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Solo bikepacking the 40 (Corbin Mine Road – Fernie)

The last day was a bit of a blur – it was forecast to start raining around lunchtime, so I wanted to get a move on. The way my gps line told me to go through to Fernie had a logging sign saying private property, so I tried going down and around the way I’d come through on the Kootenay Gravel Grinder in 2016.

But it turns out that now too had active logging going on. As it was a Saturday, it wasn’t an issue, but I wouldn’t want to try and make the connection during working hours.

As I was moseying my way uphill, I saw a solitary black lump by the road in the distance.  “Interesting,” I thought, as my heart rate shot through the roof. I moved a little further forward, and there was a second black lump – even more interesting! But then the view opened up, and there were a whole herd of the things. And they definitely had nice long legs. Cattle, not bears. At least I was now feeling thoroughly alert.

Taking the photo below is the one spot where I managed to crash on the whole ride. I must have had a dizzy spell, as I fell over as I was laying my bike on the road and slammed down hard on my knee. The end result was me sitting on the road for a minute to catch my breath, then deciding that seeing as I’d already hurt my knee, I may as well take the damn photo.

Anyway, apart from the bit about my knee, the few switchbacks were fun.  And I actually came across another vehicle! With people in it! Otherwise this route was pretty deserted, it was a very quiet and still and overcast day.

As I neared the high point, the beautiful treed terrain I’d biked through last year was now all logged – it’s always a bit of a startling sight – no photos of that though, just the beautiful aspens I started to come across on the descent into Fernie.

And that I apparently couldn’t stop taking photos of.

I mean, what would you do? With a road so ridiculously scenic?

Then I found this enormous machine, which some people claim is carrying a spare tyre, I think it’s just in the process of eating another of it’s kind.

So the descent went really slowly, as I had to stop every few minutes to get another photo.

Thankfully the weather held though. As it was a lot of photos. And a great finish to the ride.

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Solo bikepacking the 40 (Racehorse Creek – Corbin Mine Rd)

Another frosty morning, I hit the road by 9am and didn’t see a single logging truck. There wasn’t much traffic at all for the first few hours, as I slowly climbed and climbed.

I’d started out just 26km from the end of the haul road, which means I was nearly at the Crowsnest Highway, and in Coleman.

Loose gravel and corrugations. I watched the landscape pass me by, admiring the bright yellows, and thinking that this was a great time of year to ride this route. If I ever ride the Alberta Rockies 700, maybe I’d do a weekday ITT in shoulder season, rather than race with everyone else on a busy weekend.

As I got closer to Coleman I turned my phone on, and suddenly, about 6km out, it started vibrating like crazy. Messages, instagram, twitter, emails, facebook, pinterest, rss feeds, the world came crashing back again, via my phone. I started to panic slightly, and wondered why on earth I’d turned the thing back on again. I considered turning back off, but instead sat down by the road, had a break, looked at the mountains, and triaged the influx of message and responded to a few things.

The phone was actually good for a gradual reintroduction back into society. Town was crazy! There were houses, and cars and people everywhere! Noises and smells! Decisions to make! It was all thoroughly overwhelming.

I went into the 7-Eleven and bought two things I didn’t really need, and forgot I’d actually gone in to get batteries. But right next to the service station as a tiny unassuming cafe hidden in a small house – and it was awesome! I ordered a panini and a latte, and sat charging my phone and responding to the world.

Eventually I realised that I should go to the washroom, and indeed should really have gone there and washed my hands and face before I devoured my food like a savage. Oh well.

I considered buying a second round of the same thing, but decided instead to hit the road.

I headed slowly out of town into a headwind along the highway. Trucks flew past uncomfortably close. Thankfully the turnoff came eventually – this is where I was heading into uncharted territory (for me at least). I wasn’t sure what to expect. It started off as a lovely narrow gravel road winding through a little valley, alongside a creek, past some great camping spots and a waterfall. As I climbed further I hit a few small beaten up wooden bridges – they seemed to act as a stopping feature for a lot of traffic.

Then it got tricky. I was following a line on a gps, and there were a nest of trails through the hills. I overshot the overgrown turn-off, backracked, and headed across a stream and through high reeds and marshy terrain. Then the track started to climb, an overgrown track, up and up.

Then all of a sudden the line hit a more used road! Well, “road”, I think it was an ATV track, as it takes great pleasure in going steeply up and down through the forest. There are a few hike-a-bike pushes, mostly because I missed the easier (but overgrown) ride-arounds until it was too late.

By now I was feeling thoroughly spooked though. I hadn’t seen anyone in what felt like forever, and I felt like I was in the middle of bear territory with little strength, and the sun was dropping lower in the sky.  And then there were bear prints! Relatively recent, just black bear, but still.

I felt like I just had to get through to the Corbin Mine Road, and really hoped that the connection worked.  I missed one final easier ride-around, pushed up one more unecessary hill, and was rewarded with a lovely view as I descended to Corbin Mine Road.

Once I got there, I sat and snacked and was gripped with indecision. My fear of bears was fading, or at least being edged out by concerns about the cold wind. I could camp in the wide open in a nice spot that felt safe from bears (in hindsight, mostly because it was a little patch of cell reception, which obviously doesn’t protect you from bears at all), but it would be windy and cold.

I ended up riding further down the sealed Mine Road, and bivied near the road that was marked as a turnoff on my connector line. I snacked, ate dinner, and moved around from place to place, and after dinner found a place to settle in the trees. I was above the river valley and it was warm and still in my copse of trees. The weather forecast had predicted a warm night, perhaps it would be; it would make it easier to get an early start tomorrow morning.

I watched the beautiful sunset sky, and the mountains peeking out from behind yellow aspens, and settled down to an unsettled sleep, worrying about bears sneaking up on me to eat my Lara bars.

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Solo bikepacking the 40 (Cataract Creek – Racehorse Creek)

My accommodations were wonderfully comfortable and warm, but by the time 9am rolled around, I decided I’d really probably had enough time lying in bed. Traffic had been whirring past occasionally for an hour or two, but no-one came into my little picnic area. I breakfasted in my bivy and slowly packed up.

By the time I’d re-filled my bottles in the creek and was ready to go it was 10am. It might have been getting on in the morning, but everything was still covered in frost, and the sun was only just above the mountains.



The road was dusty, with pick-up trucks and logging trucks passing me regularly. Sometimes there’d be as much as an hour between logging trucks, but I kept an eye out. It was easy to hear them coming when I was climbing, but as soon as I started travelling at speed, my ears filled with wind and I could hear no vehicles. Maybe a mirror would be handy.

The terrain opened up, and beautiful yellow aspens were everywhere. The mountains lining the valley were sometimes brown and rounded, occasionally rocky.

A hunter and his wife stopped to chat. Last year they ran into an English couple here who were biking from Alaska to Argentina. “You’re not English are you?” I strenuously denied the accusation. And then thanked them for their offer of a lift or somewhere to stay that night. Part of me was tempted to take them up on the offer; I didn’t want to overdo it. But I was enjoying the pace of bikepacking, cycle touring, whatever you want to call it. The lack of connection to the rest of the world was largely a blessing as I tried to convince my mind to slow down. I wasn’t that keen to hurry back into civilisation.

Eventually I realised Racehorse Creek campground would make a good destination for the day. It ended up being a hard push though; there wasn’t that much climbing compared to past days, but the road was often loose and gravelly.

Just before the campground was a little wild camping spot with a few RVs set up. Further on, the campground was still open. I made it and collapsed, exhausted. Uh oh. Hopefully I hadn’t pushed myself too far. I cooked dinner out by the creek, and considered being social, but was tired, and just wanted to lie down and rest.

So I found a deserted loop of the campground and retreated to a washroom again for the sake of not having to worry about bears, or curious people, and for the added warmth.

The washroom was small and cramped, and I struggled to finagle my bike and I inside. It didn’t smell as pleasant as the last one, and there were quite a few dead flies I swept off the floor, but at least it had fewer mice. Perhaps. I did hear some rustling.

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Solo bikepacking the 40 (Kananaskis Lakes – Cataract Creek)

I woke slowly at dawn, lying there listening to podcasts and waiting for the sun to come up above the mountains before peeking out of my bivy to see everything was covered in frost. So it was cold!

I hopped up and found somewhere to lie my sleeping bag and bivy out in the sun, letting them dry a little at least.

When I set off from Canmore I hadn’t been entirely sure where I’d go, or how far I’d be able to get. Wildfires were still burning, narrowing my options. My body was unreliable, also narrowing my options. But I’d started to settle on the idea of trying to ride the Alberta Rockies 700 route down to the Crowsnest Area, then attempting a proposed connector through to Fernie.

There seemed to be a lot of uphill as I pedalled slowly towards Highwood Pass. Far more uphill than I remember there being. I was passed by other cyclists, and by tourists in RVs who stopped to tell me about the bighorn sheep. I nodded and looked suitably amazed; they seemed thrilled, so who was I to be a curmudgeon who has seen plenty of sheep before.

And so I rode on, up and up and up, concentrating on pedalling slowly, keeping my heartrate as low as I could. I was in my lowest gear, which on my Triton is really very low – so low that I remember someone on the internet once being amazed that anyone would want gearing that low, and how could anyone even keep the bike upright at such a slow speed.

I was stopping every now and again to remove more layers – the sky was blue and the day was warming as the the sun and I both climbed higher.

And then, the pass! The only other time I’d ridden up here was during the Highwood Pass Granfondo with Greg and Allan. I remember zooming off on them, and then having to wait around at the top of the pass wondering why they were taking so long. Today it was me who took forever to get here.

I found a patch of grass by the side of the road between the pass and the busy trailhead, laid out my sleeping gear on bushes-that-weren’t-gorse-bushes to dry, and settled down to have some lunch. And then do some watercolour sketching. And have a bit of a nap – lying in the gloriously warm sun was lovely.

I was mostly out of sight, but could listen to people setting out on hikes, and to the trail running guys who came across a bear suddenly as they descended on their trail, and then started bear yelling like crazy.

Eventually my sleeping gear was dry, I was fed and well-rested… time to descend! Wow, cruising downhill on a bike is fun.

After the dramatic snowy peaks near the pass, the mountains were becoming more rounded and grassy and it was feeling more front-rangey and Brokeback-Mountainy. There were cattle all over the shoulder, there were horses about, and the ratio of trucks to Subarus at trailheads was shifting dramatically.

At the junction where the 40 turns south and becomes a gravel logging road is Highwood House. I arrived to find it closed – I hadn’t really expected it to be open, but hadn’t actually checked to confirm either way. Still, it was a missed opportunity for potential icecream. I thought momentarily about riding straight east to try and find icecream sooner, before coming to the conclusion it probably wasn’t worth it. Besides, I wasn’t even sure if east was the best way to go for the closest icecream – maybe there’s an app for that.

I hauled my bike under the closed gate, and had a look at Highwood House – the most notable thing was the vast number of flies covering the walls. They rose up in great clouds when I went too near them. Was the whole building filled with dead bodies? Why on earth were there so many flies? I retreated to a patch of grass near the gate and snacked.

While I was resting in the shade, a man came with a truck, and I talked to my third person for the day. I was enjoying not having any connection to the outside world, and although I chatted for the sake of not seeming like a crazy person who he should report to the police for being highly suspicious, I would have been just as happy not to have any human interaction. Sometimes it’s nice to be a hermit for a while.

Onwards. The road south was dusty, but fairly quiet. People were sometimes considerate, sometimes oblivious to my presence. Oh how it climbed though! I gave up my vague hopes of getting further than Cataract Creek, and stuck to hoping I could make it as far as that (oh, and the above photo is looking back at the climb I’d been doing, it wasn’t a lovely descent).

On arrival, I found the Cataract Creek campground was closed for the season, but there was a picnic area with bins, a picnic table, and enormous shelter and washrooms.

The huge shelter had liberal scatterings of rodent poop, which made an easy decision to utilise the washroom (aka backcountry Hilton) as my bedroom for the night.

As I sat on the picnic table by the creek, I managed to both burn and under-rehydrate my vegetarian lasagna meal. Oh well, at least the views were good. No-one had driven past on the road since I’d arrived, and I wondered how far away the next human being was. It’s not often that I’m that far from another person.

The sun sank, and the half moon travelled the sky, and I twitched at noises in the undergrowth, bear spray at the ready.

Settling in for an early night in the washroom, I wheeled in my bike, set up my bivy and got comfy. It was quite commodious and didn’t smell at all. I curled up in my sleeping bag and listened to the audiobook of Patti Smith’s Just Kids (I don’t often read autobiographies, I’m more of a novel person, but this trip was the exception that proves the rule).

As I was drifting off to sleep though, I heard a rustling in the dark.

I sat up and traced my headlamp around the room. A small mouse with big eyes sheepishly descended my bike, and squeezed out and under the bathroom door. He didn’t return. I stared at the stars through the skylight, and pulled my bivy over me as the night got colder.

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Solo bikepacking the 40 – Day 1

This was a bit of an impromptu adventure. I had vacation time to spare, but hadn’t had the energy to do anything with it earlier in the year. But the weekend bikepack out to Elk Lakes hadn’t actually felt too bad; sure I’d felt weak, and had to push up the hills, but I could keep going. And I didn’t have anything in particular going on at work in the coming week. So I turned up on Monday just to ask if I could disappear for the rest of the week… sure? Excellent.

Tuesday morning was spent packing (which always takes longer than you think it will) and then convincing someone to give me a ride up the pass. If I had to ride up the Whiteman’s Gap hill, I probably wouldn’t have actually gotten much further that day. In the end I found a lift, and started riding from the pass at 2pm. I rode slowly, and it felt hard.

Twenty kilometres in I stopped for a nap, and wondered if I should call it a day. But I should be able to do this. And I wouldn’t get very far this week if all I could manage was twenty kilometres per day. I snacked, and rested, and kept going.

A couple of hours of slow riding later I had another rest at Buller Pond. There had been occasional traffic, and it was kind of dusty, covering familiar terrain on an overcast dingy day. There was even a chance of snow in the forecast. It felt great to be out riding my bike, but it didn’t feel great to find such a slow speed so exhausting.

Then finally, joy of joys, the road started trending downhill, and things got a little easier, and I realised I really would be able to make it to Kananaskis Lakes.

After coasting down the final hill to the Lakes I stopped to cook on the dam wall. It had great views, some wind shelter for the stove, and seemed pretty defensible – at least bears wouldn’t be able to sneak up on me.


I’m always a bit tentative about getting the stove going, it’s just one of those things that’s hardly ever been my job when getting set up at camp (at least not since the good old days when I had a Trangia), and I’m always a little concerned I might do it wrong and it’ll take it personally and explode.

The stove did not explode. I cooked and ate my dinner in a perfectly ordinary fashion, and nothing went wrong and no bears ate me.

The light was fading from the sky and tendrils of cold were infiltrating the air as I found a camping spot and settled into my bivy. I was feeling just warm enough, and finished listening to the audiobook of Tina Fey’s Bossypants as I settled in to sleep – she’s impressive, and I enjoy her feminist rage, even if I’ve never really loved her comedy.

Overnight the wind blew on and off, and when I was woken by the wind I pulled my bivy down, feeling the cold on my nose as I peered at the silhouetted mountains and the stars filling the cloudless sky. My toes wiggled and I squirmed for warmth, but I’d made it this far at least.