And We’re Off!

Day 1: Banff’s Tunnel Mountain Campground to Elkwood Campground (64 miles)

Well, we’re off! I (Matt) arrived yesterday—flying to Calgary and shuttling out to the Tunnel Mountain Campground where David, Anna, and there kids, Silas and Eleanor, were waiting for me. After assembling my bike, we spent Tuesday night unpacking, repacking, and organizing our gear and support car (which ended up being stuffed to the gills with food and family camping gear).

On Wednesday morning we began the biking part of our journey. From the campground, we had a couple of miles on paved roads, into and through the town of Banff—this whole trip is a tease as we pass through loads of places we’d like to spend days exploring–before we arrived at the old, ornate Banff Springs Hotel, the start point (according to our Adventure Cycling maps) of the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route.

From there we rode out to the trail head of a wooded dirt track that went South along Spray River. After confirming that a section of trail ahead, further south along the Spray River, that was closed due to wildlife (more on this later) was not on our route, we headed off.

This track, following Spray River and Goat Creek took us out to Smith-Dorrien Spray Road—a well-used (and heavily washboarded) dirt road—which we took south toward Spray Lake.

After a few miles being beaten up by the road, we arrived at the northern end of Spray Lake. At a junction we had two options: stay east of the lake and continue on the dirt road, or follow a smaller dirt road and single track on the more remote west side of the lake. We opted for the latter and didn’t regret the choice. Passing few, and eventually no, cars we had wonderful views of the lake and forests on its edges as we traveled along a harder-packed surface.

We quickly realized that we weren’t the only ones using this trail: we saw many fresh grizzly droppings and a rather large grizzly paw print along the way; and while we managed to miss any grizzly encounters, a couple of other cyclists we met further down the road had encountered a grizzly in this section.

(Much of this route travels through grizzly country, so carrying bear spray is a must. Also, cyclists, because of their speed, are more likely than hikers to surprise bears, so bikers should be sure to make lots of noise and keep their speed under control, especially around blind corners.)

Soon we reached a lovely, wooded single track—a brilliant stretch of remote riding through beautiful scenery. Near the end of the track, we passed over a rushing, emerald stream, before climbing back up to the dirt road that we had arrived at the northern end of Spray Lake on.

The final miles to the campground were a bit of a slog (despite beautiful big valley views): we’re starting to realize that the more remote sections of riding, in addition to being more scenic than dirt roads that receive more car traffic, simply have nicer, harder riding surfaces; the roads with significant car traffic develop a nasty washboard surface, and as you move to the shoulder to avoid the washboard, you get bogged down in loose gravel and dirt.

That aside, the first day was a success. David and I both arrived a bit wiped out—for both of us this was the first major day of riding after some time off—but we’re excited to see what the rest of the journey brings!

Day one done; high five!