Yesterday we hit Alberta and ticked the first province off our ride.
Now feels like a good time to reflect: our first day off, drinking a coffee with cream, and recharging our devices and ourselves in the café of a hotel way outside of our price range.
The defining expectation for B.C. in my mind was the Rocky Mountains, and the dread of the inevitable climbs they promised that I hadn’t trained for. Some consolation came from the knowledge that over 50% of the ride’s elevation would be chipped off in the first 15% of the miles.
Foothills and forested mountains led us out of Vancouver, their elevations hinting at what was to come. Occasional grey towns punctuated riding along wonderful secluded roads winding down valleys, and alongside rivers and lakes. Heavy traffic was usually filtered onto parallel highways, although as provincial roads consolidated down toward cross-country highways we were more often amongst the roaring motorcades.
A string of fruit stalls and resort towns lined the shore of Lake Okanagan, where we resigned ourselves to a few days of camping in paid provincial parks rather than free wild campsites.
The park warden at Bear Creek campsite told us, with an expression exactly half way between concern and complete disinterest, that we should “watch out, as this next stretch is one of the most dangerous roads in Canada”.
A slightly ominous review, but no different from advice we’ve received two or three other times. The winding picturesque roads that usually follow never seem to fit the warnings.
The same thing happened with hills. Asking what the road is like between here and wherever we’re heading is a good conversation starter and usually yields some foreboding news about monumental inclines we’ll have to conquer. “There’s Three Valley Gap”, Dee Dee told us. “That’s three valleys, and a gap”.
After wondering briefly what a gap entailed, my mind wandered back to a ride in Yorkshire involving two valleys which broke me completely. The thought of three was too much but, as usual, in Canadian reality the road wound through the valleys rather than over them, and the incline was barely noticeable.
True snow-capped Rockies didn’t appear until the second week, and the moment will stick with me forever. We rounded a wide corner and the view of our first Rocky Mountain vista slowly revealed itself.
They are truly majestic: ice blue, huge, ancient, formidable.
And all I could think was “man, I’d love a Coors Light!”.
Never have I felt so cheated out of an opportunity to be humbled by and connected with nature’s grandeur. Instead of experiencing something spiritual I kept thinking of Jean Claude Van Damme masquerading about in tight jeans.
But even the mountain passes are relatively tame. Rogers Pass and Kicking Horse Pass were touted as some of the toughest hills in Canada, but the gradients never go over seven or eight percent. Instead of the old British technique of slapping a road over a hill to get from A to B, Canadians built long, gradual and infinitely more sensible passes. You drop into the lowest gear and lock into the rhythm, and an hour later you’re at the top.
So after preparing for gruelling climbs, neither of us felt like we’d been kicked by a horse after that pass. My ass was a bit tender after Rogers though.
A sign marking entry to Alberta was a backdrop for goofy pictures, and a moment spent feeling accomplished and buoyed by beauty of the ride so far, safe in the knowledge that the hardest hills are done, and that our legs still function as intended despite 95 mainly uphill miles.
The thing that strikes me most so far is the narrative thread that’s been woven through people and places we’d never met or heard of two weeks ago, and how prominent these things become in our daily activities.
So far it feels like a cork board. Initially everything gets pinned up, but as miles and places and people accumulate things will be buried beneath new additions. Committing things to words provides granular snapshots of specific times and mindsets along the way, making those details available at the end when the day-to-days are distilled down to a collage of highlights in my mind.