There are certain times when you know something is going to be epic, and this was one of those.
My friends in California had started hatching a plan to ride from Boise, Idaho all the way up to Banff in Canada, and actually beyond, all the way to Jasper.
They were planning to do the trip with Thea and Didier, who had met previously on my first ride in the US.
The plan was for Colin and I to take the van to Boise, while every one else flew up there. Then, we would take it in turns to drive, while the others ride the route. This way we have everything we need to self support, plus we all get plenty of chance to ride.
I arrived at LAX on Tuesday afternoon, feeling a bit rough. My day had started at 03:00 UK time and it was now 15:35 West coast time, 23:35 UK time, and I need to be up at 04:30 tomorrow. At least I will get some time to sleep on the way to Boise.
Sure enough, we are loaded up and on the road long before sun up, in fact we have just come off the interstate 15, stopping for breakfast as the sun started to appear.
After breakfast we keep heading North, now on HW 395, and according to Google, we are on this road for 354Km…..on the same road!
We keep going until we reached Lone Pine, about 350Km from the start, and it was time to stop for coffee and a snack. Its mine turn to drive now, so I carefully head out and get used to the van. I am surprised at how easy it drives, even with all of the kit on board. Only another 1050Km and we will be there.
We head to Bishop, swap on to the I-6 for a short while before we get on the I-95. As we hit the I-95, Google tells us to “stay on the I-95 for 725Km”…..nuts! We roll along for some time until we get close to Platora NV, when we hit a massive rain storm. As we enter the storm we have a guy on a Harley close behind us, but within minutes he disappears in the haze. He must have been soaked to the bone, in jeans and a leather jacket.
We have been filling up with gas now every 400Km, which is also a good point to swap drivers, four, to four and a half hours. We cross from Nevada to Oregan at McDermitt, and make a note to fill up at the next gas station. It turns out that Oregan does not have a surplus of gas stations and we keep driving through what feels like wilderness, and still no gas station. An hour later we check Google and it confirms that there is a station at Rome OR, but when we get there it is closed, and the sign says “35 miles the the next gas station”. The vans trip computer says we have 32 miles left in the tank….oops!
The radio, air con, everything goes off, and we have a very quite journey, steadily uphill and rolling downhill, until we reach Jordan Valley, and like a mirage, the gas station appears….and relax.
Just 130Km to go now and it’s getting late when we hit a traffic jam at Rockville. This is our first encounter with forest fires. We are held up for a while, mainly because the fire is down by the road, but once cleared, we are back on the road and reach the outskirts of Boise ID at just gone 22:00. We dive in to a roadside diner and consume a couple of pizzas, then try and find our Airbnb.
Thursday morning, and we get sorted and head to the airport to pick up the rest of the team, get some supplies, and sort me out with a US sim card for the phone. We load up on food we will need on the road, as well as things we will need when catering for ourselves in an evening.
Day 1, Julie is in the van on support today, while the rest of us will ride.
We do a short transfer to the start in Barber Park, Boise ID. The aim today is to get to Stanley ID, which is about 215Km away. The weather is warm and dry, and the scenery starts really nicely with a gradual climb out of the park. We started at 800m and continue up to Lucky Peak at 1400m and it reveals a stunning view of the reservoir in the valley. We drop slightly down the flip side, only to start a steady climb, which is going to take us to the 80km mark. The first stop Idaho City ID, which is a real piece of US history, feeling just like a cowboy film set. What this city must have seen.
After coffee we press on and the temperature has started to rise now, in the mid 20s, and I am feeling great.
At the 80Km point we crest Mores Creek, at 1800m and roll down the other side and the temperature is now up to 30 degrees. My stomach is still not right from the flight over and I am beginning to feel a bit rough, but I press on down the other side and start to climb Ponderosa Pine, 6Km and 250m. By the time I get to the top I am feeling dodgy and need some food. That makes me feel better, but still not right.
After lunch, we roll down to Lowman and start another climb. However, 28Km in to the climb I realise it’s time to get off, otherwise I may drag myself down and ruin the following days. I ride with Julie in the van, then Thea joins us at the 160Km mark, just as we cross in to Challis National Forest. It’s left to Colin and Didier to duke it out through to Stanley ID. Having said that, the views from the van were just stunning, and as we approach Stanley ID, we run along side the Sawtooth mountain range, which just blows the mind.
The room (suite) in Stanley ID is perfect, with an amazing view and short drag to what must be the busiest restaurant I have seen, in such a small town.
Day 2, and it is Colin’s turn in the van.
We wake up to a temperature outside of three degrees, but we are at 1900m, so it’s expected. As we ride out of town we look back and wow, what a sight, the Salmon river, Sawtooth range, log building, awesome. We follow the river until we reach a village called Sunbeam Hot Springs, and guess what, steaming springs escaping in to the cold morning air.
A couple of Km up the road we reach Sunbeam, where the Salmon River takes a tight bend and we stop for a photo.
The road has a general tip downwards today, from 1900m to 1200m, but over 189Km, so not always noticeable.
We stay on HW 75 until we hit 90Km and take a left on to HW 93 and head to Challis, where we stop for lunch by the river. After lunch we continue to lose altitude, but have now picked up a bit of a head wind, so Didier and I take spells on the front to pull the group through. Just over the river at the side of the road I spot a Bald Eagle, sat in a tree watching us, so I have to stop and take photo. It just sat staring at us, what a beautiful creature.
As we get close to Salmon ID, we are riding the shoulder at the side of a busy HW 93, until we reach our stop for the night. We stayed in the Sacajawea Inn motel, which is awesome. They are small chalets, all decorated with a theme, and in the morning we were greeted by a fantastic breakfast, which gets everyone off to a good start.
Day 3, and it is Thea’s turn in the van.
We head out and start to leave the Challis National Forest and head in to the Bitterroot National Forest, which leads us on to the big climb of the day, Skalkaho Road, 38Km and an elevation change of 1050m. This takes me over 2200m, which is the first time I have been this high for a couple of years, and I definitely feel it. As we crest the climb, we also cross from Idaho to Montana, the first state crossing of the trip.
We drop over the other side of the climb and dive down in to the valley where we pick up the East Fork Bitterroot River. As we reach the 110Km point in the day we pull over and have a picnic by the river. So relaxing.
After lunch we have about 50Km to ride, mainly downhill, to just North of Hamilton MT. There we plan to get changed, grab a coffee and some supplies in Stevensville MT. After that we can try and find our AirBnB in Missoula MT.
By the time we get to Stevensville MT, there is strong signs that the forest fires have picked up and may cause us some issues in the morning, but we will deal with that later.
The AirBnB is amazing and has a real air of the 1970’s about is, bare stone walls, thick carpets and lots of red décor.
Day 4, and my turn in the van.
We wake up very early and there is a definite smell of smoke in the air. We head to the large service station just outside Missoula MT, where I intend to fill up with gas and get some more ice for the cooler. Colin, Didier and Thea set out, but Julie has decided that it is too smokey and is not good for the lungs. I must admit, I think I would have done the same. At about 17Km, everyone is back in the van, as it really is too thick to ride through.
We press on with everyone in the van and as we pass through Flathead National Forest, there are fire fighters everywhere and you start to see the extent to the problem. After an hour or so we reach Swan Lake, the skies have become much clearer and everyone sets off to ride towards Bigfork MT. We arrange to meet up along the way at Wolf Creek Drive, so I keep my eye open for it and stop when I get there. The problem is Wolf Creek Drive exits twice on to HW 83, and I was waiting at the wrong end. Doh!
We eventually go sorted and all meet up again at Echo Lake Café, where we had a great lunch, then load bikes on to the van, and set of to find the AirBnB for the night.
When we get there we gave the bikes a once over as we have done a few kilometres now, and it is aso a chance to some washing done. The room I got for the night was obviously in the “kids room”, I guess where I belong, as there were some great Lego Star Wars constructions on the shelves.
Day 5, and today it’s Didier’s day in the van.
The plan is to get an early start and transfer to the visitor centre at West Glacier National Park. If we do this we can make the climb to Logan’s Pass by 11:00, as after that time bikes are not allowed on the climb. We can then load up and drop out of the park and continue our journey to Babb MT. Good plan.
Sadly it did not quite go to plan. We swapped some of the bikes around before we left Bigfork MT, putting Didier’s on the roof rack and dropping Julie’s on to the rack on the back.
Despite all of the clamps being tight and then locked, just outside Columbia Falls there was a loud bang on the window and we looked back to see Didier’s bike bounce off the road and just narrowly missed by a passing pickup truck. We pulled up, ran back to retrieve the bike. The only apparent damage, remarkably, was broken carbon handlebars. We secured the bike on the roof again and made the decision to go on and do Logan’s Pass, then find a bike shop and get it fixed.
It’s 07:30 when we leave the visitors car park in West Glacier and start our way up the pass. We ride along the edge of Lake McDonald and work our way to the base of the climb, around 35Km in, so just over 17Km of climbing to the top of the pass and the continental divide.
I have to say it is a spectacular climb, with ramps up to nearly 17% in places.
At one point a lady in a car coming down the climb warns me, who is now on my own, that she has just seen a bear disappear in to the trees on the right, OK……, so what the hell do I do now.
I carried on quietly riding up the climb, with the “intention” of doing a U-turn and making a dash for it downhill if it appeared. I could hear rustling in the trees, but thankfully, never saw it.
It takes me one hour 19 minutes to reach the top, and I am sure if that bear had appeared I could have taken the 19 minutes off! At the top it has just gone 10:30 and all of the tour busses are starting to gather in the busy car park. Once we have regrouped and had a look around we load up and go back down and head to Whitefish MT, where Google tells us there is a bike shop and hopefully we can get it fixed.
The day turns in to a bit of a long one as we wait around in town, expecting a phone call from the shop. We have a nice lunch, visit the railway museum, which is housed in the lovely wooden built railway station. By late afternoon we go and sit in the park and watch the wildlife.
At 17:30 we head back to the shop to see what progress has been made. It turns out that they have had a real issue with the electronic gears and no matter what they do, including plugging in to a laptop, they can’t get the gears to shift. Didier decides to hire a bike from them and we will collect his bike on our way back South. This is going to change our original plans, but it’s great that we will be able to get Didier out for the rest of the ride. Result!
We have our evening meal at a superb restaurant in Whitefish MT, before we start our long drive to Babb MT, 200Km away. It’s gone midnight by the time we get to Babb MT and we struggle to find the AirBnB, down Duck Lane. When we arrive it appears to be a cabin in the woods, with warnings about bears and “making sure both front doors were closed”. Interesting, as I am sleeping nearest to the door that night, and frankly, I wouldn’t even be a snack for a bear.
Day 6 and it’s Julie’s turn in the van.
We left the bikes on the van last night, hell if there are bears, no one is going to be wandering around looking for bikes to steal.
So we did a short transfer to the end of Duck Lane, took a right and found the Cattle Baron Supper Club, an awesome looking place and I bet has plenty of stories to tell, but looks great inside.
We start the day with a little “out-and-back” down the side of Lake Sherburne, a steady climb to the viewpoint at Swiftcurren. The picture I took of the lake shows how the fires were now starting to affect the visibility.
We turn around and work our way back down to the junction, past the Supper Club and onward to the North, and the Canadian border. We roll over a few 300m climbs as we go through the next 30Km to the border. As we hit the border we grab our passports and one-by-one go through the border control. It is quite isolated, so not too busy.
They are very friendly and let us through quite quickly. After the border there is a 10Km drop that takes us back down to 1300m, the elevation we set of at this morning. It’s not long before we are climbing again, and this time it is 10Km long and at the top we find somewhere at the side of the road to have a picnic and chill, in Canada.
The views are now just stunning and we drop back down in to the valley and work our way around Lower Waterton Lake on the cycle path. As we roller coaster along and up to Middle Waterton Lake, we take in the stunning views. On the edge of the lake is the Prince of Wales hotel, which looks like something from a fairy tale, both inside and out.
We passed the hotel and took a right turn, which would take us 15KM and 400m up to Lake Cameron. It was an out and back, but so worth the ride. There were some long steep sections in the climb, but we got to the top within the hour.
We had a sit by the lake for 15 minutes, and I get chance to dunk my head in the lake to cool down. We jump back on to the decent back to Waterton AB, stopping along the way for pictures. In town we located Julie, who had parked near a small coffee shop on Waterton Avenue. In there I got a lemon meringue pie, which was the best I can ever remember, as well as a coffee that was so good I went back for a refill. It’s amazing what a day in the saddle does to your appetite.
Once replenished, we loaded the bikes on to the van and drove to Fernie BC, just over two hours drive away. Over diner that night we decide that tomorrow, day 6, was going to be a long day, distance wise, and it might be worth taking the first 60Km out. Most of the day would be on the shoulder of highway 93/95, and if we could cut out the early part, when traffic would be really busy, it would help.
Day 7, Colin’s turn to support in the van.
It’s a late start by the time we are on our bikes and rolling, 09:00. However, as we set off on the highway 3 from Jaffray and the roads are reasonably quiet. We start to roll quite quickly as we start to get our bearings, then take a right turn, just before the cross the Kootenay River. This small back road has some lovely views and takes us off HW 3 for 30Km, through to HW 93/95 at Fort Steele BC.
Once on HW 93/95 it is going to be pretty much shoulder riding for most of the day, slightly rolling, with 1000m of climbing in total. The views are not as nice as we have had in previous days, mainly because the smoke in the air. which was creating quite a haze. As the day went on we had quite a train going down the edge of HW 93/95, sitting at a good pace. one we could all maintain on the flat and up hill. We kept together really well and the Km passed quickly under our wheels.
Colin found a nice spot, just off the highway, where we could have a picnic and get some more fluids on board, as the temperatures are now climbing to 30 degrees. We jump back on HW93/95 for a further 30Km, then take a left on to a small road that will take us down the west side of Windermere Lake, through to Invermere, where we will rest for the night. The hotel is comfortable and we roll the bikes through the reception and in to our rooms. Directly opposite is a nice coffee bar where we get a brew and some nice, well deserved cakes.
That evening Colin and I sit down and plan out our return journey, as we need to change our original plans so that we can pick up Didier’s bike. We also need to look at the forest fire situation, because the Oregon coast, which we are likely to take, is looking really badly hit, then we book some rooms.
Day 8 and Thea is back in charge of support.
We start form Invermere with a backdrop of a steel moose in the town centre. As we leave town on HW 93/95 we have a gentle start to the day, at least for the first 20Km until we arrive at Radium Hot Springs. Here we take a right and leave HW 95 and follow HW 93, as the road now starts to take an upward turn and heads in to Kootenay National Park.
The climb is about 10Km in length and has some severe ramps in it, then we crest at Olive Lake. I stop and take a photo as the water is so still, but sadly the sky still has the haze from the smoke. We all regroup and continue over the top and in to the next valley.
At the base, 40Km in, we start a climb that is gentle, but will last for the next 75Km and take us from 1100m to nearly 1800m, at West Vermillion Pass.
Before we reach the top of the pass, Thea finds a lovely spot down by the river for the picnic lunch. There are no shortages of viewing points and picnic benches in the park and at this time of the year it’s not too busy.
As we approach the 112Km mark of the day, we approach the top of Vermillion Pass and cross the continental divide, moving from the Pacific side to the Atlantic side.
From here we drop sharply and take a left to join HW 1a, the Bow Valley Parkway. In front of us all the way to the river is Castle mountain, such a beautiful sight and dominating the landscape.
The Bow Valley Parkway runs parallel to the main HW 1, and rolls gently, in places, through the forest all the way in to Lake Louise AB. The road pops out of the forest and drops on to HW 1 and we take a direct route to our hotel, where I figure we are done for the day, and turn off the Garmin.
I was wrong, Colin, Didier and I choose to ride up to Lake Louise, only 4KM and 200m of climbing. However, I think my legs switched off at the hotel with the Garmin, as I watch the others disappear up the road. When I get to the car park I hear someone shouting my name. It is the car park marshal, he was pointing me in the right direction so I could find the rest of the gang. The guys had stopped to tell him I was coming and asked him to keep his eyes open so I didn’t get lost.
Followed by a ride up to the lake.
Day 9 and this is the last day and the driving will be split between Didier and myself. Didier has chosen to drive first, so I will take over after lunch.
Today we ride the Ice Fields Parkway, which has to be one of the most scenic roads in the world. We get a really early start and drive the first 60Km with the intention of starting around Waterfowl Lake. This turns out to be a brilliant idea, because as we get to Waterfowl Lake the suns just starts to hit the top of the mountains.
The biggest problem you have on this road is concentrating, and not having your head swivel round like something out of the Exorcist. Spectacular! Over the next 17Km, the road drops 200m on to the valley floor, and the Saskatchewan River crossing.
We continue along for 30KM, then we hit the famous “Big Bend”, at 3KM in length, the bend takes you through a natural bowl, then points you at the remaining part of the Sunwapta Pass, which is 14Km in length and climbs 540m, and is spectacular.
As if the views had not been enough so far, we then see the Colombia Ice Fields, which are breath taking in their scale. We roll for a short while until we reach the 90KM point and Didier finds a location for lunch and I get changed ready for the drive.
After lunch the team rolls on for a further 50Km on HW 93, where we reach the Athabasca Falls and I park up and wait for the riders. This gives me chance to take a few photos, and get the water and snacks ready.
The gang top up and get rolling, now on the 93a, a much quieter and really beautiful route. They all ride together for a further 20Km, where they meet me at the bottom of the Marmot Basin climb. Julie and Thea jump in the van with me while Colin and Didier take on the challenge, the Cycling Legacy Hill Climb, 9Km and 500m, average 5%. Good effort at the end of a hard 8 Days.
We all roll back down to HW 93a and head for Jasper and our AirBnB for the night. That evening, while we were out to diner, it starts to rain quite heavily and as we celebrate our achievement, we realise how lucky we have been with the weather and how little the fires have affected us, considering their severity.
With the cycling over, we jump in the van the next day and head back down a very different Ice Fields Parkway to Banff. The moisture from the previous night hangs in the air like a curtain over the peaks all the way along, and the water levels have risen by a huge amount, especially noticeable at the Athabasca Falls.
When we get to Banff we visit the Fairmont Banff Springs for a coffee and cake. What an amazing place that is.
Officially, as far as cycling from Boise to Banff is concerned, the trip is over. However, the journey back to Irvine was quite a special and unusual one, so I would like to include some of the adventure.
We left the AirBnB in Harvie Heights early and head towards Calgary airport in order to drop three of the team, ready for their quick jump back to LAX. Colin and I, however, had over 3300Km to look forward to.
It’s 11 days since we left Irvine CA, and Colin ad I make our way to Whitefish to collect one bike and drop off another. It was Monday September 4th, Labor Day, so all of the shops were going to be shut, so we would need to do the swap first thing Tuesday morning.
After Calgary we made our way to the Canadian/US border at Carway, where the Canada Highway 2 becomes the US HW 89. The customs official appears to have left his sense of humour at home, but we get through without issues and resume our 350Km journey to St Mary MT, and the East ascent of Logan’s Pass…..it had to be done. As we leave the customs post we are reminded that we are heading in to the home of the Blackfeet Nation, cool.
We arrive a St Mary MT, and get changed in the visitors centre, grab a snack and we are good to go. It is beautiful at the base of the climb, clear skies and for a bank holiday, very quiet. We fly down to the base of the climb and Colin paces me to the top, at what felt my limit. This is something Colin has a knack of doing, pushing me to my limit 🙂
Once we crest the top we see that the road is blocked, which accounts for why it is so quiet. The West side of the park has been hit by the wild fires and the road is impassable. This only leaves us one option, drop back to the car park and stop for photos on the way down.
We got back to the van, got changed and started the journey to Whitefish for the night. At this point, there was chance we may get another ride in before we get back home. As we started to head South there is a long climb up to about 1900m, where you start to see more smoke and the visibility gets worse as we drop down and around to the West side of Glacier National Park. By the time we get to Whitefish it is like a fog that you can taste.
The next day we do the bike swap and are on the road by 08:30, thanks to the team at the shop. We are aiming for a hotel just outside Portland OR for this evening, but there are a lot of warnings coming up on Google, and that area is appearing a deep red colour on the air quality website, not good. It is a 970Km journey, which we split in to 400Km chunks and swap the driving role. We jump on the interstate 90, past Spokane WA, another state under our belt, then at Ritzville WA we take HW 395. We are soon heading in to Oregon and on the I 84 towards Portland OR. However, Google informs us that the I 84 is closed and traffic is being forced over on to HW 14, on the North side of the river, but all lorries are being stopped. The fires here are really raging.
As we drive along the edge of the Columbia River the sun appears and goes orange, just like a sunset, but its only 16:00 and we have at least three hours of daylight left, really spooky . Looking at many of the photos taken in the last week, you can see the faint greyness of smoke in the air.
In Troutsdale OR, on the South side of the Columbia River, we arrive at our hotel, The Edgefield Hotel, which is owned by McNenamins. This hotel is part of a chain, but a very unusual chain. Our hotel was originally a “poor farm”, where up to 600 people lived and worked the land in order to afford to live. Their other hotels have wide range of historic backgrounds, including some schools. Well worth a stay if you are ever in the area.
We wake up in the morning, me an hour early as I had forgotten we had moved time zone, and go for breakfast. There are hotel staff members wearing masks as the smoke has got worse overnight. Many of the people in the hotel live locally, but had been evacuated and when we go to the van, all the cars in the car park were covered in ash.
It turns out that the fire has jumped the river over night and HW 14 is now closed as well, so getting in and out of Portland from the East is really tricky. Thankfully, we are heading South today, down the Interstate 5, all the way through to Monterey CA, another 1200Km.
The day was smokey for over the first 700Km, then we came over the ridge near Shasta Lake and started to descend in to California. After that point the sky slowly cleared until there was no trace.
We kept our routine of driver swaps every 400Km and we were grabbing food and fuel at each swap. The choice of food was getting a bit sketchy from some of the roadside gas stations, old looking sandwiches, or corn dogs, which I plumped for, but beggars can’t be choosers.
Sadly, unknown at the time, Colin had picked up a tuna sandwich, which had some undesirable effects that evening.
We had planned to have a day off in Monterey CA, where we would ride along the coast down PCH1 and around the coast road at Pebble Beach. As it turned out, a sleepless night and the feeling of being “hit by a bus” had put Colin out of the frame, so I left him to sleep and took a wander in to town.
I paid a visit to the famous aquarium, which was nicely put together and a pleasure to walk around. On their viewing platform you can look out to see and the wildlife that lives in the bay, such as seals and otters. Out to sea was a whale watching boat, bouncing in the water and through the telescope you could see large whales surfacing right next to it. Amazing!
After lunch we met up and took a drive to Carmel-by-the-Sea, and chilled for a while by the beach and taking a coffee in the main street. That really is a nice area and I would love to go back.
The next day we hit the road early, Colin feeling a lot better, especially knowing he would be sleeping in his own bed that night. The journey today is another 600Km, so I get to drive a bit, but Colin chooses to do the final stretch as the highway around Los Angeles CA on a Friday is mayhem.
We are home by mid afternoon and the road trip is over, 4,500Km plus. I have done some big trips in Europe, but in the US, what you notice is how vast it is, and how under populated it is. We drove for hours and little would change, no towns, nothing. Certainly and experience of a lifetime. Many thanks for the invite guys.