A Canadian Affair British Columbia and Alberta Mountains (draft)

It wasn’t long before we both were wondering at how quiet it seemed without Steve to talk with. For a little while, we felt a little lonely even. Steve’s been a good touring partner, and that’s saying something since the Zippy Team has been able to do things our own way for something like 16,000 miles. We enjoyed his company and his back-road diversion ideas.

At Salmo we had a huge bowl of porridge (real oatmeal) at the Coyote Cafe and turned west, homeward. A couple of hours later we were in Trail, contemplating the hill up to Rossland where we hoped to spend the night. On the way down, barely 24 hours before, we had seen that it was a very bad hill; a 10% grade for six kilometers, and it was 30C in the afternoon heat. Half way up the hill, a man stopped to offer us a ride; he didn’t understand when we refused. We always ride our hills. It did take about four stops to allow our heart rates to drop, and the sweat to dry, but we made it; we had earned the liter of mint-chocolate-chip ice cream we inhaled at the top.

The next day on our way up to Nancy Green Pass, a raven on a tall cedar snag made sounds like a droplet of water kerplunking into a deep stone well.

West of Christina Lake (still on B.C. 3, the Crowsnest Highway) the country opens up and the grasses become beige and dry, ponderosa pines are sprinkled across the grasses between rocks, crickets sing from the grass and grasshoppers fly up in front of Zippy.

Sunday August 24, Grand Forks, B.C., we awoke at 5:30 am to a rain shower, went back to sleep, expecting it to pass on. At 8 am we awoke to a soft steady pattering on the tent fly, not a shower, but a steady rain. Tent-door view confirmed the diagnosis: low light gray clouds with that rounded puffy all-day-rain look. We stayed in the tent until 1 pm and then walked the town in the rain.

The Omega II restaurant offered Russian borsht and cabbage rolls, shelter and people watching. Our middle-aged waitress was new and flustered with a sweet face; the heavy-set owner-woman tormented her for her difficulties: “While you were standing around doing nothing you could have been putting away these glasses!” “I told you in the interview that this was a high traffic restaurant!” The cabbage rolls were bland and the borsht too-rich with butter and cream, and bland. The coffee, thankfully, was high-octane and we buzzed off in the rain, looking for more shelter.

The Overwaitea food store occupied a couple of hours, shopping and reading their magazines. I frequently checked the parking lot puddles, always to see black rain-rings. I remembered that raven; perhaps he was warning us.

At the Chamber of Commerce Visitors Center, still seeking shelter, the lovely young woman who had helped us the day before apologized for not having sunshine for us. Her smile was sunny.

Outside, I  stood in the rain, and remembered to be thankful for good health, love, and the freedom to travel so as to get into rainy day fixes like this.

Back at the tent, all was dry and we planned our evening: Read tourist brochures. Snuggle and nap. Go pee. Snuggle and nap. Have dinner of cantaloupe and cottage cheese standing in the rain. Have desert of candy in tent. Read. Shower. Read. Sleep until morning and see if it is raining still. Either way, ride, ride, ride; we’ve had all the inactivity we can stand.


We met Ken in the Grand Forks municipal campground. He’d been there three days, waiting. He said he was cycling to Ottawa (the Canadian capitol) to get attention for a failing workman’s compensation system. I’m not too sure he knew exactly what he was doing, but his heart seemed to be in the right place.

“Got it all right here eh? All the letters and stuff, with names and signatures and stuff. That’s my book eh? It’s been 20 years of it. Fightin’ them bureaucrats in Ottawa. It’s all in there.”

He points to his tent. “Its the next best thing to the Good Book eh. I mean for some that hasn’t accepted Jesus into their lives, they can find the help they need to fight the buggers and maybe get some peace.”

He nods and sips and drags again, smoke wafting through his long curls. “Everthin’ they need. ‘Course Jesus is better, that’s what I found out three years ago, but them that don’t know Him, well that’s why I wrote the book. Anyway, it ain’t a book yet, see. But there’s some people down in Ottawa at the Colliers publishing place that is just waitin’ to see this, ‘cause I got the goods on them people at the workers compensation.”

He nods emphatically, and then flicks his cigarette ash, thinking. “See, I’m really doin’ this book for the little kids what’s got parents that’s not gettin’ what is comin’ to ‘em, and the kids is livin’ in poverty and that. And there’s lots of alcoholism and drug abuse and stuff that don’t need to be except for the bureaucrats keepin’ the money that’s due us.”

“I lost the eye eh.” He points to his right eye.  “It’s been 20 years ago up in Kittimat, workin’ in the mill up there.” He pointed to his eye again. “If

I’d a got the right treatment I wouldn’t a lost it eh? They should a took care of it eh? So now I been fightin’ them all this time.”

He shook his head, took a drag on his cigarette and sip of coffee. “They done everthin’ they could to beat me down, but I just don’t quit. Not me. I’m waitin’ for a bus ticket to Vancouver now. They’re going to send me a ticket so I can get with em down there and get em with me see. Some church people is going to help me. Then I’ll take a bus to Calgary, cause I done biked all this down here, then I’ll boogie across the prairies over there to Ottawa and expose all this stuff.

“These church people, I’m goin’ let them help me fix my book up all nice, an then I’m goin’ a show it to them publishers in Ottawa.” He shook the rain off his tarp and drug on his cigarette again.

“And when I’m down there, I’m going to get back my horses and my house and all the stuff they took from me because of medical bills they wouldn’t pay and stuff. They don’t want that. Don’t want me to get anything. They done everything to keep me down. They done the character assassination and all that stuff, they put all that stuff in these papers I got, stuff that’s got nothing to do with my disability, they try to use it against me, and I got it all on paper, signatures and all eh?” He looked off into the steady rain and was quiet. I gave him a loonie ($1 Canadian) for another coffee.

The next morning the sun could be seen through breaking clouds. Ken was still sleeping in his wet tent and sagging tarp.

Signs of Autumn: Smoke coming from chimneys; rosehips bright orange; long yellow grasses heavy with seed; high mares-tails two days before a day long rain; a weakening sun; early sunsets; sumac and poison ivy turning red; brown velvet ridges with a few green pines scattered below gray clouds; a lone brown leaf swinging and dipping toward the road in still air.

After a long day we found a small campground in Beaverdell. It is run by a retired couple who seem to do it more to meet people than for money. The man asked us what kind of surface we felt was best for pitching a tent. We said grass; we dislike sand or dirt or worst, rocks.

The campground had two groups of cyclists doing the Kettle Valley Trail, something Claire has been looking forward to exploring the whole trip. It seems the trail is not really a trail as we know it, in some places, but has been being used as logging roads since the rails were taken up. We’ll see.

One of the groups is three sons of immigrants of East Indian descent. One from Mombassa in Kenya where we have visited, and another from Tanzania. I had a particularly interesting conversation with one about Canada and the Quebec problem. He is so thankful that Canada allowed his father to come here when his land was nationalized by Tanzania, and he was cautiously optimistic that Quebec and the rest of Canada would solve their problems.

The next day was to be another long one; they have been getting longer and longer, and hillier and hillier as we have turned west against the grain of the mountains. The Kettle Valley Tail we rode was at first a series of mud holes (from motor vehicle use) so deep the front panniers got wet as we carefully pushed through. Finally we got to the most developed section that included 18 trestles and two tunnels. It was crowded with hikers and bicycles,, but motor vehicles were effectively blocked with earthworks. After that section, motor vehicles were allowed on it again (including log trucks we were told) and it deteriorated into just another stutter-bumping forest road.

We were saddened when a forest fire burned most of the bridges recently. It was to be part of the Trans Canada Trail. We hope they can replace the bridges.(they did)

The McNallys

At the last trestle, we met Bob and Beverly on a tandem, and their daughters Sarah and Shauna, and rode with them for several miles. Before they left us at their car, they invited us to have dinner and stay with them at their rented cabin on Okanagan Lake north of Penticton. We accepted, and rode down a long soft gravel road that had us stopping often to cool Zippy’s rims and rest my shoulders.

Just after we arrived, flashes of lightning from a very black cloud prompted us to set up our tent quickly and get inside the cabin. I sipped a beer and we watched lightning strike the lake and sheets of rain rake the deck and pelt the window. Nice to be cozy and have folks to talk with.

We learned that Bob is an accountant with a large firm in Edmonton and Bev, is going to Australia this winter to compete in the World Championship Olympic distance triathlon. She always does well in her age-group. The eldest daughter Shauna has national times in the backstroke and is aiming to make the Canadian Olympic Team and Sidney in 2000. The younger daughter Sarah is also a competitive swimmer also.

Bob is the jock-supporter, happy to captain the tandem and support his wife and daughters. He enjoys his time with his family and would like to be able to work out a shorter work-week; apparently that is not done in the big-client accounting business where 12 hour days are the norm. Even to ask could throw his loyalty into question.

My choice long ago to work for myself was a good one; the pay could have been better perhaps, and the benefits are lousy, but my boss is a genius and all-around great guy.

Another option might be to retire a bit early eh Bob?

After sharing their breakfast with us the next morning, we left the McNally family and rode toward Penticton. As expected I loved the Okanagan valley. It is dry and sunny and full of fruit. In Penticton they were still breaking down the barricades and food stands from the Canadian Ironman competition held two days before. Friends from Port Angeles had competed and were able to find one of them on a sheet of finishers. Way to go Gary!

East on the Crowsnest Highway, in Keremeos, we found fruit stands along both sides of the road and bought peaches and nectarines and apples. I could stay in that little town for weeks. I had been looking forward to the fruit laden Okanagan since the beginning of the trip, expecting a week or so among the fecundity. It was not to be so; we crossed the valley in 24 hours and entered the wet Cascade range. We’ll just have to come back.

From Princeton into Manning Provincial Park was a brutal climb with heavy traffic and poor shoulders. In the campground we got a chance to look at the trees and notice the heavy air. We were undoubtedly back in the Cascade Range. The final pass was just a few clicks and a couple of hundred meters higher.

The next morning we met a couple who had passed us the previous day. The woman told us they almost stopped on the shoulder to get out and bow down to us, because of the unending steepness of the grades. I thought that was kind of silly, but kept it to myself; I think she was serious. I guess they had bike toured some in Ireland and couldn’t imagine what we were doing.

We knew we were beginning to push the pace a little; we were only a few days from home and, though not really wanting to be home, we were not enjoying the heavy traffic and now-too-familiar mountains.

It was boogie time.

In Hope we stayed in a motel and did laundry and ate lots. From Hope the road was mostly flat or downhill, and we found ourselves at the Sumas border crossing in early afternoon. From there is was a relatively pleasant ride to Bellingham, a not too hard 86 mile day (notice the change to the Imperial system).

The next morning we left Bellingham in a fog that obscured the views from Chuckanut Drive, but the sun burned it off by Deception Pass. After a stop for breakfast, and later a huge ice cream at a roadside stand, we were energized and arrived at the Keystone ferry terminal in time to catch the westbound for Port Townsend. By this time we were jazzed for a long day and determined to make it home by dark. After a stop to talk to a couple southbound on a tandem, and with a friend who stopped us, we made it home just after sunset; 102 miles for the day and 4600 feet of climbing (Whidbey Island has hills). It’s the first time we have allowed ourselves to go over 100 miles loaded.

After a quick shower, it was lights out. Home. For awhile.

Thanks for coming along with us.

Trip statistics: 5,000 kilometers (3,000 miles). 152,000 vertical feet of elevation gain. One broken hub. One bad tire. 30,210 mosquito bites (just kidding).

Next, join us as we Zippy tour,

Alberta, and Saskatchewan prairies

The Maritimes and Newfoundland

New Bohemian Home

Contact us: clairebike@yahoo.com   or  brogers644@yahoo.com

The Canadian Prairies

prairie winds, endless skies, canola fields and rolling hills

New Bohemians Home

Wonder which way the wind blows?

1. British Columbia/Alberta

3. The Maritimes

Canada Day and the fab Royal Canadian Mounted Police Musical Ride.

Prairie highway.

Second Summer

Part One, The Prairies

As we drove our motorhome back over the Crowsnest Highway to begin our second summer of Canada wandering on our tandem Zippy, I noticed what I had forgotten about Canada, that their roads are much cleaner than in the States (as they say here). We seldom saw trash crews, so I must assume it is a societal thing, sort of like they have extended the national trait of politeness to the roads.

We passed by the World’s Largest Truck in Sparwood (we have a photograph with Zippy leaning against one huge tire) and I wondered what other world’s largest we would find this summer.

Many of the places we remember something happening at as we pass over our Zippy route, are places where we stopped to climb under a bridge or over the guardrail to take a pee. Claire didn’t want me to write that.

The Elk River valley seems more spectacular this time because we had just come from Kananaskis Country and the Icefields Parkway between Jasper and Banff on last year’s tour.

At Pincher Creek, the Ford dealer referred us to Matt French who has a large building on his farm he uses to train horses in winter and practice bucking horse riding; until recently he followed the rodeo circuit. We put Turtle to bed between the tractors, unhooked her battery with hopes of finding him ready to go in about five weeks

June 17 we pedaled south on route 6. It was a blue sky day with Waterton Lakes NP and the US. Rockies to our right. We were entertained by magpies, marmots, meadowlarks, red wing blackbirds, and some very determined mosquitoes. One bunch of steers ran along the fence with us for a ways, headed up by a long horned lead steer. A fence post perched red wing blackbird made a metallic sound that rang hard in the clear air, his tail bobbing to vertical with each gong.

I saw something large loping across a pasture, and at first thought it a very large marmot, because it was gold in color, but when it stopped and looked at us before diving into it’s hole, I could see it was a badger. I don’t think I’ve ever seen one before.

At Hill Springs, off on sideroad 505, a sign proclaims it, “Prairie to Peak Perfection,” and the sweeping prairie views backed by US and Canadian Rockies give it truth. It’s small. We stopped at the white clapboard store for snacks and water. The family was eating lunch in the front window, behind gingham half-curtains; they spoke and went on eating while we shopped. This looks to be a Mormon town, has all the signals: lilac bushes, picket fences, clapboard houses and wide streets, no bars or gentile churches.

The Blue Ridge Colony just past Hill Springs, looks like other Hutterites we saw in Montana. They have large holdings and each colony supports many families in semi-communal living arrangements. Their success is making an impact on the prairies; they bring modern farming practices and collective buying to single family territory. When a colony reaches 150, they go out and buy 20,000 acres and establish a new colony, splitting by a sort of  lottery; for a short period of time they can negotiate their lot, based on family or friendship ties. The men dress in black, the women in long dresses and bonnets, like many conservative groups, but do not shun modern conveniences or technology, though they do only allow schooling to the eighth grade, which tends to keep the boys (and girls) down on the farm.

East of Mountain View we stopped for a school bus letting off some kids. The others waved and yelled to us, curious, friendly. Not something we have noticed from the locals so far here in Southern Alberta.

Lee Creek Campground in Cardston, Alberta

A gray cat with green eyes took me for a walk to a place where there were a dozen sheep and lambs in a field and four sheep dogs and two people working the sheep. The dogs were fast and smart, seeming to sense the need to lie still or chase around behind the sheep. The people working the sheep had shepherd’s staffs, the woman wore a cowboy hat, and whistled to the dogs, yelled at one who kept scattering the sheep.

The cat wouldn’t get very close; he sat and stared at the dogs. Then the cat wanted on my shoulders so he could better see the dogs, and he got his wish. He purred and purred in my ear and watched the dogs. He rubbed my cheek until it tickled and I laughed and couldn’t make notes into my recorder, or concentrate on the dogs and sheep. The cat didn’t care about the people, just the dogs, and climbing on me.

This is a Mormon town too; it has eight Ward Chapels, the other denominations have a total of six churches. The Alberta Temple is here. The impressive granite building was built over a period of ten years, and opened in 1923. Supposedly the faithful who built it were still living in mud chinked log houses when they built the grand homage.

Another day, I forget the date. Many prairie potholes with ducks and often frogs, buff breasted swallows nested under a bridge over St. Mary’s River and kept the mosquitoes at bay. It is nice to be out on the prairies where real working pickup trucks outnumber sport utility vehicles. Zippy says the name SUV would have better been applied to bicycles.

A golden colored coyote walks across the brow of a small hillock. Claire spoke softly, he turnes his head and lopes out of sight. In a place called Whisky Gap, a cowboy rides with two dogs through some cows toward a hill and is gone from view. A jackrabbit with black ear tips, runs and then stands on his hind legs and watches us. Later, a poinking (a stiff four legged bound) mule deer bounces across a field of wheat. We saw seven pronghorns between Del Bonita and Milk River; they seem to be doing well here.

Border Note: Canada had prohibition from 1916 -1924 and whisky was smuggled from the south, then the US had prohibition and it came the other way. One reason the Northwest Mounted Police was established in the West was whisky smuggling to the Blackfoot tribes in Canada late in the last century.

Riding across the prairie is like experiencing a rolling Imax all day; a 360 degree flow of views, the sky and clouds overhead, dome of wind and sounds better than surround sound; smells and temperature changes and the sun’s warmth. Like being a part of a flow of slow time, suspended time and exaggerated reality, also soothing and somehow spiritual.

We woke in Milk River after 11 hours sleep; forgot how tired we get the first few days of a tour; but oh my such delicious sleep. Our little sleeping pads are about 15 millimeters thick (were when they were new years ago) and yet we sleep as well as we do in Turtle (our motorhome) or in a luxury bed; high tech mattresses are highly overrated, a bit of exercise and fresh air makes any bed a feather bed.

At breakfast in one of three places in town, we got the “no head” look from all the gathered; they looked at us as if we had no heads on our shoulders, or maybe were green. We’d been getting a lot of that in Alberta and it is surprising to us. British Columbia was so different; the loggers were much more open and direct with questions, comments about us and our mode of travel, anxious to tell us about their way of life, logging, hunting and fishing. Here they stare at us until they see us smiling at them, and they turn away and pretend they weren’t staring, didn’t notice. Even a, hi! from me will sometimes go unanswered.

I asked the waitress if she knew anything about Manyberries, a town two or three days up the road. “Never been there, eh, don’t know a thing, is that all for you now?”

There were exactly 12 older men drinking coffee and smoking at a long table at the end of the restaurant. I saw a modern version of the last supper tableau; it wasn’t Jesus saying his good-bys, but one of them is (always) going to be the next one to go. Life in small towns revolves around these moments of camaraderie, tradition, habit; the friends who are known to their core, the conversations repeated, and known, the heads nodded in agreement, the predictable arguments, the sacred cows avoided.

Just as we were finishing our shopping, the rain came hard and wet Zippy and all our stuff; we hadn’t expected such hard rain and didn’t cover our bags. We pedaled out of town during a brief break, high in hopes the heavy clouds that scudded to the north of us, over the green expanse of prairie, would stay there. It was not to be. We felt the first few hard, widely spaced drops and saw the line of wet cross the road a click (kilometer) ahead. We stopped and hurriedly put plastic produce bags on feet our feet. Then we flew, downhill at 30 clicks an hour, into a wall of rain and small melting hail. A few minutes later, we had punched our way through to the other side of the storm, without getting too soaked. We did get several funny looks from drivers.

Writing on Stone provincial park is on the Milk River within sight of the Sweetgrass Hills in Montana. This is all the traditional land of the Blackfoot people who are thought to have been here for 4,000 years. This sacred place of sandstone hoodoos is filled with their carvings of religious and cultural subjects and events. What I found most interesting was the inclusion, in the last two hundred years, of things added to their culture by the white man; horses and guns mostly. I saw no depiction’s of the use of firewater, and smallpox, the most destructive of the white man’s offerings. What smallpox and whisky didn’t do to destroy the people, the coming of the railroad, and the buffalo hunters who took away their food supply did; they were forced to give up their lands in exchange for the welfare of the government(s). Though the Blackfeet were not herded into gas ovens like the Jews, their destruction was more nearly complete, and nearly as quick.

I found the art simple when compared to the pictographs of the Southwestern tribes, but the stories are compelling: a woman being helped in childbirth by a midwife, a dance of celebration around them; a battle with bullets felling the enemy on horseback; a young man stealing horses from a neighboring tribe.

Here in the lush native grasses bloom yellow prickly pear cactus. I am always amazed at the wide range of this plant, Texas to Alberta, Tennessee to Arizona, all of the states and Canadian provinces, in considerable variety, always beautiful.

It rained off and on most of the night and we went to bed early, an all too common occurrence this trip.

The following day began with a long climb into a stiff headwind out of the Milk River valley. On a ridge of windblown grasses and sky, a small granite stone, decorated with a reclining lamb; Phoenix Earl Foss, died in 1915, age one day. A few iris hold out around the grave, the homestead is long under prairie soil.

Higher onto the plains we pedaled to a hill so big and round that you could imagine it was a green wheat sphere, and you were looking at the curve of it; but then the top revealed the Sweetgrass Hills a hundred clicks south into Montana, and the Old Chief Mountain in Glacier National Park, a couple of hundred clicks west.

And then the wind stiffened. One stretch of 30 clicks was dead into a 30 click wind; time to space out, tune into the land and forget the aching butt, shoulders and quads: black tipped ears of a Jackrabbit; pronghorn standing still against green wheat, a yellow stripe of mustard and another of green; two mule deer poinking away from us, stopping to look; two sharp tailed grouse flushed from the ditch, flaring into native prairie; a clump of foxtail grass fading green stem into a beige and dusty rose diaphanous seedhead, it bends easy from the wind, soft as a pastel painting of itself; a pair of upset curlews flap overhead, leading us from their nest (Claire says they are crying, “uh oh, uh oh”); Swainsons and red tailed hawks shearing the wind; red winged blackbirds on fence posts singing their metallic warning at us; purple vetch, golden wild sunflowers; the blue gray flat bottomed cotton ball clouds, fading off into an indefinite distance, like a low ceiling over the prairie, the constant songs of the meadowlark and eastern kingbird to punctuate the roar of wind. And so the three hours went quickly and we arrived in Foremost. Our day’s (wind assisted!) average speed was 14.8 clicks (9mph).

At the information center, a teen girl sat at her desk alone. “Do you know if there is any camping in Manyberries?” I asked. “I’ve never been there.” (Manyberries is the next town east, 70 or so clicks away.) “Is there a grocery there?” I tried again. “I don’t know.” she said flatly, then giggled. Claire noticed there was a senior center across the street from the information center. “What goes on over there?” she asked, hoping for a Saturday big band, or square dance. “I haven’t a clue!” she tried hard not to giggle. Someone has to keep that seat warm.

Eastbound the next day toward the unknown Manyberries, we had a sunny tailwind, and made the village of Etzikom before noon and stopped to look at their collection of windmills. Some have suggested that the windmill had more to do with the civilizing the west than the six gun. It brought water for agriculture to land formerly good only for grazing and brought the homesteaders and their milder culture.

There is a poem posted near the windmills:

By Eve Merriam

Crick Crack

Wind at my back

Snit snat

Snatched off my hat

Whew, Whew

It blew, and it blew

Snapped at my heels

Flapped at my shoes

And now I’ve got

Only one mitten to lose

It’s sad that rural electrification and government subsidies (in the States too) brought an end to the use of windmills; we’ve seen maybe a half dozen working windmills so far. The technology would still be part of the landscape on this windy prairie if electric prices reflected the true cost of production.

Another way the wind shapes the landscape here is the treed islands that indicate the location of the homes and buildings of the farmers. They are always set back from the road a few hundred yards to a kilometer or more, in the midst of a very large field. The “beach” of these islands is kept ploughed cleanly all around to set it apart from the “sea” of crop. The islands have the only trees for kilometers in all directions, and harbor all the storage facilities and equipment barns for the farms. The houses are always set well to the middle of the islands, the better to be protected from the constant winds.

It seems a bit sad that the wonderful expansive prairie and sky views are lost to the people who live in the middle of it. On second thought, perhaps the man who spends 12 hours a day out on that prairie with nothing but open space and pounding wind, wants to come home to a constricted view, just to rest his eyes, if not his soul from the constant wind and the endlessness of it all. But what about the woman who stays home and keeps the house? Couldn’t she use a view across the half dozen clicks to her neighbors house?

East of Etzikom wild roses grow along the shoulder. In the sun they smell sweet, rising to us on the same wind that carries us along so easily.

Boyd Stevens

At Orion, where we didn’t think there was a town, we met Boyd Stevens at his Stevens Hardware and Garage. He is the fourth generation to run the little store, and from the looks of things, the last. It’s a jumble of fan belts, cigarettes, gum, pretzels, oil filters, oil filter wrenches, boxes of screws and bolts, spray lube, gas additives, a few toiletries, all manner of the things a small farmer needs to keep the machinery and himself going through the long farm days. But, Boyd says the small farms are being bought up by the Hutterites who are establishing large communal farms, and they tend to buy in larger quantities than he can provide, and he just doesn’t seem to trust them either; they dress in black trousers with suspenders, often black hats and speak an old Germanic language among themselves. He’s not completely sure they like him and the feeling is mutual. “But they treat you nice and all eh, when you have dealings with em and all… But still I don’t know about some of em. Heard you buy potatoes from em they’ll put a stove pipe in the middle with little potatoes in it so’s to get rid of the little ones. Don’t like that kind of doins myself.”

Boyd also has a very large collection of pinup pictures of beautiful young women. These are the old fashioned kind where the women are partially clothed, to much better effect (to my mind) than the all nude centerfolds. Many of these are personally autographed to Boyd. I’m not too sure about the authenticity of those autographs, but entertainment is hard to come by in Orion.

Boyd gave us much needed water from his standpipe. It was the color of weak tea, but he said he’d been drinking it all of his life and it never made him sick. We’ve a long road and will give it a go, hope he’s right.

Boyd, dressed in brown mechanic’s shirt and pants, a matching cap on sideways, leaned on the door jamb of the store where his father and grandfather and great grandfather stood and welcomed customers. He puffed on a short fat cigar and talked about how the world has changed some since his great grandfather came to this country. Said he went to Utah where he married a woman and then he brought her north to near Raymond, Alberta. When this area opened up to homesteading they came to Orion, homesteaded and, “had a hundred and forty younguns.” I ask him if his great grandfather was a Mormon, coming up from Utah and all. “Jack Mormon, sort of a Jack Mormon,” he said.

He remembered when his grandparents left the area and went to Kelso, Washington because of the dust bowl when, “the country around here all dried up and nobody could make a go of it.” He’s been there to visit family, “I always get turned around in that country, can’t tell which a way I’m going.” I thought that was funny for someone who lives where the horizon looks pretty much the same around the points of the compass, but I didn’t say so.

We said good by and rode off to find out what was really in Manyberries, which Boyd assured us was just down the road.

Fourteen clicks and a couple of hills later, we found the town of Manyberries, and all it’s mysteries (well some) were revealed. There is a bar (closed on Sunday) a restaurant. There were two oilfield workers having dinner in coveralls; their big muddy diesel trucks outside gave away their profession. They reminded me of some cows we see along the road with grass hanging out of their mouths; they stopped chewing when they saw us. Lycra shorts and dayglow yellow jackets don’t walk in off the remote prairies all that often I guess. We had coffee and talked to the cook/waitress for awhile. It was a little like pulling teeth to get her talking, but she turned out to be friendly enough once she’d decided we were somewhat normal after all. She told us we’d have no trouble with the road ahead, and it wouldn’t be hard to find a place to camp. Encouraged we decided to go for another 30 clicks along the gravel road toward Cypress Hills Inter-provincial Park.

Three hours, many hills, slick sticky mud and burning quads later, at 111 clicks, we saw a hill that looked more like a wall and decided any camping spot would do; the abandoned homestead to our left had an old three row orchard by the road, and it gave us some privacy. We set up camp, cleaned some mud off Zippy and made sure all the reflective tape on our panniers was covered. We had supper of summer sausage and cabbage on bagels, a can of, Feves au Laurd et Sauce Melasse” (pork and beans with molasses). We ate some sharp ginger snaps for desert, and were serenaded by coyotes; a call and response between a group of several, and an individual; very subtle, operatic, over a wide range of high and low notes, very expressive, and long. Claire said they were talking about all the food we had in the tent, or how we were now ourselves properly stuffed for eating.

A couple of Ibuprofen, and we were ready for bed, three hours before dark. Some hours later, after  full dark, Claire awoke to a whining very nearby, and woke me. It was few meters at most from us, a very plaintiff whining, perhaps a coyote puppy, hungry enough to beg, but with enough natural fear to keep him away.

It could have been funny, but it sounded sad somehow to me. I was living a dream before I awoke to that plaintiff cry. Our friend Heidi Hagelstein was killed by a motorist while on a training ride two years ago. In my dream she was back with us, not alive, but with us in spirit, a gift of grace. So many of her friends together, and her husband Larry and his new wife Michelle too. Heidi knew she had to go back to the other side, and we all felt it; and it was a long complicated dream and bittersweet. And I awoke to a crying coyote.

June 22. A one click hill just out of  camp had a center section of 14% or more and was just about all we could do. What a way to start the day. Up on the rolling flats, in the middle of nowhere, no houses within sight, stood a two room schoolhouse; white with a red roof, homemade playground equipment and decorated with brightly painted antique farm implements. It was a rural school district, smaller than even the ones I remember from my West Virginia childhood. Claire said she’d spend all her time looking out the windows at the beautiful prairie sky, if she went to school there, and so would I. Actually that’s what I did a lot of in West Virginia.

We ended the early day in Elkwater, on a beautiful lake, doing laundry, getting ourselves clean, having a “snuggle” and nap. We went to a restaurant for breakfast and met an older woman from Vancouver Island who told us, “Do it now while you can.” It’s always good to hear that from someone older. Sometimes we get the feeling from contemporaries that what we are doing is frivolous, silly even, and there are many more important things we should be doing; seldom does that come from someone over 60 or so. Doing what you ought isn’t always the right thing.

June 23. The great crossing of Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park. Seventy some clicks of mostly dirt roads and we could get little advance notice. Nobody seemed to know, because they mostly drive around via Medicine Hat and Maple Creek, something that would have been two, perhaps three days for us. We did get the hint that the roads deteriorated on the Saskatchewan side of the border, and that we’d better not get caught out there if it rained, because the dirt is a clay that becomes impassable when wet; indeed there were signs saying so.

We paused by the ruts of the Bull Trail where teams of oxen hauled supply wagons into southern Alberta from Fort Benton, Montana, the end of the line for barges on the Missouri. The ruts were deep, obvious, after well over a hundred years. Looking to the skyline leading on and on, I wondered how much such goods must cost after coming such a way, and what the supply wagons carried: sugar, flour, medicine, tools? Wish I knew more.

The first half of the ride was steep, but not too hard, with few ruts and mostly manageable hills, in a beautiful valley of meadows with a meandering creek. At the Saskatchewan border, the roads deteriorated, and I had ruts to contend with, a tiring deal on a loaded tandem. My shoulders soon began to tire and hurt.

A ranger told us the roads ahead (to the Central Block) wouldn’t be any worse than what we’d seen, and that the real challenge would be the hill immediately after the ranger station. He was right. We very nearly didn’t make it, and we never never give up on a hill until we reach maximum heart rate and just can’t go anymore. It was so steep, heavily loaded Zippy was breaking loose the rear wheel on hard packed dirt. I would have enjoyed the sympathy looks from motorists, if I’d been able to focus.

On a short section of paved road, a series of steep downhill switchbacks heated our rims too much and we blew the front tube; it was our oldest thorn proof tube, had seen us home from Texas and all around British Columbia, nearly 9,000 miles, and the valve seat failed.

Then we committed to the longest section of dirt road, 40 clicks or more, and, despite what the ranger said, much worse in condition, ruts, mud holes, and rocks. The downhill sections were fun, but scary; we couldn’t afford a wreck out here. A thunderstorm doused the prairies ahead of us and we wondered if it had ruined the road, or if more would be forming over the next three or four hours. We watched the rare vehicle for signs of wet mud, and seeing none, pushed on. We followed the twin tracks up into the trees, aspen and spruce and lodgepole pine; a beautiful valley/cirque. Then came a long hill with marble to fist sized rocks. Claire said the it felt like the rear wheel (right under her) felt like a Pringles wheel, i.e. it felt as if it were bouncing and wobbling from side to side as it bounced up on and slipped off slick rocks. One potato sized slick rock threw the front wheel sideways, and we were dismounted, done, just as the rain hit. We waited out the storm under some spruce in the middle of a grove of aspen, listening to the leaves and counting the drops off our noses. Our idea of fun. It was. Really. You had to be there.

When the rain stopped, we tried to ride the mud, and discovered the signs saying impassable in the wet were truth. The wheels loaded up the brakes and we resorted to pushing through the high grass and sage for a click or so. We stopped for supper and to decide what to do. A couple of men trying out their new 4WD pickup got as far as us and told us it was no more than a mile until dry road. We pushed a bit more, then rode gingerly for a about three miles more to the campground.

June 24. Just above the Frenchman Valley on the way to the Grasslands NP, it is so windy that you can see the heat waves torn across he brow of a hill; like ripples in a stream, but more ethereal, insubstantial. The wind made visible.

After we turned and picked up a strong tailwind, we could smell the scents of the crops, many of them blooming. The yellow fields are canola, I believe, and they smelled of vanilla bean.


Looking for a store, we found a dying prairie town. We stopped by the Mail Poste boxes beside the old village office and looked through the dusty windows. The calendar on the wall was open to September 1993. Some older farm equipment and growers association calendars of past years. There was an oil heater, several bentwood chairs, a large stand-alone combination safe, a brass lamp, an old desk with pigeon holes filled with papers and mail, and several unopened envelopes. It was as if someone just walked out one day and that was the end of Robsart. The office felt like a monument to the dying town; a very well done museum diorama.

Behind a garage door, in the same building, sat a human-drawn fire wagon. No, I’m not kidding. It was a metal water tank on a wagon with iron-tired buggy wheels, a reel of fire hose on top, and a tongue with handles for men to pull the thing. That is turn of the century technology, but I’m not so sure a bad idea for a village so small; they could be to a small fire very quickly. Inside with the fire wagon was what looked like the entire assets of the village of Robsart, a few hand tools. Most of the buildings are graying with age and lack of paint, and have a list of 20 degrees or so; losing the battle to the wind. The postal boxes are now the village nexus; two people stop and speak while we eat our dinner. Somewhere two children play, but the school is boarded up.

Down the road, we saw a whitetail doe, with her bouncy fawn, in a field of green wheat. When she saw us, she gave some signal to the fawn and it instantly lay flat in the wheat, invisible to us, while she ran away. The fawn gave in to curiosity before we were past, and we saw it pop it’s head up for a look. “We see you!” Claire called out, and he disappeared again.

102 clicks today all pavement, but we’re still tired from more hills, these prairies are not flat, and Claire’s knees hurt. We’ve climbed nearly 15,000 feet in a week, not a huge amount, but not flat either.

The small town of Eastend is the boyhood home of Wallace Stegner, writer of the west, and one of my favorites. It is fun to be where he took some of his early influences, and makes me want to read more. It is beautiful prairie, rolling and deeply cut by green coulees. At the campground we were met by an older couple, he from Scotland by his accent, and welcomed. They were out for their evening bike ride and just liked to visit with people passing through. “We’re just up the corner there, you’ll see the bikes standing out by the front. You just stop by should you have need of anything, we’d be glad to help out.” Saskatchewan prairie people; this is what we came for.

A Canadian Love Affair

3.The Maritimes

New Bohemians Home

Second Summer

Part Two, The Prairies

I will finish these journals after we return from riding the Silk Road.

The Maritimes

New Bohemians Home

1. British Columbia

2. The Prairies of Alberta and Saskatchewan

Our good-by graffiti the day we left Ottawa.

An offering of blueberries by a fellow cycling enthusiast.

Seaside church.

Blueberry and eclipse camp.

Cape Breton kaylee.

Third Summer

3. The Maritimes and Newfoundland

Our third summer bicycling in Canada was filled with the many and varied cultures of Canada. Americans often think Canada is full of people half way between the average white American and the Brits, but it’s not that simple, by a long shot. Canadians are in many ways as varied as Americans. A Newfoundlander, a Newfie, is no more like someone from the prairies than a Bostonian is like a Cajun from Louisiana. Then there is the language issue: Cowboy hat wearing Anglos from Alberta are not about to try and speak French when visiting Quebec, and the locals take offence. We heard lots of talk of splitting apart as a nation from both sides, and just as many moderates adamantly opposed to any split. It’s an interesting country, well worth a visit, or three or…

Canada Day (July 1) in Ottawa, nations capital.

Quebec house                                Acadian flag, New Brunswick

“Acadie! Only Acadie!” Having too much fun in New Brunswick. These Acadians knew little about their cousins in Louisianan, but they party just as hardy.

This church congregation on Prince Edward Island, invited us to services, a pot luck and games.

The hills of Cape Breton made us pay for the views.

Laying in supplies.

Two of the primary joys of bicycle touring, rain and big trucks.

Rose Blanche, Newfoundland.

I will hope to finish the journals for this amazing part of Canada, and add them to this page, sometime after we return from the Silk Road.

A Canadian Love Affair

New Bohemians Home Page

Canadians exhibit a bit of confusion about American geography and culture too!

Lobster pots.

Newfie humor.Seriously!


A Canadian Affair British Columbia and Alberta Mountains (draft) — 2 Comments

  1. You were so close to our home town Hinton, which is 80km east of Jasper on highway 16. It was lovely to read your experiences in our “backyard”.

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