Beautiful, brilliant and bloody awful!

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:

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Oh.

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.

Mistake#1

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.

Mistake#2

Here is how Reggie got to Elkford.

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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.

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My hero.

Here’s some more scenic shots:

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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!

Bye Banff!

My stay in Banff has been shorter than anticipated, both because I’m leaving a day early to make the most of the weather and because I arrived 2 hours later than anticipated. The supposed 1 hr 15 minute trip from the airport to Banff turned into a 3 hr site-seeing tour of the suburbs of Calgary. Seriously though, IT COULD HAVE HAPPENED TO ANYBODY and it WASN’T MY FAULT! You’d think the Trans-Canada Highway would be massive and clearly marked. It’s not – it’s quite small and actually called route 16 or route 1610, which wasn’t stated on the directions making it very hard to find and there’s not many people around to ask for directions at 1am.

Everything was made worse by the fact my feet didn’t reach the pedals in the normal driving position. I know I should have gone back to the Avis desk and seen if they had a smaller car but really couldn’t be bothered so spent the entire journey slumped at about a 35 degree angle, as though I was reclining on a LazyBoy. Anyway, I made it eventually!

Didn’t do much yesterday bar go to the start of the trail following the ‘know thine enemy’ mantra. It starts in the car park just behind the Fairmont Springs hotel which makes for a very grandiose departure. A couple of cyclists spewed off the trail onto the Tarmac with their bear bells ringing, so looks like I won’t be the only one ding-donging my way south in a bid to scare off the Grizzlies.

Here’s the hotel:

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And if you look closely, you can just about see Mexico:

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Not sure what mobile signal will be like on the trail but suspect I will be going dark for about 4 days of covert ops. I think my mum’s hair may go Fifty Shades More Grey during that period of time but hopefully my SPOT check-ins will work and her new tint will end at Silver Moonlight rather than White Mink, which it might turn if she didn’t hear from me at all!

Here’s a bit of a map for tomorrow’s route. They’ve actually closed an area just to the left of the route – sort of leaving it fallow to minimise human disturbance so it returns to closer to the natural habit of the bears and the wolves. So I’m hoping they’re kicking back with a Molson Dry in the undisturbed bit, leaving me to pedal freely down the side of the lake.

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I went out hard in the beginning…

“…too hard and didn’t sleep much at all in the first three days, none the first night, 1.5 hours the second night, 3 hours the third, also did around 600 miles. I cooked myself right off the bat and was tired for the rest of the trip. I would say I slept 3-5 hours a night most of the time. I tried to push it again at the end and sleep less”

– Anna Williams, sorry, I mean Jefe Branham, winner of the Tour Divide 2014

So this layabout Jefe did the ENTIRE THING in 16 days (which he was slightly disappointed about as was hoping for 14). After 14 days there’s every chance I’ll still be doing lunges in the car park of the Fairmont Banff Springs hotel where the route starts complaining of a hamstring that’s “still a little tight” as a reason to not face the trail.

Just a quick post as today is my last day. It’s followed the predictable route of buggering up boxing my bike. I spent quite a long time neatly padding Reggie out but then he wouldn’t fit in the box so I had to take most of it off. I’ve ended up copying the Blue Peter prepping George the tortoise for hibernation approach of just shoving him in the box, sprinkling some stuff on the top and saying “see you on the other side buddy!”. Let’s hope he makes it.

kit

I’ve also taken some heavily product placement-laden photos of my kit which is deeply boring for most people but a nice memory for me. You can’t see the brand label on the bed but it’s actually John Lewis in case you’re interested.

2.5 yr old nephew’s motivational message neatly captures all that remains to be said at this stage!

 

 

Hopes and Fears…

Fears

Fears first so we end on the more positive note of hopes. In no particular order…

1)      Bears

Sort of wants to see one, sort of don’t…  Made the mistake of watching this whilst getting side-tracked when reading up on bear avoidance strategies https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9nSWc43TLaI HOW big?! Bought a bear canister (a plastic barrel that bears can’t open) to keep my food in overnight and not attract unwelcome visitors to my tent. It proved to be impenetrable by humans too and I couldn’t get the lid off for the life of me but a friend managed to open it (after I’d loosened it for him obviously…). Thanks Chris!

2)      Hair getting so knotted I have to go to a dog grooming parlour to get it sorted out

3 months of sweaty helmet hair and I’m envisaging some major tangles, akin to the ones I got when I was young which I cut out myself, the damage later discovered by the hairdresser when he lifted up the surface hair and exposed a somewhat choppy under-layer. I’m thinking Americans seem quite into dog grooming and I’ll probably stumble upon a parlour at some point where they can attack the knot with a wire brush whilst I tremble like a whippet and, if worst comes to the worst, I’ll just have to face the clippers

3)      Mechanical breakdown

4)      Mental breakdown

5)      Looking like a boy

Wouldn’t say I’m particularly girly, but I find the thought of 3 months in ugly mid-thigh length shorts slightly depressing. To counter-balance the hefty dose of man-cloth in my panniers, I’m also bringing bubble gum pink short-shorts and a dress. Probably won’t wear either but at least I’ll know they’re there!

6)      A spider – big one – on, in or under my sleeping bag

7)      A rattle snake – any size – on, in or under my sleeping bag

Final episode of 24 about to start so will come back later and finish this! Although it does remind me that a ‘hope’ is that I my VPN app which masks your IP address works and I can successfully download TV programmes from iPlayer whilst abroad.

Right, episode over. Poor old Jack…

Onto hopes:

1)      Bears

Scary as it might would be, I think it’d be quite cool to see a bear. My hope is not just that I see one, but that I adopt the right attitude and behaviour. That’s remaining calm, looking at the floor or at it in a firm yet non-aggressive way and, if charged, making yourself as big as possible (arms above your head etc.). So that’d be me going from 5ft 2 to ~5Ft 11 – that’ll put the wind up it!

What I’m hoping I won’t do is to think ‘it’s a bear but I’m good with animals…it’s fur looks really soft…wonder whether it would like a pat…?’. After successfully bonding with the family dog Bramble, a 20” x 25” compact unit of enthusiasm and affection, I’m hoping I won’t be over-confident in my Dr Doolittle qualities, approach a bear and come unstuck.

2)      Return nice and toned

There’s every chance that, despite the energy expenditure going up the hills, calories-in ends up being greater than calories-out with every small-town diner visit going something along the lines of “nachos to start please, then the pulled pork – fries, not salad, with that; a side plate of wings, a Coke float and….yes…cherry pie to finish – thanks Betty-Sue”. Hopefully I won’t mistake refuelling with gluttony and finish the ride with nicely sculpted legs and arms – I’d imagine I’ll push the bike a good few times!

3)      I meet nice people

Part of the appeal of the US is how friendly I’ve always found the people and I’m hoping that in the event of mechanical failure, I have a similar experience to Leon.

http://www.leonmccarron.com/blog/tips-for-beginning-a-bicycle-adventure?

4)      I don’t nip out the tent in my knickers assuming I won’t be seen

I’m sure many people have been there, nipping out during the night for a pee and thinking ‘what are the chances of someone coming along in the 60 seconds when I don’t want to be seen?’. I know from experience that, no matter where you are, what the time is or how quick you are, there’s a chance you will be seen in insufficient clothing for a public appearance if you take risks.

I’d gone out on my bike at lunchtime one weekday and returned home soaked through as it’d rained pretty heavily. I live in a house broken down into 3 flats and was conscious I’d left a fairly muddy bike in the communal hallway (where I normally keep it) but, given how wet I was, I was keen to get out my clothes. Rather than doing the sensible thing of getting the bike cover out of my flat (top floor), going downstairs again to the communal hallway and covering the bike up, THEN stripping, I stripped first, THEN went downstairs to cover the bike. I figured everyone would be at work and, if not, the chances of them coming out their flat or returning home during the 60 seconds that I was not wearing much in the hallway would be minimal. Alas, it was not so, and mid bike cover-up I heard a key in the lock in the front door and the distinctive outline through the opaque glass of the guy who lives on the ground floor. Cue frantic run up the stairs, inefficient from over-enthusiasm like a puppy on lino flooring. Luckily I made it round the corner just in the nick of time and had a short, breathless conversation with my neighbour about how “now isn’t a good time to talk”.

5)      I enjoy it!

Be a nice bonus! I reckon I will 🙂

A cheese-based strategy to travelling light…

This is my first blog post so I should probably introduce the idea – riding the Great Divide, Banff to the Mexican border, leaving Friday 25th July – and my bike, hereinafter known as Reggie. It’s an off-the-shelf Surly Troll which I haven’t changed at all, bar putting a pair of 2nd hand suspension forks on. I’m not that interested in bikes per se so haven’t gone down the route of building one out of separate parts – Reggie is pure breed and I’m hoping his pedigree will show on the trail.

Bit worried I should have invested in a better saddle though and 2,700 miles could see a somewhat fractious relationship with my bottom. Although if we keep the communication lines open and chamois cream to hand, hopefully we can work through the tough times together and come out stronger the other side. I also have a pair of eye-wateringly expensive cycling shorts – a motivational treat before RideLondon 100 last year – which may make up for any short-comings of the saddle.

Reggie

GDMBR

As well as not being naturally that interested in bikes and liking the idea of (potentially) proving that you don’t have to be that into bikes and kit to do a long-distance ride, I was also keen to avoid doing too much research into it as, when I did take a brief jaunt down Kit Avenue, I realised that it’s a very time-consuming path to go down! Upon Googling ‘lightweight bike tools’ I got lost in cyber space, reading reviews and being about to buy something then stumbling upon one negative review at the last moment which put me right off and I ended up repeating that cycle with various different options, all tools weighing within about 10g of each other. When I ‘came to’, my face burning in front of a massively over-heating laptop, I learned that the world has gone bonkers and voted for UKIP, Andy Murray hadn’t got as far in Wimbledon as we would have liked and suddenly everyone wanted to be German.

This book http://gearforcycletouring.com/?from=13 proved a very useful tool to quickly dip into and see the range of options out there for various items, and generally get tips on how to make your trip a success.

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My main tactic to traveling light has been cheese- rather than titanium-based. I figured it was easier and cheaper to shave 5Ibs off your cumulative load by shedding one’s winter coat of a few extra inches of body fat. Cutting out cheese and (momentarily) bread – didn’t last for long on that one – seemed to do the trick and I am now slightly lighter.  Didn’t actually last long on cheese either after a particularly strong craving one afternoon saw me making a special trip, at pace, to Planet Organic for some cheddar #middleclasstraumas.

Additional preparation has involved going on 2 bike maintenance courses, one at the London Bike Kitchen and one ‘somewhere else’. The LBK one was good but – and I see this as a fault of the pupil, not teacher – I’d forgotten most of what I’d learned about 3 weeks later. I signed up for a 2nd one where the, as advertised, “you’ll hear him before you see him” teacher contorted my arm into an ‘urban handshake’ at first meeting (awkward when you don’t know it’s coming), ranted about Margaret Thatcher and occasionally threw some words in about bikes.  I left the course £60 lighter and wondering whether I’d been too uptight during the initial greeting and could have relaxed into the novel handshake better but, alas, no better equipped to mend a bike. So I’m hoping, nay praying, that Reggie doesn’t suffer any damage and regular maintenance at the local bike shops along the route keeps him in premium shape!