Good night to the wandering tires,
Treading through parts unknown.
Good night to the loaded bags,
Filled with gear; velcroed, strapped and sewn.
Good night to the beauty of the landscape,
Draped in wildflowers, trees and sonnets.
Good night to the twinkling stars,
Framing still tents and hammocks like bonnets.
Good night to the crisp air,
Chilling lungs; numbing fingers and toes.
Good night to the cozy thoughts,
Warming sopping wet clothes.
Good night to the challenging terrain,
Taking more sometimes than can be given.
Good night to the demanding fortitude,
Championing all that has been ridden.
Good night to the friends met on the trail,
Sharing journeys abroad and near home.
Good night to the laughter and smiles,
Perched upon our faces, as together we roam.
BIKEPACKING.com introduced the idea of an end-of-year campout in 2020, as a way to keep bikepackers connected during the pandemic, sharing stories of outdoor adventure and reflection with each other. I decided to give winter camping a go at the end of 2020 and was immediately hooked - not with the concept of bikepacking in cold weather, but rather sending the year off doing something I love, being immersed in the outdoors. I quickly latched onto this being a tradition, eager to build upon the first year (much like I did by adding a verse to my poem).
I was originally slated to be back in Ontario for the holidays and lined up a fat bike adventure with a friend, only to have those plans fall through due to a spike in COVID cases. Luckily, I easily convinced Sarah and Rachel to join me for a winter adventure out West instead; something that really lifted my spirits being away from family for the holidays.
We honed in on the Icefields Parkway for our overnighter for a couple of reasons: a reasonable amount of traffic (not too much in the winter that it feels unsafe to ride but enough that people would be around to help us if needed), cabins are spaced out along the highway, and the views are absolutely stunning. Some concerns we had included an extreme cold snap forecasted as well as sketchy road conditions (potential for narrow and icy riding surfaces as well as sporadic road closures for avalanche control). After some discussions on comfort levels, we decided to go for it, ready to be flexible based on how the group was feeling throughout the two days.
Our bikepack would be an out-and-back from Rampart Creek to Hilda Creek, 30 kilometres each way. Long enough to feel like an adventure, but short enough that we shouldn't get into too much trouble before we reached the warmth of our cabin. We set off late morning, with temperatures hovering around -37 degrees Celsius. Were we crazy? No doubt. Were we still going to jump on our bikes? Hell yeah.
It was quite difficult not to feel excited despite the bitter cold. There's something empowering about a female-led bikepack. The backdrop was also awe inspiring with the crisp air making for larger than life mountains against the blue sky. Thankfully my heated glove liners allowed me to pull my hands out of my toasty pogies and take photos fairly frequently. I also had heated soles in my winter boots to keep my toes temperate.
The first part of our route was relatively flat, allowing us to leap frog and keep our individual body temperatures where we wanted them. The last 10 kilometres of the day was straight up, however, leaving us all exhausted and with sweaty cores. Unfortunately Sarah's heated socks were performing subpar and her toes were frozen by this climb, making it all the more challenging. She toughed through though (something I may not have done) and we made it to the easement of the cabin... where another micro adventure began.
The sun was beginning to set and we decided it was best to follow a path crisscrossing across the snow rather than backtrack to the more direct path that we had overshot. Going down the hill was easy. We reached the creek and decided not to cross at that point since it was fairly close to an unfrozen culvert and the snow seemed shallow. We found another path carved out. Only it was deep. Twice I fell over, buried in the snow, with my bike falling on top of me. Grateful to be freed by friends both times. With sore arms from bike pushing, we made it to the cabin in one piece, eager to turn on the heat.
P.C. Rachel Davies
Once the propane heaters were on, we focused on getting some water ready for cooking. Rachel taught us how to melt snow and not have a disgusting burnt taste to it. The evening was spent hanging out by the heater, 'tumble-drying' our clothes (i.e. juggling them in our hands), and getting to know one another with some warm gin. We retired to our bunks, feeling accomplished with our day, knowing that tomorrow would bring an easier ride back to the start.
P.C. Sarah Hornby
We took the more established path back to the road and enjoyed our brisk descent to flat terrain, engulfed in a slow sunrise and mountainous silhouettes. It seemed balmy the second day by comparison, but that might have been us embracing warm thoughts, knowing we were almost done our bikepack.
P.C. Rachel Davies and Sarah Hornby
A bikepack like this, regardless of whether it is with seasoned friends or new friends, leaves you bonded. And to me that's exactly what the Good Night Campout tradition is all about - ending the year on a high note.