We returned to the Divide Trail via an alternative route below Helena called the Boulder Alternate. It was a fabulous ride following the river as it courses through canyons and curves. Routes that are sweet flow along in a way that allows your momentum to always carry you up the next hill. This was a sweet ride. Nothing but smiles.
We spent the next couple of days following rivers through dark mountainous forests. Small limited service campgrounds were our homes for the night. We reached altitudes around 8000 ft. Gradually the valleys grew broader and the trees sparser. Large ranches started to dominate the terrain. Foothills replaced mountains. Shade was harder to find. We pedaled on.
There have been no stores, cafes or anything for several days. We are eating the food we made up before we embarked on this journey. Plenty of streams cross the route. Filters come out and hydration bags are filled. Our days are about 60 plus miles on average.
Last night we stayed at a large ranch. There were 3 cabins to stay in but were all taken by local ranch workers. We tented in the yard under some large shade trees. Tenting is free said the hand-written sign next to the ranch house door. Showers $10. We stuffed our money in the envelope that we put into the provided box. Never did see anyone in the house. Dust on these gravel roads finds its way into every pore on any exposed skin. Caked on. In your nose and ears. Takes a good amount of water and soap to get it all down the drain. Showers are a blessing.
After another day weaving our bikes down and up through the treeless dusty foothills we arrived at Lima. We had high hopes of a grocery store and a shaded campground. A nice restaurant where I could enjoy a glass of red. Re-filling our larder. Hopes hit the ground with a thud. The buildings were out of the 30’s and in ill repair. We sat next to the motel waiting for someone to show up. The rooms were low cinder block ovens. The diner across the way had a couple of cabins. We wandered over and took one of those. Original from the 40’s and a little sunken into place, they were welcome respite from the forlorn heat of the afternoon. This and some old fashioned food in the diner made our day. The grocery store was part of the gas station. Our larder for the next couple of days – basic.
The owner of diner/cabins told me that around 75 percent of his business is from cyclists like us. We are hearing similar reports at all the little towns along the Divide Trail. We feel welcome.
We reached 1060 total miles on our bikes today. That’s a little over 1/3 of the approximate 3000 miles of the Great Divide Mountain Bike Trail. We are a little weary but satisfied.
Yesterday found Brian and I cycling over a remote pass on our way south of Lincoln MT. The route seemed to be heading to Stemple Pass where sane people go. Suddenly the GPS said take a right. We went immediately up a 20 degree plus hill then continued climbing on one of the steepest most unrelenting roadways I have traveled. I’m sure the contractor flunked S’s in school. He had a big ole D8 Cat and just pushed her straight up the hill. We peddled as long up and straight as we could. Finally near the top as I went up and up I could see around a corner that it just kept going up as steeply, I swung my leg off the bike and hollered back to Brian. “It continues.” He stopped next to me. We both waited till we could talk again, then pushed our bikes the little way up till it was bikeable again.
The downhill would normally scream but the surface of the little road was so rough, rocky and rutted that we had to pick our way down. Such is life on the Divide Trail.
After a seven mile descent we were swallowed up by a beautiful narrow valley of a few rugged farms with horses and downward sloping meadows. Near the bottom of this idyllic place lay John and Barbara’s Llama/ Alpaca farm. Finding themselves and their ranch right next to the Great Divide Trail, they had decided that it would be fun to host bicyclists coming by and needing a place to stay, a cold drink or just something to eat. They were both retired. John called their service, “paying it forward.” They moved a couple of cabins onto the property, put up a tent in the field, added an outhouse, and furnished each with everything a cyclist might need. There was no charge. They refused contributions. They greeted every cyclists as though they were long lost friends.
A very welcome sight for Brian and I after a very full day. We were assigned the smaller cabin while the larger one housed a group of four who were biking from Whitefish to Helena.
I find that when I sleep anywhere but in my tent I feel so disorganized. In the tent everything always gets put in the same place. It’s pretty damn simple because it is simple. It’s when we change things up that items get lost or forgotten. I did manage to bring everything down the hill to Helena with no problems this time.
We have been riding hard and long for thirteen straight days. I’m getting tired. Got to the bike shop in Helena about two. They wouldn’t be able to get my bike repaired till closer to six. We got a motel nearby and called it a day. A half day off feels really good. I ‘m satisfied. Sent from my iPhone
Ovando, Montana has a population of 71. The Adventure Cycling map says “all services” for Ovando. “Huh.” We both start to chuckle. Rstaurant, lodging, tenting, groceries, internet and landromat? Must be a big convenience store sitting next to a park.
We were planning our next day’s bike ride. How far to ride is a decision that has to factor in what will be there when we do stop. How much climbing on the ride will there be? What kind of surface? How much single track? How much food do we have on the bike?
We are trying to average around 60-plus miles each day. Some longer and some shorter. If we stop in Ovando the mileage will be close to 70. Two big climbs in that effort. The next town would add another 30 miles. Too far.
We pulled into Ovando around 5 o’clock that afternoon. Dusty, sweaty and just plumb tired. Our first stop is to get some type of soft drink and just chug it. Then another. Slowly we become human again. We found our drinks in an old general store. They also have a few rooms for guests. We had heard that cyclists can camp on the lawn next to the Museum and by the “HooseGow” (jail). The old gentleman who owned the place pointed across the street. “You can sleep in one of the two cells in the jail or just put up your tents in the yard. It’s free for cyclists.” Help yourselves.
We did so. There was a 69-year old woman in one of the cells. She is on her third attempt to cycle the Great Divide. She started on the Mexican border this time and headed North. Just had to get to Banff from here. Karen told us about the $10 showers at the general store. Also the washers and dryers in the room next to the showers. Five bucks a load to wash and dry. Trixies just up the street a half mile serves food and beer. The restaurant across the street will have breakfast.
Showers were awesome for us dust-encrusted souls. Clean clothes! What a blessing that was. And full tummies plus a couple of cold ones.
Old fashioned hospitality in a little old-fashioned town. All with a genuine generous spirit. No strings attached.
The following morning we had breakfast with Karen. After wishing her her well, we got on our bikes to head for our next rest. About 60 miles down the Trail. We sure hope it will be as good as this one has been.
It was going to happen sometime. The only surprise is that it took so long.
During today’s ride, Brian and I saw a bear. Actually three of them – a sow and her two cubs flew off the gravel road in front of us and quickly disappeared into the pines. Black bear. Still no grizzlies and we’re not sorry about that.
We have met many cyclists on this route and most of them have grizzly stories. Michelle, from California, started in Banff and not that far into her ride, ran into a sow and two cubs who spent some time running just ahead of her. When they finally melted into the forest, another grizz started following her. This is on single track and old tote roads. It’s close enough to be personal there. This fourth bear was suddenly just not there. She wasn’t sure that it might just reappear behind her or maybe show up in front. It never did either. Michelle almost quit her ride right there.
We met other riders who were part of a group of 14 cyclists led by Adventure Cycling from Missoula. Each of them had had some type of encounter with grizzlies. Two of them found themselves being followed by a mountain lion. Most of the riders we do meet are internationals. A Danish couple. A couple pulling their three year old in a Tulle trailer. He is French and she is Japanese. A German solo rider who camped near us. A Dutch couple. The list goes on.
We have had a couple of long days with high mileage and lots of climbing. We need at least a half day to rest and DO LAUNDRY. Not sure how people put up with us. Last night camped at Holland Lake. Not sure about tonight. Sent from my iPhone
Greg hangs out in the park. It’s a small park in a small town. Eureka, Montana. A little green space behind the City Hall plus a couple picnic tables by the bend in the river. Visitors could put tents up on the green space – first come first served. No services. The bathrooms are in the convenience store a half block away. Open 24/7.
Donations of $10 to the City are appreciated. All this and more I learned from Greg.
Brian and I put up our tents there after a long day biking from Fernie. It hit 94 degrees that afternoon. We were hot, tired and thirsty.
As I left to walk over to the convenience store, Greg said hello from the shadows. He was sitting cross legged on the lawn next to the hedge. A skinny guy with rough grey beard and a baseball cap. He had that hollow look of a lost soul. I stopped to talk with him. He launched into a rapid fire dissertation about all aspects of this little green place. The underground automatic sprinkler system starts at 8:45 am on the outside near the road, 9:00 in the middle and 9:45 where our tents are put up. No warning, they just start raining. The water spigot across the road is right next to where RV’s drop their sewage. It’s there for those emptying their units to hook their hose and wash out their system. They water couldn’t be worse. He had warned me about it but we learned that when Greg feels dissed by people he tells them, “Best water in town,” then sits there and watches them as they wash their dishes or rinse out their clothes. He says that he draws the line when they head over to the spigot with their toothbrushes. I’m not so sure. Greg pointed out the outlet on the outside of City Hall where we could charge up our electronics. He warned us about the 7 pm town whistle. The dumpster is just around the corner.
We walked up the street to the restaurant Greg recommended – when we returned he had switched from pop to beer. Stories started flowing. Now he got his pot out. He was getting louder. A lot more vulgar. I learned that Greg had spent time for armed robbery. Prison taught him to keep his back to the wall. He is 57 years old but looks much older. He has a wife and kids in Kansas but left them for Eureka. He came here to die.
I waved to him next morning as we pedaled out of town. I would trust him totally to watch our stuff. He liked us because we listened. Look out if he doesn’t. I wonder about all the choices that got him there.
We put in our toughest day yet today. Pedaled on rough gravel to a remote mountain lake where there is a small camping area with no services. Two passes of over 5000 ft of climbing to get here. A couple from Whitefish gave us each a cold beer. Since they own Glacier Cyclery they like to see people on the Divide Trail. They were here to meet two other couples for a weekend of camping. We met a number of bikers on the Trail today including a young couple pulling their 3 year old in a trailer behind his bike. People from all over the world come to the Divide to test their mettle and enjoy life.
We entered the US through Roosville MT after stating our day in the beautiful little town of Fernie BC. Fernie is well known for lots of snow in winters providing wonderful downhill and backcountry skiing. I’ve long wanted to see it. Mountains provide a big draw for me. We covered more than 70 miles of rough tote roads, gravel roads and pavement in a day that reached over 90 degrees by the afternoon. Eureka meant that I could put away my Canadian money and pull out American dollars. I loved my time in Canada as always but look forward to the rest of this bike ride.
A couple of days ago I was looking down at my GPS which is mounted on the handlebars of my bike knowing there was a left turn coming up. My front tire drifted just a few inches to the right and dropped down into the shoulder grabbing the lip of the asphalt. It was new asphalt which was 3-4 inches higher than the old shoulder. The bike stopped right now and down I went. It was a minor fall which really had no consequences physically. A couple of scrapes on my knee.
Biking can be a dangerous sport. Many of my friends have had serious accidents. Vehicle drivers don’t always see you. They are looking for vehicles like their own. Distracted drivers texting are a real menace to those of us on the shoulder. RV’s and trucks can blow you off the road. Through no fault of their own. It’s just simple physics. Rough roads, loose gravel roads and single track trails are full of hazards that can lead to bad falls and very bad results. Does that mean you don’t ride? Of course not. Bikers like me need to drive defensively. Stay on the shoulders or at least as far to the right as you can. Don’t ride two or three abreast on a road shared with cars. Obey all laws just like vehicles. Pay attention.
In the thousands of miles I’ve biked in all kinds of surfaces, countries, and situations I’ve only been hurt once. I flew over my handlebars in a remote part of Bolivia and dislocated my shoulder. I hope I can always say that.
Tomorrow we head into remote country and won’t have any connections for a couple of days. We’ve been told by other cyclists we’ve met that it is very scenic. I’m looking forward to it.
The trail to Fernie from Elkwood is relatively short – just 52 miles. However, there is a lot of single track riding involved which just plain takes a lot of energy when you’re riding a bike laden down with food, water and gear. Single track bike trails are narrow like hiking trails, In fact many of them serve both purposes. They are designed to include a lot of varied topography which means being a lot of fun to ride. The trails we rode this morning are great trails but really wore us out. When we did get off the trails and on the road we were hit by headwind. It was a relief to arrive at Fernie’s campground.
Prior to the trip, I packed a variety of dinners and breakfasts which require only hot water to prepare. Most of the ingredients can be found at the Coop in Grand Marais. One breakfast is mainly oatmeal with dried buttermilk, dried wild blueberries, chia seeds and hemp seeds. Another has dried refried beans, dried hummus, dried eggs, and dried potatoes. An easy dinner is a combo of dried lentil soup and dried pea soup. I also purchased various Mountain House freeze dried dinners. Lonnie Dupre gave me his recipe for energy bbars so I made two batches (about 60) for the trip. These bars have about 400 calories each and store very well. We carry 3 to four days worth of foods on our bikes. I mailed out 4 restock boxes to locations along our route addressed to General Delivery. We also eat in restaurants when available and purchase foods at groceries and convenience stores. We just got back from the grocery in Fernie ready for tomorrow.
Tomorrow we will be back in the US, crossing the border at Roosville, Montana then riding on to Eureka for the night. Other than passing a hot springs on the trail today and meeting some fun folks at a restaurant tonight, it was a quiet day here on the Continental Divide.
Our ride south out of the bustling town of Banff had a lot of just about every type of riding. Double track, single track, gravel roads, tote roads, boulder fields and wash outs. Steep hills, big drops, long inclines and pushes up rock gullies. There was a 20 mile section of a very wide hard pan dry gravel road over which I ate so much dust I didn’t need dinner.
One thing that was consistent was the scenery. It is picture book beautiful. Inspiring. We have been biking primarily in provincial parks. Today we left the park to enter Elkwood and now we are spending tonight in a municipal park along a hard charging river. Delightful sound for our sleep. Nice to replenish in a supermarket and have a real shower. In two days we may be at the US border.
We are now meeting other cyclists. Two 60 something American guys who are on their first long biking journey. One is pulling a bike trailer. Overall they are carrying too much weight but are very game. A young Dutch couple rode with us a short while today. He works for the Red Cross and she is very afraid of bears. A single rider who is biking north to start riding south at Banff chatted with us briefly. I think he has been biking alone too long. A little incoherent.
Internet is not available over much of our route. It is also difficult to keep our phones and GPS units charged up. You may not hear from me for several days at times but I will try to post when I can. Thanks for following along.
Our biggest decision leaving camp at the Icefields was whether to try to reach Lake Louise in 80 miles of biking or stop at Mosquito Creek Camp in 62. There are a lot of people here. Most have had reservations for months. A few tenting camps have a first come first serve policy. Those were our best options. Lake Louise town is out of the Park, so without a rez it would be risky counting on accommodation just biking in. We stopped at Mosquito camp and found it full. Now what. A few meters down the road there was a wilderness hostel. Two beds left. Yes.
We met a young Frenchman who is biking across Canada. His quandary was deciding on a route beyond Thunder Bay. He had heard about the truck traffic along the North Shore. Also that there are no shoulders on much of the highway. We gave him our phone numbers to call if he still needed route advice when he arrived. Having ridden that section last summer as well as the South Shore in US, I have a few suggestions.
A middle-aged woman spoke with us at breakfast. She could remember sections of the Icefields in the sixties lying right next to the roadway. As with most of the world’s remaining glaciers, these are rapidly disappearing. Her occupation in Calgary was as a private courier delivering documents for companies around town. Like the glaciers, her work was receding rapidly, not because of a warming climate, but due to paper being replaced by computer communications in business affairs.
When we did reach Lake Louise we found a town bustling with crowds. Truly an international destination, smatterings of different languages assailed our senses from all sides as we sat on a bench in front of the Info Centre. A two mile steep bike climb brought us to the Lake. Initially difficult to even see it through the crowd, our efforts eventually led to the stunning panorama that is Lake Louise. More than worth the climb.
Tonight finds Brian and I in a well laid out Hostel in Banff. Again, there were only a few spots left upon arrival at two. A 1200 site campground outside of town was completely full. The other campground further out was also full. Forget even trying for a hotel/motel without prior reservations.
Tomorrow all that will change as we start our ride south on trails and gravel roads on the Divide.
We left the grand old Athabascan Hotel this morning after eating a big ole brekkie and adding bear spray and fuel canisters to our bike bags. It’s always an exhilarating feeling to finally get moving on the bikes. No more worries about logistics. What we have now is what we are going to have. Settling in to a simple basic rhythm of life is the real key to these trips. All else is really just more static.
There had been rain in the night which left a low ceiling of mist. The mountains were obscured. The Parkway itself is paved with wide shoulders that gave us some security riding with quite a bit of traffic in the month of July. The beauty of this part of the world is well known internationally. It’s a busy place. Campsites need to be secured by three or four in the afternoon. There are no reservations for our tent sites – it’s on a first come first served basis. The plan was to reach the Icefields 65 miles away. Camping sites are located just a couple of miles beyond.
As we moved past midday the sun had melted much of the fog from the mountains. In the distance glaciers appeared on the slopes rising above the narrow valley the Parkway followed. A glacier fed river moved alongside the same path. These glaciers run out of the huge Columbia Icefield which lies above and beyond these close mountains. Larger mountains rise above the icefield but cannot be seen from our vantage point in the valley below.
We biked over 4500 feet of climbing and reached a high point of close to 7000 feet today. Two pretty tired puppy dogs got their tents put up just before the rains came. The steady sound of drops hitting our tent roofs will make for good sleep tonight. Let the sandman come.