Settling in for the long haul
I woke up countless times in the night, shivering. The inside of my bivy sack was clammy, like the interior of a cave, and my sleeping bag was not insulated enough to ward off the damp, frigid air leaking in from outside. Each time I woke up, I decided enough was enough and it was time to move on down the road. But then I imagined the icy darkness outside, and the urgency of packing up when I was already cold. As I pondered and shivered, a thin layer of warm air enveloped my body — enough to soothe me back to sleep.
The alarm rang out at 5:30 a.m., which at this latitude was after sunrise. I groaned as I rolled onto a stiff shoulder and opened my bivy to a clear, frosty morning. Hoarfrost coated the ground, and my wet shoes were frozen solid. My shirt and socks were still damp, and a light breeze hit my face like a freezer blast.
I beat the frost away from my bag and rushed to pack up gear as my extremities went numb and shoulders quaked — which was probably why they were so sore. I smiled as I remembered feeling a similar urgency when I went bikepacking earlier this year in Fairbanks, Alaska — when the temperature was 35 below. Only then, it wasn't as bad because I just pulled on my expedition mittens and down parka and instantly felt so much better. Here, in the Canadian Rockies in June, I had only the clear-sky promise of coming sunshine to quell an instinctual panic. With the last of the dexterity in my fingers, I checked the temperature on my bike computer: -4C (25F.)
"How did you get your bikes so clean?" I asked.
"Car wash in Sparwood," one answered.
"Oh," I said, feeling deflated. Not stopping in Sparwood was probably not the best strategy. The rough night of cold sleep took a lot out of me, my food supply was a little on the low side, and my throat was now fiercely sore. But what can you do?
But Elliot's a cheerful guy. We chatted long enough that I perked up, and then we arrived at the "singletrack" connector, which perked me up even more because I could hike for a while. The faint, mile-long trail between two abandoned logging roads follows a deer trail along the Wigwam River, then skirts a bend by shooting straight up the mountain at a rate of 400 feet in 0.2 miles. It's one of the infamous segments of the Tour Divide — a grunt of a push in dry conditions, and often a bike-dragging portage when it's wet and the "trail" becomes a waterfall. It was fairly dry this year, and I was grateful for the chance to stretch my legs and back, and give my wee little arms a bit of a workout (all while feeling grateful that I only had to do this for 0.2 miles, unlike Beat on the Freedom Trail.)
The late-evening descent from Galton Pass was worth throwing away my willpower. Orange and red light glowed on treetops as I screamed down the narrow canyon, breathing fire as cold wind hit my raw throat. After descending 3,500 feet in just over seven miles, the loose gravel road spit me out into the pastoral Kootenay valley, four miles from the U.S. border.
The border patrol guard asked me more questions than I was expecting, given he'd probably seen at least thirty other cyclists that evening. After the guard let me back into my own country, I followed a farm road next to a three-foot-high wire fence strung right along the border. It would take no effort to jump right back into Canada there, and if it were later, likely no one would know. Ah, security theater. But I was thrilled to be back in the USA, already ahead of my 2009 pace, and maybe if I could kick this cold, I could really start flying.