Thursday, November 24, 2022

The Wind at My Back

“Cycling is about mapping the small worlds that are always around us.”

This 2018 literary cycling memoir by British writer Paul Maunder, a self-described “failed bike racer and failed novelist” (though since the publication of this book he has published a novel, The Atomics) who is best known for his non-fiction writing in magazines like Rouleur and Peloton, is right up my alley. 

It’s a deeply literary reflection on the interplay between the two crucial strands of Maunder’s identity: cyclist and writer. He makes the intriguing claim that cycling has been essential to his understanding of place, landscape, and nature, as well as his development as a writer. This elegantly written book is richly descriptive, both of English landscapes and of literary ones that have influenced his perception–of himself and the larger world. 

Wednesday, September 14, 2022

Cynthia Lodgepole

When the protagonist of Heidi Jacob’s lovely, very funny, and deeply literary debut novel Molly of the Mall (the perfect gift for that English major in your life) mentions adopting the pseudonym "Cynthia Lodgepole" for publishing her “gothic bodice-rippers,” it’s a wink and a nudge to anyone who’s ever noticed this road sign on the Yellowhead Highway between Edmonton and Jasper.

The names of these two little hamlets 23 km apart in Brazeau County near Drayton Valley, Alberta, do kind of go together, and I’m sure I’m not the only one–besides Heidi Jacobs–who thinks, every time I see the highway sign, of what a great pseudonym this would make. Kudos to Heidi’s Molly for pulling it off.

Yet despite all the times I’ve driven past the sign, I’d never visited either place. Until last Saturday, that is, when I rode my bicycle through both on the route of the DV100, an annual century-ride (pavement) event that I took part in for the first time. This event has been around for 10 years and has a solid reputation in cycling circles in these parts: it’s known for being well organized and scenic, and for putting up a surprising amount of prize money.

Friday, August 19, 2022

Manitoba Outdoor Adventure Guide

 “The possibilities of gravel road riding in Manitoba are limitless.”

This old book was my favorite find from our most recent annual summer trip to Manitoba. In a little museum in Carberry, near Brandon, I spied this anachronistic cover on a shelf of books for sale. The color scheme, fonts, and, most of all, the photograph–of two rigid-fork mountain bikes being ridden across what appears to be a sunny field by a good-looking man and woman (helmetless) wearing semi-cycling attire (check out the gloves!)--mark this volume as from the late 80s/early 90s. 

But what really caught my eye was the phrase in the bottom right corner: “Gravel, paved, & off road routes.” Gravel? Really? And not only is the word gravel included in this list, it’s the first item in the list. Turns out this Manitoba Outdoor Adventure Guide: Cycling was published in 1989 by Fifth House (Saskatoon) and written by a then 32-year old Ruth Marr, who’s listed on the back cover as “a Winnipeg writer and ecologist.”

Wednesday, July 27, 2022

Battle River Badlands

I first heard about the Battle River Badlands via the Alberta Gravel Cycling Facebook group. Back in January, a Battle River-valley resident named Forrest Hagen posted a gravel route near the town of Donalda, south of Camrose. Then in April, Edmonton gravel gurus Greg and Aaron rode that very route and posted a glowing review of the area along with some impressive photos. I was intrigued. Why had I never heard of this area as a gravel-riding destination?

Monday, July 18, 2022

Victoria Day: Birthday Girl

Happy 60th to the Musette's number-one reader: the stylish and elegant Victoria Day--long-time commuter, recreational cyclist, recent e-bike convert, general bike enthusiast, and, now, gravel dabbler!

Monday, July 4, 2022

Vuelta Skelter


We’ve had to wait a while for the final installment in Tim Moore’s Grand Tour trilogy that began with French Revolutions: Cycling the Tour de France (2001) and continued with Geronimo! Riding the Very Terrible 1914 Tour of Italy (2014). A book from Moore about La Vuelta a España was inevitable, and highly anticipated by many, including me, but the timing of when he finally undertook the project turned out to be something of a surprise. Moore needed an angle for this book, and it wasn’t until the COVIDy spring of 2020 that he stumbled on it, when he came across the remarkable story of Julián Berrendero and the strange 1941 campaign, the smallest grand tour ever, with only 32 starters, as well as the longest, at a mind-blowing 4442 km.   

Monday, June 6, 2022

Wind wind etc. etc.

I’ve been trying to think of the best word to describe yesterday’s wind: Brutal? Ferocious? Punishing? Merciless? Soul-crushing? In the end, I think I’ll settle on “traumatizing.” As in, this is a wind that will leave a permanent, if small, impression on my psyche, haunt me in some minor way. 

This wasn’t how it was supposed to go. Traditionally, at the Dusty 100, the wind is from the west, which makes for a tough first half and a larkish homestretch. The final 25 km along the Victoria Trail is the most scenic part of the route and, usually, the quickest. But not this year. With a rare east wind, which kicked up dramatically in the early afternoon, the final stretch involved a special kind of suffering.

Even before we turned east into the stiff clip, my legs were weary. But as the wind intensified, it became clear that it was affecting my mind as well as my body. I began to experience that psychic (and cyclic) fragility that only wind can induce in a cyclist. Of course I can ride 20 more kilometres, no matter how hard, but . . . can I?  

The wind got stronger and stronger as my resolve weakened. By the time we hit the Northwest Mounted Police monument, it was blowing 40 kph, and the flags were stretched out straight. My speedometer ticked ever downward; clouds of dust swirled above the gravel. 

(It’s happened to me before, this kind of mind-melting wind. I think of that day in Montana in 2007, when touring with Penn and Cousin Larry. We still talk about that one. We limped off the bikes after a gruesome afternoon of grinding headwinds and just sat silently at that campground picnic table, staring off into space. Couldn’t eat, couldn’t sleep–our bodies vibrating from the exertion, our minds stunned. We could have gotten tattoos to commemorate the experience.)  

Thankfully, I wasn’t alone. Most of the riders were well ahead, but Brent was with me the whole miserable way. We worked together and tried to cheer each other up. But at a certain point, the wind sucks the conversation out of you. You don’t even have the energy to talk anymore. It’s just head down, one pedal stroke after another. Click, click, click, incremental progress. We will get there eventually. Won’t we?

I’ve never been happier to get a flat tire, just so I could have an excuse to rest. As I was putting in the new tube on the side of the road, the wind almost knocked me over. Then back in the saddle, a few clicks closer to the end, I saw this dead garter snake on the road and thought, "Poor bastard. Some have it worse.” 

At one point, about 10 km from the finish, as Brent and I were pulled over at the side of the road, a farmer stopped in his truck to ask us what was going on with all these bicycles on the road and to comment, of course, on the conditions. When I told him the name of our event he laughed out loud. “Perfect,” he said. “That’s perfect.”

Thursday, April 14, 2022

Conquering the Borderlands


Two things attracted me to this little-known self-published 2009 cycle-travel book that I first heard about on 1) the age of the author (Lorraine Veisz doesn’t say exactly how old she was when she did this trip but I’m guessing, from clues in the book, such as her mention of having done a bike trip with her husband in Maine in 1971, that she was around 60 years old) ; and 2) the fact that Veisz did the trip from San Diego to St. Augustine as part of an organized bike tour.

The age thing first: Probably because of my own age (55), I’ve become interested, of late, in cycle-travel books written by people who are around the age of retirement (though that dream is still a ways off for me). Much like the young person’s coming-of-age bike-trip book (think Josie Dew’s The Wind in My Wheels or Kate Harris’s Lands of Lost Borders), the bookend “going-of-age” cycle-touring book, by a person transitioning out of the working world, has become a popular sub-genre of its own. (See, for instance, Anne Mustoe’s A Bike Ride or David Lamb’s Over the Hills.) Veisz captures the rich possibilities and particular anxieties of this period in her description in the opening pages of this “stage in life when one begins to question if it is still prudent to pursue old dreams, when responsibilities have been largely met but physical limitations are lurking is a type of chronological borderlands.” 

Saturday, February 19, 2022

The Dusty 100 Gravel Challenge 2022


June 5, 2022

The Dusty 100 Gravel Challenge--
Alberta's bugliest gravel event.

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.

We have two route 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 routes will 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 campground. 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 some participants will ride it fast. We usually end up with some fast, medium, and slow groups. 

But know that this is NOT a no-drop ride; in fact, people will almost certainly be dropped, some might get lost, and others will get half way through, wonder why they ever agreed to try this, and seek out a short-cut back to the parking lot.  


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, if you want it, an old-school cue sheet--that's all.

There is a lovely Petro Can at Waskatenau at about the 60-km mark. It's got a surprisingly tasty selection of baked goods. That's the only supply point. Most riders stop there for a break.

Ride whatever kind of bike you like but be prepared for a range of gravel conditions, from hardpack to softloam. 


Heed the bugle!

Monday, February 14, 2022

Nice Road

“Nice road,” said Val, with approval, as we–Val, Penn, and I, the Dusty triumvirate–headed up Range Road 20, just north of Township Road 512, southwest of Edmonton. It was an unusually warm winter day, and the roads were nicely packed snow-over-ice. Perfect winter gravel-riding conditions.

I nodded. It was a nice road, at least at that particular spot, and I half-remembered picking it for a reason when I put together this route the night before on RWGPS.

A few seconds later, Val and I laughed as we both realized precisely what made this bit of road so “nice.” It wasn’t straight. That was it! A little slough on some farmer’s property encroached on the perfect grid of roads pushing out a modest bump in the route. The non-straight portion of the road couldn’t have lasted more than a few hundred metres. But that tiny variation, that ever-so-slight bulge in the roadway, qualified as an exotic topographical feature. That’s prairie gravel for you. I have lived here too long.

(I even composed an ironic breathless Alberta Gravel Cycling facebook post I would pen about my discovery: “Man, I found the most amazing gravel road! At first it feels like a regular road but then it, suddenly, like, curves to the left! But that’s not all. Then it swoops back to the right! Awesome!”)

I imagine there are cyclists somewhere–residents of the Alps, maybe?--for whom a ram-rod straight road that runs in a bead to the horizon is an exotic marvel, something to get really fired up about. 

Do Matterhornists dream of grid roads and straight shots the way that I do about switchbacks and squiggles?

Tuesday, January 25, 2022

A Vagabond's Note-Book


   “Of late years I have cycled much and read little.”--Kuklos

W. Fitzwater Wray (1869-1938), who went by the pen-name “Kuklos” (Greek for circle or wheel), was one of the most prolific and accomplished cycling journalists (and cycling personalities, if such a thing can be said to exist) in England in the first three decades of the twentieth century.  His cycling columns in periodicals such as The Daily News, where we worked for decades; his popular series of cycling annuals; and his famed travelling magic-lantern shows about his cycling trips, made him a kind of cycling celebrity in his day.

A Vagabond’s Note-Book (1908) is the first of his three cycling books (the others are the remarkable Across France in Wartime (1916) and The Kuklos Papers (1927)). Note-Book features eleven essays, all of which originally appeared in The Daily News between 1905 and 1907.