Canmore, Alberta. October 14, 2014
The Great Divide Mountain Bike Route, mapped by the American Cycling Association stretches for 2766 miles from Banff, Alberta to the Mexico border. It follows the continental divide along the Rocky Mountains. The off-pavement route is also the course for the toughest mountain bike race on earth...
But I'm not here to race anyone... except winter.
Day 1 (56miles/90km)
After leaving the main road from Canmore I did not see anybody. Being October daylight was short. I rode into the dark for the last 3 hours. My destination was a closed visitor center where I slept under some cover and the reason is being able to stash my food away from big, fat, hungry bears!
Day 2: It's winter (47miles/76km)
I woke up at dawn to see some dark silhouettes in the distance, was it bears? I must be going crazy.I went back to sleep.
Next came the climb to Elk pass - the first continental divde crossing. I followed a powerline trail which included some "pushers" sections.
Then it started pouring again, what a way to end the day - having to set up camp while soaked, in the dark. Luckily two hunters (it was moose season now) invited me for dinner.
"You aren't vegeterian, are you?" - Peter said while over the grill.
Dinner was great and I decided to set up camp near them. I had a chance to tell them about my cycling trip in the arctic, after that and hearing my plan for this winter Marco looked at me and said:
"You are crazy."
Day 3: Kindness of Strangers (36miles/58km)
It was light but I was exhausted from the last two days, I heard a voice outside my tent:
"Is he sleeping?"
Then followed the sound of loading a gun...
Bang, Bang, Bang, Bang
Yup. Wake up call at hunter camp. Peter gave me a bag of food for lunch... it lasted me for two whole days!
It was getting dark, I was near the big truck wondering where I'll camp tonight.
"Where are you going?"
"Do you have a place to sleep tonight?"
Petra from Sweden had cycled across Asia, Japan, Alaska and when she got to Sparwood, BC she ended up stayin here for 6 yeads. She had to go to work night shift at the coal mines but let me stay the night in her home. I still don't know how I'll ever be able to pay forward the kindness I've received from strangers on the road.
Day 4: The longer-harder way (50miles/80km)
The ACA map offers two options: The Fernie alternate, an easier, shorter, safer ride near the highways. Or the new routing: 3 mountain passes, no towns, no pavement and an area known as "Grizzly Highway". Well, that was a no brainer.
In order to safely spend the night at an area known for high grizzly bear population I was goin to stay at Butt's cabin - a public cabin where people can stay, unfortunately hunters have already occupied it. The topic of the conversation was the 12 year old girl's first deer kill. Then the focus shifted to me:
"Do you have like an electric heater for the nights?"
"Do you have a gun?"
"No." -there was a coordinated "sigh" among the hunters.
"Do you have a bear spray?"
"Yes" -a can which I've had with me from -30C to +40C. I don't even know if it works and I hope I nevr find out.
"Well if a grizzly comes at night just yell, Bill has a shotgun." - The thought of somebody aiming a shotgun at a bear on top of me came to mind.
Day 5: Into the Wild (32miles/51km)
Morning date with Cabin Pass. Since I started cycling in Alaska in mid August I have been following the fall colors all along.
Ever since I set foot... err wheels on a logging road, I instantly fell in love with the solitude, wildlife and scenery. A big drawback of logging roads is that often there is no way through and you have to backtrack. But the great divide route offers just that, a way through the beautiful mountains. Don't get me wrong, a lot of the time you will spend going up endless, rough uphills, tucked it between trees or looking at the road and thinking "You call this a road?" - none of which are bad but you certainly have to work for it. I've never trained for this, I take breaks, I switch into granny (err... "Don't be a hero") gear or sometimes just push my bike up.
Day 6: Across the Border (48miles/77km)
After Galton pass and another exciting downhill with my rear brake comes the last and final challenge: Making it across the border. What if they ask for a proof that I have enough money? I won't be going anywhere :(
Dodged the bullet this time. I still have some snow-free time to enjoy in the Rockies. When it gets tough thats when things get interesting.
Let's see what Montana is all about!