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?