Friday, January 29, 2016

McLaren Mudpuppies

The third-hole "green" at McLaren's challenging golf course. 
McLaren Regional Park, in southwestern Saskatchewan, about 100 km northeast of Medicine Hat, is my kind of place: quiet, mostly forgotten, a bit rough around the edges but recently loved and emanating some positive 1970s vibes. The day we pulled in there last June, near the end of our Rural Alberta Adventure (okay, so it wasn't purely Albertan), the place was empty, not a single other camper in sight (or on sites, for that matter). Right away, I had a good feeling about McLaren Lake.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Whitemud Creek Jaunt

Winter fat-biking in the city—even a city with a great river valley trail system like Edmonton’s—can sometimes feel, well, a little ho-hum. How many times can you ride the same small network of trails before it all starts to feel a little Groundhog Day-ish? Sure, there’s always the option to load the bikes on the car and head to the country roads and trails, but that requires time and planning; sometimes—most of the time, really—a semi-serious cyclist just wants to walk out to the garage, hop on a bike, and go.

Fortunately, a few weeks back, the Dusty Musette crew discovered a new urban option that’s got us excited: creek riding. The idea came to me while dropping my son off at the Snow Valley ski hill. As I drove over the bridge spanning the Whitemud Creek below the freeway, I noticed DIY cross-country ski tracks on the little frozen creek and thought to myself, hey, if it works for skiing, why wouldn’t it work for fat-biking? So Val, Penn, and I arranged an expedition up the Whitemud Creek one sunny afternoon, starting where the creek spills into the North Saskatchewan. We didn’t know how far we’d get or how many soakers we’d come home with, but we were keen to explore new territory in our backyards.

Saturday, January 9, 2016


Genuine discovery is possible in the nearby unknown.
                                              --Robert L. McCullough

Does being on a bicycle affect how one sees the landscape? That’s one of the big questions posed by Robert L. McCullough in his fascinating new book Old Wheelways: Traces of Bicycle History on the Land (MIT Press, 2015). McCullough, a landscape historian at the University of Vermont, looks at the influences of bicycles on the land and how the bicycle changed how people thought about landscape between about 1880 and 1910 in the northeastern United States. And his answer to that question above is yes, at least for some.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Junk Hat


Winter cyclists know that dressing for success, if not survival, means protecting the extremities, those most valuable digity bits, with high-quality gear like serious boots and full-on mitts. In fact, there’s a wide range of (very expensive) footwear and hand wear marketed to winter athletes and sportsmen and women, from cyclists and snowmobilers to ice-fishers and skiers. You can spend a lot of money on these items; and, in many cases, it’s worth doing so.

But what of protecting that most valuable extremity of all (at least, for dudes)? How is the winter cyclist or sportsman supposed to keep his willy warm on frigid days? Winter folk of all kinds have long had to deal with this problem. It’s said, for instance, that Norwegian scouts of the twelfth century embarked on days-long journeys through blizzards and drifts, protecting their family jewels with ptarmigan carcasses stuffed down the front of their breeches.

These days, alas, the winter-clothing industry hasn’t moved much beyond the ptarmigan method. I know of only a few commercial options available. Not surprisingly, however, resourceful winter athletes have invented their own ways of protecting their central extremity. Herewith follows a guide to some of the most common methods of keeping one’s unit from freezing off whilst awheel in the winter.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Dinosaur Provincial Park Loop

Dinosaur Provincial Park is the jewel of Alberta’s Badlands. Sure, the region’s largest city, Drumheller, has its charms: the Royal Tyrell Museum (with its world class collection) and a gigantic tacky T-Rex at the town’s tourist info centre (an essential ironic photo op). But if I had to pick one spot in the Badlands to recommend for sheer beauty and wow factor it’d be DPP, 48 km northeast of Brooks, Alberta. And if you cycle there or bring a bicycle with you, do not miss out on riding the brilliant 3-km gravel-road circuit next to the campground. It’s one of the coolest bike rides in Alberta.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Ice-Up Shoreline Ramble

 For this year’s edition of the annual ice-up ride, I decided to explore a new (at least, to me)  section of the North Saskatchewan River valley, the area beneath the Henday bridge close to the neighbourhood of Cameron Heights. I’ve often cycled along the paved path under the bridge and noticed a patchwork of trails near the shore and through the woods. And with the river water so low lately, I’ve noticed that there’s enough dry shoreline that a person with, say, a fat bike could probably ride for quite a while right next to—and occasionally into—the water. So that’s what I did on a recent sunny Sunday morning just before the first big dump of snow.

Riding shoreline, I discovered, entails a very particular kind of rambling--super-slow, constantly navigating around big rocks and ice-blobs, stopping occasionally to carry the bike over big boulders or across little (frozen) streamlets emptying into the river. It’s more like a roll-and-stroll or hike-a-bike than an actual ride. I probably only went about a kilometer before turning back. But I loved it. The sun was shining, the ice was doing its lazy, mesmerizing dance, and I was completely alone. It felt like a different world down there, a secret one, a beautiful one, with its own surprising soundtrack.

Friday, November 13, 2015

The Land of Second Chances

One of the big stories of the 2015 Tour de France was the emergence of African cycling—and I’m not talking about overall winner Chris Froome. For the first time, an African-based team, MTN Qubeka (South Africa) participated in the Tour. Five of the nine riders on MTN Qubeka were Africans (three from South Africa, two from Eritrea). One of their riders, Daniel Teklehaimanot, wore the Polka Dot jersey for a few days (first black African to wear any prize jersey at a grand tour), and the team finished an impressive fifth overall in the team classification.

When I picked up Tim Lewis’s The Land of Second Chances: The Impossible Rise of Rwanda’s Cycling Team (Velo, 2013) back in July, the timing was perfect. Lewis’s book about an African cycling story and the evolution of professional cycling in that continent suddenly seemed prophetic. 

Sunday, November 1, 2015


These are the tattered remains of my MEC Merino T1 wool boxers ($42). They look like they’ve been chewed on by moths for decades and chafed up by thousands of miles of activity. But, in reality, they are only a few months old. I bought them as part of an experiment in cycling attire. This past summer, I decided to give up conventional lycra cycling shorts in favor of wool boxers and regular shorts-shorts.