Day 8 ” The Russians are coming” Fernie- Loon Lake


Leaving Fernie, we didn’t want to go

Fernie to Loon Lake

She said:

We hated to leave Fernie but it turned out to be one of those rides you imagine while browsing through the bike tour catalog: a smooth winding road past a hidden lake, more pastures and happy cows, and an off the beaten path burger joint just when we needed it. The hills were small and the weather was perfect. Ahhhh, 2,000 miles of this?  No problem. Then comes that exhausted phase where the last few miles take forever and again, of course,  are uphill. We pedaled into another of those “primitive campgrounds” and got the last campsite available. We set up our tent, cleaned up in the lake, then rehydrated some noodles and were ready to call it a night by about 7:00.  We have learned that when you have only a tent and bikes in a large RV site it’s inevitable that someone is going to show up late and ask if they can share the space. We lucked out in that it was a Russian guy celebrating his birthday with his adorable 12 year old daughter who joined us and they kept us awake and laughing for  hours. We learned that Russians make up a large portion of the population of Calgary and this is their get away of choice because the lake here is warm.  After treating us to watermelon (and introducing us to cinnamon whisky?!) they brought us down to the lake to show us the turtles. We were happy enough to stand on the shore and see their little heads popping out of the water but the next thing we know,  the guy jumps off the swim platform and charges through the water as if being chased. We were a bit startled but suddenly he stops and holds up a flailing turtle! “They’re not all that fast” he says.

As we crawled into the tent our new friend mentioned that another couple and their 4 children (Natalia, Natasha, Sasha, and Nasasha I think it was) would be arriving a little later. It takes about one minute to fall asleep these days but when I woke up a couple of hours later it was to the sound of a parade passing by, or so it seemed. Kids giggling, dogs barking, car doors slamming, tents flapping in the wind, tent poles clanging……  Every campground has a camp host but this place had “Lorraine” and Lorraine doesn’t like anyone messing with her campground rules. She was OK with 1 car joining us but 2 was putting her over the edge.  I have a never heard anyone talk so loud or so fast while still whispering but she was giving a lecture about how it wasn’t fair for us, paying guests, to be disturbed. She didn’t seem to see the irony here.  Once they agreed to pay her again for each car she seemed content to go away and let everyone get to sleep.  Lorraine ain’t afraid of no big Russians!

Loon Lake Camp Ground

Loon Lake Campers


The Russian gets a turtle



He said:

Today was a long day. It was a pretty ride with a lot of different types of scenery, including a very big down hill, then steep climb on a busy highway.

Short Ride on the Highway

Steeper than it looks


It also included a hitch hiker. I had a butterfly land on my riding glove that wanted a free ride. It hung out with me finally taking off about 3 miles down the road.

Buterfly 3

All was pretty good until we had to climb the last two miles off the route up to our camp ground. We were out of water  and assumed the camp ground would have water. Well wrong. Fortunately the nice lady running the camp ground felt sorry for us and gave us enough water to cook our food.


Days Totals – 53 miles,  5 hrs 16 minutes, 1919 ft climbing, 2497 descent

Ride totals 7 days – 243.6 miles, 29 hours 21 mins,  12,127 ft climbing, 13,412 ft descent

Day 7 “On the 7th day they rested”


Fernie Town Hall

Fernie Town Hall

She Said:

Fernie is full of art galleries, sidewalk cafes, breweries, and coffee shops. (We tried them all!)  It’s where all the outdoorsy athletic couples with dogs go once they start having kids. We stumbled upon a free concert in the park and had a blast watching people dancing in the street with their toddlers, and dogs.

Fernie Concert

Free concert at the Fernie Train Station

He Said:

Although today is a “rest day”, there is no rest for the weary. As Chief Mechanic on this adventure, I had to take advantage of a non riding day to get all the bike maintenance done. Denise’s rear tire had been giving us problems since about Day 3 and I was getting tired of pumping it up about every 4 hours. I could not figure out why I could not stop the leaking so we took it into one of the many great bike shops in Fernie. Turns out there was a bad bead on a brand new tire, so we got a new one installed. I took the time to wash the bikes and inspect them very closely for wear and tear. The local bike shop had a free bike wash, which was very handy for getting everything clean and checking everything over. So far, knock on carbon fiber, everything is holding up very well.

Free Bike Wash

Free Bike Wash

Of course there was some time for R and R and we stumbled on a great free concert, excellent local beer, and of course, our main stay junk food, A & W root beer floats! Fernie, at least in the summer, is a very bicycle oriented town. I really like it and it has been the hit town of the trip so far. I could see myself living here, at least till the first snow flake fell.


Day 6 “Fernie is Heaven” Sparwood to Fernie

She said:

Sparwood to Fernis

Since today was a short day we had the luxury of hanging out at the campsite doing crossword puzzles while the tent dried off. Most of todays ride was on the shoulder of a very busy road but the last 5 miles wound through beautiful farms, hayfields, and horse pastures. We had the road to ourselves except for a few elk that crossed in front of us and it was actually FLAT for a change.

Sparwood to Fernie

We had been looking forward to Fernie since we had heard it was a cool little ski town and also because we plan to take a much needed day off. The hotel we grabbed was next door to the Hostel where our friend was staying and he introduced us to a young guy from London who had done the ride from South to North  and was now near the end of his trip. He looked exhausted and was ready to go home but he still smiled and assured us we would love what was ahead.

Denise, Bob and fellow Divide Riders

At the Fernie Youth Hostel with Bob, and two other Great Divide Riders



Days Totals- 20.2 miles, 1 hr 40 mins, 117 feet climbing, 538 ft descent

Ride Totals 6 days- 190.6 miles, 24 hrs 5 mins, 10208 ft climbing, 10915 descent

Day 5 “A River Gone Wild” Elkford to Sparwood

He said:

It was nice staying in a hotel for the first time of the trip. It gave a chance to do laundry and take a shower for the first time. Also, we needed to dry out all our gear. We knew there was a big, very steep climb of about 2.5 miles leaving town, so we kind of delayed our departure enjoying a big breakfast at the next door café. Finally we could delay no longer as we were kicked out by the owner of the, over priced hotel. Time to hit the road. Bob decided since he was having shifting problems on his bike, to take an alternate road route avoiding the hill and headed to a bike shop via the highway, several towns away. 

The climb was steep but we took breaks at the runaway truck pull outs. There was a fair amount of big rig truck traffic but I managed to get most of them to give us an air horn salute by giving them the tug signal. Finally after about an hour climb, we crested the top and took a breather. At the top we checked the course, and I noticed that my Garmin was telling us to head in a different direction than the map and our cue sheets. We navigate by three methods. I have cue sheets that give us mileages for each turn we are supposed to make. I carry this on top of my handlebars and watch my odometer so I know when we are supposed to turn. Denise also has a map that she carries open on top of her handlebars. The maps shows the course and also has the major turn mileages, she also has an odometer. In addition, I have a Garmin GPS navigation bike computer that has the entire course downloaded on it (thanks to my son in law Nick).  Since we downloaded the GPS course from a source other than the creators of the Great Divide Ride route, I was still not sure of it’s reliability to show us the correct course.

We chose to follow the map, and the cue sheets, which would later turn out to be a big mistake. We dropped down into a pretty little valley, that soon turned ugly. At the bottom was a big open pit coal mine, with large piles of coal dust spilling into a very nasty holding pond of water. We took a few photos and turned off the paved road, heading to a long descent down a dirt road. About a mile down the road there was a sign that said “Road washed out”. I took note but thought, well there is not much of a road wash out that could keep a couple of Mt. Bikes from getting around, this would be my second mistake. We continued down a 10 mile descent through a really pretty valley. We past a pretty river and started uphill. Just as we got going up hill we came to a barricade indicating that road was washed out. We thought no problem we can get around this, till we took a look around the corner and saw that a 200 foot section of the road on a steep bank had been washed away by the river.

I took a look at the map, and there was no other road around. There was no choice other than to climb back up the 12 miles we had just come down. The bank was too steep to go up and around and below was the river. We had already crossed one smaller river on our first day, so I was thinking this was the best option. I put on my tennis shoes and climbed down the 50 foot bank to the river to take a look. It turns out, we would actually have to cross the river twice. Once to get to an island, this was the easy section, only about 2 feet deep and not moving very fast. But the section that got us off the island and onto the other bank was moving swiftly with a rapids look to it. I managed to wade across this section to the other side with out getting washed down stream. However, the rocks were very slippery and had my doubts about making it carrying a bike. Returning to Denise, I told her I thought we could make it across the river. Honestly, I didn’t really know if we could but I just did not want to ride back up the hill.  It took me about 10 minutes to convince her that we could. Actually I think it was the “well we can always ride back up the hill 15 miles” that made her think we could.

We both waded across the river to the island carrying the trailer. Then, I went back for the bikes one at a time, while Denise ferried her two saddle bags across. It was not too bad getting to the island but now came the tough part, crossing the rapids. I had Denise wait on the island while I gave it a shot at getting one of the bikes across. I took my time moving very slow holding the bike as far as I could out of the water. If it got in the water, the current wanted to quickly wash it away and would probably take me with it. I finally made it to the other side, but now I had to back across again, and do it again. Denise made two trips bringing the saddle bags across. Then we decided to try and get the trailer across. It turns out that because all of the gear in the trailer is in a water proof bag, that the trailer can actually float. Well this turned out to be a good thing and a bad thing. As we got too tired of holding the trailer up, we could rest a little by setting it down in the water. The bad thing is when we set it down in the water, the river wanted to take it away. I had visions of all our gear heading very quickly downstream to who knows where???

River Crossing

We somehow managed to get that trailer across the rapids to the other side. Now all I had to do was to go back and get Denise’s bike. As I crossed the rapids with Denise’s bike, I was just about as spent as a salmon heading home. Denise’s bike is heavier than mine, and finally I could not hold it in the air any longer,  I had to lower it down. The river did its thing and just about ripped it out of my hands. All I could think of was that we were about 15 miles in the middle of nowhere except bear country and we could not afford to be down to one bike. Just before the river claimed the bike I mustered up a final burst and lifted the bike back up and inched toward the other bank. Somehow I made it and Denise gave me a big hug. We rejoiced, till we took a good look around.

We were now in very, very thick brush, next to a river, with lots of berries, in the middle of bear country. To say we put the bikes back together very quickly, making as much noise as we could would be an understatement. There was a very little used trail, probably a bear highway, leading thru the brush. We climbed on our bikes and started pedaling as fast as we could. As we rounded a corner, I noticed that suddenly, I wasn’t going anywhere. I was bogged down in 8 inches of mud. I got off my bike and tried to keep Denise from riding into it but it was too late. As I tried to push my bike out, the mud kept pulling my shoes off. Great I thought, cool trick, bear leads people to mud, people get stuck in mud, bear eats people like a popsicle.

Fortunately, the mud bog was only about 50 feet long and we managed to smuck our way to the other side, somehow keeping our shoes and our gear. We didn’t linger long, as now we could see the road we were trying to get to about 50 feet up an embankment. I don’t think anyone has scurried up a bank as fast as we did as we were convinced that there was a bear convention heading our way. Finally pedaling down the road again, we still looked over our shoulders. Completely exhausted, my heart sank even further when I glanced down at my odometer and figured we still had about 20 miles to our next campsite.

Finally after about two and half hours later, there it was. A mirage. A beautiful mirage. Those two beautiful, giant, orange letters…… A & W. I was sure it was not so, but as I pedaled closer, I could smell the mirage too. The guys working behind the counter tried not to stare too much, but two sweaty, smelly people, wearing helmets (didn’t take the time to take them off), in mud covered spandex, made for an interesting sight. I am willing to bet that a Papa Burger and a Root Beer float has not been often consumed any faster than that moment. In fact, I am wondering if my order  ever actually managed to touch the counter. Slightly refreshed, and reveling in our victory over the day’s challenges. We pedaled over to a nearby hotel.

The manager at the hotel, gave us pretty much the same look, as those working over at A&W. He kindly offered that he was full but that there was a camp ground about 2 miles away.  Not thinking I could actually pedal two more miles, he added that it was down hill, had showers and had a liquor store next to it. He knew how to sell me on it, and I am sure he was happy to keep us and our grimy gear out of his room.

As we pulled into the campground we were greeted by our two Dutch friends we had met two days before, Peter and Grosch. They were already drinking a beer and gave us three cheers after hearing our story. They had managed to miss the wonderful washed out road, taking the alternate route that Bob had taken.  As we set up camp, I noticed a Beware of the Bears, sign next to our camp. I thought geeze, not out of the woods yet! Do you know what a bear calls two campers in a tent??? A burrito! Showers, and cold beers to forget the bears, quickly followed.

Days Totals – 35.4 miles,  4 hrs 20 mins ride time, 1500 ft climbing, 1800 ft descent.

Ride Totals 5 Days-  170.4 miles, 22 hrs 20 mins ride time,  10091 ft. climbing, 10377 ft. descent.

Day 4 “Bear Scare” Boulton to Elkford

She said,

So this morning we hopped out of the tent feeling good and ready for our first big climb. It was only .4 miles long so whats the big deal right? Pushing a bike with panniers is easy enough but when you are on a steep grade with rolling rocks the panniers only slap you in the butt every time you try to take a step and how poor Hans pushed that trailer up this hill I dont know. It was slow going at best but then we were on a beautiful path through the forest that was made when they put in the power lines.
Im busy trying to name all the wildflowers and feeling happy that I can see the trail ahead with no big hills in sight when I hear that sound that dolphins make when they pop up next to Vamonos. Huh? I look over and see a bear, then a cub, no more than 100′ away. I quickly remember the difference between a dolphin and a mamma bear and lets just say I can pedal pretty darned fast sometiimes. When I yelled to warn Hans the cub turned and ran and mamma just sat and watched us so I imagine she has seen a bike or two before. The rest of the day we rode through their habitat but saw no more of them. “Buck” was a jerk today and again! threw me off onto the side of the trail. This time it was soft grass but he is really pissing me off. Its like having to learn to ride all over again and the scenery is way too awesome to have to pay so much attention to the trail. I am more black and blue from that stupid bike jacknifing and tumbling onto me while standing next to it than i am from falling off. So I decide I am just tired and Hans agrees to stop at the next possible spot which turns out to be a single picnic table under a perfect shade tree next ro a raging river. We wade in the cold water and even bring out the stove to whip up some mac and cheese. Quite the celebration is going on when 2 guys from Holland, doing the same ride, roll in and start setting up camp for the night. We feel like amateurs as they tell us how they have ridden through Norway, Italy, and Vietnam before doing this ride. We decide to press on to the next town since a hotel and dinner sounds worth the 50 miles we will have ridden by then. Had to bundle up and ride in the rain for a bit but yea, the hotel was worth it:)

Day Totals –    50 miles, 4 hrs. 30 mins. ride time,  1800 ft. climbing, 2800 ft. descent

Ride Totals – 4 days, 135 miles, 18 hrs. 20 mins.ride time,  8591 ft. climbing, 8577 descent

Day 3 Engadine to Boulton Creek – She said

So the yurt kept us dry but definately NOT warm. We took our time packing up but finally hit the road, this time it was a hilly gravel road that nearly choked us in dust even though it had rained. We are still getting the hang of these heavy loads so loose gravel is not yet our friend, especially on a downhill. Rode through millions of daisies and ferns later in the day and ended up at the long anticipated Boulton Creek Trading Post. I thought we would have a nice lunch there but it was a 7-11 as far as food goes, nothing like a microwaved sandwich and a little Recoverite when your legs are shaking. Our options were stop and camp at a beautiful “primitive campground” ( as in no showers and a pit toilet, maybe a bear box rather than a tree to hide your food) or plod on and get over a steep, long pass that would be so great to have behind us. The legs said stop. How hard can a hill be with fresh morning legs anyway?

Day Totals –   21 miles,   2 hrs 20 mins,   925 ft climbing,  1322 ft descent

Ride Totals – 85 miles,  13 hrs 50 mins,  6791 ft climbing,  5777 ft descent

Day three primitive camp site

Day three primitive camp site

Day 2 Spray Lake to Engadine – She said


First Night's Camp

First Night’s Camp

We awoke to the sound of loons echoing across the lake. I liked this campsite when we arrived last night but this morning it was absolutely magical. The sun was coming up over the mountains, the lake looked like a mirror, the clothes we washed in the lake last night were dry, and the bag of food we had hoisted up in a tree across the meadow was still there-untouched by bears or even chipmunks. We were all smiles as we made our coffee and oatmeal.
We could hear a few cars on a road across the lake but for the most part we were in the middle of nowhere. The only person in sight was another cyclist who had pulled in late last night looking for company as he is doing this ride alone.
We rode together, stopping for photos every few minutes, until about an hour into our ride Hans noticed that the Spot device he loves so much was no longer attached to the back of my bike where he had put it this morning. I was getting used to riding with the loaded panniers but at one point a single track and a few rocks that would normally be no problem made “Buck” decide to throw me off into the rocks. We suspected that the Spot had fallen off there, some 8 miles or so back. Hans unhooked the trailer and headed back while our new pal decided to go on ahead and I walked down to a beautiful lake where I filtered water, made lunch, then waited. And waited. And waited. Almost 3 hours had gone by and I knew he had no food and very little water so even if he hadn’t had a mechanical failure (or worse) it was time to backtrack. I threw the panniers into the brush, grabbed the first aid kit and some bike tools off the “BOB” and headed down the trail. Sure enough, after about a mile I see Hans pushing his bike up the steep hill for the second time in a day. The look on his face told me he had not had any luck in his search for the Spot. By now he had put on an extra 20 miles and we would be late getting to the campsite we had planned on but our map said there was a lodge only 5 miles ahead. It was a beautiful trail, expecially with the black skies and lightening in the distance.Of course now would be a good time to get a flat tire so I did.

Fixing our first flat tire

Fixing our first flat tire

By the time the Lodge was in sight we knew we were in for rain so when Mr. Innkeeper said “Sorry, we’re full” (of people who had given them the required 24 hour notice that entitled them to a room and a great meal out on the deck) we must have looked pretty pathetic because he suddenly remembered that he did have a yurt out in the woods that we could have. He even sold us cold beer and a glass of wine that we were welcomed to enjoy on the patio as long as we agreed to disappear before his guests came down for dinner. Did we really look that bad already??

Mt. Engadine Lodge

Mt. Engadine Lodge

The yurt was perfect with a glass dome on top for stargazing, instead we watched the rain come down and knew we had lucked out.