|Day 20; Thursday, June 17th, 1999
Start: Mosquito Creek Campground; Icefields Parkway, Alberta
End: Belly River Campground, outside Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta
A beautiful, though cool, morning. Blue sky. I boil some water from the creek, and have some instant oatmeal and hot chocolate for breakfast.
Then I heat up some more water, and shave using the bar-end mirror on the BMW as a guide. I'm watching the shadows disappear from the mountains just to the west of my campsite. A really neat show, as the sun rises it illuminates the peaks first, then the shadows retreat down the face of the mountain as the sun climbs into the sky and the air warms up.
Then it's south again down the Icefields Parkway to Lake Louise. Just like yesterday, nothing wrong with that; alpine lakes, glaciers, gray runoff from the glaciers. All the colors are so vivid; the deep blue sky, robin's egg blue of glacier ice, the gray runoff, the whites and grays of the snow on the mountaintops.
At Lake Louise, I head west on Rte. 93 over the continental divide, back into British Columbia towards Radium Hot Springs. The scenery changes somewhat, still wild and beautiful, but less arctic. There's dense stands of pine now, and the creeks and rivers are out of their banks, running high and fast. That's to be expected, as it's a sunny spring day.
I stop at Radium Hot Springs to grab some lunch, hoping to maybe take a dip in the springs. Radium Hot Springs is very developed, with gift shops, a large hotel, and all sorts of touristy amenities.
But while waiting in line to order a sandwich I see a brochure for a whitewater ride called a "Hydro-Bronc".... Wow! It reminds me of a open geodesic ball; there's a sling inside the ball so that the boater (guinea pig? gerbil? tourist?) is semi-suspended, the sling is fastened at the left and the right of the ball, so the ball can rotate while the boater remains upright. Then there's a strip of fabric that runs in a band around the inside of the ball, so the that the boater can run inside the ball to spin it faster or slower, like a gerbil in a treadmill, or a self-propelled paddlewheel. Looking at it, I'd guess you steer by leaning to the right or to the left and running like hell.
This looks really intriguing.... hmmm. It would be a very interesting way to get in a whitewater run while I'm here. I have swim trunks. To heck with Radium Hot Springs!
I eat quickly, and take the brochure with me. I zoom down into Invermere, a man on a mission, where the outfitter is located that runs river trips with these things. In spite of over a decade of kayaking on some pretty intense eastern whitewater, I'm really excited about possibly riding in an inflatable ball down a river.
What would the limits be for a boat like that? Anything that you hit, the inflated tubes would / should simply deflect and bounce back into shape... I bet a waterfall would be a hoot !! Or maybe you'd end up at the base of the falls, stuck in the backwash with the ball spinning like crazy around you. Hmm, well, maybe not a hoot.
In Invermere, I call the outfitter and - no trips today. No trips until the weekend. Damn! While I've got him on the phone, I ask what riding the Hydro-Bronc is like, can it surf waves? What about really big waves, say 10'? Can it surf holes, or does it just act like a runaway treadmill while surfing a hole or big wave? He tells me it's pretty forgiving, as they run the rivers with complete novices in the balls, bouncing into and off of all sorts of things. Damn! I'd sure like to hang out until the weekend to ride in one, but even in my laid-back frame of mind I doubt that I can spend a couple days just waiting - so I thank the man for his time and continue south on Rte. 93 towards Fairmount Hot Springs.
Shoot! I really wanted to ride in that ball....
In the town of Fairmount Hot Springs, there's a sign on the main road that points you up the mountain to the hot springs. A pleasant curving road, although it's lined pretty heavily with houses and cottages.
After maybe a mile or so, the road is hundreds of feet above the valley and I come to the entrance for the hot springs. Very nice! There's a pool, bath house, RV park, all kinds of tourist type things.
I pay my money and am enjoying the soak, but it's a very busy place, lots of people, and doesn't really fit my mood - so I think back to the Cycle Canada article mentioning the nude hot springs in this area. I ask the cashier if there's other, ummm, "primitive" hot springs in the area. She says yes, all over the property, and that if I simply pay an additional $2 entry fee to the rest of the property I can hike across the street and up the hill to the ruins of the first facility built on the property; Indian Hot Springs.
So I pay my $2, grab a slurpee, and head across the street and up the hill.
There's a small stone building; the doors, windows, and roof are all long gone. Inside there's three tubs set into the floor, dating from who knows how long, long ago; full of water. And the water is HOT! Ahhh, excellent, I climb in and relax. But curiosity (and the hot water) eventually gets the best of me, so I climb out and continue up the hill to see what else I might find.
Perfect! At the top of the hill is a hot spring, very primitive, just a hole in the built-up mineral deposits - maybe two people could fit into it, but they'd have to like each other a lot. I settle down into the hole, the water's up to my neck, and I'm all alone looking out over the valley, sucking on my slurpee now and then, just relaxing and enjoying the view.
After awhile, a storm appears on the far side of the valley, maybe 10-15 miles off to the west. I can see the lightning bolts, but I can't hear them. I just sit and watch the storm go on, perfectly content right where I am. A few other people wander up my way, then back down the hill to settle into the tubs below in the ruins, and I'm alone again. Ahhhh....... just perfect.
Then the air starts getting colder, the wind starts to pick up, and I think it'd be best to be on my way. As I'm toweling off, a light rain begins to fall. I hurry off to the changing rooms. In the time it takes to shower and dress, the rain has stopped. I'm southbound again, between the light rain to my east and the thunderstorm to the west. My luck holds, and I pull out from under both systems and into clear skies.
I continue south on Rt. 93, and somewhere between Canal Flats and Skookumchuck there's a group of maybe 10 Triumphs, modern Triumphs, parked in a roadside rest/scenic pullout; so I pull in.
Turns out it's a guided group tour, all the riders and passengers are from the UK. They're on holiday in the Canadian Rockies with Rocky Mountain Motorcycle Tours. There's a guide and a chase van, and everybody looks like they're having a great time - lots of smiles and laughing, happy voices, happy faces.
We talk a bit, they ask where I'm coming from and where I'm going to, so I give a two minute synopsis of my trip so far, and show the pictures of the Dempster Highway, Joe's GS wrecked in the mud with the swingarm cracked open - there's suddenly a lot of silence. Then someone asks how far I've gone, how many miles will the trip be for me by the time I'm home again? I have to think for a bit, add some numbers up, let's see.... maybe 9000 miles on the bike, plus maybe 2000 miles on the ferry along the Inside Passage, I think... Their jaws drop, it's a bit of a shock to them, and then I realize that they can't take a trip like this back home.
I wonder - how many places in the world can you ride / drive above the Arctic Circle?
Then Mike, the tour guide and owner, suggests that they should probably be going, and the group starts suiting up. He tells me as he gets suited up that he's glad that I showed the pictures, that a couple members of the group were chomping at the bit to experience more wilderness, like I had done. He thinks I may have calmed them down a bit. I think I wouldn't want somebody renting my motorcycles to ride the Dempster, either. And then the group takes off, waving and beeping as they leave, northbound.
I continue southbound on Rte. 93, along the base of the mountains to my east. I pass through Wasa, and Fort Steele, then cross the Columbia River at Wardner. At Elko, I head northwest on Rt. 3, through Fernie, Sparwood, and Crowsnest Pass. Not a high pass, about 4600', but pleasant scenery nonetheless. Pine forests, pleasant curvy road.
After the pass, I'm back in Alberta again, on the eastern side of the Canadian Rockies. I pass through the town of Frank, and on the east side of town there's a huge area full of fresh boulders; and a sign. I circle back to check it out - there's also an entire face of the mountain above that's fresh as well.
Turns out that many decades ago, the side of the mountain came down on the town of Frank, the boulders I'm looking at are the aftermath. Several people died, a section of the town was leveled. Wow! These boulders are car sized or bigger, and scattered all over the place..... It's also a huge area that's missing on the mountainside. What's the right word.....humbling? sobering? What I feel is somewhere along those lines.
Pretty much out of the mountains now, I continue east on Rte. 3 to Pincher, and then south on Rte. 6 to Pincher Creek, population 3700. Seems like a large town, with restaurants and hotels. I'm hungry, would like to eat and get a motel.
But the motels are all full; at one motel I ask two women on foot about a place to eat or sleep after being turned down at the front desk. Between giggles (they're sorta drunk) they tell me I won't find anyplace with vacancies, that they're having a cowboy festival in Pincher Creek starting tomorrow, and that I should stick around because it's really a good time. Hmm, maybe something to consider.
I grab some supper, and then try some more to get a motel room. No luck, the women were right.
But the US border looks to be just a little ways south - so I continue south on Rte. 6 into the night, with the vest and grips on "low". The stars are out and the road just pleasantly follows the terrain. I figure there must be something at the border, that a border town would have some sort of services.
Eventually I come to Belly River Campground, it's a government campground at the edge of Waterton Lakes National Park. I figure I'd better go for it, Waterton is right on the border and I don't know what I'll find ahead.
There's nobody in the campground, I've got it all to the myself, the entire campground! The registration ticket that the last campers left at my site is about two weeks old, so this place doesn't seem to get much use. Perfect.
I set up camp by the headlight of the BMW. Stars are still a novel reminder that I'm getting closer to home; after getting my tent up I sit for a bit and just look up into the sky at the stars. There's no cars, no people, just the sounds of the woods.
About midnight, I crawl into my sleeping bag and fall fast asleep..