Alaska Trip – Day 18

DAY EIGHTEEN:  MONDAY, JUNE 29

Our exact planned stop for this evening was unknown but we do know it would be very much east out of the mountains than from where we awoke.  We had two choices of routes available to us.

One, through Edmonton a shade north of us; would take us onto new roads quicker once we passed the city of Hinton.  This path would get us out of the mountains faster and take us to the plains.

Or the other; through the wondrous stretch of riding heaven known as the Icefields Parkway.  The one road in all of North America I would advise people to explore as often as they could in their lifetime.  Hmmm..obvious choice.

Breakfast this morning was at the Best Western’s own The Inn Restaurant, a very large cafeteria-style hall in the middle of the hotel complex.  Starting their breakfast service at 6:30 AM, Jeffrey and I were the only two customers in there.  They had a buffet table with the usual hot food candidates such as powdered eggs and overdone bacon stuffed into large metal serving pans.  The servers made it a point to tell us that even though it was a full-service restaurant, only the buffet was available.  At $10.50 each, the taste disappointed enough that we both commented that perhaps McDonald’s or Subway should have been visited.  Even in Jasper, Best Western’s morning buffet-style food is not all that great.

It had started raining the night before which continued as we packed the bikes and for the entire time we remained in the mountainous area of Canada this morning.  Just a steady light-to-mild intensity rain that just made the entire environment foggy, dreary, and cold.  Heated gear was once more taken out of bike storage and gladly worn to prevent hypothermia.

Just a reminder to future visitors that if you buy a national parks pass at Kootenay, Lake Louise, Banff, or Jasper National Park locations, it is good for twenty-four hours.  Our pass purchased in the late afternoon hours yesterday easily got us past the park’s gate located just a few miles south of Jasper when showed to the sleepy attendant.  It was time to go see the Icefields Parkway in different conditions than the massive amount of sunshine of our previous northern direction travels exactly two weeks earlier.

The obvious bear warning sign:

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Which of course, most people forget about and would exist their vehicles cameras in hand.  This morning’s entryway onto the Icefields Parkway was much different than two weeks ago…the world was still sleeping a little after 7 AM on this cold dreary morning.  No traffic at the start of our morning’s journey, and greatly reduced even two hours later on the near other end of the parkway.  This allowed easy stops both to the side and in the middle of the road for rain-hazed photos:

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The Icefields Parkway has access to the park’s many waterfalls; many of which require a hiking trip and a few that are actually reachable from the road.  While the morning’s moisture prevented great long distance photography, it did provide strength to seen waterfalls:

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View from standing in front of the above waterfall, looking back at the northerly road and in the direction of Jasper:

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You see many glaciers and remaining snow caps in both directions on the Parkway:

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Another random waterfall, one of the hundreds of smaller ones cascading down the mountainside in the current rain:

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As usual in the most beautiful of scenery, you struggle to figure out where the best place to pull over and get a photo is…so you eventually do and grab the shot:

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And a hundred yards later, realize that a much better shot of the same view awaits you and requires another immediate pull-off to get the better picture:

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Sometimes that better shot never appears and you do two u-turns to backtrack to the original missed opportunity location.

Our ride south was much different than two weeks before.  Even the mid-stopping point at the Saskatchewan River Crossing fora  fuel top off was quiet and eerily dreary.  Before we knew it, we exited out onto Canada Highway 1; our riding surface for the next couple of days.  We could have dropped back down into the lower forty-eight states and jumped onto the interstate system today if we chose to, but people were ignoring the speed limits up here in Canada and staying north of the border would allow us to actually ride in a few more provinces.  And yes, picture proof is coming.

About eighteen miles west of Calgary, as you head eastward, all of a sudden you get a feeling that something is majorly wrong.  And then it hits you like a brick wall.  The mountains are gone.  For the past two weeks, it seemed that somewhere out there in your vision was a large hill, or mountain, able to be seen.  Closing in on Calgary, there was nothing but open fields as far as the eye could see in front of you to the east.  At a fuel stop just before entering Alberta’s largest city, I just sat on the bike and stared to the west.  I could barely make out the majestic pillars of granite that we had almost been touching earlier.  And I already missed them.  It was kind of a sad moment.

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Made even more sad when the gas stop we were at did not have working water for their restrooms so everybody there was in a bad mood.

After fueling up with a Snickers bar, it was time to transit through Calgary.  And man, did this get screwed up.  My loaded GPX file in the Zumo had us taking the Sacred Trail cutoff as a bypass before going into the large city center.  This would have taken us due south to Alberta 8, also known as the Glenmore Trail.  Then over to Alberta 22X where after a number of miles, we would reconnect to Canada Highway 1.  Great plan to bypass the stoplight hell of Calgary central.

Too bad the Zumo rerouted us and it was too late for me to catch it before we were in bumper-to-bumper hell.  The route through town is simply horrendous and sadistic in nature.  It seemed like every other block had a stoplight awaiting us with the color of red.  And the stop lights there need major timing rhythm work.  The side roads, with barely any traffic, had the same length of time for the light as the majorly loaded Canada 1.  Imagine Los Angeles, Chicago, or New York City traffic at rush hour.  It felt like that around noon on a Monday in Calgary.

If ever going around Calgary, and you all of a sudden find yourself in gridlock with a stop light in front of you, figure out a way to get out of there and get on the right path.  This increased our travel time today by at least an hour and neither of us were too happy by the time we got back onto what would be permanent plains for the rest of the day.

Our late lunch stop was in Strathmore, about twenty-five miles east of the center of Calgary.  We hadn’t been to a Subway for a lunch since we were on the way north weeks ago…time to stop and enjoy a fabulous six-inch meatball sandwich.  Jeffrey just munched on a stocked candy bar that he had from an endless supply of on his bike.

Side note:  No seafood subs way up north.  Nobody has it.  But they do have egg salad, something we don’t have down around where I live.

If you are into alternative or Gothic lifestyles, go to Strathmore.  We didn’t see one person between the ages of 12 and 25 that didn’t look like multiple cans of paint had blown up on their clothing and hair.  Most had more hardware in their faces than what I had holding my Vstrom together for the ride home.  I understand being different than the norm; but when everybody else is different with you, doesn’t that make plain old vanilla-appearance me the one that is bucking the trend and being different?

I didn’t see anybody else wearing absolutely filthy riding gear sporting helmet head hair.  Perhaps I was setting the next fashion fad there in Canada.

After lunch, it was nothing but fields…and fields…and fields….

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We almost stopped for the night in Medicine Hat but we both decided to push on once we chatted about it.  After traveling with somebody for three weeks, you either have become the best of friends, or decide that you are ready to just keep moving on with passing miles so the eventual split can come about sooner.  Any chance at a close friendship between Jeffrey and I had long since passed; we were only together for the safety in numbers aspect that was discussed and agreed to over the winter months in emails. Our relationship is best described as “business cordial” at this point…we are talking at stops and such but it’s like traveling with a co-worker that you have no interest in inviting to stop by for a barbecue cookout over the weekend at your house.  More on this coming up in a few more days.

Eventually, a stopped photo opportunity as a new province was ridden into:

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Followed by more fields…and fields…and fields…(which I will elaborate more on tomorrow):

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The photo above shows an overcast day.  Saskatchewan had their own large forest fire occurring to the north of the Canada 1 highway.  In fact, the further east we rode, the worse it got.  By the time we made it into Swift Current, some of the low lying parking lots had looked like a thick fog had settled in from all of the smoke that was slowly drifting south.  Later when I had gotten home, I looked into the news reports for the fires in the province.  the northern part of Saskatchewan almost appeared to be one big forest fire at times there were so many happening.

We stopped at the Best Western in Swift Current.  Not many big hotel chains way up north but the BW seemed like a staple in most large towns.  Their breakfast sucks but the rooms are big and comfortable.  This would be Jeffrey’s last night to catch up on the shared motel expenditures; this stop had us nearly even (a $6 difference actually) for who was paying for rooms to allow much faster and easier check-ins.

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The hotel clerk recommended a place to eat…Original Joe’s Restaurant & Bar; located within easy limping distance to the east of the Best Western.  The waitress there recommended the ten-pack of bone-in wings on the Appetizer menu for only three bucks and came with your choice of about ten sauces.  No brainer.  We’ll each take an order please.  The entree itself was some type of pasta and was also good.  The waitress was a college-aged veteran of acquiring tips…she played with her hair while talking to us, constantly giggled, kept checking up on us, etc.  At the end of our meal, even stood there and gave us her life story about trying to move permanently out of town with her boyfriend so they could discover the world together.  An enjoyable evening before heading back to the Best Western lodgings.

This evening, I emailed Rob, who had been the third amigo on the way north.  Rob had offered a bed at his house on the way home through Minneapolis if timing worked out for me as I came through the area.  I let him know that I would be in the area on Wednesday and could time an arrival for when he would be home from work to accept his invitation.  I received a quick response telling me to make sure to stop by; his wife and he would ensure that I had some good food to eat, unlimited cold brews to relax with, and a comfortable bed to utilize.  I of course immediately accepted.

Tomorrow would show us land just seemingly going to waste but in fact being stripped.  We get a surprise crossing into the United States.  And we find the real worst roads in North America.

Mileage:  582 miles
Areas traversed:  Calgary, Medicine Hat, Swift Current
Gas:  $78.33
Food:  $62.83

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