Friday, July 16, 2010

Bike ride from Lake Louise to Jasper and back

The Adventure- Riding my bike from Lake Louise to Jasper and back in two days. 233 km each way.

My partner for the ride- Jason Doornbos

What did we take- a small knapsack with clean clothes to be able to go out and eat in Jasper upon our arrival, and lots of food to eat during the journey.

Day 1, Wednesday, July 16, 2010
We left Calgary at 5 am and drove to our start location, Lake Louise. We were on our bikes pedaling at 8:15 am. It was a chilly morning which was likely a good thing as the climb out of Lake Louise to Bow Lake lasts 39 km. Our first 39 km was pretty quiet with very little traffic. The ride from Bow Lake to Saskatchewan River Crossing is 40 km but you get to descend from an elevation of 1869 meters to 1423 meters. Jason and I stopped at Saskatchewan River Crossing. Jason went into the store to grab 1.5 liter of water while I lined up to grab coffee. Cost of two bad cups of coffee was $6.80; cost of 1.5 liters of water $5.25. I guess that is the price of being in the middle of nowhere.

Jason proceeded to tell me his experience paying for the water. The young woman at the register suggested that Jason grow his curly hair out as she thinks that guys with long curly hair are sexy. I looked at Jason and started to laugh and suggested that maybe he could spend a couple of nights at Saskatchewan River Crossing possibly asking a premium price to satisfy the women folk in the area.

After warming up, eating and filling are bottles we proceeded to climb our way up to the Columbia Icefield. It is 50 km from Saskatchewan River Crossing to the Icefield. This is an elevation gain from 1423m to 2035m. We stopped in Columbia Icefield and grabbed some more water and fueled up. It took us about 5 hours to reach the Icefield from Lake Louise. Jason and I arrived along with the dozen or so tour buses mostly filled with Japanese tourists. As we prepared to depart for our trek to Jasper, we suddenly became the photo opportunity for all the Japanese tourists. I realized I was wearing my Speed Theory race team gear. Having lived in Asia, I know that they likely saw my logos on my gear and assumed that I was some professional cycler on a training ride. I wonder how many photos Jason and I are now in and what the discussion in Japan will be when the photos are shared with family and friends. Speed Theory has now gone global!

The ride from Columbia Icefield to Sunwapta is 48 km. Jasper is 56 km from Sunwapta. Although the elevation map shows a massive descend from Columbia Icefield to Jasper from 2035m to 723m, I would not say it is flat! About 13km from Jasper my bonking began. I so wanted the ride to be over and all I could think about is taking my knapsack off which was very light but not exactly feeling light after being on a bike for 9 hours.

Jason wanted to stay somewhere closer to the main hub of Jasper; however, I looked at the first motel on our entry into town and said I am not biking any further. I said we can walk the 1km into town but I am not riding. We proceeded to check into the hotel. All I can say is that we smelled really badly. We showered and grabbed a bite to eat. My appetite was big but my ability to digest the food was not so good. I ate about half my food and said to Jason that I needed to lie down right now. Jason kindly went to grocery store to grab food for our breakfast and journey back to Lake Louise the next day. I went back to the motel and did not wake again until the alarm went off at 6 am.

Day 1 journey took 9 hours and 6 min.

Day 2, Thursday, July 17, 2010
Our ride home began at 7:15 am. Neither Jason nor I were very perky. Even after lots of oatmeal, my hunger began within 30km of the ride. I glanced over to Jason and said “I am not a happy biker. I need a solid breakfast. We need to stop in Sunwapta." Upon arriving in Sunwapta after climbing for 56km, I ordered eggs and hash browns and consumed a bagel and a banana. I think they were the best darn eggs and hash browns in the world in that 2 minutes it took me to consume them!

Upon leaving Sunwapta, we knew that we would be climbing another 48km to Columbia Icefield.

Perspective- it took us 5 hours to cover the 129 km to Columbia Icefield from Lake Louise, and it took us 5 hours to climb the 104km from Jasper to Columbia Icefield. A head wind did not help to make the climb easier! We were happy to reach the Icefield. As we climbed the section of the road where the speed limit drops to 50km per hour and really no shoulder exists, I notice all these cars pulling over into a pull out. I look up at the ridge and there is a goat traversing the top as I am pedaling along. I look down at my odometer which says I am going 8km per hour. The darn goat was climbing faster than I! Finally, the big climb is over. Jason is ahead waiting for me. I pull over and we watch as the goat proceeds to walk across the road and jumps the barrier to walk down the massively steep cliff to the falls. As we are standing there cars are pulling over which was a common thing to see throughout the trip. One car would pull over and everyone would rush out of the car to take a picture of some animal and then many cars would pull over. This occasion was no different. However, this time some dude decides to cross over opposing traffic on a blind corner, slamming his brakes with his car facing the massive cliff to get an opportunity to see what everyone has spotted. He looks at Jason and I, while his wife is yelling from the car “what is it?”, I look at Jason and then the man and say “It was crazy. Some guy just came to the edge and jumped down into the waterfall.” The guy looks at me and says “really”. Jason responds and says “yeah really”! Off we went continuing to pedal our bikes.

When we reach the Columbia Icefield, I realize I have a flat. Karma kicking my butt for the comment made to the guy no doubt. I quietly remind myself to keep my sarcasm to myself as I do not want any bad luck. Karma was gently reminding me not to be an ass. After more photo opportunities for the Japanese tourists of me, the professional cyclist racer changing a flat, Jason and began to pedal again.

I think it became a reality to Jason and I that our ride back to Lake Louise from Jasper was going to take longer than the 9 hours it us from Lake Louise to Jasper. We still had the Bow Summit to climb. However, before that we had a couple of great descends from the Icefield to Saskatchewan River Crossing. I did not want the descending to end; as all I could think about was making up for the 8 to 14 km per hour climbs with the 65 km descends. We made a brief bathroom stop at Saskatchewan River Crossing and proceeded to climb. Some family asked me if I was following them. Apparently, they kept seeing us. No doubt they were taking in all the photo opportunities!

The climb up the Bow Summit seemed to last forever and the temperature was climbing as well. Every corner there seemed to be another stretch of road going up. About 2 km from the summit, I cracked. I had a solo cry for the last 2 km and almost got off my bike to call it a day. However, my inner voice said “get on with it” and the visual of a couple of cars pulling over only meant one thing – a bear. So up off my seat I got and proceeded to pedal faster to get through the area as quickly as possible. Finally, the top was reached. Jason was standing there and I told him that I had a meltdown. He proceeded to remind that we were almost done with only 39 km left and about half of it descending. As we fueled up, a car pulls over and sits there for awhile opposite us. Not sure what they are doing but glance around to ensure that no wild animal is near us. None spotted. Then the vehicle crosses over the road and the couple waves to us. Jason, not very chipper at this point, looks at me and says, “I am not waving back. I am not some zoo animal.” I laughed so hard! Onwards we went; roughing it through the bits of climbs left and treasuring the descending. We reached Lake Louise and were happy to see that my vehicle was waiting for us. We changed and grabbed some food from the grocery store. Yes chips, coke and more chips and a bit of fruit.

Day 2 journey took 10 hours and 28 min. That is 1 hour 22 minutes longer than the way out.

Jason asked me if I wondered had we done the return on fresh legs if our return time would be quicker. I said that I really did not care to know! Truly though- we had a great trip. It was tough at times but we had great weather and the scenery was amazing. I have run in what was the old Jasper to Banff relay many times and have run about half of the relay legs on this highway; however, I do not think I have really seen all great things I saw on this epic ride. By the way, leg 6 of the old relay went up to Columbia Icefield and I have run up this part of the road, and have concluded that running up it is far easier than biking up it.

Things we saw: 2 bears, a baby goat, a grown goat, deer, moose, and spectacular scenery.

Disappointing things to see: the demise of the Icefield. It makes me angry that busses cart people up so that they can walk on the icefield. I recall back in 2000, the last year of the full 24 hour relay, the icefield was substantially larger. It is small compared to 10 years ago. I was shocked to see how small it has become.

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