DNF! Tour Divide Rookie attempt… Days 1-3

Well, I’ve been home for a couple weeks and decided it’s time to update the blog.  The Tour Divide is an amazingly scenic, hard, hard ride. I challenged myself like I have never done before, but only wound up riding for about 8 days, averaging 10 hours on the mountain bike and about 80 miles a day.  For perspective, the winner, Matt Hall, averaged just under 200 miles a day and set a new record by finishing in under 14 days! To do that, he was on his bike way, way more than me and only got a couple hours of sleep a day. Wow.

Day one was a day to test your resolve. I had attended a pre-race meeting given by crazy Larry Melnick.  Larry talked about how to handle bear and cougar encounters, but harped on how to handle hypothermia.  It was a beautiful day in Banff and I have to admit thinking we wouldn’t have a problem with that this year. I couldn’t have been more wrong!

People lining up their bikes just beforbthe “Grand Depart”

All loaded up and ready to go!


Rain was expected for the day and it was a bit brisk at the start. The main group would be taking a small loop from the YWCA to the start, but I decided to leave after them and let the crowd thin out a bit before getting on the trail, so I took the time to put my arm and leg warmers on and headed over to the start about 20 minutes after everyone else.

This is the start of the Tour Divide. what a nicely maintained trail!

The rain hadn’t started yet and temps were still relatively comfortable

We went over a number of very cool wooden bridges like this one

And the rain begins and temps plummet

This was a very cool, long wooden bridge that crossed a very marshy area.

Incredible views!

50 miles in and the temp drops into the 30’s. I wasn’t ready for that!


The start was great! I was making pretty good time and started catching some riders who started with the Grand Depart. Then the rain started, mostly as a drizzle with occasional showers. I stopped and put on my rain jacket at one point. The rain was causing some mechanical problems for other riders. Several people had flat tires and two people broke chains. My Niner had no issues.

As the day progressed, the temperature kept dropping. At one point I stopped to eat for about 20 minutes. Man, that was a mistake! My core temperature dropped and I started to get the shakes which was a sure sign that I needed to get moving!  It took quite a while to warm back up!  

I had neoprene full finger gloves, but they were soaked and the wind was coming through. My hands and feet were frozen when I pulled into the Bolton Trading Post at mile 60. They didn’t have a restaurant, but did have a convenince store, so I bought a couple cans to soup to cook in the microwave.  While I was eating my soup I noticed another rider pull on some rubber dish washing gloves. Brilliant! The rubber would stop the wind chill! So I bought a pair myself and also got a couple shopping bags to put over my socks. Holy cow, those saved my ride! 


With no wind chill my hands and feet warmed right up.  There was a long descent after the trading post, so I was really happy to be relatively warm again. Unfortunately I sped right by a turn and added a mile or two to the route.

I was hoping to go 110 miles to Elkford, but it had been one heck of a hard day, so I decided to find a secluded spot and set up camp when it started to get dark around 10pm.  Luckily there was a break in the rain when I set up camp.

My new camp stove. This thing rocks!

Really can’t beat this kind of view!

Well rested!


I slept in a bit and took my time having breakfast and breaking down my camp.  It took a bit longer than I expected to get into Elkford, so I was glad I stopped for the night where I did. I passed a moose and her calf which was cool.  The rain also stayed away until after Elkford.  In Elkford I stopped at a grocery store for a few supplies, then stopped at a gas station that had a restaurant in it. Unfortunately the restaurant was closed, so I got some stuff from the convenience store for lunch.

A moose with her calf in the distance. They moved into the woods when I got closer.

Lunch in Elkford


There is a long climb on pavement going out of Elkford. I walked quite a bit of that. Near the top, we turned into some double track that was really nice, but once again I missed a turn and added a few extra miles to the route. The turn was easy to miss. It was a sharp single track climb that was marked with some stacked rocks.  Honestly, it was more like a goat trail because it was pretty overgrown.  I walked quite a bit of that section and got lost once. There were some orange ribbons tied to a number of trees, so I assumed those were trail markers. Nope. I could see on my Garmin that the trail was going in the opposite direction a couple times and had to turn back.

That rain is coming my way

See those stacked rocks? That marks the turn onto a singlr track section

Can’t really tell from this photo, but the entrance to this single track was pretty steep!

Nice.


It’s only 30 miles from Elkford to Sparwood, but with getting lost and missing turns, it took me longer than it should have.  I stopped at an A&W for a late lunch/early dinner and discovered Poutine, my new favorite way to have fries (covered in gravy and cheese curds).

That’s a BIG dump truck!

Poutine! YUM


The weather was looking bad and I knew there was a very significant climb in front of me. I had also worked through a pretty strong head wind getting into Sparwood. I had only gone about 60 miles, but I decided to call it a day in Sparwood. So I got a room at a hotel that I shared with a fellow Tour Divide rider (Christian from Toronto). The shower felt great!  I also used the tub to find a leak in my sleeping pad that was very annoying on the first night.  Christian got up pretty early and headed out right at sunrise, but I slept in a bit and left around 8am.

The decision to stay the night was a good one. The weather cleared up and that headwind became a tail wind. I made pretty good time.  I planned to stay at the Wigwam camp ground, about 83 miles from Sparwood. There was a long section of pavement heading out of Sparwood that also helped with making good time.

The mattress pad had two holes in it!


After turning off the pavement, there was some nice forest road to the top of a pass, but the other side was pretty eroded and actually became a stream. I walked through the first section, that water was COLD! So I tried riding the next section, hit a rock with my front wheel that immediately stopped me and threw me over my handlebars! Luckily I landed on my feet, turned and grabbed my bike before it fully submerged. I would have liked to have caught that on video!

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I caught a few other riders after the stream and we kind of leap frogged each other throughout the day. I knew there was a cabin somewhere along this section that was available to riders, so I planned to stop there for lunch and hopefully use an outhouse.  I came up on a cabin that didn’t have any cars in front of it, so I thought that might be it and noticed a welcome outhouse in the woods.  After using the facility, I was getting my bike ready when another rider pulled up and said the cabin was still a few miles ahead. Oops, hope whoever owned that cabin didn’t mind me using their outhouse!

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There was a super long, fast, fun descent down to the Wigwam River.  I missed a turn that had a sign that said it was closed to vehicles, but I noticed fairly quickly that I was moving farther and farther off-route. Turns out that section was closed to motorized vehicles, bicycles are ok. I never noticed a camp ground before starting the climb away from the river. I didn’t want to get too high up before making camp, so I pulled off on a fairly wide section and setup camp with about 88 miles down for the day.


I was still feeling pretty good at this point. Amazing scenery, fantastic trails, some bad weather, but over all I was really enjoying the ride! 

To be continued…

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