Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Gravel Glossary: Miami Mud

It rained a lot over the weekend here in southern Manitoba, where my wife’s parents live, but the gravel roads out by the Miami Hutterite Colony where I rode yesterday were mostly hard and smooth. Mostly.

On a whim, I decided to turn down an unmaintained road—the kind with a strip of grass growing down the middle, the kind that that has not been beaten down by vehicle traffic. Any vehicle traffic. The road looked fine, but it wasn’t. Within seconds I experienced a distinct riding-in-quicksand sensation. Mud and tiny bits of gravel flew scattershot on my legs and clung to my tires like prairie barnacles at the same time. I detected a strange, low rumble coming from the vicinity of my tires. Then it hit me: it was the Miami Mud, laughing at my Clement MSO tires.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Tour of Alberta 2015 Preview

Photo credit: Edmonton Journal
Feels like this could be a  breakaway year for the Tour of Alberta bicycle race. After a couple of years of mixed results, during which the race sometimes suffered from uninspired route choices and an uncertain identity, the T of A is showing signs of finding its form. Here’s why:

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Camping at the WBR

One of the highlights of our family’s recent camping vacay in Montana and Idaho was a short stay at the Whitefish Bike Retreat (WBR), a gem of a spot about 10 miles northwest of this ski-resort town in northwest Montana. The WBR opened in 2013 and has been growing steadily, catering to mountain bikers and touring cyclists alike. The location is key: the WBR is trailside lodging for the terrific Whitefish Trail system, 26 miles of smooth single track; it’s only a minor detour off the Adventure Cycling Association’s popular Northern Tier route; and it’s also close enough to the Tour Divide route that Divide riders have been known to swing by for visit. The WBR has a bunk lodge where you can sleep in a bed and cook in a communal kitchen, but we opted for the camping.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Bindloss, of Alberta

Site where the school once stood in Bindloss
"Last had come the prairie--the land of promise--which seemed to run on forever, flooded with brilliant sunshine under a sky of dazzling blue."--from Prescott, of Saskatchewan (1913) by Harold Bindloss

Believe it or not, the idea for our Rural Alberta Adventure began with Bindloss, a tiny hamlet about 100 km north of Medicine Hat. Back in May, Val and Penn and I sat staring at a map of Alberta, wondering where we should go. We were thinking Badlands, for starters, but then where? Penn pointed to an empty area east of Dinosaur Provincial Park and said, "Why not try here?" The nearest town on the map was Bindloss, which, we quickly discovered, was named after an obscure English writer who wrote over 40 novels in the early 1900s, many of them set in the Canadian west, including one with the fabulous title Prescott, of Saskatchewan.

None of us had ever been to that part of Alberta, and, certainly, none of us had ever heard of Harold Bindloss or his Prescott. We were intrigued. That sealed it. We would ride through Bindloss, on a kind of reverse literary pilgrimage.

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.