In 1980 I had biked through parts of B.C. and Alberta and for 11 years I had been hoping to return. I packed my bike and flew to Vancouver on Saturday, July 20. I was met at the airport by Kathy Cody, one of the original Velo Halifax members. Kathy's husband , Larry Ruble now designs high end bikes with Rocky Mountain Bicycles. He was then in California on a bicycle business trip .
The weather in B.C. had been very wet until I got there. For the next 3 weeks I only saw a few hours of rain. I spent 3 days in Vancouver getting my bike back together, going to the B.C. science centre with Kathy and her 2 kids. Larry arrived back the second day. I took a spin on his $3000 mountain bike.
I also explored out an escape route from Vancouver. Like Halifax, Vancouver-Burnaby-New Westminster is on a peninsula with few exits. Unlike Halifax some of the bridges are bicycle accessible. Traffic is pretty bad. Fortunately I was in the south-west end of Vancouver and only had to contend with Burnaby and New Westminster.
The first two hours involved getting out of Vancouver , Burnaby, New Westminster and urban parts of Surrey. Then I got on some nice country roads in the Fraser Valley farmland. In the distance I could see the massive white peak of Mt. Baker.
I crossed the Fraser River at Mission and then followed Highway 7 which has a good shoulder and fairly light traffic. The morning was very hot. After stopping for a swim and lunch near Mission, thunderclouds formed. There were some violent winds and heavy showers in the area but I missed most of them. At about 6pm the rain finally caught me just as I had my only flat tire at the turnoff to Harrison Hot Springs. I hadn't intended to turn off here but I was offered a ride to a campground at H.H.S. where I patched my tube ( a double snake-bite) in the relative dryness of the games and laundry room. It was too late to go to the hot springs.
AWAKE ! The empty highway is crying: "Who will beyond the hills away?" ( A.E. Housman)
So I get up early to get those roads done!
I went for a swim before breakfast in Harrison Lake which was quite warm here. Then I rode the 5 km back to Highway 7 and then on to Hope. Hope is only about 50 meters above sea level but the highway immediately climbs into the Cascade Mountains up to Allison Pass at 1350 m so this was my first taste of real mountains. The weather was partly cloudy and comfortably cool. The road climbed 700 m to the Hope Slide where circa 1962 half a mountain collapsed and buried the highway. The road leveled off for a long stretch then late in afternoon I climbed to the summit. For the first time I saw my altimeter read 1000 m. I camped in a prov. campground with some Australian cyclists going the opposite direction. The river in the campground was just slightly above freezing so I didn't get swimming today.
There was another climb early this morning to the top of Sunday Summit, about 1200 meters. There I met a very high-class bicycle tour. Their sag-wagon had stopped at the top and was serving them refreshments.
Now there was a long steep descent to Princeton in a very different climatic zone. The forests had given way to sagebrush. The road was now very flat along the Similkameen River to Keremeos. Here I chose to leave the Crowsnest Highway and head north towards the Okanagon Valley.
I rode over a few hills to the resort village of Okanagon Falls on the southern end of Skaha Lake. The lake was quite warm so I had a swim.
After another swim and breakfast, I took the road on the East side of the Lake to Penticton. It was a very scenic , quiet road - like the Waverley Road. It is also part of the Canadian Ironman race route. That was the end of the nice roads for today. At Penticton I got back on the main highway on the busiest weekend of the summer- the Peach Festival.
At first the highway was close to the Lake but then it climbed far above. By noon the traffic was really heavy. Fortunately there was a wide shoulder. Thousands of huge motor homes ,pulling trailers with huge motor boats. I felt like I was from another planet on my little bike.
I found a quiet road out of Kelowna. While stopped making minor adjustments I left my 5mm allen wrench behind , a loss that caused me much grief a few hours later. By late afternoon it was very hot and the waters of Kalamalka Lake were far below me, out of reach.
While descending a very steep hill down to the lake at Vernon my brake cable broke. At this point I discovered I needed that 5 mm wrench that was somewhere back on the road. I managed to get down the hill with one brake but a search for a hardware store was in vain as it was Saturday evening and everything was closed. However at the campground I went to I borrowed a wrench and replaced my cable. Then I finally got to go for a swim in the lake.
I had a another nice swim in Kalamalka Lake this morning. After breakfast I headed on to Highway 6 up the Coldstream Valley and I entered another world. It reminded me of the Annapolis Valley. One could sense a more relaxed pace. At Lavington the local store owner commented that further down the road was like going back 20 years. At Cherryville the settled farmlands end and the road heads in to the Monashee Mts. At Frank's General Store I studied Frank's topo maps and saw that his was the last building for about 50 km.
For most of the way the road had a good shoulder and there was very little traffic. It was a long gradual climb up to Monashee Pass at 1200 m then a long descent to Arrow Lake. There a unexpected short, steep hill on the last section to the Needles ferry.
Now it was like I was in Cape Breton - it was almost like the Englishtown ferry. At the other side in Fauquier there was a small store and an almost deserted campground. Alas I didn't go for a swim this evening.
I was now in a very isolated area of B.C. This morning I had to stop for over a half hour while a road crew knocked down loose rock off a cliff. I had a chat with a middle-aged couple who had left the city, started prospecting and found GOLD. They also said they knew where grizzly bears hung out around here.
Before Nakusp I had a swim in Arrow Lake which was warmer than I expected. Then there was a small climb to Summit Lake where I has another short swim. Gotta get all these lakes done! Then I descended to Slocan Lake , possibly the most beautiful of the Central lakes.
I camped at Roseberry near New Denver. The lake here was a little chilly due the glacier fed river entering. So my swim here was fairly short.
The park warden warned us that there was a "small" black bear hanging around and they had a cage baited to trap it. That night I was awakened by the sounds of garbage cans being thrown around.
The first thing this morning I went to look at the bear trap. The door was closed and I could hear heavy breathing inside but I didn't dare peek inside. A little while later the warden came by and towed the cage away. He stopped to give me a look at the occupant who gave out a good growl. It was a BIG bear.
I took a quick look around the restored mining town of New Denver and then started climbing an unnamed pass. At the top I met a cycling group from Victoria.
The descent along the Kaslo River was the most beautiful experience of my cycling career. It was a gradual 20 km descent, hugging the raging river - "whitewater cycling". Waterfalls coming down the cliffs on the other side of the road. Multi-coloured wildflowers on the river bank. It was a feast of the senses- the sights, sounds and smells. Traffic was very light - maybe 10 cars per hour.
At Kaslo I had a short chilly swim in Kootenay Lake. The cycling group from Victoria stopped at Ainsworth Hot Springs and I continued down the Lake to the Balfour ferry. This was a long crossing -about as long as the PEI ferry but free. I continued on to a campground near Balfour. Of course there was almost no traffic at all until after the next ferry came in.
I decided to switch my front and rear tires and I noticed my rear hub cones were loose. Closer examination revealed that my rear axle was broken and being held together by the quick release skewer. I hoped there was a good bike shop in Creston, and a bank too - there aren't many Bank Machines out here.
It was about 50 km to Creston along the lake. I had a nice swim near the south end of Kootenay Lake. Here the Kootenay River flows in forming a very flat valley crossed by drainage ditches. I expected to see Dutch windmills.
In Creston I found a bank and a bike shop. I bought a rear axle and the shop let me use their workbench to replace it. I also bought the most delicious nectarines I've ever eaten at at small roadside stand, wish I'd bought more.
I was back on the Crowsnest Highway which has heavier traffic than I've experienced for the last few days. However it has a nice shoulder and was quite flat for the rest of the days ride to Yahk.
It was sunny all day and clear this evening so I didn't put the fly on my tent.
At 2am I was awakened by loud thunder so I quickly put the fly on. However it didn't rain much. I had breakfast and it looked like the rain was over. Then it started again and I went back into my tent for an hour. This was the first rain I'd seen in a week.
The rain let up a bit so I headed off north. I passed Moyie Lake and didn't get it "done". A road sign warned of falling rocks for the next 10 km. Just then a deer scrambled up the steep bank and started a rock-slide. A fairly large boulder rolled across the road in front of me.
By Cranbrook the skies were clearing. I continued on to Wasa Lake Provincial Park. I did get Wasa Lake "done". The water was quite warm considering the nearby glaciers of the Rockies and Purcells. A few more showers this evening.
The clouds lifted this morning revealing the magnificent Rockies. Now I was in the Rocky Mountain Trench and at Columbia Lake I passed the source of the Columbia River. I took the road on the west side of Lake Windermere. The pavement was a little cracked but there was almost no traffic. But lots of cattle on the road- it passes through range country. Then I descended to Invermere , a major resort town.
I missed the road to the beach so I didn't get Windermere Lake done. Anyways, I wanted to get to Radium early to get a campsite and fullfill a 10 year goal, swim in the the fabulous hot springs. I had been here on a ski trip in 1981 when the temperature was -20 C.
The National Park campground was already full so I went back to a private campground where there was a group of cyclists. Then it was a fair climb back to the much anticipated hot springs. There is a hot pool and a cooler full size swimming pool. Alas they were pretty crowded with people relaxing after a hard day's drive in their Winnebagos. I managed to get a few lengths in the pool, then I relaxed in the hot pool - about 10 minutes is the maximum recommended for the hot pool. The last time I was here it was -20 C and my hair froze but there wasn't the crowds. They do set up the pool for lane swimming 3 mornings a week but I missed that.
I was a bit disapointed by the lack of touring cyclists I'd met so far. There were fewer than there were on my last western trip 11 years ago but there were a lot more Winnebagos. Now I was in a more popular cycling area. The group at the campground was a low budget ( ie REAL touring) group from Bikecentenial in Missoula Mont which has been promoting bike touring since 1976.
I expected this to be the long hard day of my trip. These were the real mountains - the Rockies. There were 2 major passes on the road to Alberta. I had a profile map that the National Park prints for cyclists. I got a fairly early start and rode with the Bikecentenial group for most of the day. Today's ride is one side of the famous "Golden Triangle" which is the west's equivalent of the Cabot Trail. Cycling groups do the Lake Louise - Golden - Radium -L.L. triangle , usually in 3 days. I saw quite a few racing-type cyclists here too, i.e. aero bars, bright lycra, no luggage at all . I wonder where they were coming from- there are basically no services on this road.
There were a lot of "animal tombstones" orange flags marking the spot where large animals, usually elk had been killed by traffic.
The steepest part of the road was from Radium town to the hot springs through Sinclair Canyon. The pools weren't open yet. Then the grade levels off to about 7 % for the climb to Sinclair Pass at 1480 m then descends to the Kootenay River at 1100 m. Then there's about 40 km of fairly flat riding.
The air was incredibly clear and dry. The scenery was stupendous. My camera was almost useless in capturing the beauty.
The Bikecentenial group stopped early in the afternoon before the final climb up Vermillion Pass. I stopped at the Continental Divide with one wheel on the Pacific side and the other on the Atlantic. In theory it should be down hill but it was still another 100 m climb up to the top of the pass at 1730 m.
Then it was a rapid descent down to Castle Mtn. where the Trans Canada Highway joins. I had intended to stop here but it was still early in the afternoon so I rode to Lake Louise on the very quiet Rt 1A along the Bow River. The very busy Trans Canada is on the other side of the river.
The Youth Hostel near Lake Louise was full ( with people in cars!!) so I had a choice of sleeping in the kitchen or tenting. I tented but stored my food inside since there are serious bear problems here. There were 3 or 4 cyclists here and they all had to sleep outside!! The other cyclists were Japanese and didn't speak much English so conversation was limited.
I had to make a quick trip to the mall in town for groceries. The place was swarming with tourists so I got out of there fast. There would be very limited grocery stores for the next 4 days.
--- I recommend the Mosquito Creek Hostel 20 km north of L.L. I was later there on a ski trip. It had a small store. If the manager is still Tony ( keen cyclist) you will hear some interesting tales. The hostel at Coral Creek has since closed. There is now a very fancy Hostel in downtown L.L. ---
One bonus of staying here was that there was hot water in the sauna for a shower. I learned that the near by National Park campground did not have showers and was more expensive.
I now headed up the Icefields Parkway towards Jasper. I had been waiting for this for 11 years. On my last bike trip here visibility was near zero in fog and cold rain. Today was a complete contrast. The air was extremely dry. Although it got very hot in the day it didn't feel uncomfortable. However I got dehydrated very quickly. The scenery was again fantastic.
The whole day's ride was above 1500 m and Bow Pass at 2050 m is the highest point on the parkway. At Bow Lake I noticed a snowbank touching the opposite shore. I didn't even try to get this lake done! At the top of the pass I took a short walk up to the lookout over Peyto Lake, considered the prime jewel of the Rockies. Then it was downhill to the Saskatchewan River.
At the Junction of Rt 11 is a tourist complex which has a small grocery section. The very limited selection is all you'll find for many days.
Now it about 10 km to the Ramparts Creek Hostel which was almost deserted. There is a nice wood heated sauna but since I'd been in 30 C heat all day I didn't want a sauna. I tried the shower but I had to fill it up inside the sauna room so I had a sauna anyway. There was a hose coming out of the creek and it was almost freezing so I cooled off fast. The air temperature was about 35 C but nearby the creek came out of a narrow cleft in the cliff and it was about 20 deg cooler.
The first rule of the hostel was not to take food into the sleeping cabins because of the bear problem. Bears had broken into the house parent's cabin a few weeks before. They could easily break into the kitchen cabin but that was preferable to having then in your bedroom.
This morning the temperature was about 3 C but it went up to 30 by afternoon. I decided not to ride all the way to Jasper and back in 2 days. Instead I left my gear here and rode past Sunwapta Pass and back.
I had heard that Sunwapta Pass was the hardest climb. It is 2000m up which was "only" a 400 m climb from the Sask. valley. That's about the same as MacKenzie Mt.on the Cabot Trail but after 2 weeks in the mountains 400 m is just a bump. Also I wasn't loaded today. The climb was only about a 6 % grade so it wasn't very hard.There is about 15 km of riding on the plateau on top before descending again.
I rode into Jasper Nat. Park and now the rivers flowed into the Arctic Ocean. Here a tongue of the Columbia Icefields comes down to the highway. There is major tourist resort here. I continued to the start of the descent into the Athabasca Valley. It looked steeper than the other side.
I rode back past the big tourist area , took a brief visit to Hilda Creek Hostel and then went for a walk up Parker Ridge.
The hike climbs about 300 m in 3km. Near the highway I saw snow in the small clumps of trees, then I was above treeline and there was lots of snow patches. At the top of the ridge I could see the Saskatchewan Glacier in the valley far below. On the way down I walked out into a snow field and had lunch.
The ride down the pass wasn't very nice since there were cracks in the pavement. Back at Ramparts Creek there was an English couple cycling and later another cyclist arrived.
To say that the scenery for the last 3 days was stupendous is a vast understatement. It's really more than mere mortals can fully fathom. It was certainly far beyond my photographic skills to capture. The scenery along the Kaslo River was more intimate . Here it was overpowering, intoxicating. Rocky Mountain High!
This morning I headed back to the Junction of Highway 11 and searched the meager grocery store again. Another cyclist came and said that there were 2 cyclists from Nova Scotia coming behind!! So I waited for them. I didn't know Amy and Ian McDonald but Amy knew several Velo Halifax members. She had been a roommate of Velo Sonja Magnusson in 1987. They had been touring for about 2 months.
Now I headed east on Highway 11. The last 3 days had been the climax of my trip and today was a letdown. Although it looked like an easy ride along the Sask. River it was quite a drag. Later in the afternoon my energy picked up and I rode into the Nordegg, the only settlement for about 200 km. There was a very small grocery store here ( they had lots of videos!!) I decided to continue on into the early evening.
There had been thunderstorms around all afternoon but they never hit me. I rode another 40 km and turned off to a small free campground at Jackfish Lake. The ground was very wet so it must had rained heavily here today. There was also a lake so I had my first swim in 4 days.
I didn't have much food left so I had a snack and left very early and rode 50 km to Rocky Mountain House where I found my first real grocery store in 5 days. Then I had a late but big breakfast in the town park.
The country changed dramatically here. I was out of the forests and into the prairie fields. The road was straight for about 50 km. Thank heavens there wasn't a head wind. It was sunny and getting hot. The prairies had a more subtle beauty. The roadside was coloured by several varieties of clover, just buzzing with bees. The fields were all different shades of green and gold.
I had a first lunch at the campground I had stayed at 11 years ago. Then I headed for Sylvan Lake and arrived by mid afternoon. There is long beach in the town. If it's this crowded on a Wednesday what's it like on a weekend! However I had a nice swim.
Since the campground was full here I decided to keep going to my sister's place. I passed Red Deer and Lacomb where I called my sister. Dark thunderclouds were looming in the distance but I was feeling good biking along in the early evening. Unfortunately I rode past the road to my sister's, took the next road instead and spent about an hour riding around on gravel roads as the clouds were getting very black and lightning flashes were getting close. I ended up in the village of Alex which was 10 km past my sisters and by that time it looked like a tornado was about to hit. I swallowed my pride and called for help. My sister's husband picked me up.
The thunderstorms passed over night. I rode back to Alex and on to my mother's place in Stettler where the trip officially ended.
The Alberta Summer Games were happening in Stettler for the next few days and it was extremely hot - approaching 40 C. They had several bicycle races in that heat. I was hot just watching. The swimming pool was closed and the nearest lake was 30 km away.
I did get out the Buffalo Lake for a swim a few days later plus a few other day trips in the area totalling 125 km. Then I flew back to N.S. on an overnight flight. I put my bike back together at the airport and biked the last 30 km to Dartmouth, stopping for a swim in Waverley of Ccourse.
Conclusion: After this trip I thought that cycling across the rest of Canada would be anti-climatic and even after 4 years it was, but I had to check it out. Hopefully I will be able to write up the story soon.The 1995 story is continued here