For a few weeks, the Highwood Pass becomes a playground for road cyclists. As soon as the snow melts, usually in mid-May, the Pass offers car-free riding, good climbs, and great scenery. At least, it does until the road opens to traffic in June, then it only offers two of those things. But, for those few weeks, the Highwood Pass is great. Beyond great even.
It’s those mid-May rides that can be trouble though. It’s hard to predict the conditions to expect and hard to know if the road is clear of snow, especially towards the top. Knowledge of the riding conditions is usually passed around by word of mouth, often through stories of recent failed trips up the Pass. Snow, inclement weather, and wildlife can all conspire to dramatically shorten an epic ride. But, the siren song of the Highwood Pass, car-free and open, calls many to ride up and down the valley despite the many obstacles in the early season.
In this part of the world the weather can turn quickly. Blue sky at the barricade does not guarantee blue sky 10 km down the road. Even further down the road, it starts to rain. A cold rain. It’s cold out here. There’s a distinct possibility that there’s still snow on the road at the top of the Pass. Suddenly, the rain turns to hail. The hard, stinging, hail that you get when the weather is trying to turn really nasty.
And then there’s the bears.
It’s hard to tell in the photo above, but there’s a grizzly bear at the end of railing on the right. At this point, it’s a good idea to turn around. The bad weather is one thing. I can deal with bad weather. Bears are another thing entirely. I’m pretty sure that a grizzly can run faster than I can climb. I’m also pretty sure that I’m delicious, especially to bears.
Riding back down the valley, having been beaten in my first attempt of the year to ride up and over the Pass, I calculate how many more weekends until the cars come. The Highwood Pass is still car-free for another couple of weeks. I know I’ll be back.