A Most Excellent Rocky Mountain Bicycle Adventure

Peter and I are known for our late departures.  Specifically when it comes to departures of the adventure kind.  There’s always that ‘one more thing’ to do before finally heading out the door.  Last week’s bike tour takes the cake.  Peter admitted the 545pm locking of the door, clicking cleats into pedals and riding away from home time of day was a record for even him.


The trip?  A 5-day bike tour from our mountain home in Canmore, Alberta.  The route?  Canmore to Lake Louise and then the ‘Golden Triangle’ to Golden, BC, Radium BC, Banff then Canmore again.  Why on earth we both felt this unavoidable urge to leave home when neither of us have spent much time at all there since beginning to pay rent March 1st, 2013, still makes me laugh.  Anyone who knows us will say ‘you two can’t sit still’; a label of honor we both wear with pride.


So it was out the door with grey clouds littering the sky.  Rain had inundated the Bow valley for days, save for one morning’s window of dry a few days prior that got me out on the trails with an old friend for a sweet half marathon of trail running.  We hoped the 50km or so of road real estate between us and the closest campground would be a dry one.


We laughed out loud riding away from the beautifully manicured residential area we call home.  Filled with houses of the seven figure sort and condo complexes it seemed ridiculous to leave this comfort to sleep in a tent and wear the same clothes for close to a week.  What’s more ridiculous is all the people that own the neighborhood homes.  You see, we live in a modern day ghost town.  At night few lights are on because nobody is in their second or third home.  I can say with certainty none of these home owners are out on bike tours.  But we were.  And boy were we happy to pedal away from suburban mountain perfection.


Our way of sharing meaningful and fulfilling life experiences goes against that we are told to covet.  No, shopping malls and renovations don’t interest us in the least.  New cars and homes are meaningless purchases that only lead to dread when the mortgage and loan payment requests come in.  I’d rather hit the road on two wheels than drive four new ones home any day.


So that first night of pedaling, when we saw all the commuters riding east from Banff after a days work or play with huge smiles on their faces made us giddy with joy.  We felt like the richest people on earth pedaling along at a slow pace loaded down by even minimal gear for a 5-day trip.  Rear paniers and racks were full but not stuffed.  Handlebar bags held rain gear and snacks for the 3 or so hour trip to the campground.

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After a few hours we pulled onto the Bow Valley Parkway and had our snack of bread, avocado and tahini.  The rain that threatened with only brilliant hues of evening sky, came down in a deluge.  The temperatures dropped while we stopped to put on some rain gear.  Ahead on the road a bull elk stood at attention, looking to see who was coming his way.  I started to wonder what the proper passing etiquette was when we got closer and he finally bolted.


Further up the road as the rain subsided, two brilliant rainbows arched across the sky.  Cars stopped to see the brilliant hues as if looking for a pot of gold on one end or the other.  Instead of gold there was a magnificent grizzly bear roaming the meadow beyond.  The massive bulk of brown made the hairs on my arms stand in fear and attention.  Further up the road a little more we both saw what we thought was a black wolf only to realize it was the most beautifully groomed black bear we’d ever seen.  His fur a slick sheen of midnight, the stance he had looking at the two wheeled creatures made him seem like a wolf to our periphery.  He turned quicker than his bulk should reasonably allow and trotted into the forest.

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The rain stopped and we reached camp.  The only open loop lined with cars, RV’s, tents and campers, left us feeling like rock stars without the concert cred rolling into town.  People waved and said hi, looking at us like we were from Mars but entertained nonetheless.  It was almost 10pm and we still had to set camp.


Hot showers and cut wood was part of the stiff camp fee set by Parks Canada.  Even on two wheels making little impact we were forced to pay the price of a car.  I think we both took extra long hot showers to make up for the $27.50 we paid to pitch our tent.  Even the rumbling ground and deafening noise of the constant trains passing by couldn’t dampen our spirits.  We were out on our little adventure and grateful for not waiting to leave until the next day.



A medium length ride turned into an all-day endeavor when camp grounds were found still closed for the season or fear of the threat of flooding along the Trans Canada Highway #1 through Yoho National Forest.  What started out as a glorious ride along the remaining section of the Bow Valley Parkway to Lake Louise turned into a not-so-enjoyable ride on the busy thoroughfare through the Canadian Rockies.  Road construction didn’t help but oh how we don’t enjoy even the most beautiful roads when they are busy.  Thankfully the cars, semi trucks and RV’s were good to us and we didn’t fear for our lives while pedaling along into the constant headwind.


Without choice we rode over 70 miles to Golden, BC, and the first RV Park we saw.  So tired were we that the beer we wanted less than a football field away at a hotel didn’t ever materialize.  Over dinner we reminisced on the day’s animal count: two big balck bears hanging out, mountain goats, elk, deer and a golden eagle.  All seen and heard because we were on our bikes.


I google searched ‘best breakfast in Golden BC’ and planned our attack of the food kind the next morning before leaving for Radium Hot Springs, another 70 miles away.  We prayed to the sun and wind gods for not too much rain and favorable winds.  Sleep came easily after lugging the bulk of our touring bike weight for almost seven hours that day.  Waking came easier when I pulled out the earplugs to hear rain dropping on the tent.  Thankfully they had all but eliminated the roar of semi trucks and RV traffic flowing along the highway past our camp.


Breakfast #1 was at the ‘best breakfast’ joint but left us unsatisfied and walking the bikes towards the rhasta-recommended cafe above the used bookshop up the main drag in Golden.  Up a rickety staircase in the old house lined with the best selection of used books either of us had ever seen was one of the most original cafes we’d been in.  Delicious scents of muffins, cookies and soon-to-be cauliflower cheese gluten-free pie filled the upstairs air.  Chocolate chip blueberry muffins, chocolate cookies and a grilled veggie sandwich (after eggs benedict and pancakes at breakfast joint #1 we decided to have the sandwich later in the ride…) never tasted so good.  We could have stayed all day and browsed the excellent selection of books and sampled even more of the homemade goodies.


Alas, the rain began to fall once again and I urged Peter to hurry up a little bit, somehow thinking we could beat its onset if we bolted to Radium.  Somehow we managed just that.  As if the weather gods heard my plea, we rode with a tail or cross tailwind all day long.


Winds raged from behind as the skies darkened when rolling into town over four hours and one shared sandwich later.  Still, we had to stop and check out the six big horned sheep hanging out on the slope as we entered town.  Three parked looking into town and three looking out.  Look-out sheep, if you will.  What curious creatures with their horns gnarly and curled on top of their kind-eyed heads.


Unfortunately the most inviting food joint in town was a Subway sandwich joint.  We shared a foot long tuna fish sub with the works and some jalapeno kettle chips at the picnic table parked in front of the visitor center.  After feasting on the mediocre sandwich we made for the liquor store, not to be denied our end of day beers once again.  Unfortunately all that we loaded our bikes with had to be lugged the two kilometers straight up to the campground outside of town.  And it started to rain, again.


Camp did not disappoint with a huge picnic shelter, woodstove and all.  A deserted camp had some left over kindling cut from its prior occupant.  We commandeered all the small pieces we could to get the fire going and warm up.  Peter set the tent up under some trees, launched the cord weighted with a rock on one end over a high limb so that we could hang our food when not at camp (really, there was no system for people like us not in cars to store food safe from bears…really?!?), we drank our beers, ate our peanuts and rice crackers and unanimously agreed a trip to the hot springs, a 3km trail hike away, was in order.

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Walking through the varied coniferous forest was a chore on four tired bike touring legs.  We knew the trek would be worth it and were not disappointed when we saw the hot soaking pool not overly populated.  Sitting in the thermal water in the great outdoors was at the least medicinal, at the most profound.  All tensions eased as we sat and soaked it all in.  I lasted longer than usual, over an hour, and soon enough we were back at camp with the cook stove going.  Walking though that forest brought inner peace when noting the cedar trees and their beautiful flat fans of foliage bursting from each branch.  Yes, an enchanted forest it was and is.


The fear of rain all day up and over the Kooteney National Forest Parkway was met with relief as the skies bust though the canopy of trees in bright blue.  A tail wind pushed us up and out of Radium.


We thought of the four guys we met back on the Bow Valley Parkway doing the entire Golden Triangle in one day…mind you they were on road bikes and had their partners in cars leap-frogging their trip with supplies to sag the epic ride.  Not that it seemed impossible to do, I just don’t think I would want to do it.  330 kms in total is a long way broken into three days.  More than the distance, we like to take our time and enjoy the surroundings.  We enjoy stopping to look at animals or note the energy that comes up from a flowing mountain stream.  This is all but impossible when rolling along with somewhere to get to that seems all but impossible in one day.  That, to me, sounds like bike racing.  Yes, I was happy to be nothing more than a dirt-bag bike tourist.


We thought of the glorious ride the day before along the Columbia Watershed Valley between Golden and Radium.  Savored the ride from Radium To Castle Junction.  The bears we saw along the way, especially the one that was about 3 feet away along the roadside as we buzzed down one of the descents.  It poked its head up to check us out while munching dandelion greens, some still hanging out of it’s mouth.  Even when the rain began to fall and the fatigue filled our legs up to our eyeballs we still enjoyed our trip.

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Arriving at camp with a bottle of white wine, cheese, apples and crackers from the Castle Junction store we stared wide-eyed and in awe of the black bear cruising the entrance road to the campground.  When rinsing off in the sponge-lined forest floor, I hoped that same black bear wasn’t going to come and crash my water-bottle shower party.


Another picnic shelter and wood-stove fire later, filled with our goodies from the store and fatigued from another 70 mile day, sleep came easy again.  It was our last night camping out before riding the 60 or so kilometers home.  If the rain held off any longer, we planned to stuff our selves with sushi in Banff before cruising the bike path home to Canmore.  It almost did until we were drenched during the last kilometer into town.  We decided on sushi reasoning the green tea would warm us up.  I think we broke some sushi consumption records and suspect it might not be as good of version of the Japanese delicacy as we thought with bike touring hunger dictating the detection of our taste buds.


We left Banff happy not only from the feast, but from the entire trip.  Not even the dumb-ass bike tourist riding up on the shoulder of the highway who felt the need to remove his earbud music device and tell us that ‘it’s faster up here’ as we cruised one of the smoothest, most scenic bike paths on earth, could dampen our spirits.  Like we were in a rush or something…’we’re bike touring you idiot’ is what we thought and had to laugh out loud.


The steep hill we flew down only five days before later than reasonable for a bike tour departure made for a slow slog home.  We high-five’d each other after clipping out of our pedals in front of our rented mountain luxury of a home.


I remembered the man at the hot springs who told us of all the people he knew who ‘made a lot of money in oil and gas and feel the need to own second and third homes from Canmore to Kelowna where they spent on average two weeks a year’ and my response of ‘I bet none of them are bike touring!’ that made us all chuckle.


That Peter and I took the five days we had to do just that makes me think not only are we living in a good way, we are indeed living life to it’s fullest capacity.  At least that’s how I feel.  I’m lucky to share my life with someone who whole-heartedly agrees.

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