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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Calgary, Kanfest, Canmore

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I lazily rolled out of Calgary and sighted the mountains for the first time. Instant revival. All the prairie induced soul-searching is over; home at last. These broad glacial valleys are carpeted in tall pines, and curtained in sheer rock. They feel like home, at least, for I have been dreaming of arriving here for weeks. I won’t have to bear another over air-conditioned North Dakota truckstop again.

I happened upon some friendly looking longhairs while simultaneously scouting a swimming hole and a campsite. Two kayakers playfully rolled their craft, while a couple of sunburnt Australians welcomed me to their camp. This was, in fact, their place of employment– a river rafting outfitter– but they were camping for the night to attend Kanfest, my first kayak festival.

This section of the Kananaskis River is under authority of a flood control dam which captures water overnight and releases it the following day, beginning about 8 AM. This morning began with a contest to see who could face the growing flow of water. One guy won with the help of female ballast atop his shoulders.

The next event was a several kilometer “race” in which teams must capture and protect a large exercise ball with their team number, and transport it to the finish. The catch, this is a true whitewater river; no hands allowed; and defensive play is encouraged. It’s like capture the flag meets broomball on a raging river. Actually, it’s not like anything.

I rode several kms of singletrack along the river; colorful, human seals nosed and batted beach balls around the river.

Thanks Kanfest: I scored free Canmore-made beers last night, and a full breakfast this morning complete with fruit, coffee, and a couple of pancake and sausage “sandwiches” to go. Bike touring trick #327: meet nice people, go to a festival, and help yourself to a beer and a pancake sandwich.

Those are, as it seems, kayakers entering the river from a mossy 15 ft drop.

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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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