bikes canada general

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:


Maayan Gil (Israel)

Ross “the Aussie Ninja” Burrage


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.

bikes canada general trip reports


After a couple of days riding down to Fernie, my legs were still feeling overexcitable. So after a fun night staying with Katya and her family (thanks guys!), catching up and spending some quality time stalking Jackie in her Tour Divide attempt, I set off from Fernie along the Old Stumpy trail. From there I diverted onto a trail that ran mostly under the powerline right-of-way, through an active logging operation, and finally out onto the highway just outside of Sparwood.

Far slower than riding the highway, with lots of up and down, but it was nice to be off the road. From Sparwood I jumped onto the Tour Divide route, having fun following the line on my gps, pretending I was racing. I started to run into some of the guys we’d met yesterday and the day before. They were all folks whose races weren’t necessarily going according to plan. The rain and mud and cold had conspired to make things challenging, and a few mechanicals in the mix hadn’t helped.

After turning off the highway, I was presently surprised by the Corbin mine road. It was deserted! A perfect sealed road, with a car every half an hour or so. The uphill gradient was so minimal I wasn’t even sure I was actually climbing – until I turned and looked behind me. A moose, a few deer, and plenty of rodents were scampering about.

After a few fun encounters, and riding along and chatting with Tour Dividers, I finally hit my turn around point. I had to be back in Sparwood to meet Kate and get a ride home. So I sadly said goodbye to the GDMBR, and turned my bike back downhill.

Hanging out in Sparwood, I napped by the giant green truck. I hope everything comes together for next year, I’m really looking forward to racing this route.

bikes canada general trip reports

Megan and Kate’s excellent adventure

After waving off Jackie and the rest of the Tour Divide crew in Banff, I was on a mission. I had to get back to Canmore and get my bike packed and ready to cycle out of the house by the time Kate arrived.

Thankfully, Kate was running late, as I had done the bare minimum when it comes to prior preparation.

Less thankfully, it was starting to rain.

I helped Kate with the logistics of getting her bike packed and ready for her first overnight bikepacking adventure, and then we set off into the dubious weather outside.

Leaving Canmore, we stopped at the top of the pass for photos, and to say our last farewells to phone reception. Turning south, the soggy wilderness beckoned.

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 plans to make it to Fernie tomorrow, and so we resisted the urge to stay with the pack, and kept moving.

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 then the rain stopped!

We had the campsite all to ourselves and enjoyed sitting on the ground in warm clothes, eating a cold dinner. With the exhaustion of a long day behind us, we retired to the tent early – the night was largely dry and uneventful, and I actually slept pretty well.

The morning dawned fairly clear and rain-free, making it easy to get organised and packed and out of camp in good time. 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 my friend 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.

For someone who has never ridden a bike as far as 136km in a day, let alone a loaded down mountain bike, Kate remained remarkably cheerful. But by the time we hit the final 20km leg into Fernie, she was fading. A massive day behind us, we made the final crawl into Fernie and rode straight to a pub for a 9 pm dinner of burgers. It was hard to decide which was more delightful – the food, the warmth, or being able to sit on something that wasn’t a bike seat.

Thanks for the adventure Kate, you rock!

Day 1: 87km, 1267m gain
Day 2: 136km, 794m gain

bikes canada general

Tour Divide Dreaming

I took the day off work, and got a lift into Calgary with my road bike. My bike and I were dropped off at Diner Deluxe, so we settled ourselves down at a table outside, and waited. And then Jackie arrived!

She was in town to go ride the Tour Divide. But first, we were going to eat an enormous breakfast, and ride back to Canmore together.

We’ve known each other since we were feckless 23 year old hippies. Back then we used to go climbing together. These days we’re both more into bikes.

Wonderful breakfast eaten, I did some handy google maps navigation to get us out of town along the river trails, and then onto the 1A.

I’d never ridden it from Calgary before, but there’s actually quite a nice wide smooth shoulder up until Cochrane. And no headwind! (Note: I cannot actually guarantee that there’s never a headwind in this section)

After that, the road gets narrower, and then the shoulder disappears. But it does get increasingly beautiful, and there’s less and less traffic. And then you hit Exshaw, and the horrible headwind begins, but it’s ok because you’re nearly in Canmore!

The rest of the week, more and more Tour Divide crew showed up. I spent as much time as I could hanging out with them – in the words of Anne of Green Gables, they were most definitely all kindred spirits.

The night before the Grand Depart, I took my Australian flag along to the Aussie/Kiwi riders dinner, and got the crew there to sign it.

Then it was the morning of the Grand Depart. The offspring and I headed to Banff for breakfast with Jackie, and then to wave everyone off.

And after much nervous excitement, and waiting, and photos – they were off.

Of course, it started raining then.

The fate of those who signed the flag was varied…

Seb pulled out early due to illness, Liam and Hugh with knee issues, Rob with complications from a dog bite, and Steve made it to Pie Town before calling it.

But Brian finished 5th (16d10hr), and Gareth in 7th (17d11hr) (both rookies). Matt got ‘er done in 23 days. But Jackie finished in under 20 days, came in at 16th overall and was the first and only female to finish within race pace. Only four female racers have faster times than her – and that was with losing a chunk of time when she lost most of her crank bolts and had to ride a few hundred kilometres with her crank zip-tied on. Go Jackie go!

And yes, I’m really looking forward to next year, and finally getting to race the route.