Featured Post

Tasting Notes: Idaho Spud

The Idaho Spud is one of my favorite candy bars (or chocolate bars, as we call them in Canada), and it makes for a perfect road snack f...

Monday, June 27, 2016

Gravel Glossary: Packed Tarsands

What do you get when geyser meets gravel? This stuff, which I am calling packed tarsands, a suitably Albertan moniker for this kind of road surface. Although real tarsands are a naturally occurring phenomenon, this one is human-made. It's essentially a gravel road that's been sprayed with oil (the stuff is so cheap around here these days, why not use it as road spray?) and then packed down hard by traffic and baked in the sun  It makes for a remarkably smooth, dust-free (boo-hoo) surface. The only problem is the sun. On hot days, the oily gravel gets gooey; you can feel its stickiness on your tires, like you're riding through molasses. This particular gravel is unusual in that it has an unmistakable odour, a certain eau de tar. I'm not a fan of packed tarsands, any more than I am of those other Alberta tarsands. Perhaps one day the Europeans will lobby to boycott Alberta's real dirty oil.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Overnight Postcard: Joseph Lake

First, came the sand flies, clouds of the tiny bastards, rising up out of the grass to greet us as we began pitching camp. Then, only minutes later, a stray dog peed on my tent. Seriously. Centennial Park Campground on Lake Joseph, about 75 km southeast of Edmonton, “The Best Kept Secret in Leduc County” (or so says the sign), was not making a good first impression. Besides which, the designation “Lake’” seems a bit generous for what is really a slough, a shallow pond that can’t be at any point as deep as my bike is tall. But all that didn’t really matter. We’d escaped the frantic city that afternoon, our bikes packed with minimal camping gear, and soon enough we (that’s Val, Penn, me, and the sandflies) were watching a long, mellow orange sunset across the “lake,” glasses of whisky and cans of Pringles on the picnic table, the campfire crackling (and its smoke baffling the flies), with plans for new cycling adventures being hatched.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The Dusty 100 Report

The second annual Dusty 100 Gravel Challenge took place on Saturday out by Victoria Settlement in Smoky Lake County. Five intrepid challengers assembled at the start line at 9 am under cloudy skies, with a light wind blowing from the southwest. After the traditional bugle call (which attracted some local wildlife), the party rolled out heading east from Metis Crossing, beginning the 107-km counter-clockwise gravel loop. The group vibe was downright giddy: it wasn’t raining and the gravel was (mostly) firm. The air was humming with the positive energy brought out by the fellowship of the wheel.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Dusty 100: Route Details

The Dusty 100 Gravel Challenge may turn out to be even more challengy than anticipated. The forecast is calling for some light rain on Saturday, so be prepared for some mud, rather than dust.

The event is a go, regardless of weather. My bugle is waterproof.

You can see a map of the route here:

GPX file is available here.

Cue sheets will be handed out at the start, 9 am. Until then, all ye brave gravel challengers!

Friday, May 20, 2016

Why Take The Dusty 100 Gravel Challenge?

Why take The Dusty 100 Gravel Challenge on Saturday, May 28, out at Metis Crossing?

Because . . . you'll get to see this:

And this:

And quite possibly these:

Monday, May 16, 2016

50th Streets

One of the many pleasures of riding a bicycle in rural Alberta is visiting small towns, little villages, and dinky hamlets that I would almost certainly never pass through otherwise. Some of these are sad (Torrington), some are charming (Duchess), and some seem to barely exist at all (Rollyview?). In any event, I always get a small thrill rolling into a new place, no matter how miniscule, and getting the lay of the land, scoping out the main drag, locating all the usual small-town landmarks—the post office, the Chinese-Canadian restaurant, or the buildings that once housed such stalwarts.

One phenomenon I’ve noticed over my years of cycling to and through a lot of these rural communities is the curious street-numbering system found in a lot of them whereby the main street is called 50th  Street. Not Main Street or First Street but 50th Street. This has always struck me as odd. Why 50? The smaller the settlement, the sillier this method seems.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

The Self-Propelled Voyager

“You can ramble and roam more easily on a bicycle than by any other conveyance.”
--Winfred Garrison (1900)

I’m excited about this book. Duncan R. Jamieson’s The Self-Propelled Voyager: How the Cycle Revolutionized Travel (Rowan and Littlefield, 2015) is the first serious, book-length, historical study of cycle travel and its literature. Jamieson is an historian at Ashland University in Ohio, and he brings an academic thoroughness to this research project while managing to strike a completely accessible—and, at times, surprisingly personal—tone. The book’s aim is to trace the “rise and development of long-distance bicycle travel through the narratives of those who travelled.”

Monday, April 18, 2016

Dusty 100 Gravel Challenge 2016

The second edition of The Dusty 100 Gravel Challenge will place Saturday, May 28, 2016.

The start/finish is Metis Crossing, AB (2 hour drive northeast of Edmonton); park one km east of the campground entrance, by the monument.

9 am bugle call and roll out.

The route is a 107-km loop on quiet, picturesque GRAVEL roads that include the scenic Victoria Trail, the oldest continuously used road in Alberta.

Everyone is welcome: gravel lovers, the gravel-curious, and anyone up for a dusty adventure. But a ride like this isn't easy.

A few things to know:
  • This is not a race (though the fastest known time will be recorded)
    • No prizes will be awarded.
    • There's no entry fee or mandatory registration.
    • There's no check-out at the end.
  • This is not an organized ride or event. We're just some guys who have put an awesome challenge together.  We're telling you how you can challenge yourself in the same way.
    • The route is entirely on public roads.  They are mostly lonely rural range roads with low traffic,  but they are still roads. Be respectful of the rules of the road. 
    • Especially don't ride in the oncoming lane while going up hills, no matter how sweet the gravel on that side of the road is. Nobody used to blasting their way down empty backroads on the way to the farm will expect you there, and they won't be able to see you, either.
    • This is a Challenge directed at the solo bicyclist. It's about you, your bike, and a lot of crushed rock.  Anything more complicated than that misses the point.
    • Have a plan to get home if your bike, your body, or your mind breaks down. There's no sag wagon or follow car.
    • Bring (at the very least) a multi-tool, patches, pump, and an extra tube. You're a long way from any bike shop or friendly mechanic out there.
    • Following the Code of the West, riders can help each other with unexpected mechanical support if they both want.  
    • This is just for fun. Always stop to render medical aid if you see someone having a problem.
    • Riders may not plan on sharing gear. (That is, three guys carrying one pump or one guy carrying his buddy's rain gear.) 
    • Riders may not cache gear or supplies or food or water along the course ahead of time. 
    • Getting any kind of help from any non-rider undermines spirit of the Challenge and is therefore not allowed. 
  • Riders will be given the opportunity to download a cue sheet and a .gpx file of the course--that's all. 
    • You're responsible for familiarizing yourself with the course ahead of time and for all route-finding on the road.
    • There will be no route markers, turn indicators, or signage of any kind on the course. 
    • Not traveling the entire course, taking short cuts, or deviating from the listed route undermines spirit of the Challenge and is therefore not allowed.  
  • There is an exceptionally lovely Petro Can and a restaurant in Waskatenau at the midway point. THAT'S THE ONLY SUPPLY POINT.
    • Watch the weather. This is an unusually hot year. Make sure you have enough water and food to get you where you need to be. 
  • Almost any kind of bike (cyclo-cross, touring, mountain, fat) will work, but tires 33 mm or wider are strongly recommended. 40 mm tires are even better if you can fit them.
    • And did we mention that it will be dusty?

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Frozen Pigeon

Although winter feels long gone from the city, out at Pigeon Lake, where my family spent Easter Sunday, it still feels very much like winter, at least out on the actual lake. My son Max and I brought our bikes, thinking we'd explore some gravel roads around Mulhurst, the little village on the northeast corner of the lake.

But when we arrived at our friends' cottage, we realized that the lake was still totally frozen. Folks were out ice fishing, walking about, quadding, and generally cavorting on the ice. Our riding plans quickly changed. It's not every day that you get a chance to cycle on a frozen lake.