Day 16 - 23.07.2015 - Banff to Sawmill Picnic Area on Great Divide Mountain Bike Route 81km (1288) 1032 (13028)
Early start, coffee at Starbuck’s before heading out to the new phase of my riding experience: the roads of BC and Alberta are left behind and I started on the trail Spray River Trail which starts behind the famous Banff Springs Hotel. From now on I was in for completely new challenges: Gravel road was the beginning - and my bike and me were in for some tough situations!
I next met two cyclists travelling in my direction; Flavio and Sylvio. Flavio is an Italian immigrant to New York City who even after 23 years in that city and a professional life as a salesman of design cloths still struggles with aspects of the language. Flavio loves cycling and is a member of a cycling club in NY that goes on weekend tours in and around the city all year long. He loves cycling downhill – which led to a series of really fast and for me dangerous descents on gravel roads during the days to come.
Sylvio is a German now living in Switzerland and working on Oracle databases for a bank. He found his companion Flavio over an ad on the ACA website and they decided to do the entire Great Divide Mountain Bike Route together, 4500 km with over 60000 altitude meters. I was on that same route at least until Montana so we decided to team up.
The first part of this trail was a shock and a very disheartening experience for me. Single Trail riding, up very steep hills which forced me again and again to dismount since I just couldn’t turn the pedals anymore; narrow passages in which both my back panniers with their additional outside bags scraped the bushes and slowed me down even more; Gravel roads on which my bike got out of control and I even fell once. When we arrived at the Sawmill Picnic Site we were so exhausted after only 75 kms we decided to rough it and set up our tents. We met Alex and his father who were on their last leg of the GDMBR from the border to Mexico up to Banff in Canada. They were from Washington DC and gave me their address … What a great bonding experience between father and son – and it was their second adventure together!
On Wednesday after leaving late around 8:30 we soon found our way along the Bow Lake on a treacherously quiet and nice gravel road. Soon we encountered incredably steep trails up along power lines I couldn’t even push up my bike! I was really at the end of my tether and wanted to leave the trail in favor of the road (Highway 3) altogether when we arrived at the …. Information Center. This was my last chance to leave the trail and continue south on the road but after a close study of the map and more goading by Flavio I let myself be talked into continuing together.Today we crossed Bow Pass, the first crossing of the Continental Divide of 22 crossings on the trail’s way along the summit of the Rockies. The way up there followed a power line and was impossibly steep. And this was after Flavio had persuaded me to continue on the trail with them and not move over to the road. My right pannier almost broke off; Even the long descent was critical: I slowed down as much as possible but I still felt insecure with all my weight. All the cyclists we met on the trail had a bike with minimal weight and even less equipment. Look at some of the pictures. These guys do a 50-day trip on the equivalent of nothing! My own bike with its road equipment of five panniers and a handlebar bag looked like a fully loaded mule in comparison with the leightweight sprinter bikes that we saw. But everyone I spoke to was friendly, optimistic that I’d “be fine” on my bike and wished me a nice trip down the Big Divide. Was I relieved every time I told myself that this cycling nightmare would end at Eureka in Montana where I would turn East – where a currently blowing westerly wind would surely blow me all the way to North Dakota!
This evening we found a “user-maintained” hut called the Tobermory Recreation Site” where “user-maintained” means it has only a hut with very rudimentary equipment: no electricity of course, nor running water – but a creek behind the hut and a “user-maintained” pit loo. Speaking of which, we saw what could only be bear poo, if it wasn’t elk poo, which we of course hoped.
In any case it was the second night my bear spray gave me a tiny little additional sense of security after turning off my light and abandoning myself to the nightly sounds of the Rocky Mountain woods.
The three of us, Flavio, Sylvio and myself, discussed myriad issues of equipment, bike technology and each one of us “accused” the other of having superfluous items with them: Too much sanitary stuff, or a pillow, not enough food or tools ... We came to a shelter with a hut and decided to spend the night there. I found out that my back pannier had shaken loose the central pins that held the bag. At that moment an Asian-loking guy passed, stopped and asked if we had seen the guy he was trying to catch up with. When he noticed my dilemma he got out a leatherman, asked for a nail from the hut and within 10 muinutes had elegantly repaired my pannier! Ken was a mechanical engineer from California, travelling with an astonishly small amount of equipment and saved "my life".
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Alex and his Dad from DC on their last leg!
cycling the GDMBR northbound in order to get rid of his "Heli-Belly" - During the winter he works as an organizer for Heli-Skiing clients
... great relief after a ridiculously steep push up to Elk Pass
... satified, we had some fun together
The path down from the pass was no child's play either!