The first week of our summer-long GDMBR tour took us from Jasper National Park to Ghost Station Campground just west of Cochrane, AB. The riding varied from singletrack to dirt roads to pavement. Primarily, though, the route took us on what is locally referred to as the Forestry Trunk (not truck, although there are lots of them at times) Road, all the way from Hinton to near Cochrane. Between Hinton and Nordegg, the road was wide and heavily used by logging trucks. The sky was clear and the road was very wide so we felt like we were baking in the sun and the dust from the road was sticking all over us.
The scenery improved drastically south of Nordegg, and we began to see glimpses of the snow capped mountains to the west, in Banff and Jasper National Parks. The road also became more narrow and enjoyable, but we struggled early on with the amount of food we carried. We had finished our first 150km stretch with no services between Hinton and Nordegg and then immediately began another 170km with no services after lunch and resupplying in Nordegg. Since we haven’t had any visibility to upcoming services, we had a brief moment of panic when we rolled up to the intersection where we had been expecting to resuppy. We found ourselves with 170km without services ahead, 40km without services to the right and 3km to Nordegg to the left, but no details on whether or not we would find food there. Fortunately, Rachel flagged down a truck and confirmed that the juice of pedaling to Nordegg would be worth the squeeze, and we went into town for a meal and grocery resupply.
The only singletrack for the first week was the Overland trail out of Jasper, which was a beautiful and fun ~10 mile length of singletrack. If we stopped to photograph or video every breathtaking sight, we wouldn’t have made it more than a few miles all day. In Hinton, we stumbled upon more bike trails (and a cool bike skills park) where we talked to friendly local mountain biker who was happy to have us pass through his town. Otherwise, we stuck to the Trunk Road, which provided a great variety of scenery and was plenty challenging for us. It was particularly difficult after rain, when the surface felt sticky on our tires. Some logging trucks were courteous and would slow down,move over, and wave, but others wouldn’t be bothered by us. No shade can be mentally tough, so when we got onto the narrower road after Nordegg and had shadows reaching into the road, it was a confidence boost.
Our camping experiences varied from wild campsites with no amenities and ample biting bugs to primitive campsites with pit toilets, picnic tables, and fire pits to luxurious campsites with indoor bathrooms, showers and WiFi at the campground office. We never planned a days ride based on location of campsites but fortunately there always seemed to be another site 40-50 miles from the previous night site. Regardless of the type of campsite, though,we round up our food every night into a couple of dry bags and hang them from the best branch in a nearby tree that we can find.
Training for a long tour can be difficult. Rachel was certainly in better shape to begin the trip than I was, mostly thanks to her daily work commute of 12 miles round trip. Regardless, we both suffered tired legs and achey sit bones for most of the first week. In addition to the physical pain, I found I wasn’t in shape mentally yet, often anxious about impending climbs. I always knew we would make it over, but it was still hard to put them out of mind and just enjoy the current moment. The road is what it is, and no amount of worrying will change that.
A few days in, I had flashbacks to my irritated and swollen eyes and forehead because of sweat and sunscreen during long, hot days. Fortunately after a few days I remembered that applying hydrocortizone after riding will keep me looking normal!
The weather was mostly good during our first week. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky for the first few days; finally on day 5 our luck ran out. We watched dark clouds creeping over the nearby mountains and we did our best to dodge the front, but eventually our paths intersected. Rachel was very frantic as the thunder boomed and we ambled over a pass. There were tears and she even asked me to tell her parents that she loves them, in case the lightening found her. Fortunately it never found either of us, and the rain didn’t begin until we finished the pass. When it finally began we ducked out to the side of the road under trees for a half hour and then hurried down the sticky, wet road. We found a clearing beside the next river crossing; not a formal campsite but others had clearly camped there before so we called it good enough. It was still raining so we set up the tent in hurry, but all our belongings were still very soggy by the time we finished. Then of course, once we finished setting up and made it to safety inside the tent, the rain stopped.
We learned to be extra-conservative with the amount of food we carry, which is tough when you also want to be as light as possible. One particular day we found ourselves low on food in the morning, so we ate a very minimal breakfast and then rationeded our few granola bars throughout the day. After noon, signs for a general store appeared, which was also a boost because it was looking like rain again. Our emotions changed quickly once we rolled into town and found the store was being rebuilt. It was too far ahead on route with the little food we had left so we detoured 5km to Sunset Guiding which has a little cafe where we were served a delicious lunch. While we were there we met Larry, Lori, Merle and the rest of the small staff who took great care of us. They generously offered their horsebarn for us to camp under. In the morning we stuck around for breakfast and then they gave us a happy sendoff. It was well worth the extra 10k, and reminded me a bit of Tim Pond Camps in Western Maine, which I am very fond of. After a few proper meals, our spirits were high and we felt very strong. Despite more soggy roads, we rode fast the next day and cruised into Ghost Station Campground at the end of day 7 to close out our first week on the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route.
It has been difficult but so beautiful and so much fun. Can’t wait to see what the rest of the trail has to offer!