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Biking to Alaska

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Day 28: Good Riddance To This Road

Posted by Alan on 17th July 2007

67.62 mi
This was a nice morning despite the mozzies (that’s apparently what they call mosquitoes in the UK, I picked that up from Ursula) and I had a little instant oatmeal before breaking camp and hitting the road. Just past the campground was the Columbia Icefield, which is apparently quite a tourist attraction around here.
The icefield is pretty cool, but as I pedalled down a side road leading to the glacier, I noticed little signs showing where the edge of the glacier had been over the course of the past century. It was pretty depressing to see how big it used to be in comparison to its current size. It must have been truly impressive to see it back then. I rode back up to the highway to take a few more photos and couldn’t help noticing the huge RVs pulling into the parking lot. I hope the tourists arriving in these gas guzzling behemoths could see the connection between their vehicles and the receding glaciers they came to marvel at.
There was a fair bit of traffic on this highway and the shoulder was quite bumpy for long stretches. Throw in a slight headwind and this was shaping up to be a less than pleasant day. To make matters worse I had a close call with a car in a section where there basically was no shoulder, only two lanes for traffic. Some idiot appeared to be trying to pass in the right lane when he finally noticed me over on the edge of the road. He narrowly avoided me, but it sure got my blood pumping and I sent a few angry words in the direction of his retreating bumper. This was my first close call on this trip, so don’t worry, this doesn’t happen very often at all. After today’s ride I can’t really recommend this highway to other bicyclists. Maybe if there was less traffic, but as it is, it’s not particularly bicycle friendly.
I finally arrived in the outskirts of Jasper. I turned off towards a hostel near town. I figured I’d do some laundry and take a shower and sleep in a real bed for the night. Unfortunately it turned out to be a VERY steep hill up to this hostel. It was perhaps the toughest climb I’ve had this whole trip. Thankfully, they had an available bed and despite the place being full of people, it’s nice to be inside away from the mozzies.

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Day 27: A Long Day

Posted by Alan on 16th July 2007

85.24 mi.

IMG_0671I knew I should have been quicker about getting ready today considering the long ride I had planned, but I took longer than I should have and hit the road a bit late. I said bye to Brittany, stopped in town for some cookies (they make good road food) and headed towards the highway. At the highway junction I came upon a couple road cyclists and I stopped to say hello since one of them was wearing a jersey from the Triple Bypass (which is a large one day bike ride in Colorado that covers 120 miles and goes over three mountain passes). We chatted a second and then I started pedaling. I was hoping to make it all the way from Lake Louise to the Columbia Icefield campground. That was about 85 miles away and there were a couple significant mountain passes in the way.

IMG_0665The scenery was pretty good along this so-called “Icefields Parkway”. It seemed like the scenery might be better when coming from the north though. Most of the snow and glaciers is on the north side of the mountains, ya know? The area near the first pass, Bow Pass was especially nice. There’s a glacier up there they call Crowfoot Glacier. Apparently it used to have three “toes” like a bird’s foot, but one of the toes has melted away and the second toe is receding now as well. It’s still an impressive glacier, but I wonder how much longer it will be there.

I maybe should have stopped before I did considering the day was getting late, but I pressed on. Just before the last climb of the day I stopped at a roadside pullout to rest for a second. A British woman there asked me where I was headed. I told her I was going to Alaska and she said she had just been there. It turns out she had spent the last six weeks doing essentially the reverse of my planned route. She had traveled by bus instead of by bike however. We talked for a while and she recommended a few things to see in Alaska. Then I went on to tackle that last mountain pass.

I actually felt pretty good and even though it was after 9 PM, the sun had yet to completely dip below the horizon. I finally made it up the hill and arrived at the campground which was just past the summit. I set up my tent quicker than I ever have before and basically went right to sleep.

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Day 26: Rest at Lake Louise

Posted by Alan on 15th July 2007

6.6 mi.

IMG_0638There was still half of my cantaloupe left this morning so I had a bit for breakfast. This was some of the tastiest cantaloupe I’ve had in a while, I tell ya. I also had some bananas and some apples with peanut butter. Yum!

IMG_0640I headed out with the intention of biking up to Lake Louise while Brittany had plans to stay in camp and take a nap. I started up the road to the lake, but it was pretty steep and since I didn’t have my helmet, I didn’t want to go all the way up and then come down that steep road helmet-less (ok, ok, my legs were also feeling too tired to ride up!). Instead I went into town (they call it a “village”, hah!) and bought time on a computer to check email and post to my blog. I’m growing to dislike this town. I mean, everywhere else I’ve been I’ve found free wi-fi, but not here. Not to mention the high prices and the fact they don’t even offer a free shuttle up to the lake. After checking email I went back to camp and dozed for a bit.

IMG_0652.JPGFeeling refreshed from our respective naps, Brittany and I decided we should see this famous Lake Louise. We biked over to town and then hitched a ride up the hill with some nice folks from Massachusetts. The lake is quite scenic, but it was also a bit busy with tourists. I took a short hike up to an overlook while Brittany went in search of people to rock climb with. After a bit the wind picked up and it started to rain a little. The first real rain I’ve seen on this entire trip, if you can believe that! The small storm cleared out the tourists and a faint rainbow appeared over the hotel on the edge of the lake. Hopefully my photo of that will come out.

IMG_0662I met up with Brittany who was with a couple of Canadians we had talked to the day before. Shannon and Ken were from Ontario and had been doing some backpacking in the area. They were leaving later that night by bus and had some time to kill. We all decided to go back to our camp for dinner and to have some s’mores. The s’mores were to celebrate Brittany’s birthday the week before since she hadn’t really celebrated it yet. So we had a nice time sitting up making s’mores before we all called it a night.

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Day 25: Banff National Park

Posted by Alan on 14th July 2007

53.36 mi.

IMG_0636I packed up this morning and moved on from my “stealth” campsite. (Stealth camping simply refers to camping, perhaps someplace you’re not allowed to, for free as opposed to paying to camp in a campground.) I eventually made it to the Continental Divide (again) on my way to Banff National Park. I stopped for some orange juice and to chat with a German couple who were riding from Calgary to Vancouver.

At the next highway junction I turned north towards Lake Louise. On the way, I was overtaken by a road cyclist named Phillip who was from Calgary. We talked while riding along and he gave me a few suggestion for short hikes around Lake Louise. I was considering taking a rest day at Lake Louise since it is supposed to be a nice place and since my legs were feeling tired today.

I arrived at Lake Louise to find signs saying that the campground was full. I pulled in anyway and the woman at the gate told me there was another cyclist willing to share her campsite. So I rode over to that campsite and found a young woman sitting at the picnic table looking a bit tired. Her name was Brittany and she is from Oakland. She had just spent a week on her bike riding down from Jasper. Not bad considering she wasn’t really a cyclist at all. She had come up here to meet a guy she knew who had been out on a bike trip like mine for the past couple months. It turns out the two of them didn’t travel well together (which is a nice way of saying he was an ass who was impatient, didn’t share his water with her and obviously is better off traveling alone).

So we chatted a bit, got our tents set up, then rode into “town” (the town of Lake Louise is really just a small strip mall, some hotels, a couple gas stations and the campground). We bought some overpriced groceries, enjoyed some ice cream and checked email at the local hostel. Back at camp we split some yummy cantaloupe and some mac and cheese. I decided I’d definitely take a rest day tomorrow since I hadn’t even seen the lake yet and since I could stay here cheaper by sharing Brittany’s campsite. It was getting late by the time we finished dinner so I used the campground showers and called it a night.

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Day 20: Glaciers, Bears and Canada, Oh My!

Posted by Alan on 9th July 2007

68.81 mi.

IMG_0588My alarm went off at 4 AM this morning and I was packed and on the road by 5:20. I wanted to get an early start so I could beat the traffic, the heat of the day and the 11 AM restriction on the Going-To-The-Sun-Road. I was on the road by myself for a short while, but those two couples on tandems caught up with me before long. We played leapfrog a bit while one of us stopped to take a photo and the other continued on.

At one point when I was ahead of them I saw something vaguely bear-shaped out of the corner of my eye, but a tree blocked it as soon as I saw it. I stopped right away and backed up a bit to see what it was. Sure enough, there was a bear sitting down in the woods about 15 yards to the left of the road and a little bit ahead of me. Almost as soon as I saw it, it started to get up and walk away. I got my camera out quick and managed to snap off a single photo while it crossed the road ahead of me. What an awesome addition to a great morning! That was the first bear I’ve seen in the wild, but I’m sure I’ll see a few more in Canada and Alaska.

IMG_0610I continued up the road and around every turn was yet another stunning view to take your breath away. As far as scenery goes, this road definitely tops any other road I’ve ridden on my bike. I can’t wait to go back and ride it again. I got to the top in under 3 hours riding time (I’m not sure how much time I wasted taking photos) only to find a half dozen or so cyclists up there. This park is obviously a hot spot for cyclists. Some were doing self-supported tours like I was, others were riding fully supported.

IMG_0616I met a couple of funny guys, Alex and Todd, at the top. They were basically riding from Alex’s house in Bellingham, WA to Todd’s place in New York City. They were giving out colored stars to the other cyclists to reward them for getting to the top. Look for a picture of my gold star next to my “wind ninja” in my photo gallery (I’ll explain the wind ninja some other time).

IMG_0618Just before making it down to the east entrance of the park, a major cold front rolled in from the northeast and turned our tailwind into a headwind. It also dropped the temperature a good 20 degrees. I was riding with Alex and Todd at this point and we stopped to get some lunch. After that I wished them well and headed north, they were headed south.

I arrived at the post office for St. Mary, MT to see if the spare tire I ordered had arrived. Wonder of wonders, it had! Three cheers for wallbike.com and the US Postal Service! I strapped the tire to the back of my rear rack and used the now empty box it came in to mail home a few books and a couple pairs of bike shorts I won’t be needing (thanks to my new comfier pairs).

IMG_0624There was a lot of climbing to get back into the northeast corner of Glacier Park, but I was determined to make it into Canda before day’s end. I finally came to the border and crossed into the Canadian section of the Waterton-Glacier International Park. I credit my good fortune for the day to my lucky canadian flag socks (see photo gallery for socks at border).

I pulled into a campground that was a mile or so past the border and made camp. This was a nice little campground with lots of birds. In fact, there was a woodpecker nest in a tree not ten feet from my picnic table. One thing about baby woodpeckers, they chirp non-stop when they want to be fed. Thankfully, I was able to fall asleep despite their noise.

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