South Columbia Valley Tour
June 25-July 1, 1998
“15 bikes and 15 restless riders,”
“2 van drivers, 25 cans of beer”
Apologies to Arlo
Thursday Evening June 25.
“Hurry! We’re going to be late!” I exclaimed to my wife. We were rushing to Heritage Mall to meet with the van and as a new member, I didn’t want to keep anyone waiting. A lone cyclist greeted us, and said that the rental van was a little late, as the racks needed some adjustments.
The van and the other riders soon arrived and loading started. The thin roof of the van creaked in protest as twelve bikes made their home above, and John, our tour director, was seen shaking his head as he surveyed a mountain of duffel bags on the ground. “I said one bag each”, he was heard whimpering softly to himself. Tallyho!, and off to Airdrie for fast food fortification we went, where the “ladies” van passed us, and by ten bells, we had checked into our posh hostel at Lake Louise.
Friday, June 26 – 111 Kms. Castle Mountain Jct. To Radium
I awoke in a cold sweat the next morning, feeling anxious and nervous. I had volunteered to cook omelets for the group breakfast, and Sue and Judy, the other members of our cooking team must have thought I knew what I was doing. Fortunately, everyone got fed, but those steel pot handles get damn hot! Rain threatened at the start of our ride at Castle Mountain Junction, but the cool weather was refreshing on the moderate climb up Vermillion Pass. Brightly coloured Indian Paintbrush lined the sides of the road, and I think everyone was happy to be on their bikes. Lunch was served at a picnic shelter beside Numa Creek, and we made short work of Rachel and Karen’s delicious Italian and Greek sandwich wheels. The afternoon included the grind up Sinclair Pass, and a rainstorm made the steep descent into Radium exciting. A final short, sharp hill on the road to Canyon Campground, and then tents and tarps appeared rapidly at our campsite, as we raced the rain. Rachel must have been expecting a tornado as someone counted 22 pegs securing her tent. A romantic dinner for 17 under the tarp followed, highlighted by glasses of bubbly to celebrate Gord and Pat’s 33rd anniversary.
After dinner, the hot springs were calling, and most riders were found lounging in the restorative steaming waters at Radium Hot Springs, as raindrops speckled the pool. A perfect end to our first day.
Saturday June 27 – 130 kms. Radium to Fort Steele
A hearty breakfast of hot Red River cereal and steaming cowboy coffee prepped us for our longest day. Speeding down Hwy. 93/95 we were looking for our first rest at 22 km., but the van was nowhere to be seen. Finally the mothership appeared by the side of the road at 35 km. It’s amazing how much you want to see that van because you know it contains FOOD! It was decided to have lunch at 69 km. because of our long day. Canal Flats is a town where you don’t want to wear a Greenpeace shirt. We started seeing a lot of pickups with unfriendly dogs in the back, licking their chops and obviously thinking of cyclist for lunch.
The afternoon rest stop at Wasa found us facing a stiff headwind, for the final jaunt to Fort Steele. Within a few minutes of leaving Wasa the skies opened and the last hour of riding was character building. The rain stopped just as we arrived at our campsite. Soon, the sun broke through the clouds, illuminating the mountains behind us as we ate our dinner around a crackling fire.
Patrick our shuttlecraft van driver, went way beyond the call of duty, driving many kilometers to bring back ice cream for dessert. A quiet evening as everyone was tired after a long day. Phone calls home revealed that Edmonton had been having torrential rains, making us feel better about our conditions. Rachel had left her sleeping bag back at Radium, but she was able to charm a bag off a RV’er in the campground.
Sunday June 28 – 92 kms. Fort Steele to Fernie
Disaster struck within the first five minutes for two riders when leaving Fort Steele in the morning. A rain-soaked wood planked bridge grabbed the front wheels of Don and Diana’s bikes and two badly warped wheels were the result. Fifteen minutes later, after some guerilla bike repairs, both bikes were back on the road. Tip of the day – Always walk across wet wood bridges and carry a spoke wrench! Riding on a secondary road through green farmland was making it a special morning. Just before our return to the highway, found us beside a hillside bluff, home to nesting swallows. How they could fly at full speed into a particular hole amongst hundreds of similar openings, was amazing. Back on the highway found us riding with our old friend, Headwind. A hearty lunch at 55kms. helped restore our energy for the rest of the day. After Elko, we had a nice downhill run into Fernie. Some redneck in a pickup, cut off Sue, Larry and Rachel at the entrance to Fernie, yelling something about riding on the sidewalk. Sue had some choice words in reply, I understand that Larry’s ears are still red… The Raging Elk Hostel was not as luxurious as Lake Louise, Funky Hippy Decor was more it’s style. It’s not true that Marvin and I were racing to the hostel to get the honeymoon suite. There was also a vicious rumor spreading through the group that Marvin was a cross-dresser. Lies, all damn lies! It was nice to have a roof over our head, as it was a cool night. We had a wee walk through town, and ate dinner at a restaurant, (“Watch out for the glass shards in the pasta!”) Fernie is a small town surrounded by impressive mountains, a pleasant setting, although we did find the beer rather pricey there.
Monday June 29 – 71 kms. Fernie to Blairmore.
Ahhhh… a well deserved short cycling day. The first rest stop was at the world’s largest Dump truck, making this a memorable stop, I guess.
Leaving the rest stop, someone made a wrong turn; No, Don, we did not believe your story that you just wanted a longer ride. The Crowsnest pass area is very beautiful. Not as crowded as Banff or Jasper, but the views are comparable. Plus, I swear after lunch we started to get a tailwind. The sun had broken through providing very agreeable cycling. Blairmore has an old town feel, with some great old facades on some of the Main street buildings. Our campground was reasonably good, with a small hot tub, that we put to good use. Sue was doling out massages, which were first class, and some bartering was going on, because her bicycle got a thorough cleanup. She said it had never looked better. The campsite had a huge coal fired grill, and the burgers off that were some of the best ever. After dinner, there was a van trip to some little country bar up the road, and we got that place wound up for a Monday night. Pool tournaments, dancing, beer drinking… a good time was had by all and Blairmore will never be the same again.
Tuesday June 30 – 102 kms. Blairmore to Chain Lakes Prov. Park.
Leaving the Lost Lemon Campground, we were soon riding through the Frank Slide. Chunks of stone the size of buses litter the ground. The remains of the Leitch Colleries provide some interesting Alberta history. Our sidetrip to Lundbreck Falls provided one of the most scenic stops of the trip. As we headed towards our lunch stop beside the Oldman River the terrain changes from the woods and mountains of the past days to the flatter grasslands. We were riding under clear blue skies, and it was starting to get hot. After lunch, storm clouds started to build, and we were starting to get anxious to reach our final campsite. There was still time to dance the Macerana at the afternoon rest stop, even as thunder rumbled in the distance.
Twenty kilometers before Chain Lake park, it started to rain, but it stopped just before we got to camp. We were shown to our group campsite, which includes a cookhouse with electric lights and commercial quality gas ranges. The cooking team tonight whips up delicious pork chops, and we have wine and liqueur to make the final supper fitting to the end of the ride. There are 175 campsites in the park, and all but 5 are empty tonight. The park host tells me that due to the extreme rain, no one has been coming. We have a beautiful evening, with sunshine and calm conditions.
The group had a total of 14 flats, and no major breakdowns. We had a lot of laughs and I was sorry to see the ride end. Special thanks to Allan and Patrick, our van drivers, who were always busy preparing our snacks, and driving back and forth for supplies. They worked really hard the whole time. John, our tour director had everything organized and kept everything running smoothly. He also had to put up with a lot of good-natured teasing.