Sunday, July 24, 2011

Going Bush

I started to feel comfortable with my mile covering capacity and this week opted for a diversion to the Mount Riding National Park about 100km north of the path. It offered the chance to see a wild herd of Bison but best of all some trees that are almost non existent on the prairie.
Flood Levy in Brandon
Heading out of Brandon the levy walls were still in place along the road  after the recent floods. The people of Brandon had known since the record snow falls to the north last winter that there would be a flood and had prepared well. A different story to the floods in Australia that always seem to take us by suprise.
I bypassed Justice but know where it is if I ever need it.

A storm cuaght up with me almost as soon as I had left the edge of town and buffeted me with wind and torrents of rain. I couldnt help but think of Chay Blythe's encouraging words about the Southern Ocean, "Its only wind and water". He was right and within an hour it had died down. The road north was a narrow two lane road of broken bitumen and I was glad i wouldnt be on it long.

I reached the town of Erickson after just 95km but with the wind on the nose and a belief in tomorrow I settled into this small Viking community. The Trans Canada Trail popped its head up in Erikson too and I used it the following day for an hour or so to get out of town.
Wasagaming on Clear Lake
The national park turned up with its forest of trees by mid morning and just inside its boundary was the Banff style village of Wasagaming. It didnt have the hotel towers or the bus loads of tourists, just the leafy streets of cabins set along the lake shore. A small store was selling freshly baked cinnamon buns and I asked for one. The baker lifted the still warm bun off the rack onto a polystyrene tray and then proceeded to cling wrap it in plastic. In a few moments he had taken a fresh bun wafting cinnamon to a piece of plastic wrap but I had committed to the purchase by then and so dutifully handed over the cash. This happened later in the week when I returned to Wasagaming at another bakery but I was prepared and had to explain how this practice of polystyrene cling wrapping was not in line with the values of the product and damaging its credibility. The baker seemed understanding but I wonder how long before the practice changes.
Whirlpool Lake
The next stop was Whirlpool Lake and over the week I wandered slowly around the park from one campsite to another. Some days doing as little as 17km. The storm had brought a cool change to the air and the wind while it lasted kept the mosquitos at bay.
Log Cabin at Wasagaming with a warm fire and mantelpiece stacked with books.
Returning to Wasagaming at the end of my park tour there was a cold wind blowing from the north so I luckily found a log cabin with a fire burning in the hearth coutesy of Parks Canada. A row of books sat on the mantle piece and I enjoyed an afternoon of reading in front of the fire. This was the pace of the week and while I never saw those bison I did see a Racoon loping through the grass, a deer, more squirells and a garter snake (first snake i had seen in North America) I heard that a lynx had been seen on the track an hour after I passed so just missed out on that.

Downloading emails in Wasagaming I learnt that the Australian Government was taking action to take David Hick's profits on his book which just appauled me. I have been asked what I thought about when I was cycling and I have to say that since Friday my mind has been a tumble dryer of thoughts over this matter. If you are interested and would like to get involved go to http://www.thejusticecampaign.org/

The week ahead looks like a return to the old mile busting form and a transition from prairie to lakes.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Good Stuff!!

Shadows on the prairie.
I am ever conscious of all the good stuff going on at home and around the world as I bimble across North America, reminded by the connectivity of the electronic world. There are emails about bushcare working bees, policy review questionaires, peak oil lectures, Getup petitions and the peaceful protests of the "Save the Kimberley" and "Pulp the Mill" Campaigns but two things hit me hard as I gulped down big glasses of iced coffee in Regina after a 200km day across the prairies.

The first was yet another amazing example of philanthropy by Jan Cameron, the founder of Kathmandu and Graeme Wood, the creator of Wotif. Together they purchased from Gunns the Woodchip Mill at Triabunna on the east coast of Tasmania with plans to turn it into a tourist operation in the long term. Unlike offers from logging companies it does not seem to have been achieved with any government support and the ten million dollar price tag it seems came out of Jan and Graeme's own selfless pockets. Thankyou both.

The second is the exposure by the Gaurdian newspaper of the corruption and pressure that Rupert Murdoch has applied to politics in the UK. This has the potential to turn the tide on the media monopoly that his media empire has developed and has encouraged Avaaz.org to take up the campaign to extend this exposure globally. This will be a very interesting campaign to watch.

Regina itself is a great town set around a lake with cool leafy streets which is just what you want on a hot day. Heading out the next day the sun was strong and the sky clear. I hoped for a thunderstorm to develop to no avail and ended up surrendering to the Sweet Dreams Motel.

The next day was much the same and I took breaks where the opportunities presented themselves. One such opportunity was a detour into a small rural town for supplies. The streets were almost deserted but a lady appeared across the street and approached me outside the general store. She asked me where I was heading and I replied New York. She thought about it and then confessed she had not heard of this place and asked whether it was in Quebec. I replied that it was just a bit to the south of Quebec. She was off to a wedding later that day and I wondered how many people didnt know where New York was. I also wondered whether my life might be simpler if I had never heard of it too.
The town where New York doesnt matter.
Not long after lunch I stopped in Fleming near the border between Sasketchikan and Manitoba where I found a few shady trees for a banana break. Settling into my break I noticed another bicycle with panniers just down the road. Wandering over to say hello I found its rider asleep on the grass and that made me adopt a new strategy for the hot days. I took a siesta until three oclock in the afternoon when the heat felt like abating and then rode until it got dark. This also got round the fact that if you pitch the tent at five it gets so hot as to be uninhabitable anyway. This was a watershed moment and I enjoyed a beautiful ride as the temperature dropped and the sun sank in the sky, making the light so much softer on the landscape. It was nine oclock as it got dark and I stopped, having scored a 215km day. This strategy was looking good.
A shady spot for a siesta
The sleeping rider who provided the catalyst for this plan had riden off by the time I woke but I saw her ride past me that afternoon as I took an ice cream break. She had a milk crate lashed to her back racks, appeared to ride in jeans which seemed an odd choice and wore a light flowing blouse. Clearly an interesting person and a striking figure on the prairie.
Sunset on the way into Brandon
In addition I have made another guideline and that is if I get a 200km day then I earn a rest day. I can really take a rest day anyday but I like the work / reward scenario.

Go to xpdnews.com for some great adventure blogs.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Cowboy Country

A capacino, pan au chocolate, latte, cheesecake, frapacino and a slice of poppyseed cake and my business in Banff was done. Banff is a picture postcard town cradled by a circle of forested mountains that even in summer sport snow on their summits. Founded on destination tourism it is just the spot for a bit of "heli-hiking" (I didnt even know such a thing existed till I reached Banff) Otherwise it is overrun with tourists just like myself and sporting a few too many hotels masquerading as mountain lodges. It turns out that my grandmother had been in Banff 101 years before me and I suspect the view would have been much the same but the journey to get there, a little more rugged.
Five Star Cycle Path Banff Style

I pushed off heading east to meet up with Katie who I had sailed with on the BT Global Challenge Yacht Race leg from Sydney to Cape Town back in 1997. It was before widespread email and after a few years of us both moving around we lost touch until last year when I got a little friend request on Facebook saying "Is that you OZ?"

In the sugar fueled haze of Banff I had mistaken Canmore for Cochrane where Katie lives and realised this as I left the outskirts of Banff. Instead of 20km I had 100km to ride and after some quick calculations in my head I thought I might have a chance. The wind made the difference and saw me hurtling effortlessly down the road. I could hear the gusts coming up from behind and one of these, while on pretty flat ground, accelerated me to just under 70km/hr, my top speed ever. The miles flew by and quite quickly the forests of the Rocky Mountains gave way to flat grassy plains. I followed Katies direction and found her lovely home in the countryside of Cochrane. Katie and Frank were fantastic hosts cooking up an amazing feast and providing a lovely evening of entertainment. So much had happened since I had last seen Katie in Cape Town all those years ago and it was a lovely nostalgic visit down memory lane.

It was with relauctance that I said farewell to Katie and Frank and their two children the next morning to head for Calgary. The wind had eased but still provided some welcome assistance getting me there in time for lunch. The Calgary Stampede, a celebration of its cowboy heritage, was in full swing. Brokeback Mountain had been filmed in the Calgary hinterland and everyone was dress up in cowboy outfits. I suspect that they returned to their bank clerk jobs on Monday but it was a lot of fun. Rodeo, wagon racing and line dancing in the street.
Calgary Stampede - Line Dancing on the streets

I headed off in the afternoon with the tailwind stil blowing and made the small rural town of Gleishan on the Canadian Badlands. This town was a salt of the earth community and had three free campsites in its park for travellers. I liked that.
I know where Microsoft got their desktop from.
The next morning the wind was still in the west and I started early to make the most of it. By nine oclock the wind had freshened up, which I only realised when I stopped for a second breakfast break. I had already covered 50km with minmal effort which seemed to indicate it would be a big day. In the end I knocked off 215km before reaching Medicine Hat. It was my biggest days run and really made me appreciate the benifit of the tail wind.

Dutch guy walking across Canada. Checkout the neat cart.
Heading out of Medicine Hat I realised that the tailwind was gone and the wind was right on the nose. It was a real struggle and by the end of the day I only covered 93km to reach a campground near Maple Creek. Along the way I met a French guy struggling east and he too ended up at the same campsite. I also ran into a Dutch guy walking across Canada which made me reconsider my expectations on distance covered in a day, I was not impressed with these headwinds and so downloaded a weather app for the phone. It was clear that there were more head winds the next day so I declared it a holiday. I was starting to adopt a strategy of rest when the conditions are adverse and put the pedal down when the conditions are favorable.
Morning Fog
It seems to be working, for the next day the wind dropped and with an early start I zoomed down the road in heavy fog, intent on getting across the Prairie as fast as possible. I was using the little maps I had torn out of the Lonely Tony guide to Canada which didn't show much detail but to be honest there wasnt much detail to be shown on the prairie. It could be as much as 100km between towns and even then the towns may offer very little. It was gently undulating crop fields punctuated by silos or grain elevators.
Wow it even has a computer with the www! In your dreams.

The sky was dark with thunderstorm clouds when I made the town of Herbert in the late afternoon. I found a small group of cyclists and motorcyclists congregated under the canopy of an abandoned old gas station. We exchanged stories and with theratening clouds I took off to pitch the tent. The thunderstorm was the most intense I had experienced on the prairie but the mosquitos were even worse.
Grain Elevators - Castles of the Prairie
The mosquitos made it clear that there was no point hanging around Herbert and so with an early start I headed off this morning hoping to make some big miles. Around 10am I reached the small town of Mortlach. It was one km upwind from trhe highway but I took a punt which initially looked a little dubious. The further into this town I got the more I liked it and eventually I pulled up outside the HollyHock Market (http://www.hollyhockmarket.com/). Lois and Clayton called out from their cottage garden and within minutes Lois was cooking me up a fantastic breakfast. They explained all about the town and showed me this great little film on the demise of the grain elevators. These "Castles of the Prairie" are slowly vanishing as "liability" dictates their demolition. I left Mortlach with a full stomach and a warm glow it had been a lovely stop.

Just down the road though was Moose Jaw, bootlegging centre for Al Capone, and it wasnt long before I pulled into town and found the Visitor Centre offering free internet. And thus here we are. The day is still young and all going well I might reach the metropolis of Regina tonight. Whey hey.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Cresting the Great Divide

The road climbing steeply out of Golden could clearly be seen from the Dreamcatcher Hostel and I think that this was a driving factor in deciding to take a day off and go white water rafting. It was another scorching hot day in the Rockies which was perfect for splashing about in glacial water. I was teamed up with a young heavy metal band and a capable guide by the name of Ian. We headed off in another of those old yellow school buses to the head of the Kicking Horse Canyon where we geared up in wet suits and launched into the aqua blue glacial waters of the Kicking Horse River. The water takes 12 hours to go from glacial ice to melt water rushing down the canyon. The morning was a lazy introduction to the river and after a barbeque on the riverbank we headed off for the middle stretch of the canyon where the rapids built up. We paddled our hearts out at stages on Ian's command, nearly lost him overboard at one stage and rode through the turbulent water like a roller coaster. The day was hot so at the end we all jumped off and floated down the river. The water was bracing but a great way to spend the day.

Yesterday it was back to work and I started with an eight egg omellete knowing I would need every bit of energy for what would be my hardest day. I cowered under the gaze of that steep road heading out of town as I ate my omellete and reluctantly mounted up. It was just a matter of putting one foot in front of the other and slowly edging up the hill and start knocking off the 72km to Lake Louise.
Roadside Bling
There has been a vast array of things along the roadside over the last month including wildlife such as caterpillars, butterflies, slugs, squirrels and even moose all driven to take their chances on making the crossing. The most prolific of man made objects are the broken rubber octopus straps making me wonder why people buy them. The amount of underwear and lingerie makes me wonder what happens and of course there are the nappies jettisoned by breeders. Yesterday however I found a golden crucifix and so I took it as a good sign and carried it on the handlebar as a good luck charm for getting safely across the Great Divide and of course it would come in handy if I was invited to a Hip Hop concert with da brothers from da hood too.
The old highway makes a great cycle way.
The kilomteres slowly fell away and I was surprised by a couple of cyclists who crept up on me. They were out for a couple of days riding in the rockies and had opted to go credit card touring. (instead of taking camping gear you exercise the credit card for accommodation and food. An excellent idea really). They had riden this route before and gave me a few tips the best being a back route to Lake Louise which utilised an old section of Highway 1 that was currently barricaded off to vehicles.
The Great Divide - Safely standing in the middle of the road.

Riding this abandoned road it wasn't long before I reached the Great Divide of the Rocky Mountains at Kicking Horse Pass. It had been so named because the first white man, in search of a route for the railway, had been kicked in the head by one of his horses and thrown into the river. His Indian guides had recovered him but he was pronounced dead. On the point of burying him he regained consciousness. It is thought that the icy cold waters had lowered his vitals to the point of being unrecognisable.  There was a stream there that forked with one arm leading to the western watershed and the other the eastern watershed. A rare sight for me at least.
The Creek Divide - one arm heads east the other west.
Strangely the road continued to climb after the Great Divide which was not what I had expected at all but it wasn't long before the lonely old road ended and I was spat out into the traffic for the final kilometre up to Lake Louise. This is a spectacular glacial lake with a magnificent aqua blue colour. It also has masses of people who come to see it and as a testament to council planning stupidity or corruption there is a skyscraper hotel on its shore.
Lake Louise - Just like the Lonely Tony cover shot.
In addition to the skyscraper hotel there was a lovely lodge just down the road which I could have easily been tempted to stopover in. Luckily there were still some cycling hours left in the day otherwise it would surely have drained my next months budget.
Heading out of lake Louise I continued to avoid the highway by taking the Bow Valley Parkway. This was a road with little traffic and lots of diversions. The most striking of these diversions was the site of one of the internment camps established in 1914. All people in Canada who had origins in the Austro-Hungarian Empire along with conscientious objectors during Great War were interned and used to build much of the park infrastructure around Banff including the Links Golf Course. They didn't release them until 1920 which by my calculations is 2 years after the war ended. Just as I was thinking how far we had come I remembered Camp X-Ray Guantanamo Bay. Oh yes it seems fear and xenophobia still justify the unjustifiable.
The site of Castle Mountain Internment Camp.
Heading on down the road I cam,e across a mother bear with its cub grazing by the road side. This was my best bear experience so far and they seemed completely unperturbed by human presence. I think I even heard it scoff at my bear bell. The photo is not about to appear in National Geographic but you can just make out the cub on the left.
Baby Bear (left) Mother Bear (right)
leaving the bears behind I stopped for an ice cream and it wasn't long before I was lured off the road by a camping area which ended up offering an excellent deal. So good I cant repeat it) There were hot showers you didn't have to feed money into and grassy tent sites. The cloud built up and a cold change passed over during the night dropping the temperature about ten degrees. The heat had been good but the cooler temperatures are a welcome change.
Banff
 I passed on the roadside bling to the campsite attendant in appreciation this morning and headed on toward Banff just 25km down the road. The Bow Valley Parkway ran out and then a superb cycle way along a lake edge took over for the last kilometres into town. Arriving in time for morning tea it felt like a carnival more than a town.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Tunnels and Passes

Well I must confess I never made it out of Revelstoke yesterday. A good friend had given me some sound advice, that I should stop when I am tired, but since Vancouver I hadn't been in a town I wanted to linger in, until Revelstoke. I left the cafe where I posted the last blog intending on riding to the Hot Springs but ambled around town, being drawn in to its lovely vibe. It was a place where people made and did things and this is a very appealing combination. I chatted with a guy out testing a bamboo framed bike he had made, perused the bookstore and knocked back smoothies in the afternoon sun.

This morning it was back to business and what better way to prepare myself for a day of Rocky Mountain hill climbs than a Tour de France breakfast. A local cafe was streaming the Tour live and offering omelletes and espresso to go with it. The local cyclists confirmed what I had been afraid of, that I had a big day ahead of me. They also confirmed that there were eight tunnels along the way. I couldn't help but notice the huge gap between the riders of the Tour and my rickety wobbles down the road. Bidding my farewells I headed out of town under cobalt blue skies.
Giant Cedar Trail
 Riding along the road I am always ready to be distracted. This morning there was the Giant Cedar Trail that caught my eye. It was a fifteen minute boardwalk through a cedar forest which was fantastic. The cedar trees were beautiful specimens but I couldn't help but draw a comparison with home. In Tasmania we have the tallest trees in the world. They are swamp gums and grow in the Styx Valley only a couple of hours drive from the capital city of Hobart. If you go there, the chances are that you will on your own and finding them down a logging track is an adventure in itself. They are one of the most under appreciated assets we have and just to reinforce it the swamp gums that dont make the elite few are being leveled. Their girth is so great as to make chainsaws obsolete and necessitate explosives to bring them down. Figure that one out!?
Cedar Forest
 I started weakly and slowly began to find some strength. The hill climbs are my greatest fear and in fact I seem to crumble psychologically at the look of the climb well before my legs give way. Rob had tried to teach me to twizzle with the granny gears but I just used to wizz myself into a frenzy and expire. Today I persisted and began to hang in there twizzling my way uphill. I didn't pedal tramp it all the way but I felt a distinct improvement as I approached Roger's Pass. I was pretty pleased with the mornings work as I reached the pass and thought I would treat myself at the lodge's restaurant. I started to realise things were not quite right when I pulled up and there was all these half eaten meals on the tables. I cruised the buffet and reduced my desires to a glass of coke, until I saw the size of the tiny glass. On the verge of channeling Gordon Ramsey and explaining to the staff why their food wasnt even worthy of a desperate cyclist, I made my excuses and walked out. I clipped my feet in, selected the big ring sprocket and powered off down the road. The real reward for cresting a pass is the descent of course.
Roger's Pass
It wasnt long before I was speeding through the tunnels at a little over 50km/h with the LED tail light flashing its little heart out and my ring pulsating just as fast when the Greyhound Coach pushed past in the dark. My vision of a seventy kilometer sleighride to the town of Golden evaporated like a mirage in the afternoon heat. It was an afternoon of ups and downs, tailwinds and headwinds. I scanned the forest for a grassy glade by a hot spring to make camp but in the end my wheels came to a stop in Golden outside the "Dreamcatcher Hostel" with 150km on the dial for the day.
Tunnel - One of Eight

The Dreamcatcher Hostel had been a strip club only a year ago. Now it is my dream hostel. Tomorrow is set to be a real scorcher so I have traded the bike in for a river raft. I will let you know how that goes.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Happy Canada Day

Hope marked the beginning of the rise up over the Rocky Mountain Range . It started with a steep unrelenting pass with menacing traffic. The traffic is the result of Canada Day which is the que for suburban Canadians to get in their cars, trucks and RVs, loaded with all their toys and drive as fast as they can to get as far from home as they can, before having to turn around and head home to be back at work on Monday morning.
A blissful section of the Kettle Valley Trail
The first mountain passes behind me and I entered the rain shadow of the Okanagan Valley. By the time I got to Princeton the sky was blue and dotted by small cumulus clouds that built as the day warmed up. The Kettle Valley Trail (part of the Trans Canadian Trail) looked like a good option after contending with highway traffic but its loose gravel surface made it like cycling in wet concrete, so I rode the quiet road that paralleled it until I was lured back to the KVT. It did provide some lovely riding but inevitably there were parts I should have riden on the road and times when I looked longingly at the KVT winding down the valley as I crested another hill.
A timber trestle bridge on the Kettle Valley Trail
The temperature eventually made 30 degrees C and a swim in the river was just the cure over lunch. I think I will make a habit of that. Reaching Summerland (yes there is a place called Summerland and even one called Peachland down the road) I rejoined the highway and rode along the shores of a huge inland lake that even had keel boats sailing on it. Big cliffs marked much of the lake shore and it reminded me of the Balearic Islands with its dry pine tree covered landscape.

A night in Kelowna and I headed north along the Okanagan Valley. The road is flanked with orchards and fruit stands which make a great break knocking back cherries and strawberries.
Cinnamon Bun and Coffee in Kelowna
 The terrain was good as the road followed the valley floor and with the aid of a tail wind I made it to Sicamous where I indulged in a campsite where they had a pool. The pool was great which is just as well as the showers were unapproachable but in the morning when I went to pay the caretaker appologised for my neighbours behaviour and refused to take payment as a result. I am not sure what my neighbour did. I had spent some time with them the night before when they had introduced me to the game of Gatorball. A game that they had invented and involved throwing golf balls into am 18 inch square sand pit for one point and four points if you got it into the Gatorade tin in the middle of the pit. Two teams faced off against each other with pits eight paces apart. It was a bit of fun and I can see myself making up some sand pits for some "Miloball" maybe.
The Enchanted Forest
Well there was no understanding what the caretaker was on about but rather than look a gift horse in the mouth I hit the road. It was the Trans Canadian Highway (Highway 1) and with the holiday traffic mostly gone home and the sky a brilliant blue it was a good day to be on the bike. The road followed the railway line and this meant the gradient was gentle as I headed into the heart of the Rocky Mountains. The christmas tree covered mountains are steep again and snow is on their peaks. Quirky castles,enchanted forests and Noah's Ark work hard to entice the passing travelers. I have arrived in the town of Revelstoke for lunch. It is a ski destination in winter and the mountain bikers seem to make the most of it in summer.
Noah's Ark - Lucky it has God on its side as I think it may have some stability issues.

The next stop is Canyon Hot Springs which sounds great at the end of a days riding.

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