Speed Of Smell

The Bow Valley Parkway, that ribbon of road not travelled as much anymore between Banff and Lake Louise, got into me for the first time three decades ago (actually 30 years ago this month where does time go, where does it actually go?) and it came back into view the other day as I pedalled north of Edmonton.

I was in the Tour de l'Alberta's 100 km ride out of Morinville, and had made the turn up Highway 44, and what struck me at approximately 28 kilometres an hour was the wreckage. Bolts and spears of wood and chunks of plastic and shards of fiberglass and a soiled glove and a baseball-style hat with a trucking logo on the front and the rubber of exploded tires discarded by passing tractor trailers. The shoulder of a highway is the asphalt shore where the flotsam and jetsom of modern travel washes up and sits discarded and forgotten, and, at 120 kilometres an hour, unseen.

Road bike
"It's amazing how much crap there is on the shoulder," I say to a cyclist moving alongside me.

He smiles.

"There's a saying," he says as we pedal side by side, "that if your bike breaks down on the highway, just walk up and down a mile and you'll find pieces to fix it."

I smile.

"When you're whipping by in a car you're not even aware all this stuff is here. You don't see everything."

A nod, and then this from my fellow traveller: "You don't see, you don't hear, you don't smell."

And then these pieces of time past put back together in a sentence from him: "I remember one day after a rain we cycled on the Bow Valley Parkway. Do you know the Bow Valley Parkway? It was after a rain and it smelled so, so …"

I don't catch the last word. A bicycle moving slower in front of him forces him to apply his brakes, and that is enough for us to get separated and the story of this sodden, soaking, shining scene left hanging in the air behind us. And we don't reconnect.

But I do think of some of the words that could have completed his thought: Wonderful. Lovely. New. Fresh. And other ones:  Forgiving. Hopeful. Alive. Green.

And then just one additional word, one word called up by my cycling shade's stress on the post-rain smell of the dripping forest, the word that captures the work accomplished by the pickling agency of our sense of smell: memorable.

The Bow Valley Parkway stayed with him, stays with me, too, because we moved at the speed of smell.



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