Kelly’s write up about cycling to the Canadian Rockies during our cross Canada cycle tour during Summer 2016. Click here to read Michael’s write up of cycling from Vancouver to the Rockies.
After Clearwater Michael and I were expecting several days of gruelling and constant climbing while cycling to the Canadian Rockies. It was actually nothing like we expected. Cycling from Clearwater to the mountains was still a challenge, but for reasons we hadn’t expected. The rain, the mosquitos and the traffic were just a few reasons!
We spent the first 2 days waiting for the climb to start. According to the map we had ascended, but we didn’t see how this was possible when it felt like we were on a constant, gradual decent. We decided to make the most of it and cycle some long days.
The stretch from Clearwater to Blue River, and Blue River to Valmount were LONG stretches of wilderness. It really began to feel like we were in the Canadian wilderness, and cycling to the Canadian Rockies’ terrain. There were only a handful of towns on the way to Valemount, and due to the marshy surroundings (think moose country), there weren’t many places to fill up the water bottles. About 65km outside of Clearwater we approached the small town, Avola. We decided to stop at the gas station to fill up our water bottles and buy some snacks.
The guy was a jerk and lied to us about the tap not working, then didn’t let us in the shop to buy anything. This completely took us back as everyone else was so friendly, plus it was a matter of safety. We later learnt he was a “world famous jerk” that hated everyone, especially cyclists. If you are heading through Avola, the “World Famous burger shop” just around the corner is supposed to have friendly staff that also let you fill up your water bottles – so skip the gas station and head there instead.
We cycled our longest cycle day so far, 107km from Clearwater all the way to Blue River. The roads were good, with only one small 750m summit. We were planning on camping at the top of the summit; however unfortunately (or fortunately), I had my Dad’s worried voice in the back of my head. “There were some cyclists attacked by a bear near you, just last week.” “Just watch out for those bears.” “I don’t like the thought of all those bears in the area.” When cycling for long periods of time, you have a lot of thinking time, and in my delirious state I started to “see” bears everywhere, and didn’t feel comfortable camping in the wilderness, miles from anywhere. So, we cycled on.
We finally made it to Blue River several hours later. I pulled over at a gas station and tucked into the kilo jar of peanut butter I’d been carrying since the superstore at Kamloops. We started to investigate a place to pitch our tent, and considered perhaps camping behind the gas station. Suddenly, I realised I was face to face with a black bear – this time it wasn’t my imagination. The bear was only about 5m from me, just off the road. Instead of taking a photo, screaming or moving away, I stopped my bike and frantically started waving my hands around to get Michael’s attention. This of course, scared the bear off. I’ve never been that close to a wild bear before, but this one just looked like a giant teddy bear.
A bit worried about bears and still in need to find a campspot, we decided to head further into town (which was only about 4 streets wide). We stopped at the community park, to cook some dinner and discuss our options. We got chatting to a Spanish couple that had been living in Nicaragua and they told us we could camp in their garden, and could lock our food in their house. Great! As we set up camp, their daughter was telling us about the bear problem they have in town, and showed us the big bear trap that was opposite the house. As she was telling us about the bears, another problem arose – mosquitos, fucking loads of them!
The beginning of mosquito invasion
We quickly unpacked, set up our tent, jumped in the tent and stayed there like prisoners. All this while the Spanish family walked around not at all phrased, leaving their doors and windows wide open and staring at us like were we a bit weird. We had a good night sleep, despite the mozzies… and no bear attack! The Spanish family even let us use the kitchen, and made us coffee – which I definitely needed.
I woke up that morning feeling dehydrated. My wrists, hands, thighs and knee were all throbbing, and the lack of rest days and long distances made me feel a completely drained. On top of this I now had hundreds of mozzie bites to deal with. Little did we know this was just the beginning of the mosquito invasion.
Getting back on the bikes that morning was hard, but we knew it had to be done. We had arranged to stay with a warmshowers host in Valemount, and had 97km to cycle to get there. So, back on the long stretch of highway 5 wilderness (which was actually an amazingly beautiful stretch of road, with snow capped mountains, wild flowers and streams). Rest stops were now 90km apart and even pullovers were rare. Eventually we made it to Valemount and found our warmshowers hosts, Tom and Peggy. We had a wonderful stay, chatting mostly about cycle touring. It was nice to actually have a conversation with some people that didn’t think we were mad. They also knew exactly how we felt and what we were going through.
Mount Robson (Cycling to the Canadian Rockies)
After leaving Valmount we had a couple of options, to camp at Mt Robson provincial park (the start of the Canadian Rockies), which meant a short day cycling only 40km, or cycling 100km to Lucerne campground, or 125km to Jasper. We decided to give ourselves a rest and camp at Mt Robson. We did plan on doing some short hikes in the park, however as soon as we arrived it started to rain, and didn’t stop. So we had a rather chilled afternoon of blog writing, reading and stretching.
Tomorrow, Jasper and the Canadian Rockies!