Through the Benchlands to Waterton Lakes and into the mountains once more - Over the hills and far away - CycleBlaze

June 28, 2016 to June 29, 2016

Through the Benchlands to Waterton Lakes and into the mountains once more

Tuesday began with a good breakfast (omelette, hash browns and beans) in the Twin Cities café in Longview's old hotel.  The customers and hosts were amiable and interested in my journey, and I could have lingered, but anticipating a long day, I thanked them for their hospitality and pushed on.  The 122 has no services on the section between Longview and Highway 3, 128 kms to the south. Not knowing what winds I might face, I was aiming for the campsite at Oldman River, about 100 kms along, or at Lundbreck Falls, about 130 kms away.

A nice touch of whimsy on the main street caught my camera's eye:

In Longview, they beat their ploughshares into Harleys
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Leaving town, I dipped into and climbed out of a coulee, and that set a pattern of rollers for the next 60 kms.  East of the highway, a thunder-storm threatened, but it crossed the highway and dissipated before I neared its path, leaving a clear bright sky to match the outsized sculpture at the bar U ranch:

As everyone knows, in these parts the cowboys really are larger than life than life
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I stopped for lunch at noon, about 3 1/2 hours after breakfast, and after the rollers and a mild headwind, I needed the food.  Then, I was rewarded:  the wind changed, and I enjoyed a long downgrade for another 60-plus kms, with a tailwind!  As I did the day before, I sailed along.  The rolling pastures of the benchlands offer classic Western vistas, the impossibly clear air showing impossibly distant mountains reached by roads obviously first laid down by Roman legionaries:

Benchland skyscape, looking S towards the mountains of Watrerton Lakes NP
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As mid-afternoon neared, I realized that I had misjudged my water intake. I began the day with more than three litres of water, but by 2 PM, I was into my last bottle, and I although I was only a half-hour or so from Oldman River campground, I wasn't sure if I would find water there.  On this lightly-travelled highway, I was happy to see a pickup and trailer parked in a lay-by on the other side of the road, so I waved and crossed the road to ask if they might have some water.  Cayley was a thirty-something woman from Spokane, Washington, en route to Edmonton with her horse in tow for an equestrian competition, and for me, a cheerful "Why, sure, here you go!" as she gave me a two-litre bottle of water. I wished her well at the meet, and complimented her on the paint she'd chosen for her rig.  I wouldn't describe the one-tonne pickup-mit-trailer as elegant, but its paint job certainly was--a nice bone white, with restrained black pinstriping running the length of both truck and trailer, just below the wheel arches.  As Fats Waller used to say, "One never knows, do one?"  I had been lucky, and made a mental note to fill my 2-ltr MSR bladder on future long rides like this.

I reached Lundbreck Falls about 3:30, covering the 132 kms in 6 hours of riding.  At the pretty sundrenched campground, I set up camp and wandered over to the old hand pump atop the well to refill my bottles and get ready for supper.  But the pump was completely kaput—not only was there no potable water, there was no water, period. (I wasn't completely surprised--the Alberta government website for campgrounds at recreational areas like Lundbreck advises travellers that potable water may not be available.)   I walked over to a nearby RV and asked two folks relaxing in the shade if they knew what options there were for water, and what advice they might have.  They confirmed that the pump was broken and that there was no water on site.  The only nearby source of potable water was in town, a few miles east; the river was OK for bathing, but the cattle pastures upstream made drinking it inadvisable unless it was treated.  But there’s no problem, they said. “We’re leaving tomorrow, and we have several gallons we can give you. In fact, why don’t you join us for supper, as we’re cooking up the last of our food.  Take whatever water you need, and come back in half an hour, and we’ll have some cold beer.”

That wonky old hand pump, nostalgic and useless as it was, led me to spend a delightful three hours in the company of Bob and Norma, and Max, their cat, all from Red Deer, a few hours' drive to the north.  They gave me a share of their well-seasoned and filling supper of mac and cheese, BBQ’d sausages and salad, and several cold beers. I thanked them profusely, and complimented them on the simplicity and taste of their meal.

Our conversation covered the waterfront.  Nearing retirement, they told me of Bob’s decades of work in transporting oil-rig equipment throughout the province, and of Norma’s in admin, both in firefighting and health care.  They were thoughtful and candid in their assessment of the way we had built our economy and our cities—our current patterns and practices, they said, were simply unsustainable. 

From Lundbreck Falls to Waterton Lakes and beyond

My route the next day, Wed., June 29, would take me SW from Lundbreck Fall to Pincher Creek, and from there, south towards Waterton Lakes NP. There, Hwy 6 skirts the Park proper, climbing SE before crossing the U.S. border and descending to join US 89.  I aimed to camp the night at Belly River, just before the border, a ride of a little less than 100 kms.

Pincher Creek is in south-western Alberta's wind tunnel, and in recent years, the surrounding ranchlands have sprouted wind turbines:

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After restocking my food supply at a well-provisioned supermarket in Pincher Creek, I rolled southward towards Waterton.  After making my lunch under a roadside tree near Twin Butte, a little further along I was surprised to find an excellent general store in Twin Butte proper--in fact, it was the only building I could see.  I inhaled an A-grade ice cream and bought some good quality jerky, and would recommend the store to any passing cyclist.

I reached the Waterton front about 2:30.  The dramatic wall of mountains signals the climbs to come, both today near Waterton itself, and later in Glacier, further south.  The two photos below go West to East.  My route would take me to the left (SE) of the second photo, where the knob of Chief Mountain marks the eastern end of the front:

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Skirting Waterton, I follow Hwy 6 SE towards the U.S. border.  On the long 2nd-gear climb to the plateau surrounding Chief Mountain, Waterton Lakes begin to the west and below me:

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Once on the plateau, my helpful tailwind reappears, and I make good time on a landscape that is eerily familiar.  Chief Mountain and its neighbours  are splendid granite peaks and faces that reminded me of Mt. Mulanje, in the southeastern corner of Malawi:

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But Chief Mountain, alone, looks like Isandlwana to me, admittedly without the latter's sobering history:

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Mike AylingBut Chief Mountain, alone, looks like Isandlwana to me, admittedly without the latter's sobering history:

G'day John,
My very first tour mentioned in my profile took in Isandlwana and Rorkes Drift. The Zulus used the classic pre dawn military strike and killed almost the entire Brit force.
Mary found this on the net this morning:
Zulu artefacts including shields and weapons used at Rorke's Drift where British garrison fought 4,000 marauding Zulu warriors are to go under the hammer for £50,000

Have a great year!

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5 years ago
John SaxbyTo Mike AylingThanks, Mike, and happy new year to you and Mary. Strange, these connections you find, eh? I had known about Isandlwana & Rorke's Drift long before I visited those places. In 2003-06, Marcia and I lived in South Africa, and in 2004, we visited some of the battlefields in Natal -- those two spots, as well as Spion Kop. The week before that visit, we had spent a morning in the Apartheid Museum in Jo'burg. After all that, I was quite overwhelmed, feeling that the country's history was soaked in blood. Still, its people have managed to produce some extraordinary art and music.

I have a little booklet that you might find interesting: It's called "What Really Happened at Rorke's Drift?", by a fellow named Pat Rundgren, who conducts battlefield tours & does re-enactments. With good use of contemporary references, it debunks the myth of Rorke's Drift quite convincingly, and with wry humour too. If you're interested, send an email with your postal addr to me on jsaxbyatbelldotnet, and I'll mail it to you. You could then send it back to me at our son's addr in Gold Coast.

Cheers, John
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5 years ago

From the plateau, I plunged down to the Belly River, and reached the campground just in time for a brief downpour.  Taking shelter in the self-registration booth, I saw a sign advising no potable water.  As the rain cleared--lo!--a park ranger appeared as well.  I asked her about water, and she kindly gave me a couple of litres.  I found a fine campsite near the river with some convenient trees for my tarp, and pitched camp in bright sunshine.  I rigged my tarp to ensure there'd be no more rain, and enjoyed another cooling swim in the river.  Then, I made sure of my water supply for breakfast by filling my MSR bladder with river water, and adding purifying tablets.

Late afternoon campsite at Belly River
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This evening marked a week and a day since I started my ride in Hinton.  The seven days from Jasper to Waterton Lakes have taken me through landscapes of sublime power and beauty.  In such a setting, you feel so small, and properly so.  The scale, beauty and remoteness of the mountains are such that you begin to see why people over the ages have thought them to be gods and great spirits, infused with magical properties.

Today's ride: 228 km (142 miles)
Total: 838 km (520 miles)

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