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.