We woke up before the alarm went off, rolling over to look at the green numbers on the digital alarm clock: 6:55AM. In “real life”, this would be oversleeping by more than an hour, but this was the day that we started a three month hiatus from real life.
Five minutes later, when her phone alarm went off, my mom climbed out of the bed next to us and ambled over to the window, where she pulled back the heavy hotel room curtain, letting the bright sunlight pour into the room. We were at the Whistler Inn in Jasper, Alberta. It had taken us nearly two weeks to get here from Arlington, Massachusetts, but, finally, our trip was about to begin. We were about to embark on the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route!
Only two days earlier, Adventure Cycling Association had released updated maps for this route, which included a northern origin in Jasper, about 300 miles north of where the previous starting point had been, in Banff. Chris had checked their website almost daily after they pushed back the release from May and had even sent a few emails pestering them about the release. Fortunately, the turnout of the maps was delayed no further, and we had purchased and downloaded the GPX files the previous night, converted them to FIT files, and loaded them onto our Garmin Edge Touring.
Although the day was marked by a glaring overture of happiness and excitement, there were undertones of sadness. My parents had accompanied us for much of the journey to start the journey, and today, Father’s Day, no less, was the day we bid them adieu. Though parting is such sweet sorrow, we plan to meet them in northern Montana in only a few weeks.
After breakfast at Tim Hortons and after taking a few pictures at the start, we started off down the road, with my dad’s big white Toyota Tundra following us slowly, honking, with arms waving out the windows, until we turned east, and they continued south towards Bozeman.
Though we were almost immediately detoured by an elk calving area, the day did not disappoint. We enjoyed cerulean skies with views of majestic mountains and greenish-blue water.
The route took us north, which seemed counter intuitive, but we knew from the GPS track that we would turn south after we reached Hinton.
Before long, the route led us to some singletrack, called The Overlander Trail. Here, we ran into a few other cyclists as well as some hikers with mountain climbing ropes, headed to scale some nearby rock face. We talked to many of them; two of the cyclists, David and Sebastian, are from Edmonton. If my phone ever comes back to life (it died completely after a few days and all revival attempts have failed ), I’ll add a picture of them here!
We also stopped at what first appeared to be a lake, but which we soon realized was just an incredibly wide section of the Athabasca River. With sandy beaches beckoning, we pulled off and waded into the icy water. 500 meters in, the water was still only up to our calves!
We also were lucky to see a family of mountain sheep bounding off of a cliff towards the road, and, later, a large elk grazing by the road, unperturbed by the passersby stopping to snap pictures of his huge rack.
After exiting the park, we reached a brewery on the outskirts of Hinton. After each getting a flight, we realized that there was a campground next door, Jasper Gates Campground, so we decided to stay and were given a tent site in the back corner. It was great to have a hot shower at the end of an absolutely lovely first day!