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Related Photos The Radium Hot Springs, BC to USA Border Stage (via Highways 93, 3, 507 and 6) Back
July 7, 2004
At about 2 AM, Randall covered the bike with our 7 ft x 9 ft tandem tarp to keep it dry during a heavy downpour. Starting our morning, the rain stopped long enough for us to pack the trailer and put all the gear on the bike that had been removed when we washed it the day before. We left by 7:45 AM as it started to sprinkle. The day’s ride began with a three mile, gentle climb out of Radium Hot Springs. We kept pedaling through the rain and it stopped when we reached Invermere 6.5 miles later. We went down a winding road to reach the city as it must have been about 500 feet lower in elevation. By going through downtown Invermere, we left the busy highway 93. Our map plan had us taking West Side Road for 18 miles. This shoulder-less road followed the west side of Windermore Lake for several miles which required a few moderate climbs. Traffic was very light which was good as the road was rough and bumpy. The traffic may be heavier in the future as we saw a lot of development along the road for those future dwellers who desire the nice, lake views.
Although there were still lots of trees, the landscape was getting more pasture like. Barbed wire fences sometimes lined the road and we occasionally saw cattle. Some segments of the road went through open range as there were cattle guards at the beginning and the end. A cattle guard is a group of pipes that span the width of the road. The pipes are spaced 4 to 5 inches apart to discourage cattle from crossing over (their hooves would fall between the pipes). Cars and trucks can drive over them without much problem, feeling just a slight bump as they pass over. However, cattle guards can potentially damage a wheel on a fully loaded touring bike, so we stopped and walked the tandem across the pipes.
We reconnected with Highway 93/95 and stopped at a convenience store for a mid morning snack. Finishing our snack, we observed a street cleaner brushing down our shoulder. We were surprised to see such equipment in a remote area but we appreciated the clean shoulder. Traffic was somewhat busy on Highway 93/95 but our route soon turned off on Columbia Lake Road, giving us a scenic lake view and perhaps, less climbing than the main road had. Rejoining with Highway 93/95 once again, we biked 8 miles to Canal Flats. This small town was just off the road so we decided not to pull in. Instead, we snacked along the side of the road. Just beyond Canal Flats, we paused to watch a lumber mill operation as we could see the truck and log moving equipment in action. From there, we began a gentle three mile climb.
Throughout today’s ride, we really never left the mountains as the Purcell range was to the west and the Kootenay range was to the east. After 60 miles, we rode down into a river valley where the town of Shookumchuck is situated. It was time to eat again so we stopped for lunch at the roadside restaurant. One of the restaurant patrons asked which direction we were headed. He advised that they had just driven through heavy rain about 10 miles south of our location. Prior to this lunch break, it had looked like rain for several miles, so we already had our helmet covers and bootie covers on. Sure enough, soon after we restarted, the rain began to pour and it wasn’t about to let up. At one point we met a group of northbound motorcyclists. They gave us waves and thumbs up for encouragement. One passenger even applauded us. These kinds of jesters can really boast one’s spirits.
As we approached Fort Steele, the terrain became hillier. We were somewhat able to use our downhill momentum to better climb the uphill advance. Less than a mile from Fort Steele, our shifter cable (for the 3 chain rings) broke. Fortunately, the hills had given way to a plateau. We pulled a few feet off onto a side road for a quick resolution in the rain. Using the small, vise-grip wrench, Randall clamped the broken end of the shifter cable around a braze-on so that the bike would stay in the second chain ring. The gripping wrench was secured to the tandem frame with a rubber band. We then pedaled into town.
There was a general store at the entrance of a campground. Given that it was raining, we wanted to avoid camping. We used the pay phone to call a B&B located 1 mile east of town and got their answering machine. Not knowing if they had a vacancy, we didn’t want to risk biking there. Barb asked the clerk at the general store if there was any lodging available nearby. She referred us to two towns of which, the nearest one was about 20 miles away. Barb said we were on a bicycle and needed something right there, if possible. The clerk said they had a cabin we could look at and gave us the key. It had electricity, beds and some furniture. We could use the nearby campground washrooms and Laundromat. The rain was beginning to taper off, but the cabin would provide us with a warm, dry place with adequate lighting in which to replace the broken shifter cable.
While Randall wheeled the bike over to the cabin, Barb went back to the office to pay for the cabin. Another customer who had seen our trailer banner, which displays Habitat for Humanity of Oakland County, said, “Tell me that’s not Oakland California.” Barb advised that it was actually Oakland County Michigan and that we had started biking north of Fairbanks, Alaska. He then wanted to know when we started. As he was given more details, he just stood there with an incredulous look on his face. Finally he asked if we had a divorce lawyer following us. After showering and eating, Randall successfully replaced the broken shifter cable.
Miles cycled – 82.3
July 8, 2004
Launching our tandem this morning at 7:45, the sky was partly cloudy and it was not raining. Today was already looking good! Instead of taking the busy highway 93/95 south through Fort Steele, our map plan took us onto Wardner-Fort Steele Road. It was a little bit of climbing at first, but this back road highway offered splendid views of the Steeples Mountains to the east. The bike was shifting very well with the new shifter cable. We use a Teflon-coated wire and after 2000 plus miles, there must not have been much Teflon left on the old wire. The road then leveled out as we saw numerous small farms and ranches along the way. One ranch used fence posts to display their baseball cap collection. There had to be over a hundred posts topped off with a cap. We crossed two cattle guards and there were signs that cautioned about livestock on highway. Later, we followed the wide Kootenay River basin before our route connected with Highway 93/3. We met a train along the highway just before we reached the main road.
Turning onto highway 93/3, we pedaled up one long hill before then tackling a series of small hills. Reaching the small town of Jaffray, we stopped at a convenience store and warmed up some egg and cheese muffins. Outside, two motorcyclists inquired about our trip. They asked if we would ride on the Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park. We said “Yes” and they followed, “You’ll just love that highway, with mountains walls on one side and a sheer drop on the other side.” Barb replied nervously, “Yes, we will.”
Continuing our route, we turned off on another back road called Jaffray-Baynes Lake Road. We biked along on three flat miles before reaching a series of hills. At the first long hill, we caught up with three cyclists about one quarter of the way up. The two younger female cyclists had stopped to rest while the older male cyclist continued up the hill. When we caught up with him, he asked where the girls were. When we told him that they had stopped, he chose to keep biking with us. He was a doctor and the girls were his teenage daughters. They were from Steward, British Columbia and had started biking just across the border from Steward in Alaska. They were going to Florida, but hadn’t determined the route they would take beyond Missoula, Montana. They had been biking locally for a few days, waiting for the daughters’ passports to arrive before crossing the border into the States. His wife was with them in a van during this delay, but would not be with them the rest of the trip. This explained why they now had nothing with them except a water bottle, but left us wondering why the girls appeared stalled on the moderate hill when they would have already biked over 1000 miles with gear. He continued to bike with us, drafting behind us. This allowed him to coast a great deal of the time and soon he began to whistle. We found this quite aggravating as we were the ones doing all the work. Not only were we shielding the wind for him, we were pulling all the weight of our gear. We did surprise him with our speed on the downhills and he commented that it must be a lot of fun on the back of a tandem when he saw Barb taking pictures on the fly. About five miles later, we reached a turn in the route and stopped to rest before continuing. We chatted some more and then left him to wait for his daughters to catch up.
The route turned east onto Kikomun Road for a short segment of seven miles before rejoining Highway 3 for the climb to Fernie. The toughest part of the climb was a steep hill just before the small town of Elko. After climbing that hill, we rested and wondered if there were more hills of the same grade. While resting, a long coal train passed under the bridge nearby. Continuing on for the 19 miles to Fernie, we followed the highway as it was wedged between the mountains and a river. We were pleasantly surprised to find that the additional 600 ft we needed to climb was spread out in a gentle ascent. Half way along this jaunt, the road went through a short tunnel. Approaching the tunnel, the traffic was congested with semi-trucks but it then cleared briefly as we dashed through. After the tunnel, we enjoyed scenic views of the Elk River.
Reaching Fernie, we had a meal stop at Dairy Queen. We assessed the terrain ahead and our fatigue level and determined that we could make it to Sparwood. Going through Fernie, we stopped to get some camera batteries. Fernie, a resort town of 6,000 which entertains a lot of winter sports, was as big a town that we had been in for a while. With 18 miles left until Sparwood, we hustled on some very nice flat miles before stopping for the night. Sparwood is a former coal mining town and now has just the logging industry to support it. A Chinese dinner at a local restaurant made for a very fulfilling day.
Miles cycled – 80.5
July 9, 2004
At the hotel we stayed at, there was a bicycle with a BOB trailer parked outside another room. As we finished packing everything on our bike, the cyclist emerged from his room. He was biking to Ottawa, but didn’t seen too interested in talking with us so we proceeded on our route which took us by downtown Sparwood. We passed the World’s Largest Truck, used during the coal mining days. We stopped for pictures. Randall stood by the tires to get a perspective on the size of the truck
Being about 12 miles from Crowsnest Pass at 4,457 ft, we expected some climbing but it wasn’t too bad. Along the way, we saw some mountain goats along the side of the road. When we reached the pass, we stopped to enjoy the beautiful lake there. We had reason to cheer as with this pass we were completing our fifth Continental Divide crossing. It was a sunny, clear day and after the pass, we had a very nice tailwind. Just beyond the pass were more beautiful lakes and park areas. We stopped to take pictures of the valley below before arriving in Coleman. Coleman’s population was listed as 500 on our map, but it was a much bigger town during the mining days (later, a local said its present size was closer to 2,500). There were rows of housing reminiscent of old coal or steel towns in eastern USA such as Pittsburg but on a smaller scale. We stopped for breakfast in a restaurant along the highway.
After eating, we went to the nearby service station to get some Gatorade before continuing. We wanted to cover about 86 miles today. This would place us about 15 miles from the US border and 29 miles from the next services. The service station had a rush of customers and while Barb was delayed inside the store, Randall discovered some looseness in the rear bottom bracket (the axle which Barb’s crank arms were attached to). We then sought out the only known bike shop in town, The Tuck Shop. The bike shop was located in the center of Coleman in the valley below the highway. There was a hand written sign in the bike shop window which said to “Call on the hard side tent next door.” We later learned this was the terminology the owner preferred (to trailer) so he could not be called trailer trash. Barb went next door and rang the bell. A man immerged who said we was just finishing showering and would join us shortly.
Gord Tuck started this bike shop to provide support for his daughter, Carrie, a world-class mountain biker. After high school, he worked three years in the mines and then became a truck driver. He broke his back and no longer could drive trucks. He was officially disabled and was obviously in pain while he worked on our bike. From his opening observation of our tandem, we could tell that he freely spoke his mind. He critically inquired, “When are you tandem bike riders going to learn that you should set your pedals out of phase?!” Having the front pedals out of sync, one-quarter turn with the rear pedals was what he was referring to. This practice lessens the strain on the stoker’s bottom bracket. Gord’s reaction was encouraging to Randall as most small bike shop operators know very little about tandems and some want nothing to do with the two-seater bikes. Gord had biked with his daughter on a tandem and had extensive mountain bike experience. It was his passion for biking which kept the bike store opened and most of his business was with those traveling through, not the locals.
Gord was most helpful. He set our bike up on a stand and proceeded to check out the bottom bracket. He determined that the interior threads were stripped on the right side of the shell which holds our bottom bracket. Because of the amount of thread damage, we were not able to get a stable bottom bracket assembly. Yikes! We had a serious equipment problem here. Randall called Santana Cycles in La Verne, CA. The manufacturer of our tandem said we had two options. The first option was to apply filler material which hardens and then one could rethread the damage thread area. The problem with this option was that it required a special threading tool (cost exceeding $1,000) which would probably require shipping from the States. Plus, there were no assurances that this fix would last for the 4,500 miles remaining on our trip. The second option was to ship that portion of the tandem to Santana Cycles in La Verne (in the LA area) with the promise of a one week turnaround. The primary courier for the Coleman area was Purolator but the truck had already made the rounds on that Friday so we could not ship until Monday! Given this predicament, and given our past experience with delivery time to Canada, Barb ask Gord, “Are there any rental car companies around?” We would go crazy waiting around for the repair so we decided to take action and have Gord drive us around to look for a rental car. On our second stop in searching for a car, we found a Subaru Forester (Lance Armstrong promotes the Outback) in nearby Blairmore.
A car dealership linked us up with the rental. Unfortunately, unlimited mileage was not an option. Plus, we added insurance coverage as we had reduced our insurance coverage on our two cars sitting idle in Michigan to liability only. Our primary concern was any restriction of driving the vehicle across the border crossing. The salesman assured us that there would be no issue with driving into the USA. He asked, “Where are you driving to?” Answering, “LA,” someone joked “I don’t think they mean, Lower Alberta.” We stopped back at the bike shop and pulled together every known equipment issue that the manufacturer could possibly address. That included the disassembled rear triangle (containing the stripped threads), the rear wheel (one of three pawls broken since Fairbanks) and the entire disk brake system (sticking plunger in master cylinder). So at 5 PM, Mountain Time, we were off to LA. still dressed in our stinky bike clothes.
We arrived at US customs about 7 PM Pacific Time (having crossed back over the Continental Divide and driven even further west) and handed the agent our US passports. He asked where we were from. We said most recently, Michigan. He could see our Alberta car tag, so he asked us where we got the car. We said it was a rental. We followed that we were on an extended bike tour and a component on our bicycle broke, so we were taking the part to the manufacturer in the States to be repaired. He picked up on the expression “our bicycle” and asked, “So it is a tandem?” making sure our story was consistent. He then asked where we were going. When we said LA, he turned his head sharply to his left as if to regain his composure. After a pause, he asked what we did in Michigan. We said we were engineers. He must have figured he had already won the award for the weirdest story of the day so he said “Have a nice trip” and waved us on. Back in the good ole USA, we stopped long enough for some cheap gas and snacks and then continued to Spokane, WA before stopping for the night.
Miles cycled – 23.4
July 10-15, 2004
We got about 6 hours of rest in Spokane, WA and then drove west on Interstate 84 to Portland, OR traveling along the great Columbia River. We then headed south on Interstate 5 (through Sacramento) until we reached Claremont, CA just after midnight on Saturday. After 27 hours of driving, it was interesting how quickly we became typical motorists with little notice of the terrain and surroundings. Being a detour from our bike tour, there was no need for photography. While we were covering the same distance in a little more than an hour of driving that we had been traveling in one day on our bicycle, the details were just a blur.
Claremont borders La Verne (both cities being east of LA) and is also where Barb’s aunt Dorothy and uncle Jim live. With a half-day’s advance notice, they warmly anticipated our expected brief stay. We spent Sunday visiting and updating the website. Barb’s cousin Rick, made some calls Sunday afternoon on our behalf as his sister-in-law’s husband had links with the owner of our tandem manufacturer, Santana Cycles. Monday morning, at 7:30, we arrived at Santana Cycles to hand deliver the rear triangle portion of the tandem for the necessary repair. We also handed over the disc brake system and rear wheel for refurbishment. The turnaround for our parts was unclear at that point because the staff for the front office did not arrive until later in the morning and the production staff was just returning from a one week shutdown. So, we returned to our relative’s house.
That afternoon, we revisited the manufacturer’s site to get an update. We then learned that the founder of the company, Bill McCready had arrived back Sunday from one of his organized tours and was out of the loop with regards to who we were and the urgency of our repair needs. Bill was delighted to see us (he remembered us from past Santana tours and from Barb’s tandem photography). Earlier in the day, he had heard about a touring couple needing an urgent repair but did not know it was us. Santana gave our repair parts top priority Monday with the completion of bottom bracket repair scheduled for 3:30 pm Tuesday.
That Monday afternoon, we happily accepted an invitation to Bill’s and Jan’s (his wife) house for dinner. It gave us great pleasure to share bicycle touring experiences with another tandem couple. The refurbished parts were ready as promised on Tuesday. While making the pickup, we purchased some hard to find spare parts and gratefully thanked the staff at Santana for their quick attention to our repair needs. We headed back to Canada that evening, taking a different route, Interstate 15 through Las Vegas and Salt Lake City. This alternate route gave us an opportunity to stop in Missoula, MT where Barb’s sister had shipped some supplies to the post office for us (the supplies consisted of maps, two new tires and a new wheel built by Prestige Cycles in Michigan). While in Missoula, we also picked up some power food bars and stopped at Staples to buy a Palm and wireless keyboard.
Thursday afternoon, we arrived back in Coleman, AB, having driven over 3,200 miles. While Barb got a hotel room and returned the rental car, Gord and Randall reassembled the tandem. The new rear wheel was put on along with a new tire. The old rear wheel was shipped to Prestige Cycles for refurbishment. After the rim is replaced in the old wheel, it will be our backup wheel (we are being very conservative with the wheel rim situation because we have had a rim failure about every 2,000 miles since we started riding tandems in 1998). Gord also addressed other small nagging issues such as noisy pedals. We test drove the tandem, riding for the first time in 6 1/2 days. Gord was one of the most interesting characters we have met on this tour and we very much appreciated his support. We went to sleep in a soft bed that night, realizing that we were finally going to be back in the saddle again!
Miles cycled – 2.3
July 16, 2004
We left Coleman later than planned as both of us were feeling the effects of food poisoning. As we started, we were wearing just shorts and jerseys as the morning was already warm. The bike was riding well and we sailed the first few miles. Before long, we went by the town of Blairmore (where we got the rental car). The next town, Frank was a ways off the road, but we passed right by the Frank Slide, where a massive rock slide in 1903 buried some of the town and covered the entrance to the mine. At least 70 people died.
Our route soon took us off of Highway 6 and onto scenic Highway 507. Faced with our first real climb of the day, we shifted into first and soon discovered that the chain guard was not tightened when the bike was reassembled (Randall’s oops). The chain got caught between the small chain ring and the frame. Randall had to remove the stuck chain and then reposition and tighten the chain guard. Highway 507 offered many wide expanses. There was lots of freshly cut alfalfa which was affecting our allergies. Grasshoppers were becoming more prevalent. One flew into Randall’s right ear while we were going along at 15 mph. It felt like a rock hit his ear and then the “rock” kicked off his ear. We saw one touring couple on singles headed north. They looked somewhat frazzled as it was a warm morning and there was some climbing to do, whatever direction you were headed.
We ate lunch at the A&W restaurant in Pincher Creek as we rejoined Highway 6. Pincher Creek had many large murals in the downtown area showing cowboys and cattle drives. There were signs on Highway 6 calling it the Cowboy Highway. We met a couple from Washington State outside the visitor center. They were eager to hear about our trip. They commented that we must be in our twenties. We said no. Then, they inquired, “You’re in your thirties?” We answered, “No” again. This is why we felt we needed to take the time to do this trip now, while we still physically could.
Biking south, the terrain was looking a lot like the “Big Sky Country” of Montana. Interpretive signs appropriately summed it up with “where the mountains meet the prairies.” It was apparent that as we approached the USA border, we would soon be climbing in the mountains. The temperature was quite warm now with a slight tail wind. After not biking for a week, dealing with the heat was a challenge. We stopped at Twin Butte for a light dinner. The cool salads hit the spot. At 6:30 PM we arrived at the Waterton Springs Campground for the night. A young man working at the campsite asked about our trip. He was so intrigued, he bought a disposable camera to take our picture as he thought we would be famous. The shower option at the campground was a new twist as you received a token at the time of registration. There was a box on the wall where you entered your token and then you turned on the water valve to the shower and rushed to complete your shower within the allotted 4 minutes. It seemed kind of like a car wash! We got to bed by 9:20 with the alarm set for 4:30 AM, but we were soon awakened by noisy neighbors setting up their fifth wheeler in the spot right next to us. They talked loudly and produced an assortment of other bodily noises. Then, they started a fire in the fire pit just a few feet from our tent and discussed among other things, the strange names rich people give their children until midnight. It was a Friday night and they obviously weren’t going anywhere the next morning.
Miles cycled – 62.1
July 17, 2004
As we got around at 4:30 AM, we were careful that we did not reciprocate with the noise our neighbors created the night before. On our way at 6 AM, we were looking for some ambitious climbing today. We did two long climbs to reach the USA border. We did not realize how big the one climb was until we stopped and looked back. Wow! We passed on a side trip to Waterton Village which some locals described as a must see. Before crossing over to USA, we observed the “Welcome to Alberta” sign and took in the beauty of the area. We were leaving Canada and it was a wonderful time!
The US customs office was on a slight incline so we got off the bike as we waited for the people ahead of us to clear. The customs officer asked how long we had been in Canada. We said we crossed at Beaver Creek, Yukon on June 1st. We had decided not to complicate things by mentioning our road trip to LA. He asked if we were tired of traveling yet. We weren’t, but Barb was not as energetic today and it probably showed. After the usual “any alcohol, tobacco or firearms?” questions, he wished us well on the rest of our trip and waved us through. It was good to be back in the USA, and this time on the bicycle.
Miles cycled – 16.0 (to the border and subsequently 28.4 miles south of the border)
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