Back in the US of A

Country roads lead us south from Fernie. We find a shady river bank and rest for awhile. Trains pass and people fish.

We camp on conservation land near Elko. A sign says to use at your own risk. Noted. The valley is narrow here and is shared by our road, the railroad and the highway. I wake up in the night, confused, as the trains echo through on their way to some place else.

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It’s early afternoon and we’re waiting in line at the border. I’m hoping this border guard is friendlier than the last in Skagway. He asks what we’re bringing in from Canada. Tyndall says groceries. He asks about veggies and citrus. Tyndall says kale. He makes a face and says we can keep that.

The land is high and dry and I’m baking.

From Eureka, the trail goes toward the Flathead. I’m spinning in my granny gear, up Whitefish Divide. A stream provides an opportunity to cool off, and then it’s down the other side.

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Another up and we are at Red Meadow Lakes, pitching our tent for the night.

In the morning it’s “all down hill” into Whitefish. There’s something wrong with my camera battery, so I’ve not taken many photos.

We detour to Kalispell and get lost in a maze of box stores.

Later, we ride a bike trail out of town and head for Marion to visit Danielle and her family.

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Finding our own way

Adventure Cycling’s Great Divide Mountain Bike Route connects dirt road and track from Banff to Mexico. We left the route to visit friends. It’s easy to get off route, but a bit more difficult to find the way back.

In the spirit of the Divide, we search for dirt road and trail to take us back to the route. Our first attempt was only that: an attempt. Our second is looking promising.

Fueled by cinnamon buns, we ride pavement south from Turner Valley. In Longview we wait out a thunderstorm. Evening light draws us on when the rain passes.

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From 22 south we turn onto 532 west. Cows line the side of the dirt road and run in front of us. They aren’t sure what to make of a cyclist, I think.

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We camp on the edge of a stand of aspen that are quaking in the wind. Aspen is one of my favorite trees.

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Morning comes and we are drawn further up the valley. A man asks if we’re going up and over the top. I say yes. He says good luck.

Tyndall’s stopped up ahead and beckons to me. Up and around the corner there’s a whole herd of sheep.

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Photo by Tyndall Ellis.

I reach the top and zip down into the wind. The foothills here are something else.

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Dirt turns to gravel and then to pavement. We’re back on track, heading south again.

A day on the divide

A day on the Divide washes away the memory of pavement and fast cars. The map reads like a scavenger hunt. We dodge rainstorms and take in the views.

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We have friends in Turner Valley and detour off the Divide for a visit. The map says there’s a trail that cuts through some mountain passes straight to Turner Valley from where we are, but 35 degree temps, rain and a small window of opportunity have us considering other transportation methods. An engine and four wheels get us there within hours. We’ll try the off road route on the return, we think.

Turner Valley and Black Diamond have good food and good art. It’s the kind of small town I like. Fresh, local peaches are on sale at the grocery store and we eat mounds of salad and greens from Barb and Henrik’s garden. The Sheep River flows by just across the street.

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We ride 40k of idyllic country roads out of town, towards the mountains. Where the pavement ends, the trail begins. The map says this trail will take us back to where we left the Divide.

Ok, here we go. The trail is steep and rocky, but it goes. And then, suddenly, it doesn’t. There’s a bridge washed out. No worry, we wade across.

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Two years ago, heavy rain and late spring snow pack caused the Sheep to flood. Evidence is everywhere. Not only is the bridge washed out, but sections of the trail are blown out, too. Bark is scoured off trees where fast moving water pushed rocks and debris by. Whole canyons have been reorganized by Mother Nature.

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And the trail? When it’s there, it’s good. When it’s not, well, it’s just not. We push more than we ride. I stumble more than I walk. We hope for something better, but in the end throw in the towel.

Our consolation prize is a campsite beneath a towering peak on the edge of a canyon, with a clear stream for a bath.

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Photo by Tyndall Ellis.

We look at the map and come up with Plan B. Somehow or another we will get back to the Divide.

The pavement keeps on giving

The train was supposed to arrive in Prince George at 8:30. Instead, we arrive at midnight. Something about congestion on the rails and not enough sidings for pulling over. I just read Atlas Shrugged, and this feels eerily reminiscent. I don’t mind the delay. It’s cool in the train and I have a good book to get lost in.

We stealth camp in a city park and wake early as trains rumble by.

Back on the road again, we keep pedaling. The pull towards Banff and dirt trail is strong.

We camp among an ancient forest, with 2000 year old trees.

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In McBride we find cake and blueberries. Smoke fills the sky. I’m told there’s a fire in Jasper. We’re going there anyway.

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Photo by Tyndall Ellis

We detour to Kinney Lake to sleep at the base of Mt. Robson, away from the cars and trains.

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Jasper is busy and I try to make sense of it. Let’s get what we need and get out of town.

Three days of pedaling on the Icefields Parkway puts us in Banff, and at the start of the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route.

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Finally, dirt.

Breakfast

A lot of time is spent thinking about food on the road. Afraid of becoming a scare crow, I tend to buy way more than necessary when making a grocery run, letting my stomach get ahead of me. Over the first month we have made a few changes to the breakfast menu. We are getting close to something really good. No cooking is required, saving fuel and time in the mornings.  The jar size is chosen for a single portion. Liz and I both carry our own jar. This allows us to get up at our own pace in the AM. The mornings are a good personal time for me. Maybe you will want to have this at home while you follow along with us.

Required Items
Empty 18 oz Plastic Peanut Butter Jar and Top
Steel Cut Oats
Dry Milk
Assorted Dry Fruit
Assorted Nuts
Peanut Butter
Favorite Sweetener
Water

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Directions
Prepare in the evening before going to bed for the following morning. Fill empty peanut butter jar 1/4 full of oats. Add healthy portion of dry milk, dry fruit (raisins, craisins, banana chips, etc…), nuts (walnuts, pecans, almonds, etc…), spoonful of peanut butter, and dash of your favorite sweetener. Add water to cover. Screw lid on peanut butter jar and shake so that everything is mixed well. Set aside in a dirty shoe to keep up right til morning. Check oats before going to bed and add more water if all the water has been absorbed.

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Liz likes to add her fruit and nuts in the morning. I like to do it all in the evening. It’s a personal preference but I think soaking the fruit and nuts over night leaches some of the sugars and salt out into the oats adding to the flavor. Also, don’t use minute oats or rolled oats. These turn to mash which is not a pleasure to eat. The steel cut oats create a great texture and seem to stay with us longer into the morning while pedaling.

Another item that can lead to a huge variety in this breakfast is the type of sweetener used. We started out using a strawberry-kiwi powdered drink mix. It created the best strawberry dry milk you can imagine. The hot pink color was a bit off putting though. Other sweeteners could be honey, malt, hot cocoa mix. I’m excited to try some malt next time I can find some to make this an even heartier breakfast. So far I’ve struck out.

Bon Appétit

Heading East

The ferry chugs south through Alaska, towards Canada. Cloudy skies give way to sun.

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The Yellowhead Highway takes us east out of Prince Rupert, up Rainbow Pass and down to the Skeena River. The Skeena is silty like Turnagain Arm. Everyone is out fishing for salmon, springs they call them. We finally left Alaska, I think, only to end up in a place that looks and feels the same.

Except there are fresh picked cherries for sale on the side of the road here, and vegetable stands. Loaded Saskatoon and salmonberry bushes line the roadside. A mountain goat crosses the road in front of us, looking a bit bewildered at being down on flat ground. I look and him, he looks at me. It’s a stand off until he turns and runs down the railroad tracks and off into the bushes. Maybe he’s going for a swim.

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There’s a heat wave with temperatures in the 90s. We pass afternoons at swimming holes, hiding from the sun. Locals say this isn’t normal and talk openly about climate change.

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Photo by Tyndall Ellis.

We arrive in Smithers and check the weather. It’s not likely to change anytime soon. The decision is made to take the train to Prince George.

Whitehorse to Haines by Bike and Boat

After three days in Whitehorse, we have sorted everything out. Tyndall has a new hub that works and doesn’t wobble.

We head south on the Klondike Highway, aiming for Carcross. It sounds like an interesting place and we want to check it out. A few days off the bike make the legs sluggish, but soon my pedals spin with relative ease.

Carcross has the smallest desert in the world, ice cream, small houses, a beach and singletrack.

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We continue south to find a good camping spot for the night.

Rain showers, and a desire to catch a 2:00 pm ferry in Skagway have us on the road in the very early hours of the morning. We wind our way through White Pass to the Canada and US border. White Pass is stunning. The wind whips clouds by as I gaze at the view. This scenic vista might be the best I have seen in awhile, I think. The water is blue blue blue and the land is many shades of green.

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Then, we’re going down. Cars pass us with burning brakes. I stop to put on layers. Rain drops pelt my face. Rigid fingers grip handlebars. I pass the train filled with warm, dry tourists and just keep on going.

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A quick stop at US customs, and we’re back in Alaska. It’s hard to leave this state. We seem to keep finding our way back.

In Skagway the wind blows. It would be more productive to walk. We shovel down food, then inquire about ferry tickets. We have made it with an hour to spare.

In Haines, we search out Leah and Nick. We’ll be here for a few days.

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