Saturday, February 27, 2010


I was sitting on the bus on my way home this afternoon and as the bus turned onto the transitway, it got me thinking about human powered vehicles and roads.
The city of Ottawa has a dedicated transitway for buses and emergency vehicles only. Private vehicles are not permitted on the transitway and hefty fines await drivers of regular ol' cars if they are spotted zooming along. The dedicated transitway is clearly signposted as such and it would only be the truly blind or otherwise oblivious driver who didn't know they had trespassed on private property. In the ten some odd years we've lived in Ottawa, I can count on one hand the number of times drivers of private cars had been caught on the transitway.

But, back to my trip home today. As I almost always do when I am on the bus, I time the trip and note the route taken. From downtown Ottawa, it's a simple matter of taking one bus to the end of the line, getting out and walking the few hundred metres to my front door. That normally takes about twenty minutes plus or minus breakdowns (rare) passengers who want to chat up the driver (fairly regular occurrence) or people trying to wedge ginormous strollers/child's nursery onto the bus (a little too frequently). But, with ticket prices going up (do they ever go down? Anywhere? At all? Ever?) even my once a week trek via OCTranspo into town may become too rich for my blood. Luckily, with spring coming soon, the possibility of taking my trike into town becomes that much more likely...

...except that I still have to share the road with cars and many of them are driven by people who are late, in a rush or otherwise distracted and who certainly do not want to have to contend with a trike on the road. A catrike sits low on the road with only a tall(ish) flag to warn other vehicles on the road of our existence. We're more than willing to share the road with cars just as many car drivers are willing to share the road with us. However, even forgetting the odd %$#*&()% who would just as soon see us evaporate, accidents can and do happen and it's always the cyclist who pays the price. After all, we don't have 'x' kilos of metal and fibreglass protecting us and no matter how slowly any accident takes place, the forces involved are always extreme for cyclists - and in too many cases just plain lethal.

For some cyclists here in Ottawa, their particular solution involves riding their bikes on the sidewalks but that is against the law. Sidewalks are for pedestrians and strollers not for cyclists. We have bike paths that wind their way throughout the city but I tend to see them as touring trails that may or may not just take you to where you need to go.

What this city, if not this country, really really needs is a network of cycle paths that are in no way connected to the regular roads; just like the transitway for buses, ambulances, fire and police vehicles. Nobody has a shrieking bloody fit with that system so why not create something like that for cyclists? That is what was on my mind on my way home today.

I smiled as I thought about distinct lanes, perhaps separated by a concrete barrier (think downtown Montreal), with small traffic lights and street/destination signs. I imagined riding up, say, Bank Street, away from the steady rumbling of vehicular traffic, and on my way downtown. I could even see a destination sign saying, "Slater St., Albert St., Queen St., next left". There are already small stop signs on some of the bike paths here so it's not as though this would be such a new thing. It takes me about an hour and 40 minutes to walk uptown and about 35 minutes to trike the same distance. Not as fast as the bus but, believe it or not, faster than a car. I have heard friends tell me similar sorts of stories so I don't think this is my own personal bias towards human powered vehicles sneaking in.

What is lacking is, I feel, the appropriate infrastructure (read: real estate) and the political will to change things.

Oh, but what a positive impact such changes would have overall. Keeping cars and cycles apart is good for everyone's nerves. Having dedicated bike lanes throughout the city and set up for residents and not just tourists, would encourage cycle commuting, reduce our dependence on cars, improve our overall physical fitness levels and allow us to just generally slow our lives down.

When our lives slow down, our ability to think clearly can only improve. Rather than angrily focusing on "getting there", we can actually enjoy the trip. Staying active can help us to sleep better, too (I know I always sleep well after a good day's activity) so we may be less inclined to perform poorly at work.

The benefits I can list are extensive but it is something I do think a lot about. Hey, I can dream...or muse as the case may be even after I pull the bell to get out at the next stop...

Thursday, February 25, 2010

pre-season exercise

Normally, I use the good and usually snowy winter to both maintain physical fitness and to prepare for the triking season. We're blessed here in Canada's capital with four distinct seasons even if the past two years didn't seem like it. So, what I typically do is use the snowy winters to go cross country skiing. It's a great way to stay in shape, practice balance and, best of all, prepare my body for the remaining three seasons.
While this winter (2009-2010) hasn't been as good for skiing as previously, I still manage to get some exercise. Other than a really nasty cold snap we had about a month ago, it's been pretty much a non-winter so getting outdoors isn't too difficult a task - so far.
So, what exercises can be done during the non-catriking season?

You can't go wrong with walking and so we endeavour to get out for a good 4 or 5 kilometre walk as often as possible - ideally daily but that can't always work out. Where we live in Ottawa, we are close to a lot of amenities, including bus stops so if our walking adventures become too tiring for me, a bus stop is almost always close by. That extra level of help makes a huge difference to someone like me.
Occasionally, and when we're both well nourished and have the time, we will walk from our house to the downtown core. We did that last weekend to see the ice sculptures at city hall before they softened into some watery shadow of their former selves. Ottawa has Winterlude for the first three weeks of February each year and so we like to take in the marvellous ice sculptures. If the weather is nice enough, we will walk into town and reward our efforts with a bus ride back home. I know, how dull is that? Actually, it isn't dull - at least not for us. Walking is great all around exercise and a pretty good alternative to x-c skiing when the conditions just don't allow for hitting the trails. We all know it's a good cardiovascular workout, especially if you get a good steady pace going, and it will help to trim up the very legs you'll need to pedal a trike (or any other human powered wheeled device for that matter).

I am fortunate in that I have both free weights and a (very) simple weight machine that Adam and I use 4 or 5 mornings per week. While neither of us is attempting to out-do Madonna or look like some bulked up body builder, we both realize that having well toned muscles is important for endurance and for maintaining a half-way decent metabolism. At our age (mid forties to early fifties), there is this unfortunate tendency to put on weight, lose muscle tone and otherwise allow our bodies to go to pot. There is this tendency, as well, to view this as inevitable or even something we deserve "after all those years working hard...". However, none of that is true. As we age, we owe it to ourselves to stay in as good a shape as possible. That doesn't mean we try to stay as trim and fit as we may have been when we were much younger but that doesn't mean we have to endanger our lives by becoming sedentary either.

cattrike capacity

I sit here, enjoying my cup of orange blossom herbal tea (one of my favourites, next to peppermint tea) and watching the wet snow become even wetter. My left wrist is still wrapped in a tensor bandage and my monthly shipment of Avonex has arrived. With that out of the way, I can now think about what my catrike can actually carry.

When I bought my Catrike Trail in September 2009, one of the main selling features was that the rack I also purchased would allow for me to attach panniers on either side. That coupled with the rack pack I already use on my bicycle means I can carry a lot of stuff. In times past, when my balance was much better, a good day trip would typically entail me packing a good lunch and maybe a few other things like a light windbreaker and a couple of magazines in my one pannier (at the time, I only had one pannier) and bottled water, a couple of bananas and maybe a few tools in my rack pack. Packing strategically allowed for me to be as self-sufficient as possible but it also limited what I could bring; something I noticed when seeing other cyclists with two panniers.

The decision for me to get a second pannier was based on my attempting to ride home from the grocery store with a 4 litre bag of milk. It fit nicely in the one pannier I had but it did result in some interesting effects when trying to turn corners. As a former flight instructor I am keenly aware of the effects of shifting centres of mass but it's an entirely different thing to experience it so noticeably. Suffice it to say that I was even more cautious than I already am when cycling the 1.5 kilometres home from the grocery store.

So, the next time Adam and I went out to our local MEC, we purchased a second pannier for my bike. This doubled my capacity and certainly helped to keep any loads we carried more evenly distributed. Along with my rack pack, I looked more like a long distance vagabond than a local cyclist just out for some exercise and more urban adventures. Still, the desired effect was easily achieved.

Fast forward to 2009 when Adam got his Catrike Speed (a 2006 model in near pristine condition that he bought used - see story here) and it becomes easy to see that;
1. catrikes can carry at least as much as a bicycle and with no risk of anything toppling
2. Adam needed some panniers of his own

Another trip to MEC resulted in the purchase of two more panniers and now both our trikes are very well endowed. That means we can go more places and even for an overnight or two. We tend to pack light anyway so it's really not an issue of whether we have the capacity to bring any given item.

Now, as it still precipitates and my cup is drained of its orange blossom herbal tea, I start to think about where we can go for an overnight trip. We had considered a few places, all within about 80-100 kilometres. I can't cycle as quickly as Adam but as long as the weather is good, it doesn't matter.

Oh, the tensor bandage. Repetitive strain injury from - get this - crocheting. That's almost as embarrassing as the time a couple of winters ago when I sprained my big toe on my left foot. I only ever seem to get silly embarrassing injuries but I can at least spend my recuperating time thinking about the upcoming triking season. May it be a long and enjoyable one!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The non-winter

As I type this, it is snowing outside. Normally, I would be pleased about this but not this time. The snow we've been getting all this week has quickly deteriorated into a dreary, wet cold slush and that on top of the hard and unyielding ice we've already got makes for the very worst kind of winter...the non-winter - and, of all places, here in Ottawa. I am actually one of those few Canadians that really enjoys winter. I like it when it snows because that means I can get out and do some cross country skiing. The past two winters were great for x-c skiing. This winter I have only managed to get out twice and both times before Christmas. Since that time, the conditions just haven't been all that great but I had always held out hope things would improve and we could finally get to enjoy our God-given rights to strap two sticks onto our feet and slide along trails - willingly too, I might add.


This winter has been more of a mockery of our very Canadian institution. I have only been out x-c skiing a whole two times this so-called non-winter while my husband, Adam, has only been out a few more times than I have so it hasn't been much better for him. Now, late February and with rain in the forecast, I doubt either of us will get to hit the trails this season.


So now and in the interests of facilitating my distraction from thinking about this season, my thoughts turn to the upcoming cycling season. I was just poring through our trike diaries from our website and reliving those wonderful weeks late last summer and well into autumn when I started thinking more and more about our triking plans for this year. There aren't many big trips in the offing but that doesn't mean there aren't any.One of the trips Adam and I did last year was a really great 56 kilometre run from our house, to a friend's place and out to Rockcliffe airport just east of the city itself. I recall with great fondness how gloriously sunny and comfortably warm the day had been; nothing like the weeks and weeks of unrelenting rain we had had the whole summer. I had only had my trike for a short while and really REALLY wanted to take advantage of the nice weather Ottawa was finally getting. That was then.This is now and with the (very) late winter snow falling outside coupled with my doubts that any of the x-c ski season can be salvaged, is it any wonder I'm thinking about catriking?I am optimistic that this year will be a good one for a few reasons. Firstly, I am sufficiently familiar with my catrike that I know what it can and cannot do. Secondly, I am sufficiently familiar with what I, myself, can do though I recognize that my own health issues will change over time (I have MS). Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, we have had a rather dry and sunny mid-late winter that I'm hoping this will continue into this spring and summer (hey, I can dream too, ya know).The spring and summer of both 2008 and 2009 were characterized by cool, wet months where even trying to go out for a stroll or quick zip around the neighbourhood was fraught with the risk of coming home sopping wet. That actually happened to Adam last year when he went out under sunny skies for a quick 12 kilometre bike trip only to have to rush home a few minutes into it because of a sudden rain/hailstorm that popped up out of nowhere. Hopefully, we won't face anything like that this year.So, my hopes for this blog is to record some of the great trips we will be taking this year. I realize this is neither new nor likely to be all that exciting for many people (shrug) but if you don't find it interesting, you don't have to read it.