It Was A Sign

The highway sign announcing "Banff 6 km" was not where I expected to come across Mr. William Wordsworth.

But there he was, there, that is, his words were, or some kind of idea of his words from Book Sixth of The Prelude, where the young traveller realizes in some anguish that he had, while briefly lost, unknowingly succeeded in his quest to hike across the Alps. The painful news comes from a local peasant:

          Loth to believe what we so grieved to hear,
          For still we had hopes that pointed to the clouds,
          We questioned him again, and yet again;
          But every word that from the peasant's lips
          Came in reply, translated by our feelings,                  
          Ended in this,--'that we had crossed the Alps'.

The picture conjured up by those words has for decades lingered in my memory, even though I have never been to the Alps, so I cannot really be seeing anything that I have actually seen. And it's not a televisual image or a photograph I see. It's more of a feeling, maybe. And the feeling wells up and surfaces in those episodes of my life when the ending happens, the goal is achieved, the target reached with some actual, well, surprise.

Like the Banff Gran Fondo.

It was a 150-km bicycle ride through the mist and memory of a Rocky Mountain morning. Some 30 years ago, Banff was the start of Day 2 of our bicycle tour from Calgary to Jasper and my introduction to a stretch of road, Highway 1A, that would stay in my imagination, or, in truth, form my bicycling imagination. And last Saturday, there I was, astride a rented road bike and taking the first tentative pedal cranks on what would be six-hour plus journey up Tunnel Mountain, out to Lake Minnewanka, back up Tunnel Mountain, along Highway 1, into the undulating beauty of 1A as far as the Lake Louise turnoff, and then back to Banff. And back to Banff. Borne back to Banff.

There were stretches of the way back to Banff that seemed endless. One hill conquered, leading to another curve, another drop, another hill to top. And then repeat. My body's pain agreed to meet in loud convention in my neck, proudly ignoring the ibuprofen on its riotous way there.

And then, somehow, the concrete columns carrying cars and trucks along Highway 1 came into view. And the "Banff 6 km" sign, which told me that the day's odyssey was, essentially, over. I had crossed the Alps.

I was not like the young traveller Wordsworth in that I was more than ready to stop and have a beer and hug my wife. My hopes did not point to the clouds at that instant. But, still, the sign surprised me.

The sign left me with the sense that it, somehow, had been moving toward me as mechanically as I pedalled toward it.

It was a sign, I believe.


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