I’m “headed home like an old horse” now, as my mother would say; having turned home the magnetic pull of familiarity draws you back.
The Ducati and I drift through the badland’s landscape of coulees, mesas, buttes, pinnacles and hoodoos like a weary wind under pewter skies. In the flat light it is grey and lifeless.
My inner 10 year-old, which so often displaces my outer adult, revels in Dinosaur Provincial Park and the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology Field Station. Over 35 species and 500 specimens of dinosaurs have been unearthed here, skeletal remains of extinction for us to hang our imaginations on. The station is eerie empty, the tourist season over and the rest of Alberta too busy to pay attention to a past that fuels its oil-boom present.
Riding up from the station, I realize how sick I am of my own monotone drone, Nora Jones’ Sunrise ear-wormed into my mind two provinces ago and there’s been no conversation to shake it loose.
I need people. Indeed, I need my people. People who know me, understand bikes, riding and the experience. For me that’s motorcyclists, and if you’re in Calgary, Revoluzione’s Racing Sundays and Pulcinella’s are the place to do it.
The MotoGP plays on television screens throughout the host restaurant, Pulcinella’s. I’m feeling worn, and focus the fuzzy edges of my attention on a few friends and acquaintances rather than the race.
In front of the restaurant along the row of glistening Ducati’s, the Multistrada, come Muddy-strada, stands out like a war hero. Crossing the construction zone of Calgary under a weeping sky was like being fire-hosed with mud, but the salt storm topped it.
Outside Chaplin, SK a white wall of low fog lay across the horizon, on a cool, clear windy prairie day. Against the vast over-saturated blue sky and standing wave of brown flat earth it didn’t fit. Until, my eye started watering at a salt sting and the air became tasty-delicious. Then the glare, passing through the whiteout’s western edge to the right of Highway One is a glistening bright moonscape of sodium sulphate mines. To my left, the salt encrusted shores of Chaplin Lake, 5200 hectares of brine and the second largest saline water body in Canada.
Inside the Calgary restaurant, ride experience and exhaustion spiced with homesickness are overridden by a warm feeling of belonging. Ducatista, that flavour of motorcyclist that embraces all things Ducati are a special lot.
A marketing machine works to create “a society around riding a the brand”, but Ducatista are so much more than that cynical phrase. They are open minded, embracing, engaging, energetic, and beyond all other things passionate. The bench racing, pizza and camaraderie is recharging.
Calgary has lost it’s cowboy charms and laconic ranching ways in exchange for big city life, save for putting on the Calgary Stampede once a year. Rife with tourists, and the hypermasculine posing of big pickup trucks, big machismo and big cowboy hats city wide Calgary is made over as a backing band for the village people.
The race ends, Ducatisa scatter, goodbyes said and the constant Multistrada and I are one with road again, westbound into the foothills. The Rockies sitting like a shark’s jaw of serrated teeth on the horizon, jagged silhouettes in white-caped brilliance and amber-glow. The racing went to five, and reaching Canmore by sunset exempts me from morning rush-hour and the new Calgary’s other hallmark – interminable traffic and construction zones.
At a loss as to where to eat, I’m lucky in that help has always been a cellphone call away, “Hello, Control? Can you look up a good restaurant? ”
“Control”, is a nickname for Kevin when I’m traveling and he’s in Vancouver. We live in a world of information, but on the road access is a problem. Whenever I need something googled, a hotel address found, the weather forecast or a reassuring voice, there is Kevin – ground “control” in Vancouver.
“The Trough has good reviews.” The Gods-of-Google fail to rate high pretense, high pricing, and mediocre quality. The service is fractionally above a snub, perhaps because amongst the starched, pressed and well-dressed oil-boom clientele I’m the rumpled outlier. I cast around the room sipping a vastly overpriced beer, and notice that for a province so brazenly soaked in oil riches Alberta smiles very little.
Alberta seems a grow, grab and leverage province, but one wonders if it remembers the lessons of the 70’s oil boom and subsequent world wide recession? Did it set anything aside for darker days?
As a house guest in Calgary, Carol my host had mentioned bumper stickers in the 80s swearing never to forget oil’s roller-coaster of prosperity. In the explosion of housing developments, bigger pickups and better sports sedans, there’s not a bumper-sticker to be spotted, only the uneasy insecurity of new money.
If you end up with a small portion of “excessive” that would be enough for many places though, right? And there is another wealth here in Alberta well beyond the oil. Scenically, Alberta is only a pretender to being the prairies. Detractors will say, flat and boring, but it’s not. There’s too much transition here, badlands to the Rockies, Alberta is a geology lesson in titanic glorious action. Stay in the cities if you must, but those are the bits you do to get to the good stuff, splendor that makes busloads of Japanese school girls swoon… the Rockies.
Walking through Canmore the cragged shadow giants of the Rockies look steadily down, exhaling their cold-breeze breath, and the crystal-clear band of stars framed between their peaks. These mountains have been constant comrades to Alberta, and have stood by much greater upheavals ending mightier creatures than those built by boom economies. Here the air is purifying, stripping away the evening’s experiences and observations, leaving only the wholesome fatigue found in the mountains.