The infamous Rogers Pass is a section of the trans-Canadian highway we had been dreading and debating ever since we first started researching our route. hose with experience warned us in graphic detail about the steep, never-ending (or so it feels!) climbs that stretch for 10miles+… the narrow, unlit tunnels which could be decidedly dangerous for cyclists such as ourselves. We tried to look into alternative options to avoid both the Rogers and the Kicking Horse passes, but struggled a great deal- and when we flew out, we just adopted a ‘we’ll see how it goes’ attitude, vowing to make the final decision closer to the time.
Looking at the map again, and the sheer distance between Banff and the nearest campsite on the other side of the passes, we were even more unsure. After having a chat with another cyclist we met on route to Banff, who deserved the Rogers Pass quite simply as ‘an ass-kicker’, and suggesting that there was probably still snow at the top, we decided that it was too great a challenge for us at the beginning of our tour with all our gear. If it had perhaps been just Matt and myself minus the baggage, we might have risen to the challenge; but we had to acknowledge and accept our limits, and this was one of them.
After packaging up our bikes (again) and paying through the nose in bus fares (no wonder people don’t get public transport much here!) we set off in the afternoon with a busload of characters and kept our eyes pealed to see what we could have been potentially letting ourselves in for.
Initially, I was a bit disappointed in myself and felt a tad cheated. Some of the lakes and mountains we passed were truly spectacular; I felt as though in choosing to skip this section, we had compromised our experience of the Rockies. Lake Louise in particular looked truly beautiful; with truly iconic scenes of Canada- from the lush green forests to magnificent snow-topped mountains, those mile-long haulage trains wrapping themselves around the clear lakes…a true pang of regret. And when we reached the Kicking Horse Pass, I was more disappointed still. Hilly, yes, admittedly. but it didn’t appear to me to be un-do-able; a challenge, but one I felt for sure I could have embraced and conquered.
Suddenly, we hit Rogers Pass- and the ridiculous $200 fee for the bus suddenly seemed a small price to pay. As we started the climb, the bus literally groaned and heaved in protest under us, struggling in the lowest possible gear to pull its heavy load up the seemingly never-ending hill. I actually irrationally feared at one point that the bus wouldn’t make it- the sounds coming from it were dreadful- and the climb utterly relentless. And the tunnels; I lost count of how many, but the long, dark tunnels cut into the rock of the mountains with no lighting and a narrow shoulder seemed utterly terrifying to me when I considered undertaking them by bike- especially with a trailer. And perhaps worst of all, the entire route put me in the mind of a barren desert- an ironically beautiful, and picturesque one, but a desert all the same. Miles and miles of nothing; not a hint of civilization bar the constant traffic. To undertake it by bike would have been a full, long day with little or no respite in order to reach a destination- no fun for us, let alone Theo. Even the few signs that could have provided some degree of comfort were stickered across with the damning declaration of ‘CLOSED!’ due to the proper holiday season having not yet begun; itwould have been utterly demoralizing for us.
So yes, we admitted defeat and we ‘sold out’, to some degree, on our ‘cycling; tour. But After seeing what we would have had to endure, I have no regrets. Perhaps better cyclists out there may be better equipped for the challenge; I know it’s do-able, and many before have conquered it, and many will continue to do so in he years to come. But not us.
One positive thing that did come out of the experience, however, was that it re-alliterated my original argument as to why it is better to tour by bike in the first place. Such incredible sights shot past us a a moments notice- the bus truly stole our chances to savor our surroundings and appreciate them. And although the bus stopped regularly and Theo was thankfully extremely well-behaved for the duration, the lack of control over our own time, route and destination did strike me as a cause for concern if we were to undertake any trips of a greater length by this method of transport. Bikes are definitely the right choice for us.
On the plus side, we did see two black bears on route- but thankfully, from the safety and security of the bus. One was strolling along the shoulder of the road where we would have been cycling- a scary prospect!