Calgary gives; gearing up, again

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I have ridden a bit over 3000 miles since Maryland; maybe more, but my method of calculation is a bit vague and misunderstood (by me). The last push to Calgary included an evening scramble for a campsite and an early morning start to get to town before noon. From the outside looking in, Calgary is sprawling uncontrollably, reflecting a booming oil industry despite general recession. From the inside, the city feels properly dense, and centralized; people seem happy and healthy, although my bias includes spending the day outdoors of the Bow Valley cycle path, swimming in the milky-green glacial Bow River, and some shopping at MEC (Mountain Equipment Co-op, think REI). With sunny summer weather, bronzed bodies, and plentiful cottonwoods, this could Denver. Early August seems a nice time to visit Calgary. A very livable city with exceptional cycle facilities in town, and a real river. Floating the river seems a popular pastime.

Coming into town I happened upon a farm of Saskatoonberries; much
like a serviceberry, I asked for permission to load a handful into my oats and cottage cheese. Once I beat my way through the outer layer of construction, housing, and industry, an inner zone of urban bliss unfolded, beginning with a generous farmer’s market boasting BC’s plenty. Everything looked amazing, and everything was from BC. I spent twenty dollars and loaded food I didn’t know how to prepare into a bag already full with gear. I thank Carradice for the development of the Longflap models. And I ate.

MEC is well stocked and should have made life simple. Rather, I shopped for hours, mostly exercising my ability not to purchase. I tested well and only bought essential items such as a chain, lube, and some dry bags. I tried on some slick outdoorsy duds that are supposed to be for climbers, but opted for tattered used goods that are molded to the shape and stench of my body (like a Brooks, of course). A few weeks away from these temptations makes you think you’ve earned it. I didn’t, and it doesn’t work that way. Mostly, I don’t have room for more stuff, and that’s a blessing.

Warmshowers granted a roof and a meal; it keeps on giving. My host works nearby at Canada’s largest bike shop– Bow Cycle– and was able to hook-up some employee pricing on a basic cyclocomputer, some bottle cages, sunglasses, and a very sub-par lock– exactly the kind I like.

Finally, the hardware store netted some teflon tape to repair my stove’s seal; the cheapest liter of stove fuel I have seen in North America ($3.80), and some hose clamps to mount bottle cages to my fork blades. I went there. I have decided that I will most likely not carry a water pump or dedicated purification system, but by adding a few ounces to the bike I have nearly doubled my capacity. I may cook with untreated water and will carry a back-up chemical treatment such as iodine, bleach, or some commercial product. None of this is absolutely final. Free popcorn fueled my parking lot repairs.

So, I spent a bunch of money; have too
much– thankfully– good food; and nothing feels different. It shouldn’t, but what did I benefit from the offerings of the big city? Not much. The city, more likely, benefit from me.

The score: I spent $120+/-, added two liters water capacity, improved my stove and refueled; acquired new chain and lube, lots of fruits and vegetables, and a few other items which I can’t recall and can’t be that important. Finally, with no more to “do” in town and nowhere to stay, I reluctantly leave late in the afternoon toward Banff.

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Things come to mind

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There comes a time when the gloss of long-distance bicycle travel wears; what remains is a cold, wet man in his twenties or thirties that appears tired, ravenously hungry, unable to handle small objects such as coins, and worst of all is unashamed of his ways. To my credit, it took a lot of hard work to get here.

I don’t make excuses that I am “cycling across Canada” or “going all the way to Mexico”. I mutter, “s’cold out there”, and continue to fumble with undersized Canadian dimes. Shoes come off in the Safeway seating area as I unplug an electric mobility device to make room for my electronics. I hope it has enough juice when an elderly person with a walker needs it. For those that I see using them the most, an eighth of a mile of exercise to retrieve frozen pizza rolls and off-brand Mountain Dew should be required before purchase.

I ask the barista(?, male) to fill my enameled mug with drip coffee. He looks blankly at this heavily “antiqued” vessel, and finally asks how much it holds, so as to charge me appropriately–a sign of his first day. “About twelve ounces”, I reply, although I know it holds an even sixteen. He wants to know if I want medium or bold. Do I look like a medium kind of guy? Twenty miles in the rain; do I want medium? Bold, please. I know lighter roasts contain more caffeine, but I’m not a junky, I just identify with the idea of “bold”. I think, sarcastically: “My socks are soaked with muddy rainwater, how about a light roast this morning”. It’s sort of a Marlboro man thing, but with coffee. Of course, I don’t need “room” either.

Yesterday’s revitalizing routine was easily unwound this morning. I was sticky and clammy as it rained and stormed all night; I held “it” until daybreak, then relieved myself in a thicket of prairie grasses and mosquitoes; and rolled away from camp on a dirt track turned clay. Clay-stuffed drivetrain with a side of bug bites on the..

…and thirty clicks in the rain on the famed Trans-Canada highway. Famed, because everything I’ve seen of it is a big zero. US 2 was becoming a bit tired to my mind. I miss it.

So what am I, if not a “cyclist” or a “tourist” or both. As long as I claim a destination I can cling to those descriptions, but when I explain to others that “riding bikes places” IS my life (not a brief distraction to benefit lungs with diseases) I realize what I am. I am homeless– happily homeless. To build something atop of nothing, I can claim to know more than most about food and cooking, eating and real-life nutrition; about people– real people– and geography and states and small towns that serve good pie (Julian, CA at 4100 ft); about bikes, perhaps too much about bikes and early Deore and old Stumpjumpers and Ridge Runners; and living and camping cheap. Living! Living well, living with minimal needs and minimal impact; even thinking about living. I am involved in some very important business, I tell people.

Still fumbling with coins, “You saved 90 cents today Mr. Carman”. Thoughts running through my head–you can’t put a dollar sign on it.

“Thanks”, I say, honestly. She has been smiling, a real smile. Her currency is legal tender in my country.

Closing in: I’m a day and a half from Calgary, where I have arranged a Warmshowers host, then another day to Banff. My mom is coming to visit in Banff for my birthday, which will give me almost a week to relax before heading south. She will bring a few cold weather items, Great Divide maps, and a new debit card, along with birthday cheer.

My yellow-striped Marathon continues to shine. Only one flat since Annapolis, with about 9000 miles currently on those tires.

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Great Wide Open and the lifeblood unveiled

I left Havre two hours into the afternoon with a full belly and an earful of telephone conversations in the shade. I filled a bottle with water and left US 2 for the first time in many hundred miles– since Grand Rapids, MN. A few miles out of town I realized one 40 oz bottle of water would require a little moderation; difficult in this drying prairie wind. No services for 45 miles, I planned to get some water at the border. After the usual questions about employment and residence (none, and nowhere I respectfully answered), I delved into the long story to satisfy customs that I was not entering Canada to gain employment or injure myself on their dollar. I was informed that not many cyclists pass this rural checkpoint, Wildhorse. With no potable water onsite, a few bottled waters were offered, and I was again on my way. The first sign read, “No gas or services next 80 km”. I sighed; I would again have to ride another fifty miles for the promise of water. This is not a true desert, but it was hot and dry. I did not see a single structure for 45 miles; just the most beautifully paved road and shoulder with an average of one vehicle an hour. This was the wild version of what Montana had promised. These vast grasslands were peppered with grazing cattle, antelope, deer, moose, and two beady eyes from the roadside that frightened me– a beer can reflecting my headlight.

A moose reared, and turned in one muscular display against a twilit horizon. It was not, after closer inspection and a near heart attack, a horse. It was a very athletic moose.

I am scared of a lot of critters. Sometimes I am scared of crunching leaves.

The last, furious miles into Elkwater passed through the Cypress Hills, “an elevated island in the vast prairie that captures cool, moist air and sustains a localized pine forest”. And thus, a long, fast descent after dark on a deserted road– in the midst of vastness, an island– past a ski resort and ending at a lake. A break from beautiful, Albertan monotony.

The morning brought an early rise and a classic display of bike trip resoucefulness. Coffee and a warm concoction of yams, raisins, and Grape Nuts by the waterside. A swim– the first since Minnesota– and an outdoor shower. A full drivetrain cleaning, and some lube. Public restrooms and electronics charged. And free wifi in the lobby of an upscale lodge (I dressed my best).

Fully revived from the desperation of yesterday’s riding, today brought favorable winds and uncharacteristically fresh legs after a late-night surge (or purge). Submersion–swimming– is the lifeblood of this metal cowboy. And a liter of chocolate milk.

post script: Lost my maps and debit card in MT, somewhere. Moms are real helpful sometime. Mine is getting more frequent phone calls, for a little while at least. ACA is most helpful as well. That’s what they do: help people ride bikes.

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