Long Ride

Motorcycle Sport & Leisure - - Contents -

Canada. That’s a looong way, ayyyyyyy. Ac­cent joke for the Hosers.

I’ve rid­den bikes for about 40 years, but al­most en­tirely off-road. I used to think that when the time came (i.e. kids left home and the ca­reer starts to se­ri­ously wind down) I’d use my off-road skills to ride the wilds of Ro­ma­nia or Bul­garia or maybe ex­pe­di­tion into the Sa­hara. But now that the time has come, I’ve had vi­sions of some­thing more, for want of a bet­ter word, ‘cruisey’. What I didn’t want to do was trade one of my dirt bikes in for one of the lat­est uber pow­er­ful and equally costly ad­ven­ture bikes. Af­ter all, I might not like road rid­ing at all.

A so­lu­tion ap­peared at NEC Live in the form of the Rocky Moun­tain Ad­ven­ture Bike Tour­ing Com­pany, run by Alan and Lisa who of­fer guided tours of the Cana­dian wilder­ness and ticked sev­eral boxes. For a start, I’ve been to Canada a cou­ple of times and I love it. Then there was the bike – a CB500X Honda.

Rid­ing in such a vast place, you might think it’d feel lonely at times. Paul says the very op­po­site is true when you’re a biker in Maple coun­try.

I’m short, about 5ft 6in, and the com­pact 500X was fine with me. In­deed, its size was a pos­i­tive ben­e­fit. Next was the rid­ing. Alan and Lisa of­fer dif­fer­ent tours for dif­fer­ent rid­ers, from a week of pure road rid­ing to a true ad­ven­ture, wild camp­ing way up in the Arc­tic Cir­cle. I chose a mid­dle way, which in­volved a week of mixed tar­mac and dirt back roads with equally mixed ac­com­mo­da­tion of camp­ing, cab­ins and a ho­tel. As the clincher, it wasn’t nearly as ex­pen­sive as I ex­pected – I got the green light from home, and booked it.


We started at Nordegg, with the first day billed as a quiet one af­ter a brief­ing from Alan on lo­cal road rules and eti­quette – and gen­eral guid­ance on deal­ing with un­ex­pected wildlife en­coun­ters (bears in par­tic­u­lar) – we were off for a gen­tle three hours or so ex­plor­ing the roads and trails around the town, which is a his­toric min­ing set­tle­ment.

I think for most rid­ers on these tours (i.e. those with a road rid­ing back­ground) the big is­sue would be get­ting used to rid­ing on dirt roads, whereas in my case it was get­ting used to a 200kg bike on the road and man­ag­ing that weight when at slow speed with lim­ited con­tact with the ground. The CB500X may be com­pact by road bike stan­dards, but the bikes in Alan and Lisa’s fleet have Rally Raid sus­pen­sion up­grades, which add a cou­ple of inches to the seat height, mak­ing them a stretch for rid­ers like me. Af­ter an hour or two’s ac­cli­ma­ti­sa­tion though, I was ready to crack on with the tour.


Day 2 and we headed south on the aptly named ‘forestry trunk road’ for the first big scenic day, wind­ing our way through the Al­berta foothills. My first im­pres­sions were that the roads were in sur­pris­ingly good con­di­tion con­sid­er­ing how se­vere the win­ter is in these parts.

Some sec­tions were freshly graded, mak­ing for markedly slower and more tricky go­ing, but we still man­aged just over 200 miles, most of it on dirt roads.

The Banff area is as stun­ning as you’d ex­pect if you checked out any tourist brochure, and as a tourist des­ti­na­tion, it is strate­gi­cally lo­cated, nes­tled in a stun­ning spot in the moun­tains sur­rounded by tow­er­ing walls of rock. Emerg­ing dusty and thirsty from a day on the road, we headed straight for our ac­com­mo­da­tion and took a quick dip in its out­door hot spa pools (with a com­ple­men­tary mil­lion-dol­lar view of the sur­round­ing moun­tains) be­fore go­ing into town for tapas.


This was a big – and as it turned out, very hot – day on tar­mac. The morn­ings were cool, but not re­ally chill, and then the day warmed steadily as it went on, hit­ting the mid-20s in the af­ter­noon – we steadily de-lay­ered to suit. We were in the spec­tac­u­lar na­tional park, and Alan warned me as we passed the en­try point that there was lit­tle chance of big wildlife given the high lev­els of traf­fic so close to Banff.

About two min­utes later, in a clas­sic twist of fate, we saw black bear snuf­fling be­side the road, no more than 30 or 40 me­tres from us.

We got to Field late in the day, stay­ing at the

Kick­ing Horse camp­ground, a pic­ture of river­side sites, se­cluded spots un­der the trees, and open meadow op­tions. We stayed un­der the trees, where each site has a built-in fire­place, and be­ing North Amer­ica, bulk fire­wood was sup­plied at a very rea­son­able rate. What more could you want? In fact, this night of camp­ing was a high­light of the trip for me. The lo­ca­tion was stun­ning, be­neath the tow­er­ing Cathe­dral Crags and Mt Stephen. The camp­fire was wel­com­ing and the night air cool – the essence of an ad­ven­ture ride in the moun­tains of Canada.


I got up early to bag some pic­tures in the morn­ing light and by 10am we had break­fasted, packed up and were on the road again, this time head­ing for the Ice­fields Park­way, listed as one of the great scenic drives in the world, and I was about to find out why.

“Ex­pect moun­tain scenery on a grand scale on this drive through the heart of the Rock­ies. Writhing its way through two na­tional parks,” (I’m quot­ing from trav­eller.com.au), “be­tween Lake Louise and Jasper via Banff, this is a rav­ish­ingly pho­to­genic stretch of road, with glaciers, water­falls, lakes and lots of rocky peaks.”

We cov­ered the south­ern section this time, stop­ping at Lake Louise, the fa­mous one from tourist brochures. You know the one – a stun­ning emer­ald lake set in a bowl in the moun­tains, with a stun­ningly ex­pen­sive ho­tel (com­plete with match­ing emer­ald roof ) in the fore­ground. Mind you, the nearby and rel­a­tively un­known Mo­raine Lake is even more stun­ning, and not by a small mar­gin in my view. Louise’s fame makes it one of the big tourist at­trac­tions, and it was a full-on scrum, so we picked our way through the mass of cars and RVs to get away from the madding crowd. We headed north on the Park­way for a fan­tas­tic af­ter­noon of rid­ing. Hot weather, clear skies and per­fect vis­tas, with the only grid­lock caused by two black bears idling on the road­side.

At Saskatchewan River Cross­ing we turned east to re­turn to our base at Nordegg for a 30-minute blast on big open roads with vir­tu­ally no traf­fic, bar the odd Har­ley pow­er­ing its way back to­wards the Park­way.


We were back on the dirt to­day, with 100 miles in the plan, much of it north­bound on the forestry trunk road. This in­cluded some of the widest dirt roads I’ve ever seen – and I’ve seen some big ones in New Zealand and Aus­tralia – for an ex­hil­a­rat­ing blast through the hills and for­est.

Alan put me into the lead for much of the dirt sec­tions so he could get some mar­ket­ing video, and off we went. The lit­tle CB with its Rally Raid sus­pen­sion cruised very com­fort­ably at 75mph across the dirt and gravel, slow­ing down when vis­i­bil­ity was more lim­ited. When we fi­nally got back to tar­mac and stopped to re­fuel and hy­drate, both Alan and I were grin­ning like a cou­ple of over­grown school­boys – that’s what I count as a good day out!

We camped that night at the Hin­ton/Jasper KOA camp­site, in cab­ins this time rather than un­der can­vas, and it was very hot and op­pres­sively hu­mid, more like Florida than the Rocky Moun­tains. Dark, threat­en­ing clouds loomed and were a sure sign that the weather was about to pack it in. So rather than rid­ing to Mi­ette Hot Pools that evening, we chick­ened out and took the sup­port truck. This turned out to be an in­spired choice as just as we ex­ited the pool the warm and hu­mid con­di­tions fi­nally de­liv­ered the in­evitable re­sult, and thun­der­storms rolled in, bring­ing light­ning and a down­pour of al­most bib­li­cal pro­por­tions.


Our fi­nal rid­ing day dawned cool and rainy, the only wet rid­ing day on the tour. Warmed and fed from a hot brunch in Jasper, we headed south on the Ice­fields Park­way, vis­it­ing the spec­tac­u­lar Athabasca falls be­fore rid­ing on and up­wards to the Columbia ice fields for a chilly stop by the snout of a glacier. It was too cold to stop at one of the tra­di­tional tourist view­points on the other side of the val­ley, but we did take in a part of the moun­tain­side that was ap­par­ently nor­mally dry but had come alive with water­falls. It’s the ‘glass half full’ side of a night of heavy rain!

We saw three sig­nif­i­cant land­slips that af­ter­noon, which are im­por­tant to bear in mind if trav­el­ling in these parts on your own. Even main high­ways can be closed with­out warn­ing due to weather dam­age at any time of the year. On the pre­vi­ous tour, faced with a blocked-off road, Alan had the op­tion of wait­ing for pos­si­bly days for it to be re­opened, or tak­ing an 500-mile de­tour with his tour group. They went for the lat­ter. We didn’t see any­thing quite that epic, and headed back to Nordegg from the Saskatchewan River cross­ing. Next morn­ing, and time for my flight home, I woke to snow...

ABOVE LEFT: Not a bad place for a selfie. That’s Kick­ing Horse River, with Mt Stephen in the back­ground.

BE­LOW: Moun­tains dwarfed the RVs, or was it the other way round?

BE­LOW: Tour guide Alan used the knob­bly-tyred Africa Twin.

ABOVE: Hid­den Ridge Re­sort... they weren’t rough­ing it all the time.

The dirt road bridges are re­as­sur­ingly ro­bust. Fa­mil­iari­sa­tion ride with Alan – hy­dro lake in the back­ground.

Tour was blessed with good weather – it snowed on the last morn­ing!

Sea­soned off-roader Paul wasn’t fazed by the dirt roads.

WORDS AND PHO­TOG­RA­PHY: Paul Muy­sert ABOVE: Dirt roads were well graded and not dif­fi­cult – this is the forestry trunk road.

RIGHT: Base camp at Nordegg, pro­vided by a mas­sive backup ve­hi­cle and a pig­gy­back RV.

RIGHT: Can you spot the wan­der­ing bear? LEFT: This val­ley wall, nor­mally rel­a­tively dry, comes alive with water­falls af­ter the rain.

ABOVE: Athabasca falls just south of Jasper. In full flow fol­low­ing the very heavy rain overnight.

BE­LOW: Stopped by the Ice­field Park­way. Scenery like this goes on for over 120 miles.

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