Bikepack.ca family overnighter: Part II

A post that was split into two not because I have so much story to tell, but because there are so many photos it was getting a little overwhelming.

Before everyone started heading off on their separate ways, we got some photos. Chris and Jeremy and their daughters had arrived at dusk last night, having made it through on the Big Elbow side of the loop. The kids were absolute troopers, and were all set to head back via the Little Elbow side today.

The one hiking family set off back via Elbow Lake, and the rest of us set off on Big Elbow – which hadn’t exactly been the plan originally, but who wants to do an out and back if you have the option to do a loop? And we knew it should be technically possible to get the Chariot through, and seeing as Team Jeremy and Chris had done it… well.

The Big Elbow side of the loop is definitely more technical. Between trail that’s more singletrack in nature (and techy singletrack with rock gardens and roots), and the rebuilt post-flood trail further north, it’s definitely the harder side of the loop.

We made it though! With our vast array of bikes, skinny tyres, fat tyres, towing luggage and kids.

The reroutes built after the flood involve a few steep up and downs, on loose trail. Good hike-a-bike practice!

It’s definitely still beautiful out there though, and one of the advantages of climbing up out of the river valley occasionally are the views you get as a result.

Mike was a bit dubious about this being a Chariot-friendly trail. In my defense I never claimed it to be Chariot-“friendly”, just Chariot-doable, which is a completely different matter.  And at least Zion wasn’t in it when it flipped!

It was warming up as the day moved on. Blue skies, lovely sun, hot summer bikepacking, Canadian Rockies style. And the boy was learning the art of standing on the pedals and cranking up steep climbs.

The river made for a nice cool break by the time we reached it.

Kat and Zion had actually made it over to the far side of the river, but decided to go back and have another go at it, just for fun.  And they made it! I was convinced to try and ride across – it didn’t end so well, my legs just didn’t have enough go in them for the final push, and I scored myself a bruise on my knee that lasted a few weeks.

But a river is a good excuse to stop and snack and throw rocks, even when you don’t have to bandage up a Megan with bleeding legs.

And then onwards – the final push started to feel a bit bakingly hot and dusty, and cheering on the boy proved more challenging. His legs and spirits were beginning to fade.

But then – the suspension bridge that’s essentially the finish line. We made it!

(Oh, and don’t pay any attention to the elapsed time in the Strava thing below, I’m pretty sure it’s counting moving time only, which is only vaguely accurate for this sort of thing … from memory it took about 5 hours to ride out?)

Doug’s write up of the trip is here – his son Tadhg is Finn’s new hero after a couple of bikepacking trips together this summer. Thanks to everyone who came, I’m pretty sure it was fun, but I was so fatigued it was hard to properly enjoy it!

Bikepack.ca family overnighter: Part I

A tentative booking of Tombstone campground earlier in the year turned into a crew  of seven families heading out to the campground, one way or another. In hindsight it might not have been the best option for a big family trip – the idea had been that it’s ideally placed for quick access from the Elbow Lake side, but in reality that side isn’t great for bikepacking, and access from the other side means a longer day for small kids. Oh well! Everyone needs an epic every now and again.

A few of us started from the Little Elbow campground trailhead (whatever the proper name of that trailhead is… the one at the end of the 66!)

Not sure who this cool dude is. Too cool for the likes of me, that’s for sure.

We were riding in via the Little Elbow trail, which means we got to check out the fancy new bridge a few kilometres in. And I could nap on it – my energy levels were still not super high.

After the bridge comes the turn-off to Romulus Campground, and then – the big big hill. Well, really the trail just keeps climbing until you hit the pass, but that first steep hill often feels like the worst of it.

There was a fair bit of bike pushing, but then it got a little more rideable again. If you’re sneaky, you can convince your partner to tow a Chariot with a whole lot of food in it, while you tow your son. Bikepacking in style!

Then we were over the pass and away! Nothing but downhill to go!

And down into the campsite where we  scored some camping spots overlooking the valley. And got to nap some more.

We met Doug there, and the other families started turning up, arriving from various directions and by various modes of travel.

We scored a pretty sweet spot for the tent – and yes, had left the fly at home to save weight.

Zion even learnt how to make fire! Although me, I spent most of the evening napping, and then went to bed as early as I could get away with.

Cheering squad: Alberta Rockies 700

Another in the ‘race report from the sidelines’ category, as the Alberta Rockies 700 rolled around, and the two Ryans came up with the plan to set up a neutral support station outside Rebound Cycle for all the AR700 riders  who would be rolling through Canmore.

It’s possible that some of the supporters were a little more biased than others though!

A good crew had assembled and the BBQ had been fired up with Adam and Kyle rolled in, covered in dust and looking hot and hungry. See the death stare that burger is getting?

While we waited for riders to turn up, the kids entertained themselves. Puddles can keep you happy for hours.

Then Kyle and Adam rolled out…

And Kat rolled in, looking magically less dusty than the guys.

Richard wasn’t too far behind her…

Followed by Dean…

Then Katrina headed off, accompanied by Zion – or perhaps she was just going to stock up on food while she waited for some of the guys to keep her company on the 1A out of town.

And then Tim, who was in and out in no time (ok fine, he stopped to chat to Ryan for a bit)

Greg was the first of the riders to take up the offer of a free beer, generously supplied by the Canmore Brewing Company.

As the evening wore on, more supporters wandered by to visit, and the riders coming through seemed more inclined to settle than to push on.

I headed home after 10pm, meaning to just lie down on the sofa for a bit, and then go back out to say hello to the next bunch on in-bound riders. But when I opened my eyes again, it was morning.

I went in hunt of riders, and managed to find Richard outside Rusticana…

And then Brian, with tales of roadside stealth camping, conservation officers, and breakfast beer.

The morning crew was a little more sociable than the evening crew, and there was a lot of standing around and chatting going on.

Then the lanterne rouge crew, Guy, Penny and Tracy rolled into town. Also covered in dust, but still in good spirits.

And so the riders kept heading north towards Hinton along the 40, and the support station packed up for the year. The final results? Adam in first, followed by Dean on his single speed, then Richard and Kyle riding together, Katrina in fifth, followed closely by Tim in sixth. And more still behind them :)

 

Not me riding the Tour Divide

Towards the end of March I started to realise I wouldn’t be able to ride the Tour Divide this year. I still wasn’t sure what was wrong with me, but it didn’t seem to be clearing up any time soon. By mid-April I was certain. And so through April, Alex started thinking about it. Going out on longer rides, testing his setup, building some fitness. In early May he started ordering some big ticket items with the Tour Divide in mind – new dyno hub, new wheel build, and then getting his drive train replaced.

So when Grand Depart rolled around, it was Alex lining up to head to Mexico. He rode into Banff the night before – just so he could say he’d rolled out of the front door of his house and ridden all the way to Mexico.

The morning of the Grand Depart was cool, but at least it wasn’t snowing! The day was set to be full of rain and mud though – pretty much a traditional first day of the Tour Divide.

I tracked down Neil and waved him off too – one of the fine Banff folks who I’d met at the Bikepack Summit last year, and who had since been silly enough to agree to come out and ride bikes and camp in the snow with me.

The traditional start-line shenanigans unfolded – Crazy Larry organised everyone into a group photo, there was a lot of yelling, people look excited and nervous, made last-minute adjustments, and then they were off.

And then Finn and I piled into a car, and with my friend Kate, headed up to Spray Lakes to catch them about 30km into the ride. We managed to arrive about five minutes before the leaders, and then sat in the overcast forest, cheering people on and taking photos and people trickled through in clumps. It was surprising how much the field was starting to spread out already, sometimes five or six people would be riding near each other, then there’d be no-one for a minute or more.

I snapped photos of nearly everyone, including Greg, one of the other Canmore locals:

We stayed up there for about an hour, and cheered over 100 riders through (including the former governer of New Mexico), but then made our break when a suitable gap in the field appeared. Because we had to pack to drive to Fernie! The boy and I were headed down there to spend the weekend staying with friends and cheering on riders some more. Rather conveniently, a bridge wash-out had let the race course to be detoured through Fernie, right past my friend Katya’s house. Perfect!

Late on Friday night I watched the dots of Josh Kato, Ben Steuerbaut and Brian Lucido leapfrog through town. It was tempting to get out of bed and wander down the hill to perform a 7-Eleven stalking and photography session (because that’s the other benefit of Katya’s house, it’s about 100m from the 7-Eleven, which is the only 24-hour service on-route in Fernie), but instead I stayed tucked up in my warm bed.

The next morning was a different matter though. I looked at the tracker when I woke up and saw Per (South Africa), and Nathan and Pete from New Zealand were there re-fuelling. Also, it was sunny out. What the hell – I threw on a jacket and shoes and wandered down to say hello and ask if I could take photos. It turns out Nathan is an old friend of my friend Kat – the world of crazy people is a fairly small one.

As the day progressed we chalked up the road outside the house, and kept an eye out for riders.

Word spread, and more locals got into the Tour Divide rider-spotting spirit. Up the road from us a family was set up with cowbells.

We wandered to Tim Horton’s for lunch, which looked to be about the time Alex was going to be hitting it too. The night before he and a bunch of six had pushed to the pass atop the Coco Claims reroute, which by all accounts looked to be hike-a-bike straight up a scree-filled waterfall. They had a pretty cold night out (which I guess is what you get when you camp on top of a pass).

We chatted to a few riders rolling through Tim Horton’s, including some who seemed pretty reluctant to leave (always a bad sign).

Ross and Alex had camped together last night – Ross is one of the Aussie crew we’d met in Banff before the Grand Depart, and they ended up settling into a similar pace, riding near each other most of the way to Butte, MT, where Ross unfortunately ended up scratching.

Finn spent most of the next month telling anyone who would listen that his Dad was riding his bike to Mexico. I had some confused parents asking me whether Alex was really riding his bike to Australia – well, it’s definitely far.

Willow might have been the most adorable member of our cheering squad though.

I caught Stefan Maertens rolling through town too – his race was plagued with mechanical issues. He went from being a top contender, to struggling with a broken rear derailleur out of Elkford on Friday (followed by a very long hike to get it fixed) and then later his fork snapped. Sometimes things just don’t work out.

But while all this biking excitement was going on, the kids played.

After some indecision I decided to take the border loop to get home from Fernie. Driving that direction isn’t actually much longer, it means less familiar terrain, and we could try for some last minute border photography.

In the end we parked near the bottom of Galton Pass, within 5km of the US border, and saw:

Colleen

Maayan Gil (Israel)

Ross “the Aussie Ninja” Burrage

Alex

and Martin (USA)

Of the five of them who had camped together near Butt’s Cabin on Saturday night, only Alex and Colleen made it to Antelope Wells.

There our adventure was over, and Finn and I returned to Canmore to become dot-watchers for the coming weeks. If I’d had passports with us I’d have been very tempted to keep driving – the energy of the race, and the racers, is infectious. It’s easy to get drawn into and want to be a part of it, even if I can’t ride right now. Instead I became an official stalker of all the Canadian riders, writing race summaries every few days to post to the Bikepack Canada facebook page.

Alex finished in about 24 days, averaging just over 180km/day. Every day. In mud and heat and vicious hike-a-bike. But he can tell that story.

Salty Dog V – The one where I didn’t ride my bike

When you’ve got so much fatigue swimming about in your system that you can’t really ride a bike… well, that’s still no excuse to not go on a biking road trip!

Especially not when you get to ride in this sweet van:

We stopped in Golden on the way over; first for a ride – well my role in the trip was largely chilling in the van reading books, listening to podcasts, and painting watercolours while everyone else rode bikes. So I didn’t go for a ride. But I did join everyone in checking out the Whitetooth Brewery after.  The beers were tasty, but very hoppy.

We were staying in the lap of luxury outside of Salmon Arm, in an Air BnB so fancy it had a birdhouse inside it!

I am aware that birdhouses aren’t necessarily a mark of high sophistication for many. I stand by them as the mark of a house that is delightfully whimsical, and thankfully still had a decent kitchen. And now I can say I’ve slept inside a birdhouse.

For the actual race I was a course marshall, stationed out near the end of the loop. I’ve raced the last four years, so it was odd not to be on my bike. But it was also pretty fun to be hanging out on course cheering everyone on, especially as so many Canmore-ites make the pilgrimage out to race each May.

To keep myself entertained, I acted as course photographer too – so here’s shots of all the road trip crew:

As you can see, it got a little wet and muddy out there. For a while I was hiding under a tree as it hailed like crazy.

Most people say you should wear a jersey with bib shorts. But what do they know?! Life would be boring if everyone did what most people thought was the normal thing to do.

Everyone should have this facial expression when riding their bike up a hill.

Kat was there! She was racing solo again, and she won a thing too.

Danika got a woodallion!

Then it was back to the birdhouse for ludicrous amounts of food. I’m pretty sure we had roasted brie, apple pie, and icecream sandwiches made from fresh-baked cookies, and that was all on top of a big dinner!

Bikes were washed.

Men cooked manly things on the BBQ.

And we also spent some time soaking in the hot tub, of which there are no photos because cameras and hot tubs do not get along.

On the way home we went to Golden to do a run down one of the easier trails on Mount Seven. The guys shuttled me up and I actually got to ride my bike which was sort of fun, but also made me very aware of how wrong my body was feeling. And photos were taken, but I can’t seem to find them anywhere.