The second week of our summer-long trip down the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route took us from Ghost Station Campground near Cochrane, AB, through British Columbia and across the international border into Eureka, MT. We had a relaxing day in Canmore, and then headed north along the highway before looping back to the South, returning to the mountains and mining towns south of Banff.
We rode lots of singletrack between Elkford and Elko. In total it was roughly 50 miles worth, and most of it was top-notch. Between Sparwood and Fernie, my patience was tested because our progress was glacially slow compared to what I knew we could do on the dirt roads and all the overhanging vegetation made for soggy feet. The Elk Valley Trail linked together all the individual sections of singletrack, and I highly recommend it. There were some especially fun fast and flowy sections, and near Fernie there were some gnarly-looking downhill trails that intersected ours, with remnants of giant catwalks and huge drops scattered throughout the hillside. In some areas, the forest felt like a wasteland of downed trees and our trail meandered its way through, which felt like a true British Columbia mountain biking experience.
Although we only spent a few hours in Fernie, Rachel instantly fell in love. She said it was her favorite town we had visited so far along the route and that she would love to come back. There is mountain biking-galore; we even saw a group of young girls learning bike skills from a teacher at one of the many mountain bike parks in town. In addition to the bike-centric feel, the town had a fun, funky vibe, and there are great skiing opportunities nearby as well.
We fell into a routine of riding late into the night for a few nights, but we were able to meet our goal of a 45 mile/day average through Canada. It was a bit of a relief to make it back into the USA, although our crossing wasn’t completely drama-free. I had my wrist slapped for taking a photo near the customs gate, and was ordered to delete the photo from our GoPro, otherwise they would confiscate it. Oops!
The hot cloudless skies gave way to cloud filled skies with small patches of blue and also colder temperatures. There still wasn’t much rain but the threat was ever-present. We grew accustomed to packing away a wet tent and and holding our rain gear at the ready. We had snow, hail and rain on the ride out of Spray Lake Reservoir Campground and a punishing headwind that kept us under 7mph until we reached more sheltered roads. It was our first day riding all day with rain gear to stay warm and dry. It is funny how quickly you find yourself missing the weather you were sick and tired of only days prior. The dichotomy of conditions makes for a greater appreciation of the good days.
We continued to camp most nights, but also splurged for a couple hotels. We highly recommend the Drake Inn in Canmore for an affordable lodging experience right in the heart of downtown.
On our way out of Banff, we had our first bear sighting. It was a cinnamon-brown colored black bear mom, with 1 blonde and 2 black cubs, on East side of Spray Lake Reservoir. Unfortunately we weren’t able to get any decent photos. Otherwise, we saw lots deer and elk while riding through the aptly named Elk Valley.
Both of us faced some disappointments this week. We attempted to have Rachel’s phone repaired in Canmore, but the store owner tested it and found that it wasn’t responding at all and he would need to order parts to try to fix it. This renewed Rachel’s distress over losing her phone and potentially losing some great photos from the first few days riding. I faced my own disappointment in Banff when we brought my bike in to swap my cracked fork for the new one Maine Bike Works ordered for me. The fork-swap went without a hitch, but we were unsuccessful in reconnecting my dynamo hub. The employees there were very helpful and patient, though, which we greatly appreciated. One last disappointment was finding that we needed Canadian coins (“loonies” or “toonies”, for $1 or $2 coins, respectively) to get hot water at the campground behind the General Store in Elko, BC. We went the entire time in Canada without getting any Canadian cash, so after a long days ride with occasional rain showers, we were stuck taking cold showers.
We pushed our pace a little leading to Eureka, so that we could take a rest day there before meeting with Rachel’s parents, Jim & Jeanette. It turned out to be relaxing yet productive. We spent the first night in our tent behind the town hall in Riverside park, and then the next in the Silverado Motel. On our rest day, we took advantage of all 3 hours of the tiny library being open, and then spent a couple more hours at the Laundromat. In between, Rachel was ecstatic to have her hair cut in a little shop in town. At the Laundromat I reconnected my dynamo hub wiring, Rachel read her book and we talked to some really friendly locals. On our way back to the hotel we picked up groceries for dinner and the next few days, including a large can of baked beans that we carried the entire next day.
There have been lots of great people along the route: GDMBR cyclists, other travelers and locals. Zach from Australia is an industrial electrician who worked at the Antartica research station for 15mos. He made a short visit home then traveled to Anchorage to buy a bike and start his trip from Anchorage to Banff on the road, then ride the GDMBR from Banff to Mexico. Sheldon (and his daughter Loretta) in Elkford provided good insight to the route ahead. He was very happy for us that our route didn’t take us over the pass through Coco claim, a torturous-sounding hike-a-bike section that the Tour Divide route takes. At the Sparwood campsite, Bob and Linda gave us (and Zach) free coffee and muffins while we all waited and hoped the rain would stop. Sam from Germany rode the BC trail from Vancouver island to Sparwood and is scouting a mountain bike route that parallels the Great Divide Route but to the West, through Utah, etc. Miles is riding the GDMBR north. He had a great tan and Bedrock sandals which Rachel was jealous of. He told us that the snow had cleared in the passes before he made his way through which was a nice update for us. Markus was another cyclist from Germany who we met at the international border crossing. We rode together to Eureka, camped together in the town park and then had dinner together followed by beers and strawberries in the park.
Since one of the major perks of bicycle touring is being able to eat whatever and as much as we want, we have a lot of fun eating along the way. We had a great pizza and salad from Kapps in Elkford, followed by a Rockstar and cinnamon bun from a convenience store. When we rolled into Sparwood late, we had dinner at Tim Horton’s, followed by delicious Canada day-themed donuts. Marshmallows have become a new staple of our mobile pantry, they make a delicious snack or dessert and are very compressible. One of the best meals so far was some Asian-style tacos at the PD3 food truck in Canmore. That wasn’t quite enough, though, so we followed up with ice cream and then bought lots of candy and fruit at the grocery store which we gorged ourselves with while staying up too late and watching movies in the motel room. In Eureka, we shared Chinese with Markus and then beers and strawberries in the park. This still wasn’t enough, though, so we treated ourselves to a bag of hot Cheetos and other desserts at the Town Pump (we had gone over there only to brush our teeth). We also found that the Town Pump sells day old donuts for $0.39, a deal we couldn’t resist the next morning.