Sunday, August 12, 2007

Icefield's Parkway Century

Living so close [2hrs] to the Icefield's Parkway and only riding it once a year seems like a crime. It's a beautiful road that climbs out of the boreal forest up to some incredible glaciers. Not only is the ride very scenic, but the glaciers are melting so this spectacle will be gone in my lifetime. I can already see the end of the riding season approaching and I have so many rides I still want to accomplish this year. Feeling this urgency I arrived at the Lake Louise hostel on Saturday a little after noon. My objective was to ride up the Icefield's Parkway to Saskatchewan Crossing and back. At 80kms each way it made a logical destination for a century ride. The only trouble of course was Bow Summit smack in the middle.

Lake Louise to Bow Summit

I was feeling great on the long gradual [40km @ 4-6%] climb to Bow Summit. It was a warm sunny day and I was riding a fairly smooth shoulder. Traffic was light and I saw quite a few touring cyclists coming the other way. Both sides of the road were thick with coniferous trees that thinned out as I climbed upwards. I passed Num Ti Jah Lodge were I had a really nice second breakfast on my 2006 bike tour of the parkway. This time though I was all riding and no stopping. I spent my time about equally between my middle and big chain ring. The climbing seemed effortless. I have to say I was a bit surprised when I saw the sign marking the summit.

Bow Summit to Saskatchewan Crossing

What a thrill ride dropping off of Bow Summit I hit 82kph right away and kept up my speed for what seemed like forever [note the word forever will feature prominently in my return trip, but not in a good way!]. I took the whole lane and bombed the slopes as long as I could. There were several cars lined up behind me, but nobody seemed to mind - perhaps the spectacle was worth it...=-) You know you are going fast when slowing down to 50kph seems like you are plodding along. The shoulder along this section of the parkway became fairly rough with lots of frost heaves. Since traffic was light I used the freshly paved road much of the time. If the opposing lane was free traffic went around me and when vehicles were coming in both directions I used the shoulder. Saskatchewan Crossing was a nice break with chocolate milk and some energy snacks. Lots of interest in the Fujin - in fact I had to beg off when one older gentleman wouldn't stop asking questions. He asked how fast my ride was so far and I was a bit shocked to find out my avg speed was 29.3kph even with all the climbing.

Saskatchewan Crossing to Bow Summit

The return trip was painful. I expected to jump back on the bike and rip out a fast ride back - I was mistaken. I can't fully explain it, but the slog back up to Bow Summit was interminable. In fact it felt like it was taking forever. I actually stopped once to make sure my brakes weren't rubbing and the drivetrain was turning freely - sadly they were fine. I was able to verify that the Fujin hands just fine at 5kph as I crawled up the steepest sections. The north slope of Bow Summit is a lot shorter at 7kms, but also much steeper at 7-9%. I didn't need my granny on the climb up, but I sure was glad for a light bike. I took a forced break 2/3rds of the way up and another right at the top. I ate a cliff bar and drank a gatorade as well as some water to keep my engine running. My avg speed on the return leg at that point was 16.6kph

Bow Summit to Lake Louise

One thing that kept me turning pedals on the climb over the pass was the knowledge that on the backside was 40kms of fast downhill. Not 82kph fast [my max on the return leg was 72kph], but consistent sections of 50-60kph. There were some hills to get up, but knowing that for every metre I had to climb on the way back I'd get 3 metres of fun rolling towards Lake Louise made the ascents easy - even though my legs were pretty tired. I was getting quite cold by this point as the sun was setting and descending doesn't keep you very warm. I had a windshell and a helmet liner which I used. I wouldn't have turned down a pair of tights though...=-) Eventually all good things have to end and I found myself at the on ramp for Hwy 1 to Lake Louise. I was taking the ramp at 50kph and able to out corner all the cars - nice! The 3kms to my truck went quickly, but the high volume of traffic on the Trans-Canada Hwy was a shock to the system. I recall feeling the same way last year after 3 days of touring the parkway and then hitting Hwy 1. My avg speed for the return leg was 22.8kph with a total ride avg of 26kph.


I can't recommend riding the Icefield's Parkway enough. It's a beautiful ride on an excellent road through one of the most spectacular parts of Canada. The weather can be unpredictable so check the forecast and bring some warm gear even in August. I really miss touring in general and touring the parkway in particular. I'm not sure it will be possible to make it happen this year, but Sarah and I would like to ride and camp along the parkway as soon as possible. Definitely a goal for 2008!

1 comment:

Jerome said...

Looks like a great ride! Nice work. I hope I get mi casa done soon so I can get in on some of these great rides. Next year!