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Thursday, 29 June 2017

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