August 27: Jasper to Honeymoon Lake, Alberta - The Great North American Sticky Bun Hunt - CycleBlaze

August 27: Jasper to Honeymoon Lake, Alberta

The forecasters said it would be cold and wet. They earned their money.
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THE FORECASTERS SAID it would rain again this morning and that the temperature would fall to not far above freezing. They can not be faulted.

Thunder echoed in the hills yesterday evening and rain and wind sent the few passers-by hurrying with umbrellas that threatened to turn inside out. This morning there was snow on surrounding hills that had none when we arrived. It could all have been agreeable had it not been so cold and had the wind not been blowing towards us.

But there was a lot of fun today, for all the heavy clothes and waterproofs. We were barely out of town, for instance, when we caught a German, whose name we never discovered. He was in his upper 60s, came from Munich, and

Bikies can talk even when they don't share a language: headwinds, hills and long days in the saddle are the same in every tongue.
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was riding a long way with just a couple of panniers. He spoke limited English and my German is restricted to asking for a room with central heating and, in the morning, wondering where my breakfast is. The usual routine of hand signals and words such as "when" and "where" elicited that he started his journey that morning in Jasper. Steph explained where we had been and was rewarded with a slap on the back. We got no further until a couple who had been taking pictures after parking near us detected a fellow countryman and took up the pursuit. They talked away without helping with a translation. But from the drift we got that he was riding to San Francisco and hoped to be there by Christmas.

The Germans got back into their car and the other German, more lightly loaded than we were, back on his bike. We never saw him again. But he wasn't the last traveller of the day.

Useful sign on leaving Jasper.
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The tourist brochures said we should be sure to stop at Athabasca Falls. The size of the car park shows it is not unknown to bus parties and there was little sign of the original meaning of the place in the local Indian language: a place where reeds grow.

The falls were ho-hum but the significance is that two loaded cyclists pulled out of the turning just as we approached. The man was pulling a trailer and had panniers as well, while a smaller figure - a woman or a boy, perhaps - had more bags on a tinier bike.

An hour passed before we caught them. They were on the other side of the road, talking to two Dutch riders appropriately dressed in orange.

"We are from Switzerland," Rebecca said after the Dutch couple, from Rotterdam, had warned all of us of snow that had fallen ahead on the road. Rebecca was short and dressed in a tight-fitting grey-blue tracksuit top and in black shorts and leggings. Her eyes were intense and, for all she was friendly, a smile didn't come quickly.

"We started at Anchorage, in Alaska," she said.

Swiss Rebecca: at home in the mountains but without the breath to yodel.
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"And where are you going?"

"We don't know."

Her first language was German, a language at which I had already demonstrated my incompetence. I could hardly blame her for not being forthcoming in English. But she wasn't hiding anything. She and her boyfriend honestly didn't know where they were going and couldn't say, therefore, how long it would take.

"Maybe we ride a year and a half," she said, "but we don't know."

In this land of darkness...
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Then there was Luis. Luis is a tall, slender man with olive skin that betrays origins beside the Mediterranean. Except that he is from Portugal, which borders the Atlantic. He works in Lisbon, Europe's most westerly capital.

"I work in statistics," he winced. "All my day, every day, working with figures. This is my escape."

Luis isn't his real name. It makes it sound, as I thought with Rebecca, that he has something to hide. But, no. "My real name is difficult even in Portuguese," he explained, "so Luis is easier."

The man-with-two-names rode into the campsite here just as the first rain fell. Darkness would fall, too, as the sun sank to the top of a round-topped rock covered with evergreens. It painted a beautiful rainbow, the full spectrum, which reflected in the green and surprisingly warm water of a linear lake and then extinguished itself.

"I have a year off work," Luis explained as he cooked in the campground shelter. "And I have three months' leave a year, so I can spend 15 months on the road." He, too, started in Alaska, where he had caribou for company, and he'll stop when he gets to Argentina.

"My English gets better when I speak it more," he said. "Then when I get to Central America I can get by with a mixture of Portuguese and Spanish."

As he cooked, so we began clearing up our own kit ready to hide from bears. We were partly through that when a couple appeared from beside the lake with a rare enthusiasm on their faces. The man was tall and round-faced, quieter, the woman a powerplant of excitable energy, smaller, dark-haired and heavily made-up. They were from China but they had lived for the past year in Las Vegas, the reason for which never became clear.

"Wah you from?", she asked.





"Europe," Steph said.

Honeymoon Lake... aaah!
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"Ah, Yahp."

So far this was a run-of-the-mill encounter. I write the words as she pronounced them not to mock - for once again I was obliged to make a visitor speak my language rather than his - but to give the flavour of the exchange.

The woman walked about as though she had never been on a campsite. She said she was visiting, to see the lake.

"You sleep there?", she asked, pointing at our green tent, which seemed tiny against the neighbouring camping-cars.

We said we did.

"Wah... you must be cold."

She didn't wait for an answer. Instead she started going through all our belongings on the table like a cat investigating its new home.

"Wah this?"

"Our stove."


"For cooking meals."

"You cook meal? On tha'." She looked as disbelieving as appalled. She examined our single-jet burner much the same as any other lightweight camper would use, and discussed it urgently in Mandarin with her companion.

"How work?"

"This gas bottle," Steph explained. She picked up the little canister and tugged the stove along by the hose to which it was connected.

"Tha' gas? Where you buy?"

"Any camping shop, really."

She picked up the gas bottle, weighed it in her hand, started again in Mandarin. China may have invented paper and fireworks. It pioneered accounting with the abacus. It built the Great Wall, established a civilisation and sent men into space. But that was clearly nothing compared to a single-jet gas burner.

Which was made, I feel sure, in China.

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