Jasper to Cold Lake, AB
I had bought slick tires in Jasper and was very excited about the combination of new thin road tires and flatter land... how many kilometers could I do a day now? A woman at breakfast the next morning told me "The weather is supposed to be good today, and the terrain just gets flatter!" I was very excited and ignored the thick clouds, assuming they must just be fog and will lift soon. Leaving the little town of Hinton I started up a gentle upward slope. For the next 25 kilometers the slope was relentless, continuing upward, and the weather was deteriorating quickly, my mood following suit. "Good weather and flatter land!" I yelled sarcastically into the wind and rain. What was the true definition of good weather? The scenery had lost its mountains, but the road was NOT getting flatter, and rather was much more difficult than it had been in the mountains where the road was carefully planned to have the least amount of slope possible. These so called rolling hills were much more difficult to climb. I reached the top of Obed Summit and felt a little vindicated. Here I had pumped through the wind down the foothills all the way to Hinton but the 25 kilometers of uphill had climbed to a height higher than even the Yellowhead pass!! This was the highest point on the entire Yellowhead highway.
The road became incredibly boring, the drizzle coming and going throughout the day and the scenery turning to large fields with no where to hide when camping. I had completed all the scales and arpeggios that I could sing, I had thought through several potential business plans just for fun, and now I was officially bored. Dunk had mentioned reading while biking and I had scoffed at the idea. The entire point of biking was to see the land, hear the birds, listen to the wind in the trees, what was the point if you read a book? I dug through my bags and pulled out the book I had traded at the last library on the trading tables. That day I read the entire book, tucking it away when the drizzle became too heavy for the book's pages and whipping it out the moment the drizzle let up.
At a gas station a trucker mentioned to me... nice day for biking huh? The quality of the weather really does seem to be relative to the beholder. I pulled into Edson right as the drizzle turned to downpour. Hiding in a Taco Bell I waited for the rain to let up. From the kitchen came out some stunned and emotional workers. The police radio was their entertainment in back and they had just gotten the latest report on the storm. "Two girls were hit by lightning on opposite sides of town. One is dead and the other is alive, though the emergency crew is not sure why. Her body is so badly burned that it is amazing she is still alive." The details were sickening as to the injuries, and everyone looked out at the dark storm with horror. "I would get a hotel room if I were you" a woman told me with severe caution and fear in her voice. I was shook and did get a motel room, though I had been planning on continuing that evening.
I had heard of International Hostels and had been asked many times if I was staying in them along the way. My path had actually not run across even the opportunity to stay in them before, but Edmonton had one and I thought I'd check it out. Edmonton itself was a surprise for me. The people of the little towns considered it a massive place, ridden with dirt and crime. I wasn't looking forward to it, and felt it would be best to stay at the hostel than to try to make it all the through to a safe place to camp. Instead I pulled into a city much like Madison Wisconsin, clean and full of parks with a river flowing through the center past the University. The streets were clean and bustling with people from all over the world. The hostel was also a delight. The people there were all traveling or moving to the area. There was a kitchen with every thing needed to cook full meals, and showers, beds, etc. All these things were luxuries for me, and for only 18 Canadian dollars (about 12 USD per night), I was very impressed. I will now be staying in Hostels for every large city I come across as they allow me to explore the city without worrying about my belongings, and also provide a chance to do laundry and eat real food. This changed my entire view of cities on this trip, before items to be avoided, I'm now looking forward to the ones with Hostels.
"Saskatoon berries!!" a family of five including two older boys and a very happy little girl all sang in unison showing me their tub (one foot by 2 foot by 6 inches deep) full of purple berries that looked like blue berries but were growing in the trees. Their faces, shirts and hands were all stained a deep purple blue, and the energy of excitement around them was contagious. They showed me the trees and were surprised I had never even heard of these incredible berries. (Later I found they are called "Western Serviceberries" which I had learned about in Madison, but had never heard the common name Saskatoon before.) Now I eat my pancakes in the morning with Saskatoon syrup I purchased in Edmonton. They are sweeter and larger than wild blueberries, but otherwise taste about the same... with a bit more of a woody taste according to a student I came across later on the same path eating the berries.
The land now really is flattening out, and the distances are easier to cover. There are fields of mustard to glide through, their yellow color flashing as the clouds cover some areas and highlight others on the horizon. Outside of Bonnyville I was looking for a place to camp and had given into the idea of staying at a Provincial park. At fifteen dollars a night I am not very happy when I stay there, as the money goes to nothing but sleeping, as most parks don't even have showers or laundry and thus provide me with nothing I don't normally find for free. But this night I had traveled far (149.65 km) and was simply ready to sleep. The park I had hoped to stay at however had been turned over to a commercial company who was charging twenty dollars and didn't have any showers etc. Discouraged I headed back out and stopped at another private camp to see what they charged campers. The camp was called Camp St. Louis after the previous town I had passed and turned out to be a kids camp during the week and a camp rented out to large groups on the weekends. Since it was a weekend, there was a family reunion and a teacher's reunion happening at the camp that night, but they didn't normally take campers. The staff called all the surrounding campgrounds and found that the nearest one was more than 22 km away and was about that far out of my way for
the following day. I thanked them and resolved to go back to a sandy area I had seen that looked like a quarry on the other side of the highway, when one of the staff came out and offered for me to sleep in a little woods next to the guy's quarters and offered their shower and to fill my water bottles from their large containers. I was surprised by the change in plans, and with a very large smile and many thanks slept very well in my tent, clean from the shower, to the sounds of a family singing around a campfire with guitars.