A small cadre of wheelmen emerged from the fog Sunday morning at Victoria Settlement game to embark on the first-ever Dusty 100 Gravel Challenge. The circuit turned out to be neither dusty (it's been a damp week around these parts) nor 100 (the route actually clocked in at 107 km), but it certainly was gravelly and a challenge. It took 6.5 hours for our mud-and-bug-splattered butts to complete the course.
The small turnout (okay, it was just Val, Penn, and yours truly) was by design. This was the test-run for the route we call the Iron Victoria--combining parts of the Victoria Trail settlers' cart track and the Iron Horse rail trail. It's a bit of a hike to get out to the start--a 2-hour drive from Edmonton--but well worth the trek. The roads were quiet (we encountered maybe a dozen vehicles all day), plaques plentiful, and the scenery delightful (we lucked out hitting the ever-so-brief fall colour window).
|Val grinding it out on the Iron Horse Trail|
One section of the route, the 20-km leg between Smoky Lake and Waskatenau, allows riders to choose between a gravel road and the parallel Iron Horse Trail. Val bravely took his fat bike on the IHT, which turned out to be a punishing stretch, all soft, brown-sugary gravel with scone-sized boulders mixed in. By the time he reached the trail's end in Waskatenau, at the half-way point of the loop, Val looked like he'd been beat on by a whole herd of iron horses.
The only supply point on the course is the new Petro-Can gas station/ Iron Horse Cafe on Highway 28 at Waskatenau. (The course skirts Smoky Lake too, but getting supplies there would entail a detour of a few kilometres.) This is not your typical highway service station, however. It features an on-site bakery that pumps out a surprising array of amazingly fresh goodies, from danishes to mini-pizzas to bacon-wrapped cheesy-bread-stick thingees. As if that were not enough, this Petro-Can boasts what may be the classiest can-can of any service station in the west--spotless, warmly lit, and with fresh cut flowers in (two!) vases on the counter. Really, the Dusty 100 is worth doing solely for the experience of stopping for a few minutes at this lavatorial Shangri-la.
|In the Petro-Can bathroom. Them's real!|
|Behold the bacon-cheese wand, with its single-helix of fatty goodness.|
The Dusty offers plenty of other charms, though, especially for city dwellers who enjoy cataloguing the rustic markers of rural Alberta life--the shotgun-blasted road signs, the old wooden bridges, and the DIY-beer-themed trailer decorations.
Easily the most scenic (and historically interesting) section of the route is the Victoria Trail stretch that makes up the final 35 km of the route. This old wagon route follows the contours of the river and offers occasional stunning prospects of the broad river valley.
The dry (more like damp) run of the Dusty 100 Gravel Challenge proved the feasibility of the route. Next year, we make it an actual event. If you think you're up for the challenge, join us.