Mountains Views, Wildlife Encounters & A Few Showers
Over the course of the past few weeks, the Oh, Canada riders have shared their pre trip thoughts and expectations for the first section Haida Gwaii & the Rockies. Regardless of whether it was the first time to Canada or not, it seemed the general consensus, myself included, indicated that the first couple of weeks heading towards the Rocky Mountains would feature plush paved roads, glistening in the late spring sunshine, a few gentle undulations and definitely no significant mountains to climb. Perfect conditions to rack up some kilometres in the saddle for the mountains to come!
How wrong we all were. As it turned out the first section was not quite the idyllic warm up many of us had imagined. Departing Haida Gwaii the cycling days immediately increased to 140km and the strong headwinds continued making for challenging riding. The seven day stretch from Prince Rupert to Prince George would turn out to be much more difficult than expected with long periods of rain that had one cheerful Haida local asking “how are you all enjoying this liquid sunshine?” As the days passed it became more of a question of when the rain would fall and how much as opposed to if it would fall. Riders became accustomed to starting out the day in full rain gear to avoid the possibility of a brief ‘shower’ that would completely saturate every piece of clothing.
But challenges aside, the first week had many highlights. Following the mighty Skeena River out of Prince Rupert, we were fortunate enough to learn about the Gitxsan people who have lived alongside the river for thousands of years and who depend on the health of the river to sustain their lifestyle. Europeans arrived in considerable number in search for Gold in the 1860’s and used the river as a route into the interior to the town of Hazelton, where we would spend our second night out from Prince Rupert at the nearby Ksan Campground. Camping in the Ksan campground allowed riders to explore the historic township and enjoy the stunning mountain views in all directions.
After a well deserved rest in Prince George it was time to push on to the mountains. The increasing frequency of wildlife warning signs was a bit of a shock to some riders initially, “Caution Wildlife Corridor” & “Moose next 15km” were viewed multiple time throughout the day and while a few deer and black bears were spotted, the elusive Moose evaded us all, for now.
The day before Jasper we arrived in Mount Robson Town, with Mount Robson itself towering precipitously above us. The highest mountain in the Canadian Rockies at 3954m, with its snow capped peak hidden high up in the clouds, brought a realization that we were heading into the mountains, and the climbing would soon begin. A group of riders and staff went for a hike after dinner to the beautiful glacial carved Kinney Lake directly below Mount Robson Peak. The blue green colour of the water adding to the beauty of the lake, however unsurprisingly the rain began shortly after our arrival and we retreated downhill back to the campsite. We bid farewell to British Columbia, the first of ten provinces of the trip, as we made our way into Jasper, Alberta for the second rest day.
Jasper Town, the little Brother of Banff is a quaint town nestled between impressive mountains and rivers. Jasper town was initially a fur trading post in the region for the North West Company in the early 1800’s but much has changed since then with the surrounding area being granted National Park status in 1930. The Jasper National Park is now the largest national park in the Canadian Rockies and as is the case with all national parks in Canada’s 150th Anniversary, park entry is free! Entering Jasper, it was immediately clear that it is a tourism hotspot with travellers from all over the world flocking to the area to hit the slopes in winter or hike the trails and see the impressive wildlife in summer. Jasper was an ideal place for a rest day and gifted with beautiful weather there were numerous opportunities for hiking, cycling and sightseeing.
As one of our tours included rest day activities, riders had the opportunity to spend the morning White Water Rafting the Athabasca River, the major river running through the valley. Glacier fed its icy 3-4 degree Celsius temperatures and aqua colour, produced a stunning contrast to the pine trees and massive snow covered mountains visible in all directions. Rafting grade 1-2 rapids, we were not scared for our lives and could take in the views while learning about the river, the mountains and the trees from our knowledgeable Guide. As we drifted down the river it was interesting to learn about and observe the effects of the Mountain Pine Beetle that has been killing off large tracts of forests here and throughout British Columbia and parts of the US. It was obvious to see the change in the landscape on the mountainside and to wonder how this unique area may look in the future.
The Icefields Parkway is one of the worlds most spectacular roads and featured endless mountains, glaciers, rivers, lakes & wildlife. The 230km route is a cyclist’s paradise and with great road conditions and many rest stops it was always going be a highlight of the trip. Leaving Jasper, the weather conditions at Wilcox Campground, our campsite for the night at the Columbia Icefield was a balmy -4 degrees Celsius. Undeterred we headed off for the light rain and patchy cloud that provided atmospheric views of the surrounding peaks with Mount Edith Cavell prominent. The weather improved at our camp for the night and riders enjoyed mountain vistas in all directions, wildlife sightings and a visit to the Athabasca Glacier.
Unfortunately, our time in the Rocky Mountains was brief, and as we enjoyed a succession of thrilling descents and breathtaking views towards our second Icefields Parkway there was a slight feeling of sadness with the knowledge that we would have to say goodbye to the mountains. Mosquito Creek, our hostel for the night, was a cosy, semi- remote wilderness lodge and what it lacked in electricity, showers and WIFI it made up for in beauty and an unexpected wood heated sauna. While the riders made their way into camp and relaxed in the common area around the fire, visited the sauna or took a nap, the staff began dinner preparations. Given the success of our traditional salmon meal in Haida Gwaii, to reward riders for their hard work climbing the mountains and as a sweetener on the lack of showers for the past two days, Salmon was on the menu!
As dinnertime approached I was reviewing the tour manual in the dinner truck in preparation for the rider meeting. Vilma the chef was about to cook the salmon in the outdoor TDA kitchen nearby. As I stepped from the truck I gazed into the woods ahead and directly in my line of sight 30m away was a GRIZZLY BEAR slowly making its way around the side of the manager’s cabin towards us!! A young male he was not particularly large by Grizzly bear standards, but for good reason he was extremely intimidating nonetheless.
My initial reaction was a combination of shock, fear and excitement and I acted on these feelings in the same way I have in all wildlife sightings on the tour to date, let Vilma know immediately so she can retrieve her SLR camera and appropriate lenses. Vilma & Peter ran over from the kitchen for a look, and then ran back to the cabin to get their cameras and to notify the manager. Conveniently for us there was a Ranger in the campsite armed with a gun of some sort and bear spray. He had arrived from the adjacent campsite to ensure a black bear, yes another bear nearby, did not make its way towards the campers.
By the time Vilma had returned with her camera, the Ranger and a group of other riders had turned up, some half asleep, some with a cup of tea, others wearing nothing but swimsuits as they had hurriedly made an exit from the sauna when hearing the commotion. The bear had seen us and stopped briefly to size us up and deliver what we took as a chilling glare before making his way slowly to the front of the cabin, a mere 20m from us. The ranger yelled at the bear to grab its attention and started walking towards it to shoo in the other direction, as he strode out his gun swayed with his body movement and as he reached to stabilize it he bumped the can of bear spray on his hip. The bear sprays safety clip must have been removed previously as the spray was discharged onto his arm and the spray floated up into his face and eyes.
A brief second or two later he was in extreme pain and on his hands and knees! We quickly retrieved water and he began to wash his eyes out, a process that would take over half an hour. Thankfully for us the bear was frightened by all the commotion and ran off in the other direction!! As the ranger recovered there was a shared feeling of relief amongst the group, the ranger was ok, we were all ok, our Salmon dinner was nearly ready and was not property of Mr Bear and most of all we were lucky enough to be sleeping inside tonight in the shared cabins. Our final night in mountains turned out to be more eventful than planned and made me reflect upon the fact that although the Icefields Parkway sees many thousands of tourists a year, the area is still extremely wild and control lies in the hands of the animals, the grizzly bear being one of them!
Our excitement died down quickly and our attention turned to the next day’s adventures that included a visit to the iconic Lake Louise and an enjoyable cycle along the Bow Valley Parkway, touted as one of the best cycling routes in the area it sure lived up to its reputation of featuring flowing road and with many interesting side trips. Taking the Banff Legacy Trail into Banff town was a highlight and will have us all returning to the area in the future.
As the name suggests, the TDA Global Cycling family is a loyal bunch that attracts riders and followers from all over the world. This came to mind as we cycled into Burns Lake in the first week where TDA chef April lives and works. She visited up briefly for a quick catch up and donated some local rhubarb that went extremely well with our breakfast the following day. We were also lucky enough to have a delicious roadside morning tea of cookies prepared by Trish & Wayne, TDA alumni and residents of Exshaw, 40km out of Banff and at a good midway point to the day’s lunch stop.
With the first section coming to an end we bid farewell to sectional riders Paul, Lieke, Alex & Lani and also TDA founder Henry who joined us for the first couple of weeks. As we make our way towards the prairies we welcome Australian rider Stirling Lee and hope for some warmer dryer and not too windy conditions!