There is a strange ritual that’s observed every April in the mountains of Canmore. The months of snow and stationary trainers create an urge, an inexorable drive, that pushes the cyclist to ride. With snow covering the valley until late Spring, there is only one trail* available for those possessed by that powerful call to ride . For almost a month, waves of riders will mechanically pedal up the Smith-Dorrien road, otherwise known as The Gap.
*used in the loosest sense of the word
Narrow, winding, mountainous road. That pretty much covers it. A constant climb up a dirt and gravel road, riding The Gap is an exercise in the desperate. No one would accuse the trail* of being fun. But, with every other trail in the valley still wet, snowy, or generally un-rideable for weeks to come, the Gap offers the only opportunity to ride.
*again, used in the loosest sense of the word
Starting from downtown, The climb winds past the Nordic Centre towards Spray Village. As the road transitions into dirt, replete with wash-board ripples and pot-holes, the mind usually starts to wander. Churning gears, you’ll say to yourself “Maybe the Reclaimer is clear” or “I should see if the lower Nordic Centre is good enough to ride”. But you’ll soon realize that it’s too early, there’s too much snow, to entertain riding anywhere else.
Arriving at the top, a sweeping corner dissolves into a body of water. There is a vague sense that the trail* continues, winding its way down the valley pass, that collides with a stronger sense that you’re done climbing for the day. There is little sense of accomplishment. The climb up The Gap is too short, and not steep enough, to bestow that. The only thing left to do is to turn around and head back down, secure with the knowledge that, at least, a little fitness has been gained in the early season. At least you got out for a ride. In fact, it felt pretty good to be on the bike. Maybe you’ll do it again.