the Coal Loop Day 3 - Sprint to Hinton

The Wild Horse campsite, south of Cadomin, was a lovely place until big coal came in and reimagined the valley.  The campsite is a nice place if you face west towards Jasper.  Performing the sun salutation is still possible while gazing at piles of displaced rock and reworked landscape. 

The morning's temp was a brisk -3C
So yeah.  It was cold

My decision to drive the Gary wagon back to Hinton allowed Gary to rip up the road. Both Mark and Gary were unencumbered by camping loads making their bikes delightfully light. The last leg to Hinton from Cadomin is 60 kms with about 47 on pavement.  I had lots of time to document the area. Unfortunately, the 35mm film I brought split in the cold while loading and I was left with ifone photography. 

Parallel roads for heavy truck transport (left) and recreation (right)

looking south from the edge of Cadomin hamlet 

Mark and Gary hit the gas on the exit from Cadomin. The Sunday traffic was minimal as churchgoers must have taken a different route to worship.  We passed Luscar, a mine celebrating its 100th birthday.  

Luscar, AB in all its industrial splendour
the sky was angry that day but did not open 

One positive of the tremendous landscaping efforts after coal extraction is that many ungulates find grass to eat on the lovely new hills and in the delicate dales. There was little time for sight seeing however.  The cyclists were highly motivated by the cold temperature and smooth roads. 


And so ended the excursion around the Coal Loop.  An epic pedal failure was salvaged by adopting a Drive & Bike-a-bit regimen.  Gary got some riding between driving to campsites.  I got to rest on day 3 and Mark got most of the pedalling he needed to maintain his training program.  Important lessons were learned and noted:
  1. Marshmallows are always popular with the kids but bring more than 4
  2. Higher elevation snow conditions are variable at the end of May 
  3. Wild horses shit on communal piles
  4. Kinder Kopjes are exhausting after 5 hours
  5. Bring a warmer coat
  6. GF coconut cookies are great travellers
a tempting road not taken


The Coal Loop Day 2 - the Cardinal divide.

With the previous evening's marshmallow festivities a distant memory, we started the day in sunshine and lollipops.  Rolling out about 1030 hrs, we prepared ourselves for an 80 kms day over the Cardinal Divide.

Mark and Gary at the start of the road to Smallboy Camp, an Alexis First Nation community who claim the Cardinal River valley as a natural area

Kinder kopjes (Dutch for baby head referring to the rock distribution)

Gary turned around after 25 kms to head back to his vehicle for the drive to the next campsite. He would eventually ride to from there to head us off at the pass.  Mark and I continued over rolling foothills with the snow pack on the distant mountains always ahead of us.  

Accident scene reenactment / post lunch nap time on a pleasant grassy area.

We picked our way along the ever deteriorating road headed NW, as it slowly becoming a horse and ATV trail.  It was hard work.  The surface was made up of rocks of various sizes that proved to be quite jarring to the hands and shoulders.  We started to see hoof marks along the edges of the road; the first indications of the wild horse population we had heard of.  The ride was smoother when following the horses' route. Of course they are smarter than us and would find the easiest way to travel. 
Mustang with his family unit

Mark and I were in awe of the many large piles of horse shit on the road.  We could not make sense of their size.  The largest was 3 feet in diameter and 1.5 feet high.  Much heated discussion resulted in a couple of theories.  These feral horses could be eating an incredibly effective laxative OR they are 3 to 4 times larger than a normal horse. Initial contact with the family unit provoked the mustang to muster a short charge towards us.  I stopped to allow the horses to clear the road. Before he moved off the mustang voided himself on an existing pile.  Suddenly the pile size conundrum was resolved.  The horses mark their territory by crapping on any handy pile of shit.  This fact has been confirmed by Jeremy, Cosmonaut at the Forest Heights Cosmodrome whose experience with horses, both wild and tame, is legendary.  

The slow and steady climb to the pass over Cardinal Divide ended when we met snow and the 3 km 12% incline.  
We were lucky to follow an ATV track which had broken the trail before us

The snow became deeper as we neared the top. I expected some snow but not the waist deep drifts we encountered. The view at the top was glorious.  
plenty of snow at higher elevations

Bob breaks trail

front range with dramatical sky

Mark picks his way across the top of the pass

Snow continued to obstruct the road heading down from the pass and we continued to hike-a-bike for 0.5 kms. We met Gary as he climbed up to meet us. He had ridden 14 kms from our camp at Wildhorse Creek.  The industrialization of the Cadomin valley was evident almost immediately after crossing the divide.  Coal mining had completely changed the once treed valley.  Large sweeping smooth hills of displaced rock lined both sides of the road.  
tunnel under the mining activity

close to camp with wet feet and the warmth of success

fireside Mark

With an arduous day 2 behind us, I made the decision to drive the vehicle back to Hinton. Gary and Mark would ride the last 60 kms mostly paved section sans baggage. 



The Coal Loop Day 1 - the Great Trunk Road

At the end of May 2022, one very fit man, one fit pensioner and one semi-fit pensioner set off to ride the Coal Loop from Hinton to Hinton via the Cardinal Divide, a total of 248 kms over 3 days.

the road to Smallboy Camp

The load out for Hinton was bathed in Edmonton sunlight. The unload in Hinton was a dismal affair but the sun broke through on rollout.  

load out

rain soaked bike prep in Hinton

the only bear I saw was a big one

Departing Hinton at noon in broken sunshine, we quickly climbed out of town on Township Road 505A. Riding on a packed OTSO was a new experience.  Handling was noticeably slower but beginning a descent allows gravity to bring joy.  Uphill of course is a tedious endeavour.  The early rolling gravel was a good warmup for the scheduled 100 km day.  Unfortunately, Gary suffered a day ending calamity after a complete pedal fail at 25 kms.  He got a ride back to Hinton with a backhoe operator to buy new pedals. Mark and I continued, knowing that Gary would drive his vehicle to the campsite and ride back up the route to meet us. 
all vehicles displayed excellent road etiquette

Gary loads his bike bound for Hinton

Mark and I made our way further into logging country along some up and down roads.  All vehicles we met slowed down for us to reduce their dust trails, something I did not expect in rural Alberta. We crossed the Macleod River which flows into the Athabasca River at Whitecourt.  It was evident that the snow had not begun to melt; the rivers and creeks were very low.  
optimistic signage like this was ubiquitous en route

Mcleod River

Gary met us about 8 kms from the Pembina Flats campsite and rode with us on new flat pedals.  It was good to get off the bike and eat hearty freeze dried bag food.  I broke out 4 marshmallows for dessert which made a fine end to the day.  Gary shared some firewater -- cinnamon flavoured whisky that was surprisingly tasty. 
Mark wished for more marshmallows.  4 was all I could safely transport without creating MASHmallows.

We slept well and prepared ourselves for Day 2 - the assault on the Cardinal Divide.