Trail 9, Jasper

At times, I take things a bit literally. Like yesterday afternoon as I hauled my mountain bike up the path on the side of a mountain that was, in places, too rock-encrusted and root-gnarled to actually ride my mountain bike up. That's what I'm going with.

"Nice job, man, good work!"

Those were the encouraging words tossed my way by a hiker on his way down the path as we passed. He moved a bit to the side as his knapsack bell jingled.

He was right. Walking my bike up and down single track was work. By the time I had brought my bike up to the top of the rise, my heart was pounding against my ribcage. When the path evened out, I was back on the saddle and when the pitch down wasn't too steep, it was thrilling to write a zig-zag line around rocks as big as tombstones. Then the rain started. It polished the rocks and slicked the roots. I was off my bike and walking it more than riding. I stopped encountering hikers coming from the other direction. Thirty minutes alone on the path became sixty, and more. I rang my bike bell. For the bears. I tried to remember what time vespers was.

Where's the payoff for this work? I asked myself. Literally.

The adventure started out innocently. I had left Shelagh to nap in the cabin while her saucepan of lamb stew simmered for a couple of hours on the stove. She had bought two parcels of lamb from the Wednesday morning farmers market on Turret Street in Jasper. While the lamb transformed, and she tried to dent a lifetime sleep deficit, I pedalled along Highway 93 past Wapiti and past Whistlers and then followed the river along 93A, crossing it at Old Fort Point. The idea was to stay on Trail 9 on the far side of the river through the Valley of Five Lakes, find the boardwalk on the way back to the Icefields Parkway and then pedal back up to Becker's Chalets, triumphantly.

I didn't count on the rain. I didn't notice that the easy trail had become a moderate trail around the lookout loop. I didn't know where my halfway point was, so didn't know if it ever made more sense to keep going than to turn around. My shoes and socks were soaked. I rode a bit, I walked more, I slid some. Mercifully, I saw a trail marker. Some quick figuring brought me to the realization that halfway would be another 2.1 kilometres. I turned around, following Trail 9C along Tekarra Creek the 3.6 kilometres back to Old Fort Point, and, crucially, asphalt.

Some payoff-for-the-work candidates rose to mind:

I now knew my relocated left shoulder will stay in place. The assurance came every time a root finger stopped my front tire cold, turning my handlebars into a trapeze bar that I clung to while my backside flew up and then, in ungainly fashion, back down onto the saddle.

I now knew how much I like Colin Meloy's voice after hearing mine again and again sing out loud Oh, for once in my, oh, for once in my life...!

I now knew how precious those little purple flowers are.

I now knew what it takes to get a cliffside view of the valley.

And I now knew, as I shouldered my bike down the 80-plus steps from the lookout to the highway, how clever the bike ramps are on the river valley stairwells in Edmonton.

I thought about all of these things as I retraced my path back to the cabin from what turned out to have been a short shot into the heart of darkness. I leaned my bike against the cabin wall and opened the door, and then the payoff hit me in the face, and then right into my heart.

Home-made lamb stew.


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