A Shared Journey: The Icefields Take Two

This is the 9th post in the A Shared Journey series from guest blogger Sarah Hornby. Links below the post will guide you through the entire series.

It was a familiar scenario for me, loading up my fat bike for a multi-day jaunt up the Icefields Parkway. So too were the strange looks from passersby as I readied myself to depart from Lake Louise, piling on layers, attaching my pogies to my handlebars, and attempting to cover every last inch of exposed skin. It was -28 degrees Celsius outside.

Back in March, some girlfriends and I spent five days riding the incredibly scenic Icefields Parkway through Banff and Jasper National Parks (which also earned some curious looks…there’s something about a group of females on fully-loaded fat tire bikes, I guess). People come from all over the world to drive this gorgeous 230 km stretch of road carved between mountains, but they typically do so in warmer months. Come winter, those travelling the corridor are more likely there to find backcountry powder or icefalls to climb. Cyclists are very few and far between.

When my friends and I rode the route back in March, it was the first of ten multi-day bikepacking trips through the Canadian Rockies that I would set out to explore in 2019.  My late husband, Ryan, created the routes for a guidebook he was working on and this meaningful project would have me retracing his adventurous and ambitious paths through the mountains.

He included the Icefields route in his guidebook with the specific intention that it be ridden in the winter, when the well-travelled road becomes much quieter; one must be self-sufficient as all services are shutdown; and Mother Nature determines exactly how much adversity you will face. The Icefields Parkway can be snow- and ice-covered, avalanches can close sections for days at a time, and winter storms can roll in in a flash. While certainly pleasant, our ride in March was less-than-wintery. Save for a few small blizzards, we enjoyed spring-like temperatures and our burly fat bike tires rode mostly bare pavement. Wanting to stay true to Ryan’s vision for the ride, I vowed to return to the route for a more wintery experience.

And so here I was, riding my bike in a freezer on a promise made to myself when I was cruising carefree in sunshine and a t-shirt. I would tackle the route over three days, staying at rustic huts along the way. This meant I didn’t have to haul camping gear, but the extra space was easily filled with as much food as I could jam into my bags.

As I pedaled up the first long climb to Bow Summit, my eyelashes quickly collected a layer of frost. I wasn’t sure how I would fare in such cold conditions, so I was particularly mindful of my effort. Working up a sweat with a long descent on the other side was a recipe for a dangerous and uncomfortable chill. I’m not ashamed to admit that whenever I spotted photographers Matt and Jeff along the route, I didn’t hesitate to hop into their truck to heat up for a few moments. Otherwise, rests were short-lived, as the only way to stay warm was to keep moving.

The temperature wasn’t the only thing different about this ride. My ride in March was the start of my bikepacking project; this one would mark my final ride of 2019. The first time around, I rode with friends, but now I rode the miles solo. Back then, I was at the beginning of a deeply meaningful journey, curious of what lay ahead and how the forthcoming adventures would affect me. Now I have a series of big rides behind me—I’ve challenged myself in unexpected ways, found new strength (both physical and mental), connected with great people, explored new places, and really, truly fallen in love with adventuring on my bike this way.  In doing so, I connected with Ryan in new ways, too. In some respects, it feels like I know and understand him better than ever before. Falling in love with his biggest passion has done that. It’s a bittersweet feeling, but mostly sweet. It also makes me realize how much I’ve changed in the last two years—not always by choice. I’m not the same person anymore. I’ve grown, and a lot of that has happened on the bike.

My second day of riding was a shorter 50 km, but it packed in some of my favourite parts of the route. I rode alongside the Weeping Wall, a famous icefall; around the hairpin Big Bend carved into a mountainside; up a long climb to Parker Ridge; and past the dramatic Columbia Icefield and Athabasca Glacier. These sights provided endless beauty to admire, but even still, the cold was a struggle. I could feel it sucking energy from me. But, if my spirits dipped, they were never low for long. If not the scenery or my own internal reflections, a passing tourist taking my picture, cheering me on, or even offering me food always made me smile.

After a cozy night at the last rustic hut on route, the final stretch of the Parkway awaited. I was eager to arrive in Jasper in daylight for a hot meal and celebratory beer. After 90 km, the “Welcome to Jasper” sign appeared and I made my quiet entrance into town. Setting my bike against the sign and snapping a few quick pictures, I took a minute to reflect on the past year of riding. A few tears ran down my face. I thanked Ryan for this journey he unknowingly paved for me. I thanked myself for believing in myself enough to take it on. I thanked all those who supported and joined me.

Looking ahead, I have two final rides from Ryan’s guidebook to complete. Injury and trail conditions prevented me from tackling them in 2019, so the adventure continues!

-----

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

A Shared Journey: Beauty Rising

-----

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 Fatbike Mukluk Sarah Hornby

Share this post:

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.

COMMENTS (0)

Commenting is not available in this channel entry.
}