Rollercoaster at The Icefields Parkway
After a satisfying break from cycling in Vancouver and Vancouver Island, it's time to get back to our adventure. As fun as this little holiday was, it itches to jump back on our bicycles and spend time outdoors. We are cycling one of the most famous roads in the world and it is said that it is also one of the most beautiful. The days started out wet and cold and for a while it seemed like we would never get to enjoy a summer. Tears rolled down our cheeks because of the cold but soon they were dried up by warm sunbeams and even warmer encounters. The ride on The Icefields Parkway is wonderful, and for us felt like an emotional rollercoaster, in this blog we tell you why.
Slow travel by train
August 02, 2022 - 19 hours and a wonderful train ride later we arrive in Jasper. We decide not to cycle the part between Vancouver and Jasper. It would take us too much time (1,000km) and the route would not always be interesting because of the stretches on the highway. The train ride was very rewarding, but to keep costs down we only booked a seat in the economy car. We didn't get much sleep but we did gain another slow travel experience. The bicycles survived the bumpy ride and on the way The Canadian took us through forests, rivers and waterfalls. It is noon when the bikes are unloaded from the train and we cycle around Jasper, have lunch in the park and stock up on food for the next few days. The next store is 250 km further away. In the afternoon we meet up with Amse, Andreas, Ellen and Maarten for one more time. They are almost at the end of their vacation and are also in Jasper today. We have a BBQ together and enjoy a nice evening. It is nice to share our journey with friends from back home and so we decide to look for a ride at the end of the Icefields Parkway to cycle together with our friends David & Annelies. They are cycling a different route and we want to meet at the border with the USA. "See you soon!" we say in our last voice message on WhatsApp.
Wet and cold days
We wake up to the gentle tapping of rain on the tent. We haven't seen rain in weeks and today when we start cycling again, we find ourselves packing a wet tent in the morning. To our surprise, we pay the fee to enter the national park (CAD105 for 6 days). Stefanie was convinced the entrance for slow travellers would be free or at the least at a discounted price. A bit irritated we cycle on while the raindrops start coming down more frequently. Unfortunately we don't have many views, the mountains are hidden behind the clouds and don't want to show themselves to us. It doesn't stop raining and we try not to complain too much, but when we eat our bbq leftover from the previous day for lunch we are wet and cold. It seemed like yesterday we were only just shivering from the cold in Iceland. That summer feeling seems far away, but on a positive note we are very much liking our new Rohloff Hubs and we cover quite some distance on the first day. We don't feel too tired after not having cycled for a few weeks and that feels amazing.
Soaked we arrive at Honeymoon Lake and pitch the tent. Once we have changed clothes we cook a nice diner under a nice covered outdoor area. We warm ourselves up, talk to Steven and Sandra who are following the same route as we are. It's always nice to meet fellow cyclists and it does help to all acknowledge we're in the same boat, we know we can take on the cold.
Surprised by freezing temperatures
Pouring rain, freezing temperatures, short drizzles, small rays of sunshine in a distance... we see and experience it all during those first three days on the Icefiels Parkway, but the cold remains a constant factor. Especially on the third day it's a challenge to wear the correct clothes, we change outfits a few times during the day.
We progress slowly that day not only because of the weather, but also because of the many conversations we have along the way. People are interested in our stories and a short toilet break ends up in a 2 hour during one. All fun and all but when at 4pm we have still only cycled 27km we have to cut some conversations short and keep on going. At the end of the day we still cycle 55km and get rewarded with a few well deserved views. It's so beautiful here and we suddenly realise the struggle is all worth it and it's one of the most special places we have ever cycled. We enjoy the surroundings to the fullest and feel blessed. At the same time, Stefanie feels a bit rushed because the border of the USA is still far away. Our friends Annelies and David are faster than we are and almost at the border already. "How are we ever going to catch up on them?" we think.
We wild camp for the first time on this route. A beautiful spot next to the river where the fresh glacier water flows, the best taste of water. We camp out of sight and a little further on Kent, an American, is also camping with his truck. It is a good feeling to have someone around, we can even put our food in his truck because there is of course no storage space to protect the food from the bears.
The next morning we get up early, the sun still nowhere to be seen in the valley so it is freezing cold. There is frost on the tent and on the bicycles, for a moment it seems we ended up in Winter too soon. This makes sense because of the 1500m altitude, but still we are surprised by this cold and we try to clean up as fast as possible and take our food from Kent's truck (he left the car door open for us). If we start cycling it will get warm soon we think. Well, we have never been so cold on the bike. After 4km the first sunlight appears on our faces. Stefanie's has some frostbite on her fingers and is in so much pain she starts crying in the middle of the road. We stop cycling for a minute when we see an area in the sun, this feels so good!
Fifteen minutes later we are moving on and suddenly someone shouts "BEAR!" from in his car. Surprised, we look at each other: "Was that an encouragement or was this man really shouting Bear!". We look around and 100 meters further we see him, a black bear about ten meters from us. He sits relaxed eating berries and hardly reacts to us, he doesn't care at all that we cycle past and continues eating his delicious berries. We don't dare take a picture, it doesn't seem ideal for a first encounter at such a close distance. It is perhaps the stupidest thing you can do, disturb a bear while he is enjoying his breakfast.
The rest of the day we enjoy the sun to the fullest, finally, and climb further into the Rockies. It's very nice and gradual climbing and the views are great, we are surrounded by snowy peaks and see the bluest lakes, it's hard to grasp how dazzlingly beautiful it is. When we find an idyllic camping spot by a lake earlier than expected we pitch our tent and enjoy a warm sunset near the water. These are the summer days on the bike that we have been looking forward to for months.
Lake Louise - Too popular for us!
In Lake Louise we see a Belgian couple we had already met in Jasper. The campground is completely full and they suggest to camp with them. Unfortunately they are at the RV site and no tents are allowed there. Pitching a tent is only allowed in their enclosed area, a fence is build around it to keep bears at a distance. After a round of cycling we meet David and Julie, a Canadian couple from Quebec. We are more than welcome to share a camp site. Together with their sweet but stubborn Huskies, Talik and Floki, we have a pleasant evening.
David and Julie suggest we stay another night and explore the area with them the next day. We almost turn down the invitation, because we want to go to the USA, but we have an agreement with ourselves never to turn down an invitation. So we decide to stay and the next morning the four of us go to Lake Louise and Lake Morraine. Unfortunately, this touristy spot is too much of a good thing. Both parking lots are full and we decide to drive half an hour further to Yoho National Park. A challenge, because the dogs, they want to join in as well! When, after only 1 minute of driving, they start to have a little fight on the back seat, Floki decides to jump out of the window. Because of this he sits on Niels' lap the whole way and at the end of the day they are best friends.
It was a nice day and we realize once again that the bicycle is currently the perfect means of transportation for us. A day in the car is nice, but to travel from hot spot to hot spot is not what we are looking for in an adventure. We have been in Lake Louise but we have not seen the lake. Do we regret this? Actually no... Travel for us is not about having seen that one spot and taking a picture of it. Again, it is the encounters and the people that make our trip.
Bow Valley Parkway
We get up early so we don't have to cycle during the hottest time of the day. Unfortunately, we notice that Niels' rear tire is completely flat. Eventually it turns out that the outer tire has a big hole in it (after 12,000km in total). Fortunately, this happens in a town with a bike shop and eventually we find a suitable tire, unfortunately not ideal, but one that can help us out for the next few thousand kilometers.
Today we want to cycle towards Banff via the Bow Valley Parkway, a road surrounded by forests and along a railroad line, a lot quieter than the Icefields Parkway. We rethink our plan to hitchhike from here to catch up with David and Annelies. At a junction at a small gas station we meet Rob who can give us a hitchhike closer to the border. When Stefanie first goes to the toilet before getting into the car, she returns crying. While having a short pee she realizes she doesn't want to leave Canada at all. The country is beautiful and it's probably the most fun cycling we've had so far during our trip. We have another 300km to go to the border and we have only been cycling here for a week, it feel too early to leave this country. For two years we have been dreaming of cycling here and it doesn't feel right to skip a part in a hurry. We'll catch up with our friends someday, but right now Canada is the plan, we may never get the chance to cycle here again. Fortunately, David and Annelies are very understanding of our choice. Anyway, our paths will cross again.
For a moment we feel a bit ashamed towards Rob, the man completely rebuilds his car during our denial phase to make room for us. We feel awkward for a moment to go and say we won't be joining him, but he doesn't mind at all. He comes to have a chat with us and what a sweet man! He tells us his life story and he himself appears to be an avid cyclist who completely understands these situations. The concept of cycle therapy is explained to us and he outlines examples of how cycling has changed his life. The man looks happier than ever and shares many personal moments. After a big hug, we say goodbye to Rob.
In the evening we arrive in Banff and realise the first part of Canada is over. And what a beautiful adventure full of unforgettable moments. It is already 7:30 pm and we have no idea where we are going to sleep, so we try our tactics again: Just cycle into the fully booked campsite and have a chat. An hour later we are having tea and coffee with Piet and Iet, a Dutch couple that's coming to Canada for a 13th time. Our tents are nicely placed next to each other and after a very pleasant evening with them we head into our tent. We finish off the day with reading a book and feel amazing. While looking at each other we just know we have made a good decision to stay in Canada longer.