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
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.
Hungry vegetarian cyclists are the Indian buffets worst enemy and only known natural predator in the wild.
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.
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!
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.