Sunday, May 24, 2015

Pit Stops: World's Best Climbing Tree

Trees can be a cyclist’s best buds, in so many ways. They provide shade along the roadway, they tell you which way the wind is blowing and how much, and they can even block a nasty headwind. Just the other day, in fact, battling a stiff southeast clipper on the way back from Alberta Beach, we lucked into some roadside groves of aspen trees that provided the perfect wind guard. The effect was remarkable, if short-lived.

(For mountain bikers, the cyclist-tree relationship is a little more complicated, I think. Trees create many of the best trails and provide essential technical features but they can also hurt you and wreck your bike. For road cyclists, however, trees are almost always wholly a good thing.)

And that’s not even counting the aesthetic benefits of trees. They’re beautiful, at any time of year, constantly changing, sometimes smell great, and, I would argue, have a soothing, therapeutic effect on anyone in their immediate presence. If you’re in need of a pit stop on a bike ride, pulling off under a tree is always a splendid idea.

This particular tree in Edmonton’s west end is actually too close to my house to serve as mid-ride pit stop. But I ride past it almost every day, and even after thousands of passes, it can still take my breath away on a spring day, like today, when the blossoms are in full explosion. When my kids were little, my wife and I would walk them down to this pocket park and the boys would clamber all over the low branches. It’s a perfect starter tree—accessible, smooth-barked, with horizontal spots for hanging out. It came to be known as the World’s Best Climbing Tree. We don’t visit the WBCT as often as we once did, but a few weeks back we stopped by, and our teenage boys got right up into the branches, just as they did in those long ago days.

Some trees have a certain magic about them, an old power that fosters relaxation, reflection, imagination, and even regeneration. The WBCT is one of those trees, and as I sit here under its branches writing this, I can feel its ancient energy reminding me that everything grows, blossoms, and eventually sheds its leaves. 

With that counsel from a good friend, I hop back on my bike and continue riding.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Porcelain Sprocket

What is it with all the toilets?

Riding my bike, I see all manner of trash and treasure along the roadsides, especially at this time of year, but in the past couple of weeks I’ve noticed something really strange: an alarming number of discarded toilets in the ditch.

The one above I spied beside a remote country road south of Edmonton. At first, when I rode by it, I mistook the toilet for a rogue snow drift, which had miraculously resisted the spring melt. But it was too white for spring snow, so I stopped, got off my bike, and took a closer look. The crapper had broken into several chunks, and the parts were scattered in a kind of porecelain splash pattern. On closer inspection, I concluded that this main bowl section may well have been sitting in the ditch for a while, possibly a few years.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

High Desert Postcard

Palm Springs, California—the town that Sonny Bono built—looks to be a fine place for desert road cycling, not that I’ve done much of that in my four days here. This holiday has been about hiking, and the place to do that in these parts is Joshua Tree National Park, about an hour’s drive north of the Coachella Valley, in what the locals call “high desert.”

And high, it truly is, in more ways than one. It’s uphill all the way from Palm Springs, and the temperature up at Joshua is generally between 12-15 degrees cooler. But the vibe up at Joshua Tree is totally chill too. The little town by the park’s main entrance feels like a different planet from Palm Springs. It’s a combination of tourist traps, artist studios, hippy retro shops, espresso joints run by long-bearded hipsters, and an assortment of sun-baked Burning Man-types.