We rode towards the hotel that looked like a castle. The thin air felt like it was strangling me. My heart was beating out of my chest, and every big gasp of air sent only a trickle of oxygen to my lungs.
I kicked my pedal and rode over a small dirt mount, diving into the mouth of the Divide. It was a pleasant drop into the trail, a large gravely road with thick forests on either side of it as it cut into the backwoods of Canada. We walked our bikes through rocky spots and plunged into forests, moving from single track trail to wide open dirt roads.
The Canadian terrain is absolutely beautiful with its majestic skies, and mountains that make skyscrapers look wimpy. It was beautiful and evil… It was the Tour Divide and I rode straight into its lair.
– from Scott Thigpen, Trail Magic and the Art of Soft Pedaling, Day 1: The Mouth of the Dragon
If I harbored any expectations, they were exceeded. Maybe it was J’s pleasant company, the sugary processed food-induced high, new views of familiar mountains, the thrill of a path never before taken. Or maybe it was the fact that it was largely flat – for mountain country – and I (marginally) felt a modicum of aptitude at this biking thing.
Banff townsite to Turbulent Creek along the very first 50k of the Tour Divide (or Great Divide Mountain Bike route) – just a warm-up for those doing the whole 4400km to New Mexico! – and back the next day. We chose to start our weekend early, Friday to Saturday, so as to have Sunday free (Father’s Day for J, glacier skills practice day for me).
The variety of the trail made it enjoyable. Roughly, I mentally divided it up into segments. Goat creek (orange line), Goat pond powerline (red line), Spray Lakes West (orange line). Easy peasy!
Goat Creek Trail (Orange Line):
- 10km largely flat on packed multi-use trail behind the Banff Springs Hotel. Busy with equestrians, skateboarders, families on rental bikes, casual hikers, runners.
- 10km gradual sustained grade on wide trail with some rocks. Those going north sport wide grins; those going south grimace it out.
Goat Pond Powerline (Red Line):
- 12km rolling on grass, packed dirt double track, rocks, and a surprise section of boardwalk that was childishly fun!
Spray Lakes West (Orange Line):
- Onto Spray Lakes West road, open to vehicular traffic for several km’s for access to the (busy) west shore campgrounds
- Spray Lakes West becomes West Side Trail, a gravel “road” that is closed to motorized vehicles.
This was my favorite part, nearly 20km of flat riding along open views of the shining blue reservoir and its rocky peaks. A man and his son, who were maybe camping nearby, were the only other people we saw in this deliciously solitary back-of-the-lake.