Part 1: Canadian Rockies (Day 1 – Day 18)

We started our adventure in Calgary, where we were fortunate to have a place to stay and assemble our bikes together. There was still a lot to do: pick up more food, put together the front rack, organize all the bags….calm our nerves? I would be lying if I didn’t say we were nervous, after all it was our first bike tour and our first time traveling together. I think it was only natural for us to go through a bit of a crisis the night before we took off. We didn’t have a detailed itinerary, but we had a general idea of where we wanted to go:  the Canadian Rockies, the Okanagan and Vancouver Island. Our two month travel window would leave room for flexibility, which is exactly how we like to travel.  When the morning arrived, we put on our brave face and just hoped for the best.

All our bags are packed and strapped ready to go! (Photo by: PE Vachon)

 Staying on the eastern side of Calgary meant that we would have to pedal across the city before accessing the highways towards the Rockies. We opted to take smaller highways if we could help it (even if it meant more distance or uphills), because they were usually less busy. So instead of taking the Trans-Canada highway, we took Highway 1A West towards Canmore. Luckily for us, someone had responded to our Warmshowers (Couchsurfing for cyclists) request in Canmore and were happy to host us, but they weren’t available until a few days after. So, we decided to camp out at Ghost Lake (about the halfway point between Calgary and Canmore) and then the Bow Valley Provincial park before heading towards Canmore.

First camp site of the tour

Ghost Lake

Willow Rock Campground in the Bow Valley Provincial Park and Kananaskis Country

The ride towards Canmore was spectacular – we could see the mountains in the distance getting closer. As cars and trucks whizzed past us, I couldn’t believe that we were actually doing this. We were going to visit these natural giants by using our own physical (and mental) strength.

Our hosts in Canmore could not have been more helpful. They were a retired couple who had already cycled across Canada! They gave us tips on which roads to take, helped fix our minor bike issues and encouraged us to go towards Jasper via the infamous Icefields Parkway. Both of us were a bit hesitant due to its elevation profile and distance, but they were confident we were more than capable. We decided we’d sleep on it and think it over in Banff/Lake Louise.

Reorganizing our gear at our Warmshowers host’s house

Thanks to a fall during our Grotto Canyon hike before arriving in Canmore, my ankle was not in good condition for mountainous hikes. Unfortunately, we didn’t get a chance to hike the mountains we wanted to in Canmore. However, we did make it to Grassi Lakes which was a pretty easy hike with amazing views. Interestingly, I was better off biking than hiking.

Grassi Lakes is a popular spot for climbers

Ha Ling peak in the background

After two nights in Canmore, we headed out to Banff via the Legacy trail (multi-use pathway) which was a wonderful ride. It was nice not to have to be so wary about big semi trucks! While Banff is a stunning place, we didn’t get the best welcome as cyclists. At the visitor information centre, we were told that Tunnel Mountain campground would definitely be able to accommodate cyclists. Yet, after long uphill climb we were scolded at the entrance for not making reservations, which is understandable if you have a vehicle but being on bikes made making reservations challenging. I was surprised they didn’t have a walk-in campsite! But at the end of the day, after much frustration (at least on our end), they were able to give us a spot.

A tad frustrated and hungry at Tunnel Mountain

These ground squirrels lifted our spirits

View of the Bow River from the Hoodoos trail in Banff

The mighty “Hoodoos” themselves

We decided to move to another (slightly more remote) campground for the next few days. Two Jack campground was a much better fit for us. We were happy to dump our gear at our camp site and simply enjoy our surroundings via bike or hike.

Just doing some laundry and making minor bike adjustments at camp

Looking through the trees at Two Jack Lake

View from C-Level Cirque hike

View from Sulphur Mountain

Finally, the time had come to set off towards Lake Louise. It was the first time, we encountered rain while cycling, but we were prepared. Equipped with raincoats and rain pants, we kept going up and down hills towards Lake Louise. However, despite our preparation, we were running out of steam. Once we rolled into the small town, we were wet, cold and hungry. We set up camp as fast as we could and decided to go to the nearby hostel for warmth and food.

Taking our time to stop by Castle Mountain on the way to Lake Louise (Photo by: PE Vachon)

All drenched in rain at our Lake Louise camp site

Classic Lake Louise

Despite the cold, we were not discouraged to continue towards our next goal: The Icefields Parkway. We knew that there would be two passes (Bow Pass and Sunwapta Pass) which would be challenging uphill climbs for the first half of the trek. But, we also knew that the latter half would be mostly downhill towards Jasper. Words can not describe how beautiful this portion of the trip was. To be cycling and seeing these massive mountains and glaciers was breathtaking. There was always something brilliant to awe at every which way we looked:

Crowfoot Glacier (Photo by: PE Vachon)

Bow Glacier (Photo by: PE Vachon)

Pedaling uphill and still smiling (Photo by: PE Vachon)

The start of the second ascent

Heading up to the second pass

Looking back at what we just conquered before heading downhill

Finally, after 3 nights and 4 days, we made it to Jasper, more thrilled than ever. Our spirits were high at this point and we were so very proud of each other as well as our used bikes. We saw many cyclists who had top of the line gear from their bike accessories to their clothing, but we were fairly ordinary and still managed to pull it off. We celebrated by staying a couple of nights in Jasper, relaxing, hiking and eating (and drinking).

Woohoo! We’ve officially entered Jasper National Park (Photo by: PE Vachon)

While cycle touring, you’re bound to meet some nice people who want to nourish you. This French lady donated some apples and rewarded us with hot coffee!

At last….civilization!

Just relaxing after a well deserved meal

Do you see the face in the mountain? He’s known as the Old Man.

View of Jasper from the Old Man mountain top

On my birthday, we decided to make our way out of The Rockies towards the Thompson Okanagan. We would leave Alberta, enter British Columbia and pass the highest peak in The Rockies, Mount Robson. On one hand we were saying goodbye to this beautiful mountain range, but on the other hand we were saying hello to the Okanagan warmth.

Feels good to be back (Photo by: PE Vachon)

One quick glance at Mount Robson before heading off (Photo by: PE Vachon)

Here’s the pathway we took towards the Canadian Rockies:

Distance traveled: 542.4 km

A look at our elevation profile (using RouteElevation) from Calgary to Mount Robson:

Start altitude: 1059 m
End altitude: 820 m
Minimum altitude: 819 m
Maximum altitude: 2078 m

 

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