Friday, 12 October 2012

Day 110 to 111 – to Prince George, Canada

9 to 10 July    Kms travelled – 28,085

Was it the weariness felt from months on the road, or was that bed really that comfortable?  I thought as Idris and I sped up the 93 towards Radium Hot Springs with a bustle more associated with being late for work, than the final stages of a mammoth bike ride.  I slept late.  Something I don´t often do, even when work is on the cards back home.  So I quickly settled on the fact that that bed really was that comfortable, and the Village Inn in Windermere really was that peaceful and quiet. 

And we were back enjoying the road, and what a road!  But I´ll let the pictures and your respective imaginations capture that.  I couldn´t help thinking that perhaps I should have stayed at Radium Hot Springs when we rolled through town, as it was littered with accommodation, most of which with parked two wheelers outside – and most of which of the American iron variety.  But perhaps not.  Perhaps I had needed that moment of peace last night to set me up for the day´s wonders.  Perhaps I was secretly worried about the name of this town?  I was OK with the hot springs bit, but Radium?  Just how exactly was this spring water heated anyway!!

Aside from providing food for thought, and food for my late morning stomach, Radium did also provide the right turn (still on 93) and gateway to the Kootenay National Park.  $9.80 for a day pass (hang on to it, you´ll need it for more parks later) and we were waved in with the warmest of smiles, only to have the broadest of smiles spread across my face as I realised that my pre-trip reading had once again paid off.  This was well and truly a place to be, and especially on a bike.  Steep-sided gorges with curves in the road that would have been at home on a 40´s pin up model!  Then up over a broad pass and alongside wide open valleys lined with snow topped mountains.  A whole series of sights that begged us to stop for photos at almost every turn of my head, but which also pulled us onwards with a promise of more of nature´s wonder.  On the whole, really not a rubbish place at all! 
Then, after a short detour along a dirt road (nope I didn´t get lost, but a chap I spoke to at a photo stop mentioned I might spy and eagle that way) and a relatively easy stretch along highway 1, I was back on the 93 again heading towards Banff.  Hang on, rewind a little.  A couple of points I should make about that stretch.  Not only was the scenery continuing to do its thing to the utmost as we trundled along – and it would be remiss of me to give the impression that we had just blasted through a boring bit to get to the next great stretch of road – but also there were some rather odd bridges and tunnels being built along the highway worthy of a mention.  These were quite large constructions which result in you feeling you are riding through a tunnel rather than under a bridge – though they are wholly man made.  Designed to allow the wildlife to cross safely under or over the main highway, they must have been costing the Canadian taxpayer a notable sum, not least at they were covered in plant life too, including trees!  But well done Canada!  Much as I welcome the construction of great roads which open up access to this wondrous landscape, it is still nice to see that the locals can still get about without hitching an unwelcome ride on the front of an articulated truck!

But I was talking about Banff, and it was now in that National Park where I stopped and wrote “wow” in my day book!  Miles and miles of better and better views as we progressed north west along the 93.  Past Lake Louise and the icefields the roads had now straightened out a little – so not noteworthy from a biking experience point of view - but that was just fine.  The last thing I wanted to be doing right now was focussing 100% on the road, when the land through which we were travelling demanded so much attention instead.  If my eyes were feasting on the landscape, then they were gorging themselves to such an extent that they would likely bulge out of my head at any moment.  Then high passes, deer and eagles – who could want for more?  Well, me really...  no bear yet, despite lots of warning signs. 

Moving onward into Jasper National Park we did encounter some peculiar weather when approaching one of the highest passes of the day, which allowed me to relearn an important lesson.  Weather in the mountains is an incredibly changeable thing, and not to be underestimated.  And, as it happens, in this instant I was not caught out by this fact, but rather it worked in my favour.  A little way before the Columbia icefeilds and one of the highest passes of the day we were hit with storm strength side winds and rapidly moving dark clouds on the road ahead.  The road had run up through a clearly visible winding pass on the side of the mountain, but now the whole vision has disappeared in the murk of low cloud and heavy rain.  I stopped at the first sign of water droplets on the front screen, and headed back down the relatively straight road, where I pulled over for a ponder. 

Thunder and lightning were now hitting the heights ahead, and the head shaking of a few bikers which were passing on the way down had me thinking about a place to stay for the night.  I had not long passed a national park lodge, but a word of warning... everything is very very expensive in the parks (including fuel) so best to bring what you need with you.  It was mid afternoon, so I decided to wait a bit longer and take some photos before deciding on what to do.  30 minutes later I was riding up the side of the mountain in clear blue sunshine, with no notable winds, and with the road already pretty much dried out.  What would have been a very dangerous ride less than an hour before, was now a hugely enjoyable one.  The heated grips switched on, and there was the ice!

As you cross from Banff into Jasper National Park it is well worth making the stop to see the ice fields.  Even in the midst of summer these glaciers are still most impressive.  I would have loved to have spent more time in these parks and walking the mountains, but it was not that sort of trip.  The clock now continually ticking in the back of my mind, I rode down to Jasper town to find a bed for the night. 

A B&B secured (hotels here were a bit much for my budget) and a walk around this pretty touristic mountain town saw me stopping by a most impressive GS1150 with worldwide stickerage and the life scars to match.  It was not long before I was engaged in a great chat with fellow ABR Dylan Samarawickrama who was on his round the world experience, and heading south whence I came.  So much to discuss, stories to swap, and we were nicely interrupted by passers by interested in the conversation.  We were also well into mozzie country again! 

Was it the light nights (10:45pm before the sun went down last night), or was it simply a bad night’s sleep, but the next day after packing the bike and heading off, I dumped it.  No, that´s not true.  I never even got to the heading off bit.  I dumped the bike straight away as I hadn´t taken off my disk lock!  In all my years of motorcycling, I can´t remember a time when I had made such a basic mistake.  No damage to Idris, and a quick pick up, removal of said lock, and we were on our way.  My spirits were, however, harder to pick up and I rode off with a heavy heart – not angry with myself, just a bit down.  Funny the things that affect your emotions when you are travelling alone.

The ride this day was around 400kms of tree lined forest and river valleys and views, often lined with hills of snow.  Not the great mountains of the national parks, but not exactly boring either.  I noted a few good sights where I stopped off for a few shots and/or a chat with a local biker or two, but on the whole this was a business day for the journey as the landscape was more or less the same throughout the route.  Still no bear or moose, despite being told of sightings that same day.

I rolled into Prince George and on the advice of the nice lady in the tourist information office, found myself booking a bed at Eric´s place (see places to stay link on the right).  A top bloke, lifelong biker, and great hostel host.  Chatting with him that evening was just the tonic to put my head right in preparation for the next day.  And with Idris tucked up safely inside his shop, a good night´s sleep was also had.  While this day we had been heading more west than north, that was soon to change, with the famous Stuart Cassiar Highway calling our names!

Thought for the day
As we rode into the Lake Louise area of Banff, one of the reportedly most beautiful lakes around, I couldn´t help balking at the level of tourism to be seen at the main entrance.  I was struck by a similar feeling when I arrived at the Old Faithful Geyser in Yellowstone, only now I realised it wasn´t a reaction to over commercialisation of natural beauty spots as I had previously thought, but rather an aversion that had grown inside me to crowds of people.  My journey north had sought out national parks and generally avoided populated areas.  Even my stay in Phoenix was on the outskirts, so I had not encountered the levels of people and hustle and bustle associated with urban areas.  It now felt alien to me.

How easy it was to have gotton away from familiarity with being in such situations when you are surrounded by volumes of bodies, and how easy it is to live your life with a focus on small scale human interaction instead.  And I must say I preferred it that way.  It seems that the only times I could recall being particularly lonely on the journey were in the more populated areas, surrounded by people but feeling alone.  As I was approaching the end of my time on the road, I did start to wonder how well I would readjust to life back in a relatively densely populated Europe.  I can´t answer that, only time will tell, but it did tell on my thoughts this day.