Sunday, June 28, 2015

Up and Down

I titled this post "Up and Down" because that's what the last four days have been, both literally and figuratively. I've had lots of ascending and descending in elevation and moments of euphoria mixed with frustration and disappointment.

Left Banff on Wednesday morning, somewhere close to 11:00AM. Stopped at store to buy bear spray and the girl there was surprised I was doing the ride on a rigid (non-suspension) bike. Little did she know the power of the Hulk. Leaving the Fairmont Springs, you follow the Spray River Trail for a mostly easy ride. I ran into some other cyclists out for a ride, but no other Divide riders. Rode on the very dusty Smith-Dorrien Spray road for a few miles and, at Spray Lake, the trail goes off the road, across the dam and into the woods. It's gorgeous scenery and relatively remote. I didn't see another person for the 20 or so miles I was in the woods riding gated roads and singletrack trails.

The bike carried itself like a champ. The wide tires rolled over things easily and I felt extremely capable and confident. There was a section, about a third of a mile long, that the map warned many riders had to push up and I proudly stubbornly rode up it even with the weight of all my gear. My issue was with my seatpost and saddle. I switched saddles to the one I rode cross country on right before I left. For some reason, the railings on the seatpost wouldn't hold the saddle in place, it kept sliding backwards. I knew because I could feel my thighs rubbing against the rear panniers and I was starting to get some pain in the knees and groin. Stopped and tried to fix it 3 times and it kept moving. It was definitely broke my mental psyche and caused an unwanted distraction.

The trail rejoins the Smith-Dorrien Spray Rd and I got to experience more dust. But I did see my first grizzly. I was just riding along and looked to the right and there it was, about 70 meters away. And I kept riding.

At the Boulton Creek Campground, I missed the turn for the mercantile while I was on the bike path and turned around. And there ahead of me, just hanging out, was another bear. I took a quick photo and went to the store. When I told the lady there I just saw a bear, there was a lot of excitement. They called conservation officers and tried to locate it to either track or tag (plus, they want to keep campers safe).

A very good night of sleep at Boulton Creek got me ready for my first crossing of the Continental Divide at Elk Pass. It was actually only about 8 miles from the campground to the top of the pass. It was a workout but not as bad as I was anticipating. At the pass, you cross from Alberta to British Columbia and descend (super fast and fun) to Elk River Rd. Total trip from trailhead to trailhead is about 6 miles. If you drove to the two trailheads, it is about 200 miles!

It's almost 30 miles on the Elk River road, a dusty, dirt road that seemingly leads to nothing from the town of Elkford. About halfway down the road, I spotted Eric, a guy I met at the campground the night before. I hustled to catch up with him and we rode the rest of the way together. He's from Colorado and is riding to Wyoming where his wife is going to pick him up. He's done other sections of the Great Divide over different summers and had some good insight for me for the Divide Basin in Wyoming. We shared lunch together at a great little dive place in Elkford (since the pizza place didn't open until 3:00) and rode together to Sparwood. Eric was pulling up front on the road to Sparwood when I said, "Look up". He said "What?" I said "Look!". There was a grizzly crossing the road in front of us.

In Sparwood, I decided to stay the night as I was going to following the main route, which involved 114 miles (two days) through the backcountry with three pretty significant passes to climb. Eric continued to Fernie because he was going to do the alternate, shorter route with more towns and less climbing since he has a shorter window than me. Today, I don't regret choosing the main route, but yesterday I was kicking myself for not taking the alternate.

The first day was great! Twenty miles to Corbin, which is a large mountain top coal mine. The road ends and you can take a gravel ascent to Flathead Pass. A guy pulling a large camper caught me on one of my breaks and asked if he could get to Flathead on this road. I had no idea, so he was going to find a pulloff and just drive up with his truck and scout. At the pass, there were guys on dirtbikes and four wheelers (the Canadians call them quads) riding up and down a bank. On the backside, I quickly found out that the guy with the trailer was going nowhere. The road disappears into a stream. The stream had washed out the road or become part of the road. Some places had 3 foot drops into the water from the gravel. Many places wasn't even gravel but fist and head sized stones that made riding tricky. It was a tough having to push the bike through the water so many times. I could ride a lot of it because of the big tires, but there was a lot more that I could not ride. Or I dared not ride and risk injury on a fall. It wore me out.

After a lunch break, it is basically gravel along the Flathead River for a long time. Then you join up with logging roads and I ran into a few trucks late in the day. My plan was to stay at the Butts Patrol cabin, which is open for campers on a first come basis, but when I arrived it looked as if people had moved in and I wasn't comfortable staying there. I found a spot next to the river where I could hang food and ended up with a fantastic campsite. I washed in the river. Talk about exhilarating; dunking oneself underneath ice cold water. It was a jolt of refreshing and energy, a baptism of sorts.

Yesterday morning I was up at 5:30 and riding by 7:15. It was a 14 mile climb to Cabin Pass and I was at the top a little before 10:00. Great 5 mile descent to the Wigwam River and then turned and headed up a trail. By now the sun was getting high and the temperature readings on my bike were in the 90s. Before the trail crossed the river, some rock cairns mark a singletrack that leads into the woods and along the river. It was tight and there were no sight lines. I was yelling constantly to give the animals a heads up that I was coming. The trail leaves the river by going straight uphill. I had to unhook my bags and push my bike up 1/4 mile and then come back and get the bags, it was too steep to do both at the same time. The picture beneath doesn't do a great job showing how steep it is, but it was steep enough that I would not ride it on my regular mountain bike downhill! At this point, I was cursing the fact that I did not take the alternate. It was maddening and not what I pictured "riding" to be. Combined with the heat and exhaustion, I was pretty flustered.

After coming out from a clearing, there is some more gravel climbing and then a short descent to a gate. From there is 5 miles to the top of Galton Pass (6,319ft). It's hot and I'm slowly trudging between 4-5 mph to get to the pass, but I make it! The descent, the maps warned, is screaming. The map did not lie. I was going way faster than I should have. The bike gives me so much confidence on lose surfaces. I hit a hole too fast and heard "HISS". I had punctured the tire. Tubeless tires have a sealant that keeps the air in and if there are small punctures, the sealant will close most of them. Well, I had sealant spraying out all over me as I stopped the bike with the hole in the tire pointed at me.

No problem, just a setback. I had a tube I could pop in there and we are good to go. Wrong. I had never removed a tubeless wheel set up before and could not get the bead to separate from the rim because of the sealant. I tried and tried. Another moment of me regretting not taking the Fernie Alternate route. I felt very helpless. This was the payback I had imagined for having such a great day of travel on Tuesday.

I had relegated myself to walking down the road (6 miles) to the main highway. I just got the rear tire on to roll the bike when a guy pulls up and offers me a ride to the road. His name is Dale and he lives in the valley and works at a sawmill. I asked if he would give me a ride to customs, which is only 2.5 miles from where this road intersects with the highway. He offered to take me to his house and get my bike rolling. So I took him up on the offer. He got me some water, we found some tools, got the seal popped and then putting in the tube was easy. I offered to pay him and he told me to just pay it forward to someone else.

So today, I have arranged a shuttle to Whitefish, MT. I have little confidence in the tube I put in, I broke my pump yesterday pumping up my repaired tire, the seat is still not where it needs to be. Matter if fact, my rear tire is flat again already. I have some pain in my back, a little in my left knee (not bad though) and my left shoulder was having spasms yesterday for some reason. And I've been stung or bitten by at least three flying insects and that's not including the dozens (maybe hundreds!) of mosquito bites. There's a lot to be down on right now.

But the remarkable thing is that my legs and lungs feel fantastic. Sure, they're tired but they don't hurt and I feel like I can do more. And I've done a good job with sun protection and prevented chafing. I've been adventurous and felt accomplished. I really feel good about the ride and the progress that I've made.

Stephen Willis has shipped a seatpost to Glacier Cyclery in Whitefish. I'm going there tomorrow to get this tire fixed and the seat issue resolved. I think not having to worry about those two things will go a long way in helping me just ride. For now, it's a down day at the Whitefish Bike Retreat. It's a really cool place with nice people. They have hostel lodging and camping, trails around the facility and a berm track outside the lodge. We'll call it a rest day. I do miss 112 miles of National Forest riding that the Great Divide route follows from Eureka to Whitefish, but it's important to get this bike dialed in. Plus, I get to do laundry. And I'm avoiding riding in 99 degree temperatures.

Again, ups and downs. Things go awesome and things don't go as planned. When there's a descent that gives me respite or joy, I know that it will follow with an ascent that will make me work and grind. You take them all. If you don't, then you can't enjoy the ride. 

1 comment:

Dan Jystad said...

Amazing..... So cool to see the names of the places I knew as a kid. 100 degrees in MT in June..... I've seen snow in June... but not that! :-) Enjoy Whitefish!