In Which the Hills of Banff Teach Us Some Valuable Lessons

The thing about riding with ex-professionals, former olympians, and the like, is that the ride is never as easy as you want it to be. In fact, very frequently, the ride is much harder than you’d like, no matter how slow everyone agrees to pedal. It’s usually rides like these that remind you that you’re not as fast as you think you are. You learn that those expensive wheels you bought don’t make up for fitness and talent. You learn that video games are not a substitute for the stationary trainer in the off-season. You learn that, maybe, you should think twice about that second helping of dessert. The hills around Banff can teach you all of these valuable lessons, and more, with the right company along for the ride.

Hills of Banff

Tunnel Mountain

“I hope you don’t mind, but I invited some others to join us on the ride this morning.”

“Oh, no problem. They’re pretty fast. It’ll be fun.”

Tunnel Mountain is the first sign this ride is not going how I want. The ride from Canmore was nice. Gentle. The first incline of Tunnel Mountain isn’t. It’s that first acceleration that tells me my legs don’t have it right now. The climb is a little punchy and my legs do not have the punch to follow the group.  The others nimbly spin up that first pitch, and I … don’t. I’m probably still warming up though. At least that’s what I tell myself.

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Lessons learned – I need to work on my power output, because these short hills are killers. Also, with this crowd, I’m going to end up with hundreds of butt shots on my camera as I churn up these hills, trailing (or desperately drafting) the others.

Sulphur Mountain

“That was fun. Ready for the second climb?”

” Yeah, that was good (it actually could have been better). Are we going all the way to the Hot Springs?”

“Sure. We’ll climb up to the parking lot.”

“Great.”

I’m feeling better on the descent into town. Luckily, Banff being Banff, there’s a lot of people downtown this weekend, slowing us down considerably. Normally, I’d try to avoid downtown Banff, but this time the traffic helps me catch my breath. This is good. Unfortunately Sulphur Mountain goes about as well as the previous climb. It’s been a long time since I’ve been on this hill and I’ve forgotten what it’s like. Turns out, it’s a grind, pure and simple. Not exactly steep, but not short either. Just a grind. My legs are starting to feel better though. I’m still not as fast as the others, but things are improving.

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Lessons learned – I’m not crazy about the Sulphur Mountain climb. No shoulder. The frequent tour buses. I can think of other hills I would rather climb. Also, avoid downtown Banff on a weekend. I actually already knew that, but sometimes I need a reminder.

Mount Norquay

“Last one.”

“Yup.”

What do you think about doing a bonus loop around Lake Minnewanka afterwards?”

“Umm … maybe. Let’s finish Norquay first.”

Ok, I can do this. If there’s one thing I can do in the early season, it’s diesel up a steady climb. I settle in, find my tempo, and start to spin.  This is one climb today that I know I can lead the others on. In fact, I’m going to turn the screws a little, just to show them that I too can climb fast. I’m working pretty hard as I lead the group up the mountain. Definitely working hard, harder than I would’ve liked, but at least I reach the summit first. My legs are done though, I was pushing pretty hard towards the end.

“That was a good tempo you set there. What’ve you got there, a compact crank?”

“I do. I kind of like it.”

“Yeah, they’re alright. I can just never find a great gear for hammering with a compact. They’re alright for easy spinning though.”

” I guess so. I don’t mind it. It helps me keep my cadence when climbing.”

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Lessons learned – I had a descent tempo up Mount Norquay. That’s a good sign for this early in the season. Also, there’s no shame in running a compact crank. I have nothing to prove.

Lake Minnewanka

“Still up for the Minnewanka bonus loop?”

“Umm … actually, I’m supposed to meet up with some people at Le Fournil in 20 minutes. And, I still have to ride back to Canmore. Next time, for sure though”

“No worries. I forgot you still had to ride back to Canmore. Le Fournil sounds like a happy ending to a good ride.”

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And it was.

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