Losing Momentum through Alberta

By Sean   

    Towns are growing in size, road traffic choking our precious air supply, and the presence of civilization in the way of threatening signposts, electric fenced RV parks, and the infinite types of tourist processing stations have been a strain on ‘roughing it’ campaign. As a consequence we’ve exhibited the utmost brazenness –or perhaps insolence- in our choosing of appropriate grounds to cook and pass out. As the inhibitions of a more popular world mount, the bike nomads have become more defiant to the safe and comfortable method of hiding at the threshold of where normal behavior would permit a member of society to venture. It is not always easy. Drawing near the great city of Grand Prairie one night, we were coasting swiftly over a four lane highway when suddenly, at the top of a hill our nocturnal eyes recoiled in horror at flood of city lights; it was like reaching the peak of Sepulveda pass at Sunset blvd and seeing the glowing expanse of Los Angeles. We were quite incapacitated upon being confronted with this unappealing iridescence, so we immediately dragged our bikes up a huge embankment off the highway shoulder and laid in thick grasses till the tide of traffic lulled our senses to sleep. Yet, the shift in our behavior was evident a few hundred miles before, upon our first visitation from the Royal Mounted police. Feeling famished from a long uninterrupted ride we searched for a place to set up a stove and settled upon a wide slab of foundational concrete, with our backs against a portable architectural command office. After ten minutes of dicing potatoes and frying the first cuts of meat, two patrol cars surrounded each side of the construction site. We were not, however, being confronted for trespassing, as one of the four hovering officers explained, “Someone had complained of noise resulting from glass shatteringâ€�. After blinding us with heavy light beams and being reassured of our imminent departure, they searched diligently the premises for the remains of a glass nuisance. All the time we looked around the neighborhood, feeling the disdain of the local residents as they leaned cautiously on doors slightly ajar, waiting for the police intimidation to restore the quiet ambiance.

    From Grand Prairie we would follow a small logging road to the small town of Grand Cache. The Road was paved and enduring the strain of heavy construction machinery; several road kill corpses littered the shoulder. The second day Jacob and I peddled furiously up and down hills trying to avoid the looming specter of storm clouds heading in our direction. When we stopped for lunch, rain caught up with us just before a drenched Goat resumed our company. He had not managed to outpace our gloomy pursuer and had been “stuck under his own personal rain cloudâ€�. Next morning the rain turned to sleet which stuck to the decaying autumn leaves rendering the outside of our tent into a frosty white wonderland. We reached Grand Cache just as a heavy snow descended upon the road. In a Chinese-American cuisine café, amidst cups of coffee and eyes fixed to a glowing all-knowing television screen, a quick weather forecast for the area confirmed our fears; a large red block encompassing the entire area of our current location to Banff predicted snow fall for the next three days. We bought food at the grocery store and headed off into the storm. Stopping for the night, snow was kicked away and the tent pitched upon a muddy flat. No one desired to deal with the labors of cooking and we tried our best to ignore the worsening conditions. The snow piled up on our pyramid tent in thick layers. Jacob managed to destabilize a stake from the ground while trying to knock the snow from the roof. The entire night I suffered the sensation of being buried alive as the tent walls sagged down and soaked sleeping bags with condensation; perhaps the tent would collapse and force us out into the miserable cold.

    Our tent held together and we biked once again through the downpour of wet snow and gusty winds. At one point I began losing feeling in my fingers, the thin fabric of my bike gloves achieving little in means of insulation. As I stood on the edged of the road, breathing into my numb hands, a man pulled over to check up on my condition. He offered to drive me back to Grand Cache, an offer I nearly accepted upon a quick analysis of the near-insanity attributed to this expedition. The driver, returning from a hunt in the mountains, allowed me to warm my hands on his radiator for a few minutes, and then gave me a battered pair of winter gloves. They were ancient, yet they looked as good as gold to my soar eyes. I thanked him profusely, and biked on in good humor till five minutes later when the mouthpiece of my camel back slipped off and a stream of cold water came gushing from the dangling tube. I attempted to contain the flow with my left hand, and my precious new glove quickly became saturated with my drinking water. The leak fixed, I reassured myself that at least I hadn’t yet had the misfortune of sliding off the road into a marsh or stream as was the case with a few cars and a semi-truck that I had passed earlier on.

    Thirty kilometers outside of Hinton we found a closed ‘official’ campsite which we proceed to make our home. There was a large supply of firewood kept dry beneath a tarp and after soaking a few logs in gas a roaring fire was produced and our spirits elevated with the fragrance smoke swirling among snow flakes. Jacob and I tried drying out all our wet clothes on the flames, with the effect that socks and shirts were still soaked in the morning only with a rank smell of smoke mingling with the usual scents of sweat and mildew. Jacob also managed to melt the rubber tips in his bike shoes, damage which caused much discomfort and cut circulation to his toes while riding.

    The storm began to let up while en route to Hinton. Not much can be ascertained as to the qualities of this town. Walking aimlessly through a Safeway grocery store I was accosted by ten High school girls dressed up in Halloween costumes and soliciting flavored condoms for two dollars. Confused with the pomp of such a spectacle, I mumbled that my tight budget wouldn’t allow it, to which they chided me for not having the heart to contribute to a good cause. At this point, I felt the drive to move on, the mystical land of Jasper National park looming but fifty miles ahead.