Finished the fun single track and dedicated off-hwy trail to Wardner, watered-up and Axel hit the playground before climbing behind Wardner to Koocanusa lake. We hit an unexpectedly rough, washboard and loose gravel forest service road that was not a fun surprise especially with the heat. Long break, ice cream, lunch and swim at Koocanusa lake revived us before heading out to Elko. Rough and steep hike a bike climb out of Elko to try to find somewhere flat enough to camp was another rough and unwanted end-of-day surprise.
More 🚲!: Here’s the story you’ve been waiting for. We were mid-morning routine – we’d finished breakfast and Axel and I were brushing our teeth. Axel pointed and said “moo” and then kind of squeaked and I looked over and there was a very bold cow about 4 feet away walking through the trees right into our camp. Axel wanted up (fair enough), although I’d like to note here he seemed less afraid of this cow when he was on the ground than the chipmunk that tried to steal his snacks in Myra Canyon! The cow was not very afraid of us and even with Ryley shooing it away it just walked right through all our stuff – pot, food bags, tent, bikes. It lingered around looking for something but we weren’t sure what we had to offer – salt? cow food?? – before it meandered off with its buddies. Axel was quite excited about the whole situation and mooed for a long while after they left.
We packed up and finished the single track on our way to Wardner. We were low on water and there wasn’t anything on our map except the Kootenay River which was huge and extremely far below us, across the highway in a deep valley. The single track was fun (now mostly downhill) and we continued on rail trail or dedicated trail until we hit a side road into Wardner – we didn’t have to ride on the highway once, kudos to the dedication of the trail builders. We met some cyclists who said we could get water at the playground in Wardner, so that was our next destination. We found it and the promised spigot, we also had a break and Axel tore around the playground for 1/2h while we chatted with a couple bike packers headed the other direction. “You’ll love this next section of road you’re going to ride”, they said.
We disagreed. On the map is was paved (it was not) and instead it was a steep climb out of Wardner on decent gravel road that deteriorated after ~5km to pretty bumpy and continued to get more rugged as we went along. It was quiet which was nice, but bumpy enough that Axel got jostled awake from his naps twice. It merged with a forest service road (more promised nice road according to our map/guide but actually bumpy with zero shade) which led us to Koocanusa Lake which has a beach, store and campground. Time for a break! We took one look at the busy beach with no shade and said NOPE and headed to the covered picnic area for lunch and to get a cold drink from the store. It was SO hot and we just kind of melted for a while, finding the shade not particularly rejuvenating. The owner came out and offered us free camping, to refill our waters, and encouraged us to go for a swim even though it looked unbearably hot. So we took her advice, suited up and hopped in the lake – and we instantly cooled down. Axel had a great time playing on the beach with borrowed toys. We rode out around 3pm feeling a lot cooler and ready to tackle the end of our day, we had another 20km or so to go to Elko then past Elko to find somewhere to camp. We were on the Kootenay Hwy briefly to cross Koocanusa Lake and then we ducked into Surveyor Lake Camp which took us on back roads and trail to Elko. Elko wasn’t much except a gas station, we’d been hankering for a gatorade but it was hard to access with construction blocking up the highway, so we went into the residential area and realized there weren’t any businesses to try to fill up with water. We started trying taps on the Community Hall and Volunteer Fire Dept and voila! found water. Filled up and headed down to cross the Elk River, hoping to shortly find somewhere to camp. Instead, we followed what looked like a goat trail (there was someone literally out walking their goat at the bottom of it!) and pushed our bikes up above the Elk River which turned out to have a dam and be in a canyon – not an accessible water source for us, and nowhere flat in sight to camp. We were very done (running time 11.5h at this point) and it was everyone’s dinner and bed time, especially Axel’s. We descended steeply to a flatter section and popped our tent up on the side of the road, watched a beautiful sunset (helped by smoky skies) and looked out over the Elko-Canfor mill as we got ready for bed. We know it’s our last night on the trail, and it feels bittersweet. There have been some very hot and hard days, but it’s been a joy to watch Axel thrive on the trail, to see him explore and play, learn the routines of life on the trail and his anticipation and excitement for the known and unknown. He’s pulled our energy up when we’re down and has been such a happy camper this whole trip.
Distance: 75.37 km, Elevation Gain: 820m, Moving Time: 6h 55m