It’s little more than a half hour drive from Edmonton to the Waskahegan staging area of Cooking Lake-Blackfoot Provincial Recreation Area in central Alberta. Our friends Ashley and David cycle with us most weekends in the summer and fall. We’ve even taken a couple of mountain biking holidays together. Since David is determined to enter the annual Kettle Cross race in September, we’ve decided to check out part of the route with him today.
We unload our bikes and David’s cool, new cyclo-cross bike – a cross between a skinny tire road racer and a fat tire mountain bike – and set off along a gentle track running along the marshlands and shore of picturesque Neon Lake. Trails here are lovely and wide to accommodate track-setting equipment for cross-country skiers.
A Sunday Natural
What could be better than riding with friends on a sunny Sunday morning? We ride as a group, watch for waterfowl and chat about life. Then it’s time to get serious. David and Michael pick up the pace. There are no major climbs but the undulating knob and kettle terrain gives our legs a workout. In some places, we have to get off our bikes and portage them over trees the beavers have knocked down. David tells us portaging like this is standard procedure in cyclo-cross racing.
We spot a moose with velvet antlers standing knee-deep in a marsh along the Siksika Trail and stop pedaling. He stares at us for a second then resumes feeding. A loon flies overhead, calling mournfully. We soak up the solitude of this quiet place for a long moment before riding off toward the next hill.
Tea Cups and Kettles
David refers often to the race map, pointing out the turnaround spots, marshal areas and aid stations. I can tell he’s impressed with the route. We have lunch at a picnic shelter at the Islet Lake staging area and go over the Kettle Cross booklet with him. There are three races to choose from. Personally, I’d do the Tea Cup – not because it’s the shortest at 15 km (9.3 mi) but because it has such a cute name. There’s also the Half Kettle at 37 km (23 km) and the Full Kettle at a skill testing 74 km (46 mi).
“Who’s going to enter the Full Kettle with me?” asks David. “Dodging beavers and railing into corners at high speed, as the race’s organizers put it, sounds like fun!” He’s got no takers here. But we’ll be rooting for him on the sidelines. After all, what are friends for?