22nd – 23rd January 2015
I woke around 10am but didn’t want to get up, so fell back to sleep only to be woken again by the sound of a truck pulling up and footsteps in the snow. ‘Is anyone in there?’ a male voice asked. ‘Yes’, I replied, half asleep. I poked my head out of the tent door to discover that it was a park warden, and quickly discovered that we weren’t allowed to wild camp in National Parks. I hurriedly put some clothes on and got out of the tent, with Ed following closely behind, and soon got chatting to the warden about our trip and what we were up to. His name was Mike and he was exactly 33 years older than me, which we discovered when he asked to check our ID.
He was very kind, and after I apologised that it had been late when we’d arrived and we couldn’t find anywhere to camp, he let us off with a warning. He also admitted that he initially didn’t think we were normal when he approached the tent, as in over 20 years of service in the park he’d never seen motorcycles in winter. He still thought we were crazy after talking to us, but slightly more normal than previously anticipated. Another park warden then turned up, who couldn’t believe it either, and took a photo of us before heading on his way. Mike followed shortly behind, after swapping business cards so he could follow our blogs, and advising us of what campsites we could use. We then packed up our stuff and headed in to town, where we fuelled up the bikes, filled our bellies, and began our ride down the Icefields Parkway.
It was pretty underwhelming to begin with. We’d been told that the road was spectacular, yet here we were riding down a fairly average road with equally average scenery. Trees lined the road and clouds mingled in the sky, occasionally exposing some blue and the inevitable sunshine that comes with it. The road surface was clear to begin with, until after around twenty miles or so it turned to compact ice and snow. It was glorious to ride on with our newly studded tyres, but a bit strange to get used to when your head is telling you it’s slippery but your tyres are telling you otherwise.
Mountains eventually started to appear in the distance, but for some reason I was bored. I wondered if it was the fact that I couldn’t get over 35mph; my fat ninja suit wasn’t exactly aerodynamic. Or maybe it was because of all the hype about the Icefields Parkway; we had such high expectations, which unfortunately can mean equally high disappointment.
As I was riding along, pondering things, it sounded like someone was behind me beeping their horn. I turned round to see that no-one was there, and then the noise suddenly stopped. Had I imagined it? I continued on, when it started again, before stopping abruptly. Was it a bee in my helmet? Am I going mad? It was only when we stopped for a photo that we discovered it was none of those things, and that my horn was coming on randomly all by itself. It was then that I proceeded to have a conversation with my bike. ‘Are you OK?’ ‘meep!’ ‘Can I help you with anything?’ ‘Meep!’ ‘Do you want some cake?’ Silence. Luckily it didn’t meep as we didn’t have any cake. After that little episode I wondered if I was actually going mad after all; Ed declined to comment on the matter. It then came on again, full blast, so Ed decided to disconnect it and we went on our way.
As we continued on and got nearer to where we planned to camp, the scenery got increasingly more dramatic.
The mountains were closer to the road, and towered above us against a continually clearing sky. We finally reached the Columbia Icefield when the sun began to set, which sent pinks, oranges, and yellows across the sky. I had a moment of contentment there, sitting and watching.
With light fading fast it was time to find a campsite, but we soon discovered that the three places suggested on the official Parks Canada Website for winter camping were under four feet of snow.
It was fairly dark by this point so we decided to find somewhere to wild camp, and rode up a closed road next to a glacier in search of somewhere to hide. Of course everywhere was covered in deep snow, so we decided that there was only one thing for it, to dig some holes to bury the bikes and our tent. So that’s what we did, we dug a big hole, pushed the bikes in to it, then surrounded them with slabs of ice and snow.
Ed then did the same with the tent, while I cooked us up a feast of macaroni and cheese; I use the terms ‘feast’ and ‘cooked’ lightly. We then sat back together and gazed in awe at the star spangled sky. More stars appeared the longer we stared, and a few shot across the sky, forcing me to make a wish. You can’t pay for moments like that; no light pollution, no noise pollution, just us and a billion stars.
It was ridiculously windy in the night, and the tent got seriously battered. I was therefore extremely pleased that we’d decided to put the tent up instead of sleeping outside on our air mattresses; that would have been interesting. There was something satisfying about being safe inside a tent while it’s blowing a gale outside, I liked it. Although the tent flapping in the wind and the snow drifting in the hole sounded like people or animals walking around us, which I didn’t like quite so much. I’m not sure what time I woke up, but it was still quite dark, and I wondered if it was in fact daytime and our tent was just covered in snow. I soon fell back to sleep though and woke up again around 8.30am, to a beautiful morning sky.
We got up and packed the tent away before someone caught us, and Ed took on the task of retrieving the bikes from the hole, that had unfortunately filled back up with snow.
It was then that we noticed a small part of the snow covered glacier had been exposed by the wind; it was a brilliant blue, like a wolf’s eye.
By this time it had become very overcast, and the wind picked up quite considerably, so we quickly loaded the bikes up and rode down to the car park to take shelter by a metal bin.
The wind continually gusted, and picked up copious amounts of snow as it did so, creating blizzard like conditions. We stayed there for a while, drinking tea and eating porridge and left overs, until it eventually died down to an acceptable level where we could finally set off for Lake Louise.
The road was a mix of ice, compact snow, and bare asphalt, and I was thankful for our studded tyres. For the first fifteen miles or so the scenery consisted of trees and mountains, before we wound down a pass and came across some spectacular blue ice formations, on what is known as ‘The Weeping Wall’.
There were lots more trees and mountains after that, but I still wouldn’t say it was spectacular scenery. I started to suspect that it was due to the weather, it was very cloudy and grey. I think you need a perfect blue sky day to fully appreciate it, as is often the case when nature is involved; scenery and colours come alive when the sky is clear and the sun is out.
The lakes we passed were mostly frozen, but we got a glimpse of the gorgeous glacial blue I’d seen in photographs and magazines. I’d definitely like to come back in the summer and see them in all their glory, I imagine they’re stunning in the flesh.
We continued on and I eventually had to stop to refuel. Ed didn’t notice and just carried on, which was a bit of a pain as he had all the fuel, due to me only filling mine half way to save on weight in my front basket. He always turns around and comes back, so I put the dregs in from my can and waited for him, and waited, and waited. After what felt like ten minutes, he came riding back towards me. ‘Finally!’ I said. ‘Where have you been?!’ ‘Oh I’ve been filling up’, he said, I guessed that’s what you were doing’. ‘No, you’ve got the fuel. Have you put it all in yours?!’ ‘Yeah’, he replied. I was instantly annoyed, and rode off before I said something I shouldn’t.
Snow had started to fall by then, so I rode until I completely ran out of fuel. Ed caught up and drained some out of his tank and the stove to put in mine, and with thirty miles to go we thought we’d just make it.
We didn’t however account for riding in snow. The wind picked up and the snow got heavier, and soon there was a thick layer on the road. It was too much for the studs to bite but not enough for the tyres to grip, and I couldn’t work out if it was best to ride where the cars had been or ride in the deeper fresh snow; I eventually opted for the latter.
For the most part I was OK, but then I’d have a wobble and lose my confidence. I felt like I was still on road slicks and didn’t quite trust my off-road tyres yet, I didn’t know what they, or I with them, were capable of. I ended up doing about 20mph in 2nd and 3rd gear, and actually got excited when I nearly hit 30mph. I was running really low on fuel so had to ride in a gear higher than I’d have liked, which resulted in me feeling less stable and like I had less traction. Another wobble however saw me dropping down a gear, and I eventually ran out of fuel. Just as I stopped Ed came off his bike in the distance, after sliding sideways and low siding. I unfortunately don’t have a photo of this as he had to pick up his bike quickly to save what precious fuel he had left, but it was too late, and we were both out. After checking the sat-nav we discovered that we were only 5 miles away from Lake Louise, so we waved down a pick-up to see if they could sell us some fuel. Luckily the second one we waved down had a spare can of fuel, and very kindly let us fill the bikes up for free.
We continued on in the snow, when I suddenly had a massive wobble and thought I was a goner. I wobbled, hit a bank of snow, bounced off it, had my rear tyre slide out, then miraculously ended up back in a straight line. I don’t know if it was the studs or the tyres that saved me, but if I could guarantee that that would happen every time I had a wobble, I’d be much less nervous.
We eventually arrived in Lake Louise without any problems, that was until we came to a four way stop. As we rode across the crossroads, I spotted an RCMP vehicle to my left; commence lights and sirens in three, two, one. We pulled in to the parking lot and got off the bikes, and the officer got out of his truck. After exchanging hello’s we discovered that he was very confused, and didn’t quite know what to make of us. We explained what we were doing, and that we were going to Newfoundland, and also pointed out that we had studded tyres. He was gobsmacked.He still didn’t know what to do with us, but after radioing his colleague, he established that we weren’t actually doing anything wrong or illegal by riding our motorcycles in the winter. ‘So if they want to ride they can ride?’ We didn’t hear the answer on the other end, but we guessed it was a yes, as after explaining that he was mainly concerned about our safety, he asked us if he could get a photo.
Of course we obliged, we wanted one too. His name was Clayton and he was really lovely, and before he went on his way, he very kindly suggested the hostel for somewhere to eat, and a campsite where we could put our tent.
We had the best intentions to camp, but after sitting in the warm to have dinner, and observing that our gear was rather wet, we decided to get a room in the hostel. It wasn’t as cheap as I believe a hostel should be, but we did get free entry to the ice festival, and Ed got to write his article for Canada Moto Guide.