Saving Lives in Kananaskis

Return Trip: Days 11-14

I had a sweet evening Thursday with Vanessa and Brady and little Ruby (and Chewy and Penelope and Peaches and the kittens) – and enjoyed a second night in a row in a real bed – in Taber, the corn capital of Canada. And we did indeed have corn – cobs that Vanessa and Ruby and I plucked from their farm’s field.

Brady and the perfect cob of corn.

I learned about Mexican Mennonites (who speak low German and travel with Chihuahuas); about migrant workers who come at harvest time, and what type of work they do (it’s not all John Steinbecky: everything is mechanized and large-scale); about the Sugar Beet King (competition is fierce); about the price of land ($1 million for a quarter, the area of a pivot circle); about moving irrigation pipe (a bitch of a job).

The following morning, I loaded Pai and set off for Kananaskis country, taking Brady’s suggestion of traveling via Hwy 22 instead of Hwy 2.  While it took a few minutes longer to go that route, it was a gorgeous drive through the ranch land of the foothills, much prettier than Hwy 2.

I had intended to camp at the Bluerock equestrian campground, which is where my friend Lori – whose spectacular Facebook pictures enticed me to come ride at Kananaskis – had stayed earlier in the summer, but that camp was closed for the season, so we ended up staying just up the road at the larger Sandy McNabb campground.

The campground is pretty darn uptown, but the only horse accommodation option is in tie stalls.  I’d never used a tie stall before, so I studied how a group of three very professionally tied horses were set up, and copied their arrangement.

We had arrived early in the afternoon, so, after a quick lunch, we set out for a ride.  The trails as marked in the park brochure differ from the trails cited on signs throughout the park, neither of which bear any actual relationship to the actual trails. You pretty much have to wing it and hope you don’t end up as an Idiot in the Wilderness statistic.

Partway through my ride, I met up with Ann, Vicki, and Daniella, a group of Competitive Trail riders who were at a loose end when their CTR scheduled for this weekend was canceled, and who then decided to ride in Kananskis instead.  I rode with them for a ways. Turns out their horses were the three I’d so carefully copied in the tie stalls – and it was their first time using tie stalls too.

Riding through an aspen grove.

I hooked up with them again for a bonfire that night, and they invited me to tag along with them the following day for a longer ride.

It was a crisp 3 degrees in the morning when I got up Saturday morning, and I wasn’t clever enough to think of lighting a campfire to keep warm while I drank my morning coffee and made my breakfast. (I did manage to get a fire going Sunday morning, though, when it was zero (!) degrees as I had breakfast). Scooty stayed under the covers on the bed, with only his little hind feet poking out – and then, when I checked on him a little later, he’d tucked those in as well.

The trails maps and markers were just as whimsically placed on the Saturday ride as they were on the route we’d taken the day before – there’s nothing like a map that offers a ‘You Are Here’ indicator and then coyly withholds putting the marker on the map. Adorable. (Every single person I questioned at the end of the day, “So what trails did you ride today?” answered “I don’t have a clue – those maps are weird.”)

No matter. We rode at least part of the Death Valley trail (unaccountably, it was a valley – go figure – and the low spots had lots of horse-swallowing boggy areas), and definitely ended up on the Windy Ridge trail (which was both ridge-like and windy). We were rewarded at the end of our 5-ish hour ride with some spectacular views over the Sheep River (followed by a section of trail that had me quietly freaking out: a goat path that clung to the side of a high drop off to the river below. I was too stressed to take out my camera for a picture, but Vicki, who wasn’t in the least bit rattled, blithely snapped off a bunch).

I may look cheerful, but I am actually visualizing a sudden lurch to the right with a painful death at the bottom.






Ann and Daniella, likewise unconcerned. Clearly not thinking, “WE’RE ALL GONNA DIE!”

At one point on the Windy Ridge trail, we came upon a pair of hikers who were heading back the way they’d come. They were shaken because they’d run across a couple of bears on the trail, and were looking rather despondent because they were going to have to hike a very long route back the way they’d come. Our riderly consensus was that if the four of us on horseback were sufficiently noisy, the bears would bugger off, so we invited the hikers to walk behind us while we forged bravely ahead. As we came up to the spot the bears had been sighted, singing “99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall,” we looked up into the trees and saw a great big black…Angus cow.

In return for having so courageously saved their lives, we forced the hikers to take photos of us.

Once out of the valley, we did get some great views.

We did have a wildlife visitor to the campsite at dusk – a young moose wandered nonchalantly through the campground, not at all bothered by those of us stalking her to take photos.

Later in the evening, I met my neighbour campers, Les, Rob, Connie, Diane, Lesley (and others whose names have evaporated), who were a group of riders from the Calgary Polocrosse club. Les and Rob were going fox hunting (foxless hunt) the next day with the Calgary Hunt, and invited me along. I was sorely, sorely tempted – I have a jumping saddle with me, as well as my tall boots. Galloping over jumps in the foothills of the Rockies on a crisp sunny September Sunday – how could I say no?

I did actually say no, after much to-ing and fro-ing overnight. Staying would lead to some long days on the road and some rushing, neither of which seemed like a good idea when hauling a horse. I did, however, take Les up on his invitation to swing by the hunt venue anyway, and meet some club members. They almost talked me into riding with them for half the day, but a little insurance issue (they require Alberta Equestrian insurance, and my Horse Council of BC insurance just didn’t cut it with the Hunt Mistress) put the kibosh on that.

So we carried on to Salmon Arm, or, technically, Tappen, just west of there, and camped at the Skimikin Lake Recreation Area, which has a gorgeous little equestrian camp on the lake, with the plan for a morning ride on their trails.

As I sat by my campfire last night – my last night on the trip – it was absolutely silent but for the sound of Pai eating her hay, and the sound of my fire. I thought about all the wonderful people I’ve met on this journey, and of all the stunningly beautiful places I’ve ridden, the amazing Canadian landscape I’ve seen, and of all the places I camped in my tiny little pod on wheels.
What a ride. What a ride.



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