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Lake Minnewanka

Mountain Lakes Adventure
(Alberta Randonneurs Summer 300)
Ride date: July 21, 2019
by Mike Hagen

It appears Alberta Randonneurs do things a little differently than us.

I was in Calgary for a long track speed skating camp, and I had my bike, so I checked the AR schedule to see if there were any brevets I could do while I was there. The Mountain Lakes 300 was on Sunday, July 21, starting at Banff, just after camp ended. Perfect! So I emailed Chester Fleck, Calgary route coordinator, to see what I needed to do.

As I also planned to ride some permanents while in Alberta, Chester said I should join the Alberta club to ensure I had the full insurance/liability coverage. This cost $75 total for the AR membership and the Alberta Cycling Associate fees, included a waiver good for the season, and covered all the rides I might do. So there is no fee or event form for individual rides, just one for the year.

On Saturday, the day before, I suddenly realized I had no parking pass for Banff, and would I be able to get one at 6:30 in the morning? Wasn’t able to find that out, but did discover I could purchase a day-pass on-line. Did that. Whew. It turned out that the booths at the park entrance are staffed early, but better safe, as is said.

I also realized Saturday that I didn’t know exactly where we were starting! The route sheet, RwGPS map, and Garmin Connect map/GPX all said something different. So, again, I emailed Chester. He responded that I should start anywhere along Banff Avenue. Yeah? But where are we meeting? Is anyone else riding? I got no response to that . . . .

I cruised along Banff Avenue a couple times early Sunday morning. Didn’t see any obvious randonneurs with randonneur-like bikes, so I shrugged my shoulders and parked at a convenient spot. I got my control card (which, with great presence of mind, I’d printed for myself along with the route sheet) signed at the Shell on the corner of Banff Ave and Martin St, and I was off a little after 7:00 a.m.

While the forecast promised a warm, sunny day, it was at that time quite cool and overcast, almost foggy. The pavement was wet. I was wearing my arm and leg warmers, my fingered gloves, and my raincoat. I thought about booties, but decided not to bother. I wasn’t quite cold, expected to warm up as I rode, and that is what happened.

Emerald Lake

The route starts with a loop to the northeast to Lake Minnewanka. This looks to be a popular biking route. The sun broke out just as I reached Lake Minnewanka revealing a gorgeous view – great precursor of what was to come! I rode past Two Jack Lake on the way out, and also the access road to Johnson Lake. Just past that junction was a surprise 500 m or so of gravel where the road was being repaved. I saw tire tracks, and, just on pavement again, a cyclist stopped at the side of the road. I stopped also. “Are you okay?”, “Yes, just dropped my chain,” “Are you doing the brevet?”, “No!” I carried on, under skies once more overcast.

I headed back to Banff, north on the Trans Canada, and onto the Bow Valley Parkway, Highway 1A, to Lake Louise. This is also a very nice cycling route, and traffic was calm early in the morning. The sun finally came out for good, and I stopped to shed layers along the way. At Castle Junction, the first control, I asked if they’d had any others asking for card signatures, but, no, they hadn’t.

The route went north on the Icefields Parkway, Highway 93, past Hector Lake and over the Bow Summit to the control at Num-Ti-Jah Lodge on the north shore of Bow Lake. The climb up to Bow Summit is relatively benign as the grade never really exceeds 5% or so, but it tops out at almost 2000 m.

While leaving the Num-Ti-Jah Lodge control, I saw two randonneur-looking guys coming in, and I wondered if they were doing the brevet. I gave them a wave, and decided to stop if I saw them again on the way out of the next control. But that didn’t happen.

Back at Bow Summit, 125 km into the ride, I was about 24 minutes slower than 25 kph pace. It was 60 km to Field, and 750 m lower there. Could I make that time up? Yes I could, and more. I got to the Emerald Lake control, at the 185 km mark, in about 7:30. The decent down from Kicking Horse Pass was a bit harrowing given the unpredictable nature of the shoulder and the traffic coming from behind. And it was getting hot.

Moraine Lake

Card signed by Sarah, Parks Canada information officer, I headed back to Kicking Horse and the Lake Louise control. There is an advantage to hot in the mountains: it’s hotter at the top, warm air expands, and cooler valley air rises to take its place. I had a tailwind! Blowing down the highway past Field again, I saw the climb coming and resolved to attack it. Maybe I could PR the Strava segments I’d first ridden during the Rocky 1200 three years ago? TL;DR: my GPS drifted and I didn’t get credit. Recreating from Velo Viewer, it looks like I was 7 ½ minutes faster on the climb, which would have been top 50 and second in my age class . . . bummer.

All right. Lake Louise. Lake Louise Drive was a gong show. On a sunny, Sunday afternoon in July, would you expect anything else? I don’t know who was hotter and sweatier: the poor people in their cars inching along bumper-to-bumper, or me, laboriously passing on a too-narrow shoulder up a 10% grade. Finally got to Lake Louise and, oh, the people! It was mobbed. But, there was a flip side: The Moraine Lake road was closed! A few cars would be let in as people left, but the road was mostly quiet. And a very nice road for riding it was too. It was a bit of a shock to suddenly come upon a full parking lot and another mob scene. The lake was beautiful though.

I left Moraine Lake at 5:30, and it was to be three hours back to Banff. The Bow Valley Parkway was, once again, fairly quiet, and, while it rolled, it trended downhill. And I had a bit of a tailwind. But I was weary, and my heart wasn’t in trying to make up any time. One more lake was passed: Vermillion Lake, just outside of Banff. Also beautiful. This must be one of the most scenic 300s one can possibly ride; highly recommended. But I never did meet any Alberta randonneurs.


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August 1, 2019