02 January 2016

Eureka MT to Calgary AB via the Great Divide Mountain Biking Route: A grand finale

Having long ago bought tickets out of Calgary to head back to Europe, by the time we got to Eureka, Montana we were still pretty conflicted about it and fantasized about turning right instead of left (south instead of north). But it was not to be, it was time to start wrapping up our year and a half of cycling in the Americas. We would join the Great Divide Mountain Biking Route (GDMBR) north to Banff, Alberta as our grand finale. The Canada section is rumored to be the most beautiful of the entire GDMBR (which stretches from Banff to the Mexican border), so we tried to let that fact comfort us as we finally admitted to ourselves that it was all coming to an end...

By this time we are old pros at planning multiple days without shops - although having to hang a bear bag with four days of food did get interesting...

We set off from Eureka towards the Canadian border a few hours' ride away.

Bus-sized campervans towing rather large cars - yep, we're in Canada again (and this is the smaller sibling of what we saw most of the time!)

No sooner do we cross the border do we find ourselves on some classic dirt road tracks, courtesy of the GDMBR.

Beautiful wildflowers bloom in these hills

After cresting our first pass of the trip we descend again on virtually traffic-free roads...into the Flathead Valley (known as the Grizzly highway cause it has the highest grizzly concentration of North America apparently)

...and eventually hit the bike-hike section that will connect us to another forest service road - it's little unmapped connectors like these that make the GDMBR a proper route instead of just a bunch of dirt roads you could follow yourself.

The path is beautiful, if slow-going.

We do wonder what would happen if we came across a bear in these woods!? We (Lucy) sang loudly...

Finally, road again!

We pedal into the dusk, looking for a place to camp with adequate trees for food cache hanging. Coming around a bend we see a rather large black bear running away from us (having been frightened by Lucy's singing). Now we DEFINITELY want to find a good camp spot for hanging the food!

Can't complain about the scenery though.

After a free camp in one of the BC Forest Service campgrounds we are on our way again in the morning.

We pass Butts cabin, a hunter's shelter, and have a bite to eat before carrying on. We knew it was legal (after you pay a ton of cash) to shoot bears in Canada...but here we see proof that it´s a big deal to bag a few bears in one day.

The views get better and better.

The next day, we spot this guy while having a late lunch. We had planned to camp right about where he was standing! One of the beauties of bike touring is the ability to change plans rapidly!

Around this point we notice a bad crack in Lucy's rear rim - it's a cheapie that we got in Cajamarca, Peru. This means we have to find a way to a bike shop - not convenient!

First we have to pass through the coal mine at Corbin... later when we fly out of Calgary all our equipment will test positive for explosives because of this!

We head into Sparwood on pavement which is kind to Lucy's back tire.

Sparwood is mainly known for its massive truck, but it's also the first town in four days and conveniently located not too far from Fernie, a town with plenty of bike shops.

We hitch a ride to Fernie (5 minutes of cycling on highway 3 is enough to convince us to wait for a pickup and fortunately we strike it lucky quickly enough). It costs us a day's riding but we manage to get a used, UCI approved rim.

Back on the trail there are berries all around. Alberto is delighted as it means he can eat them. Lucy is terrified as berries mean bears!

We had thought about making it to this cabin to sleep but on our way up the pass a driver tells us he has just seen a grizzly mom and cubs by this cabin. So we stop to camp lower down, and make an almighty racket when we pass by the next morning.

Approaching Banff National Park the views open up.

We feel very privileged to be riding through such beautiful areas.

Our last night on the GDMBR we meet Joe, a Brit heading in the opposite direction. It's camp o'clock anyway so we camp together, sharing stories and tips in the way that only cycle tourists can.

After so much time on remote forest roads it is somewhat shocking to arrive in tourist-trap Banff. How some people come to Banff just to stay at this pretentious fortress-looking hotel...something worth a PhD thesis

A separated cycle lane mercifully takes us to Canmore, a more real town than Banff. We get dinner and camp somewhere hidden from the road on what would be our very last night of cycle touring. The next day we passed through Cochrane, a suburb of Calgary that has nothing but new developments...and shares its name with Cochrane in Southern Chile, definitely a rather more interesting place on the Carretera Austral.
At some point we are sure we've truly reached Alberta (although we've been in the province a few days already) when we start seeing nodding donkeys in every backyard. 

Our kind warmshowers hosts in Calgary take us with them on a hike in the Lake Louise area.

We're glad to go with people who know the trails and take us to a pretty quiet one, so close to the crowds of Lake Louise.

We stop by the touristy parts too just to say we've seen them.

And soon it's time to put the bikes on the plane again! An anticlimactic end to the journey but all good things come to an end.  Until next time...maybe Central Asia?

22 December 2015

Vancouver BC to Eureka MT: an escape into the US

Western Canada. A must-see place for many of us cycle tourists. We all think of vast wild places, picture-perfect lakes and pine trees, wildlife, water, mountains and glaciers. But so do many campervan-ers, truck drivers, ATVers, motorbikers. We learnt the hard way that there's no easy exit out of Vancouver.

We left the city with another plan than originally intended...a job to come back to, and a limited time to travel. We would cycle East towards Calgary, where our cycling would end for the time being.  Vancouver may only host 2.5 million people, but be sure is it over a huge portion of land...that never ends. From there we needed to head further East to try and get onto quieter roads and trails, but that is no easy undertaking in Southwestern BC.

With our frustration levels growing exponentially due to unrespectful drivers and their huge towed loads, trails completely screwed up by the popular all terrain vehicles, we had to make a decision. An escape into the US. And what a great decision that was...You can view our North American route here or down at the bottom of this blogpost.

Leaving Vancouver was no easy undertaking. A combination of Sky Train, plus more than 50 km of straight busy (but with a cycle lane) boring road. Our warmshowers host and fellow audaxer, Gary, was training for Paris-Brest-Paris and rode out to pick us up...some 40 km away from his house! Legend!

You know you´ve hit the right warmshowers when you see a garage like this

With renovated spirits and loads of new advise from Gary and wife Cheryl, we face the inevitable...no alternative for a while on our way to Hope. It sucks, a lot. The Canadians apparently think that if you put up a bike sign it's now safe to ride on an actual highway.
Hope doesn´t offer much hope...other than to take the super busy road 3. Scenic it is for sure...but a combination of trucks, North American trucks, RVs, make for some unpleasant riding. We camped away from the road and wake up early the following day.
Road 3 for a full day was miserable. Spirits were super low at that time, but when looking for a place to camp near sunset, we are invited for a delicious supper and bed for the night by a lovely Canadian family. The following day we finally hit the famous Kettle Valley Rail, which was apparently torn up by ATVs (i.e. quads) in previous sections. 

Glad to be on trails, although these were far from ideal and pretty hard to ride on as it was still pretty popular with ATVers.

The KVR eventually delivered us to Summerland, where we camped at a friendly´s Warmshowers host, three other cyclists (dad and two sons) from Ontario

At his point a decision had been made. Leave Canada and enter the US. Avoiding the roads, we circled Skaha lake on our way to the border town of Osoyoos

Following a combination of trails and quiet secondary roads, we find idyllic camp spots

Which much to our surprise, contained a salty water lake.

By now, hanging or food (cause of the wildlife)  has become routine...and I just have to keep getting better at it!

The Okanagan Valley is well known in BC for its wines. They come at a high price due to BC alcohol taxes, but they are pretty good.

In Osoyoos we met Robert, an unusual Warmshower member who offers free artisanal icecream to passing cycle tourists. When not making delicious gelatto he gets on his bike and does things like a traverse of Australia, which, for those who don't know, is a pretty hard-core thing to do (think about towing 25L of water)

And finally...the US. Washington State.

Immediately turning East after the uninspiring town of Oroville (where, at the time, the newspapers informed us they were debating whether to authorize teachers to carry guns in the classroom), we are greeted with some threatening skies

And the remainder that in these parts of the world, people love shooting at things

After our first pass, we are hit by heavy rain. We seek shelter in Chesaw, and made Lucy the happiest woman on earth...by simply ordering her a grilled cheese sandwich!

Tired and cold, the locals ask if we are looking for a place to camp...and quickly point us at Fiona´s convenience store. The owner lets us camp in her backyard, showing that US hospitality cyclists talk about

Chesaw, aptly named after Chee-Saw, the Chinese settler who settled here back in the day. Yes, it looks just like on TV.

Continuing East, we enjoy, for the first time, quiet roads and gentle drivers. No more SUVs, trucks or fancy cars. It feels more real.

Camping is easy, as there´s plenty of National Forests with free spots to pitch your tent.

Endless dirt roads

We approach Eastern Washington. All good, awesome roads, friendly people and gentle drivers. Except that the Confederate flag is far too common hanging on peoples´ houses or their cars...

Another lovely Warmshower family hosts us for the night just on the border with Idaho. They have a farm, and are awesome cooks. An interesting lifestyle they live.

Nice riding and good camping. What´s not to like?

Idaho, at last. Although as we were crossing through the panhandle, we wouldn´t spend more than a day in the state!

Riding towards Sandpoint, we cycle along a crazy long bridge across Lake Pend Oreille, with its dedicated cycle path.

Creativity in Sandpoint, where we are again taken in by a lovely warmshowers host.

Leaving Sandpoint we quickly hit Montana. Another great National Forest free campsite, with a view to the lake.

Riding further into Montana we can tell the Rockies are approaching (or we are approaching them).

Just before Libby we take a minute to check out the Kootenai falls, not bad for a five minute walk from the highway.

We take forest service roads North out of Libby, and soon are warned that we are now in grizzly territory.

At the other end of the forest road we pop out at lake Koocanusa - named by a contest because it is formed by a dam on the KOOtenai rever and straddles CANada and USA. Wildfires nearby mean low visibility.

Finally we arrive in Eureka, Montana - intersection with the ACA's Great Divide mountain biking route and site of our first day off in almost two weeks.

We are taken in by some great warmshowers hosts and craft beer connoisseurs. What more could you ask for?

Here's the fill route from Vancouver to Calgary: