North America | Canada | Alberta and The Rockies – Rocky Mountain High in Canada
Nelson is a great place to stop for the comforts of civilization: lattes, deli’s and internet cafes serving breakfast until noon. It’s a beautiful little town with clowns making balloons and duos playing Neil Young on the main street in front of little galleries that show off the local artisan’s wares.
It’s been an easy downhill ride from Cottonwood Lake and unfortunately, my friend Nichole has to work most of the time I’m in the area, so we won’t meet up. From Nelson, I head north at first, not really sure how I’m going to get to Calgary, Alberta and then I stop at an Ice Cream shop to of course get some ice cream, and look at my map again. There’s a gravel road across the lake from a little place called Balfour it seems. Maybe I can take the ferry and then take that road across the Purcell Mountain range to the Columbia river valley which can take me up to the Rocky Mountains. Sounds like a plan to me!
So I ride up alongside Kootenay Lake with all the Kootenay Mountains looking down on me to the ferry terminal and hop aboard – for free! It’s a short trip across the lake – maybe 30 minutes and then just a short ride to a place called Gray Creek to camp. On the way I pass through a little town who’s claim to fame is that they shot the “Bewitched” movie there. There’s a little broom shop and a little selection of restaurants. The campsite I end up at is actually on Kootenay Lake and the lake invites me in. After a day in the saddle, there’s nothing like a refreshing dip.
The Gray Creek Pass along the rough gravel road is a little bit higher than I thought it would be – okay it’s a lot higher. But I’m tough I tell myself. I’ve taken my bike to Mount Everest – this is nothing. There’s lots of oxygen and the grades can’t be that steep can they? Well they are. They are regularly 14% and more for the first 19 km, in fact my little cyclometer says they are 30% in some places. And the pass? It’s 2067 meters. But the uphill is a lot easier on the bike than the downhill. On the bumpy way down, the bike rack screws pop out and everything goes sliding down to the ground – the bike rack splitting in a couple of pieces and crunching across the rear derailer. Obviously, I don’t recommend this route. It’s not THAT bad, but there’s another way around.
I assess the damage and scour the roadway for the rack screws. Voila! C’est ici! A little monkey wrenching around with everything and I’m back on the road again. I get back on the bike, round the corner and slam on the brakes. A mother black bear and her cub are running across the road. Sorry – there’s no pictures – I was running as fast as I could.
Just kidding! You almost never run from a bear and these ones probably didn’t even see me. I did get my camera out and creep up to the point where they crossed the road. I could hear them foraging in the bushes, but couldn’t see them well enough to get a photo. Eventually, I continued on and made camp at a river just outside of Marysville, BC. Since I had been riding downhill, I didn’t realize the rear derailer damage until it got a bit flatter, so I passed on trying to make it any further.
Just after setting up camp amidst an initial onslaught of mozzie’s, I noticed something low and light brown creeping through the long grass about 100 meters from my tent. I looked again and realized it was a cougar, so I of course, started running away as fast as I could.
Just kidding. You almost never run from a cougar and having wanted to see one in the wild my whole life, I watched for a minute, then ran to grab my camera, but it was gone from the grass and slipped into the brush before I could catch up to it for a photo.
With the night’s becoming cooler, there was plenty of good wood around for a nice campfire that night and the next morning when a brood of wild pheasants graced my area with their presence. I did my best to bend my derailer back into place, but the gears were a little bit hoppy. I wasn’t far from a town that brags of itself as the little Bavarian Town in the Rockies, so I broke camp and headed for Kimberly, BC.
The town center has a few places that serve up bratwurst across from a little house where a cuckoo clock like man dresses up in Leiderhosen pops out and lifts his beer stein up and down while a cheesy Bavarian sounding song plays. He’ll make an appearance for the small sum of twenty five cents.
The rear derailler was still not functioning as new, so I found a doom-sayer bike tech at the local hardware store to take a look at it. Then it began pouring down rain, so I found a great little B&B called the Alpine Kaffee for $52 including a breakfast crepe and ‘all the coffee I could drink’, picked up a video, some chips and beer and made a quiet night curled up in front of the tube.
From Kimberly, the highway follows the Columbia river, North America’s fourth largest by volume, up through towns with names like Ta Ta and Skookumchuk and the Fairmont and Radium hot springs. Eventually I make it to Kootenay National Park where I’m delighted to find that they have a handy one page cyclist handout showing the road grades and different landmarks along the way. The deer in this area have fairly long tails that stand up with a white underside when they are wary of danger. The views of the Rocky Mountains here are panoramic. There is a section that had a large forest fire in 2003 and the trees stand barren in front of the towering peaks.
There are a lot of bear warnings in the park which require me to use the food lockers in the campsites and although I don’t see any, on my way out of the park I see a female moose drinking by the river. They never fail to astonish me with their size.
At the Continental Divide just before the entrance to Banff National Park where water running east reaches the Atlantic and the rest goes towards the Pacific, the mountains near Banff town can be seen shining white against the blue sky. It’s breathtakingly beautiful and okay – I admit it – I sing Rocky Mountain High, Take Me Home Country Roads, Life is a Highway, and O Canada on the superfast downhill.
My camp that night is at Jacob’s Canyon and in the cold morning air, I pack up the bike for the last time. My plane leaves from Calgary in less than 24 hours.
The Bow Valley Parkway runs parallel to the Trans Canada Highway for a section and it is here that I come across two Elk crossing the road – one scratching itself midway. Then I’m on the Trans Canada for a little while from Banff to Canmore before switching to the Highway 1A or Bow Valley Trail for the remainder of my view filled journey to Cow Town. The stops at the small town cafes and general stores with their quirky inhabitants, the meetings with cyclists from Europe and North America, the moments of witnessing the sharing of the world with wild creatures big and small or the Shambhala and friends along the way are already becoming memories to cherish.
What’s next? Ontarie – arie – arie – oh.
Day 12 – Easy riding & ferry across Kootenay Lake – 56 kms; avg. 17.7 km/h; max 51.9 km/h; ridetime 3 h 10 m; climbing 548 m; sleeping at Gray Creek Campsite 599m; high 33 low 14;
Day 13 – Hard 19 km climb to Gray Creek Pass at 2067 m, then bumby downhill with rack breakage and bent derailler – 57 kms; avg. 9.3 km/h; max 41.4 km/h; ridetime 6 h 5 m; climbing 1618 m; sleeping by river near Marysville at 1065 m; high 33, low 18;
Day 14 – light ride to Kimberly and bike repair – 41 kms; avg. 14.0 km/h; max 39.2 km/h; ridetime 2 h 55 m; climbing 416 m; sleeping at Alpine Kaffee Gasthaus at 893 m($52); high 14; low 8; light then heavy rain;
Day 15 – mostly gentle hills – 94.5 kms; avg. 17.1 km/h; max 48.8 km/h; ridetime 5 h 30 m; climbing 587 m; sleeping at 893 m at Desert Creek Campsite($23); high 24, low 8; one flat nedding repair;
Day 16 – easy riding, one climb to 1477 m just inside entrance to Kootenay National Park – 76 kms; avg. 15.0 km/h; max 55.9 km/h; ridetime 5 h 01 m; cli8mbing 893 m; sleeping at Meadows Campsite at 1157m; high 26 low 2;
Day 17 – gentle climbing day with steep downhill – 91 kms; avg. 16.7 km/h; max 59.4 km/h; ridetime 5 h 27 m; climbing 878 m; sleeping at Jacob’s Canyon camp at 1425 m; high 30, low 2;
Day 18 – easy and fast riding day with one unexpected hill coming out of Cochrane, some tailwinds – 178 kms; avg. 19.9 km/h; max 51.5 km/h; ridetime 8 h 55 m; climbing 950 m; sleeping at Quality(sic) Inn Airport Calgary at 1089m; high 33, low 4;
Day 19 – no riding – shuttle to airport included with hotel – Air Canada Domestic Bike Transport Charge $70 – bag provided, no box required.