Stage 9

Wayback Machine

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5 Aug 04 – 28 Aug 08
Related Photos The Jasper, AB to Radium Hot Springs, BC Stage (via the Icefields and Bow Valley Parkways) Back


July 2, 2004

We stayed at our hotel until checkout time, working on the website. Randall made an attempt to bleed the disc brake system but was not successful because the plunger in the master cylinder was sticking. He also added 3 to 7 pounds pressure to each of the three tires, a routine that he has practiced (every other day) since the start of the tour. The tires lose a little bit of air every day. We pump the tires to about 75 psi, or up to 5 pounds over specification. As mentioned in earlier writings, under-inflation is good when the roads are really bumpy (such as on a gravel road) but 99 percent of our roads have been relatively smooth. We will continue this practice as we have had no punctures on the tandem’s tires since starting the tour.

After checking out of the hotel, we headed to town for a stop at the grocery store and drug store before eating lunch at A&W. While inside eating, a European couple stopped to check out our bike parked on the sidewalk. They seemed so interested that Barb went out and gave them one of our cards. Their English was broken, but they were able to ask where we started and where we were going. Then, she just said one word, “respect.”

As we left town, there was a burst of rain pouring onto Jasper. Tourists were scrambling for cover. Barb wanted to put the rain booties on but Randall urged that it would not be raining a half mile outside of town. Right at the edge of town, we observed 5 cyclists were waiting under an overpass. About a block past the overpass, the rain stopped.

Today, we started using maps prepared by Adventure Cycling and designed specifically for bikers. They indicate the location of grocery stores, campgrounds, motels, restaurants as well as bike shops and post offices. They also give average weather data and elevation profiles. They use different notations for the various services and track the mileage between landmarks and match lines instead of by mileposts as was done by the guide book we have been using. It will take some time to transition to this different map style.

To start, the new map has us using the lesser traveled 93A for the first 15 miles inside Jasper National Park. This was the old road and was narrow, steep and winding. We dropped into the second lowest gear within a half mile of the start and we strained ourselves and the tandem, going up the steep grade. This 93A had not been maintained as well as the main road and that became a problem towards the last five miles of the road. For about a mile segment, there was a very rough portion that could match the brutality of the gravel sections of the Dalton Highway. Finishing this rough section, we could hear a repeating, clunk, clunk, clunk noise. Stopping the tandem on this narrow road, we discovered that the rear tandem tire had a cut on the side which was hitting the frame with each revolution. Ouch! And didn’t we just promote under-inflation of tires (on bumpy roads) a few paragraphs earlier? Well, that’s always a tough call. You see a bad road, you slow down and you’re thinking, “this will only last for a short while.” We quickly took the trailer off and sat both the tandem and trailer in the sloping ditch at the side of the road. This was not an easily setting to change out a tire but it was not safe to be in the road with an occasional tourist blazing through. After switching out tires, we are left with one good, spare tire. Randall had just ordered six new tires from the internet the night before but we will not see any of those tires until we get to Montana.

Later, as we were finishing highway 93A, the chain got caught while shifting to the smallest chain ring. Randall had to remove the crank arm to get the chain back into position. Needless to say, we were happy to finish this road. One reason for the alternate route was that animal sightings were supposed to be more likely. We didn’t see any animals, but we did meet up with a biker from Chicago. He had been working in Edmonton for three months and was now vacationing before returning home. He was not touring, just cycling from wherever he was lodging, so he carried no gear with him. He was impressed with our trip and said he wanted to do something similar next year but on a smaller scale to avoid quitting his job.

At the very end of 93A, we stopped at Athabasca Falls, a beautiful site crowded with tourists, before rejoining the main highway. Traffic was heavier on the main route, but the road surface was greatly improved and a shoulder was available. Soon, it began to rain. We continued until we got to the Honeymoon Lake Campground. With the late start and the bike issues, we hadn’t traveled very far, but it was already 6 PM and the next campground was another 15 miles uphill. Plus, we were somewhat soaked from the rain. This was a park services campground with 35 sites, pit toilets and drinking water trucked in. We circled the campground and found that no sites were available, so we set up camp near the lake where a couple of benches and a fire pit were located. The campground had food lockers available for campers in tents to store their food secure from the bears, so we didn’t have to use our bear bag and suspend our food in a tree. The rain stopped after a while and many people came to the lake. One man from Montreal was float fishing in an inner tube type contraption with waders attached for his legs. He cast his line a few times, but said the water was warm and shallow without much more than minnows to catch. After speaking French with his spouse, the man, apparently knowing that Barb was from the states, easily switched to English and even gave the water temperature as 70 F (Canadians use the metric system but it seems they’re better versed at both measurement systems than we are in the states).

Miles cycled – 34.5

July 3, 2004

We got up at 5 AM hoping for a more productive day. There was a tent set up not far from ours with two bikes parked outside. While we ate breakfast, a woman got out of the tent to walk around. We later talked to her and found that they were from New Zealand and were spending two months biking east across Canada. They started in Vancouver so were only about a week into their trip which would end in Halifax.

We hit the road by 7 AM, the first ones out of the campground for a change. We had a long climb but most stretches were only 2 to 3% grade. It was not raining but rain looked threatening at times. This day of riding was in a very wonderful setting as we would travel 60 miles of highway that was wedged between snow covered mountains.

With the scenery really picking up, we stopped at a vacant observation area beside the road. Five minutes later, the scenic spot was thriving with tourists as a tour bus of about 20 Europeans stopped. The bus had seating in the front and sleeping quarters in the back. Their slated time for stopping must have been short as they quickly took photos and then piled back into the bus. Some paused to look at our bike but no one spoke to us. Once they were back on the bus and waiting to merge into highway traffic, we took a picture of the bus. We were greeted by 20 hands, waving vigorously. Wow! Perhaps they were cautioned by their guide not to get too close to the wildlife (which we were?) and they felt safe once back inside the bus.

A couple of miles later, we came upon a wildlife sighting, traffic jam. About ten cars were stopped on both sides of the highway and many people were out of their cars watching a black bear grazing, high along side of the road.

We soon got our first glimpse of the Columbian Icefield. We were only seeing a small glimpse of this massive layer of snow and ice that sits atop the mountains. The portion we were viewing looked like a slab of whip cream on chocolate cake. The CLIMB now started. It was steep and the road narrowed with little shoulder. For over half of this climb, we had to go to our lowest gear. There were turnouts about every half mile which allowed for a well-deserved rest. Fortunately, most drivers appreciated what we were doing and held back until there was room to pass. We got many encouraging remarks as well. After four miles of hard climbing, we had conquered the worst of the climb. We were not yet at Sunwapta Pass (6,676 ft) but the scenic rewards were just waiting for our busy digital camera.

Just around the bend, the visitor center at the Columbian Icefield was full of tourists, many of them Japanese. They offer tours in special buses with large wheels which go out onto the glacier surface. Tourists may also drive towards the glacier and then climb about a mile up a footpath to reach the glacier. We did the walking option in 1997 when we were driving in this area so we did not take the time to approach the glacier this trip (because the glacier is receding, each year it is further to walk to). We picked up lunch in the cafeteria and ate outside in full view of the glacier and all the tourists getting their photos taken, standing in front of the glacier. There were signs asking tourists to, “Keep our wild birds wild. Do not feed them.” One variety in particular, the Clark’s Nutcracker didn’t seem too wild and readily approached the tables. We had to shoo them away from our food.

Leaving the visitor center, the Sunwapta Pass was not far south of the Columbian Icefield and the remaining climb was not as steep as the lower portion. The actual pass was not marked, but there was a sign at the entrance to Banff National Park.

Throughout the day, we saw many touring cyclists heading north and only two heading south. We saw one touring family. The father, mother and ten year old son were each on single bikes with panniers. The father also had a BOB trailer like ours. Another group of cyclists stopped to chat at a turnout south of Sunwapta Pass. This group of four women and one man were from Vancouver and were spending five days traveling north from Lake Louise to Jasper staying in hostels along the way. They rotated so that one of them drove the support van each day while the rest cycled. The man had volunteered for drive duty that day since he had previously cycled the same stretch of highway. He gave us a thorough description of what to expect on the downhill as the disc brake was not working properly. We had a long steep descent ahead of us. It was time for the disk brake to perform its role of keeping the heat off of our rim brakes. Randall did some fine tuning on the brake. We had descended nearly two miles using the rims brakes only before, finally, the disk brake started working.

The one lodging opportunity along our route was booked so we continued to Waterfowl Lake Campground just 11 miles before Bow Pass, the second big pass south of Jasper. The lead up to the campground had about 3 miles of moderate climbing which added to an already long day. Waterfowl Lake was a large campground with 116 sites, flush toilets and hot and cold running water (but no showers). It was 8 PM when we arrived and there were many sites still available. The procedure was to select a campsite then return to the main entrance to self register and pay. The campgrounds are not staffed. We searched for a site close to one of the restrooms. We picked one, but a Japanese woman asked if they could have it as they needed two sites. We had seen them scoping sites nearby so we moved to the next one which was empty. After we pulled into that site, a woman rushed over from the restroom area urgently speaking in a foreign language. We gave her a blank stare and she repeated herself louder. Barb said finally said, “We don’t understand you” and she defiantly said “I stand here!” While she wasn’t standing here when we arrived, there was no arguing with her so we found another campsite one lane over. We quickly set up our tent before someone else could claim the site. As we cooked dinner, it started to rain. We packed up things into the trailer that we did not need and scurried to the tent after eating. The laptop battery died after two days of not charging so we could not work on our journal today. It was time for bed.

Miles cycled – 77.9

July 4, 2004

We awoke this morning with a light rain dancing on our tent outside. This was not looking good. We decided to snooze for another hour, hoping that the rain would break (as the mountain showers have been short in duration in the past). At 7:30 AM, we got the lull in the rain we were looking for. We rushed around to break camp and as we finished packing the tent, the light rain started again. At 8:30, having had a light breakfast and knowing that we had a long climb to the top of Bow Pass, we decided to forged ahead, rain or no rain.

Being ten miles from the pass, the climb was initially gentle, but was enough of a workout that we could stay warm with the wetness we were experiencing. We did not stop until 7 miles later so Barb could put on her rain pants for extra warmth. Why not start out with rain pants? Unless it is very cold out, you end up getting just as wet inside the pants because of trapped perspiration. We were being too optimistic that the rain would end soon. The climb was becoming more aggressive after the 7th mile as we dropped into our second lowest gear. Passing motorists were giving us a sympathetic wide berth. One approaching car honked at us 5 times in rapid succession and the driver then gave us two thumbs up (hmmm, steering with his knees?) as a boost of encouragement. At the 9th mile, we took a brief rest. Because of the rain, we refrained from doing our usual half mile rest stops which we do during difficult climbs. During the stop, Randall tried to shoot a rainy photo but the camera battery was low. We were not going to bother with a battery change until the summit as we would quickly get cold.

Reaching the summit is usually a time for cheer. We were just content with being partially warm. With new camera batteries, Randall quickly took photos of the Bow Summit sign documenting the 6,785 foot pass. We now had a long descent in the cold, wet rain. Barb noted that there was a food stop opportunity two miles down at a lodge. Randall tried to keep the descent speed below 20 mph but at one point, we were blazing down a steep portion at 30 mph. It was like stepping into a freezer! Randall’s fingers got so numb, it was difficult to brake. We held on until stopping at the lodge.

We arrived at the Num-Ti-Jah Lodge soaked to the skin and thoroughly chilled. The desk clerk directed us to the restaurant and said she would have a fire going in the library for us soon. The lodge had an excellent breakfast buffet and supplied us with lots of hot tea. One server even brought us towels to help us dry off. After a very filling breakfast, we went to the library to stand by the fireplace. We ended up drying out for about an hour while visiting with two ladies from Germany. Later, two cycling couples from the San Francisco area came in to dry off. They were on a “credit card tour” from Banff to Jasper which means they were staying in hotels (no camping). We talked about biking gear and biking trips. One of the couples was riding on a tandem. They were intrigued with our Tandem Talk, the hardwired headset device we use to talk to each other while on our bike. They told us about using ordinary hotel shower caps as a rain covers for our helmets. During the drying period, the sun came out and all was well again. As we pedaled up the short driveway exit, we noticed a camper truck off to the right that had a Kansas license plate. Upon closer observation, we could see the county abbreviation, RL which is where Barb is from! Barb pulled out her purple, wildcat bandana and waved it at the couple sitting in the cab. This couple got a big laugh as Manhattan is in Riley County, Kansas and is home of the Kansas State University Wildcats, our alma mater.

It was now 1:30 pm and we still had 40 miles to go. No problem, it was mostly downhill to Lake Louise and on to Castle Junction. But first, we stopped to photograph Bow Lake, a beautiful blue-green glacial lake tucked between the highway and the mountains. Reaching Lake Louise, we directed ourselves to the Bow Valley Parkway. This scenic alternate to the Trans Canada 1 took us away from heavy traffic and increased the likelihood of spotting critters. About 10 miles down the road, we saw vehicles on both sides of the highway. An animal sighting! A lot of people have been concerned about our safety with wild animals. While cycling, our greatest concern has been the haphazard driving behavior exhibited by tourists, frenzied to see an animal in the wild. Our attention to the humans is at the highest level in these situations. In this particular stopped traffic setting, the critter of interest was a grizzly bear. Our first grizzly sighting! The bear was about 150 ft off of the roadway and grazing near the railroad tracks. There were many trees in the area which precluded getting a fully open view. Some of the tourists even walked half way into the woods to get a better view. We opted to stay by the road, but, none the less, we got to see a grizzly.

At about 5 miles north of Castle Junction, the Castle Mountain came into view. This is one, very impressive mountain with its rock face. Arriving at Castle Junction, we elected to stay at a cabin. A site just north of this was listed as a park campground but was closed. We were told it was not open yet because of plumbing issues?? We had called the resort earlier to inquire about availability and pricing and were told that they did not reserve one particular cabin without showing it first as it was their oldest cabin and a bit rustic. It had a roof, electricity and plumbing so it fit our needs. It even had a stove, refrigerator and TV as a bonus and at one third the cost of the newer cabins, we were quite content. We turned the heat up and unpacked all of our wet items for drying over night. We showered for the first time in three days (not counting the natural showers provided by the rain) and started charging our laptop and satellite phone. The general store at the resort had lots of food suited for camping so we stocked up. Once again Randall attempted to bleed the disc brake. When the prescribed method did not work, he tried to bleed the system through the rear caliper. It worked! We now had a working disc brake for the two big descents tomorrow.

July 4th marked the 24th anniversary of our first date back in Manhattan, Kansas. We went to Godfather’s Pizza for dinner and went to see the movie, “The Blues Brothers.” We fondly remember that special outing. Traveling across the country, we cherish the opportunity to say, “I love you,” on a daily basis. We could not do this ride alone as we see many single riders do.

Miles cycled – 55.0

July 5, 2004

Train whistles blew almost hourly during our somewhat restful night. We knew we were several hundred feet from a track but had no idea the trains were so frequent and since the tracks crossed a nearby road, the whistles were mandatory. An ambitious 7 AM start turned into an 8 AM one as we got one more wink of sleep. This day’s ride had special meaning for us as we had biked this same route 7 years earlier. Using our 2 folding single bikes, we biked what the locals called “The Golden Triangle” (Castle Junction to Radium Hot Springs to Golden to Castle Junction). It was our first attempt at cycle touring and with the mountains and light travel gear to get us from motel to motel; we achieved our three day goal. It was a very ambitious tour on our part back in 1997 but, a definite confidence builder.

So there we were on this Monday morning, 7 years later with one bicycle and about 90 pounds more weight heading west and then south on the Banff Windermere Highway (yes, that’s a third named highway that would not easily fit in title at top of this page). We biked only 0.4 mile before we began 4 miles of climbing to reach Vermilion Pass at 5,380 feet. At 2 miles up, we started seeing single bike riders riding down the mountain. There was about a dozen of them and they were widely spread out. After reaching 3 miles of climbing, we saw additional riders coming out of a lodge driveway which explained to us the extent of their ride. They were on one of the many luxury supported rides which went from lodge to lodge with the organizers carrying their luggage for them. They only needed a small bag to carry a bit of food and clothing. It was a sunny morning (thankfully) and the clouds covering the tops of the surrounding mountains were starting to drift away.

Reaching the pass, we were about to cross over the Continental Divide (our 4th crossing on this adventure). A nice sign marked this crossing so we had the driver of a tour bus parked there take our photo. We had seen his tour bus a couple of days earlier just north of the Columbia Icefield. This bus, which looked like a traditional bus in the front half, had a raised back end which consisted of sleep quarters. He told Barb that his 18 European tourists on board were on a 50 day tour. Astounding! He went on to explain that since there was no shower option on board, they spend each night at a campground where showers are available. We suppose that there is some advantage to be able to sleep in the same bed night after night after night!

Continuing on from the continental divide, we were now back in British Columbia (the continental divide is the border for much of BC and Alberta). However, we were still in the Mountain Time Zone. Our fun descent was supposed to begin but a strong headwind was not cooperating. During the descent, we stopped to look at a milky blue creek gushing along, just below the road. We thought we had seen about every color of water possible! The fire damage to the area’s forest was now just coming into view. The Kootenay Park had a substantial fire in August, 2003, which wiped out a lot of scenic timber. Seeing the devastation from the fire (started by lighting) can leave you in a daze. At 25 miles, a quick shifting mountain shower preceded to soak us. Two miles later, a cafe stop rescued us from the rain as we went inside to have some sandwiches for lunch.

With our prior descent long behind us, we enjoyed two dozen flat miles through the scenic valley. The road shoulder was very wide and was in good condition except for a few miles where there were cracks wide enough to swallow up a bicycle tire. So, we zoomed across the valley, seeing four oncoming touring cyclists along the way. Two were a couple on a tandem pulling a trailer. They were stopped, changing a flat on their rear tire. Another cyclist was an Asian man traveling alone. Many of the campground operators along our route had told us that they get a lot of Asian men cycling through but this guy was the first one we had seen. At one point an elk crossed the road in front of us. This elk had both a collar and an ear tag. The elk was not too concerned by us and stayed in the grassy area off the right shoulder to graze. Another elk could be seen in the woods beyond.

After 50 some miles, we began the second and final pass (Sinclair Pass at 4,875 ft) of the day. Even though this pass was 500 ft lower than the prior pass, we were 900 ft lower in elevation at the start. After three miles of climbing, we stopped at an observation point to check out the view. We then climbed yet another three miles before we reached the top (which was marked with one of our favorite signs, “Passing Lane Ends in 200 M”). Comparing our past single bike climbing of these two passes with our tandem bike climbing, we can confidently state that climbing with a tandem is no more difficult but, in fact, easier (many single bike cyclists like to bash tandems when discussing climbing). Advancing a bit further, there was an extra lane for trucks to test their brakes before a very steep descent. We checked our refreshed disk brake. Yep, it’s working. A quarter of a mile down, we slammed on the brakes for a good photo opportunity. A small flock of mountain sheep were along the road. We soared down the mountain, stopping near the bottom for more photos of a short tunnel, interesting rock formations and the famous hot springs. Radium Hot Springs is not a large town (pop. 583) but apparently prospers with their hot springs as there are 27 motels/hotels listed for the area. We checked into a motel, planning to stay two nights to provide for our day of rest and website updates.

Miles cycled – 67.3

July 6, 2004

Randall worked on our journal late into the night and Barb got up early to continue our efforts. We walked to a restaurant for breakfast which the motel operator recommended. The food was good, but there must be an ordinance that nothing gets served fast in this town. The service for dinner the night before was slow as it was also slow seven years ago when we were here. This establishment was playing a CD of the worst country music songs ever recorded including “Rhinestone Cowboy”, “Satin Sheets” and “I’m not Lisa.” Barb was temporarily envious of Randall’s hearing loss. We were back to working on the website and taking care of various errands. This town even offered a car wash so the bike got a much needed cleaning. However, our plan to use the library to maximize our computer time did not work as the library is only opened two hours on two days of the week.

Miles cycled – 1.5

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