25/07/18 (EU date)
After mailing ahead my climbing gear and some other things to a Warmshowers host ahead to travel lighter up some passes, leaving Squamish, on the way to Whistler, the rain started pouring. I stopped a bit before Whistler to admire the beautiful Brandywine Falls.
I didn’t stay long in Whistler, essentially a big touristy ski resort, which left me a bit cold. There were good facilities in the village near the Olympic Plaza though.
I stealth camped in a not-so-comfy-spot and got hammered by mosquitoes for the first time really since entering Canada. Unfortunately, it was only the start and the blood- thirstier and thirstier mosquitoes would follow me all the way into Alberta.
I only cycled 30 kilometers the following day, which allowed me to sort out my brakes which had started rubbing again after I had changed the pads in Squamish. I was looking forward to pitch my tent in a dry and flat spot that night, and some flat grass just behind the local football field dugouts looked just like what I was after. There was just one hangup: I woke up to really loud and strange metallic noises at 2am… Half awake and freaking out I grabbed my bear spray and prepared myself to face the dangerous wild animal causing the racket, probably messing around with my bike. After staying still a few seconds though, my panic receding, I understood it was only the field’s sprinklers watering my bicycle and also the dugout metal roof channelling down a good quantity of water on my tent when the sprinkler was working in that direction…
I went back to sleep but woke up tired and it took me a while to get ready that morning. By the time I had cooked and eaten breakfast in a sheltered picnic place in the town the parade was on. The parade ? Yes, it was the 1st of July, Canada day, which in Canada is the day the different Canadian colonies joined into a Confederation in 1867. It’s not the type of celebration I’d be necessarily taking part in at home but as a foreigner it was definitely interesting to watch.
Making my way out of town past the parade, my loaded bicycle attracted attention once again.
“Where are you headed?”
“I hope to make it to Lillooet today”
“How, wow, and when are you going ?”
“Well, right now !”
“Well, good luck! You are aware it is an horrendously steep hill to there, aren’t you ?”
I was hoping to make a whooping 114 kilometers that day on the Duffy Lake road, past Lillooet, but by the time I left it was 10.30am, hardly a decent hour to make that much in the day. And while I had definitely had the steep hill conversation with many people before, had seen the elevation chart, and had kind of prepared myself psychologically beforehand, in the case I had managed to still ignore what was ahead, by the time I got to the bottom of the hill it was impossible to not know how hard the following 15 kilometers were going to be for me:
Over 15km I was going to gain 1267 meters elevation. Ok, it is probably not that much of a hill compared to some roads in the US and Spain, but for myself who is still not such a big hill enthusiast after 7 months of touring with a loaded bike this was somewhat of a massive accomplishment to get to the top without having pushed a single bit. I was happy I had some music to keep myself motivated though, and did stop a good number of times to catch my breath or eat a snack.
Obviously, by the time I got up there, it was already mid-afternoon and then I was trying to rush to make up for some kilometers. I had a good long descent straight after the pass but then it was more flat for the next 50 kilometers, or rather alternating some very short steep uphills and downhills. It was interesting to see the landscape changing a lot during that time, from coastal, humid forests and mountains to dry and canyon-like mountains.
At some point, it seemed they got tired of putting signs showing the kilometers on the road. The trees would have to do.
…And at some point, I got exhausted as well. I had a consequent steep hill on 2-3 kilometers again but by that point I was done and very hungry. I carried on to freewheel into a free campground next to a reservoir just after the hill. It was 9pm. The campground was full but somehow I found some space next to a spot where a big group from a Russian orthodox church in a neighbouring town had gathered. A interesting day all in all.
The following days were going to be a little more ordinary. Or were they?
While I had not managed 114km the previous day, only 94, the Warmshowers host I was going to that day was flexible with my arrival date. Which allowed me to take a slow day and explore the historic town of Lilloet before making it there.
Vera, who owns a trading post there was really nice with me and gave me a dry and warm place to sleep inside after the weather turned nasty once again.
The day after I was still cycling along fantastic canyons.
And I passed a surprising plant. At least they recognized they were in Native territory…but there is probably a lot more behind that. Along the way I was reading a book on Canadian history, which turned out to be quite fitting to the places I was going through.
I then made it to Cache Creek, my aim for that day, but it didn’t really look like wild camping was going to be easy in the area just after. I cycled and cycled, passing a not so flat and treeless landscape along the highway. There was also the fear that I would have to make much more kilometers that planned into Kamloops the next day. When I ran my itinerary again onto both Maps.me and Google that day, it just seemed to make me take a 50 kilometers detour instead of taking the direct highway into town. I realized it might be forbidden to cycle on that section of the highway and braced myself for a big detour.
That’s how a 80 km day turned into a 111km day and I went to sleep past 11pm in a Ioverlander spot I wasn’t so sure about. I got up at 4.30am the next day and was packed by 5am (never happened before in the history of me cyclotouring !), as I wasn’t willing to stick around. Obviously I was pretty trashed and dragged myself for the next 12km. Ok, there was a hill in the middle, but it took me considerable time to reach the rest area up there.
I was hoping to crash onto a picnic table at the rest area then and nap for 2 hours. It turned out this was the place I was going to encounter a record number of cyclotourists since I had started cycling from Squamish.
I met Francis, another French cycling from Vancouver to Calgary where his son was living, and a couple of retired German cyclotourers. Talking with them, they were pretty sure taking the highway on the bicycles was going to be doable. Zooming and zooming on Maps.me I finally spotted a cycleway along that crucial section of the highway that all mapping apps were bypassing. And so I made it to Kamloops, as it was starting to get very hot. The geographical situation of the city though makes hot temperatures a regular occurrence during the summer compared to some other cities a bit further. Kamloops is hilly too!
In Kamloops I was in the good care of Warmshowers hosts Nicki, Chase, and their housemate who were all medical students. I was great to hang out with them for a couple of days while I sorted out some gear and some route planning for the next step of my journey to Youngstown. Nicki and Chase brought me up some very nice MTB trails on the outskirts of the city. Kamloops seems quite industrial but is also a place where there is a lot to do outdoors nearby.
That’s when I realized my front brake was still not working properly. I only braked with my back brake in the descent, only to overheat it and loose any kind of braking power. I ended up stopping in a bush with not even one scratch but decided to walk the rest of the descent ! I didn’t manage to completely fix my brake after much more tinkering but managed to get it at least safe.
After Kamloops I stopped overnight at another Warmshowers host, a couple who owns a bike repair shop. They are quite creative with recycling bicycle wheels…
On my way to Salmon Arm the following day I was very happy and relieved to see this nice message after following the busy highway for a while.
It is a strange thing to see the backroads so close to the highway though !!!
After staying with another Warmshower host, a couple, Alain and Coleen, I was in another area where good camping spots were slightly hard to find. On my way I passed another historical landmark: The last spike to be put on the Trans Canadian railway, just before Revelstoke.
I may or may not have slept there…The following day on my way to Revelstoke I passed some traditional cabins in a agreeable landscape.
In Revelstoke I stayed at a Warmshowers host, William, a French expat, who took me climbing with some of his friends!
Out of Revelstoke, I was entering the National Parks area and had a decent climb ahead of me. I saw a lot of cyclotourists again.
In the National Parks unfortunately it is forbidden to wildcamp, and the campgrounds are expensive for a solo traveller. Expect to pay around 20-30CAD for most of them, who don’t provide showers but generally have pit toilets, water (not all of them), and bears lockers. However, in the busy summer period, they quickly get full, which can sometimes be an advantage if you are cyclotouring, as you can ask other people to share, which brings down the costs right down. After passing the first pass after Revelstoke I started looking for a spot at one of the smallest and less popular campground, with no luck. A little bit anxious I went on to the next one, 3km ahead and much bigger. It was after 7pm and I was getting slightly desperate, until I passed two cyclotourists already sharing a campsite that one of them had managed to grab in the morning.
It was an amazing landscape to cycle through, though.
On the way down from the pass, I was reminded of how big of a country Canada is with a number of different time zones. I had already cycled through one !
After stopping in Golden I kept going, encountering roadworks and another pass. I had been told a few times by some non-cyclists and cyclists alike that it was going to be a dangerous road with a lot of traffic. I considered rerouting, but didn’t have many options given I had to make it to Youngstown at a certain date.
In the end, I encountered other cyclists who assured me it was fine to cycle and the pass after Golden wasn’t so hard and busy to cycle, especially given I tackled it on a weekday.
I stopped at Monarch campground just before the steepest and last part of the pass, but this time had learned my lesson. I was there at 4pm and found a good spot easily, which I shared with a cyclotouring Dutch family afterwards. By 5pm everything was full and people were using the parking as overflow… even pitching their tents there !
And, the following day, I crossed into Alberta !
When planning I had initially thought about stopping in Lake Louise, about 20km after Monarch campground, to climb,as there were really nice towers with easy trad and sport routes there, but Lake Louise seemed like a very difficult place to find affordable accommodation and, being quite a small place I couldn’t guarantee finding a climbing partner easily, so I decided to abandon the idea. A little bit overwhelmed by how busy the National Parks were and the costs of camping before I realized sharing spots with other people was very doable, I had also thought of going north after Lake Louise and bypassing Banff and Canmore.
In the end, I am glad I didn’t.
Ground squirrels are cute, but I also did some climbing in Canmore, where I stopped at Toivo and Suzanne’s, Warmshowers hosts. Their lodger, Toomas was an avid climber and so I climbed some sport routes that he led at Cougar Creek.
After Canmore I was greeted by those mountains goats before being slammed by a bout of bad weather. It got too rainy for me to even want to get my camera out, and the ensuing hail had me do an unplanned stop at an overpriced campground near Ghost Lake.
The next day I was in Calgary. They have good bicycle paths and good outdoor stores, but the city in itself had no major interest for me…
…Except I was staying with a Couchsurfing host, James, a fellow vegan climber, who took me out to climb on an easy sport multi with one of his friend, Matt, in… Banff.
It was a long multi with some good climbing, and the views speak for themselves.
After Calgary, I had 3 days and a half to go through some of the infamous prairies, to Youngstown, where I had rendez-vous with a 10 day long meditation course. It didn’t take long to get out of Calgary onto… this:
For kilometers on end.
After tackling some headwinds going North on a stretch (roads form a perfect elongated gridlock, so to go East and slightly North I had to do a stretch straight North) I stopped at a campground in Beiseker the first day. 50 more boring kilometers were waiting for me, but it got much more interesting passing Horseshoe Canyon, which appears to be hidden in the middle of the prairies.
After Horseshoe Canyon I started to encounter a lot of natural gas-extracting machines just before Drumheller… Alberta is coal and gas country.
An hidden downhill got me into Drumheller, a quirky town !
20 kilometers past Drumheller there was another interesting geological formation to visit, the “Hoodos”.
After a good number of kilometers I was now heading to camp…
In a ghost town nearby.
I ended up having an outhouse in an open picnic area all to myself.
The following day the weather got nasty again, and I was lucky to find a water station in the middle of nowhere, to fill up my bottles, before sheltering in an empty campground nearby during a thunderstorm.
I had to do more kilometers that day though, and I braved the rain and the wind to make it to Blood Indian campground. For 15CAD you can pitch your tent anywhere in the park except in the areas near the entrance with the main campground at 25CAD. It wasn’t too bad for the price, and given there are not really any places to stealth past Drumheller area as everything is farmland, it was a good option and I did see a few nice animals.
All in all, I had been lucky with wildlife sightings cycling through the prairies. I saw lots of mule deers, colored birds, and ground squirrels. Unfortunately there was a lot of roadkill as well.
I also saw those guys:
Some kind of salamander, and a badger sniffing me out from his den !
… I had made it to Youngstown, pretty much in the middle of nowhere. I was looking forward to my meditation course but was also a little bit anxious about what was awaiting me. Did I really have what it take to complete the course ?
- There are many route options going east of Vancouver area. Going through Pemberton and Lilloet was consistently pointed out to me as one of the most scenic and quieter routes east, up to Golden. Golden area have some alternatives such as going through Radium Hot Springs, but whichever way you go you’ll have passes.
- Approaching Kamloops on the 1 from the west, especially near the intersection between the 1 and the 5, mappings apps will have you detouring 50 kilometers+ on a bicycle. The canadian roads website is not helpful as it will list the section of this highway from the highways 1 and 5 intersection to Kamloops as a freeway prohibited to cyclists. There IS a cyclepath alongside the freeway section. Just watch out for the “bicycle route” sign after passing a few ponds, and make sure to follow it.
- If you are in the Parks area the Icefield parkway is highly recommended to cycle by many people as it is very scenic, and you will very likely see some black bears, mountain goats, or other animals.
- Wildcamping in the National Parks which follows one another in Banff/Golden area (Glacier, Yoho, Banff, Jasper, etc) is not permitted. Lodging in the area such as hostels are very expensive, don’t really cater for cyclists and get booked out weeks in advance. Some campground needs to be booked in advance, some are first-come first serve. As of 2018 there are some Warmshowers hosts in Jasper and Canmore, but not any in between and they can get really busy due to the affluence of cyclists. Wherever you are coming from and going to in this area it is very difficult to go through the parks area in a day. Therefore, it is best to try to plan early starts or distances so that you get to a first-come/first serve campground at max 4pm in the busy summer season. This link might be helpful to find first-come first-serve campgrounds in season. Sharing a campsite with other cyclists or campers is a way to reduce the costs, and also to ensure more people get a spot !
- If you have to camp near Ghost Lake, the first State Park/boating campground is expensive for very limited to no services. A couple kilometers further east, past a residential area is another campground, only 1 CAD cheaper at 25CAD, but offers wifi, showers and other services. Stealth possibilities between Exshaw and Cochrane/Calgary on the 1A which is the quieter road are limited as you go from an Indian reserve to farmlands and prairies-like landscape. Going back on the 1 after Morley may give more options.
- Apps such as I-Overlander are really useful to find free campsites east of Calgary. If you intend to stealth, plan ahead as most of this area is flat and uncovered fields/farmland for kilometers and kilometers…Going through Drumheller is also a nice alternative to see something different. As well, going through the prairies out of Calgary is much better in a west to east direction than the reverse. Headwinds can get pretty strong !