Sunday, August 19, 2007

Bicycle Adventures: Glacier - Banff - Jasper 2007

We left from Seattle for the Bicycle Adventures Glacier - Banff - Jasper tour on Friday morning. Even though the tour didn't start until Saturday morning, we decided this year to take our own bikes. BA has very fine rentals - we used their Rocky Mountain bikes last year on the California Redwoods tour, and they were reliable and comfortable - but Cindy has a new Cervelo, and I've just become accustomed to my Trek. At 6'3", a bike that fits is kind of important to me, and I had mine professionally fit to me some time ago. Besides, the departure point, Whitefish Montana was certainly within driving distance (about 9 hours) and any time I have a chance to avoid air travel, I take the opportunity. We stayed at the Grouse Mountain Lodge in Whitefish Friday night after a very hot July drive across central Washington , Idaho and Western Montana. Grouse Mountain Lodge is a very nice place. Our room was comfortable with a king size bed (NB: this is something of a Big Deal to me. Remember why I brought my own bike? Yeah. Me and small beds don't mesh well. See this recurring, but manageable, theme below....) BA even set this pre-trip lodging up for us, so check-in was easy, even though we had plenty of gear with us. We verified with them directly that we could leave our car at the lodge during the trip.

We dressed for bike travel and headed down to breakfast the next morning. Arriving at a restaurant in spandex biking gear will make you stand out in a crowd, and we met up with some folks similarly dressed, and surprise-surprise, they were there for the same trip we were about to embark on. We joined Fred and Mark for some early carbo-loading, then packed our gear to the front door to meet our guides.

What a great site to see the BA van and trailer at the front door! There is just something about that van and smiling guides that impresses you with "you're about to have a great time!" I met up with Brandon, who was our guide from our tour with BA last year. Brandon had called me last week, as is the tradition with BA, to chat a little about the trip. As we were repeat travelers, we had a better idea of what to expect, but this is a nice touch by the company. You can let your guides know if you have special needs or requests, or just chat a bit to find more out about the terrain or weather. Brandon reminded me of one of the "quirks" of this particular trip: since the van can't take the trailer over the Going to the Sun road, we needed a separate "day bag" for the first night. As it turns out, this "day bag" idea is a good one for the entire trip. It's nice to have a bag of stuff on top for easy reach inside the van. Having this kind of "heads up" a week before even packing made things really smooth.

We met our other guide Chris as he was already loading bags. Chris stands a few inches taller than me, and you could sense his quiet confidence immediately. As we were about to learn when the group got all together for the first time, this was Chris' first season with BA, and his first trip on the GBJ tour. If he hadn't told us that, we would have never known. Here's a guy who seemed to know all the tricks of the trade. He was totally comfortable with all the equipment, and seemed to know exactly how to plan the schedule to meet the needs of the travelers while taking advantage of everything the route had to offer. Where BA finds these pros, I can only speculate.

Once our gear was loaded up, we're ready to meet the other travelers and have our first route talk. We met Fred and Mark at breakfast, and met another solo traveler, Peter. The other couples were Rob and Adri, Dave and Dayle, Ken and Nancy, and Murray and Emily. There was a total of 13 guests, a nice feature of all BA trips. This is the number that fits their very comfortable vans, and also has many advantages when traveling. BA points out these smaller groups allow for more personal attention and for the smaller inns and restaurants to accommodate. All true. As it turns out, our group was much the same age and cycling ability. It was easy to make friends with this group. Everyone liked cycling together, seeing the off the track sights, and sharing the trip. This was a wonderful group of people, the company of which we enjoyed immensely. Together with the guides, we were about to set off on a marvelous adventure.

Each day is a mini-vacation onto itself. It starts with a route talk and safety briefing. We received our route directions from Brandon, and he posted a large map on the side of the trailer. He took us turn-by-turn through the ride to lunch. The route directions throughout the trip were flawless. I carried a recording GPS device along on the trip to simply track where we went, and unless you really tried, there's no way you'd get lost on a BA trip. Brandon also reminded us of the dos and don't of cycling. It's all too easy to forget that at times you're cycling with other users of the road, and that carries certain responsibilities to be careful, not just for your own safety, but for others as well. I surreptitiously took a glance around the group to see who might be taking this lightly. None were. I was in good company. At the very end of the trip, the guides confided in me that this is their biggest worry - that someone will be injured. This attention to safety is never lost, but it never gets in the way of the trip, either. Funny, but when I think about it, this says a lot. It is the one thing the guides really don't have any control over. I get the impression that with all the variables on a lengthy trip like this, the guides could overcome just about any contingency. Forest fire? No problem, we'll re-route. Someone lose a bag last night? No worries, we'll get someone to pick it up. But if someone is injured, it is hospital time, and this could have lots of outcomes. I do know the guides are extensively trained in first aid, but there is a limit as to what can be done. Knowing this, the ounce of prevention technique is a strong lead. I felt very safe and looked after.

Time to hit the road! BA points out there isn't a "travel day" to waste time on. When you sign up for an 8 day trip, 8 days of activity is what you get. And this is a good a place to emphasize just how important the literature from BA is. If there is one way to induce stress in a traveler, it is to introduce some uncertainty as to what they're going to do. BA will have none of this. Their web site is not just professionally well-designed and navigable, but it serves a most important function - display of *everything* you would want to know about what you're buying. There was never an opportunity to say "this wasn't in the brochure." It was. All of it, and more. Don't miss the "slideshow" feature!

Out first stop down the road was only about a mile. We saw one of our group had stopped last night at the Glacier Cycle shop in downtown Whitefish, and had on a really nice "Going to the Sun" jersey. We decided we each had to have one. The shop was small, and prices reasonable for a mountain resort town. The sales folks inside were *really* nice. Visit them; highly recommended!

It took only a few pedal strokes to get out of "town." The stop light next to cycle store was the last one we'd see for a week. We cycled through the outskirts of a growing farm community, and as we moved from civilization to back country, it only took a few minutes to leave the stress of civilization behind. We were now on "cycle time" and with a van full of support, it took only moments to sink onto the bike, and forget what day, what time it was.

Lunch was served by the Flathead river. Fresh fruit, cold drinks of every type, and today, smoked salmon and bagels, complete with capers! The ever-present bag of peanut M&Ms (a BA tradition) right along side nightly "beer cooler" are the comfort foods on the trip. We ate a leisurely lunch, and watched river rafters drift by. Normally, we'd ride out from lunch, but today, we had a post-lunch route talk, then loaded up to transfer inside of Glacier National Park proper. We then cycled to Apgar, a small village at the south end of Lake MacDonald. We sampled the huckleberry ice cream, and cooled off in the lake. Plenty of leisure time here, since the park, for very obvious safety reasons, limits the times bikes can be on the Going to the Sun road. We passed some relaxing time off the bikes on the shore of the lake, then rode into Lake MacDonald lodge.

The Lodge is very, very nice, right on the lake. One of the really nice touches of a BA trip is that your bags don't show up by the curb - they are taken to your room for you. All you pick up at the curb is your key. Man, is that nice. Rooms were lodge-type, but comfortable. No king size bed here, but given the surroundings, not really expected. As it was still pretty hot, I scored us a room fan that made the evening sleep very pleasant. Dinner in the lodge was good, but it seemed like everyone was really tired from the first day of cycling. Oddly enough, the appetizers and deserts were the highlights here. Yum!

Up the next morning, we were greeted with the first of many buffet breakfasts. This was the norm for the first meal of the day, and all had fresh fruit, as well as hot selections, eggs, and the usual American breakfast meat. Always juices to select from, and there was always an option for waffles straight from the iron. I'm not a big breakfast eater, but there was everything I could think anyone would want. We started a bit early, wanting to be on the road early so as to maximize the time available for the climb to Logan Pass. The Park Service requires cyclists to be off the road by 11am, so BA would have to scoop up anyone still pedaling then. Yes, this is a mountain climb, no it is not undoable. You'll have plenty of time. BA rental bikes (and my Trek) come equipped with a triple chain ring in front, and I suspect even the most moderately active person would have no trouble ascending the climb in leisurely fashion in the allotted time. But if not, the ever-present van is at your side, and the view from its windows would be equally thrilling. And, you'd have your choice of music on the stereo - Chris brought a well-stocked iPod, and if you brought your own, there was ample support for you to share. Chris had on "Here Comes the Sun" as we grouped around the van for the ascent! Ha! What a great morning this was going to be. After some attention to dental hygiene, and the loading of bags, we were off.

As is the tradition, one of the guides drives the van, and the other joins us on the road with a bike. Interestingly, the guides ride a BA Rocky Mountain bike identical to the rentals. As the guides are clearly accomplished athletes, I rather suspect they have their own bikes at home that maybe they'd be more comfortable on. But how cool is it that they ride the company bikes? That's confidence, hunh?

Today, Chris drove the van, and Brandon was on the road with us. The first part of today's road was in a gently sloping valley. After yesterday's heat, starting off in a cool valley was great! The van was strategically parked just where the road starts up in earnest. Time to stock up on water and carbs. And of course, you always know which way to the van - it is equipped with a distinctive sounding bicycle bell that the guide jingles for you as they pass. A thumbs up, and you know the van will be at the next appointed stop. A thumbs down, and they know to stop at the next pullout to see what you need.

Cindy took the lead on the road, and I discovered how to climb a mountain. While it might seem obsessive, I wore a heart rate monitor, just so I could figure this out. Turns out if I turn at a pace that keeps me below 165 bpm, I can pretty much go all day and enjoy the view. Yes, that might sound a little excessive, but that's the way I'm built. Oddly enough, sitting on Cindy's wheel, I could just do this without using the small chain ring. Could be that spinning the little gear uses more energy? I dunno, but the trip up the Going to the Sun road was marvelous. What a view! And you can just see the Logan Pass sign about half a mile from the top. Meaning I could meter my energy, jump on the pedals, and sprint to the line to feel like Floyd winning le Tour! A punch at the air, and I could look forward to the downhill after seeing the visitor's center on the pass. If it wasn't for the time restriction, I would have gone down the west side and rode it again. What a great climb!

Plan to spend some time at the very nice visitor's center. It was much larger than I thought. There is a very nice trail behind the center that provides for a nice hike out to the glacier field. We opted out of the hike, mostly because it was very busy that day, and we wanted to relax a bit. And here's a tip: put some light hiking shoes in the van each morning. I use clipless pedals as a safety device, and you really can't walk far in shoes like that. But I'm told there was ample wildlife to be seen on the trail, and the view of Hidden Lake worth the steps.

A note about the Going to the Sun road. It is easy to see why this road took years to build. The engineering feat is obvious, as is the care taken to preserve it. As we biked it on a Sunday, the road work crews weren't out. The descent was fun, and just as we were briefed. Places to be careful, places to let the bike run a bit. And I discovered the best way to control speed is to use my wide body for aero braking, rather than use the rubber things on my rims. You'd think I'd have a clue as to how to modulate drag in an atmosphere to control speed, but I think the days of me really understanding that stuff are long past. Something about the simplicity of a bike makes me not really care about drag coefficients.

We stopped at a roadside ravine to admire a great waterfall. Cool clean water spilling down to the lake, and we noticed a tourist viewing the opposite side of the lake through a telephoto lens. They were kind enough to offer us a peek, and we saw a bear and cub from far away. Don't forget, we're in their house now. Look, but don't touch.

We met for lunch where Chris had dropped the trailer the night before, having driven all the way around the park because of the road restriction. Again, a gourmet meal of chicken salad with all the usual desert and drinks. A quick, but thorough briefing of the route ahead, and we're off again. Watch for the big U-Turn by the lake! It opens up in front of you on a down hill, and the whole lake is in front of you. What a great view!

The road in to Many Glacier Lodge was beautiful, but was one of the few places where the road maintenance was marginal. From Babb into the hotel was hot, into the wind, and uphill. I stupidly ran out of water about 5 miles from the hotel. Fortunately, Cindy had two full bottles. As it turns out, Adri and Rob were in close proximity, and Adri is a triathlete. Even she was having trouble in the shifting wind. We sure were glad to see the hotel, right on the lake as promised.

Many Glacier Lodge is very nice too, and seemed a bit bigger than Lake MacDonald Lodge. We had a room by the lake, complete with a deck. Two beds, and our bags met us in our room. The room by the lake sure was pretty, but being by the beach by a large lodge also meant a lot of traffic by our window late at night. Tip: score a room fan for some white noise to drown out the loud voices of people than can't figure out they're not alone next to a large lodge next to a lake in peak travel season.

OK, I've just got to say something about noise. I understand the idea that humans make noise with their mechanized contrivances. Indeed, the BA van isn't silent. I don't object to the Very Large Tour Buses that bring many visitors to see the national treasures that are our national and provincial parks. I'm willing to share, and indeed, I like company. But I draw the line at those ridiculous two wheeled, motorized contrivances made mostly by a company that rhymes with Barley Ravingson. There is just no reason for these things to make the amount of noise they do, but I recognize that the emission of this offending noise qualifies as "freedom" to some people. OK, I'm a big believer in the idea that acts can be speech, but taking these unbelievably noisy things into a national park to practice some act of freedom at the expense of polluting the experience for all is offensive. More than a few times I'd be cycling along on the shoulder of the road (not just on this trip, either) admiring the beauty and natural wonders about us, only to have the experience cut short by a annoying "BRAAAAAAA!"of at least one motorcycle. There is *no reason* why these things must make that many decibels, and when I'm In Charge Of Things, owners of said annoying technology will have the option of demonstrating installation of a non-removable hush kit, or paying a hefty tax at the gate of all national parks. Wanna pollute with your annoying hog? *Pay for it.* Freedom ain't free.

End of rant. Sorry. But hey, it's my blog, and they interrupted my vacation. ha!

Back at the lodge, BA put on a wine and cheese party out on the deck. The wind was now a relaxing breeze, and we sampled some red that went nicely with some unique cheese Brandon found. (Funny - how many skills will these guys show? Now they can pair white and red wine like senior sommeliers.) We had dinner not at a large table, but in a couple of smaller groups. We had dinner with Rob and Adri, and it was nice to chat more with them. Dinner was again excellent, and maybe I was less tired than the night before.

Next morning, after yummy buffet breakfast, a short route talk, and taking care of those teeth, we headed out the way we came. There was a hint of smoke in the air, and Chris shared some of the photos he took of the forest fires he narrowly skirted while repositioning the trailer. The road out to Babb was calm and pretty, this time downhill and cool. We passed a deer on the road while we noodled along in the cool air. At Babb, we headed out the highway toward Chief Mountain. This road was a steady climb, and we we well briefed on it. As with practically all the chosen routes, the road surface was great, and traffic quite sparse. Today, though, the complication was some hot weather. Again, we were prepared for this, slathered in sunscreen, each of us with two water bottles and plenty of snacks. What made this an interesting day on the bike was that there was very little shade. I had to stop a bit in some places where I found it. It was nice to have some quiet, peaceful time off the bike. And the van was always ready to take me on. We regrouped at the top of the climb, enjoyed some of Chris' iPod offerings while watering up, and go a closeup of Chief Mountain. Back on the bikes, we passed a car stopped by the side of the road. I didn't pay too much attention, but did notice the windshield had been smashed. Later I found out that they'd hit a deer, and the occupants were a bit shook up. A reminder that we are guests here.

We transitioned across to Canada, and right after the crossing, had a great downhill to lunch. Some rolling hills lead us to a great downhill into the river valley in Waterton, where a few miles of wind to the hotel finished off a great ride and great day. The Price of Wales Hotel was perhaps the most picturesque place we stayed, and we had a balcony room (two beds) overlooking the town across the lake. Walk in the front door of this fabulous building, and the windows on the other side open out onto a fairy tale view of the lake and town. Bags met us in our room (!) and we changed for dinner, and stopped off for a drink in the Windsor Lounge (a nice stock of scotches, btw.) Dinner was in Waterton, a nice change from in-the-hotel fare. We visited an Italian place with a friendly staff, and I had the best Chicken Parmigiana I think I've ever had. Some opted to walk back to the hotel; we vaned back and took a short walk around a small lake next to the hotel. On the trail back to the hotel, we ran across about 5 deer grazing in the pasture. They were predictably tame. As Fred pointed out in town, where the deer were perched on the lawns of some of the houses "they're like squirrels here."

The next day, we dressed in "civvies" for breakfast, and prepared to van up to the Bow River and the Icefields Parkway. Bags packed, teeth brushed and we had a short trip by van north. Lunch was a tortellini salad, and we changed into cycling gear for the ride up to Lake Louise. What a great ride! On a short downhill, I glanced over to the river valley to see a bear strolling along the railroad tracks. We stopped, and watched as s/he strolled into the river and swam to the other side. I'm guessing black bear, but too far away to be sure. A big creature, nonetheless.

Rolling into Lake Louise, I heeded Brandon's caution about the last 2 mile climb to the hotel. "Not real fun" due to the nature of the road. A bit narrow and somewhat steep. I took the van, Cindy a few others rode on up. Cindy reports it wasn't real bad, but while we were visiting the sport shop in town (new Canada jersey!) I got a few minor cramps in my calves that said "take the van." Beer cooler at the top, again my favorite brew (how did they know?) iced and ready.

We stayed in Deer Lodge at Lake Louise. Bags met us in the room, as did a king size bed. (!) Deer Lodge is a good choice by BA. The other natural choice is the Chateau, the largish, monolithic resort by the lake. Deer Lodge was much quieter, and very nice. The Chateau was opulent, but seemed something like a shopping mall. The staff at Deer Lodge even made the call over to the Chateau to set up an appointment for us at the spa for massages the next day. Ahhh..... Don't miss the hot tub on the roof at Deer Lodge. Amazing to sit in a hot tub, and enjoy the vertical cliffs of the Canadian Rockies. The hot tub is up the stairs right next to the hotel front desk.

The next day was a "layover day." This means we stayed at Deer Lodge for two nights, so if you wanted, you could lounge about all day, and do whatever you wanted. We opted (as did the entire crew) for the hike out to the tea house and glacier. For a bicycle trip, it's somewhat amazing that a hike was one of the highlights. Don't miss this: the tea house is a few miles along the well maintained trail. The staff stays there in week longish shifts, camping out to make goodies and supply tea in the best Swiss-style chalet you can imagine. I couldn't help myself:


After tea, we hike another few Ks ("Know what they call a quarter-pounder with cheese in France?") out to the glacier. What a view! Not a hard hike, but be sure to heed the guides advice to bring lots of water. As the view of the Chateau shrinks across the lake, the view of the glacier zooms into view. Chris gave us the short course on how to tell pine from (flat, friendly) fir from (sharp, square) spruce.

There is something vaguely spiritual about glaciers. These river/conveyor belts of ice are the mechanism that carved these great valleys we were cycling through. Soon, they will all be gone. The evidence of their decline is overwhelming, and the force of nature they represent with their monolithic presence is inspiring. Still, I'm conscious of just how much carbon footprint I am responsible for in coming to see them. Sure, I'm using a bicycle, but surely the infrastructure supporting the vacation facilities I'm availing myself of surely aren't carbon-footprint free. As Lt. Dunbar said in Dances With Wolves when he asked for assignment to the Dakotas, "you want to see the frontier?" "Yes, sir. Before it's gone." You must see the ice. It will soon be gone.

We hiked back, showered and changed for the scheduled massage (ahhhh....) and dinner on our own. BA does this on most tours - one day is left open, so you can dine at your leisure for lunch and dinner. It is a great change of pace. We had a good burger at a restaurant in the Chateau.

The next morning, with another good buffet breakfast down, bags loaded, teeth flossed and polished, and we'd be headed north on our bikes. Before we left, I had my first "mechanical." Before our route briefing, I thought I'd recheck the pressure in my tires. I use pretty high pressure tires (140psi) and I wasn't familiar with the type of attach mechanism on the BA floor pump. To make a short story long, I tore the stem out of my rear inner tube. I felt like such a klutz, but didn't want anyone to have to wait while I changed the tube. I hung the bike on the front rack of the van, popped the wheel off, and pulled the tube out. I had the new tube in my hand, and without even asking, Brandon appeared by my side. "Let me get that for you." I really didn't expect the guides to deal with not only my own non-rental bike, but to deal with a problem I had caused by being incompetent. I sheepishly handed over the wheel and tube, and seemingly in seconds, Brandon had the wheel inflated and reinstalled on the bike. Took him a tenth of the time it would have taken me, and he never seemed rushed or lost his smile. I swear if I'd been in his shoes, I'd have wanted to smack me for being a fumbling mess. It's these seemingly little things that make stress non-existent on a BA vacation. Even when I tried to make stress, the guide refused to let me do so. Ha!

With full tires, ride briefing complete, it was time to hit the road. That first two miles was now downhill, and chilly. Bring layers, and use them! (In case I didn't mention it, while the first few days were hot, we were treated to spectacular weather throughout. Could Brandon and Chris be responsible for this too? Is there anything they can't do?) We biked into Banff National Park, and cycled past glaciers hanging on the walls of the canyons. Lunch at Bow Lake included polenta and salsa. Don't know where they found the ripe cherries, but they were as sweet as the view. Wow!

Back on the bike, the road had fresh treasures in store at every turn. One thing to keep in mind was to remember to look back the direction you came - the view changed so dramatically and so quickly, you'd tend to focus on what was coming into view, rather than take the time to see how the view changed behind you. Just when you think you'd seen it all, the next turn opened yet a new vista. A short side road with a steep climb to Peyto Lake gave us a view of the valley ahead.

Beer cooler at The Crossing had a fresh stock of Moose Drool. I slowly pedaled in, while Cindy took a side route to check out a few more miles. We found our bags in the room (two beds) and the comfortable rooms were surprisingly quiet. For the fist time in days, I discovered a TV in our room. The moving pictures just weren't all that remarkable, though. The view of the mountains out the window was amazing, and the colors on the rocks changed as the sun dipped lower. No remote required. BA again had a wine and cheese party for the guests. We gathered at a picnic table behind the lodge, and the company and surroundings couldn't be beat.

The Crossing is something of an outpost along a road that is closed in the winter. There are not only nice accommodations, but a fairly extensive shop, restaurant, cafe, and sports lounge. Dinner was again excellent, again with a very nice staff.

The next morning we again had hot buffet breakfast, and after more toothpaste and floss bit the dust, and the ride briefing done we were ready for the Big Climb of the day along the Icefield Parkway to Sunwapta Pass. Again, the morning started cool and clear, and again, I not only misjudged what to wear (needed to keep a jacket nearby) but discovered another flat tire. This time, I was clued into the idea that maybe I should not rush a repair. All I did was reach for the pump, and Chris said "let me take care of that for you...." Interestingly, when it was all done, Chris also pointed out I had a wobble in my rear wheel. Out came the spoke wrench, and he proceeded to true the wheel for me! This is one of those repairs I leave to professionals, and interestingly, just had the wheel trued at a bike shop at home before the trip. Chris showed me the wobble and fixed it in a few seconds.

As we were getting ready for the ride briefing, we noticed a smallish black bear back behind the lodge. S/he was lazily munching on berries, and we respectfully kept our distance. That is, until some bonehead that was staying at the lodge decided he had to get the bear's picture. I reached for my camera in preparation of getting a YouTube video of this moron's death. How many times do people need to be told not to approach bears? And this idiot had his wife and young son with him. Fortunately, all he did was annoy the bear, the latter ambling off in search of a quieter berry patch. It would have been nice to watch the bear for a while, but Mr. Bonehead had to spoil it for everyone. I was tempted to tell him off, but I was the American on vacation in Canada, and decided to try to demonstrate some civility. At least he wasn't traveling by motorcycle.

Out on the road, we noodled along the parkway for a few miles, and I ran across Brandon with Murray contemplating a flat tire. Brandon had the hand pump out, and finally, I could make some sort of contribution to the Karma Bank. I carry not only a hand pump, but CO2 cartridges and a shooter. Brandon already had the tire fixed, so all I had to do was hit the inflate button. Voila! We're all back on the road.

The climb to Sunwapta Pass is different than the Going to the Sun road, but no less beautiful. The road is perhaps steeper, but it is in really nice shape with a wide shoulder, and it has flatter places where you can recover some. There are many pullouts to stop, admire the view, and carb up. There's an extensive flat curve in the road just as it kicks up, and the van and trailer were there waiting. The view is unequaled, with amazing geologic features nearby. Climbing with us that day was a couple on a tandem. This one was individually freewheeled, in that either rider could set an independent cadence. But as is usually the case, Cindy hit the climb and disappeared ahead of me. Must be the bike.

The climb levels out in front of a glacier, and the summit isn't a dramatic pitch, but a gentle roll across the other side. Only a few miles down the side was the Columbia Icefield visitor center, and fairly extensive facility with a restaurant, viewing deck, and museum (free!) exhibits. The van had already arrived, and the weather on the pass was breezy and a bit colder. The cool weather was quite welcome, and somehow our guides knew the perfect lunch was hot roasted red pepper soup and grilled cheese sandwiches. Have to say that was one of the more yummy lunches we had. How do they know?

Also here is where you can get a lift on a special bus type tractor that will take you out onto the ice. Having done this in the past, I opted out, but several of the group took a side ride out to walk out onto the ice. I started downhill from the visitor's center, and didn't get far before I ran across mountain goats grazing by the side of the road. These are pretty docile creatures, and there was ample time to snap a few photos. I left some very sparse rain showers behind, and rolled along the road. This is the other section of road that isn't particularly bike friendly - when the road was resurfaced, they didn't do the shoulder. The shoulders are wide, but the surface is akin to rumble strips. It is dangerous to ride out onto a highway that carries large RVs and tour buses, but the shoulder was...challenging. Here's a situation where a rear view mirror would be handy. I don't ride with one, but sure wish I had one here, as you could keep an eye on the traffic from behind to use the highway road surface. I don't like a piece of glass sticking out in front of my face, and having something like that attached to the bike also seems to invite glass shards in falling flesh. A compromise might be to put a mirror on the back of a glove, so as to be able to flash it up periodically, yet keep it safe from impacts.

The sky ahead threaten rain, but it didn't materialize until later that evening. We arrived at the Sumwapta Falls resort to find our bags in our room, and a king size bed as well. These are *really* nice cabins. A short walk of 1k or so takes you to the falls, and it is a very, very peaceful place. Dinner at the resort was a planned BBQ, with the choice of steak, chicken or trout. I opted for the latter, and it was great! The trimmings and desert seemed to replace all the calories I left out on the road. After dinner, a park warden visited us to chat about the wildlife. Peter volunteered to play dress-up, and we had to guess how to tell if he was a black or brown (grizzly) bear. Peter was hilarious, and we couldn't stop laughing! What a great group of folks.

After dinner, we joined in a short game of "LCR" a dice game that Chris had gotten us all addicted to. Once again, Dayle won, so we began to wonder if the fix was in. Nancy took the next game, so perhaps there was a visit by the gaming commission. I succumbed to the need to check email, and found a WiFi connection out by a picnic table. As I suspected, there is never anything in email that can't be left behind. Leave your laptop home. I brought mine to recharge my motionlingo Adeo recording GPS receiver.

A gentle rain came and went periodically throughout the night. It was very peaceful, but somehow sad to know this would be the last ride briefing and post buffet breakfast tooth brushing. It was finally cool enough for me to succumb to long cycling gear. Only a few miles down the road did there come some misty rain, and even that cleared off after about 30 minutes. We visited another set of falls, transitioned to route 93A, and enjoyed pastures and streams on a nice ride into Jasper.

Lunch in Jasper was at a nice park. Across the street, the city was having an outdoor festival. Jasper seems like a pretty relaxed town, and the architecture was very, very interesting. There were log homes right downtown, as well as Victorians and traditional ramblers. I think Jasper is a ski town, but I really wonder what it would be like to live in a small Canadian town like this. I guessing cup fever breaks out when the NHL is in season.

After lunch we were treated to the BA "graduation" ceremony. We get certificates good for discounts on future trips, and a heartfelt thanks from our guides. I now know this is the point where the guides can finally relax - all the riders in with no injuries or casualties. It's at this point it starts to sink in that the adventure is coming to a close. My cyclometer shows about 335 miles total for the trip. In some ways it seems like it just started, and too soon to be over, but on the other hand, it is overwhelming to think about all that we've seen, done, and been to.

We shuttled back to Calgary in the van. Just outside of town, we stopped for dinner (separate checks this time, but totally expected.) Everyone laughed at how much I ate. Appetizer, dinner, and a huge desert hit the spot. We stayed at the Calgary Delta resort at the airport. I'd never been to Calgary (or before this trip, to Alberta at all) and the town was bigger than I had anticipated. For reasons I can't explain, I suddenly realized while we were driving in that each and every home in the seemingly endless string of housing developments were painted in exactly the same color. Well, that's deed restrictions and homeowners' associations in Canada for you. Or was it? Maybe Canadians all like their houses to be that color. Or maybe they just all like being the same. Dunno.

The Delta is very nice, but it is a bit formulaic and branded. I know this is comforting to business travelers, and the Delta Calgary does have a nice pool right in the lobby. But it brought home just how nice it is to travel to Inns than are unique and off the beaten path. Sure, the Delta had a king size bed for me, but I sure missed that mountain view from my bed at Lake Macdonald. Most of the group had early flights, and we said our goodbyes. We all promised to stay in touch (BA circulates a contact list at the "graduation" you may opt in to) and to share our pictures and snapshots. These folks really made the trip pleasant and fun. I miss them, but hope we can stay in touch and maybe go on another trip with them.

We hopped a ride back to Whitefish with Chris and Brandon in the van the next morning. Nancy and Ken did the same, and although long, it was nice to just watch the scenery roll by. As we got to Whitefish, the evidence of the forest fires was thick in the sky. Lots of smoke. Our guides dropped us back at Grouse Mountain Lodge, and we unloaded back into the car. We were staying the night at the lodge, as the 9 hour drive back to Seattle was going to not be pleasant after a drive in from Calgary. Besides, border crossings can be unpredictable. I'm really glad we did stay over; the lodge is really comfortable, and Brandon suggested a good Cuban restaurant in town. But reality set in for Cindy as the van pulled away after we said our final goodbyes, and she started to cry a bit.

"I had such a good time...."

As a post script, we passed along this letter to Bob Clark, the BA owner:
Bob Clark
Bicycle Adventures
P.O. Box 11219
Olympia, WA 98508

Dear Bob,

We wanted to drop you a note to thank you for the marvelous, memorable vacation we just had. We started the Glacier – Banff – Jasper tour on July 28, and it was fantastic.

This was our second trip with Bicycle Adventures, and once again, we were delighted. Your trips are so very well planned, organized and executed that each day is not only an adventure, but also a complete vacation unto themselves. We could feel the stress melt away with each day as we passed the spectacular scenery in complete awe.

What really made the trip, though, were our guides: Brandon Ott and Chris Mader. You should be very, very proud of these gentlemen. They are wonderful, professional people that took great care of all the travelers. We felt, at each step and pedal stroke of the way, Taken Care Of in every sense of the words. It is our understanding that Brandon and Chris hadn’t met before our trip, but it appeared to us they were lifelong friends. Theirs is a tough job - they have many duties, and all the travelers depend on them for so very much in a week. They never missed a beat along the way, knowing exactly how to keep a conversation going, how to entertain, how to cook great meals, how to be informative about the wonders of geology and nature about us, and perhaps most important of all, how to just be there when you needed some support. It seemed as though they could just look at any need, and with a glance fix or solve the problem. Thank you for finding these fine people for us.

As we mentioned last year, we are sold on your tours, and have again begun planning our next. We know that it will be as marvelous as each of these past trips have been. Your web site is one of the best we’ve run across, and of course, we couldn’t be more pleased with the service and support we get from both Heidi and Julie at your central office. Each question and request was fielded with speed and efficiency – we had no problems with the arrangements or paperwork. Your service continues to exceed our every expectation.

Please accept our heartfelt thank you for a wonderful experience and a lifetime of memories. Please also pass along our gratitude to Heidi, Julie, Chris and Brandon.

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