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GDMBR Chapter 19

Kananaskis, Alberta, to Canmore, Alberta

The bitter end

The road between Kananaskis and Banff was pretty brutal; constant washboard, loose gravel and heavy traffic causing lingering plumes of dust so bad I had to repeatedly stop and pull my shirt over my nose and mouth, and close my eyes.

The constant jarring from the washboard rattled the thoughts in my brain like dice shaken during Yahtzee. It was frustrating. Mixed with the heat and the fact that the only place along the route available for a hot meal was unexpectedly closed to the public because of an in-house yoga retreat... and this was not at all how I envisioned this journey to end.

During the final few miles on the long descent into the town of Canmore (just fifteen miles from Banff), I finally started crying... but it was kind of like starting an old pull-start lawn mower. There were some small dry heave convulsions of emotion before the waterworks finale.

And the tears lasted all the way to 8th Street, where I pulled my sunglasses on to hide my red eyes and clammy cheeks. But I wasn't fooling anyone. As I rode around in search of somewhere to get a hot meal, a woman noticed and asked if I was okay.

I tried to force out a simple, "yes," but it came out as an awkward circular bob of my head and more crying... and apparently some mumbling about wanting to get out of my chamois. She offered to watch my bike while I ran into a restroom to change into regular shorts. How kind!

She and her friend were on a three week girls trip and insisted I join them at their table.

We enjoyed an awesome meal and talked for nearly two hours. The restaurant had Wi-Fi, so I hopped on to find a place to stay that night.

No room at the inn

Campgrounds. Hostels. Hotels. Bed and Breakfasts. It was a Friday near Banff National Park and everything was booked! Well, at least everything under $500/night.

I hopped onto a web platform called Warm Showers to see if there were any hosts nearby who were willing and able to host me on such short notice.

Although I'd heard of it before, I had never used the cycling-centric site that seeks to pair welcoming hosts around the world with bike tourers in need of a shower, safe place to sleep, possibly laundry and a meal, and cultural exchange.

I messaged one host in the area and to my surprise, they replied almost immediately that they could host me!

Kirsten, Lyle and Eritia

I arrived to Lyle and Kirsten's home that afternoon. Their immediate, natural warmth and hospitality put me at ease and my heart felt calm.

They happened to also be hosting another cyclist, Eritia, who was riding through part of Canada from west to east, headed to a summer family reunion.

After settling into my room and cleaning up, Eritia, Kirsten and I sat on the back deck and Lyle opened a celebratory bottle of Champagne. A short while later one of their neighbors, Mary, stopped by during a local bike ride of her own. For a while it was just us women—each of us remarkable in our own right—laughing and swapping stories.

It turns out Lyle is quite the chef and that evening cooked salmon in his smoker. Kirsten laid out a beautiful place setting on the outdoor dining table and together we shared an absolutely delicious meal, complete with wine and dessert.

The glue

I know I talk about relationships a lot. And it must get old (sorry!). It comes from a place of intrigue more than obsession; I find it fascinating to meet couples who have managed to continue thriving together, after decades.

Lyle and Kirsten are one of those couples. They have lived the world over and raised two kids together. They've also done a lot of international bike touring and have a tradition of choosing a song each day and adding it to a trip-specific playlist.

Those trip-specific playlists are then dumped into a master touring playlist when they return home—which is what we were listening to that evening. As to be expected, it was an eclectic mix, and it was joyous watching them light up with nostalgia as they were transported back to specific times and places and feelings.

As potent as the sense of smell or a photo, their songs evoked immediate, vivid stories about plans gone awry and funny interactions with an Italian bike shop owner.

My favorite though, was when one of them arrived at the memory before the other. During one song, Lyle became animated and started singing along. He said, "Oh Kirsten, you remember this day, right!?" She focused her vision down, deep in thought and then it hit her and they both erupted into a knee-slapping kind of giddy laughter, reliving that day again. Together.

I met several of these couples during this trip. Card and Joanie, who I got to know when they treated Andrew, David and I to pizza in Dubois, WY. One evening, I all but interrogated Suz and Dave about their relationship, having them start from the very beginning. As Dave was getting up to use the restroom I asked Suz, "What's the secret?"

Suz shared an honest answer that had me teary eyed in a heart-so-full kind of way. When Dave returned to the kitchen he facetiously asked me, "So, what did she say?" To which I smiled and replied, "I can't tell you... it's a secret." And we all rolled our eyes and giggled.

The non-secret secret

It really isn't a secret though, and Dave already knew the answer because he practiced it every day. In a way, he was the secret.

Every couple cited and demonstrated the importance of having both shared and independent interests. Working with—not against—the continuous evolution of life. Honesty. Love. Patience. Intentionality. Fun. Luck.

Something I observed was that they all had little rituals. Rituals for themselves and rituals together. It could be as simple as playing Wordle together every morning or waking up first to make a slow, quiet cup of pour over coffee or washing the dishes by hand in the evening with a glass of wine and music filling the room.

They made things feel special. They celebrated. They used the nice china. They did kind little things for each other without being asked or any expectation of reciprocity. They just wanted to.

They also routinely did things that threw them both outside of their comfort zones. An adventure they had to navigate and problem solve through together; co-owning the inputs and outcomes. Most of the time this took the form of physically being somewhere different.

What next?

As much as I would have loved to, moving in with Kirsten and Lyle wasn't an option. I needed to figure out what was next for me, and figure it out real fast.

While I missed home, I was very much in denial that I had actually reached the end of the road. There had to be more road, right!? The thought of integrating back into society was scary. I had literally been living in the woods for two months, going through things I hadn't yet even begun to process.

I had always wanted to visit the Pacific Northwest, and there was a bike trail from Fernie to Vancouver. Everyone warned me though, that it would be miserable that time of year, as the Okanagan Valley is one of the hottest regions of Canada. Temperatures there were already in the high 90s F.

Heat. I desperately wanted to escape the heat. But the Arctic was too far away. I looked at the map and various forecasts and settled on Vancouver Island. But I wouldn't ride there.

Instead, I secured a ticket for an overnight bus, leaving the following evening from Canmore. I had to dismantle and box my bike up, but it would have me to a suburb of Vancouver, called Surrey, by 11:00 the following morning.

From there, I would cycle to the ferry and then finally arrive to the island by late afternoon.

I figured I had about two weeks to kill there before flying back east to visit my family.

Another adventure awaits

On the day of departure, Lyle secured a cardboard bike box from a nearby bike shop and helped break Nolie down and box him up.

They had accepted another Warm Showers guest that evening—a Brit on his way to Mexico City. Together we all shared a lovely meal, swapped more stories and then Lyle loaded the bike box into his truck and hauled me and it to the bus pickup area in town...

Video dispatches from the trail:

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