A day on the Great Divide

August 20, 2012 at 4:41 am

Just a short update on the Great Divide front for you guys. I finally got a wifi-connection. And I finally got a shower, after 4 days! Sooooooo good. You don’t know how good that is.

I had boatloads of fun the past few days. Detailed stories will follow later, I plan to take a rest day in Helena, Montana and upload some pictures and tell you about all the weird&wonderful people I met.
For now I’ll just sketch a general day, characteristic of the Great Divide.

I get up between six and seven. “Still alive” I whisper to myself. No bear attacks!
It’s cold (between 5 and 10 degrees Celcius) and I fidget around, getting organized, finding my cycling clothes, rolling up sleeping bag, liner, air pillow and sleeping mat.
At about 7:30 I’m ready to have some breakfast. I lower my bag from the tree and I eat about double the amount I eat at home (and take twice the time too). I spend too much time trying to finish the chapter in my book and trying to get warm.
At 8:30 I brush teeth, clean the premises, roll up the tent, get organized (which again, takes too much time) and take off around 9:00.
If there’s a town nearby, I try and get a coffee. Then I really leave.
After about 20 km (between 1 and 3 hours depending on terrain) of up- and downhills I eat a Clif bar, or about 100 grams of nuts or something, and half a sack of gummi bears. I ride on.
1 or 2 hours later I’m hungry and have lunch: either about 4 sandwiches, or a big burger, a huge salad, you get the idea. When at a lunch place I probably talk to at least 3 friendly people.
I top off with another half a sack of gummi bears and a liter of water (after having two big glasses of cola with lunch). It’s about 30 degrees Celcius now.
After lunch I ride for about 30 or 40 km. I keep having to pick up my jaw off the ground, it’s so beautiful. It’s hot: 33 degrees Celcius in the shade. The roads are very dusty, you can see the rare car coming from miles away.
I rip out the ace up my sleeve: a liter of Mountain Dew I bought, and two Snicker bars. I finish them in 5 minutes.
Two hours later (and way into my second sack of gummi bears) I ride into the campsite. If a town is nearby, I get two beers. If not, well, shoot! I pitch my tent, get organized, make dinner for two and eat it all. I talk a lot with whoever I met that day.
At 21:00 it gets dark. I top off with another 200 gr of nuts, brush my teeth and put everything that even remotely smells of food into one of my panniers. I hang it into a tree, which takes me about 10 tries. In my tent, I read for a while and slide into unconciousness at 22:00. I sleep like a baby and wake up with a raging hunger. FOOOOOOD!!

If that’s not fun, I don’t know what is!

Baby steps

August 10, 2012 at 1:56 am

So, after nearly having exploded with rashes and itches we managed to depart. What was it like?  (if you’re interested in just the pictures, scroll down. All pictures are clickable, which will take you to a larger version if you click again)

Immediately after leaving the magnificent-looking and magnanimously overpriced Banff Springs hotel, you’re on the trail. The “Goat Creek Trail” . A small forest road snakes its path, uphill and downhill, through Banff National Park. Towering mountains loom threateningly to the left. To the right are mostly trees and scrubs.

We encounter two pairs of construction workers, working on one of the many small bridges. There are no flat sections, the trail goes up and down continuously. Sometimes there is a nasty bump with gradients of about 15%. Up and down, but slowly we are gaining altitude.

It is not all forest track. Soon we encounter Smith-Dorrien Spray road, a big, broad, dusty gravel road. After that one, we are riding next to Spray Lake Reservoir. We don’t see a lot of wildlife — mostly squirrels and birds. Ah… and mosquito’s, of course. My skin still reacts violently to each mosquito bite but it doesn’t get as bad anymore as two nights ago. After the lake we rejoin Smtih-Dorrien Spray road again. We meet another cyclist: a dutch guy named Rob, who is also doing the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route.

The day ends in Mount Sarrail campground after more than 7 hours of pedaling. Excellent day!

Soon however, the next challenge poses itself: how to camp bear-safe? We are at spot 5 of Mount Sarrail campground and there was a bear sighting reported at spot 26. Totally paranoid, I stuff everything in a metal bear box. Including the sheer boatload of cookies, brownies and other assorted delicacies we got from a couple of old ladies. Sweet!

I tuck in at 10, hearing lots of strange noises. Too tired to worry for a long time though… I had a sweet, dreamless sleep until 6:30.

The second day was good as well, though not as good as the first one. Again there are magnificent views; sometimes it seems like you are riding straight into the stone wall of the Rocky Mountains. There is a lot of bear scat along the way and many parts of the route are densely forested. Sometimes I get paranoid and it’s time for another loud ” HEY BEAR!!”. Today marked our first Great Divide crossing too, on top of Elk Pass at 1964m altitude, albeit quite an unceremonious one. Not even a small sign to acknowledge our “Riesenleistung”!

Near the end I’m bonking (meaning not having eaten enough, draining all the energy from your legs) and when we arrive in Elkford I’m pretty spent. Nothing that a bottle of Mountain Dew and a Snickers can’t solve though.

It’s such a blast to ride these trails. The densely forested mountain slopes are immense. There is virtually no traffic. It really puts the mind to rest. So far, so good!

Riding data:

Day 1: Banff Springs hotel – Mount Sarrail campground
Riding time: 7:21:28
Distance: 101,23 km
Amount climbed: 1421m

Day 2: Mount Sarrail campground – Elkford municipal campground
Riding time: 4:53:51
Distance: 77,83 km
Amount climbed: 823m


Riding partner Mathieu, and food. Lots of food. I have been trying to spot the allergy source, but so far, no dice!

Bummed out in Banff

August 7, 2012 at 8:24 am

Today had a strange ending. I’m writing this from a bed in the emergency room in Banff hospital.
After some laundry & shopping I met with Mathieu. He was looking good & ready to go. We ate a steak at the Bumper’s Inn motel. It was really nice talking with him about the upcoming ride. After buying food for the first two riding days we both went to our own hotel. It was about 21:30.

That is when the itching started. And man it was warm! I took off my clothes and checked for weird stuff. Man, was there something going on. On my back a couple of BIG swellings. And over my abdomen, on my thighs, lots of smaller ones as well. They looked positively inflamed. The itching drove me mad. In fact I was getting rather hot as well and I noticed my face got puffy; my lips, nose and ears started swelling too. Yuck! I had no idea what was going on and went down to the reception desk to ask for medical help.
So I got a cab to the hospital and paid a visit to the emergency room. Was it an insect? Something I ate? I had never had any allergies, at all. So, quite concerned, I went to the hospital for help.
Quickly “hiveshives” was diagnosed, an allergical reaction to… something. They were going to give me some intravenous histamine to combat the swelling. Now, anyone who knows my background with opening veins and intravenous tubes and so forth can guess what happened next… While the nurse prepared a point of entry for the needle, I protested and warned them I was going to pass out, which I promptly did. Fortunately I was already lying down…

It had been a busy day at work. I closed the door behind me and jumped on my bike, commuting home towards an eventful evening with friends, good food & games. The weather was beautiful and I clearly remember each turn, crossing or even gust of wind…

… There’s four strangers around me, looking down on me, telling me to take it easy. Apparently a doctor and a couple of nurses. Where am I? I seriously considered being in a dodgy SF movie where the main character wakes up and hasn’t got the slightest idea how he came there, what he’s doing here or even who he is.
This nurse, who is this nurse? Suddenly I remember. I’m in Banff hospital, trying to get rid of some freakish allergic reaction. Now the faces slowly start making sense as well.

Ah, it’s always so disorienting, waking up after having fainted. Especially because I perceived my “dreamtime” to have lasted for several hours. But I was out for just a couple of seconds.
I must say, fainting helps in getting rid of the nausea. Some kind of medicine slowly dribbles its way through a tube into my system. They even put some oxygen ducts in my nostrils, but they were removed later on. The swellings, or rashes or what have you are subsided. But the doctor wanted to observe me until 2 in the morning, in case I have a rebound reaction. I have a prescription to get tomorrow, so no early start of the ride for me. I think I’ll extend my stay at the Douglas Fir for one night.

Tomorrow then is for medicine-hunting and seeing whether I can claim the whopping hospital- & physician fee at my insurer. There’s a lot of fun that can be had with 1400 canadian dollars (worth it though, and the staff were very friendly and helpful).

What can you do, eh? What can you do. Major bummer.


July 30, 2012 at 8:20 pm

Was that really necessary?


Is it a bird? Is it… a plane?


No, it’s my bike. Unrecognizable. Took me a couple of hours, too. I removed the handlebars. I removed the saddle & seatpost. I removed the front pannier rack & front fenders. Took out the front wheel. Removed the pedals. I used 2 meters of insulation foam, 2 rolls of bubble wrap and three rolls of duct tape. And several dozens of tie-wraps. In fact, I have the distinct impression that I went completely overboard.

Oh well.

Now, the bike rests in a big cardboard box.  In fact, it is a little bit too big. But if I didn’t remove all that stuff from the bike, it would have been too small. It will take me ANOTHER roll of duct tape to reinforce the bottem & the outer edges of the box.

Still, so much can go wrong, it hurts to think about it. In fact I’m thinking a lot about it. Good thing that I booked & paid my ticket  already, so there’s no turning back. Let me tell you, courage doesn’t come into the equation. I am mortified, near to crapping my pants each day, EVERY DAY. I suppose that’s what you get…. for wanting to RIDE THE DIVIDE.


Next update will be from Canada. See you there.


July 29, 2012 at 8:38 pm


If you haven’t watched “Ride The Divide”, you should. It’s a documentary about the Tour Divide, a race following the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route from Banff, Canada to Antelope Wells, USA. The world record has recently been set to 16 days and a couple of hours, by Ollie Whalley. A time which sounds, to me, completely insane. We’re talking almost 300 kilometers (about 190 miles) each day, EVERY DAY. For over two weeks! Unearthly. I would be extremely surprised if this route would take me less than an ambitious 60 days. Excluding rest days. Massive respect.

But really, watch the movie. Apart from being inspirational and insightful etc, it’s just… fun. It taught me a lot about what *not* to do during such a ride, as well.

Anyway, being the nerd I am, I was inspired to make some calculations after watching it. Someone in that film said that the route involves climbing Mount Everest from sea level to the top seven times. This amounts to a total ascent of 62 km, which sounds plausible to me. At the pace of 60 days I mentioned, this would translate to an average of about 1.000 meters ascent each day. Which again, sounds entirely plausible.

So let’s calculate with 62 kms of ascent. That means that into each kilogram of weight, I will have to put 1 * 9,81 * 62.000 = 607.729,5 Joules of gravitational potential energy. Because potential energy equals the mass of an object times the gravitational acceleration (9,81 m/s2) times altitude gained in meters. In other words: it takes 1 Joule of energy to lift about 102 grams of water 1 meter into the air.

607.729,5 Joules translates to 145.153,7 calories. A candybar of Snickers (weighing in – in Europe – at 57 grams) contains 288 calories.

So to haul 1 kg of additional weight across the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route will take about 500 candybars of Snickers. That is without taking into account the additional weight of the Snickers. It is also without taking into account the fact that this translates to about 7 additional Snickers each day. For each kilogram. I mean, I like Snickers, but I’m not sure I’ll still like them as much after this ride.

With departure coming in four days, I am getting rather neurotic about the weight I am taking with me. It’s nice to have an additional pair of socks available just in case, but hey, that’s 50 grams right there. That’s 25 Snickers, folks.

Self-torture, I tell you.


July 15, 2012 at 8:48 pm

A small update. I met Mathieu and I will ride the Canada part of the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route with him. Mathieu lives in Eindhoven, and I cycled part of the stretch between my home and his home. I didn’t take any pictures though, as the weather was absolutely horrible. I don’t mind bad weather on a holiday as much, but during a casual ride on my home turf… I’m a pragmatic guy.

We talked for a couple of hours and time flied. I look forward to the moment we will meet again in Banff, Canada to ride the Flathead valley. But sadly I had to leave for the Achterhoek to visit some friends of mine. It was a mere 12 kilometers from the trainstation to their hospitable home, and it was on that stretch that I took these pictures. I publish this because Eindhoven is in the province of Brabant, which culturally is quite different from the Achterhoek. It was interesting to be able to compare both countrysides on the same day. And I have to say… the Achterhoek wins, hands down.

All in all, it was a nice ride. As you can see in these pictures, a relative lack of any elevation, at all,  is characteristic of the dutch countryside. My mind’s eye imagines the Rocky Mountains looming ominously on the horizon. The flatness here only makes the threat of the mountains seem larger. I look forward to it.

I really enjoy sharing these impressions with you. I hope I have a lot of foreign readers so they can see that the Netherlands have much more to offer than just Amsterdam, the beach & dope. Please drop a line in the comments, I’d love to hear from you people.

Waiting for the ferry. I was the only passenger.

Gear talk: electricity during travels

July 15, 2012 at 8:19 pm

Warning: I’m going to deliver a little gear talk. It’s going to be about electronics.


You see, I have this hub dynamo in my front wheel, it’s made by the German engineers of Schmidt Maschinenbau. I use it to power my front light. It gives a lot of light.

The hub dynamo. Wiring goes to my front light, and, through a piggyback connection, to the E-werk.


July 8, 2012 at 6:15 pm

Last spin through the Flevopolder was so good, I decided to do it again. But this time, I wanted to add something on top of it: riding across the Markerwaarddijk to Enkhuizen. As you can read at the wiki link, the Dutch thought they needed more land and raised this dike. Everything southwest of this dike was going to become artificial land of 410 square kilometers, a polder like the Flevopolder. Due to various reasons, this never came to be. There were typical dutch environmental concerns, like the ground levels in the bordering province of Noord-Holland. Surface water there would flow east towards the newly-made polder and the ground in Noord-Holland would lower itself. Wooden foundations would rot. Also, there were concerns about the bird population and about the possibilities for recreation. All in all, the plans to create a new polder were put to a halt in the 1980s.

What remains now is the dike. You can ride from Lelystad to Enkhuizen across the lake, by car or by bike. The cycling lane runs next to the road, about two meters below it, right next to the water. I imagine a headwind can be murderous here (I had a slight tailwind, fortunately). It’s surreal to ride across this lake. The landscape is empty. To the left is the raised road. To the right there is water and nothingness. Boats glide across the blue surface. There are many birds. Occasionally, you pass a fish trap. The colour scheme is green, gray, white and predominantly one of two shades of blue. The emptiness is rare in a place like the Netherlands. I suppose it is even better without the cars screaming by on the raised roads (actually, it was OK).

I provided some pictures, hoping to capture the emptiness and the peaceful atmosphere. Again this was a great ride. 128 kms too, and no knee problems. My confidence for the Great Divide is building. Cycling in the mountains will be a big culture shock, though.

At the start of the dike.


July 2, 2012 at 7:12 pm

The other day, I went for a spin through the Dutch Flevopolder. Now, the Flevopolder is a particular piece of our country. According to the wiki, it’s in fact the world’s largest artificial island. While I don’t really know about that, I do know that a polder is a piece of land which was reclaimed from the sea. Many dutch people live in such a polder. It is characterized by being completely flat, by being surrounded by dikes and often by being below sea level.

The Flevopolder is extremely flat and, although it is in my backyard, I have never cycled through it. I figured “you don’t want to have a headwind in polder country” (especially not with a painful left knee, a residual injury from a running event two weeks earlier) so last Friday, when I saw that there were predominant southeasterlies sweeping the country, I made my move. Onwards to the northeast, to Lelystad!

It was a terrific ride. I admit, I was prejudiced. I thought it would be a boring slog through endless flatland, but no. I could view the scenery for miles and miles. The horizon was dotted with spinning windmills. Green fields, billowing in the strong wind. There were many clusters of planted forest. Not a soul was encountered on the many bike paths. The sun often peeked through huge cloud formations. Rainshowers were visible in the distance. I tried to predict where they would go.

After a while, the ride evolved into a bizarre version of Pac-Man (me being Pac-Man), trying to dodge the evil rainclouds. I lost in the end, but I really didn’t mind. Soaking wet and feeling quite contented, I checked in at the Lelystad railway station to take the train back home. Fortunately, I didn’t have any knee problems. Great day. Great ride.



“Dutch skyline” by Rembrandt van Rijn