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Icefields Parkway - Jasper and Banff National Parks Alberta, Canada September 7 - 16, 2015
We allowed 4 days to drive from Fredericksburg to Jasper, Alberta. The first leg was 800 miles from home to Colorado Springs. We stayed two nights with Larry and Monte Hudson (my college roommate) enjoying some of the sights but mostly enjoying the view of Pikes Peak from their backyard. We did take a short hike through the Red Rock City Park and toured Manitou Springs. From Colorado Springs we drove 600 miles to Park City, Utah to visit Dan and Cynthia Nelson…our across the street neighbors in Fredericksburg. They toured us around the Canyons Resort while explaining how much they liked their second home. From Park City, we continued another 600 miles to Kalispell, Montana, driving through some fabulous scenery. Kalispell is not a destination venue and the restaurant selections on a Sunday night are meager at best. The last leg of the trip was a 500 miles trip from Kalispell to Jasper, Alberta. The drive was through the Katoony and Jasper National parks…very interesting and picturesque. We stopped for lunch at Lake Louise and then continued to Jasper over the Icefields Parkway, recalling the bike ride we had made 10 years earlier. We arrived in the afternoon and met Kris and Chuck who had also just pulled in. After checking in, we met to share a bottle of wine before walking to a local brew pub for dinner. On Tuesday, the rest of our five team tandem tour arrived. Chuck and I had to drive back to Banff to meet Pete and Laura and then return to Jasper...an 8 hour car shuttle which was logistically the best option for the week’s schedule. In the meantime, Harry and Janette; Mike and Susan motored in from Calgary and we were all together for our first of many happy hours before walking to dinner at Evil Dave’s. Following dinner we planned to meet on Wednesday morning for breakfast and then start to plan the activities for our stay in Jasper.
Tuesday September 8, 2015 Jasper, Alberta:
Four teams walked to the adjoining hotel (the Best Western) to try their breakfast buffet. We’re staying at the Bear Hill Lodge…they offer a breakfast but it is strictly continental and we were after something a little more substantial. The BW has a complete buffet for only 10 Canadian dollars. So following breakfast all 5 teams met in the Mahoney’s suite to discuss plans for the day. Weather was not great so we decided not to ride the bikes but to visit some of the must see tourist attractions in the area including the Maligne Canyon and Maligne Lake. We were with Pete and Laura and they wanted to do some hiking. The Maligne Canyon is a fascinating formation which is a narrow deep gorge carved by the relentless flow of cascading water and is makes it way from the mountains into Maligne Lake. We hiked for 3 ½ miles following the course of the river out and the mountain ridge trail back to the car in the parking lot. We then drove on to Maligne Lake where we met the other 3 teams in our group. They had already finished lunch and were making reservations for the boat trip for the following day. We bought our tickets as well and then went to the restaurant for a bowl of chili. After lunch we started our second hike of the day up to a couple of kettle lakes…Lake Lorraine and Lake Mona…both pristine and beautiful; unfortunately too cold for skinny dipping. We returned to the car and drove back to Jasper stopping to get some beer for the evening happy hour. We had a few minutes to change for the evening before meeting everyone for some snacks and libations. Pete, Laura, Kris, Chuck, Becky and Hugh walked to the Olive Restaurant for dinner and then back to the cabins to rest before our 30 mile climb to Maligne Lake on Thursday.
Thursday September 10, 2015
The plan for the day was to be on the bike at 8:00am for the 30 mile ride (climb) to Maligne Lake. Mike, Susan, Janette and Harry would start later as soon as a new headset could be installed on Harry’s bike. (He discovered that his headset was not usuable when he reassembled his bike after the flight to Calgary) The climb up to the lake was 2800 feet but over mostly gradual slopes with an occassional 10 and 11% grade just to keep it interesting. We arrived a few minutes after 11 having completed the ride in 3 hours. We changed our 2:00 boat reservation to 1:00 and then went to the restaurant for lunch. We boarded the boat and motored up to Spirit Island while the guide explained about the geology and history of the lake and Jasper National park. We had a few minutes to walk around to photograph the mountains and the glaciers before the return cruise to the park office. Once back on land we prepared for the ride back to Jasper. My hope was that we would coast the 30 miles back, but I soon discovered that there was considerable pedaling required partly due to a headwind. But the ride was easier and quicker that the uphill grind and we made it down in one hour less. Back in Jasper we made plans to meet at a sports restaurant where we could watch the opening game of the NFL season. Although the game did not have the outcome I preferred, it was still sun to watch. Following the game we returned to the lodge to rest and prepare for the start of the ride across the Icefields Parkway. Today’s ride: 60 miles with 3300 feet of ascending.
Friday September 11, 2015
The ride to Banff starts today. We have the best weather day of the trip but there was no urgency to start because we only have 36 miles of riding scheduled. After a leisurely breakfast, we started to organize and pack for the SAG wagon. Pete and Laura had volunteered to ride SAG for the first day. We had planned to load the van at 10:00 and roll out 30 minutes later stopping at the local grocery to buy sandwiches for lunches. It was probably closer to 11 by the time we had the lunches in the van and we started out of Jasper. We paused briefly at the entrance to the National Park where the ranger approved our pass and motioned all of us to enter. That was the last time we saw the van until lunch 20 miles later. We were riding under brilliant sunshine and the temperature rose steadily. We followed the course of the river constantly climbing at the same rate the river was flowing to the sea…about an average 2 – 3%. At one place we paused to snack and drink water when a black bear emerged from the river and ambled across the parkway. I estimate that the bear was 200 yards away and paid no attention to the cyclists who were gawking at every step he took. We arrived at Athabasta Falls close to 1:00 where the SAG wagon was waiting for us. This was the planned lunch stop; I was eager to get my turkey sandwich and replenish the calories I had burned climbing to the Falls. We found a park bench which made a suitable lunch table with a wonderful view of the river and mountains while the dying golden Aspen leaves floated to the ground sometime falling on us. After lunch we walked to the falls to take photos and then back on the bike for the final 15 miles to Sunwapta. Most of the afternoon ride was similar to the morning except warmer as we had shed a layer of clothes at lunch to accommodate the heat. There was a 2 mile climb with an average 7% grade but the lodge and restaurant were waiting at the top. We checked in and then found the bar for a quick IPA before walking to the Sunwapta Falls. Fascinating water display as it carved a deep canyon on it’s relentless trip from the glaciers to the sea. We met at 6:00 for a tailgate happy hour around the van in the parking lot and then went to dinner at 7:00. We had ridden 36 miles with total ascent of 2300 feet.
Saturday September 12, 2015
We have the most challenging ride of the tour today which required a hearty breakfast in the restaurant. The plan was to be on the road by 8:00am, but in reality it was closer to 9:00 before we started pedaling. The temperature was in the 40’s but we had a perfectly clear sky. The first half of the ride was all uphill to the Columbia Icefields. The climb was 31 miles long with 3600 feet of ascent. It took us 3 hours and 15 minutes to complete the climb. We stopped for an hour at the Icefields Center taking time to enjoy some tea and coffee, but just had no appetite for lunch. The final 31 miles to the Saskatchewan Crossing was mostly downhill with some of the descents achieving speeds in excess of 48 mph. We arrived at the crossing about 4:00 and immediately went to the pub. We have ridden 62 miles with over 3600 feet of climbing. We celebrated the accomplishment we several beverages before checking into our room and starting the official tour happy hour. Harry and Janette drove in while we were on the deck for happy hour; they had a blowout on the descent which damaged their rear rim so badly that they were not able to continue on their bike. They waited by the side of the parkway until Kris and Chuck came rolling along with the SAG wagon. They flagged them to a stop and changed positions. The rim could not be repaired, only replaced, so Harry and Janette became the permanent SAG drivers for the rest of the bike tour. After the happy hour we moved to the restaurant for dinner and then retired for the evening.
Sunday September 13, 2015
There was a thunder storm during the night…we woke up to clouds, wet roads and 45 degrees. But the skies were clearing and it appeared we would have a good day for riding. After the breakfast buffet in the restaurant, we mounted the bikes and started trudging up to the Bow Summit…highest point on the Icefields Parkway. We had to climb 2100 feet in 23 miles to reach the summit. Most of the grades were 4, 5, and 6% although we did have a short stretch of 8% incline. We arrived at the Bow Summit and Peyto lake parking lot at noon. We were ready for a break and lunch; then a short walk to view the Peyto lake. At the summit elevation of 6840 feet the temperature was considerably cooler than on the road as we climbed. We were surprised to see snow falling as we prepared for the final 25 miles to Lake Louise. We prepared for the cold and fast descent. Most of the ride was quick and cool; we did run into a little rain mixed with sleet for about 4 miles, but by the time we pulled into the Lake Louise Center, the rain had stopped. Now the final 2 mile climb at 10% up to the Paradise Lodges was the most challenging of the day. The bungalows are very spacious with spectacular view over the Bow Valley. The hot shower was wonderful after climbing into the cold temperatures. We gathered in Mike and Susan’s Bungalow for happy hour. A brief storm blew threw and when the clouds cleared we could see that the ski slopes had turned white from the fresh snow. We decided to order take-a-way pizza and watch the Dallas Cowboy football game. We made it the 4th quarter when fatigue beckoned us to bed. Today's ride: 52 miles with 3600 feet of ascent.
Monday September 14, 2015 Lake Louise
There is no riding scheduled for today…we had planned to hike today but it was a drizzling rainy day, not at all inviting for a hike. We piled into the cargo van and went down the hill to the center for breakfast and then bummelled around window shopping. Next we drove to Lake Moraine for a quick stop and then to the Chateau at Lake Louise. Low hanging clouds and rain made the view and photo opportunities less than ideal. We went into the hotel for coffee and a break from the weather. Then back to the Paradise Bungalows for an afternoon of relaxing and reading. Pete and Laura were the only brave ones who ventured out to Lake Agnes and the tea house for a 12 mile hike in the rain. We started happy hour at 6:00pm with a champagne toast to Harry’s birthday. The happy hour last a little longer than normal so we had to change our dinner reservation to 7:30. Dinner was in the Station Restaurant a converted old train station. We had a great time celebrating the birthday and reminiscing about our many riding experiences. The dessert was punctuated the Happy Colon Cookies that Mike had purchased instead of a birthday cake. Following the dinner, we returned to the bungalows for bed.
Tuesday September 15, 2015 Lake Louise - Banff
What a surprise…4” of fresh snow fell during the night. Lake Louise was a Winter Wonderland! We of course took snow photos and relaxed over a cup of coffee knowing that our chance to ride the Bow Valley Parkway to Banff had disappeared under the snow. But to our surprise the weather in the mountains can change very rapidly and we were looking a clearing skies and a much improved weather forecast. By 10:00am we made the decision to make the ride and recruited Pete and Laura to go with us. We waited until 11 for the roads to dry a little and then rolled out bundled up for the 38 degree ride. The descent down from Lake Louise was the most daunting of the ride negotiating the twisty 10% slope while controlling speed and dodging the traffic. The disk drag brake held our speed around 10 mph until we reached the bottom. The ride along the Parkway was beautiful and for the first time we were really out of the traffic. The snow capped mountains and fresh snow on the trees made a lovely cycling experience. We met the rest of our crew at the Castle Junction for a coffee stop and then rode the last 21 miles into Banff…it was a very memorable ride and one that I never thought we could never do as we opened our door earlier in the morning to a blanket of snow. We arrived at the hotel an hour before we could get into our rooms so we passed the time in the St. James Gate Irish Pub enjoying refreshing beer and snacks. Back at the hotel, we met the rest of the group for happy hour and then to dinner at Earl’s. After dinner back to the hotel for the final night the Icefields Parkway Tandem Tour of 2015. Thanks Mike and Susan for organizing this wonderful experience...Today's ide: distance 39 miles with 900 feet of climbing.