First, a discussion of the ride from Waterton to Calgary: It took us three days of riding, and most of the scenery was some variation on rolling hills with a few spots of trees, and a ridiculous quantity of cows. It is surprisingly creepy, by the way, to have a couple dozen cows all standing still and staring at you.
Another thing that is surprisingly creepy: wind turbines! I’m a fan of wind power, and I always thought that wind turbines would be kind of pretty and scenic, partially because they’re a happy thing, yes? Clean power? But in reality, I can see why people don’t like them. They generally have to be on hilltops or ridges to catch enough wind, which means they’re visible for ridiculous distances, and for some reason they’re….kinda spooky, all lined up on hilltops for miles. I can’t really put my finger on why, either. I was somehow reminded of the Tripods novel series I read when I was eleven.
We also had one thunderstorm dump rain on us and give us a bit of a scare…there we are, lightning and thunder and rain all around, when we cross a railroad overpass and I realize we’re the highest-up thing for hundreds of yards. Eep. On another day, several storms passed us close enough for us to hear the thunder and see the rain, but we managed not to get rained on.
Getting into town, we had to spend a short time on an honest-to-god freeway. (Fellow Portlanders: it was like trying to ride the 217 or 26 on the westside!) It was loud and dirty but fast, with super-wide shoulders and relatively easy to navigate on- and off-ramps.
After that it was a long circuitous route on off-road bike paths that were getting repairs, hence plenty of confusing detours. The bike paths were sometimes in lovely places near a river and sometimes in yucky spots along a canal, but the time of day we were on it meant, of course, clouds of insects. I ended up wearing my bandanna over my face, bandit-style, to keep from breathing in gnats. And because I’d spent most of the day wearing just my black bike shorts on the bottom, my rear end received about a dozen mosquito bites, no exaggeration. Nothing like having mosquito bites you shouldn’t scratch in public.
We eventually met up with one of our hosts, Dan, who was afraid we would just be lost forever! Him and Saryn are awesome, and Saryn and I really hit it off, I think. Almost every night we’ve been here, we’ve stayed up too late chatting.
The first day we were here I mostly slept, as the day we arrived ended up being an 86-mile day. Our second day we went to MEC, where I got a pair of lighter-colored capri pants to cover my bike shorts, since the bitey-bugs are so attracted to black. These pants are kinda cute, too, with reflective stuff down each leg. We picked up a print catalog from MEC that explained the company’s history: it was started in 1971 by a few hippie-type folks who were tired of driving to the REI in Seattle to buy outdoor gear, and decided to start a co-op in Canada instead. The catalog also had a couple of pages joking about how Canadians recognize each other in foreign lands via their MEC gear…I looked down at myself (in an MEC hoodie and pants) and thought…man, me and Shawn throw that one off, don’t we? Don’t get me wrong, we love REI too, but MEC does sometimes have better stuff. (Like this t-shirt, which is thin enough and of the right material to be rad in hot weather, and you can’t tell from the picture but the back is longer than the front, so it’s good for biking in…it’s fairly rare that a bike-themed t-shirt is actually designed for biking in!)
(And we did not end up buying a new tent, as Dan showed us a neato trick to fix the zippers: he pinched part of them with needle-nosed pliers. They’re stiff now but they actually close. Hallelujah!)
Yesterday Shawn and I stopped by Bike Bike, which specializes in transportation cycling. The shop sells Linus and Velorbis and Pashley bicycles, among some others. I rode one of the Pashley loop-frame bicycles in a little circle around the shop and tried not to drool on it or the Linus Dutchi. *sigh*
We ended up chatting with the owner of the shop for about two hours! Turns out there’s a small community of bike-fun people in Calgary who meet up for group rides, including a monthly ride on the paths, and a Bike Prom. There’s also some moving-and-shaking going on in the local government, they have a bike plan and they’re hoping to get it funded this year.
What’s going on in Calgary is pretty impressive, considering that the town’s economy is based almost entirely on oil (and I swear the rest is based on the yearly Stampede, which Shawn and I avoided like the plague), and that it’s so spread out. The off-road bike paths help, but they’re often not that great for commuting: they can be confusing to navigate, in bad condition, or just really steeply hilly. But as in many cities, the downtown traffic is slow enough that bicycles do just fine, at least in our experience, and many of the residential streets were great for getting around.
A small observation about Calgary: Maybe it’s because it’s Stampede week, but a surprising number of people were wearing cowboy-style hats. Including the person bagging our groceries and the police and a lot of women downtown, who had them paired up with itty-bitty denim shorts and cowboy boots. Ooookay.
Today we leave for Banff and Jasper! More gorgeous mountains! More hilly riding! More…mosquitoes!