Monday, February 14, 2011

Winter volume in Alberta

I've been trying to get plenty of volume in, cycling-wise, and thanks to a passing chinook, it was a gorgeous day this past Saturday in Calgary. I was bummed about missing the hardmen ride leaving at 10am (by a mere two hours), but eventually concoted a comparable plan for a ride, thanks to Google Maps:

So, I threw my weapons in the car and drove out to the start. Those of you familiar with chinooks will know that although they bring respite from the freezing temps, they also come packing a serious breeze. So once I parked, broadside to the wind, and feeling the wind having a good shot at trying to flip my car, I momentarily considered bailing. Just for a second though. I decided to ride north first, and if I was lucky the wind would abate in time for the westward leg. One of these days I'll learn to leave early on chinnok days for my winter expeditions!

So I set off. I had about 500 meters to warm up, before I was out of the seat, slogging uphill, in my smallest (cross-bike) gear. Then it got even steeper, and I had to sit down, to get enough traction. Uh oh... Fortunately this was steepest hill on the whole ride.

Part of my preparations included listing the township roads/range roads I needed to use to navigate the tricky section to get to Water Valley. Unfortuntely it turned out there were no street signs, so I had to "go by feel". Suddenly my two-lane wide, packed-snow road turned into a track with a foot of unpacked powder, used only once by a snowmobile in the past days/weeks. And that wasn't enough to pack it down - yes, I tried. I figured that there could be sections I'd have to shoulder my bike and run...but before attempting that, I thought I'd check out the turn-offs I saw back on the road first. The first road I tried eventually curved around to the south - scrath that. The next was more promising, and I continued to make good progress (turns out, better than good...).

A short while later, I arrived at a gate. No signs on it, but some pretty serious barbed wire atop and on the sides. I climbed around it, and on other side there was a sign saying "Private Property - No Entry"! Huh. First gate I'd come across, mind you!

I'd left my third water bottle in the car, reasoning that two would be plenty to get to Water Valley, where I could stock up again. Unfortunately a short way into the ride, I saw I was missing one of the bottles...damn, must have been shaken out by the corrugated road. Then when I got to highway 579, I turned left, thinking Water Valley would be just a kilometre or so down the road. A couple of kilometres later, I realized it must have been right, not left...but that would mean wasted time and distance... I kept going. Later, I discovered that not being able to salivate from 5 hours on the bike and serious dehydration makes it hard to eat peanut butter sandwiches. But they still taste quite good!

Still, despite getting lost, I made good time getting to my half-way point at hwy 579/Water Valley. Things were looking up. Turning west though, I realised I'd been assisted by the aforementioned gale-force wind. But I like to think I have two styles of riding, 1) into the wind, or 2) well. :) Later I would also discover that Water Valley is only a third of the way...

I slogged into the wind for what seemed like an eternity, but still, the sun was out, it wasn't too cold, and it was all good training. However, in the back of my mind, I was hoping to make hwy 40 in half an hour, although expected an hour. By an hour and a half, I was getting worried I'd missed (another) turn. About that time, it was getting closer to dusk and I was passing a farm house. Considering I'd seen 3 cars in the past 3 hours, and fewer houses, I decided I should take advantage and double-check my direction...I knocked on their door. Long story short, the awesome women who answered the door told me I was going the right way, but was still 20km from hwy 40, offered to take me there, and I accepted. She bundled her adorable little daughter in the truck and we got there in no time. I missed doing some fun, winding descents, but given that the surgeon said I'm not even supposed to be riding my bike for another month and a half (let alone on icy roads in the middle of freakin nowhere) it was probably for the best.

Awesome. Now just a little jaunt down highway 40 and I'm done. I still had 40km to go, but the wind had died, and there was no route-finding to do. By the Richards Rd junction, the road was even paved. Too easy. I got back to the car, texted Trev and Arunas to let them know that I'd safely finished, in spite of my usual unrealistic planning, and thus the high probability to the contrary. :)

An hour later, I was at Arunas's birthday celebration...the perfect way to end the day! (yes, those are chocolate-covered strawberries. Mmmm!)

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