Texas Hill Country
October 12, 2020
Couldn't Stand the Weather
This ride is close to breaking me.
Is it the hills? No. The wind? No. The long distance? No. The lack of time? That's still stressful, but no.
It's all the freaking RAIN!!!
It had already rained 10 days straight before I got to Jasper. Only a few of them had been an all-day shower, but once I got to Jasper, oh man, the rain ain't messin' around.
After hearing how great these next few days were supposed to be, I was even looking forward to it! What a letdown. The last four days have easily been the worst four-day stretch of the ride. Only one or two individual days even register compared to these, and they weren't all in a row.
As I left Jasper, Bruce told me on my way out the door, "Can't ride around the world without getting a little rain!" There's a lot of truth to that.
There were a few breaks in the rain during the day. Here and there, enough to see my surroundings. But most of the time, I was looking at clouds covering the mountains and a gray fog of rain all around.
I'd seen probably about eight touring cyclists up until now, and my first day out of Jasper, I saw six in one day! The ride between Banff and Jasper is popular, and easy to do on a budget, as there are a lot of hostels in between. I was planning on staying at one that night myself.
Normally, I give a description of each touring cyclist I meet, but I dunno if I could this time! I met a guy about my dad's age doing this ride for something like the fourth time, wearing a jean jacket, a young German, a middle-aged guy who'd just taken on a famously big hill (more on that later) and still looked like he could lick me, and a pair of young Canadian guys riding coast-to-coast. They were on matching aluminum bikes with carbon forks, not the kind I'd normally tour on, with no front panniers. Somehow, they'd managed to get sponsors for their ride! I dunno if it's a skill I lack, or maybe it's plain dumb luck, but I wonder what it is that makes some rides get sponsored and others not. Wish I were so fortunate.
Good luck to every touring cyclist I met, wherever the road takes you!
So that big hill. It was big. Really big. The only hill I'd say definitely tops it is Beaver Slide on the Dalton Highway, and maybe a handful more of those ridiculously graded hills that weren't even on pavement. But this was a hill to be reckoned with. Halfway up, I stopped to take a picture, and an Indian family asked what on Earth I was doing out here, climbing this ridiculous hill on a bike with all this stuff. After explaining my ride, they gave me a loaf of bread and a pack of crackers, then apologized for being out of jam! I didn't necessarily want to carry anything more up the hill, but it's impossible to say no to food.
At least as much as the hill itself, it was the wind near the top that got me! Cold, strong, and gusty! At the top of the hill is Columbia Ice Fields, and the cold air shoots out of a gorge like a blast from a cannon. Thankfully, the road eventually turned away from it, and gave me a boost for the last part of the hill. Definitely had to stop and zip everything up, while going uphill! Usually that's reserved for the downhill, when you're not working so hard and the wind starts rushing past.
But afterward, what a downhill! Easily the most wicked awesome descent of the entire ride. The Dalton Highway's lack of pavement made downhills useless, since you had to hold the brakes to stay in control, but this one allowed you to rock on down. Towards the bottom, there were a few grooves and curves in the road, and a sign warning you to slow down to 50 km/h. And I had to!
Thankfully, the last hour or two of the day didn't have rain, and made for good riding to the hostel. The hostel wasn't bad, but somehow I expected more for $25. At least shower and electricity. Or at least one or the other. Comfy bed though, kept me out of the rain overnight, and the owner was friendly.
EVEN MORE rain on the way to Canmore. Worse, really. Almost never stopped all day, and for about five minutes, pea-sized hail. Not enough to hurt, but enough to send a message. I think nature was trying to say, "Oh, I could be even worse if I wanted to be."
Goodness gracious, this rain! The worst part? It's summer! The warmest part of the year! It stays in the single digits (Celsius, less than 45 Fahrenheit) and it rains all the time!
And you can only think, "It's summer, so the rest of the year, it's worse!" And this is a tourist area. Tens of thousands of people spending thousands of dollars to come here. Someone is making millions by telling people, "You could go anywhere in the world, but for your next vacation, come here. It's a nice place to visit." This guy needs to be punched right in the face, more than once. I imagine some people save up their money and vacation time all year for this, and many of them go home feeling tricked.
Starting just north of Banff, there was a bike trail on the side of the highway. Awesome! Keeps you away from the big loud metal scary things and takes you directly where you want to go. What a novel idea! A useful bike path that mirrors all the other traffic!
In Banff, the trail split, and I got confused on which was the most direct path to Canmore. Just then, a jogger was coming by. Somehow, I got the impression he was a local, so I asked for directions.
"Some summer weather here, huh?" I added.
"Yeah, June's the rainy month here. Welcome to the mountains!"
Someone else would later tell me the locals call June "Monsoon Month." Woulda liked to know that beforehand, but I guess it wouldn't've made much difference.
Managed the last 20 km through the rain to Canmore and found my host, Katja. Katja is Danish, but grew up in France and had bike toured all over. She lives in a funky little apartment decorated with a world feel to it, and most of the time had a French radio station going, some interesting blend of classical music and modern jazz. Whipped up a nice dinner while claiming she can't cook, and we both went to bed a little early. Just what I needed!
Riding the next day to Longview, I'd been told to go an out-of-the-way path through the mountains. It was raining again. Worse than the two days before. Screw that. I'm taking the short way, and getting the hell outta the mountains. Maybe that means it'll stop raining.
It didn't, of course. But I saved 10 km. And there's no point to the fun, scenic route when it isn't going to be scenic or fun.
I don't have much else to say about the day. Long, cold, wet. After 165 km, I was in Longview, cold and wet again. I was looking for a church to stay in when I bumped into a friendly and adorable young woman named Sheila, who called her friend Stu on my behalf, asking for a place to stay. I was guided over to the hotel/saloon, one of the only businesses in town, where I met a tall fellow in a cowboy hat that reminded me of a somewhat more reserved version of my brother. He finished his beer and we walked over to his humble-but-pretty-cool cowboy home.
Stu fixed up a pizza for us to split and we did some casual philosophizing as we watched Big Bang Theory and Family Guy. Stu is one of those guys who doesn't BS around and also has a heart of gold. For him to agree - on the phone - to take in a total stranger for the night, I thought showed some serious kindness.
Leaving Longview, the rain got worse!!! Every day beforehand, there had been breaks in the rain here and there. Not this time. All day. And the temperature kept dropping, until it stayed at about 5 C (~40 F) all afternoon. Almost all of my "waterproof" gear soaked through.
Maybe I'll get lucky and get hypothermia and fall off my bike. Then someone would pull over to help me and I could warm up in their car. Yes, I really thought that. No, not for just a second.
In Texas, this would be considered winter conditions. Actually, that's wrong, it would only be winter temperatures. It doesn't rain much in Texas during the winter. Canada's summer is worse than Texas's winter. I'm going to repeat that for emphasis: Canada's summer is worse than Texas's winter. And in the other seasons, you can only think it goes downhill from here. In Texas, our summers are hot, but it stops being hot by the middle of fall, and gets cold in winter. Canada apparently never stops being cold. If anyone ever suggests I move up north, I'd be insulted they even dared to ask.
I know I sound bitter, and I'm afraid I'm hurting some people's feelings saying all these things about Canada. Canadians have been consistently awesome. It's not Canadians I don’t like. It's not even Canada I don’t like. It's bad weather I don’t like, and from my experience, Canada has had a lot of it.
And I'll say this without reservation: Canadians must be tougher than I am.
Despite the rain and risk of damage to my phone or ear buds, I started listening to music. Something had to get me through the 14th consecutive day of rain, and the coldest one yet. The one song that stood out was "Boulevard of Broken Dreams." Somehow the chorus got a reaction from me, as this is what I heard:
My shadow's the only one that walks beside me.
My shallow heart's the only thing that's beating.
Sometimes I wish someone out there will find me.
'Till then, I waant cologne!
After singing the whole song with "I want cologne" as the lyrics, I must have laughed - loudly - for about 20 minutes straight. Do you realize how long that is?!? I was on the edge of delirium...
I would be told later that day that the excessive rain had caused a dam to crack and a few towns were evacuated in an official state of emergency. Towns I had passed by. Last year, a dam broke entirely and a few towns took catastrophic flood damage. So I guess it could be even worse.
Fortunately, I had a rockin' host in Waterton that night. Sharon works as a park ranger and was out of the house when I got there, but an old friend of hers, Ezra, kept me company. Ezra has a chest-length beard and lives an alternative lifestyle, traveling all over and subscribing to what he refers to as first-century Christianity. We talked a lot about our current situations, how we live with less. It's refreshing to meet someone who understands that, and even embraces it. Doing this kind of thing re-ignites your sense of wonder and makes you realize how little we need, not how much.
Sharon arrived with at least a dozen friends and we had a humongous potluck dinner. Stir-fry, curry, wine, beer, cheese, all kinds of wonderful things I don't get to enjoy so often. It's not always the things you have to do that makes touring difficult, but the things you have to give up. Social interaction and interesting food is a breath of fresh air in a lonely, repetitive lifestyle.