Denise Goldberg's blog

Along the spine of the Rockies
My first self-contained (bicycle) tour

Saturday, January 17, 2009


First, a warning. The photos in this journal are from pre-digital days. Not only that, the only "scanned" copies I have were saved from the the previous home of this journal, so the quality is questionable at best. I've included them here to provide a taste of the land I was passing through. Clearly I need to visit the area again with my current skills and cameras.

Thinking back to the beginning of 1998... I had it in my mind and heart that I wanted to try self-contained touring - but it took a bit of thought and arguing with myself to finally realize it was the right thing for me to do. When I look back on it now, I don't know why I ever doubted it. If touring is something that interests you --- go for it! It's a fabulous way to travel and to meet people. Loading touring bikes seem to be a magnet for good conversations with strangers!

When I was in my "go for it, don't go for it mode", I remember that most of the people I talked to about it thought I was more than a little "out on a tether", since they couldn't image trying the same thing. My true friends - and the folks in my favorite bike shop - knew that I was heading in the right direction for me!

Before 1998, I had done a number of 1 and 2-week supported tours. I loved traveling by bike, and I could probably continue doing supported tours, but many of the organized tours didn't travel to the places that I wanted to see, and they didn't provide the level of challenge the type of distance I wanted. I spent some time arguing with myself over whether I really wanted to do this. Of course the nice thing about arguing with yourself is that you always win! And of course my decision was Yes.

Part of my argument with myself was that I didn't have a bike suitable for loaded touring. I was in the "I can't do a trip without getting a bike, but if I'm not sure I'm going to go on a trip then I don't need a bike" Catch-22 mode. OK, OK, it was a silly argument. I obviously needed to get the bike that would allow me to try my new adventure. After looking at the stock bikes on the market at the time, I decided that I wouldn't be happy with any of them, and I knew deep down that I was going to love touring - so I splurged on a custom-made bicycle from Peter Mooney. Peter built me a beautiful bike, and both he and the other folks at Belmont Wheelworks gave me a lot of support in learning and making decisions on bicycle components, panniers, general touring, and learning basic bicycle mechanics.

While Peter was busy building my frame - I moved on to the joy of choosing the geography for my first tour. I couldn't swing the time off to do a full cross-country tour, but I could manage a month off. I decided to spend my month in the northern Rockies - starting by riding across the panhandle of Idaho, then north through Montana and on to the Canadian Rockies in Alberta and British Columbia.

Monday, August 17, 1998

What roads did I take?

In case any of you want to follow along on maps - or in case you want to do all or part of this trip, here's a summary of the roads that I took. I've listed town names to help with the context.
From... to...                Route

Lewiston ID to Lolo MT US 12 East
Lolo MT to Missoula US 12/US 93
Missoula to Bonner US 12/US 93
Bonner to Clearwater Jct SR 200 East
Clearwater Jct to Bigfork SR 83 North
Bigfork to Kalispell SR 35 to SR 82
Kalispell to Whitefish SR 40 to 40/US 93
Whitefish to W Glacier 40/93 to US 2
W Glacier to St. Mary US 2
St. Mary to Canadian border US 89 to SR 17
Chief Mt. to Pincher Station PR 6
Pincher Station to Elko PR 3
Elko to Radium PR 3/93 to 93/95
Radium to Castle Junction PR 93
Castle Junction to Banff PR 1A
Banff to Kananaskis to Banff Hwy 1 & PR 40
Banff to Lake Louise PR 1A
Lake Louise to Jasper PR 93

Home: a bit of culture shock

Home again...

Funny transportation to the airport story: I took a van from the hotel to the airport in Edmonton. The van driver took one look at my bike box and informed me that it wouldn't fit in the van. I was pretty amazed by her statement, since it fits in my car, and I drive a small Saturn! I told the driver that I would put the bike box in the van, and of course had no problems doing so. I think she was just afraid that something the size of a bike box would be too heavy to lift, which of course it wasn't!

It's hard to believe that I'm really home again. It took a little getting used to staying in one place and sleeping inside after 30 days of moving almost every day. When I arrived home I was more comfortable sleeping in a tent than I was in my house. That feeling disappeared in time. Getting back to the reality of working made me think about what it would take to take some time off to travel. One of my dream trips is a cross-country trip, and since it's not likely that I'll be able to convince an employer to let me take 3 months off, I know that I'll need to be ready to quit my job. 3 months? And if I'm going to take that long, what about extending it to a year? It's something to think about. Someday...

I finally had the answer to the question everyone kept asking me. I lost 10 pounds (that I didn't really need to lose) on my trip. I thought that I was eating enough. In fact, I felt like I was eating all day. But I was burning a lot of calories. When I went to get dressed for work that first day back, I was very glad for belts! I did get back to my normal weight, but it took a couple of months. My goal for the next trip is to eat more!

I had a good laugh when I finally arrived at the office after a month off. I thought it was odd that the door to my office was closed, and I'm really sorry that I didn't have my camera with me that day. One of my colleagues had decorated my office for my return. She had borrowed stuffed animals and toys from everyone, and they were all partying in my office - open (root) beer bottles, junk food, and streamers. There wasn't even room on my desk for my computer! The party was hosted by my red dog Rover - who even left a message saying that he didn't expect me back so soon, and that he really meant to clean up!

Even though I'd like to keep going, I am home - and now it's time to dream and to plan my next trip.

Tuesday, August 11, 1998

Alberta: Mt. Kerkeslin to Jasper, then on to Edmonton

I left camp at 7:20 this morning. I probably could have left with the group, but I wanted to be able to find a bike box and pack the bike without feeling rushed. I packed it myself to come on this trip, but I did it at the bike shop with a mechanic by my side. This was my first "solo pack".

It was a pleasant ride into Jasper. I stayed on 93 as opposed to taking 93A. Both the Backroads leaders and my Adventure Cycling maps recommended taking 93A, but I've found that the "A" roads, although they are billed as less traveled and more scenic - seem less scenic to me because they tend to be heavily wooded.

I pulled into Jasper at 9am and found Freewheel Cycle. They provided a box and some packing materials, and let me borrow a repair stand and tools. I was pretty happy since the only thing I needed help with was removing the pedals. (Yes, I do know which direction the wrench goes to remove them, but I just couldn't budge them. I'm pretty strong, but small - so maybe I can blame that on my size!) I packed the bike and moved everything from the panniers into a duffel bag. I noticed a laundromat with showers down the street, so I left everything at the bike shop and went for a shower. It took me 2 trips to carry everything to the train station. It was only 3 blocks - but in hindsight I really should have called a taxi! The bike shop would have shipped the bike for me, but they didn't have any of the required customs paperwork. Better for me to take it on the plane with me. After I checked my luggage I had a couple of hours before the train to wander around Jasper and to get some lunch.

My options getting to an airport from Jasper were to take a bus to Calgary, or take the train to Edmonton. (There may have been a bus to Edmonton too - I just didn't check once I found out about the train.) I'm glad I decided to take the train. It just feels so much more civilized than a bus. There is room to walk around, decent bathrooms, and a dining car. We're about an hour into the ride now. We started out in the high mountains, but we just went through a tunnel and are now passing through much different terrain. The mountains are now visible only in the distance behind us. It's a long train - much longer than the Boston - New York - Washington trains that I am used to seeing. There are 3 classes of service, which makes sense given that this is a transcontinental train that runs from Vancouver to Toronto. I'm in coach, which had a much better price than the other classes of service. I think the next two classes both have sleeper cars - but I really don't need anything other than a seat since this is a relatively short trip.

It was a 5 hour train ride into Edmonton. I retrieved my bike and duffel bag, and took a taxi to my hotel. I'm staying downtown. I did some walking around, and picked up a sandwich at an interesting restaurant. But with the exception of a couple of restaurants, it looks like this place pretty much closes up at 5pm.

Back to Boston tomorrow... it's going to be quite a culture shop after spending a month playing outdoors!

Now I just need to figure out where my next bike trip will be...

Alberta: Waterfowl to Mt. Kerkeslin campground

Great ride day, interesting people day.

Had a conversation with Helen this morning. She and her tentmate just aren't getting along. In fact, when Helen tries to talk to her, she either looks the other way or walks away. We were sharing a campsite, and I asked her how she was doing as we were both taking down our tents. (I've continued to use my own tent, which I'd arranged to do when I signed up for the trip. That was a good thing, since I've come to like my small but comfortable home away from home.) Helen asked for my advice on how to deal with her tentmate. Unfortunately I couldn't come up with any solutions, but I did suggest that she hang out with me in camp. I have a difficult time understanding why someone would sign up for a trip like this when they clearly don't like being around other people. I know that I tend to be somewhat of a loner. I also know that I am different and tend to "march to my own drummer" - but when I come on a trip like this I do it to see new places, meet new people, and generally explore.

Back to the ride. A challenging day, starting with some down and flats. We rolled through Saskatchewan River Crossing, which is at the intersection of Icefield Parkway and Highway 11 heading to the east. There is a big visitor center / gift store there - right in the middle of nowhere. A good place for a rest room stop! Then about a third of the way through the day's ride we started up Sunwapta Pass. Just before the uphill started, I stopped for a brief rest and some food. Just as I was turning back onto the road I saw a horse van with a window in the side. It appeared that the horse was standing diagonally in the van, and he was riding with his head out the window. That made me laugh! Unfortunately, it happened too fast for me to grab a photo.

Just as the uphill started, you could see the bottom 1/2 to 1/3 of the pass - an uphill heading to the left at about a 6% grade. This was followed by a flat section and a turn to the right, then a section of 8 to 10% grade. After that it eased up a bit but continued uphill. It was about a 6 mile hill. I was very glad not to have my panniers on the steep part. I believe I still would have been able to ride it, but it would have taken me much longer. As it was it took me about an hour to do the hill. I think it was the 2nd hardest pass on the trip. I still think that Logan Pass was the hardest.

I stopped at the visitor center at Columbia Ice Fields. The wind up there was very cold - cooling the temperature as it blows across the ice. The visitor center could have been fascinating but was pretty gross because of the hordes of people. Grant's description of it as "like an airport" was apt. The visitor center is up on a hill, overlooking the ice field on the other side of the road. I took a quick look around, then joined part of the group at a picnic table outside for lunch. Had to put on my layers while I was sitting there, but they came off again as soon as I started riding.

I'll need to come back here again, and stay either at the hotel at the visitor center or at the campground just up the road from here. I've been told that the visitor center totally empties out by about 5pm, but it stays open. ( I did return to the visitor center in the fall of 2000 during a hiking trip. In fact, a few of the pictures above are from my 2000 hiking trip, not the 1998 bike trip... I stayed at the hotel at the visitor center for one night, so I had the opportunity to browse through the exhibits at the visitor center without hordes of people around, and more importantly to watch the light changes over the ice field at sunset and sunrise - beautiful. There's a campground just up the road too, so access to this beautiful place is available in the quiet part of the day to folks who don't want to spend the money for a hotel room.)

Columbia Icefield is the largest icefield outside of the polar regions. The melt water from it feeds 3 oceans. It is considered to be one of 2 hydrologic apexes in the world (the other is in Siberia), with rivers out of the glacier feeding the Arctic, Atlantic, and Pacific Oceans.

The visitor center is at mile 44 of today's ride, 43 more to go. Luckily the rest of the ride was mostly downhill and flat, since there was a headwind on a good part of it.

We're at a fairly primitive campground tonight. There was a hand pump for water, and pit toilets. I attempted to bathe in the river, which wasn't a great idea because it was very cold (glacial) and full of silt!

Lasagna for dinner - my favorite. After dinner, our fearless Backroads leaders asked each of us to play "show and tell" - they wanted to see one item that each of us had brought with us on the trip that we didn't use. Their was an interesting assortment - from razors, to plastic bags in place of raingear (that person would have been in deep trouble if it had rained!). Mine was my Patagonia Puffball pullover (a synthetic fill jacket that stuffs into it's own pocket). I bought the jacket for this trip when I was trying to find something warm but light for the cold evenings & nights at Glacier and here that just didn't happen. I don't regret bringing it with me - I really thought that I would need it!

I put the panniers back on the bike for my ride to Jasper tomorrow. Most of the group is going rafting in the morning. There are a couple of people who plan to ride, but I want to get an earlier start since I need to pack my bike before catching the train in Jasper.

Monday, August 10, 1998

Alberta: Lake Louise to Waterfowl Campground

We woke to clear skies this morning. The smoke from the fires in BC has finally disappeared. Hopefully that means that the fires are under control.

We had a visitor at breakfast. I'm sure this bird thought that he could supplement his diet with some people food!

I repeated yesterday's trip across Kicking Horse Pass, but opted not to go out to the spiral tunnels again with Craig. I'm glad I stuck with the regular long option today the distance was enough for once!

Icefield Parkway seems to get more beautiful as we ride north. The ride today started in the trees. The beginning of Icefield Parkway wasn't spectacular because it was so tree-lined you couldn't see the mountains. It started to open up by Hector Lake - and turned absolutely beautiful. The clear skies definitely help too.

Bow Summit wasn't a bad hill, but we had a wicked headwind almost all of the way up. The last 12 miles of the ride were downhill, which was really nice in spite of the very rough road surface. The section from Bow Lake up to the summit was pretty amazing. Comparing parks I think Glacier / Waterton is still my favorite. But this one is getting nicer as we move further into it.

I stopped just after Bow Summit at the Peyto Lake overlook. There were two sets of parking lots - one for cars which was away from the actual overlook, and one for buses which was right next to the overlook. I guess the assumption is that there are less fit individuals riding the buses (but who knows?!). I left my bike locked to a fence in the car parking lot, then walked uphill to the overlook, of course in my stiff biking shoes. Not the best shoes for hiking but I was too lazy to carry a 2nd pair of shoes on the bike for the odd short walk. I've been riding with a single pannier to hold extra layers, food for the day, tools, etc. I took the pannier with me on my walk, since I'd been warned about the birds that hang out in this area. It seems that the birds will go into anything to get food, and while I wouldn't mind so much if they figured out how to properly open the panniers, I didn't want them poking a hole in it! Anyway, back to the lake... it was a steep but short uphill walk to the overlook. Peyto Lake is an absolute gem. It's a stunning color of blue, the gift of glacial silt. The overlook is so high above the lake that you can see the streams coming from the glacier into the lake.

It's been interesting watching group dynamics and riding. There are several of us who are very comfortable riding alone, but there seem to be big groups who are either making sure there is someone with them at all times, or making plans to meet for breaks at specific spots. I find it interesting partially because I've always been comfortable riding alone. I am much more comfortable going at my own pace than trying to ride at someone else's pace, regardless of whether the other person's pace is faster or slower. I am enjoying having people to talk to in the evenings and when I take a break from riding, but I've developed the habit of talking to total strangers whenever I stop. That was from my 3 weeks on my own. I haven't stopped that habit since I joined the group. It's definitely a good way to learn about other people.

I noticed tonight that being in a large group is starting to be a bit wearing. I shouldn't be surprised. Even when I was on my own and sharing campsites and dinners, it was good to be totally on my own every couple of nights. I've retired to my tent early (9pm, not that early for me) to write and to read for a while before sleeping.

Sunday, August 9, 1998

Alberta: Lake Louise loops

It was pretty cold last night. I think I'm finally seeing some normal weather here! It was really hard to peel myself out of the sleeping bag this morning. I had a lot of layers on at breakfast, but it was quite warm once the sun hit.

I decided to ride and not hike today. I started by riding up to Moraine Lake. I stood by the lake and talked with Steve for a while. It's a pretty popular place. The parking lot was wall to wall cars. The lake is gorgeous, and an amazing shade of blue. Next I headed to Lake Louise. The walkways along the "close-in" part of the lake were absolutely mobbed with people, but I'm sure once you start hiking any distance that it would clear out. This lake is an amazing color too - different from Moraine Lake, but they are both pretty. I took some pictures, but I doubt if the pictures will do it justice.

I rode over Kicking Horse Pass to the Spiral Tunnels. It was interesting ride down because of a very strong headwind. I'm really glad I went over there. Yoho Valley is gorgeous. I think I could actually spend more time exploring there, which means that I'm going to have to come back again. I didn't see a train in the tunnels, but the exhibit was interesting. I stayed there for a good 45 minutes, no train. Since I didn't know the freight train schedule, I figured it was time to leave. The spiral tunnels were built to "fix" a problem they were having with trains - the engines (boilers) were blowing up going uphill, and trains were derailing going downhill - because of the steep grade. The solution was a spiral tunnel to cut the grade. If there is a train going through you can see it going into one end of the tunnel and coming out of the other (at the same time).

It was an easy ride back to Lake Louise from the tunnel viewpoint. I was the first one back in camp - not too surprising because everyone else was going hiking and canoeing. I feel pretty good that I was able to conjure up longer riding options for myself on the two short mileage days. Hiking just didn't appeal to me today, and I really feel like I had a rest - and an easy day - in spite of the 42 miles. I've been pretty careful about letting the Backroads leaders know where I'd be so they wouldn't think they'd lost me, and they don't have a problem with my wandering.

A little red squirrel just came over to me - he stood up and looked at me. When I asked him what he wanted and told him I wasn't going to feed him people food, he turned around and went the other way. (Yes, I do talk to animals!)

It's been interesting being with a group but still doing my own thing. There are a couple of other people in the group who seem to be avid cyclists - but they aren't up to the same level of intensity or drive that I am. Except for Craig, who is too intense even for me! But people have been really nice, and it's been good to have a built-in group of people to talk to.