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Alberta BC 2003

Alberta Adventure
August 8-21, 2003

This past summer, 18 Knickerbikers embarked on a sag-supported cycling tour of the Canadian Rockies. This is a brief summary of the scenic attractions and events on the trip. The riders were Eric and Sharon Goodis, Larry and Sandra Zinn, Susie and Stogs Stogsdill, Michael and Marta Hurwitz, Jim Willis, Doug Paulson, Sharon McGuire, Rita Cohen, Gail Markiewicz, Jean Monfort, Joan Slote, Lois Horowitz, and Ken and Sheryl (the van driver) King.
On August 8, most of us met in Vancouver and checked into the Best Western Sands by the Sea. The hotel was adjacent to the beach at English Bay and a short 3 blocks from world famous Stanley Park, one of the places we rode. The park, Vancouver's first, and North America’s third largest urban park, is an evergreen oasis of 1,000 acres close to the heart of Vancouver's downtown core, and a cycling paradise!
That evening, we viewed the 2003 Celebration of Lights. Each summer, three different countries are invited to compete in this international musical fireworks competition. The event takes place over four consecutive nights with each country performing one of the first three nights. On the final night, our night, they performed together. A million people lined the bay (they all were in front of our hotel, I think) to watch this.
The next afternoon, we boarded our train to Jasper. Even though most of the 18-hour trip was at night, we still saw plenty of spectacular scenery before nightfall and after sunrise. At around noon on August 11 we unloaded our bikes, found the motel, and set off to tour Jasper. It’s a little town in a very big park. Jasper National Park is Canada's largest Rocky Mountain Park and one of North America's largest natural areas, spanning 4,200 sq. mi. of awe-inspiring scenic splendor. Today and the next day we toured the local sights, including the spectacular Maligne Canyon, with sheer limestone walls and a rushing river. Most of us went up to Lake Edith and Lake Annette, two day-use areas in a beautiful lakeside setting.
On the morning of August 13, we finally started our actual touring, riding 38 miles to Sunwapta Falls. Along our route was Athabasca Falls, where the Athabasca River thunders through a narrow gorge where the walls have been smoothed and potholed by the sheer force of the rushing water carrying sand and rock. We spent the night at The Sunwapta Falls Resort, a complex of modest A-frame rooms and a restaurant with wonderful food! Another amazing waterfall was a short walk away.
The next day we rode along the “Icefields Parkway,” paralleling the Sunwapta River. Our elevation gain today was 2,000 feet as we climbed from 4,559 feet to 6,519 feet before reaching The Columbia Icefield Centre. Considered one of the most scenic highways in the world, the Icefields Parkway offers an ever-changing view of waterfalls, emerald lakes, alpine meadows and snow-capped peaks. The Columbia Icefield is a true "continental divide," for its meltwater feeds streams and rivers that pour into the Arctic, Atlantic, and Pacific oceans. We spent the night at the Icefield Centre Chalet on the edge of the Athabasca Glacier, a tongue of ice 6 kilometers long and one kilometer wide descending almost to road level.
For the next day, our toughest, we enjoyed a nice 31-mile downhill to “The Crossing,” losing 2,000 feet of elevation. Then our task was to regain those 2,000 feet by climbing for 30 miles in 90 degree plus weather up to Bow Summit. We all climbed a few more feet on a side road to view one of the world's most spectacular sights, the soft baby blue waters of Peyto Lake and the rugged beauty of the Mistaya River valley stretching out before our eyes beneath a sea of distant peaks. Peyto Lake is fed by the meltwaters of Peyto Glacier off to the left of the viewpoint, and the glacial silt (the fine rock particles ground up by the glacier as it passes over the land below it) floats out into the lake reflecting the magnificent "robin's egg" color. In just a few more miles we reached Num-Ti-Jah, our destination for today. It sits on the crystal clear blue-green waters of Bow Lake. This old lodge is decorated with Elk and Moose antlers, and served us a gourmet multi-course dinner.
Our 26-mile ride today descended to Lake Louise, following the Bow River, which will remain with us until the end of our tour. Some of us saw bears along this road, including a mom and three cubs alongside the road.
Lake Louise is famous for its beautiful lake and château-style hotel, which stands in splendid isolation on the moraine at the eastern end of the lake.
The wildfires in British Columbia had resulted in some smoky skies, so the spectacular views here and in Banff were often obscured with haze. As the days progressed, though, the hazy conditions seemed to abate somewhat.
Since we stayed in Lake Louise two nights, many of us found the time to hike up to the Teahouse, one of the most popular hikes in the Rockies. Starting from the lake (after Niagara Falls, the most popular tourist attraction in Canada), the trail climbs through forest to a vantage point that provides wonderful (but smoky) views of Lake Louise. Most of us also visited Moraine Lake, which is half the size of Lake Louise, but an even more spectacular color.
Our lodging the second night was in the “Alpine Centre,” one of most luxurious “youth hostels” in the world. Yes, you are in a dorm room, and yes, you rent towels and bedding, but we were impressed with the place and especially the food!
Banff was 40 miles away along Highway 1A, the Bow Valley Parkway. This was one of the best bets for seeing, watching and photographing wildlife. Some saw an amazing 12-point buck elk bound across the road, and most of us saw the goats (sheep?) alongside the road, as well as the grouse and ospreys.
As we arrived in Banff we were overwhelmed at first by all the tourists and traffic; it was only then that we truly appreciated the natural beauty we had cycled through.
Banff National Park was Canada's first national park and the world's third. Spanning 2,564 square miles of valleys, mountains, glaciers, forests, meadows and rivers, Banff National Park is truly worth visiting. Some folks went up the hill to view the world-famous Banff Hot Springs and hotel; it’s the one you see in the Canadian Pacific ads. It was designed and built in 1888 with a style reminiscent of a stately 19th century Scottish Baronial castle.
After spending the night in Banff, we cycled east, still following the Bow River, 42 miles to Nakoda Lodge, which is out in the middle of nowhere. Actually, it’s on the edge of Chief Hector Lake, and seems to be owned by the local chapter of the Nakoda Nation, called the Stoney. We stared across the lake, first taking in the tranquility, and then watching a small storm approach. Some canoed, some took advantage of the indoor pool, and others just sat around and gossiped. When we arrived, Ken made sure they had our accommodations ready (you never know with some inn-keepers), and the rooms were ready. “Dinner? What dinner? You just asked for rooms.” There is NOTHING here; the nearest town is maybe 35 miles away. Fortunately, the chef was persuaded to stick around and prepare us a wonderful “chef’s choice” buffet. He also came back the next day to fix us a wonderful breakfast. Whew. It turns out it’s not really a hotel but a conference center, but when Ken made the reservations that wasn’t at all clear. All’s well that end’s well.

Our last riding day (38 miles) continued along Highway 1A into Calgary. We were out of the Canadian Rockies now, and into the fertile plains (wheat and cattle) of Alberta.
Throughout the ride, the sag wagon was always available for transporting riders, but almost never used. Sheryl was happy to be along on the trip, and turned out to be a good sag-wagon driver!
Calgary, a modern, cosmopolitan city is famous for its annual Calgary Stampede. It wasn’t on, but we ate at “Buzzards Cowboy Cuisine” in downtown Calgary, so we could capture some of that spirit.
Before and during our meal, we handed out “gutter gifts” that had been collected from the roadside. We did our part to keep Canada beautiful and came up with some interesting stuff besides, including a complete socket wrench set (was it heavy, Jim?), a yarmulke and a “like new” egg basket created from blue wire in the shape of a hen! That prize was given to Sheryl by Gail for being such a good sag-wagon driver. In fact, the gang pitched in to give Ken a couple of nice shirts, and Sheryl a tote bag. Thanks, everyone!
On August 21st, we all made arrangements to fly home or continue the vacation. Once again, it was a successful trip (no one was hurt, and the weather was spectacular with NO rain). As we reflect on the journey, we all took chances on health, weather, our cycling competence, and the terrain, and we all, I believe, were very happy that we made the choice to take the risk. “The rewards of the journey far outweigh the risk of leaving the harbor.”

Ken King, December 2003