I’ve been subconsciously putting off writing a blog for Alberta, partly cos we zig zagged our way through and spent quite a long time there, partly cos we haven’t really stopped and the crossing from Alberta to BC was so blurred, and partly cos I’m loosing motivation as we get close to the finish line.
I could probably sum up the following blog in a couple of sentences; the Icefields Parkway, Rocky Mountains and Lake Abraham were a dream come true…And now I’m ready to go home.
The first few days in Alberta were really just a continuation of Saskatchewan, with a few more towns dotting the way. The road did get hillier pretty much as we passed through the border town of Lloyminster and the farmland got greener with more lakes and more trees. We pulled a couple of big days to get to Edmonton, and even saw the world’s biggest Pysanka (Ukranian Easter Egg) in Vegreville.
After two 100km+ days, we reached Edmonton and it was more than a little terrifying cycling in to the city! Even though we took a quieter route in, there were still sections of 4 lane highway where the shoulder would just disappear. We made it safe enough though and were hosted for 4 nights by Kirsty’s friend Cat and her boyfriend Stu. Kirsty and Cat went to primary school together, and Cat left just before I arrived…And that was the last time they saw each other! It was awesome to reconnect and share lots of laughs in Edmonton with them. We even were able to enjoy Guns and Roses playing at a nearby stadium from there balcony, and indulged in plenty of red wine and good food.
Cat and Stu decided they also fancied a trip to the mountains, and offered to take us the 400km along the highway to Jasper. As a 4 hour drive for them meant 4 days of cycling for us, and we would get an extra night of camping with them, we eagerly accepted. It was a shame not to get the full effect of cycling in to the foothills, but we were grateful to miss 4 days of busy, divided highway and get to the country we’d been anticipating for so long.
It was a misty and foggy morning as we awoke in Hinton at the base of the Rockies, but we enjoyed a dip in the Miette Hot Springs on the way to Jasper, surrounded by the atmospheric fog hiding the mountain peaks from view. It was less than an hour from there to Jasper, and although the mountains were still hidden in cloud, we gradually became more and more surrounded and it was just beautiful. We arrived to a drizzly Jasper town, but as it cleared up I just fell in love. The town is obviously touristy, but not tacky or overwhelming, and the mountains on every horizon just make it an awesome place to be. We stayed with friends of friends of Cat’s, and Sharon and her daughters India and Anika were such a pleasure (/honour) to meet and we set off the next day with warm hearts and a great excitement for what was to come.
I had a massive smile on my face as we cycled off on to the Icefields Parkway, and it didn’t leave for the next 5 days. We decided to take it really slow, stopped whenever we wanted and surrounding ourselves with the stillness and silence of the mountains. Bike travel really came in to it’s own, as we were able to stop at places that cars and other tourists couldn’t and really soak up the surroundings. I was quite nervous about seeing bears but we didn’t spot any, and I felt perfectly safe staying in the HI Wilderness Hostels and at the campgrounds. Each were very good about food storage and waste management, avoiding the areas becoming a bear attractant.
We stopped at Athabasca Falls and Beauty Creek for the first two nights, and although our bikes were heavy with five days worth of supplies and the road was hilly, the scenery kept us going. The Goat and Glacier lookout spot was one of the most beautiful sights I’ve ever seen – blue, grey and red mountains towering over forest and a river valley where we could just imagine bears living and playing. Beauty Creek really lived up to its name, and we made the most of the hammocks by the river (of course surrounded by mountains) and felt very grateful for the last three months that got us here.
Basically every corner we turned was just beautiful. The road is lined with pine trees but the mountains tower above in every direction. From Beauty Creek we had a big climb up to the Columbia Icefield, so we’d planned a particularly short day to do it. The hill turned out to be nowhere as bad as we had heard or expected, and I even managed to cycle the whole thing. There were lots of places to stop to catch our breaths and take in the scenery, which certainly helped.
As we approached the glacier, one of Kirsty’s spokes decided to give up. An attempt at cable tying it to the adjacent one didn’t work and her wheel instantly went out of alignment. Long story short she managed to get a ride all the way back to Jasper, get her wheel fixed, and then hitched back to the Icefields where I waited overnight, making the most of the Wilcox Pass Hike and chatting to other travellers.
Our next stop was Rampart Creek hostel which again was such a treat. They were equipped with their own wood burning sauna and as a thunderstorm rolled through during the night, we were very grateful not to be in our tents. The drizzle was still there the following morning, but after 5 days of bluebird skies we couldn’t complain.
My dad and granny were flying out to meet us in a few days time, and if we continued to head straight south we’d arrive too early, so we decided to turn off the Icefields Parkway and head East instead. We headed down Highway 11 and it was such a treat. The level of traffic dropped to about 10% of what it had been, and Lake Abraham was so beautiful. The blue colour of the water stood out even with an overcast sky, and then when the clouds cleared it was just amazing. We felt very lucky to have found a somewhat secret spot that was really just as beautiful as the Icefields Parkway.
We cycled through Nordegg and on to Rocky Mountain House. We were both feeling pretty good and the weather was nice again…Until we left Rocky Mountain House. As we packed up our tents it began to get drizzly, then just got worse and worse. We were heading South for Calgary where we’d meet Dad and Granny and the rain just didn’t stop. Amazingly on our first day in the rain we were picked up by a truck who was actually travelling in the other direction, but when he saw us powering on with our heads down through the rain he turned around and offered us a lift to our destination. And on our second day, our warmshowers host Sheila met us 10km from her home and took our bags, making the last cold section so much more enjoyable. Our evening with Sheila was also just a dream, we had hot showers, enjoyed a delicious meal with red wine and slept soundly in comfortable beds. We got to Calgary the next day with no trouble, met Dad and Granny and enjoyed 4 days of no cycling with them in Canmore, Banff and Lake Louise.
Then since leaving Lake Louise (and so Alberta), we’ve travelled through Golden, Revelstoke, Chase and Kamloops. It’s been a little bit chilly and we’re both a little bit tired. We’ve mostly been on Highway 1, the trans Canada route, and it is so busy with cars that sometimes it’s hard to appreciate the beautiful scenery.
Our first two days were relatively big and BC is hilly (!) and truth be told Kirsty was not enjoying herself one bit. So we slowed it down and are now doing 50/60/70km days until we reach the coast. British Columbia really is beautiful, but it’s hard not to think about the finish line and everything and everyone that’s waiting for us at home.
As I said on Facebook recently, lots of people we meet and people at home say we must be brave, but I still worry and at times am afraid. Even though we only have 7 days to go we are heading in to mountainous bear country and I’m nervous about what’s to come. However, this makes each little achievement even more special and I feel so proud when I reflect on what we’ve seen and done already.