August 28: Honeymoon Lake to Rampart Creek, Alberta - The Great North American Sticky Bun Hunt - CycleBlaze

August 28: Honeymoon Lake to Rampart Creek, Alberta

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THE FUNNY THING is that our Chinese friend turned up again next day, at the top of a 2,100-metre pass.

"You know me?" she asked.

We assured her we did.

"How many hours it take to get here?"

We answered her question honestly and then excused ourselves with the need to get warm. Before she questioned us again on our astonishing gas stove.

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A week ago the thermometer was pushing 40. Then overnight it dropped to 10. This morning it was just seven and it was raining again. The surrounding hills that were tree-capped last night were covered this morning in snow. It was pretty but it is not supposed to be like this. It is 15 degrees colder than the season's average.

Grey, clinging cloud hung like a woolly rind round the mountains as we set off along a deserted road. The rest of the world saw no reason to inspect a beauty spot turned to monochrome. The cloud cleared now and then to reveal jagged, snow-covered tops and sometimes long white tongues of glaciers. And then the light took fright and vanished like a startled gopher.

Heading for the pass.
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There was one big climb today and, unconventionally, the cloud lifted as we rose. Sunwapta pass rises to more than 2,000 metres, plenty high enough to feel the thinness of oxygen in the air. We gulped as we pedalled and the muscles around our chests began to protest. It is hard at that altitude and it is harder still when it's cold.

"This is the land of giants," Luis sighed. We had caught him on the road and we rode for a while along a flat valley with mountains intimidating us on both sides and a cold, green river rushing noisily over glacial rocks in the centre.

Luis of Lisbon in the Land of Giants
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"In such mountains there must be huge giants," he added quietly, showing an unexpectedly poetic side for a statistician.

We rode on at our own pace, separating after eating roadside sandwiches as we gazed, stunned at the frozen cascade of a glacier that bridged a canyon in the mountains. Our road descended and wound lazily beside that green water. We could have continued all day in this Land of Giants.

There are no trucks in the Icefield Parkway. They're not allowed. Private traffic travels respectfully. If it weren't for the bumpiest shoulders in the civilised world, all would have been bliss. Except that then, suddenly, the road reared like a startled bear and began gnawing at the sky. It was all quite undignified. We grovelled from valley level to 2,000 metres in about the length of this sentence.

Science holds that the temperature will fall one degree for every 200 metres climbed. Science was precisely right. And remember that it had hardly been summer when we started. It was bone-chillingly cold when we finished.

The summit is marked by a combined tourist centre, hotel and bus shelter. It also has a camp site. That was where we planned to stay. But that had been back when it was still 38 degrees. To camp above the tree line at 2,000 metres when it's little more than freezing in late afternoon would be to ask too much of our two-season sleeping bags.

The indecision, the conflicting desires...

The glacier at Sunwapta Pass: it recedes every summer.
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That blue cone? Walk no further or you're likely to fall into a deep, deep hole.
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We wanted to take the bus tour out on to the glacier, where the ice is as thick as the Eiffel Tower is tall. Departure: 4pm. Duration: 1hr 30min. Likely time of descent: 6pm. Next campsite: 20km.

We took the tour and scurried off the moment we could, sweaters beneath our waterproofs to cope with the freezing descent of the mountain.

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But there was no campsite. It had long closed. A nearby wilderness hostel was open only to those who knew the procedure was to ask for its key two days back down the road in Jasper. The next campsite, with a hostel across the road, was 40km beyond the summit of Sunwapta.

We plunged and we plunged. Freezing air hosed itself against us. We swirled round a hairpin and the wind turned against us, pressing us back from 70 to 28 in a moment, forcing us to pedal downhill. As the road turned back to the left, we rode at 30 degrees on our tyres' edge to keep balance. And then when it turned back right, we set off again, riding purposefully to reach the campsite or hostel before night fell.

Well, this isn't to make too much of a drama of it. We reached the hostel and we took the last two beds in one of the two wood cabins. There was no running water, there were no showers, there was little of anything. But it was romantic beyond description and welcome beyond the bounds of gratitude.

The unexpected outcome, though, was - well, unexpected.

We are running ahead of time. We have decided to cut our riding distance each day to 50km, for fear of arriving in Calgary three days before our plane leaves. Today we ended up not with 50km but with 90. In other words, far from losing a day, we have advanced by one.

Life is never straightforward, is it?

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