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For New Year’s Eve, a friend invited me to Cochrane, about 15 or 20 km west of Calgary. Looking at the map, I noticed that it lies by the same Bow River which flows through Calgary, and thus I came to the following decision: I would walk there. Simply following the river all day, even I should manage that.
On top of that, the walk goes through Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park, so it should be beautiful. If the weather would be cooperative.
I leave the house before sunrise, to make sure that I will get to Cochrane before sunset. First, I have to walk through suburbs like Bearspaw (which you have seen in the third season of Fargo), but soon, my excited eyes catch sight of the mountains.
The first shock appears in the shape of a huge bison on the other side of the road. My heart almost stops beating, that’s how scared I am. Such a monster! Luckily, it is fully occupied with having breakfast and doesn’t spot me. (Maybe it’s actually a moose or a reindeer, I am not that familiar with these Nordic animals yet.)
Having risen early saved my life. That way, the owners of the gardens which I have to trespass in order to reach the river were still asleep. A few hours later and they would be sitting on their patios with rifles, ready to shoot.
In case I miss the river, I could also use the railway for orientation. This is actually a general piece of advice for hiking in Canada. Following the railway, you will always reach the next town or ultimately the sea (if you don’t die of hunger or cold before). And when one of the long freight trains passes by, you can jump it and shorten your journey.
Instead of the train, I have to jump yet more fences, because there is no other way to reach Glenbow Ranch Park from this side. If you want to emulate the hike, this is the spot where you climb into the park:
There is no other way. Unfortunately, most land is Canada is fenced in and barbwired off. If a park ranger will catch me, I am simply going to say that I was walking on the frozen river and got lost.
Just as the first building comes into sight, my stomach is alerting me to the fact that I forgot to have breakfast. This is Bearspaw Ranch, which sounds like they will have coffee and cowboy-style breakfast with a huge pan of eggs and bacon.
As I step closer, jumping over another fence, I realize that it has been a long time since the last breakfast was served here. The map, which still shows a kiosk on this spot, must be from around 1890. The ranchers have gone off into the oil business, as practically everybody in Alberta. People here are in such an oil rush that they are even drilling for petroleum in the ice.
Well, then I’ll have to eat the first cereal bar. I don’t need to worry about drinking, though, for there is enough water, snow and ice. The river comes directly from the Rocky Mountains, so the water is potable.
Slowly but surely, it is becoming sunnier, warmer, more colorful. But next to the river, I detect traces of another dangerous predator. I have no idea what it is, but its teeth are sharp enough to bite off whole trees.
For the fact that there is a little bit of forest left, we have to be thankful to the great fire that ravaged Calgary in 1886 (in memory of which the local ice hockey team is called the Calgary Flames). After that, wood was no longer a fashionable construction material and got replaced by bricks and sandstone, both produced along today’s hiking route. On the other side of the railway line, and of course separated by more fences and prohibitive signs, you can still see the remains of a quarry.
Stones from here built the second Calgary, which has sadly and mostly been razed to the ground since and replaced by the third Calgary. The latest version of the city has been built with steel, glass and concrete, and we can’t really claim that it has become more beautiful in the course of so-called progress.
Good that I am spending the day in nature instead. In the distance, I can see the Rocky Mountains. I won’t reach them today, but with such a goal in sight, the walking is brisker, jauntier, happier.
On the other side of the river, in the distance, I can see the ski jumping hill from the Olympic Games in 1988. One day, I have to walk there too, to find out if anything is still going on there today or whether it is decaying without purpose, like an abandoned quarry.
Calgary was one of the candidates for the Winter Games in 2026. But a few months ago, the city held a referendum and 56% spoke out against doping and corruption. Probably, Qatar will now also get the Winter Olympics.
I am a bit surprised to discover that I am hiking along the Trans Canada Trail. The landscape is really beautiful, no doubt, but how is a hiking trail from the Pacific to the Atlantic supposed to work in a country, in which everything is fenced off and closed off?
Later, I check the map of the Trans Canada Trail and indeed, the trail runs to the eastern end of Glenbow Ranch Park, from where the hikers are then sent back and asked to walk into Calgary along the highway.
That’s a huge detour! And not at all suitable for hiking. So, I already have one suggestion for improvement. Once I will take a look at further sections, I will probably come up with more ideas. Maybe some expropriation will be necessary, but private ownership of land is a strange concept anyway.
Here too, the land only really gained in value once the railroad arrived, picking up stones and straw and delivering cigars and cider in return. The land appreciated in value even more when the railroad built a water tower and later a station at Glenbow. This led to a village, which turned into a small town.
A small town, but one that had a school, a post office, a store and of course plenty of farms. The village store would actually come in handy, because by now, it has become lunchtime.
Damn it, the retail trader seems to have been put out of business by the bloody recession. The investment in the picturesque location does not seem to have provided the expected profits. To make sure that he ain’t just sleeping, I knock on the door, but except for a few deer running away, nobody and nothing moves.
The farm is deserted, too. No rabbit to kill, no cow to milk. Maybe people here only discovered oil for lack of alternatives?
I gulp down another cereal bar. These things are beginning to become boring. But the day is becoming even more beautiful than expected. It’s the end of December, but I estimate the temperature to be at least 10 degrees. This is not the Canadian winter I feared (I will get to know it one month later, though). I have long taken off the hat and the gloves, now it’s time for the winter jacket to go. I even lay down in the warm grass for a nap in the sun. Let’s hope that the herd of buffalo will remain calm and won’t want to trample across the prairie all of a sudden. But the stampede is only planned for July.
Speaking of lethal dangers, at one of the rest places I see a sign, which is equally informative and disconcerting. Now I know which monstrous animal eats the trees around here!
Luckily, it’s winter, and snakes, geese and Canadian retirees have moved south. It would be good if somebody could keep the announcement of spring from the snakes, so they would remain in Mexico instead of scaring innocent hikers in Canada. (Mexico is so dangerous anyway that a few snakes won’t make any difference.)
As I see a teepee, it raises hopes for Native Americans inviting me to a buffalo barbecue. But the aborigines have disappeared too, whether fled, expelled or murdered, I don’t know. Maybe they have just been assimilated into Canadian capitalism and are also drilling for oil now. I am left with yet another cereal bar, and I am beginning to seriously hate those chunks of protein.
But I discover that a content heart offsets a discontent stomach, at least temporarily. The sun is on extra power, the hills are becoming more curvaceous, the grass is getting greener, the peaks in the distance appear pointier. All of this together consolidates into a mood of fulfillment and satisfaction, pride and happiness. Setting one foot in front of the other for ten hours is one of the best ways to spend a day. New year’s resolutions aren’t really my thing, but now, a few hours before the new year will kick off, I know what I want from 2019: more days like this one. Where in the world I will do it is almost irrelevant. I don’t need to travel far away for that purpose. I just need a pair of sneakers and some dollars for the bus back.
As darkness descends and brings the night’s cold, at around 5 pm, I reach the place of my friend Edward in Cochrane. Immediately, I tell him that all restaurants, kiosks, fast-food places and kebab shops along the way were closed and how much I am looking forward to a steak or a hamburger. “But you know that we are vegans?”, he shatters all my hopes for an unhealthy end to an otherwise healthy day. In such a household, I don’t even need to ask for a New Year’s cigar.