Short stint on Iron Horse Trail: Vilna, Garner Lake PP

Vilna is home to the "World's Largest Mushroom"!

This year (2016) isn’t looking like a very good year for me to add a lot of kilometres to my goal of hiking all of Alberta’s Iron Horse Trail.  My hiking friend and I just don’t have the same weekends available as each other for most of the summer.  For some reason, hiking 300 kilometres on a flat, gravel ATV trail doesn’t seem to appeal to most people!  No matter, we’re working on continuing our trek.

Canada Day (July 1) is a holiday for Canadians, and a long weekend this year, since the day falls on a Friday.  My friend did the Canada Day Road Race, so she wasn’t able to join me at the campground (Garner Lake) until late afternoon on Friday.  The weather for the whole weekend alternated between glorious sunlight, dark clouds, electrical storms, and torrential downpours.  Luckily, the beautiful, small campground contains at least 2 cook shelters, one with power.  Rather than dodging raindrops while we cooked, we prepared about half of our meals in the shelter.  I spent most of Friday morning there, doing my usual online surfing, while the rain poured down.  This campground is the nicest one I’ve visited for families with young children.  The playground is amazing, located right beside the 24-hour bathroom/shower house.  At one point, there were over 20 children in the campground, which has only 60 sites!  The park ranger was visible every 30 minutes or so, roaming the park by truck, on a bicycle, on foot, and hanging out at the playground. Facilities were clean and well-maintained.  My favourite feature is a large, clean beach, with water that was quite suitable for swimming.  There is a boat launch, and the motor boats get noisy at times.  However, nobody used a generator within earshot, and there were no noisy parties.  There were fireworks on the lake every night, and a group of people sang “Oh Canada”, roaming around the campground in the evening, and at the end of the fireworks.

Saturday, we gassed up and drove to Vilna to leave a car.  On arrival, I promptly ran over a piece of metal and completely flattened my tire.  After a call to AMA, a local fellow showed up to remove my flat, and install my temporary tire.  While he was doing that, I searched online for the nearest tire shop that was open on a Saturday: St. Paul, 60 kilometres away!  Luckily, my friend visited the local gift shop where she learned that there was a tire shop right there in Vilna!  The proprietor was already busy with another tire repair when I arrived, but he said he could have mine ready later in the afternoon.  Since we had a few hours to kill, we decided to go ahead and hike, but less mileage than planned.  We drove about 8 kilometres down the highway, and hiked back towards Vilna.  The weather turned out to be perfect for our hike, cool and cloudy.

This stretch of the trail is within view of highway 28, and it’s very flat and straight.  Thanks to the recent rains, the gravel was well-packed, and comfortable for hiking.  Several ATVs passed us along the way.  There were plenty of wildflowers and butterflies to enjoy.  When we got back to Vilna, my tire was ready to be reinstalled on my car.  $30, cash only.

We really admired Vilna and their efforts at preserving a town with dwindling population.  Most of the Main Street businesses have been painted and beautified. We saw many groups of residents out walking together and socializing. Many houses were well-maintained, and the gardens looked glorious!

The weather was suitable for the beach after we returned to the campground, and we had lovely campfires and great meals for our stay. Unfortunately, my friend aggravated her sciatic nerve at some point in the weekend, and she was in no shape to go walking again on Sunday. We took our time packing up and I got another swim before getting on the road.  There was lovely, fresh produce available at Linda’s Market Garden in Smoky Lake, and I aimed for the Iron Horse Restaurant in Wasketenau for lunch.  I arrived there just as the lightning blazed and the rain dumped everywhere. As soon as I got into the restaurant, I could hear the crash of a transformer blowing, and the power went out in the restaurant.  Luckily, they had a breakfast buffet already prepared.  One more stop, at Two Sergeants Brewery in Fort Saskatchewan, and the weekend was at an end.

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