CANADA, 7th-15th August 2018
It felt so good to be out of Canmore, to feel my bike beneath me again, riding smoothly on the cycle path north to Banff. Into the Sunrise was finished and I didn’t need to worry myself about doing any more writing for a really long time, until I just started writing this, actually. Dea and I were free again, and we were excited, because ahead of us was the exciting new challenge of cycling on the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route, a collection of gravel roads and trails that connect up all of the way from Banff to Mexico. We weren’t sure how we were going to get on, what with our bikes not being mountain bikes, and being ridiculously loaded with stuff, but we’d thrown a couple of things away, and we thought we’d give it a go.
In Banff we reunited with an old friend, Alex from Guernsey. We first met Alex back in Georgia a year ago, and after cycling with him there we reunited again in Baku, before cycling across half of Uzbekistan together. Since then he’d gone off to Southeast Asia and the Far East for a while, before riding south from Alaska with a Basque man he’d met on the way, Gorka. The pair of them had been waiting in Banff for us for the best part of a week so that we could cycle together. But before we did that I suggested that we really must make time for a game of volleyball doubles. On the ride to the courts Alex told me that he was still keeping up with his vegan diet, established on the basis of a conversation we’d had in the Uzbek desert.
“Do you feel better? Like you have more energy?” I enquired.
“Well…” Alex said, tilting his head, “…I can eat a lot more!”
Volleyball was really tremendous fun and a resounding success in every single sense apart from the fact that Alex and Gorka ended up winning. After volleyball we sat and ate dinner on a bench, along with a Catalan couple they’d met somewhere, and we got our first glimpse into the wonderful world of Alex’s vegan diet, as he put away a tin of cold beans and then a sandwich of carrot topped with stolen sachets of mustard and ketchup. The Catalan couple, perhaps feeling sorry for Alex, donated a few kettle chips, and these made their way into the unusual sandwich too.
After all that it was eight o’clock in the evening and we decided to get cracking on the Great Divide. It led us instantly out of the tourist town and into the forest on a trail that was gravel but not too difficult. I found a few of the climbs strenuous, my fitness levels having dropped after a month at a desk, but it sure did feel great to be out cycling. No longer was I stuck staring at a screen, I was back out in the real world, in the company of good people, laughing and chatting and pedalling away beneath the forest. Once again cycle touring had taken me back to a happy place, I was back doing the thing I love doing the most.
After a night in the forest the next morning we reached the end of the trail and found ourselves looking back down on Canmore having spent the previous twenty-four hours going north and then south. Dea had said that she wanted to make time for some hiking, and it occurred to us that this was a good place to do it, for we knew from Hal of some hikes in these mountains over Canmore. So we locked our bikes to some trees and off we all marched up into the mountains, a band of happy hikers. Somebody, probably me, decided that we needed trail names, and trail names we all soon had. Gorka, a forty-year-old man with a trustworthy beard, was at the front leading us confidently along the way, and was given the trail name of Pimba. He was given this name by Alex, and I have no idea why. Alex himself was called Rhino, because he was still wearing the same outfit he always did of a grey shirt and little grey shorts, just like rhinos wear, and because of his plant-based diet. Dea was Pink Panther, because she was wearing pink, and I was Puffing Dragon, because I was at the back of the group puffing away. My fitness levels weren’t at their highest, and it was really hard work, especially when Pimba veered off the trail and got us all lost. Pretty soon we were scrambling over some steep rock faces that were genuinely very dangerous and I think we all regretted the whole sorry expedition and only hoped to get out of it alive. Eventually with the aid of three GPS phones we worked out how to get back on the trail by scrambling over the cliffside. Once safely back there we all looked at how far there still was to the top and voted unanimously on just going back down again. “I think I’ve done enough hiking now,” Dea said, once we were safely back at our bikes.
We were now cycling on Spray Lakes Road, which was gravelly and washboardy but not too bad really. We met a female cyclist heading in the other direction who had cycled the whole Great Divide who said that this was the worst road on the whole thing, and Dea and I got a lot more confident that we could handle things. We camped by a nice lake, and Alex made himself another unusual sandwich, before eating all of our cast-off broccoli stalk. “Food’s expensive,” he said, “don’t waste it.” The next day he ran out of food almost completely, and for dinner he had bread with salt.
We began to meet other Great Divide cyclists as we continued to follow gravel forest roads south. There were four older guys, and a young group of eleven from Connecticut that we nicknamed The Hipsters due to their matching bikes and beards and hipstery ways. The roads came to resemble cycling superhighways, and at one point there were no fewer than nineteen of us cyclists all stopped together at a river, the hipsters thankfully failing to notice that Alex was washing his feet just upstream of where they were refilling their water bottles.
Gorka was a funny fellow, a Basque-country Casanova with no fewer than four girlfriends at home. His English wasn’t the best, and when I tried to ask him if these ladies knew of one another, his response was “No, not all every day. One on Monday, one on Tuesday…” He sometimes seemed a little distant, like his mind was elsewhere, and it wasn’t too much of a surprise when we awoke one morning to find he was gone. “He’s gone to look for girls,” Alex explained. “He was getting anxious about how long he’d gone without sex.”
It was back to the old Team Spirit after that, just the three of us. Just like in Uzbekistan we played games as we cycled, and in the evenings we played whist at our campsites. And in this merry fashion we made our way south for several days, enjoying the nature and the forest. We saw a moose and a humming bird hovered in front of my face, and we found a tennis ball and played catch, and other such lovely things happened. And then we hit THE WALL. THE WALL is an infamous section of single track on the route which I think is called THE WALL because it climbs up almost vertically, but I believe in most descriptions it is not usually capitalised. In any case, we made it up THE WALL by working as a team, relaying our bags up in a chain up the steep sandy track. It gave us a sense of enormous satisfaction.
From there we had a long descent down into a valley where we could cross into the United States of America. There were two funny things about this long descent. The first is that there was an incredible amount of bear poo literally everywhere along the road here. The second is that Alex and Dea, usually faster than me, for the first time allowed me to go first. I didn’t mind, I had my bear spray and my horn, which I tooted frequently to warn the bears that I was not to be messed with, and we had no trouble.
And then suddenly we were at the border. Canada was at an end. It had been a blast, sure, a great country, but ahead of us lay something really truly very exciting, the great Trumponian mystery of the United States of America. What adventures awaited us there?
Distance cycled: 372 kilometres