Great Parks North II

July 22 - August 6, 2006

story, photos and page design by Lamar Martin

Another awesome Adventure Cycling Ride

I am tempted to say that this was my best trip ever, but that would mean better than Alaska, Utah, Oregon, Cycle Montana, the Blue Ridge Parkway, the Natchez Trace, NY, France and Belgium, Costa Rica, et al, all great rides! So, Iíll just say it was wonderful and extremely rewarding both physically and spiritually. The  scenery was absolutely fantastic! I feel blessed beyond measure, especially for the great friends made on this 650-mile self-contained ride through 5 national parks including Jasper, Banff, Kootenay, Waterton and Glacier National Parks. Forest fires threatened to detour us from Glacier National Park, and just 2 days before our planned arrival, the town of St. Mary had been evacuated and the Going to the Sun Highway was closed. Thankfully, they opened it back the next day and we were very fortunate to be allowed to follow the original itinerary.

Many of our group of 13 riders had been on other Adventure Cycling Expeditions and Excursions, including Leo and Sue, our beloved tour leaders, and the only couple in our mix. Briefly, our band of pedalers consisted of Ron, a high school English teacher from Connecticut, who met and carpooled with Jenna, an 8th grade Spanish teacher also from Connecticut. Cheryl and Chuck from Oregon had survived a Southern Tier crossing together, along with Ron. The 3 of them reunited for this ride. We had two Chris's in our group, one from San Antonio and  one from Lake Tahoe, both very experienced tourists having cycled in New Zealand & Europe, as well as Trans-America rides in the US. "California Chris," as he became known, was my riding partner for most of the 650 miles, as we rode about the same pace. By coincidence, we both have bicycles with S&S Machine Couplings, and soft-sided bike cases, although his is a fully tricked out Touring bike from Co-Motion and mine is the Tourlite model from Bilenky. Charles from CA rode a Gold Rush recumbent with a BOB trailer, while Cheryl rode a "Lance Bike", i.e. a carbon fiber Trek road bike, and pulled a Burley Nomad trailer, just like mine, for her gear. No one could keep up with Cheryl who typically rides 12,000 miles per year. The rest of the gang included Lance from Washington State, Liam from DC and Janet from CO. Everyone was fun and interesting with not a complainer or troublemaker in the whole bunch.

Every single day was filled with awe inspiring views of mountains, rivers, lakes, waterfalls and wildlife, all bearing witness to the glory of creation and the Creator. Our journey lasted but 14 days, including our two layover days. We hated to see the end approaching and granted our wishes, it would have continued for weeks more. On our first rest day, at Lake Louise in Banff, Jenna, Liam, Lance, Ron and I opted to bicycle to Moraine Lake, the brilliant turquoise beauty in the slideshow below. From there we enjoyed a sweet hike to see Eiffel Lake in the Valley of Ten Peaks. The Park Rangers advised no hiking on this particular trail unless in a group of 6 or more because of bears. We fudged just a little, and no bears attacked. Afterward we rode to Lake Louise, then back to town for dinner. Our first rest day added 25 miles of biking and 7 miles of hiking to our totals.

Days 7 & 8 challenged us with two 70+ mile days back to back, the second of which seemed like a vacation compared to the first. Day 7 from Radium Hot Springs to Wasa was 72 miles with a headwind that fought us every inch of the way. A conservative guess is the wind averaged 20-25 mph with gusts up to 40 or more that often made it necessary to pedal downhill to achieve 9 mph. My adrenaline was boosted when I found myself between two wildfires, which I thought threatening because of the powerful wind and the havoc it creates with forest fire. Having made it safely beyond the fires I felt some relief, and actually hoped that the clouds that were forming around us would bring some rain to help the firefighters. Alas, with 3 miles to go, the clouds loomed black on the horizon and just as the first drops fell on California Chris and I, we reached the store near Wasa Lake. We put on our serious rain gear but by the time Sue and I shopped for dinner, breakfast and lunch foods, the sun was shining again. You know how, on the surface, a thing seems really bad, but then it turns out to be really good? Well, the campground was full, and we were too beat to go on, so that's bad right? No! IT WAS GREAT! Because of that, we got to camp in the overflow camping area right next to Wasa Lake. No RV's, no hard ground or gravel, a very beautiful lake, running water, picnic tables, close to facilities, it doesn't get much better than that one. So, the hardest day of the ride, with my Average Speed for the 9+ hours in the saddle just over 8 mph, I have to admit was a day I will never forget and one that presented me with 4 of the photos in the slideshow below. Wow! I had never, in person, seen a helicopter fly down to pick up a load of water to dump on a fire! Stunning photo, eh?

Our second layover day was at Waterton Village in Waterton/Glacier National Park, and all I can say is wow! Many of us took a lazy day and enjoyed a boat tour of Waterton Lake, all the way to the US. Did you know they clear cut a swath about 30 ft wide through the forest between the US and Canada? According to our boat tour guide, they do, and it was certainly plain to see this national border from the shore line on both sides of Waterton Lake, running up the steep mountain slopes skyward.

The ride from Waterton to St. Mary exceeded any other day's total elevation climbed, with about 3300 feet for the 45 mile ride. It was on one of those long Montana hills shortly after crossing the border from Alberta Canada to the US that I had my most harrowing experience. I usually rode with California Chris but on this leg I set out with Liam. I couldn't keep up with him on the climbs and found myself all alone, or so I thought, on a road where the forest is dense and comes very close to the pavement on both sides. Just a couple of miles before this, I rode past a car and a pickup truck stopped on the side of a similar long climb. When I saw what they were looking at it scared me and made me angry that no one in those vehicles tried to warn me that I was about to cross between them and a good sized grizzly bear. Well, that grizzly was just eating and minding his own business and never even noticed me. Still, I said a dirty word out loud when I saw what they were taking pictures of! Hadn't they seen all the books in the Park stores about bear maulings? Now, 15 minutes later, creeping up another long steep grade at about 5 mph, head down, mindlessly pedaling my bicycle with loaded trailer very quietly up a hill, there were no cars or other bicyclists anywhere in sight; I wasn't even there at the moment. It was the undeniable crunching of limbs on the ground that brought me back to the woods. I looked to see a full grown grizzly bear 25 feet from me, watching me struggle up the hill. I watched to see if he was going to charge and I believe that if he had moved one paw toward me I would have had a heart attack. Even with my heart racing to new territory, the legs couldn't squeeze more than 6.5 mph out of the pedals. The bear spray I was carrying was buried under my lunch in my pannier, my body was doing all it could do, and I was at the mercy of Mr. Grizzly and God. Thankfully, the bear decided I was not a threat and allowed me to pass through his space unharmed.

Okay, so check here for the slide show, which includes 48 of my favorite pictures from over 600 taken. Better yet, take 20 minutes to watch the Great Parks North slide show at then enter lamar955 in the Browse Member Collection block. That is a much better show.


Great Parks North II, July 22-August 6, 2006 Group Photo

Sitting, L-R: Chuck, Jenna, Lance, Texas Chris
Standing, L-R: Ron, Charles, California Chris, Janet, Cheryl, Sue, Lamar, Liam, Leo

Click here for high resolution copy of this image.

Go to slide show

If you enjoy this song half as much as I do, you will want to know where I borrowed it from. The song is Little Piece of my Heart from the album Gum Tree Canoe by the late John Hartford. The Janis Joplin recording of Little Piece of my Heart was always my favorite JJ song and what John Hartford does with it is just about as awesome as this bike ride. If you are using Netscape you won't get to hear the song, ahhh.