Son-of-a-you-know-what, what exactly am I doing out here? Day 2, in spite of its physical challenges was very enjoyable. Today had lots and lots of wonderful moments, but I find myself forced to swear, once again, off of highway riding. After Australia, I swore never again. Brent has always maintained that the Alberta shoulders are way better than the Australian ones, and he has been proven right, but that does not explain the traffic on the Alberta highways.
Today was "only" about 95km. It's really interesting how a person's definition of "long" or "hard" or "steep" can inch its way, imperceptibly, forward until you find yourself "meh"ing things off that should, by rights, scare the beejeebers out of you. 110km including Sunwapta Pass... GAH!!! But hey, only 95km, and the worst of it was 5km of 4.2% grade uphill, and 7km of 4.5% grade. Now that's an easy day for you.
Or... it should have been. It's the traffic. Oh my... the traffic. That's the killer for me every single time. It killed me in Australia, and it killed me today on the Icefields Parkway. Thankfully, not literally, although it was not for lack of trying.
First of all, there was the final push up to Bow Summit (that was the 7km / 4.5% grade section). I could have ridden that one (unlike Sunwapta Pass) with occasional breaks, but I chose not to. About 6km of the 7km uphill has a passing lane on the uphill side, which uses up enough of the road to leave the shoulder virtually non-existent. I was riding, steadily, up that long sucker, when I got caught in a bus jam. We were on the inside of a turn, which meant that the Greyhound-sized Winnebago that was in the right-lane didn't see us until it was pretty much on top of us, and blocked in by the other Greyhound-sized Winnebagos and other campers that were passing it on the left. It flew past me with maybe 8" to spare between it and my bicycle. I admit I yelled out in terror, but at least I didn't bail off the bike into the rocks and trees that were my next stop off the road. I rode for a short time after that, but as my "near miss" sunk into me, I got scared enough that I got off the bike and pushed up most of the rest of the hill so that I could keep a close eye on the traffic behind me and easily bail off the side if I had to. I guess a steep hill up with a narrow shoulder is my nemesis... the steep hill with a sufficient shoulder... sure, I could ride that. But take away my shoulder and I'm done. Done, I tell you.
Once I reached the top of Bow Summit, I was on again. Good to ride. Bow Summit to Lake Louise is mostly downhill, and, as has been established, I am a "downhill demon". I still touch the brakes now and then when I get going a little beyond the comfort zone, but that is happening less and less.
My next terror was the bear jam. Actually, it was more of an annoyance than an actual terror. We got to a section of highway (yes, yes, tourists, I must remind you it is a HIGHWAY) where there were about 30 vehicles parked on the side of the HIGHWAY with people wandering all over, most of them trying to fire off the perfect photo of the little black bear nibbling on a tree in the ditch. The traffic was virtually stopped on the road, as opposed to the cars on the side of the road which were completely stopped, so the cars had to brake suddenly, and some of them decided to cut in front of me to join the bear jam, while others decided to eschew the bear jam (probably shaking their heads, as I was, at the folks stopped who are willing to risk any danger to themselves, the people around them, and the bear in the ditch, to fire off that perfect photograph). As we joined the traffic wending its way slowly through the bear jam, a parked car from the bear jam decided that, just as it was beside me, was the perfect time to re-join the flow on the road (naturally, without looking). Good grief people.
The clincher for me, though, was in the final stretch of our ride... about 15km from the end, when the road was open, the sun was shining, we were mostly coasting downhill, and there was absolutely no... and I mean NO... reason for a camper to be on the shoulder as it passed a couple of cyclists, when one did just that. There was plenty of room in the lane... and plenty of room in the open oncoming lane for that matter, to give us a wide berth as they passed, but no... they came over onto the shoulder to "buzz" us as they passed. The highway is no place for a cyclist. At least not THIS cyclist.
I find myself... AGAIN... swearing off of highway riding (sorry Brent). However... tomorrow isn't a highway ride... it's Bow Valley Parkway (speed limit 40) from Lake Louise to Banff. Will I ride it? Only me and my obnoxious saddle sore know. Oh no... don't get me started about the saddle sore.