It is all those things, in different measures at different times. Let’s start with ‘bloody awful’. It is HARD, really, REALLY HARD! The thing is, I knew it would be but there’s some things you can’t really imagine until you do it. Child birth being, from what I’ve seen on One Born Every Minute, a good example. You see the couple at home on the sofa with the mum-to-be saying “I’m going for a natural birth. I’ve got my Kenny G and my Enya CDs packed in my hospital bag so I’m going to be nice and relaxed and let Mother Nature do the rest”. Next scene is of someone with sweat pouring down their face shouting at the midwife “DRUGS! NOW! ALL OF THEM! SHOVE THEM IN WHEREVER!”. The Great Divide is a teensy bit similar in that at home you do all the “yeah, yeah, I know it’s hilly” then get out here and think “holy cr*p, will these things never end?!!”
Today I hit what the map described as ‘a near vertical wall’. After seeing something pretty steep, steep enough that not only could I not ride up it but I couldn’t push my bike up it either when fully loaded, I thought I’d hit the bit the map was referring to. I had to take off my panniers, leave them at the bottom of the hill, push my bike up, leave that and walk back down to get the panniers… I spent about 45 minutes doing that, thinking I’d got the worst behind me, then turned a corner and it was like the fatal wave in A Perfect Storm. A wall of gravel. So I put Phil Collins, Invisible Touch on (for the 83rd time that day) and the bike went up, down I came, up the panniers went, down I came, up the bike went and so the rotation went on.
During this time I’m ringing my bell like a maniac as bear country is genuinely very scary. It’s not so bad on a wide road or in a meadow but on narrow tracks through the woods I’m constantly aware so either ringing my bell or shouting “hey bear!” which involuntarily comes out in an American accent every single time. Fortunately I’ve not come across any in unwelcome circumstances but did see a Grizzly galloping off back into the woods after having a drink from a creek by the side of the road. But it was a wide, fairly main road so not too scary.
I’ve leapt ahead of myself so will go back to the start. I set off in fine weather, 3 pancakes already in the fuel tank and a serious amount of beef jerky and other treats lined up for the pit stops. 7 miles through the woods then this:
A river to ford. As luck would have it, an Austrian guy had just crossed it and offered to come back and help, asking whether he should take my bike or the, by now, off-loaded panniers. “Both, then come back and carry me across” didn’t seem an appropriate response so I opted for suggesting he take the panniers as my ‘don’t get wet stuff’ was still strapped to the bike and I thought I should take the blame if water did get at any of it.
I was half way across what had looked like a shallow, not very fast flowing river when I realised I was in the middle of a raging torrent and barely holding onto the bike. If it hadn’t been for the guy behind who grabbed the back of the saddle, Reggie could well be half way across the Bering Straits by now!
Found a lovely spot to camp that night and felt quite pleased at having done an extra 4 miles from the route in the book.
[skilfully taken artistic shot of my tent should be here but it won’t upload]
On day 2 I met a guy who lives about 3 miles from me and is doing the same route. Unfortunately he only has month off work so is going triple-speed and hoped to do 100 miles that day. In 3 days, I’ve got as far as he went in one but I admit there has been a little cheating on my part. I was pedalling along a ski slope when 2 guys came past and offered me a lift to Elkford which was actually a full 2 days away for me according to my map. Not wanting to offend, “oooooh, would you? That’d be great” came out my mouth.
Here is how Reggie got to Elkford.
After I’d agreed to a lift, the next question was “would you like to shoot a shot gun?”, then “would you like a beer?”. It was too late to unstrap Reggie so I had a beer with my trigger happy, drink-before-driving quad biking chums then took the scenic route to Elkford via a lookout where they set a banger off and had another beer whilst I was slowly dying inside. My chauffeur Ryan did a lot of ‘thumbs up’ signals as we belted around and I didn’t really know how to gesticulate “I’m pretty bloody far from alright!’ so went for a slightly limp thumb movement hoping he might take the hint.
Actually they were both lovely and I think I was actually in fairly safe hands despite all the obvious cues otherwise and I was quite pleased to be rescued and saved a long afternoon in the saddle.
Here’s some more scenic shots:
Now onto other beautiful things: me. My tan is coming along nicely. On a scale of 0 being white as a sheet and 10 being Girl from Ipanema, I’ve made the executive decision to fast track myself to a 3. At times, the intensity of colour in my face has been knocking on the door of 10 but, for the most part, I’m a 3.
Right, off to bed and off to Spraywood tomorrow!