A Ride into The Rockies with Steph Jeavons
Bear hunting and wild camping in Canada.
Check out this excerpt from Steph Jeavons’ new book about her four-year, seven-continent ride around the word, Home By Seven, in which she goes wild camping in Alberta, Canada, and rides Rhonda-the-Honda CRF250L on both dirt trails and smooth tarmac roads.
To read the full story grab a copy of Home by Seven here and to meet Steph in person join us at The Armchair Adventure Festival this September where she will be talking about her world-first, around the world trip!
As I sat cradling my coffee and watching the puddles form around my tent next to the lake in the one-horse town of Clearwater, I debated which way to go. I had worked out a rough route before I left but I wasn’t sure if I would have time for it now. It was getting colder already. Still, I had been told by many Canadians that the Icefield Parkway between Jasper and Banff was a ‘must ride’, and so I had to go and see for myself.
The weather was unpredictable as I rode higher into Alberta, along the forest trails and into the Rockies. By the time I reached Jasper the night-time temperatures were reaching minus five Centigrade. This was the coldest I had ever camped at, that I could recall. It wasn't too unpleasant with a decent North Face sleeping bag and my ‘Vernadski’ socks from Antarctica, but the morning was bitter. I snuggled back into my sleeping bag after making my morning coffee on the stove outside and decided any further attempts to get up would have to be postponed until the sun arrived over the surrounding trees. The bear hunting could wait.
Returning to Canada had been a big decision for me, but the last two weeks had been a blast. I had been feeling stronger by the day. All the hard work and spinach back home had paid off and once I got the wheels turning and the blood pumping, I found the remaining aches and pains became much less noticeable.
The Parkway (Highway 93) climbs to an altitude of about two thousand metres and is lined with ancient glaciers, waterfalls and rock spires. There is no wonder it's one of Canada's national treasures. My hands froze but the sun soon warmed me as I stopped for photographs at every corner where a fresh view hijacked my senses and forced me into an admiring gaze once more. There was no denying the beauty of this area. The roads were good too and bears were often to be seen here, apparently, but not by me; only mountain goats and sheep. Still, the threat of bears and cougars while camping all added to the excitement. Every evening I carefully placed my kitchen bag in a tree and huddled into my tent, half expecting to find it torn to shreds in the morning. Nothing. I was almost disappointed.
There were signs everywhere saying, ‘BE BEAR AWARE’. I giggled as my imagination went wild, and one night, while camping in the woods, I decided to strip naked and take a shot of myself – with the help of a tripod and a timer – from behind. Arms stretched out and baring all for the falling sun through the opening of the trees. Once back in signal I posted it on Facebook with the quote, ‘I thought the sign said, ‘Be BARE aware’. It got more ‘likes’ than any of my previous photos! It was lovely to have time to be so playful and allow the imagination to run free. To me, this was the biggest difference between transitory life and life on the road. It’s easy to forget to make time for play when you are sitting still and dealing with the onslaught of everyday life. Movement stimulates the whimsical gene and restores our inner child.
From Canmore in Alberta, I took the Kananaskis Trail which is two thirds well-graded gravel and occupied only by hunter camps and the odd unsuspecting deer. It was a road well worth riding and the colours of the changing leaves added to the magic as I wound my way south back into B.C. and the little town of Fernie. As I parked my dusty motorcycle and wearily sat down in the coffee shop for a much-needed Americano, I was approached by a man in his late fifties wearing a baseball cap and looking like he was trying too hard to be hip in a scruffy ‘aloof’ kind of way.
“Where are you from?”, he asked in a voice that boomed across the café. For some reason I answered in decibels that appeared to match his – which surprised me just as much as the guy on the next table.
“I’m from North Wales”
“Oh RESPECT!”, he replied and proceeded to grab my hand and reach in for what I initially thought was going to be a kiss! Thankfully he stopped before I could react with a swift move and stern voice (the one I usually reserve for naughty dogs, drunk Turks, Iranian taxi drivers and semi-conscious British military men). He lined up his nose with mine and looked me expectantly in the eyes, just inches away, holding that pose for what seemed like an eternity. I clearly looked confused. He pulled away with a disappointed look and said,
“You don’t do the nose touching? Which island are you from – North or South?”
“Um, I’m from North Wales not New Zealand”, I said apologetically. “I’m afraid we don’t do the nose touching thing there. We’re more the quick ‘doff of the cap’ type”.
I stayed in Fernie for two nights in the almost empty Raging Elk Hostel. Once a busy coal mining community encircled by the Rockies and nestled in the beautiful Elk Valley, it survived a disastrous fire in 1904 which levelled most of the town. In the 21st century Fernie had turned to adventure tourism to save itself from becoming another of British Columbia's ghost towns. In contrast, the neighbouring village of Coal Creek did not survive. It too had had a disaster a century earlier, in 1902, when an explosion in one of the shafts had left 128 dead in one of the worst mining disasters in Canadian history. During the 1950s most of the residents left when the mine closed. Some parts of the town remain in the form of ruins, but most have been overgrown by forest. I rode up the trails to see if I could find the remains of Coal Creek but found very little other than a few piles of rocks where buildings once stood.
From Fernie I rode the now familiar-looking trails, just a short ride to Marysville. I camped out once more and spent a lovely evening in the woods. Just me and Rhonda and our campfire. It was the perfect evening and it was warm at last. The hostel had been fine, but this was the life, and I was looking forward to my ride tomorrow. I had been told by a biker from the Okanagan area that there was a pass over the mountains between Marysville and Gray Creek on the edge of Kootenay Lake. He had said it was a dirt road that climbed over a 2080 metre summit and was only passable for a few months of the year due to the conditions. (That’s nearly 7,000 feet, and I later discovered that it’s one of the highest roads in Canada). It sounded like a challenge and I was really up for challenges at this point. I packed up early and hit the road once more in search of my daily dose of adventure.
As I began the ride, the sign warned me that the road was not maintained, and only high clearance vehicles may pass. I looked down at Rhonda, smiled and said out loud, “Check! We are good to go!”.
That sixty-kilometre stretch represented what biking is all about, for me. Any cares or worries melted into oblivion as my mind was given the equivalent of a ‘factory reset’ and the pure, uncomplicated emotions that biking can bring were restored. The nervous anticipation gripped me as I climbed higher into the bear-infested mountains, not knowing what terrain I would find. The feeling of solitude washed over me as I was swallowed up by miles of colourful trees going through their seasonal change. My confidence was building and my smile growing as I picked up speed with a devil-may-care attitude and headed joyously into the unknown. This was my kind of riding, and I lost all sense of reality and danger and rode faster and faster along the trails. I couldn't stop smiling and shouting “Yeeeehaaaaa” as we rode like hooligans through our own patch of wilderness. Sometimes I had to stop and kill the engine, just so I could listen to the silence. It really was golden.
“Not bad, eh Rhonda?”, I said as I soaked in the atmosphere and surveyed the miles of colourful landscape around us, before setting off again. I was disappointed when the main road appeared ahead and I knew it was over.
The disappointment soon faded. The paved roads around Kootenay Lake are perfect biking roads. They are quiet, twisty and smooth, in contrast to the undulating dirt I had just ridden. I could see I was going to have some fun in this area too. I was heading for Kaslo, a place I had visited with Pete, Mark and Jackie before going home to Wales.
Kaslo is a small, old silver mining town with a population of one thousand, and a place I had fallen in love with last time I was there. That night I decided to stealth camp by the lake so I could use the money I saved to buy myself a pizza and a glass of wine from the rather special little pizzeria I had appreciated on my previous visit. Pleased with myself for the idea, I set up camp once it started getting dark and raced over to claim my reward. The pizzeria was closed…
What an amazing ride and a brilliantly written story. To find out if Steph did find a bear grab a copy of Home By Seven here.