July 10: Cut Bank to Cardston, Alberta - The Great North American Sticky Bun Hunt - CycleBlaze

July 10: Cut Bank to Cardston, Alberta

On the road to Del Bonita.
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A VERY ODD THING happened today. But, as Dylan Thomas advised, to begin at the beginning...

We set the alarm to get away early because we were again promised a headwind. We were out of our tent at 5.30am only to find Leah, next door, already up, dressed and close to packing her tent.

"I slept pretty well except for the trains hooting," she said.

We smiled. She is riding west to east and has only just reached the 1,000km of camping beside the railway. On the other hand she had the tailwind and we didn't.

We crawled out of town at 12kmh and plodded on. Things got better when the road swung left but Canada came rushing with eye-watering, lung-filling enthusiasm. The day promised 120km with not a shop or a cafe, since the little store across the border at Del Bonita opens only irregularly, and not a village or even a collection of houses either. It was to be the wildest, emptiest countryside of the journey.

The road rose and dropped and then rose again, finally topping 1,300m and bringing the first good view of the Rockies. The land is rounded and white patches show through the grass and crops. That suggests chalk wearing in the wind and rain and a loaf-shaped outcrop the size of a cathedral is called Chalk Butte to underline the theory.

So where did the odd thing happen?

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Well, almost halfway through the day the road crossed from America into Canada. The border offices are 200m apart and not rushed because not many folk come this way. The Americans were concerned only with those coming in, not those going out. Down the road, the Canadians waited to clock us in.

On the right, though, in no man's land, three dozen people were enjoying burgers and drinks around a table beside an RV. Chairs had been set into a horseshoe and, the folk being older rather than younger, it had the air of a school reunion or a pensioners' outing.

"Come and have a burger with us!"
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Just as we slowed, a trim, blond woman in jeans, shirt and glasses ran into the road and waved to us.

"Come and have a burger with us!"

"Well, gladly, but who are you?"

"The Flying Farmers..."

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If you have never heard of them you're not alone. We hadn't either. But the name tells it all, in that they are farmers from both sides of the border who fly. Their planes were lined up on both sides of a grass runway that stretched at a right angle from the road. Someone whispered to us that the only farm work they did was a couple of trips a year to inspect cattle "but that's enough to justify putting the plane down as a tax expense."

There are neither as many farmers nor as many flyers as there were. Membership is therefore fairly liberal. Young farmers don't

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have the same interest in private aviation and they don't have the money. Older farmers have the money and the planes but they no longer farm.

Well, we joined them and they couldn't have been more hospitable. Margot, our hijacker, introduced us to her family and members pushed drink and food on us. A man whose name I didn't catch said: "We come from Canada and the US and this is the only place we can meet without going abroad. The runway goes straight down the border in no man's land. Look and you'll see all the Canadian planes are lined up on the Canadian side and all the Americans are on the other."

It emerged later that there were more of one than the other and that the border guards, who would normally have demanded passports and documentation but seemed bemused by the whole thing - they came along for burgers as well - had turned a blind eye to the temporary export of aircraft from one side to the other.

It had never occurred to either of us that flying a plane from one country to the other demands the pilot call ahead and then land at a checkpoint that has an airstrip. There he has to show his passport and fill in forms.

"You pilots are pretty good at remembering to bring your passports," a woman guard from the Canadian side said in a speech. "It's people in cars who give us problems."

We stayed an hour with the Flying Farmers and then rode on, meeting Rory, an Irishman ("Oi'm from Doblin) who now lived in Boston, Massachusetts. "I used to complain about the trees in New England getting in the way of the view," he said. "Now I barely see a tree at all and I'm beginning to think differently."

He had had a long drag of a ride up from Cardston and had just completed a tough hill when we met. He looked tired. He looked crestfallen when we told him the shop in Del Bonita was closed and that therefore there was no food or drink all the way to Cut Bank. He said he hoped to go further than that, to Shelby. We wished him well but we suspect he stopped at Cut Bank. We would have in his place, anyway.

A storm broke on each side of us as we neared Cardston. We passed between the two mountains of black cloud but the wind and the fall in temperature got us as we rolled into town. Rain began to topple on us and we took refuge in a motel. Tomorrow we will move across the road to the camp site but in weather like this, after a day like that, a motel and a soft bed is just what's needed.


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