Born to be wild
Rocky Mountain company helps visitors
ride the Road Less Travelled
Jasper, Canada - Any real rebel knows that it takes more than an odd haircut and a leather jacket to become a rebel. And it certainly takes more than watching Easy Rider on Netflix or turning on your iPod and listening to Born To Be Wild.
To be a real rebel, you have to get off the beaten track and take the road less travelled.
And there’s no better place to do that than in Jasper, the crown jewel of Canada's Rocky Mountain parks.
But even for weekend rebels, it takes more than riding in an air-conditioned coach to truly experience the Canadian Rockies. For that, sometimes you need a motorcycle - preferably a Harley or a Honda - that makes you feel like part of the wild, not merely an observer.
But, of course, not everyone has a bike. And not everyone who has one can bring it to Jasper.
So for we Rebels Without A Cycle, there is Jasper Motorcycle Tours.
For more than a decade, the company has become the go-to place for rebels without a cycle - and even for would-be rebels who have decided that (for once in their lives) they’re going to take a ride on the wild side.
If I’d had my motorcycle licence, I could have rented a bike and leather gear and hit the open road looking like James Dean in Rebel Without A Cause or Marlon Brando in The Wild One. OK, maybe more like Dennis Hopper in Flashback.
But the truth is, I’m not the real motorcyclist in the family. That would have been my grandfather, Harrison Richardson, famously known in the Royal Army Service Corps as „Blackpool One.“ He got the nickname when he became the premier dispatch rider, running to and from the front lines during the Battle of Dunkirk. Now, there was a motorcyclist.
I never really inherited the intrepid motorcyclist’s gene. The closest I ever got to being a real biker was riding a motor scooter through the sometimes deadly Taiwan traffic.
So for me, renting my own motorbike and heading for the hills was out of the question. However, I was most fortunate to get Candace Broughton - owner/manager of Jasper Motorcycle Tours - to be my guide and give me a taste of a real wild ride.
Dressed in a leather jacket and chaps, I sat in the sidecar, feeling like a motorcycle superhero, or perhaps one of those high-ranking army generals in a Hollywood movie, who always seem to be chauffeured around in motorcycle sidecars.
Riding with Candace, I was the envy of all those driving by in their cars and buses. I got the feel of riding on the open road - the wind in my hair, the sun on my face and the bugs in my teeth - while still being able to look around and take pictures.
I had my choice of routes and destinations. We could have gone up the Fiddle River Valley to take the waters at the Miette Hot Springs. We might have taken the VIP tour of the Maligne Lake Road, with its views of the magnificent Maligne Canyon and Medicine Lake along the way. Or we may have gone up to The Whistlers to connect with the Jasper Tramway for a true mountaintop experience.
But in our case, we really did want to take the road less travelled: Highway 93A - part of the old Jasper-Banff Highway that winds its way down the Athabasca Valley, following the contours of the land and getting up close and personal with the wilderness.
Those who take their rental cars and tour coaches down the modern Icefields Parkway will certainly get „the big picture.“
The beauty of taking the old road is that you get to notice the details: the contrasting canvas of wildflowers; the kaleidoscopic hues of aquamarine where the turbulent waters of the Whirlpool River flow into the mighty Athabasca.
„This place is amazing“, said Candace, as we rumbled down this carefree highway. „In the fall, the side of the mountain comes alive with blazing oranges and reds, as the leaves turn colours.“
She points out that it’s also a great place to see wildlife, and offers some spectacular views of mountains, rivers and waterfalls - views that you won’t get from the main highway.
On our trip we not only saw the usual elk and Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, we also got a rather close view of a cinnamon-coloured Grizzly bear and her cub. THAT is something you rarely see when you take a group tour on a coach.
A particular Rocky Mountain high for me was how the old road showed off different aspects of Jasper’s Jewels: the resplendent Mount Edith Cavell; the regal Athabasca Falls; and the hidden jewel of the Jasper-Banff highway - Sunwapta Falls.
But when you’re on the road, sometimes the whole point is that you don’t always know exactly where you’re going. And we spent a perfect evening meandering on the back roads that ran by the rivers of Canada’s memory.
At the end of our three-hour tour, we returned to the town of Jasper feeling that we had truly arrived.
It’s like the old signs says: „The journey is the destination.“
Stephen A. Nelson is a veteran freelance journalist and photographer, now based in Jasper, Alberta
If you go . . .
Jasper Motorcycle Tours, 610 Patricia St., Jasper, Alta.T0E 1E0 - Canada
All prices are in Canadian dollars (CAD)
In addition to set tours, Jasper Motorcycle offers customized tours and rides.
Sidecar tours can be 1 hour, 2 hours, 3 hours or all afternoon
Costs range from about $270 per person to $658, depending on the destination.
All rates are based on two passengers (one in the sidecar and one on the motorcycle behind the driver).
Single passenger tour rates are available if you want to travel alone.
There are discounts for Children under 10 years old.
All the necessary equipment - helmets, goggles, leather jackets and chaps - are provided for the tours.
Maximum weight per passenger is 127 kg.
If you are an experienced motorcycle rider with a valid licence, motorcycle rentals (Harley, Honda, Kawasaki) are available
Rental prices are $230 for a half day; $300 for a full day; $350 for 24 hours; $600 for two days
Tour season operates from March 15 until Oct. 15, weather permitting.
Getting to Jasper and getting around in Jasper...
Probably the easiest way to get to Jasper is by shuttle bus.
Sun Dog Tours runs convenient, daily shuttle service to Jasper from Edmonton and from Edmonton airport.
The fare from Edmonton Airport to Jasper is $99 for adults; $59 for children.
In winter, Sundog also runs a connector service from Calgary, Banff and Lake Louise.
The fare from Calgary airport to Jasper is $135 for adults; $69 for children.
Private journeys are also available.
Telephone: 1-888-786-3641or visit www.sundogtours.com
or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org