I had five objectives before I left:
The bikes had really smooth indexed shifting with 18 gears. We had a back rack, a front handlebar bag, and a mirror. We were also all issued reflective triangles to wear on our backs. It was quite a sight to see a line of bikers in front of me, all with triangles on their butts. It was sort of like being in a wierd derivation of Hell's Angels!
All you single men, take note! Nine single women and only one single man! (Not counting the 13-year-old, that is.) I asked one of the guides about it, and she thinks that women are more concerned about safety and thus more interested in a group tour than men.
The four from Bellingham were all "grown-ups". Jane, Lenny, Kathryn, Rick, and Stuart were all probably ten years older than me. Everyone else was in the amorphous "my age" category (30), more or less. I might have been the youngest (aside from Eric, of course), hard to tell.
Most of the people were near major life changes: The Bellinghamers were retired or coming close, Elizibeth and Margret had just finished vet school and grad school, Sandy was in in the middle of residency, Jane needs to get out of the art field before she goes broke, Rick&Kathryn just moved to Denver, and Stuart&Cindy are pregnant. And that is just the stuff I know about. I don't know if this kind of trip attracts people in transistion, or if people are usually in transition and we just don't think about it!
We also had three guides: Jeannie, Tami, and Shelly. Shelly was from BC and Jeannie and Tami were from the east San Francisco Bay region.
I went to the Vancouver Art Gallery and discovered Emily Carr, a neat Canadian artist who is sort of a cross between O'Keefe and Van Gogh. My hip was complaining a little, so instead of walking around more, I blew some money on an hour-long tour of the city in a 1936 Model A convertible with a very chatty ex-P.E. teacher. I need to go back to Vancouver, very nice place. (Note - I've been told that Model A's were only produced through '31, so I don't know if it was a plain Ford or an earlier Model A.)
I got off the bus in Banff and said, "oh SHIT!".
It was COLD.
After having been in hot hot hot California for so long and in hot hot hot Boston and in hot hot hot Montreal, I didn't really believe them when they said it might be cold in Banff in early September. I had brought one pair of sweats and decided that if my legs were gonna get wet, they were gonna get wet, oh well.
Jeannie was at the meeting point (the Banff train station) with all of the bikes (and food, yay!), so as soon as I ascertained that my bike fit me ok, I took her vague directions and scurried into town to buy some tights and raingear and gloves. I rolled onto Banff Ave expecting to see a general store with a hitching post in front of it, a post office, a school, and a church, silly me. What I found was six or eight blocks of teeming tourists and teeming tourist stores. It was really quite amazing. I also remember thinking that it was odd that there were so many tourists there in the middle of winter. (That is how cold I was!)
After walking the strip once and not seeing the place Jeannie had recommended, I went back to the train station, got the info packages, "route rap" (i.e. directions to the campground), and better directions, and went back and bought some cold-weather gear, then off to the Tunnel Mountain Campground.
About a 400m later, I roll up to the campground toll-booth-ish info hut, and see a big sign saying something like, "WARNING! IT IS RUTTING SEASON AND MALE ELK ARE NOW EXTREMELY AGGRESSIVE! KEEP YOUR DISTANCE!!!" Oh great. I could have been shiskebabed and didn't even know it. Oh well, at least I didn't stop to try to feed it.
At the campground I found that I am tenting with Mara Matsumara, the librarian from Belmont (who works in Mountain View close to where I lived). I also discovered that contacts and camping are a strange mix. There are bathrooms at this campground, but I have to go a ways in the dark (and I don't see well at night) to find the tent. I have a flashlight, but it is only good for illuminating the nearest five feet, oh well. It took me a while to find my tent.
Day total: about 9 klicks.
I rode past a (huge) buffalo pen (no buffalo visible, unfortunately), up hills and down hills, mostly on Bow Valley Parkway (Route 1A). I was a little cold but mostly ok, and took a van shuttle starting at 20 km just to be careful. I rode by Castle Mountain, Storm Mountain, Protection Mountain, and lots of trees. We camped that night and the next at Lake Louise Campground.
The most exciting part of the ride was crossing a bridge that was made of pipes that were about eight inches wide and had about eight inches between them - just the right length to catch feet if you weren't careful. One Canadian tells me that those are called "cattle-stops"; another called it a "cattle gate". The bridge didn't go over much of anything; I'm told that the Parks department uses them to restrict the movements of the large mammals. I walked over the bridge - if you caught your wheel sideways, it could be REAL exciting.
There was also a hike up to some falls that day at Johnston Canyon. I got a really strange feeling of deja vu until I realized that my friends Jeff and Anne had shown me photos of exactly these falls.
I had been riding with Ruby, and I remember hiking up far enough to see one set of impressive waterfalls and getting some guy to take our photos. He turned out to be yet another computer geek from Silicon Valley!
Day total: about 50 km.
The water was a very strange, almost Caribbean color: take the color that swimming pools are painted and add a touch of green and a little white. You'd swear it was a color not found in nature, but the color actually comes from glacial silt which is suspended in the water three to five feet below the surface.
I then rode 11 km straight DOWN. WHEEE! I was surprised to find how demanding riding downhill can be. Because the pavement wasn't great and I didn't want to pummel my posterior, AND because you get better balance that way, I had my weight on my feet and not my tail... and was tightly tucked, so my thighs were acting like giant shock absorbers... for 11 km. Fortunately, it didn't take very long! :-)
Except this turned out to be 4 km straight up.
I'm so buff. I'm so buff. I was about ready to die when I got to the top. I'm so buff. I'm so f*cking buff. Apparently the workers LIVE up there and the supplies get packed in by horse. That is how steep the trail was. I did have cookies and a wonderful peach drink at the top.
Agnes Lake also apparently is untainted. Someone asked for a glass of water and they gave her an empty cup. "The water is safe here", they said. It looked neat, but I decided with my IgA deficiency I ought not to risk the water, even if they said it was safe.
[I realized later that I *had* risked the water, that the peach drink was undoubtedly made from concentrate. Oh well! It did not seem to disagree with me.]
Once I got there, I could not find a friggin' restroom. All I could find were these idiotic boutiques selling all kinds of stupid expensive stuff. Finally, I found a restroom.
When I came out and turned the corner, I practically ran into a hat tree covered with berets. I was able to find three berets in colors I didn't have at one of the charming little boutiques selling interesting and exotic wares.
At that point we whizzed four km straight down to the campground.
Day total: 17 km.
We spent the night at the Rampart Creek Campground.
Day total: zilch.
I had decided already that I was going to ride to Weeping Wall and shuttle past Sunwapta Pass. I was feeling the need for exercise after a day of being in the van.... so I set off.
I couldn't find the long-fingered gloves I had been wearing under my cycling gloves, so my fingers were freezing. They were so cold that I put them as close together as possible on the handlebars - so that the handlebar bag would block the wind.
My legs were soaked. I had elected to take the "breathable and hightly water repellent and cheaper" rain pants instead of the "not breathable and totally water proof" rain pants. I don't know if they were wet from sweat, wet from rain getting through, or wet from rain IN the rain pants, but my legs were freezing. (I had tights on underneath or I would have just died then and there.)
I had on my ski jacket (among other things) which was keeping my upper body dry from the elements... but on uphills I would sweat and get all wet and open my jacket... and on downhills I would wind-whip all that sweat and just freeze.
My socks were soaked and my feet were approaching numbness. My body moved, but it sure wasn't happy about it.
There are snow-coach tours where they take you out onto the icefield and show you the "geological features" resulting from water erosion, collapse, streaming, etc. I would have liked to have gone on the tour, but I also wanted to get in some more riding and didn't have the two hours to spare.
Tami had told us the rules: no pedalling after the Tangle Creek Falls. When you finally come to a stop, write your initials in rocks at the side of the road.
So at the icefields, I took my leave of the van. (It was COLD COLD COLD, at least in part from the huge cold sink of the glacier, but at least by now the rain had stopped.)
We measured it later in the van and I had gone about 10 kilometers without pedaling once.
I let the van pick me up after about 35 km not because I was fatigued but because there were frost cracks in the pavement about 8 feet apart and I was getting tired of the whumpa whumpa whumpa on my arms, legs, and derriere.
That night we stayed at a motel. Aaaaaaaaah. I believe that beds are a wonderful invention.
Day total: 60 km
I went the 24 km from the lodge to Athabasca Falls in 65 minutes. I know that world-class marathoners run twice as far at a faster clip, but I consoled myself by saying that they don't usually have to go over as many hills as I did. I really knocked myself out, and got to the falls 15 minutes before Tami had said we ought to get there if we were going the whole way. But I was too wiped out to face another 30 km at that clip, and I did NOT want to miss the bus.
I took the van to Jasper, showered, and started a book while leaning comfortably against the pile of luggage. I finished the book on the bus to Banff.
After a layover and dinner with Sandy in Banff, I got back to Calgary at about 9 PM, and promptly retired.
A pleasant side effect of taking the bus instead of the Backroads van transfer to Banff was that I got to repose in comfort, while some people who van'd to Banff and then picked up the bus said that 15 people in the van was too many.
Day total: 24 km.
One hourish to Vancouver. Holding pattern. Holding pattern. (I was half-asleep and/or reading, so I didn't mind much.) The pilot came on and told us that we only had about 40 minutes of fuel left, and that we would attempt a landing, but if we didn't have adequate visibility, we'd abort and go to Kelowna.
Naturally, I left Mom's work number on the plane, so couldn't call to tell her that I wouldn't be in until later. I wasn't expecting her to pick me up anyways, since she would be working. I didn't have to be back home until 7 PM the next day, so I was in no hurry and kind of enjoying the tour of British Columbia.]
Canada is much more "nurturing" than the US. They do that "extra bit" as a matter of course and trust people more. For example, we never never never locked the bikes, even "in town". For example, I asked a cashier where the post office was, and when he told me he gave me some money and asked me to mail a package for him when I bought my stamps. For example, when we went to the public showers at Lake Louise Village (which were combined with a laundromat - clean everything in one stop!), the guy had us all toss our wet towels into a dryer no extra charge. The country had a very friendly feeling to it. End of digression.
So I got booked onto a 3 PM flight. I left a message on Mom's voicemail at work telling her I'd get in at about 5:30 and IF she felt like picking me up it would be nice.
Well, because of the fog and all, the 3 PM flight had extra people on it. I didn't have to be back until 7 PM tonight, so I took the bump for a round-trip trip to basically anywhere in Canada and a few places in the US. I called Mom at work and left a message on her voicemail telling her I wouldn't get in until about 10 PM, and IF she felt like picking me up etc etc etc. Boy, she sure had a lot of meetings or something that day.
I also discovered that summer in Canada in the mountains (and perhaps by extension, summer in New Zealand in the mountains) can be COLD! I did not pack appropriately, and even after buying more appropriate gear in Banff, still froze.
[Postscript: after actually taking the bike trip around New Zealand, I can say that not once did I end up camping, nor did I learn how to pack to avoid being cold!]
There were four people besides myself who did not come with a friend or affection unit, and it was quite striking how much less the "singles" mingled. I don't know how much was self-selection (introverts might not have had any friends to bring) and how much was group dynamics, but it was REALLY interesting to see it play out.
I clearly realized my goals for first, second, and fifth priorities, but the third and fourth were less successful. I *am* happy that I went, but because of my personal physiology, I think I would probably not do it again.
I was truly amazed at just how incredibly sexy these clothes made me - to bumblebees! They saw my bright yellow jersy and decided that I was a flower that needed pollinating!
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