Highway bicycling is not for everyone. It’s noisy. Occasionally, transports pass too close and create a sudden crosswind that is unsettling. Often there is no shade and the heat can be relentless. Sometimes there are long stretches with no services, no place to get water, and no place to pull off the highway for a break. Did I mention it is noisy?
Today, however, was near perfect highway cycling. A quiet 20 km from my campsite to Lake Louise. Highway 1A had light traffic. Plenty of morning shade. Almost no wind. I’d had coffee and a bite to eat at camp but, like a Hobbit, I enjoyed a second breakfast at a cafe in Lake Louise. I picked up some high calorie snacks for the road and a couple of cold Gatorades.
From there I got back onto the Trans Canada. It was a long, steady climb for about 10 kilometres to a rest stop at the border to British Columbia. The train on a parallel climb could not not pass me. But neither did it stop for a rest after an hour.
At the top of the hill several motorists came over to chat. They seemed incredulous that anyone on loaded bicycle could make that climb. I was offered soft drinks, homemade cookies, popsicles. I held up my Gatorade.
Thanks! I’m fine.
And I was. Truthfully, it was the most enjoyable highway ascent I could recall. A perfect gradient for a slow, steady ride. The temperature still in the low twenties. Occasional clouds. Incredible mountain scenery.
Although it got hotter as the day progressed, it was never oppressively hot. I was slowed a little by a moderate headwind but that proved a blessing on some of the steep descents. It helped slow me to a reasonable speed.
Astonishingly, there were more descents than ascents. I don’t even know how that is possible.
All the ascents were an enjoyable challenge. I was never in my very lowest gear. Never tempted to get off and walk. And, believe me, I’ve walked plenty of steep hills. But this seemed like a highway designed for bikes.
Even more unusual for the Trans Canada, there were scenic rest stops at regular intervals. Shade. Majestic views. Picnic tables. Cool streams to wade in. Washrooms. No potable water, of course. Anyone with an ice cream truck could have been doing brisk business in cones and frosty beverages.
My destination today, was Golden BC. About 100 kilometres. A little more than my preferred 80 kilometres. But manageable. It was one of my most enjoyable days.
Still 20 kilometres to Golden and I saw a sign indicating TEN MILE HILL and a caution for trucks to pull off into the designated area to check their brakes. Ten miles downhill? I was going to coast into Golden!
The first section was steep and fast but I passed a sign indicating Kicking Horse Rest Area 5 KM. Sure enough, just after the new bridge before Golden, there it was. When I dismounted I could feel I was a little woozy from navigating that long steep hill. I ate a Snickers, drank the last of my Gatorade, and stretched out in the shade for a 10 minute nap. Much refreshed, I set of for the next stage descending TEN MILE HILL.
But as the next stage came into view, I realized it became an ascent. A very steep ascent. Only two narrow lanes and a whole lot of massive machinery. A major construction zone. No workers in evidence. No one directing traffic. One lonely little sign with the silhouette of a car side-by-side with a cyclist and the instructions: SHARE THE ROAD.
I’ve encountered quite a few construction sites on the Trans Canada. Typically, in these very tight circumstances, the highway would become one lane and traffic would alternate. There would be traffic wardens with radios. Sometimes an escort truck.
Here, there was nothing and no one. The east-bound lane was constrained by knee-high cement traffic barriers. The west lane (my lane) was constrained by a beautiful, new concrete wall rising up (maybe) ten or more metres. A wall to keep avalanches off the highway.
The west-bound shoulder was about a foot wide. It was covered with gravel and loose sand. The gradient of the hill was at least 6%. Maybe more. I doubt I could have ridden the whole distance in the best of circumstances. On a fully loaded bike it would be a death wish.
I got off and walked.
I shifted my mirror so I could see the traffic behind me. Approaching cars were not really a problem. But the transports sometimes came in groups. From both directions. I had no choice but to stop and squeeze myself and the bike up against that beautiful retaining wall.
I saw one truck driver through his windshield giving me the finger as he passed me. I was standing still. Pressed against the wall. I could see his point of view but I mouthed fuck you anyway. I didn’t create this absurd situation. I was just doing my best to cope.
At one point a woman leaned out the passenger window of a pickup truck and asked: Are you all right? I think she was offering to put me and my bike in the truck bed. But maybe she was asking if I were insane.
No worries. I’m good.
And, strangely, I was just fine. I mean, I was annoyed at the job the highway crew was doing. Not doing. But not for one moment did I feel afraid. In fact, I have never been afraid of the highway traffic this entire tour. Annoyed sometimes. But not once afraid.
I walked that section for at least half an hour. Eventually, there was just enough room for me to mount my bike and ride in the gravel. Shortly I passed a truck sporting a yellow caution light on its roof. I gestured what-the-hell-are-you-guys-doing? After a few minutes a ‘courtesy car’ took up a position behind me. I could see the driver in my mirror. Clearly, she was slowing the traffic to allow me to take the lane. At this point I was going downhill again. I shifted into a high gear and turned on the speed.
Anyway... I’m here in Golden, writing this blog entry from inside my tent. I survived. Some folks might be tempted, at this point, to call it quits. I’m just annoyed by the incompetence. I can’t help but feel that the sign at the bottom of that crazy gauntlet should not have read: Share the Road.
It should have read: CYCLISTS WAIT HERE! PLEASE BE PATIENT. OUR COURTESY DRIVER WILL TRANSPORT YOU PAST THE CONSTRUCTION ZONE.
If you know anyone in the BC Department of Highways, don’t hesitate to pass along this good advice.