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Glacier & Waterton Lakes Cycle Tour

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Glacier & Waterton Lakes Cycle Tour

August 22nd, 2005  · stk


Between Rachel's UofA schedule, the frigid Edmonton winter and family visits, there isn't much time for adventuring. However, we were determined to do something significant this year and because cycle touring is easier with a toddler than backpacking, we opted for a bicycle trip.

This is Alex's second self-supported cycle ride. Last summer, we cycled with her in Alberta, from Canmore, through Banff and Jasper National Parks, along the Icefield Parkway. She was then 10 months old and wasn't yet walking. She's now 22 months old, about 10 pounds heavier, has boundless energy, a curiosity to match and walks faster than we want. Would she be able to handle the confines of the towable buggy? Would Dad (who's 10 pounds heavier himself) be able to pull all the extra weight after a sedentary winter?

We contemplated a cycle-tour through the prairies, going from one small Alberta town to another, riding along lightly trafficked farm roads. We thought about incorporating a visit to Drumheller which we've heard is outstanding and neither of us has visited. The terrain would be easy (flat to rolling hills), but we were concerned about camping accommodations and prevailing winds (prairie winds can become quite fierce).

In the end, we picked Glacier and Waterton Lakes National Parks. The "Going to the Sun Road" offered a challenge and we thought that summertime temperatures would be more pleasant in forested mountains, rather than on the open prairies. It's also a world-class cycling area and has a much more varied terrain.

While we were visiting our 1999 Big Ride friend Dave and his wife, Karen, in Seattle, we mentioned our plans. He was immediately interested, so we tentatively arranged to include him in the adventure. Dave is quite a character, with a big heart, funny stories and strong legs. Because Rachel has a tendency to push for miles, Scott thought that by including Dave, we would 'stop to smell the roses' more.

An Internet search reveals very few photo-journals along the proposed route. Tom Swenson did this loop in 1999 and has the best accounting of the trip that we could find. The New Mexico Touring Society has a route map, route description and elevation gain data. There we learned that the total elevation gain we'd be traveling would be approximately 16,000 feet. Ugh!

The Route & Maps

When we cycled across the U.S. in 1999, we passed through Missoula, Montana, home of the Adventure Cycling Association. We enjoyed a tour through their offices and use them often as a cycling resource.

The Adventure Cycling "Great Parks Route" includes a set of 7 maps, the Great Parks North, Section 2 map covers most of our intended loop route (missing only a segment from Fernie to Baynes Lake). Because we're not currently members, the map cost was $11(USD), plus shipping. The map is printed in color on water and tear-resistant Tyvek. It includes an elevation profile, contours and symbols for campgrounds, grocery stores, bike shops and other useful services. It is nicely designed, but beware the elevation profile, as it is not accurate (more on that later).

We ordered the map and quickly decided to start and end our loop in Whitefish, MT, traveling clockwise, for these reasons:

• Whitefish is a good halfway meeting point between Edmonton (where we live) and Seattle (where Dave lives).

• There's an excellent bike shop in Whitefish, useful for any last-minute cyclery needs.

• Our off-the-couch and onto-the-bicycle training program meant that a clockwise trip from Whitefish would put the big climbs (like "Going to the Sun Road") later in the trip.

• Cycling restrictions on the "Going to the Sun Road" pertain mostly to east-bound traffic. By traveling west-bound, not only did we face an "easier" climb, but we could cross Logan's Pass at any time of the day. (See "Epilogue, Planning & Resources" for more detail on cycling restrictions.)

Even with maps and a route, we could only estimate the number of days it would take us to complete the journey. Tom Swenson took 8 days to complete his trip. We conservatively allocated 10 days, thinking that we might do it in less. We dusted off the bikes and took the Oop for a test ride along the Saskatchewan River Valley, just to test our legs. Oh yeah ... we're out of shape!

All that remained, besides our conditioning concerns, was to pack and drive to Whitefish.

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