Home, James

Alberta, British Columbia Part 1 

-Waterton Lakes National Park - Legs Optional
-Canada - the way I imagined it
-Kananaskis Country
-Peter Lougheed Provincial Park
-Alberta Trails
-Railway Hotel Picnic Rides (Banff and Lake Louise)
-La Promenade des Glaciers ( the Icefields Parkway)
-Bow Pass
-Sunwapta Pass
-Wilcox Pass
-Almost but not quite the history of the "almost but not quite" Yellowhead Pass
-Mount Robson Provincial Park - One trail and ten thousand waterfalls
-The Yellowhead Highway
-Big towns that want to be small and small towns that want to be big
-Prince George Shopping Trip
-The world beyond Prince George
-The ultimate Bicycle Tour
-Bushist biking for bibles

-Peter Lougheed Provincial Park - extremely scenic and often bypassed
-Just because you're riding a bicycle doens't mean you can't tour an expensive luxury hotel.
-The Icefields Parkway - bicycle touring mecca for the world
-The scenic high point of this entire trip was Mount Robson Provincial Park
-Northern British Columbia has extreme contrasts of isolated settlements and big city conveniences.

Waterton Lakes National Park - Legs Optional

"Do you want your legs ?" one woman asked another. If she had asked me, the answer would have been - yes". Yes, I want my legs, no matter what the context is. I want to be able to use them to bicycle, hike and run. They are of paramount importance to the enjoyment of life. I could never get along without them. I even want them on photographs. And that was the context in which this woman asked her friend.

The second woman held a baby in one hand, trying to aim a camera with the other. The place was the "Bears Hump Overlook", at the end of a short but steep trail, near the entrance of Waterton Lakes National Park. This was the second time I had bicycled to Waterton, this time from Pincher Creek. In order to get a good view of the lake, I had decided to take the short hike up to a rock, overlooking the lake exiting its mountainous confines. Obviously this was not a wilderness experience, but a touristic experience in the middle of a 70 mile bike ride.

Did she want her legs ? No she didn't. She answered "No, zoom in on me. There is always a background".

So let's take a look at the background, Waterton Lake. This body of water is shaped like a big bug with its  tentacles extending into the glacier carved mountains. Below, the town of Waterton sits on a spit extending into the lake, looking rather like a picture perfect planned community. A main street boasts an ice cream store, a little grocery, all the things a little self-sufficient village needs. It almost has a european appearance to it, if it wasn't for that huge campground. But the town's first origins are anything but planned. You could say the town's origins go back to the discovery of oil. An early settler, named Kootenai Brown found the dark liquid floating on top of a stream, bottled and sold it. There is even an early oil camp inside the park. But the movement towards making this a national park was faster than progress in extracting oil from the ground. So today we have a national park and not a network of drilling sites.

So what other strange things can be seen from this overlook, besides tourists taking pictures single-handedly while balancing babies in the other, and early oil exploration centers turned into quaint tourist villages. There's a railroad hotel without a railroad. Right on the single most scenic point sits a beautiful gabled building, adding to the landscape rather than detracting from it. The hotel was built for the American Great Northern Railway, who deemed this Canadian national park a good overnight stop for bus trips to other Canadian national parks in the north.

In Summary : Waterton Park : Tourists without legs, early oil camp inside national park, american railway firm operating buses in Canada - complete with luxury hotel. Anything else unusual ? Yes ! The rocks under the mountains are millions of years older than the rocks in the mountains. Relatively undisturbed, unfaulted sedimentary rocks from up to 60 miles to the west have been thrust over younger shales. Not only American railway tourists in buses, even the rocks have traveled to this area. The phenomenon is known as the Lewis overthrust, and is especially remarkable because it left the overthrust rocks relatively undisturbed, in spite of the distance they traveled. Looking at the scene from Bears Hump Overlook, sedimentary layers ring the lake in an almost horizontal manner, paralleling the lake in harmony.

The first Canadian town was 30 miles further than the first Canadian national park. This abundance of park land and scarcity of towns was a sign of the things to come. Pincher Creek is an excellent supply town. A town of only about 5000 people, it has a better stocked grocery store, better book store, more vibrant businesses, and cheaper prices than any of the little towns along the Montana Front Range, at least with respect to the things I live on, things like tomato sauce, fruit, rice, vegetables, baked goods, tofu, milk and juice. This is especially true for Canadian goods. This is not surprising. Most of Canada lives within its southernmost 100 miles, while north central Montana is an outpost of missile silos, Indian reservations and fundamentalist farming colonies.

Pincher Creek hides from the wind and open scenery in a gentle depression made by a creek of the same name in front of the gentle Crowsnest Pass. Three colorful murals spruce up an attractive downtown. The visitor is greeted by a sign advertising a mall. But this mall is kept in proportion to the number of its residents. The area surrounding Pincher Creek is said to be the windiest in Alberta. On one ride I counted at least 70 modern windmills, whirling away their life in the Chinook breeze descending from gentle Crowsnest Pass. Still, compared to what I had experienced in Wyoming this was a gentle breeze.

Canada - the way I imagined it

 The date was July 4th, summer by most definitions north of the equator, except here and now. July 4th in my home state, Colorado, is traditionally the first very hot week of summer - hotter than a fire cracker. Denverites are itching to get into the mountains where the temperatures are bearable and the mountain peaks are waiting. 2000 miles further north it looked quite different this year. Wearing gloves and ski hat, I could see my breath as I rode north along Rte 22 to a gentle, unnamed 5000 foot (above sealevel) pass. The ride I had planned for today, the southern part of the Forestry Trunk Road had to wait till the summer snow stopped.

Finally, this is what I imagined cycling in Canada to be like, pleasant spring temperatures in the 60s Fahrenheit, fluffy white clouds drifting over green mountains , their undersides a dark gray with glowing dark blue tint. Oldman River sliced through the first hogback shaped range like a knife, along with my dirt road, and then followed a foothill valley north. A sign read  "next gas 68 km", another one, "Trans Canada Highway 169km", evergreen forest on both sides of a dirt road sloping up to an occasional exposed ridge, a camping monstrosity vehicle looking like it's about to tip over passing every half hour, a Texas gate every 10 or 15 miles - a Texas gate ? - that's what they call cow grates around here - bicycling past several dozen ideal camping spots to choose from. Selecting a camping spot was fun again. Shall it be a spot in an open valley, a hundred yards from the road, not too many trees but not too few either, next to a stream ?

Canada the way I had imagined it did not last long, only one and a half days. Descending another gentle unnamed 2000 foot (climbing elevation) pass, the next ride ride entered an area called Kananaskis Country. The care free dirt road with its dazzling choice of camping possibilities ended on a perfectly engineered broad highway, shoulders the size of a minor road, shoulders that could have carried all the traffic by themselves. The scenery became better than I could have imagined it. Mountains came in all shapes, triangular ones with formation boundaries straight and level like a layer cake, twisted peaks with rock layers contorted into mazes, mountains shaped like boots or teakettles.

Kananaskis Country

Something happened that has never happened before. I climbed a pass and never knew it, and not just any pass but the highest paved road pass in Canada, Highwood Pass at 2227 meters. I had no idea. In retrospect, I was too absorbed in the scenery to notice that I was riding in a low gear. But the facts spoke for themselves. I had been climbing about a 1000 feet according to the altimeter. A cyclist, sitting next to the road just where I was turning around, finally told me about the pass. I had no idea. But if there were any switchbacks I definitely would have noticed. This is a pass without switchbacks. By staring at the mountains and there striations of varied inclinations you get the illusion that you're just cruising up a level valley. Sure enough, when I turned around the bike moved by itself.

I camped another night up on the pass on the Forest Trunk road, two nights actually. There was another inevitable rain day. My radio educated me on the weather pattern I was experiencing. A relatively new phenomenon, the Omega pattern funneled clouds over British Columbia and down the eastern side of the Rockies. Consequently British Columbia was currently suffering from forest fires, Edmonton and Calgary from flooding, Grand Island from a tornado. Compared with that, I had it relatively comfortable, just a minor leak somewhere on the front camper roof, and a day of reading instead of biking.

Peter Lougheed Provincial Park

July 9th, the middle of summer heat ! Not exactly here and now. While Edmonton residents on my radio were lamenting their flooded cellars, the mountains around me were covered by a fresh coat of snow. I picked up the next ride where the last one ended on what I thought was Highwood Pass. As it turns out, I still had 5 miles to the top, and here the climbing is noticeable. The top is a wide shallow notch near treeline, and Kananaskis country becomes Peter Lougheed Provincial Park.

Peter Lougheed's fame, the reason that he has this provincial park named after him, is that he let oil companies drill near it. When oil was found in what is now Waterton National Park, that wasn't the end of it. The Alberta oil boom followed. Rather than giving the development rights away for free, the Albertan premier Peter Lougheed managed to tax oil companies and use part of the money to develop the area for recreational use. As a result we now have a huge area developed for snowmobiling, a motor vehicle campground the size of a city, thousands of campsites each enclosed in dense forest, a regular mega suburb of camping. But the area was also developed for hiking and climbing, even including a dozen miles worth of paved bicycle trail leading to the scenic center showpiece of the area, the Kananaskis Lakes. The bike path stays discretely in the woods. But at the end you arrive at 2 enormous lakes, ringed by mountains very much eldorado like. Now if only that omega pattern would stop pouring water down on me.

Alberta Trails

The word "trail" can be a little confusing in Alberta. When you hear on the radio that a dumptruck, three cars and a motorcycle were involved in a collision on McLeod "Trail", you start to suspect that the word does not only apply to a foot wide path, meandering through the woods. Today I bicycled the Spray/Dorien - Smith trail. This "trail" has the width of an Interstate Highway. It has a hard clay surface, upon which is strewn a very thin layer of gravel. Between the gravel thread several foot wide tracks of hard smooth surface which is perfect for speedy bicycling on a fat tire bike. Sometimes these tracks are on the right of the road, sometimes on the left, other times in the middle. Since car traffic is very light, you can usually choose whichever track works best. Sometimes there's a little dust too. When that happens, it's good, because it means it's not raining.

This trail and others like it contain possibly the world's the greatest accumulation of picnic tables, waiting in scenic locations for picnickers. It's all part of the grand Peter Lougheed development. They stand hidden in the woods overlooking lakes. They wait scattered in meadows for day users. They group close to the road, or tempt the passerby with minuscule walks of less than a hundred steps into dense evergreen forests. Even on busy holiday weekends most of these picnic tables will wait in vain for a picnicker, because the tables outnumber people by at least a hundred to one.

The frustrating thing about this is that all of these sights would make incredibly great camping places. But instead the campers are herded to a few distant campgrounds. Unless you camp far away from the highway in a tent, day hikers have to commute to their trailheads each day. My own choice for picnic area, and a difficult choice it was : "Peninsula Picnic area", on the north end of Peter Lougheed Lake, a nice little table, one of several dozen strewn around an acre of forested spit jutting into the lake, waves splashing on both sides, a little shadow a little sun, not too much of either, perfect peace of course. Actually I can't complain about the campground either. That's where the ride started on the other side, at another lake, campground squeezed onto the shore between a limestone wall ending in a serrated edge somewhere above and a blue Spray lake.

So much for the practical. Now to the esthetic. This ride over this unnamed pass on the Spray/Dorien Smith trail was the best ride of the entire trip so far. Groups of limestone peaks on both sides of the road make up the scenery. At the high point of the unnamed pass two trails head further into the mountains. I choose the Chester Lake Trail. Here trail means "logging road through the woods offering a great workout ride, but ending at a sign saying "no bicycles" just when it gets scenically interesting". Here the Chester Lake Trail became a universally accepted unequivocal "trail". And what a trail it was. Mount Chester and Fortress Mountain appeared behind a meadow without warning. Further down no glimpse hinted at these triangular walls reaching skywards. This was the kind of day that had three days packed into it. And three days pack into it you have to, because the weather is an unpredictable phenomenon around here.

Railway Hotel Picnic Rides (Banff and Lake Louise)

"Excuse me sir, can I take the bike for you ?" - Normally I would have answered no to that question. But when the friendly attendant, dressed in a kelt, at the main reception area of the Banff Springs hotel asked me that question, I said yes. Everybody arriving at that stately entrance receives the same attention, convention visitors with brief cases, families with cars laden with luggage, and cyclists wanting to have a look around.

This is turning into a tour of the greatest railway hotels of North America. East Glacier Hotel, built with natural logs, was the most original so far. But this one, Banff Springs Hotel was the most elegant in the most scenic setting. You can get lost in this turreted Chateau. Its Stevens Hall could be part of a noble Castle.

For lunch I settled down on the veranda overlooking what's officially known as the "million dollar view". In cold hard facts, that's the Bow River Valley with the Fairesholm Range in the background. In descriptive terms it means looking through a gap of wooded hills upon a rugged stony ridge, the symmetry of the view complemented by the symmetry of the hotel, at the center of which is this flower studded veranda. The view remains as it was when the hotel was built to draw tourists. A million dollar view calls for a million dollar lunch. Back in Canmore, start of today's ride, I was able to secure some Katenbrot at the local Sobey's food supermarket, great bread for a reasonable price and a good selection of Mortadella and tomatoes.

All around me Japanese tourists were happily photographing each other with their wonderfully modern cameras, and I was enjoying my Katenbrot in the sunshine. Can it get any better ? For that Japanese flair you can also walk the dozen blocks along the Main Street in Banff,  a street lined by buildings built with elaborately thick stone walls and spacious interiors. Stores here appeal to their Japanese clientele. They sell things you would not really expect to find in a Canadian resort, things like 1000 dollar women's fur coats. For men we have fishing vests with colorful plastic dinosaurs embroidered into them. Wouldn't that make an interesting odd couple ?

But back to lunch on the veranda. As luck would have it, a tourgroup came by, the tourguide amusing the tourists with facts such as : the original furnishings were shipped over from Europe, but sank on the Titanic. The crowd's reaction was "Ahhh, that's too bad". A harmless looking chandelier was made from Chec crystal and worth a  million dollars. This hotel was large enough to get lost in, and worth getting lost in. A section housing business offices contained great railway photographs covering several different epochs. Back on the veranda, a tour guide was advertising the start of the next historic tour of the hotel: "It starts at 3 o'clock". "But that's time for tea" interjected the woman". "You can have tea at 2 for one hour, and then join the tour" explained the tour guide. While this woman was enjoying high tea with the million dollar view, I was back on four lane Transcanadian Highway back to Canmore, riding my 4000th mile on this trip.


Another day, another ride to lunch on the grounds of a famous 5 star railroad hotel. This one is located in front of Lake Louise.

The lake resembles a green tinted mirror. It terminates abruptly at a vertical wall, a generous heaping of icing smattering the top, another world where glaciers rule. In front of this wall a vertical bluff reaches skywards to form the incredibly steep Abbot Pass in front of Mount Victoria. The attraction of the image is its flatness, its extreme foreshortening. Lake Louise is closed in by the walls of a box canyon, so gigantic that it's summer at the lake and winter on top of the wall. The best light at at this little viewpoint at the end of the lake happens in the morning. It is the only time when the glacially fed green waters reflect Mount Victoria to perfection.

This scene has been recognized for its touristic potential by railroad businessmen back since 1925. The Lake Louise Hotel was first built to handle overflow crowds from the Banff Springs hotel. The best thing for somebody who actually stays in the Lake Louise Chateau is its location, the perfect vantage point over lake and mountain wall. The building itself has been modified many times. The current gray stucco facade looks a little like the prefabricated housing, put up by communist governments of eastern Europe, not that that is altogether completely ugly. But you notice the contrast to the Banff Springs Hotel, which was built from stone of the range that it looks out on, the Fairesholm Range. A walk through the inside of the Lake Louise Hotel reveals an elegantly carpeted atmosphere of the rich with good taste. A harpist plays soothing sounds to accompany the fragrant fillet mignon.  The carved chandeliers incorporate antlers held upright by female torsos. The walls are full of romantic landscapes and black and white photographs of visiting royalty. My favorite was a black and white photograph of a Queen Elizabeth casually strolling next to the hotel superintendent, with a professionally astute look of worry on his face. A short walk through the inside of this hotel really put me in the mood for my picnic with Katenbrot in the lovely flower garden overlooking the lake.

Arriving by bicycle at this point in the morning, the people scene is just as impressive as the natural scene. It is a spectacle of different cultures helping one another to take pictures of themselves. Europeans switched heavy lenses on their 35mm cameras. Texans pulled out their disposable Kodaks. Families posed, children posed, groups of only women posed, mostly Japanese posed. Family photographers had some difficult decisions to make. "I cut you off at the ankle so that I could get the top of the peak" explained the man to his wife. I hope it didn't hurt too much. An intensely smiling Japanese couple asked a motorcyclist in a Harley Davidson embroidered carneval costume, if he would take a picture of them. He was only too happy. "Ah'll take another one" said the Harley Davidson man after the first click, "in case the first didn't work". For some reason, some tourists have doubts either in the proper functioning of Japanese precision made cameras, or their own ability to aim them. The Japanese couple demonstrated to the Harley Davidson rider how to advance the film.  For some people the object was to give the perfect pose and smile. For others the object was not to get in the way in pictures of others. A group of three hikers fell into that category. Obviously on their way to higher ground, they took their first trailhead picture. All three hikers photographed the same scene, lined up like a group of soldiers, ready to shoot their 35mms.

After that impressive spectacle, I had to ride to the other famous lake viewpoint in the area, the area around Moraine Lake. Morning light is also essential in this location. Here the scene was a little more sedate, at least until the tour bus arrived.  Wandering around the lakeshore is like wandering in a perfectly landscaped garden, only that man could never have arranged such large landscape blocks as this series of peaks marching along both sides of the lake into the background like a series of tombstones. The whole scene looks completely harmonious, at least when the weather is perfect as it was this morning. Maybe that's what attracts the scores of Japanese, wandering around quietly with a content smile on their faces, stopping every third step to look at a reflection or a tree or a root or a pebble or a mountain : the similarity to a landscaped garden that couldn't have been landscaped.

My approach ride to the Lake Louise area was from the south on the Bow Valley Parkway. Its entire length (and back), from where it starts on the Transcanadian Highway, makes just the right distance for a dayride to Lake Louise. The parkway parallels the Transcanadian in safe distance, winding through a dense forest. much of it is widely separated roads in each direction, i.e. one lane roads. Above this shady slot of green, snowcapped peaks move in and out of view continuously. For the first time since quite a while, this is a road deemed worth cycling on by others than just me, for example a Dutch couple on their way from Halifax to the Kettle Valley railway trails, or two Japanese out on a dayride from Banff. What a contrast to yesterday's ride to the Banff Springs Hotel. It covered the Transcanadian Highway between Canmore and Banff. The entire ride consisted of a four line highway.

La Promenade des Glaciers ( the Icefields Parkway)

The time had finally arrived, the time to start the road that had the aura of the rainbow at the end of the ride, the road I never reached two years ago, the road that is described as the quintessential scenic cycling Highway of Canada in foreign cycling literature, the promenade des glaciers, or the Icefields Parkway for us francophonicaly impaired. The mountain scenery appears as if someone had ordered "Just the Peaks, please. Skip the foothills". There are many higher ranges in the world. But few approach these in verticality. But part of the Icefields Parkway cycling fame is also utilitarian. Its almost uninterrupted wide, perfectly paved shoulder really is a cycling lane. Build a bicycle lane and cyclists will ride it. But there are spots where the biking shoulder changes to a climbing lane for cars. But then, once you start climbing the steep upper stretch on the north side of Bow Pass, you're committed. Bicycling, even in heavy traffic, won't get any safer on the American continent than on this road.

Bow Pass

Bow Pass is the first pass on the road heading North. Water on the south side ends up in the Atlantic. But rain to the north does not flow into the Pacific. Instead it flows into the Saskatchewan River and eventually Hudson Bay, but not before being passed on from lake to scenic lake along the pass. The road follows a wide valley to a broad gap, glaciers getting ever closer to the road as you climb, until you almost feel you could throw a stone over to one, especially in the morning, when the cold air still produces crystal clear light gleaming off the icy tongues, obliterating the distance. The glaciers appear in gaps between the mountains, without giving any real hint of their size. Or they cling to steep north and east facing cliffs of the Waputik range, looking as if somebody had glued them there, now that it is finally summer and the temperature is in the 80s.

My out and back rides afforded me the opportunity to compare both sides of Bow Pass, up and up, and down and down. The south side of the pass shows off two lakes surrounded by sheer cliffs. But the north side has a whole string of them, lined up like blue green pearls on a necklace. The south side is a steady long climb. But the north side of the pass starting at Saskatchewan Crossing will probably be the more memorable of the climbs for your kneecaps. A Dutch couple riding from Jasper direction Kettle Valley Railway trails concurred with this analysis. At the lowest point to the north the road crosses the first truly braided stream on this ride, a sure sign of the massive amounts of silt that is washed out into the Saskatchewan by snow melt, and then distributed as if poured out on a table. The road up the pass stays straight as a tree branch, no switchbacks, but there are a few steep sections and the only reason you know it's getting steeper is because you're going slower.

Whatever portion of the pass is the most interesting depends foremost on the weather and the light. For me it was the area around Bow Lake, which I managed to catch during early morning. Crowfoot glacier together with its surrounding cliffs were reflected in the lake in perfect symmetry, a scene that is reminiscent of the best parts of a long backpacking trip, and not so much a busy bicycle ride.

The literal high point, and maybe the scenic one too, is the top of the pass. Here the park service made an attempt to get drivers out of their cars and into the wilds. The lower parking lot is for cars, the upper one reserved for the handicapped and buses. I don't know why those two groups are grouped together, but bicyclists are not covered by the stringent parking regulations. Nor are there signs keeping them off the short paved trail above the pass. Consequently I rode right up, passed yet more Japanese tourists, trying to make themselves look as appealing on photos as the magnificent background behind them. Actually, I was informed by a Canadian cyclist that many of these tourists are actually South Korean, and he should know. Please pardon my Asian ethnographic recognition ignorance. Anyway, at this point I was convinced that in practically every room in South Korea and/or Japan hangs a picture of happy smiling Japanese/Koreans with Canadian Rockies in the background.

Walking a little higher on this trail gets you the closest vantage point to an icy tongue on the mountains, a waterfall pouring off it like somebody spilled a drink on a table. Below a glacial debris green colored lake nestles in front of sharp peaks.

Sunwapta Pass

On the north side of the Saskatchewan the road contours below the massive limestone staircase of Mount Wilson. The peaks south of here were variations on the vertical cliffs piercing the sky theme. On the other hand Mount Wilson to the north is a big block of limestone cliffs that impresses with its sheer massiveness. Here the superiority of the bicycle travel mode becomes obvious again. Any cyclist will note the many waterfalls pouring off the cliffs in narrow strips, like shoestrings hanging over a table. They bounce from step to step and pour in narrow shoots down hundreds of feet. Automobile travelers on the other hand only see their car roof, and would probably run off the road doing so.

Instead of being passed from lake to lake, like on Bow Pass, the cyclist here works his way up the braided Saskatchewan River. The mountains to the west appear partly as a dissected sedimentary rock plateau and the views of glaciers become rarer and more distant. Yet, by this point any flatland cyclist has learned how to recognize a glacier. It's the white layer on top, looking almost like a soft bright rock in the hot July sun that was kind enough to shine today. Not so fast. In order to be considered a glacier, the ice has to deform under its own weight. I has to flow like a blob. When it does that, it forms crevasses. Crowfoot glacier was the only icefield that showed off its glacierness from the road so far. You can easily recognize the crevasses from the bicycle. But not to worry, there are more glaciers on the way.

Sunwapta Pass is the first pass on this tour that actually announced itself. in the form of an awe inspiring traverse, that could be seen as I started up its north side. The road here even does a switchback, not a 180 degree turn that fights for elevation with the towering mountain side. No, this switchback, named "Big Bend" on the map appears totally superfluous. It is several hundred yards in diameter, stays mostly on level ground and gives the appearance of a momentum gathering device for motor vehicles to propel themselves up the rather straight 1500 foot climb ahead. As I rounded "Big Bend" I gathered momentum through excitement.

The climb shouldn't have taken more than an hour. But due to a long conversation it was about noon when I approached the top. On a turnout I saw a Mercedes Sprinter camping van with a German plate. As it turned out the couple inside was on quite a comprehensive round tour of the American continent. It was a year long.  Their year on the North American continent had started in Baltimore. From there they headed south around the perimeter of the US with excursions into the interior where interesting, like every national park and monument in Utah, canyons in Arizona. An excursion into Baja was cut short by an overabundance of garbage visible along the road. So they headed up the Pacific coast to Alaska instead. Now they were looking over Sunwapta Pass. Interestingly enough the shipping of the van cost only about 500 dollars each way. What cost more was the car insurance they were forced to buy here. Also the van had to return to from where it came after a year, because the emission system was not approved in the US, in spite of the fact that the Sprinter's emissions were lower. This Sprinter could also run on propane and probably cleaner than anything built in the US.

But back to the pass at wheel. I still had 700 of the 1500 feet ahead of me. Once across the top, my eyes were surprised by a mass transportation center, more than two dozen buses parked in a terminal with people queuing up like this was Grand Central Station. As my eyes shifted upwards I began to understand. A gigantic tongue of the Saskatchewan glacier poured down from the 12000 foot mount Kitchener like a big carpet, and this carpet had plenty of crevasses. Inside "Glacier Transfer Station" TV monitors advertised the schedule "now selling tickets for the 1:15pm departure". Climbing the stairs to the cafeteria I was sucked along by traffic of the intensity of commuters hurrying home to their beloved spice (or is that spouses ?).

The view of that glacier was imposingly magnificent, a definite high point. Scenic High Points call for extraordinary photography, for professional photographers. Two wood benches finished in noble appearing wood, had been set up to simulate a bleacher. The camera sat on a tripod. A large light was set up to improve on the already flawless sunshine of a magnificent day. You guessed it. A happy group of North Koreans wearing name tags assembled on the bleachers and were immortalized with crevasses of ice as background.

For me Sunwapta Pass was the scenic high point of the Icefields Parkway, and that even though Bow Pass is the highest point on the route. Even better than the climb up the south side was the late afternoon climb from the north. From that side a tongue of the glacier forms the backdrop of the entire climb. The foreground varies, the Athabasca river surrounded by deep shady woods, a steep rocky ravine freshly cared from silt laden glacier runoff, a soft gap in the woods. Behind all of them gleamed the mighty wall of ice falling into the valley, frozen in time, just plain frozen too.

Wilcox Pass

Sunwapta Pass is overwhelming. But it's really just a bowling alley between bowling pins compared to the mountains around it. Wouldn't it be nice to get on top of one of the smaller bowling pins. For this purpose I picked a hike up Wilcox Pass. As usual the interesting part began where the trail ended. The ridge directly above the canyon made an interesting scramble. From here one can get a little closer to the truth. Now you can clearly see the three large tongues of ice licking the valley from a table top of eternal snow. You peer up to the icefield like a child who can't reach the edge of the table. You still can't see it. But you know it is very large. You can see one of the mountain peaks sitting on top of the ice table.


The history of the Icefields Parkway area is not a story of miners seeking wealth or railroad moguls enriching themselves at the expense of the public. This bothers some people, and they say the area has no real history. I disagree. It has a different history, a history of summer vacations instead of greed and commercial exploitation by railroad tycoons and other fat people. It all starts with an aristocratic Philadelphia family who had the odd habit of giving formal presentations of their summer vacation exploits to their friends. This way a friend of the family, and Yale student by the name of Samuel Adams was introduced to the Lake Louise Rockies. Three years passed and now there was a regular Yale Lake Louise club, Boston students on exclusive summer mountaineering vacations. Two students left their mark on the area in the form of many names and first climbed peaks, Samuel Adams and Walter Wilcox. Both published articles and guidebooks. Wilcox was especially successful with his large volume "Camping in the Canadian Rockies" and "guide to the Lake Louise district". Both mountaineers named peaks, often the same peaks: same peak, different name. Things were getting a little competitive.

Adams and Wilcox were also early travelers of the route of the Icefields Parkway. Earlier explorers preferred other routes, more open valleys, not the dense swampy growth along the Bow River. Climbing peaks along the route was the motivation for the Bow Valley route. When Wilcox was lead up Sunwapta Pass by guide Bill Peyto in 1896, Athabasca glacier blocked the valley. They climbed Wilcox Pass in order to detour around the glacier. By the time the Icefields Parkway was built in 1839, the glacier had receded enough that the road could easily pass along the floor. Today a bus company gets rich transporting tourists up the miles the glacier has receded since then. Isn't global warming wonderful ?

Wilcox Pass is a key to the area. It's the perfect vantage point onto the Columbia glacier plateau that can be reached in a day of walking. It is also lets you see the area through the eyes of an early explorer, and gives a powerful picture of climate change.

After this overstimulus of landscape it took a while to resensitize myself. I don't remember that much of the road directly north of Sunwapta Pass. I was still remembering back to a few miles earlier. But the next day the new landscape registered. The valley to Jasper consists of dark rocks, set like playing blocks next to the road, competing with a river that braids like an afro for attention.

Regarding the weather, rainfall lasting less than an hour doesn't count around here. That way, at least doesn't rain every day. AM or FM radio weather forecasts do not reach this busy corridor surrounded by endless wilderness. For weather forecasts you have to rely on a rheumatoid limb. It hadn't "rained" in a week, until today.


Jasper's mountains are divided by the Miette River into two separate characteristics, a jet black range to the north and a snow white range to the south. At least when somber rain drenches the dark sandstone the northern ranges appear black. Then when the late sun comes out and reflects off white thunderheads onto the southern ranges they take on a very light gray glow. Jasper's mountains were made even more scenic by a great foreground. The American Orient Express was in town. One VIA passenger train was getting ready to depart, another one was being serviced. You could just barely find them between the virtual trains of gaily colored Motor Homes, carrying around their own images of Moraine Lake and Yosemite on their sides. During the second afternoon another excursion train stopped by, a creme colored Rocky Mountain Excursion train. Jasper is a railtown in modern Canadian fashion. The old railway depot features nicely fixed up exposed beamwork, historic posters "the right land for the right man", advertising railroad land ready for colonization from a hundred years ago. Tourists hang out. A railway paraphanalia shop does brisk business in postcards and railway painting reproductions. VIA trains authentisize the scene with their stainless steel cars and rusty old diesel engines.

Almost but not quite the history of the "almost but not quite" Yellowhead Pass

Was that the end of fairytale bicycle tourism ? Leaving Jasper, direction west is the major traffic thoroughfare in northern BC, the Yellowhead Highway all the way to the Pacific. Not to worry, that means the large bicycle lane - also called a shoulder - is in even better shape. At irregular intervals signs continue to point slightly upwards, labeling shapely scenic dark rock peaks, drifting by in the upper field of the bicycle tourist's field of view, framed by dense forest. Crossing the continental divide here means a swampy Miette River, guiding a railline and highway along a barely discernible grade to the top. It was hard to find something that could be called the approach to the pass. The wind seemed to blow me right over the top. Where was the top anyway ? It was impossible to tell. But close to it is a large lake, at least 5 miles long, Slave Lake. A well ballasted double railline threads itself along a narrow strip of shore between the lake and the road. Where else can you find that in continental America ? For a flash I had a vision of an Austrian lake with red railcars slowly creeping by. But then, along came a stainless steel parade of VIA cars and a noisy diesel, and off course the catenary was missing here.

Yellowhead Pass is the lowest crossing of the Central Rocky Mountains. In Canada, where few people have to support many miles of road, you would expect a very low pass to be the major traffic thoroughfare between east and west. This is a major road. But two lanes are still enough for sometimes hundreds of kilometers between towns. The history of Yellowhead Pass is interesting because of the things that never quite happened here. Fur traders crossed the pass in 1826. Yes, the grade was gentle but the Fraser River on its west side was treacherous. They preferred the much higher Athabasca Pass to the south. When the first Transcanadian railway was surveyed, Yellowhead Pass was the initial crossing of choice (1872). When it was finally built, the rails climbed two much more difficult passes to the south, Kicking Horse Pass and Rogers Pass (1881). The main reason was that a more southerly route could do more business that would otherwise have gone to existing US railways. When the time came for Canada's second transcontinental railway, the time of Yellowhead Pass had finally arrived. The Canadian Grand Trunk railway was a land grant railroad, compensated with land along its rails like so many earlier railways to the south. But the destiny of the Grand Trunk was different. We will meet the Grand Trunk again later. Its history is interesting because, even once things started happening here, they didn't quite happen the way planned. The Yellowhead highway, the Grand Trunk railway and my bicycle route made their way to the Pacific together.

When I crossed the continental divide something happened to the weather. It improved unexpectedly. Past Yellowhead Pass it rained on someone else, but not me for a change. Rain didn't seem to be on the mind of the young Polish couple either, biking from Vancouver, heading points east and south. She was encasing her nose in a solid shield of sun protection, while I was still hesitating to take my rain jacket off, thinking that this act would make it rain for sure. Is this where the sun is shining this year, west of the great divide ? We will see.

Mount Robson Provincial Park - One trail and ten thousand waterfalls

It was a sight to make mesmerized drivers pull off the road. Motorists aimed cameras through the little space above the steering column and below the roof, generally referred to as the wind shield. Some of the them even exited their cars. For miles the road aimed straight at a colossus of a mountain. At 12972 feet it's the highest point in the Canadian Rocky Mountains, a full 10172 feet above the trailhead starting near this point. Mount Robson is an unusual sight, looking like a transplant from another world. It was impossible to appreciate the sheer dimension of the crystal clear view. Numbers helped. It was also enough to turn the shoulder of the road into a parking lot for motorists. Oblivious to cyclists, you have to watch for them slamming on the breaks just after passing you. That's the description of the western approach from Tete Jaune Cache.

Approaching from the east, you first see the parking lot filled with motor homes, buses releasing tourists with cameras held high, then a barrage of Canadian style mountain markers. You never see the peak until you're practically in front of it, in spite of the fact that you're rolling down from Yellowhead Pass.


There may be other "traditional" hiking trails in Mount Robson Provincial Park. But the visitor center will tell you about one trail and one trail only, and what a trail it is, the trail to Berg Lake under the north face of the mountain. Since there is only one trail, all kinds of hikers travel on it. On the first 7 km cyclists travel on it too. Most of them labor slowly with old clunkers, carrying fully loaded internal frame backpacks. It's the kind of mountain biking where the emphasis is on the mountain. At Kinney lake, at a bikerack in the wilderness the wheeled transportation becomes illegal, even though good riding would be possible for many more miles.

Judging by the clientele along the trail it enjoys great esteem from a large variety of people. A group of three German men walked with feather light telescoping poles. An Australian came running back down uttering a "Good Doy". Large youth groups shared the trail with heavily laboring couples decked out in a multitude of photographic equipment. A couple in their sixties descended the trail, the woman wearing a snow white blouse with the image of a cute little kitchy poodle on it. - Wait a second. I met this lady before at a road turnout when I was on my bicycle. She was already on her way down and she couldn't have carried a backpack even if her white poodle shirt would have allowed it. As it turned out, she and her husband had been helicoptered in to Robson Pass for 180 dollars a person and were walking the trail one way. As I was saying, a great variety of clientele shared the trail, including climbers, bikers and helicopter hikers.

But walkers and runners don't work their way up the 14 km from the bikerack just to view other walkers and runners. They do it for the wonders of nature. Kinney Lake or "bike rack lake" exudes the most peace along the route. During morning light it reflects the forested shore and the peaks to its west and far above, as well as every twig and stone on its jungle like shoreline, displaying a new perfectly composed still life at every step. Benches invite for a rest at scenic clearings in what could be described as downright european conditions. The benches have dedications such as "to Mom and Maggie, Happy Trails". The dedications may be a little different than at a favorite Swiss lake. But the bench placement is equally well thought out.

The trail continues on a braided till fan of the lake. Then both sides of the quarter mile wide valley become steep as the walls of a corridor. The triangular Whitehorn Mountain serves as monument at the end of the valley. But the trail manages to climb out of this bowling alley and enters what is modestly called the "Valley of a Thousand Waterfalls". I doubt that there are 10000 waterfalls here. But after seeing the ones that are here, I agree that a superlative of some sort is in order. The falls on the east side of the valley have eroded themselves back into potholes and narrow canyons. But my favorite falls were on the west side, pouring over the ledge in a long single clean spout, much like a well directed faucet would do.

The real goal of the hike really does carry a generically modest name, "Berg Lake" or "Mountain Lake", an elegantly understated name for a lake at the imposing north face of the highest mountain in the Canadian Rockies, two glaciers pouring off the face into the emerald green waters, a north face as vertical as any skyscraper around making you gaze skywards in amazement. On a dayhike like this it was easy to forget that I was now 14 km from my valued wheeled transportation. A trail climbed the opposite side, promising a perfect view of the mountain with lake. Surprisingly there was not a single other hiker or climber on this trail to Hargraves Lookout. From here a scramble up a limestone slope improved my position even more.

It was a magical day, a long magical day. The 30 km roundtrip on foot to the Hargraves Point plus 7 km ride from the visitor center is really too long for a day walk and ride. But the route makes a perfect ride and trail run. It leads along a perfectly constructed path over log bridges, even a hanging bridge Nepali style, up perfectly graded switchbacks, past campgrounds with prepared gravel pads.

A sign at the visitor center reports the percentage of visitors that have seen Mount Robson, and those that have not due to the weather. This year the percentage of successful Mount Robson peak sightings was 75 percent. The statistics dating back to 95, show a definite trend towards clearer weather from a low of about 65 percent successful sightings in that period.

The Yellowhead Highway

The weather on this tour so far has taught me that - when it doesn't rain - do something. It didn't rain the next day, far from it. During the course of the day the temperature climbed to 94 degrees. Consequently I can report the undeniable arrival of summer, 40 degrees Celsius in the Okonagan valley on July 24, and 94 degrees Fahrenheit where I was riding, near Tete Jaune Cache. I was finally out of the rarefied atmosphere of the seamlessly adjoining national and provincial parks. No billboards may be posted in the national park towns of Banff and Jasper, and that includes price tag information at gas stations. There is also radio silence except for a single weak fm and am station receivable immediately in Jasper. All this changed north of Tete Jaune Cache. 

A few stopped cyclists with their colorful jerseys and elaborate helmet gear were stopped next to the road. Oh neat - a bicycle tour - I wonder where they are going. The place was the tiny conglomeration of buildings where the Yellowhead Highway turns from the Rockies into the long straight valley of the Rocky Mountain Trench, Tete Jaune Cache. The colorful cyclists turned out to be part of a long bicycle ride done in a short time, a randonneur event put on by the BC Randonneur Club. Every two years they run their longest event, a 1200 km ride with a a cutoff time of 90 hours, that's about 4 days, so about 300 km a day.  Front hubs with internal generators were the envy of the group for long nights ahead. With a 90 hour cutoff time the most motivating reason to ride faster was that you then could sleep longer.
The first group of 6 riders had just come in and had formed a congenial lead group stopping to eat in the local restaurant, and waiting for each other to fill up on bagels and carbohydrate mixture drinks. This was not a race against one another. The object here seemed to be to find a group of compatible riders. The volunteers manning and womaning this check stop were cycling enthusiasts themselves. The official photographer carried around a load of reinforcing titanium in his own body from a bad cycling crash, when he really would have preferred to have a titanium bicycle under his butt. Now he was telling stories of blinding randonneur riders with his powerful midnight flash photography. Another friendly volunteer had taken part in the classic Paris-Brest-Paris randonneur ride, the mother of all randonneur rides. Eventually the description of this event often climaxes in the description of riding through Paris in the middle of the night, together with hundreds of others and thousands watching. France has two of the world's most famous cycling events, the tour de France which was just beginning to wind up for one more year, and this incredible long distance ride, the Paris-Brest-Paris ride.

But it wasn't night and this wasn't Paris. Tete Jaune Cache was a collection of ramshackle buildings with firewood stacked in front surrounded by dense evergreen forest. The sun was illuminating dense forests to their greenest perfection. The shores of scenic Moose Lake were waiting for my return, and so were the sausages and vegetables in my camper 40 miles back. The major architectural marvel was a rusty single lane bridge crossing the Fraser river with fishing access on both sides, not the Eiffel Tower. But then, Mount Robson at 12972 feet, about 10200 feet above the road stood about 10 times taller than the Eiffel Tower.  So far the sun protectant on the woman bicycle tourist from Poland wasn't lying. It was a beautiful sunny ride.

Big towns that want to be small and small towns that want to be big

Many big towns want to give the appearance of being small. If you live in the suburbs, you'll know what I mean. Take Parker, near Denver, Colorado for example. The main street consists of a few, new fake, old false front buildings, housing token businesses, while all around square miles of parking space front Wall Marts, Saveway, Target and strip malls. You could easily walk from those parking lots to the fake main street. But instead people insist on wanting to park in Main Street and complain about the impossibility of doing so.

Today I biked to a small town that wants to give a big appearance. As the Yellowhead Highway enters McBride, two wide service roads branch off, giving the appearance that malls are waiting for you just a hundred yards away. Instead your bike coasts to the only cross street, appropriately named Main Street. At the intersection are the two gas stations in town, separated by 6 lanes of roadway without traffic. A gate stands at the entrance of Main Street, not really a city gate but something like a ranch gate, a banner held in place by two poles displaying the drawing of a large steam locomotive. At the end of Main Street waits a small, beautifully fixed up railway station, decorated with flower pots.

If this looks like the layout of an old railway town it's because that's what it is. McBride was built by the old Grand Trunk Railway. On the quarter mile journey from the steam engine ranch gate to the flower studded old station, you get to know the other businesses in town, two grocery stores, a sewing supply store with a good selection of used books and picture puzzles, a drugstore of sorts, an old railway hotel advertising itself as "the only bar in town" and a few other business catering to ranchers and people who like to consume potato chips with pop.

Once I had surveyed the two grocery stores, the main attraction became the railway station. These days the rail personal works out of an old tinbox trailer, while the railway station has moved on to become an art gallery and coffee shop and tourist information center. Scattered throughout both businesses was magnificent railroad photography and art, the most interesting a painting of a number of diesel engines passing by Mount Robson in the middle of winter. The owner of the coffee shop was sitting on the bench that is still used by passengers waiting for trains. She was grinding ice into a bucket to make homemade ice cream, surrounded by flower pots. Inside a flutist was entertaining the coffee drinkers. This was the cultural oasis of the Yellowhead Highway.

Prince George Shopping Trip

A well constructed dirt side road tunneled its way through the multistoried canopy of green. It lead towards the VIA railstop at Penny on the other side of the Fraser river, towards it but not to it. Once the road arrived at the Fraser River, it became obvious there was no bridge, just a boat launch and several parked cars. But this wasn't your regular recreational boat launch for weekend anglers. Two women with shopping bags got out of the only boat in sight, a small long boat with an outboard motor operated by a man. The boat returned to the other side. The two women and the man in the motor boat waved to one another, as the man disappeared on the other side. Then the women were about to drive away in one of the cars. What was this puzzle ? The "town"  named Penny on the other side of the river had a population of 11, the two women informed me. But the cars are parked on this side because that's where the road is. Penny has a railstop. But the railway station has been moved to the rail museum in Prince George. So there you have it, a town with drivers but no road access, and a trainstop with the station standing in a museum a hundred miles away. 

The reason I rode down this green tunnel in the first place was to at least to see the river. Even though, according to the map, I had been following it for two days, I had not seen it since McBride. Actually it had been two days since I saw a store. Come to think of it, it was two days before I saw any type of business, railroad station, the Fraser River or another person not sitting in a car. For three days the route could be summed up with one word, "trees". Below McBride the valley opened into a gap. so. The mountains were visible only intermittently in the ocean of forest. Past Purden Lake the "mountains" couldn't even be called hills anymore. The route entered the Central Plateau of BC. The route followed the Fraser River downstream all the way, as well as the old Grand Trunk railway line. After two 80 mile days of out and back rides, at least I saw the river again.

Having the camper to come back to every night gave me a substantially different experience of riding these long deserted stretches than a self supporting bike tourer would have. The occasional small bear on the side of the road was merely cute, not a criteria to be considered for choosing the night's camping spot. For me this was a very controlled ride, almost like the ride on a cycling track. I had my own lane of traffic. On the whole Yellowhead Highway (to Prince George) it disappeared only once, and that was on the stretch between McBride and Tete Jaune (not counting the times when it is sacrificed for a passing lane). The wide shoulder is the most endearing aspect of western Canada to the cyclist. On these rides I oriented myself with the help of tiny letter signs next to the road, signs hanging from metal posts, almost like a bus stop sign. They contained names like "Lunate Creek", "Verna Creek", "Vama Creek". After 40 miles I picked a Creek to turn around and camped at one of the many spots on the 40 miles surveyed by bicycle. Back before McBride the light was filtered through soft clouds, the temperature modified by gentle breezes humidified by the forest. But now on the Central Plateau it was getting downright hot and cloudless. My radio informed me that 945 forest fighters were engaged in fighting 377 forest fires. That makes 2.506 fire fighters per forest fire - not very good odds.

It had been three weeks since the last real large Canadian town, Canmore. Sure, there was Banff and Jasper and the mini strip mall surrounded by monster RVs in Louise Lake. But these tourist enclaves inside national parks are something different than real Canadian towns. There was also little charming McBride. After all those trees and miles large Prince George came as a surprise. There is life in West Central BC after all. Even without trying, I located two Chinese restaurants with buffets, one large grocery super market, a multi function market resembling a WallMart, only here it's called the London drugstore, a new and a used book store. There's even a hint of old English elegance at a meticulously manicured Connaught Park overlooking the town.

But it wasn't until the next day when I rode out of Prince George's west side that I saw the real face of the Prince. A veritable showcase of big box stores stretched along the road toward the other price, Prince Rupert. Just when you think after Wall Mart and Home Depot there can be no more, appears  the "Canadian Superstore" with flags a blazin', followed by yet other big boxes. Somewhere in between the many lanes of heavy traffic and big box commerce was an explanation for its existence, "Prince George, 83000 inhabitants" read a large wooden sign.

I can picture the two women from Penny, pushing shopping carts through endless caverns of Superstores, then transferring the loot to the little boat on the Fraser, to take it back to their community of 11 inhabitants without a road.

The world beyond Prince George

I had a road, even if it was deteriorating in cycling quality. About 40 miles west of Prince George the Yellowhead Highway looses its endearing characteristics. Instead of orienting myself with strange sounding creeks I now had to use sandpits for orientation. The traffic gave the impression that a major city was just over the next straight hill, instead of countless long narrow lakes with hundreds of vacation cottages. But due to the forest you can't peer into their little private worlds. Then the unthinkable happened. The shoulder was reduced to a width of 25 cm, not enough to stay out of traffic. After about 15 miles the world returned to its normal state, the shoulder was there again. Traffic thinned out a little later.

Then comes another surprise, small towns, just the right distance apart for cyclists ! They appear sometimes at day ride intervals, often even at meal time intervals, all with well stocked grocery stores, many with a small mall. What was the reason for this infrastructure surprise ? The anwer is : this traffic corridor to the Pacific coast owes its existence to the last trans continental railroad of the American continent. It makes a fascinating comparison to the other early east west railroad corridors. Every railroad corridor from the Union Pacific to the Great Northern started as a linear settlement. But today they can't be recognized as such anymore because a dense square like grid of traffic stretches over the entire area. Not so the tracks of the Grand Trunk railway, once a corridor and still a corridor. It was 1872. The route over Yellowhead Pass had been surveyed earlier and considered for the first Canadian railroad west, but then abandoned in favor of the route over Rogers and Kicking Horse Passes further south. When another railway, the Grand Trunk, finally laid its tracks west, the railroad engaged in the same trickery of laying out its own town sites and bypassing existing ones as was customary by all landgrand railroads. In Prince George (then called Fort George), the Grand Trunk bypassed two existing towns. But unlike the more southerly route of Canada's first transcontinental railway, this northern corridor never developed in a major tourist route. Banff Springs became famous for its luxury, Lake Louis for its climbing, But no luxury hotels with pictures of Queen Elizabeth stand at the foot of Mount Robson, even though the scene is at least as spectacular as further south. The Grand Trunk was never the booming success of the railroads to the south. The farms along the route have a short growing season. The planned migration boom never happened.

The ultimate Bicycle Tour

"Gateway to Tweedmuir Park" read a banner between colorful flower pots and a few restaurants. On the outskirts a "Canadian Superstore" predicted growth. A road wound aesthetically along a quiet lake. Burns Lake was a resort town and it even had a resort town atmosphere. It was here that I discovered I was on another famous bicycle route. Before that, between Jasper and Burns Lake I only met one other cyclist, a Dutch girl on a mountain bike. Her set of fully rubberized Ortlieb panniers were gleaming in perfect sunshine, awaiting the normal rain. I just came out of the Burns Lake Visitor Center art gallery,  and its painting exhibit of lakes, ducks and assorted wildlife, when I met another cyclist.

His bicycle route is not described in every detail. It's more of an idea, the idea of the longest land route in the world, stretching through the Americas from Alaska to Patagonia. Nicklaus towed a trailer and pulled on it hard, so hard that the suspended front fork on the mountain bike rocked as he propelled the bike forward and the trailer pulled it back. On the trailer was a regular duffle bag containing amongst other things a regular gallon container of water. His shorts invited the viewer to visit a the web site of a Swiss corporation and his smart jersey contained two columns of neat logos of corporations that are a mystery in the Americas. Nicklaus had kept a fast pace, only a month and over 3000 km since Alaska. But then he wasn't new to endurance events. Last year he rode a trans Alp marathon from Mittenwald, Germany to Lago di Garda, Italy.

It was finally a chance to share stories from the road. "You never know what you can believe. But people tell you a lot of stories" he told me, "like the one of the thermal downburst that made temperatures drop to 85 degrees below 0. Trees exploded from the cold". There is something about the isolation of this country that makes it a prime breeding ground for modern fairytales. I would get a demonstration of these northern tall tales later too.

The animal life was also a topic of discussion. So far Nicklaus had been counting bear sightings. Not long from now he'll be counting rattle snakes, if he keeps the same pace. He will be following very roughly the same route that I had to Denver, with the exception of riding the Kootenay Mountains from Lake Louise, onwards to Colorado and beyond that, Baja California and into Mexico, Central and South America. He was a man on schedule. In a year he planned on arriving in Patagonia, a total distance of about 30 000 km. Talk about pressure to get the job done ! Unlike other riders who attempt this great feat, he even had a job to return to. That's an advantage of working for the Swiss postal service. He was on an official leave of absence. A link to his pages are maintained on the links page (in German).

Bushist biking for bibles

He was a big man on a skinny tire bike, looking a little bit like the Michelin man, a tire company logo of a man made up entirely of stacked tires. But it couldn't have been all fat he was carrying around. He caught me easily from behind and I had to work hard to catch up with him, once he passed me. Clothed in the latest colorful cycling jersey, he rode nonetheless a nicely antique bike. The shifters on the downtube reminded me of my own road bike. Downtube friction shifters are a wonderful thing. They never go out of adjustment and they work with any gearcluster you care to install on the back wheel. Downtube shifters were our first topic of conversation.

I should have stuck to that topic, the simple beauty of downtube shifters. The big man on the skinny tire bike was part of a group of riders who were practicing for a 8 day bikeathon of about 100 km a day. The purpose of the event was to raise money for bibles. Unfortunately I made the mistake of asking where the bibles would be sent. " this year China - they persecute the Christians, last years we sent them to the Muslim countries. The Muslims are the worst" was the answer. Further remarks revealed, here was a man who put all the Christians in one pot and all the Muslims in another. For him it was clearly a matter of "the Christians" versus "the Muslims". Before long we were discussing Bush and his holy war for oil while pedaling along furiously. I have not met many bicycling Bushists, before this only one. I suspected they were probably as rare as Harley Davidson motorcyclists in favor of noise ordinances, or ATV riders for the establishment of wilderness areas. Today I had the chance to meet another one.

The key to persuasion is communication on the level of the person you are trying to persuade, not your own. Like him, I tried the best I could. Bush supporters go for straight talk about morals: phrases like, "his hoart is in dah raght pleyace". They seem to like images from the bible, good versus bad, God versus the devil, cowboys with white hats versus cowboys with black hats, John Wayne versus all evil in the world. This imagery of good versus bad is more important to them than elaborately constructed arguments. They are not persuaded by long books written by ex cabinet members. For them that's too "intellectual".  That is not an insult. Bushists are proud of their anti-intelectualism. Bush supporters perfer "straight talk". They prefer the style of a fiery southern baptist preacher, which is also the style of the speech, with which their hero sent them in search of nonexistent "weapons of mass destruction" in Iraq, basically a loud screaming fire and brimstone rant

The second key to persuasion is using favorite imagery, I thought. My anti Bush argument - in the style of Bush - included many of the required elements: God, the devil, good and evil, moral declarations and a ranting style. I argued that Bush was the devil personified. Place yourself in the role of the devil for a second, if you could please. If you want to wipe out mankind, how would you do that ? The best way to get all those pesky little humans is just to make earth uninhabitable. Those pesky little humans are doing it themselves already. A majority of them have realized already that loading up the atmosphere with greenhouse gasses will lead to catastrophe. But that won't make any difference if you can keep Americans polluting full force. After all, they're responsible for a full 25 percent CO2, using only about 6 percent of the population. To be fair to the devil you have to note that currently (Dec 2004) Australia and China, like the US are also not participating in any agreement to decrease greenhouse gases. But, given enough time, the US can probably pollute mankind out of existence by itself, even though it will be getting plenty of help from around the globe.

Satan in the form of Bush has many tools at his disposal to keep world destruction on course, foremost the FOX cable news channel. That channel, which according to its own half hourly announcements, is "always fair and balanced", and "the most respected name in news" helps Satan to isolate the US population from the truth. It sends weekly reports about the monstrous world outside of US boundaries, that evil UN, and those wicked democrats, not to mention environmentalists. Gone are the days of "Radio Moscow" when propaganda was recogniced as propaganda. These days people actually believe FOX cable news, when it says it's "fair and balanced" and "most respected".

There are additional ways to argue that Bush is the devil. Like the Antichrist prophesied by many right wing preachers, Bush acts like the Messiah. I already mentioned earlier that he blessed the director of the CIA, when he had to resign, as if Bush were the pope himself. Dubiyah constantly talks about his religious beliefs. He gets huge financial support from right wing religious groups. Bush is also pursuing hell on a personal level. By ignoring human rights, Amnesty International, the Red Cross, and the Geneva convention, he is determined to give America something they have never seen: the Middle Ages, the time before these concepts were invented, the time before an open liberal society emerged.

Bush - the devil. I thought why stop here ? Rumsfeld is really Lucifer, the fallen angel. While once engaged in trying to spread democracy in Afghanistan, he has fallen into hell. Now he is heading an army who torture people into meaningless confessions. Guantanamo Bay is synonymous with Dante's "inner circle of hell", a place where human dignity has been sacrificed for torture. With the help of video tape and digital cameras Rumsfeld's organization has invented new ways to abuse and torture human beings.

Satan Bush ! Lucifer Rumsfeld ! FOX news - Satan's tool. I thought why stop here ? I tried to think of a biblical role for Dick Cheney. Let's see now. Vice President Dick Cheney is to the devil what God the father is to Jesus, an all encompassing entity, in Cheney's case an entity uniting all forms of evil ranging from corruption to delusion of grandeur and world domination. He is the evil brains behind the stumbling duntz Bush, the real force behind war to make Iraq a Haliburton subsidiary. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't think of an image evil enough in the bible to describe vice-president Cheney.

So you think, I'm getting a little carried away here. You're right. Obviously it didn't work. I did not convince the Bushist. So what did I learn from this argument ? I learned that I violated another important principle of persuasion. Never argue that your opponent's hero is really satan. It just won't work, even with all his favorite imagery. The step is just too big. You have to start with more modest goals, be more subtle. Maybe I should have quoted old song writer John Prine from two decades ago, "your flag decal won't get you into heaven anymore", even with the added "moral values" of corporate welfare, torturing prisoners and record deficits. But even that is enough to get you banned on corporate US radio these days. You need to be even more subtle. The great American story teller Garison Kealor is a master of subtlety. One of his news-from-Lake-Wobegon stories before the election featured a woman wearing a T shirt, stating "God would vote republican. Why don't you ?". That statement is subtle enough. No selfrespecting, Bud Light drinking,  Nascar racing, pigeon shooting redneck would ever get upset about it. It would pass right through them, just like the Bud Light.

But truthfully, I should have shown more appreciation for the Bushist's point of view. Take for example their extraordinary attention to "the word of God". Religious republicans have a direct wire to God. In the tradition of Moses, God physically tells republicans to do specific things. Fundamentalist churches also emphasize this "personal relationship" with God. Then when God speaks, they listen. Take for example when God said  "the world was created in 7 days". In republican southern states this gave rise to a whole movement discrediting Darwin's theory of evolution, and now many schools have to make up a "theory of creation" to teach their students (reportetly in addition to Darwin). Consequently the United States now has more people believing in a "theory of creation" than children believing in Santa Claus. If you are a scientist with a theory that the world was created in 7 days, Uncle Sam wants you. America's school children are waiting for you. If you can come up with an additional theory that prescription drugs are good for you, there is an additional job at the FDA waiting.

At times God even beams down ideas directly to Dubiyah. Then Bush, the savior, bestows great gifts unto the world. As God's chosen tool to open markets for American companies, he has already brought privatized health insurance to Iraq. Before the war they had evil socialized medicine. He has brought great riches to the US prescription drug industry, already the most profitable industry in the US. He's working hard on more gas for SUVs. But that doesn't seem to be going that well. What is really important here is that "he prays for guidance every day". But even more important is that he says publicly that "he prays for guidance every day". As Dubiyah Bush would say about himself : "He's a good man. I bless George Dubiyah Bush".

Regardless if  Bush is a representative of God or devil, or just a plain old secular goofball, the whole exercise was not completely useless. When I got back to Burns Lake I had averaged 15.9 mph over 86 miles, a new record for this collection of bicycle rides. There's nothing like a little heat under the collar to convert to leg energy and make you go faster ! But I must have had help from the wind too.

Just one final note. These paragraphs are not meant to be anti God or even anti religion. If you said something critical of the Spanish inquisition of the 15th century, that wouldn't be anti God or anti religion, right ? The inquisition and Bush have this in common : They are claiming to be speaking for God. ( They were/are also developing ways to make you believe that the world was created in 7 days). But evidence exists that God has abandoned the territory in favor of more fertile grounds.

The next page will be about bicycle touring again, I promise.

Home, James


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