The group of almost 200 took off. Even before the trailhead, there was a short, steep uphill climb with a 180 degree switchback. Our heart rates were going to be pegged at the official start line. Just like last year, riders are speeding ahead. Yes, it’s a race, but it’s not going to be won on the first day. Not too far into the day, at just about Spray Lake, it was time to stop and put on the rain gear, which we would wear all day long. Spray Lakes road is a mix of some single track and some lightly used roads. At mile 40, we were out on Smith-Dorian Spray Road. A wide 2 lane, pretty open, pretty flat road that actually drops some elevation into the Bolton Creek Trading Post at mile 55. With it being cold and rainy, I wasn’t in any hurry to stop in the elements. Crazy Larry had warned us of hypothermia at the start. Now I know why.
Pulling into the Trading Post, it was our only place between Banff and Elkford at mile 110 to get supplies, it’s a must stop for most of us. I grab coffee, hot chocolate, and get out of the weather. I’m guessing I was there for 45 minutes, before I head out. Soon after Bolton, we came to our first climb of the TD, up Elk Pass to a clear cut power line trail. We climbed up 1,000 ft to elevation 6,443. Fortunately, it’s a gradual down hill to Elkford to 4,200 ft. on mostly gravel roads.
At this point, I’m riding solo, and come up on a rider as he has just repaired his second flat of the day. It’s French Canadian “Gee Man” as he is known. As we ride along and visit, it’s comical conversing with him, who reminds me of Inspector Clouseau from the Pink Panther films. His concern is not having another spare tube. As he slows down to ride my slower pace, and doing the math in my head, knowing that the Pizza Parlor, Cstore both close at 9:00, I encourage Gee to go on ahead of me, get us a room, and pizza if necessary. He pedals on…
I pull into Elkford at 9:30, and come across Gee. I check out his accommodations and the only thing that was available in town is the ‘conference room’ at the motel for $60 each. Whatever. There was a shower and 15 of my newest, closest friends. After hosing our bikes and our grit-covered rain gear down, I go check out the room in the basement. Gee had been to the Cstore and bought a sub sandwich, chips, snacks. I try to eat my portion and can only put down half the sandwich. The other half I gave to Josh Waters, a 6’5” rider from New Mexico. To me, I refer to him as BA, the Bearded Albuquerquerian riding a single speed FAT BIKE! There are several riders on single speed setups, but very few fat bikes on the Divide, and I don’t know of any other SSFB setups.
As were all getting our gear out, Gee asks me if I could look at his bike – it wasn’t shifting. Maybe because I was the only person he knew at our luxury accommodation, but for some odd reason he thinks I’m a bike mechanic. Obviously I’m not! Christian, another Canadian, is almost completely rebuilding his bike and gives Gee some advice on his. I lay down under the ping pong table. It was darker there and the lights are still on. People continued to arrive and needed to get their gear ready for the next day.
The next morning, Gee decides to try and maybe convert his bike to single speed in order to go as far as he can and maybe get parts after Sparwood.
The road to Sparwood is easy. The only tricky part is finding the single track turnoff through clear cut. It’s 30 miles, and should take less than 2 hrs, where I’ll get breakfast and tend to my grinding front brake. With all the wet mud, my pads are making lots of noise, the brake surfaces were down to the metal!
Leaving Sparwood, I ride with Hal Russell for a bit until he drops back. Soon, Josh rides up to me and we ride together. It’s up and over Flathead pass and on the descent, there are numerous stream crossings. Josh had read where putting plastic bags on your feet, your feet will stay warm and dry – my experience has not shown that. As Josh is taking off his shoes to put on his ghetto shoe liners, I continue on, making the 15 crossings with my wet feet. Later, I asked Josh how it went. He said his feet got wet on his first steps in the stream.
Arriving at Butt’s Cabin at around 8:00, I know that to stay on last year’s pace I need to venture on towards Wigwam campground. I proceed on, doing Cabin pass in the dark and making the campground at midnight where there are probably 15 fellow riders.
The next morning, after filtering water, and noticing what appears to be a recent bear track in the mud, I head out for the US border. I ride a bit with Konan Stephans, a tall, thin runner that has spent his first night out backpacking at Wigwam. We all have issues at first with our GPS units until we figure them out. I show Konan what I know about our Garmin devices, then go up and over ‘The Wall’ with Josh and Konan and continue on. I make it to the border at about noon, a bit ahead of last year’s pace. After grabbing a bite to eat at the border, I continue on towards Eureka, Montana – the first real town in the USA! I see the Oklahoma crew there, and Josh. Sadly, it’s the last time I see Josh. I really enjoyed riding with him.