This wide shouldered, two-lane highway is one of the most spectacular in Canada. The Rocky Mountains flanked us on the left and right and challenged us as we climbed toward her peaks, and descended to her river-filled valleys. As we biked along, past waterfalls and goats and even a few bears, we reminded each other to look around and to try to take it all in.
There is something about biking in nature that gives me a chance to clear my head and to think about life.
As we prepared for the trip, besides doing some good training rides, we spent time planning for our trip. Because we would need to transport four bikes on the first day (Rhonda’s husband, John accompanied us for one day and Jim brought his bike along hoping to leap-frog ahead of us with his support truck and bike back toward us whenever he could) we knew we needed to be strategic about what we brought; maps, luggage and a bit of food made the list.
The maps were easy to download and to be honest, it would have been very difficult to get lost. With the exception of a few twists and turns in Banff and Lake Louise, there is only one road going to Jasper from Canmore. The concern for me was not in losing my way, rather it was in navigating the altitude challenges. Over the trip we gained about 2700m of elevation gain. That’s a lot of uphill pedal strokes.
I operate best when I have an idea of what I’m facing so we downloaded an elevation map to complement the road map. Over breakfast we would pour over the maps, trying to determine at what time of the day we would encounter the climbs and descents and making plans for good places to connect with Jim. Mentally, this was great preparation; physically it did not change a thing.
Jim provided vehicle support for us meaning, using his brand new, super-long-range-walkie-talkies, advertised to reach up to 56km but in reality that, in the terrain of the mountains reached more like 10km, we knew we could have his help pretty quickly with the press of a button and some crackly, ‘Hey good buddy….’ chatter. Because he was leap frogging ahead of us and meeting us at least every 20km, we did not have to carry much gear, allowing us to keep our bikes as light as possible.
Our food was easy. We had some lunch items in the truck, some snacks in our packs on the bikes and water in one of our water bottle holders. We filled the second water bottle holder with a canister of bear spray, which I will sheepishly admit, I did not even consider reaching for when I unexpectedly came far too close to a black bear, who was enjoying grazing on his berries on the side of the road. When I looked him in the eye as I flew past all I could think was to stay upright, stay out of traffic, and keep pedalling!
It’s wonderful how life takes every chance she can to remind us that we aren’t as prepared or as under-control as we might like to think we are.
So, although I found what I thought to be the entire climb to be tough, I began to pat myself on my back a bit too quickly, thinking I had it conquered. It turns out I was about ten kilometres too quick in the back-patting area. It took a minute but I was able to get my head around it and keep going. Finally, at the top we stopped, tired and proud, had a drink, took in the scenery and put on our jackets for the cooler descent. I was delighting in the fact that it would now be ‘downhill all the way’.
It is in moments like these we need to think less about what we are doing and more about who we are being. Luckily for me, somewhere deep down in an invisible pocket of my bike shorts I must have packed my ‘being’. I dug that tiny little nugget out and listened carefully to myself as I said, “Lizzie. (Not many people call me this). You can’t always see every mountain that will be placed in your path in life. You don’t get to choose the mountains. You do get to choose how you will climb them.”
I’d love to say that in that moment the mountain flattened out and I cruised to the summit. In truth, the mountain remained the same. But I did not. I had made the choice to continue to be the person I was hoping to be when I dreamed of this trip.
Each of us has huge-looking mountains placed in front of us as we navigate the road of life. While having carefully printed road maps, good gear and some good food can help, these, it turns out are not the secret ingredients for climbing mountains. In my case, I have determined I had two secret ingredients. One was that I had such great partners to ride with. Knowing Jim was close by and ready to help removed the feeling of isolation. Knowing Rhonda was with me every pedal stroke was not only a gift, it was my most invaluable support. I believed we could do this together. And finally realizing I had within me the strongest tools I would need, gave me the peace I needed to simply be in the moment.
My inquiry for you this week is, ‘What’s in your invisible pocket?’
Elizabeth is a certified, professional Life and Leadership Coach, and the owner of Critchley Coaching. She is the founder and president of the Canadian charity, RDL Building Hope Society. She works with corporations, non-profits and the public sector, providing leadership and personal coaching for individuals and teams. She creates and facilitates custom workshops for all sizes of groups. Contact Elizabeth to learn how to access your invisible pockets.