Saturday 29th July – Hello Mountains, I’ve Missed You

For no reason at all, I was up at 6:30am and wide awake so I packed up and left. Just shy of an hour later, I had to fill up with petrol but a nice man in a vest did so for me (a lot of servos in Canada do the pumping for you). He couldn’t believe I’d come all the way from California. When I told him I’d come all the way from Australia, he was even more shocked. I ate breakfast at a picnic table nearby, doing my daily Spanish.

I got really into the “Missing Richard” podcast as I kept driving west and ended up finishing all six episodes in one sitting. It was an interesting story about a semi-celebrity who’d been in the business for nearly 40 years, then up and vanished into his house, stopped talking to everyone that he knew. I stopped at a couple of rest areas, hoping to find a quiet spot where I could cut my hair. Sounds weird I know, but the last two days had driven me nuts and I had to be rid of my locks and soon! I didn’t find anything before I came into the town of Hinton where I stopped because I saw a few signs to a mountain bike park.

At the visitor’s centre, I nice chick told me what she knew about the park but also gave me some good advice about Jasper National Park and where to camp inside it. I went across the road to the bike shop to get some advice on the trails and spoke to a bike mechanic with dreds down to his shoulders. He kindly told me his favourites and I took them as gospel. I was excited to do a warm-up ride before Jasper and make sure everything was right with my wheel and brakes.

I found the trailhead easily enough and was surprised to find the carpark mostly empty. I couldn’t bear the idea of sweating in my helmet with my hair the length it was, so I considered this my opportunity. I got my scissors out, took off my shirt, and stood there in the carpark, hacking away at my hair. I didn’t go overboard, leaving the length at the front, but wow it was a relief to get the feeling of air on the back of my neck! Happy with that, I kitted up (lightly) for a ride through the trail network.

Didn’t have to touch a thing on the bike, she was ready to roll. I strolled around the skills park first, but didn’t hit any of the bridges, thinking I’d save them until the end once I was good and balanced on my bike. I rode out on a connector trail then got onto a blue trail that had nice boards running through the forest. There were wildflowers dotted here and there, breaking up the green and animals were running off the trail in front of me. This place was full of life.

I got stuck on an infinite loop for a while, but eventually made my way onto “Happy Creek” after rolling over some rocks on “Big Rock”. It was a nice cruise through the meadow, steadily climbing. I crossed the valley on a poorly maintained board bridge and clambered up the other side towards “Halloween”. After slogging up that a while, I got onto “Vigilante” which was supposed to be a fun downhill according to bike shop guy. It didn’t really do it for me, but it was only a short one. I smiled when I saw “Cleo’s” trail, it made me miss the newly-discovered trail dog and so I pedalled in her honour.

After that, I came out to a viewpoint where I could see the outline of the Rocky Mountains in the haze. Wow, was I excited to get in amongst that. Now at the peak of the trail network, I enjoyed an easy cruise back through the forest and to the trailhead. I passed heaps of retired bridges as I went, even a few seesaw that were death traps thanks to their state of disrepair.

At the skills park, I played around on some of the features, but found my balance was nowhere and I had an audience, so I bailed pretty quickly.

Before heading into Jasper, I needed a quick shop so I drove over to Walmart, only to find that they didn’t have any groceries, so I made do with doing circles inside the neighbouring Safeway. I made myself some lunch at the back of the van while consulting the map of Jasper that I’d gotten and started my drive into the mountains.

I’d been warned that it would be full of people and this was right on the money. After passing through the entry gate, people tailgated me and passed me at a roaring speed, trying to get to wherever. I was just enjoying the scenery (and doing the speed limit).

Almost immediately, the road was surrounded by grey peaked mountains that reminded me a little of the domes of Yosemite. Lakes sat in the valley of each peak and, having come from snow and ice, the water was crystal clear. My boring drive from yesterday was already in the back of my mind.

There was an overflow campground that apparently still had vacancy so I drove in there first to check it out. It was slow going when I kept pulling over to admire the scenery. The overflow space was a saviour since everything else in the park was booked out and probably always is. It’s a big area with a few foresty sections but a lot of exposed space. All the shaded spots were long gone, but at least I knew this place wasn’t going to fill up any time soon. There were no allocated spaces either, it was just park it where you want it, which was great!

Having figured that out, it was only 4pm and, though tired from my morning ride, I was keen to go and see a bit of this park. I opted for one of the top rated trails in the park which was short, creatively called “Trail 7H”. I drove a bit further into the park and turned off past a line of traffic to “The Fifth Bridge”. Here, I geared up again and rode away to the trail. Most people were walking this short 5km hike, but I’ll choose two wheels over two feet most days, so I rolled slowly past the tourists and families. I started by crossing the fifth bridge that sat over the Maligne River.

The river was gorgeous and flowing fiercely. I instinctively wanted to jump in to the aqua coloured water and cool my body down. I watched the water rush by underneath me a while before carrying on. Initially I was a little confused by the trail signage, but soon found “Trail 7F” that allowed for riders and horses. The trail ran along the edge of a cliff with the walking trail cut in below it. It was nice to have the space all to myself and see the line of people walking below me.

I got glimpses of the Maligne River below me until I came to the Maligne Canyon. This was impressive. Looking down into it, it was narrow and bloody tall! I could see the bends and curves that had been carved into the rock by the fierce water and they looked smooth as silk. I parked my bike and walked down the trail a little ways to get a close up with the river and found it was flowing just as fast here as it had been downstream.

After stopping at a few more viewpoints of the canyon, one of which was close enough to feel the cold spray coming off the flow, I rode back into the forest on “Trail 7H”. It was a lot of fun. I hadn’t realised just how high I’d climbed on the way out because this piece of singletrack ripped through the trees at an alarming gradient with roots and pines galore. It was short, but oh so sweet and offered some nice views of the mountains beyond.

After taking a wrong turn that lead me down a wet path where all sorts of trickles ran towards the main event, I got myself back on the trail and back to the bridge. I was very happy with my day’s activity and now all I wanted was a swim.

The lady at the visitor’s centre had suggested Lake Anette as a choice swimming spot and it was just down the road. A few cars lined the road on the way to the picnic area, where it really was a colossal amount of people crowded around the parking lot and the beach by the lake. No thanks. I went back along the road and stopped in an alcove where only one other car was parked. Bikini on, I walked across the road to the lake and when I found there was absolutely no one else at that spot, I went back and got my soap so I could have a shower too.

From where I soaked in the cold water, I could see the hundreds of people crowded in the water on the opposite bank. Why? I didn’t care because I had the whole lake to myself. After soaping myself up, I floated in the water a while, marvelling at how clear it was. I swam underwater, eyes open and saw only blue. This really was a beautiful place. Though happy, I felt like it would have been better if shared with someone…

Before I got too cold, I got back to the Astro, dried off and set off for camp. I was ready for dinner and a chill. When I got to camp, I found the booth was manned and so paid my $15.70 to a friendly guy instead of doing the envelope thing. He pointed out a couple of water spots in the camp which I hadn’t known about and proceeded to tell me to park wherever I liked! I’d already sussed out my spot in my last visit and it was still free. Though it was right next to the toilets, I was far enough away to not smell anything and I was in the shade of a tree. Happy camper. I didn’t even mind paying the money since I’d enjoyed a whole week of free camping in the country so far.

I stood at the back of the car a long time trying decide what I felt like eating. In the end, I settled on breakfast for dinner, frying up some onions, bacon, potato and egg in a semi-rendition of Dan’s classic breakfast. Though nothing like what he can do, it suited me just fine. I spent the rest of the evening sitting outside enjoying the perfect temperature as it cooled off. The sunset behind the mountains was a pretty one and so my chair was aimed at it until I retired to my bed to conk out.

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