Canada Bicycle Touring. Part 2 (2019)

If you haven’t already, please read Part One first!

After leaving Golden, British Columbia, The next section of our journey took us north along the Columbia river with a return of the gorgeous sunshine, and we enjoyed a pleasant morning heading towards a town called Donald. An unusual name for a place in my opinion, but it provided as good a place as any to sit on the side of the highway and munch away once again on pita bread and hummus. Although this time we had pre-boiled some eggs which we sliced up to give us a kick of protein, much needed as the next day would be the infamous Roger’s Pass – known for being a real B***H of a climb.

We had debated about trying to ride from Golden all the way to the summit of Roger’s Pass in a single day but with a distance of over 100km and not to mention the steep climb itself – we decided against it. This did mean that we now had a relatively short day of only 60km and our planned sleeping spot was a campground along the edge of Kinbasket lake. We had been informed that the track down to the lake itself was 5km of steep downhill switchbacks on an unsealed dirt road, and it seems the information was right on the money. Luckily though, it had no traffic except the occasional logging truck. It did, however, begin to occur to us after 30 minutes of a bone-shaking and wrist spraining descent had passed, that we would have to do this whole thing again in reverse the next morning, only to end up back on the highway right back where we left it. We would then have to tackle Rogers Pass already tired and sore. It was a little concerning, but we decided that this was a ‘future James and Candace problem’.

As we crossed a railway track and into the lake resort itself we were greeted by a wonderful couple and their dog. During the summer months, they work here at the resort, while during the winter months they travel with their campervan called moon. (Check out their awesome pictures on Instagram @ourmoonwarrior)

Luckily our ‘future James and Candace problem’ was solved pretty quick as they offered to get up early to put the bikes in the back of their truck and give us a lift back to the highway in the morning. Not necessarily the most ‘purist’ approach, but we felt lucky that so far, Candace’s knee was holding up well, and we didn’t want to push it until it began to cause problems, and not be able to carry on the trip.

I recommend highly for anyone driving the route across western Canada that they make a stop here at Kinbasket Lake Resort for the night. (Website/Facebook) The lake itself is stunning, and the campsites themselves are perched seemingly precariously on top of the surrounding cliffs with gorgeous views of the lake and nearby hills. Access to the water itself is down a long set of steps of rickety steps onto a floating dock where you can swim and sunbathe. The water, although certainly warmer than Ghost Lake, was still by no means warm – but 100% refreshing after a sunny day cycling. During our time at this rustic resort, it was pretty much deserted except for some long term van dwellers who live for months at a time here on the lake. I envied their sweet campervan setups complete with awnings, grills, radios, fridges, and of course, their laid-back and low-tempo lifestyle in a beautiful location.

As we had only covered a short distance and therefore had arrived at the location early in the afternoon, we spent the rest of the day swimming in the lake, sunbathing and reading. We had free reign over which spot to choose and it was beautiful to sit outside our tent feeling a gentle breeze through the trees, and we could gingerly lean out over the cliff and look down into the aquamarine coloured water in the gorge far below us.

I was suffering from old-man syndrome from perhaps too much over-indulgence of heavy, dark beers and burgers during our rest stop in Golden and as a result, was almost floored by crippling gout which felt like someone was ripping off my big toenail. It is somewhat embarrassing to admit to having gout at 31 years old, but I did always say that this blog was a ‘warts and all’ account of our travels, so in the theme of honesty, I guess I have to say it!

Weirdly, however, pedalling the bicycle was oddly soothing, but now that we were back in camp, I once more had tears in my eyes as I tried to stand. Luckily, I had a freezing lake which helped to numb the pain, and I sat on the dock with my foot dangling in the water. This natural therapy, coupled with high strength ibuprofen meant that by the evening, I felt ready to go for a walk.

Locking the bikes to a tree and going for a walk was a common thing for us throughout the entire ride, and it gave us a chance to reflect, talk, and voice our concerns. As well as share in the positive memories too. This particular walk alongside an old logging road was the one in which I really realised for the first time the importance of this ride for Candace. She had grown up in Calgary as well as spending time living in Vancouver and Vancouver Island. During her youth, she had also spent lots of time snowboarding and living out of a van in the mountains. This trip for her was about tying it all together, two cities she knew so well separated by the mountain ranges that had shaped her as a person. The mountains that we were now exploring slowly on two wheels, enjoying the minutiae that are easily missed when we travel at the high speeds of motorised transport.

I was brought out of our reverie by stubbing my bad toe on a rock. After 5 minutes of some serious Zen breathing and attempting to centre my Qi, not to mention some very choice words that no civilised mind should ever be able to cultivate, I began to hobble back to camp. The pain was shooting up my leg and into my hips, and even my fingers were tingling. I have never known pain quite like it from something that shows no visible signs of injury, and I would wish it on nobody. Fortunately, halfway back to camp, we found an icy little stream where I was able to submerge my foot for a few luxurious minutes.

I slept that night aided by more high strength pain-killers, and it was an amazing experience knowing that just a few feet from our heads was a long drop into a deep, freezing river.

The pain had subsided a little by morning, which was just as well as we had a big day ahead of us. Teo (of @ourmoonwarrior) gave us a ride up the hill, and the couple had been super sweet and prepared a care package with some bananas and protein bars which gave us a great breakfast.

The day had dawned freezing cold, perhaps the coldest of the trip so far. It was in stark contrast to the warmth of the previous day. We continued to follow the highway into Glacier National Park – a very fitting name and location considering the bitingly cold wind which numbed our hands and feet as we rode despite gloves and wool socks. We had to stop riding from time to time and jump up and down and stomp our feet; otherwise they simply went numb. Not ideal for riding. The gloves we had brought along were woefully inadequate and operating the brakes was extremely challenging as my hands felt like two blocks of ice. After a few hours in this vein, we saw the first sign of what was to come – Rogers Pass.

Discovered in the 1880s by a surveyor for the Canadian Pacific Railway, Major Albert Bowman Rogers, the pass links the town of Golden in the east, to Revelstoke in the west. It is a steep and narrow pass known for very high levels of snowfall in the wintertime. As a result, the railway, and the Trans-Canada highway, have snowsheds built along their length throughout the pass. These are effectively tunnels that are built into the steep mountainsides that prevent avalanches from blocking the way and potentially threatening life, the snow falls harmlessly over the top. Although there is artificial lighting that runs the length of each tunnel, as cyclists we felt a little vulnerable as the shoulder through the narrow tunnels was pretty slim, and the tunnel walls amplified the noise of the thundering trucks approaching from behind. Their massive diesel engines roaring with the effort of the lumbering up the steep incline in the confined and claustrophobic space of the tunnel.

As we approached the entrance to each tunnel, we stopped and waited for any trucks that might be behind us to pass, before pedalling as fast as we could to get through the tunnel before another truck came. Our heavy bikes, however, just crawled along, seemingly oblivious to the tremendous effort we were putting in. Inevitably, a truck would always catch us up, and the echoing barrage of noise reverberated in our chests as they rumbled past us, their wheels only inches from the ends of our handlebars. Once we were safely through each ordeal and in the light again on the other side, we would stop and let the lactic acid in our thighs dissipate, and swallowed the rising bile in our throats from pedalling so hard up the mountain.

And so this pattern continued as we plodded on up the pass. Tunnel, Rest. Tunnel, Rest. After every third tunnel or so, we treated ourselves with a banana or granola bar, each time knowing we were giving ourselves energy while reducing the weight we had to slug up the mountain.

However, while waiting around for Candace in a car park during one of her many pee breaks, I was reading a sign that had a map, and it said that the summit was only 4km away. This was a pleasant surprise as it was only early afternoon, but I guess we were fitter than we realised! Although, as we had started before dawn, we had been several hours on the road already, so the thought of setting up camp and chilling out seemed tempting.

Our camping spot for the night was another stunning location, a highlight of the trip. Illecillewaet. (Not a typo!) Situated very close to the summit of Rogers Pass, this historic campground is the trailhead for some of the best hikes in the area. Although our legs were in no way ready for big hikes, we did use the opportunity to go for a light walk. The gorgeous forest that surrounds the campground has many hidden gems and was once the site of one of the finest hotels in Western Canada built during the late 1800s.

The former ‘Glacier House Hotel’ at the top of Rogers Pass was once a sister hotel to the still existing (and still luxurious!) Banff Springs Hotel and the Chateau Lake Louise. Originally the railway that crossed Rogers Pass was built on an elevated railway line that helped to reduce the gradient that trains would have to endure, similar to the previously mentioned Spiral Tunnels of Kicking Horse Pass. The Glacier House Hotel served the railway as a stopping and rest point, while also providing a destination in itself. Visitors could stay at the luxury Alpine resort and have fantastic access to the surrounding mountains, glaciers, and forests.

However, a series of fatal avalanches meant that eventually, Rogers Pass was by-passed with the opening of the Connaught Tunnel in 1910. The new tunnel was not only shorter in length but also massively reduced the risk of death or delay as the result of avalanches. The fact that the railway no longer passed by the Glacier House Hotel effectively signed it’s death warrant and it fell it dis-use.

Candace and I spent an enjoyable few hours exploring the ruins of the hotel and the stone pillars that once supported the elevated railway line. The afternoon sun was warm after such a bitterly cold morning, and our spirits raised with the temperature. The raging rivers that run off the mountains are crossed by the original stone bridges as well as more modern wooden walkways. The stone bridges made for great photo opportunities as one of us would stand on top of the bridge while the other took a photo from below, the torrent of water framed perfectly in the arch of the bridge.

The next morning, before it was light, I was awoken by Candace gagging and groaning. Thinking something was wrong, I sat up and asked her if everything was ok. She giggled and showed me her shoe illuminated by her head-torch, I could see that a slug had made its way inside overnight and when she had put her foot in the shoe, the slug got pushed through the mesh material and was effectively shredded, like a spaghetti maker. Albeit with a lot more slime.

I packed away the tent and made coffee while Candace used half of our wet-wipes cleaning slug guts out of her shoe. As we were walking our bikes down the access road that led back out to the highway, some movement caught my eye far above me to my right-hand side. I instinctively turned my head and saw the thing I had been really hoping to see in my time riding across Canada – a bear!

It was a long way off, crossing the ridge above the treeline high above us. There was no doubt in my mind as to what it was, and I enjoyed the moment, watching this hunk of raw power moving with grace across the jagged ridge. Candace, however, could not see more than a dark spot moving in the distance. Her eyes had been getting steadily worse during the last couple of years, and despite seeing many bears in her past, her disappointment at not being able to see this one clearly was noticeable. At that very moment, she made a resolution to get her eyes fixed as soon as this trip was over.

Buoyed up with excitement at seeing my first ever bear, the blistering cold morning did little to bother me as we descended the opposite side of the mountain pass. The frigid, morning air once again biting at our extremities as we flew at high speed down the long, curving switchbacks. Our destination for the day was the town of Revelstoke. A famous summer and winter extreme sports destination.

Candace called out to me at one point during the ride, she had seen a sign for a Giant Cedar forest. We pulled over and locked the bikes to a tree and headed through a gap in the vegetation and with no exaggeration, it was like being transported to another world. The moment we passed out of the other side I felt like I was in Jurassic Park, the Cedar trees were so tall, I didn’t know trees could get so big! (I am still yet to visit the Redwoods and Sequoias of California – it blows my mind to think they are even bigger!)

A wooden boardwalk had been tastefully built to allow visitors to walk around the forest without damaging the delicate ecosystem of this natural wonderland. The forest floor was an incredibly varied, undulating, and craggy landscape of huge rocks, slopes, and babbling streams. Every square inch was covered in moss, brackens, lichens, and ferns. The air was so incredibly fresh; it felt like it was actually healing my lungs, and the atmosphere was alive with insects and birds all buzzing, tweeting, and flapping around us. Much like in a cathedral or a church, the people that wandered around were stunned into silence, and we could enjoy the majesty of nature free from all the noise and chaos of modern life. It was a truly humbling experience that resonates with me to this day, and I could have easily have ridden past it without stopping had Candace not called out to me. It makes me wonder how many amazing experiences I have missed by a whisker without even realising it!

As was becoming typical over the recent days, by the time we rolled into Revelstoke, the cold morning had given way to a warm sunny day. We stopped in the tourist information office to find a campsite, and soon we were getting set up in a very clean, organised, privately run campsite. It even had WiFi! It took a little bit of time to get used to lying in a tent using our phones again after mostly been camping out in the wilds. It didn’t take long to decide that we would take a day off the next day to explore the town, it had my kind of vibe, and I wasn’t about to skip past it without at least spending a day to check it out.

Revelstoke is famous not only for being a Mecca for the outdoors but also as being a major railway town. To me, this creates the perfect balance as the railroad industry here prevents the town from becoming overly pretentious as many other ‘resort’ towns have become, not to mention it keeps prices more reasonable! Revelstoke actually feels like a real working town with people going about their business, and the bars and restaurants have a more ‘down-to-earth’ feel. The place is not overrun with throngs of tourists being brought in by the busload.

We enjoyed our day here and spent plenty of time exploring the town, as well as an equal amount of time lazing around at our campsite, enjoying the sunshine and reading books.

After Revelstoke, we would be heading into the interior of British Columbia, an area that I had intentionally done very little research on and therefore had no idea of what was in store for me!

Now for Part Three!

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