After what felt like two weeks of pedalling uphill, I was looking forward to the vast flatness of the Prairies. The ‘Welcome to Alberta’ sign was a milestone of the trip – it was then I started to realize that I was going to cycle farther than I had ever driven on any road trip.
Despite the blue sky in the photo, in a couple hours the weather would strike with a vengeance. Not only was there your typical rain-lightening-thunder combination, but there was a government-issued tornado warning in place and the forecast called for hail. With only my tent for shelter, I was feeling very vulnerable. Hail can be dangerous on a bike in the prairies; hail can vary in size and often there is nowhere to take cover. Even worse were my visions of being pulled up into the atmosphere like the opening scene of The Wizard of Oz with trees and livestock whirling around with me and my bike (which is funny because in that film Judy Garland actually does see a woman riding her bike in the tornado). I made it as far as Blairmore before the rain started.
By happy coincidence, that day my grandparents who live in Southern Alberta were driving from Vancouver after their Alaskan cruise, and they were driving the same route as me. They had mercy on me and picked me up in Blairmore and drove me home with them to Cardston where I wouldn’t have to worry about things like golf ball-sized hail and tornadoes.
Being able to see both sets of Grandparents on my trip was a special memory for me. I had family to see and stay with for the rest of Alberta. But after that? No accommodation arrangements until Ottawa.
Concerned about breaking my line, I asked to be dropped off where I had been picked up. My grandfather graciously obliged and he drove me an hour back to Balirmore to maintain the integrity of my ride. That day was one of my favourites of the whole trip. As I cycled the Rockies became the foothills and the foothills became the prairies. A tail wind picked up and started to push me. I was flying! On average my cycling speed is 20km/h with loaded bike on relatively flat terrain. That day I was cycling at 40 km/h and I was elated.
And a note to prospective cyclists: be very careful with wind on the Alberta foothills and the Cypress hills in Saskatchewan – if there is a tailwind you can go faster than coming down off the mountain passes. My fastest speed of the whole trip was 70km/hour coming down the coulees in Alberta. And the wind was coming from a slight angle, pushing me close to the lane of traffic. Be careful! A crash at those speeds could be comparable to a motorcycle accident.
I’ll never forget the feeling of pausing on top of a bridge with a train passing underneath destined for the West; my eyes traced the train back to the mountains that stood tall and indomitable. At once I felt totally invincible and insignificant. I had traveled across mountain ranges, because of and in spite of my own strength. I’ll never forget that moment.
The tailwind helped me reach my biggest day yet and I arrived in Lethbridge where family and friends greeted me. It was in Lethbridge that I took my first rest day (finally… I really should have taken one when I needed it halfway through BC but I was too worried about losing time). While I took 2 weeks to get through my first province, it only took me 2.5 days to cycle across Alberta, and I was lucky to have family to stay with each night.
Additional notes about Alberta:
- the province with the best pavement – well maintained and shoulders as wide as an additional lane of traffic on HWY 3.
- gas prices so low you wished you were driving instead of riding
- two short – only 2.5 days of riding from border to border
- and yet, within that short window, 2 major thunderstorms
- stayed on Crowsnest HWY 3 until Medicine Hat and then the Trans-Canada HWY 1
- I gained 5 lbs since the beginning of the trip, but could tell that my body was becoming well adapted to the task of cycling all day