WanderlustBy Sam Lepore

Subject: WanderNorth 9 - Lake Louise, Alberta
Date: Mon, 11 Jun 2001 19:36:32 -0700

    In past travels I have mentioned how there is often an apparent geographical border which corresponds to the delineated border of US states. That is not quite so noticeable in Canada. The Canadian provinces are so massive in size, they span multiple geographies. BC encompasses several of these, from the ocean through the plains to the mountains ... did the Canadians just not want as many sub-governments to deal with or did the lower population density determine that they weren't necessary? Ok, forget that ... why is it that the Canadians spell all the -or words with -our (harbour, honour, etc) but when we get to a word spelled that way in 'American', they switch? What would be the Caribou Mountains are instead the Cariboo.
    Whatever, my wanderluck weather is holding fast. Two days now of intermittent sun while the south and the east before me is being pounded with rain. It's nice not to be "on the clock" when traveling and so be able to work around the weather. It rained while I vacationed in Vancouver and again while I was hidden in Hyder, but my road days have been good. So far.

    Yesterday I described Nicole as a "young" woman. I'm not sure how she would react to that, but it occurs to me that age is relative to one's own point of view. She is younger than most of the long distance riding crowd. That gave me something to muse about. While there are exceptions, in general it seems the serious riders have some serious age on them. (I, myself, issue from the middle of the previous century, so I am qualified to address this.) Some would say that it is a factor of these riders being in their higher disposable income years and thereby can afford to indulge their interests in good equipment and travel time. But I think it goes deeper. I used to run long distances. There is a parallel in that to mention here. There are not many very good very young marathoners. It takes a lot of time to develop the attitude that can overcome the skill level required to persevere through the challenges of long distance. This is true in riding too. You really have to know your limits and be aware of what does and does not work for you to push through the physical and mental fatigue of a long ride. Bravado and cockiness simply doesn't last when the only things listening to the decisions in your mind are your tired body and reality. Reality bites.

    One surprising item to mention about travel in Canada is the consistency of gas prices. In almost any US city, the price will vary by brand and between the same brand within a few blocks. The price in Canada has been the same (within a penny or two) in all of BC north of the border, except for the high price at the end of the road in Stewart and at one station in the Jasper National Park. I was expecting to get ravaged when I had to refuel in Tete Jeune Cache, with it being the only station in town and none other for 100 kilometers. But quell surprise - it was a few cents lower than everywhere else. The "Race Trac" brand in BC seems to be the equivalent of Arco in California, always slightly less.
    While filling up, I saw two hummingbirds flitting around the feeder hung near the pumps. Not knowing these birds well, I was amazed they would be found so far north - they couldn't possibly make it though a winter here and I haven't heard about great hummingbird migration flights to Acapulco ... Anyway, it is the first hummer I've seen with a caramel brown body and a white chest up to its bill. It immediately made me think of "beagle bird" because Blue, our beagle, is similarly tuxedoed.
    Much of Canada uses bilingual labeling in English and French. It is not quite as prevalent in BC, but it is immediately obvious crossing the border to Alberta. Big warning sign, which for some reason I could only see the French side and I had to go back and look: Animaux sauvages victimes de la route - 2000 - 118. Translation: Wildlife Mortality (on the road) ... so watch out for them savages.
    The one road to Jasper passes through a National Park for which entry fee is $5. It was a bright sunny day with a few clouds in the sky while I was digging for money at the entrance gate. The ranger-ette looked up and exclaimed almost with a squeal "It's snowing! It's a sun snow shower!". Such joy. Yes, I've been in a few sun showers, but here I was sitting in the sun on June 11 and snow flakes were suddenly smacking me out of a clear sky. Canada, Eh?

Icefields Parkway, Jasper to Banff    From Jasper south to Banff is the Icefields Parkway, most aptly named. The road surface itself never gets much above 2,000 meters, but you may as well be on the moon. The wrinkled skin of the continent is young here, and the mountains are curved, carved, and sculpted like young muscles. The faces of many of them are shaved to a horizontal point like great adzes or stone axes ready to slice the sky. Then they are dusted with snow in layers like confectioner's sugar carelessly thrown on a warm cake. It streaks and melts and collects on ledges. They couldn't be decorated better if done intentionally. Truly beautiful. But then the name of the Parkway refers to the glaciers that lay all about. It is clear that glaciers long past have carved the mountains as they are. There are no ragged edges, everything is scraped smooth. They melt their runoff into the Athabasca River which looks like it runs so cold that if you were to interrupt its flow it would freeze instantly. The color of the glacial melt is impossible to describe - it is almost unnatural, and it is practically a caricature of itself. It is such a brilliant translucent aqua blue that it looks like liquid ice. If you've never seen something like this, go buy a bottle of Glacier Ice Gatorade.

    Lake Louise is one of those places where once only the rich came to play. Over time, it has been opened to "the masses", but it is still not for the faint of wallet. Indicative of this is the great lodge at the edge of the lake. I rode up to take in the scenery and saw a Warden Service sign at the end of the long driveway to the lodge. That's a fancy way of saying "guard" in green attire reminiscent of an English forest landsman. If you do not have a reservation, you are welcome to park in the public lot, sneer, over there (which leaves unsaid you may not cruise to the lodge).
    Though lodges abound, there is limited but nonetheless expensive motel accommodation in Lake Louise, and there is also a hostel in the village. I have never stayed at a hostel before although I am familiar with the concept. Four people share a dorm room with bunks and a toilet, but showers and a common social room is separate. You are expected to provide your own sleeping bag, but sheets can be rented ($1). The bunk price was less than a third of the lowest motel, so why not give it a try. Fine, I checked in and was told I was the last in this 4 bunk room so take whatever bed was open. No one was there, dropped my stuff and went to eat (and write), went back to bed and the other three roommates were still out. Now I've not led a terribly sheltered life, but I always thought hostels were segregated with men and women on different floors. I'm laying in bed reading when two of the three other roomies come in. They are 20-something women from Belgium on their first trip overseas. They regale me with their impressions of Quebec, Montreal, Toronto, Winnipeg, and Calgary ... as they casually and carefreely strip to their panties and slip into their bags.
    Discretion kept me from saying they would have taken first place (tie) in Hyder.

385 miles
Prince George BC/AB16 AB93 Lake Louise
Sam Lepore, San Francisco

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