Ride Report – Waterton 2009

by Dave Oliphant

For 2009 I redesigned an old course I had not done in over 10 years, the ride to Waterton and back. In the 1990s I had done this route a couple of times, until they had started to widen the highway between Cardston and Waterton. One problem with the old course had been its length, which was 625 km by the time you got back to Medicine Hat. For 2009 my wife would be driving to Waterton and staying the night. On the original course Waterton came after 300 km, but I wanted to get more kilometres in before sleeping, therefore a redesign was necessary.

The new course had a loop before leaving the Hat, and I was off right on schedule at 7 A.M. Before I made it to Taber my wife had passed me (she was going to spend some quality time in the Park) so I was on my own with no backing out. Lunch in Taber, then out into the heat. It definitely was heating up, I stopped in Coaldale for a cold Coke and some shade. Talked to an old hippie couple about what I was doing. The guy insisted Waterton was a 3 day ride from there, he seemed not to comprehend that I said I would be there that night. As I left town (heading north, not towards Waterton) they passed me, I can only imagine what they were thinking about me by then.

This stretch had a deep valley to cross the Oldman river. On the north side I was riding through farm land, lots of green crops growing at this time of year. Much different than most of the course. It was really starting to warm up as I got to Picture Butte. I checked in at a gas station at the junction, bought lots of fluids and then looked for a shady spot. Unfortunately there were none. Back into the store I was able to sit at the staff table, sweating buckets.

Up till now I had been very lucky, apart from the heat. It is very common to have west or south west winds in southern Alberta. About 20 km out of Picture Butte I had nothing but calm. That was about to change. As I headed south to return to Highway #3 the winds began to pick up. Once out of the Oldman River valley they were in full force. I struggled along with plenty of breaks as I slowly mad my way to Fort McLeod. There I purchased a liter of chocolate milk, a coke, and Gatorade, quickly downing them all. Slowly ate a few things before finally heading out again. I was still heading slowly west, but the farther I got the slower (yes) was the wind. By the time I arrived at Pincher Creek there was hardly any wind again. Of course, part of the reason for this was that the sun had set as I headed into town.

A quick sandwich and cup of coffee and it was off to Waterton. This particular stretch of highway I had only ridden in the opposite direction (that was the old course), all I really remembered was the long downhill into Pincher Creek and some other ups and downs. Turned out there were lots of ups and downs in this stretch. Being night and where the road goes I think only about 6 vehicles passed me during the 50 km stretch of highway. It was really dark as I got to the turn in to Waterton, didn’t seem very well marked but I knew if I went across a bridge I had missed the turn. Nice last 9 kilometers into Waterton, arriving in town after midnight. There were still a few people walking around at this time.

Found the van parked at the hotel. The room key was inside so a couple of minutes later was enjoying a late meal and a warm shower. It was quite cool for the last 30 km, had my jacket and full fingered gloves on. Then into bed for a well deserved sleep.

Up and out before 7 A.M. Jacket and gloves on for the early morning ride. But overnight the warm weather had blown (!) in. By Mountain View I couldn’t wait to pull over a get some clothes off, I was roasting. But wind at my back, I was also flying. Quick stop at Raymond, not use stopping much when the wind is helping. North to Coleman with a cross wind, making good time because I wanted that wind to still be there when I turned east again.

And it was. Down Highway #3, head down and hammering. Quick fluid break in Taber and then back at it. Roared into the final checkpoint in Bow Island, had done about 235 kilometers in 8.5 hours, not bad for the second day of the first 600 km ride I had done in 4 years. Wow! That’s what the wind will do. Was very glad I was not heading west that day.

Unfortunately the disadvantage of my revised course was now evident. Bow Island is almost 70 km from my house. When I left Waterton I gave my wife an estimate of when I would finish in Bow Island. Of course at the time I didn’t know about the wind, so I seriously overestimated when I would be at the finish. Not willing to ride home from there, I found some shade and settled down for a long wait.

She did show up and get me.