Cold Lake, AB to Prince Albert, SK
7-21-01 The summer sun beat down upon the already scorched land. The road was a shimmering line of heat that I couldn't leave if I was to continue biking. I was close to the Saskatchewan border, but the road signs were confusing, reading distances that varied drastically in only a short distance. Finally the provincial sign came into sight and my mind occupied itself by trying to remember the details of each day spent biking across the vast prairie province of Alberta. My thoughts were interrupted by a jerk of my tires to one side and a drastic reduction in speed. Convinced I had a flat tire, I stopped and prepared myself to fix the flat. But there was no flat to fix. Hesitantly, I began to pedal again, feeling for a problem with my bike. The road was extremely uneven, with large ridges of broken road amid clumps of soft rubbery tar in the hot afternoon sun. Within a few meters it became almost impossible to continue with any momentum, the road itself grabbing my tires as I tried to balance on the top of the gravel ridges. I fought my pedals for every inch, watching the oncoming cars nervously as they jerked their way along the horrible road. After a few kilometers, my bike was having mechanical problems. The back derailleur wouldn't allow me to shift up, slowly limiting the number of gears into which I could shift. I lost all ambition for the day.
The sign for the first town became the perfect excuse to stop for the night and let the road solidify before trying to continue. Walking into the information hut, I met a blond high school aged girl sitting behind a small wooden desk, next to her little cousin who was coloring a handmade ice cream sign with some markers for the window. After chatting for a little while about ice cream, her college plans, work and life in a little town I asked, "Does the road continue like this for a long time? Or does it get better?" I wanted to know what to expect for the rest of the province. Her face broke into a large smile and with a laugh replied "Ah, bad roads and double taxes are what Saskatchewan is known for!" I gave her a questioning look and she continued to explain that she knew someone who worked on the roads and was amazed at the poor technique (called "thin membrane") that is used in this area to pave the roads. He told her about how his work crews would lay a thin layer of tar mixed with sand and then cover it with large pieces of gravel and let the area settle for about a week. The cars driving on the road push the gravel into the tar thick with sand, but they also create large grooves and holes in the new road. After about a week, the work crews patch the holes and fill the grooves. They continue the patching and waiting process for a few weeks and hope that the difficult areas will eventually stop needing additional layers. "But out here," she gestured toward the road passing the little town, "I don't know WHAT they're trying to prove." She assured me that while the road type is the same for a long while, the quality would improve in only a few kilometers. Even though this was exactly what I had hoped to hear, I was skeptical. Sensing this, she continued to explain the second reason for the condition of the road.
The traffic in this part of Saskatchewan was mostly to and from Alberta, and so the closer to the border the more cars used the road, and thus the increased affects of the poor construction. Across Canada there is a federal goods and services tax called the GST. In addition, all of the provinces except oil-rich Alberta, charge varying amounts of provincial sales tax. In Saskatchewan the provincial tax is 6% for a combined total of 13% sales tax. There are no provincial taxes in Alberta, making it worth the drive if one lives close enough to leave the province for general shopping. I smiled, putting the pieces of the puzzle together as she described the rapid expansion of the town of Cold Lake in Alberta, explaining the reason for the confusing distance signs.
7-22-01 As advised by an elderly couple in town, I spent the night camped in the "deer run," a strip of forest circling the little town. All night, two coyote packs howled across the thin forest from the fields on either side. I slept very poorly, dreaming that they had found my food and as a pack were not afraid of my attempts to scare them away. I was thankful the following morning to see the food-bags untouched. Heading out at 4:30, I tried to be as quiet as possible while passing through the sleeping town. About half way along the town's one road, the air was suddenly pierced with a high pitched childlike scream. My eyes searched the houses, trying to find the origin of the sound. I followed the sound until I came to two foxes, one of which had seen me coming and was yelling while running between the houses. Amazed, I increased my speed out of the town as to not wake everyone with the scared fox. The morning fog hung over the fields through which the rising sun cast shadows of sickly looking evergreen trees. To my delight, the cool of the morning had solidified the road and by the time the heat of the afternoon set in I was already on better pavement.
There was only one town on this day to fill up my water containers, Green Lake. I stopped outside of the town convenience and gas store and started to cook my pancake breakfast. The sign leading into town read "Green Lake, Population 100". When I first sat down there was one car at the store. That car left and soon two more appeared. The more time went by, the more cars appeared, until the entire lot seemed to be full of hustling and bustling people all passing by me without making eye contact or saying hello. I started to count the number of people passing by, wondering if the entire population of Green Lake would pass before me. Some of the customers coming out of the store carried newspapers, but most didn't seem to have bought anything. Finally one man, looking much more confident than the others came over to ask where I was from. He was very excited by my story soon left to go into the store. Not more than thirty seconds later, three elderly men came jogging over to me with shocked looks on their faces. "All the way from VANCOUVER on your bike?!" The words fell out of one of their mouths. I smiled, enjoying how their shock at hearing about my trip could finally allow them to overcome their incredible shyness.
7-23-01 The head wind was horribly strong and seemed to be increasing as the day progressed. By mid-day I found a small dirt road that lead down to Cowen lake, a long thin lake with fairly clean water and no people for miles around. I decided to stop early for the day and see if the wind calmed down for tomorrow. Several curious animals stopped to check me out while I unloaded my thoughts from the road into my journal. A beaver kept swimming over, veering in my direction to see what I was, and what I was doing, before slapping its tail hard on the water and diving under, returning in a few minutes to satisfy its curiosity. A white pelican also kept swimming past my camp, pretending not to look my direction. But if I turned my head as if looking at something in a different direction, and peered over to the lake through the side of my sunglasses it would turn its head and watch me as it swam by. A chipmunk also played the same game, sneaking close to me with great courage and then darting away chirping loudly when I turned to look at it. There were large black and white hornets that hovered up and down along the contour of my body, aware of my every move. Also flying around me were many very large (three to four inches long) dragonflies and other large insect predators who used me to catch mosquitoes. Finally relaxed even with all of the insects flying around me, I noticed that if I stayed still, I was not being bitten, as if they were all in a dance of their own. I felt like a snorkler swimming with schools of fish who, though keeping an eye on me, are more concerned with their own world of eating and avoiding being eaten.
|7-24-01 From my journal: "I'm in my tent, belly full of pancakes at 11:00 am and I don't want to head out. I'm on a beautiful lake, full of curious wildlife and there is a headwind steadily blowing between 20 and 25 mph with gusts reaching much higher. It is hard to stand in this wind, much less pedal into it. I have plenty of food and time, it is only water that worries me. The water traders' dream poem I heard on the CBC keeps playing in my head, about a planet where water literally falls from the sky, laps on shores and falls in the morning as dew. A place where the people drink it, swim in it and float on it. They'll even trade it for gold, as they don't know what it is worth, on this planet they call Earth. When I woke up this morning, the outside of the tent was completely covered with mosquitoes trying to figure out why they were unable to drink from this weird cloth animal that is soft, warm, expiring a lot of carbon dioxide and yet seems to be filled with only air. They hung onto the outside of the tent, completely focused on trying to drink, with no concern about the black and white hornets that were eating them one by one, until they ate every mosquito on my tent. These large insects had made me very uneasy the day before, but now I am viewing them as bats or dragonflies and not as the menacing potentially stinging insects they appear to be at first glance."
I decided to stay the day, realizing that I had been pushing myself for the longest possible distance every day of the trip and not stopping to get a feel for an area, or catch up with my thoughts in my journal, or even just to relax. I spent the day washing my hair and clothes, identifying the plants in the forest around my tent, and during dinner decided to take a look at my back derailleur, just in case there was something I could do to fix it before reaching Prince Albert. Within ten minutes I had spotted the problem and fixed it easily. I was embarrassed at myself for biking on a broken bike for so long without taking the time to stop and look at what might be wrong, afraid of the worst and thus not looking at the problem and instead dealing with the consequences of the symptoms. Laziness is a horrible thing. Sitting in my tent I realized that this simple event has played itself out over and over again in my life. If I force myself to stop and spend a few minutes on an issue I can work it out easily, and yet so often I just avoid and deal. This trip has fixed so many problems that plagued me before. My joints were always sore, and one by one were deteriorating. Now with exercise and varied food and joint supplements my joints are feeling better, I can even eat large meals without my jaw acting up. Perhaps the key ingredients to a successful trip are persistence, patience and attention
? I filled my journal with the details of various ideas that I had been turning over in my head. What a strange bird I am - sitting by a lake in the middle of a beautiful forest, determining what character traits would best suit the various team members in a company that doesn't even exist. Business plans, house designs, hostel concepts, adventure trip details, details about myself and my life filled the pages of my journal. That night's entry ended with:
|"This day of rest in a grassy spot covered in white clover by the edge of a lake so secluded I bathed naked in the middle of the day, has been a wonderful turning point. I feel relaxed, I've had a chance to write and that has helped tremendously. I look at my body with admiration, perhaps for the first time in my life. My legs are shapely and strong, my skin heals quickly and has a healthy tan, my hair is silky and falls in curls around my face. The only pain I feel is a slight tightness in my hands. The notion that I should trade in my body for warranty, a common joke back home, was incorrect. Perhaps, like my bike, all I needed was a little attention.
A loon calls from across the lake. Frontal clouds are now overhead and the sun has slid behind them. The hornets are hunting bugs on my tent and I am ready for bed. Good night in the true sense of the phrase."
7-25-01 A loon's call woke me in the very early morning. My tent was completely dry, there wasn't even any dew on the rain fly. There were no bugs on my tent, and two black and white hornets were arguing over territory rights to my tent. There was a rainbow across the lake with a back drop of a pink-purple sky. It was time to get up fast before the rain started! I was on the road by 5:45.
The headwinds were still strong, though nothing compared to the day before. Even with all of my gears in working order, and the CBC radio playing in my ears, I only averaged 13 kpm over 3 hours to Big River. The radio gives news and stories, the voices keeping me entertained and learning and thus pedaling happily without cursing the inability of the wind to read weather maps showing jet stream action, or even upper level wind direction - as I could quite clearly see the upper level winds going the opposite direction. My desired tail wind was present, only a couple hundred feet too high. Instead, I pushed these thoughts away and smiled at a pun on the morning edition.
The rain began to fall steadily which wouldn't have been a problem if my trailer tire could have stayed inflated. While fixing my third flat that day, a man in a large white truck stopped and offered me a ride. I hadn't accepted a ride since Vancouver island with Dunk, but this seemed to be the perfect time to start. In the warmth of the truck I started to dry and soon we rolled into the next town with a bike shop - Prince Albert.
The bike store found a deeply embedded piece of glass within my trailer tire that was causing the flats, and patched the tire. Waiting in the store for the rain to settle down, a man named Steve came into the store and started to talk to me about touring. He had toured many places with his wife before she passed away a few years back. He was well known at the shop and at first I thought he worked there. He looked over my bike and pointed out some areas where I was probably having problems. Was I getting muddy during the rain? He dug around the back work area of the store and found a set of European fenders - the only ones that would actually fit my bike! I had been told no fenders would fit my bike because of the attachment points - but here was a set that was very close. Steve loves to solve mechanical problems, and soon with two fenders bolted together, I had the perfect touring fender for my back tire. I was amazed at his ingenuity and kindness, which had been exaggerated by his offer for me to stay in his yard that night and use his mobile computer plug-in system to power my system and connect to the net. Steve has created a website for Milan Italy
that is heavily used by travelers, and is creating other detailed map sites for other cities. This type of work is possible to complete from any location and someday, after all of the systems are tested and complete he will be able to work from his camper van in any area of the world. I stayed through the next day and night, frantically worked on my photos, wrote the stories and created pages for my trip. A large thanks goes out to Steve, for it is only with his kindness that there were pages on my site during the trip, giving me a sense of accomplishment for the beginning of the trip.