Thursday, March 10, 2011

Epic snow

Everything seemed fine when I left the house around 5:00 last night to go to VERSeFest at the Arts Court. I'd checked the weather report and everything looked pretty tame. (They lie!)

On the way downtown, I was reminded why you just shouldn't take the Queen Elizabeth side of the canal. For one thing, there's construction that's torn up the multi-use path for a few blocks near the creek. For another thing, I reached the underpass of the Pretoria Bridge and my tires went splosh into an ice-lined, built-up puddle of trapped floating slush puppy, and I came to a grinding halt.

The interesting question is: how do you put your feet down to move the bike without soaking them?
I did manage to get myself out of the puddle without getting my feet wet (what was I thinking, wearing my combat boots? Oh, wait, yeah, I was going to a poetry show.) And the rest of the trip was pretty easy, although the ice on my brakes was a little unnerving.

I got to Arts Court, around behind the Rideau Centre, and locked Mike up to a rail on the stairs. (It bothers me that there's no bike parking around Arts Court. Given that it's a centre for so much independent art, and there are a lot of bike-riding artists and art fans, you'd think they'd put in a bike rack. But they don't. And in fact, even the street signs are a little sparse and dodgy - and short: you could lift a locked bike up over most of them. Arts Court. Get bike racks.)

But that's beside the point. I went inside, had a great night with a lot of great poets, and round about 11:00 pm the show was over and it was time to go home. When I picked up my helmet to head out, a few people who had arrived halfway through the night said things like, "Are you cycling? Are you nuts?" Apparently, I learned, it had been snowing for the last five hours.

Mike looked like this.

But, I wasn't the only one leaving the event on a bike. And local writer and generally impressive urban individual jwcurry, who knows whereof he speaks, said, "It's beautiful for cycling tonight! Whoosh," he added, and mimed gliding silently along. He also advised me just to bike on the canal instead of the path, although I wasn't so sure about the possibility of slush hiding out under the few inches of accumulated snow.

He was right, you know. It was beautiful. It was hard work, but it was quiet and there were hardly any people on the path. As long as I didn't make any sudden moves or stops my balance was okay, even with the layer of glassy ice that was underneath the snow. I stayed off the streets though - something about the texture of snow that's been compressed by car tires is just unpredictable and greasy.

I got to Pretoria Bridge and had to stop to take pictures. I've always liked Pretoria Bridge. It's actually a lift bridge; the centre portion can be raised to make room for boat traffic, and I really enjoy the moments when I arrive at this bridge in time to watch the mechanisms cranking up the central section.

The bridge looking unearthly.
Looking back toward the 417 overpass and the Hawthorne skateway entrance sign. I loved what the falling snow did with the coronas of light.

You'll note, too, that there had been another bike through, ahead of me. I felt a strange sort of cameraderie with my unseen companion in stormbiking.

Along the canal path the going was okay. Hard work, as I said, but except for a couple of patches that had been puddles before the snow came down and were now slushies, I could crank the gears way down and more or less swoosh (slowly, and with much effort) along. And it was silent.

The trees and huts are still up on the Skateway, even though it closed last weekend.

Once I got off the pathway, at the Lansdowne Bridge, it was another deal. My brakes had lost almost all grip, and like I said before, snow that's been smooshed around by cars isn't much fun. Climbing the ramp to Bank Street from the canal level involved some shouting on my part, and a lot of sliding around on sheets of buried ice under compressed snow. And the back tire skidding uselessly when I tried to get moving again. But, god bless the City snow clearance crews - the little sidewalk plows had already been out on Bank Street. I don't know what I would have done without that. There was still a good inch and a half or more of snow on the sidewalks, but it was flat and smooth underneath and - oh yeah - everywhere else there was a lot more snow. It was still snowing, by the way, and blowing pretty hard too. Drifts were forming. I got myself onto the sidewalk - since the streets were pretty treacherous - and edged down the slope through Old Ottawa South (which was tricky, since my brakes were iced up.) 
Brakes? What brakes?
Coming past Billings Bridge shopping centre, around 11:50 pm: cleared sidewalks, for which I was almost pathetically grateful.
The uphill run from Billings Bridge was hard, and I learned that if you run into a drift and stop, it's going to be really hard to get rolling again. I learned that quite a few times. And pushing uphill against that much snow takes a lot out of you. Especially at the end of the night, when you started the whole thing hungry. But I made it as far as Heron Road, on the semi-cleared (and rapidly filling) sidewalks, puffing and panting. I was soaked with sweat at this point too, which meant I really didn't want to stop for long for fear of getting chilled. 

... and then I realized that Heron's sidewalks hadn't been plowed yet...
Oh, Heron Road. Uphill from Bank, and the sidewalks hadn't been cleared yet. The drifts were formidable. I wound up walking/shoving the bike through the snow up the steepest part, which was cold, in combat boots. (Again, why did I wear my combat boots? Oh, right. Poetry show.) It was after midnight by now. 

As the road leveled out, I bullheadedly got back on the bike and started trying to forge my way ahead through the snow. It was hard work, but stopping meant trying to get started again, so I tried to avoid stopping to puff and pant. Couldn't avoid being thrown sideways and nearly off balance by the drifts though, skidding to a stop, kicking the pedals, getting back on, trying to get traction with the back wheel.  Making more loud shouty noises.

I was really starting to feel it by the time I took the first actual fall of the night: at the corner of my street, no less.  You can see the slaloming trail of epic disaster leading to Mike's sadly fallen form:

But I picked him and myself up, walked across the intersection, and - hooray - the sidewalks on my street had been cleared an hour or two previously. So I rode, defiantly, the last block. 

By the time I got home, the journey from the Rideau Centre had taken an hour and a half. Mike's back end looked like this:

His front end looked like this:

 And I looked a bit like this:

(Oh, yeah, and then when I got into my apartment building, the elevators were on the fritz again, so I got to carry a snow-covered, dripping, heavy Mike up nine floors to cap it all off. By the time I got to sit down and have some toast and a cup of tea it was almost 1:00 a.m. and  I was trembly-tired.)

But what's a winter without an epic?


  1. Epic is right.

    I sing of arms and of her, who as first (among the poets) came from the Arts Court to the Herongate shores in flight driven by fate. Tossed about on roads and sidewalks by the might of the gods, she suffered many things also in riding through the relentless anger of fierce Juno as she brought the gods to Ottawa South . . .

    You take it from there: Vergil gets you started.

  2. Yay, Dad! That may very well be the Best Comment On This Blog To Date.

  3. From Arts court to Heron - so many ways to get there. I guess some nights are harder than others. But I put my faith in the Ground Hogs which said an early spring - and since March has come in like a lion - all predictions are coming in line.


  4. You are a warrior. And I salute you.