As 2019 skids down a steep grade right into 2020, I’m using my winter break to finally get at least the first part of my 2019 Canadian Rockies trip summarized and posted. I like having these posts to refer back to for myself and others who may want to do a similar trip, but between the amount of pictures I take and the level of ADD I have, it’s a struggle to get these posted in a more timely manner.
As I plan for next year, the pattern of “hmm, well maybe next I can try ____” is becoming quite clear. If you had told me just a few years ago that I would be embarking on solo self contained bike tours spanning thousands of miles, I would have laughed until I had side stitches (which wouldn’t take long, because I was not remotely in shape). I still remember when getting down the street to pick up a couple items at the store on the folding bike I kept in my car trunk was a triumph of logistics and braving the concrete wilderness – and I am here to cheer you on if you’re reading this and have any sort of goal of riding more and/or driving less. I honestly only bother posting my pictures and writing these posts because I am so grateful for others who inspired me along the way, and it is the most amazing thing to me when I hear from other people that they have been inspired by me to get out and do something on their bike. So I am here to tell you that if you have no athletic inclinations/ mechanical abilities/ real sense of direction and are terrified of igniting a camp stove, you can still do all of the things I am writing about, because I kid you not, that was me.
With that said, here goes:
On July 5th of last year, I flew to Canada to meet my parents, who signed us up for the VBT Canadian Rockies Tour to celebrate my 30th birthday earlier this year. Given that this trip is only a week, I have a long bike-it list of places to see out west, and my job with a school district gives me an 8 week summer break, I flew out with my bike instead of using the provided VBT bike so that I could continue from Banff on my own solo self-contained venture afterwards (that will be part II).
The hardest (read: worst) part of bike touring to me is the planning and logistics beforehand. I went back and forth about shipping vs. flying with my bike, and due to timelines, the cost of international shipping, and the risk of my bike getting stuck in customs during the busy season in Edmonton, I ended up paying Delta $150 to fly with my bike (only a few weeks later, Delta changed their policy and no longer charges more than a regular bag for checking a bike. So it goes.) Flying with my bike was still half the cost of shipping it to Canada, plus the savings of not having to pay a shop for a build, and since international weight limit was (I think) 75 lbs, I was able to pad my bike with my tent, helmet, panniers, sleeping bag and other gear and therefore travel with just a carryon.
Unlike last summer where I assembled my bike in the airport and rode out of MSP, since my flight got in around midnight and I wasn’t traveling alone, we took a cab to the hotel and I assembled my bike there the next day after exploring Edmonton on foot.
If you can’t find one at your local bike shop, you can get one of these useful little tools here. It was all I needed to reinstall my handlebars, bottle cages, saddle/seatpost and SPD pedals, and unlike a multitool you can get some pretty good torque (which you’ll need for your pedals).
Once I had reassembled my bike, I had a slight panic when I heard a weird clicking sound coming from my rear wheel and realized I needed to find a mechanic.. around 4pm on a Saturday. I hustled over to Red Bike and was relieved to find that I just needed new rear brake pads, which makes sense given the amount of death-grip-braking I did on this bike while riding the Appalachian Gravel Growler a month before… I guess I need to write a post about that trip too. Anyway, the folks at Red Bike were wonderful and if you find yourself in Edmonton, you should definitely check them out.
I didn’t have as much time to explore Edmonton as I would have liked, but there are some great views and some enviable infrastructure including bike/pedestrian bridges and bike trails winding through parks along the river.
After the layover day in Edmonton, we loaded up on a VBT van for the transfer ride several hours west to Jasper National Park. It was overcast and misty, but the glimpses of mountains peeking out through the clouds still gave me chills.
Our first afternoon, we had a short 11 mile ride up to a lake to test out our bikes (VBT provides guests with their choice of road bike, hybrid or e-bike for this particular trip) and get a feel for the area. I might have taken a slight detour on this gravel road to test out my freshly installed Rene Herse tubeless tires, but that’s just between me and Strava.
Our first full day involved a trip to Maligne Lake; the official trip option was to get a van shuttle up and ride 33 miles down with a picnic lunch stop on the way, but not wanting to miss a second of riding in this incredible place, I and a few other guests opted to leave early that morning and pedal up instead of hitching a ride.
We were rewarded by sightings of elk (sadly but not surprisingly, no caribou) and THIS BEAR CROSSING THE ROAD – I still have zero chill just thinking about it. It was so exciting and profoundly beautiful that I teared up as I stood there watching it (while my mother had a nervous breakdown behind me).
The views climbing and on the descent were incredible and the car traffic was light. The clouds even parted later in the morning for glimpses of blue sky above soaring mountains.
The rest of the trip did not disappoint. In fact, every day seemed to get more and more beautiful…
I had been watching the weather for weeks leading up to the trip and had worried that the rain would continue into our trip week, but we really lucked out – the worst we got were clouds that only added drama to the mountains peeking out at us at every turn.
Despite being surrounded by these stunning peaks, the roads themselves were very reasonable grades, super smooth, and low traffic – at least compared to what I’m used to back in South Carolina. I didn’t really notice being at a higher elevation, but I was also riding relatively casually to better take in the scenery.
For several of the days we got to ride to our next location down the road instead of being shuttled in the van or bus, but due to the length of the trip and the miles spanning between Jasper and Banff, we did have to take a shuttle in the middle of the trip. It makes total sense, but the part of me that likes drawing a line from A to B of where I’ve ridden was definitely disappointed.
However, you can’t *not* visit Lake Louise…
… or Peyto Lake. The views are just incredible! The traffic and crowds surrounding them, not so much. At the same time, it’s easy to understand why they are so popular, and while solo travel is more my jam, I’ll admit that it was nice to not have to worry about logistics/passes/permits while checking these spots off my bucket list.
The week passed by in a blur of incredible views, good food and steadily improving weather. Before we knew it, we were in Banff!
On our last full day together as a group, I rode the trail from Banff to Canmore – despite being next to the highway, it was a pleasant ride with spectacular views of the mountains. We stopped at the Grizzly Paw Brewing Company and enjoyed a local outdoor craft fair before heading back into town for our farewell dinner.
… Except I had to sneak off for one extra little loop up to Lake Minnewanka. The miles are easy when the scenery is this level of gorgeous.
If you noticed our Jasper the Bear mascot hanging out in a few of these photos, I got the honor of riding around with him on our final day in Banff. Our group had a fun time passing Jasper around during the week, adding to his outfit and getting photos of his adventures. I don’t ride on tour with a handlebar buddy, but having Jasper around made me want to reconsider that.
Stay tuned for Part II, because the day after this last picture was taken, I ventured out on my own for a 1300 mile trek southward, and the real adventure began!
Legal stuff disclaimer: nothing mentioned in this post is sponsored or promotional, with the exception of the link to that allen wrench tool, which is an Amazon affiliate link. But again, support your local bike shop first if you can!