Julie’s sister and brother-in-law invited us to join them on a Backroads cycling trip in the Canadian Rockies. The trip would be 7 days from Banff to Jasper with some side-trips and other activities. On Saturday, July 8th, we flew from Orlando to Calgary via Houston, where we caught a 90-minute shuttle to The Buffalo Mountain Lodge in Banff. There, we met up with Julie’s sister, Pam, and her husband, AJ., for a walk through town and a light shawarma dinner. After dinner, we took advantage of the late setting sun and the free bus service to visit Lake Minnewanka. Many things in Canada were free or reduced this year since it was Canada’s 150th anniversary! At the Lake, we saw deer and a mountain goat, and enjoyed a brief walk, although many trails were closed due to the extensive bear activity in the area.
Sunday morning, after breakfast, we met our Backroads guides, a Canadian named Cameron and the leader, a woman from California named Hannah. They would work the week with us, along with logistics support from Samantha. After a brief safety talk and overview, it was off to fit our bikes and to start our first trip. As always, the Backroads bikes are excellent, custom titanium frames with carbon-fiber forks and Garmin GPS route electronics. The 4 of us were joined by 9 others – 3 couples and 3 singles. Julie and Pam, and another guest, Kathy, rode e-bikes – bikes with a battery-powered “assist” that is applied to each pedaled stroke. We then rode a route of 22km out of Banff, past Two Jacks and MInnewanka Lakes, to a picnic spot for lunch. After lunch, we rode another 25km up a 1300’ climb up Mount Norquay, a popular winter ski resort, before heading back to the Buffalo Mountain Lodge. Rocky actually rode an extra 12km, having returned to the hotel first before following the correct course. On Julie’s the way down Mount Norquay, a downhill skateboarder crashed, was bleeding from his head and needed medical attention. But our group all did well, and then met later for an excellent “Welcome Dinner”. (59km daily, 59km total)
July 10th would start early with breakfast and picture-taking of a herd of elk grazing behind our room while we were prepping for the day’s ride.
We started riding in a light rainfall, as we left Banff, circled the golf course and then passed Vermillion Lakes, before heading north on Highway 1A through beautiful forested hills and valleys. On the way out of town, we passed a large bull elk with a full rack. After cycling 36km, we stopped for lunch at Johnston Campgrounds, where we ate and also took a short 2-mile hike to Johnston Falls, a popular tourist attraction along a narrow, suspended walkway through the canyon. The afternoon we rode another 37km to Deer Lodge at Lake Louise. Along the way, we saw another bull elk, and watched helicopters longline-ferrying supplies over the rough terrain. After checking in to Deer Lodge, we explored the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, a famous original hotel located next door. Then, after a fine dinner of Walleye Pike and Bison steak, we walked halfway around the north side of the lake before returning to our rooms after 10pm. (73km daily, 132km total)
Tuesday, after breakfast, we rode the challenging 14km up to Moraine Lake and the Valley of Ten Peaks. From here, one gets the spectacular view recreated on the former Canadian $20 bill.
From there, we descended and rode another 20km, entering the Icefields Parkway (93N), to our original planned lunch stop at Herbert Lake. However, since our group was relatively fast and it was so early, we continued another 21km to Mosquito Creek Campground. After lunch, it was a short 12km ride past the Crowfoot and Bow Lake Glaciers to the Num Ti Jah Lodge, located on the shores of Bow Lake, and the headwaters of the south-flowing Bow River. This Lodge is an original log cabin building with many stuffed animal heads and a long, colorful history. After checking-in, a group of us assembled at the lake’s edge for a polar plunge into the 40-degree water. Since we arrived early, there was still time for the 5-mile hike around the lake to the Bow Falls overlook. The hike took 2-hours and took us over braided stream moraines and up a cliff bluff via a ridiculous set of “stairs”! After fighting off the hordes of mosquitoes, we arrived back in time to clean-up and enjoy an excellent dinner of mushroom soup, venison and lentil loaf. (67km daily, 199km total)
Wednesday, July 12th started with a 4am fire alarm and evacuation from the hotel! Apparently, someone left a pot and burner on in the kitchen, creating smoke that set off the alarm. After 30-minutes, we returned to our rooms, cold and groggy. With breakfast at 7am, we got ready for the longest day, yet. Today’s route would take us further along 93N Icefields Parkway, but started with a 5km climb to the Peyto Lake viewpoint. Including another brief stop at Saskatchewan Crossing for hot coffees, we rode the next 59km to our lunch stop at Coleman Creek. Along the way, riders saw bears, deer, elk and goats, as this remote area is home to a variety of wildlife. After lunch, there was a brutal 2000’ ascent of Sunwapta Pass, (a 7-9% grade), at an elevation of 6675ft. After completing the 37km after-lunch ride through weather ranging from 90-degree heat to near-freezing rain, we arrived at the Glacier View Lodge, at the base of the Athabasca Glacier. At 5pm, our group met for our tour and walk on the Athabasca Glacier. Buses took us from the hotel to the “Glacier Entry” Center, where we transferred onto special “ice crawlers” – 6-wheel drive vehicles specially made for ascending and descending the lateral moraines, and for transporting over ice. We traveled out onto the Glacier, where we had ½-hour to walk around and take pictures. Since we were here 13 months ago, the Glacier has receded nearly another 60ft, causing the visiting area to be moved, and giving estimates are that these types of tours have only 10-15 years left available. That night, we had dinner at the hotel’s “Altitude” restaurant while watching the sun set on the Glacier. (90km daily, 289km total)
Thursday morning, we left the hotel soon after breakfast, and began the 52km ride to Honeymoon Lake for lunch. This route gave views to the most wildlife, yet, with roadside viewings of bears, elk, deer and goats. After a picnic lunch, we began the afternoon 53km ride by leaving the newer Highway 93 for the original Highway 93A, a bumpy, isolated ride with very little traffic. However, this road also gave access to quite a bit of wildlife viewing. Along the way, we stopped at the Athabasca Falls where we walked to the scenic bridges and overviews, and had a quick snack. At the end of the route, we entered the town of Jasper, we cruised past quaint stores and country-style shops. After leaving town, we rode to the Tekarra Lodge, overlooking the Athabasca River. After checking in, we walked to mile back into town to explore further and to shop. That evening we ate Boar Belly and Bison short-ribs followed by specialty coffees. Our rooms were small efficiencies with stove, refrigerator and microwave and fireplaces for the chilly evenings. (105km daily, 394km total)
Friday, we had the option to take a short bike ride, or to raft the Class 2 Rapids of the Athabasca River. Eight people chose the rafting trip, while three chose to ride bicycles, two went exploring/hiking. The rafting trip was a great experience, with our guide, a young woman named Emma from Adelaide, Australia. The trip took about 1-hour and journeyed us past the Tekarra Lodge. After returning to the hotel, everyone assembled for the journey via vans back to Banff. The four of us were dropped off at the Fox Hotel for the night, where we shopped the stores of Banff, and ate a dinner of pizza and beer!
Saturday started with an early shuttle back to the airport in Calgary, and flights back to Houston and Orlando. After arriving home at 1am Sunday morning, we settled in for a well-deserved good-night’s sleep in our own bed.