Thursday, August 20: 57 miles / 3,533 ft. elevation gain / Cumulative gain 13,370
This was to be our most unpleasant day of the trip so far. Unmet expectations were the root cause.
It was too far to ride from Waterton to Banff, about 231 miles. The plan was to shuttle us to the designated start at the bottom of Highwood Pass. They told us it would be about two hours drive. We got out right on time, grabbed a bite to eat at Tim Horton’s on the way, but we didn’t get to the start for 3.5 hours. That was a long trip in a van for a bunch of cyclists. We unpacked and got on the road quickly.
We slathered on the sunscreen and wore our sleeveless jerseys. It was to be a beautifully hot day up a gradual climb to the pass at 7200′. Count the expectations in that sentence.
It all started off well enough. Pleasant climbing, but a lot more downs than we expected. Which meant the ups were a bit stiffer than expected. We started ahead of most of the riders because of how they loaded the tandems so we got to see everyone pass us by on the hill. That was actually kind of fun. In one set of rollers we played cat and mouse with a few singles. We ended up being the mice.
A pair of Rocky Mountain Sheep showed up on the road just a few hundred feet past the sign warning of their presence. They must have to move that sign a lot! They wouldn’t move off the road, so we had to cross to the left to get by them.
We were at the summit (7,200′, highest of the trip) at 2:30, later than expected and looking at another 40 miles before we got to the truck for the second shuttle of the day. We ate quickly and tore down the hill with our wind jackets on. We were in the 40s much of the first 6 miles. The wind chill already made us wish we’d planned better…long-fingered gloves, tights, booties all would’ve been most welcome.
The next four were not quite as fast but then the rain started. We had 30 miles left, mostly downhill, with drizzle. Not bad. Then the wind kicked up and tried to blow us back up the mountain. And the rain increased. We hadn’t packed any rain gear. Ooops.
That’s when we started getting occasional very steep climbs. And the clouds thickened. We can handle this, we said. But we weren’t taking into account how late it was in the day, that we’d ridden 4 days in a row mostly with high miles and high climbing, and finally that we were still at altitude.
SAG vehicles were roaming the road picking up riders who had enough. It was coming down hard now. We confidently flashed the SAGs a thumbs up as we continued past. The earlier, speedy riders were already down before the rain had started.
We resorted to counting down the miles when we were 12 miles out. Every mile reinforced that we were going to make it. Ten. Nine. Heavy showers. Eight. Seven. Six, STEEP HILL. When we got to five we had one more ridiculously steep hill, then a speedy down to where we could see the vans again. We thought they were cutting the ride short at that point with just two miles to go.
We stopped and they said there had a been a change in plans. They were going to have to pick us up 5 miles further down the road. Now we were seven miles out again. Sheila spoke for both of us when she quickly responded, “Psychologically I don’t think I can do seven more miles.” I agreed and we tossed the tandem in the truck. We were toast. Yet another unmet expectation.
At the Casino everyone loaded their bikes for the 45 minute drive to Banff. After quick showers we ate at Nourish, for a wonderful vegan dinner. We were joined by two new cycling friends from Ohio, Nancy and Mark. A late dinner, but satisfying.