First, a discussion of the ride from Waterton to Calgary: It took us three days of riding, and most of the scenery was some variation on rolling hills with a few spots of trees, and a ridiculous quantity of cows. It is surprisingly creepy, by the way, to have a couple dozen cows all standing still and staring at you.

Another thing that is surprisingly creepy: wind turbines! I’m a fan of wind power, and I always thought that wind turbines would be kind of pretty and scenic, partially because they’re a happy thing, yes? Clean power? But in reality, I can see why people don’t like them. They generally have to be on hilltops or ridges to catch enough wind, which means they’re visible for ridiculous distances, and for some reason they’re….kinda spooky, all lined up on hilltops for miles. I can’t really put my finger on why, either. I was somehow reminded of the Tripods novel series I read when I was eleven.

We also had one thunderstorm dump rain on us and give us a bit of a scare…there we are, lightning and thunder and rain all around, when we cross a railroad overpass and I realize we’re the highest-up thing for hundreds of yards. Eep. On another day, several storms passed us close enough for us to hear the thunder and see the rain, but we managed not to get rained on.

So, Calgary!

Getting into town, we had to spend a short time on an honest-to-god freeway. (Fellow Portlanders: it was like trying to ride the 217 or 26 on the westside!) It was loud and dirty but fast, with super-wide shoulders and relatively easy to navigate on- and off-ramps.

After that it was a long circuitous route on off-road bike paths that were getting repairs, hence plenty of confusing detours. The bike paths were sometimes in lovely places near a river and sometimes in yucky spots along a canal, but the time of day we were on it meant, of course, clouds of insects. I ended up wearing my bandanna over my face, bandit-style, to keep from breathing in gnats. And because I’d spent most of the day wearing just my black bike shorts on the bottom, my rear end received about a dozen mosquito bites, no exaggeration. Nothing like having mosquito bites you shouldn’t scratch in public.

We eventually met up with one of our hosts, Dan, who was afraid we would just be lost forever! Him and Saryn are awesome, and Saryn and I really hit it off, I think. Almost every night we’ve been here, we’ve stayed up too late chatting.

The first day we were here I mostly slept, as the day we arrived ended up being an 86-mile day. Our second day we went to MEC, where I got a pair of lighter-colored capri pants to cover my bike shorts, since the bitey-bugs are so attracted to black. These pants are kinda cute, too, with reflective stuff down each leg. We picked up a print catalog from MEC that explained the company’s history: it was started in 1971 by a few hippie-type folks who were tired of driving to the REI in Seattle to buy outdoor gear, and decided to start a co-op in Canada instead. The catalog also had a couple of pages joking about how Canadians recognize each other in foreign lands via their MEC gear…I looked down at myself (in an MEC hoodie and pants) and thought…man, me and Shawn throw that one off, don’t we? Don’t get me wrong, we love REI too, but MEC does sometimes have better stuff. (Like this t-shirt, which is thin enough and of the right material to be rad in hot weather, and you can’t tell from the picture but the back is longer than the front, so it’s good for biking in…it’s fairly rare that a bike-themed t-shirt is actually designed for biking in!)

(And we did not end up buying a new tent, as Dan showed us a neato trick to fix the zippers: he pinched part of them with needle-nosed pliers. They’re stiff now but they actually close. Hallelujah!)

Yesterday Shawn and I stopped by Bike Bike, which specializes in transportation cycling. The shop sells Linus and Velorbis and Pashley bicycles, among some others. I rode one of the Pashley loop-frame bicycles in a little circle around the shop and tried not to drool on it or the Linus Dutchi. *sigh*

We ended up chatting with the owner of the shop for about two hours! Turns out there’s a small community of bike-fun people in Calgary who meet up for group rides, including a monthly ride on the paths, and a Bike Prom. There’s also some moving-and-shaking going on in the local government, they have a bike plan and they’re hoping to get it funded this year.

What’s going on in Calgary is pretty impressive, considering that the town’s economy is based almost entirely on oil (and I swear the rest is based on the yearly Stampede, which Shawn and I avoided like the plague), and that it’s so spread out. The off-road bike paths help, but they’re often not that great for commuting: they can be confusing to navigate, in bad condition, or just really steeply hilly. But as in many cities, the downtown traffic is slow enough that bicycles do just fine, at least in our experience, and many of the residential streets were great for getting around.

A small observation about Calgary: Maybe it’s because it’s Stampede week, but a surprising number of people were wearing cowboy-style hats. Including the person bagging our groceries and the police and a lot of women downtown, who had them paired up with itty-bitty denim shorts and cowboy boots. Ooookay.

Today we leave for Banff and Jasper! More gorgeous mountains! More hilly riding! More…mosquitoes!

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18 Responses to Calgary!

  1. Glad you enjoyed the stay in Calgary!

    BTW, regarding cows, which you will see much more of as you cross the prairies: I read an interesting stat that mentioned there are about 6 million people scattered across the Canadian prairies (Alberta, Sask, Manitoba) and about …. 30 million cows! That’s about a 5:1 ratio, so get used to socializing with the locals 🙂

    • The cows crack me up sometimes, because they’re totally nonchalant about huge trucks passing by, but I’ve seen a bunch of them get up and run away at the sight of us on our bicycles. I’ve been known to try and inform them that they’re in no danger from us ’cause we’re vegetarians, but I guess they’ve heard that line before and don’t believe us.

      We’re still packing up! Sheesh.

    • Also, can you send me the link to Sarah’s blog? If you’d rather do it over email: alder dot tree at gmail dot com

  2. Most wind farms tend to have a high level of electromagnetic fields (emf) which can affect some people oddly. For instance, I went into the floor of the Hoover dam where the water power is converted to electricity, and was completely overwhelmed by the emf. I was hallucinating, hyperventilating and threw up all over the elevator trying to get out. I apologized and the person with the mop said it happens about once a month. Some people are just more sensitive to it. However, wind turbines for personal use can be really small (2 turbines standing 24 inches mounted on my roof) and can be insulated in such a way that they don’t cause these problems. I don’t know if say a whole neighborhood converted whether that would raise the overall rate past the typical threshold or not though. (I’ve been doing a lot of research about wind vs solar since I’m going to be replacing my roof next year it would be efficient to add one or the other at the same time.)

    • I hadn’t thought of that! When we passed by, though, the wind was in a different direction than usual and so most of them weren’t even moving. I think that may have added to the spooky factor.

      • If they didn’t turn so that the blades could catch any wind that indicates they were one of the old style so its more likely that they weren’t shielded at all. The turbines made for wind farms in the last 8 years (or there abouts) have swivels in the neck of the turbine (just below the blade structure) so that it can turn and catch wind from any direction. 8 years ago there was a large study done on the effects of wind farms that were near the ocean on sea creatures that use emf for hunting (there are some varieties of sharks that can produce an emf field and use it in the same way dophins use echo location) and the result was a recommended change in the shielding process. But while they were making that change manufacturers discovered they could also change the way the blade portion attaches to the turbine portion and so now they swivel when the wind direction changes. There was no mandate to upgrade the existing windmills though so they are still out there and are just replaced when they break down. Which is probably more than you wanted to know about windmills.

      • That’s actually fascinating, no lie.

        We did see a sign saying that many of the turbines in the area (Pincher Creek, Alberta) are older in design. Both the older ones and newer ones can be turned, but someone has to tell the turbines to turn.

        The wind was going in the opposite direction of usual, and in the days before there’d been some really windy days (necessitating a rest day for us once because we were worried it might actually not be safe for us to be on the road), so I don’t know if they hadn’t bothered to turn them and/or they had enough power stored up. The signs said they turn them off if the winds get to 105 kph, I assume they still spin but that they’d overload the batteries or something.

  3. Most of them have a maximum rotation rate, anything greater than that and the stress on the outside of the blade is too great and the blades break. (Think about holding a piece of balasa wood and keep one end stationary but the other end flexes due to resistance, that resistance is what makes the blades spin. So if the wind is blowing to hard, the flex is to great and snap goes your blade. There are newer designs where the blades don’t stick straight out, they kind of remind me of when an echinacea flower starts to wilt and the petals actually curl and go downward. This design has a much higher maximum speed because the “blade” is spinning in a spiral not a circle so if the wind goes faster so does the spiral. Thing about those though is they can’t be mounted on roof tops they have to be backyard structures or part of a wind farm because most city ordinances have a 7ft height limit and they don’t work really well installed on the room. I’ll try to find you a picture the next time I see one. They are kind of like this but taller and dont come back together at the bottom. Storing power is relatively easy, it just gets fed back into the power grid.

    • What’s interesting is that one of the turbines by itself doesn’t look creepy, there was one near our campsite at Lundbreck falls. It’s just the hillsides covered in them that bother me.

      Y’know what I can’t figure out? Why aren’t people in really sunny places covering their roofs with solar panels? Is it just the initial expense?

      • StJason says:

        Expense and dumbassery.

        And you are wrong, anyway. One of the most beautiful/magical/memorable sights I have ever seen was driving in the fog near Berlin, and suddenly, the windmills coming out of the fog. Dark, moving shapes suddenly clear turbines. Awesome.

      • My guess is mostly expense. They aren’t terribly efficient yet so a typical family can’t collect enough electricity for all their needs even if their footprint is small. Even as a single person if I consider my base needs I will still need supplemental electricity. It’s appliances… fridge, freezer, water heater, washer… So not only is there a big cost for either the panels or the windmills, but there’s also about 15k worth of electrical upgrades that have to be done just inside the house. Add to that appliances, and a new roof and its easily a $25,000 project that really doesn’t add value to the house at the same rate doing 25k worth of upgrades to the kitchen and bathrooms. Especially when you consider my electric costs about $40 a month.

      • Wow. I knew it was pricey, I didn’t know it was that pricey. It just seems like such a shame that places like Las Vegas don’t have solar panels on all their roofs…

  4. Also it’s my understanding that when you store up your power bank with power they just dont chage any additional. Everything I’ve been reading you have a series of batterys all connected together so you find out that you need to store more electricity you just get more battreies and just sock away more electricity. I’m really closely monitoring my electricity usage to decide if I want 2 wind turbines and a solar panel. But the math on the ROI is better with one or the other.

    • StJason says:

      With the newer smart meters, you can actually put power back on the grid for the times you ‘go negative’.

      • Only if the power company allows it though. It’s not only the meters at the house that have to be upgraded but various components from the house back to the transformer. Which is very unfortunate because rural areas are potentially the most lucrative for installing home turbines but the least likely to have an upgraded infrastructure for sending electricity upstream.

      • The Oregon Country Fair (hippie festival out near Eugene) does this with solar panels–they’re up year round even though the festival is only three days in July. (Plus days on either side of setting up/taking down.) Their goal is to put enough power back into the system to cover their electricity usage during the festival, which is mostly for sound amplification on their numerous stages.

    • Just wanted to point out that the ROI (return on investment) of wind and solar could be better if conventional power was not partly subsidized and the external costs were included (i.e. costs associated with pollution included in the cost of power).

      The cost of conventional power is artificially low, which makes renewable energies more difficult to compete economically. This is offset somewhat by renewables being sometimes/somewhat subsidized, but I think the better way is less subsidies and more “real” costs in all power options for a better comparison of real costs.

  5. BikeBike says:

    It was really nice to meet you two! I hope the rest of your trip goes well, have fun in Jasper!

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