May 29, 2012
Cardston, AB - Lake Louise, AB: 308mi
Before I left Virginia my mechanic gave me a one hour crash course on motorcycle maintenance. With the bike on a lift, tank and seat removed, he identified all the parts. Most of this I forgot and had to look up later in the manual to discuss issues over the phone. He demonstrated how to adjust the idle, change the oil, adjust the rear break, and tighten the chain.
After putting on brand new tires he assured me they would last until Alaska, but the chain he wasn’t so sure about. It was in good condition before I left but we didn’t know how many miles were already on it or how old it was.
Overall I never had any mechanical problems with the bike, other than a couple minor breakdowns I’ll get to later in this report. However, if there’s one mechanical thing I learned well, it was how to tighten my chain.
I woke up in Cardston at 4:30am. It got light so early and dark so late my body was not adjusting well to the northwest light. Unable to go back to sleep, I spent some time studying the Milepost, searching for the best route. The Icefield’s Parkway sounded stunning and I had heard Banff and Jasper were incredible “must sees”. But I wanted to avoid Calgary so it looked like I should get on 2-N, then head west to 22-N just south of Calgary, to get to 1-W which would then take me to the Icefield’s Parkway.
Before packing up the bike, I checked the chain as I did religiously every morning. I noticed it seemed a bit loose and was concerned with the thought of trying to tighten it for the first time by myself. At this point I had only seen it get done. The kind couple from the night before came down with some hot chocolate as they saw me rummaging around my tools. I told them my concerns and they informed me they had a brother that was a mechanic in Mountain View just 20k away.
They assured me he would be happy to tighten the chain for me and they would even call him to let him know I was on my way. It would require a minor detour however, heading west on 5 towards Waterton Park prior to getting on 22-N.
I decided this would be better since I was feeling insecure about doing it myself. I took them up on the offer and headed to Mountain View. Again, this was another providential detour. Mountain View was one of the most beautiful small towns I saw in Alberta. It is just east of Waterton National Park that touches north of Glacier National Park.
It’s a one street town and didn’t have much other than a church, a school, a gas station, and of course a mechanic. I was told I couldn’t miss it, since he was the only mechanic in town and with a bright yellow garage no less. When I pulled in I was surprised to see the skeleton frame of a small airplane. I realized this wasn’t just a car mechanic, but a plane builder as well.
The man was very friendly and eager to help me out. I watched him attentively as he tightened my chain. I was a bit nervous that he didn’t appear to be a motorcycle mechanic specifically. However, he assured me he had done a lot of work on bikes before. It had just been a long time.
He didn’t charge me for the favor and was intrigued to hear about my journey. We talked some about my trip and he informed me as a mechanic in that area the majority of his work was often on planes more than cars. There were more people there with a pilot license than a car license apparently. It is the easiest way to travel with few roads, tons of snow, and lots of water.
I left Mountain View heading west towards Waterton Park. I remember feeling so small surrounded by such vast amounts of land facing massive, rugged, blue peaks ahead. I took 6-N to 3-W which then got me to 22-N. I followed the Rockies along 22 and lost count of the number of hawks I saw. I couldn’t help but feel like it was a sign Dan was watching over me.
I was glad to avoid a storm I could see sitting over Calgary. However, I still managed to ride through scattered showers and freezing rain the remainder of the day as I got up to the Parkway. The higher I got the colder and wetter it got, but I stayed warm and dry.
I was planning on finding a place to camp on the Icefield’s Parkway but I got tired fast and barely made it to Lake Louise before feeling like I had to stop. Unfortunately the weather looked like it was going to continue raining before turning to snow overnight so I thought camping may not be so fun.
When I asked some people at a gas station about cheap places to stay, I was surprised to hear there was a hostel in Lake Louise. I was even more surprised to find out when I got to that hostel that there were dozens of hostels along the entire parkway. I was a bit disappointed the Milepost failed to mention this.
I have stayed in a lot of hostels in my life. Lake Louise was by far the most grand. It is the largest, cleanest hostel I have ever stayed in and the most private. It felt like a hotel. It even costs the same to stay there as it would to camp in the park- $30/night.
There was a sauna and a restaurant with a pub. There was a library with books and computers and internet access. There was a laundry room and private hot showers. There was a full kitchen with three to four stoves. I even had my own bathroom that I only had to share with one other person.
I met a few interesting people there traveling through on their own adventure from all over the place. My roomate was from the Netherlands and looking for work with horses, which gave us a lot to talk about with my own horse experience. One guy I met in the kitchen was riding his bicycle across Canada from Saskatchewan. His roommate was from Scotland and taking a roadtrip through the States and Canada. We all enjoyed sitting at the pub together with a pitcher of beer, sharing our stories.
This is what I have always loved about staying in hostels. The inspiring people you meet and exciting stories you hear. They are houses of adventure addicts; people with independent souls on their own pilgrimage. It’s a place where encouragement can be found and bravery can be appreciated. There’s something so grounding about connecting with strangers on similar escapades and sharing time together, living in the moment.
The weather was calling for flurries overnight and scattered freezing rain with snow tomorrow. Although I was hoping for better weather to enjoy the Icefield’s Parkway, I wouldn’t mind staying in Lake Louise hostel one more night if the roads were bad. After riding 3200 miles in nine days, I was making great time. I was kind of hoping to get snowed in and have a zero day.