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  • Sylvan Lake Bike Tour

    Posted on July 25th, 2017 admin No comments

    My interest piqued by an overnight bike tour to a friend’s acreage with the Circuit Cycle & Sport Meetup, I recently did a 250+ km solo bike tour:  Leduc > Wizard Lake > Falun > Crestomere > Sylvan Lake > Red Deer > Lacombe > Blackfalds > Ponoka > Wetaskiwin > Home.  The idea was just to try it, to see if I could do it, to test my equipment, to learn.

    Tried it, did it, learned a lot.

    Day 1:  Leduc to Falun

    First day, 61 km to a friend's farm south of Falun.  It was a lovely day, and although it was hazy due to  smoke from BC forest fires, I had no problem.  Setting out at 08:30, I took my time, enjoyed the scenery.  Stopped for lunch at beautiful Jubilee Park on Wizard Lake south of Calmar, and rode around the campground and nature trail.  All the time I've lived in this area, and it's the first time I'd visited!

    Lunch at Jubilee Park, Wizard Lake, Alberta

    Lunch at Jubilee Park, Wizard Lake, Alberta

    Wind blew the flame from my little Trangia spirit stove around and wasted fuel; I had to move to a more sheltered spot to cook my noodles with fresh snow peas.  Learned:  I need a wind screen for the stove!

    The roar of traffic passing me was a bother, and one motorbike that ripped by actually hurt my ears.  I'm already losing hearing in my left ear.   Learned:  I stuck an earplug in that side.  It helped, and I used it on every highway after that.

    Taking a break in the atrium at Pigeon Lake Regional High, west of Falun

    Taking a break in the atrium at Pigeon Lake Regional High, west of Falun

    Rain in the forecast for late afternoon, but I made it to the farm in good time, about 16:30, long before the threatened rain.  During a wonderful evening, my hostess fed me supper and home-brewed kombucha (strange stuff, but tasty) and excellent conversation, let me play with her grandchildren and gave me a bed for the night.  Just as well, given the torrential downpour -- but I wondered how I'd have fared in the little tent.

    Day 2:  Falun to Sylvan Lake

    I was a bit excited and didn't sleep all that well.  Woke up early and since my hostess had gone to work at 5:00 and the rest of the household was still asleep, I quietly slipped out and headed off just after 07:00.  Today would be a long haul, 85 km with lots of elevation, and I was glad of the early start.

    Rather than backtrack north and east to the highway, I had decided to go 4 miles south on Rge Rd 275, then cut west to Sec Hwy 292, which I thought was paved.  It wasn't.  So I slogged through 9 km or more of freshly maintained, rain-soaked gravel.  It was tough going, mostly uphill; this stretch wore me down and slowed me down, a bad way to start the morning.  I was glad to reach pavement, to stop for a breakfast of coffee and a bagel with peanut butter.  May not seem like much, but it was delicious and filling after only an energy gel for the first leg.  Sure getting some use out of the Trangia stove.

    And what's after that hill?  Oh, goody, another hill.

    And what's after that hill? Oh, goody, another hill.

    Shortly after I reached the paved portion of the highway, around 09:00, a light rain started, driven by a northwest wind (sort of at my back).  I pulled in at Crestomere store for a break.  The rain showed no sign of stopping, so I decided to add another layer under my raincoat and press on.   I could have continued south on Hwy 292, passing east of Gull lake.  Instead, I chose to go west on Hwy 53, then south on Hwy 771/20, west of Gull lake; it seemed the more direct route.  Perhaps that was a mistake.

    The rain worsened, and the wind strengthened more from the west.  Highway 53 west was hill after hill, so I was driving into the wind, into the rain, and uphill.  A real grind.  I was so glad to turn south again to get the wind and rain at my back.

    By 13:00, I was soaked below the waist, and had started shivering.  Even cranking hard, I wasn't warm. Realizing that I might be in serious trouble soon, I pulled off at a house for sale.  Unoccupied, it had a large covered front veranda where I could get out of the rain.  Even sheltered, I shivered, so I stripped off my wet socks and shorts, unpacked my mattress and sleeping bag, and snuggled in.  I set my stove up in a corner sheltered from the wind, boiled water for freeze-dried rice and chicken, then burrowed deeper into the bag while it rehydrated.  It was only while I was eating this hot meal that I started to warm up again. Learned:  If I'm going to ride in the rain, I need rain pants!

    By 14:00, the rain had slacked off, so I put on dry socks and wet shorts, packed up, and got back on the road.   Eventually, things dried out as I rode.  I made it to my destination, another person's house in Sylvan Lake, around 18:30.  Had I waited in Crestomere for the rain to stop, I'd have been hours later.  Even so, it took me over 11 hours to travel some 85 km.

    I set up camp in the back yard, put my panniers in the tent, changed clothes, and rode on  a marvelously light bike to A&W for a delicious burger, onion rings, and two big mugs of root beer!  Let's hear it for greasy fast food!  Back to the house where I threw all my wet and muddy gear into the washer, and went to bed at 21:30.

    Day 3:  Sylvan Lake to Ponoka

    Slept until 08:30 the next morning.  Eleven hours.  Guess I was tired or something. But nothing hurt.  Moved my tent into the sun to dry (heavy dew). Threw the wet stuff into the drier.  Helped myself to cereal, washed dishes, folded clothes, packed up.  By the time the tent was dry and I was ready to go, it was 11:00.  I rode around Sylvan Lake for a while, checked out the beach, then set out east on Hwy  11A to Red Deer.

    This day was a gorgeous contrast to yesterday.  Blue sky, sunny, light wind from the northwest to speed me along.  Kind of wished I'd decided to stay on the beach!   But like the day, this leg was a wonderful contrast to yesterday.  Good road, wide shoulders, light traffic, gentle hills and mostly downhill.  Almost as if I'd planned it that way.  :)

    Almost before I knew it I was at Red Deer, where I  joined the Trans Canada Trail north.  This was a familiar route, and it was surprising how quickly I found myself in Blackfalds.  Lunch by the Abbey Centre was a little tin of ravioli and some beef jerky from a nearby convenience store.  Sure, it's junky, but it tasted good.

    Day 3 en route to Red Deer.

    Day 3 en route to Red Deer.

    Following the TCT took me through Lacombe, then on the Bluebird Trail east along Milton Road and north on gravel past the J. J. Collett Nature Centre.  I would have stopped and explored the trails, but I was unsure of the timing of this leg, and unhappy to be on gravel again, so I continued on into Morningside then north on 2A (leaving the Bluebird).

    The last stretch into Ponoka was not bad.  This northern leg was also largely downhill on a good road.  In Ponoka my plan was to stay at the Frank Mickey RV Park and Campground.  This was hard to find -- no signs that I saw -- and I had to talk to a few people (most of them had never heard of it) and wander around before I found it.  And rode up to a sign that said "NO TENTS".  The lady in the office was quite firm.  Tenters are messy, they party, they wreck stuff.  Nearest campground, she told me, was Wolf Lake, 8 km back towards Morningside.  Fooey on adding 16 km to my trip.  I rode on.

    At Range Road 440, I found a riparian conservation project bordering the Battle River, with a wonderful camping spot right by the river and although I had to travel further to camp there, I was not sorry that Frank Mickey campground had cast me out.  I set up camp around 19:30, waded in the river, and explored the road across the river.  Went to bed around 21:30, fell asleep watching the sunset through the open doors of the tent, and slept until 08:30.

    My camp by the Battle River

    My camp by the Battle River.  Off the road in case a 4 x 4 roars by in the night.

    The Battle River just meters from my camp

    The Battle River just meters from my camp

    I had covered 81.5 km from Sylvan Lake, a leg almost as long as yesterday, but far more pleasant.

    Day 4: Ponoka to Wetaskiwin

    Woke to a bright day and slugs all over the tent.  Not inside, fortunately.  Shook them all off and moved the tent to a sunny spot to dry out.   Was almost out of water so boiled some river water for coffee (hmm, what consequences to that?) .  Breakfast was pita bread and canned flakes of ham.  No matter what I eat on this trip, it tastes delicious.

    Another easy downhill to Wetaskiwin.  Stopped at McD's for coffee and to charge my phone.  Had bought a solar-powered charger but it didn't work despite all day yesterday in the sun.  A miscommunication with my wife had me thinking she'd pick me up to go berry-picking with some friends after she got out of church.  So I rode to By-the-Lake Park, another pleasant spot, to finish off the ham flakes with more pita for lunch.

    I could easily have gone the remaining 35 km to Leduc.  However, when my ride arrived, I learned that the choice had been for her to go pick berries or come pick me up.  We didn't go picking berries. Instead, we went home.  Where I had the runs.  Thank you, Battle River.  Learned:  even if you think you'll always be near a store, bring water purification tabs.

    So Was it Worth It?

    This was the question my wife asked.  The answer is an unqualified yes.  I learned a lot about touring and about myself.  Day two was tough, but I survived, and adversity gives you a measure of your strength.  After three and a half days and over 250 km, I wasn't particularly sore or stiff.

    Yes, overall, I enjoyed it.  I'll improve my equipment, and I'll be ready to go again.  And I lost three pounds.

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