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.

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