Trusting the map, trusting Steve with the map – some twenty-five years ago, in Canada’s Banff National Park we cycled along a fire road behind Mount Norquay with the intention of riding our mountain bikes up and down the mountain along what should have been a short ride on a horse trail, no more than four hours at the most. Instead, for two or three hours, our bikes were hefted onto shoulders and step-by-step, in sunlight, through rain, in sunlight again and then through snow we climbed upward toward Elk Point summit. Steve, whose cardio-vascular fitness out-stripped ours, was up the mountain easily and a ways ahead, scouting the trail.
We crested the summit in snow, large, feathery, wet flakes of snow, our legs rubbery gelatin, needing rest. Plodding forward without the energy to return to cycling, we pushed our bikes, hoping to meet Steve somewhere on the path and settle-in for a rest. We looked ahead into the snow for Steve and looking harder a second time saw him racing toward us and pointing to his right (our left); he was signalling something quite assertively. When he met us, he pointed again to our left and gasping identified the bear on the other side of the summit’s meadow. We focused our eyes. There it was, scrabbling at the earth, eating, with its back to us. Along our climb we had seen massive bear paw prints in the mud – twelve-to-fourteen inches in diameter. We’d hoped they were not fresh. Now, we needed to get on our bikes, get our pedals pumping and put distance between us and this bear. Ten minutes later we huddled beneath a huge forest conifer, away from the bear, out of the snow.
We considered the time; we started riding at 2:00 p.m. and aimed to complete our twenty kilometre trek by suppertime. It was now 8:00 p.m.; we’d made it to the summit and with September’s shrinking daylight hours the sun’s incline over the horizon had already begun. Riding down the mountain would occur in shadow and our descent would, for the most part, occur in darkness. We began riding downward on the mountain’s horse trail switchbacks. Our bicycles’ brake pads quickly wore down to nothing – we needed to sit on the cross-bar and use our feet on gravel to slow our descent. Seeing pretty well in the dark, I led through the zig and zag of mountain switchbacks. Fifteen minutes went by without incident. Then, rounding one switchback Steve’s bike flew over my head … without Steve; he’d been higher up, on a switchback behind me. His bike had landed in bushes ahead of me. We halted taking stock of how we were doing. We were cold, somewhat lost and had exhausted the food we’d brought – our best bet was to follow trail markers toward Banff. We put Steve back on his bike and trudged on. The switchbacks levelled out into a long valley, an area that should have been easy to traverse – just cycling along the track. But, the track was mud, four inches deep … likely the result of the rain and snow we’d encountered on the other side of the mountain. We would have to push our bikes through the mud or carry them; without sustaining food and calories, our legs remained gelatinous rubber. We hefted our bikes and pushed them on drier bits of earth.
The photograph, presented here, is the area where the four of us moved from mountain trail on to paved road surface.
From here, I rode down the mountain, quickly, got to the Ford three-quarter ton, returned and got the others – Steve, Vince and Goose (last name Guzman). Hypothermic, worried and overwhelmed, Vince and Goose had fallen from their bikes crossing the western-most Texas-gate leading into Banff, Vince hurting family jewels and Goose hyper-extending two fingers. At the hospital, we were fed cookies and tea and Vince and Goose were examined by a doctor who scolded us for cycling into bear country – cyclists, in their speed, can surprise bears and this doctor had treated a cyclist the week before who had been mauled by a bear.
Rather than return to our tent trailer, I rented a chalet and its proprietor allowed us to use the pool/Jacuzzi to warm ourselves. Later, pizza and much needed sleep served to rejuvenate us; we were ready to go at the crack of dawn, the next day. With our endeavor, we’d trusted Steve with a mountain map and there’d been confusion with directions. That night, as we each made sense of the mishap we were amazed at where we’d been; our twenty-some kilometre trek had morphed into sixty-two kilometres by the ride’s end. Looking back, those were much younger days, the kind my son will have with his pals at University. For me, though, I was freshly married, out of University, yet to be employed and among friends as my wife began her school year as teacher in northern Alberta. I had not been to this site for more than twenty-five years. Last week, looking in and around Banff with my camera I found it and this story again.
By David Wagoner
Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you
Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here,
And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,
Must ask permission to know it and be known.
The forest breathes. Listen. It answers,
I have made this place around you.
If you leave it, you may come back again, saying Here.
No two trees are the same to Raven.
No two branches are the same to Wren.
If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you,
You are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows
Where you are. you must let it find you.
Listening to – Jessica Sanchez’ ‘Lead Me Home,’ Jack Johnson’s ‘Home,’ Sarah Masen’s ‘The Valley’ and Snow Patrol’s ‘Life Boats’ and ‘This Isn’t Everything You Are.’
Quote to Inspire – “[Photographing] … is a way of at least tacitly … encouraging whatever is going on to keep on happening.”
2 thoughts on “Lost & The Way”
Where ever you are is called here, Love that bit, I have on occasion become dislocated from a location. Part of being in the wild, if you can find yourself without too much trauma it is an adventure to talk about. I think I walked 4 or 5 extra miles on Dartmoor, UK once. In fog so thick all I could do was follow a straight line till I found a road I knew was ahead to be able to relocate myself. It just meant a long walk back to my campsite. Funny as I’m heading back to Dartmoor in a few weeks to wild camp and walk the Corpse Road across part of the moor. Dartmoor is a wet and windy place, full of marshes and streams, amazing colours, stone avenues and ancient settlements long abandoned. Full of atmosphere when you tread its old ways. I love the clarity of the horizon in both pictures, leading away on another journey. I’ve never been to bear country… Not sure if it is interesting or nerve wracking. One day I’d like to go to some of the big parks in America, travel and walk the country. Lots of ideas and time presses always.
Take care if you meet any more bears,
Hey there, Jim:
‘Wherever you are is called, Here …’ – the phrase dovetails well with ‘notyethere,’ a phrase my brain still reads first as ‘not yet there’ and then ‘not yet here.’
Dislocation as an orienteering term seems at first unnatural or wrong and then with semantic scrutiny becomes poignantly on target. And, as I head back to school and consider students my thoughts fall upon students who daze through the longer end of the school day afternoon – disengagement would be the first term highlighted pedagogically. But, dislocation or the student being dislocated seem operable term or phrase – somewhat off the teacher’s track of instruction. Relocation seems also to work within teaching practice – locating the dazing student back within the track the teacher leads on. I am interested in your upcoming Dartmoor venture with the moors which with marshes and streams must be something like our muskeg. It must also be something to be walking along or within sites of ancient settlement – the matter of knowing what had gone on there and to map out in imagination how and where and when and why different things have happened.
Bear country – we have bears and lynx and deer and moose (some tall enough that a small car could drive under their bellies; no one’s that lucky – they tend to demolish cars and trucks … and drivers). I photographed an eagle back at Easter over at Buttertown. I’ve surprised more than my share of lynx (saucy cats that won’t be pushed along … from the skidoo track). Near Watt mountain my son and I came alongside timber wolves when he was in grade four (we were on skidoo). I saw my last bear, last Sunday as we travelled home to High Level. My wife has had timber wolves in the school yard as she led her class out cross country skiing. I saw two moose feeding in marshes the week before last as we travelled to Edmonton.
Interesting or nerve-wracking – you’re walking along in Wood Buffalo National Park. It’s minus forty degrees, cold enough that northern lights are not way up in the atmosphere, they’re twenty feet above you, cold enough that the dark and huge shape in front that you see from your parka hood resolves into a wild horse, stiff and cold and not able to move; you walk by realizing what’s at play for the horse – warmth, shelter and safety are needed … and the horse is wild so it won’t follow you. You move on. Wolves may get the horse. In another instance, the fan-belt on your 1991 Nissan Pathfinder goes; as long as you idle it and keep the revs up you can move forward; but, you’re moving through greasy clay mud and even in 4 x 4 you do not have substantial traction; you pull off the road and let the idling die. A truck you passed a mile back is stuck, too, but has power and people are there. You begin walking back and an animal is cracking twigs as it mirrors your progress along the road, paralleling you in the woods. You use volume and squelch on your radio/scanner to frighten the animal away; it seems to work. A vehicle is heard, the chugging of a Ford Diesel gets louder and louder; you’re picked up and taken home, sloshing through the mud in 4 wheel drive. You’ll come back for your vehicle in a day or two. Interesting or nerve wracking – both are there … and you feel quite alive.
As you write about travel and walking the country, you walk it, no doubt to know it; a friend has taken the opportunity at his young age to walk the Trans Canada Trail from Toronto westward making it to Edmonton I think. Walking America – I’m with you; there are all those things we want to do and there is the matter of reconciling choices against Life’s progress and press. As I write, I’m recalling Marianne Faithful’s ‘Ballad of Lucy Jordan’ – the lyrics contain something of this time press issue; last week, the phrase coined was that of being ‘time starved.’
I hadn’t thought of it; but, I bet you’re a map reader rather than a GPS user … am I right?
Take care, on the trail too. 😉