Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Lands of Lost Borders

“Travelling by bicycle is a life of simple things taken seriously: hunger, thirst, friendship, the weather, the stutter of the world beneath you.”
                                                              --Kate Harris

Kate Harris’s Lands of Lost Borders: Out of Bounds on the Silk Road (2018) opens in medias res: the author and her friend Mel Yule, both recent university grads, are stealth-cycling in the dead of night as they attempt to sneak across the border between China and Tibet. Harris conjures up a magical scene with her poetic account of the stars “freshly soldered above the dark metal of the mountains.” The brilliant episode captures the mixture of fear, astonishment, confusion, and, most of all, the thrill of venturing under cover of darkness into forbidden territory.

It’s a terrific opener to what is a very fine travel book by this promising young writer who grew up in Ontario, studied at North Carolina, MIT, and Oxford, travelled extensively, published an impressive string of magazine pieces about her adventures, and now lives off-grid in remote Atlin, BC.

The book tells the story of two bicycle trips made by Harris and Yule, one in the summer of 2006 in China and Tibet, and then a longer one in 2011 from Istanbul across the old Silk Road route through Armenia, Azerbaijan, several ‘Stans, China, Nepal, and ending at the Siachen Glacier near the India-Pakistan border.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

The Dusty V: 100 km Gravel Challenge

"There came a wind like a bugle . . . "
                                      -- Dickinson


The 5th Edition of the Dusty 100
 Gravel Challenge

Alberta's Bugliest Gravel Event

Sunday, June 2     Bugle call 9 am 

Metis Crossing, Alberta

Ride the historic Victoria Trail!

                  Feast on gas station cuisine!

                                 Get profoundly dusty!

No registration fee. All are welcome.

                       Route and details to follow . . . 

Friday, January 4, 2019

The Day After New Year's Day

In New Zealand, January 2 is an official holiday known as Day After New Year’s Day. I know, it sounds like the title of a bad sequel to that climate-change disaster flick The Day After Tomorrow. But it’s a real thing, and, the more I think of it, a civilized concept. With hangovers and college bowl games out of the way, January 2 is the perfect time to go for the first bike ride of the year.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

A Very Brady Bike Ride

My favorite ride in Maui was an early Sunday morning jaunt from Kihei up to Wailuku and Kahakuloa, on the north coast of the Western side of the island. While the entire West Maui loop is a classic ride, the southern section sees a lot of car traffic, so I decided to try an out and back to the more remote northern portion of that loop, a stretch known as the Kahekili Highway. It was a good call. The roads around Kahakuloa are stunning—super twisty, single-lane, up and down, with breathtaking views of the ocean and the valleys running down to it. Plus it was the least trafficky road I encountered on Maui. But the ride was also kind of weird, complicated by some ominous notes that brought back some childhood memories for me.    

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Maui Postcard

Tree on Pulehu Road
Sometimes Maui feels like one big tropical traffic jam. Outside my condo, the cars crawl up and down South Kihei Road, bumper to bumper in the late afternoon. Many of the roads in the middle of the island are packed with a steady stream of bland rental cars and Toyota trucks from dawn til dusk. It's a bit depressing. The scenery is stunning, but if you want to ride a bike around here, you don't dare take your eyes off the road for long.

Sure, Kihei has bike lanes, of the paint-on-the-road variety, but they don't feel especially safe to me. A lot of the drivers here are either elderly or from Alberta or both. That thin layer of paint doesn't offer much protection. I feel about as safe cycling in Kihei as I do around a seniors home in Leduc.

But with a little effort, you can get away from the traffic, and that's when Maui cycling becomes transcendent. You find a perfect spot, a stretch of car-free road, a breath-taking view of the ocean, some weird tropical bird, or a majestic tree--like this one on Pulehu Road--and you remember that this place was once paradise, and, in some hard-to-reach places, it still is.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Tom Winder's Famous Ride

The 1890s was the Golden Age of long-distance bicycle-travel books. While Elizabeth Robins Pennell, Karl Kron, and Thomas Stevens proved the concept in the 1880s, it was the decade of the 90s, with the rise of the safety bicycle, that saw the phenomenon take off, as bicycle travel captured the mainstream imagination. Adventurer-authors such as Sachtleben and Allen, Annie Londonderry, Frank Lenz, Fanny Workman, and John Foster Fraser not only pedaled far and wide, they wrote compelling accounts of their travels, devoured by an audience hungry for glimpses of the world as seen from the saddle. One of the lesser known and underappreciated books from this vibrant period is American Tom Winder’s Famous Twenty Thousand Mile Ride (1895). I only heard of it thanks to Duncan Jamieson’s indispensable overview of the history of bicycle travel, The Self-Propelled Voyager: How the Cycle Revolutionized Travel. But I’d include Winder’s book in that list of Golden Age classics.

Sunday, October 7, 2018


As I was riding down a gravel road out by Graminia School this afternoon, a passing car slowed down and stopped. The guy rolled down his window and, in a friendly voice, said, "Hey man, there's an awesome paved road up ahead. Turn west and it goes for miles. Way better than this crappy gravel."

He must have thought I was lost, had turned off the paved road by accident.

I smiled and said, "Thanks, but, actually, I like the gravel. It's what I came out here for. I prefer it."

Dude just looked at me as I pedalled away into the leaves.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Cypress Hills Haze

Photo by Val Garou
As much as I love creating my own adventure-cycling routes, sometimes the work has already been done by someone else, and all one has to do is read the internet and follow the virtual wheel tracks. I’d been thinking about doing a trip in the fabulous Cypress Hills of southeastern Alberta and southwestern Saskatchewan for years, when I came across this trip report on about a 100-mile route on a combination of trails and gravel. Perfect.

The Cypress Hills area is a gem, a little bit of pseudo-mountain in the middle of the great plains. Eons ago, this small area was somehow missed by receding glaciers (dumb glaciers), leaving an island of surprisingly high ground and all the flora and fauna that comes with it. Ask anyone who lives in Saskatchewan or southern Alberta about the Cypress Hills and you’re bound to see misty eyes and hear tall tales of family excursions to these underappreciated Pyrenees of the Prairies.  

The description on says the trip is “easily attainable by most people,” a mere four out of ten on their scale of difficulty. The guys who wrote the piece did the trip in four days, and the pics on the website make it seem awful leisurely—dudes taking photos of caterpillars and stopping to fish for trout in streams. So, we decided to do the trip in three days. It’s only 100 miles, right? How hard could that be?