bikes canada general

Alberta Rockies 500

Early morning and Canmore was covered in mist. I biked downtown and joined the crew milling around in front of Rebound Cycle, taking the time to eye off my tires and chain dubiously as I drank my coffee. After cleaning my bike thoroughly the day before, I’d realized I was in dire need of a new chain – the links were so stretched out that they no longer sat properly in my narrow-wide chainring, and I was getting crunchy noises as I rode. And the tires were something like seven years old, and almost worn bald. But still, everything should be good for one more ride, right? Right?!

7 am rolled around, and with some final words from route-creator Jonathan, we hit the trail. The pack stuck together for an unofficial neutral start that was good for catching up for random chats. As we made our way out towards Dead Man’s Flats the mist gradually lifted, revealing a beautiful blue sky and snow-capped mountains. Also, a lot of mud. The constant rain of yesterday had mercifully stopped but had left its mark on our route. So much mud.

As I started riding up the paved road towards the Skogan Pass trailhead, I began to notice a weird rubbing noise. Odd. When I looked around my bags seemed fine. And that’s when there was a colossal bang, and my tire exploded, caught fire, and bounced away dramatically down the hill.

Ok, not quite. But my sidewall did blow out in a spectacular fashion (I later ran into other riders who told me they’d thought someone had let off a bear banger). I gave it a look over and decided there was no way it was worth trying to repair – it was ready to blow in a million other places, and the non-exploded tire wasn’t much better. I had a pair of new(ish) tires at home in Canmore that I’d been tossing up putting onto the bike anyway. Time to let go of the idea of holding onto the rest of the race, and to resign myself to everyone riding off over Skogan Pass without me. 

After a substantial amount of messing around, and a slightly desperate attempt to set up at least one of the tires tubeless… maybe once I get back on course and keep riding and pumping air in every 200m it will eventually seal? No, maybe not… I gave in and put my spare inner tube in the rear tire. I now had no spare tubes, no hope of getting an extra spare (or so I thought), filthy hands, sealant everywhere, and an hour and a half that I’d have to make up to catch back up to the pack. Time to get to work!

I started playing Blondie’s ‘One Way or Another’ and The Beatles ‘Get Back’, and began to chase. First, the hikers who had overtaken me as I messed around putting extra air in my “tubeless” tire, trying to convince it to stick. Then came a selection of Alberta Rockies riders, who were either taking it easy or had been struck by misfortune. And then, the snow began! Who put all of this snow here?! Up and up and up I rode, as snow fell on me from the trees and crunched beneath my wheels. Cresting Skogan Pass was almost anti-climactic, and then I was headed downhill through more snow and mud. Careful now, I thought to myself, crashing doesn’t win you any time. And the wrong sort of flat tire could put you out of the race. I mean ride… But with all this chasing, I now felt like I was racing.

It was somewhere on this descent that I managed to lose the safety on my bearspray somehow, as I brushed against undergrowth. Yes, this is the second Chekhov’s gun of the story.  

After climbing the paved road up to Kananaskis Village, I headed straight through onto the single track. Where I was pretty thankful for both my fresh tires and my years of mountain biking, as I blasted over muddy roots for kilometres. It’s a fun piece of singletrack, but only if you can keep the momentum going on a loaded bike. Along the way, I overtook Corrine from Alaska, and found a hat in a stream, that I had a suspicion belonged to Brian Kennelly (the hat, not the stream that is).

Hitting the Hwy 40 there was suddenly fast, fast, paved road. And cell reception! I made the most of it before it disappeared entirely, and checked Trackleaders. Oooh, a bunch more people were not too far ahead. But first, seeing as it was around midday, it seemed a good time to pull out my delicious ziplock bag full of sushi and devour it as I powered along. Then, people! I found Guy, then Greg… and then decided to pull into Fortress gas station, where lo and behold, I found Brian and reunited him with his hat.

Back on the road, I hit my first low point as I had to make my way through Kananaskis Lakes campgrounds. There were people everywhere, and I struggled to find a rhythm. I was also pretty aware that I’d been burning a lot of matches in my chase. Too many? Time would tell. I made the decision to back off a little and take it easy for a while. So at Boulton Creek when I serendipitously found TJ, it was an easy decision to join him for a picnic lunch.

Lunch over, it was time for Elk Pass. I braced myself, but it was over fairly quickly, with a dash of mud to keep things spicy, and wildflowers to amaze me. No bears. The descent was amazingly fun, and I was whooping and hollering until the bottom, where I ran into the Kennelly crew again (I didn’t double-check if that’s the name of his gang, but I’m making assumptions here). They must have overtaken me at Boulton. We ran together for a while, but then I set off on a mission to overtake more victims *cough* I mean riders.

Next up was Neil! I slowly snuck up on him, then we rode the rollers into Elkford together for an hour or so. Cell reception reappeared, and I could see that the guys from Saskatchewan were not far ahead, and the Kennelly gang was chasing us from behind. Time to power on. After some more overtaking and chats, I turned up the singletrack towards Elkford.

After a long singletrack meander into town I was feeling the need for some more downtime, and some decent food, and so my stop wasn’t very speedy. And really the pasta salad from the grocery store wasn’t exactly ‘decent food’, but it definitely had calories and filled me up. I stopped again at the mini-mart to refill water, then set off onto the singletrack towards Sparwood, back and forth-ing with Jeff from Vermont as we rode past ominously witchy green fizzing ponds, cattle standing all over the trail, and unexpectedly beautiful meadow singletrack.

It was in this section that I had to clamber through a few sections of fallen trees across the trail. And where I forgot to worry about the bear spray at my waist that still had no safety clip, after losing it on Skogan Pass. A stray branch pressed the trigger of the spray, and suddenly I was in the middle of a nest of fallen trees, with bear spray burning across my back and drifting out into a cloud surrounding me. I tried to move on as quickly as I could without either inhaling or accidentally flicking the trigger again. My back was burning, and the spray settled in a fine layer on everything, irritating my throat, lungs, nose. For the next few hours, everything I ate tasted of pepper and burning. For the rest of the race, I’d be feeling the warm burn of bear spray on my back.

The sun was dropping as I drew closer to Sparwood, and I struggled finding some of the singletrack connections as the last of the light disappeared from the sky. In the end, I rolled up to Tim Horton’s in Sparwood at 10.03 pm. I hadn’t even thought of the time, assuming I’d be arriving well after 10 pm, and so spent a moment kicking myself for not arriving a few minutes earlier, to catch Timmies before closing. Oh well. Alex had made it in time though, and we said hellos and goodbyes as he headed off on the 700km route. I refuelled again at Husky, not because I really needed more food, but just for the sake of a break (and who turns down a gas station sandwich?). But as I went to pack away the can of Starbucks “coffee” I’d bought, my tired hands failed me, and the thin aluminum punctured immediately on hitting the ground and started spraying sticky drink over everything. Great, the bears will love that, I thought, as I sculled down what was left in the can. 

Leaving Sparwood it was thoroughly night. I listened to a live recording of a My Morning Jacket concert, and Circuital played as the full moon rose over the hills, and it was magical. The moon shone back at me from roadside ponds, and a train noisily kept pace with my bike and I as we rolled along underneath the starry sky.

At midnight I ducked off for a quick kip at the Visitors Information Centre. Curled up on a picnic table, I only got a few minutes sleep but felt more awake as I set off again in the early morning hours. Nearly everyone else seemed to be stopped in Sparwood as I turned off the highway and onto the gravel of Allison Creek Road, with the exception of Neil – the only 500km rider who has followed me out of town, cheekily making a break for it – and some of the 700km riders who were forging on further south.

The night was long and the road was slow as I picked my way around muddy potholes, past campers still up drinking by their RVs at 2 am, and then just past trees, trees, and more trees. Climbing and climbing, I finally hit a pass, but my descent was still slow, as it was hard to pick out a clear line. I didn’t really want to be crashing or stopping to fix a pinch flat at 3.30am, bike covered in mud, eyes tired, trees full of potential bears and cougars. 

At 5 am I rolled into the campground on the 40 Forestry Trunk Road and curled up on a bed of pine needles by a picnic table. I’d had no cell reception since midnight or so, and probably wouldn’t have any again until I got within striking distance of Canmore. I had no idea if anyone was chasing me, or how close they might be, but I needed a nap. I fell fast asleep for 20 or 30 minutes and woke up feeling the bear spray burning across my back and side where I’d been lying. At least it felt warm? And it was a good distraction from sore knees and Achilles. I stayed curled up and dozing for another 20 minutes, then hit the road.

The valley that the 40 travels through is wide open at first. The land is flat with many wild camping opportunities: solo campers with tents or pop-up roof tents dominate, compared to the RVs along the Allison Creek road. The road was quiet at first, but with gradually more vehicles and more trees as I got further north. As I climbed the next big hill I felt slow, sluggish, not very awake. My legs didn’t want to go fast, but they kept turning. The kilometres ticked slowly by, like a school clock on a summer afternoon.

I was excited to reach the Highwood House store and find it open. The woman behind the counter seemed far less excited to see me. There were no other customers, but she didn’t seem to hold with people going into her store to purchase things. There were lots of signs everywhere letting me know what I could and couldn’t do. It’s that kind of store. I bought some things then sat outside on a picnic table, having myself a picnic. The store woman glared out resentfully at me. After finishing off my icecream and some chips, I happily left her to find something or someone else to glare at.

But now – oh Highwood Pass, why would you have a headwind? As if the slow 30km of climbing on tired legs wasn’t enough. The fact that it’s a paved road seems to add insult to injury too, because pavement is fast… right? My eyes were drooping, the wind was trying to blow me back down the hill, and I was hitting a low. Time for a roadside nap. I found a spot in the shade, far enough away from the road that people wouldn’t stop to check if I was roadkill, and fell asleep for a few minutes. It helped, and if I wasn’t overjoyed, I was at least re-energized, finding podcasts to listen to, and then music, and I kept climbing. The final kilometres stretched out into a possible infinity, but I made it to the top. Where I was surrounded by the hoards of people setting off to hike from Highwood Pass – them, all full of optimism and smelling of soap, me, a sleep-deprived, bear-sprayed, bloodshot-eyed lunatic.

The descent from the Pass was brilliant, but over too quickly. Onto the old ski trails to cut across to Kananaskis Lakes, I knew where I was going, and quickly rolled along the route to Boulton Creek store. I was just about to head downhill on the final trail to the store when I was confused by a truck parked in the middle of the trail. What’s he doing? I can’t tell. I couldn’t see anyone. I heard a double honk; it sounded to my tired brain like someone locking a vehicle. I’d been wondering if there were bears, but maybe that’s not it. I kept moving slowly, looking around, trying to work out what was going on. Then suddenly I saw movement in the bushes to my right and realized there were three grizzlies sitting in there having dinner. A mama and two large cubs, just three or four metres away.

I stopped. I didn’t want to be running away. I decided to get off my bike and walk away. Except I was tired, and after successfully getting off my bike, I manage to back into it and then drop it. Which made me lose my balance entirely, and so I fell down backwards on top of it. The bears looked over at me, standing on their rear legs and huffing. I gazed up at them and considered the fact that I was an uncoordinated idiot. I was too tired to be at all scared. The bears seem to be viewing me with the derision with which you’d regard an incredibly drunk stranger making a fool of themselves collapsing on the floor of your local bar. The man in the truck hopped out and told me not to panic, and to go back up the hill. I considered the fact that I wasn’t panicking. And that it would have been helpful if he’d actually yelled “Bear” instead of just honking his horn at me. And also the fact that it would be much easier to walk down the hill than up it at this point, seeing as I was already right next to the bears. I could nearly touch them! But I was feeling sheepish enough that walking away from him seemed like a fine idea. At the top of the hill, I found a campsite truck with an apologetic man who was supposed to have been on hand to stop me from going down the trail in the first place. Whoops.

I had already decided not to buy anything at Boulton store, and so just quickly refilled my water bottles and checked for wi-fi. Any wi-fi? No wi-fi. I kept going, and tried again at the Visitors Centre. Still no wi-fi. Oh well, Trackleaders and the general state of the world would continue to be a mystery. Stopping for a snack break before launching onto the High Rockies Trail, a Conservation Officer turned up and started ticketing a couple for an off-leash dog. I listened awkwardly to their protests that their dog was on-leash, and her retort that she has credible witnesses of it being off-leash. It was the unpleasant icing on my Kananaskis Lakes cake, and I was happy to escape onto the High Rockies singletrack, even if my body wasn’t.

I could sit, and my butt protested, or stand, and my legs protested. I tried to stand more, as my legs felt like they had more to give. But there were just constant punchy little uphills – I could ride them all, but they all required a grind. Again and again. But I was alone in the late afternoon on a beautiful trail, and I started to grab moments of enjoyment. The kilometres passed. It was beautiful. There was no-one to care if I was playing music in the peaceful forest, and so I started to blast music from my phone. Then somehow I was at Sawmill already. Time to hit the road!

I was happy to be able to spin faster and have stronger legs, but then I started to suffer from car-rage. Why, why, did cars insist on not slowing down?! They all threw up so much dust. I breathed the dust and tried not to seethe resentfully. Even cars that were in a queue of other cars, they all just sat on the speed limit and drove along in a dust cloud! I glared at them. A couple of cars slowed right down for me as they passed. There was no dust, and I grinned and waved at them. I hoped they realized how much I appreciated it. 

My water was all gone again, and I refilled in a roadside creek. It was a beautiful warm afternoon, and I was starting to speed up. I had finish-line fever. Past Engadine Lodge, and now it was nearly all downhill, and the traffic was diminishing. I powered along. Potholes? I didn’t mind the potholes, as long as I didn’t have to breathe dust. And at this rate, I should make it home by dark. 

I optimistically turned my phone on, but there was only a glimpse of reception, enough for me to get a pile of messages, but not to send anything. As I was drawing near Driftwood, a blue truck pulled up next – Sheldon and Kim! They knew what I was up to, and cheered me along, marvelling at the fact I’ve not really slept. The interaction was enough to boost my mood from good into wildly over-excitable, and from that point, it was on. 

I flew along the Driftwood singletrack, trying to be careful to stay in control, but blasting along as fast as I could. Over the dam wall, pedal, pedal, then flying along the rest of the High Rockies Trail. Music blaring, no other people, I stood on my pedals and hammered. At this point, I didn’t really want to sit anymore, and my legs seemed ok with giving it all. Up onto the Goat Creek Trail, I walked my bike up the final hill to the trailhead. Phone reception! Still no Trackleaders. Oh well, it didn’t matter at this point. I flew down the hill from the pass, probably faster than I should have, but having so much fun. 

Hitting Main Street, I sprinted to make it through an orange light. I didn’t want to wait! And then rolled into the finish line at the barracks, dirty, bear sprayed and sore, but happy, 37 hours and 15 minutes after leaving town. I enjoyed the sensation of sitting, finding out I’d won, and seeing that Robin B had been chasing me since leaving Sparwood that morning (he made it into Canmore a few hours later). Then, to eat all of the food, and finally, wash off that bear spray.

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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.