I thought I heard a few rumbles of thunder during the night but race day morning dawned bright and reasonably clear. I was up pretty early to make sure I had everything squared away for the 7:30 roll off from the front of the Y. In fact, I was one of the first out there. Keen!
The race starts at 8am but there is a rider brief/group photo in front of the Y at around 7:30. Billy Rice took it upon himself to give everyone a reminder about the ethics of the Tour Divide and suggest how riders "self seed" for the roll to the Spray River Trailhead, which is the official start line. Seeing how hyped up some riders were it was probably a timely reality check to help everyone chill. "Crazy Larry" Melnik (on far right of photo) gave everyone a bit of a cheer and some more pep before it was time to mount up and roll out.
Courtesey of Alex C
Just before we did roll out, Josh Kato came over and introduced himself and said "hi". We had been corresponding a bit in the lead up to the race via our blogs and email. I thought it bloody decent of him to seek me out to say g'day as he had only arrived in Banff the night before and he needed to hustle back over to his bike as he was self seeding in the front row. He looked strong and with some insight into his training via Strava, I knew he would be pretty competitive.
The ride to the trail head was chilled in the mid-pack where I was. It was nice to see no silly argy-bargy as we just flowed smoothly past the trail head along the Spray River Trail. Very soon we were quite spread out. And just like that we were racing the Tour Divide !
It was difficult to know how hard to go. I took it easy for a while to warm up but soon I was passing quite a few riders with what felt like an easy pace. I kept the camera out snapping away but the reality was that it was spread out and I was mostly alone.
As we came to Goat Creek trailhead there is a short, steep climb to the car park and quite a few TD junkies were there cheering everyone on. Crazy Larry was running around taking video and asking each rider "whats your name"?
Courtesey of Alex C.
I remember seeing video of the riders last year at this point in full on snow so the few drops of rain that were splatting on us were of little concern.
I passed Mick Eyb here and had a quick chat as we rode on. The road opened out onto a wide, flatish gravel road and he being on a single speed was quickly spun out. me having gears, pulled away fairly briskly which was a bit sad as it was the last time I saw Mick for the race. He is a real character and I would have been happy to ride many more miles in his company.
I passed a heap of people along here. I was probably going too fast but it felt soo easy. I kept getting the camera out to force myself to slow down. We all know the long distance race self-check. If you think you are going too fast, you are. If you think you are going the right pace, you are going too fast. If you think you are crawling along, you are going the right pace!
The scenery was absolutely breathtaking and I was having a ball. This day had been about 5 years in the scheming.
Turning across the top of Spray Lakes Reservoir was another magic view.
We rode along the western side of the reservoir for quite a while and I chatted to several other racers. Marshal Bird told me that the first two days were the most scenic by far. While that didn't bode well for the rest of the ride it was confirmtion, not that I really needed it, that this was stunning riding.
We rolled through a few showers in some forest containing single track that showed plenty of evidence of bear activity with piles of jet black bear scat everywhere.. Whilst I had bear spray, I had no intention of actually having to use it and so began my program of whistling as I rode along. I wish I could hold a tune, it wasn't pretty but then again, I didn't see any bears....
We crossed a few gushing streams emptying into the reservoir.
I saw my first rider with a mechanical, a flat tyre. I asked if he was ok as I rode past because that is what mountain bikers do. Then I remembered that I couldn't help him anyway as that is against the rules. We all needed to be totally self-sufficient. Looking at the photo now, it looks like Patrick Dowd, a nice young guy from San Fran who I would later ride with for a few days around mid-race.
Along here I noted that we had covered 50km(31mi). The first 50k! It didn't feel like it had taken long at all.
I caught up to a small group of riders as we entered a burn section of forest. it was quite eerie and I was glad to have some company through here.
But stopping for photos saw me lose contact again.
The trail emptied out onto a forest road and I soon saw Marshal on the side of the road, fitting his rain gear. It had been sprinkling for a while now but while it was cold I was feeling pretty comfortable. I rode with Marshal for a short while discussing his unusual rain kit where he had some cut down rain pants which was his "light rain" gear. I mentioned how I wasn't feeling uncomfortable despite the drizzle and he replied with some sage advice- "better to cover up early than to get wet and cold then suffer". I pondered these words for a few short minutes before the snow flakes began to drift down. I stopped and donned my rain gear pronto!
My gloves were wet and despite the washing up gloves over the top, my fingers were freezing so I stopped again to fit my winter Garneau gloves under the washing up gloves. This resulted in toasty digits and cemented Marshal's good advice in one dramatic lesson.
The snow soon stopped and gave way to intermittent drizzle but I remained warm and dry. This made me incredibly happy as my rain kit was, while top quality, as yet untested by me in the field. It was hard to find rain in Brisbane in the lead up to the race.
The forest road dumped us onto some blacktop and after a climb we were passing the 60mi(100km) mark, which meant we were passing Bolton Creek campground and it's shop.
I didn't really need anything but I decided to err on the side of caution and top my water up and have a bite to eat. Crazy Larry and Joe Polk from MTB Cast were there shooting the breeze with several riders and I said a quick g'day as I topped off my water and inhale a chocolate milk.
Even though I kept the stop very brief, many riders went past as I found myself passing them again as we climbed to the first divide crossing of the day, Elk Pass. Elk Pass wasn't very inspiring as the trail up to it was simply a powerline service trail and it began to rain again.
This time the rain was here to stay and it continued for several hours making the trail a bit slippery on the clay sections but I didn't really have any issues.
I was still warm and dry but my drive train was starting to make grinding noises. As a rider this tends to do one's head in. Brian Steele and I were tooing and froing for a while and as he passed me once again he mentioned how much the grinding was getting to him. I decided to act, letting him go while I used my empty Camelbak bottle and a roadside stream to hose down my precious drive train. Around this time the rain stopped and I then rode the rest of the way to Elkford with a quiet, happy drivetrain.
Dealing with issues before they became a problem was my race strategy and I later heard horror stories from day one that just didn't happen for me. I will credit my strategy for this(and who knows, maybe some luck?)
The hours ticked away as I pedalled for Elkford. There were plenty of climbs and some super fast descents where I felt I was making good time.
Arriving in Elkford I went straight into the gas station looking for something warm but it all looked like junk. I settled on a turkey sandwich and more chocolate milk then joined the other riders sitting outside in the cold. A huge storm was blowing past, resplendent with seriously scary lightning and thunder. It drifted across the valley onto the hills that we needed to cross to get to Sparwood.
I pedalled out of town with Brian Steele, chatting as we ground our way up the 1000' sealed climb to the next section of trail. There was some new and interesting single track before we found ourselves riding along forest road through what until very recently been a forest. It had been logged out and was open and barren now, coated in a fresh dump of hail that looked a lot like snow it was so thick. Yes, as we sat at the gas staion eating, that storm had dumped on the mountain big time. As I was to learn throughout the Tour Divide, timing with the weather was the key to an easy ride or utter despair. Today, we were lucky and only had to deal with thick mud in a few places.
We encountered riders trying to dig mud out of their frames as their wheels were totally gummed up. I silently thanked my choice of the Muru BNT with it's wide tyre clearances versus those of the cross country race bikes that were now expensive walking sticks.
As the mud met the blacktop outside of Sparwood I again saw Marshal, as well as Rob Orr standing by the trail. Not sure if they were fixing something or just resting but I passed them and powered on into Sparwood.
Once in town I went straight to the big green truck, the Terex Titan to get a photo.
Yes, it was one of the "carrots" that I had set myself along the route. My carrots were psychological goals to keep me motivated to make forward progress in case my will was being tested that day. The truck also had a webcam trained on it that updated every minute or so. I had told my family I would wave to them once I got to Sparwood. To be honest I didn't think they would be interested but as it turns out they had been following my dot all day and saw the webcam snap me just as I turned away from the truck (not waving like an idiot as I had been).
I had made Sparwood at 9:00pm.
224km(139mi) in 13 hours was pretty good for an old bloke, especially with all that climbing. I still felt good and race wisdom was to ride on past Sparwood but I decided to get a room so that I could rest well and dry my gear. After I secured a room I went to the gas station to pressure clean my bike and my rain gear. Here I met Greg and Evan from New Zealand who were following suit. Once back in the room I showered (how good did that feel?!) then headed out to get some food. I bumped into Simon Cross from Beechworth in the foyer and he asked to split the room as we had done in Banff. "Sure thing" I said and we headed over to the Subway where we met Beth Dunn and Doug Wenger tucking into a small feast each. Simon and I bought dinner and a sub for tomorrow's ride.
Tomorrow would entail riding 200-ish km(124mi) and climbing three passes, namely Flathead Pass, Cabin Pass and the real arse kicker for the day, Galton Pass. These are all in wilderness area with no resupply other than stream water. Lights out was around 11pm with the alarm set for 4am. Day one was successfully completed, now to back it up again!