Eric Brent Mike Hugo and the author. Credit: KRGF
It's 105 degrees.  The heat index is 110, but I prefer to think of it as the Sultry Index - the higher the number, the hotter you look.  Sweat beads tickle as they roll down the back of your leg.  It's hot as hey-yull.  That's summer cycling in Texas.

"You get used to it," everyone says.

No you don't.  It sucks.  

This sucks. Credit: KDFW
So I search for a summer bucket ride north of the Texas border.  Nebraska...too corny.  Montana...too grizzly beary.  Wyoming...too Cheney.  Then I check Canada, discovering the Kootenay Rockies Gran Fondo.

It's in Cranbrook, British Columbia, surrounded by deep white-water river valleys, incredibly sheer rock faces, dense northern forests, cool alpine meadows, and a sawtooth range of snow-capped mountains stretching forever.

I show Mrs. Bucket Rider an eye-candy picture of the ride hotel, the St. Eugene Resort.  It's stunning.  That's all it takes.  "Let's go!" she says with a big smile.

Wow! The ride venue and hotel. Credit: St Eugene Resort
Not wanting to be typical obnoxious American travelers, my wife takes charge of our Canadian cultural education on the drive up...

 "Canada is the 2nd best country in the world," She says reading from her phone.

"What is Texas ranked?"

"It's not a country."

"Says who?"

"Anyway, Canada also has great national health care, in case you crash."

"Bet they have great dentists too...with all that hockey."

"You know nothing John Woodson," Which she says all too often.

"You might be right, but I'm certain their musicians are great - Neil Young, k.d. lang..."


"Ok. Not all of them."

"This is interesting; the Wonderbra is a Canadian invention."

"I'm going to love Canada," I say with a grin.

Our first Canadian stop is at Tim Hortons for coffee.  In front of us an extra-high maintenance 'Merican is ordering an extra-hot, extra-shot, extra-whip, venti, skim, sugar-free, caramel macchiato fancy coffee.  The polite clerk is overly apologetic since they only sell regular coffee with cream or sugar.  No foffee here.  So with my cultural education diploma in hand, I order two Double Double coffees and a half dozen Timbits, while also apologizing for my fellow countryman's behavior.  The clerk smiles and says "Are you sure you're not Canadian?"

Only coffee here. Latte-sipping snobs need not stop. Credit: Mike Clegg
Later that day we drive into the St. Eugene Resort, a beautiful old mission with breathtaking views in every direction as well as a golf course, casino and spa.  I learn it's very popular for destination weddings.  It's easy to see why.

With rider check-in located at the casino, I brace myself to run through a gauntlet of drunk gamblers, not-quite-so-hot hookers and thick cigarette smoke, just like in the US.  Oh what a pleasant surprise.  The casino is peaceful, quiet and smokeless - the kind you actually want to visit.

Packet pick-up is festive with smiling volunteers making it run smoothly for the 400 registered riders.  This event is all about community.  Volunteers started it, run it, ride it and embrace it whole heartedly with all proceeds staying in local charities, including Rails 2 Trails and a spring Kids Gran Fondo.

KRGF Kids' Fondo - try drafting off these guys!. Credit: KRGF
Saturday morning, I join Fondo riders for a breakfast of coffee, yogurt, danish, peameal bacon, oatmeal and fresh fruit.  Eric Simpson and Brent Rogers from Kelowna kindly invite me to join them at their table.  Both are friendly as we chat about Canadian cycling.  With egos in check, you'd never know they finished on top of the KOM and overall leaderboards last year.
That's a bike path with a view. Credit: KRGF
After singing O' Canada the Gran Fondo riders take off, heading up a gentle climb to the North Star Rails 2 Trail.  The paved trail is nothing like a US bike lane.  It's a smooth, clean, safe 28-kilometre velobahn.  Once on the path we speed through forests and around gentle sweeping turns effortlessly.  Volunteers in bright fluorescent clothing with stop signs in hand put our traffic concerns at ease as we fly through intersections.

In Kimberley we ride down The Platzl, a Bavarian themed city centre with brick streets, boutique shops, Canada's largest cuckoo clock and unique restaurants, including the KOM sponsor Pedal & Tap.

Kimberley's vonderful Bavarian Platzl. Credit: KRGF
Leaving Kimberly, our group of 15 riders picks up a Royal Canadian Mounted Police escort as we start a 30-kilometre downhill run to the Kootenay River.  The highway is fast, smooth and wide with cars patiently waiting to safely pass us.  It's a treat not to see any distracted drivers talking on cell phones or texting - anywhere in Canada.    

Wedged between the Kootenay River and the Kootenay Mountains towering 2000m above us we then turn into a stiff 30kmh crosswind.  In what is the envy of every Saturday morning group ride leader, our pack seamlessly and smoothly slides into an echelon paceline, the hardest, most dangerous and most enjoyable paceline to ride.  Without surging, touching wheels, opening gaps or yelling we slice into the wind, just inside our comfort zones, working hard together but not struggling.  It doesn't often happen like this, but when it does it's truly an awesome experience.

Jaw-dropping Kootenay views. Credit: KRGF
At the Fort Steele living history museum we turn off the highway, riding through a series of short climbs on our way to a trout hatchery.  50-kilometres of headwind combined with the climbing has thinned the group.  Now only breakfast companions Eric and Brent, local hard-man Mike Taylor, Hugo Cossette from Calgary and I remain.  At the hatchery turnaround we pick up a nice tailwind which helps push us back to Ft. Steele.
'Texas You okay?' Credit: KRGF
Approaching the KOM climb I begin to feel the effects of the long drive to Canada and now 140-kilometres in my legs.  So I sit out of the rotation, taking a rest at the rear of the group.  Up front Eric and Brent look back and politely ask "Texas, you ok?"  "Yea.  Thanks for asking."

Soon we cross the KOM timing strip, shift into competitive mode and begin the 2-kilometre 8% race.  Eric drives the pace, with Mike and I glued to his wheel.  Unfortunately, my glue isn't very strong and I quickly come unglued.  Halfway up Mike tires and I catch him, but Eric is still a few seconds in front.  With 500m to go I somehow jump across to Eric, take a quick rest and surge past him in the final metres.  "You saved something for the KOM," Eric says.  I just smile.

With competitive juices flowing, a nice gap and now only 10-kilometres to St. Eugene, Eric and I push hard on the pedals to stay away.  We roll under the finish banner in 4:09 with Mike, Hugo and Brent arriving shortly.  At the post-ride lunch with live music, BBQ, pasta, baked potatoes with all the fixin's, dessert and beer we chat, commiserate and congratulate one another.  It's a fun way to end a wonderful ride.

It's all about fun and camaraderie. Credit: KRGF
The Cranbrook Sunrise Rotary Club with all the partner organizations and volunteers knocked it out of the park today - a Gran Slam.  The Kootenay Rockies Gran Fondo is a crown jewel on the Canadian Gran Fondo circuit.  Without a doubt, it is bucket list worthy.  

John is a former faux pro racer enjoying life as a geriatric cyclist in search of great bucket list rides to keep him in shape and out of trouble - well, at least in shape. 

He writes about his Bucket Rides in all their variety and glory for See his other pieces here