I am struggling up the first climb of the day on my bicycle. This climb is close to the start of my one hundred kilometre route from just west of Banff, up to Lake Louise townsite, and back again. It is one of two difficult climbs on the route up to Louise. My heart rate is up to maximum and I find myself thinking back five years when, with my heart rate at maximum, I would be sailing up this hill. That was when I was the fittest I’ve been in my post retirement life, the year that I rode a cyclosportive in England called the Spud Riley Gran Fondo.
Now I’m over the top and gliding down the other side. Pay back time! I see that my speedometer says I’m going 72 kph. I look past my speedo and see the tiny tires that I’m doing this on, then the thrill of the risk rushes through me.
I ride past Hillsdale Meadows and as I turn the corner before Johnson’s Canyon I catch my first glimpse of Castle Mountain towering over the whole Bow Valley. Past Castle Junction I go, and drop down to Moose Meadows. Here the leaves on the bushes that cover the meadow have not yet turned their crimson colour prior to blowing off in a fall wind. I haven’t yet timed a trip to the valley to catch these colours with my camera….maybe this year.
I have passed the Baker Creek Cabins, completed the second tough climb of the outward bound leg and round the corner to see the many-kilometre stretch of straight highway ahead. It climbs gradually, but at a slope that encourages me to work hard and keep my speed as high as my body will stand. It is one of the little challenges I give myself every time I do this ride.
I am passing Morant’s Curve. I know that there is only one significant climb ahead and then a fast glide down to the Lake Louise townsite. This curve on the Canadian Pacific Railway is where the celebrated Canadian photographer, Nicholas Morant, used to capture incredible photographs of the steam trains of yesteryear working their way through the Rockies.
Here I am at the townsite which is relatively void of tourists. This is one of the joys of riding in the mountains at this time of the year.
I’ve picked up a drink and a banana in the grocery store and am standing behind a lady at the checkout who is confessing that she doesn’t have $5.16 for her food, only $5.00. It is clear from her talk that she is an American. She offers to give up one of her items, but I speak up and tell her I’ve got the sixteen cents she needs and pass the coins to her. She seems perplexed, hesitates, and then thanks me for my offer. I see by her look that this is not a normal experience for her. I feel good about it and like to think it might be a Canadian thing. Maybe not. Just a situation of the right people coming together at the right time and in the right place.
I take my food to a lawn behind the stores, stretch out, and close my eyes. I don’t drift off, but I do have some dreamy images in my head, remembering this and other times in the mountains.
Alright, it is time to head back. Let me think, climb out of the valley to the old highway, down the hills of the first stretch, past Castle Mountain, Johnson Canyon and back to the car. I will arrive at the end of my journey exhausted and in some pain, but, once again, I’ll be happy that I did this ride.