Our original plan was to ride the ACA CDN GDR route in the Flathead Valley around the start of the Tour Divide in early June so that we would be riding north and passing all the southbound racers. It was a splendid idea, but Sharon’s knee surgery date was too close to the trip schedule so I had to delay the start to the beginning of July. On the plus side that meant better weather on the downside that meant a flood ravaged route and not getting to see the TD racers.
So we rescheduled the trip for 4 days over the first weekend in July.
Doug had some friends in Fernie BC who were kind enough to let us use their house as a staging point. Thanks John & Adrianna!
John works in the forestry industry and was able to help us plan a route from Fernie that looked promising. We would ride most of the CDN GDR route in the Flathead Valley as well as see some new terrain. Given the major flooding this part of BC has seen we figured a report on the route conditions would be useful for anyone who was thinking of riding CDN GDR in the Flathead area.
- We started in Fernie and rode Morrissey FSR and McEvoy FSR heading east to the Flathead FSR. [Day 1]
- We rode north on the Flathead FSR to Corbin FSR and then turned around and headed south on the Flathead FSR until we got to Cabin FSR. [Day 2]
- We rode Cabin FSR heading west to Wigwam FSR where we turned north. [Day 3]
- We rode Lodgepole FSR north and ended the ride in Fernie. [Day 4]
- you can download a GPS track here.
- Backroads Mapbook – Kootenay Rockies BC has good maps for this area.
At the moment there is a lot of flooding damage on McEvoy FSR and Flathead FSR. They are passable on bikes with a bunch of pushing and carrying. Progress on these FSRs will be slow until they are repaired. There are some physically challenging sections on the damaged FSRs, but the reward is no vehicle traffic and an extra splash of adventure.
Under normal conditions this route is easy to ride with the majority of the climbing at the start and excellent roads to ride most of the way. Other than the start the grades are rideable and not too difficult.
Two of us set out on this ride. Me and my Surly Krampus equipped with Porcelain Rocket bags coming from Victoria plus Doug Dunlop aka Coldbike on his Ti Salsa Mukluk also with Porcelain Rocket bags coming from Calgary. I was trying out my new full-chubby Surly Rabbit Hole rim + Rohloff wheelset. Doug had a new Rabbit Hole + Knard wheel for the back of his Mukluk plus a new ultralight 4 person tent from HMG.
I’m fairly slow and weak with a tendency to go to sleep too early and melt my only lightweight pair of socks while drying them by the campfire. Doug is a stronger rider used to biking with a family’s worth of camping gear and food who has a tendency to drop things while riding including water bottles, SPOT GPS units and bear spray. He likes to winter camp and is tough enough that he can keep riding just fine after a self-inflicted bear spray incident.
Doug is also an avid photographer which was great as I am usually the trip photog and don’t get a ton of pics of myself on the bike. This trip I got more action photos than I would normally get all summer. Thanks for the pics Doug!
We got a late-ish start from Fernie while we hunted down a set of paper maps to back up our GPS navigation. Drinking beer and staying up past my normal bedtime the night before meant I was not at my prime! Happily we hit dirt roads within a few KMs of leaving Fernie which lifted my spirits.
Turning off onto Morrissey FSR we hit a wall of climbing that combined with 30 degree heat and direct sun made us both feel a bit pummelled. Looking at the GPS data the climbing was more intense than we had expected and at least that gave us an excuse to feel slow and weak!
Having said that a tough day on a bike tour is still better than a good day at work!
The first half of the day was tough climbing, but excellent road conditions and easy navigation. Frequent stops at creeks to splash water on our faces and wet our hair kept the heat at bay.
After about 35kms of riding we reached the top and could enjoy some downward progress. Of course that brought us to lower drainages and the start of some flooding damaged roads on McEvoy FSR. Many sections of the road where mud bogs side to side. We pushed our loaded bikes along the edges as best we could. The goal was to find some balance between the deep mud and the very rough terrain on the sides – both were tough to get through.
Having done lots of hike-a-bike on my Vancouver Island bikepacking recon missions I felt right at home. We had lots of food, water, camping gear and maps. Other than spending 4 days in the area we had nothing we had to achieve. That made giving up any arbitrary goals we may have had in our heads easy.
I must say I do hate wet feet, but I realized pretty early on that I needed to get over that. This was clearly going to be a moisten-biking trip! I’m not sure how many creeks and rivers I walked or rode through, but it was a lot. I only had one pair of shoes – some trail runners – but even with some sandals there were just too many crossings to take time and swap shoes. If I could do it all over again I would have worn water shoes the whole ride with some flip flops for camp to get out of the wet shoes and let them dry.
Despite the mud and washed out road sections we were cranking along steadily. Right up until McEvoy FSR ended several KMs from our next FSR. It was hot. I was tired and my right foot hurt. Being faced with a wall of trees and the potential for a long painful backtrack – I was not amused.
I had been dealing with a foot problem for the month previous to the trip and I wasn’t sure how well my gimpy foot would handle some full on hauling of bikes through the forest. Biking was fine. Walking on a reasonably flat surface was fine, but bushwhacking didn’t seem like it was gonna work.
Doug took off towards the nearest creek in search of a road and so he could wash off the mud he was covered in after battling the FSR to give him back his shoe. I sat on a stump and rested my foot while flies danced around me mocking our situation. Doug returned clean, but with no reroute heading south to the creek nor anything obvious he could see beyond it.
Not wanting to backtrack the way we’d come we kept looking. We found a faint skidder/ATV track in the middle of a clear cut that was heading in the right direction. It penetrated the wall of trees where the FSR ended. Having been let down by these sorts of tracks before I didn’t hold out much hope, but figured it was better to try it out than to turn back.
Happily this turned out to be some really fun double track riding in the forest. Although we were faced with some washouts there was nothing too difficult to deal with other than more wetter feet. A few times it looked like the track might end or turn away from our desired goal, but no it kept rolling until it spat us out right next to the bridge over the Flathead River at the intersection of McEvoy and McLathchie FSRs. That section of double track made our whole day.
Happily the bridge we reached was intact. This gave us the option of heading south to get around major damage on the Flathead FSR on Day 2.
For now we contented ourselves with setting up camp near the bridge so we could make some dinner and enjoy a campfire.
I had one of my best nights sleep in camp after the first day’s challenges. We ate a quick breakfast and were feeling much better having succeeded in getting away from civilization and into the swing of mountain bike touring. We headed east towards the Flathead FSR and immediately came on a huge bridge that was simply missing. There was nice undamaged road on either side, but the bridge itself was nowhere to be seen.
We scouted around for the best crossing and found a path that wasn’t terribly difficult or dangerous. I have a healthy respect for fast moving water and with one foot not at 100% functionality I took extra care to get myself and my bike across safely.
Once on Flathead FSR we headed north up and over a small pass and down the other side to Corbin FSR. To put it mildly this section of the CDN GDR route is a mess. There were many washouts and several sections where you could easily mistake the road for a creek! It would be tough to get an ATV through here let alone anything bigger like a pick up truck.
For a couple guys on bicycles it wasn’t too bad. We walked, pushed and carried our bikes quite a lot, but we didn’t run into anything that gave us a real reason to stop.
At the north end of the Flathead FSR we turned around and retraced our steps. Heading south we were able to ride more of the washouts with gravity on our side. Having big wheels and big tires on our bikes was a real asset. If we were on “normal” skinny rubber we would have been walking a lot more of the route.
Eventually we got back to the large washed out bridge and started south on the Flathead FSR. There wasn’t much damage on this section of the route and it had a downhill trend so we rode fast and covered a lot of ground. Having had to push our bikes a lot up to this point the ability to ride easily was a real treat that generated big smiles.
We rode as far as Butts Cabin near the start of Cabin FSR and called it a day.
The riding on Cabin FSR was the highlight of the trip. This FSR was undamaged by flooding, but the washouts on the other FSRs meant that there was essentially no traffic at all for us to deal with. The climbing was at a reasonable grade and the views were stunning. Getting to the the top of Cabin Pass was not nearly as hard as we had expected and the amazing downhill on the westside just kept on going and going and going. Awesome!
The super long downhill on Cabin spat us out onto the Wigwam FSR. I think our slow pace on Day 1 and Day 2 put us in a conservative mindset so we started heading north towards Fernie on Wigwam FSR. In retrospect we had enough time to ride the south section of Wigwam near the Montana border and check out the last bit of the CDN GDR in this area.
It was really nice to be able to ride our bikes and not have to hike-a-bike them.
One funny thing that happened was that a rain cloud seemed to be following us on Cabin FSR. If we rode steady we stayed dry, but every time we stopped the raindrops would start to fall. In the end we stayed pretty dry by keeping our stops short.
We were making such good time that we realized there was no need to push hard and so we stopped to camp early for the day by a beautiful creek. Our gear was wet with dew from the previous night of camping. We dried everything out and had a chance to wash our only set of clothes so we weren’t quite so stinky when we got to Fernie.
With an early meal in me Doug got to see just how lame an evening hanging out with me can be when I went to bed for the night with the sun still in the sky! Sorry Doug – next time we tour together I’m sure you’ll pack a book. 😉
With only 35kms or so to ride before we were back at our cars in Fernie we had a leisurely pedal north. For the first time on the trip we actually had to share the road with some other vehicles. Not too many, but enough to let us know we were back near a town. The general downhill trend of the last day continued which made for a pleasant fast ride to Fernie.
Doug had the inside track on some nice single and double track riding in Fernie itself which was a great way to conclude the trip.
We had a shower, packed up our gear and grabbed a late breakfast before hitting the road to Calgary.
Post Ride Thoughts
All in all I was really happy with the ride. There was enough challenge to make it an adventure and the uncertainty of what sort flood damage we would face around each corner kept the excitement level high. At the same time it never got to be so hard that I had to wonder why I signed up for a death march on my holidays.
The scenery was stunning and the flood damage meant we were alone for 95% of the trip. I love not having to share!
The weather cooperated with us keeping the rain to a minimum and keeping temperatures on the warm, but comfortable side except perhaps on Day 1 when it was approaching Africa-Hot!
This area has a ton of great mountain bike camping potential beyond the CDN GDR route. We could easily string together a week of fun riding and exploring here. I think you’ll see more Flathead Valley tours happening in the next few years.
Gear-wise we were both happy to be on exploration friendly bikes. Our wider than normal tires meant we got to ride confidently when we would otherwise have been walking or riding much more conservatively. The Surly Krampus is proving to be an amazing bikepacking rig. It loves to bomb downhills without touching the brakes and when the terrain turns gnarly it will rock crawl with the best of them. The 3″ wide Knards roll fast when efficiency is called for and have enough traction and cushioning to keep me smiling in technical terrain.
My new Rabbit Hole Rohloff wheelset is a definite step up from the Stan’s Flows and Alfine 11 wheels I started with. The wider rims give the Knards more support resulting in better steering accuracy and more trail feel. The Rohloff was a pleasure to use as always and it was nice to have an IGH with bombproof reliability on the bike so far from any help.
Doug and I got on pretty well and made a good touring team. He was nice enough to ride at my pace even when he could crush me like a bug and take off uphill at warp 6. I tried to repay him by riding a bit behind him picking up the gear he dropped along the way! 😉 We both were happy to push our bikes when pedaling wasn’t a useful option and we both were just happy to be out riding our bikes in some amazing country.
We have another bike camping trip coming up later this month with some interesting new challenges to face. I’m looking forward to it.