With summer rapidly approaching I started to brainstorm vacation ideas. I had gotten into cycle touring a couple of years ago and had a few trips under my belt, so I was itching to get another good one in.
This had been a year of really pushing myself, doing a number of challenging hiking trips and running some races. It seems I had been bitten by the bug of pushing myself further than I had before. A plan began to take shape. What about a long, unsupported solo cycling trip?
I began plotting my options. I especially wanted the trip to be somewhere “close” enough to ride home from. After considering multiple starting points, I settled on Calgary. For one thing, my folks live there and this would provide me with a home base to get organized before setting out. Also, it’s a quick flight with a bike box in tow.
As the months rolled closer to my departure date I pieced together all the necessary provisions. I connected with Krave Jerky to help sponsor me (food sponsors, gotta love'em), and put in as much training as I could. I needed to ensure I would be as ready as possible for something as big as this. I was both nervous and excited.
And I’m off:
Wednesday, 5:00 a.m.
I woke up and was not likely to get any more sleep. It was time. I packed the final bits of loose gear, ate a quick breakfast with the folks, and then it was out the door. So the adventure begins.
I chose to take the 1A out of Calgary, based on the assumption that it would be less busy than the Trans-Canada Highway. The weather was perfect: overcast and not too much dripping from the sky.
I stopped in Cochrane around lunch time and made my way to (Bike Bros) to pick up a replacement bike lock after making the discovery mine had wandered off. (Great service and a free Americano to boot!) They directed me to a local donair for lunch. It was glorious. Food tastes so much better when you're refueling.
I pushed on to Canmore where I had a reservation at The Hostel Bear. They were very accommodating and I'd happily recommend staying there. Dinner that night was at my favourite Canmore spot: The Grizzly Paw Brewing Company. Great pub fare and fantastic craft beer - you gotta try the Powder Hound Pilsner.
The next morning I picked up some provisions from The Rocky Mountain Bagel Co and hit the road. My treat for the day? Riding the Rocky Mountain Legacy Trail. It's a 26 km span of paved path, fully independent from the highway that connects Canmore to Banff, and then to the Bow Valley Parkway. In a tangle of highway riding, it offers a safe (and fun) connection between the two towns.
I stopped off in Banff for a bite to eat and enjoyed a bit of people watching on a tourist-filled Main Street. It seemed to me that absolutely everyone was from out of town.
From there I followed the Parkway right into Lake Louise. As I pulled in there were a few other cycle tourists looking for a place to make camp. I opted to split my site with them, shared a few well-earned beers and comradery before turning in early for a full night's rest.
Friday, 3:00 a.m.
Awoken in a puddle of water, and quickly realized I made a critical error in setting up my tent. (Failing to connect the fly to the ground tarp, rather than the tent itself.) With a good amount of my clothes swimming in the pooled rainwater, it is a mistake that I will not make again. Grr.
With a slow, wet start to the day I said goodbye to the other cyclists and hit the road. From here, it was full highway riding. I steadily climbed a few big hills and soon encountered the official provincial border. “Welcome to BC!” a sign read.
The weather started to take a turn for the worse as I climbed up 10 Mile Hill. It only intensified as I descended towards Golden. “Damn, I can barely see!” Trucks were whipping past me at speeds that I was not comfortable with in the rain. Quickly, I pulled into the Kicking Horse Rest Area to wait out the storm.
That evening I was invited by my neighbouring campers to join them for a beer. (There's a theme here.) They were a group of hikers who were spending the night there before setting off on a backcountry trip to Asulkan Hut, located south of Mount Sir Donald in Glacier National Park and operated by the Alpine Club of Canada. The more I heard about their trip plans the more I thought it likely that I would return to do it myself.
Saturday, 9:00 a.m.
I had some friends pass through Golden so we met up for breakfast. This was also an opportunity for me to ditch some of the wet clothing from the Lake Louise nightmare. Following a quick meal, we parted ways.
My objective for the day: Tackle Roger’s Pass. I began the morning feeling good as my bike was a bit lighter. Let the climbing begin!
Then, what I would describe as an 'endless' morning began.
Every time I thought I was done with the elevation gain I would round a corner and there would be more - and more - incline. This day had been on my mind since the inception of the trip and I was determined to grind it out as quickly as possible.
In the end I don’t even know how many hours I climbed, but I did it...and then sailed down the other side to my destination: Canyon Hot Springs. Its location could not have been better. Not only did it provide me with a campsite for the night, but a much needed soak in the hot springs relaxed sore muscles.
The next day found me quite rejuvenated from the hot springs. I powered my way through Revelstoke to Sicamous. Upon arrival a set of angry clouds rapidly rolled in. Just as I considered going further “Bang!” a huge thunder clap. “Screw it I’m done.” I quickly set up camp at Joe Schmucks Campground and headed for The Roadhouse for dinner. I spent the evening on the patio as the storm slowly skulked off.
Up early and the full sun was already beating hot. The morning started with some climbing - notice another trip theme here? As I was passing through Salmon Arm the heat had become unbearable. I was guzzling water and constantly looking for the shade of trees to escape the sizzling temperatures. My destination for the day was set to my uncle’s cabin on the north side of Shuswap Lake, just east of Squilax. The afternoon visit would provide a welcome break.
Once I arrived, I quickly ditched my gear. A boat ride on the water, dip in the lake, and evening barbecue with good company was just what I needed. It was nice to be out of the saddle, even just for the afternoon.
A couple glasses of wine were shared as we watched a summer storm roll through, tormenting the docks along the lake shore. And just as quickly as it came, it was gone. I silently cheers-ed myself for reaching the midway point of the trip.
Tuesday, heading South:
I slept well, and in a bed!
That morning was a slow start due to weather but eventually there was a break in the clouds. Back on the highway I was now Kamloops-bound. As I pedaled along the relatively flat section of road I could feel fatigue set in. Inevitable I guess, but man does it hit you.
Once I reached Kamloops I was booted off the highway/byway system and guided into town to regroup. Now, how to get to Highway 5A from the far end of town?
This is where my first of three encounters with Google Maps took place. Now, I am not taking anything away from Google Maps but with respect to route suggestions for cycling, the system does not differentiate between mountain bikes versus road touring versus a single gear beach cruiser. Mine went as followed:
Follow said road until it takes you through a parking lot, then a slight right up a rough gravel road into what looks like some sort of quarry. At this point try not to get jumped by Ponyboy and the rest of The Outsiders before finally ascending up a goat trail that is probably only meant for actual goats!
Now, why Google even has this in their database as a route option I do not know, but in their defense it did get me there. Exhausted, I climbed the steep final stretch to my campground which was located at the start of the 5A. I barely got through eating dinner before I was out like a light.
The next morning was a steady ride along the 5A which is a fantastic cycling route. I virtually had it to myself all day. I pulled into Merritt, snagged a campsite and cooled down by the river. It was a good riding day.
Thursday, heading for Hope and home:
Finally, a morning that was cool.
My site was nestled amid some brush that provided me some shelter from the morning sun. I was so tired the night before that I hadn’t even bothered to inflate my air mattress. I just simply pulled it over me. I had tackled over 800 km in 8 days and the enormity of this trip had finally caught up to me. "This is no small endeavour!" I laughed to myself. A funny way to spend a 'vacation'.
Looking at the massive hill that ascends south out of Merritt, I hoped there was an alternate route. I turned to Google Maps for a second time. It suggested that the very backroad I was on would connect with a spur line of the Kettle Valley Trail System. I set out, wheeling past the grounds of the Rockin' River Country Music Festival. The road began to get a bit rough, and the trees and shrubs closed in on me. This was starting to become a pattern with Google Maps. Before too long I was standing at the foot of a bridge that was missing so many parts it did not seem passable. Especially with a loaded bike. Crap. Time to back track.
I ended up on Coldwater Road which followed Highway 5 without subjecting me to the climb. It was a nice rolling secondary road with scenic viewpoints...and some owner-less dogs who chased me down the road, mouths of sharp teeth snapping at my tires. What a way to have started this day.
Coldwater Road eventually met up with the Coquihalla and I was back to climbing on exposed highway. As I reached the summit recreation area, I pulled off for a break at the Britton Creek rest stop. I bought a cold drink from a vendor and found a piece of shade.
Without a lot of experience driving the Coquihalla I turned to Google Maps one last time. Was there another cycling option for the descent, apart from the highway itself? Maps suggested that there was “Old Coquihalla Road" up ahead that would allow me to bypass a fair chunk of the busy highway. I obliged.
Heading along the road, I soon encountered a big yellow gate. Um what? I approached the sign affixed to it which told me that the continuation ahead was open to hikers, cyclists, and equestrians. It was part of the Trans Canada Trail. I thought, “Well it mentions cyclists so it can’t be that bad, can it?”
I kicked my road bike under the gate and continued on. The rough gravel road was full of rock debris that had sloughed off the mountainside. Before long I had dropped so much elevation that I knew there was no turning back.
It was actually quite an amazing stretch of road/trail, one that not too many cyclists get to experience as they rip along the highway, several hundred metres above. It was 22 kms of mostly downhill trail which I did on a road bike no less.
From there it was an easy push down the highway into Hope, the gateway home.
Over the next two days I pedaled along familiar roads, getting closer and closer to home. I thought back on the trip. The beginning seemed so long ago, as though it were part of an entirely unrelated trip. 1,100 km in 11 days; it was more than I could have ever conceived of just a few years back.
B.C. (and Canada) is a big place. The irony is, the more I see of it from the saddle, the longer my travel wishlist becomes. As I fleetingly pass through small towns and wild places, keen to crush long distance kilometres, I'm compelled to revisit them, to check out what they're all about.
I'd arrive back home in Richmond without incident, another limit-pushing challenge complete. And just as soon as the soreness of stiff muscles subsides you can bet I'll start contemplating the next adventure.
If You Go:
- If you decide to tackle a trip like this take a bike you are comfortable with and know intimately.
- Ensure you are bike savvy enough to make roadside repairs. Do you know what a chain whip is and how to use it? Remember, no one wants to be stranded on the side of the highway, bike in pieces, watching “how-to” videos on YouTube.
- Plan your route close to towns and locate the bike shops along the way. You may need a replacement part or a quick-fix if things go sideways on you.
- Talk to the locals, and always stop in at the town visitor centers. They offer resources and knowledge that are valuable beyond words.
- Though I didn’t do it, I would recommend setting aside a rest day mid-trip to recoup, or just to appreciate the sights. It is also nice to help break up the trip.
- Are you new to bike touring? Read Chris' article: How to Plan a Multi-Day Bike Trip in British Columbia
- And above all: enjoy every minute of it, because once you’re finished you’ll want to do it all over again.
Read about Chris' Vancouver - Sunshine Coast - Vancouver Island bike tour: Will Bike for Beer - a 5 Day Coastal Cycling Trip
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