Day 9: Spectacular Again
Three years ago when I rode the Icefields Parkway in Alberta with Marilyn on our way back from Alaska, I searched for a word to properly describe what we beheld and settled on “spectacular.” It still is. Blue skies, aquamarine lakes and rivers, multiple shades of green aromatic trees carpeting the valleys and encroaching on the mountainsides, and soaring, rugged, rocky mountain peaks definitely deserve”spectacular.”
In three days we’ve covered four of the most special motorcycle roads in North America, and for me, and I think for Mark, today was the best of all. Not because it’s a technically challenging road; it’s not. There aren’t many sharp twists and turns that floorboards fear. But the scenery is second to none. The powerfully rising Canadian Rockies, a relatively young mountain range as those things go, bulge skyward in jagged peaks of gray, yellow, red and brown, often spotted with crystalline white snow accumulated over centuries or remaining from last winter.
On two separate occasions we passed black bears, but the first bruin was not in area where I felt safe stopping on the road (though that fear didn’t enter the mind of the idiot driving an RV who stopped for his own special photo shoot), and the second one was already being hounded by a platoon of plaid-clad touristas menacing his privacy. I think I’ll have plenty of time to shoot bears in the Yukon and Alaska, photographically speaking. But I did stop when the opportunity to capture a couple of mountain goats grazing in the dirt, looking for minerals their goaty bodies need.
It’s difficult to ride these mountains and not have, as Mark said, a sense of personal insignificance against a backdrop of so much power and majesty. We count our lives in years; the mountains count their lives in hundreds of millions of years. We are here for an instant, their time is nearly limitless. They are vast, yet they show off the smallest flowers with exquisite perfection. Last year’s Great Adventure literally took me around all the Rocky Mountains from New Mexico to the Yukon, yet I can’t sate my mountain craving.
Sunday in Radium Hot Springs generally gets off to a slow start. About the only things moving at 6:30 this morning were two fuzzy old motorcyclists and a small herd of a dozen Rocky Mountain Sheep grazing in the grass a couple hundred yards from our motel. No gas stations open, no restaurants open. But to the relief of our caffeine-deprived bodies, a coffee house that also baked some fine blueberry muffins had a small yet inviting “open” sign in the window. By 7 a.m. we were topping off with petrol and motoring into the mountains.
Once we crossed the first range of mountains, our initial stop was Lake Louise, a return trip for me and a first for Mark. We marveled at the lake’s beauty, wandered through the five-star Chateau Lake Louise, converted some U.S. currency to colorful Canadian bills and a few Loonies and Toonies, paid our senior-discount fees to the Parks Canada fee collectors, and were on our way north on the Icefields Parkway.
It’s hard not to stop at every scenic viewpoint on the Parkway, but doing so would stretch a four-hour ride into a four-day ride. We judiciously tried to take in the sensual scenery while keeping a wary eye on the tourist hordes, some of whom were combining an annual vacation with driving school. Several stops along the way for pictures and leg stretching sufficed, including a pause at the Icefields Center at Athabasca Glacier and another halt at Athabasca Falls where an army of ant-like tourists crawled over the landscape and into our camera shots.
We were in heated gear all day, with temperatures at times dropping to the mid-40s though rising to the mid-60s as we finished our ride under storm clouds with occasional sprinkles. But we were never uncomfortable and certainly preferred cooler temperatures to the ovens we rode through getting to Canada.
I’m reminded as I try to write and try to insert pictures that the deeper I get into the backcountry, the less reliable are the internet connections I need to post the blog. I think this one will get done sometime tonight, but there may be days when I’m unable to post. Please bear with me. I’m trying.
Tomorrow we head for Dawson Creek and the beginning of the Alaska Highway.
By the way, don’t forget to click on the pictures for larger images.