Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Riding, riding & a bit more.

Well, looking back at my riding diary, it is apparent I deserve a night chilling at home - eight rides in the previous twelve days & the small matter of four hours of sleep on Saturday night & riding at two in the morning. Most of that time the weather has been pretty average - but the luxury of living so close to trails is that you can choose when you want to go out, knowing that if the weather is not great it will improve soon. The Sunday before last Alex & I headed back up Barrier Mountain from the lakeside, as we didn't have all that much time. Not quite as glorious view as the previous time - but at least the poor forecast had discouraged all the hikers - we only saw a few other bikers. True to form, I got another puncture - but that didn't really discourage me from having a blast down Jewell Pass again.

As I had worked that Saturday, I took Monday off & went exploring around Moose Mountain with James - he was keen to go somewhere he hadn't been riding before. I of course am just plain keen to go riding anywhere in this great area. We had about a ninety minute drive through K-Country (incidentally, that big snow scene in Inception was filmed further up the Kananaskis Valley somewhere - if you haven't seen that film yet, I encourage you to do so) before we eventually found a trail head. We are not sure we found the correct one, but we got a nice short ride (sixty to ninety minutes) on the Sulphur Spring trail - it was a pleasant change to riding on a trail that was mostly dirt & had noticeably less roots & rocks. The clouds did exactly make for great views & we got quite confused trying to work out which peak & valley was which. There are few more rides in the area I would like to do in the next couple of months.
After a couple days' break (due to weather), on Thursday night Alex was keen to brave the showers (it had been raining in Canmore most of the afternoon) & head up to the Nordic Center to scope out the course for the 24 Hours of Adrenaline - an extremely popular 24 hr solo/relay event. Alex was lucky to get in riding for Megan's work's corporate team, as the entries tend to fill up within a day. We found the first half of the course & got stuck in the big climb above the Day Lodge. Quite a bit of this part of the loop was on freshly cut trails & with all the rain they were very slick & the roots were particularly slippery. It was an awful climb & I was glad that I was not racing - also, the laps were 17 km long - that's over twice as long the Moonride laps & there were some brutal climbs in there too.

Friday was an absolutely stunning day & even though Alex was back up at the 24 hr course I couldn't help but go for a ride by myself - the first one in over two months. I headed out to the Montane Traverse on the other side of the valley - this is one of the first trails I did when I arrived. The first hill was still absolutely punishing - but I must be a bit fitter & stronger now as it was more manageable this time. What I remember as a two and a half to three hour ride only turned out to be ninety minutes (riding my oneself has so many less stops) & I was back in time for the weekly dose of the IT Crowd. I thought too soon, as later that night Alex volunteered me to ride in a team from Cochrane & Calgary that had lost one of their riders to unfitness. I was extra pleased for the day's sunshine after that - there was a chance the course may be in better condition.

Unlike the Moonride, this event started at noon in the blazing sun - but I was at work for that. Knocking off work early, I rushed home & organised my riding gear & rocked on up to find my team. I was promptly told that I was riding next & once we were at the RV I busied myself getting ready & fueling up. Once I had got the briefing from Peter (team captain it would seem) on the archaic timing system - lots of people in a tent with big sheets of paper writing down the time of each team's baton change, I couldn't believe it was so bad - I waited around for Rowan to come in. And waited, and waited - it turned out he had got a flat (usually my domain) & had to beg & borrow a tube - before heading out at 1815. I was lucky as it was starting to cool down. I had a great first lap & was pleased to do the 17 km in 64 minutes & only got passed by two other riders. I was even more pleased to be stomping on the big chain ring on most of the fire road & doing the rest of the lap in the middle ring - all that stubborn refusal to drop down in the previous two months was paying off. There was a nice long climb near the end on which I passed countless people & then it got brutally steep for a hundred metres or so - then I realised why everyone was looking so beat on finishing their laps.

There were some interesting comparisons with the Moonride. Firstly, it was summer (you couldn't run a bike race in winter here) & that meant only about seven hours of darkness - a bit short changed on the night riding front. But it was dry & warm; it wasn't quite the same as being covered in mud, waiting around at the team's tent site wrapped in blankets - I missed the adventurous feeling. As I said before this lap was twice as long as the Moonride - which was good & bad. It meant we only got to go out three times each, good for recovery - but you get a lot of time sitting around waiting & doing nothing. It was a much more technical lap than the Moonride, but entirely rideable - this goes some to explaining the band of rider level, which was much narrower than similar events I have ridden in in NZ. It was much more just mountain bikers - there were no really really fast roadies burning around the track & there were far fewer novices & no kids riding. The lack of fast riders could be seen that I only got passed nine times in three & a half hours of riding - I'm not nearly fast enough to warrant that. The lack of children may have also been due to there not being a 12 event running at the same time; I like to see the kids out having a go & or being pulled/carried around by their parents. But the biggest difference was the lack of atmosphere - the Moonride is definitely a much more fun event. I think this was mostly because the lap didn't go through where all the tents were set up - you just weren't as close to the action - & the loudspeakers didn't reach to most of the team sites.

Being so close to home, I was able to pop home for dinner - I forced the third burrito down, thinking I needed the fuel - then went back up to see my team & doze in the RV (Peter works for an RV company, so had the lend of a really nicely finished medium sized RV - but what would be massive back in NZ). My next lap was due to start at one in the morning, so there I was waiting & waiting for Rowan again. This time he broke his chain twice & pulled out of the lap. That third burrito came back to haunt me with a niggling stitch for most of lap, but I made it around in the dark without crashing & only eight minutes slower - I was quite pleased with that. Being nearly three I headed home to sleep in my own bed (luxury) for four hours before heading back for my last lap at nine - I was surprised I was only a minute slower than my other daylight lap (for which I was fresh) & it was still mercifully cool as well. After depositing my gear in the car, I was lucky enough to see a great big bald eagle circling over the road. We got one more lap in after my last one - we finished up with fifteen altogether - it was a pretty casual team that I was lucky enough to help out. A good event, but I was missing the Moonride & Team Santa Cruzin' by the end of it. However, you don't get views like this at the Moonride:
I sure don't get tired of looking out my window, or walking back from the grocery store, or riding around town or on the trails & seeing those mountains around (not the best photos of them, but they're always just right there). Have I mentioned I love this place?

Wednesday, July 14, 2010


Barely having recovered from the previous three days of hiking, I drove to Calgary on Monday morning to check out the Calgary Stampede - the biggest rodeo in the world & billed as the Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth. Parking well away from the centre of the city, I took the C-Train (light rail) to the showgrounds & busied myself looking around for a couple of hours at the various agricultural exhibits, multitudes of food stalls & just generally all the people in cowboy hats & boots. The whole city seems to go Stampede mad for ten days in July - I've never seen so much cowboy attire in one place.

The first big event of the day was the rodeo - there are a series of heats for the first eight days & then two days of finals. It was slightly larger than the only other rodeo I've been to - in Raetihi, central North Island, NZ. After a few of the crazies that participate in this sport by trying to sit on the top of a bucking animal for eight seconds had had their turns, the rain that had been threatening for a little while started. This quickly began to empty the seats in front of me & the rain just kept getting heavier.The thunder & lightning storm that followed was one of the best I have seen for many years - so close, loud & all round spectacular. I was lucky enough to be just enough under the roof as to not get too wet. After a enforced interval while the swimming pool drained to turn back into an arena & an injured horse was treated/euthanased behind a big black plastic sheet hastily held up by Stampede volunteers, the events were back on. There was bareback, bull riding, barrel racing (for the girls it would seem, although there was one woman trying to stay on a bucking horse), saddle bronc, steer wrestling & tie down roping. The last two, which were variations of catching an animal & getting it to the ground, seemed to have more apparent skill & some practical application. The funniest event was when three kids would try & rope a pony & one child would try to get on the pony while the other two tried to hold on to the rope. It was hilarious as a lot of the kids would end up getting dragged through the mud. All in all, the rodeo was three hours long & I spent a couple of hours exploring the rest of the showgrounds before the evening show. (I didn't take many photos as it was pretty dark & I've still only got the small camera...)

The evening program started off with the Chuckwagon Races. This basically consisted of a team of four horses pulling a slimmed down wagon (think Oregon Trail) with a couple of things in the back (a barrel & two long sticks from what I could make out) doing a figure of eight in front of the grandstand before racing around the entire racetrack (with four outriders on their own horses having to finish within 150 feet of their wagon). It was quite exciting to start with, but after nine heats of the same thing I started to grow a little tired of it. There were time penalties for all sorts of things (hitting other carts, knocking the figure of eight barrels over, dropping cargo, outriders being too slow & so on), so often the first cart across the line would not be the winning team.
After the racing, a 520 hp John Deere tractor towed the world's largest mobile outdoor stage in to place in front of the grandstand. At thirteen metres tall & weighing over one-hundred & thirty tonnes, this thing was sizeable to say the least. It is little surprise that it crept along the race track at 1.4 kilometres per hour. The show's theme was "World Party" & it started off with a horribly cheesy song that seemed to go on for ever about this so-called world party - the costumes worn by the hundred-odd performers were heavily African & Asia influenced & there were large pictures of acacia trees at sunset on African plains up on the screens. I found it slightly ironic that of the huge cast there was only one or two that were not of European descent. Once the cheesy start was over, the Ball of Death was wheeled out from the back of the stage & while a lot of singing & dancing was going on (with a more suitable & less-cheesy rock song playing) the first motorcycle stunt rider got inside the ball. I don't think I've ever seen the Ball of Death live, so I was suitably impressed as he rode all the way over the top safely. I was even more staggered as another & then another rider got in & they all started looping the ball simultaneously. With a fourth rider in there, it was neat to see three of the riders going around the inside of the ball pole-to-pole while the fourth rider was riding around the equator & they didn't crash once. At the same time there also a few guys doing supermans & back-flips off a jump set up behind the ball. It was difficult to capture a good photograph - so you'll just have to believe me about the third & fourth bikes being in there.
More singing & dancing later - all the kids were pretty cute & really well choreographed - it was time for the big fireworks finale, which was very impressive. For most of the big fireworks displays I've seen recently & remember (July 4 in San Diego & New Year's in Sydney [that one is going back a while]), one is quite some distance from the launching area of the fireworks. Here the fireworks were set off from the infield of the racetrack & as they were so close & so loud I really quite enjoyed it.

With the show finishing a bit later than I expected, it was back on the C-Train to the suburbs & the hour long drive back to Canmore finishing at 1.30 am - I was slightly tired at work yesterday.
It was a good day out though, & I'm glad to have seen the Stampede. Having said that, I'm not sure it lived up to its claim - the Sydney Royal Easter Show is a much better agricultural show & remember enjoying it much more when I went a couple of years ago. As a stage spectacle, I'd easily keep going back to the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo - it is fantastic; on the other hand, I have no pressing desire to see the Stampede again.

More hiking than riding & new animal sightings.

A couple of rides last week, of which the highlight was my first bear sighting. Thankfully, the young black bear was a couple of hundred of metres away from us at the Nordic Center & we saw it first. We hung around at a distance for a little while watching it before altering our intended route so as to avoid provoking it or its mother. Earlier that evening, Alex & I had rode up the road & come down the Reclaimer a lot more confidently than our only previous ride down that trail. Thursday evening was spent taking both of Alex & Megan's cars to the Mt Shark trailhead in K-Country & leaving one there for us to ride back to Canmore in at the end of our planned hike. Much of the rest of the evening was spent otherwise preparing for our upcoming three-day hike. We were to walk from Sunshine Meadows (over the back of the Sunshine), past Mt Assiniboine & then past Mt Shark to the car. As it's only about six weeks before the baby is due to arrive, this was planned as being the last big hiking outing for Megan & Alex for a little while.

Friday dawned nice & clear & James took us up to Sunshine Village (he works at Sunshine too), saving us a walk up a big hill. Here's what the village looks like out of season:
We were walking by 7.45 that morning & quickly up past where the old Strawberry lift used to be (it's being replaced this off-season with one that was used in the Vancouver Olympics). It was a bit strange walking up ski runs with no snow oblivious to the fact that a few months ago I was skiing down them & then suddenly recognising different parts of the terrain. The trail across the meadows was wide & easy.
As the day was so still, we took a short detour to Rock Isle Lake to have a look - it was worth it.
All along the meadows we were amused by the antics of the multitudes of ground squirrels popping their heads out of their burrows to watch us go by, chasing each other around & generally just running around in an amusing manner. Before long we had a climb up through a few snow drifts (nothing major - definitely not waist deep as Parks staff were advising) & we could look back over the meadows.
Looking the other way, we could see Lake Howard Douglas (foreground) & Citadel Peak (just beyond the lake) & our first view of Mt Assiniboine (largest peak in the centre rear). We next walked up & over Citadel Pass (just to the left of Citadel Peak) - the highest point of our hike (2360m). On the way there, we looked down & eventually saw Citadel Lake (which hid from us for quite some time). We lunched at the top of the pass, with a lot of day walkers also thinking it was a good spot - which it was, the view was pretty good. Alex & I scrambled up a bit higher towards the peak & got a great view down towards where we were camping the first night & further on to Assiniboine. Looking back towards the meadows, one of the small lakes still had a large percentage of its surface in ice. From the pass it was three hours walking (mostly) down to the valley floor to Porcupine campsite. We were all pretty tired, even though it wasn't such a difficult walk - Megan carrying a baby, Alex with a super heavy pack, & me carrying a pack with a tent & sleeping mat in it for the first time & just generally weak & not used to carrying a pack. After the first & only rain all day falling as we put up the tents, the rest of the afternoon was spent relaxing, purifying water (an involved process with the borrowed pump-filter & UV SteriPen), cooking & eating. A bit later on a couple of English guys from Cheltenham wandered in to camp - they had started at Sunshine Meadows a few days ago & were on their way back from (next to-) Mt Assiniboine. They were able to give us a few pointers on the trail ahead - get through the Valley of Rocks before it gets hot & so on - & I was able to update them on World Cup results. It was a couple of days after I said I would come on this hike that I realised I would miss the final, I was disappointed - although it turns out I didn't miss much. We hit the hay early (nine-ish) & I slept very well, only briefly woken by a heavy shower of rain when it was still dark. It was a stroke of genius taking my trusty Air NZ eyemask - as it's only dark at night here from about 10.30 through to 5.00. For most of the first day we crossed over the Alberta - British Columbia border time after time, eventually ending up in BC for the night & the next day & a half.

We got away at about eight o'clock on Saturday morning. It was a climb for thirty-odd minutes away from Porcupine & in to the Valley of Rocks. While we avoided the heat that the guys had had the previous day, it was quite warm & really humid with the overnight rain still sitting around on the foliage. The Valley of Rocks started out rather disappointingly, but eventually the rocks got bigger - but not as big as I expected from various descriptions & not too impressive as they weren't really standing alone. We surprised a moose (the first I have seen) having its morning drink - that was neat; a little later on we also had a good look at a porcupine (also the first I have seen) stationed in a tree after we happened upon it - they are a lot bigger than I expected.
As we got close to Lake Og (a convenient lunch spot), Assiniboine came back in to view again.
From the lake, we had an easy climb up to Og Meadows - which did take quite a while to get through & it's for good reason that that walk is nicknamed the Slog of Og.
It threatened to rain on us as we sat on a big rock & watched the ground squirrels try to get up to us. As soon as we came down off our high-spot, the rain took off. We were by this stage getting close to Assiniboine Lodge & the junctions, & therefore signposts, got quite close together. This was a good sign as we only had about four kilometres to go to reach our campsite at Lake Magog - right underneath Assiniboine. Once again, we reached camp at three o'clock. This campsite was a lot bigger with a cooking shelter, about thirty campsites & a few toilets (that were even cleaned daily & had paper). Strangely, none of the sites gave a good view of the mountains. Once tents were pitched, I was keen to pop across to the lake as the sun had reappeared. I wandered off, leaving the others to relax - as I was feeling rather alone with just my water-bottle, camera & bear spray I took to singing the Philosopher's Song to warn bears of my presence - a song that I realised I knew most of when we broke out in song some time on the Friday. It was a pleasant walk along as far as the trail would take me before I hit too much snow. I was well rewarded too:
Having done fourteen & sixteen kilometres of walking the previous two days, we had 27 km to walk out to the car on Sunday. We were up before everyone else in the campsite - but it wasn't really that early (6.30-ish). There was a bit of cloud around, so no great early morning photos - but here's one of the tent I borrowed off Megan - a macpac to go with my pack & most of the clothes I was wearing, not quite sure how that happened.
After briefly detouring to see what the lodge looked like (nothing special), we had an easy climb up to Assiniboine Pass & then back in to Alberta. Most of the rest of the day was spent walking down hill, first steeply down the valley & then reasonable mildly as we followed the Bryant River. We must have made enough noise playing various alphabet games (first countries, then capital cities, then people of [debatable] historical significance) as although we were in bona fide grizzly country, we did see any. Lunch was before noon again on a convenient bridge, here is the pizza-esque pita bread that was my staple lunch for the trip. We crossed the Spray River & then had our last big steep climb for about an hour - by now we were all pretty tired (Megan especially) & the final gentle decline to the waiting car took a long time. But 57 km & three days later we made it (still can't believe Megan managed all that - what a trooper) - what a great weekend & with excellent scenery, weather & company. (There are quite a few more photos, & even some of me, in Alex's smugmug gallery and also in Megan's.) We saw another moose on the drive out from the trailhead - very cool.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Canada's Birthday & all the way to the end of Minnewanka

Last Thursday (1 July) was Canada's one-hundred & forty-third birthday & a public holiday - Canada Day (I was surprised to find that Canada, in that respect, is younger than NZ). I opted not to work, unfortunately Megan had to - so it was just Alex & I (from our house) that wandered a block or two down to the Rotarian's Pancake Breakfast. There was a surprisingly large crowd down at Centennial Park at nine in the morning - as well as the pancakes, there were some fun-runs (an oxymoron if I ever saw one) going on & a few clowns wandering around. The Rotary Club must be well organised as they were pumping out the pancakes & had nifty little implements to dispense the batter on the grills.I was surprised to see that they were serving beef patties with the pancakes & syrup - I'm used to pancakes & bacon & all sorts of other things, but meat patties? It turned out to be a pretty good combination & after seconds (not sure that four patties that early in the morning is a great idea, but the ride in the afternoon burned them off), we headed out to go & pick up a bed from the other side of town. (I moved house last weekend, not far - it was great living with Megan & Alex since my arrival here, but it makes perfect sense for me to move out before the baby arrives & keeps me awake all night!) Dropping the bed back at Steve's (my new flatmate) with the use of his rather shiny & rather large Dodge pick-up, we all headed back to Alex's to watch the Canada Day Parade. For a small town, Canmore apparently has a pretty good parade. It must be, because wandering down the main street early in the morning the street was lined with chairs that people had put out to reserve a good spot!
Our street was on the parade route (being one back from main street has many advantages), so we manoeuvred the couch on to the balcony, cracked open some beers & sat in the sun amused by the antics of bogans across the road - we still haven't worked out the equivalent Canadian word for 'bogan'. The parade ended up being ninety minutes long & there were so many horses & Scottish pipe bands. Unlike the float parades I'm used to seeing, there weren't any big flat deck trucks (due to the tight corners on the route, we imagine) - just pick-ups, vans & cars.There were plenty of older guys hooning around in little planes & cars - an Imperial Stormtrooper even made an appearance. Here is also a nice big red shiny ladder unit from the local fire department.
The bogans' water-bombing acts were still amusing us, especially when the bush fire brigade fought back a little & the youths at the next house but one started lobbing water bombs over the house (more of a cabin really) in between them.

Not feeling particularly motivated to struggle against the holiday traffic or go for an epic ride, we eventually settled on riding to Banff on the Rundle Riverside Trail & then getting a ride back with Megan after she finished work. This ride started off by heading up to the Nordic Center & riding down the main thoroughfare (Banff Avenue) to the end of the park & then continuing on the rather rough trail before hitting the golf course & Banff eventually. Leaving the Nordic Center the trail deteriorated rapidly & was ridiculously rooty & therefore bumpy. The long downhill was great fun & then we were mostly beside the Bow River battling the roots.
Somewhere along here Alex managed to drop his chain & then wrap it around the cranks a bit & then jam it between the rings & the suspension pivots. It was proving difficult to extricate, until I found a fork in my Camelbak that worked a treat - the fork must have been in there for a couple of days, & proved more useful than just a lunch eating utensil. Avoiding stray golf balls we were soon at the falls below Banff Springs - not nearly as impressive as the Huka Falls - but with just as many Asian tourist.
Riding through Banff, Alex & I managed to get separated in the madness - we met again near the start of their parade. It turned out the times for the parades must have been staggered for good reason as we saw a lot of the same people doing the same thing. One difference that we saw was the inclusion of a Brewster Icefield (Glacier) Bus that had difficultly getting around the corner on to Banff Avenue.I got my token Canada flag & we were off to meet Megan & go home. The last part of Canada Day festivities for me was the small fireworks display - not nearly as grand as the July 4 displays I saw in San Diego last year, but the setting of the mountains & the sound echoing off them was pretty neat. As it is just past the longest day, the display didn't start until almost 10.40.
As I mentioned, I moved house over the weekend - not too onerous a task considering I don't have a lot of possessions with me. The weekend's big ride was to go back to Minnewanka (Alex & I rode & got quite wet there four weeks ago) & get to the end of the lake. It was quite a cloudy start to Saturday & by the time I watched the Germans thrash the Argentinians & Alex bled his rear brakes again it was 11 o'clock when we left the car park. The big (& only real) climb was much easier in the dry & we met very few walkers at the start of the trail. It was supposed to be thirty-five kilometres to the end (& thirty-five back obviously), but we made good time & the turnaround point ended up being ten kilometres less than we expected. We had lunch at the turnaround point - after climbing over a lot of driftwood. The last part of the trail before lunch was a lot of clambering & carrying of bikes over some rocks; but also around here the summer flowers had started to proliferate the undergrowth (Alex put a bit off effort in to identifying some of those that we saw).
The sun even graced with its presence on the way back, which was nice. Once we got back to the Warden's Hut (where we turned around last time) we started to see a lot more riders - our fitness must be improving as we weren't passed all day & did get to pass quite a few others.