Aaron our tour guide picked us up in Calgary.... me and the family of 3. Mama Michele and daughter Gabby weren't riding, so it was just me and Tim on the road. We drove about 2 hours into Banff National Park and got the bikes set up and fitted. And we were off on our first adventure. We started at 4500 ft, and I definitely felt that especially on the first climb. But I also had good climbing legs on that first day. Tim was great. Whatever concerns I had were quickly put to rest. Tim rode behind me and seemed happy just to be on his bike. He is from St. Louis and I think he is more of a long haul guy.
The roads were great....there's also a bike path. The weather was divine. The mountains seemed to surround us 360. We came upon a mama big horn sheep and her babies. A little bit down the road we passed an entire herd. After this 9 mile loop we got back to the van where lunch was ready. We also found Michele with a bag of ice on her ankle. She fell in a gopher hole and twisted it and scraped up her knee badly. Well, while it was undecided how much damage she had done, Tim and I set off for part B. This time we learned about hoodoos and then we saw a black bear. 17 miles and we rode to the Banff Park Lodge. Tim took Michele to the hospital to verify that nothing was broken and clean out her knee. I grabbed my camera and set off to explore the town. We had a great dinner in town and then I went on another photo safari. 27 miles.
Day 2 from Banff
We rode to the end of the street and watched an elk walk cross the road. Then we headed past beautiful Vermilion Lake and onto the Bow River Parkway. Tim got in front of me and pulled me for some long stretches. We had a great lunch at another beautiful vista over the Bow River. We hit some rain a few miles out from Lake Louise and called it a day. We drove the 9 miles up to Moraine Lake. OMG. The lake is in the Valley of Ten Peaks (AKA the Valley of Humungus Mosquitoes). The restaurant in the lodge is excellent. We spent two nights at this special place. 33 miles
Day 3 Moraine Lake and Lake Louise
The morning sky was crystal clear, so I seized the moment and headed out with my camera before breakfast. Moraine Lake is a special place but during the day it is mobbed with tourists, hikers and photographers. Early in the morning, it is quiet and the colors of the mountains and the water are intense. I appreciated these moments away from the crowds. This was hiking day; from Lake Louise to the tea house (which was packed with hikers). Yes, a tea house at the top of this mountain, built in the 1920s. What a spectacular hike. First we circled around to the back side of the lake where you can see how the glacier feeds the lake and the silt colors the water. Then as you climb, you see the lake and the chateau receding. On to the tea house; how great to hike 3 miles to 7000 ft and have the chance to order a bowl of soup or a pot of tea or a piece of chocolate cake. From there we hiked out to the glacier, another half mile or so. That was the toughest part, across a skree field, along a knife edge ridge. On our way to the glacier we heard the thunder of the ice cracking. We started with incredibly beautiful skies but it was cloudy when we got to the glacier. After we descended and got back to the chateau, i picked up my big camera, but I was pooped. 7 miles
Day 4 On the Icefields Parkway.
Today was a mixed day for me. It was drizzling when we started so we drove down the parkway a bit before we got started. We were soon among another group of cyclists from an 8 day version of our trip, which started in Glacier National Park. You can imagine that they were stronger and faster than me. Tim was able to ride with them and I fell off the back. Although the Icefields Parkway does have a big shoulder most of the way, it is heavily traveled. I rode about 13 miles feeling a bit uncomfortable riding alone with RVs (many of them rented RVs) flying by. There were one or two women in the other group who were slower, but I was feeling sorry for myself and lonely and the weather was getting worse so I got in the van.
But soon after that, the weather got much worse, with some sleet and even hail. Aaron asked Tim to get in the van and we drove to the hotel. By the time we got there, the skies cleared and the peaks were dusted with snow. The guides on the 8 day trip prepared an awesome lunch, and then I got cleaned up and ready for another photo safari, but it was raining again. Oh well. We were on the dark side of the moon--no cell service, no internet. But I did have a shitty TV so I happily watched the Olympics. 13 miles
Day 5 Icefield Parkway, climb to Sunwapta Pass, 4748 ft to 6676 ft over 28 miles.
Conversation with myself:I can do this. I just have to do own ride, not worry about who is in front of me or behind me. I am slow but that is ok. There is plenty of time and there will be people making sure I am ok. I wonder how many pedal strokes I will count.
I left Saskatchawan Crossing in long tights, long sleeves, fleece, ear warmer, but hoping to see the sun break through. I left a little early to get a bit of a head start. The first 18 miles were beautiful. The skies were clearing and although it was cool, I was dressed for it. I peeled off layers as I warmed up. As we started the big climb, I could see one of the switchbacks. Very steep and very exposed, narrow shoulder with a guard rail. That spooked me so I popped in the van for about 2.5 miles. Then I climbed the rest of it. At one point Aaron jumped on a bike and helped me with the climb. I know that some people have to keep going and don't stop even on a 10 mile climb. I had to stop several times and each time I got going again, that's when I tried to talk myself out of finishing it. But I really couldn’t stop because the van was always ahead of me, so I made it to the top of Sunwapta Pass. And, next year I hope to climb the whole thing.
After a great lunch of pesto ravioli overlooking the Columbia Icefield, I decided to take the ice bus onto the glacier. Very cool. The ice bus has gigantic wheels. They drive onto the glacier and give you about 20 minutes to explore, but keep you confined to a very small area so you don't punch through to the icy waters. Taking photos was very challenging. The ice and the sky were all the same color, so everything was overexposed on auto, but it was difficult to see the images on the monitor to make adjustments while shooting in manual. Well, I tried.
Day 6 Jasper
Aaron broke down and packed up Tim’s bike after day 5 so we decided that we would not ride into Jasper. Instead we drove in, dropped off Michele and Gabby, and then Tim, Aaron and I went for a short hike. We made our way to Patricia Lake, which was a lovely spot on a beautiful warm day. We had a little time to wander around Jasper (mostly t-shirts, and bear-related souvenirs). We had lunch and then got in the van for the long haul back to Calgary. Aaron dropped me off at my hotel in downtown Calgary and we all hugged and said our goodbyes.
Overall, this was a spectacular trip. The weather was good if not great. Obviously I would have enjoyed it more if DH was with me, but I have no regrets about having gone without him. I probably would have enjoyed it more with a bigger group, but Aaron, Tim, Michele and Gabby were wonderful companions and Tim was a great riding buddy. I would not hesitate to do it again next summer with DH.