Thursday, 29 May 2014

Drumheller - Home of The Dinosaur

The area around Drumheller is known as Dinosaur Valley due to the number of fossilised dinosaurs dug from the surrounding hills.


It is also home to the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology and we spent a great day looking around the world class exhibits.
 

Drumheller is also home to the world's largest dinosaur (a 'small' Susan is in the foreground). The dinosaur is so impressively big it actually doesn't appear as tacky as it might otherwise have been. Size obviously matters!

Calgary To Drumheller

We left Calgary, headed east towards Strathmore then north towards Drumheller.  We cycled towards the Prairies and the scenery changed from 'mountains' to 'skies', big 'skies' and clouds.




The mountainous roads of the Rockies were replaced by long long low hills that we steadily pedalled for an age. When cycling, you just pick a spot on the horizon and head for it.  

In the late afternoon, isolated thunderstorms and dark skies pass all round us.  Thankfully our luck was in and we stayed dry. However, as we approached Drumheller an absolutely fierce wind hit us and nearly blew us over whilst travelling down a 9% grade. The stormy skies overhead made up our mind - no camping tonight!


Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Monday, 26 May 2014

Stampede to Calgary

The cycle from Banff to Calgary was 130km (80 miles), our longest distance cycle to date. This was the day we left the Rockies behind and the change in the landscape was dramatic.


We made good progress as the hills were nothing like we were used to although just outside a town called Cochrane there was a massively steep 700ft hill to cycle. Guess what this hill is called?  It's called Big Hill.  What a spot on name! 

At Cochrane, we were looking for a place to eat when we met a chap called Jacob (jacobquiring.com) who is also cycling across Canada.  We swapped stories and he set off up the Big Hill whilst we made our way to KFC for some chicken coated in 12 secret spices.

As we approached Calgary the Highway 1a turned into a fast dual carriageway with multiple slip roads.  It was not an easy cycle so we turned off to look for an alternative route.  We do use a Garmin Oregon GPS for directions but it's functionality is incredibly poor.  Oh don't get me started on Garmin or I will go on for hours.  If Susan can't get to sleep she just says 'speak to me about the 'machine'.  Zzzzzz

So what do you do when you need directions?  You ask a policeman of course! And we got three of Calgary's finest on police cycles to help. 


Three policemen and a guy wearing tights.

Soon we were back on track and hit Calgary city centre. 1433km to date.


On our first rest day in Calgary I wanted to do a bit of window shopping and sight seeing but Susan insisted we go to the Ship and Anchor, a well known football pub in Calgary.  It was, of course, Champions League Final day, Real Madrid v Atletico Madrid.  I wasn't too happy because it was an early start to drinking as the game began at lunchtime in Calgary.  Nevertheless, I went along to keep her happy.  As I see it we are a team and it's not all about what I want.  

So we went to this packed pub with a big screen and lots of Spanish chaps who chanted 'ole'.  We had a few beers and I couldn't believe my bad luck when it went into extra time and I had to drink more beer. However, when Gareth Bale scored my luck changed because it was Susan who got soaked with beer in the madness that ensued.  


Susan got some revenge though as she made me walk back to the hotel in a downpour.  We got absolutely drenched. If only I knew this was going to happen I could have worn my three pairs of socks and got them washed!

My only lasting concern from this day, however, is that if Susan is this insistent with the Champions League, I can't imagine any cycling being done during the World Cup.

Sunday, 25 May 2014

Lake Louise and Banff

A couple of days at Lake Louise was followed by a short 60km cycle along the Bow Valley Parkway to Banff.  Both Lake Louise and Banff are centres for skiing and walking though many of the routes are closed - not enough snow for skiing and too much for walking.  

That said, we made the short 6km walk up a steep hill to Lake Louise from which the town takes it's name.  Actually, I am a firm believer in my rest days being rest days and the only reason we made this walk was that Susan led me to believe it was a level 1.5km!  She has learned how to be sooooo manipulative. 

All that being said, Lake Louise was a lovely setting and, in the Spring, is still frozen.  
 

At this time of the year, the great benefit for us is there are relatively few tourists about.  We are told that in the summer this area is like Clapham Junction with RVs.  That's more of a problem than you might think because these RV's are absolutely massive and about the size of a small truck or coach.  Most of them tow cars and not small cars either.  I actually spoke to one old chap who had a huge RV and I asked him if he required a special licence to drive one. 'No' he said 'a car licence is all you need'.  I was surprised and thinking of a suitable reply when he added 'or a motorcycle licence will do'!  Now I have not checked the accuracy of this information but, whether it's true or not, what it does mean is that there are people driving trucks around Canada on a motorcycle licence.  Susan and I are therefore so pleased to be leaving this area of Canada before the summer RV swarm.

Banff is a bit touristy but it's a lovely place, surrounded on all sides by impressive mountains.


We camped at Banff at a forest campsite where we had to lock away our food in bear proof lockers.  As far as I'm concerned though the bl***y bears can have the bagels and jars of Nutella and Peanut butter!  

I'm never keen on camping.  I like it, it's fine but I like my motel room with a bed, shower, power and a fridge.  Susan loves camping so she buys me tins of beer and sits me by the tent.  I can sit there happily for hours.  I told you she was manipulative!  She is a kind soul though - she lets me into the tent before the bears come out.  

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

The Icefields Parkway

The Icefields Parkway is a 232km route from Jasper to Lake Louise.  It is reckoned to be one of the most scenic roads in the world as it travels through the heart of the Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks World Heritage Site.  It's a vast wilderness of mountians, lakes, ancient glaciers and big, steep, relentless roads.

We started in Jasper and headed south on Highway 93 in sunshine.  We were reasonably fortunate with the weather as the Parkway has extremely variable conditions and it snows every month.  There are only three motels on route and they only open for part of the year.  Campsites are closed until June.  This is not a problem for motorists who usually travel the Parkway in a day or less but it required more planning for us to make sure we had somewhere to sleep and eat. 

The highway is in okay condition though it shows the wear and tear from the ice and snow.  We largely cycle on the hard shoulder though at times this is difficult because of the build up of winter grit.  It's not 'grit' like we have back home.  This is proper 'no nonsense' Canadian 'grit'.  It's actually more like the gravel found in driveways back home. 

Our first stop was at the Sunwapta Lodge and we were lucky because this was their first open day of the season.  It was comfortable and the dining was good. 

As we slowly climbed higher on the second day the landscape changed and the scenery, with the spring snow and ice, was simply stunning.





Higher and higher the road climbed until we reached the Icefield Centre by the Columbia Icefield. By this time we were at 6,650ft elevation.  With all the hard pedalling we could feel there was less oxygen in the air but it wasn't too bad really. 

We checked into the Glacier View Inn which was comfortable although the food was dreadful.  Thankfully, the views of the glacier and our walk over the glacial moraine were great.


The following morning we were awake early and Susan looked out the window.  Ohhhhhh noooooo it's been snowing!!!  Yup she was right and it was time to panic - we just could not stay here another day and eat that food! Worse still, I knew we had a jar of peanut butter, some bananas and cracker biscuits.  It had become one of Susan's pleasures to watch me gag down peanut butter and banana crackers (I'm sorry Denise, Elvis (The King) may have loved this culinary combination but he also loved cheese burgers and I'll stick to them instead!). 

So we waited until mid morning, the temperatures rose and the roads were swept and gritted by the snowploughs.  We set off.  I had three pairs of socks on with a carrier bag in between pairs one and two.  Even Susan, who is often too hot when she is cycling, had to be suitably attired for the morning cycle.  She doesn't have the same problems as me - as the theory explains, I have cold feet and a warm heart.  Susan doesn't appear to have cold feet :)



As we began our cycle, the snow started again and we had to climb even higher to the Sunwapta Pass at 6,700ft.  It wasn't easy.  Then there was a long long downhill where the wind chill was absolutely wicked and the snow turned to rain.  The only saving grace was that we didn't have peanut butter sandwiches for lunch!  It was tuna today :)

When we eventually reached The Crossing Motel we were ready for a beer.  They had a nice bar and the beer was tasty.  Unfortunately, the food was dreadful. Again!

Out last day in the Parkway saw a change in the weather.  Morning mist gave way to sunshine and spectacular views again.  



Eventually, we cycled over Bow Pass at an elevation of 6,800ft.  Maybe a Nazca Quetzal tandem has been higher but this must be in the top three!

We then pushed on the last 40km to Lake Louise.  We continued to stop, even when we were flying on the downhills, to take in the views.  One minor issue on the downhills was the state of the road - there were occasional potholes that have no right to be called potholes.  They were bloody big holes, some 10 inches deep, that could easily take out a bike.

That being said, I know Susan is a thrill seeker so we reached our record speed of 65km on one particular downhill.  That's pretty good I reckon for a tandem with a trailer (mum, don't worry, I pick the right downhills and the bike behaves well).

We could go faster of course.  With the weight we are carrying and the size of these hills, the momentum is so great I genuinely estimate we could hit light speed.  I may even be able to test the theory that we could go so fast we could time travel.  I can't remember whose theory that was.  It was either Einstein or Dr Emmett Lathrop 'Doc' Brown.  

Late afternoon, we reached Lake Louise and checked into the hostel.  It's a nice place and we have met two others who are cycling across Canada.  They have taken a shorter route over the Rockies through the Kicking Horse Pass to get here. They really don't know what they have missed in the Icefield Parkway. 

Footnote: in our opinion, the Icefield Parkway really is one of the exceptional road journeys in the world.  There may be better and we look forward to seeing better but as it stands, through all our travels, this one rates right at the top.  However, we will add a qualifier.  Do it by bicycle!  

1245km so far.



Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Jasper And The Rockies

We took three days to enjoy the sights of Jasper.  The first picture is a view of Jasper from the top of Whistler's Mountain and the others are of the surrounding Rockies.








Wednesday, 14 May 2014

The Mighty Chicken Wing

My good friend Graeme will only read this blog if it interests him and he is not an easy man to keep interested if he is not interested.  So rather than appeal to his intellect (or have a lengthy article on cricket) I am going straight to one of his great passions in life - chicken wings!

 

So here is a picture of gourmet chicken wings (ie they cost more than £3.99) with a tasty blue cheese sauce.  I apologise to all chicken wing aficionados that they are not Colonel Saunders Hot Wings but they were a close second.  All hail the chicken wing.

Monday, 12 May 2014

Canadian Roadsigns - Trick Cycling Ahead

The Elusive Moose

Here is a picture of Moose Lake that I managed to take on our cycle from T Jaune to Jasper.

 

It's a nice picture of a frozen Moose Lake and the reason I include it is because it's the only picture of a Moose I am allowed to take.

As we cycled near Jasper we were flying down a hill when Susan shouted 'there's a moose'. Sure enough on the other side of the road stood a huge beast.  Immediately, I started braking. 'No no no, don't stop' shouted Susan. 'He doesn't like his photo taken'.  'What???'  'I read it in a leaflet, he doesn't like his photo taken' she shouted again with more urgency in her voice (note: Susan thinks I'm the kind of idiot who would stop and take a picture of a Moose).  So here we are hurtling down the hill, I want to stop and my wife and advisor of 29 years is urging me not to.  Thankfully, I didn't have time to make the wrong choice because before I knew it we were another 400m down the hill and there was no way I was going to stop and go back up the hill.

Susan and I have since discussed the issue.  It now appears that I am not allowed to stop and take pictures of either mooses or bears.  What a spoilsport. 

Journey to Jasper

We left T Jaune in the early morning sun.  Susan wasn't too happy as we didn't have time to make porridge and she had to make do with a jam roll.  In my mother's day a jam 'piece' was a luxury.  Today, Susan didn't think so. Oh how times have changed. 

We did well climbing the pass at Mount Terry Fox and then headed towards Mount Robson.  Incidentally, Terry Fox is quite an iconic figure in Canada and his name is recognised everywhere. If you have not heard of him then it's time to Google. 

Mount Robson then appeared in the morning sun on the road ahead.  It looked big.


At 12,972 ft it is the highest point in the Canadian Rockies.  Or so they say.  In the last few days I've certainly felt like I've cycled higher than that! 

We stopped at Mount Robson Provincial Park cafe (the only cafe in over 100km) and I met a police Inspector who used to work in Aberdeen. Small world.  

Soon we were on our way again over another hill - trust me the photo doesn't do it justice or show the first 3km.


Later in the day, we topped out at the Yellowhead Pass and passed into Alberta. Bye bye BC, hello AB. Eventually after a 104km (65 miles) day we reached Jasper. Thankfully, we had enough energy left to go for a beer. Now 1011km from Victoria.

 

Saturday, 10 May 2014

Show Your Donkey Some Love


We have tried Gatorade, Powerade and Lucozade. We have tried isotonic and probiotic.  We have even tried water from coconuts.  But here is the best energy drink in Canada.  Now show your donkey some love!

Tete Jaune Cache


Following a recommendation by Dorthe and Andre, who manage the Super 8 Motel in Valemount, we decided to make the short cycle to Tete Jeune Cache, a mere 20km away.  They assured us that the setting for the Tete Jaune Lodge was lovely.  Oh they were absolutely right!

The added benefit was the journey was so short there was no need for Susan to make up some bagel concoction (see below for explanation). Result for both of us!

Our room at the Lodge overlooks the mighty Fraser River and surrounded by mountains.  The place is alive with hummingbirds and they are amazing - birds that fly like bees!  You can keep your hotels overlooking sunset beaches -they don't compare to this.  Mind you, I would say that as I hate sand getting in my socks and sandals :)

That evening we had a lovely meal at the restaurant and were joined by Dorthe and Andre who were great company.  Everybody we meet in BC are very friendly.  

The following day, Dan, who is care-taking the Lodge, took us in a drive around the surrounding countryside. Thanks Dan. 

Finally, as a footnote, if you are sharp you will already have noticed that we have been cycling along the Yellowhead Highway and now here we are at Tete Jeaune Cache!  It's not a coincidence.  Tete Jaune was actually named after a fur trader, Pierre Bostonaise, in the 1800's.  He worked for The Hudson Bay Company and was nicknamed 'Tete Jaune' because of his blonde hair.  The Yellowhead Highway was named after him.  If you didn't notice the connection then you're probably still sharp and had just lost interest in reading this blog. 



Friday, 9 May 2014

Valemount


Leaving Blue River we set off for Valemount, the next town along the Yelllowhead Highway.  The scenery was spectacular and, unfortunately, so were the headwinds.  It was a long struggle to pedal up the hills and the wind meant that it was also a long struggle to pedal down the hills.  If we had stopped peddling altogether I think we would have gone backwards all the way to Blue River again.  

In this part of British Columbia there are no shops, services or anything in between the towns.  So we carry food and water for the day.  Today we were having blueberry bagels for lunch.  We carry bagels because they don't go stale.  In fact, bagels are actually stale when you buy them.  I've tried bagels all over the world and even freshly baked ones - they are always stale.  However, Susan made a great effort to make them more interesting by spreading on layers of cream cheese and jam.  They were certainly interesting but that's all I could really say about them without swearing and being unkind :)

Thankfully, the wind lessened mid afternoon and the last 24km was downhill and flat.  We flew into town and booked into the Super 8 Motel.  We then had a 2km walk to get some beer - essential carbohydrate intake.

The following day was another rest day.  We are ahead of schedule as our bookings for the hostel in Jasper and motels along the Icefield Parkway do not start until the 11th May.  Cycling in the Parkway is neither recommended nor generally possible before this time.  It's not uncommon for it to snow even in summer. 

Valemount is a lovely town surrounded by snow capped mountains.  Like most towns in the part of the world they are in transition and coming to terms with the decline of logging, the principal industry and source of employment. 

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Blue River


Continuing to head north on the Yellowhead Highway we left Avola and had a short days cycle to Blue River.  No cold feet today courtesy of carrier bags in between two pairs of socks.  Inspired! 

794km done. 

A Hard Day's Rain

Clearwater to Avola
After temperatures that were too hot to cycle over the last few days, we left Clearwater in the rain and the cold. Temperature was around freezing.  We had a 70km target to Avola and a lot of long hills ahead.  Whilst peddling up the hills kept us warm, on the downhill the hailstones hammered into our faces - it was like having dried peas shot at you. 

Our feet became quickly soaked through and we had to stop peddling the bike every half hour and walk.  We have found that lying recumbent whilst pedalling affects circulation to the toes and on some days we can get pins and needles after a while. A short stop and stand quickly remedies this.  However, on this day our feet became like frozen bricks because of the temperature and the wet. So we just walked and pushed the bike for ten minutes to get the circulation going again. 

By the time we reached Avola we were tired and cold and the Log Inn was a more pleasant sight than a Saint Bernard with malt whisky (yes I know it should be brandy but even St. Bernard's have to move with the times). 

Larry, the Harley biking owner, made us most welcome and found us a bed for the night.  His menu choice was burgers.  Nothing else.  Larry's view was if you don't like burgers then don't come to the Log Inn.  When one chap asked for fries he was told 'no fries here - these burgers don't need fries'.  And just in case I felt like complaining about my cold feet, there was a sign at the bar 'no snivelling'. 

So we ordered two hickory smoked beef burgers and they were wonderful.  As Larry says, they are the best in the world and I'm not going to argue.  Besides he was bigger than me and I still had cold feet! Even Susan absolutely loved the burger and she doesn't really like burgers!

In the morning, we had breakfast - bacon and eggs.  Now without doubt this was the best bacon I have ever tasted.  Smoked in the Rocky Mountains, thick cut and absolutely wonderful.  Bacon from Tesco will never be the same again.  I don't even think Tesco should be calling it bacon anymore. This was what bacon should be! 



Monday, 5 May 2014

Route Part 1 - Victoria to Calgary

                    

Route map, with some key places, for the first part of our journey from Victoria to Calgary. 

Friday, 2 May 2014

The X Files - Horses


One of the mysteries of our journey is the attention we get from horses in the fields close to the roads. Without fail they all turn to face us and usually stand staring until we pass.  We don't know if it's the noise or shape of the bike or us on it but each time it makes us laugh (and takes our mind off any gruelling incline). 

Ice Cream & Shorts


First day for Susan in shorts and the first day she hasn't worn her pink merino wool top!  To celebrate we had huge ice creams from the local cafe in Clearwater.

Clearwater



Over the last few days, the weather has been great and, probably, a bit too warm for cycling. Yesterday it was 25c (77 fahrenheit - conversion for the benefit of my mum).  However, Canada is a country of weather extremes so we genuinely still don't rule out snow further down the road. Rain is forecast for the weekend but as I tell everyone in Clearwater, that's our national weather in Scotland. 

From Kamloops we headed north on the Yellowhead Highway 5.  Yes, we know we are on a west to east journey but it is also a holiday and we thought that (superfluous 'that' added for the benefit of Craig C) a detour to Jasper and then back south through the Icefield Parkway would be nice. Well it was a nice idea when we were sitting back home in Edinburgh and now that we're here we are appreciating not only the marvellous scenery but also all the extra peddling up the hills.  Who wants to go through the Rockies the quick way anyway?

According to the GPS that's now 685km from Victoria.