I don’t sleep before we start. Not that unusual for me before an adventure: I’m a bundle of nerves. We pack the car at Bruce and Marlaine’s place in Field, swapping our backpacking gear for our bike bags. A black bear watches from the end of the driveway, munching on dandelions. Joe drives us up to Jasper, where we reassemble everything. My head spins from exhaustion as we head out.
We follow paths by the river as we leave Jasper, which narrow into beautiful single track. I’m more than a little rusty- I haven’t been properly mountain biking since I lived in Alaska three years ago. I walk some of the sketcher sections, telling myself it will be easier once I manage to sleep.
We hit the highway and peddle a few kilometres to a Parks Canada campsite. Joe meets us there with pizza. We find a campsite: he heads off to a hotel. It’s a sad goodbye- we won’t see him again until the fall.
I finally sleep overnight, but in the morning, my head is gummy and my sinuses ache. I haven’t been sick since covid started, but I’ve finally run out of luck. It’s only 60km to Hinton, entirely on easy highway. I tuck in behind Steve and do my best to keep up. It’s a shame to keep my head down so much when the view is so beautiful. We make it to a motel by two, where I immediately fall into bed for two days.
I feel well enough in the morning of the second day, though not my normal perky self. We don’t leave until ten, abnormally late even when I’m not feeling well. We follow dirt roads out of Hinton, where cars kick up dust. We eat lunch by a river, watching a grizzly cub on the other bank dig for insects. I feel pretty terrible in the afternoon, but we still manage 75km, with over a kilometer worth of elevation gain. I’m happy to stop at a little campground, hopefully far enough away from the stomping grounds of grizzlies.
Something chews on the tree during the night. We never see it, but I suspect a porcupine. We get a late start again- I feel a little better, but still so groggy. We follow a dirt forest road, where RVs buzz us, but logging trucks move over respectfully. It’s mostly flat in the morning, through thick pine stands: much nicer than clear cuts and mines from yesterday. We climb up and up before lunch, which we eat on the side of the road. A mining truck stops and offers us Gatorade. Our first trail magic!
We climb and climb all afternoon. I see Steve stopped on a rise. He motions to me: there must be a bear. I pedal up out of breath, ready to tell him off for not having his bear spray out. Instead, I see dark fur, and a long limbed, rangey canine. Wolf! He’s bigger than the coyotes we’ve seen, and proportioned differently, with everything stretched out. He turns and disappears into the brush, just a split second after I spot him. We finish our climb and eat dinner at the top, before dropping down another ten km to camp in the bushes off of an old ATV track.
In the morning, I almost hit a deer. It jumps in front of me despite our bear noises. Steve waits for me to catch up, then tells me it was chasing me down the road. I’m just glad it wasn’t a bear. Unscathed, we make it to Nordegg in time for breakfast and coffee. I don’t think I’m hungry, but a breakfast burrito disappears in seconds.
Our day today is mostly climbing, or dropping down to climb again. There’s no real flat. We meet our first other gbmbr biker at a river- he’s heading north and is almost done. We climb away from him. Up ahead, Steve stops. A black bear is on the road, up wind from us. He can’t tell what we are and our bear spray is useless. We hoot and yell until he figures out we’re people and ambles off into the bushes. We climb and fall, climb and fall, until we find a little camp site on the edge of a steam.
The next day is much easier. We climb a little, but immediately drop down to flat, smooth roads. We make good time along meadows and streams, and see our first cows of the trip. The afternoon returns to climbing, but we can ride more than the day before. We eat dinner by a bridge over a silty blue river lined with cottonwoods. Steve sniffles. “My allergies must be really acting up,” he says. Steve doesn’t have allergies. By camp he’s coughing and sneezing in full blown cold mode. We set up the tent in mosquito ridden woods and he collapses.
Steve sleeps off the worst of it. By morning, he feels well enough to ride. We pedal ten easy kilometres and stop by a river for coffee and breakfast. The trail climbs and drops as thunder clouds build overhead, though they never come to anything. A butterfly hitches a ride up one pass, fluttering on my glove until the wind shakes him loose. We stop a little early tonight- better safe than sorry when Steve’s still not well.
The next day is easier, the climbs mellowing as we leave the foothills. We follow a paved road, finally feeling like we’re flying. We turn into a highway and stop at a gas station. It’s the first place to buy food in days and my food bag is worryingly empty. We eat microwave hamburgers and an entire bag of chips, then pack out canned chili and beer to the campsite just down the road, where prairie dogs harass us for dinner.
Steve wakes me at six. There’s heat warnings and we’re 80km from Banff. If we hurry, we can make it before it gets too warm. The pavement is fast and we make a friend. A stray dog chases us, tail wagging and tongue lolling, hopeful we’ll share breakfast with him. I’m worried about the cars, and yell at him to go home. He doesn’t leave us for 20kms, until the highway is busy.
We stop for breakfast after 40km at a little gas station cafe beside a mining plant. Then, onwards, with a quick stop in Canmore for coffee, before we’re crossing into Banff National park on paved bike path gated with electric fences. We ride fast as the day warms, making it to town in time for lunch.