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A Chilly Bike Ride to a Controversial Calgary Circle
An important reminder that going outside isn't always sunshine and rainbows, but a good attitude and warm clothing can make a big difference
With mild temperatures in Calgary and multi-use pathways mostly clear of ice and snow, I (Cailynn) decided to invite Annalise for a bike ride. It’s supposed to be warm all week and I figured Annalise, and more importantly our readers, would benefit from knowing it’s a great time to ride, even if your bike doesn’t have studded tires.
We’re still stuck in shoulder season — where there’s not enough snow in Calgary for cross-country skiing or snowshoeing — plus the rising COVID numbers mean socializing inside is an absolute no-no. So I figured a bike ride was an easy and enjoyable way to go outside, get some fresh air and exercise, and catch up.
I racked my brain for where I should take Annalise. I wanted somewhere she’d never been before and concluded it would be fun to ride to the Blue Ring, aka “Travelling Light,” a much maligned piece of public art that Annalise has even written about.
While you’ve likely seen the big blue ring from a vehicle, there’s something special about seeing it in person, and I just knew Annalise would enjoy it. Plus, the ride there is easy: from central Calgary, you just head east around the Zoo and then follow the Nose Creek Pathway north all the way to 96 Avenue. There’s just one intersection to cross, and then you’re there, at a piece of Calgary history, marvelling at the massiveness of the controversial sculpture.
Now, Annalise does not love winter biking like I do. While I have studded tires and ride year-round, Annalise is, shall I say, a fair-weather cyclist. “It’s no matter,” I assured her, “The pathways are clear of ice and snow.” She seemed skeptical when I proposed this activity and she asked about biking in the cold. “It’ll be warm,” I said. “You’ll love it.”
Oh gosh, was I ever wrong.
The plan was to meet Annalise, along with a friend who’s a stellar photographer, downtown Saturday morning. The temperature was supposed to be above zero. But when I checked my Environment Canada weather app before heading out, it noted an “abnormal temperature trend” and wind chill near minus 9.
We met anyways, bundled up and ready to ride. After all, we had to follow our own advice: there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.
Despite being called an ‘all-season enthusiast’ in local media, I could tell early on Annalise was less than impressed with the conditions. “You tricked me into a frost bike!” she said. I tried to turn her attention away from this accusation and instead to the pathways, which, as I had promised, were free of ice.
We rode past one of my favourite sections of Calgary’s extensive pathway system, a spot where you can often catch a glimpse of the bears at the Calgary Zoo. We didn’t see any bears, but we did see moose and a muskox and they seemed to cheer Annalise up a little. Next we encountered a pathway detour near Telus Spark (it wouldn’t be a bike ride in Calgary without a detour). We had to ride on the road, then were back on the Nose Creek Pathway, riding north.
I would say it was about at this time that Annalise said to me: “sometimes even the best-laid plans can go awry.” Turns out riding straight north meant riding into an extremely strong and cold headwind. Annalise described this as “gale force winds,” which was an exaggeration, but she had a fair point.
Now, I’ve made this exact trip two other times, inspired by people in the #yycbike community on Twitter who have shared photos of their bike rides to the Blue Ring. Both of my previous rides were so lovely I even encouraged others to go.
The Nose Creek Pathway is a fairly sleepy spot (extra nice during a pandemic), and I enjoy it because it’s so unlike the Bow and Elbow River pathways. It’s less scenic, sure, but it’s also a lot less busy and you get to see a whole new side of Calgary as you travel by industrial areas, numerous parks and along Nose Creek. It’s different, and who doesn’t like a change of pace?
Annalise here. Cailynn is being generous calling Nose Creek Pathway ‘less scenic.’ It literally runs parallel to Deerfoot Trail, a six-lane freeway that’s considered Alberta's busiest road.
By this point in the ride, my toes were unusually cold. Additionally, while I would normally turn to stunning views or, really anything even semi-nice in nature, to distract me while uncomfortable when adventuring outside, there’s nothing beautiful about Deerfoot Trail. In a city lucky enough to have 1,000 kilometers of paved pathways, riding near a freeway feels strange. A distraction was provided when, in true small-town Calgary fashion, we saw a couple friends out running. It was a nice surprise. However, with us biking directly into the bitter wind, our friends (who are very fast runners) were pretty much running as fast as we could bike. I tried my best to put my head down, pedal, and not ask Cailynn, ‘How much longer?!’
It’s Cailynn here again. Ultimately, there wasn’t much to do but keep riding. We took turns leading and eventually I shouted “I can see the Blue Ring!” to Annalise in an effort to lift her spirits. We finally reached the sculpture after a 1.5 hour ride — contending with the wind had added about 30 minutes to our journey. While I stood marvelling at how huge Travelling Light is, Annalise tried to warm her frozen toes. “It’s called the big blue ring for a reason,” she said. Meanwhile, our photographer friend tried to get the entire sculpture in a shot, which was difficult because it truly is so big.
After posing for some photos, we rode back downtown and enjoyed a significantly warmer ride home, with the wind at our backs. We also saw a friend from the bike community, who agreed the wind was really something else. “What did you think?” I asked Annalise, knowing full well she did not think this bike ride was any fun. “If it wasn’t so windy, I’m sure I would have loved it,” she said, which is actually a better review than I was expecting.
So, dear readers, learn from our mistakes. If you’re inviting a fair-weather cyclist to take advantage of clear pathways and mild December temperatures, perhaps pay closer attention to the wind speed and direction and remind your friend (who is used to biking in fall, spring and summer) to wear warm footwear.
This trip was a good reminder, especially as we head into winter in the mountains, that proper trip preparation is a must. While cold toes aren’t the end of the world when you’re biking beside the Deerfoot and have cell service, they’re extremely dangerous when you’re skiing in the backcountry, kilometers from reception.
In addition, stopping to properly deal with cold ligaments or inadequate layers is a must, especially as the temperatures begin to drop. While we had extra layers in our panniers, and we were able to quickly ride to our respective houses and warm up, this isn’t the case if you’re spending a day in the mountains.
Our windy adventure was also a good reminder that communication is key when adventuring outside. Whether it’s a long winter walk, a ski, or a December bike, check in with the people you’re outside with. Ask: How are you doing? Are you comfortable? Do you need to take a break?
This little ride to a quirky Calgary landmark was also a reminder that going outside is not always sunshine and rainbows. Some trips are more enjoyable than others. But, at the end of the day, even Annalise agrees that being outside on a brisk day still beats staying inside.