All it took was a ride down the Great Divide Route, and we were hooked! Riding the Great Divide Route is Epic. It just is, in the classical sense. There is so much mythology surrounding it, and anyone who touches it has stories to tell over beer for years to come. ~ Craig Luke
Rather than rehash one of the most iconic and popular bikepacking routes we are including a more personal touch with trip journal entries below as there are no shortage of Divide Trip posts online and the Adventure Cycling Association is the authority on this route if anyone needs more details. As it was our first time giving this bikepacking thing a try we rode from Banff to Whitefish over 7 days. We didn’t have the time to ride the entire route and didn’t want to bite off a bigger chunk for our first ride. This trip however solidified our love for mixing up camping with cycling off the beaten path and was where the idea for this site was born.
Friday, Jul 3, 2015
Today was brutal. We arrived in Canmore to assemble our bikes and meet Craig’s friend Kevin and his lovely wife Trish. After assembling out bikes, grabbing a quick breakfast and coffee to go and some whiskey for the trip we headed for Banff to start at the trailhead for the great divide ride. Kevin joined us for the first couple of hours on our ride.
We met an older couple along the way who were doing the ride for the second time but this was the first time from the north. Craig and I had not planned it but we ended up riding 88 km on our first day. We only encountered a few people on our ride as the ride was pretty out there in terms of access to civilization.
We traveled a lot of dusty road so a bandana of some sort was required. One thing we discovered is to stop at every creek and re-supply water and hit it heavy with electrolyte replacements.
We found we were actually dehydrated for the first part of the day with bright yellow urine. We fixed that quickly. We have two types of water purification systems on this ride. First is a simple Sawyer system through a filter with a two liter water bladder. Second is a USB rechargeable UV light system compliments of my homie Greg Munby. Both have been crucial on this trip. We have consumed about 12 litres of water with electrolyte supplements on those 88 km between the two of us and frankly we could have consumed more.
We made it to a campsite overflow at Peter Lougheed Provincial Park to eat some food, have potable water and access to a bathroom for the night. We consumed more calories and whiskey once camp was set up. So far we are hooked on the punishment and the rewards of bike packing. We planned our next few days and food re-supply over whiskey and nuts. So far this is rocking our world.
Saturday, Jul 4, 2015
Today we crossed over the great divide and the Alberta/British Columbia border. We ran into a couple from Wisconsin who started at the Mexican border and were on day 44 of their tour at the top of the divide. One thing Craig and I have agreed upon is that this trip is not for the faint of heart. It is at times brutal. However the reward is the scenery and those moments where I’m in the zone . We stopped for lunch at a recreation site along the Elk River. We took some time to do some laundry and relax in the hammock.
I wasn’t feeling too well at the recreation site. Perhaps a little dehydration or heat stroke or a combination of both. A couple of hours into the ride I got my second wind but Craig took his turn not feeling too well.
We finally arrived in Elkford and got another paid campsite. This one had showers!! We hit the grocery and cold beer store. We proceeded to stuff our faces. We met another fella named Adam at the campground who was also headed south on his rig. We did a little maintenance on our bikes and called it a night.
Sunday, Jul 5, 2015
We left Elkford municipal campsite and were rewarded with a steep 30 minute climb as the start to our day. Just as we left town we saw a coyote with some small prey pouncing across the city park. We passed a really insane coal operation. Think Mordor and Lorax and you have a pretty good visual of what it was like.
We bypassed our first turn off from the highway. Luckily it was only a couple of kilometres to back track. The day was relatively cooler for temperature than the previous two days. It made riding a lot more bearable. The forest service road we were riding along the Fording River had a washout reported from 2 years ago. We eventually ran into this washout and it was huge. We had to hike our gear to rivers edge then back up to the road on the opposite side. The same process was repeated with our bikes. This really cut into our riding day.
We eventually got our rigs packed up again and were on our way. We stopped along the route to Sparwood to have lunch. Listening to music has become a way to keep moving and it’s not so bad as the roads we are on are not busy by any means. It helps during the long quiet stretches especially on the forest service roads.
Once in Sparwood we hung out at the visitors centre and ate until we could eat no more. We also ran into Adam from our previous night in Elkford. He was taking the Fernie alternate route so we might see him again at the border.
The end of our day was spent riding the Crows Nest (hwy 3) to the next turn off to head south on the back roads. Riding on hwy 3 was intense at the end of the weekend. Lots of Alberta plates and loud vehicles and tractor trailers to scare the crap out of us. It was so noisy I pedalled harder for the 11km to get off the hwy as fast as I could. The noise was making me crazy. About 5-10km off hwy 3 towards Corbin we found a nice spot along the river to camp for the night.
Monday, Jul 6, 2015
This morning was the coldest to date. We camped along the river. Great spot but super exposed. Craig was uncomfortably cold and couldn’t sleep while I managed with a 0 degree Celsius bag. Chilly indeed in the Flathead in July.
My right knee started acting up yesterday and has affected my riding despite the awesome descent through washed out Flathead FSR. We had so much fun with rivers taking over the road and riding through technical stream crossings. We made it to Butts cabin/recreation area. We had dinner and finished our whiskey here for our ride to the US border crossing tomorrow. Should be good times. I might have to bail on the last portion of the route from Eureka to Whitefish. I can no longer maintain the great divide race route with my knee acting up. Whitefish has some great amenities and micro brews. So not all is lost.
Tuesday, Jul 7, 2015
Ambitious day today. We pushed ourselves for about 13 hours, 130 km and over 2 mountain passes. The day started with cool temperatures. Then the sun came out and things got really hot. Then thunderstorms rolled in on our second mountain pass. It was cold, wet and miserable. It was freezing at the top of Galton Pass (6319 feet). There was hail and snow on the ground. Brrrrr!!
The descent to the border town of Roosville was fast and temperatures warmed up as we went to valley bottom. We stopped at the duty free shop/bar/casino to stuff our faces with greasy food and beer just after being admitted into America. We arrived in Eureka which is about 15km from the border and rewarded ourselves with a motel room for the night and got some beers and subs.
After a shower we started to feel human again. Lots of smoke in the valley too. Probably from the fire in Elko.
Wednesday, Jul 8, 2015
We slept in to rest from our epic day yesterday. Having a motel room for one night was a luxury. We grabbed breakfast and a coffee before we packed up to be on our way again. The motel is used extensively by people doing this route as we found out as everyone emerged from their rooms with bicycles. We talked to two other cyclists from Idaho and Montana. Both started in Banff as well.
We said our goodbye’s and headed for the grocery store to stock up on a couple of meals and snacks. The cashier was friendly and said we were in for a treat as she knew the route we were taking. Outside the store as we packed our food another cyclist local to the area stopped to talk to us.
I used this short trip to the store to assess my knee situation. I decided to make a go of it despite the extra distance and long climb. Craig also decided to chance it with a failing rear hub/cassette.
On the way to climb over the pass we noticed a micro brew was along the way from their sign at the turnoff from the highway. We were excited to have a cold brew before the climb; turned out that they were closed. Bummer as they also served pizza. Epic disappointment.
The climb was long and gruelling. My knee was really bugging me but so was the heat, saddle sores and numb hands. I kept pushing regardless. Had to dig deep to keep going. We eventually made it to the top of the pass. By the time i had made it my left knee was starting to bug me as well. Luckily most of the trip was downhill. We stopped at a campground called Tuchuck where we met two other cycling parties.
There is a deer hanging around our site munching on the grass.
Today was a shorter day all around only doing about 50km because we got a late start and stopped earlier than usual. Tomorrow is the final push for Whitefish.
Thursday, Jul 9, 2015
We awoke to second coldest morning this time at Tuchuck recreation site. Last night a deer wandered close to my hammock and scared the crap out of me when it tripped on one of my lines. We downed some coffees and the last of our breakfast rations and layered up for the morning descent. We ran into a fella from Austria who was heading north and gave him some information from our experience traveling south.We eventually started our last climb over the last mountain pass of this trip. It wasn’t as long as the previous mountain pass but the climb proved insanely painful on my knee. I pushed my bike the last few kilometers because it wasn’t painful to walk and I moved faster than pedaling. A woman in a passing SUV stopped to make sure I was okay. The reward at the top was great. Beautiful alpine lake with fish jumping all over the lake. A couple was fishing with their big friendly dog. One group of cyclist from our camp caught up with us as we finished lunch.
The rest of the day was pretty much downhill from the pass and then some highway riding into Whitefish. I was happy to stop at a bar for some grub and beers. The air conditioned space was a relief too. No more pedaling means my knee will have time to heal. Our second biggest day pedaling 110 km.
Afterwards we went to Glacier Cycle to check it out but they were close to shutting down for the day. We got some local knowledge on where to camp, shower and do laundry. Clean clothes and clean bodies. Seems like such a luxury after sweating on dusty roads and trails for a week.
We’ll continue from Whitefish to Colorado sometime in the future. Overall first bike packing tour was a success.
Friday, Jul 10, 2015
We slept in and grabbed a couple of coffees from Cowgirl Coffee across from the RV park we were camped at. Then we headed downtown to Buffalo Cafe for a big breakfast.
After breakfast we went to the train station to purchase our tickets. We decided to pack up camp and get our bikes and gear packed and checked in at the train station.
Once that was done we pretty much spent the rest of the day wandering Whitefish and hanging out in the Great Northern bar.
The train ended up being 1.5 hours late. When it eventually got going I slept until we arrived in Spokane.
Map and GPX
- The views at different points on the route
- Crossing over the divide on a bike
- Great Northern Bar in Whitefish
- Stock up with food any time you can
- There are no shortages of wild camping and if in a community there are motels, RV Parks and campgrounds
- Stock up on food whenever you can as the stretches between communities are long
- From Banff to Whitefish water is not an issue in July
- There was only one hike-a-bike section on this route