The first rest day since arriving back on the mainland was at Bridge Lake. Thanks to welcoming hosts, we had the luxury of a shower and use of the washing machine. Fantastic. But it got better. Sumptious home-made food in quantities to fully satisfy not just two cyclists, but five. Myself and Lars were not the only guests. Two French lads and a German had also arrived on their bikes from the opposite direction.
With free-rein of the quad bike to explore the area, Lars trustingly hopped on the back while I took the keys. Later, a beer to relax with in the garden. That was just the day we arrived. The following day, we were invited for a boat ride around Bridge Lake. In the afternoon we explored the lakes numerous little islands by canoe. Jumping from rocks into the cool water and playing around with the packraft was like another day of an endless, carefree childhood summer. Except this time I drove the truck loaded with canoes back to the house.
Somewhat reluctantly we left Bridge Lake and took the old highway 24 to Little Fort. Downhill all the way. Free-wheeling along the winding gravel road along the creek. Tall trees rose around us. Fir, pine, spruce and red cedar. To a botanical ignoramous like myself, having spent the best part of a month cycling through these timber-filled hills, even I am beginning to differentiate between them.
And then it was north as the rain began. A dull day on a dull road. But after a couple of days, a hot shower and even a bed for the night in Valemount. The road to Jasper took us past Mount Robson, the highest mountain in the Canadian Rockies. And then followed the Fraser River upstream and on over the Yellowhead Pass.
In the days of the Cariboo Gold Rush, a group of 150 men plus one woman with three young children, calling themselves the ‘Overlanders’, travelled this same route in the opposite direction. Having spent months crossing Canada from the East in wagons, they finally caught their first glimpse of the Rockies. Gradually, looming ever larger on the horizon, the imposing mountains grew closer until the tired group were finally climbing upwards. The Overlanders, exhausted, crossed the divide at the Yellowhead Pass. It was with some jubilation that they saw the river flowing down the other side. Unfortunately for them, what came next was no easier. Day after day was spent crossing rivers and wading through marshland with freezing water up to their waists. Their well worn clothes constantly saturated. Eventually they could build rafts to travel downstream. The Overlanders made it to their destination. The cost however, was that they had to sell everything along the way. So they couldn’t afford the equipment needed to go searching for gold.
Our journey was much easier. Thanks mostly to the paved highway raised above the dark still waters with ducks resting and trees reflecting in the late afternoon sun. And as the sun set behind the surrounding mountains, we set up camp beside the railway. It was a cold night and we woke in frozen tents with ice in our water bottles. It was a crisp, clear morning. The sun shone bright but emitted little heat. Enough to turn the frost to dew, whose droplets reflected the sun so that the golden leaves of fall sparkled. A young coyote playfully leapt in the long grasses as we free-wheeled down from the pass, having just made our first crossing of the continental divide.
Unfortunately, as we turned onto the Icefields Parkway, the cycling got harder. A gradual incline and a headwind. But we pedalled on through the beautiful mountains whose higher peaks still retain some snow. And crossed the turquoise river once again.
The following day we climbed ever upwards towards the Columbia icefield. The river narrowed and it’s route meandered ever wider through the flood plain. By the time we arrived at the glacier, there was a constant rain, incessant headwind and low-lying cloud that obscured the mountain tops. In the days before the tourist centre, shuttles to the glacier and highway of an endless stream of RV’s, the views would have evoked feelings of wild beauty. Now the wilderness has been tamed and the allure lost.
Cycling down along the parkway we keep a close lookout for wildlife. The numerous signs suggested that we should likely encounter elk, bighorn sheep, moose and bears. The wildlife remained elusive. The National Park is large, so the wildlife can roam well away from the endless stream of tourists on the highway. Unfortunately with our bikes, we couldn’t.
As we neared Banff, the blue skies returned and we were treated to a stunning visual display of fall colours, with the surrounding trees a full array of greens and yellow, oranges and red. We even managed to get off the main road and follow the Bow Valley trail. If only the whole Parkway had been this quiet.
It was good to arrive in Banff. And a couple of celebratory beers was even better. We found a spot to bush camp that night. A ranger found us in the morning. Summoned to stand beside the uniformed ranger, we were cautioned and warned that bush camping in the park was not allowed… for our own safety. It seemed best to agree rather than mention we had been bush camping throughout British Columbia for the last month, with absolutely no issues with wild animals.
The warning seemed even more ironic when, having checked into a hostel one guy looking for seasonal work mentioned that before returning from the pub last night, their inebriated group had gone up to the forest ‘elk hunting’. “We walked real slow and quiet, cos it was a bit scary thinking we might bump into a big elk with huge horns in the darkness.” I don’t suppose any of them were carrying bear spray either! I wonder what the park ranger would make of that. But being drunk anywhere in a National Park is not illegal, it’s just sleeping is.
Later, as we walked into town, a wind whipped up and brought with it flying sheet metal which we managed to jump over, only to have a large tree snap at the base of the trunk and come crashing down on the parked car we were walking past.
Time to get away from Banff and back to the bush I think!
To see more photos from this part of the ride, see here.
And if you like the photos, you may be interested in the latest calendar on Canada I’ve just put together, with photos from this trip