June 22 - July 13, 2001: Canadian Rockies
Greetings from the Great White North!
It's been about 3 weeks since we crossed over from Montana into Canada. In that time we've enjoyed the majestic Canadian Rocky Mountains from Waterton National Park, through Banff, Lake Louise, and finally up to Jasper. It's been a great addition to our cross-USA route.
Garry Tanner, an old college roommate of Steve's, is now living the expat life in Calgary. We met him and his girlfriend Anita for 3 straight long weekends during our time up here. First, Garry and Anita drove down to Waterton, where we went on a couple of day-long hikes, including one 25 km hike through snow drifts in our sandals. We also *finally* saw some bears - 5 black bears - although from the comfort of Garry's SUV on our way to the trailhead. (Again, Shelley is happy!)
Our second weekend with Garry and Anita took place at the Panorama ski resort, outside Invermere and Radium Hot Springs. Another relaxing weekend? Yeah, right! The weekend was filled with adventure:
- White water rafting on the Kicking Horse River. Constant Class-IV white water rapids, steak BBQ at riverside at the end of the day. A beer commercial photo opportunity if I ever saw one.
- HydroBroncs. Think of a big inflatable sphere about 10 ft in diameter. Strap on a helmet, wet suit, life vest, rigging, then climb inside the sphere like a gerbil in a cage and clip yourself into swiveling pivots in the side of the sphere. Then roll off the riverbank into the rapids. Add lots of laughter and screaming, and you get the idea. You can actually steer them by running in the sphere in the direction you want to go, and the sphere rotates around you (again, like a gerbil cage). Technically, you could choose to lay down on your back and float down the river. You could, if you were a weenie.
- Downhill mountain bike riding on the Panorama ski runs. You take the lift up with your (rented) MTB on the chair in front of you. Jump off at the top, hop on the bike, engage adrenaline and testosterone, and point the handlebars downhill. It's harder than it sounds - we came off two afternoons on the mountain with more bumps, bruises, scrapes and sore muscles than in nearly 4 months of bike touring! (Needless to say, it was great.)
- Competition hot tubbing. After all this, someone has to do it. While Garry and Anita drove back to Calgary, Steve and Shelley practiced for the 2004 Jacuzzi mixed double events. Practice, practice, practice.
One of the guides on the HydroBroncs had a cool Timex watch built into a carribiner with (get this) a built-in Magic 8-Ball. You know the one - ask a yes or no question, shake the Magic 8-Ball, and get your answer from one of 16 or so different responses. Shelley asked this oracle if anyone would need stitches that day. Answer: "ALMOST CERTAINLY." Good; with that prophesy, let's go hit the downhill mountain bike trails again! Although he tried valiantly, Garry came close, but no donut, for the medical care foretold by the Magic 8-Ball. We'll reduce the testosterone injections for Garry next time, just in case.
We continued our cycling north through Kootenay National Park and into Banff. Banff could be a poster child for tourist hell. Tour buses, white tennis shoes and cameras around the neck, and a downtown filled to the brim with candle shops, gift shops, and other purveyors of fine crap that you just can't do without. We were told that BANFF stands for Be Aware: Nothing For Free. We believe it - they actually charged us for salsa at a Mexican restaurant. Beautiful scenery, but then again, the scenery is good for hundreds of miles around, too. Do yourself a favor - stay in Fernie or Waterton, and skip Banff.
Escaping Banff via the big grey dog, we bussed into Calgary for our final extended weekend with Garry and Anita. On the menu for this weekend was the Calgary Stampede, a 10 day long city-wide rodeo/party. A parade in the first morning, followed by parties (with requisite corporate schmoozing - if schmoozing is a word), and a great set by the Shagadelics, a cover band fronted by an Austin Powers look-alike in red crushed velvet, Dr. Evil on Guitar, and Number One (with eyepatch) on drums.
Garry and Anita both work in the energy business (big in Calgary) - good friends to have when the party invitations are sent out! A private rodeo/BBQ on the second day hosted by Anita's company was a fun, all-day affair with fun competitions, lots of food, and sunshine to order. Finally, our third day included tickets to the (pro) rodeo, followed by rides and some fun bungee-cord based competitions (e.g., connect a bungee cord to yourself, then run as far as you can away from the anchor to drop a bean bag on a rail - the bungee pulls you back with quite a force). Ahh yes, we finally got some more bruises to go with our nice ones from the weekend before.
Calgary is, in addition to a big energy town, probably one of the most vegetarian un-friendly places we've visited. I think we ate more prime rib on this one weekend than I have in the last decade combined. I hear beef is good for bruises, and helps build endurance and general fitness. My hair has also stopped thinning, and our average speed on the bike, after eating 1/4 of a cow, is up by nearly 2 mph.
Tearing ourselves away from the comfort of Garry's place in Calgary (home of Homer, the worlds most affectionate and hungry cat), we finished our ride up towards Jasper National Park. It was on the downhill from Bow Pass that we hit our high speed for the trip so far: 53 mph (85 km/h). Zoom. One day's ride outside of Jasper we met Shelley's parents, Sue and Ray Bitel, who drove up to help shuttle us back down south to Missoula, MT, and the rest of our transamerica route. We also took a SnowCat up to walk around on the Columbia Icefields, a huge icefield/glacier high up in the mountains.
Jasper was a little touristy, but not nearly as bad or as crowded as Banff or Lake Louise. One nice feature is that there are actually many small houses near downtown that will rent out rooms or small apartments, giving us a much wider array of accommodation options than the typical, overpriced lodges at the other tourist havens.
When we were riding through Australia, it seemed that many towns would have a "Big" something - like the Big Trout or Big Merino. Well, we found our first "Big" in Canada - the Big Truck, the largest dump truck in the world. The Titan 33-19 Hauler, 3300 hp with electric drive, 520,400 lbs. (1,220,400 lbs. full of coal), with tires about 10 ft tall. Yes, it was big, but not quite as cute as the Big Trout - Aussies, you still win.
We've clicked off over 3000 miles (4800 km) since starting in Australia. So far, we've had perhaps a dozen flats, worn through 4 or 5 tires, bent one rear axle and munched one freewheel.
I'm now writing this from the comfy leather seats in the HugeMobile (Sue and Ray's Ford Expedition), with the tandem on top. Funny, these hills seemed steeper on the way up here. In a few days we'll be back on the road, perhaps a little lighter with the abandonment of some of our cold-weather gear. First up: Montana's Bitterroot Valley, down to Yellowstone National Park, through the Rockies in Colorado, then east to the plains of Kansas.
Ice at Crypt Lake
Waterton National Park, Alberta, Canada
Garry, Anita, Shelley and Steve
on the lake at Waterton
Finally, we spot some Brown Bears!
Now, that's a Big Truck.
Anita and Garry about to be pulled
back to reality
Banff National Park
View from Bow Summit
Ray, Shelley, and Sue at the
SnowCoach on the Columbia Icefields
view from Ptarmigan Tunnel
Glacier National Park
Marmot - Glacier National Park
June 22 - July 13, 2001: Canadian Rockies