Our bikes are strange creatures — souped up commuters cum all-mountain destroyers.Â Cross country bikes with down hill wheels and cheep hybrid tires; and the glaring and essential deviation, the mechanical coup d’Ã©tat we ride Xtracycles.Â 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.Â 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.Â Even on the quietest of country roads, the cyclist can’t escape the ominous omniscience of the four-wheeled polluting machines.Â 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.Â Plotting our course to follow the rough and remote.Â 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
Eagerly, we turned off the smooth pavement and headed for a series of “advanced” hiking trails.Â 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.Â We cruised up-stream, remembering (or learning — myself being the only experienced Xtracycle-mtnbiker) how to turn quickly, shift out and balance.Â 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.Â 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.Â All two soon we were off the map, and confronted with a forking trail.Â 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.Â 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.Â 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.Â 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?Â 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.