We recovered a few days in Banff before we took off on the GDMBR, The Great Divide Mountain Bike Route. The longest mountain bike route in the world.... they say...
It starts in Banff, or at least it started in Banff till 2017, now it starts even more up north in Jasper. But we start the route from Banff. The route follows the great divide south. The great divide divides the US continent in two parts. On the west side of the great divide all rivers flow out in the Pacific Ocean, on the east side all rivers flow out in the Atlantic Ocean. Through this massive mountain range the GDMBR winds 4400km over gravel and single trail tracks all the way to Mexico. It’s not our plan to stick to the route all the time but to visit as much National Parks close to the GDMBR as possible. More south we probably even completely leave the route because we wanna end up in San Diego at the west coast so we can go over to Mexico’s Baja California.
But before all that we’re still in Banff and slowly cycling south to find the start of the GDMBR. There aren’t any signs to or along the route, you have find it yourself by maps or gps. We’ve loaded the complete route in our gps so finding the start, at a parking just behind a luxury hotel, is no problem.
The route immediately winds over a small track up into the woods, following a stream up. After just a few hundred meter we decided to take out our to warm jackets and take some photos.
An older couple comes down on mountain bikes at the same time and starts a conversation because we’re not cycling on standard mbt’s but on fully loaded bikes and that makes people always curious.
We’re telling our story and they tell they’re from Queenstown, New Zealand and are here in Canada to visit family. They also tell they travelled al lot over the world with their kids in the old days, giving them home schooling along the way.
After saying goodbye we wind further up into the mountains. The scenery is beautiful but the track is rough and hard to cycle. We hope it’s gonna be more easy otherwise we’re not gonna make it into Mexico before the beginning of November when our long term US visa is ending.
After a while the track becomes even tougher but happily ends up on a wide gravel road after that.
Since we’re still in a National Park we’re not allowed to camp just wherever we want so we have to go on till a campground is found. Our app shows a small campground along a big lake. That’s gonna be our goal for today!
And indeed, after loads of gravel we find the nice back country campground along a beautiful lake.
As usual it’s a self register campground again. When we’re putting up our tent and start cooking some dinner another couple cycles into the campground. They’re not on normal bikes, not on mountain bikes, no they’re on a tandem mountain bike, packed with panniers and all other stuff. Amazing. They tell us they’re cycling the GDMBR as well and they’re kicked off from Hinton, near Jasper. Today they started in Banff as we did. We can’t believe you doing such a trip on a tandem but they’re happy with it for so far. But in their stories we can hear they walked and pushed up the bike a lot today. Again, amazing!
In the morning we say goodbye to them but halfway the day we see them again when we have some lunch along the road.
Because of the rough gravel road we still go slowly, to slowly, so we decide to look for a faster route going south. After searching on our maps and in our gps we find an alternative, parallel at the great divide a bit more to the east but over asphalt roads.
“Cheat Mode On” 🤘
As soon we hit the asphalt the road starts to climb up and up, and even more up. What the 🤬!!!
The higher we go the stronger the headwind becomes and we find out after a long time of climbing the top of the pass is at 2286m.
At the top we nearly blown off our bikes and a little rain starts.
So rain jackets on, head down and go go... down hill in full speed. After 10km from the top we find a spot along the road, behind some bushes to set up our tent for the night. We cook, eat and fall asleep. Somewhere in the middle of the night we hear some wolves in a distance. We turn around and sleep further.
When we wake up the weather is good and since we’re still coming from the pass the road down goes fast, very fast.
Half way the day we drink some at a lonely gas station and we go further down in high speed. This day is definitely the opposite from yesterday. Fast and sun instead of slow and rainy. Because we cycle out of the mountain range we hit more farm land and in the beginning of the afternoon we hit Highway 22 again. The Cowboy Trail which we left further up north to cycle a big detour through Banff National Park.
In Longview we find a nice campground and because we drove so hard it’s still in the afternoon so we have some nice spare time to do.... nothing ☀️
Next day: What goes down has to go up again. We descended a lot yesterday so we have to go up again today on the Cowboy Trail. The wind is ahead and the road south is busy. It’s warm weather, it’s Friday and it seems everybody in Calgary, north of us, wants to spend the weekend in Waterton Lake and Glacier National Park, south of us. The whole day the road is so busy and noisy we hardly speak each other. Not the best day of cycling, at all.
Because all the farmland, wild camp along the road is not an option. We find a small campground along a nice river to camp on. It’s a simple state campground with just a pit toilet and no showers but we can sleep after all the noise of the day and that’s all what matterZzz...
The day after the roads goes along in the same way but with lesser traffic then yesterday. Our goal for today is Pincher Creek, a bit bigger town with proper stores and a campground called Sleep Hollow.
The owner of Sleep Hollow tells us the winter is coming soon now and in wintertime it can get as low as minus forty degrees celsius here.
Hmmm... I guess we have to go south fast and soon!!
We camp along the small river which turns into a small glacier in wintertime if we may believe our campground owner.
The next morning we depart late and after just one and a half hour cycling we see a Mexican restaurant in the middle of nowhere. A good one for a cup of coffee we guess. Inside it’s quite busy, it must be good then. When we stay inside and discuss some a guy on the bar next to us starts talking to us in Dutch. He introduces himself as Harry from Emmen in Holland. He and his wife Anja moved to Canada with their two daughters about eight years ago. All four of them were sitting at the bar waiting for being seated. We move outside with our coffee and Mountain Dew.
After not even five minutes Anja comes outside to invite us to join them inside for good stories and a big plate of nacho ships.
Because we started late today, the road is slow and we wanna make it till close to the US border tonight we’re in doubt to go inside with Anja.
But as we always say in Dutch “Gezelligheid kent geen tijd” we go with her. I think we sat there for nearly two hours, much to long according to our schedule, but we had a really good time with them and laughed a lot about all stupid Canadian things. Harry & Anja, we hope to see you guys again someday, somewhere!!!
After big goodbyes it’s five thirty already and we still have fifty kilometers to go with a big climb at the end.
But with good feelings about this day and the nice people we met, and after the nice nachos off course we just go. Go till the end, till we make it. We ride through Blood Tribe Indian country and the sun sets behind Chief Mountain with great views over the beautiful lakes of Waterton National Park. It’s already dark when we arrive at Belly River Campground just four kilometers before the border. But we have made it. What a day 😊
At the border the next day it goes quite easy. The big officer with a German accent asks us not to much and we’re in. In the US 🇺🇸 again, after our Alaska adventure.
When we started cycling this morning the weather was quite warm so we started in shorts and shirts. From the border the road goes down and the lower we come, the colder it gets. By the time we’re out of the mountains it’s just nine degrees celsius with a bit of rain ahead. We won’t stop now in the cold, we will stop in warm place so we move on, half frozen.
At the tiny village of Bapp we find a Mexican Restaurant (Mexican again) for a coffee and a hot chocolate. When we see the menu we order big warm burritos as well. To warm up again we sit in the container build restaurant for nearly two hours before we hit the road again for the last small stretch to St. Mary. St Mary, the gateway to the eastern part of Glacier National Park and the start of the “Going-to-the-Sun Road” our destination for today.
When we arrive at the visitor center of the National Park the lady tells us the campground in the park is closed for tenters because of bears and the campground just before the park is full. “But in town are some commercial campgrounds” she says.
We end up at the KOA campground, indeed commercial and way to expensive for what you get.