richard behind, on a quiet country road.

 

Smooth paved trails in the estates area of Sturgeon County.

Smooth paved trails in the estates area of Sturgeon County.

View of the Sturgeon River valley, and a glimpse of the river, from the top of a rise.

View of the Sturgeon River valley, and a glimpse of the river, from the top of a rise on the trail.

Mike on the trail.

Mike on the trail.

Large expensive houses, perfectly manicured, in the estates area.  I'm sure that the 5-car garage is bigger than my house!

Large expensive houses, perfectly manicured, in the estates area. I’m sure that the 5-car garage is bigger than my house!

 

Not in my price range!

Not in my price range!

Mike, Dick and Richard leaving the estates.

Mike, Dick and Richard leaving the estates.

 

The trail through the country out to the base...

The trail through the country out to the base…

 

...past corn fields...

…past corn fields…

... and wheat fields...

… and wheat fields…

 

... leading to the running/walking/biking/marching/fitness trail beside the base.

… leading to the running/walking/biking/marching/fitness trail beside the base.

Time for a nature break and sugary reward.

Time for a nature break and sugary reward at Tim’s.

 

The wide, clean, smooth trail beside Valour Road. Great for getting some speed up.

The wide, clean, smooth trail beside Valour Road. Great for getting some speed up.

The nice wide shoulder on Sturgeon Road.  Another great place to crank it up.

The nice wide shoulder on Sturgeon Road. Another great place to crank it up.

 

The gazebo at the entrance of St Albert. Almost home after another fine ride with friends!

The gazebo at the entrance of St Albert. Almost home after another fine ride with friends!

Happy Canada Day, Eh!

Summer seems to have arrived with a vengeance.  High of 31 today so I went for a morning ride to escape the worst of the heat.  I went out for a 100 km road ride yesterday with the EBTC Target the Tour group so I was content to just toodle around town today and take in the various festivities that St Albert was putting on for Canada Day.  I did my usual ride out to Big Lake, which was very quiet (animal wise) in the building heat. Except for the terns on the boardwalk who have a nasty habit of shit-bombing anybody who walks along it. Hope the chicks fledge soon so that they won’t be so protective!

Path around back of the Poole boardwalk. Peaceful and effulgent.

Path around back of the Poole boardwalk. Peaceful and effulgent.

People enjoying the tranquility at the Big Lake viewing platform.

People enjoying the tranquility at the Big Lake viewing platform.

The Poole boardwalk, with terns dive-bombing anybody who crosses their territory.

The Poole boardwalk, with terns dive-bombing anybody who crosses their territory.

A perfect day to kayak on the Sturgeon River.

A perfect day to kayak on the Sturgeon River.

CN train trestle bridge on a hot, quiet day.

CN train trestle bridge on a hot, quiet day.

I arrived back in town just as the St Albert Community Band started playing Oh Canada. Good timing.  There were a few other bands playing in other areas of the park but the sounds didn’t overlap, thank goodness.  Lots of activities and displays for the kids and FREE CAKE!

Bike and cake. Yes, I know I need a new saddle.  I've got a Brooks on order.

Bike and cake. Yes, I know I need a new saddle. I’ve got a Brooks on order.

Kids swarming the army LAV.

Kids swarming the army ATV.

Army helicopter making everyone look up.

Army helicopter making everyone look up.

From Lion’s Park, I pedaled over to the St Albert Grain Elevator Park.  It has 2 rehabbed grain elevators dating from 1906 and 1929, which are open to the public during the summer, and a few historic buildings. More displays and more FREE CAKE!

Old Alberta Wheat Pool elevator, open for tours.

Old Alberta Wheat Pool elevator, open for tours.

Me and more Canada Day cake. Any day with cake is a good day.

Me and more Canada Day cake. Any day with cake is a good day.

Sunny, hot, on my bike and cake. It was a good day. Now for a cold beer.

May Flowers

After a ridiculously cold and snowy April, Mother Nature finally pulled herself from under the duvet and looked at the calendar. May? Already? Time to warm things up a bit…  So we went from a low of -5C on May 1st to a high of +31C on May 6th!  Making up for lost time I guess.  The warm weather not only did in the last of the snow banks but it also brought out the cyclists in droves.

As I have mentioned before, the ski club that I belong to has a large and active biking contingent.  Typically, 60 to 80 of us meet every Tuesday and Thursday morning for rides on the bike trails in the Edmonton area, with a mid-ride break for coffee, and usually get in 25 to 35 km, depending on location and terrain.  We break into small (i.e. manageable) groups according to ability and experience – either green, blue or black, just like ski runs. Those of us with road bikes also get out for Wednesday and/or Friday rides as well, cruising the quiet roads in the countryside.  The  warm, sunny weather and general lack of rain for most of the month meant that we could finally get our legs turning and our butts used to bicycle seats again.

The North Saskatchewan River valley through Edmonton is a wonderful place to ride, with 100’s of kilometres of paved and dirt trails from one end of the city to the other.

Edmonton skyline from the river valley trails

May 14 – Edmonton skyline from the river valley trails

Riding on one of the wider dirt trails in Mill Creek ravine

May 14 – Riding on one of the wider dirt trails in Mill Creek ravine

St. Albert also has a nice trail system, albeit short, beside the Sturgeon River. Unfortunately, the trails tend to get flooded every spring, so cycling there proved to be a bit of a challenge this month.  With all the snow melting at once, high tide swamped the underpasses and forced the 5 group leaders to be a little creative in choosing their routes.

Flooded walkway under St Albert Trail

May 16 – Flooded walkway under St Albert Trail

Flooded walkway under Perron Street bridge

May 16 – Flooded walkway under Perron Street bridge

Flooded trail under railroad trestle bridge

May 16 – Flooded trail under railroad trestle bridge

May 16 - Converging on the coffee shop!

May 16 – Converging on the coffee shop!

The trees seemed to go from bare and wintery to fully leafed out in 2 days, with blossoms sprouting everywhere.

May 21 - Proof that the black group does stop periodically to smell the roses, er, apple blossoms.

May 21 – Proof that the black group does stop periodically to smell the roses, er, apple blossoms.

May 21 - Riding through the Chinese Gardens in Louise McKinney Park.

May 21 – Riding through the Chinese Gardens in Louise McKinney Park.

And, every now and then, we had to contend with other biker gangs on the trails!

May 23 - This gang looked mean.  We gave them a wide berth...

May 23 – This gang looked mean. We gave them a wide berth…

Coffeeneuring 6 – Critters

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

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

Fox tracks on the ice in the wetland.

More tracks in the swamp

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

Ducks and a tundra swan coping with the ice

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

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

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

Coffeeneuring 6

Date: Sat, October 27

Place: Second Cup, Inglewood Square, St. Albert

What: coffee, banana walnut muffin

Distance: 16 km

Details: Cold, with a chance of critters.

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