Canadian Express | Icefields Parkway with iPod

By Andrew Cherney, Photography by Andrew Cherney

Canada / Icefields
I was on one of those rides that lull you into a warm blanket of supreme contentment-a midsummer sun beaming on your helmet, blue sky above punctuated by a few drifting white clouds, the mechanical rhythm of an unstressed V-twin turning minimal revs underneath you in third gear. Tunes are humming out of the bike's fairing and on either side of the road, waterfalls weep from the surrounding mountains that rise up from every bend. Picture postcard, anyone?

Then I rounded the corner and-BAM-the scenery shifted . Hard.

Reverie, interrupted.

Technically, a massive, white glacier is filling up my visor, but in softer terms, it's a barren, beautiful scene. My mind struggles to process the infinite landscape, and as I get closer, I notice the details within the vastness. The glacial surface reveals random lakes, twisted moraines, shadowy crevasses, and holes in the ice created by swirling dust.

But the most powerful pull on my eyeballs is the eerie blue lacing the iceflow-a cool, menacing color ripped straight from a Pantone swatch. Unlike the super-saturated hue of many lakes in the Canadian Rockies, the stunning, ethereal blue of the Athabasca Glacier isn't caused by mineral content - it's from the lack thereof. Air and other impurities that reflect white and gray tones have been squeezed out of the crystals inside the glacier, leaving wavelengths of light to reflect only the blue spectrum.

Or so I've been told. All I know for sure is that, in the presence of the Columbia Icefields, I feel pretty damn insignificant.

Getting Sorted
I'm exploring the Icefields Parkway halfway between Banff and Jasper, in Alberta, Canada. This little jaunt had been organized by Best Western Hotels and Harley Canada with the intent of promoting BW's image and reputation with bikers. You wouldn't think a hotel chain and a motorcycle manufacturer staging a tour together would make much marketing sense, but it's a stroke of genius. Think about it: the world's largest hotel chain and the planet's biggest bike maker. Both have captive audiences, and both have needs the other can fulfill-Harley, with its army of travelers in search of accommodations, and Best Western, with thousands of hotels around the continent, looking to fill rooms. Best Western's new-ish loyalty program is called Ride Rewards, and it caters to motorcyclists around North America. The hotel chain offers 1300+ "rider friendly" hotels that provide free rider-specific services (such as wipe-down towels at check-in). And even though Harley is a sponsor, the program is open to all riders and bikes.

The BW and HD media tour has become a yearly tradition, and this year the ride would be in Western Canada, specifically in the Canadian Rockies. It all gets off to an inauspicious start, alas, with a vicious downpour greeting our arrival at Edmonton International. Days earlier, the city had been pelted by golf ball-size hail, denting cars and flooding streets everywhere. Play melancholy for me baby, I thought , and as if on cue, Neil Young oozes out of the hotel lobby's sound system, pointing out that "it didn't mean that much to him if it didn't mean that much to me."

Leaving The Concrete
Next morning, the skies clear up enough for us to pick up rides at the Heritage Harley-Davidson dealership in Edmonton, which has a full spread of late-model Hogs to choose from. Everything from a current Street Glide to a CVO Fat Bob is on offer, so I make myself comfy on a 2010 bagger (interested riders should note that Heritage rents bikes as well).

For the first leg of our tour, we'd be running from Edmonton to Jasper, 244 miles of 'mostly boring slab'-or so the local Canucks that had insinuated themselves into the trip told me.

They weren't lying. The drone west on Trans-Canada Yellowhead Highway 16 from Edmonton to Edson is dead-straight, and, consequently, deadly boring. As if to confirm, Joni Mitchell warbles out of the Harley's Harmon Kardon speakers, " I am on a lonely road and I am traveling. Traveling, traveling, traveling..."

They weren't lying. The drone west on Trans-Canada Yellowhead Highway 16 from Edmonton to Edson is dead-straight, and, consequently, deadly boring. As if to confirm, Joni Mitchell warbles out of the Harley's Harmon Kardon speakers, " I am on a lonely road and I am traveling. Traveling, traveling, traveling..."

Yea, thanks Joni. I get it.

We pass towns with colorful names-Carrot Creek, Bickerdike, Marlboro-and not much else. The Street Glide humming beneath me is the perfect tool for the job with its big fairing to break up the gusts, and from the radio, Triumph (bonus points if you remember the 1970s era hard rockers) implored me to "Lay It On the Line". I couldn't guess if they meant it figuratively or literally, so I upshifted and rolled on the throttle. Then I wonder: I'm in Canada, but does that mean everything I hear on the local station radio has to be Canuck-ian?

Turns out 35% of it does. I found out some Canadian Commission ruled years ago that by the end of the 20th century radio stations would have to play 35% Canadian content, leading to an explosion of Canadian pop musicians in the 21s t century. This was going to be a lonnng ride...

By Andrew Cherney
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