Bicycle Cowboys on Ice
Housekeepers from a lodge in Lake Louise found us behind a nondescript parking lot in the village. They were some British Columbian girls on their way home from work. We were huddled around our MSR stove waiting on our pasta noodles and Campbell’s Chunky Prime Rib & Vegetable soup. Due to a closed campground, and the threat of a $2,000 fine, we were planning on stealth-camping in the trees down by the Bow River. “You guys are like bicycle cowboys!” I guess we are.
It has been a wild ride from Jasper. Like so much of the journey thus far from Alaska, it has been composed of unexpected blessings and the absence of what some might call “responsible planning.” It all began in the town of Jasper; we arrived wet, cold, hungry, and later than expected. This is par for the course for Bound South. We spent more than an hour looking for an evening church service as well as a shelter to pitch our tent under. We didn’t like the idea of spending $25 or more for a patch of cold and exposed campground dirt far from town. We stumbled upon an evening service at a Baptist Church and before we knew it we had a place to stay.
Thinking that this was too good to be true, we felt that we should be as ambitious as possible with our day of rest. Ideally, we would be ambitious with a combination of minimal planning and abundant risk. We are bicycle cowboys after all. Naturally, our “rest day” consisted of hiking up 3,000 feet of vertical on Whistlers Mountain outside of Jasper. The recommended time for doing this hike was a minimum of three hours up and two hours down. We were up and down in three hours total, which was fortunate because it was freezing and windy at the top and we returned home in the dark. Running up and down a mountain takes a toll on the human body and our only serious adaptation has been to riding our bikes. Needless to say, our legs got wrecked from all of the fun we had on our rest day.
Walking around like crippled men, unable to descend a set of stairs without crying, the three of us pressed on from Jasper to ride the Icefields Parkway. I don’t wish to impoverish the beauty of these Canadian Rockies by attempting to describe them. I’ll let the pictures do the talking. Life on the road was memorable to say the least. We found ourselves camping in campgrounds that were shut for the winter, tenting in open shelters and braving subzero temperatures at night. With a three-season-tent and a decent supply of cold weather gear, we were never in danger; though we did wear everything we had in order to stay warm in our tent through the night. I am looking forward to (hopefully) warmer temperatures in the States.
The Icefields brought us some of our highest climbs of the trip, with Bow Pass and the Columbia Icefield taking us up to nearly 7,000 feet of elevation. Remarkably, that was within 500 feet of the summit of our Whistlers hike, which gives you some perspective as to how much we climbed. The Icefields also acquainted us with 40mph crosswinds like we had never seen before. With our bikes fully loaded they behave like heavy sails. This is no exaggeration: we climbed the last segment of Sunwapta Pass with our bikes leaned over more than 45 degrees into the wind to avoid being blown across the road and into traffic. We will probably meet crosswinds like this again in Patagonia, and luckily we have plenty of time between now and then.
The road since the Icefields has not disappointed, either. Lake Louise brought us rest and an unexpected home stay with some housekeepers. The road into Radium brought us some spectacular climbs and descents, including some hairy encounters with mountain goats at 45 mph on the winding descent through mountain roads flanked by cliffs on all sides. And what would tent camping be without being greeted by deer in the morning?
We might get wet and cold and discouraged at different points of the ride. Yet we believe in ourselves. Deep down, we buy into this “bicycle cowboy” thing. We have paid our dues, climbed our mountains, and watched our bodies change and adapt even in the short six weeks since we left Alaska. We ride knowing we’re up to the task at hand, even if it means we’re shattered by the time we finish riding by the light of our headlamps barely find the strength to sit down to a home stay and a heaping bowl of spaghetti.
America the Beautiful beckons to us already. As Kerouac writes, “Nothing behind me, everything ahead of me, as is ever so on the road.”