This epic day deserved a post in it’s own right and as I contemplated a title, I immediately set upon this title from a well-known song I love- because truly, it was a day of all and everything- all four seasons, in more ways than one.
We hit upon a key hurdle before we even left Cochrane when we studied the map and noted that there was pretty much nothing between Cochrane and the next major town, Canmore. The mileage to cover was ambitious for us, given our relatively low (!) levels of fitness, our heavy load and he challenging terrain we would cover- according to our map, 47 miles for the one day. However, we really didn’t have a great deal of choice and as such, simply aimed to get as far as we could and continue to judge the situation during the day as we went. We set off along highway 1A, although following the tips and advise of posters both on the blog and on Twitter, we were unsure as to whether this was the right call- although reportedly quieter than the main Highway 1, this smaller alternative is wind-y and potentially dangerous, with no shoulder for the most part and the road itself being in a questionable condition.
Actually, having now experienced both highways, we know we made the right call. The 1A was wonderfully quiet- we could go between 5-10minutes at some points without seeing a single vehicle, which, for a highway, is pretty incredible- and even those using the highway always gave us a very wide berth. The shoulder gave out at around 20miles outside of Cochrane and was absent for approximately 15miles before returning once more, but given the quietness of the road, this didn’t phase us. And although perhaps more wind-y than it’s faster equivilant, the road was very open and we never once felt in any particularly danger. It ran through the valley, following the Bow with some of the most spectacular, breath-taking scenery I’ve ever seen- and I thought the first day would struggle to be topped!
We stopped along route at Ghost Lake, which despite it’s impressive size, was still completely frozen from the winter weather- and deserved, I felt, it’s slightly spine-chilling name: completely isolated and abandoned, with only driftwood and piles of snow on it’s banks, it boasted a slightly eerie atmosphere. Although apparently very popular in the summer months and surrounded by holiday homes and an impressive hotel, it clearly struggles during this time of year and seemed unnaturally quiet- almost sad. We moved on fairly quickly.
The ride itself was, well…varied.
Despite blue skies greeting us again in the morning, a ferocious head wind battled us from start to finish with relentless determination, making some miles impossibly hard at it’s worst. We were warned that the west-to-east winds would present a challenge: those who warned us weren’t far wrong. In fact, at one particularly hard point, as we passed by a rock quarry that left the road rather exposed, we were crawling at a pitiful 4mph as we fought against the wind with all our strength when out of no-where, the wind changed to a sudden, vicious sideward blast. My bike swayed under me beyond my control; I couldn’t free my feet from the pedals (the fun of cages!) as it sent me careering sideways towards the sloping gravelled edge of the highway- and as I toppled over and smacked into the ground, the weight of the bike falling on my legs and my palms slamming into the floor, it slithered and slid down the slope. As I looked behind me I realized I wasn’t the only one- Matt had been forced off the road also and was fighting to stop his bike from falling too far down the bank before the trailer decided to follow suit.
Thankfully we both stopped our bikes from falling too far and escaped without injury or incident to the bikes, and due to the spacious verge at the side of the highway, we weren’t in any danger. We were both shaken up, though, and it definitely re-instated in me an awed respect for the force of nature. It’s incredible what a single gust can do. We tried (unsuccessfully) to hitch a ride as the winds continued, and walked our bikes cautiously until they had died down sufficiently for us to continue once more.
Weather-wise, unpredictability was the theme of the day: starting with sunshine, we also experienced a patch of rain (around 10minutes) followed around an hour later by a patch of snow (again for the same length) and generally ranged from being too hot to too cold within the space of minutes- the mountains truly are a rule unto themselves.
The route was spectacular and awe-striking, but also relentless and at times, monotonous- as the day wore on and exhaustion set in, things became almost unbearable at points. There were parts of me hurting I just hadn’t associated previously with cycling- the entire length of my back, my shoulders, my knees- and my legs were screaming in protest with every turn of the pedals. In the last 10 miles, even the slightest hill felt to us like a mountain; we were exhausted, agitated, completely and utterly ruined. Failing to find anywhere ‘suitable’ (sheltered!) for lunch due to the need to light our stove and cook pasta, we ended up going without, choosing instead to snack continuously on the likes of candied peanuts and granola bars for energy. We passed the hunger stage to dull exhausted indifference, and towards the very end, begun to sink into a state of sheer sickness from the extent to which we had pushed ourselves without the correct ‘fuel’. Many, many lessons were learnt from this experience.
It wasn’t all doom and gloom, don’t get me wrong: for even in our state of exhaustion, we found it in ourselves to laugh a little, to continually point out points and sights of interest to Theo, and most importantly, to encourage and support each other- even when hunger and exhaustion caused tempers to fray and fuses to shorten! The fact that we were able to push ourselves so hard was a tremendous source of pride for both of us, and is certainly the furthest either of us has cycled in one go. As we finally approached Canmore, I was almost in a state of delirious hysteria- absolutely shattered, closer to tears, almost defeated- and yet also somehow eurphoric, overwhelmed by the sense of achievement at having overcome perhaps the most challenging experience I can recall (well… childbirth aside ) and successfully covering 53 miles, heavily laden, up countless hills and into horrific headwinds, in a single day.
We stopped at the sight of the good ol’ golden arches of McDs- never, in my life, have I deserved or earnt a double cheeseburger more. Never. And yes, I’m aware that this quite possibly wasn’t the wisest choice after such a workout; however, so great was our exhaustion, we could barely muster it in us to walk, let along face the task of cooking a meal.
To end the day even more spectacularly, the campsite we had been aiming for was closed. We ended up ‘breaking in’ (going through the gap next to the gate…) and setting up camp there and then, alongside Highway 1- no facilities, no water, nothing. But if nothing else, the exhaustion granted us a good nights sleep…!
A day of ups and downs and no mistake- but we have emerged stronger and hopefully wiser, and will I’m sure learn from the experience.
Miles today- 53
Total miles- 84
[Apologies for the lack of photos on these posts- they will follow as soon as I find a decent connection!]