Did I enter Mexico yesterday or have I been living here forever ? Strangely I have both opposite feelings and in the middle stands the six weeks stated by my calendar.
Crossing the border into Mexico was the first time of the journey I was stepping into a new culture as I was already familiar with Canada and the USA before the trip. It was also the beginning of Spanish speaking territories and the rich struggle of communicating in a language that you don’t master. The full immersion and the willingness to overcome that difficulty is an amazing humbling experience that is rewarded by quick progress and most importantly people’s sympathy.
As a general rule, I try not to set up any expectations about what lies ahead, high or low, leaving everything untouched by the mind and pure for genuine discovery. But with years of alarmfull media and many (uninformed) people’s comments about how dangerous Mexico is, a tiny seed of fear was planted. I was also innerly convinced that I would meet friendly and kind people because that is how most of humanity is but a vicious voice in the background was trying to make me believe otherwise and I had to deal with it, finding the middle way between paranoia and insouciance.
It all started with the most relaxed border crossing I have ever done, as I think it should always be. I am fairly sure that the Mexican border patrols are particularly friendly to accentuate the contrast with their northern neighbors and all their useless craziness. No one told me to go to the immigration office and with the excitation of the discovery it took me a good 20min to realize that I did not get a stamp in my passeport so I had to come back to the immigration office. Even if the landscape did not change with that man-made delimitation, I quickly realized I was in a totally different world.
The first days I rode across the sand dunes of the arid and desolate Sonoran desert with a few glimpses of the Sea of Cortez in Puerto Penasco, a small but busy gringo city with disgusting resorts, Santa Clara, a small fishermen town, and finally San Felipe, a relaxed town mixing both communities, like many places in Baja California. For the first time in a long while I was at sea level without much elevation gain but I struggled with tremendous headwinds that drove me nuts. Six weeks later It looks like it is a general rule in Mexico, when it is flat(ish), I have to cope with brutal winds that make riding harder than any climb. Thankefully, I have also found many steep hardcore climbs to rest from the wind.
From San Felipe onwards I zig-zagged between Baja’s two coasts - the Pacific and the Sea of Cortez - crossing multiple sierras on remote roads, some pavec, some unpaved, exploring this beautiful and unique dry desert laying in the middle of the water. The terrain was unforgiving with abrupt elevation gain or loss and extremely washboardy and rocky dirt roads when they weren't sandy. I knew that my setup wasn’t really suited for this landscape with no suspensions and my tires being about half as wide as what most riders use (for the anecdote had to sew and plug them up countless times and I cannot even imagine what would have happened if I wasn’t going tubeless). But someone told me that a tenace or stubborn rider could get over it and either love or hate it. Stubbornness and tenacity are not stuff I lack and I couldn’t resist the appeal of such a challenge. I, once more, pushed my body beyond its limits and it was a thrilling but deeply exhausting experience. I definitely hated it and myself for doing it at some moments but overall I immensely loved it. I should have taken breaks along the way to allow my shaken body to recover but instead I focused on my bulldozer mindset to keep going south. It was hard but it was the well-worthed side-effect of my mum’s visit. It finished with a 350km push partly on gravel and in two days to get on time in La Paz where I rented a car to meet my mum and start our two and a half weeks road trip around the southern part of the peninsula.
I cannot emphasize enough how magical it is to be physically reunited with loved ones and share bits of the journey with them. The rhythm abruptly changed and driving a car was a weird feeling after 6 months on the saddle. It allowed us to visit many places far apart but it also made me realize how differently you perceive the landscape and are perceived by the people (anecdotally we got fleeced twice by the police which never happens while I am on the bike). I was happy to be able to totally put the trip aside, not thinking of where to go next, how much water to carry, where to sleep and all the other logistics that usually drain a lot of my energy. It was time to fully enjoy my mum’s presence, a well-deserved physical break and hundreds of fish/shrimp tacos to put on some weight. I still managed to get some more big climbs in, just to make sure my body not totally forgot how to cycle but for three weeks I mostly did nothing which might sound impossible to some knowing me.
It was a wonderful parenthesis filled with joy and unforgettable moments like a Christmas on a white sand beach by a turquoise bay with a bonfire under millions of stars and a shiny milky-way. I dropped my mum at the airport on the 30st of December and had three days to re-acclimate to my serene and happy solitude before taking the ferry back to the mainland. It was just enough to figure out some logistics, celebrate my first sober New Year's Eve in the chill atmosphere of La Paz and spend one last day spent on a postal-card like beach. The boat brought me to the buzzling city of Mazatlan where I was agreeably surprised by a richer cultural difference than in the gringos filled peninsula.
Baja was the perfect way to gently get into the novelty but now the real Mexico has begun. In just over a week on the continent I am positively overwhelmed by people’s hospitality and the beauty of the scenery. I said farewell to the ocean in Mazatlan and directly aimed back into the mountains with massive climbs (encountered snow at 3000m which was not expected below the Tropic of Cancer) and expansive views. I rode on quiet pavement and remote gravel, crossed many small communities, tasted dozens of delicious traditional meals and wandered in lively cities (Durango and Zacatecas). Wild camping in Mexico is supposed to be a little more unsafe than in other countries so I have been asking people in villages if there was a safe place for me to camp around and so far I have instead been offered and fancy cabin, a hotel room and a room in people’s house, not mentioning the rooftop suite in the historical centre of Zacatecas I am currently staying in, thanks to Warmshower hosts. Nonetheless it would be dishonest not to mention that not everyone is gladly greeting me, which is totally normal. I often get unsympathetically stared at and it is very humbling to experience being the different one. Like elsewhere in the world, some make you feel welcome, some make you feel unwelcome but I haven’t faced any aggressive behaviour or violence or whatsoever. As I often say the ones who say I am crazy : “If you look for trouble, you’ll find ‘em, if you don’t, you won't.'' In the end it all depends on your attitude. A heart free of prejudice and a big smile on your face is the only thing you need to carry.
Waouw, that is it! I am about to leave the US after a well used 90 days visa The past weeks somehow cut me off my writing as I focused all my energy on the outer journey. Firstly to fight the unusual - and therefore unexpected - very cold and windy weather, secondly to cover extensive ground and beat the tic=tac of my visa slowly running out. On top of that, my mind has been very busy with anticipating the logistics of transitioning between two worlds, going from cycling to hiking to cycling and a bunch of gears needing replacement. No much room left for creativity. Nonetheless I managed to really enjoy the very unique places I went through and the unforgettable experiences I lived.
It started with a crazy adventurous cycling itinerary of my own across Southern Utah’s most dramatic and jaw-dropping landscape. From paved backroads to mountain bike trails with some sandy washboardy dirt roads in the middle, I made my way through this remote and rugged beautiful country. To name some of the highlights I connected Fifth Water hot springs with the Nine Mile Canyon, the San Rafael Swell, Goblin State park, Capitol Reef NP’s backside, the Hell’s Backbone and Grand Staircase Escalante’s Storm Mountain, progressively getting used to the desert and the lack of water. The initial plan was to shoot straight down onto the North Rim of the Grand Canyon and carry my bike across it - wheels cannot touch ground below the rims. Despite it being a very appealing idea, the logistics of it and the very cold temperatures (-15C) made me be reasonable - for once - and ride around it. I still made the detour to get a glimpse of this grandiose natural feature from its south rim and with a quick day hike down its steep cliffs before saying goodbye to my bike and walk out of Flagstaff.
I had been contemplating the possibility of hiking a section of the Arizona Trail for a while but struggled with what to do with my bike until synchronicity lined it up perfectly for me, thanks to some more amazingly kind human beings. Both my body and mind were really happy to transition to the walking speed even if I only had two and a half weeks to cover the 680km to Tucson where I would reunite with my wheels and hurry up across the Mexican border before running into problems with the US immigration, which is probably not a good idea.
The desert has its own very particular energy and usually people love or hate it. I am from the first group and was really looking forward to wander through it despite the hassle of finding and carrying water. In this landscape one does not roam as he is pleased but calculate everything from one water source to the next one. The other obstacle to long hiking days was the shorter amount of daylight. It feels like the Arctic’s midnight sun was yesterday but it is not. Sun rises just before 7 and sets just after 5, offering roughly 12h of non-darkness, including dusk and dawn gloomy hours. But everything can be looked at from different view angles and in this situation it offered me the opportunity to daily contemplate gorgeous sunrises and sunsets. Without really intending it, I often happened to be hiking along ridges at those times making it even more scenic. The very bright ascending and then full moon allowed easy evening walk with fairy atmosphere while traversing burnt forests before cowboy camping under the stars in the desert’s solitude and silence broken only by the crackling of the fire and the coyotes howling in the distance. With harsh sun, countless cacti, rocky-dusty terrain, blue sky, ocher earth, brutal climbs and spiky everything, the Arizona Trail delivered more magic that I fantasized and that can only be lived on foot. If I had to imagine myself some regrets it would be the lack of wildlife encounters. I did not have the chance the meet at rattlesnake this time or even better, the rare and mysterious ‘Gila Monster". However I saw numerous tarantulas, birds, rabbits and a family of Javelinas, a local small pig. But most importantly, I again and again met some incredibly kind people offering support to the hikers, stashing water , providing rides to towns for resupply and much more. The hiking community call them ‘Trail Angels’ and angels they are. Whatever once can say against the US politics and some american cliches it should be reminded that there are thousands of good people out there and we have much to learn from their genuine hospitality.
After stepping over the 10.000km mark into my trip and completing this little stroll along the AZT on time, it is time to cross my 38th parallel, the second country border or just to complete the next pedal stroke!
Autumn is definitely here. The magnificent colours, from bright gold to vibrant ruby, leave no doubt about it, even if one could think it is already winter when looking at the mercure. The (very) cold air and the intense wind kept me away from writing for a few days/weeks. My mind has also been very busy with sorting out my itinerary and other logistical details as I am now out of the comfort of an established route. As I am trying to only ride on gravel- and backroads, it takes a lot of time to figure out what connects and what doesn’t, what detour is needed to avoid main roads and what shouldn’t be missed on the way. But even then the reality of the terrain brings its own lot of surprises… which is all part of the adventure, and what an adventurous fortnight it has been ! It all started with my double attempt to hike in the magic, pristine and stunning Wind River Range. Yes, attempt, because seeing the weather, snow conditions and my inappropriate gears for it, I decided to turn around both times. I still camped out in 20 cm of snow with two nights below -10°C and managed to get a glimpse of what this epic wilderness has to offer for when I will be back to explore it. Once again people’s kindness helped me making this hiking project possible as a family in the Pinedale offered me to establish my base-camp and stay as long as I wanted with them ! It was amazing to have a home for a few days and the possibility to stay warm at night. But adventure was calling an I finally left central Wyoming after a week, making my way towards Utah, friends and hopefully nicer climate. Finding my itinerary was fairly easy this time and I had the opportunity to ride through some beautiful country of the Wyoming Range and high desert plateaus. One highlight was going up and over a massive pass in the night to make sure I would be on the other side of it when the next morning snow-storm would hit. Before I knew it, I was in Ogden, the last place that I have been before and where I have friends/family until Santiago ! I enjoyed some quality time there with my friends met in NZ and was hoping to take advantage of that week to write a lot but the logistics took all room when I was not just enjoying the moment. After six days it was time to hit the road again and start my 1000km adventure across southern Utah and into Arizona.I first had to get out of the very populated and smoggy rea of Ogden and Salt Lake City but an amazing bike path network made it fairly enjoyable. Then the real stuff began with a long climb up a steep pass and a freezing night. But I was still on the pavement and the gnarly strenuous but ho-so-enjoyable gravel exploration started the next day with some funny surprises. I ended up pushing my bike up some very, very steep hills and along very, very rocky trails. I also fell a few times trying to ride downhill sections that showed the limits of both my gravel-bike and my (inexistant) mountain-riding abilities. But overall I had so much fun and I had the chance to ride some unique scenery. In between the hard bits I found super enjoyable gravel roads winding through canyons. Having to work hard for those views made those moments even more blissful and worth the hardship and the cold. After five rough days and very cold nights, I treated myself with my first motel room of the trip to let my body recover before heading to the next section ! More deserts’ vibes, crazy landscapes and cold weather to come over the next two weeks. I am so lucky and grateful to experience all of it !
Waouw, time flies, already a month that I crossed the 49th parallel and so many unforgettable experiences have filled my heart and soul with joy!
After exploring Glacier National Park’s trails network, I jumped on the famous Great Divide Mountain Bike Route - a mainly dirt roads itinerary running along the divide from Jasper to Mexico - with the intention to follow it until the snow blocks me, most likely on Colorado high plateau. To put things into perspective, I am a road cyclist with NO-NADA-AUCUNE mountain biking experience or skills and my first gravel ride was the Dempster Highway a few weeks back, at the beginning of my trip. But, you know, when your first bike tour is 30.000km long and across the Americas, why not starting your off-road career on the GDMBR, with a gravel bike ?
Well, fortune favors the brave and so far I have had such an amazingly enjoyable, challenging and rewarding three-ish weeks in Montana. The first half of the route was mostly in the forest and the second one was, unexpectedly, in high-desert landscape. Regardless, the riding through either scenery was breathtaking and very diverse. Tons of fun were had with some gravel grinding, pavement flying, steep climb sweating (and swearing), downhill bombing and technical singletrack hike-a-biking. Did I regret it? Not for the tiniest second. Did I wish I had another set-up ? Not at all but the contrary! My new best friend allows me to have a non-stop blast, either with high-speed on the hard-packed dirt roads or with rougher rides on the bumpier sections, or with hard-core pushes on the ascents. I guess we all have fun in different ways, and I found mine.
Other than the limitless enjoyment, two aspects will be remembered from this part of the trip.
First, the funny weather. The short Autumn season brought some interesting torrential rainfalls turning the gravel roads into mudholes and the riding into something pretty miserable, let's admit it. But it has not just been wet, it has also been cold. Before you knew it, winter was trying to make its way with nights below freezing and snow accumulating at higher altitudes. I had to adapt and tried to plan my riding accordingly, pushing into the sunny days and sheltering on the stormy ones. My body was actually (and still is) happy that something forced me to give it a rest… Ain’t no rest for the wicked ya know.
Second and last but not least, people’s endless kindness. Looking back at it, I still cannot believe how lucky I have been to meet such friendly and generous beings. I will forever be grateful to : Hunter and Felicia who took care of my bike while I was hiking in Glacier and fed me with the best beignets I had in a long time ; to the Isaak family who hosted me very last minute and cooked a plethora of fresh veggies to give me a break from dehydrated mashed potatoes and peanut butter on tortillas ; to the small Ovando’s community who offered me gallons of warm coffee and an eccentric roof (a XIXth century jail) on a rainy day ; to Barbara and John who provide free cabins stashed with food to cyclists ; to Tim who welcomed me in his artist’s studio ; to John who proffered me a home, fresh sushi, home-roasted coffee, a trip to natural hot-springs and an introduction to curling while I was unexpectedly stuck in his town awaiting for a new back-wheel after cracking mine on a probably too intense descent ; to Travis who rescued me from a snowstorm, hosted me in his “man cave”, supplied me with the tastiest pancakes and a memorable expedition to show how much snow there is at higher altitude getting his truck stuck into the snowy ditch. All those people, plus all the others I chatted with along the way , are the true heroes that make this journey possible, singular and magnificent. I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to cross their paths and hear their stories.
It looks like the weather is pushing me off the Divide a little sooner than expected so I will try to get some hiking done in the gorgeous Wind River Range’s wilderness before heading to drier climate in Utah.
Believe it or not, crossing the imaginary line that the 49th parallel is - the border between Canada and the USA - was an overwhelming process. Despite the fact that the mountains, the plants and the animals are the same, the humans codes change and I had to adapt. In the meantime, as I was riding towards Glaciers National Park’s entrance, I realized I had absolutely no clue about where I was headed neither of anything else I would do. All I knew was that I was going south, that I was hoping to catch up with the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route and that I wanted to check out some of the hiking trails in the area. I tried to keep it easy and cycled over the world famous Going-to-the-sun road but is was not doing justice to the surrounding scenery plus I was already sick of the intense, uncautious, traffic and the crazy amount of people rushing everywhere. After figuring out the US Parks backcountry permits system, I left my bike at a campground and hit the trails again.
Over 6 days I covered 250km, gazed at almost all GNP’s highlights, swam in 8 different lakes, went over a dozen passes and last but not least, experienced the mentally toughest roller coaster of the journey, switching from absolute joy to the darkest darkness of inner storms filled with doubts and fears. The Canadian leg of the trip was sort of lined up beforehand and I was adventuring in a familiar environment. Now I was truly stepping into the total unplanned unknown and it was vertiginous. Time and distance started to freak me out but the absolute beauty of the pristine landscape always dragged me back to the moment and made me realize that it was just my mind messing up with me. At the end of the day it reinforced my willingness to dive into the unknown without planning and let things be. Day after day, learning to let it go a little bit more and fully trusting Burroughs quote : “Leap, and the net will appear.''
The idea of improvising my route day after day was confirmed by all the recommendations made by the people I met on my way. Being back on busy Nation Parks trails was shocking after wandering in the Canadian wilderness but it was the opportunity to meet tons of nice folks and scribble down their favorite secret or not-so-secret sports, trails and rides along the divide. The itinerary is slowly building itself up. It was also the perfect way to adapt to the American style and general mindset (it here is one).
Another big difference between the endless Canadian Wilderness and the US National Park was the amount of wildlife I encountered. On the Northern side of the border I would run into an animal every other day because there is so much room that they can live their lives and see humans every now-and-then. Here I had several close encounters everyday. On one side it was awesome. Seeing wildlife is always such a privilege. But at the same time it made me sad because I realized the horrific lack of room they have to roam. The density of population out of the park keeps them in it but even there they have nowhere to go without being bothered by humans. (fun facts : in the US there is no “bear policy” in the out of park campgrounds where in Canada it is bear country everywhere) The amazing trails system takes you everywhere to experience Nature’s beauty but it means that animals do not have the possibility to avoid those noisy bipeds. Everything always comes down the debate between arrangement for enjoyment and protection…
But why bears stick around here then ? Seeing the amount of berries I shoveled in my mouth over those few days, I cannot blame them!
Anyway, it was the perfect way to get me back on track and with my hip starting to hurt again, it is definitely time to jump on the bike again. Let’s pedal south !
The GDT was the first link of my project’s chain, everything else built up around it. It was the only roughly planned section of the trip and, of course, nothing went accordingly. I had to skip a section because my backpack delivery was delayed then I strained my hip during my third day on the trails. Two weeks later and after cycling the two next sections, my hip felt strong enough to give it another try. I had half of the trail left to explore and just over 500km of pure epicness rolled out ahead of me. It has been such an intense and unforgettable two weeks, let’s look at it a little closer.
What really struck me and hugely impacted the experience was the realization that both the body and the mind needed much more transition time from cycling to hiking than I thought. Different muscles in use with the obvious issue of my hip bodywise but the hardest was the mind. Even if the backpacking and bikepacking routines are very similar, they are also very different. You suddenly lose the little extra comfort conferred by the road, the odd rest area or gas-pump to shelter and get a warm drink every now-and-then. Even if fairly minimalist, you can always have a little extra food in the bike bags that you do not want to carry in your pack. The speed is also very different and it was hard to accept that I could “only” hike 30 to 50km in a day rather than 150 to 200km. It was even harder when the GDT used the same gravel road that the GDMBR (the gravel cycling route that runs from Jasper to Mexico and that I am going to follow across the USA) and that I saw a few bikepackers flying passed me as I was stumbling on my sore hip.
Nonetheless, starting the hike on the super well-maintained and easy going Banff National Park’s trails was the perfect way to gently get into my hiking shape, rhythm and routine. You can go fast, it is hard - not to say impossible - to get lost, there are five stars campgrounds sprinkled along the way, you meet plenty of other overnighters and are rewarded with world-class views behind every corner. Slowly all this started to faint, except for the views.
The long 200km stretch to Coleman started a little sideways in a heavy downpour, walking on a road plus I had to live 5 days out of pop-tarts, ramen, mashed potatoes and mac&cheese after a rough resupply at a campground store forced by my non-planification. I have never missed my oatmeal, tortillas, chia pudding and quinoa that much… BUT after sheltering in a public cabin for the night and chatting with a South-African coupe riding GDMBR, I woke up in a fairy scenery. It rained all night and by the first light the clouds were evaporating along the two ridges circling the wide valley, only leaving bright blue sky and snow on the mountains behind them. Leaving the dirt road, I stepped into the wild. It started straight away with bushy faint steep trail and creek crossings, goodbye dry feet. I had to adjust my pace and focus but was rewarded in my effort with bushes filled with wild raspberries. Even if only a simple thing, it felt amazing to gather some of my food and those fruit tasted better than any I had before. For the next following days I was forced to stop several times to crawl in the bush, going after the tasty berries. Yummy !
After a long climb I reached a pass, the doorway to the human-free zone I would wander in the next following days. The trail vanished and with it the last sign of civilization. It was just the bear landscape, the rock, the snow, the wind and me. I was moved by an intense feeling of freedom and aliveness. Behind the pass, the trail reappeared to guide over multiple ridges for the next three days. A blissful successions of endless views towards the Rockies on one side, the plains on the other, and steep creeks gullies nested in magic silent forests. A wonderful journey filled with beyond the ears smiles, evenings by the campfire and starry nights. I had a blast and remembered why I decided not only to cycle.
I crossed back over the range and slowly made my way back to the human world as the singletrack changed into ATV roads, gravel road and paved road to Coleman. After three days in Nature’s silence it was weird to hear the engines noise again and walking by a busy gun range was not very welcoming but everything was forgiven with a huge stack of pancakes, a shower, a laundry and a bed. I stayed at a Bed&Breakfast experienced with thru-hikers. They fed me properly and even managed to stuff my pack with muffins and cookies as I was making my way back on trails towards Waterton and my bike.
The previous weeks events ( delay, injury, weather) kept me away from the scenic and even more arduous alternates sprinkled along the GDT. But this time nothing was blocking the way between the gorgeous-strenuous Barnaby ridge connecting onto the famous La Coulotte ridge. It was even more marvelous that everything I dreamt of :following the landscape lines instead of a trail, going from one peak to another with endless panoramic views on untouched mountains, oscillating between hiking and scrambling. It was a gem, the absolute cherry on top of this hike. It made every harder moment worth it, a thousand times, even the depressing last dozens kilometers in burnt forest with torrential rain and snow at higher altitudes. The weather threw at me everything it did not on the previous and offered me the typical GDT-weather before letting me go to the next chapter of the journey.
THANK YOU Great Divide Trail and Canada overall for the past few weeks. Time to rest, scramble a few more peaks and reunite with my beloved bike. Montana, Glacier National Park and Great Divide Mountain Bike Route, here I am !
There were two options to cycle south from Jasper. The main one, the scenic and touristy Icefield Parkway or the alternative one, a 200km detour via gravel backroad parallel to the Rockies. My hip injury was holding me from hiking Alberta’s trails so I went to explore its gravel roads. And it was worth it.
Firstly because it was amazingly fun and beautiful. I found everything I came for : steep climbs, big views with no one around, no traffic, fast hard pack and super rough sections. I took my bike into some trails that weren’t suited for a gravel bike but it hold strong. I eventually had my first puncture but I guess that I cannot complain that those tires already last almost 5000km.
Secondly, it was very interesting to leave Parks Canada’s Wonderland and see Alberta’s backside, or darkside. The mountains were blown open with mines and everyone I met in this wilderness was enjoying it via motorsport. I had to share the dirt roads with ATVs, quads and motocross. I also met a totally different type of campers who apparently cannot look after their trash. For the first time on the trip I came across random dumps in the wild. Not cool.
Thirdly because this itinerary made me pass by the Folding Mountain Brewery and its restaurant that serves the best (and biggest?) poutine of the West.
Halfway down to Banff I started missing the epic mountains and the Parkway’s world class views so I headed back west towards Saskatchewan Crossing with a strong headwind for 100km. It felt like I would never reach those peaks in the horizon but lakes and sky were magically blue and the sun was shining.
At the Saskatchewan Crossing Resort I found the first very unfriendly people on my route. Not bad after 8 weeks on the road but it was surprising. After talking to a few other people in a close by campground, we came to the point that the HR made sure people were unhappy and rude before hiring their employees. Despite that and the highway traffic, it was good to contemplate this scenery one more/last time. Kilometer after kilometer the weird feeling of riding home was growing. This was the first known section of the trip as I lived in the area the past year. It was amazingly enjoyable to see it covered with green and flowers rather than with snow and ice. The very last section into Banff, along the Bow Valley Parkway, was even more familiar and exciting as this was the road I used to train on.
I had a close call escaping a huge thunderstorm by a few seconds and found refuge in campground cooking area. It turned out to be a bloody excellent spot as it poured down all night and I was stoked to be sleeping on the benches under a roof rather than in my tent. The storm brought one of this summer’s nicest bluebirds and I made the best out of it hiking up one of Banff National Park’s emblematic summits : Castle Mountain. I had an early start in the morning fog that added some beauty to the winding trail in the forest. I popped above the clouds when I entered the alpine meadows blooming with flowers. From here the steep ascension passed the tree line into the Land of the Rocks started and the views turned from bucolic to breathtaking. My initial plan was to stop at the higher lake but I could not resist to push to the perched view point. From there, feet hanging above the turquoise lake and the clouds in the valley below, surrounded by a perfectly sculpted rocky cirque, bathing in the sun, listening to the marmots sing, I gazed at the massive ridge in front of me and its appealing towering peak. If I had come all the way here, I might as well make the extra effort there. I picked my own route along the landscaped and fully enjoyed this unique feeling of freedom. I could not believe the epicness of the scenery surrounding me but it even got better when I reached the last summit, at the very end of the range where I was encircled by sheer 800m drops in every direction except the one I came from. I could gaze in every direction, the Rockies flowering in the horizon. All this majestuousness all for myself as no one else was in sight, except the highway far below at the valley bottom. This was more than I could have dreamt of and it fed me joy for at least a few weeks.
The last dozens of kilometers ride to Banff was an absolute pleasure even if my legs were (un)expectedly tired after this 30km and 1600m of elevation gain morning hike. I think I am ready to try thru-hiking again !
The biggest enemy for the kind of long=haul, self-propelled adventure I have embarked on is injuries, when the only essential tool you have, the body, fails. For any reason, that idea never crossed my mind, until today.
Today is day 4 of thru-hiking after cycling over 4000km and living in my tiny tent for 6 weeks. Today, as I was putting my backpack on and stepping onto a new trail, a sharp pain burst out of nowhere in my left side hip. I have a pages-long history of small injuries linked with this kind of intensity, could it be thru-hiking or heavy multi-sport training, but this was completely new, something I had never experienced before. I tried to suck it up and kept going uphill for 3km until I couldn’t do a step further and collapsed in the middle of the trail in pain, with despair trying to crawl into my mind. There was no point, I just couldn’t do it and I had to face that reality now without thinking about everything it could involve later. The insane amount of mosquitoes that instantly buzzed around my legs and head forced me to make a quick decision. Good luck in this misfortune was that I was not embedded in the wilderness but only 3km from a trailhead busy with people. I stumble downhill cringing and heavily leaning on my one hiking pole. I stopped every 200m to breathe in a grunt but finally made it back to the road and thankfully found friendly helpful people who gave me a ride back to civilization.
I am still unsure of what happened, if it is serious or just a body warning that requires a few rest days but so far this event taught me two things.
First, even if I would like to believe so, I am not indestructible and overuse, overtraining and fatigue injuries do not only happen to others. Despite the fact that I am well=trained and that I need less recovery time than most people, there is still a limit, a line that cannot be crossed. My body is the only piece of gear I cannot easily replace and I should therefore take a greater care of it if I want it to take me all the way to Ushuaia.
Second, this is just a bump in the road and not, as my thoughts tried to make me believe so, the potential end of it. It might be a turn I did not expect but that is the very beauty of the journey and why I embarked on it. Right now I have no idea of what is gonna happen, I might be back on trails in three days or pulled over for two weeks but restlessly going over all the options will only drive me insane. This was the only planned section of my itinerary, the exception to my golden rule : “why would I make a plan knowing that nothing is gonna go accordingly?” This episode just confirms it. All I have to do is letting it go, or going with it. Things happen and they are just things happening. We chose the way we experience them. I won’t let this one ruin my good vibe !
At the end I am so grateful this happened in this place, at this moment. Jasper is not the worst place to get stuck and it was super easy to get the help I needed. Also it was a perfect way to make me step back from my “pushing south” mindset and rethink the journey as a whole.
For many weeks, people kept asking me which way I would go into BC after riding across Yukon. I would answer : “via that smaller road, highway 37 I think.” And them to reply : “Ho, the Stewart-Cassiar highway, you are a brave man! There is massive elevation gain and bears everywhere! It sounded like I was about to ride the Himalayas with angry grizzlies ready to eat me behind every corner. A very exciting and appealing program indeed but one should not listen too much to people stories, even more when they experience the scenery without stepping out of their RVs. As a friend of mine used to say, the scariest bear is the one that is in your head. I took the bet to go check it out myself.
I will relieve the suspense right away, I did not see any grizzly. Not even half of one. But I did see countless bears. Everyday I would ride along at least three blackbears. They never bothered me, at all. They were either scared to death and flew into the bush or intrigued and lift their heads from their munching to observe that weird looking animal with a helmet before going back to their food without paying more attention to me. For more than half of them, I realized that : “Ho, there is a bea right beside me in the ditch” only when I had already passed them. Regardless how many I saw and how they reacted to my presence, it is still such a pleasure and a privilege to be able to encounter wildlife roaming in its natural habitat. Too bad someone put a road there. Ho wait, I am riding it. Bloody paradoxes…
Coming from the Alaska highway, the first thing that struck me was the narrower, windier and more charming aspects of the road. It was not cut through the landscape but going along with it, which involved some rollercoaster-like sections and a bunch of nice steep and strenuous hills. But I am still waiting for the tremendous passes climbs. The narrower and windier aspects of the road also meant no shoulder, forcing me to ride in the lane. I loved it because I would not get all the odd gravel and debris but also and mostly because it would force the cars to slow down and take on the other side of the road, leaving a lot of room in between us. There was less traffic anyway and it was forced to be slower because of the terrain.
The scenery changed almost drastically as I was now riding through dense lush bush. I was astonished by how bright and green it was, full of life. No doubt this was a wildlife heaven. To have so much vegetation, you would need a large amount of water, which also meant a large amount of mosquitoes. The water was ever present, coming from the Earth and the Sky. I found numerous creeks and countless lakes from all sizes, shapes or colors. Some were dark blue, others emeraude green or crystalline turquoise. It even felt like I was already in Central America when I laid on Boya Park’s white sand beach with my legs dipping in the transparent blue water empowered by the clear blue sky and the glorious sun.
It did not last the entire trip. On the second day, qs I was about to leave Dease Lake after a late lunch, lightning and thunder started their dance in the horizon. But I did not smell the unique scent of the rain coming and a local firefighter confirmed that it would likely be a drystorm. I went on and got lucky except for a 10min little shower. I was not as fortunate the next day. I saw the darkness raging towards me , the atmosphere turning to humid and electric. With no shelter for the dozens of kilometers I had no other option than keeping on pedalling. For five hours I rode through a massive hail and thunderstorm with torrential rain but at least it was not too cold. The highlight of this idyllic cycling afternoon was when I bushwhacked in the mud, carrying my bike over slippery boulders, trying to find refuge under a bridge to finally realize it was a metallic grid platform it was pouring through.
I was cycling long days and was a little ahead of schedule which allowed me to do a side trip to scenic Stewart. Less traffic, smaller road, fun climbs, long descents, bluebird, big mountains, steep gorges, massive glaciers, roaring river and wild cascades, everything you could ask for the most enjoyable bike ride ever.
Getting closer to the bigger highway I was slowly getting bored of the pavement monotony and the heavier traffic. But I found a few gravel forest service roads to cut across the mountains and get back to the wilderness. It was gorgeous and super fun, the perfect way to end this marvelous section of the trip on a good note before grinding the last hundreds of kilometers to the next resupplying place, Prince George, and transitioning to my hiking gears in Jasper. It is gonna feel weird to part with my bike for an approximate five weeks but I am very keen on leaving the roads to step into the backcountry.
Dawson City was the perfect place to take care of both the bike and the body after the Dempster experience. I spent all my money on food, especially on icecream. After two days resting, I went for an unloaded dayride on the so-called Top Of the World Highway and started my journey South again on the fourth morning.
It felt awesome in many ways. The legs were fresh, the chain was not grinding sand, the weather was perfect, the terrain was easy, I had a tailwind and I was now flying on the pavement. The scenery was not as stunning as the last days on the Dempster but still offered some epic views.
After only a few hours, I saw a big cloud rising from the horizon and knew what it was ; a forest fire. I was not expecting to get any as so far North and early in the season but so it started. What I did not know was that it was the start of multiple days of smoky conditions. I first went through a very, very dense area with an apocalypse-like atmosphere. It was pitch dark and you could not see 20 m away. I was worrying about my lungs but it was too late, I was in it and just had to get out of it. I put on the breathing face-mask I had brought for the dust on the gravel road thinking it would do the trick for the smoke. I rode this dark scene looking like a dark lord.
When it started to lift up a little bit, I found a charming roadside lodge, an old log cabin I could not resist entering. Here started the trip’s biggest battle against myself: it is not because there is a restaurant or bakery or any kind of food that YOU HAVE TO get something, because you already carry food. I lost the battle that time, and I’m still losing it almost everyday, especially when I found a 1kg freshly baked cinnamon bun.
I decided to do side-trips and explore as much of Yukon as I could on my scheduled way to Jasper and the Great Divide Trail. Half-way up the one-way road to Keno, a tiny historical community with an identically named peak granted with 360 view, I had to turn around because the smoke was getting too thick again. But I found a nice little spot with a clear creek not far from the road to camp. Not all my bush-camps were that bucolic!
The trip ended up being divided into three sections. The first took me from Dawson City to Whitehorse with the aborted side-trip to Keno in 5 days. The second turned into a relaxed 4 days resupplying in Whitehorse plus riding, camping and hiking in the Carcross area with freshly made friends. It was truly amazing to be able to put the trip aside and spend some quality time with nice people. Our plans kept changing because of the thick smoke but we finally ended up hiking and scrambling one of the local peaks. It was such a great experience, untouched landscape with no-one else around. The legs appreciated the change of discipline and were fresher than ever when I started the third and last section from Carcross to Watson Lake in 2.5 days. This section on the Alaska Highway made me meet more cyclists in one day than over the two prior weeks.
The road was mostly flat, I mean no major elevation, and cut as long straight lines which allowed me to often get down on the aero-bars. Days were hot and nights fairly chilly so I decided to start late (9.30 to 10am) when it was not freezing, stop for a long lunch break in the roosting afternoon (2 to 4pm) and ride into the evening breeze (8.30 to 9pm) because there was so much daylight anyway. It was cool to observe the darkness slightly conquering time on the light as I was riding South. I left Dawson with 24h daylight and got to Watson Lake with a few hours of dusk-like twilight.
Being back on the pavement not only impacted my average speed but also my nose. Because of the hot weather, the typical smell of the warm asphalt bathing all day in the sun was ever present. Depending on the breeze, it was dominant or a subtle background flavour mixed with the creeks, the flowers and the forest breath. The cars, RVs and trucks passing by would add a more or less pronounced exhaust smell to this fine blend. Most of the drivers were nice and left some room when passing me but I always needed to be ready to be hit by the odd loose gravel sprinkled on the Northern roads, especially over the multiple construction sections. For dozens of kilometers I would have fine sand crushing in my teeth, making my mouth even drier than the smoke already made it. From time to time it would get so drained out that I would not have any saliva left and be unable to swallow. But maybe it was because I could not close my mouth, amazed by the surrounding wildlife, scenery, lakes, mountains, flowers and trees exploding all around me. My skin was fondled by the wind, which made me forget the sticky mix of sweat, dust, repellent and sunscreen layered on it. When stopping for lunch or in the evening, I loved to listen in the silence to the breeze in the trees, the many birdsongs and the insects humming. Such peaceful music after hours of wind harping on my ears because of the speed and all the super loud engines.
All this might not sound like a dreamable and idyllic journey but all my senses were stimulated and excited by the discoveries. It made me feel more alive than ever. I did not just see Yukon, I truly experienced it in all ways, and it was wonderful.
Tramping, cycling, running, skiing, travelling, I keep exploring this amazing planet we live on. The following texts give an insight of my various wanderings. From poetry to trip reports or thoughts on particular subjects, this pages try to reflect how I travel through this modern world.