The real heroes.
Perhaps you will sense a different feeling to this post when compared to the earlier ones from the ride. Of course, one of the reasons this post is different is because of what I did to myself at the end of the day. The other reason is more sentimental. I want to acknowledge my travel companions. The focus is not just on the scenery but on the people who accompanied me. I am going to break my own unspoken rule and specifically mention names. I am hoping that nobody minds. We start in the morning as we get ready to depart Lake Louise.
Being his usual helpful self, Rick had packed our luggage into the back of Ben’s van for the last day’s ride. He was quite proud of his effort. Rick also did his bit to keep us entertained as we rode every day.Here is Ben giving us instructions for the last day. Ben was very thorough in his support. Go ahead and take a tour with him at Mountain Madness Tours. You will not be disappointed!We had been riding thus far on the Icefields Parkway. From now on we are on the Bow Valley Parkway. The funny thing is that my bear sighting was pretty soon after we saw this sign. The road ran beside the Bow River.Here is a picture of the riders on the move. You may notice that the road markings here are very different from those encountered on the Icefields Parkway.A freight train awaits beside the road.Koushik, the heart and soul of our riding team.One way to smell the flowers, perhaps on another planet (get it!?).Nancy and Stacy, old college mates.Ben in his vehicle, after overtaking one of the riders.I stopped with KP at a memorial point for the Castle Camp internment camp. Even though this episode happened during WW1, it is not difficult to imagine something like this happening even in our modern times.The last paragraph in the wayside marker for the internment camp below reads “In total, eight thousand five hundred and seventy-nine men became prisoners of war in twenty-four camps located across Canada during the internment operations of 1914-1920. Most were foreign nationals, a few were British subjects or Canadian citizens. The majority were non-combatant, unemployed civilians – victims of the 1913 depression, racial prejudice and wartime hysteria. Many of the internees came from western regions of Ukraine, then a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.”Stacy, Nancy and Sally.The Bow river.Ben’s van and trailer at the last stopping point.Resting before the last push.Sally and Bob, our riding leaders. They were the youngest and the oldest in the group. Bob, a former triathlete, took on the hills we encountered as if he was on a mission. Sally was not too far behind.A squirrel observing the goings-on at this last stop.This was the last picture I found on the camera after the trip. I did not take this picture. The time stamp on the picture leads me to believe that it was taken after I fell off the bike. I suspect that Bob, who had retrieved the camera and eventually delivered it to my home, took a picture to see if the camera was working. A great picture from that perspective. The camera ended up in better shape than I did! That was the end of the ride, but not the end of my adventures.
Those who may be reading this blog regularly will know that there was a break in the postings between day 5 and day 6 of this trip. This blog will also look different because I do not have my camera with me to download the pictures I took on the last day. I might have another posting on the ride when I have pictures. The pictures do help me remember more details of the adventures.
The last day’s ride from Lake Louise to Banff was the longest, about 60 km. We left the Icefield Parkway in Lake Louise and got on the Bow Valley Parkway as we headed towards Banff. We biked on a shaded road for most of this section, surrounded by tall pine trees. Off to our right flowed the Bow river. A railroad line ran along the riverside. (The pictures I will post will give you a better sense for this.)
I was not able to take a picture of the amazing encounter that I had with a bear. I was riding at the rear of the group when the black bear ran across the road right in front of me. I stopped the bike, but it had already disappeared into the bushes. There was no time to pull out my camera. The person riding in front of me confirmed that she had had also seen the bear sitting by the side of the road. Wow!
We had our usual stops along the way for snacks and sightseeing. As we got closer to Banff, we got more focused on the riding. A group of the riders were leading with a somewhat fast pace, and a vaguely defined and somewhat ragged Peloton of some of the riders began to take form. I was towards the back. I had one other fast rider behind me, whom I was prepared to slow down if needed.
Then disaster struck just a few kmfrom our final destination. My wheel went off the the edge of the road because I had gotten too close to the side, and the cycle skidded on the gravel beside the road. I could not fight the laws of physics. I took a toss at high speed. The result was fairly devastating. I have seen my helmet after the ride, and I am pretty sure it saved my life. I ended up in a hospital in Calgary (from which I am writing) for a few days. Because of my injuries, I have to take the train home. It will be some time before I get home.
People have been very very kind to me since the fall. It is overwhelming. A riding buddy stayed back to keep me company for a couple of days. My brother arrives to accompany me on the train ride to Toronto. My daughter drives me home to Gaithersburg. Everybody is so concerned. I feel a little bad for ruining the end of the ride for others. But we also did have a wonderful and unforgettable time for the most part, and nobody and nothing can take that away from us. I am so happy we did it the ride. What happened was my careless mistake. I am usually cautious, but I let my guard down.
I, unfortunately, did not get a chances to say goodbye properly to most of the others involved in the ride in the end. They all made the experience even more special. They also took care of me when I fell. I owe them all a depth of gratitude.
I will have pictures after I get to my camera.
As usual, I am up at 5:00am in the morning, and this is my excuse for quickly trying to type up a blog for the previous day. My pictures for the blog have been preprocessed the previous night and are ready to go. My roommate has been up late in the night taking pictures of the skies and the stars until 12:45am. (The dark skies above Bow Lake and the Num-Ti-Jah Lodge are free of light pollution and are ideal for this endeavor.) He manages to sleep through the clickety-clack of my computer keyboard as I try to bang out another blog quickly before going down to breakfast.
Ben is already at work when I go down for breakfast. He also has to to take care of the rest of the business and plans for other tour groups while with us since he is a solo operator. While we are chatting he shows me a gorgeous picture he has taken of the lake earlier that morning. That is my cue to run out and take pictures before the others arrive. Here is some of what I saw. (If you click on the first picture, it will open out in full resolution.)Plans for today are a little different than usual. Since the ride is going to be shorter and mainly downhill, we are going to do a three hour hike to the Bow Glacier Falls at the far end of the lake before we start riding. The falls are probably visible in the first picture above if you look at the full resolution version of the picture. The picture below was taken with a zoom lens as we start our hike.These are pictures from the hike. Note how the color of the water is already beginning to change.There was time to slow down and take pictures of the flowers that lined the trail. Here is one sample.The other side of the lake is pictured in the morning light below. The sun has yet to make its way completely over the mountains in the east.The early sections of the trail ran along the lake shore.Wild flowers grow among the rocks.Here is where the trail left the lake shore.Then it was time to begin the trek back. We had to make it back in time to the lodge to check out by noon.We noticed that the color of the waters of the lake had changed in the meantime.And then it was time to get on our bikes once again and ride!Some of us stopped at a location on the Icefield Parkway to take parting pictures of Bow Lake.Here is a picture of the Crowfoot glacier from the road. The picture did not turn out as well as I hope for.The bike ride to Lake Louise today runs along the Bow river. Bow river is a tributary of the South Saskatchewan river.This is a picture of Hector Lake from our lunch stop. The Bow river flows in and out of the lake.And then it was time to speed down the hill into Lake Louise. Folks had told me that it is possible to ride much faster on a road than on a trail. I could not believe how fast one can ride consistently at under the conditions. We arrived at Lake Louise in no time. All in all, this was a short riding day.After resting for some time, we went to the Lake Louise Station restaurant for an early dinner. The trains pass right by the station. It was delightful dinner in a delightful setting with delightful friends. We even had a squirrel wander into the restaurant looking for scraps. (It was chased away by a waitress who did not seem the least bit annoyed by the squirrel’s antics.)The Rocky Mountaineer also stopped beside the restaurant as we were leaving.After dinner Ben then took us on a ride to Lake Moraine in the mountains. We passed by Temple Mountain on the way. Here are some pictures from the lake.My camera battery ran out at this point, and I could not take pictures at our next stop, Lake Louise.
The crowds that we found at these lakes made me feel like we had wandered back from the wilderness into the thick of civilization, and it was not necessarily a good feeling. Having experienced what I did during this ride, it is going to be hard to to go back to being a traditional tourist, joining the massive crowds that tend to throng the more popular tourist sites.
Some of us sat ourselves outside the hotel eating ice-cream and chatting after we returned. It was very relaxing.
We are going to do our longest ride of the trip tomorrow, but Ben assures us that it is all downhill. We might need to be more disciplined with time management since all of us have flights to catch from Calgary later in the day. The vacation will inevitably come to an end at that point.
(This blog, in its current form, requires much more work for cleanup, but I have limited time on my hands. I will take care of that later.)
Perhaps there are few of you who are actually following along as I talk about our experiences during the many days of this ride. Some of you may have even discerned some sort of a pattern (dare I say routine) to the daily experience. After breakfast together, Ben gets us started for the day with instructions and directions. He has our bikes all checked out and ready to go. He pulls open up a map on his trailer and talks about where we are going and the nature of the ride for the day. Once we get going, he stops at places along the route to make sure we are OK, and help us out with whatever we need. He says we can even stop by at some of these spots if we just need a hug. We usually have a snack stop where Ben sets up a “picnic” with a bunch of stuff to revive us. We may also have a lunch stop along the way depending on the length of the ride that day. We stop along the way to do things. The rides usually end early so that we have time to recover and do other things. We gather around for dinner.
The descriptions of the next stage of the ride that Ben provides at various stops while pointing to his map are interesting and useful. He tries his best at each stop to prepare us mentally for the next stage of the adventure. He does not downplay the challenges shown on the map, like the 8% climb the other day, or the major climb that we did today. Other sections that are not that steep but are still challenging in their own way are described using terms like “Rocky Mountain flats”, or “downdulations”. The instructions that we get are very complete.
We have gotten to know Ben well during the last few days. He is a sweetheart.
Let me now get on with with the story of another glorious day of riding in the Canadian Rockies.
I was up early, as usual. The places we have stayed at so far are in remote areas. The hotels or resorts tend to be the only human habitation for miles around. Network connectivity is generally through a satellite link which has it own challenges.Crossing the North Saskatchewan river early in the ride.I actually saw a black bear today! I was at the back of the group and managed to get only one picture!Mt. Chephren.We had a long picnic stop at a spot along the Waterfowl Lakes.Then it was time to brave the cold, glacier fed, waters of the Lake.He was the first to actually be brave enough to go all the way in for a swim.Others followed.I did step into the water myself, up to my knees. It was freezing. There was a discussion among the folks experienced in swimming in cold waters and those who were scientifically inclined about what the actual temperature of the water might be, since it was flowing down from a glacier, and since it also felt pretty darned cold! My somewhat unscientific guess was that it was in the 40s – degrees Fahrenheit that is.
As we got going once again, I did stop by to smell the flowers by the roadways.The downhill slope below is actually just before the start of a brutal climb, this time to the highest point that we are to encounter during during this ride. Bow Pass, the point that we were just about to ride though, is at about 2069 meters. I was on the lowest gear going up for most of this long and challenging climb. My thigh muscles were screaming, and I was simply hoping that I would not cramp up and have to stop, because starting up once again on the 4-6% slope in the condition that I was in would have presented an additional challenge. Obviously, I did not stop for pictures. The ride seemed never ending, and every time I came around a hill or over a hump, with the hope of the end of the climb just beyond, there was yet another challenge to overcome. In the end we all made it to the top in grand manner!At this point, we got off the main road and rode to an even higher elevation on Bow Summit. From the parking lot for the buses, Ben took us on a hike to an even higher elevation, to a somewhat isolated spot where we could have our lunch.Peyto Lake below us. Off in the distance you can see the direction from which we rode this morning.This little guy popped his head out from among the rocks, looking for some scraps, or perhaps the leftover muffin grabbed from the breakfast table that was in a backpack.I was hoping to make out the road that we rode on this morning, and perhaps even Waterfowl Lake where we stopped by for snacks and swimming, in the picture below.Then were heading downhill to our place for the evening. This is our place for the evening, the Num-Ti-Jah Lodge.This is a picture of Bow Lake from a window of the lodge.I was sitting outside the lodge with some of the others waiting for dinnertime when I took this picture.Slept well last night after a scrumptious dinner and the company of the wonderful friends, both old and new, who accompany me during the ride.
We have gotten past the highest point in the ride, and it is all downhill from now (in a manner of speaking). But I am also sure that Ben has a few “whoopsies” along the way that will continue to challenge us and keep us on our toes.
I know I am very fortunate, and there a times like now, and days like today, and moments like the one I experienced this morning, when a sense of the extraordinary is so overwhelming that I do not know whether to laugh or cry out aloud in happiness when I am out there all my myself.
I woke up a little earlier than the others this morning and went for a walk. There was nobody around. The feeling was very different from that of the previous afternoon when there were crowds all over the place. You could even hear the water flowing in the distance from the glacier. After dropping by the pond in front of the hotel, I discovered the Forefield Trail and ventured off towards the Athabasca glacier before the others were up. The sun was rising behind me, the early birds were all atwitter, and off in the distance was the massive glacier and the mountain peaks. It was glorious!The following pictures are from the Forefield trail.I joined the others for breakfast after the walk. Then it was time to get ready to depart. I saw Ben outside our hotel window getting the bikes ready for the day’s ride.Today we crossed over from Jasper National Park to Banff National Park as we went over the Sunwapta pass. This is the second highest pass that we will cross during the ride, and it is at about 2035 feet.We stopped for hike at Parker Ridge. We crossed over the mountain ridge to the other side to see the Saskatchewan Glacier. It was a pretty steep climb.We found this chap beside the trail, taking in all the tourist traffic going by.You could see the support vehicle at the bottom of the mountain as we returned from the hike.Then came another challenging section of the ride. This one was a little scary, but we all came through in good shape. We were essentially speeding down a mountainside on a road that was not in the best of shape, a road that was also lacking a good shoulder, or even a shoulder in some parts. We were riding besides other motor vehicles on the road. It was bone rattling ride at high speeds. Ben had a stop for us at the halfway point, where he instructed me on how better to hold on to the bicycle handle so that I could take the rough road without wobbling too much. One of our riders hit a speed of 70 kmph coming down, a personal best for her. I was just a little slower. 🙂 The picture below shows a very short section of that descent.And then we were riding the rest of way to our destination for the evening on the flats beside the North Saskatchewan River. This river flows into the Hudson Bay. The Columbia Icefield is a source for rivers that flow into the Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic oceans.
We were riding beside a wall of rock for a certain distance.After a certain while, the river disappeared behind some trees and woods. There was less things to stop for, and the rest of the ride became more about the sheer enjoyment of the experience of riding. Folks were speeding along all the way to our destination, which was a place called The Crossing Resort. It was located at a spot just before our road, the Icefield Parkway, crosses the North Saskatchewan river. Here is a picture of our digs for the night.These are some views from the resort.After dinner we drove to the Mistaya Canyon where we could take a hike to a spot where the Mistaya river goes over a waterfall. The Mistaya river feeds the North Saskatchewan river.That evening a few of us stood outside our rooms hoping to see some colors in the sky at sunset. The show was a little disappointing.We are halfway through the ride at this point!
I took too many pictures today, and I do not have too much time to go through them. And there are also too many pictures that I am tempted to post. So please excuse the scattershot approach to this posting.
I am up early on the second day. I wander around the resort property before the sun has climbed over the mountains to our east. After breakfast we get started on the routine that should continue for the next few days. We pick up our bikes from the support vehicle and get on our way. We are once again riding beside the Athabasca river. Each picture opportunity with the river in the valley beside us and the mountains behind is prettier than the one before. Here is stream crossing the road that feeds into the river.We even stop to go down to the water. Some folks dip their toes into the ice cold water that is flowing straight out of the glacier up the road.Unfortunately, there is a haze in the air from the smoke of the forest fires in British Columbia. The impact is bad today because of the direction of the winds.This is from a picnic stop along the river.Ride on!And then it is time to climb 800 meters up an 8% slope. That was quite the challenge.Here are some views from the top. Perhaps you can make out the nature of the challenge we undertook.We coast back down to the bottom of the hill and we are now once again riding along the river. The ride is still pretty brutal in spite of the relatively flat nature of the area because of some vicious headwinds. But we persevere.We reach our destination for the evening, the Athabasca Glacier in the Columbia Icefield. This is the source of the Athabasca river.This is our hotel for the night.Lunch!A zoom shot of the action on the glacier. You can take the bus, or you can do the ice walk. It was too late to book at place for the ice walk. You had to do that many days in advance.People walking to the toe of the glacier from the parking lot.The head of the glacier and the start of the Athabasca river.The bus ride to the glacier.Yes, we are in the middle of the glacier! It is 5 km long and 1 km wide, with a depth of 250 meters. You can drink the water if you are upstream of the people.You can almost make out our hotel at the bottom of the hill beyond the bottom of the glacier. The glacier used to extend to the location of the hotel in the 1870s.If you look carefully, you can see that one of us in the picture is wearing sandals. The decision to do the bus ride was somewhat sudden.A view from our glacier. You can see another glacier on the mountain beside us.And then it was time to head back.A shot of the mountain peaks from the lobby of the restaurant of the hotel. Thankfully, the smoke had cleared by the time we arrived at the icefield and began to make our way to the glacier.And that’s all she wrote, folks! I try to continue to keep you posted.