Moose Mountain Gravel Grinder
Storm chasing via Saskatchewan's Moose Mountain Provincial Park fueled the desire to find a route through the park that would make for an exciting gravel ride.
While chasing tornadoes, Paul Cutting traveled down a road that was supposed to be impassable when wet. It nearly was. The road he traveled is no secret to locals in this area. It's name is Center Road. It crosses a landscape made up of rolling hills that twist and turn through mature trembling aspen trees. Winding it's way between dozens of ponds and small lakes. In some places you would swear that the road is lower than the water levels of the ponds it skirts. It may see maintenance only once per year. This is evident in the large gouges eroded into it from heavy rain. It is also scarred in places with deep ruts caused by those unlucky enough to try and drive the road when it's wet. But damn it's a fine road for gravel bikes!
In February of 2019, Paul mapped a simple gravel route through Moose Mountain Provincial Park using previous experience and satellite images in Google Earth. The 80km route used a combination of dirt roads, gravel roads, as well as oil well lease roads.
The trouble with this route is that two thirds of it is on dirt roads. If it has recently rained the roads are impassable. Just take a look at the image above!
With the help of locals and Saskatchewan Parks, it was determined that the roads were passable so we packed up our gear, hooked up the camper, and hit the road. Time for another adventure of Terry, Jeff and Paul. We setup camp at the provincial park in a beautiful site that backed Little Kenosee Lake. Jeff chopped a mountain of firewood and we prepared for the big ride.
We started the ride early the next day and the roads did not disappoint. The road surface of Center Road was fast! Hard packed but commanded your complete concentration. It wasn't uncommon to encounter gouges in the road surface from erosion or rocky surfaces at times.
The first 25km of the ride on Center Road which was a blast! The riding was such a contrast to the gravel around our home in that there was rarely a straight or flat section. The scenery was wonderful and the twisting roads had repeated short punchy hills. Making for an exhilarating ride. Moose Mountain Provincial Park is predominantly forested with trembling aspen. When we spotted a grove of pine trees we knew something was in the bush as these trees are not native to the area. The decision was made to check out what could be in the bush. We expected to find old building but none were found. Instead there was a fire pit and two lawn chairs. It turns out this is an old prison camp! Photo op!
Then came the wrong turn. We had to cross a barbed wire fence and gate which led to a heavily overgrown unused road. Google Maps said this was the way, so we trusted in the satellite images and went for it. Until we ran out of road, sort of.
Approaching this stretch of sunken road had only one solution. Send Jeff first! Rookie!
We watched as he made it across without any issue so we followed his lead. This wrong turn became the most memorable part of the ride.
Once crossing the pseudo isthmus we were introduced to the wonderful world of oil well lease roads. They were perfect. Still twisting and rolling through the landscape. Very much like the gravel we have experienced in North/South Dakota and Wyoming. These were happy kilometers.
Then we arrived at true Saskatchewan gravel roads. Deep, loose, cursed gravel. Seven kilometers of this was more than enough. Lets not dwell on that hell.
Soon we headed east and the road became better, but still loose freshly grated roads. Thirteen more kilometers before relief was had when we headed south down another beauty road into Moose Mountain Provincial Park.
Enter Gillis Lake Road. Another shining star of this route. Much the same as Center Road, a dirt road that is impassable when wet. More of the same glorious landscape and rolling, twisting roads lasting another 15 kilometers. Of note, while riding near Gillis Lake we spotted a mule deer. That may not sound significant but locals say that mule deer in the boundaries of the Provincial Park are a rare sighting. So this was encouraging news for parks team to learn.
This ride was a milestone for Jeff Cutting as it marked his longest gravel ride to date. 80km with 745 meters (2,444 feet) of climbing. Longer than both of the gravel races he competed in down in the USA. It was also his third longest ride of his cycling career. This is another example of HPL masters development at it's finest.
The ride finished up back at our campsite. We toasted a superb route, despite some horrific gravel in places. A true sense of accomplishment and a yearning to do it all again. We finished the day off with a giant steak supper and a wonderful sour beer from Alberta.
Here is a video of about half of the route. Hope you enjoy.