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.”