Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Canada

I'm not really sure how I can begin to write about such a long and sweeping experience like the Tour Divide. The fact is, right now, I can't. I'm fresh off the route and dealing with the swift realities of the expensive brake work my car needs, how to get myself and that silly car back to Juneau as quickly as possible, the fact that I'm returning to Alaska homeless, single and back to a job that will be much different and likely even harder and more all-encompassing than it was when I left it. And I have to do all of this having been "Great-Divided." I don't think it matters who you are, or why or how you rode this route - it changes you. And in the short term, quite drastically. I've lost about 10 pounds - even my skinny jeans slip down my backside. I still greedily eye the gummy candy sections at gas stations. I can't think beyond eat, sleep, ride, and I have a whole life to move on with. Right now, I admit I feel a little amused when people tell me they're impressed with what I've accomplished. I want to tell them that life on a bike is so much easier than real life.

In the coming weeks, I do plan to write in depth about my experiences on the Tour Divide, because that's what I do, and that's how I process things. But in this short term, with so much else going on, I might just have to settle for posting my favorite pictures and a few short captions. Eventually, I'll upload all my hundreds of pictures to a site like Picassa and probably unload thousands of words of Tour Divide blabbage on this computer. But for now, I'll start with my two days in Canada.

John Nobile and I at the race start in Banff, the Spray River trailhead. So innocent, so full of hope ... so clean. :-)

I was talking with my friends Keith and Leslie with the race suddenly "started," and the whole field just launched forward before I knew what happened. I quickly fired up the Spot unit and turned on my GPS, but I began the race at the very back of the pack. That was probably a good thing. I missed the crazy hammering of the first few miles, and just hung back and enjoyed the scenery with the other Tour Divide tourists.

Even still, with 42 racers still relatively close together, there was lots of company that first day. It's almost strange to look back on. It was one of my most relaxed days, and the only day that to me had any appearance of a race. But then again, I was never up front. ;-)

I'll admit that at first I was a little irked about having to ride the Canadian "prologue." It wasn't part of my plan until very close to the actual race, but I did make the decision to ride the Tour Divide and Canada is part of the Tour Divide. Even though I came very close to the Great Divide Race (border-to-border) female record and, despite all, in the end could have broken it with a little determination and an all-night ride across the desert - I don't regret my decision. I had great company both before and during the race, and the Canada stretch really is as beautiful as they say it is. But they're all beautiful. Even the Great Divide Basin is beautiful.

But Banff National Park is stunning.

And the first day - long before trail weariness sets in - is the perfect time to enjoy scenery. I took lots of pictures on day one.

Even the powerline access trails are stunning.

The first day brought hours of scattered rain showers, which turned out to be a constant for most of the trip. I didn't keep solid track of my "Days of Rain" on the Tour Divide, but it was at least 20 out of 24. Of course, I'm from Juneau, and the rain didn't really bother me at all until the mud caught up with me.

Some kind of industrial plant outside of Elkford, where I spent my first night about 100 miles from the start. I became pretty lost finding my way out of Elkford, and burned up about 45 minutes to an hour looking for the right road out of town. That was actually the most lost I ever was in the course of the entire trip. And for that, I'd like to thank my Garmin Vista HCX GPS unit, and Scott Morris for creating a most excellent track of the border-to-border route. Seriously. With my sense of direction and attention span, it was a godsend. My GPS became my most valued possession - almost more so than my bike. I practically slept with it at night.

Those first two days were mostly smiles, gratitude and curiosity about how much longer it was going to last. At that point, I had no concept of really riding my bike all the way to Mexico and didn't really believe I could do it in the time frame I had set for myself. I thought my body would shut down, or my mind would, or both. The task I had set to, in all honesty, looked impossible.

Maybe those thoughts were my own way of taking the pressure off myself. The race already took so much time, money, planning and preparation that I don't think I was ready to deal with the disappointment of failure. So I told myself that just in being out there, it was already a success.

But by the afternoon of day two, the race was starting to look ridiculous. The night before the race, the organizers threw in the curve ball of a new "test" section that added something like 45 miles, three big passes, a lot of rough roads and a nearly nonexistent animal trail that was supposed to pass for "singletrack." Plus, we had to follow it all with only a rather vague and sometimes outright wrong cue sheet - no maps, no elevation profiles, no GPS. Luckily, I had the bike tracks of the many people in front of me to follow. I ended up going through the singletrack stretch in the dark. The end quarter mile gained nearly 300 feet on a very slippery, muddy trail that cut straight up the steep slope. The cue sheet called it a pusher but it wasn't even that. A couple of times I had my bike practically over my head, slipping backward down the slimy trail as I struggled to find my balance. I didn't think I was going to muster the strength from my puny arms to push the bike up that slope. I thought I was going to have to break my bike down to several pieces and literally shuttle it up. But after lots of grunting and sweating, I did make it up only to reach a clear-cut area with lots of downed trees and no distinct trail across it. I groped around in the dark for a half hour, knowing the road was mere yards away but unable to find it. By the time I stumbled onto the gravel, I was so tired and frustrated that I only rode another mile before just plopping down to camp in some pretty serious bearitory. I didn't care. It's funny now to look back and think about how frustrated I was about the whole thing. That was nothing. :-)

The next day, I woke up to more fun obstacles.

I crossed the border at 9:45 a.m. Sunday, June 14. I was feeling pretty tired, and the race had only just begun.