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Big Sky Country

Here’s a photo recap of the ride through Montana, a slice of Idaho and over the Tetons to Jackson, Wyoming.

The town park was crammed full with tents, bikes, random assortments of gear, a six-pack of Deschutes paired with chips and salsa. For the night, Eureka, MT was host to a mini reunion of Divide riders, all slightly surprised by the number of late-season dirt seekers.

Bruce, Dave and Jim stayed for the night, lured by juicy burgers, beer and a shower. A speedy Kiwi had passed through earlier in the day, eager to cover more ground southward. There was the burly Dane, hauling the kitchen sink in full panniers and trailer, just days from finishing his ride in Banff. Greg and Sadie were sipping cold beer and dining on gourmet vegan food, resting for the day while Greg’s achilles soaked in ibuprofen.

The weeks ahead were bound to be fun.

The Great Divide continued to impress from the border through the Whitefish Mountains, along Glacier National Park and into the vibrant mountain town of Whitefish. The road was wide open descending Whitefish Divide; under sunny skies I rode 25 miles without seeing another soul, a perfect morning on the bike.

A lighter, cleaner Troll, courtesy of the Backroads leader house in Whitefish.

If you find yourself on the Divide in northern MT, a night at the Arnone's is a must!

Tom and his wife Pat have been hosting cyclists as long as the Divide has been around. A frame builder (notice the decal?), former racer and all around avid cyclist, Tom is still riding strong just shy of his 80th birthday!

Tom had cold beer waiting when I arrived and Pat walked me through the garden to whip up a fresh salad for dinner. A pot full of fresh raspberries was the perfect dessert. The following morning I was woken by the sweet sound of Pat grinding spelt for pecan pancakes and before I could finish unzipping my tent Tom was halfway across the yard with a glass of OJ in hand! These folks know how to treat a touring cyclist!

Tom gave me a tour of his shop, showing off his motorcycle collection and a few of his favorite bike frames, along with a house full of hand-carved rifles, furniture and other decorative wooden pieces.

This little Italian job looked like a blast to whip around. Before I could finish breakfast Tom was down the road, riding with the spirit of someone half his age. I nursed my coffee, soaking in the sun and chatting away the morning with Pat, in total admiration of their life on the farm.

Sunset behind the Mission Mountains above Seeley Lake. Not long after, I spooked a massive elk while rounding a corner, rounded the next and launched into a game of hide-and-seek with 3 wolf pups.

Soaking up the Big Sky sun on my way out of the Swan Mountains.

I reconnected with Greg and Sadie a week after meeting them in Eureka.

Sadie crushing it on her 700c Specialized CrossRoads.

With similar paces and laid-back styles, we were happy to join forces against the brutal terrain of Montana. Try as we did, we quickly discovered these mountains were beyond conquering.

Through all of the jello-legging, we were treated daily to blue skies, quite roads, lush forest, expansive views of uninhabited wilderness and nights around campfire wrapped in the blanket of a radiant Milky Way.

Thanks, but I'll walk.

Resupply in Basin, MT.

A dream deferred.

Since when did Interstate rest areas stop stocking cold soda? The 2-mile diversion for an icy, caffeinated beverage at least provided a shady retreat from the midday sun.

The LEGENDARY Fleecer Ridge. Warning: Ride at your own risk!

More downhill hike-a-bike.

Greg and Sadie live in Duluth, Minnesota where they've helped form the Bike Cave Collective, work closely with the Catholic Worker movement and ride bikes year-round. And yes, that means in -30*F weather, too. Greg also sews with Black Rose Bags, a collective of cyclists crafting beautiful handmade bike bags from recovered materials. Check 'em out!

Idaho, for a day.

Jackson, Wyoming

Ah, the comforts of town: shade, soft green grass, beer from a bike bottle...

...and a couple nights with a Warmshowers host. No better way to cap a blissfully grueling run through Montana!

Great Divide: Canada

After years of ogling at maps and photos of the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route — daydreaming of narrow dirt roads winding through broad mountain valleys and over high rocky passes, imagining the sound of knobby rubber floating over lightly-traveled gravel, yearning for the cadence of a more simple life upon a saddle —  I finally hit trail on August 4 outside of Canmore, Alberta.

Just above Canmore on my way to connecting with the Divide.

With snowmelt from a late, wet winter overfilling many rivers and creeks in the Rockies I was forced to reroute from the traditional singletrack start in Banff and instead picked up route after cresting the pass to Spray Lakes out of Canmore. From there it was 50 miles of well-maintained dirt road through the beautiful Spray valley up and over the first Divide crossing at Elk Pass into British Columbia.

A day along the Elk River and a short stretch of pavement through the town of Sparwood brought me to the slopes of Flathead Pass, a gateway to the type of remote backcountry riding I’d been dreaming of. With nearly 100 miles of uninhabited dirt road spanning the Flathead and Wigwam River valleys to the border of Montana, this three-day stretch will go down as a highlight.

Blue skies and smooth dirt along Spray Lakes.

The ridge of the Great Divide frames the route through British Columbia

Try as I might, I still haven't seen a big cat in the wild. A late day swim followed by a warm campfire made for comfortable camping at Blue Lake, threats of vicious wildlife aside.

Creek bed or dirt road? Either way, descending Flathead Pass provided a welcome diversion with slightly more technical riding and a few creek crossings.

I'd been chasing three sets of tracks since crossing into BC and finally caught these guys along the Flathead River. Dave, Jim, and Bruce (from left to right) are riding buddies back home in western Massachusetts.

It was nearly 20 years ago when Jim caught wind of Adventure Cycling's plans to develop a long distance mountain bike route along the crest of the Rockies. Bruce and Dave joined him for the beginning of his Divide thru-ride, Bruce along until Whitefish, MT and Dave through Butte, MT.

The map showed singletrack. We found a 1-mile muddy bushwhack straight uphill.

Exhausted after pushing uphill -- twice. Working in pairs to hike our bikes up the muddy slope was a plus.

Dave topping out Galton Pass, a brutal 7-mile climb on the heels of our hike-a-bike.

Headed for home. Back on pavement to the border after a brake-burning descent off of Galton Pass. Pleasure riding with you guys!

Live from the Great Divide

Not so much live but here’s a little video sample/test post of what I’ve been riding for the past week, from Banff, Alberta south, through the Kananaskis Valley into British Columbia’s Flathead and Wigwam River valleys before descending Galton Pass back into the US of A.

I have a full post on the way, highlighting my first week on the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route. So far the riding has been a spectacular mix of fire roads through quiet river valleys and over mountainous passes with the occasional stretch of singletrack, and a vertical, muddy, 1/2-mile hike-a-bike thrown in for good measure. I’ve been blown away by the quality of riding and hear it only gets better!

The Canadian Rockies

I’ve been a little slack on the blog front lately, mostly in favor of the welcome company of a riding buddy and a string of extremely generous Warmshowers hosts. Here’s a quick recap of the past two weeks:

Well over 700 kilometres of British Columbia pavement stood between my last rest day in Smithers and my entrance into the Canadian Rockies at Jasper, Alberta.

Luckily I was joined by Salva. A self-proclaimed half Don Quixote, half Little Prince gypsy traveler from Grenada, Spain, Salva has been traveling the world by bicycle since 2006. As a teacher who spent every free holiday exploring the ends of the Earth on his bike, he was finally "fed up with coming home, having a return ticket" booked before he left.

The hospitality of kind Canadian souls propelled us through "the wettest summer in decades," as every local was quick to point out. Curtis and Bonnie Culp's farm along the Fraser River in Dunster was a highlight. Here Curtis waits patiently for Hummingbirds to feed on the irresistible nectar.

At just the right moment, he releases the net.

With a gentle touch the birds are corralled for a brief trip to the 'lab.'

Nestled in the fertile Robson valley, the Culp's farm sits amidst a major migratory path of the Rufous Hummingbird. With up to 250 winged visitors per day (consuming over 2 gallons of sugar-water nectar daily!), Curtis decided to help with a Cornell University research study documenting these beautiful birds.

Blinded and bound by a soft cotton cloak, the hummingbirds are relaxed long enough for a quick measurement and tagged with the smallest of bracelets.

Flying north to Alaska each spring, the male birds pass through before the females to find safe breeding grounds. As the migration south was just underway, Curtis was tagging mostly females during my stay. Part of a North American Rufous network, birds tagged at the Culp farm have been spotted as far south as Texas, and the research indicates they spend their winters in Central America.

Salva carefully cradles the 3.5-gram female before she darted off in a wing-flapping flash.

After tagging a few birds, Curtis took us up the hill to scan through images on his motion-detected camera in the woods. With 175 acres of farmland and pristine forest, the Culps have regular visitors including grizzly and black bears, cougars, moose, white-tailed deer, wolves, wolverines, and this friendly little ground squirrel.

Genuinely warm and generous, Bonnie and Curtis welcome any and all cyclists. At the Dunster turnoff on the Yellowhead, cross the Fraser and follow the Lilac signs. Watch out though, Bonnie will charm you with her quick wit and fill you with homemade beer and pancakes with fresh berries, whipped cream and syrup--you'll never want to leave!

Farewell to friends in Jasper. I hope to reconnect with Salva and Bob further south.

Solo once again on the Icefields Parkway. Rolling through Jasper and Banff National Parks on a busy, 3-day weekend isn't a recipe for quiet enjoyment. The RV traffic seems to thin out by early evening, though, and battling for a slice of pavement gives way to the sound of wind funneling through the jagged, glaciated valleys in the heart of the Canadian Rockies.

Indian Paintbrush bursting through a thicket of 'Hippy on a Stick.' The parks are truly magnificent. Bring your backpacking gear and spend time exploring the endless backcountry, load the camper with charcoal and grill and settle in to a day-hiking/road-riding base camp, or join the ranks of the loaded touring cyclists passing through. Either way, there's something for everyone.

I was high-tailing it to Banff to catch up with Scott Felter, Mr. Porcelain Rocket himself. He was prepping for a week of backcountry hiking with his girlfriend, Naomi, and her father, Bob, and I was eager to hit town before they left. A consummate bikepacker, mountain biker, general bike geek, Scott knew just what I needed out of a 'rest day': good food, rippin' Banff singletrack, cold beer and more good food, multiple juicy burgers and endless Southern-style potato salad!

Scott at work on a quick late-night addition to my setup. The man works some serious magic.

Just south of Banff I caught up with my Canadian Backroads co-workers in Canmore (Emily, Felicia, Sarah, Jake and Antione) for a couple more days of 'rest' and relaxation.

With perfect weather we had the 1500+ metre hike to ourselves.

Jake making it official. On top of the Middle Sister with Elsa, 360-degree views and all.

Gnome Sherpa would be proud.

From Canmore, I hook up with the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route, 2,700 miles of dirt passing through Alberta, BC, Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado and New Mexico, all the way to the border of Mexico. I’m trading pavement for dirt, guard rails for fresh mountain streams, motorized traffic for the tranquility of high mountain passes and wide open spaces.