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Thursday, July 21, 2011

Dodging tourists and wildlife on the road between Banff and Lake Louise (and Bear Encounter Number 2)

Wednesday July 20. Day 55 of the tour. It was hard getting up this morning as the bed in the HI-Banff Hostel was so soft and inviting. But get up we did, and we rode our asses into the town of Banff to check out the town.

The village was...interesting. Just like Waterton Townsite, Banff is a complete town totally inside the park. I wasn't used to this, since there are no true "towns" that I know of in U.S. National Parks. They are on the outside of the boundary, and the most you'll get inside the park is a couple general store type places. But not here in Canada. Banff was a full on tourist trap. Gap, McDonalds, Pizza Hut, you got it. I didn't think this type of chain development was allowed here. It made me appreciate the town of Waterton a lot more. Sure, it wasn't cheap, but everthing was local mom-n-pop stuff except for the Subway.

And the people...yikes! I know that we're in a tourist area so "tourists" are expected (and yes, we're tourists ourselves) but we had to manoeuver around so many of them on the sidewalk. And the traffic was pretty bad as well. (Including the douchebag in an SUV with Ontario plates who cut me off.) So much for the wilderness experience.  We ended up eating in the food court of a mall because it had the cheapest food options. And I had never been so happy to see a Safeway in my life than here.

But the good stuff! We checked out the epic and enormous Banff Springs Hotel. Built in the earlier part of the 20th Century, at the time it was the largest hotel on Earth. The place resembles an overgrown chateau. And the views from the place? Fantastic. I can see why they built it, and why people will pay exorbitant fares to stay here.

Upon leaving we ran into a European couple who were bike touring from Calgary to the Kettle Valley in B.C. Down the way we ran into a woman who was touring from Jasper to Banff and then Glacier. She rode with us for a little bit on the Bow Valley Parkway.

We didn't get out of Banff until 3pm. But we had just a bit over 35 miles to go to get to Lake Louise. Besides a couple miles of freeway (Trans-Canada Highway) in the beginning, the ride was on 1A, the Bow Valley Parkway. This was the original routing of the Trans-Can (Hwy 1). It was a meandering narrow two lane road. But it's the backway, so the only people using it were touristas like ourselves.

Besides the fantastic views of the mountains that occasionally popped up when the trees afforded a view, the big attraction was the wildlife. Just getting onto the Parkway we encountered what looked like a young mountain goat eating on the side of the road. And a few miles in, a group of elk were grazing on the side of the road, causing a traffic jam as cars stopped to look. (Now I can check elk off the list of animals I've seen in the wild.)

There was a section of the parkway where the speed was reduced to 30km (18 m.p.h.) due to the preponderance of wildlife. When we entered this zone, I remarked aloud "Well I better see some wildlife!"

I need to learn to shut up.

Not long after I said this, when we started to climb a hill, April shouted "Bear!" I was ahead of her at this point, so I stopped to turn around. "Where?" I exclaimed. "On the side of the hill over here! It's about thirty feet or so from me." The angle of the hill and amount of hillside brush didn't allow me to see it. But April did. So much for not having another bear encounter on this trip!

The weather held out for most of the day, with some brief showers in the beginning. No dangerous weather like the day before. Still, it was cool, not getting above 60F/16C. I rocked my wool pants for the fist time in a long time. Technically it's still "spring" in the mountains, but having dealt with summer a few days previous, the coolness registered "fall" in my head. I actually don't mind fall, I just hate the reminder of impending winter.

We made it into the town of Lake Louise a little before sunset and found the HI-Lake Louise Hostel. Another night, another hostel. Both Banff and Jasper are lousy with them, and it's one of the reasons I wanted to check the parks out. When I thought of touring the Icefields Parkway a few years back, I had hoped to do it "inn to inn" style; forego camping and stay in hostels the whole time. (It would be the only way I ever credit card toured.) And since I am part of the "family", working in an HI for five years, I'm getting hooked up. 

The next few days we'll be staying in wilderness hostels, which don't even have power or hot water. Should make for an interesting experience! So that means I probably won't see the internet until we get into Jasper on Sunday. See you then! 


  1. Good post. Hang in there and enjoy the ride!

  2. My niece stayed In that famous hotel for her honeymoon. I've seen pics of the scenic views. Marilyn Munroe was also a frequent visitor :)


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