The expanses of road up north are a memory. The rest of the summer will have a distinctly different flavor than the previous months, dominated in the next few weeks by the Great Divide Route and the web of forest service access roads of southern Canada and the lower 48. Cross the Bow River, turn off Main St. Banff toward the historic Banff Springs Hotel, continue past the statue of a long-ago baron and roll onto dirt. Your summer is ahead of you and it looks like this. Leaving Banff behind; leave RV’s and national park concessionaires and ants crawling north and south along paved routes; I’m a spider on a web and for as much as I leave behind, there’s more to gain than to lose. Leaving Banff at sunset, I pierce darkness and camp along Goat Creek. By day, I awake to a sniffing, sniffling creature. A black bear is inches away trying to decide if a snoring green cocoon is worth further investigation. As I’ve prepared for this, I turn to meet his eyes with my own and speak sternly, reach for my camera and then my bear spray. Nothing but a scared black bear and my calm fifty-five beats per minute. Six miles from Banff, this is what day brings. This is a 7AM wake-up call on the Divide.
Spray Lakes is exactly how I left it eleven months ago and I am at home. I meet riders on their first and second day, and smile at the enthusiasm and the coming weeks in their lives. I depart, knowingly wishing them luck that they don’t need and fun that is already in the cards. This is likely to be the best part of the year for these riders– it is for me. Evening is again falling as I encounter a self-contained ACA trip with a dozen riders. We talk bikes, share experiences and e-mail, and a giant pot of cheesy rice. The are camped for the night but a full belly and a setting sun beckon me over Elk Pass to the Tobermory Cabin on the other side, and I wish to spend the night.
If you insert Anchorage, AK to Missoula, MT into Google Maps, it routes you through Jasper and south along the Icefields Parkway. It then follows main highways west of Banff and south to Montana, but I knew a better way. The Divide route travels directly south from Banff on the Goat Creek Trail, along the Smith-Dorrien Road (Spray Lakes Trail), and over Elk Pass into Elkford, B.C. From there it’s a straight shot to Fernie, the US border, Whitefish and Missoula. The Divide is more than just a fun bike ride, it’s real transport! Welcome home.