How I Got Paid to Ride my Bike, Eat and Travel This Summer

Sweat beaded on my forehead as I made my way towards the last hump of the infamous Sunwapta Pass. I slowed my pedalling pace for a moment and glanced up from the road, knowing that the view would be incredible from this part of the climb. As per usual, the towering peaks, cascading waterfalls and glittering glaciers took my breath away far faster than the daunting 102km bike ride I had almost completed.

I shouted a few words of encouragement to the string of guests riding behind me, and cranked my way up the last kilometre of uphill. We emerged into a luscious and blindingly bright alpine meadow, and cheered uproariously as we coasted the last few kilometres to the toe of the Athabasca Glacier.

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This was my summer. Even better, this was my co-op. I had the incredible fortune of spending my last co-op term as a trip leader for a company called Backroads, a high-class active travel company which runs trips all over the world. The company started 37 years ago as a cycling operation, but has since expanded to multi-sport, hiking, and cycling river cruise trips. I was lucky enough to lead both cycling and multi-sport trips both in the Canadian Rockies and the Gulf Islands this summer.

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The life of a Backroads leader is quite…how do I put this? Crazy-incredible-fun-exhausting-rewarding-adventurous-and unique? That probably sums most of it up.

I was continually amazed by the opportunities I was presented with by working for Backroads (such as staying in 5-star hotels, getting paid to ride my bike, becoming a bike mechanic, getting paid to travel)… and the range of skills I learned and used in my daily life as a leader (group management, parallel parking a fifteen passenger van with a trailer attached to it, making gourmet picnics in the wilderness, dealing with lost luggage, recommending wine pairings and teaching fully grown adults how to “pop a squat” to relieve themselves in the woods).

The job is quite insane, but that’s what makes it so wonderful. Our trips were six days long, and my co-leaders and I would take our guests on human-powered adventures to see some of the most spectacular landscapes, accommodations, meals, and history our country has to offer.

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I learned SO much this summer, from people skills to bike skills to time management to leadership and so much more. I learned more about cycling than I ever thought I would, worked alongside some of the most interesting and caring people I’ve ever met, and most of all, I got to share my passion for the wilderness with others. Watching people open up, push themselves, and relax in the outdoors was so rewarding for me, and I really can’t think of a better way I could have spent my summer.

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