A path diverged into Canadian woods, But sorry I could not travel now And to be one Traveller, long I stood I searched to find out if I could To go, where tourism would allow. Adapted and inspired from Robert Frost – ‘The Road Not Taken’.
Canmore, Alberta – Canada – September 2021
It was the pink-morning sun that my sleepy eyes had sharpened on as they captured the Rocky Mountain peaks. Words and emotions were yet to synchronise since leaving Heathrow, taking a connecting flight and an hours’ drive in the darkness of Alberta, in a hire car, which seemed larger than the average monster truck.
I had staggered into a circle of confusion, which could not go unnoticed. Three years of planning and a global pandemic now highlighted the complexity of international travel.
Two weeks prior, the Canadian Borders remained closed with vaccinations certificates and PCR tests likely to be the new currency.
There remained a blur as to what was acceptable travel, so when my drowsy head was able to ignite some thought, I had to tell myself “I am really here, in Canada”.
I knew I would reflect again over the next two weeks, as the reality of what I was about to accomplish would soon become evident. Planning this trip with my daughter had evolved like an artists’ canvass, as colours reclaimed a Canadian autumn with Canmore the centre.
As I wandered through the town, it had the character of a cosy dog with a full belly. Now and then visitors would drift in, possibly from nearby Banff National Park and they too joined the undisturbed streets, the mellow cafes and tavernas that once saw crowds this time of year.
The trees had started their seasonal cleanse with a show-and-tell of coloured leaves dotted across pavements, with roads pedestrianised since the pandemic, but with fewer footsteps.
Side streets were occupied by the common domestic rabbit, which according to local knowledge had doubled over the years. Many lawns and driveways were home to these silent creatures nibbling away at whatever foliage they found. It all added to the intrigue of this urban town and graced my tiredness with a welcome sense of calm.
Two days before the big event. I had expected further road closures, posters, banners and generally people. But I supposed Covid-19 had crushed the plans of the usual buzz of supporters, pop-up bars or hot food stalls. These events were usually like the January sales.
In fact, there were more rabbits than people in the entire town, which was most definitely overrun. I warmed to the rabbits as they managed their needs independently, living and adapting to what felt like a sense of change.
Nature had advanced since national lockdowns everywhere and was offering us the chance to witness this, if only we would slow down long enough to watch.
With the town almost deserted it was likely the black, or even grizzly bears would make their way to scavenge dustbins from nearby restaurants and yards.
I thought of the rabbits and their main character moment in this town-takeover, the peace and tranquillity here now unmistakable from popular eateries that were now poised and waiting for customers. It was extraordinarily odd, but peaceful and still.
The day arrived. I acknowledged the quiet pink morning sun on the mountain peaks, which I had learnt were the ‘Three-Sisters’ and made my way to the meeting point. By now there would be a flow of coloured attire as competitors warmed up, bag-drops managed, and spectators took position at the Start and Finish.
I recalled the plans and discussions that had brought me to this very point. A goal carved from a mission to achieve my 50th race medal, with a Half Marathon here in the Canadian Rockies.
It was about to start. Eerily without the bumping and squeezing in of crowds and racegoers. Everything was different now. We had a staggard start. There were no shouts or cheers from the few masked faces that stood nearby.
They clapped gently as we headed out to the silence of the awaiting forest. Volunteers at water stations stood back as we brushed by, hearing fading voices whisper, “keep going”. Gravel footsteps patted like skilled soldiers along the flowing river beside us.
The gradient challenged me like the recipient of a Dementor’s kiss, forcing inaudible groans as we ventured higher into the clouds. The outlook across the landscape was breath-taking (in more ways than one) but there were no expectations of fireworks as the finish line approached.
I crossed the finish to fewer troops and softened cheers and heard the soothing sound of my daughters’ voice, whose younger years had outpaced me.
Humbled to have competed here whilst the globe rested. I had hiked from lakes to glaciers, without the crowds and taken leisurely tours in my monster truck, on highways frequented by mountain shadows.
Train tracks stretched silently into the void, as the haunting howls of wolves harmonised and evening performance. Travel was strangely quiet, as the paths diverged into Canadian woods.
And maybe less travelled, but time will make all the difference.