Category Archives: biking

Mid-Atlantic Countryside

Well that was an enjoyable week!   88 geocaches in 6 states (DC, DE, MD, NJ, PA, WV) with 375 miles of biking (and some Ubering) over 9 days.  Highlights were the guided tours of Gettysburg, PA (by a professional guide) and Washington, DC monuments (local, at night).

origroute

Pre-trip: This was about as bad shape as I could be in for the ride.  In June, shortly after signing up for the ride, I sprained my ankle on a hike.   Then in August, I caught some sweet bronchitis for 4 weeks: I was in not-so-great shape for the ride.

Day -1: Fly to Philadelphia.  A 6-hour non-stop + 3 hour time zone change + meeting two fellow riders at the airport to share a shuttle (that I ended up having to book) consumed the day.  The hostel was pretty far from public transportation or places to eat, but we found one that would deliver a tasty, greasy Philly cheesesteak:

cheesesteak
Philly cheesesteak with pepperoni, onions, and provolone

Day 0: Get my bike, ride around in Philadelphia.

The stories of aggressive Sports Fans and a recent viewing of Twelve Monkeys made me super leery about spending a lot of time in Philadelphia proper but, convinced by a fellow rider from Canada who wanted to explore, we biked from the hostel into downtown.

Ben Franklin is popular.

Ben Franklin statue, #947 of 1,433.

There are lots of row houses, something I vaguely remember from early childhood.  They must be pretty small, because people sometimes leave their pets outside.

Kitty wants to come back inside
Philadelphia
Bridge over canal

Day 1: French Creek State Park: Rain.  Valley Forge

I didn’t sleep well due to the First Day Of Tour jitters.  Also, the cheesesteak didn’t agree with me.  (Note to self: you are no longer 19.)  I was rearranging stuff for a while before going with the Showers Pass jacket.  I’d need it, as it rained moderately hard for the first thirty miles.

At the hostel

A few miles in, I had achieved wet rider equilibrium: soaked to the bone, but warm as long as I was moving.  I really don’t remember much except stopping to try to help out other riders with various repairs.  At one point, someone’s derailleur crapped out (new bike, too) and I stuck around until one of the ride leaders came.  I felt kind of bad, but it was really wet outside and this was kind of my only vacation.

Valley Forge National Park

While stopping at the restroom at Valley Forge National Park, I discovered to my glee I could shunt the hot air from the hand dryer into my jacket.  After about twenty minutes of this, I was feeling better and decided to tour around the park, getting virtual geocaches.  I thought I’d be clever and make my own route back onto course before coming to a bride that was out of service for the indefinite future.  Denied, I trekked back.  The rain stopped, but it was pretty gusty.

1871 Bridge

An hour later, the sun was starting to peek out.  I actually had to apply sunscreen, which was kind of nice.  

About this point in the day, I started having a lot of shifting problems due to a stiff link.  Each third pedal would skip gears.  Really annoying, too.  I plugged forward, albeit slowly.  One of the last riders caught up and, with his map wet, wanted help with directions, but didn’t want to ride at my extra super slow speed.  Cat and mouse ensued.

In camp, I got some help finagling the link free so the bike was ridable.  Two other folks with $6000 Co-Motion bikes were having minor issues and the guy with the derailleur was going to look for bike shop options.  The ride leaders told us that Pennsylvania bike shops are generally closed on Mondays, so we would probably be SOL, but we could try Hanover.

I had good cell coverage (and a backup power supply) and found a shop in Intercourse (snicker) Pennsylvania, located near Blue Ball (snicker), that purported to be open on Mondays.

Day 2: Get a replacement chain.  Buy groceries.

Rolling hills

This was a pretty area with rolling hills and, of course, Amish minding their own business.  As fascinated as I was, I respected that as best I could.  The cows, however…

What are you looking at, spandex-English?

I did find this gentleman rather majestic on his horse-drawn plow.

Plowman

Intercourse Cycles was pretty awesome in getting me in and doing the spot repair (replacement chain; and while we’re at it, let’s put new pads on the front).  While they worked, I went next door for espresso.  Yes, even in small towns, you have multiple caffeinated options!

Back on the road, and with a decent amount of time before I had to head back to camp, I enjoyed the rolling hills of Amish country.  I came upon a buggy and, not really knowing the etiquette, waited until it was safe to pass with a wide berth.

Must… outbike…buggy

A mile later, I was dragging on an uphill and heard him clop-clop-clopping behind me, providing me some motivation to keep pedaling until I hit the flat roads again.

Day 3: Get to camp waaaaaay early.  Buy food.  Cook for 15.

Codurus State Park

One facet of these tours that I’m not super crazy about was the shared cooking.  In it, you and someone else are obliged to buy food (with shared funds) then cook a meal for 15 (13 riders + 2 ride leaders), clean and then have some kind of dessert.   I drew the longest day (in miles) of the tour, also somewhat tardy by my wanting to indulge in the Utz potato chip factory tour:

Utz potato chip factory

Very disappointingly, Snyder’s of Hanover, makers of awesome sourdough hard pretzels, does not appear to have a tour for hungry, pretzel-loving cyclists.

Bridge – photo by Phyllis Zitzer

And finally, I made it to the grocery store where we bought three meals’ worth of food for fifteen people.  Two carts, just under $400 worth because we over estimated the pasta consumption:

Groceries for 15: 3 meals, snacks.

We got into camp and found the van with all the cooking equipment hadn’t arrived yet.  (!!)  So we got started on dinner late through no fault of our own.   We made garlic bread (with real garlic & butter), spaghetti with meatballs, and a spinach salad with roadside heirloom tomatoes.  In retrospect, we overcooked.  I had intended for the garlic bread and salad to be consumed while we cooked the other stuff, but people didn’t quite follow and the garlic bread got cold.  (But, oh my, was it good.)

I ate, then slept, well.

Pasta for 15… and I really need to sleep now.

Day 4: Camp Misty Mount.

On these tours, I’m usually pretty excited to eat and get out on the road as soon as I can to enjoy my day at a snail’s pace.  However, the obligation of cooking requires one to unpack, set up, make coffee, cook breakfast, put out lunch stuff, wait for people to finish, clean, box up.  Fortunately, I had gone with Snacks I Like — candied ginger, mango, various nuts and salty pretzels — and had a relatively short ride.

I rewarded myself with picking up a bunch of puzzle caches I pre-solved.

This was a nice facility, apparently a Christian social camp during other times.  Although we camped in the field, they were nice enough to leave all of the dorms and common areas unlocked.  I got to do laundry, charge all of my devices, have a long, hot shower.  One of the other campers slept inside the common area to avoid the cold.

Day 5 & 6: Gettysburg.

Gettysburg and the Civil War were events that I was super oblivious to (thank you, Texas schooling) until I stopped on a business trip in 2008.  The magnitude is overwhelming.  I was looking forward to coming back and spending more time, up close.

Gettysburg

The tour included the interpretive film narrated by Morgan Freeman, whose marvelous voice would be fine for even reading cereal boxes.  The organizers made the next day short to accommodate an optional (yeah, right, as if I’m going to not do it) guided bike tour of monuments.

Gettysburg – John Warren, surveyor.

The tour concluded around lunch time, but could have easily been two days.  The guide was awesome and I have a better appreciation of the significance of Gettysburg and the sheer carnage (something I’d see even more of in Antietam).

Louisiana Memorial

Because this was in Union territory, most of the Confederate monuments were erected relatively recently.  Above is Louisiana’s.

Onto Maryland!

MD border

The ride to camp had significant elevation gain.  We had been repeatedly warned that Camp David was near the top of the hill and, under no circumstances, should we stop here and take photos.  Camp David, formerly Shangri La, is a retreat used by presidents.  It is, as they say, a poorly kept secret.  There are no signs beyond a couple of discreet “no stopping” and “no photography” icons.   The larger sign simply says this particular campground is closed.  More than one person knew someone who knew someone who didn’t adhere to the guidelines and found themselves enjoying some quality time with the US Secret Service.

Tonight, we had the luxury of cabins.

Day 7:Slave Auction Block, Harper’s Ferry, Brunswick, MD

Leaving camp required us to go right back up the hill, past Camp David, before plunging down.  My Canadian counterpart thought it would be amusing to take my photo while struggling up the hill… as he was right in front of Camp David.   As I crested it, I saw a van full of burly men, buzzed haircuts, zooming up.  Kind of feared the worst, but was too chickenshit to stick around and watch it unfold.

I’d later find out that the van’s occupants were late for work and waved at my friend before going past the gate.  My friend, wisely, chose not to press his good luck further.

Unencumbered by needing to buy food or cook, I enjoyed the slower pace to geocache.  (Hint: under the sign)

Crystal Grotto

There was a nice cluster of puzzles in Antietam explaining how much the undulating terrain played into completely unnecessary carnage of the battle.

Antietam Station, near Sharpsburg, MD

The most unexpected thing I saw was in Sharpsburg (a geocaching called my attention to it), was this:

From 1800 to 1865, this stone was used as a slave auction block.  It’s remained here for 150+ years as a sobering reminder.  Wow.

Our route then joined the Chesapeake + Ohio (C+O) towpath.  On the way to Brunswick, I crossed the bridge into Harpers Ferry for some more geocaches and to revisit the town on foot.

Harpers Ferry

There is an interesting viewpoint where you can see the confluence of the Shenandoah River joins up with the Potomac River which continues south past Washington DC into the Chesapeake Bay.

Harpers Ferry

In town, you can see markers showing the flooding over the years.  According to the earthcache, 1996 saw two floods of 29′ or more.

C+O Trail


Day 7: DC or Bust.

C+O Canal

The C+O towpath looks like this for a long time.  The canals (left) have gone unused, leaving stagnant water and algae pools.  It’s dirt and generally fine on slightly-deflated 28C tires.  (However, I would have preferred wider, especially later.)

Lock

Every few miles, the path opens up to a picnic area or local access.  There are a series of towpath houses for the former operators of said towpath (when it was a thing).  They have been preserved and are, apparently, rentable for overnight stays.

Canal house

Continuing south, closer to Great Falls, MD, the locks are also in better shape, though not typically used for the original purpose.  The park also gets very crowded and extremely difficult to ride on.

Functional Lock

Inside Great Falls Park:

Great F
Great Falls Park, MD

The most jarring experience was emerging from the C+O Towpath onto random Washington, DC, streets.  The directions were hard to follow and I was soon relying on Garmin auto-route to get to the Washington Monument.

Washington Memorial: does it show?

I was glad to get to the Hostel when I did because a presidential motorcade had occurred an hour later, severely delaying the rest of the group.  Meanwhile, I enjoyed a good hosing off and pizza.

One of the local ride leaders offered to give us a nighttime tour of the Washington, DC monuments, something I could not pass up.  This was the closest I’ve ever been to President Obama!   There were some locals who apparently set up a kiosk on the street and extol their unique interpretation of Biblical Apocalypse.

Among the highlights were the Korean War Monument, with its subdued lighting.  The facial expressions communicate a lot:

Korean War Memorial

The size of the Vietnam Memorial was stunning.  The names are ordered by year of death.  The full moon reflecting on the bricks added a somber note.

Vietnam Memorial

What trip to DC would be complete without visiting Giant Abe?

Lincoln

Last stop before heading back to the Hostel was the Capitol Building.  We had unencumbered access to bike around it.

Capitol Building

Day 9: All good things…

The trip description originally suggested we’d be taking Amtrack back to DC, but nope, pile into the van, bikes on top, and drive.   I think we were all pretty tired from being up so late, but the tour was totally worth it.

Van back to Philadelphia

I hung out in Philadelphia airport watching the Washington – Philadelphia game in a sports bar with a local fan who seemed like an okay guy.

Geobiking Philly to DC

The excitement of visiting colleges with my daughter, her applying to the short list, and waiting on the results has is over and I’m seriously craving a week unplugged from work.   I’ll be taking an organized ride in October from Philadelphia to Washington, DC.  Since these trips are as much about seeing different things as the Zen of cycling, I’ll also be stopping for geocaches (and other site seeing) along the way.   And maybe butterscotch Tastycakes, Cheeseteaks and those legendary tomatoes I’ve heard about.

I spent a good evening wondering if there was an efficient way to generate a “Find caches along a bike route.”   Having plotted the estimated route with Google Maps, using its delightful Bicycle Routing option, I had a rough idea where I’d be visiting:

Google Map version
Google Map version

I was hoping to use this to guide me with Geocaching.com’s “Find Caches Along A Route” tool.  For trips in the west (like this), the tool plus clever battle-shipping of pocket queries has been good enough.  On the east coast, the tool’s auto-routing via turnpike or Interstate (but not, say, the C+O Towpath) makes it cumbersome.  Even trying to force it (the two circles) is futile:

The Geocaching.com tool really, really wants to stick to turnpikes and interstates.
The Geocaching.com tool really, really wants to stick to turnpikes and interstates.

It’s really bad on the leg from Harper’s Ferry to Washington, DC — I could not get it to recognize the C+O Towpath because, look, there’s a huge interstate!

A coworker reminded me of the Map My Ride tool, which is really well-engineered for generating bike routes.  What it offers above that, though, is the option of exporting said route to a KML (used in Google Earth) or GPX (used in Garmin GPS) file.  I built this:

Map My Ride works supremely well. It's built for this sort of endeavor.
Map My Ride works supremely well. It’s built for this sort of endeavor.

Trying to generate a set of geocaches from this was pretty involved.  Google Earth’s user interface confounds me.  (I find I’m shouting at it: stop. moving.)  Garmin Basecamp is a promising candidate, but didn’t seem to work with so many points.  Project-GC, which has completely upped the bar on geocaching stats, only does a point-to-point route with no fiddling.  I’d have to generate eight separate groups.

Project-GC is sooooo close to what I want.
Project-GC is sooooo close to what I want.  It just lacks multiple points, and the option to reroute.

I settled on this GSAK macro.  When fed an al dente KML file, it merrily generates bounding rectangles within ~1 mile (changeable) of the route. Next, I let GSAK fire off a bunch (120!) API calls of caches within each little box. It finished before I brought the takeout home.

Polygon-ized routing
Polygon-ized routing

Next steps are to whittle down the list of 1600+ caches to a reasonable number – focusing on the non-traditional or well-favorited.  I have already started solving a crap-ton of puzzles at each endpoint, Just In Case I’ll be riding over one.  Of course, since geocaching is also about numbers, I’m trying to figure out a scheme to make a side trip into Delaware (via train ride back?) or New Jersey (perhaps simply crossing the bridge from Philly) so I can say I have cached in both of those states.

Downtown Philadelphia
Downtown Philadelphia: Visiting in October.

Just skimming through the route, the two parts I’m most eagerly anticipating are the ride through Gettysburg — I last visited in 2008, astounded by the enormity of the place — and the ride along the Potomac from Harper’s Ferry to Washington, DC.

McClinchy Mile 2015

Shortly after last year’s McClinchy Mile, the Oso mudslide happened.  This year, they changed the route from Arlington to Granite Falls, to Arlington to Darrington via the new road through Oso.  A small donation was provided to the community.

Since this was both an excuse to get on my bike again after nearly six months off, and an opportunity to ride in a new area, I was pretty motivated to get out, even in the record-setting rain.  So were a lot of other folks.  Attendance was estimated to be above 200 people.  (300 pre-registered + 80 day-of)

Highway 503
Highway 503

Anticipating a moderate rain most of the day, I went straight for the REI rain pants and Showers Pass jacket.  I also had my very dorky Da Brim from last year’s Cycle Canada.  As long as I was pedaling, I stayed warm enough.   I didn’t have to think too hard about the route as it was essentially an out-and-back on 503.

Oso Mudslide
Oso Mudslide

There is a small pull-out at a viewpoint of the Oso Mudslide.  Anticipating people would want to reflect, a porta potty has been left there.  It’s weird seeing half the hill missing and the area generally covered with mud.  Here is a panoramic view on my Flickr page.

Rest stop - biscuits and gravy
Rhodes River Ranch – biscuits and gravy

On the way back, the stop at Rhodes River Ranch offered us the most delightful biscuits and gravy and fresh coffee.   The facility is a working horse ranch that had such success feeding its workers that people also come there for the food.  I really wanted to stay longer, but I was getting soooo cold not moving.

Considering how long I’ve been remiss in cycling, and how utterly rainy it was, the ride went pretty well.  I was glad I had a few dry sundries to change into, but I needed a serious dose of hot coffee and car heater blasting to shake the chills.

This would be an outstanding route in nicer weather.

Cycling Events

This is going to be another light cycling event year simply because I’ll have a lot of weekends sucked up by touring colleges with the kiddo; however, I think the big three are selected:

ososlide
Oso slide

McClinchy Mile – March 15.  I think this is the only local organized ride in March.  This year’s event has a route taking us along the Stillaguamish River through the Oso landslide zone.

 

lots_of_open_road
Pendleton has wide open roads, sun


Century Ride of the Centuries
– May 23 – 25.  I think this may be the event I’ve participated in the most often.  Pendleton has great roads, the CRoC rest stops have food second only to R.A.P.S.O.D.Y. (may it rest in peace), and the weather is usually pretty okay.

Home of the Oreo Cows!
Home of the Oreo Cows!

Cycle Oregon – September 12 – 19.  This year’s “Hell on Wheels” is similar to the route I rode in 2008, my first Cycle Oregon:

  • Baker City – Farewell Bend – 51 miles, 1500′ gain
  • Farewell Bend – Cambridge, ID – 53 miles, 2600′ gain
  • Cambridge to Halfway, OR – 103 miles, 6600′ gain, including the out-and-back to the Hells Canyon Dam.

    Hells Canyon Dam
    Hells Canyon Dam
  • Halfway to Wallowa Lake – 84 miles, 7530′ gain – Over the top of the dam to an amazing viewpoint.

    Hells Canyon overlook
    Hells Canyon overlook
  • Rest day – there’s an optional 44-miles, but after the previous two days, I am going to want to take the tram ride up.
  • Wallowa Lake to La Grande – 85 miles, 2800′ gain
  • La Grande to Baker City – 59 miles – 1800′ gain

Cycle Canada – Icefields Parkway Part 2

(Continued from part 1.)

Day 5 was a rest day in Jasper.  Unlike Day 2, when I really wanted a rest day, I was feeling well enough that I would have preferred continuing.  On the other hand, I seriously enjoyed the slow, sit-down meals where I wasn’t swatting mosquitos off my legs.  I wandered around town, avoiding the anchovy-loving pizza bears.

Bears love pizza, too.
Anchovies: pizza topping or bear attractant?

Jasper is a stop for the Via Rail route between Kamloops and Edmonton, alternating between insanely busy with the flow of passengers stretching their legs and “small town.”

Day 6: Jasper, AB to Wilcox Creek Campground:

Jasper to Wilcox Creek
Jasper to Wilcox Creek

Another rider wanted to see what this geocaching thing was about and, despite gentle suggestions that I ride pretty slow and stop a lot, was undeterred.  The plan for the day went slightly awry when, immersed in conversation, we had missed the turn onto the more scenic, less trafficked spur of Highway 93.

Wheeeeeeeee!
Wheeeeeeeee!

We realized the error when we hadn’t been passed by the speedy riders within the first hour.  The maps supplied by Cycle Canada would have a lot of missing important detail.

Roughing it, Carson-style.
Roughing it, Carson-style.

The first stop of the day was an earthcache at Mistaya Falls.  Nearby was a magnetic container attached on the bottom of one of the interpretive signs.  It was so fun watching the look on my friend’s face when she reached under and felt the container.  It remains geeky, of course.

Mistaya Falls
Mistaya Falls

Later down the road, we stopped off at another earthcache that required a moderate hike to its vantage point.  We parked the bikes behind a tree, took our valuables and hiked down the rocky trail to more spectacular views to gather the required information.   Within minutes of snapping this photo:

mistsaya_canyon
Cue the ominous background music…

two other park visitors came over, exclaiming “Oh, you’re the cyclists.”   Umm…

While our bikes were parked, the local gangland crows had pried open our handlebar bags to loot the contents of anything edible.  They were after foodstuffs, such as the fresh-baked cookie I was saving for the top of the climb up the Columbia Ice Fields later.   Inedibles with no market value on the crow-equivalent of eBay were dropped onto the ground.

Crow escaping with the last Clif ShotBlok
Asshole Crow.

The map had warned us of 12-14% grades.  It was certainly a steep, long grind, made less enjoyable by buses of tourists being taken to the overhang.  The worst part, though, was on the flats, where the wind was turning me into a weather vane.  But I got some photos.

Possibly  Boundary Peak
Possibly Boundary Peak
Lot of recession

Once past this, there was diversion up a narrow, winding road to Wilcox Creek, our campground.  The view was fantastic:

Camp
Wilcox Creek Campground, AB Elevation ~6800′

… but there was no opportunity to clean up after a long ride.  I’m pretty sure I went to bed around 8pm.

Day 7: Wilcox Creek to Lake Louise:

Wilcox Creek to Lake Louise
Wilcox Creek to Lake Louise.  Wheeeee!

I woke up to 34 degrees and was moving very slowly. Once we hit Sunwapta Pass (actually a descent from camp), there would be a steep drop for the next 30 miles.  Despite packing nearly everything else I’d need, I left the full-fingered gloves in the back of my car.  The only remedy I could concoct was using a pair of latex disposable gloves (kept for tire changes).  Once at the bottom, the sun was finally above the mountains.

Serpentine curves coming down from Sunwapta Pass
Serpentine curves coming down from Sunwapta Pass = Glorious

I rode alone for most of the day, stopping at the occasional geological oddity of the “Weeping Wall.”  (GC2FME0).

“Cirrus Mountain wraps around the Huntington Glacier that lies to the southeast of the highest peak. As the glacier melts, much of the water is prevented from escaping by the topmost rock of the mountain. With nowhere else to go, the water seeps down through the more permeable shale and limestone. It travels through various channels within the rock itself and eventually emerges from the side of the rock face.  In the summer and fall, one can see a steady trickle of water from dozens of cracks in the wall. In the springtime, the flow increases significantly as the increased glacier run-off drives more water through the wall; for this wall, the peak water flow appears around June. And in the winter, the streams freeze into a sheer ice wall, creating one of the world’s leading ice-climbing surfaces.”

I'm pretty cold pondering the earthcache.
I’m pretty cold pondering the earthcache with, possibly, ice crystals forming on my gray stubble.

This was a very enjoyable day of riding as it warmed to 15C and was sunny.  Inspired by completing the second highest ascent of the trip, I continued further up towards another earth cache overlooking the turquoise Peyto Lake.

Bow Summit, looking down on Peyto Lake (GC32FFX)
Bow Summit, looking down on Peyto Lake (GC32FFX)

Yep, this was a nice day.

Moseying along to Lake Louise
Moseying along to Lake Louise

Once in Lake Louise, I struggled to find the missed turn to camp.  A clue was a verbal description of something known as a Texas Grate:

texas_grate
Texas Grate

… which are used to dissuade wildlife (bears, elk and moose) and cyclists.  For cyclists, there are fenced off sections with double-doors.  I wish I got a photo of those because it’s surreal being imprisoned in the wild.

Camp was mentioned as being “bear proofed” as it’s surrounded by more Texas grates and electrified fences.

Electrified fences complement the Texas grates surrounding the campground.
Electrified fences complement the Texas grates surrounding the campground.

Day 8: Lake Louise to Banff:

Lake Louise to Banff
Lake Louise to Banff

After two strenuous days, we were offered a comparatively short day between Lake Louise and Banff.   So I took side trips.  After heading out of camp, I rode up to Lake Louise proper to do some geocaching and get some post card shots.  Yep.

lakelouise

My geocaching friend Cliff (aka crs98) had a third earthcache where one estimates the volume of talus deposited during the walk from the parking lot to the lake.  I tried to do the hike (replete in bike cleats) relatively quickly as tourists buses were beginning to stream in.

On the walk back to the bike, I was musing about hearing that Lake Louise is the uglier sister to Moraine Lake.  I toyed with visiting the second one until I saw the 11% grade on top of what I’d already done.   I headed downhill, and continued along the route, picking up an occasional geocache.  One of the more (cough) interesting experiences was a cache deep in the woods.  I leaned my bike up against a tree and walked down to ground zero.  As I was looking for the container, I heard (but did not see) the distinct rumbling of something I didn’t want to encounter in the woods wearing only bike cleats.

I was pretty quick to leave.  A mere quarter mile down the road was the baby version of what I’d heard.

A brown bear
A brown bear: completely uninterested in my DNF story

Not having to worry about a long day presented me with the opportunity to push harder and keep up with a group or riders who’d been faster than me.  This, in turn, was a chance to talk honestly with some other folks about what was good and bad about the ride.  These folks overwhelmingly thought that while the scenery was top-notch, the level of service provided for the fee was lacking.  (This is something I will ponder later.)

bow_lake

 

Day 9: Banff to Calgary:

Banff to Calgary Airport
Banff to Calgary Airport.  That rise at mile 65 was painful.

The trip sheet provided by the Cycle Canada folks for the last segment was a byzantine combination of turns, prose and small fonts intended to get to the University of Calgary, where we’d spend the last night before parting ways. Because the map was apparently created pre-floods, Paul (the owner) was going to apply race arrows along the way for corrections.  (These are thin sheets used on events.  They decompose naturally, avoiding the need to pick them up later.)  Fortunately, I was heading to the Calgary airport to pick up my car.  Garmin’s autoroute had a cycling option that kept me off really nasty roads.

Starting off the day, I packed my geological sandwich:

Mt. Rundle - a geological sandwich.  Crunchy dolomite with delicious nougat.
Mt. Rundle – a geological sandwich. Crunchy dolomite with delicious limestone nougat.

visited the hoodoos:

Hoodoos in Alberta!
Hoodoos in Alberta!

Reflected at the Castle Mountain Internment Camp memorial how I wish the US wasn’t so filled with blowhard assholes that we would apologize for and learn from the bad things we’ve done.  Those interned built these roads I rode on today.

Ukranian Internment Camp memorial
Castle Mountain Internment Camp during WWI where immigrants, mostly of Ukranian origin, were imprisoned as enemy aliens.  Plaque is in memory of those held between 1915-07-14 and 1917-07-15.
Church
McDougall Church, Morley, AB.  Built in 1875 to establish a more permanent relationship with the Blackfoot Nation.

Then, finally, after biking through what seemed like Houston (hot, humid, flat), I crossed into Calgary proper.  Wohoo – my longest ride ever, with mountains, rivers, glaciers, talus, and more.

Calgary Sewer Cover art
Calgary Sewer Cover art
Otafest - University of Calgary
Otafest – University of Calgary

I split up the long drive back by spending the night in Waterton Lakes National Park.  I wanted to visit it for a while, but couldn’t make it out last year when I was going through Glacier.

Mt. Blackiston
Mt. Blakiston, named after Lieutenant Thomas Blakiston, who first explored the area.

 

Red Canyon
Red Canyon – Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta

Epilogue:

This was the smallest group event (18 people, 8 of whom started from Vancouver) and longest (10 days, 582 miles) I’ve done and definitely “no frills.”   Their welcome packet was pretty thorough in describing the level of fitness, suggested training regimen, type of bike you’d want to bring, and what was not included:

  • Getting to the start and from the final points.  The option I eventually came up with was: drive to Kamloops, drop off camping gear; drive to Calgary, drop off the car at the airport; fly back to Kamloops; bike to Calgary Airport; drive home.  While the road trip was awesome and bolstered my caching count, I probably should have paid to fly in and out.
  • Lunch and water stops.  We were welcome to take extra breakfast stuff (PB&J, bananas, gorp) to tide us over or we found a store where we could buy something.  I estimated that I spent about CDN$40 each day for sundries – beef jerky, fruit, water and, in Valemont, an iced espresso.
  • Sag wagon.  Despite this, there was a couple who had not trained for the ride and, not surprisingly, were barely making it into camp before sunset, sometimes worrying Paul (the owner) enough that he’d try to pick them up, at the inconvenience of everyone else.

One really nice aspect of this trip was having an opportunity to talk with everyone.  Everybody is from somewhere else and has an interesting story.  The number of retirees doing this tour as a warm up for something longer gives me hope that my kids’ post-college years will let me do some more of this, maybe even convincing my wife to join.

Having also ridden Cycle Oregon, Ride Idaho, RAPSODY, Cycle Pendleton and Ride Around Washington, I thought it’d be useful to spell out the pluses and minuses.  With all of these events, the minimum is a planned camping spot, truck to schlep your stuff to the next stop, breakfast (cereal, fruit, maybe oatmeal) and a hot dinner.  Anything less than that I’d consider to be a “self-contained” tour.

For an event with 200 people (e.g., Cycle Pendleton, RAPSODY), you get a lunch stop during the day, at least one mid-day stop with toilets, and a couple of sag vehicles.  They’ll usually have shower trucks (a nice luxury) or access to a high school with warm-ish water.

At around 300 people (RAW, Ride Idaho), the camp can support vendors offering massage (typically $75/h), bike parts, and local entertainment.  There is usually voluntary participation of ham radio operators for coordination. A crew will typically go out in the morning to place directional signs for the next day.  On layover days, there are enough people to organize formal outings.  For example, Ride Idaho had excursions to the Route of the Hiawatha.  An interesting thing Ride Idaho did was give out vouchers usable in any restaurant in the layover town (Sandpoint, ID and Wallace, MT).  This was a nice way to lure us into exploring the town.

Larger rides like Cycle Oregon (~2500) are a moving city, trucking water, sewage, food where it needs to go (which is important for visiting a town with a population of 200).  Food/potty/water stops every 12-15 miles, full lunch (with entertainment), sag wagons, and a police presence (typically a few motorcycle officers who ride up and down the route).  There is often a tie-in with local groups to offer a paid, “tent sherpa” service where they set up everything for you.

 

Cycle Canada: Icefields Parkway – Part 1

Lake Louise, AB
Lake Louise, AB

Cycle Canada – Icefields Parkway trip summary: 9 days, 582 miles, 26k elevation gain, 95 geocaches and a hundred insect bites.

Back in the darkest weeks of December, while visiting my parents in the Houston area, I was hunkered down on the couch, enjoying an escape (summer) fantasy with a copy of Adventure Cycling’s smörgåsbord of 2014 rides.  While I’d love to do the six week ride down the Pacific Coast (or even a snippet, like the Pacific Coast Central), I couldn’t swing the time away.

My ideal ride would have:

  • Scenery.
  • 5-8 days of riding — I am limited by vacation time and the munificence of my lovely and erudite spouse.
  • An average daily distance of at least 50 miles — if I’m going to sunscreen, sully a pair of bib shorts, and become an expert in erecting my tent, it’s not going to be for 30-mile days.
  • Camping — to keep the cost down.
  • Someone to schlep my camping stuff between campsites

… which pretty much describes the events I’ve done in the past: two tours with Ride Around Washington (along the peninsula, down the center of the state), three with Cycle Oregon (this, this and this), and, last year, Ride Idaho.  These were all fantastic, but I wanted to see some different scenery.

I broke out a map and outlined routes that I would like to ride sometime (and the rough order):

  • Santa Fe, NM to Boulder, CO — Adventure Cycling offered this route a couple of years ago, when I was having body parts removed and couldn’t train.  I couldn’t find an equivalent tour option for this year.  But next time, oh baby, I’m all over it.
  • Pacific Coast from Eugene, OR to San Francisco, CA – there were a couple of options, but the trip time was on the order of 15 days.
  • The Icefields Parkway (Jasper, AB to Banff, AB) – Cycle America has a future ride extending to Waterton Lakes, which was perfect, but their schedule was TBA.  Cycle Canada had a Vancouver, BC to Calgary, AB. Diving into the fine print, I saw they offered a shorter version from Kamloops to Calgary
  • Missoula, MT to Jackson, WY – Cycle America has this as part of their cross-country route.  Cycle Greater Yellowstone also offers trips skirting around Grand Teton and Yellowstone, but a sucky cancellation policy.

After searching until smoke came out of my ears (not very long), I opted to try Cycle Canada’s shorter version, Kamloops, BC to Calgary, AB.

A July ride would be the earliest I’ve ever done one of these things.  Thus, I was keen to try to get out when I could.  With short winter days and sucky weather, I stuck to 8 to 15-mile hikes on Tiger Mountain, one of the hillier areas.   My FitBit was happy-vibrating.

A typical round-trip commute.  Because of various construction projects (e.g., Elliott Bay Seawall), I try to avoid the ferry area in the morning by looping through Capitol Hill.
A typical round-trip commute. Because of various construction projects (e.g., Elliott Bay Seawall), I try to avoid the ferry area in the morning by looping through Capitol Hill.

The bulk of my training came in May, during the Bike to Work commuter challenge.  The rare opportunity to successfully compete against the 20-somethings kept me on the bike a lot.  The nearly 500 miles of commuting included a healthy amount of hill-climbing.  What it lacked, though, was riding in hot weather.  In most years, I get some of that during the Century Ride of the Centuries.  Not this year.

So, physically, I went into it feeling pretty confident.

So meanwhile, I was trying to figure out my travel situation.  It’s a real comedy of transportation.  WIth patience, I could take a train (with a bike on it) from Seattle to Vancouver to Kamloops, but getting back from Calgary would require either going to Edmonton or flying.

Day 1: Kamloops, BC to Clearwater:

01_kamloops_to_clearwater
Kamloops, BC to Clearwater

I had my usual first-day-of-the-ride jitters: it was Canada Day, I didn’t sleep well the night before (unrelated to Canada Day!), I met a bunch of people, most of whom had ridden together since Vancouver, but whose names it would take me another five days to remember.  This was also the longest, hottest ride I’ve done since Ride Idaho.  On the plus side, I found geocache puzzle that had gone nearly three years since its last visit.  I also perfected my dorky look with a Da Brim to keep the sun off my nose and ears.

Dorky, yet comfortable and practical.
Dorky, yet comfortable and practical.

Nearly a month later, I’m not sure if my scant photos on this segment were due to the near-constant torrent of traffic on this moderately-busy highway or it being comparatively un-scenic.  Like most days, I rode by myself.

Okay, it wasn't that bad.
Okay, it wasn’t that bad.

Where opportunities presented themselves, I pulled over to check out interpretive signs.  The Overlanders route of 1862 still shows signs of the McClure Fires of 2003.  Our campground was nice and, surprisingly, offered free wi-fi.

McClure fires of 2003.
McClure fires of 2003.

Day 2: Clearwater to Blue River: 

Clearwater to Blue River
Clearwater to Blue River

My general lack of recent experience riding in the heat made this the most challenging segment of the whole trip.  The moderate hill near mile 55 was comparable to what I do to and from work, but hitting it during the peak afternoon heat (36C/97F) left me light-headed.  At the summit rest stop, I sat on a retaining wall staring at an interpretive sign, sucking down the remaining water I had.

I don't smile much.
Light-headed, but trying to mentally convert meters to feet.

Because our maps were lacking detail (like elevation gain), I assumed the “hill warning” meant another 1,000′ before I got to camp.  I grabbed the nearby geocache then lollygagged for another 40 minutes until my stupor abated.  The post-summit plunge was nice, tempered by the warped mental dread of having to make up the elevation.

As it turned out, camp was pretty soon thereafter.  With the primary group space full, I was relegated to an area behind the office, where the septic technicians were doing battle with effluent.  They didn’t seem to mind the stinky cyclist setting up a tent nearby!  The best part about being over here was sharing a spot with Mario and Shelly, a fantastically nice couple who had done the ride before.

Like napalm in the afternoon -- the cyclist odor.
Like napalm in the afternoon — the cyclist odor.

After getting the tent set up — more or less — I plugged my phone into the solar charger and sauntered over to the well-equipped camp office for a Popsicle.

On these trips, the ritual becomes:

  • Find a camping spot
  • Set up the tent/cot/etc
  • Clean out water bottles and fill them for the next day
  • Do any necessary bike maintenance (like rinsing off the sports drink blowby, oil chain)
  • Shower
  • Text significant others
  • Eat
  • Sleep
  • Un-set up tent/cot/etc
  • Ride

 

Day 3: Blue River to Tete Jaune Cache:

Blue River to Tete Jaune Cache
Blue River to Tete Jaune Cache

This was a great route.  The morning began with this roadside display:

Would you like coffee?
Hi, there’s a geocache in my … (do you really need to ask?)

I finally saw a glacier:

Athabascar glacier
Athabascar glacier

Took a 2km side trip off-route to completely enjoy a real lunch with iced coffee:

Photo by Shelly Huisken
Photo by Shelly Huisken

Check out this old Studebaker:

1926 Studebaker meets 2006 Cannondale
1926 Studebaker meets 2006 Cannondale

and crossed this bridge into camp:

Old bridge crossing the Fraser river
Old bridge crossing the Fraser river

where my tent site was 20 feet from the mighty Fraser River.  And I had enough energy to do laundry (yay, clean clothes!)

Day 4: Tete Jaune Cache to Jasper, AB:

Tete Jaune Cache, BC to Jasper, AB
Tete Jaune Cache, BC to Jasper, AB

If you’re ever going to bike over the Continental Divide in the Rocky Mountains, Highway 16 is the easiest way to do it.  After a healthy climb in the morning (and cooler weather!), I stealthily rode past the summit-munching ram of Mount Robson Park:

All Hail the Mountain Eating Ram
All Hail the Mountain Eating Ram

followed the Fraser River around to Moose Lake,

Moose Lake
Moose Lake.  Hey, I’m smiling?  Let’s retake the photo, okay?

Crested Yellowhead Pass:

Yellowhead summit
Yellowhead Pass – the leg with the compression sock is in Alberta, the other in BC!

And enjoyed the rolling hills into Jasper until I saw Tourists Behaving Badly.  In the center of this photo:

Stupid tourists
A bear! Let’s drive like idiots and endanger ourselves, too!

you may notice a black blob.  That is a black bear.  You’ll also notice the motorcyclist is on the wrong side of the road with the Hyundai in close pursuit.    The poor bear just wants to get some berries, take a morning dump, and move on.  A day later, we saw a bigger group where a lady with one of those selfie extenders for the phone was trying to coax the bear out for a better photo.   Two days later, we observed a car do a rapid 180-degree turn in front of a pair of racers, drive half a mile in the wrong lane, then suddenly stop to photo an elk.  The racers cornered the driver and shared some reality.