Sunday, June 28, 2015

Up and Down

I titled this post "Up and Down" because that's what the last four days have been, both literally and figuratively. I've had lots of ascending and descending in elevation and moments of euphoria mixed with frustration and disappointment.

Left Banff on Wednesday morning, somewhere close to 11:00AM. Stopped at store to buy bear spray and the girl there was surprised I was doing the ride on a rigid (non-suspension) bike. Little did she know the power of the Hulk. Leaving the Fairmont Springs, you follow the Spray River Trail for a mostly easy ride. I ran into some other cyclists out for a ride, but no other Divide riders. Rode on the very dusty Smith-Dorrien Spray road for a few miles and, at Spray Lake, the trail goes off the road, across the dam and into the woods. It's gorgeous scenery and relatively remote. I didn't see another person for the 20 or so miles I was in the woods riding gated roads and singletrack trails.

The bike carried itself like a champ. The wide tires rolled over things easily and I felt extremely capable and confident. There was a section, about a third of a mile long, that the map warned many riders had to push up and I proudly stubbornly rode up it even with the weight of all my gear. My issue was with my seatpost and saddle. I switched saddles to the one I rode cross country on right before I left. For some reason, the railings on the seatpost wouldn't hold the saddle in place, it kept sliding backwards. I knew because I could feel my thighs rubbing against the rear panniers and I was starting to get some pain in the knees and groin. Stopped and tried to fix it 3 times and it kept moving. It was definitely broke my mental psyche and caused an unwanted distraction.

The trail rejoins the Smith-Dorrien Spray Rd and I got to experience more dust. But I did see my first grizzly. I was just riding along and looked to the right and there it was, about 70 meters away. And I kept riding.

At the Boulton Creek Campground, I missed the turn for the mercantile while I was on the bike path and turned around. And there ahead of me, just hanging out, was another bear. I took a quick photo and went to the store. When I told the lady there I just saw a bear, there was a lot of excitement. They called conservation officers and tried to locate it to either track or tag (plus, they want to keep campers safe).

A very good night of sleep at Boulton Creek got me ready for my first crossing of the Continental Divide at Elk Pass. It was actually only about 8 miles from the campground to the top of the pass. It was a workout but not as bad as I was anticipating. At the pass, you cross from Alberta to British Columbia and descend (super fast and fun) to Elk River Rd. Total trip from trailhead to trailhead is about 6 miles. If you drove to the two trailheads, it is about 200 miles!

It's almost 30 miles on the Elk River road, a dusty, dirt road that seemingly leads to nothing from the town of Elkford. About halfway down the road, I spotted Eric, a guy I met at the campground the night before. I hustled to catch up with him and we rode the rest of the way together. He's from Colorado and is riding to Wyoming where his wife is going to pick him up. He's done other sections of the Great Divide over different summers and had some good insight for me for the Divide Basin in Wyoming. We shared lunch together at a great little dive place in Elkford (since the pizza place didn't open until 3:00) and rode together to Sparwood. Eric was pulling up front on the road to Sparwood when I said, "Look up". He said "What?" I said "Look!". There was a grizzly crossing the road in front of us.

In Sparwood, I decided to stay the night as I was going to following the main route, which involved 114 miles (two days) through the backcountry with three pretty significant passes to climb. Eric continued to Fernie because he was going to do the alternate, shorter route with more towns and less climbing since he has a shorter window than me. Today, I don't regret choosing the main route, but yesterday I was kicking myself for not taking the alternate.

The first day was great! Twenty miles to Corbin, which is a large mountain top coal mine. The road ends and you can take a gravel ascent to Flathead Pass. A guy pulling a large camper caught me on one of my breaks and asked if he could get to Flathead on this road. I had no idea, so he was going to find a pulloff and just drive up with his truck and scout. At the pass, there were guys on dirtbikes and four wheelers (the Canadians call them quads) riding up and down a bank. On the backside, I quickly found out that the guy with the trailer was going nowhere. The road disappears into a stream. The stream had washed out the road or become part of the road. Some places had 3 foot drops into the water from the gravel. Many places wasn't even gravel but fist and head sized stones that made riding tricky. It was a tough having to push the bike through the water so many times. I could ride a lot of it because of the big tires, but there was a lot more that I could not ride. Or I dared not ride and risk injury on a fall. It wore me out.

After a lunch break, it is basically gravel along the Flathead River for a long time. Then you join up with logging roads and I ran into a few trucks late in the day. My plan was to stay at the Butts Patrol cabin, which is open for campers on a first come basis, but when I arrived it looked as if people had moved in and I wasn't comfortable staying there. I found a spot next to the river where I could hang food and ended up with a fantastic campsite. I washed in the river. Talk about exhilarating; dunking oneself underneath ice cold water. It was a jolt of refreshing and energy, a baptism of sorts.

Yesterday morning I was up at 5:30 and riding by 7:15. It was a 14 mile climb to Cabin Pass and I was at the top a little before 10:00. Great 5 mile descent to the Wigwam River and then turned and headed up a trail. By now the sun was getting high and the temperature readings on my bike were in the 90s. Before the trail crossed the river, some rock cairns mark a singletrack that leads into the woods and along the river. It was tight and there were no sight lines. I was yelling constantly to give the animals a heads up that I was coming. The trail leaves the river by going straight uphill. I had to unhook my bags and push my bike up 1/4 mile and then come back and get the bags, it was too steep to do both at the same time. The picture beneath doesn't do a great job showing how steep it is, but it was steep enough that I would not ride it on my regular mountain bike downhill! At this point, I was cursing the fact that I did not take the alternate. It was maddening and not what I pictured "riding" to be. Combined with the heat and exhaustion, I was pretty flustered.

After coming out from a clearing, there is some more gravel climbing and then a short descent to a gate. From there is 5 miles to the top of Galton Pass (6,319ft). It's hot and I'm slowly trudging between 4-5 mph to get to the pass, but I make it! The descent, the maps warned, is screaming. The map did not lie. I was going way faster than I should have. The bike gives me so much confidence on lose surfaces. I hit a hole too fast and heard "HISS". I had punctured the tire. Tubeless tires have a sealant that keeps the air in and if there are small punctures, the sealant will close most of them. Well, I had sealant spraying out all over me as I stopped the bike with the hole in the tire pointed at me.

No problem, just a setback. I had a tube I could pop in there and we are good to go. Wrong. I had never removed a tubeless wheel set up before and could not get the bead to separate from the rim because of the sealant. I tried and tried. Another moment of me regretting not taking the Fernie Alternate route. I felt very helpless. This was the payback I had imagined for having such a great day of travel on Tuesday.

I had relegated myself to walking down the road (6 miles) to the main highway. I just got the rear tire on to roll the bike when a guy pulls up and offers me a ride to the road. His name is Dale and he lives in the valley and works at a sawmill. I asked if he would give me a ride to customs, which is only 2.5 miles from where this road intersects with the highway. He offered to take me to his house and get my bike rolling. So I took him up on the offer. He got me some water, we found some tools, got the seal popped and then putting in the tube was easy. I offered to pay him and he told me to just pay it forward to someone else.

So today, I have arranged a shuttle to Whitefish, MT. I have little confidence in the tube I put in, I broke my pump yesterday pumping up my repaired tire, the seat is still not where it needs to be. Matter if fact, my rear tire is flat again already. I have some pain in my back, a little in my left knee (not bad though) and my left shoulder was having spasms yesterday for some reason. And I've been stung or bitten by at least three flying insects and that's not including the dozens (maybe hundreds!) of mosquito bites. There's a lot to be down on right now.

But the remarkable thing is that my legs and lungs feel fantastic. Sure, they're tired but they don't hurt and I feel like I can do more. And I've done a good job with sun protection and prevented chafing. I've been adventurous and felt accomplished. I really feel good about the ride and the progress that I've made.

Stephen Willis has shipped a seatpost to Glacier Cyclery in Whitefish. I'm going there tomorrow to get this tire fixed and the seat issue resolved. I think not having to worry about those two things will go a long way in helping me just ride. For now, it's a down day at the Whitefish Bike Retreat. It's a really cool place with nice people. They have hostel lodging and camping, trails around the facility and a berm track outside the lodge. We'll call it a rest day. I do miss 112 miles of National Forest riding that the Great Divide route follows from Eureka to Whitefish, but it's important to get this bike dialed in. Plus, I get to do laundry. And I'm avoiding riding in 99 degree temperatures.

Again, ups and downs. Things go awesome and things don't go as planned. When there's a descent that gives me respite or joy, I know that it will follow with an ascent that will make me work and grind. You take them all. If you don't, then you can't enjoy the ride. 

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Traveling thoughts

I am writing the draft of this from 35,000 feet, somewhere over Wyoming if the flight tracker is correct. I'm finishing it here in Banff at the International Hostel while I wait out some rain. I am full of nerves and anticipation, like a kid on Christmas morning.

I want to say that, so far, this has been a fantastic day of travel. Brian Land got to my house about 4:00AM and we were off to Greenville. I really like flying out of GSP, it’s so convenient and easy. Today affirmed that even more. A very nice attendant gave me a hand with my very large bike box (actually two boxes taped together) and I appreciated the help. The ECR is so large that it was not feasible to get the front tire in the same box as the rest of the bike, so my friends at Sycamore Cycles taped two boxes together. I did drop my tent and some of my other gear in the box that held the front tire. At the check in counter, I was braced to have to argue, that though it was two boxes taped together, there was only one bike inside and I should only be charged once. After a short wait, he asked for $150, their standard bike rate that I was expecting. He apologized for the wait saying that the computer wanted to charge me $400 and it took time to correct that. I was very grateful for his efforts and glad everything was smooth with check in. Even security was a breeze (another plus of GSP).
Flight left Greenville on time. Had plenty of time to get from Terminal B to Terminal E at Houston Intercontinental and still grab donuts and coffee. We pushed from the gate on time at Houston and once airborne, the captain announced that he thought we’d be 20 minutes ahead of schedule arriving in Calgary. I haven’t flown United in years (been loving some Southwest), but I would not hesitate to fly again if today is the standard experience. As long as my bike arrives intact, I’ll not hesitate to endorse United Airlines. [edit: bike arrived fine, but TSA did open it up and rummage.] 

Flight did arrive a few minutes early and Canadian customs was quick and easy. I grabbed my giant boxes and rolled them to the Brewster counter to check in for my shuttle. I had over two hours before my reservation and, without asking, the lady asked if I wanted to catch the coach that left in 10 minutes. She made the change and I was on a bus rolling towards Banff. The pessimist in me says that if today went so smooth, tomorrow or the next may be disastrous. 

As I ponder what I’m getting myself into, I toggle between feelings of excitement and being overwhelmed. I also worry I left something important behind. I have been reminded by many people, including myself, that this is going to much more difficult that the coast to coast journey. Occasionally, doubt creeps in as I do believe this may be the most difficult physical and mental undertaking of my life. Am I in over my head? But I am extremely thankful that I have an opportunity to embark on an adventure like this. I am also thankful for the support and encouragement of friends, family and strangers. So many people have sent texts and messages of support and had had at least 5 offers from people willing to get up at 3 AM to drive me to the airport.

One of my favorite childhood memories was playing the Oregon Trail game in school. Sure, hunting bison was fun and I liked dodging boulders on the Columbia River but what really drew me to the game was the sense of discovery and exploration. The west, even to this day, is wild. You have to be gritty and be able to sustain yourself. You have to be a problem solver, adaptable and resilient. You’ve got to be okay being uncomfortable. When people ask why I’m doing this, sure I like riding bikes. But I can do that anywhere. I want to embrace challenges, explore and discover neat places and meet and interact with interesting people. The bike and this trail is just a vehicle for me to do all these things.

So here’s to the adventure. Antelope Wells, NM is the destination but that’s just a place. Getting there is not important. Who, what and where in between Banff and Antelope Wells is what will define this journey. Isn't it always the in betweens that define us anyways?

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Great Divide Packing List

Here is the gear list that I'm at least starting with for the Great Divide. Everyone is a little different. I'm definitely not minimalist; if I am going to be gone for over a month, I want to be at least a little comfortable. Plus, I'm not racing. But the packing list is a bit different and pared down from the first time I did a a major bike trip. I bought some new stuff (solar charger, for example), but most of my stuff from the past carried over well for this trip. I looked for gear that is durable and dependable. Weight is important, but volume is more important when space is a premium as it is on this ride. My goals with my gear is protection from the elements and not get stranded and hopefully I did a good enough job preparing and planning.

 All my gear laid out

The bike and on the bike:
Surly ECR (named her "Hulk")
Surly Nice Rear rack w/ 2 Orlieb Panniers
2 Salsa Anything Cage HD with Sea to Summit 5L Drybags
Revelate Designs Sweetroll (carries tent on handlebars)
2 Revelate Designs Feedbags
Rockgeist Custom top tube bag
Garmin 510 GPS Unit
Planet Bike Protege 9.0 cycle computer
Niterider MiNewt 250 front light
Knog Blinder Cross rear light

Putting Hulk together after she arrived

Camping Equipment:
REI Quarterdome T2 Tent
REI Quarterdome T2 footprint
Mountain Hardwear Phantom 30 down sleeping bag
Big Agnes Air Core 70x25x2.5 sleeping mattress
Sea to Summit Aeros pillow (small)
Snowpeak Giga Stove
GSI Pinnacle soloist cookset
Camp Towels, one small, one medium
Petzl Headlamp
Pur Hiker Waterfilter
50 ft rope

2 cycling shorts
2 jerseys
1 wool midlayer
Novara Rainjacket
North Face Hyvent Rain pants
Novara tights
Patagonia Nano Puff Down Jacket
1 Off Bike Shorts
2 T-shirts (Wool!)
2 Ex Officio Underwear
2 pairs Smartwool socks
Pearl Izumi bike shoes
Teva sandals
Pearl Izumi arm sun sleeves
Mountain Hardwear beanie
Buff UV headband/neck gaiter
Sunday Afternoons Sun Hat
Cycling Gloves
Softshell Gloves
Prescription glasses
Adidas Tycane Sunglasses

Microsoft Surface 3
Canon Powershot 90
JVC GC-X1A Action Camera (thanks Dr Clay Sanders)
iphone 6
Goal Zero Switch 10 multitool Solar kit
REI Travel mini surge protector
mini tripod

Adventure Cycling Great Divide map set (7 maps)
Sea to Summit 3/8"x40" accessories strap
Redpoint Velcro Accessories Strap
3 Waterbottles
Coffee mug
Knog Milkman retractable lock
MSR Dromedary water bag (to carry extra water in the Great Divide Basin)
29er Tube
mini pump
Crank Bros M19 Multitool
Duct Tape
Electric Tape
SOG pocket knife
Leatherman Style PS Multitool
Ziploc bags
Replacement hooks for panniers
Tire levers
First Aid kit
Bug Spray
Bear Spray (will purchase in Banff)

Tag along:

Note: this list does not include personal hygiene items and food.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015


This blog has not gotten much love. The last update was 2 years ago. There was a time where I was writing multiple times a week. I guess getting busy and the rise of social media has taken me away from writing. And that's too bad. Writing is a nice creative outlet. It is a form of expression.

Part of the revival of the blog is to document this summer's trip. The Great Divide has been on my bucket list for well over a decade. I remember walking into the Bicycle Company years ago and Hampton Hudson had just finished setting a Bob trailer and bike for a customer who was riding the trail and thinking that I want to do that!
Of course, the opportunity never arose until the fall. A friend mentioned to me that he'd like to do the Divide and wondered if I would be interested. It was a no brainer and I was excited. When I committed to the ride, I became somewhat obsessed, doing lots of research on bikes, route, packing and equipment. Unfortunately, because of some family issues, my friend had to back out. Having already put in lots of planning time and purchased a bike (and being very stubborn), I went ahead and decided that I am fine going solo.

Having a partner is good in case of emergencies and to help in cost (expenses) and carry (sharing the weight). But there are advantages to me riding alone. I only have to worry about my own pace. I can linger and not feel bad and can sleep and wake on my own schedule. And, I really like and I am looking forward to the alone time. I need the mental rest from a season in the classroom.

Most of you know that four years ago, I rode from coast to coast. This tour will be totally different. It will be mostly off-road. The Great Divide bills itself as the longest off pavement bicycle route in the world. On the cross country ride, I was basically in a town every night. There were some remote places, but I was never too far from a road and help if I ever needed it. This year, I'll be in some remote backcountry. The Canadian portion is renowned for it's scenery and wildlife. And it is rugged and remote. The Great Divide Basin in Wyoming is lonely, hot and dry. New Mexico is rough with long stretches between water. This ride will be physically and mentally challenging.

I even scored a deal on a great bike for this ride. I was deciding between the Salsa El Mariachi and a Surly ECR or Ogre. A random person sent me a link to a lady in California that was selling an ECR in my size. We talked a little, I found out she's ridden the Divide before (not on this bike though) and she gave me a great deal on the bike and some accessories. This bike is a 29+, meaning it has 29 inch rims but fatter tires (3 inch). That will allow me to float over a lot of obstacles. It's not a road touring bike like my Long Haul Trucker that I took cross country. It's got Jones Loop handle bars for comfort and handling and I've decked it out with Surly rear rack, Salsa Anything Cages up front and Revelate handlebar and feedbags. Rockgeist made me a custom top tube bag for my camera and phone. I'm using the same Ortlieb panniers that I used four years ago, those things have been great.

Below is a photo comparison of my two touring rigs. Bella (top) is a Surly Long Haul Trucker that took me from Oregon to South Carolina. Hulk is the Surly ECR that will carry me over the Continental Divide numerous times and help me navigate the off road terrain between Canada and Mexico. This trip will not feature the Bob, but Baron will come along again.


Test run. Everything fit, felt great! #uyridesdivide #surlyecr #surlybikes #bikepacking

So, I leave in a week (June 23) for Calgary. I will take a shuttle to Banff (Below) and assembly bike and get ready for depart. The first 3-4 days are in Canada, full of wildlife, rugged terrain and a postcard shot around every bend. Here we go...

You can, of course, follow the journey here on the blog.
I will update through Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, so find me.
My Flickr page will contain most of my photo albums.

Banff park entrance Bow Tributary