A Shared Journey: The Icefields Parkway

CLICK HERE TO READ PART ONE OF THIS SERIES - A SHARED JOURNEY: AN INTRODUCTION

The Icefields Parkway, located in the heart of the Rocky Mountains of Alberta, Canada, is considered one of the most scenic roads in the world. Linking Lake Louise to Jasper, this stunning 233-kilometer (150-mile) stretch of highway showcases ancient glaciers, towering mountain peaks, desolate icefields, sparkling lakes, and vast, windswept valleys. It’s an iconic summer ride. Come winter, however, you’re not likely to see any cyclists at all.

Picture from Ryan’s trip up and down the Icefields Parkway in February 2017...

Because it’s on a paved road, Icefields Parkway is not a traditional bikepacking route, but it still offers great adventure value with the challenges that colder months present. For much of the winter, the asphalt is covered in snow or ice, and subzero temperatures and unpredictable weather are common. Additionally, there are no services this time of year, meaning one must carry all their own food and supplies, be equipped for mechanicals, and be comfortable leaving cell reception, electricity, and showers behind.

Fortunately, the Parkway features a network of rustic wilderness hostels, making it possible to sleep in warmth each night, a luxury sure to spur on any rider pedaling away in the cold. And that was what inspired my late husband Ryan to include this route in the guidebook he was developing, Bikepacking in the Canadian Rockies. There is a good challenge to be had in turning this summer route on its head, but the hostels offer enough security to entice two-wheeled adventurers.

Mosquito Creek Hostel along the Icefields Parkway. Photo by Megan Dunn...

Settling into Rampart Creek Hostel on our third night. Photo by Megan Dunn...

Packing up after a night at rustic Beauty Creek Hostel. Photo by Megan Dunn...

Riding with three other ladies from the area, our journey officially began in Banff, tacking on another beautiful stretch of road—the Bow Valley Parkway—before kicking off the official Icefields Parkway in Lake Louise. It was a particularly mild day as we rolled out. The forecast called for warmer-than-expected temperatures in the days to come, but we crossed our fingers that we would still get a healthy dose of winter. Riding fat bikes on asphalt isn’t a trend we were keen to spearhead, but it was also a reminder of the very essence of adventure, that you can’t plan for everything and should always expect the unexpected. In the end we would get a taste of all the weather: mostly mild with a sufficient dose of sleet, hail, blizzards, and howling winds. While riding 4.8” tires might seem overkill when the pavement is mostly bare, my Salsa Mukluk had me prepared to handle whatever conditions Mother Nature threw our way. The simple confidence of that was well worth the burly bike.

Sometimes we rode snow. Photo by Megan Dunn...

… and sometimes we rode pavement. The Mukluk handled it all. Photo by Megan Dunn...

We quickly settled into our rhythm of riding. All told, we would cover nearly 300km (185 miles), with our daily mileage ranging from a very manageable 35 to 68 kilometers (22 to 42 miles). This allowed for leisurely mornings, plenty of snack breaks, photo ops, and time to slow life to a pace at which we could ‘ooo’ and ‘aaa’ at each passing marvel and moment. And there were many of them. This area, spanning both Banff and Jasper National Parks, is a true gem.

Saskatchewan River Crossing on the Icefields Parkway. Photo by Megan Dunn...

At the end of each day’s ride, we cozied up in our hostel (which we often shared with ice climbers and backcountry skiers), cooked dinner, exchanged tales from the day, discussed plans, and, of course, laughed…a lot

This was the first time the four of us had adventured all together, and we couldn’t have been better teammates through it all. At the core of our bond was a friendship that, in many ways, had helped carry each of us through some particularly difficult times. For me, it had been a nearly two-year rollercoaster ride from Ryan’s diagnosis of cancer, to life as a caretaker, his death in April 2018, and then the aftermath.

High fives for great friends – Megan, Katrina, and Penny made this a trip I’ll never forget...

A short while into our third day, we came upon the ice-covered Bow Lake, with glaciers and mountains rising dramatically from the lakeshore. We post-holed through knee-deep snow to make our way onto the frozen surface; the allure of riding on the lake was too much to pass up. Centering ourselves in this place, I could feel the beauty and power of not only what rose up around us, but also what lay underfoot.

Bow Lake is the headwaters of the important Bow River. I reflected on the course of these waters, beginning here in this magical spot. Melting off the glacier just behind us, the waters then move onward to Lake Louise, Banff, and our little mountain town of Canmore, a place Ryan and I long dreamed of calling home and finally did only a few short years ago. Further on to Calgary, the Bow continues through the city where Ryan lived for many years, where he first began developing his passion for cycling into his purpose in life. Through the foothills and into the prairies, the river’s path becomes more convoluted, winding and weaving, merging with new rivers, cumulatively forging new strength before ultimately flowing free into Hudson’s Bay, thousands of kilometers from where we stood. This thought of flowing freedom, a path of endless movement with no fixed destination, and the seamless integration of nature—it enveloped me. This is how Ryan would want to be. Standing on the frozen waters, my friends stood close as I sprinkled some of Ryan’s ashes under a crusty layer of snow. The spring melt would soon dissolve all of this into the lake and, with it, a part of Ryan would go.

We postholed through deep, slushy snow for an opportunity to ride on majestic Bow Lake...

Finishing our ride in Jasper on the sixth day, it was—as is often the case—a bittersweet moment. None of us really wanted the adventure to end, but I suppose that’s one mark of a successful journey. A journey that was just as much about friendship as it was about riding bikes. It was also just the beginning. This route was the first of ten that I will ride this year—all of the routes that Ryan outlined in his guidebook. For these, I’ll be leaving the Mukluk behind to embark on gravel roads and mountain trails through the pristine Canadian Rocky Mountains, all of which I will be sharing here. Stay tuned.

Jasper, Alberta – the end of the road and our ride...

----------

CLICK HERE TO READ THE NEXT PART - A SHARED JOURNEY: HIGH ROCKIES TRAIL

----------

ABOUT SARAH HORNBY

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 Explore Fatbike Guest Blogger Mountain Biking Sarah Hornby Snow Biking Touring

Share this post:

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

COMMENTS (0)

Commenting is not available in this channel entry.
}