Night and day, on the Divide

3481WP 4

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.

3495WP 2

3492WP 2

3505WP 2

3594WP

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.

3630WP

3659WP

3654WP

3658WP

3641WP

3638WP

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.

3676WP

3669WP

3681WP

A good breakfast; to the hills

20120218-223112.jpg20120218-233331.jpg20120218-223013.jpgFour teeth poorer but no less wise, Lael has been relegated to a liquid diet for a week. A full pot of coffee and a ginger-coconut-kale smoothie started the day. Add: one stack pancakes and bacon for me. Following, she went one way– to work, and I went another– uphill.

No more than a half-mile from home, I connect with the Campbell Creek Trail. Then, I link the Tour of Anchorage ski route, crossing the path of a Junior Dogsled Championship in action, to Moose Meadow Trail, Black Bear, and the South Gasline Trail. Successive trails become narrower and narrower, from wide groomed multi-use trails to wide singletrack, then a narrow trail that teases my front wheel into the adjacent banks. One benefit of winter singletrack is the soft cushion of snow to either side; no help in staying upright is that same magnetic sea of wheel-swallowing snow.

20120218-223359.jpg20120218-223423.jpg20120218-223617.jpg20120218-223904.jpg20120218-223918.jpg20120218-223936.jpg20120218-224007.jpg20120218-224032.jpg
A steep, prolonged push up the Gasline Trail brings me to the Chugach State Park Prospect Heights Trailhead, and a parking lot full of Subarus with bumper stickers demanding that Tahoe remain blue, that Alaska remain wild, and Al Gore be elected president in 2000. These heights expose the city, the sea, and the far-off Alaska Range, where Denali and Foraker are in full glory. My prize, finally, is the Powerline Pass Trail which I find rideable at times; otherwise, it is a little too steep and a little too soft. The capacity of a fatbike is greatly diminished by the uphill grades. Fat tires may gain floatation, but in soft snow traction is at a premium without a much deeper tread than is available. Still, a wider rim and tire combination may help. The Nate tire at 5-6 psi worked admirably. Like walking uphill in snow, tires slip and snow slides.20120218-225032.jpg20120218-225105.jpg20120218-230011.jpg20120218-230031.jpg20120218-230041.jpg20120218-230053.jpg20120218-230127.jpg
My final efforts bring me to over 2200ft, within sight of Powerline Pass and well-exposed to wind and blowing snow. The last five miles had been little riding and a lot of pushing. Sweat on my brow, the ride home is chilling, and thrilling.
20120218-230559.jpg20120218-230624.jpg20120218-230731.jpg20120218-230751.jpg20120218-230803.jpg20120218-231043.jpg20120218-231111.jpg
Powerline Pass is pictured above as the snowy saddle, left of center. The pass is easily acessible by bike in the summer, with a final, steep push to 3550ft. A steep descent to Indian is found on the other side.