A Shared Journey: A Fleeting Moment In Time

Editor's note: This is the 6th piece in the A Shared Journey series from author Sarah Hornby. Click here to go to her first post, links there will lead you through her entire series. -Kid

“You’re really in the middle of nowhere,” a burly trucker said to us as we leaned our bikes on a bridge, ready to scurry down the ravine to fill our empty water bottles in the rushing river below.

It was our third and final day of riding the Highwood Route—360 km and 5500 m of elevation gain. Not the longest of rides but enough to earn an “Intermediate” rating in Ryan’s guidebook. He noted that this adventure would “favour a strong climber, patience in potentially mucky conditions, backcountry savvy and seasoned hike-a-bike muscles.”  It definitely delivered.

With some of the route overlapping with the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route (GDMBR), the Salsa Cutthroat was an obvious choice for this ride. The bike was designed with this very route in mind—a map of the route even adorns the down tube. On this adventure, I was given the fun opportunity to ride a brand-new 2020 Cutthroat prior to release. Learn more about it here.

Our first day took us from the beautiful Crowsnest Pass region of Alberta on to gravel roads that led into the backcountry. It was the August Long Weekend in Canada and we were eager to leave behind the parade of RVs, OHVs, and big pickup trucks with which we were sharing the roads.

Once on more-remote trail, we traded pedalling for pushing up some of the steepest trail I’ve ever encountered on two wheels. Somewhere in the slog we crossed into British Columbia, but the border was either unmarked or unnoticed, lost in the effort of heaving our loaded bikes forward. I was relieved that the Cutthroat was so light, and I found that the drop bars made for a surprisingly comfortable and natural position from which to push.

As daylight dissolved, our efforts were rewarded with a spectacularly gorgeous golden hour that illuminated the mountains in a brilliant light. It’s easy to get caught up in the hurdles of an adventure, the things that slow you down. But sometimes the most special experiences only reveal themselves because of the challenges you encounter—whether borne out of the struggle you’ve faced or simply due to the way in which moments serendipitously align. It’s something I’ve learned to be true in life, too—particularly after Ryan’s illness and death.

It was pitch black when we finally reached Elkford, BC and after midnight by the time we filled our bellies and crawled into our sleeping bags. We agreed to get an early start the next day, thinking that it would be nice—for once—to arrive at camp in the daylight with some time to relax.

That ambitious plan was quickly kyboshed when we were lured to a café for coffee and the generous offer of a homemade breakfast. When we finally got rolling, we felt an urgency to make up ground. Still, as we travelled north along the GDMBR we stopped to greet the many cyclists we encountered from all over the world who were headed south en route to Mexico, just a few days into their long journey.

Ahead was Elk Pass, the first of two passes that day. But I felt at ease. This climb was well-travelled, unlike yesterday’s slog. Better yet, the Boulton Creek Trading Post and its generous offering of chips, ice cream, cold drinks, and snacks, waited on the other side of the pass. Before setting off, though, I took time on the pass to spread some of Ryan’s ashes. Between his two Tour Divide rides, the mountain bike tour we ran, and his scouting for the guidebook, this was a place he knew and loved.

The second big climb of the day was Highwood Pass, Canada’s highest paved road and a renowned ride among road cyclists. For all we do to find routes off the beaten path, the buttery pavement was a welcomed treat. We blasted down the descent against a stunning sky of oranges and pinks before pulling into camp, once again, under the cover of night.

Our final day: the Monday of the long weekend. We were back on gravel and sharing it with the many weekenders who were now heading home. Thick clouds of dust engulfed us as they drove by, turning our hair grey, mouths gritty, and eyes sore. I laughed as we sluggishly crested each climb, inching closer to our final destination. Instead of powering down the descents, we now seemed content to lazily roll over the tops of the many hills, letting gravity do all the work on the way down. The blazing heat, direct sun, dusty roads, and previous days of riding had taken their toll.

The winding roads eventually opened to more panoramic vistas and, finally, a long and thrilling descent dropped us back into Crowsnest Pass. I recalled my last visit to the area, some three years ago. At the bottom of the descent, I had been sitting in a rental car for hours. It was past midnight and pitch black outside. The town around me was eerily quiet. Full of nervous anticipation, I was waiting for Ryan to roll in from an epic effort on the Alberta Rockies 700 race. He had blazed through the route at a wondrous speed, yet another display of his remarkable athleticism and grit. Finally, his dynamo light appeared out of the darkness and moments later, his huge, tired grin appeared outside the car window. A similar scenario would play out just months later, as Ryan scoped out routes in the area for his guidebook. Now, as my friends and I rolled by, I glanced over at the very spot this all played out. A simple acknowledgment of what was a fleeting moment in time.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Lured to the west by the beauty and lifestyle of the mountains, I transplanted myself to the Canadian Rockies to live, work, and play in this gorgeous corner of the world. Here, a casual interest in cycling has grown into a passion my life seems to, quite happily, revolve around. No matter how big or small the two-wheeled adventure, it's the freedom, friendship, and simplicity that always has me dreaming about what’s next.

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CLICK BELOW TO READ SARAH'S EARLIER POSTS...

A Shared Journey: An Introduction

A Shared Journey: The Icefields Parkway

A Shared Journey: High Rockies Trail

A Shared Journey: Trip Of Lies

A Shared Journey: Celebration Of Life

This post filed under topics: Bikepacking Cutthroat Explore Gravel Mountain Biking Sarah Hornby Tour Divide Touring

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Lured to the west by the beauty and lifestyle of the mountains, I transplanted myself to the Canadian Rockies to live, work, and play in this gorgeous corner of the world. Here, a casual interest in cycling has grown into a passion my life seems to, quite happily, revolve around. No matter how big or small the two-wheeled adventure, it's the freedom, friendship, and simplicity that always has me dreaming about what’s next.

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