Saturday, June 27, 2015

Report #2: Gopher Town

Torrington, Alberta, a hamlet located about 160 km northeast of Calgary, is one of the sadder places we visited on our recent rural adventure. Like a lot of tiny rural communities on the prairies, Torrington has seen better days. Many of the buildings are empty or in a state of severe neglect. The hamlet is not a ghost town—yet—but it does feel like it’s dying. The day we were there the streets were deserted, the cashier of town’s only store (Pizza and More, Eh?) wasn’t exactly welcoming, and, despite a few quaint touches such as colorfully painted fire hydrants, the place just generally gave off a depressing vibe.

But Torrington does have one thing going for it: the World Famous Torrington Gopher Hole Museum. Now “museum” is a generous term for this establishment. It’s really a shack containing about two dozen small dioramas of dead, stuffed gophers dressed up in clothes and staged in a variety of humorous, if not bizarre, human endeavours. A pool hall, church, firehall, curling rink, etc. In some cases, the stuffed gophers have been even been given little speech bubbles for comic effect. The dioramas are kitschy, goofy, often hilarious, and, in some cases, just weird. There’s even one freakily postmodern scene involving a gopher-taxidermist.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Rural Alberta Adventure Report #1: Donut Mill

All great Alberta adventures include a stop at the Donut Mill.

Albertans know that any trip between Edmonton and Calgary on highway 2 must pass through this legendary institution on Red Deer’s Gasoline Alley on the south edge of the city. The Mill produces some of the finest and freshest donut creations in the west. For many people and families, including my own, it would be inconceivable to drive through Red Deer without stopping in for some treats from the Donut Mill’s case of goodies.

So when the Dusty Musette touring crew was scheming our recent Rural Alberta Adventure route, it made perfect sense for us to kick off our trip from the Mill. We needed a genuine Alberta landmark for our jumping off point, preferably one that could quickly get us onto the gravel roads we were after.  Throw in the possibility of Bismarks and Boston Cremes, and we knew we had our departure point.

Friday, June 12, 2015

In Praise of Crap Bikes

Let’s hear it for the crap bike! The Supercycle! The Infinity! The clunky Schwinn, the rusty Nishiki, the rattly Norco!

These bikes are, for the most part, total horseshit, manufactured out of cheap, heavy materials and bottom end components, then slapped together by department store workers who know nothing about bicycles. In car culture, you’d   call them “beaters”—old, dented, scratched rides that get you from A to B, most of the time, and roll with the understanding that you won’t be spending much money or time on maintenance. When they expire, you just go on kijiji and find a new one.

Yet every cyclist needs a crap bike in the garage. (And the fact that you can store your crap bike in the garage, as opposed to in your house, is just one of the many virtues of the crap bike.)  Crap bikes, for all their undeniable crappiness, are essential. Flashy, expensive, nice bikes are fun to ride, sure, but crap bikes make the cycling world go ‘round.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Preview: Rural Alberta Adventure

Ten days, 900 km of mostly gravel roads, a southeast squiggle from Red Deer to Medicine Hat, through the Alberta Badlands and around Special Area No. 2 (I know, it sounds like Alberta’s version of Roswell’s Area 51 but it’s actually just an ominously named rural municipality)—that’s the trip Val, Penn, and I will undertake in a little over a week from now.

We’ve been scheming a gravel cycling adventure for some time now, eager to test out what it would be like to tour on dusty back roads. Our very own province of Alberta boasts gravel galore, so why not start close to home? But not too close to home. 

We’ll start in Red Deer, at the Donut Mill, no less—the acknowledged omphalos of Alberta. Our route will take us across prairie and Badlands, through a series of small towns, and across some remote town-less stretches, into a land without espresso. We will follow the Red Deer River for much of the first part of the journey before dipping down along the Saskatchewan border to the Hat.

Here are a few things I’m looking forward to on our rural Alberta adventure: