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When the Gravel Guru Draws you a Map...

There is nothing better than being in the mountains, except being in the mountains on a bike. This summer I flew my cyclocross bike out west for some much needed adventure time. Some friends took me in and I was able to explore Canmore, Golden and Fernie on bike and by foot. Eight straight days of hiking and biking - pure bliss.

I had originally planned to road bike from Vancouver to Golden to Fernie with some friends but as the trip drew closer, I realized that my pinched nerve would likely flare up with biking such long, consecutive days. A couple months out, I made the decision to modify my trip a bit - I would go on shorter gravel rides, dispersed with hikes, to give my nerve a break. Turns out, I probably had more fun this way. Gravel is where it's at.

I arrived in Calgary and stayed with my friends Peter, Katy and their munchkin Abby. Peter and I built up my cross bike without a bike stand... ha. We also dusted the cobwebs off of Peter's mountain bike which hadn't seen much action since the last time I was in the city - fatherhood is a busy task!

Goat Creek - Mount Rundle Loop(ish)

The Sunday Peter and I drove out to Canmore and hopped on the Goat Creek Trail. I didn't do much trip planning other than noting that there was a loop on Trail Forks and getting excited to be in the mountains. A mountain bike was definitely the better choice of bike for this trail. The trailhead was at a high point, so making our way to Banff was at least downhill. I was riding my Panaracer Gravel King 38s for the first time; happy that I swapped just before packing up my bike. This terrain would have been brutal on anything skinnier.

I got more and more giddy as mountains started peaking through the trees. We made it to the outskirts of Banff and decided to take the Mount Rundle trail back on the other side of the peak. Hilarity ensued. I think the first 8 km was pure roots. As if I was responsible and decided not to go touring, but instead smashed into thousands of roots on 38mm tires for a couple hours. It was slow going. Poor Peter - he hadn't been out on his bike in over a year and I dragged him out to do this.

Peter was enduring the joys of cramping as we made our way to the end of the rooted section. A rider we intersected paths with was gracious enough to give up her electrolytes. Thank you fellow Santa Cruz (Juliana) rider. Our hero. We made it out of the trails however our cars were still parked at the top of a long gravel road. Peter had had enough so we hitched a ride to the top in someone's jeep. In hindsight it was good that I didn't tackle the washboard gravel - I might have pinched my nerve early on the trip.

Peter and I parted ways - he back to Calgary, and me onto Golden to see Mel.

Spillimacheen Out-and-Back

Mel and I had some pretty epic hikes in the Golden area. Our first hike was up Mount Hunter - 12 km round trip, 945 m elevation gain - not including the fire tower we climbed up. Our second hike was a 15 km hike through Wolverine Pass and back. The remoteness of this hike was amazing. It felt like it was just us out there - actually, it was just us out there. We didn't see a single soul. Mel's my favourite hiking partner. She can ID almost anything and likes to take a bunch of photos, maybe even more than me!

In between these two hikes, I went into one of the local bike shops - Derailed Sports. I asked the mechanic where some good gravel was and he started drawing me a map for some sweet gravel about an hour drive out of town.

Part way through the conversation he says there is this guy in town, Adrian, that has a pretty flexible schedule and could probably go with me. He'd feel better if he didn't send me out into the middle of nowhere without a bike companion. I was up for some company, so Adrian and I met up and scooted over to Spillimacheen. Spillimacheen is part of the Columbia River Wetlands and is absolutely gorgeous.

After less than 20 km, we had already climbed over 600 m. Wow. The views were breathtaking. We made it to an abandoned mine site and followed a tight logging corridor along the ridge until we decided we should head back. I usually like loops as opposed to out-and-back rides, but this was nice because we were rewarded for our climb. Barreling down the steep descent, we were back to the car in no time.

Singing to the Bears

Next I was off to Fernie to visit my friend Katie. It poured rain the entire time but the skies opened up just as I made it to town.

Katie was still at work so I decided to go on a little gravel grind for a couple of hours. I parked at Gearhub Sports and showed them the loop I was thinking of. (I had posted on a local mountain biking forum earlier and someone had shared a gravel loop.) Foolish me though - the contours of this route and another route on Trail Forks looked similar... so... I accidentally followed the wrong loop and only realized once one of the turnoffs didn't exist.

I was singing to the bears, following a hydro corridor. Up and up I went. 500 m in less than 20 km - these hills. Relentless. But I think I secretly love climbing. I took a couple GPS screenshots here and there and put them in the queue to send Katie once my phone got service. I was a bit worried when I realized I was not on the intended loop, but instead high up a logging road which was technically closed due to recent logging. I pulled up a map and it seemed that the road would eventually wind down the ridge and intersect with the town. *Fingers crossed* Sure enough, it all worked out - and just before more rain!

After dinner that night, we went to the grocery store to pick up a couple items and I spotted a guy outside the store with a cross bike and bikepacking-style seat bag. I asked him if he was touring. He laughed and told me he was just grocery shopping. Gravel isn't as popular out west as it is in Ontario, so it was welcomed to see another gravel rider. Before I knew his name, I asked him if he wanted to ride bikes. I headed into the grocery store to meet Katie and Mark and let them know of my grand plans. Katie chuckled at me - as if I had been in town a couple hours and already made friends.

Fernie MTB

The next morning I woke up early, a proud member of the Fernie Mountain Bike Club. I decided to support the club and trails since I wanted to shred with the ladies in town on a group ride. I rented a mountain bike and headed to the trailhead. It was cold and wet. Michelle volunteered to bring me out (only the hearty and well-rested applied). She was an awesome guide. We climbed about 250 m in one shot and then down we went. Such a weird feeling for my legs. They were shaking by the time I got to the bottom, not used to having to support my body out of the saddle for so long. I did a second run by myself and then decided that was probably enough - I didn't want to push my luck with my lack of downhill skills.

I gave my biking legs a rest the next day and we hiked up Tamarack Trail. My knee was not happy with the effort. I rewarded it with biking again the next day.

Coal Creek

Phil and I wanted to bike the route I meant to bike the day I arrived in Fernie. We set off out of town, faced with climbs right off the bat. The logging roads were more like dirt roads than gravel roads. Some of it 'hero' dirt, which made for a quick pace. We stopped at a waterfall for a bit and did what every cyclist does - takes pictures of their bikes in weird places.

We climbed over 1,300 m in less than 35 km. I still can't even register that. We got to a fork in the road and consulted our map. I voted one way, Phil voted the other. We took my way for a bit; it was quite rough. Phil was concerned that it was not a main logging road due to the roughness so we turned back and tried his way. We were in deep before we knew it. Eventually it became apparent that the road we were following was actually being built and we were on a mission to nowhere.

Phil floated the idea of calling his friend who is a helicopter pilot to come get us. The hilarity of being rescued by a helicopter almost had me committed to the idea, but no dice, we were in it for the long haul. We finally made it back to the fork - tires so caked in mud, you could no longer see the tread; shoes so caked in mud, you could no longer clip in; front derailleur so caked in mud, it didn't want to shift. And that's an adventure for you.

We arrived back in town and sat on a patio, devouring pub food. Some cyclists came over and asked us if we were part of the Tour Divide. I wish - perhaps one day. It would be neat to ride out with some of the Divide riders one year.

I already can't wait to get out west again and experience some more of the gravel, logging roads and trails in the area. A bikepacking mecca awaits.

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