Following our rather erm, ‘challenging’ ride the day previously, we decided a slightly less ambitious mileage should be the order of the day for our 3rd day on the road, and after consulting our route map, we decided a leisurely 15 miles to the Banff National Park and Banff town would be our target for the day.
The weather blessed us once again and we enjoyed glorious sunshine as we set off from our make-shift camp in Canmore. We hit McDonalds first (!) to borrow the use of their facilities (when needs must and all that..) and Matt approached a few guys to ask them about the hills/general state of the day’s ride.
This is one thing I’ve noticed in particular about Canada so far- people are so incredibly friendly and approachable, and always make time for you. We have been completely amazed by the sheer kindness of strangers from even before we left the UK- and every day this just gets re-alliterated and confirmed. We only have to pause on the street with a confused look for a moment before people started offering us directions; our English accents get complete strangers approaching us and inquiring about our journey. Admittedly our bikes and trailer are probably a great starting point for conversation and seem to strike interest in everyone we come across, so that certainly works in our favor! And our little Welsh flag (thanks Roy!!!) positioned on the back of my bike doesn’t hurt either- I’ve had 2 people in as many days stop me simply because they have to tell me their relatives/THEY come from Wales!
These guys informed us there was a dedicated cycle trail running alongside the highway that would bring us straight into Banff and reassured us the route was relatively flat- and so, we set off. When we approached the toll gate into Banff, the guy greeted us with complete surprise.
“You’re the first cyclists I’ve had this year! Bit early in the season, isn’t it? And you’ve a little one with you too? Oh gosh, you’re brave!”
The trail in question still had signs stating that it was closed for the winter, but was already visibly in use by other cyclists and as such, we decided to follow it regardless. It was a relief to escape the highway- which, around Canmore and Banff, is particularly fast and busy- and the wide, flat path was perfect for us. We crept further and further into the mountains in the sunshine, enjoying taking it slow and drinking in our surroundings. I had felt a little…annoyed?…at our having to pay a small fortune in order to enter into the park (what right has man to charge for you to enter something nature created?!) but have to grudgingly admit that after seeing what the Park has to offer, I can understand how and why they can charge for the privilege. I’m sure everyone is sick of me gushing about the scenery here: but truly, it deserves the praise. I’ve never been anywhere quite like it.
My particular preoccupation has to be with the water: it’s so clear, and ranges from the most incredible emerald green to deep turquoise and icy blue in colour, flowing straight down from the mountains and wrapping and weaving itself through the landscape. It just looks so fresh and cold- I’m not even joking when I say that just looking at it makes me want to taste it (but you’ll be pleased to know I have resisted the temptation thus far!)
We absolutely loved Banff and as such, we stayed for two days. The town itself is geared towards tourists, but in a good way: with an abundance of facilities, activities and things to do and see. The slightly quaint high street boasted everything from Louis Vuitton to Gap, from Starbucks to the more quirky ‘Spirit of Christmas’ store, an abundance of winter sports and gear shops and of course, plenty of Canadian souvenir shops also! Upon our arrival we hit the information centre and identified the only (!) campsite open in town (and were told once again that we were ‘incredibly early!’ and ‘very brave!’).
Our campsite, Tower Mountain, was set high above the town in the midst of the forest. With our tent tucked away in the trees, our incredible view was simply mountains as far as the eye could see. Elk and deer grazed on the grounds, and the Canadian ground squirrels (I’m told they’re called ground hogs here, but given that the name carries very different connotations back home, I can’t bring myself to adopt the term!) were an endless source of entertainment for Theo. There was still snow on the ground, but a hot sun and clear blue skies seemed to scoff at the suggestion of it still being winter. We set up camp and then quickly headed back into the town of Banff to hit our first and favourite attraction: the Banff Upper Hot Springs.
Heaven, in a word. Absolute heaven.
Set high up amongst the mountains, the hot springs were a glorious 39 degrees and boasted the most spectacular views across the valley. The paradox of the snow and icy cold air with the hot water was perfect- and the addition of the scenery and knowledge that the water in these pools was naturally sourced added to the experience. Even Theo relished the experience and threw himself in; after our achy long day before, it was exactly what the doctor ordered for our tired out muscles. Therapy for the body and the soul, the springs were adverstised as- I wouldn’t dispute that statement at all. I never wanted to leave.
I did have a slightly absurd experience, however- on getting into the pool, I looked to my left only to see my old colleague Holly from Revolution relaxing alongside. And later on, on hearing our accents, another guy approached and asked where we were from; he’d only gone to my high school, and had relatives living in the same village as my parents. Sometimes, the world really is too small!!
Our perfect and easy day was topped by a perfect night. One huge advantage of Canadian campgrounds is that you are allowed- no, encouraged!- to have fires. Grabbing some wood from the campsite stash, Matt set about chopping it with an axe (loaned to us by a kind fellow camper!) and lit us a blazing hot fire. We cooked our dinner on it; watched the sunset over the mountains; and once Theo was fast asleep, I curled up on a log in front of it to write and enjoy hot chocolate and toasted marshmallows, with the silhouette of the mountains before me and the stars above. It sounds obscenely romantic; but truly, it was perfect. And it’s moments like that, right there, that make all those harder experiences simply melt away. This is why we enjoy a ‘back to basics approach to our travels: who would experience this from a hotel room?
Banff has so much more to offer too: from ski-ing and snowboarding in the winter to trails, tours and of course, the amazing gondola that takes you right above the town to view across the park. Sadly our budget and time restrictions meant we couldn’t do everything we wanted; but it’s definitely somewhere we would like to return to one day and highly recommend to anyone considering visiting Canada. You won’t regret it- and there’s soemthing there for everyone, of all ages!
Oh, and for the record… we really don’t consider it was ‘too early’ in the season for bikers!!