IT’S FALL. And biking in fall is literally one of the best things in the world. Or at least in the fall, in this soon to be ice-cube of a country. Like, light neck-tube and hand warmers weather. You know.
About a month ago, still in the sweaty throes of summer, my partner and I took a day trip to Chambly and back. Why? Because it’s not CLOSE close, but also not FAR far. And the sun was shining. And our legs were itching. And he swore that there’d be beer at the end of the line.
Once you get off the island and do the old uppy downy on Mr. Cartier, it’s a breezy two dozen kilometers on mostly bike paths and side roads. We left sometime well past noon (as is our signature move) and got there in time for an early dinner/beers AND were back on the island before dark.
If you have a free day kicking around before the air gets cold, you should hit up this trip. Even if you are a bixi rider. I’m pretty sure you could bike to Chambly and back on a bixi without too much problem. I mean, if their invisible tethers reach that far, or whatever.
So it turns out that this three-part story is inching along in seasonal installments. Life in the real world (as opposed to the vacation world where I am still gallivanting across the country) has pulled a 360 in the last few months and I am still catching my balance and letting the dust settle. Among other things, I bought a car (I KNOW) in order to commute to a new job- but more on that adventure here.
Back to the Rockies.
Our train pulled into Jasper, Alberta in the early afternoon and we were immediately greeted by MOUNTAINS.
While the three day train ride was enjoyable (in fact, we had a wine-infused, scrabble-playing blast), we were stoked to be back in our bike seats. We toured around the adorably touristy town of Jasper, restocked on some food items and settled in at a local pub with wifi to try and find a place to spend the night. We eventually settled on a mountain hostel located about 5km from town, and with bellies full of veggie burgers and beer we set out on our way.
The person with whom we made our reservation neglected to tell us that the last couple kms of the ride was a steep and steady incline uphill. We half biked, half walked (half cried) the last part of the day’s trek, in the dark, undoubtedly with bears hot on our trail.
The next morning we woke up early, re-packed our trusty steeds and set out into Jasper National Park. We took the Icefields Parkway (perhaps better known as The World’s Most Spectacular Journey, nbd) and set our daily goal at 104km, to set up camp in the Colombia Icefields. With no transport trucks and a giant shoulder for touring cyclists, we were in heaven.
Our first day biking through the Rockies was a borderline religious experience. The uphill was intense and the downhill was divine. We picnicked with a chubby black bear, filtered glacial water and speculated that the road shoulders were so wide to prevent gobsmacked cyclists from careening into ditches.
As it started to get dark, we estimated that we had about 8km left to the campsite on the icefields. We were beat and the incline was so steep it was a challenge even to walk our bikes. Defeated, we pulled over and I went down to a creek to filter water while my wheely companion stayed by the road with her thumb out (wishful thinking, I thought). Five minutes later, however, we were loading our bikes on the back of a pick-up and hitching a ride the last few kilometers to our beautifully remote campsite. We spent the evening drinking, eating and swapping stories with our tent neighbors from Toronto.
The next morning we were immediately greeted with the realization that we had not packed appropriately for the unpredictable mountain weather. As the name Icefields should have suggested, we woke to a heavy cloud cover and below zero temperatures in the middle of the summer. That aside, we layered up in all of our clothing, ate our breakfast in the only sunbeam we could find and heard the thundering crack of a glacier breaking.
As we had spent the previous day steadily climbing uphill, today was scheduled to be a whole lotta down. This should have been nothing but delicious leg-saving, sight-seeing, candy coated bliss -and for the first hour or so, it was. The clouds even parted at one point as we were careening downhill and the mountainy, sunshiney goodness was heart-breakingly beautiful. Then out of nowhere we sped around a corner and were hit by a wall of rain, sleet and wind. The weather change was so dramatic that we were soaked through in 0.5 seconds and had to stop biking due to zero visibility. In a move of total desperation and moist badassery we pulled over to the side of the road and threw up a tarp to hunker down until the storm had passed. This ended up being an entire hour of shivery, character building quiet because we were so cold and so wet and despite the fact that we took turns giving the road the thumbs up, nobody wants to pick up a couple of soggy cyclists.
But after an hour or so the sleet turned to rain and the wind died down and the rain finally turned to drizzle. So we packed up our tarp, layered our freezing fingers with dry socks and booted it to the Jasper/Banff border. At this point I was also quietly mourning the loss of my phone (and pictures) which had been soaked through in the storm.
After a longer than anticipated lunch break at a horribly touristy restaurant and supply store (Alberta has nothing on Quebec when it comes to poutine), we were off. Recognizing that I was feeling a little sulky due to the loss of my phone, TC made a point of purchasing us a large bottle of gin and taking several beautiful shots of us deep in Banff National Park. Like Jasper, Banff is eye-poppingly beautiful. Everything was still wet (including us and all of our gear), but we still had perma-smiles glued to our glisteny faces, because let’s be real, there are few better places to be cold, wet and phone-less than the Canadian Rockies.
After a few more hours of biking, we started trying our luck on each water/snack break with our thumbs to the road. We had plans to be at the Misquito Creek Hostel for sundown, but we were hoping to make it earlier in order to put up our feet and dry our clothes. As a hitch-hiking rookie, I had a healthy amount of apprehension around being picked up by strangers so far away from home. This apprehension was fed substantially when the first people to pull over were two beefy oil-riggers with a man-sized pick-up. As it turns out, nothing builds your faith in humanity like hitching rides with strangers, as our ride turned out to be the friendliest couple of guys you can imagine (and heroically strong -being able to lift our bikes and gear onto the back of their truck and fasten it all down without batting an eye).
Our new friends dropped us off 15km down the road at our destination for the evening (actually, they offered to drive us all the way to Kelowna but we kindly turned them down, not wanting to spend too much time behind closed doors). Our mountainy hostel was a dream and our hosts let us hang our wet clothes and throw around fire wood for a couple of hours in exchange for a discount on our stay. We spent the evening drinking gin, socializing with other travellers by the fire and sleeping in an adorable log cabin with a group of strangers. Tomorrow’s destination: Super Natural BC!
And voila: Part 2! Stick around for part three in which our dirtbaggy heroines run into some minor bike troubles and discover that super special gear that makes you go real fast with no leg-work necessary!