Lost and Found : Adrift in the Canadian Rockies

Lost and Found : Adrift in the Canadian Rockies

by Jamey Glasnovic

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Overview

Lost and Found : Adrift in the Canadian Rockies by Jamey Glasnovic

For many people, moving to a mountain town is the realization of a dream, the final step in a pilgrimage to a relaxed lifestyle in a rugged and beautiful setting. After a long journey that began when he was a teenager in the 1980s with the vague idea there might be a better life somewhere “out west,” Jamey Glasnovic eventually fled the chaos and stress of the big city and tried to settle into an uncomplicated Rocky Mountain existence.

Canmore, Alberta, a small community nestled in a picturesque valley situated right at the edge of Banff National Park, should have been the perfect end to his searching. A rapidly growing town emerging on the tourism radar can strain anyone’s definition of paradise, however, and Lost and Found is Glasnovic’s account of his attempt, in the fall of 2008, to recapture the simple wonders of living on the boundaries of a vast wilderness.

A spirited amble by bicycle and on foot, inspired by the work of Bill Bryson, Lost and Found explores the heart of the Rocky Mountain Parks, a UNESCO World Heritage Site known for its staggering beauty, and examines the consequences of celebrating that beauty too effectively with mass tourism and over-ambitious development. Eschewing the convenience of motorized transportation, Glasnovic earns every kilometre that passes beneath his feet, and along the way he learns a thing or two about feeling profoundly connected to place. An experience some would describe as being home.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781771600514
Publisher: Heritage Group Dist
Publication date: 09/19/2014
Pages: 376
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.30(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Jamey Glasnovic was born in Montreal, Quebec, in 1968, and grew up in the suburb of Beaconsfield. A family trip to Spain when Jamey was seven was the first step in creating an avid traveller, and he was drawn early in life to such faraway destinations as Australia, Japan, Mexico and Ireland. He has visited much of North America, from Florida to Alaska, and repeated trips to the mountain west led to a move to Calgary in 1995. After relocating to Canmore in 2004, Glasnovic began freelancing for newspapers such as the Banff Crag & Canyon, Canmore Leader and Rocky Mountain Outlook, and he continued to roam. Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand, Nepal and Tibet have since been checked off his life list of destinations. Lost and Found: Adrift in the Canadian Rockies is his first book. Stories and photos by the author can be found at jglas.com. Jamey lives in Canmore, Alberta.

Read an Excerpt

Lost and Found

Adrift in the Canadian Rockies


By Jamey Glasnovic

Rocky Mountain Books

Copyright © 2014 Jamey Glasnovic
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-77160-051-4



CHAPTER 1

THE ICEFIELDS PARKWAY


Sun's up, mm hm, looks okay, the world survives until another day. And I'm thinking about eternity, some kind of ecstasy got a hold on me.

— Bruce Cockburn


It's official: I'm an idiot.

At least that's how I feel as snow continues to fall in an increasingly energetic fashion and the temperature drops at a rate even a seasoned meteorologist would find alarming. I've been thinking about the consequences of this turn of events for about 15 minutes now and can come up with no other conclusion than that I'm an idiot. The worst part of it all is not the cold, or the wind, or the even the snow, but the realization that my discomfort as a result of all three is entirely self-inflicted. There is no one to blame for the predicament I find myself in and no great conspiracy to pin my growing anguish on. I chose this and must now suffer the consequences. I can only hope the weather's downward spiral doesn't end up killing me.

Surviving a snowstorm is not an unusual accomplishment in Canada; millions of people do it every winter by simply staying inside. But getting caught in an October blizzard, miles from the nearest anywhere, while struggling up the side of a mountain on a bicycle – well, that's a different story. There is a measure of responsibility to it. Sure, this wind-driven squall has come out of nowhere, but it is autumn in the higher elevations of the Rocky Mountains, a place where bad weather can be expected in any month of the year. It even snowed a little bit yesterday, and the day before that, and still I act surprised by this unpleasant development.

All around me, the mountains are nothing more than an ocean of white and shades of pale grey, and even though it is not yet three o'clock, the remaining daylight suddenly has a murky, menacing quality to it. Shadows and ghost images in every direction hint of the incredible scenery the storm is obscuring, but there are no solid reference points beyond the dark, sloppy asphalt beneath my wheels. With the availability of campsites on the road ahead far from certain, a single thought keeps pushing to the front of my consciousness: Why am I doing this again?

As I churn uphill at a pace that will never be mistaken for impressive, that line of inquiry simply begs another: Why can't I be like a normal person, content in my idyllic little mountain town, with a solid relationship, steady employment and favourite pub already sorted out? After all, who consciously abandons – no, actively escapes – what many often refer to as a "paradise on earth," in order to subject himself to these harsh conditions? A question worthy of consideration on a deserted roadway, over a couple hundred laboured pedal strokes, and as big fluffy flakes work their way under the back of my collar, the only answer I can come up with is: an imbecile, that's who.

Things could be worse, I suppose. The gusting wind could be blowing downhill into my face, forcing me to push my bike uphill at a walk. A flat tire would also be a disaster right now, for sure; frozen hands desperately trying to manipulate small tools as sudden inactivity encourages a drop in core body temperature and flash-freezes sweat and melted snow to my skin. So, in light of the precarious state of affairs on the back side of Parker Ridge, just above the Big Bend on a stretch of road appropriately named the Icefields Parkway, I have no choice but to carry on while pondering the mechanics of perception and, it must be said, my entire decision-making process. It is, after all, fully within my power to be splayed out on a familiar couch with a cold beer and a bag of chips, with nothing more challenging than three periods of televised hockey to worry about. But no, I'm determined to be out in the world, with all that that entails, and this is the reward for imagining there's more to life than to eat, sleep, work, repeat: a whiteout on a bike. As I may have mentioned already, I'm not too bright.

In my defence, pedalling up Sunwapta Pass on the Icefields Parkway in Jasper National Park seemed like a good idea from the comfort of my home a few months ago. And indeed, it was comfort that helped drive me out in the first place (or more precisely, an overabundance of false comfort) – but in alternating my hands up under the front of my warmest cross-country ski top to keep them from freezing while I grind up a climb that is going to take at least another hour to complete, it's impossible to avoid putting any and all motivations under the microscope. I believe they call it soul-searching, and in this preoccupied state I've failed to notice a vehicle – the only one I've seen in the last ten minutes – coming up quickly from behind.

"Hey! You're the mmmaaaannnnnnnn!"

At least I think that's what the young man in the passenger seat of a new Jeep Wrangler just shouted as the vehicle sped along somewhat recklessly, his arm thrust out the window in the universal "thumbs up" salute. With the wind blowing all over the place in the tight valley, and the Doppler effect dragging the words along the side of the mountain, it's hard to tell for sure, but for morale's sake I choose to take the shout-out as a compliment: a simple gesture meant to convey respect for the effort. Or perhaps it was an expression of sympathy and relief at not actually being me. Maybe he was just making fun of my predicament. Regardless of the true intent, it could be said that in addition to making foolish decisions that lead to unpleasant encounters with the weather, it's also possible I'm "the man," which admittedly is a boost to my sagging spirit and tired legs.

Re-energized by the improbable cheering section, I have no choice but to push on, with the hope of reaching the top of the pass, and the Columbia Icefield campground just beyond it, before dark – and of course to survive the night with my more distant extremities intact. Winter is not quite in full swing, but it is clearly getting ready to slam the door on the season for hikers, cyclists, dreamers and lost souls alike.

CHAPTER 2

TROUBLE IN PARADISE


And I can't decide over right or wrong, You left the feeling that I just do not belong.

— Beth Orton

In April 2008, six months before my battle with the weather gods on Sunwapta Pass, I was inconsolable and most certainly was not "the man." I'd been living in Canmore for close to four years and would have described it to the uninitiated as a charming, prosperous and obscenely picturesque community situated along Alberta's mountainous western edge. From the balcony of my rented two-storey condo, I had an uninterrupted view of the mountains that started down the valley to the left, at the famous and oft-photographed Three Sisters, swept along the face of Mount Lawrence Grassi and Ha Ling Peak, hit a midpoint at Whiteman's Gap, continued along the 12-kilometre eastern face of the Mount Rundle massif and ended at the imposing bulk of Cascade Mountain, off in the distance to the right.

The entire vista is part of the Front Ranges of the Rocky Mountains, and the section visible from my balcony is a small piece in the continuous chain of mountains that form the backbone of North America, from Mexico in the south all the way up to the Yukon Territory in the north. My personal bit of scenery sits about dead centre of those two extremes and is nothing short of world class. While true summer often passes too quickly in the Rockies – especially compared to the long, sweltering summers of my youth back in eastern Canada – fall is generally mild, and winter's chill is tempered with plenty of sunshine and more skiing opportunities than one person could take advantage of in a single lifetime. In fact, the Rockies are becoming an increasingly popular adventurer destination for outdoor sports enthusiasts year-round. Rock and ice climbing abound, and cross-country and backcountry ski trails shift seamlessly into hiking and mountain biking routes with every change of season.

My introduction to the Bow Valley Corridor, however, came nearly two decades ago, while I was riding a road bike, and I admit I never even gave Canmore more than a passing glance. I was headed out to the Pacific Coast from Calgary and in my haste to knock off miles didn't even stop on my way through to Banff. At that time, I was obsessed with long-distance bike touring, even though it wasn't the preferred, or trendy, way to travel in North America. Wherever regular people went by airplane or by car, the cool kids rode motorbikes, and a small percentage of fanatics, eccentrics and nerds pedalled. But I was infatuated with the mountain West, and in my mind the Canadian Rockies were a sanctuary of wonder and a revelation of nature that should be experienced at ground level – or as the legendary alpinist Reinhold Messner has said, by fair means. In my idealized mindset, planes were for people in a rush, and cars demonstrated a lack of imagination. RVs just made me nauseous.

At any rate, my heart was in the right place for a proper sweat- and grime-stained adventure, and my body was willing; I just wasn't aware enough to take the time to appreciate what I was experiencing. Back in the mid-'90s, I covered the 275 kilometres from Calgary to Golden in three days in a desperate effort to get from here to there, and the Rocky Mountains turned out to be little more than a blur of peaks and valleys and trees. But they left an indelible impression, and in the years that followed I returned again and again and again to hike and ski and paddle and climb. I developed a deep appreciation for the beauty of this place; a genuine respect for the challenges presented by the landscape now shapes my worldview. I continue to champion my adopted hometown as one without equal and conveniently ignore nagging doubts about this place. I try to smile and be friendly at least some of the time, while quietly pretending that living in paradise isn't slowly killing me.

One of the reasons I've been brainwashed into thinking my home is nothing short of paradise is that people tell me so just about every other day. When my parents come on their yearly visit, they can't help but mention it once every 25 minutes. If I take a walk downtown in the summertime, I inevitably overhear waddling folks with funny accents and odd clothes – who have been known to stop abruptly in the middle of the street with compact cameras in hand – mumbling something to that effect. And whenever I go on vacation, the ride back to town in the airport shuttle is filled with fresh, energetic people who can hardly believe such a well-kept secret exists in North America, less than an hour and a half from an international airport. In fact, it's not unusual for cameras and camera phones to leap out of pockets and purses while we're travelling at 100 kilometres an hour along the highway, 60 or 70 kilometres from where the mountains actually begin. Such is the power of this place.

Often I am exhausted from my own travels and can only manage faint amusement at the naked wonder of my fellow shuttle passengers, but must also concede what they are saying is true: Canmore is located in a truly breathtaking part of the world. With stunning snow-capped mountains, glacier-fed rivers and streams and a vast forest blanketing the lower slopes in a sea of green, there is no denying that the Bow Valley is picture-postcard perfect. In recent promotional material, the Banff Lake Louise Tourism Bureau has even gone so far as to say Banff National Park, whose east gate is less than five kilometres from my front door, is "the world's finest national park."

Yet every time I try to suck it up and accept things unconditionally, it isn't long before I'm haunted by the idea that if you're not pissed off at the world then you must have your head rammed up your ... I mean ... you must not be paying attention. Before moving "out West" (after an extended stay in purgatory – sometimes referred to around here as Ontario), I envisioned a perfect existence against this stunning backdrop. But the truth is, I've found the interactions of everyday life to be a series of small deceptions and partial truths, glazed over with a weak smile and halfhearted, "Fine thanks, how are you?" Nothing feels real, and that commonly heard workingman's refrain "Same old, same old" just doesn't cut it anymore. Skyrocketing real estate prices, restaurants and bars heaving with impatient and impolite city types, and a cost of living that rivals any city or town, anywhere on the continent, are all a consequence of too many people stumbling into "paradise."

I understand it's a bit harsh to paint Canmore with a pessimistic brushstroke just because I'm in a bad mood, and it was also unfair to come here expecting Utopia, but to be perfectly honest, I expected more from this place, not just more of the same. The result of this simmering discontent is an internal conflict threatening to boil over any day now. But, whatever is ultimately responsible for these feelings is probably irrelevant in the end. I'm a fool, surrounded by so many other fools, all of us living a back-and-forth struggle between the ridiculous and the sublime, and I'm tired of the rollercoaster ride. John Mellencamp once sang, "I know there's a balance, I see it when I swing past," but he never mentions anything about how to avoid motion sickness.

So, while my personal Alcatraz in the Rockies may have a tremendous view, it still feels like a prison, and I think it's about time to get over the wall. I know it will take more than a day off to unravel this discontent, and more than a weekend away in the backcountry to decompress. It's not normally in my nature to just give up and quit, but something's got to give, and quick. Walt Whitman, in his ode to simple movement and possibility called "Song of the Open Road," shouts, "Allons! whoever you are, come travel with me!" Hold on a minute there, Walt, I've got a few things to pull together first, but I'm on my way.


* * *

Ever since I was a kid riding his first two-wheeler, I've thought of the bicycle as the modern-day horse. Like the cowboys of the Old West or Mongolian herders out on the steppe, a man with a bicycle has a low-impact way to travel and a measure of autonomy unattainable with motorized vehicles. Give a man a horse and a wide open prairie and he's good to go; give a man a bike and a long ribbon of road, and he is similarly blessed. Foot power excepted, a bike remains the world's most frequently used mode of transportation, and many countries in the developing world continue to embrace it because it's easier to obtain and cheaper to maintain than a car. In any urban setting, riding remains the fastest way to travel for distances less than five kilometres, and it also happens to be a superb form of exercise.

These practical considerations aside, my attraction to the pedal-powered steed remains largely romantic. I make a unique connection to people and landscape while riding a bike that I simply can't get with planes, trains or automobiles, and it has always been my favourite method of exploration and escape. Exhaustively planned trip or last-minute whim, the result is always the same – freedom. In this context, pedalling a bicycle well is a tremendously liberating experience, underrated in this day and age. With the sun on your face and the wind at your back, pedalling hard through beautiful country is almost like flying. The klicks skip by unnoticed as legs pump down rhythmically and lungs deliver an endless supply of oxygen without effort. On any rise in the road, the heart jumps in and produces a few dozen extra-powerful beats, and the mind is free to get lost in the wonders of a carefree day. It's magical. The world disappears and comes into bright focus all at the same time. Much like the better-known "runner's high," but on two wheels – and every good ride has a moment like that. On a great ride, the feeling may last minutes, or even an hour or two. I'd even be willing to say that a bad ride in shocking conditions will still offer a taste of that freedom at some point.

Simply cruising down Bow Valley Trail in Canmore, however, you probably aren't going to experience anything except boredom and a vague sense of déjà vu. The road is long, dead straight and flat, with hotels, motels and small businesses dotting its length. If you remove the mountain views, you could be on the outskirts of any city or town in North America, with all the familiar names homogenizing the landscape: A&W, Best Western, Dairy Queen, Boston Pizza and McDonald's, among others. Canmore's version of a suburban ride culminates at the north end of town with a sweeping right turn that leads to an overpass and interchange with the highway, where the Trans-Canada hustles vehicles along the valley bottom at a pace that defies the serenity of the surroundings.

While my legs are sufficiently steady beneath me, and my new road bike feels responsive after years of travelling around town on a mountain bike, everything seems sluggish and mushy when I'm called upon to jump a little. Getting up and over the overpass turns into more work than it probably should be, and the whirlwind of motion and noise generated by the traffic whipping past below is enough to put anyone off the idea of venturing out on that metaphorical endless highway. Fortunately, the other side of the overpass brings a secondary access road that turns northwest again and offers an easy, rolling and – dare I say? – fun ride to Harvie Heights, the last small hamlet you come to before passing into Banff National Park. As the pedal strokes modestly start to add up, I'm inspired to give a little shout of excitement to the travel gods between sips from my water bottle and begin to get drawn into the wilderness that now stretches out in every direction.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Lost and Found by Jamey Glasnovic. Copyright © 2014 Jamey Glasnovic. Excerpted by permission of Rocky Mountain Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Maps 8

Part 1 The Road Ahead 11

The Icefields Parkway 13

Part 2 Close to Home 17

Trouble in Paradise 19

Banff 35

Canmore 57

Gear Up, Get Out 75

Kananaskis Country 101

Mount Kidd and the Village 129

Nothing Like an Epiphany to Ruin a Perfectly Good Day 147

Mount Engadine 171

The Auburn Rose West Coast Grill or, Joey and Ponchos Ale House, Pool Pub & Golf Course A.K.A. Every Bar I've Ever Worked At 115

Part 3 The Heart of the Mountains 239

Bow Valley Parkway 241

Into the Alpine 255

Laggan Station 277

The Backcountry 291

Merlin Meadows 307

The Wondertrail 315

Jasper 341

Part 4 Epilogue 351

A Winter Wonderland 353

Acknowledgments 369

Recommended Reading 373

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