125 years after the Brewster brothers began guiding adventurers and visitors through the majesty and splendor that is Banff National Park, I am barreling down the Icefields Parkway on my Honda CB500X loaded to capacity with everything I need to survive. I hang back and to the right of Alex, his loyal wingman, the Maverick to his Iceman, along a pristinely paved highway, which I can only imagine is a stark contrast to what travelers endured in the early days of exploration. The density of lodgepole pines increases with every passing kilometer, and the 80-million-year-old Canadian Rockies continue to reach higher and higher into the sky. By happenstance, I glanced to my right toward the fence line about 30 yards from the road, in place to protect the vast assortment of wildlife including grizzlies, cougars, elk, sheep, moose, and wolverine, and it’s then I am greeted with the sight of a black bear casually sitting on his haunches staring at me, unaffected by the traffic or noise.
“Toto”, I whisper to myself, “I’ve a feeling we aren’t in Kansas anymore.”
A rush of chills goes down my spine, in a state of reverence at the bucolic and idyllic natural wonders, and in no time at all, we find ourselves wonderfully lost amongst the peaks, glaciers, forests, meadows, and rivers of Banff National Park.
Welcome to Canada, and to the wild. Welcome to a place where you are on your own in the elements, where resources are scarce, and where the terrain is vast, unspoiled, and truly other-worldly.
Welcome back to the adventure, and to wandering north with a sense of redemption.
Welcome to the graceful renegade.
From Missoula, Montana, Alex and I battled thunderstorms to cross the border into Canada, and once we arrived in Calgary, we took a few days to map out our route and just what it was we wanted to film as we traveled through Banff and onto Jasper National Park.
The morning of our departure, we packed up the bikes, said our goodbyes to the incredibly kind Hill family who hosted us in Alberta, and finally, Alex and I set out for Lake Louise, where we planned to camp for the night and then venture into Jasper the following day.
Thus, on toward the Icefields Parkway, into unchartered territory, and onto the beauty of British Columbia.
Canada’s Highway 1 took us straight for Banff, and the further we rode away from Calgary, the closer we drew to the mountains, and what was essentially a never-ending reach of peaks and highlands beyond where my eyes could see. With only a few kilometers until we rolled into Lake Louise, it was then it hit me, that epiphany moment of grasping this was actually the beginning of an entirely different sort of escapade with an indefinite path and unknown outcome. We weren’t just trudging around the US anymore – we were in the Canadian backcountry, and if things went sideways, we were on our own.
I was, unsurprisingly, stoked about it.
Still, the reality of what Lake Louise was on a Tuesday afternoon at 4pm was a stark contrast to the enthusiastic and inspired mindset I’d been rolling with all day. Alex and I found ourselves in what can best be described as zoo-like conditions: huge tour buses everywhere, zero parking to be found, hoards of people roaming around aimlessly gawking and completely unaware of what was happening around them, you get the idea. We filled water bottles, grabbed ramen, and got out of there as fast as we could ride.
Keeping our fingers crossed, we beelined out to the Kicking Horse campground about 20 minutes outside of Lake Louise, and by some sort of miracle, we happened to get one of the last campsites available for first come first serve. With the knowledge that tomorrow would be not only a long day but also a very early morning (5am to beat the crowds to Moraine Lake and Lake Louise), we got camp set up and took a half hour to do nothing other than sit and unwind in silence, enjoying a moment of serenity in the thralls of nature, before we cooked our ramen, listened to a little music, and crashed. Hard.
And the next day? Well, it was one of those days I was grateful to be alive. Because the next day was, without question, the best shooting day Alex and I had for the entire 8 weeks we spent on the road.
Of course, 5am after sleeping in a tent with a temperature swing of 40 degrees is a rough start for just about anybody. Still, Alex and I were on a mission, and once I was able to get out of my sleeping bag and fire up the Jetboil, my brain sluggishly started to function. Alex rolled out his tent a short time after I got coffee brewing, and in a sleepy yet practiced fashion, we got our camp packed and geared ourselves up for what we knew would be an absolutely epic day of filming.
We made the dark return ride on the highway from our campsite back into the park until we reached the turn up to Moraine Lake, which is roughly a 15 km trek off the main stretch of road to Lake Louise. Initially my heart sank, spotting that the road was completely blocked with a barricade and a massive ‘Parking Full’ sign sitting in front of the gate; however, Alex is not the type to give up easily, and rather than view this as a problem, he jetted directly over to the attendant and persuaded him to allow our two motorcycles to pass. It is much easier to park a motorcycle than a car, which is one of the many benefits of touring national parks on bikes versus in a bigger motor vehicle. With a wave, the attendant sent us through, grinning, and Alex and I let out a cheer over our com system.
And Moraine Lake at dawn…was a sight to behold.
From every vantage point, water is a shade of vivid and intense turquoise, a subsequent product of glacial melt and runoff, which sits in the rugged Valley of the Ten Peaks. The lake is surrounded by dense mountains, tall waterfalls, and piles of rock, and in the early sunrise light, it’s hard to believe you aren’t still dreaming. The panorama is the most spectacular we’ve experienced yet, and in between takes, Alex and I just smile wide at each other, amazed at how beautiful it is. Taking a break, I sit down on a large boulder for a few steps away from the very minimal crowd, pulling my hood up over my head and rubbing my hands together to beat the chill of the brisk morning air. The heat of the sun grazes my face, and its quiet, a rarity in these big national park stops, though one I can assume is due to the mutual veneration felt by everyone as the sky lightens the magnificence around us. And the admiration I feel, overwhelmed with awe, fills my heart to the brim with fervor.
Once we wrapped at Moraine Lake, our next location was the glory that is Lake Louise, and from there, the stops were constant: a visually stunning Crowfoot Glacier, a fascinating glance at Saskatchewan Glacier, a breathtaking though crowded shoot at Peyto Lake, a fun and productive Mistaya Canyon stopover. Then, with a turn of a corner, we were in Jasper, and came head-to-head with the Columbia Icefields, Beauty Creek which most definitely lives up to its name, the Big Bend for a grand overview of the valley below, Mount Christie standing tall above us, the gorgeous Valley of the Five Lakes. And then, after a 15-hour day, Alex and I crash landed in the town of Jasper at the end of the Icefields Parkway, rewarding ourselves with a few beers before we park it in overflow camping for the night. It was, without a doubt, the biggest day we have had, and as we sat with our pilsners talking over the day, exhausted yet stimulated by the sheer magnitude of what we absorbed throughout the daylight hours. I spent half the day on our coms repeating the same phrases of “Wow”, “Can you believe this?”, and “How are we here right now?” over and over again, with my jaw hanging open, unable to trust what my eyes were seeing.
Because while Banff was a fantastic warm up, Jasper was truly wild, in every sense of the word. It spans over 11,000 square kilometers and is the largest national park in the Canadian Rockies. Vast, overwhelming, and ethereal, our ride on the parkway was lifechanging all on its own, and the rugged and untamed nature of the park engulfs your senses from every angle.
It leaves you with a very enigmatic sense of calm, one that sinks in slowly, from the skin down to the bones, all-encompassing and weighted in your body as if it’s in your blood. You can only find it out here, when you are genuinely able to put everything that is not the present aside, and allow yourself to be consumed by the sovereignty of mother nature.
You forget, sometimes, how small you are. Until you are out here. Until you look around and behold the mountains which were here long before you arrived, and will remain long after you are gone. Until you observe the rivers which find a path to flow no matter what obstacles hinder their course. Until you hear the wind howling in the trees, the coyotes singing in the night, the raptors screaming from the sky…
You realize, how this human world we built is insignificant in the grand scheme of existence.
That’s the credence, I suppose, of being out here. The human notion ingrained in us that the world operates for our benefit falls away, and you see that façade is absolutely false. We are nothing more than drops in the ocean. To surrender to that is one of the greatest feelings I have ever known – to recognize that even in our insignificance, the great fortune we have at being able to be here at all, and witness everything we can with the time we have.
After a night of camping on gravel and waking up feeling older than ever before, Alex and I trudge, fatigued and drained, onto Prince George, where we spent a few days sleeping, working, and recovering physically with our new friend Kelly, a kind and welcoming adv rider, and his wonderful girlfriend Helena. Once we felt somewhat human, the plan was to head south toward Whistler and Squamish for more filming, and eventually, make our way out to Vancouver Island. Out of Prince George and at Kelly’s instruction, we hit the forest roads to have a nice break from the highway, and it was a very welcome respite from the pavement and traffic for the day. Still, the minute we popped out of the forest in Quesnel and trekked south toward Williams Lake, the sky filled with ominous and somewhat treacherous-looking clouds. Rather than push through and testing our rain gear, we took a break at Williams Lake, and within five minutes of us stepping indoors to wait out what we thought would be a quick tempest, the sky exploded, and rain came down in intense and heavy droves, flooding roadways and drenching anyone who stepped outside.
We weren’t going anywhere, and camping clearly was off the table. Alex and I conceded the rest of our day, found an Airbnb, and chose to sleep in before we started down the scenic highway 99. From there, made our way to Lillooet Lake to primitive camp the following night to watch a lovely sunset and be eaten alive by mosquitoes. Then, onto Whistler.
While the drive down the 99 was a fun ride of twisties and gorgeous views, our arrival in Whistler threw us into the thralls of traffic and a mass density of human beings, which neither Alex nor I were mentally prepared for. We hustled through the very bold and bright Train Wreck hike, a random but fascinating stop just off the highway, where we stretched our legs and moved around after two long days of riding. Then, we hopped back on the bikes and burned down to Horseshoe Bay to catch our ferry to Nanaimo.
Following a few hours delay and a canceled ferry, Alex and I at long last made it to the island a little after 10pm, invading Chris’ home at a late hour and thanking him for the hospitality of hosting us for a few nights. Chris, who I befriended at the Giant Loop Ride in June, is hands down one of the most considerate and lovely humans I have ever met, and our time there was well spent. While much of the time was spent on laptops, the three of us did manage to get out for a long ride around the island on Saturday, a place which reminded me immensely of Oregon with its lush greenery and rolling hills which never seemed to cease. Still, what I enjoyed most about Nanaimo, was the time I spent with Chris, drinking bourbon as we watched the sun go down, discussing our lives, and how in the hell we ended up where we are now, the good, the bad, and of course the ugly. I laughed so much my cheeks hurt for two days, and easily put on a few pounds due to the incredible meals Chris cooked for us every night. You meet a lot of friends being on the road, and many of them come and go as time passes, but Chris became family during that stay, and I am beyond grateful our paths crossed.
When our time in Nanaimo came to an end, Alex and I jetted out to Tofino, an eclectic and gorgeous beach town on the western side of the island, where we finished his second cinematic film and, essentially, finalized our plans of where to next. Summer was slowly coming to a close, as was our time in Canada, and each of us had places to be by mid-September. With just a few weeks to go, it felt only natural that we go to a place of familiarity, where a third cinematic would be easy to shoot, and our stops mapped for efficiency of time.
And so, as we crossed the ferry back to Vancouver the next day, I prepared myself for what was next, because for our last stop, I was going to be returning to Oregon.
I was going back, to where it all began.
I had a moment of reflection, staring out from the bow of the ferry as the reality sank in, of how much had changed in so little time, all because of my love of motorcycles, my love of freedom, and my love of the open road.
We really are the architects of our own lives.
Once you can find a way to master what it is you want to prioritize and to build within yourself – who you are, what you want to be, how you want to spend your time – you cut from the drawing board anything that antagonizes or imposes upon your character.
You, get to be whoever you want to be, and live, however you want to live, as long as you don’t compromise on the things that fuel your soul.
Four months ago, I cut everything from my drawing board, other than the temple of which I worship, which is that of autonomy, and around it I have slowly raised a metropolis of viability conducive to the woman I am, and grow to be, every day.
It’s all up to you, and what defines your success, your failures, your dreams, is a reflection of where you find your joy, and how you expell gratitude.
You are the architect. You, are your own overseer. The power lies with you and you alone, and what you create, is of your own volition.
And so, back to Oregon we go.
Until next time, live wild, ride free.
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