08.18.2002-09.05.2002 Prince George, BC to Vancouver, BC|
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|The tourist brochures tout the Icefields Parkway, connecting Jasper and Lake Louise, as the most beautiful highway in the world. I had heard similar descriptions from travelers of that road so I had no reason to doubt this claim. My only concern was that, given the spectacular scenery I had already witnessed on the trip, I might not truly appreciate the experience. The ride into Prince George had turned fairly boring and I hoped that the ride continuing on past Prince George would continue in that state, thereby conditioning me for the sights ahead. The destination of one of my earlier bicycle trips had been Glacier National Park in Montana, the closest natural attraction the United States has to offer to the Icefields Parkway. For that trip I had also been worried about conditioning. To properly numb my senses I had started my trip several hundred miles away in Bismark, North Dakota. Not surprisingly, the ride out of Prince George failed to induce the utter boredom that riding across Eastern Montana had accomplished on that earlier trip. In fact, I was no more than a hundred miles from Prince George when glaciated mountains began appearing again. Soon after that Mount Robson, the Canadian Rockies' highest peak, loomed in the distance. I stopped to spend the night in Mount Robson Provincial Park and to do some hiking. The park would serve as a primer for the scenery ahead, as well as the crowds. Turquoise lakes and rivers abounded but so did people. Despite the crowds(I stayed at an almost unbelievable 781 site campground) I found Jasper likeable. I was tempted to trade my touring tires in for knobbies and spend a week there exploring the area's numerous trails by bike. However, my schedule would not allow for this so I settled for a superb hike up Whistlers Mountain on a nearly deserted trail.
The ride along the Parkway was indeed impressive. The first day I found myself stopping at every viewpoint to gawk at the amazing views. I am sure there are more beautiful stretches of terrain in the world but perhaps none so accessible as that along the Parkway. However, accessibility has its drawbacks. The visitor center at the Columbia Icefields reminded me of a shopping mall the week before Christmas. As I cycled south I wondered if there would be a single, defining Parkway view for me. On the morning of the third day I summited Bow Pass, the highest point of the Parkway and the highest point of the trip to that point. At the summit of the pass there was a spur leading further up to Bow Summit and another viewpoint. By then I had grown weary of stopping at every viewpoint and wondered if I would be duly rewarded for my extra effort. I knew the road would be all downhill from there to Lake Louise so I decided to turn on to the spur and climb up to the summit. The view of Peyto Lake and the valley beyond that greeted me was stunning and continues to be imprinted in my memory.
My first visit to Lake Louise was not enjoyable. I arrived expecting to see the pristine lake of the picture books. Instead I found a lake surrounded by herds of tour bus tourists. The lake itself was populated with tacky numbered canoes, containing even more tour bus tourists trying to get the perfect photo of Chateau Lake Louise and ruining the view of the lake for everyone else. I had observed this phenomenon all along the Parkway and could not understand why tourists were so intent on capturing images of man-made structures in a land of unique natural beauty. I didn't want to leave the area with this impression of Lake Louise so I decided to return for an early morning hike the next day. At the lower elevations the trails were thick with bickering tourists but I knew few of them would ascend to the heights I would reach so I did not worry. From atop Big Beehive I saw the Lake Louise I wanted to see, the lofty height rendering the throngs of tourists below nearly invisible.
When I chatted with locals and told them I had to return to Vancouver from Lake Louise I often met grimaces, their faces trying to translate into human expression the strain their car and truck engines feel traveling over that mountainous route. But they, like so many others, do not realize that the Pan-American cyclist does not fear hills or mountains. The Pan-American cyclist really only fears one thing: wind. I had benefited from a tailwind nearly the entire length of the Yellowhead Highway and I worried that friend of days past would turn foe as I cycled westward to Vancouver. I would face headwinds but the real test would be one of nerves as I encountered the worst traffic of the trip. The ride to Golden and on through Rogers Pass was particularly harrowing. I've always dreaded narrow, windy highways with heavy two-way traffic and little or no shoulders. On that ride I encountered this with an added treat: cement barriers to keep rock debris from falling onto the highway. In situations where I would normally take my chances with a trip into the ditch I could only stop and press body and bike into the barrier, trying to reduce the sizable girth that the two combine to produce. The pass itself held its own surprises for me in the form of what one park employee would later term for me as "The Scary Tunnels," a series of unlit snow shelters designed to protect motorists from avalanches in the winter and to frighten bicyclists in the summer with the hazardous riding conditions they produce.
As I left the mountains and entered the arid Thompson-Okanagan region of British Columbia the traffic persisted but the road conditions improved. West of Kamloops the traffic began to subside, allowing me a chance to appreciate the changing geography. The hillsides turned brown, sagebrush gradually replacing the spruce trees. The transition back to spruce trees would be less gradual as I went from the sagebrush of Lillooet to the glaciers of the Coast Range in a single day. Such a change in geography does not come about without a drastic rise in elevation and that ride would prove to be one of the most punishing in Canada. As I cycled into the resort town of Whistler the traffic ratcheted up again. Resort towns have little to offer the budget traveler but I decided to stop at the village for a rest. I sat in the plaza amongst the fine restaurants, ate my staple lunch of peanut butter sandwiches and fruit and people watched. Rested and amused, I returned to my cycling and continued on towards the coast. The comforting smell of the sea greeted me as I left the highway in the outskirts of Vancouver and made my way on to Marine Drive. I had expected to feel something special upon entering Vancouver. Yet, as I cycled across Lions Gate bridge I felt no different than I did entering any other city on the trip.
|Distance||Elevation Gain||Flat Tires|
|Leg||1030 mi/1657 km||55660 ft/18261 m|
|Trip||4088 mi/6578 km||38 mi/62 km||1||