Arrival in Calgary
After a 10 hour flight we arrived in Calgary. We had to wait a bit for our bicycles to come off the belt. Fortunately, the bikes are inside and in one piece. Lynn is relieved. In the airport we assemble our bicycles. Unfortunately we don’t know how to correctly put the derailleur back on and shifting is not working well. After a lot of fiddling, we decide to cycle to downtown without switching gears. When we arrive at the home of our Warmshowers hosts, Thomas and Steph, they are are not home yet. But that isn’t a problem, he sends us the code for the lock on the front door. The beer is in the fridge, he says. We are showered and in the living room when they come home. After a chat and a beer we quickly go to bed, because we are already awake for more than 24 hours.
The next day we take our bicycles to the bicycle shop. He immediately sees what’s wrong, and fixes it fast. He also gives us some useful route information for our route connecting to the Great Divide Route, which only starts in Banff, a few hundred kilometers away. Our original route would have been far too hard with loaded bikes. We were lucky that we didn’t put the derailleur on properly, I joke at Lynn. We go to the outdoor shop and buy “bear spray” and a big piece of rope to hang our food in the tree. We buy some more food and then we are ready for departure.
The next morning it is rainy. Thomas and Steph have made pancakes with strawberries and thick cream for us, it is delicious! We are still sitting comfortably at the table and we don’t feel like going. We gather all our courage together. We first have to cross the highway for about 70 kilometers before we reach Kananaskis national park. We cycle as fast as we can and are happy with the wind in our back. Once arrived, no more rain and the sun comes through a bit. We can already see the mountains around us. At the first campsite there are warning signs for bears, special waste bins that a bear cannot reach and a special container for our food and other scented stuff that a bear can’t access. All other campers are at the campground have huge comfortable caravans and campervans. We do worry a bit in our tiny tent.
The first trail in Kananaskis
The next morning we start on the first trail, which we can really enjoy with our new mountain bikes. Certainly in the descent these bikes give us much more confidence. The road goes up and down a lot, and we are not used to that anymore after having cycled little in the Netherlands. The beautiful surroundings make us forget our sore legs and we paddle on. We got the tip to make a lot of noise on the trails (to scare bears), especially when we are descending. So that’s what we do. In the Kananaskis we camp at two beautiful lakes. There’s only one other camper at the campgrounds. No car can come here either. The campgrounds are simple but perfect for us. There is a pit toilet, just a hole in the ground, without water. There are boxes where you can hide your food and for the night there is also firewood. Some places are free, others require a small fee.
When we have set up camp we take a dip in the lake to wash ourselves. The weather is beautiful and the lake crystal clear. Very cold indeed. When we’re done, Lynn wants to take some pictures of another position on the lake. Lynn goes armed with a camera and bear spray while I stay behind. Not much later, Lynn returns. Something is coming this way, something big, maybe a bear! Lynn puts the bear spray in my hands, I have to go and take a look. I don’t even have to walk that way because the sound is already coming at us. All of a sudden we see what it is, it is a moose, a very large animal, bigger than a horse. We quickly get out of the way, because he walks over our campsite. We quickly walk to two French guys, who are a little further away. When we arrive to warn them, the moose is already there. He walks from the campsite into the water. We can take a picture quickly.
The Great Divide Mountainbike Route
After the trail that we have cycled on the advice of the bicycle mechanic, we go on the Great Divide, a famous mountainbike route. The route starts in Banff (Canada) and goes all the way to the Mexican border. We want to follow this route up to the state of Wyoming in the USA (~ 1,700 kilometers), before we switch to another route. It should be an easy day today. The road is good, a nice gravel road and we go down a lot. Unfortunately, after about 40 kilometers of descending, we end up in a layer of clay. In the beginning that goes well. I even say to Lynn, it is much better than with our previous bikes, we would have been stuck for a long time. We cycle another 50 meters and then we are stuck. A thick layer of clay is over our tires and between the frame. With a stick we remove the clay press again 10 meters, but then we are stuck again. We try to lift the bikes, but they weigh 100 kilos with that thick layer of clay. We had to continue like this for a long time. We try all sorts of things, but we are constantly stuck. We decide to remove as much luggage as possible from the bicycles and to carry it on our back. We had to clean our bikes as well so that the bikes become portable. We lift them and it seems to take hours. Then the road suddenly gets better. We cycle on to about 10 kilometers before the village of Elkford and set up our tent along the river. The next morning we cycle the remaining 10. In Elkford we rest for half a day to wash ourselves and all our stuff.
Bikepacking is not to be underestimated
Today we want to cycle 40 kilometers to Sparwood, so it should be an easy day again. Fairly flat with some small hills through beautiful surroundings with many viewpoints. The elk would also walk around here (slightly smaller than a moose). We look around us, hoping to see one. Unfortunately we don’t see any, but many deer. We meet some hunters and we stop to chat. They are waiting for the hunting season that starts on 10th of September and are already orientating themselves. Both have a large pick-up trucks with a quad in the back. They ask us if we are sure that can continue, because there is a mine further down the road and the road is closed. We had seen another route sign, so we say that we are following a route. With some doubt we decide to continue. We cannot check the route because we have forgotten to put this piece of route in our phone. We are already that far that we decide to keep on cycling. But yes, a big prohibition sign, we can’t go further. We have to go 15 kilometers back, so today will also be another long day on the bike.
From Sparwood to Fernie would be only 33 kilometers, but this time we are not saying it will be an easy day. The route itself is quite technical with a lot of single track, steep climbs and tight turns, sometimes very close to the abyss. When we want to descend the last 3 kilometers before Fernie, there is a sign that all trails are closed due to forestry work. We have to make a detour of 10 kilometers, mainly uphill again. It is so steep that we have to push the bikes. When we arrive in Fernie it turns out to be a beautiful village, everything is neatly laid out, beautiful wide streets and nice shops surrounded by high mountains. Everything here revolves around outdoor sports, mountain biking, skiing. At a large supermarket, Lynn goes shopping for the next three days, and I am enjoying the sun outside.
From Grizzly Highway to the USA
We spend the night at a Warmshowers host, and she happens to see me at the supermarket, she said that she’ll start cooking. When we arrive at Liz, dinner is almost ready. After a delicious pasta with red wine we dive into bed. Liz has to work and so we can start early the next day. It will be three tough days, 190 kilometers, three mountain passes, in a very remote area. We cycle through the Flathead valley, also called grizzly highway according to the locals. The largest population of grizzly bears in North America live here. The first night we cycle to a survival hut. In winter the cabin is used as a warming up cabin. But is also open in the summer, a lot of Great Divide cyclists sleep here. There is also a field where camping is allowed. There is a group of hunters who are preparing for the hunting season. A hunter tells us that they will stay twelve nights and that they should be lucky with 4 hunters if they shoot one elk. They do not have to suffer a lot, because they have taken all their belongings with them. Huge campers with a wood stove in it. It rains all night and that is nice, because we are nice and warm inside the cabin. I get out of bed early and turn on the wood stove. It doesn’t stop raining and we would like to stay another night. Unfortunately we do not have enough food with us, so we put on our rain suits. For two days we cycle through the rain in the dense forests. We don’t meet anyone. And it is even more creepy with this dark weather. We also make a lot of noise when we see fresh bear scat lying on the road again. And then we see something on the road, not far in front of us.. what is that!? It is a wolf! The beast does not see us and comes towards us. When Lynn makes a noise the wolf looks up and runs the other way. Not much later we descend to the American border. 1000 meters lower the weather is very different and the sun is shining. 🙂