Monday, July 27, 2020

The Rustler

Although the official Gravel Experience event The Range, in Claresholm, was cancelled due to COVID, a bunch of folks rode the routes anyway on Saturday--call it an unofficial pseudo-Range event. I did the shorter Rustler route, an 85 km spin, while most of the other cyclists I met were tackling the alternate Range route of about 120 km.  

In either case, it was a swell day in Cowboy Country--perfect weather, glorious scenery, happy cyclists. I encountered about 40 gravel riders who had set out in several waves between 8 and 11 am.

The first 30 km or so from Claresholm is just a warm up act: your standard Alberta gravel roads, though with the bonus of the picturesque Porcupine Hills in the distance. The main attraction of The Rustler is the Burke Creek Ranch Road, a private access through some stunning scenery and challenging terrain on the edge of the Porcupines. 

“Road” may be a generous designation for what is really a double track trail, for the most part, that features a lot of up and down. Hills, cows, hills. At one low point, an overflowing creek crossed over the road; I was pleased with myself for being able to pedal across until I realized that I got a double-soaker anyway. On the final big climb out of the valley, the incline reaches a preposterous 15% plus, the kind of sick slant us City Slickers aren’t much accustomed to. You know it’s steep when you can barely even walk your bike up the hill.


 But the views in this ranch area are stellar. Hills, cows, hills forever. The Rustler is well worth doing just for this BCR stretch.

Some of the lower warm-up sections are swell too, especially where the gravel road snakes along the creek in a lovely coulee for a couple miles. The real weak link in this route, however, is the stretch along Highway 520, which is the only way to access Burke Creek Ranch from the Claresholm side. 520 is a wide gravel secondary highway, with just enough traffic to make it slightly annoying to be on. It offers some terrific views of sweeping ranch land, but I was happy to get off of it and back onto quieter, skinnier gravel roads. 

If I were to come back to this area to ride more, I don’t think I’d start in Claresholm again (though I get why The Range event needs to do this, for logistical reasons.) Instead, I’d cut off as much of 520 as I could, park somewhere closer to the Burke Creek Ranch Road, and spend my time riding the higher gravel roads.

That’s where the cool cows hang, and where the real rustling happens.

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Pandemic Plus

At first, I really missed coffee shops.

I didn’t realize how much of my route planning was built around supply points--stores, gas stations, restaurants, cafes. In the old world, I’d slip a bank card in my pocket and just go, knowing that if I needed something, I could replenish supplies along the way, at a Circle K or Starbucks or Country Boyz.

But when everything closed, suddenly all options for re-supply vanished--and I mean everything. For a while there, you couldn’t even get a drive-thru coffee without a car around here. So, I decided I would just  bring everything I might need with me--coffee included.