I left the campsite at 1:20 p.m. The afternoon sky sparkled blue behind the mountains. The sun felt hot. It had sprinkled rain earlier in the day as we walked through the wooded trails by the creek. But it looked all clear now.
A perfect afternoon for a ride.
It was about 29 or 30 km from the campground along Highway 40 to the intersection with the TransCanada Highway. I’d arranged with my husband to meet me at the Casino at the highways’ edge. There’d be plenty of room for him to pull in with the camper. From there, we’d cruise on home together.
“I should be there by 2:30,” I guestimated. Not sure of the highway grade, perhaps that was an optimistic estimate. No matter. Give or take five or ten minutes, it felt about right.
So as my husband and kids headed off around the campsite for one last wander, I pedalled out to the highway.
Making a left turn across traffic, I cruised east along the highway. Traffic wasn’t busy; a lucky break for the dwindling hours of a long weekend. I settled into the comfort of the wide shoulder.
The first while was slightly rolling. My legs warmed up and found their rhythm. As I rode, I gazed at the forest and up at the geological marvel that are the mountains of Kananaskis country. I gulped in the opportunity to propel myself through this moment, these surroundings.
About 7 or 8 minutes passed before I saw a sign indicating 23 km to the highway. My bike computer broken, I still wasn’t sure of the exact distance I would travel. My elapsed time, my pace, my energy output? No clue. I’d left my heart rate monitor at home.
Just ride, Susan. Just ride.
Up ahead I could see the skies darkening. A distant thunder rumbled. A few minutes later, I felt the first drops of rain.
The highway ebbed and flowed. After a good downhill stretch, the first real incline came. My gears bottomed out. I sat up and loosened my grip on the handlebars. And pushed. My legs burned. But I knew the strength and power would come. Strength and power are always there, lurking just below the burn.
The sprinkles turned to a steady rain. The sky closed in. The rain eventually turned to sheets, bouncing off the highway. Each passing vehicle sent an extra wall of water into my path. Despite the hail spiking on my skin, my body felt warm. But I felt alone and unguarded in the grey mist, with vehicles hurtling by. My pace quickened.
Up ahead, a big hill. I’ve learned that hills always look worse in their approach. And there’s never anything you can do except keep pedalling. I dropped my gears and buckled down.
Within a minute the grade forced me off my seat. There was no other option but to stand and climb. There never is. Stand and climb, baby, climb. I could hear myself panting, a guttural sigh escaping with each outward breath as I moved myself up the mountain. At some point there are no more tactics. It all comes down to legs and lungs.
At the top of the climb, I stopped to let the panting subside. The rain was coming at me sideways. I could hear my drenched socks squelching in my shoes. My glasses were fogged. I watched the water stream from the crook of my elbows. Despite the highway traffic and moving water, all I could hear was my breath.
I started pedalling again. A tentative downhill. Easy does it. Downhill always makes me nervous.
Eventually the rain eased up. I passed a sign saying 7 km to the main highway. Shouldn’t be long now. Shouldn’t be long.
Around the last bend, I could see the Casino in the distance. A few blue patches were breaking through the clouds.
I glanced at my watch. It was 2:27. A moment later, I pulled into the parking lot. The rain had also stopped. Or perhaps I’d simply moved through it.
Another moment later I saw my husband pulling in off the highway. Perfect timing. I hopped into the camper and changed out of my soaked gear. Within another few moments we were moving again.
In the warm truck, my hair wet and skin tight and dry, my body tingled with gratitude. Music played as our girls sang in the back seat. We turned back out on the highway, heading for home.
It was a good ride.