By Steve Hubrecht
An Invermere woman and her Yukon-based friend undertaking an epic human-powered journey along the Yellowstone-to-Yukon corridor are now about halfway through their bike-hike-canoe journey.
The Pioneer last reported on Heather Waterous and Amaya Cherian-Hall’s months-long trip back in late May, as the pair were at the Targhee Pass trailhead near the three-way state border between Wyoming, Montana and Idaho, about to start their trip. Two months later, the Pioneer was able catch up with Waterous and Cherian Hall again, this time in person, when they stopped in Invermere for a few days rest, not long after crossing the U.S.-Canadian border.
The women ran into trouble right off the bat. The first section of the traverse was supposed to be a hike from the Targhee Pass trailhead, through Yellowstone National Park all the way up to the U.S.-Canada border by Glacier National Park in Montana. But when the pair began hiking they encountered snow. They had expected to find snow (which is still common at high elevations in Yellowstone in late May). What they hadn’t counted on was just how much snow there would be. Thigh-deep snowy mush was everywhere, blanketing their route.
“It was ski season,” Cherian-Hall wryly told the Pioneer.
They popped on their snowshoes and forged ahead. But the snow was so soft that with each step their feet sank — snowshoes and all — down, down, down. Progress was agonizingly slow, post-holing along, but the women plowed on, undeterred, side-hilling up steep slopes and slogging through creek crossings. On the second day, however, they stopped in an open meadow for a break. Both realized that there was no way they could keep to their route plan at this pace. On top of that, there was considerable risk of loose wet avalanches, what with all that extra, unseasonal soft snow.
“It was a dropping sensation…This plan we had spend years creating what coming to pieces in a matter of days,” said Waterous.
They sat in the meadow, and in just 15 minutes, completely re-drew their plans for the first leg of the journey. They backtracked out of the mountains, hitchhiked into town and then in two days switched out their hiking gear for cycle tour gear. The first leg of the Y2Y Traverse (the part from Yellowstone to the Canadian border) would now be by bike.
Waterous is the first to admit it was a big lesson in flexibility, and not necessarily an easy one for her, as she likes to have things controlled as much as possible, and well-planned out in advance. She credits her friendship with Cherian-Hall (who is much the opposite: happy to go with the flow and stressed out only by over-planning) as being key to successfully changing the traverse on the fly.
“It would’ve been so much been harder on my own,” said Waterous.
The pair spent almost two months cycling their way north through the U.S., camping en route, spinning their wheels through snowstorms, rainstorms and under clear blue skies, watching meadows of wildflowers explode into bloom, swimming in still-ice cold rivers, and even pedalling up the soaring heights of the famous Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park.
“We’ve really gotten into mountain biking, into cycle touring,” said Waterous. “You cover a lot of ground, much more than you can hiking, but you still get to interact with the environment you are in. You are not removed from that environment, like you are in a car. There’s certainly some grit involved in the long climbs up gravel roads on a bike, but it doesn’t wear down your body quite like hiking does. And then you get to cruise on the downhill, and sometimes you’re just so filled with joy you’re literally dancing on your bike. Cycling is very playful, in a way that I have really come to love.”
Montana’s Glacier National Park sits at a junction of three major cycle touring routes, and the women keep meeting other long distance pedallers.
“The community of bike tourers is phenomenal. I had no idea. It seemed every day we’d meet somebody new who inspired us,” said Cherian-Hall. “We’ve met cycle tourists in their 70s, and cyclists tourists who are even younger than us. We’ve even met parents that are bike touring with their kids…When you travel, you often pick up and leave community. So it’s neat to now be immersed in this community of people who are in motion.”
Waterous and Cherian-Hall have also found cycle touring to be a culinary revelation in comparison with hiking. On longer hikes, they tend to stick to ultra-lightweight dehydrated meals, to cut back on the load they need to carry. But cycling with saddlebags affords an opportunity to carry (and to eat) a much more varied diet. Cherian-Hall’s pumpkin soup and couscous, with roasted pumpkin seeds on top is a hit, as are bagged salads and Cherian-Hall’s mom’s dehydrated dal. “We sometimes gather stinging nettles to add to the dal,” said Cherian-Hall. “And we constantly seem to have a bag of chips on the go.”
After crossing the Canada-U.S. border, the pair cycled to Invermere for a bit of downtime. Cherian-Hall spent two weeks relaxing, to rest an inflamed Achilles tendon, while Waterous returned back south to Waterton National Park to begin hiking north on the Great Divide Trail, with plans to meet Cherian-Hall at Mount Sarrail in Kananaskis Country. From there the pair’s route headed west through Banff National Park, crossing into Kootenay National Park at Ball Pass and Hawk Creek (which they should be arriving at just as this edition of the Pioneer hit newsstands). From there it’s on to Kootenay’s fabled Rockwall backpacking trail, and then beyond through Yoho, Banff (again) and Jasper National Parks before going all the way up to Kakwa Lake.
At Kakwa, they will stop hiking and get back on their bikes, cycling up the Alaska Highway to Whitehorse, Yukon. There, they’ll begin canoeing down the Yukon River until at last arriving in Dawson City some time in October.
“Time just seems to fall away. You do a five day trip, and you’re always aware of the end. But on this trip, the end seems so far away that it doesn’t even feel like a trip anymore. It’s just life,” said Cherian-Hall.