In the mountains at last, and already the story is changing - Over the hills and far away - CycleBlaze

June 21, 2016

In the mountains at last, and already the story is changing

Hinton to Snaring River campground, Jasper National Park

Why start my ride in Hinton, you might ask?  Simple enough:  Cyclists who know the Rockies much better than I had advised me to begin east of Jasper so that I could ride towards the mountains, letting them gradually fill my horizon.  

Yes, but…after several days of bright sunshine anointing my train carriage, from Ottawa to Toronto, across Ontario’s lakes and rocks and trees, from Winnipeg through the Qu’appelle Valley to Saskatoon and then Edmonton, I finally reached Hinton.  Finally there, could I see the mountain ramparts on the western horizon?

Ummm, no.  Cometh the train, cometh the rain:

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No matter – the rain cleared in the 25 minutes I needed to unpack my bike from its box, reattach handlebars and pedals, and organize my panniers.  I set off westwards for the campground at Snaring River, about 15 kms east of Jasper, an easy ride of 3 or 4 hours. The lowering sky and the threat of cold mountain rain in no way diminish the grandeur of the landscape:

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The mountains loom above a cyclist like the prows of great ships:

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In “The Northwest Passage”, Stan Rogers, driving west across the Prairies, thinks upon "Mackenzie, David Thompson, and the rest/Who breached the mountain ramparts/And did show a path for me/To race the roaring Fraser to the sea…”  There are ramparts a-plenty here:

First sight of many ramparts...
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... and more
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The same ramparts deny you a direct view of the setting sun, even if you’re still awake at 10:45 PM after a day in the saddle, but in the evening, the peaks to the east have their own understated grandeur:

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In the mountains at last, after a week's journey by rail from Central Canada!  But even before I reached Snaring River, my story began to change. 

The first sign of another story was immediate, improbable, and utterly unexpected.  Some 30 kms west of Hinton on this first afternoon, I stopped at the kiosk marking the eastern boundary of Jasper National Park.  The young guy at the wicket asked me for $30 for the three nights I planned to stay in the in the park.  I rummaged in my handlebar bag to fish out my wallet. “Hey!” someone shouted behind me. I turned around and a burly fortyish fellow in a ¾-ton pickup said to the young guy in the kiosk, “I’ll pay his registration.” He eased his truck forward and handed over a couple of 20’s for his ticket and mine.  I walked over and thanked him for his generosity, so surprised that I was fumbling for words. “Don’t mention it,” he said. “It’s the least I can do.  Guys like you riding the Parkway on bicycles – I could never do that!” And with that, he wished me good luck, waved, and headed off to his stop in Kimberley in BC, 500 kms to the southwest.

Later that same day, I had pitched camp at the Snaring River campground just east of Jasper.  Heading to the self-registration site, I fell into step with a couple in their early thirties.  We chatted, and they offered me a handful of cherries from the small basket they were carrying. I gratefully accepted, and said, “Where did you get these?  Not around here, surely?” “No,” they said. “They’re from our back yard.” “And where’s that?” I asked. “We’re from Kelowna, [BC],” she said. “We come here regularly to camp and hike—there’s nothing like this at home.” “Nothing like this where I live, either,” I said, understating the obvious.  Turned out that they are both massage therapists, she an Anglo from Kelowna, he a Franco-Ontarian from Cornwall, a little over an hour southeast of Ottawa on the St Lawrence.  They had met at college in Toronto, and had set up their practice in Kelowna, its rapidly growing population of retirees assuring a market for their skills.  They kindly gave me the remainder of their home-grown cherries, and I wished them well on their hiking holiday.

I didn't know it then, but my journey through the mountains would gradually became much more than a reacquaintance with extraordinary landscapes—a tale of delightful chance encounters and engaging conversations, and of the kindness and generosity of strangers, their offers of water, beer, food and lodging gratefully accepted.

Today's ride: 70 km (43 miles)
Total: 70 km (43 miles)

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