Night and day, on the Divide

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Off to the races, inadvertently

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Leaving Canmore by the only dirt road, I wasn’t sure if I was headed to Banff via the Goat Creek Trail, or south toward the Kananaskis Lakes and back toward Hwy 1 and Calgary. Turns out, the Goat Creek Trail is closed due to diverted waters from Spray Lake Reservoir, and thus my mind was made. I had my first “dirt road and mountains” camp that night with colorful remnants of Calgary’s Farmer’s Market, as I pondered my impending destiny of life on similar dirt roads in similar settings. It wasn’t until the next day at a water stop at a restful, upscale inn when I was asked if I was cycling “the Divide” by the proprietor (who certainly doesn’t make his money selling bottomless cups of coffee and offering me free wifi, brownies and pumpkin muffins: $3).

I was on the Divide. That’s it! It’s just a dirt road that goes some places you might otherwise go anyway. What luck– I had made progress toward my goal, and cured the great feeling of “unknowing”. Even better, I met a woman from Missoula who referred to herself as “grandmotherly”, and managed to drag along her husband, son, and a family friend for a section trip along the trail. When rain brought them inside after 14 miles, they decided to spend the day viewing the weather from several panoramic window settings. I would have too if I’d had two-hundred or more dollars to burn. This was a supremely restful establishment sandwiched between two very rugged and wild provincial parks, run by the nicest inn owners possible– people with a passion for kindly serving others.

I managed to peel myself from comforts to hit the road, with luck, about thirty minutes before a downpour. I matched pace with storm clouds for those thirty minutes, and was propelled over gravel and wasboard at an alarming pace (I now have a computer, it was about 25-30mph). Somehow, with underinflated tires and a void of white noise– the second gift of tailwinds– the experience was serene. Was I planing? The world may never know.

Eventually, I got soaked, it got cold, and the sun folded behind those rocky curtains. I stayed awake much of the night finalizing cold-weather gear; brain activity was the little bit of electron activity needed to keep me from feeling cold. Every time I fell asleep, I woke up chilled. No help that I was sleeping on a gravel and cobble drainage, which milked snowfields above.

A day of dirt riding, rain at 5500 ft, and a cold night at a spectacular campsite connected by 7km of single track; without fanfare, the Divide has begun.

I returned to Calgary today under icy blue skies and a familiar, uninhibited sun…and a wicked tailwind that powered me the 80k in two hours. It’s nice to finally be “touring”.

The final two images show: my view from the tent, and my ride down the driveway on the way to work.20110816-071412.jpg20110816-071214.jpg20110816-071151.jpg20110816-071245.jpg20110816-071632.jpg20110816-072207.jpg