A quick ride on the Icefields Parkway

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It’s billed as one of the best bike rides in Canada and motorists will remind you of the time their brother rode it in 1988 in a big hurry with lots of stuff and it was really incredible.  It’s also one of the most popular motorable routes in the country, and is an international destination.  You can imagine what I’m going to say, so I won’t, mostly.  Overall, it’s a nice ride with beautiful scenery but there are lots of signs telling you where not to camp and a lot people to say “neat” and tell you that they would never ride their bike anywhere.  What am I supposed to say to that?  Nearby Spray Lakes, Kananaskis Country, the Yellowhead Highway from McBride to Jasper, or the ride on the Divide Route over Elk Pass to Elkford are all equally beautiful with much less traffic, better camping and better swimming opportunities.  There’s a certain magnetism that attracts idiocy to national parks.  I’ve said it.

I left Jasper by night, camped about ten miles out of town and made an early start as joggers jogged by in the morning, whispering about the snoring cyclist.  It’s hard to tell in the dark what daybreak may bring.  High humidity conceals some of the macro-majesty of the area, but there is much more to appreciate.  Some clear skies on the ride to Banff are welcomed.  Rivers run high and the snowpack is unseasonably heavy.  Dozens of cyclists are out riding the parkway.

Finally, I’m far away from Alaska and the Yukon and almost none of the other cyclists know about fatbikes.  How about a “snow bike”?  Surely you have seen them in magazines or on the internet.  Nope.  How much do those big tires slow you down?

I’m a wandering diplomat for fat tires, for the virtues of taking it easy and getting off the beaten path.  Everyone asks about the framebag and the 64 oz Klean Kanteen; the dynamo and the Marge Lite rim (that’s the tube!); the tires and, “where is the rest of your stuff?”.  If possible, I would invest in Ortlieb stock.  Their stranglehold on the market is incredible.

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Bulking up

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Banff is the apex of my trajectory, at which point I have travelled about two months and expect a few months ahead. I turn, southward, in coincidence with my birthday. An occasion for a visit from my mother; we toured the Icefields Parkway and Kananaskis Country, stayed at the finest mountain chateau(s?), walked along the toe of the Athabasca Glacier, bathed in thermal springs, and dined atop rooftops and mountainsides. And finally, we spent a night outdoors at about 6000 ft, her first time since pregnant with my older sister.

The Icefields Parkway extends north from Banff to Jasper National Park. About 150 miles of magificent scenery, this is a classic motorist destination like Skyline Drive atop Shenandoah Ridge. Cyclists were out in greater numbers than I have seen since the C&O canal; loaded, supported, and day riders. It’s a “must do” kind of ride, yet I managed to shrug my shoulders at it. We drove the length of the Parkway, so I have experienced some of the scenery, but the “must do” pressure is always a bit of a turn-off. Show me a dotted line on a map that “can’t be cycled”, and I’ll be off with a smile. The Divide is accessible thanks to the hard work of the ACA, but it maintains some of the same attraction to me.

Wish you could eat, carefree? Two months in and a few months left– that’ll do it. Cassoulet birthday dinner, a breakfast buffet at the Chateau Lake Louise, and a rooftop pizza and beer at the Banff Springs Hotel. A fantasy in relation to a mosquito-infested pot of mashed red lentils and rice that I will enjoy this evening (I call it vegan mac n cheese).

With a topping of steamed beets and green beans.

My winter kit has bulged my sack a bit, but not as much as the following stash of food I accumulated before leaving town:

5 apples
5 plums
4 bananas
3 beets
1 lb green beans
1 garlic bulb
…and the usual mix of oats, raisins, nuts and pumpkin and sunflower seeds; rice, lentils, coffee, and jar of honey

There’s more, I can’t even remember it all.

I did settle on a small water filter, in addition to a can of bear spray (pepper sauce, sort of). Some pants, a down jacket, a wool hat and gloves, and a vapor barrier liner ( we’ll see) bulk up my bike.

I am still carrying an extra tire because the Marathon won’t die, and two tubes. Why two tubes? I don’t get flats, I can patch tubes like a pro, and my valve holes are well covered by rim strips to prevent abrasion at the base of the valve. Seemed like the right thing to do, I guess. Except that my front tube– an inspiring Schwalbe tube of very-high quality– was purchased 15 months and 10,000 miles ago. Better safe…

…than have a good reason to hitch a ride. I guess.

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Wisdom in words and images

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Some thoughts; not mine by origin, but belonging to my last few days. A few days away from routine; for that, I am wiser.

Thanks to warmshowers hosts in Calgary– available on short notice– who quickly acquired both pizza and beer and helped clarify the nuances of Canadian “culture”. Top notch.

An old Marathon tire on a German step-through trekking bike with a sidewall generator, and a rear basket filled with firewood and a wool blanket.

Women are persons…

The Kuwahara step-through mountain bike: Cro-Mo and well-equipped. My next touring bike.

Melting ice.

Finally, a rare sighting of the lone wolf in the wild. An accidental self-portait.

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Calgary gives; gearing up, again

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I have ridden a bit over 3000 miles since Maryland; maybe more, but my method of calculation is a bit vague and misunderstood (by me). The last push to Calgary included an evening scramble for a campsite and an early morning start to get to town before noon. From the outside looking in, Calgary is sprawling uncontrollably, reflecting a booming oil industry despite general recession. From the inside, the city feels properly dense, and centralized; people seem happy and healthy, although my bias includes spending the day outdoors of the Bow Valley cycle path, swimming in the milky-green glacial Bow River, and some shopping at MEC (Mountain Equipment Co-op, think REI). With sunny summer weather, bronzed bodies, and plentiful cottonwoods, this could Denver. Early August seems a nice time to visit Calgary. A very livable city with exceptional cycle facilities in town, and a real river. Floating the river seems a popular pastime.

Coming into town I happened upon a farm of Saskatoonberries; much
like a serviceberry, I asked for permission to load a handful into my oats and cottage cheese. Once I beat my way through the outer layer of construction, housing, and industry, an inner zone of urban bliss unfolded, beginning with a generous farmer’s market boasting BC’s plenty. Everything looked amazing, and everything was from BC. I spent twenty dollars and loaded food I didn’t know how to prepare into a bag already full with gear. I thank Carradice for the development of the Longflap models. And I ate.

MEC is well stocked and should have made life simple. Rather, I shopped for hours, mostly exercising my ability not to purchase. I tested well and only bought essential items such as a chain, lube, and some dry bags. I tried on some slick outdoorsy duds that are supposed to be for climbers, but opted for tattered used goods that are molded to the shape and stench of my body (like a Brooks, of course). A few weeks away from these temptations makes you think you’ve earned it. I didn’t, and it doesn’t work that way. Mostly, I don’t have room for more stuff, and that’s a blessing.

Warmshowers granted a roof and a meal; it keeps on giving. My host works nearby at Canada’s largest bike shop– Bow Cycle– and was able to hook-up some employee pricing on a basic cyclocomputer, some bottle cages, sunglasses, and a very sub-par lock– exactly the kind I like.

Finally, the hardware store netted some teflon tape to repair my stove’s seal; the cheapest liter of stove fuel I have seen in North America ($3.80), and some hose clamps to mount bottle cages to my fork blades. I went there. I have decided that I will most likely not carry a water pump or dedicated purification system, but by adding a few ounces to the bike I have nearly doubled my capacity. I may cook with untreated water and will carry a back-up chemical treatment such as iodine, bleach, or some commercial product. None of this is absolutely final. Free popcorn fueled my parking lot repairs.

So, I spent a bunch of money; have too
much– thankfully– good food; and nothing feels different. It shouldn’t, but what did I benefit from the offerings of the big city? Not much. The city, more likely, benefit from me.

The score: I spent $120+/-, added two liters water capacity, improved my stove and refueled; acquired new chain and lube, lots of fruits and vegetables, and a few other items which I can’t recall and can’t be that important. Finally, with no more to “do” in town and nowhere to stay, I reluctantly leave late in the afternoon toward Banff.

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