Monday, October 17, 2005

 

I, Wheelcrusher


(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.