Bike Touring the Canadian Rockies, page 4

Page 1: Canmore to Lake O'Hara
Page 2: Lake O'Hara to Mosquito Creek
Page 3: Mosquito Creek to Jasper
Page 4: Jasper to Jonas Creek
Page 5: Jonas Creek to Canmore

Thursday, August 4

Distance: 13.4 miles
Riding time: 1 hour, 23 minutes
Average speed: 9.6 mph
Maximum speed: 31.8 mph

Since this was the first of two days off in Jasper, it was mostly a recovery day focused on showering, washing laundry and buying groceries - with mixed success. I got up early to shower, but Kathy never had a chance to go, and I think that 11 days without a shower is a factor in her somewhat annoyed mood.

Our slow breakfast gave Daniel and Maggie time to play with Mike and Joey. They ran around the forest pretending to be hunters, I think, and harassing the elk and squirrels that approached our camp every 20 minutes or so. Playing at camp is the one thing that Daniel consistently enjoys, and while we were in town today he kept asking (demanding, really) to go back to camp. It hasn't been easy to manage Daniel on this trip, and his mood can swing from content and obedient to angry and rebellious in a moment. That's partly because our vacation is tiring and unfamiliar, and partly because he was becoming more moody well before our vacation started.

Jasper seemed like a nice small town at first, but the price shock of shopping here kept us from feeling attached to the place. Kathy walked into a laundromat to wash our pile of filthy clothes, but walked right back out after seeing that washing and drying a single load of laundry would cost $8 (Canadian $ is almost at parity with U.S.A. $.) At home a laundromat might charge $3. "I'll just wash it by hand at camp," she said. I'm afraid that the $8 we saved didn't go very far. At the local grocery store packaged foods cost 2x or more what they would cost at home. Fresh foods like fruit had a smaller premium, but those aren't practical to transport on a bike tour. We would have liked to eat at a locally established restaurant, but they all seemed out of our price range. We ended up eating at an A&W restaurant, and it still cost $31. At least A&W is a franchise that we've never visited at home, so it felt a little more unique than eating at McDonalds or Subway.

I know that high prices are a fact of life in popular towns with tourism economies, but at some point I feel like a subliminal message is being beamed into my brain: This town doesn't want us here. They don't like us. Families like ours don't belong here. There is such a contrast between the Canadian National Parks, which provide an incredible service (outdoor recreation) at a very reasonable price, and the towns within those parks, which provide minimal services at very high prices.

After shopping we biked up a hill from town to visit Pyramid Lake, which has a little beach for families to play on beside the water. There the kids dug around in the wet sand, and we all ate cookies and got ourselves into a better mood before rolling back to camp.

Dinner was much different tonight than the rest of the week, with hot dogs and marshmallows roasted on the fire and fresh fruit on the side. Our kids didn't have a single complaint about the food. Ken's brother and sister-in-law, who are camped on the neighboring site, joined us around the fire and helped us feel welcome. It was an unusually nice evening - warm weather, no mosquitoes, and daylight until almost 10 p.m.

Lunch at the affordable A&W restaurant.

Relaxing at Pyramid Lake.

Cooking dinner with Ken and his boys.

Friday, August 5

Distance: 6.1 miles
Riding time: 42 minutes
Average speed: 8.7 mph
Maximum speed: 39.8 mph

This was another warm day in Jasper, and a really fun day as well. Since our children are too young to hike up mountains, I've been planning all week for us to get a mountain top view by riding the Jasper Tramway. The tramway is just a few miles from our campground, and it quickly lifts passengers from an elevation of 4314 feet up to 7425 feet, dropping them off near the top of Whistlers Mountain. Ken was planning to take his boys on the tram today, so I asked if we could all ride it together and if I could buy the tickets to pay him back for sharing a campsite with us.

Getting on the tram together worked great because it let all our kids play together for the entire day, rather than just at camp. We even got a family discount for having several children. Ken waited quite a while for us to arrive at the tram because the short road leading up to it is incredibly steep. We climbed so much on the bike that I wondered why the tram wasn't positioned lower on the mountain. The 7-minute tram ride brought us up to a wonderful view on Whistlers Mountain.

We hiked up a steep trail to a place near the peak where we had good views in all directions, and ate lunch there while the kids played on a large pile of boulders. They found caves and passageways through the boulders, and chased after a golden-mantled ground squirrel who kept trying to steal bites of our lunch (it looks like a large chipmunk.) The jagged peaks surrounding us were highlighted with patches of snow, and there were many turquoise lakes in the valley along the Athabasca River.

Waiting for the tram with Ken's family.

All the kids loved the tram ride.

Looking down at a tram from the upper terminal.

Maggie waits for Daniel and Kathy to catch up with us.

Joey and Maggie build a cairn.

Views from Whistlers Mountain.

Lunch on Whistlers.

This was NOT my idea. Ken and his boys wondered if a golden-mantled ground squirrel (looks like a big chipmunk) would eat a Cheeto off of Mike's baseball cap. It did.

Hiking back down to the tram.

We came back down to camp early enough for the kids to spend hours playing around the creek behind our campsite while we cooked a relaxed dinner and roasted marshmallows again. Elk walked through the campground all evening, including a couple large bulls and a calf with spots. I still don't understand why this creekside campsite has virtually no mosquitoes, but I'm not complaining.

Tomorrow we begin our ride back south, and it may not be a pleasant day like today. The first day is mostly uphill, and the weather forecast calls for rain. At least we will start well: we've showered, we're rested, and our laundry is clean. There are still some neat places that we want to visit on our way back to Canmore. We will hope for the best.

A bull elk beside our campsite.

Saturday, August 6

Distance: 48.8 miles
Riding time: 4 hours, 58 minutes
Average speed: 9.8 mph
Maximum speed: 35.5 mph

We dodged the rain today despite a rainy forecast for Jasper (80% chance of rain,) and had a really good day. Overnight there was a thunderstorm, but we were safe and dry in our tent and our bike was parked inside a shelter. This morning was sunny and a herd of about 20 elk chose to graze and rest in the middle of our campground loop, entertaining the children. Daniel was well-behaved but emotional this morning, breaking into tears a couple times over minor things. He didn't say so, but I think he was distressed because we were breaking camp and forever leaving Mike and Joey, his buddies for the past three days.

After a late start we rode south to Athabasca Falls and took a long break to tour the waterfalls and canyon and to eat a late lunch. During that time many people (maybe a dozen) asked us about our bicycle trip, and many more took pictures of our bicycle. I guess there are more curious tourists in the park today because it's Saturday.

When we left the falls it was already 4 p.m., and looking behind us we saw that it was raining in Jasper. We biked south as quickly as we could to stay ahead of the bad weather. It was mostly uphill, but a tailwind helped us. At 5:30 we came to the Honeymoon Lake campground and had to make a choice: do we stop at just 32 miles and camp while the weather is good, or ride on to the Jonas Creek campground at 48 miles and risk rain and cold? We chose to ride on and risk it, partly to take advantage of the great tailwind.

Riding on gave Kathy and me an excellent look at a grizzly bear. It was at the side of the road, about 15 feet to my right, standing on its hind legs and watching us. I didn't notice the bear until we were practically on top of it, and then Kathy and I both had little gasps of panic before throwing more effort into pedaling. The bear didn't seem to mind us and went back to eating berries.

We made it to Jonas Creek in about 2 hours, and just 5 minutes later it started raining. The rain was really a blessing because it drove many campers into the dinner shelter for a fun group meal. We met a couple of bike touring women there and split a campsite with them. After dinner I stayed in the shelter until almost midnight talking to people from Canada, France and Portugal about differences in our cultures and governments, and why Europeans travel so much more than Americans. Having just left my country for the first time this summer, this kind of conversation is new to me.

Athabasca Falls.

Ancient channel of the Athabasca River. At some point the river created a new channel, and this channel was left dry.

Channel and cliffs below Athabasca Falls.

Photographers snap pictures of our bicycle.

Michael in front of Endless Chain Ridge, a 16km mountain ridge.


Page 1: Canmore to Lake O'Hara
Page 2: Lake O'Hara to Mosquito Creek
Page 3: Mosquito Creek to Jasper
Page 4: Jasper to Jonas Creek
Page 5: Jonas Creek to Canmore