976 miles, 43,580 feet of climbing, 17 days. Route map
“What do you mean you ‘don’t take tents’? You’re advertised as a campsite and the road signs show a picture of A TENT!!!” say I, incredulous in the least.
“I’m sorry but we don’t take tents, we’ve had some trouble with vandalism from ‘tenters’. There’s a site which does take tents 15 km out of town, I can give you directions.”
I: “I’ve ridden 90 miles to get here on a loaded bicycle, I don’t think I can ride another ’15k’, can’t you make an exception as it’s just me on my own?”
(by ‘loaded bicycle’ did I mean ‘loaded’ like a gun?)
RV site lady: “I’m sorry there’s nothing I can do.”
Me: “I’m not happy, I’m really not happy, this is not on – you should take down the signs 5 MILES OUT OF TOWN WITH A PICTURE OF A TENT ON THEM!!!”
(in hindsight I realise – thanks Nancy – that at this juncture, with a queue of eager but undoubtedly somewhat embarrassed RV-ers building behind me that I was no doubt compounding the view held by ‘RV site lady’ that tenters were aggressive, surly vandals)
I retreat, tail between legs – what could I do? If I’d persisted the Mounties may have been called (I’m in Canada here, Grand Prairie, Alberta having come from Dawson Creek, BC that, long, day). ‘RV site lady’ softens somewhat when I tell her I’m sorry to hear of the trouble she’s had but I’m just very tired and was really looking forward to a night somewhere with ‘amenities’ (the site was bang in the middle of town) and suggests that I could try camping in the City Park…
…to which I first go, only to find upon arrival that the area she means is quite clearly the domain of a few dozen down-on-their-luck homeless people, the irony being that for that night at least, I was too. Yes, I know, I could have splurged on a motel for $100 (there were no hostels in town) but I was so into ‘camping mode’ at that point (going nearly 50 nights during this part of the trip sleeping in a tent) so it only briefly crossed my mind. As lovely a time as I’m sure I’d have had with the park-dwellers (normal people fallen perhaps on hard times, I’m sure) I chose the other campsite, ’15k’ out of town.
One of the reasons I was so hopeful (and then forlorn) about the first campsite was that it had a cinema (multiplex no less) literally opposite – for those who know me I kind of like films (a lot!) and after many weeks without I was chomping at the bit for some celluloid-action. Undeterred (read: stubborn as a mule) I bought a ticket for the 8pm showing of the Hangover. I checked my watch: 7pm. I had to ride 15 kms each way (not to mention find the site called ‘Country Roads’, which turned out to be very apt, being located in the sticks on a dirt track) between which I needed to put my tent up. And all of this in 1 hour.
I just did it (numb nut!) in 1 hour 10 minutes (somehow taking a detour via the very grand, Grand Prairie Country Club) and settled down in my seat to be entertained.
No trailers. Hmmm. The film seemed pretty well progressed, like to the point that I had no idea what was going on (ok ok its hardly cerebral art house stuff but I’d been on the road for 10 hours!). And, then, it, struck me (no pun intended…) I’D ONLY GONE AND CROSSED A BLOOMIN’ TIME ZONE! ‘My 8pm’ was actually 9pm. I guess I was expecting a sign on the road. Bugger bugger bugger bugger. Bugger. Bugger.
(Bugger). I stayed to the end, mule that I am. And then as I left I thought, I want to see a whole film. Any film! So (and sorry to the Cineplex Grand Prairie, the staff of which are excellent lovely people by the way) I sort of went into the film next door if you know what I mean (and he’s telling everyone this on THE INTERNET!). ‘Ugly Truth’ was its name. Somehow that seemed quite fitting. I rode home in the dark (using a head-torch as it was properly pitch black) and got to bed at 1am. I’d cycled 116 miles, 100 with full-load. Not ‘loaded’ like a gun you understand – although, I am still carrying Bear Spray but would never use it anger at an RV Park, of course 😉
(later on, spending an extra day in Whitefish, Montana, USA to wait for a drive-train overhaul I DID stay at a campsite opposite a cinema – in 3 wet rainy days I watched all 4 films that they had showing and in their own way, loved them all! Karmic retribution perhaps, although I’m not sure what my ‘good deed’ was…)
Wow, on top of the above this part of the trip has been a busy one. After Grand Prairie and a search in vain for a new rear tyre (I’m after a specific one) I cycle back up into the Rockies (on the map this looked like the most direct route) toward Grand Cache and with temperatures soaring into the high 30s (Celsius) again plus a headwind I make slow progress and spend a somewhat dehydrated night by a river at a ‘user maintained’ campsite (tents allowed, plus it seems any and every un-silenced quad / ATV and dirt bike known to man, ridden by hyperactive children at insane speed ALL NIGHT through the camp) convinced that a brace of young giggly English women bicycled into camp at 1am.
(they didn’t, no other cyclists did, I was a bit delirious but got better with heavy fluid-intake – I learned a lesson and am far stricter with myself now in both taking on fluids and seeking-out opportunities to speak with giggly young English women)
At Grand Cache (a BIG climb up from the Prairies over 2 days) I happen upon the Death Race and play ‘Rocky’s trainer’ cycling along the road beside some, chatting, much to the confusion of the photographers along the way (“Who is that guy? Is that a new take on a ‘team car’?”). I see the bloke who eventually wins and he has THE most efficient running style I have ever ever seen – its textbook perfect. I should say that the Death Race is 125 km goes over two 6000 ft mountains with many exposed ridge sections and some do it solo, in 24 hours! (and part of me was jealous…! oh dear…)
I camp in the local park (intentional!) with many of the competitors and spend a lovely time with Dan, John, Brette & Tiffany chilling in what was a very cool place – to mark the race event there is also a bit of a music fest so I catch a bit of that too.
Heading toward Hinton I get caught out in the biggest hail storm in which I’ve ever ridden – the ‘stones’ scythed their relentless way through the slats in my helmet smashing onto my poor cranium. As I stopped to put on wet weather gear I had to ‘pull myself together’ as I began to shiver – there was no cover barring straggly pine trees for 25 miles each way. With the option to pitch the tent as a back-up I decide to ride on into the maelstrom to keep warm (the
temperature dropped 15 degrees C in minutes) with lights and reflective clothing well and truly fastened to bike & I. The ground went white and all around was approaching ‘white-out’. During a brief let-up a Harley biker & I in a lay-by compare notes on the nutcase in the ‘semi’ (‘artic’) who careered past us, teetering on the edge of aquaplaning off the road whilst doing at least 45 mph downhill into a bend. Maybe he just got caught out by the weather. Despite being lit up like a lighthouse I was a bit exposed I know.
(I find out later from a local that the area is renowned for some of the worst storms in the whole of Alberta due to the proximity of plains and rising elevation)
Jasper. Lake Louise. The Icefields Parkway. Stunning stunning stunning stunning. Yup, stunning. It really is as outrageously beautiful as everyone says. I had to stop every 5 minutes and just look and sigh in awe. I’ve been lucky enough to travel to a few great places around the world and this is well and truly ‘up there’. Whilst there are no trucks the RVs must be breeding as there are gazillions of them 🙂
In Jasper I spend a few great days and camp with Tom & Sabrina from Belgium – they ever so kindly let me ‘tag along’ in the car with them as they visit some of the more remote areas in the north of the National Park. Thanks guys (and I hope you saw bears…in a good way!) – and order and pick-up my new rear tyre (Schwalbe Marathon Plus if you’re interested).
At Lake Louise I go all purist (‘go’?!) and cycle all the way up (and back) with my gear.
My 3rd Continental Divide crossing since May was back into BC (Canada) and through Kootenay National Park where I saw a small Grizzly along the roadside (I have a photo of its rear!). And then the rain started. From Radium Hot Springs (where I said hi again to Tom & Sabrina) for the next week it was wet and thundery, sometimes all day. Blessed relief from the onslaught came from Cate and her folks who gave me a wonderful dinner at their house. Thank you 🙂
At the border I treated myself (thanks very much C for the very thoughtful envelope of Canadian dollars on my leaving the UK) to a MOTEL! And an enormous Mexican feast (well, I was in, er, Montana, after all). Aside from a lovely stay in a ‘rustic’ YHA (no running water or electric! hi to Fred, Jayson and Kim!) at Beauty Creek I’d spent almost 50 nights in a row camping. It was heavenly to have a bed and a bath and Charles, my bike, was allowed in the room with me (but don’t be getting any funny ideas…we had separate beds).
In Montana I’ve met some great people: Border guards giving tourist information (!), kindly store owners letting me camp on village greens, awesome bike shop staff (hi Glacier Cycles, Whitefish!) and some cool-as other cyclists including the ‘Florida 4’, Nancy & Matthew (a Kentucky-ite & Ozzie from Sydney with whom I spent a lovely day or so and hope to see soon) and Andrew & Martyn Finn (both riding in aid of Cancer Research and hoping to see soon), all riding various parts of the Continental Divide ‘off-road’ trail, of which I rode a small part with Nancy & Matthew.
Montana itself is also beautiful and after 2500 miles of forests (pretty much) its great to have some open grassland for a change in this the Big Sky state.
As an aside, I’m conscious of the seasons and have been since the start – what might at times seem like hasty progress is an attempt to ‘optimise’ (sorry, ‘work’-y word) my time in the Rockies (which is after all the 2nd longest mountain range in the world at 3000 miles in length) so I need to balance resting-up, with heading south. To bring things into perspective the Banff area (from which it took me about 10 days to ride) had a dusting of snow last week and the area that I’m in currently will quite often have snow in early September. I’m planning to stay high (elevation) across Wyoming & then into Colorado where 10,000 foot passes are quite common. Eek! Obviously being slightly further south those states will normally hold onto the last vestiges of summer for slightly longer…but not forever!
That said I’ve also realised that I’m punishing my body big-time and whilst my fitness is (I hope!) pretty good I can’t ride 116 miles and then expect to do 40 miles of climbing back up into the Rockies the next day without the risk of feeling some ill effects (dehydration on that day was probably exacerbated by the ordeals of the previous day). So, I’ve thrown in a few shorter days (30 milers) and the odd proper (sleeping!) rest day too. Balance. That’s the name of the game I’d say. I just need to learn how to achieve it!
As ever thank you so much to everyone both on the road that I’ve met and those back ‘home and abroad’ for your continued support, good wishes, e-mails and website comments. It all means a huge amount and I’m a very lucky guy 🙂 Take care