After waving off Jackie and the rest of the Tour Divide crew, I was on a mission. First, to drop off the offspring at school – he was almost on time. Then home, and to pack my bike ready to cycle out of the house when Kate arrived.
Thankfully, Kate was running late, as I had done a bare minimum when it comes to prior preparation.
Less thankfully, it was starting to rain.
I helped Kate get her bike packed up for her first overnight bikepacking adventure, and then we set off into the dubious weather some time after 11am.
At the top of the pass we stopped for photos, and to say our last farewells to phone reception, and then set off into the soggy wilderness.
The rain was pretty relentless. Spray Lake Road holds up pretty well to rain though, and we generally didn’t have to ride in actual mud, although we were being liberally coated with a fine layer of grit.
We were looking forward to reaching Engadine Lodge, where we would start meeting up with the Tour Divide racers who had set off that morning. Sure enough, not long after reaching the lodge we ran into a man stopped at the side of the road. It was Michael Row from Vermont, not having the best time in the rain, and happy for a chat.
Between there and Boulton Creek shop we ran into a few riders, but at the little shop we hit a huge cluster of wet and slightly dispirited riders. Quite a few were talking about stopping for the night. It was almost easy to get sucked into the idea – people were talking about how wet and cold they were, the need to dry out, the danger of bears. But Kate and I had a long way to go to Fernie, and so we kept going.
Leaving the warm store in soaking wet gear was a good way to start feeling really chilled. Thankfully there was some good solid climbing ahead of us to get over Elk Pass.
As we got closer to the top of Elk Pass the rain even lightened a little. For a while, we even suspected it might not be raining, but careful examination of the air confirmed that it was indeed still full of water.
The descent to Elk Pass was not too tricky, and we were soon down the other side, rolling past the Elk Lakes Cabin and eyeing the warm and jolly interior wistfully. But it was only a couple of kilometres further to the campsite – and the rain stopped!
We had the campsite all to ourselves, as we sat on the ground eating our dinner. The other tents set up were empty, belonging to crew who work on the rebuilding of the flood damaged trails. The night was largely dry and uneventful, and I actually slept pretty well.
The morning dawned fairly clear and rain-free. We got ourselves sorted, packed up and left camp. As we drew near the cabin we rolled past some of the inhabitants, out collecting water from the creek. I caught a glimpse of one of them, and had one of those ‘Hey, that person is familiar, why are they familiar?’ moments. The question was immediately resolved when I spotted Tanya a few seconds later. The hut was full of families I knew! Tanya and Mark, and Suzanne and Paul from our Elizabeth Parker hut trip, as well as another family I hadn’t met. We chatted, lamented the fact we hadn’t thought to stop in at the cabin the night before, they topped up our water, and then we set off towards Fernie.
The road from Elk Lakes to Elkford is fairly straightforward. Big rollers, a beautiful wide open valley, and on this day it had sprinklings of Tour Divide riders, as well as sprinklings of rain. The weather never really got properly nice, with rain squalls constantly blowing across.
Kate held up really well. For someone who has never ridden a bike as far as 136km in a day, let alone a loaded down mountain bike, she was remarkably cheerful. But by the time we hit the Sparwood to Fernie section, she was fading. I contemplated tying something to her bike to tow her into town, but we ended up making it to Fernie for burgers at 9pm, no assistance required. Food and warmth were equally delightful, as was sitting down.
Thanks for the adventure Kate, you rock!
Day 1: 87km, 1267m gain
Day 2: 136km, 794m gain