The trail is a cruel mistress and she showed how high maintenance she is by having to have ANOTHER bridge re-built, just near Elkford. Unfortunately I didn’t know about that until I’d ridden six and a half miles and saw the sign. Well, I’d had an inkling as a guy (plus dog, Alvin) pulled over to say hi, where was I from etc. then said he’d met another cyclist from London the day before (which was Alex, the same bloke I had lunch with) and Alex had heard a rumour the road was impassable.
I enjoyed meeting this guy as him having also chatted to London-bloke made me feel connected and temporarily part of a community, albeit a disparate one. He was also very encouraging about what I’m doing, although I think if I’d said “Lovely to chat Jeff but must dash as I’m just off out on the burgle”, he’d still have said “Well you know what I say? Good for YOU!”.
I carried on in the direction I was heading then, sure enough, I saw a road impassable, bridge down sign. I thought about carrying on as most rivers have seemed crossable, then I remembered Reggie’s previous flirtation with floating and turned around. 13.84 miles later and I was back where I started! However, it did mean I now had no option but to take the highway to Sparwood which would mean smoother roads and faster progress and I was buoyed by the fact the book promised that it was ‘downhill nearly all the way’.
Like hell it was!
The American Cycling Association maps and book are brilliant in terms of navigability but liberal with the truth when it comes to gradients. Their ‘mostly downhill’ is ‘undulating with a few precious seconds of free-wheeling every now and again’; ‘flat’ is ‘an unsavoury constant incline’; ‘quite hilly’ is ‘oh sweet Jesus make it stop’ and ‘hilly’ is ‘oh, I have stopped’.
After a certain distance on the highway, once south of the downed bridge, I was able to return to the off-road route. As soon as I turned off, I saw a wolverine! Google says they look like small bears but are in fact the largest member of the weasel family (with blades for paws). Had a lovely afternoon riding through ranch land and taking photos of people’s houses – hope they don’t mind.
Made it to Sparwood that evening, home to the world’s largest truck (below), a burger joint and a Chubby Chicken ‘restaurant’. It pretty much stops there.
At the crack of dawn (well, 8am as no matter what I do, it somehow always takes 2 hrs to pack everything up each morning), I set off south, hoping to get a decent number of miles under my belt to have a shot at the border crossing the next day. Expectations massively mismanaged as one puncture and severe dehydration later, I limped into a ‘oh my god, WHO would stay THERE?!’ RV park. I’d hoped to camp on the bank of the River Elk but this romantic notion was put on my hold by scummy, undrinkable water and animal tracks of several varieties including what may have been a massive dog not wolf but, either way, something had stamped ‘killer’ in the sand. On the upside, I was able to have my first al fresco post-ride beer thanks to the RV park shop.
So those few days were ones of ‘small victories’, which is what I’m going to have to break the trip down into so I don’t get overwhelmed and quit.
Small victory 1: first crossing of the Continental Divide (of about 20 in all), at Elk Pass, 6,800 feet
Small victory 2: I left Alberta and entered British Colombia. That’s 1 state scalp claimed so far, 6 to go
Small victory 3: I’ve turned onto the reverse side of the map of Canada
Small victory 4: I turned around at the road impassable, bridge down sign. I was tempted to carry on and try my luck as that seemed more exciting but I think I made the sensible choice, and sometimes the sensible one is the hardest choice to make