Mental for Miles Part 1 The Great Divide Mountain Bike Route

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Goldilocks and the three bears. The Revenant. Are replaying in my head on loop and then scenarios of how I’ll negotiate a grizzly at differing stages of aggression. Which way I’ll run in this narrow wooded section. Perhaps let the heavy bike fall onto me for some protection from the gnashing of claws. How close I’ll let the bear get, before pulling the trigger on the bear spray. These are the things that run around your head when you’re in bear country for the first time. It’s not a peaceful state of mind, that is for sure. So ‘bear’ with me as I travel down the Grizzly Highway, in the stunning misty Alberta and British Colombian, Canada.


Day 1. Bon voyage

Distance: 23.6mi / Elevation: 2,574ft / Finish: Spray Lakes, AB
Full ride data on Strava: https://www.strava.com/activities/582651998

All set and ready to leave Banff. I hear someone hollar out… yewwwwwwwwww! From just up ahead. It’s Crazy Larry! Crazy Larry, I’ve heard of this name. Larry rides the lead out each year for the Tour Divide MTB race. I’m on the street for the lead out into the forest when I met him, about to go on a ride north of Banff today. The Tour Divide starts June 10 for 2016, he also runs a info night for riders. We chat and exchange details and I’m off, running trough my head if I’ve forgotten anything, pretty standard when your leaving for a trip! I think the only thing I’m not super knowledgable on, is bears. I researched the methods of setting up a modern bear bag last night and got the gear for this, plus bear spray which I’ve mounted to my handlebars for quick access, in Banff today. The first days riding is nice easy undulating terrain, as I make my way to Spray Lakes, BC with a killer view of the surrounding mountains.

Unfortunately, Mother Nature decides dinner time is also the best time for a rain storm interruption. And rain or I guess more so, drizzle, sets the tone for the the majority of my time in Canada! But for now here is one more fine weather image 🙂

Day 2. Rain

Distance: 33.2mi / Elevation: 2,297ft / Finish: Canyon Creek, AB
Full ride data on Strava: https://www.strava.com/activities/582652061

Back to yesterday briefly, I completely failed to find a secure a branch to hoist all the things that may attract bears up on. The trees in this area are mainly trunk with many very fine branches, easily broken, so I stashed my food 60m downwind under some rocks near the water in a dry bag. With all the rain I figure it’s going to be hard for a bear to pickup a scent. All was well in the morning!

Didn’t sleep particularly well, just to alert and paranoid about bears. I get up late and repack things a little better on the bike, I also mount the bear spray to the bars for quick access, remembering a story the shop assistant told me yesterday about a biker having the bear spray in their backpack and not being able to get to it, yikes. Rain interrupts final packing and I set off in a drizzle which sets the tone for the day as I ride amongst foggy mountains, lakes and streams yelling Coooooooeeeeeee (it’s an Aussie thing) every 5 minutes to alert any carnivores of my presence.

I think I spot two lots of bear scat but I’m not actually sure what it looks like. Later in the day there was quite a lot of bear prints on the road to Canyon Campsite. I get a rear flat after midday, luckily on an uphill, it’s a shard of glass and has made a small cut in the tyre, so I’ll keep on eye on it. I had planned to get new tyres enroute, this might speed up that plan.

Canyon camp is nice, toilets with bear bins for trash, no bear safe food forage though. I struggle with my bear bag and finally get it hoisted this time. It’s really not high enough but it’s the best I can do today. Also, it’s freezing out! There is a visitor centre near camp and posted in the notice board is the forecast and the next four days is wet and getting colder 0-9c. Tomorrow is the first pass I’ll ride. I was at 1800m elevation today on a small climb, I walked much of it, don’t have the stamina yet! It will come. No point hitting things hard, maybe in 3-4 weeks. Time to watch an episode of Fargo and some audiobook listening in the tent while it continues to drizzle out. Sunset is super late here, need entertainment when there is nobody else about.

DAY 3. Bears, deer and free beer

Distance: 56.0mi / Elevation: 3,375ft / Finish: Elkford, BC
Full ride data on Strava: https://www.strava.com/activities/582652084

Left camp this morning to find a better camp with hot showers and toilets nearby at Elk Lakes, haha. Warmed my hands in the heated washrooms and kept pushing. Elk pass had a bit of snow in places, some melting beside the trail, leaving a muddy affair for myself to contend with. I made my way down the pass to a cabin and picnic table, screaming Coooooooeeeeeee all the way, letting the Bears know an Aussie is coming. From the pass descent to this cabin I count as many as eight separate bear tracks on the way, with a cub part of the brigade. I continue on to where I thought I might camp to have another feed and decided I didn’t want to spend the night here, beside the bear highway and pushed on to Elkford, on a slippery sloppy muddy road arriving in town with a kg or two of mud and gravel attached to the bike. Campsite facilities were excellent, hot showers and heated washroom building meant I could dry out some things. I made my usual dinner and was still super hungry, after a a visit to a very well equipped supermarket I came back with a huge tub of hommus and pack of chips and ate the lot! So good!

Sitting in the endless drizzle gets tiring, so I head to the pub across the road and spend the night swapping stories with the locals and getting shouted beer, it’s the Canadian way apparently, it was also Tims birthday, local lad working the mines here so we all had Tequila shots to celebrate his 20th. Still drizzling outside when I get back to the tent with a lift from Chuck, Chuck picks up a lot of cyclists along the route if they have any troubles as he runs a cabin on the road out of Elk pass into Elkford. Good to hear there is help along the way for fellow cyclists if they find trouble. Thanks buddy, what a legend!

Day 4. Drizzle for shizzle

Distance: 29.4mi / Elevation: 1,882ft / Finish: Sparwood, BC
Full ride data on Strava: https://www.strava.com/activities/583605156

Slept in, made a meal in the cold wet outdoors and then rolled on down to the next town, Sparwood, via some bush bashing and then onto the lovely lower Elk Valley Road into Sparwood, known for its really big truck (worlds biggest?) there is probably more pictures of this truck than selfies on Instagram, It is a little surprising that such significant mining is happening right beside such stunning landscape. Today is pretty uneventful, just trying to keep dry!

Day 5. Zero!

Drizzle continues, I decide to stay another day at Sparwood and look into the next section, three days in wilderness, the flathead valley with three mountain passes and a river crossing that usually requires bicycle dismantling. The afternoon is spent at the Sparwood Pub, the only place that’s warm and out of the rain!

Day 6. Plan B

Distance: 33.9mi / Elevation: 790ft / Finish: Fernie, BC
Full ride data on Strava: https://www.strava.com/activities/585805856

D-day for hitting flathead pass. Off to the supermarket to stock up and then much hesitation, I’m only a few days into this trip and the weather is not desirable at all to do the next three days with more rain (snow at elevation). I’m riding solo and the temp forecast with rain just reads imminent disaster to me. I decided to take a b-line along the old divide route to Fernie, after remembering I had left something behind, doubling back and getting another rear flat tyre… What is going on with these rear flats I’m not sure! I finally make it into Fernie and have a hot meal at The Lunch Box and hit the Raging Elk hostel to dry out and research this new route I’m taking over the border, up to 2010 the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route followed this course.

Day 7. G’Day USA

Distance: 67.9mi / Elevation: 3,352ft / Finish: Eureka, MT
Full ride data on Strava: https://www.strava.com/activities/587114351

Today ended up being a double distance day as I missed the first camping option and was feeling energetic so kept pushing into the USA for Eureka, MT.

In hindsight it would have been nice finding that first campsite, but hey, the town park camping beside the river has lush green grass and the sun is shining for a pleasant afternoon in Montana, USA. My first evening without a rainstorm and drizzle! It’s nice to be out of the tent this time of day for a change. I picked up some local craft beers brewed just south of here at Whitfish. They are super delicious! I was offered a place to crash at the supermarket, which I turned down, I don’t know why, delirious from the big day I guess, I don’t want someone to go to extra effort because they feel sad I’m camping outside 🙂 it’s nice to camp outside in fine weather! Alas! I will say yes next time, simply for the opportunity to mention why I’m riding 2700 miles south, which is what this is all about, raising awareness for early onset dementia.


Well that’s the Canadian section done! Again, here is the link to the everyday hero page, where you can learn more about Early on-set Dementia https://give.everydayhero.com/au/mental-for-miles.
I’ll leave you with a teaser of what’s to come in Montana, USA.

  • Mark Evans

    looks stunning! great work

  • Fiona Ruby Robinson

    Amaaaaazing photos and good story telling