Friday, October 18, 2013

Gravel Gloss: Hard Tack

Premium Alberta Hard Tack
Gravel grinders dream about this stuff: imagine a gravel or dirt road surface that is so beaten down by tires and wind that it takes on the look and feel of regular asphalt. In fact, premium, grade-A hard tack—polished to a kind of soft sheen—can be even smoother and faster than pavement.

Pirate biscuits.
The name makes me think of pirates. Hard tack was the term for the simple, bland, virtually unperishable biscuits that sailors and soldiers—and pirates—used to live off. (Come to think of it, hard tack may well be the predecessor to today’s CliF bars, which share most of the same qualities.) Up close, the road surface looks kind of like a hard biscuit. I imagine the road tastes like one too.

Sometimes you get just the hard-tack tracks down an otherwise gravelly road. Other times, like on my ride the other day west of Edmonton, the whole damn road will be hard tack. It may only go for a couple hundred metres, but it’s a glorious thing while it lasts, and usually a surprise. Gravel riding isn’t supposed to be so easy.

Hard tack tracks.

Coming across a section of hard tack in the middle of a gravel ride is always a treat, a respite for my skinny arms, which absorb a lot of vibration on gravel. It’s like paddling a canoe across a white-capped lake and suddenly hitting a calm patch. You savour it, and make hay while you can.

The only problem with hard tack is that if you get too much of it, it begins to feel like cheating. There’s no actual grinding involved on this stuff. It’s just rolling.

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