Edmonton For The Winter (FTW) #1


I wonder.

I wonder if part of the resistance to bicycle riding in the winter reveals itself in the last seven words of that sentence from Robert Hurst’s Machiavellian book, The Art of Cycling. I wonder if the backlash to riding a bicycle in the winter, the ridicule with which it is visited by some critics, the determinism it invokes, is, after everything else is stripped away, precisely that we don’t know how winter riding is good for the soul.

Princely book
Or why the soul needs good. Or what the soul is. Or how there could be some kind of connection between the soul and, of all things, riding a bicycle in winter.

What exactly is going on in this explosive clause?

Hurst pulls the pin and drops the thought like a hand grenade right there, moving on in his account to more practical matters, including how to ride through public plazas and across curbs. We are left to make sense of the debris. As Strummer warns us, the soul is hard to find.

For me, the good news is I emerge from that sentence and realize I happen to live in a city equipped by nature to host some thinking about winter and riding a bicycle.

Edmonton: the city that considers getting past Halloween without snow on the ground to be a short winter. 

Edmonton: the city that fears getting past Halloween without snow on the ground will mean a payback wallop of white from the winter gods. 
Edmonton: the city that says it’s not the snow, it’s the cold; or, it’s not the cold, it’s the dark; or, it’s not the dark, it’s the snow. 
Edmonton: the city that will leave you breathless at the sight of hoar frost on bare elm branches.

This year, I will take Hurst’s unspoken challenge. I will see what I can piece together from his winter blast zone.

This year, starting on All Hallows Eve, regarded widely, because of imminent snow, cold and dark, as the official end of the bicycle riding season in Edmonton, I will try to unpuzzle how it is possible that winter riding through the dark and the cold and the snow could be good for the soul.

Each day, I’m going looking for the winter. 


Monday, October 31, 2016

Tamarack ack ack ack ack ack ack ack you oughta know by now
This morning I saw a tamarack. In the Glenora schoolyard there was a ball red like a berry. The children chattered like cedar wax wings.

I saw ice cubes outside the front door of Original Joe’s, tossed across the sidewalk after closing the the night before.

At the 105 St red light I talked to a woman on her bike. She said,  cool helmet. The red traffic light had a foggy aura. Like I was squinting.

It was 2 degrees, roads dry.

On the ride home, I got to 112 St before I stopped replaying conversations from work. Wherever you go, there you are. This is the discount you take when you travel anywhere: you bring yourself with you.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

There are two ways to determine if it snowed overnight. The first is to look outside. The second is to look for mediated proof on the morning television news. Both have their place. TV’s place is just a bit harder to pin down. On TV, I get the data output of computer models represented by a digital representation of a numeral. Now: -1. On the way there, I get other bits of pixelled information: SONY against the black of the awakening monitor, Telus when I look down to enter 1-0-1 into the remote control, the Brick’s Truckload sale as the end of the furniture store commercial gets into the house. Outside, there is quiet without a mute button. Outside, there is a precarious film of snow gripping the angled bannister in the dim light of the front step. On TV I get colours and graphics and icons and animated swooshes. Outside, white from above on the black of metal.


On my ride into downtown, a dusting of snow did its transformative workA heap of gutter leaves became frosted cereal, throwaway tires glazed donuts, and a rectangle of roof in Oliver turned into a piece of icing-sugared French toast. 

Peace crane

In the habit of looking for how things looked, I received a peaceful message from the western face of a downtown tower where a tarped, origami-style crane had folded itself into shape.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Thanks to those who preserved the MacKinnon Ravine

Today is All Souls Day. It is zero degrees and ice has breathed through the cement to coat the sidewalks on the ravine bridges.

Looking down the MacKinnon ravine bridge, I saw two specks of reflector-red light on the backs of two bikes about 30 yards apart. They were like Jawa eyes. Then they were gone. Alex and Michael, when they were boys, dressed up as the Star Wars creatures for Halloween. Shelagh sewed the hooded habits. Vic from work tricked up 9-volt battery-powered red lights attached to hairbands they wore visor-like over their hidden eyes. 

Two days ago it was Halloween. The boys are gone. We handed out candy to the kids prowling the neighbourhood. Silhouetted parents stood on the sidewalk. “Go ahead,” they said, “say trick or treat.”

Inside we had Beach Boys playing.

Won’t last forever/That’s kinda sad

And then I was over the MacKinnon ravine bridge.

At 102 Ave and 109 St, I stopped for the red light and watched as a jogger moved toward me in the crosswalk. 

“Nice lights!” he said.

I have a strand of blue LEDs, powered by 3 AAs, wrapped around my frame against the dark.

We talked about the weather. Traffic flowed by. The right lens of his eyeglasses was fogged over.

“Enjoy your ride,” said as the light turned green.

Good word, I thought. Joy. People will either say to bicycle riders, have a safe ride or enjoy your ride. People don't as often send car drivers on their way with an enjoy your ride greeting. 

On the way home, fog poured from the giant lamps hovering over St. Albert Trail. 

Foggy night in the north

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Hey, babe, the sky's on fire...

This is a favourite bend in the road, and this morning I hit it under the influence of James Taylor. 
Signs that might be omens...
Singing aloud while pedalling takes a bit of getting used to. 
There are the curious glances of those passed by. And then there is the fact of breaking the silence itself. 
It's not quite silence, though. It's more a soundscape of motor grunts and rubber-tire rush. Of car horns trying to voice thoughts, beepbeepbeeps from backing trucks, sirens, and squawks from intersection pedestrian boxes. There are tiny clicks of heels striding by and hammerfalls from construction sites. 
Add a few sung words to this and it all feels, for a spell, quite beautifully fragile.

Lovely light

With no buildings high enough to get in the way, the afternoon sun gets down to the pavement on 102 Ave and onto the screen of brick on the YMCA building. A spill of gauzy light. 

Friday, November 4, 2016

Down the crispy lawn, over the rounded curb, onto the paved street, this was the opening movement of my morning ride. This morning I looked back to see the house with picture window glowing against the dark outside. Above were the diamond dots of Orion’s belt. And then Jupiter made me stop, as a creature from Mars pedalled by. 

Heavenly body, cycling body

On the new bridge over Groat Rd, I looked down through bare branches to the headlights of cars rounding the corner.

Three lights moved toward me along the bike path behind 109 St. In a couple of seconds they revealed themselves as a bicycle headlight followed by a bicycle headlight below a helmet light.

The river valley was a water colour this morning: 

High Level Bridge, LRT bridge from Faraone Park 

On the way home the colour that lured me on was the gentle gold of the sun on its way west, which, as I contemplated things from the bar at North 53, was made liquid in the tumbler that absorbed my gaze.


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