Thursday, February 17, 2011

The aging season and looking ahead

I can tell winter's aging when I read weather forecasts that feature such goodies as "...showers beginning by...", "...periods of rain..." and "...temperatures rising to...". That means three things to me.

Firstly, it means that ski season is over - well, for me anyway. I finished this year with 60.4 kilometres to my credit, the last 5 having been especially magnificent. I ended my season on a high note (read: properly waxed skis on established trails under ideal weather conditions and with Adam) so that cannot be a bad thing.

Secondly, it means that we are now in that in-between period when we can't ski, where I wouldn't dare to try any kind of skating (I'm beyond terrible at it), and yet it's still too cold and damp to take out the catrikes. Besides, until the road salt is washed away, we don't take our trikes out. Salt destroys. Period.

Finally, it means that the catriking season is approaching. The catriking season here in Ottawa typically runs from about mid-March to early November which is about 8 months in duration.

I am working out on what my triking goals for this year are. Most notably for me is that I intend on doing 100 kilometres in a single trip. I did 80 back on July 2nd, 2010 (there are certain moments in one's life one never forgets!) and did not require medical intervention. I just have to work out a route that avoids as much automobile traffic as possible but I don't imagine that'll be too difficult to manage.

Another triking goal for me is to travel from our house to the Rockcliffe airport for the annual Canada Day fly-in breakfast and tall stories event. Usually, the weather keeps a lot of light airplane pilots away but enough people show up to make the trip worthwhile. Like my 100k goal, I will stay off roads as much as possible. Unlike my hypothetical 100k jaunt, we have actually ridden from our place to Rockcliffe airport travelling mostly along pathways. On July 1st, Prince William and Kate Middleton - newly wed - will be in town on Canada Day. If the weather is good, the already horrendously crowded downtown will be even thicker with royal watchers and other monarchists. This may bode well for us as we, unobtrusive as two catrikes can be, trickle our way along pathways.

We only need the salty slushy puddles to be cleared up and the sunshine to emerge...


Friday, February 11, 2011

Math time!

Perfect weather+blue special wax on skis+3 kilometre hike to the Greenbelt trail entrance just off Albion Road+5.5 kilometre ski (Greenbelt trail entrance to Bank Street and back)+3 kilometre hike back home+continued great weather+Adam = 11/10

Indeed, our original plan to do what we termed the "Albion Expedition" turned out to be beyond perfect. After a good late breakfast of pancakes, we waxed our skis, packed our ski boots and requisite trail mix and hiked the 3 kilometres from our place to the Greenbelt trail entrance on Albion Road. We left at 9:40 and got to the trail head by 10:30.

The sun was shining even through a high thin layer of snow flurry-bearing clouds and what winds we had were light and not the skin shredding arctic conditions we had earlier this week. Admittedly, it was a bit of a slog carrying skis and poles but it was well worth it. Not having skied that trail section, we weren't sure what the conditions would be like but were more than prepared to follow through on our plans.

We were very much rewarded with picture perfect conditions. Others must have thought the same thing because the tracks we were both certain we would have to make were already there...and likely made by someone who had skied there earlier in the day. The skiing was smooth, no frustratingly slow going on over slippery conditions, no dog turds to have to scoot around and no garbage carelessly tossed by another person. Just perfect kick and perfect glide.

With the latest weather forecast calling for more snow but above zero temperatures and - ulp - risk of showers, it is quite possible that our beloved but all-too-short ski season may be over. Now, we enter that in-between season where there is no useful snow to ski on but still way too early to haul out the catrikes. For that, we must wait for the first serious rains to wash away all that (insert colourful word here) road salt.

"But, what about my goal of skiing 100 kilometres this season?" both of you may be asking. Well, as with many goals, I'm sure this one won't be reached; but so what. Goals are just that - they are hoped for outcomes but not such that failure means expulsion from the human race. I'm just grateful that I have been able to do 60.4 kilometres.


Sunday, February 6, 2011

Half way and hanging in there

The temperatures here in Ottawa have been absolutely perfect for outdoor activities. We seemed to have escaped the often experienced January thaw followed a few days later by a flash freeze turning every flat surface into something lethal. That, coupled with the major snowfall we had last Wednesday made for perfect ski conditions...or so we thought...

After the Snow Event (note the proper noun status) of Wednesday, I spent Thursday nursing a pulled muscle in my back. Friday afternoon, it was sunny and I dare say warm. So, we waxed our skis and headed out to the wetlands. We knew, given the accumulation, that we would spend a lot of our time trailsetting. We did that, encountered another friend of ours who also uses the wetlands to ski, and were convinced that the next day - which was yesterday - would be even better.

So, we waxed up after doing our weekly housecleaning, and headed to the wetlands. The day was sunny, the temperatures hovering around 0C and our spirits, not to mention our expectations, high. We entered the wetlands, our skis waxed for warm-ish conditions...and found ourselves slipping and sliding all over the place anyway. The sunshine, beaming on the wetlands proper, had certainly fixed the trails we had set, but it also made for a very slick venture. Some parts of the wetlands are in some semblance of shade, mostly in the form of trails sufficiently deep into the snow that the resulting sides shaded the trail itself, but we found ourselves skidding and slipping anyway. We made it from the southern entrance (Hunt Club Road and Airport Parkway) all the way to Walkley - but we decided then to just ski back and call it a day as opposed to our original plans of doing the whole route twice.

The sky was clouding over by the time we were about half way back and that reduced amount of sunshine actually made for a slightly easier going. Yes, the amount of sunshine - high or low - can affect trail conditions in a very short time but that often means that there is no real way anyone can properly wax for such fickleness. You gotta take what's there and work with it the best you can, which is what we  did.

Make no mistake, we enjoyed ourselves a lot even though we both fell down (I did a few times) but the easy time we thought we would have just didn't work out that way. Slogging through conditions will definitely help to keep me in good enough shape for the upcoming trike season just as the long trike season keeps me in shape for skiing.

So now, with yet more snow in the forecast (YAY!!!), and my having reached the 50 kilometre mark yesterday, I am increasingly convinced that I will meet my stated goal of doing 100 kilometres this skiing season. I don't give myself a deadline date because the ski season can extend into early April here...or it can be done by early January. In this time of climate change, there is no way to truly know anymore.


Thursday, February 3, 2011

good news for Ottawa cyclists...

Soooo, here I sit nursing a pulled muscle in my lower back and gazing out my back door. I see the silent white blanket of yesterday's snowstorm sparkling under an early February sun. The contrast between the pearly silver white snow and the cool cerulean of the skies is both breathtakingly beautiful and inviting.

I would go skiing at the wetlands as we did two days ago. The conditions then were actually pretty good so today's would be utterly perfect. However, as I said, I pulled a muscle in my lower back (nope, no idea how) so I will give it a pass today. I just need a couple of days to let this heal...just a couple...

Yet, despite my not being happy about missing out on such perfect conditions, I was much heartened to learn that City of Ottawa's transportation committee approved the installation of a dedicated bike lane on Laurier Avenue. Indeed, the lane itself could be complete and ready for cyclists by later this summer. That works for me though I wouldn't object to seeing it done sooner (of course). The stated price tag of $1.3 million is seen by a number of people to be excessive but it should be noted that the building of dedicated bike lanes isn't merely a matter of some masking tape, a high contrast paint and a couple of rollers. I am under the impression that traffic lights specific to cyclists must also be installed.

The proposed dedicated bike lane is to run from Elgin to Bronson along Laurier - not very far even by Ottawa standards. I should take a sentence or two here to note that the actual downtown core of Ottawa isn't very large. Ottawa is a fairly compact city despite the suburban sprawl many of us would rather see less of. This compactness would actually work very well for urban cyclists as the relatively short distances involved would also result in a relatively small amount of inconvenience to other drivers.

The stated impact on car drivers isn't expected to be voluminously huge though some business owners along the proposed street have argued that a dedicated bike lane will have a negative impact on their businesses. While I find their arguments of questionable validity do concede that I have a personal interest in the building of these dedicated lanes. I've seen them in Montreal and nobody has had to be sedated as a result of those bike lanes being there. Dedicated bike lanes are so common in places like Denmark and Holland as to be expected.

The turmoil in the Middle East and the issue of peak oil means that the price of oil can only go up. By logical extension of this reality, the price of gasoline will surely follow suit with the result that it will become a lot more expensive over time to drive to work. More and more people have indicated that they will either have to move closer to where they work, carpool, take public transit or haul out that old bike of theirs that had been collecting dust and start using that. I should add that this is based on the casual conversations I have had with people over time and not based on any hard numbers. I don't have such numbers to support my argument but I don't pretend that I do.

Ironically, it is this sort of equally vague "feeling" that no good will come about from having a dedicated bike lane that has fuelled the arguments of some who are against such bike lanes in the first place. According to the CBC article, "...The Bank Street Business Improvement Area has complained the proposed lanes will affect their parking and loading bays..." Yet, that same article doesn't provide a specific example of what the Bank Street Business Improvement Area means by any negative impact. In reading the item, the closest actual genuine concern I could find is that hotel patrons or anyone doing business with anyone in the affected area may have to (horrors!) cross the bike lane. What's really funny about that example is how little anyone anywhere could even think about caring about that.

A dedicated bicycle lane is just that: a lane set out specifically for bicycles (and, I assume, catrikes). It is not some kind of territory being ceded to the cyclist so that car drivers require a visa or a passport to enter. As it stands now, cars and bicycles have to share the road and there are no plans that I'm aware of that include the construction of a physical barrier like a concrete wall. I would think that car drivers, unhappy about having to share a lane with bicycles, would be pleased with the building of a bike lane.

There are other equally vociferous opponents to the Laurier Avenue bike lane and those come from, oddly enough, some cyclists themselves. The argument they put forth tends to be (something like) that cyclists should know how to drive in car laden lanes and that if they don't then they shouldn't be riding in the first place. Well, in a perfect world, cars and cyclists would get along just perfectly but ours is not a perfect world and there are enough cyclists who think it's okay to ride on the sidewalk and enough car drivers who think cyclists should be banned from using the road and refuse to share any of their lane with a cycle.

For my (tax) money, I would gladly support the building of dedicated cycle lanes throughout the city. It just makes a lot of sense and, I'm sure, will not cause nearly the level of anguish some business owners or fundamentalist cyclists may believe. Just ask anyone who lives in Montreal, Amsterdam or Copenhagen.