Have you followed this whole journey from the beginning? Follow this link to find all the episodes of our North American Cycle Tour – 2019.
Saturday 8th June: Fort MacLeod (Alberta) to Sparwood (British Columbia), Canada: Lift in a Van.
The overnight rain didn’t bother us. Our tent, once again, thankfully, kept us warm and dry. We rode back up to A&W for breakfast again to bide our time while we waited for our ride to ring and let us know a pickup time.
Ian, a friend of the owners, picked us up in his old Westfalia VW Campervan at about 2 pm. We crammed the bikes and all our gear into the tiny space available in the van. Shazz had no choice but to sit crammed into the tiny space next to the bikes in the back. I wouldn’t have fitted (thank God!!!).
Highway 3 was really busy, and the shoulder disappeared several times in the worst possible places – on the hills (of which there were many). The scenery up around Crow’s Nest Pass is spectacular. Especially now the sun has decided to appear. There had been snow on the pass and on the surrounding mountains the night before, so it looked much like we had seen it seven weeks ago.
Ian was running a skateboard event in Sparwood, so he dropped us in the carpark at Save On Foods Supermarket in the middle of town. We quickly got the bikes out of the van and loaded them up. The imminent rain arrived just as we crossed to the Visitor’s Centre. Shazz waited in the local A&W and had an early dinner while I went and got some food for tonight and tomorrow at the supermarket.
It was just down the hill a couple of kilometers to the Mountain Shadows campground. The receptionist thoughtfully (not!) put us way down the back in the forest, away from the toilet block, with no bear box!
Our neighbors, Paul and Sandy from Winnipeg, Canada, had also been relegated to the rear of the campground as well and were mighty excited to see us! After chatting with them for a while and setting up the tent, we rode over to the Silver Fox Bar for a couple of beers. No one was around, so we had a couple and talked with the barmaid, then took some beers back for later. With no bear box, we left one pannier full of food with the receptionist and returned to the campsite to start a fire with the free firewood on offer.
Paul and Sandy soon joined us, and we spent the night telling stories while the fire burned down.
Sunday 9th June: Cycling from Sparwood to Fernie (British Columbia, Canada): 32kms
Ride Time: 2hrs 11mins / Ave Speed: 9.14mph
It was a pretty slow start this morning. We never got away till 10.35 am. Paul made us a coffee, which was greatly appreciated, and Sandy gave us some date cookies, which would be good for our energy levels.
We stopped out the front of the campground office and retrieved our panniers with the food in them, then set off south toward Fernie. We rode straight out into a stiff headwind and up a big hill! It was too pretty to complain, though. It was one of the most scenic days we’ve had riding. We often stopped for pics of the mountains, still draped in snow, as well as at various places alongside the Elk River, which we followed all day.
About 5 km out of Fernie, a couple hailed us down on the side of the road. They were an older couple who loved cycle touring and were eager to ask us about our trip. We stayed and chatted for about 15 minutes. They were doing a recon trip for a Trans-Canada ride next Summer.
As we entered Fernie, we stopped at a Tim Hortons cafe for lunch. As we sat there, the surrounding mountains clouded, and rain obscured the views. The whole scene outside quickly became bleak.
While watching the rain, we decided to stay in Fernie for the night – it’s nice! Besides, I wanted to check out the craft beer at the Fernie Brewing Company. Shazz booked an AirBnB in West Fernie, just across the river as we sat watching and waiting for the rain to subside.
When the rain stopped, we moved into the historic downtown area and treated ourselves to a couple of beers at the Northern Bar & Stage on a deck on the street. It was very relaxing watching the people pass by. The place is a mountain biking hub in the summer months, and there were shock absorbers and stack hats everywhere.
We had two beers, headed for our Airbnb to check in, and then walked back into town for dinner.
Monday 10th June: Cycling from Fernie to Elko (British Columbia, Canada): 29kms
Ride Time: 1hr 50mins / Ave Speed: 10mph
We had breakfast at a service station restaurant and enjoyed a pleasant ride alongside the Elk River. The mountain scenery is spectacular here, and it would have been easier to enjoy if there wasn’t so much traffic. Fortunately, the shoulder wasn’t too bad, and we didn’t feel in danger.
Along the way, we passed through an avalanche zone, and a fair bit of debris was on the side of the road. About halfway across, some small, falling rocks got us moving quite a bit faster. That’s adventure cycling for you!
When we got to Elko, the woman in charge warned us about some other guests who resided semi-permanently in the campground. We took the hint and got a room instead for $USD80. It was pretty nice and quite large.
We bought some beers and a microwave dinner each and sat down and watched the Toronto Raptors lose by 1pt, damn!
Tuesday 11th June: Cycling from Elko (British Columbia, Canada) to Eureka (Montana, USA): 55kms
Ride Time: 3hrs / Ave Speed: 10.68mph
It was nice and sunny outside when we left Elko with almost no wind, a great day for riding, especially since most of it today was downhill. When I say “downhill,” I mean overall. We did encounter our first big dip in the road along the way to the border. But it was nice to finally do some “freewheeling,” giving our bums a much-needed rest.
We descended steeply down into a wide river valley on the Kootenay Highway, crossing over the Elk River just before it joins the Colombia River. The climb out of the valley is a mile-long 8% grade that well and truly took the wind out of our sails. We were philosophical about it, though. The more climbing experience we get before we tackle the big stuff, the better.
The scenery down to the border is outstanding. Forest-coated mountain ranges back green meadows. To top off, a great ride was the fact that there was almost no traffic to hinder our progress.
At Grasmere, we stopped at the General Store for lunch. We found shade under a tree with a picnic table and took our time. Eureka was easily within reach now.
Everything was rosy till we got to the border. Our last border crossing on the bikes together last year in Buffalo, New York, was a tense affair, which resulted in us being taken away for questioning for 45 minutes. Trying to explain Adventure Cycling to border protection guards is problematic. This crossing would be no cakewalk, either.
Unfortunately, we copped another hard time from a no-neck border guard who takes himself too seriously. As it turns out, the little piece of paper they staple into your passport has a warning in minuscule print on the back advising that the appropriate border authorities, when leaving the country, must remove the tiny piece of paper from the passport.
Last year we left the States via a train from Seattle to Vancouver. At the station in Vancouver, the customs man stamped us in but didn’t remove the paper as he should have. Ooops!!! We were in trouble and were abruptly invited into the station house for questioning because we didn’t read the small print (on the stapled-in reverse side of the small piece of paper).
The Border Guard was a real prick! He was intent on making us grovel, accusing us of wanting to work in the States. Why would two retirement-aged folks on bicycles want to work for $USD4/hr here in the States? It was obvious what we were doing, but this blockhead wanted some gratification to justify his lonely existence in his bum-fuck nowhere border post! It had obviously been a slow day, and he was obviously intent on saving the country from a terrorist plot.
We have had many dodgy experiences crossing borders worldwide, but we were genuinely worried now. If he turned us around, we’d have to abort the tour, ride back to Calgary, and probably leave North America for a new destination we hadn’t planned for. This would not be the end of the world, but we had been determined to come back here and cycle the Rockies this year after failing to do so last year because of the fires. It was very disconcerting to know that our well-laid plans lay in the hands of this bonehead.
Eventually (after about 20 minutes), the numbnuts ran out of questions. He had failed to trip us up. We could answer the questions quickly and succinctly as we weren’t trying to hide anything. This also had him frustrated, and the fact that we hadn’t resorted to begging him yet must have really got up his nose!
So, after promising never to do it again, not to look for work, and reading aloud the small-print warning on the back of the paper like scolded school children, he begrudgingly let us leave with new immigration cards. Needless to say, we scarpered out of there quick-smart!
From the border, Eureka is about 8 miles. Thankfully there was little traffic as there was no shoulder to ride on. Coming into town, a big downhill takes you all the way to the other end of town and Centennial Park, the small community park we’d be camping in tonight.
It was a blazing hot day by now, and there was no cover in the park (and not much else), so we walked the bikes back up a couple of blocks to Cafe Jax for something to eat. Here we met Joannie, the waitress and an absolute doll. She told us about the place and answered all our questions, even letting us stay till 4 pm – the place shut at 3 pm! While we sat there, we ordered a couple of Going To The Sun Road IPAs, a reminder of last year’s tour and that Glacier National Park and that same road were only two days’ ride away. Basically, we were now where we finished last year and about to embark on the actual crossing of the Rockies.
At 4 pm, when Joannie closed the cafe, she suggested we go to the Veteran’s bar, where she worked her second job. How could we object? She was such a sweetie. Over at the Veterans, they let us put our bikes and gear in their meeting room behind the bar. We quickly settled at the bar with Joannie and ordered a couple of Deschutes Fresh Squeezed IPAs, which Joannie promptly paid for.
It wasn’t long before we were introduced to some of the locals. Bob and Norma (a local Indian woman), an older retired couple, just happened to know Bruce and Nicole from Jerry’s Bar in Fortine (just down the road where we finished last year). Their offer to drive us up there for a few beers was tempting, but we kept in mind what we had in front of us and politely declined the offer. Bob had been to Australia years ago and loved it. We told them a few stories of the road and a little about our hometown, Broken Hill, then politely excused ourselves, picked up something to eat from the servo next door, and went over to the park to set up our tent while there was still some light.
We had read the notice on the sign when entering the park about the park fees ($10 in the honesty box), but on the other side were the park watering times. It was divided into sections, and the sprinklers started at 5 am – not a great time for us! So, we chose the section that started watering the latest – at 10 am! We figured we could get our act together and be on the road by then!!!
To see what happened, read on to the next episode- Starting Again: Cycling from Eureka to Rocky Gorge.