Monday, June 6, 2022

Wind wind etc. etc.

I’ve been trying to think of the best word to describe yesterday’s wind: Brutal? Ferocious? Punishing? Merciless? Soul-crushing? In the end, I think I’ll settle on “traumatizing.” As in, this is a wind that will leave a permanent, if small, impression on my psyche, haunt me in some minor way. 

This wasn’t how it was supposed to go. Traditionally, at the Dusty 100, the wind is from the west, which makes for a tough first half and a larkish homestretch. The final 25 km along the Victoria Trail is the most scenic part of the route and, usually, the quickest. But not this year. With a rare east wind, which kicked up dramatically in the early afternoon, the final stretch involved a special kind of suffering.

Even before we turned east into the stiff clip, my legs were weary. But as the wind intensified, it became clear that it was affecting my mind as well as my body. I began to experience that psychic (and cyclic) fragility that only wind can induce in a cyclist. Of course I can ride 20 more kilometres, no matter how hard, but . . . can I?  

The wind got stronger and stronger as my resolve weakened. By the time we hit the Northwest Mounted Police monument, it was blowing 40 kph, and the flags were stretched out straight. My speedometer ticked ever downward; clouds of dust swirled above the gravel. 

(It’s happened to me before, this kind of mind-melting wind. I think of that day in Montana in 2007, when touring with Penn and Cousin Larry. We still talk about that one. We limped off the bikes after a gruesome afternoon of grinding headwinds and just sat silently at that campground picnic table, staring off into space. Couldn’t eat, couldn’t sleep–our bodies vibrating from the exertion, our minds stunned. We could have gotten tattoos to commemorate the experience.)  

Thankfully, I wasn’t alone. Most of the riders were well ahead, but Brent was with me the whole miserable way. We worked together and tried to cheer each other up. But at a certain point, the wind sucks the conversation out of you. You don’t even have the energy to talk anymore. It’s just head down, one pedal stroke after another. Click, click, click, incremental progress. We will get there eventually. Won’t we?

I’ve never been happier to get a flat tire, just so I could have an excuse to rest. As I was putting in the new tube on the side of the road, the wind almost knocked me over. Then back in the saddle, a few clicks closer to the end, I saw this dead garter snake on the road and thought, "Poor bastard. Some have it worse.” 

At one point, about 10 km from the finish, as Brent and I were pulled over at the side of the road, a farmer stopped in his truck to ask us what was going on with all these bicycles on the road and to comment, of course, on the conditions. When I told him the name of our event he laughed out loud. “Perfect,” he said. “That’s perfect.”

Thursday, April 14, 2022

Conquering the Borderlands


Two things attracted me to this little-known self-published 2009 cycle-travel book that I first heard about on 1) the age of the author (Lorraine Veisz doesn’t say exactly how old she was when she did this trip but I’m guessing, from clues in the book, such as her mention of having done a bike trip with her husband in Maine in 1971, that she was around 60 years old) ; and 2) the fact that Veisz did the trip from San Diego to St. Augustine as part of an organized bike tour.

The age thing first: Probably because of my own age (55), I’ve become interested, of late, in cycle-travel books written by people who are around the age of retirement (though that dream is still a ways off for me). Much like the young person’s coming-of-age bike-trip book (think Josie Dew’s The Wind in My Wheels or Kate Harris’s Lands of Lost Borders), the bookend “going-of-age” cycle-touring book, by a person transitioning out of the working world, has become a popular sub-genre of its own. (See, for instance, Anne Mustoe’s A Bike Ride or David Lamb’s Over the Hills.) Veisz captures the rich possibilities and particular anxieties of this period in her description in the opening pages of this “stage in life when one begins to question if it is still prudent to pursue old dreams, when responsibilities have been largely met but physical limitations are lurking is a type of chronological borderlands.” 

Saturday, February 19, 2022

The Dusty 100 Gravel Challenge 2022


June 5, 2022

The Dusty 100 Gravel Challenge--
Alberta's bugliest gravel event.

Come join us for a day of classic Alberta gravel riding that includes a stretch along the scenic Victoria Trail, exquisite gas-station cuisine, and copious amounts of dust. 

No registration fee. All are welcome: gravel lovers, the gravel-curious, and anyone up for a dusty adventure.

We have two route options:

The Classic Dusty 100-km Route. Bugle call at 9 am. 

And the Li'l Dusty Half Hundred. Bugle call at 11 am.

These routes will be confirmed a week ahead of time, after the Dusty crew recons the situation on the local roads.

Park at the small lot beside the flag poles, one kilometre east of Metis Crossing campground. There's a rustic toilet there (the kind that will do the trick but isn't a place you'd want to linger). But there's no water; bring yer own. 

A few things to know:

This is not a race, though some participants will ride it fast. We usually end up with some fast, medium, and slow groups. 

But know that this is NOT a no-drop ride; in fact, people will almost certainly be dropped, some might get lost, and others will get half way through, wonder why they ever agreed to try this, and seek out a short-cut back to the parking lot.  


No real prizes will be awarded, though we tend to give out a Surprise Bag to the Dustiest Rider. 

Riders will be given a GPX file and, if you want it, an old-school cue sheet--that's all.

There is a lovely Petro Can at Waskatenau at about the 60-km mark. It's got a surprisingly tasty selection of baked goods. That's the only supply point. Most riders stop there for a break.

Ride whatever kind of bike you like but be prepared for a range of gravel conditions, from hardpack to softloam. 


Heed the bugle!

Monday, February 14, 2022

Nice Road

“Nice road,” said Val, with approval, as we–Val, Penn, and I, the Dusty triumvirate–headed up Range Road 20, just north of Township Road 512, southwest of Edmonton. It was an unusually warm winter day, and the roads were nicely packed snow-over-ice. Perfect winter gravel-riding conditions.

I nodded. It was a nice road, at least at that particular spot, and I half-remembered picking it for a reason when I put together this route the night before on RWGPS.

A few seconds later, Val and I laughed as we both realized precisely what made this bit of road so “nice.” It wasn’t straight. That was it! A little slough on some farmer’s property encroached on the perfect grid of roads pushing out a modest bump in the route. The non-straight portion of the road couldn’t have lasted more than a few hundred metres. But that tiny variation, that ever-so-slight bulge in the roadway, qualified as an exotic topographical feature. That’s prairie gravel for you. I have lived here too long.

(I even composed an ironic breathless Alberta Gravel Cycling facebook post I would pen about my discovery: “Man, I found the most amazing gravel road! At first it feels like a regular road but then it, suddenly, like, curves to the left! But that’s not all. Then it swoops back to the right! Awesome!”)

I imagine there are cyclists somewhere–residents of the Alps, maybe?--for whom a ram-rod straight road that runs in a bead to the horizon is an exotic marvel, something to get really fired up about. 

Do Matterhornists dream of grid roads and straight shots the way that I do about switchbacks and squiggles?

Tuesday, January 25, 2022

A Vagabond's Note-Book


   “Of late years I have cycled much and read little.”--Kuklos

W. Fitzwater Wray (1869-1938), who went by the pen-name “Kuklos” (Greek for circle or wheel), was one of the most prolific and accomplished cycling journalists (and cycling personalities, if such a thing can be said to exist) in England in the first three decades of the twentieth century.  His cycling columns in periodicals such as The Daily News, where we worked for decades; his popular series of cycling annuals; and his famed travelling magic-lantern shows about his cycling trips, made him a kind of cycling celebrity in his day.

A Vagabond’s Note-Book (1908) is the first of his three cycling books (the others are the remarkable Across France in Wartime (1916) and The Kuklos Papers (1927)). Note-Book features eleven essays, all of which originally appeared in The Daily News between 1905 and 1907.

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

Higher Calling


“There is nothing that improves a mountain view more than a nice bit of squiggly road going up it.”       --Max Leonard

Higher Calling: Road Cycling’s Obsession with the Mountains (2018) is the kind of wonderful book idea that I almost wish I had thought of myself: exploring the rich tradition and magic associated with ascending mountains on bicycles. Previous books have looked at cycling’s connection with particular peaks (think Peter Cossins’s Alpe d’Huez: The Story of Pro Cycling’s Greatest Climb or Jeremy Whittle’s Ventoux: Sacrifice and Suffering on the Giant of Provence) but British writer Max Leonard, author of the very fine Lanterne Rouge: The Last Man in the Tour de France (2014), and one of the brains behind the Rough Stuff Fellowship Archives, aims much higher. His book offers an ambitious, entertaining, and surprisingly wide-ranging account of our fascination not just with riding up (and down) mountain roads but with mountains in general.