Monday, August 29, 2011

Lake Louise – Banff National Park

Although it took just a little over an hour, the drive from Golden to Lake Louise, Alberta, was spectacular. The road followed the Kicking Horse River through Yoho National Park and the grandeur of the Canadian Rocky mountains. We arrived mid-morning at Lake Louise trailer campground because we had no reservation and wanted to maximize the chance of getting one of the 1st come 1st serve sites. In this we were successful as there were plenty available.

So we settled in to one of their funny back-to-back sites, where pairs of campers share a common site but face opposite directions. Oddly, whomever laid out these sites placed the electrical boxes such that virtually every camper had to stretch their cord under their rig and across their picnic area to the box. Many chose to pull in the wrong way to resolve this. Very awkward. Our cord was long enough to reach while facing the right way, so it worked out OK for us.

The icy cold and turquoise green Bow River flows right through the campground, and the trail along the river was a great place to walk or ride our bikes, with Mount Temple dominating the horizon.

This Canadian National Park allows bikes on many of the trails and dogs on all, although they are discouraged in areas frequented by bears. I wish our NPS adopted these policies. On the other hand, Banff NP is quite expensive, nearly $20/day for the two of us, whereas ours range from $0 to $25/carload/seven days. Anyway, we had a great stay at Lake Louise, and enjoyed perfect weather. The dogs loved hanging out by the river, able to wade in to cool off whenever the mood struck.

The presence of bears in the area is a popular topic – much of the signage concerns how to behave in bear country, from how to store food and dispose of waste, to how to react in an encounter and how to ward off an attack. The electric fence surrounding the tent area is testament to the reality of this concern. Around camp its black bears that follow their noses, unable to resist the delightful aromas of open fire cookery. On one of our days rangers chased bears away on three occasions. During one of those instances I was out walking along the river with Toby, on the opposite shore from our camp, and about even with our site. I noticed movement and stopped to look and there was a large black bear right where we had been sitting in the sun with our drinks the night before (where the previous picture was taken)! It drew some heat, however, and as I watched, a ranger pulled up and began to track the bear, shouting to scare it. When he got close he fired a noisemaker over the bear, kind of like a big bottle rocket with the whine followed by a bang. The chase continued out of my sight, but I heard two instances where the ranger fired several shots at the bear, sounding like large pellets fired from an air gun. Pop! Pop! Pop! All this just 100 yards from The Whale! Exciting!

On many of the trails, particularly those farther from the crowds, there is the chance of an encounter with a grizzly bear. This is, or course, more serious, and for this reason hikers are encouraged to make a lot of noise and to carry bear spray (a long range, high volume can of pepper spray). Those trails through the grizzly’s favorite habitats can only be hiked in groups of four or more, and bear spray is required.

There was lots to see and do in the area, not the least of which was the namesake lake. Lake Louise is a deep turquoise color, very opaque and quite striking. It gets its color from rock flour running down the mountainsides from melting snow and glaciers.

It’s a very busy place. An enormous hotel dominates the eastern end, and hordes of guests, tourists and outdoor enthusiasts gather to gaze at this lake in numbers reminiscent of Disney Land. Busloads of Asian sightseers pile out, rush to the lakeside, madly take and pose for photographs, then pile back aboard and rush off to the next viewpoint. It’s quite a scene. But the lake is really gorgeous, and worth elbowing through the crowds for an unobstructed view.

Equally as popular and, in my opinion, even more beautiful, is nearby Lake Moraine. I headed over there by myself to see the lake before it got crowded and hopefully take a hike up above the treeline. I was successful in the former but not the latter. I got there in the nearly frosty cool of the morning, before much wind disturbed the mirrorlike surface of this deeply blue beauty:

Even as I left my vantage point busloads of sightseers arrived and began to pour up the trail to the overlook. I didn’t so much as leave as I did escape! My plan of hiking went astray when I came upon that “Group Access” signage. I had no bear spray, and was lacking three companions. I stood around for a little while hoping a group might come along that was heading for high altitude, but all of the people were just opting for the lakeside stroll. It was not to be.

The Bow River Parkway heads from Lake Louise down to the village of Banff, of the Banff Mountain Film Festival fame. This was a nice, leisurely drive for 50km or so, with opportunities for landscape and wildlife viewing. The standout moment for us was when we came alongside a pair of male Bighorn Sheep. They trotted along the road for a while, then stopped when they came to their favorite piece of ground for foraging. Here they alternately pawed the earth for food and sparred with one another. It was amazing to watch them lock horns and butt heads in mock battle!

We paid a visit to Banff, a picturesque mountain resort town, it’s main street a busy row of outfitters, souvenir shops, cafes and restaurants.

A little further down the road and outside of the park boundary was the town of Canmore. This town had been favorably described by numerous Canadian campers that we’d run into in our travels. Unlike Banff, this is a real town where regular people live and work. It has much of the mountain charm of Banff, but without feeling contrived, and not as pretentious.

Another outing we took was up the Icefields Parkway, leading north from Lake Louise towards Jasper. Along this road are one fabulous mountain vista after another. We were particularly interested to see the Crowsfoot glacier:

And enjoyed a nice hike to an overlook over beautiful Peyton Lake:

A pretty magical place, this Banff National Park. The scenery there is among the most stunning that we’ve seen. Perfect weather, almost no insects, great hiking, biking and wildlife – a tough act to follow. Stay tuned to see how our own Glacier, Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks stack up.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Across British Columbia

Travelling, wandering, meandering across the province of British Columbia we experienced some of the diversity of its nature. From Whistler’s snow-capped mountains and coniferous forests we drove east, through high mountain passes…

…watching the landscape morph into a dry, almost desert-like prairie, reminiscent of parts of Colorado or northern New Mexico. Trees became scarce, replaced by scrubby cedars and, mostly, sagebrush. Only in the streambeds would there be vivid green. We stopped for a few nights at a campground in Cache Creek, where Nancy could take advantage of a decent WiFi signal. Right behind the campground were miles of dusty trails over prickly grasslands, plateaus and rolling hills. We walked the dogs there daily. Well, walked Toby & wheeled Kinsey.

At camp, the aspens watched over us:

When it was time to move again we kept on trucking east, planning to camp in a little lakeside town called Sicamous (The houseboat capital of the world?). But…we didn’t make it. After a few hours driving on a hot summer day we came to the Swiss/Canadian town of Salmon Arm. As we rolled through we noticed a lakefront water park that advertised RV sites. Somehow the idea of throwing on swimsuits and shooting down twisty waterslides appealed to us both at that moment, so we turned in there, parked at a site, and did just that. It was great fun and very refreshing on what was one of the hottest days of our summer in the north country.

The next day we drove again. The waterpark RV site served its purpose, but wasn’t anyplace we wanted to stay for multiple days. A few hours further east landed us in the town of Golden, situated on the Columbia and Kicking Horse rivers, in the valley cut by these, and between the Columbia and Rocky mountain ranges. On the way we drove through Canada’s Glacier National Park, and were awed by the vistas of Roger’s Pass:

The town of Golden maintains a municipal park and campground. We were lucky to get a site with electricity, but unfortunately it was only an old 15 amp outlet which the camp manager said could only deliver about 10 amps. So…no air conditioner – bad news on a hot day. We managed by running fans, and it cooled off overnight, making the rest of our stay comfortable without any climate control.

Speaking of no A/C, during our drive to Golden the truck didn't have any either. No air of any temperature would emerge from the vents. So, my first task while at Golden was to take too much of the truck's dashboard apart trying to get to the fan. I finally got it, discovering just how easy it could have been if I'd only known how. The fan was stuck, but spun again with my help, and spins like new now that it's gotten a dose of lube. Problem solved!

The Kicking Horse river rushed by just a dozen or so yards from our site, providing some nice white noise for us and white water for the daily raft trips which floated by.

The sound of the rushing river wasn’t enough, however, to cover the rumble and clatter of the frequent trains that roll by just across the river. Golden is some kind of rail hub, so there was almost always something going on over on the tracks. We enjoyed our stay there, though. Bighorn sheep traversed the banks above the tracks, and a multi-use trail followed the riverbank through camp and meandered all through town, so we could get around by bicycle.

Up on the mountain side there was Kicking Horse Mountain bike park, but I’d gotten my downhill thing on at Whistler, so I opted to ride some of the town’s excellent single track cross country trails instead. I had a really great ride at the Moonraker trail system, particularly enjoying long sections built on a slight downward pitch, providing pedal-free cruising. Of course what goes down must come up, so I did my share of climbing as well, but it was well worth it. The only issue I had was with mosquitoes – stop for just seconds and I’d be covered in the winged bastards despite my ample coating with DEET. We have, by the way, up ‘till arriving in Golden, been enjoying a virtually bug-free existence. Not since we left Georgia in January have we had to deal with biting insects. Even here in BC, at Vancouver, Whistler, Cache Creek and Salmon Arm we had none. Golden has had us reaching for the OFF, keeping the screen door closed, and even setting up our outdoor screen room.

Next stop: Banff National Park. Should be a good one!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011


Our next stop was identified scant seconds after our trip was conceived over a year and a half ago. Whistler's Bike Park is world renowned, and the quality of the downhill trails there are the inspiration for other bike parks the world over. I've been dreaming of testing my mettle on that mountain for years.
The drive up from Surrey was beautiful once we broke free of the traffic and congestion around Vancouver. The highway, cut into the steep coast mountains, passed by Lions Bay and Furry Creek, turquoise waters dotted with white sails. The landscape called to mind the fjords of Norway. Along the way we puzzled over the signs for Squamish and Whistler. How do you pronounce the letter 7?

Our campground was perched high above the valley floor, giving us a commanding view of Whistler Mountain and it's neighbors:

After getting settled in we drove up to Whistler Village to pay too much for groceries and check out the resort scene. The place was hopping, crawling with an eclectic mix of tourists, those there to be seen and to shop, and those there to partake in the plethora of outdoor sports. The do-ers and the posers. Also to be seen were the young action sports crowd, most of whom work in the shops to pay for their Ramen noodles, lift tickets and bike parts.

The next day was cool and mostly cloudy, so I postponed the downhill riding a day. The rain held off, so I headed in to town to check out some of the many, many miles of single track. I had a great ride on the excellent trails accessible right from the Village. Trails with great names including "The Torture Never Stops", "Johnny Can't Read", "Pinocchio's Furniture" (awesome), "Donkey Puncher" and "Gee I Like Your Pants". An amusing trail name somehow adds to the pleasure of a ride. Reminds me of some trails back home which we call "Puke Hill", "MegaWatt's Rampage", "Broken Toe", and, of course, "Don's Left Nut".

Here I am on some of Pinocchio's Furniture:

Okay, those of you who are un-enlightened to the pure joy and overall well being that mountain biking has to offer, who stay inside on sunny days and take on the pasty hue of a computer monitor, consider yourself warned that the balance of the rest of this post will enthusiastically describe my experience downhill mountain bike riding at Whistler.

I aired up my tires, topped off the shocks, checked the brake pads, dropped the seat and angled it back. The Remedy was as ready for Whistler as it could be. Then I donned my full-face helmet, goggles, full-finger gloves, elbow/forearm pads and knee/shin pads. I was as ready for Whistler as I could be. Grabbed a lift pass and map and headed to the top of the Fitzsimmons Zone, Whistler's lower and drier half.

I skipped the easiest trails, although I appreciate that they exist as they make the mountain fun for riders of all levels. I chose for my first run the intermediate level upper and lower Crank It Up trails. Wow! After just a couple of turns down hard-packed washboard, around high banked turns and over tabletop jumps I knew that intermediate was My Level! It took most of that descent to re-learn how to set up for these big features, to guide the bike through its airborn arc, to lean with confidence and speed along the wall of a nearly vertical banked turn... Heart pounding I made it safely back to the bottom. Here I am on one of the elevated wooden sections of trail:

My next few runs I kept to the intermediate trails: B-Line, Karate Monkey, Ninja Cougar and Samurai Pizza Cat. My confidence grew and I began to clear some of the tabletop jumps. My speed through the turns went up as I honed my entry and exit technique. The Remedy and I came to an understanding and we pushed harder, spending less and less time in contact with mother earth. And then, it was time: A-Line. Here I am about to take the plunge on this world-famous black diamond flow trail:

Well, uh, gee, how do I describe...Okay, I can't really describe how it feels to ride A-Line, but I can say that I understand why this trail is so famous. It was a bit out of my league, but an adrenaline rush and total blast to ride nonetheless. Whatever skills I thought I'd reacquired on Crank It Up and B-Line weren't enough for me to do justice to A-Line. The tabletops and gap jumps were much bigger, the turns banked higher and demanding a faster rate of speed. That my all-mountain Remedy stood up to that kind of abuse is impressive. I rode this trail several times, but I was hanging on for dear life every second. I had a few of those hair-raising landings, too much on the front wheel, visions of imminent bloody impact flashing, miraculously avoided... More skilled riders on big-travel bikes would overtake me, I'd pull over to let them pass, and watch them sail past, touching ground just long enough to set up the next air. Amazing. If I am ever lucky enough to ride Whistler again I'd like to take on A-Line on a full-blown downhill rig. But hot-damn, that there was a crazy overstuffed big ol' bag-o-fun! Watch this video of A-Line.

Here are some other riders carving up the last few turns at the bottom:

And some other guys showboating the imposing jumps for all to see:

Never did see anyone take on that monster drop through the chalet on the left.

It was a good thing that I took to the single track on the day before I rode downhill, because a full day of Whistler downhill and I feel like I got hit by a truck. I hobble around like an old man, my gluts and thighs in pain, my shoulders aching, my triceps and forearms sore. It's gonna take a week to recover from those runs. An amazing experience, though, one I wish I could have shared with my two-wheeled friends back home. (Especially Captain & The Goat - we gotta ride there together someday. Soon - while at least one of us is young!)

Lastly, camp life was enhanced by several visits from denizens of the great north woods:

Mostly we saw black bears at a comfortable distance, but while walking Toby down a forest road right near camp we were startled by a low bark and looked up to see a young bear clinging to the trunk of a tree just off the track. Obviously upset by our proximity, it was warning us to stay away. We backed away and it dropped to the ground and ran away. Nice.

Monday, August 15, 2011


Into Canada! The border crossing was quick and painless, the only questions being “Where are you from?” “How long will you be in Canada?” and “What do you do for a living?” No queries about produce, alcohol or firewood, so no need to employ any tiny white lies :) We made our way into the congestion and traffic of Surrey, British Columbia, and found our campground, Tynehead RV Camp. Very tight spaces, but quiet, especially considering its proximity to Highway 1.

Adjacent to the campground was Tynehead Regional Park, which was great for walking the dogs as they have a large tract designated “leash optional”. Toby enjoyed socializing with lots of new friends, while Nancy and I picked wild blackberries. But the reason that we stopped here was to visit the city of Vancouver. We did our usual afternoon & evening jaunt into the city, keeping our time away from dogs down to six or seven hours. Getting into the city proved to be challenging. I skipped the highway entrance closest to camp because of the stop & go traffic that I observed from the overpass. Mistake. I then spent the next 20 minutes searching for another route, Garmin constantly trying to lead me to on ramps that no longer exist. I finally navigated down a secondary highway that would eventually get us downtown, but it was an endless commercial zone, slow going and very frustrating. What should have been a 30 minute drive took an hour and a half. My interest in seeing Vancouver was waning quickly, but we got there before it disappeared completely.

We had brought our bikes, having seen on tourist maps of downtown that there is a considerable network of bike paths and lanes. It was a great way to see the city, vastly expanding the area that we explored. Primarily we rode the Seawall trail, which follows the perimeter of the downtown area and huge Stanley Park which occupies nearly a quarter of the peninsula. We rode past the science center, stadium, along the Yaletown district, past countless marinas, under several bridges, along sand beaches, through Stanley Park, along the Coal Harbor district, the Convention Centre, and through the city center. We had dinner at a Thai place on the water, and then rode back to the truck and, this time, had a quick drive back to camp.

So here is a series of photos from our afternoon in the beautiful city of Vancouver, Canada:

The busy river, skyline, arena and, on the right, the Science Centre:

Nancy rides the Seawall trail towards the arena:

Lots of residents enjoying the beautiful weather at the city beach:

Cycling through the forest in Stanley Park:

The most fun looking of the seven weddings we saw in progress during our ride:

The Convention Centre and working waterfront:

The Olympic torch:


Dedicated signal lights for the bike lane through the city:

In the heart of the city:

Friday, August 12, 2011


Rather than do battle on the highways and byways feeding the cities of Tacoma and Seattle, and to shorten our mileage by 100, we chose to take a ferry north to our destination of Anacortes. A short drive from Poulsbo to Port Townsend got us to the ferry terminal, wherefrom we loaded our 53+ feet onto the car deck.

We had glassy seas and a smooth crossing, the ship’s horn blasting at intervals to alert small craft to its presence. Small craft like this beauty:

We rolled off in Coupeville and drove another 45 minutes up through Deception Pass to the Pioneer Trails campground in Anacortes.
Within ½ hour of our arrival our friends Jim and Julie of Imperfect Destiny pulled in. We’d all met back in January in Lake Charles, Louisiana. It was so great that we were able to reconnect in Washington. I cooked up a couple of pizzas and we spent the first of four very pleasant evenings together.

The next day Jim and I pried the girls away from their computers and we all headed on down to town to hop aboard the ferry to San Juan Island. A beautiful archipelago, the San Juans remind me a lot of Maine, covered with coniferous forest and beautiful island homes. Three of the islands are large enough to have several towns and a sustainable farming industry. We drove across the island to Lime Kiln Point state park, walked down to the water and looked for killer whales. The resident pod of orca eluded us that day, but we enjoyed a few hours lounging in the afternoon sun, watching sailboats and kayaks cruise by, and porpoise plying the waters.

Later we went back to busy Friday Harbor, partook in a light meal and some drinks on a rooftop patio, and strolled the docks admiring the beautiful yachts tied up there. On the ferry ride back to Anacortes, Mount Baker hovered over the islands:

The next day I went for a great bike ride on the extensive trail system of the Anacortes Community Forest Lands (ACFL)Trail System. These were the most New-England-esque trails that I’ve come across since we left the northeast. It was nice to tackle trails with a healthy dose of rocks’n’roots. In the afternoon Nancy and I joined up with Jim and Julie and went down to Deception Pass state park, hiking out to a sunny bluff where we basked in the late afternoon sun and contentedly gazed out over Puget Sound. Back at camp J&J prepared tasty fish tacos and beef & bean burritos for our evening meal.

In the morning Jim and I returned to Deception Pass SP with our kayaks and went for a really nice paddle. It was low tide, so the sea-life viewing was excellent. Starfish, kelp beds, pods of baitfish, jellyfish, giant barnacles…

Lastly, we all drove to nearby Mt. Vernon to go to the county fair. Our first order of business was to scarf down greasy delicious fair food, like funnel cakes, sweet potato waffle fries, deep fried cheese curd and soft serve ice cream. Mmmm! Then we wandered around looking…

… at kids showing dogs, kids racing horses, big-balled sheep, earless goats, poofy-headed chickens, and this sow with as many piglets as she had teats! (Heh! Heh! Heh!...He said teats!)

A really excellent week enjoying the company of Jim and Julie. We’re not sure when we’ll meet again, but we are sure that we absolutely must. We very much look forward to it!