Supported Tour of a Lifetime

In my early days of cycle touring, I did a couple of supported rides in the Canadian Rockies - the Golden Triangle (supported with the Edmonton Bicycle Touring Club), and the Icefields Parkway (supported by Mountain Madness Tours).  Through these, and other trips, I discovered that I don't really care for touring in Canada, and supported isn't my first choice (I'm a die-hard fan of self-supported).

Traffic?  What traffic?
A couple months ago, I got an e-mail from Ben at Mountain Madness.  Over the past few years his business has drifted more towards catering to American tourists doing the Icefields Parkway.  Us Canadians - well, most of us - tend to support ourselves when we're touring in our own back yard, so this sounds like a prudent idea.  Except when there's a pandemic going on.  Ben's business has really suffered during the pandemic, and this spring he reached out to a bunch of his old Canadian clients asking if we were interested in doing a tour this year.  "Do a tour", he said.  "It's a wonderful opportunity to do it with almost no tourist traffic on the Parkway", he said.

I have been smarting from not being able to do a trip to Europe, and doing a supported tour in Canada really was not on my radar at all, but the thought of doing the Parkway with very light tourist traffic certainly had its appeal.

I asked Ben if he wanted to collaborate on a tour through the Calgary Outdoor Club.  He's based in Edmonton, so catering to folks from Calgary isn't something he normally does, but he gave it some thought, and agreed.  We posted it on the COC's website, but alas, we only had one serious taker for it.  Time went on, and no one else stepped up to join us, so as I was preparing to cancel, Ben had other ideas.  He had spoken with some other people who were interested in traveling from Calgary to do the tour.  He was able to drum up four other souls to do the trip, and voila - we had a viable group.

Group at the Banff end of the Bow Valley Parkway
I had been hoping that Brent and/or Laura, my faithful touring companions, might come along, but for various reasons it turned out that neither of them could come along.  Ben had mentioned that he had e-bikes for rent, but I hadn't seriously considered them until I realized I was going on a tour without my slow-pace support team and I was facing spending four days riding, left far behind, by myself the whole time.  Not appealing at all.  So, I took Ben up on the e-bike rental so that I would have a fighting chance of (1) keeping up with my companions, and (2) making it to the top of Sunwapta Pass.  

Well, this tour did not disappoint.  It really was a tour of a lifetime to have the opportunity to do it when the Icefields Parkway was so quiet.  

We had near-perfect weather - a little scorching the first afternoon, and a little windy/rainy, for like, five minutes on the second day, but as close to perfect as possible in the mountains.

The e-bike was a really good choice.  All the riders, except for the one other COCer, were on e-bikes.  It would indubitably have been a less-than-stellar experience for me if I hadn't had the e-bike. .  

Tour Operator Ben

The highway was, as promised, nearly devoid of tourist traffic!  It was a dream highway!  And the traffic that there was was extremely conscientious and considerate.  Plus, the shoulders had been re-paved and widened since the first time I did the trip.  It was perfect conditions for gawking around and just plain enjoying the trip.

As an added bonus, the portion of the Bow Valley Parkway from Johnston Canyon to Banff was closed to vehicles, so we didn't have just light traffic for that section, we had no traffic at all!

Ben was, as always, the perfect tour operator, and everything went extremely smoothly, logistics-wise.

Tour details:

Thanks to Ben for a great tour, and my fellow riders for helping to make this a fantastic supported tour experience!


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