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Cumulative Fatigue and a Beautiful Day in Kootenay National Park: Fruitvale, BC to Canmore, AB (625km/5334m)

It was difficult leaving the luxuries of a guest bedroom, soft bed, bathroom, home-cooked meals, and good company to return to the road. 

The rocky mountains lay between me and the parries, and crossing them I would encounter the highest elevations of my whole trip. Climbs to come were no steeper than others I’d completed so far, but the almost one-thousand kilometers I’d already covered left a heaviness in my legs. 

The first few days were challenging and I wondered if there had been a honeymoon phase of my trip and whether it had already worn off. As soon as I entered Kootenay National Park, though, my appreciation for where I was and what I was doing came back in full bloom.

Day 12: Fruitvale, BC to Nelson, BC (68km/609m)

Wednesday 26 May 2021

I left Laura’s house in Fruitvale after one last waffle breakfast. My route wound north through Nelson, where I grew up, before crossing Kootenay Lake and turning back south to pass through Creston. 

I hadn’t been back to Nelson since my brother’s high school graduation three years prior and my feelings about returning were mixed. Nelson was a beautiful place to grow up, but my high school experience left something to be desired. Most of my memories from that time involve angsty situations in which I tried, mostly unsuccessfully, to fit in. Since my family had moved away, there wasn’t much to miss about the community. 

I loaded up my freshly-cleaned bike, said goodbye to Laura’s family, and set off for Nelson. The highway connection between Fruitvale and Nelson is only about 60 kilometers and passes through the small communities of Salmo and Ymir. As I entered Salmo, I stopped for coffee at the DragonFly cafe and contemplated continuing on the rail-trail connection. I tried it, but the recently resurfaced gravel was too loose, so I stuck to the highway instead.

Continuing on the shoulder of the road, I remembered that my family lived in Ymir when I was born. My dad had built a home and shop on his first property in Canada, there. I couldn’t remember exactly where it was, but I instinctively pulled onto the correct road. Vivid memories from when I was only two years old came back to me as I turned right, then left, and looked over the fence at the simple home with a tower that was still there. I noticed that there were children’s toys on the porch beside the dog that guarded the property with a kind demeanor. It was similar to how I imagined my parents had set the property up when I was born.

Shortly before Nelson, I turned on to the rail trail, seeing that this section had been compacted. As I descended into town, my connection with the place I’d grown up in was re-awakened and I was happy to be back. 

I arrived at Miriam and Philipp’s, my hosts for the night, in the early afternoon. I’ve known them for at least 15 years and it was nice to catch up before riding down to Nelson’s main street to run a few errands. I was happy to see many familiar faces but it was interesting how much of the city had changed from the time I was last there. Shops had moved, closed down, or been replaced.

When I got back to the house, I set up camp in the yard and got ready for an outdoor dinner with Miriam and Philipp, and Anita and Malcolm, two other long-time family friends who I knew through Aikido. I hadn’t seen them in five years and it was nice to share my experiences since leaving for university and hear how they’d spent the last few years.

Day 13: Nelson, BC to Creston, BC (116km/1086m)

Thursday 27 May 2021

After my night in Nelson, I met up with Tibo, a friend I’d gone to high school with. We rode the 30 kilometers out to the ferry together and had coffee at the Old World Bakery. He turned around and I waited for the next sailing across Kootenay Lake.

The sailing from Balfour to Crawford Bay is the longest free ferry ride in British Columbia and I thoroughly enjoyed making the trip when I worked at Tipi Camp in Crawford Bay. I made sure to include it in my route while I was planning the trip.

This time the sailing was different, though. Because of COVID, I was confined to one spot on the ferry, and almost as soon as I boarded, it began to rain. The wet weather continued for a few hours as I rode through Crawford Bay and south along the east shore of Kootenay Lake. Eventually, it dried up for periods, but the northward headwinds persisted. 

As the day progressed, I grew progressively tired—more tired than I’d been in a while. I wondered if maybe having been vaccinated against COVID two days earlier was affecting me, or if my three days of sedentary rejuvenation was proving to be more consequential than beneficial. Maybe it was just the cumulative fatigue of the past eight days of riding.

I reached out to WarmShowers hosts in Creston and was invited to stay in Jan and Zach’s yard. Anticipation of having a yard to camp in and not having to worry about finding a wild camping spot is the only thing that pushed me through the remaining distance.

When I arrived, I was greeted warmly with a beautiful spot underneath a willow tree to camp, an indoor space to store my bike, access to a washroom, and information about how to connect to the internet. I set up camp, crawled into my sleeping bag, and was asleep by 8:00.

Day 14: Creston, BC to Kimberley, BC (133km/1050m)

Friday 28 May 2021

After 11 hours of sleep, I woke up refreshed and braced myself for another 100-kilometer/plus day. Jan and Zach sent me off with a fresh cup of coffee and the recommendation to ride the 30-kilometer paved rail-trail between Cranbrook and Kimberley. 

I reached out to WarmShowers hosts again, early in the day and made my way north. The weather improved. Instead of a few hours of rain like what I’d experienced the previous day, there were only periods of rain and the sun won out by the early afternoon.

At noon, I passed through Yach and stopped to see the ‘goats on the roof’—a stop I remembered making with my family when I was younger. While I was there, I took the opportunity to eat chili for lunch. Around the same time, Kim and Mike, in Kimberley got back to me, letting me know I could camp in their yard and use their washroom. Having another pre-planned place to spend the night solidified my decision to alter my route to pass through Kimberley instead of Fort Steele. I was also curious how Kimberley’s Platzl measured up to authentic Bavaria where I’d lived for two and a half years. 

When I arrived, I was greeted by the two, clearly adventurous, retirees. They told me I could store my bike in the garage, and sleep in their newly renovated basement. We spoke about my bike tour, and some of the bikepacking trips they’d done recently. After taking a shower, and doing a load of laundry, I went to bed. 

Day 15: Kimberley, BC to Dry Gulch Provincial Park (129km/838m)

Saturday 29 May 2021

I woke up at 7:30 to the sun shining through the basement window onto the spot on the floor where I’d chosen to set up my sleeping pad on the floor. I looked at my alarm clock and it said it was 6:30 but the sun kept me awake. As I lay there, I remembered that I crossed my first time-zone boundary the day before and that my alarm clock must not have gotten the memo. 

I got up and began packing up my belongings. Mike called down the stairs offering me coffee and scrambled eggs for breakfast. I excitedly accepted. 

Over breakfast, Kim, Mike, and I talked about fitness and fatigue while cycle touring. When I left Victoria, I was under the impression that I would be building fitness as I crossed Canada and would be covering progressively more ground per day as I went. It hadn’t felt that way during the last few days though. Kim and Mike thought that cumulative fatigue generally has a larger effect than fitness building on a trip like mine. I began wondering if they were right. 

I left around 8:30 and stopped by the Platzl on the way out of town. It wasn’t quite the same as downtown in Erding, where I’d lived in German, but it was nice.

Continuing up the Columbia Valley I stopped in Canal Flats for lunch. From there I continued up through Fairmont Hotsprings and into Invermere. My mouth started watering when I saw a Bavarian restaurant on my right. I knew I only had so much daylight left though and still had to find a spot to camp for the night, so I ate quickly at Tim Hortons across the street instead. 

Dry Gulch Park was the last provincial campground before Radium and Kootenay National Park, so I decided I’d covered enough ground for the day and would spend the night there. I’m glad I did. My neighbors, Corey and Andrea, at the campground were friendly and invited me over to their campfire for a vodka punch. It was a distraction I needed after another long, tiring day on the bike. They were as enthusiastic about my bike tour as I was and happened to be triathletes as well. We exchanged stories about endurance challenges, and I told them about my motivations for the tour. Before I went to bed, Corey gave me some Gatorade Endurance—electrolyte powder that is only available in the States—which would be valuable when I started my climb out of Radium the following day.

Day 16: Dry Gulch Provincial Park to Banff, AB (144km/1667m)

Sunday 30 May 2021

My alarm went off at 7:00. I stuck my arm out from warmth under my sleeping bag to hit the snooze button. It was already light out, but the cold seeped in when I rolled over and pulled my sleeping bag too far to one side. I felt tired, but after being woken up a few more times by the incessant beeping of my alarm, I decided I should brave the cold, get out of my tent, pack up my belongings, and start the long day ahead of me crossing the continental divide. 

The sun was up but was not yet penetrating the tree canopy that covered my campsite. I moved slowly and only got back on the road at 8:30. Despite starting my day later than I’d hoped to, I made the stop for coffee as I passed through Radium Hotsprings. Then when I felt awake enough, I made the right-hand turn onto Highway 93 which would connect me to the Trans-Canada north of Kootenay National Park. 

I remembered the first section of the road well. When my family drove from Nelson to Calgary when I was younger, we’d always stop at the hot springs. The highway through the beginning of the park passes through a narrow gap cut in the mountain and winds itself up. It’s inevitable that you’ll see bighorn sheep on that stretch of road, and I did. One joined the cars in using the road as an effective means to commute. 

Beyond, there were signs advising drivers not to stop for 15 kilometers because of the presence of bears on the highway.  For me, averaging 10 kilometers per hour uphill would mean 1.5 hours without stopping. I whistled and yelled periodically to inform the bears of my presence in their habitat. Park wardens also drove ahead of me at times to make sure the road was clear. My whistling and yelling must have been effective because I never saw a bear on that stretch of road. I only ever heard, from other road users, about bears a few hundred meters in front of or behind me. 

As soon as I reached the summit of the first pass and rounded the corner into Kootenay Valley, I was blown away by the scenery: snow-capped rocky mountains on the opposite side of the valley and tree-lined wilderness in between. I stopped for a while to take it in. 

My awe continued as I descended to the valley floor. The highway had a wide shoulder that was comfortable to ride on and that followed the meandering Kootenay river. Long sections of the road had views of the turquoise/clear water.

I continued pedaling for a long while until I reached the Kootenay Park Lodge. There I stopped for my early afternoon coffee and inquired about spots to camp near Castle Junction and the elevation I would have to cover to get there.

After replenishing my caffeine and water stores, I continued. 400 meters of elevation remained between me and the continental divide—the highest point on my route across most of Canada, which also divided rivers that drain into the Pacific ocean from those which drain into the Atlantic. I arrived in the late afternoon and stayed for a while to enjoy the accomplishment. Everything was downhill from where I sat. I smiled knowing that even though there would be plenty of hills and mountains during the rest of my trip. 

After a few more kilometers of highway climbing, I descended down to and across Highway 1. The air that rushed past me felt refreshingly cool after a long day in the sun. 

The campground I wanted to stay at near Castle Junction was closed. So was Highway 1A; however, it was open to cyclists. Since I’d returned to an area with cell service, I paused for a moment to check my messages. Friends of a family friend, Leslie and Kieth, who are also avid cyclists, offered to let me stay in their backyard in Banff, even though they were gone that night. It was late, but I decided I’d enjoy the wide-open road and push on to where I knew I could set my tent up. I ran into other travelers on Highway 1A, Katherine and Karla, as well, who even offered to let me stay in their yard. As always, I was amazed by the generosity of people I met on the road.

Earlier in the day while admiring the views, I had wondered how things could get any better. It turns out that they could. Having a whole highway to myself and being surrounded by picturesque forests, mountains, and rivers put the proverbial icing on the cake for what had turned out to be the most beautiful day I’d ever spent on the bike. Arriving in Banff late in the evening, I was happy to have a place to go where I knew I was welcome.

Day 17: Banff, AB to Canmore, AB (35km/84m)

Monday 31 May 2021

After a long previous day, and knowing I had a short day ahead, I allowed myself to sleep in an extra hour. When I got packed up, I cycled through Banff and back to the Vermillion Lakes that I had passed at the end of the previous evening. I jumped into the water in an attempt to clean myself before spending most of the rest of the day in the town-centers of Banff and Canmore. After a meager camp shave, I cycled into Banff to explore the tourist hub.

Indoor and outdoor seating was closed for another day in Alberta, but I enjoyed walking up and down the main street. On a recommendation from a woman I met at the lake, I picked up a sandwich, salad, and cookie at Wildflower Bakery for lunch. It was delicious!

I brought what I didn’t eat right away down to the city park where I met Janie who I’d seen lying there with her luggage a few hours earlier. She was a French-Canadian hotel management student who had arrived earlier in the day for a summer job at one of Banff’s hotels. I spent a few hours learning french phrases from her in preparation for the part of my tour that would bring me through Quebec and into Montreal. Later in the afternoon I said goodbye and continued on to Canmore, where I’d meet Kevin, my oldest friend from Nelson.

Banff and Canmore are connected by a bike path that locals use to commute between the cities. In contrast to previous days, the distance I covered was short, but the break was enjoyable. 

When I arrived in Canmore, I went straight to the Bicycle Cafe—a curious, yet well-thought-out bike shop, coffee shop, and place to get succulents—to inquire about a rear-wheel true. I was told that they could help me if I brought my bike back the following day.

Curious about what Canmore had to offer, I walked up and down the main street while I waited for Kevin to get off work. Once we met up, we spent the evening catching up after not having seen each other in five years. 

Day 18: Rest Day in Canmore, AB

Tuesday 1 June 2021

I woke up at 8:00 on my day off, wanting to get some work done on my blog before bringing my bike into the shop. When I arrived at the shop, I left my bike with the mechanic and got a coffee.

I was completely sold on the idea of being able to get your bike fixed and your caffeine fix at the same place. Then I spent the rest of my morning at the city park writing. 

When Kevin and I met up for lunch, he showed me a few of his favorite gear shops in town: Switching Gear, Valhalla Pure, and Vertical Addiction. And, after lunch, I returned to my work and picked up my bike. 

We enjoyed the first day of outdoor dining since the closure in Alberta by going to the Drake with a few of Kevin’s friends for beers. It was a relaxing way to end my rest day in the Rockies.

The thrill of every new routine wears off eventually. It’s important to maintain a positive outlook and appreciate what you are doing for the ways that it benefits your life. If you’re lucky, as I was on the third stage of my journey, there will be moments when you are blessed with experiences that you can’t help but embrace in awe.

Gratitudes

I’d like to express my thanks, during the third stage of my trip, to

  • Ian who generously donated $50 to support my blog and cycle tour,
  • Wanda who generously donated $25 to support my blog and cycle tour,
  • Miriam and Philipp, long-time family friends, who kindly hosted me at their home in Nelson,
  • Jan and Zack, WarmShowers hosts, who invited me to camp in their yard, store my bike inside and use the washroom at their beautiful home in Creston.
  • Kim and Mike, WarmShowers hosts, who offered me their basement, a warm shower, a washing machine, and scrambled eggs for breakfast at their home in Kimberley,
  • Scott, who generously donated $50 to support my blog and cycle tour, and 
  • Kevin, my oldest friend, who hosted me at his suite in Canmore during my rest day,
  • and, of course, all my friends and family for their sustained support.

Statistics

  • Total Distance: 1536km
  • Total Elevation: 13522m
  • Wild Animals: Black Bear (×1), Brown Bear (×1), Deer Tick (×1), Elk (× many)
  • Warm Showers: 5

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