CYCLING THE ROCKIES TO CALGARY!

cycling the Rockies to Calgary

Michael’s write up about cycling the Rockies to Calgary during our cycle trip across Canada in Summer 2016. Click here to read Kelly’s write up about cycling the Rockies to Calgary, and to the start of the Prairies!

THE ROCKIES TO COWBOY COUNTRY

Hello Rockies!

After a pretty harsh introduction to cycling the Rockies to Calgary that involved me crashing my bike like a clown and mangling up my once devilishly handsome ankle, we decided a bit of a rest was in order as we were both exhausted and sick of having our bums glued to bicycles. We enjoyed the spectacular scenery on the way into Jasper national park, but were dismayed to see that all campsites were marked as ‘full’ on the road signs. No room at the inn for smelly cyclists.

The despair didn’t last long though as when we eventually arrived at the first campsite we found out that only the sites for the big ugly R.Vs (cheat mobiles) were full, but hiker / biker walk in sites were available! Yay! A shower and a chance to clean my filthy greasy wound!

Jasper was a nice town, appeared to be purely for tourists but still had some charm and most importantly; an all you can eat Indian buffet!!! Hungry vegetarian cyclists are the Indian buffets worst enemy and only known natural predator in the wild. We ripped it apart and left no chickpea or naan bread unchewed. We also severely savaged the Jasper brewing companies tasting platter before shakily riding back to camp to pass out before it began raining yet again.

After a day off the bikes and a short hike we were on the road again cycling the Rockies to Calgary, via the amazing Icefields parkway towards Banff….and back into the rain.

There was no relief, I think it had rained pretty much everyday since we left Vancouver, but the scenery was stunning with plenty of waterfalls, glaciers and excuses to hop off the bikes and look around along the way. We even spotted a bear doing a happy little jig across the road at one point.

Flying down the extremely steep Sunwapta mountain pass was a pretty terrifying experience as my hands were so numb from the freezing wind and rain that I was having trouble squeezing the brakes. Brakes can be important for a cyclist when riding down a mountain by the way.

The scenery approaching Banff national park was jaw droppingly beautiful, around Bow lake and near the Icefields park centre were particular highlights and I’m definitely glad we took the time to get off the bikes and walk out to the edge of one of the Glaciers. Avoid the tourist trap that is the Icefields park centre though, huge masses of tourists jostling there way off tour buses to pay $6 for a coffee and $5 for a cookie. We stuck to our gourmet diet of granola bars and Nalgene bottle coffee for this stretch to stop our budget getting sodomised.

We had some pretty amazing camp sites along the way and as it is illegal and actually enforced that there is absolutely no wild camping allowed within the parks, we stayed in official government run sites in the Rockies so did get the luxury of a shower and some shelter with wood stoves in some spots which was kind of a nice change….but it still kept raining.

Cycling the rockies and the icefields parkway
Making it to the Icefields Parkway!

We rolled into the ultra touristy Lake Louise area after a few days and gorged ourselves at the bakery and filled our bellies with the warm fuzzy goodness of rum and hot chocolate around the campsite to try and forget about the relentless punishing rain.

On a ‘rest’ day we thought we’d take a leisurely ride to check out Lake Louise. It had been sunny all morning until it came time for us to ride the 4km basically vertically uphill from the campsite when mother nature decided we hadn’t experienced enough wet weather recently so turned on a torrential downpour for us. We pretty much rode up a river to get to a lake to battle with other soggy holidaymakers to get a snap of Lake Louise in all its moist glory. It was a pretty place, but I think the scenery and smaller crowds around Bow lake made that a bit more enjoyable, still worth a trip to check out though.

The amazing views and stunning cycling along the Rockies towards Banff town and into Canmore where we had a Warmshowers host called Jeff to stay with.

We had lunch and a coffee break by the river in Banff (where it of course pissed down) before taking the amazing ‘legacy trail’ two-lane bike path all the way from Banff to Canmore, which was one of the highlight cycle days for me so far. It was pretty special being able to fly along side the main highway surrounded by stunning mountain ranges in every direction without fear of being run off the road by an accountant called Bill on holiday from Winnipeg in a Winnebago roughly the same size as a small eastern European country that he has no idea how to control.

The legendary Jeff and his lovely wife Paula fed us to bursting point and filled us with beer and helped massively with planning the next leg of journey telling us all about which roads to take, which to avoid and which towns were best for hungry cyclists!

After a couple of pleasant nights feeling like human beings and enjoying laughing at the rain from inside a nice warm house it was time to roll on to Calgary and the stampede! Yeehaw! We even got escorted out of town by Jeff who rode with us for about 20km to show us the right road to take!

cycling the rockies
Cycling the Rockies to Calgary

With all of our dramas at the start of the trip taking Kelly’s bike back we lost a couple of days and were now in a race to reach Calgary in time for the last day of the famous Calgary stampede to watch the cow Olympics or whatever the shit a stampede is.

We had managed to claw our way back on track, even through the Rockies and were going to make it in time for the stampede! So we smashed out a 110 km day through an insane downpour on the highway that basically turned into a full blown flood. We were forced to seek shelter at a farmer’s market where a lovely local lady cheered us up by giving us a bag of carrots as I think she felt pity for the two very wet cycling bums. Small acts of kindness like this can really make your day when you’re riding! Plus it’s nice to have something to sex up your traditional meal of pesto pasta a bit by throwing some fresh veg in the mix!

We made it cycling the Rockies to Calgary!!!

After several weeks stampeding against the clock to get there before the festivities finished, we had actually arrived in time to use our tickets that we purchased months ago! Just after we got to the city, a freak hailstorm broke out which we got to enjoy from the warm comfort of a swanky airbnb while sipping rum and munching free carrots before heading out for an evening of chuck wagon races! Yeehaw doggy!!

It was an incredibly satisfying feeling knowing we had made up for lost time and managed to get into town for the stampede…I have absolutely no idea what the fuck was going on during the chuck wagon races, but a good time was had by all and they had beer and funny hats. What more could you want?
Prior to the races we also wandered around the grounds and looked at all the tacky shite for sale and randomly bumped into a First Nations guy that we had met two days previously cycling through a reservation on the way to Calgary! Pretty bizarre experience being in a city where you know absolutely nobody and attending a very busy major international event only to bump into someone you met in a different part of the province days earlier!

So after all the dramas at the beginning of the trip we had achieved something we had basically thought impossible and made it to the stampede in time!!! To treat ourselves we found the swankiest (cheapest) breakfast buffet in town and swarmed all over it like a pair of savage Canadian deer flies sucking its prey dry of blood. Our prey happened to be French toast and waffles; way better than deer blood.

The waiters in this particularly trendy little café seemed appalled at the sheer volume of food we were able to consume and attempted to bring us the bill after a mere two plates! Hahaha! Get the fuck out of town my friend, come back when the chef is broken and sobbing on the floor because he misses his family and wants to go home; we are cycle tourists and we’re in this buffet game for the long haul!!

We enjoyed our couple of nights in Calgary and were anxious to see what the road ahead held for us! Would the flatness of the prairies be easy after the cycling the Rockies to Calgary? Will we eventually drown in the constant rain? Will the Canadian Mounties chase us down and have us hung for crimes against buffet humanity? All these questions and more will be answered in the next boring installment of this blog where we tackle Saskatchewan head on and wrestle it into submission like the little prairie dog it is!! Or we get run over by Bill in his Winnebago, whichever comes first.

If you’re planning for first cycle tour, then check out these resources for cycle touring to help with your planning.

bow lake: cycling the Rockies to Calgary
The Rockies were absolutely stunning – despite all the rain!

Cycling the Alberta Prairies

cycling the Prairies, Cycling the Alberta Prairies

Kelly’s write up about cycling the Alberta Prairies during our cycle trip across Canada in Summer 2016! Click here to read Michael’s write up of cycling across the Prairies.  

A couple of rest days in Calgary and then a couple more in Airdrie was exactly what we needed before Cycling the Alberta Prairies! We had the chance to rest, clean our gear, buy new gear, replace some broken and lost things, eat a whole lot of food and drink a whole lot of beer. So, as you can image we were feeling a bit more ‘normal’ and more enthusiastic about the cycle ahead!

Horseshoe Canyon and the Start of the Prairies

Once we left Airdrie the Prairies became quite apparent. Suddenly there were yellow canola fields, pastures, meadows and wheat farms everywhere. The land also flattened out – though there were still a lot of small hills along the way (which we weren’t expecting). The wind picked up and we spent the day battling a strong head wind. The first of the trip, but not the last.

We spent the night camping in Horseshoe canyon – a stunning canyon just outside Drumheller. It was at Horseshoe canyon where we started to see Prairie Dogs (this is actually where we spotted the most Prairie dogs of the whole trip). Prairie Dogs are totally adorable! They are Canada’s quokkas. A quokka is a marsupial found on an island just off the coast of Perth and they are the happiest, little fur ball in the world, and totally adorable!

quokka selfie
My cousin with a quokaa
prairie dog, Cycling the Alberta Prairies
Prairie dog at Horseshoe canyon, which we discovered while cycling the Alberta Prairies

Drumheller: The Dinosaur Town

In the morning we cycled onto the tourist town, Drumheller. To get to Drumheller we had a steep descent into the Coulee. It was an awesome and very pretty cycle! It also meant we smashed out 20km in less than an hour.

Drumheller is famous for it’s dinosaurs. As soon as you enter the town you will start to see plastic dinosaurs everywhere. We headed straight to the visitor center to see the world’s largest plastic dinosaur. It was actually pretty awesome! You could even pay to climb up to the mouth of the dinosaur. I have to admit, I am a fan of the various, “world largest” items.

We spent a bit of time chatting to the lady in the visitor center and mapped out a plan. We decided to head down highway 10 to check out the Hoodoos (rock formations on a smaller scale to those in Cappadocia, Turkey) and then cycle the quiet 570. Before we head off down this route, we made a quick, but important stop at good ole’ Timmy’s for some sugary treats and a coffee.

The Hoodoos

Highway 10 was stunning, though quite touristy. We cycled through the coulee (like cycling in a gorge or narrow valley) for most of the day. The Hoodoos were quite cool – worth the stop! Not as impressive as the rock formations we seen in Turkey, but still completely different to anything we had seen in Canada so far.

After the Hoodoos the traffic disappeared. There were still a couple of small towns we cycled passed, but we knew we would get to a point that this would end. At the end of the Coulee, in the very small town of Dorothy, we stopped in the shade and had a long rest.

Chilling with the dinos at Drumheller
Chilling with the dinos at Drumheller

Road 570: Entering the Prairie Plains!

From Dorothy there was 300km until the next town, which was also in the next province, Saskatchewan. There were very limited services along the route, so we weren’t sure where we would be able to get water. We decided to take this route due to the lack of traffic. Cycling the Alberta Prairies was challenging!

The first night we camped at a community hall in Coulee. Coulee consisted of a farm, a community center/ school (which didn’t look like it was being used) and a camp of construction workers. Luckily this meant we could fill up out water at their camp.

The next day was shit! Strong headwinds, lots of mosquitos, little change in scenery and lots of bloody hills (I thought the Prairies were flat – what I friggin’ lie). To fill up our water bottles we had to detour off the road about 6km to the trading post at Big Rock (Big Rock consisted of a trading post, a house and a campsite). The trading post was like an oasis, with cold drinks, hot drinks, free wifi, free water and friendly staff. I didn’t want to leave. I would have happily lived there for the rest of my life instead of getting back on the 570, but unfortunately, that wasn’t an option.

Haunted Shacks and Ghost Towns

We headed back to the 570 and continued towards Saskatchewan. Finally, we got a nice long descent. When I reached the bottom, I turned around to see where Michael was and noticed a huge black storm cloud was making its way for us. Fortunately, there was an abandoned house in the field, so we decided to head over and check it out.

SASKATCHEWAN ON TWO WHEELS
Where we slept for the night

Now, anyone that knows me would also know I’m a big wimp. I hate anything that could potentially be haunted, I hate scary movies, I hate all that horror crap! I was not planning on sleeping in an abandoned house that looked like it hadn’t been lived in for 50 years. Michael must have been able to tell, just by looking at me that I wasn’t too impressed with the idea. Every horror movie I had ever watched that featured ghosts or haunted houses, started to go through my head. How the hell was I going to sleep in that shack?
Fortunately (or unfortunately), the storm hit! It was bad. Later we learnt just how bad it was – roads had washed out, farms flooded and some areas even got hail. We had no choice but to camp in the haunted shack (by this time I had already decided it was haunted). Surprisingly, I had a good sleep. The storm distracted me from the sounds from the ghosts, that along with being so exhausted from cycling in a headwind all day, meant I passed out pretty much as soon as my head hit the mat.

Cycling the Alberta Prairies

In the morning we woke to clouds, but the storm has pass. We managed to get some pretty awesome photos in the shack. I was in shock that I actually managed to sleep in a haunted shack – something to tick off the bucket list!
We packed off and got back on the 570 to the Saskatchewan border. We may have finished cycling the Alberta Prairies, but really the Prairies had only just begun!

Are you planning your own cycle tour? If so, check out  this article about Accommodation Options for Cycle Tourists.

Cycling the Bow Valley Parkway and beyond

Cycling the Bow Valley Parkway

Kelly’s write up of cycling the Bow Valley Parkway, from Lake Louise to Calgary during Summer in 2016. Click here to read Michael’s write up about riding to Calgary.

From Lake Louise we cycled the Bow Valley Parkway to Banff, then the Legacy Trail to Canmore and hopped on the Trans-American to Calgary. Completing our cycle through the mountains to the start of the Prairies for the next step of our cycle across Canada.

Lake Louise

Lake Louise was beautiful, however it was hardly comparable to some of the beautiful lakes we seen along the pathway. We also didn’t realise that Lake Louise was actually situated about 4km away – up a steep mountain. So on our rest day we tackled yet another mountain climb. My legs were not impressed. Of course it rained as soon as we started cycling, and for the whole time we were at the lake. That didn’t stop tonnes of people visiting the lake. Lake Louise was the second busiest place we had been on the trip. The first was the Icefields Center – avoid at all costs!

lake louise Cycling the Bow Valley Parkway
Made it across the Icefields Parkway and to Lake Louise

Bow Valley Parkway

After our “not-so-much-of-a-rest” rest day, the plan was to head to Banff via the Bow Valley Parkway. The cycle was awesome. There were plenty of stops along the way, and the scenery was beautiful. Once we arrived into Banff we got onto the Legacy Trail (a cycle path from Banff to Canmore), and headed into the town. Banff looked awesome. So bike friendly, with cycle paths and bike stations (pump, bike stand, tools) set up all over the place. I could definitely live there. We had already made arrangements to stay with some warmshowers’ hosts in Canmore for a couple of nights, so after a brief lunch stop in Banff, we headed back on the Legacy Trail and cycled the rest of the way to Canmore. The cycle path was great – I wish all highways had a cycle path following the same route.

Canmore

Canmore was just as impressive and bike friendly as Banff. We even managed to arrive just before the rain started. Jeff (our warmshowers’ host) met us at Tim Hortons’ and he took us to his beautiful house. Another rest day and we needed it. Jeff, Paula and Peter were amazing hosts, and helped us a lot with planning the next stage of our trip.

After resting up and drying off for a couple of days we were ready to head to Calgary – just in time for the stampede (which we had written off a long time ago, due to all the issues we had right at the start of the trip). Jeff had just gotten back from cycling a section of the Continental Divide and asked if he could join us for the first 20km of our day – of course, we weren’t going to say no. I’m quite social on the bike and enjoy cycling with others. Jeff cycled with us, in the rain to Exshaw, then we said “goodbye” and cycled on (still in the rain).

Our love host in Canmore!
Our love host in Canmore!

Highway 1: The Trans-American

We got on the highway to Calgary at Seebe and continued the long day cycling, in the rain. We stopped at Chiniki gas station for coffee (and demolished half a kilo of granola) and met some friendly locals from the reserve. After resting, chatting and drying off a bit, we continued on. Considering we were on the highway for so long, the cycle was actually quite enjoyable, and we were smashing out the kilometres, even in the rain.

We got to the turn off just before Springbank, less than 20km from Calgary and the rain got heavy. I could barely see a meter in front of me, which meant motorists could probably not see us at all.  So, we pulled off the highway to find some shelter. It was a Saturday and there were some markets on (well, packing up) at the Wild Wild West Event Centre, so we headed there in the hope to find some shelter. Luckily, though the markets had finished, we were able to dry off a bit. One of the lady’s from the stall even took pity on us and gave us a bunch of carrots. After about half an hour, the rain cleared up and we felt like it was safe enough to continue cycling.

Calgary

We arrived into Calgary, the highway traffic got crazy, there were loads of road works, no hard shoulder and we couldn’t get off the damn road. Eventually we took the first exit (which lead to a steep hill) just as the sun came out. We had booked into an Airbnb as we knew accommodation would be crazy due to the Calgary Stampede. After a few wrong turns we found the place, just as the rain started again.

Another rest day off the bikes – and we already felt like we needed it! Next destination: the Prairies!

Cycling in Jasper and the Icefields Parkway

Cycling in Jasper and the Icefields Parkway, Cycling the rockies and the icefields parkway

Cycling in Jasper and the Icefields Parkway: Jasper National Park

We had a good start to cycling in Jasper and the Icefields Parkway, or not. Not long after leaving our campsite at Mt Robson, Michael took a fall off the bike. The first fall of the trip (and hopefully the last)! I didn’t even notice he wasn’t behind for a good 10 minutes. When I did finally noticed, I stopped and waited… and waited. Eventually he caught up – bloody oozing out of his ankle. Apparently he fell while trying to take photos going down the hill. You think he would learn his lesson here and stop doing that. No, the idiot still takes photos while cycling along, down steep hills and mountain passes.

Finally we made it to Jasper! We were super excited for our first rest day in about 10 days. And what better way to celebrate than with an Indian dinner buffet. Carb loading in preparation for cycling in Jasper and the Icefields Parkway.

While planning our cycle route through Jasper, Banff and the Rockies, I had all the intentions of doing some hiking. Well that completely went out the window when we actually arrived in the national parks. We were totally exhausted. There was no way we were doing all the hiking I had planned. To be honest – I don’t know what I was thinking. With that being said, we did attempt a couple of really small (2-3km) hikes. That was about all we could manage.

alberta vancovuer to the rockies

Icefields Parkway

After resting up for a day (yes, only 1 day), we headed off on our first day of cycling in Jasper and the Icefields Parkway. I was told we should take the quieter 93A instead of the main highway. We did. There wasn’t much of a hard shoulder, but it was quiet… and very hilly. I wasn’t prepared for the hills, but was still happy to be off the main highway. After cycling for about an hour we spotted a bear (not sure what type), dart across the road.

Eventually we made it to Athabasca Falls and were greeted with hundreds of tourists, including a friendly group of cyclists that were also cycling the Icefields Parkway, as a part of a 4 day fundraiser. I was quite jealous of their support vehicle at that stage – their super light road bikes and lack of weight from panniers (plus the extra training they probably did), meant they flew passed us on several hills.

From Athabasca Falls we were back on the 93 – the main route most people took when cycling in Jasper and the Icefields Parkway. We were headed for Sunwapta Falls. Just about 5km from the falls is started to bucket down. Luckily just before the turn off to the falls there was a restaurant that served yummy brownies – it would have been a crime not to stop and treat ourselves to a brownie, plus a hot drink. When we were finished, the rain had stopped and the sun had come out – maybe our luck had finally changed?

It was a slow cycle day after that – the kilometers seemed to drag. We finally dragged ourselves into Jonas Campsite, just as the rain started to pour again. We were exhausted and I was super worried about the following day’s climb up Sunwapta Pass.

Sunwapta Summit

It rained throughout the night and into the next morning. We wanted to get an early start to make it over the first pass.

It was cold and it was extremely wet but, we were in pretty good spirits. The climb up the pass was not fun, but it wasn’t as bad as what I was expecting. When we finally made it to the Icefields Parkway we were happy and very hungry.

We decided to hike to the Toe of the Athabasca Glacier, and then head to the Icefields Center to treat ourselves to some decent food. The short hike to the glacier was great – though very busy! The Icefields Center however, was a nightmare! The biggest tourist trap ever. Being on a bike really distances you from the crowds of tourists that you sometimes even forget that it is really busy and it is the peak season. Though we did see tonnes of cars, RVs and buses drive pass, it’s easier to tune them out, that compared to crowds of people. Sadly, we skipped our treat at the center as we wanted to get out of there as soon as possible – we even passed up a lunch buffet (which is very unlike us).

Cycle tourists were certainly in abundance, cycling in Jasper and the Icefields Parkway. During our entire 7 month cycle from France to China we met about 5 other cycle tourists. Along the Icefields Parkway we must have seen an excess of 50 cyclists. It made the whole experience a completely different one, and I welcomed exchanging stories and tips with other cyclists – something we rarely had the opportunity to do.

cycling the rockies
Cycling from Jasper to Canmore

Banff National Park

The rain continued as we made it to Wilcox pass and we struggled to find somewhere (with a shelter) to stop for lunch. We decided to start the descent into Banff National Park, hoping that it wouldn’t be as cold and wet further down in the valley – unfortunately we were wrong. I was shitting myself throughout the steep descent down. The hard shoulder was almost non-existent, the road wasn’t good and visibility from the rain were not great. That along with the busy road made it not the funniest cycle. On top of that, when we made it to the valley it was still raining and we still couldn’t find anywhere dry to stop for lunch. We ended up creating a shelter in amongst a bunch of trees.

After lunch we cycled on a bit and the rain finally stopped. The last 15km of the day we could actually enjoy the beautiful valley and creeks. We decided to call it in early and stop at Rampart Creek campsite to get an early night and try and dry off some of our gear. I definitely appreciated the rest.

Bow Lake Summit

Michael and I woke feeling a bit more rested, and a bit more positive about the cycle – even though we woke up to another wet morning. The plan was to conquer the Bow Lake Summit and head to Lake Louise to camp for a couple of nights.

Cycling the Bow Lake Summit to Lake Louise was my favourite cycle day of the trip so far. The rain even cleared up for a bit, which meant we could enjoy the mountains and alpine lakes. The first stop was Saskatchewan Crossing. We just hit our first 1000km mark that morning, and wanted to celebrate with a hot drink and of course a brownie (you’ve probably noticed a trend so far). The crossing was super overpriced but, I guess that’s what you expect for a tourist stop.

Next was Waterfowl Lake, where we stopped for a short break and a lot of photos. Then it was onto the pass. The climb was nowhere near as bad as I had expected, almost enjoyable. After the pass we pull into Bow Lake, next to an old lodge (which had surprisingly ok priced food and drinks) and stopped for lunch. It started to rain again, but even in the rain it was hard to not appreciate the beauty of the area – plus, the rain kept the tourists away (well some of them). Of course, we stopped into the lodge, for another hot drink and this time a cookie (they didn’t sell brownies).

bow lake: the rockies
The Rockies were absolutely stunning – despite all the rain!

Lake Louise

The rest of the day was stunning. Eventually we got off the Icefields Parkway and rolled into the village at Lake Louise. Luckily I’d already booked a site at the campsite, as when we got there we discovered it was fully booked and they had no walk-in sites.

We felt pretty accomplished after cycling in Jasper and the Icefields Parkway, but also very happy to finally have another day off the bikes. Next on the agenda was the Bow Valley Parkway! Fingers crossed we spot some bears!