What a tiring week. I’ve been back on the bike everyday after taking a 14 day breather to reassess some of my goals, fix some bike issues that have crept up, and take in my surroundings. With that, came a lack of sleep which didn’t fare well for the mountainous terrain I’ve put myself into. I flew out of Yellowknife, Northwest Territories early in the morning the day after Canada Day, and flew into Cranbrook, a city I visited a couple of weeks earlier before heading into the north. I’ve had it planned out for quite some time that my entrance would occur at the exact moment that a family reunion would be going in nearby. My main goal was to surprise my Dad, as he had made mentions of earlier reunions, and how it would be nice to see me there one of these times. Well, 2010 seems to be the year for a lot of new experiences, so I went for it. I suppose you could call a startled yell, nearly pushing me over onto the ground from a hearty hug, and random appearances of tears for a good 15 minutes there after a welcome surprise.
I stayed the weekend in Kragmont, BC – in between Fernie and Cranbrook. My family has significant history in the area, once owning the entire town before selling it off to Albertan’s looking to have a weekend getaway. The site was riverfront property, that rises and falls throughout the year due to the fact that it was man-made, and controlled by the Libby Dam in the USA. In fact, family members could recall when there was only a stream there, and an abandoned town named Waldo – It was a ghost town, and the residents up and left, even leaving sheets on their beds, guest registers accessible in the hotels, and tools in the Blacksmith building. You can find more information about this ghost town here.
I had the opportunity to meet family members who I have only heard stories of, and a couple handfuls of ones that I never knew existed in the first place. All in all it was a jolly time, with laughing, a ceremony welcoming a groom into the family (complete with chanting, drums, and a lot of comical value throughout the procession). I even got to fire a gun, and did pretty good on my targets!Seeing my Dad and his girlfriend was a nice reminder of home, and we all parted ways with smiles on the Sunday morning. My destination that day – Cranbrook, for another reunion, but I’ll get to that. I obviously haven’t had enough of the gravel roads and torture, as I opted for a steep logging road to make my way back to the city, and I did it with no problems, even though I was worried I’d have some issues with some broken parts (I broke the head of a screw holding in my front rack and my front fender was in pieces). However it all worked out well and I had the chance to go and stay with a Warmshowers host who I stayed with a few months before. I’ve gotta say, they really went above and beyond from the typical offer laundry facilities and a place to sleep situation. They acted as a mail drop weeks before I originally met them, allowed me to leave a box of parts and equipment in storage while I trekked to the north, and helped me out when my stove was denied on an airplane, shipping it to Watson Lake, Yukon. I told them stories of my past experiences, showed a few videos, and learned about the husbands upcoming tour through the Yukon, taking the Dempster Highway. I’m anxious to cross that highway, but it is just not in the cards this year.
The other reunion that I had, was about 30 pounds of gear that I didn’t need for the trip up to the north. No, wait, I needed the majority of it, but left it not realizing that I’d really be in uncharted/no mans land survival conditions. There are alot of components that after not seeing them for a month I’m finding to be incredibly useless for future parts of the journey, and tomorrow I’ll be sending them either east for a fall pickup, or sending home to be stored indefinitely. The added weight is certainly noticeable, and there’s no reason to carry winter clothes, useless electronics (I’ve managed to lose the charger for the Nintendo DS game system, so its dead weight at this stage) and extra pots and pans as I’m perfectly happy rocking the one pot meal daily. Well, when I have a stove that is – I had to send my stove via Greyhound to Banff, not wanting a repeat of the last time I flew.
I’ve got a love and hate relationship with things – and right now there’s not a lot of love for Sweet and Salty granola bars, Medium Cheddar Cheese, and even the successor to sardines, smoked oysters are starting to become less and less appealing. I had to laugh when returning to Cranbrook and seeing the food that I had left there, bottom of the pannier type things. Even funnier, is that I left the exact same things up in Yellowknife. Maybe I’ll just not buy it next time?
Armed with a pannier full of bars, fruit and cheese I headed north, to cross the Rockies for the 3rd time. Let’s just say it doesn’t get any easier the more times you do it. I struggled with the wind coming from the north slowing me down terribly, passing through communities of Kimberley via the new Rails to Trails pathway and Canal Flats, where a few lesser known Hot Springs. Estimations of reaching my destination of Fairmont Hot Springs were skewed from clouds dumping rain off and on. I was about 12km away from my destination when I met a guy on the road in a Volkswagen Bug. It turned out, it was my Warmshowers host for the night, and wanted to know if I wouldn’t consider an offer for a ride to be insulting. I took it – thoroughly wiped. The experience was nothing short of legendary, again welcomed into a strangers house for dinner, a shower and one of the most comfortable beds I’ve slept on. The husband even assisted me after dinner to replace my broken pedal from Yellowknife, and floored me by pulling apart his own fender bolts and giving them to me, so that I could stay dry in the wet weather. I’ve been looking for the bolts for a long time and know they are not typical hardware store offerings – I have to keep thinking to myself ‘What have I done to deserve these great opportunities’ more often as the tour goes on.
After Fairmont Hot Springs was a nice ride into the town of Invermere via a side road that I’ve taken before, only in a different part of the province – Westside Road. Nice terrain, an offering of wildlife, and no traffic made for a good morning run before stopping for some lunch, and popping my head into the local newspaper office asking a few questions as there is some family history with the weekly printing. Certainly a tourist based town, the Valley swells from 18,000 winter residents to 55,000 in the warm months and for good reason – it’s beautiful! Hot Springs are just up the road, golfing, fishing, white water rafting, camping, you name it – best of all – little to no bugs!
Once you cross into Radium you have to pass a gate to enter the Kootenay National Park. I paid the $67 and bought an annual pass as I figure I’ll be spending more than 7 days in the parks for the rest of the journey. Yoho, Banff, Jasper are designated as a UNESCO Heritage site, which strives to ensure that what’s here today is available for future generations to enjoy. I’d be OK if the climb out of Radium was levelled off a bit, with a 12km gagger of varying grades. There are signs at the top that let you know what you went through, however I didn’t feel a sense of accomplishment, I just wanted to fall asleep. I saw another cycle tourist at the summit and stopped and talked – He had a Garmin 705 as well and was on his first day of his first tour ever. I gave him some free maps for his unit and gave him a few tips on food storage (back of the big bear garbage cans!) before yet another cyclist training for a triathlon showed up. He as well had a Garmin Edge 705. Party! I hung around just until it became cold and stopped 20km north in Crooks Meadow, a closed off group camping site that had running water, pit toilets, and no one to bother me but the deer. One came very close while I was in the tent, curious about the new green structure that appeared out of nowhere.
On my birthday I struggled, often stopping at the side of the road, resting on my back catching sun rays. I couldn’t muster up the energy to continue climbing the 1750 metre pass that took me to the Alberta border. The scenery was wonderful, and the conversations very thought-provoking, but I just dreaded going a kilometre further. Things got easier when I hit the top of the summit, stuck my foot in Alberta while leaving the other in BC, knowing that it was a downward trek into Banff, at an elevation of 1400 some odd metres. I made it just in time for Dinner at a local restaurant with a friend and some other cyclists who were heading up to Jasper and then back down to Radium – although supported with a van. It was the first time I’ve had steak in 90 days, and boy did it recharge me and lift my spirits. Another culinary treat, Sushi was a nice refreshing change to the Sardines I’ve been packing away making me miss some of the outings I had with friends talking nonsense over good meals and drinks.
Yellowknife, that little pocket in the north still ceases to amaze me. It seems everywhere I go it pops up in weird places. When I was having dinner yesterday, a tall woman approached me and asked me a few questions, specifically that If if she had seen me recently in the north. It turns out we have mutual friends, and the world just keeps getting smaller. I left the encounter a bit dazed from how these sequences of events keep occurring, but am certainly rolling with it. I do look forward to the day that I can see the landscape in that area again, hopefully sooner than later. But for now, I’ve got to think about a huge set of days ahead of me, crossing the Columbia Icefields parkway, on my way to Jasper. There are some significant climbs, and I’ll be honest – I’ve been dreading it since I first read the elevation chart over 3 months ago. Taking it slow, savouring the landscape and seeing what mother nature has to offer is priority one. So long BC, you’ve been great.