Wednesday, December 2, 2015

The "Mosquito-Less Trek"

The Adventure Cycling Association, in celebration of its fortieth anniversary is encouraging members to plan an overnight bike trip next June. Cyclist can either design their own trip or join an existing one.

There is a trip here in Edmonton called "The Mosquito-less Trek" that looks pretty easy to do. All the bike riding will be done on river valley trails and the camping aspect is in a public campground right in the valley.

Edmonton's river valley park is the largest urban park in Canada with one hundred and sixty kilometers of maintained trails. "The Mosquito-less Trek" proposes two days of cycling on those trails and two nights of camping - so to do that mileage in two consecutive days and so early in the season should be a nice workout.

Its not unusual for our neck of the woods to see snow every month of the year. Joining a bicycle camping trip in early June means we might have to slog through the white stuff. The question is: "Do we leave our studded tires on until June?

Being a city in the Canadian North means that Edmonton has its fair share of wildlife in the river valley. Bears have been spotted, as well as beavers and coyotes. I can remember climbing up a steep hill one morning on one of the trails and there squatting majestically and defiantly at the hill's crest was a large male coyote. The light on my handlebars glowed back at me from his eyes. The weak "bing bing bing" of my bell did nothing but elicit a yawn from the creature. My front wheel almost touched him before ambled off into the woods and down to the river.
Not a yawn
One spring the trails in sprawling Terwilligar Park were closed due to a bear sighting. The animals simply follow the North Saskatchewan River valley until they look up and think "Oh shit! I'm in the friggin' city already!"
How's it goin'?
All through the river valley is evidence of beaver activity. Small trees have been chewed down, streams are blocked by dams and all the larger trees have a wrapping of chicken wire around their bases. Apparently, beavers don't want to floss with wire while they eat.

 The organizer might be overly optimistic when they say this bike travel weekend is "Mosquito-less". June can be a very busy time for skitters in our area. The ground doesn't usually thaw until late May, yet the snow has mostly melted which means great pools of water dot the city and make excellent breeding grounds for the annoying insects. A friend of the family once told me how they sent a dragonfly back to Jolly Old England and claimed that this was the size of mosquitoes in Canada!
It is not like the trip is going to be in the backwoods after all. The cyclists will always have cell service and unless it snows, bears invade or a beaver chews down a tree onto your campsite while you are sleeping, all will be well. Just ask the organizer - me!

Friday, October 16, 2015

Food Glorious Food

Anyone who has been bikepacking for a long period of time knows how much the idea of food dominates your thoughts. A lot of calories are being burned just by pedaling but even more if you are humping any kind of weight. Every year, I try to whittle down the amount of junk I strap onto the bike.

There have been many memorable meals of the trail in the last 10 years. A notable one stands out because of the food we didn't eat. Three of us, Roy, Richard and I were cycling from Princeton to Tulameen after having camped the night before (see below).
See above
Roy is never one to stop for a meal during the day and it was Richard's comment "That's what normal people do" that prompted us to start thinking about having lunch. The first town we reached was Coaldale, a virtual ghost town. Pretty but abandoned. Not a soul to be seen. Consulting our map, it looked like we could make it to the next town, Tulameen in about an hour.
I could hear Roy mention fish and chips as we rode away. Like a magnet, my mind grabbed onto this idea. In my imagination I savored the crispy batter with its beer undertones, the tang of vinegar, and my mouth began to water when I thought of the salt on a mountain of chips hitting my tongue.

Up ahead was the Trading Post - a sort of general store with a restaurant in the back. Finally,menus in hand, glasses of water with beads of condensation dribbling down their sides in front of us, this seemed like the perfect place to have lunch. Richard must have heard Roy because all three of us ordered fish and chips. Snapping a wad of gum in her mouth, the waitress in a bored voice informed us that we could order chips but no fish. They had no fish. When Roy pointed out that it was on the menu, it made me think of the person who declares "What do you mean there is no money in my account? I still have a stack of cheques!"
Our disappointment was such that I have no recollection of what any of us ordered. Probably a nondescript burger for one of us, soup for another. I was in my carb-loading phase so I probably would have ordered a pasta dish.

Some day soon, I'll be able to ride without thinking of food. Maybe I'll daydream about what kind of hooch I'll drink at the end of the ride. That smoky taste of Scotch, the pleasant burning sensation at the back of your throat as you guzzle a carbonated drink...

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Soakin' Valley

On our way home from last year's bike-packing trip,we saw a paved cycling trail that followed the Slocan River.Consulting my Kettle Valley Railway guidebook, we discovered that there was in fact a rails to trails route that was 50 kilometers in length called the "Slocan Valley Rail Trail".
Last year's trip

Wanting to do a bike-packing trip this summer, Chris (the boy) and I decided that since he was out of shape, we would try that trail as it looked flat and the guidebook confirmed that there was no appreciable grade.This time the boy had a much better bike and he had finally listened to my advice to ditch the cotton t-shirts and wear moisture wicking shirts. (Forget him wearing cycling shorts!).

My wife who is a sensible individual, suggested that because of the health risk that the recent forest fire smoke presented, we should consider another place to ride our bikes.Being males, we disregarded the wise advice. Although the smoke seemed to get worse the further south we traveled. Then it began to rain.

We told ourselves that it always rains in the mountains and sure enough, by the time we reached Slocan the rain had stopped. Visibility was still limited because of the tremendous clouds of smoke coming up from the southern end of the province. It also seemed that there must have been a lot of marijuana burning as we imagined seeing a pulp mill that upon closer inspection turned out to be an outcropping of rock. The bright lights of an RV coming toward us were not the ferry that would take us across Lower Arrow Lake...
Slocan gold

The campground at Slocan had only two other campsites taken so we chose an isolated spot that had a waterfall tumbling steadily behind it. The stream below the falls was clear and cold so we stashed a couple of tall cans of beer in its pristine waters.
Rollin' and tumblin'
It was hard to tell if above us was rain clouds or if it was forest fire smoke. It was rain clouds.Just after starting off from the trailhead, it began to sprinkle. This would be the driest we would be for the next several days. The boy and I had rain gear and after such a long drive and much preparation, we weren't about to turn back now.
Here comes the rain
We made it to our destination at Winlaw without a great deal of effort and we found that this place had everything we could want. A family - run bakery, a hardware store, a crunchy-granola food store and just as importantly, a gas station that had a liquor store. (We had forgotten the beer in Slocan  Creek). Once again, the campground was virtually vacant and we chose a secluded spot.

The ever-present rain made me think of the 1960's Alan Sherman tune:

Hello Mudda, hello Fadduh,
Here I am at Camp Granada
Camp is very entertaining
and they say we'll have some fun if it stops raining

I went hiking with Joe Spivy
He developed poison ivy
You remember Leonard Skinner
He got ptomaine poisoning last night after dinner

Now I don't want this should scare ya
But my bunkmate has malaria
You remember Jeffrey Hardy
They're about to organize a searching party

Wait a minute, it stopped hailing,
Guys are swimming, guys are sailing,
Playing baseball. gee that's better,
Muddah Fadduh kindly disregard this letter.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Bikewriters Aug.16,2015

Bikewriters is a group of dedicated cyclists who meet on occasion to write about cycling and then read aloud and discuss their work.

Here is what I wrote in the 15 minutes allotted to the subject:

The wind is causing the elm branches above me to sway. House lights and street lights reflect off the wet street. It is not exactly cold but compared to the hot summer days we have had for the past few months, there is a definite chill in the air.
I think to myself that plenty of people will soon be Tweeting or Facebooking that summer is over. Summer is not over. This is just a bump in the road.
Although I have to admit that this night feels like a fall night. One of those nights soon to come where a gust of wind blows the leaves off the trees and they scatter in front of your bike. Like large paper snowflakes, the leaves stick to your tires until centrifugal force flings them into the air - only to cartwheel until forced to a stop by a hard curb.
Enjoying yourself, knowing it doesn't matter how late you arrive home since you can sleep in tomorrow, you switch your headlight to flicker. The strobing  light turns the whole scene into a jumble of confusing images. Not to worry. You have command of your bike. You know this route. You want to play!
Soon, you are bored with the flashing light. You look at the houses you are passing. Blue, sharp light emanates from a picture window. The TV is on. In another home a light goes out. Bed time?
Not for me. I want to keep riding. Experiencing empty, quiet streets, secure in the knowledge I have a warm, comfortable bed waiting for me.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Holy Crap!

My bicycle camping buddy Roy and I decided this year to skip our annual bikepacking trip and go backpacking instead. We had our usual great time and I learned a number of things - especially when it comes to carrying a lot of weight.

The two of us near Princeton
When Roy and I started our annual trip nine years ago, I hadn't done any camping other than car camping with my family. So I was quite unprepared for bicycle camping. Roy had some experience  and I relied on him for advice when we began to plan. He told me that I should bring a Thermarest. A Thermarest? What on earth was that? A tent would be necessary and the list went on and on.

It turned out that I needed huge saddlebags to hold all my stuff. A lot of stuff. Pajamas, a bath towel, shaving kit, sandals, a huge sleeping bag, shirts, shorts, a toque, and a heavy plastic ground sheet among other things.
The ridiculous pajamas
There was so much stuff that due to the rugged trail we followed that the rack holding the saddlebags broke away from my bike and scattered my heavy crap all over a dirt road; in a place that had no shade nor anywhere to sit.
The spill
Over nine years, I've made a lot of changes to my gear and I look forward to my next bikepacking trip where I'll pare down my stuff even more. In fact I'm reading a book by ultra-light backpacker Ray Jardine and most of his ideas are practical and sensible. One idea that appeals to me is to use a tarp instead of a tent. Right now my one man tent weighs close to four pounds and Ray Jardine's tarp weighs mere ounces.

 Years ago I didn't know what a Thermarest was and now I have two - a long one (my first) and a shorter one that covers only my shoulders and hips. I wouldn't wear a light on my helmet again since a Tikka packed away in a handlebar bag weighs much less and can be used quickly when faced with a tunnel or when you set up camp in the dark.

Roy still makes fun of all the gear I brought on our first bikepacking trip and it gave me a certain amount of satisfaction on our recent backpacking trip to find out that Roy's pack weighed fifty pounds and mine a mere forty.

You can find out more about my backpacking adventures at:

Monday, June 8, 2015

I Won the Sweepstakes

Very soon is the MS Bike Tour which I've been training for.  Not as a fundraiser on a bike but as a marshal on a bike. Every chance I could in the last several weeks, I've been on my bike - doing especially long rides two days in a row on the weekends.

I noticed with all my riding that there was a persistent creaking sound with every pedal stroke. So it was off to shop where I tightened the seat onto its post, used a pedal wrench on the pedals,oiled the chain and tested out the front derailleur from where the sound seemed to be coming. After quite some scrutiny, I discovered that one of my rear cogs was loose and by simply screwing the locking ring down, the creaking disappeared.

A marshal's job is to ensure the safety of the participants over the two day tour and also to hustle the riders along so that everyone can finish in time for the banquet the first evening. My friend Roy can attest to how slowly I pedal so I happily accepted the volunteer position of sweeper. Sweeping is done at the tail end of a group of cyclists. The sweeper position can be unenviable in that most of the marshals will book it as fast as they can to get to the day's finish - leaving the sweeper to encourage the slowest riders to move along.  You can imagine that some of those slow riders are travelling so slowly because their bikes are in poor repair. As a marshal told me once "The first day is all about broken bikes and the second day is all about broken bodies!"

On previous MS Tours, I'd seen marshals; their panniers filled with equipment and a tall floor pump poking out of one of the saddlebags. Faced with the prospect of having to pump up some of those tires, I now understood why the marshals didn't rely on compact hand pumps. Two full days of pumping tires would be hard work.

With only days left, I've been busy reading through first aid materials and checking my tools and first aid kit. Everything looks in order and I must remember to pack along my tall floor pump.

Monday, June 1, 2015

My Art Ride

How not to do a Public Art Ride:

1. Leave late
2. Guess at the route the ride will take
3. Don't phone someone on the ride to find out where they are

Here is what I missed:
The Public Art Ride
A mural they enjoyed
Art at Borden Park

This is what I found on my own ride:
My mural
An empty Borden Park
All was not lost though. On my way downtown, cutting through the Legislature grounds, I realized I was present as history was being made - Rachel Notley was being sworn in on the front steps as the new premier of our province.

Monday, May 18, 2015

A One Night Stand

You have decided to go for a lengthy bike ride and then camp out overnight. Living in the city, there are still places where one can set up a tent and enjoy the camping experience without leaving the city limits.

I found just a place this afternoon and it offered me everything I require in a camping place. Privacy is important and this spot was near a fence that would separate me from others. Some of that separation came from the plentiful trees on the property.  Only the evergreens had any substantial growth on their branches with this still being a cold spring.

There was a perfectly flat spot to pitch the tent.  I dutifully laid down on the ground first to feel if I wanted to sleep there.  I had learned this from reading Ray Jardine's book (I first heard of his ultra lightweight camping methods in the movie and book "Wild") and it made perfect sense. Why I had not been doing this for the last ten summers of camping?  Making a grass angel?

Not far from the tent was a building that housed the washrooms, showers and facilities for washing up dishes.  There would be no stinky pit toilet to contend with.  Near the tent - but not too close was the firepit.  I hadn't planned on cooking over the fire but a blaze is always a cheery companion.  My joy increased when I saw that there was a plentiful supply of firewood.

After sundown, I bunked down in my tent and tried out my new Lamina 20 sleeping bag which is rated for 7 degrees.  By 2 am it was only 1 degree. I couldn't take the cold anymore so I got up and went into the building with all the facilities and climbed into my own bed.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Riding in the Center of the Universe

During a lunch break in Ottawa, I thought it would be a good idea to rent a bike and go for a short ride.  While working near the Rideau Canal, I was sure I had seen a bike rental sign.  My hope was that the rental place would be open at this time of year.

My hopes were boosted when I discovered a couple of signs pointing to a space underneath an elegant bridge.  Climbing down, I could see what looked like a tunnel with hundreds of bikes stacked around its curving walls.  The operator of the rental shop near the tunnel was munching on a ham sandwich clasped in his greasy, bike mechanic hands.  The place had that distinctive bike shop smell - rubber, oil and dirt mixed together,
The tunnel

It surprised me that the mechanic asked me what hotel I was staying at while he filled out the rental agreement.  How did he know I was an out-of-towner?  Then I remembered that Ottawa, like most capital cities is also a tourist town.  He warmed up a little when I explained to him that I'm a bike mechanic at my city's community bike shop and in minutes he had me riding out of the tunnel on a GIANT bike.  Although it appeared to me to be a normal size.
A Giant bike
Riding along the Rideau Canal should be a pleasant experience.  A decent spring afternoon, an empty bike path, a nice enough bike.  But there was a pair of eyes that stared right at me.  In fact, followed my every move.  Right out of a cheesy horror movie.
Scary eyes
The bike path along the canal is very organized and interesting.  I say organized because the city has, for your convenience, place strategic signs to help you on your way.  For example, the signs show you how to get to a bank. (To pay for renting a bike)?
In the canal itself was a pair of ducks, three seagulls, a car tire, one rusted shopping cart and a shelf of crusty snow lining the south bank.  There must be woodpeckers in the vicinity as evidenced by a tree so peppered with holes that it was a wonder it could still stand.
Woodpecker machine gun action
The thing that most impressed me about the Rideau Canal bike path is that it is for everyone except pedestrians.  Apparently, walking on the path is prohibited and fine - able.

When I peeled up to the rental shack I didn't need to visit the bank.  I had the ten - spot right there in my wallet.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

What the ****?

City slogan

Our city has just announced that two meetings will be held next week to discuss what kind of bike lanes are to be installed at two different parts of the city.  What surprises me is that a bike lane is to be installed on 102 Avenue.  At the last bike lane meeting I joined, the city planners admitted that 103 Avenue was a better bike route.

For ten years I have been commuting to and from work on 102 Avenue but since attending that bike lane meeting, I have ridden on 103 Avenue and have to agree with the city that it is a much better route.  My choice of 103rd was also prompted by the demolition of the 100 year old bridge across the Groat Ravine.  With the bridge gone for 15 months while a new one was being installed another way to work had to be chosen - hence the 103 Avenue choice.

Bye bye bridge
But I'm going to miss the two meeting next week since my work is taking me to the center of the universe (Ottawa).  A producer and I are going to film our city's soccer club playing for the Amway Cup.  Amway Cup?  I thought Amway only dealt with toilet paper and other household goods.  Who knew?
It is for real
Every time I travel, my intention is to grab ahold of a bike and ride around my destination.  I see on the interweb that Ottawa has many bike lanes.  In fact Ottawa appears to be quite progressive in building bike lanes.  In fact, our capital city has been cited as:


To translate: Since 2012, the Association of Registered Graphic Designers (RGD) has invited submissions of projects created under the theme of communication design for social good. The So(cial) Good Design Awards celebrates work with the power to incite action and make meaningful change in the way we live our lives.
Even though I will miss giving my input to the city's cycling planners, I hope to have the pleasure of cycling on Good Designed bike lanes and who knows?, maybe my city's soccer team will bring home the Amway Cup.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015


On Facebook, a number of my friends have "liked" the fact that I'm going to the "Bike to the Symphony" event on June 12th.  My hope is that all those friends will join me in what has always been a fun bike ride.
Wigged Out

In the above photo, I'm the guy in the suit with the silver helmet.  If you look carefully, you'll see a GoPro camera mounted on my head.  My old friend Bruce Wiggins from CTV2 had shown up with a producer and they needed to find someone to wear a camera during the ride.  As soon as Wiggy spotted me, they knew they had their man.
A dressing down

After getting chain oil on my suit, I decided last year to dress down a bit and just wear a tweed jacket and jeans.  I was especially delighted to ride my Root Beer Raleigh 20" folding bike that my friend  The Raving Bike Fiend had found for me.  Someone snagged the above picture while we rode along the bike path near Railtown and I was eager to try taking my own pictures while pedaling.  Something I'd seen Coreen from "Breaking Chains and Taking Lanes" do many times.
The Bike Riding Photographer herself
My photographic efforts weren't worth publishing however, I did manage to get a photo of William Eddins, the Edmonton Symphony conductor who happened to lead all of us through downtown.  He then rode right into the concert hall on his bike.  Something we all liked.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Incision Indecision

Just recently I found myself laying on my back in a hospital bed; knocked out by a general anesthetic and feeling completely helpless.  The farthest thing on my mind was riding my bike.  Driving along the same route I bicycle commute to work, I just could not imagine how I could ride that distance almost every day.  Coupled with the fact that my departure from the house is usually before six o'clock in the morning.

Yet last night working in the garage, a little visual tableau helped me to consider the task.  Maybe it was seeing all my bikes hanging up in the garage.  There are 15 bikes in there.  11 of them mine.  The rest belong to my daughter, her boyfriend and my son. There are 2 more behind the woodshed, one against the outside garage wall and one more at work.

Perhaps the little nudge I felt was my body telling me that I'm healing and it will soon be time to climb back into the saddle and ride.  As an experiment, I ventured across the High Level Bridge to attend a meeting at the university.  Thick pea gravel from the melted snow and ice littered the riding surface making my first ride since the surgery rather dicey.
Now that spring is officially here, I 've seen way more cyclists on the road and now that I have survived a practice ride, I'll be joining them again soon.