Monday, December 05, 2005
(12/05) My lap-top is in the shop. The DVD drive is bad and needs to be replaced. It took ten days to figure it out and it has to be sent out of state to be fixed. It will take a few weeks to get it back, so I will type a new update once I get it back and then post it as quick as I can. That's it for now.
Thursday, November 24, 2005
Into the Swing of Things
(11/25) Things have been unfolding in a similar fashion as they did when I was touring; usually unexpected and unplanned, but most often fun and exciting. I am adjusting to a regular work schedule while also becoming more familiar with Missoula as well as meeting people, making friends and getting more settled at Snowbowl. Although it’s only for a couple of months I am glad to have found such a comfortable situation, as well as a place to stay warm for winter, and have a chance to ski a new mountain. I received my ski gear as well as another bike from Alaska about a week ago (thanks Alisa!) and I’m starting to feel more at home here in Montana. But, unlike when I was touring, most days are now spent working. And trying to get the mountain opened and ready to ski is a lot of work. The days are often long and filled with many tasks but pass by pretty quick. A warm room, a hot shower and a cold beer waits at the end of each day, so things aren’t that bad—actually they are pretty damn good!
Most of the work involves getting the snowcats ready for the season, but there are plenty of other things that need attention also; greasing lift towers, installing T- bars to the T-bar lift, making snow, are among the several lose ends that need to be tied up before opening. Each chore needs as much attention as the next one and, as Murphy’s Law affirms, things very rarely go as smoothly as they are supposed to. For the most part though things are moving along and the ski area is still scheduled to open this Friday (whew-hew!). Along with the other many jobs to finish up before opening this weekend, I am also learning how to operate a snowcat.
There are 4 cats that groom the slopes at Snowbowl and each one has its own personality. Pat, the mountain manager, and Dan, Pats right hand man, are both experienced snowcat operators and seasoned drivers who know the mountain very well. I, as well as Brandon, another new operator, have been getting familiar with the controls on a couple of the cats and learning the way to groom the mountain and move snow around, which sounds a lot easier that it really is. There is a bit of a learning curve to understanding the many different controls of the machines and a lot to pay attention to while operating. The cat that I am training on is pretty touchy and requires a steady hand combined with smooth control movements (huh-huh, he said movements) in order to get it to do what you want it to do. Maneuvering the blade of the cat is bit tougher than I expected it to be and I am learning that snow is a pretty delicate thing to work with. In order to get more familiar with the mountain most of the training is being done during the day. Over the past few days the sun has been strong enough to really influence the texture and condition of the snow. It’s so affected by heat and sunlight that as the day goes on the snow gets a lot harder to work with. After the day heats up the snow it becomes soft, wet and tacky and more complicated to put where you intend it to go. A certain degree of patience is required, as well as many pointers and some instruction from Pat and Dan, but I am getting the hang of it.
Another part of grooming the mountain involves ‘track-packing’ the slopes. In order to get the mountain ready to ski on and lay down a nice ‘corduroy’ groom, the snow is driven over with the snowcat. The huge tracks of the snowcat churn up the snow and crumble it, making it easier to groom. This is actually pretty easy once you get the hang of the controls. However, the slopes at Snowbowl are steep and it’s a little butt-puckering once you point the huge cat over the edge of the slope and the front of it falls off down the other side! It’s an enormous rush of adrenalin as you approach the top of a slope and inch the cat over the side. At first the only thing that is visible is the mountains on the horizon, then in one quick maneuver the cat is plunges over the side and starts going down, down, down the slope! Now once the mountain is opened and winter is in full swing this will be done at night! No shit! It’s a lot of fun once you do it a couple of times and get the hang of how the cat reacts and how to control it. Later on this week I will be learning how to tow a snow-tiller behind the cat in order to put down the groom.
It’s been a great start to the 2005/2006 ski season. I am really enjoying the work at ‘The Bowl’ as well as learning how to operate a new machine. Although most of my time is spent working I have had some other entertaining experiences at the mountain as well as in town. Mark, resident, head of the maintenance at Snowbowl and fellow transplanted Hoosier, has showed me a few of the many different places to eat and hang out in Missoula as well as introduced me to a couple of new faces. I took in the Banff Mountain Film Festival with Mark and his girlfriend Meghan as well and also got to help a couple of co-workers, Paul and Riley, butcher their mule deer’s. Deer and Elk season opened the weekend that I got to Missoula (10/21) and since the season opened, both Paul and Riley got one of each animal. The buck that Paul took, however, was really pretty exceptional. A 15 point Mule Deer that was shot at almost an unbelievable 300+ yards with a .270! Both guys were generous enough to offer up meat to any body that was willing to lend a hand with the processing. I have already made up and eaten a bunch pasta sauce with some of the burger, and still have plenty of burger, steaks and meat to last the rest of the winter!
Well, that’s it for now. I will upload a new blog the next time I can get to town.
Tuesday, November 08, 2005
(11/08) I moved to Snowbowl a week ago today. It was a pretty easy move, and was made easier with the help of my good friend Anne. Considering the amount or lack of stuff that I have to move I was set up in my new, although temporary, digs at the ski hill in a matter of hours. Snowbowl is about 10 miles out of the town of Missoula. It’s a pretty rough and narrow road that twists and climbs almost the entire way out of town. “It was much worse,” I’ve been told by many, “before they/we widened it.”
The past week was the first real week of work that I have had in over 5 months and I was ready to get into it and get my hands dirty. There are plenty of things that need attention around the mountain in order to get things up and running. Equipment has to be checked and repaired, chairlifts have to be inspected, snow has to be made, and then pushed around, etc. I spent much of the time this first week working with Dan, one of the snow cat operators and lead employees, working on and getting to know some of the machines that help run things at Snowbowl. We worked on several projects together and I garnered as much information about the machinery from Dan as I could. Snow continued to fall as the week went on. Projects got done in a timely fashion and by the end of the work week everyone was pitching in and assembling tracks for the snow cats. It’s a pretty big job. Each cat has two sets of tracks and there are about a thousand bolts and nuts that need to be checked on each track to ensure that they are at the right torque. Beside the 2,000 some odd nuts and bolts on the tracks there are other parts that need to be inspected as well. Growlser’s, large, flat steel bars with ice spikes on the outside ends, are bolted to the tracks for better traction on ice and steep slopes. They have to be examined and/or replaced if they are beyond repair. Track belts and tire guides must also be looked over and repaired or replaced as needed. The size and weight of the tracks alone make the job tough and somewhat tedious, but once each track is stretched out, you find a rhythm and things get done relatively quickly.
A Good Place to Plant for Awhile
(11/07) Missoula, Montana. It’s been a fun and productive past couple of weeks here in Big Sky Country. I have been visiting with my good friends Cooper and Anne Burchenell and their three children; Cy, Copeland and Celeste. We spent some time out at Two Creek Ranch—their cattle ranch in Ovando—hiking, cooking, catching up and talking about the many different things that have happened to all of us since everyone left Cincinnati, Ohio years ago. I also hung around their place in Missoula for awhile, deciding the direction of the tour and weighing out some new options. I got to know my way around Missoula a little bit better as well, and met some of the folks who make up part of the towns very eclectic bike culture. There is a big bike presence here and it appears that about every subset of bicycle rider is represented. From hard-core BMX and street-riders to free-riders and trail-riders to roadies and cyclo-crossers to commuters and cruisers, every division of bike rider is fully represented and the townspeople demand that riders and pedestrians have control of the streets. Every car stops for pedestrians and cyclists at crosswalks! I also hung out with Meghan O’Donnell and Tim Killian from Columbia Falls at The Bike Doctor, one of the 5 or 6 bicycle shops in town. They came into town to get a ride in as well as spend the Halloween weekend hanging out with some friends in Missoula.
It’s been a very familiar, comfortable and welcoming feeling since arriving in Missoula, and now that I have secured a job and a place to live through the winter, I will be staying and getting to know the town a little bit better. That’s right! Things have worked out to where I can stay around Missoula for the winter and explore more of the area as well as make some money to help fund the next part of the tour. On a tip from Bob Tutskey, a friend and co-worker of Cooper’s, I got a job at Snowbowl, the local ski area here, just outside of Missoula, as a snow-cat operator. I have already put in over a week working at Snowbowl, getting familiar with the equipment as well as meeting and hanging out with some of the folks that work there and checking out the mountain too. The snow has finally caught up with me and things are really getting white quick. After over two months of trying to stay ahead of it, and passing up other opportunities to explore areas, I figured why not stop and enjoy winter instead of trying to out run it? I love to ride snowboards almost as much as I love to ride bikes, and Snowbowl looks pretty sweet (dude). So updates will be from a slightly different perspective over the next couple of months, that’s all. Well, I suppose that’s it for now. I will write more as things happen! Later (dude).
Thursday, October 27, 2005
Columbia Falls to Missoula
I left early Wednesday morning (10/19) and began chipping away at the 150 miles of road through the Swan River Valley, then over to Missoula after four days hanging around Columbia Falls and Whitefish. The ride started off mostly sunny but soon turned partly sunny before eventually becoming cloudy with long periods of rain, then finally ending up bright and sunny once I rolled into town.
I made my way through the grey, rainy but windless weather, along the scenic highway 83 towards Swan Lake on Wednesday. The landscape as well as landmarks started becoming more and more familiar as I made my along the busy stretch of road. It was 6 years ago when I toured through here with two other friends, and everything remained the same way that I remembered it. More summer homes and sprawling homesteads blemished the memorable surroundings, somewhat, but the towns still remained small, quaint and charming. There were still plenty of beautiful sights to keep my eyes enthralled as I rode deeper into the now increasing grey and vaporous conditions. It wasn’t long, however, until everything was swallowed up by the changing weather and I was left with nothing to entertain my senses. At 2:00 p.m. I decided to call it a day. I rode into the town of Swan Lake in just under 3 hours and covered almost fifty miles. I stopped by some of the places that I remembered from when I passed through here back in ’99. The businesses that I remembered from that time where closed for the season. I snapped a few photos for nostalgia’s sake and then headed to the local watering hole for some relief from the wet weather and to take in the last game in the National League Playoff Series. It was still raining when the game ended and the bar was about to close. At 11:30 p.m. I mounted the bike and pedaled into the rain to a nearby but now closed campground to find a place to sleep for the night. After searching the grounds for almost an hour for a “dry” site I finally gave up and found a small bit of shelter to keep the rain off of me. It wasn’t much but I didn’t care. After I lay down and closed my eyes I was eventually able to fall asleep on the dry asphalt and just as the rain storm increased its tempo.
It was shortly after 6:00 when I got up Thursday morning (10/20) and still raining. I made a bowl of oatmeal, brewed a cup of coffee and sat under the awning and waited as the rising sun tried to burn through the misty clouds of early morning. Before 10 a.m. the rain let up enough for me to validate riding, so down the ‘Swan’ I went. Periods of cold rain mixed with warm sun kept me guessing how to dress and I stopped several times while making my way towards Seeley Lake to add and subtract appropriate pieces of gear. The rain came and went through out the day. Sick of the frequency of stopping I eventually just left my rain gear on and tried to endure the constantly changing weather. I was soaked from the inside out when I reached Condon and took some time off the bike to dry out and eat some food. This must be made clear; things in Montana are cheap. Groceries, lodging and even beer are very affordable when compared to similar commodities up North. I have found that it’s almost as cheap to eat out than buy groceries and cook. The portions you get in every place that I been to are very generous and ample, not to mention made without the hassle of assembling a stove and all of the business that goes along with preparing a meal. This being understood I decided to buy lunch—a huge sandwich and big plate of homemade potato salad, a bag of peanuts, a bottle of Gatorade and a tall-boy of PBR for $8—and hang out awhile as the next wave of rain further drenched the already saturated ground. For two hours I waited. The air got colder as the rain came and went. Finally I had enough and jumped back on the bike and took off into the persistent and drizzling rain.
I rode past a few more familiar places and some significant-to-no-one-else-but-me-and-maybe-two-other-people landmarks. A flood of biter-sweet memories swelled inside of me as I made my way past a baseball field outside of the town of Condon. It was here, over six years ago now, that Joe Moore, Tony Tapay—the two friends I toured this part of the country with back in ’99—and myself decided to camp for the night. It was after a very frustrating day of being somewhat lost on some of the many logging roads that crisscross the backcountry which parallels highway 83. We finally made it out of the bush and got back on the highway then made our way down to the very same grocery store that I just ate at and got some food right before they closed. Tired and very sun burnt we rode out of Condon looking for a campsite. Initially we had planned on making it to Holland Lake, but of course none of planned on getting turned around (which is really just a nice way of saying lost). It was late in the evening and the sun was about to set so we all agreed to stay at this ball field. There is a double track road that goes into the woods behind the baseball field so we followed it hoping to find a place further away from the highway. About a mile down the road we stopped and set up our tents then promptly hit the sack without stringing up our food or doing any of the regular chores we normally did while traveling in bear country. Confident that we were close enough to the road to keep bears away we figured we were safe. Exhausted by the length of the day we immediately hit the sack. About the time each of us were beginning to fall asleep an elk started to bugle. It woke all of us up and demanded that we pay attention. After determining that it wasn’t a bear we all went back to sleep. The next morning we rolled out to the ball field and made breakfast. Joe went to the toilet then came back and asked if we had seen the mutilated deer carcass that was close to where we were eating, maybe 25 yards away. Curious, both Tony and I got up to follow Joe over to where it was for a look. It appeared to be a deer that had been struck by a car, but hunks of the animal were defiantly torn away from it’s now decaying body. Another peculiar thing; the carcass was a good 100 yards away form the road. It was then that we noticed a sign that lay in the weeds close to the dead deer. It was broken off at the post and read: Grizzly Bear Relocation Habitat: Do Not Enter (or something like that/it’s been 6 years). All of us were silent for a quick minute, and then each one of us started laughing! We had just spent the night inside a Grizzly Bear Relocation Habitat and we lived to tell about it! We didn’t take any of the necessary precautions to avoid seeing one, and we thought we were safe because we were close enough to the road, but in our haste to find a place to rest for the night we had foolishly stumbled into a place where ornery bears are released! Man-oh-man was we relieved that it was morning! We joked about it each time we choose a camp site there after and never again did we camp so careless. Good times, good times. Anyway…
I rode on past the Holland Lake turn off and continued to make my way along the main artery towards Seeley Lake. It was there that the rain morphed into a real storm and a down pour fell hard from the sky. I inquired about a cheap room for the night at a bar in town then pedaled over to it for further investigation. It was $30 a night and they even permitted bikes inside the room, so I took it. Given that the night before was wet and pretty restless, not to mention that I was facing the same situation, it was easy to justify parting with the cash. After checking in I cranked the heat, took a shower and watched re-runs of MASH until my eyes felt heavy enough for sleep.
By Friday (10/21) morning the weather changed from grey and rainy to warm and foggy. A thick blanket of hazy vapor enveloped the town of Seeley Lake but promptly burned off as I made my way off of the ‘Swan’ to the junction of highway 200 and revealed big, bright, blue skies that seemed to stretch on forever. I made great time as I rode away from Seeley Lake. When I got to highway 200 I had covered almost 17 miles in under an hour. I felt rejuvenated and strong from a good nights sleep and the day was promising to be a warm and sunny one. I took advantage of the nice weather and rode as fast as I could move the bike towards Missoula. Highway 200 is a pretty easy road to follow west from the junction at highway 83. It has no real climbs, except for one. It actually felt like I was in a constant decent from the top of the one small gradual climb and averaged over 16 mph all of the way into Missoula. There are a few small run-ups that make you grunt a little bit but they are over quick enough to keep them from really being noteworthy. The only thing that is noteworthy is that highway 200 has a really nice and wide shoulder that makes bike travel a lot less scary than the rest of the roads I’ve been on in the state so far. There is loads of traffic that file into Missoula each day, I’m sure, but much like the ride into Whitefish the week prior, it being a Friday afternoon didn’t help matters any. Actually it seemed to intensify the already Closter phobic feeling of being back in an area that is somewhat widely populated.
Still making great time, I pedaled towards Missoula. By 2:15 p.m. I reached Higgins Street, which, ostensibly, is the main channel of town. I took a brief, self-guided, sight-seeing tour of the street before contacting my good friend Cooper at his place of work. By 6 p.m. I had a beer in hand and was catching up with Cooper, Ann and their family at a nearby restaurant. It was a great day in the saddle. I covered a lot of ground in a relatively short amount of time (actually it was one of if not the fastest day I’ve had thus far in the tour). I had reached 4,500 miles and was reunited with some dear old friends, in a town that I had been curious about exploring ever since passing through here in ’99 with Joe and Tony.
**If anyone is curious about that tour I took with Joe and Tony down the Continental Divide back in 1999 please click the Bio-Wheels Icon on the Links page on this web-site. This will take you to the Bio-Wheels web-site. Once there click the lounge button on the site and look for “The Great Divide Ride.” There are three parts to it and plenty of photographs. I believe there is a story about the night I described as well.
Tuesday, October 25, 2005
More Friends to add to The Collection
The morning was bright and the air was dry and still when I awoke on Friday (10/14). After eating breakfast and repacking the bike I made a few phone calls to some friends and family. It’s much cheaper to talk to people from the states than when I was traveling through Canada, so I took some time to catch up with a few of the folks that I was able to track down. I got a hold of some long time friends, Cooper and Ann Burchenal, who are living in Missoula with their family. I talked with Cooper long enough to arrange to meet up with everyone as I made my way down the state, then set off towards the town of Whitefish, fifty miles away. The day was warming up to a pleasant temperature with clear blue skies. I was as excited as the night before to be back in the states and in familiar territory and I rode like hell towards Whitefish. I had already been through many of the same towns on this slope of the Continental Divide in 1999 when I toured through this part of the country with some friends, so I kindda knew what to expect from the towns and terrain. I knew that there were plenty of places to re-supply with groceries and water, which would make it much easier to travel light compared to traveling through most of Alaska, The Yukon, and Northern British Columbia. I also knew that the main roads cut through valleys and not over any really big passes which was a bonus as well. The one thing that I forgot about was that the roads were narrow and very unfriendly to travel by bike. The speed limit in Montana is 70 miles per hour and the road into Whitefish is especially heavily traveled. Lots of logging trucks as well as local traffic use the road and being a Friday night didn’t help matters either. So I wasted no time and rode as fast as I could pedal to Whitefish. I got to town by 5:00 p.m. and stopped at a bike shop upon arrival in Whitefish; Glacier Cyclery. It was there that met Tim Killian, one of the three of the bike shop’s friendly employees on duty that particular Friday night. Later on that evening I met up with all three of the guys and their respective girlfriends/wives at one of the local bars and hung out with them for the remainder of the evening. Meghan O’Donnell, Tim’s girlfriend, is a teacher at Summit Preparatory School, a private school outside of Kalispell, MT that assists troubled teens, and was interested in finding out more about the tour. We talked about Covenant House and Summit until next week that she would be able to arrange a time for the awhile before Meghan asked if I would talk to her students about the tour. I was defiantly interested and instantly agreed. It wouldn’t be presentation so in the mean time I was invited to hang out with Tim, her and there other room mate Nick at their place in nearby Columbia Falls. Very thankful, I accepted the offer.
I spent the next few days hiking and trail riding in the Bob Marshall Wilderness, close to the entrance of Glacier National Park, with Tim and Meghan, their dogs and some of their many friends. I got a small taste of what life is like in the towns of Whitefish and Columbia Falls too. On Saturday night (10/15) I went out on the town in Whitefish with Meghan and few of her friends and after a fantastic trail ride on some nice, twisty, narrow single track on Sunday, We went to an apple cider press: a local tradition where the townspeople bring some of their apple harvest to press into cider, followed by a pot-luck dinner. I got to see a couple of good movies, and one bad one: Mad Max; Beyond Thunderdome—does that movie make any sense? We also got into some interesting conversations and debates about horse’s trail rights in national forests, mountain bike fees in national parks, and other outdoor related things.
On Tuesday (10/18) I met Meghan at Summit Preparatory School and spoke to its maybe 60 students about the tour. It was an informal, unstructured presentation but was well received. I hung out with the students, showed some pictures from the web site and answered questions about the tour for a couple of hours. Everyone was interested on some level and many asked different questions like how it was funded, how much the bike weighed, route finding, bear encounters, etc. Several teens stuck around after it was over to ask more specific questions about bike touring and some elaborated on tours that they had taken or was going to take. It was a really enjoyable experience that left me feeling happy and lucky to meet such an interested, fun bunch of young adults.
That evening I packed the bike and got it ready to head off for Missoula the following morning. After the bike was loaded and ready to go Tim, Nick and I ordered a pizza and began watching The Blair Witch Project. How you can get lost in the woods of Maryland armed with a map and a compass, with a witch running loose baffled the three of us, and we spent the last night heckling the foolish hikers and eating Columbia Falls best attempt at cheese pizza, which is actually pretty good. Meghan got home just after the movie was over and everyone hung out a bit longer before heading off to bed.
(10/19) It was a mostly sunny Wednesday morning when everyone got up. After snapping a few photos and arranging a potential time to meet up in Missoula around Halloween I said goodbye to my three new friends and headed off into the cool morning air, in search of new adventure and with the hope for new, but similar encounters.
Monday, October 24, 2005
My Last Days in Canada
(10/11) After the unexpected delay in Lake Louise I was eager to get back on the road and continue riding south. I finished all the business associated with the wheel problem then sped away into the calm, cool air of early afternoon. It was starting to become a beautiful, sunny day when I finally was able to begin riding. I was eager to try out the wheel and tire combination that I bought to replace the defective wheel and worn out tire that I had been riding on for the past 4 months. Right off the bat I noticed a difference in the handling of the bike. The size difference between the two tires is pretty significant. The old tire is a Nokian Triple X that measures 26 X 2.4. The new tire is a much smaller size. It’s a Nokian Ultra-Tour 2 and measures 26 X 1.9. Of course both tires are 26 inches in diameter but their respective profiles vary greatly. The difference between the two make the steering of the bike feel more responsive and quick. I just needed enough rubber to make it down into Montana and there was enough tread left on one of the two old Triple X tires so I only bought one new Ultra-Tour 2 tire, and left the Triple X tire on the rear wheel and put the new Ultra-Tour 2 tire on the front. The new wheel and tire combo created a whole new look to the bike. When you compare the front tire to the rear the size differences make the bike look a lot like a chopper or a dragster! After twenty miles the bike once again felt stable and familiar and I was able to turn my attention to the spectacular mountain scenery of Kootenay National Park.
A long flat 17 mile/28 kilometer stretch of road leaves Lake Louise south, bound for the Kootenay’s. There was no wind to hinder my pedaling and I quickly reached the entrance into Kootenay National Park after only 40 minutes of riding. At the junction of Highway 1 and 93 lies the start of the gradual climb to the top of Vermilion Pass. It’s an easy climb to the top of the pass, 1637 meters above sea level, and once you reach the summit and cross the Continental Divide it’s a long, fun decent down the other side. The road then meanders through a valley, along side the Kootenay River, and past more impressive scenery. The views from the road are just as picturesque as the views in Jasper and Banff. Big mountains freshly dusted with new fallen snow pop out all over the place, creating a dramatic contrast against the stellar blue skilometers) the road rolls along the valley floor before starting the next climb up Sinclair Pass. Even though the pass isn’t as high in elevation as Vermilion, Sinclair Pass is a much steeper and longer climb. It begins at a lower elevation than Vermilion and starts off somewhat easy but soon you are locked into a long and winding climb, and the grade of the ascent keeps you seated and spinning away in your bikes most comfortable gear. After about forty-five minutes in the saddle I got to the top of the climb and found a terrific place to camp for the night, complete with a kies of early October. For about 40 miles (64 bear locker and natural spring. It was 6:30 p.m. and getting dark. I made my same dinner of dehydrated pasta and drank my same cup of hot chocolate before brushing my teeth and placing all things smelly in the bear locker then heading to bed. It was a chilly night, and I was camped atop a 1486 meter pass in October, so needless to say that it was a cold night’s sleep. My feet were freezing, even though I stuffed a couple of feet warmers that I bought while in Lake Louise inside my shoes earlier. “I wish that I had my down booties.” I thought, but trying not to focus on my numb extremities. I had covered almost 80 miles/130 kilometers in less than 6 hours, and coupled with the events of the past two days I was pretty tired. The distant sound of elk bugling made finding sleep a bit easier and by 9:30 p.m. I was out for the night.
I awoke to a thick fog Wednesday morning (10/12). After breakfast I broke camp and packed the bike then started down the other side of Sinclair Pass. It’s a long, 9 mile (15 kilometer) ride down the other side of the pass, past Radium Hot Springs Resort and then into the town of Radium. I had planned on soaking in the hot springs before riding into town. But being somewhat spoiled by my experience at Liard combined with the unattractive, swimming-pool-like-setting of Radium kept me pedaling on to town. I stopped in Radium long enough to buy groceries and eat lunch before starting off again. As I was ridding out of town I ran into some Big-Horn Sheep; a female, a yearling and a ram. The female seemed disinterested in me and kept on eating grass as her offspring lay resting close by, while the male stood directly in my path. It took sometime for the ram to figure out that I posed no threat to him or his family and eventually he wondered off the road allowing me to pass on by.
The rest of the day was windy and grey and the threat of rain was ever present. After battling a tenacious head wind all day, I decided to stop at the small timber town of Canal Flats for the night after covering only 50 miles (85 kilometers). I found a place to camp and then started my evening ritual. The night was much warmer than the previous one and it was my last night in Canada, so I lingered a bit outside before turning in. A cloud burst round 10 p.m. forced me inside my tent. I stayed awake inside the tent long enough to figure out my route back into the states, then fell asleep as the first drops of rain started falling.
I was maybe 120 miles (186 kilometers) away from Montana and I was determined to make it there that evening (10/13). By 8:30 a.m. I was up, fed and ready to ride. The day started off wet and I stayed dressed for rain until the skies were safe enough to start shedding. The skies dried out and remained that way through out the days ride to Montana. Except for a few diversions down some shorter country roads, I followed Highway 93 all of the way from Canal Flats to the Canadian/U.S. border. For the most part it’s a pretty uneventful ride through a bunch of farm country; cattle and horses mainly. There are a few significant climbs along the ride to the states, but nothing too demanding, and the skies stayed dry all of the way. By 7:00 p.m. it was dark and I was less than 5 miles from the border. I stopped at a small convenience store/gas station in Grasmere, the last town in Canada before crossing into the United States, to spend my last $7 of Canadian money on some food. After the quick meal, I put on warmer clothes, attached my headlamp and got ready to enter into the United States, then rode on to the border. The customs official checked my identification and then I rolled into Montana. It was around 8:30 p.m. when I reached Eureka. I pulled into the first gas station that I came to, to find out some information about camping. The gas station was also a motel, and after finding out how affordable the spacious, warm rooms were I decided to check in for the night! It was cheap—only $43 dollars, with no sales tax—and I had put in enough miles (114) to justify the splurge. After being away from American craft brews for almost 2 months I was also thirsty for a good beer, so bought a six pack of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale for $6, U.S.! Whoo-Hoo! Man, it felt great to be in familiar territory and back in the states! I took a shower, ate some food and drank beer while catching up on the news in a heated room, on a queen-size bed.
Monday, October 17, 2005
(10/09) I only waited for 20 minutes before a truck pulled over to lend a hand. Didi and Astrid, a German couple that had been traveling the world for the past year, stopped by to see what the matter was. I explained the situation to them and they were egger to lend a hand. Didi had the perfect vehicle to transport me and the bike down the pass and to Lake Louise. It’s an older Toyota Landcruiser that Didi modified in every way possible to be able to go anywhere, literally. Space was the only issue. After a quick assessment of the situation Didi decided that it would be best to put the bike on top of the roof in order to transport it safely. I unloaded the bike and took off the side bags and then stowed everything inside the vehicle as Didi secured the bike to the top of the truck. After everything was properly loaded safe and sound we three piled inside the Toyota and started off down the road to Lake Louise.
It’s about 24 miles/40 kilometers from the pass to Lake Louise. On the drive to town we talked about the various places that we had all been to while stopping several times to see the sights and also watch the sunset. Along the ride we decided to all find a place to camp for the night as well as cook dinner together. Once we reached the small town of Lake Louise, Didi and Astrid went to the village market for some grub as I stopped by the local mountain sports shop to see if they offered any bike shop services. They did but were getting ready to close so I would have to wait until Monday morning (10/10) to fix the problem. Somewhat relieved I then set out with my two new friends to find a place to sleep for the evening.
We went to the two campsites around Lake Louise but, for whatever reason, neither site allowed tent camping. We then drove around somewhat aimlessly searching for a place to sleep for the night. The rules and regulations that govern National Parks prohibit camping anywhere other than designated camping areas, so we were somewhat screwed. Or I was somewhat screwed I should say. You see, Didi and Astrid had the truck, which is accommodating enough for the both of them to sleep comfortably but not me nor my gear. After much deliberation I decided to take a bunk at the hostel in town for $30. Not so bad of a deal really, but considering that the wheel problem was certainly going to cost a fair amount of money I had a hard time separating with dough that could be applied to the repair. And especially since I was already well equipped and perfectly capable of sleeping outside for free! But desperate times call for desperate measures and it was late and I was tired so I bit the bullet and bought a bunk for the night. After checking in Didi, Astrid and I made dinner and ate in the kitchen at the hostel before saying farewell and going our separate ways.
The next morning (10/10) was Thanksgiving in Canada and the mountain sports shop was only going to be open for a couple of hours. I awoke bright and early and got ready to spend the day working on the bike. I hadn’t yet taken the tire off of the wheel and still had no idea how bad the repair was so I rented a locker at the hostel to keep my things secure while I worked. After eating my obligatory bowl of oatmeal and drinking my same cup of coffee for breakfast I headed off to Wilson’s in the village center for help. I once again bumped into Didi and Astrid. They were getting ready to spend the day hiking around Lake Louise. I thanked them once again before they set off and then turned my attention to the repair.
Bill, the manager of Wilson’s, as well as the rest of the staff, was very accommodating and eager to help out in any way they could in order to get me back on tour. They even let me use a stand and shop tools in order to get the job done myself. Immediately I stripped the tire from the wheel and was amazed at how bad the crack was. Not only did in follow along parts of the sidewall of the wheel, it also ran completely around the entire circumference of the rim! And the crack ran all along the top wall of the spoke bed and the braking surface of non-drive side of the wheel as well! Strangely enough the spokes remained in tension, weird! Bill then let me make a long-distance call to The Bicycle Shop in Alaska to talk to Ray Clayton about the situation. It was late in the season and Wilsons didn’t have a rim in stock that would work, so I no choice but to buy a new wheel. Ray came up with a plan to get my wheel fixed and back to me once I got somewhere in the states that I could have things mailed to me, so I bought the new wheel. I tried to fit the old tire back onto the new wheel but after 4,000 miles of use the bead was too badly warped and I was forced to purchase a new tire as well. I corrected the wheel/tire problem then spent the remainder of the day tending to the rest of the bike. I cleaned and lubed the drive train, replaced the rear brake pads and checked and re-checked every bolt on the bike to ensure that I could make it back in to the states without a hitch.
It was 4:00 and closing time when I finished working on the bike. I paid for the wheel, bought some feet warmers and gear wash and then went back to the hostel. It was too late to start riding so I bought another bunk for the night, repaired and washed some gear, typed some text, made some dinner then hit sack.
I got Tuesday morning (10/11) around 6:30 a.m. I ate breakfast then packed the bike to get ready to ride out of Lake Louise and through Kootenay National Park. There was still the issue of packing the wheel and shipping it to The Bicycle Shop in AK to take care of though. So after getting ready to leave I spent the remainder of the morning box hunting. Finding a proper box to accommodate the wheel wasn’t an easy task. It’s kind of a weird shape and size. Wilson’s didn’t have a wheel box or even a box big enough to put the wheel in. I went to some other stores in the strip mall, but no luck. I then went back to the hostel to check out. After checking out of the hostel I lashed the wheel and old tire to the bike and tried to determine if I could ride with them to Montana. It was pretty awkward but do-able. Not satisfied with my previous search results I asked the desk clerk at the hostel if she had any cardboard and packing tape. She had plenty of both, so I set to work fabricating a box big enough to accommodate the wheel and tire out of the materials that I had to work with. After about an hour of cutting and taping the different shapes of cardboard, I had a box that was big enough to pack the wheel into and strong enough to make the long journey up to Alaska! I thanked the desk clerk at the hostel for her help, then I rolled the bike and box over to the post-office. I shipped the box and then set out into the warm sunny morning to try out the new wheel and tire combination while riding through Kootenay National Park.
It's Been Called the Most Beautiful Highway in the World
The Icefields Parkway through Jasper and Banff National Parks is beyond doubt the most spectacular 160mile/230 kilometer piece of road there is. “The mountains come right out of the sky, and they stand there!” More awesome mountains and rock formations lie along the parkway than anywhere else that I’ve traveled so far. There are so many in fact that you need a map in order to remember the names of all of the different mountain chains and peaks. Aquila, Whistlers, Monkhead, Kitchener, Sunwapta, Coleman, Aries, Caldron, Chephren are only just a few names of the dozens of peaks and mountains that decorate the parkway, and each one is different, magnificent and awesome. In and around the town of Jasper is gorgeous and amazing scenery, but it’s once you enter the park and head toward Banff that the landscape gets really impressive.I entered the park early in the morning on Saturday (10/08) after a fun night of hanging out in the town of Jasper. I had the intent to spend the next several of days riding through the two parks, into Kootenay National Park and then down to Radium Hot Springs. It’s a beautiful stretch of road to travel by bike but it’s also expensive; $8 per day not including camping fees—$14 dollars per night. I had planned on riding through the parks over 4 days, so I paid $32 dollars then rode into Jasper. Both Saturday and Sunday I was blessed with incredible weather. The days were clear and warm and the night between the two days was clear and cold. The clear skies provided great viewing and I was able to see all of the many peaks, glaciers, and waterfalls that the two parks have to offer. I took my time making my way through both Jasper and Banff, stopping frequently to snap photographs and to just take in the incredible scenery. But the mountains weren’t the only thing that makes this ride incredible. The ride through the park and into the beginning of the Canadian Rockies itself is pretty fantastic also. You gain and lose about 4,000 meters through out the ride from the town of Jasper to Lake Louise, and it isn’t easy riding either. The road rises and falls several times as it winds its way through the majestic scenery. At times you are traveling swiftly along flat valley floors and at others you are locked in a somewhat painful climb. And there are two big mountain passes along the parkway that are over an 8% grade. Both climbs are hard and have a lot of switch-backs that keep you guessing as to when they end. The first of the two, Sunwapta Pass, climbs up to the Columbia Icefield, a huge picturesque glacier and is the harder of the two passes to climb. The road snakes its way 4 miles/10 kilometers up to the glacier and then levels out for about 3 miles/8 kilometers before dropping down 32 miles/50 kilometers to Saskatchewan River Crossing. It’s an awesome descent. The road is steep enough in parts that I was able to reach speeds of almost 50 miles/87 kilometers per hour! Once at Saskatchewan River Crossing you then begin the next climb out of the valley and up to the summit at Bow Pass. You slowly start to gain elevation right after the crossing but there are several sections that are long and flat and provide enough relief before starting the next real meat of the ascent. It too is a tough climb. Bow Pass is a little more gradual of an ascent, however. You still reach the same elevation as Sunwapta once reaching the top of the climb. I even hit snow at the top of Pass! It was there, at the top of Bow Pass where disaster struck. A major mechanical problem, too much for me to fix, that stranded me at the top of the pass.
I was riding up to the peak of Bow Pass to snap a few photos before starting the long descent down to Lake Louise to find a place to stay for the evening, when I noticed a slight difference in the feel of the bike. The front wheel felt lumpy and out of true. I looked at it and noticed that indeed it was pulling to the left as I rode. “Weird,” I thought. I knew that I didn’t hit anything and was confused as to what could have caused the problem so I stopped the bike to get a better look. Immediately I saw that the problem was bigger than just the wheel being out of true. The side-wall of the rim had cracked, allowing the casing of the tire as well as the tube to poke out of the wheel. “No shit!” I exclaimed. The tube was still holding air at that point. I tried to ride on it, because I certainly couldn’t do anything to fix it, but it was no use. The tear in the side wall eventually cut through the tube as I tried to ride it and bled out all of the air, leaving me stranded on top of the pass. I tried to figure out what I could do to correct the situation, but there wasn’t anything that I could do. I then pushed the bike back to the parkway, put on many layers of clothes and waited for a truck to drive by and ask for a hitch.
A Friday Night In Jasper
So, I had every intention to leave Jasper, the town, and head into the park after I uploaded the last blog on Friday (10/07) but as luck would have it I ran into a couple of friendly fellows as I was getting ready to leave and ended up staying an extra night. And it was possibly the most fun and funniest time that I have had since the Gulkana River canoe trip back in July!
As I was rolling up to a restaurant/pub for a bite before leaving on Friday I ran into Mark and Drew, two Jasper locals that where enjoying a day off. Immediately they started asking questions about where I was going, where I’d been, etc., so we started talking. Shortly after that the jokes came. Both Mark and Drew shot one-liner after one-liner at me and the bike tour—I can’t remember any of them however because I was laughing so hard. I took every joke in stride and was then invited to join them for a burger and a beer. Instantly we engaged in a pretty terrific discussion about The United States foreign policy and The Bush Administration. Then it was on to baseball, hockey, literature, beer, Lance Armstrong and life in Canada and the U.S., among other things. By the time we finished talking it was too late for me to start riding. Drew invited me to flop at his place for the night so I decided to begin the tour into Jasper/Banff National Parks, down the Icefields Parkway on Saturday and stay the night and hang out in Jasper. So it was then off to the town’s only brew pub to sample some beer and start the night.
It was truly a hilarious evening! We hung out and listened to hip-hop, hit a couple of bars and talked about nothing until the wee hours of the next morning as friends of both Mark and Drew filed in and out of the house. Every situation was hysterically funny; from Drew getting eyeballed by a big-horn sheep to Marks infatuation with a mans mustache, and almost the entire time I was in stitches from the antics of the two dudes. It turned out to be one of the most memorable and spontaneous occasions of the tour thus far.
Back In The U.S.A.
(10/17) I’m back in the states! I rolled into Montana late Thursday evening and made it as far south as Whitefish by Friday. Immediately upon arrival in Whitefish I met some friendly folks who live not too far away in Columbia Falls. They invited me to stay with them and do some trail riding while the riding’s still good and I’ve been hanging out ever since! It’s been a pretty eventful past week/week-and-a-half and there’s a lot to type about so check back soon and I will have more posted then.