The Icefields Parkway in Canada is known as one of the most beautiful mountain roads in the world. The road is wide without really steep climbs and hairpin bends. Even in winter, depending on the weather conditions, the road is amazingly good for biking. This beautiful route had been high on my list for a while and I had the pleasure of following it from Jasper to Banff. Close to breathtaking glaciers, with a clear blue sky for six days straight and finally free from trucks, I couldn’t wish for anything better.
After Grande Prairie I followed Highway 40 with a challenging climb and in Grande Cache I already reached a reasonable altitude. The rest of Highway 40 was more manageable with less climbing and descending. The cold had eased a bit too. There were also camping grounds along the way. Although they are closed in winter, they often have a (partially open) hut, usually for day use, with a wood-burning stove in it.
I planned my route from hut to hut, so that I could enjoy the warmth of the stove in the evening. Sometimes there was wood and when there wasn’t I went into the woods to find a dead and dry tree trunk to get it into pieces with the little pull saw I have with me.
In Hinton I did some grocery shopping for the upcoming week and after Hinton I arrived at the entrance of the Jasper National Park. To be in a national park you have to pay money in Canada. You pay about 10 Canadian dollars per day, or purchase an annual pass that costs around 72 Canadian dollars. It doesn’t matter if you come by car or bike and even though my emissions only evolve from my camping stove, I had to purchase this annual pass to enter the park.
I was about to start cycling again at the entrance of the park when someone jumped out of a car that was behind me in line.
“Are you that cyclist from the Netherlands? We saw you on the Highway 40 Road Reports!”
They took a picture to quickly get driving again because they held up the line at the payment gate. It was funny how that worked out, it had happened a few times before and it seemed like I was becoming a famous person around here. Which was the case in Grande Cache because my winterly passing had been futured in no less than the Grande Cache Mountain Voice!
Earlier in Yukon I met Terry, he came riding by on his snowmobile when I was camping on Marsh Lake. I then joined him riding to his house because he wanted to show me his hunting collection where he was particularly proud of.
Over a cup of tea, he gave me the phone number of his son, who lived in Jasper. I had contacted his son and he first responded enthusiastic to my question if I could drop by. Finally in Jasper when I got in touch with him he let me know that he hadn’t expected me that early, tomorrow would be better. My expectations of Canadian hospitality after Grant and Karen in Grande Cache may have been a bit inflated. It left me a little disappointed but I had to deal with the fact that this also happens when riding a bike and being dependable on peoples kindness. I decided to look for the Jasper Downtown Hostel. Once there, the reception was great, the owner was very enthusiastic and couldn’t believe that I was cycling here in the winter.
The weather started to become very nice and I decided to go straight onto the Icefields Parkway the next day. A little laundry, drying some things and a special breakfast with someone I had met in the shared bedroom in the hostel. Ava turned out to be homeless and was looking for work in Jasper. She had been here for months and before that she experienced a somewhat mixed adventure in Australia. She had moved there for a boyfriend. That relationship didn’t go so well and eventually without money and with the help of the Canadian government she managed to return to Canada. She lost contact with her parents and family.
I was lonely at times in my journey but I couldn’t imagine how lonely she must have been. Living out there for months. I wished her a job and maybe I wished her also the courage to seek help in that journey to get some supporting people around her. However she would find her way, it was nice for both of us to have a deeper conversation about trauma. How it can be so difficult to cut off from a by birth given toxic environment and how old coping mechanisms can cut deeply in our nowadays behavior patterns.
In last years in which I’ve been working on my own healing and the understanding how it is all connected, it also have been harder for me to judge anyone whom I meet and talk to. Maybe I overestimated myself but I wished that our conversation gave her a tiny bit of light to also see and feel in all the ugliness how beautiful life can be.
The moment was there, in the afternoon I cycled up the Icefields Parkway to spend my first night between beautiful glaciers. It became an unprecedented cycling route with the sun browning my face skin for a number of days.
I received a visit from Jeroen, whom I know from the Netherlands growing up in the same town. Jeroen temporarily moved to Pemberton in British Columbia. He dared to join me camping in -30°C and was driving close around with his car for two days and we then we would meet for lunch and later in the day for dinner and camping.
At Mosquito Creek I was lucky enough to find a snow cave. A snow cave is a shelter made of snow. It gives warmth because snow has an insulating effect. I found a nice cave where the sleeping area was slightly higher than the entrance, which ensures that cold is pushed out. Even though it was -25°C at night, completely without wind and with the insulated snow around me, it was very pleasant to sleep in here.
When I arrived in Banff I could join Lina and Dana. That let me to take some days off from cycling right now. I had been in contact with Lina for a few weeks and she helped me also to find a place in Valhalla, just above Grande Priarie to stay with her mother-in-law.
Banff is expensive, but three days a week there is a so-called ‘Banff food rescue’ where you can get dairy, fruit and vegetables for 5 Canadian dollars. The groceries are past its date and donated by local supermarkets and other shops. This way I can take a break and enjoy this beautiful place without being to greedy on my tight travel budget.
Thanks to Jeroen Stout for the wonderful photos and it felt great to be in company of someone I’ve known for a while. I will continue my cycling journey through Calgary to the United States, to Glacier National Park. And spoiler alert, it’s spring now and that means I have to buy bear spray!