The Canadian, Canada (2): (almost) ending my world tour in Alberta…

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05-07.07: Edmonton, Alberta. The torn cross ligament

The train reached Edmonton early in the morning. My ‘cattle class bed’ was so comfortable that I had wished we could have arrived later. No time to complain though; I had met Marion on the train and we would go cycling in the hills of Edmonton.

The weather was marvelous, the bikes were good and our spirits high. What could go wrong? Well, for starters, we could get lost. Well, lost may not be the right word as we actually knew exactly where we were. It was just that our cycling path had changed into a dirt trail. Dutchies are natural bikers but I am the exception that confirms the rule. I stink even more in hilly terrain. Note for foreigners: the highest Dutch mountain, the Vaalserberg, is only 322m that means ‘blink your eyes twice and you missed it whilst passing’. (PS: Mount Scenery is 887m but this volcano is located in the Caribbean Netherlands).

The dirt trail was no fun so we took the first exit that should take us back to the road. This exit started with a flight of stairs up. No issues there. Minor complicating factor: the stairs were blocked with a fallen tree. We managed to push the bikes through a tiny gap. Unfortunately, the stairs led to nowhere so we had to push the bikes back down through the same tiny gap. Not funny.

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I should have recognised a bad omen when I see one. The blocked path told us to go back where we came from but we decided stubornly to we continue (how much further could it be?). Our next challenge was a potholed hill that was so steep that I didn’t dare to cycle it down. I got off and walked with the bike at hand. Sensible, right? Not! I had to lift the bike over a crater, lost my balance, fell down, heard my knee say ‘snap’ and felt the instant pain.

‘This is the end of your word tour, Linda’ came crashing in to my head. ‘End of story!’ A torn cross ligament in my knee means surgery and [lengthy] rehabilitation. Shit, darn, bugger! …. (on the dots your swear word of choice, I think I used em all). Marion and I tried to pedal back to the hostel, and then Murphy joined our ride; believe it or not but I got a fat tire on the top of my misery.

I couldn’t walk for several days although my knee wasn’t swollen nor back-and-blue. A doctor we met on our next train diagnosed it as ‘a partly torn ligament’. I chose to believe this diagnosis and abstained from any further hospital visit: Without affirmative MRI I could keep going until the pain would become unbearable whereas a positive MRI would leave me no other choice then to take responsibility and ‘abandon my tour’ Yes, I agree, this is a pretty pathetic rationale!

07.07: Jasper, Alberta. No hikes for me

I was gutted when I reached Jasper, Alberta, or better said the Rocky Mountains (hiking walhalla). My knee still hurted terribly. I had already buried my plan to hike the famous ‘West Coast Trail’ on Vancouver Island as well as my [crazy] thought to summit Mount McKinley (6,200m) in Denali National Park. ?

Marion and I met three new travel buddies; Margit (German), Lauren (USA) and Pavni (Indian). We got in Jasper our first ‘bear training’ because Grizzlies and brown bears frequented the grounds and well prepared we went on our 15 minute hike (yes, minutes!).

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Margit, Lauren and I rented a car for a 9 nights road trip. Our personalities and age couldn’t have been more different yet we had tons of fun. I think this trip could win the Corner of the World Award for Most Fun’.

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08.07: Athabasca Falls and Angel Glacier, Alberta. Bears in the outhouse

The ‘Rockin Ladies’ (our whatsapp name) traveled down the Columbia Icefield Parkway to Banff. If you ever get here then please take this road. It is only 230 kilometers but it will probably take some days because you will want to stop at every corner to take [more perfect] pictures.

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The Athabasca Falls were first on the menu. And we devoured it! Incredible!

imageimageWe navigated to our next hostel when I noticed a glacier on the map. It seemed pretty near [and this time my map reading skills didn’t fail, whohaa!)]. The Angel Glacier on Mount Edith Cavel lives up to its name. It was heavenly!

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Our next hostel was a wilderness hostel; no running water (so no shower), outhouses (outdoors toilet with a hole-in-the-ground system) and strict rules on how to preserve water. Now, I wasn’t worried about the water nor the toilet. I was more concerned about having have ‘to go’ at night. The thought to leave my safe cabin to cross the grounds twice for a ‘rest’ didn’t appeal at all. I know myself… I attract funny luck… I would be that one that shared the outhouse with a bear. So, I drank very little that night, LOL. Sorry Mr. bear, reincheck ?!?

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09.07: Athabasca Glacier / Columbia icefield, Alberta. Hiking a glacier

As I said, this trip took us to one of the most beautiful parts of Canada and it only got better and better. Our next stop was the Athabasca Glacier, a 6 kilometer long ‘toe’ of the Columbian Icefield.

Geological intermezzo: An icefield is a ‘growing place’ for glacial ice. A icefield collect snow which transforms into ice (refer to my newfoundland blog). Icefields are static whereas glaciers per definition are in movement. They move under their own weight, push ice and rocks over kilometers of distance and thus literally shape a landscape. Glaciers can also grow by accumulation of new glacier ice but they simultaneously ablate (or: retract) as a result of melting at its end. Although some environmentalists may say differently, retraction is a natural process. It may be sped up by global warming but the experts are still out on this topic.

We hiked the Athabasca Glacier with a guide. It was my first glacier hike and, oh my, it was impressive. If only I hadn’t done Everest and the Great Wall, this hike could be up for the Award for Best Hike.

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10.07: Lake Louise, Alberta. Wet to the bone

Admittedly, all tourists visit Lake Louise. Not on our day though because it was raining cats and dogs and few people dared to go outside. The Rockin ladies were not so easily stopped and we hiked up the Plain of the Six Glaciers. We encountered a little teahouse on the top, which had no artificial lighting. Due to the grim weather, we had to sit in the ‘dusk’ with 10 odd other hikers. Interesting!

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It was only a short drive from Lake Louise to Banff. I bet this little town may be even better known than Vancouver or Toronto, because of its unique location smack in the middle of the Rockies and hence THE starting point for hiking and skiing.

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11.07: Banff, Alberta. Discovering the true gem; Lake Moraine

All Canadian travel books rave about Lake Louise. And it is gorgeous, no doubt. Insiders, however, know that it not Lake Louise that is the prettiest of them all… that is Lake Moraine. This lake surprised us big time… with a heavy snow storm. Yes, we are talking June! Cool 🙂

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12.07: Banff, Alberta. Summiting Mount Rundle

The girls were game for a serious hike. My knee still hurted but I decided that I could always ‘cry tomorrow. Or the day after’. We choose to summit Mount Rundle which, at 2500m only, should be perfectly fine. Should, because it proved to be a tough cookie to crumble. It had a constant steep incline (+1000 m), was almost fully out in the weather, and its last kilometers often require snow climbing.

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We started around noon [for this 6-8 hour hike]. Yes, you may raise your eyebrows, this is FAR TOO late for a serious summit attempt. Ironically, we hadn’t slept in or lazed around but had to shop, sadly enough, for tack for this hike.

We moved relatively slowly but that was to be expected of a group of relatively inexperienced and/or injured hikers. By about 4 PM we finally crossed the treeline and had to continue on loose gravel, which was much more difficult to climb.

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My knee started to seriously complain so we rested for a while and subsequently chatted with descending hikers. The summit had heavy snow and we didn’t bring crampons. Moreover, it was at least another 2-3 hours uphill. We decided to abort and turn around (damn!)). A good decision in hindsight because we only got back at the car around 7 PM. Imagine if we would have added another 4-5 hours for our summit attempt!

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13.07: Banff – Lake Maligne. Girly horseplay (in Dutch: onderbroekenlol) in a gondola

Time flies when you are having fun and ours was running out. We had to return to Jasper to catch the Canadian the next day and this was a full day drive. We squeezed in one final hike up the Sulphur Mountain. This mountain had a gondola which was perfect for saving some precious time on the descent. Descending was FREE but consequently the queue was so long that we may have better hiked down in hindsight. Bummer! What to do to cheer things up? Simple: have girly horseplay! We faked an emergency situation in our gondola. Our action had no added value other then trying to ascertain whether this cabin was fitted with a security camera. Our conclusion: it did not have a camera OR the security team simple had a good laugh watching us 🙂

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14.07: Miette Hot Springs, Alberta. Mountain spa

On our last Rockin morning, we had just enough time to drive up to the Miette Hot Springs (in Dutch: thermale baden). These springs are the hottest on the North American continent. What a perfect way to relax!

We switched between hot and cold baths which ranged from 37 and 14 degrees Celsius. I had issues with the cold baths, guessing my eight years in the Arabian Golf area must have spoiled me. I simply cannot dip more then a toe in water under 30 degrees. I did want to succeed here though and -with minor heart attacks and major cursing- I managed to submerse in the 14 degrees pool. Wow, those people on Titanic people [who were in 4 degrees Celsius] really died a painful death.

It was the hot water that made me want to succeed in the cold. After the cold dip, the hot water felt like being tickled by 1000 fingers simultaneously. OK, that sounds pretty inappropriate for a public blog! Second attempt: It felt as if every cell in my body relaxed simultaneously and thus releasing their energy. The cold water felt the opposite, as if 1000 needles stung me at the same time until all cells had gone numb and it felt as if I had lost all my energy.

imageSmoking hot Rocking Girls (in the hot water of course, or else we would have looked cool of course)

Our last day went far to quick. It was soon time to say goodbye. Margit and I had another few hours together on the train but Lauren had to travel else where. You know, the most amazing thing of traveling is meeting new people but that leads to the most sad thing which is to say goodbye to many new friends. Saying goodbye to Lauren and Margit was one of such tough moments.

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