Day 4 Wednesday August 1: The Longest Day

"It'll probably be chilly on top; going 30 miles an hour ads some wind chill."

Yes, indeed, it was chilly on top. I offered by fleece headband to Steve; I already had on a balaclava, and thought he might benefit from a little head warmth.

"Every twenty miles, whether I need to or not, I'll stop. That's what I usually do on a long ride," Fred said in his half-smiling, clipped analysis.

"Al, this isn't cheating; this is smart," Dave said when I pointed out that we were getting a heck of a lot more downhill than up by getting a ride from 4000' Lake Louise up to 6700' Bow Pass. The "85 milers" milled around, waiting their turn to get ferried up to the base of Sunwapta Pass. The really smart folk, the "65ers" would get a ride up to the Icefields Visitor Center, and basically float down to Jasper, 65 miles and 3000' down.

I couldn't keep up with the bigger boys on the way down. A mile or more ahead, they all pulled over with Fred at the 20 mile mark, meeting Andy's Isuzu for a mid-morning snack. I saw no reason to ruin a perfectly good downhill run, and so kept rolling to the Saskatchewan River crossing, where the view north looked a lot like pictures of the Arctic I'd seen. The view south wasn't so bad, either.

I waited, and waited, and waited there at the far end of the bridge. Finally, Dave, Fred, Steve, and Wally came along. I tried to catch them all, but the camera only works so fast.

From here, it would be a long slog up to Sunwapta Pass. Dave, Wally, and Steve stopped at the lodge by the bridge while Fred and I (hadn't gone 20 miles yet!) pressed forward. By the time we hit the base of the pass, we'd intermingled with a set of Boy Scouts, or some such, laboring up the lower reaches on mountain bikes. Luna Tours and Backroads were there also. It was quite a crowd going up the hill, especially when the grade got steep. Most of the boys got off and walked; I just labored on up, not intending to stop until I hit the Visitor Center.

Despite to 55F chill, I was striped down to shorts, shirt, and arm warmers. But over the crest, the full body armor came out again, as the road eased downward towards Icefields.

During the whole day, we rode with massive peaks on either side, the most impressive being on our left. At this point, the zenith of our tour, we passed by the Columbia Icefield, a glacier complex covering hundreds of square miles. The Canadian Park Service has built an incongruously large multi story visitor center, which looks something like a ski lodge at Whistler, and is packed with nearly as many people. The parking lot is filled with buses, and dispatches tourists across the road and up the gravel to the edge of the glacier. Once there, people can marvel at the cold wind flying down from the glacier tops, and wonder why ice looks so much like crushed rock.

I couldn't take to crowds inside, and left almost immediately for what I hoped would be an epic downhill. About 10 minutes into it, I noticed a cliff to my right, and saw gouge marks in the road from falling boulders. Just as I reached a little turn out with toilet across from a waterfall, I hit one of the narrow depressions, bouncing down hard enough to snake bite my tube. It was just about here, I guess, that Fred pulled away from me for the rest of the day. As I started back up (actually, down) after the repair, I found myself in the middle of a goat jam. People were gawking at the headless goat, and another one eating rocks on the shoulder of the road.

Down and down I went; the air got warmer and warmer, and I actually striped back down to shorts and shirt by the time I hit the river bottom. I found more crowds at Athabasca Falls, and never could get a good shot of the Falls themselves; they were always blocked by Russians or Quebecois, or other tourists.

Back on the road, with about 5 miles to go, a passed a parking lot where 2 or 3 mountain bikers had just come out of the woods. Glancing back five minutes later, I saw them in my rearview mirror (I have this stealth system, a tiny mirror inside my sunglasses, so people can't see me looking back at them). Despite their pace line, I held them off until the turn off to our campground. Just as I slowed down for the turn-off, I passed Mike and Tom, with someone who looked like Elizabeth - they looked fresh and ready to go another 85.

It took almost that long to get into the group campsite from the main highway. The beer and chips never tasted so good as they did that evening.

After dinner, Joan entertained us with her two-piece Softride. Everyone wanted a chance to fix it; Mike obliged, smiling while we all failed to extract the bolt which held the beam on board. Never have so many offered so much with so little result.

Miles: 118 or 85 or 65; Temp 38-75F; Vertical 4500' up, 7500' down. One and only flat tire for the whole trip: me.

More Pictures from today:

Athabasca Falls

More Goats

Louise Cooking

Rafting on the Sask. River

Name this Mountain

Thursday: More Catered Riding