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Friday, August 05, 2011

Have we really been in Edmonton for a week?

Hello friends! There is still so much to write about, but first I should talk about our experiences in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.

We got into Edmonton last Thursday, July 28. It was a three day ride from Jasper into town. We met Keith, The Raving Bike Fiend on Hwy 16A just west of Stony Plain, a good 25 miles from his house. Like a pilot boat helping freighters cross the Columbia Bar, Keith guided us through rain and the suburban morass to the Beacon: The Bike Cave. Inside the cave were many a wonderous bicycle. I took a shine to his 1954 Raleigh Sports 3-speed with drop bars. (He even let me ride it a bit!)

Keith was the most gracious host. He let us sleep in his bed. He filled our bellies with Pierogies, pancakes, and coffee. Lots and lots of coffee. He showed us around Edmonton. And the most wonderous thing of all--he worked on our bikes! For April's Novarra, he re-wrapped handlebars, adjusted shifters, cleaned chain, and installed a new saddle (which, if you're following along, is the 38th saddle of this tour.) For my Surly, he also re-wrapped, re-twined, and re-shellacked my bars, as the Rivendellesque treatment I applied before departure had basically undone itself. He adjusted brakes, replacing my worn rear pads. And he also cleaned the chain and adjusted the gears. Whadda guy!

What did we see and do?

On Friday after a long rest (the century we pulled on Thursday tuckered us out) we went on Edmonton's Critical Mass ride. I try to make it to various cities' Mass if I can. It's generally* a good way to gauge a particular city's bike culture and attitude toward bicyclists. There was maybe 50 people tops, and the atmosphere was a good one. The Mass pretty much stuck to one lane and I didn't observe any negative interactions with motorists or pedestrians.

Saturday we checked out the community bicycle shop, Bike Works, that is part of the Edmonton Bicycle Commuters (EBC) non-profit organization. Keith is a frequent volunteer at the shop, so we got a good tour of everything. I love checking out community bike shops, not only because of the neat stuff you can find, but because they offer the means for people to work on their bikes at a low cost. The bike that caught our eyes most was a 1978 Raleigh DL-1 Tourist loop-frame bike (aka: Old-Skool British Roadster) with rod brakes and all (though it had a new wheel built with a Sturmey-Archer 3 speed coaster brake hub). Of course April took a test ride.

Sunday Keith took us on an expedition using the many bike paths that wind through the park system in the North Saskatchewan River valley. After a pit stop at the Italian market (which we would acquaint ourselves with in the coming days) we rode to "Science Park" for a picnic. It was a good long ride (20 miles round-trip) on a beautiful day with great company.

Monday we battled the hordes at the annual Heritage Fest where we consumed overpriced, ethnic foods from around the world. I'm not one for crowds.

Tuesday we attempted to give a presentation about our travels. Because we attempted to do it in a park (mosquitoes!) and there wasn't a heck of a lot of people showing up, we ended up in a local pub (the Sugar Bowl) where April and I presented a slide show on the laptop. We then headed back to Bike Works for late night action and then to the dive-iest pizza joint in town for late night eats and beer.

Wednesday we had some of the best food on the trip at Padmanadi, which specializes in veggie-vegan Asian fare. Fake meats! I think I'm still stuffed.

Thursday (it's Thursday again?) (and for those of you keeping track, it's August 4), we did a bunch of running around town in a vain and vague attempt to "stock up" for the touring leg into Saskatoon. This meant MEC and a bunch of grocery stores. The original plan was to leave later in the afternoon and ride a short day (25 miles) to Elk Island National Park. Well, that didn't happen! The errands-running took longer than we thought, and we had no interest in riding until sunset. So we leave Friday. today.

Edmonton has been rather good to us. As a city, it's not bad. It's smaller than Calgary and less sprawling. Keith lives in an "older"** neighborhood near downtown, and most everything we did was within the urban core. Like Calgary, Edmonton has an extensive bike path system along the river valley. Also like Calgary,*** there isn't a heck of a lot of bike infrastructure outside of that. I don't think I remember seeing a true bike lane in our explorations, though there were a few contra-flow lanes. We primarily rode on busier multi-lane boulevards, taking the lane when appropriate. It wasn't bad, but it did make me long for low-traffic side streets after a while.

What made Edmonton special was the people. There's a tight-knit crew of people (revolving around EBC) that we hung out with extensively, like Alex, Geneva, and Coreen of Breaking Chains and Taking Lanes. We also managed to snag a brief, very brief "hang-out" with Deb from Loop Frame Love. There were lots more folks that we had brief encounters with, like Leila, the artist in residence at EBC.

On one hand, it's awesome that we ended up spending soooo much time in Edmonton. What was originally planned for four days turned into a full week. After two months on the road, with no home base other than what was on our bikes, it was good to stop for a bit. To have lazy mornings without obligation. To not have to make a new home on a daily basis. On a long tour I don't think you realize how important it is to have a place to do nothing for a bit, without really having to worry about being in someone else's way. (We have done multiple day breaks on the road so far, but with a few of them we could tell that we were "guests" and they would like to have their space back soon.)

And it was good to spend enough time in Edmonton to get to know people beyond superficialities. In that case, it's almost like we're leaving too soon. It might be nice at some point to come up for a month or so, participate in the bike scene, maybe lead some rides of my own. (This would be of course during the summer. I'm not that hardcore. And yeah Keith, you'd rather have -20C and sunny than +4C and rainy, but I'll stick with damp Portland winters for now.) This was the strategy I employed when I visited Tucson six years ago.

But man...a week is a long time. It's nice to not have to do anything. But the forward momentum of the trip has fizzled, and we've got inertia instead. Why do anything? This will probably be the longest break of this trip, for good reason. Not only is it harder to get going, but it means things are going to take longer. Initially I estimated crossing the border into Minnesota next week, but now it looks like more towards the end of the month, about two weeks behind my predictions. I've been warned that fall can come early to these parts, so I want to get south before it gets bad. At least we're missing the worst of this summer, as I can count all the 80F and higher days we've experienced on my two hands. But we are still so very far from the East Coast.

Next stop...Saskatoon! See you there!

*I said generally.
**Which is a relative term in a city founded in...1904. Yes Europe, please remind us of how old shit is over there.
***They really don't like being compared to Calgary.


  1. I can totally relate. July was bad for me - I stayed at least 2 nights almost everywhere. Here in Yellowstone, I've been in the park for 9 days, and won't leave until tomorrow or the day following.

    But it still works, after a fashion. :-)

  2. "It's smaller than Calgary and less sprawling."

    I don't think this is true if you count the bedroom communities of St. Albert, Sherwood Park and Fort Saskatchewan that encircle Edmonton, which are essentially part of the city now and contribute to sprawl. The metro populations of Calgary and Edmonton are about the same.

    Calgarians don't like to be compared (incorrectly) to Edmonton either (not that I really consider myself a Calgarian... yet). :-)

  3. Sounds like a great stop in Edmonton. I can't imagine biking IN the town I've stopped to rest in, esp if I was pedaling across the continent! Look forward to more posts!


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