August 30-31: Days off at Lake Louise, Alberta - The Great North American Sticky Bun Hunt - CycleBlaze

August 30-31: Days off at Lake Louise, Alberta

Look out! Happy times ahead!
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"AS AN AMERICAN, what difference do you notice about being in Canada? Apart from the metric system, that is?"

The man who stopped his car to drive us from the lake of Lake Louise down to the hostel of Lake Louise was from Oregon. He and his wife had driven for eight hours on successive days to get here, although they had stopped north of Seattle, at Bellingham, to see their grandchildren.

The man smiled at the reference to metres and litres, a smile which admitted they were beyond him, and then said: "I think life here is more relaxed."

"In what way?"

"Well," he said slowly, looking to crystallise his thoughts, "I think life in the States is too competitive. There's always competition, always some sort of conflict in life."

I don't know how many Americans yearn to be Canadian. Not many, probably, and that's predictable. Most people are content to adopt the country and nationality which chance has allocated. But quite a few take the step. There are reports in the paper here of hundreds of local people taking the oath as Canadians for the first time. Among them, Americans, although the paper doesn't say how many. We have met an American who went further and renounced his American nationality as part of becoming Canadian.

How many Canadians would rather be American? Somewhat fewer, I suspect, if only because there are fewer Canadians in the first place. Our impression has been that Americans see Canadians as country cousins, not without good points but rather dull. They go along with a comedian - American - who said Canada was a fine country, "although perhaps not for a whole weekend."

Canadians we have spoken to have been much more firm. They are grateful, and they say it clearly, to have been born in Canada rather than "down there", as many of them put it. They acknowledge, like the woman in Cardston, that there aren't many differences in culture close to either side of the border. But there's no doubt they think they are on the right side.

The difference we have noticed is that here, north of the border, there isn't the spontaneous friendship we experienced on the southern side. We have met nobody rude, unfriendly or unwelcoming but there isn't that instant smile, the friendly curiosity, the determination that everyone is worth ten minutes to see if he might be a friend.

To be fair, we have spent a lot of time on long busy roads with few places to stop, let alone towns where we could meet people. When we have arrived anywhere in Canada, it has been accustomed to tourists, to foreigners, to ships in the night. There, we have been treated with the professional and therefore transient warmth - the eternal contradiction - bestowed on tourists and their wallet.

We are, I think, in the dangerous position of thinking we know America and Americans. Dangerous because it's a delusion that invites trouble. On the other hand, as Steph said: "We have been in Canada for weeks and I still don't feel I know much about the place, how it works, how the people think."

But there, perhaps, we are no different from several million Americans.

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Even wet days have their beauty
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LAKE LOUISE, the lake, is the only reason to come here. The town, which stands - although you'd never know it - on an Indian reserve, exists solely for tourists. We are tourists and that is why we have come. Tourists bring wallets. The supermarket close to the hostel charges coming on for twice what a supermarket would ask anywhere else.

At least the lake is free. It is four kilometres out of town and billed in every guide as a must-see. Well, yes, you must see it if you come to Lake Louise. But, to be honest, Peytoe lake at the top of Bows pass

Lake Louise: Peytoe lake is prettier, we thought.
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is better and - apart from having to climb to the col in the first place - easier to get to. The joy of Lake Louise lies beyond its lake. Continue past the hotel that calls itself a chateau and a path climbs for an hour to an hour and a half, depending how fast you walk, to a cafe in the clouds. Stranded more than 2,000 metres in the sky is a wood cabin with a delightful cafe and an appealing kitchen.

The joy of Lake Louise lies beyond its lake.
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Climb another thousand metres above the lake and this is the view.
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"On a busy day, we have 1,000 people a day here," the waitress told us. "Now it is easing off a bit."

She was from Quebec and spoke English with a French accent. She relished the chance to speak French and chatted for as long as other customers would allow.

"I live in a room at the back of the cafe," she said.

Well-deserved cake and hot chocolate after walking into the clouds.
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"Is it cold at night?"

She laughed.

"Very."

It was only a few degrees above freezing when we set off and the thermometer drops a degree for ever 200 metres climbed.

The cafe's stocks, she said, were brought up once a year by helicopter and then, as circumstance demanded, topped up on horseback. There was abundant evidence of passing horses as we climbed the steep mud and rock path so reprovision had just taken place, perhaps.

I wanted to ask how she got up and down between the town and the cafe, but a customer appeared and I lost the chance.

We are having two days off here to kill time before heading on for Calgary and the airport.

"I feel hurry-up-and-wait," Steph said. I know what she means. Our attempts to kill time on the road were thwarted by having to ride, thanks to the weather, further each day than we planned. Twice as far, in fact, so that instead of losing a day we gained one.

We are disappointed to pass through the Icefields Parkway, one of the most beautiful roads in the world, without one sunny day. It has been cold, wet, sometimes foggy, always cloudy. My own feeling is that we may not have seen the mountains at their most glamorous, and sometimes we couldn't see them at all. But, when we saw them, they took on a ghostly, eery quality because of wreaths of mist. Steph, I know, sees that too but she is more disappointed than I am that we missed the chance of sun. It doesn't help that everyone says it will reappear just as we leave the park and its mountains the day after tomorrow.

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