bikes canada general trip reports

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.

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Elk Lakes overnighter

Last minute trips are the best trips! We got an invite to bikepack out to Elk Lakes, and who could say no to that?

We’d been kind of planning to hike Arethusa Cirque with Tanya on  the Saturday morning. But it had snowed a lot, and hiking motivation wasn’t high. I struggle more with hiking than biking, and the boy wasn’t in a hiking mood. So rather than fight that, we decided to keep it short, and get to the trailhead for the bike trip.

It was a bit chilly – the forecast had been threatening snow, or maybe freezing rain, or maybe just to be generally unpleasant. We gambled and won. Except for having to carry all those pesky waterproof layers. Thankfully the boy is carrying a bigger load on his bike these days, which helps matters.

We were taking it slow – our friends were already in at Elk Lake, and we’d ended up leaving the trailhead with plenty of daylight up our sleeves (or in the sky, which is where you’d usually keep it).

Anyway, we were pleasantly surprised when we got to Elk Pass to discover this rather awesome gateway feature had been installed.

Some online research showed that it had been installed just recently, and was a joint project between Elkford , Sparwood and Fernie schools and the Ktunaxa nation. The students chose the imagery and helped carve the poles – there’s one pole representing the human elements of the valley, and one pole representing the animals.


Very cool.

Anyway, it was all downhill from here! Thankfully only literally and not figuratively.

Down into British Columbia we went, with the day actually warming up and turning out pretty pleasant.

On arrival, we walked into Elk Lakes to lie in the sun and throw rocks, and not fall in the lake (much).

After some wood chopping, fire feeding and rabbit chasing outside, it was time for dinner and lego and other important cabin-based fun.

Bikepackers assemble! Elk Lakes Cabin is one of the few bike accessible Alpine Club huts, and definitely a fun destination. It’s not the best beginner/kids bikepack destination though, just because of the number of hills that are a bit demoralising on the way in and out. But if you’re ok with pushing your bike up a hill occasionally – then have at it! It is only 10.5km after all.

Some of the group was hiking out, but the seven of us were biking. At least, mostly biking. Except for the hills that were too steep to bike up, or the hills that were too steep to bike down.

The best bit about joining other families on trips like this is seeing the kids biking together, hanging out and chatting (and  assuming as a result that this is a totally normal thing that all kids do MUAH HA HA HAH!).

All outdoor clothes and gear should only be sold in bright colours. I love the current colour trends!

There’s nothing like seeing kids having a blast battling up enormous hills on their tiny heavy bikes to inspire you to be as awesome as them.

And there’s nothing like convincing a tired kid to keep pushing a bike up a hill to make you really appreciate the times when you’re out on the trail alone and it’s just your own cranky hungry tired meltdowns  you have to deal with.

(He didn’t actually have a meltdown, but it did need some entertainment and bribery to keep him going for a while there)

Once we were over the pass (where we stopped for a nice long lunch in the sun), it was pretty fast going. The other two boys had fatter tyres than Finn, at 2.8″ and 4″ and they really handled the rough track well compared to his tiny 2.1″ tyres – he might have some fatter tyres in his future.

Beautiful day to ride out, and a great trip. Let there be more bikepacking trips with kids!

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Bikepack Canada Summit 2017

After a successful overnighter to kick things off on Thursday, and then a great silent auction and social at the Canmore Brewing Company on Friday night, it was officially summit time.

Last year’s summit was spent shivering in a tent in the Rebound Cycle parking lot. This year we went up-market and luxuriated in the warm and spacious confines of the Canmore Opera House, courtesy of Spring Creek.  It’s a recently finished rebuild to match the original Canmore Opera House, which used to exist in that location – the actual original lives in Calgary now.

First up was a frosty morning ride, and then it was yoga time.

Despite the innocent smile, Jeff Mah is an evil man who knows all of the tight spots that every cyclist is liable to develop. As a result, an hour of glorious torture and fits of giggling ensued.

The swag table was well-stocked with the ever-classy green bottles, k-lite setups, lurking navy socks, copies of A Purpose Ridden, and assorted exciting things in ziplock bags.

A talk from Ryan Draper (from Rebound Cycle and Cycling 101) was up next, convincing some of us to start thinking differently about nutrition (what do you mean living on M&Ms for a week straight isn’t a good idea?!).

The mysterious green mix drink he shared tasted so strongly of green that we were convinced it had to be healthy.

Favourite moments from that talk:
Ryan D: Who here is vegan?
Audience member: I dabble.

[an audience member explains their keto diet] “… and the rest is protein.”
“Did you say poutine!?”

I still haven’t gotten around to trying any of the cricket-based (the insect, not the sport) snacks he uses, but I’m intrigued…. maybe if they were covered in chocolate. Or if they were filled with chocolate. Then they’d essentially be an M&M.


Chatting to Nick from WildSmart was next – practising with bear spray was fun, but really we learned that bikepack racing is fundamentally incompatible with bear-safe practices. How can you hang anything that smells of interest to a bear, when you yourself haven’t washed in over a week, and your clothes are permeated with all manner of food. The only viable solution is to haul yourself and bike all up onto a bear hang. Either that, or utilise the ever-excellent back-country Hilton (aka a lockable pit toilet).

As bikepackers, probably the best thing we can do is make sure we’re making a lot of noise when we’re on the move, and avoiding surprising a bear. And no, “marking your territory” to deter wildlife doesn’t work.

I was in the Women Leading the Charge panel, and that disappeared in a blur. I’m sure I must have said some things, hopefully some of them were entertaining, or thoughtful, or helpful in some way shape or form! It was a fun group of ladies to share the stage with though, that’s for sure.

Saturday evening finished up with a captivating talk from Mike Dion on the ‘Ride the Divide’ movie origin story – and really, a lot about the origin of the Tour Divide itself too. If it wasn’t for Mike and Matt and that movie, there’s a lot of us that wouldn’t have been inspired to take up bikepacking, so it was a fascinating look into the origins of our shared obsession as much as anything.

First up after the ride on Sunday morning, Barry from Specialized came in for a chat, and to make us drool over the Specialized Sequoia he had hanging tantalisingly on display.

Val and Josh shared stories of tandem-life (short story, they got the tandem because they wanted to be able to take pie with them bikepacking) and racing the Idaho Smoke n Fire (Josh: “for that whole race we didn’t argue one bit.” Val: “Well we did.”)

And Cory Wallace revealed that his secret to success is that he’s actually getting out bikepacking in the off-season! Well at least, that’s how I’m choosing to interpret his talk – it was really interesting to hear of someone you only know as a lycra-clad racer being just as into bike exploration and random fun times as the next one of us.

While waiting for the tech details of an interview with Jay Petervary to sort themselves out, an impromptu Ryan and Josh interview kicked off on-stage.

And then, amazingly, technology cooperated, and a skype interview with JayP followed. You know what’s fun for interviewees? Being put on the spot and asked to come up with their top 5 tips for new bikepackers. JayP did well, and came up with this list off the top of his head:

  1. Love what you’re doing
  2. Live in the moment
  3. Embrace your surroundings
  4. Don’t make a plan (but have a general idea what you’re doing)
  5. Finish what you started

Proabably not bad advice for life in general.

And that was it! Time for some wrap-up chat, brainstorming, dreams of the future, and the swag give-away.  Thanks to Ryan and Sarah for making it all happen, and the rest of the bikepacking community, for generally being awesome – and also helping make it all happen!

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Bikepack Canada Summit overnighter

The forecast for the Bikepack Canada Summit overnighter wasn’t exactly looking optimal – and that’s even with the summit being shifted back a month closer to summer. The forecast threatened a day of riding in snow, and a possible overnight low of -10oC. Given that it’d been sitting above 25oC for most of the last few weeks, it seemed a bit rude.

Nontheless, eleven happy riders and Jeff showed up to the start, enthusiastic to be getting out riding their bikes. Jeff was a bit worried about a repeat of the freezing cold snow camping temperatures we’d experienced in February, and had just been hoping that someone else would pull out so he would feel like he could too.

After riding up Whiteman’s Gap out of Canmore, they’d be riding a combination of the High Rockies Trail, the soon-to-be-closed track along the west side of Spray Lakes (the current GDMBR route), and the Spray Lakes road – to arrive at Kananaskis Lakes for camping.

Ryan, Sarah and I saw the riders off, and then I packed up the car and took to the road to try and hunt the riders down at various points along the course. The weather wasn’t actually THAT bad – it wasn’t snowing! It was a bit chilly, but not freezing.

I parked near West Spray campground and wandered back north along the High Rockies Trail for a kilometre or so. All of a sudden, a peloton of bikepackers wooshed past me – they were travelling in a pack, at a decent speed.

The next phase of bikepacker stalking meant meeting up with Sarah, and then driving in to Mount Shark together. Based on the speed they’d been travelling, we figured we may as well walk the five kilometres into Watridge Lake. We hadn’t met them by the time we got there, so we turned about and started wandering back towards the trailhead.

Riders! This time they were happy for the excuse for a break and a chat, and to let everyone catch up and regroup. Bikes were ogled, and they commented it was a pretty nice riding temperature.

With promises to catch up with them further along the route, we waved them off once more, then drove past and stopped for photos at the Engadine Lodge meadows. Sadly there was no moose standing in the background to create a perfect Canadian bikepacking photoshoot.

We drove a little further down Spray Lakes road to the High Rockies trail bridge that spans Black Shale Creek. It’s right near the end of the road, just before it starts dropping down to Kananaskis Lakes, and it has access connectors on either side of the creek. So if you’re so inclined, you can ride the road and just scoot up for the bridge experience – or if you’re riding the trail and really really hate heights, you can avoid the bridge entirely.

Sarah and I wiled away some time by going to check out the bridge (and deciding it was so awesome we definitely had to get everyone to ride up and check it out). And then we saw a unicorn!

The riders were duly convinced to ride up to check out the bridge – and they even rode up the hill to get to it (mostly).

Yeah, it’s a pretty awesome bridge. Although what it really needs is a few educational panels explaining exactly how they got it in place, and how it’s being held up. Inquiring minds want to know!

The other bonus of biking up to check out the bridge was some sweet singletrack on the descent back to the road.

And there I waved goodbye to everyone, and left them to enjoy their night of camping, and the snowy ride back to Canmore the next morning.

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Cheering squad: Hurtn Albertn 550

I’ll be honest, my desire to follow this race so closely was partly  wanting to cheer everybody on (and hope more racers finished this year than last) and partly wanting to make sure no-one broke my record. Except of course if it did get broken, well, that’d just be an excellent incentive to try and get back out there next year and win it back. So, in short, I was feeling a little conflicted, but had a keen interest in who was racing and how fast they were going to go.

This year the race had been modified to allow the establishment of a base camp in Beiseker – a slightly more salubrious starting and finishing line than the Cross Iron Mills parking lot that we had last year. The middle point of the figure-8 had also been compressed a little, so that base camp was also the half-way point of the race – which kind of simplified things, but I can imagine also made it pretty tempting to not set out again on the second half of the course if you were feeling at all tempted to pull the pin. Weather was pretty similar to last year – pretty warm, but with some chance of rain later on in the race.

Base camp did make a great place to hang out and socialise the night before though, and the many kids formed a roaming pack (Finn still convinced everyone to play Settlers of Catan for a while).

The pre-race briefing was held close to 10pm, and then it was time for bed.

And a nice early wake-up, as the guys provided breakfast burritos by donation (mmm, breakfast burritos).

With everyone lining up for a group photo in front of Squirt, the Beiseker skunk, the race got started not too long after the scheduled start time.

The riders set off towards the sunrise, as the pre-scheduled heavy machinery drove by to create the perfect starting photograph.

Like last year, clear skies and low-lying fog created a beautiful cool morning start. Dew on spiderwebs, grassy verges, and moisture gathering on your bike as you rode through the mist.

Meanwhile – I got a hat! Back in camp to hang out and let the kids play, and watch the field slowly separate on trackleaders.

After packing up, we hit the road and drove the course backwards to try and catch up with as much of the pack as we could before returning to Canmore. These photos end up giving a rather misleading impression of the course, as we were catching the riders on one of the few sections of sealed road. Honestly, it’s mostly dirt and gravel out there.

First up Niels vO, who was looking good but ended up scratching at the QEII highway before Beiseker.

Then Ryan Hamilton – who made it out to Drumheller, but ended up scratching there.

Third at this point was Adam H, who was not looking super happy, and also scratched before making it to Beiseker.

Fourth was Mike O, who ended up pulling through to finish third.

Not before being over taking by Dean ‘the Machine’ Anderson, on his way to victory (but not beating my course record, hurray!)

And Tom, who single-speeded his way to a second place finish, one better than last year.

Alexis and Heather were riding together, and finished in fourth and fifth place.

With nine riders finishing this year and only twelve scratching, at least the finish rate is improving. Maybe next year it’ll break the 50% barrier?