Banff – Sparwood: 12hrs moving, 227km distance, 2,730m climbing.
The usual chaos of a mass start event. Too many egos in one place. Too many people who think it can be won in the first 500m. I hang to the back chatting with other UK based riders before we start the slow progression through town following the wandering prince that is Crazy Larry. It’s cold but not warm as we hit the trailhead and start to crunch across the first gravel of the next 20 days. I sit back and relax knowing that it’ll open up soon and I can start to ride past people.
And on it goes, lots of people and not much talking. Eventually I work my way forward and start to meet a few faster riders who I spend some time with. The rain starts to come so I pull over and put on a waterproof layer – chew a peanut-butter sandwich down – look around and enjoy where I am. A few hours have past and I’ve already started to yearn to be on my own. Too many people around me. I’ve not had this in so long, it feels strange.
A piece of stunning woodland singletrack spits me out with a few other riders, Tom from Scotland is there and we chat for a while debating the idea of singlespeeding the route, not for the first time. We’d both contemplated it, then opted for gears. So early into the race we’re still thinking it’d be ok. Reality won’t hit for a few days yet when we both realise we’ve made the correct choice for ourselves.
The rain gets heavier. It gets colder. We get stuck in mud on Elk Pass. It gets colder. I reach the stores about 100km in and I’m visably shaking from the cold, about 1 step above hypothermic, I still refuse to put on my final safety layer. Dose up on coffee, get back on the road. It will get better. I push on yawning and shivering, but my brain aware that I’m on a thin line. Up the gears, up the intensity, get the internal body fire going again.
Hours pass amidst the trees and powerline climb. I meet up with John from the UK who’d plan to stop at Ferndale for the day. 6:30pm and we’re at the store washing bikes and stocking up – I don’t give him an option, he’s riding to Sparwood, we’ll be there for 9:30pm for the A&W. Back on the road, use the climb to warm up, use the singletrack to sharpen up, use the food to speed up.
The first night falls as we’re on the road to Sparwood. I’m not pleased that I know I’m going to be stopping 25km before where I’d planned. I’m cold, I’m tired, the weather for tomorrow is worse. Smart choices now will pay me back. We hit the A&W and service station; fluid, food, fuel. Over to the Big Green Truck before a room is secured at the motel. Shower and lay kit out to dry before catching some fitful sleep. 5am and I’m out the door and on the road. The morning of day two beckons.