Icefields Parkway

Eek! It’s been too long since I posted.

From Calgary we took two days to get to Banff, and on the second day we hitch-hiked a little because of a rainstorm that threatened to throw us off our bikes (or into the highway) and give us hypothermia. Shawn’s description of the day is here!

Banff is….interesting. The town itself, which inside a national park, is tourist hell. As I keep having to remind me and Shawn, we’re tourists too, but we don’t travel to gorgeous mountain scenery in order to shop at the Gap. Waterton, with the exception of a Subway, was all small locally-owned places. Banff was mostly large international chains. Even on a weekday the streets were really crowded with vehicles and people. It was strangely disorienting.

But outside Banff is the old Banff Springs Hotel, which is beautiful and opulent and ostentatious in an old-fashioned kind of way. We wandered around the parts accessible to the public and I couldn’t help but wish I was rich enough to stay there for a couple of days. We’ve seen lots of lodges in the Glacier area, built a century ago, that were meant to look like old-school Europe in order to convince rich Americans and Canadians that they didn’t need to travel to the Swiss Alps, and many of them were expensive-looking, but this one had them all beat. And I found out later, you can even rent 1920’s-era swimsuit replicas to wear for soaking in water from the hot springs. Damn! That would be awesome!

After Banff we took off for Lake Louise. The town itself is nothing exciting, except for the two cycle tourists we met outside the grocery store. I think we must have talked to them for an hour! After that we rode up to the lake itself, and it was steep but manageable, and totally worth it. Lake Louise has a view of a glacier and mountains, and the lake itself is glacier-fed, which gives it that lovely aquamarine color.

The next day we were finally officially on the Icefields Parkway, which goes between rows of mountains parallel to the Continental Divide. It’s not that long of a road, about 140 miles, but it’s not a road you drive/bike on just to get through it. No, you travel this road to enjoy every bit of the scenery. Huge mountains! Glaciers! Glacier-fed streams and rivers and waterfalls and lakes! Wildlife! Flora! This is not an abuse of exclamation points. They all deserve them. I got to walk to a spot near the “toe” of Athabasca Glacier. We saw lots of animals, including bears from a safe distance, as well as birds, my especial favorite being the American Dipper, which dives into rapids to eat and makes this bobbing motion whenever it moves. The flowers and plants are all lovely, including the Avens, mats of which are next to the road and all in varying stages of going to seed, when they look like huge poofy dandelion heads.

And yes, there were mosquitoes. *sigh* Mostly near the end, but I’ve gone back to being itchy and/or wearing deet. Their new favorite spot is my right elbow.

The days were fairly easy, between 30 and 40 miles a day. Even the two mountain passes weren’t bad, although Sunwapta was steep.

We slept every night in wilderness hostels. They’re a step up from camping–indoor kitchens and common rooms, indoor dorm beds with sheets. But no water except in the kitchen, no electricity (except sometimes LED solar-powered lights), pit toilets. Icefields Parkway is a common destination for bicycle tourists, and we met plenty! For several days we were at the hostels with the same group of folks, which was fun.

I loved the hostels. My favorite was Rampart Creek, which like Mosquito Creek had a wood-heated sauna next to a glacially-fed creek. Shawn and I sat in the sauna until we dripped sweat (and his little keychain thermometer said it was 120F), then ran to the creek, where he was brave enough to jump in. I dipped a towel into the creek and rubbed myself down with it. And afterward I felt just as clean as if I’d taken a shower. Next time I get the opportunity, I think I’ll do it more than once. It feels amazingly good.

For that matter, I want to come back at some point, but just to do the Parkway and stay in the hostels, which would mean not having to carry camping gear. And stay two nights in every hostel, and on the non-biking days do some hiking on the many many trails that go into the mountains.

This last night we spent in Jasper, which is an actual town. Yeah, there’s tourist stuff, but a lot more people actually live here than in Waterton or Banff. We have a few long days ahead of us until we get to Edmonton, but everyone says we’ll have a great tailwind, so I don’t mind pulling long days! And I’m really looking forward to seeing Edmonton.

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