Firstly thanks to the special group who followed me the entire journey, family and friends kept my focus and made the solo moments not so isolated
This journey has had the support of so many people, I will do my best to cover all:
The Finish - Reflections
Glace Bay the finish point beyond the classic lobster fishing port
The last morning was fifty kilometres short. Focus on Glacé Bay, end point of the journey and the Atlantic end point. Beyond was the lure of Newfoundland, another thousand kilometres of beauty and hospitable people. But it was time to finish. The other places now must take their places on the bucket list.
There was emotion. Two years focus which produced moments of doubt. The climb out of the McKenzie delta. Loose gravel dropping one hundred kilograms of load and struggling to restart. Was it beyond my capability? Realising the ten kilometre rule past the last bear sign was impossible.
The emotion I felt was about those who were with me on the journey. They were there every day looking at my GPS dots. Knowing that support is there gives the strength beyond anything you can muster as an isolated individual.
I have had some incredible gifts. My hours with Ernest the Gwich’in elder beside the Peel River. Exploring the special places of Trish and Wayne around the Banff area. Similarly sharing with Buck and Lee around Grand Marais and Alex in Ottawa. Thanks to Buck I have had dinner with a famous Arctic explorer and mountaineer, Lonnie Dupre. Things don’t happen by chance, chances are created.
There has been days when things occur as if pre-ordained. The navigation error which gave me the last beautiful campsite on the Merigomish Harbour; the chance encounter with Bill in Fort Frazer (giving an incurable addiction to Tim Hortons muffins); meeting GG on the street of Somerset Manitoba and seeing her photo of Gunlom pool Kakadu.
It was impossible to look to the Atlantic battling the cold wet days of the Alaska Highway. The focus was on the warm tent at the end of the day (and the delight of 1500 calories of quinoa and nuts that has a distinctly similar taste to last nights gourmet offering). Day by day the kilometres built up behind the little trailer wheel. Suddenly I could look back on half a continent. It was not that hard in small daily bites.
My meticulous route planning was blown apart by realities. The choices I took were simple: avoid big towns, back roads only, don’t be afraid of gravel and never ride backwards. It worked. It showed me a back country view of Canada and its people which was a pleasure.
I just have so many thank you’s to deliver. If you are reading this consider yourself thanked. I will compile a proper thank you list in the next few days.
Canada was a country of two languages - until Novia Scotia threw in Gaelic
The shores of Bras d'or Lake Cape Breton Island
Nova Scotia industry out of New Glasgow
Scenes along the Picton Nova Scotia coast
Classic lobster Port at the finish in Glace Bay
Atlantic journeys end
Inspiration from Jock Hobbs
The Atlantic Coast
The key elements on this ride are food, sleep and mental focus. I had some inspiration from Jock Hobbs (All Black and rugby administration great). In his last months of his battle with cancer, Jock was asked what motivated him. His response was “When I get out of bed in the morning I try to be world class”. Jock was world class in many aspects of his life.
My modest take on this quote is “to make a positive impact on someone along the way today”. That mental focus helps relegate the more mundane. The ride is out of the ordinary and sharing it offers a gift. Access to someone’s own adventure, past or planned or simply allowing them to be part of it. It is fun to see where it goes with each conversation.
In terms of the ride it is difficult to shift the focus from the end point now so tantalisingly close. The ride up the Saint Laurence River offered an amazing shift in geography on the last day. Vast flat flood plains punctuated by rocky island-like outcrops, each with a village on top. The villages separated by no more than fifteen kilometres also offered seductive temptations. Coffee shops with muffins, quaint motels with beds much more comfortable than the tent.
I agonised over a route change to follow the Saint Laurence to the mouth. It was already becoming distinctly tidal a thousand kilometres upstream. But it was time to get back to the wilderness, classic Canadian riding. I turned south into New Brunswick. I hit some big industrial mill towns like Edmunston, so I headed east, right across to the Atlantic shore. Nice towns like Campbelton and Miramichi. A coastal road alternating between classic Atlantic beach holiday coast and giant timber mills belching clouds and dust.
Hurricanes, having devastated the south of USA are creeping nasty weather up the coast, so far the sun has largely held it’s own. Nights are a different story, deep sea mists roll in cold and damp. The tent ends up terminally soggy. The night in the Miramichi Enclosure camp (why would you name a camp that?) also brought out a very fat raccoon wrestling with my bear-proof food container. He was determined to outdo grizzly power with ingenuity. A hail of rocks eventually sent him scuttling.
The holiday season also ended abruptly with school starting last week. Camping grounds I have targeted from over a hundred kilometres away, appear with “closed for the season” signs. Cafes and Icecream shops are boarded up already. Summer is also road construction season in a big way. Diversions cater for the traffic on the highways but my insignificant back roads are led in confusing loops. Twenty extra kilometres today.
Saint Laurent villages
Colours starting to change
From big timber truck lineups...
To lobster boat lineups
Still no Moose
Cycling friendly Quebec
Cycling friendly but not so friendly Quebecians
The standard of Canadian generosity and friendliness has dropped markedly in Quebec. In the province that has delivered cycle trails which are totally bike friendly, the people seem blind and deaf to the waves and “bonjours” I fire randomly. Even fellow riders avert their attention as I pass. Maybe it is just the recognition that I am English speaking and represent a potential difficult conversation. In every other province every road sign is meticulously duplicated in both English and French. In Quebec there is just French.
The generosity of my friend Alex and wife Marion in Ottawa more than compensated. A few days recharging beside their balcony side lake in the central city refreshed mind and body. Marion's late night tour of the city revealed tree lined waterways and some classic architecture. A city with a good feel in the heart.
The ride down the Ottawa River followed one of the “route vertes” a network of green safe cycle trails throughout the province. Signage that connected every diversion with clarity (apart from a major miss in the middle of Montreal which saw me sail past the major junction to Route Verte 5 eastward).
I emerged into downtown Montreal through archways of green forest and back streets. A long day's pleasant ride but sadly lacking the planning I needed to find a place to sleep. Darkness descending, motels full for the long Labour day weekend. I killed time with the necessary chore of eating. The city was fully dark and just as busy when I finished. A lady outside one of the full hotels took charge and directed me to the only cycle-range accomodation in the area. I arrived, heart sinking when I saw the style of the place, no way my rest day budget would squeeze a room here. No choice, so an enforced night of 5 star luxury, damn.
Exit from Montreal in cold wet backlash from hurricane Harvey. Cycle trails lead me perfectly through the maze, until this uneasy feeling that it was a long time between the familiar green “Route Verte” signs. Emergency extract of the iPad, the cycle trail I was on should intersect downriver with the eastward route. In the end a painless extract from the big city.
Cycle touring works much better through the back country small town routes I have been following. Small town folk also have more time, to talk, to help.
The ride down the Saint Laurence has been picturesque. Classic waterside cottages, old farms and limited traffic. An emergency repair of my front suspension fork required a long French/sign language conversation with an elderly bike mechanic. No bolts with thread small enough for the repair. Then the eureka moment matching the threat on the end of a spoke for a number eight wire repair.
From here, after extracting myself from Quebec City, I will cross to the south bank of the Saint Laurence to head to New Brunswick.
Alex drops me at the start of Route Verte 1 in Ottawa
Looking back at the Ottawa skyline
Down the Ottawa River
Onto the giant Saint Laurence
Saint Laurence riverside country
Heading into Trois Rivierres
Les grand Maisons sur la rivierre
Every small village has its classic church...
...and old classic barns
...and classic cottages
A change of language
Into Quebec and a change of language
Sault Saint Marie to Ottawa
Solo again after parting with Buck at Sault Saint Marie. Noticeably a bit down without the company. The trans-Canada highway is the only option for this stretch. It is not a bicycle friendly option. Shoulder is non-existent most of the way, traffic is heavy with big trucks centimetres from my elbow. So head down and a couple of 160 km days put that behind.
Brent from my local bike shop had put out the call to relatives in Sudbury - so my two long days ended in comfort with Rochelle and Brent (another one) in Lively just outside Sudbury. Warm comfortable bed and meal was welcome, many thanks. Rochelle's sister Lorraine also arrived to hear my story and provide a generous donation.
My instructions to see the local tourist attraction of the Big Nickel went astray despite turning onto Big Nickel road. Somehow I was out of Sudbury Nickelless. A night beside the Nipissing Lake before North Bay. A kind couple in the camp reimbursed my camp fees to add to the growing list of random donations.
North Bay I found some cycle trails heading south initially bypassing the busy highway 11. A hour or so of peace and quiet in the forest. Highway 11, despite being a major arterial route down to Toronto had the advantage of separated carriage ways for north and south, and a generous shoulder. I reached South River ready for food and rest.
The information sign at South River was misplaced outside a canoe outfitter (as it turned out one of the best manufacturers of Kevlar kayaks and canoes in the region, Swift Kayaks). Bob Stinson the owner greeted me with a larconic "I guess you are looking for information?" No campsites in South River but plenty of space behind his canoe racks. Along with the quirky campsite Bob treated me to breakfast next morning in the local diner, sharing some of his life and passion.
Bob lives for the water wilderness and the long connection of water ways that allow escape for months at a time to his hand built log cabin. The long River connections run all the way to Hudson Bay and polar bear country. He guides an annual group of promising youth for 60 day canoe adventures, a great introduction and test of character.
The bad news Bob left me with was that highway 11 was actually closed to bicycles, but alternate choices at that point were nil. I found something interesting to look at in the forest diverting my attention from the signs at the highway on-ramp. Ignorance would be my defence. It was an anomaly that the only highway with adequate infrastructure for cycling (and the only possible route from North Bay) was closed to cyclists. However I was a little nervous with the truth revealed. The first (and only) police car passed without a second glance, obviously more important crimes on the agenda, I relaxed a little.
I turned east onto highway 60, which would take me through the canoe Mecca of Alonquin Park. Traffic peace and scenery I could breathe again. A night in the park then a short day out to Madawaska River. I was feeling the cumulative effective of many steep hills in the park. The riverside camp was run by a ninety year old woman and her son. Despite the long pauses between sentences the delightful old lady waived the camp fee and perilously drove her ancient Nissan through the camp three times to check up on me.
Next day I passed through Barrie's Bay, as I cycled on and stopped to admire a Catholic Church of elegant Polish architecture. A car pulled up and a reporter from the Barrie's Bay "Valley Gazette" pulled up. Mark Jones, interviewed me on the church steps, and the conversation diverged. I ended up calling into his house where his wife provided a great pie and we talked for an hour or so. I had to decline the invitation to stay as I needed more kilometres to be in striking distance of Ottawa so I could warn friends of my arrival.
The warning never eventuated. In failing light, the only option for the night was a campsite with no internet. Alex, cycling friend from both Africa and New Zealand would have an unexpected arrival land into his busy schedule. All was generously swept aside and I found myself in his classic house overlooking a lake in central Ottawa. Another great rest day location to enjoy.
The ride across the Quebec border (as well as the abrupt change in default language to French) provided some great back country lane cycling into small villages down the Outaquais River along with some gravel and a first need to extract the GPS to check location.
Video update on Cancer Society Everyday Hero page:
Swift Kayaks campsite South River
The town of Huntsville had character - at the turnoff to highway 60
The namesake on my original route
Alonquin Park canoeist Mecca
Evening at Cache Bay Lake Nipissing
Misty morning Madawaska
Morning visitor Cobden campsite
Outaquais River crossing into Quebec
Classic Canadian architecture
Quebec farm scenes
First geographically challenging intersection yesterday
I will start with the black magic first. Buck has an uncanny ability to change the current state with just a casual comment. Some examples will make it quickly clear:
Buck will say "This is a beautiful smooth wide verge we have had most of the way." Within two kilometres the verge degenerates to 25 centimetres of broken Tarmac dropping into rough gravel.
Buck: "The rain has cleared you can take your coat off now." The next corner reveals a indigo black wall of sheet rain racing towards us, complete with thunder and lightning.
The positive magic is in Buck's deep appreciation and love of the natural beauty we are riding through along with a sense of fun. Great to share this section of the ride with someone who can add a local dimension.
Thunder Bay was first destination. It delivered true to name, along with cyclist drenching buckets of water. Buck had arranged for us to stay with a friend, Erin. Erin a dynamo of positive energy would not be home until ten pm, leaving two soggy cyclists searching her house for the clothes drier. Once she did arrive home Erin treated us to great conversation and blue berry waffles with fruit smoothies for breakfast, along with a variety of other treats including freshly cooked salmon for lunch on the road.
Nipigon was our next camp, back to tents. The site was scenic, overlooking the water. Our camp table was known by locals as the "bullshit" table. The reason became obvious as Howie strolled along to capture our dwindling attention with endless stories. Buck finally escaped to his tent leaving me trying to find Howie's off button. I finally diverted Howie, and the second of the bullshit brigade arrived on his bicycle. More fending off the same stories before I finally escaped to my tent.
Next day delivered great scenes and a quality lunch at Serendipity Cafe. The day ended in Terrace Bay. Rain set in next morning, foggy glasses obscuring view of countless small lakes. A bid to reach White River was thwarted by an increasing head wind and heavy rain. We bush camped beside Rous Lake in what would have been a pleasant spot with sunshine. Rain continued along with continuous rolling to steep climbs. The town of Marathon diverted us down a steep long drop for lunch next day. Strange town with little heart, slowly dying we suspected.
On the southern turn down the lake, we were treated to bays, beaches and little jewels of smaller lakes, now reflecting a warm sun that had returned. We camped on a beautiful beach at Agawa Bay after a long day of hills.
The eight days with Buck ended this morning in Sault Saint Marie. We know there is a ride somewhere in the world that will be waiting for us to team up again.
Naniboujou Lodge outside Grand Marais (dining room below)
Fish Houses Lake Superior just before Canadian border
View from Buck's friend Rick's B&B
Buck at the bullshit table Nipigon camp
On the road (loved the forest and rock of the section after Nipigon)
Misty morning at Fungus Creek
Many small jewels of lakes along the way
General store Wawa
Agawa Bay camp
Lake Superior coast south of Agawa
Terraced river feeding into Lake Superior
Grand Marais USA
Finally I twigged on seeing the ten thousandth Harley Davidson rider passing me on the road. The Harley factory produces bike and riders on parallel production lines. The riders come off with standard 100 kilograms, red faces and white beards. Most select the free option of an extra 20 kilograms around the beer region. Decals are optional but rock band tee shirts and bandanas are mandatory.
Last report from Weyburn in Saskatewan. Ten days of riding since, first two with young French Canadian students, Claudia and Gael. Claudia a marathon runner, insisted on finishing the days with a run. Left them behind in a beautiful camp in Leleau, they were not equiped for the cold rain that set in that day. Thanks to publican in Ninette who dried my clothes as I ate some food.
Thanks also to the unknown lady next morning in Baldur who paid for my giant catch-up-calorie breakfast.
Across the border into Manitoba the road quality dropped instantly with unrideable gravel verges. Plains scenery dominated by "nodding donkey" oil pumps and wind turbines.
Arrived in the small town of Somerset, and was greeted by adventure backpacker, Ghislaine Grenier (GG) who owned a small restaurant in the town. A five minute conversation made a connection and I took up her offer of open house at her restaurant, everything I could eat and anything I could take away. Humbling generosity, and a further connection when I noticed a photo from her travels of Gunlom Pool in Kakadu in Australia. Barb and I sat in the same pool.
Really touched as every day some act of random generosity cheers me.
Crossed the USA border on a small country road. Somewhat surprised to have an easy passage, friendly official, no search and food supplies intact. Into Minnesota, manicured lawns, neat houses and US flags flying. Down to Thief River Falls in time to catch a music festival at the camp, dwarfed by the huge RV in the next camp spot.
My route through Minnesota was in the far north, from Thief River, remoteness kicked in quickly. Few cars, tiny towns. Red Lake had a hard human edge which had me on edge all night despite being given the keys to the beautiful Catholic Church (for shelter should I need it). I was greeted by two aggressive dogs, a pitball cross and a timber wolf, a sly pair which I had to fend off from the bike. Next morning the same two invited themselves to breakfast at the church grounds camp. They took some uninviting, I was ready with the bear spray.
The night was broken by loud speakers from the two prisons the town is wedged between. Female voice "Buddy you are the light of my life, I adore you". Male voice "Roger that, my searchlight is focused on you". That of course was the diversionary interpretation, I was sure the real message was "Dangerous crim escaped heading towards the Catholic Church". Four lots of screaming police sirens punctuated the remainder of the night. Drugs and ethnic anger can create a lot of fear.
Next night outside Effie I was hosted on Tim and Sheri's front lawn under a beautiful shady Willow tree, a much more comfortable night and some good conversation. Next night, more generosity with Hoodoo Camp providing a free site beside Vermillion Lake. A big push next day chased by wet thunderstorms to take shelter and warm up in a cabin in Finland. The ride through the pretty town of Ely was interrupted by Jim, who shouted me a coffee and introduced me to the reporter on the local paper, Tom Coombe. An interview over coffee, and hopefully some bonus charity impact in a great part of Minnesota.
Now I am based for a few days in Grand Marais, catching up with cycling friends Buck Benson, Lee and Scott Bergstrom. Buck's hospitality has been extraordinary with great food, a view from some of his favourite spots on the Islands in Lake Superior and some much needed rest.
Thanks also to Chris from Quest bike trailers who sent me a replacement suspension Spring for the trailer to meet me here.
Farewell to Claudia and Gael
Manitoba - oil pumps and wind turbines
Minnesota manicured lawns and US flags
...and big tractors
Dwarfed by my neighbour at Thief River Falls
Thief River Falls
Safe camp beside the presbetory in Red Lake
On the highway along the wilderness "edge" Minnesota north
Arrived on the shores of Lake Superior
First view of Grand Marais
Buck shows me one of his favourite spots Top of the World Spar Island Lake Superior
Spar Island fungi
Prairie wind burn
Eastend to Weyburn
The late night in Eastend catching up with internet, caught up big time next day. A measly 32 kilometres into head wind into Shaunavon, a quiet little country town with a nice shady camp right in the middle of town. A quick lunch turned into an overnight stop. Next day provided further howling headwinds and a gradual climb. Who told me it is all flat/downhill across the prairies? The hills are long rolling swells like the imperceptible big Pacific swells hitting the Solomons.
A lunch stop at the almost-ghost town of Cadillac found a peaceful little park beside the Post Office (the only remaining active building). The impossibly uncomfortable steel park bench still allowed an hours sleep. Onward to Pontiex, shady campground beside the swimming pool and golf course. Swim was welcome after the burning winds.
Next day's aim was Assiniboia, I was on a promise of BBQ with Treena and Bobby. The day produced some other generous offers. Lunch at Lafleche and an invitation for a bed and a beer with a local farmer. The beer almost swayed it, but with only 75km on the clock, had to keep rolling. Assiniboia arrived to find Bobby and Treena were unavailable. I looked at the void in the map past Assiniboia and decided to wing it for a few more hours. A big day of 156km, wind changed again and I pulled into the tiny dot that marked Verwood. Population 20 all heading to the same party across the road from my campsite. Music hitting the tent with the velocity of wind gusts.
Verwood also had Al Birchard cleaning up land around the church. He suggested a campsite in the municipal land across the road. His classic Mercedes arrived back an hour or so later with a large container of cool water, oranges and best wishes from his wife. Good people positioned at every stop on my journey.
The only stop next day was Ogema, another classic small prairie town. Lunch followed by a 3 hour sleep on the grass behind the grandstand of the local sports ground. Heat and moisture sucking wind taking it's toll. Weyburn was the aim for today's rest day, the only town with necessary supply. Four pm and still 80kms, it was ride or bust. Darkness arrived before Weyburn, first motel was within budget after the $5 discount from the owner. Glad to turn the light out at midnight. 140 hard fought kilometres.
No doubt the heat and fickle wind is taking it's toll across these vast plains. Never been so constantly tired. Mental focus becomes a struggle as I try to plan the new route. 5059 kilometres on the clock.
Classic ranch relics
Towns appear like Islands in the distance
Saskatchewan Tractor Tyre
Saskatchewan Tractor Tyre Spring
The last thing I anticipated is to have a tractor tyre as one of the highlights of the trip. On Sunday one of the few cars I encountered was a young woman who showed concern. It was a concern I didn't share, I had enough water for the 100 km or so to the next water point. However she didn't believe me and half an hour later her father turned up in his pickup. Blaine Walburger had a ranch just down the road, he arrived bearing cold iced tea and iced water plus two bananas, but his greatest gift was the tractor tyre.
"Ten miles up the road you will cross a creek, look to your left and you will see an old tractor tyre. It holds fresh clear springwater, best water in the area, stop there."
I am now in the southern Badlands, just 30 km from northern Montana. The wind blows hot and dry, the temperature in the high thirties. I have left Manyberries and the gravel grind to the next town is 100km. In that context fresh clear cool water is looking pretty good. The tyre appears in a grassy basin, a deer disappears through a gap. The setting is silent and peaceful just the gurgle of the spring continuously running into the huge tractor tyre. It is bigger than a bath and works better, the water has no contest with the tepid plastic bottles on my bike. In spite of my protest about the 30 unfinished kilometres, the tent is already up.
Thank you Blaine Walburger, the iced tea was sucked in a single gulp, the bananas similarly, but the night in the setting beside the tractor tyre spring was a special gift.
I left Waterton National Park with some regrets. The first was leaving friends behind after they had hosted me so well, the second was leaving the mountains after 4,500 kilometres, I was sure the prairies would be a trudge to just ride through nothingness. How wrong. The remoteness opened up peace and space. Cars became a rarity, people waved, some even stopped to talk. The huge dome of blue above, the thin slice of prairie below, the lines of the road meeting at infinity ahead. The wildlife continued, ground squirrels bouncing along the verge, deer appearing from nowhere, antelope with their unique all-four-legs-once springing, a coyote looking back at me after slinking across the road.
A day earlier I had stopped at Etzikom Museum. Lynn the currator photocopied maps for my new on-the-fly routing. I was now following the Red Coat Trail, built for the Mounties to control lawlessness in the west. By the time I reached Manyberries classic old pub later that evening Lyn had also arranged a meal and a bed. Thank you Lyn.
There a few holes in the blog since Exshaw. We had been joined there by Vince and Kay from NZ, great friends, and riders from both Africa and the NZ tour. Wayne and Trish had a full agenda, including tickets to the Chuck Wagon racing at Calgary Stampede, followed by a spectacular show after.
I returned to Banff to ride the start of the Canadian Great Divide Trail with Vince and Wayne, bike unburdened. This was a test for continuing the ride on this trail with the load (failed reroute required). Wayne had added a new trail to the days agenda, the High Rockies trail. This Trail was new and raw, steep sharp drops and climbs and big boulders. We ended at Engadine Lodge where I spent a night in a Mongolian yurt, awaking to minus two degrees and frozen water bottles. From there I rode alone over the 7200ft Highwood Pass then down towards Waterton.
Trish had arranged another cycling friend to meet me at the first camp at Green Ford, bringing a picnic supper. Janice had completed a trans-Canada ride in 2004 so we had a lot in common. Her friend Lindsay, had NZ roots and NZ wine to complement the dinner. More great people with gifts along the way.
Three days riding later I was reunited with, Wayne, Trish, Vince and Kay in Waterton NP. More magic mountain scenery, and the final split with the friends. Thanks to Glen and Susan who shared their campsite in the packed campground, and Jim and Jeanette who hosted us at their cabin.
From Waterton it was east into Badlands, which brings us up to date.
The iconic Banff Springs Hotel
About to test the trails behind Banff Springs Hotel -with Vince and Wayne
Big climb out of the Rockies from Engadine Lodge
My neighbour at Maycroft Camps - thanks to the two Foscil fossicking students who supplied water
Farewell to friends and wonderful hosts at Waterton
Then into Badlands
Only 30km from Montana
Another State Border crossed
Tractor Tyre Camp
A few days before reaching Prince George (last blog) I stopped for a drink at a small settlement called Fort Fraser. There I chatted to a Dutchman called Bill. Bill had ridden across Canada a year or so before so understood the trials and long haul nature of cycling. Three days and one hundred and eighty kilometres later, I was camped in a riverside rest stop. Seven o'clock next morning I heard a car pull up, and a voice calling my name. It was Bill on his way to Vancouver, checking every campsite to track me down. His parting gift was a coffee card for a major coffee shop chain (Tim Hortons). Just a small touch of random generosity, greatly appreciated.
I was now starting the climb into the real Rockies, a climb that would take six days to complete, through the towns of McBride and then east to Jasper. Jasper reconnected me with Julian (who I rode from Dawson to Whitehorse with). I was carrying his bear bangers which he didn't want to get confiscated at the USA border. I was to deliver these to his friends, Gary and Claude in Jasper. Gary immediately invited me to stay. The stay started with a refreshing swim in local Lake Edith, complete with elk swimming across from an island in the lake. Gary and Claude dined and entertained me and gave me the luxury of a real bed. Another act of greatly appreciated random generosity.
Left behind in BC were something like 300 raging bushfires. The legacy to the east was a thick pall of hazy smoke and and orange glowing sun. The mountains were turned to bluish silhouettes, layer after layer. From Jasper the real climb started, surreal ghostly mountains in the smoke haze. I had crossed the Continental Divide way back on the Alaska highway, but now the peaks were getting serious, not the babies I thought were so big a month ago. Signs said heights of 3000 metres or 10,000 feet. The pedals became a lot heavier.
I was now on the Icefields Parkway. My head was constantly back at an angle of 45 degrees. Both sides these peaks loomed. I wasn't the only tourist here, when the day ended the campgrounds were packed. I didn't have the energy for another 100 km to the next. Head was down and sulky as I scoured Wilcox camp for any small nook I could sneak my tent into. A cheery voice called "you can camp on our site". Frank and Kim were from Saskatoon. As soon as I had squeezed my tent beside their truck, a red wine was thrust into my hands. My needs were apparent from the body language. Kim resurrected Franks dying fire, Jasper their dog inspected my quinoa meal and walked away in disgust. Conversation started and I enjoyed some great company. The random generosity touched me again. Kim even disappeared with my billy into their caravan and returned with an object unrecognisable without its two months baked on food spills. I departed next morning with an invitation to Saskatoon. Route under revision.
Next day dawned with clear sky. The monster hills showed rocks and ice without their blue shroud. The ride was reduced to half-a-kilometre, photo, turn a corner, photo... The climb reached its peak, the road spiralled downward, rivers began to run the opposite direction, plunging into to deep gushing canyons. It was a visual and scenic feast. I briefly was engulfed in a cycling tour group. The speed and competitive streak crept upward. I looked up, what had I missed in those 20 kilometres? Sense prevailed, I pulled out and stopped for a drink at a tourist hub. A young woman and her friend shyly approached me. She had walked 24 hours for cancer after losing a best friend. They both handed a donation. I was humbled and quickly put back on track.
The day cruised on photo after photo. It ended in Lake Louise, another tourist hub. Everything full. Last resort one of 5 beds in a small hostel room. Happy to escape early next morning down to the kitchen for usual oat bran, nuts and cranberry raisins. The day started with texts from both Trish and Wayne, friends my Africa ride and more recently the New Zealand ride. Trish provided detailed instructions to their house in Exshaw, and Wayne an invitation to join him for lunch in Banff.
Despite being totally comfortable with Trish's instructions, I was approached by two "I have cycled everywhere" cycle touring specialists. The route option competition escalated, highway numbers fired like machine gun bullets. I smiled and tried not to look at my watch too many times. Gratefully I finally headed out the gate on Trish's route. I was treated to the peace of a quiet road, continued scene fest, a gradual downhill and a tail wind. A cyclists dream day.
Reuniting first with Wayne in Banff then Trish was the culmination of years of planning, it seemed surreal that it had come together. Wayne and Trish invited me into their house with huge warmth. This was old friend generosity of the best kind.
Recently Wayne set the Masters over 60 years World record for a ultra-marathon 24 hour running. A staggering 214 km - more than 5 continuous marathons. I am dreading what lays in store for my "rest" days.
Another State Border - just before Jasper
Jasper a tourist town with some character
The real Rockies begin
Boe River Lake Louise to Exshaw
Trish and Wayne lead me into the woods of their backyard
Thanks to my rest day hosts
Up to my knees on "rest day"