Kathy, Christine, Peter, Michele and Raja
They brought us supper all the way to Lundbreck Falls
Highway #3 curls around Crowsnest Ridge and descends into a valley of lakes. The valley thus suddenly revealed, the elevation and the way it opens out before the observer, makes for a fittingly dramatic entrance to Alberta.
I pedalled down through the series of little towns that together make up the municipality of Crowsnest pass: Coleman, Blairmore, Frank and Bellevue. The Frank slide is the matching bookend to the Hope slide on the Crowsnest route through the Rockies. I looked out on that somber place, boulders the size of houses piled up in a huge area, a graveyard now because most of the bodies of those killed there were never recovered. In the early morning of April 29, 1903, half of Turtle mountain fell away, buring the eastern part of Frank and killing as many as 90 of its population. While reading the plaque, I heard the sound of a bicycle behind me on the highway. A boy of about 10 years of age was riding down the shoulder with great gusto: legs akimbo, pants flapping in the breeze, bike bobbing to and fro - he was pedalling to beat the band. He looked over and gave my bike a once
over and then our eyes met; I waved and he nodded back - two brothers of the road acknowledging our fraternity. I came upon him again a little distance down the highway. He was waiting off to the side, one leg draped casually over his top bar as he looked back towards me. "Nice day for a bike ride," I said as I rolled slowly by. "Yep," he replied with a toothy grin. Perhaps he felt as I did at his age: my bike could take me to wherever I could imagine - all I had to do was pedal.
I had assured everyone that we would have the wind at our backs on our way down into Alberta. Famous last words. As I made my way out of the mountains and into the foothills, the headwind steadily increased to the point where I was having to downshift even going downhill. How depressing. My brother Peter, sister-in-law Christine and neice Kathy planned to meet us for supper at our campsite at Lundbreck Falls that night. About 25 km from the falls I found them waiting for me on the shoulder. They had been at the Alberta visitor centre and
saw me go by so they caught up and passed me. It was very good to see them - after hugs all around, they left me again to go to the campsite where Michele was setting up. Before going, Peter told me to turn at the windmill, which we could already see from where we had stopped. He said he had never before seen that windmill face towards the east. So I struggled against the head wind that shouldn't have been there for another hour and a bit. It took me forever to reach the windmill and all the while I could gauge the strength of the wind not only from the pain in my legs but from the speed of the merrily turning blades. I did not curse the wind - that would tempt disaster. I whispered incantations to it, I flattered it, I even pleaded with it, but I did not curse it. I did not even say it was unkind. I could only say it was not an ill wind since it was a boon for westbound cyclists. In the end the wind blows where it will and if you want to ride into it, that is
your fault. Christine brought us a delicious supper of ham, chicken, salad, rolls and 3 kinds of dessert. I am so fortunate to have a family who will drive all that way just to see us and bring us our supper to boot. Raja made it to camp just before they had to leave - he having experienced the same problem I had - but he did meet them and was the recipient of several of Christine's famous hugs. That evening we watched an Osprey patrolling up and down the creek. It disappeared behind the trees and the next time we saw it a snake was dangling from it's talons.
The wind was blowing in the right direction the next morning. The many windmills that adorn the foothills around Cowley and Pincher Creek were pointed toward the mountains. I bowled along through the steadily diminishing foothills and out on to the plains. The day heated up seemingly in direct proportion to the flattening of the land. The Rockies turned into a blue jaggedness in my rear view mirror. The day got hotter and hotter, the prairie flatter and flatter and the mountains looked like cloudbanks on the
horizon. All the work it took to cross them and then at some point on that day they were just... gone and I was surrounded by the endless baking prairie. Michele found us a campsite in Coalhurst, a small town which is close enough to Lethbridge to be a suburb. A group of Hutterite or Mennonite men, women and children all dressed in their good clothes of somber grays, blacks and whites, were having a community picnic.
We had heard nothing from Ingrid. The time had come to divest ourselves of her property as there was no longer a reasonable expectation we might be near each other in our travels. Michele wrote her a letter of explanation and sent everything off to Homer, Alaska. If we hear from her, I will include it in another post. I am sorry there isn't a better ending for this part of the story - sometimes life is like that. Or perhaps there is a better ending and I just don't know it yet.
I pedalled to Lethbridge in the morning and immediately got in a jam when I descended the long hill into the coulee. At the bottom there was an off ramp
with a bike sign on it and a no bike sign on the highway itself. I asked directions of a lady out for her morning walk. She showed me how to get onto a bike path and then what streets to take to get through Lethbridge. I texted my cycling pals and advised them to find a different way. Then I had to grind my way up the coulee on the other side. I eventually got through, but it would have been nice to know that bikes are not allowed on that section of highway before going to the bottom of the coulee. Highway 3 after Lethbridge goes through farmland that depends on irrigation. The fields are watered with giant pipes on wheels that slowly roll around a central pivot. From the air, the fields thus irrigated look like circles of colour inside a frame of roads. Flax and canola and hay were some of the crops I saw growing on the irrigated fields. The hay looked good enough to eat - dried to a pefect light green, it is collected and bound into giant square bales that are loaded on transports by forktruck. The place names of towns on
or accessed from highway #3 in this area are notable for their whimsical weirdness: Chin, Readymade, Manyberries and Seven Persons are a few that tickled my fancy. Michele set up in a community campground in Grassy Lake, which was nice except they lock the main washroom at night, leaving us the use of only the pit privies which were all out of TP.
The ride to Medicine Hat was only 85 km, but there was no other alternative within a reasonable distance. Gas City Campground, a campground owned and operated by the City of Medicine Hat, was one of the nicest places we had yet stayed. It was well treed, with nice views of Medicine Hat and had excellent facilities that were clean and in good repair. We went for a drive after supper and visited the world's largest Tipi, a structure that honours the First Nations heritage of the area.
The next day would also be a short day as once again there was only one campground within our reach - Eagle Valley near Maple Creek SK, a distance of about 90 km. Alberta saw us out with another headwind, but just until Walsh where it
became more benign. I pedalled up into the voluptuous hills of western Saskatchewan, their gentle curves and folds clad like velvet with the natural grass known as "Prairie Wool". I saw a lone bison running up a hill but saw no antelope this time through. Michele had our home on the range all set when I arrived later that day.
Next time: a reunion, a loss, tailwinds, headwinds, another loss.
Tot: 2.926s; Tpl: 0.053s; cc: 13; qc: 54; dbt: 0.0394s; 2; m:saturn w:www (126.96.36.199); sld: 2;
; mem: 1.4mb