Day 18 – Bassano to Medicine Hat. Another day of immensely long, straight roads, this time mostly in bright hot sun all day. From the comfort of my armchair at home, I spent a lot of time thinking about the Rockies, and I just wondered what on earth this kind of riding would be like…..well, I find it hard! To see the road way ahead of you with not a single sign of somewhere to stop (a real problem today) can be a tough challenge.
- Today’s Distance (miles/km): 107 / 172
- Time in saddle: 7h 17
- Max/min temp (°c): 39°/13°
- Climb/descend (feet) : 1,214 / 1,457
- Calories used: 5,088
- Cafe time: 3h 04
(We’ve just about got to the edge of this map – new one tomorrow…)
Last night (or rather very early this morning) I was awoken by the mournful sound of a lone coyote howling at the night. I listened to it for a couple of minutes before I realised that this was two coyotes calling back and forth, and within a few moments more the whole prairie seemed to be alive with the long, ululating wails of every coyote for miles. Sound really carries at night, and there was hardly a breath of wind, so I was transfixed for ages and eventually fell back to sleep to the distant sound.
After a quick breakfast I was back on the road (6 miles just to get back to the highway!), and once I’d done a couple of hours of hard pedalling I got to the town of Brooks which has a big service area of restaurants (a very welcome sight). I pulled in to Wendy’s for my second breakfast and got the other side of a big chicken salad, fries, root beer and a big coffee (I also freely helped myself to their superior-quality plastic cutlery as I’m a little short on the knife front).
I got chatting to a guy in Wendy’s called Clonis, who’s originally from Newfoundland but now lives in Brooks, and is flying back there next week before driving back home across Canada. He said goodbye and left, then came right back in and gave me this Newfie flag! Yay! As if that generosity wasn’t enough, he also made a donation online a few minutes later, making my phone coin-rattle and making me smile at the kindness of people, given half a chance. Thanks Clonis, and don’t forget to sound that horn if you see your flag out on the road.
Cycling down a country lane in Dorset, England, I would hardly expect a field of cows to notice me pass by. Here it’s very different; they don’t bat an eyelid at massive double (or even triple) road trains thundering by, but when I pitch in to view with my waving flags every animal for miles looks up follows me out of sight. After leaving Brooks I saw three large deer sleeping peacefully in the long prairie grass by the side of the road as traffic hauled past. As I slowed and reached for my camera, they all looked up, ears alert, and leapt out of their slumber, bouncing away like I’ve never seen deer bounce before, except maybe springbok in South Africa. They cleared several quite high fences whilst looking back at me, and carried on clearing distant fences long after I’d started cycling again. This is the only pic I managed to get, and I hope gives an idea of the speed they shifted at.
If one of these is near the road, you hear its slow, rhythmic motor action as you approach. The only signs I saw were for natural gas, but I thought these were oil derricks. Perhaps someone can fill me in on this. The engine is always running as it pumps, and I wondered what the balance is between fuel used/ fuel gained?
I’ve found that this kind of fairly extreme cycling needs special measures to keep it all together. I’ve enlisted the help of the BBC and The Guardian newspaper. Their podcasts, played at full volume through headphones, have proved to be the best strategy for staying sane. Normally, at home, I wouldn’t entertain the idea of having headphones in, for obvious safety reasons. It’s so different here that I’m not remotely concerned. I hear every vehicle about 10 minutes before it gets to me and thunders by. I’ve been immersed in science all day, courtesy of Inside Science, Costing the Earth and Science Weekly, all highly recommended. My favourite quote from the hours of listening today was this, from Darwin (of course, everything comes from him, Einstein or Newton):
“Ignorance more frequently breeds confidence than does knowledge”
Given that much of what I was listening to referenced Trump at some point, I was deeply affected by this quote as the vast skies of Alberta spread before me, and I thought about how important it is not to forget what we know to be true.
After my great second breakfast I had planned a long ride through midday with a long late lunch stop somewhere between Brooks and Medicine Hat. As it turned out, there really isn’t anywhere between Brooks and Medicine Hat, and what there is, isn’t actually there anymore, if that makes sense. This was a bit of a tough moment – I ate the last of my trail mix (thanks again Gill! You make the best trail mix!), a caffeine energy gel, the remains of a ham sandwich (appetising, isn’t it?) and some water, all whilst leaning against my bike rather than sitting comfortably in a booth somewhere. Then I put Earth, Wind And Fire on, full volume, and got stuck in to the last 25 miles to Medicine Hat. This headphone strategy may become a feature in its own right out here.
I set up the tent, showered (a little bit of heaven) and chatted to three fellow-cyclists who are crossing Canada with a planned interruption for a wedding at some point. Then I was straight out of the campground to the very friendly Rustic Kitchen and Bar, where I’m getting a bit of perspective:
I did see one sign today that made me laugh: