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Thursday, 29 June 2017

Day 3 - Sooo far out of my comfort zone

Firstly a massive thank you to everyone for their support and encouragement. I am totally humbled by it.
Only 2 days in and already I am battered and suffered a serious low yesterday.... on the verge of calling it a day on the race. But messages of support... especially from those who have done this and suffered in kind have really helped. When they say they were scared too... it helps cos you dont feel so silly blowing the whistle every 2 seconds.

I have spent the day recuperating and trying to eat lots of calories in preparation for the next few days. I have studied the maps and it looks like another long couple of days with the possibility of camping out again. I have to say that I am full of trepidation... the fear of meeting a bear at night is not a nice one and it makes me hesitate when looking at the days to come.

The mossie bites have been really annoying me today so I found some bite cream which takes the itch out a little bit. The lady in the pizza place last night said its the worst they have ever been... normally they dont have any! Great 👍

My plan is to pack up tonight and leave as soon as light comes up tomorrow... if it is as big a day as before then im in for a long one. I dont fancy another nightime descent so I may stop short of the last pass and stay in the campsite there but see how it goes. If goes well..  the border may be a possibility. But given the hell of the last few days... im not counting my bears before they hatch.

The bike has performed well so far with no issues... long may that continue.

Once again... thanks for the support! There may not be a blog tomorrow if I dont get over the border but hopefully my spot tracker will either register on my SPOT find me page or trackleaders. If not my check in/ok message should get to someone on my email list so maybe they would post on my page for me.

Thafs it from today... roll on tomorrow and getting that dot moving again 😁

Day 2 When you're 6ft under and dead on your feet

My nights sleep last night was not the best. Having passed out about 11pm .. I awoke at 1am to the sound of roaring engines. Logging truck number 1 of the night sped up the road... lights blazing. This continued on the hour every hour. At about 3am my air mat deflated... leaving me on the hard stony ground. At 4am it started to get light. At 5am I needed a wee! Crawled out of the bivvy... bear spray still in my hand. The good thing about being in the middle of nowhere (aside from the logging trucks) I didnt have to worry about dropping my shorts at the roadside. I didnt want to go into the forest particularly... bears are active at this time of the morning.

I started packing up my bivvy and was just packing my bike bags again and stuffing down a blueberry danish for breakfast when a truck drove up. One of the forestry guys was just coming to work. He called me both brave and craZy for camping out in bear country by myself and asked if the logging trucks had been through overnight. Haha... yup loadz!

Then it was off and it was a chilly morning so I kept all my layers of clothes on.... 

Within the first few miles a logging truck had approached... slowly and stopped to ask me if there were any other cyclists on the road so I told him about the cyclists at the cabin. He thanked me and said have a nice day. 

The next few logging truckers were nowhere near as nice... speeding by me with 1 ft to spare (i had got off my bike and stood in the ditch) leaving me choking .. literally ... on their dust. Then behind me came my home for last night with the gentleman that I had met earlier in the cab. He waved as I let him pass but I soon overtook again on the downhill and good roads. We played leapfrog for a bit until he pulled off with a final wave. 

I continued on the logging road... making sure to keep a close eye on the GPS as the turnoff was coming up. Despite that I whizzed straight past it ... screeched to a halt and climbed back up the hill to the start of the re-route... or as I now call it.. the Gates of Hell! 

I am in no way exaggerating as you will come to see. It started off like a stream bed.... rubble and boulders. The gradient was ok to start with. There were 6 miles to cover. I got over the first section with little trouble and thought... hey this isnt so bad but was soon cursing myself for the thought. 

The rocks and rubble eased off for a bit but the gradient worsened. I thought ... 6 miles... 2 miles an hour... 3 hours... but the time slipped away amidst sweat and cursing and slipping.

The track then took a nastier turn (of course upwards) but became stream bed like again or more accurately an avalanche chute... which is what it was. It would have been hard enough hauling myself up there let alone with a loaded bike. After that section came a more path like section... still strew with rubble and at a 45 ° angle. I literally had to get all my weight behind the bike to get any forward momentum... heave.. brakes on... rest... heave ... brakes on and rest... ad infinitum.  It was endless. Every time I looked back and down I couldnt believe the gradient and how high I was with each section. In one slightly easier bit... I looked up and a sun beam was shining through the pine trees. I dont know why but suddenly I thought of someone I have loved and lost and the tears started falling. It was so beautiful and serene and peaceful in that moment and I thought how much he would have liked it and how much I wanted to share this with him. That made me smile cos I then heard in my head 'I hate the bloody mountains' and saw his smile and decided that he would be laughing at me right now at my decision to haul my bike literally up a mountainside.

Wiping away the tears... I continued upwards. The hours were ticking by but it didnt matter... I could not go any faster. Every time I stopped I tried to rest my heel on a rock so the strain on my achilles was lessened. 

Finally after 4 hours... I got to a top... sat on a rock and gave a shout of triumph. Then I ate a couple of oat bars... drank ... and looked down. Wow... unbelievable. I couldnt believe I had pulled my bike up that high in so short a mileage. 

I got back on my bike... turned a corner... and my heart sank... collapsed in a little heap.

Another 45 degree slope awaited... at that point I looked at the mountains for inspiration but they didnt care! They stood indifferent to my suffering. I had no choice... up was the only way. So I steeled myself inside and kept going.

At some point during this uphill battle a sudden crashing sound happened right next to me... and I jumped right outta my skin! About 10ft away.. I had surprised an adult bull moose. He jumped further into the bush but was still pretty close... he stopped and his head turned to stare at me. He was jet black and HUGE! And his stare unnerved me. I couldnt work out whether he was going to walk away further into the bush... or turn and charge at me. I didnt fancy my chances! So I started talking to him in a calm (ish) voice and proceed to move slowly forward up the road... all the time talking so he knew where I was. Eventually I figured I was outta range and my pulse went down a few notches but my general call now became ' hey bear... hey moose' ! 

 Several more times I thought id got to the top only to be severely disappointed In the end it took 6 hours of bike hauling (hike a bike doesnt do it justice) to get to the downhill point, which in places was way too precarious/steep to ride. Eventually I got to the road that headed south again and breathed a sigh of relief. But it was short lived. Everything hurt and time was running out. Add to that I had miscalculated the distance in my head so it was a lot further to Fernie than I realised.

The road now was good grade gravel and I was making reasonable time but my reserves were depleted and partly because I couldnt bear the thought of eating... and partly because I was afraid of running out of time before dark. And so I plodded on... a general downhill gradient but with the occasional steep up bit. I saw a herd of deer (and got a photo) and lots of gophers which dived into their burrows as I went past.  As I cycled the fear repeated itself in my head that I wouldnt get to the top of the 'back up and over ' bit before dark. I kept repeating... I dont want to cycle in the dark. Bivvying out was more preferable. The other fear was that the route up and over would be similar to the start of the re-route... book ended if you like. I decided that if it wasnt a gravel road.. I would stop and camp but as I eventually reached the turn off I found a good gravel road. With close to 2 bours of daylight I reasoned that the 5 miles to the high point could be reasonably done before nightfall and then I only had 4 miles to whizz down to the road into Fernie. I didnt mind cycling on the main road in darkness but didnt want to be walking up the mountain in the dark.

My body however was close to dropping and any slight incline and I was walking. At first it wound by the river which was thundering along... glacial blue. Given that the river was flowing from uphill it made sense that I was still next to the river but as the light started fading I had to walk more and more as my legs and body were shot.

I was hating my bike.

In my head I was considering quitting

I had had enough... and whilst my respect for anyone that has attempted this had shot up fivefold it was incomprehensible how anyone could finish. . Let alone in 13 days!!

Different scenarios ran through my head.. take an alternative route tomorrow.. scratch from the race but continue cycling southwards...

Scratch and get my bike boxed up and go and see friends

All of the thoughts in my mind at that point were about quitting.... my body couldnt take any more. I thought about the disappointment from everyone... but they just didnt understand how hard these last 2 days had been .. I thought about myself and how I would live with it... and with that thought came a little spark... lighting up the surroundings of depths of utter despair.

Clearly I wasnt making a high enough mileage but tomorrow... in this state... I wouldnt have a chance of making it through the next back country section. I needed to look at my map and make a plan...

What if I rested in Fernie for a day and then continued on... see how far I get. It would mean I was unlikely to get to the finish line as it would be over 150 miles behind schedule.. but if I tried to continue tomorrow I wouldnt get very far. At least this way I could still try and have an adventure and tell some stories and justify the sponsorship already given.

I could now understand those that quit ... this was beyond hard. Even without actual injury.. the body has a limit and I was close to it.

I was still mainly walking up... occasionally I would cycle a very short way. My GPS counted down the time until sunset 1 hour... 1/2 hour... 2 mins. And then light was fading. Shit! The moment I had dreaded... uphill on a mountain... in the dark. Lights on and continued forward motion.

By now I was blowing the whistle every second breath and shouting hey bear every so often.  In the growing darkness my brain was turning logs and trees and bushes into bears and every sound was making me jump a little inside. Worse my headtorch wasnt working well and kept switching itself off. Fortunately my front light is pretty powerful but obviously only points in the direction my bike is heading leaving the peripheries in darkness. Worse still was the light picked out glowing 'eyes' which more often than not turned out to be the edge of a bit of road furniture! Psychological combat zone !! 

The last couple of miles ti the high point ticked by very slowly but I eventually reached the top and had 4 miles of downhill ... in the dark...

The downhill ended up being a bit of an adrenaline rush... my whistle blowin furiously as I descended into blackness... and it was a proper downhill. The road had potholes which caused a gew near misses and the brakes were squealing at times but I admit I actually enjoyed this bit ... in a fear topped kinda way. Eventually I started seeing driveways and at one point a dog growled and barked as I shot by. Then a few trailer parks and relief....civilisation. it was around 11pm and I still had another few miles on tarmac to cycle into Fernie. The lure of a motel room and rest spurred me onwards and I shot along the road reaching Fernie at around 11:30pm. Took the obligatory bike and town sign photo and crawled to the first motel I spotted. Fortunately there was a room. Also fortunately the pizza place was open next door.I stashed the bike and kit in my room and then suddenly began retching. I dont know what made me throw up but it was just bile. I think my body had just gone... enough... and it took a while to stop the sick feeling. I knew I had to eat and drink so I crawled to the pizza place, got one to go... and back in the motel room tentively ate a few slices of pizza. It seemed to stay down.

I realised having looked at messages from friends that loads of you folks back home were getting concerned as my dot hadnt moved from last nights bivvy spot on trackleaders. I dont know why that is as my SPOT app shows the tracking messages as sent. I have put up on my fb page another SPOT shared page and tested it this morning... both a tracking signal and check in/ok message have shown up on there... so even if not registering on trackleaders it should be up there.

My day 3 blog will be up soon but eventually decided to have a rest day in Fernie. I think my body would have revolted if I had got up and started peddling. 

Despite this I have done around 168 miles in 2 days (according to my GPS) which isnt bad. Hopefully the rest day will fortify me for the days to come.

A massive thank you to everyone who has sponsored me so far. I am so grateful for that... the comments... likes and messages. They all keep me going... keep me smiling. #sufferingforsponsorship #LHS


Day 1 ... Canada kicks arse...

...mine anyway.... where do  I start!!

Leaving Banff felt a lot like leaving home... leaving safety and known surroundings for somewhere new. I headed to the start of the trail where I took several deep breaths and set off... optimism coursing through my veins. Although it was only 6 am... the sun was already beating down and the midges were out in force.
Now when I call them midges... I dont mean your average Scottish ones... nope I mean 10p sized ones with bites that leave itchy yellow bumps the size of 5p pieces... not exaggerating. 
Anyway I passed through the bit of trail that I had done the day before feeling the joys of life out in the fresh air... the open road. Compounded by turning a corner to see some kind of deer in the middle of the trail! With one bound it was off but boded well for seeing all kinds of wildlife

As I wound my way round the spray river trail.. the mountains loomed above me in all their glory... some breathtaking views. The trail had become more difficult but I was still feeling good. Then I came to my first obstacle.

Several downed trees blocked the trail and I grinned to myself as I hauled my bike over them and set on my merry way... then a bit further on... another tree although this one I could just about fit my bike under ... so I hauled and scraped it through.. back onto my bike and sped down the hill towards the bridge... thundered over that and then...

Got it all wrong!
Essentially the gearing was all wrong for the upside and I ground to a sudden halt... jammed the brakes on... but to no avail! Down I went... hard onto my left elbow with the bike clattering onto my leg! OUCH that hurt. The trail had had its first bite of me. Shaken I got up and proceeded yo start pushing my bike to the top of the incline when I suddenly went grey ... Where was my GPS?  It was no longer on my handlebars ! Panic set in! Shit... what was I to do... I searched the ground where I had tumbled down... not there!! Thought raced through my mind! Back to banff?? Buy another tracker?? Use just the maps and cue cards?? Shit!

Then the panic subsided... it was definately not around here but maybe it had come off before. I left my bike on the ground and walked back the short way to the downed tree... scanning the ground as I went. I reached the tree. Lying there in the brush... totally unconcerned was my GPS! You cant imagine the relief I felt.

It then occured to me that if I hadnt fallen off... I may not have noticed for a bit longer. It was like a guardian angel had gone... "HOLD IT.... you're missing something" and reached down and pushed me off my bike to make me notice 😁

I got back on my bike and continued on... resolving to be way more careful.
Shortly after I reached the Spray Lakes resevoir. The sun was glistening off the lake and it looked so beautiful. The trail was gravel bleached white by the sun and I wound my way round the lake. It was rough in places and a headwind had sprung up to compensate for the easier bit of trail.  Soon the trail left the lake and headed upwards into the forest. This was the first time that I had been closed in by vegetation since being in bear country and back in banff there had been bear alerts for this area. I was a little nervous to say the least.

Feeling a little silly I began to shout hey bear at every turn. The trail was rough going and I had to get off and push here and there.  Every now and again I would come across a pile of droppings and was trying to work out if they were from a bear or not. One particularly large pile looked extrememly fresh and served to make me even more nervous.. if that was possible.

I was struggling on the trail now... the going particularly rough. Suddenly I hear a noise behind me and turned to see another biker! He was loaded up as I was and we both stopped. "Are you doing the divide?" he asked. Yup... you? Yup! What time did you start? 6am I said. Oh right... where are you hoping to get to?
I told him I was aiming for just before the re-routed section. He mentioned a cabin about 20 miles before that... said it was a good place to stop... respectable mileage. Then our encounter ended with "well Im just going to set off... keep going". Sure I said. A seemingly innocuous exchange but it played on my mind a bit.

He may not have meant it but it made me feel like he thought there was no way Id get to my intended destination... and thats why he had suggested the cabin. Coupled with the fact that he was clearly going waaay faster than me... dented my confidence somewhat. I tried to tell myself that it didn't matter... that plenty of people had burnt out after going too hard and fast early on... that I had to race my own race...  but it did play on my mind for a while... but at least it distracted from the bear fear for a short while!!

Eventually I turned onto a nice wide gravel road and headed into the Peter Lougheed Provincial park... the road was good... the mountain stood looking down on the valley ... still topped white. An occasional 4x4 sped past choking me on the dust as the sun beat down on me.  The road stretched out into the distance and I rode contemplating the scenery... marvelling in its grandure... and contemplating how small and insignificant I was in the grand scheme of nature.

I was also monitoring the time... which was fast ticking by. I was making good time on this bit... but Elk pass was to come. My GPS counts down the hours until sunset and I was somewhat concerned about cycling in the dark and my plan was to try not to... which meant lots of mileage and speed calculations were going on as my legs turned round.  The short terms worries included water... the sun.. and food. Setting a pattern I think for the weeks to come.  It was HOT and despite the suncream... I was already getting burnt. Water was running low and as a precaution... I had filled a bottle from a fast moving stream... last resort water. Food... hmmm ... trying to eat but because of the time calculations... I didnt want to stop too often. I also didnt feel particularly hungry... just really thirsty all the time.

I eventually reached Boulton creek trading post... parked my bike and headed in to get food. An very unappetising packet if 2 x double burger was heated up and I sat in the shade taking stock. The burgers were almost inedible but I choked one down and couldnt force myself to eat the other. This was at about 60 miles and it was already 4pm. My aim of about 100 miles to the start of the re-route was in doubt and the cabin suggested by the other rider earlier was looking more tempting by the minute.

The climb up to Elk pass was fairly steep and by now my legs were beginning to complain a little. As I neared the top of the pass... I spotted in the distance a group of wild horses. A little wary I got off my bike and walked towards them. They didnt budge... just stared at me as I walked carefully by. It may seem silly to be nervous of horses... but they were wild... and a scared animal can be a dangerous one! I managed to get some photos before topping the pass. Theoretically it was all downhill from there but where up is always just up... downhill is usually made up of ups and downs. Each little uphill sapping more and more energy ftom the legs.

After what seemed like forever... I came upon the cabin... and its occupants. A couple (sorry cant remember their names)hailing from near me were there. They immediately (seeing how done in I was) offered me some crackers and peanut butter. They were touring the route over a few months, which sounded like an infinately saner way to do this! Another cyclist wandered over. He was doing the race it seemed but had decided to stop here as he had heard of people overstretching themselves and achilles tendons and knees giving up! We chatted a little and it was very tempting to set up my bivvy here.. with company in the vicinity. But there was still daylight to be cycled in.

So with a force of will... I headed off again.. buoyed by the brief contact with people.

It was a struggle... the couple had told me of a campsite in around 10 miles and I thought that might be good but 10 miles came and went and I saw no sign of one. So then I started searching for a good place to bivvy. Shit scared of camping out in bear country I wanted a spot where I could hang my tarp but was open enough for me to be able to see any bears coming! I was on a logging road and as I scooted over a bridge into a clearing... I saw a digger truck. I cycled past but the gears were turnjng in my brain. It was still light but it was fading fast... maybe... just maybe. I turned around and headed back to the digger... and tried the doors to the cabin... they were locked!

Still the place was good and maybe the bears wouldnt come too close to a man made object. So I tried to work.out where to put up the bivvy. I contemplated climbing up to sleep on the engine housing but on closer inspection there wasnt really enough room to stretch out and there were bits of metal sticking out... so that option was out. Eventually I decided to string my tarp over the digging bit on the front. As I was wrestling with this... a deer just sauntered out of the forest and stood watching me.

I strung up the tarp... unrolled my bivvy air bed and sleeping bag and proceeded to wriggle in... bear spray in my hand in readiness. And with that ... I fell asleep.

If that was day 1... wow... exactly what does the rest of the days have in store for me!

Final tally.. 86 miles ish.. 8500 ish calories out... v few calories in. Over 5 litres water drank. Mosqito bites .. numbering in the hundreds! Animals seen... 2 deer... lots of gophers... couple of chipmunks... herd of horses... 0 bears (phew) 1st experience of camping wild in bear country!!

Day 2 blog coming shortly

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Banff... Bikes... and Bear Spray

Hold on to moments of peace
As life runs by
And go with crazy when all around
Seems so sane
Fight the Fear, Jump in whole, commit yourself
Live every moment and breathe every breath
Along with me

This advice I must live by
Keep smiling as the stars will shine

It is written in the Scriptures for life"

The verse that I wrote for the Guiness book of records single for LHS 'THE Scriptures' has been ringing round my head all this evening... reminding me to take a breath today before 'The CraZy' starts in the morning. It was as I was walking by the Bow River that that song and the flow of the river synched seemlessly with this moment in time....

But I'm getting waay ahead of myself....
As you know I hadn't had much sleep in the last 48 hours and I sunk into bed at well gone midnight after an exhausting travel schedule. I didn't sleep that well... waking up at 0230 convinced that it was at least 0900. Another awakening at 0545 before finally hauling my backside out of bed at just gone 0800. I had a plan for jobs that had to be accomplished but equally I was going to take it a bit easy

First up was putting my bike back together... easy enough. Saddle... pedals... handlebars... front wheel... zip tire the dynamo wire... adjust front brakes... put on aerobars...
No issues there... all going smoothly so far...

Breakfast.... must eat loads .... bacon...sausage... fried potatoes.. fried egg... fruit bowl... pancakes .. nope couldn't manage the pancakes...and why don't other countries do bacon properly???

Then it was time to do my shakedown ride. I chose to do it without kit.. just make sure the bike is running well. But first I had to make a purchase...
I got on my bike and headed down the main street direct to Monod Sports. They had promised a discount on Bear Spray to all racers so I went in and made my first ever purchase in Canadian dollars... for the price of 30ish dollars I got one can of bear spray... a holster... and an animated demonstration of how to release the safety and spray the bear. The advice that followed was free of charge (at least of the dollar kind). " If the bear charges... it usually does a mock charge first... so stand your ground... it will then stop and look at you. If it charges again... spray the hell out of it.. he will go down ... and then you pedal like fcuk"
He seemed pretty upbeat about my chances of survival generally... although he did say that I should take the bear spray to bed with me. Waay ahead of him there for sure!! 😁 That can of spray is going to be my best friend at night.... all jokes aside... it is pretty nerve wracking to be going out alone in bear country and one of the many fears that I have to park in the back of my mind.

Anyway... feeling pretty good about bears now... I threw the unopened newly bought can into my rucksack and headed over towards the start of the trail.annoyingly my handlebars kept going wonky despite tightening up the headset screw numerous times... that is until my jet lagged brain had forgotten to do up the OTHER 2 screws holding it in place... duh!

Surprisingly riding on the wrong side of the road had already become the norm for me and I even remembered that strange rule of being able to turn right on a red light... a peculiarity I learnt about on Route 66 when I was sitting at lights getting honked at! I sped down the avenue (more about the town in a bit) and towards the very impressive  Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel.

Built by the general manager of the Canadian Railway in 1888 because 'we cant import the scenery so we  will have to import the tourists. This was around the same time that the area was made into a national park. It is an imposing sight... built ... apparently ..  in the Scottish baronial style (that ones for mum!😁).
Anyway I sautered straight past it to the start of the Spray River Trail where my challenge will begin. The trail was dry and dusty gravel... through an avenue of pine trees. It reminded me of some of the rides myself and Nic and David J have been on in Scotland.... only the sun was shining... there was no mud... and no one fell off 😁

Im being careful not to use up my superlatives early on so... it was alright really..  it was peaceful and the birds were singing. In the background I could hear a woodpecker. The smell of pine pervaded everything and as I breathed in deeply... it felt like a bit of a dream. After a year of planning... reading all the books... watching the film over and over (and over) again ... I was standing here. The breeze made all the trees creak and sounds from all corners joined in the tune of nature.

As I cycled on... one stiff climb later... I reached a point overlooking the Bow River and stopped. Today was not for racing... today was for admiring. As I stood there another mountain biker crawled up the hill (making me feel better about grinding up it slowly). We said hi ... and as she plodded onward I noticed she already had the bear spray attached. Mine was safely in its wrapper... in my bag. This made me laff... can you imagine if I'd got attacked by a bear with unopened bear spray still in my bag. Oh the irony. So even though I was only 5 mins from civilisation.. I pulled off the wrapper and attached the holster to my belt. Looking somewhat like a gunslinger .. I practiced pulling it out of the holster in a hurry and flicking off the safety. Yeah I felt a bit silly but more silly not to have tried this and realise at the wrong moment that you cant get it out!
Im keeping it on my belt so I dont get separated from it. (New best friend).

All Bear Sprayed up I carried on ... slowing at corners (just in case) and generally pootling along. I tried out my new aerobars and found to my surprise that they were pretty comfortable and I could cycle nicely on the flat and some slight inclines holding onto them. I stopped again to film the video that hopefully you have now all seen and could feel the sheer joy welling up in me. To be alone amidst nature is how I fortify my soul. How lucky I am... no matter what happens on this journey.. to be able to be here... to be fit (ish) and well enough to be able to contemplate trying this. I urge every one of my friends to at some point in the next month to make a point of getting on a bike... or on your feet... and get outside into the countyside. There are those that (having not hidden their hands when they met me) that have promised to do varying distances on a bike whilst I am away... John D-B ... 50 miles... Graham L... 50 miles... Ali S... 20 miles... so thank you to them for supporting me in that way.

Back to the route... I ambled along... conscious that I was already over 3000 ft higher than I would normally reside and Im blaming that for the out of breathness for sure. The trail was quiet ... no people... and I found myself in reverie... and then... wkthout warning... there was a click.. and a clunk.. and my aerobars sheared off where they attached to the bike... hitting the ground with my actioncam and my gps attached... bouncing perilously close to the edge of a drop... but fortunately stopling just short. FCUK!!

Given that Id just worked out that I liked them... this was a bit of a pain. Not a necessity to my ride for sure... but they provided relief for my hands and a place to mount stuff so if I could get them back on my bike it would be good. Unfortunately the attachments were too narrow to fit directly onto my bars so unless I could find a bar extender in a bike shop... they would have to go. Back to Banff then.

I wasnt too upset. That was the point of this ride.. to check that all was well with my bike. So I turned round and back to town where 3 shops later I had to admit defeat. Repeatedly told that I could get some in Canmore... it was a case of not enough time and too much effort.

I rode back to the hotel to sort that and a couple of other minor issues... my bottle holder was loose and kept slipping on the frame and there was a clicking in my front wheel as it turned.

It was still hot and sunny but the breeze had strengthened and some darker clouds were bubbling up over the mountains. I got back to the hotel and proceeded to sort out the small annoyances and attach my garmit etrex and camera mount to my handlebars. The aerobars went in the bin. A shame but not devestatingly awful!

I then resolved to walk back into town.. find food and then get back for an early night. As I strolled downtown ... I was trying to work out what sort of place Banff was. It wasnt quite a swiss alpine village but it wasnt anything like a typical US town either. It was touristy without being overly so and had a quaint feel to it.
It reminded me in part of Franz Joseph in New Zealand in fact... with signs for outdoor adventure and shops filled with outdoor gear... my kinda place. It was clean... and neat and tidy and I decided that I liked it very much. As I was walking along I realised that in a relative way this had already become a familiar place and tomorrow I wpuld be leaving this comfortable existance ... and by comfortable I mean in a psychological way... and heading out into the unknown. SHIT ... what have I done.. again! You would think I'd learn! But in fact that feeling was part of the buzz I get. Being scared and nervous is part and parcel of testing myself and I wouldnt have it any other way.

I found a pizza place and spent a nice hour there... devouring an entire pizza and chilling out.
On advice from the barman.. I decided to go for a short walk to see the Bow River Falls and headed to the river edge. The Bow River is that glacial blue/grey colour and seemed to flow pretty calmly as I walked beside it. I did intent to stop and sit and read for a bit but 2 sudden sharp pains reminded me why that wasnt a good idea. 2 mosquitos the size of 10p pieces landed on me and sensing that I was an easy target given all the welsh mossie bites.. proceeded to do what mosqitoes do and bit me. Bloody things!
As I proceeded along the river trail... the river reflected my internal feelings over the past day. Calm and quiet... meandering along... then suddenly starting to pick up the pace... becoming more frantic in its rush to get somewhere... white tops frothing up... suddenly tumbling and roaring and chaos.
Life reflecting nature.

Then it was back to the hotel. The clouds were now looking ominous and skudding across the sky from the direction I would be heading tomorrow. Water bottles filled and bags onto bike. Taking care that I didnt lose anything.

And so as I sit here blogging... jet lag takes over me and I fell asleep before posting. And now its morning and im hurridly finishimg this before taking a deep breath and heading out. As I do I want to say that I am simultaneously humbled and overwhelmed by the suplort from both friends and strangers. All the comments and shares and likes are appreciated so much. As I set my wheels to head South... your generosity has already raised over £600 before a pedal has even been turned. I will do my utmost to reply to all the comments but if I dont please understand that signal and time may not be great but I am reading and they boost me no end.

Gotta go now... the trail is calling!

Sunday, 25 June 2017

The Last 48

Haven't the last 48 hours flown... one minute I'm in Wales... the next sitting at Gate B47 contemplating the next month....

I have been following the race as the riders wound their way down the trail and have been blown away by their stories and pictures. The attrition rate seems pretty high so far.. injuries... weather... and mechanicals breaking the dreams of those who have dared to step up and over the edge out of their comfort zone and risk failure (in their eyes maybe... not mine) for the chance to say that they took on the Tour Divide and won.
There are many definitions of winning... and that is a personal thing that each racer will define in his or her own mind. It is as yet undefined in mine but will probably become clear with each pedal stroke along the (hopefully) dry and dusty tracks... all I can ask of myself at the moment... is that I put my heart and soul into it... and see where the cards fall.

The last few days ... apart from enforcing my sleep deprivation training... have also re-inforced (not that it needed it really) why I am sitting here... a bundle of nerves and pent up energy waiting to board to start this chapter in the adventure of life.

I rejoined the By Your Side Walk... a walk from Wrexham to Bangor... down to Caernarfon finishing with Snowdon Rocks...for the final day.  I'd had  some trouble with blisters with the shoes I was intending to use for the Tour Divide and so was nicely kitted out with a new pair of Merrells. The days walk was a paltry 9 miles... nothing compared to some of the days that I had missed, it flew by in snapshots of conversations with different people... beginning in Bangor hospital with a BBC Radio Wales appearance by Mike and Jules (and v briefly me 😁) and ending to a glorious choral welcome in Caernarfon Castle. The castle itself may have been an imposing reminder of English supression of the Welsh (as a certain retired copper informed me) but in the hint of sunshine which the weather gods had decided to reward us with... it was a welcoming place and when filled with the sound of voices singing 'Give me Love Hope and Strength' it seemed to stand stronger and prouder as we all did for taking our parts in an unbelievable show of community... family and unity.  As Mike Peters eloquently put it... 'what hurts one... hurts us all'and I hope Jules in particular felt the love hope and strength emenating from us to her for demonstrating with such grace how cancer should be battled.

The end of the walk didnt mean the end of 'work' for me (or the rest of the LHS/MPO/Awyr Las Team) and I shot over to The Heights to meet some of the Snowdon Rocks volunteers to set up ready for the Snowdon Rocks gig the next day. The setting up mainly involved wrestling with the new Event Shelter... hopefully able to withstand gusts of wind better than our usual festival gazebo... but certainly more of a pain in the arse to put up (no sorry ... this wont be the last time I refer to a pain in my arse for sure).

5 of us wrestled it into submission finally leaving the rest of the evening free to start on the LHS friends catch up. Bloody great evening despite the promises by the pub of food being dashed repeatedly. It never ceases to amaze me how as a collective diverse group of people from all over the country can be such good friends... held together by our love for The Alarm and all things Mike Peters.

The following day we all gathered as one to follow our hero up the mountain once again. Thoughts of those we have loved and lost to the forefront as we carried memories to the top... reminded how many of us had first met... in the words of Nic and David J's Scriptures Verse... 'We climbed to the top as strangers... came back down as friends' ... was certainly true of many of my friendships within this group.. especially my friendship with them... though Nic I think was cursing the day she met me having completed an amazing mountain bike challenge!!

Having once again planted my hands at the top of this majestic lump of rock it was time to go down and I soon fell into conversation with David about testing your breaking point and the benefits/disadvantages of solo travel versus travelling with someone else.  The psycology of being alone on the road and how much of any of these CraZy challenges undertaken is about mental preparedness more than physical fitness.

The gig in the evening was a huge success from an LHS swabbing point of view with another 100 potential donors added to the list to Save A Life. And so I left the evening on an adrenaline high...with the drive overnight to contemplate. An overwhelming feeling of being very fortunate accompanied me most of the way before absolute reality started to dawn and the planning of the last year hurtled towards me with a force that rivalled a nuclear explosion... The Time is now....

And so having taken off and now cruising at 40 000 ft  it wont be long before its time to see if my body can cash the cheques that my mouth has written... and I am a mixture of fear and excitement and trepidation and longing. The adventure is beginning.. how long will it last?? Come along on the journey


A quick word on the flight as an addendum... sitting next to 2 great chaps who taught me a thing or two about plane windows.... pointed out Greenland and Hudson Bay where the Polar Bears live and I taught them about clotted cream and the difference between cream tea in Cornwall and Devon. I've only been travelling 9 hours and already the journey has begun! 

Upon a safe arrival to Banff and warm air a reminder of Wales made itself known..... my mosquito bites started to itch!!  I have now had approx 3 hours sleep in total since 0545 Saturday morning and my brain is starting to grind to a halt.... a short hop to Banff and then crashing time! Night 😴

Sunday, 4 June 2017

Life is for the living of

3 weeks today I will be flying out to Canada to start this years particular brand of CraZy.. known as the Tour Divide Race. This weekend was my penultimate chance to get out on the bike and what better excuse for a change of scenery than a trip to Wales to walk from beach to beach in preparation for the By Your Side Walk.

As is becoming habit... I was on nights again this week.and post shift on Friday the day was packed with packing swabbing kit for both the walk on saturday and ready for the I.O.W festival. This meant that not only did I get no sleep Friday day but that when it did come... it was after midnight... Roll on 3.5 hours when I got up... or at least that was the plan 😞

In reality... the alarm must have gone off but it seems that nothing short of a loudspeaker in my ear would have woken me. Cue panic at 6am when I woke up!!

Given that a 5 hour drive cannot be safely turned into a 3 hour drive... I instead drove to the end venue for the walk and set up for swabbing... or tried. The new 'event shelter' ... to put it plainly... is an absolute bu@@er to put up and it was only after wrestling with it for 30 mins did some random strangers take pity on me and step in to help... cue more wrestling. It took 4 of us about 1 hour to erect the monstrosity so that I could begin swabbing whilst waiting for the walkers to arrive.

My day then got better after its abominable start with many kind people... most of whom hadnt heard of Mike Peters or Love Hope Strength... stepping up to the table and swabbing to try and save a life! When the weary walkers did arrive... including the inspirational Jules ( 20 mile walk post surgery... chemo... and radiotherapy) my swab bag was already 1/2 full. Turning a bad day into a good one!!

The following day... having slept more than 5 hours (woohooo) .. I got up intending to shovel down a load of calories and head for the hills.. determined to make up for my lack of exercise and fresh air the day before. Instead of heading for what of the better known trail centres I headed for one that had no bike shop... no cafe and hopefully no people. The website promised desolation and isolation in equal measure. Turns out their description doesnt quite fit my interpretation of those words... ( I guess I will have to wait for the race for that)

There werent too many people though and once Id kitted up and set my SPOT tracker to tracking mode I raced off. That burst of speed lasted approximately 100 yards of the lung busting climb out of the car park which seems to accompany every trail.

This climb never seemed to end... despite having no kit on my bike. Id promised myself a fun ride this weekend... one where I didnt have a bike loaded with kit and I could whizz down the red graded trails like I used to pre Tour Divide training.
Despite this my bike felt just as heavy... and my legs felt pretty useless for the first mile or so. Then a switch flicked in my mind and instead of thinking about the hill or the legs I switched into an 'easy' gear ... spun my legs round at 45 rpm.. and started appreciating the beauty around me. Welsh friends of mine call it God's own country and its easy to see why. The sun was blazing but the light breeze was refreshing and as I climbed the birds cheered me along with their own particular form of singing along to the tunes that filled my head. The green hills looked as majestic as anything I have seen elsewhere. The air filled my lungs and I imagined it dispersing the polluted air from the roads with a clean pure version every time I sucked in a breath.

The top of the climb came and I stopped at the top immersed in the view and the solitude. The track was of good quality gravel and as the sun beat down I continued on... upwards of course. This sort of climb... long but not too steep (under 8%)  is good to increase endurance and hopefully will stand me in good stead when im in the middle of some of the climbs (Galton pass... The Wall... Richmond pass to name a few).

I spent some miles on these nice gravel tracks... just feeling grateful for the sunshine... the beauty... and being able to cycle in the midst of it. I practiced my animal spotting skills in readiness for the bears... but none jumped out and attacked me meaning my whistle remains untested.  But I came here for fun and having passed a few of the red trail sections I eventually turned off the nice gravel and launched myself into the red graded madness.

Its been a while since I have ridden unencumbered by kit and tested my mettle against a man made trail. My bike felt light and slightly skittery... or maybe thats just me! (The skittery part... not the light part .. im pre Divide diet)

Confidence over rock steps and roots has diminished from lack of practice and this was not one of the easiest red graded trails Ive been on. It was very narrow (the obligatory death defying drop to my right) and fast meaning my hands were gripping the bars too tightly ... fingers hovering over the brakes as if my life depended on it.

My hands didnt like this much and the cramp which has plagued me since the claw hands of Route 66.. returned with a vengeance. I quickly discovered that trying to straighten a siezed up finger whilst hurtling half out of control with only one hand on the bars is somewhat close to precarious... maybe even bordering on sublimely ridiculous..  but it did the trick and I didnt die... so it worked out well!

The last bit of red trail was an adrenaline pumping swooping berm filled delight... the momentum down carrying me up the next bit. It was well worth every ft climbed and made the effort totally worthwhile.

Too soon it was time for the 4 hr drive home and as I loaded my bike on the car I took one last look at the mountains of Snowdonia above me. Fortunately it will only be a short while before Im back playing in the mountains again with Snowdon Rocks and the Rocky mountains calling to me over the next 2 months.

I was chatting with a friend 1over the weekend about how when I drive into Wales and wait for the moment that the mountains rise up into view and how it makes me feel like I have come home. I may not be wholly Welsh (I can claim 1/8) but Wales holds part of my soul due to the way the mountains make me feel alive and free everytime my feet or tyres lay claim to them.

And it is this feeling that I must hold onto when at my lowest ebb on the Tour Divide. I need only to look around me and feel the strength I gain from being surrounded by the beauty of nature and how lucky I am to have the opportunity to spend time there.

Life is for the living of  and I intend to make the most of it 😁