A Shared Journey: Beauty Rising

This is the 7th post in the A Shared Journey series from guest blogger Sarah Hornby. Links below the post will guide you through the entire series.

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The summers of 2017 and 2018 were hot, dry, and wildfire-ridden in the Canadian Rocky Mountains. The out-of-control flames spread far and wide, but Southern Alberta’s Waterton Lakes National Park (which shares an international border with Glacier National Park) suffered particularly massive destruction.

A small consequence of these fires was damage to a section of the “Castle” bikepacking loop Ryan had created for his guidebook. As my friends and I planned to ride the whole route this past September, we contacted Parks Canada to get more information about the area in question. They advised there were many, many trees down.

“How many trees are we looking at…closer to 0 or 16,000?” Jeff asked jokingly.

“16,000 might be conservative,” the Parks employee warned.

It didn’t take much convincing to omit this section from our loop, so we created a modified point-to-point route that saved us from crawling over piles of black, sooty deadfall for days on end.

Day One

An hour of driving into the backcountry along bumpy, winding roads led us to our starting point. I was feeling nauseous from the drive and ready for some fresh air. We were near Butt’s Patrol Cabin, a well-known stop for many front-of-the-pack Tour Divide racers, who often take their first short rest here, some 320 km into the route, before setting off toward Cabin and Galton Passes and the infamous “Wall.”

But we were headed in another direction, toward Middle Kootenay Pass. We rolled along a gravel road with ease until it began to narrow and head upward. Thick brush nearly enclosed stretches of the trail, forcing us to duck low and scoot through. Upon closer inspection, the bushes still displayed berries, and liberal piles of fresh scat provided evidence of bears that had been enjoying them. We were later told that wildlife naturalists had recorded at least 17 different grizzlies on wildlife cameras in the area. Thankfully, we had our bear calls finely tuned and bear spray never far from reach.

We eventually emerged from the bushes and tree line to alpine territory. The earth was loose and sandy as we climbed higher, making it difficult to get traction, but I really enjoyed the feeling of being up in the mountains with such wide-open views. The landscape in this region is unique—somewhat otherworldly and marked by distinctive red rock in some areas.

Atop the pass, magnificent vistas set the backdrop to this boundary between Alberta and British Columbia. In awe of the view but aware of ominous clouds overhead, we quickly moved on to the rough descent down to Castle Provincial Park and Wildland areas, where we would camp for the night.

Day Two

The following day treated us to more majestic scenery. We pedaled along backcountry gravel roads sandwiched between massive slopes that flaunted gorgeous displays of fall colours. I felt humbled by the landscape; it was so large and I, so small.

Onward, we refueled at a café in a quaint town that felt as though it was happily stuck in a bygone era; travelled alongside the rubble of Frank Slide, a massive rockslide from 1904 that’s nearly 45 meters deep in areas; and by the day’s end, traded mountains for prairies as we set up camp at a rodeo. The diversity experienced in 100 kilometers provided constant amazement.

Day Three

Our final day delivered us back to big mountains in Waterton Lakes National Park via more magnificent gravel. As we reviewed Ryan’s guidebook cues, we made note of a “four-kilometer hard climb.” Ryan rarely called things “hard,” so naturally our curiosity was piqued. As we rolled onward, each rise in elevation had us wondering if this was the climb. Katie, who had never met Ryan, would weigh in. “This can’t be it, it’s not hard enough by Ryan’s standards.” It was amusing—and touching—to see how someone who never got the chance to meet Ryan in person had come to know him through his guidebook routes.

At last we rolled into Waterton through a vicious headwind, the landscape noticeably scarred by the fires of the previous two years. Entire mountainsides were now barren and charred trees reached right to the road’s edge. But alongside the destruction were signs of rejuvenation and beauty rising in its wake. Considering what these lands had endured, it felt somewhat like the journey I had gone through myself; a reminder of how some hardships forever leave their mark, how beauty and darkness can exist side-by-side, and the rebirth that can unfold in the aftermath of it all.

Of all the trips I have embarked on this year, I found myself marveling at this route more than any other. I have enjoyed each of Ryan’s creations but this one really stood out for me. My friends seemed to love it, too. I felt proud, of Ryan and for him. He created a great thing with this route, and he would have loved nothing more than to know others enjoyed it as much as he had.

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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

A Shared Journey: A Fleeting Moment In Time

A Shared Journey: The Struggle

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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.

This post filed under topics: Bikepacking Cutthroat Gravel Guest Blogger Mountain Biking Sarah Hornby

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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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