Welcome to BikeBike Adventure TV! "We do these trips so you don't have to!"
Well, we tried, and failed at bikepacking the full length of Alberta's Iron Horse Trail.
We thought we did enough homework. We knew the trail was not optimized for bikes. We knew it would be slow going in spots. But we persisted with our plans.
What we didn't know it would be impassable in many places. We didn't know the trail was completely ripped up from Bonnyville to Cold Lake. Like ripped up completely by water main construction for 40+ kilometres.
Now you know.
In short, we'd recommend avoiding this trail for bikepacking.
However, the route itself is beautiful, the towns it passes through are cute, full of history - and slowly dying - and a lot of the infrastructure that is already in place is useful for touring cyclists. More on this at the end of this post.
And so it begins...
Well, that was a trip. Lots of learnings. Lots of beauty. Lots of suffering.
- Historic rail line that passes through little towns desperate to stay alive
- Beautiful scenery
- Towns spaced just far enough apart to be an adventure but not too far to make it impossible
- Lots of the infrastructure is already there in the form of maintained staging areas
While on that trip, we spoke with the owner of one of the auberge's we stayed in and learned a couple of interesting things.
- First, the trail represented 80% of the business that hotelier made every year. Touring cyclists literally keep the place alive.
- Second, and even more important, is how that came to be. The Quebec government invested to create the P'Tit Train du Nord and then implemented a local accommodation tax to recover funds from tourists that are then reinvested in the trail for maintenance and upkeep.
- This allowed businesses to be created that cater to the tourists and helped revive small towns along the route, helping their local economies survive and giving local residents another way to stay active in their communities.
- It's a self-reinforcing program that benefits locals, businesses, the towns, the counties, and creates an economy that is not reliant on non-renewable resource extraction.