Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Into it

I go up to the 4th floor and into a room full of lazy-boys on wheels. There are windows on 3 sides and it is well lit and not too crowded. I take my seat. A nurse comes over to put in an IV, fortunately it goes in on the first try. The first 1L bag of fluid to be administered is connected to the pump. It is just saline, intended to hydrate me to avoid hazardous side effects from the first chemotherapy drug, cisplatin. It will be pumped into me over 1 hour. There are 3 chemotherapy drugs today. How long will I be here?

Cisplatin is in a 750mL bag administered over 1hr. Etoposide is in a 750mL bag administered over 1hr. Finally Bleomycin is in a small bag that is administered over 15 minutes. Bleomycin is described as being toxic to the lungs. Lance Armstrong opted for alternative treatments to limit the effect on his career as a professional cyclist. Before starting treatment, I have done a lung function test to define my baseline numbers if anything were to happen. 

Chemotherapy drugs kill cancer by limiting cell division in the body. This prevents cancer cells from dividing rapidly, but there is collateral damage inside the body. Division of white and red blood cells and skin cells in the body is also affected by chemotherapy drugs. This is the reason for side effects such as fatigue (from lack of red blood cells to transfer oxygen through the body), being immunocompromised (from lack of white blood cells) susceptible to infections (like COVID), and cuts that heal slowly outside and inside of the body. 

4 hours later, I get back to my bike to ride home. My body feels swollen from having taken on 3L of fluid, so much that my knees hurt when I crouch down to unlock my bike. The first day, I go for a fatbike ride in the evening on the flatter Oleskiw trails. Mostly I feel bloated from the fluids. So far, side effects are excessive hiccups that keep me up at night (fortunately I can watch the Olympics on TV), the odd headache and that the couch starts to feel like it has a gravitational pull.

The first weekend, my taste buds are shot. A carrot becomes inedible. After that, just try to eat pizza and pasta, foods I enjoy. I eat waffles every morning as they are softer on the gums. I call it "living my best life" so that I don't lose weight because of a poor appetite. Fortunately, my taste comes back after a day.

One cycle for me was 3 days in a row of cisplatin and etoposide with bleomycin on the first day of those 3. Then bleomycin on 1 day of each of the next two weeks. Some blood tests to make sure that the kidneys are still functioning and blood cells are at reasonable levels then the next cycle begins. I did 3 cycles total over 9 weeks.

 In each cycle, the 3 days in a row hit hardest, but the effect is delayed until the weekend and early the next week. For instance, the Tuesday following always brought a headache and nausea, relegating me to the couch for the day. In the following weeks with just the bleomycin infusions, I start to feel better, but then the next cycle begins. 

The message throughout the treatments is to try to continue my normal levels of activity. Well, I know better than that and definitely dial it back, limiting things to 1.5 hours if I am having a particularly good day. The weekend before the beginning of the 2nd cycle, I do a 3 day stage race on Zwift. I am curious how much fitness I have lost. The first day, I start at about 95% of my pre-chemotherapy numbers, but blow up and finish at an average of about 85%. It doesn't seem like much, but it is striking how much just 1 cycle has taken out of me. The next day, I smarten up and try to pace at 85%. I'm at the back of the pack, and I see someone using the sticky-watts (exploiting the game by surging for 2-5 seconds, then easing off) cheat pass me. How pathetic. I finish the 3 days, but decide that it's not worth pushing myself for such meagre numbers.

I start to lose my hair just before the start of the 2nd cycle. The hair on the side of my head is starting to fall out, there is hair all over my pillow and my toques, so I shave the rest of my hair off. Other parts of my body and my finger nails are becoming extra sensitive.

I arrive the morning of the next cycle and there has been a bit of a mix up. After my initial weigh in, someone along the way interpreted my weight as being 90-something kg instead of 70-something kg. That means that during the first cycle I was given a much higher dosage of chemotherapy than proposed. There is a bit of a delay as they have to mix new bags at the lower dosage but I am glad that error has been caught!

After the first treatments of the 2nd cycle, I discover that the gravitational pull of the couch isn't because it has suddenly gained a large amount of mass. It is the nausea. It's not like the nausea you get when you've had a few too many beers. It feels different, but it has the same effect: it makes you want to lie down. I have been provided with prescription anti-nausea medications, but they only work so well.

I start to notice the effects of having less red blood cells. I get head rushes if I get up too quickly. My heart rate races even if I go up a flight of stairs. The stairs on my bike ride to the CCI is starting to require more from me. One day it snowed and it was a really difficult ride to get to the CCI. On the way back, the final hill out of McKinnon ravine up to 142 street always required some strategy to be able to make it up: resting on the flat section.

I didn't mind sitting on my indoor bike and grinding it out at 35-45%. Besides the Tour of Watopia group rides were going on. But I found that if I exerted myself too hard or for too long, I would get a bit of a sore throat. Nothing that couldn't be soothed with some tea, but I was always worried that that would be the precursor to something more serious.

In February and March 2022, we are still in the midst of a pandemic. Being immunocompromised from the chemotherapy makes me exceptionally vulnerable to Covid. So I've had my partner do all of the grocery shopping and I didn't go to any indoor public spaces aside from the CCI, where I've been wearing an N95 mask. 

Think about the political background at the time. February was marked by anti-mask and anti-vax, and anti-whatever (progress) occupation of Ottawa and blockades of border crossings. Basically selfish people who were fed up with having to do the bare minimum required to participate in a civilized society. I felt like I didn't have a choice about whether to put toxic chemicals inside my body and get several needles a week and these people were scared of a little vaccine. The government caved and mask mandates lifted. There goes another level of protection.

Near the end of the 3rd cycle, with one last treatment to go, I didn't have to leave the house all weekend. My parents dropped off some food, I was happy to spin for 1.5hours at a time on Zwift. My partner had gone away for the weekend to go skiing, only stopping for gas and a short grocery shop. The Tuesday after she got back, I woke up with a bit of a sore throat...and a fever.

Wednesday, March 15, 2023


 I didn't know much about cancer. It didn't seem to affect those close to me. Sure I had heard words like "tumour" and "relapse", but I had never even heard the word "remission". I didn't know that it typically spreads very fast and also more commonly affects older people. 

In the fall of 2021, I was coming off a summer of being in perhaps the best shape I had ever been in. A winter and spring and summer without the distraction of races (or travelling to races) and other commitments meant that I could focus on executing a training plan and more importantly prioritizing proper rest weeks and progression. The result was that I punched through plateaus, at least with my cycling, setting PR's and KOMs. I was excited to take what I had learned in that year of the pandemic and apply it as races returned to the calendar for 2022.

September 29, I was sitting in my desk at work and I experienced some severe pain in my left testicle. It was hard to focus on work and I made a couple of trips to the washroom to sit on the toilet to examine what was happening. This was the day before a long weekend for the new Truth and Reconciliation Day on September 30, and as someone who works 40 hours a week and lives for those precious weekends, I didn't want this to ruin my long weekend at the emergency room, I had big plans. Eventually the pain went away and I was able to enjoy my weekend. 

The pain would come and go. Kind of like a stomach ache. Except the state of your digestive system is constantly changing. I don't think your testicles go through cycles. My testicle seemed bigger and had some flappy things poking out of it. But nothing I would call a "lump". TMI, but besides, my other testicle seemed to be weird for my entire life and it didn't seem to cause issues. I had a busy fall with midweek races and training for skimo season, so I didn't think to book a visit to the doctor until mid November, when my girlfriend finally twisted my arm. 

I had not been to a doctor very regularly at that point. I went to a walk-in in early 2020 because I had noticed some 200+ bpm heart rates now that I had a watch I could wear during a skimo race. And before that I had found a new family doctor in 2017 who had had me do the battery of tests, but his clinic moved to an outlying suburb. So I had to find a new family doctor.

"Oh, by the way, my testicle has been giving me some pain, seems swollen"

"We'll have you book and ultrasound"

I got the ultrasound done in the morning and not even in the afternoon, I already got a call to go see the doctor. He tells me that it doesn't look good and that a urologist will be in contact with me soon, and gives me a requisition for some more blood tests.

The urologist calls and I am to meet on Wednesday. He gives me the rundown of what is going on, how the blood tests show that it is likely cancer, what they are going to do, what the recovery time is going to be like, and that they could even do the surgery that evening...or on Saturday. It's kind of gross, a lot of information to process at once, and I am already really hungry so I decide to schedule it for Saturday with another urologist. Because they cut through the abdomen to extract the testicle affected by cancer, the recovery time can be long to avoid putting too much strain on the incision. It becomes apparent that I might miss skiing over Christmas break, and I feel silly for holding off so long in the fall only to potentially lose out on a week of skiing.

I spend the rest of my week going for some last bike rides and cross country skis and have some pizza at midnight the night before surgery. Although the urologist went EXTREMELY into depth on the side effects, I am not too nervous because I am excited to get that thing out of me.

The day arrives and I head to the hospital. I wait around the entire morning but eventually the surgery takes place in the afternoon and I am wheeled off to the operating room. I remember shifting myself onto a different bed in the operating room and then counting down as I am put asleep, then I wake up in the recovery room. I ask the nurse there if it was a boy or a girl, referring to my testicle, I don't think she got the joke. Then I am transferred back to the room from the morning.

I don't know what is wrong with the roommate in my room, but his breathing sounds labored and he doesn't want to eat his hospital food. It sound like he has diabetes and COPD and I hear him promise to his partner that maybe he will quit smoking. I can't help but be pissed off. Here I am, I have made much healthier choices in my life and I still end up in the same hospital room... Before I am allowed to leave I am supposed to demonstrate that I can pee, I guess to make sure that everything works. I drink up knowing that if I am able to pee, I will not have to spend a night listening to my roommate whine and wheeze.

Recovery from the surgery happens step by step. For the first week, I try to get outside and walk 2-3 blocks every day. Don't want to over-do it. In the 2nd week, I return to work from home and work my way up to longer walks, sometimes 2 hours at a time. In the 3rd week, I feel up for some indoor cycling and I do a bunch of 2.5 hour rides because I was bored. My heart rates seem high for small amount of power I am producing, but I see quick progress. 

Throughout this time, I went into the depths of google, looking at what the treatment will involve, options, and outcomes. Podcasts, blogs, publications from regional health services. The stats are interesting. 9000 Americans a year are diagnosed with testicular cancer. By extrapolation, that's probably 900 Canadians, and 30 from Edmonton. The 5 year survival rate for testicular cancer is 95%. 95% might be a good result on a test, but a sobering way to look at that is that 1 in 20 die...

I meet with the urologist at the end of the 3rd week for a follow up. Contrary to the warning from the first urologist, I am able to return to activity a lot quicker and it looks like I'll be able to ski during Christmas break. Yay. I am provided with a requisition for a blood tests and will be referred to the local cancer clinic, the Cross Cancer Institute (CCI). The blood test is to see if the levels of tumour markers in the blood are dropping after removing the testicle or if they are increasing, indicating that the cancer has spread.

I went to the CCI to pick up more weekly test requisitions. Upon my first trip into the CCI, it felt welcoming and close knit. I would jokingly refer to it as "Hogwarts", although instead of having magical powers, I had cancer.

So with a more official go-ahead from the doctor, I was able to start playing around more outside. I went cross country skiing, Klaebo-running up the smaller hills. I did a massive ride on Zwift. It was extremely cold over Christmas break, even with some highs of around -30C, but I didn't care, I just did warmer activities like cross country ski and run. When it did warm up, I was able to put in some big days. I was not expecting to be able to race the skimo race at Castle Mountain, but things were looking good.

The first weekly blood test looked good, with tumour markers decreasing dramatically compared to pre-surgery.

And the racing did go well. I skipped the sprint because I had not done any hard efforts since the surgery. The vertical and individual were affected by trailbreaking that kept the group together making things more tactical. I didn't feel like I was at the top of my game, but I got a couple of podiums.

The next weekly blood test showed some increase in the levels of tumour markers. I had a meeting with the oncologist. to discuss the next steps. More blood tests, another CT scan, and likely chemotherapy starting in February, finishing up in May.

Chemotherapy treatments are almost synonymous with cancer. The image of hair loss, weakness, and nausea are what you think of when you picture a "cancer patient". I wasn't sure how I would recover from losing a body part that literally produces performance enhancing drugs (testosterone), now I had to worry about how I would recover after nuking my body with chemicals. 

In order to enjoy my body while I still could, I went to Canmore to go skiing every weekend until I began chemotherapy. I was able to put in some great days on the skis. I even snuck in another race on a Saturday night at Norquay. Interestingly, blood tests showed my red blood cell count took a hit from surgery and was not quite back to pre-surgery levels at Castle, but by the Norquay race, they were back, and I would say that I felt pretty good. 

I also took a week of vacation to get the most out of more days in the lead up. Near the end of my vacation, I schemed up an "event". A grande course worthy skimo race at Rogers Pass: Peter's Mental, a play on the famous Pierra Menta. There was an amazing turnout. 

Peter's Mental!

I then nervously pedaled my bike to the CCI. I had no idea what to expect.

Monday, November 8, 2021

Canadian Rockies Bike FKT's?

 Although larger in-person events are starting to return as a result of more people getting vaccinated, chasing Fastest Known Times or FKT's is still increasing in popularity. The objective is to complete a route, trail, or loop faster than anyone else who has decided to share their experience. Strava makes it easy to share and rank attempts but of course there is a history of attempts from before GPS use was common and there are "luddites" who I think it has always been more of a running or climbing thing (and even a skiing thing). 

The concept of an FKT has become more established in the mountain bike community with videos of attempts of various routes: Kokopelli and White Rim in the USA, and West Highland Way in Scotland for example. 

Locally, running FKT's like Rockwall and Skyline trails have provided motivation for me; even though I am not capable of taking them, I would love to make an attempt. But on the mountain bike, there isn't much out there to motivate me to continue hammering over the hill that I have just climbed, and instead I have been contriving out and backs and half laps so that I can meet up with my girlfriend.

Locally, there are some possibilities for the creation of popular FKT segments. The routes used by TransRockies already demonstrate how towns and campgrounds can be linked together. In fact, the actual network of trails is so complex that an endless amount of options are available and it is difficult to confine what could be the go-to Canadian Rockies Mountain bike FKT to one route.  

Racing through the wilderness is controversial. Is it responsible to go fast on trails that shared with other users and wildlife? Where the terms "fast and light" mean carrying less or forgoing first aid and repair equipment. Where racing means riding on the edge of control and around blind corners. Although my familiarity with the above mentioned international FKT routes all seem to have frequent access for support crews, which is a big reason why videos of the attempts can be made. They are also around 100miles, which would slow things down a bit on flatter sections. FKT's also commonly start and finish from a prominent location, ideally a town centre for maximum exposure.

Anyways, here are my ideas of what could become classic Canadian Rockies FKT routes. I think they represent the brand of riding that is possible here in that the rough singletrack excludes most production gravel bikes:

Old Bow 80 course: ~80km, 2200m climbing. Sulphur Springs-Elbow Valley-Powderface Creek-Prairie Link-Prairie Creek-Powderface Road-Jumpingpound Ridge-Cox Hill-Tom Snow. Definitely classic, and the FKT is probably the course record from the race. 

Bragg Creek to Canmore: ~100km, 3000m of climbing. But how do you narrow down the options? Tom Snow to up Cox Hill (ugh...) or Elbow Valley-Prairie Link-Powderface Road-Jumpingpound Ridge? Baldy Pass? Jewel Pass or Skogan Pass?

High Rockies singletrack section: ~65km, 1200m of climbing one way (and an existing Strava segment). I think an out and back could be a good candidate as it would be closer to the 100miles, and the existing one way times require riding really fast on the flat singletrack sections. 

Various TranRockies/Doug Eastcott routes that are more remote: 

Elkford to Etherington over Fording River Pass. 

Etherington to Sandy McNabb or Turner Valley? over Grass and Sullivan Passes

Turner Valley to Bragg Creek: Volcano Ridge-Wildhorse-Ford Creek-Powderface Creek-Elbow Valley.

Sheep River to Elbow River sufferfest. How fast can you run up the middle of the Sheep River?

Wednesday, November 3, 2021

Coros Pace 2 Review

 Ever look at the price of most GPS sports watches? Eyewatering. Imagine spending more than you would on a laptop and it might not even be able connect to your cycling power meter. It's ok, it will read your text messages to you (which you need to carry your phone with you to use), play music (so you don't have to carry your phone?), tell you when you need to rest (I can tell how my own legs feel thank you very much). 

The Coros Pace 2 watch comes packed with a bunch of useful features rather than the fluff found on Garmin and Suunto watches around $300. For someone who bikes and runs, power meter connectivity is pretty key so that you can replace the stand-alone bike computer. All I ask for is the kind of features that are on a 10 year old Garmin Edge 500 (Power meter capability, Barometric Altimeter) with an update of whatever 10 years of technology is and a watch strap. After almost a year of use, I will summarize the main benefits that I see of this watch:

+BluetoothLE and Ant+ connectivity. Not only can you use a wider range of devices, but this is also adds a layer of reliability. I sometimes notice especially if the battery is low on my power meter, it will have trouble connecting in Bluetooth but not Ant+. Ant+ connectivity allows me to go longer without changing batteries in my power meter.

+Barometric Altimeter for accurate elevation gain statistics. Devices with GPS only elevation will not count the small rolling hills you still have to climb. 

+Impressive battery life. You can easily leave the charging cable at home for a long weekend and not worry about losing it somewhere. Or spend all day Everesting. Or go on a long ski traverse.

+App is excellent. Perhaps it is also my new phone with better battery life so I can leave Bluetooth on, but uploading rides off of the app is fast, easy and mostly automatic. 

+Wrist HR seemed like a bit of a gimmick to me, but its use has grown on my. Sleep stats are somewhat interesting. I don't think the wrist HR is accurate enough for doing intervals, but for general runs, bikes, and skis, I can leave the heart rate strap at home and use the data from the wrist HR to measure a general training load.

+Improved GPS accuracy. Not only important for Strava KOMs, but also for accurately measuring run pace, which for runners is important for their version of "power".

With a few negatives:

- I have the version with the velcro strap. I don't particularly like this strap. It gets caught when I take sleeves on and off. I wonder if it is less durable, not only from the loops getting pulled, but I have also had to re-apply glue to keep the hook patches from peeling off. Also the strap is designed so that it won't pull out of the loop (which is good so that it won't fly off your wrist if it comes loose), but this means that you can't put it on your handlebars because you can't fit the strap over shifters, brake levers, and cables.

-Compared to my cheaper ($200) and older Lezyne and of course the more expensive Coros models, the Pace 2 lacks breadcrumb mapping. The map of your activity shows up on the watch screen when you save the activity. I am unsure why they can't have this capability, but it is nice for not only seeing how cool your activity map is going to turn out, but also seeing how close you are to the car at the end of a hard day. 

-I did notice some potential power meter dropouts with the watch on my wrist. This was evidenced by a lower average power recorded by the watch than with my Lezyne Micro GPS bike computer. 

-To get rides onto my computer to upload into non-web based software for which there would be an App, I have to email them to myself and download them to my computer. This seems to take longer than plugging in the watch and dragging the files off of it as it it was a USB drive. 

-No custom activity profiles. It would be neat to clone an existing activity type (bike, run) into to create a custom display/autolap arrangement for other activities such as trail running, backcountry skiing, and cross country skiing. 

Monday, October 25, 2021

Climbduro for real and Virtual

 The Climbduro events captured what I love about cycling while hiding me from my insecurities (racing down trails, fighting for position), and have really defined how I choose to ride. My impression of the two editions that I did was ripping the legs off of each other on the climbs, each race starting with a wide gravel road, riders are free to move up and blow up as they wish, followed by a "party lap" back down.  For most of the last 4 summers, I have targeted longer climbs while taking time to enjoy the descents at my own pace and contriving loops so that I can meet up with my girlfriend for her descents. 

When the pandemic took hold in 2020, virtual racing became the main form of competition, with race organizers shifting to encouraging time trials following a GPS track. Climbduro was already ahead of the game, offering this in 2019 to complement their real event. Attempting these time trials, the rides became memorable, offering up the chance to "race" on tracks where logistically it wouldn't make sense to race, in addition to experiencing the views and the descents that came after the timed climbs. 


The first edition happened under smoky skies. The route, 2 stages, the first up the open to traffic section to its top, the second up to the top of the Moose Mountain summit switchbacks. Bike choice was a hot topic but mountain bikes ruled the day, offering more gearing, and requiring less precision on the Summit doubletrack, and could make it down the untimed Moosepackers to the finish. Quite a surreal place to race up to the (almost) top of a mountain! I was just outside of the top 3 on either segment, but what was interesting was that a bad shift on the transition between the two stages bent my derailleur and I had to stop and repair it between stages and even then only had minimal working gear combinations.


Construction on the summit trail required a different route but it still delivered. The first, a steep climb up the Husky Road, followed by an untimed descent of Ushoulda. The second, starting on the singletrack of Family Guy (it IS a climb trail!) and finishing on the upper sections of the Moose road. The pecking order was set after the Husky climb, and we staggered our start of the Family guy climb, so no problems were had on the singletrack. 3rd on both segments with great legs!

Prairie View-Jewel

Prairie View- Jewel pass is a classic loop, especially when combined with the Camp Chief Hector Descent and/or Razor's Edge. I'd never really hammered it before but had been meaning too. On a long weekend to boot! The initial switchbacks are steady but not steep, but then the climb really turns into a wall. Good for keeping the gas on!

Jumpingpound Summit + Cox Hill

My preferred way of riding Jumpingpound Ridge to Cox Hill, is actually to ascend to the ridge at the Lusk pass climb, ride to the summit of Jumpingpound as an out-and-back and then continue to Cox Hill. The Summit trail climb was new to me. After a slightly longer but enjoyable spin out on the gravel with some great views, I blasted up the Summit trail. Starting off easier on some nicely rerouted singletrack, it soon takes on a steeper character similar to the other Jumpingpound climbs. After topping out and then riding along the ridge, I actually beat my brother to the Cox Hill Junction! After a brief descent, the Cox Hill climb starts immediately and becomes steep and loose near the top. I couldn't clean this section. After re-grouping with my brother, we headed down. This descent is awesome.

Sulphur Mountain Backside

If you don't have a small enough chainring, the backside of Sulphur Mountain can be a real sulphurfest. The pitch is so steep that you'll be spending some solid time in your easiest gear, or next easiest, and that is at a hammer pace! Great views up the Bow Valley on the 2nd last switchback heading up. Once at the top, the solidarity is over as you are immersed in the crowds at the boardwalk.

Moose Mountain + Ranger Summit Linkup

The Pneuma climb has a reputation of being tough, not necessarily because of the pitch but because of the roots and switchbacks on the way up. At a race pace, it isn't bad as you float up over the roots and have short recovery sections on the slight downhills. It's not a trail where you go and set a personal best VAM, but a climb that is more than just a means to an end. It still makes a great hammer, you just might not finish as high above your start as you think you have. 

Connecting to the West Bragg Creek trails is easy after descending Race of Spades. The Climbduro Quattro route featured a shorter climb on Ridgeback, a bigger climb up Bobcat and finally a couple of smaller climbs on Boundary Ridge and Snagmore. As if that wasn't enough I added in a bonus climb up Sugar Daddy before finishing off on Sugar Mama and spinning back to the Station Flats parking lot. It was around 1900m of climbing, much of that on singletrack!

Ranger Summit Linkup Redux

From the main West Bragg Creek parking lot, up Ranger Summit, then an out and back on Bobcat, followed by Sugar Mama. I had intended on starting the Triple (Sugar Daddy, and a repeat of Boundary Ridge and Snagmore) but I started in the wrong place so the route wouldn't have counted. The consolation of a lap down to the bottom of Snakes and Ladders and back up was a highlight though. 

By combining Climbduro segments together, I was able to create some memorable days on the bike.

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Rye Ridge and another go at Fording River Pass

 It has been 9 years since I was last in the south-Highwood area. Well, I guess I was close with recent trips to Mist Ridge, Loomis Lake, and an ill-advised trip Around the Misty Range. Recently, the exploration bug has hit me again and this area serves up healthy helpings of exploration. There is definitely more than a long-weekend's worth of unfamiliar trails to explore out there, but with many closer options for day trips and more reliable options (like Fernie) for weekend trips it is hard to commit to making a trip to the Cataract. 

Three sections of the Great Divide Trail (GDT) thru hike provide motivation for mounting biking in this area: The Oldman Divide Section, Rye Ridge, and Fording River Pass. Hailstone Butte and Plateau Mountain are on my gravel hit list. Mt. Burke and Rye Ridge are fun downhill rides after pushing your bike up. And then there's the unknown of going over Grass Pass, down Wileman Creek to Flat Creek and the Sullivan Pass-High Rock Range loop. 

The "standard" Rye Ridge loop is probably the easiest bite to chew off in this area as the Cataract Creek snowmobile trails are actually well maintained (bridged creek crossings, very few logs). Clocking in at around 30km, I knew I would want to tack on something else, and the network of logging roads in the area provides easy ways to do that. Baril creek is in the next valley to the north and goes up to Fording River Pass. Fitzsimmons creek in the next valley over. And so on. Thanksgiving weekend, with winter approaching the still snow-free 2300m+ elevation of Fording River Pass was intriguing.

After the long drive to Etherington PRA, driving past multiple overflowing trailheads at Galatea, Elbow Lake, and Highwood Pass, we arrived to an empty parking lot, well empty except for 3 different vehicles pulled in, stopped to inspect a sign or the outhouse and then left...

The ride starts by rolling along the minimal washboard and slightly loose gravel of Forestry Trunk Road south to the Rye Ridge trailhead (just north of Cataract Creek PRA). At the Rye Ridge trailhead, the Rye Ridge trail almost immediately forks off to the right after the gate onto another smaller doubletrack marked with a cairn. But our ride would continue onto the logging road, descending first and then into some rolling terrain. The open valley provides wonderful views and also a bit of a headwind. The logging road eventually had had enough and it was time to stick with the Cataract Creek snowmobile trail. 

Grassy doubletrack is the name of the game for the next while as the trail travels further up the valley, crossing the main creek on a bridge to a junction with another snowmobile trail, climbing, and then descending back down to another creek crossing. A few logs and some mud spring sections require a bit of walking, but otherwise the trail is steady cruising.

The Cataract Loop shortcut appears and while it might be enticing to cut off a whopping 0.2km off the loop, it looks steep right from the start. After, a cabin is easy to miss in a small meadow, in this case more visible because some snowmobile club people were busy trying to put an outhouse back upright!

Another muddy creek crossing and then the fun begins with an absolute wall of a climb. Hmmm maybe the Cataract Creek Loop shortcut might have been a better option. The climb continues, at a gentler grade, snaking through the trees, very reminiscent of skiing up to the top of Silverstar from Sovereign lake. As the GDT now follows this part of the route, orange markings on trees are plentiful. And near the top while the snowmobile trail curves to the right, GDT markings bring you straight up onto the ridge where the views really open up. 

After what seems like an all too brief stint on the ridge, the GDT heads back into the trees to rejoin the snowmobile trail before a short slalom down (also reminiscent of the Sovereign Lake ski trails), before the GDT again forks off to the left onto some singletrack to climb back onto the ridge.

Perhaps the best part of the day is the descent along the ridge. Never too steep but with some rocks to keep you on your toes. After a long descent along the ridge, the trail plunges into the forest where the fun continues on soft-pine needle singletrack but it is sometimes interrupted by fallen trees.

At a crossing of a reclaimed logging road, the snowmobile trail is not too far to the right. We continued down the GDT to the creek crossing and then started working our way up the other side, hoping to intersect another snowmobile trail, but with some walking over downed trees, progress was slow and we decided to return to the reclaimed road. 

The snowmobile trail was a quick cruise down to the creek crossing, but repair efforts after the 2013 floods necessitated cutting a trail higher above the bank on the other side so make sure to leave something in the tank. At the first junction with the Baril Loop trail, I wanted to traverse over to ascend up to as far as I had time for towards Fording River Pass, while my partner continued down Etherington Creek, reporting no further difficulties. If I had checked my map, I would have found that that it might have been a better idea to take the East leg of the Baril Loop as the West leg gained some additional vertical before descending down to Baril Creek.

Transitioning off of the grassy snowmobile trails to the faster rolling gravel doubletrack down to Baril Creek was a welcome change. Baril Creek Trail immediately hits you with steep, punchy, rolling terrain as you work your way up the valley. And while I had managed to keep my shoes dry for the entire ride over Rye Ridge, numerous creek crossings on Baril Creek forced me to abandon any plans for dryness. It wasn't a warm day either as I spent the day wearing a cycling jacket.

Time alone on the bike is time to think. Think about what I look for in a ride. I like climbs to get you up high and out of the muddy valleys immediately. I like being able to go ahead on my own and loop back to meet my girlfriend at different points and descend together. I don't like slow rolling resistance that saps your power. I don't really come to the mountains to ride rolling terrain, I prefer racing up steady climbs. When I'm riding with my girlfriend, I like to do less waiting when we ride a trail: that she doesn't have to get off and walk hard sections, creek crossings or logs. While this ride had amazing views and explored some seldom ridden terrain, only a short section in the middle up and down from Rye Ridge really impressed me. Nevertheless the pull of the pass that I knew I wouldn't have time to make it up to kept me going. 

GDT blue blazes (for the Baril Creek Access) and snowmobile trail markers provide guidance in this section, the only warning is to stay on the snowmobile trail instead of going on the GDT towards James Lake. 

Nice spot above James Lake before yet another descent on the way up.
After another descent on the way "up" the trail really steepened, requiring some walking. But I was close to my turnaround time and motivated to push as high as possible, so I broke into an uphill jog. 
View from my highpoint. Actually very close to my highpoint from 9 years ago.

Pointing my bike around and dropping into the steep doubletrack filled with loose rocks, doubts about the quality of this ride vanished and a large grin appeared on my face. Uphills on the way back were inconsequential and the downhill on the wide doubletrack was beckoning me to go faster. My feet were already wet so creek crossings didn't bother me. After the Baril loop junction, the long, downhill cruise continued on without penalty where I arrived to my waiting girlfriend.

I'll be back to Fording River Pass and a little beyond, hopefully sooner than 9 years from now.

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Moraine Lake and Ross Lake Trails

The views are spectacular once you emerge from the trees

Moraine Lake, made famous by Instagram and computer desktop backgrounds, is also known for its small parking lot filling up before sunrise each day so that photographers can wow their followers with a picture of the sunrise and so hikers can get an early start on the objectives in the area. Access during the fall larch season has always been competitive but in the last couple of years the pressure has been on all summer while the road is open. But what was once reportedly a terrible road to ride on due to cars circling for parking spots has now been transformed into a quiet ride with maybe a couple of shuttle busses and 10 cars passing the entire ride up.

Moraine Lake

While mountain biking in Banff National Park is limited, especially compared to Jasper, the Moraine Lake Highline trail remains open and provides an additional way to access Moraine Lake without having to worry about parking or shuttles. The Tramline trail from the Lake Louise townsite provides a gentle climb to Moraine Lake road.

The Highline trail is rooty, rising up to its highpoint around midway through, before its character changes, first becoming a smooth trail winding along the sideslope before emerging out into the avalanche paths coming off of Mt. Temple where bigger rocks embedded in the ground provide technical challenges that continue all of the way down to Moraine Lake. 

The smoother midsection of the trail
The return trip is only a little different with the rocks more challenging on the way up, but the roots do little to prevent a fast cruise on the way down.

The other main ride in Lake Louise is Ross Lake. Back at the bottom of Moraine Lake road, we continued up the Tramline and crossed over to the other side of Lake Louise Drive and headed behind the staff accommodations where the trail started. Ross Lake trail starts wider and gradually narrows as it traverses around, crossing multiple drainages. Near the end as the trail dropped down to the lake, rocks provided technical challenges and despite the "intermediate" rating, required harder moves than anything on Moraine Lake. The last couple of pitches were steeper and although I was intending on riding back on the Ross Lake trail by myself, I figured they would require walking anyways, so I resigned to ride back on the Great Divide trail with my partner. For the better because the descent from Ross Lake to the road was fast and fun. 
Ross Lake below the headwall below the hanging valley that is used to ski up to Popes Peak col in the winter

With all of the hype about the section of the Bow Valley Parkway near Banff being closed to cars, seeing cars overflowing the ditch right by the gate, and the outcry as the road was reopened to vehicle traffic, having a quiet Great Divide Highway to ourselves seemed ironic. Aside from some culverts closer to Lake Louise, the pavement wasn't in too bad of shape and we cruised back. Combined with the gentle climb up Tramline trail, the old highway would make an excellent family ride.

Passing over back into Alberta on the quiet Great Divide Highway.