Aaron’s Wildest Valley

15 03 2010

Image: Aaron Teasdale

The definite highlight of my CDN GDR ride last year was the reroute through the Flathead Valley. This infrequently traveled section of the route was remote and wild while still providing enough of a road to let us explore with ease.  Although the road we were riding was evidence of man’s intrusion here the fact it was so poorly maintained and that we met nearly no one else using it is testament to the area’s wildness.  Some of the least used sections were clearly being reclaimed by nature and the scar we were riding would be erased in short order.

Not that I need more motivation to go back and ride in this area again, but Aaron Teasdale has posted an award wining article, Return to the Wildest Valley, he wrote about the area for Adventure Cyclist Magazine.  The photos are lovely and the words will make you want to load up your mountain bike and explore this amazing ecosystem.  It’s well worth a read.

Flathead Valley Touring on the CDN GDR

While you are visiting Aaron’s fine blog check out his article, Finding New Nowheres, about a 5 day bikepacking trip in Alberta Canada’s Kananaskis Country – my very own backyard…=-)

CDN GDR – Day 5

18 07 2009
Crusing on empty with the end in sight.

Crusing on empty with the end in sight.

We both slept poorly with grumbling tummies and the first chance we got @ 6am to grab our food out of our neighbour’s SUV we jumped on it and devoured literally everything in sight.  As I was shoveling food into my mouth I knew we blew it not eating the previous night after such a hard day on the bike.  By not letting our bodies refuel overnight we were going to suffer on the last 75kms into Canmore.

Unfortunately that’s exactly what happened.  Riding with leaden legs we pumped our way down the Smith-Dorrien/Spray Trail.  This gravel road is wide, moderately graded without any serious climbs and dusty as heck when vehicles pass.  It should have been an easy ride into Canmore, but it seemed far harder than it should have been. I kept stuffing food into my mouth in the hopes I’d find a burst of energy, but it never came.

My Surly Pugsley rocked for the GDR tour...=-)

My Surly Pugsley rocked for the GDR tour...=-)

Although I wasn’t kicking butt I can’t make it sound totally awful.  The scenery was stunning and knowing I only had to ride 75kms without any major climbs made it easier to simply accept tired legs and enjoy the day.  Like most of the tours I’ve been on the end is bitter sweet.  On one hand you are happy to be done and accomplish a nice ride, but on the other hand your body is just getting fully adjusted to riding hard each day and it almost seems wrong to not climb onto your bike the day after the tour ends.

I’ve lived in Canmore around Y2K so the landscape became more and more familiar as we rolled closer to town.  We live in a pretty amazing part of the world.  Majestic mountains, lush forests and a generally dry climate – perfect for bike touring.

Kurt enjoys the view of Canmore and the end of our tour.

Kurt enjoys the view of Canmore and the end of our tour.

We decided to end our tour in Canmore rather than Banff because we had ridden the GDR route to Banff a couple dozen times before.  Banff is a tourist trap of a town and this would have been high season.  We just weren’t mentally ready to decompress from our GDR tour amid the crush of tour buses and digital cameras.  Canmore sees tourist action as well, but it’s a much more chilled out vibe.  We hadn’t figured out our ride back to Calgary 100% at this point, but if Kurt’s GF picked us up it looked like a long afternoon of hanging out until she could make it up after work.

So with big smiles on our faces we bombed the last downhill into town.  Rolling right up to our favourite patio and ordering beers, wings and ribs before the dust had settled!  Thanks to Kurt for coming along on this tour and making it a lot more fun than it would have been solo.  Thanks to Kurt’s GF SN from driving us down to Roosville at the start of our tour and thanks to my GF Sharon for giving us a ride home at the end of the tour.

I’ll write some posts about my overall impressions of the CDN GDR and our bikes/gear in the next week or so, but I wanted to say how much I enjoyed this ride and how impressed I am with my Pugsley.  I think we’ve demonstrated the Surly Pugsley is not just a snow bike.  I’ll be back on the CDN GDR again – if you have 4-5 days free and enjoy dirt touring this is a great ride.

CDN GDR 2009: PhotosBack to Day 4

CDN GDR – Day 4

17 07 2009
Happy Canada Day!

Happy Canada Day!

At the start of Day 4 Kurt’s knees were feeling much better and we planned to ride uphill to Elkford about 60kms where we’d grab a bite to eat and push on a bit before camping north of town.  A modest goal, but with an uphill trend all the way to Elk Pass we figured that would be enough riding for us in one day and we wanted to make sure Kurt’s knees stayed happy.

In the past my experience has been that the day after a rest day on tour can actually be quite hard as your body has to get off the chilled out vibe and back to some hard work.  Happily we rode well and made great progress.  The route to Elkford was paved initially and then back to dirt.  I have to hand it to the folks at the ACA – the whole route was quiet and scenic…they made some great choices for sure.  It was such a nice ride we found ourselves in Elkford at lunch time with a 9am start – excellent….=-)  The last section into Elkford was a steep paved downhill where we reached 60kph+ on our Pugsleys.  To my surprise they were rock solid at that speed…nice!

Over some yummy burgers in Elkford we perused the map and discussed what to do.  Kurt had lightened his bike quite a lot dropping two panniers and he felt much happier climbing today.  We got a bit ambitious and realized if we pushed it another 70kms we’d be over Elk Pass and would only have an easy downhill day to the end of the tour. Keep in mind that would be at least double the daily mileage we had done to this point and it was uphill the whole way over the highest pass on the CDN GDR.

It was a crazy plan, but we figured what the heck?  If we didn’t make it we’d pick up where we left off and still have a shorter ride on Day 5.

Kurt hammering his way towards Elk Pass...

Kurt hammering his way towards Elk Pass...

As it turned out the next few hours of riding we flew uphill – literally at light speed compared to the previous days.  Our speeds were consistently in the 25kph+ range on all, but the steepest parts of the route.  I cannot explain the difference, but we had a great time hammering away the first 50kms or so out of Elkford.

With 20kms to Elk Pass we started to slow down and get a bit tired.  We’d ridden something like 110kms to this point. But, the lure of the pass kept us riding.

I have to say the pass itself was one of the hardest bits of bike touring I’ve ever done.  With 130kms of fully loaded uphill dirt touring in my legs that day I started up the pass pretty exhausted.  What followed was an indeterminate time where I pushed my heavy Pugsley uphill over a trail that had been chewed up by a tracked vehicle so it was lumpy.  Add to that hordes of hungry mosquitos which made stopping impossible.

My routine was:

  • shuffle the bike forward pushing with one hand
  • with my free hand I either swatted mosquitoes or pushed chocolate into my mouth to keep my energy levels up
  • I could tell how fast I was going by how many mozzies were on me at any given time
  • I probably would have fallen over at some point and rested, but the bugs were so bad that didn’t seem like an option

….this went on for what I assure you was forever!

The top of Elk Pass baby!...=-)

The top of Elk Pass baby!...=-)

I had pictured the top of Elk Pass in my mind as a rocky windswept nirvana where I’d have a spectacular view and no mosquitoes….I was wrong!  It was treed so the views were nice, but not panoramic and since there were trees the wind was mild and the mozzies were in full effect. I got so freaked out I ended up bombing several KMs down a boggy trail only to realize it wasn’t the GDR route.  Being so tired the idea of an extra 3-4 tough kms was hard to take, but what are you gonna do???

Going back uphill from our wrong turn...

Going back uphill from our wrong turn...

Eventually we found the right trail and bombed our way downhill into Alberta.  I was running on fumes at this point, but the lure of a restaurant/store 10-15kms away was too tempting.  We made it just in time to get an ice cream from the store before it closed.  I tell you that was one of the best ice creams I had eaten – ever!

Rolling into a Provincial Park campground we capped an epic 145km day with a fatal mistake…we were so tired we decided not to cook and instead eat in the AM.  Clearly we weren’t thinking straight.  By 2am I couldn’t sleep I was so hungry, but our food was safely locked in the SUV of a campground neighbour as there had been several bears in the campground recently.  I managed to drift off eventually, but didn’t get a great rest that night. I also didn’t let my body have a chance to load up my well used leg muscles with energy overnight…that would turn out to be a problem on Day 5.

On the right trail into Alberta...

On the right trail into Alberta...

CDN GDR 2009: PhotosFwd to Day 5Back to Day 3

CDN GDR Day 2 & 3

15 07 2009
Getting into the swing of life on GDR...

Getting into the swing of life on GDR...

Day 2

We woke up on day 2 at a leisurely 9am.  Enjoyed some breakfast and tweaked our bikes a bit after they had been bounced around on day 1.  Rolling out onto the GDR at 11am was relaxing, but we paid the price for our slow start by facing the heat of the day immediately.  For some reason we had expected the day’s ride to be flatter….we were mistaken.  Day 2 resembled day 1 a lot in a long hot climb as we cruised east on Cabin FSR.  The climb wasn’t anywhere near as steep as day 1 so there wasn’t a whole lot of pushing involved. Just lots of grinding uphill in the lowest gear we had.  This provided a great time to contemplate my Pugsley setup.  The gearing was fine, but I needed to reduce my load to the point where I could ride with just a frame bag and some stuff strapped on top of the front and rear racks. I can’t complain about how our Pugsleys handled fully loaded, but with less weight the uphills would be a lot easier and we could ride the downhills like mtn bikers as opposed to bike tourists who had to worry about breaking racks and such..

At breakfast on day 2 we realized Kurt had lost his spork…bummer…8 panniers between us and only a single spork to show for all that weight!  We resolved to beg for a spoon the first opportunity that presented itself.  Happily only a couple dozen kms into the day we came across a hunting cabin.  The lone occupant listened politely to our one spork sob story and kindly gave us an old spoon….=-)  Sweet!

The great thing about a long uphill is that there is often a long downhill on the other side.  Day 2 on the GDR proved to be no exception.  We bombed down the last section of Cabin FSR as fast as we dared. I was stoked to see the end of the 42kms of Cabin FSR – nothing wrong with the road itself, but the whole day to that point had felt like slow motion. I should note that this is the first tour I’ve ever done without a bike computer.  I had a GPS on my bike, but since the route was so simple I left it off most of the ride just checking my position occasionally.  Maybe it was the lack of performance data or the climbing, but the last 42kms felt more like 84kms!

It was nice to turn north on Flathead FSR for the run to Sparwood.  I could taste the beer and burgers already!…=-)

The rest of the day’s ride on Flathead FSR was nice and flat – appropriately enough. So we could make some decent time and we went another 25kms north before calling it a day  around 8pm at a really nice campground that we had all to ourselves.  The whole CDN GDR reroute so far had been really devoid of people and this section continued the trend.  We managed a quick bath in the Flathead River to rinse of a couple day’s worth of sweat and dust before bed.

Arriving in Sparwood BC Day 3

Arriving in Sparwood BC Day 3

Day 3

Getting of to a slow start on day 1 & 2 we vowed to hit the GDR early on Day 3.  Out of our sleeping bags at 6am and on the road by 7am was a nice change.  Day 3 featured the least amount of climbing of any day so far and we managed to get it all done while it was still cool out.  Flathead FSR got really rough at spots and the river crossed the road several times.  Not a problem on our Pugsleys and in fact it made the route feel a lot wilder than the well maintained sections which was fun.

It didn’t take us long to ride to the coal mine at Corbin and the end of the dirt on the revised CDN GDR.

Although the 30km paved downhill to Sparwood was nice it felt a bit anticlimactic after the tough riding we had done so far.  I have to say I actually started to get bored of coasting downhill for so long!  The Bike Gods must have decided that letting us cruise casually into Sparwood was too easy so we had our first and only flat of the trip 3kms from town.  Kurt has lot of experience dealing with Pugsley flats so I just got out of his way while he repaired the puncture.  We were quickly back on the and Kurt vowed not to ride so far right of the white line so he could stay clear of all the debris on the side of the road – smart move!

Naturally we wasted no time digging into some wings & beer, then a proper lunch and more beer.  It was only 2pm when we were done feasting so we had time to hit the road again, but decided not to.  Kurt’s knees were bothering him enough he was thinking of bailing on the tour, but felt like some ice, a massage and some rest might sort him out.  Never one to turn down an afternoon nap and ice cream I was happy to call it a day.

CDN GDR 2009: PhotosFDW to Day 4Back to Day 1


6 07 2009
Starting out from the Montana border...

Starting out from the Montana border...

CDN GDR 2009: Photosall posts

We drove down to Eureka, MT on Saturday 27 June in a rental car with our Surly Pugsleys hanging off the trunk on a folding bike rack.  These racks always scare me and I kept looking back to see if the bikes were still attached to the trunk!  My fears were unfounded and they made it to our motel safe and sound.

We had a poke around town for some nightlife, but came up empty.  There were a couple options, but they were a bit scary and people smoking inside bars is something we can’t handle so we grabbed a case of beer and headed to our motel room for the night.

I slept fitfully and woke up a bit dazed.  By the time everyone had a shower, we ate breakfast and grabbed some final supplies it was 11am.  Not exactly a crack of dawn start – something we’d regret later in the day.  Eventually Kurt’s GF dropped us off at the border and she headed home in the rental car [thanks for the lift SN!…=-)].

We rolled across the border into Canada without any troubles and started our CDN GDR tour in earnest.  It didn’t take long for us to turn onto a gravel forest service road [FSR].  We were just getting used to the handling of our fully loaded Pugsleys when the climb to Galton Pass started.  Little did we know we’d spend the rest of a hot hot afternoon slowly cranking and pushing our rigs uphill from shady patch to shady patch.  Yikes!

Given our lack of touring this year, the heat of the day and how unexpected this was [we didn’t have much info on the newly proposed CDN GDR route] our morale took a beating.  I did my best to keep it inside while I laboured uphill trying to remember why I wasn’t on a patio at home sipping a cold beer with my GF?

Every chance we got we doused ourselves with cold creek water and soaked our t-shirts to keep cool.  We also plowed through our daily snack supplies at our frequent rest stops.  One of the benefits of bike touring is getting to eat anything you want in large quantities while losing weight.

Finally we reached the summit in the late afternoon – tired, but happy to have overcome what turned out to be one of two really hard sections of the whole ride – the other being Elk Pass.

Kurt rides the "good" side of Galton Pass

Kurt rides the "good" side of Galton Pass

On our way down the backside of Galton Pass we rode some very smooth and scenic double track FSR.  The views and lack of pedaling made us smile big time!  We met our first CDN GDR riders at this point.  They turned out to be the only other riders we met on the newly proposed CDN GDR route and happily we met them just before our only potentially difficult route finding section.  They explained roughly where to look for the singletrack connector that joined Phillips-Rabbit FSR to Wigwam FSR.  They had spent half a day lost in search of the north end of this connector.  As it turns out it is much easier to find from the south as the road literally ends where the singletrack starts so there is much less uncertainty where to start looking in the woods for the trail.

From the south just ride to the end of the FSR where you’ll see a big cut section of timber forming a clearing head straight north into the trees and look for blue flagging as well as what is becoming a pretty clear trail as more bikers ride this route.  From the north we built up a cairn of rocks to help mark the start as well I took a GPS way point I can send you by email.

Pushing through a muddy section of singletrack

Pushing through a muddy section of singletrack

The singletrack connector was narrow at the south end and muddy and steep in places.  We pushed a lot it.  Towards the north the trail flattened out and opened up.  This made riding possible, but I can see how it would be easier to loose the trail at this end or have trouble finding it in the first place.  The whole trail was marked with blue flagging tape.

At the south end of Wigwam FSR there was a newer western section we could ride or the older eastern road.  The riders we had met earlier in the day recommended the western road as the said the old road was in bad shape.  It turned out to be a good idea.  The newer western road was buff, fast and rolling with only one climb of note.

Early on the Wigwam FSR we stopped on a bridge to cook up a meal.  I can’t say I love freeze dried backpacking meals, but they sure are easy to make and we ate them right out of their packages with a spork so there was almost no clean up to do.  A meal for two was about right for one hungry biker at ~1000 calories.  Unfortunately Kurt left his spork on the bridge during this meal.  Something we wouldn’t notice until the next day.

We rode the rest of the way up Wigwam FSR and decided to camp just south of the junction between Cabin & Wigwam FSRs.  It was about 8pm when we stopped after ~ 52kms of riding.

I hid our bear cans with our food up the road away from our tent and enjoyed a brief campfire before falling soundly asleep.