Category Archives: Alberta

Old Man Winter

   It all started in the Yukon Territory when we began seeing single branches rebelling against the greens that overwhelmed the color scheme of the outdoors. We commented about how we might get to see the leaves change colors, burning the chlorophyll induced hues into fiery reds, oranges and yellow.
    Increasingly, we have been waking up with our sleeping bags stiffened by a thick coating of frost, reminding us that old man winter can move quick in his later years. His artistic sense seems to prelude his appearance, amplified by a more generous application of Autumn colors. No longer are the trees attempting to hide their sole rebellious limb. Feverish mutiny engulfs the entire tree, dilating the torrid spectrum.
Odd that winter is signaled by such warm colors, as if they are offering their final blow to the battle of seasons. Unfortunately, we are merely pawns in this seasonal warfare.
    The “little� snow storm near Grand Cache was a debilitating blow on summer and our comfort. The old man surely impressed us with his youthful vigor by lavishing us with his awesome power. Our naive youthfulness compounded our problems by neglecting to bring various “creature comforts�, like water proof gloves, dry socks, and ski goggles.
    I attempted to make due by sheer excess, putting on multiple pairs of socks, both on my feet and on my hands. A sad sight to behold; the frigid cyclist plowing through snow, attempting to return a wave from a passing motorist with a sock dangling from the frozen stub more warmly referred to as a hand. In theory, the extra layers make sense, however, they only insulate, which is quite different than heat. This afterthought of warmth comes too late for frozen limbs.
    Ski goggles sound like a ridiculous thing to bring with you on a bike trip. I have a pair of perfectly good sunglasses (except for the broken earpiece, of course). and they failed to protect me from the onslaught of snowflakes. Gentle, dainty, flowers of ice, that blossom into a winter wonderland. Only, when you are going down a hill at 40 miles per hour, those dainty geometric ice flowers turn into veritable micro-daggers, slicing through the outermost membrane of your eyeball, temporarily blinding. You can always close your eyes and risk crashing into the guardrail or oncoming traffic. You can attempt to squint your eyes and angle your head precisely enough to open approximately one percent of your field of vision, which still does not guard against 100% of the seemingly lethal snow stars. You can also wear sunglasses that will render your vision dangerously dark and undesirably blurry, leaving your eyes susceptible to some of the more accurately aimed snow flakes.
    These words may seem overdramatic, but I promise you they are not. If you are ever feeling like things are going too well for you and wish to delay the impending cyclic transition into bad times (this is a profound philosophy of my current life, the idea that what goes down, must soon go up), try skiing down a hill in the snow without goggles. I imagine you would share my belief that snowflakes are treacherous and evil.
    Winter has coldly entombed my thoughts, recently, as we have begun the 2700 mile stretch of “bike-packing� down the rocky mountains. According to the maps, we absolutely need to be off the 2 months worth of trail, no later than two weeks after we start. The reason, being, that when you mix high-altitude off-road passes and winter, you get an impossibly snowy route. Theoretically, I can add two and two together, but in actuality, my stubbornness and lack of options renders the equation an irritation to avoid. A reminder that will lose its subtlety as we are laboriously dragging our bikes up a snowy mountain pass, mutating the definition of “bikepacking� into something that would not even be wished upon one’s worst enemies.
    The Great Divide Route has been wonderfully challenging so far. The maps guiding us are rather charming, at times. According to the narrative, we are about to “start climbing a virtual wall� which will turn into a “real pusher� for the next mile or so. This will take us over the Elk Pass and the Great Divide. This will only be our second of 30 or so crossings until we reach Mexico.
    It has been astounding how much more difficult the off-road biking has been. Grades and trail conditions that even undermine the efforts of regular mountain bikers and ATV’s, let alone fully loaded touring bikes. Having been accustomed to a good stretch of smoothly paved roads, I have taken for granted what it takes to move my bike a mile, and have recently cherished each and every one. A redundant accomplishment that warrants celebration at each repetition.
    Despite the feeling that we have become ambassadors of pain on a daily basis, as we maneuver up “virtual walls�, we have all been thrilled by our newfound freedom from cars and road signs. We found ourselves riding alongside a pristine lake outside of Banff National Park with epic geography bearing names like Shark Mountain, jetting it’s way out of the earth at a 60 degree angle, thin slices of granite lined with snow, stacked up to look like a toppled piece of chocolate cake.
   ble to cars. My elation derived from this outdoor experience is heightened by the exclusive access we achieve through our cycling accomplishments. Nature is something to be fully immersed in. It is not the same place for me if I were to drive up in a car, complete with an artificial climate at my fingertips, as I turn right at the sign indicating a “Vista� with a small paved section to park, where I can quickly dip my toes into the scenery.
   ve the luxury of waking up within a “Vista�, of riding all day through scenery that adorns postcards and television shows. We get to sleep next to waterfalls, lakes and streams; showered by stars, soaked in moonlight, bathing us in an experience that we will never forget.

Real Biking (At Last!)

    Our bikes are strange creatures — souped up commuters cum all-mountain destroyers.  Cross country bikes with down hill wheels and cheep hybrid tires; and the glaring and essential deviation, the mechanical coup d’état we ride Xtracycles.  Suffice it to say that while they (we) don’t fit into any of the existing ghettos of the cycling world, one thing is certain however.  Our heavy-duty-longwheelbase-mountain-touring creations are not designed for road riding.

   Road riding despite it’s pleasant monotony, is a world governed by lines and signs, and (worse) is irrevocably entrenched in the world of automobiles.  Even on the quietest of country roads, the cyclist can’t escape the ominous omniscience of the four-wheeled polluting machines.  Neither our bikes (with their low gears and wide tires) or our psyches jive well with road riding — and as a rule we make every effort to avoid it.  Plotting our course to follow the rough and remote.  Even so, we have been confined of late, to the domain of giant and inexpertly piloted vacation craft, tainting the indescribably beautiful surroundings with fear and road rage.

   In the vicinity of Jasper we discovered a system of trails paralleling the highway, and jumped at the chance to indulge our hybrid steeds and delve into the off-road
universe.

   Eagerly, we turned off the smooth pavement and headed for a series of “advanced” hiking trails.  And plunged immediately into serpentine singletrack bliss, The surface was moderate and the incline gradual, and not a cursed machine to be seen or heard.  We cruised up-stream, remembering (or learning — myself being the only experienced Xtracycle-mtnbiker) how to turn quickly, shift out and balance.  But, just as we were beginning to feel cocky and in control, the grades got steeper the turns tighter and a whole lot rockier. For the first time on the trip perhaps we were really using our lowest gears, and wishing for more rubber, to guide our wheels through the minefield of upended cobble stones and aspiring boulders.  The arduous ups were redeemed for a while by tight circuitous downs, but we were soon aching from the unfamiliar exertions, working harder in 10 minutes that in a good day’s road ride.  All two soon we were off the map, and confronted with a forking trail.  Optimistic and not ready to abandon the joys of trail riding, we chose the path less traveled, and headed up.

   Up, being the operative term: the trail continued it’s profusion of loose cobble stones and junior boulders, but now was rather overgrown, adding moss and protruding tree roots to the milieu, all the while grinding relentlessly up hill.  The riding increasingly becoming a desperate test of endurance and balance/navigation as we inched uphill. Bucked repeatedly by the treacherous trail, we became intimately acquainted with every awkward nuance of bodily hauling our cumbersome steeds endlessly upwards.  Eventually the trail, more or less dead-ended into a rocky creek bed, forcing us to backtrack.

   As we blasted down the track we had so recently clawed our way up, l got an inkling (my first) of what downhill mountain biking was all about: Flying over/down steep and rough terrain, aided by the wonders of suspension, is incredibly exhilarating.

   All two soon however were back at the fork and speed was a thing of the past, we forded a stream and hauled our bikes up the embankment, where the trail flattened out but if possible became more technical. We crept along plotting a serpentine course through the rock field, a good number now grown up into full-size boulders; around a beautiful lake and into a cliff. little did we know it was the first of several, all nearly vertical and ranging from 5 to 20 feet in height.

   Defying gravity we dragged/pushed our loaded and unwieldy bikes, sliding down again as often as we gained any ground, eventually the force of will would triumph and we would collapse panting at the top. These obstacles were randomly interspersed with lovely down hills and rolling flat-ish sections, which were taking decidedly less technical turn. Almost with out warning, the trail spit us out, and we were exhausted exhilarated and sharing the pavement once more with out favorite ten thousand pound death machines.

   We were in truth, a little shocked that our bikes had weathered such a savage beating with such equanimity — my left foot was bleeding and both knee and shin were nicely bruised. But there had been no flat tires, our brakes still seemed to function — so suffused with adrenalin and excitement we pressed on at record speed dreaming of Banff, and the start of the great divide trail.

   Confidence buoyed up perhaps, by our bout of trail-riding, we camped at the foot of Columbia glacier — the largest tourist attraction in the whole national park — across the street from the huge hotel/buss terminal, and right next to the road the souped up tour busses traversed on the way to drive tourists around on the glacier. Our luck or audacity won out and we were not awakened by either RCMP or wardens.

   Naturally our next move was to ride our bikes on the glacier. The approach was rather more difficult than we had expected, but with a little more hauling we got out bikes to the edge of the ice, where we had the pleasure of watching the tourists cram into the tiny coned-off area which had arbitrarily been declared safer than the rest.

   We shifted into low gear and headed out onto the steep rough glacial ice, we were making good headway towards the false horizon, when Jacob’s pedal exploded, in a shower of sheared and broken bearings, which no amount of skillful oakie-rigging could fix.  We eventually admitted defeat, and took the down hill run toward the tourist area — Jacob walking his wounded bike.

   Jacob was rescued from attempting a one-footed ascent of our highest pass to date, by another of his unconventional guardian angels, this time in the guise of the Mills, an awesome couple from Nevada City, who gave him the pedals off one of their bikes.

   Calamity averted we weren’t sure what to make of the sudden failure — was his bike rebelling against the rough treatment of the previous days?  The unanswerable question slipped to the back burner as we continued to cruise through the picture post card scenery on our way toward Banff and freedom from cars. Slipped to the back burner that is, until 30 miles from Banff riding on smooth pavement of a back road, Jacobs extracycle frame suddenly snapped.

   We limped into Banff in search of repair, Sean and l carrying Jacobs stuff while he gingerly rode a bike whose frame was lashed together with parachute cord. The message seemed clear — our bikes were made for dirt, but after 3000miles they needed a little TLC.

Losing Momentum through Alberta

By Sean   

    Towns are growing in size, road traffic choking our precious air supply, and the presence of civilization in the way of threatening signposts, electric fenced RV parks, and the infinite types of tourist processing stations have been a strain on ‘roughing it’ campaign. As a consequence we’ve exhibited the utmost brazenness –or perhaps insolence- in our choosing of appropriate grounds to cook and pass out. As the inhibitions of a more popular world mount, the bike nomads have become more defiant to the safe and comfortable method of hiding at the threshold of where normal behavior would permit a member of society to venture. It is not always easy. Drawing near the great city of Grand Prairie one night, we were coasting swiftly over a four lane highway when suddenly, at the top of a hill our nocturnal eyes recoiled in horror at flood of city lights; it was like reaching the peak of Sepulveda pass at Sunset blvd and seeing the glowing expanse of Los Angeles. We were quite incapacitated upon being confronted with this unappealing iridescence, so we immediately dragged our bikes up a huge embankment off the highway shoulder and laid in thick grasses till the tide of traffic lulled our senses to sleep. Yet, the shift in our behavior was evident a few hundred miles before, upon our first visitation from the Royal Mounted police. Feeling famished from a long uninterrupted ride we searched for a place to set up a stove and settled upon a wide slab of foundational concrete, with our backs against a portable architectural command office. After ten minutes of dicing potatoes and frying the first cuts of meat, two patrol cars surrounded each side of the construction site. We were not, however, being confronted for trespassing, as one of the four hovering officers explained, “Someone had complained of noise resulting from glass shatteringâ€�. After blinding us with heavy light beams and being reassured of our imminent departure, they searched diligently the premises for the remains of a glass nuisance. All the time we looked around the neighborhood, feeling the disdain of the local residents as they leaned cautiously on doors slightly ajar, waiting for the police intimidation to restore the quiet ambiance.

    From Grand Prairie we would follow a small logging road to the small town of Grand Cache. The Road was paved and enduring the strain of heavy construction machinery; several road kill corpses littered the shoulder. The second day Jacob and I peddled furiously up and down hills trying to avoid the looming specter of storm clouds heading in our direction. When we stopped for lunch, rain caught up with us just before a drenched Goat resumed our company. He had not managed to outpace our gloomy pursuer and had been “stuck under his own personal rain cloudâ€�. Next morning the rain turned to sleet which stuck to the decaying autumn leaves rendering the outside of our tent into a frosty white wonderland. We reached Grand Cache just as a heavy snow descended upon the road. In a Chinese-American cuisine café, amidst cups of coffee and eyes fixed to a glowing all-knowing television screen, a quick weather forecast for the area confirmed our fears; a large red block encompassing the entire area of our current location to Banff predicted snow fall for the next three days. We bought food at the grocery store and headed off into the storm. Stopping for the night, snow was kicked away and the tent pitched upon a muddy flat. No one desired to deal with the labors of cooking and we tried our best to ignore the worsening conditions. The snow piled up on our pyramid tent in thick layers. Jacob managed to destabilize a stake from the ground while trying to knock the snow from the roof. The entire night I suffered the sensation of being buried alive as the tent walls sagged down and soaked sleeping bags with condensation; perhaps the tent would collapse and force us out into the miserable cold.

    Our tent held together and we biked once again through the downpour of wet snow and gusty winds. At one point I began losing feeling in my fingers, the thin fabric of my bike gloves achieving little in means of insulation. As I stood on the edged of the road, breathing into my numb hands, a man pulled over to check up on my condition. He offered to drive me back to Grand Cache, an offer I nearly accepted upon a quick analysis of the near-insanity attributed to this expedition. The driver, returning from a hunt in the mountains, allowed me to warm my hands on his radiator for a few minutes, and then gave me a battered pair of winter gloves. They were ancient, yet they looked as good as gold to my soar eyes. I thanked him profusely, and biked on in good humor till five minutes later when the mouthpiece of my camel back slipped off and a stream of cold water came gushing from the dangling tube. I attempted to contain the flow with my left hand, and my precious new glove quickly became saturated with my drinking water. The leak fixed, I reassured myself that at least I hadn’t yet had the misfortune of sliding off the road into a marsh or stream as was the case with a few cars and a semi-truck that I had passed earlier on.

    Thirty kilometers outside of Hinton we found a closed ‘official’ campsite which we proceed to make our home. There was a large supply of firewood kept dry beneath a tarp and after soaking a few logs in gas a roaring fire was produced and our spirits elevated with the fragrance smoke swirling among snow flakes. Jacob and I tried drying out all our wet clothes on the flames, with the effect that socks and shirts were still soaked in the morning only with a rank smell of smoke mingling with the usual scents of sweat and mildew. Jacob also managed to melt the rubber tips in his bike shoes, damage which caused much discomfort and cut circulation to his toes while riding.

    The storm began to let up while en route to Hinton. Not much can be ascertained as to the qualities of this town. Walking aimlessly through a Safeway grocery store I was accosted by ten High school girls dressed up in Halloween costumes and soliciting flavored condoms for two dollars. Confused with the pomp of such a spectacle, I mumbled that my tight budget wouldn’t allow it, to which they chided me for not having the heart to contribute to a good cause. At this point, I felt the drive to move on, the mystical land of Jasper National park looming but fifty miles ahead.

Cold Footprints of a Campsite

By Jacob
An interested observer who happens upon our campsite would find a variety of footprints. Sean and I both wear a larger shoe and leave imprints characterized by the latest sandal fashions. Chaco and Keen leave a very distinct mark as it’s etched into the ground, our tent leaves soft square print and our tires leave a cyclic pattern of geometric shapes trailing along the contours of their path.

Goat, however, might leave clues that would baffle even the most astute physical anthropologists. If one were to pass upon our campsite outside of Grand Cache they would find a series of paths, trails and footprints that would offer some curious insight into our adventure.

The first and most obvious would likely be our bike trails, attempting to burn their way through the snow. Upon closer observation, they would certainly notice the tell-tale signs of cyclists more than struggling. Fallen snow angels, marking clumsiness and a general inability to glide through the snow upright, as it were. Following these tracks, an expert anthropologist might likely be inclined to imagine the path punctuated by a variety of screams, spawned by frustration of repetitive falls.

The wheel is an invention that has altered the course of history, to the extent that we cannot fathom life without it. While living in snow, one would hardly be inclined to extol the virtues of the wheel in all its roundness. Quite the contrary, smooth flat objects empower the individual across snowy surfaces.

Bikes hardly fit into that category, which explains why our paths were not clean, precise lines cutting through the foot of soft powdery snow, and away from their tent.

Leaving a large square shaped footprint in the snow approximately seven feet by seven, the tent’s footprint provided a tangible clue about their experience the night prior. Piled around the edges of the print was about 3 times as much snow, a shallow and oddly square shaped crater filled with mud. Having set up their tent with relatively little snow on the ground, one could estimate that the amount of snowfall would surely offer a hardy challenge for any temporary lightweight housing construction. Testing the strength of the seams the fabric and the stakes plunged into the ground, the snow had slowly built up over the night. Starting with a gentle sag, inching the roof closer, only to develop into an oppressive curve, placing physical and psychological pressure on the inhabitants inside. Eventually, one of the stakes failed pinning down one of the occupants inside (Goat) with a foot of snow. The only solution was to venture out into the blizzard in all our naked glory to re-place the stake and attempt to restore the tent’s integrity. The anthropologist would certainly have ascertained their preference to sleep in the comfort of a wood framed house complimented by a nice stove and hot cocoa.

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Having spent a good amount of time in school learning about how humans adapt to their environment, the academic would would be shocked and delighted to come across a particular temporary fossil that just might challenge some schools of thought.

It is not often that you would encounter bare footprints, resembling those left by human, on stark white snow. Throughout the ages, humans have invented highly sophisticated padded apparatus to walk on. These, of course, are collectively referred to as shoes. Something that we have become so accustomed to, it is not only considered uncouth to walk inside various establishments without these on, it is too often illegal. As for the footprints left at the campsite, our friendly anthropologist would be left to wonder if these in fact were the result of a human, and questions of motive and symbolism would follow throughout the day.

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If it were me, I would easily dismiss the sighting as a result of the legendary Sasquatch, or “bigfoot” as it is known in other parts of the world. I’ve already convinced myself that one late night outside of Watson Lake, my sleep was disturbed by a legendary Chupacabra grunting and snorting it’s hideous nose in anticipation of sucking my blood.

Chupacabra

However, academics do not have the luxury of such convenient explanations and are compelled to seek more “reasonable” answers. If I were still around I might offer the opinion that my friend is nuts and I can surely not explain his behavior. I would probably continue to explain that during the few days we biked through the snow, I was certain my feet were blue and about to fall off, despite being entombed in three pairs of socks and what goat refers to as “foot coffins” (aka SHOES).

Has this creature and it’s ten toes evolved into a more functional human species capable of greater weather extremes? It was patently clear that I was whining far louder and far more about my feet than he was (in fact, he wasn’t whining at all). As I sat on the road attempting to revive the circulation to the ice blocks below my leg, I cursed my own feet and circulation for forsaking me.
Personally, I’d rather leave the Anthro person alone with these footprints and their imagination. It would surely offer some food for thought and would leave them hungry for more.

Our experience can never be understood or explained through physical evidence. Pictures and words can not do justice to the some of the scenery we’ve pedaled past. To the mountain faces that have been arranged in impossibly incongruous geometrical patterns. A cubist illusion of beauty that eludes the mind and inspires the soul. Riding through the Icefield Parkway, peering down at crystal lakes whose clarity has been infused by the electric blues of the sky and the vibrant greens of the forest, leaving the beauty of the colorful in between, settled by the winds and currents.

I’m Dreaming of a White Summer

Currently in Jasper.   The internet costs a ton and that will preclude our updates with any substance.  We hope to find something less costly in Banff. 

THe long and short of it, is that we got hit by a rainstorm late one day which drenched our entire gear and soaked our morale.  We woke up to white flurries and windy conditions which advanced into near blizzard conditions.  We were hardly prepared for the icy/snowy conditions that would not relent for the next two days.   We have a ton to write about, but will have to wait until we have cheaper internet access.  Check back in 4 days.