Bike Touring the Canadian Rockies, page 5

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

Sunday, August 7

Distance: 41.0 miles
Riding time: 3 hours, 30 minutes
Average speed: 11.7 mph
Maximum speed: 47.1 mph

The biggest challenge of the day was crossing Sunwapta Pass again. When we crossed it last week riding north it was extremely difficult, but riding south today it was much easier. Early in the day we had cloudy, cool weather that was fine for Kathy and me, but too cold for Daniel to enjoy riding his trailerbike. He and Maggie spent our whole ride in the trailer, cooperating quite well despite the tight fit. For most of that time they were working through "junior ranger" workbooks that Kathy picked up at the Icefield Visitor Center, and the rest of the time they were napping.

It was frigid on the road just below the Athabasca Glacier, but warm and sunny beyond it, especially after we came down from the pass. When we arrived at the Rampart Creek campground it was nearly empty. I had been hoping to share a campsite with the bike tourists we met last night, but I guess they chose a different spot. Instead we started pitching camp and a few minutes later a family from Chicago drove up to ask me about the campsites. I offered to share our site with them, and soon all eight of us were eating dinner at the picnic table and sharing stories of our vacations. They've been on a long road trip visiting South Dakota, Montana and Alberta. Daniel quickly became friends with their daughter Emily.

Sharing a campsite enriches the whole camping experience It's a little awkward to ask folks if they'd like to share a site, but the payoff is lots of fun. Our new campsite friends brought marshmallows, chocolate and crackers to make s'mores around the fire tonight, always a good bonding activity.


Beaver ponds beside the Sunwapta River.


Our first sighting of Canadian geese in Canada.


Pushing uphill past Tangle Falls.


Maggie and Michael pitch camp.




Dinner with our campsite friends from Chicago: Alec, Emily, Marty and Jack.

Monday, August 8

Distance: 41.9 miles
Riding time: 4 hours, 32 minutes
Average speed: 9.2 mph
Maximum speed: 41.9 mph

We started our morning with a huge breakfast of oatmeal, bagels and cookies. Our normal-sized dinner last night hadn't been quite enough for me or Kathy, and we knew needed energy to climb and cross Bow Pass. Our ride was so long that we never really had lunch - we just ate snacks during short rest breaks. We took one long break at Mistaya Canyon so that our kids could get out of the trailer and exercise a little bit. We had great weather but Daniel still spent most of his ride in the trailer because he felt tired. At home we put Daniel to bed before 8 p.m., but during this trip he's always gone to bed after 9 p.m.

Crossing Bow Pass this evening was a big relief for me. We don't have any major passes left to climb, and the rest of our route is mostly downhill all the way to our finish in Canmore.

When we rolled into Mosquito Creek campground tonight I didn't see anyone who looked like they'd want to share a campsite, so we picked an empty site and taped a simple note to the check-in station: "The family in site #6 would be happy to share their campsite with anyone camping in a single tent." About 20 minutes later 3 young adults from Ireland stopped by to take us up on our offer. They were too late to join us for dinner, but they let us store our food in their car tonight rather than take it to the secure food storage area on the other side of the campground.


Riding up to Bow Pass.


Mistaya Canyon.


Daniel liked throwing pebbles across the narrow river channel.


Looking south to Bow Glacier from the crest of Bow Pass.


Daniel, Maggie and a little friend help another camper fetch firewood.

Tuesday, August 9

Distance: 56.9 miles
Riding time: 4 hours, 4 minutes
Average speed: 14.0 mph
Maximum speed: 41.7 mph

It's so relaxing to know that the most difficult days of bicycling are behind us. Our ride was mostly downhill, with a few short climbs and many long, easy descents. This was one of the warmest days of our trip, largely because we're at a lower altitude and farther from glaciers. We chose to eat lunch in the shade, rather than seek out a warm, sunny spot as we have on other days. Daniel rode his trailerbike all day enjoying the curves and dips along the Bow Valley Parkway. A railroad parallels the parkway, and Daniel noticed that a long train we passed had a caboose on the end. We've never seen a real train with a caboose before since U.S.A. railroad companies quit using cabooses decades ago (many decommissioned cabooses were donated to towns along the railroads, who added them to local playgrounds - I remember playing in cabooses.) Cabooses provide cooking and sleeping space for train operators, so perhaps Canadian trains have such long, remote routes that cabooses are still helpful.

We rode all the way to the town of Banff in hope that we can visit some of the town's attractions that we rode right past at the beginning of our trip. Our only long break was an extended lunch at Baker Creek, where Daniel and Maggie played beside the water for a while. Along the parkway we saw a big bull elk and a deer, but we've seen those animals previously in our trip. I'm a little disappointed that we haven't seen caribou or wolves, since those don't exist in Colorado. A mountain goat or moose would be nice, although I've seen those in the wild of Colorado. I guess I should be content with the charismatic animals I did see here: elk, deer, grizzly bear, black bear, bighorn sheep, hoary marmot, pika and ground squirrels.


Hector Lake.


Lunch at Baker Creek.


Playing at Baker Creek.


Michael explains a historical marker to Daniel. In 1915, during World War 1, thousands of immigrants from the Austro-Hungarian empire were imprisoned in Canadian internment camps. Most were ethnic Ukrainians arrested purely because of their citizenship. Prisoners at the Castle Mountain Camp in Banff National Park helped build roads, trails, a hotel, and other park infrastructure. This camp had some of the harshest conditions of any of the 24 internment camps.


Ground squirrel.


Vermillion Lake, just outside the town of Banff.

The hardest climb of our day may have been the final hill from Banff to the Tunnel Mountain campground. I wish the campground was closer to town - it's so far away that it's impractical for a bike tourist or backpacker to go into town for dinner. I'd hate to buy groceries in Banff and then tow them up the hill to camp, so I'm glad we didn't need to buy any. We didn't take time to find other campers to share a site, so dinner was quieter tonight and Daniel and Maggie spent an hour climbing a nearby pine tree. They don't climb trees much at home because the limbs of our cottonwoods are high above their reach. Maggie was pretending to be Rapunzel again, and the pine tree was the tall tower that she was locked in. She let down her "long hair" (her blanket) to help Daniel climb into the tower with her.


Playing in a tree at camp.

Wednesday, August 10

Distance: 18.7 miles
Riding time: 1 hour, 29 minutes
Average speed: 12.6 mph
Maximum speed: 29.8 mph

We skipped breakfast at camp to spend more time in the town of Banff. After an easy downhill ride to town we locked our bike in front of the visitor center and went for a walk. Banff seems like a complete small town, not just a resort. It has residential areas, schools, parks, grocery stores and a busy downtown. Not much is historic, but the downtown is attractive and very walkable. At first I wondered how the town kept itself walkable while hosting huge numbers of visitors who virtually all arrive in cars (there is no public transit to points of interest in the national parks.) After walking down a few streets I saw the answer - many downtown buildings are large parking garages with stores on their front sides. It's an expensive way to keep cars out of sight and out of the way, but space in Banff is valuable because the town is surrounded by protected park land. In just a few minutes you can walk from downtown to a hiking trail leading into the mountains.

We shopped at a grocery store and then walked to Central Park to eat lunch and look through the farmer's market. The only other building we entered was an old Park Service museum that was restored to look as it had in 1913. All the displays were taxidermy of animals found in the Canadian Rockies.


Downtown Banff.


Lunch in Banff's Central Park.


Central Park farmer's market.




Displays in the Banff Park Museum.

Eventually it was time to ride the last 15 miles to Canmore, with most of that on a nice paved bicycle path. We rode to Megan and Alex's home, where our car has been parked during our ride. Maggie swung on their hammock and Megan gave us chocolate cake while I unloaded our bicycle and packed our stuff back in the car. This evening we drove to a different home in Canmore, where another set of hosts (Heather and Michael) welcomed us in and gave us a comfortable place to sleep after 16 nights in a tent. We are tired, but happy to have completed a challenging trip so well.


Daniel hands Finn a treat at Megan's house in Canmore.

Reflection

The morning after we finished biking we climbed back into our car and drove all the way from Canmore to our home in Colorado. That took about 20 hours. We had the option of spending a night in Great Falls, Montana on our way home, but it was better for our kids that we drove all the way home. They were exhausted from our bicycle trip, and they slept better in the car than they would have in an unfamiliar house. When we arrived at home Daniel and Maggie were overjoyed to play with their own toys again, while Kathy and I collapsed in our bedroom for a while.

Towards the end of our bike tour I had wondered if this trip was making a lasting impression on us. We biked 470 miles and spent 16 nights in our tent surrounded by the Canadian Rockies. It was beautiful, but we live close to the Rocky Mountains in Colorado, so was it really much different? Kathy even longed for home a bit, saying, "It will be nice to have truly warm weather again." We liked our mornings in Canada, but we often wore jackets until 11 a.m.

Driving up to our house I began to see what an impression Canada had made. First we noticed that Longs Peak looks really small from Fort Collins. We may treasure our mountain views, but they're nothing compared to the mountain views in Canmore or Jasper. When I stepped out of our car I felt like I'd entered an oven - and it was only 7 a.m. We had acclimated to the cool Canadian Rockies without realizing it, and weren't prepared for 90°F days. Later that afternoon I got on my bike to ride to the post office and immediately thought, "This is weird." It was weird because the blue sky and the neighborhood trees met at a horizon directly in front of me, rather than far above me. For weeks my horizon was defined by the towering, jagged mountains surrounding us, and that had become normal.

I felt the greatest impression left by Canada after we went to bed. I woke up during the night to use the bathroom, but was almost afraid to get out of bed. Sitting up, I had a strong feeling that our bed was perched on the side of a mountain, and that I was staring across a river valley to a distant mountain range in the night. When I turned and looked at our bedroom door, it looked as though it was 50 feet away, and was actually the door of our campground's shelter house. I could almost see the outline of the building. Nervous, I stood up and walked carefully around our bed, so as not to slip and tumble down the mountain. Within a few feet of the door I was suddenly home again - there was our alarm clock, our wall-to-wall carpet, and the hallway beyond our bedroom. The funny thing is, on my way back from the bathroom the whole hallucination happened in reverse. As I walked around the foot of our bed I was suddenly in the Canadian Rockies again, looking at mountain peaks in the starlight. I grabbed the mattress for security and worked my way back to my pillow. Sitting down, I tried to make sense of this crazy feeling. With focus I could see our bedroom door, our night stand, and other comforts of home. But by losing focus for just a second - and I chose to lose focus for many minutes - I was high in the mountains and could almost feel the cool breeze blowing off those distant glaciers. "This is weird," I thought, "and I must need sleep."

Our bike tour had much beyond mountains for us to like. I loved how the design of most campgrounds encouraged interaction among campers. Some folks may go camping to get away from people, but that's not the nature of our family. Meeting like-minded bike tourists and backpackers was wonderful, as was conversing with people from Canada, Britain, Ireland, France, Portugal, Australia and Chicago. Watching our kids play with other children around creeks, trees, mountains and campfires was enlightening. At home it's sometimes hard to get Daniel to play outside, even on nice days - he's too busy playing with Legos. In the forest, all he needs is the right playmate and he will play outside all day.

Perhaps the best aspect of this trip is that it strengthened our family, but this is a benefit we usually see only in retrospect. Daniel and Maggie play together even better now, and Daniel seems more confident and independent than he did before our trip. Kathy and I are planning out some of the ideas that we talked about during our trip: a neighborhood party, dinners with friends, apple-picking and a father/son weekend. It's been a good summer, with a great trip to top it off.


Daniel and Michael on a father/son camping trip, three weeks after returning from Canada.

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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