Saturday, September 6, 2014

The Plains, September 5-6

September 5
Where is Crowsnest Pass?
The fates have changed! When we get up it's sunny and we have a tailwind. Has this ever happened before? 
As we sit and eat breakfast, a man in the rest area comes over to ask if we eat bananas. He claims he bought too many and needs help eating them, so he gives us two. How wonderful! 
We've mentally prepared ourselves for a long climb up Crowsnest Pass, so we're quite surprised when a couple of minutes into our ride we see a sign marking the pass summit. What? We've barely climbed up at all! This beats Yellowhead Pass as the easiest pass ever. We start to descend and then it flattens out and we see another two signs marking "Crowsnest Pass" Have we not started the pass yet? We stop at the next turnout, adjacent to a gorgeous blue lake, where we see another sign labeled "Crowsnest Pass." Rather confused, I ask a friendly guy selling hotdogs where the pass is. He explains that there's no big mountain or anything. Crowsnest Pass is one of the lowest in the Rockies- a big open area between mountains. Happy to discover this, we bike onwards, enjoying the tailwind. 
The small communities here are very proud of their heritage. We pass several museums and historical sights. Most of this history appears to be linked to the mines in the area, many of which are still operational. One particularity interesting area we pass is the Frank Slide. This was a gigantic landslide that wiped out a local mine and town at 4 AM, killing many people in the process. Although this awful event occurred in 1903, the destruction is still evident. On both sides of the road are giant boulders and scree, and looking up at the mountain it is easy to see where a chunk (over a km long) broke off and slid down. We also pass the Burmis Tree. This tree is a limber pine that marks the eastern edge of Crowsnest Pass. It lived over 700 years before its death in 1970. Eventually it toppled over, but since local residents revere it as such an important landmark, it has since been propped up and supported in various ways. Today, that twisted tree still stands by the roadside. 

The towns we pass are pretty cute.  I see a nice little park by the river and a community campground.  On either side of the pass are stony, featured mountains blanketed in fresh snow.  
Quite a background for our ride.  As we lose sight of the mountains, we enter into the plains.  Danny comments that it's as if we've gone back to the tundra.  On either side are wide-open grasslands and farms.  The occasional river gives some texture to the landscape.  And sky, so much blue sky!
 As is often true in big, flat places, the wind is crazy.  Luckily for us it's mostly a tailwind.  There are times we also battle a crosswind.  The local communities have taken advantage of this: enormous windmills dot the hillsides.  There are hundreds in this area!  
We arrive in Pincher Creek earlier than anticipated and spend some time on the internet.  Outside the grocery store, we meet Edwin, a Pincher Creek local, fellow bicycle tourist, and ranger in Waterton Lakes National Park.  He tells us about the local campground and an all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet in town.  We spend a little time wandering Main Street, then set up our stuff at the campground and let everything dry out in the hot winds.  
Around 7 pm, my cousin Coltin and his friend AJ arrive from Calgary.  They've come to visit and go out to dinner with us.  It is great to see my cousin. At the Chinese buffet, we eat epic amounts of wonderful food over interesting conversation.  We hear about the oil company that AJ and Coltin are working for, and share stories from our trip. Thanks guys for driving down to visit! 
I also chat for a while with the owner of the restaurant.  Originally from southern China, she says she has little opportunity to speak Chinese here.  It's fun for me to practice with her.  As we finish eating, in walks Edwin with his brother Dan. They've come to invite us to breakfast at Edwin's place tomorrow! What a fantastic evening. 
- Tam

September 6

We slept well but were rudely awakened around 7:15 by the campground host demanding that we pay immediately, something we had forgotten to do but fully intended to do this morning.  I talked with his wife a little while later, as he could not have been more grouchy and unfriendly, and apparently she had talked him out of calling the police to seize our bikes!  Yes, we had neglected to pay the $20, but how ridiculous!  Reminding or asking us nicely would have accomplished the same goal.  Sometimes people are just grouchy.  
This was only a few minutes before our alarm went off anyway, so we got up and headed over to Edwin's place.  His wife Alice welcomed us in, and we sat down to a scrumptious breakfast of eggs, rice, homemade flax bread, homemade salsa, cheese, and tomatoes.  The food was incredible, and it was really nice as well to share conversation around a table with Edwin and Alice, Caroline (Alice's sister) and her husband Dan, and Edwin's old friend Dave. (Forgive me if I did not get all these relationships spot on.)  A big family style breakfast!  
Edwin, Alice, Dan, Dave, and Caroline

Dave and Edwin, the park rangers of the group, gave us some tips on where to go in Waterton Lakes, and Caroline and Dan, who live in Mazatlan, Mexico, for half of every year, shared with us some local knowledge of the area we will pass through in a few months.  Edwin and Alice have bike toured in the Baja, so he also shared some of their favorite spots around there.  All this talking about Mexico got us very excited for the next segment of our trip, and we so much appreciated their sharing!  Not to mention the hospitality!  Though we have nothing to give now except stories of adventure from down the road, we will carry with us their friendliness and generosity and pass it on.
After exchanging contact information and saying our goodbyes, we did some laundry.  Now we are at a coffee shop and will be biking today to Waterton Lakes National Park, then into the US and to Glacier!
- Danny

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