I woke around 4.30am to the sound of birds. I’m not sure why birds are always so excited about the impending sunrise, but for half an hour or so there, they just wouldn’t shut up about it. At least I wasn’t in a tent in Australia, where the birds really know how to make a convincing racket.
Some more sleep, and more sliding around in the tent, and off the short sleeping mat, and over to one side of the tent, then the other, and it was after 6am. A quick snack and then packing up and hitting the road. I was due at Elk Pass around 7am – or maybe 6.30am – to meet Kate, who would be riding to Elkford with me.
After a few kilometres on the road, I was stomping about in the misty carpark at the trailhead, eating a little more food and trying to keep warm in the cool damp air. Kate was dropped off, there was a flurry of activity and excitement, and then we set off up the frozen earth and snow of the Hydroline trail at around 7.30am.
Climbing up and up to reach the open section of trail under the powerlines at Elk Pass was basically the only steep climb of the day, and it didn’t take anywhere near so long as I was worried it might. A lot more snow had melted off in the last week, and the snow that was there was mostly solid enough to be quite rideable.
We came across our only set of bear prints there – what I think was a black bear, that had definitely been heading in the opposite direction on the trail for a while.
By the time we reached the Elk Pass picnic table, we were actually feeling awake! Then sun was out, we snacked some more, then were nearly trampled to death by an enormous herd of backpacking teenagers.
The far side of the pass was already getting muddier in the full sunlight. And there was more snow! How rude. But the valley was opening up in front of us, and there were new mountains to see!
We turned out onto the road near Elk Lakes and were astonished to find that we were in a beautiful wide open valley with a really nice well packed gravel road. The weather was looking great, the day was warming up, and the road started trending downhill. It all seemed a little too good to be true.
The route we were following was along the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route. Which means it is where the Tour Divide bike race travels each year. Which means this was also a little bit of a scouting mission, because I’m planning to try and race the Tour Divide next year, which is an exciting and alarming prospect.
On the gear testing side of things, my bike was holding up well, the load was easy to pedal along, and I love my Porcelain Rocket bags.
As we pedalled along, gradually losing altitude, the Elk River got bigger and bigger. And the road kept disappearing off into the distance, wonderful and car-free, with no bears, gorgeous views, and the occasional elk or squirrel.
Eventually, we did start standing up on our pedals a little more often. Behinds that aren’t used to long days in the saddle do eventually complain. My knees got a little sore. And we finally saw a couple of cars. But then somehow it was 3pm, and we were in Elkford!
There isn’t an awful lot in Elkford. Kate wasn’t due to be picked up for a while yet, so we decided to just keep riding together on the highway to Sparwood. It’s a small highway, with a lot of mine traffic (there are mines in both Elkford and Sparwood), but everyone was very polite, and gave us lots of room. Which was good, because we were beginning to feel the distance at that point. And once you’re back in civilisation, it’s hard to re-gain the “cycling forever through an isolated wonderland” feeling. So 35km couldn’t be over quick enough – although it was interrupted at one point by Alex, who found us, offered to take a couple of my bags, and to give Kate a lift to Sparwood if she wanted – tempting, but no, we kept riding.
And we made it!
The Sparwood truck is an awesome landmark, and everything is awesome.
But I still wasn’t done – my friend Kat met me in Sparwood, and after farewelling Kate, we set off towards Fernie. Thankfully Kat is a strong rider, experienced cycle tourer, and apparently also a super-domestique. She pulled me along to Fernie easily, and I nearly collapsed with relief when I saw the Fernie welcome sign. Not too soon though, because we were staying in the provincial campground – out the other side of town and up an enormous hill!
But I made it!
Elevation gain: 1123m
And in honour of the song that was stuck in our heads all day… now it can be stuck in your head too: