Monday, July 27, 2015

The Dusty 100 Gravel Challenge

WHEN: Labour Day (Monday, September 7) 8:30 am bugle call and roll out

WHERE: Waskatenau, AB (75 minute drive northeast of Edmonton); meet at ball diamond (corner of 52 Street and 52 Avenue)

WHAT: 100-km gravel-road loop on a quiet, picturesque route we're calling "The Iron Victoria" (part Iron Horse Trail, part Victoria Trail)

WHO: Anyone up for a gravel-cycling adventure (and who doesn't mind a little dust)
  • This is not a race (though times will be recorded); no prizes will be awarded.
  • All riders will be given a cue sheet; then you're on your own.
  • All riders must be completely self-supported. (Limited supplies are available at a couple of places on (Pakan) or near (Smoky Lake) the route.)
  • Almost any kind of bike will work (cyclo-cross, touring, mountain, fat) but tires 33 mm or wider are strongly recommended

Dusty Lens: Good Hope Cemetery

Near Schuler, Alberta, close to Saskatchewan border

Friday, July 17, 2015

Range Road Explorers

Our back road adventure took us over all manner of gravel, including several varieties I hadn't seen before. Like this one, on a range road southeast of Trochu. "Gravel" hardly seems the right word for this stuff on what is, essentially, a path through farmers' fields. (It really is an actual road, though, marked on the map, and with a road sign and everything--though a separate sign warns that the road is "unmaintained." In other words, you take your chances on such roads. How could we resist?)

Monday, July 13, 2015

Dorothy & Linda

View of Dorothy, AB, from above the Red Deer River.
My Backroads Alberta Map Book says that Dorothy, Alberta, is a ghost town. But it isn’t at all. Sure, compared to this pioneer town’s glory days a hundred years ago, when coal mining was at its peak in the Red Deer River valley, Dorothy today is a shell of its former self. A handful of long-abandoned original buildings, in various states of dilapidation, dot the townsite. (The fancy new rest stop bathroom is an exception.) But a few families still live in this picturesque little hamlet, and there’s a surprisingly vibrant sense of community there, thanks in large part to Linda Miller.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

The Story of the Three Bears

Once upon a time, three bears went on a bicycle adventure in a far off land, from the village of Red Elk to the town of Medicine Toque. But it was no ordinary cycling trip on smooth, asphalt roads. This adventure took the bears across dusty backroads, over farmers’ fields, and along gravel laneways. They rode on some pavement, too, but only when they had to.

The first bear took his Cannondale T800 touring bike decked out with Clement Xplor MSO (40 mm) tires.

The second bear travelled on a Salsa Fargo with Continental Race King 2.0 29er tires.

The third bear rode a Surly Pugsley fatbike, running an ultralight Larry 3.8 on the front and an Ectomorph on the back.    

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Bleriot Bike Ferry

A ferry crossing is an essential part of any good bike tour, according to one of my hardy touring partners, Val Garou. He argues that there’s something about shifting from bike to boat to bike that adds an extra dimension to a trip—even if that boat portion only lasts for a few minutes.

Short cable-ferry trips across the Red Deer River have long been a part of getting around in the Badlands of central Alberta. At one time there were a dozen ferries on that river, but now there are just two left: Bleriot and Finnegan. We took our bikes aboard both.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Report #2: Gopher Town

Torrington, Alberta, a hamlet located about 160 km northeast of Calgary, is one of the sadder places we visited on our recent rural adventure. Like a lot of tiny rural communities on the prairies, Torrington has seen better days. Many of the buildings are empty or in a state of severe neglect. The hamlet is not a ghost town—yet—but it does feel like it’s dying. The day we were there the streets were deserted, the cashier of town’s only store (Pizza and More, Eh?) wasn’t exactly welcoming, and, despite a few quaint touches such as colorfully painted fire hydrants, the place just generally gave off a depressing vibe.

But Torrington does have one thing going for it: the World Famous Torrington Gopher Hole Museum. Now “museum” is a generous term for this establishment. It’s really a shack containing about two dozen small dioramas of dead, stuffed gophers dressed up in clothes and staged in a variety of humorous, if not bizarre, human endeavours. A pool hall, church, firehall, curling rink, etc. In some cases, the stuffed gophers have been even been given little speech bubbles for comic effect. The dioramas are kitschy, goofy, often hilarious, and, in some cases, just weird. There’s even one freakily postmodern scene involving a gopher-taxidermist.