Yes, believe it or not, this past weekend was my first tour of the season!! I've been cycling, of course, but mainly brevets, a randonnees, a 24-hour event, monthly century rides, some commuting, and a lot of recreational rides ..... but no tours.
Saturday started cold (-2C) and overcast when I got up to go to work. Sadly, I have had to work just about every Saturday (as well as Monday-Friday) for the past year ... doesn't leave much time for touring or cycling in general! All day, I kept an eye on the weather ... but it remained cool and cloudy ........ until just before I headed for home. Then the sun came out and the temperature warmed up!
I dashed home, packed my panniers, had a bite to eat ... then at some point after 5:00 pm, my ride partner and I hopped on our bicycles and headed to Pine Lake.
It was lovely out! There was very little wind, the sun was shining, and it was quite warm. I chose a route that I thought would be the shortest distance to Pine Lake, but it wasn't long before we ran into road construction .... and an unscheduled detour.
On tours when time is a bit of a concern, the mind starts to play tricks on you. Although we had both ridden some of the roads toward Pine Lake, we both thought that the next turn should be "just around the corner". We also both experienced a bit of selective amnesia when it came to the quantity of hills on the route. My ride partner had joked a bit, some time ago, that the area around Red Deer was flat ... but it really isn't!! We climbed over one fairly large hill, and finally reached the first turn off .... and then started climbing up to the crest ... only to discover ... a second crest. Well, OK, we could handle that ... and topped that one to discover ... another crest ... then another ... and another!! False summits, not rollers!! The shadows were growing long, darkness was falling, and with each hill we climbed, we were faced with headlights of oncoming traffic above us ... yet another crest! I began to think that we'd never reach the next intersection!
It was lonely out there, but a beautiful, clear night with no moon and no wind ... and we were treated to one of nature's greatest shows ... the onset of the aurora borealis. I first noticed them off to our left as they swept in huge pale green curves across the sky that slowly but surely overtook us. They weren't bright enough to show our way as a moon would have done, but we marvelled at forces much, much greater than mankind could ever create. The northern lights never cease to amaze me!
The night sky entertainment also had other spectators. A family of coyotes set off their wails and howls, sounding as though they were right next to us alongside the highway.
For some reason I had the impression that Pine Lake was only about 40 kms away. I was a little bit off ... it is 60 kms away. I've also only been to Pine Lake once for about 5 minutes so I really had no idea what to expect out there ... especially since it is technically the end of the camping season here. I had glanced at the Alberta Campground Guide earlier in the week and noticed that there were about 6 campgrounds, but that a couple of them were only RV parks, and a couple of them were closed for the season, and a couple of them were open. The names of three of them started with an "S" ... but only one of those "S" names was open ....... and I couldn't remember which one!
We had finally turned onto the road going past Pine Lake and I almost sailed past the entrance to the various campgrounds in the dark. It's not particularly well-marked. My ride partner, however, was paying attention and stopped to shine a helmet light on the signs. And sure enough, there were three parks that started with "S": Scotty's RV Park, Sandy Cove, and Spruce Bay. Which one??
Off down the road again ... and by this time it was pitch black out with the exception of the aurora borealis and some distant orange streetlights. We negotiated two "Y" junctions, stopping each time to get directions from the signs, and finally had to make a choice between the three, and we picked Spruce Bay ... despite the fact that each sign for Spruce Bay looked derelict compared with the other two!
On down the road ... to find yet another hill! By this time I was welcoming the hills because I was FREEZING!! I had started the ride thinking it would be fairly warm and wasn't dressed for the rather sudden drop in temperature that occured after the sun set. My ride partner, however, was pretty comfortable.
We finally arrived at Spruce Bay to find the place all packed up for winter, and deserted ....... well, almost! There was a small gathering of people around a campfire who told us in unison to "ring the bell". We found the bell, rang it, and a rather surprised camp manager peeked out the door window before opening up and arranging a site for us. Considering we had arrived in the dark at 9:30 pm, he was quite co-operative, although he did seem very amazed that we had arrived by bicycle and not car. He gave us the pick of the powered sites in the open part of the campground for the price of an un-powered site, and we set up camp.
For the rest of the evening, we were treated to the aurora borealis rippling, moving, and flaring like huge skyscrapers reaching into the sky accompanied by choruses from the coyotes. The northern lights had deepened in brightness and were showing in various greens with hints of pink and red. One looked like an explosion bursting high We walked down to the lake, which was so perfectly calm I almost walked right into it thinking it was part of the path, and watched the aurora borealis from there for a while, reflecting in the mirror of the lake. Absolutely beautiful!
The night was chilly ... I'm not sure what the temperature would have dropped to, but probably near the freezing mark. However, shortly after the sun came up, our unsheltered site became quite warm.
I spent the morning sitting in the sun, overlooking the lake, reading a textbooks for one of my courses ... puts a little damper on my trips these days when I have to do homework, but still, if I have to read a text, it might as well be under those conditions. My reading was interspersed with heaps of delicious pancakes prepared by my ride partner on his Trangia stove.
Suddenly there was a loud knocking high above us!! Near the top of an old, disused power pole clung a large bird with a red tuft on his head and a long beak. Woody Woodpecker!! I'd never seen one that large before.
We walked down to see the lake in the daylight, and I was talked into walking out onto the rickety jetty, which I did very nervously (I'm not fond of water, especially when there are no railing ... what cat is fond of water?). We were entertained by a couple making an unsuccessful attempt to launch their powerboat and get it started. They ended up putting it back on the trailer, after the woman had stood in the water up to her thighs for almost half an hour to steady it in the waves and light breeze. Later we were astounded to see them drive off with their dog in the front seat and the woman in the back!
Then we packed up camp, and headed back. Interestingly, in the sunshine and heat, the distance back didn't seem nearly as long as the ride out there. It was quite beautiful too, with the leaves in their fall colors, and the harvesting underway ... and we made it home before dark!