On the 30th it was the moment to finally start with the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route.
In October 2015 photos in an article about a cycling route from Banff to Mexico stirred something deep inside us. Being outside, remote, minimal traffic and testing your limits, linked with the possibility to bike to Patagonia in a similar way made us take the decision of biking from North to South America. As Patagonia had been on our bucket list for ages.
30th of June was the day that we would take off, leaving behind the Fairmont Spring hotel in Banff.
The first 1,500 km have been a good test of all our equipment, our legs and our relation. These 1.500 km were not a designated route and during the course of the trip we regularly changed it and the distance to cover per day. In the beginning this gave me bit of stress, as you were not aware what was ahead of you. But during the travel and with having sufficient time it was great to travel in such a manner. During this whole trip we only saw less than 20 bike packers in total (included people we just waved at when they were going the other way)
Now we start from Banff on a pre-described route and probably with more people doing the same. How will I handle my competitive edge in relation to age and weight we carry?
The Fairmont hotel is a clear example of early marketing and sales intelligence. When building the TransCanada railroad they discovered the beauty of the region and to attract more investors and tourists they build hotels on key locations. It is still one of the outstanding hotels in Canada so we can’t leave civilisation without having a coffee there.
Only possibility is the lobby where they have kind of Starbucks, as the patio only opens at 11:30. Not the best coffee, muffins or location but it was nice to wander through the hotel and think about our working past, as we stayed for several congresses in similar hotels. Do I miss it?
Aim is to follow the planning of the GDMBR also with the suggested mileage per day but with the agreement that if we want to have shorter days or resting days we should follow our gut feeling.
First day would be only 45km as most people leave late, and that was correct, we only left around 11:00 from behind the hotel. 20 miles of gravel, loose rocks and steep ascend and bit descend. First day straight away we had to get of the bikes 2 or 3 times and push them up-hill one by one with the two of us. Oops, this only happened once during the first 1.500 km, so we realize it may be rougher than we thought. We end at Spray Lake, where there are only still campsites available at the overflow, resulting in 500 m biking to get to the pit toilet/bear lockers and more than 1 km to get to a pump for water, which you still need to filter. But with an amazing view of a bizarre sculptured mountain. We meet the first GDMBR biker, but he biked from South to North.
More GDMBR people during the next day. We have 65 km ahead of us but the first group of 4 is passing us when we have a break, heading to Elkford which is 140 km further….will it be so easy?? It is hot and part of the route is single track, we need again to push our bikes, while some fat bikes pass us with apparently a smaller granny gear than ours. We have not yet seen any bikes likes ours.
When we finally arrive at Canyon Campground all is full but Merlin, German guy and with a car, is so sweet to share his site with us. He is a farmer and carpenter and is here to learn the construction of log houses, in the meantime he is travelling from East to West Canada in a $2,000 car he bought.
Next day we are both tired and dizzy and I think we are dreading the Elk Pass. We don’t want to stay at Canyon Campground as only facilities are pit toilet and running water and not even a great view. We try at Boulton Trading post (where I discover I lost one of my gloves and Frank bikes back 10 km to find it😊) to see if we can get a spot with shower. But no luck. This is still the long weekend of 150 years of Canada and everybody is camping. However we can do some extra grocery shopping thus will enable us to stay longer at this side of the mountains.
We do find a spot at Camping Mount Serail. With an amazing view (without showers). Wayne, the camp manager, is retired but tries to find a beautiful, not too big campsite to manage for the summer. They maintain the sites and ambassador the campground (as it is a first come first serve campsite they only need to collect the money, sell firewood and correct bad behaviour). They have their own nice spot for their big RV and will live in there for 6 months of the year. 2 days per week they will switch with a couple from another campsite, so they both get days off.
After a day of rest and good food we are up for the next stretch. And again we are passed by people in a hurry who have to cover large distances to make it to their return flight. Even if we had the time pressure I don’t believe we would be able to cover those distances and I am happy we can stop to take photos or have a rest. Elk Pass requires pushing the bikes again, on but from there most of it is downhill. Getting warmer by the minute and our Goretex is no longer needed.
We are now back in BC and for the first time have a campsite where you do not have to pay anything. We are alone next to a small, clean river where we can have a very refreshing dip!
We are now entering the logging area and got some good tips from JD and wife Carry who we met the day before. The moment we hear/see a logging truck we pull off the narrow gravel logging road to give them more space, they in return will pass you at a turtle pace which result in almost no dust.
After rolling hills of forests we see the festering wound of the coal mines. Open pit iron coal mines. You see the big trucks going up and down the side of the mountain. All mines in the area are operated by TECK which is taking responsibility to treat the environment in the best possible way.
And what a beautiful area it is. The possibility to have lunch at Blue Lake, which fills every spring and will be dry by the end of summer. Elkwood is for us the possibility to finally, after 12 days of camping, sleep in a real bed and have showers as long as you want. A town of less than 3,000 people but with a great grocery shop. We do enjoy the luxury of breakfast cooked for us and finally after 1 ½ month a pizza (without wine as not all restaurants have liquor licenses) We have to say that Ciao Aspendos’ pizza from Nieuw-Vennep is much better! As the few restaurants they have are all inside and it is + 30 degrees we have a picnic with roasted chicken and salad for next day’s dinner. Our High Rock Inn motel is managed by nice Jay Sung, one of the first South Korean people who moved to Canada 40 years ago. 15 years ago he retired and instead of biking the GDMBR he decided to buy the Inn. Says this is more work than before! So let’s consider once we have finished our trip on what we want to do 😉
In the public library you have the possibility to use WIFI and sit in a quiet, cool environment, so that is our possibility to up-load week 7 on the blog. They even recommend Frank to take two books with him from local writers.
From Elkford to Sparwood there is a washout on the GDMBR thus we decide to take the transcanadian trail which follows the Elkford Valley trail. Whoops, single track, quite new dirt road, up-hill. Good try but heavy. Frank already feels his shoulders and this bumping up and down is not helping.
Halfway we are warned by a terrible smell that Sulphur Springs is around the corner. The clear blue green water and the back drop of the prairie behind it are so appealing that I can’t resist and take a dip in this natural spring. Was not as warm as I thought it would be but luckily also not that smelly.
As we almost enter Sparwood a girl on a race bike starts chatting with me and she accepts the invitation for dinner at our campsite. Lindsay together with her husband Vincent moved here from UK but only recently moved to Sparwood. Fun evening with a lot of stories about the vast distances you have to cover in Canada to reach your destination and how it is to live here. As we were trying to get on a tour through the coalmines in Elkford, Lindsay was more than happy to take us there (no public transport on Saturday) but unfortunately the tour was full.
Motel/hotel are full and we have to stay two nights as the package with USB charger sent from home by Karin was on the way. Campsite Mountain Shadow was not nice as the only possibility is a spot next to the highway. And again the bear lockers are at least 700 meter from us, which is not encouraging to really behave bear-aware and store all your stuff when you leave your tent or overnight. Next day we escape the campsite and have breakfast at Tim Horton’s (kind of Mac Donald’s but local) where we meet a group of 8 UK military guys who are biking the GDMBR as part of their 75 years regiment celebration. Paul is so kind to share the complete route he created in an app called MapOut. Works great, thanks Paul!
The, until recent, biggest truck.
After working at the Library on last week’s blog and having the possibility to WhatsApp Chat we go to the Post Office. After the post-delivery horror stories of Lindsay we hope we will not be stuck in Sparwood any longer. But what fun it is to be in a small town because when Franks says that there could be a general delivery package for us she beams and confirms. Thanks Peter and Karin for shipping the USB charger. Frank installed it on his bike and now our phones are charged when biking! Much better feeling.
Happy to be able to leave Sparwood. We will follow the Fernie alternate as the Adventure Cycling Association confirmed there where several severe washouts at the “official” route which could make it very difficult to find your way or even make river crossings necessary.
It is hot so it is no punishment to follow the highway and move faster. Fernie is a sweet little town focused on winter sports and mountain biking. Great spot to have a great cappuccino with something sweet. Shopping around for some Canada souvenirs as we soon will cross the border but nothing interesting or usable. You see the scars of the ski runs on the mountain sides. At 17:00 it is still 37 degrees when we arrive in Elko, gas station and general store. We do not want to camp there next to the highway and we decide to try to find the remote campsite the shop girl suggested. Rock Creek is just a spot where you can put your tent or RV after you have covered some miles on a dirt road. It is very dry and prairie like. There are a few RVs with kids on cross motor bikes and a small quad. One small girl takes off and goes way too hard and rolls over, appears to be her first time on an ATV . Luckily she was wearing a helmet and only damage are a few bruises.
We find a spot next to the creek and have a refreshing dip in very cold water. Due to several wild fires in BC and the drought there is now a fire ban in effect.
Will we cross the US border next week? Will they accept our visa?
Wildlife sighting of this week
Lots of deer and grouse.