Lake Louise to Fernie 6th to 15th July 2004

Icefield Parkway

Day 42 Tuesday July 6th
Lake Louise to Johnston Canyon

The management seems to have sleeping sickness. We slept in and did not get away from Lake Louise until 11am. We were a bit loaded down for an easy ride because we were carrying three days food, quite a lot of it being fresh fruit and veg. Dried food is much easier to carry but is not very nice.

The ride today is fairly short and mainly downhill along the Bow Valley Parkway. It is clearly not a very popular route as evidenced by Parks Canada's attempt to market it. They have put in lots of information boards and viewing points. They will probably fail in their attempts because the lemmings here make straight for the Icefield Parkway. The consequence is that the road is little used and while seriously inferior to Dorset makes an acceptable cycle ride. There is of course the normal quota of fir trees and very occasionally there is a gap through which rather impressive mountains are visible.

We arrived at Johnston Canyon in early afternoon. We checked into our cabin in the woods and had a late lunch. The canyon is a tourist spot. Unusually for this area the Park has put in walkways which are cantilevered out from the side of the canyon. It is possible to walk for 5km inside the canyon and view two waterfalls. It probably ruins its ecology but makes a spectacular afternoon walk. Anyway why not ruin one canyon. There are many more up here.

Our comfortable little cabin has one drawback. The stoker failed to supply a cooker. The management was forced into the open air to brave the rampant mosquitoes. For some reason known only to the foreigners who live here gas BBQs have been erected in the woods in preference to gas cookers in the cabins. He scrounged some aluminium foil and did the best he could to grill veggies on the thing.

After dinner we had hoped to settle down and watch the 4th stage of the Tour de France on television. It was not until the management had spent ages fiddling with the television that we found that there is no reception here. The TV is for videos but we looked at our digital photos by plugging in the camera.

Days 43/44 Wednesday/Thursday July 7th/8th
Johnston Canyon to Vermilion Crossing (Highway 93)

It was a grey cold day which suited our purpose. We set off back up the road and after about 10km started to climb. We knew we had to cross the Continental (Great) Divide again at Vermilion Pass but had no idea how high it was. That could have been for the good.

We climbed 300 metres in about 10km. We usually enjoy climbing a mountain pass. We just go down into a low gear and enjoy the scenery as we zig zag up. Here it is unpleasant and soul destroying. The four lane road goes more or less straight up and the mountains seem remote from it. Give us a good European Alpine pass any day.

From the top we had a long gradual descent back into British Columbia. We are now in the area which suffered extensive forest fires last summer. The scale of them has to be seen to be appreciated, whole mountainsides black from valley to skyline. Even now there is still a slight smell of burnt forest in the air although regeneration has already started.

Keen to be at our refuge for the night we pedalled on through lunchtime and arrived mid afternoon. Unusually for our trips the arrivals here are better than the journey. Tonight the stoker excelled herself. She has found a quaint little cabin near to a lodge. In theory it is about as remote as you can get in this area. We are 65km from the nearest shop or village. There are no phones or television and our radio does not work. Electricity is provided by a generator and water comes from a well. We hate to think what happens to the sewage. When we said "in theory" it may be a day's ride for us to town but it is only an hour on the highway by car. We heard someone say he was going to town for dinner. We have been to places in both Scotland and Ireland which are more isolated in reality.

The cabin has all mod cons including a two ring gas cooker. The management is very pleased that he does not have to cook on a BBQ again. Mind you it would have been nice if they had provided some pots, pans and cutlery. Still we have our own so perhaps we are just being picky.

Somehow we have managed to get ahead of ourselves. Don't ask. We had the choice of going on and finding digs in the flesh pots of Radium Springs or staying here another night in peace and quiet. There was no contest. We are now so used to being at altitude in warm weather that we had forgotten how cold it can get at 1250 metres. We got on with chores and emails in our nice warm cabin. In the afternoon we went for a walk up one of the side valleys which meant picking our way through burnt forest. Many trees were dead following last year's fires but still standing. We went very carefully. Presumably all the trees will fall down in their own good time but hopefully not on us. It was interesting to see regeneration already beginning and the stoker took lots of photos. It did however bring home the huge time frames involved with natural phenomena.

Day 45 Friday July 9th
Vermilion Crossing (Highway 93) to Radium Hot Springs

For the first time in almost a week we woke to sunshine which even filtered through the trees to our cabin. The management did not look upon this as good news. We had a longish ride with the last part quite a high pass. The last thing we needed was a hot afternoon.

We powered along for the first part of the ride. It was very gradually down but this was counteracted by a chilly head wind. Stops were short and we managed to get to the start of the climb well before lunch. It was here that we saw elks for the first time. The 400 metre climb, while very hard, was over a quite short distance. It reduced the stoker to great misery as she needed food and recuperation. The management was far from sympathetic and drove on to the summit picnic area.

The descent into Radium Springs was almost pretty. The road is forced through a narrow fault in the rock and clings to the side of the canyon. For the first time we saw mountain goats here and incredibly agile they are on the mountainside. One could almost be in Europe. That impression however is soon lost as one comes to the "Hot Springs".

These look a bit like Aldershot Lido, very far from the steaming rock pools of our imagination. And only North Americans could be gullible enough to come here for their holidays. This place used to be called Sinclair City but the name was changed to Radium Springs when it was discovered that the water was radioactive. One wonders if they may now feel they made a mistake. Presumably if the water is radioactive then chlorine is not required. As for us we feel that we are getting by just fine without being any further irradiated.

We booked into a very pleasant hostel come B&B just outside "town" and walked in for supplies. Paris Texas came to mind. It is a shanty town of motels but it served our purpose. In the publicity blurb it seems the last person of note to come here, in 1929, was Winston Churchill. Enough said.

Day 46 Saturday July 10th
Radium Hot Springs to Fairmont Hot Springs

There is no doubt that cyclists see things that users of other means of transport miss. We were suddenly in a different environment. Yesterday we had descended some 700 metres to about 450 metres and passed into a different environment. We were certainly no longer in the Canadian National Park. But now it was much warmer. In fact it looked and felt much more like the North Mediterranean coast of Spain with sparse trees and barren sundrenched mountains. We were in the Rockies Trench. Geoff, our host last night, said that there should be fewer trees but the natural burns had been suppressed in the valley. He kept his fire insurance paid up.

Going out of Radium on the main drag meant going through badlands. People were living in down at heel cabins and trailers interspersed by the odd go cart track and rock music venue. Funnily enough there was also an occasional campsite. We think we would be safer wild camping.

We approached Lake Windermere which is very similar in many respects to its namesake in Cumbria. The main road went to the east so we took the back road to the west. First we passed through Invermere, a pleasant small town. It had proper shops and even a Saturday market going on. We exited on Avenue 13 instead of Street 13 and therefore had a pleasant ride though the local housing area. We suppose that there were many holiday homes but even so it was very pleasant.

The stoker, who had a map secreted about her person, got us back onto the right road. We were now back in the countryside. Lunch was taken high above the lake and we wended our way along to Fairmont. Although it was a lazy day a strong headwind made the last bit really hard work.

Tonight we are on the edge of a golfing resort staying at Brenda and Tim's B&B. Rather oddly Tim had previously been living and working near the Cumbrian Lake Windermere. We ate outside viewing the beautifully kept golf course, surrounded by golfers. Overhearing their exploits it was not a million miles away from the conversations at the bar of the Castle Cove Sailing Club.


Days 47/48 Sunday/Monday July 11th/12th
Fairmont Hot Springs to Skookumchuck

B&Bs mean a late start. On this occasion we were not sorry. During breakfast the skies darkened and we had hail and even some thunder and lightning. Apparently all very unusual for this neck of the woods. We pedalled up to the grocers at 10am and bought supplies at very high golfing prices. On the road we passed the Hoodoos. These are cliffs carved by water action into very unusual shapes. Native legend has it that they are the bones of a huge stranded fish. We see no more reason to doubt what they say than the explanations of the white scientists. Apparently the whole of the Rockies Trench is made of glacial silt. This is very soft and contrasts with the rocky limestone of the surrounding mountains.

All those with whom we have stayed have mentioned the serious fire risk. The whole huge valley should be natural prairie land. Fires started by lightning would keep trees and undergrowth down. Human habitation and fire control have allowed unnatural forests and undergrowth to build up. All it needs is one spark in the wrong place and the whole lot goes up.

Mind you the attitude of one of our hosts indicates how ineffective a true capitalist society is. He keeps his fire insurance up to date and gas in his truck. Taxes are too low to cover either the cost of firefighting or the cost of controlled burns to reduce the risk.

As for us we kept going south and even found a few precious miles of paved back roads. Otherwise it was again pretty dreary. Skookumchuck is at a river crossing and we have a very pleasant motel room on a campsite. There are three or four dwellings here, a restaurant and a basic shop. It serves our purpose well for a rest day and the very warm sunshine does not encourage overexertion.

We appreciate being in the real world away from the National Parks. Our neighbour here in the motel is a working man. He has finished a job in the local pulp mill and has been let down by a transport company. He has spent all day on the phone looking for seven trucks and a crane to move his gear. Finally he has got someone to do the job on Friday. Rather a far cry from the can do go getting impression we get of our North American cousins.

The other advantage of working places is that they have fully functioning satellite TV. No working man would put up with the feeble excuses given by some places we have stayed for not paying their subscription. This means that we have been able to watch the Tour de France, and Monday being a rest day it has a summary of the first week. Even more surprising is that it was presented by Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen. They did it just as they did on UK Channel 4 a couple of years ago. Basic they may be but at least they are teaching the Canadian public about bike racing.

Day 49 Tuesday July 13th
Skookumchuck to Fort Steele

We had an early and embarrassing start to the day. Early because we wanted to avoid cycling during the heat of the day. Embarrassing because at the crack of dawn, or certainly before anyone else was awake, the management burnt the porridge. This became most obvious when the smoke alarm went of. The stoker leapt out of bed and stopped it by waving her t-shirt at it. After this we slunk off as quickly as possible.

Because of the time difference we were watching the 9th stage of the Tour de France live. When we left we both had about the same distance left to do. There is not much doubt about who would arrive first. Our consolation is that at least we carry all our own luggage which is more than they do.

We managed to get some fresh fruit and veg from a farm shop on the way. This was very nice but we were both shocked and surprised by the way their chickens were kept. There was a small rack of battery cages in full view of the shoppers. It would be the kiss of death to a business of this type in the UK. Just another indication of the lack of food awareness here.

We arrived soon after 11am and relaxed in the sun until we were able to have access to our campsite cabin after lunch.

Fort Steele was a boom town for about five years at the turn of the last century. The community itself no longer exists. In 1961 a start was made to reconstruct the town using original buildings and reconstructions of period buildings. Over the years it has become quite large. It also has its own standard gauge steam railway with about two miles of track. We very much enjoyed our visit and spent all the afternoon there. Not only were the exhibits very interesting but the location gave superb views of the Rockies Trench. Because of tree cover views such as this are rare and it was easy to see why the site was chosen by the early settlers.

Our cabin tonight also has a smoke alarm. The management has removed the battery.

Day 50 Wednesday July 14th Fort Steele to Jaffray

We may have found the longest paved cyclable road in British Columbia or possibly the whole of Canada. We turned left out of the camping ground onto a paved back road. This took us uphill and down dale for 37km before dumping us back onto the main highway.

It was extremely hot today and we did not leave until gone 9am. This was not entirely because of laziness. As we are staying in a B&B tonight we felt we could not arrive until mid afternoon. We held up in the shade of a tree at lunch time for a couple of hours. The last few kms to Jaffray were a bit of a trial in the afternoon heat and it was very pleasant in the shaded garden of the B&B.

As usual in out of the way places an evening meal is a bit of a problem. Our hosts plied us with home cooked goodies almost from the moment we arrived. Even so we cycled to the local equivalent of the Wishing Well cafe and ate a nice meal for very little money. The cafe seemed to be the meeting place of the women's cycling club and we left at the same time going in the same direction. But not at the same speed. It obviously makes good sense here to cycle in the cool of the evening and early in the morning. In fact in view of the average road conditions the dead of night could be superb. But finding day accommodation might be a bit tricky.

Day 51 Thursday July 15th Jaffray to Fernie

Last night just before mosquito time we had the most amazing display of humming birds on their feeder. Scientists have apparently decided that it is impossible for them to fly. Just something else they got wrong.

Doris did us a huge and early German breakfast and we did well to leave at 8.20am. It gave the stoker indigestion but it was well worth it.

A little way down the road the back tyre went a bit puddingy. This year we have self sealing tubes. We have had to pump them up a couple of times and they have stayed up. This time the hole must have been too large and we changed the tube. Being at the rear it meant a full unload and disconnecting the trailer. A delay on this hot day was not welcome but at least the first 20km were on paved back roads.

We arrived in Fernie soon after 1pm. The stoker was exhausted by the sun but happy. The manager let us into our en-suite room at the International Hostel.

Fernie is now a ski resort and the town and accommodation reflects this. It was, and still is, a railway town. This valley has a coal mining past and coal provided the foundation of Fernie's economy and society. By Canadian standards the town is historic, celebrating its centenary. It is certainly more pleasant than the average town which looks more like Paris Texas.