Skip to content

Posts tagged ‘Jasper’

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.

Taking a short break from climbing out on the cold Icefields.

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.

Gratuitous yawning.

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.

Hiking closer to the summit of Whistlers.

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.

Unforgettable cold crosswinds on Sunwapta Pass.

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 Icefields were cold but worthwhile.

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?

One of our morning visitors.

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.”

Reward after a long, cold, and rainy descent.

Advertisements

Brothers

The first thing that people notice on our business cards is the tagline for Bound South: Three Brother’s Expedition from Alaska to Argentina.  Immediately they gaze in awe at the three of us.  However, it is not the 30,000 kilometers separating Alaska and Argentina that shocks them.  It’s the fact that we’re doing this with one another as brothers.

Taking a rest day in Jasper, hiking 3000 ft. of vertical.

“You three must get along pretty well, huh?”  No, I like to say that we hit rock bottom somewhere in the mid ’90s.  Our parents may attest to this.  The tipping point was the winter of 1997.  Nathan and I buried David up to his head in the mountain of snow on the edge of our farmstead and convinced him that we had left him there to die in the imminent blizzard.  Good times.  Since this relationship is incapable of further deterioration, I figured that my brothers were a safe bet for a year-long bicycle expedition.  Blood is thicker than water.  On this trip we have discovered that blood is also thicker than sweat, Gatorade, Tang, and the delicious jelly filled with glass shards that I recommended to David in Alaska.  “Countercultural” might be an epithet in our home state, but I think we fit the definition pretty well.  I don’t know how many siblings would voluntarily choose this path that we’ve taken.

On some level, I think that fact is a small tragedy of modern America.  America reaps the fruits of individualism, mobility, and pluralism.  You can be who you want to be and escape the traditional confines of your family or region to find your community, whether in the real world or in cyberspace.  When relationships suffer, it is far too easy to withdraw, escape, and move to an environment with less friction.  Society can freely atomize and self-sort into stagnation.

The Heisman

Yet perhaps this is just mild self-aggrandizement.  The three of us are lucky to have brotherhood and friendship that is more than duty or obligation.  I attribute this blessing to the years we have spent working together on our family farm in Starkweather, ND.  Occasionally, we were jealous of our peers with their summers of liberty and we resented the family farm for it.  We look back now and wouldn’t trade it for anything.  When you have work together and live together, inseparable from planting to harvest, you can’t walk away from your problems and you have to learn to love one another.  We have strong family bonds to show for it.  There is a powerful, sustaining magic in kinship of which we have only begun to scratch the surface.  I hope that this magic can be made evident here at Bound South and perhaps rediscovered in the lives of our readers.

The Yellowhead

The Yellowhead Highway of British Columbia and Alberta almost defies categorization.  Between the world’s largest fly fishing rod and a children’s costumed bike parade, the Yellowhead brought us a puzzling array of memories.  We left snow-capped mountains at the beginning of Highway #16 in British Columbia, sped across rolling pastures and farmland, were beset by heavy logging trucks on the highway’s narrow or non-existent shoulder, mowed lawns and picked apples on our days off in Prince George, and now leave the Yellowhead amidst glacial lakes and vast mountain ranges in Jasper National Park.

Mount Robson

Picking apples in Prince George

Every day is an adventure. We start some days with a destination in mind and others with nothing more than a direction (South, perhaps?).  The concerns of time and distance dissipate throughout the day as we meet friendly tourists and locals. Setting aside the time to talk is one of the most important lessons that I have learned thus far.

One of our hosts, Johnny, puts us down in his "black book"

From mushroom pickers to Mounties, we have met some fascinating people on the road with valuable knowledge to share.  Our conversations led to an powerful phenomenon on the Yellowhead: referrals. For a period between Smithers and Prince George, we had several home stays. Church congregations and folks we met would refer us to their friends and family down the road, which led to a cycle of home stays.  After returning to the usual routine of a small camp stove and tent, I know firsthand how magical a family’s dining table and guest bedroom can be. To all who have fed, hosted, or helped us in any way, thank you.

huckleberry "bear" pancakes!

Seven-Eleven's two-for-one dollar doughnuts + peanut butter + honey + granola = joy

Enduring the rain has been a challenge for us all, but we continually attempt to improve our waterproofing methods. We have begun to tie plastic bags over our boots and wear dishwashing gloves to keep our hands and feet dry. We certainly do not look “pro” with our new accessories (you would probably laugh if you encountered us on the road), but it sure beats being wet at the end of the day. After days of rain, days like today (the forecast calls for “abundant sun”) are uplifting.

As we ride closer to the U.S. border, I reflect over all that Canada has meant to us – the kindness and generosity of those we have met, the harsh weather, and spectacular scenery – and know that it will be missed.

I wanted to share one highlight from the Yellowhead.  After a grueling 150 km day to McBride, where we camped in the city park, we were surprised to learn that the town had planned a fall fair for the next day. At the time, we were particularly interested in the costumed kids bike parade so rather than leaving that morning, we delayed our departure so that we could take part in the festivities. Although we didn’t decorate our bikes, wear costumes, and ride through the parade, we thoroughly enjoyed the day’s activities. Conversations over coffee and doughnuts, singing for the fair, cheering on the young bicyclists, and watching a horseshoe tournament made for an memorable day and capstone for our time in British Columbia.

Our new friend, Pete "the Heat"