Saturday, July 20, 2013

Four Strong Winds

"I think I'll go out to Alberta,
Weather's good there in the fall
I got some friends I could go to workin' for”

The wind is so fickle out here, sometimes blowing opposite to what it is supposed to. I've had a tailwind speed me up for a bit, only to have a headwind slow me down 20 kilometres later. The local forecast says it all:

After descending from Obed the landscape has flattened out considerably. The forests have not given way to the grasslands and wheat fields yet, though. The miles seem to go much quicker, but it's actually more of a workout pedalling constantly on the level stretches as opposed to the alternate climbing and coasting in hilly terrain.

It was hard taking this: one hand on the handlebar, the other on the camera, and an eye ahead while glancing at the rearview mirror if there's traffic behind me, all the while getting ready to swerve to avoid this thing.
Harbinger of flat land: wild Prairie Lilies in bloom, Saskatchewan's provincial flower.

I stayed the night in Niton Jucntion, a rag-tag collection of gas stations, a campground, a restaurant and motel, and drinking holes that seem to cater farmers and roughnecks. As soon as I left the place in the morning, I got a flat tire and could not find the culprit.

An Albertan den of iniquity

Fields of Canola

I stopped at the at the village of Wildwood where I had stayed  a few years ago on my way to the Icefields Parkway thinking I was going to have lunch there, but instead I was lured by a homey looking ice cream shop. I went in had a banana split and spent time talking with Jennie, who had just opened the place three weeks ago. I gave her some suggestions on how to attract more customers off the highway, maybe to offer free wifi or serve fresh local berries on her sundaes. Again, as soon as I got going, I got another flat. I removed my tire to inspect it throughly but still I could not find anything. I thought that maybe my patches were leaking so I broke out a new inner tube.

Wildwood is one muddy town
Jennie's Ice Cream Shoppe
Alberta's got oil and gas, but this is my kind of fuel

I was bent on making it to Edmonton that evening, as I had a host lined up, but the erratic wind and the the time it took to fix flat tires had considerably slowed me down. by 6 pm I was still 65 km away, and I was getting really hungry. I stopped at a convenience store to grab a sandwich, and it started to rain. I called my potential hosts to say that I did not want to inconvenience them by arriving late and that I was going to find alternatives just outside of town. As I left the store, I could feel my rear tire get soft again and I rode it for a bit until it was impossibly squishy. By this time thunder clouds were brewing above and I patched the tire in the rain. The good thing was that the offending wire had surfaced from its hiding place in the rubber, allowing me to pluck it out.

A hitchhiker

No, "Way Down in Kokomoko" is not going to be the song for this post
By the time I got going, the thunderstorm was in full swing with a few streaks of lightning. I had no choice but to ride in the driving rain, my options for accommodation being 20 kms away in Stony Plain. I got there at 8 pm and grabbed a quick hot chocolate at Tim Hortons to warm me up and to use their wifi to look for lodging options. Everything was booked. I dropped by a motel to see if maybe there were cancelations and I was told that I was just out of luck as there was a large aboriginal pow-wow going on and that everything was booked for miles and I would have to continue on to Edmonton.

I was cursing my luck, riding in the darkening sky and wet from the pouring rain, but I was also crossing my fingers that I would not get another flat. I probably would have just found a spot behind some bushes and pitched my tent in the rain. As if to offer sympathy, the wind switched into a powerful tailwind pushing me on. I actually started having fun since I could not possibly get wetter and I was getting an adrenaline rush. Finally got to the vicinity of Edmonton's ring highway at 10 pm where there are lots of cheap motels. At that point I was not picky and just went into the first one. Bonus, they sell beer in the store next door!

“Four strong winds that blow lonely
Seven seas that run high
All these things that don't change
Come what may”

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