Enjoyed keeping up with you. Safe travels home!
Jul 24, 2016
Texas Hill Country
October 12, 2020
Short day. One long up, one long down. Starting to sound like a pattern, isn't it?
I rode with Jessie out of the hostel, until we were back on the Great Divide Route. He went south, I went north.
This is the one part of the Great Divide Route where the map/guide tells you specifically to watch out for bears. A few weeks before, a Forest Service officer collided with a grizzly bear while riding a mountain bike and was subsequently killed. This had happened just outside of Glacier National Park. I was just outside of Glacier National Park. Knowing that you're supposed to make noise to alert them to your presence, I put some music on, without earbuds, and let that do the work.
The pass was some of the better scenery I've witnessed this entire time.
It got cloudy, then rainy, on the other side. It had rained the day before, after I got to the hostel.
Near the pass, I met some locals who had pulled over for a picnic. I had the idea to stay in Eureka, if there was anywhere I could stay for free. Otherwise, I'd push into Canada, where there's more public land, and set up a tent. According to them, I could camp behind the city hall.
Not only could I camp there, but it had a shower and WiFi! Also, a farmer's market was going on in the parking lot. One of the booths was especially generous to me when it came to samples of sourdough bread.
There was already a bike and a tent in the park when I arrived. I wasn't sure if the owner was at a store or something, or if they were in the tent taking a nap. I tried to stay quiet. I unrolled my tent to dry it out, once it stopped raining. A folk singer and stand-up bass player showed up. The bass player was from Texas. After the show, we talked about being in high school marching band.
Alfonso, the other cyclist, showed up just as the farmer's market was coming to a close. He was the fourth rider I've seen pulling a trailer. His plan was to do about half the Great Divide, stopping in Steamboat Springs. He was from Mexico City, which surprised me when he told me. His accent was light and his English was perfect. He loved the mountains here, but like me, despised being cold and wet.
"My soul is from the desert," he said.
It looked to me like he was carrying more than usual, but not a ridiculous amount. That was because he had already sent eight kg of gear back home. We compared some of the gear we use. It seemed like everything I had, especially things for sleeping, he had the luxury one, something I would like to have but don't carry because of the weight penalty.
"I'm riding first class!" he explained.
Eureka had been described to me as a nice little town, and I almost agree. Every other vehicle was a truck that's louder than it needs to be.
Alfonso and I got along well, but talked less and less as the evening went on. Not that we couldn't talk more, we simply had our things to do: I wrote in my journal, he caught up on reading. Later in the evening, Mandy arrived, a nurse from North Dakota. She was taking time off between jobs, leaving her boyfriend behind for a few weeks. She was riding a fat bike. She was only planning on doing most of Montana, probably stopping in Helena or Butte and going home from there.
As it was getting dark, another cyclist showed up, a rare northbound Great Divide rider. He had caught me from behind today, though I generally cover more distance each day. He had a longer beard than I did, pointing to his earlier start date.
The forecast called for the only sunny day all week, tempting me to make it a long day. A WarmShowers host overruled that idea. WarmShowers trumps everything.
I took my time leaving town, waiting for the sun to come out and warm up the air. On the way out of Eureka, I topped off my food supply, then made it to the Canadian border less than an hour later. I was asked more questions than I remember ever getting from the Canadian border. Professional and polite, though perhaps a little stern. Without incident, I continued.
I took the suggested alternate route because I had heard bad things about road conditions on the main route. Since it had been raining a lot lately, the road conditions were now probably even worse. Half the day was on a quiet highway with a generous shoulder. The other half was on a loud highway with a generous shoulder.
Fernie, my destination, is a ski town that's recently become at least as popular for mountain biking. I didn't notice the ski-related businesses so much, but started to notice an unusual amount of yoga studios, massage parlors, and sushi places for a town this size. Yep, definitely a ski town. The businesses here know the clientele.
About ten seconds after I showed up at the host's house, before I had a chance to knock on the door, two young ladies about my age rode up on mountain bikes. After brief initial confusion, one of them understood that I'd talked to her mom on WarmShowers, let me into the house, showed me the outdoor shower, and handed me a waffle cone full of vanilla ice cream. Ohhhh yeah!
Outdoor showers rule, by the way. When it's sunny, that is. Nothing better than going from a sweaty bike ride to a hot shower, instantly followed by bright warm sunshine to dry off the old-fashioned way.
I hung around the house for a little while before Lee-Anne, the host I'd talked to, arrived with her husband, other daugher, and grandchildren, three boys aged 3, 5, and 7. The three-year-old didn't talk much. The five-year-old didn't talk much either, but made a lot of noises. The seven-year-old talked a lot, somewhat intelligently. He never shouted, but his speaking voice was naturally at a shouting volume. He was a fan of both Magic School Bus and Calvin and Hobbes. I approve. If not for reading Calvin and Hobbes religiously as a kid, I might be a very different person today. I have similar thoughts regarding all the Beatles songs I listened to in middle school.
I was extremely politely shooed out of the house for family time. I must be getting better at social cues if I've learned to take a hint. This was their last day all together and they already had a dinner planned. I parked myself on a comfy porch swing outside, opened my book, and let Willie impart his wisdom upon me.
After dinner, I was called back inside. Lee-Anne warmed a plate of leftovers and apologized for hinting that they wanted family time. Goodness, Canadians, we could all stand to be a little more like you.
I continued north on a decreasingly busy highway, until I was on one that had an amount of traffic that barely justified pavement, yet had a shoulder the size of a lane of traffic. On the way, I stopped to visit the largest truck in the world, built for the purpose of hauling coal from a mine.
I wonder if it can carry as much as I can on Jackie?
Elkford, the last town I'd see before the finish, had a surprisingly good grocery store. What was it doing in a town of this size, and why was a highway built to reach this town and come to a dead end? I would learn later that it's also a resort town, though it somehow didn't have that look while passing through, nor any traffic or activity. There must be something to do there in the winter.
I hadn't realized it, but I would be visiting two Canadian provinces. That means two more floats! Red cream soda this time, basically a Canadian brand of Big Red. Not bad at all! This needs to be more popular.
I left the pavement behind and began what looked like a long, imperceptible incline to the last major pass of the route. Instead, I got hill repeats for hours on end. Adventure Cycling likes to draw straight lines to represent the least flat roads I've ever seen. It reminded me of being in Texas Hill country, except for the scenery. And the temperature. And the rain.
It rained a few times, and the temperature hovered right in a zone where I couldn't decide if I should keep my jacket on or not. Going uphill, it was too hot with it on, and downhill, too cold without it. And since the road alternated between uphill and down every five minutes, this led to keeping it on and a lot of fiddling with the zippers. Along the way, I met three more southbound riders, including a couple from Calgary and a racer who'd dropped out due to injury, but was now starting anew on his own terms.
12 km from my intended destination, I got the final round of rain, a downpour this time, and the temperature plummeted at the same time. I could see the rain coming from up ahead, as the hills disappeared behind a grey wall. Before it hit me, I stopped and put on my rain hat and pants. This was going to get ugly.
I made the strategic decision to keep my thick gloves off. They're merely water resistant, meaning they'll buy you 20-30 minutes in a shower, but eventually they'll get soaked, and they take forever to dry, even in good conditions. Around here, they never would. I figured it would be a good idea to keep a pair of warm, dry gloves handy. It was worth one hour of cold, wet, stiff hands if it meant warm, dry gloves all night, and in the morning as well (if it wasn't raining again).
Just as the rain hit, I made it onto much worse road, with lots of loose rocks, now slippery when wet. The road followed a clear-cut under some power lines...almost. The clear-cut made a straight line and didn't rise and fall so much. The road would curve up and away from it, into the woods, up a hill, down again to the clear-cut, a gradual uphill underneath the power lines, and then uphill into the woods again, about once per km. For 12 km in a row. Why??? I was infuriated. The weather wasn't helping. It's impossible to be cold, wet, and happy at the same time.
Overjoyed describes my reaction to spying my digs: a cabin for general public use, first-come, first-served. Better yet, no one else was there. All mine! I hurried inside, out of the rain, and stripped off my wet clothes, replacing them with everything else I had. Felt better right away.
The cabin had two small windows, making it dark inside. There was a wood stove with a pile of logs next to it, and plenty of candles scattered around the place, but no matches or lighter. Normally I carry a cigarette lighter, but not this time, for some reason. Too bad!
I spread out my belongings, ate, and read. This was a nice place to hang out. The rain eventually stopped. Before my flight, I had two days where I wouldn't need to ride at all. I considered taking a zero day here in the cabin, doing nothing but read Willie Nelson, if it was raining again in the morning.
The cabin only had one problem: mice. They found a way in, even with the door closed and latched. I kept my food in a pannier, hanging from a nail in the wall, and they never touched me as I slept. Still, the sound of anything scurrying around you in the dark is unsettling, and at the very least, rather annoying. I didn't sleep as well as I would've liked.
It wasn't raining in the morning. I had dry gloves. I decided I'd go for it.
The road had already been rocky leading up to the cabin, and now plenty of mud was thrown in for good measure. In places, the road had grass growing in the middle, and I found it much easier to ride there. Streams across the road, puddles so big you had no choice but to ford them. Mud. Rocks. Mud. Mud. Rocks. Mud. Mud. I crested the pass. Mud. Rocks. Mud. Rocks. Rocks. Rocks. Steep. Dismount, walk. Rocks. Mud. Rocks. Rocks. It started raining again.
The Canadian Rockies are stunning, and they'd be pretty if the sun would ever come out. The clouds occasionally made for a dramatic effect, but I still think it would be better to see the mountains in all their splendor.
Many people kept telling me that this is some of the best landscape you'll ever see, but I disagree. If the weather is always so terrible that you never want to be outside, what does it matter if it's pretty? And if the clouds and rain are so thick you usually can't see the mountains, are they pretty to begin with?
Keep in mind, this is summer. The temperature is comparable to Texas in the winter. Texas winters don't have as much rain. Canada's summer is worse than Texas's winter. The rest of the year can only be colder, one would imagine. How do people live here?
I reached a provincial park, where there was some pavement and a general store. The weather forecast was printed on a billboard outside: "Heavy rain in the afternoon." I considered taking the paved road to the main highway between Canmore and Calgary, then backtracking up to Canmore and skipping Banff altogether. It would be longer, but it would be paved and would get me out of the hills quicker, where it might be warmer and drier.
Put up with one more lousy afternoon and you got this. I continued to Banff. The unpaved road was an improvement, but had a lot of washboard.
I met a few more southbound riders. One was from San Sebastian, Spain, near the Camino de Santiago. A few more were in a group, doing a section of the Great Divide. One of them had trailer #5. I must have seen over 100 people doing at least some part of the Great Divide, and only five trailers. Adventure Cycling says, "Trailers, specifically B.O.B. trailers, are a good choice," and their photo on the same page shows five cyclists, three with a B.O.B. trailer. I'm guessing Adventure Cycling is in cahoots with B.O.B. It's a shame they'll recommend a product most people don't want to use, just to make a buck.
In the last hour, the trail deteriorated. At least it was downhill. I fell over one last time. I started counting the km until I was done, and the the trail anti-climatically spit me out into a hotel's parking lot. Yayyyy....?
I had a WarmShowers host in Canmore, still 20 km away. Fortunately, there was a paved bike path connecting the two cities, right along the highway.
Wait, a bike path that directly connects two places where people are? That goes the same place roads go, for the same reasons? Don't be ridiculous. Cyclists like paths that wander all over the place, going everywhere except anywhere people live or visit, and share nothing in common with any other transportation network.
The rain renewed its vigor. I arrived in Canmore dripping wet. I noticed an unusual amount of bikes being ridden around town, considering the weather. Almost all of them were mountain bikes, and many had a number taped to them, like a racing bib. I stopped to text my host.
"Are you here for the race?" a pedestrian asked.
"The 24 hours mountain bike race, at the Nordic Center. You in the race?"
I had 15 kg of gear on my bike and didn't know what race they were talking about when they asked the first time. "No, I'm not."
"Well there's a race going on at the Nordic Center. You should check it out!"
I don't normally care much for bike races, especially anything involving laps. A 24-hour race is somewhat another story, as it involves persistence, not merely speed. However, getting indoors, warm, and dry was my only priority at this point. I don't even like being outside in this weather when I get to ride. I'm not going to stay outside in this weather for even longer just to watch someone ride.
I got in touch with my host and he drove to where I was to pick me up in his van. Nice! Only a few minutes later, I was in his house, taking a hot shower, and he even gave me a dry long-sleeved shirt and pajama pants to change into and stay warm while I did all of my laundry.
I'd met Jeff in Colorado, north of Salida. He was riding the Great Divide southbound, and he gave me his phone number, telling me to call him if I needed anything in Canmore. I didn't expect him to remember me, but a few days before, I'd asked if he knew of any cheap places to stay in Canmore. His response: "You're welcome to stay with us." Don't mind if I do! Naturally, we spent a lot of time talking about the Great Divide Route. Then we drank beer and ate pasta, along with his wife Paula, her brother Peter, and their neighbor Sue.
Peter's house had burned down in a wildfire north of Edmonton, and he was now living with his sister while he figured out what comes next. I didn't ask if his house was insured or not - I figured if it wasn't, it would sting every time you have to say it aloud. I had a day off the next day, and believe it or not, it stayed sunny!...until 4:00 PM or so, when it rained again. But in the early afternoon, Peter drove me around to see some pretty lakes in the area. He revealed that his plan was to buy a camping trailer for his pickup truck and drive around for a few years. I don't blame him.
It felt weird to be done, but due to the weather, I wouldn't say I hated being done. On some tours, I've kind of wanted to keep going. The slew of good hosts I had at the end certainly helped; otherwise, the ending would've been miserable all-around. Look at the last 11 days I had, 12 if you count both days at Jeff and Paula's:
The last 11 days had more "good" free sleeping arrangements (10/11 days) than the rest of the tour combined. Good people are the best part of anything like this, of life in general really. Without good people, bike touring would be almost impossible.
Read about Coyote's adventure with his father in Central Texas. Music, food, wheels, family, all the finer things in life.