Most summers I get in one trip, usually the first part of July and it usually encompasses riding as many kilometers as possible in the 7 or 8 days I have available.
This year was different, I said goodbye to the work-a-day world earlier in the year and officially retired. By the time this trip window came around I had already been to Lewiston Idaho with a bunch of friends from the East Kootenays region of British Columbia.
The first 10 days or so of July is my time to ride with the destination loosely chosen only a couple of weeks before I set out. The final destination, route and nightly stops are fluid and in past years with the amount of forest fire activity I’ve encountered the route could change hourly.
This year because I had lots of time and no hard deadlines to follow I decided to cut the daily distance I traveled and focus more on getting some good photos and video footage. I really enjoy the Alberta Badlands around Drumheller and Dinosaur Provincial Park and as Drumheller is an easy 3 hour ride from my home I decided to make it my stop for the first night so I would have lots of time to poke around, see the sights and photograph.
With the discovery of dinosaur bones in the badlands Drumheller has made the transition from a coal mining town to a tourist town with relative ease and places like Horse Thief Canyon, the haunted Rosedeer Hotel and the Last Chance Saloon in Wayne are top attractions.
I have been in the south central part of Alberta many times but have never traveled farther into the southeast corner of the province, into an area know as the Cypress Hills. This area is a bit of an anomaly, it’s located in a dead flat part of the province yet rears up to an elevation similar to that of Banff located west of Calgary just into the Canadian Rockies. Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park is located just 40 minutes southeast of the city of Medicine Hat and straddles the Alberta/Saskatchewan border with historic Fort Walsh located on the Saskatchewan side. As soon as you leave the Trans Canada highway east of the “Hat” and head south towards the US border you can tell you’re climbing. The road is a narrow two lane ribbon of pretty good asphalt that twists and turns but never stops climbing and the top of each subsequent high spot gives a view of the prairie that goes all the way to the horizon. The small town of Elkwater in the park is located on Elkwater Lake and the majority of the campsites in the park are located in the high meadows and trees above the lake and town site. For the people that live in any of the nearby prairie cities, the park provides the opportunity to experience camping in a parkland setting without having to make the 4-5 hour drive west to the foothills and mountains.
In past years trips across Alberta had always been made using the Trans Canada highway which from the Saskatchewan border angled northwest to Calgary and eventually entering the Rockies at Canmore and Banff, the Crowsnest highway from Medicine Hat to Fernie via Lethbridge was never chosen because it funneled traffic over the less developed and slower mountain passes leading to British Columbia’s lower mainland. This was the route I chose to make my way west into southern British Columbia, the prairie part of the route took me through places like Seven Persons, Bow Island and Taber, all names I recognized but towns I had never visited.
Once I reached Fernie I was back in my own backyard, my annual summer travels usually took me through Fernie and Cranbrook at least once a summer and sometimes more than that. I kept moving west and visiting some of my favorite little towns and riding some of my favorite routes. After 3 or 4 days of poking around in southern B.C. I eventually made my way west as far as this trip was going to take me and spent a night in Hope, B.C. Hope sits at the junctions of the Trans Canada highway #1, the Coquihaila #5 and the Crowsnest Highway #3 and to westbound travelers it is unofficially known as the point where the B.C. interior ends and the lower mainland starts. In years past the route to the interior consisted of either travelling highway #1 or the equally slow #3, it was the addition of highway #5, a four lane toll road that turned the Kelowna to Vancouver drive into a short 4 hour affair. Most of the interior bound traffic chooses the speedy Coquihaila and this takes a lot of pressure off the slower but more scenic routes to the interior.
Many years ago most travelers used the #1 highway as it followed the Fraser River to the lower mainland, from the highway there are some stunning vistas of the gorges the Fraser River has cut in the rock and continues to squeeze through, while you’re in the canyon you cannot escape the ever present sound of fast rushing water. The most spectacular part of the Fraser Canyon is from Spence’s Bridge to Hope, the route is lined with lots of little towns all offering a unique take on life in the canyon.
As I visit some of my favorite locations, sometimes after many many years, I realize that in the short term change is a constant, but in the long run…nothing changes, for some people, life’s traditions have not changed in decades.