Day 14 | July 11 | Banff to Calgary | 148 km

A light rain overnight leaves wet tents and wet roads to start the day. We have a long ride ahead of us today; it won’t be an easy finish by any means.

Just a few minutes from the campground is a new bike path that runs parallel to the highway. It’s a huge improvement from a safety perspective and significantly reduces the chance of flat tires from road debris. I’d love to see one in Saint John someday.

I stay on the bike path until Canmore where I switch to Highway 1A with a strong headwind. I catch up to Mike about 10 km later and we take turns drafting off one another to conserve energy.

Farmland is about all we see for hours on end with very little traffic. The headwind doesn’t let up and I’m starting to wear down rather quickly.

Even though we’re fairly close to Calgary, there is hardly anywhere to stop on this route. We finally spot a gas station after 83 km and take a quick break at the picnic table.

In an attempt to increase my calories, I’ve started eating chickpeas straight out of the can with a spoon. Or in the case of today, straight out of a sandwich bag. They’re surprisingly satisfying.

We stop in Cochrane just 20 km later for a longer break and meet up with Fred at the Tim Hortons. He joins us from that point on and the three of us stick together to battle the relentless headwind.

With only 30 km to go, our paceline grows even stronger when Charles latches on. Then we come to the last big hill of the day. There isn’t much left in my legs after working the paceline, but I’m so eager to reach the top that the pain becomes secondary.

When we finally reach our destination, the University of Calgary, it’s hard to believe that we’re finished. Hours, days and weeks on the bike – done. As difficult as it was at times, I’m glad I had the chance to experience it with such a fantastic group of people.

I’ll always remember this trip. Thanks for coming along for the ride.

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Day 13 | July 10 | Lake Louise to Banff | 65 km

Today is our shortest day of the whole trip, and it happens to be my favourite day because we get to ride the Bow Valley Parkway. If you’ve never been, it’s worth the trip. It’s a 50 km stretch of rolling hills with incredible scenery.

Even the TransCanada is picturesque in this region.

I reach Tunnel Mountain Campground shortly after 1, pitch the tent one last time and hop on a shuttle bus to spend the rest of the afternoon wandering around Banff.

Tonight is all about spending one last evening with this truly awesome group of cyclists. Tomorrow we are Calgary bound.

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Day 12 | July 9 | Sunwapta Pass to Lake Louise | 130 km

It’s only 4C when I get up this morning, hardly a good day to go biking. It’s easy to forget that it’s July from this vantage point. It’ll be nice to get back to a lower altitude where the weather is more likely to be bike-friendly.

A light rain is a familiar way to start the day. I’m already freezing cold when I leave camp at 7:30, but at least the temperature is above zero or we’d have to think about black ice too.

Twenty minutes later I start a 9 km descent which is quite steep in spots. Normally I love going downhill, but on a wet road with tight turns, I have to keep my hands on the cold metal brake levers, no matter how uncomfortable it gets. Crashing at 50 km/h would be much, much worse.

The wet roads continue all the way to our first food stop at 48 km. From there, it is mostly flat or downhill until Bow Pass, a steep 7 km climb that seems to last forever.

I’m plodding along in my smallest gear all the way to the summit, picking small landmarks along the way to make my progress seem more real. Drivers offer friendly honks of support as they pass by.

Just ahead of me are Mike, Fred, Jim and Charles. We pull in to Bow Glacier for a quick break a few minutes later at 88 km.

The last 35 km into camp are fast and mostly downhill. About 5 km from the end I hear another car horn, this time from my brother Dave driving in the other direction. We meet up at the campsite a little later and join the rest of the Calgary clan at Lake Louise.

Lake Louise Campground is unlike any other I’ve seen. It’s enclosed with an electric fence to keep the bears away, sort of like a human zoo. The temperature is supposed to drop again tonight, but it looks okay for tomorrow. Only two more days from here. The end is in sight.

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Day 11 | July 8 | Jasper to Sunwapta Pass | 107 km

Heavy rain and high winds through the night make it tough to get going this morning. There’s a steady drizzle as I pack up the tent and haul on extra layers of clothing. It’s likely to be a very cold, uncomfortable day on the bike.

I struggle to stay warm on the wet, hilly Highway 93. My feet feel like blocks of ice and my hands aren’t far behind. Reaching Sunwapta Falls, the only stop of the day at 53 km, seems like a monumental task.

I walk into the restaurant and see Jim, Travis, Fred, Mike, Harold and Charles sitting by the fireplace. I pull up a chair and join them, waiting for my feet to thaw, as I fumble with my lunch with stiff fingers. At this point, the thought of going back out there is about as appealing as a root canal.

I am huddled by the fire for an hour and a half before I get back on the bike. The cashier at the gift shop provides me with plastic bags for my feet, and I buy a wool hat and mittens since there’s a good chance I’ll need them tonight.

For the next 30 km, there is a crack in the pavement every 6 feet which makes for a rough ride. The bags on my feet make a big difference as the rain comes and goes and there are plenty of great views to distract me from the hills.

After 90 km I get to Sunwapta Pass, a steep 4 km climb and the toughest one of the day. As I approach the summit, the rain turns to hail, and I grind through a stiff headwind the rest of the way to camp.

I arrive cold, wet and tired just as the snow starts falling. Too bad it’s a primitive campground with no electricity, no showers and no indoor plumbing. At an elevation of 7000 feet, my wool hat and mittens will get a lot of use in the next 15 hours.

The wood stove in the cookhouse works wonders for drying wet shoes and lifting our spirits after such a tough day. Jackets, socks and bike jerseys hang from a makeshift clothesline overhead as we devour a delicious meal of burritos and peach cobbler.

Tonight will be the first time I’ve ever worn my shoes to bed. I don’t imagine it will be very comfortable, but in this weather I wouldn’t dare go without them.

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Day 10 | July 7 | Rest Day in Jasper

The campground is pleasantly silent through the night. For the first time there are no trains, no saw mills, and no busy highways within earshot. If I could just patch my air mattress (which has had an unfixable leak since day 2), I’d be sleeping like a log.

At 8:30 I take a cab downtown with Elaine, Anna, Prisca and David. A number of the others are cycling into town, but I’m holding firm to my no-biking-on-a-rest-day rule. Our first destination is the laundromat to get everything washed and ready for the third and final segment of the trip.

From there, we part ways – some go back to the campground, some go to the bike shop, and some just wander. There are lots of ways to put in time in Jasper, and since we’re all meeting for dinner at 6, I figure I might as well stick around.

Nutters, a health food store, is a short walk from the bike shop and carries a good assortment of wheat-free options. And Cafe Mondo, which makes a nice lentil soup, gives me a chance to catch up on my writing.

I spend the rest of the afternoon walking, reading, eating, people watching and having sidewalk conversations with others in our group.

Tonight we’re all meeting at Earl’s, the same chain we went to in Kamloops (which, strangely, seems like weeks ago).

Just four days of cycling to go, and lots of hills between here and Calgary.

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Day 9 | July 6 | Valemount to Jasper | 137 km

I take my time getting out of camp this morning and am one of the last to leave. In terms of distance, it’s a slightly shorter day than yesterday but with a lot more climbing.

We finally get to leave Highway 5 an hour into the ride, switching to Highway 16 eastbound. It’s becoming another beautiful day with blue skies and sunny temps.

I make an impromptu stop at Rearguard Falls when I see this sign. I can hear the rushing water from the road so I figure it can’t be a long walk. It’s a worthwhile visit if you’re ever in the area. Just don’t wear bike shoes if you can help it.

As I continue along Highway 16, Mount Robson comes into view, and it stays in the distance for what seems like quite a while before I get there.

One by one, we pull into the Mount Robson cafe and enjoy an early lunch. There is no where else to stop for the day (unless it’s on the side of the road) and we still have 90 km left. I’m sure those will be some very scenic stretches, but also very challenging as we get into a higher altitude and a warmer day.

Frankly, I’m still tired from yesterday’s ride, so I’m going to have to chip away at this distance one piece at a time. We’re lucky to have clear skies today. The views are spectacular.

I’m starting to feel really worn out after 90 km with 47 km left to go. My skin is baking under the hot sun. The hills are long and the wind keeps changing direction, from headwind to tailwind to crosswind and back again.

Then I see one particular sign that brings a big smile to my face, and gives me a renewed energy to continue.

Whistlers Campground is big and complicated. I arrive feeling so depleted that I don’t have the energy or the patience to ride around in circles looking for our truck, and I’m already wishing we were closer to town. In any case, we’re all here now so we’ll have to make do among the elk.

This evening we’re celebrating making it through one more segment of the trip. Tomorrow is a rest day here in Jasper and I’m looking forward to wandering about and seeing the sights.

I also have to do something about this silly tan.

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Day 8 | July 5 | Vavenby to Valemount | 168 km

Today is our longest day of the trip and the forecast is saying hot and sunny. All the more reason to leave early. With no tent to take down, I breeze through my morning routine and I’m the first out of camp.

I leave just before 7 on the mostly flat Highway 5. There’s no need to look at today’s route map more than once as there’s no danger of getting lost. Turn right out of Vavenby, follow Highway 5 for 168 km, and turn right into the next campground.

It’s still cool at this hour and there’s much less traffic. This is the only road from Kamloops to Jasper so it’ll be full of trucks and RVs before long.

About 28 km into my ride, 63-year-old Harold passes me in his aerobars. Harold is known to be a tad competitive, so when he saw me up ahead I’m sure he couldn’t help but reel me in. Harold is incredibly strong. He certainly doesn’t let his age hold him back.

Once I catch up to him, I latch onto his wheel and we take turns drafting off one another, hammering the pedals as far as Avola at 43 km.

There are only two places to stop on this route, Avola being one of them, so I pull in to the convenience store while Harold continues on. I sit on the curb with a bag of roasted potato wedges – last night’s leftovers – trying to avoid speaking to the guy who owns the store. Our route map actually has a note on it saying that he “may not be welcoming to cyclists” so go in at your own risk, essentially.

He doesn’t give me a hard time, but then I’m the first of our group to come through. I’m sure I’ll hear plenty of stories at the campground tonight.

Lots of long, gradual hills make for slow going north of Avola, but it’s all worth it for the scenery.

My next (and last) stop of the day is in Blue River at 83 km. Just moments after I arrive at the Husky convenience store/restaurant, David, Jim and Travis come in and join me.

The ride is only half done at this point, and there’s nowhere else to stop for the next 85 km. I top up my water bottles and hit the road as they’re finishing up, wondering how hot it’s going to get in the next few hours.

Fortunately the road flattens out for the second half with very few hills. The saddle starts feeling really uncomfortable and I still have 50 km to go. I try and distract myself by taking pictures.

That only works for a little while. With just 10 km to go, I want to get off the bike so badly that I go as fast as I can on the last stretch.

I finally arrive sunburned, sore and ready for a nap.

There are red ants crawling everywhere when I pitch my tent. Not exactly ideal, but right now I’m too tired to care.

We have another long day on the schedule for tomorrow so it’ll be an early night for me. Tomorrow we reach Alberta.

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