Day 2 of the 2016 Tour Divide nearly broke me. I am not being dramatic. This day still gives me the chills as I recall it nearly three years on. June 11, 2016 started just like any other bikepacking trip day would. My body felt great, the sun was shining and I was 110 miles into the freaking Tour Divide! It was just after 6 a.m as I left my fancy campsite in Elkford, British Columbia. The air was a bit frosty and the roads were still wet from the torrential downpours that hit the mountains the day before. Elkford is tucked right in the Rockies and the views were stunning as I left this sleepy town.
As I started the days riding I began to visualize where I wanted to finish the day. I knew I needed to hit the Canadian/ US border by the end of the day If I wanted to stay competitive but that was only 140 miles away, I wanted to do 200! I was way to confident.
I hit Sparwood B.C., The next town down the line, and was feeling pretty good. I had passed a few riders and the hot chocolate at good ole’ Tim Hortons kept the spirits high as the bone chilling rains returned. Then the suffering began.
The line from the race start in Banff to the Canadian/ US Border is not straight, that would be too easy. No, It freaking goes all over the place! Jesus it looks like a 5 year old took a crayon to the map to decide on the route! This is a bit dramatic but there were tons of turns on the route that required frequent GPS checks and second guessing as I navigated the backwoods of British Columbia. I was still getting used to navigating as this was my first bikepacking race and 5th time bikepacking and the mental drain of navigating was taking its toll.
Ok, can I be frank for a second. I don't remember a good chunk of this day. It's been 2 and a half years and it was so hard lots of it has been blocked out. I remember riding through icy streams and hiking up huge hike-a-bikes. But there is one memory that stands out and made this day the hardest ride of my life.
I was somewhere between Corbin and Flathead B.C. riding up a stupidly steep grade when I heard a grinding sound. Being the exhausted cyclist I was at the time I just assumed the chain was a bit dirty and sang louder to drown it out. Big fucking mistake.
The grinding got louder and when I looked down the left pedal flew off the spindle, nearly taking me with it. In this moment of shock and horror I had a few options. I could…
A. Calmly get off my bike and see if I could somehow repair it ( News flash you can't replace bearings that disintegrate when you don't have them…)
B. Take a deep breath and find a big piece of wood to act as a pedal with the use of some zip-ties
C. Throw the pedal into the valley below and swear like a sailor.
I chose C.
After I calmed down, I started walking. Your allowed to be upset for a bit but in the end of the day you have to keep moving forward. The pedal failure was not due to lack of maintenance, but freak failure. Sure the pedals were a few years old but not old enough to have a dramatic bearing failure. I think they might have seen the torture ahead and jumped ship early. Thanks CrankBrothers...
Have you ever walked with a bike in the wilderness of B.C. in mountain bike shoes with the smell of bear shit all around you? You haven't? Good for you, cause it sucks. I am not saying I am scared of bears but I have a healthy respect for the damage they can do and when you can smell there musk and see there prints it's not a great feeling
I was in the heart of grizzly country and was keenly aware of it. I still had 50 plus miles till the U.S. Border with no towns in between and the nearest bike shop was another 100 miles after that in Whitefish Montana. I had to keep walking. I couldn't camp here. The stench of bear was strong and I was scared shitless.
I don't necessarily believe in miracles or divine intervention. I do on the other hand have a healthy respect for the weird ways the universe works. There were over 140 riders on the tour divide at this point and roughly 20 within 5 - 10 miles of me. By some miraculous chance one of these riders had an extra pair of flat pedals. Not only was he behind me but he was willing to help me out. Do you know how unbelievable this is?! He easily could have been a mile in front of me and my Tour Divide would have ended at the U.S. Border. But no, Mark Snidero saved my Tour Divide with unbelievable generosity.
Mark was carrying the flat pedals because he had some knee issues and didn't know if he may need them later on in the race. Luckily he wasn't using them at the time he caught up to me and after we talked for a bit and he saw the tears in my eyes as my dream of finishing was getting dimmer he told me about these pedals. Mark was keenly aware that helping me was not in his interest at all. Why would he let some weird 20 year old put hard wear on his pedals?
Ok, so I am riding again! With Mark by my side we pushed on deeper into the wilderness that is the Northern Rockies. We hit “The Wall” as the sun was setting. This section of the divide is extremely rocky and steep. It required climbing up a 45 degree bank, so hard to do after 100 miles of riding. Here is a video of the hill with a cameo by yours truly as I drop my freaking GPS and scramble down the hill to retrieve it!
As the sun started to set neither Mark not I wanted to sleep in the grizzlys feasting ground. We passed a few riders who were setting up for the night and wished them good luck as we kept on ticking off the miles. We eventually caught a rider named Ricky who would go on to become my main riding partner though most of the race and finish a few hours behind me. The three of us pushed on through the night with our bike lights showing the way. Then the snow came.
At this point it was 10 at night and I had ridden 120 miles. I was gassed. The day was dragging on and my body screamed for a break. This is also when I learned my bike light was not waterproof.
As my light died and I was forced to ride in dark and snow using Ricky and Mark's lights as a guide I began to bonk badly. It’s hard to eat, ride, navigate, and sing at the same time. Yes I sing while riding and no I will never stop. I started to get drowsy and wanted to sleep. As we reached the top of our last peak and bundled up we prepared mentally for the 3,500 foot decent we were about to face. It was 1 in the morning.
I don’t remember much of the descent. I was in pure survival mode and I think I was falling asleep during it. I had to ride right alongside Ricky in order to see the trail since my light was dead. It blows my mind that we didn't crash. Seriously I should have eaten shit on that decent.
I guess I am just that good at riding ;).
The descent eventually ended and we rode into the border control area where the U.S. agents weren't the friendliest, but that's for another time.
We warmed up in the border patrol bathroom and chowed down on some candy. Luckily there was a bar still open right next to the border control station that was serving coffee and was letting racers camp next to the bar. It was 2. A.m. by the time I fell asleep.
I woke up at 6 feeling like shit and looking worse for wear. The next day was miserable but beautiful and saw me get a new pair of pedals, Shimano this time.
The tour divide changed me and the second day nearly broke me. I can't wait to get another shot at this route in 6 months!