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Words and pictures by Melanie Chambers - Liv Ambassador

Canmore, Alberta

The sign would have made anyone nervous “Caution: bear on trails.”

I wasn’t nervous, I was terrified: over 25 years ago (long story, I obviously survived) a bear stalked me in the Chilcotin mountains near Whistler B.C. Today, looking at this sign in front of the Canmore Nordic Centre, about to ride on the trails, alone, I felt nauseous thinking of the bears.

If you ever want the full story, let’s have coffee and I will tell the tale.

Ok, back to the story. This is my final installment of my cross Canada, well, Toronto to Rossland journey. If you recall, I’ve already stopped to ride with locals in Sault Ste. Marie, Thunder Bay, Winnipeg, Moose Jaw and now, Canmore. However, today, I ride alone.

I had no choice. The women I reached out to had commitments and couldn’t make it, and Paul had to watch the dog. So, I did the only sensible thing I could: spend $100 for bear spray and hope for the best.

The blue level trails, EKG and Odyssey, started with a climb and quickly jumped into the deathly quiet forest (bad choice of words, but I was keenly aware of that bear). Luckily, the trails and ‘whoopie’ worthy trails took my mind off the furry beast, for a bit. Canmore’s trails were the smoothest singletrack trails I’d ever been on—moss covered rocks and roots melted into the path so seamlessly. As if nature had a pattern.

As I swooped up and down, inhaling the cedar smell, with the dramatic rocky mountains peaking out from the trees, this ride felt different. This ride was getting closer to my new home in Rossland—and that soon, my mountain biking, and life, would change. Instead of driving to the trails, the trails would be in my backyard. Before I knew it, I wasn’t thinking about that bear at all—only my new reality ahead. And, all the new riding.

Only six more hours driving and we’d be there, Rossland: a west Kootenay town so remote the closest reliable airport is four hours away. We drove through snow peaked mountains and the Canadian Rockies of Banff, past Radium hot springs and random Wild West saloons and General stores fronts. The car engine groans up the Kootenay Pass, a 1,775 meter mountain, that divides the Pend d'Oreille River on the west from that of Kootenay River/Kootenay Lake to the east. In third gear, then second, the Uhaul feels like it’s pulling us backwards. In the winter the pass is often closed from avalanches. To the right are runaway lanes—in case your brakes fail, you steer the car onto the ramp to slow you down. S**t!

As we enter the Kootenay mountain range, the valleys are full of farm markets—you can smell the peaches, cherries, and apples. Then, unbelievably we’re climbing the familiar eight kilometer mountain from Trail up to Rossland; your ears predictably pop about a third of the way up, until you come to the blinking light, the only street light in town, and turn onto Columbia Ave.

Home.

cyclist giving advice

Every morning Farley and I walk up the gulch trail (sometimes seeing bears—not such a scary prospect when you see them every other day). Farley leaps and bounds over the rocks, stopping abruptly to sniff the grass, then other doggy butts. Farley is happy in his new mountain home.

It’s finally Friday night with my new bike girls—Betty Go Hard is the local women’s club, along with the popular BC wide Muddbunnies. Natasha Lockey is the matriarch and she’s let the gang know I’m in town. And here might be one of the coolest parts of this town: my front door, I hop onto the single track across the street.

We meet at the base of Red Mountain; a few ladies have a jaw piece for their downhill helmets attached to their backpacks; others are wearing their knee pads around their ankles like leg warmers. Never having worn a full face, or really done any serious downhill riding, this is new to me. I’m a little nervous. I always am trying new trails.

We climb; and then climb (and as you know, I do love climbing), but for many here, the uphill is the tedious part so you can get to the top and bomb down and breakneck speeds. The switchbacks seem endless, until they start to get shorter. Please say it’s the top already.

I’m humbled. This is climbing like I’ve never known (well, in Canada that is).

As some of the ladies gear up, putting on the pads and full face helmets, my mouth goes a little dry. “Do I need those?” I wonder to myself.

liv ambassadors on a patio

Riding in the middle of the pack, I follow the line of another woman--just to be safe. I’m holding on and leaning back, when I start to release the brakes a little. Hmm, I got this. Then, sure enough, I brake too hard on a gravely corner and go down. As I’m flying elbow first into the pile of jagged rocks, I throw my forearm down instead to soften the fall. No deep cut, but my vein is swollen. My face goes white. “Want to sit down?” One of the ladies has stopped and is walking me through it.

It was fine, really. And as I’m laughing and clinking beers with my new group of ladies on the Red patio, I can’t help but think that I’m glad this happened. It was a reminder of the seriousness of riding and the consequences of not paying attention.

I’ve been in Rossland almost a month now; and, as I make my way back to Ontario (already you say? Yes, I have to do some work in Ontario), I am actually staying with one of the ladies I met on the way up, and riding with a few more. Isn’t it amazing that it only takes one ride sometimes, one ride to make a connection? One ride, and a bike

(P.S.: I bought red cowboy boots. Real cowgirl now!)