September 2: Canmore to Cochrane, Alberta - The Great North American Sticky Bun Hunt - CycleBlaze

September 2: Canmore to Cochrane, Alberta

IT DROPPED to below zero last night. The grass glistened with frost as we came out of the tent and our fingers burned with the cold as we set about breakfast and packing. The couple from South Carolina who slept in their car said they didn't feel chilly. She looked unconvinced but he walked around in shorts as though nothing had happened.

It feels odd that this is our last full day of riding in a journey of four months. We passed 9,000km yesterday, I think it was. And we could have reached Calgary tonight had it not been that there was no point. We'd rather have two days of riding, even if they were fairly short, than one day and then 24 hours of sitting around in a city which nobody has suggested is of any great interest.

Well, it may have been cold last night but this morning the sun shone for the first time in ages. It was because the sky was clear that the temperature dropped. As the sun rose above the hills and then the trees that skirted our campsite, so the morning warmed up as well and we stopped every few kilometres to take off still more clothing.

Steph feels disgruntled, and I rather agree, that the sun is shining now that we are leaving the national park.

"Just one day of sun on the Icefields Parkway and I would have been happy," she said.

The act of leaving the park doesn't mean the scenery turns instantly dull. The mountains are still there, although increasingly the best views are looking back, and we rode happily for some hours beside an appealing river. What most confirms that the park is behind us is a collection of quarries and cement factories. For all I know there is gravel and whatever else is needed inside the park itself and the factory owners would probably be delighted to dig there. But Canada holds firm. Which is good, of course, except that moments after leaving the park you arrive in quarryland with all the determinedly fast cement trucks that go with it.

We are back on our friend, the 1A. It was a different road today, though. Canmore is a dormitory town for Calgary and a commercial centre in its own right. There is a lot of traffic, therefore, between the two towns. The Trans-Canada Highway takes a loop to the south and presses on to wherever it goes. After a couple of hours a feeder road took the lorries off our route and down to the Trans-Canada, after which the peace was again won.

Again, I can't see why anybody would suggest cyclists use the main highway instead of the 1A. We rode through gentle rolling hills, never demanding, always with meadows and water to our right. The water extended into Ghost Lake, now a long reservoir with a dam at its end but, to all appearances, entirely natural. We were in an Indian reserve and, as we have noticed every time since months back in the USA, that meant undisturbed, unspoiled countryside.

Bernard, the New Zealander who ran the campsite on an Indian reserve in the Fraser Canyon, said he thought less than warmly of some aspects of Indian life but that he couldn't fault the respect for nature and the environment. You had only to enjoy this ride along the 1A to see what he meant.

The Indian style of farming, or more precisely of animal husbandry, is what it was centuries before white men took their land. Animals were allowed to roam, on ranges, and so it is to this day. It takes a while to notice there are no fences except those that line the road. But, once noticed, you're seeing countryside as close as reasonably possible to how it was way back then. It's a pleasant sensation.

This church was once in a remote Indian community. Now it stands alone, the community having long left.
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Look at the map and you'll find Morley. Like so many supposed villages in Canada, there is nothing obvious there. Communities are scattered rather than centred and Morley, on an Indian reserve, is typical. The reason I mention it is on a rise there we spotted a white, wooden church 300 metres off the road. A pyramid of stones beside a lay-by paid tribute to those who rendered unto Caesar what was Caesar's and devoted the rest to God. Beyond that stood a white, wooden archway with a Biblical quotation in English and the angular writing of the local Indian language. And then the path to the church, and beside it, a grave.

There was a polished stone at the head of the grave. Lying beneath the ground was a British missionary who came to the local band, as tribes are known here, and devoted his life to their cause in return, presumably, for their conversion to Christianity.

The consequences of missionary work: I don't know what Indian children wore before but the caption to this picture, taken around 1890, says the fabric clothing they wear show how well they have settled into the new order.
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Missionary work included teaching Indians the national anthem. Here's God Save the Queen in Indian phonetics.
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Two things were striking. The first was a quotation of a tribal chief who praised the missionary's work and practical advice and the way he had learned the band's language. The second was an explanation on the headstone that the missionary had wandered into the prairie and, losing his way, had died of starvation and dehydration. I conclude that from the fact that it took two weeks to find his body.

It takes some imagination now to see how open and bleak and featureless the land here could have been in the 19th century, only a couple of complete generations back. Now there is a road and a significant city with oil wells is only just over the horizon. Traffic pours along an artery just to the south. But then the land was empty enough that a man who knew it and its people well could lose himself and starve to death.

The mountains are now fading into the distance.
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The mountains now are fading into the horizon. They still look large but their face is softened by the mist of distance. Cochrane, where we are staying tonight, is but a step from Calgary. We can't see the city yet but we sense its presence. We'd hoped to camp here tonight but the municipal site has closed and the alternative is open only to RVs. So we have found a hotel rather grander than we are used to and that is where we are spending the night.

Tomorrow we have just a couple of hours' riding. We have been offered a place for the night by an unmet friend, Jérémie Bourqui, a French-speaking Swiss by origin. We are creatures of leisure and pleasure but somebody has to pay taxes in Canada and he is committed to working. We are not expected until after five.

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