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.

Day 2- “No Spot? No!” Spray Lake to Engadine – He Said

It sure was nice waking up in camp to the sound of the Loons singing on the Lake. It took us a little long than I thought to repack all our gear, taking extra time to rebalance our loads so our bike would respond better. I wanted NO MORE wobbly bikes! Bob, who had pulled into camp last night and is doing the same ride decided to ride with us.

Denise and Bob at Spray Lake

Denise and Bob at Spray Lake

Spray lake

Spray lake

The beginning of the ride took us the rest of the way along the west side of Spray Lake. We were treated to some spectacular views.

We came across several rock slides that required we walk our bikes over as well the big drainage basin for the dam at the end of the lake. Then we crossed several beautiful little creeks with wooden bridges.
Banff to Fernie 056

Then came the big hills. Some were so steep that we had to push our bikes up them. Pushing was actually almost harder than riding up as our riding shoes are not really meant for comfortable walking. In the longer section we actually took off our bike shoes and put on our tennis shoes.

After about 11 miles it was time for lunch. As we were getting our gear out I noticed that my SPOT locator was missing from the back of Denise’s bike. She had actually tipped over into the brush about a few miles back and I was sure that was where it had come off. I unhitched the trailer and told Bob and Denise I would be right back as I was going to go back and look for it. Along the way I passed several hikers and I asked if they had found it but no luck.  I came to the spot where Denise had laid her bike over and search everywhere, but no SPOT.  Losing the SPOT would have been no big deal. Sure my Dad loves seeing where I am at but another important function of the SPOT is that it is our cry for help should we get in trouble. It uses satellites to email an SOS to my family with our location. I was worried that it someone picks it up and pushed the wrong button, my family would scramble the rescue.
I decided to keep going as it must just be around the next corner.
One bad thing when I took off was, I left with very little water and no food and no bear spray. I kept going, riding faster and faster freed of the trailer and knowing Denise would be worried as I was now gone for a while.
I was now almost all the way back to our camp when it started raining. I had no rain gear but I thought now it had to be at camp as it was bright orange and I could not have passed it.
I pulled into our last night’s camp and frantically searched the whole area. My heart sank deep when I realized it was not there and now I was, thirsty, wet, cold, hungry and 12 miles away from Denise.
As I turned around and raced back to Denise I knew I was fading fast. I needed water and food and fortunately there was lots if water in the streams. I didn’t have the water filter we had been using but figured, if the water was bad here, I might as well cash in the chips.  The water tasted so good!

I did figure I needed to slow down. I knew if I didn’t I would not make it back. Also, I was still sure that somehow I had missed the SPOT and would find it on the way back. I had forgotten how hard the hills were but was now doing them again. Fortunately, I rode out of the rain and the sun brighten my spirits. However, I had now been gone about three hours and knew I had made a big mistake, in that Denise would be very worried.
Still no SPOT  but I finally came to the big last climb back and Denise came riding down to meet me. Little was said, I know she was very glad to see me but I also knew I was in bad standing.
We got back to the trailer and she had made clam chowder. I would have eaten boiled rocks, but the chowder was heaven.
Now way behind schedule, we had to change plans. Bob had taken off like I had hoped he would as I did not want to be holding him back. Looking at the map we saw there was a remote lodge five miles ahead. The rain caught up to us, but somehow I managed to slug it out going deep into my reserves.
When we got to the lodge, we learned they where full, but the nice manager offered us a yurt they had down the trail. I felt like Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem, it turned out to be a dry heaven in a stormy night.

The dry yurt!

The dry yurt!

Inside the yurt

Inside the yurt

Day’s totals Hans – 38.5 miles, 3794 ft climb, 3474 ft  decent. Average speed 4.5 mph, ride time 8.5 hours.

Trip totals, 2 days:  63.9 miles, 5866 ft climbing, 4455 decent, 11.5 hours

Day 1 “On your mark, get set, slow” Banff to Spray Lakes

Banff to Fernie 018

The Big Elk

He Said:

After our start and seeing the large Elk  (see Hopefully the first step is the hardest), we settled into our first day. We began to figure out that if the wobbly bikes didn’t kill us the mileage of the first day might. We were excited that the first day was “only” 20 miles. Well what we didn’t realize was that it included 2000 feet of climbing. In fact, we ended up pushing our bikes up hills three times. Still this was a beautiful trail and we were really enjoying being out of tourist area of Banff.

Everything was coming together when we rounded a corner with a nice wooden bridge spanning a river. There was a sign saying bridge closed with a barricade.  I thought well this can’t be, and saw a guy with a skip loader blocking the entrance to the bridge. I sent Denise over to ask nicely if we could pass thinking how could a construction worker refuse a beautiful girl. But noooo, he said we had to forge the river.

Bridge Closed

Bridge Closed

I took a good look and the river looked fairly deep and was moving fast. Well we did sign up for adventure, so I took off my bike shoes and put on my tennies. I thought I would walk across first and make sure it was doable. Well I am telling you that was one cold river. The rocks were very slippery but I managed to get to the other side.  However my feet were so cold I did not want to go back to the other side. Well it was getting time to get to camp so we sucked it up and managed to getting everything across. The cold water actually felt good after everything went numb.

Forging River Day 1

Forging River Day 1

As our bikes were already way overloaded we decided not to carry too much water as we had heard that water was readily available in streams and rivers. Well of course I forgot to get water in the river we just crossed so getting thirsty we luckily found a stream. It is very cool to be able to get drinkable water right off your trail. We are filtering it just to be safe but I am sure there is no problem. Best news is NO PLASTIC BOTTLES!!!

Water collection

Water collection

Finally we rounded a corner and saw our first nights destination, beautiful Spray Lake. We road for a few miles finally finding this beautiful spot, our first campsite. We were in heaven. After finishing dinner,  I headed away from camp to hang our  food and bear bag out of reach of any hungry, wandering bears. All of the sudden I started hearing a bell ringing, I though what the heck, and out through the brush walked up another cyclist. He was pulling a trailer and doing the same trip as us. I asked him to join us as it was almost dark and I was  thinking safety in numbers when in bear country. His name was Bob,  and he was pulling a Bob. We quickly became friends. More on Bob later.

Spray Lakes Campsite

Spray Lakes Camp

The days numbers: 25.4 Miles, 1972 feet climbing, 981 feet decent, 6.9 miles per hour average,  max speed 20 mph, ride time 3 hrs 24 minutes. Total travel time 5 hrs 23 mins.