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 !
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.