Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Winter Sunday

High on my list of favorite winter activities is a bike ride on a quiet gravel road on a cold, sunny day. 

Here are a few pics from the loop ride Val and I did west of Leduc on Sunday, starting at old Gnadenthal Lutheran Church, on the corner of RR 261 and TR 494.

What seemed, at first glance, to be a barren and desolate landscape turned out to be full of life. The many dogs of Leduc County were excited to see us; they greeted us enthusiastically. Only one gave us an actual scare, sneaking up on us in full stealth mode, not alerting us to his presence until he was on us. But even he was in too good of a mood to actually go through with anything menacing.

More surprisingly, we encountered no less than three horseback riders clopping down the middle of these country roads. Apparently we aren’t the only ones who enjoy a winter Sunday ride. 

But in the end it’s the sun--weak-ass as it is, barely able to peek over the trees by mid-afternoon--that makes a winter ride more than just pedalling. That muted light hitting the frost in the trees and the snowy fields or the glare off ice patches on the road or a country church spire--that’s the magic of this time of year.

Monday, December 9, 2019

Pit Stops: Lady Embalmer Park

In the heart of what we in Crestwood call “The Church District,” a two-block residential area with five churches (Catholic, United, Apostolic, Seventh-Day Adventist, Christian Reformed), sits a tiny parklet that I call Lady Embalmer Park.

It’s on 148 Street, just south of 99 Avenue, tucked into a large green space. There’s a cairn and two benches. A plaque on a cairn explains that Isabelle Connelly (1879-1963) was a pioneer teacher, community worker, and the first licenced lady embalmer in Alberta. LEP is directly across the street from St. John’s Catholic, which is not surprising, given that, as the plaque informs us, Connelly was awarded an honour by none other than Pope Pius XII (apparently a big fan of embalming, in general, and lady embalmers, in particular).

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Banana Gallery 2019

2019 has been a good year for bananas--in various stages of decomposition--found on the side of the road.

Riding a bicycle, you can't help but notice that there's tons of these on the shoulders, on bike paths, sometimes even in the middle of the road. How? Why? Could cyclists packing fruit in their back pockets really be responsible for all of these? Do car drivers toss them out the window? It's one of the great mysteries of the universe.

As a kind of random experiment, I decided that this year I would stop at every road banana and take a photo.

At first it was fun, and I found it easy to stick with my banana vow. But after a while, I got weary of interrupting the rhythm and flow again and again for yet another squashed, brown Chiquita. I began to realize that this banana endeavor was a bigger commitment than I anticipated. My cycling partners wondered why I kept stopping to take photos of the ground.

Since about mid-July, I've been more selective with my banana mission, stopping only if an abandoned banana had something extraordinary about it--some weird color, beautiful squash pattern, origami peel formation, or peculiar landing spot.

Here's a selection of favorite road bananas of 2019.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Central Alleyway Trail

I almost don’t want to tell you this. I’m going to share a secret, my gravel-loving friends.

I recently discovered what is quite possibly the coolest gravel road in the greater Edmonton area. And what’s crazy about it is how it’s been right under my nose all this time and I only recently found it. I’ve been riding gravel in these parts for 8 years, and I thought I had a pretty good sense of most of the roads within an hour’s drive of the city. But this one somehow slipped through the cracks.

As many of you know, Cooking Lake-Blackfoot Recreational Area east of Sherwood Park and just south of Elk Island Provincial Park is a terrific network of cross-country ski trails--home of the Canadian Birkebeiner Ski Race, in fact. In the summer, these trails--mostly rolly, grassy double-track--are used by low-key mountain bikers. I’ve ridden them a few times myself. 

But what I didn’t know until recently is that there’s a gravel road that runs a zig-zaggy east-west route right through the middle of the park, from the Waskehegan Staging Area to Range Road 192, with a couple of off-shoots, about 20 km all told. On the satellite map it looks like any other gravel township road, but on the park map it’s labelled as a ski route: Central Alleyway Trail or CAT (though in the route below the name changes a few times). 

Thursday, October 10, 2019

First Contact

It finally happened. It took almost eight years, but it did finally happen.

Last Sunday, while out riding gravel northwest of Edmonton, I encountered, for the first time ever, another gravel cyclist in the wild. That is, someone not part of the same organized ride I was participating in. Val and I were heading east on Township Road 534, just west of the intersection with Highway 44. The cyclist came toward us from the paved Meadowview Road. But instead of following pavement north or south, as I assumed he would, he crossed the highway and rode onto the gravel, right past us.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Dusty Lens: Golden Spike Salamander

Almost ran over this fella on Sunday, as we were out riding on Golden Spike Road, west of Edmonton. The tiger salamander was crossing the road and scurried out of the path of my wheel at the last second. We stopped and went back for a second take. He/she was about 8-inches long, prehistoric looking, and feisty. Penn transferred Sal to the ditch, where life is a little more laid back.

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Muscle on Wheels

It’s a common claim of cycling historians that women didn’t ride the high-wheel bicycle, the so-called “ordinary” or “pennyfarthing” that was, hands down, the most popular bicycle from the mid 1870s to the late 1880s. The high wheel, so the story goes, required too much athleticism for women and was wholly incompatible with Victorian women’s fashion. So female cyclists rode tricycles until safety bicycles revolutionized the market in the late 1880s. High wheelers, so the theory goes, were the exclusive domain of men.

Edmonton author M. Ann Hall debunks that theory in her latest book, which tells the story of women who not only rode high wheel bicycles but raced them, often against men, more than holding their own. Muscle on Wheels: Louise Armaindo and the High-Wheel Racers of the Nineteenth Century (McGill-Queens UP, 2018) focuses on the exemplary racing career of one woman in particular, French Canadian Louise Brisbois, who competed under the name Louise Armaindo, and who was the first “highly successful woman high-wheel racer.” Armaindo was based in Chicago for a lot of that time and raced all around North America but especially in the midwest.

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Advice from The Modern Cyclist, 1923 (Laws and Customs)


    "Whenever a dubious traffic situation arises, such, for instance, as led horses on the wrong side of the road and two motors approaching from opposite sides, the cyclist is not only wise, but dignified, who stops at once and looks on while the others muddle through.
. . . 
     Whenever you propose to turn to the Right hold out the right arm horizontally and never the left. To hold out the left arm and turn to the right, as I have seen both cyclists and motorists do, is a symptom of imbecility.
. . . 
Although the law requires you to keep to the left when required to by other traffic, you have a legal right to ride on any part of the road at other times. But modern conditions make it very risky to stand on one's legal rights in the matter. It strikes me as bad manners for cyclists to ride more than two abreast at any time or anywhere."

Monday, July 22, 2019

Lanterne Rouge

“[S]uccess, especially your own, is not a good subject; failure is.” --Tim Krabbe

Of the many Tour de France color-based designations (yellow, green, white, and polka dot jerseys; red number for combativity), my favorite is the lanterne rouge, a completely unofficial designation “awarded” to the last place finisher in the General Classification. The term comes from the nineteenth-century tradition of hanging a red lantern on the back end of a train. It was some time in the 1910s, in the second decade of the Tour’s existence, that lanterne rouge also came to refer to the final finisher of the overall race. Riders themselves, or sometimes fans, would give the last place rider a symbolic paper lantern to carry on the final stage.

Tour organizers have never been that crazy about the concept of the lanterne rouge, which could be seen by some (though not by anyone who really understands grand tour cycling) as celebrating failure and distracting attention from the front of the race. But British journalist Max Leonard, author of Lanterne Rouge: The Last Man in the Tour de France (Yellow Jersey, 2014), makes the compelling argument that the front of the race is only one of many stories at any tour, and, in some ways, the story at the back end can be just as fascinating--perhaps even more relatable to most fans. Leonard’s book explores some of the most entertaining stories of this unique sporting tradition. 

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Gull-Sylvan Lakes Loop

Why is it a good idea to drive 1.5 hours to some random part of Alberta and ride a half-day gravel loop? Think of it as a low-stakes micro-adventure. The landscape may not be that different from home but it’s new territory nonetheless and it just might offer a refreshing break from the same old same old.

Monday, June 24, 2019

Advice from the Modern Cyclist, 1923 (Luggage)

"What you take with you in the way of luggage on a cycling tour is largely a matter of your age and the distance you are going. The young man will set off for a week with nothing but a waterproof cape--I have done it very often. For a shirt is good for a week, even worn day and night. If your knees and stockings are wet when you cease riding for the day you push newspapers down inside your breeches, one in front of each leg, and it is sound practice in both physics and physiology. You don't worry about wet stockings, because the area of evaporation and radiation is not large enough to chill the whole body. If it stops raining after tea or supper, a sharp walk will dry all your clothes and destroy the last chance of chill. This tourist does not carry a shaving kit because there are barbers en route. He may carry a spare soft collar and "hanky" in his breast-pocket; and if he has any disreputable old hankies he may take two or three and leave them behind as he goes. After elementals, you take just what you 'cannot do without.'"

Monday, June 17, 2019


The snow on the road appeared suddenly. One moment we had clear pavement, with patches of snow in the ditches here and there. And then the next, most of the road was covered in a couple of inches of snow. We were close to the top, maybe a kilometer from the summit, but that was as far as we would get. On our skinny tires, we weren’t going to make it far in this snow.

On a warm day in late May, Strava Jeff and I had ridden our bikes up to Highwood Pass, exploring, for the first time, a classic Alberta rite of spring. Calgarians do it all the time, I know, but we’d never made it down to Kananaskis during the brief window between when the snow melts and the high mountain road, which is closed for the winter, re-opens to vehicle traffic June 15.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Dusty V Report

For a while there last week, it looked like the Dusty 100 might not happen at all this year. The apocalyptic smoke-sky of last Thursday had me and others wondering if we might get smoked out in Smoky Lake County. It’s hard to blow a bugle while wearing a surgical mask.

Friday, May 31, 2019

Dusty Notes


Despite the air quality problems in Edmonton yesterday, the plan is to proceed with the Smoky 100, er, I mean the Dusty 100, rides on Sunday as originally scheduled. If the conditions deteriorate again in the next few days, we'll post an update here and on facebook. But, generally, we'll leave it up to individuals to decide what to do.

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. There's plenty of parking by the flags, a picnic table, and a rustic outhouse but no water, so bring your own. 

The 100 k route starts at 9 am. The 50 k one at 11 am. Old fashioned paper cue sheets will be available at the start of both rides. Just ask the guy with the bugle.

The map from last year's 100 k route is here on Ride with GPS. There are two small changes this year, meant to avoid some seriously crappy road conditions. These changes are not reflected on this Ride with GPS version but they are highlighted on the cue sheet. 

The 50 k route can be viewed here. Remember, there are no services at all on the 50 k route. Bring enough water and food to get you through.

At the end, feel free to hang around the picnic table while the rest of the riders finish. We'll have a few prizes to hand out.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Advice from the Modern Cyclist, 1923 (A Hundred in a Day)

"Any cyclist, man or woman, who is good enough in physique and health to ride 50 or 60 miles on a Saturday or Sunday holiday, can double it in the course of a long summer day without undue fatigue and without special preparation, supposing that he is decently mounted and does not encounter a strong head wind all the day.

Do not go much more than 20 miles or two hours without food, but do not be always eating. Carry raisins or chocolate or even biscuits in your pockets, or in a little bag where you can reach them without dismounting. Chew these things very thoroughly and keep them in the mouth till they disappear. Apples and oranges are better than any drinks. Drink as little as possible, and never take alcoholic liquors on a long ride.

Do not wear anything that is tight, especially at neck, wrists, or knees. The best way to rest is to lie full length."

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Pit Stops: Golden Spike Hall

Golden Spike Hall, west of Edmonton, is typical of rural community halls in Alberta. It’s a utilitarian structure in the middle of nowhere on a large piece of land with a few outdoor amenities, including a derelict baseball field. Such halls are, in theory, places for country folks to gather and celebrate special occasions, though, in my experience, they almost always look sadly abandoned, like no one has had fun, or even gotten drunk, there in decades.

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Dusty V Details

The fifth edition of the Dusty 100 Gravel Challenge--Alberta's bugliest gravel event--rolls out one month from today.

Come join us for a day of classic Alberta gravel riding that includes a stretch along the scenic Victoria Trail, exquisite gas-station cuisine, and copious amounts of dust. 

No registration fee. All are welcome: gravel lovers, the gravel-curious, and anyone up for a dusty adventure.

This year we have two options:

The Classic Dusty 100-km Route. Bugle call at 9 am. 

And the Li'l Dusty Half Hundred. Bugle call at 11 am.

These are the tentative routes, to be confirmed a week ahead of time, after the Dusty crew recons the situation on the local roads.

Park at the small lot beside the flag poles, one-kilometre east of Metis Crossing. There's a rustic toilet there, the kind that will do the trick but isn't a place you'd want to linger. But there's no water; bring yer own. 

A few things to know:

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


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.



Thursday, April 18, 2019

Strawberry Jam

A gravel event in Alberta in mid-April? That’s a bold--and optimistic--proposition, but, hey, it worked. Last Saturday’s Strawberry Jam out Telfordville way, organized by gravel impresario Tim Bulger, was a hit. The weather was perfect, the roads in splendid early season shape, the traffic light, the dogs friendly, and the riders tickled to be out and at it pre-Easter.

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Advice from The Modern Cyclist, 1923 (Wet Weather)


Sensible cyclists ride when it is not raining with nothing on their heads; there are very few days in our climate when direct sun-rays are hot enough to be injurious to even the hairless cyclist. (I have a bald-headed cycling relative whose scalp is like mahogany.) Many are also content to ride bare-headed in rain, and I do not blame them, though it involves fastening the cape rather tightly about the neck. But many of us who have to wear glasses like to keep the rain off them. I never had a great opinion of the cap, even in the long-ago days when it was sensibly made. But the modern cap is an atrocity. I do not want a Yorkshire tea-cake projecting over each ear and another in front of the peak. So I have bought no cap for many years and have divided my vote between those soft tweed hats (now lighter than caps) which can be worn any shape or no shape, and Barbours' "Haydon" oilskin hat, which goes in to my touring kit in view of possible all-day rain. It weighs 4 ozs. only; 6s. 6d.

Sooner or later it will happen that you finish a day's ride on tour with sodden shoes, which are still wet in the morning. There is not the slightest need to be afraid of them. Don't put them on again until just before leaving, but if the feet continue to feel cold, walk sharply up the first hill.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Li'l Dusty

Are you gravel-curious?

For the first time, The Dusty 100 Gravel Challenge (happening on June 2) is offering a shorter option, which we're calling the Li'l Dusty Half Hundred. It's a 50-km loop that still includes some of the scenic, historic, and lovely Victoria Trail featured in the longer route. 

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Buena Vista Loops

Riding up and down Buena Vista Road is something I would never do in July. Or even May. Not a chance. But in March? I’ll take it.

The road is only 1.5 km long, running from the traffic circle at 142 Street and 87 Avenue down the hill to the tiny traffic circle by the Valley Zoo and the Laurier dog park. But it’s a pleasingly twisty hill and a ridiculously wide road--two lanes each way for a volume of traffic that would easily fit in one, essentially leaving the curb lane entirely for cyclists.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Advice from The Modern Cyclist, 1923 (Cycling for the Unsound)

"Cycling is quite a successful treatment for a much large number of ailments than is generally realised. It is, unfortunately, not often prescribed by doctors, most of whom are now motorists--partly by the necessity for time-saving, and partly for social "swank." If your bicycle is dear to you, and a doctor tells you that you must give it up, do not rest until you have found another who is also a keen cyclist."

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Lands of Lost Borders

“Travelling by bicycle is a life of simple things taken seriously: hunger, thirst, friendship, the weather, the stutter of the world beneath you.”
                                                              --Kate Harris

Kate Harris’s Lands of Lost Borders: Out of Bounds on the Silk Road (2018) opens in medias res: the author and her friend Mel Yule, both recent university grads, are stealth-cycling in the dead of night as they attempt to sneak across the border between China and Tibet. Harris conjures up a magical scene with her poetic account of the stars “freshly soldered above the dark metal of the mountains.” The brilliant episode captures the mixture of fear, astonishment, confusion, and, most of all, the thrill of venturing under cover of darkness into forbidden territory.

It’s a terrific opener to what is a very fine travel book by this promising young writer who grew up in Ontario, studied at North Carolina, MIT, and Oxford, travelled extensively, published an impressive string of magazine pieces about her adventures, and now lives off-grid in remote Atlin, BC.

The book tells the story of two bicycle trips made by Harris and Yule, one in the summer of 2006 in China and Tibet, and then a longer one in 2011 from Istanbul across the old Silk Road route through Armenia, Azerbaijan, several ‘Stans, China, Nepal, and ending at the Siachen Glacier near the India-Pakistan border.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

The Dusty V: 100 km Gravel Challenge

"There came a wind like a bugle . . . "
                                      -- Dickinson


The 5th Edition of the Dusty 100
 Gravel Challenge

Alberta's Bugliest Gravel Event

Sunday, June 2     Bugle call 9 am 

Metis Crossing, Alberta

Ride the historic Victoria Trail!

                  Feast on gas station cuisine!

                                 Get profoundly dusty!

No registration fee. All are welcome.

                       Route and details to follow . . . 

Friday, January 4, 2019

The Day After New Year's Day

In New Zealand, January 2 is an official holiday known as Day After New Year’s Day. I know, it sounds like the title of a bad sequel to that climate-change disaster flick The Day After Tomorrow. But it’s a real thing, and, the more I think of it, a civilized concept. With hangovers and college bowl games out of the way, January 2 is the perfect time to go for the first bike ride of the year.