Day 11 – Sleeping In - Field to Golden
Day 12 – Bad Decisions & Bad Weather - Golden to Revelstoke
Day 13-14 – Stuck in Revelstoke - Rest Days
An ample breakfast in Lake Louise later, and then I was off! My stay in the Canadian Rockies was coming to an end and finally I would be continuing on my cycling route in earnest (apart from plans to bag one more peak near Field). The skin on my left thigh was finally peeling from nasty sunburn I got on my first long day of riding (that leg faced south, and I learned the hard way that cycling pants are excellent at chafing off sunscreen). I departed with my feet still torn up, swelling up in my shoes, and an ample supply of gallon ziplock bags (my answer to the rain-soaking problem for my shoes).
Cresting the pass, I was disappointed to find a very strong headwind blowing up the pass. I had expected a fun fast ride down the steep drop to Field, but the winds were so strong that even on a 5% downgrade, I had to pedal hard downhill to barely sustain a 15 mph speed. Midway down the canyon I stopped at an excellent overlook of one of the more interesting sections of the transcontinental railroad, where two spiral tunnels had been built in a figure-8 linkup into the mountainsides to maintain a lower (but still very steep) grade for the train tracks. Before the spiral tunnels had been built, the grade was so steep (4.5%) that it was a common occurrence for trains to become runaway and crash somewhere down the canyon or into Field. The tunnels have since made the stretch a manageable and safe 2.2%.
Map of the railroad spiral tunnels (from http://www.engrailhistory.info/r112.html)
I continued downhill into the strong headwind. Although mildly annoyed by the wind, I still thoroughly enjoyed myself as the mountains rose ever higher above me as I plummeted 1,400 feet into the valley below. The road abruptly flattens at the bottom, where it reaches the valley bottom and turns sharply cross-canyon to cross the flood plains, and it was here that the shit hit the fan. I learned a very interesting lesson for later cycle tours:
Strong winds + deep canyon = Very strong down-canyon winds at the bottom
Strong winds + deep canyon + turning across canyon = very very strong cross-winds
Strong winds + deep canyon + turning across canyon + narrow shoulder on river bridge crossing + semi-trucks = very very strong cross winds with very very strong turbulence and suction superposed = SUDDEN NEAR LOSS OF CONTROL OF BICYCLE
Near loss of control + narrow shoulder + semi-trucks honking = NEARLY SHITTING PANTS
Add diagram of road, trucks, wind etc. for near accident
Basically, when the road suddenly turned across the canyon, I had to fight very hard to not topple over, leaning heavily into the wind. This occurred right when the shoulder narrowed as I entered the viaduct crossing the river, forcing me close to the fog line. This happened moments before a semi-truck came behind me. The front blast of pressure from the semi forced me to lean harder into the wind to avoid getting knocked over into the shoulder. Then the suction came, which with the fast flowing cross wind, was itself exaggerated. The suction came so fast that I didn’t have a chance to stop leaning towards the semi when suddenly I was sucked very hard towards it. I jerked hard away from the semi to avoid falling into the road just before the tail-wind turbulence and the resumption of the cross-wind hit me, causing me to swerve left and right as I tried to control the weight of my rig while fighting the cross-wind. Another semi was right behind the one that caused me to nearly lose control, and this one blared its horn, scaring the shit out of me while I was trying to regain control and going through the whole blast, suction, turbulence, cross-wind blast cycle again.
The viaduct crossing probably only lasted a minute, but it felt like an eternity as I regained control and composure while battling the cross-winds and traffic winds. FINALLY I reached the other side, the shoulders widened, and I turned back into the headwind. WHEW!!!!
In a daze I cycled over to the walk-in campground I had planned to spend the night in, finding it very open and exposed to the wind, dust blowing everywhere. It was also completely empty. I found a small campsite protected in the trees (no car access), made myself at home, drank my 5 beers to celebrate life, and fell asleep utterly exhausted.
Tomorrow’s Plan: Cycle from Field through Golden to a campground in Glacier National Park
Today’s reality: Slept in until 11am, woke up feeling very out of it
Time to change plans. As it was too late and I was too tired to climb more peaks today, I decided to break up my cycling days a little differently. Using my hand spreadsheet chart to see distances and elevation gain of different combinations, I decided to break up my ride, and make use of today to cycle to Golden and spend the night there. Then I could skip the campground in Glacier and cycle all the way to Revelstoke, with further shifts in my plans beyond that.
As I prepared to leave the campground, I saw another cyclist sitting in the back of his truck, prepping his bike for a ride. Coincidentally, he was from Golden and had driven out here to cycle back for a good ride. He gave me some helpful beta for the day’s ride, and for the road beyond Golden – luckily everything sounded pretty hunky-dory to me. He even gave me an excellent recommendation for breakfast in Field – the Stuffed Pig.
Mt Stephen rising 6,000 ft above Field
I found the Stuffed Pig easily enough, and feeling weak and famished (probably not eating enough calories), attempted to stuff myself like a pig while enjoying the breathtaking north face of Mt Stephen rising 6,000 ft nearly straight above the town. While eating brunch, my conspicuous getup sparked another conversation with a fellow traveler. The guy looked like just your run-of-the mill baby-boomer tourist, but apparently the guy had done extensive distance cycling in Europe in his younger years. I told him about my plans, and we had a nice chat about his cycling past. It’s interesting to see the type of connections you bridge with strangers when traveling alone and conspicuously (e.g. decked out in climbing gear, or cycling gear, etc.) – experiences that would have been missed in any other circumstance.
After I could eat no more, I continued on my way down the flat river plains of Yoho. Gradually, the mountains receded behind me, and the temperature began to rise. About an hour into the ride, I reached my first road construction zone, which turned out to be surprisingly pleasant. As traffic was stopped for alternate 1-way travel, I cycled past the long long line of cars and passengers lounging on the roadside until I reached the front of the line (hehe). The roadworker there was very chatty, pointing out various landmarks of the peaks and glaciers nearby. She was even nice enough to give me a few minutes head start through the construction zone before unleashing the rest of the traffic!
As I left the Rockies behind, my thermometer continued to climb. I kept it shaded, but still I recorded a (very brief) high of 104o F that day (perhaps due to the road radiating heat?), and I felt more than a little feint and nauseas at time. Luckily I had plenty of water! Also, today there were still high headwinds that made the net downhill ride harder than expected, but at least it gave me occasional reprieve from the heat.
Having no idea where I could sleep that night, I pulled into the visitor center on the near side of town, where I was directed to a trailer park that was nearby (and not uphill!). I also checked the latest weather forecast. It didn’t look good – a 50% chance of slight rain tomorrow. I wanted to avoid rain, especially when crossing Roger’s Pass and the avalanche tunnels en route. However, the forecast for Glacier called for only a 50% of scattered showers, with 1-2mm of precipitation – not too bad. Plus, throughout my time in the Canadian Rockies, nearly every day that rain was forecast turned out to be sunny (and vice-versa), so I had begun to take the forecasts more casually. I decided I would just see how the weather looked tomorrow, and if it wasn’t too bad, to attempt my 90-mile ride to Revelstoke while keeping a close eye on the weather.
After deciding what to do the next day, I checked in at the R.V. camp, set up my bivvy next to some interesting Swiss motorcyclists, and rejoiced as I did my first load of laundry for the trip (imagine lasting 11 incredibly sweaty days with only 2 shirts and 2 shorts!).
With a mind towards packing in more calories to prepare for the much longer day tomorrow (and the first real crux, surmounting Roger’s Pass), I walked over to a neighboring hotel just as rain started to fall. There I ate steak and drank good tap beer at the hotel bar. While eating, I met two Hollanders (different ones) who were traveling across Western Canada in an R.V. They had remembered me from the road earlier that day, and the Hollanders joked that if they saw me the next day as they drove over Roger’s Pass, they would tempt me with an offer for a ride over the pass to Revelstoke.
After a filling dinner, I retired to my freshly rain-soaked bivvy and enjoyed a good book before turning in for the night.
I would have to make an effort to consume more calories. Today I strategized two ways to help do this. First, I would pack along Snickers candy bars, since they are much more appetizing and fattening than Cliff Bars. They could also be a good morale booster. Also, both for morale and regular eating, I decided I would experiment with riding the first 30-40 miles of my expected 90-mile ride without break (as usual), but beyond this I would stop every 10 miles to eat a GU or Cliff Bar (ca. every hour), take a good long sip of water from my camelback. Standing and stretching a bit while doing this could help the saddle soreness, back soreness, and hand numbness that inevitably worked up during the long riding days.
The ride out from Golden was nice and easy, with a short downhill, and then lots of flat terrain with only the occasional small hill. I made excellent time, cruising at a nice fast speed as passed through bands of thick fog and sunny clearings. The first major climbs of the day (and my largest continuous climbs of the trip) passed by fine – all I had to do was remember to slow down and focus on perceived effort and not on speed or how far I had to go. The fog was finally gone and the weather was mostly clear and sunny, even over the Columbia Range to the West.
I had reservations about trying to cycle over Roger’s Pass now. However, as things stood, I was 40 miles into my ride. Returning to Golden would mean that would have cycled 80 miles that day and would still be a day behind. Plus, I was almost halfway done with the ride, with the crest of Roger’s Pass only 10 miles away. After that, it would all be downhill from there and a very fast downhill at that. Plus, base d on the weather forecast, I had received all of the rain I was likely to encounter that day, or at least any more rain should be fairly light. So I decided to go for it.
So I began the long climb to Roger’s Pass, which would be my first real test-piece of the cycle tour for how I would handle the dreaded “death pass” in the Coastal Range at the end of my trip. From the East, Roger’s Pass climbs about 2,000 feet continuously over about 8 miles. It got very steep very fast and the grade never let up, but I was insistent on never dropping into my third chain-ring, since I had to reserve that for the “death pass” – if I used if here, I would have much less confidence later.
About halfway up the pass, the shoulder narrowed and got rough, forcing me to occasionally wander partway over into the road, so I was very attentive with my rear view mirror. The steepness was really getting to me, so after passing a blind turn with a narrow shoulder (yikes!), I pulled across the road to a turnout for a brief break, feeling very glad all the while that I had bothered to mount such a bright and tall safety flag on my bicycle. The grade of the road was so steep that after my brake, I couldn’t start straight up the road from a standing stop, forcing me to coast downhill and pull a U-turn.
A bothersome problem was starting to occur that also forced me to resume riding like this. Beginning the day before as I climbed the final headwall into Golden, I noticed that if I stopped on a hill and then attempted to start riding directly up the hill again, my pedals and crankshaft would disengage from chain ring and spin freely until I put my feet down to avoid tipping over. As this started to occur, I could only avoid it on lesser slopes, or if I reduced the starting tension by running the bike uphill first, or coasting downhill first. Then the crankshaft would catch again and I could resume pedaling. If I was lucky, I could get the same effect by briefly slowing my pedaling down, and staring up again slowly before I tipped over. It was a minor but very disturbing irritation that seemed to be getting worse, and was much more noticeable on uphills, making it very troublesome on Roger’s Pass.
About halfway up the pass, it started raining again, but there was no good place to stop to take cover. It was a light rain, though, and I only had another 5 miles to go until the crest. As soon as I found a slightly wider part of the shoulder, I stopped to put my trusty gallon zip-lock bags over my shoes. With my toes shoved firmly into the toe clips, they stayed on and worked surprisingly well for keeping my feet dry – at first. Every now and then I would stop, either from fatigue, or losing my momentum from a swerve around an obstacle on the pavement (the shoulders in B.C. were littered with trash, holes and cracks, as compared to Alberta’s) or losing my concentration from the one or two cars that honked their horns at me despite me being well off the road at the time and visible plenty far ahead (to me it was obvious that the cars were timing their honks to harass me as this only happened on the straight-aways). Each time it was harder and harder to start again as my pedals disengaged and spun freely, and each time I stopped I managed to lose the zip-locks from one foot or the other, necessitating another stop and using another bag.
Finally I was nearly at the pass and began to feel relieved. Until I reached my first avalanche shed, that it. Because Roger’s Pass is so narrow, with steep mountains rising thousands of feet on both sides of the road, the road is extremely vulnerable to avalanches. Also, unlike the canyons in Utah’s Wasatch Range, no avalanche control work is done out here due to the large distances and small population. Instead, at each avalanche path, a shed is built over the road, creating a tunnel for the road and a bed for the avalanche to slide on, clear of the road.
The sheds were hundreds of feet long, and on the uphill this took some time to pass through, leaving me unnerved for a while, and pressured to cycle harder than I wanted to in order to speed through them. These sheds had several unanticipated problems for me on a bicycle, too. First, they weren’t lit. Although I had lots of reflective tape, a reflective flag, and 2 tail lights, I still didn’t like it. Second, the shoulder got very narrow. And 3rd, the shoulders had small rumble-strips carved into them, making for a bumpy and slow ride. So each tunnel provided a few minutes of hurried cycling and elevated stress before I could slow down and relax. But I only had a handful to pass through before the summit, and I expected no problem breezing through them at 20-25 mph on the downhill.
At last I reached the pass, where there was a large parking lot and gas station. I ate a full lunch, chugged a Gatorade and wolfed down 2 Snickers Bars, buying more of both for the rest of the ride. By now the rain had stopped, with the clouds clearing again, letting the sun shine brightly down. From here on it was all downhill from here – I thought the hard part of the ride was over.
As I pulled away from the gas station, I admired the emerging views of the glaciated peaks of the Columbia Rage. But downhill from me I saw a wall of low clouds. “No biggie” I thought – these are small clouds since they aren’t reaching very high, so I should be able to blast right through them. And that is when I began to lose control.
As I descended, I rounded a hard corner, and I ran head on into a monster storm that had been lurking out of site behind the turn in the canyon. The sky quickly darkened and I was hit head on by an incredibly strong wind. Despite the slopes at the pass being 5% or greater, I had to cycle as hard as I could to not drop below 10 mph. At some times I was going nearly as slow as 5 mph on the downhill while cranking as hard as I could! As I battled the winds, a downpour started.
I stopped to put on my zip-lock bags, and had trouble starting again as my pedals spun freely. I got going, but lost a bag in the process. I realized this a while later and stopped to put on a fresh one. This happened multiple times. The wind blew the rain so hard that despite wearing waterproof shells, the rain was driven through every small opening or lapping of the shell layers, completely soaking me.
And then I reached the avalanche tunnels. Now they were dark and slick. I discovered on my first tunnel that the shoulder rumble strips, covered with so much water, became very slick, and I began to skid. After nearly crashing into the raised walkway wall, I got off my bike and awkwardly walked on the wall, bending over to walk my bike along the tunnel edge. In the process I lost some more zip-lock bags. After the initial skid, I did this on every tunnel with a raised walkway, often losing zip-locks in the process of walking the bike or attempting to start it again. Eventually I ran out of zip-lock bags and my feet became soaked.
Now I was soaked from head to toe in freezing rain. Winds were roaring incredibly hard, and I had descended over 5 miles away from and over 500 ft below the pass. Turning around wasn’t an option. I could have stopped, gotten out my bivvy, and waited out the rain, except the road had few shoulders and rose up or dropped off steeply on both sides. And if I had still been dry this could have seemed more appealing, but as I was already drenched, it seemed a bad idea to stop and let my body cool down in soggy clothes. Also, Revelstoke was all downhill from here, and this rain couldn’t last that much longer could it? I rationalized that my best bet now was to forge ahead and drop below the worst of the rain as fast as I could rather than digging in for shelter or turning back. This didn’t work out, but even now it isn’t clear to me which of the 3 options would have been the most dangerous at that point.
Finally, about halfway down to Revelstoke from the pass, only 25 miles from safety, I walked my bike through an avalanche shed, only to find that I couldn’t get the pedals to engage again. I tried and tried, and nothing happened. Now I was stuck on a roadside shoulder between two avalanche tunnels with no shelter and nowhere to go. I began to get really angry, frustrated, and frightened at this point as the bike failed to start. As I began to despair, a van passed by, slowed down, and pulled over onto the shoulder.
I ran over to the van with my bike as fast as I could.
“Hi,” the driver with an Italian accent said, “my name is Louie. Do you need a ride?”
The timing couldn’t have been better. I threw my bike into the back of the van and jumped into the warm, dry shelter of the front passenger seat as Louie started down the road again. He was heading to Revelstoke too, for work with an outdoor guiding group. He said he had done a fair share of cycle touring in Tuscany, and having experienced some nasty rainstorms there, and empathizing with my situation, took pity on me when he saw me in my sad state alongside the road.
As I decompressed from the adrenaline rush and frigid wet cold, I watched the canyon go by. It was disappointing and also strange to suddenly be riding in a vehicle, passing effortlessly and quickly through terrain I had expected to work my way through on two wheels. But still, Louie was a LIFE SAVER.
Down in Revelstoke, the town was wet from rain, but only mildly so. The clouds were clearing again, and it appeared the town had been going through this cycle all day, but in a much milder form than what I had experienced up higher. Louie was so great that he took me straight to where I planned to stay for the night, the SameSun Hostel. My day was over – no more distance to travel, and now I was safe, drying, and warming.
I hauled my bike and gear up into the hostel, every inch of me and my panniers dripping with water.
“Hello,” the girl at the front desk dryly declared, “how was your day?”
“Wet and cold,” I replied in a weak tone, half jokingly, half dejectedly.
“Well,” she said, dismissively, sitting at her warm, dry, comfy desk, pop music playing in the background, “it’s been raining all day here too. We’ve all been wet and cold today.”
WTF?!! Urge to kill, rising . . .
On the bright side, yes, there was room available, the hostel had safe bike storage, and it was fine for me to take over the backyard to dry out gear in the sunshine.
After getting settled, I spent the rest of the afternoon drying out every piece of gear I had, stringing up lines across the backyard and laying items out on the sun baked pavement. I finished drying the valuable items I was worried about getting stolen, and then I took off to find some food.
On the drive into town, Louie told me about a good Chinese restaurant in town. It just so happened that they had all-you-can eat buffets, but only one day a week. It also just so happened that that day was today.
Mt Begbie above Revelstoke
I wandered over to the restaurant, still slightly wet, splattered with mud, and ravenous. The restaurant owners didn't know what hit them. I think I ate 3 or 4 meals worth. At least I was there eating for over 2 hours, and went through 4 or 5 heaping plates. I ate until I couldn’t eat any more. Still, even though I was stuffed, I felt a strong urge to keep munching on food. I think my body was finally beginning to feel the calorie deficit in ways beyond fatigue, because this experience of gorging until I was stuffed, and still feeling a strong urge to keep eating persisted for the next several days that I was stuck in Revelstoke with no hard physical labor to distract me.
As I headed back for the night, another torrential downpour washed through town. I escaped most of it, but it soaked the clothes I had drying back to the state they were in when I first got into town. Doh!
Still, I held out hope that things would be better tomorrow, and perhaps my bike would magically work again. If so, I would press on. If not, then I might cry uncle and take a Greyhound, either a ways West to escape the weather, or just give up all together and take it to Vancouver and hang out there for a week. I was beaten down, demoralized, famished, and exhausted, and looking at my cycling map, it appeared that I was only about 1/3 of the way there, and I hadn’t even passed the hardest parts yet: The interior desert and the “death pass.” I was very close to giving up.
To lighten the mood, I spent the day wandering around town with my camera. Revelstoke is a very picturesque mountain town (albeit at a low 1,500 ft above sea level) perched on a small riverside deposit in a narrow mountain canyon.
A lot of the architecture felt old-town, and there was a beautiful truss bridge and suspension bridge crossing the river. I unleashed the inner nerd/engineer and made sure to get good photographs of the structural connections of the bridges for learning/reference – they were of a very different style and age from each other, and the small scale made access to good views of these connections very easy.
Looping back through town I found a bike shop that was open. The repair shop was closed for the week, but there was another repair shop that opened tomorrow. I would take my bike there. Here, though, I made sure to buy some special waterproof cycling covers for my shoes. Such an item does exist, and I’d say vital for any touring where there is a possibility of rain.
To top off the day, I went back to the Chinese restaurant for more food, although sadly there as no buffet that day. Still, my birthday came up in my conversation with the employees (I had no ulterior motive, really!), and they gave me a discount and complimentary drink.
Throughout the day there was patchy, light rain in town, and as evening wore on, the weather gradually cleared. Despite the uncertain weather forecast, I still held out hope for an opening in the weather. I went back to the hostel and enjoyed my first night’s sleep in a bed since I had started my trip.
The diagnosis was that the bike cassette and free wheel were shot. These parts are what allow the rear wheel of a bicycle to spin freely without turning the pedals, but allow the pedals to engage the wheel and turn it when you pedal. Apparently, mine were completely worn out, and if I had managed to continue riding a few more miles, my rear wheel would have locked up solid.
Today was my lucky day, though, as they had the right parts to fix my bike, so they went about stripping the parts out from my rear hub and replacing them. There was no way I could have ever fixed this problem on the road – I wasn’t just lacking the technical know-how for this, but also much of the equipment needed would not be brought on a cycling tour.
Finally my bike was repaired, passed inspection, and was ready for more abuse. On the down side, the weather was worse today, but the forecast claimed tomorrow would be better. With nothing better to do, I spent the rest of the day in a café, reading and playing with a neat 3D wooden block puzzle my friend Nala had gotten for me at a crafts fair in London. The blocks form a cube in their basic form, but included was a sheet of other forms to build. This kept me busy all day, although I quickly discovered a logic to solving the forms rationally and methodically rather than by guessing, and I ended up solving all of the puzzles. With time to kill, I then re-solved them, illustrating a nice answer key to go with the game.
Add photo of block, with answer key?
Part I - Calgary through the Canadian Rockies
Part II - Lake Louise & Lake O'Hara Areas
Part IV - British Columbia's Desert?!
Part V - Crossing the Coastal Range to Vancouver
Mountaineering > Trip Reports > Canada > • "Cycling and Scrambling from Calgary to Vancouver" >