One bike, 900 miles, two legs.

The final night of camping is soon at an end (yay!) and we wake to the expected blue sky and crisp temperatures. As it’s going to be a long day we all woke up early, had breakfast and were on the road before 7:30am. Well, it took me longer to get ready this morning, so I was later than the rest, but I soon made some good progress and caught up to some riders.

A hazy, cold morning heading out of Banff
A hazy, cold morning heading out of Banff

It was about 30 miles or so before we started to have no mountains in front of us, a strange feeling after having their presence for so long. The tortured rock towers began to open up into a wide valley, with the Bow River – the one that caused all the flooding in Calgary – snaking its way through the middle. There was quite a lit of heavy traffic on the highway we were on, partly because of the industrial units along the way, also because of the construction to repair the damage caused to Canmore and the surrounding towns in the floods. We passed some evidence of the damage, huge amounts of rock piled up at the sides, bits of tree everywhere and still some pumps removing water from buildings at Exshaw. Just incredible.

Bow River Valley
Bow River Valley

It was then a series of rolling, somewhat twisty miles on 1A as the mountains slowly disappeared behind us, and I developed a strange sense of agoraphobia now that the comfort blanket of the mountains had been taken away. There’s just so much sky…

Bye, Rockies :(
Bye, Rockies :(

Incidentally, the place that photo was taken had the highest concentration of mosquitoes I’ve yet experienced. If I’d have stayed much longer, I don’t think much more than an empty husk of a body would be left by now. Horrible creatures.

Anyway, from this point onwards there was the most painful headwind, just in the direction we needed to travel. Up and out of Cochrane was a real drag on a busy highway, up a relatively steep and almost never-ending hill. After a couple of hours grinding our way to the metropolis of Calgary, we made it to the city limits. I couldn’t help but notice the ‘Welcome to Calgary’ sign had been shot quite a few times. Must be that kind of place.

After following the tricky instructions for a while, the leading group were coming the other way – the footbridge we were supposed to be travelling over was washed away in the flooding and the only option we found would work and get us to our destination was a terrifying trip two exits on Highway 1, the main artery going West-East across Canada. It was, as we thought, pretty horrible and one of the group fell on some loose gravel as we tried to get across of junction. Just to add to the stress at the end of a long, hot ride. Did I mention it was hot and sunny? High twenties temperatures and an unrelenting sun made for a sweaty, uncomfortable day in the saddle.

Thanks to some excellent navigation under pressure, we made it to the university where we are staying the night.

Final Destination
Final Destination

We’ve had our end-of-ride pizza and beer, now I’m tucked up in bed in the poshest university residence I’ve experienced yet, looking forward to sleeping in a real bed with a real pillow. Little luxuries after two weeks of camping!

GPS stats – 91 miles, 2321 ft ascent

Last night I had some weird, weird dreams. Something about David Bowie in space – I’m blaming the kiwis on the trip because I keep getting Flight of the Concords songs stuck in my head.

Anyway, because this is to be a shorter day than usual, we allowed ourselves a slight lie-in, which helped considering how soggy the night was as I was trying to dry some clothes. Breakfast at 7:30am was luxury, and the blue sky helped lift everyone’s mood considerably. It was still cold, though, so we were huddled near the kitchen area trying to warm up before the ride. By a shockingly late 9am we were on our way, with a slight diversion at the start to see the lake that gives the place its name.

Lake Louise, and the massive Fairmont Chateau hotel
Lake Louise, and the massive Fairmont Chateau hotel

To get the picture above I had to push the bike up a short but steep trail, adding 450ft to the climbing for the day – not sure it was entirely worth it, but the white hot chocolate in the town definitely was. The main lake front by the hotel was absolutely infested with tourists, not nice at all. So maybe the push wasn’t so bad after all.

The day continued with lots more lazy rolling miles, mostly downhill with some short climbs in between. The views today are making up for yesterdays grey disappointment, almost as if Canada is apologising for spoiling the day.

I suppose this sums up The Rockies - mountains, trees, river and railway.
I suppose this sums up The Rockies – mountains, trees, river and railway.

Just over half way there were yet another set of falls marked on the map, and these were a must-see. We stopped, locked the bikes up and made our way up the tourist trail to the lower falls at Johnson Canyon. It definitely was worth it, as we had great access right up close to the fall through a hole bored or carved through the rock. When I get back I’ll put a video of them here, but for now you’ll just have to use your imagination.

Then it was only a short few miles to Banff, where the views opened up to reveal yet more stunning mountains.

Yes these are some stunning mountains.
Yes these are some stunning mountains.

And now we’re at our final campsite, perched above Banff and looking out over the town and surrounding mountains. I’m just about ready to sleep in a real bed, so tomorrow’s stay at the university in Calgary is going to be a very welcome change. For now, I’ll have to make do with sights like this. It’s a tough life…

The final campsite.
The final campsite.

GPS stats – 44 miles, 2196 ft ascent (plus 450ft push up in Lake Louise!)

It all started out so well. Just like the previous night, we had blue sky’s and no wind, but after breakfast that changed. The ride started out cold, and never made it much into double digits. Thanks to yesterday’s Herculean climb up the pass, the first six miles or so of today were entirely downhill. A great way to start the day, although it didn’t make the cold any more bearable. Halfway down there were another set of falls, these ones were unmarked and had no facilities, but we could stop at the side of the highway and snap a few shots.

Some more waterfalls
Some more waterfalls

The views in the morning were no less impressive than yesterday, but the relentless grey sky didn’t lend itself to epic pictures. This is about as good as it got:

Mountains, road, grey
Mountains, road, grey

Then it all went wrong. The rain started pouring from the sullen grey sky and didn’t stop. At all. It just got worse, and worse, and worse. The next 30-40 miles were a relentless slog, where I only got through it by thinking of the hot shower I’d be able to have at the campsite. The climb up to Bow Summit, the highest point of the ride at something like 2060m, was utter hell.

Somewhere on Bow Summit
Somewhere on Bow Summit

I got into camp feeling exhausted, soaked through and ready for a hot shower and some dry clothes. Mike (the cook) was on hand with some hot soup, which really hit the spot and helped me feel more human again. After some rather ineffectual laundry using the only two machines in the whole of Lake Louise, I’m now sat in my tent, behind a bear-proof electric fence, wearing damp clothes in an attempt to dry them.

If only it kept them damn mosquitoes out, too
If only it kept them damn mosquitoes out, too

Tomorrow is only a short day at 38 miles, so there’s plenty of time to go wandering on side trips. Plus the weather is supposed to be getting better – it’s already blue sky above me, so I think these last two days should be dry. Fingers crossed…

GPS stats – 79 miles, 3265 ft ascent

So this is supposed to be the challenging aspect of the trip – after the warm up of the last few days riding we are going to head over the Rockies via the Icefields Parkway in two days.

So I previously complained I never saw any elk. Last night the campsite was awash with the things, and this morning they were still happily grazing around the tents. Very surreal.

An elk, elking around the van
An elk, elking around the van

Not far into the ride we came across the first set of waterfalls that we would see, the Athabasca Falls. A nice little set of falls, with good access though a little too touristy for my liking. But then this is a major tourist route, as demonstrated by the hordes of RV and caravan traffic that passes us.

The Athabasca Falls
The Athabasca Falls

Then after a few relatively painless miles, and an extortionately expensive sandwich, we went and saw our second set of falls – these were the Sunwapta Falls. Much more powerful than the first set, the river abruptly changes direction and flows through some tight rocks, and drops about 50ft.

The Sunwapta Falls
The Sunwapta Falls

It was a long few miles from then as we slowly wound our way up through the high valleys between the jagged peaks until we came to the final brutal climb of the day that goes over Sunwapta Pass. It started gently but then soon ramps up to about 8-9% and doesn’t stop for a couple of miles. Painful stuff, and I was glad to see the end of it and the road sank on the other side to another high valley.

Please make the pain go away
Please make the pain go away

Once that hell was over, we then steadily climbed back up to our campsite that was at just over 2000m, about a mile away past the main Icefields centre – a horrible tourist trap where they can go on the glacier in a big-wheeled monstrosity, ruining the glacier in the process.

One of the many glaciers
One of the many glaciers

The view from my tent. Not bad, eh?
The view from my tent. Not bad, eh?

Tomorrow we finish the journey to Lake Louise with the second half of the parkway, which drops back down to about 1500m then back up to 2000m. Very tired but had a seriously great day, with awesome weather, spectacular views, and a truly unique campsite at the end. I never thought I would be able to ride in scenery like this. I’ve never ridden at this altitude before. And I’ve never camped in the side of a mountain before. A day of firsts.

GPS stats – 66 miles, 5003 ft ascent

The last rest day is soon upon us, and I wake to the all too familiar sound of rainfall on the tent. Balls. Well if it had to rain (and it does) then I’d rather it be on a rest day than out on the road.

Nothing much of note happened, I walked into town and got some more flapjack bars for energy, and a spoon to replace the one I’ve somehow lost. Jasper is a typical mountain resort, lots of tacky present shops and a smattering of normal shops too.

Jasper, AB
Jasper, AB

I had a greasy burger at A&W, including my first try of root beer (it’s weird) and now we’re off to town to have a proper meal.

The ride takes an uphill turn tomorrow, as we head upwards from our current 1060m altitude to head over Sunwapta Pass at slightly over 2000m. There’s also no mobile phone coverage, so there probably won’t be any updates until I make it into Lake Louise in two days time.

I’ll be honest, I didn’t get the best night’s sleep last night. I think a combination of a slight fear of being washed away in the Fraser and a bigger fear of being eaten by a bear led to a fitful night. We’d seen a bear swimming across the river from our side over to the other while we were at the campsite in the evening, and when I woke up I spotted a bear-sized damp patch just at the head of my tent. I vaguely remember hearing something during the night, but I must’ve somehow dismissed it as nothing. I wonder what it was…

A damp mystery
A damp mystery

Anyway, we did eventually get going after a slightly slow start compared to the other days, in some fine, cool mountain weather. A few miles after the start there were a nice set of falls, so we got pictures and video before setting back off. Another few miles down the road, a huge mountain poked over the horizon and dominated the road for the next few miles. Mount Robson, the highest mountain in the Canadian Rockies, is an impressive brute of a mountain.

Mount Robson
Mount Robson

The road then sloped upwards for a good long while, steadily climbing up to just over 1100m. For some reason everything felt good today, the legs kept spinning and none of the hills managed to break my spirit, so I made it to the BC/AB border and had to say a sad, tearful farewell to BC.

Goodbye British Columbia, hello Alberta
Goodbye British Columbia, hello Alberta

It was thankfully a long, cruisy downhill into Jasper where we are staying tonight and the rest day tomorrow. It’s probably the worst campsite yet, where we can’t camp on the grass, the showers are useless and we’re 3km out of Jasper itself. Alberta, you’re not making a good first impression here. I hope it improves through the Icefields Parkway.

GPS stats – 66 miles, 2518 ft ascent

To make up for the terrible night’s sleep I lost after day 8, last night I slept like a baby, and woke feeling almost completely back to normal. A special breakfast of pancakes in honour of our American friends on their special day got me off to a good start, and the 10 degree temperature made it even better. Just like riding at home!

I did not see any elk. Very disappointing.
I did not see any elk. Very disappointing.

The route took us up the North Thomson River until we made our way over a 900m pass and joined back up with the Fraser River. Winding our way through some stunning peaks, the pass revealed a large glacier, which I think is the source of the Thomson River, but I’m not sure about that…

One day these big globs of ice will be gone :(
One day these big globs of ice will be gone :(

After about 50 miles of no civilisation, we made it to Valemount, a quite nice little town with possibly the best Swiss bakery outside of Switzerland. Maybe even in Switzerland, too.

A little bit of Switzerland in BC
A little bit of Switzerland in BC

I stuffed myself silly on some soup and the nicest pastry I’ve ever eaten. It had so many poppy seeds in it I’ll be failing drug tests for a long time. With a full stomach, I headed back out to finish the last short section of the ride. As I was on my way back to the highway, I took the chance to video one of the immensely long freight trains going through the town, parping horn and all. Parp paaaaaaaarp.

Got into camp about a half hour before the heavens opened and the rain came down. It’s stopped now, but I don’t expect that’ll be the last rain we get today. Though I hope it doesn’t rain too much, as I’m sleeping pretty close to the already-high river.

Living on the edge. Literally.
Living on the edge. Literally.

A cracking day, despite the headwind, and it feels good to be back on the road. Tomorrow is our last day in BC, and from now on it gets tough as we climb up towards the Icefields Parkway that runs through the mountains. Uh oh!

GPS stats – 70 miles, 1986 ft ascent

Well, this isn’t how I wanted to spend the night in the most awesome campsite we’ve stayed in yet… Starting around 9:30pm I had to rush to the bathroom to be sick, and from then on until about 3am it was a regular occurrence. Not sure what caused my stomach to rebel so much, but as a result I’ve had to miss out on today’s ride and go in the van of shame.

It doesn’t feel great to have to resort to it, but I’d much rather miss a single day of riding than try to power on through and make things worse, even miss out on the rest of the trip. I’ve already managed to eat something today, so I think I’ll be fine for tomorrow’s ride. Though I’ll probably take it easier than I normally would, and luckily the temperature is returning to figures I’m more used to riding in.

And to top it all off, I found out about Geraint Thomas riding with a fractured pelvis in the Tour de France, which makes me feel even more of a wimp.

GPS stats – 0 miles, 0 ft ascent :(

The alarm went off at 4:30am, not that I needed it as I’d been awake for ten minutes already, getting riding gear ready for a 5am start. We started by riding to the nearest Tim Horton’s to get some breakfast in us before the ride. They were amazingly busy at this time in the morning – I think I’ve found out the secret to living in these stupid temperatures. Everyone just does everything incredibly early in the morning. It’s the only possible way they can survive.

4:30am sunrise in Kamloops
4:30am sunrise in Kamloops

We were well on our way to Clearwater by 7am, despite a couple of punctures in the group, and made really good progress. Though it really wasn’t long until the sun began to warm things up and the temperature was easily 26 degrees at about 9am. A quick stop off in Barriere to get some much-needed chocolate milk (and to see the Great Barriere Reef restaurant – geddit?) and then we headed out to finish the last half of the ride. Soon enough I glimpsed the Rocky Mountains poking up in the distance. A very, very welcome sight.

The Rocky Mountains are named after the fictional Italian-American boxer. True fact.
The Rocky Mountains are named after the fictional Italian-American boxer. True fact.

By now the temperature had climbed from hot to stupid, so the last few miles were a tough grid, though mostly flat. A burst of adrenaline was delivered at about 72 miles when some very unfriendly looking dogs tore out of a driveway as we rode past and gave good chase down the road. They eventually gave up, which I was very, very thankful for. They looked like they wanted to eat my face.

After a handful of miles I pulled into where we were staying and was met with the most incredible sight – our own lake to swim in. Nice and cool, clear and only a few hundred metres from the tents. And we can also get WiFi in the tents. The most awesome campsite in the world, I reckon.

The best campsite view, ever
The best campsite view, ever

Think I’ll go for another swim in the lake.

GPS stats: 79 miles, 1980 ft ascent

A rest day in the truest sense – I slept in, did very little and just tried to stay out of the sun as much as possible!

How do people live in this temperature?!?
How do people live in this temperature?!?

I think when they say partly cloudy, they mean there was a single cloud somewhere in the sky – the sun was unbearable. The only excursion I made into the heat was a short but sweaty walk to the nearest supermarket to pick up some supplies for the next four days of riding. After-bite cream to soothe the bites from the myriad of insects not deterred by the ‘super-strength’ repellent I picked up in Vancouver and a load more flapjack bars for mid-ride energy.

Another early start tomorrow, this time at 5am to escape the heat and get into Clearwater before it gets dangerous. Yay.