Wednesday, 3 September 2008


"To get to the trail I just head out of the door and turn left, right?" I asked the doorman of the Varscona Hotel in Edmonton. "Yes," he said, "along Whyte, but you go about two blocks to 94th street, and then you turn right. It turns into the trail ...". I had to check this because to get to Whyte you have to turn right out of the door, and then go left to 94th, but it seemed he assumed that to go out of the hotel meant to go through the door and walk around the corner to the front of the hotel, where the front door would be if it were not at the side ...

So I followed his directions and found myself, after several miles, on what seemed an unending highway of 6 am traffic in cold rain. Eventually I saw a sign saying "Calgary Trail" and realised that, though I was wearing my running kit, the doorman obviously thought I wanted to drive to the airport. It seemed I was about halfway there. I turned back and my fingers froze before I found the hotel. I had brought no running kit other than vests and shorts for the week.

Later in the day, and after that inauspicious start, I followed my nose and headed left out of the hotel, and found, after some winding through barbed wire and ominously empty stretches of tarmac, the entrance to the trail that follows the North Sakatchewan River. Down a flight of stairs that reminded me of Sacre Coeur, I turned to run west. It's a beautiful stretch of river valley, perfect for running: narrow and soft, gently undulating, traffic- and almost human-free. I only turned back, after about six miles, when I had to for dinner ...

The following morning I looked out of my window and waited for the sun to rise. It began to -- reluctantly -- and I headed to the river and took the cycle path east. As I followed the bends in the river, up and down a steeply undulating path, the sunlight caught the tall buildings in the downtown area on the far side, and, briefly, Edmonton looked glorious, rich with imaginative architecture, Scottish domes, neo-Victorian stone gothic, glass bubbles and a red ziggurat. I turned back, again, because I needed to make my conference ...

I've never been to Canada before, and Edmonton, Alberta might not have been my first choice, but the valley and the running it offers (comprising, by the way, the largest system of Urban parks in Canada) was very satisfying. But never trust a doorman.

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