The GDT was the first link of my project’s chain, everything else built up around it. It was the only roughly planned section of the trip and, of course, nothing went accordingly. I had to skip a section because my backpack delivery was delayed then I strained my hip during my third day on the trails. Two weeks later and after cycling the two next sections, my hip felt strong enough to give it another try. I had half of the trail left to explore and just over 500km of pure epicness rolled out ahead of me. It has been such an intense and unforgettable two weeks, let’s look at it a little closer.
What really struck me and hugely impacted the experience was the realization that both the body and the mind needed much more transition time from cycling to hiking than I thought. Different muscles in use with the obvious issue of my hip bodywise but the hardest was the mind. Even if the backpacking and bikepacking routines are very similar, they are also very different. You suddenly lose the little extra comfort conferred by the road, the odd rest area or gas-pump to shelter and get a warm drink every now-and-then. Even if fairly minimalist, you can always have a little extra food in the bike bags that you do not want to carry in your pack. The speed is also very different and it was hard to accept that I could “only” hike 30 to 50km in a day rather than 150 to 200km. It was even harder when the GDT used the same gravel road that the GDMBR (the gravel cycling route that runs from Jasper to Mexico and that I am going to follow across the USA) and that I saw a few bikepackers flying passed me as I was stumbling on my sore hip.
Nonetheless, starting the hike on the super well-maintained and easy going Banff National Park’s trails was the perfect way to gently get into my hiking shape, rhythm and routine. You can go fast, it is hard - not to say impossible - to get lost, there are five stars campgrounds sprinkled along the way, you meet plenty of other overnighters and are rewarded with world-class views behind every corner. Slowly all this started to faint, except for the views.
The long 200km stretch to Coleman started a little sideways in a heavy downpour, walking on a road plus I had to live 5 days out of pop-tarts, ramen, mashed potatoes and mac&cheese after a rough resupply at a campground store forced by my non-planification. I have never missed my oatmeal, tortillas, chia pudding and quinoa that much… BUT after sheltering in a public cabin for the night and chatting with a South-African coupe riding GDMBR, I woke up in a fairy scenery. It rained all night and by the first light the clouds were evaporating along the two ridges circling the wide valley, only leaving bright blue sky and snow on the mountains behind them. Leaving the dirt road, I stepped into the wild. It started straight away with bushy faint steep trail and creek crossings, goodbye dry feet. I had to adjust my pace and focus but was rewarded in my effort with bushes filled with wild raspberries. Even if only a simple thing, it felt amazing to gather some of my food and those fruit tasted better than any I had before. For the next following days I was forced to stop several times to crawl in the bush, going after the tasty berries. Yummy !
After a long climb I reached a pass, the doorway to the human-free zone I would wander in the next following days. The trail vanished and with it the last sign of civilization. It was just the bear landscape, the rock, the snow, the wind and me. I was moved by an intense feeling of freedom and aliveness. Behind the pass, the trail reappeared to guide over multiple ridges for the next three days. A blissful successions of endless views towards the Rockies on one side, the plains on the other, and steep creeks gullies nested in magic silent forests. A wonderful journey filled with beyond the ears smiles, evenings by the campfire and starry nights. I had a blast and remembered why I decided not only to cycle.
I crossed back over the range and slowly made my way back to the human world as the singletrack changed into ATV roads, gravel road and paved road to Coleman. After three days in Nature’s silence it was weird to hear the engines noise again and walking by a busy gun range was not very welcoming but everything was forgiven with a huge stack of pancakes, a shower, a laundry and a bed. I stayed at a Bed&Breakfast experienced with thru-hikers. They fed me properly and even managed to stuff my pack with muffins and cookies as I was making my way back on trails towards Waterton and my bike.
The previous weeks events ( delay, injury, weather) kept me away from the scenic and even more arduous alternates sprinkled along the GDT. But this time nothing was blocking the way between the gorgeous-strenuous Barnaby ridge connecting onto the famous La Coulotte ridge. It was even more marvelous that everything I dreamt of :following the landscape lines instead of a trail, going from one peak to another with endless panoramic views on untouched mountains, oscillating between hiking and scrambling. It was a gem, the absolute cherry on top of this hike. It made every harder moment worth it, a thousand times, even the depressing last dozens kilometers in burnt forest with torrential rain and snow at higher altitudes. The weather threw at me everything it did not on the previous and offered me the typical GDT-weather before letting me go to the next chapter of the journey.
THANK YOU Great Divide Trail and Canada overall for the past few weeks. Time to rest, scramble a few more peaks and reunite with my beloved bike. Montana, Glacier National Park and Great Divide Mountain Bike Route, here I am !
Tramping, cycling, running, skiing, travelling, I keep exploring this amazing planet we live on. The following texts give an insight of my various wanderings. From poetry to trip reports or thoughts on particular subjects, this pages try to reflect how I travel through this modern world.