September 1: Lake Louise to Canmore, Alberta - The Great North American Sticky Bun Hunt - CycleBlaze

September 1: Lake Louise to Canmore, Alberta

A Byrdie on a Bikie
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BYRDIE LAUGHED. "At home it's a good day if I ride 70km. That gives me time to have a look around, maybe go and look at a waterfall or have a meal, that sort of thing. But do it here and after 70K you're still in the middle of nowhere."

Byrdie is from Rotorua in New Zealand. She says "yiss" for yes and "thet" for that. It's how you tell a Kiwi from an Aussie, just as the "oat" sound in "about" is how you distinguish a Canadian from an American.

Byrdie enjoys life. At the moment she and an old friend, Jimmy, are enjoying a month in Canada together.

"We could have toured in New Zealand or in Australia, but if you're going for a month you want to go further, don't you?"

We had left Lake Louise in the usual gloom and cold. It was seven degrees as we closed the door of the hostel. Two roads leave the town to the south-east. One is the Trans-Canada Highway and the other a quieter parkway, the 1A. We wanted the second but ended up on the first.

It grew busier and busier as the morning went on, made worse by 20km of roadworks. In a country like Canada you take your chance when it comes to mending roads. It's peak season or it's midwinter. Midwinter lasts half the year. No complaints, then, especially because the contractors had preserved a safe area for cyclists. And nobody minded our riding on a perfect and empty stretch of carriageway which needed nothing but yellow lines before it could open to traffic.

Nevertheless, we were delighted to find an unexpected bridge to Castle Mountain and the road we wanted. We celebrated with coffee and sticky buns outside a cafe made from a filling station, complete with an old and functioning pump outside. We watched as a lean woman in cycling clothes drove up in a van laden with bikes, extracted one and went for a ride. She had either finished her duties as tour leader or, more probably, was ahead of a group and was waiting to add their bikes to those on the roof.

It was after that that we met Byrdie and Jimmy. They appeared from the left with a tooting of rubber-duck squeakers and a lot of waving of hands. They'd been to see a waterfall.

Byrdie and Jimmy are friends from school days. They joined up after Jimmy had ridden from San Francisco to Alaska and then down to Alberta. Byrdie is on a four-week circuit starting and ending in Vancouver.

"Jimmy has introduced me to riding longer distances," she said, "and I have initiated him in Warm Showers. He saw it as taking advantage of people's hospitality. But as a family said to us the other day: 'You're our entertainment for the evening... and we know you can't steal much because you're on bicycles!'"

Jimmy: a meeting on the road
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The weather turned sunny as we chatted, then clouded over and went back to a cold sulk.

Road 1A is delightful. I saw a recommendation here on Crazyguy to stay on the Trans-Canada. But I can't see how anybody could find that tolerable, let alone better. The argument was that it has wide shoulders and gentle rises and drops. But it is a transcontinental highway. And, from where we turned off, it was marked blue on our map as an expressway with high speeds and limited exits. When the current roadworks finish, that will be how it is all the way back to Lake Louise.

The reason we ended up on the highway for an hour was that we missed the 1A at the start. The signs for the 1A are less frequent than for the Bow Valley Parkway. Unless you know they are the same thing, the error is easy. I think whoever recommended the Trans-Canada missed those signs as well. Road 1A passes through trees and round bends and over undemanding rises.

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Birds sing and the traffic is light. Just occasionally there are tyre noises from across the valley to remind you how different it must be on the Trans-Canada Highway.

Who'd take advice to stay on the main highway when the alternative is as pretty as this?
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The road ends just before Banff. There it rejoins the Trans-Canada. And there'd be good reason to mope were it not that a new cycle path runs from that junction right into town. Access is by surprisingly sturdy wire gates with

Cyclists can open the gates - bears can't. Both proceed in safety.
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latches. The path then runs between firm fences. There are no signs to say why but eventually it dawns that this is bear country. The gates and fences not only protect cyclists from animals but animals from traffic. They can pass under the road, often using waterways, by passing through what in other circumstances would be an airlock with the bike path.

"We're not a club - just friends who love doing things together": the lovely, happy group we met on the bike path to Banff
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The idea and the path are sufficiently new that we came across a bunch of cyclists, not in their first bloom, who had ridden out happily to inspect them.

"We're not a club," a man I'd take to be in his seventies told us with a youthful smile. "We're a group of friends who go cycling together, walking together and skiing together." We admire their companionship and they kept us company along the path and, when it broadened into a quiet lane beside a lake, on what we guessed must have been the original road.

Banff is a relentlessly commercial version of Jasper, being the southern entrance to the Icefields Parkway and closer to Calgary. It's hard to take exception because it's reasonably tasteful, although my view could have been less charitable in mid-season.

There's a path from Banff to Canmore, a town all but dead until it became a site for the winter Olympics. Now it thrives. The path isn't as attractive as on the other side of town but it does its job and it's separated from the highway by a concrete wall. It was along there that Steph had another puncture. As we mended it a bearded Québecois arrived with a smile of sympathy. The not-a-club folk had seen him as well and smiled ruefully at the state and quantity of his baggage. "He looked like a bottle-collector rather than a cyclist," one of the women said.

Bottle-collecting is a new paying hobby in Canada. There is a deposit on every drinks bottle or plastic container and probably more as well. It's an ecological move to save the planet a little more. We have never worked out how it functions since nobody appears to ask for the money back on returning the container. They throw it instead into a waste bin and from there folk with more time than they have money go through the rubbish, extract anything that carries a deposit, and get their money wherever it is this money is given out.

As soon as I saw our French-speaking arrival I knew that was whom they had been talking about. There were bags everywhere and at all angles. Nice chap, though. It's important not to judge folk by their appearance. He had met that French family heading for South America, for instance. He came across them on Bow's pass, in the afternoon when there was more traffic. A six-year-old can ride only so fast, as can a man pulling a four-year-old in a trailer, and they were being buzzed by unthoughtful drivers. The Québecois had placed himself at their tail, further out in the road, to act as a human shield.

We chatted for a while and then he pushed on. Maybe we were still talking about him when we realised we had missed a ghost town with the uncompromising name of Anthracite. It would have been good to have seen it. The map said it was right beside the road. A description said slag heaps and the remains of buildings were visible. But not to us, they weren't. If we missed them, we certainly didn't miss a sign for them. For there were no signs at all.

The story is simple: towns needed heat and locomotives required fuel so miners came from all over the eastern USA when coal was found in 1883. Anthracite became a wild and unruly town. Blanche Maloney's brothel offered sex and alcohol. The Canadian Anthracite company obtained a ban on alcohol, as effective as Prohibition anywhere. Twenty mounted police moved in. But Anthracite was already in decline because of problems and enormous costs.

Canadian Anthracite closed the mine in 1890. An American financier saved the town in 1891 but the problems remained. A flood in 1894 destroyed bridges and buildings. In 1897 a flood rose two metres and kill horses and mules underground. By 1904 Anthracite was close to a ghost town.

In 1997 a paper in Banff found an unmarked grave of a child who drowned in 1883. The marker there, says another report, is the only sign that Anthracite existed. Maybe that's why we saw nothing.

Up goes the tent for the last time in four months and 9,000km.
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It is forecast to fall to freezing tonight. We are camping on the edge of Canmore, next to two cyclists who are sleeping in their car. They insist they will be warm enough. I suspect that none of us will be.

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