The clear-headed, insight-inducing, almost clairvoyant properties of beer are hard to dispute, especially considering that it was while drinking an IPA at Boone’s Ale House in Salem, Oregon, that a proposition by my friend Darren Stauffer was made to bike from Edmonton, Alberta to Kellogg, Idaho to meet our wives for a supported tour. When it comes to anything biking, I will always say yes, so of course I assured Darren that if he was in fact serious about doing this ride, I would gladly take part, even if it meant crashing his family reunion for a day or two.
Thus, the immaculate conception of an epic Canadian Rockies bike tour was born.
Between the 25th of July and the 1st of August, Darren Stauffer and I took part in a 630 mile bikepacking trip from Jasper, Alberta, Canada to Kellogg, Idaho. Summarizing eight days of riding in a blog is impossible. Unlike my last number of posts where I wrote down scrupulous notes for each day’s ride and then wrote an entire entry on each said day, I’m not going to be as meticulous with my musings for this ride; it’s just too much. I will, however, share a few joys from the ride, a disappointment or two, and some general reflections on the ride as a whole, and then plaster all sorts of pictures on this blog to catalog Darren and my time riding through this diverse landscape.
On the 23rd of July I flew to Edmonton, Alberta, Canada with my bike stowed safely away in a cardboard box in the cargo hold. Meeting Darren outside of customs was a surreal experience to say the least. It’s always a bit odd to see someone you associate with one setting in a completely different and foreign setting; things just feel out of place. But it was a great reunion and as Darren originates from a little town just outside of Edmonton, he knew the area well and was a good tour guide for the few days we had to kill before traveling to Jasper.
The reason we met in Edmonton (Tofield to be exact) was because Darren’s family reunion was just finishing and his parents were traveling to Radium Hot Springs to meet up with their extended family for a few days. Lucky for us, Jasper is on the way to Radium Hot Springs, so at 6am on July 25th, Darren and I loaded our bikes on the back of his parents’ Pontiac Vibe and set off for Jasper.
We wanted to start in Jasper because it is a biker’s paradise. The terrain is challenging. You are either ascending or descending through the well-known Icefields Parkway with virtually zero flat sections longer than a few miles. To put it in perspective, in eight days of riding, Darren and I ascended a total of 30,039 feet and descended 31,323 feet.
Often challenging terrain correlates with stunning landscapes, and this tour was no exception. The roads are surrounded by the breathtaking Canadian Rockies, and wildlife abounds. Throughout our trip, we saw a number of critters, most notably a scruffy-looking wolf that looked like it was going to trot over to us and shake our hand, a bear that busted out of a bush and ran for cover like it was running the 40-yard dash (Darren and I may or may not have released some unintended expletives at its retreating rump), and a number of moose once we got to Idaho.
Although the landscape and wildlife in the area are stunning, they are only part of the allure of a trip like this. One of the greatest aspects of this ride was the camaraderie with my riding partner, Darren. Sharing an experience like this exposes vulnerabilities that you don’t see in normal interactions. Darren and I had a plethora of opportunities to learn about each other through unforgettable stories, shared experiences, memorable moments (like almost pissing ourselves when we saw the bear), and all sorts of other memories that will last a lifetime. Many of these will go unmentioned, but are a highlight of any bikepacking experience.
The only notable disappointment I experienced on this trip was an increasing pain in my right knee that ended up being rather debilitating towards the middle of our ride. While I was able to contribute to our daily drafting patterns (ride ten miles in front, rest ten miles drafting), I was unable to tackle some of the monster passes we traversed with my normal gusto. While not ideal, having to slow it down a bit on climbs was probably good for me. It reminded that my own athletic aspirations can sometimes get in the way of appreciating the beauty, solitude, and introspect of the present moment. My slower cadence helped me better appreciate the setting’s ambiance and the opportunities for camaraderie with Darren, so in some ways, the injury was perhaps more of a blessing than a disappointment in the end; minus the fact that I’m still dealing with its effects.
I also found that on this ride there were many moments where I experienced a clear-headed calm unparalleled in any other activity. I sometimes experience this calm when running, but it was amplified during the long pedal-pushing sessions Darren and I pumped out before taking breaks. This calm affirmed for me that the simplicity of bike touring is perhaps one of its greatest assets. After the second or third day, Darren and I were both used to our general cadence of the day: we’d get up around 6am, eat our usual breakfast of oatmeal, peanut butter, and coffee, and then head off for our next destination. During the day we’d ride as far as we felt comfortable with, stop at a campsite around 4 or 5pm, discuss our route the next day, and then go about the pleasantly monotonous evening patterns of bike maintenance, dinner preparation, showers (if our campsites had them), and general relaxation.
As a teacher, life’s simplicities are often lost in the stressful bustle of unit planning, grading, state testing, administrative expectations, etc. But biking is different. Other than basic bodily needs, it’s about keeping a relatively constant cadence with the pedals. That’s it. The cloudy thinking that is so common with teaching melts away when following the simplistic and rhythmic pattern of life on a bicycle. Life on a bicycle is like experiencing life within the eye of a hurricane: all your normal stressors and anxieties circle around you but are unable to penetrate the calm, serene, and rhythmic cadence of the daily pedal.
But enough musings on the power of the pedal. What follows is a visual summary of Darren and my time riding south from Jasper, Alberta, Canada, into the U.S. via the border crossing at Roosville, Montana, into Idaho, and eventually making our way down some gravelly forest roads into Kellogg, our final destination.