Iron Horse Trail is a sideways “Y” section of the greater Trans Canada Trail,
linking ten municipalities as far East as Cold lake, and as close to Edmonton
as Waskatenau. It’s comprised from
257km of the old Boniville-Coronado rail line, which makes it a low difficulty,
high quality, multipurpose trail, perfect for a quick recreational getaway from
the city. Today, the stewards of
the trail, the Riverland Recreational Trail Society, have organized an 87 km
run from Heinsburg – the southeastern most point – to St. Paul. Me and eighteen others will enjoy the
open trail, the history, and the dust of yet another hidden gem in Eastern
morning begins how so many mornings used to begin growing up: with a ride on an
old yellow school bus. Leaving the
staging area at St. Paul, I can’t help but feel like a big kid about to spend
the day playing with a big kid toy.
A 550 cc big red Yamaha ATV.
Big Red is an automatic which means the only thing I need to worry about
is how far to burry my thumb nail into the accelerator pad. Seeing Big Red reminded me of quading
as a child, something I always loved doing; however, after a series of
unfortunate accidents, usually involving some form of fencing – wooden, picket,
barbed wire – I stopped quading and became somewhat terrified every time
machines were around. That fear
would not do today. Today I would
setting out from Heinsburg, I’m immediately reminded of the two things that
make Alberta great: the people and the places. A local journalist from Smokey Lake named Nathan, offers to
show me the ropes and be my personal trail guide.
get going before everyone gets in front of us.” He beams. Excited, I hunker down, turn the key
and press go, but nothing happens.
Nathan shows me how to put it in gear, and then we’re off. We begin taking it slow, and that’s
fine by me as there’s lots to see and enjoy. The North Saskatchewan meanders
through a sea of prairie and lazy ocean of rolling hills. Late morning light turns the freshly
budding landscape into a radiant green; clouds pass through the old blue sky
like grazing bison; humming crickets provide melody for the birds to sing lead
vocals. It’s the Alberta you
always see on brochure, but never seem to find on the QE II or Yellow
a bit further down, the pack begins to thin, and Nathan and I are given a bit
more room to play. As boys do, we
begin to jostle just a tiny bit.
Slowly, my odometer begins to creep up along with my sense of friendly
competition. Moreover, I fully
realize where the expression “eat my dust” comes from. A thick film begins to cloud my
sunglasses. My teeth cake with
grit. I wear more trail than I
ride. And through it all, my grin
grows more Cheshire and maniacal.
being an old section of rail line, there is a converted picnicking and camping
spot every seven miles. These
little havens used to be water-refilling stations for the steam engines hauling
materials into Edmonton. I can’t
imagine having to stop every seven miles, especially while riding something as
freeing as Big Red. It makes me
truly appreciate the transportation conveniences we have today, and it also
makes me feel slightly wasteful.
Like when I take my car across the high level to work so I can leave ten
minutes later. Quading along the
old rail line for recreational purposes, however, instills a sense of thrill,
as though I’m lucky to be alive and be living in an age where I can enjoy that
life to the fullest. It’s a way of
saying I’m glad I didn’t have to pioneer the west; but since I didn’t I might
as well enjoy the hell out of the work our forefathers put in.
that in mind I decide it’s time to see what Big Red is capable of. Purposefully, I begin to slow up and
open a wide gap between myself and anyone in front. The section I’ve picked is straight and flat so nothing
should go too wrong. Finally I get
anxious and annoyed with waiting.
I don’t start slow. My
thumb jams into the accelerator as my exhaust spits like a machine gun. Rocks spray from my tires and I’m
off. Third gear comes quick and
the flora lining the trail begins to blur. As I hit sixty Big Red starts to handle like a stick of
butter on the hard gravel surface.
Seventy ticks over as I get to fifth gear. An insect that didn’t see me coming meets its end as it
meets my face. I reel a little bit
at the impact but keep pushing with new determination. Seventy-nine and feeling fine, but I’m
running out of trail, just as I’ve run out of gears.
hope this thing has good breaks.” I say to the passing wind. Like a dam that finally bursts under
the pressure, I hit eighty and scream with mixed delight and terror. I can see Nathan in front of me, so I
release the accelerator and begin to slow my pace.
As I get older it gets rarer to
discover a new feeling and sensation.
Forty kilometers east of Edmonton, however, lies the Iron Horse Trail, a
gateway to incredible beauty and tremendous fun. See you on the trail, just look for a guy soaked with dust,
riding Big Red, grinning like someone who doesn’t know people are starting to
For more information on the
multitude of recreational opportunities East of Edmonton, check out http://www.ironhorsetrail.ca/index.html