Saturday, June 1, 2013

My Commute

I grew up in the Ottawa Valley, and though I spent little time in the city , I had come to the conclusion that it was kind of lame. 

I went away to Southern Ontario for university, and I fell in love with London - I loved its many parks, and particularly the paths that followed the river.  I even developed an odd affection for Windsor, and I loved its bike paths too.  Then life brought me back to Ottawa.  Now living in the city, I finally got to experience it on two wheels, and it brought me to two important conclusions: First,  that I will fall in love with any city that has good bike paths, and second, that Ottawa has the best bike paths of anywhere I've been so far. 

I think something changes when you get to know a city by bike.  You get to know it more intimately, as though you and the city share some important secret that those driving around in cars will never have the privilege of knowing.  You can go places on bikes you can't go in a car.  You see more of the city from the saddle of a bike.  Most importantly, the best parts of the city are the parts with the bike paths - the canal, the riverbanks, the parks, and the beaches.  Like looking through a person's profile pictures on Facebook, Ottawa only shows you its good side when you're touring the pathways.

Another bonus of biking the city - suddenly your commute changes from a daily annoyance, to a heart-warming daily reminder that life is pretty good.  My commute from work looks a little something like this. 

A tour through the farm (yes, Ottawa has a farm in the middle of the city)

Down a lushly treed, private lane.

Across a fully functional, 200 year old lock.

Along a canal that every winter is transformed into the world's largest skating rink.

Around a bay.

Through a park.

And past a busy, sun-filled beach.

This is one of the many reasons why I love Ottawa, and I get to experience it every day. :)

Gratuitous Tulip Post

It's spring again, and the tulip fest has come and gone - but not before I snapped a few photos of course!  Here are some of my favourite shots from this year (taken May 17th).

It was a perfectly beautiful day at Dow's lake
This pretty, powdery combo was my favourite this year!

Not only are the individual tulip beds lovely, but the combined effect of  multiple tulip beds is always breathtaking!

Waves of tulips - the wind had taken its toll on some of the taller varieties 

Silver Linings

Back in April I was in an accident and totalled my car.  Aside from a slightly busted wrist, I came out of it alright.  I was given a bunch of money for my car, but instead of buying a new one, I decided the time had come for me to invest in a sweet new bike.
1st cast ever! Thank goodness I only had it for 8 days!
You see, dear reader, to this point I had been riding around on an old CCM mountain bike that I got from Canadian Tire back in the mid 90s.  Don't get me wrong - it is a sturdy bike with a good heart, but it wasn't exactly built for performance.  More than that, I'm pretty sure the frame is made of solid steel - this thing weighs a ton!  Anyone who knows me knows how much I love biking, especially in Ottawa.  So it was high time that I got myself a bike that suited the avid cyclist I had become.

Sturdy old Cici

Just after my accident I was in a cast for 8 days until they determined my wrist wasn't broken.  At the time I was pretty bummed about this whole accident situation.  Now that the cast is off and I have an amazing new bike (that I love like a third pet), I feel like the accident was one of the best things that happened to me and makes me feel hopeful that this year is going to be a very good year.  If I hadn't been in that accident I'd still be driving around in a car (that I had been talking about getting rid of for over a year) and I'd still be riding around on my beastly old mountain bike.  In all situations, life is what you make of it.  In this situation, I made my life more awesome!

Touring with B'Elanna through the Arboretum

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Your Guide to an Awesome Day on the Rideau Canal

If you've ever read my other posts in this blog, you'll know that I love the Rideau Canal.  Ordinarily, you'll find me using the paths that run along it on sunny, warm days from spring til fall.  As one who gets cold if it's less than 25°C, I don't spent a great deal of time outside in the Canadian winter.  There is one activity, however, that can get me out on some pretty chilly days - skating!

Having grown up in a small town in Canada, skating was one of the highlights of winter.  The neighbourhood rink was a hub of childhood social activity.  Now that I'm older, I've outgrown the neighbourhood rink, but lucky for me, the canal is a source of winter fun for all ages. 

Top 5 Reasons Skating on the Canal is Super Awesome

1. Skating is Great Exercise: Skating at a moderate pace burns as many calories as doing high impact aerobics [1]. Unless you're an avid inline skater, ice skating will challenge muscles you don't frequently use. Skating utilizes many leg muscles, in particular muscles in the hip joints - you're likely to feel the burn in the adductors, glutes, and quads.  How's your core strength?  While skating, the upper body is held in a forward position, engaging your core muscles. 

2. Skating Keeps you Warm: The great side effect of burning calories is the heat it generates. Like most Canadians, I've spent my fair share of time skiing, I even took up snowboarding last year.  While these activities can keep you warm when you're on the slopes, waiting in lift lines and frigid cold breezes on the chair lifts are less than pleasant.

3. It's Cheap: Skating requires minimal equipment - a pair of skates and appropriate winter clothing.  If you're living in or visiting Canada in the winter, you already have the clothing covered (or at least you should).  Skates are cheap to rent or purchase (especially if you buy second-hand).  And oh yeah, access to the canal is free - no pricey lift passes.  

4. It's Pretty Safe: Sure, you're on ice, and it's possible to take a nasty spill.  But compared to the high rates of hospitalizations that originate on the slopes [2], a few bruises aren't so bad.  And I haven't researched  the statistics, but I'll wager a guess that no one has ever been lost in the wilderness on a skating expedition [3].

5. It's Patriotic:  Maybe not patriotic in the most traditional sense, but few things are more Canadian than lacing up a pair of skates for some fun with friends on an outdoor rink - the largest one in the world.  Add in a visit to the Beavertails shack, a cup of hot chocolate and you've got yourself an idyllic Canadian experience unlike any other.

Now that you're thoroughly convinced that you're overdue for a skate, here are some tips to make your visit to the canal perfect.

Tips for a Perfect Day on the Canal

1. Dress Appropriately: Unless you're visiting the canal with wee ones, you can expect to sweat.  Wear moisture-wicking base layers, and loose outer layers.  If it's a chilly day, track pants to keep the wind at bay are a good idea.  Unless it's very cold, (or you're following new skaters at their pace), snow pants are likely to be too warm.  Depending on the wind direction, some sections of the canal can be very brisk - make sure you have a scarf to protect your face from biting winds.  If you have new skaters, a helmet is advisable.  The most serious injury you're likely to sustain while skating is a head injury.  Hockey and skiing helmets are both designed for multiple impacts and are best for skating (and tobogganing too)[4].  Bike helmets are designed to absorb the impact from a single blow, and are therefore less suitable (but still better than nothing).  Helmets can also be rented at the canal.  Are you planning on skating to Rideau, then heading to the byward market or downtown for some on-foot touristing activity?  If so, bringing an spare dry t-shirt is a good idea - sweat gets mighty chilly when you cool down.

2. Drink Water: Skating is a cardiovascular activity.  When it's cold you may feel less compelled to drink water, but it is just as important to stay hydrated during winter activities as it is in the summer.  Bring a water bottle!

3. Bring Cash: How else do you plan to pay for your Beavertail?  (A classic Cinnamon Sugar or Killaloe Sunrise will cost you $4 on the canal, and they don't take debit).

4. Wear a Backpack: Large enough for your skates and/or boots.  While people frequently just leave their boots by the bench they lace up at (totally safe- it would be un-Canadian to steal someone's boots!), if you plan on skating someplace and then getting off the ice to walk around (say, for a tour of the ice sculptures), you'll need your footwear with you.  It's also a handy place to put your water bottle and dry t-shirt, or anything else you might want if you're making a day of it.

5. Sharpen Your Skates: Preferably before you get to the canal, though there is skate sharpening at the canal.  Taking your skates to be sharpened beforehand will save you time, and will likely be cheaper elsewhere.  Also, dull skates really suck.

6. Check the Conditions: The skateway's website has the latest updates on ice conditions, which sections are open and closed, and where the best (and worst) skating can be had.  Outdoor rinks are at the mercy of mother nature, and conditions can change quickly - best look ahead and know what to expect.

Have any other great tips for an awesome day of skating?  Leave them in the comments!

Friday, June 8, 2012

Blacklegged Ticks in Ottawa!

Last weekend I decided to explore the Mer Bleue Conservation Area.  We hit up trail 50/51, starting at P20 and looped around counter-clockwise towards P23.  This section of trail wasn't too challenging, and would be suitable for an easy mountain biking excursion.  Once we crossed over Dolman Ridge rd the trail heads down a steep slope.  A sign warned us that the path ahead could be "seasonally wet", but since we hadn't had much rain in a while it didn't concern me.  Apparently I was wrong.  After decending the slope we found ourselves in serious muck, and there didn't appear to be much of a maintained trail - the area was totally overgrown.  If it weren't for the little trail marker signs I would have believed we had strayed off the path somehow.  With no sign of improved conditions ahead, we decided to return up the hill and doubled back the way we came, in spite of my preference for hiking loops.

We stopped for a snack at P23, at which point I discovered that I had acquired a friend while navigating the long grasses at the bottom of the ridge.  I first learned about deer ticks while I was doing an internship in Missouri.  After hiking in the woods the lady I was staying with insisted that we conduct a tick check.  "Tick check?" I puzzled.  Ticks are arachnids, the same class that spiders belong to.  They have eight legs, and two distinct body sections: a tiny head, and a large, flat, shiny abdomen. Blacklegged Ticks, Ixodes scapularis, are endemic to Eastern North America. They have a limited range in Canada, and are found in only the southern most regions of the country.  Or so I thought.  I had never heard of them until I went to Missouri.  When I started doing field work in the Long Point area of Ontario, I was reacquainted with them, as there are many in that area.  They were abundant in St. Lawrence Islands National Park as well.  Although the Public Health Agency of Canada doesn't list Ottawa as an established tick population, I can assure you, they're here!

So why do I care that blacklegged ticks have found their way to the Ottawa area?  Ticks are parasites, and these ticks in particular carry Lyme disease.  Lyme disease is caused by the bacterium Borellia burgdorferi.  Not all ticks carry the disease, and not all tick bites will result in transmission if the tick is carrying the bacterium.  The likelihood of disease transmission increases with the length of time the tick remains attached, which is why prompt and thorough tick checks (of yourself and your pets!) are advisable after returning from the field in areas where ticks are known or suspected to occur.  If you do find an attached tick, the safest removal method is to pull it out using tweezers as close to the skin as possible, without twisting or crushing the body of the tick.

Ironically, we chose to explore this trail in particular because the bog trail sounded too buggy.  In addition to my new eight-legged travel companion, this well  shaded trail was full of mosquitoes, so if you're bothered by that sort of thing, bug repellent is advisable if you are headed this way.  In addition to the biting insects, we came across a creek where it was sunny and warm, attracting many dragonflies and a number of six-spotted tiger beetles (Cicindela sexguttata)!

Where there are bugs, there are critters around to eat them.  Check out this little cutie we crossed paths with!  Even baby American Toads (Bufo americanus) look old and disgruntled :)

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Opening Weekend Tulips

This weekend was beautiful and sunny, and tons of people flocked to the capital for the opening weekend of the tulip festival.  Most of the tulip beds are in full bloom now!  Here are a few shots from May 6th.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Ottawa in Bloom

This spring has been unseasonably warm in the nation's capital.  On March 20th, the first day of spring, it was 25 degrees Celsius here in Ottawa.  Average monthly temperature for March? Minus 2.5 degrees.  On this glorious summery day, I celebrated by dusting off my bike and taking a tour around my favourite bike paths.  This, naturally, lead me to Dow's Lake, where I decided to check on the progress of the tulips that are the star of the Canadian Tulip Festival.  Sure enough the tulips were getting an early start.
Tulip shoots stretch out towards the sun on the first day of spring 
One month later, on a similarly beautiful day, I again visited the tulips.  There's still two weeks until the start of the festival, but the tulips are well on their way.  Some of the beds of early bloomers are 80% in bloom, while other beds are bursting with buds, waiting for their moment to shine.  I'm sure by the opening weekend, they'll be in full swing.  If you're planning on visiting this year, plan to go sooner rather than later.  As you can see, there are already many beautiful blooms to appreciate.  I find the best way to enjoy the festival, for those who live in the area, is to visit more than once throughout the month so that you catch the early, mid, and late blooming varieties. Here are a few of the early risers:
This bed of soft flamingo pink tulips were in full bloom.

The unique shape and tangerine colour of these tulips made them my favourite of the day

A sea of buttery yellow double daffodils, punctuated by fiery red tulips, overlook Dow's Lake
Tulips and daffodils aren't the only flowers strutting their stuff in April.  The Arboretum is located on the western shore of Dow's lake, and displays a wide variety of trees and shrubs.  It's essentially a tree museum.  It includes a collection of Kobushi (Magnolia kobus) and Star Magnolias (Magnolia stellata), which are native to Japan, but ornamental varieties are grown in North America and Europe.  The flowers bloom before the trees leaf out, making them one of the earliest flowering trees in the area.  Their elegant, creamy, white and pink blooms have a delicate, sweet fragrance that attract humans and insects alike.

The petals of these magnolia blossoms are so thick and creamy, they look like they have been molded out of fondant 
One of the visitors enjoying these blossoms is also enjoying just about every corner of the city.  The mild spring has brought a record high number of migrating Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta) butterflies to the area. Here is a situation where global warming has been beneficial - warmer temperatures mean a successful breeding season, and lower mortality rates during their migration[1].  The result is a city awash in fluttering red and brown wings, and plenty of photo ops for nature enthusiasts like me.

A Red Admiral indulging in the sweetness of the  magnolia blossoms