The road to Banff

Our time in the Rockies post-bear encounters came with a pile of emotions and cold temperatures. The stretch between Radium and Banff is about 145km of nature and a single paved road with only a few expensive lodges for service stops. The morning ride started out in cyclers heaven; dry, calm and temperate. We cycled through the National Park in awe and were making quite good ground. It was out goal to make it to Banff in one day. We stopped around noon to make a fire for coffee- a process that ended up taking a few hours but since the days are beginning to get dark after we are asleep at 10pm, we were not worried with spending the extra time sitting by the river feeling like we were in a majestic world of some sort.

Then the rain drops started to fall. The weather changes so rapidly in the mountains and soon enough it was pouring with rain. So, we decided to bag up our feet and cycle. Within a few hours we were drenched and as soon as the wind picked up-very cold. Our days are filled with cycling, a seemingly simple task to get from one place to another but there are so many small decisions to be made. One of the most challenging ones is to decide whether or not to stop when its raining and you are hungry. Option one: stop, subside your ravenous hunger but be cold. Option two: keep cycling to keep warm but feel your energy drop and hear your stomach grumble. We went for option 1, and stopped at the next rest area to grab a bite to eat. Thankfully the night before we picked up some baked goods in Radium and sat huddled on a picnic bench eating apple fritters dipped in peanut butter, canned tuna and dried figs, some of our staples this tour.

The next decision to make was whether to try to cycle to Banff. This was made a little easier when Franc, a German cyclist peddled by as we ate, honked his horn and pulled over to chat. Franc the lankiest man carrying 70kg on his custom-made touring bike equipped with a computer, pillow, personal stereo system and super-sized bottles of ranch dressing, ketchup and peanut butter. He is at the beginning of a 1 year trip across North America. After a few minutes of chatting about the usual cycling topics, he mentioned he was sleeping at a campsite ahead in Marble Canyon and we decided to join him and cycle the following day into Banff.

Since the site was closed we explored for a little while and found the campground headquarters which was an sideless classroom-like building with long tables and benches. We decided to spend the night in there and put our Thermarests on the tables which made us feel like we were in a bed. Kind of. That night was the coldest I have ever been in my life. On this tour we don’t have many clothes and my longer layers were wet from cycling resulting in me crawling into bed at 5:30 to try and get warm. Mischa took charge and made a fire for oatmeal and dehydrated lasagne- mine and his comfort foods respectively and we huddled in to try to get warm.

We woke up and neither of us had the will to get out of our little sleeping bag cocoons and we ended up leaving around 11am for Banff after we mustered up the courage to strip down and put on damp, cold cycling clothes again. Thankfully though, the ride started with a climb to quickly warm us up. This ride was one of the most silent yet. To perceiver I needed to be in my own headspace and distract myself by concentrating on the road and cycling. My hand signals have never been better. It was really difficult though. There were a few moments of ‘why’ passing through my head and I definitely had to fantasize over being in a hot tub drinking the frothiest mug of hot chocolate to keep going.

This climb was the last mountain pass of our journey. At Castle Junction as we passed through the ridge were water east drains into the Atlantic and west drains into the Pacific. Both this junction and the BC/ Alberta border we crossed were two big milestones for us and we cruised down the hill to reach Highway 1 to take us into Banff. Our first main observation of Alberta was the epic shoulders. Wide and smooth- our favourite. We cruised into Banff in one main go. A 60km stretch of excitement for the town ahead where we decided to stay in a motel for the first time to indulge in warm showers and walls for the night. After getting warmed up and an epic Louisianan meal in the afternoon, our worlds were flipped and we were suddenly much happier and excited to explore the little shops and streets of Banff, which are all named after wilderness animals. Bear, Elk, Moose and Beaver St. It was nice to hear familiar accents again since most of the people we talked to were from NZ or Australia, working and embracing living in an outdoor adventure hub like Banff.

The following morning we woke up, enjoyed coffee that took a few minutes to make in the hotel room and hiked one of the local mountains to enjoy a spectacular view of the town. That same day we met a handful of fellow cyclists who are making the journey east as well, and ran into one man who we first met at Mile 0 in Victoria. In the afternoon we made our way Canmore and even ran into Franc along the highway. Its funny how Canada can seem so big on this trip, but never fails to provide those ‘small world moments.’ These few days were definitely a test of perspective and outlook on cycling. I couldn’t help but think of my dad’s signature notion that ‘ones true character is revealed in times of adversity.’ I hope if this happens again I wont curl up into bed in the late afternoon, become immobile, eat oatmeal and picture being somewhere else- but hey; we made it.

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