After a restful few days in Banff, my Tour Divide experience got off to an ignominious start, and I was rescued by strangers (hint: recurring theme).
The Tour Divide is both a race and a start date, although they’re not necessarily the same. People race the route during the summer months starting on a day of their choice, or get together for the Grande Depart which occurs on the 2nd friday at June. Crazy Larry presides, and I attended.
Nate Boxer and I drove a rental car up early that week to give me a bit of time to adjust to the high altitude of Banff (4,500 feet – almost as high as Mt. Rainier’s Paradise). After seeing Nate off, and lost of last minute shopping I was ready to go. At 8:00 Thursday evening, one of my 3 GPS units broke – so plunk it went into the box of crap I was shipping home. What the hell, I had 2 more.
I was up until 3:00 AM Friday morning screwing around with shipping things home and excitement. Not a great plan, but hey. I was even up early enough the next morning to get FedEx packages from a near by hotel. Not enough sleep but plenty of excitement.
June 10 (Day 1): The race start was a mob scene of adventure cyclists. Use your imagination.
We pedaled off into the forests, with me in the middle of the pack. After a short while I found myself talking with a gentleman from the UK who’d just finished the AZT 750 (packing his bike on his back through the grand canyon) and figured the Tour Divide was a bit easier. I felt intimidated.
I rode for a while with Tim Glover, 2 time veteran of the Tour Divide, and heard some of his stories of past tours. Tim shows up later in the story.
After stoping for a quick break, I got separated from Tim and the others and ended up riding along the Spray Lakes road basically alone. This is when I first noticed the ‘lump lump lump’ sound.
The sound was my tire sidewall giving way at the bead. The inner tube was bulging out, but not because of a side wall tear, just because the bead gave up it’s grip on the side wall. This is actually tricker than a sidewall tear to repair, since the rim will slice the threads you use to sew this back up. But sew I did. And boot. And tape. And zip tie, and sew and sew and sew again. The tire ultimately failed in 4 separate places, and I ended up loosing my needle in the forest underbrush (sewing with my Leatherman knife and needlenose) and running out of boots and thread before giving up repairs on Day 2. In the evening of Day 1, I made it to the Bolton Creek Trading post and a camp site with Randy Neil, and lived through my first bear encounter (juvenile grizzly Randy thought). Compared to the self-destructing tire, this was no big deal.
Day 2: Randy started off ahead of me while I sat down to repair my tire again. The path up to Elk Pass was really steep and the weather was pretty crappy (snow, rain, hail), but on my newly repaired tire things were going pretty well. I saw Bear 2 up on the pass, a larger bear who was definitely interested in speaking but because of my foul language decided to pass on speaking to me. This is when the snow really hit. Not deep snow, but definitely enough to turn things white. I got cold. Really cold.
I was still feeling pretty good about scaring off the bear when I hit the elk pass Cabin, and found about 3 people inside. They all scampered off and left me to tend to my business with the still warm cast iron stove, which I did by taking a short, shivery nap.
After the nap I discovered my tire had bulged out yet again. This particular repair used Zip Ties.
I was so distracted by the tire bulge and zip ties that I left 3 pieces of clothing in the lodge (gloves, knee warmers and warmer glove) drying on the stove when I rode away in a daze. Ugh.
The zip ties worked well, but periodically rubbed against the chain, chain stays and other metal parts. Very annoying. Ever kilometer I rode became a struggle, and I took to cheering myself off with each passing sign post. Eventually they gave up the ghost (no needle, no thread, no boot material) about 10 miles out of Elkford. I was near a reasonable place to camp and since I had nothing else to do, I settled down to setup camp and make a fire.
Then Randy Karsten happened by. He lent me thread and a needle, and I got to sewing again and got my tube re-inflated. Not but 2 miles later my tube was leaking and my tire was flat. Major mechanical – I was done.
I flagged down 2 motorists, the 2nd of whom (Christian F.) gave me a ride into Elkford. The first of the trail angles – Christian and his nephew were super helpful and tried to get me to the correct hotel. However, I ended up in the Incorrect Hotel – the one with the Metal band playing in the basement (just underneath my room). Thus began restless night #3.
The next morning, the hotel manager said that Albert Wen, the Designated Driver for the hotel, could drive me to the nearest town with a bike shop: Fernie. After a very long shopping trip, I had a new tire, new needle and new thread. I was back in Elkford by 4:00pm and raring to go. That evening I rode from Elkford to Sparwood, with a tricky single track section (I got lost twice) and an amazingly lovely long descent into Sparwood. Tim Hortons is open late, and the hotel I stayed at that night was really much nicer than the one in Elkwood.
So far this trip was off to a very, very rough start. The tire trouble had cost me 2 days of a race that I was only 3 days into, and my sleep had been really bad. No wonder I felt like quitting.