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 bikepacking.com 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 bikepacking.com 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?   

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Roule Britannia


For close to a decade, British men’s cycling has been on top of the world—Grand Tour GC victories and stage wins galore, Olympic medals, a World Championship—and nowhere has this domination been more evident than at cycling’s premiere event, the Tour de France. Six of the last seven Tours de France have been won by Britons (Bradley Wiggins, Chris Froome, and Geraint Thomas); meanwhile, Mark Cavendish almost matched Eddy Merckx’s record number of stage wins. And Team Sky, the British road-racing juggernaut launched in 2010, has come to dominate the Tour to an almost unprecedented extent.

With all this success, it may be hard to remember or believe that it hasn’t always been thus with British cycling. In fact, prior to 2012, no Briton had ever won the Tour, and before Cavendish started racking up sprint stage wins in 2008, the sum total of British cycling’s accomplishments in the most famous grand tour had been a grand total of about 20 stage wins and a few days in yellow, with the best overall finish by a British cyclist being Robert Millar’s fourth place finish in 1984.

In fact, the full story of Britain’s participation at the Tour has been, until this recent success, one of modest achievements. And it’s this story of small, and, in some cases, largely forgotten triumphs that William Fotheringham’s Roule Britiannia: Great Britain and the Tour de France tells, tracing the history of British involvement with the race, from the earliest forays across the channel in the 1930s up until Wiggins’ victory in 2012. 

Monday, July 23, 2018

Athabasca and Back


In case you haven’t noticed, I’m a sucker for gravel adventures on obscure historical trails. There’s something about the combination of dust and plaques that I just can’t resist. Our discovery, a few years ago, of the Victoria Trail northeast of Edmonton has been such a hit, that it now features in the annual Dusty 100.

For a while now, I’ve been wondering about the potential of another historical trail just sitting there on my map of Alberta: the Athabasca Landing Trail (ALT). This 100-mile trail links the town of Athabasca, on the Athabasca River, with Fort Saskatchewan, on the North Saskatchewan River. It was a major overland route for fur traders from the mid-1860s until the beginning of the railroad in that area in the 1910s. 

Friday, July 6, 2018

The Flyover


It’s hard to explain why I get such a thrill riding my bike on the Belgravia Road transit flyover. But I do. Every time.

The flyover connects the transit station at the University of Alberta’s South Campus with the westbound lane of Fox Drive, which then links to the Whitemud Freeway. It’s a one-way, one-lane, elevated bridge that curves around two corners before merging with Fox Drive. Because it was built on the side of a hill, where stability is an issue, the bridge actually sits on another, perpendicular trellis bridge.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

East Elk 50/50



I’m a believer in the 50/50 ride—that is, 50% gravel and 50% pavement. As every gravel rider knows, exploring dirt roads is terrific fun but also hard work. Hours of bumping along washboard, searching for a line in the beach sand can take their toll. So why not mix in some pavement stretches on your gravel route and give yourself a bit of a break? Especially when that strategy allows you to experience the best of both worlds.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Dusty IV Wrap


Gravel riding doesn’t get much better than what the Dusty 100 had to offer on Sunday out on the back roads of Smoky Lake county. The weather was perfect (21 degrees and sunny, with a tailwind for the home stretch), the gravel roads were in excellent shape (recent rains made for hard-packed lines on about 90% of the route), and the company was first rate (a corps of shiny, happy cyclists reveling in quiet roads and lovely scenery).

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Dusty Details


For those who haven't been to the Dusty 100 before, the meeting/starting point is the small parking lot beside the monument with three flags, about one km east of the Metis Crossing campground. (Where, incidentally, there's a music festival happening this weekend.) There's plenty of parking by the flags, a picnic table, and a rustic outhouse but no water, so bring your own water. (Only water refill on the route is at 60 km.)

Bugle call is 9 am.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Dusty 100 Preview

The big day is next Sunday, June 3, at Metis Crossing. All are welcome. This year's event features . . .

MORE RIDERS!



MORE PLAQUES!


                                   
                                                             A SURPRISE BAG!



Saturday, April 28, 2018

Lezyne Love


Its shape is phallic. Its name is Sapphic. And it always gets my tires hard.

I pay tribute today to my Lezyne Tech Drive HP aluminum mini hand pump.

I bought my Lezyne about five years ago. At the time, I thought it was expensive, as far as hand pumps go. But it’s been worth every penny, and over the years it’s become something more than just a tool to me. I carry it with me on every ride, tucked snugly in my back pocket or stuffed into my gas-tank bag. I rarely have to use it, but I know that when the time comes, it will work. Mostly, though, I just like having it around.

Friday, April 6, 2018

Woodbend Postcard

Photo credit: Strava Jeff.

The fields may still be covered with snow and the air cold as crud, but the roads, they are clear. It’s April, even if it doesn’t look or feel like it. That means it’s time to bust out the road bikes with Strava Jeff and head out of town, away from the snow-and-ice-and-crap-cluttered shoulders of city streets and onto clear country pavement just west of Edmonton.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Sugar Ride



I’ve got to be pretty much the perfect reader for Yvonne Blomer’s literary travel memoir Sugar Ride: Cycling from Hanoi to Kuala Lumpur (Palimpsest, 2017). Not only am I a touring cyclist and type-one diabetic like Blomer; I’m also an English professor who’s fond of poetry and literary travel writing. No wonder no less than five different friends offered me copies of the book. And no wonder I like it so much.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Farewell to the Tour of Alberta

At the Tour of Alberta Prologue, 2013.
When the news came down last week that, after a five-year run, the Tour of Alberta professional bike race was kaput—a victim of Alberta’s economic downturn was the official reason cited—I don’t think anyone who follows the world of bike racing was surprised. Disappointed, sure; sad, maybe. But probably not surprised.


This has been coming—in fact, has seemed inevitable—for a while. Government funding for the event has been dwindling the last couple of years, and Alberta’s struggling economy has meant that other sources of funding—corporate sponsorships, community host fees—have been getting scarcer and scarcer. When the size of the event shrank in 2016 and again in 2017, it was starting to look like the beginning of the end.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Dusty 100 Gravel Challenge 2018


Blow, bugle, blow, set the wild echoes flying . . . 
                                                  --Tennyson

The fourth annual Dusty 100 Gravel Challenge happens Sunday, June 3, 2018.

The start/finish is, once again, Metis Crossing, AB (1.5 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, and the option to ride a rustic section of the Iron Horse Trail.

Everyone is welcome: gravel lovers, the gravel-curious, and anyone up for a dusty adventure.

See our event page on facebook.

A few things to know:

This is not a race (though times will be recorded); no real prizes will be awarded, though we tend to give out a Surprise Bag to the Dustiest Rider. 

RIDERS MUST BE COMPLETELY SELF-SUPPORTED.

Riders will be given a GPX file and cue sheet--that's all.

There is a lovely Petro Can and a restaurant in Waskatenau at the midway point. That's the only supply point.

Almost any kind of bike will work (cyclo-cross, touring, mountain, fat) but tires 33 mm or wider are strongly recommended.

WHILE NOT A RACE, THE DUSTY 100 IS HARD. THAT'S WHY WE CALL IT A CHALLENGE.

And did we mention that it's dusty?

Friday, January 26, 2018

Across Siberia on a Bicycle


Siberia. The word conjures images of endless ice and snow, not to mention hints of forced isolation and punishment. The vastness, harshness, and remoteness of the place makes the very word Siberia cause shivers of trepidation for many—and tingles of excitement for a few hardy adventurers. Riding a bicycle across Siberia may sound like a mad feat, but it’s been done, and more times than you might imagine. I can think of a handful of books about trans-Siberian bicycle trips, by Erika Warmbrunn, Jane Schnell, Mark Jenkins, and Rob Lilewall, to name a few.

But one of the first to do it was the English cycle-adventurer and author Robert Louis Jefferson. Born in Missouri in 1866, Jefferson grew up in Victorian England, where, as a young man, he was an impressive athlete and, later, a journalist. (He shares the Christian names of the celebrated contemporary Scottish writer Robert Louis Stevenson, and Jefferson admits that these names came in handy more than once in the world of writing. He once told an interviewer, “anything by a man with those prefixes was certain to sell.”)

In the 1890s, as the bicycle boomed, he embarked on a series of extensive adventures awheel, which took him from London to Constantinople, Russia (twice), Mongolia, and Uzbekistan. Jefferson wrote a book about each trip, the first published in 1894 and the last in 1899. Although the cycle-travel-adventure books of his contemporaries Thomas Stevens, William Sachtleben and Thomas G. Allen, and John Foster Fraser are better known, Jefferson was one of the most prolific cycle-travel writers in this inaugural golden age of trans-continental bicycle adventures.  Yet for some reason, his legacy remains obscure in comparison, and his books, today, are hard to find. Not a one is in print, even in this age when some of the most obscure Victorian texts can be acquired via print-on-demand publishers.

But with a little work and the help of inter-library loan, I got my hands on a copy of Across Siberia on a Bicycle (1896). And while the volume is brief and uneven, to be sure, it offers enough insight into early bicycle-adventure travel and some perverse bits of entertainment to make it worth checking out.  

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Gravel Alberta 2018




Could 2018 be the year of gravel cycling's big breakthrough in Alberta?

The lack of a thriving gravel-cycling scene in this province—and the prairie provinces, in general—has long been a puzzler to me. South of the border, in the equivalent landscape known as the Midwest or Great Plains, cycling on the thousands of miles of gravel backroads has been a thing for years.

It’s difficult to find data on the actual number of gravel riders, but just consider, as an indicator, the number of gravel-cycling events in the midwestern and western United States: competitive races (such as the Dirty Kanza and Gravel Worlds); more recreational rides and fondos (such as the Cino Heroica and Rebecca’s Private Idaho); and any number of informal, unsanctioned, no-fee rides. Throughout Kansas, Iowa, Nebraska, and the Dakotas you’ll find some kind of gravel-grinder event happening almost every weekend in the summer months. Check out the event listings on Gravel Cyclist to get a sense of the burgeoning American scene.