Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Kananaskis Country

Even though it's my second (Canadian) home, my own custom version of paradise, I was reluctant to come all the way to Banff first. Of course, I've wanted to ride the Maah Dah Hey Trail ever since I heard of it. When my Canadian friends organized a group tour in mid-May, I signed on before I had even thought through a single logistic. I first considered driving, but then I moved away from Montana. I looked into flying, but Alaska Airlines doesn't land anywhere near western North Dakota (although it might be fair to say that there really are no airports or even towns in western North Dakota.)

My friend Keith told me I should just come to Banff first, and drive down with them. "Fine," I thought to myself. "I will fly from San Jose to Calgary, with a three-hour layover in Seattle and another hour-long wait in customs, then drive an hour and a half from Banff to pack up the car and embark on a 14-hour horizon-line pavement odyssey across the prairie just to cross back over the border so I can ride a borrowed mountain bike in the middle of nowhere.

"Come a couple days early," Keith urged. "It's the off-season now but we'll find something fun to do. We'll go road riding! You like road riding now, right?"

I do like road riding and I do love Banff, but do I love it enough for what essentially adds up to 24 hours of travel, each way? "Fine," I said, "but only if you can promise me some snow. I miss it already."

"Not a problem," Keith said. "It's full-on spinter right now. I think today is January 125th."

So I flew to Canada, and inadvertently brought California with me. Late last week Keith reported six inches of fresh powder. By Tuesday morning, I awoke to 70 degrees, windless warm air, and not a cloud in the sky. Keith and I rode downtown for coffee and the streets were alive with people wearing shorts, sitting on outdoor benches, smiling in the sun. Friends gushed about "the first day of spring." I tried to hide my disappointment that I wasn't even going to be able to break out my arm warmers. "What can I say?" I replied. "Canada always puts on its best face when I come here. You're welcome."

Keith and I left town well after noon to embark on a road tour of Kananaskis Valley. Temperatures were warm, winds were light and traffic was nonexistent. The scenery was of course unconscionably incredible. Pure bikey heaven.

The Kananaskis Lakes. I believe this is the upper lake, still frozen in mid-May. As beautiful and summery as it was outside, evidence of the cold, hard winter was everywhere. The elk and deer were particularly scrawny. Mountain slopes billowed with powder and several feet of slush and ice lined the roads. Buds and leaves were still a distant dream.

And then there was this discovery - a point where the road crosses the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route at the Elk Pass trailhead. There was at least two feet of packed snow across the entire trail, at the bottom of the pass (the pass itself is about 1,200 feet higher.) And Elk Pass is just the first of dozens of higher passes across Canada, Montana, Wyoming and Colorado on the GDMBR. The Tour Divide starts in a month. And of course a lot can happen in a month, but something tells me this year's race is going to be particularly interesting to watch.

We wrapped up an awesome 55-mile ride with a lynx sighting.

Then home for a town tour on the tandem with Leslie, followed by sushi. Worth the trip? Without a doubt. And I still have one more day in Banff.


  1. I still have difficulty imagining Jill on a road bike :) Beautiful country up there in Canada. Eh!

  2. Snowpack levels in Colorado are over 100% above normal. Tour Divide is going to be very interesting this year to say the least!

    I agree with Vito - Jill and a Road Kit are a strange sight!

  3. Sorry you didn't get winter when you came but last night i got to ride my road bike and enjoy the heat...it was so nice to ride it again!!

  4. Maybe check the weather before heading to western N.D. If the snow is not gone or it rains, the M.D.H. is unrideable. Not because it's slippery but because the mud will stick to itself until it prevents wheels from turning.

    Secondly, hotel/motel rooms can't be had. The oil boom in that neck of the woods has them all taken. All the easily accessible campsites will be taken, too. However, the campsites on the M.D.H. will very likely to open.

    My trip there last October was a waste due to on and off rain that made the trail too muddy. I pledge to go back in mid summer / non monsoon season.

    I don't mean to try to scare you off from trying the trail. I did want to give you some first-hand knowledge of the area.

  5. The Canadian Rockies are one of my favorite places. For your future reference, there are ~4 nonstop flights/day from SFO to Calgary, which makes it a less painful travel day to get up there from the Bay Area.


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