Checking the ditches travel blog

heading west to the hills

along the Cowboy Trail

what goes up must come down

and the flat lands are out there


The Nanton Loop

Some days you get to pick the weather, some days the weather picks you.

I had been planning a road trip south of Calgary. The forecast changed daily as is normal. Finally I had to pin the tail and picked Thursday, May 31 for the ride. I would pack the bicycle into the back of my truck. Get up early in the morning and drive south to Nanton. I would then cycle a loop which would go north to Highway 540, west to Highway 22 (the Cowboy Trail), then south to Chain Lakes before turning east and riding back into Nanton. A nice highway ride.

The morning turned out to be cool and cloudy. When I got to Nanton it was breezy. The weather forcast had stated there would be a west wind of 10 kph. That must have meant a minimum.

I got myself a second breakfast at a local restaurant. At the tourist information stop, I unloaded my bicycle, loaded up myself with warm clothes, made sure I had water and snacks, then cycled north. I seemed to be pushing headwind. And I was buffeted by the semis passing me and the big pickup trucks that the local ranchers need to get their supplies and groceries. There was some sprinkling of rain drops to add to the milieu. After an hour of riding I got to secondary Highway 540 and got to turn west. Into a wind.

I tabulate the wind on a basis of four. Four being that you might make better head way if you pushed the bike into the wind. What I was facing was a category three. Any flags still hanging are perpendicular to the pole. I had 34 km to go before I could turn to the south. Start peddling, start chewing the miles up.

I had to drop down two or three gears to be able to use the same energy output. I decided to ride for about 5 km and then take a break. And I decided to pretend that this wasn’t a wind but an uphill climb. I have climbed passes in B.C. where the length of travel from the bottom of the pass to the top is 40 km. Think of the passes around Creston. I was able to do those passes by gearing down. A little bit at a time.

Nice thought but it has some BSE holes in it. The wind lashes you, screams in your ear, and takes your warmth away. It tires you out. There is no undulation of the terrain so that you get a respite from the struggle. My average speed dropped to 12 kph as I travelled west. Going north it had been 21 kph. Nothing to do but keep going and watch the computer register another tenth of a kilometer from the last time you looked at it. In the end the tenths added up. I made it to Highway 22. The wind was abating and the clouds were drifting apart. The rest will be easy.

Then I noticed the continuous rumble strips along the shoulder. How could I forget them. At least I wasn’t pulling a trailer this time. The continuous rumble strip is a series of divots carved out of the asphalt. If a sleepy driver lets her car roll over the divots it creates a noise and vibration in the car. She gets to wake up and see the ditch she is heading into. A public service for the wayward public.

But they are dynamite to hit with a bicycle. Think electric shock therapy. From the edge of the divot to the edge of the asphalt I had about twelve inches of pathway. I’m not looking at the horizon to the side. Focus ahead and keep a straight line. Even with that focus I managed to touch the current a couple of times. Shit. And once my front wheel went off the edge of the pavement. Lessons learnt. Single track riding on a highway. Good thing I had my off road bike with me.

There’s not much scenery to report on this section. I can tell you lots about asphalt and the edges of roads. My average speed along this part of my route was just above 18 kph. Oh well, it too went away in tenths. An hour after starting south I got to Chain Lakes. Going east was going to be a blast.

I pulled into the campsite at Chain Lakes. Replenished my water bottles and got out my trail mix. No gophers came running for me. I sat on top of a picnic table to eat my mix just in case the gophers came around. About fifteen minutes later I climbed back onto the bike and cycled the last forty kilometers to Nanton.

This last segment was what open road riding is all about. The sun was out, the wind was at my back, there was a good highway below me, good scenery around me, and not much traffic. The road begins an uphill trend almost immediately but with the wind at my back it was almost easy going. On the downhill side I clocked out at just over 63 kph. Wahooo.

The highway undulated for the next twenty kilometers. It’s always a bugger to give up altitude knowing that there’s another hill in front of you. The only saving grace is knowing that there might be a nice downhill run involved. As long as there isn’t traffic trying to overtake you as you fold yourself down on the bike and only your butt is showing to those coming up behind you.

I got another good run coming down to the stretch of road that had the magnetic rock attraction. Maybe the rock was pulling me also because I topped out at just over 64 kph. And that seemed to be the maximum that I was going to do. The hills ran out and there was only prairie in front of me. The final descent to prairie level had a cross wind which was slowing me down. I got to the low sixties but couldn’t push it any higher. It was nice doing that speed as one negotiated the S turns. This must be what skiing is like except for the cold.

The drop down to the prairies went on for quite a few kilometers. Toward the bottom the road turned away from the side breeze. This might be my chance. No traffic behind. I let it go. I maxed out at 66.41 km per hour. Not bad. Not my best. It certainly got me back to Nanton in a hurry.

On the final straight away to Nanton, a stretch of highway that runs for ten kilometers I got to practise my single track riding. Something inexplicable happened because the highway got very busy on that last ten k of road. And there was hardly any shoulder at all. So no more gazing around, I had to focus on the edge of the road. Semis, trucks pulling campers, monster pickup trucks coming to town for more groceries, and me, were on that road. Briefly.

My mileage for the day was 116 kilometers. It was a good training ride. Things might be a tad worse at times on this upcoming ride across Canada. It won’t be much worse. And there will be days like the section of road coming in from Chain Lakes. Wahoooo.



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