Editor's note: This is the 5th 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
Remote, out of cell service, and only one restock point along the 500-kilometer route; these were the considerations I mulled over as I contemplated riding this route solo. Bears, of course, were another thought. I’d never bikepacked alone, but something urged me to tackle this route—the so-called “Front Range” from Hinton to Canmore—on my own. It wasn’t until I completed it that I fully appreciated my decision to do so.
Preparing for my ride, I flipped through the draft of Ryan’s guidebook. “Venturing south along the Forestry Trunk Road in Alberta…. non-technical riding along wide, gravel roads… ease of navigation… do not underestimate the amount of climbing in these foothills… the Front Range rivals most traditional mountain passages.” Most of this route would be completely new to me, however I had ridden the first section a few years back. And I sure remembered those hills
It was June 2016. The day after Ryan and I were married in a small ceremony, we hopped on our bikes to explore the mountains around us. Ryan did all of the planning, so perhaps it shouldn’t have come as a surprise that the riding wasn’t exactly easy. One of our days encompassed the first 180 km of this Front Range route, despite the fact that I had barely touched a bike in years, had never ridden anything but pavement, and was completely unacquainted with big hills (having just moved from a much flatter part of the country).
Ryan believed in me more than I did myself that day, though. It was a true test of my mettle, but we powered through it as a team with Ryan providing ample encouragement, carrying my pack, and even doling out gummy candies to coax me along. Ryan had also raced and scouted the entire length of this route on multiple occasions. With his many trips up and down this stretch, the route was alive with memories made and stories shared.
Now, in stark contrast, I was setting off alone and I wondered how it would feel with all of these moments and memories intersecting. Two very different chapters of my life but nevertheless all parts of the same story.
As I rode along though, I didn’t feel sadness. I felt peace. Peace that wasn’t always there. Especially in those early days after Ryan died. There was a time when I not only struggled to remember Ryan at his best, but more so, struggled not to remember him in his hardest days, full of haunting images and heart-wrenching moments that had been incredibly difficult to shake. Watching a remarkably fit individual succumb to an invading illness; the pain, the suffering, the desperation. The fight for life, for health, and then, simply, for more time. Witnessing the disease rob him of every little thing. Seeing the cancer take hold in the horrific way that it does. These things stay with you. They always will, but there was a time when this was the center of my sorrow and the cause of much anguish. It was difficult to dip back into my memories of Ryan and the life we had together without going to that dark place.
But, that’s not what I felt here. Not his death, not his sickness. It was his life. His beautiful, rich life. He had lived here, truly lived. In this very spot. It was easy to imagine Ryan riding these gravel roads, powering up climbs, cruising down descents, and, of course, detouring off-route to the backcountry outfitter that served milkshakes, all with a big grin on his face. I could even imagine which spots he would have paused pensively to admire the view, or touch a tree, the dirt, the tall grass—a ritual of his to connect with nature.
Strong, fit, in his prime, and doing exactly what he loved; riding this route, I was connected to Ryan in the way he would want to be remembered and should be remembered: for his life more than his death. And there is great peace in that. Peace in knowing that just as our honeymoon ride was a celebration of life and love, this too was a time to celebrate life: Ryan’s and my own. The life he lived. The life we lived. The new life I’m living now.
Over the course of the route, I was delighted with the surprising solitude and beauty of the area. It was the perfect backdrop for these meditative miles. I rode through rain and thunderstorms each day, but there was always a rainbow waiting on the other side. Fitting, I suppose. I tackled big climbs, some of which seemed to go on forever, some I wasn’t sure I’d get up without walking. But I made it up and over all of them eventually. I encountered several bears and felt twinges of fear being alone and vulnerable, but I got through that too. As I had hoped, I was even graced by the presence of wild horses. It was a magical sight.
As I pedaled back into Canmore on the fourth day with familiar mountain peaks and ranges greeting me, through town along the pathways I ride regularly, and then right to my front door, there was a sense of coming full circle with this journey, from our honeymoon ride to now. And I think that’s why I needed to ride this one alone.
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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.