Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Day 4 - Canmore to Jasper (Play Day)

Day 4 Canmore, Alberta to Jasper, Alberta
308 Miles
2,333 Miles Total

I had a rude awakening this morning.  It’s always annoying to have ones sleep disturbed by an unfamiliar noise, especially when falling asleep in a strange environment was so difficult in the first place.  In this case, the annoying noise was my teeth chattering.  I drifted off to sleep in t-shirt weather and awoke wishing I had the Batman pajamas with the feet in them I wore as a kid.  I’ve written repeatedly that I was sure I overlooked something, despite my tedious planning.  This morning I realized what it was.  A BLANKET!  My sleeping bag is rated at -5 degrees and I know the temperature was nowhere near that low, but my entire body was shivering nonetheless and my teeth followed suit.  I’ll stop today in some town and pick up a hefty blanket.  I’m fortunate to have nicer accommodations tonight, staying in the home of a fellow rider.

I set my phone’s alarm for 6:00am, but had been wide awake for at least an hour when it went off.  I needed to pee, bad!  But it was cold out and I wanted to maintain what little warmth I had.  Now I know how my old dog Zeus feels when I force him to go outside in the morning.  At least I could let myself back in and didn’t have to stare back at the door hoping whomever let me out didn’t leave me there to freeze.  But I digress…

I slowly, methodically packed up camp and loaded Hester down.  As I looked her over, her rear tire had (and still has) me concerned.  I’ve already purchased new tires in Alaska.  I just hope this one holds out until I get there.  I rode across the street and fueled Hester up with 92 octane gas and myself with an apple left over from my hotel in Denver and a Monster Energy Absolute Zero energy drink.  Breakfast of champions!  I had all day to get four hours away, so today was going to be a touring day.  I planned to ride through Banff and check out Lake Louise to see for myself what all the hoopla was about and to see if it lived up to the hype.  I loaded up a play list of my favorite tunes by RUSH, cranked the stereo up, and descended into a mental state that only a biker understands.  The ride to Lake Louise was nothing short of amazing.  I heeded the advice of a local rider and took the scenic 1A highway instead of Hwy 1 and I’m really glad I did.  As I rode northward through Banff National Park, I was torn between two distinctly different urges.  One is that primal craving which exists in every biker, to rage through the seemingly endless climbing and descending curves.  The other is the desire to slow the pace in a vain attempt to completely capture a glance at the constant display towering mountains and jagged cliff ridges on either side of the road.  The roads were well maintained and provided a safe surface on which to satiate that first desire.  But in the end, the scenery won out.  I found myself setting the cruise control to whatever the limits were and pulling Hester over to let the cagers by whenever they closed on me from behind. 

Lake Louise was absolutely breathtaking.  Photos don’t do it justice.  The park was awash with Asian tourists.  I haven’t been surrounded by this many Asians since I was in defensive driving class.  Even though the place was bustling with thousands of tourists, I was overcome by an overwhelming sense of tranquility just staring out at the indescribably blue/green, glass-smooth lake which was surrounded by snow-capped mountains.  I thought to myself, I’ll come back here someday.  I had arrived at the park early in the morning and quickly parked in one of the many available spaces.  As usual, I parked to one side of my space; leaving room for another biker should the spaces become scarce while I was on the lake.  I returned to find cars and campers idling all over the lot, the drivers looking for what had apparently become very elusive parking spaces.  I was followed by a slow-moving line of cars and I could tell the drivers were waiting for me to stop at a spot so they could grab it.  Ever the immature asshole, I stopped at one car and fumbled for my keys for a second.  The car that was stalking me abruptly stopped and a group of Asian people started getting out and unloading.  I then walked between the two cars and on to the next row.  “Kuso!” (shit) was all I heard from behind as I fought to control a grin.  I didn’t need to look back to feel their piercing stare on me.  After a few more rows and a few more pissed off drivers, either the thrill played out or I grew up (I’m pretty sure I'm still an asshole though) and I made a beeline for Hester.  When I got back to her, there were two other bikes parked in our slot.  The scene in the parking lot was nothing compared to the scene on the narrow meandering road to the parking lot from Hwy 1A.  The winding line of cars and campers stretched out for a half mile or better.  If these people were all waiting for a parking spot, they would probably get to see a great night view of the lake.

Heart Attack in a Bun
I made my way back onto the main highway toward Jasper, ever aware that I could arrive far too early for my hosts.  I was starving and decided to stop for lunch.  My GPS indicated the nearest place was about 70 miles behind me.  It occurred to me that the fine programmers at Garmin might not be aware of all the mom and pop dining spots in the Banff area.  I was right.  I stopped at a place called The Crossing, which had a souvenir shop, really expensive gas (glad I didn’t need any), camping supplies (but no blankets) and a cafeteria.  There, I ate the most expensive and equally decadent hot dog I’ve ever seen.  “The Filthy Rabbi” had smoked sausage split wide open and stuffed with pulled pork and thick-sliced peppered bacon.  It was topped off with caramelized onions and cole slaw.  I suppose adding the veggies made it healthy.  Realistically, this option was no less unhealthy than the other meals they offered and at $15 Canadian; it was one of the less expensive.  Besides, it came with a coupon for one free jolt from the Crossing’s defibrillator.  It was every ounce as delicious as it was bad for me.  I know I’ll pay for eating it.  When I left the Crossing, there was a group of Asian tourists taking turns posing with Hester.  One of them, who looked as if she stole her clothes from the old Laugh In TV show’s wardrobe closet, was holding my helmet.  I paused briefly and considered the possibility that these could have been the same Asian tourists that I pissed off in the parking lot a couple of hours earlier.  I decided to just roll with it and wound up posing for a dozen photos with them.

The rest of the ride to Jasper was equally pleasant, albeit uneventful.  I got to meet Hermann, his wife Joanne, and her parents who were visiting from Quebec.  Hermann designed built this amazing home in the woods near Hinton, Alberta only minutes from HWY 40 - the scenic route to Alaska.  I can't do it justice with a description here.  All I can say is the man is an artist with wood.  Joanne made an excellent home-cooked dinner and Hermann and I went out for a short ride to fill our tanks. The next gas station is about 175 kilometers away.  Hermann advised me to fill up in Canmore because the fuel in Banff and beyond was low octane and very expensive.  I arrived at Hermann's place will very little fuel left and didn't want to sweat it when I departed in the morning, so another ride was welcome.  Hermann and Joanne have a book that other riders sign when they visit.  They genuinely enjoy hosting friendly riders and it shows in their hospitality.

I played today and only rode about 300 miles.  I took the time to stop and take the pictures (there were no roses to smell) and to shoot plenty of helmet cam video.  A week ago, I wouldn't have had the patience to stop.  I think the spirit of this adventure is finally sinking in and manifesting itself in a calmer, less-rushed me.  Tomorrow, I hit the road bound for Alaska.  I plan to wind up somewhere between Dawson Creek and Whitehorse.  The Alaskapade adventure rolls on...