Day 9 – June 16th – Cranbrook to Sparwood – 134 kms
An easy ride today, mostly flat with a nice tailwind for the majority of the ride. I was going to stop in Fernie, but that tailwind was cooking and I hate not to take advantage, especially after I found out that there was a campground in Sparwood. It’s a community campground, run by the local service clubs and kept very clean and tidy. The manager is from Nova Scotia, so after he found out that I was heading there, he bent my ear on all the places to visit and where to find the best seafood – Mmmm lobster!
The local mountain bike and walking trails also start in the park. There was a notice at the start of the trail that a grizzly bear sow with her two cubs had been spotted in the area, with a caution for hikers and bikers to be wary – I guess! Anyway, all my food and smellies are going into my new Ursack bear bag tonight and getting hung away from my tent site – well away!
I was tempted to stay in Fernie as there are two hostels there, but for future day’s travel between towns, it made more sense to come to Sparwood, besides I’m almost within spitting distance of the Alberta border. Fernie is slowly becoming a second Whistler. Lots of development to cater for skiers – condos and chalets abound. The village is quaint, and full of older small houses, quite a few of which are being renovated. Of course, the Rocky Mountain scenery develops a pleasant ambiance too. Speaking of which, I had lots of those snowy peaked mountains in sight today during most of my ride, can’t beat that! Amongst other things, I saw some deer today, I must say that the deer here in the East Kootenays are much bigger than any that I’ve seen before – some of them are as big as small horses!
The only thing that marred today’s ride was the rumble strip; in fact, I forgot to mention that I had the rumble strip yesterday too, all the way from Yahk to Cranbrook. What fool from the Ministry of Highways thought that idea up? The strip is quite deep and a foot wide and ground into the asphalt in the only good part of the shoulder for cycling! To the right of the strip, the shoulder is not maintained as well as the roadway – i.e. when the highway is re-paved the shoulder is not. Hence, to the right of the rumble strip is often broken pavement and/or it is littered with debris and small stones that have washed to the side of the road. So one ends up riding in the traffic lane or to the right of the rumble strip, when possible. Crossing the rumble strip is a tooth chattering experience, not to mention the effect on the more tender parts of my body! I’d like to meet the moron who’s idea this was and run his bare arse along that strip for while, that would teach him! – Rant over!
Otherwise, all else is fine. I passed the first 1000 kms of the trip on my odometer today and I can also turn my map over for tomorrow – big event! I have Crowsnest Pass to look forward to in the morning, hopefully it will be kind to me!
Day 10 – June 17th – Sparwood, BC to Fort MacLeod, AB – 138 kms
Early this morning, I crossed into Alberta, and there was no fanfare or marching bands, just someone cheering – Oh, maybe that was just Basil! With crossing the border into Alberta, I also crossed the Continental Divide.
My day started with a strong headwind, but after about 15 kms as I neared Crowsnest Pass, I noticed that the wind was at my back, and what a wind! It started light and then picked up throughout the morning. It must have been (and still is) blowing 40 – 50 kms! It made my day very pleasant and short. This morning I was without the dreaded rumble strip for about 10 kms out of Sparwood, but then it started again. Crowsnest Pass, even without the help of the tailwind, was a relatively easy ride; by far the easiest pass that I have ridden, even though the summit is at 1396m.
From Sparwood and all throughout the towns that make up the Crowsnest Pass Municipality, there was strong evidence of the coal mining history in those areas. One could spend a few days touring around just this area and visiting the various mine exhibits and museums.
One of those towns was Coleman, AB, where I stopped for a second breakfast. (My Mum always said that breakfast was the most important meal of the day, so now I have two!). I found a great little restaurant/coffee shop there; you could tell when you walked in that it was the local “spot.” I chatted with a few of the old farmers there who were sitting at one table, while their wives sat and yakked at another! They were all interested in my trip and after relaying my wanderings thus far, they wished me luck on my travels. Apart from the food perspective, that’s another reason why I like to stop at restaurants every now and then, it gives me some interaction with other people and lets me listen to some different ways of thinking – Basil also likes the change from me twittering at him about the same old stuff too!
Quite a change in scenery from the mountain villages to the rangelands of the area around Fort Macleod.
Fort Macleod is the western end of the Red Coat Trail; the famous trek made by the Royal Canadian Mounties in 1874 from Fort Garry (Winnipeg) in Manitoba. The evidence of this history is evident all through town with a replica of a fort, museum, murals etc. I was hoping to ride the Red Coat Trail, or at least the roads that follow the original route closely, but unfortunately, many of southern Alberta’s (and Saskatchewan’s) roads have been reverted to (rough) gravel – cost cutting, I assume. So I think that I’ll stick to the paved roads for now. I’ll probably venture down to the Red Coat Trail somewhere around Weyburn, Saskatchewan.
Amongst other things today, I passed by the Frank Slide, where a huge section of the mountain slid down to valley in 1903. The rock and debris are scattered far and wide on both sides of the highway. Lots of windmills at Lundbreck, all spinning like crazy today. Interesting stuff!
Well, the wind’s still blowing like stink, which is OK so long as the direction stays the same tomorrow – one can only hope!
Day 11 – June 18th – Fort MacLeod to Bow Island – 166 kms
And without that nice tailwind I might add! In fact, I rode into a headwind all day, probably between 10 and 15 kms/hr. I was going to stop at Taber, but once again, I felt like riding a bit further. By the time I figured where I could camp or lay my weary body, I was all the way to Bow Island. There is no island here, so I don’t know where the name originates from.
Back to yesterday… I paid a visit to the local museum and fort in Fort Macleod, what an interesting place, but I only had a half-hour to explore as they closed at 5:00 p.m. They have some neat and interesting artifacts, together with lots of information on the trek of the Mounties along the Red Coat Trail – it must have been quite the journey in those days!
I woke up in the middle of the night to realise that the sound of the strong westerly wind had abated and was replaced by the pitter-patter of raindrops. Needless to say, it was very tough to crawl out of my cocoon of a sleeping bag in the morning. But I did, and thankfully the rain stopped long enough for me to make my oatmeal and tea and put my wet tent away. It rained a bit more on me as I rode, but then stopped to be replaced by that annoying headwind.
As I pulled into Bow Island, the sky was darkening and I felt a few drops of rain. I checked out the campground, which was pretty basic (without showers etc.), so I decided on the cheap motel option instead – wisely so, as a full fledged thunderstorm started soon after I checked in! I’ve stayed in better places, but for $40.00, who’s complaining? Besides it gives me somewhere to dry out my wet gear from this morning. Good restaurant at the motel – while I’m typing this message, I’m scoffing a delicious pizza and quaffing a beer, life’s good, the headwind’s forgotten!
I happened upon another touring cyclist today, a lady from Victoria, BC no less. She is also heading out to the east coast, but trying to ride as much of the Trans Canada Trail as possible. She rode the KVR portion through some of BC, but is stuck on the pavement now as much of the trail is not complete. She’ll have better luck in Quebec and the Maritimes where much more of the TC trail is complete and linked. Her name is Angelica and she’s been on the road since May 20th; after a chat we bid our farewells and carried on at our own pace. Perhaps, I’ll see her again, who knows? I met up with her just outside Lethbridge, where I had stopped for my second breakfast. I found an “all you can eat” pancake house – they didn’t make any money off me!
Lethbridge was unnerving to ride through with my loaded touring bike; in many places there was no shoulder at all and with railroad tracks at crazy angles and heavy traffic, I was glad to be through there in one piece.
Both yesterday and today, I spotted a touring cyclist heading west, but both times it was inconvenient to stop and chat. I especially felt sorry for the poor chap I saw yesterday who was bucking head first into those winds that were such a pleasure to me – Oh well, he looked young and strong!
Scenery wise, the rangelands hardly change, they just go on and on! I was quite excited to come across a hill going into Lethbridge, there was even a sign saying “Hill Ahead.” – You had to be there!
Cows are funny! They stand there chewing the cud, oblivious to all the noisy traffic going by, but when I pass, they all stop what they’re doing and look up and stare at me! I’ve noticed this phenomenon in BC, Alberta, and during other voyages with the bicycle and Basil, weird eh? (You can tell that I have a lot of time to ponder such important issues!).
But I digress, Highway 3 from Fort Macleod to Lethbridge is actually designated a part of the Red Coat Trail, so I’ve already ridden some of it and I’ll pick up a bit more of it in Saskatchewan and Manitoba.
Well it’s pouring outside so I think that I’ll watch some TV and relax for the night. Hopefully the rains will subside by morning!
Day 12 – June 19th – Bow Island to Walsh – 113 kms
I’m only about 2 kms from the Saskatchewan border. The next campground or motel would have been too long a haul even with my favourable tailwind. The owners of the campground here at Walsh, almost didn’t let me camp here, as the area was under a foot of water just last week, they showed me photos from the local newspaper that pictured a lake not a campground! I cajoled them into letting me stay on in a relatively dry spot on some gravel! They still charged me full price though – but it was only $5.00 with free showers!
All the water has to boiled here as the town’s system was contaminated with the flood waters. Throughout the last couple of days I’ve seen much evidence of how the recent heavy rains have flooded many of the low lying areas. One of the reasons that I didn’t stay in Taber yesterday was that the campground had only reappeared a couple of days previously, and it was next to a swollen river – very soggy to say the least.
This morning I awoke in my motel room, looked outside and it was still raining. So after a quick breakfast in my room (same old oatmeal, banana & tea) I donned my duck suit and pedalled off in the rain. Luckily, the wind was almost at my back, but it was a cold wet ride to Medicine Hat. In fact, it was only 7°C this morning! By the time I reached Medicine Hat the rain had almost stopped, so I pulled into the Tourist Information Centre to find out about the camping spots along my route and the best place for a large hot breakfast – to whence I promptly headed. Good place, but they couldn’t get all my order on one plate, so I had to have two!
I couldn’t take many photos today, except I had to capture the “Danger” sign that suggested that I stay in my vehicle to view the buffalo – yeah right, my vehicle!
Other observations today… Don’t use those black rubber bungies to tie anything down to a vehicle, I’ve seen hundreds of those things broken at the side of the road and lots of the steel hooks that used to hold them to something.
By the way, Highway 3 in Alberta has the rumble strip along its full length, but the shoulders of the highway are much wider and better maintained than in BC, hence you didn’t get too much belly-aching from me for the last few days. I rode the full length of the Crowsnest #3 Highway and picked up the Trans Canada #1 in Medicine Hat. The TC is much busier, but has a nice wide shoulder for now anyway! I’ll probably stay on the TC until Moose Jaw.
It’s sunny and cloudy at present, let’s hope that the wet stuff stays away; at least it’s warmer than this morning!