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WORDS: Rich Bravo
Structure and repetition play a central role in the cyclist's life. From training schedules to pre-race rituals we're creatures of habit, which is one of the reasons why travel - for many of us - is a welcome but rarely tapped charm. It throws us out of our comfort zones and favors those predisposed to spontaneity and adaptability - especially when traveling to foreign lands.
After spending much of the previous day being pelted by Alberta's frigid rain, it was a relief to wake up Friday to a blindingly sunny morning, replete with a strong wind coming out of the South - the tailwinds that Steida had been promising us were finally making themselves apparent.
We click-clacked into the hotel's dining area, where a buffet-style breakfast was waiting for us that would make Bob's Big Boy blush, and where Don Cherry kept an eye on things from his framed perch behind the bar. (A native of Quebec later told me that there may be Canadians who don't know who the Prime Minister is, but everybody knows Don Cherry. I think he's involved with hockey in some capacity.)
The hotel's laundry facilities closed before we finished dinner the previous night, so after a last-minute flurry of dryer activity we finally threw our legs over our saddles and headed north on the shoulder of the Yellowhead Highway. As our legs warmed up and we shook out the last of the soreness from Thursday's ride, we stowed away our jackets and got down to business, taking full advantage of the tailwind. As soon as we got into our rhythm, tapping out a nice cadence - and Hahn was just starting to delve into an exegesis on how the euro was trading - we had our first close encounter with Canada's wildlife.
Elk are ubiquitous in Canada. Well, elk droppings are ubiquitous in Canada, so one must assume that the elk, too, must be present in healthy numbers. But as we rounded a turn we were all surprised to fly past a family of a much more rarely sighted animal: mountain goats. They were standing between the highway shoulder and a rock face and didn't seem particularly impressed, or perturbed, by our presence. After gawking at the spectacle for a while we waited for the traffic to abate and took upon the task getting the mountain goats across to the other side of the highway where they wouldn't be hit by one of the trucks flying down the road - an endeavor that wouldn’t have seemed out of place accompanied by some Benny Hill music.
Once the mountain goats were safe we quickly got back into our routine, the familiar place that cyclists go when it's time to turn out some miles: there is a flat road, a strong tailwind and a couple hours ahead of you so the chatter dies down and that special alchemy takes place that turns our legs into metronomes. We allow our consciousness to drift and road instinct takes over our minds. Oh, and I should also mention that if you ever ride with Alex Stieda, he will mess with you at times like this.
The sound of metal scraping pavement pierced the calm and Stieda - who was sitting on my wheel - yelled out. Like any loyal pack-fill bike racer I just kept pedaling and pulled ahead a bit before looking back to see if I had in fact taken out the first North American to win the yellow jersey in the Tour de France. Stieda was coasting along with a big grin on his face, holding an empty beer can in one hand. He had picked it up at the side of the road during the goat-corralling episode. Then he chose his mark (me), waited for the right moment and pulled up to my wheel and dragged the can on the ground. Hilarious, right? Everyone else certainly thought so.
So perhaps relishing the routine of cycling and allowing that repetition to give us an escape from the vicissitudes of our everyday lives is something just us amateurs embrace and relish. The pros, whose job is to spend innumerable hours in the saddle every week, must begin to seek solace from the monotony. With shenanigans.
We finished the ride at the top of the only climb of the day, which was also the parking lot for the Miette Hot Springs. The water flowing from the mountains is naturally 129F, but the pool in the lodge is maintained at a more comfortable 104F. There is also a cold pool that is 45F but after spending an entire day in freezing rain, most of us just stuck to the warm water.