Rocky Mountain High

We thoroughly enjoyed our return to the mountains but realized our time was limited as winter was on its way and made our way south.  The Larch trees were at the height of their autumn gold color.  These trees are unusual as they are conifers that act like deciduous trees, with its needles turning a brilliant gold before dropping off.  There was also a noticeable decrease in the number of other tourists.  It was as if someone had “flipped a light switch” with many Americans leaving September 1st and Europeans leaving October 1st.  

Where we have been - Jasper National Park and Banff National Park in Alberta and Yoho National Park in British Columbia

After leaving Robson Provincial Park in British Columbia we headed to Jasper National Park in Alberta where we planned another backpack trip.  There would be a major difference between this and previous backpack trips, we wouldn’t be sleeping in our tent.  The Alpine Club of Canada constructed and maintains a series of back country huts.  “Hut” doesn’t do justice to these fine log cabins with mattress covered bunks, wood stoves, propane fueled cook stoves and lights. 

The Wates-Gibson Hut in Tonquin Valley in Jasper National Park, Alberta

We did a 3 day/2 night backpack trip to the Tonquin Valley and had reservations for the Wates-Gibson ACC hut.  Unfortunately this trail is heavily used by horses in the summer and is extremely muddy in places.  Fortunately the weather was cold and dry and we were able to circumvent the worst of it (and never sank up to our knees as a recent hiker had). 

Jean on the trail to the Tonquin Valley in Jasper National Park, Alberta

The trail was slow and route finding became challenging late in the day when we needed to cross a snowy marshland.  It made us both uneasy to be in the backcountry at dusk without a tent or stove.  As this was our first experience with ACC huts we did not completely trust that everything would work out the way it was supposed to.  My overactive imagination caused me to fear the worst.  What if it was empty and the lock combination didn’t work?  What if it was full, they didn’t have our reservation and turned us away?  What if we couldn’t even find it in the dark and had to spend the night without hot food or shelter?

Where's the trail?  Tonquin Valley in Jasper National Park, Alberta
However, we did find it and were greeted by three Germans who had built a very welcome roaring fire.  The next day we dayhiked to the Eremite Valley.  The weather was quite unsettled with wind and dark clouds moving in.  However, the weather held long enough for us to get back to the hut without problem. 

Eremite Valley in Jasper National Park, Alberta

We were happy to get back to the hut that evening.  We knew the three Germans were hiking out that day but we were surprised that no one else had arrived.  As a consequence we had to build our own fire.  Once we did we thoroughly enjoyed having the hut completely to ourselves.

Inside the Wates-Gibson Hut in Tonquin Valley in Jasper National Park, Alberta

The next morning it seemed that winter had definitely arrived.  Fortunately it was easier to find our way out then it had been to find our way in.  All of our Tonquin Valley backpack trip photos are on Flickr.  

The Ramparts above the Tonquin Valley in Jasper National Park, Alberta

After leaving Jasper we took the wonderfully scenic Ice Fields Parkway toward Lake Louise in Banff National Park.  John did a day hike around Lake Agnes ...

Lake Agnes in Banff National Park, Alberta

... and another dayhike on the Plain of Six Glaciers Trail (I was very disappointed to be laid up with knee tendonitis).  All of our Banff National Park photos are on Flickr.

Mt Defroy seen from the Plain of Six Glaciers trail in Banff National Park, Alberta

The weather turned wet and we decided to move on to nearby Yoho National Park in British Columbia where John did a dayhike on the Iceline Trail ...

John hiking on the Iceline Trail in Yoho National Park, British Columbia

... past the stunning Takakkaw Falls .  All of our Iceline Trail photos are on Flickr.

Takakkaw Falls in Yoho National Park, British Columbia
When the weather improved we made plans to visit the Lake O’Hara area, a popular destination for viewing Larch trees in autumn.

Larch trees near Lake O’Hara in Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Access to this area is limited but fortunately we were able to get last minute reservations in the extremely popular Elizabeth Parker ACC Hut.

Elizabeth Parker Hut near Lake O'Hara in Yoho National Park, British Columbia

This trip can’t be categorized as a backcountry trip as a shuttle bus carries you to within a quarter of a mile of the hut.  Unlike the hut at Tonquin Valley this one was packed.  Sleeping arrangements involved two long bunks, one upper and one lower, each to be shared with six to seven of your new “closest friends”. The second night we were able to secure spots on the bottom bunk on the end so I had a wall on the other side of me, much appreciated after spending the previous night beside  grumpy “Bob from Montana” who snored (however, I think John missed sleeping next to the attractive young blond from Germany).

Near Lake O’Hara in Yoho National Park, British Columbia

However the scenery around Lake O’Hara more than makes up for any perceived inconvenience.  Parts of the area are like a giant Japanese Garden with moss covered rocks, trees and granite boulders reflected in pools rimmed with golden Larch needles.  Larch needles were also scattered on the ground and gave the impression that everything was sprinkled with gold dust.

Near Lake O’Hara in Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Other parts reminded us of an area in Washington State's North Cascades appropriately known as The Enchantments (one of our favorite places), but on steroids.

 Near Lake O’Hara in Yoho National Park, British Columbia

We did a short hike to Opabin Lake ...

Opabin Lake near Lake O’Hara in Yoho National Park, British Columbia

... as well as a dayhike on the Alpine Circuit trail that took us higher into the surrounding jagged peaks providing us with stunning views. All of our Lake O'Hara, Yoho National Park photos are on Flickr.

Jean on the Alpine Circuit near Lake O'Hara in Yoho National Park, British Columbia

That concluded our three month Canadian/Alaskan Adventure of 2010.  Next stop - Glacier National Park in Montana.

This next bit is just something Jean has been thinking about.

For better and for worse

As you might imagine living in such close proximity could place a strain on a relationship.  Our motorhome, a 26A Winnebago Access , is smaller than many and the salesman who first showed it to us was adamant that we couldn’t live in it full-time.  He said we’d hate it in 2 weeks, he guaranteed it!  Well, we’ve spent that length of time sharing small tents so we knew that wouldn’t happen but what about in the months and years to come?  We have been married for over 31 years…

On our way to the Pacific Northwest in 1977

… but so much of that time has been spent distracted by school, jobs, kids, homes, individual interests and activities, aging parents etc. And I’ll admit it hasn’t always been “smooth sailing”.

Dan and John in Chelan,, Washington 1995
However we both have always loved the outdoors and looked forward to spending more time together in the backcountry.  But how could we be sure that our relationship had what it took to survive living and traveling in such close proximity practically 24/7?  We got our first big clue on a tandem bike

We first rode a tandem in the spring of 1997 when the couple next door leant us their Burley.  From the first ride we loved it, we both enjoyed the feeling of teamwork and the power we could generate together (and I never got left behind!).  The wife later told me that she hated it.  She said her husband terrorized her by going too fast on the down hills and yelled “Are you peddling back there?” at her on the up hills.  We have since read that a tandem bicycle magnifies the direction a couple’s relationship is already taking and I can believe it.  Riding a tandem is like ballroom dancing.  When done properly the couple moves fluidly and efficiently as one.  

But when done poorly you have 2 individuals bumping into one another and inevitably somebody’s toes get stepped on.  So it really shouldn't have been a surprise when our neighbors separated and were divorced a short time later.  We had “custody” of that bike for an entire summer before he asked for it back. 

We then bought a Cannondale tandem and put hundreds of miles on it in short order.

On our brand new Cannondale tandem, 1998

We decided to celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary with a tandem bike trip and in August 1999 we rode from Seattle to San Francisco, 1000 miles in 2 weeks.  During that time, between riding the bike and sleeping in our tiny tent, we would literally be within 2 ft of each other for at least 20 hours a day.  If anything would tell whether or not our relationship was headed in the right direction this trip would.  I’m happy to say we did great…

On the California Coast, 1999

…except for that one fight. 

We had ridden our customary 20 or so miles since our usual morning snack (an apple, banana and a muffin) at our campsite and we were both looking forward to our routine mid morning “pig out” breakfast at an upcoming restaurant.  The Adventure Cycling maps indicate every place food is available along the route with a “fork” symbol, be it a 5 star restaurant, a mini mart and anything in between.  However, we were disappointed to discover that the next “fork” proved to be a restaurant that not only wouldn’t open for another 30 minutes but it didn’t even serve breakfast!  Both of us were tired and “running on empty” and while I was willing to settle for it and wait, John wasn’t.  So we kept riding, first snapping at each other and then just not speaking.

I admit in that weak moment I was regretting that we had ever started the stupid bike trip and was even revisiting those vows I had once taken... 

...For richer for poorer?  No problem.  In sickness and in health?  I can do that.   But in hunger and fatigue?  Wait just one minute…nobody asked me about that! (Look, I come from a large family that had too few resources so I have some issues with food okay!?!)  Fortunately, the next “fork” on the map was a gas station with a small deli that had breakfast burritos.  2 bacon, egg and cheese burritos apiece, 1000 glorious calories (plus 2 cups of coffee for me), saved our bike trip AND our marriage.

On the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco CA, still happily married after 1000 miles

The big lesson we learned that day relates to something I’ve heard John say “Don’t evaluate a vehicle on a bumpy road”.  While he was talking about cars it is just as applicable to human relationships.  When the “road” gets “bumpy” (for example when one or both is tired and hungry) it is essential for a couple to be sympathetic and supportive of each other, to function as a team rather than as adversaries.  That way they can “peddle” together better and reach the next “fork” on the “map” sooner (and if too many “bumpy roads” manage to damage your “vehicle” then find a good “mechanic” to help you fix it). 

So how has our first year on the road been going?   Like riding a tandem bike living and traveling in a motorhome magnifies the direction a couple’s relationship is already taking and I’m happy to report that ours is going great places.  Our relationship has thrived on the focused attention we both now have the time and energy to give each other.  We still find a lot to talk about together but can also be quiet comfortably with each other. We’re best friends and function well as a team both on the road and in the backcountry.  Living this way is truly one of the best things that ever happened to our marriage.

34 years and counting!  Mt Robson Provincial Park, British Columbia, 2010

What about our tandem?  Years ago we replaced our Cannondale with a Rans Seavo recumbent tandem (great for middle aged backs and necks).

Rans Seavo, the “limo” of the bike world (ours is black)

It is currently disassembled and stored while we focus on hiking but our 5 year plan includes a bike trip across the northern tier of the US possibly in 2014.  I’m sure there will be plenty of hunger and fatigue involved but that will not be a problem as we have since made the appropriate addendum to our wedding vows. I think a tandem bike trip would be a great way to celebrate our 35th wedding anniversary.  I wonder if one of those “forks” on the map will be a minimart that sells breakfast burritos and champagne!


Robert Okrie said...

Lovely. Just plain lovely...

Brian said...

Congratulations on 34+! Hope you continue to enjoy the ride.
Thanks for the wonderful blog and the beautiful pictures. My wife and I took a 12 day RV tour of Alaska last year. It was one of the best vacations we have taken and we both envision a life of touring once we are able to step away from the rat race. It's great to see you living the dream. Thanks for taking us along.